Low Oil Prices: Sign of a Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading to the End of Oil Supply?

Oil and other commodity prices have recently been dropping. Is this good news, or bad?

Figure 1. Trend in Commodity Prices since January 2011. Brent spot oil price from EIA; Australian Coal from World Bank Prink Sheet; Food from UN's FAO.

Figure 1. Trend in Commodity Prices since January 2011. Brent spot oil price from EIA; Australian Coal from World Bank Prink Sheet; Food from UN’s FAO.

I would argue that falling commodity prices are bad news. It likely means that the debt bubble which has been holding up the world economy for a very long time–since World War II, at least–is failing to expand sufficiently. If the debt bubble collapses, we will be in huge difficulty.

Many people have the impression that falling oil prices mean that the cost of production is falling, and thus that the feared “peak oil” is far in the distance. This is not the correct interpretation, especially when many types of commodities are decreasing in price at the same time. When prices are set in a world market, the big issue is affordability. Even if food, oil and coal are close to necessities, consumers can’t pay more than they can afford.

A person can tell from Figure 1 that since the first part of 2011, the prices of Brent oil, Australian coal, and food have been trending downward. This drop in prices continues into September. For example, as I write this, Brent oil price is $97.70, while the average price for the latest month shown (August) is $105.27. It is this steeper, recent drop, which many are concerned about.

We are dealing with several confusing issues. Let me try to explain some of them.

Issue #1: Over the short term, commodity prices don’t reflect the cost of extraction; they reflect what buyers can afford.

Oil prices are set on a worldwide basis. The cost of extraction varies around the world. So it is clear that oil prices will not match the cost of extraction, or the cost of extraction plus a reasonable profit, for any particular producer.

If oil prices drop, there is a temptation to believe that this is because the cost of production has dropped. Over a long enough period, a drop in the cost of production might be expected to lead to lower oil prices. But we know that many oil producers are finding current oil prices too low. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently reported, “Royal Dutch Shell CEO: Can’t deny returns are too low. Ben van Beurden prepared to shrink company in order to boost returns, profitability.” I wrote about this issue in my post, Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending.

In the short term, low prices are likely to signal that less of the commodity can be sold on the world market. Commodities such as oil and food are very desirable products. Why would less be needed? The issue, unfortunately, is affordability. Affordability depends largely on (1) wages and (2) debt. Wages tend to be fairly stable. The likely culprit, if affordability is leading to lower demand for desirable products like oil and food, is less growth in debt.

Issue #2: Economic growth tends to produce a debt bubble. 

Many economists believe that technological innovation is the key to economic growth. In my view, economies need a combination of the following to have economic growth of the type experienced in the last 100 years:1

(Increase in debt) + (cheap-to-extract fossil fuels) + (cheap-to-use non-fossil fuel resources) +  (technological innovation)

In such a case, debt keeps increasing as an economy grows. Unfortunately, this economic growth is only temporary, because resources tend to become more expensive to use over time, making the “cheap” resources required for economic growth disappear.

The problem underlying the rising cost of resources (both for fossil fuels and others) is that we tend to use the cheapest-to-extract resources first. Technological innovation continues to occur, but as diminishing returns hit both fossil fuels and other resources, there are larger and larger demands on technology to keep costs in line with what workers can afford. Eventually, the cost of resources (net of technological improvements) rises too much, and economic growth is cut off. By this time, a huge mountain of debt has been built up.

Let me explain further how this happens. Without fossil fuels, the world is pretty much stuck with the goods that can be made with wood, or from other basic resources such as animal skins, cotton, flax, or clay. A small quantity of metal and glass goods can be made, but deforestation quickly becomes a problem if an attempt is made to “scale up” the quantity of goods that require heat in their production.2

Once inexpensive coal became available, its availability opened the door to technological innovation, because it provided heat in quantity that had not been available previously. While ideas such as the steam engine had been around for a long time, the availability of inexpensive coal made the production of metals needed for the steam engine, plus train tracks and railroad cars, available at reasonable cost.

With the ability to make steel and concrete in quantity (both requiring heat) came the ability to make hydroelectric dams and electrical transmission lines, thus enabling electricity for public consumption. Oil, as a liquid fuel, paved the way for widespread use of additional innovations, such as private passenger automobiles, mechanized farm equipment, and airplanes. Between coal and oil, many workers could leave farming and begin jobs in other sectors of the economy.

The transformation that took place was huge: from wooden tools and human or animal labor to a modern industrial society. How could such a big change take place? Before the change, the ability to generate a profit that might be used for future capital investment was very limited. Also, the would-be purchasers of products made in an industrial economy were very poor. I would argue that the only way of bridging this gap was debt. See my earlier posts, Why Malthus Got His Forecast Wrong and The United States’ 65-Year Debt Bubble.

The use of debt has several advantages:

  1. It allows the consumer to buy the end product made with the new resources, assuming the end product isn’t too expensive relative to the consumer’s earnings.
  2. It gives resource-extracting businesses the money they need to buy equipment and to hire workers, prior to the time they have earned profits from resource extraction.
  3. It gives the companies the ability to build factories, before they have accumulated profits to pay for the factories.
  4. It allows governments to fund needed infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, before having the tax revenue available to pay for such infrastructure.
  5. Most importantly, the “demand” generated by (1), (2), (3) and (4) raises the price of resources sufficiently that it makes it profitable for companies in the business to extract those resources. 

Because of these issues, debt and cheap fossil fuels have a symbiotic relationship.

(1) The combination of debt, inexpensive fossil fuels, and inexpensive resources of other kinds allows the production of affordable goods that raise the standard of living of those using them. The result is what we think of as “economic growth.”

(2) The economic growth provides the additional income needed to pay back the debt with interest. The way this happens is indirectly, through what is sometimes described as “greater productivity of workers.” This greater productivity is really human productivity enhanced with devices made possible by fossil fuels, such as sewing machines, electric milking machines, and computers that allow workers to become more productive. Indirectly, the higher productivity of workers benefits both businesses and governments, through higher sales of goods to consumers and through higher taxes. In this way, businesses and governments can also repay debt with interest.

Higher-priced resources are a problem. Higher-priced resources of any kind tend to “gum up the works” of this payback cycle. Higher-priced oil in particular is a problem. In the United States, when oil prices rise above about $40 or $50 barrel, growth in wages stops.

Figure 2. Average wages in 2012$ compared to Brent oil price, also in 2012$. Average wages are total wages based on BEA data adjusted by the CPI-Urban, divided total population. Thus, they reflect changes in the proportion of population employed as well as wage levels.

Figure 2. Average wages in 2012$ compared to Brent oil price, also in 2012$. Average wages are total wages based on BEA data adjusted by the CPI-Urban, divided by total population. Thus, they reflect changes in the proportion of population employed as well as wage levels.

With higher oil prices, the rise in the standard of living stops for most workers, and good-paying jobs become difficult to find. There are a couple of reasons we would expect wages to stagnate with higher oil prices:

(1) Competition with cheaper energy sources. When oil prices rose, countries using a very high percentage of oil in their energy mix (such as the PIIGS in Europe, Japan, and United States) became less competitive in the world economy. They tended to fall behind China and India, countries that use much more coal (which is cheaper) in their energy mix.

Figure 3. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.

Figure 3. Average percent growth in real GDP between 2005 and 2011, based on USDA GDP data in 2005 US$.

(2) Need to keep the price of goods flat. Businesses need to keep the total price of their products close to “flat” despite rising oil prices, if they are to continue to sell as much of their product after the oil price increase as previously. Oil is one major cost of production; wages are another. An obvious way to offset rising oil prices is to reduce wages. This can be done in several ways: outsourcing work to a lower cost country, greater automation, or caps on wages. Any of these approaches will tend to produce the flattening in wages observed in Figure 2.

Based on Figure 2, an oil price above $40 or $50 per barrel seems to put a cap on wages, and indirectly leads to much less economic growth. Even if we didn’t hit this oil price limit–for example, if we had discovered a liquid fuel that could be produced in quantity for less than $40 barrel–we would eventually hit some kind of growth limit. For example, the limit might be climate change or too much population for food production capability. Even too much debt can be a limit, if citizens’ incomes don’t rise in a corresponding manner. At some point, it becomes impossible even to make interest payments if the debt level is too high. Indirectly, citizens wages even support business and government debt, because business revenues and tax revenues depend indirectly on wages.

Issue #3: Repaying debt is very difficult in a flat or declining economy.

Once growth stops (or slows down too much), the debt bubble tends to crash, because it is much more difficult to repay debt with interest in a shrinking economy than in a growing one.

Figure 4. Repaying loans is easy in a growing economy, but much more difficult in a shrinking economy.

Figure 4. Repaying loans is easy in a growing economy, but much more difficult in a shrinking economy.

The government can hide this issue for a very long time by rolling over old debt with new debt and by reducing interest rates to practically zero. At some point, however, the system seems certain to fail.

Not all debt is equivalent. Debt that simply blows bubbles in stock market prices has little impact on commodity prices. In order to keep commodity prices high enough for producers to want to continue to produce them, the debt really has to get back into the hands of the potential buyers of the commodities.

Also, any changes that tend to reduce world trade push the world economy toward contraction, and make it harder to repay debt with interest. Thus, sanctions against Russia, and Russia’s sanctions against the US and Europe, tend to push the world toward debt collapse more quickly.

Issue #4: Rising oil and other commodity prices are a problem, especially for countries that are importers of those commodities.

Most of us are already aware of this issue. If oil prices rise, or if food prices rise, our salaries do not rise by a corresponding amount. We end up cutting back on discretionary purchases. This cutback in discretionary purchases leads to layoffs in these sectors. We end up with the scenario we had in the 2007-2009 recession: falling home prices (since higher-priced homes are discretionary purchases), failing banks, and many without jobs. See my article Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis.

The reason that low oil and other commodity prices are welcomed by many people now is because the opposite–high oil and other commodity prices–are so terrible.

Issue #5: Falling oil and other commodity prices are a problem, if the cost of production is not dropping correspondingly. 

If commodity prices drop for any reason–even if it is because a debt bubble is popping–it is going to affect how much companies are willing to produce. There is going to be a tendency to cut back in new production. If prices drop too far, it is even possible that some companies will leave the market altogether.

Even if it doesn’t look like a country “needs” the current high oil price, there may still be a problem. Oil exporters depend on the high taxes that they are able to obtain when oil prices are high. If they cannot collect these taxes, they may need to cut back on programs such as food subsidies and new desalination plants. Without these programs, civil disorder may lead to cutbacks in oil production.

Issue #6: The growth in oil sales to China and to other emerging markets has been fueled by debt growth. This debt growth now seems to be stalling.

Growth in oil consumption has mostly been outside of the United States, the European Union, and Japan, in the recent past. China and other emerging market countries kept demand for oil high.

Figure 5. Oil consumption by part of the world updated through 2013, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 data.

Figure 5. Oil consumption by part of the world updated through 2013, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014 data.

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports, China’s terrifying debt ratios poised to breeze past US levels. He shows the following chart of China’s growth in debt from all sources, including shadow banking:

Figure 6. China's total debt, based on chart displayed in Ambrose Evans-Pritchard article.

Figure 6. China’s total debt, based on chart displayed in Ambrose Evans-Pritchard article.

This rise in debt now seems to be slowing, based on a Wall Street Journal report. A person wonders whether this stalling debt growth is affecting world oil and other commodity prices.

Figure 7. Figure from WSJ article PBOC Struggles as Chinese Borrowers Hold Back.

Figure 7. Figure from WSJ article PBOC Struggles as Chinese Borrowers Hold Back.

Other emerging markets also seem to be experiencing cutbacks. Since 2008, the United States, Europe, and Japan have had very easy money policies. Some of the money available at low interest rates was invested in emerging markets. Now the WSJ reports, Fed Dims Emerging Markets’ Allure. According to the article investors, investors are taking a more cautious stance on new investment because of fear of rising US interest rates.

Of course, other issues affect debt and world commodity demand as well. If interest rates rise, they many have a tendency to shrink new lending, in general, because loans become less affordable. Sanctions of one country against another, such as the US against Russia, and vice versa, also tend to reduce demand.

Issue #7: Debt bubbles have been a problem in past collapses.

According to Jesse Colombo, the Depression was to a significant result the result of debt bubbles that built up during the roaring twenties. Another, longer-term cause would seem to be the loss of farm jobs that occurred when coal allowed tasks that were previously done by farm workers to be done by either electricity or by horses pulling metal plows. The combination of a debt bubble and loss of jobs seems to have parallels to our current situation.

Many believe the subprime housing bubble crash contributed to the Great Recession. The oil price spike of 2007 and 2008 played a major role as well.

Issue #8: If we are facing the collapse of a debt bubble, it is quite possible that prices of many commodities will fall. This could possibly lead to a collapse in the supply of many types of energy products, more or less simultaneously.  

Figure 8, shown below, is a very rough estimate of the kind of decline in energy use we could be facing if a debt collapse leads to very low prices of many types of fuels simultaneously. Prices of many commodities crashed in 2008, and it was only with massive intervention that prices were propped up to 2011 levels. After the beginning of 2011, prices began sinking again, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 8. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

Figure 8. Estimate of future energy production by author. Historical data based on BP adjusted to IEA groupings.

Clearly governments will try to prevent another sharp crash in commodity prices. The question is whether they will be successful in propping up commodity prices, and for how long they will be successful. In a finite world, fossil fuel energy production eventually must decline, but we don’t know very precisely what timeframe.

Issue #9: My steep decline contrasts with the “best case” forecast of future oil consumption given by M. King Hubbert. 

M. King Hubbert wrote about a scenario where another type of fuel completely takes over, before oil and other fossil fuels are phased out. He even discusses the possibility of making liquid fuels using very cheap nuclear energy. The way he represents the situation is the following:

Figure 9. Figure from Hubbert's 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

Figure 9. Figure from Hubbert’s 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

In such a scenario, it is possible that oil supply will begin to decline when approximately 50% of resources are exhausted, and the down slope of the curve will follow a symmetric “Hubbert curve.” This situation seems to represent a best possible case; it doesn’t seem to represent the case we are facing today. If a debt collapse occurs, much of the remaining fuel is likely to stay in the ground.

Issue #10: Our economy is a networked system. Increasing debt is what keeps the economy inflated. If wages fail to keep pace with debt growth, the system seems likely to eventually crash.

In previous posts, I have represented the economy as a self-organized networked system, consisting of businesses, consumers, governments (with laws, regulations, and taxes), financial system, and international trade.

Figure 10. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

Figure 10. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

One reason the economy is represented as hollow is because the economy loses its capability to make goods that are no longer needed–such as buggy whips and rotary dial phones. Another reason why it might be represented as hollow is because debt is used to “puff it up” to its current size. Once the amount of debt starts shrinking, it makes it very difficult for the economy to maintain its stability.

Many “peak oilers” believe that if we have a problem with the financial system, all we have to do is start over with a new one–perhaps without debt. Everything I can see says that debt is an essential part of the current system. We could not extract fossil fuels in any significant quantity, without an ever-rising quantity of debt. The problem we are encountering now is that once resource costs get too high, the debt-based system no longer works. A new debt-based financial system likely won’t work any better than the old one.

If we try to build a new system without fossil fuels, we will be really starting over, because even today’s “renewables” are part of the fossil fuel system.3 We will have to go back to things that can be made directly from wood and other natural products without large amounts of heat, to have truly renewable resources.


[1] This is really a simplification of the real issues. As world population grows, it is necessary to obtain an increasing amount of food from the same arable land. Thus, it is necessary to find new processes to increase food production, at the same time that soil is quite possibly degrading. Soil is in a sense a “resource other than fossil fuels,” but I have not mentioned this issue specifically.

Growing pollution problems are in some sense an indirect cost of extracting fossil fuels and other resources. These represent another growing cost that I have not specifically identified. Furthermore, there are indirect expenses that do not fit neatly into any category, such as required desalination plants to handle growing populations in areas where water is scarce. We may need to consider mitigation expenses of all types as part of the “cost of resource extraction.”

My point is that it becomes increasingly difficult to offset these many cost increases with technological innovations. Furthermore, if no changes are made, a larger and larger share of both the workforce and resources are required for maintaining the status quo, leaving fewer workers and a smaller quantity of resources to “grow” the economy.

[2] Wind and water are additional sources of energy, but they are sources of mechanical energy, not heat energy, so are not helpful unless they can be converted first to electricity, and then to heat. In quantity, they never were very large in pre-fossil fuel days.

Figure 11. Annual energy consumption per head (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Tony Wrigley from Opening Pandora's Box. Figure originally from Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, also by Tony Wrigley.

Figure 11. Annual energy consumption per head (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Tony Wrigley from Opening Pandora’s Box. Figure originally from Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, also by Tony Wrigley.

[3] Of course, any existing “renewable” will continue to work until it needs repairs that are unavailable. Other parts of the system (such as electric transmission lines, batteries, inverters, and attached devices such as pumps) may fail more quickly than the renewables themselves.

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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1,074 Responses to Low Oil Prices: Sign of a Debt Bubble Collapse, Leading to the End of Oil Supply?

    • Paul says:

      An estimated 35,000 walruses hauled out on a beach near the village of Point Lay, Alaska, 700 miles northwest of Anchorage. According to scientists, the congregation of Pacific walruses, one of the largest ever, was prompted by a lack of sea ice which the walruses use to rest in Arctic waters. (Reuters/Corey Accardo/NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML) #

  1. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    This will be relevant to the discussion of the differences in behavior of chimps, bonobos, humans, and the nature/nurture divide. Also relevant to how individuals and groups may react to collapse.

    ‘Dr. Hariri and his team, you can read the full article published on August 3, 2014 in Nature Neuroscience.

    ongoing Duke Neurogenetics Study

    (I assume very few of you have access to this journal)

    So, epigenetics could be playing an important role in whether or not we’re getting enough serotonin to the brain, and in turn, that could be affecting our moods or how we respond to trauma.’

    Warning: the next couple of sentences are the speculations of an ignorant amateur.

    Epigenetics operates by attaching a methyl group to a gene…it does not change the genes DNA, but it controls the expression of the gene. Expression means the making of proteins. Genes are essentially recipes for making proteins. There is evidence that epigenetic markers are heritable, just as the basic genes are heritable.

    One of the reasons you need orgasms or a puppy or a hug is to stimulate serotonin production. But chronic stress results in the attachment of a methyl group to the serotonin transporter, changing the gene expression.

    Now do you get some ideas about how malleable ‘human nature’ or ‘chimp nature’ or ‘bonobo nature’ might be? Change the environment to change the epigenetics and one will likely see changes in serotonin and our conception of what is possible in terms of behavior. For good or ill.

    Don Stewart

  2. theedrich says:

    The energy-boosted population explosion in the Third World (especially Central America, MENA and sub-Saharan Africa) is already threatening civilizational collapse.  Since the Third World consists largely of pre-modern cultures, they are filled with corruption, fanaticism and crime of every sort.  In order to escape the life-threatening circumstances that all this entails, vast numbers of people from those cultures are trying to emigrate to the First World just at the time when Peak Everything is stymying the growth needed to accommodate these new immigrants.  Currently the reaction by the affluent classes in North America and Europe are demanding that taxpayers pay for the new arrivals as a “moral obligation.”  The concept that the large population movements we are now seeing are not a moral issue but one of incipient global collapse simply does not register in the minds of those who do not or cannot take the limits to growth seriously.  In America in particular, almost everything is viewed in quasi-religious, moralistic terms.  Since 1492 the western hemisphere has been interpreted as infinite in every way — the el Dorado of myth.  So the current diminution in the U.S. economy and employment is viewed as the result of perversity on somebody’s part.  The limits imposed by Mother Nature do not enter political discussion in any serious way.

    • InAlaska says:

      Yes, this is quite true. There is no belief in, understanding of, or discussion referencing the limits to growth on a finite world. Even our respected journalists and economists talk about “restarting growth.” How? Nobody ever suggests that this is an endgame. We might get growth going again in certain parts of the world, but not ever again all at once, globally. It’ll be like a cardiac fibrillation. Quivering, uncoordinated and spasmodic, until the heart stops for good.

  3. edpell says:

    Aljazeera tells us

    “Germany shows us that the latest generations of solar PV modules and land-based wind turbines generate enough power, when distributed in a decentralized smart grid, to keep an industrial and often cloudy country running smoothly and keep it internationally competitive. There’s no need to wait for more advanced or even cheaper technology, a common charge of conventional energy advocates. If Germany has been able to make nearly one-third of its power carbon-free in a decade, other countries should be able to do so just as quickly — if not more quickly now with much better technology.”

    Well I guess we are all wrong. Well of course that is only 1/3 of electric when the sun shines. So as long as we do not need heat, transportation, ag, or industry and no electric 18 hours per day we are all set except for the remaining 2/3rds.

    • edpell says:

      Those darn engineers with their maths they are all being paid off by big oil. They hate our green.

  4. Pingback: Roger Baker : America: You’ve got three more years to drive normally!, Part 2 | The Rag Blog | Olduvaiblog

  5. Paul says:

    Labor Participation Rate Drops To 36 Year Low; Record 92.6 Million Americans Not In Labor Force

    While by now everyone should know the answer, for those curious why the US unemployment rate just slid once more to a meager 5.9%, the lowest print since the summer of 2008, the answer is the same one we have shown every month since 2010: the collapse in the labor force participation rate, which in September slide from an already three decade low 62.8% to 62.7% – the lowest in over 36 years, matching the February 1978 lows. And while according to the Household Survey, 232K people found jobs, what is more disturbing is that the people not in the labor force, rose to a new record high, increasing by 315,000 to 92.6 million!


    Greeeeeen shooooots!!!

    • edpell says:

      So Paul, you are saying we are becoming richer and more and more people are able to live the life of Riley or Rothschild?

      • Paul says:

        I think what Zero Hedge is saying is that the data we are being fed by the US government regarding ‘an improving unemployment’ situation — is a big fat lie.

        Unless of course one believes that people dropping off the unemployment rolls and camping under a bridge eating dog food — reducing the % of officially unemployed — is a good thing…

        Here’s an idea — why not round up all the unemployed and send them to death camps. We could quickly be back to full employment!

  6. edpell says:

    “Overpopulation is the only problem,” said Dr. Charles A. Hall, a systems ecologist. “If we had 100 million people on Earth — or better, 10 million — no others would be a problem.”

    Hall is a retired professor of ecology SUNY.


    One of his peer professors calculates 70 million but I can not remember the guys name does anyone out there know is name?

    I agree it is under 100 million for soil sustainability. I agree 10 million would be even nicer. But more as a luxury than a necessity.

  7. Comment from a friend who is in the oil industry (academic no less!):

    I see, so you expect the supply will be short with the low prices
    then you need to stock some gas especially with the winter coming
    Why others do not get that? – they are probably really stupid – the short supply in winter would be really disastrous!
    – US must start buying more oil and gas to store away and not plan to export it then.
    I reccon prices cannot go down when the demand is high – when there is a deficit people tend to pay more to get it.
    Mentioning stable wages is also quite funny.
    She does not seem to be familiar with numbers.

    • Wages are at best stable–for those in high paid positions in the US. US family income tends to be dropping, because fewer are working. The numbers you show for the UK show a recent decline in real wages.

  8. ordinaryjoe says:

    Even if Ebola does not turn out to be the plague even a moderate spread could cause drastic reductions in the economy. You would think the black plague was already in effect with the closings of big box stores. If Ebola spreads what sectors will it effect? Our much spoken of service economy. You going out to eat if Ebola prevalent? NOT. Gown to the spa? NOT. Getting on a plane to visit aunt Jane? NOT. The price of oil could plummet as discretionary travel becomes nonexistent. Janet cant print an Ebola cure.

    • InAlaska says:

      If you believe in the Gaia Hypothesis, this could be the Eaarth finally self-regulating one species that has gotten out of control. In the process of reducing numbers, Ebola could also reduce carbon emissions.

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        I do indeed believe in Gaia. You could call me a true believer. That being said I am a human, I feel compassion is probably humans greatest trait , if Ebola takes off it will not be fun. Ebola has a doubling time of 21 days I hear. That makes humans mere novices in exponential growth terms. Not much activity on this board last couple days. Everyone weaving hazmat suits out of alpaca hair? 🙂

        • InAlaska says:

          Sorry, no alpaca suit yet, but I did just brew 12 gallons of beer. Its snowing hard today and we’ve got about 9 inches on the ground. I think I’ll call it Snowy IPA. Winter, the great Alaska equalizer, keeps the riff raff out and the population density down. Makes it hard to grow hops, though….

  9. Paul says:

    Just as the US admitted shortly after the so-called “Arab Spring” began spreading chaos across the Middle East that it had fully funded, trained, and equipped both mob leaders and heavily armed terrorists years in advance, it is now admitted that the US State Department through a myriad of organizations and NGOs is behind the so-called “Occupy Central” protests in Hong Kong.


    China and Russia have thrown the USD reserve currency under the bus by starting to trade energy in their own currencies…

    And the US is rather pissed off about this …


    Russia gets Ukraine?

    China gets HK?

  10. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    VPK, how can you justify climate-induced warming knowing the effect it is having on Walruses in the Arctic?


    As sea ice melts amid global warming, 35,000 walruses crowd the shores of Alaska

    “The walruses are hauling out on land in a spectacle that has become all too common in six of the last eight years as a consequence of climate-induced warming,” said a release from the U.S. Geological Survey.

    Though they are able to “haul out” onshore using their tusks, which can grow to three feet, dry land is not a walrus’s preferred environment. For a rest from interminable swimming, walruses turn to sea ice for a break. In fact, they migrate north during summers as sea ice melts, and travel south again as the ice returns.

    That strategy worked until about 2007. That year, for the first time, sea ice failed to form, leading to increasingly large conventions of walrus on Alaskan shores. Before, fewer than 100 animals would appear together. These numbers quickly came to be measured in the thousands.

  11. InAlaska says:

    What’s all this about Buffaloes, suddenly. JMG’s post was also related to buffalo.

  12. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    This is off at a little bit of a tangent to Gail’s current post. However, it does relate to most everything that is said in her fine series of articles and the comments thereon.

    See Charles Hugh Smith’s review of Francis Fukuyama’s dissection of what is wrong with the US government.

    I want to go from the sublime to the ridiculous. I live in a college town. The local newspaper had a big headline ‘UNC fails women who are sexually assaulted’. The Obama administration is putting pressure on colleges to, essentially, perform the role of parents in managing student’s sexual behavior. There is an enormous lobby of (mostly) women behind the move.

    Now ask yourself the question: What are the police for? If a woman is sexually assaulted, why does she go to an educational institution rather than the police and the courtroom? We recently had the ridiculous situation of a Duke student who was not allowed to graduate for a supposed crime that the police and the district attorney refused to prosecute. (Maybe because there wasn’t any evidence that would stand up in court?)

    The faith in, or at least attempts to use, centralized government to solve all problems is exemplified by so many current actions:
    a. The purchase of sub-machine guns by the Department of Agriculture (what are the police and National Guard for?)
    b. Attempts to move sexual assault cases from the pretty carefully put together legal system into a poorly put together ‘student court’ which is much more subject to being swayed by emotional appeals…regardless of evidence or the lack thereof.
    c. Riot squads confronting celebratory crowds of rowdy people.
    d. Guaranteed health care for people getting their fifth round of bypass surgery due to sedentary lives and bad eating habits.
    e. Roadblocks stopping random drivers and trying to find a reason to take their money (especially common in Texas, it seems).
    Etc., etc., etc.

    We long ago passed the point of diminishing returns on government effectiveness to solve social problems.

    Don Stewart

  13. Gerald B says:

    I absolutely love this topic. I had the good fortune to visit with Peter Tertzakian several years ago (yes, Mr. “Thousand Barrels a Second”) and the compelling case of the geopolitics of oil/gas/energy security are just as important today as ever before. It’s scary and impressive at the same time how we’re seeing a bidding war over human capital ala https://www.petroskills.com/blog/entry/how-to-build-competent-people-parts-1-2 isn’t it? I mean, without all these people moving about on work visas earning ever more, buying ever more and churning the commerce engine ever higher… there wouldn’t be a self-propelling debt bubble would there? The worldwide commercialization and the debt society that goes along with… makes for a mighty big fall (imho).

  14. Don Stewart says:

    Dear All

    This will be yet another response to much recent discussion about food and survival. There won’t be much here that I haven’t said before, but the content is better organized and the supporting data more convincing thanks to David Kennedy’s new book Eat Your Greens: The Surprising Power of Home Grown Leaf Crops, published by New Society Publishers.

    Early on, the author notes that ‘for the first time in human history, overeating is a larger global threat to our health than hunger’. But then adds that ‘it is likewise time to graduate to the new task of producing that plenty more sustainably, with greater justice, respect, and beauty. In short, with more grace.’

    So what you do NOT have here is ‘How to survive Mad Max’ or ‘Death in the New Stone Age’. What you do have is a sensible way to live a healthy, happy life in the year 2014. It will turn out that the prescription for 2014 will help us a great deal in terms of declining fossil fuel availability, climate change, the global obesity and general chronic disease epidemic, the collapse of debt, the rise of depression and stress as serious medical problems, and that ever present problem called erectile dysfunction.

    In chapter 3, Kennedy talks about Raising Food, Not Money. The home gardener is fundamentally engaged in raising food and working happily in his garden, not making money. And therein lies a world of difference. When asked ‘how much time do you have to spend in your garden?’ by a skeptical believer in all thing monetary, one gardener replied ‘as much time as I can’. This divide can only be bridged when the monetarist either gets religion or has a rude wake up call in a financial collapse.

    One of the points of chapter 3 is that leafy greens are not something that the industrial food system or the farmer’s market is very good at dealing with. Fresh leafy greens are full of water, and thus begin to degrade as soon as they are harvested. The best industrial farms chill the greens immediately and then transport them to a grocery store in a refrigerated truck, and the grocery store keeps them cool until you buy them. Still, about a week has likely elapsed since those greens were growing in a field. Poor small farmers selling at farmers markets take wilted greens and sprinkle them with water to restore the appearance of freshness. Some kale grown in your own backyard, by contrast, can be harvested immediately before you use it. As you can see, the home grown kale is not only more nutritious for you, it is also largely independent of the fossil fuel powered industrial system.

    Kennedy addresses our problems and opportunities with the food issues in terms both of our economic and political structures and also of the organization of our home. Here he is, talking about Efficiency on page 40 and following:

    ‘Efficiency describes the amount of useful output compared to the total input of any system. Natural ecosystems tend to make very efficient use of resources. That is, they produce a lot of living tissue relative to the energy, water, and nutrients available as inputs. The only energy source accessible to natural systems is sunlight, but they have had a very long time…to develop and test myriad techniques for optimizing that energy. In many natural systems, for example, fluids are moved using logarithmically or progressively growing spirals, because they are the most efficient configuration. Spiders can spin their webs at ambient temperatures, whereas man has to generate very high temperatures to produce Kevlar, the substance nearest in tensile strength to a web.

    In contrast to natural ecosystems, industrial food production supplements available sunlight with massive inputs of energy from petroleum, coal, and natural gas. The profligate use of this supplemental energy has engendered a level of sloppiness that would doom any natural ecosystem. It will also eventually doom any man-made system. Because these fossil fuel energy sources are not renewable…, a system dependent on them can be maintained indefinitely. Building a durable food system demands that we dramatically improve the basic efficiency of producing our food so that the system more closely resembles natural sunlight-driven systems.
    The more rational course is to strip demand down to a minimum and then consider the different possible ways of meeting that demand….There are many simple ideas for reducing food waste.’

    If you read that last paragraph, you will find that Kennedy is not very interested in trying to figure out how to feed 9 billion people on the diet currently eaten in Luxembourg (highest meat consumption in the world), or Mexico (highest obesity rates in the world), or in the United States (worst results in terms of chronic disease). Nor is he interested in trying to figure out how to continue to waste prodigious amounts of food. Instead, his project is figuring out a rational way to feed the world a satisfying and health promoting diet, as efficiently as possible (using the definition of efficiency as described above).

    Kennedy describes a food system with 4 layers:
    a. Home Scale: kitchen gardens, community garden plots. Most of our vegetable needs, much of our fruit, some eggs, etc.
    b. Local Commercial Scale: Small farms, CSAs, farmers markets. Pastured poultry and eggs, grass-fed beef and lamb, small scale dairy. Most of the remaining fruit and vegetable needs. Processed foods such as bread, cheese, jams, sauces.
    c. Industrial Scale: Large farms, food manufacturing, chain supermarkets. Grains, pseudo-grains, legumes, and oilseeds. Animal feed and hay for local farms.
    d. Global Scale: High value foods that cannot be produced more locally. Coffee, tea, cacao, spices, smaller amounts of bananas and other tropical fruits.

    Is there enough land for home gardening? In the US, two-thirds of the families live in detached houses. The lot is 12,000 square feet larger than the footprint of the house. Even if we double the size of the current average garden (600 square feet), we have plenty of room left over. In a crisis, we would doubtless press every square foot into a heavily designed permaculture type system. Kennedy notes that the best gardeners currently produce 3 times as much food per square foot as the average gardener. Kennedy also covers some very practical plants which generate both leafy greens as well as calorie dense food, such as sweet potatoes. In a collapse, we would see a lot of sweet potatoes growing everywhere, and no deer browsing it and certainly our neighbors would not be feeding deer.

    Permit me a small editorial. The ‘gloom and doom’ projections frequently start from a basis of ‘what we do now projected into the future’. Kennedy starts from ‘what do we need, compared to available resources’. One way leads to despair, while the other way leads to guarded optimism. Guarded because humans frequently display suicidal tendencies. Sapience is our scarcest resource.

    Much of the rest of the book is practical. Immediately after the above discussion, Kennedy shows you how to build a raised bed, which is the key infrastructure of a home garden. You need a shovel, and lots of waste organic matter. As everyone with eyes can tell you, suburbs and cities produce overflowing amounts of waste organic material. So what is stopping you? One of Kennedy’s chapters is titled Earthly Paradise: Creating Healthy Food Gardens.

    Some chapter titles:
    Dynamic New Leaf Crops for the Home Garden
    Growing Multi-Purpose Leaf Crops
    Growing Fresh Greens Year-Round
    Growing Vertical Greens
    Growing Edible Cover Crops
    Preserving the Leaf Harvest (e.g., drying)
    Concentrating the Nutrition of Green Leaves

    Let me close with an item that Kennedy touches on lightly. As we have discussed on this blog many times, maintaining the mineral and fixed atmospheric gas levels in a farm which sells it’s production to cities is a complicated question which will likely eventually be resolved with Farmers of Forty Centuries like techniques. Much weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth as we reluctantly do what we have to do.

    Maintaining a garden, however, is really simple. Just recycle all the organic material which comes from the garden right back into the garden, plus all your urine. Composting solid waste and returning it to the garden is optional, for extra points. If you live in suburbia, and simply raid what your neighbors are throwing away on trash day, you will have far more than enough to restore degraded soil to health.

    Consider, for example, the nutrient richness of some of Kennedy’s favorite greens as compared to what you may buy in a supermarket. The numbers represent protein, iron, calcium, and vitamin A in a 3.5 oz serving.

    Alfalfa Leaf Concentrate 50.8/ 54.0/ 1380/ 3835
    Beef Stead 29/ 1.9/ 22.0/ 0.0
    Eggs 15/ 2.1/ 66/ 182
    Pinto Beans 21.4/ 5.1/ 113/ 0.0

    How will all that iron and calcium, which were taken from your garden soil, get back into your garden soil so that the next generation of greens can use them? Primarily through your urine. I hope you got a chance to look at the TED talk on Poop.

    Don Stewart

  15. Paul says:

    Is Google Making Students Stupid?

    Today, computers often play both roles. Nicholas Carr, the author of the 2008 Atlantic cover story “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, confronts this paradox in his new book, The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, analyzing the many contemporary fields in which software assists human cognition, from medical diagnostic aids to architectural modeling programs. As its title suggests, the book also takes a stand on whether such technology imprisons or liberates its users. We are increasingly encaged, he argues, but the invisibility of our high-tech snares gives us the illusion of freedom. As evidence, he cites the case of Inuit hunters in northern Canada.

    Older generations could track caribou through the tundra with astonishing precision by noticing subtle changes in winds, snowdrift patterns, stars, and animal behavior. Once younger hunters began using snowmobiles and GPS units, their navigational prowess declined. They began trusting the GPS devices so completely that they ignored blatant dangers, speeding over cliffs or onto thin ice. And when a GPS unit broke or its batteries froze, young hunters who had not developed and practiced the wayfinding skills of their elders were uniquely vulnerable.


    Thinking this through … for the most part we have none of the skills that our ancestors developed and passed on over many generations…. and we are about to be thrown into a world where even those ancient ancestors would have had a hard time coping…

    We are neither mentally, physically nor psychologically prepared for what is coming …. we may fool ourselves with our organic gardens into believing the transition will be relatively easy…

    It will not — even for those of us who have prepared.

    Again I throw out the challenge — try going a month without using electricity or petrol.

    If that is too much then try a week – or even a weekend…

    • Jarvis says:

      Correct as always Paul.
      I have an ancestor who was one of the Royal Engineers that founded the province you and I share. These were tough young men trained in everything from farming and animal husbandry to building bridges and road and of course forts. These men were trained to such a degree that the Brits could drop a group of these guys off at any remote location in the world and there would be a city there a few decades later. They were instrumental in expanding the British Empire of the day. I know you’ll argue that they were constantly supplied which is not the case they made do with local materials for years at a time. Interestingly there first supplies was a brideship!
      I don’t delude myself that I’m as tough and as my great grandfather and he didn’t have to live through the dark days that will be part of this great reset but like you I’m learning old skills and starting to wean myself off oil . Believe me with boats, planes and vehicles I was addicted now it’s walking, my bike and I do love my electric car (which I will dismantle when TSHTF for the lithium batteries) I’ll use what ever I can to make this transition to medieval times easier.

      • xabier says:


        Good comment. I would suggest that the great advantage of people 100 years ago, or even 70, was – apart from their skills – that they none of them expected life to be kind or easy. They didn’t waste any energy in lamenting or fearing loss of luxury. They got on with it.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Xabier
          I respond with mixed emotions. First, I recommend the movie Purple Rose of Cairo by Woody Allen. Allen is old enough to have been born into the depression. The story is of a housewife whose husband has become unemployable because of the depression. Whatever income the family has comes from her earnings plus whatever welfare they can collect. The husband plays dice behind the closed factory. The wife goes to Hollywood movies, which project a ‘madcap Manhattan weekend’ world which is totally foreign to anything she actually experiences. Then follows the famous sequence where actors and audience step through the screen into the action. She is launched into a ‘madcap Manhattan weekend’ while the actor is launched into the drab world of unemployed husbands.

          My point is that fantasy worlds were very common among poor people during the depression.

          But things were different. I was talking with my wife this evening at dinner about the conversations I overheard among the women as I was helping my mother do the wash. The women tended to discuss men in very practical terms…as in which one actually had a job and was reliable. There wasn’t much attention paid to fabulous quarter of a million dollar weddings. A ‘church wedding’ was viewed as an extravagance.

          I don’t think that the differences between 70 yeas ago and today can be easily condensed into some slogan. It’s all very complicated.

          Don Stewart

        • Paul says:

          Have been a week in New Zealand now … and I am observing essential exactly that here. The country is – other than Auckland – one massive farm (on previous visits I was in Auckland and Queenstown only so had not seen the countryside)

          Virtually everyone runs some sheep, cows, chickens — and everyone pretty much ‘gets on with it’

          One amusing insight … in some places around the world people are busy prepping for the Big One. Some are setting up little sustainable villages — even communes. Yet they are surrounded by hordes who are doing absolutely nothing — and who are likely to overrun these pockets of sustainability.

          In NZ – particularly the South Island — everyone is already prepared – because this is how most people already live their lives — the majority produce food.

          Of course the climate is also ideal in many places —as a permaculture expert who came here from Europe 30 years ago told us yesterday ‘in Europe during winter months you live a very meager existence — whereas here there is an abundance year round’

          This is one place where I think the majority of the people will come out the other end in pretty good shape. Even if there are atomic energy issues — it is one of the furthest places from any of that…

          • Lizzy says:

            The majority of people in the South Island (where I come from) live in towns.

            • Paul says:

              The people in towns would be needed on the farms because organic farming is labour intensive… fortunately, unlike most other countries there are not many millions living in the cities of the south island of nz.

              No doubt many in the towns will perish when modern medical care and medicines are no longer available… so the number of mouths to feed will reduce further.

              Still… most of the land is farmed using petrochemical inputs — and that soil will grow nothing when the oil stops flowing… so this country will still suffer through the transition.

              Having more sheep than people will no longer be a joke at that point….

  16. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Do you guys just make crap up as you go along? Pretty soon you’ll have me shooting the Buffalo from an 1880 train – LOL. The near extinct Buffalo was found in the Bronx, you know NEW YORK as in the US. Please get informed on history. Go to the link.

  17. Daniel Hood says:

    This morning on Bloomberg Surveillance…

    Christopher Grisanti, founder, money manager and principal at Grisanti Capital Management, discusses the factors that have pushed oil companies out of favor with investors.

    I quote….

    “I would push back on the growth issue, I think there’s more and more oil. Of course we have the American renaissance but that is the tip of the iceberg, in the sense of once other countries see how “PROFITABLE” hydraulic fracking has been, I think you’re going to start seeing it in more and more places, so this fear of running out of oil is just not going to come true”

    “Commodities are all going down in price, if you’re an oil company, there’s too much oil around, so the price is going to be lower, we clearly see WTI a lot lower than it was a year ago and we see it going lower”

    So according to this guy fracking is an unqualified profitable success and the reason prices are lower is because we’re swimming in oil.


    • Paul says:

      He probably knows this is bunk… but he needs to keep the spin going so that investors continue to pump money into the fracking myth so that the hamster keeps the wheel turning

      • Daniel Hood says:

        Agreed, amusing to hear him even as the big oil majors bug out. Let’s not forget a typical well’s production drops circa 70% during the 1st year, variability in production potential and the dwindling number of remaining drilling sites in the few “sweet spots” that offer vaguely profitable drilling potential. Meanwhile balance sheets of “frackers” are loaded with debt, short on profits from sales of products, real profits coming from sales of assets, drilling rights/leases etc.

        The pump&dump scam>>>
        >>Borrow money, use it to lease thousands of acres for drilling.
        >>Borrow more money, drill as many wells like crazy.
        >>Scream this is the boom beginning that continues forever making you rich.
        >>Sell drilling leases to other “idiots” at profit, raise funds through IPO or bond sales, use proceeds to hide losses.

        The actual script>>>
        >>>Boom2Bust as production from shale gas & LTO wells stalls, declines eta 2015-2020.
        >>>Oil&gas loudly blames “environmentalists” & restrictive regs.
        >>>Congress rolls back environmental laws.
        >>>Loosened regs do little to boost actual production, which continues to dive, but FF industry wins the right to scrape the barrel cheaper than would otherwise have been the case.

        US in serious shtook, everyone goes crazy blaming each other, by the time this thing’s done “anti-frackers” will be useful scapegoats labelled “terrorists”

    • Evidence that you don’t need to know anything to write Bloomberg articles! Why does he think all commodities are going down? Can that be good?

      • Daniel Hood says:

        lol they keep peddling em out on “Propagandaberg”

        Here’s a tech analysis on Brent/WTI prices from one of my associates…


        The causality behind these observations is multifaceted and consist of several factors:

        • Instability in the Middle East
        • Increase in Libyan crude oil supply
        • Reduced US imports (increased domestic production)
        • Weak Chinese manufacturing data
        • Struggling Eurozone economy
        • Stronger dollar

        • Thanks! I think that Saudi Arabia’s price cutting actions are also now raising questions. You may have seen this New York Times article, Crude Oil Prices Continue Decline, Dropping to Lowest Levels Since 2012. According to it:

          Crude oil prices accelerated their decline on Thursday, with the main international benchmark falling about 2 percent and the American equivalent dropping below $90 a barrel.

          Now at their lowest levels since 2012, crude prices have been under pressure in recent months. The increase in global demand for oil this year is turning out to be slower because of weaker-than-anticipated growth in China and Europe, while oil supplies remain strong, leading to growing inventories.

          But the sudden drop on Thursday was seen as a response to Saudi Arabia’s signaling on Wednesday to the markets that it was more interested in maintaining market share than in defending prices. Saudi Aramco, the national oil company, stunned markets by announcing that it was cutting prices by about $1 a barrel to Asia, the crucial growth market for the Gulf producers, as well as by 40 cents a barrel to the United States.

          With oil prices already under pressure, “there has been a widespread perception or hope that the Saudis would pull back on production,” said Richard Mallinson, an analyst at Energy Aspects, a research firm based in London. Instead, the Saudis are “pricing aggressively to retain buyers,” potentially at the expense of OPEC rivals like Iran and Iraq, he said.

          • Daniel Hood says:

            Interesting indeed!

            So it seems as things stand the US is fighting back on the domestic energy production front but also now monetarily via the Fed’s tapering programme, signalling an increase in interest rates and strengthening dollar making things difficult elsewhere. Europe’s completely bust, China’s slowing but still growing, Japan’s perilous and emerging markets will find things tougher without the continued flood of dollars. The Saudis as we know are currently battling with Iran and proxies Iraq/Syria for market share.

            I’m still still sticking with my original prediction that by 2015-2020 US fracking plummets.

            Follow the energy…

  18. Fun new Rant for Our Finite Worlders!
    Fed Gate, PIMPCO and Oil Prices

  19. Pingback: Roger Baker : America: You’ve got three more years to drive normally!, Part 2 | The Rag Blog

  20. ordinaryjoe says:

    A buffalo
    a creature of beauty
    that belongs to the land it inhabits
    What happened to the buffalo
    is not OK

  21. thanks Gail- insightful given pump prices are down and something is up. I have been following the Russian economy which is in a sorry state, money leaves and pushes up house prices but more importantly investment in enhanced oil recovery seems to be at risk and hence a quick peak in Russian oil- this coupled with China’s slowdown makes for interesting times. An insight into the Russian credit crisis and implications for global economy?

    • I will have to look into the Russian situation. Clearly sanctions against Russia make their ability to extract oil worse. If they respond with counter-sanctions, then the economic slowdown (and thus difficulty repaying debt) is transferred elsewhere, particularly to Europe.

      Russia was already in difficulty before this round of sanctions, thanks to the plateauing (or decline) in oil supply and the low oil prices. This was a big part of the reason for the Ukrainian crisis. I read that one of the Russian banks reported difficulty with high default rates on loans to the Ukraine. I am sure there are other problems as well.

      • Very interesting situation and all to do with credit- interesting development with Rockefellas getting out of fossil fuels and I’m sure there is more business sense going on than being notionally green- look forward to your next post.

        • kesar says:

          In regard to Rockefellers getting out of oil business I assume they expect many of these companies will go bust soon, like it happened in the 80’s. Then the Government will privatize them trying to prolong BAU. Very probable scenario IMO.

          • Christian says:

            People are so naive as to believe Rockefellows went green! Wonder what they are doing with all this money, surely not producing wind turbines (some of this just for the show)

            • Lidia17 says:

              Making a killing on the insider trades to be made based on the news? Think anyone will bother investingating that?

            • kesar says:

              I didn’t even know they invested in ‘green’ (whatever that means). This way I didn’t even have to consider why they do it. The only viable option I see is just portfolio diversification strategy. I doubt they care for image.

            • kesar says:

              I wonder if anyone noticed sudden change in Wall Street Journal approach to climate/green/sustainability issues. There is quite significant change in their attitude toward ‘progressiveness’. I guess TPTB are planning to change direction/policy soon. New narrative is needed – the old one doesn’t work and is so boring.

  22. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Gail and other members, http://www.bloomberg.com/energy/
    oil prices dropped again today:
    WTI -3.11 to 91.46
    Brent -2.33 to 94.87

    Ninety Four pt. Eighty Seven for Brent oil?!
    The gap between WTI & Brent is now only 3.41

    I’m really surprised they dropped again, since I figured they had gone down about as much as possible. There was someone on here the other day saying it was being caused by the tapering of QE as money to lend tightened, and of course we have Gail’s article above. This is starting to get very interesting.

    • Ouch! This is beginning to look like July 2008, but starting from a lower base.

      Edit: Actually, this may be an “end of the month” issue, when one contract closes out and a new one starts. I see the prices aren’t too different from recent spot prices.

  23. Jarle B says:


    from time to time I bump into people who insists that we don’t need growth to repay debt with interests. They talk about M2 money: The banks pay salaries or pay for services with M2 money, and those who get these pays their debt with them. When the M2 money is back in the bank, the bank can use them to pay salaries and to pay for services, and this way all depth can be paid for.

    I don’t get it, what say you?

    • I haven’t studied this. The velocity of M2 money keeps going down–it is hard to believe that inadequate M2 money is a problem. There is enough interchangeability among different kinds of money that I am not sure looking at one measure (M2) by itself tells you a whole lot.

  24. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    You wrote this article back in 2012:
    How much oil growth do we need to support world GDP growth?

    In the article, you state that a 4 percent growth in GDP implies the need for a 3 percent growth in the supply of oil.

    Chris Martenson’s current article:
    Attempting To Sustain The Unsustainable
    Only makes the inevitable crash worse

    (which is behind a paywall) makes the point that the current global debt of 100 trillion dollars implies that the debtors will be able to generate 182 trillion in payments, at 5 percent interest. Using your three quarters ratio, that leads me to an increase in oil production of 61 percent required to generate the additional GDP. Or else a miracle happens.

    If we fine tune our calculations a little, we might think that the current level of GDP is inflated by perhaps 25 percent by all the money printing. If so, the additional oil required is roughly a hundred percent *. And all other headwinds such as mineral depletion and topsoil depletion and climate change would only add to that. Markets are indeed wonderfully sagacious mechanisms!

    Don Stewart

    * The current money printing has inflated oil production by permitting negative cash flow oil to be produced. So the doubling is from a lower base than current actual production. This isn’t meant to be laser leveled, just ballpark.

  25. Paul says:

    “And the reason we won’t go back to the Stone Age is that unless people forget everything they have learned, their lives will be different. For example, in the Stone Age people didn’t know about optics. People understand now how lenses work. So even if there isn’t much fuel to manufacture glass, people still have a better understanding of what to do with glass than they did when people lived in caves.”

    When the Roman Empire collapsed a great deal of knowledge disappeared…

    • Suzanne says:

      “When the Roman Empire collapsed a great deal of knowledge disappeared…”

      But people survived. Why on earth do you think that if plagues, famine, drought, climate change, etc. didn’t kill off all people, they are going to disappear this time? Look if humans become extinct, it is going to be because life on Earth has changed so profoundly that most forms of life have died.

      It has happened before, and perhaps it will happen again. But if that fate is waiting for Earth in not far down the road, lack of oil and its repercussions will be meaningless. Who gives a shit if people don’t have oil if you think the history of man is going to come to a complete end very soon.

      • Jarle B says:

        “But people survived. Why on earth do you think that if plagues, famine, drought, climate change, etc. didn’t kill off all people, they are going to disappear this time?”

        Mankind will live on. In small numbers, but we will cling on. Living simple, hard lifes with moments of happiness in the blend.

        • Jan Steinman says:

          “Mankind will live on.”

          Said one stegosaur to the next!

          I certainly hope that Homo sapiens is not the pinnacle of evolution.

          I vote for cockroaches. They’ve been around for about 100 times longer than we have, through several great extinctions.

      • Paul says:

        The Romans left behind bath houses… not 4000 ponds fuel of spent nuclear fuel that will explode if not cooled

        Also the Romans did not pillage the world’s resources — so those that came after them still had that opportunity…

        This time……. is different

        • VPK says:

          To “support” the city of Rome with a population of only 5 million, the Romans basically conquered all of Europe. After the “fall”, the city had a population of only 30,000 souls.
          The people of Rome had a food dole supplied by North Africa (Carthage and Egypt) grain harvest, an event celebrated by festivities every year.

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      I dont need to know anything its all there in you tube videos.

  26. Pingback: The Oil Head-Fake: The Illusion that Lower Oil Prices Are Positive - Techhic

  27. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    This is a good article to read as a follow up to Gail’s article above.


    The Oil Head-Fake: The Illusion that Lower Oil Prices Are Positive

    I’ve described the dynamic of structural imbalances of supply and demand leading to lower prices for crude oil as the Oil Head-Fake: high global production (supply) continues while demand declines due to global recession, and the resulting imbalance of supply and demand triggers a major decline in price. But this drop is not positive; it’s a temporary response that triggers a variety of disruptive consequences.

    Meanwhile, the more price drops, the more marginal (costly) production is taken offline. This sets up the ideal conditions for a positive feedback on price: when demand recovers, supply will never be able to catch up.

    Another peculiarity is that as the easy-to-get oil is depleted, the need for financial and human capital investment soars. It requires billions of dollars and vast expertise to maintain production, and exporting nations have typically made the choice to devote their scarce capital to social welfare and feathering the beds of Elites rather than investing billions of dollars to maintain their production capacity.

    The essence of the Oil Head-Fake Dynamic is the inevitable drop in oil price resulting from a sharp decline in demand (i.e. global recession) will trigger disruption of the global oil supply chain that will eventually push prices higher than most currently think possible.”

    That last part I take issue with, that prices will go higher than most currently think possible, at least in the long term, because if what Gail has written about in this latest article is correct, then oil price cannot go above about 100 dollars a barrel except in the short term. Shortonoil has max. Brent price at about 117 a barrel. I think that’s optimistic, with 105 a barrel being a more likely price ceiling. In any case, there is a limit to high it can go and still sell 75 mbd crude oil. We are now at a point in time when the dynamics of oil price vs. the economy along with diminishing returns of a finite resource are pushing up against limits. Should prove to be a very interesting next several years.

    • This is the article that Don wrote about earlier from Charles Hugh Smith. The original has a link to my post at the end, called “Of related interest.”

      • Stilgar Wilcox says:

        Ok, I’ll look for that. There are so many responses in this elongated thread due to your success, I am hard pressed to have read it all. LOL.

  28. Adam says:

    “The UK and US economies may be on the mend at last, but that’s not the pattern elsewhere. On a global level, growth is being steadily drowned under a rising tide of debt, threatening renewed financial crisis, a continued squeeze to living standards, and eventual mass default.”


    • Paul says:

      Adam – you are aware that the numbers the US reports are complete fabrications? They make them up – literally…

      All that is keeping the US and UK afloat is more debt and more stimulus… that is it. The UK just announced they have missed deficit targets by a country mile – again…

      They are simply kicking the can – they are not recovering…

      Here’s a little ditty about the green shoots in America:

      No, the economy is most definitely not “recovering”. Despite what you may hear from the politicians and from the mainstream media (shrugging off today’s terrible GDP print), the truth is that the U.S. economy is in far worse shape than it was prior to the last recession. In fact, we are still pretty much where we were at when the last recession finally ended. When the financial crisis of 2008 struck, it took us down to a much lower level economically. Thankfully, things have at least stabilized at this much lower level. For example, the percentage of working age Americans that are employed has stayed remarkably flat for the past four years. We should be grateful that things have not continued to get even worse. It is almost as if someone has hit the “pause button” on the U.S. economy. But things are definitely not getting better, and there are a whole host of signs that this bubble of false stability will soon come to an end and that our economic decline will accelerate once again. The following are 17 facts to show to anyone that believes that the U.S. economy is just fine…

      #1 The homeownership rate in the United States has dropped to the lowest level in 19 years.

      #2 Consumer spending for durable goods has dropped by 3.23 percent since November. This is a clear sign that an economic slowdown is ahead.

      #3 Major retailers are closing stores at the fastest pace that we have seen since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

      #4 According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 20 percent of all families in the United States do not have a single member that is employed. That means that one out of every five families in the entire country is completely unemployed.

      #5 There are 1.3 million fewer jobs in the U.S. economy than when the last recession began in December 2007. Meanwhile, our population has continued to grow steadily since that time.

      #6 According to a new report from the National Employment Law Project, the quality of the jobs that have been “created” since the end of the last recession does not match the quality of the jobs lost during the last recession…

      Lower-wage industries constituted 22 percent of recession losses, but 44 percent of recovery growth.
      Mid-wage industries constituted 37 percent of recession losses, but only 26 percent of recovery growth.
      Higher-wage industries constituted 41 percent of recession losses, and 30 percent of recovery growth.

      #7 After adjusting for inflation, men who work full-time in America today make less money than men who worked full-time in America 40 years ago.

      #8 It is hard to believe, but 62 percent of all Americans make $20 or less an hour at this point.

      #9 Nine of the top ten occupations in the U.S. pay an average wage of less than $35,000 a year.

      #10 The middle class in Canada now makes more money than the middle class in the United States does.

      #11 According to one recent study, 40 percent of all Americans could not come up with $2000 right now even if there was a major emergency.

      #12 Less than one out of every four Americans has enough money put away to cover six months of expenses if there was a job loss or major emergency.

      #13 An astounding 56 percent of all Americans have subprime credit in 2014.

      #14 As I wrote about the other day, there are now 49 million Americans that are dealing with food insecurity.

      #15 Ten years ago, the number of women in the U.S. that had jobs outnumbered the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps by more than a 2 to 1 margin. But now the number of women in the U.S. on food stamps actually exceeds the number of women that have jobs.

      #16 69 percent of the federal budget is spent either on entitlements or on welfare programs.

      #17 The number of Americans receiving benefits from the federal government each month exceeds the number of full-time workers in the private sector by more than 60 million.

      Taken individually, those numbers are quite remarkable.

      Taken collectively, they are absolutely breathtaking.

      Yes, things have been improving for the wealthy for the last several years. The stock market has soared to new record highs and real estate prices in the Hamptons have skyrocketed to unprecedented heights.

      But that is not the real economy. In the real economy, the middle class is being squeezed out of existence. The quality of our jobs is declining and prices just keep rising. This reality was reflected quite well in a comment that one of my readers left on one of my recent articles…

      It is getting worse each passing month. The food bank I help out, has barely squeaked by the last 3 months. Donors are having to pull back, to take care of their own families. Wages down, prices up, simple math tells you we can not hold out much longer. Things are going up so fast, you have to adopt a new way of thinking. Example I just had to put new tires on my truck. Normally I would have tried to get by to next winter. But with the way prices are moving, I decide to get them while I could still afford them. It is the same way with food. I see nothing that will stop the upward trend for quite a while. So if you have a little money, and the space, buy it while you can afford it. And never forget, there will be some people worse off than you. Help them if you can.

      And the false stock bubble that the wealthy are enjoying right now will not last that much longer. It is an artificial bubble that has been pumped up by unprecedented money printing by the Federal Reserve, and like all bubbles that the Fed creates, it will eventually burst.

      None of the long-term trends that are systematically destroying our economy have been addressed, and none of our major economic problems have been fixed. In fact, as I showed in this recent article, we are actually in far worse shape than we were just prior to the last major financial crisis.

      Let us hope that this current bubble of false stability lasts for as long as possible.

      That is what I am hoping for.

      But let us not be deceived into thinking that it is permanent.

      It will soon burst, and then the real pain will begin.

      • Adam says:

        Certainly I was very sceptical when I read this: “The UK and US economies may be on the mend” – and especially in view of what this article has to say about the UK:


        • Paul says:

          Really the only reliable place to get financial information is zero hedge… and a few other non-MSM sources…

          99% of what the MSM publishes are lies — regurgitated press releases from various Ministries of Truth…

          Whenever I find a story that indicates there are green shoots — because I know there can be no legit green shoots unless a major source of new cheap oil is found — I do not believe the stories — and I go to ZH for an explanation of what is really going on

        • Tim Morgan (author of surplus energy economics blog you link to) is the author of the Tuellet Prebon’s “Perfect Storm.” I understand he doesn’t work there any more though.

      • edpell says:

        Paul, #17 is striking. Wow, we are screwed.Of course in New York State only one in ten jobs is in the private sector. So I should not be surprised.

        • xabier says:


          It’s a compelling statistic: no previous civilization has had such a large % of ‘useless mouths’, (ie unproductive economically, I don’t much like the phrase but it’s a good shorthand) whether receiving welfare, pensions, or state employed in the bureacracy, education, etc), or taken so much in taxes from those in the private sector. Just the pension burden alone will crash our economies in the very near future, surely?

          • InAlaska says:

            “Just the pension burden alone will crash our economies in the very near future, surely?”
            I really wonder if this is true. People on this and many other sites have been calling for collapse now for many, many years and it never really seems to happen. Perhaps the system is far more robust than many here understand? I don’t even pretend to know anymore. Things are in bad shape, yes. But are we on the brink of a collapse. Last year I was ready to dig in and hold on for the wild ride, but now…

            • interguru says:

              I repost for the upteenth time.

              Stein’s Law: ” Things that can’t go on forever eventually stop”
              Two lemmas ( mine — Interguru’s Lemmas )
              1) They go on a lot longer than you think they can.
              2) They stop suddenly without warning. Even those who see it coming have no idea when.

            • InAlaska says:

              Interguru, I agree and just sayin’

            • Christian says:

              Alaska, it’s the other way round for me. Until a month ago collapse timing was blurred, but recent commodities deflation (intertwinked with financial realities and wells situation) is an unequivocal sign of a very near crash. Soybeans price (Arg’s very top export) is about to reach 2009 levels, wich could happen this week. And Brent price recent trend… it almost makes me cry

            • At any given point in time, there are only so many resources available. The financial system can only allocate what is available. Anything that can’t go on indefinitely won’t.

              We don’t know exactly what the shape of the downslope will be–if it will happen extraordinarily quickly (in one day, as a reader recently suggested) or over a period of years. But at some point, the huge amount promised by pensions will somehow need to morph to something very much less, just as oil supply must drop. The two are linked.

    • Thanks!

      The Geneva Report, on which this article is based, can be downloaded at this site (free): http://www.voxeu.org/content/deleveraging-what-deleveraging-16th-geneva-report-world-economy

  29. Suzanne says:

    I posted this already, I had wanted it to be a freestanding comment rather than part of a thread. I’m not sure if it will work this time either.


    Some of you keep saying there is no alternative to oil.

    But of course there is. The alternative may not support BAU, but homo sapiens aren’t going to disappear when oil is gone. (And it won’t ever be “gone.” It may just become so hard to get that it is abandoned for many purposes.)

    When people talk about different forms of energy, some of you say why they won’t work. But if people are forced to go back to a simpler life in order to eek out an existence, those who are physically able and have access to rudimentary resources will do so.

    All the world’s population isn’t going to drop dead when oil disappears.

    And I doubt it is going to be every family for itself. People will end up forming tribes, if you will, to pool strengths and skills. Life may become very, very difficult, but humans have survived very difficult times in the past. And if they don’t, then it was probably time for another species to dominate again.

    Life goes on. And if it doesn’t, at least Earth goes on until its existence as a planet ends.

    It’s like saying, “We won’t have tractors. We can’t grow food.”

    Yes, people will still grow food.

    “But agriculture without tractors won’t feel billions.”

    Agriculture without tractors will feed who it feeds.

    • edpell says:

      I think what you are saying is the consensus view here. I think some times people say things that mean BAU will die off completely, they are less focused on the few who survive.

    • Paul says:

      I am not saying we become extinct — although I suspect there is a good chance of that — because without oil and BAU how do we cool thousands of fuel ponds and reactors?

      Containing radiation equivalent to 14,000 times the amount released in the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima 68 years ago, more than 1,300 used fuel rod assemblies packed tightly together need to be removed from a building that is vulnerable to collapse, should another large earthquake hit the area.


      Now let’s assume there is a solution to that (hard for me to imagine considering Fukushima has not be solved – and BAU is functioning last time I looked) … and some humans survive.

      They will be living like savages… they will be thrown back centuries in time — without any of the skills that people who lived pre-industrial age had…

      Anyone who survives – because they have a benchmark of BAU — will likely be thrown into a state of depression…. the first tooth ache and out come the pliars — the first failed crop and the starvation starts….

      So sure some people might survive… but most will die.

      It ain’t gonna be the second coming of Little House on the Prairie or the Waltons — as many seem to envision….

      • St. Roy says:


        Do you follow NBL? The science behind extinction predictions is provided there.

        • I take it you are talking about Nature Bats Last by Guy MacPherson. I think he is somewhat “over the top.”

          • St. Roy says:

            The peer reviewed science behind his conclusions seem pretty compelling to me. Also, spices extinction is a normal occrance on the planet. There were 500,000 rhinos in 1900 and only 25,000 today. Depopulation can be very rapid.

    • Suzanne says:

      I ended up here because I follow the peak oil discussions, especially fracking, and especially the Bakken.

      On some of the peak oil groups, the expectation is that we may see production declines in the Bakken starting in a two years or so. In other words, total output will begin to decline because the new wells drilled won’t overcome the declining production of the older wells.

      If we begin to see actual numbers showing that fracking in the US has been a temporary solution, I think the hype will dissipate, the reality will hit that oil is in decline, and alternatives will begin to be taken more seriously.

      I don’t think world civilization will fall as a result of that news. As I said, humanity has survived much worse and will survive this. If people are forced back into a pre-oil lifestyle that can only sustain a smaller number of people on the planet, Earth may be better off for it. I think there is a lot of room to cut in terms of energy consumption and I expect to see that rather than mankind disappearing.

      • Paul says:

        You are missing the point — the reason alternatives are not taken seriously is because they are too expensive.

        So we will just move to even more expensive opportunities when fracking blows up?

        What fantasy world do you live in?

        Has it not been made clear that the problem we are facing is that energy is too expensive to pull out of the ground? That high priced oil destroys growth?

        There are NO substitutes for oil – at ANY price.

        This really is getting tiring having to regurgitate this same pablum over and over and over and over again. One feels like one is banging one’s head against the wall — over and over and over

        • edpell says:

          There are source of energy at various costs, all higher than the cost of cheap oil ($20/barrel). The energy can be converted into any form desired again at a cost. At $1000 per barrel there are substitutes whether it is worth doing is the question.

        • Suzanne says:

          “This really is getting tiring having to regurgitate this same pablum over and over and over and over again. One feels like one is banging one’s head against the wall — over and over and over”

          What I have learned from these discussions is that the answer to every post here is, “We are doomed.”

          No need for me to keep reading anymore because that will be the response to everything. I know now where all of these discussions will end. “We’re doomed.”

          Signing off now.

          • Jarvis says:

            Suzanne, There are a few of us here that plan on surviving the best we can. I live in BC on Vancouver Island and I do agree with Paul that towns and cities of any size are doomed. But, I think we have a good chance in our rural areas. Here’s why I’m encouraged : a town of 17,000 people had 1.5 million sockeye swim past this summer – I helped myself to 50, a local hunting trip yielded 1000 pounds of elk shared by 4 hunters, I’ve started gardening a few years back and find it quite enjoyable and plan to put an additional 1/2 into production, I’m planning on using wood as my energy source as I live in the fastest tree growing region in Canada and I’ve been harvesting for 25 years now and will have to step it up to keep ahead of growth. The most important element of all is of course water and I’m fortunate enough to be on a lake that meets drinking water standards.
            I won’t get into all my preparations as they are quite elaborate and involve us winding up in in something close to medieval England. Check out Tudor Monastery farm on Youtube.

      • edpell says:

        Suzanne, I keep saying I do not see anybody car pooling and until I do I will not believe conditions are bad yet.

        The cost of primary energy is changing. What lifestyle we will have at 50 cents per KWhr versus 3 cents per KWhr is the question. Things we do know it will be a world with zero or negative population growth. It will be far more frugal. It likely will not support the current number of humans. How many it will support and why is up for debate.

        • xabier says:


          I’ve been waiting since 2008 to see signs of a move to bicycles here in an English town that is potentially very bike-friendly and compact: no sign of it at all. No-one wants to live-poor before they are made-poor! (Except me).

      • If the economy weren’t a networked system, you would be right. But it is sort of like saying, I am right handed, so I don’t need my left hand. I will cut it off. You would likely bleed to death. But if all you are looking at is the functions of your right hand, you would be correct.

        The economy doesn’t have the ability to shrink, even if it is because of increased efficiency. Businesses would all need to shrink, leading to a problem with fixed expenses being too high. Repaying debt would be part of the problem. A huge number of layoffs would result, leading to even more defaults.

        • N. George says:

          In my 34 years of life I have seen the collapse of the communist system, huge inflation and unemployment in my country, redenomination as 1 for 10 000, banks going bankrupt, lines for rationalized food in my childhood, and people living out of the system in the rural Romania with some electricity and 200$ pensions. I am not scared of the collapse of the financial system. Since money are a measurement of the value can be considered as a tool, that can be changed, upgraded and simplified. As long as people want to eat, to drink and to heat themselves money or other tool will be traded until the very last drop of oil will be extracted….even if this will cost 50% of the GDP…. The rest of the economy will be forced to shrink and adapt in consequence…It will be less plastic garbage, 2 family car, plane flights and fast food. The basic needs will be consuming the biggest part of the wages, same as in Ukraine or Serbia where people spend more 50% of the income for food. US people are consuming 300 GJ of energy per year. People can survive with 30 GJ of energy…please check Moldova in Europe for example. 50% of the people work in agriculture, they have decent life expectancy and a simple life, without family cars, overseas trips and 40″ plasma tv….You have a strong economist bias…I am an engineer. I think that the circulatory system in our economy is the energy, not the financial sector or the money. As long as the first will still exist in some quantity, the second will adapt for it.

          • xabier says:

            But is there not perhaps a difference in capacity to face collapse between the advanced and overly-complex and urbanised economies, and more primitive economies and societies, such those you mention in Eastern Europe?

            I also rather had the impression, from friends who have been there that Moldova is, although functioning, still rather awful? Very violent, lots of drunkenness, hopeless feeling, etc.

            I tend to think of Rome: Rome collapsed, but the peasantry and slaves just went on with being peasantry and slaves. Not many such people in the advanced economies, the fields are empty here!

            • N. George says:

              The crime rate in Moldova is 28% higher than US average….People are having decent literacy rates, life expectancy is 68 years, they can study in universities and medical care is simple but functional. Don`t imagine a dystopian collapsed country because it`s not. It is rather a boring place with a very low fertility rate (1 average), lots of retired people, and some drunken people….but people still laugh, the sun is still shining, the air is clean as also the water, they have a simple diet with less meat, don`t own family cars, and don`t have expensive gadgets. I think in any way, they are closer to a Steady State Economy than US….

            • Paul says:

              They are still heavily reliant on BAU – they trade – they surely tap into the international bond markets etc etc etc….

              You cannot point to this country and say this is what a steady state economy looks like.

            • Paul says:

              Keep in mind… Moldova still has access to global energy markets…

              Living without oil and gas (and access to BAU) … might I suggest… is an ENTIRELY different ball game….

            • N. George says:

              I wanted to highlight that life with 30 GJ of energy is possible without ending in a Mad Max scenario. Let`s make a count. Remove all fossil fuels from US energy mix, leave only renewables and nuclear, and you will have 21% of the present energy mix.. 21% of 300 GJ is 63 GJ of energy. Done that? Now welcome to Brazil, Mexico and Turkey….People don`t eat themselves in a perpetual nuclear winter…I know very well the importance of the oil and that is extremely difficult to replace it in order to sustain BAU. What I want to point is that scaling back the consumption it is possible without threatening the survival of the people. Give them 1500 calories/day, potable water, limit the fertility to 1 per women, reconvert the industry to maintain the electrical infrastructure and basic mechanized agriculture, and you have won the game. As per your nightmare with the nuclear ponds some observations:
              1) In an energy stressed world the spent fuel rods can be used for district heat.
              2) Even if the water evaporates, the boron and low concentration of fissile uranium will avoid creating critical mass and explosion
              3) Hydrogen accumulation and explosion can be avoided by ventilation
              I am not comfortable at all with the future of our planet. But I think that strong leadership and discipline, can avoid “The road” Cormac McCarthy scenario.

            • kesar says:

              “Give them 1500 calories/day, potable water, limit the fertility to 1 per women, reconvert the industry to maintain the electrical infrastructure and basic mechanized agriculture, and you have won the game.”

              The plan looks good on paper, but in reality it will be almost impossible to execute.
              Without oil, oil derivatives, natgas:
              – how are you going to produce the food to provide 1500 cal/person/day?
              – how do you distribute it?
              – how do you keep fertility rate low without contraception?
              – how do you persuade people to have one child only?
              – how do you keep peace and security on the streets?
              – how do you keep electrical grid working (especially in low populated areas, where the food is produced)?
              – what about higene, medicine and drugs?
              – what about water, sewage and garbage?
              – do people stay in urbanized areas or they are relocated to rural sites to help grow food? where they live? are they working? doing what?
              …and all remaining “how do you” points. Do you believe 21% of current energy production will be enough to do all the above? And how long will it last?

            • Paul says:

              Well of course if everyone sings koombaya whilst banging on drums and prancing around the fire – it can happen – anything can happen!

            • So called renewables and nuclear power plants still need fossil fuels to maintain electric transmission lines, and for other maintenance. Take away fossil fuels, and in a few years, we go to only the GJ of fuel that we can get from cutting down forests, and perhaps a little from water and wind power, using wood to build devices.

            • N. George says:

              It will last until a safer number of people can share a larger basin of resources…. It is a crash landing scenario not a cornucopian one. After all 7 billion people will perish in the next 100 years. This can happen suddenly or gradually. It will be the fear of chaos that will make the difference and will make the people embrace an organized society of some kind. As long as some renewables and fast reactors are having an EROI net positive, the society can stand a transition to some equilibrium state. Of course it will be a society without micro-surgery, chemotherapy, and state of the art prosthetics. It will be less garbage produced, and mostly organic and more people will work on agriculture. I am extremely convinced that more than 50% of the jobs are useless even in our prosperous present, and that many of the Wall Street guys can be more productive for the society by using a shovel. If any project of this kind will be proposed when SHTF I will embrace it and use my best skills to help the transition.

            • EROI only measures a piece of the total energy needs. (That is why Charles Hall always talks about the needed multiplier.) The needed multiplier is getting higher and higher over time.

              I consider EROI to be a reasonable way of looking at things, early on in the process, but it doesn’t work well when you get close to limits. As I mentioned, the needed multiplier increases. It also doesn’t look at issues like the time required for production and the difference between (the cost of extraction) and (the amount that people can afford). So a person has to start looking at other things.

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “I am extremely convinced that more than 50% of the jobs are useless”

              Reminds me of the final scene of Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Universe, when they come across a beautiful planet inhabited by middle-managers, actuaries, and hair stylists (etc.). They were chosen by their civilization as their “most important people” to save from a coming planetary apocalypse, and blasted off into space to “save” the best of their civilization — no doubt tongue planted firmly in cheek!

              Yea, there are a lot of “oxygen thieves” around. It will be interesting watching them cope with diminishing excess to live off of. I had to call the cops to get a couple of them out of a storage building just yesterday. They had been invited to either pay or to work to stay here, but declined either.

            • ordinaryjoe says:

              “I am extremely convinced that more than 50% of the jobs are useless ” Yes. In fact they have made a career of there uselessness adapting like a rat in a maze to the illusion that fossil fuel rewards has created. They will never pick up a shovel. Some will become violent. Some will just give up and die. After a lifetime invested in learning the nuances of uselessness they will not abandon it. N. George you might be singing koombyah but I like your version of the song.

          • N. George,

            Thanks for your perspectives. You seem to be from Romania. I am sure that gives a different view.

            Even if you are right that some people can live more simply, I am not convinced that 7 billion people can.

            • N. George says:

              Thanks for your work Gail,
              After all, “If a path to the better there be, it begins with a full look at the worst” Thomas Hardy

            • Ann says:

              I used to be an interested reader of the “Foxfire” series of books and journals. They documented the lives of pioneers in Rabun county, Georgia. They cleared land, gardened on the resulting (highly mineralized) soils for about two generations, hunted, and made almost all of what else they needed. They had about 13 to 17 children to each family and worked incredibly hard. After two generations, of course, the whole thing fell apart. There was no place for all those children to go. Most went west. Now there’s no west anymore. The soil gave out. The animals were killed. But even if they had reproduced more slowly, the thing that hit me one day was:

              They had steel.

              Steel axe heads. Steel plows. Steel knives. Steel parts for muzzle loading rifles. Steel horse, ox and mule shoes.

              This steel was made in factories elsewhere in the U.S. and shipped to local buyers. The steel was made first with charcoal made from wood, and whole forests were required to keep the fires going 24 hours a day or the chimneys cracked and were ruined. The pictures of the process are in the books.

              These people killed and displaced an entire culture that would have survived a few hundred more sustainable years before developing into a relative of the Aztec/Toltec/Mayan/Olmec hierarchical repressive society wiped out by Europeans (Read Charles C. Mann’s two superlative books on this: 1491 and 1493).

              No, we’re not going back to any pioneer days. Or even any aboriginal days. That won’t happen because we have damaged the climate beyond repair, wiped out the ocean ecosystems, and cut down the boreal forests. This week we learned:

              Humans and our livestock comprise 97% of the vertebrate land zoomass
              75% of fresh water river life has been exterminated in the last 40 years
              50% of wild animals have died from loss of habitat in the past 40 years
              40% of annual green bio-mass of the planet is consumed by humans and livestock
              We know this:
              50% of annual green bio-mass consumption triggers mass extinction collapse
              75% loss of biologal diversity becomes unstoppable and irreversible

              Human beings are on an inevitable trajectory to extinction, like all species, but the fact that we seem to be taking the rest of biological life with us is the worst possible outcome. Say good night, Gracie.

            • ordinaryjoe says:

              “Humans and our livestock comprise 97% of the vertebrate land zoomass
              75% of fresh water river life has been exterminated in the last 40 years
              50% of wild animals have died from loss of habitat in the past 40 years
              40% of annual green bio-mass of the planet is consumed by humans and livestock
              We know this:
              50% of annual green bio-mass consumption triggers mass extinction collapse
              75% loss of biologal diversity becomes unstoppable and irreversible

              Human beings are on an inevitable trajectory to extinction, like all species, but the fact that we seem to be taking the rest of biological life with us is the worst possible outcome.”

              Bout sums it up. Thank you for you post.

            • Paul says:

              Oh … don’t be so pessimistic … technology will solve this … remember we put a man on the moon — we can do ANYTHING!!! … we are SUPERIOR beings (meanwhile in the background a chorus of fairies gently thump bongos while singing koombaya…)

  30. Paul says:

    Wow! http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/sep/29/earth-lost-50-wildlife-in-40-years-wwf

    Of course this is accelerating as we keep adding more humans to the planet crowding out the other species…

  31. Pingback: The Oil Head-Fake: The Illusion that Lower Oil Prices Are Positive | What I An Reading

  32. Suzanne says:

    Some of you keep saying there is no alternative to oil.

    But of course there is. The alternative may not support BAU, but homo sapiens aren’t going to disappear when oil is gone. (And it won’t ever be “gone.” It may just become so hard to get that it is abandoned for many purposes.)

    When people talk about different forms of energy, some of you say why they won’t work. But if people are forced to go back to a simpler life in order to eek out an existence, those who are physically able and have access to rudimentary resources will do so.

    All the world’s population isn’t going to drop dead when oil disappears.

    And I doubt it is going to be every family for itself. People will end up forming tribes, if you will, to pool strengths and skills. Life may become very, very difficult, but humans have survived very difficult times in the past. And if they don’t, then it was probably time for another species to dominate again.

    Life goes on. And if it doesn’t, at least Earth goes on until its existence as a planet ends.

    • Suzanne says:

      It’s like saying, “We won’t have tractors. We can’t grow food.”

      Yes, people will still grow food.

      “But agriculture without tractors won’t feel billions.”

      Agriculture without tractors will feed who it feeds.

      • InAlaska says:

        Yes, Suzanne. You’re right. But don’t get too cheery around here or the doom pornographers will shout you down!

        • Paul says:

          Yes let us clap our hands and sing koombaya while billions die because ‘agriculture will feed who it feeds’ Because without petrochemicals i estimate 90%+ of the population ends.

        • Jarle B says:


          I think that humanity will and up as a few scattered around, but that to me is not doom pornography. I don’t get off on it at all; it’s what it is, inevitable.

          • InAlaska says:

            Jarle B
            All that I’m suggesting here is that as soon as we get some new perspectives into our doom-room here, such as Suzanne, and when they try and come up with good alternatives to the tide of death, we shout them down as if their guesses about the future are somehow less accurate than our guesses. In reality, that is all this site is: guesswork. Some of it more educated than others. Give her the room to express some difference of opinion. Maybe we’ll stumble on something new and interesting to talk about rather than the same old “we’re doomed” motif.

            • Pedro says:

              Hear, hear. A lot of good information here about the state of BAU but very few reliable oracles here. Understandable as the future is notorious for being unpredictable.
              So the population is likely to drop drastically, networks collapse, wars start etc. Can you do anything about it? If not concentrate on your own survival by reducing the risks to you and yours as much as possible.
              If you live in a city – get out – very high risk.
              Water – find a place where clean water flows.
              Food – find a place where it can be grown and/or hunted.
              Hundreds of other aspects to consider and risks minimised.
              Do it now, you have a brain – use it.
              I have been doing this for the past three years and have a lot of solutions
              and backups for likely scenarios (and quite a few ‘still don’t knows’).
              No guarantees of course but I think my chances are better than those who just moan that we’re all doomed.
              If I should fall for any reason, well someone will come along and find a lot of useful tools,
              maybe some stuff growing in the vege patch and hens laying – good luck to them.

            • Paul says:

              “come up with good alternatives”

              I have been following this site for the better part of 6 months and not a single time have I read a suggestion that could be described as a good alternative.

              I have read about thorium, closed nuclear, steady state, Tesla cars, solar panels…. etc etc etc — and one after the other — again and again and again — it has been demonstrated that these suggestions are nonsense — they do not work

              Yet people keep posting them — and some people — in spite of the avalanche of evidence that overwhelms their positions — continue to believe — and continue to accuse us of being so ‘negative’

              So forgive me say that I personally find this hopium pipe that people are smoking to be rather irritating.

              If you want to live in a world of fairies and delusion please feel free to do so — but just because you don’t want to hear what we have to say — do not call that negativity…

              It is reality. If you cannot face it then see http://www.chrismartenson.com — he will fill you full of hopium… (annual fees apply)

      • To some extent, agriculture is inherently destructive, especially if it involves cutting down trees to make room for crops, cultivating land, and often watering it from sources other than overflow of rivers. It will work for a while, depending up on how bad the techniques are, but after a period of years (perhaps as many as 1000 years) it still tends to fail. See David Montgomery’s book, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations.

    • The issue is that we have a whole system built up that uses oil. We cannot easily replace it with another system. Read my post, Why Standard Economic Models Don’t Work–Our Economy is a Network.

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  37. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    Relative to water and sanitation. By happenstance, TED has a short speech on ‘crap’ today by an engineer. Graphic pictures of what happens when human waste systems get overloaded. Numbers attached to deaths each day from poor sanitation.


    Then he gets into solutions. They involve things like redesigned toilet bowls which separate urine and solids; the use of planter boxes, constructed wetlands, and greenhouses; and the formation of professional recycling services.

    Some of these steps could have been stolen directly from Edo Japan. Others from homesteaders like Albert Bates. The details will vary with the circumstances. For example, an Edo type system might involve mounting a ‘throne’ to do your business, so that there is no ‘pit’ which needs to be pumped out by the farmer or professional who reclaims the waste and turns it into fertilizer.

    If George Mobus had been able to find any sapient humans, I am sure they would rush out and do these things. Alas…George didn’t find any of those mythical sapient humans…apparently they vanished with the unicorns.

    So, I think the serious person thinking about surviving a crash will assume that toilets in a place like Manhattan will pretty quickly look like some of the awful pictures in the TED talk. With disease and death to quickly follow. Time heals lots of wounds, so the survivalist needs to figure out how to get through the worst of it without succumbing.

    I also want to point out something about water. If one has a garden, then the veggies one harvest supply a lot of the daily water requirement. A person eating beef and grains needs to drink a lot more water than a person eating leafy greens. So gardening makes sense from a water standpoint.

    Don Stewart

    • edpell says:

      One of the reasons the first thing the US Army bombs are the sewage treatment plants.

    • Thanks! Your link doesn’t seem to be right though.

      I expect that cities have requirements on toilet facilities. Building modern outhouses in town would probably not go over well.

      • Don Stewart says:

        I don’t know why the link doesn’t work. Try a google search for

        Francis de los Reyes: The universal human right to … poop
        and add TED to the search

        Don Stewart

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  39. Higher inflation-adjusted petroleum prices depress the non-petroleum sectors of the economy. As a result, the demand for petroleum falls. This is what happened in 2H2008.
    The govenment responded by increasing the rate of inflation by “quantitative easing” and handing over the levied inflation tax to the petroleum industry in the form of privileged low-interest loans. But the high inflation tax depressed the non-petroleum sectors of the economy still more, so that the disposable incomes of petroleum consumers decreased, bringing down the price of oil. But presently, there are no means left to revitalize the unprofitable petroleum industry and the civilization it used to power. Further raising the inflation tax is useless. Humanity as a species of petroleum-consuming animals has run its course: http://2012wiki.com/index.php?title=Image:Diminishing_Returns_from_Each_Dollar_of_New_Debt_in_US_Economy.jpg

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  41. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    Charles Hugh Smith on The Oil Head Fake

    This is publicly available free of charge. Much that is familiar from Gail, with Charles’ own twists.

    Don Stewart

  42. B9K9 says:

    @Daniel Hood says ” I’ve probably said too much already, sorry for the ultra doom and gloom”

    LOL – Danny, my boy, you’ve merely entered the inner sanctum. Here, while some may persist in discussing the actual mechanics of decline, there’s a few trying to tease out what comes next. I don’t believe you will find anyone surprised at the prospect of war(s) waged to camouflage our collective, ahem, ‘predicament’.

    Rather, if we take everything you mentioned as givens, then what else is there to discuss? This is where things get fun & interesting, because it requires an understanding of both historical and current political economy, and how societies tend to react/organize under stress & duress.

    Every sport/game has a ‘game within the game’. I suggest that after one is fully conversant with what is occurring at the surface level (as you and many others are), the next logical step is to to not only start teasing out what comes next, but get positioned to play.

    • Daniel Hood says:

      Thanks! It’s just sometimes when you dare to spell things out as they are, (or could be) you get pulverised for venturing off the “status quo” track. “On grid” clients still want to be sold the perpetual/sustainable growth meme irrespective of the facts. “Off grid” here at least, wise contrarians are open to all theories/ideas which is rather unusual and refreshing.

      It’s an incredible time to be alive if a little daunting of what may be in the pipeline or not as the case may be if you’re the EU this winter.

      Agree with you re: figuring out the likely effects of the coming powerdown, it’s like a 3D puzzle where the pieces and puzzle are constantly in flux, each day your job is to figure out which piece fits where. Worse the puzzle fights back making it harder for you.

      I do know this, there are powerful players that wont go down without a fight, it’s in their DNA.

      As for trying to position yourself…what will be will be. I think the complexities of the game and its non-linear effects will surprise even the wisest council. You just have to take each day as it comes and appreciate the smaller things in life we’ve taken for granted.

  43. CrisisMaven says:

    Falling commodity prices could of course have any number of reasons, including better supply or falling demand. With oil however, we have known for years that each new field, whether deeper in off-shore regions or fracking on land, has consumed more investment (and energy!) to extract the oil. Necessarily these require (steadily, reliably) rising oil prices or else not only will further new investments not be forthcoming but old investments might even be abandoned too. The public at large unfortunately tends not to understand that even the “renewables” are just riding on a tide of oil or else they would not exist, nor would “electric” cars. But waking up to reality will firsr result in another round of subsidizing, money printing, “regulation” and “savings”. If current insulation trends are any guide, these “savings” will yet increase the demand for oil once more and the curtain falls.

    • Thanks! I don’t understand your reference to current insulation trends comment. Could you elaborate or provide a reference?

      • CrisisMaven says:

        Sorry, was a bit cryptic here. Currently the European Union but also US states impose rigorous rules on builders and even require existing houses to be refurbished with ever increasing insulation. Ten inches of polystyrene is now all the craze! However, whether it is glass wool, rock wool or esp. plastic, all of it requires a lot of energy to manufacture. It often last twenty years or less. If made of polystyrene or polyurethane not only is it “pure” oil but also it causes complications when these houses go on fire. However, the travesty is that there is a law of diminishing return: If one inch insulation has X savings as a result, 2 inches will be an addition half X only, four inches an additional QUARTER X, and additional EIGHT inches will result in another EIGHTH in “savings”. In the very end the energy footprint of the whole thing is higher than what it can ever save during its lifetime. Yet another few barrels of oil are gone down the drain forever …

        • Thanks! Now I see.

        • ordinaryjoe says:

          “In the very end the energy footprint of the whole thing is higher than what it can ever save during its lifetime. ”
          You are absolutely correct to be suspicious of mandated insulation in low life residences.
          If I may I will represent your statement
          insulation measured in oil x lifetime is less than energy savings measured in oil.
          What would make this equation positive? Increasing the lifetime of the structure.
          I think structures with 500 year life are well within our grasp. Structures with a 1000 year life might be a little optimistic but possible. If a good materials engineer had demand it wouldnt take long or be that expensive. Then that 7 inches of polyurethane makes sense (R42). But better yet find natural local materials that have less energy footprint . The sad fact is what the market is is oohs and ahhs of the house so no professionals are really on it..
          If you live in well constructed minimal maintenance house with decent thermal mass and a r of 40 to 50 you wont want to go back to less. If oil ends might be a good Idea to have a bit extra insulation no? Remember you get dual work out of the insulation you are reducing thermal loss but also reducing condensation which is a house killer.

          The abuses are not just from the government side. I see a lot of “Green” and “Sustainable” builders that are IMHO providing nothing but a justification for consumption. Mcmansions green style. Just because one component of the house is supposedly green does not make a sustainable house. Ok the walls are made of elephant dung from the bwana bwana rainforest, two people living in a 5000 sq ft home with granite counter tops is not sustainable.

          What is really needed is energy costs of the materials used in a house per sq foot divided by the life of the house. Then you could know just how green a structure is for real.

          So lets talk sustainable housing. First most sustainable is a apartment in town get to work on public transportation. Hands down most sustainable. The most sustainable is not to build the house.

          Ok so your going to build a house. Lets get it straight. Your not doing it to save the world. Your doing it because you want a house. Now doing it in the most sustainable fashion is not a bad thing in my book although living in a apartment shows far more commitment to sustainability. The best contribution to sustainability anyone can make is to have only one or no kids but thats off topic. What the bestest mostest greenest method? Reduce size. I would say ideal for a family is about 400 sq ft. Build it to last 500 years. Superinsulate it. Composting toilets outside the structure. Only bats and rats poop in their home. Moved the toilet outside you just moved up the evolutionary scale to a house cat. Most counties wont let you build this way. Thats why you are looking to buy the crappiest run down shack with the lowest taxes you can find. You will be adding a “shop” . You expand out to the shack in the summer months and the shack also gets used for storage. In the winter months you contract into the “shop”.

          You are going to have to figure it out yourself for the most part. Like this guy

          If the government wanted to help they would be providing ratings for insulation ans structural materials compatibility. Some combos need breath-ability. Some combos are best sealed behind semi permanent vapor barriers. There is no universal rule some materials need breathe-ability some need to be sealed up. Its counter intuitive but a lot of materials are far better off with limited moisture and the capability to dry rather than sealed and trapping moisture in the wall. Even in recent years inappropriate vapor barrier installations have rotted out houses in a couple years. This is houses built to the holy grail of “code” mind you. Why in this day and age some good minds havnt been put on this and simple generic solutions come up with is beyond me. So burlap crete man fills the gap. And he represents the crem de la crem because a lot of guys wont share their knowledge because they see it as $, their $.

          One would hope that ultimately a 500 year house would be inhabited by humans consciousness had grown to encompass their relationship to the planet not a degenerate band of mercenaries. Hope and five bucks and you can get a latte.

  44. Hi Gail

    Here is a French translation of your last post

    See this article of Sergei Glaziev. Amazing but he doesn’t talk about oil share ….

    (in French / http://www.les-crises.fr/la-menace-de-guerre-et-la-reponse-russe/)

    The “http://www.les-crises.fr” site is the first economical blog in France out of official media and try with others to rehab Russian position.

    • Thanks for the link to your French translation of my post.

      Sergei Glaziev is not at all happy with the US actions in the Ukraine, or its status of holding the reserve currency.

  45. interguru says:

    I just noticed at item on Reddit from Captain Crunch ( the guy who taught Steve Jobs how to build a blue box)

    I find this technology [white space mesh communications networks] technically exciting but we better get our asses together in the event something might happen to the internet, because mesh networks might actually replace it if the world goes to hell in a hand basket.



  46. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Stockman doesn’t seem to connect the dots between oil and the economy (cause & effect), but he certainly knows what is going on fiscally.


    Peak Debt—-Why The Keynesian Money Printers Are Done by David Stockman

    “Don’t call these central bankers crooked patsies—-they are just dimwitted public servants trying to grind jobs and growth out of the only tool they have. Namely, buying government debt and other existing financial assets in the hopes that the resulting flow of liquidity into the financial markets and the sub-economic price of money and debt will encourage more borrowing and more growth. This is the core axiom of today’s unholy alliance between financial speculators and central bank policy apparatchiks.

    Stated differently, today’s Spanish anecdote is just another proof that central banks are pushing on a string; that is, aggressively and incessantly pumping money into financial markets even though the result is wildly inflated asset prices, not expanded business activity. But as is always the case with central bank created financial bubbles, the beneficiaries are happy to pocket the windfalls while the apparatchiks blunder on—– pretending not to notice the drastic financial distortions, malinvestments and mis-pricings all around them.

    So they end up like the pathetic Mario Draghi—-energetically pounding square pegs into round holes without a clue as to the financial conflagration lurking just around the corner. Yes, the era of Keynesian money printing is over and done. But don’t wait for the small lady at the Fed to sing, either.”

  47. VPK says:

    This just in, The Hamster is on steroids!

    “If achieved, the 2015 forecast would be the highest annual average crude oil production since 1970,” the EIA forecast stated.

    As a result, U.S. oil imports are expected to fall to just 21 percent of total domestic consumption in 2015, representing a 39 percent decrease over the past decade.

    “The share of total U.S. petroleum and other liquids consumption met by net imports fell from 60% in 2005 to an average of 32% in 2013. EIA expects the net import share to decline to 21% in 2015, which would be the lowest level since 1968,” EIA reported.

  48. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    In addition to my gardening example of abundance, consider the Carrboro Music Festival:

    If the Paris of the Piedmont can do it, practically anyone ought to be able to. Of course, as a young acquaintance told me: This Would Be Illegal in Dallas. So scarcity can be invented.

    Don Stewart

  49. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail
    A few more thoughts on chimps, bonobos, humans, deforestation, obesity, and many other topics.

    Dr. Alan Christianson thinks that many of our current health problems stem from the body’s perception of scarcity. For example, when our body perceives scarcity, it hoards the calories we eat which makes us fat and lethargic and creates all sorts of metabolic imbalances. When we fail to live in rhythm with our natural circadian cycle, the body likewise perceives scarcity, and many things such as the synchronization of sleep and cortisol create myriad chronic health problems. (Book out in 2015.) He convinces me.

    Vanessa Woods thinks that the radical differences between bonobo behavior and chimp behavior are due in part to the fact that the chimps perceive scarcity while the bonobos perceive abundance.

    A number of months ago I recommended that everyone should read the book Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much. The book details how our psychological perception of scarcity distorts our perceptions of the world and consequently our behavior.

    On many occasions here I have recommended that people should read Azby Brown’s book on Edo Japan, for very concrete examples of low impact living where water was clean and forests intact and everything was recycled. I doubt I have sold many books for Azby. Many people like to wallow in scarcity.

    The evidence from these diverse directions indicates that behavior can exhibit a phase change in response to the physical or mental perception of scarcity. The perception need not be factually true: the two billion overweight people in the world are not literally in danger of starving. But by eating the wrong foods and behaving in ways that our physiology cannot cope with, they create the perception of scarcity.

    Conversely, Thomas Merton living in the Monastery could experience unbelievable abundance with what most of us would consider to be poverty.

    All of modern economics is about the ‘science’ of scarcity and how we allocate resources to deal with scarcity. And, especially since Keynes, how we can create at least the illusion that there is ever more abundance if we just stay on the scarcity treadmill, keep our heads down, and work hard as directed by our betters, and borrow money to buy stuff.

    I will give an example from some correspondence with a gardening friend just in the last few days. The friend had said ‘this is all about efficiency, isn’t it”. My response:

    ‘Two points. First ‘This is about efficiency, right?’ Actually, I see efficiency as a means to an end. The end is that we are getting rewarded for being good keepers of the garden. The rewards come in many forms such as the feel good hormones when we garden, the food we harvest, the health we enjoy, the friends we can entertain, the sense of partnership with non-human elements, gratefulness to the sun and the wind and the rain, and on and on. But one of the rewards is the sense of abundance that we strive for. If we are not efficient in our ministrations, then we will work too hard. If we aren’t skillful in our choice of what to do, the garden will not be as productive as it can be. Both militate against the feeling of abundance.’

    Thomas Merton might have agreed with me on the gardening part, but he would be disappointed that I was missing the religious angle.

    At any rate, these are the deep issues that have to be dealt with whether we are talking about the obesity and disease epidemic or adjusting to life after Peak Debt and Peak Oil and Peak Minerals. And whether we want to live like Chimps or, alternatively, Bonobos. We have the genes to be either.

    Don Stewart

    • edpell says:

      Don, what do Bonobos do when they become overpopulated? You need to tell me this before I believe there is any difference between Chimps and Bonobos. I am willing to bet all three species Humans, Bonobos, and Chimps use physical violence against their peers when starvation comes.

      • Don Stewart says:

        Dear edpell
        I began this by stating that Vanessa Woods thinks that the fact that chimp food is scarce while bonobo food is plentiful has something to do with the different behaviors exhibited. So far as I know, there has never been a study of starving bonobos….maybe because the situation would have to be created artificially.

        You might like a little information on Vanessa. She is not a scientist. She married a scientist who studies chimps and bonobos and other animals. But she spent a lot of time in Congo with her husband, and knows how to ask intelligent questions and how to observe. She does not present theories she claims to have developed herself. She merely quotes what researchers in the field think and what she thinks after observing.

        I believe both she and her husband are still at Duke.

        That said, if you read her book you will see a description of bonobo behavior which is startlingly different from chimp behavior. There is, among other things, lots of non-intercourse sexual activity which releases the good hormones I have referred to recently in other comments. The ‘bonobo handshake’ of the title is when a male bonobo sees Vanessa and presents his penis for stroking. Vanessa is, at first, very shy about this, but like a good trooper she overcomes her reticence and does it for Science.

        Don Stewart

    • edpell says:

      It took Jane Goodall a long time to be willing to publish what see saw in terms of Chimp on Chimp violence. I went looking for Bonobo behavior under real pressure that can not be made to go away by group sex. I found the hyper-idealized image of the always peaceful Bonobo. Just as Margaret Meade did for the Samoans. It was not true for them I sincerely doubt it is true for Bonobos.

      • edpell says:

        she saw

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear edpell
          You didn’t send it to me, but I will give you my two cents worth.

          Vanessa Woods does describe some bonobo on bonobo violence. One of the male bonobos beats up a smaller male bonobo. Five female bonobos gang up on him and beat him up. He does not repeat the aggressive behavior.

          You can read her book and make up your own mind, but I don’t see any similarity to Jane Goodall’s reticence or Margaret Mead’s naiveté.

          Don Stewart

          • edpell says:

            Don, in a system there has to be a feedback mechanism or the numbers of any species goes to infinity. If the ratio of Bonobos to food is always low than I would guess they are subject to predation that keeps their number low relative to food supply. When their numbers go up the predators eat well and their numbers go up and the number of Bonobos goes back down. So, it may be as you say Bonobos never practice (seldom) intra-species violence.

            Thking this and appling it to human maybe the uber rich need to create HKs hunter-killers, terminators like in the movie with Arrrrnold. They would keep the number of human down to a level that food would be plentiful. A paradise of sorts.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear edpell
              Vanessa Woods did not elaborate on why the chimps experience scarcity and the bonobos experience plenty. They are on different sides of the Congo river, and that may have something to do with it. But I certainly don’t pretend to know.

              As I have said elsewhere on this blog, I see scarcity as one of the prime explanatory factors in many things.

              Humans have a way of creating scarcity in the midst of plenty. Some of the people who talk about the creation of scarcity:
              1. Geoff Lawton speaking about abundance
              2. Kelly McGonigal speaking about inner experiences
              3. A recent book titled Seven Ways to Think Differently has a section on scarcity thinking.

              The book Scarcity, which I have previously recommenders, is very good at describing how behavior is distorted by the perception of scarcity.

              If you want to escape from the stereotyped scarcity thinking that afflicts most people…well, look at the first 3 references and figure out what works for you.

              Don Stewart

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “Vanessa Woods did not elaborate on why the chimps experience scarcity and the bonobos experience plenty.”

              As I mentioned in another post, anthropologist Brian Hare attributes it to gorillas only being on the north side of the Congo River. The gorillas competed with chimpanzees, providing selection pressure for aggression, while to the south, greater abundance effectively gave females more power, selecting for males that were more cooperative.

              This is quite an earth-shaking hypothesis for ecologists, who are taught that high trophic energy fosters competition, while low trophic energy fosters cooperation.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Jan and edpell
              I am reading E.O. Wilson’s new book The Meaning of Human Existence. He makes the point that around 1970 the Social Sciences people were all on the bandwagon of ‘culture determines everything’, but by 2000, the notion was that genes trump everything, but now we understand that both genes and culture are important. The conflicting interests of both spreading one’s own genes, but also being a respected member of a social group, lead to the complexities of human behavior.

              We are not solitary male grizzly bears, nor are we the dedicated ant castes which sacrifice themselves willingly for the good of the group.

              What we have are three species which are very, very close genetically: humans, chimps, and bonobos. Yet our cultures are quite different. Wilson identifies all three of us as intensely social. These facts would lead one to suspect that human behavior could change in the direction of chimps or change in the direction of bonobos given the right environment.

              I also suspect that a bonobo, put into a terrible environment, might begin to behave like a chimp. Dmitry Orlov talks about the Ik people in Africa and how a truly bad environment caused them to lose their basic humanity.

              Jan, thanks for the info.

              Don Stewart

            • Interesting view!

            • Jan Steinman says:

              “… in a system there has to be a feedback mechanism or the numbers of any species goes to infinity. If the ratio of Bonobos to food is always low than I would guess they are subject to predation that keeps their number low relative to food supply.”

              Some populations have managed to keep in check. Check out the wolves of Isle Royal, for example. They have no predators, and they suffer no periodic die-off, a la the canonical lynx/rabbit relationship. For many decades, the wolf/moose population ratio has remained surprisingly stable. Some researchers attribute this to the smallness of the island habitat, which does not bode well for the global Homo sapiens, if living in a small environment is what it takes to make one appreciate limits.

              Anthropologist Brian Hare thinks plentiful food keeps population in check among bonobos, much as the “demographic transition” among humans tends to result in lower birth rates. He describes bonobos as “self-domesticated,” much a common conceit we have about our own species.

              In fact, bonobos have less predation and competition than the chimpanzees on the other side of the Congo River. Fascinating stuff!

    • Many people are saying now that there is no oil scarcity issue. Demand is down. Everything must be fine. Of course the fact that people can’t afford the oil is behind the low demand. Situations are often more complicated than they first appear.

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