WSJ Gets it Wrong on “Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True”

On Monday, September 29, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a story called “Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True.” The story is written as if there are only two possible outcomes:

  1. The Peak Oil version of what to expect from oil limits is correct, or
  2. Diminishing Returns can and are being put off by technological progress–the view of the WSJ.

It seems to me, though, that a third outcome is not only possible, but is what is actually happening.

3. Diminishing returns from oil limits are already beginning to hit, but the impacts and the expected shape of the down slope are quite different from those forecast by most Peak Oilers.

Area of Confusion

In many people’s way of thinking, the economy is separate from resources and the extraction of those resources. If we believe economists, the economy can grow indefinitely, with or without the use of resources. Clearly, with this view, the price of these resources doesn’t matter very much. If one kind of resource becomes more expensive, we can substitute other resources, once the scarce resource becomes sufficiently high-priced that the alternative makes financial sense. Incomes can rise arbitrarily high–all it takes is for each of us to pay the other higher wages. And we can fix any problem with the financial system with more money printing and more debt.

This wrong version of how our economy works has been handed down through the academic world, through our system of peer review, with each academic researcher following in the tracks of previous academic researchers. As long as new researchers follow the same wrong thinking as previous researchers, their articles will be published. Economists were especially involved in putting together this wrong world-view, but politicians helped as well. They liked the outcomes of the models the economists produced, since it made it look like the politicians, with the help of economists, were all-powerful. All the politicians needed to do was tweak the financial system, and the world economy would grow forever. There was not even a need for resources!

Peak Oilers’ Involvement 

The Peak Oilers walked into a situation with this wrong world view, and started trying to fix pieces of it. One piece that was clearly wrong as the relationship between resources and the economy.  Resources, especially energy resources, are needed to make any of the goods and services we buy. If those resources started reaching diminishing returns, it would be harder for the economy to grow. The economy might even shrink. Dr. Charles Hall, recently retired professor from SUNY-ESF, came up with one measure of diminishing returns–falling Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROEI).

How would shrinkage occur? For this, Peak Oilers turned to the work of M. King Hubbert, who worked in an area of geology. He wrote about how supply of a resource might be expected to decline with diminishing returns.

Hubbert was not concerned about what effect diminishing returns would have on the economy–presumably because that was not his area of specialization. He avoided the issue by only modeling the special case where no economic impact could be expected–the special case where a perfect substitute could be found and be put in place, in advance of the decline caused by diminishing returns.

Figure 1. Figure from Hubbert's 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

Figure 1. Figure from Hubbert’s 1956 paper, Nuclear Energy and the Fossil Fuels.

In the example shown above, Hubbert assumes cheap nuclear would take over, before the decline in fossil fuels started. Hubbert even talked about making cheap liquid fuels using the very abundant nuclear resources, so that the system could continue as before.

In this special case, Hubbert suggested that the decline in resources might follow a symmetric curve, slowly declining in a pattern similar to its original rise in consumption, since this is the pattern that often occurs in extracting a resource in nature. Many Peak Oilers seem to believe that this pattern will happen in the more general case, where no perfect substitute is available, as well. A perfect substitute would need to be cheap, abundant, and involve essentially no cost of transition.

In the special case Hubbert modeled, Hubbert indicated that production would start to decline when approximately 50% of reserves had been exhausted. Peak Oilers often used this approach or variations on it (so called “Hubbert Linearization“), to forecast future production, and to determine dates when oil production would “peak.” Of course, as technology improved, additional oil became accessible, raising reserves. Also, as prices rose, resources that had never been economically extractible became extractible. Production continued beyond forecast peak dates, again and again.

Peak Oilers got at least part of the story right–the fact that we are in fact reaching diminishing returns with respect to oil. For this they should be commended. What they didn’t figure out is, however, is (1) how the energy-economy system really works, and (2) which pieces of the system can be expected to break first. This issue is not really the Peak Oilers fault–it is the result of starting with a very bad model of the economy and not understanding which pieces of that model needed to be fixed.

How the Economic System Really Works 

We are dealing with a networked economy, one that is self-organized over time. I would represent it as a hollow network, built up of businesses, consumers, and governments.

Figure 2. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

Figure 2. Dome constructed using Leonardo Sticks

This economic system uses energy of various kinds plus resources of many kinds to make goods and services. There are many parts to the system, including laws, taxes, and international trade. The system gradually changes and expands, with new laws replacing old ones, new customers replacing old ones, and new products replacing old ones. Growth in the number of consumers tends to lead to a need for more goods and services of all kinds.

An important part of the economy is the financial system. It connects one part of the system with another and almost magically signals when shortages are occurring, so that more of a missing product can be made, or substitutes can be developed.

Debt is part of the system as well. With increasing debt, it is possible to make use of profits that will be earned in the future, or income that will be earned in the future, to fund current investments (such as factories) and current purchases (such as cars, homes, and advanced education). This approach works fine if an economy is growing sufficiently. The additional demand created through the use of debt tends to raise the prices of commodities like oil, metals, and water, giving an economic incentive for companies to extract these items and use them in products they make.

The economy really can’t shrink to any significant extent, for several reasons:

  1. With rising population, there is a need for more goods and services. There is also a need for more jobs. A growing networked economy provides increasing numbers of both jobs and goods and services. A shrinking economy leads to lay-offs and fewer goods and services produced. It looks like recession.
  2. The networked economy automatically deletes obsolete products and re-optimizes to produce the goods needed now. For example, buggy whip manufacturers are pretty rare today. Thus, we can’t quickly go back to using horse and buggy, even if should we want to, if oil becomes scarce. There aren’t enough horses and buggies, and there aren’t enough services for cleaning up horse manure.
  3. The use of debt for financing depends on ever-rising future output. If the economy does shrink, or even stops growing as quickly as in the past, there tends to be a problem with debt defaults.
  4. If debt does start shrinking, prices of commodities like oil, gold, and even food tend to drop (similar to the situation we are seeing now). These lower prices discourage  investment in creating these commodities. Ultimately, they lead to lower production and job layoffs. If deflation occurs, debt can become very difficult to repay.

Under what conditions can the economy grow? Clearly adding more people to the economy adds to growth. This can be done by adding more babies who live to maturity. It can also be done by globalization–adding groups of people who had previously only made goods and services for each other in limited quantity. As these groups get connected to the wider economy, their older, simpler ways of doing things tend to be replaced by more productive activities (involving more technology and more use of energy) and greater international trade. Of course, at some point, the number of new people who can be connected to the global economy gets to be pretty small. Growth in the world economy lessens, simply because of lessened ability to add “underdeveloped” countries to the networked economy.

Besides adding more people, it is also possible to make individual citizens “better off” by making workers more efficient at producing goods and services. Most people think of greater productivity as happening through technological changes, but to me, it really represents a combination of technological changes, plus a combination of inexpensive resources of various kinds. This combination often includes low-cost fossil fuels; abundant, cheap water supply; fertile soil; and easy to extract metal ores. Having these available makes possible the development of new tools (like new agricultural equipment, sewing machines, and vehicles), so that workers can become more productive.

Diminishing returns are what tend to “mess up” this per capita growth. With diminishing returns, fossil fuels become more expensive to extract. Water often needs to be obtained by desalination, or by much deeper wells. Soil needs more amendments, to be as fertile as in the past. Metal ores contain less and less ore, so more extraneous material needs to be extracted with the metal, and separated out. If population grows as well, there is a need for more agricultural output per acre, leading to a need for more technologically advanced techniques. Working around diminishing returns tends to make many kinds of goods and services more expensive, relative to wages.

Rising commodity prices would not be a problem, if wages would rise at the same time as the price of goods and services. The problem, though, is that in some sense diminishing returns makes workers less efficient. This happens because of the need to work around problems (such as digging deeper wells and removing more extraneous material from ores). For many years, technological changes may offset the effects of diminishing returns, but at some point, technological gains can no longer keep up. When this happens, instead of wages rising, they tend to stagnate, or even decline. Figure 3 shows that per capita wages have tended to grow in the United States when oil was below about $40 or $50 barrel, but have tended to stagnate when prices are above that level.

Figure 3. 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 3. 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.

What Effects Should We Be Expecting from Diminishing Returns With Respect to Oil Supply?

There are several expected effects of diminishing returns:

  1. Rising cost of extraction for oil and for other commodities subject to diminishing returns.
  2. Stagnating or falling wages of all except the most elite workers.
  3. Ultra low interest rates to try to make goods more affordable for workers stressed by stagnating wages and high prices.
  4. Rising governmental debt, in an attempt to stimulate the economy and in order to provide programs for the many workers without good-paying jobs.
  5. Increasing concern about debt defaults, as the amount of debt outstanding becomes increasingly absurd relative to wages of workers, and as all of the stimulus debt runs its course, in countries such as China.
  6. A two-way problem with the price of oil. On one side is recession, when oil prices rise to unaffordable levels. Economist James Hamilton has shown that 10 out of 11 post-World War II recessions were associated with oil price spikes. He has also shown that there is good reason to expect that the Great Recession was related to the run-up in oil prices prior to 2007. I have written a related paper–Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis.
  7. The second problem with the price of oil is the reverse–price of oil too low relative to the cost of extraction, because wages are not high enough to permit workers to afford the full cost of goods made with high-priced oil. This is really a problem with inadequate affordability (called inadequate demand by economists).
  8. Eventual collapse of whole system.

There have been many studies of collapses of past economies. These collapses tended to occur when the economies hit diminishing returns after a long period of growth. The problems were often similar to ones we are seeing today: stagnating wages of common workers and growing debt. There were more and more demands on governments to fix the problems of workers, but governments found it increasingly difficult to collect enough taxes for all the needed programs.

Eventually, the economic systems have tended to collapse, over a period of years. The shape of resource use in collapses was definitely not symmetric. Figure 4 shows my view of the typical shape of the collapses in non-fossil fuel economies, based on the work of Peter Turchin and Surgey Nefedof.

Figure 4. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turkin and Sergey Nefedov in Secular Cycles.

Figure 4. Shape of typical Secular Cycle, based on work of Peter Turchin and Sergey Nefedov in Secular Cycles.

In my view, the date of the drop in oil supply will be determined by what appear to on-lookers to be financial problems. One possible cause is that the oil price will be too low for producers (a condition that is occurring now). Governments will find it unpopular to raise oil prices, but at the same time, will be powerless to stop the adverse impacts the fall in price has on world oil supply.

Falling oil prices have especially adverse effects on oil exporters, because they depend on revenues from oil to fund their programs. We are already seeing this now, with the increased warfare in the Middle East, Russia’s increased belligerence, and the problems of Venezuela. These issues will tend to reduce globalization, leading to less world growth, and a greater tendency for the world economy to shrink.

Unfortunately, there are no obvious ways of fixing our problems. High-priced substitutes for oil (that is, substitutes costing more than $40 or $50 barrel) are likely to have as adverse an impact on the economy as high-priced oil. The idea that energy prices can rise and the economy can adapt to them is based on wishful thinking.

Our networked economy cannot shrink; it tends to break instead. Even well-intentioned attempts to reduce oil usage are likely to backfire because they tend to reduce oil prices and have other unintended effects. Furthermore, a use of oil that one person would consider frivolous (such as a vacation in Greece) represents a needed job to another person.

Should Peak Oilers Be Blamed for Missing the “Real” Oil Limits Story?

No! Peak oilers have made an important contribution, in calling the general problem of diminishing returns in oil supply to our attention. One of their big difficulties was that they started out working with a story of the economy that was very distorted. They understood how to fix parts of the story, but fixing the whole story was beyond their ability. The following chart shows a summary of some ways their views and my views differ:

Figure 5. Author's summary of some differences in views.

Figure 5. Author’s summary of some differences in views.

One of the areas that Peak Oilers tended to miss was the fact that an oil substitute needs to be a perfect substitute–that is, be available in huge quantity, cheaply, without major substitution costs–in order not to adversely affect the economy and in order to permit the slow decline rate suggested by Hubbert’s models. Otherwise, the problems with diminishing returns remain, leading to declining wages and rising costs of making goods and services.

One temptation for Peak Oilers has been to jump on the academic bandwagon, looking for substitutes for oil. As long as Peak Oilers don’t make too many demands on substitutes–only EROEI comparisons–wind and solar PV look like they have promise. But once a person realizes that our true need is to keep a networked economy growing, it becomes clear that such “solutions” are woefully inadequate. We need a way of overcoming diminishing returns to keep the whole system operating. In other words, we need a way to make wages rise and the price of finished goods fall relative to wages; there is no chance that wind and solar PV are going to do this for us. We have a much more basic problem than “new renewables” can solve. If we can’t figure out a solution, our economy is likely to reach what looks like financial collapse in the near term. Of course, the real reason is diminishing returns from oil, and from other resources as well.

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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1,114 Responses to WSJ Gets it Wrong on “Why Peak Oil Predictions Haven’t Come True”

  1. Pingback: 8 Reasons For Our Oil Price Predicament | Conspiracies: Fact or Fiction

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  3. not fazed says:

    Max Romeo, Kumbia/ Melt Away (27:18), Jah Shaka label UK 1992

  4. Pingback: Vallitsevan taloustieteen kritiikkiä: talouskasvu, osa 2 | Ilmastotieto

  5. Pingback: Eight Pieces of Our Oil Price Predicament | Our Finite World

  6. Rick Larson says:

    “We can have local economies, but they may need to be pretty low level economies”.

    Yep. This is not a worse case scenario.

  7. oirdinaryjoe says:

    Doomsters got you down
    extermination we are bound
    cannibal warlords to be found

    the cure is simple just look down

    ( electric guitar playing fairies kick in)

    lay your hands on it!
    press your feet upon it!
    Life lives in it and springs from it!
    Base your joy upon it!

    • Paul says:

      Dirt — oh Dirt…

      Not what it used to be

      Won’t grow a goddam thing

      Dirt .. oh Dirt…

      Been poisoned with oil and gas

      And now it’s dead

      Dirt … oh Dirt…

      Nothing springs from it

      It brings only misery

      Dirt … oh Dirt…

      Did I mention how the permaculture trainer we worked with in Bali told me that because oil and gas inputs are getting too expensive the farmers are distraught because they converted years ago so that they could get an extra crop per year of rice…

      But now the higher costs of inputs are more than cancelling out the value of the extra crop…

      And how they are unable to easily go back to the old ways … because the soil is dead without the inputs… and it takes a long time to rejuvenate the soil so that it will grow rice with organic inputs only…

      About how the compromise has been to teach the farmers to slowly reclaim small strips of their paddies using organic methods while continuing to farm the other portions using chemical inputs… over a number of years they can convert the entire paddy back to the old methods…

      Dirt… oh Dirt…. not what it used to be…

      7.2B will not be able to wait for the world’s ag land to be repaired .. strip by strip….

      • ordinaryjoe says:

        “Did I mention how the permaculture trainer we worked with in Bali told me that because oil and gas inputs are getting too expensive the farmers are distraught because they converted years ago so that they could get an extra crop per year of rice…

        But now the higher costs of inputs are more than cancelling out the value of the extra crop…

        And how they are unable to easily go back to the old ways … because the soil is dead without the inputs… and it takes a long time to rejuvenate the soil so that it will grow rice with organic inputs only…

        About how the compromise has been to teach the farmers to slowly reclaim small strips of their paddies using organic methods while continuing to farm the other portions using chemical inputs… over a number of years they can convert the entire paddy back to the old methods…”

        sucks to be them. Bali doesnt seem like a good place to be if they killed the dirt

        my dirt is ALIVE
        Paul get on board
        I dare you, double secret squirrel dare you
        go outside
        get a double handful of dirt
        examine it
        smell it
        let it permeate you

  8. oirdinaryjoe says:

    Dont get caught up in too much BS unless you choose too. Remember whats important

  9. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All

    Few more notes on glomalin, cover crops, erosion, and such topics for those who are not hopeless doomers. All quotes from Eat Your Greens.

    pg 72: As they (soil food web critters) chew their way through their food supply of the recently dead plants and animals, soil organisms release organic acids that speed the breakdown of rock particles. They also produce glomalin: a sticky gelatinous substance that clumps soil particles together and makes pores. (The pores provide space for air and water in the soil. The dead plant material is frequently roots from plants which have been harvested or killed above ground.)

    pg 72 Cover crops are plants grown primarily to improve the soil rather than to provide food (although some do both). They are especially important anywhere the gardener doesn’t have access to enough organic matter to make sufficient compost. All cover crops capture carbon from the air and convert it to organic matter. Leguminous cover crops also capture nitrogen from the air. This nitrogen allows more proteins to be formed, which increases the biomass and ultimately the soil organic matter. (Which feeds the microbes which make the glomalin. No large farm has access to ‘enough organic matter to make compost’, and hence farms use cover crops. Which can work very well indeed, as you can see from the previous video with Gabe Brown.)

    pg 80 In regions with long dry seasons, as is the case in much of the tropics, perennials will outperform annuals. Perennial plants have deep roots that are more able to reach an underground water source during the dry season. (One size does not fit all. Beware of slogans.)

    pg 83 (List of edible weeds. We sold many of these weeds at the farm I worked at.)

    pg 90 (Controlling pests) Handpick insects. Early morning is when the insects are the slowest and easiest to pick. (And the MD will advise you that you should be out in the sunshine for at least 30 minutes early in the morning…so you kill two birds with one stone.)

    pg 94 Relatively simple practices such as keeping the ground covered, planting diverse species, recycling wastes into the soil, and growing cover crops, increases soil organic matter and fertility. The richer soil provides stronger plant cover that photosynthesizes better, turning more carbon from the air into living tissue. Rain is absorbed faster and held longer by the improved soil fostering greater life underfoot. If employed over a large enough area, these practices would reverse the damage to global climate systems caused by burning fossil fuels. (See Courtney White’s recent article at

    My comment relative to no-till. I think that the evidence shows that repeated plowing is generally destructive of soil. But soils need some disturbance. There are a variety of methods for supplying the optimum disturbance. The methods which are useful for a home gardener tend not to be helpful for a broad-acre farmer, and vice versa. The same observation can be made about many other specific actions…what works on 2000 acres isn’t necessarily appropriate for a 200 square foot garden, and vice versa.

    Don Stewart
    PS Hot off the presses. New research shows that seeds being sown for cover crops benefit from a quasi-religious ritual done with incense and candlelight. The humans should sing to the seeds which are about to sacrifice themselves for the common good. The song ‘Kumbaya’ seems to be particularly efficacious.

  10. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    For a visual demonstration of the difference cover crops can make:
    When Fred Kirschenmann talked about the high rainwater infiltration rates in fields with cover crops, this is the sort of thing he had in mind. The high glomalin field can obviously deal much better with a North Dakota cloudburst than the dead soil on the left.

    Vera Bradova’s piece today on is a good piece of writing and will tell you a lot. I also recommend that you click through on the prairie restoration link and read the differences in specific actions which are required by different locations. Nature tends not to abide by our slogans.

    What works for my garden is no till as practiced by Ruth Stout and Emilia Hazelip…which is about relatively small and shallow disturbance as annual plants are harvested and planted, with continuous cover with mulch. I pat myself on the back and tell myself that I am mimicking Nature, which uses the big herbivores that Vera points to and the disturbance their hooves create. I am, of course, gardening. Farming a couple of thousand acres is going to require something different from what I do. There are beautiful pastures near my house with grass fed cattle performing the role which was previously played by the big, wild, herbivores. Optimal disturbance, lots of glomalin.

    Glomalin, by the way, is a relatively recent discovery by science. Nature invented the partnership between big herbivores, plants, soils, and the soil food web long before humans ever appeared.

    Don Stewart

  11. not fazed says:

    Russia continues to favour the far left even though absolutely _everyone_ hates them to the _utmost_. East and West, pussies all…

  12. Paul says:

    Barack Obama and the Federal Reserve are lying to you. The “economic recovery” that we all keep hearing about is mostly just a mirage. The percentage of Americans that are employed has barely budged since the depths of the last recession, the labor force participation rate is at a 36 year low, the overall rate of homeownership is the lowest that it has been in nearly 20 years and approximately 49 percent of all Americans are financially dependent on the government at this point. In a recent article, I shared 12 charts that clearly demonstrate the permanent damage that has been done to our economy over the last decade. The response to that article was very strong. Many people were quite upset to learn that they were not being told the truth by our politicians and by the mainstream media. Sadly, the vast majority of Americans still have absolutely no idea what is being done to our economy. For those out there that still believe that we are doing “just fine”, here are 19 more facts about the messed up state of the U.S. economy…

    #1 After accounting for inflation, median household income in the United States is 8 percent lower than it was when the last recession started in 2007.

    #2 The number of part-time workers in America has increased by 54 percent since the last recession began in December 2007. Meanwhile, the number of full-time jobs has dropped by more than a million over that same time period.

    #3 More than 7 million Americans that are currently working part-time jobs would actually like to have full-time jobs.

    #4 The jobs gained during this “recovery” pay an average of 23 percent less than the jobs that were lost during the last recession.

    #5 The number of unemployed workers that have completely given up looking for work is twice as high now as it was when the last recession began in December 2007.

    #6 When the last recession began, about 17 percent of all unemployed workers had been out of work for six months or longer. Today, that number sits at just above 34 percent.

    #7 Due to a lack of decent jobs, half of all college graduates are still relying on their parents financially when they are two years out of school.

    #8 According to a new method of calculating poverty devised by the U.S. Census Bureau, the state of California currently has a poverty rate of 23.4 percent.

    #9 According to the New York Times, the “typical American household” is now worth 36 percent less than it was worth a decade ago.

    #10 In 2007, the average household in the top 5 percent had 16.5 times as much wealth as the average household overall. But now the average household in the top 5 percent has 24 times as much wealth as the average household overall.

    #11 In an absolutely stunning development, the rate of small business ownership in the United States has plunged to an all-time low.

    #12 Subprime loans now make up 31 percent of all auto loans in America. Didn’t that end up really badly when the housing industry tried the same thing?

    #13 The average cost of producing a barrel of shale oil in the United States is approximately 85 dollars. Now that the price of oil is starting to slip under that number, the “shale boom” in America could turn into a bust very rapidly.

    #14 On a purchasing power basis, China now actually has a larger economy than the United States does.

    #15 It is hard to believe, but there are 49 million people that are dealing with food insecurity in America today.

    #16 There are six banks in the United States that pretty much everyone agrees fit into the “too big to fail” category. Five of them have more than 40 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.

    #17 The 113 top earning employees at the Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington D.C. make an average of $246,506 a year. It turns out that ruining the U.S. economy is a very lucrative profession.

    #18 We are told that the federal deficit is under control, but the truth is that the U.S. national debt increased by more than a trillion dollars during fiscal year 2014.

    #19 An astounding 40 million dollars has been spent just on vacations for Barack Obama and his family. Perhaps he figures that if we are going down as a nation anyway, he might as well enjoy the ride.

    • ordinaryjoe says:

      “#17 The 113 top earning employees at the Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington D.C. make an average of $246,506 a year. It turns out that ruining the U.S. economy is a very lucrative profession.”

      Thats it? Thats chicken feed. they must bring some home in their lunchbox 🙂

  13. VPK says:

    Money, Morals, Population, and Profit – All Heading For Collapse
    by Tomas DiFiore
    Agricultural energy consumption includes energy needed to grow and harvest crops and energy needed to grow livestock. Crop operations consume much more energy than livestock operations, and energy expenditures for crops account for a higher percentage of farm operating costs. Nitrogenous (ammonia-based) fertilizers require large amounts of natural gas as a feedstock and provide heat and power for processing. The U.S. nitrogenous fertilizer industry consumed more than 200 trillion Btu of natural gas as feedstock in 2010 and another 152 trillion Btu for heat and power.” Don’t Panic, Grow Organic!

    • Don Stewart says:

      Dear VPK
      It all depends on how you count. The vast majority of corn and beans are fed to livestock, or else used for ethanol. Very little is used to feed humans. Do they count the calories used to grow corn and beans as ‘livestock’ or as ‘crops’? It’s really ‘livestock’. Plus the water pumped to irrigate the corn and beans, the fertilizers and pesticides required by the corn which feeds the livestock, etc.

      Most people who look at it conclude that it is a sort of U shaped curve. A lot of energy is required to grow and ship fresh lettuce from California to New York City, and a lot of energy is required to turn sunlight and rainwater into beef or chicken in the grocery store. The least energy is required to turn North Carolina sweet potatoes into sweet potatoes in a North Carolina grocery store. Which leads directly to the notions of replacing California or Mexican fresh vegetables with kitchen garden fresh vegetables and replacing animal products with more field grown calorie crops which are low in water content.

      Don Stewart

      • VPK says:

        Don look at the chart in the article link

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear VPK
          I see by the chart that operating costs per acre are very high for rice, peanuts, and cotton. Remember that I am not a farmer…just a gardener who knows a little bit about farming. I am not surprised at the cotton figures. I don’t know much about rice. I am surprised by the figures on peanuts…we grew them without much expenditure or bother at the small farm I worked at. We did harvest them manually, which I suppose might add up for a big farm. I don’t know about mechanized harvesting for peanuts.

          Corn yields have multiplied by 6 times since 1931. Soybeans have also seen very large increases in yields. Therefore, a cost per pound (or dollar value) might show you something different than a comparison per acre planted, as other crops may not have experienced the same increases in yield.

          I don’t see anything to change my statement about the comparison of crops and livestock. If corn and beans are basically being grown to feed livestock and produce ethanol, then comparing them to something like sweet potatoes is misleading. The sweet potatoes are eaten directly, not in the form of meat and not as fuel for a vehicle. The statement on the chart doesn’t tell me how they did the calculations.

          I will amend my earlier statement about a U curve. By far the highest fuel cost is incurred for tropical products with high water content which are air-freighted to the US. For example, Chilean grapes in April. Bananas once came on banana boats and ripened on the boat. Now, I think even they are air-freighted…but I might be wrong about the bananas.

          It is also true that purely grass fed animals are pretty inexpensive in terms of water and fuel costs. The water and fuel costs that you see in connection with meat reflect the corn and soy feed as well as the irrigation water.

          Don Stewart

          • VPK says:

            Thanks Don, I once saw a program on sugar beets and the process of harvesting and converting them to a marketable product. It was eye opening! I suppose the same can be said for many other items of the same nature. Very energy intensive and automated.

            • Daddio7 says:

              For 24 years I did the mechanized potato farming thing. Planting potatoes is like going to war. We owned 8 tractors, three of them with 140 hp and 5 with 75 hp. We also had 8 2 ton trucks with bulk bodies on them. One day when planting I had to drive at one time or the other all eight of the trucks and 6 of the tractors. One tractor bedding up the rows, one pulling the four row planter, one carrying a nine row cross furrow opener, one carrying a water furrow plow, one with the seed loading conveyer mounted on it, and two pulling carts loaded seed. I also drove each of the trucks loaded with seed pieces.

              Harvesting potatoes is a pitched battle. On my three hundred acre farm we hired 12 workers, five of them drivers to ferry trucks to and from the field and seven people to work unloading and grading the potatoes. A larger farm with a wash plant bagging table potatoes will have fifty or more workers.

              Root crops are difficult to harvest. To do it by hand you need a strong back to pry them out of the ground. If we want end unemployment just get rid of herbicides and big tractors. The field in front of my house is bedded up with a 225 hp tractor pulling a 54 ft wide 16 row bedder. 60 years ago you would need 8 30 hp tractors with 2 row bedders.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Daddio7
              Idaho potatoes were one of the poster children that Michael Pollan held up as demonstrating the dead end that industrial agriculture had gotten itself into.

              Don Stewart

            • 1) You have described an extremely high carbon footprint. Even though you are getting 20 ton to the acre, you are still a net energy loser. On the other hand, a small-scale farmer may only get 10 ton to the acre, but he/she is a net energy winner because of the lower carbon footprint.
              2) One of the reasons your soil is compacted and more difficult to dig is because of the heavy equipment. A self-fulfilling prophecy as it were. Another reason your soil is difficult to dig is lack of organic matter. My neighbors down the road have a big operation spread all over Whatcom County, Washington and sell seed potatoes around the world. When it rains in the winter, their fields have standing water. My field doesn’t. The reason is because higher organic matter in the soil acts as a sponge and holds more moisture. I also have to irrigate less because the soil doesn’t dry out so fast in the summer.
              3) In the brave new world to come, you won’t be able to run your big machinery because of tight diesel supplies and lack of spare parts and infrastructure. Your solution will be to put your current rogueing crews of Mexicans to work full-time in all aspects of production. Of course you will have to pay them more and the consumer will have to pay more. [Gee sounds like a progressive social program doesn’t it?]

            • Daddio7 says:

              I’m on the other side of the country near Hastings, Fl. We grow winter potatoes in sandy soil. It doesn’t compact and a 2 inch rainfall disappears in hours. I lost my farm 20 years ago. I’m on SS and just watch the guy who bought it grow bumper crops on one of the fields I helped clear and still using some of my old equipment. Me, bitter? No, well, a little.

            • Paul says:

              “Your solution will be to put your current rogueing crews of Mexicans to work full-time in all aspects of production.”

              Why would you need Mexicans? There will be millions of Americans willing to do anything for a piece of bread when this hits….

              Heck even Jamie Dimon might show up with his family to help out when BAU is done

            • The Mexicans I used to work with have a leg up because they know how to work. Same for the rogueing crews, raspberry pickers, dairy cow milkers, etc. that do the major work here in Whatcom County. Did I mention that I think quite locally? I don’t really give a rip how the cherry season goes in Lodi next year, for example.

            • Paul says:

              “To do it by hand you need a strong back to pry them out of the ground. If we want end unemployment just get rid of herbicides and big tractors.”

              I wonder how the Facebook generation will react to that… I can imagine most would prefer to perish before it came to that…. as would most of my generation….

              Ever observed someone who had a great amount of wealth – and then lost it? I’ve seen it once — and it is not a pretty site…. it would appear difficult to go from the pedestal back to the mundane world of a salaried worker…

              There are parallels here.

              I do not think many people would adapt well to subsistence farming and the brutal life that this involves.

            • The most important thing you can do for your children or grandchildren is to teach them how to use a shovel. That means YOU have an obligation. Standing back bitching and whining doesn’t do much good.

            • Daddio7 says:

              Use a shovel!? I tried to get my high school aged son to drive an air conditioned cab tractor for a few hours and he bailed out. He had better things to do. Twenty years later I live in a double wide and he has a four bed room home in a gated community so I guess he made the right choice. I should have went to law school like he did.

            • VPK says:

              Thanks Daddio,
              I can not picture a hoard of field workers replacing machinery. The same could be said for just about ALL cash crops gown and sold here in the United States. Even “organic” grower “Earthbound” has the same operation in California. They like to grow “baby” veggies…it is much easier to maintain organic methods that way.
              I find it difficult to envision our society transitioning to “garden farming” as written by author Peter Bane and others. Don Stewart, thank you for also promoting this idea.
              Many are called, few are chosen.

          • Steven Rodriguez says:

            Time for me to chime in with my full disclosure. Did the whole organic farming thing in California in the ’80’s ad early ’90s. farmed til the money was gone. Miss it in many respects, but gawd was it hard work for this farm animal…That said, it is still fun in moderation on my quarter acre garden.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Steven Rodriguez

              I was at a Local Food event this evening. One of my points was that, working at minimum wage, a person can work for 15 minutes and earn enough to buy the calories and protein one needs for the day. Local food CANNOT be about saving money. It CAN be about food security in case of a collapse, or it can be about health, or it can be about aesthetics, or it can be about community and relationships, or it can be about ecology…but not about money.

              Don Stewart

  14. not fazed says:

    99.9 percent of species are already extinct. And this is already the Mass Extinction Event that happens once every few hundred million years. Odds are that our species wont survive. It is not like we are about to change otherwise we would not be here in this situation in the first place. We have been totally out of touch with Nature for far too long – if we ever were in touch with it, which seems doubtful. The attitudes and feelings of the masses are totally irrelevant to our well-being. 101 (BBC take note!) Survival is much harder than that. I wish that I could say that the sooner we learn that the better but the whole drift is that we are not going to learn anything of import. “What do we want? Four more planets! When do we want it? NOW!”

    Nearly everyone is about to die, get over it! Man is just another species &c.

    • Paul says:

      We all die sooner or later of course — the silver lining in this situation is that we call get to die at the same time — so it’s not as if anyone is going to miss you… nor are you going to miss out on anything (except more disease, starvation and suffering)….

      And for those who believe in heaven — this is an outstanding outcome — no need to wait for all your friends and family — the reunion happens immediately!

  15. VPK says:

    Fukushima’s work site is just another accident waiting to happen!–bc-japan-nuclear21-20141021-story.html

    ” A man from Hokkaido, who said it was the first time he had worked at a nuclear power plant, said: “In Hokkaido, it’s difficult to find a job. Recently, many people have tried to find a job either in Fukushima at the nuclear power plant or in Tokyo, where the Olympics will be held in 2020.”

    Some people are concerned about the deteriorating work quality as the number of staff unfamiliar with working at such an environment increases. A local worker in charge of electrical work on the premises said: “As there aren’t enough workers, there was no choice but to entrust a person who had the experience of working at another nuclear power plant for just a few months to lead a group of workers. It wouldn’t be surprising if an accident occurred at any time.”

    According to TEPCO, 25 workers experienced some work-related difficulties, such as injury or heat stroke, in fiscal 2012, but that figure increased to 32 in fiscal 2013. In March this year, a 55-year-old man died after he was buried in soil while excavating it. The accident was the first fatality since decommissioning work started.

    Akihiro Yoshikawa, 34, former TEPCO employee now supporting workers at the No. 1 nuclear power plant, explained that manpower shortages have occurred because veteran workers left Fukushima unsatisfied with short-term contracts and an unstable existence. “TEPCO and the government should improve the work environment while taking into account the long-term decommissioning processes, and also make efforts to educate workers to improve their techniques,” he said.

    • Christian says:

      Robert, that’s a call for you!

      • Behind a paywall but I registered. Unemployment problems are no surprise. It does sound like a difficult job. I sometimes encountered the same sweat problem upon donning a mask, gloves and protective clothing to enter a TB ward or isolation room at the non air-conditioned Houston Jeff Davis Hospital. I note that one worker death was described, but it was not from radiation.

  16. Stefeun says:

    That was 3 1/2 months ago:

    UPDATE 1-Total CEO calls for bigger euro role in oil payments
    Sat Jul 5, 2014 7:12am EDT
    (Reuters) – Oil major Total’s chief executive said on Saturday the euro should have a bigger role in international trade although it was not possible to do without the U.S. dollar.

    Christophe de Margerie was responding to questions about calls by French policymakers to find ways at EU level to bolster the use of the euro in international business following a record U.S. fine for BNP.
    ”Doing without the (U.S.) dollar, that wouldn’t be realistic, but it would be good if the euro was used more,” he told reporters.
    “There is no reason to pay for oil in dollars,” he said. He said the fact that oil prices are quoted in dollars per barrel did not mean that payments actually had to be made in that currency.
    French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said on Thursday that euro zone finance ministers would discuss ways of boosting use of the euro in international trade in their next monthly meeting on Monday.
    “It would be a way to protect businesses when, outside of U.S. territory, they carry out transactions that are perfectly legal in the country they belong to,” he said.

    And then yesterday:
    Total CEO de Margerie killed in Moscow as jet hits snow plow

    “De Margerie was a staunch defender of Russia and its energy policies, as the conflict in Ukraine has raised tensions with the West to levels not seen since the Cold War, and triggered economic sanctions against Moscow.
    … “Are we going to build a new Berlin Wall?” he said. “Russia is a partner and we shouldn’t waste time protecting ourselves from a neighbor … What we are looking to do is not to be too dependent on any country, no matter which. Not from Russia, which has saved us on numerous occasions.”
    … De Margerie also worked to ensure that Total would be in pole position to return to Iran if Western economic sanctions there were lifted.”

    Bad luck.

  17. Christian says:

    I have come to know that de Margerie, Total’s boss that was proposing petroeuro, died in an “accident” when a car crossed the way when his plane was landing. What do you think, don’t fight the Fed?

  18. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and Paul and all the Jevons people

    Here are some facts and some action plans relative to food and fossil fuels. Up front, I will say that none of this will happen so long as governments are the captive of the Corporatocracy and the population consists of addicts. So you may wish to see it as ‘theoretically possible’ but ‘implausible at the societal scale’.

    These statistics are drawn from Eat Your Greens, by David Kennedy.
    *A reasonable diet consists of 10 percent animal product calories and 90 percent plant product calories\
    A reasonable daily calorie intake is around 2000
    *People in the US, Europe, and Australia currently eat 1000 calories per day from animal sources

    Therefore, people in the US, Europe, and Australia need to eat 800 fewer calories per day from animal sources. Since the animal source calories are up one trophic level from plant calories, the reduction in load on the planet’s ecology would be enormous.

    *The average American consumes 500 calories per day more than we did in 1970
    *These additional calories contribute to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes
    *Most projections of global health costs show them increasing to ruinous levels.
    *Developing countries are rapidly approaching the ruinous levels of poor health prevalent in the Advanced Countries
    *We are approaching Diminishing Returns on the food strategies which have been prevalent since 1950. Consumption of bubbly soft drinks is now declining, per capita, in the US. Mexico, the fattest country in the world, now taxes bubbly soft drinks.
    *Plants should be consumed in larger measure in their relatively unprocessed state…not as extruded sugar rich ‘foods’ in a box.

    So a rational food strategy would tax the CAFOs right out of existence, and tax the ‘convenience foods in a box’ to encourage people to eat lower on the processing chain.

    *Fresh fruits and vegetables are 85 to 90 percent water. Field grown staples are 5 to 11 percent water.

    Therefore, a rational food strategy would move the production of fresh fruits and vegetables closer to where people live, and out of the Central Valley in California. The result would be a lot less fossil fuels used shipping water, as well as in irrigating the Central Valley.

    Kennedy’s solution, of course, is more reliance on kitchen gardens for fresh fruits and vegetables, supplemented by small local farms. Field staples remain grown on large farms with big machinery, but those farms growing more diversified crops. Global trade limited to things such as tea and coffee and cocao.

    Can this be done physically? Yes, it can. Is it politically feasible? I am dubious. The corporations control the politics, and the above prescription bankrupts a lot of corporations. In addition, most of the population is addicted to sugar, and won’t like it when they are told to eat wheat berries rather than a bagel.

    Suppose that ugly reality convinces enough people that the above plan needs to be implemented. How would the mechanism work? I think it would involve some direct regulation of things such as CAFOs (perhaps through pollution regulations), regulations on promotion of food to children, and some of it would involve carbon taxes. Carbon taxes should be high enough that the Jevons paradox does not work. That is, the massive amounts of fossil fuels saved by implementing the plan should stay in the ground….or the money raised from taxes used to subsidize carbon sequestration through agricultural practices…or both.

    Don Stewart

  19. Rick Larson says:

    Hire a Permaculture Design Consultant to assess your property Gail. Until you begin to learn how we can scientifically mimic the natural, and sustainable processes of natural ecology, your commentary on such matters will continue to be lacking.

  20. not fazed says:

    File this one in the funny dept. along with “What do we want? Four more planets!”

    Seattle Socialist Party Wants $20 Per Hour Minimum Wage, Offers $13 Per Hour For Website Manager

    You must know HTML and Photoshop and there is no telecommuting allowed.

  21. VPK says:

    This Little-Known Region Could Soon Be The World’s #1 Offshore Oil Field

    That sharp reversal in America’s oil production did not go unnoticed by the global energy community.
    [More from ]

    According to global energy services leader Baker Hughes, the number of fracking rigs used onshore in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region increased 10% in 2013. And according to energy consultants Wood Mackenzie, a record 400 shale wells may be drilled outside the United States in 2014.

    That’s when it hit me. Fracking is in the early stages of going global, and now it is beginning to spread to other regions that are looking to create a little energy revolution of their own.

    One of the regions I’m researching now for my High-Yield International readers looks strikingly similar to how America looked before it hit its fracking boom…

  22. Paul says:

    A thought….

    When collapse comes it will be global… and it will be chaotic… and will involve some sort of lock down (martial law) for as long as can be maintained…

    How to get the populations of the world to support such a lock down?

    Tell them we are completely screwed and use brutal force — which would in many places result in some for of civil war.

    Or use fear — a pandemic — Ebola…. ‘stay in your homes for your own safety’….

    Just a thought…

  23. Don Stewart says:

    Dear Gail and All
    A recurring subject is whether conservation actually does any good. Conservation usually begins with reducing waste…as opposed to doing without essentials. Here is a plea from an MD prompted by a new book by a Congressman from Ohio about the gross waste and damage we currently experience due to bad food practices:

    I suppose it is possible to argue that if we weren’t squandering our money on insane medical treatments, we would just squander it on something else. But it seems to me that conservation simply makes sense. If nothing else, it buys us time to come to our senses.

    Don Stewart

  24. Paul says:

    Marginal oil production costs are heading towards $100/barrel

    Bernstein’s energy analysts have looked at the upstream costs for the 50 biggest listed oil producers and found that — surprise, surprise — “the era of cheap oil is over”

    Tracking data from the 50 largest listed oil and gas producing companies globally (ex FSU) indicates that cash, production and unit costs in 2011 grew at a rate significantly faster than the 10 year average.

    Last year production costs increased 26% y-o-y, while the unit cost of production increased by 21% y-o-y to US$35.88/bbl. This is significantly higher than the longer term cost growth rates, highlighting continued cost pressures faced by the E&P industry as the incremental barrel continues to become more expensive to produce.

    The marginal cost of the 50 largest oil and gas producers globally increased to US$92/bbl in 2011, an increase of 11% y-o-y and in-line with historical average CAGR growth. Assuming another double digit increase this year, marginal costs for the 50 largest oil and gas producers could reach close to US$100/bbl.

    While we see near term downside to oil prices on weaker demand growth, the longer term outlook for higher oil prices continues to be supported by the rising costs of production.


    Note the date of the article… 2012… surely the numbers are higher now as the low hanging fruit depletes… So how long can 80 buck oil continue?

  25. not fazed says:

    My attitude to global collapse seems paradoxically to be more or less orthodox Biblical. I will rummage the pages and write it up for you sometime but simply it comes down to that sometimes the only people who survive are those who take heed and flee to the mountains. I don’t want to give too much away but it shares that about the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the final apocalypse. It is arguably a core message that it tells hardly anyone will heed. One flees both spiritually and above all physically. Reggae, the most spiritual music in the world…

    • Christian says:

      I’am surprised about how many of us here are reggae fans. Perhaps it’s because of Babylon metaphor

  26. VPK says:

    Peak Oil Is Coming — and Why You Should Love It

    Read more:

    Economics will drive the peak in oil demand
    Fundamentally, the challenge for oil is that it’s becoming more expensive than alternatives. Cheap oil from places like Texas and the Middle East drove our addiction to oil, and as those fields dry up it becomes more expensive to drill for oil in shale or offshore reserves.

    Meanwhile, the cost of solar and wind energy comes down year after year, already surpassing grid parity in many parts of the world. The last piece of the puzzle is electric vehicles, which are already beginning to become a significant portion of auto sales. As their costs fall, it’ll become more economical for consumers worldwide to choose to lower oil consumption because there are cheaper alternatives.

    We’ve already seen a peak in oil demand in Europe and the U.S. I think before 2020 we’ll see a peak in demand in places like China as well. When that happens, the world may see peak oil, but it’ll be a peak in oil demand. That could be the best news we’ve had in energy in a long time.

    See, no need to worry, the “markets” will solve everything…
    Brought to you by NASDAQ

    • not fazed says:

      Cheap solar and wind energy are going to save us all? OK buy a Prius now!

      • Jarle B says:

        “Cheap solar and wind energy are going to save us all? OK buy a Prius now!”

        If you buy a car in Norway you have to pay a lot of taxes. Not so if it’s a EV. If you drive a EV you also ride for free on our ferries, don’t pay bridge or road tolls, may drive in the bus lane and don’t have to pay when parking (some parking places offers “free” electricity as well). The EV share of new cars sold is up to 10 percent, and with a lot of oil wages around many of them are Tesla Model S.

        After Tesla announced the upgraded Model S a few weeks back a lot of first generation owners has put their car up for sale. Got to have the new model, of course! When interviewed they sound just like a true Apple disciple, can’t wait to get their hands on the new thing. What a strange, strange world this is…

        • not fazed says:

          Norway sounds really cool. I can understand people who think “Wow, I wish I had been born in Norway!” and move there. I suspect that most people in Britain have never even heard of EVs or else they think that it is something off the TV programme Tomorrow’s World.

          • Jarle B says:

            “Norway sounds really cool. I can understand people who think “Wow, I wish I had been born in Norway!” and move there.”

            It’s nice. But remember, it’s harder to fall from a high place than from a lower place – and fall we will.

            • kesar0 says:

              Exactly. Overshoot is overshoot, never mind the actual location. Let’s wait and see when Breivik becomes a hero/martyr/saint. Local tolerance for “the others” is just the function of wellfare. When the juice runs out the overshoot will show the teeth.

        • Hate to put a damper of this
          When everybody in Norway is running an EV, nobody pays any kind of transport taxes.
          Then the roads an bridges fall part because theres no money to pay for their upkeep.
          This what happen in UK. Great roads till the romans left, then the roads dissolved into nothing until the introduction of the turnpike system around 1500 years later.
          Just sayin theres no free lunches

          • Jarle B says:

            “When everybody in Norway is running an EV, nobody pays any kind of transport taxes.
            Then the roads an bridges fall part because theres no money to pay for their upkeep.”

            I know, EoM, and I keep on telling people that, but they won’t listen…

    • edpell says:

      VPR grid parity for the six hour they have bright sun shine no storage factored into the cost. Let’s talk grid parity at midnight.

    • Paul says:

      How in the hell do these people get jobs in the finance industry?

      Does it not occur to them that oil demand has peaked because there is no growth – that people have no cash so they cut back on consumption —- on driving…

      Do they not know the numbers on car sales — I believe in 2013 82M cars were sold – 500k were EVs….

      Do they not know that solar panels are a massive disaster barely producing more energy than goes into making them?

      I can understand how the general public would not necessarily know any of this — but supposed investment professionals — analysts — not knowing?


  27. Ann says:

    A summary of Tim Garrett’s work on energy efficiency using physics. Support for Gail.

    Garrett “conceived of human civilization, all of it, as one gigantic thermodynamic heat engine, and applied the basic laws of thermodynamics to civilization as a whole. Instead of looking very closely at the trees, Garrett sees the forest. The implications of that view are profound, and not particularly cheering. The bottom line from Garrett’s equations is that increasing the energy efficiency of civilization as a whole must necessarily also increase economic activity by similar amounts, which will result in no overall energy reduction at all — ever — from energy efficiency. The rebound effect cannot be less than 100%. If we are relying on energy efficiency to save us, that reliance is doomed to failure.”

    I understand that he had a difficult time getting these two papers published.

    • Christian says:

      This was remarked in 1856 by William Stanley Jevons. See “Jevon’s paradox”

      • There seems to be quite a bit of confusion about what a paradox is and especially about Jevons Paradox. A paradox is a “seeming” contradiction, not a “real” contradiction. Jevons himself realized it looked as if increased energy efficiency was the driver for increased energy use, but it is just a correlation. The drivers for increased energy use are political opportunism, financial opportunism or scientific opportunism. “Chicken in every pot”, “I can make money”, “I can do it so I will”, respectively. AND this is not an exclusive list. Even Garret falls into this trap. Here is an easier version of his technical paper:

        In this paper, titled The Jevons Paradox, he states, “Jevons was emphatic that energy efficient steam engines had accelerated Britain’s consumption of coal. The cost of steam-powered coal extraction became cheaper and, because coal was very useful, more attractive.” Note the qualifier, “because coal was very useful, more attractive.” The driver here is that coal was very useful. In other words, the Enlightenment scholars and political Empire Builders of the time realized they could grow their economy (and their fortunes!) because of the advances in coal technology AND the plentiful amounts of coal. You may think this is a subtle difference. It is not. This is the raw stuff of scientific reasoning. It is called a paradox, i.e. a “seeming” contradiction, because that is what it is. There is no real contradiction.

        In this light, it cannot be taken as a given that increased efficiency AUTOMATICALLY means more energy use. The Empire Builders has cheap fossil fuels. WE do not. If you buy into such false reasoning, you will find yourself intellectually impotent.

        • edpell says:

          People have a price point they are willing to spend for a given thing like night time home lighting. If it gets cheaper they light more because that is what they always wanted but could not afford.

        • not fazed says:

          The unreality of the “contradiction” in a paradox does not touch upon the reality of its conclusion.

          • Whaaattttt??? Did you even read what you wrote? The unreality of a contraction does not touch on the reality of the conclusion? Where did you learn logic?

            • not fazed says:

              Where did I learn logic? OK, lets start with the first statement about paradoxes: A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. Notice, it might yet be true. Like I said, the unreality of the “contradiction” does not touch on the reality of the principle. Jevons “Paradox” refers to a principle that is merely ironic or unexpected. There is no real contradiction: we might TRY to reduce energy consumption by increasing energy efficiency but greater efficiency leads to greater incentive to consume energy. The principle is ironic, not truly contradictory and the “paradox” in no way disproves the principle.

              Btw I am not here arguing that the principle is true, as true as it might be, I am simply pointing out that the principle is not disproved simply because it is a “paradox”.

            • Nonsense. You are just engaging in spin. You don’t get to alter my statement and then spin it out into some absurd conclusion. That is just stinky cheese. “A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true,” is a false statement. The rest of your argument falls apart because it starts from a false statement.

              A paradox is a “seeming” contradiction. It is not a real contradiction. The problem with Gail’s and Garrett’s position is that they take Jevons’ Paradox as a true statement. It is nothing of the kind. They simply accept correlation as causation in an attempt to justify continuing to use fossil fuels to keep our society going. Look at Jevons’ original paper. (Jevons assumes his readers understand the use of language. Too bad I cannot assume the same.) What leads to the “increased inroads upon our seams of coal” is increased consumption, NOT energy efficiency. This increased consumption comes from many sources. Gail has a vested interest in dismissing reduced consumption. This is evident from her many posts. This is counterproductive.

              [Begin quote]
              Now the same principles apply, with even greater force and distinctness, to the use of such a general agent as coal. It is the very economy of its use which leads to its extensive consumption. It has been so in the past, and it will be so in the future. Nor is it difficult to see how this paradox arises.

              The number of tons of coal used in any branch of industry is the product of the number of separate works, and the average number of tons consumed in each. Now, if the quantity of coal used in a blast-furnace, for instance, be diminished in comparison with the yield, the profits of the trade will increase, new capital will be attracted, the price of pig-iron will fall, but the demand for it increase; and eventually the greater number of furnaces will more than make up for the diminished consumption of each. And if such is not always the result within a single branch, it must be remembered that the progress of any branch of manufacture excites a new activity in most other branches, and leads indirectly, if not directly, to increased inroads upon our seams of coal.
              [End quote]


            • ordinaryjoe says:

              “Where did I learn logic? OK, lets start with the first statement about paradoxes: A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true. Notice, it might yet be true. Like I said, the unreality of the “contradiction” does not touch on the reality of the principle. Jevons “Paradox” refers to a principle that is merely ironic or unexpected. There is no real contradiction: we might TRY to reduce energy consumption by increasing energy efficiency but greater efficiency leads to greater incentive to consume energy. The principle is ironic, not truly contradictory and the “paradox” in no way disproves the principle.

              Btw I am not here arguing that the principle is true, as true as it might be, I am simply pointing out that the principle is not disproved simply because it is a “paradox”.”

              Well written and coherent reply.

            • Once again, let me point out what is wrong and dangerous about using Jevons Paradox in this way. Here is both Garrett’s and Tverberg’s argument in a nutshell.

              A) Energy efficiency leads to more energy use.
              B) Reducing energy leads to less energy use.
              C) Therefore energy efficiency is diametrically opposed to reduced energy use.

              It’s nonsense isn’t it? The problem is that they both accept a false paradigm – that energy efficiency leads to more energy use. It doesn’t. Increased energy demand leads to more energy use. Duh!

              Efficiency does NOT create demand.

            • Paul says:

              “Efficiency does NOT create demand.”

              This research would suggest otherwise:

              Energy Efficiency and its Impact on Energy Demand


            • From the article you linked: “In an energy context, let’s consider what happens when an individual buys a more efficient car—the same can be said for light bulbs, home insulation, and so forth. What happens is that, in order to achieve the same level of utility, the individual can consume less energy. However, if the individual is a cute piggy, he/she will not be satisfied with the same utility he/she reached earlier if he/she is able to reach a higher utility for the same expense!”

              The operative phrase is, ” . . . if the individual is a cute piggy . . . .” What drives consumption is greed, sloth and fear (to use Ian Morris’ phrase, which he cribbed from Robert Heinlein). The “cute piggy” does not take the saved energy and use it for something else because of the energy efficiency. He does it because he is a “cute piggy.”

              This is why we should be teaching more social science in high school. The drivers are the humans, NOT the increasingly efficient machines.

            • Paul says:


              – a person dumps his Ram Tough and buys a Prius

              – she drives the same amount of miles in the Prius as she did in the Ram

              – so she saves let’s say $200 per month in energy costs

              – what does she do with the $200?

              – assume she uses it to buy more stuff — goods and services — energy is required to make and transport those to her — so is she really using less energy?

              – or let’s say she puts the money in the bank and buys nothing — what does the bank do with the 200? With fractional reserve banking they loan out that 200 MANY TIMES OVER…. so in fact this is worse than her buying stuff — it means others can borrow thousands against that 200 and buy even MORE stuff

              – the only way she is conserving energy is if she takes the 200 and tears it into pieces and flushes it down the toilet.

              What are the odds of that happening?

              Energy efficiency is a canarde….

            • Except when I can grow 8400 pounds of food on 11.50 gallons of gas and 1000 hours of labor. This was enough food to feed 2 people for a year at 2500 kcal/day or 2.5 at 2000 kcal/day. Feeding the people with minimal inputs and time is where energy efficiency becomes important.

            • Paul says:

              So you are using mechanization to produce your food….

              That means you have to add up all the energy that went into making the machines that you use… also the energy that transported the machinery to your property

              If everyone followed your lead they’d also have to buy machinery …

              Machinery does not grow on trees…

              10 Calories in, 1 Calorie Out – The Energy We Spend on Food

              Thank you for demonstrating that energy efficiency is always a canarde — unless you tear up the savings and flush them…

            • Paul – You must be channeling the Tea Party. LOL. You are starting to sound like the right wing whackos in Whatcom County. Their tactic is to take a sound scientific argument, spin it to a logical absurdity that is false on its face, and then stand back in triumph, glorying in their own absurdity. You are doing the same. You really don’t know what you are talking about.

              The energy inputs from industrial ag range from 7-10 kilocalories in for every 1 kilocalorie out (EROI 7-10:1). My EROI for 2013 was 3.61:1 for food production and I average right around 3.5:1 every year. That makes me 25-35 times more efficient than the guys down the road with the big tractors. Check out Tables 1 and 2 in my second book. I also explain my methodology thoroughly. The bias against machines is based on their inefficiency, not on some so-called Kumbaya Moment. The human engine is the most efficient engine we have.

            • Paul says:

              Walter — sorry but I see no sound scientific argument.

            • Efficiency only matters if you have the whole chain of inputs you need to produce the desired output. Once there is a break in the chain (a missing replacement part, for example) you are stuck.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Dear Gail and Walter
              It is easy to overstate the ‘brittle supply chain’ argument. For example, see:

              Cuba and Costa Rica are delivering public health results which equal those of the United States, while spending vastly less on oil. In the US, most people see all the gadgets made possible by oil as essential links in the ‘health care supply chain’…but the evidence does not support the supposition. Similarly, the Iowa State 10 year trial of fossil fuel intensive agriculture against more tradition, small fossil fuel agriculture yielded very similar physical output, with the best monetary strategy being the traditional methods…albeit they are more labor intensive. If you look at the Iowa State results, you have to seriously question two assertions:
              1. Our food supply MUST be highly dependent on a very brittle supply chain with fossil fuels as a key element.
              2. Using less fossil fuels WILL necessarily result in fewer jobs.

              Just as the Costa Rican and Cuban evidence argues against:
              3. Our health MUST necessarily be dependent on a brittle supply chain highly dependent on fossil fuels.

              Don Stewart

            • Paul says:

              Don – Costa Rica and Cuba are directly plugged into BAU — which has not yet collapsed. They can still trade — they can still welcome tourists off 747s…. they can still import oil and gas and coal…. and medicines and medical equipment…. they can still tap into the financial markets….

              It will be very different once the global economy collapses.

            • Don Stewart says:

              The point is that less fossil fuels does not necessarily mean lower real productivity or lower employment.

              If you think that it is NECESSARY that the US expend far mire fossil fuels than Costa Rica and Cuba, and gets nothing for the additional expenditure…then I think the burden of proof is on you.

              If you think that it is essential to continue to expend millions of barrels of oil on food production, when the additional barrels do not produce more food, then I think the burden of proof is on You.

              Don Stewart

            • Paul says:

              The Green Revolution refers to a series of research, and development, and technology transfer initiatives, occurring between the 1940s and the late 1960s, that increased agricultural production worldwide, particularly in the developing world, beginning most markedly in the late 1960s.[1] The initiatives, led by Norman Borlaug, the “Father of the Green Revolution” credited with saving over a billion people from starvation, involved the development of high-yielding varieties of cereal grains, expansion of irrigation infrastructure, modernization of management techniques, distribution of hybridized seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides to farmers.

              Production increases

              Cereal production more than doubled in developing nations between the years 1961–1985.[23] Yields of rice, maize, and wheat increased steadily during that period.[23] The production increases can be attributed roughly equally to irrigation, fertilizer, and seed development, at least in the case of Asian rice.[23]

              While agricultural output increased as a result of the Green Revolution, the energy input to produce a crop has increased faster,[24] so that the ratio of crops produced to energy input has decreased over time. Green Revolution techniques also heavily rely on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides and rely on machines, which as of 2014 rely on or are derived from crude oil, making agriculture increasingly reliant on crude oil extraction.[25] Proponents of the Peak Oil theory fear that a future decline in oil and gas production would lead to a decline in food production or even a Malthusian catastrophe.[26]


              Green Revolution technologies spread worldwide in the 1950s and 1960s, significantly increasing the amount of calories produced per acre of agriculture.

              By combining Borlaug’s wheat varieties with new mechanized agricultural technologies, Mexico was able to produce more wheat than was needed by its own citizens, leading to its becoming an exporter of wheat by the 1960s. Prior to the use of these varieties, the country was importing almost half of its wheat supply.


              Benefits of the Green Revolution

              As a result of the Green Revolution and the introduction of chemical fertilizers, synthetic herbicides and pesticides, high-yield crops, and the method of multiple cropping, the agricultural industry was able to produce much larger quantities of food. This increase in productivity made it possible to feed the growing human population.

              The ability to grow more food on the same amount of land was also beneficial to the environment because it meant that less forest or natural land needed to be converted to farmland to produce more food. This is demonstrated by the fact that from 1961 to 2008, as the human population increased by 100% and the production of food rose by 150%, the amount of forests and natural land converted to farm only increased by 10%. The natural land that is currently not needed for agricultural land is safe for the time being, and can be utilized by animals and plants for their natural habitat.


              You asked…

              There can be no disputing that the green revolution has increased food production — however it was a pact with the devil — it is why we have 7.2B people on the planet — and it is why we are set for a massive cull — because it was destined to fail from the outset — we have been effectively feeding people oil and gas — both finite.

              The Green Revolution was a direct response to Malthus and his ideas — Malthus will have the last laugh….

            • Using less fossil fuels requires a changeover in how things are done–perhaps smaller fields, using smaller equipment, with workers living closer to the fields. This means more workers, houses in places where there are no longer houses, and probably equipment that is no longer being made. All of these things require changes (and costs) that I doubt you are factoring in. Furthermore, we are still dealing with the same vulnerability to supply chain problems we had in the past. We are just using a little less oil (if we ignore all of the changeover issues).

            • The “brittle supply chain” argument is Gail’s, not mine.

            • Paul says:

              The brittle supply chain I believe is David Korowicz’ argument.

              When the global financial system collapses please explain how for instance, we can continue generating electricity when the grid is made up of literally thousands of parts that are sourced from around the world and made using very high tech machinery — which is in turn made up of thousands of parts that are sourced from around the world — which are made up of minerals and other elements that must be mined and smelted from many places around the world using heavy machinery and other high tech gear that is made up of thousands of parts that are sourced from around the world…

              Please don’t insult my intelligence by saying we can use embedded energy sources from the detritus of a collapsed civilization as that is clearly not possible.

            • Lift up your head from the computer screen for a moment. See all that stuff all around you? It is stuff that can be reused. Embedded energy = frozen calories = stuff. There is lots of stuff. Some of it you can burn, some you can reuse, some you can remanufacture. Duh!

              When the grid goes down there will still be ways to get by. Have a little more confidence in yourself. You will probably come up with creative ideas on your own.

            • Paul says:

              So I can burn my car seats to cook a chicken over — then I and the other 4M people on the island can burn the forests….

              Then what do I do?

              Haiti did that — and now they have no trees — if you fly in you will not see any forests – that is what you have to look forward to.

              And then you also have thousands of spent nuclear fuel ponds that you have to keep cool by doing what – pouring bucks of water onto them for decades?

            • We need materials with very precise specifications to repair high tech equipment. Reuse means changing to low tech, virtually overnight. This is a huge form of collapse relative to where we are today. For example, we cannot fix parts on electrical distribution equipment.

            • We need materials with very precise specifications to repair high tech equipment. Reuse means changing to low tech, virtually overnight. This is a huge form of collapse relative to where we are today. For example, we cannot fix parts on electrical distribution equipment.

            • I think all of the examples you are giving are dependent on our something similar to our current supply chain. Some may use a little shorter version of it.

              In the medical situation, perhaps fast food companies won’t continue to overfeed people so badly on food with inadequate nutrients, and doctors may be in a system that is geared to maximize their income. So there may be some inherent benefits to the change, apart from anything to do with the supply chain. These are changes that theoretically be made without any change to the supply chain–“just” change the economic incentives of farmers, fast food companies, and physicians.

              As far as I can tell, the Iowa State comparison is between two fossil fuels systems–one we have in place now, and one we theoretically could put back in place if we made a bunch of changes–added fences, added houses where they have been taken down, found enough farmers, found lower tech farming devices, etc. The critical issues are

              (1) We don’t really have the alternative system that theoretically could exist.
              (2) Even if we did, it would depend on a lot of what our current system depends on–roads, the electrical system continuing to work, the trade system continuing to work to provide parts for devices, the government continuing to be in place, and even the system that relays prices to farmers, so they can evaluate what will be the most profitable crop to grow.

              I am doubtful that the changes suggested are really possible. Even if they are, I don’t see that they get us very far from where we are now. Arguably, we could “go back” to a point where we are a little farther away from the limit. Then growing population and depleting resources would continue pushing us along the same trajectory that we had been on all along. It seems like that at most the changes, if they actually could be made, would “buy” us a few years.

            • I think all of the examples you are giving are dependent on our something similar to our current supply chain. Some may use a little shorter version of it.

              In the medical situation, perhaps fast food companies won’t continue to overfeed people so badly on food with inadequate nutrients, and doctors may be in a system that is geared to maximize their income. So there may be some inherent benefits to the change, apart from anything to do with the supply chain. These are changes that theoretically be made without any change to the supply chain–“just” change the economic incentives of farmers, fast food companies, and physicians.

              As far as I can tell, the Iowa State comparison is between two fossil fuels systems–one we have in place now, and one we theoretically could put back in place if we made a bunch of changes–added fences, added houses where they have been taken down, found enough farmers, found lower tech farming devices, etc. The critical issues are

              (1) We don’t really have the alternative system that theoretically could exist.
              (2) Even if we did, it would depend on a lot of what our current system depends on–roads, the electrical system continuing to work, the trade system continuing to work to provide parts for devices, the government continuing to be in place, and even the system that relays prices to farmers, so they can evaluate what will be the most profitable crop to grow.

              I am doubtful that the changes suggested are really possible. Even if they are, I don’t see that they get us very far from where we are now. Arguably, we could “go back” to a point where we are a little farther away from the limit. Then growing population and depleting resources would continue pushing us along the same trajectory that we had been on all along. It seems like that at most the changes, if they actually could be made, would “buy” us a few years.

            • Don Stewart says:

              One reason for optimism is Cuba during the Special Period. Cuba went from being a cog in the wheel of the Soviet global system to a small island with no fossil fuels, and economically blockaded by the United States It would be a stretch to say that they have thrived, but they have survived. They moved their agriculture away from the massive machinery of the Soviet system. They built the largest medical college in the world, which now trains doctors who go back to their villages and practice medicine.

              I think you fall into the trap of saying ‘Well, it will be hard and we couldn’t pay our debts’. The answer to that is that no matter what we do, it will be hard and we will not pay our debts. But if we know that simpler systems are possible and work well enough, we would be foolish to continue to insist on inefficient systems. An inefficient system just makes everything harder. I think you sometimes come across as saying ‘we have to preserve inefficiency because debt is based on inefficiency and we have to pay our debts’. Capitalism is supposed to be about creative destruction.

              If fossil fuels decline at 6 percent per year, and if population is declining, and if some of us can behave rationally, then are you really sure that everything is hopeless? Especially when we know that much of our fossil fuel use today is wasted.

              Don Stewart

            • Paul says:

              As has been pointed out previously Cuba did not exist as an island completely cut off from BAU… it did not return to a Year Zero situation — the country has always participated in the global economy to some extent even after Russia collapsed…

            • I would be much more sympathetic with the Cuba story if I saw a large drop in Cuba’s oil consumption and a huge long-term rise in its ability to sustain ifs own food supply. I see an improvement in fruits and vegetable growing, but it is not really fixing overall food independence. And Cuba’s dip in oil consumption from the Russian cut off was not as large as the more recent drop, due to the rise in the cost of oil.

              Cuba vs North Korea in oil consumption

            • “Efficiency only matters if . . . .” Aside from the arrogance of trying to limit a term that has multiple uses, you are stuck in the “economic frame of mind.”

            • Paul says:

              Walter — the one thing we seem to agree on is that there is going to be a massive die-off … many billions…

              And you seem to welcome that…

              Do you believe you will survive that die-off?

              I sense that you are not a young person … and surely this will be a young man’s game — a survival of the fittest kinda thing… what with the violence, disease, the hard work of producing food.

              And even if you were a young fit person your odds of survival would not be high assuming 8 in 10 go….

              Surely the logical position would be to want BAU to go on for as long as possible — wanting it to end asap is akin to a death wish no?

            • I do welcome the end of the fossil fuel age. At any rate, I have no choice but to adapt to it. Since I am a REAL environmentalist, I have no problem with recessions and depressions, as that is what we will have to suffer through for clean air, soil, and water. You might remember that 2009 actually saw a drop in greenhouse gas emissions because of the world-wide recession. When the US economy started to come back a little in 2010, emissions shot up again. I am 64 and I am prepared for my death. I am working now for my grandchildren. [I made a vow not to have children in 1970, but I do have two stepchildren I helped raise and one of them has a daughter.]

            • Paul says:

              Without fossil fuels we cannot maintain the thousands of spend fuel rods around the world that require cooling for decades so….

              “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.”


              Be mindful of the consequences of getting what you wish for…

            • Unfortunately, we live in a world where the economy is what ties everything together. If something isn’t “economic,” it can’t happen–at least not any scale, without someone subsidizing it.

            • Unfortunately, we live in a world where the economy is what ties everything together. If something isn’t “economic,” it can’t happen–at least not any scale, without someone subsidizing it.

        • Christian says:

          Good point Walter. I studied logic and I know this is not a paradox, while it is how Jevons’s idea is usually called (don’t even know if he called it that way himself). Of course there is no real contradiction, because both efficiency and total consumption increase tend to the same goal: what Garrett called “usefullness”, what your are calling “empire building”. This falls under what phycisist François Roddier calls “maximum entropy principle”.

          • Adam says:

            So what are the key ways to distinguish irony from paradox, and are there different categories of each? Or can they sometimes overlap? I once saw a big argument on a forum about this!

          • not fazed says:

            Which brings us back to the first statement about paradoxes: A paradox is a statement that apparently contradicts itself and yet might be true.

            • not fazed says:

              In other words the question of whether Jevons Paradox is a paradox is irrelevant to the question of whether his energy principle is true…

            • Once again, your point is irrelevant. The Jevons Paradox is often used to justify consuming more energy. In Gail’s responses, which were echoed by others, she states that reducing your carbon footprint is not a valid response because it furthers system collapse. This is backwards reasoning. The reason we need to reduce our carbon footprint is so that we can share limited resources. “Live simply so others may simply live” is a terrific soundbite because it is based on real human interaction and empathy. Your simplistic narrative leads inevitably to “someone else will burn the carbon so why not me?” If you cannot follow your own logic, you will continue to be intellectually impotent.

              It is important to understand the paradigm.

            • Nonsense. A contradiction does not depend on either argument being true. It has an internal consistency that is irrelevant to the base positions. This is what the field of philology is based upon, for example. You look for internal consistency of text. It doesn’t matter if your text has been radio-carboned to 500 BC or 500 AD.

              Let me give you a real-world example of your logic:
              “If you are not with us in the war on terror, you are against us.” – George W. Bush, Oct. 2001

            • not fazed says:

              Walter Haugen, may I suggest that you need to learn some manners before you even presume to discuss anything with anyone? Yeah 101

            • Get a grip. Your arguments are unsound and delivered in a sneering manner. And YOU are presuming to lecture me on manners now? Tell you what. Pick one or two of your best ideas, work on them full-time for 10 years for no money, then get back to me. We’ll talk.

            • Christian says:

              “In Gail’s responses, which were echoed by others, she states that reducing your carbon footprint is not a valid response because it furthers system collapse. This is backwards reasoning. The reason we need to reduce our carbon footprint is so that we can share limited resources”

              Now you get it no so well. Gail’s position is that reducing energy use impairs economic growth and ultimately kills the financial system. It is not backwards reasoning, and I’m affraid she is right. Capitalism is the most complete social expresion of the maximum entropy principle I mentioned (can see another phycisist, Eric Chaisson, about this).

              In fact, your proposal for reducing consumption and sharing resources is anticapitalistic, a natural bank killer. Of course we can share, but this is rather called socialism or such. The capitalist system is about to die anyway, and the bigger challenge we’ll get after this happens is to control, divert or surmount our intrinsic entropy hunger.

            • Very good. You are on the right track. Reducing consumption is anticapitalist. Gail’s position is pro-capitalist. Of course she has a vested interest in keeping the system running as long as possible. In that sense, all her arguments make sense. On the flip side, since I have been opposed to the capitalist system for 45 years and have worked on alternatives for that length of time, my arguments also make sense. Okay, let’s add the third variable: the system is collapsing. Who is building infrastructure so that we can rise from the ashes in regional polities? It is not Gail Tverberg.

            • Paul says:

              You are about to realize your dreams Walter — the system is going to collapse.

              And I guarantee you — when that happens — one of the first things you will think is — damn — Gail was right.

              The Koombaya crowd does not seem to grasp what the end of BAU means —- no electricity – no petrol — no grocery stores — no proper medical care — you will be eating what you grow assuming you can keep the hordes from stealing it — starvation — disease — violence…

              Funny how nobody takes up my dare to shut themselves out of BAU for a month or even a week…

              If someone would actually try this can come back to report to us how awesome it was — then me and others who prefer BAU to continue and believe collapse will be a nightmare — would have to eat our words…

              As I posted I did it for an afternoon a month or so back because the power went off — it was not nice

            • Still in Stage 2 (Anger) I see.

            • Paul says:

              Walter – you mistake my anger for frustration at having to read comments from people who are infected with Koombaya Syndrome who believe that if they bang their drums load enough and chant Koombaya they can drown out all logic…

              I assume as I go through the many comments that came in over night I am going to find one from you that explains what 7.2B people are going to eat while they wait for agricultural lands are repaired and sprouting their first harvest…

              I am giddy with anticipation!

            • As I have said repeatedly, I look for die-off. 7.2 balloons up to 8.0 billion, then crashes to 1.5 billion by 2100. This is my best guess.

            • Daddio7 says:

              Right now the US has over 400 lbs of grains and 100 lbs of potatoes per person in storage. There is plenty of gas and coal for power plants to burn. The collapse doesn’t have be like the World Trade Center, falling down in seconds, more like a big dead tree, parts falling off for several years before the whole thing topples over. This requires the central government allocating supplies and insuring safe transportation but it is doable. Will they? Probably not.

            • Daddio7 says:

              Most people enjoy our system. They will not readily abandon it. You will have to do what the Khmer Rouge did, point AK 47s at their heads and march them into the countryside to farm, guarding them the whole time least they run away. Our system is going to collapse but no one is going to start suffering until they have to.

            • Paul says:

              100% correct Christian

            • ordinaryjoe says:

              “In fact, your proposal for reducing consumption and sharing resources is anticapitalistic”
              My perception is that Steve Ludlums ideas are correct.
              Feature Podcast: Steve Ludlum discusses Capital Destruction and the Waste based Economy

              Reducing consumption takes on a different light in this framework. In this framework reducing consumption supports capital.

            • oirdinaryjoe says:

              “You will have to do what the Khmer Rouge did, point AK 47s at their heads and march them into the countryside to farm, guarding them the whole time least they run away”
              There might be bugaboo or two trying to herd them into the cattle cars. Setbacks so to speak.

            • Paul says:

              Thanks for bringing up the Khmer Rouge… if we recall they marched city folks into the villages and forced them to go back to farming — they referred to this as Year Zero ….


              I think this would be the closest parallel to what is coming our way — we won’t be forced as we will be quite happy to return to farming because there will be nothing else to do… and we will need to eat — food will be all that matters for those that survive…

              But of course not a single one of us has any experience of subsistence farming … of having too little to eat .. of having a failed crop with no grocery store as plan b…. of having no medical care … of cholera, and other debilitating diseases that will hit when sanitation stops…

              Year Zero — i will borrow that phrase…. to refer to the post collapse period.

            • Christian says:

              I don’t see the point with Khmer, they did something antihistoric. Now it’s likely many people would be rushing to the field at some moment. From Zero to One, as goes Peter Thiels.

              I agree reducing waste is capital friendly under Ludlum’s definition, but this is not going to save capitalism (and sharing diminishing returns is not on built in, I’am affraid)

        • alturium says:

          “In this light, it cannot be taken as a given that increased efficiency AUTOMATICALLY means more energy use.”

          Perhaps contradiction is a strong word, and “contrary to common intuition” (from wikipedia) is a better description. As I understand, we would expect increasing efficiency of an energy resource to reduce its consumption, would we not? At first glance, I believe that would be anyone’s conclusion. Jevon was also addressing efficiency resulting from technological improvements.

          Many people believe that technological innovation that improves energy efficiency will result in reduced energy use (fuel consumption), but instead ultimately contributes to economic growth. Fuel consumption is just one part of the “networked” economy and without a growth, it will suffer a collapse. Network to me implies a dynamic system that has both positive and negative feedback mechanisms. In a way, increased efficiency is a “positive” feedback on the economy.

          Unfortunately, I believe our society has already made a decision to grow at any cost, regardless of how much QE is required and regardless of the effect on the natural world. Logic has been sold down the river and our contradictory relationship with the earth does not bode a happy ending.

          • Very good. You are thinking on the right track. However, “As I understand, we would expect increasing efficiency of an energy resource to reduce its consumption, would we not?” is still a little short. Increasing efficiency of an energy resource is a problem of mathematics – straightforward and quantifiable. Reducing consumption is a problem in social science – very complex and qualtitative rather than quantifiable. (Even though how much consumption is reduced can itself be quantified.) This is an example why social science is needed to parse these energy questions.

            • Paul says:

              Nearly 90M nett new people onto the planet this year. The energy efficiency topic is a pointless discussion.

              We burned record amounts of coal last year — and we will break that record this year barring a collapse of the global economy.

              So much for the energy efficient fridges and cars… it’s like trying to push the ocean tides back with a pitch fork…

            • If you want to stew in your cynicism and anger, you can certainly do so. However, if you want to actually work on something positive that holds out real hope for the future, go out to one of your neighborhood small farmers and volunteer for a while. You just might benefit – a LOT!

            • Paul says:

              Walter – I have my hands full with nearly a hectare of fruit and veg here in Bali …

              FYI: I did offer to provide seed, training etc.. to the farmers in our village who are using chemicals… guess what— not a single person took up the offer….

              So what do you think is going to happen when collapse hits — and their rice fields are dead?

              Do you think they will take your advice and grow green crops — and wait for the fields to heal — then grow organic rice and feed themselves?

              There are 500 people in this village — I am the only one farming without inputs… Do you think I can feed 500 people off of one hectare?

              There are 4M people on this island — most food is farming using industrial methods — you can get just about anywhere on a tank of gas on a motor bike here — where do you think the million+ who live in Denpasar are going to do when the shops empty?

              What about your situation? I assume you are in the US. Are your neighbours all self-sufficient? Are you? What about the 300M people many of whom will be less than a tank of gas away from you… many of whom have guns… all of whom are going to be desperate for food when collapse hits…

              Have you thought about any of this?

              I am not saying do nothing – to be without hope — but realistically — the odds are massive stacked against any of us who are farming organically…

              We’ll be like a few thousand lambs in a forest with 7.2B wolves….

            • Check out Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. Starving indigenous people in Africa coming up with no capital/no help solutions.

          • Paul says:

            Energy usage and growth correlate almost 1:1…. if energy usage drops — we get a recession — in fact most recessions since WW2 involve spikes in oil prices…

            There is no way fossil fuel usage can decrease for a significant period of time without collapsing the economy. And when that happens we won’t have to worry about energy efficiency — there will be no energy because the market mechanisms that make oil coal gas etc possible — will collapse

            Of course there are those who are wishing for collapse — who believe we can ration what remains in the ground… that collapse is something we could welcome…

            Be careful what you wish for….

            • not fazed says:

              It is the Koombaya Paradox. Any naïve attempt to create a more “idealistic” society would simply crash the whole thing and leave 7.2 B dead that bit sooner.

            • Yes, any real action on reducing consumption will crash the system. However, the system will crash anyway. The question is, “Are you dealing with collapse right now? Are you ready to use the opportunities this will provide to help your family, friends, community survive?” I work on this everyday. Do you?

              “Collapse now and beat the rush” is a much more nuanced view than you realize.

            • Paul says:

              I have this battle going on in my mind….

              I am certain that Year Zero will involve hunger, depravity, violence, suffering, disease — no matter what I do to prepare….

              And I wonder if I am not better off with no preparations… if a short swift pain would be better than years of desperate agony….

            • Good point.

            • Paul says:

              Koombaya Syndrome

              Koombaya Paradox

              Koombaya Records

              Koombaya Airlines

              Koombaya Hotels

              Koombaya Mobile

              I think we may be on to something here!

              Quick — someone trademark these before Chris Martenson does…

            • REAL environmentalists (like me) will tell you that we have to have recession and collapse to have a clean world. If some faux enviromentalist tells you we can have a cleaner world without collapse, quick, check for your wallet.

            • oirdinaryjoe says:

              “REAL environmentalists (like me) will tell you that we have to have recession and collapse to have a clean world.”

            • Paul says:

              Here’s a reminder of what recession leads to:

              Keep in mind in the 1930’s industrial agriculture did not yet exist — farmers were still farming using traditional methods — so there was food available.

              Keep in mind the population of the planet was 2B in the 30’s

              Note that the Depression ended — the one that some people are wishing for will not end — it will get worse — it will be a total collapse

              As for collapse = a clean planet …. what about the thousands of spend nuclear fuel ponds that are scattered around the world?

              Collapse means we will not be able to keep those cool — and when they explode they will shower the planet with massive amounts of radioactivity

              Unfortunately BAU is all we have — regardless of if you despise what it stands for — we are long past the point of no return… if we stop BAU now we collapse into an apocalypse now — rather than later…

              I prefer later.

        • ‘Cheap’ in this context, means the amount of energy you have available for other uses, AFTER you have paid for the cost of its extraction. That means the iron and ancillary products used, drills , pumps, or whatever, wages (food energy) of the miners—and so on–that list is big, but finite and can be added up in energy (calorific) terms.
          When the energy contained in 1 barrel of oil was all that was needed to extract the energy contained in 100 barrels of oil, then it counted as cheap, same applied to coal.
          We burned it like there was no tomorrow. Maybe we burned it until there IS no tomorrow.
          We created a infrastructure predicated on oil at the 100:1 ratio, and demand that that continues, despite the reality of a current rate of 17:1. We still have oil, so all we have to do is use it more efficiently—BUT—we are trying to get ourselves back to that ‘easy’ 100:1 level but using still more ever-costly energy to do it.. Effectively we are burning fuel to save fuel, and that the return ratio is dropping like a stone. True we continue to find more oil, but we burn 4 times more than we discover. The widely held view is that civilisation cannot exist where energy return drops below 12:1. Anybodys guess when that will arrive, but I’d say 10 years max.

          • Thanks for chiming in on the EROI context. Tight oil is around 5:1 and natural gas is around 10:1 (Hall, Murphy and others). You are spot on with overall conventional oil now at 17:1 and civilization needing 12:1 for things like art, good government, etc.

            I have been using the term “relative EROI” for several years now, as it enhances the scope of the problem. As you noted, the infrastructure was built on 100:1 EROI, whether from US sources earlier in the 20th century or Saudi/Venezuelan/other sources. Wasting that 100:1 energy to extract 5:1 tight oil STILL has a positive EROI, BUT it winds down the energy and brings the contraction closer to the present (i.e. it contracts the “bumpy plateau”). Fracking means the collapse happens in 2020 instead of 2030, or 2017 instead of 2027, or 2030 instead of 2050. It is like a day-to-day version of Euan Mearns’ net energy cliff. Visualize a Bakken roughneck driving his 30:1 pickemup truck on a 100:1 road to drill 5:1 tight oil.

    • Don Stewart says:


      Richard Gould explains that a major difference between cultures is those that reward harder work and those that do not. The Aborigines in the Australian deserts lived in a land and with a technology which did not encourage the gathering of additional food beyond what was needed for today, and so the people spent a lot of time idling about the camp. The northern California native Americans lived in a land and had technologies which rewarded gathering more food with additional stored wealth and status, and so they also developed hierarchies and a blurred distinction between needs and wants. He also talks about the changes in a Syrian settlement once grains began to be grown. The harder you work, the more grains you can grow and store…but processing those grains takes a toll on the workers…particularly the women.

      So the key element is a focus on what one needs, not what one might conceivably want, an egalitarian social norm, and social networks of reciprocal help.

      A sharing social network is actually an economy just as much as a money mediated system of Capitalism. Garrett’s work would not apply to a sharing social network which had managed to focus on needs and suppressed emphasis on wants.

      We moderns are, of course, very far from that….Don Stewart

      • Ann says:

        I know this about egalitarian hunter-gatherers, Don. The Pacific Northwest and British Columbia had just such a gifting culture. Everyone here used to be able to speak Chinook, the trade language of the area, until very recently. In my town there are still some people, both european and aboriginal, who can get along in it.

        You may hold on to that thought as much as you like, but that way of life cannot come back. The culture was dependent on the environment in which it flourished. The fish, the animals, the trees, the weather, the mountains and the sea. All gone. Destroyed. Never to see the light of day again. I asked a friend of mine, an aboriginal woman, if there were any left who remember the old ways. She said, “Only one or two.” Could they teach us again? No, the environment for it has been ruined. Deforestation, invasive species, acidic oceans, fish stocks extinguished, too hot in summer, too warm in winter. Fires, always fires.

        The die-off has begun. The green sky and the purple oceans will kill us all. And good riddance. The sooner, the better, so that there will be at least a few DNA- or RNA-based species left in the fumaroles to begin again. The more we prolong this dying, the higher the chance we will sterilize this rock forever. And that would be the most horrifying tragedy of all.

        • Don Stewart says:

          Dear Ann
          I am not thinking about 7.2 billion people suddenly getting religion and finding salvation. I am thinking more about some self-selected small groups living in a horticulture world (as opposed to a hunter-gatherer world or what we think of as an agricultural world). Sort of Toby Heminway-ish. Horticulture is productive in ways that hunting and gathering are not…at least in a spoiled world, as you describe.

          Karen Litvin who is, I think, at the University of Washington is going to be here talking about her exploration of Eco-Villages around the world. I can’t go to hear her, but I was curious enough to find her YouTube talks. A recent one at Portland State. Some particularly interesting examples from south India and Sri Lanka.

          Don Stewart

        • Paul says:

          I couldn’t agree more Ann — we are worse than the worst plague of locusts — not only do we rape the resources of the earth — we poison the environment — we commit industrial scale murder of each other and other species…

          Surely Louis Armstrong was mocking us when he sang ‘what a wonderful world’?

          The best case outcome here is a quick extinction of the human species.

          • Christian says:

            Paul, I think you’re wrong here, because a quick extinction of the human species would mean releasing huge amounts of radioactivity in soil, air and water. Which could perhaps put an end to all forms of life (and I suppose you would be willing to preserve at least some other species).

            • Stefeun says:

              Switch off the light before you go to bed.

            • Paul says:

              I wonder if we are going to get that result no matter how this plays out — I fail to see how we keep all the nuclear fuel ponds cool post collapse.

              I am inclined to the position that this is an extinction event for all life on the planet.

      • Paul says:

        Don – I reckon the biggest problems when the SHTF will be:

        1. Food production — as in there will be almost no food being produced because industrial agriculture will not be possible — and there will be no possibility of producing much of anything because most land will be unsuitable for crop production without massive organic inputs — organic inputs (i.e. compost) will not be available as they take months to make — then you need months for the first crop…

        2. There are 4000 or so spent fuel ponds scattered across the planet….

        “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.”

        Do you just ignore these issues or do you have answers to how we might overcome them? Particularly the second one….

        • Don Stewart says:

          I am not going to express any opinion about nuclear.

          About farming. You keep repeating the slogan that nothing will grow in a field which has been farmed conventionally. But I don’t find much of substance to support such a slogan.

          For example, as I reported on Fred Kirschenmann’s talk, wonderful things are happening in the US Midwest when farmers use cover crops. They are still mono-crop beans and corn, they still use pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers. But their rainfall infiltration rates improve tremendously. Which means that erosion decreases dramatically. AND, they are able to use far less pesticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers. It IS TRUE that planting and turning under a cover crop is more work.

          An increasing number of farmers are making the switch from bare land to cover crops. The motivations are to make more money (by using fewer purchased inputs) and to avoid erosion (preserve a farm worth inheriting).

          If the soil will handle an 8 inch per hour rainfall, it will surely grow crops even if industrial civilization collapses one fine Black Friday. Years of best practices farming would doubtless improve the soil even more, but to say that it will grow ‘nothing’ is just a slogan.

          Suppose that there is a Black Friday event and production falls by 30 percent. Does that mean that farmers won’t be able to produce enough food? Well, first, they will stop producing ethanol and, second, they will stop feeding so much corn and beans to CAFO animals. As Kirschenmann said, we currently grow enough food to feed 10 billion…so eliminating waste will do a lot under the right circumstances.

          The difference between a Black Friday event and a Lost Decade is important. Given a decade of steadily increasing oil prices relative to what people can afford to pay, then lots more adaptations are possible. A literal Black Friday would mean, I think, that ONLY those following a Life Boat Strategy would survive. As I have explained before, I think oil will disappear in tranches related to the expense of producing it. Quite a number of oil professionals agree with that viewpoint. Which argues for a Lost Decade rather than a Black Friday.

          If a Black Friday wipes out monetary assets over a 3 hour period, then my crystal ball gets more cloudy. People have adjusted to the complete loss of monetary assets before….as in 1929. Some jumped out of buildings, others got on with life. Governments have now had 6 full years to contemplate a Black Friday event. I suspect they have their ducks in a row in terms of writing off monetary assets and debts. You may not like it….so you either jump or get on with life.

          Don Stewart

          • Very astute Don.

          • not fazed says:

            Don mate, if YOU are getting wonderful results in the Mid-West then MORE POWER to you mate. Just don’t turn it into a sermon. We will all “self-select” in our own way. Really it is OK. As Therese of Lisieux (I never could spell that) said, or was it some other mystic, I cant quite remember just now, “ALL WILL BE WELL.” Sleep soundly mate. We all love your comments anyway.

          • Paul says:

            Don – to reiterate — I did not say nothing will grow — it will not grow without intensive organic inputs i.e. composting.

            Post collapse where will all the composting come from to fix the problem?

            What will people eat while they wait for the composting to be ready to use – and the first crop to be harvested?

            If the Reuters article is correct – that a single fuel pond blowing up is like thousands of Fukushimas… then essentially we are all already dead. Everything else is moot.

            We can pretend that we didn’t read that I suppose…

            • There is lots of biomass available where I live to make compost. [Why do you suppose I live here?] You can whack it down with a weed-whacker (using your rationed gas coupons of course) or scythe it down. You can compost in situ or in a big pile.

            • Paul says:

              Where will you get the gasoline for your weed whacker post collapse?

              As Gail has pointed out too many times here — collapse means the oil stays in the ground… I won’t bother to explain the reasons why because we’ve already been there…

              You are conveniently neglecting my question — what do 7.2B people eat while they await the glorious first crop?

            • Paul – I have already said I expect an 80% net drop in population from 2030-2100. This means that deaths will overrun births to such an extant that the global population will be around 1.5 billion around 2100. This is a best estimate and I go through it in more detail in my first book. To answer your question in your words since you have a hard time getting the concept, “7.2 billion people won’t eat; 1.5 billion will.”

              As I have already said, I see more of a long descent (Greer) than a long emergency (Kunstler). As I have also said – repeatedly – you are not going to wake up May 1st, 2030 and find all the gas stations closed up while you were sleeping. There will be a “winding down” and the speed of collapse depends on multiple variables. Really, what is so difficult about this? You seem to be fairly literate and I assume you had some exposure to statistics and calculus in college. When you have multiple variables, it becomes increasingly difficult to list all the possibilties. When you apply multiple interactive variables onto the real world, the best course of action is to be flexible and adapt as needed. This is evolutionary biology applied to climate modeling.

              In my case, I use the accordion concept – expand and contract how much I till, plant and harvest – so that I can accommodate the people who finally get a clue and come out to work for food. This is explained in more detail in my second book. I will use my BCS tiller as long as I can get gas. Then I will shift to my broadfork and Grecia Magna hoe and shovels. Because I increase my soil’s organic matter every year, I have a built-in “cushion” on buying soil amendments AND my soil gets easier to till every year.

              You really need to get your hands in the soil to understand the concepts. That is why I say, “If you don’t have your hands in the soil every day, you are not working on alternatives.”

            • Paul says:

              “As I have also said – repeatedly – you are not going to wake up May 1st, 2030 and find all the gas stations closed up while you were sleeping.”

              You have not explained how that can happen when BAU collapses.

              On the other hand Gail has explained why oil remains in the ground when BAU unravels…. as has Korowitcz (p 56)

              Can you explain how we continue to pump and refine oil — and transport it to where it is needed — when the financial system has collapses — when the global economy has collapsed — when the global supply chain has collapsed?

            • Collapse is not on a 24-hour cycle. Read your history. We are already in the beginning stages of collapse and I can still buy plenty of fuel. Extend your timeline instead of thinking it happens in a day.

            • Paul says:

              This time is different Walter.

              We have never had a world that was so tightly connected — where parts of the machinery we use come from all over the world — where every financial institution is connected…. where the collapse of a single bank (Lehman) could take down the entire world.

              This is not the Roman Empire — it isn’t even the British Empire….

              This is something totally different

            • John Doyle says:

              Yes, It began in 1971/2. That’s when we went into deficit re the planet’s resources and when we went onto credit based economic growth.

            • Paul says:

              Good point — and we’ve moved past a credit growth economy to a money printing based economy… when that ends — the unravels very quickly …

            • John Doyle says:

              I understood the economy started as a fiat currency one but only recently moved beyond that to a totally credit based one.
              Also 1972 saw “The Limits to Growth” published. And it has done well! Right up for 40 years the actual graphs match their standard model. There is a caveat. Meadows said they can’t forecast what will happen once decline speeds up beyond recovery.

            • Also, the model didn’t include the financial system, and in particular the debt portion of the financial system. My expectation is that the down slopes would be faster, it those had been included.

            • We are already in collapse, even though some people (like Paul) think we are still in business as usual. The measure is decreasing marginal returns (per Tainter). This started in 1968. Sorry to disabuse you of your most sacred notions, but collapse is not an instant phenomena. Look around you. Can you still get gas? Yet we are the first stages of collapse.

            • Paul says:

              Collapse: to fall or cave in; crumble suddenly

              Walter – by even using the word collapse by definition you are admitting that the end game will be ‘sudden’ (maybe you need a new word?)

              We have absolutely not collapsed (yet) — BAU continues to function — one might say that BAU has cancer and is being rammed full of meds to keep it plodding on … but it has by no means collapsed…

              When collapse comes it will be like what happened when Lehman failed — only this time it will be exponentially worse — and this time there will be nothing anyone can do to keep the entire global economy from breaking down, failing, crumbling suddenly… collapsing…

              And when the happens — as Gail has pointed out — the oil that is in the ground — will remain in the ground.

              And the implications of that will be profound – or as I am fond of saying – Apocalyptic — as in Apocalypto or Apocalypse Now!

            • Nope. Wrong again. Collapse is presented quite clearly and methodically in Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies” (1988). Try reading it. You could also look at Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” (2005). Here is a sample from Diamond (pages 6-7): “In the worst cases of complete collapse, everybody in the society emigrated or died. Obviously, though, this grim trajectory is not one that all past societies followed unvaryingly to completion: different societies collapsed to different degrees and in somewhat different ways, while many societies didn’t collapse at all.” You could also look at “Questioning Collapse,” edited by Patricia McAnany and Norman Yoffee, based on a panel at the national convention of the American Anthropological Association in 2006 and followed up by a seminar in 2007.

              You really don’t know what you are talking about Paul, whereas the organization of human societies, including collapse, is intrinsic to anthropology. All the scholars named are anthropologists, except Diamond who is a human geographer (quite similar to anthropology). I am an anthropologist too, which is why I have done some studying on the subject of collapse.

              You don’t get to take a well-established curriculum and try to change the foundation to suit your own ideology. That is just stinky cheese. Your ideas are poorly constructed, lacking in flexibility and nuance, and extremely rigid. You have no credentials and as far as I can see your arguments are the rantings of a petulant child.

              Yes, we all know it’s bad. Right now you are still just bitching and whining. Why don’t you put in the years of study that I and the authors listed have done and come up with some constructive alternatives?

            • Paul says:

              Much of my ideas regarding collapse were formed by my reasonably decent knowledge of financial markets and how – when confidence in them goes – they will collapse— and they will collapse suddenly

              All that is needed these days (unlike on Easter Island and ancient Rome) — is the push of a few keys on a computer initiating a single large sell order — which will trigger automatic sell orders across the board — which can completely crash the stock and bond markets…

              Literally seconds….

              And if nobody or no thing can restore confidence (as central banks did in 2008) – the collapse remains a collapse – there is no recovery. I do not see how we restore confidence the next time around — the big guns are all being fired now …

              Next time around the only guns that will be firing will be the ones unleashing the 1.6 billion rounds on the starving people who dare to try to loot the food shops


              And then we have this rather comprehensive paper that explains how because the global economy is completely interconnected — from the just in time supply chain that has the parts for a BMW for instance — made in multiple countries …. to the financial markets where the banks in Greece have borrowed from the banks in Germany and France which have borrowed from US and Canadian banks …. meaning that if a small bank in Greece goes under it can crash the entire global banking system…

              See page 56:

              This is not the 1930’s – this is not ancient Rome… this is not Easter Island.

              This is the globalized world — there are no compartments that stop water from a holed hull from pouring into all parts of the hull and sinking the entire ship.

              This is the world where 7.2B people are eating oil and gas (10:1 calories from oil in the manufacture and transport of food)

              This is a world where we have extracted all of the easy resources — what remain cannot be mined or refined without computers and other high tech gear.

              The world that is coming is Year Zero – the things that you take for granted such as proper roads and electricity will not exist. You won’t even be able to get a proper tooth brush — think Haiti, or Somalia — think failed state — that is what collapse will look like — but only worse — there will be no UN Food Aid — no Doctors without Borders … no UNICEF… there will be epic famine — disease will be rampant — you will eat what you grow — assuming others don’t kill you and steal it — you will work like a dog without any mechanized machinery.

              And the dictionary definition of collapse is still sudden — if you want to use that word you need to prefix it with another word — such as ‘slow collapse’

            • As I said, you cannot just repurpose a word that has been used in anthropology for decades and has a more nuanced meaning. Stinky cheese.

              Financial markets are at the speed of fiber optic cable, so they can collapse faster than food distribution, which is at the speed of diesel trucks. Localized economies can take much longer to collapse. If you want to believe that the overlords of Wall Street can cause a lightning-speed collapse out here in the boonies, you can certainly think that, but you are dead wrong. Even Dimitri Orlov, who I think is a pompous ass, realizes there are varying modes of collapse. That is why he talks about the Five Stages of Collapse. I think he even has a book by that name. As with Gail and myself (and probably lots of others!), he sees the first stage as financial. After that it is commercial, political, social and then cultural, I think. At any rate, the idea here is of “stages.”

              There is an awful lot of embedded energy locked up in the system that can be repurposed and turned to simpler tasks.

            • Paul says:

              Walter – when the financial markets collapse — that will be the end of mechanized, industrialized farming — because the oil will stop.

              If you think that oil can continue to flow with a collapsed global economy feel free how to explain how that happens.

              I agree — economies will be localized

              I have no idea what your local economy looks like but here’s a description of mine:

              – 500 people in a village — all rice farmers

              – all using petrochemical inputs to farm

              – to my knowledge I am the only person farming using sustainable methods

              – financial markets collapse — farming here collapses — grocery stores empty – starvation begins

              – I will be on an island – surrounded by farmers with no crops — and now way to feed themselves or their families

              – a city of nearly 1M is 30 minutes away on a motor bike

              – contrary to popular myth Bali is filled with violent gangs just like America and every other place on earth look – they even have their own FB page

              – I have no illusions as to what happens when people go hungry

              – I have no illusions as to what happens when the state fails – civil society quickly breaks down — gangsters take over – they always have – they always will (they didn’t call it the wild west for nothing)

              – When they come for my farm — I can pull out my drum and say selamat koombaya – let us sing … and start into Koombaya my lord… and offer them a slice of pumpkin…

              – I expect they will laugh … and take the entire pumpkin

              – and because I am a stubborn bastard who will not back down — i will throw a hard right at the person who smacks me (I might even stick a knife in him) — and I’ll endure a vicious group beating because of it …

              – and if I survive more than likely I will be put to work in the fields — (I prefer not to think about what happens to my wife)

              – and my friends in the village will not lift a finger because they will be afraid

              – starvation brings out the worst in people…. research shows that people will forsake their children when faced with nothing to eat — cannibalism is not off the table….

              Tell us about your situation over there in the land of 300 million with guns.

            • 3 miles from a town of 11,000. Seattle 100 miles south, Vancouver 40 miles north. These are the two biggest problems. I live on a paved country road with sheriff deputies, several Bellingham police officers and detectives, and two firemen within half a mile. Surrounded by McMansions, each on their little 5-acre plot, so they present a higher profile target than we do. I have a barn big enough for a dormitory in the mow and several backup wood stoves and a generator still in the box (just in case it is needed or as a trade item). Enough silver buried to provide a transition to barter from the US dollar. Established networks with other farmers/gardeners in the area. Weapons and training. (I prefer swords and bows.) 65% of our food is what I grow. The other 35% includes chocolate, ice cream, beer, wine and a copy of the New York Times on Fridays. When those go away, the percentage jumps up to 85%. I have started staying off the Internet one day a week so it will not be so abrupt when I no longer have access. I fast every year in January for a few days so I remember what it is like. The water we provide for our neighbors pays for our utilities and provides a handy social network if and when the power goes out. We are close to two refineries and an aluminum plant so the power grid in the area will be the last one down. Materials to drive another well and hand pumps. I develop new crop varieties to adapt to climate change. 5 new bean varieties, 4 potato, 4 corn, as well as new squash and tomato varieties. I also facilitate the facultative properties of the barley, wheat, triticale, and oats I grow. Latest experiments are winter hulless oats and einkorn wheat planted in chaff to overwinter. Plentiful volunteer crops – root, grain and greens. I feed the native bees and have identified 4 varieties as well as bees from neighbors’ hives so I have plenty of pollination. Multiple bicycles stored in barn. Gave up my car and truck for my motorcycle last year so that changes my day-to-day logistics. Rode all winter last year except for two days when it was too cold. Maritime climate so I can store vegetables in the ground. This has the advantage of confounding the bandits who will be too lazy to dig them (the Seven Samurai syndrome). Multiple sources of heat in the house. Another problem is I have no wood lot, but two of my network do wood and so provide our wood for winter. We only use 1.5 cords/winter anyway and I like to have two winters in the barn at a time. Two books self-published that act as a filtering mechanism for new “recruits.” Network includes legal professionals, acupuncturist and doctors. High public profile so law enforcement thinks twice about low-level harassment. Main concern is getting my stepdaughter and her family up here quickly. They have a network in Seattle themselves upon which they can depend. I lived outdoors for 7 winters in cold states – Minnesota, Colorado and California near Lake Tahoe – so I am not too worried about “privation.” We don’t do animals, which lowers our profile for the gang-bangers. There are plenty of other better targets around us. Next project is a co-op food store in town three miles away. Working on my business plan now. I started two farmers markets which are still going, so we have some infrastructure that can scale up quickly. Bottom line is that the day-to-day downward spiral of fascist America is more of a problem than collapse.

              I don’t have expertise with island scenarios and difficulties so I cannot judge your situation. We specifically stayed off the San Juan Islands when we moved up here.

            • Paul says:

              Sounds like your situation is very similar to mine — you appear to be on an island surrounded by large numbers of people who are going to be looking for a source of food post collapse.

            • It sounds like you have a lot of energy. Also, a maritime climate helping you. Not a lot of us have the maritime climate, or terribly good growing area to start with.

            • Even I show energy supply declining over a period of years in my charts. We can continue to wear the clothing we are currently wearing. We can burn our furniture for fuel, if we choose to. Some people will no doubt survive, even if there are water and perhaps food shortages in some areas, as well as epidemics. Lower population will put less pressure on resources. The big differences will come as electricity and banks fail, also governments. We don’t know precisely when this will happen–probably different times in different places.

            • The world has changed a whole lot since the societies discussed by Tainter and the others. Diminishing returns is still the main issue but we are reaching diminishing returns in whole new ways. Fossil fuels, upon which we are now dependent, are becoming more expensive to extract. Ores of all kinds are of lower quality. These issues are added to the issues we had in the past, including rising population, degrading soil, and climate change.

              One big issue today is our need for specialized devices, such as computers, and parts for wind turbines, and parts for vehicles, that can only be made with imported raw materials from around the world. A computer alone requires most of the elements from the periodic table, mined from different parts of the world.

              In the pre-industrial age, if any worker found that his government had collapsed, or many of his neighbors were killed by plague, all he had to do was move to a somewhat different location (or even stay in his own location) and continue with his same skills he had been using all along. There was a need for farmers, merchants, and craftsmen of different types. With fewer people, there might even have been more devices per person (mill stones, boats, hoes). If more devices were needed, they could be made with local materials, by the remaining crafts people. Making new paved roads might have been a problem, but existing paved roads could be used for a while.

              Now the world is different. We depend on electricity. We depend on public water and sewer. We depend on the Internet. We depend on parts of the world making huge surpluses of food crops, and transportation being available to transport those crops to cities. We depend on fertilizers to (sort of) replace the nutrients we have mined through our farming, and sending the food off to cities where it is used. We depend on just in time supply chains. We depend on imported parts for fixing devices. We depend on antibiotics and vaccinations to keep down disease transmission when we live close to each other and to our domesticated animals.

              The way an economy collapses depends on the particular situation at hand. If dependencies are not very great, a particular farmer can still keep on producing, with or without a government. He can move to a new area, and pick up his trade again. Merchants can find new trade partners in an area, if need be. Crafts people can go on producing their crafts, perhaps in a different location. Over time, soil will regenerate, at least partially through erosion of the bedrock underneath, if degrading soil is part of the reason for diminishing returns. Trees will regrow, if deforestation is a problem. The existence of other economies elsewhere that did not collapse, can be an aid in helping a new economy form and grow.

              A city dweller in today’s economy is at the mercy of the services provided to him. If water and sewer services stop, it will be difficult to continue as usual. If electricity services stop, many other services will stop as well–cell phones, city water supplies, Internet, traffic lights. Electricity depends on many supply chains. This study talks a little about the challenges of electricity resilience in the UK:

              We are now extra-ordinarily dependent on banks–to pay salaries, to finance new construction and to finance transport around the world. Simple disruptions in the financial system could result in huge problems. I am thinking about countries who are unable to pay their bills, and look like they never will be able to pay their bills. Greece is one of these countries, but I expect there are, and will be, many more–Ukraine, Egypt, Syria, Cyprus, Japan, and others. As countries become unable to pay their bills, there are likely to be big cuts in supply lines.

              It is hard to describe all the ways economies today can fail. But the breaking of electricity, water, sewer, financial, and other chains is likely to be a huge problem, leading to more rapid collapses than what we saw in the past.

            • Don Stewart says:

              Again, I have nothing to say about nuclear.

              Compost is useful for gardens and very small farms. For large farms, we are talking cover crops. You may think of cover crops as supplying compostable material to the soil, if you like.

              So a conventional farmer growing monocrops who uses cover crops in his rotation is effectively supplying compostable material to the microbes in the soil. He just doesn’t have a compost pile which is turned, such as a home composter might have with fall leaves and grass clippings and kitchen waste.

              What I am saying that Fred Kirschenmann said, in response to being here for a field day where cover crops were examined pretty intensively, is that cover crops in the Midwest (where he farms) are doing good things for the farmers who are beginning to use them. A few years ago, few farmers in the Midwest used them (I am told).

              In short, I have no evidence that your statements are correct.

              Don Stewart

            • Paul says:

              Don – will a cover crop repair the damage done to industrial farmed land? I am told by two of the most experienced organic farmers on the planet that the answer is no.

              Anyway you believe cover crops can fix the soil — if so will it repair it in one month – one week – one year – 5 years?

              Once repaired, how long till the first food crop is ready to eat?

              What is the total number of months/years between the commencement of repairing the soil and the first crop?

              This is a rather important number.

              7.2 billion people will be waiting — and starving….

            • Don Stewart says:

              You won’t believe me anyway. Do your own research. You will find a huge literature on cover crops.

              Don Stewart

            • And just who are these “two of the most experienced organic farmers on the planet?”

            • Paul says:

              Both run significant commercial organic farms — both have businesses training organic farmers + designing farms based on permaculture principals — one wrote the training manuals for one of the provinces in Canada — both have been doing this for over 40 years…

              At the end of the day what does it matter who they are or what they say…

              All that matters is common sense — something those infected with Koombaya Syndrome throw out the window when it comes to the discussion of food production.

              7.2B people — when the oil stops the industrial farming stops — even if they could be restarted immediately and without any chemical inputs (as per the Koombaya Syndrome) — it takes months to grow crops.

              What do 7.2B people do for those months?

              I suppose they will come to visit you (and me) — and when they realize that we cannot feed them — I think there is a high chance that they will start to eat us and each other.

              Remind me of how many guns are floating around America — oh yes… close to 300M…

            • Permaculture is a crap concept. If you want to read a more nuanced critique, you can look in my second book, Chapter 39, The Flaw in Permaculture is Design. I have challenged permacultists for years to give me yield numbers. They have yet to do so. One permacultist on an ecovillage on Salt Spring Island, BC, does put out raw data on egg production etc. on their website but it is just gibberish and impossible to follow. You can look at my numbers in my first book. That is why I can state with confidence that my EROI is around 3.5:1. The next time you are out to one of these farms, look around you and see how energy they are using – cars, tractors, excavators to shape the landscape, etc. Then total up their energy use. I suspect you will find they have a similar carbon footprint to industrial ag.

            • Paul says:

              Of course they are all cheating — using mechanical means that won’t be available in Year Zero…

              Not a problem though — in Year Zero there will be 7.2B people willing to work on organic farms in return for food… who will need tilling machines and whipper snippers — you will have people willing to snip grass with scissors — in return for a bowl of gruel ….

            • My point exactly re food and crops
              Continued civilied existence is on marginally viable after youve harvested a second crop.
              Difficult even then, because one groups harvest is just another groups loot
              (how do you think paid miitias got established)

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