Energy limits: Why we see rising wealth disparity and low prices

Last week, I gave a fairly wide-ranging presentation at the 2016 Biophysical Economics Conference called Complexity: The Connection Between Fossil Fuel EROI, Human Energy EROI, and Debt (pdf). In this post, I discuss the portion of the talk that explains several key issues:

  1. Why we are right now seeing so many problems with respect to wealth disparity and low commodity prices (Answer: World per capita energy consumption is already falling, and the energy/economy system needs to reflect this problem somehow.)
  2. Why the quest for growing technology leads to growing wealth disparity (Answer: The economy must be configured in more of a hierarchical pattern to support growing “complexity.” Growing complexity is the precursor to growing technology.)
  3. Why rising debt is an integral part of the energy/economy system (Answer: We could not pay workers for making long-lasting goods and services without using debt to “pull forward” the hoped-for benefit of these goods and services to the present, using debt and other equivalent approaches.)
  4. Why commodity prices can suddenly fall below the cost of production for a wide range of products (Answer: Prices of commodities depend to a significant extent on debt levels. A major problem is that when commodity prices rise, wages do not rise in a corresponding manner. Rising debt levels can mask the growing lack of affordability for a while, but eventually, debt levels cannot be raised sufficiently, and commodity prices fall too low.)
  5. The Brexit vote may be related to falling energy per capita in the UK. Given that this problem occurs in many countries, it may be increasingly difficult to keep the Eurozone and other similar international organizations together.
  6. My talk also touches on the topic of why a steady state economy is not possible, unless we can live like chimpanzees.

My analysis has as its premise that the economy behaves like other physical systems. It needs energy–and, in fact, growing energy–to operate. If the system does not get the energy it needs, it “rebalances” in a way that may not be to our liking. See my article, “The Physics of Energy and the Economy.”

An outline of my talk is shown as Slide 2, below. I will omit the EROI and Hubbert model portions of the presentation.  

Slide 2

Slide 2

Peak World Coal Seems To Be Happening, Right Now

In the view of most of the researchers I was talking to at this conference, oil is likely to be the first problem, not coal. And the issue is likely to be high prices, not low. So peak coal now, as shown in Slide 3, doesn’t seem to make sense. Yet, my analysis of recent data strongly suggests that peak coal is exactly what is happening, right now.

Slide 3. World and China appear to be reaching peak coal.

Slide 3. World and China appear to be reaching peak coal.

I will show later in this presentation why peaking coal production does seem to make sense–price levels of all fossil fuels seem to vary together. The extent to which debt levels are growing seems to be a major factor in price levels. When the debt level is not growing rapidly enough, “demand” is not high enough, and prices for all fossil fuels tend to fall simultaneously. A related issue is the extent to which the world economy is growing; if world economic growth is too slow, this will also tend to hold down demand, and thus energy prices.

China’s rate of growth in coal production started falling back in 2012, which is when coal prices started falling. This is before China’s new leadership took over in March 2013. We know that coal production in China is likely to continue falling, because China’s energy bureau is reporting that China plans to close over 1000 coal mines in 2016, because of a “price-sapping supply glut.” See my article, “China: Is peak coal part of its problem?” for additional information.

World Per Capita Energy Consumption Seems To Have Already Started Falling

Slide 4. World per capita energy consumption may have reached a peak

Slide 4. World per capita energy consumption may have reached a peak

The reason why I say that world per capita energy consumption may have reached a peak in 2013 is partly because coal consumption appears to have peaked. If coal has peaked, it will be hard to make up the shortfall using other fuels, such as renewables, or even natural gas. Furthermore, recent world figures (shown above) already show a small drop in per capita energy consumption. If world coal production continues to drop, we can expect world per capita energy consumption to continue to drop.

Energy Consumption Trends for a Few Countries

The figure below is not actually in the presentation–I thought I would add it now, to show energy consumption varies for a few economies. The upper chart in the Supplemental Slide shows the trend in per capita energy consumption in UK, Japan, Spain, and Greece. We know that Japan, Spain, and Greece have been experiencing economic problems for several years, something that perhaps should not be too surprising, given their falling energy consumption per capita. The UK shows a similar pattern to these three countries. Such a pattern is likely to lead to rising wage disparities, for reasons we will discuss later in this presentation, when we talk about “complexity.”

Supplemental information showing how trend in per capita energy consumption seems to reflect health of economies

Supplemental slide. Per capita energy consumption trends for four advanced economies and for China, based on BP 2016 Statistical Review of World Energy and 2015 UN population data.

China’s energy consumption shows a contrasting pattern. China experienced rapid growth in energy consumption after it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. Recently, China’s growth in energy consumption has been slowing, suggesting slowing growth in the economy–perhaps even more than reported in official GDP reports.

Why Peak Per Capita Energy Matters

In Slide 5, I give an overview of why peak energy per capita matters. My view is the second one shown on this slide. It is not that every segment of the economy will necessarily have problems. Instead, un-favored segments are likely to be first to have problems. Most conference attendees came with the first view.

Slide 5. Two views of peak energy per capita.

Slide 5. Two views of peak energy per capita.

How the Economy Is Affected by Growing Complexity

Joseph Tainter in the Collapse of Complex Societies tells us that the way economies that are in danger of reaching limits can sometimes solve their problems is through increased complexity.

Slide 6. Complexity introduction

Slide 6. Complexity introduction

Economists today seem to believe that technology will solve our problems. I see complexity and technology as being related, with complexity being a precursor to technology. Economies that hope to adopt higher levels of technology need to take steps in the direction of growing complexity, to achieve this goal.

When I thought about what makes up complexity, this is the list of elements I came up with:

Slide 7. Basic Elements of Complexity

Slide 7. Basic Elements of Complexity

Regarding concentration of energy, the use of concentrated energy seems to be what sets humans apart from other animals.

Slide 8. Early use of concentration of energy

Slide 8. Early use of concentration of energy

If we want a steady-state economy, “all” we need to do is set aside our use of concentrated energy, and live like chimpanzees. I am not sure how we keep our bigger brains adequately nourished. A couple of slides related to this are Slides 9 and 10.

Another type of concentration of energy is capital goods. Capital goods are all of the goods that we expect to last for a fairly long time–things like homes, vehicles, and factories. The big issue is how to pay for capital goods.

Slide 11. Capital goods-- more recent examples of concentrations of energy

Slide 11. Capital goods– more recent examples of concentrations of energy

The problem is that we need to pay workers now, but the benefit of these capital goods is spread over many years in the future. Somehow, the future benefit of these capital goods must be “pulled back” to today. The obvious answer to this predicament is the use of debt (or debt-like instruments) to fund capital goods. We will get back to the issue of debt later.

The next few slides (12 to 14) show other ways that concentrations of energy can be developed. One way is through the creation of businesses. Even larger concentrations of energy can be formed by creating bigger businesses, including international businesses. Governments can also be used to concentrate the use of energy resources, because of government’s ability to build roads, schools, and many other projects. International organizations can also act to concentrate wealth, by easing trade among members (Eurozone and World Trade Organization) and by lending money to member countries (International Monetary Fund and World Bank). All of these organizations can benefit from the use of debt to fund their growing organizations.

We said that concentration of energy was the first element of complexity (see outline at top). The second element of complexity is pure elements and compounds. In many ways, this requirement is similar to concentrations of energy, in the way it allows technology to work.

Slide 15. Why pure elements and compounds are needed for complexity

Slide 15. Why pure elements and compounds are needed for complexity

The third element of complexity (see outline at top) is leveraging of human energy through hierarchical organization. In many ways, this is the idea of concentrated energy, as applied to humans.

16. Leveraging of human energy through hierarchical organization.

16. Leveraging of human energy through hierarchical organization.

Historically, the big problem has been populations that grew too large for their resource bases. In a way, we are reaching a similar predicament. Not too surprisingly, when this happens, it is the people at the bottom of the hierarchy who tend not to receive enough.

Slide 17. People at the bottom of a hierarchy are most vulnerable.

Slide 17. People at the bottom of a hierarchy are most vulnerable.

Why Debt Is Required

Slide 18 - Why add debt?

Slide 18 – Why add debt?

One of the fundamental benefits of debt is time shifting.

Slide 19. How debt allows time shifting.

Slide 19. How debt allows time shifting.

Of course, the value of these capital goods is speculative, when debt is used to price them in advance. As long as capital goods, and other uses of debt, provide sufficient benefits to the economy so that debt can be repaid with interest, the system tends to work as planned.

Slide 20. Debt makes the economic system work more smoothly.

Slide 20. Debt makes the economic system work more smoothly.

One key aspect of debt is its ability to determine demand, and thus prices, of commodities such as oil and natural gas. The reason why debt has almost magical power is because if a potential buyer is given a loan for any kind of capital good, say a house, or car, or factory, the potential buyer can purchase the capital good far sooner than if he or she needed to save up for it. Each of these capital goods requires commodities of various kinds, such as steel, copper, oil, coal, and natural gas. Thus, we would expect rising debt levels to raise the prices of a broad range of commodity prices, simultaneously.

21. Debt helps determine prices of commodities

21. Debt helps determine prices of commodities

We can think of the situation as follows: An economy that keeps growing is (in energy terms) an out-of-balance system. Rising debt levels help maintain this out-of-balance condition by providing ever-higher commodity prices. These higher prices encourage greater extraction of energy products, even when the cost of extraction is rising because of diminishing returns. Even if extraction costs keep rising, the situation of ever-rising commodity prices cannot go on endlessly. At some point, prices become too high for workers to afford. Demand tends to fall at some point because workers at the bottom of the hierarchy find themselves “priced out” of buying goods such as houses and cars that would help maintain commodity demand.

What causes debt levels to stop rising? One reason why debt levels stop rising is that debt reaches absurd levels, making it difficult to repay debt with interest. Several examples of absurd debt levels are given in Slide 21. An additional example is excessive use of student loans. If incomes after student loans are not high enough, student debt may create a huge burden, preventing former students from buying homes and cars and starting families. The problem is that incomes after the educational experience are not sufficiently high to both pay back debt with interest and leave adequate funds for other needs.

Growing wage disparity can also lead directly to falling energy prices:

Slide 22. Growing wage disparity tends to lead to falling energy prices.

Slide 22. Growing wage disparity tends to lead to falling energy prices.

Both growing wage disparity and lack of growth in debt are signs that an economy is not growing very fast–in some sense, that the economy is not hot enough. Some of the would-be workers tend to drop out of the system, because wages are not high enough to cover commuting and childcare expenses. In some sense, they “condense out,” similar to the way that water turns to ice when there is not enough heat in the system.

The situation with prices of fossil fuels is similar; low prices are a sign that the economy is not growing fast enough. The system is forcing a reduction in the production of many kinds of commodities, including fossil fuels, by reducing prices below the cost of production for quite a few producers. This situation can be thought of as some of the production “condensing out,” because the energy products consumed are not causing the world economy to grow fast enough to maintain a “hot” demand level.

More Thoughts on Energy Prices and Debt Levels

Slide 24. Use of debt permits two different valuations of worth of commodities.

Slide 24. Use of debt permits two different valuations of worth of commodities.

The thing that is confusing is that for many years, energy and commodity costs were very similar to energy and other commodity prices. It has been only very recently–when prices rose too high for consumers to afford–that the difference has appeared.

Slide 25. Possibility of different price compared to production cost appears very late.

Slide 25. Possibility of different price compared to production cost appears very late.

Looking at historical data in Slide 26, we can see two recent sharp drops in oil prices. Both occurred when debt levels were no longer rising.

Slide 26. Connection of debt with oil prices is shown by two sharp declines.

Slide 26. Connection of debt with oil prices is shown by two sharp declines.

In fact, prices of oil, coal, and natural gas tend to rise and fall together–just as we would expect, if they are all responding to the same changes in debt levels, and indirectly, the same changes in world economic growth rates.

Slide 27. Prices of oil, call and natural gas tend to rise and fall together.

Slide 27. Prices of oil, call and natural gas tend to rise and fall together.

If energy prices are based on debt levels, our concern should be that all fossil fuels will peak within a few years of each other. The cause of the peak will be low prices, not “running out” of energy products.

Slide 28. Concerns if energy prices are based on debt levels

Slide 28. Concerns if energy prices are based on debt levels

In fact, the problems of the economy may be quite different from “running out.”

Slide 31. Candidates for what really brings the system down.

Slide 31. Candidates for what really brings the system down.

Supplemental Information on Income Disparity

A few slides giving additional information on income disparity are shown as slides 38-40. Please check the end of my presentation for these.


One topic I did not specifically discuss in this presentation is the possibility of slowing world economic growth. If we are seeing falling world energy consumption per capita, it should not be surprising if world GDP growth per capita is falling as well. I have talked about the link between energy consumption and GDP growth many times, including in my paper, Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis.

It was not until I sat down to write up this presentation that I realized how closely the timing of the recent sharp drop of world oil prices corresponds with the decrease in world per capita energy consumption shown on Slide 4. World per capita energy consumption hit a peak in 2013, and dropped slightly in 2014, with a greater change in 2015. Mid-2014 is when oil prices began their major slide, so the timing of the two events matches up almost precisely. Thus, the drop in coal consumption may be resulting in low world economic growth, which in turn is holding down both oil and natural gas prices.

The apparent coincidence in timing may simply reflect the fact that the same forces that cause falling commodity prices are also causing low economic growth. Growing wage disparity and lack of growth in debt seem to be factors in causing both. If workers at the bottom of the hierarchy could better afford the output of the world economy, with or without additional debt, the world economy would have a better chance of growing.

I don’t see much hope for fixing a world whose economy is moving in the direction of shrinkage. Instead, the situation is likely to get worse, until the financial system collapses, or one of the issues shown on Slide 31 starts to become too great a problem.

I see the big push for renewables to be mostly a waste of time and resources. The major exception is perhaps hydroelectric, in parts of the world with good locations for new installations. EROI analyses are often used to justify renewables, but in my view (shown in the part of the presentation not discussed), EROI is too “blunt” a tool to properly evaluate resources that differ greatly in quality of output and in debt requirements. A major goal needs to be to maintain the functionality of the electric grid; evaluations of intermittent renewables should consider real-life experiences of other countries. For example, current pricing approaches seem to exacerbate the problem of falling wholesale electricity prices, and thus falling fossil fuel prices. (See this or this article.)

A major impediment to getting a rational discussion of the issues is the inability of a large share of the population to deal with what appears to be a potentially dire outcome. Textbook and journal editors recognize this issue, and gear their editorial guidelines accordingly. I was reminded of this again, when the question came up (again) of whether I would consider writing a book for a particular academic book publisher. The main thing I would need to do to make the book acceptable would be find a way of sidestepping any unpleasant outcome–or, better yet, I should come up with a “happily ever after” ending.


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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1,725 Responses to Energy limits: Why we see rising wealth disparity and low prices

  1. ravinathan says:

    All signs are pointing toward an era of helicopter money which is aggressive fiscal deficit spending on infrastructure and jobs creation monetized by direct central bank purchases of the newly issued public debt to keep interest rates low. Academic opinion and recent analyst reports from bank analysts are leaning toward this policy prescription.
    The current negative interest rate environment will allow governments to issue zero coupon perpetual bonds at historically low effective yields. Just imagine- Debt at zero coupon that never has to be repaid.The difference this time relative to prior QE efforts will be the direct impact on working class pay checks resulting in a fast increase in consumer spending. If this is accomplished in a coordinated manner by G7 economies we are likely to experience the last hurrah for industrial civ – a spike in economic growth, an increase in oil prices and finally inflation that will help work down the real debt overhang. This is why stock markets are hitting record levels. The smart money recognizes that there is no other alternative. Unfortunately for investors joining the rush into financial assets will be the equivalent of checking into roach motel. There will be no way to get out but then does it even matter? WASF!

    • Volvo740 says:

      There shall be comments!

      • Volvo740 says:

        I see no helicopter money! Seriously. If they wanted to get more people into peoples pockets there are some excellent mechanisms. Social security for every one! No work required. Lower the bar to 61 years for everyone! Increase it 5% each year due to “increased costs”. Print the money!

        No, they are really worried that the system is “broke”. Sorry we have to mess with the inflation numbers so we don’t have to give you more money.

    • Fast Eddy says:

      Central banks have been propping up the stock markets … which has meant that pension funds have not collapsed…. they keep paying out…

      That is just one example of helicopter money…

      Check out the auto industry – nearly 1/3 of all new cars sold are to subprime borrowers — that has created a lot of jobs are car companies… again – helicopter money…

      The helicopters fly thousands of sorties every day — we just cannot see them

      • Sungr says:

        Pension funds are where the WallStreet boys stash their garbage.

        Oh, you know, those shitty Venezuelan bonds that weren’t lookin’ so good. That’s right, the ones where the investment bankers got it wrong- and then decided to pull the ripcord and stashed the garbage in the pension funds.


  2. psile says:

    Watch how fast the world became obese
    This map shows the rise of each country’s obesity rate between 1975 and 2014

    • Stilgar Wilcox says:

      I wonder what year will be peak obesity, and what year after collapse will be peak anorexia? Or if collapse occurred fast enough, could peak obesity & peak anorexia occur in the same year? Remember the hugely obese people wading through chest high water sweating, huffing and puffing in New Orleans after Katrina hit? They’ll be the first to go once collapse takes hold.

      • DJ says:

        Good question. I expect an extreme seneca cliff for obesity.

        The worst food, grains, sugar and vegetabilie oil, are cheapest. So it is to be expected to become more and more obese as food become less affordable.

        When will Venezuela or Syria turn a lighter shade? Will there be any organisation left to register this?

      • Tim Groves says:

        Obesity can be viewed as a form of carbon sequestration. The overfed are doing the best they can to help the biosphere.

        More seriously, I think we may hit peak obesity any time now. While China and India are still only half as obese as countries like the US, Libya and Saudi Arabia are, the amount of mechanization/automation that would be needed to get the bulk of their massive populations sedentary enough to become couch potatoes isn’t going to arrive due to lack of affordable energy.

      • Fattery will get you nowhere!!!

  3. adonis says:

    helicopter money is coming totally agree with you ravinathan should kickstart the growth enjine for who knows how long perhaps for another 20 years of blissfull bau

    • Volvo740 says:

      Of course. Now I see it. In fact the more I think about it the more the fundamental problems just go away. Blissfull it is. Thank you so much for helping me with my thinking!

  4. MG says:

    The robots, computers and automation are the only solutions that can save the system, as the people, due to low wages and lack of perspectives, lose interest in work, especially in the industry.

    There is a kind of growing indifference towards the work, when the new graduates of e.g. machinery high schools, when asked, look like they are not able to distinguish between a press and a bench-type drilling machine. (An article in Slovak on this topic, that describes this growing problem of lacking workforce can be found here:

    The lack of workers starts to be a permanent problem.

    “Freelancing is the new normal. … Nearly 54 million Americans are now doing freelance work, according to a new study conducted by the independent research firm Edelman Berland and commissioned by Freelancers Union and Upwork.”

  5. MG says:

    Revealed: delivery giant Hermes pays some couriers less than living wage

    The article describes how the final wages falls down when costs that are shifted to the worker. (See the table: How missing bonus payments or unforeseen costs can impact hourly earnings)

  6. A Real Black Person says:

    I have an question for Gail. Gail, why do think Donald Trump is “fringe” candidate for political office? Many of positions that Trump holds are held by a good number of people on the Right, in the United States.

    • Trump’s appeal does seem strange to me, as well.

      I think part of his appeal is the fact that he is promising people a better future. They feel that they have done poorly in recent years. Current policies really aren’t working.

      I think part of his appeal is that fact that his candidacy has not been orchestrated by a political group. Instead, it is based on what he and his family could do on their own. It makes it seem like the individual citizen has a chance of making a difference.

      And of course, there are a lot of people who “Don’t like Hilary,” in part because she is too tied to what past administrations have done. Trump’s candidacy gives them a chance for a new start.

  7. Yoshua says:

    Eddy you must get emotionally connected to the hatred in the world. You must feel the cancer in your veins for revenge. Blood for blood. You must want to go to the Middle East to cut the throats of every dirty Muslim to quench you blood thirst.

    Instead you are walking through your gardens and getting connected with the life giving soil under the sun. You look up to the stars and breath in dark matter and get connected with the universe.

    Europeans where watching the Americans bombing the Middle East or the Israelis bombing Gaza and started to feel sympathy with the poor defenceless Arabs. This had to stop. One million Muslims from war zones in the Middle East transported into our domesticized societies put an end to this nonsense.

    Europe wants to go to war now. This is a huge victory for those who know what must be done. Europeans had to be manipulated emotionally through atrocities committed against them by blood thirsty Muslims savages to become blood thirsty savages them selves.

    One more senseless, bloody terrorist act this time in Berlin that kills hundreds of innocent civilians and the hatred takes over.

    • If the Gulfies+MENAs are to be parted with the rest of their oil and natgas, surely the European public have to be massaged first, that such project is in fact for the betterment of civilization, lolz.

      In that light, the above and similar FE’s hint about planned operation to prepare psychologically westerners for depopulation of those fossil fuel regions seems very plausible. However, I’d say that even more likely option is that, they just want to phase in total financial repression (negative interest, cashless, digital sanctions), martial law, tightening domestic control and for that they need plain old chaos and fear. That’s what was so visible when they “allowed out of the blue” marching inbound millions (some of them openly violent) of undocumented immigrants across the EU few months ago. Or it could be all of the above anyways..

    • Tim Groves says:

      Europeans where watching the Americans bombing the Middle East or the Israelis bombing Gaza and started to feel sympathy with the poor defenceless Arabs. This had to stop. One million Muslims from war zones in the Middle East transported into our domesticized societies put an end to this nonsense.

      ++++++++++ Precisely.

      It’s a crude but brilliant way to build up the fear and loathing.

      In the old days, immigrants were shipped into countries in order to solve labor shortages, lower the cost of labor and, just as a bonus, keep the workers fighting among each other. But these days there are no shortages of labor to speak of and wages are already in the dumps, so makes no sense in practical conventional economic terms to allow a million or more refugees from MENA into Europe rather than keeping them close to their homelands.

    • Fast Eddy says:

      That’s another plausible explanation…. although all it took was a false flag terrorist act in New York to get the people onside to destroy Iraq…. so not sure why the borders need to be opened to huge numbers of refugees… just look the other way when the NSA discovers a terrorist plot… let it happen …. and roll the tanks and the fighter jets in….

      Difficult to say what the maestro is up to here…. and we will never be told

      • Yoshua says:

        Good point. We don’t need millions of refugees for a terrorist attack on European soil. Perhaps no one is in control anymore. This is just the chaos that follows a collapsing world.

  8. sindre says:

    wow these ideas are going mainstream, dimitri orlov on rt!

    • i just had to put a reply on Keiser about Orlovs daydreaming:
      impossible to fault Orlov’s thinking, I desperately want to believe what he’s saying.

      Until you start to think for yourself. And realise this is wishful daydreaming taken to fantastical extremes.

      150 people doesn’t mean 150 houses (or huts to be more precise)
      150 people means 30/40 dwelling places, and that number would fit the description of a medieval village or more likely a bronze age settlement.
      Which is fine—if you are content with that and what it would mean at a personal level.

      So visualise a cluster of wood or mud/straw huts, roofed with thatch, with smoke coming out through a conical roof. No brick, tile or glass, no solid flooring, no artificial light other that that which can be converted from the fat of animals because such things cannot be produced without colossal amounts of heat.
      Do not delude yourself that there can be anything made in any other way, that we would expect to improve our living and infrastructure.

      Sickness gives you a choice: get well through your own recuperative strength, or die.
      Your 150 friends might strive to keep you alive, but incantations and herbal remedies will only go so far.
      Our medical skills are entirely the product of our industrial systems. Without that, your doctor is of little more use than a tribal medicine man.
      Look around you. Mentally get rid of everything contain elements of coal oil or gas—you are sitting naked on bare earth, starving to death.

      Your 150 person settlement had better be a long way away from the next 150 person settlement, otherwise you’ve got a problem……even more so if it’s a 300 person settlement that never read up on Orlov’s theory of everyone being nice to each other in the utopia of our future.
      Orlov blissfully ignores the last 80k generations where humankind has devoted itself to collective homicide, and expects us to turn into gentle pastoralists in the course of a single generation. (all the time we have left.)

      the 7.356 billion (give or take) folks who haven’t read Orlov still have expectations of infinite wealth, that there will always be more if they vote for the right president.
      The global economy cannot provide

      any more, we’ve milked the Earth dry.
      this book :The End of More:

      tries to explain why there is no

      What is going to happen of course, is that we will ultimately reduce ourselves to living in mud hut communities just as Orlov describes…but we will still deny how we got there, and constantly try to restart our industrial “old ways”

      • Artleads says:

        “150 people doesn’t mean 150 houses (or huts to be more precise)
        150 people means 30/40 dwelling places, and that number would fit the description of a medieval village or more likely a bronze age settlement.”

        I disagree. Where do these 150 people live now? And what’s to stop them from living there in the future? Why do groupings X 150 require major geographic separation?

        Let’s take a square block in a small suburban town and that might comprise 150 people. The four roads enclosing the square block ALREADY separate one 150-group from another. No need for physical change of any kind.

        In contrast, take a mega apartment building in a large city. One floor might contain 150 people. By definition, one floor is already physically separated from the other floors. No need for physical change of any sort.

        There will be myriad cases–perhaps a minority–that don’t fit the paradigm of already-separateable communities. But there are likely to be natural-enough boundaries to define them if we are determined to find them. And why can’t you even group people who are geographically–AT REASONABLE SCALE–apart?

        And what’s all this about mud huts?

        • Dj says:

          Not having seen the youtube clip:
          The 150 persons has to get their food from the surrounding area. The next 150 persons should live outside this area to avoid conflict of interest

          • Artleads says:

            I don’t believe this will have credibility here, but I’ll suggest it anyway:

            Providing food is no longer an issue of growing on large areas of land. It will be produced in intricate spaces in, around, and adjoining buildings. While there is oil, food can be grown in illuminated layers stacked very high on rooftops. This big land “out there” paradigm is old fashioned. Not what our time is about. Each pod (to some extent) will produce its own food where it sits. Even when food is grown “out there” it won’t be a competitive affair. It will be based on cooperation and pragmatism of the whole. Competition is also highly old fashioned. .

            • DJ says:

              So you have an average innercity household in northern europe, two adults, one child, living on 800 sq feet with 100 sq feet balcony. HOW will they make enough calories out of this?

              Sure a couple of months a year they can have decorative vegetables. And maybe once a month trap some meat for sunday roast:

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Recipes for the Post-Apocalypse: How and why to eat rat meat


              Doomsday preppers will want to print this out while BAU is still functioning

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Or just buy the book

              Cooking Rats and Mice


            • DJ says:

              According to John Seymour a family of six could live on five acres.

              Scaling this to a city of Stockholm (1.4M population) you get a circle diameter 30km/20miles where most live, and outside this a circle 45-50km/30miles for cleverly grown food.

              Average distance from crop to plate maybe 20 miles. No fossil fuel…

              (Please check calculations)

            • competition is what put you here

              somewhere, sometime in your evolutionary past, males competed for a female in order to further the supremacy of your particular line of descent.
              hard to believe I know, but there it is.
              Whether the lady in question enjoyed it or faked it is irrelevant…you now exist because of it.
              that also happened for me, and everyone else.
              not only was that competition for the fertilisation of a female ancestor, but for the food in the immediate area, which delivered the means to bring your ancestral offspring to reproductive age so the cycle could start over

              Right now we sit on top of an evolutionary pyramid, the current question seems to be whether we can stay here.

              competition is what our genes demand of us, we have no choice in the matter. If we are about to enter a phase of degradation of the human species, competition will still go on. It must, because nature neither knows nor cares whether humankind is just another biological dead end or not.

              With that in mind, and as we have consumed our current means of support, a degraded lifestyle with fewer of us seems inevitable. As the majority are in denial of that fact, conflict over our means of support is certain

              So the next question is how will we survive?
              Through our evolutionary processes we have lost the main survival factors of our ancestors. We cannot survive in the open because we have no protection against climate extremes. Therefore we must find or make shelters. We can only make shelters from the material to hand, meaning fibre and earth.
              That in itself will weed out all but the strongest.
              As females are genetically attracted to the strongest males, there is a possibility that we can exist in that manner for a long time, with much reduced numbers–(Orlov),
              Competition may subside a little to allow that, or it may not. on seems to be in direct proportion to the physical space between competitors. As we thin out–our distance increases. Resource competition and thus the EROEI factor on conflict makes fighting a wasteful occupation.

              But communitities would have to be very small for that to be the case. Remember Africans raided England and Ireland to capture slaves (energy resources) long before Europeans returned the favour. The urge to grab and compete is very powerful.

            • DJ says:

              Since you didn’t answer.

              Potatoes is likely most kcal per area in colder climates.
              One square meter gives 2 kg potato, saving seed for next year, expecting a few losses to bugs and stuff.
              One kg potatoes contains 830 kcal.
              A moderately (we will all be farmers in your future) active adult requires 2400 kcal per day
              This means a metric tonne potatoes a year
              Means 2000 square meters per person.
              Good look growing that in an apartment.

            • Fast Eddy says:


              I’ve got 200sqm of raised beds — unlimited gravity fed water — truckloads of compost…. and there is no way in hell I could keep a family of 4 in food off of that….

              Of course the neighbours will also want me to feed them….

              Delusional thinking is a disease threatening FW – it must be destroyed. Driven off.

            • DJ says:

              Only 200 square meters? 198 more than most have, but probably a factor 10 less than enough.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Also factor in the need for grazing land for manure-producing animals…

              I am disgusted with myself for ever believing that this was a solution — the futility of the enterprise is so obvious… my ignorance was epic… my foolishness astounding….

              I think I have been on this site for 4 years now…. if only when I stumbled across FW there was a ‘Fast Eddy’ character here back then …. to take me by the scruff of the neck and explain the futility of all this….

              The amount of time, energy and money I have wasted is monumental. I would have still relocated to New Zealand — but there are a lot of things I would have done differently.

            • hkeithhenson says:

              “there are a lot of things I would have done differently.”

              Nice to know you can change.

            • Ert says:


              200sqm is quite much for raised beds… I operate on 12sqm Greenhouse + 120sqm for (non starchy) Vegetables + having lots of fruit trees and berry bushes. Lots of work… that times 10 and I would do nothing else…. than eat, sleep and work in the garden (plus preserving food for the winter).

            • DJ says:

              I’m not sure we are in disagreement. I was under the impression Eddy had more area, but not as separate beds.

              I assume you are self-supporting (and probably more) on “fun” greens, but buy starch, fats, meat/eggs/dairy?

              Most apartments could have the greenhouse, but thats it, no bushes or potato field, no chickens.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Apartments? You plan to grow inside in the bedrooms? Good luck!

              Where will the water come from? What about making compost?

              This discussion is beyond retarded. I am beginning to think that my wasting 30 seconds to respond makes me retarded….

              Yabba dabba doo… ack ack ack… nanoo nanoo…. boots are best when made of leather … the garden will die in the winter but it will start to grow in the spring … I honestly believe I can have a conversation with my dogs…. I could fly but I choose not to…

            • Fast Eddy says:

              I’ve got 4.5 hectares…. most is pasture for sheep…. we also have 80 fruit trees and a berry garden..

              Here’s an interesting comment a farmer told me about sheep and cattle —- they all get drenched for parasites…. when the drench is not available post BAU … expect those populations to be decimated by diseased… and poaching of course

            • Ert says:


              We are not in disagreement – as you can’t exist from 200sqm per person at all.

              I assume you are self-supporting (and probably more) on “fun” greens, but buy starch, fats, meat/eggs/dairy?


              I concentrate on “fun/expensive” greens, as starchy greens and grains are “but-cheap” – doesn’t make any sens to do that. In addition when I would do potatoes I needed to incorporate an multi-year rotation system. Currently I have 1/3 of my vegetable-area put under “green fertilizer” to replenish the soil (in rotation) – and then in addition rotate the rest of the area. If I would do 1000sqm potatoes, then i would need approx 4000sqm under cultivation to have a sufficient crop rotation….

              The plus: I have opt out fat/dairy/eggs and meat – they are not a healthy component (look at, McDougal, Barnard, etc. pp) and they are very work-intensive. Have no problem to eat that stuff if there is nothing else to eat – but it makes only sense if you need every calorie there is -> to use grassland and process garbage into calories – and to shift calories without a freezer into the winter times in northern latitudes.

              But the good thing I have learned from all that is: If BAU ends – I end! – I have absolutely zero illusions concerning that fact!

            • DJ says:

              What do you mean by green fertilizer?

              I started this year, a four-way rotation and a handful separate beds (i suppose i will change soil in those) and bushes, no greenhouse.

              Happily surprised how much squash and salad you get from such a small space, but I understand the calorie content is neglible. Less impressed by other crops.

            • Ert says:


              Hmm… Green Manure? – its hard to translate that for me appropriately. I plant field/fava beans, field/dun peas, clover, phacelias, buckweat and the like to fix nitrogen, etc. Plants with deeps roots pull up nutrients, root systems help the microbial system and after cutting its a lot of biomass + I have a 100% year-round soil cover + better moisture control.
              Have to do that, because the soil I have to work with was used for 70 years gardening…. and the last decades with chemical fertilizer which destroys the microbial system and “bare soil” gardening… no mulch… since “it doesn’t look appropriate” and “what should the neighbors think…”
              Lots in disrepair – even the trees…. my mother (>70) has only halve a clue… and the generation which had a better clue is dead already….. all the younger want a “presentable” garden or even better: Stones & concrete – so that they don’t have to care about anything.

            • DJ says:

              thanks. I recognize green manure from the mad scientist permaculture clip.

              I have left the potatoe leaves in the garden, so that is halfway correct? (Grass clippings before harvesting).

            • Ert says:


              Yeas – always try to cover the soil with clippings / mulch / leaves – whatever.

              Depending on pests (naked snails) and rainfall you have to figure out what is to much (mulch) and what works…. the snails like it where is is shaded an moist…. (mulch). For that I use wooden boards as walking separator between the beds. Snails take shelter under those and I can “harvest” them there efficiently 🙂

            • DJ says:

              Fast Eddy,
              Water comes from the tap.
              Compost from the store.
              You get it to the 9th floor using elevator.

              Don’t ask me why you couldn’t just buy the food from the store.

              I just tried being as generous as possible with assumptions and still believe a apartment is x100 to small for feeding its residents.

            • Ert says:

              @DJ & FE

              I agree..

              We do not even have half a clue how much embedded fossil energy we tap – even if we have a “normal” garden. Metal & Plastic tools, usage of fossil / electric powered vehicles/machinery to manage the garden, cutting and digging things, chipping wood… energy embedded in the greenhouse. Wooden planks that are manufactured… stones transported by lorry from far away… concrete for buildings and foundations…. seeds & seedings – produced somewhere and transported! Our own cloth and shoes, glad and containers for storage – cooking power for storage preparation and so on.

              In comparison with “bought” food a small garden (xxx sqm) is totally energy deficient, especially if the own hours (which are sustained by fossil calories) are added in.

            • Ert says:


              ” they all get drenched for parasites…. when the drench is not available post BAU … expect those populations to be decimated by diseased… and poaching of course”

              And I was under the option that the outdoor sheep in NZ, etc. would have be natural (i.e. organic), etc. What a sick world… good that I eat no animal products anymore… then fatty tissue or liquids accumulate toxins and hormone active substances (i.e. phtalates from plastics -> in addition to too much IGF-1 (growth hormone).

              But is has a good thing going: (Human) fertility drops drastically due to plastics exposure everywhere… food packaging, storage containers, bottles, hoses for liquids everywhere, shrink wrap, lining in cans, tetra packs, clothing, appliances, tubes and sprays, and so on…

            • Fast Eddy says:


              Young cattle have limited immunity to parasites. The infective larvae they ingest as they start eating grass develop into egg-producing adults, and contribute to a rise in pastoral larval populations as the season progresses. The parasite burden resulting from this cycle can have significant affects on calf growth rates and may present as clinical disease.

              Parasitism in calves is best controlled by a planned, preventative drenching programme designed to reduce the build up of larvae on pasture. A first drench at weaning, followed by four-weekly drenches for 5-to-6 cycles (depending on the season and calf growth rates) is recommended as a parasite management strategy for intensively grazed young stock

              Two parasites have emerged as the main species that have developed resistance to the endectocides. Cooperia spp is widespread, but Trichostrongylus resistance has also been reported.

              Heavy Cooperia burdens are primarily a problem in young growing cattle, up to 15-18 months of age. Affected animals may have a ‘pot bellied’ look, dull coat lustre and slow growth rates. This results in a greater number of ‘tail enders.’ A common scenario is young stock that are drenched frequently yet they just don’t seem to go ahead.

              Treatment programmes for calves should include one of these products at least twice in the first 12 months of life. More and more New Zealand farmers are using combination drenches in their young stock. Calves start picking up infective worm larvae when they start nibbling grass.

              The first drench for calves should be 21 days after they show interest in the green stuff even if they are still being supplemented with milk or grain feeds. Repeat drenching needs to be given at regular intervals after the first drench at 21 days. This interval is determined by the type of drench used.

              An endectocide or endectocide combination such as Genesis pour-on or Eclipse, respectively, will allow drenching intervals of up to 6 weeks, An oral drench such as Arrest C, or Oxfen C should be given more frequently – at least 4 weekly.

              Regular monitoring of weight gains using scales is a good indicator of calf health. Wormy cattle’s growth rates will slow before showing any outward signs of being parasitized . Your vet is your animal health professional and their advise can be invaluable in getting the best from your investment in your replacement heifers.


              This will be a nightmare of parasitic disease when the drenches are no longer available….

            • DJ says:

              4.5 hectares with access to water should be more than enough.

              But of course you have the hordes, fuel ponds and lack of tooth brushes to handle.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              The soil is not good – that’s why I have raised beds… so the growing space I have is 200sm

            • DJ says:

              “fertility drops drastically due to plastics exposure everywhere”

              Too little to late :/

            • FE, you should consider stop portraying eating rat meat as something negative.

              Obtaining any form of edible calories in a post BAU civilization will be like a heavenly gift.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              I could not agree more.

              And I continue to hope for a quick, painless death when BAU goes down… because the last think I want is to live in a world so bleak that boiled rat is a delicacy.

          • Ert says:


            “Too little to late”

            Every little piece counts 😉

            A pity only that with lots of efforts (and fossil calories) it is tried to be fixed what nature denies for good reasons. Its not that I deny a couple their wish for a baby – but it shows that the way we go and live is totally anti-nature and anti-species.

            That is also the reason I don’t trust all the cornucopia fantasies of the future – especially medicine. I see from my own changes and the tens of thousands of studies summarized in a lots of health and nutrition related books I have – that its about the food, water and air we eat, drink and breath (in addition to motion/exercise and mental well being) – what relates to our health and nothing else. Most medicine is only a placebo to good nutrition, some exercise and good mental health – never a solution as it mostly only suppresses symptoms, but not heals.

            • DJ says:

              I would be curious to see what would happen if all were forced to stopp medication immideately.

              It seems all 60+ males i know have “high blood pressure”, and for some reason this is “treated” with a minimum of three medicines.

              One of them explained the medicines cooperate and doesn’t work individually. I found it funny you would need medicines from three different companies for one “ailment”. I think two of them is for the side effects, but of course I just nodded and agreed with him.

              I assume these persons wouldn’t suffer at all if forced off medication.

            • Ert says:


              I assume these persons wouldn’t suffer at all if forced off medication.

              Yes, and especially in combination with post-BAU food. The problem with high blood pressure lies in their nutrition. To much fat (oils, butter, meat, eggs, dairy, cakes, cookies, fat fried stuff) for the most part and of course to much refined sugar.

              They should read McDougal or Barnard for a start…. but for believing in pills you don’t have to change yourself.

              And that is the problem at its core…. no hoping for the next cornucopian techno-fix but staring with yourself, changing your ways – for your own sake. Whats better to start with oneselfs own well-being? But even that most people doen’t get… that is why my hope for humanity as whole is quite limited.

            • DJ says:

              a pill is cheap or free (in a welfare state) and you need no other life style changes.

              I think you’re harsh on animal products, but I’m not gonna have a long, fruitless and off-topic argument about it. Lets agree eating fat lazy medicated cows fed on non-organic grain is not good.

              Familiar with Weston Price or his book?

              A dentist who traveled the world in the 20s and 30s and compared “primitive” people living on traditional diets with those living on western food. Mostly he counted caries.

              Caries was virtually non-existant on traditional food but very common for same populations (often relatives) living on western food.

              Also deformed arched, disturbed breathing, turbeculosis, skeletal deformities.

              This was a time when there were plenty of aborigines, eskimos, maori, forest indians living mostly traditional. Even some caucasians in british isolated Islands or isolated valleys in the alps.

              Pattern held no matter if the traditional diet were mostly vegetarian (no 100% vegetarians though) or 100% animal like eskimos or masai.

            • Stefeun says:

              Deteriorated health comes for sure in big part from our diet, but it seems to be due even more to the fast evolution of our diet. Our microbiote hasn’t time to adapt itself to new environmental conditions, which results into unbalance and possible proliferation of nasty ‘species’.

              Tooth decay is actually a good example:
              “bacteria that causes dental disease became more frequent with the introduction of farming, and even more so after the Industrial Revolution”

              NB: to reach a robust equilibrium, there must coexist as many as possible species. This looks out of reach with our modern sterilized food.

            • I have seen pictures of very early tools to extract decayed teeth – perhaps back in the early days of agriculture.

            • Ert says:


              Yes, I know Weston A. Price and the writings of him an the foundation (which is another story). Look into most of the theories, literature, studies, “diets”. The knowledge gathering didn’t stop at Prices time….. Natural, no refined sugar & fat, lots of whole vegetables, fruits and grains a a no brainier. Animal products are another story… especially at the current consumption rate of western civilization (even compared to their historical norm for the last 10.000 years). 10% of calories from (no-dairy) animal products for the Caucasian gene makeup? Fine.. do it.. would have no problems with it myself if I could get some stuff I would trust….

              You my take a loot at – its a very good start, as they are not focussed on any special diet whatsoever… they screen through tens of thousands of studies and look what works, whats the evidence, correlate, try to mingle cause and effect the right way (lots of studies are crap), etc. pp.

            • DJ says:

              Now the €64-trillion question:
              Done once, in thousands of places and thousands of ways, why cant it be done again?

              Not reliant on fossil fuels, big game or of toothbrushes. Easy on the forests.

              Spent fuel ponds
              Runaway global warming

            • Ert says:

              Done once, in thousands of places and thousands of ways, why cant it be done again?

              There will be pockets of live… and people will adapt to it… they who can compare will perish fast… nearly all knowledge will be lost and humans can live with radioactivity.. life span will be short… mutations will perish or get rid of… as there is no health care anymore.. and no calories / spare time / incentive to care.

              Hobbs: “.. the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short….”

            • Ert says:


              “Our microbiote hasn’t time to adapt itself to new environmental conditions, which results into unbalance and possible proliferation of nasty ‘species’.”

              Its even worse… antibiotics (drugs or in food) can damage the microbiom for ever…. perserved food…. also can selectively irritate or change the microbiom. The “holes” may be never filled again, leading to chain reactions – or even unwanted microbes. Glyphosat (Roundup) is also heavy on the microbiom…. as are other toxins and lots of chemical stuff.

              It’s a total mess… the literature and science only starts to dig into that field. Have only a German book about the current findings… that alone is interesting and helpful! but also scary if you read about the real implications which are already known and change the look on a lot of illness.

            • Stefeun says:

              Agreed Ert,
              I put only this short sentence, to say that the ‘primitive’ populations had good health and good teeth because they had been living in total immersion with their microbial environment for many centuries/millenia.

              Yes we are just realizing that it was a big mistake to fight against the microbes and try to get rid of them, not even realizing that many of them are mandatory for our own metabolism.
              Colistine is our last antibiotics, but we are overusing it just as we did with other ones until we made them inefficient against strains this stupid fight contributed to develop.
              What’s next? The threat is real (short summary:

              One last consideration, aside: whatever change is brought to a complex system, it’s always “forever”.There’s no way back, always forward.
              The system has to switch and try to reach a new equilibrium, possibly with integration of new elements (that can luckily partially replace the lost ones), and possibly far from previous equilibrium (in which case the transition phase is quite destructive).
              This is valid for ecosystems and also for our daily lives: many would like to restore and revive the “good old days” but it’s impossible, even for details. We’ve hard time with that…

            • DJ says:

              Of course it takes many generations to adapt to unnatural food (Scandinavians are reasonably adapted to dairy)

              But could we ever, especially considering a society that has bypassed natural selection, adapt to non-nutritious food.

              I believe Weston Price found caries everywhere, but in primitive societies it was maybe in 0.1% to 1% of the teeth, in modern (1920s) societies up to 20%.

        • i’ll try to spell this out as simply as possible, though commenter Dj below has explained my meaning clearly enough.

          Orlov means 150 self sufficient people living as a group. I’ll try to explain this further at the most basic level: 150 people require food and water . They also require their body wastes removed.
          Perhaps you could explain how this might happen on the 10th floor of an apartment building? Imagine carrying 2 litres of water per person up 10 flights, and that’s having obtained for somewhere. Dirty water will quickly kill off the surplus.
          Orlovs villages must live with access to clean water. Unrealistic to say the least

          Orlov means that groups of 150 living in isolationhave resilience, because shocks to the nation as a whole, cannot disrupt each group, because they are physically separated by distance.
          city blocks are not far enough apart.
          Visualise city blocks right now, then imagine them in a time of total absence of physical resources. Could you live there?

          mud huts represent the maximum utilisation of available resources if you do not have access to factory production of housing materials
          ie–you must use what is to hand.

          Yes–you can scavenge materials obviously. Lots of early buildings in UK re-used Roman stuff, but that is limited to what you can carry and the distance you can carry it
          Orlov means groups in isolation, without those means.
          for 000s of years, keeping rain out gave you 3 choices–a cave, animal hides or thatch.
          There are no alternatives.

          • Artleads says:

            “Orlov means that groups of 150 living in isolationhave resilience, because shocks to the nation as a whole, cannot disrupt each group, because they are physically separated by distance.”

            Do you have a quote from Orlov to confirm this? I don’t want to listen to the podcast over again, since I didn’t pick up on that the first time.

            “Perhaps you could explain how this might happen on the 10th floor of an apartment building?”

            When I’ve talked about things like this in the past, it was in a speculative manner. Although I can imagine “solutions” to such things, it’s a waste of time to get buried in the weeds. I keep being surprised by a) the innovativeness of entrepreneurs who think through many similar things–like the ones growing in layers on rooftops–and b) the utter obtuseness of people on blogs, who can only think in terms of the past. But I must be clear that the entrepreneurs are not my guide for the future; they merely surprise me within the limits of collapsing BAU. I don’t pretend to know what people will “invent.”

            The issues re the “future” are so very complex that it’s a total drag having to explain one imaginary detail after the next. I’m not sure exactly what’s the first thing you need to advance your thinking. Orlov might be a start. Charles Eisenstein is not my guide, but he does point to an alternative to thinking the future must be like the past.

            If you can’t move from your stuck position, there’s no use in talking further.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Why not just say that in DelusiSTAN… post BAU … people will be living in high rises because they can imagine that will be possible.

              I will not take issue with that – anything IS possible in DelusiSTAN.

    • Christian says:

      Orlov should go work in Siberia, where local authorities obtained from the Duma the releasing of “federal land” for free. But they’re giving isolated plots to families. Orlov aproach is better, but 2000 people could also work in Siberia. No hordes expected there, even with free land

      Banks were trying to establish some parameters to give credit to the resulting migrants. Gail, what do you think about that?

      Putin should invest in this, which could act as a (modest) relief valve. He is supposed to start operating a big dry casking facility this year

      It is not impossible that the Putin-Trump duo could manage the world slightly better than the one conformed by Davos-Putin

  9. Stilgar Wilcox says:

    Total global negative yielding debt now up to 13 trillion! Rising fast!! See the article to find out how fast.

  10. Don Stewart says:


    Little more provocation from Nick Lane. This time from about page 80. I will note the analogies I think are particularly relevant to humans at this point in our evolution.

    ‘Not only do bacteria ‘eat’ rocks but they can ‘breathe’ them too. Eukaryotic cells are pathetic in comparison. There is about the same metabolic diversity in the entire eukaryotic domain— all plants, animals, algae, fungi and protists —as there is in a single bacterial cell.’

    Analogy. I have commented that, in terms of metabolic diversity, the bacteria are highly diverse, natural eukaryotes are less diverse, and fossil energy man is highly restricted. But the entropy goes in the opposite direction. Bacteria create little structure, natural eukaryotes create a lot more structure, and fossil energy man creates an enormous amount of enormously dangerous structure.

    ‘This versatility in the use of electron donors and receptors is aided by the sluggish reactivity of many of them. We noted earlier that all biochemistry occurs spontaneously, and must always be driven by a highly reactive environment; but if the environment is too reactive, then it will go right ahead and react, and there will be no free energy left over to power biology. Life exploits these kinetic barriers,, and in so doing increases entropy faster than would otherwise happen. Some even define life in these terms, as an entropy generator. Regardless: life exists precisely because kinetic barriers exist—it specializes to break them down. Without the loophole of great reactivity pent up behind kinetic barriers, it’s doubtful that life could exist at all.’

    Analogy. Lane has previously distinguished between test tube biology and real world biology. In a test tube, energy is typically added to speed up the reactions (such as putting everything in a mixer). But in the real world, things can happen much more slowly…which is why the world doesn’t suddenly burn up in oxygen. I suggest that one reason that the information revolution has not really solved many of our deeper problems is because there are no kinetic barriers which allow entropy to increase and structure to appear. Consider the olden days, when someone might travel down to Oxford or to Paris or to a monastery to read some learned treatise. They then traveled back to their farm and changed their behavior in some way…entropy happened and structure was built. Lincoln was part of the painstaking construction of the Republican party. Contrast with Trump’s ‘construction’ using tweets. Or the ‘Arab Spring’ which briefly blossomed but left no structure.

    I also like the notion of kinetic barriers. Why are subsistence farmers usually lean? Some claim it is because they are starving. In some cases that is true, but more likely it is because there is a kinetic barrier between the farm family and food. In order to get the food, they have to exert themselves. But fossil energy man perceives that no exertion stands between himself and a Snickers Bar. I am reminded of the story told by a Wyoming man. His grandfather had homesteaded a ranch, many miles from his nearest neighbor. He had no wife. He heard that there was an eligible girl about a hundred miles away on a ranch. He made note, and during the winter when he had free time, he rode his horse to the ranch. The family welcomed him, and he spent a week or so wooing the girl. She agreed to marry him, and they set off on two horses. They slept on the ground in zero F weather. The next summer the Methodist circuit rider came by and married them. In October, their first child was born. With such kinetic barriers to be overcome, one would expect that the marriage would be on firmer ground than any involving a Kardashian.

    I will also note that Permaculture is about creating a ‘reactive environment’. That is, bringing together the raw materials which nature uses to create structure which is useful to humans. Geoff Lawton’s Greening the Desert initiative being perhaps the most spectacular.

    ‘The fact that electron donors and acceptors are both soluble and stable, entering and exiting cells without much ado, means that the reactive environment required by thermodynamics can be brought safely inside, right into those critical membranes. That makes redox chemistry easier to deal with than heat or mechanical energy, or UV radiation or lightning, as a form of biologically useful energy flux. Health and Safety would approve!’

    Analogy: As humans desire for ‘better, cheaper, faster’ has exploded, we have turned to all those energy fluxes that are not safe. The explosion of the Hindenburgh and the carnage wrought by nitrates were some of the first examples. We pushed mechanical energy by burning fossil fuels in heat engines, which seems like it will kill us and many other creatures through climate change. We tried to do ourselves in with UV, but perhaps stopped at the brink just in time. For some reason, we believe storing 50 nuclear bombs in Turkey is a wonderful idea.

    ‘Respiration is also the basis of photosynthesis. Tapping into energy from the sun changed the world, but in molecular terms all it did was set electrons flowing faster down respiratory chains’

    Analogy: Many commenters have the tendency to blame everything on entropy. But plants learned how to use entropy production to make structure. It’s not that entropy production is a ‘bad thing’ or that ‘far from equilibrium’ systems are inherently a problem. The problem, I think, is that humans have not been very smart in selecting which boundaries which were set for eukaryotes we have chosen to challenge and transgress.

    Don Stewart

    • Don Stewart says:

      Also…as I tire of trying to reform the heathens on the Internet, and stoop labor on the farm no longer being so appealing. I am looking for another way to spend my declining years.

      So I am thinking about starting a new religion. The gist of it is that the first couple of chapter of Genesis are actually correct. Nobody in the Abrahamic religions pays any attention to all that ‘Tree of Knowledge’ nonsense anymore. Yet if we start from science, it seems that our knowledge has gotten us into all kinds of trouble.

      So I am planning an Indie-Go-Go campaign to raise the money which will let me spend my declining years doing precisely all the stuff that my religious acolytes will be warning people about!

      What do you think of this plan?

      Don Stewart

      • you’ll die smiling

      • Stefeun says:

        Why a religion?

        Is it for fiscal reasons, or is it somehow related to an afterlife?
        Or you simply intend to use religious methods for teaching scientific knowledge?
        For the latter I don’t see exactly how such a touchy matter could work, but on another hand the future of science (if any) would be to become more transversal, indeed holistic, and the recent findings (esp. in neurosciences) established similarities with some precepts of ancient buddhism, for example.

        Anyway, both science and religion -and their relationships- have been so misinterpreted and distorted in their purposes, that maybe it’s time to envision a wiser way to deal with them.
        Vast shambles, that you’ll only be able to touch lightly on, but noble task.

        • Don Stewart says:

          One of the severe problems with the internet is that the reader cannot surmise when their leg is being pulled.

          I have a strong liking for irony. I find it appealingly ironic that the first couple of chapters of Genesis turned out, from our current vantage point, to offer such insight.
          Don Stewart
          PS What do you think about Arnoux’s third installment?

          • Ert says:


            I’m not Stefeun, but for my part I see that Arnoux adresses the problem correctly – but offers no solution. He says that current PV and wind will not suffice – as a drastically higher ERoEI is required. In Addition he says we have to start NOW – to at least reduce the problem (carnage?) for as much as possible people of the 7+ billion.

            So far so god – I think we knew that….. but whats the technology? whats the fix? I ask that because he still wants to increase global energy production dramatically to keep up the good living (and totally ignores all other limits which are caused by the energy we have available now – to remodel and basically destroy the world).

            The closing “This challenge is a measure of the huge selection pressure humankind managed to place itself under. Presently, I see a lot going on very creatively in all these three intimately related domains. Maybe we will succeed in making the jump over the cliff?” – leaves me a bit empty handed…..

            So the start & the premises where good – but the finish was very foggy at best.

            • Don Stewart says:

              You might like to comment on Ugo’s site. ‘for crying out loud, give us a few hints’. Or something to that effect.
              Don Stewart
              PS Did you look at the GreenBox for the company in Long Beach and Reno that he was involved in a couple of years ago? You have to wonder if the parting was friendly or not….Will also be interesting to see if Doomstead Diner can get a live interview.

            • hkeithhenson says:

              “So far so good – I think we knew that….. but what’s the technology? what’s the fix?”

              I know of two. The one I work on the most is power satellites, the other is StratoSolar. StratoSolar lets you put PV anywhere without concern for clouds, and gives you a platform for gravity storage so you can use them for base load. Power satellites put energy collection where you get energy virtually all the time and don’t need storage for base load. I don’t recall the EROEI for StratoSolar. Power sats have at least a 120 to one and and 3 month energy payback.

              Unfortunately the change in my pocket isn’t enough to set up the transport and construction facility.

            • Duncan Idaho says:

              There doesn’t have to be a solution— that is presumed by a techno narcissistic culture like ours.
              Often one has a predicament.

            • Working on doing a podcast with Louis. He wanted to wait until all 3 parts were published.

              Norman, I can answer all your Negative Waves point by point, no problem is insoluble as long as you have a large enough population contraction. At low enough population numbers, you don’t even need high tech, you could use biofuels. Wood alcohol, fermented beet sugar, biodiesel etc.


            • RE–I agree that most of my negative comments can be answered by drastic population reduction—Rather like saying that hospitals would function perfectly if people would stop being ill.

              but to paraphrase one of my favourite poets: People do not go gentle into that good night–they fight against the dying of the light.

              It is the reaching that reduced stage that is going to cause a lot of people a lot of grief, and making the point that it is for the good of humanity in general is not going to be well received.
              On my little overcrowded island the majority are convinced that 64m can be sustained from land with a carrying capacity of 20m or maybe less. The few who know it can’t are ignored. (there is an expectation that ”they” will fix things)

              With a population of one tenth of our present one, and with limited energy sources available, the world could not sustain anything above a medieval existence (Arnoux’ charts make that very clear.)
              When we were last at that level, the only use we had for “biofuel” was to drink it.

              We might retain the knowledge of how to use it for other things, but one tenth of humankind will not have the resources to produce the necessary machinery to exploit it. Rotative machinery is high tech, and our current way of life is totally dependent on converting explosive force into rotary movement. Such forces can only be contained by iron and steel.

            • hkeithhenson says:

              “At low enough population numbers, you don’t even need high tech, you could use biofuels. Wood alcohol, fermented beet sugar, biodiesel etc.”

              I would have to think long and hard about this, you need engines as well as fuel. I am an engineer by training with a long standing interest in the history of technology (and future technology as well). I don’t know how large an interconnected population needs to be to build diesel engines. If you go by the population of Germany in 1900 when diesel engines were first built, it’s 50 million. If you go by all the countries connected to Germany by trade in engines it is perhaps 500 million.

              I used to work in the Electro-Motive plant, long ago when it was part of GM. The factory where they built diesel locomotives was a mile square. There are things, and diesel engines may be among them, that can’t be made by small populations.

            • as far as i can see, complexity is interdependent on/with complex societies

            • hkeithhenson says:

              “complexity is interdependent”

              That may not be the case for long. When (and if) we reach the world of nanotechnology, all of a sudden we can grow things like railroad rails, not to mention pork chop trees with more or less self sustaining, probably self aware technology. It is exceedingly difficult to imagine such times. The big problem with writing about them is that there are no characters to identify with.

              Still, Charles Stross, Vernor Vinge, Ian Banks and a few others have tried. I tried with a story called “the clinic seed.” It involved a “collapse” since most of the population uploaded and left the mortal realm (though some were still communicating with those left behind).

            • i felt this link was the right one for growing railway lines and pork chop trees

            • hkeithhenson says:

              Note “(and if),” We make progress toward nanotechnology, but do we get there before the whole house of cards goes down? It possibly isn’t as serious as we think because, if you Google for Tabbys star, there is a chance we have found aliens who did get through the crisis, at least to the point they can at times obscure 22% of the light from their star. If so, our situation isn’t quite hopeless.

            • as RE pointed out on here a few days ago:

              the biggest problem with internet comment is you can never be 100% sure whether someone is indulging in the biggest wind up, or genuinely believes what they are saying

            • hkeithhenson says:

              “never be 100% sure”

              So true. Not even sure myself. But you can go here:

              to see that I am not a lone nut–at least on this subject I have company.

              There is a mention on the Google search listing for Tabby’s star that the James Webb telescope might solve the mystery. If so, it might be like the classic story where someone looks through a knothole and what do they see? An eye!

            • Fast Eddy says:

              We are sailing very close to the edge of insanity with this stuff…..

            • Fast Eddy says:

              You are aware that we are on the cusp of the end of civilization? Extinction is imminent…

              Quite frankly… I’d be more interested in reading what the Karadashian gals are up to …

            • I am not sure extinction is imminent. There are some people who are hunter-gatherers who live in pretty remote locations. And there are folks who are trying to at least keep themselves from a rapid population drop in the near future. I don’t give new inventions a very high chance of working, but I don’t like to say that they won’t possibly work either. People need at least a small ray of hope about the future.

            • hkeithhenson says:

              I mentioned future technology. Wrote about it here:

              For those of you who have been talking about small settlements, you might find this place interesting.

            • DJ says:

              Also speed of population decline is important.

              If by some miracle or virus 99% died the coming month, the future as scavenging hunted gatherers would look much better than a slow dieoff where game and soil goes under with humans.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Scavengers would have a problem operating these – click to read a larger version…

          • Stefeun says:

            I should stop making comments related to religion…

            Regarding Arnoux part 3, (,
            my first reaction is that too many parts of our system are missing in the analyse, and for those evoked I fail to see what backs the assumptions.
            In short: wishful thinking.
            But I’ll have a second look.

            • Duncan Idaho says:

              Give in to your inner Talking Snake——-

            • Don Stewart says:

              If you read the comments following the third installment…As I understand him, he sees the need for producing 50TW of solar power IN ORDER TO RESTORE THE WORLD TO HABITABILITY. He says that ‘without fossil energy, there is no more growth, but there can be restoration’ or something to that effect.

              This is not GDP thinking. He is saying that taking carbon out of the air is necessary, and it might be counted as GDP, but it is not growth in any sense that people would recognize.

              So I do not believe he is talking about banks of PV panels as drop in replacements for centralized electricity generating plants. He stated early on that the present trajectories are unsatisfactory. It’s more like he is calling for the building of certain machines which will accomplish very specific goals using solar energy…such as desalinizing sea water or taking carbon out of the air.

              If I interpret him correctly, he is not giving us a map of how all that is going to happen, just indicating that some smart people are working and it is critical that they be successful.

              He gives a nod to the problems with debt, but my understanding of what he is saying is that the debts are never going to be paid and we might as well adjust to that fact as best we can. We can, perhaps, imagine a machine which takes carbon out of the air or salt out of the ocean, but we cannot imagine any way to use solar to keep BAU going.

              Perhaps I am reading too much of my own opinions into his article. But that seems to me to be what he is saying. Notice that the nGeni is still alive.

              Don Stewart

            • Ert says:


              You make very good points in summarizing the explicit and implicit points of the 3rd part.

              Still, the 3rd part left me very disillusioned. In regard to CO2 it would be best to rebuild soil (Book. Soil, Gras, Hope) and not hoping for some stupid machine which needs resources, consumes lots of energy and is only there to provide global techno-companies with revenue. Unfortunately the solution suggested by the book Soil, Gras, Hope doesn’t really benefit some global tech-crazy companies, doesn’t need banks, etc. – so it is not pursued or even widely discussed.

          • “RE–I agree that most of my negative comments can be answered by drastic population reduction—Rather like saying that hospitals would function perfectly if people would stop being ill.

            but to paraphrase one of my favourite poets: People do not go gentle into that good night–they fight against the dying of the light.”. -NP

            I’m working on an article to address these issues Norman. It will be a follow up article to my contribution to this debate tomorrow, “Nihilism, Misanthropy & Misery Metasticize”. FE gets a Cameo Appearance in this article! LOL. Probably comes out about 2 weeks after tomorrow’s screed.


            • Fast Eddy says:

              My moment of fame!

            • I will make you FAMOUS FE! lol.

              Somehow though overall, I do not expect this article or the followup to be too well received on OFW. Just a hunch. lol.

            • Yorchichan says:

              @Reverse Engineer

              Somehow though overall, I do not expect this article or the followup to be too well received on OFW.

              I’ve not noticed any negative reaction to your article on OFW. Seems you were wrong about the OFW commentariat.

      • Sorry, you are too late.

        The Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM) is the deity of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or Pastafarianism (a portmanteau of pasta and Rastafarian), a social movement that promotes a light-hearted view of religion and opposes the teaching of intelligent design and creationism in public schools. According to adherents, Pastafarianism is a “real, legitimate religion, as much as any other.”[3] Pastafarianism is legally recognized as a religion in the Netherlands[4] and New Zealand – where Pastafarian representatives have been authorized to celebrate weddings

        JOHN OLIVER IS not shy when it comes to taking on massive topics on Last Week Tonight. From food waste to FIFA he’s not afraid of a hot-button issue. Last night he took on one of the most sacred cows of all: televangelists. In a righteously angry 20-minute segment he blasted “churches that exploit people’s faith for monetary gain.” Then after giving televangelists the what for over their lavish lifestyles, he decided to take advantage of the same tax codes they use and founded his own church. Welcome to Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption. Services are held every Sunday at his studio in New York. Watch the first gathering of Oliver’s devoted—including Rachel Dratch!—above.

    • Stefeun says:

      Fascinating stuff.

      Reg. “trading metabolic diversity against ability to create structures”, I feel it has something to do with what I call “externalization”.
      According to this process, living beings would tend to “embed” less and less physical capabilities, which would be replaced by information, allowing to deal with a given situation by using elements from the environment (instead of from own body).
      The biggest advantage is that the individual is lighter, and can face (or adapt to) much more diverse situations (think human’s multi-purpose hand, for example).
      The biggest drawback is when required elements aren’t (or no longer) available in the environment.

      Kinetic barriers: it seems that Life is actually intimately linked to those pockets of energy potential, boundaries and their porosity, and the discontinuous flow of energy between them.

      As for provocations from Nick Lane, let me just quote the -excellent- first sentence from the Royal Society paper:
      “Life is the harnessing of chemical energy in such a way that the energy-harnessing device makes a copy of itself. No energy, no evolution.”

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