Nine Reasons Why Globalization Can’t Be Permanent

Since the late 1990s, globalization has seemed to be the great hope for the future. Now this great hope seems to be dimming. Globalization sets up conflict in the area of jobs. Countries around the world compete for development and jobs. If there is not enough cheap-to-produce energy to go around, huge wage disparity is likely to result.

We know from physics and history that economies need to grow, or they collapse. The wage disparity that high-wage countries have been experiencing in recent years is evidence that the world economy is already reaching energy limits. There are no longer enough jobs that pay well to go around. Any drop in energy supply is likely to worsen the job situation.

Most observers miss this problem, because they expect high oil prices to signal energy limits. This time, the signal is low wages for a significant group of workers, rather than high oil prices. This situation is possible in a networked economy, but it is not what most people look for.

Unhappy citizens can be expected to react to the wage disparity problem by electing leaders who favor limits to globalization. This can only play out in terms of reduced globalization.

History and physics suggest that economies without adequate energy supply can be expected to collapse. We have several recent examples of partial collapses, including the Great Depression of the 1930s and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Such collapses, or even more extensive collapses, might occur again if we cannot find energy alternatives that can be quickly scaled up to replace oil and coal in the very near term. These replacements need to be cheap-to-produce, non-polluting, and available in huge quantities.

The story that the economy doesn’t really need a growing supply of very cheap-to-produce energy is simply a myth. Let’s look at some of the pieces of this story.

[1] The world economy needs to grow or it collapses. Once all of the nations of the world are included in the world economy, one obvious source of growth (incorporating nations that are not yet industrialized into the world economy) disappears. 

The reason why the world economy needs to grow is because the economy is a self-organized system that operates under the laws of physics. In many ways it is like a two-wheeled bicycle. A bicycle needs to roll quickly enough, or it will fall over. An economy must grow quickly enough, or debt cannot be repaid with interest.

Also, government promises may be a problem with slow growth. Pensions for the elderly are typically paid out of tax revenue collected in that same year. It is easy for a mismatch to take place if the number of younger workers is shrinking or if their wages are lagging behind.

Figure 1. Author’s view of analogies of speeding upright bicycle to speeding economy.

I explain a little more about my bicycle analogy in Will the World Economy Continue to “Roll Along” in 2018?

Economies throughout the ages have collapsed. In some cases, entire civilizations have disappeared. In the past 100 years, partial collapses have included the Great Depression of the 1930s, the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Economic collapses are analogous to bicycles falling over.

[2] A growing supply of energy products is extraordinarily important for keeping the world economy operating.

We can see in Figure 1 that the energy of the person operating a bicycle is very important in allowing the operation of the bicycle to continue. In the world’s economy, the situation is similar, except that we are facing a problem of a world population that is continually growing. In a sense, the economic situation is more like a rapidly growing army of bicycles with riders. Each member of the economy needs goods and services such as food, homes, clothing, and transportation. The members of the economy can collapse individually (for example, growing suicide rate) or in much larger groups (collapsing government of a country).

Figure 2. World population according to the United Nations 2017 historical estimates and Medium forecast of population growth after 2017.

In an economy, we have a choice regarding how much energy to use. If more energy is used, workers can have many tools (such as trucks and computers) to leverage their productivity. If all goods are made with few energy inputs other than human labor, most workers find themselves working in subsistence agriculture. The total amount of goods and services produced in such an economy tends to be very small.

If supplemental energy is used, many more jobs that pay well can be added, and many more goods and services can be created. Workers will be rich enough that they can pay taxes to support representative government that supports many services. The whole economy will look more like that of a rich nation, rather than the economy of Somalia or Haiti.

Individual nations can grow their economies by using available energy supply to create jobs that pay well. Globalization sets up competition for available jobs.

If a given country has a lot of high paying jobs, this is likely to be reflected in high per capita energy consumption for that country. There are two reasons for this phenomenon: (1) it takes energy for an employer to create jobs, and (2) workers can use their wealth to buy goods and services. This wealth buys more goods and services made with energy products.

[3] One measure of how well the world economy is doing is world energy consumption per capita. On this basis, the world economy is already reaching limits.

Figure 3. World energy per capita and world oil price in 2016 US$. Energy amounts from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017. Population estimates from UN 2017 Population data and Medium Estimates.

It is clear from Figure 3 that energy consumption tends to move in the same direction as oil price. If “demand” (which is related to wages) is high, both oil price and the amount of energy products sold will tend to be high. If demand is low, both oil price and the amount of energy products sold will tend to be low.

Since 2014, energy consumption has remained quite high, but oil prices have fallen very low. Today’s oil prices (even at $70 per barrel) are too low for oil producers to make adequate investment in the development of new fields and make other needed expenditures. If this situation does not change, the only direction that production of oil can go is down, rather than up. Prices may temporarily spike, prior to the time production falls.

Looking at energy consumption per capita on Figure 3 (above), we notice that this amount has been fairly flat since 2011. Normally, in a growing world economy, a person would expect energy consumption per capita to rise, as it has most of the time since 1820 (Figure 4).

Figure 4. World Energy Consumption by Source, based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects (Appendix) together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent, divided by population estimates by Angus Maddison.

The fact that energy consumption per capita has been nearly flat since 2011 is worrying. It is a sign that the world economy may not be growing very rapidly, regardless of what government organizations are reporting to the World Bank. Some subsidized growth should not really be considered economic growth. For example, some Chinese cities have been buying off the country’s housing glut with borrowed money. A better accounting would likely show lower GDP growth for China and the world.

Looking more closely at Figure 3, we note that energy per capita hit a high point in 2013, just before world oil prices began sliding downward. Since then, world energy consumption per capita has been trending downward. This is part of the reason for gluts in supply. Producers had been planning as if normal growth in energy consumption would continue. In fact, something is seriously wrong with demand, so world energy consumption has not been rising as fast as in the past.

The point that is easy to miss is that (a) growing wage disparity plus oil gluts and (b) high oil prices are, in a sense, different ways of reflecting a similar problem, that of an inadequate supply of truly inexpensive-to-produce oil. High-cost-to-produce oil is not acceptable to the economy, because it doesn’t produce enough jobs that pay well, for each barrel produced. If oil prices today truly represented what oil producers (such as Saudi Arabia) need to maintain their production, including adequate tax revenue and funds to develop additional production, oil prices would be well over $100 per barrel.

We are dealing with a situation where no oil price works. Either prices are too high for a large number of consumers or they are too low for a large number of producers. When prices are low, relative to the cost of production, we tend to get wage disparity and gluts.

[4] The reason why energy demand is not growing is related to increased wage disparity. This is a problem for globalization, because globalization acts to increase wage disparity.

In the last section, I mentioned that demand is closely connected to wages. It is really wage disparity that becomes a problem. Goods and services become less affordable for the people most affected by wage disparity: the lower-paid workers. These people cut back on their purchases of goods such as homes and cars. Because there are so many lower-paid workers in the world, demand for energy products, such as oil and coal, fails to grow as rapidly as it otherwise would. This tends to depress prices for these commodities. It doesn’t necessarily reduce production immediately, however, because of the long-term nature of investments and because of the dependence of oil exporters on the revenue from oil.

Figure 5 shows that China and India’s energy consumption per capita has been rising, leaving less for everyone else.

Figure 5. Energy consumption per capita comparison, based on energy data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2017, and UN 2017 Population Estimates.

A major way that an economy (through the laws of physics) deals with “not enough goods and services to go around” is increased wage disparity. To some extent, this occurs because newly globalized countries can produce manufactured products more cheaply. Reasons for their advantage are varied, but include lower wages and less concern about pollution.

As a result, some jobs that previously would have been added in developed countries are replaced by jobs in newly globalized countries. It is probably not a coincidence that US labor force participation rates started falling about the time that China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

Figure 6. US Labor Force Participation Rate, as prepared by Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Lower wages for unskilled workers may also occur as the result of immigration, and the resulting greater competition for less skilled jobs. This has been a particular concern in the UK.

[5] Adding China, India, and other countries through globalization temporarily gives a boost to world energy production. This boost disappears as the energy resources of the newly added countries deplete.

Both China and India are primarily coal producers. They rapidly ramped up production since joining the World Trade Organization (in 1995 for India; in 2001 for China). Now China’s coal production is shrinking, falling 11% from 2013 to 2016. Both China and India are major importers of fossil fuels (difference between black line and their own production).

Figure 7. China’s total energy consumption compared to its energy production by type, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

Figure 8. India’s total energy consumption compared to its energy production by type, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

China and India’s big surge in coal production has had a major impact on world coal production. The fact that both countries have needed substantial imports has also added to the growth in coal production in the “Other” category in Figure 9.

Figure 9 also shows that with China’s coal production down since 2013, total world coal production is falling.

Figure 9. World coal production by part of the world, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

Figure 10 shows that world GDP and world energy supply tend to rise and fall together. In fact, energy growth tends to precede GDP growth, strongly suggesting that energy growth is a cause of GDP growth.

Figure 10. World three-year average GDP growth compared to world three-year average energy consumption growth. GDP data is from the World Bank, based on 2010 US$ weights of GDP by country; energy consumption is from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

If a growth in energy consumption is indeed a primary cause of world economic growth, the drop in world coal production shown in Figure 9 is worrying. Coal makes up a large share of world energy supply (28.1% according to Figure 12). If its supply shrinks, it seems likely to cause a decline in world GDP.

Figure 11 shows energy consumption growth on a basis comparable to the energy consumption growth shown on Figure 10, except for different groupings: for the world in total, the world excluding China, and for the combination of the US, EU, and Japan. We can see from Figure 11 that the addition of China and Japan has greatly propped up growth in world energy consumption since 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization.

Figure 11. Three-year average growth in energy consumption, for the world total; the world less China and India; and for the sum of the United States, the European Union, and Japan. Energy data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017.

The amount of the “benefit” was greatest in the 2003-2007 period. If we look at Exhibit 10, we see that world economic growth was around 4% per year during that period. This was a recent record high. Now the benefit is rapidly disappearing, reducing the possibility that the world energy consumption can grow as rapidly as in the past.

If we want world energy consumption per capita to rise again, we need a new large rapidly growing source of cheap energy to replace the benefit we received from China and India’s rapidly growing coal extraction. We don’t have any candidates for a suitable replacement. Intermittent renewables (wind and solar) are not candidates at all. According to the IEA, they comprised only 1% of world energy supply in 2015, despite huge investment. They are part of the gray “Other” slice in Figure 11.

Figure 12. Figure prepared by IEA showing Total Primary Energy Supply by type from this IEA document

Academic studies regarding wind and solar have tended to focus on what they “might” do, without considering the cost of grid integration. They have also overlooked the fact that any energy solution, to be a true energy solution, needs to be a huge energy solution. It has been more pleasant to give people the impression that they can somehow operate a huge number of electric cars on a small amount of subsidized intermittent electricity.

[6] On a world basis, energy consumption per capita seems to need to be rising to maintain a healthy economy. 

When energy consumption is growing on a per capita basis, the situation is similar to one in which the average worker has more and more “tools” (such as trucks) available at his/her disposal, and sufficient fuel to operate these tools. It is easy to imagine how such a pattern of growing energy consumption per capita might lead to greater productivity and therefore economic growth.

If we look at historical periods when energy consumption has been approximately flat, we see a world economy with major problems.

Figure 13. World per Capita Energy Consumption with two circles relating to flat consumption. World Energy Consumption by Source, based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects (Appendix) together with BP Statistical Data for 1965 and subsequent, divided by population estimates by Angus Maddison.

The flat period of 1920-1940 seems to have been caused by limits reached on coal production, particularly in the United Kingdom, but also elsewhere. World War I , the Great Depression of the 1930s, and World War II all took place around this time period. Charles Hall and Kent Klitgaard in Energy and the Wealth of Nations argue that resource shortages are frequently the underlying cause for wars, including World Wars I and II.

The Great Depression seems to have been a partial economic collapse, indirectly related to great wage disparity at that time. Farmers, in particular, had a difficult time earning adequate wages.

The major event that took place in the 1990 to 2000 period was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The central government collapsed, leaving the individual republics to operate independently. The Soviet Union also had strong trade relationships with a number of “satellite” countries, including Cuba, North Korea, and several Eastern European countries. In the next section, we will see that this collapse had a serious long-term impact on both the republics making up the Soviet Union and the satellite countries operating more independently.

[7] The example of the Soviet Union shows that collapses can and do happen in the real world. The effects can be long lasting, and can affect trade partners as well as republics making up the original organization.

In Figure 14, the flat period of the 1980-2000 period seems to be related to intentional efforts of the United States, Europe, and other developed countries to conserve oil, after the oil price spikes of the 1970s. For example, smaller, more fuel conserving vehicles were produced, and oil-based electricity generation was converted to other types of generation. Unfortunately, there was still a “backfire” effect related to the intentional cutback in oil consumption. Oil prices fell very low, for an extended period.

The Soviet Union was an oil exporter. The government of the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, indirectly because with these low oil prices, the government could not support adequate new investment in oil and gas extraction. Businesses closed; people lost their jobs. None of the countries shown on the Figures 14 and 15 have as high energy consumption per capita in 2016 as they did back when the Soviet Union collapsed.

Figure 14. Per capita energy consumption for the Soviet Union and three of its satellite countries. Energy data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017. Population data from UN 2017 Population data and Middle Estimates.

The three satellite countries shown on Figure 14 (Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland) seem to be almost as much affected as the republics that had been part of the Soviet Union (Figure 15). This suggests that loss of established trading patterns was very important in this collapse.

Figure 15. Per capita energy consumption for the three largest (by population) republics that made up the Soviet Union. Energy data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017. Population data from UN 2017 Population data and Middle Estimates.

Russia’s per capita energy consumption dropped 29% between peak and trough. It had significant fossil fuel resources, so when prices rose again, it was again able to invest in new oil fields.

Ukraine was a major industrial center. It was significantly impacted by the loss of oil and gas imports. It has never recovered.

The country that seemed to fare best was Uzbekistan. It had little industry before the collapse, so was less dependent on energy imports than most. Of all of the countries shown on Figures 14 and 15, Uzbekistan is the only one that did not lose population.

[8] Today, there seem to be many countries that are not far from collapse. Some of these countries are energy exporters; some are energy importers.

Many of us have read about the problems that Venezuela has been having recently. Ironically, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. Its problem is that at today’s prices, it cannot afford to develop those reserves. The Wikipedia article linked above is labeled 2014-2018 Venezuelan protests. Oil prices dropped to a level much lower than they had been in 2014. It should not be surprising that civil unrest and protests came at the same time.

Figure 16. Monthly average spot Brent oil prices, through December 2017, based on EIA data.

Other oil producers are struggling as well. Saudi Arabia has recently changed leaders, and it is in the process of trying to sell part of its oil company, Saudi Aramco, to investors. The new leader, Mohamed bin Salman, has been trying to get money from wealthy individuals within the country, using an approach that looks to outsiders like a shake-down. These things seem like very strange behaviors, suggesting that the country is experiencing serious financial difficulties. This is not surprising, given the low price of oil since 2014.

On the oil-importer side, Greece seems to frequently need support from the EU. The lower oil prices since 2014 have somewhat helped the country, but the basic shape of the energy consumption per capita chart makes it look like it is struggling to avoid collapse.

Figure 17. Greece energy per capita. Energy data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2017; population estimates from UN 2017 Population data and Medium projections.

There are many other countries struggling with falling energy consumption per capita. Figure 18 shows a chart with four such countries.

Figure 18. Energy consumption per capita for Japan, UK, Italy, and Spain. Energy consumption from BP Statistical Review of World Energy; population from UN 2017 Population data and Medium Estimates.

In a sense, even though oil prices have been lower since 2014, prices haven’t been low enough to fix the economic problems these countries have been having.

China is in a different kind of situation that could also lead to its collapse. It built its economy on coal production and rapidly growing debt. Now its coal production is down, and it is difficult for imports and substitution of other fuels to completely compensate. If slowing growth in fuel consumption slows economic growth, debt will become much harder to repay. Major debt defaults could theoretically lead to collapse. If China were to collapse, it would seriously affect the rest of the world because of its extensive trading relationships.

[9] Leaders of countries with increasing wage disparity and unhappy electorates can be expected to make decisions that will move away from globalization. 

Unhappy workers are likely to elect at least some leaders who recognize that globalization is at least a small part of their problems. This is what has happened in the US, with the election of President Trump.

The hope, of course, is that even though the rest of the world is becoming poorer and poorer (essentially because of inadequate growth of cheap-to-produce energy supplies), somehow a particular economy can “wall itself off” from this problem. President Donald Trump is trying to remake trading arrangements, based on this view. The UK Brexit vote was in a sense similar. These are the kinds of actions that can be expected to scale back globalization.


Having enough cheap energy for the world’s population has been a problem for a very long time. When there is enough cheap-to-produce energy to go around, the obvious choice is to co-operate. Thus the trend toward globalization makes sense. When there is not enough cheap-to-produce energy to go around, the obvious choice is to try reduce the effects of globalization and immigration. This is the major reason why globalization can’t last.

We now have problems with both coal and oil. With the decline in China’s coal supplies, we are reaching the point where there are no longer enough cheap energy supplies to go around. At first glance, it looks like there is enough, or perhaps even a superabundance. The problem is that no price works. Producers around the world need higher oil prices, to be compensated for their total cost, including the cost of extraction, developing new fields, and the tax levels governments of exporting countries need. Consumers around the world are already having trouble trying to afford $70 per barrel oil. This is what leads to gluts.

We have been told that adding wind and solar to the electric grid can solve our problems, but this solution is simply absurd. If the world is to go forward as before, it somehow needs a new very large, very cheap supply of energy, to offset our problems with both coal and oil. This new energy supply should not be polluting, either.

At this point, it is hard to see any solution to the energy problems that we are facing. The best we can try to do is “kick the can” down the road a little farther. Perhaps “globalization light” is the way to go.

We live in interesting times!

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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2,343 Responses to Nine Reasons Why Globalization Can’t Be Permanent

  1. Jason says:

    The article states that the farm supplies food to dozens of families, not 50. The owner speculates he could support 50, but nowhere is it stated 50 families are being sustained by a one acre farm.
    Gail has probably done a calculation determining how many calories a typical 4 member family needs to consume each year to survive. I doubt one acre could sustain 2 families. All these green articles are propaganda and just keep people feeling good about the future.

  2. jerry says:

    Get this?

    Oil World Turns Upside Down as U.S. Sells Oil in Middle East

    The United Arab Emirates, a model Persian Gulf petro-state where endless billions from crude exports feed a giant sovereign wealth fund, isn’t the most obvious customer for Texan oil.

    Yet, in a trade that illustrates how the rise of the American shale industry is upending energy markets across the globe, the U.A.E. bought oil directly from the U.S. in December, according to data from the federal government. A tanker sailed from Houston and arrived in the Persian Gulf last month.

  3. Fast Eddy says:

    The pollution is pouring into Hong Kong as China Burns More Coal….

    Now here’s the thing…. you’ve got Green Groopies screaming at the HK govt because they killed subsidies on EVs…. (the govt indicates that they did this because EVs are more polluting than ICE vehicles because they are…. yep you got it — POWERED BY COAL)

    Then you’ve got Green Groopies screaming at the HK govt because they are choking on smog from the coal fired plants across the border.

    You’ve got yourself a classic Catch 22 here…. a Perfect Storm of f789ing id io ts bleating outside the gates like stu pid sheep….

    Fortunately …. the govt is not elected… therefore they do not have to pander to the f789ing idi ots…. because if they did then the smog rolling into HK … would only be worse….

    • Fast Eddy says:

      The right side of that photo looks smog free…. the solution here is obviously to locate an apartment for rent in that area… and move there…..

      I have also been told that the smog only settles at levels above 6ft off the ground…. so anyone taller than that…. should just hunch over all the time…..

      Problem solved.

  4. Ed says:

    Fusion energy solved by MIT, two cents per kilowatt hour.

    • Fast Eddy says:

      I am suddenly 7 fee 4 inches tall and have been signed to play centre for the LA Lakers at a salary of 28 million dollars per year.

      • Ed says:

        It also solves gerbil warring.

        • Ed says:

          that should read gerbil limeaid change

          • djerek says:

            So it’s going to somehow stop the sun’s radiation output from varying? Amazing.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              This is very powerful technology indeed… imagine that …. we can now control the sun!!!

              Leo must have known about this — because Al told him…

              It went down like this:

              Hey Al – I see you bought that ocean level pimp pad for 9 big ones… what’s the story there bud… you told me that the oceans were going to rise 7 metres by 2020 and change…

              Oh sorry Leo — I was gonna have my people ring your people and give you a heads up on that…. what’s happened is MIT is going to perfect this fusion thing… and it will allow them to control the sun …. so that when the sun’s activity causes XXX XXXXing…. they just turn a dial and the planet auto-cools….

              I am front-running that buying up as much ocean level property as I can afford….

              Ah I see Al… I appreciate your giving me this inside info.

              Hey I was down in Belize last month and I saw this really cool island for sale — it was pretty cheap at just a few mill…. because it is only inches above sea level….

              Leo – you need to get on that….before word gets out that MIT has solved XXX XXXing…. the price will go through the roof if you wait

              That’s exactly what I am thinking Al…. I’ll get my people on this immediately.

              Good for you Leo — hey listen …. I need to get on the private jet to head to Rio for a XXX XXXing conference.. let’s touch base in a few weeks …. I want you to march with me in a kkllimate thing in New York…. yes yes… exactly … the longer we keep the ho ax going the more ocean front properties we can buy on the cheap….

              Ok cya buddy!

          • Fast Eddy says:

            Wouldn’t it be easier just to call it what it is? Forget about KKKLllmate CCCChange… and XX XXXX … and goobal gabble….

            Just use the word ho ax. 4 simple letters… easy to say … easy to type

            • futhark says:

              Gerbil Warring is real. It bleached the coral reefs and Michael Jackson. Poor Jacko wrote “Earth Song” in an attempt to appease it, but when Gerbil Warring found out it was really just a limey(!) tune, stolen from the Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin”, Gerbil Warring killed the hapless artist.

      • Ed says:

        and they want to site the test prototype in the middle of a major urban area Boston.

    • djerek says:

      2 cents per KWh after how much cost to R&D the thing and build one? $1T?

    • doomphd says:

      Ed, this magentic confinement fusion video is from 2016. you should ask for an update, like where are they now after spending X mo-ron billions on silly confinement fusion?

    • jupiviv says:

      “Fusion energy solved by MIT”

      Not unless they’ve tested it successfully, so no. Besides, as someone in the comments points out, the benefits are pretty much the same as LFTRs except with far more investment and potential problems. If thorium couldn’t give us Nirvana, this isn’t likely to.

      • HideAway says:

        Fusion solves nothing!!

        Just because it ‘might’ be possible to replace Fossil Fuels with a different type of energy (fusion), totally ignores Liebig’s law of the minimum. There will be other resource constraints that become just as big a problem.

        The theory of ‘fusion saving us’ from a lack of energy, (and Gerbil Waning) relies upon all existing internal combustion engines and heating needs, turning to electrical provision, or perhaps hydrogen based propellant.

        Copper comes out as a major need in a total electrical society, yet we are currently mining it at an average grade of 0.6%, way down from the average grade of over 1% just 20 years ago. Reserves are likewise falling.

        Most of the major copper mines are not conveniently located next to a major city/power grid, they tend to be in isolated locations, so liquid fuel is needed to mine them.

        Realistically, even if enough copper could be mined, then something else will become the limiting factor to the endless growth needed to keep IC going. Fusion would just add another layer of complexity. What we really need is another planet or 2’s worth of resources to keep going for another century or so, but then it would become 5 or 10. All that happens is the inevitable collapse is delayed.
        Shame we don’t have an extra planet’s resources close at hand.

        • Energy^2 says:

          One wishes Fusion reactors and few other new Fission Nuclear technologies in the pipeline are built with Solar and Wind energy, not fossil fuels.

          Then, if the total energy put into constructing Fusion exceeds the energy it ever produces, no harm done!

          A win-win approach, say. 🙂 🙂 🙂

          • wish science

            wish economics

            wish politics

            a quick rub of the old lamp and the global economy can run forever

          • “No device can generate energy in excess of the total energy put into constructing it”.

            that should read—constructing AND its lifetime usage

            then it might make sense

            thus—you can build a steam engine, investing xxxxx calories of energy in materials and construction, but if you run it for 100 years, the calories in the coal used represent infinetly more energy input—but the device cannot exceed the calorific input contained in the coal itself.

            • Energy^2 says:

              It won’t run for 100 years continuously, but it will fail and disintegrate well before that point while trying to match the energy put into constructing it.

              That’s why you find junkyards full of all sorts of energy-generating devices with their masses and parts-count 99% as anew, yet they turned useless, owing to few thous of metal and rubber intolerance here and there caused by Entropy internal to their internal matter.

              All the useful energy a brand new car produces, diesel or petrol-powered, up to the first ever engine’s oil change is less than the total energy expended in making the new lubricant, packaged and available, starting the energy-audit from the point when solar has been captured to make the base fossil fuels in the distant past.

              Watch youtube for the massive energy put recently in repairing the spillway of Oroville Dam in California. Thousands of years has taken nature to formulate all the FF we burned making the machinery and fueling them for that exercise. The dam will never have the endurance to match all that energy, yet alone the rest of energy expended in making it and other repairs since few decades ago.

              Nuclear plants go offline for months every two years or less for repairs and refueling. The energy expended in each repair cycle far exceeds all the useful energy generated since last repair – and so on.

              Is this applicable to information, social, financial and control systems, like what’s called software, robotics and AI?

              Is it applicable to civilisation?

              If so, even if we stop making any new energy devices today, the FF remained in the ground won’t be enough to repair engines we built in the past – for a very long time!

              Joseph Tainter refers to this calling it Complexity and Energy. The new thesis puts it in the context of Entropy.

              What colonising Mars? What Star Trek?

              It appears we on Earth are not in energy paradise but energy prison 🙂

            • I am sorry. What you are saying does not make sense to me.

              There are occasional glimmers of understanding, but other parts make no sense at all.

            • i couldn’t make any sense of it either

            • i used the steam engine as a reference because there have been plenty of steam engines that are documented as running for over 100 years–no doubt with repairs, but with broadly the original mechanism

              other than that, my appraisal holds good i think, in general terms

            • Energy^2 says:

              Gail and Norman Pagett – Glad to hearing that. Yes, it is very traumatic and lengthy process decoupling from abundance.

              Norman Pagett – A steam engine would not even run for a couple of hours without added lubrication and that is extra Energy, yet alone running continuously for 100 year unattended without repairs and overhauls, and that is total Energy far exceeding all the useful Energy produced by it since last repair!

            • in trying to write concise and readable comments, one assumes a basic level of common sense, rather than writing a 10 page treatise on the function and maintenance of the steam engine

              i did actually say—with repairs etc

            • Energy^2 says:

              Norman Pagett – Yes, repairs mean going back to square one – Extra Energy.

              Think of that extra energy, coming in the form of a fresh 4 liter lubricant jar replacing an engine’s old oil after travelling 10000 km in your family car – as being something that has come a result of a process occurred millions of years ago capturing solar energy into a stuff. Then massive forces turned trillions tonnes of that stuff to fossil fuels. Then we spent energy finding and extracting the FF, also understanding how refining it, building refineries and refine it. Then bottling and transporting it to your workshop. building a workshop site where it will be changed. Lighting the site. Ensuring a worker is trained enough to execute the change. Manufacture pumps that lift the car. Bringing tools, communicating and documenting, testing…, and so on…

              Since last repair, the car has not produced enough useful energy travelling, which can match that total trail of expended energy involved in making the new engine-oil, and changing it. Period.

              At 100000 km, not only the engine-oil will be changed but spark plugs and nozzles, filters and few other things, and that makes the ratio even worse…

              How much less? Back to the original photosynthesis process millions of years ago, all the solar energy physically captured was < 2% in total. That means 50 times less, so far.

              Add the immense planetary forces in heat and pressure which have broken organics matter to FF, and that would make it 10000 times, so far, conservative!

              Add the energy expended in FF extraction, the extraction machinery, refineries, transportation, servicing, sustaining all people involved in the process end-to-end – and you will end up with a variance of many orders of magnitude (>100000, optimistic)

              EVs are no better. They also use lubricants, ball bearings, suspensions, rubbers – and above all their batteries and electrical components like capacitors, etc.

              Silicon for solar cells remain in high temperature ovens for days until melted and this is only one small step in the process. Each solar panel travels miles in production lines until assembled. Soldering is very energy intensive, etc.

              No need to mention wind turbines as their height and mass are enough to tell the story.

              Changing oil for a family car is nothing compared to how turbines and alternators wear and tear in power plants, whether hydro dams, Nuclear, gas, steam, jet engines, ship engines, army tanks, generators and ships, combined harvesters, etc…

              In short, “No device can generate energy in excess of the total energy put into constructing it“.

              The thesis is now being software-simulated against Facebook, Twitter and few others aiming to identify: If these systems are considered energy-generating devices for social control, will they ever generate total positive outcome that matches and justifies the total energy put into running them?!

              The Romans have built their vast road networks employing just 20000 workers a day over 600 years (Smil 2017). That achieved with no fossil fuels.

              How primitives humans are burning all FF reserves in the world in just 300 years with globalised life style and endless wars, ending up with technologies, culture and practices requiring > 100000 times more energy to maintain compared to the useful energies they will ever produce before they fail and die?

              This is now the new addition to Joseph Tainter 1980s’ Collapse and Energy thesis. 🙂

        • doomphd says:

          with enough energy, you can mine granite for its accessory copper, and phosphate.

          • Energy^2 says:

            doomphd – Theoretically, if Energy is not an issue, Lead can be turned into Gold, seriously (actually, Isaac Newton was also an Alchemist).

            I would imagine that Fusion reactors will start with generating infinite grid energy then also open their business for Alchemy, too.

            Who said metaphysics was wrong upon the start of the age of enlightenment?

            Now we are back (600 years?) to it and its concepts, full steam ahead!
            🙂 🙂 🙂

            This is how FFs are magical, indeed!

            • futhark says:

              Not entirely magical. Uranium decays into lead. Apply fire to tough raw flesh, and it turns into tender edible meat, with all the deadly bacteria killed – another form of alchemy. As has been pointed out, cooking was crucial to the development of the modern human, and humans are the only animals that cook.

            • Energy^2 says:

              futhark – Re-read your statement: ‘Apply fire’, ‘cooking’, ‘cook’ – and that’s all Energy. Since 18th century and earlier, we mainly used FF for it.

              Why Gold doesn’t decay into Platinum, why Mercury doesn’t upgrade to Gold?

              Physics, Nature Laws & Energy?

              Even with energy consumed, mine and enrich enough Uranium to run a newly built N. power plant and you’ll find that all the useful energy the plant produces will NOT exceed all the thousands-of-years-worth of astronomical solar and planetary energies responsible, since the distant past, for creating the FF that has been expended in gaining knowledge, designing, mining, building and operating the Nuclear device – Alchemy doesn’t help!

              One can try this himself: “Take shoes off and Turn off lights – no fossil fuels and nothing is from the fossil fuels age around you and your wife, not even a piece of road, a shelter or a spanner; Next:

              – Walk and start growing a forest
              – Wait until the forest grown dense
              – Sustain yourself & company, farming
              – Charcoal woods
              – Manage to use the charcoal to reach metal minerals ores
              – Build tools and then machinery
              – Continue until you build an energy-generating device of useful work (say a gas turbine generator)

              After the century or two you’ll take to achieve that, run the turbine, avoiding any repairs, to generate energy equal to the total energy expended in making it so far, including what sustained the multi-generation grandsons and daughters that have taken over as you became older and older.

              The Fifth Law predicts that the turbine will fatally fail beyond repair well before reaching that goal.

              Run the experiment, switching from gas turbine to any other type of energy generating devices, and you’ll always find the energy generated from the device cannot exceed the energy put into constructing it.

              Note: Knowledge is provided a bonus, left for you in the equation to allow the experiment to go on, otherwise knowledge makes the most energy necessary making an energy-generating device, as it involves skill sets built over time.

              Alchemy doesn’t work, and we are back once more to where we needed a new age of enlightenment! 🙂 🙂 🙂

            • djerek says:

              “we are back once more to where we needed a new age of enlightenment!”

              As Martin Heidegger said, “only a god can save us now”.

          • HideAway says:

            doomphd, “with enough energy”.


            You need the energy in the right form and in the right place. A sudden breakthrough of fusion for example, will NOT suddenly produce a whole lot more copper from traditional sources.
            Everyone would think it is the solution, when it clearly will not be!! The hope of fusion is to turn all current FF use into electrical, but you need to have the copper available NOW for that to happen. The rate of economic copper depletion is a major concern for any type of cornucopian future, it simply is not there in an economically viable resource. The current giant phorphyrys and IOCGs that provide much of the current copper mine supply, are mostly in remote areas that rely on oil for their extraction and processing, then transport of the concentrate.

            It becomes another catch 22, you need the copper to make a ‘fusion electric powered’ world work, but we don’t have the fusion yet.
            A breakthrough in fusion now, would take another 10-20 years before more than 1 or 2 were commercially up and running. They would rely on all sorts of materials from around the world to work properly. They would become ever more expensive to build as the resources to build them are in decreasing grades everywhere, while the energy needed to extract them (FFs) become more expensive because of depletion.
            We need the fusion/solar/wind electrical energy to be cheap and unlimited, yet need the copper,cobalt,nickel,lithium etc,etc to make it possible, but we need the fusion/solar/wind energy to get the low grades of copper,cobalt,nickel,lithium.

            Maybe if we had fusion working 50 years ago, or nuclear breeder reactors working properly 50 years ago, the other materials would have made future growth possible, but they were not working 50 years ago, nor are they today.
            It doesn’t matter now about a breakthrough of fusion or not, something else will be prove to be a constraint in a world of 7.6b people and growing, while all resources are depleting.

            Hence Liebig’s law of the minimum comes into play no matter what the breakthrough.

        • alternative energy systems produce electricity
          electrical energy cannot function without—–


          and insulation comes from?—ta daaaaaaaa—oil.

          and electricity is itself useless without machinery to put it to work

          • Greg Machala says:

            I agree Norm. All this banter about solar and wind building nuclear power plants is silly. Solar and wind cannot build anything without fossil fuels. And without fossil fuels there is no machinery for solar and wind to power.

          • Christiana says:

            Insulation can come from wood. Old cabins always were made from wood.

          • theblondbeast says:

            Come on – we’ll just go back to using asbestos cloth to wrap our wiring! We don’t need oil to mine asbestos – that’s what the slaves are for! (/sarc)

            • JesseJames says:

              When I was in college I worked a summer job in a petrochemical industrial supply. One product we made for chemical plants back then was covering chemical hose With asbestos braided cloth for insulation. We would pull the cable through the asbestos tubing, the tie it. One day I had to reorganize our storage room for all the spools of asbestos. One of my most clear memories is being in and working in that room with asbestos floating in the air like a thick blanket! Of course I had no filter over my nose or anything.
              Fast forward….I have never suffered any ill health from it and am still healthy!

            • Good that this was only one day on a summer job.

        • Fast Eddy says:

          Instead of trying to evade the censors using terms such as … Gerbil Waning

          Let’s just agree to use the phrase: The Great Hoax

      • JesseJames says:

        Is anyone familiar with SolarReserve?
        They have a commercial solar powered molten salt plant operating in Nevada,. They have contracts/licenses to install new plants worldwide, particularly in Australia and South Africa.
        Their technology can store power for generation during off hrs. The Crescent Dunes plant in Nevada is 110 MW and can store up to 10hrs of power for off hours delivery.
        This technology would seem to bypass the problem with chemical batteries.
        I would like to understand how much the electricity costs to generate and what they sell it for. The plant consumes an extremely large area…possibly up to a mile in diameter.
        It has a 30yr lifetime. In principle, it could theoretically keep a small town in power 24/7.

        • I looked up Crescent Dunes plant in Nevada. This July 2017 article said that it came back online, after being offline for 8 months, because of a leak in a container of molten salt. The article also says,

          The project sells power to NV Energy under a 25-year power purchase agreement for $0.135/kWh, about twice the cost of power from a gas-fired plant.

          The article also says

          Last year, SolarReserve also floated plans to build a $5 billion, 2,000 MW project in Nevada, but it’s unclear whether or not the project has moved forward. An analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance told Bloomberg that absent significant federal and state subsidies beyond the investment tax credit, “there is virtually no way this project will be able to deliver electricity at a price that’s competitive today, much less five years from now.”

          I looked up the Port Augusta solar thermal plant. It has not yet been built. It will be a 150 MW (135 MW net) CSP plant, with eight hours of storage. It won the auction with a bid of the equivalent of 6.1 US cents per kWh. (Very good!)

          The Copiapo Chili project with thermal storage was bid at 6.3 cents per kWh in early 2017.

          If Solar Reserve can actually offer the product with storage at a 6 cents per kWh price (without lots of downtime for fixes), then they have a winning combination, I expect. Solar Reserve is a Limited Liability Corporation, so it doesn’t have 10-K reports and stock prices to look at.

          These are relatively small plants. When they talk about electricity for, say, 75,000 homes, you probably have to divide that amount by three (25,000) if you want electricity for homes, businesses, and associated government faclities. The solar back up is for 8 or 10 hours (depending on the facility). So I am not sure it will hold for 24 hours, even on sunny days. If there are a string of cloudy days, or in the winter when the sun shines less, I expect it will deliver less electricity. And of course there are problems like the leak in a molten salt container in Nevada, that kept the plant unavailable for 8 months. So I wouldn’t want to count on the facility 24/7. But it might be part of a portfolio, if the costs can really be kept to the 6 cents per kWh bid level.

          • Someone mentioned to me that contracts for electric power are very thick documents. This person thought that the headline price per kWh may actually be the low end of a price range, or have some provisions we are not aware of. It would be helpful to know if there are missing details that we are not aware of.

            • JesseJames says:

              Good inputs Gail. I also question the 75000 homes story. Also, like you say, unplanned downtime would crater any industries that depend on them. But, if they can be cost effective, and we do not yet know that they are, multiple plants could be built for redundancy. This tech could be one cog in a distributed system. I still don’t think that anything out there can compete with FF generation.

  5. Third World person says:

    does anybody why usa army has invaded Niger

    does Niger has some oil

  6. Third World person says:

    btw why war in Ukraine is happening any reason

    and who is winning this war Russia separatist backed by Russia
    or Nazi Ukraine backed by usa

    • psile says:

      Galician nationalism, which came to power with the junta in 2014, is virulently anti-Russian. Actually it’s anti-minorities in general. These rubes were the perfect club with which the U.S. attempted to clobber Russian influence out of south-east Ukraine, which is pro-Russian. But the Nazis and their American backers overplayed their hand and lost Crimea and probably the Donbass too.

      At the moment the conflict is largely frozen, although the Nazis shell the breakaway region everyday and carry out terrorist operations as well. Even though the junta signed an agreement (Minsk Accords) to work towards a peaceful solution of the conflict, being Nazis, they have no intention of abiding by this.

      When the next phase of the real shooting war commences my money is on the separatists, with a little help from Russia. As they’re better trained and motivated than the Galician hillbillies being sent there to try and kill them.

    • xabier says:

      Long-term plan to break up the Russian Federation and destroy Russia as a regional/global power. And, of course, grab control of her resources.

      • psile says:

        This is about as likely as week with two Tuesday’s. It was tried back in the 90’s when Russia was on its knees, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The country was being hocked, spliced and diced, and islamic terrorists funded by the CIA were running amok in the Caucasus. That’s when Putin showed up to put the broom through. In times of crisis someone like him always appears to get the country back on track and Russia is now 10 times tougher than it was back then.

        • djerek says:

          Russia also has orders of magnitudes more men willing to fight and die for it than America has at this juncture.

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