How the Economy Works as It Reaches Energy Limits — An Introduction for Actuaries and Others

Why have long-term interest rates generally fallen since 1981? Why have asset prices risen? Can these trends be expected to continue? The standard evaluation approach by actuaries and economists seems to be to look at past patterns and assume that they will be repeated.

The catch is that energy consumption growth plays a hugely important role in GDP growth. It also plays an important role in interest rates that businesses and governments can afford to pay. Energy consumption growth has been slowing; it is hard to see how growth in energy consumption can ramp back up materially in the future.

Slowing growth in energy consumption puts the world on track for a future like the 1930s, or even worse. It is hard to see how GDP growth, interest rates, and inflation rates can ramp up in the future. More likely, asset price bubbles will pop, leading to significant financial distress. Derivatives may be affected by rapid changes in prices and currency relativities, as asset bubbles pop.

The article that follows is a partial write-up of a long talk I gave to a group of life and annuity actuaries. (I am a casualty actuary myself, which is a slightly different specialty.) A PDF of my presentation can be found at this link: Reaching Limits of a Finite World

 

Slide 1

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Slide 4

After the audience had a chance to answer this question (mostly with yes), I gave my answer: “Yes, indeed, it is possible to build a model that gives misleading results, and not understand the situation.” For example, a flat map works as a perfectly adequate model in some situations. But when longer distances are involved, a globe is needed. A two-dimensional model works for some purposes, but not for others.

Slide 5

The model in Slide 5 is the familiar Supply and Demand model used by economists. According to the model, if Demand increases from D1 to D2, then price will increase from P1 to P2. The rising price, in turn, will allow the quantity produced to rise from Q1 to Q2, based on the upward sloping supply curve S. This model is true in some cases, but it is not always true.

Supply and Demand Are Both Affected by Reaching Limits

As the economy approaches energy limits, lack of sufficient growth in energy consumption affects both Supply and Demand. Diminishing returns leads to high costs on the Supply side. Because of this, the cost of producing oil and other energy products tends to rise.

At the same time, businesses find that they cannot pass on these higher costs to their consumers because the wages of consumers don’t rise with rising energy costs. Diminishing returns acts like growing inefficiency; it takes more materials, more labor, more tax dollars, and more debt to produce the world’s overall mix of energy products, leaving a smaller amount of resources for producing end products (such as homes, cars, and bicycles) that consumers really want.

Persistent high energy costs lead businesses to try to find workarounds to reduce total costs. A major target for cost reduction is labor costs. If some labor costs can be replaced by lower-paid labor from overseas, or by robots, the company can perhaps make a reasonable profit, even with higher prices for oil and other energy products. The catch is new lower-cost labor force does not create as much Demand for goods and services as was available before jobs were replaced by robots or sent overseas. Workers in China and India will buy some goods and services, but the quantity will likely be lower than if the jobs remained in the US, Europe, and Japan.

We end up with a tug-of-war between the high prices that the producers of energy products need and the low prices that the many low-wage workers around the world can afford. Energy products are used in making pretty much everything, including food, homes, cars, and computers. As young people need to live with their parents longer, and as demand moves to lower-waged countries overseas, the lack of buying power tends to pull energy prices down below the cost of production. Energy prices below the cost of production are just as much a product of reaching energy limits as high energy prices!

Peak Oil is Another Two-Dimensional Model

Before we go on, I should probably offer some more explanation. Some of you may have thought that I would be talking about the Peak Oil story today. I consider the Peak Oil story to be another two-dimensional model. It gives some insights, but it really does not give a good explanation of what can be expected as we go ahead. Its emphases on oil and on high prices are both wrong, in my opinion.

Geologists coming up with the Peak Oil model relied on the incorrect Supply and Demand model of economists. They did not understand that both Demand and Supply are affected, as energy limits approach. They also never considered what the energy needs of the economy really are–total energy consumption needs to grow, if enough goods and services are to be produced for the growing world population. Rising energy consumption is also needed to keep commodity prices high enough to keep production from collapsing from low prices, due to inadequate Demand.

The Role of Added Energy

Many of you have heard the saying, “As you sow [seeds], so shall you reap.” In other words, the effort you put in can be expected to correspond to the end product that is produced. This saying is somewhat true if an economy uses only human labor to produce goods and services. For example, if a person digs a ditch for five hours, the result will correspond to effort put in. Increasing the hours of digging to six can perhaps add 20% to the length of ditch that can be dug. (There is the detail that it even takes energy products to make a shovel. Perhaps the example should be digging a ditch with a stick, and thus using only human labor!)

If a person really wants to dig a ditch quickly, he needs ditch-digging equipment and diesel fuel to operate the equipment. The ditch-digging equipment is made with energy products; it also uses energy products while it is operated. If energy consumption per capita is rising, then businesses, on average, can use increasing amounts of energy to increasingly leverage the labor of the workers they hire. This seems to be what leads to productivity growth.

This is why I talk so much about energy consumption per capita, and the importance of falling prices of energy services (including efficiency gains) to encourage the growth in energy consumption. One example of energy services (whose costs need to fall) would be the cost of heating a 1,000 square meter home (including efficiency gains in furnaces and insulation). Another example would be the cost of transporting 100 kilograms of grain 100 kilometers.

Slide 6

In fact, over time, the cost of energy services has been falling. The fall in costs more than offset the growing quantity of energy consumed. Thus, the cost of energy services is becoming a smaller and smaller share of world GDP. This falling share of energy products as a percentage of the world GDP seems to be necessary, if the remainder of the world economy is to grow. If the cost of energy products starts to rise, it will tend to crowd out some of the discretionary goods and services that the world economy has been able to add, as the world economy has grown.

Higher Energy Prices Are Damaging to the Economy; Lower Energy Prices Encourage GDP Growth

Energy needs to be consumed by the system, whether workers dig ditches with shovels or with ditch-digging equipment. If energy is very expensive, it is likely that all that employers can afford is the equivalent of shovels for workers to work with. If energy becomes less expensive to use (including efficiency gains), then it becomes possible to scale up the use of tools using energy, and the economy can expand. As a result, workers can become more efficient, businesses can make more profits, and the government can collect more taxes. The falling price of energy services seem to be the major force underlying GDP growth.

Conversely, if oil consumption growth is constricted by a spike in oil prices, we know (based on the work of Economist James Hamilton) that the US economy tends to go into recession. Higher prices make it difficult for both businesses and consumers to buy energy products. Falling energy consumption is damaging to the economy, because the creation of goods and services depends on the use of energy products.

High Correlation Between World GDP and Energy Consumption

Slide 7

Energy consumption is not mentioned at all on the economists’ supply and demand model (Slide 5), but it is clear that energy consumption is highly correlated with economic growth. There is a reason for this: it takes energy products to make both goods and services. It even takes energy to heat and light an office for workers, and to make and power computers.

Economists tend to miss the connection between energy and the economy because they tend to perform their analyses on an individual country basis. The connection between GDP growth and energy growth is less clear on a country-by-country basis because individual countries can reduce their energy consumption by shifting some of their manufacturing to less developed countries, confusing the analysis. The International Energy Agency has concluded that higher oil prices can be expected to have an adverse impact on the world economy as a whole.

The Economy Is a Self-Organized System Operated by Energy

Slide 8

The reason for the strange behavior of energy prices near limits is because the system is very interconnected. It is a self-organized system that gradually changes over time. New customers are added over time. These customers are often also wage-earners. They decide what to buy based on their own wages, and based on other considerations, such as the prices of competing products and whether inexpensive financing is available.

Businesses make decisions based on what they think customers might want. They also consider products offered by competitors. Governments play a role as well, both in regulation and taxation.

Physics indirectly helps determine prices, wages, and profits, because the economy uses energy to make goods and services. If a rapidly growing amount of cheap energy is available, it becomes easy for businesses to make a profit and raise wages. As businesses grow, economies of scale tend to increase profits. Higher energy prices tend to reverse these beneficial effects.

Oil Prices Are Now Too Low for Many Oil Producers

Slide 9

If you are not familiar with energy price trends, it probably would be worthwhile to take a minute to look at the strange price pattern shown on Slide 9. If you are coming from a financial background, you will probably be familiar with the financial disruptions of 2008, but not the high oil (and other energy) prices of the same period. The steep drop in prices corresponds to the time of major financial distress.

Most United States infrastructure, such as interstate highways, pipelines, and electricity transmission systems, were built in the pre-1970 period, when the inflation-adjusted price of oil was generally less than $20 per barrel. Thus, in a sense, most of the oil prices we are seeing in recent years on Slide 9 are high, relative to historical costs. The question becomes, “How high a price can the economy withstand?” It becomes very expensive to replace a worn-out pipeline built with $20 per barrel oil using $120 per barrel oil.

On Slide 9, prices required by oil exporting countries (such as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Norway) seem to be well over $100 per barrel. Such a high price is needed if these countries are to be able to collect enough tax revenue and also have funds for investment in new fields to replace depleting fields.

On the other hand, the economies of the United States, Europe, and Japan do very much better if oil prices are low. They would prefer prices under $50 per barrel. This is the price mismatch mentioned on Slide 9.

Extended periods of low prices can be expected to lead to two adverse impacts over a period of several years:

  1. Falling growth in energy production. Investment in new fields to offset declining production from existing fields is likely to fall. The big drop in oil prices occurred in 2014, and it is now four years later. Many analysts expect growth in oil production to slow in the next few years, because of inadequate investment. Coal, natural gas, and uranium have somewhat similar problems, with falling prices discouraging reinvestment.
  2. Collapsing governments of oil exporting nations. Governments of countries that export oil are often very dependent on the high price of oil to collect adequate tax revenue. The central government of the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, after several years of low oil prices. Lack of adequate tax revenue could cause a similar problem today. Venezuela is particularly at risk, but Saudi Arabia and many other countries could follow.

It is ironic that Venezuela reports the highest oil reserves in the world. These reserves can only be extracted if energy prices are much higher than today. This would seem to require higher wages of non-elite workers around the world. If wages were much higher in countries such as India and Nigeria, they could afford goods such as motorcycles and air conditioning, helping push up world demand for energy products.

Slide 10

It is clear that the growth rate of energy consumption simultaneously affects Supply and Demand.

An important point on Slide 10 is the fact that growing debt acts as a helper for energy consumption. It allows consumers to afford goods and services with their monthly wages, and it allows businesses to pay for new tools for workers over the lifetime of those tools. In a sense, debt is the promise of future goods and services made with energy products.

Money is a type of debt. We can print money, but we can’t print cheap-to-produce energy products. Thus, at some point, there can be a mismatch between promises of future goods and services and the quantity of affordable energy products available to create those goods and services. This is part of what is likely to cause debt defaults.

Slide 11

Slide 11 lists some of the things that seem likely as we reach the limits of cheap-to-produce energy supply. I will describe these issues more, later in this talk.

Slide 12

Slide 12 is an outline of the rest of the talk. This post primarily covers Points 1 and 2. Thus, this article relates primarily to GDP growth, interest rates, and asset prices. Slides are shown for Points 3 and 4 as well.

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In recent years, it has become increasingly apparent that the ability of humans (and pre-humans) to cook part of our food supply has had a major impact on our ability to be different from other animals. We could eat a wider variety of foods, and we could get more energy value from those foods. Our bodies could evolve in a very different way. Our brains could become bigger, and our jaws and gut could be smaller.

Slide 15

Even back in hunter-gatherer days, humans were using more energy than similar animals. Now, in the industrial period, we are using 80 times as much energy (=8000/100) as a human-like animal would use, considering the various types of supplemental energy available to us. Some people have described the situation as having 80 energy-slaves for each person. This makes it possible to do tasks, such as farming and digging ditches, in a more efficient way than using sticks as tools.

Slide 16

Besides the usual tools, we have many related ways of using energy, with the goal of eventually providing more goods and services. Energy can be used to organize data on computers. Energy can be used to provide advanced education on topics helpful to growing the economy. If individuals or businesses are paid wages or interest payments, they can use those proceeds to buy energy products, such as a new car, or an overseas vacation. Thus, energy consumption growth affects every part of the economy.

Slide 17

Growing debt is extremely important in growing the world economy. I describe the situation more fully in this article: What has gone wrong with oil prices, debt, and GDP growth?

Technology is what most people focus on, as being the way to move the world economy forward. However, it takes energy products to make the new machines made possible by technology. Without a steady supply of energy products, we cannot maintain existing roads, or the electric grid, or the internet.

Slide 18

Anyone who has purchased a home knows that interest rates are very important in determining what price of home a particular buyer can afford. Here I show a range of monthly payments, for a 30-year, $300,000 mortgage at various interest rates. It is clear that a person can afford to buy a great deal more house at a low interest rate than a high interest rate. If interest only loans are available, costs are lower still.

Slide 19

Everyone who works with interest rates is aware of this pattern in 10-year US Treasury interest rates. The peak in interest rates was in 1981, and there has been a downward trend most of the time since that date.

Slide 20

The interest rates that regulators can easily adjust are short-term interest rates. When these interest rates are increased, they tend to induce recession. There may be a lag in timing. The increase in short-term interest rates in the 2004 to 2006 period seems to have been instrumental in popping the subprime debt bubble and bringing on the Great Recession of 2007-2009. This is my article relating to this issue: Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis

Slide 21

When energy consumption is growing rapidly, and there are productive projects that can be added (interstate highway system, long distance electric grid, interstate pipelines, first-time telephone service for many people, growing number of trucks and airplanes), then it is possible for the economy to grow rapidly.

In this rapidly growing economy, the economy could easily ramp up long term interest rates without damaging the economy because the underlying growth rate was so high. In a sense, the higher interest rates were analogous to inflation affecting food and energy prices. There was so much growth in demand for goods and services that the economy could afford to pay rising interest rates during the period between World War II and 1981.

Slide 22

The period since 1981 is a period when investments have become much less productive, from a point of view of allowing more goods and services to be produced. Instead, growth is coming from selling more services to each other, and sending more manufacturing to lower-cost parts of the world.

Since 1981, we find ourselves with an increasing amount of old infrastructure that needs to be maintained. Fixing this infrastructure doesn’t really improve productivity. New investments simply keep productivity from falling.

One recent innovation has been the internet. It gives us more information, and it relieves us from the burden of having to use the phone book or go to the library. Thus, it makes us more productive. But in many ways, it is not as important as many earlier inventions, such as the internal combustion engine, the light bulb, and the telephone. There is a temptation to computerize all kinds of data and to expect data mining to solve all our problems. A person wonders what the true cost/benefit is.

Innovations in medicine now allow more 85-year-olds to live to be 86-year-olds and allow more cases of cancer to be cured. But the big changes, brought about by antibiotics and better sanitation, occurred before 1981.

Another growth area has been higher education. The payback is often wages that are barely high enough to live on. How are college graduates who cannot find high-paying jobs going to be able to repay their loans and still get married and have a family?

Admittedly, some investments have been productive. This is especially true when new factories, roads, and ports have been installed in emerging markets. But a large share of recent investments have been aimed at making vehicles more fuel efficient. Or trying to reduce CO2 emissions. These do not really have a payback in lower-cost goods and services.

Interest on debt can only be paid if the economy is truly growing, and thus has a sufficient margin to pay interest with. This seems to be less and less possible outside of emerging markets. I would expect that this is why long-term interest rates are persistently low.

Slide 23

The decline in the ten-year interest rates should make homes more affordable. The long-term decline in shorter-interest rates should make vehicles more affordable. In spite of this boost to the economy, US GDP growth rates have persistently fallen. World GDP growth rates have fallen as well.

Slide 24

There is relatively little storage available for commodities of most types, including oil. As a result, even a small change in demand can lead to a major price shift.

I show in Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis that the peak in oil prices corresponded to the peak in US debt in several categories, including credit cards and home mortgages. Once US debt stopped rising, the demand for oil fell, and prices dropped precipitously.

Quantitative Easing (QE) by the US Federal Reserve began near the end of 2008. It acted to lower interest rates, especially long-term interest rates. These lower interest rates helped get oil prices back up closer to the level required by producers. But once QE stopped in 2014, prices slid back down. As noted earlier, recent oil prices are far too low for most producers. But they do help stimulate the economies of oil importing countries.

Slide 25

If a business adds debt to expand a factory, this may lead to more wages. The chart indicates that growing non-financial debt does not always lead to higher wages. Sometimes it leads to asset bubbles.

Slide 26

Disposable personal income (DPI) is income that individuals receive, including payments such as Social Security and Unemployment Insurance. This amount is netted out for taxes paid. If we divide DPI by population, we get per capita DPI. This amount is not inflation adjusted; it gives us an estimate of how much incomes have been rising, including payments made to compensate for inflation.

Clearly, there have been huge changes in the growth of per capita DPI over time. Prior to 1981, per capita DPI was rising rapidly, as more women joined the workforce, and as companies gave cost of living raises, in an attempt to keep their employees. In several years, per capita DPI was rising at over 10%.

Families with rapidly rising incomes were looking for ways to spend their new-found wealth. This seems to be at least part of the reason for the high inflation rates of this period. Without this rapid run up in DPI, it is hard to see how the oil prices spikes of the 1970s could have occurred.

Now, the economy has slowed greatly. DPI per capita is sputtering along at less than 4% per year. With this low rate of increase in funds available for spending, it seems like the current economy will not be able to support a big spike in oil prices.

Slide 27

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Slide 28

If the economy is not really growing, it is very difficult to pay interest. This is why a person would expect interest rates to roughly follow GDP growth. Back before 1981, GDP growth was significantly greater than 10-year Treasury yields. Since then, 10-year Treasuries have tended to yield a little more than GDP growth (including inflation). Very recently, the pattern seems to have returned to the pre-1981 pattern.

Slide 29

If interest rates are lower, more people can afford to buy a given house, or a piece of land, or shares of stock. The additional demand tends to bid up asset prices.

Slide 30

This should be clear from Slide 29.

Slide 31

Interest rate assumptions often were originally made when interest rates were higher.

Slide 32

Payments to individuals in a particular year act as a way of dividing up goods and services available in that year. If the share of goods and services going to those who are paid interest rises, it will mean fewer goods and services are available for others. History says that it is the non-elite workers that are most likely to be “shorted,” if there are not enough goods and services to go around.

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Even a decline in coal consumption is a problem, if it causes total energy consumption per capita to fall! Wind and solar cannot possibly make up the shortfall. Also, their installed cost is high, if the cost of intermittency workarounds is included.

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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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1,963 Responses to How the Economy Works as It Reaches Energy Limits — An Introduction for Actuaries and Others

  1. The problem with geothermal energy–it works best when it is next to a geologically “hot” energy source. Of course, when the volcano erupts, this causes problems. From the WSJ:

    Hawaiian Authorities Work to Protect Power Plant From Lava Flow
    Officials say lava from fissures caused by Kilauea volcano’s eruption could compromise wells at the plant and set off clouds of potentially deadly gas

    Hawaii Electric spokesman Jim Kelly said Tuesday the utility has sufficient generation from other power plants on the Big Island to make up for the renewable plant being taken out of commission.

    The only catch is that the spare capacity almost certainly burns oil. This is not a cheap kind of electricity to use.

    (By the way, I visited the geothermal energy plant a few years ago, when I gave a talk on the Big Island of Hawaii.)

  2. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Friends, there’s one interesting question (well, I find it interesting) I’d like to discuss with you: do you think we could have collectively i.e. as a species chosen another path besides the one we’re now on? Or do you think we’re predestined — by our genes, presumably — to take this path?

    In other words, do you think (1) we’re really no smarter than yeast (even though we may fancy otherwise)? Give some yeast a large stock of energy resources, and the yeast will just consume and multiply mindlessly until the sorry scenario of overshoot and collapse sets in. Is that necessarily the story with us, too?

    Or do you think (2) our current predicament is due to us (or the earlier generation[s]) making all the wrong choices? That if we exercised our intelligence and self-restraint and made all the right choices, then the whole mess and coming attractions we now face would have been happily averted?

    Imagine if we all (or at least sufficient numbers of us) saw and understood the dangers of overpopulation and overconsumption of resources — and they should be very easy to understand — and voluntarily chose to moderate our behavior accordingly so that we and subsequent generations could enjoy a humane and sustainable existence. Is all this really doomed to remain science fiction? What factors do you see that would preclude such a thing from becoming reality? Are these physical factors, or human factors, or whatever?

    (There have been societies in the past that have been able to run on for very long periods of time. Premodern Korea’s Choson Dynasty lasted more than 500 years, and would have quite conceivably lasted still longer had it not been for all the upheavals of the 20th century.)

    Or maybe it was because of a couple rotten apples among us that we took a wrong turn in history?

    • Fast Eddy says:

      This was the only option.

      I can prove it.

      Approach 100 people with this:

      Hello – you have just won the sweepstakes which includes:

      – a private jet with unlimited miles free for the rest of your life
      – USD50M cash per year inflation adjusted until you die
      – 10 houses each worth 10M dollars in any locations around the world that you choose – free and clear – all expenses covered
      – if you are female you get a date with Fast Eddy – if you are a male then I am sure you will be fine…

      All you have to do is say yes and all of this will be yours.

      We know the answer.

      The yeast will also consume all the sugar in the glass … if offered.

    • DJ says:

      ”you: do you think we could have collectively i.e. as a species chosen another path besides the one we’re now on? ”

      No

      • our genetic forces choose the path for us—the one that offers immediate gain and success for the next generation

        if that path is a wrong one, then we become irrelevant and the biosphere moves on without us

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      “Or maybe it was because of a couple rotten apples among us that we took a wrong turn in history?”

      there are probably about 7.5 billion “rotten apples” right now…

      almost all persons will consume as much as possible…

      “self restraint” is not human nature…

      but…

      “Or do you think (2) our current predicament is due to us (or the earlier generation[s]) making all the wrong choices?”

      what do you mean by “wrong choices”?

      the scientists and engineers of the past made mostly good choices…

      especially creating the FF energy system which runs IC…

      IC has been very very good to me…

      so, in conclusion…

      if and when you can, thank a scientist or engineer…

      especially one who works in the FF industry…

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        QUOTE:***the scientists and engineers of the past made mostly good choices…

        especially creating the FF energy system which runs IC…

        IC has been very very good to me…***

        If IC wouldn’t lead to something called TEOTWAWKI, or at least wouldn’t lead to it within my lifetime, then I’d fully agree with you.

        • IC has been very goood to a lot of people—my prosperity is entirely due to it—it wasnt so good to my grandfather who dug out the coal by hand, 350 yards underground

          if you scroll down to the bottom of this link, the men around the primitive mineshaft were my grandfather’s mining buddies, during a pit strike

          https://extranewsfeed.com/we-must-keep-our-wheels-turning-93c95d8f066f

          so we must not lose sight of the first law of prosperity

          one man’s affluence is another man’s poverty

          (I just created that for the sake of discussion)

          • SomeoneInAsia says:

            QUOTE: ***IC has been very goood to a lot of people—my prosperity is entirely due to it…***

            But now IC is about to lead to the untimely deaths of billions of people — quite possibly including you and me. And make the survivors envy your grandfather and his buddies.

            • i agree with you–we cant alter our past and there’s precious little we can do about our future either

              as i keep banging on—-the planet can support 1 or 2 bn—we have 7.5 bn

              which means that without ff—6 bn people dont have much of a future

            • djerek says:

              “as i keep banging on—-the planet can support 1 or 2 bn—we have 7.5 bn”

              That’s probably the carrying capacity, but with a population crash it will probably bottom out closer to 500M before rebounding.

        • Fast Eddy says:

          Keep in mind deforestation was occurring on an epic scale in the middle ages… and if we had not harnessed coal as an alternative energy source…. we would eventually have Easter-islanded the planet… and at best we’d have been scratching with sticks in the ground to dig for ants to eat…

    • jupiviv says:

      We made wrong choices. However, we didn’t just make them in the 19th and 20th century, but since the dawn of civilisation. Fossil fuels just allowed us to make them on a scale which was both massive and unsustainable for more than ~100 years.

      • Exactly, just look at the wider ClubMed area, clearly a paradise, yet quite fragile..
        In aggregate people taking out too much at least since 3000-1500BC, hence all those waves of deforestation, top soil failure, overall habitat destruction, punctuated by very partial rejuvenation in few places..

        • xabier says:

          Yes, standing in the ruins of a great Minoan palace, and looking out at the parched and deforested landscape is a great lesson.

          Equally, one can stand in a seemingly green and lush farming landscape in Western Europe and reflect on the entirely hidden reality of depleted and sterile soil.

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        If the choices we made at the dawn of civilization were not that massive and unsustainable, then maybe those earlier choices weren’t that wrong after all, at least relatively speaking. (Shrugs.)

        • the first man who struck a rock and made sparks ignite dry grass didn’t keep it to himself

          • SomeoneInAsia says:

            Perhaps not, but the widespread use of ff still dwarfs the burning of dry grass by several orders of magnitude in terms of its impact on us and our world. And don’t forget: ff is nonrenewable.

          • Well, I discovered exactly that in Grandpa’s garden at age bellow ~7yrs, and I’m not particular brainiac type, just the opportunity-happenstance of having around the right kind of rock..

          • Fast Eddy says:

            I’m sure that when others saw that individual take his burning grass and using it to light up some hunks of wood … warm his body… and cook some deer meat….

            They said — what the f789 are you doing!!! That is an abomination!!! Put that fire out and come back out here into the cold dark night.

            For those who believe there is choice/responsibility … please feel free to demonstrate how you have behaved responsibly in your life… how you have eschewed BAU…. as that is not going to happen then I will allow you to point to someone else that you know who has lived responsibly.

            Keeping in mind that living responsibly would be living completely unplugged from BAU… not even a toothbrush allowed

        • jupiviv says:

          Human nature is deeply flawed, and those flaws haven’t changed since civilisation began. They have also played a central role in our species’ fascinating, comical, nonsensical and tragic story. There have been people who have understood and articulated those flaws. If a far larger number of human beings were like them, we might very well have been in a much better situation today.

    • xabier says:

      Interesting question.

      There is ample historical evidence that human beings are capable of understanding natural limits, not merely being subject to them, and of adapting behaviour to maintain viable societies.

      This does, however require infanticide, and allowing disease and famine to operate more or less to full effect as natural limiters. And also very strict hierarchies of control and resource distribution (even for instance, the father of a farming family deciding which children live or die exposed).

      But once fossil fuels were released, allowing the creation of mass industries, transport, medicines, and we developed ideologies which believe all lives to be sacred and to be preserved, this current predicament was quite inevitable.

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        You don’t think it would have been possible for pre-industrial societies to curb their numbers and their consumption of resources without nasty things like infanticide? Couldn’t people moderate their sex drives in the first place, for instance?

        • Craig Dilworth in Too Smart for Our Own Good talks about the many approaches that early societies took to try to solve this problem. I think that the only societies that didn’t have a problem with this were the ones in the least habitable areas (Northern, typically). There, the weather tended to lead to a lot of early deaths, and thus keep population down.

          We certainly have not done well with keeping population down, even though we know what causes the problem.

        • xabier says:

          On the whole I believe that disease, famine, natural disasters and infanticide work better, and people can still have all the fun of following the natural drive to reproduce.

          Control of one’s sexual desires is just fantasy for the most part, in the case of most healthy people. It also drives one mad – see Catholic priests and monks of all kinds.

          If infanticide is sanctioned by the culture, seen as ‘sending back to the gods’, etc, it is not very horrific, above all if the baby is weak or deformed and it is done very quickly – it’s only realistic and kind to do it, and in a harsh world no one would wish to take on such a burden, above all hard working women with many duties already.

          • jupiviv says:

            @xabier do you honestly believe what you wrote here? If so, you have no business judging anyone’s sanity. Early societies understood “natural limits” (i.e. Nature/reality) *only* to the extent they were directly subject to them, and even then very vaguely.

            Infanticide wasn’t a coherent, sex-positive feminist solution to famine and disease as you seem to think. It was a temporary, irrational solution to the bad consequences of irrationality, and this solution itself obviously led to even more bad consequences. It didn’t stop the population from increasing or consuming more and more resources per capita when it could afford to do so. People were, after all, having fun.

            When it didn’t work anymore (=too many babies/people to kill without destabilising/demoralising the society, too much resource depletion for it to matter etc.), it was too late to seek a better alternative. Essentially the same thing is happening today, and will happen in the post-collapse society, *unless* we finally decide to strike at the root.

      • Sven Røgeberg says:

        «There is ample historical evidence that human beings are capable of understanding natural limits, not merely being subject to them, and of adapting behaviour to maintain viable societies.

        This does, however require infanticide, and allowing disease and famine to operate more or less to full effect as natural limiters. And also very strict hierarchies of control and resource distribution (even for instance, the father of a farming family deciding which children live or die exposed).»
        Claims and statements like this should be backed by some references. There is some evidence that other kind of regimes for managing the commons could function:
        http://www.onthecommons.org/magazine/elinor-ostroms-8-principles-managing-commmons#sthash.UqBW9vLZ.dpbs
        More in depth: http://evonomics.com/tragedy-of-the-commons-elinor-ostrom/

        • Sacrificing the first born child to the gods was a form of population control.

          Some parts of the world had rituals that young adults were required to participate in, with a very high death rate. This did the same thing, at a later maturity.

          Killing females is a lot more efficient than killing males for

          • jupiviv says:

            I think your source for sacrificing firstborns is the Bible, as in the Canaanites etc? Not very reliable, especially since it was intended as anti-pagan propaganda.

            While children were certainly killed in times of scarcity (unless they died and were then used in cathartic rituals), the frequency or religious significance of such killing is very much in doubt. The only clear instance of ritual human sacrifice is Mesoamerica, but the estimated numbers don’t indicate a population control motive. In fact the evidence indicates that the sacrifices (including the children) were selected for physical superiority, which would disprove a population control motive.

            • I know I have read about sacrificing firstborns elsewhere. One of the issues mentioned was that the fatherhood of the first child was unknown, and this was one of the reasons given for this practice.

          • Sven Røgeberg says:

            «Some parts of the world had rituals that young adults were required to participate in, with a very high death rate. This did the same thing, at a later maturity.»
            And today: letting young males drive cars?

            • Yes. A few years ago, motorcycles for young men were killing young men as well. And drafting them for foreign wars.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Perhaps this is the goal of Tesla… to kill DelusiSTANIs…

              Just wait till they roll out the full auto AI to guide these rolling explosive battery packs.

    • el mar says:

      Humans always filter really Bad News (information posing or implying existential threats) unless that threat is on their doorstep.

      http://www.declineoftheempire.com/2014/10/adventures-in-flatland.html

      Saludos

      el mar

      • Fast Eddy says:

        This is a crock of sh it and I stopped here:

        There are roughly 7.2 billion humans on Earth, and, roughly speaking, about 10 million of them are painfully aware that Homo sapiens is destroying the biosphere, slowly on human time scales, but in no time at all on the geological time scale. (10 million is a very generous estimate.) Some of those exceptional people, a goodly portion of whom are working scientists, are actively opposing the ongoing destruction, though many are not.

        Rounding up, those 10 million souls represent approximately 0.14% of the entire human population. The other 99.86% are either actively destroying the biosphere, or indifferent to that lamentable trend (i.e., they are merely current or would-be “consumers” who are thus acquiescing in and contributing to the trend indirectly).

        EVERY single one of the nearly 8B people on this planet are ACTIVELY destroying the earth. And most of them are aware of this – they simply choose to ignore it — or assume technology will fix the problem – or that we will move to Mars.

        Not a single scientist as far as I am aware — is opposing the ongoing destruction of the earth.

        The act of engaging in science is in itself destroying the earth … picking up a test tube or turning on a computer – in an attempt to supposedly save the earth – is destroying the earth.

        If these save the earth scientists wanted to save the earth they’d smash their labs — strip off their clothes — and live like chimps in the forest.

    • Slow Paul says:

      We act in the same way as all other species. We consume and reproduce, as much as possible.

      Only difference is that we evolved a brain that can contemplate the madness.

    • Pintada says:

      Our species was predestined to take the path that we did, but I am pretty certain that our predicament is not just “our” genes fault. Its the timing relationship between evolution and technological innovation.

      It takes about 10000 years for genetic changes to happen to a species. What were our ancestors doing 10000 years ago, and what were their motivations? Those actions and motivations are what are killing us since they are incompatible with the technology that we have available.

      If there are/were intelligent species on other planets, they faced the same timing problem, and they failed (or will fail) in the same general way for the same reason. That is why we have never met and never will meet a species from another planet.

    • Mark says:

      Fate has to do with events in history that are the summary and unintended results of innumerable decisions of innumerable men.
      C. Wright Mills

      Fossil fuels are far to magical to resist. (as a species)

  3. Baby Doomer says:

    Silicon Valley tech bubble is larger than it was in 2000, and the end is coming

    https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/22/tech-bubble-is-larger-than-in-2000-and-the-end-is-coming.html

  4. SomeoneInAsia says:

    Dunno. Some might want just one house, have no use for any private jets, and desire only USD6K a year. (I for one.) Well, maybe I’m the rule-proving exception.

    I’m a male who likes males, by the way. Can I still have a date with Fast Eddy? 😛

    • Lastcall says:

      Fast Edy has been to so many out of the way places, but I am am guessing he won’t be up for that stamp on his passport. End of days tho….

    • Fast Eddy says:

      Unfortunately … you’ve got the wrong answer… what could have been….

      • Yoshua says:

        The trigger?

        The U.S tax cut? The U.S tax cut and the increase in government deficit spending made room for the oil price to rise? It made room only for the oil price to rise. The rise in oil price has now eaten up the benefits of the tax cut in the U.S…but the oil price rise is killing the rest of the oil importing nations in the world.

        America is now drinking up other nations milkshake.

    • You have touched upon a very important point, it”s indeed not important to be-become rich, but to intentionally float somewhat just bellow the level of your ultimate desires, wishes, aspirations..

      That’s the only way, how to defeat the MORE beast inside us..

      So, if I vulgarize it a bit, lets say at your income/resource command level in your neck of the woods mandates that it’s absolutely necessary to have two German cars, and update them ever 4-6yrs at the minimum, well what about having only one such car and the second one as Korean econobox or just used one or none additional car in family at all..

      Similarly it goes for desires such as jets, castles, summer houses/vacations, political victories-historical legacy, e-gadgets and other crap etc..

      Obviously, on the other end of the wealth spectrum it just means don’t over breed, having less children, kicking out habits like cigarettes, booth, etc.

      • every, booze,.. ;sorry for typos

      • SomeoneInAsia says:

        So you’re saying we can defeat the MORE beast inside of us.

        In other words, we can choose. Unlike yeast. 🙂

        • unfortunately we are evolved to seek more of everything, from the moment we are born—it’s called survival, all species do it—we think we have evolved away from all that, but we haven’t

          the lion or stag gathers round himself as many females as he can protect and impregnate—when he ages—a younger lion will kill him, and repeat the process.

          which is precisely why i chose the title of my book

          • SomeoneInAsia says:

            I wonder if this does not amount to a rejection of the whole notion of responsibility. Fine, so all we’ve done so far as a species is hardwired into us. We just couldn’t help doing it.

            Hmmmm…

            • the ant isnt responsible for building the anthill—it is his sole purpose in life

              we’ve made thing a bit more complex, but essentially we do the same thing—collective sense of purpose

            • Fast Eddy says:

              Exactly. Hardwired in …. I would have thought this to be obvious….

        • Mark says:

          Hierarchical systems are different that tribal is the argument I’ve heard.
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seven_generation_sustainability

          IMHO, we’re different than animals.Your individual mileage may vary. 🙂

      • Fast Eddy says:

        Humans are vulgar… by nature… remove the police and we’d descend into total mayhem within hours….

  5. Baby Doomer says:

    Garry Kasparov: I told you Putin would attack U.S. election — and he will again

    https://www.yahoo.com/news/gary-kasparov-told-putin-attack-u-s-election-will-195305087.html

  6. Ed Kitto says:

    Relax, we are merely returning to normal after the cheap energy bump.

    “The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it’s profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain, they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and chairs out of the way and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theater.”

    ― Frank Zappa

  7. Harry Gibbs says:

    “The Reserve Bank of New Zealand has “significant further room” to ease monetary policy and is prepared to undertake large-scale asset purchases in case of a major financial crisis, it said in a research paper on Wednesday.

    “In an interview with Bloomberg following the release of the paper, RBNZ Assistant Governor John McDermott said the central bank could turn to five policy tools, which included so-called quantitative easing and negative cash rates, in the event of a massive economic shock…

    ““This is all about planning for the future,” McDermott told Bloomberg after the RBNZ published its research paper on implementing unconventional monetary policy in New Zealand…”

    https://www.reuters.com/article/newzealand-economy-rbnz/new-zealand-cbank-prepared-for-quantitative-easing-asset-purchases-in-crisis-bloomberg-idUSL3N1SU1IC

    • Ed Kitto says:

      Not to worry, the PM is pregnant – proof that growth is the way to prosperity.

      It is quite interesting to watch the deference given to a woman with a bump – very good for New Zealand from PR perspective.

      Not so elsewhere, unfortunately.

      • xabier says:

        Clever move on her part: no one would be such a heel as to attack her now – instant political immunity.

    • But I am afraid that New Zealand is not big enough to take the place of the ECB in the world sphere. Perhaps help NZ a bit, but that is about it.

      • I see it as clearly spilling the beans or testing the waters scenario..

        For the next event, they (all major CBs not peripheral NZ) clearly game planned for more QE, negative cash rates, and other goodies, ~10x higher debts levels, and guess what the system still won’t collapse..

  8. Harry Gibbs says:

    “As central bankers attempt to normalize policy, the risk is a collapse of carry trades in financial markets, where an investor borrows at a low interest rate to invest in something promising a high return, with a negative spillover into the economy.

    “Central banks have bought $21 trillion in government debt globally since 2008, pushing investors to search for yields in riskier markets. The result is a pyramid of trades dependent on stable interest rates: $12 trillion of government debt yields less than 1% and the yield from $11 trillion of corporate debt is nearing a record low. As cash-flows and growth rates are discounted at near-zero rates, $8 trillion of high dividend and growth stocks trade at record high valuations. At the top of the pyramid are strategies betting on stable volatility and asset correlations, which total up to $2 trillion, according to our estimates.

    “While carry trades have flourished, the architecture of financial markets has become increasingly fragile. In 1976, the economist Hyman Minsky wrote that a crisis can develop when financial structures amplify rather than dampen an initial shock…”

    https://europeansting.com/2018/05/22/beware-the-fragility-of-the-global-economy/

    • Harry Gibbs says:

      “The U.S. Congress might have just set a record for shortness of memory: Just 10 years after a crisis that nearly brought down the global financial system, it’s loosening the safeguards designed to prevent a repeat.”

      https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2018-05-22/dodd-frank-changes-show-congress-has-forgotten-financial-crisis

      • Harry Gibbs says:

        “Oil prices have broken out of a “sweet spot” for global economic growth and could herald a U.S. recession if they keep rising, UBS warns. The Swiss investment bank on Tuesday joined a chorus of financial institutions in pondering the economic impact of oil prices at $100 a barrel.”

        https://www.cnbc.com/2018/05/22/oil-prices-at-100-could-trim-global-growth-trigger-us-recession-ubs.html

      • Fast Eddy says:

        Funny…. we’ve got more subprime everything happening than ever… even after all the moaning and wailing of how subprime nearly took down BAU in 2008…

        Yet the headlines suggest memory lapses…

        Seriously – memory lapses? Does anyone think the CBs do not recall what happened in 2008?

        Yet rinse repeat….

        Perhaps it might occur to these duuumbbb as ses that we have a TINA situation … it’s either make these loans and collapse later — or don’t make the loans … and collapse already.

        Of course the MSM does not exist to inform… therefore we are never going to be told the truth.

    • People don’t understand these risks. Variability of results, and financial products that have the potential to amplify, rather than damp, any shock are a recipe for disaster!

  9. Harry Gibbs says:

    “China’s shadow banking sector has been a major source of speculative lending to the global economy. But 2018 has seen it entering its end-game, as our first chart shows, collapsing by 64 per cent in renminbi terms in January to April from the same period last year (by $274bn in dollar terms).

    “The start of the year is usually a peak period for lending, with banks getting new quotas for the year.

    “The downturn was also noteworthy as it marked the end of China’s lending bubble, which began in 2009 after the financial crisis…”

    https://www.ft.com/content/45bd8052-59dc-11e8-bdb7-f6677d2e1ce8

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