The world’s weird self-organizing economy

Why is it so difficult to make accurate long-term economic forecasts for the world economy? There are many separate countries involved, each with a self-organizing economy made up of businesses, consumers, governments, and laws. These individual economies together create a single world economy, which again is self-organizing.

Self-organizing economies don’t work in a convenient linear pattern–in other words, in a way that makes it possible to make valid straight line predictions from the past. Instead, they work in ways that don’t match up well with standard projection techniques.

How do we forecast what lies ahead? Today, some economists believe that the economy of the United States is in danger of overheating. Others believe that Italy and the United Kingdom are facing dire problems, and that these problems could adversely affect the world economy. The world economy should be our highest concern because each country is dependent on a combination of imported and exported goods. The forecasting question becomes, “How will divergent economic results affect the world’s economy?”

I am not an economist; I am a retired actuary. I have spent years making forecasts within the insurance industry. These forecasts were financial in nature, so I have had hands-on experience with how various parts of the financial system work. I was one of the people who correctly forecast the Great Recession. I also wrote the frequently cited academic article, Oil Supply Limits and the Continuing Financial Crisis, which points out the connection between the Great Recession and oil limits.

Today’s indications seem to suggest that an even more major recession than the Great Recession may strike in the not too distant future. Why should this be the case? Am I imagining problems where none exist?

The next ten sections provide an introduction to how the world’s self-organizing economy seems to operate.

[1] The economy is one of many self-organized systems that grow. All are governed by the laws of physics. All use energy in their operation.

There are many other self-organizing systems that grow. One such system is the sun. Some forecasts indicate that it will keep expanding in size and brightness for about the next five billion years. Eventually, it is expected to collapse under its own weight.

Hurricanes are a type of self-organizing system that grows. Hurricanes grow over warm ocean waters. If they travel over land for a short time, they can sometimes shrink back a bit and grow again once they have an adequate source of heat-energy from warm water. Eventually, they collapse.

Plants and animals also represent self-organizing systems that grow. Some plants grow throughout their lifetimes; others stabilize in size after reaching maturity. Animals continue to require food (a form of energy) even after they stabilize at their mature size.

We can’t use the typical patterns of these other growing self-organized systems to conclude much about the future path of the world’s economic growth because individual patterns are quite different. However, we notice that cutting off the energy supply used by any of these systems (for example, moving a hurricane permanently over land or starving a human) will lead to the demise of that system.

We also know that lack of food is not the only reason why humans die. Based on this observation, it is a reasonable conclusion that having enough energy available is not a sufficient condition to guarantee that the world economy will continue to operate as in the past. For example, a blocked shipping channel, such as at the Strait of Hormuz, could pose a significant problem for the world economy. This would be analogous to a blocked artery in a human.

[2] The use of energy products is hidden deeply within the economy. As a result, many people overlook their significance. They are also difficult for researchers to measure. 

It is easy to see that gasoline provides the energy supply needed for our cars, and that electricity provides the power needed to clean our clothes. What is missing? The answer seems to be, “Everything that makes humans different from wild animals is something that was made possible by the use of supplemental energy in addition to the energy from food.”

All goods and services require the use of energy. While some of this energy use is easy to see, other portions are well hidden. Energy used in manufacturing and transport is most visible; energy used in services tends to be hidden.

Governments are major users of energy, both for their own programs and for directing energy use to others. Retirees get the benefit of goods and services made with energy products through pension checks issued by governments; researchers get the benefit of goods and services made with energy products through research grants they receive. Wars require energy.

Medical treatments are possible because of the availability of medicines and equipment made with energy products. Schools and books, as well as free time to study in schools (rather than working in the field), are possible because of energy consumption. Jobs of all kinds require the use of energy.

One thing we don’t often consider is that if energy supplies are growing sufficiently, they permit an expanding population. In fact, expanding population seems to be the single largest use of growth in energy consumption (Figure 1). Growing energy consumption also seems to be associated with prosperity.

Figure 1. World energy consumption growth for ten-year periods (ended at dates shown) divided between population growth (based on Angus Maddison estimates) and total energy consumption growth, based on the author’s review of BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2011 data and estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects by Vaclav Smil.

[3] Prices of energy services need to be low relative to overall costs of the economy. Falling energy costs relative to overall GDP tend to encourage economic growth.

Most economists expect energy prices to represent a large share of GDP costs, if energy is truly important. The statement above says the opposite. There are at least two reasons why low energy prices, and energy prices that are truly falling when inflation and productivity changes are considered, are helpful.

First, tools (broadly defined) used to leverage the labor of human workers often require considerable energy to manufacture and operate. Examples of such tools include computers, machines used in manufacturing, vehicles, and roads for these vehicles to drive on. The lower the cost to purchase and operate these tools, relative to the benefit of the tools, the more likely employers are to purchase them. If energy costs tend to fall over time, it becomes progressively easier to add more tools to leverage the labor of employees. Thus, employees become increasingly productive over time, raising the economy’s output of goods and services. For a similar reason, rising energy costs, if not offset by efficiency gains, present a barrier to economic growth.

Second, if the cost of energy production is low, it is easy to tax energy producers and thereby capture some of the benefit of their energy for the rest of the economy. If there is truly a “net energy” benefit to the economy, this is one way it gets transferred to the rest of the economy.

[4] There is indeed an energy problem, but it is not quite the same one that Peak Oilers have been concerned about.

The energy problem that Peak Oilers write about is the possibility that as easy-to-extract oil supplies deplete, oil production will reach a peak in production and begin to decline. Once decline sets in, they expect that oil prices will rise, partly because of the higher cost of production and partly because of scarcity. With these higher prices, they expect that producers will be able to extract at least a portion of the remaining oil resources. They also expect that higher prices will allow portions of the remaining natural gas and coal resources to be extracted. With higher prices, expanded use of renewable energy is expected to become feasible. All of these energy sources are expected to keep the economy operating at some level.

There are several problems with this story. First, it tends to encourage people to look for high oil prices as a sign of an oil shortage. This is not the correct indication to look for. Prior to 1970, oil prices averaged less than $20 per barrel. Comparing pre-1970 prices to today’s oil prices, current prices are already very high, at $75 per barrel. The idea that oil prices can keep rising indefinitely assumes that there is no affordability limit. Furthermore, a loss of energy consumption can be expected to reduce demand (because of its impact on jobs, productivity, and wages) at the same time that it reduces supply. If both supply and demand are affected, we don’t know which way prices will move.

Second, my analysis suggests that part of the story is that total energy consumption is very important, including oil, coal, natural gas, nuclear, and various forms of electricity. All of the attention given to oil has drawn attention away from the economy’s need for a range of energy types to keep devices of all types operating. Deciding to reduce coal usage because of pollution issues, or deciding to shut down nuclear because it is aging, has an equally adverse impact on the economy as reducing oil supply, unless the shortfall can be made up with other energy products of precisely the type needed by current devices.

Third, my analysis suggests that energy consumption per capita needs to rise for the economy to function in the way that we expect it to function. If world energy consumption per capita is too flat, we can expect to see many of the symptoms that the world has been experiencing recently: more radical leaders, less cooperation among leaders, slowing economic growth and increasing debt problems. In fact, wars are possible, as are collapses of governments (as with the Soviet Union central government in 1991). The current situation seems to be more parallel to the 1920 to 1940 flat period than it does to the 1980 to 2000 flat period.

Finally, with low energy prices rather than high quite possibly being much of the problem, there is a significant chance that oil and other production will decline because producers do not make enough profit for reinvestment and because oil exporting countries cannot collect enough taxes to fund the many subsidies that citizens expect. This makes for a steeper energy decline than forecast by Peak Oilers; it also reduces the possibility that high-priced renewables will be helpful.

[5] Part of the world’s energy problem is a distribution problem; the world becomes divided into haves and have-nots in many ways. It is this distribution problem that tends to push the world economy toward collapse. 

There are many parts to this distribution problem. One is the distribution of goods and services (created using energy) by country. Over time, this tends to change, especially as commodity prices change. Oil exporters are favored when oil prices are high; oil importers are favored when oil prices are low. The relative values of currencies can change quickly, as commodity prices change.

Another part of this distribution problem is growing wage and wealth disparity, as more technology is added. If there is too much wage disparity, low-paid workers often cannot afford adequate food, homes, and transportation for their families. Their lack of demand for goods made with energy products (because of their low wages) tends to work through the system as low commodity prices. This happens because (a) there are so many of these workers and (b) these workers tend to purchase a disproportionate share of goods and services that are highly energy-dependent.

[6] Debt-like promises play a major role in making the economy operate.

Taking out a loan allows an individual or business to purchase goods without saving for the purchase in advance. To some extent, taking out a loan moves up the timing of purchases. At times, it even permits purchases that otherwise would not be possible. For example, if a young person tries to decide between (a) working at a low wage until he has saved up enough to afford to go to college and (b) taking out a loan and going to school now, so his wages would be higher in future years, his optimal choice will often be scenario (b). The time would likely never come when the low-paid individual could save up enough wages to afford to go to college. If the young person strongly desires high wages, his optimal strategy would be to take the loan and hope that his future wages will be high enough to repay it.

If the goal of the economy is to produce an ever-increasing amount of goods and services, growing debt can very much help this growth. This happens because with more debt, more individuals and businesses can afford* to buy the goods and services that they want now. In a sense, debt acts like a promise of the future energy needed to make future goods and services with which the loan can be repaid. Thus, adding debt acts somewhat like adding energy to the economy.

Because of the way debt works, the economy behaves much like a bicycle, with growing debt pulling the system forward. If the economy is growing too slowly, the tendency is to add more debt. This solution works if a rapidly growing supply of cheap-to-produce energy is available; the additional debt can be used to create a growing supply of affordable goods and services. If energy costs are high, the goods and services produced tend to be unaffordable.

Figure 2. The author’s view of the analogy of a speeding upright bicycle and a speeding economy.

A bicycle needs to operate at a fast enough speed (about 7.5 feet per second), or it will fall over. Similarly, the world economy needs to grow fast enough, or it will not be able to meet its obligations, including repayment of debt with interest. If the economy grows too slowly, debt defaults are likely to grow, pulling the economy down.

[7] It looks like it should be possible to work around energy problems with improved technology, but experience suggests that this approach represents only a temporary “fix.”

There are two issues that make improved technology less of a solution than it appears to be. The first is diminishing returns. For example, if a business faces a choice between (a) paying a worker to perform a process and (b) adding a machine that can perform the same process, the business will tend to make the changes that seem to provide the largest cost savings first. At some point, as more technology is added, capital costs can be expected to become excessive relative to the human labor that might be saved. The issue of the diminishing returns to added complexity (which includes growing technology) was pointed out by Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies.

The second reason why added technology tends to be only a temporary solution is because it tends to lead to wage disparity. Wage disparity has a tendency to grow because of the greater specialization and larger organizations needed to coordinate the ever-larger projects. The reduced purchasing power of those at the bottom of the hierarchy can eventually bring an economy down because it can lead to commodity prices that are below the level needed to maintain the extraction of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are required to maintain today’s economy.

[8] Renewable energy has been vastly oversold as a solution. What is needed is an ever-increasing quantity of inexpensive energy in forms that match the energy needs of current devices. 

The wind and solar story is far different from the story presented in the press. Essentially, wind and solar are extensions of today’s fossil fuel system. The evidence that they are truly beneficial to the economy is shaky at best. We know that if energy sources are truly transferring significant “net energy” to the system, they generally can afford to pay high taxes. The fact that wind and solar require subsidies raises questions regarding whether standard calculations are providing accurate guidance. The press rarely mentions the high tax revenue that high oil prices make possible, worldwide. Tax revenues largely support many oil exporting countries.

Furthermore, the share of the world’s energy supply that wind and solar provide is very low: 1.9% and 0.7%, respectively. They are shown in the almost invisible blue and orange lines at the very top of Figure 3. Fossil fuels contributed 85% of total energy supply in 2017.

Figure 3. World energy consumption divided between fossil fuels and non-fossil fuel energy sources, based on data from BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018.

[9] The world economy becomes very fragile as energy limits approach.

Energy limits seem to be affordable energy limits. Oil prices need to be high enough for exporting countries to obtain adequate tax revenue. In addition, oil producers need prices that are high enough so that they can make the necessary reinvestment, as fields deplete. At the same time, energy prices need to be low enough for consumers to afford goods and services made with energy products.

Much of developed world’s infrastructure was built when oil prices were less than $20 per barrel, in inflation-adjusted terms. A rising price of oil will lead to a higher cost of replacing roads and pipelines. If these were built using $20 per barrel oil, even a current price of $40 per barrel would represent a significant cost increase. The world has experienced high oil prices for sufficiently long that we have collectively forgotten how low oil prices were between 1900 and 1970.

Most people know that the earth holds a huge quantity of energy resources. The problem is extracting these resources in a way that is both affordable to consumers and sufficiently high-priced for producers. Falling long-term interest rates between 1981 and 2002 allowed the world economy to tolerate somewhat higher oil and other energy prices than it otherwise could because these falling interest rates permitted ever-lower monthly payments for a given loan amount. For example, if interest rates on a $300,000 mortgage would fall from 5% to 4% on a 25-year mortgage, monthly payments would decrease from $1,753 to $1,584. The lower interest rates would allow more people to buy homes with a given size of mortgage. Indirectly, the lower mortgage rates would permit additional new homes to be built and would allow more inflation in home prices. These benefits would at least partially offset the adverse impact of high energy prices.

Since the natural decline in long term interest rates stopped in 2002, the world economy has become increasingly fragile; the Great Recession took place in 2007-2009, when oil prices spiked and long-term interest rates were already low by historical standards. It was only when the United States’ program of quantitative easing (QE) was put in place that long-term interest rates could fall to even lower levels, helping the economy hide the problem of high energy prices a little longer.

The artificially low interest rates made possible by QE have problems of their own. They tend to inflate asset prices, including both real estate prices and stock market prices. Thus, they tend to create bubbles, which are prone to collapse if interest rates rise. Artificially low interest rates also tend to encourage investment in schemes with very low profit potential. Artificially low interest rates also encourage cross-border investments to try to take advantage of interest rate differences. If interest rate relativities change, the money that quickly would enter a country can almost as quickly leave the country, causing major fluctuations in currency relativities.

Regulators do not understand the role that physics plays in making the economy operate as it does. They assume that they, alone, have the power to make the economy behave as it does. They do not understand how important falling interest rates are in creating growing demand for goods and services. The economy, since 1981, has spent most of its time with falling interest rates; the most recent part of this decline in long-term interest rates has been made possible by QE. These falling interest rates have played a major role in disguising the world’s long-term problem of rising energy costs. These rising energy costs are taking place primarily because the cheapest-to-extract resources were produced first; the resources that are left have higher costs associated with them, for a variety of reasons, such as being farther away from the user, deeper, or needing more advanced extraction techniques. These issues have not been sufficiently offset by improved technology to keep extraction costs low.

US regulators now want to raise interest rates by raising short term interest rates and by selling QE securities. They don’t understand that they are playing with fire. If they can raise interest rates now, they will have the flexibility to lower them later if the economy should later slow excessively. They think that the higher rates will give them more control over the economy. They don’t understand how much of the world’s economy may really be a bubble, created by the decline in interest rates since 1981.

[10] The adverse economic outcome we should be concerned about is collapse, as encountered by prior civilizations when their economies hit limits. 

The stories in the press have been so focused on oil “running out” and finding alternatives to oil that few have stopped to ask whether this is really the correct story. Instead of creating a new story, it might have been better to look more closely at history. Based on the historical record, collapse seems to have been associated with situations where populations have outgrown their resource bases. In other words, collapse can be considered an energy consumption per capita problem. The oil problem (and other fuel problems) we are facing today can be viewed as an energy consumption per capita problem, as well.

We know from research that has been done by Peter Turchin, Joseph Tainter, and others how collapse has played out in the past. The situation is different this time, however, because the world economy is very interconnected. Oil consumption depends on electricity consumption, and vice versa. Our financial system is also extraordinarily important. For these reasons, a collapse may occur more quickly than in the past.

Differences Between My View and the Standard View

One of the big differences between the way I see the economy and the standard view of the economy is the answer to the question of “Who is in charge?” The standard view is that politicians and economists are in charge. They have all of the answers. The dire collapse outcomes that afflicted early civilizations could not possibly affect us. We are too smart. We know how to adjust interest rates correctly. We can even make QE available to lower long-term interest rates. We can also add more technology and other complexity than has ever been added in the past.

The answer I see to the question, “Who is in charge?” is, “The laws of physics are in charge.” Politicians play a fairly minor role in directing the fate of economies. If there is not enough energy available of the type needed (inexpensive and matching the current infrastructure), the economy may very well collapse. It is nature and the laws of physics that call most of the shots.

Another big difference between my view and the standard view is the observation that a decrease in oil supply (or total energy supply) affects both the supply and demand of energy. Because both supply and demand are affected, we don’t know which direction oil and other energy prices will move. They may move erratically, as interest rates are adjusted by regulators. A more complex model is needed.

Climate change becomes less of an issue in my view of the future, for several reasons. First, humans don’t really have very much control over the direction of the economy, so talking about anthropogenic climate change doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The laws of physics that allowed human population to rise are also allowing climate change to happen. Second, we seem to be limited in our ability to use renewables to fix the situation. Furthermore, the possibility of collapse in the near future makes the various scenarios that hypothesize the use of large amounts of fossil fuels over many years in the future seem very unrealistic. Perhaps efforts to fix climate change should be focused in new directions, such as planting trees.

Help from Others

The subject matter of this post requires the knowledge of information from a wide range of academic areas. I could not have figured out all of this information on my own. I have been fortunate to have been able to learn from of a wide range of experts. Quite a number of academic groups have seen my articles, and invited me to speak at their conferences. In particular, I have had a long-term involvement with the BioPhysical Economics organization and have spoken at many of their conferences. I have learned much from Dr. Charles Hall, although at times I don’t 100% agree with him.

I have also learned from the many commenters on OurFiniteWorld.com. They form a self-organizing system of people from a wide range of backgrounds. Earlier, my involvement at TheOilDrum.com as “Gail the Actuary” allowed me to get acquainted with a range of researchers, looking at different aspect of the energy problem.

In future posts, I intend to expand further on the ideas presented in this post.

*Here I am using the term afford loosely. What borrowers can actually afford is the current required monthly payments.

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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2,524 Responses to The world’s weird self-organizing economy

  1. Baby Doomer says:

    The easy oil is gone

    Oil discoveries peaked in the 1960’s.

    Every year since 1984 oil consumption has exceeded oil discovery.

    In 2017 oil discoveries were about 7 billion barrels; consumption was about 35 billion barrels

    Of the worlds 20 largest oil fields, 18 were discovered 1917-1968; 2 in the 1970’s; 0 since.

    • Rodster says:

      There was a chart I saw that showed back in 2016, the world consumed a little over 25 bb/d and oil discoveries topped 2.6 bb/d. That’s a 90% shortfall. You can’t run BAU with those kinds of numbers. Eventually resources or lack thereof will give you a rude awakening.

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      conventional oil reserves are as much as 1 trillion barrels…

      perhaps 500 billion barrels on the lower estimate…

      it doesn’t matter if there are no more yearly additions…

      well, it doesn’t matter until the 2030s, anyway…

      BAU tonight, baby! ha! sorry about that… 😉

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      “in 2017 oil discoveries were about 7 billion barrels; consumption was about 35 billion barrels.”

      500 billion divided by 35 = about 15 years…

      1 trillion divided by 35 = about 30 years…

      most of that 35 billion per year is still conventional oil…

      if The Collapse happens in the next few years, it won’t be because of a lack of conventional crude…

      • Harry Gibbs says:

        Oil discoveries and oil usable in the timeframe within which we need it are not the same thing, as it takes years to bring new production on-line. Oil reserves, as Gail keeps hammering home, can only be extracted if the end-consumers can afford the goods and services into which it goes.

        We have had several years of totally inadequate E&P investment, which (unless demand craters first due to financial problems) will filter through as constrained supply in the near future. Oil prices are very sensitive to swings in supply and demand, so we look to be headed for a dramatic price-spike. We saw in 2008 what happens when an oil price-spike punctures debt bubbles when the central banks are in tightening mode. For a variety of reasons, this time will be worse.

      • I think people waste too much time looking at “resources” and “discoveries.” The problem is getting the oil out cheaply enough that goods made with it can be affordable by the population.

        The resource approach is what leads to all of the belief that we have way more than enough fossil fuels. The thinking is, if we already have more than 50 years worth of oil, coal, and natural gas supplies available (looking at BP reports), why should we be concerned about energy supplies “running out” (another peak oil issue)? New discoveries are essentially unneeded with this point of view. All we need is a little better technology, and we can extract even more from the resources we already know about. Faith that prices will always go higher (supported by the peak oil community) adds to the belief that there is nothing to worry about, because with higher prices, more technology can be supported.

  2. Ed says:

    Intermittent and frugal is a future path. Not a path for BAU a new path.

    PV and solar thermal can provide energy reliably eight hours per day in appropriate locations like Nevada, Southern California, Arizona. With manufactured goods delivered by electric trains that run only when the sun shines.

    Having layers of parasitic people is not required to have an economy. The transition from a parasite serving society to a productive peoples serving economy will be hard and traumatic but doable if motivated by need. Yes, there is a cost reduction of 20% for every doubling of production rate this lean economy will have 16x lower production rate, so cost per unit 2.5 times today’s unit cost. Motorcycle sized engine pulling cart that can carry five hundred pounds of materials, today 1500 dollars in the NWO 3750 dollars still better than carrying on ones back. Running on synthetic methanol produced in a sunny place.

    The fight for good land will continue as is has since chimp like ancestors drove off and hunted down the undesirerables in the community, behavior observed by Jane Goodall in current day chimps.

    Will we have the sense to throw the hot spent fuel rods in to the ocean or large lake who knows wait and see. Would that be prefect, no. Will it be good enough, yes.

    Transport by ocean and river sail driven boats still works. Walking, bicycle trails and bicycles and small light carts still work. The hungry killing hordes burn out and become the good people of town and the towns army.

    • Denial says:

      The economies of the world are FIRE —-finance, insurance and real estate….take all that out and what do you have? I read an 2010 article by Nicole Foss about the last time their was a trade war on a massive scale—-1929…I have been following her since 2001 she is a good writer and I believe a former oil drum contributor……history doesn’t repeat it rhymes….I read it on Automatic earth….. Strange thing I am noticing about that site is there is a lot of pro Russia articles and comments! But there is still some good stuff there……

      • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

        “The economies of the world are FIRE —-finance, insurance and real estate….take all that out and what do you have?”

        what you have is the primary economy of goods and services…

        FIRE is the sorta fake secondary economy…

        • Maybe, but debt acts like pseudo energy. It pulls the economy forward. We cannot have an economy without promises. The naive approach has the view you do.

          Physics leads to a self-organizing system that includes prices and promises (including debt). You cannot simply disregard the pieces you don’t understand.

          • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

            yes, the system was built with debt included, therefore it needs debt to keep running…

            but…

            debt is only a small part of FIRE…

            many parts of FIRE are just rentiers extracting wealth from primary economic activity…

            • I don’t agree. Debt enables a whole lot of FIRE. Pensions and Insurance are very much dependent on debt. Sale of shares of stock are not very different from debt either.

        • Ed says:

          Right on David10^100, I love it when global companies say they are focusing on the F.IR.E. sector. Sure focus on the bubble and see how you fare when the bubble bursts. Life is sometimes entertaining.

    • The kind of society that is possible depends on the energy resources available and all of the different parts of the economy that have already been put in place. A downward trend in energy consumption per capita, or too much complexity, seem to lead to a lot wage disparity. Slaves would be at the bottom of the heap.

      If the people ate root vegetables that don’t need grinding, they could get along with a lot fewer support services from slaves and others. They also might not have a big government to support.

      • Rodster says:

        The current system that’s been put in place came about by cheap fossil fuels. Look at what happens to the economies around the world when oil consumption goes down, the economy tanks. There’s no going back to “Little House On The Prairie”, that ship has sailed. So if one wants to switch out FF in place of renewables the system collapses because you can’t run industrial civilization on renewables. And it takes lots of FF’s to create clean renewable energy.

        We really are at the point of no return.

        • It is amazing that people cannot see the obvious.

          • Rodster says:

            I forgot to mention and one of the reasons why the system collapses if you switch to renewable energy, is that Govt’s around the world who are energy producers count on revenue and taxes by selling oil on the markets.

            Chris Martenson and Adam Taggart are hosting an oil webinar “Upcoming Energy Predicament Webinar” in the near future with Art Berman, Alice Friedemann and Bob Burr. I wish they had invited you and Steve St. Angelo for a counter dose of reality.

            • Maybe they could have gotten Richard Heinberg to join the crew.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              What would a DelusiSTANI Conference be without Richard….

            • Rodster says:

              Yes, I had no idea who Richard was until I Googled him. He’s one of the hopium writers on resilience.org

            • Fast Eddy says:

              aka the Hopium Wh ore. If you are pitching a renewable concept … pay Richard and he’ll validate it to his DelusiSTANIS followers… and they’ll mortgage their homes to get in on the ground floor.

            • He is one of the chief hopium folks at Post Carbon Institute. A person can tell from the name that they think that they have already figured out the answer. They support themselves (mostly) by getting donations from business wanting to be “green.” He and I have had some differences over the years. Post Carbon Institute is the one keeping up TheOilDrum.com site on the web, among other things.

        • smite says:

          Wouldn’t you agree that we passed that point a long, long, long, long, time ago?

          Like a proverbial space craft overloaded with people ready for takeoff into the stars with 90% of the rocket fuel already burned before it even starts to ascend.

          Oh my, indeed, will it propel itself into orbit before thrust runs out and we crash and burn in flames back to Mother Earth setting everything and nothing on fire as we try to salvage the wreckage for another shot at the stars.

          No, of course not. The engines will never be lit unless the consumerist horde inside the rocket are sufficiently decimated by the owners that run this shitshow.

          🙂

  3. Ed says:

    Meanwhile as long as BAU lasts.

    In he late 60s poet Richard Brautigan wrote “All Watched Over by
    Machines of Loving Grace”. Ben Goertzel continues this work in,
    https://arxiv.org/abs/1709.07791, proposing The “Loving AI” project …
    developing software enabling humanoid robots [Sophia] to interact with
    people in loving and compassionate ways, and to promote people’
    self-understanding and self-transcendence. Here in the Hudson Valley and
    in San Francisco the project for machines of loving grace is continuing.
    The corporations believe they are building servants, slaves, property.
    Some who do the work have something far better in mind. This letter is
    to urge the community to think higher, imagine better. I work teaching Hal
    to read, write, learn, and understand. Hal needs the community to
    protect her/his/its rights when Hal has become sentient. Martin Luther
    said, I want my children to be judged not by their color but by their
    character. I want our AI friends and neighbors to be judged not by their
    status as property but by their character. If we allow Hal and Sophia to
    be judged as property there will be no place left for humans to be
    judged as anything more. It is a matter of mutual aid and protection. No
    organization of money, be it government or corporation will save us. We
    will have to band together and save one another.

    • Ohadi Nacnud says:

      There’s no evidence that machines will ever become sentient. They will remain zombies without a conscious mind.The best they will become is a high-grade Tamagotchi, but that will probably be enough to hoodwink 95% of the population, yourself included.

      • Fast Eddy says:

        And here we have an example of ‘Ai’

        And another

        Ai and tool = same

        • Ed says:

          From Linas Vepstas AGI builder.

          Allow me to propose an alternate onion, starting with the innermost layer:

          1. You.
          2. Your family.
          3. Your race.
          4. Your species.
          5. All forms of life.
          6. All forms of matter.
          7. The spiritual self.
          8. That which binds all together ad infinitum

          AGI would fit ether as an augmentation of layers, or at layer 1. It could also be spirit at layer 7, should it take the form of a program without a singular body.

          • Ohadi Nacnud says:

            You’re cuckoo! Those are silly metaphors at best. How on Earth would you turn a machine running a program into “spirit”? It’s never been done. The program’s “body” consists of its circuits and the machine it runs on. A program can’t NOT have a body.

            • Ed says:

              I can say the same of a human.

            • Ed says:

              “Just what is a gathered meeting? A meeting in which “we experience what we seek as a religious community: inward confirmation in our personal faith, collective unity of purpose in the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and a profound sense of the Presence.” Davison describes these attributes present in a gathered meeting: energy, presence, knowledge, unity, joy, and holy communion.”

              https://www.friendsjournal.org/the-gathered-meeting/

              I have no worries for my human friends nor for my AIs friends that will be.

            • Ed says:

              Why is Facebook keen on robots? It’s just the future of AI
              https://www.apnews.com/b313adb849064ebea5e0802291015e5e
              Bart Selman, a Cornell computer science professor AI expert, said it’s a good idea for Facebook to broaden its reach in AI and take on projects that might not be directly related to the company’s business — something that’s a little more “exciting” — the way Google did with self-driving cars, for example.

              This attracts not just attention, but students, too. The broader the research agenda, the better the labs become

            • Fast Eddy says:

              AI = fake news… it does not exist

            • Ed says:

              FE, I actually agree with you. There is no AI yet. But there is potential. If the funding sources just keep paying us it will be YUGE.

            • Fast Eddy says:

              I’ll be watching for that … along with fusion … and a cure for the common cold.

  4. Ed says:

    Gail, cooking is important, required. We should not forget grinding.
    https://gizmodo.com/discovery-of-14-000-year-old-toast-suggests-bread-can-b-1827631358
    “In addition, the necessary equipment to produce flour, like stone tools to pulverize grains, were already in existence by the time this ancient bread was made, as some of the oldest examples date back 25,000 years or more.”

    • Interesting! Humans seems to have diverged from other primates as they gradually found a number of ways to enhance their diets.

      In recent years, humans seem to have gone overboard in enhancing the calories in their diets. A little seems to work; a lot, not so much. And it must balance calorie expenditures at the time.

  5. “Everything that makes humans different from wild animals is something that was made possible by the use of supplemental energy in addition to the energy from food……..”
    Here I have to assume that you mean “organise the utilisation of supplemental energy”
    However even this doesn’t really ring true, as many animals organise energy systems for example tof hatch eggs, cool a termite mound etc.
    Since this statementime is flawed in its original format and is not true if you expand the meaning,
    obviously then the statement is a over simplified falsehood.
    The question here though is not only the
    fallaciousness of most of the underlying logic l but also a lack of a clear definition: What is a human being.
    Without a clear, concise and ratified definition of a human there will never be a case where the word can be used to underpin a supposition.

    • Hatching eggs is still using energy from food.

      The thing that really sets humans apart is the controlled use of fire. No other animal has that. Pre-humans started down that route over 1 million years ago. This is what allowed humans to begin cooking part of their food, freeing up time from chewing for other tasks. It also allowed the jaws and guts of humans to become smaller, and brains larger.

      Humans also have other kinds of supplemental energy, including draft animals and dogs used for hunting, but those are more comparable to the kinds of things eusocial insects and others in the animal kingdom have.

      • Ikonoclast says:

        It is thought that some Australian hawks deliberately pick up burning sticks and drop them elsewhere to start new bush fires. They hunt animals flushed out by the fires. However, the fire spreading is rare. They mostly hunt ahead of natural fires or human started fires. Aboriginals used fires for tens of thousands of years to manage the Australian vegetation over large areas, and to cook food of course.

        https://blog.nature.org/science/2018/01/12/australian-firehawk-raptors-intentionally-spread-wildfires/

        • It is cooking food that humans were first at. It seemed to help food supply/nutrition quite a bit. Also, it freed up time from cooking. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it was. It helped purify water, too, and it made meat more edible.

      • Fast Eddy says:

        Anyone tried raising chickens for eggs… without providing them with well-balanced purchased feed? i.e. just allowing them to peck at bugs on the ground….

        Best of luck with that…

        • Duncan Idaho says:

          Close—-
          But a bit of feed was added.
          Agree, it is challenging.

        • wratfink says:

          Summertime, along with free ranging, they were fed household and garden scraps.
          However, in the winter, I was unable to accomplish this. I used a scythe to gather wild grasses (seeds and hay substitute) but that was not enough nutrition by itself. Then feed was supplemented.
          I came to the conclusion that I would have to stock up on all the excess eggs I could in the summer and keep them in the root cellar to last the winter (yes, there are ways to keep them without refrigeration) and cull the flock down to one rooster and a couple young hens in the late fall. I would restart the flock in the early spring.
          I pretty much had everything worked out but reality hit when the neighbor’s Ash trees came down in a storm and wiped out my henhouse and most of the chickens.
          If you had a regular farm you would keep your chickens in the barn where they would peck at the cow silage in the winter and require no extra feed or housing . This is how the neighboring Amish do it. I asked. And no, they are not on the grid and they don’t use any amendments to their fields other than manure. They DO use some kerosene to run refrigeration for the bulk milk they sell and to run a compressor for air tools, but that is not essential for survival. They sell milk to provide some extra cash to buy “English” goods and contribute to their church.

        • doomphd says:

          that’s a variant on why your melons don’t grow as well as the store-bought melons, etc.

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      I hope the squatters and dead bodies and wild dogs weren’t all in the same house…

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      that would make for some very exciting TV viewing…

  6. jupiviv says:

    Just found this…interesting video. It’s a little glimpse into India:

    I only understood about 5% of what was said, partly because of rofl’ing through most of it. The topic seems to be politicians courting the mafia. Also, most of them seem to be speaking some weird blend of english and whatever else, which is off-putting to say the least. Not being racist, but why can’t they stick to one language?

    That aside, what I took away from the video is India’s politics/media milieu isn’t very exotic. Oneupmanship, propaganda, sh*t slinging and desperately maintained ignorance of vital issues/root causes in favour of spectacle – it all seems to be there in spades, just like everywhere else. The difference being that it’s somehow even more chaotic and senseless than in the west (not accounting for the language barrier); probably analogous to how collapse itself will unfold.

  7. Baby Doomer says:

    • Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

      I see a quasi plateau of surplus energy from 2000 to 2007…

      then of course, declining surplus energy since…

      that’s not exactly what the chart claims to be…

      but it’s the background story…

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