2019: World Economy Is Reaching Growth Limits; Expect Low Oil Prices, Financial Turbulence

Financial markets have been behaving in a very turbulent manner in the last couple of months. The issue, as I see it, is that the world economy is gradually changing from a growth mode to a mode of shrinkage. This is something like a ship changing course, from going in one direction to going in reverse. The system acts as if the brakes are being very forcefully applied, and reaction of the economy is to almost shake.

What seems to be happening is that the world economy is reaching Limits to Growth, as predicted in the computer simulations modeled in the 1972 book, The Limits to Growth. In fact, the base model of that set of simulations indicated that peak industrial output per capita might be reached right about now. Peak food per capita might be reached about the same time. I have added a dotted line to the forecast from this model, indicating where the economy seems to be in 2019, relative to the base model.1

Figure 1. Base scenario from The Limits to Growth, printed using today’s graphics by Charles Hall and John Day in Revisiting Limits to Growth After Peak Oil with dotted line at 2019 added by author. The 2019 line is drawn based on where the world economy seems to be now, rather than on precisely where the base model would put the year 2019.

The economy is a self-organizing structure that operates under the laws of physics. Many people have thought that when the world economy reaches limits, the limits would be of the form of high prices and “running out” of oil. This represents an overly simple understanding of how the system works. What we should really expect, and in fact, what we are now beginning to see, is production cuts in finished goods made by the industrial system, such as cell phones and automobiles, because of affordability issues. Indirectly, these affordability issues lead to low commodity prices and low profitability for commodity producers. For example:

  • The sale of Chinese private passenger vehicles for the year of 2018 through November is down by 2.8%, with November sales off by 16.1%. Most analysts are forecasting this trend of contracting sales to continue into 2019. Lower sales seem to reflect affordability issues.
  • Saudi Arabia plans to cut oil production by 800,000 barrels per day from the November 2018 level, to try to raise oil prices. Profits are too low at current prices.
  • Coal is reported not to have an economic future in Australia, partly because of competition from subsidized renewables and partly because China and India want to prop up the prices of coal from their own coal mines.

The Significance of Trump’s Tariffs

If a person looks at history, it becomes clear that tariffs are a standard response to a problem of shrinking food or industrial output per capita. Tariffs were put in place in the 1920s in the time leading up to the Great Depression, and were investigated after the Panic of 1857, which seems to have indirectly led to the US Civil War.

Whenever an economy produces less industrial or food output per capita there is an allocation problem: who gets cut off from buying output similar to the amount that they previously purchased? Tariffs are a standard way that a relatively strong economy tries to gain an advantage over weaker economies. Tariffs are intended to help the citizens of the strong economy maintain their previous quantity of goods and services, even as other economies are forced to get along with less.

I see Trump’s trade policies primarily as evidence of an underlying problem, namely, the falling affordability of goods and services for a major segment of the population. Thus, Trump’s tariffs are one of the pieces of evidence that lead me to believe that the world economy is reaching Limits to Growth.

The Nature of World Economic Growth

Economic growth seems to require growth in three dimensions (a) Complexity, (b) Debt Bubble, and (c) Use of Resources. Today, the world economy seems to be reaching limits in all three of these dimensions (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Complexity involves adding more technology, more international trade and more specialization. Its downside is that it indirectly tends to reduce affordability of finished end products because of growing wage disparity; many non-elite workers have wages that are too low to afford very much of the output of the economy. As more complexity is added, wage disparity tends to increase. International wage competition makes the situation worse.

A growing debt bubble can help keep commodity prices up because a rising amount of debt can indirectly provide more demand for goods and services. For example, if there is growing debt, it can be used to buy homes, cars, and vacation travel, all of which require oil and other energy consumption.

If debt levels become too high, or if regulators decide to raise short-term interest rates as a method of slowing the economy, the debt bubble is in danger of collapsing. A collapsing debt bubble tends to lead to recession and falling commodity prices. Commodity prices fell dramatically in the second half of 2008. Prices now seem to be headed downward again, starting in October 2018.

Figure 3. Brent oil prices with what appear to be debt bubble collapses marked.

Figure 4. Three-month treasury secondary market rates compared to 10-year treasuries from FRED, with points where short term interest rates exceed long term rates marked by author with arrows.

Even the relatively slow recent rise in short-term interest rates (Figure 4) seems to be producing a decrease in oil prices (Figure 3) in a way that a person might expect from a debt bubble collapse. The sale of US Quantitative Easing assets at the same time that interest rates have been rising no doubt adds to the problem of falling oil prices and volatile stock markets. The gray bars in Figure 4 indicate recessions.

Growing use of resources becomes increasingly problematic for two reasons. One is population growth. As population rises, the economy needs more food to feed the growing population. This leads to the need for more complexity (irrigation, better seed, fertilizer, world trade) to feed the growing world population.

The other problem with growing use of resources is diminishing returns, leading to the rising cost of extracting commodities over time. Diminishing returns occur because producers tend to extract the cheapest to extract commodities first, leaving in place the commodities requiring deeper wells or more processing. Even water has this difficulty. At times, desalination, at very high cost, is needed to obtain sufficient fresh water for a growing population.

Why Inadequate Energy Supplies Lead to Low Oil Prices Rather than High

In the last section, I discussed the cost of producing commodities of many kinds rising because of diminishing returns. Higher costs should lead to higher prices, shouldn’t they?

Strangely enough, higher costs translate to higher prices only sometimes. When energy consumption per capita is rising rapidly (peaks of red areas on Figure 5), rising costs do seem to translate to rising prices. Spiking oil prices were experienced several times: 1917 to 1920; 1974 to 1982; 2004 to mid 2008; and 2011 to 2014. All of these high oil prices occurred toward the end of the red peaks on Figure 5. In fact, these high oil prices (as well as other high commodity prices that tend to rise at the same time as oil prices) are likely what brought growth in energy consumption down. The prices of goods and services made with these commodities became unaffordable for lower-wage workers, indirectly decreasing the growth rate in energy products consumed.

Figure 5.

The red peaks represented periods of very rapid growth, fed by growing supplies of very cheap energy: coal and hydroelectricity in the Electrification and Early Mechanization period, oil in the Postwar Boom, and coal in the China period. With low energy prices,  many countries were able to expand their economies simultaneously, keeping demand high. The Postwar Boom also reflected the addition of many women to the labor force, increasing the ability of families to afford second cars and nicer homes.

Rapidly growing energy consumption allowed per capita output of both food (with meat protein given a higher count than carbohydrates) and industrial products to grow rapidly during these peaks. The reason that output of these products could grow is because the laws of physics require energy consumption for heat, transportation, refrigeration and other processes required by industrialization and farming. In these boom periods, higher energy costs were easy to pass on. Eventually the higher energy costs “caught up with” the economy, and pushed growth in energy consumption per capita down, putting an end to the peaks.

Figure 6 shows Figure 5 with the valleys labeled, instead of the peaks.

Figure 6.

When I say that the world economy is reaching “peak industrial output per capita” and “peak food per capita,” this represents the opposite of a rapidly growing economy. In fact, if the world is reaching Limits to Growth, the situation is even worse than all of the labeled valleys on Figure 6. In such a case, energy consumption growth is likely to shrink so low that even the blue area (population growth) turns negative.

In such a situation, the big problem is “not enough to go around.” While cost increases due to diminishing returns could easily be passed along when growth in industrial and food output per capita were rapidly rising (the Figure 5 situation), this ability seems to disappear when the economy is near limits. Part of the problem is that the lower growth in per capita energy affects the kinds of jobs that are available. With low energy consumption growth, many of the jobs that are available are service jobs that do not pay well. Wage disparity becomes an increasing problem.

When wage disparity grows, the share of low wage workers rises. If businesses try to pass along their higher costs of production, they encounter market resistance because lower wage workers cannot afford the finished goods made with high cost energy products. For example, auto and iPhone sales in China decline. The lack of Chinese demand tends to lead to a drop in demand for the many commodities used in manufacturing these goods, including both energy products and metals. Because there is very little storage capacity for commodities, a small decline in demand tends to lead to quite a large decline in prices. Even a small decline in China’s demand for energy products can lead to a big decline in oil prices.

Strange as it may seem, the economy ends up with low oil prices, rather than high oil prices, being the problem. Other commodity prices tend to be low as well.

What Is Ahead, If We Are Reaching Economic Growth Limits?

1. Figure 1 at the top of this post seems to give an indication of what is ahead after 2019, but this forecast cannot be relied on. A major issue is that the limited model used at that time did not include the financial system or debt. Even if the model seems to provide a reasonably accurate estimate of when limits will hit, it won’t necessarily give a correct view of what the impact of limits will be on the rest of the economy, after limits hit. The authors, in fact, have said that the model should not be expected to provide reliable indications regarding how the economy will behave after limits have started to have an impact on economic output.

2. As indicated in the title of this post, considerable financial volatility can be expected in 2019 if the economy is trying to slow itself. Stock prices will be erratic; interest rates will be erratic; currency relativities will tend to bounce around. The likelihood that derivatives will cause major problems for banks will rise because derivatives tend to assume more stability in values than now seems to be the case. Increasing problems with derivatives raises the risk of bank failure.

3. The world economy doesn’t necessarily fail all at once. Instead, pieces that are, in some sense, “less efficient” users of energy may shrink back. During the Great Recession of 2008-2009, the countries that seemed to be most affected were countries such as Greece, Spain, and Italy that depend on oil for a disproportionately large share of their total energy consumption. China and India, with energy mixes dominated by coal, were much less affected.

Figure 7. Oil consumption as a percentage of total energy consumption, based on 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy data.

Figure 8. Energy consumption per capita for selected areas, based on energy consumption data from 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy and United Nations 2017 Population Estimates by Country.

In the 2002-2008 period, oil prices were rising faster than prices of other fossil fuels. This tended to make countries using a high share of oil in their energy mix less competitive in the world market. The low labor costs of China and India gave these countries another advantage. By the end of 2007, China’s energy consumption per capita had risen to a point where it almost matched the (now lower) energy consumption of the European countries shown. China, with its low energy costs, seems to have “eaten the lunch” of some of its European competitors.

In 2019 and the years that follow, some countries may fare at least somewhat better than others. The United States, for now, seems to be faring better than many other parts of the world.

4. While we have been depending upon China to be a leader in economic growth, China’s growth is already faltering and may turn to contraction in the near future. One reason is an energy problem: China’s coal production has fallen because many of its coal mines have been closed due to lack of profitability. As a result, China’s need for imported energy (difference between black line and top of energy production stack) has been growing rapidly. China is now the largest importer of oil, coal, and natural gas in the world. It is very vulnerable to tariffs and to lack of available supplies for import.

Figure 9. China energy production by fuel plus its total energy consumption, based on BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2018 data.

A second issue is that demographics are working against China; its working-age population already seems to be shrinking. A third reason why China is vulnerable to economic difficulties is because of its growing debt level. Debt becomes difficult to repay with interest if the economy slows.

5. Oil exporters such as Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria have become vulnerable to government overthrow or collapse because of low world oil prices since 2014. If the central government of one or more of these exporters disappears, it is possible that the pieces of the country will struggle along, producing a lower amount of oil, as Libya has done in recent years. It is also possible that another larger country will attempt to take over the failing production of the country and secure the output for itself.

6. Epidemics become increasingly likely, especially in countries with serious financial problems, such as Yemen, Syria, and Venezuela. Historically, much of the decrease in population in countries with collapsing economies has come from epidemics. Of course, epidemics can spread across national boundaries, exporting the problems elsewhere.

7. Resource wars become increasingly likely. These can be local wars, perhaps over the availability of water. They can also be large, international wars. The timing of World War I and World War II make it seem likely that these wars were both resource wars.

Figure 10.

8. Collapsing intergovernmental agencies, such as the European Union, the World Trade Organization, and the International Monetary Fund, seem likely. The United Kingdom’s planned exit from the European Union in 2019 is a step toward dissolving the European Union.

9. Privately funded pension funds will increasingly be subject to default because of continued low interest rates. Some governments may choose to cut back the amounts they provide to pensioners because governments cannot collect adequate tax revenue for this purpose. Some countries may purposely shut down parts of their governments, in an attempt to hold down government spending.

10. A far worse and more permanent recession than that of the Great Recession seems likely because of the difficulty in repaying debt with interest in a shrinking economy. It is not clear when such a recession will start. It could start later in 2019, or perhaps it may wait until 2020. As with the Great Recession, some countries will be affected more than others. Eventually, because of the interconnected nature of financial systems, all countries are likely to be drawn in.

Summary

It is not entirely clear exactly what is ahead if we are reaching Limits to Growth. Perhaps that is for the best. If we cannot do anything about it, worrying about the many details of what is ahead is not the best for anyone’s mental health. While it is possible that this is an end point for the human race, this is not certain, by any means. There have been many amazing coincidences over the past 4 billion years that have allowed life to continue to evolve on this planet. More of these coincidences may be ahead. We also know that humans lived through past ice ages. They likely can live through other kinds of adversity, including worldwide economic collapse.

Note:

[1] Note that where the dotted line for 2019 is placed is based on where I see the 2019 economy relative to the downturn in industrial output per capita, based on a number of kinds of evidence, not all of which is cited in this article. The 1972 base model would give a slightly different timing of the downturn, a few years earlier. Also note that while the original “The Limits to Growth” book is no longer in print, Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update by the same authors is available for sale.

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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1,243 Responses to 2019: World Economy Is Reaching Growth Limits; Expect Low Oil Prices, Financial Turbulence

    • Baby Doomer says:

      According to Nissan Canada, it sold 695 electric vehicles in Ontario in August. By November, those sales dropped to 10. That’s not a typo. The company literally sold 10 of its Leafs.

      • Rodster says:

        Where are the hypocrite Greenies? Why aren’t they helping their environmental cause and buying electric vehicles? It’s the same reason Al Gore preaches cl.mate cha.nge meanwhile spending close to $30,000 a year on his electric bill to power his McMansion and that was in 2006. It’s do as I say, not as I do.

        • Uncle Bill says:

          Perhaps those Greenies know better…Rodster….realize it’s all just smoke and spin!
          Like Gail has professed, it’s all based on Physics…Science….
          And it doesn’t change the body of evidence of the outcome….Yes, I agree with Gail,
          Not much we can do about it with 7.8 billion two legged consumption and desiring the Good Life of the American dream.

  1. MG says:

    Germany SLOWDOWN: Merkel’s economy dented as manufacturing falls at fastest rate for 4yrs

    https://www.express.co.uk/finance/city/1066185/Germany-news-economy-finance-money-slowdown-manufacturing-PMI-survey

    My opinion is that this reflects not only the world economy situation, but, also, the declining availability of the suitable workforce in Europe: the Germanys industry simply can not accept more orders.

    • Also, the high cost of electricity in Germany is affecting the ability of Germany to attract suitable workers, if not affecting the price of electricity for industrial production. (High cost of electricity are disproportionately paid for by workers, rather than industry.)

      Furthermore, exports to UK and China are likely down. Adding pollution controls hurts auto pricing, apart from other disruptions, I would expect.

      • Gail, I’m afraid you don’t appreciate the full scope of it.
        What has happened through recent decades is that increasingly large part of the Western Europe and most of the CEE are basically integrated part of the overall German economy, be it suppliers or branches.. There are also ~free riding subsidized consumers like Greece/S.Italy/.. to top it up for fun, no offense.

        This is obviously reflected in the employment question, ~everybody in Europe is in the final analysis working for Germany (and owners of capital sloshing through Germany), including (still not enough) of the poor Ukrainians inside CEE factories.

        • Thanks for the additional information. Makes sense. Germany is the hub, taking in parts made in Eastern Europe (made with coal and nuclear), and selling them to other places within the EU as well as to China. In getting to this position, it helped that Germany’s currency was relatively high. Also, it helped that they were able to bring in workers from Eastern Europe at low wages.

          Now things aren’t going so well. The traditional buyers, including people in Greece and Italy, can’t afford the goods that are being made. Even the workers in Germany cannot afford the goods, nor can those in the UK. China isn’t doing well either. More recent new workers, from Africa and the Middle East, didn’t work out so well.

  2. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Norway’s oil regulator reduced its forecast for production this year, predicting crude output could drop to the lowest in three decades before recovering in 2020.

    “NPD says oil output was affected by new developments becoming more complex than anticipated and that fewer than expected wells have been drilled. Director General Bente Nyland added in an interview that delays and issues on new projects in 2018 would continue to affect output this year, forcing a reduction in the production forecast.”

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-01-10/norway-regulator-cuts-forecast-for-oil-gas-production-in-2019

    • Slow Paul says:

      Kinda funny, they normally forecast increased production each year in face of terminal decline from the peak around 2001. Now they forecast a decrease in the face of a big increase in the coming years from the giant Johan Sverdrup field that may produce as much as 500k barrels a day.

  3. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Automakers [in India], hit by the liquidity crisis among non banking financial companies (NBFCs), want the government to take measures to stem the reduction in credit for dealers and customers.

    “The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers (Siam), the industry lobby, has written to finance secretary A.N. Jha about the continued decline in sales from the lack of credit. The NBFC crisis was triggered by the crisis at Infrastructure Lending and Financial Services Ltd (IL&FS).

    According to retail sales data released by FADA, passenger vehicle sales during the first three quarters of the current fiscal (April to December) declined 2% year-on-year…

    https://www.livemint.com/Auto/jyBIgAxD4nR3PCxduP8UDJ/NBFC-liquidity-crisis-hits-Indias-auto-industry-hard.html

    • If India’s auto sales, as well as China’s, are declining, the world really has a problem. There are supposed to be growing countries in the world. Do we need to look to Eastern Europe as the world’s salvation? I can’t imagine that it would be enough.

      • Harry McGibbs says:

        By nominal GDP, Poland’s economy, which is the largest in Eastern Europe, is only the world’s 24th largest, placing it just ahead of Belgium. It is just one fifth the size of the UK’s.

        The Czech Republic and Romania are way down in 49th and 50th place respectively.

        We are all out of viable engines with the potential to meaningfully pull forward global growth, it would seem.

  4. Harry McGibbs says:

    “British lawmakers are set to vote on Prime Minister Theresa May’s much-maligned Brexit deal on Tuesday, with less than three months to go before the U.K. is set to leave the European Union.
    “Remarkably, May’s template to exit the bloc faces virtually certain defeat.

    “That leaves the prospect of a complete collapse of government, a disorderly exit from the bloc or even the entire Brexit process being scrapped altogether over the coming weeks.”

    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/11/brexit-vote-parliament-set-to-decide-outcome-of-mays-withdrawal-deal.html

  5. Harry McGibbs says:

    “It’s no secret that our Federal debt has more than doubled since the onset of the last recession in late 2007. It’s gone from $10.1 trillion to $23.6 trillion. That’s a 134 percent increase in just 11 years!

    “And now Trump’s business tax cuts are pushing that debt higher still. It’s now at 114 percent of GDP. It was only 69 percent of GDP in late 2007. In fact, government debt has been roughly doubling every eight years or two administrations…

    “At a similar, near-doubling rate, it could be as high as $39 trillion at the beginning of 2025… Doesn’t seem possible, does it? $39 trillion!?

    “But when you consider the impacts of the large corporate tax cuts in the deep depression I expect we’ll see between 2020 and 2023/2024, that dizzying figure doesn’t seem all that impossible after all.

    “Consumer debt has only come back to slight new highs at $14.2 trillion and the financial sector debt has declined $2.1 trillion since its peak in 2008.

    “Corporate debt has gone up the fastest—49 percent—in the Fed-engineered, low-rate environment. It’s gone from $10.1 trillion, or 68 percent of GDP, to $15 trillion, or 73 percent GDP. $7.35 trillion of that is loans. $7.65 trillion is corporate bonds.

    “But the big factor has been the corporate bonds stimulated by massive QE and lower than market rates…

    “Most people aren’t aware that these have gone up more than government debt. They’ve gone from $2.95 trillion at the beginning of 2008 to $7.65 trillion in late 2018, heading towards $8.0 trillion-plus. That’s 159 percent as of now, greater than the growth of the Federal debt.

    “The worst part is that much of that has been used for leveraging earnings through stock buybacks that shrink shares rather than grow capacity and sales/earnings—and not for expansion of capacity. The corporate tax cuts also didn’t increase capital spending as was projected!

    “It’s the same phenomenon around the globe—from China to Turkey—with corporate debt growing the fastest thanks to low rates and the plentiful dollars and euros printed to bail us developed countries out of our last debt crisis…”

    https://born2invest.com/articles/trend-global-debt-more-concerning/

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “…investment-grade and high-yield corporate bonds have registered over US$65 billion net outflow in the 10 weeks to Dec. 31. That marks a record high. In other words, investors are dumping corporate bonds.

      “Many countries, especially emerging markets, have posted staggering credit expansion after the 2008 financial crisis.

      “The credit to private non-financial sectors in developed and developing markets surged above US$160 trillion in the first quarter of last year. It accounts for 244.9 percent of GDP. Both figures hit a record high. That shows private non-financial sectors are having extremely high leverage, and the bubble is building up.”

      http://www.ejinsight.com/20190111-high-debt-levels-fed-tightening-may-trigger-another-crisis/

      • Harry McGibbs says:

        “Cracks are already forming. In December, borrowing in the high-yield bond market came to a standstill. Deals in the leveraged loan market are also delayed from a lack of interest from mutual funds and collateralized loan obligation managers, the largest buyers of leveraged loans. These events signal trouble ahead for highly indebted companies seeking more financing.

        “Wall Street banks have significant exposure to corporate debt… In a crisis, these exposures could serve as a channel for contagion in a highly interconnected financial system dominated by large banks.”

      • But we really need the debt level to keep increasing, to keep the system going.

    • I think that there are many parts of the story of growing overdose deaths by women. The view that there is a pill to fix every problem pervades the entire medical system and the population buying the drugs. Some of these drugs are addictive. They have interactive effects. And there are huge numbers of women who find it impossible to find a stable home situation, with low wages for both men and women. Income tax rates tend to be higher for married couples than singles, discouraging marriage, particularly among the low income folk. Wage disparity is a much greater problem, now that more women have college degrees, because high income women tend to marry high income men.

      Low income women tend to self medicate with drugs. So do higher income women, if they have medical issues that cause pain. Overall, there end up being a lot more deaths from overdoses.

      • Baby Doomer says:

        I lost an ex girlfriend a few months ago to an opioid overdose..I went to high school with her..She had a small child as well..And she wasn’t some trailer trash either..Her parents house had its own basketball court inside it..Her family was extreme wealthy..Just saying this because it shows it can happen to anyone these days..

        • A sister of a one of my sisters-in-law died unexpectedly a few years ago. She had teenage children. An autopsy revealed that the problem was a drug interaction effect. If I remember correctly, both of the drugs involved were commonly sold over-the-counter drugs taken for fairly medical conditions that occur frequently. (It is possible that one was a common prescription drug.)

          A woman I know (married with a teen-age son) who was undergoing treatment for brain cancer became addicted to the pain killers she was being given. She had a terrible time going through withdrawal symptoms, at the same time she was continuing cancer treatment.

          • Harry McGibbs says:

            Part of the problem is that pharmaceutical firms aggressively pushing strong, new opioids into the market-place in the 90’s deceived doctors thence their patients both about the addiction risk they posed and their long-term efficacy, with the result that they were absurdly over-prescribed. A lot of people picked up habits back then.

            Here is a shockingly disingenuous Purdue commercial for OxyContin from 1998:

          • xabier says:

            In the 19th century, wealthier people were often set on the path of opium addiction in consequence of medical prescriptions for pain relief. ‘Mama’s special tonic’, etc.

            The wife of Lord Clark (of ‘Civilization’ fame) used to be quite hard to deal with in the mornings until she’d had her special cocaine nasal spray, prescribed by her physician as medicine. Everything one could wish for; wealth, fame, beautiful houses and art collections…..

            • until about 1963 (I think) cocaine was a prescribed medication in uk, and we didn’t have a drug problem

              then they banned it and we got a drug problem overnight (literally)

    • Ed says:

      What fraction of these drug overdoses are actually suicides?

  6. Very Far Frank says:

    I’m always interested to find out how people came to find this blog in the first place; it can’t be said that it’s particularly flashy and entertaining, so much as it depressing. But I think it does represent an example of stellar systems thinking and a profound understanding of our nature as humans and organisms, and how our collective behaviour, our ideologies- all that- is essentially a product of our resource and energy conditions. I came to this realisation in an awkward fashion, being interested in society first, and working backwards into economics and biology, and when it all came together, it was like being hit by a thunderbolt. I thought at the time that I was one of the very few who had come to the conclusion we, as well as our civilizations, are fundamentally driven by fragile energy inputs, but I’m glad to have found a place that has proven me wrong in that respect- there are lots of us. I’m glad too that many seem to be preparing as best they can for when system breakdown begins in earnest.

    Thanks Gail, for giving us risk-averse people a home.

    • I suppose actuaries are particular aware of future risks that other folks cannot see in front of them. You may know that I originally started writing under the pen name, “Gail the Actuary.”

    • CTG says:

      Actually not many of us here. Probably less than 50 in total? Among th 7b+ people

      • for every commenter you might get 100 drive-byes

        • GBV says:

          I’ve lurked like crazy here on OFW for at least the past 4 years (spent most of my time on TAE before that… until Nicole Foss bailed on it anyway). Your comment made me decide to post for the first time.

          Cheers!

      • Very Far Frank says:

        I’m going by the assumption there are a lot of lurkers- but it’s true, I think Harry McG is about 70% of all comments..

      • I get a surprising number of e-mails and phone calls from people who never comment publicly. Also, when I meet people in gatherings outside of setting where I would expect readers of energy blogs, I run into a lot of people who come up to me and say, “I have been reading your website.” A lot of these people are not readers of the comments, however. They read the posts, and consider that enough time devoted to the topic.

      • milan says:

        @ CTG

        Read an interesting essay over at the Saker blog and immediately thought of you CTG. Your view of the supply chain and the interconnectivity of everything is becoming a very serious issue for the US Military:

        The essence of the problem, according to the retelling of the columnist of the Reuters agency Andy Home, who obtained a copy of the September report of the US Department of Defence on the situation concerning key deliveries necessary for the American army, is reduced to one important figure. More than 300 (!) key elements necessary for the normal functioning of the US Armed Forces and defensive industry are under threat: American producers are either on the verge of bankruptcy or were already replaced by suppliers from China or other countries because of the deindustrialisation of national economy and the relocation of production to the countries of Southeast Asia.
        Mr. Home gives as a striking and clear example the amusing (of course, if you are not a US military man) fact from the report: it turns out that the last American producer of the synthetic threads necessary for the production of army tents “died” quite recently. This means that in the event that the US will fall under such a “textile embargo”, for some American soldiers they will seriously face the prospect of sleeping in the open-air. It is difficult not to notice that such a prospect looks slightly humiliating for an army that claims to be the most hi-tech on the planet.
        The situation could be considered as funny if it didn’t affect such a wide range of requirements of the Ameri

        enjoy….

    • Theophilus says:

      Welcome Frank

      I have a similar story. My background is in Christian ministry. Like you my journey to understand the underlying causes of our declining civilization has lead me here. I check this website almost daily to read the ongoing comments about finite world resource issues.

      Gail’s has a rare ability to look at an overwhelming complex system and identify the fundamental drivers. She can see through the fog of data and extract the truth. She is humble to a fault. Gail has no political agenda that I am aware of. Gail provides valuable information and analysis and distributes it free of charge. Most importantly, she is able to communicate these ideas in a way that even I can understand.

      The comment section of Our Finite World is a battleground of ideas, where only the strong survive. Many of the regulars who post here provide additional information and analysis that explore a wide range of practical responses. We have some of the gloomiest doomers contending with die hard delusional optimists; and everything in between.

      So sit back and make yourself at home. It’s good to have your company.

      • yup

        we have yet to reach peak doom that’s for sure

      • Very Far Frank says:

        Thanks for the kind words Theophilus- I’d like too to contribute analysis when I can but I’m afraid my days are a bit busy recently. Gail is a gem to be sure- I’ve been lurking for years so she’s a celebrity in my eyes, and her impartiality is refreshing. I’m sure most others with the same information would have sunken into a ‘We’re all going to die’ mantra, but GT still comes out with new insight all the time.

  7. Rodster says:

    I find it amusing how the Central Banks and the financial markets loosely throw out the term “Recession” because that’s what they fear. Ironically, that’s not what they fear. What they do fear is at best a “Global Depression” and at worse a total global collapse of banking, finance and the markets. I guess not trying to use scare words, helps keep the public from going into full panic mode because that nearly happened in 2008 and the problems according to many economists are far worse than it was in 2008.

    • xabier says:

      As a girlfriend said: ‘I wish they’d stop using that awful ‘recession’ word: I mean, it just makes things worse doesn’t it ? And then people won’t come to my gallery and buy art!’

      That was her response to 2008!

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