The true feasibility of moving away from fossil fuels

One of the great misconceptions of our time is the belief that we can move away from fossil fuels if we make suitable choices on fuels. In one view, we can make the transition to a low-energy economy powered by wind, water, and solar. In other versions, we might include some other energy sources, such as biofuels or nuclear, but the story is not very different.

The problem is the same regardless of what lower bound a person chooses: our economy is way too dependent on consuming an amount of energy that grows with each added human participant in the economy. This added energy is necessary because each person needs food, transportation, housing, and clothing, all of which are dependent upon energy consumption. The economy operates under the laws of physics, and history shows disturbing outcomes if energy consumption per capita declines.

There are a number of issues:

  • The impact of alternative energy sources is smaller than commonly believed.
  • When countries have reduced their energy consumption per capita by significant amounts, the results have been very unsatisfactory.
  • Energy consumption plays a bigger role in our lives than most of us imagine.
  • It seems likely that fossil fuels will leave us before we can leave them.
  • The timing of when fossil fuels will leave us seems to depend on when central banks lose their ability to stimulate the economy through lower interest rates.
  • If fossil fuels leave us, the result could be the collapse of financial systems and governments.

[1] Wind, water and solar provide only a small share of energy consumption today; any transition to the use of renewables alone would have huge repercussions.

According to BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data, wind, water and solar only accounted for 9.4% 0f total energy consumption in 2017.

Figure 1. Wind, Water and Solar as a percentage of total energy consumption, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Even if we make the assumption that these types of energy consumption will continue to achieve the same percentage increases as they have achieved in the last 10 years, it will still take 20 more years for wind, water, and solar to reach 20% of total energy consumption.

Thus, even in 20 years, the world would need to reduce energy consumption by 80% in order to operate the economy on wind, water and solar alone. To get down to today’s level of energy production provided by wind, water and solar, we would need to reduce energy consumption by 90%.

[2] Venezuela’s example (Figure 1, above) illustrates that even if a country has an above average contribution of renewables, plus significant oil reserves, it can still have major problems.

One point people miss is that having a large share of renewables doesn’t necessarily mean that the lights will stay on. A major issue is the need for long distance transmission lines to transport the renewable electricity from where it is generated to where it is to be used. These lines must constantly be maintained. Maintenance of electrical transmission lines has been an issue in both Venezuela’s electrical outages and in California’s recent fires attributed to the utility PG&E.

There is also the issue of variability of wind, water and solar energy. (Note the year-to-year variability indicated in the Venezuela line in Figure 1.) A country cannot really depend on its full amount of wind, water, and solar unless it has a truly huge amount of electrical storage: enough to last from season-to-season and year-to-year. Alternatively, an extraordinarily large quantity of long-distance transmission lines, plus the ability to maintain these lines for the long term, would seem to be required.

[3] When individual countries have experienced cutbacks in their energy consumption per capita, the effects have generally been extremely disruptive, even with cutbacks far more modest than the target level of 80% to 90% that we would need to get off fossil fuels. 

Notice that in these analyses, we are looking at “energy consumption per capita.” This calculation takes the total consumption of all kinds of energy (including oil, coal, natural gas, biofuels, nuclear, hydroelectric, and renewables) and divides it by the population.

Energy consumption per capita depends to a significant extent on what citizens within a given economy can afford. It also depends on the extent of industrialization of an economy. If a major portion of industrial jobs are sent to China and India and only service jobs are retained, energy consumption per capita can be expected to fall. This happens partly because local companies no longer need to use as many energy products. Additionally, workers find mostly service jobs available; these jobs pay enough less that workers must cut back on buying goods such as homes and cars, reducing their energy consumption.

Example 1. Spain and Greece Between 2007-2014

Figure 2. Greece and Spain energy consumption per capita. Energy data is from BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy; population estimates are UN 2017 population estimates.

The period between 2007 and 2014 was a period when oil prices tended to be very high. Both Greece and Spain are very dependent on oil because of their sizable tourist industries. Higher oil prices made the tourism services these countries sold more expensive for their consumers. In both countries, energy consumption per capita started falling in 2008 and continued to fall until 2014, when oil prices began falling. Spain’s energy consumption per capita fell by 18% between 2007 and 2014; Greece’s fell by 24% over the same period.

Both Greece and Spain experienced high unemployment rates, and both have needed debt bailouts to keep their financial systems operating. Austerity measures were forced on Greece. The effects on the economies of these countries were severe. Regarding Spain, Wikipedia has a section called, “2008 to 2014 Spanish financial crisis,” suggesting that the loss of energy consumption per capita was highly correlated with the country’s financial crisis.

Example 2: France and the UK, 2004 – 2017

Both France and the UK have experienced falling energy consumption per capita since 2004, as oil production dropped (UK) and as industrialization was shifted to countries with a cheaper total cost of labor and fuel. Immigrant labor was added, as well, to better compete with the cost structures of the countries that France and the UK were competing against. With the new mix of workers and jobs, the quantity of goods and services that these workers could afford (per capita) has been falling.

Figure 3. France and UK energy consumption per capita. Energy data is from BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy; population estimates are UN 2017 population estimates.

Comparing 2017 to 2004, energy consumption per capita is down 16% for France and 25% in the UK. Many UK citizens have been very unhappy, wanting to leave the European Union.

France recently has been experiencing “Yellow Vest” protests, at least partly related to an increase in carbon taxes. Higher carbon taxes would make energy-based goods and services less affordable. This would likely reduce France’s energy consumption per capita even further. French citizens with their protests are clearly not happy about how they are being affected by these changes.

Example 3: Syria (2006-2016) and Yemen (2009-2016)

Both Syria and Yemen are examples of formerly oil-exporting countries that are far past their peak production. Declining energy consumption per capita has been forced on both countries because, with their oil exports falling, the countries can no longer afford to use as much energy as they did in the past for previous uses, such as irrigation. If less irrigation is used, food production and jobs are lost. (Syria and Yemen)

Figure 4. Syria and Yemen energy consumption per capita. Energy consumption data from US Energy Information Administration; population estimates are UN 2017 estimates.

Between Yemen’s peak year in energy consumption per capita (2009) and the last year shown (2016), its energy consumption per capita dropped by 66%. Yemen has been named by the United Nations as the country with the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis.” Yemen cannot provide adequate food and water for its citizens. Yemen is involved in a civil war that others have entered into as well. I would describe the war as being at least partly a resource war.

The situation with Syria is similar. Syria’s energy consumption per capita declined 55% between its peak year (2006) and the last year available (2016). Syria is also involved in a civil war that has been entered into by others. Here again, the issue seems to be inadequate resources per capita; war participants are to some extent fighting over the limited resources that are available.

Example 4: Venezuela (2008-2017)

Figure 5. Energy consumption per capita for Venezuela, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data and UN 2017 population estimates.

Between 2008 and 2017, energy consumption per capita in Venezuela declined by 23%. This is a little less than the decreases experienced by the UK and Greece during their periods of decline.

Even with this level of decline, Venezuela has been having difficulty providing adequate services to its citizens. There have been reports of empty supermarket shelves. Venezuela has not been able to maintain its electrical system properly, leading to many outages.

[4] Most people are surprised to learn that energy is required for every part of the economy. When adequate energy is not available, an economy is likely to first shrink back in recession; eventually, it may collapse entirely.

Physics tells us that energy consumption in a thermodynamically open system enables all kinds of “complexity.” Energy consumption enables specialization and hierarchical organizations. For example, growing energy consumption enables the organizations and supply lines needed to manufacture computers and other high-tech goods. Of course, energy consumption also enables what we think of as typical energy uses: the transportation of goods, the smelting of metals, the heating and air-conditioning of buildings, and the construction of roads. Energy is even required to allow pixels to appear on a computer screen.

Pre-humans learned to control fire over one million years ago. The burning of biomass was a tool that could be used for many purposes, including keeping warm in colder climates, frightening away predators, and creating better tools. Perhaps its most important use was to permit food to be cooked, because cooking increases food’s nutritional availability. Cooked food seems to have been important in allowing the brains of humans to grow bigger at the same time that teeth, jaws and guts could shrink compared to those of ancestors. Humans today need to be able to continue to cook part of their food to have a reasonable chance of survival.

Any kind of governmental organization requires energy. Having a single leader takes the least energy, especially if the leader can continue to perform his non-leadership duties. Any kind of added governmental service (such as roads or schools) requires energy. Having elected leaders who vote on decisions takes more energy than having a king with a few high-level aides. Having multiple layers of government takes energy. Each new intergovernmental organization requires energy to fly its officials around and implement its programs.

International trade clearly requires energy consumption. In fact, pretty much every activity of businesses requires energy consumption.

Needless to say, the study of science or of medicine requires energy consumption, because without significant energy consumption to leverage human energy, nearly every person must be a subsistence level farmer, with little time to study or to take time off from farming to write (or even read) books. Of course, manufacturing medicines and test tubes requires energy, as does creating sterile environments.

We think of the many parts of the economy as requiring money, but it is really the physical goods and services that money can buy, and the energy that makes these goods and services possible, that are important. These goods and services depend to a very large extent on the supply of energy being consumed at a given point in time–for example, the amount of electricity being delivered to customers and the amount of gasoline and diesel being sold. Supply chains are very dependent on each part of the system being available when needed. If one part is missing, long delays and eventually collapse can occur.

[5] If the supply of energy to an economy is reduced for any reason, the result tends to be very disruptive, as shown in the examples given in Section [3], above.

When an economy doesn’t have enough energy, its self-organizing feature starts eliminating pieces of the economic system that it cannot support. The financial system tends to be very vulnerable because without adequate economic growth, it becomes very difficult for borrowers to repay debt with interest. This was part of the problem that Greece and Spain had in the period when their energy consumption per capita declined. A person wonders what would have happened to these countries without bailouts from the European Union and others.

Another part that is very vulnerable is governmental organizations, especially the higher layers of government that were added last. In 1991, the Soviet Union’s central government was lost, leaving the governments of the 15 republics that were part of the Soviet Union. As energy consumption per capita declines, the European Union would seem to be very vulnerable. Other international organizations, such as the World Trade Organization and the International Monetary Fund, would seem to be vulnerable, as well.

The electrical system is very complex. It seems to be easily disrupted if there is a material decrease in energy consumption per capita because maintenance of the system becomes difficult.

If energy consumption per capita falls dramatically, many changes that don’t seem directly energy-related can be expected. For example, the roles of men and women are likely to change. Without modern medical care, women will likely need to become the mothers of several children in order that an average of two can survive long enough to raise their own children. Men will be valued for the heavy manual labor that they can perform. Today’s view of the equality of the sexes is likely to disappear because sex differences will become much more important in a low-energy world.

Needless to say, other aspects of a low-energy economy might be very different as well. For example, one very low-energy type of economic system is a “gift economy.” In such an economy, the status of each individual is determined by the amount that that person can give away. Anything a person obtains must automatically be shared with the local group or the individual will be expelled from the group. In an economy with very low complexity, this kind of economy seems to work. A gift economy doesn’t require money or debt!

[6] Most people assume that moving away from fossil fuels is something we can choose to do with whatever timing we would like. I would argue that we are not in charge of the process. Instead, fossil fuels will leave us when we lose the ability to reduce interest rates sufficiently to keep oil and other fossil fuel prices high enough for energy producers.

Something that may seem strange to those who do not follow the issue is the fact that oil (and other energy prices) seem to be very much influenced by interest rates and the level of debt. In general, the lower the interest rate, the more affordable high-priced goods such as factories, homes, and automobiles become, and the higher commodity prices of all kinds can be. “Demand” increases with falling interest rates, causing energy prices of all types to rise.

Figure 6.

The cost of extracting oil is less important in determining oil prices than a person might expect. Instead, prices seem to be determined by what end products consumers (in the aggregate) can afford. In general, the more debt that individual citizens, businesses and governments can obtain, the higher that oil and other energy prices can rise. Of course, if interest rates start rising (instead of falling), there is a significant chance of a debt bubble popping, as defaults rise and asset prices decline.

Interest rates have been generally falling since 1981 (Figure 7). This is the direction needed to support ever-higher energy prices.

Figure 7. Chart of 3-month and 10-year interest rates, prepared by the FRED, using data through March 27, 2019.

The danger now is that interest rates are approaching the lowest level that they can possibly reach. We need lower interest rates to support the higher prices that oil producers require, as their costs rise because of depletion. In fact, if we compare Figures 7 and 8, the Federal Reserve has been supporting higher oil and other energy prices with falling interest rates practically the whole time since oil prices rose above the inflation adjusted level of $20 per barrel!

Figure 8. Historical inflation adjusted prices oil, based on data from 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy, with the low price period for oil highlighted.

Once the Federal Reserve and other central banks lose their ability to cut interest rates further to support the need for ever-rising oil prices, the danger is that oil and other commodity prices will fall too low for producers. The situation is likely to look like the second half of 2008 in Figure 6. The difference, as we reach limits on how low interest rates can fall, is that it will no longer be possible to stimulate the economy to get energy and other commodity prices back up to an acceptable level for producers.

[7] Once we hit the “no more stimulus impasse,” fossil fuels will begin leaving us because prices will fall too low for companies extracting these fuels. They will be forced to leave because they cannot make an adequate profit.

One example of an oil producer whose production was affected by an extended period of low prices is the Soviet Union (or USSR).

Figure 9. Oil production of the former Soviet Union together with oil prices in 2017 US$. All amounts from 2018 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

The US substantially raised interest rates in 1980-1981 (Figure 7). This led to a sharp reduction in oil prices, as the higher interest rates cut back investment of many kinds, around the world. Given the low price of oil, the Soviet Union reduced new investment in new fields. This slowdown in investment first reduced the rate of growth in oil production, and eventually led to a decline in production in 1988 (Figure 9). When oil prices rose again, production did also.

Figure 10. Energy consumption per capita for the former Soviet Union, based on BP 2018 Statistical Review of World Energy data and UN 2017 population estimates.

The Soviet Union’s energy consumption per capita reached its highest level in 1988 and began declining in 1989. The central government of the Soviet Union did not collapse until late 1991, as the economy was increasingly affected by falling oil export revenue.

Some of the changes that occurred as the economy simplified itself were the loss of the central government, the loss of a large share of industry, and a great deal of job loss. Energy consumption per capita dropped by 36% between 1988 and 1998. It has never regained its former level.

Venezuela is another example of an oil exporter that, in theory, could export more oil, if oil prices were higher. It is interesting to note that Venezuela’s highest energy consumption per capita occurred in 2008, when oil prices were high.

We are now getting a chance to observe what the collapse in Venezuela looks like on a day- by-day basis. Figure 5, above, shows Venezuela’s energy consumption per capita pattern through 2017. Low oil prices since 2014 have particularly adversely affected the country.

[8] Conclusion: We can’t know exactly what is ahead, but it is clear that moving away from fossil fuels will be far more destructive of our current economy than nearly everyone expects. 

It is very easy to make optimistic forecasts about the future if a person doesn’t carefully examine what the data and the science seem to be telling us. Most researchers come from narrow academic backgrounds that do not seek out insights from other fields, so they tend not to understand the background story.

A second issue is the desire for a “happy ever after” ending to our current energy predicament. If a researcher is creating an economic model without understanding the underlying principles, why not offer an outcome that citizens will like? Such a solution can help politicians get re-elected and can help researchers get grants for more research.

We should be examining the situation more closely than most people have considered. The fact that interest rates cannot drop much further is particularly concerning.

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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1,253 Responses to The true feasibility of moving away from fossil fuels

  1. Davidin100millionbilliontrillionzillionyears says:

    James Howard Kunstler writes in his blog today:

    “When the private oil companies finally sink into bankruptcy, the obvious “solution” will be to nationalize the industry — a giant step toward destroying the dollar and whatever residual value the industry might have had.

    After a month-long case of influenza around Christmas time, the financial markets recovered and are once again demonstrating that they only go up — in defiance of the laws of physics, which actually do apply to markets and economies.”

    sounds a lot like OFW…

    hi, Jim…

    • I know that at some times in the past, JHK has read OurFiniteWorld.com. I can’t say for certain that he reads every article.

      We correspond from time to time, and he interviewed me one time. We have met several times in person.

      • Rodster says:

        Little by little I detect in JHK’s writings that his idea of “a world made by hand” which is one of his books, is not going to happen.

        • Book publishers don’t really want to publish anything too “dark,” however. Makes it harder to explain the problem to the world, other than perhaps in blog posts.

          • austrianpeter says:

            Thank you Gail, for putting up this very important point. I have sought some 200 book publishers and agents and the feedback is always the same: “We are not able to publish such controversial information”.

            But it is so because the world needs to know how they are being manipulated to the ‘n’th degree! It is so frustrating, so I have reverted to publishing my e-book free on various blogs, and yours is (gratefully one such).

            I have over 500 readers worldwide now through this method and plan to publish on Amazon this year if all goes well. Thank you for your support, Gail.
            refers to: peter@underco,co,uk
            or see my funding website at:
            https://www.gofundme.com/fnahvp-free-book

          • Duncan Idaho says:

            1985 — US: Sam Ervin dies. Senator “Sam” chaired the Watergate hearings in the spring of 1973.
            On the convictions of former attorney general John Mitchell & former White House aide John Ehrlichman for their roles in the scandal, he said:

            “I don’t think either one of them would have recognized the Bill of Rights if they met it on the street in broad daylight under a cloudless sky.”

            And they would be too “progressive” for the Trump “Presidency”.

  2. Peter Turchin is debunked again. (may be a repeat post)

    http://greyenlightenment.com/peter-turchin-is-probably-wrong-about-crisis-again/

    There is no crisis. The advanced world will advance with no changes. The less advanced world will bear all sufferings from peak oil

    • Peter Turchin seems to understand some things, but not others.

      I haven’t yet read your linked article, but my impression from hearing Turchin speak and answer questions about his work is that he thinks very much like an economist. He has no knowledge of energy and the role it plays. He takes a mound of data and fits curves to it, hoping to work backward to figure out what is happening. A person cannot expect very good indications from this approach.

      This doesn’t mean that everything he does is wrong however. This seems to be a common failing.

    • DJ says:

      “The less advanced world will bear all sufferings from peak oil.”

      Seems like a crisis. Or something else, isn’t a crise something that pass?

    • jupiviv says:

      The author seems to be saying that declining overall civil rest (compared to previous, unusually turbulent eras) and the Trump stock boom are proof that the US doing fine. Not a very cogent argument due to the myopic timeframe and obliviousness to numerous other factors that indicate otherwise.

      The whole “dark enlightenment” gothic techno-disney narrative is a PR campaign for Silicon Valley – just follow the money. The “advanced world” doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

  3. Harry McGibbs says:

    “In just over a month, the U.S. economy will complete 10 years of economic expansion, matching the longest expansion in history. The last time this happened, in March 2001, the economy slid from its lofty peak and into recession. The unemployment rate in the months preceding that recession dipped to 3.9 percent, nearly identical to the current rate. How likely is history to repeat and what does it mean for the Federal Reserve?”

    https://www.cnbc.com/2019/04/18/fed-is-in-worse-shape-than-economy-as-economic-expansion-hits-a-decade.html

  4. Harry McGibbs says:

    “…Every time China is touted to be pursuing macroeconomic reforms and said to be serious about reducing its debt burden, its economy stumbles and its government promptly pumps in more credit. Economic growth perks up, and investors uniformly praise China’s recovery…

    “Given that the current asset price boom cycle is already longer than the 2001-07 cycle, the final denouement too will necessarily be worse than the fallout of the 2008 crisis. Therein lies the hope to an end of the “bullsh*it” that has characterised policymaking and much investment activity in recent times.”

  5. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Economists in Milan and London are debating whether Italy is carrying so much debt that it might collapse into a Greek-style financial crisis.

    “Their fear is that because Italy is so much bigger than Greece — and because Italy is one of the Big Three economies underpinning the eurozone — that the scale of such a crisis might be more difficult to contain this time around.

    “It also underscores the un-resolvable contradiction at the heart of the European Central Bank (which governs the 19 countries that use the euro as a currency): Once a country gets into too much debt, European Union austerity rules that limit government spending militate to reduce that country’s economic growth.

    “At the same time, the ECB’s rules make it impossible for a country to exit the euro without plunging itself into the financial crisis it is seeking to avoid…

    “The crisis has been a long time coming, of course, so haven’t banks made sure to reduce their exposure to Italian debt? One of the reasons the Greek crisis was largely confined to Greece was because the private finance sphere successfully insulated itself from exposure to Greek debt…

    “”A financial crisis that brings down the current government could lead to a new unity government which implements fiscal tightening, further depressing growth,” Nobile says. “This situation cannot last.”

    “”…Italy is several orders of magnitude bigger than Greece,” Allen told Business Insider. “I think it would be more difficult to contain the contagion.”

    https://www.businessinsider.com/italy-perma-recession-systemic-crisis-threatens-eurozone-2019-4?r=US&IR=T

    • thanks for that link Harry

      really informative–I’ve saved it to re read again later

      makes me all warm inside to think I wrote much the same thing a year ago

      View at Medium.com

      • Harry McGibbs says:

        Norman, you are most welcome. I do enjoy your articles – always such a bracing dose of common sense.

      • Niels Colding says:

        Thank you Norman.

      • doomphd says:

        Norman, that’s one of the scariest and insightful essays you’ve written. Thank you for the effort.

      • I definitely that the European Union was a construct of infinite prosperity.

        • Rodster says:

          The entire Global eCONomy is built on Infinite Prosperity. The Europeans just came too late to the party.

          • The Europeans actually came a little early to the party. They started to use up their coal resources before others. They didn’t have a whole lot of oil (except off in Russia), and they mostly used that up. Natural gas is a little better. Europeans grew their population per square kilometer based on their high energy consumption. Now they are facing declining energy consumption per capita. High priced intermittent renewables have been offered as a solution, but they don’t really work.

        • things were much simpler when we used to bump off a few million of ourselves once in a generation

    • Sven Røgeberg says:

      Ugo Bardis personal history of becoming poorer i Italy. « But there is no way that we could even have dreamed to build or buy the kind of house that I inherited from my parents. Something has changed and the change is deep in the very fabric of the Italian society. And the change has a name: it is the twilight of the age of oil. Wealth and energy are two faces of the same medal: with less net energy available, what Italians could afford 50 years ago, they can’t afford anymore.

      But saying that depletion is at the basis of our troubles is politically incorrect and unspeakable in the public debate.»
      https://cassandralegacy.blogspot.com/2019/04/italy-becoming-poor-becoming-poor-in.html?m=1

      • Interesting article. I can see features of this happening here, when I compare my life with that of my children.

        One aspect of this, however, is changing expectations as to what is “right.” Now a car (at least in the US) generally has air conditioning. It has mirrors on both the right and left hand sides of the car. It has antilock brakes, a backup camera, and many other mandatory features. It certainly has a radio; probably many other entertainment features as well. This wasn’t true if we go back to the 1950s or 1960s.

        Ugo talks about the home that they tried to renovate not having air conditioning. It isn’t that the climate has changed all that much since the 1950s; it is that expectations have changed. If you don’t expect to have air conditioning, operating costs are lower. Insulation needs are less.

        When I looked back at my college yearbook, I discovered that most of my college teachers only had master’s degrees. I expect that most of them were not writing academic papers (although I did help with a book that was being written–Counterexamples in Topology). The first author had a Ph. D; the second author did not.

        We have rolled in a whole lot of costs to the system that did not exist in the past. If nothing else, we are paying for the retirement of a whole lot more seniors now than we did in the 1950s.

        • MG says:

          “We have rolled in a whole lot of costs to the system that did not exist in the past. If nothing else, we are paying for the retirement of a whole lot more seniors now than we did in the 1950s.”

          This is crucial and this also means that we do not need so much oil or coal. The convenient natural gas or nuclear are the things which are needed by the ageing populations. So I would not see the things as a catastrophy, as, already before the tipping point of the peak population, the streets, the roads will be quite empty, at least in the marginal areas, due to the aged population. And the need for houses will go down, too. Maybe rising suicide rates and the deaths from failing machines and infrastructure, the local conflicts, contribute to the fact that people will not travel so much.

          The collapse can be like prolonged emptying of the planet, too, in the places where various epidemics are not being spread. Basically, these various epidemics caused by the depletion are the biggest problem as there will be not much to fight about.

          • Unfortunately, a lot of energy uses rise. Pipelines of all kinds need to be replaced (water, sewer, natural gas, oil). This takes a lot of oil and other energy. Roads and bridges need to be maintained and resurfaced. This again takes a lot of energy, particularly oil.

            If the older people would live with their families, it might somewhat reduce energy consumption per capita (because the older people would simply be part of a bigger household). But the expectation in the United States now seems to be that the elderly will live independently or in special facilities of some sort. These are not particularly low energy. They employ a lot of workers, who drive to and from work. They operate commercial kitchens. They hire gardeners and many other employees, all of whom keep up oil and other energy consumption.

    • I found this chart interesting. It shows Italy’s GDP per employed person, relative to US GDP per employed person, on a PPP basis (rather than actual currency relativity basis).

      I am sure that energy consumption per capita plays a role in this as well.

      Italy has low population growth and this no doubt contributes to its problem well.

  6. OFW doomsters should take time out to catch up on the BBC radio prog:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0004dzb

    It’s a 15 min daily excerpt reading from this book:

    really in depth stuff about the political stalemate over GW

    • The blurb on the front says, “Nathaniel Rich’s account of how the course of climate change could have been halted in the 1980s and why it wasn’t.”

      I can’t image how the course of climate change could have been halted by anything we humans could do, short of wiping ourselves out, and that wouldn’t happen. Starting down a course that cannot work would seem to be a huge problem, apart from any other issue. Of course there will be a political stalemate; there is nothing we can do, no matter how pressing an issue it may seem to be.

      • I agree

        but the book reading on air makes wonderful insightful listening—so clear and lucid

        to anyone interested–come Friday you can listen to it in a continuous programme

        it really is very good

      • jupiviv says:

        “I can’t image how the course of climate change could have been halted by anything we humans could do, short of wiping ourselves out”

        Or wiping out industrial society and lowering population to an apt level. It’s not probable but certainly possible. All things are predetermined but our own actions are worth no less for that.

        • Slow Paul says:

          The population will certainly reach a more “apt” level, as it always has throughout history. Either through war, famine, glowball worming or epidemics, your dreams will come true!

          • Tim Groves says:

            Unless Greta saves us from our sins!

            From the Libtardian

            The Greta Thunberg effect: at last, MPs focus on climate change

            Michael Gove admits to feeling guilt as young activist says: your fossil fuels policy is beyond absurd

            “This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind,” she told the packed audience of MPs, officials and fellow school strikers. “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to.”

            There was no let-up for the audience. The UK, she said, was very special due to its “mind-blowing historical carbon debt”, a reference to the country’s record as the birthplace of industrialisation. But this was also, she said, because its claims of world-leading progress on cutting emissions are partly the result of “creative accounting” and are belied by the government’s plans for more high-emissions projects.

            “The UK’s active current support of new exploitation of fossil fuels, like for example the UK shale gas fracking industry, the expansion of its North Sea oil and gas fields, the expansion of airports, as well as the planning permission for a brand new coalmine, is beyond absurd,” she said.

            She finished to a standing ovation and cheers, then sat quietly as the panel of senior politicians gave their responses. Several appeared chastened.

            “Your voice – still, calm and clear – is like the voice of our conscience,” said the environment secretary, Michael Gove. “When I listened to you, I felt great admiration, but also responsibility and guilt. I am of your parents’ generation, and I recognise that we haven’t done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create.”

            Pass the sick bucket!

  7. Hubbs says:

    It seems to me that the rising storm clouds of costly energy sourcing/ unaffordability have created an unprecedented high stakes situation in addition to 1.) the lack of rule of law and 2.) the existence by design, of central banking/fiat currency systems. There is a component of adversarial game theory, a sort of Nash equilibrium that we are locked into right now. My basic understanding of this psychologic equilibrium according to Nash is that no one party is really going to alter his behavior as long as he perceives that the other(s) are not going to alter theirs. A Mexican standoff if you will. The event that distracts one of the parties will be enough, even though not in any way connected to the actual problem causing the standoff, to distract one party long enough so that another party will suddenly capitalize on the break of attention by the distracted party to strike.
    This is more applicable it seems to the military saber-rattling going on especially between Russia and the US/UK. But both countries realize if they actually go to war, well, that would be a really bad situation, so they will continue to play this game, which affords other opportunists a chance to quietly benefit.

    • Duncan Idaho says:

      Another very good reason for making sure the rebellion stays non-violent is that the Corporate / Mainstream Media will not hesitate __ for even a second __ to label any and all violent protesters as terrorists. If the General Population starts to believe that, then it’s over.

    • Interesting! Along the saber rattling lines, there is an interesting article this morning called, What Oil Shortage? Just a Case of Supply Being Redistributed
      Saudi Arabia is primed to pick up the slack in the oil markets with the impending loss of Iranian crude as the Trump Administration ratchets up the pressure on Tehran.

      The article makes the assertion that this is a political play, to help Saudi Arabia (an ally), so that it can pump more oil, and the total supply stay low enough to keep prices up. At the same time the biggest buyer is China; this play would theoretically hurt China. The article says,

      How else to appease their ally, keep the oil market balanced, and put pressure on their biggest nemesis, Iran? Seems like a zero-sum game.

      The article concludes:

      The price of oil is more than fairly valued. If Iran were to close the strait of Hormuz, it could potentially cause a geopolitical crisis. One thing is certain: Equities in general are priced for perfection with no risks priced in, whether it is oil prices being toppy or demand falling off given the geopolitical and economic implications.

      If there is any delay in U.S./Chinese trade deal, it goes without saying the S&P 500 could easily test its December lows.

      A different article points out that the biggest importer of Iranian oil is China, and China won’t necessarily go along with the sanctions. As Iran’s top oil buyer, China holds key to price impact of tighter US sanctions. China’s oil imports from Iran were 556,000 b/d in the first quarter of 2019. If it doesn’t comply, quite a bit of the effect is lost.

    • It is also applicable to the standing of path dependency and legacy structure of global fin system, as the US can nowadays easily loose dozen color revolution-interventions or even hot wars in a row and nothing happens. However, should their ‘alt oil’ bonanza suddenly collapse in output that would be completely another story in the eyes of the ‘money world’ .. and again this will be postponed by ever higher debt leverage for as long as possible perhaps into mid/late 2020/30s..

  8. Mark says:

    For some reason I remembered this guy today, from like 8 years ago. Found this vid, (strong language)

  9. Van Kent says:

    Political discourse seems to me to be within three categories nowadays. Or rather, what the main ideology of the politics the person, or the party, mainly communicates.
    1. Growth (its the economy stupid, and in the end, growth at any and all costs, no matter how great)
    or
    2. Renewable energy (building an utopian future with renewables, de-growth, welfare and all that)
    or
    3. Fringe disadvantage avoidance (taking one side of 1 or 2 and making a big deal out of that, education, welfare, pensions, immigrants etc etc)

    We of course here in OFW happen to know, that all politics is redundant, as the only question seems to be, how long the central banks can hold of the coming global crash of our industrial civilization. Is it one more year of money printing in the trillions. Or is it ten more years of money printing in the hundreds of trillions, before everything comes crashing down

    BUT as an interesting thought experiment, what if someone had a brain (unlikely) and rewrite the political idology of our times.. what would in that unlikely case be the political idology of our times?

    Because we know that we are without hope.. nothing can save an predicament.. but what if.. what if..

    Technology is some years from discovering bacteria that can inhale CO2 and exhale fuel, like hydrogen. Nanotechnology is some years from discovering how to build structures and materials without robbing earth of its mineral resources. AI is some years from developing some very bright ways of limiting human populations (thinking of japanese robots here). Fusion power is as always some twenty years in to the future.

    What if. What if.. everything else is a no go, a red light, an apocalypse, the end.. except one thing.. and only one thing, has an theoretical slim, slim, chance of saving everything and everybody.. to keep BAU going as long as possible, to keep everything growing as long as possible, to keep technology developing as long as possible.. because.. is it.. possible.. to have one, two, or eventually all of the above mentioned miracle technologies? And more. Could it be, that the only thing that can prevent human extinction seems to be an miracle.. BUT what if those miracles were possible.. if we just could get.. one.. more.. year.. one.. more.. month.. one.. more.. day

    Just wondering why none of the political ideologs of all the political parties havent used the best argument to be used.. this political argument would be the truth, oddly enough -> keep the economy growing, keep BAU intact, keep pumping trillions in to the economy by central banks.. even though the climate could change, even though we poison a planet, even though we cause mass extinctions.. because THAT its the only slim chance we have of avoiding extinction.. to keep the economy growing at any and all costs.. THAT is the only way of avoiding what is otherwise fast approaching

    • Unfortunately, I am afraid you are right. There is not really a good story to tell.

    • jupiviv says:

      Every mainstream ideology already premissed on keeping BAU going (in some form) indefinitely. It is so organically embedded within our thinkng that no one thinks to say it out loud.

      Also, all miracles are illusions. FFs and TCP/IP aren’t miracles to those who understand how they work and don’t work. Technology won’t save us because it can’t create the things that make it useful.

      The only solution is conservation, whether voluntarily or “the other way”.

      • Artleads says:

        And conservation depends on many factors hard to evaluate, but most definitely on the sophisticated visual/spatial acumen that is so virulently resisted by those who lack it. Those who can’t imagine how people outside their frame of reference economise and make do (and the visual subtleties or complexities involved in that) simply can’t believe that an advanced degree of conservation is possible. It doesn’t happen in their world (which is the dominant world) so it must not be able to happen anywhere else.

      • Actually, conservation is not very helpful either.

        One big issue is Jevons’ Paradox. A person tends to spend what he or she can afford. If the person conserves in one area, it will generally reduce his outlay in that area. But that will leave more funds to spend on other things. All of the other things take energy as well, so (on a net basis), not very much happens.

        Another issue is that conservation really results in reduced costs (greater efficiency, in other words), it tends to increase disposable income again. For example, if insulation added to a house allows heating cost to be lower in the future, it will allow income to be spent on other purchases, pretty much all of which will require energy for making.

        If a person thinks of conservation as including recycling, here we are generally talking about subsidizing the use of fossil fuels to (supposedly) recycle materials. It is not at all clear that this results in any reduction in the amount of fossil fuels used to produce the same amount of usable resources. We are increasingly dealing with a situation where no-one wants our recycling. For example, “India Announces It’s Also Banning Plastic Scrap Imports.” According to the article, China started the trend, but now India and Malaysia are following suit.

        If conservation makes a family feel like it can afford more children, conservation could even lead to higher population.

        • Artleads says:

          Sigh! I recycle nothing. If it isn’t compostable, it goes into construction. And the construction I propose would increase a version of construction 100 fold.

          • Xabier says:

            What is called ‘re-cycling- here in the UK is mostly just a fraud; so much is either burned, buried or shipped abroad to be dumped on very poor and unfortunate people who have no say in the matter.

            I was sickened reading about the poisoning of the re-cycling workers in Africa the other day, the contamination also leeching into their food. What arrogance on our part to do this to them!

            I’d like to say goodbye to all our electronic junk forever. Which perhaps may happen quite soon I suppose, but not because we have become any wiser or kinder of course…..

        • jupiviv says:

          @Gail, you’re talking about budgeting, not conservation. If someone saves $1000 by not spending it on gourmet icecream, so that they can spend it on porterhouse steaks instead, they do not intend to conserve money.

          True conservation isn’t popular precisely because it involves having less for oneself, and not just making “green” lifestyle choices that most other people can’t even afford.

          • austrianpeter says:

            It’s called “deferring gratification” which is sadly lacking in our consumerist society. But us ‘oldies’ remember the 1940s & 50s when politeness and respect prevailed.

    • Xabier says:

      Politics today is merely the stale re-articulation of ideas and slogans which arose in the late 18th and early 19th century, nothing more.

      In some places, of course, ideas dating from the 7th century. …..

      God help us!

      I suppose there is some merit in this, as it prevents the mass of the people from seeing the harsh truth of our situation.

      • Artleads says:

        And keeps them in a mental straight jacket of undigested ideas. And if there WERE solutions to anything, they couldn’t see it.

        • Xabier says:

          Wise words,as ever, Artleads. But what can we do, we are human and flawed……

          Reminds me of the Sufi saying: ‘Man spends his life building a cage around himself’: it needs a Lion to break it open’.

          The politicians and media run around us, yelling in our faces, wrapping our minds in the mesh of their redundant slogans.

          • Artleads says:

            I just quoted Norm’s comment on returning serfdom to a Caribbean group. We’ll see what they make of it. 😉 The countries there are incredibly unaware.

    • chrish618 says:

      The day humans stopped being hunter gatherers was the day we set in motion an unstoppable trajectory. Everything that has happened in more recent centuries was a product of that shift. Once having tasted ‘Progress’, we were hooked. We tasted something that felt good. Nothing we do now can undo that evolutionary trajectory. Humans will not willingly choose to revert to eco-lifestyles requiring hardship and labour, minus all our IT devices and mobility and so forth. There’s no-one in politics will will even entertain such a platform, for it would instantly spell the end of their career. The majority of voters will quietly and confidently wait for technology to step in and fix whatever problems we seem to be confronted by. In that, confidence reigns supreme. We will retreat only under enforcement.

  10. Dan says:

    https://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/trumps-iran-policy-could-cost-americans-billions-at-the-gas-pump/ar-BBWdH8W?li=BBnbfcN

    President Donald Trump’s goal of bringing Iran to its knees threatens to exact a heavy toll on American drivers this summer, fuel analysts warn.

    The White House surprised the oil market on Monday, announcing new measures aimed at driving Iran’s crude exports to zero in just over a week. The sudden policy shift comes on the heels of nine straight weeks of rising U.S. gasoline prices and at the outset of the annual uptick in gasoline demand.

    The national average for regular gasoline has finally paused at $2.84 a gallon, following the roughly two-month rally, according to fuel price technology firm GasBuddy. While prices continued to bubble higher in most states last week, the pace of has finally slowed.

    But the Trump administration’s shock decision to end all sanctions waivers for Iran’s oil buyers may cause another round of gas price increases, creating a “more painful summer at the pump,” said Patrick DeHaan, head of petroleum analysis for GasBuddy.

    • jupiviv says:

      Holy frack that video is literally the coolest thing ever! Srsly, thanks for sharing.

    • beidawei says:

      FIGHT LIKE APES !!!

    • Xabier says:

      Am I the only one to find the ape to be the most dignified and purposeful individual in that clip?

      Offers an insight into the roots of the gang problem in London and elsewhere these days too – and I don’t mean the furry one’s behaviour……

      • jupiviv says:

        Am I the only one who thinks you’re a postmodernist reactionary vampire who derives their life force from every kind of bigotry, as long as it doesn’t affect them personally?

        • Xabier says:

          Nice try, but when you are a little older you will understand that while some people are indeed bigots, others have lived, observed, reflected and learned something of human nature from having a wide acquaintance with people of every race and religion.

          Western Europe has imported many thousands of men just like those African ‘soldiers’, and it is has not gone at all well -not for them, and not for us. Even ‘The Guardian’ admits this,

          Try travel and observation yourself and you might find your eyes opened.

          Wide reading of real history is quite useful too, and the English language is particularly rich in such scholarship: use it, or go to your grave as ignorant as you are now. Which, of course, you might well be content with.

          • austrianpeter says:

            Well spoken Xabier, thank you and I couldn’t agree more!

          • jupiviv says:

            It is human nature to practice self-serving cognitive dissonance. I myself prefer to be inhuman. Thus, the presence of much of the current population (including immigrants) is fatally unsustainable, even though almost all of them are just average innocent people trying to get by in life.

            If people like you truly recognised this reality, they would display some understanding and compassion towards all the ad hoc categories of sub_humans they love to hate.

            • Tim Groves says:

              Jup, you may prefer to be inhuman, but this doesn’t alter the fact that you are human—or at least close—so you practice the same self-serving cognitive dissonance as the rest of us. Moreover, still being wet behind the ears, you are shockingly unaware that you are doing this. Older and wiser folks such as Xabier do it too, but they don’t do it as much because they are usually more self aware and can catch themselves before they go too far.

              If people like you truly recognised this reality, you would display some understanding and compassion towards all the ad hoc categories of sub_humans you love to hate, such as Trump supporters, postmodernist reactionary vampires, bigots, Brexiteers, Rolf Harris fans, etc.

              Beware, with so many felonies now on the books, average people trying to get by are not as innocent as all that. Probably all that self-serving cognitive dissonance that you claim is part of human nature also plays a role.

            • jupiviv says:

              One group of OFW commenters believe in looking at every issue they encounter from a broader historical and material context. They reject the notion that culture, ideology, innovation and religion in and of themselves are the primary forces behind civilisation.

              Another group performs the same sort of reasoning, but only relative to the things they personally like or dislike. In fact they aren’t even interested in collapse per se. Most of their posts are about a) how political or cultural issues they like are holding back collapse b) how those they dislike are making it worse or accelerating it or amount to useless diversions.

              Which group is suffering from cognitive dissonance?

            • Tim Groves says:

              Which group is suffering from cognitive dissonance?

              Both of “em, obviously.

              It is difficult for a person to realize that they are suffering from cognitive dissonance.
              Their cognitive dissonance tends to get in the way,

Comments are closed.