Rethinking Renewable Mandates

Powering the world’s economy with wind, water and solar, and perhaps a little wood sounds like a good idea until a person looks at the details. The economy can use small amounts of wind, water and solar, but adding these types of energy in large quantities is not necessarily beneficial to the system.

While a change to renewables may, in theory, help save world ecosystems, it will also tend to make the electric grid increasingly unstable. To prevent grid failure, electrical systems will need to pay substantial subsidies to fossil fuel and nuclear electricity providers that can offer backup generation when intermittent generation is not available. Modelers have tended to overlook these difficulties. As a result, the models they provide offer an unrealistically favorable view of the benefit (energy payback) of wind and solar.

If the approach of mandating wind, water, and solar were carried far enough, it might have the unfortunate effect of saving the world’s ecosystem by wiping out most of the people living within the ecosystem. It is almost certain that this was not the intended impact when legislators initially passed the mandates.

[1] History suggests that in the past, wind and water never provided a very large percentage of total energy supply.

Figure 1. Annual energy consumption per person (megajoules) in England and Wales 1561-70 to 1850-9 and in Italy 1861-70. Figure by Tony Wrigley, Cambridge University.

Figure 1 shows that before and during the Industrial Revolution, wind and water energy provided 1% to 3% of total energy consumption.

For an energy source to work well, it needs to be able to produce an adequate “return” for the effort that is put into gathering it and putting it to use. Wind and water seemed to produce an adequate return for a few specialized tasks that could be done intermittently and that didn’t require heat energy.

When I visited Holland a few years ago, I saw windmills from the 17th and 18th centuries. These windmills pumped water out of low areas in Holland, when needed. A family would live inside each windmill. The family would regulate the level of pumping desired by adding or removing cloths over the blades of the windmill. To earn much of their income, they would also till a nearby plot of land.

This overall arrangement seems to have provided adequate income for the family. We might conclude, from the inability of wind and water energy to spread farther than 1% -3% of total energy consumption, that the energy return from the windmills was not very high. It was adequate for the arrangement I described, but it didn’t provide enough extra energy to encourage greatly expanded use of the devices.

[2] At the time of the Industrial Revolution, coal worked vastly better for most tasks of the economy than did wind or water.

Economic historian Tony Wrigley, in his book Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, discusses the differences between an organic economy (one whose energy sources are human labor, energy from draft animals such as oxen and horses, and wind and water energy) and an energy-rich economy (one that also has the benefit of coal and perhaps other energy sources). Wrigley notes the following benefits of a coal-based energy-rich economy during the period shown in Figure 1:

  • Deforestation could be reduced. Before coal was added, there was huge demand for wood for heating homes and businesses, cooking food, and for making charcoal, with which metals could be smelted. When coal became available, it was inexpensive enough that it reduced the use of wood, benefiting the environment.
  • The quantity of metals and tools was greatly increased using coal. As long as the source of heat for making metals was charcoal from trees, the total quantity of metals that could be produced was capped at a very low level.
  • Roads to mines were greatly improved, to accommodate coal movement. These better roads benefitted the rest of the economy as well.
  • Farming became a much more productive endeavor. The crop yield from cereal crops, net of the amount fed to draft animals, nearly tripled between 1600 and 1800.
  • The Malthusian limit on population could be avoided. England’s population grew from 4.2 million to 16.7 million between 1600 and 1850. Without the addition of coal to make the economy energy-rich, the population would have been capped by the low food output from the organic economy.

[3] Today’s wind, water, and solar are not part of what Wrigley called the organic economy. Instead, they are utterly dependent on the fossil fuel system.

The name renewables reflects the fact that wind turbines, solar panels, and hydroelectric dams do not burn fossil fuels in their capture of energy from the environment.

Modern hydroelectric dams are constructed with concrete and steel. They are built and repaired using fossil fuels. Wind turbines and solar panels use somewhat different materials, but these too are available only thanks to the use of fossil fuels. If we have difficulty with the fossil fuel system, we will not be able to maintain and repair any of these devices or the electricity transmission system used for distributing the energy that they capture.

[4] With the 7.7 billion people in the world today, adequate energy supplies are an absolute requirement if we do not want population to fall to a very low level. 

There is a myth that the world can get along without fossil fuels. Wrigley writes that in a purely organic economy, the vast majority of roads were deeply rutted dirt roads that could not be traversed by wheeled vehicles. This made overland transport very difficult. Canals were used to provide water transport at that time, but we have virtually no canals available today that would serve the same purpose.

It is true that buildings for homes and businesses can be built with wood, but such buildings tend to burn down frequently. Buildings of stone or brick can also be used. But with only the use of human and animal labor, and having few roads that would accommodate wheeled carts, brick or stone homes tend to be very labor-intensive. So, except for the very wealthy, most homes will be made of wood or of other locally available materials such as sod.

Wrigley’s analysis shows that before coal was added to the economy, human labor productivity was very low. If, today, we were to try to operate the world economy using only human labor, draft animals, and wind and water energy, we likely could not grow food for very many people. World population in 1650 was only about 550 million, or about 7% of today’s population. It would not be possible to provide for the basic needs of today’s population with an organic economy as described by Wrigley.

(Note that organic here has a different meaning than in “organic agriculture.” Today’s organic agriculture is also powered by fossil fuel energy. Organic agriculture brings soil amendments by truck, irrigates land and makes “organic sprays” for fruit, all using fossil fuels.)

[5] Wind, water and solar only provided about 11% of the world’s total energy consumption for the year 2018. Trying to ramp up the 11% production to come anywhere close to 100% of total energy consumption seems like an impossible task.

Figure 2. World Energy Consumption by Fuel, based on data of 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Let’s look at what it would take to ramp up the current renewables percentage from 11% to 100%. The average growth rate over the past five years of the combined group that might be considered renewable (Hydro + Biomass etc + Wind&Solar) has been 5.8%. Maintaining such a high growth rate in the future is likely to be difficult because new locations for hydroelectric dams are hard to find and because biomass supply is limited. Let’s suppose that despite these difficulties, this 5.8% growth rate can be maintained going forward.

To increase the quantity from 2018’s low level of renewable supply to the 2018 total energy supply at a 5.8% growth rate would take 39 years. If population grows between 2018 and 2057, even more energy supply would likely be required. Based on this analysis, increasing the use of renewables from a 11% base to close to a 100% level does not look like an approach that has any reasonable chance of fixing our energy problems in a timeframe shorter than “generations.”

The situation is not quite as bad if we look at the task of producing an amount of electricity equal to the world’s current total electricity generation with renewables (Hydro + Biomass etc + Wind&Solar); renewables in this case provided 26% of the world’s electricity supply in 2018.

Figure 3. World electricity production by type, based on data from 2019 BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

The catch with replacing electricity (Figure 3) but not energy supplies is the fact that electricity is only a portion of the world’s energy supply. Different calculations give different percentages, with electricity varying between 19% and 43% of total energy consumption.1 Either way, substituting wind, water and solar in electricity production alone does not seem to be sufficient to make the desired reduction in carbon emissions.

[6] A major drawback of wind and solar energy is its variability from hour-to-hour, day-to-day, and season-to-season. Water energy has season-to-season variability as well, with spring or wet seasons providing the most electricity.

Back when modelers first looked at the variability of electricity produced by wind, solar and water, they hoped that as an increasing quantity of these electricity sources were added, the variability would tend to offset. This happens a little, but not nearly as much as one would like. Instead, the variability becomes an increasing problem as more is added to the electric grid.

When an area first adds a small percentage of wind and/or solar electricity to the electric grid (perhaps 10%), the electrical system’s usual operating reserves are able to handle the variability. These were put in place to handle small fluctuations in supply or demand, such as a major coal plant needing to be taken off line for repairs, or a major industrial client reducing its demand.

But once the quantity of wind and/or solar increases materially, different strategies are needed. At times, production of wind and/or solar may need to be curtailed, to prevent overburdening the electric grid. Batteries are likely to be needed to help ease the abrupt transition that occurs when the sun goes down at the end of the day while electricity demand is still high. These same batteries can also help ease abrupt transitions in wind supply during wind storms.

Apart from brief intermittencies, there is an even more serious problem with seasonal fluctuations in supply that do not match up with seasonal fluctuations in demand. For example, in winter, electricity from solar panels is likely to be low. This may not be a problem in a warm country, but if a country is cold and using electricity for heat, it could be a major issue.

The only real way of handling seasonal intermittencies is by having fossil fuel or nuclear plants available for backup. (Battery backup does not seem to be feasible for such huge quantities for such long periods.) These back-up plants cannot sit idle all year to provide these services. They need trained staff who are willing and able to work all year. Unfortunately, the pricing system does not provide enough funds to adequately compensate these backup systems for those times when their services are not specifically required by the grid. Somehow, they need to be paid for the service of standing by, to offset the inevitable seasonal variability of wind, solar and water.

[7] The pricing system for electricity tends to produce rates that are too low for those electricity providers offering backup services to the electric grid.

As a little background, the economy is a self-organizing system that operates through the laws of physics. Under normal conditions (without mandates or subsidies) it sends signals through prices and profitability regarding which types of energy supply will “work” in the economy and which kinds will simply produce too much distortion or create problems for the system.

If legislators mandate that intermittent wind and solar will be allowed to “go first,” this mandate is by itself a substantial subsidy. Allowing wind and solar to go first tends to send prices too low for other producers because it tends to reduce prices below what those producers with high fixed costs require.2

If energy officials decide to add wind and solar to the electric grid when the grid does not really need these supplies, this action will also tend to push other suppliers off the grid through low rates. Nuclear power plants, which have already been built and are adding zero CO2 to the atmosphere, are particularly at risk because of the low rates. The Ohio legislature recently passed a $1.1 billion bailout for two nuclear power plants because of this issue.

If a mandate produces a market distortion, it is quite possible (in fact, likely) that the distortion will get worse and worse, as more wind and solar is added to the grid. With more mandated (inefficient) electricity, customers will find themselves needing to subsidize essentially all electricity providers if they want to continue to have electricity.

The physics-based economic system without mandates and subsidies provides incentives to efficient electricity providers and disincentives to inefficient electricity suppliers. But once legislators start tinkering with the system, they are likely to find a system dominated by very inefficient production. As the costs of handling intermittency explode and the pricing system gets increasingly distorted, customers are likely to become more and more unhappy.

[8] Modelers of how the system might work did not understand how a system with significant wind and solar would work. Instead, they modeled the most benign initial situation, in which the operating reserves would handle variability, and curtailment of supply would not be an issue. 

Various modelers attempted to figure out whether the return from wind and solar would be adequate, to justify all of the costs of supporting it. Their models were very simple: Energy Out compared to Energy In, over the lifetime of a device. Or, they would calculate Energy Payback Periods. But the situation they modeled did not correspond well to the real world. They tended to model a situation that was close to the best possible situation, one in which variability, batteries and backup electricity providers were not considerations. Thus, these models tended to give a far too optimistic estimates of the expected benefit of intermittent wind and solar devices.

Furthermore, another type of model, the Levelized Cost of Electricity model, also provides distorted results because it does not consider the subsidies needed for backup providers if the system is to work. The modelers likely also leave out the need for backup batteries.

In the engineering world, I am told that computer models of expected costs and income are not considered to be nearly enough. Real-world tests of proposed new designs are first tested on a small scale and then at progressively larger scales, to see whether they will work in practice. The idea of pushing “renewables” sounded so good that no one thought about the idea of testing the plan before it was put into practice.

Unfortunately, the real-world tests that Germany and other countries have tried have shown that intermittent renewables are a very expensive way to produce electricity when all costs are considered. Neighboring countries become unhappy when excess electricity is simply dumped on the grid. Total CO2 emissions don’t necessarily go down either.

[9] Long distance transmission lines are part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

Early models suggested that long-distance transmission lines might be used to smooth out variability, but this has not worked well in practice. This happens partly because wind conditions tend to be similar over wide areas, and partly because a broad East-West mixture is needed to even-out the rapid ramp-down problem in the evening, when families are still cooking dinner and the sun goes down.

Also, long distance transmission lines tend to take many years to permit and install, partly because many landowners do not want them crossing their property. In some cases, the lines need to be buried underground. Reports indicate that an underground 230 kV line costs 10 to 15 times what a comparable overhead line costs. The life expectancy of underground cables seems to be shorter, as well.

Once long-distance transmission lines are in place, maintenance is very fossil fuel dependent. If storms are in the area, repairs are often needed. If roads are not available in the area, helicopters may need to be used to help make the repairs.

An issue that most people are not aware of is the fact that above ground long-distance transmission lines often cause fires, especially when they pass through hot, dry areas. The Northern California utility PG&E filed for bankruptcy because of fires caused by its transmission lines. Furthermore, at least one of Venezuela’s major outages seems to have been related to sparks from transmission lines from its largest hydroelectric plant causing fires. These fire costs should also be part of any analysis of whether a transition to renewables makes sense, in terms of either cost or energy returns.

[10] If wind turbines and solar panels are truly providing a major net benefit to the economy, they should not need subsidies, even the subsidy of going first.

To make wind and solar electricity producers able to compete with other electricity providers without the subsidy of going first, these providers need a substantial amount of battery backup. For example, wind turbines and solar panels might be required to provide enough backup batteries (perhaps 8 to 12 hours’ worth) so that they can compete with other grid members, without the subsidy of going first. If it really makes sense to use such intermittent energy, these providers should be able to still make a profit even with battery usage. They should also be able to pay taxes on the income they receive, to pay for the government services that they are receiving and hopefully pay some extra taxes to help out the rest of the system.

In Item [2] above, I mentioned that when coal mines were added in England, roads to the mines were substantially improved, befitting the economy as a whole. A true source of energy (one whose investment cost is not too high relative to its output) is supposed to be generating “surplus energy” that assists the economy as a whole. We can observe an impact of this type in the improved roads that benefited England’s economy as a whole. Any so-called energy provider that cannot even pay its own fair share of taxes acts more like a leech, sucking energy and resources from others, than a provider of surplus energy to the rest of the economy.

Recommendations

In my opinion, it is time to eliminate renewable energy mandates. There will be some instances where renewable energy will make sense, but this will be obvious to everyone involved. For example, an island with its electricity generation from oil may want to use some wind or solar generation to try to reduce its total costs. This cost saving occurs because of the high price of oil as fuel to make electricity.

Regulators, in locations where substantial wind and/or solar has already been installed, need to be aware of the likely need to provide subsidies to backup providers, in order to keep the electrical system operating. Otherwise, the grid will likely fail from lack of adequate backup electricity supply.

Intermittent electricity, because of its tendency to drive other providers to bankruptcy, will tend to make the grid fail more quickly than it would otherwise. The big danger ahead seems to be bankruptcy of electricity providers and of fossil fuel producers, rather than running out of a fuel such as oil or natural gas. For this reason, I see little reason for the belief by many that electricity will “last longer” than oil. It is a question of which group is most affected by bankruptcies first.

I do not see any real reason to use subsidies to encourage the use of electric cars. The problem we have today with oil prices is that they are too low for oil producers. If we want to keep oil production from collapsing, we need to keep oil demand up. We do this by encouraging the production of cars that are as inexpensive as possible. Generally, this will mean producing cars that operate using petroleum products.

(I recognize that my view is the opposite one from what many Peak Oilers have. But I see the limit ahead as being one of too low prices for producers, rather than too high prices for consumers. The CO2 issue tends to disappear as parts of the system collapse.)

Notes:

[1] BP bases its count on the equivalent fossil fuel energy needed to create the electricity; IEA counts the heat energy of the resulting electrical output. Using BP’s way of counting electricity, electricity worldwide amounts to 43% of total energy consumption. Using the International Energy Agency’s approach to counting electricity, electricity worldwide amounts to only about 19% of world energy consumption.

[2] In some locations, “utility pricing” is used. In these cases, pricing is set in a way needed to provide a fair return to all providers. With utility pricing, intermittent renewables would not be expected to cause low prices for backup producers.

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.
This entry was posted in Energy policy and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1,461 Responses to Rethinking Renewable Mandates

  1. Karey says:

    This analysis totally ignored impact on human population carrying capacity from climate change due to continued use of fossil fuels. We may already have crossed critical tipping points that will lead to mass extinction. But even if that is not the case, desertification of land and ocean will lower carrying capacity down from 7 billion to 2 billion. The choice isn’t between current population with fossil fuels or a lower population with renewables, but between a lower population with a ruined planet or with a somewhat healthier one.
    Renewables may not be able to support the current population in modern growth oriented consumer cultures, but some analyses suggest they could support a gradually contracting population on a simpler, more local, more agrarian economy. When the impact of climate change on food production is taken into account this may be the most optimistic future that is achievable.

    • david higham says:

      If there was an opportunity to have a gradually contracting population,it passed about
      fifty years ago. The pincer’s grip combination of energy constraints and climate disruption coming will mean that the four horsemen will be in charge in the near future.
      There is zero chance that the population projections of the U.N. for 2050 will eventuate..

      • Karey says:

        I agree it will be a bumpy ride, but worse if we continue to use fossil fuels. Localised food production with more people involved in growing it can have better yields without fossil fuel inputs than industrial agriculture. What we can be sure of is that status quo is not viable.

        • Artleads says:

          I’m very optimistic too. I don’t think the human species is going anywhere soon, or that our numbers are destined to quickly whittle down. But these ideas are not based as much on reason as on intuition. Another message from intuition is that fossil fuels have nothing to do with this optimistic picture. What has a lot to do with it is aesthetics–the opening up of the senses to the forms and patterns of the life around us. Or maybe what I see, put more simply, is that we have to gain “understanding.” It’s odd that I should stick to these thoughts, since they seem to make so little sense to others. Somehow, though, I “know” that the species figures these matters out against all odds. We’d do quite well sticking with the present and near future, to go beyond which should be seen as hubris.

          • Artleads says:

            Just as a matter of commonsense, we should see how difficult it is to oppose head on a system so intertwined and complex that no one at all has gotten a definitive grip on it. Why not try little things instead? A possible metaphor would be a railroad switch. A single person within a three-foot radius of land flips a switch that changes the direction of thousands of trains, affecting billions of lives. Why not try to find similar “switch” point in our current system, and try to affect them?

        • Niko B says:

          Really. Please link to the large scale studies that show that.
          i would like to read them.

        • HDUK says:

          I can’t see many people opting to become peasant farmers, but if you want to great; I will continue using my 120 HP tractor for as long as possible (very small by many American standards). Ohh and the diesel to take the produce to market. My land is about 15 miles from the nearest town.

          I am a dab hand with an Austrian scythe but I would not like to do more an acre or two. And we have a couple of Dales ponies but it would take me all day to transport food with them, leaving not much time for anything else and god help me if they go lame.

          You are right the status quo is not possible but the quicker we abandon fossil fuels the quicker the status quo will collapse. Most people in the West are simply not fit enough or have the skills to farm. Keeping sheep alive is an art, which we will need for fibre and insurance if we have crop failures, very likely without fossil fuels, so I am not sure all going vegetarian is an option either.

          Also what about all the jobs that will go? Farm incomes are large BUT most of it goes out of the back door, to machine and building manufacturers, milking parlour suppliers, Vets, drug companies, fencing manufacturers, polytunnel/glass house suppliers etc etc. And then there are all the food manufacturers and processors, distributors and associated trades. You are talking huge job losses in a never ending downward spiral. And how do jobless people or new peasant farmers pay back their debts? Bang goes the financial sector (my other job).

          I recently read the farming history of my area around 1600 onwards. It was very interesting, particularly what they left in their wills. They had virtually nothing and often died leaving debts for livestock.

          There are some great farmers doing niche organic and regenerative farming and they do well BUT they have the backing of the current ‘wealthy’ population who can afford the premium. As Norman says, “Take everything away that is there due to energy dense fossil fuels and our complex inter linked system and see what you are left with?” And don’t forget a lot of the poorer less energy dense countries who get by, receive quite a lot of financial support in one way or another from the high energy using ones.

          I wish what you are suggesting was possible but if you really really think deeply about this and read a lot of history too, how we achieved the level we are at now and 7.7 billion of us, you will see it isn’t and its a hard path down. Innovating requires lots of ‘free time’ and surplus energy, you will have very little surplus energy growing food or using intermittent renewables to have time to innovate. When a complex system tries to simplify it more often than not collapses.

          • Thanks for your fine comment. I hope you don’t mind that I edited it to add paragraph breaks.

          • Xabier says:

            I can never get my Vegan sister to see that point: that in Western Europe, preserved meat -hams from pigs killed in November, December, January; Spring lamb and old sheep and oxen was what you ate to get through good winters (after good harvests) and just, barely, survive very bad ones when the harvest had been a poor one.

            Rearing and eating meat is not ‘species-ism’,a moral failing; it was survival for our ancestors. It paid off, they wouldn’t have done it otherwise and we wouldn’t be here.

            • Xabier says:

              Vegans also believe it is immoral to use draught animals: quite deluded.

            • Robert Firth says:

              Excellent observation, Xabier.

              Personally, I don’t eat cute furry animals to make a moral statement or out of some strange religious conviction. I eat them because they are tasty. Nature made us omnivores, and who am I to argue with Her?

            • doomphd says:

              fine comments HDUK and, as usual, from Xabier. my father had the “hunting instinct”. he even despised fishing because it was “too sedentary and boring”. so we would travel for hours at freeway speeds to get to relatively unpopulated areas in CA where we could hunt our limit of rabbits and quail. on the way, he would point out the places where he used to bag similar game at closer locales in earlier decades, using rifles, even. since we would travel to the extreme limits of the state, and this was decades ago, I can imagine how tough it must be now. morale: don’t count on wild game as supplementary diet food until the population crashes back some.

    • Tim Groves says:

      This analysis totally ignored impact on human population carrying capacity from climate change due to continued use of fossil fuels.

      And that was naughty? Well, for your information, no change in climate anywhere so far can be definitively shown to have been directly caused by continued use of fossil fuels, so no impact from such change can reasonably be attributed. Indirectly, of course, fossil fuels cause the heat island effect and support a huge population that is capable of drastically altering the landscape over extensive areas of the planet.

      We may already have crossed critical tipping points that will lead to mass extinction. But even if that is not the case, desertification of land and ocean will lower carrying capacity down from 7 billion to 2 billion.

      One can never be sure one hasn’t already crossed a tipping point. That’s part of the fun of life. The tree on the side of the hill grows one leaf too many and blows down in the next strong wind, the tippler at the bar has one drink too many, the school bully goes on taunting and taunting until his victim’s anger overcomes his fear setting off an explosion of rage that kicks seven colors of play dough out of the tormentor.

      It is hard to argue against the idea that humans are currently exceeding the earth’s capacity to carry them. Even Prince Harry and Princess Meghan realize this and are limiting themselves to just two kids, who will probably only consume the equivalent in resources of what about two thousand children in India will consume over the same period, so well done Harry and Meghan for leading the way.

      People who wish to stop using fossil fuels are welcome to go ahead and eliminate their use of fossil fuels. Then they can set an example for the rest of us to emulate if we choose. I’m not a vegan or a transsexual or a member of a religious sect, but I absolutely support the human rights of individuals to engage in veganism, transsexuality or any religious practice they desire (consenting adults and all that). In the same spirit, I respect the rights of the millions of ecologically aware and climate concerned people worldwide to live without using fossil fuels free from the oppression of established social norms. Yes, this is a campaign I feel I could support, even though I have no wish to join them. Oppressed fossil fuel users of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your carbon footprint!

      • I hope you are joking right, as only the side mirrors of Windsor’s LR/RR fleet used more resources to be manufactured than 2k of Indian kids burn throughout their entire lifespan.. lolz

    • Mr Bombastic says:

      You first. Show us how its done. Ill be right behind. Cross my heart.

    • Curt Kurschus says:

      We are going back to renewables, yes. The age of fossil fuels is coming to an end. This will mean no electricity, no motorised transportation, a lot less food, a lot more disease with little to no means by which to counter the disease explosion, and more competition over inadequate renewable supplies. More environmental destruction as we chop down more trees. All of which adds up to a far smaller human population. The return to a world where all of the energy we use is provided by renewables is not something to be welcomed or looked forward to. Oh, and, ending our use of fossil fuels won’t put a stop to global warming. Chopping down every tree we can find so that we may cook food, boil water, heat our homes, will make things worse, not better.

    • SteveS says:

      I think this website could benefit from an occasional young person’s perspective. I understand the conception is that climate change is not as much of a problem as people think because we are at or near peak fossil fuel demand, and emissions are likely to begin to decline soon. And folks readily admit we’re damned-if-we-do (emissions cuts = economic collapse), damned-if-we-don’t (emissions full speed ahead = climate catastrophe). And I understand most folks aren’t necessarily trying to be helpful, they are just stating facts and are resigned to a hopeless future for humanity. But think what that message says to young people? And use that to frame how you think about their actions, for instance AOC. They will not accept the damned-if-we-do, damned-if-we-don’t answer. (In a way, just the nonacceptance is kind of heroic because it shows they truly care about the world.) They will probably think there is some kind of restructuring of society that can occur–politically, economically, however–to re-establish a future of some hope. It’s a problem our society must deal with soon, because if your youth do not have hope, it’s a bit of a death knell for a country. You begin to ask, why are we doing anything here? This may be hard for older generations to understand, because the problem stays pretty quiet, and intra-generational, until it causes devastation. You may see it first, for instance, in an opioid crisis, or teen suicide rates, for instance. Or in polls about what different age brackets says about the direction of the country.

      A lot of new movements are emphasizing radical cuts to emissions over 10 or 30 years. Really, if we had an honest conversation about our massive reliance on fossil fuels, and if our emissions just peaked out around now, many of the best-case scenarios in climate change studies would obtain. That’s a fair outcome for that crisis. Yes, you’d have a mess on your hands in terms of the economy, but what if there is a way to manage it if reductions are modest. If we could somehow balance the two crises, at least for a while, that might be the best outcome. We have a lot of talented people, and there is bound to be large elements of the self-organizing economy that would naturally maneuver for survival in an energy crunch. Whatever economy would come after might come about more naturally than we’d expect.

      • I think we have been brain washed into thinking that the climate crisis is manageable. I don’t think it is, or ever has been. This is simply a made-up story by people who don’t understand how the system works. The story that we can move away from fossil fuels without collapsing the economy is based on a hopelessly wrong view of how the economy works.

        The potential financial crisis comes from way too many promises to actually make good on, compared to what the economy can actually provide. We are handling the “way too many promises” issue with ever-lower interest rates and governments borrowing ever more (thanks to deficit spending). This seems like about all that can be done.

        I am not sure that we can really do better than this.

        We can try to look at different energy approaches, but these have a problem of being slow to develop, even if they could be made to work well.

        • SteveS says:

          It may very well be that climate change is unmanageable within our fossil-fuel-based civilization. It may be that fossil fuel consumption, exploding population numbers, and climate change are a one-package deal. If you want to manage any of these back down, the rest must also fall.

          I think this is interesting, because it may be a communication or expectations problem more than anything else that we have. I think if someone told young people, calm down, trends in the economy–interest rates, low wage growth amongst worker bees, Wall Street greed, demographics–seem to indicate it’ll begin to collapse in the next few years, and this in itself may put us on the reduced emissions paths in climate change studies, I kid you not, at this point, they would probably be more focused on the climate change part of that. I think most young people practically expect our economy to collapse. Many don’t occupy that great a position in the economy anyhow. They may not expect the permanence of the collapse if it coincides with peak fossil fuel consumption, a partial breakdown of global supply chains, a radically reduced standard of living, the elements we did not get to in the financial crisis. But climate change is more horrific to them than economic collapse.

          The younger generations tend to place greater value on cooperation, and less on competition, in comparison with the older generations. I have a tendency to think this is a great asset looking into the future. It could even be an adaptation to position one best given the economic circumstances a generation faces. Of course, it could get trumped by resource scarcity. But it’s hard to undo cultures that were formed in formative years.

          • I think that fossil fuel consumption, exploding population numbers, and climate change are a one-package deal. You are right in saying, “If you want to manage any of these back down, the rest must also fall.”

            Maybe that is the point I should be making. I am not sure that it would make people happier. As you say, they are expecting collapse anyhow.

            • SteveS says:

              It’s a very difficult if not impossible task, because many simply won’t accept the one-package deal theory. What is likely I think is that adopters of that view will be seen as morally illegitimate, not fit to lead. Even if you have political leadership that led us to this point of multiple converging crises, and they want to continue with the same policies (such as is occurring now), those people will soon be seen as morally illegitimate. There was nothing they could really do differently in the past, they reacted to circumstances as any group of key participants in the world economy would. They’re not going to stop the show and disrupt people’s lives because of a crisis that will inevitably occur decades in the future. But they will have a really hard sell telling people there’s no way out when they’ve led those people to a dead-end.

              It’s one of the only imaginable ways to cause the West to recede in power–for it to fracture in its values, compete with itself from within, and become ungovernable.

              By the way, I very much enjoy your posts. I think they offer a lot of clear thinking in a time of growing confusion.

          • There are some studies about realignment of cooperation-competition relationships among “advanced” species of mammals with at least some notional cultured behavior layer to them. It tends to react to enviro forcing like low or abundant food availability, predators pressures at given moment etc.

            Now, it’s very likely humans are into similar cycles of such realignments.
            HOWEVER, in terms of today’s younger generation we need to see some more actionable proof than just they share a lot of content on the nets and hug each other ostentatiously in public only after few days of separation. So, we need more proof, and this will only come in times of more profound crisis, i.e. people (dis)orderly waiting in lines for gov dispersed emergency food etc.. Simply too early to judge the young for now.

            • SteveS says:

              EO Wilson has done research on ants that become altruistic for the group’s survival. https://www.quantamagazine.org/edward-o-wilson-finds-hope-in-selfless-ants-and-ecology-studies-20190515/

              Youth were hit hardest by the Great Recession. There were no breadlines, you are correct. But there have been great difficulties finding good-paying jobs. This struggle has played out sort of quietly, but you see it manifested in all the “millennials killed such-and-such industry,” the statistics on the purchasing power of youth at 30 versus their parents, the stagnation among youth in buying homes, cars, etc., the rise of a sharing economy. If you are paying attention, or living it, you see a lot of evidence there now that could be leveraged in harder times.

              This lack of trying to understand the actions of others parts of our society is one of our big problems in the US, and maybe globally. It’s part of the growing inequality problem. Some parts of the population are winning out, while others lose out to varying degrees. Few stop and ask, why is that group behaving like that? Why, for instance, do they vote for Trump? Or why would such-and-such demographic be interested in socialism. There are reasons. It would benefit us all to stop, think, and try to understand. Many of us would behave the same way if faced with the same economic circumstances.

        • SteveS says:

          I believe it’s the finality of climate change that scares younger generations the most. Whereas there might be a sense we could reboot an economy after collapse. This may be wrong, but I think that’s the perception.

          • Tim Groves says:

            The God of the Old Testament was scary. Hell was scary. The prospect of dying of starvation, the pox, the plague or an infection from a wound were very real and scary in the days before we used fossil fuels and developed antibiotics.

            More recently, atomic war, terrorism, the “ozone hole” and a long list of potentially fatal diseases including AIDS, cancer, SARS and Ebola have scared millions of people. Other people are scared of vaccination, or of people who haven’t been vaccinated, or of cellphone radiation, or of what might be in their hamburgers or their water.

            And then there are the common or garden traditional phobias ranging from black cats and witches hats to spider, snakes, mice and public places.

            Why, with all the many real world economic and social trends that should give any thinking person good cause for concern, would some serious-minded young people be afraid of the weather in particular, rather than of being killed in a nuclear war or a pandemic, or of being made permanently redundant by the march of technology or the collapse of the economy? Why this fixation on the weather?

            I put it to you that it is because these young people have been systematically propagandized into being afraid of what is a wholly imaginary threat because fear is a great way for the powerful to sell agendas.

            Fear is the mind killer. But if people absolutely have to fear something, they should fear something scary.

            • SteveS says:

              If you think climate change is an imaginary threat, you can’t be taken seriously.

            • Tim Groves says:

              You don’t have to take me seriously. I’m indifferent to the opinions of people who think CAGW is a real threat. 🙂

              But If you seriously think it is a real threat and you want others to take that threat seriously, the onus on you is to prove that beyond reasonable doubt. Just being being passionate about the need to address it and convinced that you have a handle on it is not going to convert the heathens, the skeptics, or the great mass of people who are—as you’ve probably noticed—totally apathetic about this particular issue, and who are probably unaware of which Köppen-Geiger climate zone they live in.

              In the meantime I am going to assume you are ignorant of the salient facts and have been taken in by the alarmist propaganda, which has been, after all, insidiously crafted and catapulted for decades now with the express purpose of ensnaring gullible young minds and encouraging them to freak out and act out.

          • Tango Oscar says:

            There is a growing scientific consensus that global dimming is the real deal. When the economy inevitably grinds down to a halt, the temperature will probably spike 4-6 Celsius in a week and wreak absolute havoc. Look at the information that’s already available during 9/11 when planes stopped flying for a few days and the temperature rose 1-2 degrees; and that was JUST aircraft. Now extrapolate that to ships, cars, coal fired reactors, etc. and it paints a very grim picture of what’s in store for us. Climate change has already sealed our fate and many other tipping points have been crossed like polar ice cap loss, methane burps via melting tundra, etc… It’s a total catch-22 and therefore the only non-solution that exists is to keep the economy going at full speed.

            • So we need to keep the economy humming and spewing out as much soot as possible, to maintain the dimming? It doesn’t sound like there is much we can do in any direction.

            • Tim Groves says:

              We’ll, I doubt this spike will materialize as when people run out of clean fuels, they will quickly turn to burning lots of dirty smokey biomass. Also, not a lot of people know this and it is not widely acknowledged by establishment scientists, but our weather down on earth is strongly influenced by what comes at us from space.

              No doubt alarmists are going to have a miserable time regardless of what happens. Realists, on the other hand, will keep cool and enjoy themselves whatever the weather brings. It will take a lot of good humor to get through the economic collapse and not be trampled underfoot by the hordes.

            • Firstly as starting sequence it would be useful to know where we should locate ourselves in terms of the larger cycles within our solar system and Earth ecosystems evolution thresholds, because these have been always larger forcing vectors on us..

              Now, the scenarios could fork and cascade into various very different midterm and long term outcomes and sequencing. Specifically, the waste product of recent spike in fossil fuel burning (and overall enviro soil/watershed/.. destruction) could hasten our already long drawn inter-glacier period into yet another ice age sooner than expected, i.e. in terms of centuries, perhaps even decades in the future.. Counter-intuitively, this shift could be preceded by short yet nasty warming period.

              While simple, linear scenarios, are most likely total bogus. That’s why it is advisable to be skeptical about such gov-political(&ideology) drawn mandates and calls for action..

              Perhaps the best way is simply to have somehow foot in every major scenario, e.g. hot/cold climate change, shifting temp/precipitation zones and biomes across the globe.
              Obviously this avenue is open only to the very rich as running several places of residence across the globe is not cheap, the sort of lower cost alternative could be having on purpose larger family network internationally and willingness to jump the ship so to speak when some mega trend announces itself, an event or process which in itself could be again only temporary ~head fake.. as the system in fact turning in the other direction instead.

              To sum it up, it’s a very fluid situation, many/most don’t even realize they are being moved within a narrow channel of possible choices, which tend to open and close down on them as in some sort of divine puzzle game.

            • Yorchichan says:

              “Look at the information that’s already available during 9/11 when planes stopped flying for a few days and the temperature rose 1-2 degrees”

              Except average temperatures didn’t increase by 1-2 degrees in the 3 days following 9/11. There was an increase in the average daytime temperature and a corresponding decrease in the average night time temperature. Overall, there was no change in the average temperature.

        • GBV says:

          The story that we can move away from fossil fuels without collapsing the economy is based on a hopelessly wrong view of how the economy works

          I think some ate suggesting we SHOULD collapse the economy, if only to wring out all the bad debts, promises, IOUs, etc. that are allowing us to live in this fantasy land of over-consumption/waste.

          We live in a hyper-inflated world as it is. Massive deflation might be a boon in that it would allow for price rediscovery (on stupidly over-priced Canadian houses and stupidly under-priced fossil fuels, for example), thus revealing what activities / investments are truly worth our time and limited resources (certainly NOT multi-million dollar Marvel movies, Kawhi Leonard NBA contracts, excessive marketing & advertising budgets, consumer products with built-in obsolescence… need I go on?).

          People here spend a lot of time researching and modeling the world / economy which we live in to try to understand it fully. And still they come up short, because the world we live in is so massive, complex and seemingly chaotic that predicting tomorrow’s weather accurately is difficult enough to make the concept of predicting collapse with any reasonable accuracy laughable.

          If the best of us here can’t even fully understand the world / economy / system / reality / etc. in which we exist, why should anyone here believe they have ANY comprehension of what the world might look like after, say, another large-scale conflict? Or a biblical famine / pestilence? Or a great(est) depression / debt jubilee?

          None of that is meant to challenge the notion that our current way of living as a species is not sustainable and a reckoning is likely due soon. But sometimes the nihilistic view espoused here on OFW – fossil fuels will go bye-bye and we’ll all just drop dead, so why bother to do anything to try to improve our future?– disgusts me, and truly makes me believe some of you here long for entropy / death (and yet you don’t even have the willpower to go out and find it, instead waiting for it to be delivered to you on a silver platter).

          Perhaps some people here need to go try suffering – true, agonizing suffering – for awhile? It’s a great cure for nihilism…

          -GBV

          PS – @SteveS,
          If you actually are a young person, kudos to you for having the courage to post here and to at least attempt to see an outcome for yourself and mankind that isn’t a totally-f*cking-bleak-Guy-McPherson-kill-yourself-fest!

          • SteveS says:

            Thanks, @GBV. I am indeed considered a young person, at 36.

            You make some good points. Personally, I think a lot of the policy changes leading up to and after 08-09 made the world much more unfair, and that unfairness is accelerating as time goes on, and it is becoming painful as parts of our society are becoming aggressive to each other because of it. That unfairness was not leveled equally throughout society, and that needs to be recognized.

            It might sound crazy, and arrogant, but I have a tendency to think if you key in on the right trends, pay attention to the right data, and refer to past history, you can with some degree of accuracy come to expect and gauge the timing of events in the future, when they’re at turning points.

            It’s not based on much but I doubt fossil fuels will all be phased out in the next financial crisis. There will be desperate and forceful reactions to an energy crunch. The human drive to leverage fossil fuels, and our investments in it, is so neurotically strong that there will almost certainly be fixes that will work for some time. A partial collapse seems more realistic than complete collapse of fossil fuel availability. A phaseout over many decades, and maybe even a century or more, seems realistic. It’ll be a question of surviving the crunch, before society makes adjustments to a new reality.

            It is becoming more obvious that this kind of event is approaching. We need more people devoted to thinking about how we can make life better afterwards. I imagine productive ideas will present themselves as things unfold.

    • Dennis L. says:

      No argument intended in this comment. Things never seem to go down the same way they go up, e.g. stock markets, buildings falling over, falling off a ledge after climbing up stairs, a bomb being dropped out of an air plane is generally going much faster one foot from the ground going down than going up. In nature a star, it takes billions of years to build, when it explodes it goes relatively quickly, law of physics?

      Dennis L.

  2. Pingback: Muscle Power | Peak Energy & Resources, Climate Change, and the Preservation of Knowledge

  3. Michael says:

    Even all the money from federal,state,and (usda energy department that are not well talked about) the only green on the Spotsylvanis Solar farm is the money going in the rich mans pockets. This project is the largest east of mississippi 6500 acers 1.8 million panels.RIGHT BESIDE FAMILY HOMES, NO REGARDS TO THE FAMILYS OR THERE HEALTH ONLY THE GREEN DOLLARS.EVERYONE MAKES OUT BUT THE LITTLE GUY. CORPERATION WITH GREEN CREDITS (TAX SAVINGS) THE CLOUD SYSTEM EATING UP ELECTRIC POWER AT A ALARMING RATE BUT STILL BUILDING THEM.
    WHEN YOU CUT DOWN ALL THE TREES WHAT IS NEXTPEOPLES HOMES! YES WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING BUT MAKING PEOPLE RICHER WITH OUR TAX MONEY AS THERE GOLDEN GOOSE.STOP NOW AND SEE IF THESE COMPANYS INVEST IN RENEWABLES.
    STOP RAPPING THE EARTH IN THE NAME OF GREEN!
    PLANT LIVE OAKS NOT EARTH KILLING SOLAR PANALS

    • Niko B says:

      why are you yelling at us?

    • This is an article from March 2019 about the proposed Spotlvanis Solar Farm in Virginia: A Battle Is Raging Over The Largest Solar Farm East Of The Rockies

      The demand is driven in part by corporations like Microsoft looking for renewable energy sources. Amazon has six large solar farms around the state. It is also driven by demand from the government: Last year the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation aiming to increase solar capacity in the state to 5,000 megawatts.

      Later we read Opponents feel betrayed by Spotsylvania supervisors who approved solar project

      More recently Did Maryland just give solar developers freedom to cut in line?

      The Maryland Court of Appeals has decided that regulators are the “ultimate decision-maker” when it comes to project location and zoning. But with great power comes great responsibility.

      The issue at hand is the proposed Whitmore/Biggs Ford Solar Center, planned to be located on 151 acres of agricultural land on Biggs Ford Road. The issue that developer Coronal Development Services has run into is that the land needs to be re-zoned to construct the array, and support for this re-zoning has been elusive.

      The issue has been brought before both the Frederick county Planning Commission and the County Council, both of which unanimously said “no dice.”

      These decisions appeared to be a brick wall, that is until yesterday, when the aforementioned Maryland Court of Appeals handed out a decision in a similar case. In that case, which regarded two solar projects in Washington County, the court ruled that the Public Service Commission (PSC) is the “ultimate decision-maker” when it comes to solar array location approval within the state.

      And just like that, two loud and resounding “no’s” get wiped out by a “yes” from a higher power, right? Well maybe, the case still has to go to court where it could well be soundly defeated again in turn, but the court’s decision represents a very serious future precedent.

      So now the case seems to be headed for court again. Good luck!

    • Tim Groves says:

      Stop rapping the earth?

  4. adonis says:

    There is only one path for the financial system now a degrowth society based on negative interest rates and mountains of debt to bailout all those too big to fail banks fossil fuel prices will permanently go up thanks to the future unlimited bailouts and continued investments into a sustainable world of renewable technology backed by nuclear . This along with an increase in the death rate will keep BAU rolling along.Can this scenario play out a slow collapse instead of a”seneca cliff” collapse I Ithink it can thanks to the crazy world of “negative interest rates” and cryptocurrency.Were talking about free money people .

    • How much money would anyone really invest, to come out behind in the end? Governments will try building unneeded roads and homes, but who else really wants to invest to come out behind?

      Don’t the governments fail at some point?

  5. It's different this time....No says:

    Great article Gail, saw this and thought it would fit here.

    According to the Discovery Channel website, “In the last decade, two million Americans have attempted to leave behind civilization in favor of life off-the-grid, but most have failed. For the hundreds of families who decide to become homesteaders, the learning curve is a steep one. On Homestead Rescue, struggling homesteaders across the county are turning to expert homesteader Marty Raney – along with his daughter, Misty, a farmer; and son, Matt Raney, a hunter and fisherman – to teach them the necessary skills to survive the wilderness. The stakes are high, but the Raney family is determined to prepare these families for nature’s worse and set them up for success. Each family faces the ultimate decision: Will they tough out their first year? Or pack up and return to civilization
    But living “off the grid” can be difficult. Lack of direct power. Hand hauling of water. Heating with firewood. All are legitimate issues, especially when it comes to the physical part of the lifestyle
    https://upnorthvoice.com/Content/News/Features/Article/Oscoda-County-family-to-be-featured-on-Discovery-Channel-Homestead-Rescue-/13/64/5989

    I haven’t watched the Discovery Program….
    Looks like Fast Eddie type of show

    https://www.zombiehunters.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=118621

    • Definitely, reality is not as easy to deal with compared to the ideal that can be presented. Historically, people lived in groups and family helped out. If one person died or was disabled, the rest of the group could step in. Doing it alone is always difficult to do.

      I looked up “homesteading” on trends.google.com.

      Worldwide, there is a clear downward trend in homesteading searches, with the peak back in the 2004-2005 era. (A person can’t go back further than 2004.

      Worldwide, interest is highest in the US, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and South Africa.

      Interest within the US seems to be highest in Montana, Maine, Wyoming, Vermont, and Alaska.

      Off-grid, on the other hand, has been rising as a search term.

  6. adonis says:

    We must remember two important facts the net energy is dropping because of diminishing returns that means a degrowth world is coming and human nature is based on greed on the desire for more once the realisation sets in that they cannot get more the vast majority of humans will start rioting chaos will descend in the streets martial law will be declared and violence will be the norm.That is why we need to prepare for the possibility that a degrowth world could be coming and the transition period could be a matter of life and death .

    • Niko B says:

      What are you doing to prepare if you don’t mind me asking?
      You are in Australia, like me yes?

      • adonis says:

        Hie Niko preparing by learning to grow food all things self sufficient on a suburban plot hoarding food and glass bottles treating ailments via natural cures investing in silver coins nil investment in shares getting out of debt basically adapting to a lower standard of living

    • You say “human nature is based on greed on the desire.”

      I would say that humans are dissipative structures. They have to work toward getting as much as they can, just as yeast must reproduce as much as they can, and oak seeds will try to grow as much as they can. “Greed and desire” is a negative way of putting this situation.

      When the supply of energy products is rapidly growing, then the quantity of goods and services can rise rapidly. Cooperation in using energy products is optimal.

      Diminishing returns in many ways tends to put an end to rising per capita energy products per capita, and thus rising goods per capita.

      For a while, adding more complexity (bigger businesses, more government, more job specialization, more robots, globalization) acts as a workaround. But eventually it leads to too much wage/wealth disparity. Buying power of those at the bottom falls, tending to bring the whole complex pyramid down.

      Everything must be reeled it, but there is no nice way of doing it. Financial systems particularly fail. People cannot afford their house or car payments. Jobs tend to disappear.

      Businesses head for bankruptcy. Energy producers are particular targeted. Governments find it increasingly difficult to collect taxes, so they just raise debt levels.

      The result has been collapse in the past. We don’t know how it will work out now.

      • SteveS says:

        The question of what happens after financial collapse is interesting. What tended to happen for European powers in recent centuries is they first peaked economically–their debts became uncontrollable and the financial and money system collapsed–or the existing ruling order became discredited. Then they went through a chaotic political period for about 12 to 15 years in which more of a command-style government eventually took hold, and then, about a generation after economic collapse, entered a 5- to 10-year period in which their population numbers were radically reduced, for instance through foreign wars. France and Napoleon 1794-1815, Germany and Hitler 1923-1944, Russia is less of a good example, but 1917 then into the 1930s with collectivization (which killed off many, many people). While these general patterns don’t necessarily mean anything for the US, which could perhaps just balkanize rather than congeal command-style, I think it’s at least some kind of historical precedent to base one’s thoughts on, when thinking of a great power’s bounce back after a financial collapse. The pattern of France from 1789 to 1795 seems to me to particularly be a strong candidate as potential analogue. France at the time held the world reserve currency, was the mercantilist power in the world, was experiencing record wealth inequality, and its elites were becoming discredited and institutions suffering confidence in the eyes of their citizenry. The fiscal situation also was also very similar. The government would in that time intervene in the economy radically, through price-fixing.

        • I think balkanizing is a real possibility for any country. With more energy, it is possible to unite a bigger area and have more layers of government. But with less energy, the top layers tend to fail. Or fighting may break out.

          Besides the examples you give, we also had the example of the collapse of the central government of the Soviet Union in 1991. And Yugoslavia sort of followed the same pattern. Now, the UK possibly leaving the EU follows the same pattern. I suspect that the union of the EU is not all that long for this world, either.

          This is the resource consumption graph for the area near the Soviet Union collapse.

          You can see the very strong dip in resource consumption. The only reason that the area could get back on its feet again related to having a functioning world economy and also reasonably inexpensive-to-extract oil still available.

          • SteveS says:

            The Soviet collapse to me is intuitively very telling because it happened in the modern era, and it’s kind of an example of balkanization, where the core power lost its authority over all its satellite states. I could certainly believe something similar will happen to the US and the capitalist world as a whole within the decade. Recent tensions with historical allies Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and even Britain could be the beginning of this process. Many of them seem to be hedging their bets on the US and see its government as increasingly unreliable and incoherent. Of course, with regard to domestic politics, the US is reportedly as polarized as its been since the Civil War.

            The US also has a long history of being very skeptical of centralized government, moreso than European states, which would seem to favor balkanization over a command-style military resurgence. It may also be very difficult for the federal government to get the respect of its citizens after economic collapse. Most people came to this country because of economic opportunity. If that opportunity is much-reduced, and the government is seen as at least one entity responsible (no one will really blame peak fossil fuel demand), it may still exist but have a much-reduced role in everyone’s lives.

            • GBV says:

              Agree. Look to your state/provincial and local/municipal governments as the future overlords, because federal governments are going to have a hell of a time holding everything together once things start to fall apart (Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
              Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
              ).

              And trans-national organizations… well, does anyone even give a hoot about what the UN says or does anymore? 🙂

              Cheers,
              -GBV

      • Robert Firth says:

        “Humans are dissipative structures”. Wholeheartedly agreed: all living things are dissipative structures; Erwin Schroedinger pointed this out in 1943. We do not live off energy, we live of energy gradients: that is, off negative entropy. And the infamous Second Law of Thermodynamics tells us that this is the ultimate, bedrock, implacable nonrenewable resource.

        But it can last us a very, very long time, if we tie our civilisation to the biggest and best such resource, the Sun. Which I think is what this debate is all about, at bedrock.

        • hkeithhenson says:

          “But it can last us a very, very long time, if we tie our civilisation to the biggest and best such resource, the Sun.”

          You have it right.

          • The issue I am bringing up is that we can’t solve our problems by mandating that existing non-solutions be expanded greatly. Intermittent wind and solar have not proved their worth.

            • hkeithhenson says:

              So far that’s the case. I am reluctant to say it will continue that way. There are some interesting storage proposals out on the horizon. One of them is a lithium and silicon battery which (among other things) looks like a snap to refurb them when needed.

              I ran into an article which described the situation in Texas. Wind generated a little more power than coal (each about 25%) for the first six months of this year. From what I understand, at night you can get power for free because they don’t know what to do with the excess since the wind blows all night. How long do you think it will take for someone to build a steel plant that works only on night wind power?

              Power satellites (if we build them) are not intermittent. Solving the whole energy problem with them will be a monumental task with half or more of the energy from space being feed to synthetic fuel plants.

            • When I look online, it looks like the articles are talking about “free nights and week-ends.”

              Of course, a whole lot of the electric system’s cost are fixed–likely 50% or more. I can’t believe that their costs are free on nights and weekends.

              This is an article about the situation. https://paylesspower.com/blog/3-myths-free-nights-weekends-electricity-plans/

              Apparently the plans being offered charge higher charges (than previously) the rest of the time, to make up for free nights and weekends. The article linked says that it is a myth that a person will necessarily pay less. It depends on usage.

              I wonder whether electricity companies will collect enough money.

  7. Bill Simpson says:

    Since oil products move virtually everything which gets moved, and since virtually everything we now use gets moved quite a great distance, less oil production will mean the economy will be forced to shrink. Trying to once again produce close to home would take decades, just like globalization took decades to accomplish. With debt at near record level, a shrinking economy will mean that trillions of dollars of debts can’t be serviced. Bankruptcies will spread like wildfire.
    I would bet less oil production, caused by anything, will bring down the banking system within a year or two.
    Where a banking collapse will lead, nobody really knows because it has never happened since the Industrial Revolution began. We did come very close to collapse during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The documentaries about the GFC on YouTube are worth watching in order to gain an understanding of how dangerous some of the smartest people on the planet thought it was. And bad housing loans will pale in comparison to a shrinking global economy caused by not having more and more fuel available in order to keep the economy ever expanding. Without expansion, the capitalist financial system melts down from leveraged debts going bad.

    • You understand the situation very well. Besides all of the debts, there are all of the pension promises (such as Social Security) that are mostly on a “pay as you go basis” that cannot possibly be paid. And there are trillions of dollars worth of derivatives that threaten to go bad.

      It took all of these promises to pull the economy forward. It is hard to see how we can dissolve all of these promises, and add new promises which we really have any chance of paying.

      • Dennis L. says:

        Entitlements are the largest part of the US budget, SS has now gone cash flow negative with SS essentially no longer purchasing bonds on a net basis but is either cashing out or letting the bonds mature which means the US Gvt. is taking cash out of one pocket and selling general obligation bonds from the other pocket. If SS is discontinued there will be no incentive for the young to participate, they elect a progressive and stop collections and while they are at it stop paying on loans for past tuition.

        SS, Medicare, Medicaid and student loans are the big numbers, as they go so will the economy. When they stop the young cease working for the old, which may be reflected in the policy choices of the progressives. Derivatives essentially net out so they can be washed out by the printing of money as they are nothing but paper, to the whole of the economy they are a skim and more a timing issue.

        Aside from misery to the population secondary to entitlement loss, there is economic loss to the health care industry of which I was once a part. The relatively large(NOT Mayo size) group with which I was affiliated received almost fifty percent of its income from Medicare and Medicaid. Cuts to these programs will have a ripple effect across local economies from groceries to rents and rental property prices.

        Dennis L.

        • Robert Firth says:

          Thank you, Dennis L, for your thoughts on entitlements. They have never been fully funded, and all pious hopes that a fully funded system could be created have foundered on the greed of politicians, who simply steal the funds. Remember the Social Security “lock box”?

          That said, the current system of entitlements is essentially the old robbing the young, and I find it hard to think of a more evil system. The young are our future, our only future, and we are deliberately destroying it. The Middle Ages knew better, which is one reason they built a mostly sustainable society.

          Well, that may sound strange coming from someone in his 70s, but I have tried to live upto it. I have paid my way in the world since I was 17, never taken a dime of welfare or entitlements from anyone, and where health care is concerned have always been a private patient. I don’t claim this last as a virtue: it has given me a mighty incentive to take responsibility for my own health, which is probably why I’m still here.

        • SteveS says:

          Defense-related spending needs to come under control. Not just the defense budget, but everything defense-related (Energy, Homeland Security, …), which goes well beyond $1 trillion a year. Of course, the defense budget partly reflects the US’ role in the world and keeps our current system going. Without us policing around, geopolitics would be very different, and the dollar would play much less of a role in global finance, which would make other parts of our budget difficult to fund. But a wholesale review of our priorities (budget) is pretty due. For instance, we basically have two governments, one of government staff and one of contractors. In some cases that’s warranted, but in many it is not. I witnessed it first-hand. We should make efforts to find more productive missions for government-funded employees.

  8. Robert Firth says:

    Just a few thoughts, based on some research and a scientific background.

    The grid is finished. Accept it. Renewables will happen, because the alternatives will go away. And renewables are intermittent. So electricity will be generated and used locally, and won’t be used when it is not being generated.

    Population collapse is also inevitable, for many reasons, not least that modern agriculture is impossible without massive use of nonrenewable resources, and when it goes away the soil it has destroyed will take decades, if not centuries, to recover.

    And my own view about our predicament: what we could or might do is not relevant, because we won’t do it. And on the whole, I trust Nature to do a better job rebalancing the biosphere than the collective wisdom of Earth’s most greedy and parasitic species could ever hope to do. If at the end of that process said species has gone the way of the dinosaurs, perhaps that is indeed the best thing that could happen to a small blue planet.

    • I very much agree with you with respect to,

      Nature to do a better job rebalancing the biosphere than the collective wisdom of Earth’s most greedy and parasitic species could ever hope to do.

      This is a point that today’s leaders nearly always miss.

      I don’t really agree with “Renewable will happen, because the alternatives will go away.” We are building a pyramid of complexity. Adding intermittent renewables to the grid is at the peak of this pyramid. The pyramid of complexity threatens to collapse because it leads to too much wage disparity and too much wealth disparity. The wage disparity comes as work is increasingly specialized. The wealth disparity occurs because the use of devices, rather than human labor, becomes primary in the operation of the economy. The owners of the devices get income, but there is not enough left over to give to the large army of human labor that is now underutilized. The pyramid tends to collapse, quite quickly, from lack of buying power of the underutilized human labor.

      • Robert Firth says:

        Thank you, Gail. You may well be right that renewables will not happen, or at least renewables more complex than wood, oxen, and slaves. I am a little optimistic that the coming collapse will save rather more technology than that, but history is against me: what was saved after the collapse of the Hellenistic age? Precious little.

        Your analogy of the “pyramid” I agree with: our present renewables are at the summit of a complex fossil fuel based technology that cannot survive. Can we go back to mediaeval windmills built by blacksmith and carpenter? Quite possibly. To hydro power with similar constraints? On balance, you are probably far more right than I.

      • Chrome Mags says:

        “The pyramid of complexity threatens to collapse because it leads to too much wage disparity and too much wealth disparity.”

        That’s a gem, Gail.

    • DJ says:

      ding ding ding

  9. Gail, thanks for this excellent article, enjoyed very much lot of the nuanced – sub plots within – if you will.

    You can build up your case in future revision with adding a little tiny bit on the old modes of renewables, which would illustratively brought further the point home for the readership.

    In particular, many locations of traditional windmills have had installed somewhat “hybridized” additional loop via transmission (wooden later even belt one) to attached circular shaped stable in which draft animals were tasked to power the mill (or water pumping station) in no wind conditions. It was mostly ClubMed/ME area thing, some appeared in the North as well, not sure about their relative occurrence-prevalence in your cited Low Countries case though..

  10. Dennis L. says:

    What we have as a system that evolved, what you describe is a mandate that does not seem to evolve of its own volition. Perhaps this is why socialism seems to fail so spectacularly, it does not evolve, it is not self organizing and perhaps systems that are not self organizing simply don’t work due to the management complexity.

    Naturally occurring fusion is a fact but from what we have observed seems to require considerable scale to be workable and then even with 93 million miles of distance from the reactor still requires considerable magnetic shielding to protect biology from the harmful radiation. Additionally decommissioning the reactor is a somewhat messy process which does however produce some very necessary elements although it does so with the destruction of the entire solar system. The upside is the whole process may be renewable, it is tough on biological systems however.

    Predestination seems to be part of the Calvinist philosophy.

    Dennis L.

    • That socialism failed? is a very broad claim to be had, for example the one in Venezuela is very different from the mixed econ system within Israel, even if you subtract the role of sanctions in the first case and easy luring of global money (and protection) in the latter..

      • Dennis L says:

        I was thinking of it more in terms of command control, less in political philosophy.
        Dennis L.

        • Well, believe me the quarrels during important decision making (voting) gatherings inside agri coops be it in US Midwest or Israel or any other place could be very personal, nasty, emotional, and long winded – opinions eventually form around hard nodes in a way of command control you mentioned. But in the end some sort of modus vivendi (sort of consensus) had to be reached otherwise the community doesn’t eat (or rather looses money at the moment only).

Comments are closed.