Expect low oil prices in 2020; tendency toward recession

Energy Forecast for 2020

Overall, I expect that oil and other commodity prices will remain low in 2020. These low oil prices will adversely affect oil production and several other parts of the economy. As a result, a strong tendency toward recession can be expected. The extent of recessionary influences will vary from country to country. Financial factors, not discussed in these forecasts, are likely also to play a role.

The following are pieces of my energy forecast for 2020:

[1] Oil prices can be expected to remain generally low in 2020. There may be an occasional spike to $80 or $90 per barrel, but average prices in 2020 are likely to be at or below the 2019 level. 

Figure 1. Average annual inflation-adjusted Brent equivalent oil prices in 2018 US$. 2018 and prior are as shown in BP’s 2019 Statistical Review of World Energy. Value for 2019 estimated by author based on EIA Brent daily oil prices and 2% expected inflation.

Figure 2 shows in more detail how peaks in oil prices have been falling since 2008. While it doesn’t include early January 2020 oil prices, even these prices would be below the dotted line.

Figure 2. Inflation adjusted weekly average Brent Oil price, based on EIA oil spot prices and US CPI-urban inflation.

Oil prices can temporarily spike because of inadequate supply or fear of war. However, to keep oil prices up, there needs to be an increase in “demand” for finished goods and services made with commodities. Workers need to be able to afford to purchase more goods such as new homes, cars, and cell phones. Governments need to be able to afford to purchase new goods such as paved roads and school buildings.

At this point, the world economy is struggling with a lack of affordability in finished goods and services. This lack of affordability is what causes oil and other commodity prices to tend to fall, rather than to rise. Lack of affordability comes when too many would-be buyers have low wages or no income at all. Wage disparity tends to rise with globalization. It also tends to rise with increased specialization. A few highly trained workers earn high wages, but many others are left with low wages or no job at all.

It is the fact that we do not have a way of making the affordability of finished goods rise that leads me to believe that oil prices will remain low. Raising minimum wages tends to encourage more mechanization of processes and thus tends to lower total employment. Interest rates cannot be brought much lower, nor can the terms of loans be extended much longer. If such changes were available, they would enhance affordability and thus help prevent low commodity prices and recession.

[2] World oil production seems likely to fall by 1% or more in 2020 because of low oil prices.

Quarterly oil production data of the US Energy Information Administration shows the following pattern:

Figure 3. Quarterly World Crude Oil and Natural Gas Liquids production, based on EIA international data through September 2019. This is a fairly broad definition of oil. It does not include biofuels because their production tends to be seasonal.

The highest single quarter of world oil production was the fourth quarter of 2018. Oil production has been falling since this peak quarter.

To examine what is happening, the production shown in Figure 3 can be divided into that by the United States, OPEC, and “All Other.”

Figure 4. Quarterly world crude oil and natural gas liquids production by part of the world, based on international data of the US Energy Information Agency through September 30, 2019.

Figure 4 shows that the production of All Other seems to be steady to slightly rising, more or less regardless of oil prices.

OPEC’s oil production bobs up and down. In general, its production is lower when oil prices are low, and higher when oil prices are high. (This shouldn’t be a surprise.) Recently, its production has been lower in response to low prices. Effective January 1, 2020, OPEC plans to reduce its production by another 500,000 barrels per day.

Figure 4 shows that oil production of the United States rose in response to high prices in the 2010 to 2013 period. It dipped in response to low oil prices in 2015 and 2016. When oil prices rose in 2017 and 2018, its production again rose. Production in 2019 seems to have risen less rapidly. Recent monthly and weekly EIA data confirm the flatter US oil production growth pattern in 2019.

Putting the pieces together, I estimate that world oil production (including natural gas liquids) for 2019 will be about 0.5% lower than that of 2018. Since world population is rising by about 1.1% per year, per capita oil production is falling faster, about 1.6% per year.

A self-organizing networked economy seems to distribute oil shortages through lack of affordability. Thus, for example, they might be expected to affect the economy through lower auto sales and through less international trade related to automobile production. International trade, of course, requires the use of oil, since ships and airplanes use oil products for fuel.

If prices stay low in 2020, both the oil production of the United States and OPEC will likely be adversely affected, bringing 2020 oil production down even further. I would expect that even without a major recession, world oil supply might be expected to fall by 1% in 2020, relative to 2019. If a major recession occurs, oil prices could fall further (perhaps to $30 per barrel), and oil production would likely fall lower. Laid off workers don’t need to drive to work!

[3] In theory, the 2019 and 2020 decreases in world oil production might be the beginning of “world peak oil.” 

If oil prices cannot be brought back up again after 2020, world oil production is likely to drop precipitously. Even the “All Other” group in Figure 4 would be likely to reduce their production, if there is no chance of making a profit.

The big question is whether the affordability of finished goods and services can be raised in the future. Such an increase would tend to raise the price of all commodities, including oil.

[4] The implosion of the recycling business is part of what is causing today’s low oil prices. The effects of the recycling implosion can be expected to continue into 2020.

With the rise in oil prices in the 2002-2008 period, there came the opportunity for a new growth industry: recycling. Unfortunately, as oil prices started to fall from their lofty heights, the business model behind recycling started to make less and less sense. Effective January 1, 2018, China stopped nearly all of its paper and plastic recycling. Other Asian nations, including India, have been following suit.

When recycling efforts were reduced, many people working in the recycling industry lost their jobs. By coincidence or not, auto purchases in China began to fall at exactly the same time as recycling stopped. Of course, when fewer automobiles are sold, demand for oil to make and operate automobiles tends to fall. This has been part of what is pushing world oil prices down.

Sending materials to Asia for recycling made economic sense when oil prices were high. Once prices dropped, China was faced with dismantling a fairly large, no longer economic, industry. Other countries have followed suit, and their automobile sales have also fallen.

Companies operating ships that transport manufactured goods to high income countries were adversely affected by the loss of recycling. When material for recycling was available, it could be used to fill otherwise-empty containers returning from high income countries. Fees for transporting materials to be recycled indirectly made the cost of shipping goods manufactured in China and India a little lower than they otherwise would be, if containers needed to be shipped back empty. All of these effects have helped reduce demand for oil. Indirectly, these effects tend to reduce oil prices.

The recycling industry has not yet shrunk back to the size that the economics would suggest is needed if oil prices remain low. There may be a few kinds of recycling that work (well sorted materials, recycled near where the materials have been gathered, for example), but it probably does not make sense to send separate trucks through neighborhoods to pick up poorly sorted materials. Some materials may better be burned or placed in landfills.

We are not yet through winding down the recycling effort. Even the recycling of materials such as aluminum cans is affected by oil prices. A March, 2019, WSJ article talks about a “glut of used cans” because some markets now prefer to use newly produced aluminum.

[5] The growth of the electric car industry can be expected to slow substantially in 2020, as it becomes increasingly apparent that oil prices are likely to stay low for a long period. 

Electric cars are expensive in two ways:

  1. In building the cars initially, and
  2. In building and maintaining all of the charging stations required if more than a few elite workers with charging facilities in their garages are to use the vehicles.

Once it is clear that oil prices cannot rise indefinitely, the need for all of the extra costs of electric vehicles becomes very iffy. In light of the changing view of the economics of the situation, China has discontinued its electric vehicle (EV) subsidies, as of January 1, 2020. Prior to the change, China was the world’s largest seller of electric vehicles. Year over year EV sales in China dropped by 45.6% in October 2019 and 45.7% in November 2019. The big drop in China’s EV sales has had a follow-on effect of sharply lower lithium prices.

In the US, Tesla has recently been the largest seller of EVs. The subsidy for the Tesla is disappearing in 2020 because it has sold over 200,000 vehicles. This is likely to adversely affect the growth of EV sales in the US in 2020.

The area of the world that seems to have a significant chance of a major uptick in EV sales in 2020 is Europe. This increase is possible because governments there are still giving sizable subsidies to buyers of such cars. If, in future years, these subsidies become too great a burden for European governments, EV sales are likely to lag there as well.

[6] Oceangoing ships are required to use fuels that cause less pollution as of January 2020. This change will have a positive environmental impact, but it will lead to additional costs which are impossible to pass on to buyers of shipping services. The net impact will be to push the world economy in the direction of recession.

If oceangoing ships use less polluting fuels, this will raise costs somewhere along the line. In the simplest cases, oceangoing vessels will purchase diesel fuel rather than lower, more polluting, grades of fuel. Refineries will need to charge more for the diesel fuel, if they are to cover the cost of removing sulfur and other pollutants.

The “catch” is that the buyers of finished goods and services cannot really afford more expensive finished goods. They cut back in their demand for automobiles, homes, cell phones and paved roads if oil prices rise. This reduction in demand is what pushes commodity prices, including oil prices, down.

Evidence that ship owners cannot really pass the higher refining costs along comes from the fact that the prices that shippers are able to charge for shipping seems to be falling, rather than rising. One January article says, “The Baltic Exchange’s main sea freight index touched its lowest level in eight months on Friday, weighed down by weak demand across all segments. . .The Index posted its biggest one day percentage drop since January 2014, in the previous session.”

So higher costs for shippers have been greeted by lower prices for the cost of shipping. It will partly be ship owners who suffer from the lower sales margin. They will operate fewer ships and lay off workers. But part of the problem will be passed on to the rest of the economy, pushing it toward recession and lower oil prices.

[7] Expect increasingly warlike behavior by governments in 2020, for the primary purpose of increasing oil prices.

Oil producers around the world need higher prices than recently have been available. This is why the US seems to be tapering its growth in shale oil production. Middle Eastern countries need higher oil prices in order to be able to collect enough taxes on oil revenue to provide jobs and to subsidize food purchases for citizens.

With the US, as well as Middle Eastern countries, wanting higher oil prices, it is no wonder that warlike behavior takes place. If, somehow, a country can get control of more oil, that is simply an added benefit.

[8] The year 2020 is likely to bring transmission line concerns to the wind and solar industries. In some areas, this will lead to cutbacks in added wind and solar.

A recent industry news item was titled Renewables ‘hit a wall’ in saturated Upper Midwest grid. Most of the material that is published regarding the cost of wind and solar omits the cost of new transmission lines to support wind and solar. In some cases, additional transmission lines are not really required for the first additions of wind and solar generation; it is only when more wind and solar are added that it becomes a problem. The linked article talks about projects being withdrawn until new transmission lines can be added in an area that includes Minnesota, Iowa, parts of the Dakotas and western Wisconsin. Adding transmission lines may take several years.

A related issue that has come up recently is the awareness that, at least in dry areas, transmission lines cause fires. Getting permission to site new transmission lines has been a longstanding problem. When the problem of fires is added to the list of concerns, delays in getting the approval of new transmission lines are likely to be longer, and the cost of new transmission lines is likely to rise higher.

The overlooked transmission line issue, once it is understood, is likely to reduce the interest in replacing other generation with wind and solar.

[9] Countries that are exporters of crude oil are likely to find themselves in increasingly dire financial straits in 2020, as oil prices stay low for longer. Rebellions may arise. Governments may even be overthrown.

Oil exporters often obtain the vast majority of their revenue from the taxation of receipts related to oil exports. If prices stay low in 2020, exporters will find their tax revenues inadequate to maintain current programs for the welfare of their people, such as programs providing jobs and food subsidies. Some of this lost revenue may be offset by increased borrowing. In many cases, programs will need to be cut back. Needless to say, cutbacks are likely to lead to unhappiness and rebellions by citizens.

The problem of rebellions and overthrown governments also can be expected to occur when exporters of other commodities find their prices too low. An example is Chile, an exporter of copper and lithium. Both of these products have recently suffered from low export prices. These low prices no doubt play a major part in the protests taking place in Chile. If more tax revenue from the sales of exports were available, there would be no difficulty in satisfying protesters’ demands related to poverty, inequality, and an overly high cost of living.

We can expect more of these kinds of rebellions and uprisings, the longer oil and other commodity prices stay too low for commodity producers.


I have not tried to tell the whole economic story for 2020; even the energy portion is concerning. A networked self-organizing system, such as the world economy, operates in ways that are far different from what simple “common sense” would suggest. Things that seem to be wonderful in the eyes of consumers, such as low oil prices and low commodity prices, may have dark sides that are recessionary in nature. Producers need high prices to produce commodities, but these high commodity prices lead to finished goods and services that are too expensive for many consumers to afford.

There probably cannot be a “one-size-fits-all” forecast for the world economy. Some parts of the world will likely fare better than others. It is possible that a collapse of one or more parts of the world economy will allow other parts to continue. Such a situation occurred in 1991, when the central government of the Soviet Union collapsed after an extended period of low oil prices.

It is easy to think that the future is entirely bleak, but we cannot entirely understand the workings of a self-organizing networked economy. The economy tends to have more redundancy than we would expect. Furthermore, things that seem to be terrible often do not turn out as badly as expected. Things that seem to be wonderful often do not turn out as favorably as expected. Thus, we really don’t know what the future holds. We need to keep watching the signs and adjust our views as more information unfolds.

This entry was posted in Financial Implications and tagged , , , , by Gail Tverberg. Bookmark the permalink.

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.

1,162 thoughts on “Expect low oil prices in 2020; tendency toward recession

    • “Britain is suffering a productivity crisis more damaging than “even the worst-case Brexit scenario,” one of Britain’s leading economists has warned. Andy Haldane, the Bank of England’s chief economist, said stagnant productivity since the financial crisis over a decade ago was the “single most pressing issue facing the UK economy.””


      • Andy Haldane was one of the chief architects of “project fear”, the strategy of the pro Europeans to generate the most dire predictions they could about the effect of Brexit. Events have proven them to be false; the response of the predictors, Haldane for instance blaming his failures on “irrational behaviour” by the peasants, now prove them to have been deliberate lies. Ignore him; he is last year’s news.

        • In a sense all mainstream economists espousing perpetual growth whilst ignoring biophysical constraints and the fundamental role of energy in economic activity are yesterday’s news.

          The UK is at least fifteen years into in an era of declining prosperity and Brexit is more a symptom of that than a driver. Andy Haldane is far from alone in overlooking this.

          You can download a speech he gave to the University of East Anglia in 2015:


          It gives a fairly good overview of his economic theories on growth and there is not *one* single mention of oil, gas or coal. And this is the Chief Economist at the Bank of England! He concludes:

          “Growth is a gift. Yet contrary to popular perceptions, it has not always kept on giving. Despite centuries of experience, the raw ingredients of growth remain something of a mystery. As best we can tell historically, they have been a complex mix of the sociological and the technological, typically acting in harmony. All three of the industrial revolutions since 1750 bear these hallmarks.”

          • Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist. …

          • “And this is the Chief Economist at the Bank of England! He concludes:
            “Growth is a gift. Yet contrary to popular perceptions, it has not always kept on giving. Despite centuries of experience, the raw ingredients of growth remain something of a mystery.” ”

            I just smacked myself on the forehead…

            it’s sort of pathetic that he doesn’t know the answer is Energy…

            surely he has never met Dr. Tim Morgan…

            who should chain himself to one of the statues in Trafalgar Square and spray paint SEEDS onto it, after which when arrested, he should say he was driven bat crazy by Haldane…

            perhaps the knowledge of net (surplus) energy would become widespread…

            it’s not happening with just a Surplus Energy Economics blog… no matter how excellent such a blog (just like OFW) is…

            • Well, yes, one is tempted to say that if growth is a ‘mystery’ to you, it’s time to resign! I have never been greatly impressed by Haldane’s thoughts generally, but this one wins the prize.

              Ample demonstration of the fact that Dr Tim Morgan’s strictures on the limitations, and unreality, of classical economic theory – in which energy is a relatively minor factor, which can always be substituted – are entirely merited.

              It’s like Napoleon or Alexander the Great saying with a shrug ‘How one wins any battle is a mystery’. Of course, there are many interlocking variables, but…..

            • For Xabier: Our best general (after Queen Boudicca) was surely the Duke of Wellington. When asked just before the Battle of Waterloo how he proposed to win it, he replied, “By beating the French”. The Art of War in four words.

            • For Xabier again. The classical economics of Adam Smith indeed did not emphasise energy; but that was in 1776 and the big growth drivers were still competitive advantage and the division of labour. But in 1865 William Stanley Jevons gave a detailed, and prescient, account of the role of energy, and the future problem of energy depletion, in “The Coal Question”. He was the first to discuss “peak coal” and its implications.

              Over and over, history has proved the classical economists mostly right, and their modern adversaries, including Keynes, mostly dead wrong.

            • The advantage of Keynes’ approach is that there is no obvious limit to added debt. In a finite world, it is obvious that there is a limit to energy resources. Politicians very much preferred the approach without an obvious limit.

            • Gail, I agree. Keynes’ advocacy of fiat money was welcome indeed to politicians who wanted to buy votes with lies. Its embrace by FDR turned an 18 month recession into a Great Depression, by spending fake money on (mostly) worthless projects.

              The classical economists might not have fully understood the Gold Standard, but they were right to support it. The only way to get gold is to mine it, which takes energy. In effect, then, gold is embedded energy, and debt backed by gold is therefore limited by the supply of available energy. Which is what we have been discussing in OFW for several years.

            • The supply of gold does not rise with population, however. The population gets poorer and poorer, if population rises and the ability to pay for goods and services does not. Changes that allowed more babies to live to adulthood (more attention to microbes at delivery and later, for example) led to a need for much for food and other goods. For example, there was a need for more food per acre of arable land. This led to the need for more complexity (irrigation, machines made with coal, etc.) The wage disparity problem tends to rise with complexity. There seems have been a big problem with financial collapses on the gold standard for essentially this reason, I believe.

            • For Gail: thank you for a most interesting comment, with which I tend to agree. In the past, the purchasing power of gold gradually rose as pupolation grew, but very slowly, so there was an approximate balance. That I believe broke down in the late 18 or early 19 century. But population growth in the developed world has mostly come to a halt. If we redistributed employment away from our bloated bureaucracies towards productive work, there would be no need for mass immigration, and we could restore a system of sound money.

              But that cannot happen with the current governing elites, who seem determined to continue their folly until the Sword of Islam brings it, and them, to a bad end.

          • Total electricity makes residential makes a small dent in energy usage as a whole. Most of those LED light bulbs get offset by large screen TVs, monitors, computers, automation and the like.

            Not sure about insulation. People leaving north for points south probably makes more difference, at a guess.

            Here is a chart of energy use by sector in trillion BTU. All are mostly flat.

            Despite the US pop increasing app. 20% in that period. If industrial and commercial is flat …


        • Apart from more historically re-distributive setting of that society to begin with, France was relatively more successful in juicing out the new colonies (or investments) in CEE (after the #1 Germany) also did some joint-ventures in Russia, etc. These were all momentarily surplus stories.. translating and enabling into slightly more favorable domestic per capita profile debauchery..

          In the end it’s a wash. Both UK and France are internally turning into no-go zones, and internationally weakening as well.. Plus one can expect with Brexit yoke away, the trend is now stacked more against France, the ongoing – rolling mass protests and strikes will deter capital spending near / midterm for sure..

    • Look quickly, or you won’t notice that ‘expansion’ at all!

      It’s all becoming rather comical.

  1. U.S. rate-setters could set negative interest rates in the future, despite their own current doubts about the risks of this unconventional measure…

    “…if a recession were to hit in the near-term, Jan Hatzius, chief economist at Goldman Sachs, told CNBC, the Fed could use forward guidance, quantitative easing and ultimately negative rates to revamp the economy.

    “If we were to see a recession at some point in the next few years, with interest rates close to where they are now, then you would only have 150 basis points or so for conventional interest rate cuts — that’s only about a third of the typical reduction in short-term rates,” he said.

    “You’d have to rely on other tools,” he explained.


    • “It seems to me that we are in the waning days of Keynesianism. On the one hand, people want to push their Keynesian tricks to the limit; on the other, people sense that it isn’t really working. One leads to the other — it doesn’t work, so we do more of it.

      “This might lead to one of two outcomes: we get tired of the charade, and it peters out as we go in a new direction. Or, we double down on stupid, and it blows up in our face. Either way, the Keynesian Age comes to an end…”


      • The Forbes article is interesting.

        Some quotes:

        “While there are often worthy things for the government to spend money on, the ‘Keynesian’ framework asserts that spending itself is some kind of economic benefit, even if it produces nothing of value and is a total waste.”

        “It [Modern Monetary Theory] is doubling, tripling and quadrupling down on the same old Keynesian playbook that has served up little more than disappointment over the past ninety years.”

        “On the spending side, the Classical view was that wasteful spending was a waste. You took productive resources from the economy (labor and resources, via either taxes or debt finance), and squandered them to create nothing of value.”

        “But, governments can certainly do something. . .It should include reducing wasteful spending, not increasing it. . . It might include solutions to many of our pressing problems today, such as chronic housing shortages in cities with job growth, or fixing our disastrous healthcare system.”

        Of course, in my view, GDP measures “churn.” More debt at lower interest rates keeps the economy going. More debt means more jobs. Without wasteful spending, we might be worse off than we are. Everyone has a different idea regarding what is wasteful.

        • “Without wasteful spending, we might be worse off than we are. Everyone has a different idea regarding what is wasteful.”

          This is most educational, and might do with more elaboration over time. (You never hear this stated with such straightforwardness.) And saying that everyone has a different idea of what waste is also a major issue to contend with. It’s looking as if people need to stop pointing fingers and trying to change each other. I’m very thrifty in some ways, and just so so in others. But the subject hinges on divinities acting in a manner way beyond our comprehension. It may get back to human entities following their best judgment as to what those divinities are nudging them to do. These things will all be different for different people and groups. Whomever is doing what they’re supposed to be doing will have a way of knowing, sensing it. But it’s the self organizing system which decides on the major outcomes wrought by this tangled and confusing “mess.” OFW explains religions and their variations in related ways. Religions stick around in their different ways because they work for a specific set of circumstances or other.)

          • It is hard to understand what is wasteful spending in advance. I just saw an article this morning in the WSJ called “India’s ‘Ghost Towns’ Saddle Middle Class With Debt–and Broken Dreams.”

            Overleveraged developers have left nearly half a million apartments unfinished after decadelong building spree ends in a bust

            I would imagine that the true cost of building these apartments was underestimated. The price charged buyers was probably at the upper end of what they could afford, but not really enough to pay the developers for all of the costs. The price of the condos did not include the inside finishing, so buyers were faced with these costs, in addition to the condo debt. The developers have been going bankrupt, leaving a bubble not too different from the US sub-prime debt bubble. Residents don’t want to move into buildings with practically no other residents. “Those who have moved in complain that the golf club, gyms, pools, retail spaces and restaurants advertised by its developer, Jaypee Group have largely yet to be built.”

            As a result of the condo problems, the article says, “Many have cut back spending on everything from cars and clothes to flights and eating out.”

            I can think of a lot of other bubbles out there. The recycling bubble, which depends on high oil prices, is one of them. The renewables bubble is another; this is why we hear so much hype based on the assumption that a partial cost estimate of renewables tells us something useful. The many high priced drugs are another bubble. The pay-back over the recipients lifetime is far below the recovery of lost wages. The economy cannot really afford these. Lithium mines seem to be another bubble. People cannot really afford electric cars when lithium prices are high enough for workers to make a reasonable living. Lithium prices are now at a four year low, and expected to fall lower.

          • a reasonable definition of ‘wasteful spending’ might be ‘borrowing’

            if i borrow money to buy goods i can do without, then my money is being borrowed to pay the wages of the people making the goods

            or is this too simplistic?

            • We also have government spending on Social Security and all kinds of other things (unemployment payments, and guarantees of nuclear and solar debt, for example) that is funded on a pay as you go basis. There is no official government debt involved, because the governments are funded on a pay-as-you go basis. In theory, governments can get rid of Social Security tomorrow.

              Yet I was reading today that a 97 year old man was able to get a 30-year mortgage, because age discrimination is not permitted. Social Security and other expected future payments are used as expected income used to justify these loans. These mortgage loans are part of what keep the system going.

      • ‘Doubling down on stupid’ also looks more likely than not.

        It keeps so many plates spinning, for the time being…

      • prayer certainly helped the Christians when confronted by the hungry lions in the Coliseum. at least it gave them something to do.

        • The prayers of the lions were certainly answered, perhaps indeed by Zeus. The prayers of the Christians, not so much. By the way, please call that building by its right name: the Flavian Amphitheatre.

          As for today, I suggest we pray to Rudyard Kipling’s “Gods of the Copybook Headings”, who won’t save us, but might help us understand why we do not deserve to be saved.

          • “By the way, please call that building by its right name: the Flavian Amphitheatre”

            yes, my understanding is the place was named after Nero’s Colossus, a giant 100-foot high bronze (?) statue of him. he was not popular, so after he died they reconfigured and moved the statue, eventually setting it close to the Flavian Amphitheatre. it didn’t survive past the 7th century. however, the nick name stuck to the amphitheater.


      • yes, many prayers to Zeus…

        I suspect that hasn’t been tried yet…

        • Zeus has -or had – a reputation of not caring very much about human beings, being mostly interested in suddenly descending on attractive virgins in various disguises.

          The same goes for most of the old gods except that interfering and bad-tempered old boy Yahweh who can get too interested in the smallest details. Perhaps he should have chilled out and thought more about chasing virgins?

          So I suspect Zeus wouldn’t be quick to respond unless we get Doetzen Kroes, or some other super-model, to offer up sacrifices.

          A few years back, the Spanish conservative government did formally ask the Virgin Mary to do something about unemployment.

          • An alarming thought. Would Zeus be interested in a Goddess of Climate Change? It might be more fun than being thrown into a volcano, but I doubt Greta would welcome it. We should declare her High Priestess of Gaia, and so put her beyond his reach.

  2. https://www.npr.org/2020/01/16/796864399/exclusive-trump-to-reinforce-protections-for-prayer-in-schools

    Well, it appears help is on the way. Trump to reinforce protections for prayer in school. Hopefully the power of prayer will spread across our great land and we’ll all be saved from economic collapse. ‘God helps those that help themselves’, so if we can just help ourselves to enough prayer, then we can overcome the loss of cheap energy in a growing economy with a growing populace. Sometimes I crack myself up.

    • According to the article, ” “It’s important for all Americans, parents, teachers, administrators and citizens to understand that the First Amendment protects religious beliefs and protects people in expressing their spiritual life in the public square.”

      • Perhaps when Trump next visits England, he should look at the Martyrs’ Memorial in Oxford. That’s what happens when people are left free to practice their religion in the public square.

        Or, a little closer to home, perhaps a trip to the Temple of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza.

    • This 2013 article by Munich Re gives the insurance company’s perspective on fires under insurance contracts. Of course, things may have changed from 2013.

      In a human-caused bushfire, the party responsible for the fire may face civil and/or criminal charges, based on negligence or strict liability. Liability insurance comes into play if a party caused the fire with a legal liability, but no wilful intent was involved. Since a large proportion of damaging fires in Australia are directly or indirectly attributable to human activity, and given the substantial monetary losses, fire-fighting costs and harm to people they cause, the risk of bushfire also needs to be considered in connection with casualty contracts.

      The exposure of public utility companies is particularly high, as overhead power lines are a potential ignition source and run throughout the country over long distances. Under “normal conditions” a low single-digit percentage figure of bushfires start in the context of power lines. But during days of extreme fire danger, the percentage of fires caused by electrical distribution installations rises strongly above the long-term average. This becomes evident when regarding the three costliest bushfire disasters since 1980. A significant portion of the individual fires were electricity-caused – half of the fires during the Ash Wednesday disaster in 1983 and one third of the fires during the Black Saturday events in 2009. Only the Canberra fires in January 2003 were all started by lightning.

      Wind is a key variable. Adverse wind conditions, i.e. high wind speeds and change in wind direction, can turn a normal fire into an uncontrollable inferno. High wind speeds also increase the probability of an inferno being triggered by electrical assets.

      The article also notes that historically, underinsurance has been an issue. Buildings that burn down don’t have adequate policy limits, or they aren’t insured at all.

    • This VOX writer is spinning this story like a top to try to make it sound like it isn’t people that are causing these fires—it’s the climatemonster that’s doing it.

      From the article:

      Let’s unpack what’s going on here. The source of the “nearly 200” people being charged with arson claim is a news release from the New South Wales Police Force on January 6, 2020. What the release actually says is that legal action was taken against 183 people since November 8, 2019, for fire-related offenses, including things like improperly discarding cigarettes or not taking enough precautions around machinery, i.e. not arson. Legal action “ranges from cautions through to criminal charges,” according to NSW police, so not everyone is being charged with a crime. And not all of these penalties are for incidents linked to the wildfires.

      Right. Let’s unpack what’s going on here. New South Wales Police say they have taken legal action against 183 people in the past two months for fire-related offenses. That’s 183 people who started fires (accidentally or on purpose) in just two months in just one of the seven Aussie states and territories. And that’s just the fire-starters who got caught. Thanks to Chrome Mags, VOC and the NSW Police for setting the record straight.

      Now Chrome Mags, it’s reality time. So put down the Green Kool Aid and drink down this! It is Green policies backed by Green activism that have allowed Australia to turn into a tinderbox. The stoopid, stoopid infaantile green philosophy that leaving things to nature is always best. In hot semi-arid places such as parts of Australia and California, that just ain’t so.

      • Could it be that the New South Wales Police Force in Australia is making this up?

        The NSW Police Force has taken legal action against more than 180 people for bushfire-related offences since late last year.

        Numerous bush and grass fires have impacted the state, claiming the lives of 18 people and destroying hundreds of millions of animals and livestock, thousands of homes, and more than 4.9 million hectares of land, so far this bushfire season.

        Since Friday 8 November 2019, legal action – which ranges from cautions through to criminal charges – has been taken against 183 people – including 40 juveniles – for 205 bushfire-related offences.

        Of note:

        24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires
        53 people have had legal actions for allegedly failing to comply with a total fire ban, and
        47 people have had legal actions for allegedly discarding a lighted cigarette or match on land.


        • I see that only 24 people have been charged over alleged deliberately-lit bushfires. There are a lot of other bush fires.

          Also, there is a lot of material sitting around to be burned and an ecosystem that depends on regular re-burning, so that new plants can grow. People for some crazy reason have built homes in the middle of this. Fires have been suppressed for a while. Now, the excess supply of burnable material is allowing any little spark to create a good-sized fire. Some of these sparks are from transmission lines, I expect.

  3. widespread civil unrest:


    “There are 195 countries in the world, if the Vatican and Palestine are included, and a newly released index of civil unrest has claimed that 47 of those states witnessed a rise in civil unrest in 2019.
    The data model, published Thursday by socio-economic and political analysis firm Verisk Maplecroft, has also predicted that in 2020, the number will balloon to 75 countries.”

    if that rate of increase (+28) begins in 2020 and continues linearly, then by 2024 it will be just about every country…

    we live in interesting times…

    • it’s pulling away the universal rug of fossil fuel from under our feet.

      the inevitable collapse of our collective stability is certain to result in mass unrest of some form or another. It will vary from country to country, but effectively the end result will be the same.

      I was taken to task the other day for saying that after 2020 mass unrest will lead to civil disorder in the USA towards the mid 2020s, earlier rather than later, because its infrastructure is insupportable. And that it would lead to dictatorship. (theocratic dictatorship more likely).

      Everything is in place to do that, but I was guilty of hate crimes.

      Yet here we have that 2020-on date cropping up again from a better source than me.

      • then perhaps it follows logically that the UK will break up relatively soon…

        Prince Harry may be foreshadowing this with his sudden move to Canada…


        do you think the English dictator will be theocratic or not so much?

        And Now For Something Completely Different… It’s…

        • no empire nation or state can hold together beyond the energy output level that created it in the first place

          reference to any history book will confirm that

          what happens after it falls apart is subject to infinite variables, no history book will tell you that

      • Taken to task? Hate crimes? Perish the thought Norman. I just think you need to keep working on that TDS. He’s not going to be The Great Dictator. He hasn’t got the gonads for that. Witness how his enemies are still making rude gestures in his direction while his friends end up in jail on trumped up charges.

        You are fortunate you don’t have to deal with the sort of trolling that real dissidents suffer. For instance, according to the Mirror:

        Actor Laurence Fox clashed with a BBC Question Time audience member last night over “racist” coverage of Meghan Markle. The Lewis star prompted a furious debate by saying he was “bored” of talk about racism – and told an audience member she herself was racist for suggesting he has white privilege.

        Unforgivably, Laurence went on to say of Blighty, “We’re the most tolerant lovely country in Europe.” I doubt if we’ll be seeing much more of him on TV after this.

      • Now Norman u know we luv u 🙂

        Good thing queen merkel isnt a dictator engaging in dedicated culturcide! oops didnt say that. Wouldnt want to express a strong opinion about some other countries queen. None of my business. Rather quaint libertarian idea nowadays none of my business.

        This is more modern!

    • On the other hand, human societies have always been far more turbulent and violent than we care to think – it gets edited out of history on the whole.

      Generally, as long as the minimum necessary energy keeps flowing, things will hold together, even if daily life for most isn’t at all pleasant or comfortable according to the dreams sold us by advertisers.

      Let the fools riot: they’ll only make their neighbourhoods worse.

      • modern media doesnt allow that

        if a refugee from say, Sudan, makes it to England, then stands in Tesco and points his camera down the food aisles at Tesco, his buddies back in Sudan or wherever are going to see that and be on the next raft across the Meditteranean. No matter what the danger.

        simple human nature

      • Yes, when traveling on the Romantic Road in Germany, remember visiting a lovely red walled town Rothenburg had a surprising museum of Medieval Crime.
        Proof of the violent means to extract justice from those charged.
        A good read is from this write up
        hanged, drawn and quartered…
        Edward therefore introduced the Treason Act 1351. It was enacted at a time in English history when a monarch’s right to rule was indisputable and was therefore written principally to protect the throne and sovereign.[14] The new law offered a narrower definition of treason than had existed before and split the old feudal offence into two classes.[15][16] Petty treason referred to the killing of a master (or lord) by his servant, a husband by his wife, or a prelate by his clergyman. Men guilty of petty treason were drawn and hanged, whereas women were burned.[nb 3][19]

        Looking to return after the end of our Easy Peezy Magical Era of BAU!😜

      • This is a chart that leaves out collapsing countries like Mexico and Puerto Rico. In Mexico cartels effectively control large areas. Would the executions and gun battles that occur there qualify as civil unrest? In Puerto Rico, the people are largely just leaving for Florida. But there have been civil protests there against the gov corruption. One day soon Puerto Rico will not even keep the lights on except in perhaps the major cities.

        I think this chart is the tip of the iceberg. Collapse continues to spread. This decade will be one of unrest.

        • I am wondering if Mexico is one of the unlabeled dots.

          Puerto Rico I am less sure about. It could be considered part of the US. Or the recent hurricane and earthquake could be considered natural disasters and thus ignored. I also wonder about the study’s indices:
          (1) Security Forces and Human Rights Index
          (2) Civil Unrest Index

  4. “America’s hidden recession is in plain view…

    “According to the latest “Earnings Insight” report from FactSet Research Systems on S&P 500 companies, fourth-quarter earnings for the benchmark index are expected to have declined by 2% from the prior-year period. This follows year-over-year earnings per share declines in Q1, Q2, and Q3…”


      • It seems the problem is a debt bubble, and the proposed remedy is, wait for it, an interest rate cut. I shall never understand Modern Monetary Theory. So I shall invent Modern Firefighting, which teaches that the correct response to a fire is to pour petrol on it.

        • Right. Borrow your way out of a debt crisis with ever lower interest rates. What could possibly go wrong? 😀

      • Cut interest rates in the UK, and I still won’t be buying anymore stuff, dining out more , or trading up in property,etc. I’m in siege-mode……

    • I expect that this is at least part of the problem: “Business demand for borrowing was also reported to have fallen across corporations of all sizes.”

      If business conditions are not seen as very good by businesses themselves, it is unlikely that banks will want to lend to them.

      • Gail, I believe this is exactly the right approach. Classical economics teaches that borrowing depends on two necessary conditions: first, that there is a wiling borrower, and secondly, that the borrower has sound reason to believe they can repay the debt. And if the latter condition is not met, do not borrow.

        But in today’s world, banks create fake money out of thin air, and then hunt for borrowers who can be persuaded to take it, often against their best interests. If this system is now breaking down, I call that good news.

        • Here, the loans officer of the local branch of a big TBTF bank recently actually walked into shops uninvited offering the owners £20k personal loans. When asked why (clearly on commission targets), replied: ‘ Because you own a business and must be an OK risk’. !!! Truly hunting for people to lend to!

          The founder of a very successful ceramics business revealed in her autobiography that back in the 1980’s she was scared stiff on entering the imposing manager’s office of her bank in order to make a case for a very modest loan for expansion (that grand branch is now owned a fashion chain, the manager and his imposing mahogany desk long gone…..

    • Harry, in my experience living in the US, almost everyone with an auto loan owes more than the auto is worth. That is the modus operandi of the auto companies: they make their money on the loans, not the vehicles. So you are under water the minute you drive the thing off the lot.

      As for “subprime” loans; first, they are actually more profitable, because the lender is now legally permitted to raise the interest rate, and this usually more than covers the inevitable delinquencies. And secondly, they are a systemic problem, whose root cause is a built environment in which public transport is essentially infeasible, and where crazy zoning laws make walking to work impossible, and road planners make cycling to work close to being suicidal.

      • I agree.

        The feature-creep of automobiles has also made them more and more expensive. This is not considered inflation, in the sense of the CPI, but wages have not risen to rise the feature-creep. The practice of allowing borrowers to add the past unpaid loan in to the amount on the new loan adds to the problem.

        A person in the US really cannot get to work without a vehicle. Carpooling is in theory a solution, but it is difficult to make work in practice. The savings is mostly in not having to have a vehicle at all. Vehicles are needed for every aspect of daily life: buying groceries, taking children to school, visiting friends, going to the gym or church.

        • “The savings is mostly in not having to have a vehicle at all. Vehicles are needed for every aspect of daily life: buying groceries, taking children to school, visiting friends, going to the gym or church.”

          All totally fixable with planning. The problem is not knowing the chain of effects related to the “fix.”

          • Artleads, thank you for a good laugh. The problem was created by planning, bad planning that ignored a couple of thousand years of history. And the system that created the problem is supposed to fix it? Yes, there once was a movement to do this, called New Urbanism. It went nowhere; after a few showcase projects, it was choked by the kudzu of an entrenched and inflexible bureaucracy. I fear Kunstler is right: there is no solution short of collapse.

            • Robert F,

              Looking at Seaside aerial view was a bit nauseating. It showed immense resource use–those large glass windows bought the rest of it clearly into focus. What was on the site before, I wonder? I had been turned way off by New Urbanism, since I thought they saw nothing contradictory about building sustainable developments on open land. Maybe I was wrong about that. But if they sometimes cut down trees or demolish buildings that would dismiss their claims of sustainability too.

              I now advocate not demolishing any building, however misguided and out of context the building is. It is a new context, and one can’t lie and pretend it was never there. So going back to some ideal past when street layout was sustainable is not realistic.

              If we keep what’s there now, we have a better sense of the energy impacts we are working with. We also save embedded energy. I also think that the lighter and more removable you make new interventions the less you would outrun your energy budget. You’re not changing something but instead adding something. Extreme ideas, I know. But what we’re dealing with in the universe of construction is nothing if not extreme.

            • I am not sure how much we need to add. We need to move closer together. For example, multiple generations might live in the same house. Or close friends.

              We have all kinds of subspecialties of physicians now, plus physician assistants and nurse practitioners. People going through standard insurance plans have to figure out who to go to for what. Needless to say, everyone can think of some services that they would like to sell you. Some of the subspecialists are at a great distance. A few generalists, living nearby would be helpful. Or perhaps nurse midwives for deliveries.

          • Once the whole area is built out, it becomes impossible to fix. Homes are mostly in “subdivisions.” Apartments are often in “apartment complexes.” There may be a gate at the entrance to the subdivision or apartment complex. For many residents, it is a long walk just to the entrance, to get out. Businesses are scattered all over the Atlanta metropolitan area. There is no grid pattern because the area is hilly. The low density of housing and the scattered nature of jobs makes it hard to make public transportation, except for “Park and Ride” stations, next to occasional bus stops, that are available to take a person to downtown Atlanta. (There is a Park and Ride three miles from our home.) A person drives to the parking lot, and leaves his car there all day. Alternatively, a family member drops a bus rider off in the morning and picks him up in the evening.

            • I’m trying to figure out what you can change and what you can’t. For what it’s worth, I advocate being sensitized to the energy used in building development. Some insane people talk about demolishing things and making better things. Bad idea.

              But I’m not sure a grid couldn’t be imposed on uphill development. I’m unofficially trying to do planning in a British colonial town c. 1800, laid out on a steep-enough incline in a grid. The gutter work throughout is remarkable. I also wonder if “new” structures’ effluent couldn’t be hauled to the top of the hill, treated marginally and sent down through the guttering in flexible conduits to create one of those “oasis” types of sewerage remediation. at the bottom of the grade. I could see it growing bamboo forests, you could use to build with.

              The city near me has distinguished itself in creating miles of single use sprawl along its main artery that led into the rural county (whose land they annexed, to be sure). So what can we do with this sprawl now? It all looks the same. I’m saying make walkable hubs here and there among the sprawl. No demolition; just adding light and modular structures on top or wherever space allows. Instead of all fast food and strip malls as now, have a mix of residences within it so that workers can walk to work .

            • “Some insane people talk about demolishing things and making better things. Bad idea.”

              I know this isnt what your talking about… One water intrusion has rotted the rafters. Creatures are living in the ceiling walls and under the floor….

              Im not putting on a respirator and dealing with it.

              There are a million ways to stop water intrusion, keep a roof on. Shingles, membrane, steel. All can be found for cheap if u look.

              If you let it go… THere are times when its not salvageable.

              Its always the roof that destroys the rest of the house.

            • pATCHING OPENINGS EITHER IN EXTERior OR INTERior WALLS, INCLUDING REACHING UP FAIRLY HIGH ON A LADDER, (easy at any skill level, and virtually cost free) KEEPS MOISTURE FROM GETTING IN THE WALLS. Roofs are different, and generally require more skill and toughness. But keeping moisture out beneath roof level is easy and effective. That is the low hanging fruit that most people ignore.

          • In the old days, lots of people lived in the same house and shared th3 same kitchen and bathroom. Poor Mexican immigrants still do it, but to an imaginable degree. I think for us spoiled modern westerners, an intermediary step might be to subdivide existing rooms into micro flats with a hotplate, tiny fridge, some sort of wetroom shower/toilet, and a way not to add to the septic system and instead get the effluent where it can be composted.

            • I greatly value the cars we have now (even when we have them sitting most of the time), for when that time comes, they ought to work as generators . It’s going to be tough, but there will still be igloos to keep ice from melting too fast and food and shopping schedules will need to change. I live in a village 25 miles from the city, and I imagine that electricity would get cut off here first. So I have to think seriously about getting by.

            • The great problem with that kind of poverty sub-division can be house fires., above all with cooking going on in multiple rooms…..

            • Good point. In India, I saw one set of homes where all of the cooking was done outside. Actually, I saw this at least two places.

              Of course, all of the multiple residents need to be able to get out in case of fire. Every apartment needs at least one exit, preferably two. Walking down from an upper level, when fire is coming up from below, is likely not to work.

            • Some advocate for Edo style food stalls that serve food to the many. Some like the privacy of their own individual “kitchen.” Then there are populists who are severely introverted and crowd phobic. 🙂 But “poverty” figures here obliquely. In essential ways we’re talking about ANTI-poverty housing, since it is based on advanced spacial training and sophistication to set up. Left to the poor, all you have is squalor and disorder. This is an elitist enterprise for the poor. It is not democratic, but instead based on what actually works. And it’s also based on a level of social planning that could be called socialistic.

            • Dear Gail, when we moved to Africa, we found ourselves with no electricity. But we still had a refrigerator, run by bottled gas. It worked very well, because it had only one moving part, the fluid inside it. We also had a hot water heater, again with no other moving parts. I believe Alibaba still markets this technology.

              Once again, we lose touch with the past to our disadvantage.

            • My mother used to talk about an aunt who had a gasoline powered washing machine.

              Obviously, we have a lot of natural gas powered dryers today. (I expect they use electricity as well.)

              All of these things need an industrial economy powered by fossil fuels.

    • Rebuilding the wall sounds like a project a very rich society could afford. In theory, tourist visits might offset the costs, over the few years the wall was remained in place.

      If the wall was financed by debt, it likely hasn’t been repaid. A new wall, financed by debt, likely won’t be repaid either.

      • Gail, I have visited Chester, Roman “Deva Victrix”, and its walls need minimal care. Just stop undermining them with badly planned new building projects. It is also one of the most walkable cities in England, because its streets still follow the original Roman plan. As do the streets of another of my favourite cities, Lindum Colonia.

        The past is still around us; if only we had the wit to learn from it. But, most of all, the Romans regarded architecture as a supreme act of worship. They built for the Gods; and when you build for the Gods, you build for eternity.

        • my comment was intended as gentle european humour

          but yes Chester is exquisite, the only UK roman city left completely encircled by a walkable wall

          • I prefer York, which is, of course, medieval but the locals are prettier – all that Viking blood still tells…..

            • you may be right

              I have dallied in both cities—but I took my dalliance with me.

              something about a hot summer night in an ancient inn within the city walls,

              Such a misspent youth, before we had global warming to worry about

            • Xabier, I also am very fond of York / Eboracum, though as a Mancunian I could get sanctioned for saying so! I shall be there again later this year, watching my two grandsons sing in the Minster.

              They are members of a choir that will be touring England, singing also at Canterbury (Durovernum Cantiacorum ).

            • Let me know if you want a free taxi when you are here, Robert (and I don’t make that offer often).

              If your grandsons have a spare day they can spend with you, take them here. It’s the funnest place I know.

            • Dear Yorchichan, thank you for your most kind offer. However, my elder daughter lives in England, and i think plans to ferry me around. My son in San Jose is also coming, and he can ferry my other daughter and her family. So in theory we should be OK: six adults, four children, two cars, However, I shall keep your offer in mind as a Plan B.

        • Modern construction, no doubt, here in the US is fast and cheap.
          Just a thought, generally speaking my asphalt single roof on my single family home needs replacing every 15 to 20 years. Without a leak proof roof the whole structure is undermined.
          Old Irish saying, Blessed is the home with a full pantry and sound roof.
          When BAU ends and dwellings go in disrepair, it will not be long for whole neighborhoods be abandoned, such as, in Detroit Michigan


            • Or can not afford to repair, or RePLacE thE neEDEd components of parts.
              Never mind if the materials are simply not available, like after a hurricane.
              Here in South Florida, many homes have blue cheapo tarps covering sections of the roof.
              Replacing the roof is not cheap …people make do…

            • Yes. Electrical and plumbing are major professional skills we can’t do without, and they are very expensive to hire. But what does not cost is making small fixes to cracks in walls. And ladders to get up to the ceiling are not too expensive in this economic system. So the pediment in this picture didn’t have to go like that. There are stunning difficulties to keeping buildings functional, but this kind of deterioration is not among those.

            • “Yes. Electrical and plumbing are major professional skills we can’t do without, and they are very expensive to hire. ”
              Meh. Plumbing is pvc glue and PEX crimps. Not hard to get those two right. Its not hard to plumb. It takes skill to make it look good
              I find electrical easier than plumbing. If your brain dead you shouldnt do it. Yes you have to know how to isolate power and then test to make sure. you have to understand code, wire fill, and wire capacity.
              Those are easy. Understanding why my cell phone had a meltdown because i touched a button, not so much. 🙂
              Code allows a homeowner pull permits and work on there own plumbing and electrical pretty much anywhere. Trust me the inspector will tell you if it is not right 🙂
              Theres a time to call a plumber or electrician. why ? Because they are about twenty times the speed of a amateur with work 5x as nice.

            • Electrical and plumbing require the right supplies. If these are not available from suppliers, no amount of electrical or plumbing skill will fix the problem.

            • “Or can not afford to repair, or RePLacE thE neEDEd components of parts.
              Never mind if the materials are simply not available, like after a hurricane.
              Here in South Florida, many homes have blue cheapo tarps covering sections of the roof.”
              This is one of the reasons why building small seperatly insulated connected spaces is so important.
              Yes its easier building big all space in one envelope.
              If you choose to live in hurricane alley perhaps materials of housing should be appropriate? I know thats crazy talk. 🙂

          • Another Irish saying: ‘Give a boy boots, and he’s a man who can work’.

            Now the young grow up with feet too tender to take army boots…..

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