COVID-19 and the economy: Where do we go from here?

The COVID-19 story keeps developing. At first, everyone listened to epidemiologists telling us that a great deal of social distancing, and even the closing down of economies, would be helpful. After trying these things, we ended up with a huge number of people out of work and protests everywhere. We discovered the models that were provided were not very predictive. We are also finding that a V-shaped recovery is not possible.

Now, we need to figure out what actions to take next. How vigorously should we be fighting COVID-19? The story is more complex than most people understand. These are some of the issues I see:

[1] The share of COVID-19 cases that can be expected to end in death seems to be much lower than most people expect.

Most people assume that the ratios of deaths to cases by age group, computed using reported cases, such as those included in the Johns Hopkins Database, give a good indication of the chance of death a person faces if a person catches COVID-19. In fact, the cases reported to this database are far from representative of all cases; they tend to be the more severe cases. Cases with no symptoms, or only very slight symptoms, tend to be missed. The result is that ratios calculated directly from this database make people think their risk of death is far higher than it really is.

The US Center for Disease Control has published Planning Scenarios, based on information available on April 29, 2020.* Using this information, the CDC’s best estimate of the number of future deaths per 1000 cases with symptoms is as follows:

Ages 0 – 49    0.5 deaths per 1000 cases with symptoms

Ages 50-64    2.0 deaths per 1000 cases with symptoms

Ages 65+       13.0 deaths per 1000 cases with symptoms

The CDC’s best estimate is that 35% of cases have no symptoms at all. Thus, if we were to include these cases without symptoms in the chart above, the chart would become:

Ages 0-49   0.5 deaths per 1,538 cases (including those without symptoms), or 0.3 deaths per 1000 cases with or without symptoms

Ages 50-64  1.3 deaths per 1000 cases with or without symptoms

Ages 65+    8.5 deaths per 1000 cases with or without symptoms

A recent study of blood samples from 23 different parts of the world came to a similarly low estimate of the number of deaths per 1000 COVID-19 infections. It reported that among people who are less than 70 years old, the number of deaths per 1000 ranged from 0.0 to 2.3 per 1000, with a median of 0.4 deaths per 1000.

The same paper remarks,

COVID-19 seems to affect predominantly the frail, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized – as shown by high rates of infectious burden in nursing homes, homeless shelters, prisons, meat processing plants, and the strong racial/ethnic inequalities against minorities in terms of the cumulative death risk.

[2] There seem to be things we can do ourselves to reduce our personal chance of serious illness or death.

General good health is protective against getting a bad case of COVID-19. Thus, anything that we can do in terms of a good diet and exercise is likely helpful. Staying inside for weeks on end in the hope of preventing exposure to COVID-19 is probably not helpful.

Continued exposure to huge amounts of disinfectants and hand sanitizers is likely not to be helpful either. Our bodies depend on healthy microbiomes, and products such as these adversely affect our microbiomes. They kill good and bad bacteria alike and may leave harmful residues. It is easy to scale back our personal use of these products.

There are recent indications that vitamin D is likely to be protective in reducing both the incidence of COVID-19 and the disease’s severity. Web MD reports:

Several groups of researchers from different countries have found that the sickest patients often have the lowest levels of vitamin D, and that countries with higher death rates had larger numbers of people with vitamin D deficiency than countries with lower death rates.

Experts say healthy blood levels of vitamin D may give people with COVID-19 a survival advantage by helping them avoid cytokine storm, when the immune system overreacts and attacks your body’s own cells and tissues.

While we don’t know for certain that vitamin D is helpful, there is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to suggest that it would likely be worthwhile to raise vitamin D levels to the amount recommended by the National Institute of Health (30 nmol/L or higher). People with dark skin living in areas away from the equator might especially be helped by this strategy, since dark skin reduces vitamin D production.

Masks seem to be helpful in preventing the spread of infection. A person’s own immune system can handle some level of germs. If two people meeting together both wear masks, the combination of masks can perhaps reduce the level of germs to within the amount the immune system can handle. Our immune systems are built to handle a barrage of small attacks by viruses and bacteria. Continued “practice” with relatively low combinations of good and bad bacteria (as occur with masks) will tend to build up our bodies’ natural defenses.

We see dentists and dental hygienists wearing face shields. These shields are readily available over the internet and can be worn with a mask or by themselves. We don’t yet know precisely how much protection they provide, but early models suggest that they can be helpful in two directions: (a) preventing the wearer’s droplets from harming others and (b) reducing the droplet exposure from others. Thus, they may be a worthwhile way to reduce exposure to the virus causing COVID-19, even when others are not wearing masks.

[3] The medical community’s ability to treat COVID-19 cases keeps improving.

There seem to be many small changes that are improving treatment of COVID-19. If patients are having trouble getting enough oxygen, having them lie on their stomachs seems to increase their blood oxygen levels. The cost of this change is pretty much zero, but it keeps people out of the ICU longer.

Originally, planners thought that ventilators would be needed for patients with COVID-19, since ventilators are often used on pneumonia patients. Experience has shown, however, that oxygen plus something like a CPAP machine often works better and is less expensive.**

The simple change of not sending recuperating patients to nursing home-type facilities for the last stages of care has proven helpful, as well. Many of these patients can still infect others, leading to infections in long-term care facilities. Tests to tell whether patients are truly over the disease do not seem to be very accurate.

Last week, it was announced that treatment with an inexpensive common steroid could reduce deaths of people on ventilators by one-third. It could also reduce deaths of those requiring only oxygen treatment by 20%. Using this treatment should significantly reduce deaths, at little cost.

We can expect improvements in treatments to continue as doctors experiment with existing treatments, and as drug companies work on new solutions. Looking at cumulative historical mortality rates tends to overlook the huge learning curve that is taking place, allowing mortality rates to be lower.

[4] More doubts are being raised about quickly finding a vaccine that prevents COVID-19. 

The public would like to think that a vaccine solution is right around the corner. Vaccine promoters such as Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates would like to encourage this belief. Unfortunately, there are quite a few obstacles to getting a vaccine that actually works for any length of time:

(a) Antibodies for coronaviruses tend not to stay around for very long. A recent study suggests that even as soon as eight weeks, a significant share of COVID-19 patients (40% of those without symptoms; 12.9% of those with symptoms) had lost all immunity. A vaccine will likely face this same challenge.

(b) Vaccines may not work against mutations. Beijing is now fighting a new version of COVID-19 that seems to have been imported from Europe in food. Early indications are that people who caught the original Wuhan version of the COVID-19 virus will not be immune to the mutated version imported from Europe.

Vaccines that are currently under development use the Wuhan version of the virus. The catch is that the version of COVID-19 now circulating in the United States, Europe and perhaps elsewhere is mostly not the Wuhan type.

(c) There is a real concern that a vaccine against one version of COVID-19 will make a person’s response to a mutation of COVID-19 worse, rather than better. It has been known for many years that Dengue Fever has this characteristic; it is one of the reasons that there is no vaccine for Dengue Fever. The earlier SARS virus (which is closely related to the COVID-19 virus) has this same issue. Preliminary analysis suggests that the virus causing COVID-19 seems to have this characteristic, as well.

In sum, getting a vaccine that actually works against COVID-19 is likely to be a huge challenge. Instead of expecting a silver bullet in the form of a COVID-19 vaccine, we probably need to be looking for a lot of silver bee-bees that will hold down the impact of the illness. Hopefully, COVID-19 will someday disappear on its own, but we have no assurance of this outcome.

[5] The basic underlying issue that the world economy faces is overshoot, caused by too high a population relative to underlying resources.

When an economy is in overshoot, the big danger is collapse. The characteristics of overshoot leading to collapse include the following:

  • Very great wage disparity; too many people are very poor
  • Declining health, often due to poor nutrition, making people vulnerable to epidemics
  • Increasing use of debt, to make up for inadequate wages and profits
  • Falling commodity prices because too few people can afford these commodities and goods made from these commodities
  • Gluts of commodities, causing farmers to plow under crops and oil to be put into storage

Thus, pandemics are very much to be expected when an economy is in overshoot.

One example of collapse is that following the Black Death (1348-1350) epidemic in Europe. The collapse killed 60% of Europe’s population and dropped Britain’s population from close to 5 million to about 2 million.

Figure 1. Britain’s population, 1200 to 1700. Chart by Bloomberg using Federal Reserve of St. Louis data.

We might say that there was a U-shaped population recovery, which took about 300 years.

A later example that almost led to collapse was the period between 1914 and 1945. This was a period of shrinking international trade, indicating that something was truly wrong. On Figure 2 below, the WSJ calls its measure of international trade the “Trade Openness Index.” The period 1914-1945 is highlighted as being somewhat like today.

Figure 2. The Trade Openness Index is an index based on the average of world imports and exports, divided by world GDP. Chart by Wall Street Journal.

Many of the issues in the 1914-1945 timeframe were coal related. World War I took place when coal depletion became a problem in Britain. The issue at that time was wages that were too low for coal miners because the price of coal would not rise very high. Higher coal prices were needed to offset the impact of depletion, but high coal prices were not affordable by citizens.

The Pandemic of 1918-1919 killed far more people than either World War I or COVID-19.

World War II came about at the time coal depletion became a problem in Germany.

Figure 3. Figure by author describing peak coal timing compared to World War I and World War II.

The problem of inadequate energy resources finally ended when World War II ramped up demand through more debt and through more women entering the labor force for the first time. In response, the US began pumping oil out of the ground at a faster rate. Instead of depending on coal alone, the world began depending on a combination of oil and coal as energy resources. The ratio of population to energy resources was suddenly brought back into balance again, and collapse was averted!

[6] We are now in another period of overshoot of population relative to resources. The critical resource this time is oil. The alternatives we have aren’t suited to fulfilling our most basic need: the growing and transportation of food. They act as add-ons that are lost if oil is lost.

If we look back at Figure 2 above, it shows that since 2008, the world has again fallen into a period of shrinking imports and exports, which is a sign of “not enough energy resources to go around.” We are also experiencing many of the other characteristics of an overshoot economy that I mentioned in Section 5 above.

Figure 4 shows world energy consumption by type of energy through 2019, using recently published data by BP. The “Other” combination in Figure 4 includes nuclear, hydroelectric, wind, solar, and other smaller categories such as geothermal energy, wood pellets, and sawdust burned for fuel.

Figure 4. World energy consumption by fuel, based on BP’s 2020 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Oil has been rising at a steady pace; coal consumption has been close to level since about 2012. Natural gas and “Other” seem to be rising a little faster in the most recent few years.

If we divide by world population, the trend in world energy consumption per capita by type is as follows:

Figure 5. World Per Capita Energy Consumption based on BP’s 2020 Statistical Review of World Energy

Many people would like to think that the various energy sources are substitutable, but this is not really the case, as we approach limits of a finite world.

One catch is that there are very few stand-alone energy resources. Most energy resources only work within a framework provided by other energy sources. Wood that is picked up from the forest floor can work as a stand-alone energy source. Wind can almost be used as a stand-alone energy source, if it is used to power a simple sail boat or a wooden windmill. Water can almost be used as a stand-alone energy source, if it can be made to turn a wooden water wheel.

Coal, when its use was ramped up, enabled the production of both concrete and steel. It allowed modern hydroelectric dams to be built. It allowed steam engines to operate. It truly could be used as a stand-alone energy source. The main obstacle to the extraction of coal was keeping the cost of extraction low enough, so that, even with transportation, buyers could afford to purchase the coal.

Oil, similarly, can be a stand-alone energy solution because it is very flexible, dense, and easily transported. Or it can be paired with other types of less-expensive energy, to make it go further. We can see our dependence on oil by how level energy consumption per capita is in Figure 5 since the early 1980s. Growth in population seems to depend upon the amount of oil available.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, the economy is a self-organizing system. If there isn’t enough of the energy products upon which the economy primarily depends, the system tends to change in very strange ways. Countries become more quarrelsome. People decide to have fewer children or they become more susceptible to pandemics, bringing population more in line with energy resources.

The problem with natural gas and with the electricity products that I have lumped together as “Other” is that they are not really stand-alone products. They cannot grow food or build roads. They cannot power international jets. They cannot build wind turbines or solar panels. They cannot put natural gas pipelines in place. They can only exist in a complex environment which includes oil and perhaps coal (or other cheaper energy products).

We are kidding ourselves if we think we can transition to modern fuels that are low in carbon emissions. Without high prices, oil and coal that are in the ground will tend to stay in the ground permanently. This is the serious obstacle that we are up against. Without oil and coal, natural gas and electricity products will quickly become unusable.

[7] A major problem with COVID-19 related shutdowns is the fact that they lead to very low commodity prices, including oil prices. 

Figure 6. Inflation-adjusted monthly average oil prices through May 2020. Amounts are Brent Spot Oil Prices, as published by the EIA. Inflation adjustment is made using the CPI-Urban Index.

Oil is the primary type of energy used in growing and transporting food. It is used in many essential processes, including in the production of electricity. If its production is to continue, its price must be both high enough for oil producers and low enough for consumers.

The problem that we have been encountering since 2008 (the start of the latest cutback in trade in Figure 2) is that oil prices have been falling too low for producers. Now, in 2020, oil production is beginning to fall. This is happening because producing companies cannot afford to extract oil at current prices; governments of oil exporting countries cannot collect enough taxes at current prices. They hope that by reducing oil supply, prices will rise again.

If extraordinarily low oil prices persist, a calamity similar to the one that “Peak Oilers” have worried about will certainly occur: Oil supply will begin dropping. In fact, the drop will likely be much more rapid than most Peak Oilers have imagined, because the drop will be caused by low prices, rather than the high prices that they imagined would occur.

Amounts which are today shown as “proven reserves” can be expected to disappear because they will not be economic to extract. Governments of oil exporting countries seem likely to be overthrown because tax revenue from oil is their major source of revenue for programs such as food subsidies and jobs programs. When this disappears, governments of oil exporters are forced to cut back, lowering the standard of living of their citizens.

[8] What our strategy should be from now on is not entirely clear.

Of course, one path is straight into collapse, as happened after the Black Death of 1348-1352 (Figure 1). In fact, the carrying capacity of Britain might still be about 2 million. Its current population is about 68 million, so this would represent a population reduction of about 97%.

Other countries would experience substantial population reductions as well. The population decline would reflect many causes of death besides direct deaths from COVID-19; they would reflect the impacts of collapsing governments, inadequate food supply, polluted water supplies, and untreated diseases of many kinds.

If a large share of the population stays hidden in their homes trying to avoid COVID, it seems to me that we are most certainly heading straight into collapse. Supply lines for many kinds of goods and services will be broken. Oil prices and food prices will stay very low. Farmers will plow under crops, trying to raise prices. Gluts of oil will continue to be a problem.

If we try to transition to renewables, this leads directly to collapse as well, as far as I can see. They are not robust enough to stand on their own. Prices of oil and other commodities will fall too low and gluts will occur. Renewables will only last as long as (a) the overall systems can be kept in good repair and (b) governments can support continued subsidies.

The only approach that seems to keep the system going a little longer would seem to be to try to muddle along, despite COVID-19. Open up economies, even if the number of COVID-19 cases is higher and keeps rising. Tell people about the approaches they can use to limit their exposure to the virus, and how they can make their immune systems stronger. Get people started raising their vitamin D levels, so that they perhaps have a better chance of fighting the disease if they get COVID-19.

With this approach, we keep as many people working for as long as possible. Life will go on as close to normal, for as long as it can. We can perhaps put off collapse for a bit longer. We don’t have a lot of options open to us, but this one seems to be the best of a lot of poor options.


*The CDC estimates are estimates of future deaths per 1000 cases. Thus, they probably reflect the learning curve that has already taken place. It is unlikely that they reflect the benefit of the new steroid treatment mentioned in Section 3, because this finding occurred after April 29.

**I have been told that disease spread can be a problem when using CPAP machines, however. Using ventilators at very low pressure settings seems also to be a solution.




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.

2,824 thoughts on “COVID-19 and the economy: Where do we go from here?

  1. Poor Nigeria being hit from all sides:

    “Nigerian cocoa farmers and exporters are facing a serious economic crisis caused by the global coronavirus lockdown. Huge losses are being recorded daily as cocoa stays in the country’s warehouses because of restrictions at destination ports, meaning the longer it sits the more it decreases in weight, reducing its value.

    “The country’s farmers are also suffering from a lack of pesticides needed to grow the next crop.”

  2. Meanwhile in Norway:

    Cries for hydrogen ferries *now*, minister says we’re not quite there but almost.

    • Jarle, the hydrogen will be produced from the excess hydroelectric Norway has? How much excess hydroelectric does Norway have?

      • None. Hydropower provides (as of Jan 2020) just 60% of Norway’s demand for electricity. But they are still building, though not as fast as demand is growing. And before fainting in coils about hydrogen, remember that 80% by weight of the output from water electrolysis is oxygen, which in concentration is a serious pollutant.

        • There is also the issue of energy. One may perhaps devise a thought experiment whereby, with the energy inputted to break the oxygen-hydrogen bonds being equal to the energy outputted when those bonds are reformed, hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source.

          In the real world, however, when factoring in the energy to build and operate all relevant infrastructure and allowing for the energy lost through the hydrogen escaping, hydrogen produced by electrolysis of water is a net energy sink.

          If the idea is to use hydrogen to replace fossil fuels and we stop using fossil fuels, then where do we get the energy from to make up for the energy lost through our use of hydrogen as an energy source when it is actually an energy sink? How many trees will we be chopping down and burning in our failed attempt at solving the problem we created with our transition to the hydrogen economy?

          Not that anybody cares about such matters, of course. Hydrogen is clean and green. Hydrogen is an environmentally friendly, renewable, and limitless source of energy. The world is saved!

          • Norway is a big exporter of electricity.

            BP doesn’t show exported electricity separately from other electricity, but it is clear from its data that Norway’s hydroelectric is quite variable from year to year (making it hard to rely on). It is not trending up quickly, either, even as other countries need more balancing power.

            Recent terawatt hours of generation are given as follows by BP:

            2008 139.0
            2009 125.3
            2010 116.8
            2011 120.3
            2012 141.7
            2013 128.2
            2014 135.4
            2015 137.3
            2016 142.2
            2017 142.0
            2018 139.0
            2019 125.3

  3. Charles Hugh Smith gets parts of the story right:

    Forget the V, W or L Recovery: Focus on N-P-B

    The problem is there’s no Plan B for anything in the U.S. economy. There is only Plan A, a return to 2019 / The Old Normal. If that’s no longer possible, there is literally nothing left on the policy / response plate.

    What nobody dares even ask is: what businesses and industries will still be financially viable running at 50% capacity? How many cafes, restaurants, resorts, airlines, etc. will turn a profit operating at 50% capacity? How many can not just survive half of the seats being empty, but turn a profit?

    I don’t agree with this part, however:

    Plan B can be a chaotic mess of denial and failed half-measures that only make all the problems worse, or it can be a positive transformation that results in a society that does more with less. The choice is ours.

    His solution seems to deny the laws of physics. I am afraid it won’t work.

    • He along with Chris Martenson likes to sell “Hopium”. In fact Martenson has CHS as a semi-regular guest.

      • CHS realy has nothing useful to say about the future, however good his analysis of the financial disaster we are in.

        The whole ‘More attention to need, less greed, more meaningful and richer life’ theme is utter, utter tripe.

        Appealing, but rubbish none the less.

        ‘A fuller, richer life with less’ rolls nicely off the tongue, but is as absurd as promises of Heavenly rewards or the Communist Utopian, and so on.

        Hard, cruel and bitter times clearly await us – those who survive the repeated shocks which are coming that is – and to face them we will need great spiritual as well as physical strength.

        • There is a reason that the Bible is so full of great and inspiring poetry – it is because the times were so brutal and called on every resource of our humanity.

          • 1 To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
            2 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
            3 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;
            4 A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
            5 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
            6 A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
            7 A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
            8 A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

            (Ecclesiastes iii:1-8)

    • “His solution seems to deny the laws of physics. I am afraid it won’t work.”

      I don’t really agree.

      Comments like this, and some of the others below, seem to boil our future down to a binary pair of absolutes – either BAU will continue, or things will go to absolute hell (subtly suggesting mass human species die-off or possibly near-human extinction).

      While CHS doesn’t usually discuss the darker side of collapse (perhaps he feels there’s enough focus by others on our approaching dystopian future?), I don’t think he’s naive to the fact that much of the lifestyle we’re accustom to will disappear for most, if not all, people who survive through collapse. What I believe he is eluding to is an idea that constantly seems to be avoided / disparaged here at OFW: that our current industrialized civilization (BAU, if you will) is, in many ways, a gilded cage that is oppressive, pathological, and unnecessarily exploitative.

      These living conditions – which some here would drag out as long as possible for reasons I can’t completely grasp (other than to maintain their current living standard and/or self-preservation), cost to future generations be damned – make use insane, lonely, isolated, oppressed, and spiritually devoid.

      Collapse can be viewed in a positive light in that it may free us from (at least some of) these constraints. If you don’t care about, or don’t want to look yourself in the mirror and recognize you suffer from these intangible issues (thus viewing the quality of your existence solely on your employment, your standard of living, your access to energy and food, other tangible things, etc.), then I suppose that makes sense. But personally, I think anyone who doesn’t recognize that our “gilded cage” reality comes to us at a cost in other forms is rather naive (a more eloquent writer than I might argue that, while we certainly lead longer and more content lives right now, we don’t actually live those lives in any meaningful way).

      Generations who came before us had to learn to be less wasteful and do more with less. I don’t see why it violates the laws of physics to suggest we will have to re-learn the ways of the past.

      Painful and difficult, yes. But impossible? Never say never… 🙂


        • @Gail Tverberg

          The Black Death carried of 1/3 of Europe. I will not rule out the massive capability of Pestillence to whittle down the population over time.

          • Collapse brought the decline in population of Europe from 1/3 to 60%. Black Death was just the part of the collapse scenario at that time.

            Now, the economy is balanced in such a way that even a small disturbance to the economy will bring the population down by a much larger percentage.

        • Thinking my point has once again been missed.

          I’m arguing that the quality of one’s life is based on more than just the tangibles (population density, total energy, total resources, etc.). I’m arguing that the outcome of our journey – what we can or cannot achieve – is less important than the journey itself. And I’m arguing that perhaps conflict / suffering / loss are necessary to our existence, freeing us from our complacency to allow us to lead a meaningful life.

          Don’t want to put words into the mouth of CHS, but I think he’d argue something similar.


      • GBV,
        Like you, i always thought that average homo colossus way of living is a sad sight and a stupid way of squander finite and valuable resources. And i always shuned the kind of life that corporate world demands from his servants. Never work more than 4 hours a day. was my vow, thinking better to be poor than to be a wage-slave. .

        But you can’t don’t forget this:
        With no fossil fuels (~1780) 1 billion people in this planet,
        With some fossil fuels (~1920) 2 billion people.
        With all the fossil fuels-and-the-kitchen-sink ( today) 7.8 billion.

        It seems some sort of die-off is simply inevitable.I don’t see how to deny that.

        • Well, I’m not denying it really – deaths are inevitable. But I’m suggesting a good death (or perhaps even a rotten one) may be better than some of the lives being led today.

          Also, I don’t really claim to understand nature or physics as well as some people here, but I do sometimes wonder if the combined constraints on energy and the difficulty of overcoming the natural world in the past limited human growth more so than we recognize.

          Having trouble to put words to exactly what I’m trying to get at, so an example might be more helpful: perhaps in the 1780s when large swathes of forest and wilderness stood in our way, further human expansion (both in terms of population growth and in an actual geographic sense) wasn’t really possible without an energy-intensive reformation / re-purposing (“geoforming”?) of the land.

          Fossil fuels provided us with the high energy sources we required to open up the land and make it more habitable / productive for mankind. As a result, it makes me wonder if the people of post-collapse will have more ability / opportunity to thrive than the people of 1780 who were so energy / geographically constrained.

          Of course, there’s the issue that Gail raised about our resources being depleted today compared to the past (no gold boulders just laying around in Alaska waiting to be found, or overwhelming amounts of seafood to be harvested without IC technology, just as two examples), and we’ve also sunk a lot of that energy into creating man-made geography that will be just as challenging (or more so) for people to overcome / re-pupose (e.g. our cities) to something of use, so perhaps those issues outweigh any gains we’ve created through our use of fossil fuels… hard to say.


        • JMS, I think you are too optimistic. The soil in 1790 was still healthy, undamaged by artificial fertiliser, not poisoned by artificial pesticides and herbicides, annually renewed with human and animal output. Today, at least in the “rich” countries, the soil is dead, and will take centuries to recover. Left to itself, the famous US bread basket could probably support fewer people than it did in 1491.

    • “What nobody dares even ask is: what businesses and industries will still be financially viable running at 50% capacity? How many cafes, restaurants, resorts, airlines, etc. will turn a profit operating at 50% capacity? How many can not just survive half of the seats being empty, but turn a profit?”

      these are misleading questions.

      he proposes a reduction of half of all customers, but misses the obvious possibility of a reorganizing of the economy.

      in a city or town with only half the 2019 amount of customers, it seems that about half of the cafes and restaurants can operate near full capacity IF the other half of the cafes and restaurants go out of business. (required social distancing may impact this negatively.)

      with 50% less customers, perhaps half of all businesses could run at a profit IF half of their competitors go out of business.

      that’s a simplistic model of the near future.

      a lot of patience will be needed as many of these outcomes will happen later in 2020 and into 2021.

      • No, the social distancing is going to be required, for the foreseeable future, unless we just let COVID-19 go around and around, reducing the population on each round (or we find a solution – cheap cure or cheap vaccine that really works. It is the social distancing that leads to the need for 50% capacity. Even if half the cafes go out of business, the remaining restaurants will not be able to make a profit. Too much rent per customer, for example.

        • maybe.

          the ones who own their buildings are more adapted to be in the survivor group.

          half the customers could eat in, and the half who can’t get seats might have to settle for take-out.

          profits will be lower, even with higher meal prices.

          you are right about the self-organizing aspect of the economy. it will continue to self-organize.

        • Is a vaccine the answer? It was never effective for a coronavirus in any event. Why not let it die off naturally like it does every year. The numbers of death appear quite normal for an annual flu. When has it ever been sound medical governmental policy to sacrifice – and destroy – the economic, mental, and physical well-being of the 99 percent to protect and save the one percent…or less?

      • The survivors would have to be allowed to run at 100% seating capacity, no masks or distancing.

        Those over 65-70 yrs old should then avoid eating out – now, what % are they of the pre-COVID customer base I wonder?

        • One of my older sisters, around 75 yrs of age and technically obese, is a liberal and was arguing with me that the lockdowns must continue to “protect” everyone…meaning her. While I talked with her she was picking up take out from some restaurant. On the one hand our economy must stop for the safety of people like her but on the other hand she is risking her health getting food prepared by someone that might be a carrier of Covid! Go Figure….

      • They are all indoors with aircon.
        Have you spent time in the South?
        Not the healthiest of Americans, who are a health challenged group to begin with.

        • Duncan, I have spent time in the US south. Never again if I can help it. The people seem to live in a wholly artificial environment, driving in air conditioned cars from one air conditioned building to another. They are mostly obese, because they never get healthy outdoor exercise. They mostly have infectious diseases, because a large air conditioned building or shopping mall is almost an ideal plague factory.

          And it is all unnecessary. I grew up in Africa with no air conditioning, but in buildings designed for the climate: deep eaves, verandas and balconies, breezeways. And I lived in Singapore for 20 years without ever turning on the air conditioning in the apartments I rented. Of course, I selected only apartments with windows that opened and had at least some shade above them. After all, we evolved in the tropics, and the idea we cannot live in them today without a fake climate is absurd.

          • Yea, I lived in Micronesia for a year, without electricity or running water.
            Every time I’m in Atlanta, I think this city would go back to a population of 25,000 when aircon goes,

            • Duncan, that must be an interesting story, when you have the time. We also had no electricity for the first couple of years. Food was cooked on a wood burning stove in a kitchen about 5 metres from the house along a breezeway, to reduce the pollution. Lighting was by oil lamps. I remember my mother insisted on dining in good light, with a lamp in the middle of the table. A moth falling on her dinner plate, and bigger than the dinner plate, convinced her otherwise. Lamps belong in corners, and since nature thoughtfully fitted our eyes with an iris that worked pretty well.

              Running water, happily, was available. Cold showers in the tropics work quite well.

            • I lived in a Japanese country side house for a few months, the sliding doors opened the house up like a origami letting the cool breeze from the mountain pass straight through the house (with swallows nesting in the “Genkan”). It was quite picturesque and comfortable, even for a whitety dude conditioned to a climate above the arctic circle. However, in Tokyo during the same time of year the heat was awful.

      • Deaths aren’t up in the South. In fact, there does seem to be an increase in total US deaths today, but it is a spike in New York reported deaths. I would imagine it is another reclassification of “old” NY deaths as COVID-19 deaths. Outside of the NY-NJ-CN region, deaths are staying down, even though reported illnesses are up. The big concentration of public transit and high rise buildings is in the NY-NJ-CN area.

      • Cases are rising in Alabama but hospitalizations are falling.
        Lots of obesity here in AL. Most people dying from Covid are walking heart attacks.

    • It seems like I ran across this issue before. It would be very nice if Vitamin D pills were sufficient. Then we might be able to solve quite a few of our medical problems (including COVID-19) with Vitamin D pills.

      I have been outside walking quite a bit, but I tend to stay in the shade quite a bit of the time because it is more comfortable, especially when the weather is already warm. Maybe sunshine is the reason why walking is so helpful to health.

      • I just sunbathed for 20 minutes at 1pm with the sun close to the zenith, naked but for my 98% UV-cut sunglasses, and now I feel able to leap tall buildings at a single bound.

        I have one strong disagreement with interrguru’s statement. Taking vitamin D supplements DOES help, especially if you can’t get enough sunshine.

        Come on everyone, get that blood vitamin D level up and say goodbye to a host of medical issues. It might even save your life and allow you to survive long enough to make a profit on all those pension and social security premiums the government has been syphoning out of your pay packets all these decades.

      • Walking must also be good for brain function, as one has to observe carefully so as to avoid collisions and difficulties: very different to the mental and physical laziness of being a passenger or on a motorway in the simplified environment which lanes, signs and barriers creates. Also, one has never heard of ‘walking rage’, unlike driving…..

    • Just getting brief exposure to a small area of the skin is not enough except that it can help to avoid the worst of D-deficiency diseases. But it is not sufficent for optimal health. Vitamin D3 is not in fact a vitamin but is a pro-hormone that is involved in thousands of hormonal processes in the body. Of course, to get the D3 that you need, there is no need to bake in the sun until you look like beef jerky, but at the same time, sticking your elbow out of the car windown while you drive will be unlikely to get you what you need.

      I have seen recommendations of 40 minutes a day of whole body exposure to sunlight as being optimal for building up your D3 levels. That kind of exposure is hard to get for most people but it is a good target.

      Note that there is zero chance that this kind of exposure will give anyone cancer. Perhaps if you are exposed and repeatedly BADLY SUNBURN certain areas of your skin, then skin cancer may result decades in the future. But it also may not.

      The Slip, Slap, Slop anti-sun (supposedly anti-skin-cancer) campaign that the Australian government ran for so many years was a public health disaster as instead of saying “don’t lay for four hours a day in the hellish radiation of the midday Australian sun while smearing bronzer on yourself like you are basting a turkey” they said “Run for the hills!” “The sun will burn us all to a crisp! You will all get cancers if you go out into the sun!” “Cower in the shadows until dusk!” “Beware the solar Morlocks!”

      People at bus stops would edge away to find shade twenty meters away and run out waving when they saw teh approach of teh bus because they feared five miniuts of exposure would become a potentially deadly threat decades hence. Lunacy. Parents would request that their children be removed from sitting near windows in the classroom because who knows, some rays of sunlight might fall on them.

      It is always the same with these government and agency people. Their PERSONAL IMPORTANCE AND EVER LARGER BUDGETS depend on everyday people jumping at shadows and panicking at the slightest rustle in the grass “It’s a monster come to get us! Ruuun!”

      For decades otherwise sensible people in Australia strived to avoid exposure to something that is essential to human health and that has an important role in human hormonal regulation.

      Because idiots and schemers told them to.

      Remind you of anything?

      • Normies, go figure ’em.

        They remind me of the braindead Eloi in H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine who would walk into the shelters the Morlocks had prepared for them at the hoot of a siren.

    • one of my dermatologists informed me once that there is no such thing as a “healthy tan”, only sun-damaged skin.

      for light-skinned folks, he advised avoiding the sun between 9 AM and 4 PM. when outside, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants, a broad-brimmed hat, good sunglasses (UVA and UVB polarizing) and apply plenty of SBF 50+ to any exposed skin.

      i usually observe the 15 minute rule these days, after that it’s head for the shade. i live in Hawaii, so the sun exposure is brutal.

      at 40, i had cataracts in both eyes. i’ve lost count of the number of skin cancer operations. i see a dermatologist every 3 months. they usually meet me with liquid nitrogen canister in hand, ready to burn precancers.

      • I wonder why you are burning so easily? Were you getting tremendous amounts of sun? Did you have a high-carb diet? When I ate high carb, 30 minutes in the high sun would turn me beet-red and cover me in sun blisters.

        Since I have been low-carb (ten years) I have been able to stay in the sun for 30-45 minutes and get a faint red. No painful burning or blistering. I am very pale. I do not tan – I just go a kind of beige.

        The advice of your dermatologist would leave you very D3-depleted. As for the eyes, it is hard to argue with sunglasses.

      • My American neighbor, who is 80 years old, also has to have the liquid nitrogen canister treatment every three months, and he’s had his corneas replaced. He spent many years as a young man sailing around the Pacific and being serially over-exposed to the sun. I hope for both of your sakes that BAU continues to sail on unabated.

        On the upside, he reports that since the cataract surgery he’s been literally staggered by how bright the world is. It certainly puts Goethe’s reported last words “More light!” in a brand new light.

        For myself, a reasonably light-skinned bloke of 60, I wear a broad-brimmed straw hat and good sunglasses when out in the sun. But a lot depends on where one is and on the time of year. The sunlight is stronger at sea or on the coast than inland, stronger in the country than the city, stronger at higher elevations, and stronger the higher the sun is in the sky. The eyes need protection all year round in most places as the UV will progressively damage the corneas, let alone the retinas.

        For the skin, I don’t mind up to 20 minutes of sunbathing even at midday in summer because I think the health-enhancing-in-small-doses UV is stronger then. By contrast, when the sun is lower in the sky, the nice UV doesn’t reach the ground but the nasty skin-aging-and-cancer-inducing UV penetrates quite nicely.

        I’ve noticed that many Japanese people my age exhibit signs of aging skin including wrinkles, moles and things only your dermatologist could describe. Commonly they have not taken any precautions and taken too much sun over too many years. The are also a minority, invariably female, who avoid sunlight like vampires, wearing big hats, visors and long gloves plus a parasol, and these ladies tend to have whitish or translucent skin. In their natural environment, East Asians tend to be olive skinned and require about four times as much sun exposure than northern Europeans to synthesize Vitamin D. So white-skinned ones are going to be Vitamin D deficient unless they are taking supplements or eating huge amounts of shitake mushrooms.

  4. Mayor of Miami suggests he’s willing to shut the city back down if he’s unable to contain the coronavirus surge with a mask mandate and new penalties
    From Business Insider

    Mayor of Miami suggests he’s willing to shut the city back down if he’s unable to contain the coronavirus surge with a mask mandate and new penalties
    Eliza Relman 2 hours ago
    People wait in a queue to enter Island H2O Live! water park in the Orlando area over Memorial Day weekend.
    People wait in a queue to enter Island H2O Live! water park in the Orlando area over Memorial Day weekend. Paul Hennessy/Getty Images
    Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Trump-aligned Republican, was slow to shut his state down to contain the coronavirus and quick to reopen it.
    Florida’s coronavirus cases are now skyrocketing and the state is a new national epicenter of the pandemic.
    Miami Mayor Francis Suarez told Business Insider that he hopes the governor follows his lead in implementing a mandate to wear masks in public places.
    And he warned that he’s prepared to shut his city down again if hospitals reach a critical state.
    The mayor said the rapidly rising rate of infection among young people is in part due to widespread noncompliance with social distancing orders.
    He said Trump’s refusal to wear a mask has “without a doubt” undermined his efforts.
    And Parents are upset
    MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A group of Broward parents arguing their children should be given the option to go back to school five days a week come August held a rally outside the Broward School Board Building on Tuesday morning.
    They chanted and carried signs. Dozens of public school parents just want their voices to be heard.
    “We have to get back to education, not two days a week,“ says parent Anna Warburton.
    “They are creating an achievement gap. Parents who can afford it send their kids to private school,” said demonstrator Tracy Christiansen.
    The School Board met to discuss the reopening of schools in August.

    • these stories combine to give the typical scenario going forward.

      politicians, not being systems thinkers, might feel compelled to do more lockdowns, while most of the citizens will be “upset” by the whims of their politicians.

      I saw a story that the governor of PA has had a 40% drop in his approval rating.

      politicians thought and maybe still think that they know best for their citizens, and many citizens are saying no.

      do masks, don’t do lockdowns.

  5. The thinking behind doing “more with less”

    This analysis implies that, even if the Paris Accord target of a 1.5 °C to 2.0 °C rise in temperature is met, we cannot exclude the risk that a cascade of feedbacks could push the Earth System irreversibly onto a “Hothouse Earth” pathway. The challenge that humanity faces is to create a “Stabilized Earth” pathway that steers the Earth System away from its current trajectory toward the threshold beyond which is Hothouse Earth (Fig. 2). The human-created Stabilized Earth pathway leads to a basin of attraction that is not likely to exist in the Earth System’s stability landscape without human stewardship to create and maintain it. Creating such a pathway and basin of attraction requires a fundamental change in the role of humans on the planet. This stewardship role requires deliberate and sustained action to become an integral, adaptive part of Earth System dynamics, creating feedbacks that keep the system on a Stabilized Earth pathway (Alternative Stabilized Earth Pathway).

      • I believe that the lockdowns related to the virus fear mongering which is happening now is part of the plan to go down the path of Stabilised Earth Pathway so expect more lockdowns

      • It is a bit of a stretch to think that academics would have devised a plan to mitigate the problem of diminishing returns from non-renewable resources but I believe a plan B was devised many years ago involving a move into renewable resources but as you say their wishful thinking is purely that a fantasy that they wholly believe in unfortunately they will take us all with them as they carry on with this “delusistani” plan of theirs.

        • Right, without the covid-hysteria we could maybe kick the can for some more years, but isn’t true we were doomed already in December 19? What happens when something cannot go on?
          This masterplan was conceived in Delusistan, i agree. But could i advance a better one? Not really. Could you?

          • yes i believe i could come up with a better plan that will not result in a planet ending resuit after the earth is devastated by future wars and the spent fuel pools going off ,we need a simpler system bring back morse code communication ,eliminate the stock market,eliminate politics,eliminate all practices that do not contribute to the common good we would be returning to a simpler way of life a spartan existence if you cant grow food or provide for yourself then you’ll simply starve

            • Yes, good plan. But it is feasable? I don’t see how. I believe the train to Stable Ecosystem Land passed long time ago. Maybe in the 70’s we could have catched it yet, although i doubt it. Now it’s seems too late for any kind of managed degrowth. It is being implemented, but it will not get us too far i think.

      • I’ve long believed that, in many disciplines, it’s often not the best and brightest who stay in academia after graduating, merely those who can play the politics well and like the lifestyle – as it used to be that is, things are not so good for lecturers these days.

        Add to that the requirement to publish frequently in fashionable fields, and universities end up emitting an awful lot of rather absurd and quite useless tripe.

        • Fair enough. Professors in some fields can make more money outside academia; in others, not so much. Tenure (not having to worry about being fired) has historically been a key benefit, though this would not apply to lecturers (who are often overworked and underpaid in the USA), and these days you have to worry about running afoul of moral codes (e.g. being accused of sexual harassment or something).

          Publishing these days is often evaluated according to citation indices, which reward you if you get written about by other people (positively or negatively). The process favors larger fields over well-established but small niches, and English over other languages.

          Of course, colleges and universities vary a lot–the Ivies are very different from the big state schools, military academies, Bible colleges (including BYU), HBCUs, liberal arts colleges, junior colleges, for-profits, etc., and schools overseas are different from US ones. Virtual instruction has been a big shift, of course. I expect a big wave of college bankruptcies to be the next big thing–we’re talking hundreds of US schools over the next few years. It could conceivably be worse.

          • Following this modus, you can bet academia will strive for BAU to recommence ASAP. With joblessness becoming a feature of the new normal, government and uncertainties will drive demand as a stop gap to keep young folk occupied, under control, out of the workforce and mostly mindless.

    • What if we’re heading into a grand solar minimum though? Some outlier farmers, researchers, and various folk have spoken of the weather turning colder….some say we’re leaving the warm period and heading into a 50-70 year minimum of sun activity after solar cycle 25 (just starting now), which would greatly affect crop yields.

      To add to all this we are poisoning our food supply and killing topsoil right before this big shift….the world needs a lot more small farmers regardless. All hands on deck!

      • @War
        We have to apply antidote to our food supply and restore the soil. This is the only way to survive.

      • Why do you say “What of…” or “Some say…”
        We are going into a cooling period….it is getting colder….the ice pack is growing in Greenland….our spring and fall are much colder, much more moisture affecting planting and harvests.

        • It getting warmer here on Earth.
          What planet are you on?

          • It was warmer during the Eemian, Duncan.

            And during the Holocene Optimum.

            And during the Minoan, Roman and Medieval Warming Periods.

            And during the 1930s.

            Do we have to go through this pointless charade of a cli-mate debate, yet again?

    • The Paris Accord is a joke and always was one. For one thing, if you remove the global dimming caused by pollution, we are already over the 1.5C limit. Which gives us almost half the effect of the Mediaeval Warm Period, which did not create a hothouse Earth. For another, the European countries promised to reduce emissions (a promise many of them broke), but other countries were not required to promise anything, merely to provide “estimates” a couple of decades in the future. And finally, Europe as a whole managed to reduce coal consumption by moving that consumption, and the industries it enabled, to mainland China. Big deal.

      Finally, I note that Forbes has censored the public apology of a certain former climate change academic. If Forbes is that anxious to maintain the green movement, then it is not about climate, it is about money. Which was obvious to many of us a decade ago.

      • Oh, yes, there are electricity shortages in south Sweden due to shutting down nukes now forces the oil burners into commission. Hooray for the “environmentalist” mercenaries causing fuels better suited for transportation and manufacturing being burned for electricity.

  6. Yes we’ll give the scientists of the world the task of fixing the spent fuel problem that will be their life’s mission .

    • With all the emphasis on solar, I don’t see why they can’t set up a solar system for the nuke pond cooling pumps. At least it would delay the problem for a while.

      • I wonder whether a solar system could even be made to work for this purpose. Pumps used for this purpose require “good quality” electricity of the right kind. They can’t be off for two weeks when the sun is behind a cloud. The solar panels have to be dusted off and otherwise maintained. I wonder whether even with a substantial set of backup batteries such a system could be made to work.

        There would also be the issue of adding more water, as it evaporates, I expect.

        • Gail a 5kw system would pump Venice dry. Thats about $6000 or the cost of a screwdriver in the nuclear industry.
          Nice 5 kw inverter $2000
          Batteries $2000
          Panels $1000
          Charge controller $300

          The nuclear industry assumes a 2 week period to be max for grid down and maintains diesel generator capacity for that time period

  7. let me tell you what will happen humans are so good at ruining everything so that’s what we’ll do we will ruin everything once everything is ruined and a M.A.D. (mutually assured destruction ) through the use of planet ending nuclear weapons or the spent fuel pools going off, the proverbial cavalry will come in to save us they will not be what you .

    • When I searched on Google, the stoppage of the meat exports is a problem that has been going on to some extent since April. It may partly reflect the fact that with layoffs, the Chinese people can no longer afford as much imported meat.

      There may also be a concern that the virus that causes COVID-19 can spread in refrigerated meat. They seem to believe that the last round of COVID-19 cases came in refrigerated salmon cases. One article I found (dated June 21) says, China Stops Tyson Imports Over Covid-19 Concerns

      China has stopped importing products from U.S. meat producer Tyson (TSN) – Get Report over the weekend over fears of coronavirus contamination.

      On Friday, Tyson revealed that after testing thousands of employees, around 13% turned up to have the novel virus.

      Now China’s government — which had earlier last week raised concerns of contaminated food imports — says it’s closing the doors on the company’s products for now.

  8. Most interesting essay.
    Considering masks- It may be helpful if you read up on Prof Denis Rancourt Mask don’t work. It has been censored and therefore opposes the consensus Covid19 narrative. So, I an sceptical, why censor a paper backed up with science from a reputable scientist? Here is a link to his paper.
    The testing issue is still very questionable. The PCR test that is being used is not a diagnostic tool. In fact, the inventor specifically said it should not be used as a diagnostic tool It cannot determine a specific virus. Some further reading on the issue Further, the PCR test for coronavirus can return false positives in up to 80% of cases, so it’s entirely possible the majority of these deaths never even had the virus.- So, if the tests are neither accurate or diagnostics are wrong then purported deaths really for an unidentified and unproven to exist disease called covid19 and this has also affected treatment protocol too.
    This must affect the numbers reported too. Governments are trying to cover their butts. No government wants to lose power because they did nothing so they have reacted to pressure and precaution not science and fact. Now the numbers are used to justify political policy. It has proved hard to differentiate between the causes of death. “she/he died after testing positive for coronavirus”. Or “died with covid” or “died of covid”, “as a result of” or “because of”, but “after testing positive”. You die of an infection not with an infection
    On the treatment. My conjecture. The reason for the massive differences in results of studies concerning the treatment of Covid19 is that because the disease has been falsely tested by PCR test. Could it be misdiagnosis and a resulting defective treatment protocols caused specifically by the fear and panic created by the WHO saying it was a new virus? The treatments or treatment protocols being given to treating doctors may be be the wrong treatment for incorrect diagnosis. That is why there is so many different conclusions being drawn on the different treatments. We see this in the issue of ventilation used and in variations of treatments and the results are so different. Vitamin C Vitamin D, Hydroxychloroquine, with Zink , without , with antibiotics etc. Then suddenly a new treatment emerges, then Remdesivir and now dexamethasone, all appear to seem to have varied successes. The treatments remain symptomatic do they not?

    • I would agree with you that the outcome of testing is not as accurate as we would like. It seems to give both false positives and false negatives. The test results tend to come back days later. They also seem to cost a lot, relative to any insight they provide for treatment. As you say, most treatment is based on symptoms. They don’t even tell when a person is not infectious very well. Results on the same person seem to flip back and forth.

      At this point, we seem to be stuck with what we have, unfortunately.

      The whole story is very politicized. Too many people want to sell media stories that are as frightening as possible. Politicians want to solve many problems at once. If they have a problem with closed factories, they want to hide it with a necessary closure due to COVID-19.

      • Agree with this, the Sars cov2 reaction has become a politicized mantra. Insuring better air quality in urban environments, and reducing domestic smoke, especially in large cities and during winter ( possibility keeping away from shared air conditioning too,) would do more for human health than ineffective tests. Personal/ family health enhancement and exercise is the best focus, pulse diet, fennel tea, Vitamin C and Vitamin/Hormone D3 lol.

Comments are closed.