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.




About Gail Tverberg

My name is Gail Tverberg. I am an actuary interested in finite world issues - oil depletion, natural gas depletion, water shortages, and climate change. Oil limits look very different from what most expect, with high prices leading to recession, and low prices leading to financial problems for oil producers and for oil exporting countries. We are really dealing with a physics problem that affects many parts of the economy at once, including wages and the financial system. I try to look at the overall problem.
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2,824 Responses to COVID-19 and the economy: Where do we go from here?

  1. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Remember last earnings season? When companies were reporting their worst quarter since the financial crisis. And nobody dared guess what the future held. Bankruptcy risk was everywhere. Oh, and stocks rallied so hard that $5 trillion got added to share prices.

    “It’s safe to say investors were in a forgiving mood back then. With stocks up 25% since, the time for patience has passed.”

    • This is an analysis of the S&P 500 earnings in the US, and their rise in stock prices. It certainly does seem extreme. The article notes that hardly any companies are giving estimates of year-end amounts, either.

  2. kschleunes says:

    I’m a bit skeptical of the Caterpillar 35% number. I’m talking bare bones agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation. And, the economic system would be different. These numbers seem to confirm that it might be at most 10% of the us population.

    • Robert Firth says:

      kschleunes, I agree. The Caterpillar numbers were based on the then existing economy, which was indeed over complex, and relied on complex technology that needed parts sourced from multiple producers and importers. The numbers surprised me too, but after reflection seemed an almost inevitable consequence of overspecialisation, needless complexification, and rampant niche marketing by every company with a “killer idea”. And i agree also that it is not sustainable. But the point I tried (perhaps rather badly) to make, is that this is where we are now, and moving on, or back, will be a massive undertaking. We cannot turn the clock back to 1900 just by turning the clock back!

    • covidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

      10% leaves the economy with 90% of workers involved directly or indirectly with food supply.

      35% leaves the economy with 65% of workers involved directly or indirectly with food supply.

      either number, or anything in between, means that there is still a very significant portion of energy and work that is in non-essential subsystems, and these subsystems can be downsized or eliminated as the whole system continues to slowly lose net (surplus) energy which will necessitate that a larger % of energy and money is redirected towards food supply.

      looked at from any point of view, there seems to be only one direction for prosperity and that is of course downward.

      • Robert Firth says:

        Agreed in principle. Provided the “essential” subsystems can disentangle themselves from the “inessential” ones. For example, could our current agricultural sector work without social media? Without the cloud? Without massive supply chain optimisation software? Complexity is hard to undo, unfortunately.

  3. Jan says:

    Forest harvesting increased nearly 50% in EU to meet increased demand, says Nature.

    • Forest harvesting is one of the things that can be done with relatively little equipment. If we don’t have fossil fuels, deforestation is likely to be a major issue. And, as the article says, all of this forest harvesting threatens climate.

      • Xabier says:

        Relying on wood is a disaster if one doesn’t also have strong mechanisms to limit population and construction.

  4. Jan says:

    People have no idea how much energy is needed for activities and things. We burn logs of wood equivalents just to compare clothing as George Carlin described it or buy a missing packet of butter for breakfast.

    I am convinced we can feed all people currently existing, if we give up commuting and building huge energy sinks in form of real estate that noone can use without electricity and fossiles.

    If we provide adequate food supply though, people will aim to number each other out by getting more children. So there is another way needed to stop reproduction. I reject the approach though that is assumed to be Bill Gates’.

    Gardens are a very efficient way to produce energy, biomass and food. It is a result of short distances, property control and distribution. Those of you that suggest 100 people have to commute to a farmer to draw a plough forget that it’s products need to be cleaned, stored, distributed and shopped. A lot of energy for that is heat that could be more efficiently used when it heats the house at the same time. Make bread, cook, iron and heat water for the washing or the shower with one log only. To transport energy is very energy consuming itself. People underestimate that.

    A lot of energy is spent on military security. Without stable states warlords, landsknechts, neighbours and states still having resources to fuel their forces might see their chances. The medieval city had walls, when weaponry falls back to older models also the technology of defense will have to adapt. Dont think that your self-sufficiency garden in a chic suburb is a secure place.

    While at the end it doesnt matter much who eats your granary these struggles will consume a lot of energy that could be used for live instead of for death.

    We can already see a lot of energy related changes: the relation of Russia towards Europe and towards Saudi-Arabia, the Chinese expansion, the US retreat. These changes will also come on lower structural levels. You might see that in the Black Lives Matter movement already.

    The challenge is not only food supply but defending against people that believe they deserve a higher life standard: distribution.

    All that is man-made and neither imposed by any god nor fate. With peakoil man stands at a crossroad and can decide to be good or bad.

    • Bruce Steele says:

      I have been transcribing a handwritten autobiography from a great grandfather born 1860.
      It documents ,in detail, life post war ,dirt poor, and living hand to mouth on the Iowa prairie. The problem then was crops were rarely worth enough to buy improvements needed to increase productivity.
      I farm and turn a small profit. Specialty pigs. The problem remains distribution. Covid restaurant shutdowns have resulted in a switch to ground shipped frozen product direct to public. The energy demands of shipping frozen food a thousand miles compared to Iowa, 1860 hand to mouth existence are profound.
      It is hard to romanticize a hard life on the Prairie. Wood cutting to keep warm seemed unsustainable even then. I keep an acre in a home garden in an effort to mimic manual production methods but without horses, tractors or rototillers. I use a small battery/electric wheelhoe for cultivation. Feeding a family would be a serious challenge for anyone. There is a chasm between our current life of ease and the struggle for survival before internal combustion.
      The pioneers who pulled it off were hardened by a lifetime of struggle. We are not hardened, and we have no clue how to do what people did 150 years ago to stay alive.
      We don’t even have one bottom plows or horses to power them.
      There is not any work or research into how to farm without tractors or horses. Gardening for summer food supplements isn’t the same as producing year a round well stocked larder.

      • Herbie Ficklestein says:

        Bull’s EYE, Mr Steele, we have no idea at all…takes a lot of capital to maintain a viable homestead. I posted such here a while back from YouTube and a fella doing such.
        This guy talks the importance of MONEY on a sustainable homestead….

        Gail expects a big die off when BAU ends…..I agree and hope that day is the day after they put me in the ground to push up Daisies🤑.

        That’s what BAU wants $$$$

        • I am doubtful that any one family can survive on their own. It really takes a networked economy, with some people specializing in some things and other people specializing in other things to make an economy work properly. Some of these people provide government; others provide medical services or other services, such as education. Some build roads or homes.

          Somehow, the homestead must provide enough of a surplus (which can be converted to money) to pay for all of these other functions. It is easy to see that these other functions need to wither away, if there is less energy supply.

          As I heard the young man in the video talking about needing money for taxes, the thought struck me that most farmers would need money for the monthly mortgage payment. In most case, this would be more than the taxes. Unless a person has inherited a land, it is hard to believe that most young people could buy land without some debt involved. This is no doubt why inherited land was so important in the past.

          • john Eardley says:

            By the Norman conquest of Britain (1066 AD) 10% of the population lived in cities using the surplus produced by those 90% working the land. Today its 2% working the land.

      • Xabier says:

        Superb post!

        I always feel that I end up sounding like a pessimist when I make the same points about a real ‘life with less’ , but the truth is the truth, whatever one might like to think about life.

        Struggle, with the seasons, pests and disease, often against you: and most people today whine and bitch if they miss one meal a day or suffer the slightest,most trivial, inconvenience. Always watching the weather.

        To toughen up a bit, I’ve been practicing missing meals every now and then – it gets better as you go along, but the desire to have a really big occasional feast also, I find, grows.

        This explains the old paintings of European peasants stuffing themselves with food and drink at weddings and festivals, and their great love of animal fats. (Vegans wake up.)

        The uncle of an Austrian friend was a young farmer conscripted into the German army in WW2, imprisoned by the Russians after Staiingrad: when he got home and was asked what he wanted, he only said: ‘Pig fat!’.. Ate a jar, and died.

        • neil says:

          Interesting. I’d a relative who spent almost the entire First World War in a German camp after being captured at Ypres. He notoriously ate two pounds of butter straight on being released through Sweden. Lived well into his 90s.

          • Tim Groves says:

            I love both of these stories!
            A vegan diet can do that to a person.

            • Xabier says:

              My little sister has gone nuts as a Vegan, always tearful and depressed and tips into hysteria easily.

              Even vegetarianism would probably make her feel better, but she won’t touch ‘body secretions’, ie yummy milk and cheese!

              Not happy when I remind her that our pastoral ancestors in the Pyrenees lived on that….

      • I am afraid you are right. Certainly, some places will work better for farming than others. There needs to be a lot of thought and research going into this; it can’t simply be, “We will drive to the store and buy whatever we need but don’t have.” There need to be the right seeds for the area. I doubt that irrigation can be sustained. There needs to be crop rotation. Somehow, human and animal waste needs to go back to the land.

        Perhaps we could learn somethings from the Amish. Or maybe we have to go back farther yet. I believe they sell their crops and buy food in grocery stores. The problem is getting enough calories in a regular basis and storing the food until it is needed. Some surplus is needed for bad years. Trading really is helpful, because one farm can’t produce everything.

        • JesseJames says:

          The Amish are quite resourceful and diversified. I buy a 5 pack of soap made by the Amish at a local hardware store/trading post. It comes in a simple ziplock bag that has “Amish Soap” written on it with black marking pen. ( Very good soap by the way).
          North of me there is an Amish store with all kinds of good homemade food products.

      • Dennis L. says:

        Bruce, you get it.

        My grandparents were hardened, their children were hardened, the 7 out of 9 that survived that is.

        Cutting wood is hard work even with a chain saw and a splitter, gardens are a great deal of work and natural guests find them very inviting, I have a post above about Lent and Red beets – that is what was left early spring in my childhood with a large city garden – damn things last forever.

        Age is also the enemy, the endurance decreases with time no matter how healthy. Sams is hard to beat.

        Dennis L.

    • Slow Paul says:

      You can’t make people stop reproducing anymore than you ask them to stop eating. Or ask a tree to stop growing. Or water to stop flowing down the stream. This is life, this is nature’s way, who has the power to deny billions of humans their most basic instincts?

      • Artleads says:

        People can often figure it out for themselves. Infanticide was common among H/G bands, since they couldn’t afford to be weighed down with useless burdens like babies during migration season. To the other extreme–the vast nation state of the PRC, there once was a one child law. I’m sure it had at least a partial effect of repressing population growth.

        • info says:

          Plenty of Hunter gatherer men died from hunting accidents. So no need for infanticide if they are willing to go further in hunting trips.

          • Kim says:

            Female fertility was suppressed by their low calorie diet and breast feeding. They weren’t pregnant every year, year after year.

      • May Hem says:

        Family Planning Clinics, when free and supported by governments, are cheap and very effective – eg Bangladesh and Thailand success in the past, before the clinics were closed down. The vast majority of women do not want to be baby-machines. Many women (like me) prefer to be child-free. It is essential to reduce our population in compassionate ways and encourage smaller families.

        • Robert Firth says:

          “The vast majority of women do not want to be baby-machines.”

          I am not sure that is true, but even if it were true, how long would it take the minority that *did* want to be baby machines to outbreed the others? One century? Two centuries? Well, Africa in a mere 60 years has tripled its population since the time I lived there. The main effect of voluntary population control is to penalise the intelligent, thoughtful, and far sighted, and surrender the world to the stupid, thoughtless, and profligate. As we can see all around us.

          So what is my answer? I have none: overshoot and collapse is an iron law of Nature, and she will provide the answer.

        • Artleads says:

          Better education, with Victorian ideas of discipline, is likely to generate more intelligent decisions around procreation.

          Our system expends huge resources programing promiscuity, undue sexualization of everything, excessive differentiation in gender clothing, existential cultural ways of oppressing women.

          I think you are quite correct as to how large a group of women would be perfectly happy not having babies but for the countless ways they are culturally programmed to do so. .

        • GBV says:

          “The vast majority of women do not want to be baby-machines…”

          While this won’t be a very popular statement, I think it is one of great truth: we are facing a future where most, if not all, of us will not be getting what we want.

          We live in a world of cycles, and of blowback. The more that we get what we want (e.g. freedom, safety, law, life), the more we build up the opposing forces that will eventually usher in the opposites (e.g. oppression, violence, chaos, death).

          Those of us who will do best in this uncertain future will likely be those who learn to “go with the flow” rather than try to impose their idea of what they think the future should look like.


          • Artleads says:

            I can agree with much, most, or all of this. Where I’m not clear is “going with what flow?” I believe I’m going with the flow, despite going to some lengths to dispromote “oppression, violence, chaos, death.”

        • Luke says:

          May Hem, it’s interesting that there are so few environmentally aware folks with any kind of professional/public gravitas who actually considered refraining from breeding. For educated people, the Club of Rome’s 1972 book, “The Limits to Growth,” should have made more of an impact, but the human ego will not be curtailed.

          Here is a depressingly short list of those who have walked the talk : Richard Heinberg [born in 1950]; Alice Friedemann [born in mid-1950s]; Dennis and Donella Meadows [born in 1942 and 1941]; Terry Tempest Williams [born in 1955]; and Chris Packham [born in 1961].

          Paul Ehrlich [born in 1932] had only one daughter, born in 1955, but that was years before his 1968 book, “The Population Bomb.” Unfortunately, she went on to have three daughters herself and numerous grandchildren.

          My wife, who taught biology to high-school students for 20 years, tried to get the word out and possibly influenced a handful of kids. She had decided not to have children in 1971 at the age of 14 because of an outstanding science teacher she had at the time.

  5. Minority Of One says:

    Yesterday’s China update from CrossRoads. The bit on floods/ earthquakes is about minutes 1 to 2. Contains a truly impressive flood surge.

    Floods, Earthquakes, and Mudslides Hit China; and Why Hong Kong Matters to the World

    • Frightening! The video seems to show part of a dam breaking. I am guessing that that is the Chongqing dam that is breaking, or perhaps some other smaller upstream dam. A broken upstream dam will put more pressure on the Three Gorges Dam, I would expect.

  6. Dennis L. says:

    Back to the virus, this from John P.A. Ioannidis, C.F. Rehnborg Chair in Disease Prevention, Professor of Medicine, of Epidemiology and Population Health, and (by courtesy) of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics; co-Director, Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS)

    “The death rate in a given country depends a lot on the age structure, who are the people infected, and how they are managed,” Ioannidis said. “For people younger than 45, the infection fatality rate is almost 0%. For 45 to 70, it is probably about 0.05%-0.3%. For those above 70, it escalates substantially.”

    Ioannidis questioned whether the rate of infection and mortality rate were worth shutting down the U.S. economy for months.

    “Major consequences on the economy, society, and mental health have already occurred,” he said. “I hope they are reversible, and this depends to a large extent on whether we can avoid prolonging the draconian lockdowns and manage to deal with COVID-19 in a smart, precision-risk targeted approach rather than blindly shutting down everything.”

    Covid-19 is a disease which eliminates the week of the over 70 population, those who are non productive(I am over 70 and working hard to be productive, comes naturally to a Calvinist.) Earlier I examined the combined cost of medicare/SS taxes as a percentage of median American wages and found and posted here the increase in cost to the working age population was 2-3x that of cost/barrel oil over the period from 1964 to 2019.

    A quote on percentage of US population by age, referenced to dept HHS, US Goverment.

    “However, the percentage(US population) increases dramatically with age, ranging from 1% for persons ages 65-74 to 3% for persons ages 75-84 and 9% for persons age 85 and over. Source: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, Annual Social and Economic Supplement.”

    If read this correctly, 12% of the US population is over 75. Assume barrel of oil for each 100 people US. Reduce half the over 75 population due to the virus and that is one barrel/94 people, or each person now gets .0106 barrel of oil compared to .01 barrel of oil which is an increase per capita of about 6% by my calculations. I use 100 people and 1 barrel to simplify math. A solution to Gail’s conundrum of decreasing per capita energy in the US, the oil reserves/captia just increased by 6% without drilling a single hole.

    Look at nature, beautiful, the lions don’t chase the fastest gazelle, they go for the slow ones; self organizing systems can be a b….

    Dennis L.

    • It seems like I suggested something sort of related to your thoughts in my post back in January, It is easy to overreact to the Chinese coronavirus.

      My Point 2 in that post was, “Deaths from pathogens are part of the natural cycle. They help prune back the population of the old and weak.”

      Some people thought that that was a terrible thing to say, but that is the way the system has to work. It becomes too expensive trying to keep the old and weak alive essentially forever.

      • Xabier says:

        They also take, or used to take, the young and strong – Nature has lots of nasty little gifts for us.

        And that is as it should be if we are to have our wings clipped and not destroy the ecosystem as we attempt to soar upwards, which how we like to conceive of ‘Progress’.

        Without the larger predators anymore, we need disease to fulfill this task, surely?

    • Tim Groves says:

      Dennis, regarding the quotation ““However, the percentage(US population) increases dramatically with age, ranging from 1% for persons ages 65-74 to 3% for persons ages 75-84 and 9% for persons age 85 and over,” the original sentence is taken from the book Aging and Older Adulthood by Joan T. Erber, and I think it reads rather differently:

      However, the percentage of older adults living in institutional settings increases dramatically with age, ranging from 1% of people aged 65-74 to 3% of people aged 75-84 and 9% of people 85

      In the report you citing, the paragraph in question reads:

      A relatively small number (1.5 million) and percentage (3.1%) of the 65 and over population lived in institutional settings in 2016. Among those who did, 1.2 million lived in nursing homes. However, the percentage increases dramatically with age, ranging from 1% for persons ages 65-74 to 3% for persons ages 75-84 and 9% for persons age 85 and over.

      Looking at various online sources, I find that In the US, the aged over-65 population is currently about 16% of the population and that the aged 65-74 group accounts for 58% of this 16% or 9.3% of the total. On this basis, I would estimate that the aged over-75 population is 42% of this 16% or 6.7% of the the total population.

  7. Jan says:

    People who angrily complain that the predicted crash has not yet happened forget that the change of a system to an order of lower complexity goes in small jumps.

    Some might know the Hasbro game Avalanche or MB Astroslide where bullets move down an inclined plane stopped by turning bockades.

    The change of the equilibrium of the bullets come much of a sudden – to the joy of the kids. The balls then find a stable new equilibrium at a lower level. At the end they are all down driven by the force of gravity. There is no way up unless you change the mechanics of the game.

    If we could change the mechanics of our system now a transition would be much easier.

    Imagine we could:
    1. Bury our nuclear waste
    2. Reduce peacefully population with a 1-child-policy
    3. Give a garden to everyone (that doesnt compete with real estate prices) and build up knowledge, seeds and biomass
    4. Build a backup water supply that does not rely on electricity
    5. Do research on the healing powers of plants, how to store grain with stoneage technology, how to keep up knowledge, arts and schooling, how to keep up semiconductor technology or algae to hydrogen techniques
    5. Build cities in secure places

    We would be much better prepared as with DNA-vaccination and rescue-the-rich which are the central ideas of all our political parties.

    The fall of Rome lasted about 300 years. It based on the accumulation of grains grown by slave labour and the low-energy transport via the Mediterranean by ship.

    The Roman social stratification was kept after the fall of Rome justified by Christianity. This went on until the energy and wealth injection of fossile fuels enabled the slaves to live like the nobles – after the workers demanded their part.

    This advancement comes to an end now. Even if we turn to the Roman model of nationalization and thus try to legitimate slave work it is not possible to copy the profitability gains of the Romans that allowed their power and stability because our preconditions are different. Who takes slaves has to opress and feed them. Hitler has shown that this does not lead to a stable, lasting and technology based society. As the German comedian Pispers takes it: Merkel is already lasting longer than the 1000-years-lasting reich.

    The Roman reich had self-sufficient inhabitants that could profit from the additional Roman technology and thus accepted their leadership without too much oppression. That is not the case today. I also doubt that the US slave system could have worked for a long time without fossiles but I am not so acquainted with it.

    So either we find a way to smoozely transition to self-sustainable societies with much less population or this will happen abruptly in steps like in Astroslide.

    How the big events of the last 30 years must be interpreted as steps towards lower complexity is marvelously explained on Gail’s blog – and also, why a Green New Deal cannot prevent the decline.

    We cannot stop this development, we can only decide if we want it the nice or the bad way. From my point of view people want it the bad way. Except from this forum and a few more people prefer death to not having their Kardashians-style illusions.

    For me the idea of low technology self-sustained societies including material poverty, hard labour and difficult times does not bear any scare or dismay. It is more a logical challenge. Love, joy and happyness will go on. I am just sad about what horror the majority wants to load without necessity on their offspring.

    • Xabier says:

      Excellent, and very just, reflections.

      If you are born into a tough life, it isn’t scarring or traumatic in itself, as it would be fro those falling, as you say, from a Kardashian Fantasy life.

      Unfortunately, people are being told that the Green Clean Transition is what lies ahead, in which the fantasy life can continue more or less unchanged.

    • Artleads says:

      “I am just sad about what horror the majority wants to load without necessity on their offspring.”

      But if people aren’t told what’s coming, how will they not turn a blind eye to it?

      I also don’t believe “transition” will be made easier by building “secure” citie, any cities at all, or just about any new thing. If I understand it correctly, we’re already in the red in energy terms. (It’s what I believe, although I can’t explain it.)

    • Kim says:

      You left out Point 6, training in how to protect one’s village and family from marauding bands of people who think that your plans are stupid and your are weak and who have decided they will take from you whatever they want, whenever they want.

      That group will obliterate your group of planners and good thinkers, take what you have, enslave those who appear useful, and breed as many children as they want. Possibly with your daughters.

      As society breaks down, plans built around farms become over more vulnerable. Only war bands-cum-pastoralists will have a chance at survival. Raising plants won’t feed anyone.

      • I am not sure, “Raising plants won’t feed anyone,” is quite true.

        Grains today and historically have made up a large share of calories consumed. Home gardens generally don’t include much grain–perhaps a row or two of corn, if you consider that a grain. Permaculture doesn’t seem to have anything to do with grains.

        Of course, China, India, and other places in the Far East tend to grow a lot of rice, often in small plots. It is an especially good form of grain, because the kernel is eaten almost whole, rather than ground the way wheat is generally ground into flour.

        Another option for calories is potatoes, including sweet potatoes. Turnips and beets are also fairly calorie dense foods. Nuts and olives are very calorie dense foods.

        These can be supplemented with animal products of various kinds, including milk and cheezes, eggs, and an occasional chicken or fish.

      • Xabier says:

        As you may know, in some areas of Southern Europe there are no small villages or farmsteads and everyone clustered into towns for safety due to the bandit problem – get home for sunset and walk or take a mule out again every day, just to be safe.

        This was particularly the case on the coast, where North African and Turkish pirates were feared.

        The alternative is to be as savage as the raiders, as in the Basque villages where the old farmhouses are very large and scattered but the people were very good at ambushes and…. revenge. I’ve noticed that the internal doors are generally very small, ideal for holding back intruders – the Basques were tall for their day.

  8. Herbie Ficklestein says:

    Seems this Guy thinks without Aviation there will no nation state of Israel….and they are close to a point of NO RETURN….Gail s correct, no planes, no BAU….back to the 12 tribes…..
    Airport chief warns Israeli aviation is ‘days away from point of no return’
    Ben Gurion CEO Shmuel Zakay calls to renew flights, says months-long stagnation under pandemic endangers tens of thousands of jobs, could cause ‘huge strategic damage
    In Israel, where most travel in and out of the country is through the air, long-term damage to the aviation industry would cause “huge strategic harm,” he added.
    While acknowledging that the coronavirus is “a dangerous and lethal pandemic,” Zakay said it was imperative to learn to live with its presence and manage its risks, as it did not seem to be going away anytime soon
    …..Israel’s national carrier, El Al, has entered deep financial trouble due to the pandemic. On Thursday it furloughed 500 more staff, including 100 pilots, amidst a labor dispute
    ……Tensions at the airline have been high after it slashed the vast majority of its workforce and dipped into pension funds to stay afloat amid the coronavirus crisis. The airline is seeking a government bailout to save it from insolvency and collapse.
    On Wednesday, the airline stopped flights altogether after labor talks blew up between the pilots committee and management.
    Prior to the latest round of furloughs, it had put 80 percent of its 6,303 workers on unpaid leave, cut management salaries by 20%, halted investments, and signed accords for the sale and lease-back of three Boeing 737-800s.
    Hundreds of food service workers at El Al subsidiary Tamam, which produces Kosher airline meals for multiple carriers operating through Ben Gurion International Airport, have also been furloughed, sparking concerns regarding the possibility of mass layoffs

    This is just starting….the SHTF all over….airlines are a money pit in general…& Will be the 1st to go

    • When my husband and I visited Israel last year, we saw military everywhere. There is mandatory military service for Israeli young adults. There are also people who come from elsewhere and volunteer for Israeli military.

      The situation with the Palestinians is not good at all. There are not enough resources for everyone. Water resources are in particularly short supply. The birth rate is very high, both for Palestinians and Israelis. Israel is using desalinated water for some of its drinking water. The last I heard, it was not adding the correct minerals back in, leading to a worsening of heart disease in the country.

      The country used to have a very high level of tourism. It is hard to see how the two countries can support themselves, if Israel loses outside visitors.

      • Duncan Idaho says:

        The well over $3 billion in military and economic aid sent annually to Israel by Washington is rarely questioned in Congress, even by liberals.

        Israel 3,191.07 383.45(per capita) By far the highest of our aid.

        • Herbie R Ficklestein says:

          Will Trump provide a stimulus cheque to Israeli citizens to help out?

          Anyhoot, I had an idea to solve the Middle East Conflict….transfer Israel to the outskirts of Lax Vegas, Nevada!🚀👍. Most of Nevada is desert, like Israel, most is Federal land, and if London bridge could be moved to the US, so can the Wailing Wall!😜
          No more need of all this aid, plenty of opportunities for expansion without conflict and a win win for everyone…I suppose the Native Indians wouldn’t mind too much….

  9. Country Joe says:

    Makes me wonder if Mr. Gates and the billionaires ever thought that the world for their grandkids might be a lot better if it had about seven billion less people in it.

    • Of course, the grandchildren might be part of the missing seven billion.

    • billionaire or pauper—nature does not allow you to think of overpopulation during the act of procreation

      unless you’re really really weird

      • Malcopian says:

        I well remember the day my girlfriend came to me and announced she was pregnant with octuplets. I was shocked, disgusted and furious. I demanded to know why on Earth she’d had to cheat on me with an octopus, of all things. And just how she’d managed to do the business in the first place. Then she reminded me – it was the first day of April. 🙁

        • Norman Pagett says:

          it was probably an octopus anyway

          girls are always on the lookout for suckers

          • Malcopian says:

            ‘girls are always on the lookout for suckers’

            Yeah, just dying to get their tentacles into you. 😉

  10. brian says:

    Barraud has a track record of getting it right. He has been ranked Bloomberg’s most accurate forecaster of US economic data eight years in a row

    • He says, “the US won’t return to its fourth-quarter 2019 real GDP level until at least 2022, adding that for some European countries a recovery won’t happen until 2023.”

      I expect that the situation will be even worse than this.

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