Fossil Fuel Production Is Reaching Limits in a Strange Way

Strangely enough, the limit we seem to be reaching with respect to fossil fuel extraction comes from low prices. At low prices, the extraction of oil, coal, and natural gas becomes unprofitable. Producers go bankrupt, or they voluntarily cut back production in an attempt to force prices higher. As the result of these forces, production tends to fall. This limit comes long before the limit that many people imagine: the amount of fossil fuels in the ground that seems to be available with current extraction techniques.

The last time there was a similar problem was back in 1913, when coal was the predominant fossil fuel used and the United Kingdom was the largest coal producer in the world. The cost of production was rising due to depletion, but coal prices would not rise sufficiently to cover the higher cost of production. As a result, the United Kingdom’s coal production reached its highest level in 1913, the year before World War I started, and began to fall in 1914.

Between 1913 and 1945, the world economy was very troubled. There were two world wars, the Spanish Flu pandemic and the Great Depression. My concern is that we are again headed into another very troubled period that could last for many years.

The way the energy problems of the period between 1913 and 1945 were resolved was through the rapid ramp-up of oil production. Oil was, as that time, inexpensive to produce and could be sold for a very large multiple of the cost of production. If population is to remain at the current level or possibly grow, we need a similar “energy savior.” Unfortunately, none of the alternatives we are looking at now yield a high enough return relative to the required investment.

I recently gave a talk to an engineering group interested in energy research talking about these issues. In this post, I will discuss the slides of this presentation. A PDF of the presentation can be found at this link.

The Low Oil Price Problem

Oil prices seem to bounce around wildly. One major issue is that there is a two-way tug of war between the prices that citizens can afford and the prices that oil companies require. We can look back now and say that the mid-2008 price of over $150 per barrel was too high for consumers. But strangely enough, oil producers began complaining about oil prices being too low to cover their rising cost levels, starting in 2012. Prices, at a 2019 cost level, were at about $120 per barrel at that time. I wrote about this issue in the post, Beginning of the End? Oil Companies Cut Back on Spending. Oil prices now are in the $40 range, so are way, way below both $120 per barrel and $150 per barrel.

Interest rates and the availability of debt also play a role in oil prices. If interest rates are low and debt is readily available, it is easy to buy a new home or new car, and oil prices tend to rise because of the higher demand. When prices are too low for producers, central banks have been able to lower interest rates through a program called “quantitative easing.” This program seems to have helped oil prices to rise again, over a three-year period, after they crashed in 2008.

OPEC producers are known for their low cost of production, but even they report needing high oil prices. The cost of extracting the oil is reported to be very low (perhaps $10 per barrel), but the price charged needs to be high enough to allow governments to collect very high taxes on the oil extracted. If prices are high enough, these countries can continue the food subsidies that their populations depend upon. They can also sponsor development programs to provide jobs for the ever-growing populations of these countries. OPEC producers also need to develop new oil fields because the old ones deplete.

Oil production outside of the United States and Canada entered a bumpy plateau in 2005. The US and Canada added oil production from shale and bitumen in recent years, helping to keep world oil production (including natural gas liquids) rising.

One reason why producers need higher prices is because their cost of extraction tends to rise over time. This happens because the oil that is cheapest to extract and process tends to be extracted first, leaving the oil with higher cost of extraction until later. 

Some OPEC countries, such as Saudi Arabia, can hide the low price problem for a while by borrowing money. But even this approach does not work well for long. The longer low oil prices last, the greater the danger is of governments being overthrown by unhappy citizens. Oil production can then be expected to become erratic because of internal conflicts.

In the US and Canada, oil companies have been funded by bank loans, bond sales and the sale of shares of stock. These sources of funding are drying up, as many oil companies report poor earnings, year after year, and some are seeking bankruptcy protection. 

Chart 6 shows that the number of drilling rigs in operation has dropped dramatically in both the United States and Canada, as oil companies cut back on drilling. There is a lag between the time the number of drilling rigs is cut back and the time production starts to fall of perhaps a year, in the case of shale. These low drilling rig counts suggest that US and Canadian oil production from shale will fall in 2021.

Of course, unused drilling rigs cannot be mothballed indefinitely. At some point, they are sold as scrap and the workers who operated them find other employment. It then becomes difficult to restart oil extraction.

How the Economy Works, and What Goes Wrong as Limits Are Reached

Slide 7 shows one way of visualizing how the world economy, as a self-organizing system, operates. It is somewhat like a child’s building toy. New layers are added as new consumers, new businesses and new laws are added. Old layers tend to disappear, as old consumers die, old products are replaced by new products, and new laws replace old laws. Thus, the structure is to some extent hollow.

Self-organizing objects that grow require energy under the laws of physics. Our human bodies are self-organizing systems that grow. We use food as our source of energy. The economy also requires energy products of many kinds, such as gasoline, jet fuel, coal and electricity to allow it to operate.

It is easy to see that energy consumption allows the economy to produce finished goods and services, such as homes, automobiles, and medical services. It is less obvious, but just as important, that energy consumption provides jobs that pay well. Without energy supplies in addition to food, typical jobs would be digging in the dirt with a stick or gathering food with our hands. These jobs don’t pay well.

Finally, Slide 7 shows an important equivalence between consumers and employees. If consumers are going to be able to afford to buy the output of the economy, they need to have adequate wages.

A typical situation that arises is that population rises more quickly than energy resources, such as land to grow food. For a while, it is possible to work around this shortfall with what is called added complexity: hierarchical organization, specialization, technology, and globalization. Unfortunately, as more complexity is added, the economic system increasingly produces winners and losers. The losers end up with very low wage jobs, or with no jobs at all. The winners get huge wages and often asset ownership, as well. The winners end up with far more revenue than they need to purchase basic goods and services. The losers often do not have enough revenue to feed their families and to buy basic necessities, such as a home and some form of basic transportation.

The strange way the economy works has to do with the physics of the situation. Physicist Francois Roddier explains this as being similar to what happens to water at different temperatures. When the world economy has somewhat inadequate energy supplies, the goods and services produced by the economy tend to bubble to the top members of the world economy, similar to the way steam rises. The bottom members of the economy tend to get “frozen out.” This way, the economy can downsize without losing all members of the economy, simultaneously. This is the way ecosystems of all kinds adapt to changing conditions: The plants and animals that are best adapted to the conditions of the time tend to be the survivors.

These issues are related to the fact that the economy is, in physics terms, a dissipative structure. The economy, like hurricanes and like humans, requires adequate energy if it is not to collapse. Dissipative structures attempt to work around temporary shortfalls in energy supplies. A human being will lose weight if his caloric intake is restricted for a while. A hurricane will lose speed, if the energy it gets from the warm water of the ocean is restricted. A world economy with inadequate energy is likely to shrink back in many ways: unprofitable businesses may fail, layers of government may disappear and population may fall, for example.

In the discussion of Slide 7, I mentioned the fact that if we try to “stretch” energy supply with added complexity, many workers would end up with very low wages. Some of these low wage workers would be in the US and Europe, but many of them would be in China, India and Africa. Even though these workers are producing goods for the world economy, they often cannot afford to buy those same goods themselves. Henry Ford is remembered to have said something to the effect that he needed to pay his workers enough so that they, themselves, could buy the cars they were making. To a significant extent, this is no longer happening when a person takes into account international workers.

The high interest rates that low-wage workers pay mean that loans don’t really help low-wage workers as much as they help high-wage workers. The high interest on credit card debt and personal loans tend to transfer part of the income of low-wage workers to the financial sector, leaving poor people worse off than they would have been without the loans. 

COVID shutdowns are extremely damaging to the world economy. They are like taking support sticks out of the dome on Slide 7. They produce many more unemployed people around the world. People in low wage countries that produce clothing for a living have been particularly hard hit, for example. Migrant workers and miners of various kinds have also been hard hit.

We Seem to Be Reaching a Major Turning Point

Oil production and consumption have both fallen in 2020; oil prices are far too low for producers; wage disparity is a major problem; countries seem to be increasingly having problems getting along. Many analysts are forecasting a prolonged recession.

The last time that we had a similar situation was in 1913, when the largest coal producer in the world was the United Kingdom. The UK’s cost of coal production kept rising because of depletion (deeper mines, thinner seams), but prices would not rise to compensate for the higher cost of production. Miners were paid very inadequate wages; poor workers regularly held strikes for higher wages. World War I started in 1914, the same year coal production of the UK started to fall. The UK’s coal production has fallen nearly every year since then.

The last time that wage disparity started to spike as badly as it has in recent years occurred back in the late 1920s, or perhaps as early as 1913 to 1915.  The chart shown above is for the US; problems were greater in Europe at that time.

With continued low oil prices, production is likely to start falling and may continue to fall for years. It is hard to bring scrapped drilling rigs back into service, for example. The experience in the UK with coal shows that energy prices don’t necessarily rise to compensate for higher costs due to depletion. There need to be buyers for higher-priced goods made with higher-priced coal. If there is too much wage disparity, the many poor people in the system will tend to keep demand, and prices, too low. They may eat poorly, making it easier for pandemics to spread, as with the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919. These people will be unhappy, leading to the rise of leaders promising to change the system to make things better.

My concern is that we may be heading into a long period of unrest, as occurred in the 1913 to 1945 era. Instead of getting high energy prices, we will get disruption of the world economy.  The self-organizing economy is attempting to fix itself, either by getting more energy supply or by eliminating parts of the economy that aren’t contributing enough to the overall system. Conflict between countries, pandemics, bankruptcies and economic contraction are likely to be part of the mix.

Coal Seems to Be Reaching Extraction Limits as Well 

Coal has essentially the same problem as oil: Prices tend to be too low for producers to extract coal profitably. Many coal producers have gone bankrupt. Prices were higher back in 2008, when demand was high for everything, and again in 2011, when quantitative easing had been helpful. 

There have been stories in the press in the past week about China limiting coal imports from Australia, so as to make more jobs for coal miners in China. The big conflict among countries relates to “not enough jobs that pay well” and “not enough profitable companies.” These indirectly are energy issues. If there was more “affordability” of goods made with high-priced coal, there would be no problem.

Coal production worldwide has been on a bumpy plateau since 2012. In fact, China, the largest producer of coal, found its production stagnating, starting about 2012. The problem was a familiar one: The cost of extraction rose because many mines that had been used for quite a number of years were depleted. The selling price would not rise to match the higher cost of extraction because of affordability issues.

The underlying problem is that the economy is a dissipative structure. Commodity prices are set by the laws of physics. Prices don’t rise high enough for producers, if there are not enough customers willing and able to buy the goods made with high-priced coal.

We Have a Major Problem if Both Coal and Oil Production Are in Danger of Falling Because of Low Prices

Oil and coal are the two largest sources of energy in the world. We can’t get along without them. While natural gas production is fairly high, there is not nearly enough natural gas to replace both oil and coal.

Looking down the list, we see that nuclear production hit a maximum back in 2006 and has fallen since then.

Hydroelectric continues to grow, but from a small base. Most of the good sites have already been taken. In many cases, there are conflicts between countries regarding who should get the benefit of water from a given river.

The only grouping that is growing rapidly is Renewables. (This is really Renewables Other than Hydroelectric.) It includes wind and solar plus a few other energy types, including geothermal. This grouping, too, is very small compared to oil and coal.

Natural Gas Has a Low Price Problem as Well

Natural gas, at first glance, looks like it might be a partial solution to the world’s energy problems: It is lower in carbon than coal and oil, and it is fairly abundant. The problem with natural gas is that it is terribly expensive to ship. At one time, people used to talk about there being a lot of “stranded” natural gas. This natural gas seemed to be available, but when shipping costs were included, the price of goods made with it (such as electricity or winter heat for homes) was often unaffordable.

After the run-up in oil prices in the early 2000s, many people became optimistic that, with energy scarcity, natural gas prices would rise sufficiently to make extraction and shipping long distances profitable. Unfortunately, it is becoming increasingly clear that, while prices can temporarily spike due to scarcity and perhaps a debt bubble, keeping the prices up for the long run is extremely difficult. Customers need to be able to afford the goods and services made with these energy products, or the laws of physics bring market prices back down to an affordable level.

The prices in the chart reflect three different natural gas products. The lowest priced one is US Henry Hub, which is priced near the place of extraction, so long distance shipping is not an issue. The other two, German Import and Japan Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG), include different quantities of long distance shipping. Prices in 2020 are even lower than in 2019. For example, some LNG imported by Japan has ben purchased for $4 per million Btu in 2020.

The Economy Needs a Bail-Out Similar to the Growth of Oil After WWII

The oil that was produced shortly after World War II had very important characteristics:

  1. It was very inexpensive to produce, and
  2. It could be sold to customers at a far higher price than its cost of production.

It was as if, today, we had a very useful energy product that could be produced and delivered for $4, but it was so valuable to consumers that they were willing to pay $120 for it. In other words, the consumer was willing to pay 30 times as much as the cost that went into extracting and refining the oil.

With an energy product this valuable, a company producing it would need virtually no debt. It could drill a well or two, and with the profits from the first wells, finance the investment of many more wells. The company could pay very high taxes, allowing governments to build roads, schools, electricity transmission lines and much other infrastructure, without having to raise taxes on citizens.

Besides using the profits for reinvestment and for taxes, oil companies could pay high dividends. This made oil company stocks favorites of pension plans. Thus, in a way, oil company profits could help subsidize pension plans, as well.

Now, because of depletion, we have reached a situation where oil companies, and in fact most companies, are unprofitable. Companies and governments keep adding debt at ever lower interest rates. In fact, the tradition of ever-increasing debt at ever-lower interest rates goes back to 1981. Thus, we have been using debt manipulation to hide energy problems for almost 40 years now.

We need a way to counteract this trend toward ever-lower returns. Some people talk about “Energy Return on Energy Investment” or EROEI. I gave an example in dollars, but a major thing those dollars are buying is energy, so the result is very similar.

I think researchers have set the “bar” far too low, in looking at what is an adequate EROEI. Today’s wind and solar don’t really have an adequate EROEI, when the full cost of delivery is included. If they did, they would not need the subsidy of “going first” on the electric grid. They would also be able to pay high taxes instead of requiring subsidies, year after year. We need much better solutions than the ones we have today.

Some researchers talk about “Net Energy per Capita,” calculated as ((Energy Delivered to the End User) minus (Energy Used in Making and Transporting Energy to the End User)) divided by (Population). It seems to me that Net Energy per Capita needs to stay at least constant, and perhaps rise. If net energy per capita could actually rise, it would allow the economy to increasingly fight depletion and pollution.

Conclusion: We Need a New Very Inexpensive Energy Source Now

We need a new, very inexpensive energy source that buyers will willingly pay a disproportionately high price for right now, not 20 or 50 years from now.

The alternative may be an economy that does poorly for a long time or collapses completely.

The one ray of hope, from a researcher’s perspective, is the fact that people are always looking for solutions. They may be able to provide funds for research at this time, even if funds for full implementation are unlikely.

This entry was posted in Financial Implications 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.

2,885 thoughts on “Fossil Fuel Production Is Reaching Limits in a Strange Way

  1. “Oman’s finance ministry announced it is considering rolling out unprecedented income taxes to bridge the country’s budget deficit after oil prices crashed with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic…

    “None of the six Gulf Cooperation Council states – all oil-revenue reliant countries – currently collect taxes from individuals.”

      • Eh, GCC people poor, seriously, doesn’t compute Gail ???

        No, the govs simply plan to slap Income and or higher VAT on their pop, so trimming their frivolous opulence slightly, hence the middle classes just had to opt for a notch less equipped imported stuff (say German lux carz) and the earned taxes would pluck holes from the oil / natgas (as well as their global banking-investments) sluggish revenue as of lately. Obviously, it’s just a temporary fix, one wonders it took so long to finally launch it there.. desperation rises..

        But you are correct, it won’t be popular even in the realm of GCC, although this has been debated there for years. It will also effect the revenues elsewhere as the flow of affluent clients to European spa resorts diminishes somewhat. Obviously, the GCC elite circles GCC won’t have to sell their second residency villas, chateaux and lux flats abroad.

  2. “The spread of coronavirus this year has hit trade and travel as it plunged many countries into recession. It has also triggered renewed efforts to nationalise supply chains, particularly for key medical equipment and drug ingredients…

    ““There was already a strong case that globalisation had stalled and in some respects was going into reverse. The globalised world that centred on the twin poles of China and the US was breaking apart. But that shift became all-but-irreversible this year,” Mark Williams, chief Asia economist at Capital Economics, wrote in note in September.”

    • “Despite hopes that the shock of coronavirus could lead to a more egalitarian society, all the evidence suggests it is instead widening existing divisions — between generations and geographies, genders and ethnicities and, crucially, between white-collar remote workers and those whose jobs can only be done face to face.

      ““We are really not all in this together. It is far, far worse for some than for others,” Gertjan Vlieghe, a Bank of England policymaker, said in a recent speech.”

      • Sadly, egalitarianism and univerersal solidarity tend to be predicated on a situation of plenty. It is a lot easier for people to get on with each other when the sun is shining and prosperity and security abound. Otherwise people tend to divide into hostile camps in order to pursue their own interests. The human ‘herd’ can be pretty predictable. It is already visible to some extent.

        The dissipative structure that is deprived of energy will find ways to break itself apart in order to form smaller structures that better ‘fit’ with the available energy. Human angst is ‘secondary’ to that reformative process. All that is ‘really’ happening is that the cosmos is forming structures to dissipate energy but it seems a lot more ‘personal’ than that to ‘persons’ in so far as they are involved.

      • ““We are really not all in this together. It is far, far worse for some than for others,” Gertjan Vlieghe, a Bank of England policymaker, said in a recent speech.”

        This is really the issue. It is a K shaped recovery.

        • Yes a K shaped recovery followed by an O shaped one every time Sars-Cov2 breaks out setting the economy back each time, This is generating nasty ‘ KO’ ( knock out) cycle, one that’s slowly redistributing wealth to the rich.

          • that was then and this is now.

            TPTB will do anything and everything to keep stock values from dropping.

            otherwise, yes, in the real economy dealing with the overall prosperity of the lower 90% of citizens, those who own very little or no stocks, there is a lot of merit to Vv recoveries.

            a series of recessions this decade, with each recession never recovering to the previous year’s economic level.

            then, by next decade, recessions will be the normal outcome for most years, with the exception of rare years of small growth.

          • yes, the EU in particular has had a massive surge in daily cases and daily deaths, now running much higher than the USA.

            what the freak is wrong with Europe?

            but it’s irresponsible for gov officials to talk about some potential distant vaccine, when there might never be an effective one.

            because most everyone everywhere is somewhat low or very low on vitamin D levels, and good nutrition is here-and-now, unlike the vaccine.

            it’s almost criminal that Fauci CDC et al are not loud and clear that there is a vitamin D crisis that contributes greatly to the harmful effects of the virus.

            • You can’t make much money from selling vitamin D. Vitamins are considered part of nutrition; the CDC can’t be bothered with nutrition.

  3. Spanish scientist recommends not to speak on the metro. Control freaks and social higienists are certainly having a wonderful endless field day.
    Yet i have a hard time seeing how the spaniards, who are easily the most talkative and loudest people in the world, will comply with this measure.

    “The CSIC researcher in atmospheric aerosols, María Cruz Minguillón …has surprised by asking for another [measure]: silence in the subway. “It would be ideal if the metro would indicate‘ Silence always, ’suggested la in the Via Lliure program of RAC1. As he stated, “Quiet and with a well-fitted mask, the risk is very low.”
    Minguillón explained that in the subway there is no type of ventilation. Due to this, in the event that someone is infected in the vehicle, it is important that the air is contaminated as little as possible. That is why he recommends not talking, not even on the phone. “If I speak on my mobile, and I speak loudly because there is noise in the subway, 50 times more aerosols are emitted.” And he insists that as a protective measure, we go quiet on public transport.

    • One issue that is not mentioned is that Europe tends to have far fewer ICU beds than the US. A WSJ article says,

      According to an August study in the Journal of Critical Care, the U. S. has 34.7 ICU beds per 100,000 population, compared to 29.2 in Germany, 15.9 in Belgium. 11.6 in France, 9.7 in Spain, 6.6 in the UK, and 6.4 in the Netherlands. Hospitals in Europe’s national health system operate under global budgets that keep a tight cap on hospital on funding.

      When you put this together with these countries’ reliance on poorly ventilated public transport, there is the possibility of disaster. I can understand wanting to keep everyone quiet, but doing this indefinitely will not make people happy.

  4. I voted. It took 40 minutes. It was just polite patient fellow towns folk.

    I was so disappointed no antifa bombers, riots, broken glass.

    • I voted in early voting about 10 days ago. There was no line. Just walked in, filled out the form, someone checked my name off and I voted.

      I walked down to the church where I would normally vote today. I counted eight or nine cars total parked beside the back entrance used for voting. There were several other cars, parked on the opposite end of the parking lot (used by church employees and students at the local university). I deduced that there couldn’t be very many people inside voting or waiting to vote.

      • Election forecast:

        Biden wins, knowing he cant run in 2024

        2022 Biden sends in a sicknote, retires due to ‘ill health’.

        Harris takes over

        this gives her 2 years to make her mark as POTUS before fighting 2024 with a good chance of winning as first woman POTUS in her own right

        • The vote count takes more than a year with the election declared invalid. Interim impotent government until the next time around.

          Rinse and repeat.

          Reference case: Sweden.

        • my post election forecast:

          4 years of a degrading economy with bAU level prosperity for those at the very top, and decreasing prosperity for most citizens, coupled with a continuing unraveling of social order.

          because of this, the POTUS in 2024 will appear to be a failure.

          I agree, there is almost no chance Bi-deng will be POTUS in 2024 even if he has had his corruption and mental decline hidden well enough by the MSM to allow a “victory” tonight.

          the “winner” will own this inglorious future.

        • Wrong!

          Obama’s network controls the democratic party.

          Michelle Obama will run in 2024.

          Joe was just sent out to be slaughtered against Trump.

          A least according to Marko Albert ( Live Monitor) a political advisor working in Washington.

            • According to Albert the US military and the dollar will continue to rule the world.

              There’s still enough resources for the US in the world.

            • I think America will need a war hero in 2024. I nominate Amber Heard. She has just won her case against Johnny Depp. He hurled bottles at her ‘like grenades’, but she survived. He hit her so hard that ‘the blood splashed up the wall.’ Yet her injuries looked no worse than if she was wearing light makeup. Tough cookie or what?

        • Biden by a landslide, but he doesn’t resign or anything, even if that might help his party. Come on, what is he–Mother Teresa? He runs again in 2024, unless he dies first, or the public outcry over the still-imploding economy becomes too great.

          Also in 2024: Gail predicts economic collapse!

          Armenia wins WW3.

          • right now:

            Donald Trump has 87 million Twitter followers.

            Hillary Clinton has 29 million Twitter followers.

            Joe Bi-deng has 12 million Twitter followers.

            from here in the northeast USA, this is david reporting for OFW news.

            back to you.

            • the major point here is that HRC is way more popular (by this limited data) than Biden.

            • Another major point is that Joe Biden isn’t by any stretch of the imagination actually running for President. Indeed, he can barely walk unaided to a podium and back.

        • Election forecast: Trump will win by a comfortable margin in the electoral college and a slight majority of the popular vote. After that, we can look forward to months of fruitful and productive work ironing out the specifics by the lawyers and the pundits.

          The Dem circus and the street radicals have scared normie America out of its complacency so I predict voting levels will be higher than in 2016.

          At this point, 2024 is too far down the road to speculate about. In the meantime, I expect the bumpy road to get bumpier.

          • Well put Tim, If Don gets in, perhaps we are into some brief extension of post covidenko ~quasi BAU, a little bit of time getting ready to build bridges to nowhere, nevertheless lets be thankful even for that. It could be only ~1-3yrs though before some “cunning derailment” sets in.. we ought to use the time wisely..

  5. Human all too human…

    The Daily Mail today has an article about Neanderthals, us and chimpanzees that offers some interesting ‘insights’ into the human condition.

    Neanderthals and humans were engaged in brutal guerrilla-style warfare across the globe for over 100,000 years, evidence shows

    …. Top predators

    Predatory land mammals are territorial, especially pack-hunters. Like lions, wolves and Homo sapiens, Neanderthals were cooperative big-game hunters.

    These predators, sitting atop the food chain, have few predators of their own, so overpopulation drives conflict over hunting grounds.

    Neanderthals faced the same problem; if other species didn’t control their numbers, conflict would have.

    This territoriality has deep roots in humans. Territorial conflicts are also intense in our closest relatives, chimpanzees.

    Male chimps routinely gang up to attack and kill males from rival bands, a behaviour strikingly like human warfare.

    This implies that cooperative aggression evolved in the common ancestor of chimps and ourselves, 7 million years ago.

    If so, Neanderthals will have inherited these same tendencies towards cooperative aggression.

    All too human

    Warfare is an intrinsic part of being human. War isn’t a modern invention, but an ancient, fundamental part of our humanity.

    Historically, all peoples warred. Our oldest writings are filled with war stories.

    Archaeology reveals ancient fortresses and battles, and sites of prehistoric massacres going back millennia.

    To war is human – and Neanderthals were very like us. We’re remarkably similar in our skull and skeletal anatomy, and share 99.7% of our DNA.

    …. The Neanderthal resistance

    War leaves a subtler mark in the form of territorial boundaries. The best evidence that Neanderthals not only fought but excelled at war, is that they met us and weren’t immediately overrun.

    Instead, for around 100,000 years, Neanderthals resisted modern human expansion.

    Why else would we take so long to leave Africa? Not because the environment was hostile but because Neanderthals were already thriving in Europe and Asia.

    It’s exceedingly unlikely that modern humans met the Neanderthals and decided to just live and let live.

    If nothing else, population growth inevitably forces humans to acquire more land, to ensure sufficient territory to hunt and forage food for their children. But an aggressive military strategy is also good evolutionary strategy.

    Instead, for thousands of years, we must have tested their fighters, and for thousands of years, we kept losing. In weapons, tactics, strategy, we were fairly evenly matched.

    Neanderthals probably had tactical and strategic advantages.

    They’d occupied the Middle East for millennia, doubtless gaining intimate knowledge of the terrain, the seasons, how to live off the native plants and animals.

    In battle, their massive, muscular builds must have made them devastating fighters in close-quarters combat.

    Their huge eyes likely gave Neanderthals superior low-light vision, letting them manoeuvre in the dark for ambushes and dawn raids.

    Sapiens victorious

    Finally, the stalemate broke, and the tide shifted. We don’t know why.

    It’s possible the invention of superior ranged weapons – bows, spear-throwers, throwing clubs – let lightly-built Homo sapiens harass the stocky Neanderthals from a distance using hit-and-run tactics.

    Or perhaps better hunting and gathering techniques let sapiens feed bigger tribes, creating numerical superiority in battle.

    Even after primitive Homo sapiens broke out of Africa 200,000 years ago, it took over 150,000 years to conquer Neanderthal lands….

    • that’s cool, thanks.

      at a bird feeder, the bigger birds will fly in and drive off the smaller birds.

      if it’s just similar sized species, they will often fight briefly and the victor will eat the seeds after the opponent was driven off.

      even the smaller cute songbirds will fight for food.

      we are evolution.

    • It would not surprise me one bit if Neanderthal and humans fought side by side against other humans and Neanderthal tribes/groups as times got tougher during the impending ice age.

      Evidence for that: The Europeans have some 2% Neanderthal DNA.

      The dinosaurs didn’t go extinct. They became birds.

      The Neanderthal did not go extinct, in fact they are alive and well in most Europeans.

      Being of smaller posture has quite some advantages during ice ages. Basically all monkey business died off during the last one.

      The skinny, dexterous ones with some Neanderthal “spice” on top won at the end, at least in Eurasia.

      Gaia decides.

    • Like human, like ant. Ants, at least according to this study, seem to be able to sense genetic differences which is a basis for war. With humans the differences are sometimes obvious in the phenotype, but another discernible difference is in the ant phermones or language in the case of humans. The differences in languages in human tribes or nations contributes to speciation or at least tribalism.

    • My Grandfather only went to the third grade, but he knew everything. He said the biggest advancement in weaponry in the history of Man was when someone figured out how to tie a rock on the end of a stick.

      • They came over from Australia on working holiday visas, obviously!

        In their startling new book, Steven and Evan Strong challenge the “out-of-Africa” theory. Based on fresh examination of both the DNA and archeological evidence, they conclude that modern humans originated from Australia, not Africa.

        The original Australians (referred to by some as Aborigines ), like so many indigenous peoples, are portrayed as “backward” and “primitive.” Yet, as the Strongs demonstrate, original Australians had a rich culture, which may have sown the first seeds of spirituality in the world. They had the technology to make international seafaring voyages and have left traces in the Americas and possibly Japan, Southern India, Egypt, and elsewhere. They practiced brain surgery, invented the first hand tools, and had knowledge of penicillin.

        This book brings together 30 years of intensive research in consultation with elders in the original Australian community. Among their conclusions are the following:

        There is evidence that humans existed in Australia 40,000 years before they existed in Australia. (This one must be a typo)
        There were migrations of original Australians in large boats throughout the Indian/Pacific rim.
        Three distinct kinds of Homo sapiens are found in Australia.
        There is evidence from the Americas that debunks the out-of-Africa theory.
        The spiritual influence of the Aborigines is reflected in the religions of the world.

        • Funny.

          There is zero archaeological or genetic evidence for an ‘out of Australia’. Cranks everywhere ‘claim’ that humans originated on their patch and sometimes a book gets published on Amazon.

          What on earth would Australian ‘elders’ know about about paleoanthropology from hundreds of thousand of years ago?

          There is zero archaeological evidence of homonid presence on Australia before about 50,000 years ago and aborigines are phylogenetically descended from Africans.

          Hominids as a whole are descended from African primates and our closest relative is the chimpanzee that is native to tropical Africa.

          That is not obscure knowledge.

      • It is certainly not the landslide for Biden that forecasters were predicting. The forecasters cannot figure out how to count the votes of the many people who don’t have “land” phone lines. Interviewing people with land lines gives a very biased sample toward the richer and more educated.

  6. The unintended consequences of coal mining in Germany’s Ruhr valley.

    The Pumps That Must Run Forever, Or Part Of Germany Floods

  7. The current elections in the USA are about the center and the perifery. I know such situation from Slovakia, where the depopulating countryside voted for an authoritarian party with a controversial nationalist and conservative leader and the capital and the urban centers voted for the democratic parties.

    If Trump wins, it means that the USA continues to implode in a way that the depopulating areas dictate the results of the election, while the urban centers are not able to absorb people from the imploding countryside.

    • The very country of Czechia was formed that way. Prague was always a German city and the local slavs were disorganized. Around the 19th century, following a famine, a lot of the slav peasants went to Prague to get jobs; Some hucksters ran around and told the peasants that they were Czechs, something they never heard about before but made them feel somewhat better by giving them some kind of identity. That eventually led to the creation of the fake country of Czechoslovakia thanks to the strange notion of democracy of Woodrow Wilson, but before 1830s, the Czechs simply did not exist.

      • The important thing is that the energy center of the Czechoslovakia, the Silesia, was inhabited by the Slavs, so Czechoslovakia had the power for existence. There is also a geographical divide formed by the mountains that separate Czechia/Moravia from German/Austrian territory.

        Slovakia was connected to this energy center of Silesia in the 19th century via Košice–Bohumín Railway (

        Moreover, Slovak and Czech language were historically always very close, especially thanks to the protestant movement and the teachings of Martin Luther. The first Slovak printed book was the Cathechism of Martin Luther in Czech language “(1581) Katechysmus / To gest: Kratičke obſazenji a wyklad přednich Cžlankůw Wyrij a Náboženſtwij Křestianského / čemuž ſe Lidé Křeſtianſſtij / a zwlaſſté Díjtky w Sſkolách / počátečné wyučugij. Wytiſſteno w Bardijowe Skrz Dauida Guttgeſella. – Prvá slovenská tlačená kniha.” The Slovak Lutherans used the Czech translation of the Bible, too.

        That way Czechoslovakia was formed.

        Slovakia became and independent state thanks to the nuclear energy in the second half of the 20th century.

        Not much about Woodrow Wilson, but about the energy, natural borders and the Slavic language used by the religious communities of the Slavs living in this area.

      • Kulm> I guess you have got the latter (recent history) part more or less correct, but botched the first part. When the Germanic tribes moved further west and south of Danube towards the end of the Roman Empire the ~vacated realm of CEE was occupied by western Slavs (Poles, Bohemians, Lusitania? Serbs, and Slovenian-Serbs-Croats-Bulgarians in the southern Balkan vector; and a bit in the Baltic sector as well). The Slavic kingdoms of the CEE slowly gained recognition and sort of independence from earlier tight vassal status to established Germanic kingdoms in the Middle Ages. In terms of Prague, it was briefly upgraded to one of the capitals of Europe as the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire moved there in mid-late 14th century, while it did not last long, after him the son hold it only for a while.. The imperial court “spoke” Bohemian/Czech, ~French, Latin and German, the Emperor was multilingual son of Bohemian (Slavic) Queen. The Bohemian-Czech kingdom lost Independence during the “30yrs War” as in early-mid 17th century, Austria took over much CEE. At that time most of the nobility and intellectuals were still bilingual, legal papers, literature, arts-maps and so on up to to that epoch work with the term Bohemia/ns.

        The Polish or the Slavic Balkans were subjected to even more turbulent history, also complicated by the late coming Ugro-Finish Hungarians. Some observe the region is kind of in between W and E tectonic plates in terms of politics and culture, also it’s true the Germans had several centuries had start (coexisting more ~closely w. late Roman Empire period), which obviously showed.. Nowadays are Germans (left over gene-pool after WWII) working hard on their new Turkish identity, so perhaps the old antiquity kiss magic washed off..

      • We debated these voting scenarios few days ago, and it seems now (post election evening – night US time) dialed it pretty accurately what’s going on. Basically, to overview the campaign strategies were as follows: they put political contractor PedoJoe Ltd. in the basement – msm, net, and pollsters ran ~15% win margin propaganda. While Don ran marketer ground game and secured real wining margin ~15% as evidenced by real polling and actual physical people showing up on rallies etc. So, that’s almost ~30% swing into reality, eh but we can’t have that..

        When the election results started coming in you had the usual initial “blue wave” from several big cities, then it washed away by the red tsunami of suburban, exurban and rural votes. However, in the late evening after ~70-90% *already counted suddenly another batches of “mail in” votes out of nowhere started to threaten flip already decided states..

        So, it obviously looks as if someone (inside the vote counting chain) is just dialing levers for the outcome either to flip the whole election (very **bold move at that point) or at least make it contested till early December and further use it as future 24/365 hammer for another “~illegitimate 4yrs tenure” drummed up message by the same msm-net swampers..

        * the incumbent there considers to refer to Supreme Court to stop further additional mail in vote counting on or beyond the rule book (differs county to county) but generally midnight threshold, suspicious multiple votes by same people etc.

        ** as discussed previously the scenario of undershooting potential results (they planned for not such high discrepancy months before) of Don’s ground game securing lot of votes results in the end for opting into very dangerous election fraud strategy at the last minute

    • It’s similar issue in the UK. Forgotten towns in the north voting Brexit, at odds with those in London.

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