Humans Left Sustainability Behind as Hunter-Gatherers

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Many people believe that humans can have a sustainable future by using solar panels and wind turbines. Unfortunately, the only truly sustainable course, in terms of moving in cycles with nature, is interacting with the environment in a manner similar to the approach used by chimpanzees and baboons. Even this approach will eventually lead to new and different species predominating. Over a long period, such as 10 million years, we can expect the vast majority of species currently alive will become extinct, regardless of how well these species fit in with nature’s plan.

The key to the relative success of animals such as chimpanzees and baboons is living within a truly circular economy. Sunlight falling on trees provides the food they need. Waste products of their economy come back to the forest ecosystem as fertilizer.

Pre-humans lost the circular economy when they learned to control fire over one million years ago, when they were still hunter-gatherers. With the controlled use of fire, cooked food became possible, making it easier to chew and digest food. The human body adapted to the use of cooked food by reducing the size of the jaw and digestive tract and increasing the size of the brain. This adaptation made pre-humans truly different from other animals.

With the use of fire, pre-humans had many powers. They spent less time chewing, so they could spend more time making tools. They could burn down entire forests, if they so chose, to provide a better environment for the desired types of wild plants to grow. They could use the heat from fire to move to colder environments than the one to which they were originally adapted, thus allowing a greater total population.

Once pre-humans could outcompete other species, the big problem became diminishing returns. For example, once the largest beasts were killed off, only smaller beasts were available to eat. The amount of effort required to kill these smaller beasts was not proportionately less, however.

In this post, I will explain further the predicament we seem to be in. We have deviated so far from the natural economy that we really cannot go back. At the same time, the limits we are reaching are straining our economic system in many ways. Some type of discontinuity, or collapse, seems to be not very far away.

[1] Even before the appearance of hunter-gatherers, ecosystems around the world exhibited a great deal of cycling from state to state.

Many people are under the illusion that before the meddling of humans, the populations of different types of plants and animals tended to be pretty much constant. This isn’t really the way things work, however, in a finite world. Instead, the populations of many species cycle up and down, depending on particular conditions such as the population of animals that prey on them, the availability of food, the prevalence of disease, and the weather conditions.

Figure 1. Numbers of snowshoe hare (yellow, background) and Canada lynx (black line, foreground) furs sold to the Hudson’s Bay Company. Canada lynxes eat snowshoe hares. Image by Lamiot, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons. Link.

Even forests exhibit surprising variability. Many undergo regular cycles of burning. In fact, some species of trees, such as the giant sequoias in Yosemite, require fire in order to reproduce. These cycles are simply part of the natural order of self-organizing ecosystems in a finite world.

[2] A major feature of ecosystems is “Selection of the Best Adapted.”

Each species tends to give birth to many more offspring than are necessary to live to maturity if the population of that species is to remain level. Each of the individual offspring varies in many random ways from its parents. Ecosystems are able to keep adapting to changing conditions by permitting only the best-adapted offspring to survive. In favorable periods (suitable weather, not much disease, ample food, not too many predators), a large share of the offspring may survive. In less favorable periods, few of the offspring will survive.

When selection of the best adapted is taken into account, a changing climate is of little concern because, regardless of the conditions, some individual offspring will survive. Over time, new and different species are likely to develop that are better adapted to the changing conditions.

[3] The downsides of living within the limits provided by nature are easy to see.

One issue is that every mother can expect to see the majority of her offspring die. In fact, her own life expectancy is uncertain. It depends upon whether there are nearby predators or a disease against which she has no defense. Even a fairly small injury could lead to her death.

Another issue is lack of shelter from the elements. Moving to an area where the weather is too harsh becomes impossible. Our earliest pre-human ancestors seem to have lived near the equator where seasonal temperature differences are small.

Without supplemental heating or cooling, humans living in many places in the world today would have a difficult time following the way of nature because of weather conditions. As we will see in later sections, it was grains that allowed people to settle in areas that were too cold for crops in winter.

In theory, there are alternatives to grain in cold climates. For example, a small share of the population might be able to get most of its calories from eating raw fish, as the Inuit have done. Eating raw fish is not generally an option for people living inland, however. Also, in later sections, we will talk about the difference between the use of root vegetables and grains as the primary source of calories. In some sense, the use of grains provides a stepping stone toward big government, roads, and what we think of as a modern existence, while the use of root vegetables does not. Eating raw fish is similar to eating root vegetables, in that it doesn’t provide a stepping stone toward a modern existence.

[4] Animals make use of some of the same techniques as humans to compete with other species. These techniques are added complexity and added energy supply.

We think of complexity as being equivalent to added technology, but it also includes many related techniques, such as the use of tools, the use of specialization and the use of long-distance travel.

Animals use many types of complexity. Bees build hives and carry out tasks divided among the queen bee, drone bees, and worker bees. Many birds fly to another continent in winter, in order to gain access to an adequate food supply. Chimpanzees use tools, such as waving a stick or throwing a rock to ward off predators. Beavers build dams that provide themselves with an easy source of food in winter.

Some members of the animal kingdom, known as parasites, even leverage their own energy by using the energy of other plants or animals. Such use of the energy of a host is subject to limits; if the parasite uses too much, it risks killing its host.

While animals other than humans may use similar techniques to humans, they don’t go as far as humans. Humans employ a variety of supplemental materials in their tools. Also, no animal other than humans has learned to control fire.

[5] Pre-humans seem to have learned to control fire over 1 million years ago, allowing humans to gain an advantage in killing wild beasts.

Richard Wrangham, in Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human, makes the case that the controlled use of fire allowed the changes in anatomy that differentiate humans from other primates. With the controlled use of fire, humans could cook some of their food, making it easier to chew and digest. As a result, the teeth, jaws and guts of humans could be relatively smaller, and the brain could be larger. The larger brain allowed humans to compete better against other species. Also, cooking food greatly reduced the time spent chewing food, increasing the time available for making crafts and tools of various kinds. The heat of fire allowed pre-humans to move into new areas with colder climates. The heat of fires also allowed pre-humans to ward off some of the impact of ice-ages, which they were able to survive.

James C. Scott, in Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States, explains that being able to burn biomass was sufficient to turn around who was in charge: pre-humans or large animals. In one cave in South Africa, he indicates that a lower layer of remains found in the cave did not show any carbon deposits, and hence were created before pre-humans occupying the cave gained control of fire. In this layer, skeletons of big cats were found, along with scattered gnawed bones of pre-humans.

In a higher layer, carbon deposits were found. In this layer, pre-humans were clearly in charge. Their skeletons were much more intact, and the bones of big cats were scattered about and showed signs of gnawing. Who was in charge had changed! We know that human controlled fires can be used to scare away wild animals, burn down entire forests if desired, and make sharper spears. It shouldn’t be surprising that humans gained the upper hand.

[6] Grains, because of their energy density, portability, and ability to be stored, seem to have played a major role in the development of governments and of cities.

Scott, in Against the Grain, also points out that early economies that were able to grow grains were the economies that were able to place taxes on those grains, and with those taxes, were able to fund governments offering more services. Grains are a storable form of energy for humans. They are portable and energy dense, as well. It was grains that allowed people to settle in areas that were too cold for growing crops in winter. The year-to-year variability in production made storage of reserves important. Governments could provide this function, and other functions, such as roads.

If we analyze the situation, it is apparent that the existence of grain crops provided a subsidy to the rest of the economy. Farmers and their slaves could grow far more grain than they themselves required for calories, leaving much grain for trading with others. This surplus could be used to feed the population of cities, such as Rome. It was no longer necessary for everyone to be hunter-gatherers or subsistence farmers. There could be new occupations such as merchants, teachers, carpenters, and sailors. Many more goods and services in total could be produced, and the population of cities could grow.

Cities, themselves, provide benefits, because they allow economies of scale, and they allow people with different skills to mix. Geoffrey West, in his book Scale, notes that larger cities produce disproportionately more patents. Thus, technology is advanced with the growth of cities.

It might be noted that root crops, even though they could provide most of the same food energy benefits for humans as grain crops, did not help economies grow in the same ways that grain crops did. This, likely, was part of the reason that they were not taxed: They produced no excess benefit to give back to the government.

Root vegetables are not as helpful as grains. They are less energy dense than grains, making them heavier and bulkier for transport. They do not store as well as grains. In early days, root crops could be about as efficiently grown by individual families as by farmers specializing in such crops, making it hard to leverage the labor that went into growing root crops. In fact, there was less real need for government with root crops: There was no way to store supplies of root crops in case of poor harvest, and there was little need for roads to transport the crops.

[7] The added energy benefits of grain crops created a situation where the grain was “worth” far more to customers, and to the economy as a whole, than what would be indicated by their cost of production.

There is a belief among economists, and among much of the population, that the selling price of a commodity will be determined by its cost of production. In fact, the example given in Section [6] indicates that back in the early days of grain production, grain’s selling price could be far greater than its direct cost of production, with the difference going into taxes that would benefit the government and the economy as a whole.

In fact, there was a second way that the usage of grain was helpful to governments. The efficiency of grain production, transport, and storage reduced the need for farmers. Former farmers could offer services not previously available to citizens, often in cities. Income from the new jobs could also be taxed, to give governments another stream of income.

[8] The use of coal and oil also produced situations where the value of energy products to the economy was far higher than their direct cost of production, allowing these products to be heavily taxed.

Tony Wrigley, in his book Energy and the English Industrial Revolution, indicates that with the use of coal, farming became a much more productive endeavor. The crop yield from cereal crops, net of the amount fed to draft animals, nearly tripled between 1600 and 1800, which was the period when coal production ramped up in England. Coal allowed the use of far more metal tools, which were vastly superior to tools made from wood. In addition, roads to mines were greatly improved. Prior to this time, few roads were paved in England. These improved roads helped the economy as a whole.

Oil is known today for the high taxes it pays to governments. The governments of oil exporting countries are very dependent upon tax revenue relating to oil. When the selling price of oil is low, this results in a crisis period for oil exporting countries because they have no other way of collecting adequate tax revenue to support the programs for their people. For a short time, they can borrow money, but when this alternative fails, governments are likely to be overturned by their unhappy citizens.

[9] The economy tends to move further and further away from the natural order (described in Sections [1], [2], and [3]) as more energy consumption is added.

Even though the natural order would be sustainable, it doesn’t represent a situation that most people today would like to live in. In fact, most humans today could not live on completely uncooked food, even if they wanted to. While a few people today eat “raw food” diets, they often use a food processor or blender to reduce the amount of chewing and digesting of raw foods to a manageable level. Even then, their weights tend to stay low.

If energy products are available at an affordable price, humans find many ways to use them, to stay away from the natural order. Some examples include the following:

  • To provide transportation, other than walking.
  • To pipe clean water to homes.
  • To make growing and storage of food easy.
  • To allow homes to be heated and cooled.
  • To allow medicines and vaccines.
  • To allow most children to live to maturity.

[10] Because energy consumption is important in all aspects of the economy, the economy seems to reach many kinds of limits simultaneously.

There are many limits that the world economy seems to reach simultaneously. The underlying problem in all of these areas seems to be diminishing returns. In theory, these issues could all be worked around, using increasing energy consumption or increasing complexity:

  • Too little fresh water for an increasing population.
  • The need to keep increasing food production, with the same amount of arable land.
  • Increased difficulty with insect pests, such as locusts.
  • Increased difficulty in dealing with viruses and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
  • Overfished oceans so that farmed fish are required in addition.
  • Ores of metals of ever-lower grade, requiring more processing and leading to more waste.
  • More expensive techniques required for the extraction of fossil fuels.
  • Many unprofitable businesses; much debt likely to default.
  • Too few jobs that pay well enough to support a family
  • Governments unable to collect enough taxes

Energy and complexity work together to leverage human labor, in a way that the economy can make more goods and services in total. Unfortunately, we cannot use complexity to make energy. Technology (which is a form of complexity) can convert energy to useful work and, through efficiency gains, increase the percentage of energy that is available for useful work, but it cannot make energy. If we add more technology, more robots, and more international trade, we likely will need more energy, not less.

The net impact of all of these issues is that to maintain our economy, we really need an ever-increasing quantity of energy. In fact, energy consumption likely needs to grow more rapidly than population simply to keep the system from collapse.

Wind and solar certainly cannot meet today’s energy needs. Together, wind and solar amount to about 3.3% of the world’s energy supply, based on BP estimates for 2019. Furthermore, wind and intermittent solar certainly cannot be sold at a price high above their cost of production, the way grain, coal and oil have been sold historically. In fact, wind and solar invariably need the huge subsidy of being allowed to “go first.” They actually are reliant on a profitable fossil fuel system to subsidize them, or they fall completely “flat.”

[11] The problem, as the economy reaches limits, is too few goods and services being produced to satisfy all parts of the economy simultaneously. The parts of the economy that especially tend to get shortchanged are (a) governments, (b) energy producers, and (c) workers without special skills who are selling their labor as a form of “energy.”

When economies are doing well, the price of energy products tends to be high. These high prices allow very high taxes on energy products. They also allow significant funds for reinvestment for the energy companies themselves. Indirectly, these high prices allow a significant share of the goods and services made by the economy to be transferred to these sectors of the economy.

In addition, energy products allow non-farm workers in many areas of the economy to produce their goods and services more efficiently, thereby helping push up the wages of common laborers.

As economies reach limits, there is, in some sense, a need for more energy in many sectors of the economy. The catch is that the “wages” and “profits” needed to purchase this energy aren’t really available to provide the demand needed to keep energy prices up. As a result, energy prices and production tend to fall. Government-imposed limitations, intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, may also keep energy demand down.

Governments often fail, or they get into major conflicts with other governments, when there are resource shortages of the kinds we are currently encountering. Today is in many ways like the period of the Great Depression, which preceded World War II.

[12] Perhaps warm, wet countries will be somewhat more successful than cold countries and those without water, in the years ahead.

I showed a chart in my most recent post, Energy Is the Economy, that illustrates the wide range of energy consumption around the world.

Figure 2. Energy consumption per capita in 2019 for a few sample countries based on data from BP’s 2020 Statistical Review of World Energy. Energy consumption includes fossil fuel energy, nuclear energy and renewable energy of many types. It omits energy products not traded through markets, such as locally gathered wood and animal dung. This omission tends to somewhat understate the energy consumption for countries such as India and those located in Middle Africa.

If fossil fuel energy falls, I expect that the parts of the world with cold temperatures will experience particular difficulty because they tend to use disproportionately large amounts of energy (Figure 2). Their citizens cannot get along very well without heat for their homes. Winter becomes very dark, if supplemental lighting is not available. Walking long distances in the cold becomes a problem as well.

The warmer countries have a better chance because they do not require as complex economies as cold countries. They can feed at least part of their population with root crops. Walking is a reasonable transportation option, and there is no problem with months on end of darkness if supplemental lighting is not available. For these reasons, warm countries would seem to have a better chance of passing through the difficult times ahead while sustaining a reasonable-sized population.

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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2,604 Responses to Humans Left Sustainability Behind as Hunter-Gatherers

  1. Crush Loader says:

    Thanks for an insightful article, Gail can you please provide your insights regarding China’s developing trade war with Australia and its relation to its collapsing local coal prices.

    Is America first evolving into China first, as I see it as countries spend more on energy imports relative to their exports they are forced to limit conspicuous consumption, is this basically how globalization will unravel?

    • I have been trying to look into this a bit. A little background:

      1. The world’s demand for coal is down this year, since factories are operating less.

      2. China’s demand for coal is down this year. This is a chart of China’s coal imports, which have been falling rapidly. The situation in late 2020 looks like the late 2015 to early 2016 period, when the Brent Oil price dropped to $37.66.

      https://ourfiniteworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/China-imports-of-coal-Trading-Economics-Dec-4-2020.png

      3. China is running into the same “Glut of coal problem” that oil producers have run into in the past, with more coal coming into the ports than it can possibly use. Guardian published an article Nov. 28 called, China increases coal import quotas but Australia likely to be excluded. It says,

      Aggregate data showed the average waiting time for cargo vessels is far higher than any point in the past two years and has risen steadily since August, suggesting it had been impacted by the unofficial ban on Australia coal.

      Among the 60 ships waiting for longer than four weeks, four from Indonesia have been waiting since July, and four from Russia have been waiting since August or October, according to the Kpler data. The Chinese analyst told the Guardian some ships were “willing to gamble” and wait around in the hope there would be a new quota issued before the end of the year.

      So there is a lot of coal, from a lot of different countries that is sitting waiting to be offloaded. My guess is that coal demand for China is not going to bounce back up quickly, with parts of the world still having major problems.

      4. China desperately needs to get the price of coal, within China, up, in order to make its own mines profitable. Keeping imported coal in floating storage is one way of trying to do this. I don’t have a coal price chart for China for 2020, but this is a general coal futures chart. You can see prices recently have been quite low, but have bounced back up from the bottom somewhat.

      https://ourfiniteworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Coal-Futures-Prices-Dec-4-2020-Trading-Economics.png

      The prices of coal in India are in even worse shape, relative to past prices, almost certainly related to its long shutdown:

      https://ourfiniteworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Coal-India-Ltd.-Prices-Dec-4.png

      5. Australia is by far the source of the biggest quantity of coal imports to China. China clearly doesn’t need this much coal imports going forward. If it needs to cut back, Australia’s coal exports pretty much have to be reduced. China can get plenty of coal from other suppliers.

      6. Australia really angered China by accusing it of being the source of virus causing COVID-19 and, in fact, letting it out of its lab to infect the world, early this fall. I am not sure if I can find the article about this now.

      7. Like other countries, China is having real difficulty getting enough jobs that pay well. There may, or may not, be a real issue with Australian wine prices. If China can produce its own wine, it would like to be able to do so, to help its own jobs situation, and get its own demand for coal up.

      We are, indeed, seeing globalization unravel in real time.

      • Artleads says:

        Yet, if China could cheaply distribute that stored coal all over the planet (IN A CONTROLLED AND CALIBRATED FASHION) it could keep some sort of stepped-down demand going for a very long time. That would take a fairly brilliant campaign to pull off. It would be a good geopolitical move on China’s part as well.

        • rather like a guy I knew, many years ago who worked for the local water company

          when somebody complained about the cost of water, he used to tell them they could come and collect as much as the wanted—for free

  2. Herbie Ficklestein says:

    This is it! Or The Writing is. On the Wall….
    Simon Casey and Kevin Crowley
    Thu, December 3, 2020, 10:34 AM EST
    (Bloomberg) — Chevron Corp. followed arch-rival Exxon Mobil Corp. in cutting long-term capital spending, responding to this year’s slump in oil and expectations that prices won’t rebound any time soon.

    Chevron’s capital and exploration budget will be $14 billion to $16 billion annually from 2022 to 2025, according to a statement Thursday, down 27% from the mid-point of its previous forecast.

    The revision reflects 2020’s savage drop in crude, which has led the industry to make deep cuts to production, jobs and future investment plans. While oil has rebounded from the worst of its slump, prices remain below $50 a barrel, and the pandemic continues to weigh on global demand for petroleum.

    European rivals Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc have used the crisis to accelerate their pivot toward low-carbon fuels. Although the American titans remain committed to fossil fuels, large budget reductions mean less future investment in traditional oil and natural gas. Chevron’s annual budgets for the next five years are less than half the level of 2014, when crude traded for more than $100 a barrel.

    Chevron’s plan also illustrates evolving priorities. Spending at its $45 billion Tengiz oil project in Kazakhstan, which has gone massively over budget, is expected to decline, while expenditures will rise in the Permian Basin and the Gulf of Mexico. The cuts are bad news for oilfield servicers, which rely on spending by explorers for their income.

    The company’s announcement comes three days after Exxon Mobil Corp. said it too will reduce in capital spending, to $25 billion a year through 2025, a $10 billion reduction from its pre-pandemic target. Exxon, which also announced the biggest writedown in the company’s modern history, is struggling to generate enough cash to maintain its dividend.

    The end of the Seven Sisters is upon us…run for the hills!
    PS that’s not gonna save you 😜

  3. The fine people from Surplus comment section linked:

    “Ehrlich vs. Tverberg bet” by Blair Fix

    -focus mainly on the latter chapter “SCENARIO 2: OIL PRICES COLLAPSE”

    https://economicsfromthetopdown.com/2020/12/03/as-we-exhaust-our-oil-it-will-get-cheaper-but-less-affordable/

    • Shawn says:

      I have been reading Blair Blix’s blog posts of late. He does some good work. But I have the sense that he is having the “a-ha” moments about oil and energy etc. that Gail has been providing to many of us for some many years.

      It will be interesting to see where his thinking goes about the social sciences and solutions to society’s problems as he absorbs and processes the possibility of a rapid decline in energy supply to the global economy.

      Very happy that Blair gives Gail Tverberg full credit for the idea of a price collapse as energy becomes less affordable.

      We could still see some rapid, transient oil price spikes?

      We could still see some revaluation/price change of oil upward if the dollar loses reserve currency status and oil is prices in other benchmarks?

      I am still unclear about whether fuels refined from oil – gasoline, diesel, jet fuel, etc. – could increase in prices even as oil prices decline. More likely the supply of those fuels diminishes, possibly with actual shortages. Shortages of diesel fuel would be the most impactful? And likely first hard constraint we face in an oil output decline. Diesel shortages would be bad thing. 🙁

      • Jet fuel is not too different from diesel, so I would not worry about running short of diesel any time soon. Refineries can change somewhat the output of their mixtures, sometimes using “cracking” to make long molecules shorter.

        Think of fuels as “providing jobs that pay well.” When the fuels are missing, jobs are missing as well. People without jobs can’t pay their debts, either. It is the missing jobs that tend to keep fuel prices down.

        I doubt that many people will ever think that the problems were are encountering now actually reflect a shortage. They will think of our problems as a COVID-19 problem, or a problem with government policy.

    • Slow Paul says:

      It has been stated by not few bloggers and/or commenters over the years that conventional (high EROEI) resources is the backbone of the economy, and that the economy will follow a similar trajectory to the extraction of conventional resources.

      Makes sense when you think of it. Easy and affordable resource that we can draw from to run both the economy AND explore less affordable resources like shale, deep water, oil sands and renewable energy. Basically burning cheap oil so we can extract expensive oil.

    • Thanks! I found it very interesting, and made a comment there (awaiting moderation).

    • Minority Of One says:

      An excellent article. The graphs explain very simply with real economic data why Gail is spot on with oil prices falling.

      The other reason oil prices are very unlikely to rise much any time soon is because at least within OPEC, there is still quite a bit of spare capacity (for now). As soon as prices look like they are rising, one or more OPEC countries (in reality Saudi Arabia) will increase production, at the very least preventing prices rising much higher. That is precisely what happened this week, when SA announced they were increasing production by 0.5 M b/d.

      I should imagine oil products will become much less affordable next year for the tens of millions (and their dependents) in Europe and the USA who lose their jobs and loans / free hand outs are not enough or no longer available.

      • Right. People losing their jobs in the US and Europe will contribute to the low demand.

        Also, without airplane schedules rising back to normal (and beyond), energy consumption cannot rise. This is not an affordability issue as much as a problem with COVID-19 spreading in all forms of public transit, including airplanes. Passenger rail and bus have a similar problem.

        Demand for oil, as well as prices, were too low before COVID-19 hit. COVID-19 simply made a bad situation worse.

  4. Artleads says:

    OFF TOPIC

    REQUESTING HELP FOR RESEARCH ON LITERATURE

    As part of my work in the Caribbean, I came across an old public clock that is older than Big Ben. I found that it came from the Barrett estate in England and that Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote a poem about it called: “Ode to the St. Ann’s Bay Clock.” If anyone can help me to track down that poem, I would be most grateful to them.

    • Xabier says:

      I have her complete works, Artleads – the trouble will be finding the book among the tottering piles and surviving the ensuing dust clouds!

      Read about the ‘chattel houses’ of Barbados recently: such graceful, simple buildings which you will know well.

      The author said they were cool in the summer due to the clever use of ventilation.

      Pleasant to think of former slaves building nice houses for themselves.

      • Artleads says:

        Thanks Xabier; that’s the exact issue that I’m focused on. After Britain abolished slavery, (c. 1838 in the case I know) already freed blacks and mulattos, as well as working (non-plantocracy) whites were joined in the towns by ex-slave crafts and service people of a wide range of skills. All of them lived side by side in wood houses (big or small) of admirable utility and aesthetic quality. This to me is the high point of British colonial civilization (the middle to late 19th century in a world of elegant, geometrically simple wooden buildings). This is what concrete and rebar has almost entirely erased.

        I wish there was some way for us to communicate outside of OFW.

        • Artleads says:

          A WORD TO THE WISE ABOUT WOOD

          I am wood, Wood is me.

          I don’t mind if you’re some other building material, like stone or brick or glass–even concrete in some cases.

          But don’t ask me to be you, and see things your way.

          Recognize me for what I am, and I’ll return the favor to you.

          I don’t care who you are, or what your reasons, if you demolish my wood house I consign you to hell. And along with you, your children and their children.

          PLEASE don’t tell me that you have to put food on the table, which is why you drove the bulldozer. I won’t be impressed.

          Again, PLEASE get this into your noggin, if you have one. Your children are less important to me than my wood building.

          Burn down my wood building and I’ll burn down your stone building, like I did the church I was christened in.

    • Robert Firth says:

      Artleads, my research indicates the poem has never been published, and the only copy is owned by a private collector in Jamaica. Hoping I’m wrong…

      • Artleads says:

        Robert: Thank you very much! This makes it clear why my superficial search got nowhere.

        • Xabier says:

          Artleads: luckily I found the 2 vol. collected edition of E B Browning’s poems quite quickly, but the poem you seek is not there.

          • Artleads says:

            Thanks, Xabier. Robert F came to the conclusion that the poem was never published, and is only in a private collector’s hands in Jamaica. The Jamaica Colonial Heritage FB group has offered no help in locating those hands.

            Apart from that, I’ve been very much wanting to talk to you about Jamaica’s Spanish period (not sure how to calibrate it–Columbus first landed in 1594? But the fist capital (and the third in the Americas) was established at Sevilla La Nueva in 1509. I’m puzzled by how that nearly 150 years till Penn and Venables in 1655 have somehow been discounted as part of Jamaica’s colonial history. Would love to hear your thought (off OFW if Gail can help).

    • Mirror on the wall says:

      Her juvenilia is dispersed among private collections due to sales at auction houses. That may be the place to look. She composed odes as a kid in Jamaica with some military uncle or something who was into odes himself. It would likely be best to contact her archivists directly, some of whom give contact details on the web.

  5. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Denmark has brought an immediate end to new oil and gas exploration in the Danish North Sea as part of a plan to phase out fossil fuel extraction by 2050.”

    https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/dec/04/denmark-to-end-new-oil-and-gas-exploration-in-north-sea

    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “The UK’s North Sea oil and gas industry should agree to phase out production through a series of five-year targets to help its 260,00 strong workforce migrate to clean energy sectors, according to a report.

      “The plan would require the UK and Scottish governments to scrap a controversial policy that calls on North Sea companies to extract as much oil and gas as they can from the ageing basin.”

      https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/dec/03/uk-north-sea-industry-urged-to-phase-out-oil-and-gas-extraction

      • JesseJames says:

        “to help its 260,00 strong workforce migrate to clean energy sectors”

        Haha haha

        More like the unemployment line or UBI!

      • Minority Of One says:

        >>The UK’s North Sea oil and gas industry should agree to phase out production

        Propaganda nonsense. The amount of oil found offshore UK for the last 20 years has been tiny. Oil production at least, gas I don’t know, is being phased out now because there is so little left. And what little is being produced now, it is difficult to see how the companies are making any money, when the platforms produce so little oil (only one produces more than 30,000 b/d, Buzzard), they are ancient and surely require a lot of maintenance to be kept going, and require a good sized work force transferred on and off shore by helicopter. And supplied by ship. All combined with low oil prices.

        I don’t think civilization has 5 years left, but if it lasts that long, UK offshore oil production will not. The economics just don’t add up, what with the platforms getting older, production and oil prices both headed south.

    • Real reason for stopping exploration: Not expecting to find oil and gas that is profitable to extract at current prices.

      • Tim Groves says:

        Where does this seem to be heading?

        There are pledges from governments to eliminate the use of fossil fuels and make all cars, all electricity generation and all heating “zero-emission” by 20XX.

        Even going part of the way with this agenda will slash demand for oil, coal and gas, and so prices for what is allowed to be extracted will remain low, production will be low, energy taxation under such circumstances will be difficult, and a lot of those Leonardo sticks that are supporting each other in the economy will come crashing down.

        We must hope against hope that the rest of the sticks are being held in place by gum tape or superglue. This future does not compute. Alles ist kaput! Everything is broken!

        https://youtu.be/OqD_j10MX0o

  6. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Chevron Corporation is reducing its capital and exploratory budget for the next five years by billions of U.S. dollars compared to previous guidance as it looks to save its dividend payouts in the post-pandemic world.”

    https://oilprice.com/Latest-Energy-News/World-News/Oil-Major-Chevron-Slashes-Spending-Plans-Following-COVID-Crisis.html

  7. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Under pressure from investors and governments alike to cut emissions, major European oil companies are ploughing billions into renewable energy but are struggling to craft business plans that promise the returns shareholders have come to expect.

    “Europe’s big oil firms, however, have another card to play: their vast global networks of filling stations.

    “BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Total all say they are betting on higher profits from sales of groceries and snacks at their retail networks, which will still be an essential port of call for motorists in an electric era.”

    https://www.reuters.com/article/us-oil-europe-retail/the-new-black-gold-big-oil-bets-on-retail-networks-in-an-electric-era-idUSKBN28D002

  8. Artleads says:

    Dear Gail,

    The following rough notes are not meant to be critical of you at all. I ‘m in the trenches of online opinion shaping, and find it astonishing to be so utterly alone out there. I think we can do a better job of addressing mass delusion if we understand how total (totalitarian?) is its scope.

    Artleads

    MORE ADVOCACY NEEDED

    – to underplay advocacy, propaganda, public campaigning against the religion of renewables. The argument that you can abuse nature all you want, because renewables can replace support systems that you meanwhile destroy is EVERYWHERE. While Gail has done a better job of countering that myth than anyone else I know of, the countering is nowhere remotely at the scale required to remove “renewables-can-solve-it” as an argument for avoidable environmental destruction.

    – Proposing that make-work jobs (which are incidentally based on environmental destruction) serve some useful purpose that keeps BAU standing makes no sense to people with my views. That’s because such work has no spiritual or cultural value, and without these the human species is not worth saving (in our opinion). Destructive make-work is far from necessary for job creation, given the plethora of need (and opportunity?) to do more constructive work.

    THE CRITICAL DANGER OF THE MOMENT

    – Trump’s mistake in giving his opponents so much to latch on to to bring him down. Seems like he courted disaster by playing into MSM’s nonstop negative stereotyping when he might better have tried to peel liberals away from the left?

    – First Trump, then Facebook? How can an unworkable system-in-denial accept open discussion (such as can still avoid the filters at Facebook)?

    • Robert Firth says:

      Thank you, Artleads, an analysis with which I largely agree. But allow me respectfully to disagree about your proposed remedies. As Oswald Spengler said, “A power can be overthrown only by another power”. And the power of persuasion by individuals, however right they may be in principle, cannot match the concentrated power of today’s organs of propaganda.

      What is left? A quote from another wise and prescient man, who also feared the power of a press controlled by a treasonous elite, Count Otto von Bismarck: “… nicht durch Reden und Majoritätsbeschlüsse werden die großen Fragen der Zeit entschieden … sondern durch Eisen und Blut.”

      Original here, and English translation linked:
      http://www.emersonkent.com/speeches/blut_und_eisen.htm

      • Artleads says:

        Thanks Robert, I wasn’t sure whose words I was reading, but I loved the style, and adored the blood and iron part. Marcus Garvey would (or most likely did) approve.

        The “other force” of Spengler’s might not be the old blood and iron type; it could be blood and iron but just not easily recognized as such. You take advantage of internal contradictions (like those Gail points to re energy and limits) that TPTB don’t expect you to. It’s not about a hard or immediate overthrow. You give the enemy rope to hang himself. Even so, no one can do THAT alone.

    • The leaders need a new religion, and “renewables” seems to be at the center of it. It is difficult to counter a new religious belief.

      • Artleads says:

        But you DO counter it. I use YOUR points to shut the biggest zealots up. Because your points are so commonsensical and balanced, they work best. We just don’t have a wide enough network of advocacy using your approach. They’re expecting us to come with frothy emotions, and we come with Gail’s quiet and sober explanations. They’re not used to that.

        I used this on one outstanding crusader for progress. It’s full of holes, and anyone posting here would shred it, but it kept this guy quiet for a bit: (Something to the effect)

        You can’t make a solar panel with another solar panel. That given, you have to put a lot more resources into making your solar panel than you get back from using it.

      • Artleads says:

        I’m proposing a counter religio, and it’s centered on land and land use, but also historic preservation (a topic relating to preserving and restoring buildings and built infrastructure no longer deemed “modern.”) So this new religion is somewhat anti-modernist, and its values are not amenable to change through rational discussion. They are religious, and strictly non-negotiable. Which doesn’t quite mean that science is eschewed.

  9. Harry McGibbs says:

    “World’s Central Banks Have Set Us Up for Catastrophic Fall …fiat currency credibility is being tested to virtual destruction by today’s extreme levels of money printing. We have already had one bad wobble…

    “…without the good offices of their central banks, governments would not be able to support the very high levels of debt they are taking on to fight the pandemic…

    “…what then happens to government solvency once that moment arrives when interest rates need to rise again to bear down on increased inflation?

    “People say this would be a nice problem to have in view of today’s deflationary pressures. For a high debt economy, I very much doubt it. I’m just about old enough to remember the stagflation of the 1970s after what might be thought of as a similarly delusional age of fiscal dominance and financial repression. For the economy, it was not a happy time.”

    https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2020/12/01/worlds-central-banks-have-set-us-catastrophic-fall/

  10. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Janet Yellen warned of “more devastation” in the economy if the US failed to address the fallout from the pandemic and its disproportionate toll on low-income families, after she was introduced by Joe Biden as America’s next Treasury secretary…

    “Her comments were delivered amid doubts that Mr Biden will be able to implement his sweeping economic agenda, which calls for a big boost to government spending next year, partially funded by higher taxes on businesses and wealthy households.”

    https://www.ft.com/content/2f32d7ab-9d15-458d-9f3e-a32171990e8f

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