2020: The Year Things Started Going Badly Wrong

How today’s energy problem is different from peak oil

Many people believe that the economy will start going badly wrong when we “run out of oil.” The problem we have today is indeed an energy problem, but it is a different energy problem. Let me explain it with an escalator analogy.

Figure 1. Holborn Tube Station Escalator. Photo by renaissancechambara, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

The economy is like a down escalator that citizens of the world are trying to walk upward on. At first the downward motion of the escalator is almost imperceptible, but gradually it gets to be greater and greater. Eventually the downward motion becomes almost unbearable. Many citizens long to sit down and take a rest.

In fact, a break, like the pandemic, almost comes as a relief. There is suddenly a chance to take it easy; not drive to work; not visit relatives; not keep up appearances before friends. Government officials may not be unhappy either. There may have been demonstrations by groups asking for higher wages. Telling people to stay at home provides a convenient way to end these demonstrations and restore order.

But then, restarting doesn’t work. There are too many broken pieces of the economy. Too many bankrupt companies; too many unemployed people; too much debt that cannot be repaid. And, a virus that really doesn’t quite go away, leaving people worried and unwilling to attempt to resume normal activities.

Some might describe the energy story as a “diminishing returns” story, but it’s really broader than this. It’s a story of services that we expect to continue, but which cannot continue without much more energy investment. It is also a story of the loss of “economies of scale” that at one time helped propel the economy forward.

In this post, I will explain some of the issues I see affecting the economy today. They tend to push the economy down, like a down escalator. They also make economic growth more difficult.

[1] Many resources take an increasing amount of effort to obtain or extract, because we use the easiest to obtain first. Many people would call this a diminishing returns problem.

Let’s look at a few examples:

(a) Water. When there were just a relatively few humans on the earth, drinking water from a nearby stream was a reasonable approach. This is the approach used by animals; humans could use it as well. As the number of humans rose, we found we needed additional approaches to gather enough potable water: First shallow wells were dug. Then we found that we needed to dig deeper wells. We found that lake water could be used, but we needed to filter it and treat it first. In some places, now, we find that desalination is needed. In fact, after desalination, we need to put the correct minerals back into it and pump it to the destination where it is required.

All of these approaches can indeed be employed. In theory, we would never run out of water. The problem is that as we move up the chain of treatments, an increasing amount of energy of some kind needs to be used. At first, humans could use some of their spare time (and energy) to dig wells. As more advanced approaches were chosen, the need for supplemental energy besides human energy became greater. Each of us individually cannot produce the water we need; instead, we must directly, or indirectly, pay for this water. The fact that we have to pay for this water with part of our wages reduces the portion of our wages available for other goods.

(b) Metals. Whenever some group decides to mine a metal ore, the ore that is taken first tends to be easy to access ore of high quality, close to where it needs to be used. As the best mines get depleted, producers use lower-grade ores, transported over longer distances. The shift toward less optimal mines requires more energy. Some of this additional energy could be human energy, but some of the energy would be supplied by fossil fuels, operating machinery in order to supplement human labor. Supplemental energy needs become greater and greater as mines become increasingly depleted. As technology advances, energy needs become greater, because some of the high-tech devices require materials that can only be formed at very high temperatures.

(c) Wild Animals Including Fish. When pre-humans moved out of Africa, they killed off the largest game animals on every continent that they moved to. It was still possible to hunt wild game in these areas, but the animals were smaller. The return on the human labor invested was smaller. Now, most of the meat we eat is produced on farms. The same pattern exists in fishing. Most of the fish the world eats today is produced on fish farms. We now need entire industries to provide food that early humans could obtain themselves. These farms directly and indirectly consume fossil fuel energy. In fact, more energy is used as more animals/fish are produced.

(d) Fossil Fuels. We keep hearing about the possibility of “running out” of oil, but this is not really the issue with oil. In fact, it is not the issue with coal or natural gas, either. The issue is one of diminishing returns. There is (and always will be) what looks like plenty left. The problem is that the process of extraction consumes increasing amounts of resources as deeper, more complex oil or gas wells need to be drilled and as coal mines farther away from users of the coal are developed. Many people have jumped to the conclusion that this means that the price that buyers of fossil fuel will pay will rise. This isn’t really true. It means that the cost of production will rise, leading to lower profitability. The lower profitability is likely to be spread in many ways: lower taxes paid, cutbacks in wages and pension plans, and perhaps a sale to a new owner, at a lower price. Eventually, low energy prices will lead to production stopping. Without adequate fossil fuels, the whole economic system will be disrupted, and the result will be severe recession or depression. There are also likely to be many job losses.

In (a) through (d) above, we are seeing an increasing share of the output of the economy being used in inefficient ways: in creating deeper water wells and desalination plants; in drilling oil wells in more difficult locations; in extracting metal ores that are mostly waste products. The extent of this inefficiency tends to increase over time. This is what leads to the effect of an escalator descending faster and faster, just as we humans are trying to walk up it.

Humans work for wages, but they find that when they buy a box of corn flakes, very little of the price actually goes to the farmer growing the corn. Instead, all of the intermediate parts of the system are becoming overly large. The buyer cannot afford the end products, and the producer feels cheated by the low wholesale prices he is being paid. The system as a whole is pushed toward collapse.

[2] Increasing complexity can help maintain economic growth, but it too reaches diminishing returns.

Complexity takes many forms, including more hierarchical organization, more specialization, longer supply chains, and development of new technology. Complexity can indeed help maintain economic growth. For example, if water supply is intermittent, a country may choose to build a dam to control the flow of water and produce electricity. Complexity tends to reach diminishing returns, as noted by Joseph Tainter in The Collapse of Complex Societies. For example, economies build dams in the best locations first, and only later build them at less advantageous sites. These are a few other examples:

(a) Education. Teaching everyone to read and write has significant benefits because it allows the use of books and other written materials to disseminate information and knowledge. Teaching a few people advanced subjects has significant benefits as well. But after a certain point, the need for additional people to study a subject such as art history is low. A few people can teach the subject but doing more research on the subject probably won’t increase world GDP very much.

When we look at data from about 1970, we find that people with advanced education earned much higher incomes than those without advanced degrees. But as we add an increasing large share of people with these advanced degrees, jobs that really need these degrees are not as plentiful as the new graduates. Quite a few people with advanced degrees end up with low-paying jobs. The “return on investment” for higher education drops increasingly lower. Some students are not able to repay the debt that they took out in order to pay for their education.

(b) Medicines and Vaccines. Over the years, medicines and vaccines have been developed to treat many common illnesses and diseases. After a while, the easy-to-find medicines for the common unwanted conditions (such as diabetes, high blood pressure and inflammation) have already been found. There are medicines for rare diseases that haven’t been found, but these will never have very large total sales, discouraging investment. There are also conditions that are common in very poor countries. While expensive drugs could be developed for these conditions, it is likely that few people could afford these drugs, so this, too, becomes less attractive.

If research is to continue, it is important to keep expanding work on expensive new drugs, even if it means completely ignoring old inexpensive drugs that might work equally well. A cynical person might think that this is the reason why vitamin D and ivermectin are generally being ignored in the prevention and treatment of COVID-19. Without an expanding group of high-priced new drugs, it is hard to attract capital and young workers to the field.

(c) Automobile Efficiency. In the US, the big fuel efficiency change that took place was that which took place between 1975 and 1983, when a changeover was made to smaller, lighter vehicles, similar to ones that were already in use in Japan and Europe.

Figure 2. Estimated Real-World Fuel Economy, Horsepower, and Weight Since Model Year 1975, in a chart produced by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Source.

The increase in fuel efficiency between 2008 and 2019 (an 11 year period) was only 22%, compared to the 60% increase in fuel efficiency between 1975 and 1983 (an 8 year period). This is another example of diminishing returns to investment in complexity.

[3] Today’s citizens have never been told that many of the services we take for granted today, such as suppression of forest fires, are really services provided by fossil fuels.

In fact, the amount of energy required to provide these services rises each year. We expect these services to continue indefinitely, but we should be aware that they cannot continue very long, unless the energy available to the economy as a whole is rising very rapidly.

(a) Suppression of Forest Fires. Forest fires are part of nature. Many trees require fire for their seeds to germinate. Human neighbors of forests don’t like forest fires; they often encourage local authorities to put out any forest fire that starts. Such suppression allows an increasing amount of dry bush to build up. As a result, future fires spread more easily and grow larger.

At the same time, humans increasingly build homes in forested areas because of the pleasant scenery. As population expands and as fires spread more easily, forest fire suppression takes an increasing amount of resources, including fossil fuels to power helicopters used in the battles. If fossil fuels are not available, this type of service would need to stop. Trying to keep forest fires suppressed, assuming fossil fuels are available for this purpose, will take higher taxes, year after year. This is part of what makes it seem like we are trying to move our economy upward on a down escalator.

(b) Suppression of Illnesses. Illnesses are part of the cycle of nature; they disproportionately take out the old and the weak. Of course, we humans don’t really like this; the old and weak are our relatives and close friends. In fact, some of us may be old and weak.

In the last 100 years, researchers (using fossil fuels) have developed a large number of antibiotics, antivirals and vaccines to try to suppress illnesses. We find that microbes quickly mutate in new ways, defeating our attempts at suppression of illnesses. Thus, we have ever-more antibiotic resistant bacteria. The cost of today’s US healthcare system is very high, exceeding what many poor people can afford to pay. Introducing new vaccines results in an additional cost.

Closing down the system to try to stop a virus adds a huge new cost, which is disproportionately borne by the poor people of the world. If we throw more money/fossil fuels at the medical system, perhaps it can be made to work a little longer. No one tells us that disease suppression is a service of fossil fuels; if we have an increasing quantity of fossil fuels per capita, perhaps we can increase disease suppression services.

(c) Suppression of Weeds and Unwanted Insects. Researchers keep developing new chemical treatments (based on fossil fuels) to suppress weeds and unwanted insects. Unfortunately, the weeds and unwanted insects keep mutating in a way that makes the chemicals less effective. The easy solutions were found first; finding solutions that really work and don’t harm humans seems to be elusive. The early solutions were relatively cheap, but later ones have become increasingly expensive. This problem acts, in many ways, like diminishing returns.

(d) Recycling (and Indirectly, Return Transport of Empty Shipping Containers from Around the World). When oil prices are high, recycling of used items for their content makes sense, economically. When oil prices are low, recycling often requires a subsidy. This subsidy indirectly goes to pay for fossil fuels used to facilitate the recycling. Often this goes to pay for shipment to a country that will do the recycling.

When oil prices were high (prior to 2014), part of the revenue from recycling could be used to transport mixed waste products to China and India for recycling. With low oil prices, China and India have stopped accepting most recycling. Instead, it is necessary to find actual “goods” for the return voyage of a shipping container or, alternatively, pay to have the container sent back empty. Europe now seems to have a difficult time filling shipping containers for the return voyage to Asia. Because of this, the cost of obtaining shipping containers to ship goods to Europe seems to be escalating. This higher cost acts much like diminishing returns with respect to the transport of goods to Europe from Asia. This is yet another part of what is acting like a down escalator for the world economy.

[4] Another, ever higher cost is pollution control. This higher cost also exerts a downward effect on the world economy, because it acts like another intermediate cost.

As we burn increasing amounts of fossil fuels, increasing amounts of particulate matter need to be captured and disposed of. Capturing this material is only part of the problem; some of the waste material may be radioactive or may include mercury. Once the material is captured, it needs to be “locked up” in some way, so it doesn’t pollute the water and air. Whatever approach is used requires energy products of various kinds. In fact, the more fossil fuels that are burned, the bigger the waste disposal problem tends to be.

Burning more fossil fuels also leads to more CO2. Unfortunately, we don’t have suitable alternatives. Nuclear is probably as good as any, and it has serious safety issues. In my opinion, the view that intermittent wind and solar are a suitable replacement for fossil fuels represents wishful thinking. Wind and solar, because of their intermittency, can only partially replace the coal or natural gas burned to generate electricity. They cannot be relied upon for 24/7/365 generation. The unsubsidized cost of producing intermittent wind and solar energy needs to be compared to the price of coal and natural gas, not to wholesale electricity prices. There are a lot of apples to oranges comparisons being made.

[5] Among other things, the growth of the economy depends on “economies of scale” as the number of participants in the economy gradually grows. The response to COVID-19 has been extremely detrimental to economies of scale.

The economies of many countries changed dramatically, with the initial spread of COVID-19. Unfortunately, we cannot expect these changes to be completely reversed anytime soon. Part of the reason is the new virus mutation from the UK that is now of concern. Another reason is that, even with the vaccine, no one really knows how long immunity will last. Until the virus is clearly gone, vestiges of the cutbacks are likely to remain in place.

In general, businesses do well financially as the number of buyers of the goods and services they provide rises. This happens because overhead costs, such as mortgage payments, can be spread over more buyers. The expertise of the business owners can also be used more widely.

One huge problem is the recent cutback in tourism, affecting almost every country in the world. This cutback affects both businesses directly related to tourism and businesses indirectly related to tourism, such as restaurants and hotels.

Another huge problem is social distancing rules that lead to office buildings and restaurants being used less intensively. Businesses find that they tend to have fewer customers, rather than more. Related businesses, such as taxis and dry cleaners, find that they also have fewer customers. Nursing homes and other care homes for the aged are seeing lower occupancy rates because no one wants to be locked up for months on end without being able to see other members of their family.

[6] With all of the difficulties listed in Items [1] though [5], debt based financing tends to work less and less well. Huge debt defaults can be expected to adversely affect banks, insurance companies and pension plans.

Many businesses are already near default on debt. These businesses cannot make a profit with a much reduced number of customers. If no change is possible, somehow this will need to flow through the system. Defaulting debt is likely to lead to failing banks and pension plans. In fact, governments that depend on taxes may also fail.

The shutdowns taken by economies earlier this year were very detrimental, both to businesses and to workers. A major solution to date has been to add more governmental debt to try to bail out citizens and businesses. This additional debt makes it even more difficult to maintain promised debt payments. This is yet another force making it difficult for economies to move up the growth escalator.

[7] The situation we are headed for looks much like the collapses of early civilizations.

With diminishing returns everywhere, and inadequate sources of very inexpensive energy to keep the system going, major parts of the world economic system appear headed for collapse. There doesn’t seem to be any way to keep the world economy growing rapidly enough to offset the down escalator effect.

Citizens have not been aware of how “close to the edge” we have been. Low energy prices have been deceptive, but this is what we should expect with collapse. (See, for example, Revelation 18: 11-13, telling about the lack of demand for goods of all kinds when ancient Babylon collapsed.) Low prices tend to keep fossil fuels in the ground. They also tend to discourage high-priced alternatives. Unfortunately, all the wishful thinking of the World Economic Forum and others advocating a Green New Deal does not change the reality of the situation.

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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2,805 Responses to 2020: The Year Things Started Going Badly Wrong

    • Tim Groves says:

      Absolutely. Their fear of offending the leftist establishment is greater than their desire to profit out of what is bound now to be a best seller. Or else they are controlled by the same forces that control big tech. The author will have to find some other ways of getting this published.

    • Xabier says:

      Quite soon, anyone who criticises Big Tech or Big Pharm in any way (except to ask why it doesn’t get even bigger and faster!) will be classified as a so-called ‘domestic terrorist’, and dealt with accordingly.

      Just as those who opposed the Bolshevists were ‘traitors, saboteurs and madmen’.

      And just as the opponents of early Christianity were ‘devil-worshippers’ -the pattern is always the same.

      And this will be applauded by those who see where their self-interest lies, or out of fear.

      Just as people are posting ‘well done’ comments on YT congratulating those who get vaccinated. Such a brilliant move, and so good for the community!

      ‘Love Together, All Together’: a very sinister slogan going the rounds just now – it was up over the deserted streets of London at New Year, together with the BLM aggressive fists.

      We know what is taking shape, and have some time to reflect and decide just how we are going to live with it, if we can.

      Who ever thought that Big Brother would be an Aspergers wimp wearing a lab coat?

      • Artleads says:

        Heat pumps and Nat gas prescriptions notwithstanding, how far could we go with a switch to the environment? Do we have some wriggle room with changing the subject to that?

        It’s sort of PC to be talking about saving the environment post Trump? The point, you see, is that the good and righteous people won. So why cut down trees for development? Why demolish old buildings and waste their embodied energy? What style of building should prevail; traditional or modernist? Could development and developers take the conversation some place else?

        • Artleads says:


          Mining has to be planned more scrupulously and follow tighter planning rules than development.

          While mining can be highly toxic to its surroundings, those surroundings tend to orbit around geographically specific sites (that have boundaries–direct or indirect–around them).

          Development is more insidious, tending to sprawl from town to town, wherever there is land. Owners of that land find it hard to resist developer money, as with mining.


          There are approximately 1.85 billion, billion tonnes of carbon present on planet Earth – and only a tiny fraction of that is found in the air we breathe. The vast majority (more than 99%) of it is actually stored within the Earth’s crust, according to a startling new study conducted by a team of scientists from the Deep Carbon Observatory (DCO) project.

          Vegetation of all kinds stores (sequesters) carbon and makes the atmosphere safe for living systems.

          When we cut down a tree and remove native vegetation to landscape a development, we are releasing climate altering carbon into the atmosphere.

          Every time we scrape away topsoil to level and grade land for development, we are releasing quantities of carbon into the air. And that is far from being the only environmental stressor related to such conduct.


          Quite possibly. Development generally serves frivolous status needs of its customers, without contributing proportionately to economic viability of communities. Because mining is done away from urban centers, it is easy to take for granted how all our dependencies are being met within our industrial civilization (IC). 8 billion people could not possibly survive without the medicines, food, roads, clothes, infrastructures created on the basis of mining. Meanwhile, they could easily-enough find abode in other ways.

          Based on these assumptions, we might need to prioritize mining over development. We might also need to mitigate and limit the vast destruction that attend mining, albeit much less (IMO) than development.

      • Tegnell says:

        Thank Allah for this then

        According to Rystad, the current resource replacement ratio for conventional resources is only 16 percent. In other words, only one barrel out of every six consumed is being replaced with new resources.

        So not only has our pace of discovery declined, but discoveries are also in much more challenging geological venues and typically offshore, which means it could take many years just to bring new resources online.


  1. davidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

    looks like the 46th POTUS will be Mike Pence.

    • He will be the final Republican President of all time as the Republican Party will disappear and the Democratic uniparty splits between the Karenist Party and the BLM Party.

    • davidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

      or not.

      I’ve read that the Senate would conduct the impeachment trial after January 20th.

      the value in a conviction would be that Trump would be unable to run again in 2024.

  2. Ed says:

    I image if I was a member of a group of 25 people who want to go into hostile territory I would want
    1) to stick together as a group
    2) to know each other face and cloths
    3) to share some common identifying clothing item
    4) each have a cell phone with all 25 phone numbers stored in them
    5) if one member is separated from the group call them, gps locate them, find them above all else
    6) have a well defined plan of where to be and when to be there

    What I would not do is wonder around as a single person and follow any one who says come this way.

    Organize, organize, organize

    • Artleads says:

      It might be better if some of these items overlap with natural, organic, logically inevitable processes though. The do-nothing approach.

    • Bei Dawei says:

      3) to share some common identifying clothing item

      Oooo, how about a furry Viking helmets?

  3. Artleads says:

    Got this from a concerned relative. “Share it around!,” she urges urgently. The last minute might be enough to see where this is going.


    • Tim Groves says:

      This is from last spring, but the message is “Speaking spreads the virus most effectively.” So I guess we are going to have government mandated silence in public and gum-taping of mouths for persistent offenders.

  4. Harry McGibbs says:

    “Those in charge of making sure the UK’s lights stay on could see a problem looming as they took stock of power flows from suppliers last Tuesday.

    “With wind turbines spinning slowly on a calm winter’s day, demand rising in the cold weather, and the BritNed link bringing power from the Netherlands unavailable, they needed to increase the buffer for the next day, fast. An urgent call to the market for a potential 584MW of capacity was answered and the notice stood down.

    “It came at a price, however, with hourly wholesale electricity prices briefly shooting up to £1,000 per MWh – a 10-fold increase.

    “It is the fourth time National Grid’s Electricity System Operator has issued such a notice since late 2020, in a sign of the growing complexities of managing the system, which has a greater proportion of wind power and also some gas and nuclear plants offline.”


    • Harry McGibbs says:

      “Spanish natural gas prices surged to a record as the nation grappled with unusually cold weather that even brought a rare snowfall to Madrid.

      “The day-ahead price on Spain’s PVB gas trading hub has more than doubled since the start of the year and is near the record-high rates for liquefied natural gas in Asia, where cold winter temperatures are creating fuel shortages.”


      • It is very difficult to have an adequate supply of natural gas, if there are big fluctuations in temperatures and many are using natural gas for heating, either directly, or as electricity made from natural gas.

        There are several different limits that can be hit:
        (1) The diameter of the pipeline delivering the natural gas may not be large enough to serve all users.
        (2) The amount in storage may not be enough for all users (hit at the end of the season, if using storage rather than repeated LNG)
        (3) Low temperatures can adversely affect natural gas extraction, and reduce the flow for this reason. Sometimes there are outdoor pipelines needed in processes that freeze up.
        (4) Not enough LNG boats may be available in the area.

        Charts of natural gas prices often show big spikes in winter. In some places with iffy gas supply (US Northeast, for example), schools and big industrial users of natural gas are sometimes asked to shut down for a time, until adequate supply can be restored. Some US electricity producers have oil on hand in case there is not enough natural gas for all users.

    • It sounds like the UK (and probably a lot of other places) can look forward to many more power outages in 2021 as “Green Energy” proves unreliable. Winter is likely worst, because heat sometimes comes from heat pumps or from flooring which is heated with electricity.

      • Xabier says:

        The UK govt. wants people to move towards heat pumps and under-floor heating.

        Pretty disastrous, but it is quite usual for there to be no discernible intelligence in such policies.

        Just a few years ago here it was all ‘ dirt-cheap, fracked gas in abundance!’ as the promised future…..

        • Heat pumps are quite dependable gear for any weather but only in the earth collector or water collector (well / lake) variety. Obviously, that’s not what the mass market is today based on… which is mostly some sort of badly redesigned budget imported aircon compressor junk..

          • Jarle says:

            “… some sort of badly redesigned budget imported aircon compressor junk..”

            Unless you live in Norway and have a lot of oil money per person to spend, spend, spend …

    • Ed says:

      just for reference the wholesale price of electrc in New Yor State is $2 per MWh

    • Robert Firth says:

      You mean, wind turbines don’t spin when there is no wind? What an absolutely amazing discovery! Who wold have thought it? Well, a four year old child with a windmill on a stick knows that; too bad the entire “green” establishment never consulted a four year old child.

      But, as I think we all know by now, this is not about our electricity; it’s about their grant money:

      “What makes all doctrines plain and clear?
      About two hundred pounds a year.
      And that which was proved true before,
      prove false again? Two hundred more.”

  5. Yoshua says:

    The economy is self organising…so maybe political power is now self organising as well towards dictatorships out of necessity to control the masses?

  6. This is the death of the false notion of democracy.

    Woodrow Wilson’s world finally ending.

    That basically means most of the countries which became independent after 1918 will return to where they were before the Great War.

    And Serbia will have to pay quite heavily for causing the Great War as well.

    • I am afraid it was peak coal in the UK that was the cause of the Great War. Lots of other things indirectly going wrong at the same time.

    • Kulm> I hear you, what is your problem with little Serbia again?
      As debated zillion times over, the empires entered the Great War with many pre-existing internal difficulties. It could had been any other local conflict zone to bring about similar “spark” result like WWI and its aftermath..

    • Jarle says:

      “And Serbia will have to pay quite heavily for causing the Great War as well.”

      So they caused it .. please expand!

  7. Mirror on the wall says:

    Local UK polls are to go ahead in May – unless they get cancelled. At least we will have some entertainment.

    Eyes will be on the ‘red wall’ wards in particular to see if they revert to LP – and of course on the Holyrood elections in Scotland, the main event of the evening, where SNP is very likely to secure a democratic mandate for a second Scottish independence referendum.

    Farage’s newly registered Reform UK party is also set to put in its first showing at the polls. RUK supports PR and reform of the HOL, so I would be tempted to vote for them; anything has to be better than two-party FPTP in which we have no option but to vote for (hopefully) the ‘least worst’ option of the two.

    The May polls may provide an occasion for TP discontent with Boris to be aired and the possibility of his replacement to be mooted. Boris was never particularly popular with TP MPs and they may want to draw a line under the Brexit image of TP and to field a candidate with a broader appeal come the next GE. Also they like to blame him for the further rise of SNP, and he is particularly unpopular in Scotland, but the situation is obviously more complicated than that.

    Starmer is likely to re-establish LP as a viable electoral force. Talk after the 2019 GE was of LP being out of government for decades but LP is well established as ‘the other’ party to which many voters swing as the default ‘other option’. The all out TP assault on Corbyn helped to reform LP as a viable opposition but then, political acts often are a two edged sword.

    The latest, ward by ward, poll of Westminster voting intentions suggests that red wall seats will revert to LP and that there will be a hung parliament at the 2024 GE, which would leave SNP as ‘king makers’ of an LP government, obviously in return for Indyref2. Four years is a long time in which polls can shift but that scenario is never really going to go away. Now may be as good a time as any for TP to cut Scotland loose or else see an LP government do it in four years time. RUK is likely to cut into TP votes like UKIP did, which makes the TP all the more vulnerable to LP+SNP.

    The best outcome in my opinion would be Scottish independence and Irish unity, and then a serious political reform of England with PR. So I will likely vote for RUK come May.

    > May elections to go ahead in UK despite coronavirus concerns


  8. nielscolding says:

    Att.: Norman Pagett

    Please, do continue here on OFW – too many commenters have take up the thread after Fast Eddie, for instance Tim Groves.

    Politicians and civil servants are doing their best, but they are ignorant of what will hit us (diminishing returns) and so are msm. They do not know! And if they knew, it would be impossible for them to tell what we are heading against. My hope is that for some years it will still be possible to live under the friendly hegemony of the United States. Buy I must admit that it is time for us to carry an even share of the burden of freedom.

    • lol–thanks for the encouragement–I will do my best

      But as Superman’s girlfriend said, when he ‘saved’ her (he was always doing that) for the first time:

      ”Don’t worry, I’ve got you” says Superman.

      “You’ve got me??? Who’s got you?” Replies Lois Lane

      Problem these days is there’s no phoneboxes to change in.

      Politicians are just ordinary people with louder voices. We vote for men and expect them to turn into supermen and then complain when they don’t. Or accuse them of being accomplices in a grand conspiracy against us.

      I don’t think most of them are ignorant of the situation. They cannot alter things to any great extent any more than you or I can.

      Nobody is going to ‘save’ us, because the chose this mess for ourselves 200 odd years ago, by choosing infinite growth on a finite planet. Simple when you think of it that way, and dispense with all the hoaxes and conspiracies.

      Tim is only engaged in a long and elaborate windup—I’ve said that all along.
      Eddie was/is just an attention seeker.

      • We really need a mix of commenters with different views. If everyone believed the same, the comments wouldn’t be very interesting.

      • Tim Groves says:

        Tim is only engaged in a long and elaborate windup—I’ve said that all along.

        Drop the only and you have a valid point, Norman. Like a vintage Patek Philippe that still keeps excellent time, you DO need winding up once a day. Otherwise you’d be like a stopped clock.

        But by supplying you with stimulating and thought-provoking disagreement, you must admit that in addition to winding you up I am shaping you up as well.

        Eddie was/is just an attention seeker.

        Again, drop the just and you would have a valid point. He is much much more than just an attention seeker. He’s the Doomosphere’s single greatest entertainer. If Doomology was a real science, Eddy would be it’s Carl Sagan!!

        Incidentally, Doomosphere is a real word that has an entry in the Urban Dictionary. It reads like something Eddy himself could have penned:

        The zone of doom on earth that comprises a population of realists who recognize the global biosphere is on an irreversible trajectory toward collapse and mass extinction, due to industrialized human behavior and ectivity. Biospheric collapse will likely result in a planet bereft of complex life for millions of years and possibly forever, as the meltdown of the world’s 450+ nuclear reactors may strip earth of its atmosphere, leaving it cold and lifeless, like Mars. Why go to Mars when we can have it right here on Earth?

        Basically, “we’re F*K*D!”

        • davidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

          based on his recent posts, even Foil Eddie seems to be weakening due to the effects of decreasing energy.

        • entertainers are by definition attention seekers

          they have to be

          but thanks for. finally admitting about the windup—I was saying that years ago

    • Jarle says:

      “… too many commenters have take up the thread after Fast Eddie, for instance Tim Groves.”

      Tim G?! Most certainly not, a good commenter if you ever met one!

    • JMS says:

      “They do not know!”

      Of course not. The industrial-finantial globalists of Club of Rome commissioned the Limits to Growth report from MIT in 1970, had it translated and published in dozens of languages, but then forgot to read it! What hollow heads they have.
      Sorry, but to think that billionaires and the military doesn’t have the same or much better better information that we at OFW is simply too silly to consider.

      • Harry McGibbs says:

        The US Joint Forces Command has published a report on peak oil, as has the Bundeswehr. You will even see some peak oil theorists in the central banks, like Michael Kumhof, senior research advisor in the Bank of England’s research hub.

        Billionaires we cannot generalise about, surely. Niels though is talking about politicians and, at least in the UK and Ireland, awareness of these issues is poor amongst policy-makers. They won’t take a lecture on theory.

        • JMS says:

          I think we can know say what a politician really knows, since they’re not in the business of telling the truth,

          I must say I made once a comment about diminishing returns on the blog of a famous portuguese politician (and economist) and he replied to me that “the law of diminishing returns does not apply to an economy as a whole”.
          Should I conclude from this that the guy is an ignoramus, or that, being a politician, he sees no interest in revealing the truth to the commoners? I lean towards this second option.

          Anyway, in my view politicians just follow orders from above, they don’t rule or decide anything important. Those who rule and decide are the billionaires who finance their political carreers. And these billionaires are certainly informed about the law of diminishing returns, and finite world issues. .

          • JMS says:

            typo: I think we can’t know what a politician….

            • Harry McGibbs says:

              So, we can’t know what any politician knows but we can know precisely what all billionaires know? I think that’s a stretch.

            • JMS says:

              We can’t know for sure, but we can infer, if we remember that correct information is too valuable an item to be overlooked by someone who manage billions.

              A politician can afford to know nothing about the facts of physical reality. Billionaires cannot, or they would risk lose rapidly their hard-won power and wealth.

              Of course all this is only a guess, since i don’t know any millionaire nor poltician, but it’s more plausible i think than nielscolding’s, stance that “they don’t know”.

            • Kowalainen says:

              We can rest assured that some people know exactly what is going on, and they dictate the pacing and staging, it ain’t the politicians. The politicians are there to mouth piece hopium and craft false dichotomies for the herd to cling to.

              I would like to see the current spin of the LTG models running on the hottest supercompute on the planet.

              Hey “DOE” (worldwide, not just US) schmucks, why not release some juicy LTG reports? How shit is it really? A few straws of hopium-hay still left in the stack of despair-needles?


              Btw, did US DOE get hacked in the solarwinds shit show? I’m expecting data dumps galore. 😎

            • Harry McGibbs says:

              I don’t think we can infer any such thing as a generalisation, JMS. In no way is an understanding of the limits to growth a pre-requisite for making or keeping a fortune of billions. James Dyson, the UK’s richest billionaire, just needed a brilliant invention and ruthless commercial instincts.

              I’m sure there is a creeping awareness of various growth limiting factors and our worsening ecological predicament, as there is in the general population, but if anything billionaires are more psychologically inclined to buy into the idea that such problems can be overcome by human brilliance – see Bill Gates new book about solving climate change or the billionaire space race:


              On the flipside, some may well understand the situation fully. The Bushes famously snapped up 100,000 acres of land over a huge fresh-water aquifer in Paraguay. This could be a bug-out strategy. It could be a cynical attempt to make money in a world of tightening water-constraints. It could be both.

              It is easy to oversimplify and I think we tend to imbue billionaires with a mystique that they don’t really deserve.

      • of course they have the same knowledge

        but as I pointed out, they have no more ability to do anything about it than you or I

        they will make a lot of survival noise, but thats not the same thing

        • JMS says:

          Not only do they have the ability to do something, as they are trying to do it, namely, the “unfeasable” degrowth and deglobalization of the economy, getting rid of the useless middle class and of a political system – representative democracy – that no longer serves their interests.
          Will their great reset work? Maybe for them, for some time, but not for we-the-people, that’s for sure.

          • Xabier says:

            How true.

            They hate even the facade of democracy and consultation.

            They adore China’s ability ‘to get things done’.

            No wonder Uncle Bill and Co. look so excited, they feel that their age is now dawning at long last.

            My only hope is that, somehow, they are over-reaching in their eagerness, it just isn’t subtle anymore.

            • Kowalainen says:

              Have you been to China? I have, so have they.

              It fscking sucks. It is a ruined nation. Polluted, shoddy, mundane, firewalled. Yuck.

              The real deal is Taiwan with a competent president that is under no illusion of what is going on.

              無為 ☯️

              Influencers, MSM and the usual polarizing fluff pieces isn’t needed when the populace gets the job done without the vulgarities and debauchery of CCP, and foremost the godawful socialist engineers of the west with the grace of a bulldozer in a china factory.


            • Robert Firth says:

              I suspect we shall experience China’s ability to “get things done” towards the end of this month, when she invades Taiwan. Of course, only after making sure her puppet president Biden promises not to intervene.

            • Kowalainen says:

              Robert, we’ll see about that I guess.

          • I think that comes under survival noise

            • JMS says:

              Survivors they are, the Utimate Preppers, the fittest of the fit in the human race to the bottom, the ones who own a bunker in each continent and shit pearls every single morning.
              It may be silly noises, but I’m sure for them they sound like an heavenly cantata. The music of hope is simply irresistible for most humans, and in that the Owners are indistinguishable from Mr. Joe Sixpack. They want MORE (as you have pointed countless times here and elsewhere).

            • all of us follow the drum that beats in our own heads

              trouble starts when that drum beats in time with a few million others and then we start following the drummer in chief. Who is usually a charlatan and Ponzi scheme salesman who promises ‘more’ of everything–forever. (Whatever happened to the 1000yr Reich?. Millions ‘believed’)

              it sounds like survival noise, but it more often that not it’s the sound of the lemmings ahead of us thudding onto the rocks below

              the drive for more is in all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, unless one is a career hermit.

              I’ve acquired sufficient capital to be comfortably off into old age. I’ve been lucky and lazy at the same time, tbh. (Sufficient unto the day is the need thereof, maybe?)

              Had an opportunity presented itself for me to become a billionaire, I have no doubt I would have taken it. Maybe laziness kicked in too soon. Who knows?

    • Tim Groves says:

      Att: Niels Colding

      Not THE Niels Colding, the famous Danish-English translator of that name?

      In any event, we doomers are honored by your presence and I, as a resident troll, am happy to have been fed.

      Is this just a passing visit? Or are you planning to engage with us indefinitely and give Norman some much appreciated support? Certainly he’s had more adversaries than allies of late. But please, do please yourself.

      TOO MANY commentators? Perish the thought! While quality beats quantity, you can’t have TOO MANY commentators, I always say.

      I personally have never noticed any lack of space in this comments section. If you calm down and get over your irritation at the annoying fact that some people make comments that you don’t agree with, or that they make them in a style you object too, then I am sure you will find there is room for us all. But then again, if you prefer to frequent blogs that have fewer commentators, or even none, there is no shortage of places to hang out.

      If you would take a more Taoist or a Zen or a Sufi attitude to this blog, as to life in general, rather than a Lutheran or Calvinist one that embodies an unconscious urge to seek to find fault with everything, then I think you would enjoy and appreciate it more. But that’s just my opinion—or, if you prefer, the opening salvo in what may eventually blossom into (to quote Norman’s evocative phrase) a long and elaborate windup.

      Many of us here value or even treasure Fast Eddy’s input, and we would love to read his contributions a A LOT MORE often. Have you noticed that when he stays away for a while, other commenters begin to sigh for his absence. We await his visits and the attendant fireworks with as much enthusiasm as the Hobbits of the Shire used to await the coming of Gandalf. 🙂

      • davidinamonthorayearoradecade says:

        perhaps he is Niel Scolding.

        hard to say for sure.

        • TIm Groves says:

          There aren’t many references to “Niel Scolding” online. Google only brings up 83 hits.

          There are some impressive “Neil Scolding”s, though.

          Such as THE Neil Scolding, the Burden Professor and Director of the Bristol Institute of Clinical Neurosciences, who is currently based at Learning and Research, Southmead Hospital and is also Visiting Professor at the University of Gulu Faculty of Medicine and spends some 6 months a year undertaking teaching, research and clinical practice in northern Uganda.

          On the other hand, “Niels Colding” gets over 3,000 hits including Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin accounts and his own YouTube channel. That’s a significant online presence.

      • fear not Tim

        I have never looked for support or felt the need of it (hence being self employed for 30 odd years)

        I was always happy so long as I got paid. Which people seemed pleased to do.
        The hallmark of the real mercenary.

        I only write stuff down to clarify my own thinking. Some might agree, a lot don’t . That is an irrelevance.
        ’tis just a meandering within my own mental maze.

  9. Mirror on the wall says:

    “we trespassed too hard and deep on the territory of other critters who have as much right to be here as we have… that defence mechanism, in the form of a virus…”

    To pick up at this tangent.

    ‘Rights’ are a human fabrication with roots in the city states of the Renaissance and the early bourgeois period. ‘Rights’ are accorded by society and they have no pre-social existence. All morality is a falsification of reality but often a useful one, often not. Critters have to defend their territory, that is how the world works, none is ‘reserved’ for them. If humans choose to do that for them then that is a purely human choice, as is the choice not to.

    Viruses have their own tendency to reproduce themselves, like all species, otherwise they would have disappeared. They are not a defence mechanism for other species. It is possible for a species to use chemical warfare against others but there is zero evidence that species have adapted to ‘gang up’ to gas humans with c 19. That is purely imaginary, along with the ‘rights’ of other species.

    It is fine to be concerned with other species but it often lends itself to an outright falsification of reality. Often it is egoism and ‘moral’ posturing on the part of individuals, to make themselves look/ feel ‘better’ than other humans. Humans are instinctively competitive, to gain some sort of evolutionary advantage over others, and that often takes the form of moral posturing and ‘altruistic’ posturing. Competition is largely conducted on the psychological plane these days.

    The human psyche is radically ordered to its own interests and it has learnt to disguise that and to pretend the opposite in order to advance its interests. Humans instinctively fake it and deceive; they even conceal it from their own consciousness as that makes it easier to ‘pull off’. To pose as against success, as a person or species, is just another strategy to advance one’s own success in some sense. The human psyche has evolved through the selection of what ‘works’ for one’s own interests, it has no remit beyond that even if it sometimes ‘seems’ to.

    Pandemics come and go, they have no grand ‘anti-human’ significance. They can function as metaphors for all life in their self-interested adaptation and exploitation of other species, which is how the world works – but that is not ‘anti’, it is descriptive not prescriptive. One is either well adapted and disposed to the world and all that it requires or one is not. Concern for other species and for other humans can be a part of that adaptation and it needs to be kept in the correct perspective.

    Humans need to maintain as well as to transform their niche – it is a balancing act, which Nietzsche likens to a ‘tight rope’ which humans cross over even as they fall off it (TSZ, prologue). Humans are still in the stage of speciation, rapid genetic change, perhaps uniquely permanently so. Hominids have been around for millions of years and we are still rapidly evolving, unlike other species that typically become genetically ‘set’ within 200,000 years.

    Man is a constant ‘falling off, a going over.’ Perspective tells us that is our unique destiny and one to be embraced; we constantly have the ‘responsibility’ to better adapt and a concern for other species and humans is a part of that, as is a disregard – modern human expansion out of Africa wiped out most of the larger mammals long ago. We occasionally go through population collapses and even ‘bottle necks’ ourselves before our expansion recommences; it is all part of the process of our evolution.

    But ultimately, humans are gonna do what humans are gonna do, whatever that is exactly and it is not worth getting personally anxious about that – although that has its role too, there are often two sides to our ‘balancing act’ – so, whatever, be anxious or don’t, that is one’s own personal prerogative according to the situation as one sees it.

    • The whole idea of self-organizing systems is hard for people to think about. The system reflects outcomes of many combinations of encounters. Things don’t turn out as we expect. If the long-term trend is toward increased energy dissipation, then somehow, species that can dissipate energy at above average rates will tend to be favored. This would suggest that mankind, or perhaps a mutated version of our current form of hominoids, will come through this bottleneck in at least limited numbers. The climate many change as well, to facilitate the dissipation of more fossil fuels.

      Leaders have come up with views claiming that we have more powers than we really do. Governments can temporarily subsidize new forms of energy, but if they don’t work on their own, their benefit will primarily be for the individuals and companies that profit from the new jobs they provide, and the subsidized returns they provide.

      • Mirror on the wall says:

        Yes, that is the objective situation.

        Humans are survivors, we are highly adaptive; that does not mean that we are really ‘in control’ of outcomes, but it does seem likely that we will be around for a while yet even if this civilisation collapses and something quite different emerges in its place.

        Energetic conditions will ‘organise’ us even as we organise ourselves, just as they organise everything else in the endless process of ‘becoming and destruction’ that is the cosmos.

        Energetic conditions will change, climates will change, species will change and so will we. So it has ever been and so it ever shall be.

        All is in perpetual flux; humans can only go with that flow even as we seem to somewhat ‘direct’ it; we cannot arrest planetary or social development to some set, permanent state.

        Change is how we have come to be and it is how we shall continue to become what we are yet to be. Nothing is, all is becoming; nothing that is, shall remain what it is; all shall yet become what it is not even as it becomes itself.

        That is how the world works, so we may as well reconcile with change, our own and that of everything else in its due time.

        Vinyl sounds better, even on YT.

        ‘Everlasting World’ – well it will last for a ‘long’ time anyway, nothing last forever though – maybe they mean an eternally cyclical cosmos in which we all may meet again even in this same moment?

      • Sergey says:

        My region’s local government set a goal to get 1/3 of electricity from renewable sources (wind farms mostly). Investor & producer found (finnish company), contract settled. Local government subsidies it by reducing taxes and buying all produced electricity. Now 99% of electricity in our region still produced by gas burning. And as I know Russia has 1/3 of world reserves of natural gas and it is cheap locally. I listened to experts and they all said what wind farm electricity is commercially invalid in our region without subsidies.

        • The only place where wind might reduce electricity costs is on an island that gets most of its electricity from burning oil. Adding wind to the mix might reduce the amount of oil needed. If electricity is sold on a “cost plus” basis, the substitution of wind for some small part of the oil might be cost effective. Otherwise, it doesn’t work.

          Electricity made with oil is far too expensive to use for manufacturing goods. The only place electricity with oil seems to work is for tourist destinations, where consumers aren’t too concerned about electricity costs. COVID seems to be wiping out tourism. Given this situation, I am not sure that wind really is helpful anywhere.

      • humankind didn’t start to outcompete other critters until we started setting fire to things deliberately

        seems to me when there’s nothing left to burn, we will lose that advantage

        • Mirror on the wall says:

          There is plenty for humans to consume yet; we are about 1/10,000 of the planet’s biomass. It is estimated to have reduced by half over the last 10,000 years although estimates are not accurate. It is the adoption of herding, farming and then industrialism that has reduced terrestrial biomass rather than fire, which goes on all the time. But there is plenty left to keep us going for a while yet. And who knows, maybe climate change will be really cool and provide conditions for a tropical expansion.

          Interestingly there is a greater biomass of consumers on the planet than of producers – not terrestrial but marine. That is because producers rapidly produce for consumers, so they produce more biomass but they have less at any given time. Life is based on consuming other species, that is just how it is. Humans have been very successful but insects do better than us where biomass is concerned, as do plants, marine animals, bacteria and archaea.

          I do not see a problem. Any species will expand when it can and contract when it has to. If we are headed for a contraction then that is quite normal really, and then we are likely to expand again. That is the sort of thing that goes on all the time on planet earth; one might as well ‘blame’ all species for that behaviour. Otherwise it would be a dead planet like Mars or Jupiter. Life devours life and thus it lives.

          > The biomass distribution on Earth


          • >>>>>And who knows, maybe climate change will be really cool and provide conditions for a tropical expansion.<<<<<

            Mirror–that's a classic. Gotta love and cherish that comment. (assuming it wasn't meant to have thread of humour in it. I'd like to think it was a joke, Somehow I think it wasn't.)

            biomass is a form of energy

            the laws of thermodynamics state that energy cannot be created or destroyed, merely converted from one form to another.

            animal species do that throughout their lives, get born, procreate, eat, die, and restart the cycle again, adhering strictly to the 'law'.

            we did the same thing, then we latched onto fossil fuels and convinced ourselves that it was a get out of jail card on the boardgame of nature.

            we formulated the laws of thermodynamics at about the same time, but decided they didn't apply to humankind.


            no—there is not 'plenty for us to consume yet'.

            planet earth is an interdependent system. one part of it cannot consume an excess of the rest. (why it is necessary to say this?)

            For the past 200+ years we have deluded ourselves into thinking we had created a 'consumer society''. When in fact we have transformed ourselves into a species of 'super converters'. Which is not the same thing at all.

            We discovered 100m years worth of fossilised sunshine, and converted it into 'money'. The planet itself was given a 'cash value' but that value depended on the amount of energy the planet could deliver to us, year on year.
            So now 'money' is seen as a substitute for energy itself.
            Which is why our current system must collapse.

            We will not 'expand again' because our wildcard of fossilised sunshine has been played. It will not be dealt again.

            The game is over, and nobody will walk away with their winnings

            • Mirror on the wall says:

              I am not sure what you think that the problem is.

              Yes fossil fuel industrialism is headed for a collapse and the human population with it. After that, there will still be plenty of biomass to allow humans to expand again within the limits of what is then available. So what?

              That in no way supports the ideas that animals have inherent ‘rights’, that they are ganging up to ‘get us’ with c 19 or that the planet is about to run out of biomass, which are all completely ridiculous ideas.

              All species expand within their limits and then they contract. That is how the earth works. There is no ‘moral’ or ‘right-on’ angle to that. It is organic drives in motion, nothing more and nothing less.

              There will be plenty of bio mass for humans to exploit after the collapse – not for 8 billion industrial bourgeoisie and proletarians in their current symbiotic relationship but whatever humans remain to continue with their evolution, which is all that is really happening, the evolution of the species, through natural selection, and the dissipation of energy.

              Climate change, along with a fall in the human population, is very likely to allow plants to flourish. I am not sure why you think that is a jokey thing to say. Maybe it is egg on the face of ‘greens’ but so what?

              There is not going to be any ‘moral solution’ and neither is the planet going to impose a ‘moral solution’.

              In fact there is no ‘problem’.

              Industrial civilisation is coming to an end along with all of the social classes that it supports; the human population will be much smaller; global warming will likely cause biomass to increase; humans will adapt and continue with their evolution, consuming other species and dissipating energy as they go.

        • Tim Groves says:

          Norman, there will always be something left to burn for some of us—although not nearly enough for eight billion of us.

          Forests are among Nature’s own solar energy collectors. They respond to incoming sunlight by converting simple molecules such as carbon dioxide and dihydrogen monoxide into biomass. After a few decades of growth, a cellulose-rich component of this biomass known as timber, lumber or wood can be collected and used for fuel or as a raw material for constructing buildings, making furniture, and for at least a hundred and one other applications.

    • Kowalainen says:

      “But ultimately, humans are gonna do what humans are gonna do”.

      Yes, could we have a bit of more what we are instead of shitty and shallow narrative followers programmed by socialist engineers? Cutting down on the narrative peddling could be an excellent start of LTG scenario 3. Just come clean and say what is an observable absolute fact. Shit is going to get worse.

      Most engineers I speak to are quite clear about the reality of infinite growth on a finite planet. Now, what do they do in common? Shrug their shoulders and “oh, well. It is what it is”.

      That there exist different narratives in operation under the umbrella of IC is fairly certain since redistribution works differently in different regions. Say, compare NA with EU. It is thus not a self organizing structure, but rather a crafted psychosocial condition that organizes under those principles.

    • Robert Firth says:

      “Pandemics come and go, they have no grand ‘anti-human’ significance.” I.m not sure. Viruses are predators, and predators go where the prey are most numerous, most juicy, and least able to defend themselves. That’s us.

Comments are closed.