From the Keyboard of Surly1
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on May 12, 2013
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
Plenty of doom and doom-related happenings on the domestic and international front this week, so let’s go right to the videotape:
Across the pond in Greece, where Question Mark and the Austerians are administering the same sort of save-the-rich economic policies that plutocrats like Pete Peterson so dearly wants to bring to the FSA, youth unemployment has reached a staggering 60 per cent.
While the overall unemployment rate rose to 27 percent, according to statistics service data released on Thursday, joblessness among those aged between 15 and 24 jumped to 64.2 percent in February from 59.3 percent in January. Youth unemployment was 54.1 percent in March 2012.
“It is by far the highest youth unemployment rate in the euro zone, highlighting the difficulties young people face in entering the labor market despite government incentives to create jobs,” said economist Nikos Magginas at National Bank.
Athens has lowered the minimum monthly wage for those under 25 years by 32 percent to about 500 euros to entice hiring.
Note that last succulent little datapoint, and keep it in your pocket when the solons in DC look up from Benghazi! BENGHAZI!! BENGHAZI!!!!!!!!! long enough to recommend a lowering of the minimum wage, or pass a bill to eliminate overtime wage payments.
As our friend Joe P. posted earlier in the week, researchers have once again discovered the glaringly obvious, a link between racism and stupidity. Whouda thunk it?
Findings taken from numerous research projects strongly indicate that prejudice, racism and intolerance are more likely to be present in individuals with greater cognitive rigidity, less cognitive flexibility and lower integrative complexity.Despite their important implications for interpersonal behaviors and relations, cognitive abilities have been largely ignored as explanations of prejudice.
We proposed and tested mediation models in which lower cognitive ability predicts greater prejudice, an effect mediated through the endorsement of right-wing ideologies (social conservatism, right-wing authoritarianism) and low levels of contact with out-groups. In an analysis of two large-scale, nationally representative United Kingdom data sets (N = 15,874), we found that lower general intelligence (g) in childhood predicts greater racism in adulthood, and this effect was largely mediated via conservative ideology.
A secondary analysis of a U.S. data set confirmed a predictive effect of poor abstract-reasoning skills on antihomosexual prejudice, a relation partially mediated by both authoritarianism and low levels of intergroup contact. All analyses controlled for education and socioeconomic status.
Original here. This is well known by those in power, who have thoughtfully provided these people their own reality-free 24-hour Cable News Network.
“If voting changed anything they would make it illegal”
Although I am a pretty political creature, I tend to eschew politics on the Diner blog. The reasons for that are that there is a time and place for everything, and secondly, I share the apparent presupposition of most Diners that electoral politics is a sham and dumb show conducted every four years to keep we muppets amused. With that in mind as background, I proudly ginned up the following segue, citing as additional evidence of mass stupidity the reelection of Terry Sanford in South Carolina this week. South Carolina has been the crazy uncle living in the attic of American politics ever since, oh, say 1859. But it never trotted out its stuff more aggressively than it did this week, and elevating the serial philanderer, trespasser, liar, adulterer, and misuser of state funds to noble office. Proof positive that debating cardboard cutouts of Nancy Pelosi in. the absence of having anything to say for yourself is really all you need to be elected in South Carolina. This person says it best, the unvarnished, unpolished, wholly unedited letter from a mad-as-shit South Carolinian:
Dear Fellow South Carolinians of the First District,
What the fuck are you people thinking? Mark Sanford, really? Way to keep us in the running, as the shitass craziest state of the nation. One more fuck-up like this and we’ll surpass even Florida — home of child killers, cannibals and roach eaters! The “Palmetto State”, my ass. I think the “Facepalm State” is becoming increasingly more accurate here.
I have to hand it to you though–go big or go home, right? On the same ballot where you elected Mark Sanford, that two-timing turd, you also voted–by a majority of 65%, no less–to protect the sanctity of marriage from scary gay people. Why shart quietly when you can shit the whole bed, am I right? The irony is intoxicating and it makes me puke.
We all know that South Carolina is a conservative bastion–no Democrat has won here in 30 years. Elizabeth Colbert Busch had the qualifications, ran a strong campaign and was leading Sanford in the polls late into the campaign. Realizing that Sanford couldn’t beat Colbert Busch, one-on-one, he had to invoke the name of that Satanist Minx, Nancy Pelosi as the straw man to gain traction. And with all of the cognitive skills of Pavlov’s dogs, you clownfuckers fell for it.
Where is the outrage of 1998, when the Clinton administration was nearly tanked over a blow job? And who was leading the charge in the furor against Clinton’s infidelity back then? None other than fucking white Grimace, himself, Newt Gingrich–you know, that other adulterous goat diddler that you elected as Republican presidential nominee last year.
So what gives, South Carolina? Is this insanity a cry for help or is it, more likely, a stunt for more attention? Were we paying too much attention to Mississippi again? You’re like the pretty blonde with the dazzling smile that boils the pet rabbit at the first hint of rejection.
And don’t pretend like this recent spate of cray-cray is a fluke, either. We also have you to thank for Joe “You lie!” Wilson, and racist hypocrite Strom Thurmond who fathered a child with his parents’ 16 year old black housekeeper. “There’s not enough troops in the army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches” But you’re totally down with porking them ain’t ya, eh, Strom?
There is much to love about South Carolina: the food, the gentility of its people, the mellifluous accent, and we can certainly appreciate colorful characters. We dig eccentricity! But hypocrisy is unbecoming, and so is stupidity in the face of facts.
Too bad Congressman-elect Sanford won’t be able to luxuriate in the after-glow of his win. He’ll be tied up in court defending the charge of trespassing onto his ex-wife’s property. I wonder if he’ll repay the state of South Carolina the money he used for his Argentinian booty call. Surely he will because he’s all about “family values” and responsible government spending.
I just snorted mint julep through my nose! You know what, First District? All y’all can kiss my motherfucking ass– that’s right, all y’all ignorant motherfuckers!!
A Formerly Proud South Carolinian
A truly well done rant. Wish I had said that.
As the journalists would say, “add stupidity.” We offer up this article on the overreach of law enforcement. Free Lilly-May Allen!!!
A girl aged ten was told by police that she could be arrested for causing criminal damage – over a game of hopscotch.
Lilly-May Allen was playing with a friend on a grid she had chalked on the pavement in front of her home when a marked police van pulled up.
An officer warned the girls that using chalk on the pavement was criminal damage and they could be arrested for it, before driving off.
But the girls did not understand what they had done wrong and Lilly-May is now reluctant to play outside, according to her father.
After Lilly-May told her parents about the incident, they called the police to clarify the law, but officers refused to confirm whether drawing a hopscotch grid in chalk on the pavement was an offence – even though it washes away in the rain.
The girl’s father, Bob Allen, 51, who runs his own karaoke business, said: ‘The policeman said to her that what she had done was criminal damage and she could be arrested. He then drove off.
‘She didn’t come into the house for a while and didn’t tell us straight away because she thought I was going to tell her off for being naughty.
‘She couldn’t even remember what the policeman had told her it was – only criminal something.’
He added: ‘She is only ten and didn’t know what she had done wrong.
‘I rang up the police and asked if chalking up a hopscotch grid was an offence and they wouldn’t say yes or no and said it was a grey area.
‘I’m angry and upset and if it was against the law then the policeman should have knocked on our door and said something.’
Mr Allen, who lives in a three-bedroom semi-detached home in Ramsgate, Kent, said the incident on Monday had knocked his daughter’s confidence about playing outside.
As as long as we’re piling on the gobshites in what is rapidly becoming the “stupidity” edition of The Week That Was in Doom, let us turn to that gift which keeps on giving, Sen. James Imhofe (R-Saturn):
“The Obama Administration’s cover up of Benghazi is the greatest conspiracy of all time, even greater than the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which happens to be totally true by the way.”
All this in a week where the Heritage Foundation managed to put out a factually laughable report attributing trillions of dollars to the future costs of immigration. The fact that the report was a tissue of bad assumptions lashed together by a proven bigot seemed to be no impediment.
James DeMint resigned from the Senate (as a representative of South Carolina) some months ago — so he could get a big pay raise to be the head of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
What better place to be rewarded with seven-figures at a think tank, when this is your big thought:
DeMint said if someone is openly homosexual, they shouldn’t be teaching in the classroom and he holds the same position on an unmarried woman who’s sleeping with her boyfriend — she shouldn’t be in the classroom.
Naturally as head of the Heritage Foundation, DeMint used his first big project — critiquing immigration reform to keep those big “ideas” flowing.
One of the co-authors of the Heritage Study claming immigration reform would add $6.3 trillion to the deficit, Jason Richwine, advocated barring immigrants from entering the United States based on their IQ in 2009.
Really getting their Confederate Dollars’ worth the Heritage Foundation.
Yesterday I posted about how former Senator, freak, and current Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint managed to put out a factually laughable immigrant bashing report put together in large part by a bigot.
But the bigot, Jason Redwine, is so much, so very much more:
The Heritage Foundation’s Jason Richwine, who co-authored the think tank’s study claiming immigration reform will cost trillions of dollars, contributed two articles to a “nationalist” website about Hispanic incarceration rates, Yahoo News reported Thursday. Richwine came under fire after the Washington Post reported Wednesday that his Harvard dissertation argued Hispanics have lower IQs than Caucasians and that the United States should screen immigrants based on their IQ scores.
Meanwhile in reality, which is NOT a whiter shade of pale:
A record seven-in-ten (69%) Hispanic high school graduates in the class of 2012 enrolled in college that fall, two percentage points higher than the rate (67%) among their white counterparts, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of new data from the U.S. Census Bureau.
Looks like it is time for resign again Jim DeMint.
South Carolina again. Caveat emptor.
In other doom-related news this week, the Center for Food Safety has caught the FDA admitting that chicken meat contains arsenic. Skip the chicken when taking mom to Sunday afternoon dinner for Mother’s Day today.
Attorneys at Center for Food Safety (CFS) filed a lawsuit on behalf of CFS, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and seven other U.S. food safety, agriculture, public health and environmental groups to compel the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to respond to the groups’ three year-old petition which calls for immediate withdrawal of FDA’s approval of arsenic-containing compounds as feed additives for food animals. Filed the same day Consumer Reports released an alarming study on antibiotic resistance in turkey, the lawsuit highlights yet another gaping hole in FDA oversight of animal feed additives.
Arsenic is commonly added to poultry feed for the FDA-approved purposes of inducing faster weight gain on less feed, and creating the perceived appearance of a healthy color in meat from chickens, turkeys and hogs. Yet new studies increasingly link these practices to serious human health problems.
. . .
“FDA leadership is asleep at the switch, if not turning a blind eye to public health,” said David Wallinga, MD, a physician with the IATP. “Seven years ago, IATP blew the whistle on FDA’s indifference to arsenic being needlessly fed to chickens and turkeys. More than a decade ago, we sounded the alarm on how FDA let the routine feeding of drugs to chickens and turkeys help ensure that Americans would eat meat often contaminated with bacteria resistant to multiple antibiotics. We are filing suit because nothing much has changed.”
Some years ago I read a biography of Rasputin, who reportedly dosed himself with arsenic every day as a preventative against assassination. Rasputin was astute enough to realize that his proximity to the Czarina placed him in mortal danger from opportunists in the Czar’s court. In the fullness of time, they did indeed assassinate Rasputin, but he shrugged off the initial doses of poison like after dinner brandy. Disposing of Rasputin required the assassins to shoot him multiple times, wrap him in chains and throw his body into the river. I offer this anecdote in the hopes that regular dosings of arsenic will have a similar salutary effect for those of us who dine regularly at the Doomsday Diner. Bon appetit!
Elsewhere, in a thoughtful and detailed look at the excesses of the FSA Security State, Peter Van Buren writing for Tom dispatch describes appalling detail just how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes with respect to whistleblowers. A truly Kafkaesque tale.
Robert MacLean is a former air marshal fired for an act of whistle-blowing. He has continued to fight over seven long years for what once would have passed as simple justice: getting his job back. His is an all-too-twenty-first-century story of the extraordinary lengths to which the U.S. government is willing to go to thwart whistle-blowers.
First, the government retroactively classified a previously unclassified text message to justify firing MacLean. Then it invoked arcane civil service procedures, including an “interlocutory appeal” to thwart him and, in the process, enjoyed the approval of various courts and bureaucratic boards apparently willing to stamp as “legal” anything the government could make up in its own interest.
And yet here’s the miracle at the heart of this tale: MacLean refused to quit, when ordinary mortals would have thrown in the towel. Now, with a recent semi-victory, he may not only have given himself a shot at getting his old job back, but also create a precedent for future federal whistle-blowers. In the post-9/11 world, people like Robert MacLean show us how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes.
The Whistle Is Blown
MacLean joined the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) in 2001 after stints with the Air Force and the Border Patrol. In July 2003, all marshals received a briefing about a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), which oversees FAMS, sent an unencrypted, open-air text message to the cell phones of the marshals cancelling several months of missions for cost-cutting reasons. MacLean became concerned that cancelling missions during a hijacking alert might create a dangerous situation for the flying public. He complained to his supervisor and to the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general, but each responded that nothing could be done.
It was then that he decided to blow the whistle, hoping that public pressure might force the TSA to reinstate the marshals’ flights. So MacLean talked to a reporter, who broadcast a story criticizing the TSA’s decision and, after 11 members of Congress joined in the criticism, it reversed itself. At this point, MacLean had not been identified as the source of the leak and so carried on with his job.
A year later, he appeared on TV in disguise, criticizing the TSA dress code and its special boarding policies, which he believed allowed marshals to be easily identified by other passengers. This time, the TSA recognized his voice and began an investigation that revealed he had also released the 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006. Although the agency had not labeled that message as “sensitive security information” (SSI) when it was sent in 2003, in August 2006, months after MacLean’s firing, it issued a retroactive order stating that the text’s content was indeed SSI.
A Whistleblower’s Catch-22
That disclosing the contents of an unclassified message could get someone fired for disclosing classified information is the sort of topsy-turvy situation which could only exist in the post-9/11 world of the American national security state.
The full story will reward the reader. Suffice it to say that at the same time Guantanamo now holds “86 prisoners who have been carefully vetted by the U.S. military, the FBI, the CIA, and so on, and found to have done nothing for which they could be charged or should be imprisoned and who have been cleared for release– there is no place to release them to, especially since the majority of them are Yemenis and President Obama has imposed a moratorium on transferring any prisoner to Yemen.”
Thus indefinite detention, which is constitutionally prohibited, and which should properly be anathema to the American justice system, is the legal legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren. That relatively few Americans are aware of or care about this should be startling. “No charges, no trials, but never getting out of prison: that would once have been associated with the practices of a totalitarian state.”
“At the same time no one, not George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, or other top officials involved in setting up such a global system of injustice, sweeping up the innocent with the guilty, and subjecting them to horrors without end (including now force-feeding) will ever be brought to justice in an American court, nor will anyone involved in the system of rendition, torture, or abuse.” The Obama legacy will be that of having institutionalized the worst anti-constitutional excesses of the Bush years, and having sold them with a charming, intelligent brown face. Had John McCain as President tried to do the same thing, liberals and fellow travelers would have stopped this country in its tracks. In 2008 people went to the ballot box to elect Obama as a repudiation of the Cheney-Bush regime. Upon leaving offoce Obama will not only have institutionalized the incursions of the Bill of Rights to which we most objected, but also having insured that no accountability will ever be visited upon the neocons who let us into a pointless, illegal, and immoral war.
And then Carl Herman, or whoever posts things up over at the estimable Washington’s Blog, wraps it all up in a ball for us in a post sure to appeal to doomers of all stripes with Why America Fell So Far … So Fast.
All Empires Crash Soon After They Reach Their Peak
Thomas Jefferson said, “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” And because I love my country, I frequently criticize America’s shortcomings in the hopes of making her better.
But the truth is that the United States is not unusual … it is just like all other empires which have hit their peak and then quickly crashed.
. . .
The indications are always the same:
- The financialization of the economy, moving from manufacturing to speculation;
- Very high levels of debt;
- Extreme economic inequality;
– And costly military overreaching.
. . .
PhD economist MarcFaber states:
How [am I] so sure about this final collapse?
Of all the questions I have about the future, this is the easiest one to answer. Once a society becomes successful it becomes arrogant, righteous, overconfident, corrupt, and decadent … overspends … costly wars … wealth inequity and social tensions increase; and society enters a secular decline.
[Quoting 18th century Scottish historian Alexander Fraser Tytler:] The average life span of the world’s greatest civilizations has been 200 years progressing from “bondage to spiritual faith … to great courage … to liberty … to abundance … to selfishness … to complacency … to apathy … to dependence and … back into bondage”
[Where is America in the cycle?] It is most unlikely that Western societies, and especially the U.S., will be an exception to this typical “society cycle.” … The U.S. is somewhere between the phase where it moves “from complacency to apathy” and “from apathy to dependence.”
In other words, America’s rapid fall is not really that novel after all.
This article also cites Jared Diamond’s excellent book “Collapse”, whose conclusions I will not discuss here, is that will be the subject of another post that I had been planning for quite some time. The article over on Washington’s blog is quite good. Don’t miss it.
Closer to home, Tamerlan Tsarniev has reportedly been interred at a burial site in a Muslim cemetery outside of Richmond Virginia. You might well think the dead are dead, let them rest in peace, whatever their transgressions in this life.
The Virginia woman whose actions led to Boston Marathon bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev being buried about 30 miles north of her Richmond home said the angry backlash from local officials, some cemetery neighbors and online critics has been unpleasant, but she has no regrets.
“I can’t pretend it’s not difficult to be reviled and maligned,” Martha Mullen told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. “But any time you can reach across the divide and work with people that are not like you, that’s what God calls us to do.”
Some of my neighbors think otherwise. A so-called “friend” opened up a thread on his Facebook page in criticism that allowed the butt-picking-finger-sniffing contingent to reveal its howling id. Stunning. As HL Mencken once observed, “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” The reflexive hysteria even manifests itself on the local Craigslist site. I found myself yesterday shopping for an old beater truck, which I could use to haul mulch for Contrary. Under the “rants and raves” section I found these offerings from my esteemed fellow citizens:
- That piece of shit deserves to be dug up and tossed in a trash pile like every other man, woman, and child that worships islam
- Now that we know he’s buried so close to here (a 2 hour drive), I know what I will do. I’m gonna eat me a big slab of pork baby back ribs and a laxative. Then I’m gonna drive up there, drop my pants and shit my bowels on his grave.
- people they brought that pig shit that bombed Boston to Virginia and secretly buried him on OUR SOIL!!!!!!!!
I say we start a petition to have him and every other muslim UNBURIED and thrown in the trash dump of any state EXCEPT Virginia
Muslims are pissed cause he wasn’t buried in the place he died in? fuck islam, fuck muslims, I’m pissed cause that pig shit is buried here in Va.
- its our new slogan Welcome to Virginia where we will handle other states garbage
All above (sic).
In closing, I offer you this piece of wisdom: never think it can’t get worse. It can, and will. Your neighbors will insist.
Off the keyboard of RE
Published on Reverse Engineering January 2011
Discuss this article at the Frosbite Falls Insider Table Inside the Diner
I didn’t really cover Suicide in much detail in Part I, because it didn’t really fit the definition of the type of Death I was looking at, which was Death unwillingly forced on one person by another. However, if you look at the type of suicide you are talking about which is actually caused as a reaction to the behavior of others, kind of a deprivation of Spiritual Resources if you will, then it does fit the definition, so it should have been included. I’ll make an addendum to the post here to cover this.
When you say “take me out first” rather than last and reference the Donner Party, I am looking at that as a form of Suicide rather than Murder, since you basically are giving up your life without a fight, even though the actual taking of your life might come at the hand of another. You are “voluntarily” quitting the game, so to speak. In the case of the Donner Party, at least according to the legend anyhow, your self-sacrifice also is going to physically help feed the remaining members of the party via Cannibalism.
I put “voluntary” in quotations because its only voluntary in the sense that given the parameters you are faced with, you would choose death rather than live in a world of Wolf Packs and become one of the Wolves. However, the fact that the world did become that way forces you to make this choice on a philosophical level, so its not truly voluntary.
In point of fact, many people are already taking the Suicide Option Out. I’m not going to try to Google them all up, but in the last 3 years I have read stories about increasing Seppuku over in Japan around some traditional Mountain where people go to Walk themselves into the Great Beyond, and quite recently a story about increasing Suicide among FSofA War Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan Theatres. Add to that the occasional individual suicide which has some facet that attracts the MSM to report it, like the Tunisian fellow who sparked the riots and collapsed Da Goobermint by Self-Immolation when his Fruit Stand was confiscated because he didn’t have a Goobermint Permit.
Suicide Bombers and Postals fall into a slightly different category, since in the course of quitting the game such a person takes a few others with him into the Great Beyond. So here you are both voluntarily ending your own life while also engaging in involuntarily ending the lives of some other folks. That puts you more in the Lone Wolf category. At least in this country so far, the Lone Wolves are still pretty rare, and individual Suicides are more common. However, over in the Middle East, Suicide Bombings occur on such a regular basis these days they may be approaching the numbers of individual Suicides in those countries. Hard to say since you never get any kind of valid statistics on any of these things, you just have to extrapolate based on anecdotal stories and consider what is likely to occur in such environments.
Another type of event is the Mass Suicide, which recently was reported over in India as many small farmers (the number exceeded 10,000 as I recall) facing ruin from debt problems committed suicide, I think that was in 2009. Going back to a prior era when there were vast problems in the society, you had Jim Jones Walking a whole bunch of his followers into the Great Beyond via Mass Suicide, and I would not be at all surprised to see a similar Cult Mass Suicide occur here as we spin down further, in fact I will be surprised if such a scenario does not occur.
The result here is that the “take me first” personal solution is bound to increase amongst those people who neither wish to fight nor have the means by which to further support themselves. This happens even among people who thought they had the means, when they lose all they had suddenly as a result of being defrauded or in a stock market crash, etc. That is the Falling Stockbrokers Syndrome. I catalogued a few of those back on Peak Oil back in 2008, a German Banker and an heir to a fortune pre-dating the French Revolution among them. Over here, there was a corporate executive in VA who either committed suicide or was offed by a squad of cleaners, and there was another Oil Sheik whose Glider mysteriously crashed. You always have to view some of those “suicides” with a jaundiced eye, because they might be clandestine murders.
Is Suicide a more Moral Choice than becoming a Wolf? I think that depends on the situation. In a hopeless situation where there are no external enemies to fight such as was the case for the Donner Party, Suicide is clearly the more moral choice than taking the life of another unwillingly in the party so that you yourself could live. However, in a case where your Tribe (at minimum Loved Ones, Family and Friends) might be Saved by taking the fight to the Enemy rather than committing Suicide, becoming a Wolf is the more Moral choice. If you succeed in doing that and give up your life to save loved ones and they do survive, you go out as a HERO. Everlasting Glory in the Kingdom of Heaven is your reward for that one.
For most people here in the Fascist States ofAmerica, most of us as of yet are not really faced with the same kind of deprivation and choices that folks in the Middle East are making on a daily basis. However, increasing numbers of people here are falling off the economic cliff as their 99 Week UE bennies expire, and while they might be able to survive on a SNAP Card in a Homeless Shelter, Suicide might seem to them a better choice than becoming a member of the Free Shit Army. This is a good question to ask yourself about what you would do if you lost everything and your only choices were to commit Suicide, become a Lone Wolf or accept Goobermint Aid and become a member of the Free Shit Army? I wonder how many people here would answer that question Honestly?
For myself, as long as it is functioning, my choice would be to become a member of the FSA. I don’t see a need to commit Suicide when there is still really plenty of food to go round here in the FSofA, and I don’t see the point in fighting an unwinnable battle as a Lone Wolf as long as the Conduits are still functioning, which they must be for SNAP cards to still be available. In my community, it would have to go even further, to the point I could not fish up enough to survive, or find some means to trade for what we harvest up here for my sustenance. Only at that point, once all other means have been exhausted would I make the choice between Suicide or becoming either a Pack Wolf or a Lone Wolf. I don’t know which one of those I would choose, its such an extreme situation that I do not know what my mind set would be at that point. To know what you would do when you have reached the End of your Rope, you really have to BE at the end of your rope.
In any event, like all the other forms of DEATH we are faced with here like Abortion, War and Starvation, Suicide is yet another one that will increase in its frequency during the spin down, regardless of whether we think suicide is a moral choice or not. In some Religious belief, Suicide is a Mortal Sin, and under no circumstances should you do it as it would condemn your Soul to Everlasting Damnation Burning in the Fires of Hell. I do not subscribe to that idea. In certain situations, Suicide is a very valid choice, and in those situations if you choose it, you will not be Damned, you will go to Everlasting Glory in the Kingdom of Heaven.
See You on the Other Side.
Follow Up Response to Stuck in New Jersey in this thread:
Stuck, on one keyboard hand you argue that I am advocating for a return to the Garden of Eden, but then on the other keyboard hand you argue that I advocate for a system which legitimizes Murder, which clearly is not Garden of Eden living. So which one is it here? You cannot argue both at the same time.
In my response to OS, I covered some of the inherent conflicts that come from Suicide in a resource constrained environment. Essentially, some people are FORCED into committing suicide, so you can turn this around and say that they did not truly commit Suicide, but were in fact Murdered by the society around them. Who do you pin the Murder on though? The entire population still alive after the person offs himself?
Tribal living in a resource constrained environment is clearly NOT the Garden of Eden. In fact it is quite a tough environment overall, but for the most part a more fair system with a more equitable distribution of power. People will still be people, there will still be arguments, there will still be violence. These things will not disappear, so it is not the Garden of Eden.
The two most difficult Moral Questions to resolve in this type of system come at the beginning and end stages of life. At the beginning stage of life, the Death comes from Abortion and/or Exposure. At the end stage of life, the Death comes from Suicide or Exposure also. Just like infants are sometimes left on a mountaintop to die and be consumed by Wolves, so also will the tribe sometimes pack up in the middle of the night and leave behind sleeping one of their Elderly members who slows them down on the trail and no longer can contribute hunting or gathering. Given I accept both of these as inevitable consequences of living in a resource constrained environment, I hardly see how you can argue that I am either “sugar coating” this or advocating for a return to the Garden of Eden. I am doing neither.
My hope would be that after a period of time passes and the population gets knocked down to whatever minima the resource constraints demand, the environment will begin to heal, there will be fewer resource constraints, and then the population begins to grow again. At this point the two most difficult Moral Questions of Infanticide and Elderly Suicide can be removed from the mix, to be substituted for by more careful reproductive control of some form, and not allowing the growth of the population to exceed the growth of the resource base on a Pay-as-you-Go basis. Given where we are at NOW however, with a population well into Overshoot resulting from the exploitation of the one-time “Gift” of the Thermodynamic Energy of Fossil Fuels and the fact that those fuels are in a depleting state relative to the size of the population, we are a long ways away from being able to convert to such a relatively benign form of maintaining a steady state population in balance with the available resources. This is why I
maintain that we will not get from here to there without a considerable amount of pain.
We will likely never be returning to the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden came some 70,000 years ago for the 10,000 Human Souls or 1000 Breeding Pairs that survived the cataclysmic bottleneck of the population of Homo Sapiens in the aftermath of the Toba Supervolcanic Eruption. Once the atmosphere cleared and the environment surrounding them healed itself, that Tribe had the entire surface of the Earth to expand onto, to “Go Forth and Multiply”, and they sure did that, to the tune of around 6.3B people living here now. There were no wars then, because if you were dissatisfied in your community and sought Freedom you could just walk a few miles to the next valley over and start your own little community. Then do it again, and again and again, until all these communities started bumping up against each other with nowhere left to go for the Freedom Seekers. The Garden of Eden lasted for quite some time, to around 5000 years ago when Agriculture began to suck resource out of the land faster than it could be replenished. Then of course and right up until today, all HELL broke loose with the endless War of the Haves and the Have Nots.
The general paradigm of Warfare amongst conflicting Tribes and incipient Civilizations developing from Agriculture began 5000 years ago as most of the surface of the Earth was populated by Homo Sapiens, but the End for Freedom Seekers did not come really until about 1000 years ago, when a few Polynesian Navigators plying the Pacific Ocean in Sail Rigged Canoes came upon the Big Island of Hawaii. That was the very LAST vestige of the Garden of Eden, a place with sufficient food resources devoid of any prior population of Homo Sapiens living there that had to be displaced by Warfare. Once that last space was taken up, the last 1000 years has been all about consolidation and one group of people becoming powerful enough to displace another group of people. Accessing the thermodynamic energy of fossil fuels gave one set of people vast advantage, and asymmetry developed in the aftermath of that. Industrial living VERY quickly became the only way to live anywhere, it really only took 200 or so years for this paradigm to overrun the earth. About ALL Hunter Gatherers disappeared through this period, and Agriculture itself became Industrialized. Thing is here, once the Fossil Fuels are unavailable, this 200 year experiment in Industrial Civilization will collapse in a Heartbeat in the grand scheme of 70,000 years since the Garden of Eden. It will not even take a Century for this collapse to occur. That is about 0.3% of the entire timeline since the Toba Bottleneck.
To return to the Garden of Eden, we literally would have to shrink back down in population size to 10,000 Human Souls and give Gaia 10,000 years to heal herself, and even I do not project that as likely. In the absence of a cataclysm on the order of Toba, Natural or Man Made, I do not see it likely that even with a massive Undershoot of population we would shrink down past 100M or so. There will be remaining tribes everywhere there is sufficient water and arable land or access to a fecund fishery. Those tribes will bump up against each other and there will be border wars. There will be no place for Freedom Seekers to go that both provide enough food in the environment and also are vacant of people. It is how those populations steward their environment and the principles upon which they base their community which will determine how Just they are and how successful. I maintain that the best means of doing that is to base the economy on Giving rather than Taking.
On the question of how you prevent those nasty Human Traits like Greed and Avarice from taking root and flourishing, the answer is Education. In childhood, these traits manifest themselves in children all the time. 3 year olds will grab a toy from another and say “MINE!”. Do not allow that behavior, Punish it quickly, it does not take much when a child is 3 years old to punish such behavior. Reward the child for Sharing and being generous. Do not reward Adults for Greedy behaviors, because children witness this and inculcate it into their developing brains as the way to be. Punish adults who take more than they need, Shun them to begin, if they don’t learn the lesson, Hang ’em High. Certainly do not put them up on a Pedestal on the pages of People Magazine or Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. You will never entirely wipe Greed out of course, but you can Squash it down through the Culture and the Education of children. This is a cultural decision it is within our power to make.
In our lifetimes, and in the lifetimes of generations yet unborn, it will not be possible to escape the consequences of Overshoot, and the pain that is to come as the population must shrink in size to come back into Balance with what Nature provides on a Pay-as-you-Go basis. The tough Moral Questions of Abortion, Suicide, Murder and War will all be a part of our collective lives. Death comes in many ways, and the Grim Reaper will have the Greatest Harvest of all time in this go round. Your only choices in this revolve around where you will park your butt and whether you will be a Sheeple or a Wolf when the Big Show Comes to a Theatre Near You. If you Run Away NOW, run away FAR, you might avoid the worst of these choices for the rest of your natural life. I am as far out as you can GET and still have a connection to the Internet. I HOPE to live out what is left of my life in relative Peace, but as it stands at the moment, unless I die relatively quickly, the Big Show will Come to my Theatre and force me to make my choice. I do not know right now what that choice will be, Suicide, Lone Wolf or Pack Wolf? I won’t go to the Great Beyond as a Sheeple though. I won’t know the answer to this question until I am at the End of my Rope, and I am not there yet.
Come the Horsemen.
See You on the Other Side.
Off the keyboard of RE
Published on Reverse Engineering on January 22, 2011
Discuss this article at the Frosbite Falls Insider Table inside the Diner
Note from RE: Another series of articles from the archives of Reverse Engineering. In this series I look at DEATH as it has played out historically, and how it might play itself out again in a Neo-Tribal post-collapse paradignm. I take an unexpurgated look at taboo subjects like Infanticide, Suicide and Postal Mass Murders. IOW, not an article for the Squeamish. Part II will be posted on the Blog as well, the rest will appear in the Frostbite Falls Insider members Only board inside the Diner, along with all discussion of this series.
Tonight’s subject is DEATH. I am not talking nice Peaceful Death quietly in your own bed at night from Old Age, nor even more wilful forms of hastening your own death through Suicide or just bad habits like Smoking, Drinking or doing Drugs. Nor even death that comes from the vicissitudes of Nature, such as an Earthquake bringing the roof of your hut down on your head or naturally occurring diseases that run around the environment and periodically take out large numbers of the population. No, the type of DEATH that I am going to address here is the WILLFULLY CAUSED DEATH of OTHERS. This includes Death caused by War directly, Death caused by Abortion directly, and Death caused indirectly by controlling and making scarce the resources other people need to live. All these subjects have been topics of heated debate here lately, so I thought I would bring them all together and put in my usual 3000 word opinion on the disk. It is sure to be a highly popular opinion. NOT! Actually, this one may make the Top 10 of All Time Most HATED RE Posts, which is saying a lot for me Or it could be one of the Top 10 All Time Most LOVED RE Posts among some readers. Either way I am pretty sure the reactions will be extreme to one side or the other.
For all these forms of Death creation mentioned above, they get nearly universal opprobrium. The Moral Group Think tends to be that War is Evil, Abortion is Evil and Starving People is Evil. In the situation where there really is enough resource to go round, all these Death Creation mechanisms ARE Evil, but once resources are thin for the Population as a whole, any one of them can be less Evil than the alternative.
The simple example would be the case of the Small Tribe barely ekeing out an existence. There is only enough resource for say 10 people to live. A woman in the tribe gets pregnant. What are your REAL choices? One choice would be to Abort the child. Then you will not have another mouth to feed. Another choice would be to allow the child to be born, and ask or have “volunteer” an Elderly person in the tribe to Walk into the Great Beyond. Take that last Kayak trip out to Sea, give himself up to the Bear, climb to the top of Denali and Freeze to Death, whatever the choice. Given a Healthy Infant, the better choice is probably for the elderly person to Die, but of course until Born and demonstrating healthy and robust traits, you just don’t know if that life is more worthwhile for the survival of the Tribe than the Elderly person, who might still have a few good years left to pass on some knowledge. In this kind of scenario, you have to consider Exposure as another alternative instead of Abortion. Allow the child to be born, see how robust that child is, and if not sufficiently robust expose it on a mountaintop and leave it for the wolves. These ARE the kinds of choices that had to be made in the past, and all of you come from people who made those choices. As I see it, these choices are coming again to Homo Sapiens. They won’t be taken on willingly or easily, but they WILL happen.
Moral questions which are paramount in times of Surplus do not have the same meaning as they do in times of Deprivation. When the PURE SURVIVAL of the Tribe is in question, life or death of the individual is subsidiary to the survival of the TRIBE, which is the smallest economic unit possible for Homo Sapiens. We are Pack Animals basically, like Wolves that run in small groups. The transition to Agriculture socially changed most of us more to Herd animals like Sheep, though Packs of Wolves still move about among the Sheeple in our society. It’s the juxtaposition of these two basic forms of living among mammals in one species that is at the root of our social dilemma.
As we move forward through the Collapse of our society these two basic forms of mammalian social behavior will assert themselves, and for the most part the Sheeple will be slaughtered by the Wolves. Difference from the rest of Nature is that at any point Sheeple can BECOME Wolves, we aren’t specifically determined by nature to be one or the other as REAL Sheep and Wolves are, it is socially inculcated behavior in our case. Homo Sapiens “sheeple” DO become “wolves” when the society devolves. Gangs form up of former Sheeple, and the deep nature of Homo Sapiens as a Pack Animal reasserts itself. A Failed State like Somalia turns into a bunch of Pack Animal Pirates; a Failed State like Mexico turns into a bunch of Pack Animal Drug Cartels, a bunch of Towel Head farmers in Afghanistan turn into Al-Quaeda Terrorists, etc. In none of these cases do these folks hold onto the same kinds of Moral Restrictions that Sheeple do. Nor of course do the top of the food chain Wolves of Banksters hold onto the same set of moral restrictions or laws that their prey among the Sheeple do.
As a Sheeple, at any point you can become a Wolf. Some are already becoming Lone Wolves. Joe Stack was a Lone Wolf, so was Jared. Lone Wolves don’t last long, but Pack Wolves do, as long as there are Sheeple around to prey on. You have 3 basic choices, which are to be one of the Sheeple, to be a Lone Wolf, or to be a part of a Pack of Wolves. Only one of those 3 choices will allow your survival.
Once you revert to Tribes of Pack Animals, the same type of moral dilemmas that are faced by Sheeple in War are not relevant. It no longer is a question of Wolves slaughtering Sheep, but of Wolves fighting with Wolves. This is the stage we are moving into here now. For a long time it has been Sheep being slaughtered, but now the Sheep are starting to Pack Up and become Wolves, at least in places like Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Mexico.
Once you understand that your only REAL choice is whether to get slaughtered as Sheeple or become a Wolf yourself, if you want to LIVE then you become a Wolf. I am reminded here of that scene in Terminator II where Arnold reaches out his hand and says to Linda Hamilton “Come with me if you want to LIVE!”. You are in a fight for survival, and you have to Pack Up with some other wolves to have any chance at all. Once you do, you TAKE NO PRISONERS.
The Wars we are pursuing in Afghanistan and Iraq are a manifestation of this phenomenon on the aggregate level of the Nation State. As a Culture, it is Kill or Be Killed between our society and the one controlling the resource of Oil that we need as a culture to survive. Morality isn’t a question in this war, as long as it is perceived that we MUST have OIL to survive. ANYTHING goes. Killing civilian children is nothing more really than exposing them on a mountain top because your society needs the resources those children would use, just it is done on a mass scale as is the nature of war in the industrial era. From this point of view, its not morally wrong, and that would be the Bryzhinski/Kissinger/Cheney model of morality. It’s just a Geopolitical Chess Game.
Where the Moral Flaw really exists is in the inequity of power distribution between the Packs of Wolves. In fact it’s not so much a moral flaw or problem as it is one of homoeostasis. When there is relatively equal power distribution between packs of wolves, they tend to kill each other off in equal numbers when fighting over a given territory. When one group of wolves comes up with Industrialization, the whole power distribution setup goes out of whack and the Wars are not even in casualties. I remember those Numbers from Vietnam that used to be published each night on the Network TV Newz programs. 2000 Vietcong DEAD, 20 US Marines Dead. No Balance there, and so the whole shebang goes out of Homoeostasis.
This is why the pictures JimQ puts up of Dead and Mutilated Children are so disturbing, because people sense the inherent inequity here in the battle. A Big High Tech War Machine going in and Dropping Death from Above on a bunch of simple Villagers in Afghanistan is not a very fair fight. Same bizness in Vietnam. Who was not disturbed by the image in Platoon of the grunts torching the little Vietnamese Village, which of course was the cinematic version of the Me Lai Massacre? No matter how you feel about Commies or Towel Heads, your basic sense of fairness makes such slaughter seem quite immoral, which of course it is in this situation.
Its not the same moral dilemma when a couple of relatively evenly matched Tribes decide to Duke it Out over a Watering Hole. In this case one of them might sneak up in the middle of the night on the other one, and kill off everyone from the opposing tribe, women and children included, although more often just the men are killed and the women and children are taken as slaves. While this is a rather gruesome process, its not inherently unfair and doesn’t have the same kind of moral stink about it.
Abortion has similar inequities in the modern world, because it is inequitably distributed among the poor. Like Military Power, Economic power is inequitably distributed here, so MOST of the growing organisms being vacuumed up from mommy’s tummy are of course the potential progeny of poor people, likely to be poor themselves and in a social welfare state members of the dependent class, respectfully referred to on the pages of TBP as the Free Shit Army. LOL.
All sorts of Eugenics arguments have been put forth to justify this type of inequitable distribution of abortion, which basically comes from the faulty assumption that because people are poor, they also are Feeble Minded. This is much more likely to be the EFFECT of being poor rather than the CAUSE of it. Poor diet, poor educational opportunities and a poor nurturing environment is a more likely culprit than genetic differences for creating feeble minded people in this demographic. In any event, George Bush is living PROOF that rich people can be just as Feeble Minded as any Poor Person. LOL.
In our current Global society, in truth there is still quite a bit of surplus, and if a means could be found for equitable distribution of the remaining resources, neither Abortion nor War would be necessary. Unfortunately for a whole host of reasons setting up an economic system which can do such a job of equitable distribution is an exceedingly difficult problem, one which has never been solved for large societies at the Nation State level. It probably is an insoluble problem at this level, which means that both War and Abortion are inevitable, along with the slower form of death distribution of the powerful over the less powerful, which is resource starvation.
The main mitigating factor here is that due to the deterioration of complex systems, which I call the Conduits, power distribution is going to be levelled as these Conduits fail. As that happens, more of the Sheeple all over the world will morph into Wolves. Its going to become a fight of Pack Animals against each other with more or less the same tools for making that fight once the Oil resource drops below a critical mass. We are still a ways away from that though, so in the initial stages here of this spin down there will be a lot of very unfair fights and asymmetric types of warfare engaged in. Techno War simply breeds more Terrorists, because you cannot fight a Drone Aircraft with Guided Missiles with Homemade Bombs. So you have to carry the homemade bombs to hotels and buses and marketplaces where the people who are supporting the Techno Army are engaged in their daily toils, bringing the War to their shores and their lives. This type of asymmetric battle is in full flower in the Middle East already, and of course, its Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You also. It already has in small scale with events like Joe Stack and Jared, along with numerous College Campus Postals over the last couple of years.
In the great Moral Question here of whether any of this Death is necessary, the fault mainly lies in the fact that there is inequitable power and wealth distribution, and so those who support continuation of such inequity are most at fault, and so most morally corrupt. However, people immersed in a society dependent on the automobile and industrialization don’t see that as corruption, and they aren’t willing to give it up either. It “enhances” their lives. It will only be given up when it is no longer possible to run the War Machine which makes such an asymmetry possible. No individual can fight this, it’s a pointless and unwinnable battle. This is why the Back to the Land Hippy movement of the 1960s and 1970s failed to gain traction. Only when the Conduits truly FAIL will it be possible to fight and WIN this battle, and that day is coming, if not in this generation then almost certainly in the next one.
So, for the foreseeable future, for the rest of your natural life walking the earth, what you can expect to see are many more revoltingly immoral applications of Death by the Powerful on the Less Powerful, punctuated by instances of equally revolting Terrorist bombings of Malls, Train Stations and of course inevitably Elementary Schools or Day Care Centers by the Less Powerful on the Powerful. Besides the gruesome Abortion Mills, there will be more instances of newborns left in garbage bags in dumpsters. Neil Young wrote about this back as far as 1980 in “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”
For myself, I see what is coming down the pipe here, and I report what I see. I don’t like the immoral wars of the powerful on the less powerful when in truth there is still plenty to go round. I don’t like the many dead babies that poverty creates in a world where there is still plenty. To be sure, real deprivation is coming when the Oil resource can no longer keep the Industrial Ag model producing copious amounts of food, but that day is not here YET. Right NOW, the reason people are Starving in Tunisia is because of poor wealth distribution and financial speculation in the Commodities market by people seeking to make a Profit on the misery of others. This is immoral and unjust, but it is an effect of Capitalism, where resources are privatized and artificial scarcity is induced to sieve wealth from one group of people to another. This is why I am so vehemently anti-Capitalist and find the whole system to be unjust and immoral. As someone who believes in Justice, I support the idea of Punishment and Retribution, and I understand why Marie Antoinette’s head went rolling like a Bowling Ball out in front of the Bastille. She was GUILTY, and she deserved what she got, as all people do who live in luxury while others starve.
Nobody should be forced to give away EVERYTHING they ever worked for, but there is a limit to what any individual really needs to keep for himself for some safety and security In any society, having a couple of years worth of food is a prudent measure and not unreasonable for an individual. In our economics here in Amerika, I wouldn’t even begrudge someone who had $100K worth of Gold Coins in his basement safe that measure of security. More than this though here in Amerika? To me sequestering that much wealth is socially destabilizing, and besides that you are likely to lose most if not all of it anyhow when the fiat goes south and most paper assets like stocks and bonds lose their monetary value. Better to give it away and help some friends and family who are hurting while the money is still good for something. That is what I have done. Nobody, not even Bill Gates can Save them ALL. You are also free to choose exactly WHO you would like to Save here, and most of us will choose Friends and Family rather than Strangers. Only AFTER you have helped all your friends and family and your own life is reasonably secured if you STILL have surplus does Noblesse Oblige come into play. It behooves you then to help Strangers also, because doing so will stabilize the society as a whole. If all people lived by these principles, then the Wars and the Abortions could be postponed, and the necessary die off could be spread out over a generation or more. Not gonna happen of course, but because it IS in theory possible, it makes the other choice of hoarding the wealth to be immoral.
To be truly Just, a Society must be based on GIVING rather than TAKING. This is possible, though only demonstrated in much smaller societies than those we have developed at the Nation State level over the last 5000 years. This is why some folks will maintain “It has ALWAYS been like this, and it ALWAYS will be like this.” Not true. Potlatch WAS a viable system, and it will be again, though likely not at population levels and with social structures we currently have extant. That is a failure of the complex system model more than anything else, not a failure of inherent human corruption. It will take the utter and complete destruction of this complex system for the inherent traits of Generosity of Spirit and Giving and Cooperation to once again reassert themselves as the governing behaviors in human society. That this destruction will involve pain beyond all measure is without question. Those who do survive this though must remember what CAUSED it, and never permit this Evil to spread again amongst the race of Homo Sapiens. The Greedy must be Exterminated with Extreme Predjudice. Bring in the Orkin Man, Exterminate the Cockroaches. With a Clean Kitchen, we can cook up a Better Tomorrow.
Off the keyboard of RE
Published Originally on Reverse Engineering on October 31, 2011
Discuss this article at the Frostbite Falls Daily Rant inside the Diner
Note from RE: Inside the Diner, the Hot Topic of the Day is the Foxstead Project, an “IRL” versionsome of the dedicated Diners are pursuing to find a WAY OUT of the Matrix, a bit of FREEDOM in a World where this commodity reached its PEAK long ago, long before Peak Oil became an issue.
Diners are not the First Freedom Seekers, nor do I suspect we will be the last. Here in this article, I took a look at some Freedom Seekers from a Mullenia ago, amongst the last to find true FREEDOM on the Earth.
Those of you who have read my posting for a while know I like the Sail paradigm, some of you may have even read some of my paeans to the Polynesians who first colonized the Big Island of Hawaii around 1000 AD. This was a remarkable accomplishment for a Stone Age culture. They learned to navigate the High Seas without instruments even as rudimentary as a Sextant. They did it in Boats they built with Stone Tools. The culture that colonized Hawaii was the same one that colonized New Zealand, the Society Islands, the Marquesas Islands and Rapa Nui (Easter Island). All these folks were able to understand their languages, though they were not precisely the same over time. They did not just make the trip Once by Luck; they made these trips many times over the centuries.
Much of this seems near Miraculous to me. I’ve done a decent amount of woodworking, but most of it with Power Tools. Even the Hand Tools I used were all made of Metal, and the wood I worked with milled already into easily usable planks and 2x4s. Putting it together, I have metal screws and a variety of bonding materials, all courtesy of the chemical plants DuPont runs. How these folks managed to take raw trees and cut them up into planks with stone tools, then bore holes into them with Bone Awls and sew them together with sinew and then waterproof the whole bizness is beyond me. Yet of course they did manage it, the evidence is quite overwhelming that they did.
All the while these folks were engaged in this task, Europe was in the middle of the Dark Ages, Vlad the Impaler was running roughshod over Transylvania and the Vikings were raiding coastal towns and Monasteries from the North Sea right down to Portugal.
So in my mind’s eye, I tend to see the Polynesians of 1000AD having it far better than their counterparts over in Europe, but did they really? What was driving the Polynesians to make these long voyages fraught with danger? Answer would be two things, need for expansion with growing population and the search for FREEDOM.
Hawaii when it finally did get colonized eventually became a Monarchy of sorts, besides that a terrifically Inbred one. Brothers married Sisters, that sort of thing. By the time Cook arrived in the 1500s, the stratification of Hawaiian culture was pretty complete.
The tendency of ALL cultures of Homo Sapiens is to become stratified over time with Haves and Have Not’s, I suspect this was even true of the Native cultures of the Pacific Northwest which engaged in Potlatch. If you don’t get born into the right family in the right circumstances, you’re not “born equal”. About the only time “all men are created equal” is right at the BEGINNING of any cultural
development and expansion, the beginning of the Ponzi so to speak.
In NO society of Homo Sapiens, and none really that I can think of in the Mammalian Kingdom is there not stratification of some sort, Alpha Males getting all the Reproductive Rights, that sort of thing. it seems from the biological and sociological evidence that a truly egalitarian system is not possible to run. Hell, even on the Insect level you have your “Queen Bees” and “Worker Bees”.
This is in essence the battle being waged now by the 99%, which is to overthrow the stratification in this society because it has become too onerous and not beneficial to the community at large. However, even if successful in overthrowing TPTB, they are likely to create the very same kind of stratified system all over again, as it seems to be biologically determinate. You can’t really have an egalitarian system except at the very smallest level, and even then for only short period of time until the society grows and matures in its structures.
One would think living on limited size islands for decades if not centuries, the people living there would have grasped the concept that their population size had to be limited. Also you wonder just why the vast majority of people would accept Inbred Kings and Queens as their Rulers and provide for them a very good standard of living relative to the population as a whole, JUST because they were “Born to Rule”? My only answer to this is it must in some way be hard wired into the DNA of all Animals and Insects, though it does not seem to be true for Plants.
So the real CHALLENGE for Homo Sapiens in this iteration of the cycle seems to be the need to develop a NEW species, to EVOLVE beyond such a hard wiring of stratification of society. Clearly a difficult thing to do, it’s certainly never been done far as I know in the last iteration of the cycle. I have no idea how such a thing might occur, given the fact there are always biological discrepancies between individuals which give some the ability to take advantage of others. In a purely basic physical scenario, the Biggest and the Strongest make the best Hunters, that allows them to rule over the less Big and less Strong. In a complex society dependent more on intellectual abilities, it allows the Really Smart to rule over the Less Smart. Both types of organization lead to you Haves and Have Not’s and the eventual conflict which arises when the population grows past the point where the local resources are sufficient to keep the have not’s properly fed.
Perhaps there is no solution to this other than Boom-Bust cycles such as we have undergone so many times in the past and are undergoing once again now. Rumour has it according to Population experts that on Oct 31st we will cross the 7B threshold in Population of Homo Sapiens living on the face of the Earth. A remarkable achievement in many ways for Homo Sapiens as Top of the Food Chain in this system. Nevertheless, clearly not a SUSTAINABLE achievement, one can only guess at the day this Number will begin to FALL instead of RISE, but I have little doubt that day is Coming Soon to a Theatre Near You.
For myself, I grew up in the Age of Oil at the very END of this Ponzi. Little Freedom left even when I was born in 1957, quite a bit less by the time I understood some Politics in the late 1960s, still less in my middle years in the 1980s, far less now and getting less all the time here. I miss the Freedom, and my life has been one of moving ever outward to find it, but unlike the Freedom Seeking Polynesians who first found the Big Island of Hawaii, there really is not anywhere left to GO anymore. At least nowhere to go you could live anything but the most marginal of subsistence existence. The first Polynesians to find the Big Island of Hawaii lived anything BUT a marginal existence, they were SURROUNDED by Bounty relative to the few people who managed to Navigate their way there in ocean going catamaran rigged canoes.
Over time though, the Bounty disappeared and the society stratified. I would not have been a happy man in Hawaii of 1500 right before Cook arrived ashore to bring Smallpox to those Islands. The only time I EVER could have been “happy” was if I had arrived to those shores FIRST, when all was Pristine and Clean, when ALL on my Sailboat arrived as equals, when there was more than enough for ALL of us to be happy and content. Sadly of course, the very LAST day that ever happened on the face of the Earth WAS the day that Ocean Going Canoe arrived at those shore, for before that, every other place on the face of the earth already had some other Homo Sapiens living there.
As it stands now, this iteration of the cycle is about OVER, we stand at the culmination of 6000 years of power and wealth consolidation and social stratification, and all the earth is now OWNED and OCCUPIED. This will not remain the case in perpetuity however. Whether by cause of Nature and the Cosmos or whether by the Hand of Man himself, this iteration of the cycle is coming to a close now. We will RESET and begin again, or we will be no more, in one case there will be few left to begin again, in the other none.
I for one hope for the former case to be true, because if so then some day in the far distant future, once more some Navigator will see in the distance a Volcano erupting, and guide his Canoe toward that fiery light. It will be a NEW Island over that Hotspot in the Pacific Ocean, and beside it there will be other Islands all Pristine and Clean, the ONLY place TRUE FREEDOM ever exists, for ever so brief a time. My Spirit will find that Navigator and that Canoe sometime in the far distant future, I am certain of it. It is where I BELONG.
Off the Keyboard of Gail Tverberg
Published on December 12, 2012 on Our Finite World
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
Most of us have heard that Thomas Malthus made a forecast in 1798 that the world would run short of food, and that great famine would result. But most of us don’t understand why he was wrong. This issue is relevant today, as we grapple with the issues of world hunger and of oil consumption that is not growing as rapidly as consumers would like–certainly it is not keeping oil prices down to historic levels.
What Malthus Didn’t Anticipate
Malthus was writing immediately before fossil fuel use started to ramp up.
The availability of coal allowed more and better metal products (such as metal plows, barbed wire fences, and trains for long distance transport). These and other inventions allowed the number of farmers to decrease at the same time the amount of food produced (per farmer and in total) rose. On a per capita basis, energy consumption rose (Figure 2) allowing farmers and others more efficient ways of growing crops and manufacturing goods.
If it hadn’t been for the fossil fuel ramp up, starting first with coal, Malthus might in fact have been right. As it was, population was able to ramp up quickly after the addition of fossil fuels.
A person can see that there was a particularly steep rise in population, right after World War II, in the 1950s and 1960s (Figure 3). This is when oil consumption mushroomed (Figure 2, above), and when oil enabled better transport of crops to market, use of tractors and other farm equipment, and medical advances such as antibiotics.
It is likely that increased consumer and business debt following World War II (Figure 4) also played a role in the post-World War II ramp up.
The reason I say that debt likely played a role in this ramp is because at the end of World War II, people were, on average, pretty poor. The United States had recently been through the Depression. Many were soldiers coming back from war, without jobs. Without a ramp up in factory work and related employment, many would be unemployed. A ramp up in debt fixed several problems at once:
- Allowed low-paid workers funds to buy new products, such as cars, that used oil
- Allowed entrepreneurs funds to set up factories
- Allowed pipelines to be built, and other support for ramped up oil extraction
- Provided jobs for many coming home from the war effort
The debt ramp up, and the resulting increase in oil production, raised living standards. Figure 2 shows that the increase in per capita energy consumption was far greater in the 1950 to 1970 period when oil production was ramped up than in the coal ramp-up between 1840 and 1920. The long coal ramp-up period does not appear to have been accompanied by such a big ramp-up in debt.
A tentative conclusion might be that as long as we can keep ramping up availability of energy products and debt, Malthus’s views are not very relevant.
Of course, things aren’t looking as benign today. World oil production has been close to flat since about 2005 (Figure 5).
The world has been able to increase production of other fuels to compensate so far. Unfortunately, the big increase is in coal (Figures 1 and 2). This mostly relates to growth in the economies of Asian countries, which are large users of coal.
The cost of oil has more than tripled in the last ten years. The higher cost of oil is a problem, because it leads to recession, unemployment, and governmental debt problems in oil-importing countries. See my posts High-Priced Fuel Syndrome, Understanding Our Oil-Related Fiscal Cliff, and The Close Tie Between Energy Consumption, Employment, and Recession.
Continued increase in debt now seems to be running into limits. Federal government debt is in the news every day, and non-government debt seems to be contracting relative to GDP, based on Figure 4.
I am not sure that we can conclude that we are headed for catastrophe the day after tomorrow, but the graphs give a person reason to pause to think about the situation.
The reason I write posts is to try to pull together the big picture. If we only look at the latest new item forecasting huge increases in tight oil production or talking about 200 years of natural gas, it is easy to reach the conclusion that all of our problems are past. If we look at the big picture, they clearly are not.
Debt problems are closely related to high oil prices in recent years. Debt problems are today’s issue, and they are not being considered in the huge oil and gas forecasts we see everywhere. The new tight oil and the new shale gas resources likely will need to be financed by increasing amounts of debt, so there is a direct connection with debt. There is also an indirect connection, through governmental debt problems, higher taxes, and the likely resulting recession (leading to lower oil prices, perhaps too low to sustain the high cost of extraction).
Also, it is interesting that the supposedly huge increases in US oil supply don’t really translate to any discernible bump in world oil supply in Figure 5.
We know that the world is finite, and that in some way, at some point in the future, easily extractable supplies of many types of resources will run short. We also know that pollution (at least the way humans define pollution) can be expected to become an increasing problem, as an increasing number of humans inhabit the earth, and as we pull increasingly “dilute” resources from the ground.
Based on earth’s long-term history, and on the experience of other finite systems, it is clear that at some point, perhaps hundreds or thousands of years from now, the earth will cycle to a new state–a new climate with different dominant species. It may turn out that these new species are plants, rather than animals. The new dominant species will likely ones that can benefit from our waste. Humans would of course like to push this possibility back as long as we can.
At this point, my goal is to pull together a view of the big picture, in a way that other analysts usually miss. The picture may not be pretty, but we at least need to understand what the issues are. Is the shift in the cycle very close at hand? If so, what should our response be?
Off the keyboard of Monsta666
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
This article should form the final connection between the Water article written by RE
and the Peak Oil Primer written by myself earlier
this week. As I like to stress to many people the connection between the vital
commodities of food, water and oil are numerous. What is more these commodities
cannot be easily substituted and in the case of water and food there are no
alternatives if we wish for humans to survive on this planet. A man has got to
eat and drink!
The means of acquiring food have changed throughout the
ages with much of these changes coming as result of increased pressures from
population growth. As we know when man first climbed out of the trees his main
means of procuring food came from either gathering food or hunting wild game.
While this simple method is the most sustainable and leaves the smallest
footprint on the environment this method of food extraction also supports the
least people in any given area. As a result of this paradigms limitations it was
not long before man’s population had increased to such a degree that he soon
began hunting at an unsustainable rate. This excessive hunting resulted in the
extinction of numerous species particularly the larger fauna roaming the plains
at the time. In effect man had reached the natural carrying capacity of the land
following the hunter gather paradigm. As the population continued to rise
despite this fact it created social stresses and the number of conflicts between
humans increased as there were more disputes over the remaining food resources.
It was around this time that agriculture was developed. This change did
not come because agriculture was superior to the hunter-gatherer paradigm as
commonly depicted in literature but rather this change came about due to
necessity as agriculture could support denser human populations. In other words
this move was not a move of inspiration and a sign of man progressing and taking
a step towards civilisation rather this was a move of desperation on the part of
mankind to support increasing populations. Indeed archaeological evidence
supports this assertion for early farmers were not only six inches (15cm)
shorter than their hunter gatherer counterparts but they also suffered from a
greater range of diseases due to closer contact with more people and animals.
Other negative aspects came from the fact that the early farmer’s diet was less
varied as his diet consisted of a small range of crops as opposed to the varied
diets of his ancestors. This lack of variety in the diet would result in
increasing incidents of malnutrition.  To many people of the time these lower
standards of living would be seen as a step backwards.
In addition to these negative aspects
described above agriculture also placed greater stress on the natural
environment as more land was needed to be cleared to grow the said crops thus
displacing more animals and even deforestation if forests were cleared to
acquire crop land. Once the land is cleared for farming the land itself is put
under major stress as every year the farmland is ploughed and replanted
resulting in the loss of some topsoil. If enough topsoil is lost then it can
mean the land is no longer suitable for growing crops and it will make the area
more prone to desertification. The removal of topsoil is also largely
irreversible as it can take 500 years to regain one inch of topsoil
back. What is more by planting only a small range of crops the
habitat contained less diversity and therefore became less resilient to changes
in the environment. Moreover this lack of diversity also meant the soils that
were used to grow crops would degrade in quality if it was not carefully managed
through crop rotation and natural fertilizers such as manure.
biggest issue that resulted from agriculture however is that it places large
demands on water resources in the area as crops need large amounts of water to
grow. For example one kilogram of wheat corn requires 880-2200 litres of water
while a kilo of corn requires 880 litres. 
Seeing as these two crops are one of the most widely grown crops in the US it
easy to see how dependant agriculture is on rich water sources. If we consider
meats then water demand increases by an order of magnitude so if we wanted to
produce a kilo of beef we would need around 10-20,000 litres of water. . This large demand for water was one of the
main reasons why many early cities formed around rivers as these regions were
most suitable for growing crops.
As populations expanded and the demand for food increased the water
demanded also increased since food production is so dependent on water. This
continual increase in water demand lead to innovations such as the irrigation
which can allow more marginal lands to produce food or allow existing fields to
increase yields of crops. Such methods however are not without their
disadvantages however as over use of irrigation can lead to reduce water flows
to rivers, saline, reduced water tables (a particular concern for deep water
aquifers) and water pollution. Another side issue with over intensive farming
methods is it can lead to desertification of regions if the farm land is not
managed properly. It is said
that Mesopotamia (the region encompassing modern day Turkey, Syria and Iraq)
used to contain the most fertile lands on the planet but due to over irrigation
and exploitation of these lands the region gradually turned into a desert. This
loss of land played a significant part in the collapse of civilisations such as
Greece, Carthage and the Roman Empire. 
For the most part
despite the listed disadvantages the agriculture paradigm did deliver in feeding
its population provided the farms were properly managed and were not
overexploited. This allowed human population too slowly but steadily rise as
more and more land was devoted to growing crops. Innovations in farming
equipment, better crop varieties (for example the introduction of potato as a
stable crop in the 16th century) and improvements in irrigation allowed
incremental increases in yields during this time facilitating further population
The real turning point started around the advent of industrial
revolution particularly after 1900 when the rate of population growth began to
accelerate in earnest due to improvements in sanitation and medicine that
lowered the death rates in various countries. This issue became more acute and
noticeable during the world war periods particularly in World War II when not
only had the population exceeded two billion by that point but food production
was effected by the on-going wars. As a result of these factors rationing took
place in many countries and for the first time many nations were no longer
self-sufficient in meeting its local food demands. This food insecurity resulted
in various governments placing a greater priority in increasing food production
to ensure they were no longer dependant on food imports and had to endure the
accompanying swings in food price from the world food market.
main way this food security became assured was by deploying more farm machinery,
pesticides, synthetic nitrogen/potassium and phosphate fertilizers as well as
improved crop varieties. All these factors lead to huge increases in crop yields
and was later called the Green Revolution. Once this development, which began
in Mexico in 1943 by Norman Borlaug with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation
was discovered the practice was quickly adopted by other nations.  As the name implies the green revolution had a
large effect on many countries particularly the developing countries (not Africa
however) such as India which during the 1960s was in the brink of mass
starvation. Not only did the green revolution make India and other nations
self-sufficient and not dependent on food imports it also allowed lower food
prices which facilitated not only population growth but enabled greater economic
growth due to reduced living costs.
Like all new technologies these
innovations in farming came with their own disadvantages. The chief problem
about sustaining the green revolution is the fact that much of the inputs
necessary for this form of farming are non-renewable. For example synthetic
nitrogen fertilizers come from either natural gas or coal which is not only
non-renewable but the processes to make this fertilizer are energy intensive.
Meanwhile potassium and phosphorus based fertilizers come from potash and
phosphate rock respectively which have to be mined thus they are subject to peak production
rates which in the case of phosphate is likely to come around
2030. The pesticides used in farms are derivatives
The other big issue with the green revolution is the number of
environmental issues it imposes on the area. Modern farming practices reduce
biodiversity to an even greater degree than traditional farming methods. This is
because one of the main ways of achieving the higher yields is to use specially
selected breeds that only really thrive under the artificial conditions of
inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. As a result the number of viable species
used in farms has significantly declined making them less resilient to changes
in environment (which is a bigger concern if one considers the impacts of global
warming). It should be also noted that these new strains of crop do not perform
better than traditional crop varieties if no artificial fertilizers or
pesticides are applied. Another problematic aspect of these modern practices
comes from the fact that over time fields that use phosphate type fertilizers
will gradually sterilise the soil thus making farmers dependant on using only
artificial fertilizers to keep growing crops on their fields. Finally these new
farming practices have done little to reduce the increased demand for water. As
food yields have increased so has water consumption.
are also large economic implications; first of all such methods are less labour
intensive and more capital intensive meaning that not only is less labour needed
but the demand for credit will increase as more capital investments become
necessary to start a farming operation. Since richer farmers have easier access
to credit it means they can gain a bigger competitive advantage to poorer
farmers thus increasing existing inequalities which will eventually lead to
further consolidation of the farming industry which can further exacerbate the
issue of decreased diversity in crop inventories.
Another issue that can
extend from this last point is the fact that oil becomes more extensively used
as it is needed to fuel the farm machinery and due to the larger fields that can
be deployed using modern farming methods the amount of oil consumed is that much
greater. If were to include processing and distribution in food in this equation
the use of oil is increased further. It is this increased oil dependence that
has made food prices strongly correlate with oil prices as oil is used in all
stages of food production, processing and distribution.
factors have meant that while industrialised farming has resulted in increased
efficiently in terms of crop yields per acre it has become less efficient in
terms of energy consumption. 
What is more like most things the gains
made from the green revolution have suffered from diminishing returns for
example the period between 1950-1984 global food production increased by 250%
yet the increase between 1984 and the present is only 40%. More important
however is the fact that for the past 60 years increases in global food
production have consistently surpassed population however this trend is unlikely
to continue much longer as production increases are barely keeping up with
how it is expected that the population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050 with food and water demand increasing by 70% and 55% respectively it seems questionable whether
these targets can be achieved. These already ambitious targets seem even more
daunting if one considers the fact that we are already extracting water at
non-sustainable rates. This unsustainable water extraction comes about from the
fact that many water tables across the globe are falling and once these water
reservoirs are depleted then the source of water can only be extracted by its
natural recharge rate. More worrying is the fact that many deep water aquifers
are not rechargeable at all from rainfall. These aquifers, sometimes dubbed
“fossil water” for the fact they only charge at very slow rates spanning
hundreds of years is a serious issue in India, China and perhaps most notably
the US which is depleting the Ogallala aquifer; one of the biggest deep aquifers
in the world.
Another significant issue is that of peak oil. Seeing as
modern agriculture is so heavily dependent on oil a decline in total oil
production is very likely to lead in a reduction in total FOOD
production which will result first in higher food and eventually shortages.
However it is likely the globe will face problems even before peak oil arrives
due to fact that as oil production increases stops rising at the same rate as
population growth then prices of oil will raise which will eventually lead to
higher food prices. Once food prices get high enough the probability of a food
riot increases considerably. It should not be forgotten that during the big oil
spike in 2008 when oil reached $147 a barrel there was a large number of food
riots. When high food prices struck again in 2011 the world witnessed the Arab
Springs which was a revolution that started because of mass youth unemployment
and high food prices.
exacerbating issues in delivering these targets will come from global warming
which is likely to lead to more extreme weather patterns that can adversely
affect crop yields. The recent drought 2012 in the US is one of the worst
droughts in the US for 50 years and has decimated many crops and livestock in
the region. Considering that the US is the biggest food exporter in the world
(and indirectly water exporter) then it is likely that food prices will be
considerably higher in 2013. If these droughts are a sign of things to come then
it is very possible that we may actually see a peak in global food production in
the coming decade particularly if these changing weather patterns occur
simultaneously with declining global oil production AND water
= People Grew Shorter Growing Crops (Discover
 = The USGS Water
Science School (U.S Geological Survey)
 = Reducing the impact of humanity’s water footprint
 = Ecology of desert systems, p.277
 = The Nobel Peace Prize 1970 Norman Borlaug
 = Peak Phosphorus (Wikipedia)
 = Why Our Food is So Dependent on Oil (Energy
 = World
population to reach 9.1 billion in 2050 (UN)
 = Global agriculture towards 2050 (Food And Agricultural
Organization of the United Nations)
 = Global Water Forum
Off the keyboard of RE
Discuss this article at the Environment Table inside the Diner
I was pondering tonight as I often do on exactly how it was that Homo Sapiens expanded across the face of the Earth to the tune of around 7B Human Souls at this point, possibly more than that if you accept that the Birth Rate continues to outpace the Death Rate overall, which I am none too certain of anymore. I know what the UN Publishes here in terms of Data on this stuff, but the models are all based on assumptions, there is no real Census of World Population ever done. Even the FSofA Census done every Decade is full of statistical assumptions.
We “know” from some published data that Birth Rates are decreasing in some of the Industrialized nations, most notably Japan and Russia, and the Ruskies have actually seen a decrease in total population according to the released statistics on this stuff. Do we REALLY know that populations in the 3rd World are increasing at the stated rates? How is that likely when such places are non-stop War Zones these days? How is that possible when the price of food outstrips the purchasing ability of the population of people making $2 a day in places like Egypt and Libya, and really virtually ZERO in failed states like Zimbabwe and Somalia?
Anyhow, whether total World Population is actually still increasing or now decreasing, I want to take a closer look at exactly HOW it increased to such magnificent numbers to begin with, and what the parameters involved in that really are.
The most common reason for Population increase is attributed to the development of Agriculture, and undoubtedly it is true that Ag is responsible for the massive increase in Human population after the Paleolithic era, but really only in certain locations. Before you can have Ag, you must have a location with plenty of Water to support the Ag system, which in turn must either come from very regular rainfall during the growing season, and/or nearby river sources of water. Remember, early populations transitioning from Paleolithic to Neolithic ways of life could not dig deep wells to pull up ground water from aquifers for irrigation, and even if they could dig a reasonably deep well, they did not have Pumping methods to get the water up from below. For a LONG time, the primary means of yanking up water from below ground level was the Classic Well with Rope & Bucket. You can’t pull up enough water to Irrigate that way, at best you can yank up enough for your daily Drinking Water and Drinking Water for your Domesticated Animals.
So, in the Paleolithic era, while you might think Nomadic H-Gs distributed out over continents in some sort of uniform fashion, they of course did not. The Great Plains of the FSofA for instance likely held EXTREMELY few people if any during these years, and any who were wandering around there going after the herds of Buffalo had to congregate around the rivers that make their way down from the Rocky Mountains and cross the Plains on their way to the final resting place of the Water, back out in the Ocean until the sun evaporates it up again for another trip through the system.
If you have ever done any Camping & Hiking, you know you are limited in your range on foot between the Water Sources and how much water you can carry with you in your Canteen/Water Bottle. Our Paleo ancestors had their versions of these things also, Gourds and cleaned out Stomachs of their kills which could hold water for perhaps 2-3 days of stalking a herd. They also learned over time the locations of Springs where they could refresh the water supply, but in the Plains such springs are few and far between of course, like Oasis in the Desert.
Once Horses were Domesticated, the Range which these H-Gs could hunt across was expanded, but not as much as you might think. Even though Horses can eat Grass which Homo Sapiens cannot, they are not Camels with a Hump that can store weeks worth of Water. So if you are going to travel far and wide on Horseback, you need to carry Water for the Horse also, unless you know all the spots where Water is up there at Ground level exposed for the Horse to drink from. The main thing the Horse did was increase the speed at which Homo Sapiens could move arounnd territory he already moved around on foot, and made some different and more effective Hunting techniques possible. It did not really make that much difference in terms of neighborhoods Homo Sapiens and Horses could actually Inhabit.
So, as the Smart Toolmaker proliferated around the Globe, He/She did so mainly along the Rivers which network all the continents except Antarctica which is basically Frozen Solid at this point, though perhaps not for that much longer. While this Network is fairly extensive, by no means does it cover all the neighborhoods we currently inhabit at all. Here is a basic map of the main North American Rivers.
Most of the population of North America (and really everywhere, this is just an example) is congregated closely around these rivers. Beyond that, the largest Old Cities are all centered around the BEST places for Homo Sapiens to live, where Major Navigable Rivers either Converge or Exit to the Sea.
For the Cities, these Rivers serve not only as a source of Water (although nowadays it has to be processed to be drinkable about anywhere), but also as a channel by which to move the Waste the society creates out to Sea. Downstream from any large City, any OTHER community using the SAME river has even MORE issues with removing Waste to make that water Drinkable and in many cases even useful for irrigation without dropping toxins into the irrigation water.
In EVERY Good Location around the world to set up a large community of Homo Sapiens, over the course of the last 10 Millenia or so such a community has been set up. That INCLUDES my own location up in Alaska, which has its main population set up in Anchorage where the Rivers drain out into Prince William Sound. it was one of the last set up, and is not really all THAT big at around 350K people, but still a pretty large community overall in this habitat, which historically housed around 60K H-G people in ALL of Alaska.
How has it been possible to keep dropping more and more people along these rivers over time? Energy and Fossil Fuel burning of course. Each location along the rivers pumps and processes the water, each deposits waste that hits the next town downstream, which further has to process the water. At a certain point, it is no longer possible to process the water for Drinking at all, and in this case alternate Conduits for Drinking water have been built. In the case of my Old Home Town of New York City, nobody drinks water out of the Hudson River anymore of course, even just SWIMMING in it is probably quite dangerous to your health. So the Architects who made NYC what it is today built some amazing upgrades on the Aqueduct idea the Romans had, which are 3 HUGE Water Tunnels which bring drinking water to NYC from the Watershed up in the Adirondack Mountains. MARVELS of Engineering they are, but these days you cannot even shut them down for maintenance of any type, there is no guarantee if you could actually get some of the big valves to close that you could open them up again.
So, for a MARVELOUS location like NYC for Homo Sapiens to set up Camp, over time it has become ever more dependent on Energy to keep the water system running. Although for the most part the Water Tunnels are a Gravity driven system, the maintenance of them is energy dependent and will eventually fail. You certainly can’t turn NYC into a Farming community too easily, though perhaps Hydroponic systems could be set up in some of the Glass Office Towers. This still does depend though on the water delivery system to the city remaining functional.
All over the rest of the continent, you have some neighborhoods like Los Angeles and Las Vegas which neither get much rainfall nor do they have local fresh water sources in the absence of water pumping from the Colorado River, seriously overtaxed right now even with the energy available to shift the water around some in its final destination.
Then of course across the Midwest, you have all the water pumping coming up from the Ogalala Aquifer to keep all the Agribusiness Monoculture Farms producing mega tons of Corn and Soy Beans to feed the World Population. The Aquifer drops ever lower each year, which means more energy needs to be expended to pump up the water and sprinkle it down on the fields. It is unlikely much of this land can be kept in cultivation as energy becomes ever more expensive and scarce.
Without the Ogallala Aquifer, America’s heartland food production collapses. No water means no irrigation for the corn, wheat, alfalfa and other crops grown across these states to feed people and animals. And each year, the Ogallala Aquifer drops another few inches as it is literally being sucked dry by the tens of thousands of agricultural wells that tap into it across the heartland of America.This problem with all this is that the Ogallala Aquifer isn’t being rechargedin any significant way from rainfall or rivers. This is so-called “fossil water” because once you use it, it’s gone. And it’s disappearing now faster than ever.In some regions along the aquifer, the water level has dropped so far that it has effectively disappeared — places like Happy, Texas, where a once-booming agricultural town has collapsed to a population of just 595. All the wells drilled there in the 1950′s tapped into the Ogallala Aquifer and seemed to provide abundant water at the time. But today the wells have all run dry.Happy, Texas has become a place of despair. Dead cattle. Wilted crops. Once-moist soils turned to dust. And Happy is just the beginning of this story because this same agricultural tragedy will be repeated across Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas and parts of Colorado in the next few decades. That’s a hydrologic fact. Water doesn’t magically reappear in the Ogallala. Once it’s used up, it’s gone.Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/031658_aquifer_depletion_Ogallala.html#ixzz2DrG9kRnn
All considered when you examine the issue closely, Homo Sapiens has to retreat to areas close to available water that runs at ground level or near to it for Wells dug perhaps 30 feet deep or so for mechanical pumping systems that could be run on Wind Power. However, in the retreat to these areas and abandonment of the energy dependent locations for water resource, you put ever more stress on the OTHER function of Rivers, which is as Waste Disposal conduits. Imagine what occurs for instance if the current population of Los Angeles attempts to emmigrate out and sprinkle themselves lengthwise along the shores of the Colorado River. Anybody not at the positive TOP of the Watershed somewhere in the Rocky Mountains is going to have some mighty gross water flowing past them, full of Cholera and Typhus and lord only knows what other types of bacteria will evolve in that stew. Energy for water treatment, even just Boiling will become ever more scarce along the river banks, and the end result of this of course is mass death via Plague & Disease, at the same time any local energy sources get rapidly depleted.
Clearly, the only possible survival locations under this scenario is to position yourself in the lowest population zone possible which still has decent water availability and which is as far UPSTREAM the system as possible.
Where ARE those locations? You guessed it, they are in the MOUNTAINS, the GREAT WALL THAT GOD BUILT to protect the Independent Souls of the World. If you currently live in NYC, a Bugout Location somewhere near Lake Tier of the Clouds where the Hudson River has its beginnings would be a decent place to shoot for with your Bugout Machine. Of course, defending your Bugout Location from the Millions of OTHER Zombies heading out on Foot & Bicycle to the SAME location won’t be very easy either.
Lake Tier of the Clouds.
I camped their twice. The Park Service actually recommends you NOT drink the water unless boiled or otherwise purified.
In the final analysis, lack of good Drinking Water is what kills off populations the fastest. Drought produces a lack of food, and it also increases the incidence of disease spread through the accumulation of waste in a given location. For most of the High Population Zones which have evolved since Ag had its beginnings 10,000 years ago, this is what will be the Vector for the Final Solution to Overshoot of Homo Sapiens. The only thing which remains unclear is how many will make it through the Zero Point and where they will be.
My best guess, deep in the Amazon Rainforest perhaps, in the Far North in Nunavut perhaps, and way up there in the Mountains of the Himalayas and Andes and Rocky Mountains too perhaps. Anywhere else is basically TOAST.
Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg
Posted originally on Our Finite World on September 3rd, 2012
Discuss the article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner
In the beginning, the Master Economist created the Economy. He created businesses large and small, consumers, governments with their regulation, and financial institutions of all types. And the Master Economist declared that the economy should grow. And it did grow, but only for a while. Then it stalled. Then He declared that stimulus of various types should fix it, and it did, for a while. Then He declared that if humans would just wait for a while, it would fix itself, but it wouldn’t.
We all know that the foregoing isn’t the real story about the economy, but what is the real story?
I think if we dig deeper, we discover that energy plays an all-powerful role, just as it does in the natural world in general.
Population: How Inadequate Energy Acts as a Limiting Factor
Human population is of course an important part of the economy. If population keeps growing, it helps the economy grow, because more consumers mean more demand. Can human population keep growing?
The answer seems to be no. Here we find that researchers have found an extremely important role for energy. The relationship they have found relates to any species, not just to homo sapiens.
Ecologists often talk about the existence of a natural cycle between predators and prey. The predators eat the prey that is available, but in time, the predators drop in number, as less food becomes available. When the population of predators drops, the prey is able to expand its population. In fact, Lotka and Volterra created a model that has been used to model a number of predator-prey relationships, including the wolf and moose population on Isle Royal National Park (Lotka) (Volterra) (Jost).
Humans are now the dominant predator species on earth. Our numbers have grown from a relative handful in our earliest days to over 7 billion in 2012. Other species have had to contract in relationship to the advances man has made.
The United Nations is now forecasting a world population of over 9 billion in 2050, and over 10 billion in 2100 (United Nations). If this happens, the populations of other species will need to be pushed down to offset the growth in the human species. Eventually, this situation will reach a limit, since we need to eat other species, both plants and animals.
The situation is more complicated than Figure 2 suggests, because there are many species involved, and there are many other changes taking place—temperature of the sun is gradually changing, the earth’s orbit around the sun varies, etc. Also, external energy, including fossil fuels and nuclear, is adding to total energy available to man. But the point remains: we cannot expect population growth to continue indefinitely.
The situation in Figure 2 is described as a predator-prey situation, but if we analyze the situation, it is really an energy situation as well, because prey is an energy source to the predator. Howard T. Odum has written extensively on this subject. Let me explain his view.
The Role of Energy in the Population of Species
Energy plays a major role in the balance between predators and prey. Natural systems, such as groups of plants and animals, arrange themselves to get the best possible use of energy resources available. All of us know that if there is a bare spot on our lawn, and enough sunlight and water, it is not long before some kinds of plants come along to fill the gap. Sunlight allows photosynthesis to take place, producing food for plants. If more sunlight is available, more plants will grow.
This tends to work with animals as well. Let’s take the example of wolves that are predators of moose (mentioned above as being modeled using Lotka-Volterra equations). From the point of view of a wolf, a moose is a form of stored energy, since eating it provides calories that provide energy to the wolf. If at some point more moose become available to eat, then more offspring of wolves will be able to survive to adulthood, under survival of the fittest, so the wolf population will increase. As a result, the wolves get as much use as possible of the energy available to them.
Howard Odum, in A Prosperous Way Down, credits Lotka with discovering the fundamental energy law that underlies ecological systems, which Odum calls the Maximum Power Concept and rephrases as follows:
In the self-organization process, systems develop those parts, processes, and relationships that capture the most energy and use it with the best efficiency possible without reducing power.
This means that ecosystems (and in fact, other self-organizing systems, such as economies), will gradually adapt to get the best use possible of the energy available to them. Ecosystems are “self-organizing” in that with the abundance of offspring of animals, and the abundance of seeds of plants, there are always offspring available to move into available niches with excess energy. There are other ways of making use of available energy—for example, selection of the fittest can lead to people with the right skin color being adapted to best using the intensity of the suns rays in their part of the globe.
Energy Use by Humans
Energy plays an important role for each of us as humans, just as it does for other species in ecosystems. The most obvious use for energy is in the food that we eat. Some of the energy we use is embedded energy—that is energy from the past that has been used to make something that we use today. The stored energy can be human energy, as in the energy it would take to shear wool from a sheep, make it into yarn, and knit a sweater from it. Stored energy can also be from other sources. For example, it takes a great deal of energy to extract and refine metals. It also takes a great deal of energy to make today’s concrete.
One type of stored energy comes in the form of education (Odum). Education is available because the student’s labor is not needed in the workforce to create the food and other goods that he consumes while being educated. Education requires that teachers attend school themselves for many years, meaning that teachers must somehow be supported by the energy of the rest of society both during their own education and while they are teaching students.
Education also involves the concentration of knowledge in the form of books and on the Internet. All of this requires energy. Books require energy to support the people taking time to write the books, to physically make the books, and to transport them to the location where they are read. The Internet requires electrical energy. Even thinking requires energy. The human brain uses a disproportionate share of man’s energy, up to 20% of the energy used by humans (Swaminathan). The people with the highest education tend to receive higher salaries than others, indicating that this form of embedded energy is highly valued by society.
The Role of Energy in Numbers and Types of Businesses and Governments
Businesses, governments, and consumers form another self-organizing system, not unlike ecological systems (Odum). This system has gradually arisen over many years, and adapts itself as conditions change. The financial system is the part of the self-organizing system that keeps track of the energy costs of the system (as well as other costs), and pushes the whole system toward the lowest cost approach to creating goods and services. Businesses tend to succeed or fail in ways that make the most productive use of energy resources, according to the rules set out by the system.
Let’s consider a small-scale example of a potential addition to this self-organized system. An entrepreneur decides to plant a field of turnips. In this case, part of the energy for the business comes from the sun, and part of the energy comes from the labor of the entrepreneur. The calories the entrepreneur eats provide energy for his labor. The entrepreneur’s education represents another form of stored energy, affecting his success. If the entrepreneur buys fertilizer, it is an energy input as well, since energy was required to make and transport the fertilizer to the location where it is used.
Part of the energy used by the entrepreneur may come from mechanical equipment that was made in the past using heat energy, and part from fuels that power that equipment. If purchased energy is scarce, and because of this, high-priced, the entrepreneur will have to charge a higher price for turnips he sells in order to cover his costs. The entrepreneur has a much greater chance of success in selling his turnips to customers if energy is low-priced rather than high-priced because many more customers will be able to afford turnips at $1.00 pound than at $4.00 pound. So it is the price of goods, which is tied to energy costs, that helps determine both which goods are sold and which businesses will succeed. High energy cost tend to lead to business failures.
Governments, too, use energy, and fit in with the same self-organizing system as businesses. The type of government requiring the least amount of energy is one run by a single person, perhaps a king or dictator. In order to support the king, the economy needs to have enough spare energy (in the form of food) available so that the king or dictator doesn’t himself need to work to grow food. It is also helpful if there is excess energy generated by society to provide clothing, a home, heat for the home, and the many other things that the king or dictator expects to own.
More complicated governments require more energy. A government of elected officials requires not only the excess energy from society to feed and clothe the elected officials, it also requires the energy to build the buildings where polling takes place, and the energy for officials to travel to the location of the government offices. The offices themselves also require energy, both for their construction and their maintenance. If energy supply is constricted, the price of energy is likely to be higher, and thus the cost of government will be higher. Taxes will need to be raised. If there is a sufficient energy surplus elsewhere to afford these higher taxes, these higher taxes may be acceptable to taxpayers. If not, some government officials may need to be laid off, to balance the (energy) budget.
What Happens When Energy is Deficient?
Something has to “give,” when there is not enough energy.
A deficiency in solar energy would likely cause the world to get colder. Crops would fail, prices would rise, and the problem of low solar energy would affect both the natural world, and the economy consisting of businesses, governments, consumers, and financial institutions. The last time this was a major issue was during the Little Ice Age. The biggest impact seems to have been during the 1600s. I show in The Long-Term Tie Between Energy Supply, Population, and the Economy that this seems to have been the case.
What happens when energy supply such as wood, coal, oil or natural gas is constrained?
Unfortunately, we are getting a chance to find out. There is considerable evidence that oil, our largest and most flexible source of energy, is now encountering supply issues. Oil price in 2012 is more than three times the price it was ten years ago, in inflation-adjusted prices.
It is during the time that prices have been high (indicating short supply) that the world has been suffering from recession. This is precisely the impact one would expect, if energy is closely tied to the economy. Adequate supply would be reflected in low price. When it is not, the economy of countries, especially of oil importers, tends to go into recession. We will discuss this more in future posts.
Figure 3 shows that there was a previous time, in the 1970s and early 1980s, when oil prices were very high in inflation adjusted terms. This was the time shortly after the United States discovered that its own oil supply was decreasing rapidly (Figure 4).
After United States oil production began decreasing in 1970, a huge amount of effort was put into finding more oil supplies, increasing efficiency, and converting oil use to other types of energy use. There was considerable success in these areas. The second “bump” in Figure 4 reflects the addition of oil from Alaska, something that is now in decline also. Oil uses that could be easily switched to another fuel were switched away. For example, where oil had been used to create electricity, new generation using nuclear or coal was built. In the case of oil for home heating, the switch was often made to natural gas. Cars became smaller and more energy-efficient during this period.
It might be noted that the period of high oil prices in the mid 1970s and early 1980s was also a time of recession. Economist James Hamilton has shown that 10 out of 11 US recessions since World War II were associated with oil price spikes (Hamilton, 2011). He has also shown that there appears be a direct connection between the price run-up of 2007-08, cutbacks in consumer consumption and spending on purchases of domestic automobiles, and the economic slowdown of 2007 – 2008 (Hamilton, 2009).
The run-up in oil prices in the past few years seems to be related to a combination of (a) world oil supply that is not growing very rapidly, and (b) increasing demand from developing economies, such as China and India, and (c) higher production costs for oil, because much of the inexpensive to extract oil has already been extracted.
There is a great deal more that could be said about these issues, but I will save this information for later. I will make a couple of observations, however:
1. The United States has not been very successful in increasing its oil production, in spite of improved technology. The right hand side of the graph in Figure 4 is higher than what it would have been because of opening areas to drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, new technology, and enhanced oil recovery methods. But current production still lies far below the 1970 peak of oil production.
2. The government has not been forthright in telling us about this problem. Science textbooks don’t generally discuss this issue, nor do history books. Some things are embarrassing. This seems to be one of them.
 Power is the rate at which energy is used. For example, a 100 watt light bulb uses more energy per unit of time than a 50 watt bulb, so has more power. Any organism has a rate at which it uses energy. For example, we may eat 2200 calories a day. This quote is just saying that the rate at which organisms use energy is considered in this self-organization process.
Lotka, A.J., Elements of Physical Biology, Williams and Wilkins, (1925)
Volterra, V., Variations and fluctuations of the number of individuals in animal species living together in Animal Ecology, Chapman, R.N. (ed), McGraw–Hill, (1931)
Jost, C., Devulder, G., Vucetich, J.A., Peterson, R., and Arditi, R., “The wolves of Isle Royale display scale-invariant satiation and density dependent predation on moose”, J. Anim. Ecol., 74(5), 809-816 (2005)
United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, World Population Prospects the 2010 Revision. Total Population – Both Sexes. http://esa.un.org/wpp/Excel-Data/population.htm
Odum, H. T. and Odum E. C., A Prosperous Way Down: Principles and Policies, University Press of Colorado, (2001)
Barnosky, A. D. et al., Approaching a State Shift in the Earth’s Biosphere, Nature, 486, 52-58 (07 June 2012)
Swaminathan, N. Why Does the Brain Need So Much Power? Scientific American, April 29, 2008. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-does-the-brain-need-s
Hamilton, J. D. Historical oil shocks. NBER working paper No. 16790. Feb 2011. Available from http://www.nber.org/papers/w16790.pdf
Hamilton J. H. Causes and consequences of the oil shock of 2007-08. Brookings Papers on Economic Activity:215e61. Spring 2009. Accessible at https://muse.jhu.edu/journals/brookings_papers_on_economic_activity/toc/eca.2009.1.html
Off the Keyboard of Gail Tverberg
Published originally on Our Finite World on August 7th, 2012
We live in a finite world. At this point, we seem to be reaching limits in several different areas:
- Cheap oil. Our economy runs on cheap oil, but there is a limit to the amount of cheap oil that can be pulled out of the ground. There is still a lot of expensive-to-produce oil left, but this is not a substitute for cheap oil.
- Fresh water. Fresh water is used for drinking, for growing food, for producing oil and gas, and for creating electricity, among other things. In many parts of the world, we are using fresh water faster than aquifers can replenish.
- Climate Change. Our agricultural system depends on relatively constant climate. Changes to climate, whether caused by humans or not, are a problem. It is possible that this year’s hot summer is caused by climate change.
- Soil fertility. Soil fertility depends on adequate depth of top soil, adequate humus content, suitable bacteria in the soil, and proper mineral balance. We have been able to hide soil fertility problems through greater use fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation, but these are not permanent “fixes”.
- Pollution. There are many types of pollution that are problems, from excessive carbon dioxide, to mercury in food sources, to endocrine disruptors, to algal blooms.
- Human population. The number of humans on earth is out of balance with world ecosystems and keeps growing, year after year.
- Financial system. Our financial system depends on growth, but growth in a finite world system cannot continue forever. High oil prices tend to lead to recession, and reduced economic growth–hence the need for cheap oil, rather than expensive oil.
The question then becomes, “What can we do?” Are there any solutions available, even if they are only partial solutions, as high oil prices and other limits squeeze the economy?
Many of us sense that we likely are not too far away from a contraction imposed by nature–something that looks like a severe recession that will help bring the world back into balance. While we probably cannot completely “fix” the situation, there seem to be several things we can do, in the way of mitigation.
1. Manage your finances to try to avoid the impact of a possible crash. My crystal ball is not as good as it should be, but it is hard to believe that the stock market will continue to rise, as we get closer to the limits nature is imposing. Recession will hit, and the result will likely be both lower oil prices and lower stock market prices. Default rates on bonds are also likely to rise.
I am not sure there are any entirely safe investments, but actual goods and land you own would seem more likely to hold value. Cash would seem to be safer than stocks or bonds. Things like tools you expect to need in the future would seem to be especially good investments.
2. Plan your own family size with world limits in mind. Most people will still want to have children, but stopping at two would seem to be a good choice. It would be even better if families would choose to stop at one.
3. Get family planning back on the world agenda. When Paul Ehrlich wrote the book Population Bomb back in 1968, he got the need for family planning on the world’s agenda at that time. Now, it is off the world’s agenda, as richer nations feel that the situation will fix itself, as education of women rises. I am not sure how to get the issue back on the agenda, but free “rhythm method” classes for women around the world would seem to be a start.
4. As layoffs hit, depend more on family and friends. Even before layoffs hit, it would be in our best interests to strengthen ties with family and friends. Then, if misfortune hits, there is a better chance of being able to move in together, if the need arises.
5. Plant trees and bushes with edible fruit or nuts. In terms of protecting the soil, perennials seem to be much better than annual plants. Complementary plants and animals will be needed as well, if long-term fertility is to be maintained. There are other things that can be done to upgrade the soil, but these generally require time and money.
6. Look for simpler and cheaper ways of doing things. The usual pattern is to move toward more complex and more expensive solutions, with ever-better technology and more bells and whistles. We need to be going the other way though–toward simpler solutions that are easier to maintain with local materials, and cheaper. LEED certified homes sound great, but what we really need is homes that are closer in size to what we usually think of as storage sheds, and that can be put up quickly with local materials. It would be great to have state of the art commuter trains, but we need to be planning based on what communities can really afford, and that may be bicycle paths.
7. Appreciate what you have. We are very privileged now–we enjoy a wide selection of food, generally seasonable weather, and nations that are mostly at peace with one another. Every day, think about the good things that are part of your life–the squirrel on your lawn; the ability to zip around in a car or on a bicycle; the job you have that allows you to pay bills; the time you spend with family members. Even if things go downhill, there are likely still to be many good things. We need to keep looking for these every day.
8. Don’t focus too much on bad things that might happen. We really don’t know what exactly will happen. About all we can do is be flexible and continue living our lives as best we can. If we take care of our bodies by exercising and by eating well, that will be to our benefit, regardless of what happens. Learning skills that might be helpful for the long term, especially if they are enjoyable now might be good as well (playing a musical instrument; doing crafts; studying how we coped without fossil fuels before, as through Low-Tech Magazine).
9. Be prepared for minor outages. If things go downhill, there will be more chance of outages of various kinds. The most likely of these is that you will lose your job and not be able to pay your bills. There is also the possibility that food or water or fuel for your vehicle will become unavailable. It seems worthwhile to do at least some planning for emergencies. I personally am not an advocate of hoarding, but it does make sense to keep some inventory on hand.
I might note that I am doubtful that energy solutions will come quickly enough to fix our many interrelated limits problems before a financial crunch hits.
Clearly, if we have an adequate supply of cheap oil substitutes, we can continue to hide many of our other “limits” problems. For example, if there is enough cheap oil substitutes, countries like Saudi Arabia can get water from desalination, so fresh water ceases to be as much of an issue an issue. Soil problems are also less of an issue, if we can continue to use fossil fuels for fertilizer and irrigation.
There are some renewable energy sources that may be helpful for individual families, but don’t really fix our problem with a lack of cheap oil. For example, solar can be used by families for heating hot water, and a reflective solar cooker can be used for cooking. Neither of these directly substitutes for cheap oil, though. Wind and solar PV can both be used to generate intermittent electricity, but again, this is not really a substitute for oil, certainly not in the time frame to prevent a financial crash in the next year or two.
The closest substitutes for oil are biofuels, but these are in direct competition in the use of soil for food. The next closest would seem to be natural gas, since existing vehicles can be converted to use natural gas. Even this takes time and money, so I am not convinced that natural gas, if available, could prevent a contraction in the next 12 to 24 months. So in the end, we find ourselves thinking about what other solutions to a potential financial crash are available, besides oil substitutes.
We talk about the possibility of reducing fossil fuel use by 80% by 2050 and ramping up renewables at the same time, to help prevent climate change. If we did this, what would such a change mean for GDP, based on historical Energy and GDP relationships back to 1820?
Back in March, I showed you this graph in my post, World Energy Consumption since 1820 in Charts.
Figure 1. World Energy Consumption by Source, Based on Vaclav Smil estimates from Energy Transitions: History, Requirements and Prospects and together with BP Statistical Data on 1965 and subsequent. The biofuel category also includes wind, solar, and other new renewables.
Graphically, what an 80% reduction in fossil fuels would mean is shown in Figure 2, below. I have also assumed that non-fossil fuels (some combination of wind, solar, geothermal, biofuels, nuclear, and hydro) could be ramped up by 72%, so that total energy consumption “only” decreases by 50%.
Figure 2. Forecast of world energy consumption, assuming fossil fuel consumption decreases by 80% by 2050, and non fossil fuels increase so that total fuel consumption decreases by “only” 50%. Amounts before black line are actual; amounts after black lines are forecast in this scenario.
We can use actual historical population amounts plus the UN’s forecast of population growth to 2050 to convert these amounts to per capita energy equivalents, shown in Figure 3, below.
Figure 3. Forecast of per capita energy consumption, using the energy estimates in Figure 2 divided by world population estimates by the UN. Amounts before the black line are actual; after the black line are estimates.
In Figure 3, we see that per capita energy use has historically risen, or at least not declined. You may have heard about recent declines in energy consumption in Europe and the US, but these declines have been more than offset by increases in energy consumption in China, India, and the rest of the “developing” world.
With the assumptions chosen, the world per capita energy consumption in 2050 is about equal to the world per capita energy consumption in 1905.
I applied regression analysis to create what I would consider a best-case estimate of future GDP if a decrease in energy supply of the magnitude shown were to take place. The reason I consider it a best-case scenario is because it assumes that the patterns we saw on the up-slope will continue on the down-slope. For example, it assumes that financial systems will continue to operate as today, international trade will continue as in the past, and that there will not be major problems with overthrown governments or interruptions to electrical power. It also assumes that we will continue to transition to a service economy, and that there will be continued growth in energy efficiency.
Based on the regression analysis:
- World economic growth would average a negative 0.59% per year between now and 2050, meaning that the world would be more or less in perpetual recession between now and 2050. Given past relationships, this would be especially the case for Europe and the United States.
- Per capita GDP would drop by 42% for the world between 2010 and 2050, on average. The decrease would likely be greater in higher income countries, such as the United States and Europe, because a more equitable sharing of resources between rich and poor nations would be needed, if the poor nations are to have enough of the basics.
I personally think a voluntary worldwide reduction in fossil fuels is very unlikely, partly because voluntary changes of this sort are virtually impossible to achieve, and partly because I think we are headed toward a near-term financial crash, which is largely the result of high oil prices causing recession in oil importers (like the PIIGS).
The reason I am looking at this scenario is two-fold:
(1) Many people are talking about voluntary reduction of fossil fuels and ramping up renewables, so looking at a best case scenario (that is, major systems hold together and energy efficiency growth continues) for this plan is useful, and
(2) If we encounter a financial crash in the near term, I expect that one result will be at least a 50% reduction in energy consumption by 2050 because of financial and trade difficulties, so this scenario in some ways gives an “upper bound” regarding the outcome of such a financial crash.
Close Connection Between Energy Growth, Population Growth, and Economic Growth
Historical estimates of energy consumption, population, and GDP are available for many years. These estimates are not available for every year, but we have estimates for them for several dates going back through history. Here, I am relying primarily on population and GDP estimates of Angus Maddison, and energy estimates of Vaclav Smil, supplemented by more recent data (mostly for 2008 to 2010) by BP, the EIA, and USDA Economic Research Service.
If we compute average annual growth rates for various historical periods, we get the following indications:
Figure 4. Average annual growth rates during selected periods, selected based on data availability, for population growth, energy growth, and real GDP growth.
We can see from Figure 4 that energy growth and GDP growth seem to move in the same direction at the same time. Regression analysis (Figure 5, below) shows that they are highly correlated, with an r squared of 0.74.
Figure 5. Regression analysis of average annual percent change in world energy vs world GDP, with world energy percent change the independent variable.
Energy in some form is needed if movement is to take place, or if substances are to be heated. Since actions of these types are prerequisites for the kinds of activities that give rise to economic growth, it would seem as though the direction of causation would primarily be:
Energy growth gives rise to economic growth.
Rather than the reverse.
I used the regression equation in Figure 5 to compute how much yearly economic growth can be expected between 2010 and 2050, if energy consumption drops by 50%. (Calculation: On average, the decline is expected to be (50% ^(1/40)-1) = -1.72%. Plugging this value into the regression formula shown gives -0.59% per year, which is in the range of recession.) In the period 1820 to 2010, there has never been a data point this low, so it is not clear whether the regression line really makes sense applied to decreases in this manner.
In some sense, the difference between -1.72% and -0.59% per year (equal to 1.13%) is the amount of gain in GDP that can be expected from increased energy efficiency and a continued switch to a service economy. While arguments can be made that we will redouble our efforts toward greater efficiency if we have less fuel, any transition to more fuel-efficient vehicles, or more efficient electricity generation, has a cost involved, and uses fuel, so may be less common, rather than more common in the future.
The issue of whether we can really continue transitioning to a service economy when much less fuel in total is available is also debatable. If people are poorer, they will cut back on discretionary items. Many goods are necessities: food, clothing, basic transportation. Services tend to be more optional–getting one’s hair cut more frequently, attending additional years at a university, or sending grandma to an Assisted Living Center. So the direction for the future may be toward a mix that includes fewer, rather than more, services, so will be more energy intensive. Thus, the 1.13% “gain” in GDP due to greater efficiency and greater use of “services” rather than “goods” may shrink or disappear altogether.
The time periods in the Figure 5 regression analysis are of different lengths, with the early periods much longer than the later ones. The effect of this is to give much greater weight to recent periods than to older periods. Also, the big savings in energy change relative to GDP change seems to come in the 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000 periods, when we were aggressively moving into a service economy and were working hard to reduce oil consumption. If we exclude those time periods (Figure 6, below), the regression analysis shows a better fit (r squared = .82).
Figure 6. Regression analysis of average annual percent change in world energy vs world GDP excluding the periods 1980 to 1990 and 1990 to 2000, with world energy percent change the independent variable.
If we use the regression line in Figure 6 to estimate what the average annual growth rate would be with energy consumption contracting by -1.72% per year (on average) between 2010 and 2050, the corresponding average GDP change (on an inflation adjusted basis) would be contraction of -1.07% per year, rather than contraction of -0.59% per year, figured based on the regression analysis shown in Figure 5. Thus, the world economy would even to a greater extent be in “recession territory” between now and 2050.
Population Growth Estimates
In my calculation in the introduction, I used the UN’s projection of population of 9.3 billion people by 2050 worldwide, or an increase of 36.2% between 2010 and 2050, in reaching the estimated 42% decline in world per capita GDP by 2050. (Calculation: Forty years of GDP “growth” averaging minus 0.59% per year would produce total world GDP in 2050 of 79.0% of that in 2010. Per capita GDP is then (.790/ 1.362=.580) times 2010′s per capita income. I described this above as a 42% decline in per capita GDP, since (.580 – 1.000 = 42%).)
Population growth doesn’t look to be very great in Figure 4, since it shows annual averages, but we can see from Figure 7 (below) what a huge difference it really makes. Population now is almost seven times as large as in 1820.
Figure 7. World Population, based on Angus Maddison estimates, interpolated where necessary.
Since we have historical data, it is possible to calculate an estimate based on regression analysis of the expected population change between 2010 and 2050. If we look at population increases compared to energy growth by period (Figure 8), population growth is moderately correlated with energy growth, with an r squared of 0.55.
Figure 8. Regression analysis of population growth compared to energy growth, based on annual averages, with energy growth the independent variable.
One of the issues in forecasting population using regression analysis is that in the period since 1820, we don’t have any examples of negative energy growth for long enough periods that they actually appear in the averages used in this analysis. Even if this model fit very well (which it doesn’t), it still wouldn’t necessarily be predictive during periods of energy contraction. Using the regression equation shown in Figure 8, population growth would still be positive with an annual contraction of energy of 1.72% per year, but just barely. The indicated population growth rate would slow to 0.09% per year, or total growth of 3.8% over the 40 year period, bringing world population to 7.1 billion in 2050.
Energy per Capita
While I did not use Energy per Capita in this forecast, we can look at historical growth rates in Energy per Capita, compared to growth rates in total energy consumed by society. Here, we get a surprisingly stable relationship:
Figure 9. Comparison of average growth in total world energy consumed with the average amount consumed per person, for periods since 1820.
Figure 10 shows the corresponding regression analysis, with the highest correlation we have seen, an r squared equal to .87.
Figure 10. Regression analysis comparing total average increase in world energy with average increase in energy per capita, with average increase in world energy the independent variable.
It is interesting to note that this regression line seems to indicate that with flat (0.0% growth) in total energy, energy per capita would decrease by -0.59% per year. This seems to occur because population growth more than offsets efficiency growth, as women continue to give birth to more babies than required to survive to adulthood.
Can We Really Hold On to the Industrial Age, with Virtually No Fossil Fuel Use?
This is one of the big questions. “Renewable energy” was given the name it was, partly as a marketing tool. Nearly all of it is very dependent on the fossil fuel system. For example, wind turbines and solar PV panels require fossil fuels for their manufacture, transport, and maintenance. Even nuclear energy requires fossil fuels for its maintenance, and for decommissioning old power plants, as well as for mining, transporting, and processing uranium. Electric cars require fossil fuel inputs as well.
The renewable energy that is not fossil fuel dependent (mostly wood and other biomass that can be burned), is in danger of being used at faster than a sustainable rate, if fossil fuels are not available. There are few energy possibilities that are less fossil fuel dependent, such as solar thermal (hot water bottles left in the sun to warm) and biofuels made in small quantities for local use. Better insulation is also a possibility. But it is doubtful these solutions can make up for the huge loss of fossil fuels.
We can talk about rationing fuel, but in practice, rationing is extremely difficult, once the amount of fuel becomes very low. How does one ration lubricating oil? Inputs for making medicines? To keep business processes working together, each part of every supply chain must have the fuel it needs. Even repairmen must have the fuel needed to get to work, for example. Trying to set up a rationing system that handles all of these issues would be nearly impossible.
GDP and Population History Back to 1 AD
Angus Maddison, in the same data set that I used back to 1820, also gives an estimate of population and GDP back to 1 AD. If we look at a history of average annual growth rates in world GDP (inflation adjusted) and in population growth, this is the pattern we see:
Figure 11. Average annual growth in GDP in energy and in population, for selected periods back to the year 1 AD.
Figure 11 shows that the use of fossil fuels since 1820 has allowed GDP to rise faster than population, for pretty much the first time. Prior to 1820, the vast majority of world GDP growth was absorbed by population growth.
If we compare the later time periods to the earlier ones, Figure 11 shows a pattern of increasing growth rates for both population and GDP. We know that in the 1000 to 1500 and 1500 to 1820 time periods, early energy sources (peat moss, water power, wind power, animal labor) became more widespread. These changes no doubt contributed to the rising growth rates. The biggest change, however, came with the addition of fossil fuels, in the period after 1820.
Looking back, the question seems to become: How many people can the world support, at what standard of living, with a given quantity of fuel? If our per capita energy consumption drops to the level it was in 1905, can we realistically expect to have robust international trade, and will other systems hold together? While it is easy to make estimates that make the transition sound easy, when a person looks at the historical data, making the transition to using less fuel looks quite difficult, even in a best-case scenario. One thing is clear: It is very difficult to keep up with rising world population.
I’ve always felt the many attempts to paint a picture in which we are not all responsible for our situation, whether in the form of the OWS 99% vs 1%, Illuminati (or Oligarchy, or Elite, etc) vs sheople, or even an epic battle of good vs evil, to be unsatisfactory in their effort to explain our predicament. In my opinion there has to be some element common to humankind that keeps us on the path to destruction. In other words, we’re all part of the problem and in order to correct course there must be a significant change worldwide at the level of the individual.
Is it possible that a fundamental aspect of what it means to be homo sapiens is at the root of our problem, and if so, what are the implications for finding a way out? Or whether it’s even probable that we will find it, and then act on it? If the VCP holds true, is our involvement in the predicament really something to be ashamed of since what we’ve done is in our very nature? William Catton has expressed the same sentiment in arguing that no one group is responsible for our predicament. Catton says, “the conversion of a marvelous carrying capacity surplus into a competition-aggravating and crash-inflicting deficit was a matter of fate.” And while I don’t suggest we absolve the criminal banksters and corrupt politicians of their crimes, or that we discard efforts to affect change, I find a lot of the blaming others and ourselves that’s going on is really detrimental, if not to our collective health, at least to our individual well-being.
This question, and the conclusions that may be drawn by answering it, is exhaustively researched by Craig Dilworth in his timely and important book (which I’m still reading) Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind.” The book is described as follows:
We are destroying our natural environment at a constantly increasing pace, and in so doing undermining the preconditions of our own existence. Why is this so? This book reveals that our ecologically disruptive behavior is in fact rooted in our very nature as a species. Drawing on evolution theory, biology, anthropology, archaeology, economics, environmental science and history, this book explains the ecological predicament of humankind by placing it in the context of the first scientific theory of our species’ development, taking over where Darwin left off. The theory presented is applied in detail to the whole of our seven-million-year history. Due to its comprehensiveness, and in part thanks to its extensive glossary and index, this book can function as a compact encyclopedia covering the whole development of Homo sapiens. It would also suit a variety of courses in the life and social sciences. Most importantly, Too Smart makes evident the very core of the paradigm to which our species must shift if it is to survive. Anyone concerned about the future of humankind should read this ground-breaking work.
This book: • Provides the first and only theory of humankind’s development • Explains that economic and political (military) power have their respective biological bases in individual vs. group territoriality • Provides the first classification of human instincts: into the survival, sexual and social instincts • Provides the most inclusive characterization of different kinds of population check yet presented • Explains the importance of the anthropological, archaeological and economic findings of the past 50 years to understanding humankind’s development • Clarifies the preconditions for human life on earth • Predicts what will happen to us in the near future
Dilworth goes into excruciating detail to answer the question “why,” through analysis of the biological and evolutionary underpinnings of our species, and is therefore, beyond the scope of this post. However, Dilworth’s basic premise is based on a principle he calls the “Vicious Circle Principle” (or VCP for short), which can be expressed as the following:
The vicious circle principle (VCP) is both easy to understand and in keeping not only with modern science but also with common sense. Briefly put, it says that in the case of humans the experience of need, resulting e.g. from changed environmental conditions, sometimes leads to technological innovation, which becomes widely employed, allowing more to be taken from the environment, thereby promoting population growth, which leads back to a situation of need. Or, seeing as it is a matter of a circle, it could for example be expressed as: increasing population size leads to technological innovation, which allows more to be taken from the environment, thereby promoting further population growth; or as: technological innovation allows more to be taken from the environment, the increase promoting population growth, which in turn creates a demand for further technological innovation.
My intention in starting this thread is twofold. First, to introduce the book to those unfamiliar with it, as I believe it to be mandatory reading for collapseniks. Second, to discuss the ideas Dilworth presents given the relevance to recent discussions on the Diner. Unfortunately Dilworth comes to the depressing conclusion that humankind is headed straight for the evolutionary dustbin, despite the efforts of the few who are attempting to avert such a result, because we’re dealing with a fundamental trait of humanity unlikely to change any time soon. My opinion has been that we must evolve or perish, an opinion that appears to be supported by Dilworth’s theory. The middle section of the book is very academic and far from light reading which serves as a scientific basis for the conclusions drawn, but the first and final chapter (too dumb to change) is where most of the ideas are presented that will interest the Diners.
What I find most fascinating about the VCP is that it provides an explanation that goes beyond Nationalism, cultural values, religions and the rise and fall of empires, because the theory is overarching in it’s scope. Even if the US Empire collapses and doesn’t manage to take the rest of the world down with it, the VCP will still remain as the root cause of our problem.
Dilworth gives a brief explanation of his work.
Some quotes to get things started:
According to Daly, the appeals of growth are that it is the basis of national power and that it is an excuse for not sharing as a means of combating poverty. It offers – in conflict with the entropy principle – the prospect of more for all with sacrifice by none.
…goods and services that cannot be bought or sold are valueless from the point of view of neoclassical economics.
An attitude to life which seeks fulfilment in the single-minded pursuit of wealth – in short, materialism – does not fit into this world, because it contains within itself no limiting principle, while the environment in which it is placed is strictly limited.
All that is needed, they say, are larger research and development budgets, greater offerings to the Technological Priesthood who gave us the Green Revolution, Nuclear Power, and Space Travel. That these technological saviors have created more problems than they have solved is conveniently overlooked. The mythology of technological omnipotence is by itself very strong, but when backed by class interests in avoiding the radical policies required by the steady state, it becomes a full-fledged idolatry. As long as we remain trapped by the ideology of competitive growth, there is no solution. … The value of growth is rigidly held in first place, and we are trapped into a system of increasing environmental disruption and gross injustices by our inability to reorder values.
Economic growth, so long as it is based on a non-renewable surplus, erodes that surplus at a faster rate than would occur otherwise, shortening the time to its eventual disappearance. And if the surplus is of renewables, economic growth will tend to convert them into non-renewables: their being drawn into the economic system to a constantly increasing degree will mean their being used at a successively higher rate until that rate exceeds their ability to reproduce themselves.
As Schumacher also says, the economic growth of the industrial era could just as well be seen as a measure of the rate at which we are consuming geological capital, while counting it as income.
So the fact that our situation is terribly threatening has been known to decision makers for more than 30 years, and this quite independently of an awareness of the operation of the vicious circle principle. What an understanding of the VCP adds is a realisation both of how we have come to this pass, as well as why we in fact have made no serious attempt to remedy the situation despite our being aware of it. … According to the VCP the individual territorial instincts of the powerful override whatever other instincts they may have as support the well-being of the species, and it is they who determine the course taken. And, it seems to me, there’s not much we can do about it. The revealing of the nature of the situation, such as is attempted in this book, is not going to make any noticeable difference.
Let’s start by talking first about a subject fairly far removed debt–the difference between the systems created by nature and systems created by humans. The reason why I bring this difference up is because if we were only dealing with natural systems, there would be no need for debt. It is only when we start dealing with man’s systems that debt becomes an issue.
Natural System vs. Humans’ Growth Based System
We all know what the natural system looks like: the combination of birds, animals, trees, the sky, the many tiny organisms, the soil, rocks, and everything else in the world that is present without man’s intervention. Human systems represent things that humans make, such as trucks and roads, and cars, and buildings, and electrical transmission systems. In a way, all human systems are interconnected, so we can think of them as one big system, created by humans.
Natural systems don’t expand in size over time. Individual plants and animals grow and mature, and in the process become larger. But then they die, their bodies decompose, and eventually different organisms grow. Rocks decompose and form soil. This soil erodes, but, in time, it is replaced with new soil through the erosion of rocks.
There can be an expansion in the number of one type of animal, but eventually these animals will tend to eat too many of their prey, and the number of predators will drop, to stay in line with the amount of their food source. There can be a shift in mix of types of plants and animals, but the change is in the mix, not a long term growth in the overall quantity of plant and animal life.
Natural systems don’t need any assistance from humans. They have been around for billions of years. There is no need to finance anything.
Outsmarting the Natural System
In the natural system, each type of plant or animal produces more offspring than is needed to replace itself. The normal order of the natural system is such that only the best adapted plants or animals relative to the particular surroundings will survive. Many of the offspring do not survive to maturity.
Humans, since the earliest times, have had difficulty with this arrangement. Humans, because of their intelligence, have found ways to outsmart at least part of the “survival of the fittest” arrangement that would keep our numbers similar to those of other primates, such as gorillas or chimpanzees–probably fewer than 1,000,000 humans in total in the whole world.
Well over 100,000 years ago, humans discovered the use of fire, and the fact that fire could be used in many ways–to cook food so that new types of food could be eaten, and so that more nutritional value could be extracted from food that was eaten, to keep warm, and to drive animals from one area to another, so that animals could be more easily killed and eaten. In the same time-frame, humans began using spears to better kill prey. About 35,000 to 45,000 years ago, humans learned to hunt with dogs, and thus increased the amount of prey they could kill.
This pattern of finding ways around natural limits has continued to this day. The use of farming, starting about 10,000 years ago, allowed a great expansion in population. The use of trade to import food from a distance further increased the number of humans who could live on the earth. There were numerous other discoveries, including burning peat moss, and the use of water power and wind power, before coal was brought into common use in the 18th century. In the 20th century, the petroleum use surpassed coal. There were also many other advances that helped humans avoid natural limits–for example, the discovery of antibiotics, and the widespread use of electricity.
At the bottom of Slide 4, I have represented the long-term pattern of growth by a line that gradually slopes more and more upward, as we move to later periods. Even in the earliest period, there was some upward slope, but this may have been offset by setbacks. The amount of growth gradually increased, but still was not particularly evident to those living at the time, because of inherent fluctuations. The greatest growth has come in the last 100 years.
There are two basic reasons why human systems are growth based:
(1) Humans find ways to get around “survival of the fittest”.
(2) Entropy–Whatever humans build eventually falls apart. Humans have to keep to keep building more, just to stay even. Even advances like discovering antibiotics and herbicides have to keep being repeated, or nature finds ways around our advances.
The combination of these factors means that humans have been, and continue to be, on a constant growth tread-mill. There have been examples of small societies that have managed to keep populations flat for relatively long periods, and there have been many societies that have collapsed while others have expanded. The overall aggregate impact of human has been, however, has been one of gradual growth in numbers and material wealth.
Graphic Representation of Natural System and Humans’ System
Slide 6 shows my view of how very early humans fit in with the natural system, back in the days before man discovered fire and spears and learned how to hunt with dogs. Humans were part of the natural system, just like other animals. Their population was no doubt relatively low, and stayed low, perhaps varying with climate change and food availability.
Slide 7 shows my view of what humans’ system looks like now. It has grown in size, so that in many places it overwhelms the natural system. Humans’ system takes resources from nature, and sends its pollution back to nature. Thus it is tied to the natural system, whether we recognize the situation or not.
The Nature of Growth
If we look at a graph of world population, we see that growth has been particularly evident in the last 100 or 200 years.
It appears to me (based on GDP statistics of Angus Maddison for the last 2000 years) that prior to the use of fossil fuels, most of the growth was simply population growth, as humans were able to increase their food supply. It was not until fossil fuels were added that there was a big increase in standard of living.
Economic growth of the type we have had since the growth in the use of fossil fuels provides many benefits. If the economy is growing fast enough, there is rising demand for homes, so home prices tend to rise. The prices of individual stocks rise, and there are more jobs available, some of which pay well. Governments find that the taxes that they collect rise, even without raising the tax rate. This helps governmental stability.
How can humans’ system be made to grow? Clearly one thing that is needed is increasing amounts of materials from the natural world; another is a way of transforming these materials into goods and services that people want or need.
A less obvious thing that is needed is a way for people to be able to pay for the goods and services, in advance of the time that they earn the money to buy these things. This is where “rentiers” come into play. Rentiers provide the credit that allows people to buy goods and services that would normally require a large accumulation of wealth.
Debt was first used about 5,000 ago, back in the days of early agriculture, according to David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5,000 Years. At that time, large temples acted as purchasers and sellers of goods and services. People brought goods to the temple to sell, and also bought other goods. The temples kept running tabs. Those who bought more than they sold were in debt.
Rentiers and Debt
Rentiers are enablers of debt. They allow people to buy things that they couldn’t otherwise pay for. Rentiers include banks and other parts of the financial system.
There have been rentiers for 5,000 years, but the growth in rentiers has been greatest since World War II. The need for debt is greatest when one wants to increase the rate of growth.
Think of the United States after World War II. The world had come through the long economic depression, and things were finally looking better after World War II. The soldiers were coming home again, and would soon be unemployed. If only citizens could afford to buy new cars and new homes, there might be jobs for these returning soldiers.
Government debt had been ramped up prior to World War II (allowing it to buy tanks and airplanes and to employ more soldiers), and now was being paid down (not shown on Slide 13). If demand was to be kept up, and even raised, private citizens and businesses needed to be encouraged to go into debt, allowing citizens to buy things like cars, refrigerators, and new homes. Slide 13 shows that non-government debt was ramped up after World War II. This stimulated the economy because it allowed more people to buy “big ticket” items, and helped ramp up job growth and energy use.
If we look at a graph of world energy use (from my post, World Energy Consumption Since 1820 in Charts) we see that world energy consumption really began to rise after World War II–that is, the same time non-government debt was being added.
The growth in energy consumption since World War II is even larger on a per-capita basis. Most of this growth was in fossil fuels–in oil and natural gas, and, recently, in coal. Without fossil fuels, our per capita energy consumption in 2012 would be below that in 1820, and our lifestyles would be much different.
Slide 16 shows that if a person looks at a graph of world population growth, there is a very distinct upward “bend” after World War II. This is precisely the time that energy use grew rapidly, and debt use grew rapidly.
How Debt Growth Works – And Eventually Doesn’t Work
The basic way our financial system works is that when a person or business or government needs money, that money is loaned into existence. This allows a business to expand, or a person to afford to buy a car or home that he or she had not saved up money for. What happens is that increasing debt allows demand to be higher than it would otherwise be, so that natural resources (including oil, gas, and coal) are extracted more rapidly than they otherwise would be. This allows what we measure as the “economic growth” rate to be higher than it would otherwise be.
There are a couple of catches with this system:
1. The money to repay the debt is not loaned into existence at the same time the principle is loaned into existence. As long as the economy is growing fast enough, this is not a problem, because economic growth allows future production to be enough higher than current production to pay back debt with interest. But if the economy ever slows down, there is a problem.
2. The process of increasing extraction of natural resources through the use of increased debt doesn’t work indefinitely, because at some point resource extraction starts getting constrained, and pollution becomes more of a problem.
Slide 18 illustrates the way that a growing economy helps to make repaying debt easier. With a growing economy, the size of the “economic pie” grows pretty much every year. This growth means that even if a fixed amount of debt plus interest needs to be paid back, relative to the growing base, it is less of a problem. It is easy to see this situation for a government, but a similar situation exists for individuals. If the economy is growing, on average, people will find themselves getting promotions and will find new jobs available when they lose old ones, so that, for example, repaying home loans tends not to be a problem.
Clearly, the reverse is true if the economy is shrinking. Even if the economy shows zero growth these is a problem, because there is not enough to growth to cover the interest. If interest rates are lowered to almost zero (do very low interest rates sound at all familiar?), the inability to cover the additional cost relating to paying back interest, but even this becomes burdensome.
It might also be pointed out that with a flat or shrinking economy, it becomes more and more difficult to pay for promised social programs, such as social security retirement programs and unemployment programs. These programs become a larger portion of a stable or shrinking pie, and thus become harder and harder to fund. European countries (which have been very generous with their social programs) are having particular difficulty with these problems now, as well as difficulty with repaying their debt.
The reason why growth in resource extraction cannot continue forever is related to Figure 20, whch I also showed earlier. At some point, resource extraction becomes constrained. Higher demand for oil tends to lead primarily to higher prices for oil, rather than to much more oil actually coming out of the ground. Pollution of various kinds, including carbon dioxide pollution, becomes more and more of a problem.
Everything I can see says we started reaching the point where oil resources became restrained about 2004 – 2005, when oil prices started going up, and oil extraction did not rise by much. Since that time, world oil extraction has grown very slowly, constraining economic growth. The 2008-2009 recession seems to me to be very much associated with this constriction, as are the debt problems we are now seeing around the world, especially in Europe.
The reason why an economic slowdown occurs when oil prices rise relates to the fact that oil is used for necessities–growing food and for commuting to work. A rise in oil prices does not result in a rise in families’ incomes, especially in oil importing countries, which is what the United States and most of Europe are. A family will tend to cut back on discretionary spending, such as going out to restaurants, or buying a new car, or buying a more expensive home.
As a result, there will be layoffs in discretionary industries–for example, restaurants, car manufacture, and home building. People in these industries will be laid off from work. Some of those laid off from work will default on loans. Value of homes will tend to fall, as few people are in the market for a move-up home. Government spending on unemployment claims will increase, at the same time that tax revenue drops (or flattens) because fewer workers are employed. Governments find themselves in increasingly distressed financial condition, because they cannot afford to pay promised benefits, and their debt burden gets higher and higher. If this all sounds like the economic news of the last few years, in both Europe and the United States, it shouldn’t be too surprising, given the high price of oil, and our the dependence of our economies on oil.
Problems with the Rentier Debt System
The biggest issue with our debt-based system is the system tends to collapse, once adequate growth to sustain the whole system occurs. We appear to be rapidly approaching this point. It will also collapse at a closely related point-—when the amount of debt becomes so high that the governments cannot afford to pay the interest on debt, and keep up other programs.
Another issue is that as the economic condition of people in oil importing counties is reduced, governments of these countries find themselves less able to collect taxes, at the same time they would like to stimulate the economy. Promised retirement programs also become harder to fund. This means that the governments of oil-importing economies will find themselves under increasing tendency to collapse, as high oil prices lead to recessionary tendencies.
Another issue of the rentier debt system is that too much money is transferred to the finance system and to those collecting interest (as opposed to paying interest). People at the bottom of the economic order find themselves barely able to make ends meet, and borrow to try to cover necessities. The interest rates these individuals are charged are far higher than the interest rates paid by borrowers who are deemed more “credit-worth”, such as governments.
Another issue is that as the price of oil rises, too much money is transferred to countries involved with oil extraction, at the expense of oil-importing countries. This transfer of funds to oil exporting nations tends to depress the economies of oil importing nations. There are theoretical ways that the funds of oil exporting nations might be recycled, but increasingly, these countries find that they need these funds to pacify the demands of their own populations, so that recycling occurs less.
What Is Ahead?
We have already talked about some of impacts that are already occurring–financial systems under stress, with some countries appearing to be near default. The question is what may happen next.
If there are defaults in one or two countries–say Greece and Spain–the financial problems seem likely to spread to banks in other parts of the world, through derivatives and through banks carrying debt relating to the defaulting countries. There also seem to be any number of countries in weak condition–for example, Egypt–and the problems of these countries may worsen as well.
Another likely outcome would seem to be that new loans will become less available. If a particular country has recently defaulted and seems to have no way of paying for new oil imports, they may have difficulty getting loans. But even those not directly involved with defaults may find it much more difficult to get loans, because the financial condition of banks will be worse, and some banks may fail. A reduction in available loans will tend to lead to economic contraction, and make any tendency toward collapse worse.
We can speculate on all kinds of other things that happen. I will not elaborate on the Items shown on Slide 23, except to say that cheap oil has enabled a lot of what we have today–an international trade system that allows the formation of large countries, and that allows large countries to interact to a much greater extent than a few hundred years ago. There would seem to be a possibility that most of the advances of the last few hundred years will disappear as the availability of cheap oil disappears.
Can we solve our problems by getting rid of rentier debt?
Unfortunately, no. We are now reaching resource limits, primarily in oil, but also in other resources, such as fresh water, and also with respect to pollution. Humans were on a growth trajectory to reach these limits, with or without rentier debt. Rentier debt allowed us to reach these limits faster than we might otherwise have reached them.
Now that the bubble has been inflated, and we seem to be near collapse, getting rid of rentier debt won’t really “fix” the situation. It is basically too late. The future direction would seem to be contraction, and this will almost certainly eliminate most rentier debt. Our task now would seem to be to deal with all of the dislocations that occur when defaults occur and to develop new financial system(s) that can handle continued contraction.
I think a key point from what Steve said there was the debts could be canceled and you would have to borrow to infinity anyway to keep industrial civilization as we know it running. Triggering the global derivative markets would probably lead to such a reset of debt would it not? Or they would just end derivatives? Many liberal techno fantasy folks I know trumpet that solution but it seems it would destroy the supposed assets of the too big to fail banks.
In theory you could cancel out the derivatives market, but this would crash the biggest of the TBTF banks. It would be massively deflationary, leaving only “real” assets on their books, but those assets are also all impaired. Loan books that are not paying off, Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDOs) with no worthwhile collateral backing them up, etc.
Besides bringing down the main Global Banking system, same players control global trade of all kinds, and once they are outta biz you don’t have a coherent means to keep this up, not on anywhere near current scale anyhow. Who will issue Letters of Credit, based in what currency? Gold? Pfffft. Even if Saudis accept Gold for Oil, anybody running an industrial economy will bankrupt themselves of that Gold using it to keep buying Oil for a while. Once the Saudis HAVE all the Gold, then what do you buy their Oil with?
So you are left with the fundamental problem that once this monetary system crashes, rebooting a new one based on any worthwhile assets is pretty tough. You can say the Land is the Asset, but for land to be an asset it actually has to be productive in some way. A McMansion is not a productive asset of course. Farms can be productive assets, but current Industrial Ag is not, it requires too much input of fossil fuel energy to be net productive.
A Perfectly run Permaculture Farm could be considered Productive, but basing a monetary system on that is quite the challenge unless you Nationalize this. See, if each individual person runs their own Private Property Farm, its not a State Asset at all. You can barter your produce with others, but there is no Money involved here in this. Only once the State taxes your produce and creates a currency of some sort from that taxation can you have money flowing around the economy.
Anyhow, even if you do drop down to this level (which is basically the Feudal system), you have massively deflated Industrialization out of Biz as unaffordable, you have very little functioning Money around of any kind (and what there is probably is very local), and you are left with Feudally Run (by local Warlords no doubt) permaculture Farms which probably do not produce enough to handle the current local population’s needs. So lots of people go to the Great Beyond here in this process of contraction.
So of course our Global Masters are doing every last thing they can think of to keep the system propped up, because when (not if) the Global Banking system collapses it doesn’t mean just a Monetary Reset here. It means the real onset of Civilization Collapse and an Die Off in population of unprecedented proportions in all of Recorded History.
The Solution which will be undertaken to this problem is not a Monetary one, it is WAR. When you no longer can afford to BUY the resource you need, you STEAL it. So through War the attempt is already underway to steal the Oil remaining from the MENA countries to keep propping up the economies of the core Industrial Economies of Germany, China and the FSofA. The Ruskies mostly have their own Oil and aren’t directly involved, but their problem is they can’t afford their OWN oil. They have been contracting down since the collapse of the Soviet Union, population stats way down here over the last 20 years with more to go.
Its the War issue which makes the local collapse here in the FSofA so unpredictable. A Military State such as Rome can persist for quite a while through conquest and theft. However, the fact we are in the end going to go Mano-a-Mano or Nuke-a-Nuke with the Chinese for the last of the remaining Oil means in all probability the Big Ass Military will not last so long as it did in the Roman Collapse, which actually took Centuries to complete. In this case it probably doesn’t last 5 years, and in fact could be over in a matter of minutes. Generaly speaking though, I think MAD will prevail and if Nukes are used, they will be mostly tactical ones, not ICBM MIRV equipped City Killers.
To conclude here in this digest of GUTOC, the sequence of events is pretty clear even if the Timeline for them still remains a bit murky. Overall my predictions have been very accurate in terms of sequence since I got started on this, I predicted the Nation State BKs coming down the pipe in 2008 after Lehman collapsed. The length of time TPTB have been able to extend this out continues to astound me, along with the endless creativity in accounting and the endless gullibility/acceptance of eating shit by the general public as well. This will not last in perpetuity though, up at the Top it is coming apart at the seams now and fracture is imminent. War looms on the Horizon.