Déjà vu—the sudden insistent feeling that you’ve encountered the present moment before—can be one of the oddest of human experiences. Sometimes, though, it happens for perfectly prosaic reasons. Right now, as I look at headlines and certain other indicators, I’m having a very strong case of déjà vu for reasons that require only the simplest explanation. Sometimes, after all, you really have been there before.
Twenty years ago, for example, I could look back at the energy crises of the 1970s and see a certain pattern unfolding with great clarity. I’ll summarize the pattern for those of my readers who weren’t born yet at that time. All through the 1950s and 1960s, a handful of people had been warning that petroleum is a finite resource and that the breakneck extraction of petroleum at ever-rising rates was sooner or later going to slam face first into hard limits. They were of course dismissed as cranks by all right-thinking people. They were also correct.
In 1973, declining production from US oilfields combined with political instability in the Middle East to slap the United States with a sudden shortfall in petroleum. The government and the Fed responded clumsily, expanding the money supply, which drove up prices, not only for petroleum products but for everything that was made and shipped using petroleum—that is to say, pretty much everything bought and sold in the country. The result was stagflation. Meanwhile renewable-energy advocates convinced themselves that their time had come, and rushed a great many poorly conceived products to market, while the apocalypse lobby—those people who are constantly on the lookout for reasons to insist that everything is about to crash to ruin and we’re all going to die in the next few years—embraced the oil crisis as their cause du jour.
What happened, though, was neither apocalypse nor Ecotopia, but a return to stability with a high price tag. The higher price of oil covered the cost of projects that couldn’t have broken even before 1970. Oil fields in Alaska’s North Slope, the Gulf of Mexico, and the North Sea came online and drove the price of oil back down, and though it never went quite down to the price it had been before the crisis, it was close enough that people assumed the problem was over. Most of the renewable energy products launched during the crisis vanished from the market, though a few managed to hang on, and the apocalypse lobby found new things to emote about.
By 2001, the energy market had returned to a fair simulacrum of the conditions of the 1960s. The petroleum economy seemed to be chugging ahead, and only a handful of people were warning that petroleum is a finite resource and that the crisis had just been postponed. Once again, they were dismissed as cranks by all right-thinking people, and once again, they were correct. The first decade of the twenty-first century thus saw a repeat of the 1970s, except that the government and the Fed responded clumsily in the other direction, causing a bitter recession instead of stagflation. Once again, a great many poorly conceived renewable energy products were rushed to market, and the apocalypse lobby embraced peak oil as their latest reason to proclaim the imminent doom of everybody and everything.
Again, what happened instead was another return to stability, at a price. The sky-high price of oil made it economical to pursue projects that hadn’t been profitable before, and the Obama and Trump administrations doubled down on this by flooding the fracking industry with federal dollars under a variety of gimmicks. That drove the price of oil back down, and in the usual way, most of the renewable energy schemes collapsed of their own weight or lingered as zombies propped up by government subsidies, while the apocalypse lobby once again found something else to brandish as proof that we really will all be dead in a few years.
And now? Once again, only a handful of people are warning that petroleum is a finite resource and that fracking was a temporary fix at best, and all right-thinking people dismiss them as cranks. Meanwhile, over the last few years, the price of oil has been moving raggedly upwards, and even the price crash caused by the coronavirus shutdowns didn’t stop that movement for long. Déjà vu? It’s thick enough to cut with a knife.
The state of the fracking industry bears close examination here, not least because—as I’ve discussed in these essays rather more than once already—it’s one of the places where my predictions, like those of most other peak oil writers, turned out to be wrong. What misled us is easy enough to explain. There are very good reasons why extracting liquid fuels from shales by hydrofracturing is not an economically viable solution to the depletion of conventional petroleum reserves; that remains as true as it has ever been. What everyone in the peak oil scene missed was that this didn’t matter, because politics trumps economics.
Of all people, I should have caught onto this, because I was busy making the same argument in a different context. Longtime readers will recall the flurry of predictions that came out during the oil crisis of 2008-2009, insisting that the global economy was about to grind to a halt, leaving seven billion people to starve. I pointed out then that those predictions all assumed that the only response governments would have to a catastrophic market crisis was to sit on their hands saying in plaintive tones, “Whatever shall we do?” If the global economy had ground to a halt—as of course it never did—the political authorities could have intervened in dozens of effective ways, as they had done in plenty of economic crises over the previous century.
And of course that’s exactly the logic that drove the fracking boom. It’s quite true that extracting liquid fuels from shales by hydrofracturing is a miserably poor option in economic terms, and also in terms of net energy—that’s the equivalent in energy terms of profit, how much energy you have left after you subtract all the energy you had to consume to get it. From the standpoint of short term politics, which is the only kind of politics that matters in America today, those points were entirely irrelevant. All that mattered was that fracking could boost liquid fuel production for a few years and stave off a financial and political crisis, and so gimmicks were found to provide effectively unlimited credit to the fracking industry. If you can borrow as much money as you want and can just keep on rolling over the debts, anything is affordable.
So does that mean that the problem is solved, and no oil crisis will ever again rise up like the Shadow in Tolkien’s fantasies? Of course not. Just as the North Slope and North Sea oilfields depleted steadily once extraction began in earnest, US oil shale reserves are being depleted steadily. Oil is a finite resource, and the faster you pump it, the sooner it runs out. Gandalf had it right: “Always, after a defeat and a respite, the Shadow takes another shape and grows again”—and the ragged upward movements in the price of oil over the last few years is one of the warning signs that the current respite is drawing to a close.
Once again, anyone who points this out is dismissed as a crank by all right-thinking people. It’s become an element of the conventional wisdom, in fact, that what we face is not peak oil supply but peak oil demand. As more and more renewable energy sources come on line, the theory claims, demand for petroleum will drop until eventually production shuts down because no one wants crude oil any more. That would be a plausible theory, except for three things.
First of all, as the chart above shows, petroleum consumption has been increasing far more quickly than renewable energy sources have been coming online. This is one of the reasons why I remain distinctly suspicious of claims currently being flung around by green-energy advocates that solar and wind power have become the cheapest source of grid electricity. If they really were that cheap, utility companies—which are after all in business to make a profit—would be piling into them on their own nickel, replacing expensive natural gas plants right and left with solar and wind plants. Now in fact utility companies are expanding their solar and wind plants in a much more cautious way, and by and large seem to be doing so only to the extent that government mandates or subsidies push them into doing so, so it’s pretty clear that the rosy figures being brandished by green-energy advocates have about as much in common with reality as does any other kind of glossy advertising.
Second, if demand for petroleum was approaching a peak, given the ever-increasing supply of petroleum shown in the earlier chart, the price of oil would be dropping as a result of the law of supply and demand. That hasn’t happened. Quite the contrary, even though global production of liquid fuels reached an all-time high in 2019, oil prices moved raggedly upwards to that point, and have begun moving upwards again—raggedly, sure, and with plenty of sudden downside jolts, but still upwards, now that the impact of the coronavirus shutdowns has been priced in by the relevant markets. That shows that demand isn’t declining, and it isn’t even leveling off. It’s still rising—and that, in turn, disproves the theory of peak demand.
Yet there’s another factor at work here, and it’s the most important of all: Jevons’ Paradox. William Stanley Jevons was a British economist in the nineteenth century, one of the founders of the field of energy economics. In his 1866 book The Coal Question, he set out to make sense of the way that the price and production of fossil fuels are shaped by economic forces. One of the things he tackled was the seemingly plausible claim, widespread in his time, that the best way to make Britain’s huge but finite reserves of coal last as long as possible was to figure out ways to use it more efficiently.
Not so, said Jevons. What happens if consumers of coal use it more efficiently? They use less. What happens when this affects the market? The price of coal goes down. What happens then? People whose ability to use coal was constrained by price use more of it, and new uses are found for the newly cheap coal supply—and so the consumption of coal rises. He showed that using a fuel more efficiently simply guarantees that more of it will be used. What’s more, that’s what happens in the real world, and it’s happening around us right now.
What makes Jevons’ Paradox so deadly in the present situation is that adding new sources of supply to the energy mix has the same effect as making demand more efficient. That’s why it’s inaccurate to claim, as so many badly written histories do, that oil replaced coal. More coal gets burnt each year now than was burnt each year at the peak of the coal era; petroleum, by taking some of the demand that would otherwise drive up the price of coal, kept coal cheap and made it economical to use coal even more freely than before.
In exactly the same way, adding wind and solar to the energy mix doesn’t replace fossil fuels. As shown by the energy use chart above, it takes some of the demand that would otherwise drive up the price of fossil fuels, and thus keeps the price of fossil fuels lower than that would otherwise be. As a result, more fossil fuels get burnt.
(I should probably pause here to deal with the most common response to Jevons’ Paradox, which amounts to an anguished cry of “But that’s not fair!” No, it’s not fair, but it’s true anyway. The universe has never heard of human notions of fairness. If by some bizarre chance it did hear about those notions, it would simply shrug and keep on doing things the way it likes, since the universe cares about the preferences of one species of social primate on the third rock from a nondescript star in the suburbs of an ordinary galaxy about as much as you care about the preferences of the bacteria on the soles of your shoes. Does that makes you very, very upset? Here again, the universe will not notice, much less care. Screaming at the laws of nature may make you feel better temporarily, but it won’t budge them one iota.
(And if it seems paradoxical to you that a Druid who prays to pagan deities and practices ceremonial magic should be saying this in response to the behavior of people who by and large consider themselves practical-minded rationalists, trust me, the irony has not escaped my attention either. Thank you, and we now return to this week’s regularly scheduled post.)
So the theory of peak oil demand can be tossed in the same dumpster as phlogiston theory and Lysenkoist genetics. What we are facing instead, at some point in the next few years, is another brush with peak oil supply, and thus another spike in the price of petroleum. If it happens while the Biden administration is in office, to judge by the response of Biden’s handlers to the latest round of economic wobbles, we can probably expect a reprise of the 1970s strategy of expanding the money supply, and thus another round of stagflation followed by sky-high interest rates. If it happens under the next president, that’ll depend on which of the available range of bad options appeals most to Number 47 and his or her inner circle. One way or another, we can certainly expect serious economic and political troubles. We can also expect renewable energy advocates to bring another flurry of poorly conceived energy projects to market, and the apocalypse lobby to rediscover its fondness for petroleum depletion and fill the internet with another round of proclamations of imminent doom.
A few years further down the road, in turn, some new source of liquid fuels will be brought online in response to the higher prices then availble, most of the renewable energy products will vanish from the market because they don’t make economic sense, and the apocalypse lobby will forget all about petroleum depletion again in its eagerness to embrace the latest and most fashionable reason why we will all surely be dead by next Thursday—no, seriously, this time for real! Thereafter, only a handful of people will remember that petroleum is a finite resource, and they will of course once again be dismissed as cranks by all right-thinking people—until the next price spike hits.
Does this mean that petroleum depletion doesn’t matter? No, that’s not at all what it means—but petroleum depletion matters in a way that doesn’t fit the narratives that our culture likes to use when talking or thinking about the future. Every round of the cycle we’ve discussed in this post has driven a sharp decline in standards of living for most Americans, and despite a great deal of handwaving and statistical manipulation, those declines have not been made up in the intervals of relarive stability that followed each crisis. Most Americans are much poorer today, in terms of the quality and quantity of goods and services they can purchase with the incomes they are able to earn, than their equivalents before 1973, and noticeably poorer in the same terms than their equivalents before 2008. They will be poorer still when the next round of crisis is over.
Furthermore, the built environment and public infrastructure of the US have suffered equally sharp declines in the same stairstep fashion. It’s safe to assume that the aftermath of the next crisis will see another step down of roughly the same type and magnitude. No doubt another round of handwaving and statistical manipulation will be used to insist that the declines didn’t happen, don’t matter, and are the fault of the people who are suffering from them—those have been the usual response to economic contraction from the chattering classes for a good many decades now. Yet the ongoing decline of the American economy and the ongoing disintegration of our built environment and infrastructure can’t be magicked away by such tactics.
The unlearned lesson of petroleum depletion can be summed up very neatly: sure, you can find another source of liquid fuel to replace the fields that you’ve pumped dry, but it’s going to cost you—and the cost will go up, and up, and up with each hard encounter with the finite nature of fossil fuel resoruces. So far the price has included driving large parts of the American working class down to Third World levels of impoverishment and immiseration, and the accelerating layoffs and plunging income in many formerly middle class careers suggest that the next step down will see the lower end of the managerial classes cut loose to sink down to the same level.
I therefore expect the next decade of so of politics and culture in the United States to be twisted into strange shapes by the frantic efforts of the downwardly mobile to claw their way back up to positions of privilege that aren’t there any more. Politicians and pundits will doubtless come up with any number of ways to exploit those efforts. In the end, however, it’ll all be wasted breath, because the process of decline cannot be reversed.
The extravagant prosperity we had in America in the recent past, after all, existed for two reasons. The first was the accident of geology that blessed the United States with gargantuan petroleum reserves, many of them very close to the surface and easy to extract. That made it possible for the United States in the mid-twentieth century to pump more petroleum out of the ground than the rest of the world combined. The extraordinary bonanza of unearned wealth provided by that torrent of black gold, together with bare-knuckle international politics during and after the Second World War, created a temporary situation in which the United States had 50% of world GDP, and the 5% of the world’s population that lived in this country had at its disposal a third of the world’s manufactured products and a quarter of its energy.
That was never sustainable in the first place, and the attempts that were made to prolong it after it stopped making any kind of economic sense simply pushed problems further down the road while doing nothing to solve them. Now the consequences of those short-term decisions are piling up, the underlying depletion of fossil fuel reserves are continuing, and the consequences of all that fossil fuel consumption are driving disruptive changes in the global biosphere that are imposing rising costs of their own. It’s a messy situation.
It’s also one that every other civilization has encountered in its own way once it finished its era of expansion, depleted whatever resource base was central to its rise, and began to stumble down the long ragged slope of its future. The experiences of people living through the same process in earlier ages shows that there are constructive options available, for those who are willing to be dismissed as cranks by all right-thinking people. I’ve discussed some of those choices already, here and in my previous blog (which, by the way, you can get collected in print or e-book format here if you’re interested). We’ll be discussing more of them in the future—and if those discussions give you a sense of déjà vu, dear reader, then you’re paying attention, because we really have been here before.
I’m old enough to remember the oil crisis of the 1970s. There used to be a small gas station (I no longer recall what brand they sold) on one of the main roads leading out of town. It folded when the crisis hit and never reopened. The gas pumps were removed and the building torn down but for the longest time you could still see the stations’ pavement and a tall street light that once lit the front of the building. The light post slowly rusted away until someone finally removed it. The pavement can still be seen though poplars and aspens have colonized the area nearly obscuring it. I doubt many people recall there was even a station there.
It’s a little mind boggling to realize that was half a century ago and yet still a harbinger of things to come. The Long Descent grinds slowly but inexorably.
great update on peak oil!
You mention that we can get your previous blog posts on ebook format but I see no link?
Another question: you do not mention the best way for the governments to handle the current oil crisis – lockdowns, restrictions and authoritarianism imposed under the guise of a “devil” disease (yes, they use that word as well as “inferno” and others when talking about Covid).
Isn’t it possible that the crisis can be flattened (just like 2 weeks to flatten the curve) by continued lockdowns? After all they managed to almost stop tourism, air travel and even reduced commuting.
Like you said, you missed the importance of shales but you should have known that governments can and will take extreme measure to contain problems to the system.
I would like to call attention to what was a main site of peak oil discussion in years gone by. This was the incomparable site, the Oil Drum. Google Oil Drum Blog, and you will get a link to the archives. This takes one to every post ever done on the site, and not only that, but all of the comments.
The Oil Drum ran from March, 2005 to October, 2013. I’ve started re-reading a lot of this and it’s interesting reading commentary of 15 years ago. A few people convinced that nuclear would make oil obsolete by 2015 or 20, or that over 50% of the auto fleet would be electric.
Anyway, when the shale drilling got going and the fear of immanent Peak Oil faded, the site folded, which was a shame, at the Oil Drum was by far the best of the peak oil sites.
One prediction, by Ken Deffeys, of peak Crude + Condensates happening in December, 2005, has withstood the test of time. In light of the fact, as per Art Berman, that peak All-Liquids was in November of 2018, and peak Shale was in November of 2019, it would be nice of some of the old hands (several of whom post here and now on ecosophia) could revive the old site.
As a side-note, the Oil Drumwas how I found the Archdruid Report, someone had left a link on one of the Oil Drum comments.
“plunging income in many formerly middle class careers suggest that the next step down will see the lower end of the managerial classes cut loose to sink down to the same level”
I’ll add that many aspiring young people tried to gain access to the middle class through hard work, education, and a clean slate (good credit, no criminal record), but the fruits never materialized.
I’m a thirty-something and my standard of living is the same as it was when I was nineteen years old: without going into debt, I can afford a one-bedroom apartment and a healthy diet with some savings leftover, but not much else (if I owned a car, I’d be broke). I lived the same way when I was nineteen, but now I make a “professional salary” which is basically 20% above the GDP per capita, but I’m still relatively “poor” in the sense that I’m priced out of owning a property in the region where I work and I can’t position myself to prosper.
This is a common story for my generation and it is propelling people into ideologies that think the government can be coerced into providing Universal Basic Income and everything will be fine. But some are set to inherit enormous sums of wealth if their parents got on the property ladder at the right time, so they’ll become the landlord class. Makes me wonder if Western countries might turn to forced land and wealth redistribution in the coming decades…
Peak Oil is already far enough behind us that we can no, as your post suggests, perceive some patterns what the far side of peak oil actually looks like. But surely this series of events cannot go on forever, because, since oil is a finite resource, ther must come a time, where industrial civilization doesn’t have the technology anymore to pump further oil from the last, difficult to pump oil fields, even if the holders of power would like to keep pumping fossil fuels without regard to the costs. So it may not be the oil price on a market, which at that late time may have become distorted out of existence, which determines the end of the oil age, but rather the point at which the last countries, which have access to oil-pumping technology loses these technologies due to disrepair or similar events. But all this is still rather far off.
Looking at that road filled with potholes reminds me of a road building technique invented in the late 1700s.
A form of pavement invented by John McAdam of Scotland in the 18th century. McAdam’s road cross section was composed of a compacted subgrade of crushed granite or greenstone designed to support the load, covered by a surface of light stone to absorb wear and tear and shed water to the drainage ditches.
It was also cambered, or slightly arched, for water run off. If you don’t have rubber tires, then this road is quite adequate.
I also remember an argument that classical architects were having with modern architects. The classicists loved the cobblestone roads and squares, while the modernists said that cobblestones would be bad for people in wheelchairs and other disabilities. The classicists immediately showed that larger wheels worked perfectly fine on cobblestones. That sort of inventiveness is forgotten when decisions are made from remote locations by people who don’t know much about building things.
The subsidies ( and easy credit) given to the oil companies to enable the fracking boom also created side effects beyond the price and quantity of oil available. Hydrofracking is a very energy and material intensive process consuming huge quantities of steel, water, sand , chemicals and oil. When such a endeavor is subsidized or given credit beyond its ability to repay all these resources are misappropriated away from other uses, consumers and economic activities. This acts to drag down the real world income and wages of ordinary people as well as making products more expensive at the same time ( declining economic well being as you discussed). So while many people ( especially in the finance, oil and auto industries) see the act of keeping the oil flowing with limitless credit as a good thing, in the big picture it is not the same as having oil that is cheap to get ( like we had in the 50’s) . The piper always has to be paid, and propping up fracking just shifted the costs to other places, and hastened the empire on its way down.
Oh oh, Peak Oil returns!
Thanks John. One thing that I have seen is that we live in a society of people with little concept of hard boundaries and where pushing against established boundaries is seen as “progress”. The coming hardships will come as a surprise and your prediction of political disorder is very likely true.
“(And if it seems paradoxical to you that a Druid who prays to pagan deities and practices ceremonial magic should be saying this in response to the behavior of people who by and large consider themselves practical-minded rationalists, trust me, the irony has not escaped my attention either. Thank you, and we now return to this week’s regularly scheduled post.)”
This has always made me laugh too: I’m a theist, but the number of times I’ve wound up with spasms of eyerolling at atheists who are talking about human destiny has become too great to count. It’s one of the greatest ironies of our time that so many atheists who insist they believe the universe is chaotic and random also fervently believe in destiny…..
And so, here we go again. I only really started paying attention to peak oil in about 2009, just after the last oil price spike. Watching the runup in detail is going to be interesting.
I’d like to hear more about those constructive options you mentioned.
As was mentioned back in the open post, it seems that our political structure has fallen into the dynamics outlined in Foundation and Empire, except rather that strong emperors and strong generals, we’re talking about the dynamics of democracy: those who can get elected won’t make the changes needed to deal effectively with the situation and those who are willing to make the changes needed to deal effectively with the situation won’t get elected. At least, not at this time. It appears things need to fall apart to a (much?) greater extent before change can take place in the halls of power. Such a waste.
Everybody, but especially JMG and TJ
TJ made an interesting point last week about the stability of electrical grids during the long descent. Texas and California may have specific issues that made them vulnerable, but as decline picks up speed electrical grids all over North America are likely to become a lot less reliable, though I see this varying a lot from region to region in when and how hard this hits.
My own area is about 90% hydropower. This suggests to me that we could build out intermittant renewables like wind and solar somewhat without rendering the grid unreliable, and use electricity to replace some things we are currently doing with oil or gas. I am not a fan of electric cars because they use too much of the world’s resources per vehicle – I think we mostly need fewer cars and more buses, small electric motor things replacing cars, and plain old muscle power – but I suspect society is going to try electric cars on a somewhat larger scale no matter what I think.
I’m wondering how long a hydropower-based grid like BC’s is likely to remain reliable, and what we could power with it?
Eventually we’re going to run into problems with overage dams we can’t afford to fix, silted up dams, changes in annual precipitation regimes, and difficulty getting replacement parts to fix the grid, but it seems to me those are likely to be manageable for multiple decades, until well after other regions start experiencing serious problems.
The new administration is cutting it’s own throat energy-wise in pursuit of all their virtue-signaling GND initiatives plus Keystone, fracking, Paris Climate accord, etc. They’re going to assure themselves a crisis on their watch and deservedly so.
I’m not sure that you were wrong when you write that you forgot that politics trumps economics. (Clumsy sentence, yay.) I can’t find the post, but I believe it was you saying something to the effect of “governments will do everything they can to keep the lights on as long as possible. This means they will burn every drop of fossil fuels, no matter what.”
(Clumsy sentence becomes clumsy post, yay.) I’m trying to say you were and are right about the current oil predicament, and so have confirmed your status as a crank by all right thinking people. Congratulations(?)
Great post, and IMHO a stupendously accurate assessment of where we are today in the peak oil story, or perhaps in some ways, the “cheap peak energy predicament”. One thing I never considered prior to reading your blog posts on the topic is how “politics trumps economics”, or how society will continue to pursue stupid options in face of the obvious. Fossil fuels are finite? Well, duh. I think you’re correct that there is still, in spite of all the basic facts that support the view, very few people who understand the big picture when it comes to energy and the economy.
I wish I shared your rosy prediction of the next leg down being in similar magnitude to the last one. I think the groundwork laid by the Climate Change agendinistas, restrictions related to COVID, and the ties between the cost of debt and cheap energy all will come together to ensure the next leg down will be a real doozy. Tie in the potential collapse of the petrodollar with massive defaults on the artificial construct that defines our modern “economy”, toss in a war or two, and the table is set for a lot of pain.
However, I also agree that there are constructive options for those of us who at least understand the basics of the predicament. So I’ll be getting to be even more of a “crank” than I have been up until now.
Chauquin, it’s deja vu all over again!
JMG – As my sense of deja vu kicks in, I am reminded of something a wise man said not all that long ago (though it is based on teachings from past ages…) “Collapse now and avoid the rush.”
It should be truly interesting to see which failed ideologies capture the hearts of the majority of citizens as all sides attempt to shout one another down, then resort to violence to settle the argument. Talk about deja vu…. And the march of human folly continues, ever thus.
Oh frack. I just grasped the root of the insistence for peak oil demand: either way, whether we want it to or not, oil supply is going to drop in the years ahead. The insistence the peak is caused by falling demand is merely a way that our chattering classes can pretend that it’s being driven by human action. In other words, it’s a way to pretend the limits breathing down our necks are not there, and we are freely choosing to reduce oil consumption.
What this tells me is that we are very close to hitting peak oil: they wouldn’t be adopting this delusion otherwise. I suspect that this also means that this one will be larger than the last two oil crises: in both cases some gimmick was found to keep the oil supply rising, and I think that the point where it finally starts dropping will mark a significant change.
I don’t think it would come as a surprise if the Biden administration (or any US administration, for that matter) decides to respond to peak oil with more ‘electric vehicles’, ‘smart cities’ and other supposedly green technologies (made possible, of course, by fossil fuels) rather than rebuilding America’s once great railway system and/or reintroduce trams wherever possible.
re. electrical grids, I forgot to say that my estimate of the longevity of BC’s power grid should have said several decades until slow death by a million cuts, OR the big earthquake hits. If the earthquake hits after we’re having major problems, we likely won’t be able to fully rebuild the grid.
The overall extraction curve of any resource keeps on going up until it doesn’t. Coal has had a hiatus but oil and gas are still climbing. The underlying depletion of major fossil fuels is still with us. Depletion and its increasing costs never went away. Exxon in its annual energy outlooks with the latest entitled: 2019 Outlook for Energy: A perspective to 2040, (ref:
https://corporate.exxonmobil.com/-/media/Global/Files/outlook-for-energy/2019-Outlook-for-Energy_v4.pdf page 31) has a similar graph in their 2016 issue where you can see the 2005 peak in conventional oil production that everyone was getting their knickers in a knot about. Later issues combined the conventional with the unconventional forecast productions. However, the salient point is that production reaches an inflection point around 2040 with the assumption that it turns negative about that time. Over time, the inflection point appears to be drifting into the later 2030’s. Natural gas will follow.
While my “Name” says some things about my perspective and I do have some faith that we will not be sitting idly on our hands, it will be interesting to see what arises to try to ameliorate our predicament. I suspect that the efficiency of solar cells will increase, battery energy density will increase, and electric motors will last lifetimes but there are crucial elements that are likely to be in short supply with respect to the electronics needed to control the flow of electrons.
People still want to eat and want to stay warm in the winter. There lies the problem looking for solutions.
Thank you Mr. Greer,
It is good to see you return to peak oil. Not that I mind your discussion of numerous other topics, but this one always felt like your specialty and I’m glad to see you writing about it again.
With that said I have a question about your analysis. If I understand you correctly you are basically arguing that decline is a stair step pattern (a.k.a. catabolic collapse) and we are about to take another step downward after a period of relative stability. Thus, this next step should look similar to the previous ones that occurred in the 1970’s and early 21st century.
But there is another factor complicating this. The U.S. is able to buy oil for something like one third the price that everyone else does because of the elaborate petro dollar world reserve currency scheme that was set up somewhere between the Breton Woods agreement in 1944 and the mid 1970’s when Kissinger made a deal with Saudi Arabia. Presumably, excess money printing and insulting your trading partners while ramping up foreign military involvement (all of which we are doing right now to an astonishing degree) is a decent way to make people think twice about holding onto dollars. It does not help that China can unload its massive dollar reserves at any moment to buy commodities.
So at what speed does the loss of world reserve currency status effect this? I previously thought we might see a more gradual decline, perhaps something like what Britain saw between the end of either world war, but recent political economy has me thinking this might occur very quickly, perhaps in a matter of several years… or even months. You seem to think the loss of world reserve currency status and the devaluation of the dollar that would accompany that is a slow process, that we are facing mere stagflation instead of hyper inflation? Given what is going on right now, why?
Sadly, not many of our monuments, having fallen into deserted disrepair, will be as splendid as those of Rome or ancient Greece or Meso America, never mind the mind blowing remains of ancient Egypt. Only the pre industrial stuff will inspire any sense that we had a sense of splendor and proportion and dignity. Later generations will look upon our Metroplexes and drive throughs and subdivisions, and ask: “What in heck were they thinking?”
As you mention in the post, the standard “rebuttal” of Peak Oil for a long time has been that increasing oil prices will make more expensive oil ventures worthwhile: which is to say that answer to the end of cheap energy is to use expensive energy.
It’s always struck me as exasperating that the would-be rebutter never takes the next logical step and address how we’re going to afford that expensive energy and still have enough real wealth left over to enjoy the kind of lifestyle we hoped to get from extracting the energy in the first place.
Jeanne, I remember the energy crisis of the 1970s very clearly — I was 11 when it hit. Yes, it was almost half a century ago, and that’s just it: historical change happens on a scale of generations, and it’s easy not to notice it while it’s happening.
Nomadicbeer, try refreshing your browser. I missed adding it the first time through, and went back and fixed it a few minutes after the post went up. As for potential interfaces between peak oil and the current virus panic, that would require a great deal more cooperation between hostile governments than I think is likely — and the obsessive fixation on covering everyone’s face suggests something more psychological at work. Your broader point, though, is correct: we’ve just seen that shutting down major industries, such as tourism, is a lot easier than many people thought it was.
Antoinetta, I’ve missed the Oil Drum since it shut down. I used to read it daily.
Geoff, that is to say, the lifestyle you have now, with a professional salary, is the lifestyle that people toward the lower end of the working class had in 1961 — and the lifestyle that people toward the lower end of the working class have now was restricted to the very poor in 1961. Nobody talks about that astounding transformation. Of course UBI won’t change a thing: all that’ll do is drive up the price of rent and other necessities.
Booklover, it’s helpful not to think of “points” in history. When the last petroleum stops being pumped, nobody will notice, because by then it’ll be less significant to the global economy than the production of horseshoes is today. Bit by bit, petroleum will price itself out of one market after another — it’s already priced itself out of electrical generation, much of which used to be fueled by diesel — and the wealth once generated by burning petroleum will trickle away as less abundant and satisfactory substitutes get put in place (“doing without” can be seen as a substitute, very abundant but not very satisfactory).
Jon, the old Macadam roads are fine; if we’re very lucky, the method will be preserved.
Clay, of course! Since the economy of real goods and services is a zero-sum game, real wealth poured into fracking has to be deducted from elsewhere, and so you get steady downward pressure on other economic activity. That’s why US poverty is so pervasive and our infrastructure is going to bits — the wealth that might otherwise have paid for good jobs and safe bridges has instead been poured down a drill hole.
Chuaquin, it never went away. The clueless just found a way to ignore it for a while.
Raymond, yep. I expect world-class meltdowns and a great deal of paranoiac raving in the near future. “What do you mean I can’t have everything I want? Someone’s to blame!”
Anonymous, I’ve laughed myself into hiccups about that rather more than once.
Pygmycory, I’ll get to some of them in future posts.
David BTL, yep. That’s one of the reasons why democracies rarely survive prolonged periods of contraction…
Pygmycory, that’s a major question, of course. Another is whether your national government will commandeer BC’s hydropower to keep the lights on in provinces not so well provided with renewables.
TJ, yep. If we get an oil price spike on Biden’s watch, the result will be a world-class flustered cluck.
… and right on cue, it looks like electric cars are taking off in BC, whether I think it’s a good idea on a large scale or not.
At least there’s also a big jump in e-bikes and e-weird things, and best of all, regular bikes and the like. By weird things I mean escooters, emotorbikes, eskateboards, and e-I don’t even know what that is.
I am hoping that the pandemic plus the oil price spike will drive a permanent move away from cars towards bikes, walking and bike-like items, whether electric or not. It’s so much cheaper tto run any of these things than a car, and it feels like we might be close to a phase change in how people move around where I am. Personally, I’ve never owned a motor vehicle, and I would really love to see better, safer infrastructure for the ways I get around. It is improving, but it could be so much better if the car wasn’t the default.
Wait… I just realized the answer to my own question. It’s the Ren Faire fallacy: the implicit assumption that one will be in the upper classes of society. (Almost nobody goes to a Renaissance Faire dressed as a serf!) AKA class privilege.
Expensive oil will price a lot of the lower classes out of the market for energy, but upper classes will still be able to make use of the energy. Come to think of it, everyone I’ve heard make the argument is either upper class or thinks they should be.
I see another application of the paradox (a corollary, perhaps?) operating in the utility world and the energy industry generally: as a provider of utility services we are tasked with keeping rates affordable, but the long term solutions to our dilemma requires that energy be less affordable. Or, looking at it another way, in order for society to make the adaption to a less-energy intensive mode, energy must become more expensive so that it is less readily available for use, yet we do everything we can to keep energy cheap(er) in the short-term, which only delays those much-needed changes.
I can understand how this dynamic would come about in the collective, as I’ve seen its analogue in my own life: my spiritual growth requires certain changes in my perspective and understanding of myself and the cosmos, but I fight those changes tooth-and-nail for the sake of my near-term psychological comfort, even though a) the changes are inevitable and b) by prolonging the process I’m only making the discomfort of the change more intense. Even knowing what I’m doing doesn’t prevent me from doing it. The more efficient course of action is to make all the changes right away, but what comes about is a drawn-out stutter-step path of partial accommodation.
It is a weakness of the human condition, I suppose.
JMG, I know that there are in reality no “points” in history, nevertheless, thanks for the exposition. When leafing through a magazine about the fall of the Western Roman Empire it occurred to me, that the time point at which the Western Roman Empire fell dissolves itself, the nearer you get in a perspectival sense to the events of those years, and that there is no single big event at which the Empire fell, rather, there are many ordinary events like at other times in history /for example, an emperor is replaced by another emperor, who happened to be a Goth), and the Roman Empire and its lifeways slowly changed out of existence.
I also remember the ’73 oil squeeze. In fact, I had a front-row seat at the show, as I worked at a gas station during this time. I wrote an essay about the experience for the Oil Drum; when I come across it reading the archives, I will report it here.
Do you think that some of the current trends that are partially a response to the global ” health event” such as work from home and shop from home are going to be more or less helpful in relation to dwindling petroleum and its effects? I personally think that fate has driven us, industrial civilization, in to a box canyon of our own making as both these trends are much less resilient than what we did before.
Bird, I was right in general but wrong in detail — I didn’t think that the fracking fad would last anything like as long as it had, or (which is saying the same thing) that the government would prop it up anything like so lavishly. As for crankhood, thank you; I decided many years ago to head for the fringe instead of trying to pretend to be a respectable thinker, and it’s proven to be a very wise choice.
Drhooves, it’s quite possible that the next downward leg will be a whopper. It seems likely to me, however, that the chattering classes will forget all about climate change and viruses the moment a spike in oil prices starts to impact their lifestyles. (Did you notice how fast all the yammering about disposable plastic products vanished the moment the coronavirus hit the headlines?) The US will very likely default on its foreign debt — that’s going to happen sooner or later no matter what — and that’s going to drive all kinds of economic mayhem, but a little preparation and a definite willingness to avoid following the herd will do a lot to help individuals and families stay out of trouble. More on this as we proceed!
Jeff, one of the most crucial skills as we move into another crisis phase is the skill of avoiding the clash of failing ideologies. Yes, there will likely be a lot of useless violence, but mostly among warring bands of true believers.
Mollari, ding! We have a winner. Don’t assume that there are no more ways to keep the supply of liquid fuel rising: given a willingness to throw everything else under the bus, I’m sure governments can find something, even though it’ll be lower quality and much higher cost, and bring a cascade of dismal consrquences in its train.
Viduraawakened, of course. The myth of progress is the single largest barrier in the way of a constructive response to our predicament. Once people stop saying “But we can’t go back!” and start turning to the past as a source of good lower-energy technologies, huge possibilities open up…but it’s going to take a lot to get people to that point.
Pygmycory, that’s an excellent point, and of course it also applies to the US states just south of you, which are equally dependent on hydropower, and even more vulnerable to a catastrophic quake.
PeterEV, of course people want to eat and stay warm in the winter. The challenge we face now is that increasingly they have to compete with their own technologies for the resources that allow them to do that. Plenty of Americans these days are shivering in the dark with empty bellies because the resources that could have fed and warmed them went instead toward propping up an unsustainable technostructure — and the fad for EVs is among the things that’s been eating those resources.
Stephen, hyperinflation is a choice. Governments spin the printing presses when, for political reasons, it’s easier to do that than to default on their debts or cut their budgets. I think you’re quite right that the end of the US dollar as a reserve currency is going to be one of the massive economic shifts of our time, and it’s going to deal a body blow to the US economy; all the signs I’ve seen, however, suggest that the US government will deal with it not by spinning the presses but by defaulting on its debt. (As I see it, that’s why so much US debt has been either offloaded on foreign countries or taken up by the Fed — both those moves make default less politically challenging.) Yes, that’s going to involve the quadrupling of oil prices in the US in real dollars, but as you point out, that’s baked into the cake anyway; defaulting on foreign debt is a much easier way to allow the rich to stay rich, which is of course central to US government policy anyway.
Casey, I doubt much of it will survive — steel and glass are too useful as resources. People in the future will break concrete into building blocks and wonder why we poured so much of it.
Slithy Toves, exactly! It’s the same logic that leads people who should know better to insist that we can power the future with fusion reactors, when it’s already been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that even if fusion power is an option, the reactors will be orders of magnitude more expensive than fission plants — and those can’t pay their bills as it is.
Pygmycory, with any luck e-skateboards et al. will turn out to be the gateway drug, so to speak, for regular skateboards, and other modes of transport that don’t rely on electricity. Still, it’s going to be colorful…
Slithy Toves, and that’s also an excellent point. How many of the wealthy will still be wealthy when the dust settles is another question…
David, two excellent points.
Booklover, exactly. The end of the petroleum age will happen the way the end of the Western Empire happened — some equivalent of the last boy-emperor Romulus Augustulus will be told that he’s not emperor any more, and should run along and play.
Antoinetta, please do post that when you find it!
Clay, that’s a really good question, and one for which I don’t have an immediate answer. That’ll take some thought.
This post got me thinking about another impending peak: peak drinkable water. I’m wondering just how far off that particular peak is these days. Has anyone begun to work out the details of peak drinking water? Can any of our commentors point me to sources?
When I was a boy, fresh ground water was still drinkable almost anywhere in the USA away from the largest cities. In California, for instance, San Jose was a fair-sized city, though not among the largest. Yet there was safe drinkable ground water in San Jose, free for anyone to take, in Alum Rock Park. Some of the springs that flowed freely in that park had natural sulfur water, some were natural alum water, and (IIRC) a few were plain ordinary water. In the ’50s we would go there from our home in Berkeley and to get the alum and sulfur waters from those springs, which we would take home in great jugs. We had no ill effects from those waters at all! (The alum water was a particularly tasty treat.)
Today most ground water everywhere is infected with giardia, as a result of all the relatively cheap international air travel since WW2. Almost all of our current supply of drinkable water comes from aging reservoirs with crumbling dams, by way of equally aging treatment plants that require energy from the grid. And desalination of ocean water also requires a fair amount of energy.
Of course, if and when safe drinkable water becomes a noticeably scarce resource in the developed world, any government that can effectively regulate all access to it has a very effective means of controling its populace–game-changingly effective!
I think the Canadian government might have trouble commandeering the hydropower of the provinces that have a lot because you’re talking about angering Quebec, BC, and possibly Ontario simultaneously. I”m not sure how Ontario, the most populous province, would react, given they’re about 1/3 hydropowered. Quebec and Ontario include the bulk of the country’s population and votes between them.
I think Quebec might well try to secede if the central government tries to commandeer their hydropower. One thing that might happen is that the Canadian government tries to disentangle Quebec’s grid from the US and get them to sell the power within Canada instead, but again, that runs into the problem of angering Quebec.
Natural resources are something the provinces legally have power over, and they guard that power jealously. Previous attempts by Pierre Trudeau at creating an NEP severely angered Alberta, and they’ve never fully forgiven the central government. Alberta has lots of wind potential, but little hydropower due to being mostly flat. Saskatchewan is similar. So the shoe would be on the other foot in a struggle over hydropower.
This is something that has the potential to tear Canada to pieces, and I bet the USA or its successor states would stick their oar in if that got going. Hmm… I guess this is another reason to be skeptical of Canada’s survival as a political entity over the long term.
Very good post.
What kind of economic system makes sense in the age of oil depletion? Can it be a form of local capitalism or do we need to invent a new socio-economic contract?
With the kind of public transport system generally regarded as ideal – trains, buses, highly electrified, maximum coverage, and so on – has anyone calculated how much energy it would take to run?
If it’s anything of note the Irish Government will soon pass a law to make carbon emission cuts mandatory in law by 50% by 2030. Also loads of electric cars, which… will kill of the car. So I guess we’re grand so. So we’re kinda in a strange boat of peak oil affecting us in other ways.
Given the big bulk of our carbon emissions is livestock production this kinda underscores the dual problem of the climate change and food supply. Alongside the decline in availability of cheap supermarket produce because of Brexit.
I can see how a rise in oil price would undercut the exporting of cattle overall making the industry falter considerably when you think of the shipping and freezing cost. Plus a boat on the Suez Canal getting stuck due to “wind”.
I wonder if a oil price hike, plus the other things, would in the medium term lead to a falling back towards the diet you were talking about in your previous post. And I suspect the more arduous thing for a wealthy country like Ireland or Continental Europe will be gradual restrictions of food stuffs, or the shortening variety of goods available at a certain income threshold.
Anyway, Thanks as always JMG.
Given the likely expansion of the USD money supply and the likelihood of its collapse as the World Reserve Currency, how should non-landowners preserve what little wealth they’ve been saving? If you own 5 acres of land then you get to tend your cows while the cities turn into Detroit, but what if you own mere tens of thousands of dollars in a savings account? Not enough to buy land, especially with all the downwardly mobile fleeing the cities, as well as Bill Gates trying to buy up all the farmland. The stock market is a bad idea, crypto is an unproven wildcard (imo only Monero has a long term future, and only then if the internet remains perfectly untouched and the world uses it as a darknet swiss bank account), and I can’t very well buy hundreds of thousands of shovels, rifles and DIY gardening manuals although individual tools, weapons and books are ideed valuable investments. And after you’ve dropped a couple thousand on all sorts of sewing machine repair classes to invest in skills, where do you put the rest of your savings? I was thinking in physical chicklets of 99.999 Gold, but it appears the price of gold spiked dramatically in the 80s, not the 70s, and there are rumours of ongoing financial chicanery right now with silver and gold keeping the price down to prevent people from accelerating a financial collapse by jumping ship from fiat to gold.
In such a crazy world, how do you ever save money to buy land without the money becoming worthless as fast as you save it?
For all the resentment around Quebec’s “priviledged” position in Canada’s from some of the commentariat in last week’s post, I think the rest of Canada’s provinces would do well to remember that the other major Hydropower generation capacity is sitting on the other coast. Once the environmental disaster, and Canada’s own short-sighted energy stance, of extracting oil from tar sands finish running its course, a recognition of the actual distinct cultural heritage of having grown under the mixed and competing interests of two major world powers, as well as mingling with local indigenous communities, would do well to oil (pun intended) neighbouring relationships.
And if it had not been for the interference of perhaps the Car/Oil industry from the rest of Canada/US (we will never know for sure until enough time has passed that no one’s career will be threaten), we would have had electric cars and transportation, powered by Hydro, in the 90s, built from indigenous technologies and industries from Quebec. (See Pierre Couture’s research work for Hydro-Quebec in the 90s)
I, for one, am looking forward the waning powers of previous hegemonies to finally let a more diverse and vibrant set of alternatives emerge, not only in Quebec, but everywhere else local capabilities, talents, and resources have been subdued to the megalomaniac desires of a few.
John, et alia–
Does anyone know of a good social and economic history of the 1970’s that they could recommend?
Your text did not include the word “climate”, which I found surprising in an otherwise sensible discussion of future energy economics. As you noted, politics may not trump economics but they certainly influence them. Suppose, hypothetically, that those of us feeling panicky about atmospheric CO2 are not entirely wrong, that tens of millions of people are flooded out in the Bay of Bengal and start walking north with empty pockets and empty stomachs, that today’s wildfires look tiny compared to next decade’s, that waterfront real estate becomes 100% uninsurable, that substantial agricultural sectors in the US breadbasket collapse as the aquifers drain, and so on. I suggest that at some point the political influences on energy pricing will make matters of geology and extraction cost seem much less important in the big picture.
JMG, what do you think happens to the medical industrial complex when peak oil supply hits?
Holy Eureka! William Stanley Jevons ,I have been trying to find that person’s name for years.I remember from a TV show or something that a person was given a lecture on economics and used “the better you get at using energy,the more you lose not less” while talking to some ecological group.He stated it was a British Economist but either quickly say his name or I couldn’t remember it.I used to Google that phrase “more efficient the more energy you use “ but his name would never come up.
There is a great website that Nate Hagens is a part of, and if you scroll down on the Home Page there are numerous excellent narrated video clips explaining our situation. https://www.energyandourfuture.org/our-worldview/
Wow, have you been burnt too many times with specifics? Peak oil is past, as in forever.
Also peak coal, copper, iron, chromium, and about 80 more essentials. Just another yawn, John, watch the next decade or so? Sustainability is coming, but who knows what the word means. Hint, it’s not good.
How will international great power competition factor in all of this? That´s a further political (and military) reason to extract as much fossil fuels as possible.
China and Russia are rising great powers (in passing, China is using ever more coal, proving your point about coal consumption!), so in order to stay ahead, the United States will have to come up with some new way of extracting oil.
Perhaps the rise in oil prices will make it profitable to look for oil in *really* far away places such as Central Africa or the middle of the Atlantic? How long do you think before “peak oil” hits Russia and China?
OK, just some stray thoughts! 😉
first of all sorry for my bad english
JMG regarding your progress mythbusting articles..they help me a lot to make me see realy clearly what going on around me, thank you a lot for your insights!
I live in the western side of Romania..in Arad
this part of the world, in my opinion, had seen not one, but 3 waves of industrialisation…the so called…”progres”..with signifiant pauses between these waves
first the austro hungarian, wich completely destroyed the ancient lowland swamps of the pannonian basin for steam powered agriculture, opened many mining areas, made the first waterways, and made the first paved roads and railways..
the second, the communist postwar ”golden age” of heavy industry, dams and gigantic urban housing projects…we got the peak oil an gas in that period
the third, after entering the EU – multinational light industry factories riddled with corporate politics, malls wich selll plastic trash, and most importantly, the cancerous foreign banks…
The last ones of course have full support from the governement, against the needs of regular working people
the results of this policy? declining fertility, imposible to geet housing, deep depth burden for the ”citizens”, failing life expectancy
for you in western countries it must be a shock, but the communist era had its good sides,…for example, even a cleaning lady could get a decent housing…today? only the PMC class..for now
whats left ? of austro hungary the old crumbling buildings in big cities, of the communism, scrapyards of old factories and decaying housing blocks
in some places here you can make apolalytic movies
of course in the media youll find only emotional bs aboout the greatness of the economy and the popular stars of the day
i scrapped my TV long time ago..
there are disscusions to cancel a lot of railways because they are uneconomic
some of them were reinstalled…for some more years…but i see inavoidable decay here
and…to make a few hundred kms of ”western like” freeways it takes decades…still all of them mostly unfinished..from the 90 es
no way there will be a 4th wave of progressing industry here
and the funny thing
in the countryside you can buy an old peasant house with garden for pennies…with all the lack of confort
and the city is criminally expensive
here are 2 different worlds…Romanian realities, that look more real for me because of your work
and btw, you will love this
how the austro hungarians seeen in 1900 the Arad of the year 2000
the downtown stiil looks the same, except the planes and hanging train…to the modern picture add a lot of trash and advertisments..todays macdonalds is in the building on the left
“Viduraawakened, of course. The myth of progress is the single largest barrier in the way of a constructive response to our predicament. Once people stop saying “But we can’t go back!” and start turning to the past as a source of good lower-energy technologies, huge possibilities open up…but it’s going to take a lot to get people to that point.”
Something which made me realize how strong a hold Progress has on people was a debate in the transit committee in City Council here in Ottawa a few years back about setting up a light rail system to Richmond, a very small town some 20 miles from the city. It happens to be on the Via Rail route between Ottawa and Kingston, which meant trains went past multiple times a day. They didn’t stop there because there weren’t enough people, but all the infrastructure is there, so it should’ve been an obvious solution.
The idea of using trains to get people between Richmond and Ottawa was dismissed out of hand, on the basis of the fact that the council needed to think about the future, and going backwards was not an option. Then it turned out that the light rail would be so expensive that city council could not justify the costs, and so nothing happened.
This predated our light rail system which cannot run when it snows, so I didn’t have the visceral hatred for them that I do now, but I still thought ignoring the train tracks already in place was one of the worst ideas city council had ever had…….
Looks like we have an interesting series of Posts coming up. I don’t even know where to begin when talkiing to others about peak oil. My conservative friends are all of the “frack baby frack” persuasion, while my liberal friends dream of windmils and dilithium crystals. Neither side will acknowledge that oil is finite, or that it matters. Like others, I’m contemplating changes in my energy use, but doing it slowly and grudginly. It’s hard to make the lifestyle changes when everything has been so easy for so long. Still it’s got to be done, maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of our lives.
Hold up, everyone. A panel of
lunaticseconomists has concluded that the “Great Stagnation” that began in the 1970’s will soon give way to a new Roaring Twenties where technology will solve all of our problems and we’ll catch our breakfast bacon with butterfly nets:
While there may well be a modest recovery from the pandemic, I suspect it’s more likely we’ll look back on the Howling Twenties — howling from the pain of economic contraction, and also from a Lovecraftian descent into madness as the PMC’s comfortable worldview is dramatically contradicted before their very eyes…
I remember the oil crisis of the 70s. My husband and I were on a trip to Africa. The combination of plane jacking and uncertain prices and supplies of oil added a bit of excitement to the venture.
On a different note, some years ago I followed a blog by a society which used and encouraged 18th century technologies. The reason for it was that that was the last time people were able to produce all their needs themselves. The society was possibly in Armadale in the New England area of New South Wales. Does anyone remember the blog and is it still going?
It is really sad how cheaply we used up such a wonderful resource as oil.
There was a blogger, an architecture student I believe from Argentina, writing about living through the currency collapse around the 2000 time period. As I recall he was describing what was happening there was like being on a pyramid sinking in mud. Everyone was scrambling to get as high up the pyramid as possible and stay out of the mud. Yet, being a pyramid the higher up you went the less room there was for everyone. I would guess we have a similar dynamic happening though with time lines playing out somewhat differently on different scales.
The other thing he was writing about which left a strong impression on me was how people were budgeting money. Things which made them feel better or entertained were a clear priority even if they were doing without what I would think were more essential survival goods. Looks like a bright future for those with inclinations towards the bardic arts!
Ah, the good old Jevons Effect! (I never think of it as a paradox, as paradoxes are supposed to be confusing. Effects make good sense) It’s something I use tolerably often when talking to museum visitors about our twin 1850s vintage beam engines, especially when they ask about pollution.
People are routinely surprised when they discover that the majority of emissions have been, well, emitted, in the past thirty years, and I enjoy using a five story tall steam engine as a backdrop as I explain that the engines on site generated as much Carbon dioxide in a year as the modern city that surrounds them generates in 12 hours. That doesn’t tally for most, and I use Jevons to explain that although the beam engines are not very fuel efficient, there were only two of them in the city- contrast the hundreds of thousands of cars, trucks, etc, that spew much more into the air than the two old girls ever could.
I also come across this peak demand theory you mention, though I’ve not heard it call that. I don’t mind it so much- it’s a least a good way to start a useful conversation, since the main point is that we need to have lifestyles that are not dependent on oil. They see this as a voluntary option, done to save the planet- I see it as a complete necessity, as at some point basic supply and demand will render such a life mandatory. It’s nice to have people to talk to who already take it as read that energy usage per capita needs to go down.
One thing we also agree on (being all history nerds who work in a historic house) is that adopting the technologies and strategies of people who used less energy is probably a winning idea. Of course, we’re hardly alone in that. However, since these folks work in a historic garden attached to the historic house, they are also aware that not everything from the past needs to come back. The big one they complain about is that in the vegetable garden they have to plant in single rows, with wide walkways of bare earth inbetween, since that’s what was done in the 1850s. When the word came down from on high last Spring that the goal for 2020 was maximizing food production instead of historical accuracy, they switched instantly over to wide beds, companion planting and heavy use of mulch. It’s nice that they haven’t fallen into the trap of binary thinking. It’s not that all that is new is bad, and all that is old is good, but that we should be able to pick out works best from each.
One last thing- you’ve said many times over the course of both blogs that the oil industry will continue on for some time, fading in importance and in capacity as high prices and shortages cause demand destruction and economic wackyness. May I present a possible image of what the oil industry might look like after the glory days?
The Fairbanks Oil Field in scenic Oil Springs, Ontario, is the oldest working oil field in the world. Oil has been pumped there continuously since 1861, and has remained in the hands of the Fairbanks family the entire time. I had the great pleasure of meeting the current Mr. Fairbanks a number of years ago. He spoke at length about M. King Hubbert and about Jevons as he gave a tour of his property- these days the Fairbanks also farm the oil fields, and raise sheep and llamas. Since they are still using the same jerker-line system (invented by John Henry Fairbanks) to drive the pumps, the fields are also a tourist attraction for those who wish to see what the oil industry looked like during the Civil War. If anyone knows what oil depletion looks like, it’s the Fairbanks and the people of Petrolia and Oil Springs, who experienced the end of their oi economy sometime before the turn of the century.
Perhaps in a century or two the last oil fields will look like this- a well treed and pleasant meadow, black legged sheep grazing quietly, and an ancient, creaking machine still doing its work. Perhaps that last oil field will be the Fairbanks field. Perhaps the North American oil industry will die where it was born way back in 1858- in the rather boggy woods of Oil Springs.
JMG, One of the reasons I keep reading your blog is because it is the only one I have found that really seems to have a grasp on reality. Every other blog I have found is either firmly in the camp of Progress or Apocalypse. Can you recommend another blog that would measure up to your standards? Doesn’t have to be in peak oil. Could be in occult topics as well.
That some folk are pushing the narrative of oil demand dropping is just silly. Ask people in India, China, Africa etc. If they want to use cheap oil and they will more than gladly use every last drop. We could pump a billion barrels a day and someone will find a use for it.
Lack of demand? Seems more like lack of confidence only in disguise.
Thank you for sharing this. The arguments you make here aren’t exactly new (having binge-read the archived ADR in a few weeks when I discovered your work two summers ago, I am still rather fluent in them). Still, it’s good to get an update every now and then.
Your comments about the US defaulting on its foreign debts are rather intriguing. Once you admit that keeping the dollar in place as the global currency for much longer is a fool’s errand, it obviously makes perfect sense why the rich would prefer a default to hyperinflation. But there are still, I think, two obstacles that the powers that be would have to overcome in order to do this in a controlled fashion (with hyperinflation being the uncontrolled alternative).
(1) The ruling class would have to admit to themselves that, no matter what they do, they’re facing a future of decline and not just a brief pause in their progress.
(2) Power would have to be concentrated in some individual, or a body of men small and decisive enough to respond to events proactively. (In the past, you’ve compared our present form of government to a driverless car – power is too diffuse for anyone to do much beyond preserving the status quo and/or looting the system for short-term gain).
So my question is: when and how do you foresee these things changing? And also, are there currently any influential people promoting a default on the foreign debt, in the full admission that it will mean the end of US trade dominance and with it the lifestyles of much of the middle class?
To pick up on NomadicBeer’s point, it’s pretty clear that all western governments have been singing from the same hymn sheet in relation to corona and every trick in the book has been used to make it seem like an apocalyptic event in the face of all evidence. A number of right thinking people now believe as a matter of course that, at the very least, international air travel will ‘never be the same again’ (which really means it’s going to be more expensive and less people will travel). In other words, governments have found a way to cloak economic decline under the auspices of ‘health measures’.
Of course, the narrative is rapidly falling apart due to the actions of Florida et al but they got some good mileage out of it. So, I think the corona event represents something genuinely new in that western governments teamed up with the apocalypse crowd to convince a proportion of the population to accept a less bright future.
P.S. On the subject of deja vu, I caught a news headline the other day that read “4 hour flights from New York to London soon to be possible”. Ummm, we used to have those. It was called Concorde.
Google News has been a good bellwether in this regard. I only check it to take the pulse of fevered America. Lately there have been a flurry of articles from “legitimate” sources stating that scientists at NASA et al have found a way to travel faster than light, ie warp speed. Yesterday too I saw an article about how scientists have built a battery that will last 28,000 years on a single charge. Batteries and warp speed being the new code for cold fusion, it seems.
The discussion of late about racism is to be made of the same stuff, as if we root out racism that will fix everything. Those who hold tightest to such thinking also seem incapable of acknowledging how shipping America’s production capacity to China and Mexico impoverished half this country, especially the black community. No mention of how Obama helped out, by erasing a generation of black wealth after the housing crisis. They are also the sort who think if we open up the borders we will populate ourselves to ever greater plenty.
It is already clear to me, the madness of the Right not even mentioned, that all this denying of reality, coupled with a pandemic, is driving most people gradually into ever deeper delusion, destined to get worse.
The article linked by Slithy Toves above is hilarious, I urge everyone to read it! Some of the sentences are just priceless.
Here´s one: “Strain suggested that the fact that we defeated the plague in just one year might induce in people more warmth toward abstract notions of economic and social progress through the process of creative destruction.”
Another one: “Cowen said that he didn’t think that technological innovation was leading to job losses but worried instead that the internet was making people weirder in a QAnon sort of way.”
There´s much more where that came from!
Several of the neologisms are also keepers, such as “techlash”, “hidden counterfactual” and “human-augmenting”.
Warmly recommended. And no, they never mention peak oil. I suppose that´s a hidden counterfactual…
PS. On a more serious note, it´s interesting to see that the economists *admit* that improvements might not be measurable by standard economic metrics?!
How soon do you expect to see the next oil crisis?
There are a large number of other less-obvious aspects to this crisis that tend to be overlooked (although Oilman2 & I have mentioned them at times).
Here are some in no particular order:
1) Petro exports from oil-producing countries inevitably decline much faster than their actual production due to growing internal demand.
2) The median age of petroleum experts is already past retirement, and new blood is limited due to the “climate change” crowd demonizing the industry.
3) Fracking production is down precipitously and likely cannot even hold at current levels since (a) fracking wells shut down for COVID cannot be restarted without redrilling and (b) the “sweet spots” for the Permian, Eagle Ford & Bakken regions have already been fully exploited and are already in decline.
4) The “mix” of products derived from light sweet and heavy oils is pretty much fixed (respectively), therefore the price of gas will rise if diesel/jet/heating/asphalt demand drops and vice-versa. [This is why the US was still exporting & importing oil during the so-called “energy independence” phase since our oil mix didn’t align with our needs.]
5) We’re past peak minerals, the overall grade (i.e., grams-per-ton) continues to decline, everything “green” requires lots of mined materials, and… mining is the #1 global consumer of fossil fuels and electricity.
6) We’re nowhere near the end of extractable resources, but we’re much closer to the end of economically extractable resources.
Piggy-backing off of Darkest Yorkshire, as well as the energy it would take to run such a public transit system, how much do you trust the transit authorities to keep things sanitary and also not strand you somewhere you do not wish to be? Whether shutting down because disease or peaceful protest turned riot, if you rely on public transit, you might be stuck, and if you ride you might catch some virus. I suspect a lot of folks are not willing right now to trust that far. (Including several neighbors’ essential worker children, who drove their children hundreds or thousands of miles to their retired parents to stay this last year.)
Is anyone else familiar with the Strong Towns organization? Not relevent directly, where we are, but I do wish the nearby towns would pay attention to some of those ideas, especially as pertains to walkability. If folks could safely and comfortably walk where they need to go, and live right by work, there would be a lot less need for cars, and those could sit in folks’ garages until people aren’t afraid or they get repurposed . . . walkable has served and continues to serve most folks in most of the world best across history, and leave various non-human-powered transportation methods to us weirdos in the country who have pasture and stuff.
Thanks for a reminder of our place on the peak oil curve. I have to say that the current movement toward authoritarianism (e.g. rising censorship and the Great Reset) has caught me by surprise, and seems set to make collective helpful decisions even less likely if it continues.
Many places, including the entirety of the Atlantic seafloor and most of my home state of Oregon, simply have no oil or fossil fuels in any form. Fossil fuel creation requires prolonged deposition of organic matter over tens of millions of years. The deep ocean floors are all relatively young, geologically speaking, and are composed of basalt covered by a thin layer of mostly calcitic sediments.
There is shale oil, and coal can, with some difficulty, be converted to liquid fuels. Perhaps coal-to-liquid with some form of carbon capture will be a big thing some time this century given that it remains plentiful in the US intermountain basins. We can drill the Arctic slopes, perhaps some in Antarctica if we get really desperate, and some deeper water basins, but most places where we haven’t yet drilled simply have no fossil fuels to extract.
Robert, that’s an excellent point. I don’t know what information is available along those lines, but it would be worth researching.
Pygmycory, thanks for this. I didn’t happen to know that detail of Canadian law. My guess, though, is that BC power would be commandeered to keep the lights on in Ontario and Quebec, so they might not complain that much…
Tony C, that’s going to take a post all its own. The challenge that, as far as I know, nobody has addressed yet is that in a contracting economy, on average, all economic activity loses money — and no economic system that evolved in an era of expansion can deal with that.
Yorkshire, I don’t know. It would be worth looking into.
Adrian, it’s going to be a complex matter. That said, remember that there are other ways to ship cattle, and a lot of customers just east of the Irish Sea. My guess is that the beef industry will do fairly well.
BoulderChum, that’s going to take a post of its own. Keep in mind that “wealth” is an abstraction; what it amounts to is a claim on economic production, and in an age of contracting economic production, that’s a very complex matter.
David, I wish I did.
Tim, this was a 3,000-word post on peak oil, not a 65,000-word book on everything affecting the world all at once. I’ll be discussing climate at some length as we proceed. For a foretaste, you might read this essay and this one. As for the impact of those things on energy supplies, well, twenty years of well-funded and politically well-connected climate activism have done precisely nothing to slow the increase in the use of fossil fuels — please take another look at the chart I included in the post — and so I think we can assume that climate-related disasters will play a large role in the future, but that fossil fuels will continue to be extracted until the last well gurgles dry.
Youngelephant, that’s a subject for an entire book, not a brief comment!
Patrick, glad to be of help.
Laurel, thanks for this, but I’ll pass on the videos.
Robert, do you recall when people were saying exactly the same thing in 2005? I do. Some of us have the capacity to learn from our mistakes; apparently some of us don’t.
Tidlösa, not merely great power competition but the broader range of economic and political competition among nations is a major factor here, and it’s among the reasons why despite all the rhetoric, fossil fuel consumption has risen steadily. Central Africa’s already been heavily prospected for oil, by the way.
Paleobear, thanks for this. Yes, I know that Communism had its advantages, especially for the poor and working class, and one of the things that happened when the Communist bloc went down is that the countries of Eastern Europe were stripped of wealth by Western-backed plutocrats. Some of us were paying attention! That’s what gave the US and Western Europe its economic boom from the early 1990s to 2008. Thanks for the image — outdated futures are always fun. As for those houses in villages in rural Romania, have you considered that as an option?
Mollari, remember that governments these days funnel a lot of money to the construction industry, much of which is controlled by organized crime. Using the train tracks wouldn’t have paid the local racketeers, so of course it wasn’t considered.
Christopher, we’ll be talking about that. One thing to consider is to keep an energy diary — note down when you use energy, and then do some research and find out how much. Then look into things like weatherizing and “vampire appliances” (electrical appliances that use electricity whether they’re on or not). Most people can cut a lot of energy out of their lives with minimal disruption!
Slithy Toves, okay, doom is near at hand. Remember that economists are always wrong.
JillN, that sounds like a fun blog.
Eric, that also sounds like a fun blog. Do you happen to know if it’s still up?
Thepublicpast, I’m delighted to hear that the gardeners have been authorized to do things the smart way. Wide bed gardening and the various skills that go with it (composting, companion planting, etc.) are among the twentieth century’s few enduring achievements. As for the oil field, yes, that seems about right!
Clark, I don’t read blogs much. Does anyone else have any suggestions?
Michael, well, yes.
Wesley, many aspects of power in the US are diffuse, but power over currency and debt are not. The President could order a debt default tomorrow and, so long as he had the backing of his Treasury Secretary and the top echelon at the Federal Reserve, it would happen. It won’t happen until things become desperate, but then that’s usually when debt defaults happen — and if you look at what’s happened to other countries that defaulted on their debts (for example, Russia in 1998), the results for the defaulting country are generally pretty mild, since they’re no longer hemorrhaging money for debt service.
Simon, I don’t find that convincing. Why would the non-Western countries — including countries like Russia, China, and Iran, which have nothing to gain from supporting their enemies — play along with it? They have, you know.
William, yep. Expect to see even more of the same as the end of progress becomes ever harder to ignore.
Anonymous, if I knew that, I’d be well on my way to becoming a millionaire.
TJ, I agree with all of those but the last. The problem with the last is that whether a resource is economically extractable doesn’t mean that much. Oil shale was arguably not an economically extractable resource, but politics trumps economics.
BoysMom, I’ve been a public transit rider all my adult life. I suspect it’s simply a matter of most people being unfamiliar with it. As for Strong Towns, I hope more people pay attention to it — it’s got some very good ideas.
Mark L, no argument there.
I don’t think it would come as a surprise if the Biden administration (or any US administration, for that matter) decides to respond to peak oil with more ‘electric vehicles’, ‘smart cities’ and other supposedly green technologies
The New York Times is already flacking for electric cars:
I’ve got another thing giving me déjà vu, but it wasn’t until now that I figured out why. The Covid thing kept feeling like something we’d done before, but it just hit me why: we have been here. In all three brushes with Peak Oil so far, a panic has sprung up around a virus; AIDS in the 1980s, Swine Flu in 2009, and now Covid.
It appears viruses are where we park our fears around peak oil. Which is weird, but human beings don’t make any kind of logical sense. My biggest concern here is that that would seem to suggest the comfortable classes will double down on Covid fears, rather than let it go, when oil prices start affecting their lives…..
What is it called when you have plenty of money, but there is nothing to buy, and the government thinks the solution is to give everyone more money?
John, this from Youngquist, “Key points:
The worldwide oil depletion rate has been estimated at between 4 to 9% annually. A figure of 6.7% seems to be the current situation. The huge investments needed just to slow this decline are not forthcoming. Many countries spend their oil income mostly on domestic needs and cannot or do not invest in oil production enhancement projects on which little immediate return is available. Mexico, for example, has underfunded its oil infrastructure to pay for social programs.
What seems clear is that the era of cheap oil has passed. The easy oil has been discovered and developed and the oil industry has moved into far more expensive frontier areas such as the Arctic regions and deeper ocean waters.
The precise date of the peak of world oil production, however, is an irrelevant academic exercise, since the true peak will be known only in retrospect, after several years of well-documented declining production. The important fact is that oil production will inevitably peak and then decline.
Oil production (some call it “extraction”) has exceeded the volume of oil discoveries since 1981, now by a factor of four. Around the world, the 31 billion barrels of oil consumed each year are not replaced with discovery. We have been consuming oil at an unsustainable exponential rate.“
A clear text is “Blip”, 2019, by Chris Clugston. It was a blip.
I’m sure totalitarian regimes are absolutely delighted to sit back let western democracies turn totalitarian.
I don’t know about Russia or Iran, but I have some personal experience with China having travelled there for work. The professional class people that I dealt with are heavily critical of the Chinese government and have a very favourable attitude to the west. Corona is a massive propaganda boon for the Chinese government internally. It can rightfully point out that these so called free countries in the west are not so free at all and, unlike China which ‘eliminated the virus’, the decadent west couldn’t even do that properly.
There’s also some tricky geopolitics around vaccines and vaccine passports. I note that Tanzanian President Magufuli recently died of ‘heart failure’ just weeks after saying he would not allow vaccines, while the new President of Tanzania just yesterday promised a fresh, ‘scientific’ approach to the issue.
I listened to Dr Mark Jakobson serenely state that by 2031 we can generate all energy with renewables and eliminate all fossil fuel use by then. When a group of 21 scientists wrote a paper explaining why this is impossible he didn’t refute them with data. Rather he sued them for libel like some celebrity or politician. One party portrays itself as the party of science. It’s political science.
I was 13 in 1973 and I remember even and odd days at the gas pumps.
What I find especially interesting is looking back at the houses I’ve lived in since then. My parents bought our house in 1972 and as a direct result of the oil shocks, insulated, installed aluminum siding, and storm windows to cut energy costs and it worked.
In 1989 (?) I bought an old house in Norfolk. It had zero insulation despite going through the oil shocks of the 70’s. I insulated it.
In 1993, I married Bill and moved into his 1954 vintage ranch house. It had zero insulation despite going through the oil shocks of the 70’s. We insulated it.
In 2001, we moved to Hershey into a vintage 1955 ranch with an added second floor. It had zero insulation in most of the house with the most minimal insulation for the second-story addition. We insulated it.
Three separate houses since I moved out, all of which went through the oil shocks of the 70’s and they had zero insulation!
If we insulated, weather-stripped, and added storm windows to every house in the U.S., how much heating fuel would we save as a nation?
It’s not even that hard. Any competent do-it-yourselfer can do plenty if they’re careful and follow the directions. The library is full of how to insulate, weather-strip, etc. books.
Since we insulated, we have NEVER burned as much home heating oil as we did the first winter we lived in Hershey. I burn so little home heating oil that I can’t sign up for those bill-you-all-year-round plans.
Now’s the time to insulate. Weather-strip. Lined, insulated drapes. Quilts and comforters.
Do it now, while you can find the supplies and not later on, when you’re shivering in the dark.
He goes by the handle FerFal. Here is what I can find so far. http://ferfal.blogspot.com/
I am sure he had articles going further back than 2009. They may be in his first book, now. You will see on his blog personal security and guns are things he is big on and has the personal stories to illustrate why. His social commentary though is most interesting to me. Life can be both normal and so different from prior to even a fast collapse simultaneously.
Found them. In his 2008 articles Ferfal shares some of the articles he wrote during the crisis. Those are worth looking over as he shares his personal experiences adapting to the collapse and resulting changes.
@BoysMom “Whether shutting down because disease or peaceful protest turned riot, if you rely on public transit”
Like JMG, I have been a public transport person my entire life. I can count the amount of times I have been put out by public transport maybe a dozen time in a few decades. Most car owners I know have a similar failure rate or worse.
One time there was a big delay was for one of the silliest reasons. The local ‘Communist group’ was having a (to make it more polite) “Fudge Trump” rally and had parked themselves in the middle of possibly one of the single busiest tram intersections in the city. The funny part is that we are on almost the opposite side of the planet to the US – and yet the problem came to us via mass media driven hysteria. Nowadays it is usually Extinction rebellion, a Vegan group or some unfortunate soul that has decided to end it all via means of the public transit meat tenderizer that usually causes more delays than anything else.
The actual service itself is usually reliable and fairly clean considering.
I wonder if the “Peak Oil Demand” talk might actually make the next oil price spike worse. It depends on whether the oil companies actually believe it, or if they are just going along with it to virtue signal. If the oil companies actually think peak demand will make prices fall in the future, they may not be investing as much in new drilling projects, especially ones that will take a number of years to complete, and thus accelerate the next supply crunch.
The Argentinian blogger Eric mentioned is someone that uses the nickname FerFAL. I remember him well from my doomer days. A web search will give you pointers to him.
Ok newbies heres some resources left over from last time
Hope these help
Peak Oil / Overshoot /////
Art Berman – USA . Oil industry insider.
Automatic Earth – Raoul Ilarji Meyer – Doomer Economics.
Cassandras Legacy – Ugo Bardi. Academic. Very smart.
Center For Advancement of Steady State Economy
Charles Hugh-Smith – Doomer Boffin. Nice guy.
Consciousness of Sheep – UK
Damn The Matrix – Tasmania. Been watching this stuff a long time.
Dark Mountain – Doomer artist eco-collective.
Dmitri Orlov – ex USA doomer Russian intell cutout ? – paywalled. Gone Fishing.
Economic Undertow – Steve Ludlum
How to Save The World – Dave Pollard
Gail Tverberg- the actuary. Huge heart and great analyst, keeps getting it wrong.
James Howard Kunstler – Kindly Curmudgeonly Doomer & Writer/Journalist, great writer.
John Michael Greer – ArchDruid . Doyen and good guy.
Matt Mushalik – Australia Peak Oiler analyst
Oil Drum (Archived From 2013)
Peak Oil – Oil Drum Lite
Peak Prosperity – Chris Martenson.
Post Carbon Institute – Richard Heinberg
Resilience – Rob Hopkins – Smug Crypto Marxist Greenwasher
Strong Towns – Jim Kunstler mate Chuck Marohn
Surplus Energy Economics – Tim Morgan
Tom Whipple – knows where all the peak oil bodies are buried.
World Nuclear News – for lovers of fiction and green glowing fish.
JMG, how do you see the transportation infrastructure unfolding and realigning itself toward sustainability as we head into material resource decline? I can see use of walking, bikes and buses for local area transport and trains and ships for bulk cargo over distance but the main problem will be the farm to consumer vulnerability; to keep people fed and not pull a French Revolution on the powers that be. I’d hate to lose the democracy we have to a thug_a_cracy but hunger has a way of turning over governments. The Limits to Growth model has “deaths” increasing rapidly in the second half of this century.
I could see the use of EV based trucks as the battery longevity increases and as electronics become more hardened against failure or going back to something as simple as a resistor array; one resistor for a particular MPH. To model all this, I think a Club of Rome would have to tie in a Limits to Growth model to a transportation model based on farming supply/demand. What are the vulnerabilities? What would we have to create or go back to to plug the holes? If we don’t, what are the alternatives?
In reading this, I see I’m trying to slow the Long Descent through what **could** slow it down. It seems that we have a tendency to produce alternatives but reality is reality and mother nature can be a bitch. I assume you will be covering transportation in the near future. Thank you for being you and prompting these issues.
JMG, provinces having jurisdiction over natural resources is in the Canadian constitution.
“When the Canadian Constitution was repatriated in 1982, it was amended to clarify that the provinces had exclusive jurisdiction in making laws in relation to exploration for non-renewable natural resources in the provinces, and the development, conservation and management of non-renewable natural resources and forestry resources. This power also extends to the development, conservation and management of sites and facilities in the province for the generation and production of electrical energy. The amendments confirmed the non-exclusive taxing authority of the provinces over non-renewable natural resources. ” – taken from https://www.tdslaw.com/resource/canadas-constitution-and-natural-resource-development/
Of course, you’re right that doesn’t make it impossible that this should be elided, finessed, or ignored, if those in power think they can get away with that. The NEP (national energy program) really pushed the boundaries of what they could get away with, with resulting anger and resentment in Alberta that lingers 40 years later. Of course, that was immediately prior to the 1982 patriation of the constitution, which among many other things, tried to clarify who had what authority over natural resources.
I think that if Ontario or the prairie provinces went after the provinces with hydropower, the country would explode, unless they excluded Quebec from this.
Quebec produces more hydropower than the rest of Canada combined. Not that much point commandeering the provinces’ electricity if you don’t go after Quebec.
Not sure what would happen if they very specifically went after BC and ignored Quebec, but the power BC produces wouldn’t go very far, and BC might get other local powers trying to offer us a better deal if we joined their polity instead… though we’d end up having to share some of the electricity no matter what, or what’s in it for the meddling power? And there’s no guarantee that they wouldn’t immediately go back on whatever they originally agreed to.
Situation would be a mess, no matter what.
I’ll bear this in mind when considering the future.
If you ever need a good reason for Canada to implode in a fictional future, trying to commandeer Quebec’s hydropower to benefit primarily Ontario and the prairies is an excellent candidate.
First, I’d like to defend the honor of the Sun. It’s not that nondescript: as stars go, it’s fairly large. Not large enough to go past fusing to carbon, but most stars don’t get past helium.
Speaking of large stars: the repeated cycle of surges of ever-pricier oil reminds me of how a large star ends its life. First its core fuses all of its hydrogen to helium; then fusion stops, its core contracts and heats while its mantle expands; then it starts fusing helium to carbon, and the mantle contracts. Then it runs out of core helium, fusion stops, the core contracts and the mantle expands again. Then it starts fusing carbon to neon, with the same ultimate result. Then neon to magnesium, then magnesium to silicon, then silicon to iron. Each cycle is shorter than the previous one, because each fusion step is less exothermic than the previous. Eventually it stops fusing for good, or it tries to fuse iron. That’s fatal, for fusing iron is endothermic: it absorbs instead of releasing heat energy. The core collapses in a fraction of a second, the mantle falls onto it at a good fraction of lightspeed, and rebounds in a star-sized thermonuclear explosion; a supernova.
By analogy… the “core” of a large society (a.k.a. the top) staves off collapse by monetizing ideas. It runs out of good ideas to monetize; then it monetizes by centralization; then it restabilizes by monetizing worse ideas. It runs out of those, resumes centralization, starts to monetize even worse ideas; and so on, until it tries to monetize money-losing ideas. Collapse comes quickly, triggering an enormous monetization that wrecks everything. The periphery of the society is blown far away; and the “core” becomes some sort of collapsed remnant: either the equivalent of a neutron star, held aloft only by its degeneracy; or worse, the equivalent of a black hole, a region of inescapable darkness whose core is heavy and twisted enough to break all known laws.
I call the above paragraph the Stellar Metaphor. I don’t know how accurate it is; but if it is, then I’d rather be an ion in the periphery than in the core. You endure an inferno but avoid the pit.
Oil crises of 1973 and 2008 didn’t significantly reduce US GDP nor stop it’s persistent growth. As shown here – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:United_States_GDP_per_capita.png – US GDP was much larger in 2008 then in 1973 and larger still in 2020. GDP is a measure of wealth of society so we see that US as a whole is becoming more rich all the time, regardless of energy crises. Thus “a sharp decline in standards of living for most Americans” that you mention, the fact that “most Americans are much poorer today” is not caused by mechanics of recurring peak oil crises, but rather by a distribution of wealth. We can imagine GDP as a pie shared among all members of society. The society decides how it will be shared. Some get bigger pieces, others get smaller pieces. This pie was not reduced by energy crises, which would then be a reason for most Americans getting smaller pieces then before. The pie keeps getting bigger. It’s just that plutocratic elite, the 1% class, takes ever larger share, leaving ever smaller crumbs to the majority. At least that’s how I see the discrepancy between ever growing GDP and declining standards of living.
PeterEV, pre-semiconductor electric propulsion systems did not use resistor arrays to control speed, they used switches to engage different amounts of the motor windings.
JMG the Argentine blog is at http://ferfal.blogspot.com/?m=1
You will have to go back a few years to find his thoughts on the Argentine crisis. One thing I did find interesting and parallel to a lot of what some Americans think is that when the crisis began lots of city dwellers who had access to rural land fled to them but found that a combination of crime, hard work in farming, and not being able to have a surplus to sell as local governments still wanted the taxes to be paid drove most right back to the city’s and in most cases the slums.
@BoysMom: Ever since the original oil shocks of the 1970s, eco-minded Americans who have been to Europe and seen how many small shopkeepers live above or behind their shops and thought about how little energy is used by those shopkeepers’ commutes have asked “Why can’t we have that here?” I used to agree, but then I read an essay by a man who had spent the first several years of his life living above his father’s hardware store. One of his recurring memories was of a family dinner being interrupted by a customer asking his father to reopen the shop and sell the customer some small thing such as a mousetrap or a handful of nails. These interruptions were a major factor in the family’s decision to move to a residential subdivision several miles away. In Europe, the dinner hour is sacred. If a customer had tried that with a European hardware store proprietor, what the customer would receive is a tongue-lashing, and the entire neighborhood would have sided with the proprietor. In a sense, our lack of rigid cultural rules about how people spend their time gives us a need to be physically inaccessible when we need private time, which in turn creates demand for suburbs and cars and highways.
David BTL #41:
A couple of years ago the Vermont Historical Society introduced a year-long program examining the 1970s in Vermont. One of the defining movements of the decade was, of course, Back to the Land. That year at the annual historical fair in Tunbridge (2017?) one of the featured speakers was Kate Daloz, author of “We Are As Gods”, an account of the BTTL movement. Her parents were part of it, she was raised in their self-built geodesic dome and I believe the photo that graces the cover of the book is that dome under construction. If I recall correctly, their outdoor loo was dubbed ‘The Richard Milhouse Nixon Memorial Outhouse’. The book is as fascinating as her presentation at the history fair; I’d recommend it for that small part of the 1970s.
I think the title comes from something in the Whole Earth Catalogue.
Thanks for this astute update. I also found you as an Oil Drum reader, way back at the beginning of the ADR…makes me almost nostalgic. Another commenter upthread was appreciating the realism in your analysis. It ‘comports with reality’ to use Kunstler’s nice turn of phrase, and I wholeheartedly agree. What an extraordinary time we’re witnessing. You’ve made so many invaluable contributions to helping us navigate the very rough terrain which lies ahead and I’ll always be profoundly grateful for that.
It appears the actual peak of global techno-industrial civilization is upon us. People are sensing this, albeit unconsciously, and it’s driving much (if not most) of the flailing, grasping insanity and derangement of our era, especially in the US and other highly privileged western nations. Those who can really embrace LESS and ‘there is no brighter future’ may fare reasonably well as the descent gathers momentum. A Great Reset has indeed taken place but I doubt the Davos crowd will have their way with it. The astrological harbingers of the past 15 months have pointed the way rather emphatically wouldn’t you say?I keep thinking of the statement attributed to Marx (ironically): “All that is solid melts into air.”
Very enthused to learn that this is the first installment in a new series of posts. Thanks again for hosting this discussion and to all the amazing commenters here.
Thanks for the bits of history. One thing that Romania has going for it is (was?) a climate and soils that can recover after a lot of damage.
There have been many cycles of civilization followed by collapse starting with the neolithic when settlements in Romania were just as big as the famous cities of the Mesopotamia.
Unlike the fertile crescent, Romania is still fertile now.
So if you have a chance to get a small homestead, why not try it? I did something similar but in US.
Anonymous, I think that’s quite likely. I’ve been exploring the whole coronavirus business as an expression of dream logic, and finding it makes a lot of sense that way. Between their accelerating downward mobility and the systematic abandonment of their ideals, it makes perfect sense that a great many people in the privileged classes don’t want to show their faces in public.
Piper, you mean besides “really stupid”? Rudyard Kipling had something to say about that:
“In the Carboniferous Epoch we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter to pay for collective Paul;
But, though we had plenty of money, there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said: If you don’t work you die.”
Robert, I read that when Walt Youngquist first published it. So? Quoting it as though it was scripture simply makes you sound like a peak oil fundamentalist. The point that Walt missed is that “oil” is a flexible term; we’ve already seen the supply of liquid fuels expanded, at steadily rising cost, by throwing ethanol, natural gas liquids, and tar sand extractives into it. Doubtless we’ll see plenty of even more dubious and costly fluids thrown into the mix in the years ahead, keeping the liquid fuel supply up while consigning more and more other things to malign neglect and decay.
Simon, you’re thinking in comic-book terms, as though “totalitarian” and “democratic” are two teams of people in Spandex and capes. The leaders of most totalitarian countries think that democracy is decadent and effete. The last thing they want is for the western powers to turn into efficient dictatorships that could compete with them, without having to answer to voters!
Wolfbay, that’s just hilarious. Thank you.
Teresa, yep. I’ve been saying the same thing since I started blogging: the easiest thing you can do to help weather energy crises is to insulate and conserve.
Eric, many thanks for these!
Kashtan, that makes a great deal of sense.
Anonymous, duly noted! Eric managed to find a link.
Flavius, thanks for these. Some of those names bring back the memories! As for Rob Hopkins, well, yes, that fits…
Peter, that’s another topic for a post or three. The very, very short form, though, is that I see transportation infrastructure declining steadily in a flurry of breakdowns, temporary repairs, and makeshifts. Have you read my paper on catabolic collapse? The unraveling of our transport network, which is already happening, is a great example of the way that maintenance costs become impossible to meet and bring about contraction and decline.
Pygmycory, this is why I keep in reminding people that I’ve only ever lived in the United States, and that other nations have conditions I don’t know about! Thanks for this.
Paradoctor, civilizations are too small to turn into supernovas. There’s no final kaboom that vaporizes everything; you go from a normal sequence star to a red giant — that’s the imperial phase, when the civilization tries to solve its problems by expansion — and then it collapses into white dwarf status.
Goran, no, GDP is not a measure of wealth — it’s a measure of money. Money is an abstract system of tokens used to distribute real wealth. Like most token economies, its expansion and contraction has only the most notional connection to the expansion and contraction of real, nonfinancial goods and services. Look up sometime how much of US GDP consists of financial services, which are not wealth in any meaningful sense, and how much of the growth in GDP was produced by the expansion of financial services, if you want a first glimpse at just how little GDP has to do with wealth!
Aksisu, thanks for this.
Jim, thank you! Whether or not this is the actual peak of industrial civilization depends on how you define the actual peak — for a lot of people in the US, for example, the peak was arguably in 1972. It seems likely to me, however, that some of the crucial markers of progress are already shifting into reverse, and that’s going to become increasingly hard to ignore in the near future.
1. I was in Bangkok a few years ago and noticed that motorbikes vastly outnumbered cars. Some of them functioned as taxis: you would tell the driver your destination, agree on a price, and then climb on behind him (every one I saw, the driver was male) and hang on around his waist. There were motorbike trailers for both cargo and passengers, the latter often hauling tourists. I am totally expecting the traffic in major Sunbelt cities to start looking like that within the next thirty years.
2. A great deal of the cost of housing is a result of the subversion of democracy through scheduling zoning meetings and the like during weekdays when most working people are unable to attend, so the large landlords are able to control the housing supply. It is in the interest of landlords that housing should be scarce because scarcity drives up rents. Once there are a lot of bright unemployed people who are able to attend daytime meetings, even if the cost of construction makes adding new buildings prohibitive, simply lifting the restriction against remodeling to increase the number of units will do a great deal to make housing more plentiful and therefore less expensive. Additionally, some activists propose a high (to the point of confiscatory) tax on vacant property, to prevent property from being held off the market. IIRC this has already been done in Vancouver, BC.
3. There are two flavors of inflation. One is when more and more money enters the system but the amount of goods available to buy stays the same. The other is when the amount of goods available to buy shrinks. The latter is the one that results in stagflation.
The thing about crude oil is that it’s not just a fuel. It is also a raw material, maybe the ultimate raw material: the basis of plastic. The plastics industry provides enormous amounts of consumer goods, especially cheap ones, unless you’re talking about about high tech stuff or stuff that purports to be green in some way. (My Prius gets the gas mileage it does partly because of the many automotive components that, in the 20th century, were normally steel, that in the Prius were replaced with plastic. The core of my rear bumper is literally a bar of styrofoam.) The price of oil is literally the price of stuff. As it becomes more scarce and thus more expensive, stagflation can be expected.
“held aloft only by its degeneracy”
That sounds like a pretty good description of Hollywood and the rest of the American entertainment industry these days…
I think I have found a way to phrase my main disagreement. Until last year, I believed your thesis that the PMCs are in control in most developed countries and that there is a power shift going on from the PMC to an alliance of working classes and some rich (let me know if I misunderstood you).
Given the events of last year, I think that the oligarchs (which own more than half of everything) have enough of a class conscience to act in concert to preserve their privileges. No conspiracy needed but the end result is most of the countries in the world adopting same policies regarding the pandemic, the great reset and the economies. How many politicians would refuse millions of dollars for a policy that also allows them to play a dictator?
As a simple example, they bought the US politicians and they made sure that the next elections can be manipulated directly (until now they just used massmedia). As a consequence we will never see someone like Trump being elected ever again.
If I am right, we will see the PMC losing their privileges but continuing to be used as “useful idiots” because propaganda is used to cause mass hysteria. You say that the PMCs have not lost their privileges yet but that’s not true. Most PMCs don’t have private jets so their vacations are mostly gone. I expect their driving will also be reduced (maybe as a climate change policy). The oligarchs will have all the tourist destinations, airports, beaches etc at their disposal without having to rub shoulders with the merely rich.
The working classes in the west will drop to the level of working classes in the third world (no cars, no houses, no education, no health care).
The GDP is hugely distorted and should never be relied on.
You know who is best for increasing the GDP?
A cancer patient going through a divorce, because they spend piles of money.
But who really wants to live that way?
Your comment re: rising per capita GDP and rising inequality got me thinking. I agree with you (and JMG as well, I think) that countering wealth inequality could improve the lives of many even as the total resource base declines.
That said, I’m not convinced that rising per capita GDP reflects increasing per capita resources over the last 50 years. The reason, I think, is that beyond a certain level of personal wealth resource consumption no longer scales with income or net worth. The top 1% might have 50% of the money but they don’t eat 50% of the food, to use an obvious example.
Rising per capita GDP includes all of the speculative investments, collectibles, stock portfolios, million dollar artworks etc. of the ever-richer upper classes, but these are not particularly resource intensive. So I think it is quite possible that per capita resource availability has stagnated or declined even as GDP continues to grow. It would be interesting to be able to identify an equivalent index to measure this.
“Jim, thank you! Whether or not this is the actual peak of industrial civilization depends on how you define the actual peak — for a lot of people in the US, for example, the peak was arguably in 1972. It seems likely to me, however, that some of the crucial markers of progress are already shifting into reverse, and that’s going to become increasingly hard to ignore in the near future.”
I’ve long suspected that this is what’s behind the metastatic growth of the internet in areas which make no financial nor social sense; the dawning awareness that the end of progress has come and gone. The internet then serves three purposes: first, it allows constant access to the propaganda many are very desperate to consume; second it prevents people from having time to think; and third is that it allows us to wave this technology around and insist that because we have more technology, progress is still real…..
Do you have a good source on dream logic? I’ve tried looking it up and gotten swamped with links for the Marvel comic series…
Great post. I am really looking forward to the discussion here in the comments. I am only 40, so I haven’t lived through some of your examples, but I did grow up hearing the stories from family and was taught some very vital skills that are and will be coming in handy and am passing them onto my own children.
@ Joan and # 90.
Increasing housing density can be done many ways but not all of them involve the local municipality or changing zoning laws. Johnny Sanphillipo at Granola Shotgun has plenty to say on the topic. His blog is great. https://www.granolashotgun.com/
He calls it yak shaving.
As an example, let us say you have an unused large bedroom in your house. If you add an exterior door (to improve fire safety!), a bathroom with shower stall (less expensive than a full bath and so convenient and private), a large countertop with microwave, mini-fridge, hot plate, coffee maker, and a sink (for crafts so you don’t have to mess up your new bathroom sink!).
You then rent out said room to your cousin’s niece (family so no one would complain!).
What you have done is added an auxiliary dwelling unit to your home (ADU or granny flat or mother-in-law suite) but because you did not add a stove, you slip by under the radar.
As long as the neighbors don’t rat you out, you’re fine. If you’ve chosen your rental tenant very carefully, they’ll never know.
I suspect that a lot of this goes on now and we’ll see even more in the future.
One pretty likely possibility for BC’s electrical future in the mid-term is BC sells some of its hydropower to Alberta, they sell us some wind energy back. That would let them increase the amount of wind they can install without destabilizing their grid, and let them lower their fossil fuel use for electricity.
It’s also likely that any potential dam site will be dammed, never mind the environmental consequences… oh man, that’s going to cause yet more political unrest with affected First Nations. Like the Site C dam currently is.
We might sell Alberta more than we buy, if we’re willing to deal with higher electricity prices at home. That might be a lot more palatable to the BC government than waiting for the federal government to commandeer or mandate anything. They could use some of the money received to give rebates to low income people the way they do with the GST, if they want to blunt the pain higher prices would cause.
Electricity prices are going to go up substantially in BC, given fossil fuel depletion and people’s desire to use electricity for things they would use fossil fuels for before, even if the BC government doesn’t start selling a lot more electricity abroad. Prices have already started going up in the past few years, though that is more government policy than anything else so far.
Thanks for the thought-provoking discussion, JMG.
Justin: The 1902 Baker Electric Runabout used resistors to control speed.
Here is a link to EV Motor Controllers
from Ancient to Advanced
from Simple to Sophisticated
and from Trivial to Terrifying!
JMG: I’ll give your paper a read. Thank you.
The problem here that I think you are missing is that the elites of the world want to hoard all of the remaining fossil fuels for themselves. They don’t want, and will not accept the masses consuming their resources. The ‘useless eaters’ concept at play here.
The elites are well aware of petroleum depletion and I think they are planning on a set up for the ‘Hunger games’ type of outcome. Where a small elite, in a fenced in and walled off area, keeps all of the toys, science and technology, medicine and perks; and everyone else has a boot to their neck for all future time.
How do you think that will play out?
@ Aksisu #84
Yes, this! People who have only ever rented tend to be blissfully unaware of the horror of property taxes. You can’t just hunker down in the boonies and grow your own food. The government charges all ‘owners’ rent on their ‘own’ property. You no pay, the government seizes your land and auctions it off to the highest bidder.
Washington state gives you 4 years, so if you have a temporary emergency you have a chance to make it up. But property there is untouchable expensive. In Kentucky, you can find cheap land; but if you miss the due date for the property taxes, just 6 months later they auction it out from under you.
I’ve seen many properties in rural areas lost when some severe financial emergency comes up for a family, and ‘grandma’s old place’ is one expense too much. Its a real stealth way to remove property ownership from the poor.
And people think its so normal, but to the best of my knowledge, property taxes as we have them today have only been around for 400 years or so.
Your initial question was “Why would the non-Western countries — including countries like Russia, China, and Iran, which have nothing to gain from supporting their enemies — play along with it?”
I disagree that they had nothing to gain. On the contrary, they have gained.
China has done a great job of turning it to their advantage not least because they had 6% GDP growth in 2020 while the rest of the world went backwards.
Tanzania stands as a stark example of what happens when a relatively powerless country rejects the narrative. Other leaders of such countries will no doubt get the message and fall into line.
As for more powerful countries like Russia, they never had much choice. If they tried to deny corona, they would have been causing a diplomatic row with both the west and China. So, they developed their own vaccine, which they proudly proclaimed as the ‘first’ vaccine to be approved, and trolled the west by calling it Sputnik. That solved their major geopolitical problem which was that their citizens and diplomats could be excluded from other countries for not being vaccinated.
Thanks for the clarification of Jevon’s Paradox. It was one of those bits about peak oil theory that I kept running into, but could never wrap my head around. Summing it up as “if it’s useful and it’s cheap, why would we use LESS of it?” just made it all drop into place.
Joan, in the early ‘90’s I had a Chevy Cavalier whose body was almost entirely plastic, and it did get great mileage, but let me tell you, if you ever need incentive to get right with the Lord, and stay that way, get into a tiny plastic box and set forth onto a freeway full of semi trucks!
How high will US fuel prices have to rise before Biden reverses his Keystone decision? Anyone?
Regarding the impoverishment resulting the diversion of resources into fracking I would add plowing of resources into corn ethanol. It is even questionable whether this process is even break-even from an EROEI vantage point, but a lot of farmers in Iowa and Nebraska do just fine by it.
I’m of a similar age as Geoff, and of a similar economic circumstance—making a fairly respectable professional salary in a line of work for which I was required to get a graduate degree, and yet unable to purchase property in the market in which I live and living rather precariously, all things considered. I’ll add that, in addition to driving folks our age to more extreme political positions, the realities of the economy we’ve inherited are leading to an absolutely plummeting birth rate. My wife and I have enough children to have done our part to be above the replacement rate, but we’re rare birds among current thirty-somethings and our family size (which would’ve been considered quite small a couple of generations ago) is considered enormous among our circles of friends. This, of course, will lead to even further economic pain, since a society in which the retirees outnumber the workers by a fair number will be disastrous. And I’ve read that we’re now on target to have 300,000 fewer children as a nation this year than we did last year. And so the decline accelerates…
JMG, I want to say thank you for the clarity and honesty you bring to these discussions of the current economic situation. I find that the people in my own life of your generation are wont to look at things with the sort of denialism that infuriates those of my generation who are hustling twice as hard as our parents did for half the standard of living (why, just the other day, I was informed by a relative that’s old enough to retire that I shouldn’t worry about the $1.7 trillion that Americans currently owe in student loan debt, because Biden was about to fix the problem…) Even when we disagree (as we did on last week’s discussion of private schools), I find your writing incredibly refreshing!
All the best,
TJ, I agree with all of those but the last.
Let me qualify that further. Yes, you certainly can produce uneconomic shale when it constitutes barely over 10% of global oil production; it’s another thing entirely when the balance of *all* energy production drops below 10 EREOI. IMHO that’s where we’re headed.
Those who can really embrace LESS and ‘there is no brighter future’ may fare reasonably well
Those who embrace less are guaranteeing themselves a brighter future.
@ PeterEV, just to follow up on a few points that you have made over the last two comments in regards to EV technologies. When it comes to batteries, solar panels, electric motors – the call for greater efficiency is pretty much a dead end. I will briefly go through them.
Lithium Ion batteries are pretty good at storing energy considering they are able to be recharged directly. It is because they can be recharged that prevents them from having similar properties as chemical energy. You cannot pack in the electrons anywhere near as efficiently because there has to be a rigid structure to store and move electrons. Chemically stored energy is usually in a liquid or gas and thus it can just be packed in about as tightly as possible. This is why there is a massive gap between energy density. Petrol is about 50 times more energy dense than the best electric batteries we have today. This is also why batteries tend to have limited life cycles as they are fragile. There are newer technologies like Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries that have decades long life spans but they do it at the cost of energy density. The big tell on battery storage is that in the 162 years since we begun to store electricity via batteries, we have only managed to increase the density by a factor of 4 – at the same time the exotic resources, costs per stored watt and ecological damage along the way has been greatly amplified by these changes. A lead-acid battery may only hold 1/4th the amount of energy per pound but it is significantly cheaper to make and source the materials. While storage per watt has decreased in the last few decades with Lithium ion relative to itself, it is still a far cry from earlier chemical compositions. But that is the trade off.
Solar panels, don’t have much efficiency gain left in them. A decent quality Mono-oxide silicon panel will currently get about 25% efficiency – this is starting to get close to the peak theoretical efficiency of 34.1%. This is the Shockley Queisser limit. It is a limit of physics that was determined about a decade before the first PV panels were rolled out. There are still gain that can be made but they will be minor compared with the gains made over the last 50 years of the technology.
Efficiency gains made sense in the 1970’s-1980’s because before that point, the bulk of abundance of energy and materials meant that comfort and style were favored over efficiency. Look at cars for instance. The first oil shock meant that Japanese car makers could move in the US market very easily because they had always built their cars within the limited resources of their nation. We don’t have that luxury nowadays. An efficiency doubling nowadays is not that impressive. A modern gas heater is 98% efficient – if we double the efficiency, it goes up to 99% – a 1% gain. That is nearing the level of defying Newtons laws! The same goes for all the other parts. Electric motors are at about 70% – near peak theoretical.
The gains are nice but there are not many left to be made, diminishing returns is a big issue in regards to this. And when it comes to price reductions, the bulk of what has reduced the prices over the last two decades has been us shipping off the manufacturing and thus the externalities to China. Cheap labor and no clean up costs makes for cheap tech goodies. Even then it looks like we have near maxed/exploited them as much as possible. How long until India and Africa are the next in line of exploitation for this stuff?
A book I briefly mentioned here a few weeks back is ‘Bright Green Lies’ by Derrick Jenson, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbur. Unlike their previous books and works, this one does not lean to heavily on the idea of climate catastrophe by next Tuesday. It is very clear that they have gone deep on the research so as to not allow any angles for criticism by the techno-optimists. It makes a very compelling argument and with great detail as to why almost all these ‘green technologies’ are anything but that. I would recommend giving it a go. It makes a very compelling case for not only how destructive these technologies are to the environment but how they simply will not maintain the paradigm that has been defined by fossil fuels. There is an entire chapter dedicated to the issues of efficiency and why seeking it in the context of complex technology is probably a path that will do more harm than good.
One of the signs of Peak Tech is reduced fertility. Children per woman has been falling everywhere, and it is below replacement many places, such as Japan. This worries the economic expansionists; they have tried various pronatal policies, to little success. I consider it a price signal, from the ecology via the economy, to the humans. How clever of Gaia to price us out of our own markets! Woke gender chaos and neo-puritanism is part of the process.
You have referenced that poem before and I have read it. Thanks for reminding me.
I vaguely recall a quip about the soviets pretending to pay the workers and the workers pretending to work.
What 1984 doesn’t factor in is that its dystopia requires a level of technology that wouldn’t be available in a peak post-fossil fuel world.
This type of dystopian tyranny will be limited by resource limitations. So we are getting pretty lucky in that respect.
You’re welcome, and thank you for the interesting discussion. It helped me clarify and reorient my thinking, and I had no idea Quebec was such a large part of Canada’s hydropower production until I looked it up, so I learned something useful too.
This sort of thing is why I love this blog.
I am noticing a lot of people are very excited about these stimulus checks. Maybe the masses are not that hard to please after all? The collapse may be prolonged quite indefinitely in such a manner.
Jim, JMG: Peak civilization? Hmpf. I’d put that at July 27, 1914. It looks like Russia, or perhaps China, will pick up the baton.
As Dmitry Orlov has pointed out, overpopulation is a regional phenomenon, not a global one (and drinking water shortage seems like one facet of overpopulation). To cite his example, although a place like Bangladesh might struggle with shortages of food (arable land), water, etc., other countries, such as Russia, have none of those problems. The country where I live, for another example, currently has population densities in the urbanized coastal areas that are unsupportable in the long term. Up in the mountains where I live, though, we have plenty of food, clean water, un-utilized land, wood and other resources.
These situations will certainly cause disruptions down the line. The impact will be unevenly distributed, though, and will probably drive a lot of migration.
The best way to deal with the worst extremists is force them into a room. On a countrywide level. The moderates should do a disappearing act. Otherwise they are forced to choose a side or die.
In place or out of place but invisible and ghosts who are not perceived by the extremists. Then they will turn on each other.
Similar to how Nazi Germany and Soviet Union fought it out on the Eastern Front.
Maybe plagues are natures way of discouraging us to live like an ant-hive and other forms of overcrowding.
“Wesley, many aspects of power in the US are diffuse, but power over currency and debt are not. The President could order a debt default tomorrow and, so long as he had the backing of his Treasury Secretary and the top echelon at the Federal Reserve, it would happen.”
Strictly speaking, the only people who would really matter would be the Federal Reserve. All they’d have to do would be to stop buying treasuries and the market would handle the rest. It’s possible that this could even happen over the objections of the president, and as long as congress didn’t do anything immediately it would happen, which admittedly would make for quite a spectacle…..
teresa from hershey, JMG,
Suddenly something makes a lot of sense: since the 1970s, American standards of living have dropped, but GDP has kept on rising (even ignoring the financial sector); GDP does not measure prosperity, but it does measure the flow of money. One of the biggest changes of the past fifty years has been the gutting of the household economy, and the replacement with a corporate equivalent. This has been done with massive propaganda and has formed one of the core elements of American policy since the 1970s. This has never made sense to me, but suddenly it does: if the goal is to inflate GDP (or GNP), what’s the best approach? Gut the household economy.
This is also why attempts to get it going again face such strong resistance: the powers that be really do perceive it as a threat to the economy, since they measure it with GDP, and as often happens in our society, the abstraction is viewed as more real than the concrete reality it measures….
Joan, three good points.
NomadicBeer, fair enough; you’ve made your prediction, I’ve made mine. We’ll see who turns out to be right.
Anonymous, that’s certainly my take. Those people who can do so are living more and more of their lives online or watching the media, where they can wallow in imagery of a future that will never arrive and ignore what’s actually happening in the world.
Anonymous, I don’t. Most of what I know about it I got from paying attention to my own dreams.
Aubrey, glad to hear it.
Pygmycory, that seems very plausible.
Workdove, “the elites” are not a single group of people. They’re a collection of power blocs and pressure groups who spend their time competing against one another and are perfectly willing to ally themselves with groups lower on the status ladder if that gets them any advantage. They’re also by and large almost schizophrenically detached from the world the rest of us live in. Thus I think you’re giving them far more credit than they deserve, and missing the ways in which the basis for their power is slipping away from under them.
Simon, no doubt if you work at it very hard, you can come up with some far-fetched scenario to explain why Iran got something out of it, too. Sigh…
Varun, you’re most welcome. Jevons’ Paradox is probably the most important economic principle in the world these days, and so inevitably it’s the one that all the economists are doing their level best to ignore.
Ross, I trust you don’t think that Joe Biden is actually making any decisions himself. Me, I don’t think there’s a specific number; once the Dems start sliding hard in the polls due to rising fuel prices, Biden’s handlers will reverse their Keystone XL decision.
Helix, an excellent point.
Ryan, thank you. As I trust you’ve noticed, I’m fine with people disagreeing with me as long as they’re polite about it and don’t obsessively push some canned story over and over.
TJ, of course we’re headed there, but we’ve got quite a ways to go, and even at an EROEI of 10, you can leverage diffuse energy sources to extract concentrated ones even when that means ignoring the economics. Can you imagine a totalitarian government extracting oil from stripper wells by having political prisoners labor in gangs at big human-worked pumps, working until they die? I certainly can — and if you’ve got a large enough supply of political prisoners, it’s workable. An image of the future:
Paradoctor, depopulation is also a standard event in the late phases of any civilization. Spengler talks about it in detail in The Decline of the West.
Piper, you’re most welcome! It’s a fave of mine.
Info23, exactly. One of the things that few historians are willing to talk about is that the fall of a civilization generally brings a significant improvement in living conditions and personal freedom for most of the population…
Pygmycory, well, I had no idea of that either!
Henry, I’ve seen very little excitement about them, so we clearly run in different circles. That aside, the attitude of the masses is hardly the most significant factor in whether a civilization falls.
Apprentice, good! It all depends on which measure you’re using.
Info23, another helpful thing to do is make sure the crazies think of themselves as the important people, the ones who matter, and dismiss the moderates as a bunch of looney tunes out on the fringes who can be dealt with later.
Anonymous, of course. I doubt it would happen without the concurrence of the president and the secretary of the treasury, though, because the treasury retains the power to print money if it chooses to do so, and they could do an end run around the Fed that way.
Anonymous, exactly! Most of the “economic growth” of the last three quarters of a century has had nothing to do with producing wealth and everything to do with figuring out how to impose rent seeking gimmicks on forms of wealth that didn’t use to be monetized.
Our brilliant (I do mean that) host wrote, “Since the economy of real goods and services is a zero-sum game, real wealth poured into fracking has to be deducted from elsewhere, and so you get steady downward pressure on other economic activity.”
But is the economy of real goods and services indeed a zero-sum game? As the production of goods and services becomes more efficient, and I believe they do over time as people learn more efficient ways of making things and providing better services —- one example of this thesis would be to compare surgical procedures and their outcomes now and 100 years ago. Or compare a (partially) self-driving car of today to a car of 1950 and look at all the significant differences. So I don’t think that ‘zero-sum game’ necessarily fits the facts. For some things, it does. For others, it does not.
True, there is only a finite amount of any mineral on a finite planet. As the high-grade ores are depleted, lower grade ones will be used, at least until someone comes up with a way of using something else instead, and then something else can sometimes be better than what it was substituted for. Resource substitution can and does occur because of human ingenuity and the profit motive. One example — abundant silicon was substituted for less abundant germanium in transistors, and then transistors were microminiaturized so that thousands or tens of thousands could be made on a tiny silicon chip. That is not a zero-sum game. Electronics got cheaper and much more complex, and more reliable, and more competent as a result.
I think it might be worth discussing “zero-sum games” and what is or is not actually “zero-sum.”
I would love to see a graph showing what percentage of fossil fuel consumption goes towards producing renewable energy! That would be a great one to show people. Presumably the amount of fossil fuels which are going into renewables is increasing; is the proportion of fossil fuel energy used for this purpose also increasing? I imagine that will happen if it is not already…
Where did the graph used here come from? I tried to look up the original, and it seems significantly different from the one in this post (not enough to contradict the points made—but there are substantially more renewables in it):
Is this a graph with slightly different specifications or something?
Off Topic, sorry. Note to Peter Van Erp: I just tried to sign up for the potluck through the link on your 3-24 comment. Link was dead. Am I too late?
I have seen a lot of coal and natural gas generation go offline (or planned to go offline) in the last two years on the WECC system. I have not really seen much in the way of new generation (or planned generation) other than solar and some wind and a couple of notable pumped storage projects. I have attached a WECC report on the recent (August 2020) blackouts. The increase in declared energy emergencies is a little ominous (fig. 2, page 4), and a direct consequence of retiring thermal generation without adequate replacement.
I would say that lower reliability is one of the costs of greater penetration of wind and solar. I think it could work to a greater degree than I think has been described on this site, but the costs will definitely be higher. I also think we can live a pretty happy life with lower energy consumption, if we could arrange our circumstances around it. I also think that solar and wind inverter technology is developing fast and there is no technical reason they cannot participate in frequency response, voltage control, and Automatic Generation Control, and we will start to see that in the coming years.
I am not sure what to say about BC. It is closely tied to the WECC grid. I see power flows that absolutely indicate that unit commitment decisions in BC are being made based on the solar power ramp in SoCal. I am guessing that they make good money playing in that market. If the transmission lines can be maintained — and I think this is likely for the next few decades at least, BC will not be shipping its power east. Alberta and BC have historically been, and continue to be, strangely uncooperative on the WECC grid.
Mark L wrote”Rising per capita GDP includes all of the speculative investments, collectibles, stock portfolios, million dollar artworks etc. of the ever-richer upper classes, but these are not particularly resource intensive. So I think it is quite possible that per capita resource availability has stagnated or declined even as GDP continues to grow. It would be interesting to be able to identify an equivalent index to measure this.”
Perhaps the best objective ‘index” of per capita resource availability is an indirect one, one that looks at human outcomes, rather than at per capita resource availability directly.
I propose life expectancy might be a good surrogate — when life expectancy turns down it signals that the economic or social system is deteriorating — with the important caveat that too much as well as too little of something can have adverse consequences. Neither too much, nor too little is optimal. Too much food makes you fat, too much reliance on the easy way of doing things, e.g. driving rather than walking, can also negatively influence life expectancy.
U.S. life expectancy was falling even before the pandemic.
You reminded me of this particular column: http://energyskeptic.com/2020/energy-slaves/
All these climate change SJW’s seem oblivious to the fact that fossil fuels were the biggest global factor in reducing human slavery.
another helpful thing to do is make sure the crazies think of themselves as the important people, the ones who matter, and dismiss the moderates as a bunch of looney tunes out on the fringes who can be dealt with later.
This might require a post on its own, but do you have any tips on how this could be accomplished, especially to protect oneself individually from the crazies one has to personally deal with?
JMG said: “Jeff, one of the most crucial skills as we move into another crisis phase is the skill of avoiding the clash of failing ideologies.”
Very intriguing comment. Would you care to elaborate? Thanks!
Friends of mine had already done it, some are far from being broke…they just realized what has value and what not
maybe i will manage in a few years. it is my plans for the future.
we city guys, will have no choice in a few decades..anyways…nobody says this in general…its just a minorities gut feeling..
what does cheap mean?
In big cities a new, nicely colored from the outside, but poorly made condominium for 100m2 can easy get beyond 100K EUR
old 30-40 years old communist block the same surface for 50-60K at least..only for the PMC…!
in a tiny village in the Carpathians or in the midlle of pannonian plain agricultural fields…30-50years old house for 2000-15000EUR with your own garden. another few K for renewals…making a few improvements and your done
the same urban-rural difference is in nearby Hungary…
there ARE here Europeans that live in a few houses like this…here and there…that left behind all the noise
There are superb places in the forested hilly areas not far from here. Or quiet agricultural lowland villages
But these are NOT for the average family with a pretentious wifey and 2 kids that want high standards of living!. people are very simple there and life is harsh and boring in the same time, you can even call it medieval lifestyle in some places..almost..the extra thing being that you have electricity, mobile signal and water flowing..
i kid you not. in some villages even during WW2 or the revolution absolutely no change got noticed
i heard about city guys that got back to urban life after a few years areas because..you know why
to live there you’ll need strong condition…health and to skip the flashy consumerist pretenses, the attention from strangers
and if you go above 200-500m altitude winters can get brutal
but the beautiful nature all around, the total lack of noise…and debt..the hard physical work and the lack of psychological stress ..the animals and garden you care for…for the right kind of people..can mean happiness
Anonymous @ #96, Re: Dream logic. I’m not JMG, but I’ve done decades of graduate level dream logic studies for 59 of my 62 years, without outside help. The subject is not like French or Latin, where you just learn grammar and vocabulary from somebody else. Your mind is equipped to handle your dreams, just as you are, dripping wet naked. You need perseverance, courage, honesty.
Get in the habit of writing dreams down promptly, along with what’s been on your mind, and recent life events. Like reading and writing exercises, many dreams are trivial, and you can practice interpreting those. The important ones have big emotional impact. Pay attention to dream emotions, and look for similar emotions in waking life. When you journal your dreams, relate them to your issues and recent events, and look for repeating motifs and connections with prior dreams, events, emotions. With time & effort, you will infer their underlying logic firsthand. No book can do that for you.
The fact you are asking about dream logic suggests there may be some major stuff in front of you, demanding your attention. If so, forget searches, forget books. I suggest you start writing now, reading what you write, and meditate hard on it.
@NomadicBeer I am far from knowledgeable in this area, but the soils all around still seem pretty ok for farming Especially the lowland floodplains
JMG & all–
I have been keeping track of the price of food at our local farmer’s market vs the grocery stores; Eggs at the grocery are about $5.00/dz here, and it’s the same price at the farmer’s market– or $3.00/dz if you get them from the local farms. Several years ago, anything at the Farmer’s Market was more expensive than the grocery store but fresher and better quality. Now, its better quality and costs about the same. Hmmm….
Lumber is a commodity that seems to behave a lot like oil. A 2X4 here is $9 CDN at the hardware store, and not much cheaper at either of the two sawmills within 30 Km of my house. Most of it is heading for China or the US, and if they pay $9 for a 2X4, the mill will charge everyone else the going price. The sawmills are running 24 hours a day to meet the demand for lumber. One acquaintance who works for the big one says that the mill has already paid each employee their maximum possible yearly bonus, and continue to pay them time-and-a-half.
The transition to a non-oil life is on my mind a lot these days. I have moved to a small town, and my work is 5 Km from my home so I could bike or walk to work. I am trying to get rid of the lawn and plant things that I can harvest and eat (vs. decorative shrubs). We have 2 gas furnaces and baseboard electric heat in a house with no central heat. We have leveraged that a bit in Winter by putting up heavy drapes to divide the living room/kitchen from the rest of the house, limiting the amount that needs to be heated when cold.
Although we live in BC, which _does_ have a lot of hydro power, power failures already happen on the order of every 30 to 60 days, and sometimes last for more than a couple of days. IMHO it is the infrastructure of power delivery at distance–The network of giant towers, high voltage lines and transformer farms –that will fail first. Mica Dam may well produce power for another century, but manufacturing new power lines, towers, and transformers and toting them where they need to go could be the deal-breaker here.
Interesting times indeed…
Dear Mr. Greer – I also remember the gas crunch of the early 70s.I happened to be living, for a few years, in S. California. The things I saw in those gas lines! (shudder.) I decided that I really didn’t want to be living there, if something really serious happened.
Of course, I also remember when the minimum wage was $1.25, a gallon of gas and a pack of cigarettes cost the same (25¢) and my first apartment was $49 a month. That’s around 1967.
As with a couple of other people here, I’m also piling up a bit of filthy lucre. But, at present prices, it will never be enough to buy even a bit of land. I don’t think. I hope you’ll address what to do with it, in a future post. Thanks! Lew
BoysMom, in the transport world there’s a question to illustrate what standards people expect: would you tolerate sitting next to a puddle of urine? And I’m thinking dude, if this train will get me where I want to go in a reasonable time, I’d sit next to a dead body that was sitting in a puddle of urine.
You Kittenship, I will see your Chevy Cavalier and raise you a Reliant Robin.
For all history lovers, I recommend reading an article about the rise and decline of the industrial revolution in Nederlands. The industrialization of Nederlands started a few centuries earlier than in the other parts of Europe because of a cheap and abundant supply of easy extractable fossil fuel – turf. By the XVII century Nederlands was the wealthiest (per capita) nation in the world, flooding global markets with cheap goods and with most of its population living in the cities. With a peak and decline of turf production, it turned back to the mostly agrarian country. So if you are wondering how the future will look like, that example may give you a glimpse of it.
Different countries, different problems! I was asking about the (presumed) coming collapse of the infrastructure that provides safe-to-drink water. Apart that infrastructure, there is no such water to be found any longer in much of the USA.
Here in the USA, except in fairly isolated regions, it’s no longer possible for anyone to satisfy his drinking-water needs from fresh ground water alone. It was possible in most parts of the country sixty years ago. This has been a major change over my own lifetime.
We live between two rivers (the Seekonk and the Moshassuck), which are easy to access, so we could in principle take enoughf water for personal use from them every day. But water from those rivers is not particularly safe to drink these days, and boiling it doesn’t make it safe, either. (It is safer than it was fifty years ago, but it’s still not all that safe.)
Some resource shortages have nothing much to do with over- or underpopulation. This shortage is one of them. The resource simply gets debased in nature, not from overuse, but from some outside complicating factor that the planet can’t repair for a very very long time.
I have heard hints, too, that something of the same sort, though progressing more slowly, is also happening to the nutritional “load” of many plant crops raised in the USA.
JMG, I read this, and the comments (currently 123 of them) and then went to look at today’s Guardian, the journal of the religion of Progress here in the UK. Oh, dear me….
In a florid piece, Timothy Garton Ash, an archetypal example of the bien-pensant liberal establishment tells us that democracy is dead in Hungary and dying in Poland. His examples of media bias there sound terrible – until you consider that, actually, almost exactly the same examples could be produced here in Britain. The moral certitude and belief in his class’s righteousness are absolutely delusional: I kept shaking my head as I read it, wondering if it was a parody. Of course, the idea that perhaps the countries in Eastern Europe may have their own ideas about their national culture and destiny, outside of corporate globalism, cannot be countenanced.
Of course, he’s right that the governments there are indeed imposing stronger limits on what can be said. I was speaking yesterday with a friend in Russia who is dismayed by the increased censorship and militarisation there. However, it seems clear to me that these are not the result of innate evilly evilness, but rather the response of the various governments to an increasingly hostile and extractive approach from the west, including sanctions, economic problems etc and are intended to try to hold the countries together.
Garton Ash, in his effusive explanation of how the UK is a beacon of liberal values inspiring the world, somehow neglected to mention a Bill currently going through Parliament which will severely restrict the right to peaceful protest here. This has led to ongoing violent riots in Bristol.
In another Druid-related forum, the question was asked why this law was being introduced now, and how it could be resisted. I contributed the view that this is a response to decline, and that we can expect to see more in the same vein in the future; the best solution being to try to stay under the radar and engage in prefigurative politics, building an ecosophic society (and thank you, JMG, for introducing me to those terms). I’m starting to believe that this is the best any of us can hope to do.
Various people have mentioned Ferfal’s blog, which I also started following circa 2006(?). I stopped paying attention when he switched from text to video, but three things have always stuck in my mind – avoiding riots and protests, the rise of home invasions, and his astonishment at how a slum/favela can appear virtually overnight in parks and other open areas.
To lighten my mood, the Graun also had a an article on a Welshman who, lacking the price of a ticket to fly home from Australia, tried to post himself as air freight, thus reassuring me that my compatriots are likely to remain inventively bonkers.
@ JMG – thanks for reviewing this so well and succinctly. I wonder if I might pick your brain a bit further on the economic/political front…
this: ” a much easier way to allow the rich to stay rich, which is of course central to US government policy anyway…” is an observation I entirely agree with.
However I have encountered people who will tell you that for the US to do anything OTHER than allow the rich to stay rich, would require the US to violate their property rights, which will never be morally right. Also, they will say that even noticing this policy preference on the part of the US, is tantamount to admitting one’s own envy. And finally, they will argue fervently against another point you made earlier in the thread (which I also agree with) that the economy is a zero-sum game, and they will tell you that actually, these rich people who the US government wishes to help in staying rich, HAVE created new wealth from nothing, impoverished no one, and we are all going to benefit indirectly from their wealth creation methods.
That is to say, I, too, have noticed that the policy of helping the rich stay rich is a popular one (perhaps because of “rich people” entryism into the halls of government power?), and I have also observed that economies, in practice, are always robbing Peter to pay Paul.
But I actually have no easy answer to those who say that NOT protecting the rich to stay rich is an unconscionable threat to property rights, nor do I have an easy answer to those who believe wealth can be created without a “robbery” from somewhere else in the system (whether the human system or the whole of the natural system which is our home).
PS – (further to above) …and when I say I don’t have an “easy” answer… of course, there are some “easy” lefty answers, but I do not know that ideological positioning is what I am looking for. I’m more interested in ways to speak to the practicalities around what actually happens, and how to open the conversation into a space of (perhaps needlessly disregarded) possibilities…
Everyone, but Darkest Yorkshire in particular:
“#37. With the kind of public transport system generally regarded as ideal – trains, buses, highly electrified, maximum coverage, and so on – has anyone calculated how much energy it would take to run?”
Surprisingly little, actually. Providing frequent public transport to the half (?) of UK’s population which lives in towns and cities big enough to sustain such an enterprise, could take as little as 0.5% of UK’s current oil consumption in the form of a diesel bus service, or an even smaller fraction of UK’s current peak power demand if the service runs on electricity. (I can post my calculations and reasoning if there is enough interest in a massive wall of text.) But these figures use several favorable assumptions, and a more realistic estimate would be 2-3 times higher – which is still not that much, all things considered. And, it does not include intercity service, which I don’t understand well enough to comment on.
I believe the actual state of our build environment is being artfully hidden from people. One day I was riding the bus through the main street of my town. Since I grew tired of looking at the same store fronts, I tried purposefully ignoring the colorful signs, people, products and such. This is when I noticed how those stores, pubs and restaurants are actually inside of 50s – era crumbling structures, most of the upper stories are blocked by wood, wild plants growing through the cracks. It then became apparent to me that the signs, food, flashy new products (much of it technological), create the illusion of “newness” when in reality I am looking at a bunch of old, crumbling buildings. Ever since I no longer look at commercial centers the same.
re: Electrifying Rail
Someone asked what we could save if we got all transport onto electrified rail — the Oil Drum had a post about that. It was deemed a “silver BB” that could really help our problems.
er. You do know there IS no “Canadian” power grid that Ottawa could use to steal your hydro, right?
BC (and Alberta) are part of the WCCC interchange with the western states in the USA. Worry about California sucking amps, not Ontario!
That said– Ontario could be packing the same hydro-power output as Quebec. It just chose not to develop those resources*. There’s huge hydropower potential in the NWT and Yukon as well, that the prairies could patch into. We’re not talking about a single 3-gorges style installation, so even as we slide down Hubbert’s peak, we can build an awful lot of hydro dams if we chose to. Think about just how little oil went into the first ones.
*Why not relates to the differences between Ontario and Quebec discussed last week: Quebec didn’t care about flooding out and displacing indigenous people, and Ontario very much does.
@ Adrian – Hello from Donegal… *waves* – “big bulk of our carbon emissions is livestock production”… I have never found this argument to be persuasive. *Intensive* livestock production obviously relies on inputs from *intensive* industrial monoculture of grain (which has its own carbon footprint to add into the livestock footprint), plus a whole battery of straightforward carbon inputs from transport of inputs plus transport of products plus heating of buildings, and powering machines… BUT…
Livestock per se are NOT productive of carbon emissions, and can actually work as carbon sinks if holistic grazing methods which build up soils are used instead.
For sure, the methanogenic bacteria living in a ruminant’s gut has been around a lot longer than ruminant or human, so, to zone in on its gaseous excretions as being to blame for our ills makes no sense at all.
PS – disclaimer. I am a non-intensive livestock farmer, and so, I may well have biasses. And I most certainly have *views*.
Be well. 🙂
>I am hoping that the pandemic plus the oil price spike will drive a permanent move away from cars towards bikes
Welcome to the third world, where scooters and mopeds are the norm and you take the monthly bus for longer distance trips. I don’t think e-anything will have any staying power as they all require really fiddly and hopelessly supply chain dependent batteries. That also don’t last that long. Only battery tech that will survive will be lead-acid and it’s too heavy for anything other than what it’s used for already.
re: jevon’s paradox
Reminds me of all the water conservation efforts in CA. Turns out the main user of all that scarce water is agriculture and not people watering their lawns. All conserving water did was make it easier for the big boys to waste even more water than they did before. I guess one could say something about how pricing a scarce good properly would go a long way towards solving some of these problems but that seems to be Something That Must Not Be Done.
re: having it all
Interesting that you picked up on that. And instead of thinking carefully about what’s most important and making the tradeoffs, we’re instead going to go from Having It All to Having Nothing. And probably back and forth from those two modal points.
This is an very interesting post and I think it is worth mentioning the situation in Russia regarding this. Right now, it is no secret that the entire Russian economy is pretty much powered on oil and gas. I used to teach English to students who had worked in the oil industry and they told me that even though they are finding new deposits in Siberia and the arctic, they reckon Russia has about 50 years left of easily extractable oil. After that, they had no idea.
Now this is interesting also to mention about Russia because right now, there is a huge youth movement in the country who naively believe that once Putin is gone, the country is going to become a ‘liberal’ Western democracy, enact strong capitalism that is going to make everyone rich, give each family a BMW, a big house and a great quality of life. Basically the Russian version of the “Monofuture” you talk about.
Yet what they fail to realise is that the great industrial dream of the West is pretty much over. Resources are starting to get depleted. Great holy “Saint Nalvany” stated all Russia has to do is utilise its great resources and off to wonderland we go…
Considering that the rest of the country is literally dying because all the money is in Moscow and St. Petersburg, since de-industrilisation has also hit Russia in its regions, I just cannot believe how a great Western democracy is going to turn it all around.
Basically we can all see its building the foundations for the next Putin in 30 years time to take the reigns…
That said, if Im honest, I think the Sobornost ideal you mention will start to actually be born within 30-50 years when Russians really do start to realise that going West isnt going to save them. If Im honest, I suspect Sobornost economically wise would be something to do with a new form of actually workable socialism, which I suspect will have its roots in a potential future agricultural revolution.
Just my thoughts.
info23: You typed The best way to deal with the worst extremists is force them into a room. On a countrywide level. The moderates should do a disappearing act. Otherwise they are forced to choose a side or die.
Agreed. No argument here. Do you have any suggestions of how to hide in plain sight? Given that many of us won’t be able to pick up sticks and move.
“Another helpful thing to do is make sure the crazies think of themselves as the important people, the ones who matter, and dismiss the moderates as a bunch of looney tunes out on the fringes who can be dealt with later.”
It works in conjunction with ghosting to make it look like an non-threatening minority. And anything that would look like a tinfoil hat brigade to those crazies.
Michael Gray (#111): I think I have to side with PeterEV on the issue of efficiency. While you’re correct that the technologies we use are themselves approaching their efficiency limits, there are still huge gains to be made in the ways we employ them. A few examples: 1) commuting in a small car rather than an SUV will result in 3x less gasoline use, let alone the materials involved in manufacture; 2) most of the housing stock in the US is woefully unweatherized and could be cheaply retrofitted to use a third to half less energy; 3) a 6mpg long-distance truck can be replaced by a 0.5mpg train hauling 300x as much load. Unfortunately, wasting resources is a status symbol and that’s hard to get around.
I am a member of the investor class. It is annual report season, when I receive various reports and discussions for stock holders. It is also the time we vote for various things. I was reading Exxon-Mobil’s report,
I came away with several questions. One, what does Exxon-Mobil knows that the rest of us don’t. They predict a good year. Two, why is it that people who expound green energy depend on government money? What happen to private capital? I can answer that – it dried up through the Fed policies after 2008.
I am left with the idea that the proponents of green energy are not capitalists, but socialists. Or they have little faith in free markets. Does that mean that either they know their energy ideas is silly and want money from the government teat. Or they believe that they have to force the rest of us to go along with their wild ideas. Or is it a way for them to keep their position at the top?
Still pondering and reading more annual reports/
I’m amazed each week how the comment section is as good as the post itself! Such a refreshing stop on the interwebs.
How much does your graph of usage above map to electric use? I feel like when I bring up peak oil people hand wave it away that they’ll just drive less. But we have serious local issues with electric generation. Our township had a small coal-fired electric plant that was forced off-line five years ago. It was sold by the electric company and there was talk of converting it to natural gas but no luck. The landfill put in methane powered electric generators, but those are laughable at what they produce. Limerick Nuclear Plant built under constant delays in the 1970’s-1980’s is due to go offline in 5 years. It’s was only supposed to run for 30 years. They extended it, but it can’t go on forever.
Meanwhile I’m watching some neighbors upgrade to giant SUV’s while the price of gas went from $2.25 to $3.00 over three weeks in February and has stayed there. Food prices are edging up and I’m glad I never stopped stocking and rotating food storage.
Jim W: ” “All that is solid melts into air.” comes from Puck’s closing speech in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I think. He also added “What fools these mortals be!” Pretty well sums it all up.
Didn’t know you were a Conan the Barbarian fan. I am fascinated by the Hyperborean High Adventure that no doubt the Author of Conan the Barbarian drew inspiration from.
Maybe it did have a basis on that ancient Indo-European culture of the Steppes. Perhaps an Ancient version of the wild west. Where the Chariot historically got invented.
I listened to your Hermitix podcast on the pandemic from last March. You said it could be over by April and then watch and see what happens. Your prediction was right on the money – by the end of April 2020 we definitely knew who was most vulnerable to the virus and it wasn’t going to overrun the medical system. Yet here were are a year later with endless shut downs and now vaccine passports floated. What is your view on the passports? And will peak oil or energy stop this insanity? I find myself wishing for some other worse crisis to replace covid hysteria which is kinda sick.
Malthus was right, he just didn’t know about the farm belts of the New World. Resource depletion and limitation is real, we just don’t have the mental time scale to understand it.
Mother Balance #84:
Totally agree about the property taxes. I detest it when the local tax board talks about “our housing stock” as if they do one single thing to maintain or improve our home.
One or another time that the husband and I visited Hancock Shaker Village in western Massachusetts, the interpreter at one of the buildings, probably the round barn, described how the Shakers would erect small buildings like sheds and storage when needed, then disassemble them when they were temporarily empty and put the parts in storage in order to avoid taxes on a permanent structure. They’d reassemble them when needed again.
Big oil companies are massively disinvesting in prospecting and drilling new wells … I’m afraid there are no more rabbits in the hat
I know those stimulus checks are really bad for the economy, but if they’re sending them out I’ll take mine to buy more farm fencing and donate some to a worthy charity.
Dmitry Orlov has gone the Patreon/SubscribeStar route with most of his content.
Much more familiar than the fascinating recent set of posts.
Through these cycles, there are several things that are shifting in a steady way. One is the steady ramping up of the hysterical marketing proclaiming that prosperity is one silver bullet away. (Just give me power so I can do it 🙂 ). It is amazing to me how disconnected from reality much of the prosperity rhetoric is. One would think that at some point people would become immune to such marketing, but humans are deeply connected to our tribal group-think ways and the people who learn to manipulate us seem to learn faster than the masses do.
But another is the steady improvement of the economic viability of alternatives to petroleum. The problem of course as you point out is that they started from an extremely economically unviable position and are still a tiny share. But right now an off-grid solar PV system with full battery backup that will power an average home for 20-30 years is less than $50,000. That is a lot of money, but it is 1/5 the price of the median family home in the US and less than a median yearly family income. And most importantly, it is roughly what a family pays for electricity already. After including economies of scale for large installation you can largely cover the distribution costs, and it is simply no longer true that renewables are not viable.
But it isn’t a silver bullet. There will be times when there isn’t enough power. If communities band together and establish shared storage solutions and backup generation capabilities, these problems are managable. They simply offer the possibility that descent from our fossil fueled excesses will be much less painful than it otherwise will be. And they don’t solve our environmental problems as nicely as extreme energy efficiency would. There will be massive environmental problems produced as people scrounge for materials and energy to make their renewable energy systems. But they are going to become humanity’s dominant response, and they are economically viable. A major downside that many don’t realize right now is how large a footprint they are going to take. Multiply the ratio of current fossil vs renewable energy production by the current amount of renewables you see to get a sense for what is coming. But planning and politics are a huge source of uncertainty in the long term outcome. There is an enormous gap between what is technically possible (huge investment in efficiency, steady strategic implementation of renewable generation and transmission and storage in optimal locations, planning for energy luxuries like ski vacations and SUVs to be rare, etc) and what is likely (renewable energy with luxuries for the rich, decreasing standards of living for everyone else, many green fields turned into solar farms, political instability and war leading to destruction of infrastructure needed to generate and store electricity. etc.)
Goran, Teresa (and JMG, who already knows this)
It has been clear to those paying attention that economic indicators have been systematically manipulated for a long time to hide the real picture. Please see shadowstats.com. They expose the gimmicks used by BLS and other Federal government agencies to understate inflation & unemployment and overstate GDP. They have also published approximations of these statistics using the original methods before the trickeries were introduced in 1980s. They estimate that USA has been in a recession since 2000, for most of the time.
And their estimated real inflation is 5%, not below 2% as the Feds claim. And the final whopper is unemployment. The “official” unemployment level is 5%, but Shadowstats estimates it at over 25%! They also say that unemployment has never gone below 20% since 2009. It’s all, “Who’re you gonna believe, me, or your lying eyes?” stuff.
Please see their Primers & Reports section to read their analysis of why they feel government data is hiding the true picture. http://www.shadowstats.com/primers-and-reports. Sure, the shadowstats estimates are not 100% reliable, but the manipulation is quite clear.
Tip of the hat to JMG, who talked about this in a TADR post long ago.
I would say that lower reliability is one of the costs of greater penetration of wind and solar.
Wind and solar can’t be economic. They only survive now due to direct & indirect subsidies. There isn’t enough land for solar & wind farms, and nowhere near enough materials to build them let alone the extended grid and redundant storage capacity requirements. It’s been stated that simply building a renewables-based energy system would do more damage to the world than simply continuing with fossil fuels.
I think life expectancy and related human outcomes indices suffer the same problem as GDP, but in the other direction: GDP growth can reflect financialization that is decoupled from real resources, while a decline in life expectancy can reflect growing inequality in the absence of a decline in real resources.
I’m thinking something along the lines of the Dow or NASDAQ but based on tons of materials produced and shipped rather than dollar values.
Re: drinkable water
I’m surprised to hear that microbiological contamination of groundwater is common in some areas; it is not in the parts of the US where I have lived.
I’ve toured water treatment plants, and they are largely 1920s technology: pumps, pipes, sand-based filtration, and modest amounts of simple chemistry involving chlorine, lye, etc. Most of the resources go into maintaining the network of pipes to each home. Regions that rely on long-distance pipes to have any water (e.g. Los Angeles, Las Vegas) are definitely in for some pain, but in areas that have access to abundant freshwater free from major industrial pollution I don’t think that making it safe to drink will be a problem.
Thanks for the post. I have a few thoughts on this.
1. The ESG investing fad is not only throwing money at alternative energy, but is also cutting investments in fossil fuel exploration and production. Corporations eager to grab cheap capital are busy virtue signaling. BP has recently laid of most of it’s oil exploration team.
I think this kind of self-inflicted supply cut will make the coming episode of peak oil even worse.
2. The OPEC+Russia oil cartel is trying hard to cut production to keep the supply down and push the price up. I doubt that this cartel will hold up for long. The incentives to bolt and increase production are too much for many countries. Most of the countries need high oil prices to balance their budgets. Like 2008, when price shoots up, the reaction will be demand destruction and a subsequent massive price drop. The price crash will drain money from producing countries, force them to shut a few high cost wells, and put some of the supply more or less permanently out of reach. Another downward step in the ragged slope of Hubbert curve. (Interestingly, I see the Fed’s desperate attempt to maintain stability in the US economy similar to OPEC’s desperate attempts to maintain stability in the oil market)
3. This Peak Oil might be different for different countries because the “market” is not so open or international anymore. US might be experiencing Peak Oil, but countries that have a good relationship with producer nations will continue to get oil at more reasonable rates, in return for useful goods. That will gut the US economy in doublequick time.
Walter, it’s a source of wry amusement to me that people who want to quarrel about the economy as a zero-sum game always talk about the ways that wealth is created and never talk about the ways that wealth is destroyed. In reality, of course, wealth is always being created and always being destroyed, and the two processes usually match each other quite closely; the “creative destruction” of capitalism is just as effective at destroying wealth as it is at creating it. That partially self-driving car, to cite one of your examples, destroys a fantastic amount of wealth in Third World countries, which are having their ecologies devastated by the extraction of rare elements needed for the onboard computer system, which a car in the 1950s didn’t have and didn’t need. The computer industry in general destroys vast amounts of natural wealth; those microminiaturized transistors you boast about come at an appalling cost in terms of environmental degradation — to say nothing of the ferocious downward pressure on working class wages, and thus on communities and their infrastructure, that was caused by the replacement of tens of millions of secretarial and clerical jobs by computers! What looks like “wealth creation” here is wealth transfer; some people gain handsomely, while others pay the costs.
Bewilderness, I’d like to see those figures also! As for the graph, the website has introduced a “fudge factor” to make renewables look better than they are; that’s why I use the older chart.
BCV, getting used to intermittent grid electricity will be a necessity for a lot of people in North American in the years immediately ahead. The step after that will be the gradual collapse of rural electrification. Reliance on sun and wind will feed both of those.
TJ, it’s a valid point. Slavery only makes economic sense in the context of large-scale commodity trading — Roman latifundia and Southern plantations alike could only function in a highly centralized imperial economy where mass production of commodities was profitable, which is why slavery collapsed in Europe after the fall of Rome — but as fossil fuels wane faster than the human population, some pretty spectacular abuses are likely.
Slithy Toves and Karim, I’ll consider a post on that.
Paleobear, we’ve got similar conditions here in the US. You can get a house very cheaply in Kansas or Nebraska, but making a living there requires skills and attitudes that are very uncommon among urban Americans.
Lunar Apprentice and others: The potluck link should be here. I think I may have used a shortened URL which expired. If it still fails, Email me at peter dot g dot vanerp at gmail, and I’ll send the link directly.
Now, back to our regularly scheduled discussion.
Thank you!!!!!! I miss the Oil Drum, and I still follow Gail Tverberg occasionally. She gives a really detailed analysis of the ways oil price affects the economy, but her predictions of the future are a little too “fast collapse”.
For readers who are interested, her blog is
I see a lot of comparisons between now and the golden age of the 50s and 60s. I just want to put those decades in context.
During WW2, the production facilities of Europe were completely destroyed. They went from being the global center of manufacturing to barely keeping the lights on.
The US and the USSR took over global manufacturing, and the mind blowing prosperity that followed was entirely due to a drastic reduction in competition from other manufacturing centers. This situation was unique and never sustainable over the long term.
So when you hear someone say “war is good for the economy” it’s not. Bombing the competition’s factories to smithereens is good for your economy. It’s really important to make that distinction. It is possible to wage war to benefit your own economy, but it’s expensive and has to be strategic (like any war’s objectives, really).
That said, a lot of manufacturing output/profitability is driven by energy availability/cost, and one of the reasons China has risen to manufacturing dominance is its substantial coal reserves. One of the reasons the USSR collapsed is because it was an oil exporter when oil prices were so low in the ‘80s.
Even money is just a future claim on energy. Economists miss this connection and then have a very difficult time predicting economic trends and understanding economic crises. Like how the 2008 housing crisis happened when oil was reaching new high prices (remember, $100/barrel? $4.00/gallon gas in many places in the US?).
Energy is the foundation of civilization. And we have squandered and wasted it for decades.
@Walter Mandell, I agree with JMG’s description of the real economy as a zero sum game. I believe you have fallen in the trap of applying the commonly used concept of “efficiency” to assume that their can be more shares of pie for everyone with the same batch of ingredients. The problem is that in most of these cases the efficiency is only defined in terms of one variable ( usually the one that is important to financial elites). A classic is the trope that modern US farmers are much more efficient than the farmers of 80 years ago because it takes fewer farmers and land to grow more food than it did in the 1930’s. But that calculus ignores that this modern farming requires much more in the way of energy, chemicals, water, and soil depletion which are actually the important variable not farm labor.
Another example is the vaunted semiconductor chip. True, the building blocks of chips moved from rarer elements to silicon and were subject to massive economies of scale, but what goes unsaid is the massive additional costs needed. When I was in middle school ( the early 70’s)I went through the small building were Tektronix made their own gallium arsenide based chips for their instruments. Sure these were expensive and simple compared to todays but they were made in a building the size of a grocery store with a couple of bulk tanks of gas out back and a 2000 amp power service. Today I live near Intel’s Ronler Acres chip factory where its newest fab ( D1x mod 3) is being constructed. The expansion alone is the size of an NFL stadium and has along side of it is a new electrical substation ( just to power it) the size of the one needed for a small city. The water reuse plant alone will process over a million gallons a day to feed the plant. The chemical handling facilities surrounding this plant are the size of an oil refinery. So these chips might be small and powerfull but the resources consumed from the rest of the economy and the earth are enormous. I believe this comes down to the religion of progress where it is popular to believe that many of our modern wonders are so much more efficient than the old days, but when you look at the whole picture they are not.
Re: My Oil Drum essay re first oil squeeze:
Unfortunately, the Oil Drum Archives has no internal search engine, and I have no idea as to when I wrote this, it may be a loooong time before I come across this.
Unless someone knows of some way to search the Archives, I’m stuck.
BCV, thanks for the links and info on WECC. I’m learning a lot of useful things. The apparent lack of much interchange between BC and Alberta might be due to a few things 1)the rocky mountains make transmission lines between the two provinces more expensive 2)the biggest demand is down south 3)the highest demand in both Alberta and BC is in the winter, whereas in California it’s in the summer. Plus, BC and Alberta’s political establishments quarrel a fair bit, not least about pipelines, and other energy/climate related issues.
The instability and blackouts in California’s grid haven’t made it up here yet. Blackouts round here are usually due to winter storms dropping trees on the power lines, and they’re localized. I’ve never experienced one longer than a few hours.
I must admit I’m not very enthused about having the power system I use connected to California in any way. Their power systems are a mismanaged mess, and I can easily imagine prices here rising drastically due to trouble in the USA. That happened with natural gas when prices for that skyrocketed last time. I’m also reminded about the 2003 multi-day giant power outage in Quebec and New York etc. I wonder if it is possible for one event to take out the WECC. What was it, 14 states, 2 provinces, and part of Baha California? That’s a lot of people. Definitely too big to fail. 😉
Well, one interesting thing…
any attempt by Ottawa to commandeer Quebec and BC’s hydroelectric power is likely to run into opposition from the USA, as well as local anger and constitutional issues. Since the extra is already flowing south in both cases.
@JMG would you live in a place like those? Will we have much choice in the future?
See, this is what the mixture of peaked resources, industrial decay and beautiful modest rural area looks like in Romania.
example..near Baia Mare former mining center
Those mines and the related heavy industry were started by the austro hungarians, production peaked in the communist era, and were abandoned post revolution.
A local curve of industrial growth and decay which already spans more than 200 years…and its still going on. Some large open quarries still work, but with a much lower return.
Of course the peaking of the much needed Antrhacite mined in SW Romania worsened the situation.
The earlier the industrialization started…the earlier the resources were peaked
JMG your long descent description of the past and present is so accurate that it almost feels like you wrote your articles here.
Of course there are all kind of official ”revitalization” plans for the city and the rural zone…proposals of investments for some extra production of already non existing minerals…
Politicians and the media always, always! blame the situation to the ”lack of investments” and never ever admit resource depletion…sounds familiar?
What is going on everywhere around here fits perfeclty your descriptions, a slow and steady downslope of population loss, failing infrastructure and lack of jobs with good pay. There
are of course some upward bumps from time to time, like a few hundred low paying jobs from a new multinational company, or a new supermarket with shelves full of poisoned pink and green
soda, but that changes little for the general future situation.
Did I mention that Romania also lost millions in emigration to the EU countries? Since the COVID a few are back but still not enough, i guess, to compensate to our severe population loss. I speculate that many more will follow after the EU starts to fall to pieces and has nothing left for them. Maybe in the next decades? That would not make things easier here, especially
because they will have superior purchasing power compared to the locals. Curious times are coming wordlwide.
@Michael Gray I hear you. There are 3-layered photovoltaic cells that are up in the 40+% efficiency range but they are not cheap and use not so common elements. While a aircraft carrier has a terrible ROI we still build them because “we need them”. If energy is truly needed, we **will** build them and put them under “national defense(??)”. But that does not solve resource depletion and a myriad of other problems.
I’m thinking of a person that is sinking in quicksand, what could slow the sinking down? With our eyes refocused on what we have read on the Oil Drum many years ago, there are many more people becoming aware of what was espoused there and refocusing their attention on our predicament. For instance, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan in a recent letter to his stock holders had a whole section devoted to “sustainability” and innovations to fight Climate Change. Here’s the URL to his letter:
and search on: Our Sustainability Efforts
The California Air Resources Board tubed the EV1 and the RAV4E back in the early 2000’s for the pie in the sky Hydrogen Fuel Cell meme. Anyone who took a look at that tech knew it was not going to happen soon as there were too many inefficiencies, hydrogen generation and storage problems, along with relatively short-lived fuel cell engines. GM and Toyota went on to selling more spark plugs and oil changes. Fifteen years later and they are all for building and supporting EVs. GM is converting its factories to manufacture only EVs and Toyota is suggesting that they might have been wrong in ignoring battery powered vehicles. As for Hydrogen Fuel Cell vehicles, they still have the same major problems they had to solve 15 years ago while EVs are advancing.
JMG, in his book, The Long Descent, pointed out a number of reason why business as usual isn’t sustainable, I agree but I am looking for what might slow this descent down to provide time.
My last example is where a girl asked herself how clams could build rock hard shells without heat. She has been on a quest to find how to make bricks without heat. This is her site:
https://biomason.com/technology/ and this is what **might** slow the descent down. Given that natural gas is forecast to peak after oil, her work is of importance — and interesting.
How could we make glass panes, bottles, and jars without using natural gas?
good points, as I’ve been discovering from some other comments on here, and discussed in a reply to another commenter.
>the powers that be really do perceive it as a threat to the economy, since they measure it with GDP, and as often happens in our society, the abstraction is viewed as more real than the concrete reality it measures
I can’t help but recall all the gaming of numbers that happened in the soviet economy, to tragic (or hilarious) results. You can incentivize people but what you incentivize, well, that’s another matter. And they get to pick that, not you.
I like to call what’s happening right now “Bigger Numbers Are Better Numbers”. And I suppose at some point in the past (like with a lot of things), it actually made sense – the bigger the number, the better it was. And now let’s see how big the number can get. Because – you know why.
Fun fact – for some strange reason, humans balk at around 100 trillion, that seems to be some hard wired limit on how much a (normal) human can count to. Beyond that, it’s pretty much “many”. Weimar stopped with the money printing around there, Zimbabwe did too.
So remember – Bigger Numbers Are Better Numbers, Until You Get To 100 Trillion.
Is anyone else getting some serious déjà vu from the push back? You’d think in a society which claims to be innovative, inventive, dynamic, and creative the status quo could come up with more than the same rehashed arguments which were old when the last oil crisis hit……
Scotlyn (#141, #142),
My approach to the property rights question is to ask a follow up question: where do rights come from? If the person in question adopts an absolutist position, that rights exist independent of the society they exist in, then there is no possible way to argue with them. If this makes them think, good, and you can gently explain that rights only exist if society allows it; and from there a wider range of options become available. I’ve used this to very good effect before, and gotten people who could not fathom any limitations to property rights being justifiable to realize that they could be necessary to prevent worse abuses.
>The US will very likely default on its foreign debt
I disagree. Same reason they refuse to nationalize the airlines, even though IMHO they really do need to be – to do so would be a loss of face, a humiliation too great for them to bear. Only 3rd rate banana republics have national airlines. Having to tell foreign creditors that they can’t pay anymore would be too humiliating. They don’t have the stomach or the courage to do it that way.
They’ll print the money. Or they’ll implement a two-tiered dollar system, where they try to have it this way and that way at the same time. In fact, that’s what I would bet on happening. Whatever the most honest forthright way of dealing with this mess is – expect them to do just about anything else BUT that.
@ Antoinetta III:
The general way to do that is to type:
in the search box of your favourite search engine. That turned up a few comments by you. You could add extra search terms to try to narrow it down.
Emmanuel, many thanks for the data points. The farmer’s market here in East Providence has inflated prices for some things, including eggs, but vegetables are competitive with the grocery stores; I’ll look forward to the eggs coming down in price, too.
Lew, spend it on things you can use while you have it. There’s a very high likelihood of serious inflation, and supply chains are getting increasingly fragile…
Mieczysław, many thanks for this!
Bogatyr, no question, the Grauniad is always good for a laugh, and Garton Ash is one of their top comedians. For him “democracy” means “me and my friends get whatever we want and nobody gets to argue with us.”
Scotlyn, of course. Since about a week after the invention of wealth, the rich have been able to hire people to come up with elaborate justifications for their wealth. I’m reminded of Maelgwn Gwynedd, a Dark Age king of northern Wales, who was famous for centuries after his time for his corps of sycophantic bards. Taliesin cast a spell on them so all they could do was go “blerwm blerwm blerwm” with their fingers on their lips; I’ve occasionally thought of trying to reconstruct the spell, and then casting it on the Wall Street Journal…
In terms of easy answers to their rhetoric, I’m working on that. My comments to Walter Mandell above are part of the first draft.
Deadnotsleeping, I think you’re quite right. One of the advantages of train travel is that the tracks typically go through the less fashionable parts of the United States, and the degree of dilapidation I see is astounding. This country’s built environment is falling apart.
Owen, thanks for this — that’s another great example of Jevons’ Paradox.
Ksim, many thanks for the data points! I wonder what those clueless young people would think if they found out that over here in the West, not only does everyone not have a BMW, millions upon millions of people are mired in the same kind of bleak poverty you see in rural Russia. As for sobornost, 30-50 years would be right around the time that occultists have predicted for the first stirrings of the future Russian great culture, so you may well be right.
Info23, yep. One other thing that helps enormously is the deliberate embrace of a certain degree of poverty. Most people these days literally can’t process that at all, so they assume you must be a harmless nutcase. (“Harmless” because you’re not competing with them for the goodies.)
Neptunesdolphins, thanks for this. As for the bright green energy types, my take is that they’re the most successful kind of con artists — they’ve convinced themselves first.
Denis, electricity accounts for around 20% of all energy use globally. Doing without fossil fuels isn’t just a matter of driving less — and I bet the people who say this aren’t driving less! It’s doing without heat in the winter, having no products on store shelves because they’re not being shipped, and giving up all the products that require fossil fuels as raw materials for their manufacture. We’re in for a wild ride; that well-stocked pantry is going to help you a lot.
Info23, I read pretty much all the fantasy fiction that you could get in the 1970s, and reprints of Robert E. Howard — not just Conan, but the rest of his fantasy as well — were among those.
Denis, the coronavirus hysteria has very little to do with the virus and a great deal to do with an elite that is terrified of things it’s not willing to think about, much less discuss in public. It’s an interesting question as to how soon they’ll find some other thing to be frightened and manipulative about.
John, have you read William Catton’s Overshoot? That’s one of the points he made. He also pointed out that fossil fuels served as “ghost acreage” to stave off the Malthusian crisis for a time.
Ielo, once the price of oil jolts upward, it’ll be interesting to see how fast that slams into reverse.
Ganv, a good summary. As you’ll hear from anyone who’s actually lived on a PV system, you can get by that way just fine, but you can’t live an ordinary industrial-society lifestyle, splashing around energy however you want. I’m also far from sanguine about that 30-50 year figure — that sort of rhetoric has been splashed around quite often before, and it reliably turns out that the actual lifespan of at least some components is a good deal less.
Brian, thanks for the reference to Shadowstats — glad I could point you to that — and thank you also for the points about the next round of contraction. Yes, I think this one could be at least as rough on the US as the crisis in the 1970s.
Antoinetta III, it looks like the oil drum is indexed by Google, so you might be able to search effectively by typing site:www.theoildrum.com and some keywords into Google.
Speaking of deja vu, has anyone else noticed the housing bubble? Prices went up 30% here in the last year, and similar amounts are being reported all over the place, so I’m getting a serious sense that it’s 2005 again……
Re hydropower and the PNW
More to near-term conditions, but I thought it relevant.
If the Iraq invasion and Libya coup were about obtaining access to oil, what are the chances the US will invade Iran for it too? I was surprised Saudi Aramco did that IPO but then figured maybe they know they’re running dry and might as well get investors money while they can. It feels like the Biden admin would do another invasion to get access to cheap oil.
@ Michael Gray and #111
A personal note about increasing efficiency in appliances. In my personal experience, the “better” and more “efficient” an appliance is, the shorter it’s lifespan. Once the newness wears off, said appliance’s performance drops off a cliff.
We had an ancient dishwasher in SC and replaced it when it died, probably twenty years after it was installed by someone else. One thing it required was manually cleaning a lint filter. The replacements didn’t last nearly as long. Same thing here in Hershey. When we hit replacement #3 (in 15 years!) I said no more.
My Kenmore washer would still be washing clothes just fine (2001) if someone hadn’t left a bobby pin a pocket. I’m now on my SECOND high-efficiency replacement.
That 1979 vintage chest freezer that came with the house? Replaced and I’ll have to replace the replacement within a few years.
I’m waiting to see how long my 1986 Oneida furnace holds out.
Improving efficiency doesn’t matter a *&^$%% bit if the item has a shorter lifespan.
RE Dream Logic: My super simple homebaked definition of dream logic is “symbolic relations between symbolic objects” The symbolism can be found through free association, and then it just takes a tiny dose of creativity to come up with an interpretation. I have heard Finnegan’s Wake by James Joyce is a bunch of dream logic in book form. Robert Anton Wilson had good things to say about it.
Owen said “they’ll implement a two-tiered dollar system, where they try to have it this way and that way at the same time.”
When they started printing all this money, I joked with my husband Trump would redo the US currency to fix the market and put his face on all the denominations like in a banana republic. $100 US = $1 Trump bucks! We laughed ourselves to tears thinking of the portraits and expressions of himself he’d use and the response from the “resistance”.
@teresa from hershey #72
Back in the day, the mantra was “winterize before you solarize”. It still applies.
While on the topic of housing, it mystifies me that building codes do not encourage double-pane windows and passive solar heating for new construction in temperate areas. IMO, anyone who builds a new house in an area with significant heating requirements without at least exploring the possibility of passive solar heating is an idiot. I could say ditto about solar water heating as well…
BoysMom, JMG and anyone else who is interested:
I might have brought this up before, so apologies. I found a fascinating Twitter account by “Wrath of Gnon” who lives in Japan. He posts on traditional urbanism, or town planning 13th century style. It is such a fascinating Twitter channel, with ideas everyone here will enjoy.
Why does resource depletion and its effects have to move in such a slow and boring way?!
For decades now I’ve been waiting and ready to become a savage scrounger in a post-civil world of a wasted land ready to wage war for a tank of juice.
Instead I’m wrapped up in petroleum-based cocoon on a suburban cul-de-sac. My senses dulled, claws blunted awaiting a postperson to deliver to me a stimmi check.
When will you know that the powers that be are serious about resource depletion?
When we start mining landfills to get the metal and plastics out.
I know landfills are dirty but so is mining. It’s hard for me to believe that mining a landfill would be dirtier or harder than moving tons of rock to get a few pounds of ore and then having to extract said ore from tons of rock.
As a datapoint on your response to Walter, above, and the collapse of clerical office jobs, true!
I’ve worked 16 years for the state of Idaho as support staff, and over the past five years our little department alone has shed two full time positions.
We’re currently cooperating fully with the mission of automating away even more of our jobs via endless software upgrades. At this point, we could possibly get by with one less person. Give it another few years, and one person alone could likely suffice.
I’m 62, and financially okay plus. No guarantees, of course. The one in our group I worry about is the 39 year old with a mortgage and medical issues.
To paraphrase that old country music classic: “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be office staff!”
I love it when you suggest young people become independent tradespeople. The office jobs are going away. And not just for support staff. Have seen, and continue to see, exactly this.
Thanks as always for an awesome post. I always print them out on scratch paper at work and bring them home for husband to enjoy.
Bewilderness #125, the argument about how much fossil fuel renewables use always feel to me like being early in the industrial revolution and saying this whole fossil fuels thing will never work because bringing up the coal is totally dependent on the muscle of pit ponies and Yorkshiremen. 🙂 It takes time for the old world to build the new.
Migrant Worker #143, I vote for the wall of text!
Dusk Shine #145, I like that plan. I’m also hearing the rest of the world saying “Americans think a 110mph passenger train is fast? Aw, bless”. 🙂
TJ #165, I don’t get why refitting the grid is seen as hard. We built the first National Grid in the 1920s and 30s (some of it over the Scottish Highlands in winter) and got it done just in time for the Second World War. What about doing it now is difficult? Admittedly I do live in a country where nowhere is more than 70 miles from the sea. Rewiring America may be more intimidating. Which energy storage options were you thinking of? It seems if you want to psych yourself out of renewable energy there are technologies that let you do it. If you want to think it’s complicated but doable, there are technologies for that too. Assume the price for a 90-100% renewable grid was every town has to have an energy storage structure of similar size and appearance to the gasworks it had in a previous era. Not only would the world not end, that sounds like a pretty good deal.
Hi Peter, I have a pathetic blog but I think you should read this post, about half way down I do some simple calculations of how many solar panels are needed to generate the energy to power a car. I’m an engineer who has some patents related to driving electric motors, so this is in my area of expertise.
@JMG (cf. Walter)
I am going to join the quarrel against the economy as a zero-sum game.
I think that the valid point at the heart of your criticisms here is that a lot of what gets touted as wealth-creation in today’s economy is actually wealth transfer. This is true – i.e. the cheap credit to pay for the fracking boom had to come from somewhere, meaning that the cheap gas came at the cost if neglecting other parts of the real economy.
But you can also find events in monetary policy with a major positive effect on the real wealth of the whole country. To use one example that you’ve spoken favorably about before, there is President Roosevelt’s decision in 1933 to devalue the US currency to end deflation and reduce the amount of foreclosures and bank failures. There were losers – i.e. creditors who got paid back with less valuable dollars than they had lent – but on the whole the effect of having enough currency in the economy again was hugely positive, and led to an increase in America’s ability to produce real goods and services.
On the matter of technology and innovation, I won’t dispute your claim that a lot of what gets eulogized as progress is just transfering costs somewhere less visible – i.e. making agriculture more productive by using non-renewable fertilizers. At the same time, there are plenty of innovations that have increased productivity without similar downsides – i.e. the 19th century discovery that rotating a crop of cotton with a crop of peanuts will keep the soil more fertile than if you had just grown cotton year after year.
So while I can sort of meet you halfway, by acknowledging that there are a lot of gimmicks in todays economy that purport to create wealth but really just transfer it, there are also a fair number of positive-sum (and negative-sum) aspects of both economic policy and technological change, so it’s not accurate to just say that, on the whole, we are dealing with a zero-sum game.
JMG, a post on what kind of economy and society can work in a period of contraction would be amazing. Are there examples in history of nations that managed well during a period of contraction?
Getting onto the subject of industrial prosperity during the age of oil, it may come to a shock to readers on here but people in the Soviet Union also profitted from it albeit in a different way. Whilst not as glamorous as the West, during the Khruschev and Brezhnev eras, it was like a golden age in Russia.
If you ask any member of the older generations if they miss the Soviet Union, they will all respond with a resounding yes. Their reasoning is that they had alot of infrastructure built during those times, food to eat, decent healthcare, lots of new decently sized apartments, good education, etc.
My wifes mother in law would talk about her “happy childhood” during the Brezhnev years. She told me food was getting more plentiful and cheaper with each passing year, there were a decent amount of goods to be had. Sure they never had access to a good quality pair of Western jeans (hence the queueing) but overall they were happy with what they had.
People felt protected back then, knowing the state had their back. Most got free apartments off the government, had guaranteed jobs, etc. The industrial boom fuelled by Stalin and later continued by his predecessors meant that people lived quite comfortably in far off regions like Novosibirsk or Rostov-on-Don.
An example of this is a dying town in the artic circle today. Back in the USSR, it was populated by mainly miners. They lived very well off the state, owning decent sized apartments. They would all fly to Moscow for the weekends, buy a taxi for themselves and their mining hat.
Nowadays due to de-industrialisation that town is dying that you can buy property for really cheap there. The story of that town is very much the reality of the long descent, the rising price of oil and how the rest of Russia, once a decent place to live, has also followed the US down the same path.
So yes, although different, Russia did profit from the long ascent just as much as the US did. You know, I would even say that the Soviet Union in some respects did things better then Putins Russia…
Sorry for the rather long tale John but I thought you and readers on here might be interested in reading the Russian version of the long descent.
I very much like Tim Watkins’ blog, Consciousness of Sheep. It is UK oriented which works for me as some of JMG’s US focus is not always applicable to my country. He posts under four headings; Economy, Energy, Environment and Society. Sadly there isn’t a comments – a lot of the value of Ecosophia comes from the commenters and JMG’s responses to them.
There is also an energy/economics blog called Surplus Energy Economics by Tim Morgan. I will admit to finding much of it above my head but he is one of the few economists who takes energy into account.
Neither of them are quite like this site but I find have great value.
You can search the archives with Google or DuckDuckGo (probably other search engines) by adding “site:theoildrum.com” to the search. I’ve done a couple of searches for your name but only came up with comments.
If you remember the title of the article, you should be able to find it that way.
I’m going to guess that Jevons paradox also applies to things like government programs to stimulate home energy retrofits? Is there any utility to the PACE program as a mitigation measure?
As pygmycory says, I think intermittent and patchy hydro is in our future, so I’ve been justifying support for such a thing as something that will keep people warmer longer when they have no power (unless all they get is an electric heat pump, which I guess is still better for rolling power losses). This might be foolish logic, if it only accelerates that exact eventuality…
The western electrical grid is considerably different than the eastern grid, in a way that makes it both more vulnerable to disruption and also less vulnerable to wholesale failure.
The eastern grid is a vast network of interconnections with many parallel and intersecting transmission lines connecting sources and loads.
The western grid is anchored by relatively few extremely large links between population centers. The connection from BC to California is facilitated by around 4 major lines operating at or above 500,000 volts. One of these, the Pacific DC Intertie, runs from the Columbia River south to Los Angeles with no intermediate stations.
These lines can be easily shut down in the event of a California blackout to isolate the problem. Bottom line is I would rather live in the region that is exporting electricity through this fragile system than in the region that is importing it.
Jmg and/or anyone…
I am getting confused about the idea that a country that can “spin the presses” and “print” money is also a country that is in debt.
What could it mean “to print” money, if it doesn’t mean that you then don’t also have to borrow it?
Thanks for introducing me to the term “Jevon’s Paradox.” My wife and I were discussing the pattern the other day which we had noticed (as no doubt have many others) but had no term for it other than “induced demand,” which is sort of right and sort of not. Great to have a more precise way of describing energy use.
I wish I knew more about the economies of nomadic empires like the Huns, Mongols, etc. Just spit-balling here but it strikes me that the high percentage of horses per human of pastoral nomads might be a better analogy for fossil fuel economies than the farming-shipping empires like Rome or China. For me at least, comparing things to Rome is like the joke about the drunk looking for his missing keys under the streetlamp because that’s where the light is better.
Remember that one component of GDP is government spending. Back in 2009 and 2010, the Obama Administration was bragging about GDP growth, but that was only because of the trillions in stimulus. Much of that money did not go anywhere, except to the debt-ridden public pension coffers. I would call that negative wealth, if anything.
Hydropower is about 60% of Canadian Total electrical production. Hard to see how it could be diverted from a ‘minority’ to service a ‘majority’ in a realistic way. I am unsure that the Western North American Grid (there is no separate Western Canadian Grid) has a practical manner to ‘export’ this power to the Eastern North American Grid. Maybe someone understands the interconnects system well enough to venture a comment.
IMHO BC’s biggest hydropower issue ATM is the Peace River Site B dam … there’s no need for outsiders to steal your power if you just build a dam that costs 4-5 times more than the electricity it generates will sell for!
The big IF would be a situation where outside electrical power was needed to keep the spent fuel pools in an Eastern North American Grid nuclear reactor. I can see one or both of the Federal North American governments getting pretty ‘serious’ and ‘taking’ the power they need to deal with such a situation to ensure that a Fukushima x 100 scenario does not occur over here.
Scarier (to me) I just don’t see how without fossil fuels you can operate an electrical grid. I believe that you need refined metals and fossil fuels to have electricity. If peak oil is peak diesel then it is peak mining which is peak metals (again, to me). I really hope our host is right about a slow decline …
JMG said: One of the advantages of train travel is that the tracks typically go through the less fashionable parts of the United States, and the degree of dilapidation I see is astounding. This country’s built environment is falling apart.
That brings to mind a video on Youtube I watched about 2 years ago. It was by Laowhy86. (my understanding is that Laowhy is the Chinese word for “foreigner’).
His wife is native Chinese and she got the shock of her life when he finally brought her to the U.S. to see it first hand after living for decades in China. The first thing that struck her is that even our nicest cities are shabby and run down compared to many cities in China and the Asian Tiger countries. She said she was shocked to see the U.S is – by Far East Asian standards across the board – a very poor country. There are pockets of wealth here and there but the majority of the U.S populace is now definitely living in a 3rd world country – especially so by ordinary Chinese standards. The average Chinese has a far better standard of living than even many college degreed office staff workers – to say nothing of the U.S.’s destitute working classes.
Even more interesting to me – from digging around on various reports (after watching Laowhy86’s channel) is that the underground South American undocumented immigrant trade makes a premium by getting South Americans into China. If you are South American and have a bit of extra cash the hot, wanna-be place to be smuggled into is China, not the U.S. or Europe! Granted it is still a small segment of the overall illegal country entry trade but that China is considered a ‘premium’ placement over the U.S. or Europe speaks volumes to me.
An amusing “peak Green” story I came across recently: a yacht company tried offering “hybrid” yachts to environmentally conscious boat owners. These hybrids used lithium batteries along with diesel fuel.
Unfortunately, but predictably, batteries are even more ill-fitted for yachting than they are for cars. The energy density of batteries vs. diesel is at best around 1:50. If you have two tons of battery power, you have as much potential energy as you would get from 10 gallons of diesel.
Given that a very efficient 60-foot yacht will get around 2 nautical miles to the gallon under the best conditions (more often closer to 1), we’re talking enough battery power for an afternoon cruise around the harbor. Using that same weight in diesel, the boat could travel from Newport Harbor to Bermuda.
This led to lots of irritated yacht owners. They expected to make battery-powered yachting a part of their cleaner, greener life only to be disappointed by the cruel laws of physics. And yet it never occurred to them that there is already a time-tested and carbon-neutral form of sea travel involving a tall mast or two and some big canvas sheets.
(As an added bonus, most big cruising yachts these days have a couple of modestly-powered onboard motors which can be used when you hit doldrums or when you need a little extra push. So there’s even a workable hybrid model available that doesn’t involve two-ton batteries that might catch fire and explode in the middle of the ocean).
In my town there’s a special town meeting on Saturday (every resident registered voter who’s present gets to vote), to decide whether to rezone a several hundred acre parcel, which is currently pine barrens forest (with some large open sand-pit areas and industrial ruins within it) adjoining our town’s wellfield (as in drinking water) land. A developer wants to rezone it to become a “hospitality, recreation, and entertainment district,” allowing such uses as hotels, conference centers, and condos. All projects developed there would have to be at least 100 acres, and would have to include an “indoor and/or outdoor commercial recreation facility or place of amusement and residential uses.”
The interesting thing is that the developer doesn’t want to say what they want to build there, until after the zoning change is approved by the town. A few years ago they wanted to build a casino and racetrack complex there, but the state isn’t going to allow them to build that. So what do they have in mind now? Obviously they know or else they wouldn’t be bothering, but they keep saying they have no plans yet. Golf course? Theme park? Obstacle course for monster trucks? Clearly (from its location) something they expect to be a self-contained “destination” that, I’d wager, wouldn’t benefit the town’s other businesses. (It’s only a couple miles from my home, but it’s on the other side of a major highway, so no matter how noisy or nasty it is it probably won’t affect my quality of life any. Still…)
I appreciate the irony of the timing. Peak oil’s back, construction material prices are through the roof, so let’s build heaven only knows what luxury something or other (they wouldn’t be bothering if “luxury” weren’t in there somewhere, so I guess, forget the monster truck obstacle course) in one of the only working class towns left on the New England coast, that people will either zoom past on their way to and from Cape Cod, or be unable to get to at all.
Oh, and they’re using “projected future costs to the town due to Covid” as one of the reasons why the town needs whatever unknown revenue this unknown pig in a poke will supposedly conjure up.
(The current zoning is for single family homes on minimum three acre lots, which is also stupid and elitist, but no one seems in a rush to build any of those. And at least, the town does already have a lot of affordable housing, which is both why and how I live here.)
Did I choose the right town to move to? The river’s telling me not to worry, but soon I’ll know for sure.
@PeterEV, in terms of slowing the decent, green tech is kind of alright. It is essentially just slowing the availability of energy by converting it to a different medium.
It was Vaclav Smil who said, we done need energy conservation – we need a rational use of energy.
As for the clam shell ceramics. This is what I call the wisdom of the wild. Looking to natural to show a path forward. Using a few hundred million years of evolution to show a way that is better than our few thousand years of technology.
JMG said: Ganv, a good summary. As you’ll hear from anyone who’s actually lived on a PV system, you can get by that way just fine, but you can’t live an ordinary industrial-society lifestyle, splashing around energy however you want. I’m also far from sanguine about that 30-50 year figure — that sort of rhetoric has been splashed around quite often before, and it reliably turns out that the actual lifespan of at least some components is a good deal less.
Another fun (tongue-in-cheek) decline datapoint. IGN just ran an article a few days ago about how every single latest video game console from the big 3 (Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft) all have problems with their controllers failing even before the latest generation of consoles is over. Meanwhile Nintendo SNES controllers and PS1 controllers are still ticking away – strong as ever despite over a decade of play hours with them.
Seems all 3 manufacturers are having to choose Fast and Affordable to deliver profits and sacrificing – Good for the latest round of consoles. Even Nintendo which had, until now a decent rep of having good quality control on their controllers is not immune such that some video game websites have said that maybe a new metric needs to be introduced for each console’s controllers: the number of hours you can play with them before something internally fails that even returning to an authorized manufacturer repair can’t get fixed.
TLDR: manufacturers are having to cheap out on components and the engineering designs(!) in order to keep consoles affordable since too many of their loyal customers are so downwardly mobile keeping quality the same will shrink the overall industry market Worldwide (meaning this customer base shrinking is happening in Europe and Asia too!).
We just shut down the US economy because of a pandemic. Oil use had to have dropped. Who quantified the drop by month and group: Feb 2020, Mar2020, Apr 2020 and US middle class commuting to work, US middle class students commuting to school, etc.
Leaving only, ostensibly: Amazon jets (FedEx, UPS) Amazon(Fed EX UPS) delivery vans, Chipotle delivery vehicles, followed by All Curbside Pick-ups. Someone has to have the numbers for how OIl Use Declined (if it did).
And a joke attributed to Warren Buffet: Wall Street is the only place where Wall Street Titans ride to work in limousines to listen to traders who ride to Wall Street on subways. Yeah, how many limousines stopped running, Feb2020-Mar2021?
Since reading the Mabinogion in the Charlotte Guest translation back in the early 70s, I’ve wondered how to actually pronounce “blerwm, blerwm, blerwm” and what exactly to do with my fingers and lips. Since W in Welsh sounds like U, I thought maybe “bleroom” would be correct and I should be vibrating my finger up and down over my lips while pronouncing it. Please advise regarding this longstanding mystery of mine. 🙂
Regarding Jevon’s paradox: could it be viewed as a critique of the “free market” approach in general? .
>Denis, the coronavirus hysteria has very little to do with the virus and a great deal to do with an elite that is terrified of things it’s not willing to think about, much less discuss in public. It’s an interesting question as to how soon they’ll find some other thing to be frightened and manipulative about.
They talk about that in public, the so called great reset is very public indeed. But nobody from those who have to loose the most want to listen, because it seems like a very unfunny invented story from these q lunatics.
Btw, they are deleting surplus funny money right now:
@JMG and Ecosophia readership:
I forgot to add that the article about the degradation of latest gen video game controllers is not simply due to planned obsolescence which has been around for a long time. Rather the engineering designs for the controllers has had to change because the substituted (*cough* inferior *cough*) components require changes as well to yet other components and designs.
Because of this degradation of controller lifespan games the rely on precision (ex: shooters, platformers) will increasingly fall into a new category – the “long-term-unplayable” category – since the previously taken-for-granted-long-lifespan of controllers is no longer deemed possible by the console manufacturers without seeing the video game industry shrink.
I was in Siberia in 1998 leading an ecotour when Russia defaulted. About a month prior to that I had gone on other business and had taken time to confirm a bank that would exchange yen for my group.
When we arrived, we found the foreign exchange office, where we were supposed to be able to exchange dollars for rubles, was already closed. The next morning we went to the bank where we could change yen, and they denied ever having said they would do that, so we asked about dollars and they said, “Not today.” So we went hunting in vain for a bank that would change dollars. They hemmed and hawed, but one of them let on that they didn’t have any rubles. With my tour group bitterly blaming me for lack of preparation, we finally approached some strong-looking guys loitering on a corner, who took us into their dingy little basement office and provided us enough rubles to get by, while our local guides said they’d be happy to accept dollars and would work it out later. They were lucky.
Russia at that time was so dysfunctional under Yeltsin, that this just seemed like a normal occurrence–someone failing to deliver the rubles on time due to road conditions, truck trouble. I offer this up as an example of the kind of hint you might get before the decision to default is official.
Two weeks later, I’d already seen my group off and was emerging from the taiga covered with dust and mosquito bites when a fellow passenger on the boat I was boarding simply gave me all his rubles. He was on his way out, and he said they were now totally worthless. (I note we were able to buy tickets at the same price as before, though my Russian friend, a local official, haggled each time for them.) The ruble had taken a major hit in value then, but to the local folks in Siberia is wasn’t even newsworthy, their economic system had been close to barter already. It made no difference what the official rate was to them unless they were going to head off to the cities. It may be that by the time the US defaults, the deplorables will be so used to living with hardship that it will be nothing but a passing inconvenience to them. To those with substantial savings, it will be a major tragedy.
Lew’s comment (#136) is I think the best illustration of the decline we’re in. He mentions minimum wage around 1967 being $1.25 an hour, and monthly rent for an apartment in southern California being $49.
The current minimum wage is $7.25, which is 5.8 times $1.25. $49 times 5.8 is $284.20.
Currently, I live in a rather no-frills one bedroom apartment-no central AC, no dishwasher, no washer/dryer anywhere in the building. The building furthermore, dates back to the 1930’s and is rather run down, with seemingly every interior surface covered in so many layers of paint that the medicine cabinet can’t latch properly. Said building, in turn, is situated in a smallish, deindustrialized Appalachian city with a chronically depressed local economy and high poverty/crime rates. My rent is a little less than $600 a month.
JMG always says “collapse now and avoid the rush”, but I feel like all of us have already been collapsed at least a little bit.
Jessi, succinctly put. A lot of the Soviet Union’s manufacturing capacity was wrecked or disrupted during the war, too, which is why the US was such an overwhelming economic hegemon afterwards. That’s long since been water under the bridge, though.
Paleobear, my career requires access to the internet and I’m a little old to get into full-time subsistence farming, so no, I don’t expect to move into the countryside; small cities are more my style. As for the photos, thanks for these — lots of salvage in those buildings. (It does look like a lovely country.)
Mollari, I’ve been chuckling about that for years. Our allegedly dynamic, creative society rehashes the same failed excuses endlessly…
Owen, fair enough — you’ve made your prediction, I’ve made mine. Now we’ll see who’s right.
Mollari, yep. Too many dollars chasing a fixed supply of land will do that.
Denis, if that happens, we’re headed for Twilight’s Last Gleaming territory in a hurry.
Zhao, I’ve been trying to tell people to expect that for years now!
Teresa, my guess is that that won’t start until dark age conditions arrive — but we’ll see.
Ottergirl, thanks for this. It’s a huge issue that nobody’s talking about.
Wesley, are you deliberately ignoring the main point of my comment to Walter — that the economy involves roughly equivalent amounts of wealth creation and wealth destruction, and these by and large cancel each other out — or did you somehow not notice that I said that?
Tony, I’ll certainly consider such a post.
Ksim, many thanks for this.
Pixelated, yes, it does. Taking Jevons’ Paradox seriously requires a great deal of rethinking in terms of how such measures affect society as a whole. On the other hand, efficiency measures are still hugely beneficial to individuals and families!
Scotlyn, ah, I see you haven’t plumbed the depths of America’s fiscal stupidity. The US doesn’t spin the presses to create money. It spins the presses to create Federal bonds, which are then bought by the Fed in exchange for money, which the government then spends. So each round of spinning the presses increases the amount of money in circulation and creates an equal volume of Federal debt.
Joel, Rome isn’t comparable in terms of its resource base, but it’s comparable in terms of its reliance on urban infrastructure and long-distance transport of goods. The Huns are much less useful because horses are a renewable resource!
Happy Panda, I was just talking today to a friend who’s spent a lot of time in Argentina. She says that most of the United States is poor by Argentine standards, so I’m not at all surprised that we’re even poorer by Chinese standards.
Kenaz, too funny! Thanks for this — that’s a great example of self-defeating innovation.
Walt, I hope you’re planning on voting against it!
Panda, that’s far from tongue in cheek. The accelerating crapification of technology is a huge factor, and it affects things far more significant than video games.
Jenxyz, have you looked up those figures? They can be found on the internet quite easily.
Phutatorius, when you were a kid did you ever just vibrate your finger back and forth over your lips while making a generic vocal sound, to get a noise that I’d transcribe as blemblemblemblembleh? I’m pretty sure that’s what the author meant by “blerwm.” As for the free market approach, well, as compared to what? Government intervention doesn’t seem to have done much better.
Michael, as far as I can tell the Great Reset is a neo-Stalinist wet dream backed by a small faction of the European financial elite, and the Archegos implosion is business as usual in a market awash in funny money. But we’ll see.
Panda, thanks for this. That’s definitely a straw in the wind.
Patricia O, thanks for this! The US debt default will be a disaster to anyone who depends on imported products or on any industry vulnerable to exchange-rate issues, but yeah, ordinary deplorables? Barely worth noticing.
Tolkienguy, we’re riding the down escalator along with the rest of American society. It’s got a long way down still to go!
@Mollari, In Ottawa and East-central Canada generally… déjà vu for sure… and I expect the same clueless response from the Bank of Canada.
@JMG Speaking of central bank, Am I the only one who feels that the more degree an Economist has (Most central bankers are PhDs) the more clueless they are about the real world ?
You can start to reason about this issue from the perspective of the Value of Labor. I am sorry, but I will have to post several entries in order to make this point.
(1) One theory on the Value of Labor relies on the concept of Value Added. You sure are familiar to that concept from the VAT taxes. Each time some process is applied to a good or service, its value (theoretically) goes up. One company charges VAT to their customers on behalf of the government, but at the time of paying up, they discount the VAT that was charged to them by their suppliers.
Imagine that was possible at the micro level in the factory floor. The company applies 100 processes to its inputs in order to transform them into a product. There are one hundred different amounts of value added (VA1, VA2, VA3, etc) and the sum of all those is how much more the company charges for its finished products than it pays for its inputs. Furthermore, there are one hundred workers: W1, W2, W3… each in charge of one of the one hundred processes.
The “fair salary” of worker number n is Wn = VAn / K; where K is a real number greater than 1. Typically, K is somewhere between 3 and 4. The rationale behind this disparity is that Worker N is using the company infrastructure (tools, facilities, storehouses, etc) to perform its value adding activities, and it is only fair that they pay the employer a “rent” for the use of that infrastructure.
A second rationale comes from the fact that not all costs are variable. If you open up a restaurant, your food bill will be proportional to your gross sales, but the rent and utilities will be the same regardless you serve 10, or 100, or 1000 meals per day. Therefore, value K has to be bumped up in such a way that, on average, each a percentage of employee’s VA will cover their “fair share” of fixed costs.
In any case, there’s no chance in Double!Plus!Hell that a snowball of K=1 will survive in the Labor market. If there is no way that the employer will extract a rent out of process #N, they will change the product specification so that it can do without or substitute for a “less expensive” (a.k.a. unskilled labored) process. That being the case, VA makes for an upper bound on the cost of Labor: an employee that does not pull his weight will be getting a pink slip in due time.
Another criticism is that it is extremely hard to correctly assign VA figures to each and every process in the company. It does not help that the people doing the figuring are themselves employees that all come from similar background and have the same set of skills, abilities, knowledge and values. It is common for them to understand the roles of other employees only in the vaguest and most abstract terms. This creates perverse incentives to undervalue some jobs and overvalue others.
The last does not mean that employers are waging economic warfare on their employees, but it helps explain the growing gap between salary class and wage class.
me too. California looks like it is in the early stages of collision with multiple aspects of collapse, and the further away from it I am, the safer I feel. Not that any of us are going to be able to avoid collapse, but California seems to be determined to do so as fast as possible, with as many aspects as possible simultaneously. And with more people living there than in all of Canada.
Good to know about the nature of the interconnections. Thanks.
@Scotlyn re: #203 – “What could it mean “to print” money, if it doesn’t mean that you then don’t also have to borrow it?”
Well, you are borrowing it. You’re borrowing it from all the other money that already exists. If I, as a nation, have $100 billion and I print $1 billion, I’ve essentially “borrowed” 1/101 of that original $100 billion’s value.
JMG / Scotlyn – Just to add a little more complexity to the federal finance story… the Federal Reserve Bank (not legally part of the government) has a monopoly on the right to print new dollars. If they don’t print enough money, more federal bonds get auctioned off to other investors, who might demand a higher rate of interest than the Fed finds “appropriate”, so their Prime Directive is to print just the right amount of money, to buy the right amount of debt, at the right interest rate, to maintain the right level of unemployment, and the right level of inflation. Somehow, they’re supposed to optimize two variables (unemployment and inflation) with only one control (money creation). However, (recently update) they actually now have a third variable to optimize: equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender, etc. But still just one control.
I grew up in a part of the Pacific Northwest where you had only to scratch the ground to find water just about anywhere (no basements under the houses there!). I couldn’t speak for the safety of drinking it nowadays, though. There’s probably a lot of resources that have been degraded in a similar way. Just think of all the former farmland that has been turned into parking lots. Somebody in the future is going to have to pry all that concrete and asphalt out of the ground by hand, one piece at a time (I’ve been doing that on a residential plot that I’m turning into a garden – it’s hard work).
On a related note, Low Tech Magazine recently ran a piece on using fish ponds to treat waste water.
Talk of peak oil always reminds me of one your old ADR posts, in which you talked about “the monkey trap”. You described it as a simple trap: a monkey can reach his hand into the trap to grap the banana, but can’t get his hand out of the trap with the banana, he has to let it go. And when the Hunter near by emerges from the bushes with club in hand, poor silly monkey panics and just won’t let go of that banana, even though letting go would mean life and freedom….
But I guess that is the story of all civilizations in decline, eh?
Where I live, the Mohawk River flows into the Hudson River, its only bout a 15 minute walk from my house. New York State has actually done an admirable job of keeping the Eire Canal and its Locks in fairly good condition. But, in all the talks of Green Energy and Transportation, does the canal ever come up? Nope, of course not! Its just for recreational boaters from Florida, Quebec, or the Great Lakes!
Never mind all you need is a boat, some rope, a tow path, and a mule (preferably one named Sal), and you can move absurd amounts of cargo rather easily. Boats are in abundance, and lying around. What does one need for to run a mule? Er, water and sunshine, to grow the oats and grass? New York State has these things in abundance, but of course no one takes these things seriously. Oh well.
The moon will be in Pisces where I live till early Saturday morning, so tomorrow I’ll be transplanting my small onion crop. The further we go into decline, the more comfort and pleasure I take in my cranky homesteading stuff.
I hope everyone enjoys the spring!
I will echo Panda’s comments on the crapification of everything, and no, not just video game controllers. This week I had to go looking for *four* substitute components on a circuit board the company I work for makes. There are about 50 unique components on the board. Only one of these turned out to be a simple issue – a line of resistors was back ordered for over a year, so I had to pick out a more expensive, lower quality substitute. About 25% more money for 50% lower tolerances. Everything else, ugh. The semiconductor industry is having crazy problems that I do not claim to understand. Is it because of COVID or being blamed on COVID? Nobody knows.
The company I work for listened to me and we’re actively laying in 2-3 years of stock for high tech low cost items like microprocessors. Although I work for a small company, it is entirely possible that the shortages are due to other companies doing the same thing. With interest rates near zero, if GM can make a pickup truck for $30,000 + $1000 worth of electronics, then sell it for $50,000, stocking up on those electronics makes sense.
@ Stuart, pygmycory
Re the interconnects
I’m no transmission engineer, but from my knowledge of the industry, the three asynchronous interconnections in the US (Eastern, Western, and Texas) are connected by HVDC (high voltage direct current) lines of limited capacity. So there is some exchange capability, but not a huge amount.
I think one thing that’s missing in the discussion regarding the economy of real goods and services being is a zero-sum game is a time-frame. At any given time, it is most definitely a zero-sum game. Over a relatively short time-span it can also be regarded as such because substantive economic changes take time to work their way through an economic system of any size and complexity. (Barring extraordinary circumstances such as wars, plagues, natural disasters, etc.) So if a decision is made to, for example, pour resources into fracking operations, this will indeed deny those resources to other parts of the economy, at least for a time. Perhaps down the line the decision will bring more resources into use in the economic system, but until this happens, the situation does exhibit the behavior of a zero-sum game.
I believe you mean the Site C dam. Yeah, that one hadn’t been built till now for good reasons, from flooding some of BC’s best farmland once climate change really starts to bite, and Treaty 8 First Nations, to problems with difficult geology. It’s gone way over budget and lots of people are snarking at the NDP government for the situation.
The power was originally supposed to be used for natural gas extraction and liquification, a project which isn’t going well either. If fossil fuel prices rise, that latter might become economic again.
From some comments up-thread I went haring off and learned a bit about the Western Interconnection, and it certainly looks like the main grid connections are north-south rather than east-west.
I also hope JMG is right about a slow decline. From what I’m been able to learn about previous civilizational collapses, I think he’s right. However, do bear in mind that there can be big steps down followed by partial recoveries that never make it back to their previous level, and that such things can be pretty overwhelming to live through.
I’m going on the assumption that Covid plus oil spike plus economic mess in the next few years is likely to be one of those steps in at least some areas of the world, much like the Great Recession was… though possibly a lot worse than that step was. Interesting times.
For Canada, I’m eyeing the housing market and wondering just how insane things can get before they crash… I was saying ten years ago that it was seriously overvalued in Vancouver, but it kept going up and up so I gave up on saying it was about to crash. Not sure who said ‘the market can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent’, but it is so true.
This is my second entry on the issue of property rights from the perspective of the Value of Labor. Let’s see how many entries it takes to make this point.
(2) If Value Added could be considered an upper bound on the cost of Labor, Cost of Living is definitively a lower bound.
Back when I was in graduate school, I had a chat with one of the janitors: a lady whose name I fail to recall. She was very excited about the prospect of leaving her job and go to work at a cookie factory near her home, even if the wage was lower. The reason: she had to take two buses and a train to come to University every day, double that for going back home. Her transportation costs was eating 40% of her paycheck, and her transportation times were eating most of her waking hours.
It is a truism that workers will not hold a job if it does not provide enough money to cover for a minimum of living expenses. Unfortunately, nobody can tell who much minimal that minimum has to be in order to people stop showing up at their jobs. In Western World, it used to be the case that you could, in exchange of a solid week of work, expect a living wage enough to support a family with some measure of dignity; not anymore. However, people is less willing to work if the number of total calories you can buy with your paycheck drops below some point. The people is always 3 missed meals away from riot and all that…
Even then, there’s plenty of people willing to work for less than the cost of living. All of them have in common some other form of income that is how they actually earn their daily bread:
* Independently wealthy individuals work as much (or as little) as they wish, on whatever they fancy; independently of what income they derive from that activity.
* Young people will often work for peanuts at the start of their careers, in order to gain experience and land a better job. Traditionally, parents were expected to subsidize their adult kids income while this transition happens; in more recent times, credit card companies fulfill this role (for a fee).
* Some older folks will accept a severe paycut, if they happen to get sacked a couple of years before their pension kicks in. They would be living of their savings (or credit card) anyways, so why not supplement that with a meager income?
* Entrepreneurs and self employed people may seek part time, seasonal or temp jobs in order to unlock health insurance and other benefits. The wage does not matter, as long as you can dodge the doctor’s bill.
* Some criminals with social aspirations will seek formal employment for the cover of not having to explain where the money comes. Or maybe it is just a convenient place to meet new marks.
The list is far from complete, but the point is: while many kinds of people will accept low paying jobs for any number of reasons, it remains true that most workers depend on their wage to keep body and soul together. This means that, in general, a job that does not pay enough to live off will remain vacant for a long time.
So, we have an upper bound and a lower bound. In general Labor follows the micro-economic laws of supply and demand. The scarcer are the people able and willing to perform the job, the higher the wage will go (but never above the value added by that work); while the most common are the skills and least demanding the conditions, the closer the wage will drop to subsistence levels.
JMG – On “zero-sum games”. The macro-economic version is too complex for me to consider, but I have examples of positive-sum transactions. One of my neighbors broke the headstock off of his $400 guitar, and tossed it into the trash. Before the trash could be collected, though, I took the guitar, repaired the damage (at no significant expense, since I had the necessary tools and materials in stock), and sold the instrument back to him for $50. So he can play his guitar once again, and I have $50 in my pocket that I didn’t have before. His original “total loss” of the guitar is history, in my accounting. In our transaction, he got good sounding (if cosmetically impaired) instrument for $50, and I got $50 for an hour or less of pleasant labor. I call that “positive-sum”: applying labor to low-grade materials to produce a high-grade product.
When I told another neighbor this tale, he was eager to show me his damaged guitar. I patched the damage in exchange for $20, which he was very cheerful to pay (and he’s a carpenter by trade; not one to spend carelessly). Again, a positive-sum game.
Of course, the laws of thermodynamics prevent any closed system from actually decreasing its entropy (e.g., turning a profit), but the effect of will and human energy reduced entropy locally without raising the system entropy above its baseline rate rate of increase.
When I get fresh food from my garden, instead of something trucked in from a distance, I might be costing the market a sale, but the market was willing to take my money when I bought the seeds, and I was willing to part with it. We both come out ahead, and reduce the externalized costs on everyone of commercial agriculture.
So, if positive-sum games are present in our individual experiences, there may be cases where they can be aggregated into a larger scale. Once debt enters the system, though, the analysis becomes much more complex. (See Australian economist Steve Keen’s work on debt-driven macroeconomic instability.)
@ RPC #152.
I completely agree with all the things you have suggested. Everyone please open you copy of ‘The Retro Future’ and study it well. 😉
Those are solutions that I think are brilliant and we should be doing. But the focus on Solar/Battery/EV motors that PeterEV was alluding too seem to be like more like a moon shot that has little chance of succeeding than the solutions you proposed and can be done today.
Side note : I have a comical theory that I don’t take that seriously, that Elon Musk is pushing all these fanciful technology ideas to help bring about decline quicker. What better way to accelerate the decline of civilisations than to constantly pull folks down the wrong path. Everything from continuing car culture, to destruction of rational public transport system and even through to bringing about Kessler syndrome via Starlink!
@teresa from hershey #186
Absolutely agree. Efficiency is just another word for fragile. I know of someone that has a Refrigerator from 1929! Never been serviced or switched off for a long period of time. Not bad for a 92 year old appliance.
The funny contradiction that comes out of these lighter more efficient machines is that there is typically a lot more energy needed to produce the materials to make them. Compare a steel bike from the 1940’s to a carbon fibre one from today and the energy difference is astounding.
Thanx to Bogatyr, Justin and Slithy Toves, I found it.
On the northeast corner of Nineteenth Avenue and Ortega in San Francisco is a Standard (Chevron) gas-station. I worked at that gas-station from January, 1972 to October, 1976; I was at San Francisco State at this time, so I worked weekends during the school year and full-time for most of the summer.
When I first started working there, gasoline fluctuated between 25.9 and 35.9 cents per gallon, (for Premium, or Ethyl, as it was then often known, Regular was a three or four cents a gallon cheaper) as, if I recall correctly, as it had been for the past decade or more. The price fluctuation was due to the ongoing “gas wars” conducted by local gas-stations. I could come to work one weekend and gas prices would be at the bottom of the range, and we would be quite busy, the next weekend the prices would have gone up a few cents, and the weekend after that we would be at or near the top or the scale, and business was quite slow. Then, the next week, prices would have plunged down to the bottom of the scale again, and the whole cycle would continue.
But, although none of working at the gas station were aware of Peak Oil, or the fact that the US had hit its peak back in 1970, this last fact undoubtedly was behind the unexplained minor shortages that started appearing in mid to late 1972, the first of the long lines at the station, and the price (temporarily, as I recall) rising to an unprecedented 40 cents a gallon. But the optimism of that era was deeply entrenched, I recall at the time gas hit the 40 cent mark sitting around with four or five co-workers at the gas-station on a slow day, and asking how long it would take gas to reach a buck a gallon. Everyone looked around, thought, then the unanimous verdict was: “Naah, never happen.”
Anyway, I don’t know if we made arrangements with the Saudis or others for increased imports, because, as I recall, this 1972 mini-crisis seemed to melt away after a few months. But this didn’t last long, as the Arab Oil Embargo came down in mid-October of 1973, and its effects begin to be felt at the pumps only several weeks later. At first this consisted of price rises, to what were for the times, unprecedented levels. I recall going out to service a car, and the old guy in it looked at the price on the pump, a mind-boggling 50 cents a gallon. He looked at me and said “F**k you, I’m not paying you rip-offs” He started to drive off, but before he left, I snarled back at him, “Well, Asshole, you’ll run out of gas before you find anything cheaper, the price is the same everywhere.” And the price WAS the same everywhere, from now on it would only move upward or at best hang steady, the era of the “gas-wars” between service-stations was over, forever.
And the gas-wars were not the only long-standing business practice to end, forever. Before the Arab Oil Embargo, gas-stations, grocery stores of all sizes, and other retail outlets gave away trading stamps. People born this side of the late ‘60’s probably have never seen these, but they were a regular feature at retail outlets throughout my childhood and teenage years. On the West Coast, the trading stamps were Blue Chip Stamps and S&H Green Stamps, with Blue Chip being by far the more widely offered. Each stamp had printed on it “Cash Value One Mill.” (A mill is one tenth of one cent.) These were actual stamps, about two-thirds the size of an ordinary postage stamp, and gummed on the back, and you pasted them into booklets which, when a sufficient quantity was amassed, could be redeemed for stuff like toasters, vacuum cleaners, etc., mostly household appliances and stuff, as I recall. Anyway, these vanished from the entire retail scene, not just the gas stations shortly after the Arab Oil Embargo really started kicking in. Gas-stations in general, as far back as I remember, also offered free state and local highway maps that they gave away to their customers. Maps didn’t disappear, but they were no longer free as a price-tag of from 50 cent to a buck was now charged. And, of course, the Embargo was the beginning of the end for the true “service-station”, before, “self-service” was rare, but from this point in time on, it expanded, while the full service stations continued to diminish in numbers over the years.
When the Oil Embargo was first announced, the first effect were the price rises. Most people must have (incredibly, naively, from to-day’s vantage point) thought all this would be quite temporary, as for the first week or two of the Embargo, business was slow, as, I suppose people, like the guy who buzzed me off over 50-cent gas must have thought that prices would soon come down. It takes about six weeks for a tanker to sail from Saudi Arabia to the U.S., so six weeks after the Embargo was announced, the effect became quite noticeable, and the real gas lines became an everyday feature. This was when the government installed the odd-even (based on your car’s license number) sort of “Rationing Lite” system. And the oil companies practiced their own rationing, as each service station received a specific monthly allotment of gasoline. Scotty (Scotty Petrie, the operator of the 19th and Ortega station at this time) calculated that if he sold every car all the gas they wanted, that he would exhaust the monthly allotment that Standard Oil granted him in slightly more than two weeks. So Scotty instituted a limit of 8 gallons to every car coming into the pumps. Business hours were also cut back, and this created problems with the long lines of waiting autos, which backed out of the station and went up the street, frequently curling around the block and extending up most of that block. So, a couple of hours before closing time, we would take a large cardboard sign that said “Last Car”, go out to the last car an the line and inform the driver he was lucky, as he would be the last getting gas here to-day, then hang the sign on the back of his car. One day, I went out with the sign, and as it turned out, the last car sort of stood out, an almost overwhelmingly bright yellow VW Bug. I put the sign on the car, and returned to the gas-station and continued pumping gas. A couple hours later the yellow VW comes up and I sell it its gas, and went on to service the next car after the VW departed. It wasn’t until three or four cars had bought their eight gallons that I flashed on the fact that the VW was supposed to be the last car for the day. There were several cars still in line with the sign now on the last of them. It turned out that after I left the sign on the VW, the next car came up, and offered the driver of the VW $5 to take the sign and put it on his own car; he then sold the sign to the next car coming behind him, and so on. Ever after that, an employee of the gas-station had to simply stand by the last car, and slowly walk with it as it inched towards the station, and waving off all would-be customers.
After five months, King Faisal of Saudi Arabia felt he had wrested as much as he could out of the US and the West insofar as seriously addressing the (at the time) 25 year old Arab-Israel conflict. So the Embargo was lifted, and the oil flow resumed. But before the Embargo, the Saudis were getting something like $2.80 per barrel, afterward, as part of the price for restoring production, Faisal insisted on, and got a price of $11.65 per barrel. And the era of 25-35 cent gasoline, along with free maps and trading stamps, was over….Forever.
Anyway, thanks for the trip down Memory Lane. A lot of it just seems unbelievable now, free maps and trading stamps and getting cussed out behind 50 cent gas. Definitely, it was another era.
JMG wrote: “Denis, if that [invasion of Iran] happens, we’re headed for Twilight’s Last Gleaming territory in a hurry. ”
Hear, Hear! Iran has more than twice as many people as Iraq, and more importantly, completely different terrain. Iraq was a flat plain-the most difficult type of ground to defend from a tank-heavy army like the US. Iran, on the other hand, is dominated by the Zagros and Alborz mountains, with the population living in valleys separated by high ridges. Here’s a pic of Tehran, for example:
Defending this territory is easy, especially if (as is very likely) the Iranians have at least a few months of lead time. Prepare defensive positions at each pass and strategic choke point along all the likely invasion routes-positions which the US force will have to take significant casualties to capture. When/if a position looks likely to be overwhelmed, simply fall back to the next choke point. Simply conquering Iran and defeating their army in the field would take months (at least) with many times the US fatalities of the entire Iraq war. And even then, Iran’s mountainous terrain is ideal for an insurgency, way more than Iraq was-and look how much trouble the Iraqi insurgents were to deal with! It would be relatively easy for an Iranian insurgency to target a particular US-garrisoned city and cut off all land supply routes-and if they can get anti-aircraft missiles from Russia or China, all air supply as well. And that, in turn, could lead to an American Dien Bien Phu, where a trapped US force actually has to surrender to the insurgents. Basically, invading Iran would be a DISASTER, likely the beginning of the end of America’s “superpower” era-and yet, Trump and Biden have both acted in ways that make at least some kind of Iran-America war very likely. One wonders what the hell they’re thinking.
This is my third entry on the issue of property rights from the perspective of the Value of Labor. Last time I left at the idea that Labor follows the laws of supply and demand, and that wages fall in between a range between Value-added and subsistence level. Hopefully it will not take much longer.
(3) One more thing we have to take into consideration is that both employers and employees can, have and will continue to pursue strategies to move the actual wages and salaries in their own benefit. I’d say that the strategies pursued by employers have been so far more effective that those pursued by employees, which in turn has resulted in a wealth transfer from the working classes to the rent-collecting classes.
Please let me present my case: the argument is that while workers have resorted to moving away from the lower bound and closer to the upper bound, owners have resorted to moving both goal posts: both upper and lower bounds to Labor value have consistently decreased as direct result of practices introduced and/or deployed by the elites.
The wage class, specially blue collar workers, have through Unions used their collective bargaining power to increase wages and capture a higher percentage of the value they create. It is true that historically (as in 19th century) they refused to work, and refused to allow anyone else to work, for less than “a living wage”. From these efforts come benefits that we used to take from granted but are slowly eroding away: minimum wage, limited workday, paid overtime, 6 (or 5) day weeks, etc.
However, for at least the last 80 years, Unions have concentrated in reducing the K figure in the Value Added formula. This goal is inherently inimical to business and will require some concessions to get pulled off effectively. I think, and it is just an opinion, that this strategy was good in the short term but eroded their ability to retain the wins of the past.
On the other hand, salary class has pursued the strategy of making their own skills “scarce”. Sometimes it is through genuine education, sometimes it is through credentialization and entry barriers. This works, just as in the case of Unions, to reduce the K figure as low as it will go. It at least has the advantage of using the way Labor is already valued, which sort of aligns with what companies expects, so it is less confrontational with owners.
However, we are already seeing how the lower tiers of salary class are being thrown under the bus. This is, for the most part, the result of changes in both technology and organization of work. That is part of the strategy of the employers, but we will talk about it in the final entry.
Denis, the possibility of war with Iran was frequently discussed on the Oil Drum back as far as “05 and “06. Fortunately, it never happened.
Now, 15 years later, Iran’s defenses, missile systems, etc. are far more improved and dug in. If war didn’t happen then, I think it unlikely that it would happen now, as its chances of success would be far less likely now.
I’m not ignoring your comment to Walter, I’m just disagreeing with it. I think you engaged in cherry-picking when you decided which of Walter’s claims to pick apart when defending your insistence that the economy is a zero sum game.
That is why I chose my examples of non-zero-sum economic actions more carefully. So unless you’re prepared to demonstrate how each of those things (FDR’s decision to leave the gold standard to end the post-1929 deflation, and the wide adoption of the peanut/cotton crop rotation in the late 19th century) had negative effects on some people’s access to real wealth that exactly balanced out its positive effects to its main beneficiaries, I’m not going to believe your claim that the real economy is a zero sum game.
JMG, do you plan to take up another type of work when the Internet is prohibitively expensive , or gone altogether? If so, what? (“The John M. Greer Razor Blade Company.” After all, you can sell them even if you don’t use them!)
Thank you for this reminder of what’s not stopped happening. I keep an eye on gas prices as I cycle to my job at a bike shop, and I’m thinking this might really be the last good time to sell that big ol’ van that mostly sits in my driveway. Re: the bike shop: supplies have NOT replenished, and the same things that were out of stock last summer have been out of stock all winter long and now into spring, with no letup in sight. There is pending legislation, I hear, offering a tax credit for the purchase of a new e-bike, but NOT for the purchase of a regular old resilient bike. more tax money to prop up the Greeenwash New Deal, I guess.
Yoru blog and its comment section is my favorite part of the week, and I am very grateful to you for the effort you put into writing and hosting it. You are very generous to us all, and I thank you.
@teresa from hersey #186:
I have had similar experiences with appliances, and I seek out older ones for the same reasons. My favorite of these stories: I purchased my small house in 2007, and it came with a 1991-vintage refrigerator that made a lot of strange and disturbing sighing noises. I didn’t have enough money to even consider a new refrigerator (wouldn’t have anyway, on principle). I had fond memories of the “extra” refrigerator that my family had when I was growing up – an old GE with one of those “death-trap” latch-style doors that had the satisfying “thunk” when it shut – so I placed an ad on craigslist looking for a similar one. I ended up spending $40 for a 1950 IH fridge with a usably-sized freezer; I replaced some shelf hardware and the gasket, repainted (and wet-sanded, and re-repainted…) it, and I’m still using it ten years after having installed it. It’s quiet as a mouse, and it uses LESS energy than the “Energy-Star”-certified one that it replaced, because it doesn’t have auto-defrost (so I have to manually defrost it a couple of times a year; hardly an inconvenience). It even has a bottle opener built into the latch, so that a hard-working man or woman could grab a bottle of beer and have the lid off before the fridge door even closed. Makes me feel like a man, by golly! And because of the work I put into it, I feel like it’s my friend. like I care for it and it cares for me in return. Maybe that’s a topic for the other blog, but I’m not sure the two are entirely separate…
Druidovik, no, you’re not the only one. There’s a fairly widespread joke these days. Q. What do you call an economist who makes a prediction? A. Wrong.
Lathechuck, yes, I deliberately simplified the matter a bit to try to clarify to Scotlyn how the current money-printing orgy works.
Andrew, the terror of “going back” blinds many people to the best available options.
Justin, thanks for the data points. That’s most interesting to hear.
Helix, that’s a valid point, but it also misses the central point I was trying to make, which is that the economy destroys value as well as creating it, and many of the activities that are being brandished about as “wealth creation” either destroy as much wealth as they create, or are dependent on other activities that destroy as much wealth as they create. Fracking is a great example, because the denial of resources to other economic sectors end up imposing cascading costs of their own through infrastructure neglect, lost opportunity costs, etc., while fracking itself degrades groundwater (imposing further costs via illness to those affected by water pollution) and causes a range of other ecological problems (imposing yet more costs on those who have to cope with them). Those costs are being systematically ignored by the “wealth creation” narrative.
Lathechuck, if you go back and look at what I’ve written, you’ll find that nowhere do I deny the possibility of positive-sum transactions. Are you denying the possibility of negative-sum transactions? My point is that these two in the aggregate tend to balance each other out. Giving examples of the former doesn’t disprove the existence, or scale, of the latter.
Antoinetta, thanks for this! A fine vivid narrative.
Tolkienguy, a valid point. Iraq is a very modestly sized country with a land area of 169,000 square miles and a population of 38 million people, while Iran is a much bigger nation — 636,000 square miles and a population of 83 million people. Iran also has a much larger economy with a robust domestic military industry and the 8th largest army on Earth, and it’s been working on figuring out how to defeat a US invasion since 1979. (if you want to paste in an image, btw, you’ve got to use html linked to a picture file on a website.)
Wesley, no, you still haven’t addressed my point. We both agree that wealth-creating activities happen. I’m saying that wealth-destroying activities also happen, at roughly the same rate. If all you can say is “But here are some wealth-creating activities I’ve cherry-picked!” you’re not disagreeing with me, you simply haven’t understood what I’m saying. Not all wealth-creating activities directly destroy wealth, but I didn’t say they did — I said that the economy is by and large zero-sum, not that every individual economic activity is zero-sum. Now would you like to address what I’ve actually said?
Your Kittenship, since I expect the decline of the internet to happen gradually, and other venues for writing to take its place — just as the rise of the internet happened gradually, and it squeezed out other venues such as print magazines. Thus I’ll make the transition from the internet to other media the same way I made the transition to the internet in the first place.
JimmyD, yeah, selling that van might be a good idea. That’s fascinating about the bike parts. Orville and Wilbur Wright, by the way, made their own bike parts; your bike shop might want to consider doing the same thing, since parts may become increasingly hard to come by as we proceed.
If I may wade into the positive-vs-zero-sum argument, it seems to me that economists who make the positive-sum argument are committing the fallacy of composition: in this case, assuming that something true locally is true globally.
Absent coercion, any given exchange is presumably a net-positive in value for the agents involved (since if it were a net negative, the side that loses would just refuse the exchange). But it doesn’t follow that the aggregate of all such exchanges is net-positive. Two reasons, one admittedly glib (in a “haha, only serious” way), the other less so:
First, because extrapolating from individual exchanges to entire economies requires macroeconomics, and macroeconomics is a pseudoscience.
Second, because of externalities that cannot be predicted or accounted for until they’ve already happened.
By analogy, consider entropy, the ultimate externality. It’s not that hard to reduce entropy in any given context: just move the entropy outside of the system (this is how a refrigerator works). Yet this clearly can’t be a global solution, since there’s no where else for the entropy to go.
I realize that accusing economists of pseudoscience and not taking externalities seriously enough is tired and cliche at this point, but, uh… it’s true.
Good post. Just wanted to say that a big statistic that the MSM isn’t talking about right now is oil production. Heck, it seems to me they only have been talking about Covid for a year now. (Example, my neighbor is a reporter at a big nationwide network and he used to cover “Health”. For a year now he is exclusively only covering Covid.)
So, if you look up global oil production you will notice at least a 9% year over year drop in production as of Dec. 2020. (https://ycharts.com/indicators/world_crude_oil_production) (Put the chart on 5 years to see the dramatic drop in production.) Around July 2020 production was down almost 20% from the peak…
Is it just me or where has this story been hiding? All we seem to hear is “Wear your mask!” Still waiting for a story talking about oil production and not just prices, but honestly I’ve been looking for stories about oil prices as well from NPR and others and there hasn’t been anything.
I think this fits right with Peak Oil. I always thought that peak oil wasn’t something that would happen quickly but would be exactly as it has been happening for the past 15 years or so since conventional oil production peaked.
I’ve planted my garden with potatoes, carrots, onions, spinach, lettuce, radish, etc and waiting just a bit more to plant all the warm weather crops. I think I’m getting the hang of farming in suburbia now. Hopefully that will come in handy!
Looking forward to trying out some new recipes from the Rice and Beans post as well. Thanks for that. Maybe you should start a “Post Peak Oil Cookbook”.
Here is something that may or may not be relevant to this weeks essay: https://www.pewresearch.org/global/2021/03/18/the-pandemic-stalls-growth-in-the-global-middle-class-pushes-poverty-up-sharply/
This is my fourth and final entry on the issue of property rights from the perspective of the Value of Labor. Last time we were talking about workers and their strategies to capture a bigger income; essentially by convincing their employers that they “deserve” a greater percentage of the value they create. We will now see what is the employer’s response to that.
(4) Employers do push the K figure up whenever they can get away with it. It is just the way things work and, if done with honesty and within the limits of the law, it is perfectly ok. However, they do not limit themselves to that. They do not just work within the frame, they constantly recreate the frame and shape it to their own advantage.
They push the upper bound down whenever they are able to reorganize work in such a way as to break down the production of goods and services in smaller, simpler processes. In finances, they have this concept of “efficiency”, which STEM guys like myself think in terms of “doing stuff faster/better than before”. Nothing further from the truth; for a business type “efficiency” means either “capturing a higher rent from the same good/service” or “capturing a higher share of the same rent for ourselves in detriment of Labor”. This can be achieved either with technology or with management.
The technological reorganization of work is well know since the Industrial Revolution. One fact that is not often discussed is that technological progress did not always produce better stuff. Instead, it did produce cheaper, more abundant stuff. And one of the way this happened was that machines replaced skilled workers with a greater number of semiskilled workers. This happened to the blue collar trades, and with computers is currently happening to the office fauna as well.
But you do not need to have technological innovation to replace each expensive dinosaur with a room full of winged monkeys typing nonsense all day long. The mere reorganization of tasks will do the trick. In part (1), we discussed how K has to be higher than 1 because workers have to pay up a “rent” for the use of their employer’s infrastructure in order to collect any income out of their labor. The thing is, the more fragmentary and isolated each job, the more dependent on said infrastructure it becomes.
Let’s take the example of the restaurant. There are any number of TV shows now that talk about famous chefs that run their own restaurants as kings. However, this is not how your average eatery is run. Your average eatery is a fast food franchise: the customer facing workers have abysmal skills and just assemble/heat the precooked food. They probably cannot tell half of the ingredients on the meals they are serving. On the other hand, the actual cooks work in an industrial environment where they do not need to care in any way or form about customers, or plates, or portions… just follow the procedure and keep going. None of these workers will be able to open a small, independent fast food venture without a lot of training and trail/error; and since they are aware of that fact, they will be grateful to have a job and will not ask for a wage close to the total value they add to the franchisee’s business.
The undermining of the lower bound, the minimum cost of living, is more subtle… but I do not want to make yet another entry so I will be brief. In a traditional setting, living with some measure of dignity as a working poor requires a lot of skill and forethought. You must be careful, do things your way, plan for a rainy day. And if your boss gets in the way of that, you buckle up for a little while until you find a better job.
There is no measure that a single company can do to get in the way of that, but a business friendly society just can. By making easier for people to live below the poverty line, they make more people willing to take lower wages. Just take credit as an example. I had one friend once told me “over here [in the U.S] you do not live on what you can earn, but on what you can owe”.
I cannot overemphasize how shocking that idea is to a Mexican national. Credit cards over here routinely charge over 50% of interest. I do not know how mortgages fare right now, but back when I was shopping there was this one that advertised being “the first single digit mortgage in Mexico”, meaning they charged 9.98% (if you cared to read the tiny letter, you noticed that this held true as long as you never missed any payment, in which case the rate would go up to about 13%, and on top of that there were the punitive rates of the missed payments). We have a saying over here: never take a bath with a banker, ’cause even the soap gets lost.
And yet, there are any number of ways that the liberal and the well meaning want to help the poor, but in reality they are helping the rich pay less for the labor their companies need. Food stamps? How cool is it to not care about bread riots! Scholarships? you can now charge each student as much money as their family will bear for the exact same education. Unemployment benefits? Who could possible care about savings!!!
Don’t get me wrong, I am in favor of there being a safety net for when bad things happen. But if you are using the safety net on a regular basis to climb up and down from your apartment, it is not a safety net anymore: your landlord is a cheap jerk who needs to get the elevator fixed ASAP.
Really great article Mr. Greer! I really like how you captured the slow, steady nature of decline in concrete terms. I do agree with you that this decline is likely to continue. I also think you are right on the money that there will be no peak oil demand.
Only criticism is that the graph you use to make your point that oil consumption is increasing much faster than renewables may be somewhat misleading. You are looking at total world, which includes China, Russia, and the developing world. But Germany has wind as a very fast growing proportion of their total energy and France and Sweden gets more of its energy from renewables and nuclear than from oil.
I bring up these local examples to point out to illustrate MY main criticism of your worldview. I buy your point that alternate sources can’t replicate the lifestyle we currently live. But I’m not sure dark age levels of collapse are inevitable because I think our energy production is a bit more flexible than you claim.
To make that workable. It helps to deal with Men like Lenin and the rest of the bad eggs of the Cheka first preemptively Or else its going to be another bloodbath.
Workers who went on strike for better conditions in the aftermath when the Bolshevik party took power:
Murdered because they didn’t comply with their dictates. Or failing to meet their quotas. And other reasons.
Work with those types at your own peril.
Well referenced article on the bloodbath of the Bolsheviks imposed on the Proletariat and other socialists:
It occurred to me quite a while ago that the way appliances and consumer goods are priced out of the range of ordinary people is not so much that they get much more expensive; rather, they already are getting shoddier and more short-lived in a way that that becomes a disincentive to buying such appliances, because of the costs involved with replacing. I myself have noticed this problem with electronics, where total or partial defects occur more often and where there is a tendency that satisfying options for this or that purpose are going extinct.
JMG, About “blerwm”, in a Welsh lexicon it was translated as “chatterer”, “sloven”.
What viable substitutes for the internet could happen? Can 4chan message boards exist offline?
Could we communicate globally under anonymous aliases in future?
Ksim #198, the Soviet oil industry actually helped to break the British 1984-85 Miners’ Strike. Russian tankers would take their load to Cuba, fill up again in Trinidad, and discharge that at the oil-fired power stations an the Isle of Grain. It was the only time in their history that those generators were used at capacity. Oil was also used in coal power stations modified with larger lighting-up oil burners to sustitute for coal.
Stuart Cram #206, there have been all-electric mines for a few years now. after getting over initial conservatism the industry seems pretty happy – running diesels underground has always been a pain. They’re also finding ways to use electricity instead of other things. For example using it to run an oxygen generator, the leftover nitrogen being better to fill vehicle tyres, and the oxygen reducing the need for cyanide in gold refining.
In the theory of catabolic collapse, how much scope is there for what you could call distillation – so we’d have fewer things but more potent? Or to use another metaphor, turn fat into muscle?
You might find The Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen interesting. It doesn’t have some of the details you would want, but it does include a pretty good picture of how the economy of the Comancheria worked, including what happened when they passed Peak Bison. I first heard about it on a blog* about the Roman Empire because of the insights it provides into what the Huns were actually up to. (I think Patrick Wyman’s, but it might have been Mike Duncan’s.)
The Mongols would probably be somewhat different because they didn’t just vassalize settled states, as the Huns and Comanche did, but took over long-established empires lock, stock, and barrel.
JMG, do you know what specific fudge factor they introduced to the chart? I suppose from the way you said this that your chart is the way it looked in 2018, so it was a recent introduction? I’d love to understand so I can show it to people and see how they react. The contrast between the rhetoric I am surrounded by and the chart (even the fudged one) is rather astonishing.
Wait, I guess they explain the fudge factor: “Primary energy is shown based on the ‘substitution’ method which takes account of inefficiencies in energy production from fossil fuels.” So they’re saying that some of the fossil fuel energy isn’t being counted, because some of it is wasted along the way. I see how that could be maybe be a useful adjustment, when trying to consider consumption rather than production, assuming there aren’t also significant inefficiencies for other energy sources. But it is definitely misleading when it comes to the relative prevalence of energy sources.
The above link seems to confirm your points about Jevons´ paradox and the inability of even well-connected activists to actually stop fossil fuel use (and hence clmate change). Note that the article is about coal…and a *very* strange use of electricity generated from it.
Note also the great power competition aspect we discussed earlier. China, of course, doesn´t care about Greta Thunberg (or even the Paris Accords, I mean not really).
Perhaps there is also some kind of “Fifth Generation Warfare” aspect to the bitcoin thing? Not mentioned in the article, though. Why would China want to undermine confidence in the US dollar, cough cough?
About the insanity of trying to invade Iran, for much of history, Iran controlled what is now Iraq. The Iranian capital for 800 years, Ctesiphon, was a couple dozen miles from where Baghdad is now. Because of its mountains, Iran was basically unconquerable (hat tip to Alexander the Great, the Mongol Horde) and because it was so flat, Mesopotamia was basically indefensible.
Invading Iran would be almost as unwise as getting into a war with Russia in Ukraine.
That both ideas are considered reasonable by both parties in Washington says a lot about our elites. Either misadventure would produce a dramatic downward jolt on the long path of descent.
@WaltF Developers try to do those zoning tricks where we live too. Its grossly unfair because the whole point of a zoning process is to vote on a solid plan and approve it.
Two ways to fight it that have worked here –
1) Appeal to others sense of pride – this developer is trying to take advantage of us thinking we are too stupid and backwards. If it helps to equate the developer to Trump, use his shady business deals as an example. That may backfire though.
2) Raise the question of what else could be put in place with the zoning change – the big one they tried to slip in here is a juvenile criminal group home for sex offenders. They’d bring the kids in from all around the country and house in them in a no security home. No one wants that in their neighborhood, especially the police who then will be employed as a private security force for a private business like that. Criminal detention is all private these days so these people are trying to sneak these places in everywhere because it is very profitable.
It also helps to offer alternative sites they can use. There’s certainly enough places already developed that failed everywhere.
Happy Friday sir! Energy is the name of the game and it’s great to see you chopping it up again about energy and our future ahead. One question, is peak oil demand the same as demand destruction? Economic Undertow used expound on demand destruction and it kind of made sense but in the back of my mind was always the same thought, just because nations are being priced out, doesn’t negate their appetite for oil… and prices can always go back down, at least for a while.
JMG – Ah-ha! The point I missed is that you’re talking about “the way things have always been”, and I’m thinking about “the way things could be”. I’m imagining a world of positive-sum transactions; it’s just not the world I’ve ever lived in. And, contemplating this issue for just a minute revealed to me the fundamental flaw in Libertarianism: a “win-win” contract between consenting parties can simply be a plan to foist off the harmful externalities onto people (and non-human creatures) who not only weren’t part of the negotiation, but didn’t even know that the negotiation was taking place.
I remember once discussing with a professor of mine (he’s an IT guy) who was telling us about how electric vehicles, fuel cells, etc. would pull us out of the climate crisis and also fulfill our energy requirements, all while maintaining a >7% GDP growth rate. When I expressed skepticism, his argument was something like, “Look science and tech have accomplished so much…never doubt the capacity of the human mind to find the solutions to technical problems”, etc. and ended his argument with the ‘Necessity is the mother of innovation’ thoughtstopper. I have heard similar arguments from many people, and sometimes I feel like responding to this thoughtstopper with ‘Necessity is the mother of innovation, true, but then, access to and availability of material and energy resources is the father of innovation; so far as I know, a child can be conceived only with the active participation of both parents’, which is probably somewhat of a rhetorical trick but not exactly a good argument, but then such thoughtstoppers are so absurd that they can only be, IMO, effectively met by such retorts. Needless to say, I have never said this to anybody, as that would only invite more allegations of ‘you’re a pessimist, you’re a communist, you don’t want the country to prosper’, and so on…
On a lighter note, I’m happy to say that regardless of whichever party comes to power in India at the Central Government level, the railway system is at least kept steady if not expanded. If India with its limited resources can be the world’s fourth largest rail operator, then I don’t see any reason as to why the US cannot revive its once world-class railway system, provided the US government stops pandering to the automobile lobby.
@WaltF I forgot to mention that old way people use to use to keep developers away was rumors about how a spot was ruined with a grisly murder, ghosts, sinkholes, flooding, etc. Generally cursed works too. Sometimes getting these things spinning around are helpful if you are dealing with a lot of outsiders coming in.
JMG et al,
I believe it was last post’s comments when the phrase “embrace low-brow culture” was used? That gave me a good laugh to realize that the majority of my life has been me getting right with the realities of my life and “collapsing now to avoid the rush”!
I was seven yrs old in 1973 but I certainly remember the oil embargo and the energy crisis, most notably I remember a certain fast food chain (with Golden Arches) offering dinner by candlelight. They even put bud vases on the tables with a fresh flower and had a strolling violinist for extra ambiance!
I also remember (being taught in school) that filling a Jar or two with marbles and putting them in the tank of your toilet helped reduce the waste of water (this was Southern California where conserving water was almost as important as conserving oil energy).
And speaking of water conservation, It was about this time that a school chums mom embroidered a framed piece that hung in their bathroom stating:
“if it’s yellow, let it mellow. If it’s brown, flush it down”.
Cheers all and happy decending!
@Tolkienguy re: #234 and JMG –
Regarding the potential for war – I am looking with some alarm at the Aries ingress for 2023, which has Mars square the Sun and (loosely, by 9 degrees) the Moon, angular in the US and in most geopolitical flashpoints, with no positive aspects save a trine to Saturn, and in mutual reception with Mercury in Aries who is combust, also poorly aspected, and also angular in most geopolitical flashpoints. That isn’t to say a war is guaranteed, because it’s not, but the setup looks a lot like London 1939. If we can avoid war in 2023, we may be good until 2032, but then we’ve got Mars actually in and ruling the 7th house while in his fall in Taurus – and by that point Neptune’s moved to Aries and the Saturn/Neptune conjunction has switched from a Capricorn to an Aries phase.
If oil prices run higher and supply is lower – whether that’s because of corporate decisions, COVID-related impacts, or the like – eventually the backyards of the entities seeking oil or rare metals for semiconductors or the like will overlap and come into conflict. Incidentally, what happens when semiconductor metals peak or plateau, especially given how frequently server racks in data centers have to be replaced (per a previous post about the future of the Internet)?
“Seems all 3 manufacturers are having to choose Fast and Affordable to deliver profits and sacrificing – Good for the latest round of consoles. ”
This is the same problem for all things that get created, be it construction, manufacturing or software: You have the choices of FAST, AFFORADABLE and GOOD….but you can only pick 2.
FAST & AFFORDABLE = Poor quality
FAST & GOOD = Expensive
AFFORDABLE & GOOD = You missed your deadlines.
In my line of work (software), FAST is almost always one pick and GOOD is a distant third.
When the choices are “Get it done right” and “Get it done right now”, guess which one wins out?
Thanks for sharing your blog list.
May I ask why you said that Tverberg got it all wrong?
What she says is that the economy is like the surface of a bubble, and the energy that comes into the system is the wind that makes the bubble grow. Less energy, less economy. It makes physical sense. There are efficiency increases, population and other factors building this bubble, but we get the idea.
The other thing that she’s saying is that oil scarceness will not show in the form of high prices, but rather of low prices. This comes because energy is not like any other commodity, Other commodities might be useful for making stuff, but energy is needed to make ‘any’ stuff. So the demand of energy is directly related to the amount of stuff we make and purchase.
Demand is lower, not because people switch to other energy sources, not because they don’t want dirty oil, but rather because the lower energy input coming to the economic system is impovering the families. When people have less money to spend, they can’t buy that much stuff, so demand is lowered. Lower demand means lower market prices, maybe so low that producers could not continue extraction just with market laws. In a free market, oil producers will default, fewer will survive, production will be reduced and a new balance will be found (prices usually swing wildly when a resource starts depleting). Here’s where political interests overcome economic ones and we are forced to pay for the oil extraction even if it makes no economic sense, because it makes political sense (it keeps powerful people being powerful). So, to prevent economic forces, there are subsidies and credit and whatever it takes, to keep oil pumped out. But the more they force taxes and credits into expensive oil extraction, the less stuff families can buy, and the lower the demand of goods, the lower the demand of oil, the lower it’s price.
That’s not to say that oil prices can’t skyrocket, they can and they do, whenever consumerism looks like it is recovering, credit is granted, up to the price where consumers can’t pay any longer, or credit is spent.
It’s like a bicycle that runs too slowly to keep balance. (Prices high, prices low, prices too high, prices too low) The only way to avoid a falling would be to reduce the size of the bike, and to do it before we fall, but that’s hard to do when most people on the bike believe that it can’t fall because it’s too big, so let’s just eat Huxley’s soma.
in the peak oil, I’m not sure that we can attribute it to either offer or demand. I think it’s more like the combined forces of offer and demand what provokes the peak to occur when it occurs. The source of net energy is not as free as it used to be, so we can’t use it to push forward our economy any longer. Analysts tend to focus their studies on either production or demand, as if the other side or the effects of its consumption on the health of all livings were not that important,
Then again, a failure of reductionism.
I am trying to make sense of your arguments regarding the economy as a zero sum game, and all I can think of is that you aren’t attaching the same meaning to that term as I am.
Basically, I am using the usual game-theory definition: a zero-sum game is a game where, no matter what moves the players make, the net payout to all of them is the same. For instance, in organized chess, a draw is scored as 0.5 wins to each player in order to achieve a zero-sum result.
If there are any moves in a game which benefit the player making them without imposing equivalent costs on anyone else, the game is not zero-sum. The idea that “the economy is by and large a zero sum game, but not every individual economic activity is zero-sum” makes no sense if you’re using the technical definition of a zero-sum game.
However, it’s still perfectly reasonable to say: “The economy is not a zero-sum game, but most activities within the economy are zero-sum activities, or close to zero sum.”
Or in other words, you can have zero-sum moves in a non-zero-sum game, but you cannot have non-zero-sum moves in a zero-sum game. Thus, it makes no sense to accuse me of “cherry-picking” when all it takes is a single example of non-zero-sum economic activities in order to disprove your thesis.
Nothing earth-shattering, though verifying the mentality of our society:
In a radio spot heard while going into work this morning, “We know your life revolves around the internet!”
On another point, I agree with you that rural electrification is a bell-weather. Watch for talk in the regulatory world for changes in the “universal service” directives and similar quality of service mandates, which are managed at the state level.
Thanks for the reminder about S&H Green stamps! The last time I got any for shopping at a grocery store (a Foodtown, IIRC) was in the early 1980s and I believe that’s how we got our first toaster oven. I do recall them at gas stations when I was small, too. So sorry to see them go.
@ Bob & @ Michael Gray
I drive about 8K miles a year electrically. My vehicle uses about a 1kwh of electricity to go 4 to 5 miles when not using any type of heat and 3 to 4 miles in winter on 1 kwh. My rooftop cells produce around 300 to 400 kwh a month in January and 600 to 800 kwh a month during the peak of summer. If we make the 8K 8400 miles, that works out to be 700 miles a month. Divide that by 4 and as in 4 miles per kwh, I would need to generate 175 kwh a month on average. My 20 panels, theoretically, do produce more than enough to power an electrical car month in month out.
The next step is to realize that those panels are not supplying all my monthly usage in winter. Far from it. I don’t want to burn wood to keep the pipes from freezing as I lived in the early 80’s and “everybody was burning wood obtain from the back of beater pickups weighted down like over loaded mechanical mules”. The air was hazardous to breathe. The Oil Drum published a study showing that we had from 6 months to 5(?) years before we denuded our local forests.
So what is the “solution”? Where do I see us going? Many of you have mentioned conservation as the number one priority. No doubt about it. Rationing energy and using it wisely is another. Taking up trades from the mid-1800’s is not a bad idea.
Looking at any graph of energy by type shows that renewables, other than hydro, are way down the list and are dwarfed by oil, gas and coal which are on the decline or will be soon. I see solar and wind as major resources that could be tapped and we are doing that. There have been advances in solar cell efficiencies such as lead-based Perovskite cells approaching 34% efficiency (29.1 as a tandem cell combo). This is an interesting article on their development:
https://www.solarpowerworldonline.com/2020/02/perovskite-solar-cells-hero-villain-or-just-plain-fantasy/ and they appear to be less capital intensive as compared to silicon cell manufacturing. Questions come to mind on durability and power degradation over time.
If my panels are 15% efficient, a same areal set of Perovskite would double my production; not enough to disconnect from the grid, but enough to keep my pipes from freezing and having a way to drive to the country side for food. Not sure what I would have to give in trade. Which would lead to the question of what skills could I develop or what could I create that would be valuable to a farmer or a rancher?
What happens seems to depend on whether you think we are on the Titanic, the Andrea Doria, or the Stockholm. There are companies and people working on “life boats”. Some of these could modify the Long Descent but we have a long ways to go.
“I hope you’re planning on voting against it!”
It’ll probably take up half of the nicest day of the year so far, but my wife and I will be there to vote against it. (Unless they promise to build a monorail.)
@JMG – thanks – yes. “Sycophantic” is a good word, since I notice that very often folks arguing about the sacredness of the property rights of the very rich have little property of their own, but a lot of ideas absorbed from the profferings of certain sycophantic think tanks. I could wish a “blerwm blerwm blerwm” spell on some of those folks… 😉
Ganv, Happy Panda, JMG on the “crapification” of modern electronics…chip manufacturers are pretty upfront with their customers that the latest generations of chips have limited lifespans. Here’s a typical document: https://www.ti.com/lit/an/sprabx4b/sprabx4b.pdf?ts=1617975925831. (You only need to read the introduction.)
For everyone who’s always wanted to be a Ruinman. In the game Endzone – A World Apart you organise a scavenger society set in an equivalent of the 100-1000 year time range from 10 Billion. You can harvest fields of scrap and send salvage teams into interesting old buildings. 🙂
More on Exxon-Mobil. They are slowly going into green energies to stave off the rabid Greenies. They believe that it should be an evolution and not a revolution. They are in the process of a proxy fight between two sets of boards – traditionals and greenies. Such is the burden of the investor class…. Anyway, the Greenies are doing what has been referred to as entryism. This is an hostile takeover of a board to run an oil company out of business or at least take its billions and put it into solar, etc.
Problem is that nobody but nobody in the Green side ever think about cutting demand. I see the same thing happening with Dominion Energy (originally Dominion Resources, Virginia Electric Power Company). People are fighting gas pipelines being built in the Blue Ridge Mts to keep the mountains pristine. But none has began to think about power usage, etc.
More on the Dominion: It is being fought by White people who are fighting for Black and Native American peoples. (as if those folks don’t have the chops to fight for themselves.) But really is about the enjoyment of White people to the Shennendoah Valley, since the focus is the Applac. Trail.
As for me, we live below our means, since we don’t crave stuff. I do believe that a lot of folks think that stuff such as computers and what not will bring more happiness or something. Hence the inability to decrease demand and really understand the basics i.e. a dry bed and a full tummy.
@JMG #218: As I understand it from reading your past writings, you would be the last person to limit the choices to a binary: free market vs gov’t intervention. You’d be looking for at least a 3rd alternative. Just the same, I cam restate and limit my comment to say Jevon’s Paradox could be regarded as a critique of a free market in energy resources. But I can easily think of a much more succinct critique of a free market in energy. In fact it can be summed up in just one word: Enron.
Convict/Slave labor to run oil rigs does not seem so far-fetched, given that prison labor exploitation is already happening in America.
Iran is definitely working on finding out ways to defeat American military. They have built a large flotilla of light, fast attack crafts and armed them with anti-ship missiles. Imagine a lumbering Carrier Strike Group in Persian Gulf against 200 of them. I thought someone high up in Iranian Navy had read Twilight’s Last Gleaming, until I found that they used this tactic in the war with Iraq in 1980. The US Navy does not seem to have any defence against this, at least from what we see publicly.
VERY OT: except that JMG’s mundane astrology forecast predicted this:
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, husband since 1947 of HM Queen Elizabeth II, has passed away this morning at the age of 99.
And very much on topic – haven’t we heard this song before?
Private startup TAE has announced it’s just 9 years from a commercial nuclear fusion plant.
The challenges of plasma fusion are mostly in containment.
TAE uses a particle accelerator beam to superheat plasma.
TAE Technologies, the world’s largest private fusion company, has announced it will have a commercially viable nuclear fusion power plant by 2030, which puts it years—or even decades—ahead of other fusion technology companies.
➡ You love nuclear. So do we. Let’s nerd out over nuclear together.
The California-based company has raised $880 million in funding for its hydrogen-boron reactor. This reactor isn’t a traditional tokamak or stellarator; instead, it uses a confined particle acceleration mechanism that produces and confines plasma.
Courtesy of Allen Pitts on the Stirling fan list
Dear Mr Greer
That was a great post, but there was one thing missing form your analysis, although I am sure that you have covered this elsewhere. The peak oilers of the early 2000’s got one big thing right. They predicted that conventional oil production would peak in about 2005 and then may plateau out for about 10 years, before starting to decline and they turned out to be right. This means that we could soon start to see conventional oil production starting to decline. If this happens then we will be living in a different world. The dynamics and patterns of behaviour you referred to in you post occurred in a world where oil production was rising or at least was on a plateau. If conventional production starts to decline then those dynamics are going to speed up and things are going to get hot.
When there is a problem with oil supply you have to find a way of rationing it. If the oil supply has just plateaued out as it did in 2008, then you can let the free market deal with it though demand destruction. The price of oil goes up and people can’t afford it and the economy goes into recession. The problem with demand destruction is that it has the effect of psychologically masking what is going on. All people see is a recession which they blame on bankers, the 1%, globalists and the economic system etc. The fact that it was cause by a problem with oil supply is ignored.
However if there is an actual reduction in oil supply such as in 1973, then demand destruction is not going to be enough on its own. There is going to be rationing, shortage at the pumps, speed restrictions etc. The oil shortage becomes impossible to ignore and it cannot be masked. This is why the oil crisis on the 70’s had such a big affect on the culture and the economic and social policies of the 1970’s. Contrast this with the period around 2008. There was a peak oil movement, but it was only tiny and had little affect on the main stream culture. This means that there is a real possibility that limits to growth and peak oil could come back in a big way like it did in the 1970’s
I cannot be sure that this will happen. Other things may come along to mask what is really going on. This could be war, a further descent into identity politics, another great depression etc. You could say that the response to the covid pandemic has been a good way of masking what is going on. (I seem to be using the word mask quite a lot. Seems appropriate at the moment. Can’t think why.)
Jimmy D, I’d heard about the bike and bike parts shortage in the media. Good to hear from someone who’s in the industry and seeing it first-hand.
@Denis, thanks for the advice and encouragement!
I don’t know if I’ll actually get a chance to speak, or need one, or want one. Most of the opposition in town appears to be from all of the environmental groups, and this being Massachusetts, that might be enough (there are lots of “vote no” lawn signs everywhere, including on businesses). Who’s publicly in favor? So far, the Selectmen (of course, they’d get a piece of the pie somehow) and the Finance Committee (who are only doing their jobs, judging solely by whether the town’s overall finances would benefit… assuming they’re being honest and their assessment is competent).
The argument I might want to present (if multiple other people don’t say it first) is that the pro side is constantly pointing out how many additional approvals “any project” would need, to go forward. The thing is, none of those other approvals involve the town’s citizens voting on them. “How many of you here today are ON the Planning Board? The Environmental Commission? The rest of us, OUR chance to have a say is today and then it’s gone. So why do you think they want us to decide without telling us what their plan is?” (The “they think we’re stupid” part is implied.)
Eric at #242:
Check out http://oilprice.com/
RustheRook at #245
Most of the alternative energy sources are themselves largely dependent on fossil energy; they are resource extenders rather than independent alternatives. Yes, they will keep the game going, on a reduced lever for some decades, but unfortunately, the renewables aren’t just directly dependent of fossil energy, but are supported by the vast overall economy, which is overwhelmingly fossil powered. When the overall economy contracts beyond a certain point, the viability of most of the renewables will start to fade.
All this will take a century or more to play out, but I think it highly likely that after, say 500 years, after the Ruinmen of the future have depleted the large but finite amount of scrap left over from the industrial age, that the world in general will look, politically and economically like it did 500 years ago.
Continuing the electrical grid discussion, here is a (low-res) map of major transmission lines in the US and Canada:
The “grid” is not so much a giant network that can move electrons at will, but more analogous to a giant network of water pipes. The “pipes” are only as large as necessary to move the amounts of “water” expected to flow through them. Transmission capacity through a cable of a given size is proportional to voltage – though in reality it is probably closer to being proportional to the square of voltage since higher-voltage lines use larger cables or multiple parallel cables.
Note the lack of any major east-west transmission capacity, especially across Canada. For Ontario to claim BC production would require an immense infrastructure build-out, which would also be vulnerable to sabotage if it became contentious (watch the excellent Icelandic movie “Woman at War” for an idea of how this might work).
It’s also interesting to note from that article that cross-border electricity flows are more or less balanced in the Pacific Northwest, while Quebec is a major exporter to New York and New England.
With regard to e-everything: I would guess that the budding subsidized EV bubble is eventually going to lead to a generation or more of cheap used batteries, which will be increasingly repurposed to power bicycles, scooters, home renewable backups, and probably a whole set of cottage industries. Bicycles – or “velomobiles” that offer protection from the elements inside a light frame – can travel 10-20 times as far as cars using the same amount of stored energy. Unlike semiconductors which fail suddenly to useless bricks, batteries decline slowly – and often the declines are accelerated by single bad cells which can be removed with the remaining good cells reassembled into packs. We just purchased a used Prius from a local outfit that reconditions old battery packs for another five years of life, and I expect to see more outfits like that springing up. Batteries can, to a point, be revitalized, and even when they are truly dead the valuable raw materials are still there and it is much easier to recycle than to mine and refine scarce minerals. If the grid does become unstable, with periods of excess energy due to wind/solar, then I can easily envision every home investing in a small, cheap battery bank to preserve some of that power for evening lights and entertainment.
Hey, look at this article from Popular Mechanics (about fusion energy being made “viable” by 2030).
Golly, do you suppose the company is accepting new investors? 😀🤣
Great article as usual on a topic timely to return to.
I really appreciate having first learned of Peak Oil from you back on ADR. I’m not sure the exact year I started following your blog, but… I started making some changes and doing a few things here and there. They add up, even if I feel like I can be doing more. I intend to keep making changes, small or otherwise to cushion the journey down those steps of the staircase that occur in my life. As such, I’m looking forward to the series of articles you’ve hinted at in the comments.
I think the maxim “little and often” can be applied usefully to these kind of changes.
(And like so many of you other readers, the comments have been great reading!)
In one comment you mentioned a link to organized crime and the construction business. Do you have any particular sources? This is something I’m interested in reading a bit more about.
@PeterEV, it occurs to me that engineering an electric vehicle with an enclosed cabin that can cruise for a reasonably long range at, say, 35 mph, and that can be recharged for an additional 50 miles in one average day using a home rooftop solar array, is not terribly difficult. The difficulty is designing one that can coexist with traffic that’s going twice that speed. That is to say, an electric car. Such an electric car has to be a high-performance vehicle. (For ICE cars, cruising at speed is easy but fast acceleration is difficult, so a high-performance ICE car is one that can accelerate fast. For EVs, acceleration is easy but cruising at highway speeds for any distance is hard, so an electric car that can approach the cruising performance of an economy ICE car is in fact high-performance, making such vehicles elaborate, high-tech, expensive, and not much if any more sustainable than ICE cars.)
In a way, the current traffic speeds in the U.S. are an externality of the ICE industry, that forces EVs toward two extremes, the aforementioned “high performance” electric cars, and electric bikes and scooters that are terrifying (when not outright illegal) to use on any but the smallest present-day U.S. roads.
I think I’d be pretty comfortable with 30mph EV travel, if that were the speed all the traffic was going. “Long” trips would become “longer” trips (and I’d rather go by train), but most “short” trips would still be “short” trips even at half speed (many never involve highway speeds at all), and there aren’t many trips where the slowing would turn a “short” trip into a “long” one. At various times in my life I’ve had good cars, terrible cars, and no car, and when you have 20 miles to go where there’s no public transport, the difference between the best and worst car is insignificant compared to the difference between either of them and walking. Or the difference between either of them and bicycling, if it’s raining or below freezing.
It’s an old refrain here: if there were major changes instituted today (in this hypothetical case, changing to 30 or 35 mph traffic speeds everywhere), much of our present way of life could take major steps toward sustainability without drastic changes. Most housing and businesses would still be viable, for instance. But that’s just not going to happen. Well-off people aren’t going to slow down to allow less-well-off people to adapt better. Heck, you can count on being the target of seething rage if you slow one of them down even for five seconds.
Another example of the Jevons paradox is that the engines of American cars have become more efficient. They extract more energy from a gallon of fuel than ever before.But the gains have been squandered in making vehicles bigger and heavier with more power-consuming accessories.
Which makes me think — did the dinosaurs become so big because their digestion became more efficient, i.e. they managed to extract more nutrition from a mouthful of food, which enabled them to grow more massive? A biological Jevons paradox?
Re the discussion of electrification
Recall that electric utilities, and the electric industry generally, began as lighting companies. I would not be surprised to see the trajectory of the industry follow a reverse of that expansion, retreating from the present imperative to “serve any and all load” and gradually culling various uses until it’s back to where it began with “we power the lights when the sun goes down.”
Slithy Toves, that’s a useful analysis. Externalities are in fact the Achilles’ heel of economics as presently practiced because in a very large share of economic activity, the creation of wealth is included in the analysis while the destruction of wealth is dismissed as an externality and not taken into account. Like entropy, externalities in general don’t go away just because they’re not factored into an economic analysis, and they impose a downward pressure on economic activity that is ignored by today’s economists. Nor is it impossible to predict all externalities; in fact, many can be predicted, but economics addicted to the something-for-nothing fantasy of economic growth pretend that they don’t exist or don’t matter and therefore fail to deal with them.
Eric, the drop in production was largely an artifact of the virus panic — as transportation fuel use declined, the oil producing countries cut their production in order to keep prices from falling through the floor. Now that the panic is waning, production is being gradually ramped back up again; one of the big questions right now is whether it will exceed its 2019 peak. My guess is that it will, but only because the definiton of “liquid fuels” will be stretched again, to include sources that nobody would have bothered trying to burn thirty years ago.
As for a cookbook, that’s a possibility; I’m currently finishing up The Weird of Hali Cookbook, since so many people asked me for recipes for the food that features in my tentacle fiction. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that it contains Brecken Kendall’s recipe for red beans and rice.
Dashui, thanks for this! That’ll need careful attention.
RusTheRook, Germany, France, and Sweden can afford to do that because they’ve offshored so much of their industrial production to the Third World. If they had to produce all the goods and services they consume with their own energy resources, they’d be burning quite a bit of those fossil fuels themselves. Nor are renewable and nuclear energy sources viable in their present forms without an “energy subsidy” from fossil fuels — take some time one of these days to look up just how much petroleum gets burnt, for example, to build, maintain, fuel, supply, and decommission a nuclear fission plant. As for dark age conditions, it’s not energy issues that make those inevitable. Are you familiar with my theory of catabolic collapse? The decline to dark age conditions is driven by broader patterns.
Booklover, that’s an excellent point — crapification as a mechanism of exclusion.
Info23, take a look at how people exchanged information before the internet. It wasn’t that long ago!
Yorkshire, depends on the type of catabolic crisis we’re talking about. In a maintenance crisis — in which the society has a stable resource base, but has overshot that base through excessive maintenance costs of capital — that’s inevitably what happens; a lot of unproductive capital is converted to waste, allowing the available maintenance budget to be used solely for those forms of capital that are worth maintaining. In a depletion crisis — in which the society has depleted a nonrenewable resource base and so faces a growing mismatch between maintenance costs and available resources — that’s the mechanism that drives the temporary periods of stabilization, but since the resource base continues to contract, the muscle also ends up getting metabolized in its turn.
Bewilderness, that’s the one. Their “substitution method” takes into account inefficiencies in fossil fuel production but not the inefficiencies in renewable production. If you want a straightforward measure of primary energy production, gimmicks like that aren’t appropriate.
Tidlösa, that’s an excellent example!
Jessica, exactly. I hope Biden’s handlers aren’t stupid enough to do one of those — though I’m sorry to say I would not be surprised if they attempt to do both.
JeffBKLYN, no, the fantasy of peak oil demand has nothing to do with demand destruction. The claim is that renewable energy sources will become so cheap and so abundant that they will outcompete oil, causing oil production to decline because nobody wants it any more. Under demand destruction, the price of oil rises so high that many users can’t afford it and therefore stop using it. (Remember that to an economist, “demand” isn’t the desire for a product, it’s the desire for a product combined with the ability to pay for it.)
Lathechuck, good! That problem with libertarianism is more generally the problem with human economic activities in general. This discussion of zero-sum economics has been useful for me, in that it’s helped me formulate another dimension of the economics of decline; all economic activity is a way of concentrating benefits while externalizing costs — and there’s usually a time dimension involved. More on this in a future post!
Viduraawakened, this is why I consider faith in progress to be a surrogate religion. That professor was making a faith-based claim; saying that human ingenuity will bring about the wonderful world we’ve always wanted is not, all things considered, that different from faith in the Second Coming. No, I take that back; believers in the Second Coming at least place their faith in a supernatural being who can overturn natural laws, while believers in progress somehow place the same faith in something that is “human, all too human.” I’m glad to hear about the Indian railway system; maybe twenty or thirty years from now the US can hire some Indian railway experts to remind us how it’s done.
Courtinthenorth, water conservation’s worth doing too! The trick I was taught was to place a jar full of water in the tank.
Abraham, that’s a valid point. I tend to focus on supply because that’s the variable most often neglected by conventional analysis, but the role of demand destruction through price increases is also important.
Wesley, if you’ll go back to what I originally said, you’ll find that I did not say that the economy is a zero-sum game in an exact mathematical sense. You’ll find that I said that it functions more or less as a zero-sum game, in that any wealth allocated to one sector has to be diverted from another sector. I’m not sure why that has driven you into such a frenzy of quibbling. In the global economy as it presently exists, wealth creation is more or less balanced by wealth destruction; some activities within the economy produce more wealth than they destroy, while with others, it’s the reverse. If you can’t stand having the phrase “more or less zero-sum” used for that situation, would you like to recommend a different terminology?
David BTL, I’m even more glad than usual that I don’t use mass media! As for universal service directives, I’d expect them to be retained in theory, but first finessed, then redefined, and finally flatly ignored in practice.
Walt F, glad to hear it.
Scotlyn, if I can figure out the spell, I’ll let you know! 😉
RPC, thanks for this. That’s worth knowing.
Yorkshire, hah! I’m delighted to hear it.
I’ve made similar comments about Gail the Actuary to Flavius. The reason I’ve done so is because she seems to be consistently arguing for a fast collapse starting almost immediately. She’s been arguing this since the first time I looked at her blog… ten years ago.
I understand and agree with many of her arguments over the long term, but her record of predicting when and how fast stuff will slide downward is not good.
It’s much the same situation as me insisting the Vancouver housing market will crash because it’s overvalued, housing affordability is horrible, and the situation isn’t sustainable, but I’ve given up on trying to time when the crash will come because I’ve been wrong too often. Though I’ll admit that the past few months I’ve been looking at the situation of housing in Canada as a whole and wondering if this is the top of the housing market. Surely it can’t get crazier than this… unless inflation of everything, including wages, goes nuts, which is possible. So I’m not going to say ‘this is the top’.
Gail is still making the same arguments and predictions she was ten years ago, and I don’t ever remember her talking about how her previous predictions panned out. I very rarely read her blog any more because of this.
Did you know that there are popular peak oil songs outhere? I recommend a relevant soundtrack for this post 🙂
Economists alwasy say that resource depletion is a local issue, never a global one
Honestly i never tought of likes of Yergin or Lynch as stupid, they are fully aware of the truth, but they are just disingenuous politicians with obvious interests
Now the oil’s gone
And the money’s gone
All the jobs are gone
Still we’re hangin’ on…
Darkest Yorkshire at #194:
“Migrant Worker #143, I vote for the wall of text!”
Wall of text incoming!
…but first, some critique of the vision of ideal public transport network you proposed: “maximum coverage” will not be a part of it. It cannot be, in the context of shrinking economy. (You did not mention shrinking economy, but shrink it will when peak oil hits.) So I propose the following alternative: an ‘ideal’ service means that you arrive at (1) an easily accessible stop and some sort of vehicle turns up (2) promptly, and takes you (3) where you wish to go (4) quickly and (5) at a price you can afford.
Maximum coverage routes can and do exist, but by their very nature must provide substandard service as per the definition above. This is mostly because they are designed to provide service to an area rather than to people. So they necessarily must take long and/or twisting routes, which increase journey times (failing point 4), which in turn means service that is either less frequent (failing point 2) or expensive to provide (failing point 5), while the focus on covering an area also introduces great scope for sacrificing point 3. (But at least the coverage goal is fundamentally compatible with point 1.) This type of service will be the first to go in a crisis: compare the Beeching cuts – which happened during the notionally good times, i.e. it was just the British Rail which was struggling.
The ‘ideal’ service, on the other hand, would follow major streets within cities and reach from the city centre to the edge of continuous urbanisation. Those relatively short and direct routes running over higher-capacity roads can be traversed quickly (point 4 met), meaning that a frequent service (point 2 met) can be provided with fewer vehicles, i.e. cheaply (point 5 met), and the city centre attracts people at all times of day, evening, weekday and weekend (point 3 met). And since many businesses also locate themselves along major streets, they would already want to be accessible for other reasons (point 1 met). So the public transport that survives has every reason to be good, and I dare say a potential to be even better than today’s.
And with that of the way, the wall of text proper can now begin… 😉
Darkest Yorkshire at #194 continued:
To see how many buses such a star-shaped transport network would need, it’s good to look at a specific example. So I present the city of Leeds, which I am familiar with due to living there (and I gather you too may be familiar with it). Leeds’s continuous urbanisation area has a population of some 450,000, and a geography which supports 9-10 frequent service lines radiating out of the city centre. The edge of the urbanisation area is generally just less than 30 minutes away from the city centre by bus. This is important, because it means that a bus can go from the edge of the city to the centre and back within 1 hour, which is very convenient for calculating how many buses would need to ply the same route to ensure sufficient frequency (i.e. point 2 from the previous response). In peak time, a popular route may have a bus every 10 minutes or even more frequently, which in our case would translate into 6 or more buses running the same route; outside of peak time, a bus every 15 minutes (i.e. 4 buses per route) is still frequent enough that you do not have to organise your time around the bus schedule. Averaged over the week, this may work out to an equivalent of 5-6 buses running simultaneously, per line. The same calculations would apply just as well to other vehicle types.
So Leeds with its 450,000 inhabitants would require 50-60 bus-equivalents for its main public transport network. On top of that it may have some specialised routes which only run at certain times (e.g. a line through an industrial estate, which only runs around the shift start/end times), or with lower level of service (e.g. to a part of the city not populous enough to merit a full-blown ‘ideal’ service, but still populous enough to support some service). Put together, this may amount to 70-90 bus-equivalents.
The buses in Leeds seem to cover around 50,000 miles, or 80,000 km, per year (source: I sneaked a peak at many a bus odometer, and the UK’s number plates clearly display the year when a vehicle was registered and thus its age). This figure seems to hold for different bus lines and also for different ages of buses, which suggests that it has been stable for some time now.
London double-decker buses apparently do 6-7 miles per gallon, or 40-45 litres per 100 km; smaller buses do not actually consume that much less fuel, since with frequent starts the fuel consumption is mostly driven by the total weight, and most of the double-decker’s additional volume consists of air. If we assume 40l/100 km (i.e. 7 mpg) on average, then 50,000 miles requires just over 7000 gallons, or 32,000 litres of diesel per bus, per year. This diesel is made out of crude oil, but only about 25% of oil can be made into diesel – so to get 32,000 liters of diesel, you would need 128,000 liters of crude oil; which corresponds to 800 barrels per year, which in turn translates into some 2.2 barrels of crude oil per day, per bus.
So to fuel those 70-90 bus-equivalents that Leeds is supposed to have, you would need 150-200 barrels of crude oil per day.
In other cities, the fuel requirement would scale with the size of the city – but not exactly linearly: a city twice the population would need not quite twice as much fuel for its buses. Correspondingly, a city half the population would need a bit more than half as much fuel. If we assume that the estimated fuel requirement for Leeds is exactly average throughout Great Britain, then we can extrapolate that the half of Britain’s population living in towns and cities big enough to support frequent public transport, numbering in total some 33,000,000, would require 20,000-30,000 barrels of oil per day for that purpose. The UK consumed some 1.5 million barrels per day throughout the 2010s, so this proposed public transport requires up to 2% of that amount.
Electric buses (aka trolleybuses) use about 2kWh of electricity per km, or 3 kWh per mile, or 25-50 kWh per hour; trams may actually use slightly less. But unlike diesel buses, they both have to receive power continuously; in other words, you need generation capacity big enough to move the maximum number of vehicles that you expect to be in service at the same time. During peak time in Leeds, you may have 8? 10? vehicles per line, 70-90 vehicles on the main routes simultaneously, and half? as much again on the secondary routes for a total of 100-130 vehicles taking a total of 3000-6000 kWh per hour, which implies 3-6 MW of power generation capacity. Extrapolated to the whole of UK, it becomes 220-450 MW. This is up to 0.5% of the current UK peak demand of some 50 GW.
Speaking of Twilight’s Last Gleaming, has anyone else noticed the flood of articles about how China might try to force the Taiwan issue now? This looks suspiciously like laying the groundwork for an attack: by flooding the media with claims China is about to act, when the US does something to provoke them then they can say “We warned you China might be about to do something!”
Also, on the topic of stealing electricity from other provinces to keep the lights on in Ontario, I think this won’t happen for a while, if ever. Quebec generates more electricity than they can use, so they have tried desperately to convince Ontario to buy their electricity, even going so far as to negotiate with individual municipalities. The government of Ontario has always blocked it, so I think our high electricity prices are a policy choice.
So the issue of alienating Quebec is still there (the principal of “The federal government cannot determine how we use our electricity!”), but the biggest beneficiary, Ontario, could get the same result without the federal government intervening, and so would likely be annoyed that their policy choices are being overruled. The entire thing would be a total mess….
JMG the ideea of economy as a zero sum games realy a lot of sense, my opinion.
The ridiculous notion of ”developing” vs. ”developed” nations. In a perfect world one day the DR of the Congo will pe as ”developed” as Japan. That thing…will…never…ever…happen…Maybe Japan will come down to the level of the Congo?…more plausible.
Interesting set of comments here on the rising risk of warlike conflict with Iran, Russia and China. I agree that the outcome of any such misadventure is likely to be catastrophic for the US. The bully gets an ass-whuppin’ right in front of everybody!
Numerous comments about Iran have highlighted the folly of attacking/invading that nation, and let’s not forget the assassination of Soleimani just 15 months ago. In response, Iran gave advance warning to avoid casualties and then retaliated with precision missile strikes. They’ve likely acquired the Russian hypersonic missile technology from which, at least from what I’ve learned, the US has no defense.
I keep recalling the image you left us with in your post on the Biden inauguration chart, something about face first into a buzzsaw. Big oil price spike and an outright military defeat…twin blades! I hope it won’t go down that way but the possibilities are not remote.
JMG – re: “… distinctly suspicious of claims … that solar and wind power have become the cheapest source of grid electricity… in fact utility companies are expanding their solar and wind plants in a much more cautious way…”
While it’s true that some renewables are installed only for portfolio standards or subsidy reasons – in those locales where people are free to add renewables based on “rational” economic decisions, the new-build share for renewables is quite large.
In the US, we find the actual history for 2019 in this EIA “today in energy” post:
Wind and natural gas-fired generators led U.S. power sector capacity additions in 2019
Solar was 3rd, and coal – basically gone.
Partial history for 2020 is down at “Capacity Additions” in:
(unfortunately the latest report Islandboy has put out).
Solar, Wind, and gas dominate – actual additions to capacity year-to-date.
In the forecast for 2021, wind and solar dominate natural gas, which is still ahead of batteries, 1 nuclear plant is planned to start, and coal is gone.
Renewables account for most new U.S. electricity generating capacity in 2021
Note that when older plants wear out, there are limits in the ability to keep them running economically, so replacements must be built _now_ for 30 year old coal, oil and gas thermal plants.
And as the EIA reports show, in the U.S. those replacements are now mostly renewables.
There’s some recent U.S. history in graph down in:
Hasn’t been a visible coal plant built since 2014, wind/solar/gas never less than 94% additions since.
Solar was 4% in 2010, 40% in 2019/2020 YTD.
Given the low installed base of renewables currently, on the global graph you showed, it doesn’t look all that significant – yet. But in certain locales, like U.S. and U.K., renewables are killing coal and giving natural gas a serious run for the money.
If you go to the ourworldindata chart that Bewilderness linked to:
(the “time=” html variable seems to be what causes it to be a bar chart)
and grab the circle on the timeline and toggle back to 2018 from 2019, one can see how much renewables grew – globally – in just one year.
Several US states now get significant amounts of their electricity from wind – Iowa 58%, Kansas 43%:
The United States installed more wind turbine capacity in 2020 than in any other year
Note that in places like Russia and Poland, politics is a significant barrier to renewables.
Multiple sources provide data/analysis as to the falling costs of wind and solar and their competitiveness – without subsidies – in many places. (remember: all renewables are site specific).
Actual installed prices for solar:
Data plus modelling and analysis, with some global numbers for costs of all power sources:
Now, having said the above, the question is: are renewables going to totally replace the energy use from current coal/oil/gas in the future, or will there be a decline in world-wide human energy use?
Hard to make predictions, especially about the future, but given economic decline caused by:
* political machinations
* large costs imposed by climate destabilization
* increased food costs caused by the loss of cheap natural gas based fertilizer (good point you made about Catton’s “ghost acreage”!)
I think that world-wide human energy use will decline, though large amounts of renewables will be deployed and even maintained. And that the amount of available (renewable) energy will vary wildly by locale, both for physical geography reasons and politics/culture.
David, by the lake says:
“Re the discussion of electrification
Recall that electric utilities, and the electric industry generally, began as lighting companies.”
Where I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s, the electric utility was called “United Illuminating”. I think they may even have started out distributing coal gas for lighting. At some point they changed the name to “Connecticut Light and Power”.
Neptunesdolphins, thanks for this. Business as usual, in other words.
Phutatorius, how do you see a government-controlled market doing any better? The Soviet Union overshot its resource base too, you know.
Brian, two good points. I based the attack on the US carrier group in Twilight’s Last Gleaming in part on Iranian tactics, for what it’s worth.
Patricia M, thanks for this. Yes — and yes, we have…
Jasmine, conventional oil production has been declining since 2005. All the increase since then has been in unconventional oil. The peak oilers — me among them, early on — failed to pay adequate attention to the way that more liquid fuels can be found, so long as you’re willing to throw the rest of the economy under the bus! As I see it, the difference between the 1970s and 2008 is that in the 1970s, governments admitted (for a while) that there was an energy crisis; in 2008, they refused to do so, and some of the craziness since then has been driven by the pretense that everything’s fine, when it’s not.
Courtinthenorth, funny. Thanks for this.
Justin, “little and often” is a good approach. As for the role of organized crime in the construction industry, any good book on the Mafia will fill you in on that.
Martin, an excellent point!
David BTL, I could definitely see that.
Paleobear, I’ve had at least two albums and a modern dance performance inspired by my writings on peak oil!
Mollari, yes, I’ve been noticing that.
Paleobear, I like to refer to Japan as one of the overdeveloped nations…
Jim W, that’s one of the scenarios I’m pondering.
Sunnnv, wind and solar adoption in the US is being heavily pushed for political reasons, and coal is being phased out for similar reasons. We’ll see whether that continues.
@ Bob #195 re number of solar panels to power a car.
The fallacy in your reasoning is that you assume peak power continuously, where in the real world cars spend a lot of time idling, coasting, braking (and EVs use regenerative braking), and peak power is only used for accelerating (and often not full peak power).
As PeterEV points out, real-world EV power use is in the range of 200 – 400 watt-hours per mile.
If you figure it, based on the average daily drive of something like 26 miles per day,
that’s only 5.2 to 10.4 kWh. Doesn’t take that big a system to make that – a couple kWp.
Are you aware of the “cruiser class” vehicles from the World Solar Challenge?
Basically a solar power family car – powered by the cells on its body.
@ Mollari – thank you for your comment on ways of opening conversations out into possibility space, instead of closing them down into entrenched battle lines…. 🙂 I appreciate it, and it sounds doable.
What the datasheet that RPC linked to says is that TI’s industrial series chips are rated for a low-single-digit failure rate after ten years of 24/7 operation with internal temperatures of 105 C, and if you want them to last longer, every 10 C drop will double the lifespan.
With circuit boards it is very rarely the semiconductors that go, it is the solder joints themselves (especially stuff from the early days of lead-free) and the capacitors (especially Chinese-made ones from the 00’s).
It is the same for LEDs, cheap lights will drive the LEDs hard to achieve a low purchase price, but the higher temperatures and currents wear out the diodes faster. The royal whatevers of Dubai commissioned Phillips to make a special edition long-lasting LED bulbs:
An even better design would be to bond the LEDs to a hunk of aluminum to keep them passively cool.
Regarding the longevity of home solar PV equipment, I’ve been looking at off-grid solar PV on and off for years, and I’ve held off on it so far, because it appears to be an extravagance. That is to say, it would probably never in my lifetime achieve a net price per kWh lower than the grid cost (though as you’ve pointed out, it may become more reliable in the much shorter run).
On the other hand, a big nickel-iron storage battery could become quite the treasure to pass along, by right around the time I’d be passing it along. They last for generations. They’re also bulky and heavy, which is (as you’ve pointed out at times) a desirable characteristic for something valuable.
With such a system, I’d be paying more for less electricity, via equipment that I’d also have to maintain myself. So even though the idea sounds uncomfortably close to “shop your way to saving the planet,” it also sounds a bit like collapsing now to avoid the rush. Longevity of the other components remains an issue, but a robust battery would still be useful in a more primitive system, adaptable to other components, including homemade ones.
@ CR Patiño – I am really, really grateful for your four incredibly thoughtful posts. There is a great deal there to chew over, and also, I appreciate that you put some thought and energy into doing so. (in particular the observation of the differing views of credit between Mexico and the US is of huge interest!)
However, I am not certain how your post relates to my question, which is primarily about politics – and about how one discusses specific policies with other people. You may have zoned on the tangentially related question of “how we got rich people in the first place”…. 😉 (Although, since all of your examples are drawn from employer/employee relationships, I am not sure you are really talking about rich people. per se, more about a successful class of employers – not at all the same thing).
My question arises from JMG’s observation that it is US government policy to make sure that rich people (once you have them) STAY rich. That is to say, it is a government that is not going to wait until employers and employees have sat down and traded, however loaded the dice may be in those negotiations. It is simply going to orient all of its governing policies towards ensuring those already rich stay rich. (regardless of ANY kind of value).
And I oberve that one aspect to this policy is a most strongly defended narrative “wall” which relies on the concept of “property rights”. Since property rights are widely believed to be the foundation of personal freedom, no one who values personal freedom is prepared to countenance the least threat to property rights. This means that if the continued political decision to ensure that rich people stay rich can cloak itself under some notion of the need to protect their “property rights” (and, by inference, it is hoped, your own) from threat, then the whole populace will somehow gather around the defense of this policy aim, which, when it comes down to it, only benefits a very small proportion of that avidly defending populace, and carries real, but somehow disregarded costs for the rest of it.
@ JMG – thank you for explaining that the money “printing” does not entail actual control of the creation of money – which I had always assumed was what was being talked about – and also what differentiated countries with economic sovereignty, like the US, and countries without economic sovereignty, like Ireland within the Eurozone.
Ireland cannot create money, so it must borrow it. For a country to borrow money entails granting a creditor a claim upon the country’s national wealth, which should by right, belong to its national citizens.
I had not looked into this issue much until the crisis of 2008, which resulted in a 10 to 15-fold increase in Ireland’s endebtedness – ie a 10 to 15-fold increase in the weight given to the interests of creditors in the governance of the nation and the management of its resources.
A creditor can make demands using the “protection of their investment” rationale. For example, for so long as I am paying off a mortgage (which I do expect to have done with during the next 12-14 months – yay!), I must also buy house insurance and life insurance – two extra costs I might not otherwise take an interest in.
During the crisis of 2008 and succeeding years it became clear that Ireland’s “policy” and budgeting hands were largely circumscribed by the increasing number and weight of creditors with an interest in protecting their “investment” in this country.
I had naively assumed that a country which retained its economic sovereignty, like the US, would never put itself, its people, or its economy, into the hands or power of creditors, whose claims upon its policies might skew its vision of itself and its interests.
On the other hand, the fact that the US, just like Ireland, has done so, may also explain its policy preference for ensuring the rich stay rich.
I think I am getting a better understanding of the point you are trying to make – i.e. some variant of the TANSTAAFL principle: everything has got to be paid for by somebody with resources that could have been be used for something else, and the propagandists who do their best to cover up wealth destruction and make wealth rearrangement look like wealth creation are selling us a bill of goods.
I objected to the phrase “zero sum game” because, in the plain meaning of that term, a zero sum game is a game in which any action that benefits some players will have an equal negative effect on the other players.
The problem with this sentiment is that it isn’t true, and the challenge of our time consists largely of sorting out the positive sum responses to economic challenges from the zero sum and negative sum ones, and figuring out how to create modest but real amounts of material wealth with minimal externalities. (If I understand correctly, your novel Retrotopia is about a society that succesfully did this).
Honestly, I do not know of any simple term for an economy in which a great deal of propaganda is employed to hide externalities and make it look like wealth creation happens in a vacuum. I don’t disagree with your thesis that this is the kind of economy we live in. The reason I feel so strongly about the wrongness of calling it “more or less a zero sum game” is because in the real world, unlike in zero sum games, people frequently have a chance to choose between different methods of procuring the same good or service, of which some methods carry much larger externalities than others.
RPC – That document from Texas Instruments looks like it’s mostly intended to remind engineers to keep their chips cool (that is, below 105 degrees C). That’s the benchmark temperature, for 10 year life, but later I see that reducing the temp just to 90 deg C doubles the life-time! Successive reductions in temperature give greater gains. Keep it as cool as 65C, and it should last 130 years! (Those are internal temperatures, by the way, much warmer than the air around them.)
As an electronics engineer (some times), I was stunned to see expected lifetime figures for capacitors at merely 2000 hours, when running around 100C. Your micro-electronics might be fine, but if the capacitors in the power supply fail, the device fails. Again, though, temperature makes a tremendous difference. The current equilibrium of air-conditioning expense, computer life-time, and performance can shift toward longer lifetimes if there’s no performance gain to be had by replacing the hardware. Many ten-year old devices are useless, not because they’re worn out, but just because their original level of performance is “unacceptable”… to people with money/debt.
My first thought on considering the zero-sum question is, the whole economy can’t possibly be zero-sum, because if it weren’t there, almost all of us would promptly starve. Not starving has to be a net positive…
But that depends on whether one is reckoning the “sum” from an individual or collective point of view. The counter-argument is that it’s the high population that the economy made possible in the first place that would cause the starvation. If we were a few million scattered knowledgeable hunter-gatherers instead, and I happened to be one of them, then chances are I’d be just as (or more) happy in my life, without the modern economy. But do seven billion hypothetical other people figure in?
The zero sum can result very simply from a sort of Malthusian tautology, provided that one values each cell in the petri dish the same as one values the nutrients the cell consumes. (Which even makes sense. Unused nutrients represent the potential for a future cell to exist for a time.) In that case the cell culture must remain zero sum, regardless of whether each cell is an individual bacterium or a part of an organism whose complex functioning represents (in the analogy) an economy.
But, how to correctly value present lives is the rock where moral philosophy always (as far as I can tell) runs aground. Moral theories either assign a value arbitrarily that cannot be justified, or they spin themselves into the Outer Darkness trying to avoid the question. For the present question, without assigning such a value, we cannot hope to compute or compare sums.
Still, I have a vague sense that the question is one or two important thoughts away from yielding up some useful insight.
it is much easier to recycle than to mine and refine scarce minerals
It’s hard for me to believe that mining a landfill would be dirtier or harder
It is much, much harder to recycle, otherwise that would be the obvious economic choice for companies to pursue. Recycling is like renewable energy — great in concept, lousy in practice. It’s akin to trying to extract raw wheat out of a meatloaf.
I don’t get why refitting the grid is seen as hard.
it’s not so much refitting as rebuilding at least 3x bigger, and the refit itself would use more rare minerals and fossil fuels than the effort would justify. Germany & Australia are already realizing this, and California’s willful ignorance will further prove it. Gail Tverberg has documented this extensively.
The best option I’ve heard to date is abandoning the grid and dramatically decentralizing power generation, but that’s a topic for another day.
Today I live near Intel’s Ronler Acres chip factory where its newest fab ( D1x mod 3) is being constructed
One thing the elite may not fully appreciate is that all the toys go away regardless of how much money they retain. A new fab plant simply isn’t economic if there aren’t billions of people buying smartphones, computers, automobiles and everything else that absolutely depend upon cheap semiconductors.
Scotlyn, you’re welcome. The US hasn’t put its economic sovereignty into the hands of another nation; it’s put its economic sovereignty into the hands of an unelected bureaucracy controlled by the very rich and answerable to nobody else. If this reminds you of the EU, why, yes, it reminds me of the same thing.
Wesley, this is really remarkable. Every time I try to explain what I’m talking about, you proceed to tie yourself into a pretzel trying to redefine it into something I didn’t say and didn’t mean, and I’m not sure why. At this point I don’t think there’s any point in my continuing to make the effort, so I’ll simply shake my head and talk to those people who seem to be able to pay attention to what I’m saying.
Walt, good. I’m not trying to value human lives; that belongs to moral philosophy, not to economics. I’m pointing out that economic activity of all kinds always involves the destruction of wealth as well as the creation of wealth — “wealth,” in this case, defined broadly as anything human beings need or want enough to pay for — and on average, in general, with wobbles to either side of the midline, at this stage in economic history, the amount of wealth created and the amount of wealth destroyed by the economy as a whole (not, as Wesley keeps trying to insist, in every individual transaction!) strikes a rough balance. That’s the most common condition of human economies, though it’s not inevitable; there are periods of expansion of wealth in which creation exceeds destruction (usually because new resources have become available) and periods of contraction in which destruction exceeds expansion — but those are exceptions, and we’re not in one of them at present. That means, to cycle back yet again to the original point, that in order to pour an ever-expanding flow of resources into producing more liquid fuel, other economic sectors are being deprived of the resources they need to function.
However I have encountered people who will tell you that for the US to do anything OTHER than allow the rich to stay rich, would require the US to violate their property rights
Can you elaborate on that argument because I just don’t see that being the case. Most of the wealth these days is paper wealth that can disappear just as quickly as it appeared without attacking anyone’s property rights.
Isn’t all this leading up to peak protect the elite? 😀
Folks, I don’t think TOD is going to make a comeback. 1) everybody has moved on and been burned by being ignored and missing shale O&G; 2) i fully expect, with the media even more tightly controlled these days and the shaming taking place amongst the hoi polloi that it would fall flat; 3) everything that can be said was pretty much said back in the TOD days – we are just farther down the backside of Hubberts Curve.
You might go to Gail Tverbergs site for some updates on the effects of things going on today, along with Art Berman. I’m basically done, waiting for conventional oil to make a comeback in several years, after the price spike and the follow-on degeneration of things. We need $100/BBL oil in order for getting it out of the ground to make sense, so that has to stick and people will just have to suck it up and accept that things are no longer cheap to move. When the Saudis finally admit that Ghawar is toast, that might be enough to make it stick. Re-opening of Keystone will likely be a sign as well that higher prices are not going away. Likewise Amazon collecting more for freight – all points in the compass.
Long term, if someone gets control of the levers that has foresight (considering our managerial class, I am NOT hopeful until the next gen arises, because sh&t floats…), we could get rail back across the country. But so much was simply ripped out of the ground back decades ago. Who knows, but it is the best way to move goods reliably across our large country, just as in Russia. Trolleys ought to make a comeback, or something similar, in cities. But it is unlikely to happen before I am turned to worm dirt.
I would suggest to everyone to get after those 3-wheel motorcycles and similar things with gas prices due to climb. I am looking for one of those little 4-banger Daihatsu utility trucks to sub for the 7.3L turbo F-250 – makes more sense for little trips. But divest yourself of guzzlers and buy a sipper – even if the ladies don’t find them sexy and they don’t have a giant LED screen built into the dashboard.
We got our permit to grow castor beans – so we will have a bio-diesel source. Will plant them this summer. Everyone ought to keep a weather eyes on the sunspot activity – many scientist types are looking at a pitiful solar cycle, and as of today we are about 12 degrees below normal temp here at our farm. Good thing the greenhouse is going in soon.
The concatenation of Covid craziness, climbing oil prices and cooler weather is going to force food prices to continue upwards – change you leisure activity and learn to enjoy fish, squirrel and wild hog. The fertilizer costs for everything are already climbing as well. We will be making a trip to pick up cow pies and compost them into a yummy soup – because they are free from the ranch across the road.
I hope your readers pay attention JMG, because there are so many swans circling the skies – they all look black when viewed from below too! Help and be kind to your neighbors – it’s important to help them and pitch in – because there but for the grace of God(s), go you.
Looking forward to some prognostications this year, because things will be changing faster and faster. And I will not throw stones at you if you are wrong – LOL
Hi John Michael,
Just for your interest, I have a lot of electric powered machines on the farm which can tap into the solar power. However, a household mains powered machine can provide at best about 2.5 horsepower output, whereas a small fossil fuel powered engine can be anything from 5.5 horsepower upwards. The difference is quite astounding, and I’ve long since been dubious of electric vehicles. Sure they’ll work, but how many of the things can be charged – and at what cost to the stability of the grid – is a more important question than it first seems.
One of the interesting things about Jeavons Paradox is that as engine technology was refined over the past few decades, the gains have been absorbed by constructing ever larger vehicles. During the gas crisis of the 1970’s, which didn’t really affect Australia greatly because the Bass Strait oil fields came online (lucky coincidence? Dunno), but even so fuel was expensive and the vehicles were much smaller than the behemoths constructed nowadays. My mum used to drive a Mini Moke for example which was a seriously small and light weight car. But basically engines are much the same as they were half a century ago, albeit utilising more refined machine tolerances, exotic materials and fuel delivery systems.
Sorry I digress, over the past few years I’ve begun adding fuel stabiliser to the stuff formerly known as fuel (petrol / gas), because the stuff goes ‘off’ quickly if stored for any length of time. Hmm. The internal guts of small engines and more correctly the fuel delivery systems are the components becoming gummed up with sticky gunk which is a side effect of the more unusual additives chucked into the stuff formerly known as fuel. And I steer clear of Ethanol based fuels where they are advertised.
Anyway, I agree with you – anything that can burn will be chucked into the system to burn up until the point where we will no longer be able to do so.
So noted. Just to make it clear again to anyone who’s been following along, I actually agree with your larger point about wealth creation and wealth destruction roughly balancing out. If a continued lexicographic dispute over the proper use of the phrase “zero sum game” seems pointless to you, I am content to let the matter rest.
>>it occurs to me that engineering an electric vehicle with an enclosed cabin that can cruise for a reasonably long range at, say, 35 mph, and that can be recharged for an additional 50 miles in one average day using a home rooftop solar array, is not terribly difficult. <> an electric car that can approach the cruising performance of an economy ICE car is in fact high-performance, making such vehicles elaborate, high-tech, expensive, and not much if any more sustainable than ICE cars. <> acceleration is easy but cruising at highway speeds for any distance is hard…<<
Nonsense. I travel on Interstates periodically and have no problems even going up mountains. I prefer an EV to an ICE; smoother, quieter. With a range of over 300 miles, we find the need to stop after 5 hours or so on the road. When we do, its at a Supercharger station. I pull in, plug in, the system recognizes my vehicle and begins to recharge. We go to the rest rooms, order meals, bring them back to the car, eat, talk, take our refuse out, unplug, and off we go again. It's a different paradigm.
My wife and I did discuss all the ICE's pulling in, refueling and then going on their way. There is no way, that Supercharger station could accommodate all those vehicles as EVs in the time we were there. Something has to give. I agree with you there.
More recharge units per Supercharger station? How would we generate all that electricity, especially in winter? How much would have to be stored in batteries? Would the electricity be drawn from home semi-autonomous panel/battery units? To me, its mind boggling. Your idea of local travel vs distant travel by train makes sense.
I loved the Boston area with its mass transit. I found very little need for a car.
If the next downward step of catabolic collapse along the Long Descent results in a section of the population being cut out of being able to consume resources in the way they had been doing so, at what point does maintaining the infrastructure of a high-technology industrial society for a smaller section of the population become unviable?
For example, how easy is it going to be to justify spending money on the roads, if motoring was no longer a mass activity but only something indulged in by a small minority that could still afford it?
Similarly the economics of air travel, the large airports that developed in an age of mass air travel now having to be maintained on a much smaller passenger base.
The same economics of the network effect that made it make sense to invest in a particular technology on the upward phase, could work in reverse in a major downward shift, as the fixed costs of the infrastructure fall on a smaller customer base.
Hmm. Mate, your estimate of a 20 to 30 years lifespan is overly optimistic. My system which has been in continuous operation for 12 years now, probably owes me about $65k (possibly more than that). For three weeks either side of the winter solstice when the sun is low in the sky, the system averages about 1 hour of sunlight. Some days it is less than 15 minutes, and being off grid you have to have a system which copes with such days. There are 42 panels installed now and they can produce about 8kW max output and so on those winter days I get to enjoy maybe 8kWh for the day. This is a fraction of what the average household expects to use, and it would barely move an electric vehicle far. It’s good enough for me though.
The most electricity I’ve used over the past dozen years in any one day is about 16kWh which again is still a fraction of what the average household expects to use.
And as to lifespan, last year I had to drop $20k (of that $65) into the system to upgrade the inverter, the system voltage and replace the batteries. The replacement batteries might last 20 years, maybe. Nobody really knows how long they’ll last until they fail as much depends upon the user and the conditions the batteries are stored in. And batteries are a very old and mature technology, and I tell you this: The more you use them, the faster they’ll fail. So you can have capacity, but if you use it, the costs will add up.
And as the years go on, the output from the panels decline, and the capacity of the batteries reduces (markedly).
Theoretically, say the system runs the full 30 years. I chucked in $65k for the cost, so that works out to $2k per year for the meagre quantity of electricity I get to enjoy. From an economic perspective, it’s bonkers and makes no sense whatsoever. And at the end of that time, I have to pay the amount all over again to replace the worn out components. I wouldn’t bet the farm on this technology. No way.
I’m off grid. But the mains grid down here has the highest up take of roof grid-tied systems anywhere on the planet. And the system is not coping as the voltages are rising on the house side of the transformers and the frequency is not as stable as it once was. One option being suggested seriously is to switch off grid tied systems where they are causing voltage spike related faults. It’s a mess.
With reference to planned obsolescence, german has a word, murks, that means something along the lines of shoddy, badly-designed junk.
There’s an interesting organization working on issues of planned obsolescence. http://murks-nein-danke.de/ Unfortunately, it’s in german.
WaltF: My sister in law was involved a successful attempt to disallow installation of a ship breaking facility on the OR coast. She did research on the company’s previous behavior and found that 1. they did NOT hire locals but brought in non English speaking labor, and 2. despite promises, they did nothing to clean up their waste. I don’t know if that can help with your developer, but you might want to find out what else they have built. They might be promising one thing publicly in meetings–lots of jobs, no effect on local rents–and telling rich landowners something else altogether. As in the people we bring in are going to need housing, you can really clean up here.
I’ve contemplated this essay for the past couple of days and I’m at an impasse. Why would any member or group of the elite choose to ignore peak oil? Once you accept the reality of the situation the number of strategic and tactical options available to maintain your power simply explode, why continue competing to control a decaying empire when you can break off and build your own kingdom? Maybe I’m just thinking about this as a guy who was trained to be part of the elite’s security apparatus, but clinging to the belief of business as usual just doesn’t make sense if accepting the reality opens the options to getting exactly what you want. I’m at a loss.
Also here is my second essay on India:
JMG, thirty years ago I worked for a very large real estate company. As you may remember that era was rife with high-profile real estate bankruptcies and “restructurings”. What I noticed in that business was a mulish refusal to reconsider and reevaluate assumptions even in the face of the most obvious evidence contradicting what everyone “knows” to be true. Instead, the higher up the management food-chain you went, the more stubborn the defense of the indefensible. And it wasn’t just upper management, the trait was widespread. In the end creditors put the company out of their misery. I don’t know that you can apply that observation to an entire society or economy but it seems that there’s an inherent will to stay on well-rutted thought-paths, maybe out of laziness, or maybe out of fear of being wrong (ie if something worked in the past it must be right), or fear of being the odd man out, or a natural conservatism. But it seems that there’s a fair bit of that evident today whether the issue is the calamity of globalization or depletion of usable oil or take your pick.
Creditors don’t want to put the company out of business, right? That was the claim. Everyone said it. Real estate always goes up right? Maybe sometimes. But sometimes you take a hiding and you never recover your money. But never mind what history says, people get stuck in a group-think mind-set and even if the group is going over the cliff, they’ll go along with the group.
“Agreed. No argument here. Do you have any suggestions of how to hide in plain sight? Given that many of us won’t be able to pick up sticks and move.”
Sorry I missed your comment. I use the search bar to skip ahead so I don’t have to reread the whole thread again.
Anyways. I think one thing is that as JMG said. Embracing a certain level of poverty. And keeping a low profile. Practicing operational security(I recommend using the search bar for that). Refrain from putting anything identifiers on the Internet for example.
I am still figuring that sort of thing out myself so I have nothing more to offer you in terms of advice.
I don’t know if there are grasslands that would support a pastoral lifestyle. But becoming nomads that manage sheep and goat flocks. Moving pasture to pasture is a possibility perhaps.
Make it easier to move once you get moving.
It is nice they are up-front and tell you that their chips are only intended for 10 years of use :).
In most chip manufacturing, the modifications needed for greater reliability are simply larger feature sizes (fewer and slower transistors per chip) and lower operating temperature (lower clock speeds). So if customers start demanding reliability, chips become available that meet the necessary lifespan, but with lower capabilities. In a certain sense, microelectronics have been amazing reliable. My 1981 TRS-80 color computer that I learned to program on still works…at 1.7MHz and upgraded from 16k to 64 k of RAM , but they don’t make things like they used to :).
Since there is interest in the Western Interconnect, I can recommend the excellent paper “Bonneville Power Administration and the Creation of the Pacific Intertie, 1958 -1964” by Joshua Binus:
Joshua Binus now works for BPA. He has an excellent internal presentation for BPA employees. I asked him to make it available on Youtube, but there were some copyright barriers or something to doing this. If he gets that sorted and makes it available to the public on Youtube, I will post a link here at an appropriate time. He has some other Youtube videos available for the public. I have not watched them, but I would say they might be worth checking out. Use the Search terms “Q4 Northwest Electric Power Landscape Exploration” on Youtube.
@ Stuart Cram (Post #206)
There are something like half a dozen to a dozen HVDC back-to-back stations that link the western and eastern power grids in North America. They are pretty weak connections. There are a similar number that link the relatively small ERCOT (Texas) power grid to the rest of North America. Transfer of large amounts of power across these boundaries would require large HVDC lines. AC lines would be substantially more difficult, since that would involve synchronizing the grids across large distances and it would be difficult to maintain stability.
Migrant Worker–on mass transit. You seem to have improved on my formulation of a couple of decades ago. I observed that transit companies seemed to spend a lot of money and time on advertising campaigns to urge people to use mass transit rather than private autos. But it seemed to me that they ignored the real reasons that people were reluctant to do so. I summed it up as follows. Public transit needs to 1) get you where you need to go 2) when you need to get there) 3 RELIABLY. The later figured in when I lived for a year near the top of Twin Peaks in San Francisco. I could easily reach most places where I was likely to work in a reasonable amount of time on weekdays. Most of the people in the neighborhood worked downtown, including the mayor, who lived a few blocks away. (not that the mayor rode the Muni–as if). But on weekends the bus was unreliable. If a driver didn’t show up for the 8am run there was no replacement, that bus just didn’t run and you waited for the next scheduled bus. Since the schedule was reduced on weekends it might be an hour before the next. I figured out that they could get away with that because on weekends most of the citizens were either staying home or using their autos to go shopping or to the park or out of town. So during the time I had a Saturday job in the south of Market area I had to allow extra time in case the bus was a no show. I was leaving for my job an hour and a half earlier than I needed to be there.
I also experience lack of reliability in Sacramento: part of my commute home was a bus that regularly failed to make the connection to my last link, which was also the last bus of the day on that route. Had to keep calling my mother to come get me
When I lived in Reno, NV I observed that the city bus service seemed to be better than in some other places I lived. I surmise that it is in the interest of the casinos that their low paid workers be able to get to and from work and that they may exert some influence to that effect on the city government.
As for price, I have been living in the Sacramento area and the fares are, to my mind, ridiculous–not even free transfers and service from the suburbs to downtown is concentrated on the morning and evening commute. Some lines run only twice downtown in the morning and twice returning in the evening. The rest of the day you are out of luck. When I visited Los Angeles I was amazed to find that I could ride from Santa Monica to the far side of downtown LA for less than half the distance cost in Sacramento, even less if I rode during non -commute hours. In others words, notoriously car centric LA actually has a better transit system than the state capital. Of course the idea that mass transit should pay its way rather than be regarded as a public utility stands in the way of reasonable fares.
Transportation between cities and towns is even worse. Continental Trailways bus line went out of business decades ago. Greyhound has reduced its schedules and coverage. Amtrak is utterly inadequate, even supplemented with buses. Without a car you are stuck.
The Elite derive their power from those who are loyal to them and their capabilities. The Elite aren’t going to be very Elite if people simply ignored their orders.
“As I see it, the difference between the 1970s and 2008 is that in the 1970s, governments admitted (for a while) that there was an energy crisis; in 2008, they refused to do so, and some of the craziness since then has been driven by the pretense that everything’s fine, when it’s not.”
I was trying to figure out why, if the fear of viruses linked to energy crises, the AIDS panic was in the 1980s, when the crisis was resolved. This explains it: in the 1970s, people were able to place their fears where they belonged (the energy crisis), while in the 1980s that fear did not go away, but it needed a new place to project itself onto.
On a different topic, given that Patricia Mathews has posted on the topic of Prince Philip’s death, has anyone else realized just how big of a shock Queen Elizabeth II’s death will be? For most people, there has not been another British monarch; and our reaction to having death’s inevitability shown by the death of someone who will have access to every possible medical treatment promises to be wild, especially given her status one of the few public figures who close to the entirety of the chattering classes respects.
All in all, it promises to be a colourful time, even before we get to the next coronation…..
Prizm, it certainly seems to be building up to peak managerial class…
Oilman2, well, West Texas intermediate is right around $60 a barrel these days, so $100 a barrel is hardly out of reach; as soon as there’s a significant shortfall, I’d expect it to go well above that, and stay there for a while before the next round of frantic financial gimmickry drives it down again for a while. More broadly? The sky is black with chickens coming home to roost.
Chris, you’re quite right — the rise of the SUV is a great example of Jevon’s Paradox in practice, and one that I’ll discuss in due time. As for the gunk formerly known as fuel, I have the advantage of not having to use any of that directly these days — thanks for the data points.
Mawkernewek, that’s a huge question, and one that’s not amenable to a simple answer. Some roads will remain essential so long as any significant amount of shipping by road remains a common practice. Others? Here in the US rural counties have been abandoning roads for 20-odd years now. Airports? Those important to elites will remain active; the town where I lived in the northern Appalachians had an airport that had no more flights in or out of it; the buildings were mothballed and the runway was being used for drag racing. The challenge is figuring how far contraction can proceed before the system starts to fail.
Pygmycory, thanks for this!
Varun, don’t assume that the elites have a clue. Those very rich people I’ve met are the most coddled, cosseted people I’ve ever encountered; they’ve been sheltered from the hard realities of existence all their lives, and they literally have no idea what life is like outside the bubble. I’ve had people of that class try to tell me in all earnestness that nobody in the US is poor enough that they might have to go without Christmas presents to keep their kids fed! They’ve been told by the experts that peak oil isn’t a problem because technology will come up with something even newer and shinier, and since they themselves have never had to contend with inflexible limits and have never had their sense of entitlement contradicted by hard realities, they believe what they’re told. Nor is it in the advantage of other members of the elites to encourage anyone to think in the terms you’ve outlined…
Roger, thank you for this — among other things, it’s a perfect answer to Varun’s question immediately above. I’ve seen the same thing many times in other contexts.
Mollari, I’ve been thinking about that. Among many other things, it’s not impossible that we’re in the last days of the British monarchy.
A couple of “ourfiniteworld” must reads from the past year:
Things are getting hairy, I noticed today that certain compost materials I’d otherwise consider getting for the garden have gone up in price by more than 300%. Fortunately I have connections in the community to source material to keep the soils I steward healthy for a few more years before I have to fret, but thinking big picture that is quite a daunting detail. Be comforted that most comercial scale operations are at well less that that level of inflation, when they aren’t sold out. But small consumer scale compost is getting pricey.
Water might be scarce this year too, luckily market farming profits a lot more than hay per gallon of irrigation, and we can adjust. Jarven right there, they put in a damm to improve irrigation, lower the cost of water that is to say, dumb dumbs start ripping out apple orchards for hay fields, because hay is better margins, if you can irrigate it enough. Apples can produce with less reliable water. Drought is here, trees are gone. Water is distributed on a schedule to suit hay farmers, grossing a grand off an acre of irrigation if things are good, but on a dry year the water season turns off a month before human edible crops are ready to cellar in the fall, even though we can gross much more per acre, the marketing costs are a kick in the pants, versus hay where semi trucks will line up to buy hay, provided the farmer don’t expect much net. Hrmph. Got ponds enough to function, but its crazy for those with out ponds.
By best friends live in a yurt made of cattle panels and old tarps, and a ’75 RV which we are cutting the rotted out house off of and rebuilding with arched chain ling fence poles and metal siding salvaged from a rotted out 70’s single wide, maybe some trash bags of alpaca wool I was given. They are skilled craftsmen. But young and from poor families. Being a ‘cheap date’ in your life style makes you a desirable worker, because people who need things done often don’t have money. That’s fine, tighten your belt and expect (that is to say ‘quietly demand’) to be paid with respect instead. Doesn’t deflate as badly. I have respect that can get me manure today as much as it could when I earned it two year ago. Cash earned back then, not so much.
E bike are pretty good, I got three people asking for help making them. I think it costs me 20-50 times less to stay on the road with my main ebike than it would cost to keep a car going. Not much more than a regular bike, wear on the battery and the electricity together only cost as much as wear on the tires that a regular bike experiences when you do 3000 miles a year on it. In flat country regular bikes are great, but I’m in hilly rural spread, and ebikes are a great technology for the next couple decades. For you math pleasure 12 miles of commute, counting tire wear, electricity, and batter wear, costs about 40 cents. Electricity is 3 of those cents, and battery wear is 12 of them. Tires are the biggest single cost, 600 commutes out of $120 in puncture resistant tires, the cheap tires aren’t worth a mule’s maternity leave. 1 kwh is 50 miles on my ebike, that’s almost 5 miles a cent in my market. Gas for a car, good luck going 500 feet on a penny, just the gas. Regular bikes are pretty good, but with steep hills half as fast, and more than half as costly (gravel roads eat rubber, motor or not). In a flat or more urban area, especially if theifs were a more pressing issue, regular bikes would compete better. I hope the ecar fad leaves many used batteries, not strong enough for cars but worth rebuilding. There’s markets for that stuff going these days.
E vehicals would make brilliant sense, like galaxy brain sense, if they just went 20 miles an hour and that were it. Very sensible speed, faster than that? decadent.
“It is much, much harder to recycle, otherwise that would be the obvious economic choice for companies to pursue. Recycling is like renewable energy — great in concept, lousy in practice. It’s akin to trying to extract raw wheat out of a meatloaf.”
When I made that battery-recycling comment I was thinking about lead-acid batteries, which are fairly straightforward to recycle and are collected for recycling at a rate above 95%. Your response inspired me to research lithium battery recycling, and I was surprised to learn that is is substantially more difficult and that most lithium in waste batteries is currently not recovered. In part this is due to the wide variety of chemistries (Li-ion, Li-Fe-P, Li-polymer, etc.) and pack designs. I have to imagine, though, that when 10,000 tons of identical Tesla batteries start reaching the end of their lives as lithium prices skyrocket due to depletion of natural deposits, this calculus will change somewhat. As for recycling of low-value plastics and miscellaneous modern composite materials, I agree with you.
Was there an energy crisis in 1977 or 1978 in addition to the one in 1973-1974? I have this memory after we moved in 1977 of my dad swapping license plates with the neighbors because he needed gas and odd# plates went on MWF, and even # on the others (closed Sundays of course.)
My dad also told me that the house we bought in 1977 had an 18% mortgage rate. They ended up refinancing it as rates dropped to a more reasonable 8% or so under Reagan.
What really chuffs me about energy use is all the innovative housing designs that did passive solar or used the collection panels to create hot air and move through the home. There were some really neat looking designs architects came up with and we could have been building those the last 50 years. Slapping solar panels on a roof is the worst way to use the sun to fix the problem.
I really was going to post something on this weeks subject, the inevitability of decline and also the current state of the art in electric narrowboat design, but yesterday’s news has rather taken the wind out of my sails. And now there have been comments here including one from JMG.
So @Mollari, the UK has been quietly preparing for the death of the monarch over the last few years. The plans are in place (Operation London Bridge to give it its proper name) and occasionally trailed in the media. What you are about to see is a dress rehearsal. So no, not a shock. It will hit home of course. For many of us this is the only version of the Royal Family we have known and even though these events are expected they still hurt. Apart from anything else, they remind us of our own family.
Despite the latest soap opera goings on, I don’t believe we are anywhere near the end of the monarchy. There is a huge amount of recorded experience in the household about managing these transitions. Charles the Prince is not held in much public affection – largely because of the memory of Diana. Charles the King will be tolerated. He will be helped by the fact that William and Kate not only look the part but effectively return Diana to the throne. They will be loved as long as they remain remote figures. Recent events have only burnished their image.
I suspect much will be made of Archie in due course. There’s one to watch.
Apropos to the prediction – was it Libra Ingress 2020? I have set up a moderated community https://mutualreception.dreamwidth.org for discussion of mundane astrology and the course itself. There’s a strict ground rule in place about not reposting material belonging to JMG but beyond the central theme it is currently Liberty Hall.
Varun and others: I want to echo what our host just said about the very rich. I taught for four decades at one of the premier universities for the children of those very rich people. Their parents were not smarter, more insightful, more virtuous, etc. etc. than other people. What they were as a class was more ruthless — far more ruthless than one might think from their verneer of benevolence — and determined to have their way no matter what. This, incidentally, made them far more dangerous than most other people.
They live in bubbles. They know that they are living in bubbles: they have carefully built those bubbles to their specifications. They like living in their bubbles, and they will (as a class) stop at nothing to keep on living in their bubbles. The rest of us don’t matter at all to them; we matter less to them than the cattle from whom their succulent steaks are cut by their butchers.
And yes, there were rare exceptions to these generalizations of mine. They were rare.
Chris re cost of off-grid PV electricity
Run some numbers:
so 8 kWh/day in “winter” and 16 kWh/day in “summer”, average is 12 kWh/day.
cost is $2000/year.
12 kWh/day * 365 days/year = 4,380 kWh/year.
$2,000/year / 4,380 kWh/year = $0.45/kWh.
Right now I see 1 AUD = 0.76 USD.
$0.45 * .76 = $0.35 USD/kWh for stateside people – high, but within the higher tiers of California’s tiered rate structures.
And you’re not in a great location for PV it appears, a better location could cut the cost in half or more.
Somewhat dated, but in $AUD – many places in Europe, Japan in the 40, even 50 cents/kWh range.
Your PV electricity is about as cheap or cheaper than household grid rates in Japan, Belgium, Germany, Denmark or Bermuda.
Knowing that – are the economics so bonkers?
Yes, an individual off-grid system with batteries may be more than most mains electricity,
but what are the alternatives?
No electric lights, no refrigerator, no computer, no fans, no mixer/blender, no electric well pump, no charging portable drills/drivers/saws, … .
$2,000/year / 365 days/year is $5.48/day.
What kind of labour could you buy for $5.48/day that would pump your water, refrigerate your food, light your abode, do the drilling/sawing/… ?
Hopefully you’re familiar with the concept of energy slaves – one person working 40 hrs/week produces about 3 kWh for the week.
5 days * 12 kWh/day average = 60 kWh / 5 day week is what you get in a week from your PV.
You’d need to hire 20 people paid $5.48/day (27 cents per person per day) to get 60 kWh over 5 days.
PV and other renewables are insanely cheap when looked at that way.
Have you priced diesel generator electricity?
I wouldn’t be surprised if it was double what your PV system is.
Did you price getting on the grid?
Back when I was looking, it was anywhere from $50,000 to $100,000 per mile from the nearest line.
I looked at a place once that was 2.5 miles from the nearest line. One can buy a lot of PV for that kind of money.
Would you be willing to comment on the anti-extremism stand down the military did and it’s institution of woke policies immediately after Biden took office? How much faster/sooner is the military going to have its backside handed to them compared to last year? And if you want to stay out of the Eye of Sauron by not commenting, I totally understand.
I’ve never been supportive of our military’s worldwide occupation and destruction of foreign countries, but the thought of them now doing it at a what seems like a whole new level of incompetence between more malfunctioning weapons and race & gender based policies, terrifies me.
I still worry about them instituting the draft but for women too this time just to have enough bodies to fight its wars it wants to have. People wave me off when I say it saying they would never do that because it didn’t work out well last time. My response is since when has the government ever not made the same mistake multiple times? Its all it does these days.
Very good and witty.
Of course what isn’t being factored in is the human growth crisis.
Peak prosperity and a human growth crisis, has in my mind precipitated the Culture War, from America, to Britain and is now emerging in France. This is the downwardly mobile middle classes struggling to regain positions of privilege that can’t realistically be sustained anymore. Energetically or financially!
It seems to me, the Authorities are trying to create a middle way strategy between stagflation and austerity with the hope that monetary stimulus will be absorbed by rising ECOE which will at the same time increase energy prices and make energy production more profitable for future investment. I guess the plan is to deal with any cultural-socio-economic side effects as they arise.
Therefore, presumably the hope is that financial overhang in relation to the real economy will be invested in energy production. The question is whether the financial sector realises that they absolutely need to invest in energy production if they want to see their assets retain value.
JMG, in your discussion on the Zero-Sum nature of the economy, it may be helpful to use your model of the Tripartite economy that you introduced in The Wealth of Nature.
In the first economy of nature energy flows are siphoned from the natural ecosystems to be repurposed to serve human desires and needs. This is clearly Zero-Sum since it is governed by the laws of thermodynamics.
In the secondary economy of human goods and services, activity is still circumscribed by the flows of energy and raw materials of the primary economy, however value can become subjective, in that you and I may be willing to pay something different for some good or service. Did Leonardo Da Vinci create wealth when he painted the Mona Lisa? In this second economy the value of the painting is not equivalent to the raw materials and time that went into it. So it would be interesting to see how Zero-Sum applies here.
In the tertiary economy of ‘the socially agreed norms to represent and distribute the wealth of the other two economies’ – in our case money – it seems that much manipulation and trickery can occur, whilst facilitating the wider exchange of goods and services. Ultimately this week economy seems not to be Zero-Sum.in itself – indeed the great flaws of inflation, boom and bust seems to come from the fact that it is not. Clearly since money is a claim.on wealth from the primary or secondary economy when it gets awry adjustment must occur.
I wonder if the confusion on Zero-Sum could be clarified using your model?
I have watched the zero-sum debate from the sidelines. The way JMG formulated his position at the end is simply what he expressed several times in the past, e.g. that in Hesiod’s time, after a long period of decline, everything was by default expected to get worse.
Wesley, when I buy a used book around the corner, I consciously and gladly deprive Jeff Bezos of income!
@Antoinetta III re: The Oil Drum
I wrote an article there, “The Freezing Point of Industrial Society.”
I wrote it in the context of rising oil prices, based on the old joke: “if you think fuel is too expensive, get out and push.” At some point, I said, the cost would be great enough that people stop using it.
What I missed of course was that if prices rise high enough to drop use, this causes an economic crisis -which lowers demand, then prices, and things gradually build up again. Thus the GFC the year after I wrote the article – though I underestimated the price at which things would come under strain.
And of course I then had no idea about Magical – er Modern – Monetary Theory, which would let Wile E. Coyote stand out three feet off the edge of the cliff for a few moments longer. I wrote:
“But in general, the 2015-25 period will see the end wasteful-industrial economies, and after that will begin a long decline for any who have been unwilling or unable to go to ecotechnic economies.”
This period does appear to be a period of crisis, though of course not only because of the price of oil. What I think dates my piece is the focus on a single factor. In my defence, I did that to keep the analysis simple.
@ JMG, Roger, Varun
Re groupthink, comparison, and the state of the world
The issue of deeply-embedded ruts, as Roger points out, is a significant one: not only in re to thinking, but I’d suggest emotionally as well. We can have very strong emotional ties to a framework even after we’ve intellectually moved on from it.
A small example I’ve recently encountered in my own life. I’m a numbers guy and a planner. Professionally, I’m an analyst, so projections and assessments are my gig. Not surprisingly, I keep track of where my family is financially and what my “retirement” numbers look like (in quotes, as I expect to keep working part-time for a good while even after leaving full-time work). One of the things I check periodically is where my household sits in terms of income percentiles.
Well, we’ve slid a few percentiles in this last year—my income has remained steady, but the curve shifted around me—and we dropped from the lower portion of one decile to the upper portion of the preceding decile. Now, I *know* this is irrelevant. We live modestly, well within our means, and my income is ample for our needs. We are comfortable with what we have. I know all of this and yet I *still* felt a wave of disappointment wash over me as I looked at the numbers.
We live in a society where we are constantly inundated with imagery framing the world in a certain way. That imagery embeds itself deeply, even when we know it to be misleading. It’s like knowing that everyone’s FacePlant life is airbrushed and edited, but you still find yourself comparing your life to those presentations even though you know them to be mirages. It takes a concerted effort to root out the emotional hold these things have on us. Worth many a meditation session!
So if those of us who have some understanding of the state of things are nonetheless entangled emotionally, how much more so are those who haven’t even come to that conscious acknowledgement? As foolish as the denial we witness may be, it is very, very human.
@ Walt F
I wrote: “My wife and I did discuss all the ICE’s pulling in, refueling and then going on their way. There is no way, that Supercharger station could accommodate all those vehicles as EVs in the time we were there. Something has to give. I agree with you there. ”
If most of that was truly local traffic, then most of those vehicles will be recharging nearby and only stop at a Supercharger if they need an extra range boost. The unknown is the percentage who do stop because they are driving long distance.
A brief addendum to my comment just now:
The Carrot of Truth* is about, among other things, non-comparison. Measuring and metrics are deeply ingrained habits, however, and require a goodly amount of effort to counter. I’m still working on it.
*As given to me some years ago: “You have a carrot. If that carrot is sufficient for your needs, then what does it matter if your carrot is longer or shorter, brighter or duller, straighter or more gnarled than another’s?”
Hi John Michael,
Thanks! The overly large vehicles horrify me. And you are very lucky to be able to avoid purchasing and handling the fuel. The small farm engines for your info, use very little fuel. I made a tongue in cheek joke on the blog a few months ago about using the machines to assist doing a lot of work and mentioned that the machines used heaps of fuel – about 1 Litre during the day (there are 3.8 Litres to the Gallon).
As a bit of an insight, your economic wealth destruction concept is I’m guessing kind of like entropy in action. So just for an example explaining my thought process, I purchase replacement batteries for the solar power system – and that buys a store and flow of electrons which can be put to use. But really, in economic terms I’ve converted a claim on wealth, into actual wealth, enjoying the flows from the wealth, and then time and usage eats it up and its all gone leaving dead batteries – and who knows if in the future a claim on wealth can access the actual wealth? Given the propensity for spinning the printing presses I’m hardy sanguine about that possibility.
And interestingly, I tend to believe that ensuring that you have access to flows is a hedge against future uncertainty, but then I’m considered a bit quirky in that regard.
@ Brendhelm – “Well, you are borrowing it. You’re borrowing it from all the other money that already exists. If I, as a nation, have $100 billion and I print $1 billion, I’ve essentially “borrowed” 1/101 of that original $100 billion’s value.”
Thank you for your answer, but I have to admit to you with great frankness that I have no idea how to extract any meaning from it. I understand every word, and yet have no idea what you are saying?
If you were discussing a non-renewable resource – say – oil, or lithium, or drinkable water… I think I would understand someone saying that every bit of that resource you use is essentially “borrowed” from every other potential user of that resource.
However money is not a non-renewable resource, in fact, it is not even a resource. It is simply a notion, an abstract concept that stands for a method of ordering human relationships through the creation of debt. Debt is essentially the foundational moral rationale for a creditor’s claim on what a debtor owns.
To manufacture more money is exactly the same as manufacturing more creditor’s claims. It is very hard for me to imagine that would-be creditors who wish to secure (via regulatory instruments established in law, and in accordance with the moral norms and rationales established in society) their claims upon the wealth and effort of debtors could be viewed as a non-renewable resource. (Except, perhaps, through competitve attrition).
@ Lathechuck – Thank you, I appreciate the nuance you introduce. 🙂
” “However I have encountered people who will tell you that for the US to do anything OTHER than allow the rich to stay rich, would require the US to violate their property rights”
“Can you elaborate on that argument because I just don’t see that being the case. Most of the wealth these days is paper wealth that can disappear just as quickly as it appeared without attacking anyone’s property rights.”
I will say that David Graeber wrote an extraordinary book (“Debt: The First 5,000 Years). about the subject, which begins with him being put to the pin of his collar in explaining exactly WHY poor countries would NOT be immoral to default on their debts if doing so gave them more policy room for addressing the needs of their own citizens.
But essentially what creates wealth for the richest people is the capacity to make claims upon the wealth and/or effort of other people. And, although there are many ways to do this, the simplest and most traditional is to create a debt and be its creditor. Nowadays, you do not have to issue these debts yourself. The economy as a whole is a money-as-debt generating machine. Al you really have to do is to position yourself as a net creditor in that machine, and the majority of people in it, being net debtors, will keep handing their proporty and the fruit of their best efforts over to you. That’s it.
Graeber’s book explores in great detail some of the policy solutions that ancient governments used to balance the interests of net debtors against those of net creditors (for example, debt jubilees). And they did this because when societies allow creditors to have their head, they very quickly end up destabilised, with all property concentrated in few hands, and all people alienated from working for themselves into enslavement to others.
So, to govern in a way DIFFERENT to the case JMG describes (ie- to articulate policy objectives that do not prioritise helping rich people to stay rich) requires that the government be prepared to reduce “net creditor advantage (ie the unassailability of its claims upon the wealth of the rest of the society)” and throw some advantage towards the net debtor – who after all makes up the bulk of the citizenry.
However, our current moral code is very strict about repayment of debts, and very, very definite that what a net debtor owes BELONGS to the net creditor – ie IS THE CREDITOR’s PROPERTY. And upon this narrative and moral code, we have built an economic system in which essentially all property and all effort eventually belongs – by right of property – to the small number of people who are positioned as net creditors within the system.
And yet, none of us can get out of this system without altogether dispensing with our need to use money. Because all money is created through the manufacturing of debt – ie through the creation of new creditor claims upon debtor property. To use money is therefore to participate in a system that rents money from its net creditors, by “backing” their staked claims upon the property and effort of its net debtors. To use money is to participate in a system that robs the poor to keep paying the rich, in the name of safeguarding their property rights.
Are we stuck here? Or are there some policy alternatives that might restore some balance to this system?
Related to the Covid masks issue, I wonder if the liberal cult of infertility is another, largely subconscious, recognition of the hard times to come – the promotion of contraception, pornography, homosexuality, transgenderism, divorce, childlessness etc. Pushing puberty blockers to children particularlly seems to be something that people who are confident about the future would not do. The subconscious message seems to be that Western society does not want to produce children who would only inherit a wasteland.
@PeterEV, I think I failed to explain my point clearly. Of course there are electric cars like yours that can go 300 miles at an average of 60mph (including periods of faster highway speeds) on one charge. There are also cars (IC and electric) that can go 200 mph, and/or can accelerate 0 to 60 in under 3 seconds. Heck, there are EVs that crawl around on Mars. My point is that such capabilities push the limits of engineering, which makes them costly and resource-intensive, and that’s not going to change barring some unlikely technological breakthrough. The paradigm for EVs is different but so is the performance envelope, which pushes hard on EV range at the vehicle weight needed to be reasonably safe at current U.S. highway speeds.
In theory (because it’s not going to happen), lower speeds would reduce that problem, and reduce the energy required per mile, due primarily to lower vehicle weight and much lower drag. Lower energy required per mile traveled would then also help to address, in proportion, all the other problems you mentioned. (And I doubt lowering the speed would encourage anyone to travel more miles, so there would be no Jevon’s Paradox effect.)
I actually do agree with you John that we could be potentially in the last days of a “British” monarchy. It is common knowledge that once Queen Elizabeth II has passed away, Australia is very much likely to hold an independence referendum to a Republic. I suspect Canada and New Zealand we go the same way eventually.
Not only that but you have the very strong likelihood of a referendum in Scotland, followed by a heavily Catholic Northern Ireland that wants to rejoin with the rest of Ireland. I think Wales will eventually go independent as well. Obviously these countries I strongly doubt are going to be part of the monarchy either.
Thats the Age of Aquarius for you….
However, I dont think the monarchy will ever actually be abolished within the foreseeable future. The English are too devoted to the monarchy and are very loyal to the institution itself. I think the likelihood is the establishment of an English monarchy just for England with William at its head. Itll be heavily downsized of course but there you go.
You know, it always amazed me about the Brits how they just let it all go. From an empire to now splitting up the entire country. Easily they could have fought for more influence, propped up the Commonwealth, even secured a stronger mandate after the Queen passes away to assure the sovereignity of Britain to come.
My wife pointed out something. She said to me “Dont you get it? British history is now finished. Done. The English people have done enough for the world and now it is their time to retire, build a country with a good quality of life and take a bow out for good.”
I think this is true very much on the spiritual level as the British people do not have that “we are going to change the world and establish our mark on history!” like they once did. Spiritually speaking, my wifes point has been very much true for the country and something I noticed growing up in the UK.
The older generations would shake their fists and proudly proclaim they were a great country whilst the youth simply did not care, by and large. I think once again, the end of Elizabeth II’s reign really is the end not only of an era but that of the British Empire at large.
And the continued end of the Faustian engine that has roared for too long as well.
Migrant Worker #292 and #293, when I was writing I was thinking ‘coverage’ sound good but why does it feel bad. Then after I posted I remembered Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit and why coverage is bad, so no argument there. I am familiar with Leeds and have walked half an hour to Hunslet in the rain rather than trying to find the bus that goes there. 🙂 Do you like Leeds Light Night? The only thing I’ve ever seen that looks like 100 Bullets is drawn – a gaudy chiroscuro that could have been drawn by Eduardo Risso and coloured by Patricia Mulvihill. 🙂 I am very pleased that a national trolleybus system would only use a fraction of Drax’s 4GW capacity. Once lockdown ends I can’t recommend the tour highly enough. Drax is a monster and one of the most impressive structures I’ve ever seen.
Rita Rippetoe #362, I think its another thing from Human Transit that says if you restrict a line to rush hour only, you don’t just reduce its functionality proportionally, but exponentially.
@Rita, Migrant and others: in regards to mass transit, the most coherent thinker I know of is Jarrett Walker. He emphasizes that good mass transit gives people freedom, and he blogs at Human Transit.
JMG – Re the discussion on the economy of real goods and services being a zero-sum game: I absolutely agree with your view that the anabolic and catabolic effects of economic activity tend to offset one another, but does the offset zero out?
It seems to me that this depends, at least in part, on where one draws the line between “the real economy of goods and services” and the rest of the world. From one point of view, it is clear that “the economy” has generally grown, since it now supports 330 million Americans, whereas it once supported only 30 million. And while it is true that this activity has depleted resources and created pollution and other environmental damage, a lot of this can be excluded from the “economy” by judicious placement of the diving line. As another measure, it is now estimated that fully 1/6 of all biologic activity on Earth has been diverted to support humans and their activities — brought into their “economies”, that is — whereas even in recent historic times, this percentage was much lower. This was accomplished largely by bringing the use of fossil fuels within the scope of human activities, an example of a resource previously outside the dividing line being brought to the inside. Once inside, they were used to bring other resources into the scope of human economic activity. So even though the benefits of using fossil fuels are are counterbalanced by their depletion and other follow-on negative effects, the economy of goods and services certainly appears to have gotten a boost.
So my contention is that over time, economic activity is not necessarily a zero-sum game regardless of the fact that it’s a two-edged sword. This is why I mentioned a time-frame, and now a dividing line between human economic activities and the rest of the world. At any instant, it is of course a zero-sum proposition, and over relatively short time frames it can be viewed as such. Over the longer term, I’m not so sure. There are a lot of assumptions and variables to consider.
Do you have any thoughts on how the law of conservation of matter and the second law of thermodynamics play into all this? Or are these concepts to general to be useful?
Last week I meant to make this comment in response to David by the lakes comment on class, but it’s actually more fitting this week in regards to the essay and comments. And I had a few more experiences and thoughts on it since anyways..
Over the Easter weekend, while talking with one of my friends who has raised livestock and chickens most of her adult life, I asked about bringing my kids over to hopefully see some of their cattle giving me.
She happily agreed and then commented on how shocking it was that so few people these days know where their food is coming from nor appreciate the natural processes that bring it all about, and more, she recalled a family who had been very helpful is caring for all the animals but they could only envision the animals as pets, never imagining butchering and eating said animals. I couldn’t agree more, which is a huge reason I want my kids to have some farm experiences, but the disconnect that more and more Americans experience with the realities of where their food comes from recalled my experience in China and the absolute disgust many of the young generation had towards farmers. It was purely, and unabashedly disgust based on class, and most had no problems telling me so. Finally, the proverbial light bulb went off, and I connected that sort of class disgust with how disconnected people want to be from their food here. Being inside that bubble of not knowing where their food comes from is safe and comforting.
A few days later at a meeting at work, all the executive team was in their Zoom bubbles, patting themselves away on their backs, about all their amazing accomplishments, conveniently ignoring the amount of abstractions they’ve built their lie upon. Another light bulb went off: this is how the elite continue being so disconnected. I was literally, watching it right in front of my eyes, and I could almost literally see them within their bubbles.
What still confounds me is when a person starts connecting all the dots, and still insists the best idea is to continue down the path we are on. Which is where a post I read yesterday, from a fellow who I had a speech class with in community college makes comments on the region on I live in. There was a great connection to seeing what is happening here just as before, there was this great quote, recognizing a problem “Now we just buy our eggs and potatoes, even if a whole way of life was sacrificed at this altar of commerce.” And then the insistence that we can have a live like those in the more urban areas if we just create our own unique way of achieving it. The article can be found here
It really must be that people are searching for ways to justify staying within their bubble. And I imagine when that is happening, the bubble is coming close to popping.
Just thinking about grid stability and wind/solar power generally… since a grid with more intermittent renewables is generally less stable than one with less, rules about how to handle power outages and load shedding are going to be more important. Albertan friends with connections in that province’s power sector tell me they have a rule that they try very hard to keep outages under half an hour, and spread out more shorter outages to more places rather than longer outages in fewer places. This is to prevent people’s pipes freezing and other dangerous problems that show up with long outages.
Obviously this doesn’t hold if the problem is that a transformer is down and needs fixing before the power can come back, but is useful in situations where the problem is too little power available compared to demand.
Do you know if other jurisdictions have similar rules, and how they’re working out?
@ Prizm…RE: bubbles…
Food is a very good example of choosing your own reality. Grocers supercharge this, packaging things in containers that have labels completely divorced from their contents. I recall the first time I took grand-kids out to gather eggs, and was asked “Where does the chicken eggs come out?” Whereupon we went into discussion of cloaca versus anus and lots more – because little kids really do want to know. And so now they know why we wash the eggs, dry them and then coat them with mineral oil.
I have one group of friends who will happily gut and dress hogs, deer, etc., and another group who will pull the trigger, yet are completely averse to skinning/butchering, and only eat their kill if they are taken to a “processing” facility. Likewise, they do not make sausage of the tailings and freak out when I am plucking a chicken around the fire or on the porch while we are talking.
I think this really is a function of class and upbringing. If you never had to do it, and everything in your bubble is pre-sanitized and packaged for your convenience – you are naturally averse to the nitty gritty of being an omnivore. I have seen wives of my friends literally cringe when I talk about beheading and hanging animals to let them bleed out – one asked that I never speak of such horrors in her presence. I don’t, and don’t go there very often anymore – obviously there is a bubble wall between us. Many people have never even contemplated these items necessary to put your meat on your own table, because they can afford not to.
I think the entire Zoom thing has put immense distance between us across the planet. Doctors in many cases have a hard time relating to and connecting to their patients – Zoom during Covid has made this problem even worse. While I have had to go to a doctor, I refused to do a Zoom visit. Instead, I went to a local walk-in clinic. I had a bothersome mole on my back – what good is a Zoom call for that? Instead I got the biopsy and then got it knicked off.
Teachers are also mostly loving the Zoom thing, because they can simply switch off the troublesome child who asks questions, then castigate their parents – so they have less and less to do and never need leave their homes to do it. My grandson fell afoul of this, and was simply cut off by his teacher for asking excessive questions, this constituting ‘disruptive behavior’. Home schooled now…
I wonder if these type of bubbles will pop by themselves, or if it will take the internet going down?
Just a random comment with one of my thoughts regarding a more energy-efficient future…
By far the most energy-efficient way to travel long distances on land is to hop a freight train. Freight train efficiencies are in the range of 500 ton-miles-per-gallon, which means that adding one 200-lb human to the train will require one gallon of additional fuel over a distance of 5,000 miles. That’s 5,000 person-miles-per-gallon.
By comparison, passenger trains beat most personal vehicles but seldom exceed 100 person-miles-per-gallon, due to the fact that engines are comparably overpowered and passengers represent a very small proportion of the total weight.
I would like to see passenger trains make a comeback, but I would also like to see an economy system developed to move humans-as-freight, in a way that was safer and more comfortable than hopping a freight train (i.e. with climate control, basic toilets, and a soft flat surface on which to sleep), that might achieve efficiencies greater than 1,000 person-miles-per-gallon (i.e. humans as 20% of the total weight, including structure and support systems).
What I missed of course was that if prices rise high enough to drop use, this causes an economic crisis -which lowers demand, then prices, and things gradually build up again.
Yeah, the price of oil acts as a “rev limiter” on the global economic engine. That’s why Kunstler called it the “Long Emergency” since it’s a rollercoaster that’s still ultimately trending downward.
Are we stuck here? Or are there some policy alternatives that might restore some balance to this system?
Your comments remind me of “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” and are definitely spot-on. Since DC is captured I don’t expect policy to voluntarily address it. The current administration illustrates that capture in spades; campaign for the people but legislate for the elite. That said, I expect the energy crisis to force resolution of that general debt burden in a way that avoids have the masses breaking out the torches & pitchforks. IOW, the elite will give ground when they realize their necks are on the line.
My point about “paper wealth” was that most of the recent inequality is tied to the current stock, bond, and real estate bubbles fueled by Fed printing. The fortunes of Bezos, Musk, Gates & others will shrink dramatically as soon as the markets revert to mean. They’ll still be fabulously wealthy, but not nearly at the insane levels they are now.
Reading this post made me wonder what was up with Sharon Astyk. She was one of my regular reads along with Dmitry Orlov and Jim Kunstler back in the day. I found her new blog and its pandemic panic on the new variants and hospitals collapsing any day. https://casaubonsbook.wordpress.com/2021/01/20/what-to-do-as-the-new-variants-take-hold/
It’s the strangest thing.
Ray, that doesn’t surprise me at all. A lot of people in the comfortable classes aren’t feeling especially comfortable any more, and so home gardens are sprouting in the usual way of things. That’s a good thing in general, but it’s going to require ingenuity for the less affluent to manage compost. I trust you compost all your own vegetable food scraps!
Denis, there was indeed. It was triggered by the Iranian revolution, which began in early 1978. As for those innovative housing designs, I’d be delighted to see architects paying attention to those again! You can live very comfortably without using much energy if you combine passive solar, earth berms, and a lot of insulation.
Adwelly, I hope you’re right. I’m enough of a small-t traditionalist to think that monarchy has its uses — separating the role of symbolic head of state from that of actual head of government avoids a lot of problems. If Charles is as smart as I think he is, he could guarantee the survival of the monarchy for the foreseeable future by preemptively asking Parliament to discontinue subsidies for the royal family; the old (as in 12th-century!) slogan “the king should live of his own” is worth reviving, and would win him and the House of Windsor more than enough popularity to convince all but the most diehard republicans.
Denis, I see that whole business as an attempt to stave off the possibility of a coup d’etat from within the ranks. That’s also the mindset behind the National Guard forces still garrisoned in and around Washington DC. The current regime recognizes that it’s massively unpopular, and is trying to hold onto power in the ways that are usual in corrupt and dysfunctional Third World nations like ours. As for a draft, I doubt they’ll do that, because too many potential draftees may just point their guns in the other direction.
Steve, everyone has their hobby horse. I’m not exactly sure what you’re calling “the human growth crisis” — there are three or four things that might fit under that rather vague label — but since I was writing a 3000-word blog post and not a 65,000-word book, it was one of the things that didn’t get covered. Now if you’ll take a number, you can get in line with all the other people who are irate that their pet subject didn’t find a way into my post.
MCB, I’ll doubtless do that in a future post or three on the subject. Remember that the Mona Lisa belongs to the secondary economy but its notional price belongs to the tertiary economy!
Matthias, er, there’s rather more to it than that, of course.
David BTL, good. Reshaping reactions to hat sort of reaction to symbolic experiences is one of the things that magic is good for.
Chris, thanks for this. Put the issue of the zero-sum economy in thermodynamic terms, of course, and it’s obvious: every form of wealth is a temporary hedge against entropy, but you can only counter entropy in one part of a system by increasing it in another part of the system. The thing I’m exploring right now is the time dimension of wealth creation — very often, as with the batteries, you get a benefit now by accepting (or imposing) a cost later on.
Phil K, I could see that.
Ksim, I think it would be very good for England to go back to being England again, and shed its temporary identity as Great Britain. The decline of the British Empire is a great example of how to end an era of imperial expansion: let it go, so it doesn’t drag you down. I wish the United States could be that smart.
Helix, and the whole point of “externalities” — economic costs that are deliberately not counted in economic analyses — is to preserve the fiction that the economy is a positive-sum game. As I noted in response to Chris above, it seems to me just now that the time factor is crucial here. Much economic growth involves gathering benefits now and pushing off the costs into the future; over the long run, the result is zero-sum, but it doesn’t look that way when you’re harvesting the gains — and if course it also won’t look that way when you’re being clobbered by the deferred costs. The rise and fall of civilizations may be analyzable in those terms.
Prizm, thanks for this. Yes, I think you’re right — it’s a frantic attempt to stave off the popping of the bubble when the pin is already closing in.
Pygmycory, that’s an excellent question. I’ll look forward to any answers you field.
Mark, I’d encourage you to get to work on it. Somebody’s got to do it…
Denys, I knew that Sharon was too deeply committed to the extravagant lifestyles of the comfortable classes when, at a peak oil event we both attended, she angrily defended her purchase of an SUV because, after all, she had to take her kids to after-school activities! She bailed out on peak oil not long after that, fixated on climate change for a while while that was fashionable, and now she’s busily marketing virus hysteria. It’s really sad.
>Speaking of Twilight’s Last Gleaming, has anyone else noticed the flood of articles about how China might try to force the Taiwan issue now? This looks suspiciously like laying the groundwork for an attack
I think it’s more about trying to keep China off-balance, so they don’t do anything. If I were China and I wanted to take back Taiwan, I’d wait until the U.S. was sufficiently distracted by something else first. Otherwise, I’d just smile and cut bait while waiting to fish. Time is on their side, IMHO.
I think in any case, China will eventually take back their backyard. I mean, they’ve already dug in, in several places already without anyone stopping them. It’s only a matter of when they get it all back.
re: China so prosperous vs Murica
Meh. I’ve watched plenty of videos from those two and the impression I get of China watching the background roll by their bikes is either some weird tropical version of West Virginia or some dirty tropical version of The Bronx. Neither of which really excites me much. Not to say Murica isn’t crumbling into a 3rd world communist paradise too, and I suppose it too doesn’t really excite me much either. I’d like to live somewhere that excites me, for sure.
>defended her purchase of an SUV
>bailed out on peak oil
> fixated on climate change
>busily marketing virus hysteria
I think the word you’re looking for is “grifter”.
This might be a new slant on well-trodden ground on this blog about the origins of the myth of progress, and it does touch on peak oil. I hope you’ll put it through, but no worries if not.
I am currently reading The Problem of the Puer Aeternus a set of lectures given in the late 1950s by Marie-Louise von Franz, which concerns itself with the Eternal Child archetype. This is the archetype found in those who refuse to grow up, who remain trapped in their dreams and fantasies. They are those men (there is a female equivalent I don’t know much about yet) who can’t escape the influence of the Devouring Mother, the mother figure who smothers their son by providing for their every need. The Puer Aeturnus is typified by a tendency to avoid work – any task that is boring, routine and ordinary is shunned by the Puer Aeturnus, even if he may grasp intellectually the need for it. Another characteristic is that that they live provisional lives – ‘one day’ they will finally get down to doing that project they’ve been talking about for ages.
The book included this line which I just read in Lecture 3 which has suddenly triggered a whole bunch of connections, summed up below:
“What would be left if the Puer Aeturnus had to give up his wishful fantasies, his masturbating, and such stuff? He would be a just a petty little bourgeois who goes into the office, and so on.”
Thinking in Jungian terms or perhaps mythological terms for a moment: if the Earth Mother is one of the archetypes, then perhaps oil is a symbol of the planetary Devouring Mother, the Shadow of the Earth Mother, sprung from her subterranean subconscious to fuel fantasies of eternal progress. One aspect of that is the quest for infinity, as you’ve written before, which relates to that provisional life – ‘one day’ we’ll get fusion power and space colonies.
Another aspect of these fantasies is perhaps the desire to escape from work itself. A lot of progressive ideas at heart are ways of getting a free lunch: UBI, automation, MMT – anything that allows people to escape the need for menial labor or to continue to live at a comfortable standard they’re used to. As a tech worker friend once flippantly told me about automation: ‘I will work very hard to make sure I later won’t have to work’.
The societal Puer Aeternus encourages anything that keeps members of society in fantasy-land: video games, social media, television. And it celebrates anything to do with youth – at the risk of sounding too neat, perhaps we could say that pop culture is fuelled with the childlike vigor of oil.
So in this hazy mythological metaphor, peak oil is the withdrawal of the Shadow Earth Mother’s gifts – perhaps, mythologically speaking, the planet is slowly healing herself of her own ‘psychological imbalance’. What happens when the child, unable to come to terms with the archetype on their own, finds that their mother’s gifts are being withdrawn? No wonder that the idea of peak oil is flatly rejected – and not yet with the venom that will come from its full realization of its impact.
In case it isn’t clear: I’m trying to work out an idea, and not trying to rail against people ‘not doing an honest day’s work’ or preaching about the ‘the evils of pop culture’. The positive side of the Puer Aeternus is renewal, imagination and creativity. I am just trying to think about this as the possibility that something which is healthy when integrated has become unbalanced, and that this idea applies to society and not just to the individual.
I had written much more, but to trim it down: I found some linkages between events and ideas from the 1920s through the 1950s where where Keynesian economists assumed growth as a foundational economic principle, where advertisers persuaded the public to consume based on the principles of depth psychology by encouraging that public to fantasize, and simultaneously Jung and von Franz were working out the idea of the Puer Aeternus archetype. All this, while in the background oil had not long ago replaced coal as the world’s most important fuel, and conscious awareness of its potential became part of the collective unconscious.
Perhaps von Franz explores this herself later in the book, I’m only a quarter of the way through it.
I was delighted to find Sharon Astyk’s new blog a few weeks back, but was surprised by the contents. Panic much? I take the coronavirus pandemic more seriously than many on this blog, but Sharon’s reaction seemed over the top to me.
I would have been delighted to see her go back to blogging on peak oil issues, as she has an interesting viewpoint that has been helpful to me in the past, but if the examples so far are what she’s going to be posting on the new blog, I’m disappointed.
As for the van, I seem to remember she has 10 kids, most of them first fostered and then adopted. 12 people aren’t going to fit in any normal-sized vehicle. I assume that per person mile it travels, the fuel mileage likely looks better than most vehicles in the USA. So it seems more justifiable to me than most people with SUVs, or urban dwellers who aren’t contractors who have pickup trucks. I suppose the other option would be a fleet of bicycles, with trailers for the tiniest kids, and maybe missing out on after-school activities if the school is too far away to walk or bike, or the route isn’t safe. Or not adopting so many kids.
Back in the later 1950s I was asking my father, an engineer in the defense and aerospace industries, why we had to have so large an overseas military presence. He said that significant components of our military hardware required large supplies of various metals and rare earths that were not found in North America, but only on the territories of other sovereign states.
This meant that the US faced a very hard choice, once the war (WW2) had ended. We could keep our military at home after the war. Then eventually other world powers would seize control of those vital resources, cripple our attempts to match their advances in weaponry, and eventually use their military advantage to rule over us. Or we could get there first, exploiting all the post-war and post-colonial chaos as much as we could (by fair means or foul), and seize control of these resources for ourselves. We chose the second … and we are now living with the consequences of that choice.
That was the original motive for developing our vast network of military bases overseas. (It wasn’t chiefly about access to petroleum at first.) Of course, that sort of military solution isn’t sustainable in the very long run. These days it’s becoming noticeable less sustainable every half-decade or so.
@ pygmycory #319
With reference to planned obsolescence, german has a word, murks, that means something along the lines of shoddy, badly-designed junk.
We had an Italian engineer staying with us before returning to Italy. His wife was due to come out with his new baby and join him for a short holiday. In preparation, he bought a collapsible stroller, to use the American term. (He was amused when we said it was called a perambulator, because in Italy a ‘perambulare’ is a walk-in clinic).
The stroller was made in Germany and quite complicated to assemble, so he practiced several times on the sitting room carpet until he got it right. Wife and baby duly arrived, he assembled the stroller so they could go out for a walk, and it fell to pieces.
“Typical German engineering,” he commented. “An Italian stroller would fall to pieces as soon as you brought it home. You would fix the weak part, and it would give you years of service afterwards. But a German stroller lasts long enough for you trust it, then lets you down at the worst time.”
It’s hard to say what will cause the most bubbles to pop. Things like Zoom are making the bubbles more fragile, in my opinion, and like real bubbles that have been floating around for awhile, it won’t take much till apparently bursting of their own. The external realities eventually find their way in. I think we are also quickly approaching peak bubble popping, that is, when a majority of peoples have had to adjust their lifestyles to the realities around us, mostly caused by peak oil.
Food really is a great example of our choosing our realities. The moment I realized this is still etched firmly in my memory. My grandfather, who has always professed the virtues of self-sufficiency, and for the most part lived that lifestyle, was commenting on Dick Proenneke being an amazing example of self-sufficiency but there were still a great many things that Dick relied on to be flown in, namely food. I thought my grandpa would elaborate a bit more on why he saw some value in society then realizing that sharing the burdens of responsibility by our skills and interests benefits everyone, but I’ve realized my grandpa has his own bubble of reality he wants to live in.
People can certainly shift their perspectives of the world. I remember when I was 15, living in West Texas and my step-father, who was in the oil industry ironically enough, was having a hard time. The school year was coming around and I threw a tantrum at the idea of having to get second hand clothes. Clothes that had touched someone else’s skin freaked me out. Now I often shop second hand. So many of those clothes are such better quality.
The Zoom reference to health care made me chuckle. My work is related to health insurance. Doctors and insurers both seem to be pushing for the Zoom, or virtual visits, more and more. My wife, who is from Russia, has been seeing the doctor for pre-natal visits. We’ll be having our third child within a month or two. The interactions between her and the doctors in the US thus far have left her feeling very cold, and she since sought out some alternative. We’ve met a midwife recently, who is part of a large group of people who have been delivering their children at home. They’ve made my wife feel human again. And to my wallets delight, it is MUCH cheaper. Something I’d never have imagined considering even 10 years ago, but the times they are a changin’.
Sorry for being so brief. On of the posts I was thinking about is this one:
“In an age of economic expansion, … standards of living are rising, opportunities abound… In a contracting economy, as everyone scrambles to hold onto as much as possible of the lifestyles of a more prosperous age, your profit is by definition someone else’s loss… ”
You have also often mentioned that near-zero interest rates are equivalent to an expectation of, on average, zero profit for business ventures (in other words, the profit of one business comes at the expense of another’s loss), while negative interest rates mean most ventures are expected to lose money (and to lose less money than average, you will make somebody else lose more money than average). You exemplified that last situation through Hesiod’s attitude to life.
I’ll be very happy to read any expansion on those arguments.
@Walt F The current EVs are weighted down by their low battery densities and desire for range. Double the energy density per kg and you have a much lighter vehicle. This is where the industry is going and they have a lot of “room” to grow. I’ve read the theoretical maximum is somewhere between 1500 and 3000 whr/kg. Current lithium based energy densities are in the 100 to 265 whr/kg range.
There are a number of head winds including the supply of rare earths controlled by China and the reductions of toxic elements such as cadmium. I could see if we wanted to buy a car or anything with sophisticated solid state electronics, it would have to have a “Made in China” label.
In his book, 1421, Menzies pointed out that ships would sail to China for silk, jade, and spices. The Chinese would lend the trading companies the money to finance the purchases. A few ships would sink going home and the trading company would be on the hook for the amount owed. Politics in China changed and the great trading armada looking to expand trade way beyond China’s borders was brought home.
The Chinese business philosophy has not changed. Iran is on the hook for 25 years of oil to the Chinese at very favorable prices.
The town meeting happened today. Nearly 1000 people showed up, gathered (sort of) on the high school ball field, spent 3 hours listening to arguments, then overwhelmingly voted against the zoning change.
Arguments of “we need more commercial development in the town to boost town revenue” were countered with “that’s what we were told about [previous huge commercial center developed after a zoning override] and [the one before that]. Funny how the proportion of town revenue from commercial uses didn’t actually go up.” Strong Towns principles were mentioned by more than one speaker. There was general awareness of hidden future obligations and various externalities. My estimation of this town’s ability to survive future hardships (apart from more than a meter of sea level rise, since we’re near sea level) has gone up.
@Mary Bennett, thanks for the encouragement, which I read just before the meeting! Yeah, there were several mentions of the habit of developers of agreeing to restrictions and commitments and then ignoring them (“oops! sorry!” afterwards when it’s nearly impossible to recover anything). Given the length of the proceedings, I decided I didn’t need to rise to speak.
Kenaz, JMG and members of the commentariat who have a nautical interest:
I just about fell off my chair laughing when I read the ‘hybrid yacht’ story. Barnum was right: there’s a sucker born every minute!
In the ‘70s, I lived (and travelled) in hybrid yacht: 28 foot long sloop (single mast) and a 10 horsepower inboard diesel engine. Yes – a mere 10 hp, but in calm seas and no wind it could make the multi-tonne vessel go at a respectable 5 knots, and would sip fuel to boot!
If you live in a place with trees and lawns, it quite possible to get all the composting materials you need. Collect your neighbor’s leaves. They leave them out at the curb, ready for you to go get them with a lawn cart, a rake, and a surly teenager to do the raking.
My kids collected leaves by the yard for me.
Grass clippings work, but they’ve got to be laid out in windrows and turned faithfully to compost properly. A surly teenager with a rake can easily do the job. Leaves are easier.
I made arrangements with a local landscaper. Denny delivers me pickup truck loads of chopped leaves mixed with grass clippings every fall.
When I’m out and about, if I see those big brown Kraft bags, I stop and get them. They’re full of compostables. Yes, there’s often trash mixed in, but it can be picked out. Sometimes, you get useful plants like hostas with enough roots to plant.
I also pick up discarded houseplants, pot and all. Compost the plant and the potting soil and recycle the pot.
It’s there if you’re willing to ask and do the work.
And, by the way, I have never once had anyone ask why I was hauling away their big brown bags of leaves.
One of my favorite channels on Youtube is Townsends. The business was started by the grandfather who was a re-enactor history buff. He started the business to sell things that re-enactors needed for everyday life in the 18th century America and it evolved from there.
It’s a fun channel for those who aren’t adverse to video. I’ve learned a lot and it’s made me see that even though there’s a lot more physical work a relatively high standard of living is possible with minimal fossil fuels.
I’ve also been a fan of the BBC’s assorted TV shows on what life was like in the UK prior to the industrial revolution. It started with the series over a decade ago called Tales From the Green Valley – about life on a Tudor England Monastery Farm before there was any industrial revolution.
It was so popular it got turned into several tv shows. Victorian Farm, Edwardian Farm, Wartime Farm (ie WW2 farm). I loved watching how all these things were made. Especially interesting was seeing how linen was made starting with the plant to threshing it, to spinning it, to weaving it into finished cloth.
For other things that could be brought back to a surprising high level.
There’s a museum in upstate NY (sadly can’t remember the exact town) I visited that is dedicated to the old time industries around that region but there was a wing added that gave the history of the wicker furniture industry up there too – complete with preserved old catalogs under temp-controlled glass – of some of the most jaw-dropping elaborate, beautiful furniture I have ever seen. This is furniture that would be seen and affordable only to someone like an actual southern plantation owner or railroad magnate. All made from wicker rushes that grow like weeds in upstate NY. Unfortunately for reasons familiar to every in this thread the industry got obliterated and from what the museum people told us nobody is alive who remembers how to make these super-elaborate, palace-quality pieces anymore. The last holdout who still hand living memory of it – if I recall correctly – died around 1976 or so. If it ever gets revived someday it will take extensive trial-and-error to figure out again.
There’s a book I found recently that I’m going to read that’s all about how manufacturing was done prior to the invention of the industrial factory.
Manufacture in Town and Country Before the Factory [ISBN: 0521248205 or pbk ISBN: 0521893593]
I remember also one BBC Ruth Goodman episode where one of the hallmarks of the 20th century discussed is that you can tell that mass manufacture took over everything because things that took a long time and a lot of care to make didn’t stick around as an option even for the very super-wealthy. She held up a dress from 1920 that had multiple thousands of tiny genuine onyx beads hand sewn all over the dress. All of it. Every inch of the dress (it was a ‘flapper’ dress) was covered in those super tiny onyx beads. All doable only by hand crafting as no machine has ever been able to duplicate it.
By the 1950s the historian said you would only have been able to find a dress like was made in the 1920s as an antique handed down from wealthy grandmother to wealthy granddaughter. That’s how fast the skills disappeared just as it did with that jaw-dropping wicker furniture catalog I saw. Nowadays they can’t be found new-made for any price so today’s elite wealthy find other ways to subtly show their status.
For my personal use I have a few yards of the stuff, but for the farms I serve they are hustling to get the compost they need. There is the added ruffle of persistent herbicides contaminating most horse and cow manure sources. A huge fraction of the traditional sources for garden manure is out of commission. This is giving me hope, if the price of non-contaminated manure rises it might persuade some more ranches and hay farmers to learn to do their dang jobs, rather than off the effort onto sprays that bind oodles of fertility in poisonous heaps.
Thank you for the info about Sharon. I tend to take people at face value and I found her posts valuable and inspiring back in the day. It got me to start a garden, learn to ferment (hello dandelion wine made with champagne yeast at 10% ABV!), and be more home-based.
Walking the talk is where you’ve always had us focus. It is the absolutely hardest thing to do in a world where 98% of the people just talk.
This constant hyping of the virus variants followed by “this time the hospitals will collapse!” is really something to behold. I think someone should set up a town or city for all the apocalypse is nigh crowd to go live and work and they can leave the rest of us alone. But its a minority rule situation where we all have to cater to these panic pushers and their changing rules.
And just to be clear to whoever is reading this, I was for panicking early and shut down all travel into the country back in January 2020. Ends up that wasn’t nearly early enough as apparently the virus was here as early as September 2019.
Ah, you misread my words and then applied them to your calculation to produce a result which looks more favourable than it is in the real world. The maximum power of 16kWh/day is not the average summer usage – that is an extreme reding. It took considerable personal effort to use that much electricity on that one day when the house is set up for very little electricity usage in the first place.
It is hard to explain how it all works in words, you’d have to really see for yourself and learn the hard way.
On the other hand grid tied systems over state the case because – at this stage of the game – they can feed anything they produce into the grid (the system here has to store the energy, use the energy, or waste the potential – there are no other options). But the more grid tied systems that get connected to the grid, the more likely that something will go pop. And down here we’re discovering that play out as voltages on the house side of the transformers and sub stations are rising too high and I am aware of frequency fluctuations. The system was never constructed with the possibility of feed-in, in mind – it’s a one way system.
For your interest my recorded average use is 6.8kWh/day which covers the entire year.
Any system has to account for the week of foul winter weather when the solar panels only get access to 15 minutes of sun every day. It happens. And people lived here before electricity and I’m guessing they’ll continue to do so once the electric grid is wound back. It just won’t be very densely populated.
It is also worthwhile mentioning that Napoleon and his crew of funsters did quite a bit of damage, and they didn’t appear to have electricity or fossil fuels, so just because some energy source is super-useful, doesn’t mean that we can’t work around not having access to them.
In a nutshell, that is one of the challenges facing society. How to act when per capita wealth and energy is declining. Arguing is a waste of precious time.
You’ve got your fixed opinions and I accept that, I just disagree with you.
In regards to all the talk about electric car range. Personally, I see it as mostly a non issue. Range just doesn’t seem like a significant hurdle for the vast majority of people. I mean it is true that the technology does work but I am very skeptical about the long term economics of them. We can build them but at what cost? As the availability of fossil fuels diminishes, the cost of acquiring the materials to build these technologies will go up at the same time as demand.
I have long suspected that a lot of these advanced technologies will end up with an inverted bell curve on the prices. The first few decades have a lot of reduction due to increase in manufacturing capabilities due to growing demand and economies of scale. We hit the plateau as the hard physical limits of extraction and production come into play, and then as materials decline in abundance the price will go back up again until most people cannot afford it. I suspect that the 2020’s and maybe a bit longer is the plateau.
We are seeing this curve in computer components nowadays with the prices starting to go back upwards and the resources needed to make them are becoming much more difficult to come across.
“I actually do agree with you John that we could be potentially in the last days of a “British” monarchy. It is common knowledge that once Queen Elizabeth II has passed away, Australia is very much likely to hold an independence referendum to a Republic. I suspect Canada and New Zealand we go the same way eventually.”
But then we will have to print all new money. 😛 Not as big of an issue nowadays as I find it harder to find businesses that accept cash over card. 🙁 That said I think you are right. Give it another 20 years and the idea of becoming a republic will be much more appealing, especially as we ride the road of decline. The last vote for this was in 1999 and it only had a 45% vote for ‘Yes’.
@ RPC #272. Thank you for the resource to the chip reliability. I have slowly been plugging away on a book in regards to the decline of computer technology and the gap in information it will leave for future generations. References like this are valuable.
This has been something of a growing issue over the last decade. I suspect in about 30 years time there will be a divide in computers available. The brand new ones being produced and everything before about 2010. As soon as chips went below about 28nm on the manufacturing scale, they have been trading off life time for (very little) performance. Computer chips used to be rated at having a 100,000 hour life time. That is a little over 11 years of non-stop use and even then that number was just given as a statement of “this things will go far beyond most users needs”. Nowadays they don’t give those guarantees. I have seen proposals for new computer chips that will have only about 4-5 year actual use time in order to get performance increases. The age of disposable processors could be coming about.
Hi John Michael,
It’s a fascinating question, and the time dimension is one that troubles me as sometimes there is no clear way forward. I’ll be curious to read your thoughts in this matter, because I’m often faced with the problem in a pragmatic dimension. Say for example, one of the small machines I use around the farm, breaks. Do I replace the machine with a better quality machine at a higher cost base, or do I get it repaired knowing that it will break again in the future, or even abandon the usage of the small machine and move on with life? And then there is the awful question to consider: Yes, a replacement machine is available today, but what of the future availability? These are the sorts of problems that I have to deal with. Experience is something of a bulwark in this regard, but as has been said elsewhere (!) predictions are difficult, especially when they’re about the future!
It is worthwhile also noting that the off shoring of manufacturing capabilities, thus reducing prices for consumers of the end products and increasing the supply, as a policy is a way in which I’m guessing that the time dimension has been fluffed over. People have more stuff nowadays, but they are less able to do the fundamentals such as roof over their heads and quality food on the table – but there’s more stuff so it is a murky world when comparisons are made.
Now my mum was a single mother back in the 1970’s who worked full time, raised three kids, bought a house and scored a Uni degree (free of charge) on a part time basis (from memory the employer gave her paid time off work). This is not possible for a single mum nowadays, or just bonkers hard. All I’ve seen since those days is a decline in the ability to do the fundamentals. But maybe my view of the world is somewhat darker than most peoples? Dunno.
JMG – re: cluelessness. In the Washington Post ( Sunday magazine, Erika Mailman April 11, 2021): “Pandemic Therapy, in the From of a Shed”. Now, when the author says “shed”, don’t assume that they necessarily lack windows, plumbing, and/or electricity, but they are small buildings for temporary use. One of the builders, age 38, describes his perspective: “Instead of sitting around wondering,’What am I going to do with my career and my life,’ this allowed me to have a little bit of an escape and not be bogged down….If you don’t have a project like that, it’s easy to let thoughts come creeping in.”
Well. We can’t have ‘thoughts’, can we? (His current career is as a school music teacher.) Thoughts might lead to thinking, if tolerated for too long. Thinking might lead to comprehension of the predicament that we’re in, and maybe a ‘course correction’ prior to impact. Or… we can build a shed.
Another of the builders has built what I would call a “cabin” on the Oregon coast, a mere five-hour drive from where he calls home. Another couple built a 14×24′ shed (for his antique pickup truck, zero-turn lawnmower, and kayaks) with money they’d been saving for a cruise vacation. Such are the investment decisions of the comfortable and complacent.
Graham Hancock’s books on Lost civilizations worth reading or trash? Or something in the middle?
All – Speaking of rail transportation, the hot topic of discussion here, between Washington DC and Baltimore, is for a new high-speed passenger train to connect the two cities. Never mind that you can almost always drive a car from one to the other in an hour. Somebody thinks that we need, not just a new passenger train, but a Super-Conducting Magnetic-Levitation passenger train. The route is projected to run through the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center and Fort Meade (Army base). I want to know: did anyone tell the planners that the Wildlife Research Center was formerly part of Fort Meade, and is thought to be littered with unexploded ordinance from artillery training? That’s WHY it hasn’t been developed earlier!
I just don’t get it. Compared to a car, you need to book a trip on the train, travel through the city to the train station, wait for the train to depart, then (poof) you’re in Baltimore. Now you need a taxi to your actual destination, conduct your business, another booking, another taxi to the station, another wait until their schedule allows them to go, and (poof) you’re back in Washington. I don’t see how it can be any faster than driving up I-95/I-295, even if the (poof) takes 10 minutes.
I expect this pandemic to pass, sooner or later, but mass transit has proven to be wildly unpopular when people are afraid of a virus. The Metro (subway) is trying to figure out how to rebuild its ridership, with so many office-workers working from home offices.
Who really needs to go to Baltimore (when you can get mugged in DC just as well)?
So, for every good concept, there’s a way to do it badly.
As I said earlier. The Elite are Elite because Key people work for them and in turn Key people work for those Key people serving as the extension of their bodies.
For example the Governors ordering police to enforce their dictates which the Police usually end up doing.
And Money is one of the means they accomplish this.
Are the Elite really Elite if people just ignored them. How powerful are they really if lets say the security detail just happened to not be there when the mob comes to their house.
How powerful are they really if their butlers also disappeared?
Elites get to be Elite because in the past one of their founders got wealthy and got a strong enough personality to attract the loyalty of key people who will follow their orders and who would also get a share in the treasure and other benefits.
And their descendants inherit that hierarchy.
Owen, maybe so, but I thought better of her at one point.
Jbucks, hmm! I’ll have to scare up a copy of that. That seems at first glance like a very plausible analysis.
Robert, that certainly seems reasonable. Given a need to control access to overseas resources, the need for overseas military bases and puppet governments follows as the night the day…
Matthias, that’s something I’ll be revisiting in an upcoming post, because as far as I can tell nobody anywhere is taking the economic realities of contraction into account.
Walt, I’m delighted to hear that! If your neighbors are clear on issues like externalities and deferred costs, there may be hope for this country yet.
Ron, definitely worth a chuckle. It’s like those people who use a bicycle to run a generator to charge a battery to run a blender, when hooking up the blender directly to the bicycle is vastly more efficient…
Panda, if you haven’t yet, check out Ruth Goodman’s books. They’re extremely good.
Ray, the farms might need to get into green manures and other non-compost methods of soil enrichment, then. Also, I’ve been told that oyster mushrooms break down the persistent herbicides…
Denis, it really is sad. She was doing some good there for a while.
Chris, those are great examples. I’m going to have to do some serious research into the role of time in economics.
Lathechuck, oh, how precious. Thanks for this.
Denis, a very mixed bag. He’s got some good data and draws batshale crazy conclusions from them.
Lathechuck, oohh! A big magnetic high-speed shed!!! 😉
Watching two of the newest insane actions taken by my provincial government, the sudden closure of elementary and high schools this week, many with less than a day’s notice; and the opening of the possibility of forcing all university and college students to get the vaccines, even while insisting it is a choice of people in nursing homes, has lead me to realize there is an element to the Covid panic which is not getting much attention, one which I think needs to be discussed, and which relates to the topic at hand: the generational impact. One of the more irritating elements of the entire Covid panic is how the same activity gets treated very differently if it’s mostly people under the age of 30 or so or those over it. I’d chalked it up to the usual generational conflict at work, but have just realized there is another factor.
Covid seems to mark the death throws of Progress. One thing I’d noticed is that many of my peers were trying to walk away from things like the internet; noticed how microwaved foods are less satisfying; and have a desire to live a very different life from how our parents live. Many of us want to return to older ways of doing things, and from what I can see, this becomes more and more common the younger you look.
The reason then that it’s so important to keep young people inside, and the fact that many of my generation have been forced to move back home is all a feature: it’s an effort to avoid allowing us the chance to live the lives we want to live; lives which will involve turning our backs on “Progress”. If the internet is the Last Talisman of Progress, then the subconscious logic is that by forcing us to use it much more than we would otherwise, we can be shown that Progress is real.
The consequences promise to be the opposite. I know more than a few people who have outright said that as soon as this is over they plan to redesign their entire lives to never use the internet again; I know people who have ditched their cellphones rather than deal with the possibility of dealing with “contact tracing” and I strongly suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a very real possibility that this is it, and that once the Covid thing is over, we’ll blink and realize that Progress is no longer the established religion of our society.
Hi John Michael,
It’s a complicated subject that’s for sure. I’m reading a book by Michael Lewis on the GFC affair, and it occurs to me that debt is also used to fluff around with the time story. There are some remarkably cynical observations in that particular book, and debt possibly also has been used to stave off social problems with the side benefit of blaming the individuals caught up in the mess.
Not sure that I have anything more to add to the subject. I know enough to dodge that story.
I remember you mentioning long ago that, in the United States’ natal chart (I’m not sure what you call the birth chart for a country), there’s signs indicating a sudden fall from great power, similar to what John F. Kennedy has at this chart, and it’s something you felt that astrologers haven’t seriously addressed. Given the chart of this administration’s inauguration, the looming energy crisis, and the United States’ increasingly wobbly position in the world, do you think it’s likely we’ll see that fall within the next four years?
A good example for the process Michael Gray mentions, are the developments in the realm of digital cameras during the last five years. I have observed the inverted bell curve, which you mentioned, in the digital camera industry. Firstly, digital compact cameras got cheaper, than, after a time, the first digital single lens reflex cameras with interchangeable lenses sunk in price below 1200 dollars. Many cheap point-and-shoot consumer cameras followed, and many prosumer cameras at a price point from 500-100 dollars. Than, as the years 2018-2019 approached, the camera companies began to focus their efforts on full-frame cameras, neglecting prosumer cameras more and more, with the effect, that prices are again rising, because full-frame cameras (cameras with a sensor the size of a 35mm film frame) tend to be more expensive than cameras with an APS-C-sized sensor, especially the cost of the lenses. Point-and-shoot-cameras, in turn, died out due to smartphone cameras. This is another way in which prices are rising: focusing more and more on the high-end of things than on middle-class products.
JMG – re: politics and coal phaseout and renewables build out.
Do you believe that there are absolutely NO economic factors affecting the rise of renewables and the demise of coal?
That it’s all politics?
I’ll grant that it’s some politics – sensible IMO to have more renewables than fewer, but I think the politics are made easier – and to an increasing extent irrelevant – by a fundamental reality – over the last decade or so, wind and solar have become cheaper than coal in a great many places.
Given that Trump was in charge from 2017 until recently, and virulently pro-coal, how do you explain all the coal retirements and lack of coal additions in 2020 as shown below?
(trying a direct img tag to save click-thru).
Do you think reported declines in the cost of PV are made up?
That multiple groups are engaged in conspiracy to make up numbers – the EIA, Lawrence Berkeley lab and NREL in the chart below are in cahoots to lie?
above from the March 21, 2018 Today in Energy
Note it only goes to 2017, and system prices have continued to fall to date.
Other sources have similar declines.
When I read from January 2020, of a system bid in Qatar, by a consortium including Total (the French based oil/energy company), of 1.567 cents / kWh, should I not believe it, given that Total is a public corporation and could be sued for misleading statements?
Does that number have any meaning to you? A cent and a half a kilowatt-hour is pretty cheap for wholesale electricity – less than the US average of 2 – 4 cents/kWh.
n.b. typically wholesales prices are per MWh, thus $20.00/MWh is $0.02/kWh.
Here’s the Total press release on this:
When I bought a residential PV system in 2000, it was something like $12 or $14 per Wp.
Comparable systems these days are a couple of dollars per Wp.
Such dramatic price declines make a huge impact on the Levelized Cost of Electricity a PV (or wind …) system generates.
It’s puzzling to me that as cumulative PV is closing in on a terrawatt after a decade and a half of exponential growth that you seem to continue to give the impression that’s it’s just a passing fad.
Have I misunderstood you?
I live in a ground floor apartment and make my own compost in my little 18’x18′ garden. I mow the apartment block’s lawns, so I have plenty of grass clippings. Dried leaves I rake up from the gutters in the neighborhoo