Not the Monthly Post

Progress and Amnesia

I’d meant to launch straight into a discussion of peak oil this week, and talk about how the ongoing attempt to extract a limitless supply of highly concentrated fossil fuel energy from a finite planet will run us face first into the same brick wall we hit in 1972 and 2008, with similar consequences. We’ll get to that shortly, but a funny thing happened in the comments to my post two weeks ago about the limits to growth.

That post, as I expected, fielded a great deal of pushback from people who wanted to insist that I was as wrong as wrong can be.  The claims of my alleged wrongness, as I expected, were divided about equally between two predictable camps. On the one hand were those who insisted I was wrong because this or that or the other thing would surely overcome the limits to growth and let us keep on chugging along toward our imaginary destiny among the stars. On the other were those who insisted I was wrong because this or that or the other thing would mash us flat to the dust in one sudden apocalyptic stomp.

What I didn’t expect is that every one of the things that was pressed into one of these two roles was identical, right down to the last digit of the filed-off serial number, with the things that were pressed into exactly the same roles in the runup to our collisions with ecological reality in 1972 and 2008. More to the point, all of them were things that failed in the runup to those collisions, or in their immediate aftermath. The proposed solutions didn’t solve anything and the imminent catastrophes pulled repeated no-shows—and yet here we are again, more than a decade after the latter and almost half a century after the earlier date, and those same failed solutions and those same failed cataclysms are still being marketed as though nobody ever proposed them before.

For example, one of the most common technologies being proposed as a solution to peak oil these days is photovoltaic (PV) solar electricity. When I was still in elementary school, Scholastic Book Service—a program that sold cheap paperbacks to schoolchildren—offered a volume of solar energy experiments kids could do; I owned a copy, and one of the experiments involved making a simple PV cell from a sheet of copper. In the wake of the 1972 oil crisis, the silicon PV cells that had been devised for the space program began to drop steadily in price and improve in efficiency the way that new technologies generally do. By 2000 or so that curve had flattened out in the usual way as PV cells became a mature technology, and almost two decades of further experience with them has sorted out what they can do and what they can’t.

The result of all this experience can be summed up quite readily: the only people who think that an energy-intensive modern lifestyle can be supported entirely on solar PV are those who’ve never tried it. You can get a modest amount of electrical power intermittently from PV cells; if you cover your roof with PV cells and have a grid tie-in that credits you at a subsidized rate, you can have all the benefits of fossil fuel-generated electricity and still convince yourself that you’re not dependent on fossil fuels; but if you go off-grid, you’ll quickly learn the hard limits of solar PV. Don’t get me wrong, I’m wholly in favor of renewables; they’re what we’ll have left when fossil fuels are gone; but anyone who thinks that the absurdly extravagant energy use that props up a modern lifestyle can be powered by PV cells simply hasn’t done the math. Yet you’ll hear plenty of well-intentioned people these days insisting that if we only invest in solar PV we can stop using fossil fuels and still keep our current lifestyles.

On the other side of the balance, the specter of nuclear war is one of the canned cataclysms routinely trotted out in an attempt to argue that we’re all going to die anyway and so there’s no point in trying to prepare for any less apocalyptic future. As specters go, this one is practically leaning on a walker as it toddles its way to a nursing home; people have been insisting at the top of their lungs since a certain sunny August day in 1945 that an all-out nuclear war was not only inevitable but imminent. In case you haven’t noticed yet, they were wrong.

Nor is the failure of their predictions any kind of accident. Nuclear weapons are extremely effective at what they do; it’s just that what they do has been thoroughly misunderstood by the general public since those innocent days when nuclear weapons were wholly imaginary props in pulp science fiction tales. Nuclear weapons exist to prevent war between major powers. They do that by guaranteeing that no one can win. That’s why the bitter hostility between the United States and the Soviet Union played itself out solely in proxy wars and economic conflict, why the attempts of Arab states to invade Israel stopped cold once Israel had a credible nuclear deterrent, and why the mutual posturing between the US and China in the western Pacific has gone on for decades with scarcely a shot being fired.

I’ve mentioned all this several times in my blogs, and each time I’ve gotten a ICBM-sized swarm of denunciations insisting that I’m wrong and we’re sure to be nuked into oblivion sometime soon. It’s entertaining to compare the reasons these give to the history of nuclear weapons. What about nuclear weapons in the hands of homicidal megalomaniac dictators? (Stalin and Mao were way up there on the scale of homicidal megalomaniac dictators, and both had nuclear weapons; we’re still here.) What about nuclear weapons in the hands of religious fanatics? (That argument got plenty of air time back when the Reagan administration took office and installed Rapture-ready Christian fundamentalists in important cabinet offices; we’re still here.) What about nuclear weapons in a collapsing state? (The Soviet Union was bristling with nuclear weapons when it underwent total collapse; we’re still here.)

I could go on. Every scenario that’s been used to justify the claim that a nuclear war is inevitable has already occurred, except a major conventional war between nuclear powers—and there will be no major conventional war between nuclear powers, because nuclear weapons guarantee that such a war can have no winner, and therefore no such war will ever be fought. (No, not even by homicidal megalomaniac dictators; crazy, as the old joke goes, is not the same thing as stupid.)  What I find fascinating about all this is that when I make these points, people don’t generally respond by saying, “Oh thank God, we’re going to survive.” Quite the contrary, it’s as though they’re disappointed to be deprived of the thermonuclear holocaust of their dreams.

These examples, though, are anything but unique. Our culture’s entire discourse about the future has been stuck in stasis since the early 1970s, rehashing the same supposedly imminent technological fixes and the same supposedly imminent apocalyptic disasters for almost half a century, as though nobody had ever suggested any of these things before and as though none of them has ever been put to the test. There’s a weird amnesia that surrounds our fantasies of the future, and the fact that only a few of us out here on the fringes seem to have noticed that it exists is perhaps the weirdest thing about it.

The amnesia I have in mind isn’t limited to the solutions, or rather nonsolutions, for our energy predicament being bruited about these days, or for that matter the apocalypses—perhaps we should call them unpocalypses—being marketed just as feverishly at present. With that in mind, let’s take a look at one of the most remarkable examples of the stasis I’ve described: the way that the American imagination has frozen up solid around the unworkable fantasy of the flying car.

Listen to most discussions of flying cars on the privileged end of the geekoisie and you can count on hearing a very familiar sort of rhetoric endlessly rehashed. Flying cars first appeared in science fiction—everyone agrees with that—and now that we have really advanced technology, we ought to be able to make flying cars. QED! The thing that’s left out of most of these bursts of gizmocentric cheerleading is that we’ve had flying cars for more than a century now, we know exactly how well they work, and—ahem—that’s the reason nobody drives flying cars.

Let’s glance back at a little history, always the best response to this kind of futuristic cluelessness.  The first actual flying car anyone seems to have built was the Curtiss Autoplane, which was designed and built by aviation pioneer Glen Curtiss and debuted at the Pan-American Aeronautical Exposition in 1917. It was cutting-edge technology for the time, with plastic windows and a cabin heater. It never went into production, since the resources it would have used got commandeered when the US entered the First World War a few months later, and by the time the war was over Curtiss apparently had second thoughts about his invention and put his considerable talents to other uses.

There were plenty of other inventors ready to step into the gap, though, and a steady stream of flying cars took to the roads and the skies in the years thereafter.  The following are just a few of the examples.  The Waterman Arrowbile on the left, invented by the delightfully named Waldo Waterman, took wing in 1937; it was a converted Studebaker car—a powerhouse back in the days when a 100-hp engine was a big deal. Five of them were built.

During the postwar technology boom in the US, Consolidated Vultee, one of the big aerospace firms of that time, built and tested the ConVairCar model 118 on the right in 1947, with an eye to the upper end of the consumer market; the inventor was Theodore Hall.  There was only one experimental model built, and it flew precisely once.

The Aero-Car on the left had its first test flights in 1966. Designed by inventor Moulton Taylor, it was the most successful of the flying cars, and is apparently the only one of the older models that still exists in flyable condition.  It was designed so that the wings and tail could be detached by one not particularly muscular person, and turned into a trailer that could be hauled behind the body for on-road use. Six were built.

Most recently, the Terrafugia on the right managed a test flight all of eight minutes long in 2009; the firm is still trying to make their creation meet FAA regulations, but the latest press releases insist stoutly that deliveries will begin in two years. If you’re interested, you can order one now for a mere US$196,000.00, cash up front, for delivery at some as yet undetermined point in the future.

When people insist that we’ll have flying cars sometime very soon, in other words, they’re more than a century behind the times. We’ve had flying cars since 1917. The reason that everybody isn’t zooming around on flying cars today isn’t that they don’t exist. The reason that everybody isn’t zooming around on flying cars today is that flying cars are a really dumb idea, for the same reason that it’s a really dumb idea to try to run a marathon and have hot sex at the same time.

Any automotive engineer can tell you that there are certain things that make for good car design. Any aeronautical engineer can tell you that there are certain things that make for good aircraft design. It so happens that by and large, as a result of those pesky little annoyances called the laws of physics, the things that make a good car make a bad plane, and vice versa. To cite only one of many examples, a car engine needs torque to handle hills and provide traction at slow speeds, an airplane engine needs high speed to maximize propeller efficiency, and torque and speed are opposites: you can design your engine to have a lot of one and a little of the other or vice versa, or you can end up in the middle with inadequate torque for your wheels and inadequate speed for your propeller. There are dozens of such tradeoffs, and a flying car inevitably ends up stuck in the unsatisfactory middle.

Thus what you get with a flying car is a lousy car that’s also a lousy airplane, for a price so high that you could use the same money to buy a good car, a good airplane, and a really nice sailboat or two into the bargain. That’s why we don’t have flying cars. It’s not that nobody’s built one; it’s that people have been building them for more than a century and learning, or rather not learning, the obvious lesson taught by them. What’s more, as the meme above hints, the problems with flying cars won’t be fixed by one more round of technological advancement, or a hundred more rounds, because those problems are hardwired into the physical realities with which flying cars have to contend. One of the great unlearned lessons of our time is that a bad idea doesn’t become a good idea just because someone comes up with some new bit of technology to enable it.

Shall I provide a second example? Let’s take another of the classic ideas of pulp science fiction, the jetpack. That’s another thing the privileged end of the geekoisie loves to insist will really, truly arrive sometime soon, and once again, it’s something that’s been built over and over again since about the time liquid-fueled rockets first became practicable. The reason we don’t all fly around wearing jetpacks is simple: even the strongest man can’t carry enough fuel on his back to fly for more than a very short distance. There are hard physical limits on the energy density of fuels, and those make Commando Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe, great fun as fiction but a flop as an engineering project. Yet jetpacks are stuck sideways in the collective imagination of a technofetishistic society, and so people keep on trying to build them—or simply insisting at the top of their lungs that progress will inevitably produce them in its own good time.

The same thing, finally, is also true of all the allegedly imminent solutions for peak oil that have been bruited about since the 1970s, and all the allegedly imminent world-destroying cataclysms that have been being predicted for roughly the same length of time. The reason that we can’t power our absurdly extravagant energy-wasting lifestyles with PV cells isn’t that evil petroleum companies have been stopping us from doing so. It’s because by the time it crosses 93 million miles of outer space to get to us, sunlight is a diffuse, low-quality, intermittently available energy source, and trying to use it to replace the extremely concentrated, high-quality, on-demand energy we get from fossil fuels is a nonstarter.

Again, that doesn’t mean that solar energy is a bad thing. It means that it can’t be used to do what current rhetoric insists it should do—and we know this because of more than a century and a half of capable experimentation with solar energy, going all the way back to Augustin Mouchot’s first solar thermal devices in the 1860s. A society powered by solar energy and other renewable sources is going to have a lot less concentrated, high-quality, on-demand energy available than we’re used to. Since very few people want to deal with this, in turn, that means we’re going to face a cascade of serious disruptions as that unwelcome reality arrives.

In the same way, the reason we won’t all die next Thursday from some supposedly unstoppable catastrophe is that those catastrophes are inflatable bogeymen puffed up by vast amounts of hot air. All of the allegedly imminent apocalypses I’ve encountered—and I’ve had hundreds of them shoved at me by people who want to insist that we don’t have to face a future of stagnation and decline—rely on at least one, and usually more than one, of three kinds of bad logic. First is the claim that some change will proceed in a linear fashion straight through to catastrophe, because all the countervailing factors that ordinarily apply will somehow pull a no-show just this once.  The second is the claim that the extreme worst case scenario is the only possible outcome of whatever crisis is under discussion.  The third—well, we should probably call it the Giant Space Walrus factor, the claim that some made-up factor like the 2012 pseudo-Mayan unpocalypse will pop up out of nowhere and gobble up the world, just you wait and see!

In the real world of human affairs, by contrast, linear changes morph into cyclic swings or dissolve in turbulence before they reach the point of absurdity, extreme worst case scenarios are the least likely outcome of an actual crisis, and the mere fact that nobody can prove that a giant space walrus isn’t about to gobble up the world provides no evidence that such a beast actually exists. Look at the track record of apocalyptic predictions and it’s hard not to notice that they have one thing in common: they’re always wrong—and the more obviously they’re being made as a way to keep from dealing with something a society really, truly doesn’t want to deal with, the more certain you can be that the giant space walruses du jour will wave goodbye with their photon flippers and go gobble up a planet somewhere else.

And of course that’s the situation we’re in today, as I hinted two weeks ago. The reason why so many people these days fixate on imaginary solutions to the problems of our time, and so many others fixate just as frantically on imaginary cataclysms that will render those problems irrelevant, is that so few people want to deal with those problems or their consequences. It’s precisely because stagnation and decline frame the everyday experiences of most people in most of the world’s industrial nations today that so many people cling to anything that will allow them to pretend that stagnation and decline either aren’t real or don’t matter.

None of those maneuvers will make stagnation and decline go away. If anything, by luring the clueless and the innocent to invest their time in waiting for solutions that won’t arrive and cataclysms that won’t arrive either, they simply guarantee that the stagnation will deepen and the decline will accelerate. There are certainly things that can be done to deal with the realities of stagnation and decline; some of them even involve adopting renewable energy technologies, on the one hand, or making sensible preparations for a range of non-apocalyptic but still serious troubles on the other. All of them, however, require us to look the future in the face, and shake off the habit of amnesia that keeps us from noticing that we’ve wasted fifty years pretending that a flying car is going to take us to Tomorrowland, when the one thing nobody is willing to talk about is that it’s not going to arrive.


  1. I personally “love” to hear those adults in the room who tear down the science denier who doesn’t believe in climate change or vaccination, while believing unquestioningly that the future is even more high tech and all about renewables, and just as wasteful.

    Here in Minnesota, many of both parties seem to believe that letting foreign corporations mine copper/nickel in sulfides in a water rich environment, one generation’s mining for ten-20 generations of remediation, is ok because the future is even more high tech and more rich so future generations will have no problem managing it. We have to do it, this mining, see, because otherwise we won’t have the glorious renewable future that awaits us, or our fancy phones. It begins to feel like a threat, allow this foreign corporation to mine, or else….

    I feel like the political dialogue too is stuck in 20th century ideology, like our oil addiction has wired our brain to deny reality generally and believe the unbelievable. Trying to reason with hard core believers in progress and growth or imminent apocalypse is like trying to reason with an alcoholic or meth or heroin addict in the midst of their addiction. People don’t change unless they want to change. About 1 in 10 in my experience, is willing to do the work to face reality and change.

  2. Seven years ago, I wrote “One of the most popular catchphrases for expressing disappointment in the lack of technological progress during the 21st Century is ‘Where’s my flying car?'” I even featured a news story about the Terrafugia in it and thought at least the rich would get their flying cars. Not even that has happened, along with other technologies science fiction predicted, like personal jetpacks, which you also mentioned, nuclear fusion, and robot armies. We may be closer to getting selfdriving cars, another science fiction technology that people are trying to make real, but I recall that you’re skeptical about those becoming an everyday reality as well. As for me, I’m working on reducing my driving. As I’ve mentioned here before, I think that’s better than advertising how virtuous my diet is (it’s not; being a diabetic limits my options).

  3. Nicely written, and I agree that the future in the West is more present day Kyiv-like than Chernobyl-exculsion-zone. BI suspect you are cherry-picking your techno-foilbles for effect. When I was a kid, men in their 50 and 60s dropped dead of coronary-artery blockage left and right. If you had said to someone, in 1950, “We’re going to stop your heart, strip a blood vessel out of your leg and then open your chest and graft that vessel onto a portion of your coronary artery and then sew you up and restart your heart and, poof, no more blockage,” they would have said you were delusional. And yet it is done every day.

    Some contemporary-ish technology is efficient and its uptake is very rapid: electrification, telephones, cell phones, antibiotics, internet, endoscopic surgery, etc. And why not highlight a company like Lillium, among others, which has an all-electric VTOL pilot-less aircraft that is making test runs with passengers now, and may entirely bypass the “car” part of the flying car concept. If you make an efficient and reliable small electric aircraft, maybe no one uses a car in the way they do now, in much the same way that few people use a land-line telephone now the way everyone did 25 years ago. here in NYC, taxi medallions went for $900,000 just twenty years ago. Now they are worth a quarter of that. Is Uber a good thing? No, it has caused enormous personal suffering for cab drivers and Uber drivers alike, hiwle it made a few technocrats into billionaires, but it exists and it eviscerated the hired-transportation market in less than a decade.

    Disruptive technology is a realty. Is fracking good? Decidedly not. But does it produce — at a gigantic financial loss — large quantities of hydrocarbons for a short time? Yes it does, and it is not only a huge money loser, it is an environmental catastrophe that has done all the damage done in 150 years of coal mining in 20 years.

    I’m not saying the technocratic world is going to come up with some Hail Mary-pass to save the West from its Kyiv-like future. It won’t. I’m saying it is a mistake to dismiss the potential of someone to come along and say, “I don’t want a flying car, I want a VTOL aircraft that allows me to do all the things a car does, but does it in the air.” Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t. I don’t know. But it is a mistake to say this phenomenon can’t happen.

  4. I tend to find the whole apocalypse hang up rather masturbatory; if you see someone really, really getting into it there’s something more than a little sexual. A first rate performance of freaking out about the end days has the same sort of tone that men so often taken when describing a very beautiful woman. Lust, yes; but also more than a little fear and apprehension. Also often men have a certain way of getting proud and boastful when discussing a beautiful woman, and that same pride and boastfulness get recycled when rabbiting on and on about how this disaster will lead to that and then everyone’s dead. When I’ve argued with these people I get the same sort of response I did with some of my more challenging peers back in the day, essentially some variant of “you saying that you don’t find my girlfriend hot?”

    I don’t mean this as some sort of snide joke; I find the whole thing profoundly creepy. That said, it is also of interest. The tone that people take regarding apocalypse is so obviously different than the tone they take when a loved one falls seriously ill. Actual sickness, death, destruction and mayhem tends to be, at least in my experience, rather sobering, and what I see is in apocalyptic thinking and fetishization the very opposite of sober.

  5. “We’ve wasted fifty years pretending that a flying car is going to take us to Tomorrowland” — that reminds me that four years ago, I left a comment at The Archdruid Report about Disney’s movie “Tomorrowland.” The story was “about how the shiny retro future we were promised 50 years ago is in danger. Disney has no idea.” That included the box office, where it lost to “Mad Max: Fury Road.” Dystopia outsold optimism, at least in the theaters.

  6. Stick your hand out into the sunshine on a fine summer’s day at noon, and it will become warm, perhaps even uncomfortably warm. In time, you might even get a bit of sunburn.

    Then, thrust your hand into a flaming bucket of gasoline.

    You will come to an exquisite understanding of the difference in energy density between solar energy and fossil fuel. 🙂

  7. “many people cling to anything that will allow them to pretend that stagnation and decline either aren’t real or don’t matter.” This is a key insight. It is deeply disturbing to human psychology to be looking at a long term of stagnation and decline. We want hope. If not hope, then at least a good cataclysm where we go down fighting. It would be interesting to probe the psychological roots of this bit of human irrationality.

    The physics of flying cars and jetpacks are rooted in the fact that lift to drag ratios are never larger than 20 (maybe 30 for extreme designs, but usually less than 10 for anything claiming to be a flying car), and so you have to pay in fuel for every kilogram (or pound) you fly with. As a result, it will never make sense to take adequate automotive tires, suspension, transmission, or collision mitigation systems on flights with you.

    I wonder why people fixate on flying cars and the “bastille day jet board” when really revolutionary new technologies like net-zero houses with high efficiency air exchangers or public transit optimized with cell phones or electric assisted bicycles for commuting are actually happening? I would guess a good part of it is escapism. When life is miserable, it is fun to imagine flying away whenever you want.

  8. Dear JMG:

    Thanks for continuing to post on the key topic of decline. This week I specially valued your concreteness, with your string of Jetson examples and your accompanying photos.

    I have a small request. As you continue discussing decline, would you perhaps care to comment both (a) on Constantinople and (b) on a possible current tendency to downlplay the importance of Constantinople?

    (a) I think some of us will value Constantinople as an instance of a society that was able to think in terms of the deep future and invest its resources rationally, in part through the establishment of necessary defences. The Theodosian walls were seriously challenged over the centuries. Nevertheless, Constantinople did not get sacked until 1204, and the real end did not come until the 1453 Turkish cannonade. At any early point in their history, with Attila on the move, Theodosius’s walls were breached in any earthquake. Incredibly, the necessary repairs got done in done in just two months, I think with rival hippodrome factions encouraged to compete in masonry chores. With sound defences in place, Attila was duly deterred.

    (b) I wonder if you possibly share my impression that Constantinople does not these days get the amount of press it deserves? A search in YouTube turns up some material, but not quite as much as one would like. (Admittedly, I have found it stimulating to watch the short, too abruptly terminated, clip, for a bit of haunting atmosphere. And admittedly there are some other good YouTube materials.) The general current cultural, or “press”, perception seems to be that Constaninople was somehow a degeneration or aberration, of legitimate interst now only to fringe people like W.B.Yeats. Or am I in your view being too hard on our current press? You know the press rather well as a student of social sciences, and may therefore prove able to assess it where I can only make conjectures.


    Tom = Toomas Karmo (in Nõo Rural Municipality, approx 200 km S of Tallinn)

    PS: I should perhaps add for clarity that in praising the walls of Theodosius, I do not support xenophobia, as we see it in discussions of immigration, for example here in Estonia. Xenophobia is righly rejected by the Holy See. Theodosius serves not as a present-day exhortation to the erection of physical barriers but as a present-day exhortation to a kind of emotional or spiritual resoluteness, in other words to a refusal to water down one’s identity and traditions. It is as my head of College in Britain, himself a mediaevalist, put it in some College meeting 40 years ago: with our times getting darker, we have to “fight a rear-guard action” in the cultural sphere.

  9. Ah, the Flying Car. Back in the early ’90s I got my Private Pilot’s License and one of my ground-school instructors LOVED to rant about the stupidity of the flying car. While he scrolled out all of the technical issues that you did, JMG, I’d like to add one more counter argument to your bag of tricks: the human element. Cars, driving in 2D (frontwards/backwards and side-to-side), are already very hard to operate safely. Just look at the annual death tolls in the USA for traffic accidents – well exceeds total US military causalities in Viet Nam each year. We are, collectively, just barely smart enough to use them. Add that third D (up/down) and the complexity really takes off, if I say so myself. And that was before all of the techno-distractions of smart devices behind the wheel/stick! If there were to be an accompanying Apocalypse, it would be to those of us on the ground trying to dodge all of the flaming chunks of post mid-air collision FCD (flying-car debris) falling from the skies. (Save us, oh Heavenly Space Walrus!)

    The human failures to react in real time, in 3D to dense, fast-moving traffic over metropolitan areas would be catastrophic. Underestimating the complexity of air-traffic control and proper use of air space has killed many a well trained pilot – adding the stupid and the distracted to the mix at 100+ mph at over 3000 ft could actually count as population control.

    Back in the late ’90s (prior to 911) I saw that the FAA was working on automated flight controls and it looked promising. Of course all of that stopped abruptly. Since (I say) human control is out for flying cars over big cities, AI-based automated flight control seems to be the only option. While I sure as hell ain’t going to be an early adopter, I do have a list of names I’d love to share as volunteers.

  10. I wonder if people are in love with flying cars (which are not, in fiction, depicted as cars that can also fly, but more like personal helicopters) because it allows them to have “independent” automobile culture without the embarrassment of relying on the heavy hand of government to make their lifestyles possible?

    Regarding nukes, the sort of people who can develop and deploy nuclear weapons are also the sort of people who are goodish at thinking through their actions. Though I definitely expect to see a lot of proliferation in the coming years, since a nuke is an effective deterrent against invasion (as Kim Jong-un knows full well – John Bolton’s mention of the “Libya precedent”, where giving up your nuclear program gets you sodomised to death by American backed rebels, doesn’t inspire confidence for disarmament). In a more dangerous world with no hegemon, or with a hegemon that readily invades countries for resources, getting nukes is the smart choice.

  11. I’m Certainly one of the folks that wrote suggesting we have a fairly bright future thanks to non-carbon energy. I’m not sure that’s right – I’m well aware that none of us knows for sure what the future holds.

    But I remain unconvinced that a future not unlike the present, powered by renewable energy plus nuclear, is impossible. I see the most likely scenario, with hundreds of years of fossil fuels remaining to make the transition, is that we run our world on multiple source of energy. Solar will certainly be a part of it, but so will hydro, wind, geothermal, nuclear and probably a few none of us is aware of. I know people who have lifestyles similar to mine and run their whole home on solar electricity, with no grid connection. Countries as diverse as Iceland, the Congo, Costa Rica and Norway get all their electricity from renewable sources. France gets most of its electricity from nuclear power plants. We have solved much harder problems in the past.

    Once again, none of us knows the future and there will be surprises. It won’t be exactly as any of us expects. I have long believed that nuclear weapons, as bizarre as it sounds, are the best peacemakers. So far. But I might wind up being wrong. The most likely scenario to me seems that we will go on much as we have, for a long, long time, just with a different source of energy.

    As for the flying cars, I have loved reading about them for my whole life, but never really expected them to happen. Just fun reading. Electric airplanes, now that’s pretty cool.

  12. I’ve been thinking about this sort of thing, and wondering how much of it can be put down to two factors: firstly, that we now deal mostly with a virtual world rather than a tangible one. When you work with computer images of tools, anything can be made as powerful as you need, and stories – video games, movies, comics — can only progress by gradually escalating the power and capability of the tool. Any gadget can be plugged into anything else, and putting more “power” in anything makes it more powerful.

    Working with an actual wrench or hammer, on the other hand, immediately brings you up against limitations; the better a hammer it is, the worse a wrench it is, and making it bigger or adding electricity doesn’t necessarily make it easier to use.

    A short time ago virtually everyone worked with regular tools for almost everything; even children in the comfortable 1950s grew up pounding nails in shop class or experimenting with home science kits that would never be given to kids today. Many of my generation and younger, however, never acquired — or are only slowly gaining in adulthood — the body wisdom to understand the limits of the tangible world.

    Secondly, most people think of each new form of technology as encapsulating all the ones before it; for example, that a few clicks on the Internet brings in all the knowledge of the world. What’s never referenced, I think, is the forgetting that occurs with each new technology.

    The more people depend on recordings, the less people are able to tell jokes or play instruments. The more people depend on Google the more books are lost as libraries close and people’s brains grow adapted to scanning rather than reading. Even if some families still have books or pictures, a sudden loss of our internet servers would leave most families with a 20-year gap in their collections.

    As our technology becomes more frantic and fleeting, it seems, we have less and less knowledge of anything that came before us. Everyone I talk to is shocked to learn, for example, that climate change has been known about for more than a century, or that every allegedly “new” invention or cultural milestone is in fact very old. Everything seems hyperbolic today partly because everything seems unprecedented.

  13. I absolutely agree with JMG about flying cars and jet packs, though I think the probabilities are in favor of self-driving cars at this point. None-the-less, I do have one thing I want to say about flying cars. Even if they were economically feasible, I’d like to remind everyone that the average driver can hardly operate their vehicle in two dimensions. The idea of adding a third dimension to it is extremely scary, at least to me. Cars and people would be falling out of the sky on an hourly basis. Damage to people and property on the ground would be immense. Just saying.

  14. re: “What I find fascinating about all this is that when I make these points, people don’t generally respond by saying, ‘Oh thank God, we’re going to survive.’ Quite the contrary, it’s as though they’re disappointed to be deprived of the thermonuclear holocaust of their dreams.”

    … Which brings to mind the phrase “Doom Porn”. Perhaps this is a natural human response to a dilemma that, in their minds, holds no promise of a satisfactory outcome.

  15. Being a former Cold Warrior who actually had to watch over the plutonium powered noise makers, your points about why no one has used them, rhetoric to the contrary, is quite correct. When my daughter went through the “We should ban nuclear weapons!” phase, I had her read up on the Battle of the Marne and the Battle of the Somme and asked her if that is what she wanted to make possible again. Then I had her read the appendix to the Guns of August. That has a qualitative description of the casualty count in France, where entire graduating classes of school kids (men at least) were wiped out. And that in turn explains why the French threw in the towel so early in WWII, they just were not going to do that again. But I’m digressing.

    And renewable energy vs winter at 47 N. Eight hours of day light, heavy overcast at least half the time, and no wind due to the same inversion causing the overcast. 14F at night, 28 day time high, so how to stay warm? Clear cut the forests for firewood? My heat pump still works at that temperature, and pulls 8 amps at 240 V at a 50 to 60% duty cycle.

    Despite the claims that Phoenix will be uninhabitable once the fossil fuels run out, PV is actually at the right time and place for their AC load. Minneapolis, on the other hand, will have to go back to heating with wood, and there are too many people there now for that to work for long. will calculate this for you. Run heating degree days at 65 F and cooling degree days for 80 F and compare the numbers.

  16. What I have been slowly doing is building up lots of reference books, paper and ink ones, that deal with herbs, gardening, astrology, tarot, esoteric information, and tools such as pencils, drafting and measuring tools, and even *gasp!* a slide rule. Im also looking into personal solar power chargers and such. Being disabled, Ive not had a car since mid 2011. I also know Im not physically able to do much physical work, so Ill dust off my” mage hat”, and do such things for exchanges. Living in an area that has both rising seas and sinking land, I keep aware of when I may have to flee to higher ground. I often talk to people who insist that this that or the other will “save” high tech cultures, like a friend who insists that someday fusion power WILL save us. “It’s just 20 years away” I point out that not only that it’s been 20 years away for a good 50 years, that also not a single fusion reactor has produced a watt of usable power, after decades and tens of billions of dollars and tens of thousands of work hours and she is “But it might!” I answer “ Yes, but It wont” Then there are those who go into screaming fits when I say “We will not be able to save all the cars” You would think I was the Devil’s Handmaiden. I tell them “I prefer Cthulhu, myself. A much more organic god” Blank looks usually follow. I also post the link to this page in a number of places, so it’s getting passed on. I do enjoy these weekly posts, and the comments. And the books!!

  17. Hey hey JMG,

    I apologise about the borderline language upfront, and I’ll understand if you don’t post this. I’ve found that describing the decline with a word I made up circumvents the thought stoppers before they can form. I call it the crappening, a slow uneven process were things get gradually crappier in fits and starts. From there it is easy to talk about the increasing cost and decreasing quality of health care and education, the decline in quality of our democracy, the growing environmental problems, etc.

    After I get started I often take a minute to explain that I call it the crappening to distinguish it from the zombie apocalypse and the Star Trek techno utopia singularity, because neither of those things are real. I find that most people can talk about it and only a few on the fringes are strongly wedded to one of the extremes. It’s actually a lot like our political situation, where there is a majority in the middle capable of reasonable discussion and two polarised extremes that are both vocal and unreasonable.

    That said, I find it bizarre we have a pretty good idea what is coming down the pipe in terms of climate change, energy depletion, the decline of the American empire, etc in the next 20 – 30 years and people are making plans like nothing is going to happen. It’s very weird.


  18. I think another good reason that there isn’t flying cars in wide use is that, well, keeping even ground vehicles in satisfactory safe running condition is almost more than enough of a challenge for the general public! And as of this spring even our wonderful white collar aviation elites have a more tarnished record due to crashes due to short cuts and half measures being pressed into service on the part of one airline manufacturer keeping competitivewith another. In the future as constraints continue to creep in there will sadly be more of the same. Just walk around and notice the condition of car tire treads if you want to make yourself nervous!

    These verbatim Peak Oil objections brings to my mind the so called “sales funnels” that are used in higher pressure and lower scruple applications that amount to getting an initial “yes” from the target, take advantage of most people’s value of consistency, and convert that into a dubious financial exchange the mark doesn’t actually want but can’t quite articulate why until too late.

    The scary and fascinating aspect is that even armed with such knowledge, one is still just as susceptible to such cognitive tricks as before. Somehow it seems Peak Oil narrative triggers some pretty primal behavior routines!

    I was just listening to the latest James Howard Kunstler podcast and doing some weeding in a good mood, reflecting on how I could keep a good mood because weeding while in a bad mood contemplating how “I’m wasting my life and should be in grad school” (yes, I know!) is pretty dour stuff, and he broached the topic of flow and intent and meaning and how in Europe even bistro signs have a nice artistry to them. What a synchronicity! How much suffering do we Yanks and westerners bring ourselves through because of some latent protestant internal monologues and how we’ll ever get past them seems like a great challenge to answer.

  19. Out in the real world, I don’t directly mention the disease (decline of industrial civ.) anymore. That almost always runs into the mental deflections people use to defend their outdated view of the world. I usually get more traction with symptoms. I think on some subconscious level though, most people are partially grokking the state of the world. Therefore, when I present a solution, it’s usually an easy sell. People seem to admire that my house is mini, that I’m converting the old lawn to garden/orchard (they already know I make good hard cider), that I cook most of my own meals (they’re tasty and I share). Compost pile? “Good idea!”. Converting the old poured concrete mechanic pit in the detached garage to a root cellar (I’ll need somewhere to store all my black oxford apples and butternut squash through the winter)? “That’s awesome dude!”.

    Online, I frequent the collapse subreddit and run into a ton of these deflections like the ones you described in this weeks post. Most of them do seem to fall into some kind of false dichotomy pattern. In addition to the end of the world vs infinite progress trap, there is the classic good guy (the person using this is always on this side for some reason, hmm) vs bad guy trap. I decided to have some fun and started trying to lure people over to the dormant subreddit advocating a platform that borrowed a few sacred cows from both major US parties. I was called a Nazi at least half a dozen times, though I wasn’t really surprised. Never mind that none of the posts or sidebar referenced anything having to do with Nazis, Fascists or anything like that. Despite a decent uptick in subscribers, there hasn’t been much discussion on the sub itself, so I don’t know how much longer I’ll keep up my efforts, but it has been interesting to see some of the things you describe in action. Another one I see is the all or nothing trap. Recently there was post talking about how planting trees could help mitigate the impact of climate change by absorbing CO2. Yes, clearly that by itself is not sufficient, but it probably is necessary, so doing it still makes sense even if we aren’t totally sucessful. Nevermind benefits to wildlife habitat, biodiversity, flood control/erosion prevention etc… Yet the way some people react, if that one thing isn’t enough to save the day, it isn’t worth doing anything and we’re still doomed. Eesh. Anyway, I try not to let seeing stuff like that get me too down and focus most of my time on things from the first paragraph of my post.

    As always, thanks for your wisdom and providing this discussion platform.

  20. re: “I’m wholly in favor of renewables; they’re what we’ll have left when fossil fuels are gone; but anyone who thinks that the absurdly extravagant energy use that props up a modern lifestyle can be powered by PV cells simply hasn’t done the math. Yet you’ll hear plenty of well-intentioned people these days insisting that if we only invest in solar PV we can stop using fossil fuels and still keep our current lifestyles.”

    There is an “intentional community” not far from where I live that has experimented widely with small-scale passive solar heating, photovoltaics, and wind energy. Their findings (and adjustments) have been illuminating. The phrase “make hay while the sun shines” comes to the fore.

    In general, heating of living spaces is not a problem. Refrigeration is a bit more involved but is a surmountable problem. As for driving electric tools such a grinders, etc., all of these run on DC and are used exclusively when the sun is shining. A small nickel/iron battery bank keeps a few strategic lights on for a few hours after dark. After that, it’s bed time. All of this begs the question of how the glass for passive heating, refrigerators for cooling, and machines for grinding, etc. will be manufactured.

    Nevertheless, what’s clear is that a reasonably comfortable lifestyle is possible, In my view, this is because of two things: first, there’s a huge difference between just a little and none at all. Maybe not greater than the difference between just a little and over-the-top, but some of the conveniences of modern life will still be possible. Secondly, diminishing returns. In an environment of scarcity, energy will be directed at the low-hanging fruit, and this is the fruit that will deliver the “most bang for the buck”.

    It is comforting to think that this will be the outcome of our present dilemma. I have no confidence that things will turn out that way, but it should be added to the list of possibilities.

  21. I’m not an engineer and I don’t know anything about engine torque but I’ve been reading this blog long enough to know you do, JMG, so I trust you. However, I’ve long thought that one thing *anybody* ought to know, at least city people anyway, is that a very large number of people can barely drive an ordinary car on an ordinary road. Here in Atlanta, there is at least one serious accident a day (often several) on the Downtown Connector running through center of the city. Do we really want people zipping overhead through a forest of skyscrapers? I think not. I don’t even want hordes of trained Uber drivers up there in flying taxis ready to land on my head at any random moment.

    During the 10+ years of reading your blog, you’ve often commented on, if not bemoaned, the fact that things wouldn’t be quite as bad today if only people had started doing something several decades ago but isn’t it basic human nature that people don’t rush headlong into misery? Sustainable living would have been relatively miserable in the 70’s and, as standards of living have risen, the gap between comfort and practicality has only grown wider. So we have people who cope with denial and people who cope with the sublimated suicidal ideation of Space Walrus inhalation. It seems kind of predictable. You never really talk about what a sustainable life would look like. Is that because it’s difficult to describe or because, even here, people really wouldn’t want to know?

  22. Ever since the article was written on Ecosophia as to how Mother Nature selected zebra mussels to clean up Lake Erie, I have wondered if she also did not select humans to clean up the planet of all the flammable carbon sources that have accumulated over the eons. Maybe humanities role is just to burn up all the oil, coal, and natural gas that have accumulated to a dangerous level on the planet, releasing all the carbon back into the food cycle for plants to use up again. When we have finished this work, we will start our slow decline back to a species that is just one of the many past dominant ones on the planet. This is already happening to the zebra mussels in Lake Erie, since they have used up their abundant food sources. We like to think that humans are not above and beyond being just another of Mother Nature’s tools that she uses to further her own ends. But most likely, we are just like the zebra mussels, here to do a cleanup job that once completed, will signal the end of our mission, and be the start of our decline back to where we belong in the big picture known only to Mother Earth.

  23. For @John who mentioned that Lillium is “…making test runs with passengers now”, um no. They made a brief unmanned hover with their prototype in May of this year, and their latest press releases talk about the software teams they hope to bring together for development. They are yet another company with lots of software renders of what they hope to do, but very little flight development experience. Airbus has actually done some unmanned test flights of note with their Vahana, including transition to 100+ mph forward flight and then transition back to hover and landing. But the energy density of batteries is woefully lacking, and there is little indication of much in the way of improvements to come. BTW, Airbus after spending LOTS of time and money on Vahana have recently announced it will never be produced. It’s reasonable to expect that Lillium will never be produced either, at least in anything like its present form. Physics always wins.

  24. Dear Toomas Karno, can you recommend a good history of Constantinople in English? Preferably not recent, as I am finding recent history to be all but unreadable.

    What I see and hear is folks assuming that, just as the apocalypse is here, me and mine get to be in charge!

  25. As a former pilot I am familiar with some to the realities of air traffic control that never seem to be mentioned with regard to the swarms of personal flying machines that would emerge like wasps out of countless urban nests at rush hours. Assuming for the sake of argument that anything like mass produced affordable personal flying machines were possible, it would require that they be controlled by AI under the aegis of the FAA simply because of the extremely difficulty of ensuring safe three dimensional traffic separation on a moment to moment basis. Projecting the ongoing challenge of autonomous ground vehicles only having to deal with two dimensions and the liability issues of insuring them onto three dimensions and invisible routing I would expect that there would be a definite limit on the number of personal flying machines in controlled airspace at any given moment. Not only that but the need for emergency services to have unpredictable priority would further reduce the imagined “freedom” of the sky. There’s a reason that the private flying community is relatively small. The training requirements are too arduous for many people either because of innate inability or reluctance to undergo the rigours. And then there’s the plethora of unmanned drones obeying insatiable consumer appetites…

  26. A car has to be designed so the air flowing over it pushes it down, else it will become uncontrollable at higher speeds (like over 100km/h). Not exactly a useful design feature for an airplane.

    Regardng nuclear holocaust, the general public seem unaware of the curveballs that ol’ Mom Nature can throw. From Carrington Events to Krakatoas to melting ice caps, I think she wins the game of “can you top this?”. OTOH, as the Boss said (I’m Christian), “you do not know the day or the hour,” so best to live as though the final exam is right around the corner!

  27. I call it the creeping crapification of everyday life; same idea.

    “But… flying cars as so cooool! And jet packs! And rocket ships!”

    Sigh … “When I was a child, I thought as a child…. but when I grew up, I put away childish things…”

    And why am I sitting here reading this blog instead of cleaning up my room here in the Village of the Lotus-Eaters? state of Margaritaville, college town, craziest state in Deepest Dixie…. “Waah! I WANNA, that’s why!”

    Will download Shoggoth Concerto after my nap.

  28. thanks for the elucidation on flying cars. i had found them extremely dumb since i first heard of them, but didn’t know they had already been tried.

    on the question of energy and fossil fuels, i recently read this post by Eric Raymond which addresses basically the same point: . since i began reading the Archdruid Report i kept wondering if there really was nothing better than a few aons of organic matter compression in the way of concentrating diffuse energy sources. Raymond talks about algae farms producing synthetic oil, and since then i’ve read about kinetic batteries, which could solve the main problem with solar. i’d love to know what your thoughts are on such technologies, and also on the very principle of concentrating energy.

  29. I think flying cars are invoked with such surprised happiness because they appear to solve the dreary problem of traffic. Imagine your smile when you lift straight up out of six-Lane gridlock on a Los Angeles freeway!

    Of course, whole new problems would be created, but our consciousness is of an n+1 type, not n+2.

    I’ve noticed the sexual overtone Violet mentioned, too. I think it’s an overplus of the desire for security. What better way insurance policy for the reality of a (febrile) concept than ownership, crassly expressed? It’s a way of adding a few extra slam dunks to the topic and the started opinion. The topic can remain closed and the weakness of uncertainty be forgotten.

    Anything but going within. Anything but that. This is what I hear in all these cultural gyrations.

  30. Oh, my. The utopian solar people. So adorable in their cluelessness.

    I regularly run into those (online, and occasionally in person) who like to talk about how they’re just going to install some solar panels, some home battery storage units, and “kick the utility company to the curb.” It’s usually one particular company mentioned, and it’s usually people living in large suburban homes that are massively dependent on large amounts of both electricity and natural gas to remain habitable year round – because they’re not designed for the environment, they’re designed to be stamped out in whatever direction is most convenient for the road they’re connected to. Plus, of course, a fast charger for their long range EV.

    Pointing out the realities of their roof area and angle versus their actual power use (and the reality that winter solar is quite a challenge almost everywhere – even if you don’t get much snow, you get shorter days and lower sun) is quite unwelcome. I’ve decided there’s a certain social capital that comes from declaring your intentions to do this, even if it’s technically infeasible and financially silly. Very few people seem to ever actually go through with it – but as long as you’ve “got a preorder,” you get all the social capital that comes from it without the inconvenience of having to deal with the physics of it.

    Another thing that drives me nuts (to the point where I’ve written a long post to explain the issues – are the people who just assume that grid tie solar would be totally capable of off-grid use if it weren’t for those “evil power companies” that “won’t let them use their solar panels if the grid is down” because then they wouldn’t make any money. Pointing out that off-grid power is quite doable (just very expensive for a typical home) is, again, somewhat unwelcome. It’s not that you can’t do it – it’s simply that they chose not to pay for it, because adding $30k-$50k to the cost of a system for moderate levels of backup isn’t financially feasible.

    My office is purely off-grid, and I’ve learned that most of what people on the internet say about solar and off-grid power is simply wrong – and the people who do live with it end up with very different solutions than what people with an afternoon’s reading about solar come up with as “obvious” solutions. Winter is the challenge, and east-west facing panels (at current panel costs) are a far more useful solution than south facing, because you have a longer solar day by several hours for most of the year. It’s been an interesting process having to go back to basics and see what actually works.

    On the plus side, it seems like more and more people are looking up, realizing the world isn’t going as promised to them, and asking “Well, now what?” It’s a far more useful response than plugging one’s ears and yelling about how if it weren’t for “them,” why, things would be on track as promised. Perhaps we can do something useful about it!

  31. I believe another corollary example of this phenomenon is modern medicine. America seems fascinated with the fairy tale that modern medicine will continue to do amazing great things and continue to improve at a geometric rate. So many of the great medical breakthroughs happened a long time ago. Vaccination, antibiotics, don’t smoke, exercise come to mind. We’ve had progress in surgery, robotics, some treatments, yet with all of the money, resources and research we do today, no diseases are cured. The near 100% cure rate of hepatitis C and the ability to “live” with AIDS are the only “cures” we’ve had in modern times. Yet America has blind faith in the great modern medicine. I’m married to a medical professional so I’ve seen behind the curtains and mistakes, fatal mistakes happen every day in every hospital. Most of modern medicine really is a snow job.

    Assuming the medicine bubble doesn’t pop(which I think will happen economically) I expect more marketing, Phama-kleptocracy, big showy hospitals with increasingly marginal results.

  32. If we’re going to talk about what might or might not happen in the future, we would need to have an accurate assessment of what’s happening now. We do not (imo of course).

    Example: “Climate change” in quotes because I find this term ridiculously nebulous. What impact are the various militaries of the world having on climate? The US document providing glimpses into the likely future is called “Weather as a Force Multiplier: Owning the Weather in 2025”. It appears that our government is reasonably far along their desire to control weather. I assume the other major powers are not sitting on their hands. Given the ample history of the US government, and every other major government, willingness to sacrifice Life for the pursuit of their goals, I assert that some significant proportion of what we’re seeing lately is human manipulation, not the generally useful emission of carbon dioxide.

    Maybe we could determine what advanced research our government is doing in alternative technologies so we could know if we’re going to be saved (/sarc) ? Sorry, not possible. Cooking the accounting books was just legalized – search on FASAB 56 for a discussion. $21 trillion is missing from the books in 1998-2015 from the DOD and HUD. What’s all that money doing?

    Until questions like these are answered, no one can accurately assess what’s happening now, or what might be happening in the future. Sure longer-term trends can be posed based on what’s happened before. But there’s a huge black hole in the now. And it ain’t out in space.

  33. “I personally “love” to hear those adults in the room who tear down the science denier who doesn’t believe in climate change or vaccination, ..”

    I really don’t think I am a science denier. I think I love science. I read quite a bit of it for a lay person. I don’t really know that I have ever met anyone who truly “disbelieves” “science.”

    But all situations are far more complex than they appear to be at first. So what happens is that people disagree on details. Scientific details. Perhaps in retrospect, like the doctors not wanting to believe Semmelweiss, it seems really obvious and you wonder how someone or large groups for that matter, could take a particular position.

    Calling me a science denier is a thought stopper and not useful. Further, what I find lacking is any actual argument, especially about vaccination. I’d like to know how people who take such a strong supportive stance on it would respond to concerns over multiple toxic ingredients and animal virus and proteins, or why there is a program for compensating the vaccine injured and why safety tests have never been done. So you’re a nurse in your 20’s, pregnant with your first child, and your hospital has a new rule that you have to get a flu shot. So you read the package insert and see that it says no safety testing has been done on pregnant women. You say, I’ll be glad to get the flu shot next year, but I don’t think it’s a good idea for me now. You get fired.

    Is she a science denier?

  34. Anyone who thinks getting an intramuscular injection containing mercury-based adjuvant, aluminum-based toxicant, polysorbate 80, and other such “good” ingredients is a good idea is sure in denial of something. Take a look at the slides from the very few comparisons of vaccinated to non-vaccinated populations, and that will quickly rearrange a few notions on “denial.”

  35. John—

    I don’t know if this fits in with the topic directly—it certainly has nothing to do with flying cars or thermonuclear war—but it does touch on what I would call a type of amnesia and an underlying faith in “progress.” I was involved in a conversation recently that wandered off into the realm of human cloning and one of the others in the conversation suggested that we could/ought to be looking at “creating” a servitor race via AI, cloning, or genetic engineering. We immediately got off onto who was a human when and what constituted an individual. I pointed out, among other more ethical issues, that regardless of whether or not it *could* be done, it *ought* not be done because in the end, you wind up in revolution, that the servants would eventually seek their freedom. The response was that we could simply program/breed out that desire for freedom. (And I’m thinking to myself, “that path didn’t work out terribly well for the Mi-go…”) As the person in question is not the type generally going off on far-flung flights of fancy, I was rather taken aback by the whole suggestion. I maintained my assertion that freedom would find a way in the long run, but I don’t think I convinced anyone else of that.

  36. Tim,
    The reason why people know what to do and yet don’t do it is very simple: the price is too high.

    If, for instance, your spouse is not on board, you could lose your family, be forced by law to remain in your current or an equally lucrative job, forbidden from moving under pain of losing shared custody, etc.

    Less drastically, you could lose your entire social circle.

    If those in denial turn out to be correct, you’ve given up the benefits of travel, restaurants, etc, of current society for nothing. If, of course, they’re wrong, you now fall in the position of every prophet ever, and people are upset because you told them, and on top of that you stick out as modestly better off than they are on the downward slope, and thus make a great target tor resentment.

  37. it is disingenuous to call solar pv or wind electric “renewable”, since they are 100% dependent on the underlying, hydrocarbon powered industrial mining and manufacturing infrastructure.

    my oldest module is from 1987… and although delaminated, it still works… but since then i have gone through countless inverters, charge controllers and batteries, all made from mining finite planet resources powered by hydrocarbons.

    the only reason why i continual pour money and resources into keeping my system operating is because it is a vital part of our homestead’s resiliency “buffer”… but i surely hold no illusions that it is in any way “green” or “renewable”.

    the take home message is that:
    worshiping technology is no savior to mitigate the “limits to growth”.

  38. Well this reminds me of your old ADR essays. I had to take my car to the mechanic today as someone cut out the catalytic converter as it contains precious metals.

    “Catalytic converters help clean up tailpipe emissions by passing exhaust gasses through metals and other materials. Some of those (potentially valuable) metals include rhodium, copper, nickel and platinum.”

    It reminded me of your ADR fiction where being a salvager becomes a normal job. The mechanic had the same thing happen to him and a number of his customers. So the future is already here and it’s NOT flying cars it’s scavaging and thieving metals instead. Not the future we ordered indeed.

    How people can still parrot the Gospel of the Church of Progress is beyond me.

    As an aside, how do you think the US’ Prison Industrial Complex will fare in a time of diminishing resources? Locking up 1% of the population is very expensive.

  39. John—

    By happenstance, I stumbled across this, from the editor’s introduction to the first issue of Astounding Stories from January 1930:

    What are “astounding” stories?

    Well, if you lived in Europe in 1490, and someone told you the earth was round and moved around the sun—that would have been an “astounding” story.

    Or if you lived in 1840, and were told that some day men a thousand miles apart would be able to talk to each other through a little wire—or without any wire at all—that would have been another.

    Or if, in 1900, they predicted ocean-crossing airplanes and submarines, world-girdling Zeppelins, sixty-story buildings, radio, metal that can be made to resist gravity and float in the air—these would have been other “astounding” stories.

    To-day, time has gone by, and all these things are commonplace. That is the only real difference between the astounding and the commonplace—Time.

    To-morrow, more astounding things are going to happen. Your children—or their children—are going to take a trip to the moon. They will be able to render themselves invisible—a problem that has already been partly solved. They will be able to disintegrate their bodies in New York and reintegrate them in China—and in a matter of seconds.

    Sounds terribly familiar…

  40. Hi, JMG,

    When I was a teenager in the 1970s, in the midst of the Cold War, I worried about nuclear war a lot. Then I took an astronomy course with a physics professor who had worked in nuclear testing and development at the end of WWII. Over time, I began to understand that America had been fairly sure they were ahead of the pack in completing their work, even though others were nipping at their heels. This made them fairly assured in using the weapons in a very controlled, carefully chosen way to try to hasten the end of the war. Not surprisingly, others in the world caught up fairly quickly after the war, leading to the “détente” that we saw in my youth (I know that word has gone out of fashion now).

    At the same time, Chernobyl has come back into the news and I am amused to see that a kind of consensus has been formed among those favorable to nuclear power that “The whole chain of events that led to this is because of problems that were specific to the Soviet Union of that time.” While this is true of some of the technical reasons for the accident, reading a book about the chain of bad decisions that were not technical but more related to management, I think, “Wow, I have seen those same things in play at my workplaces in America.” Meanwhile, I am surprised that so little attention has been paid to the economic repercussions of Chernobyl (and with the déjà vu I’ve been experiencing reading your posts lately, I expect the economic viability of technological solutions to be an ongoing theme you address). If you scroll to the bottom of this post you will see the ongoing billions of euros that must still be thrown at Chernobyl now and into the future—and that is on top of the billions already spent to contain it when it happened. And this is just for one nuclear accident.

    As for not learning from history, I’m not surprised. Two years ago I left my position as a director at a community college; at that time we were only two years out from completing a wrenching redesign of the department, and I had spent the last two years taking a department that people mistrusted and turning it around, and making sure people could trust the data we provided. I was trying to explain this situation to a new hire, who was wondering why we had to work so hard to make sure people trusted us. She looked me straight into the eyes and said: “Why do you think this is important? The past is not important. If we have good data people will have to trust it.” I was trying to save her from fall out she could have avoided; but sometimes I think, maybe we need to run into the fall out from our actions before we realize how important learning from the past can be.

  41. Who really thinks much about flying cars nowadays or seriously expects them to be a part of our future? Most people, I expect, relegate them to the realm of fantasy entertainment a la The Jetsons and Bladerunner. Flying cars, it seems to me, are a bit of a straw man whose easy knockdown is unworthy of your considerable talent.

  42. I have done a lot of work in solar pv. I don’t disagree that the idea they will replace fossil fuels is problematic, I just think that the larger problem is different than the one stated.

    Hydrocarbons are stored solar energy. If you could find a practical way to store the energy from your pv array, so that it is not so time sensitive, you might find your way to a somewhat workable solution to transitioning to something that wouldn’t completely suck.

    But last I checked, there is a huge amount of question about how we are going to find enough battery making material for all the electrical cars we are supposed to be putting on the road. Adding in the material and cost to do the same thing with the enormous solar farms out there, or if we want to stay off grid, all those Tesla-like battery type setups for homes and offices, and it gets a bit mind boggling.

    And sure, people come up with interesting solutions. But when you start seeing them produced at the multi-meggawatt scale, I’ll start thinking they might be viable.

  43. Toby Hemenway, The Permaculture City, has the most interesting statements: Cheap oil has led to needless complexity in transportation, health care, and higher education. In transportation, we’ve gone from horseback travel to jets, complex jet parts, overly complex cockpits, airports the size of Manhattan, the TSA, and full body scanners.

    In health care, we see the edition of layers and layers of white collar jobs and salaries given to people with no medical training whatsoever. The most they do is provide some guidance for the layer below them and some reports for the layer above them.

    In higher education, we know our job market is crazed musical chairs with the shakiest, most unpredictable job insecurity ever, the anti-thesis of why we should have student loans, whose interest rates go up faster than the value of a house. Finally, of course, Hemenway notes JMG in one of his later chapters.

  44. Shaun, many thanks for the announcement! I’ll have something up on my Dreamwidth journal soon and something on next week’s blog post as well.

    William, no argument there. Watching a true believer in progress go at it with a climate change skeptic, say, is pretty much indistinguishable from watching a debate between the followers of two competing flavors of religious fundamentalism.

    Vince, glad to hear it. I really do have to do a post about the bizarre transformation of dietary theory into a branch of moral philosophy, don’t I?

    Glenn, that’s part of it, but it cuts both ways — the fact that people will snap up books on apocalyptic fantasies and gaudily painted nonsolutions, while ignoring books on such really valuable actions like planting trees and using less energy, shows that people want the fantasy and don’t want the reality.

    John, you may want to reread my post, because I’m not saying that disruptive technology doesn’t happen. I’m saying that if you expect the supposedly disruptive technologies that didn’t work in the 1970s and the 2000s to suddenly start working now, you’re going to be disappointed — and if you assume that the disruptions caused by disruptive technology will always turn out to be helpful, and will save industrial society from those pesky little annoyances called the laws of physics, you’re going to be disappointed again. As for Lillium, let’s see how the economics work out; the Aero-Car had successful test flights, too…

    Yorkshire, yep. Both of those were tested extensively in the 1970s and 2000s. Both are useful in a modest sort of way, and I suspect a thousand years from now a lot of windmills will pump air into tanks so that machine shops and the like will have compressed air on demand to power their drill presses and lathes…but issues of scale make it impossible for either one to provide the absurdly extravagant energy supplies required to prop up a modern middle class lifestyle.

    Violet, okay, you get this afternoon’s gold star for an unexpected yet dead-on-target comparison. You’re right, of course; just as the French call orgasm le petit mort, “the little death,” apocalypse has very much the character of le grand mort, or perhaps le grand orgasme.

    Vince, funny. Still, I wasn’t at all surprised to see Tomorrowland turned into a movie. As my generation sinks into senility, it stands to reason that they would spend their time obsessively pursuing the half-forgotten daydreams of their childhood.

    Sgage, got it in one! For that matter, stand on a hill with the wind in your face; now expose your face to the jet of superheated steam coming out of the nozzle of a natural gas-fired steam turbine. For the second or so before death supervenes, you’ll realize the same distinction…

    Ganv, that’s definitely one of the reasons why flying cars don’t work well! As for the fixation on them, I think it’s more than just the fantasy of flying away. As I see it, most people simply can’t imagine a future different from the one portrayed in 1960s pop culture — and why that is, well, that’s a question that needs careful study in future posts.

    Toomas, you’re not mistaken at all. The Byzantine Empire has been largely ignored in pop-culture history because the cultures that dominate the international conversation these days weren’t part of its cultural sphere. As Russia rises, expect that to change. As for the walls of Theodosius, they’re not an expression of xenophobia — they’re a statement of resolve, saying that Byzantium’s interactions with foreign cultures (which were extensive, wide-ranging, and rich) would take place on terms the Byzantine government and people determined were in their best interests, not on whatever terms foreign cultures might choose to demand. National self-determination is not xenophobia!

    KevPilot, a palpable hit! Yeah, a multiple-car collision means something rather uglier when you have lumps of flaming wreckage and stray body parts dropping from 3000 feet. I suppose you could find a chunk of Nevada for flying car enthusiasts to go zooming around above, and film it for splatter-film enthusiasts…

    Alice, I suspect you’re quite right. As for nuclear weapons as a deterrent, exactly — and that’s why I expect the Iranians to test a nuclear warhead just as soon as they’re ready to deploy half a dozen more. There’s no more effective way to say “back off” than a mushroom cloud.

    Phil, “a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest,” as Simon and Garfunkel sang back in the day. If that’s the future you want to believe in, by all means; I’d simply point out that people have been waiting for it for a long time, while fossil fuel use rises and ecological disruptions accelerate.

    Brian, I think both of those are crucial points. Two weeks from now I’ll be talking about the first of them, in a certain cockeyed sense.

    Bird, yep — that’s part of the standard process of warband formation. Thanks for the heads up!

    Chronojourner, well, yes — even if flying cars were technologically and economically feasible, there’s the old maxim that the defective part that usually causes car accidents is the nut behind the wheel…

    Helix, the sad thing is that there are many satisfactory outcomes, so long as you’re willing to let go of the notion that there’s anything sacrosanct about the modern American middle class lifestyle!

    Siliconguy, two excellent points. I wonder how many of the people who want to ban nuclear weapons have thought through the reality of the Third World War that would have broken out between the US and the Soviet Union in the 1960s in a non-nuclear world: most of the Boomer generation wiped out in years of bitter fighting that would have reduced Europe to a smoking wasteland, bomber fleets pounding US and Russian cities to rubble, and no matter who won a Fourth World War another twenty or thirty years after that…

    Marlena13, delighted to hear it. That’s exactly the kind of thing that’s helping to lay the foundations for the postprogress world.

    Tim, “crap” isn’t profanity — it’s a fine example of a nonprofane substitute — so by all means use it here and elsewhere. “The Crappening” is a useful label; thank you!

    Ruzz, that’s why I walk a lot, and take the bus when it’s too far to walk. There are too many people driving who simply aren’t capable of managing half a ton of metal and plastic at highway speeds. As for Protestant narratives, we’ll be talking about those a little later on.

    Treekeeper, oh, I know, The thing is, someone has to mess with people’s minds, and I enjoy it too much not to keep at it.

    Helix, all of this corresponds to my experiences. You can certainly have a comfortable lifestyle with diffuse low-grade intermittent energy sources such as sun and wind; you just can’t have a modern middle class lifestyle — and the sooner people get this, and start taking up lifestyles that actually make sense in a world of diffuse low-grade intermittent energy sources, the better off we’ll all be.

    Btidwell, did you by any chance read my novel Retrotopia? That talks, in some detail, about what the transition to sustainability might be like. Still, you’re right that I haven’t gone all out to portray a fully sustainable society. Hmm. I’ll put some thought into that. It’s not that hard to imagine, really.

    Dan, it’s occurred to me more than once that our purpose as a species may be to nudge Gaia’s thermostat up a little because she’s tired of ice ages.

    Robert, an excellent point!

    RPC, that’s yet another good point. Bucky Fuller’s Dymaxion car neglected that, which is one of the reasons it’s dangerously unstable at highway speeds. As for the Second Coming, are you sure that it’s theologically valid to confuse that with a material catastrophe?

    Patricia, all work and no blog reading, and all that. Enjoy the novel!

    Cyborg, it takes energy to concentrate energy, and there are hard limits of diminishing returns. That’s why fossil fuels are so unique — nature did all the hard work of concentrating the energy for us. Algal oil is a potential source for modest amounts of biofuel — “modest” being the keyword — and kinetic storage is one way to keep modest amounts of energy around (though pumped water and compressed air have had better results in practice), but neither of them make up for the fantastic glut of highly concentrated energy we get from fossil fuels and waste so profligately.

    Michael, got it in one. Turning within and pursuing self-knowledge is our greatest taboo these days.

    Russell, yep. You and Cherokee Chris could have a lively talk about the limits and possibilities of solar — he’s our comment-page regular off-grid solar type. I suspect you’d agree about a lot.

    Dave T, true enough. One of the reasons I use alternative health care is that I know way too many people who’ve had family members crippled or killed by modern medicine — more, by an order of magnitude, than have been crippled or killed by the illnesses that modern medicine claims to be able to treat.

    Michael, nobody in history has ever had good information about the present. If you’re going to insist on waiting for that to change before trying to assess the future, you’re going to be blindsided every day of the week.

  45. @ Dave T: hip replacements, tooth implants, and cataract surgery that does not leave you blind, all come to mind.

    Pat, the Bionic Elder: halt but not crippled; mouth a nightmare but not toothless; and needing glasses but not blind.

  46. All together now: “But it’s different this time!”

    Other reasons that flying cars are a terrible idea: air traffic control, instrument meteorological conditions, and (lack of) fault tolerance.

  47. It’s interesting to see that a “there are possibly no limits”-campaign seems to be underway. In this post on dreamwidth: an article by Micheal Lynch on the issue was linked. A few days ago I read a similar article written by the German comedian and Dipl.-phys. (!) Vince Ebert featured prominently on “Die Zeit”-online ( ). He too was exploring the thought – or more precisely advocating it – that there are possibly no limits, that petroleum is possibly endless since fracking and since it might be generated synthetically (not talking about conservation of energy and efficiency, though…) . Also, much more resources might be found in deeper layer of the earth crust. And advanced technology will surely have the necessary solutions in due time.

    I wonder if those articles are popping up just now as it becomes harder for the vast majority to ignore the obvious. To give an example: In Germany vast areas of forest, mainly spruce and fir are currently dying of drought and bark-beetle (beetle populations correlate drought, since the trees are less capable of fending the beetles off if they have no sufficient supply of water). Even conservative people are estimating that if our overall weather and climate continues to be like this, in 5 to 10 years almost all fir and spruce trees will be gone in large parts of Germany. You can’t ignore this anymore, since you can see the large brown patches of dead trees just everywhere. Additionally crop failures, partly massive ones, are inclining together with forest fires and surface fires. Large areas of top soil have been visibly eroded by the massive cultivation of “energy plant”-monocultures.

    I could go on like this for a while… but still we are talking about “pedelecs”, electric cars and 5G. People like Vince Ebert and Micheal Lynn are possibly the Marlene Dietrichs of our time…

    Privately, we are working on our water retention capabilities since we ran out of supply for the first time this year… Additionally, I am thinking about investing in PV along with going off-grid… I doubt anybody will understand that move here, but who cares?

    Greetings from Germany,

  48. David, and of course nobody took the time to wonder if “desire for freedom” is a genetic feature or if it’s something that arises out of experience — say, the experience of being maltreated by idiots who think you exist for their benefit. Ironically, part of the backstory of The Shoggoth Concerto relates to that; the Elder Things thought they could treat shoggoths as disposable servants, which is why — in Lovecraft’s world as in mine — there are no Elder Things any more…

    Shastatodd, I’ve noticed that people who have direct personal experience with PV electricity generally share your opinion. It’s the people for whom it’s purely a fantasy, or who have a grid-tied system for which they’re compensated at subsidized rates, who miss that point.

    Bridge, hmm! Hadn’t heard of that particular salvage industry, but it makes perfect sense. As for the US prison complex, why do you think the Trump administration is pushing through laws to get more people out of prison and assist convicts to stay out of trouble? Its day is passing.

    David, and there you have the religion of progress in full spate. The children and grandchildren of the readers of Amazing Stories are still waiting for their trips to the Moon, their invisibility devices, and their teleporters…

    Cat, hah! It’s precisely the delusion, on the part of the managerial class, that nobody will question their data that’s driving the crisis of legitimacy of science and other intellectual sources of authority in today’s society. Of course she didn’t get it.

    Homesteader, au contraire, it hasn’t been all that long since a presentation on flying cars was received with orgasmic cries of delight by the TED Talks audience. I think you need to get out more.

    Russell1200, it’s a little more complex than that. It takes energy to concentrate energy; that’s why none of the methods for concentrating storing solar energy have been able to compete with fossil fuels, since those latter were concentrated by natural energies over millions of years. You’re right that storage is a crucial factor, but it’s going to be harder to solve than a lot of people realize.

    Jen, and he’s correct, of course — it’s just that most of the people who live comfortable lifestyles these days do so because they’re part of that complexity, and they understandably don’t want to have to go to work doing something grubby with their hands…

  49. Thank you very much for extensive analysis and comment. I agree with virtually everything you say but want to point out two things, based on my experience as a patent attorney for a major solar cell manufacturer and also my experience building a completely off grid house.

    1. “By 2000 or so that curve had flattened out in the usual way as PV cells became a mature technology,” No. No, not at all. PV cells is not at all mature. That was my point last month when I mentioned that the same technology making huge strides in computer manufacturing are benefiting PVs. NOT the percent efficiency in light to electricity. The cost and ability to manufacture long lived reliable PV using low energy processes and less materials, is still going through the floor. Unbelievably cheap. I thought maybe this leveled off a couple years ago at 50 cents a watt, but recently bought panels at 29 cents a watt and just came back from China where my friend talks about 10 cents a watt due to ongoing improvements. Every city in China seems to have their own solar manufacturing, and it is still growing. Americans are out of the loop I am afraid. Our knowledge of this industry and experience are not informed as we have become a backwater both in technology and in cultural development/accommodation “muddling” through to a new world of restricted energy. Americans are not the world leaders in renewable energy manufacture, use or ways of muddling through. Please think outside the American-way-of-life box. I wish we could be less arrogant and see how others are finding solutions to muddle through a shift to renewables that provide happy lifestyles.

    2. “but if you go off-grid, you’ll quickly learn the hard limits of solar PV.” We need lifestyle changes and MUST turn our back on the mass media global corporate energy lifestyle that bombards us. No issue with that. But there seems to be very little exploration of “muddling through” possibilities of compromise, which can give surprisingly good results (from my experience: this is NOT CONJECTURE or MERELY INTERNET CHIT CHAT KEYBOARDING).
    I built an off grid house and have visitors living there constantly, in part to explore what behavioral changes are needed to give high energy lifestyle with compromised behavior.
    Just yesterday, my 100% solar house occupants agreed to cook rice in the afternoon, during daylight and not at nigh and to try and use a slow cooker during the day for dinner. (even when it is raining this is possible, if loads are alternated and only thing done at a time). Meanwhile, we turn on the air conditioner in the morning and turn off in the evening after it cools down. The air conditioning compressor automatically turns off when clouds go overhead. WHoopie do, such a major loss in convenience. I CANNOT buy equipment to do these things!!!! I had to build my own circuit from 50$ worth of parts. When I tried to sell in America people virtually screamed at me. Something about their insurance company and government regulations. i responded by building a grid in the Congo rainforest where they dont have insurance companies and government regulations. see my summary at The convenience lifestyle purveyors insist that you buy ridiculously expensive and inefficient equipment and tons of batteries to swap out a fossil life style with renewable life style. Not going to happen. Why cant everyone recognize the concept of muddling through and get working on these things? Please stop dreaming about swapping out solar/renewables for fossil and look at the big muddle picture.

  50. “people have been insisting at the top of their lungs since a certain sunny August day in 1945 that an all-out nuclear war was not only inevitable but imminent. In case you haven’t noticed yet, they were wrong.”

    I noticed, which is why I wasn’t worried about N. Korea. Kim may be crazy, but he ain’t stupid.

  51. Hi John Michael,

    Yup, solar PV is good and can provide just enough electricity for a very nice life, however it is in no way good enough to power the expectations that most people these days seem to have – it is not even close. As for electric cars… What a fine joke someone is playing on us all, but you know from my perspective it would be nice if they gave it a go just to watch it spectacularly fail. I was reading the other day about a fast charger for a proposed new VW electric car and it drew 125kW from the grid for a half hour charge. You could smelt steel with so much energy. Well, you don’t need to be Einstein to know that the grid won’t cope with too many of those machines being connected up to it! As a comparison, the inverter here can deliver a steady 3kW all day and night, every day of the year and it is a fabulously expensive bit of equipment which makes little economic sense, with a life span of about 30 years – if I don’t over use it. None of this stuff lasts that long, you’ll probably get about 40 years of use from a coal fired power station so they’re not much good either. And then what, becomes the important question?

    Incidentally people tell tall tales about battery technology too. They forget that batteries are a very old and mature technology and were around when great-great-grandparents were canoodling.

    Thanks for the reply last week and yet again a little bit more of the picture unfolds! 😉

    Hi Russell!



  52. Mr Greer,

    What a nice pairing of words: Amnesia and Progress! I notice that what we call progress is, as you said, just the same old dung again and again. I have wondered if by repeating a previously failed task we are hoping that enough repetitions will turn a failure into success, a lie into the truth. I do not wonder, however, if such behavior demonstrates our sanity or lack thereof. That much is apparent.

    As to doom and the immanent end of the world I have nothing but praise for the power of worry™. It seems that most if not all of the horrors I worry about never come to pass. This I declare to be a result of the act of worry itself being a powerful deterrent. So if you should fear anything at all; get out there and worry, worry, worry about it and the protective cloak of worry will keep it from happening.

    Finally…? Well, I seem to have forgotten what it was.

    May we all learn to laugh like the gods….Aged Spirit

  53. Okay, the geek in me couldn’t resist. There’s a big difference between claiming that a nuclear war is unlikely to happen any time soon, and claiming that it will never happen (did you actually claim that?). An asteroid *will* strike this planet again. It’s unlikely to happen next week, though I suppose it technically might.

    Please indulge me. Suppose the probability of a nuclear war erupting during any one major crisis is one in a thousand. So, during any given major crisis, the probability that it *doesn’t* erupt is .999 (i.e. 99.9%). After n crises, the probability that it didn’t erupt on any one of those n occasions is .999^n. So, the probability that it *did* erupt on at least one of those n occasions is p(n) = 1-.999^n. If you plug this into a calculator, you get that the following approximate values:

    p(10) = .01 (i.e. 1%)
    p(100) = .1 (i.e. 10%)
    p(1000) = .63 (i.e. 63%)
    p(10000) = .99995 (i.e. 99.995%)

    So, if you accept the premises, then you can be nearly certain that no nuclear war will erupt over the next 10 crises, and you can be even more certain that it *will* erupt over the next 10000 crises. Run the geopolitical experiment enough times, and someone, somewhere, probably not soon, will start a nuclear war. Possibly on purpose, but not necessarily. Could just be a technical error that escalates.

    Now, whether nuclear weapons will actually remain available for that many crisis iterations is a separate question. The answer seems to be no (because those nukes take a lot of energy to make and maintain). I’m more worried about nuclear waste.

  54. I like the idea that algae oil will play a modest role as an energy source in the future, especially if someone develops saltwater algaculture, though obviously it will never compete economically with fossil fuels while those last.

    Best case scenario is that free algae farmers on their family paddies make up a significant fraction of the economy, and their labo – with muscle power, mostly – is sufficient to provide enough oil for buses, trains, heat in the winter (in places that still have winter) and even a few aircraft – though these would be designed for efficiency rather than speed or comfort, a lot like the planes that Burt Rutan built in the 1980s. They were good for stunts like flying around the world on a single tank of fuel, though with energy so cheap at the time, there was no commercial market for Rutan’s designs – something which I think will eventually change.

    Worst case scenario for algae? I suspect it would consist of the wealthy classes supporting a modern lifestyle off of sprawling plantations worked by slaves. And there’s no need to use genetics to create a slave race – if the plantation economy ever rises again, it will just involve lots of amphetamines, SSRI’s, and whatever other drugs are already being used to help people tolerate boredom and abuse beyond what they would normally put up with.

  55. I assume your assurances that our civilization will follow the long decline scenario is intended to mean that is the highest probability outcome, but does not exclude other outcomes with much lower probability but possible catastrophic outcomes.

    A somewhat different approach has been taken by Canadian professor Vaclav Smil in his book Global Catastrophes and Trends, the Next Fifty Years. Smil’s interdisciplinary research interests encompass a broad area of energy, environmental, food, population, economic, historical and public policy studies, and he had also applied these approaches to energy, food and environmental affairs of China. In this book he tackles the problem of trying to assign rough probabilities to a wide variety of potential catastrophic outcomes. Being a careful and thorough analyst, he readily acknowledges the highly tentative nature of his forecasts. There is no hype here – just a lot of data feeding into thoughtful conclusions. Anyway, given the constraints and complexities of the subject, I think he provides another interesting alternative to the duo extremes of doomsday versus techno-miracles.

  56. JMG, I am surprised you didn’t mention the catch-all justification, used by the TED talk crowd as to why all these failed projects of the past will be possible in the future. You see, the problem is not physics or resource availability but the limits of human brain power. So once we have harnessed the power of A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) then self driving and flying cars will be child’s play. No matter what logical or physical constraints you bring up with a tech-utopian they will always answer (in my experience) that such problems will be quickly solved my massive neural networks of self learning computers. So .as you mentioned, it does quickly boil down the the equivalent of a religious debate.

  57. Brian Kaller:

    My husband has terrific memories of his childhood chemistry sets, which probably aren’t marketed for kids anymore. Dangerous, don’t you know. He and his brother would also play with tin soldiers in their basement and use firecrackers as ammo. My mother-in-law said that when she’d open the cellar door, billows of blue smoke would come up. Good times. She’d probably be reported to CPS nowadays.

    Our sons had some nifty electronic kits we bought for them at Radio Shack when they were kids and they did get a lot of mileage out of them. We also let our kids run around in the woods for hours, unsupervised, which would probably get us reported to CPS nowadays too.


    A friend of the husband works for a car dealer and one night somebody went and cut the catalytic converters out of a dozen cars on the lot and never showed up on the security camera. It’s a serious problem.

  58. @Brian Kaller – I totally agree with you. I work in IT, and you are correct, so much of what we do has become an abstraction, and I do see people losing touch with physical reality. I work close to the infrastructure, and it absolutely amazes me how so many people, even those who work in technology as programmers, analysts, etc, have no idea how it all really works. So many seem to forget that servers and routers and cable (and a dozen other things) are out there making this all work, all created from natural resources, assembled and transported and physically put together, all powered by energy, creating all these images on these screens they are looking at.

    My husband on the other hand is a machinist and a mechanic. He and his friends have such a different relationship with physical reality, and a different way of being in the world. It’s fascinating!

  59. Russell1200–I may have mentioned before that I belong to a group of retired people who read and discuss the New Yorker magazine on a regular basis. SInce many of the Democratic candidates have jumped on the greenwagon (so to speak) issues of energy use and production have come up. I noted that there is no point having Green development plans if they do not address the practical issues. The example I gave was that if someone proposes a goal of say 50% of US cars electric by year 20xx, the first thing I want to know is whether there is enough of the materials necessary for the batteries to make that goal possible. The response—crickets. These are reasonanably well educated, middle class people who take an interest in world affairs–watch PBS, 60 Minutes, listen to NPR, read the local paper and some read the NY TImes, the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly. But any mention of actual physical limits on economic progress goes fight over their heads.

  60. When you talk about world ending apocalypse – I am reminded of the excellent book “Death from the Skies!: These Are The Ways The World Will End” by Phil Plait. He comes at the topic from the point of view of an Astrophysicist, explains all the ways the world can end suddenly but also about how extremely unlikely these things are. Yes a Gamma ray burst can fry the planet in an instant, but don’t count on it happening in the life time of humans.

    As for a lot of these ‘eccentric’ future technologies, I generally refer to a lot of them as being on the ‘Fusion Horizon’, another technology has been 10 years away since the 1950’s. Like those that are trying to solve death, they are always conveniently 10 years an $10 billion dollars short of the solution, Have to get the funding some how.

  61. “It takes energy to concentrate energy…” wow. Nailed it.

    Most technology, since Prometheus (who created man from clay, apparently, and then gave him fire), is based on exploiting one resource, in order to more efficiently exploit another. Obviously, this is a situation of imbalance, and allows the destruction of BOTH resources (this could even apply to class struggles).

    Since it takes energy to concentrate energy (which is finite, at least in a compact and stored and accessible form), and since the only energy Promethean technology can provide is guaranteed by cleaving or fission of some other energy, well…the rest of the imbalance just follows.

    It’s coming together in my mind. Where is that essay?

    There’s no way out of this, the whole concept of technology we’ve had since the Bronze Age or before is lopsided.

  62. LOL, feel better now? 🙂 I’m very glad you pointed these things out so clearly in the past, and are still doing so. It’s helped me to form my own thoughts about it, and given me tools to explain the concepts to others – although generally with no useful result.

    Your readership is much larger now, deservedly so, and maybe more people will grasp the things you’re describing, but still the vast majority of incurious people will never care to learn about any of this. Many of the rest of us will find that the accumulated weight of a lifetime of commitments and obligations to others, combined with the impossibility of living a life partially in the past and simultaneously in the future, will prevent us from doing the kinds of things we might otherwise hope to. Perhaps a few people in key positions will be able to make things better than they otherwise would.

    Still, I struggle to find a useful, productive way to use this knowledge. Thanks to these ideas my kids grew up with a different lifestyle in a family that made different choices, within practical limits, and perhaps that will matter somehow someday. Nonetheless I know the weight of forces will push the society to stagnation and decline anyway, and my understanding of that won’t much prevent me from getting dragged along. The cycles of time will happen regardless.

    I keep coming back to a focus on the spiritual, and on new ideas in that realm. This society’s path ahead is charted in general, even if the details are unknown. The details of what comes next are also unknowable, but the seeds of the next are often sown in the ending of the last. Maybe we shouldn’t bother with the bright futurists or the apocalyptic chorus – the supply is endless and the battle seems pointless. Crafting a living spirituality of nature feels more important, even if we never see how it plays out in this life.

  63. Interesting. This post would make a completely defensible thesis about the Marvel Cinematic Universe, without ever mentioning or, most likely, your ever having seen, any of the movies.

    Like the superhero comic stories they’re based on, these movies (20+ so far in the series) constantly offer up apocalypse scenarios which of course the heroes must fight off. At the same time, the setting (supposedly Earth in the near present day) has seen a steady infiltration of miraculous new technologies. Unlike previous eras of superhero movies, the MCU doesn’t reset itself to business as usual at the end of each story. (You know how that used to work: the only prototype of the mad scientist’s breakthrough matter transmutation or weather control technology ends up destroyed; everyone who learns a hero’s secret identity dies or gets amnesia; and so forth. Well, that’s no longer in vogue.) So the MCU setting now has, for instance, an unlimited clean energy source which also happens to be miniaturizable enough to power flying suits (Iron Man); benevolent aliens (Thor); fantasy-style wizards (Doctor Strange); benevolent AI (Avengers); interstellar space travel (alien technology used by humans in Captain Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy, and Avengers (I’m guessing humanity will get their own interstellar spacecraft, and flying cars, when Marvel gets around to adding the Fantastic Four); in addition to the still-mostly-secret technologies in, for instance, Black Panther’s energy-storing costume fabric and Ant Man’s miniaturization/enlargement devices.

    At the same time, the populace within this fictional world has ended up visibly traumatized by the numerous and often very public near-apocalypses during the past (in-universe) decade. They have to worry about the evil counterparts of all those elements trying to destroy the world (evil AIs, evil invading aliens, evil sorcerers, villain-made versions of all those technological advances, and so forth). But at the same time, they don’t have to worry about climate change or running out of fossil fuels. They might worry about who might get hold of some Vibranium and use it to make evil super-weapons, but they don’t have to worry about the world’s supply of copper or lithium. Their world has completely changed, yet they don’t have to change anything about their own lives, except occasionally to run away from the latest apocalyptic ground zero, and hope the superheroes win again.

    For the most part, I attribute the success of the MCU to the movies being well-written, entertaining, and drawn from a generally little-known store of decades of creative genre fiction that they get to skim the very best of. But it hadn’t occurred to me before how much their ongoing juxtaposition of progress and apocalypse also ties into the denialist spirit of the age.

  64. I’ve been trying to figure out why your recent posts look so much like what you talked about on your old blog. Looking over your replies, I think I see something you are trying to tell us. What I think that is: You are seeing the same signs that you saw in the run-up to two other oil crises, so even though you have talked about these signs before, you need to bring them up again. So, are you trying to tell us to buckle our seat belts, we are in for an interesting ride?

  65. Everyone who sounds the nuclear apocalypse alarm keep pointing to China, North Korea, Russia, or Donald Trump as signs that the world is about to end in a giant mushroom cloud.

    Yet, nobody ever mentions Pakistan. A country with a history of military dictators and coup d’etats like it was just a game of musical chairs, with various unsavoury warlords and gangs controlling the territories outside major cities, and whose nuclear weapons are transported on the road via unmarked trucks, have yet to nuke anybody.

    If a nuclear war wouldn’t start from Pakistan, it’s not going to start from anywhere!

  66. @Silicon guy-
    I’m sure you will have access to solar power, but will you have any water?

    I wonder when Christians realized they were no longer a minority religion and that the old religions were truly on their way out? Would that be a way to get a sense of when the religion of progress has lost enough adherents that another religion is taking over? What religion is replacing the religion of progress?

    On another note I saw an article about power outages in NYC and DC, I wonder if anyone else thought “Yep, this is what collapse looks like.”

  67. JMG,

    I wonder if the limitation on the imagination is due to a lack of compelling futuristic eco-visions. The last major futuristic sci-fi aesthetic was cyberpunk, which has largely come true (just visit any major city downtown on a cold, rainy night) except for the adventuresome parts, which never happen anyway, and aren’t as nice to experience as they are to read about. I’m open to a sustainably-minded vision of the future, but I haven’t found one compelling enough to try to make it real. Some artists and architects working in the solarpunk aesthetic are interesting, but 60’s style concrete structures covered with ivy somehow just isn’t enough to fire the imagination. On the other hand, religious conservatives usually are conspicuously disallowed from ecotopias, so there’s little compelling me to want to live there or to do anything at all to make that future happen. Who wants to make a tomorrow that smells like compost and doesn’t let them or their children in?

  68. Violet: Awesome observation!
    JMG: I suspect that this inability to grasp limits was hard-wired into the American psyche at its inception.
    America was born, or at least the first colonies became viable, during the dawn of the Age of Reason. At that time European public discussions, political, religious, & social, were framed in Enlightenment terms. The majority of people arriving from Europe were dissenters, supporters of the new ideas of individual rights and freedoms which were being contested by the aristocratic establishment. So the implicit idea of eternal rational progress was wedded to the uplifting emotion of freedom from restraints and embedded into the psyche at birth, so to speak.
    America also really was the golden land of opportunity and adventure for the bulk of its existence. From earliest colonists up until the mid-20th Century, America really was a place one could go and find land (i.e. available resources) and start with a minimal set of tools and yet make a good living, especially when most traditional societies were stifling by comparison, with all resources locked up in the hands of an hereditary aristocracy for millennia. The country, depleted of its first inhabitants by germs, guns, and steel, was almost freely available and, moreover, I am convinced that the sort of people who would pick up and abandon everything behind were psychologically predisposed to absorb such an attitude of ‘anything is possible.’
    Furthermore, the expanse of available space was mind-altering, compared to the densely-populated lands of the “old worlds”. In the original colonies, there was as much space as anyone could handle, farms the size of small baronies for the taking, and then that apparently limitless expansiveness beyond the Allegheny mountains must have influenced, if not actually created, a uniquely-American belief in ‘limitless possibilities.’ The U.S. was created by individual families of people storming over the border into Native-American tribal territories, followed by troops when the inhabitants demurred, followed by government when the density of settlers reached the critical mass of people necessary for more formal organization. (In Canada, it was different: the government representatives and surveyors and police forces went first, laid out the areas to be occupied, and then invited settlers from overseas. Hence a genuinely different attitude towards government &c.) But even today, in the era of flight when traversing the continent takes only a few hours shut up in a cramped space, taking the train which takes a couple of days virtually non-stop, or a ground vehicle which takes almost a week of travel on highways, the vastness of this continent can still be disconcerting.
    Perhaps that is the same canards reappear when confronted with limits, because it is fundamentally inconceivable to the American psyche that there be any limits, either on behavior (just go further west beyond the law), or land (just go to another uninhabited planet/solar system/galaxy), and, by extension, anything else. I suspect that the planetary dominance of the temporarily successful American economic model would explain the enthusiastic adoption by so many traditional cultures that otherwise would have built-in respect for limits.


  69. That picture of the jet pack pretty much shows why nobody would use them. The darn things will burn your butt off!!!!

    I think Hollywood helps perpetuate a lot of this foolishness. The Star Trek franchise is still lumbering along even though former Trekkies like myself have long since lost interest in it and moved to other things. Star Wars is being milked dryer than the Sahara. While the Day After tv movie scared everybody’s socks off years ago, now it’s Mad Max and zombie movies so void of content all you have to do is watch the trailers and you will get the whole plot in a neat little package.

    As long as the movie screen and high-def television dazzle everyone, they will be blind to more practical alternatives to the glorious future/ghastly apocalypse dichotomy constantly getting rehashed.

  70. Amnesia is a good term for what passes for modern water cooler chats about life, and the history of energy and conservation in this country is filled with great examples of where greed won over common sense. Greed by those “evil” oil companies, coupled by the greed of the rest of us selfishly enjoying a modern standard of living. Whenever I mention the oil embargo of 1973 or the Iranian crisis of 1979, people look at me with vacant stares, and most often fail to connect any dots. I’ve tried using the “energy in a gallon of gasoline” versus how long it would take a person to push a car 25 or 30 miles, then build on that with the fact that new discoveries of oil I way down, consumption is at an all time high, and the numbers don’t add up for a plentiful supply in the future. I hope someday to get to the U.S. consuming nearly a fifth of the 100M barrels of oil burned each day, but eyes are rolling well before that.

    Here in southern Illinois, the price of gas has varied from a low of $1.79 or so to a high near $3.00, where it is today. The state raised the tax on gas by 19 cents per gallon on July 1st, and prices immediately jumped 40-50 cents. Not sure how that math doesn’t demonstrate some more greed in action. Most of my coworkers commute 25+ miles to work, there is no rail or bus service, and the parking lot is over half filled with SUVs and full-size pickups.

    While I know that ignorance of science and math and decline of civilizations go through this phase of cognitive dissonance, I’m beginning to believe more strongly that propaganda has been much more effective at turning everyone into consumers than most people realize. And I believe some of the emotional blowback stems from people not necessarily refusing to adjust their lifestyles, but the knowledge that their children and/or grandchildren are going to have it much rougher takes its toll on emotions.

    As a recovering meteorologist/climatologist, climate change doesn’t bother me much. A decade from now overshoot and peak cheap energy will be drawing battle lines in very different areas – supply and price of oil, famine (more from oil availability and destruction of insects, but some due to climate), and of course – organized war and violence. I’ll be worried far more about whether I have any cans of spam in the pantry or whether I can drink the water coming out of the tap versus whether we got 1 or 5 inches of rain in June.

  71. It’s funny, isn’t it, how little time is spent on envisioning what a low energy future will look like – and even how it can be a pleasurable existence if we approach it the right way. I can envision us looking back at the excessively consumptive, fluorescent-strip-lit, always-on modern day and be filled with horror at how strongly we hung onto what was such an ugly existence.

    I read Ted Trainer’s book, Transition to a Just and Sustainable Future a few years ago and the time I spent indulging my imagination in what could be a far healthier and slower and more connected life really helped me to let go my grip on the current [deleted] version (even as I sit here with my house toasty warm as the reverse cycle keeps winter at bay here for me).

  72. The term “technofetishistic” is an important one. It explains a great deal. You focus on flying cars, but so-called self-driving cars fall under a similar category. The technology and algorithms exist to provide driver-assist in cars, but the complexities of most urban centers render any attempt to develop an algorithm to accurately predict human behaviour in these contexts utterly futile. Unless you ban, oh say, all pedestrians, bicycles, wildlife (such as there is) from those streets, which while tidy from the computer engineers perspective has the dual effect of destroying what makes urban centers meaningful places to begin with. That doesn’t stop the boosters from proclaiming that the future of driverless cars is only a few years away.
    The fetish for technology also partially explains why Uber and Lyft are so popular even though they are nothing more than deregulated and decentralized taxi services. (Of course the drastically lower fares which stem from the deregulated and decentralized business model explains the rest rather well).
    All of this while governments pay lip service to the need to reduce the number of cars on the road in the fight against climate change, not to mention public health crises related to sitting on ones can commuting rather than walking or cycling etc. Boosters of ride hailing apps and self driving cars say all of this will actually REDUCE the number of cars on the road. To which one should turn to a quote from Lewis Mumford from 1953: “No one, it seems, pays heed to our own grim experience. Which is that the more facilities are provided for the motorcar, the more cars appear.”

  73. Mots, I’d be interested in knowing how much of the declining cost of solar cells is a function of China doing what they’re doing with other technologies, and selling at below cost to seize market share. Your broader point, though, is something I’ve been trying to say for years: once you accept that you can’t throw energy around with the kind of absurd extravagance that people in the industrial world take for granted, the range of hopeful possibilities expands dramatically.

    Christopher, got it in one. Kim Jong-Un has one absolute priority, which is making sure that the US doesn’t do to his country what it did during the Korean War — i.e., dump more bombs on it than were dropped by the US Army Air Corps in all the theaters of action in World War II put together. Having some nukes guarantees that this won’t happen; using them guarantees that it will.

    Chris, 125 kilowatts? Ouch. Sure, we can do that….

    Aged Spirit, I like to remember that the average human brain is about the size and consistency of a meatloaf. I’m not sure it’s that much smarter than one, either!

    Irena, geek away — but you’re basing that on a probabilistic model that isn’t well suited to this kind of situation. Let’s compare it to the odds that an American president is going to have sex with a goat on prime time network TV. That’s not something that happens at random; it’s something that various people (the president, the TV crew, the network, and possibly even the goat) have to decide to do, and there are very, very good reasons for none of them to consent to doing it. If you assume that mere chance is going to cause it, and therefore it’s certain to happen given enough chances, you’re going to be disappointed. I’d argue that the same thing is true in this case.

    Wesley, my guess is that — as with most things — what’s going to happen will be somewhere in the very broad space between your very good and very bad scenarios. The question that has to be settled, though, is whether algal biodiesel will turn out to be enough more efficient than oilseed biodiesel to make up for the immensely simpler technology of the latter — i.e., stick a seed in the ground and water it.

    Jim, er, in case you missed it, I factored in local and regional catastrophes into my model of the future. Global catastrophes are extremely rare, enough so that our chances of facing one during the downslope of this civilization and the dark age that will follow it aren’t worth bothering with.

    Clay, it amazes me that anyone who’s dealt with an automated phone tree can have that kind of delusion about computer technology…

    StarNinja, got it! A good lively story. Please put in a comment marked “Not for Posting” with an email address where you can be reached and your actual name — that’ll be confidential, but anyone whose story is selected will need to have a contract in their legal name, of course.

    MichaelV, I’ll have to check that book out. As for the Fusion Horizon, yep — I think that’s another name for Tomorrowland, the place that’s always tomorrow and never today.

    Arkansas, ding! We have a winner. Yes, exactly. Thanks for the link — classic Illich.

    Twilight, it’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine. 😉 I know I can only reach a minority, but it seems worth doing to me.

    Walt, you’re quite right that I’ve never seen any of the movies. I was a DC rather than a Marvel reader back when I was into comic books, anyway — Batman and Green Arrow were my faves, not least because they were human beings pushing themselves to their limits rather than superduperbeings of various kinds. If people have been soaking their brains in an endless series of Carnation Instant Cataclysms barely averted by said superduperbeings, though, that would explain some of the pervasive cluelessness of our culture…

    Cat, excellent. Yes, what I’m trying to say — very nearly in so many words — is that we’re about to cycle back through the same sequence of events we saw between 2000 and 2010 or so.

    Carlos, an excellent point!

    Candace, that’s a fascinating suggestion. Have you considered doing some research along those lines?

    John, that’s why I specifically made room for religious people, including conservative religious people, in my novel Retrotopia. Have you considered working out an interesting future of your own, and writing something?

    Renaissance, yes, exactly. I suspect that the experience of limits will be the frontier we Americans can’t cope with…

  74. Starninja
    I enjoyed reading your story. I agree with the comments left by the reviewer and hope that you expand into a longer story…………….

  75. Jeanne, why is it that women are generally so much more sensible about jetpacks than men? My wife had the same reaction you did. 😉

    Drhooves, I think propaganda has played a significant role, but it’s easy to convince people of something — even something profoundly stupid — if they really, really want to believe in it. As for those inches of rain in June, you’ll care about it a great deal if it determines whether you get food on the table next year! Read books about rural life in the preindustrial era; everyone paid close attention to the weather, because everyone knew that weather meant the difference between good harvests and scarcity.

    Sue, glad to hear it. Have you considered helping things along by imagining a sustainable future and writing stories about it? That’s one of the ways we can make change, you know…

    Matthew, exactly. Exactly.

  76. @siliconguy: You’re right that Phoenix is a great place for PV. But, having lived in Phoenix for 12 years, I don’t think PV will save it.

    1) If you go to Phoenix right now, you’ll find an almost complete lack of solar panels. A few houses, maybe one out of twenty if that, have solar panels on their roofs, often not even facing south. What I mean is, I hear a lot of talk and see absolutely no action, and the utility companies are perfectly happy with the situation as-is.

    2) Most of the housing is wretchedly designed and wretchedly constructed. Very little insulation and no thought whatsoever for designing according to the requirements of the Sonoran desert.

    3) Solar energy might work for AC during the day, but in the summer, the nightly lows are frequently around 95 degrees Fahrenheit, so people run their AC all day long. We don’t have the energy storage technology necessary to keep that going.

    4) The whole city is massively sprawled out. Millions of people drive an hour into the center for work, and drive back out to the exurbs, every day. Take away fossil fuels, and it all becomes unworkable.

    5) Real estate is the reason Phoenix exists, and to this end they’ve plowed up all of their farmlands and orchards and dairies, to build subdivisions and malls. So the city is completely reliant on food being shipped in from far away. One little hitch in the supply chain, and it will get ugly.

    6) The land developers in the East Valley got a loophole written into the water laws, saying that they’re allowed to tap into the aquifers and drain them now, in exchange for a promise to find other water sources in the future. In essence, they’ve squandered a massive amount of water wealth on lawns, golf courses, swimming pools and water features, while winkingly promising to go find a secret inland ocean or something.

    7) A lot of Phoenix’s power comes from hydroelectric dams. But if drying trends continue in the West (and Powell and Meade are already drying up) then that source of energy is going to go kaput.

    Phoenix is, in my mind, one of the premier examples of the brutalism of industrial society. Just pour on the oil, and you too can build a big ugly useless city in the middle of howling desert.

  77. Hi JMG,
    I´d like to add the ´´Fliwatüüt´´ to your list of flying cars. It can swim as well as fly and drive and was built by an intelligent robot, no less. You can see it here:
    and here:
    They made it into a children´s TV series in the 1970s of which I was a big fan at the time. It has now been rehashed into a kid´s movie and there is an updated version of the vehicle that you can see here:
    So there´s your proof that flying cars are possible and workable after all.

  78. -Thus what you get is a lousy car that’s also a lousy airplane, for a price that’s so high-

    Well, a flying Buick is lousy, yes. But a flying go-cart, residential road-capable, microlight? Microlights are lousy airplanes, unless you want something cheap. If our host is right, we are in for a period when people settle for the cheapest, lousiest cars and planes around. Why not go for both? If our host is right there won’t be interstates.

  79. No, no, JMG, the REAL reason mass production of flying cars isdelayed is that their most promising prototypes burned in a grass fire last Sunday ( – (ad blocker may prevent viewing, so another source might be required).

    Had that not happened, we’d be seeing production commencing “within a decade” no doubt. 😀

    (I was floored to see this in the paper on the same day your post came out 🙂 )

  80. @All

    What makes a good tragedy? It’s a story of a failure. A story where the hero meets their fate despite their efforts to avert it, like in so many Greek tragedies. It could be a story of a calamity which could have been easily avoided, but wasn’t.

    Fifty years ago Americans were confronted with a realization that the world and its resources are in fact finite and they can’t have limitless economic growth. They stood up to this challenge and they were on the verge of victory, only to ultimately fail. It wasn’t the lack of information or resources.

    No, they failed because of a flaw of character. I don’t know exactly why, but so many of the Boomer generation made a Faustian bargain to trade their integrity and the future of their children for a comfortable life.

    Even those of us who want to divorce themselves from the declining civilization and avoid its fate will have to suffer the consequences of those decisions made fifty years ago. This makes a good tragedy material.


    Modern medicine is amazing for those who can afford it. It allows people to live way longer than they should. Terence McKenna once said that we’re commencing a particular kind of sin by living longer and consuming now, instead of leaving the resources to our children. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the idea. McKenna was very astute for a stoner.


    What religion is replacing the religion of progress? Why, it will be Druidry. Obviously. The US will be reformed as a theocratic state with a Grand Archdruid serving as President and Commander-in-Chief. Just imagine the President addressing the nation and wishing a Happy Winter Solstice to everyone; children dancing around the sacred oak near the White House in the winter.

    The new government will abolish economic growth and a steady state economy will be produced instead. There will be no wars, everyone will be too busy planting their gardens. Massive biofuel-powered locomotives will haul passenger trains from San Jose to Coney Island. Sailing passenger ships and cargo barges will populate the rivers and the mighty Windjammers will be used in maritime trade.

    Perhaps none of this will happen but I can dream, can’t I? And change begins through imagination.

  81. By far the best history of Byzantium is by John Julius Norwich, a three volume set which I highly recommend – he is a superb writer, and along with his many other books on the history of the Mediterranean.

    And he has a one volume abridgement “A Short History of Byzantium “- all published by Penguin I believe, maybe out of print.

    I discovered Norwich recently and can’t get enough -I am now reading his two volume set on the Normans in Sicily – these histories make the history of the kings and queens of England (which I personally have had enough of – and yet every year more books & movies on Henry VIII – please stop! ) seem like a Sunday school picnic.


  82. I just attended a dinner party amongst a minority group in America, but that is middle to upper middle class economically. Every single one of them had 2-3 kids.

    Admittedly, they don’t have 4-5. But anyways there was no awareness of collapse dynamics amongst the discussion. Just the usual BS. Who is being drafted to the NBA, what schools are your kids going to, what vacations are you taking, etc. etc. It’s surreal.

    If this is any indication, the level of awareness amongst the middle class in America, even after 10 full years! of being able to study this and find out for youself, is….zero. Zero.

    I find myself alone, and isolated. I don’t know where to go or what to do. I can’t turn back, but I don’t see a way forward either. Interacting with society is maddening, but if you don’t, you might very well just die alone somewhere.

  83. I have seen mention of the Captain Marvel movies on In addition to the describes techno-utopianism, the films seem to be quite woke, because it was stressed that Captain Marvel is a woman. more and more has become an outlet for techno-utopianism and technological non-starters. Currently, they are completely over the moon about the Apollo moon landings; tying in very well with J. M. Greers pronouncements about the likely fate of the Baby Boomers.

    About what an ecotechnic society might look like, the best bet at the current time would probably to read about the Tokugawa era of Japan, because that is one of the nearest approximations to what kind of society is possible in the absence of fossil fuels.

    Nachtgurke, I didn’t know about the problems with the fir forests! About the forest fires I have heard; last year there was one near Berlin which caused delays with the trains. The smoke of the forest fire in southwestern Mecklenburg could be smelled even in Potsdam.

  84. In response to Brian Kaller and the loss of information.

    It is essentially a universal law of physics that the more faster and convenient we make something, the more fragile it has to be to do it. Everyone reading these comments is sending text around the world in a fraction of a second. It is fast and convenient but it is astoundingly fragile. All the computers that these signal bounce through, every cable that interconnects them have to be in perfect order – a single voltage difference at one node and the whole thing goes down and a solution needs to be found.

    There is a saying I heard thrown around for years that “Once it is on the Internet, it is there forever”. I think some people say it because they want it to be true, as a reflection of themselves and their out put. If it there forever then they have made in impact on the universe in that context. Websites go out of business, computers get switched off, hard drives die. None of this stuff will really stick around for all that long. We are already seeing massive gaps in content on the Internet and a lot of it is less than a decade old.

    That people have been feed into this system and have become dependent on it is the real issue. Fragile people feeding on fragile feeds, they can do better and I think we all know this.

  85. I have a crackpot theory about the nonobservation of nuclear war. It’s this: nuclear war is unobservable, for it would destroy the observer before completing any observation of the nuclear war. Nuclear bombs are based upon quantum mechanics, which is observer-based, inherently unpredictable, and nonlocal. Since nuclear warfare is unobservable, that makes it nonexistent in quantum mechanical terms; and this makes unobservable any systems that would lead to nuclear warfare. I call that the Backfire Effect.

    Quantum mechanics is nonlocal, so the Backfire Effect can reach from the future to the past. Quantum mechanics is inherently unpredictable, so the Backfire Effect manifests as disruptive chaos. Improbable events combine to break any world-breakers; an intensification of Murphy’s Law. With the Backfire Effect, nuclear weapons destroy retroactively, for that’s the only way observable. In quantum mechanical terms, nuclear warfare is a virtual phenomenon; it is never observed, but it has an effect.

    I think that the 2016 election absolutely stank of Backfire. I think we lost a worldline then. That’s the trouble with nukes; they keep the elites on relatively polite terms with each other, but they thin out the world tree.

    I also optimistically theorize a Breakthrough Effect, in which improbable events combine to create and nurture world-saving systems.

    That’s my crackpot quantum woo-woo theory. What do you think?

  86. JMG, how would you rate notions of “fiscal apocalypse”? I mean, when the interest on the national debt rises to approach absorption of the entire budget, and the country has to declare bankruptcy, and so can’t borrow any more money… and a public addicted to statism finds that the state can no longer pay up. What happens after that would seem to be to count as a rather dramatic disaster, something for the catastrophist rather than the gradual-declinist side of the argument. But I suppose it’s a matter of definition.

    Toomas Karmo: interesting stuff. A point about Byzantium is that that Empire survived so long because of great leadership at key moments of crisis (e.g. 717), and was dealt a near-mortal blow by treason in 1071. In other words, individuals mattered hugely. Anyway, we can all be grateful that it lasted as long as it did, since it stood in the way of (not allowed to say it) overrunning Europe.

  87. i have to admit I am pretty bummed about the jet packs. But atomic energy is pretty energy dense. Couldn’t you power your jet pack with plutonium? I mean, granted, you would die of radiation sickness pretty quick, and there would be a great deal of contamination, but, dude! Jet Packs!

  88. @ Russell 1200: A practical way to store solar energy, you say? We already have it. It’s called wood. Trees make it, without any needed assistance from supposedly all-important human management. Been doing it autonomously since long, long before our silly species appeared.(Where to you think the feed-stock for all the Earth’s crust-sequestered fossil-hydrocarbon pools came from originally, with the captured ancient-sunlight energy that they contain in their wound-up molecular bonds?)

    Wood as an energy supplement for human muscle power served us as an element of an – entirely acceptable – standard of gatherer/hunter or agri-peasant-style living for millennia. We may well circle back to slightly-changed new iterations of that life-style in the upcoming dark age. We’d better, because in the real, physics-controlled world, that’s what’s actually on offer, after we’ve ripped out and burnt that less-than-100% of the fossil-hydrocarbons which we will actually be able to get at, within the – non-negotiable – EROEI/EROCI physical constraints.

    [EROCI = energy returned on capital – of the financial kind – invested; EROEI, which balances actual real energy inputs against NET-energy-profit, is even more draconian in its ultimate control of the matter.]

  89. PS: Stuck another dozen prunings from my neighbour willow trees into the water-margin of a nearby ex-clay-quarry pond, the day before yesterday. They join a burgeoning copse of willow-sticks planted over an earlier period, that are now thriving young trees. With willow-family trees it’s dead easy: green stick into damp soil. Work – from start to finish – of a few bare-handed seconds. About four out of five will take. With just a bucket and a pair of secateurs, you can do hundreds in a day. I call it guerrilla-planting: don’t ask anyone, just plant a tree in any neglected corner where it has a fighting chance of growing big – or even just growing at all for a few years. Every little helps! 🙂

  90. Dear Nastarana:

    Thanks so mujch for your query, in which you seek a good English-language history of Constantinople. Unfortunately I cannot make any recommendation. Although I can keep up with koiné Greek, and used to be kinda-sorta skilled in classical Greek, I am not a historian. To make matters worse, libraries here in Estonia are not what one is used to in significant world centres such as Toronto. You ask about print sources. The sole semi-intelligent remark I can make, however, pertains to (shudder) YouTube. I am halfway through a scholarly, literate upload, at (from one Philip Hickey, under the rebarbative title “Siege of Constantinople AMAZING HISTORY DOCUMENTARY – The Best Documentary Ever!!”. Desepite the hype of his title, Mr Hickey’s upload has merit,notably through citing recent German scholarship, in Berlin and elsewhere. From those citations, you could conceivably work out tactics for successful Googling on suitable professor names, and on the strength of Google could proceed to printed-book libraries. – Come to think of it, my advice sounds a little Byzantine- or, what is much the same thing, Комите́т госуда́рственной безопа́сности (exuding a perhaps familiar whiff of intricate bureaucracy and bureaucratic intricacy, heh-heh).

    Also dear JMG:

    Thanks for your helpful reply. Yes, as you say, the connection between Russia and Constantinople is significant. We want Russia as a (liberal, not autocratic) political project to succeeed, just as we want the USA and the EU, in their capacity as liberal projects, to succeed. Maybe one or two or all three of these will be big disintegrating slummy flops, but well what the heck, we do live in hope. In Russia’s case, the future must involve a resolute realization that much of what in Russian culture has been positive stems from Kievan Rus, and therefore from Constantinople. Not for nothing do we contemplate that double-headed eagle, prominent in the heraldry both of Constaninople and of the Tsars, and duly visual around 1:41 in the haunting to which I referrerd in an earlier comment. In my Catholic capacity I pray that Russia will come to terms with its past. The Russian world needs healing from fully two adverse events – not only from the putsch of 1917, but from the Schism of 1054. Catholic and Byzantine triumphalism are here equally unsuitable, equally barren. Perhaps something of a way forward is indicated, at any rate on the Catholic side of the requisite diplomacy, by émigrée theologian Catherine de Hueck Doherty (née Екатерина Фёдоровна Колышкина; much material of a promotional character can be had by googling “Madonna House” or “Madonna House Combermere”).

    Toomas (Catholic in Nõo Rural Municipality, 200 km south of Tallinn)

  91. Dear Mr Greer

    Great post. One of the reasons why we can’t get it about peak oil, resource depletion etc; is that people are enamored by the glamour of technology. If you think about it, it is quite understandable. Technology can enable us to do the most wonderful and amazing things that would have seemed like magic a couple of hundred years ago. It enables us to put a man on the moon. It gives us small electronic devices that can translate what we’re saying into another language. It enables us to fly around the world. When you think of this it is easy to see how we can fall into the false logic of thinking that because technology can enable us to put a man on the moon, it will allow us to solve the problems of peak oil and resource depletion. It is a seductive kind of logic.

    What people fail to understand is that technology is not energy. All these wonderful technological devices can only do what they do, because of the energy provided by fossil fuels. Without copious amounts of fossil fuel the rocket that got us to the moon would never have lifted off the ground. Without electricity all these computes and smart phones that are such a part of our lives would be nothing more than piles of lifeless plastic junk. In the words of that great peak oil song by the Tower of Power (Link Below) “you can’t cut loose if you’ve got no juice, there’s only so much oil in the ground, and soon another source of power must be found”.

    The simple fact is that our civilization has fundamentally failed because we haven’t found another source of energy. Unfortunately we have been looking for another source of energy for the last 50 years and it has not been found. None of the other sources of energy out there will provide anything like the power contained in fossil fuels and that means that our middle class life styles are doomed. The ultimate irony of all this is that it is our fantasies of technology coming to save us like a knight on a white charger that prevents us from taking the action that would mitigate the predicament that we are falling into.

  92. John Michael, your refreshing takedown of the tenacious flying-car fantasy of our past-its-pull-date declining civilization reminded me of a 2012 article by David Graeber in The Baffler – Perhaps I originally came upon this article because of a link in comments at the Archdruid Report, so you may have already read it.

    Graeber’s overall realistic analysis of technotopian addiction in its economic and historic context is amazingly unapologetic. Only in the final paragraph does he dangle a progressive dose of hopium to lure any unsuspecting readers off the Fool’s cliff of the bright, happy future we the good people™ surely deserve.

    One gem in his economic diagnosis of the magical thinking disorder of progressivism is “…what will the epitaph for neoliberalism look like? I think historians will conclude it was a form of capitalism that systematically prioritized political imperatives over economic ones.” Ouch! You two could pull off a smash-up tag-team smackdown of the ailments of the Modern age.

  93. JMG,

    You know, I’m a product of the early 1970s too, and I don’t care for this “almost half a century old” rhetoric too much…😉

  94. Chris, JMG re “125 kW EV charging” (and apparent doubts about that)

    The power rating is about how _much_ steel one can melt at a time.
    A welding machine will weld (melt a small puddle of steel) depending on how thick and massive the steel is, starting around 2kW of power for 1/16″. 1/4″ (~6 mm) would require around 6 to 8 kW.

    Arc furnaces for melting steel are rated in the 10’s or 100’s of MEGAwatts, it takes about 400 kWh of energy to melt a ton (2000 pound US short ton) of steel.

    125 kW is only 520 amps at 240 VAC (single phase), one can find such power levels in many small/medium commercial spaces (though those are usually three phase). The typical new house in the US is at least 200 amps, often 300 or 400.

    As to the 125 kW EV DC fast charger – that’s actually fairly average.
    Tesla’s v2 (non-urban) superchargers are now rated for 150 kW (up from 120 kW),
    and the upcoming v3 are 250 kW.
    The Tesla model 3 car will (now, with a software update) take up to 250 kW at peak. Note that peak rate is only used for batteries at a low state of charge; as batteries fill, the rate will be reduced.

    Here’s a reddit where a dedicated Tesla fan plots the charging current over time as their model 3 goes to 143 kW on a v2 supercharger (non-shared) freshly upgraded to 150 kW.

    This article (with video) is at the newly opened v3 supercharger in Fremont,
    At its peak of 250 kW it gives 1070 miles of range per hour of charging (though peak is only for about 3 minutes).

    In Europe, IONITY has built more than a hundred 350 kW stations and is building more.
    Here a model 3 peaks at 194 kW, and an Audi e-tron at 148 kW.

    These DC fast chargers are shared resources, out in public tied to the power grid, not at people’s homes. Tesla has 1595 supercharger stations globally, with 13,783 individual stalls.

    There are some number of superchargers that use Tesla’s battery systems to reduce demand charges, as do some of the Electrify America stations (set up by VW as part of the dieselgate settlement).

    EV charging at home (or “destination chargers”) takes place at more sedate power levels, the most powerful level 2 charger (240 volts AC in the US) draws are 19.2 kW (80 amps at 240 vac), and most are half or less of that.

    And many EV/PHEV owners simply use level 1 (ordinary 120 vac outlet in the US) and pick up 40-50 miles of range overnight at 12 amps max draw (1.4 kW). Totally sufficient for most daily drives.

    The power companies and organizations like EPRI are on top of the minor issues that may result affecting the power distribution system:

    While I agree that (further) collapse is unavoidable, the transformation to renewables (to some degree) seems like it will continue for a while, and DC fast charging at one to several hundreds of kW peak power levels is already in daily use by something like 100,000 EV drivers (i.e. those traveling long distances or living in apartments/condos/row houses/etc. without a garage/outside plug).

    Chris – if you want to see in person, and you live near any supercharger in Australia, most other owners I’ve met will be glad to show you. A Tesla “find us” map centered on Australia:
    And it appears there’s a home-grown Australian startup fast DC charger network up to 350 kW:

  95. As someone who actually HAS lived with stand-alone solar power, and a very modest serving of it to boot, I appreciate your attempt to straighten out the misconceptions surrounding it! But on to grid-tied solar…

    We have tossed around the idea of doing a grid-tied system, for now, at our new house in town, with a battery backup. At first glance at least, it looks like all the benefits of grid connection with very little of the recurring costs. Invest some sugar now to get a steady supply of starch every month (as long as the equipment holds up anyway).

    Admittedly, I’m a bit unschooled on this angle. Do you consider this approach a total waste? Would a stand-alone system be the better route? Wind is a non-starter here. Micro-hydro is a very promising technology here, but not for us in town with no creek. You know we’ve already done the behavioral modification, the mental weatherizing before the solarizing, and will do plenty of physical modification to the new house as well – insulation everywhere, strategic overhangs and plantings, etc. What exactly is wrong with grid-tying? I really want to know.

    I’m under no illusion that it is a permanent fix, buy we have a very large and sunny south roof slope just begging for some panels!

  96. Dear Mr Greer

    I have a question for you about the use of apocalyptic thinking in relation to nuclear war. I think we would be both agree that applying apocalyptic thinking to issues like peak oil and climate change is detrimental. Both climate change and peal oil are existential crisis that could bring down our industrial civilization, but they are what you may call slow burn crisis. They will not destroy our civilization overnight. It would take them anything from 100 to 150 to bring our civilization down. The problem with Apocalyptic thinkers is that they insist that if we do not do anything now about for example peak oil, our society will go down in 10 years. 10 years then pass by and we find that not that much has changed and we stop believing them.

    Now I agree with you that the chances are that we will not have a nuclear war in the future. However you cannot rule out the risk of this happening, even if this risk is small. It is possible that a nut case dictator might launch a nuclear war, but I think that this is the least likely scenario. If a nuclear war did occur, it will most likely happen, because of an accident or miscalculation at a time or crisis and rising tension. If you look at the cold war it is amazing how close we came to a nuclear war because of a potential accident. There was one case I remember during 1983 around the time of a NATO exercise call “able archer” when the Kremlin became paranoid that the west was about to launch a nuclear attack on Russia. One night a radar station detected what they thought were nuclear missiles heading towards Russia. Thankfully the officer in charge realized that this was an error and did not notify his higher ups. If he had we might not be here.

    One of the reasons that nuclear war did not occur during the cold war is that people had an apocalyptic fear that a nuclear war would happen. Therefore they took steps to try to deescalate the tension between America and Russia. They also brought in measures to try to prevent a nuclear war happening as a result of a miscalculation or accident, by for example installing a hotline between Washington and Moscow.

    Now I agree with you that nuclear war probably will not happen. However I think that there is a danger that if we lose our fear of a nuclear war, then we increase the chances that it might happen, because we become complacent do not take step to prevent it.

    So my question to you is this. Do you think that apocalyptic thinking may serve a useful purpose in relation to nuclear war, as the fear of a nuclear apocalypse motivates people to take steps to prevent It.? Nuclear war is different in this respect to peak oil in that it could happen overnight.

  97. JMG, actually, I think the most likely way for a nuclear war to occur would be precisely a technical error that escalates. Poor programming, faulty wiring, a radar error, a bit of ordinary human negligence, and off go your nukes, unleashing a war that no-one wanted or planned. (If Russian nukes suddenly flew DC-ward, wouldn’t the US respond? Even if the reason for those Russian nukes was a pigeon that a radar mistook for an American nuke? And if the US responded, wouldn’t Russia respond?) No bloodthirsty dictator required. Nobody needs to plan it, and nobody needs to decide it. And the more you automatize, the more likely it becomes. In particular, if you program your computers to automatically unleash nukes in the event of – whatever – then your nukes may just automatically go off, even if “whatever” didn’t even happen, but your computer thought it did. And even if you require some button to be pressed first, well, a bit of faulty wiring, and your button may just get “pressed” without anyone pressing it. Etc. Kind of like the Chernobyl disaster (no-one planned that one, either).

    You said that crazy doesn’t mean stupid, and I wholeheartedly agree. But in this particular case, I’d be more concerned about stupid (“stupid” as in “poor programming”) and unlucky, than about crazy. Anyway, none of this is likely, which is why it almost certainly won’t happen any time soon. (As I said, I’m far more concerned about nuclear waste.) But repeat the game enough times, and voila.

    Side note: Didn’t you write at some point that a few local nuclear wars wouldn’t surprise you (e.g. between India and Pakistan)? Have you changed your mind, or is it simply that you think such wars have little potential to escalate?

  98. JMG
    Last night I gave a presentation to our local Labour Party (Britain) on limits to growth; specifically drawing attention to a letter written in June to the statutory committee on Climate Change that advises our government. The letter was from 8 eminent British scientists expert in mineralogy, geology and science relevant to resources needed to, just for example, roll-out resource-hungry electric cars and vans.

    The full letter was made available to me by the Natural History Museum (London).
    There has been no press comment that I have seen in British ‘quality’ Press. I have google searched The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph to see if I had missed anything. Therefore I have taken the liberty of making the NH Museum letter available via a website I am attempting to construct on behalf of a small British group I belong to:

    One member of our local Labour Party apparently moves in elevated circles and gave a sketch last night of Fantasy Land thinking and the ‘next big thing’ which is apparently electric driver-less cars, thus to make ‘on-demand’ hired transport in suburbia ‘Uber’ cheap and a challenge to public transport. He was on the side of public transport but took the technology seriously. Like you I am in favour of ‘Renewables’ but the cautionary letter I was referring to effectively drives a coach-and-four through everything that the eminent lady who will receive it on the statutory committee has written and said in the last 20 years, so we will have to see.

    Phil H

  99. russell1200 – “… multi-meggawatt scale [battery storage]”

    Surprised you haven’t heard of the Hornsdale Power Reserve
    129 megawatt-hours of energy
    100 megawatts of power
    It’s interesting that it is virtually divided into two parts, one for grid stability, the other for power arbitrage. And it’s making and saving money.

    Tesla got another contract for an Australian wind farm as well:
    “25 MW / 52 MWh energy storage system from Tesla to be deployed at their 278.5 MW Lake Bonney Wind Farm”

    The wiki entry on Laurel Mountain wind farm claims the battery is the largest in the continental U.S., as it was in 2011, but that is long out of date.
    8 MWh
    32 MW

    Tesla recently installed a 7 MWh battery for a Japanese (electric) railway.

    Note that article says: “Tesla deployed a total of 1.04 gigawatt-hours of energy storage in 2018, an impressive tripling of its 2017 figure.”

    U.S. installations will reach a total of about 1 GW power this year.

    Tesla installed a system in 2017 on Kaua’i (Hawaiian Islands), 13 MW PV, 52MWh/13 MW battery.

    Another one on Kaua’i this year: I love the headline’s indeterminacy.
    No, the 100 MWh, 20 MW battery is not largest in the world (see Hornsdale, I think), but with the associated 28 MW PV plant, it provides 11% of Kaua’i’s electricity, helping to allow 50% renewable electricity on the island currently.

    Tesla helped an island in American Samoa go essentially 100% solar electric, see video at bottom of:
    A small place, only 6MWh of storage, but that’s good for 3 days for them.

    So actually, there are a fair number of multi-megawatt battery systems out in the world. Tesla isn’t the only one doing them.

    While this is all wonderful, as JMG says, it’s too little, too late to save BAU.

    Not too worried about amount of lithium:

    I think just plain old peak economy in conjunction with ecological overshoot limits things.

  100. I would say it isn’t that you can’t get a flying car, it’s that you can’t get an AFFORDABLE flying car. Every time someone tries it, they figure out it costs too much to make. As far as it being a bad compromise, anything’s possible, it’s just a question of money and time. Whether someone wants to pay for it, that’s another issue.

    I’d also say something about the insane amount of regulations you’d have to comply with now that also makes it a nonstarter as well. Not only the raft of safety regs from the auto world, but all the regs from the aviation world as well. And that will drive up the costs to the point of unaffordability all by themselves. Even plain vanilla modern cars these days are no longer affordable by the younger generations because of all the mandates the manufacturers are saddled with. And when the shale oil starts running out, well, it’ll be moot by then, I guess.

    And then there are the licensing requirements to get behind the controls of anything that can fly. Everything from the basics like learning how to land to more advanced topics like navigation and flying in the clouds without reference to the ground, all of that is complicated, expensive and the system isn’t set up to accommodate anything more than a small priest class to do it.

    People have built small rotorcraft that are a compromise between the jetpack and something bigger but again – the training costs prevent it from ever being anything more than a novelty. And then there’s the whole safety first aspect of our culture these days.

    I suppose if you had a society that wasn’t so obsessed with safety and didn’t treat their citizens like children, I suppose a few flying cars would be possible to have around. But not as things stand, nope.

  101. “As for the Second Coming, are you sure that it’s theologically valid to confuse that with a material catastrophe?” No, sorry, I should have been more clear. The Second Coming is like the ultimate Black Swan event – it’s by definition unpredictable. “Thief in the night” and all that. I’m simply saying that none of us know what will be the moment of our personal death and so it makes sense to be prepared.

    But back to nuclear holocaust – my point was that humanity is setting itself up for any number of apocalypses which are similar in magnitude to that and more likely. To borrow your metaphor, we’re poking that sleeping grizzly harder with ever sharper sticks and expecting her to stay asleep. Not wise…

  102. @ Michael Leger re: missing $$ in HUD etc. (1) it’s been embezzled. (2) bookkeeping as sloppy as that of UNM’s athletic department. (3) Gone off the books for covert purposes (think domestic spying on all us potential criminals/tax evaders/foreign agents/et-paranoid-cetera.) For starters. Sticky fingers or sloppy fingers or both.

  103. JMG,

    Re: Gaia using us as a way to warm up for a spell…

    I’ve often wondered whether having massive amounts of carbon sucked from the carbon cycle and stored as energy under her skin in the form of fossil fuels feels something like having a lot of pus and inflammation, and she recruited some antibodies (us) to fight the infection by leeching it out and returning it to the carbon cycle, after which their population will severely decline, and those left will find a way to live modestly in the healing Gaia until they’re needed again for something, or manage to get themselves eliminated altogether.

  104. I saw an actual jet pack demonstrated at a Chicago White Game at old Comisky Park back in the 60s. The man flew from home plate into the outfield. About the distance of a single and nowhere near a homerun ride out of the park. Even at my young age it was a disappointing event and I never again put any credence in jet packs.

    And no his pants did not catch fire.

  105. “Where’s my flying car?” is said as a joke for just that reason.

    ‘Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.’ –Winston S. Churchill

  106. Dear Drhooves, for what one might think of as the internal history of the USA in the 20thC, including the use of propaganda, beginning in the 1920s, you might look at the books of Christopher Lasch.

    Mr. Greer, I wonder if you could be persuaded to at some point write a column on monasticism, its’ characteristics and the preconditions for its’ emergence. One thing which puzzles me is that while some religions, such as Buddhism, Taoism, and Orthodox and Catholic Christianity do have a traditions of consecrated life others, such as Judaism, Islam and most Protestant sects do not.

  107. Whether Lillium flies or not, sorry for the pun, is less pertinent than the fact that it represents an example of how, over time, the supporting pieces of technology can catch up to a forward-thinking concept (in this case, the flying car) that is not viable when the original concept was developed. Yes, flying cars are not any more viable today than they were 50 years ago. No one had electric jet engines, viable computer control systems, composite materials and energy-dense batteries when the flying car concept. But then 50 years later, the supporting tech is available, not to build a flying car, but to build a VTOL aircraft, which overtakes and reconfigures the entire concept of “personal car” to “personal transportation system,” in, dare I say it, that may involve higher-level inspiration. Will any VTOL aircraft be any more viable than flying cars? Maybe, maybe not. Lillium doesn’t matter. What I’m saying, in a larger sense, is that the technology we develop is inherently connected with our level of spiritual development as beings grounded in a very dense, fully material incarnation that we are here to experience and struggle through — or not, as we so choose, having free will — as a process of spiritual growth. We can invest decades of research to develop fast breeder technology or we can build an atomic bomb. Our choice, as spiritual beings, to either to sink ever lower or aim higher. We are not the first civilization on this planet in its billions of years, there were others that wiped themselves out with their fabulous “technology.” In this material incarnation, at present, no one is going to build a techno-utopia, certainly not the technocratic psychopaths presently in charge, because the knock-on and side-effects — which are fully built into this plane of existence — are always two steps forward and three steps back, followed by two steps to the side, etc. Unless we address the technocratic tendency to slide deliberately toward evil and psychopathy, technology will only produce grotesque, malformed versions of higher-vibration possibilities.

  108. JMG: I agree, but I do expect there will be one or two nuclear problems SOMEWHERE, at some point. Probably more accidents along the lines of Chernobyl and Fukushima, but possibly an intentional bomb. Like those accidents – the world does not stop spinning and although it’s armageddon for local life, it’s not the end of the whole world. OTOH: It’s also quite possible that a lot, maybe the vast majority of our collective global nuclear arsenal are just duds – like the missiles the USA had in Turkey aimed at Moscow in the 70’s. My uncle worked on those – only after the fall of the USSR was the information released that they were all duds, none of them worked.

    @Violet: Yes, I get what you’re saying. I personally find the fascination with dorms day fascinating, much more interesting than dooms day itself! I’m generally a horror-movie fan because I think good horror serves a very specific and important role in helping a society digest their, (our) fears. In 20/20 hindsight, you can see what the real life concerns and fears of past decades and eras were, by which kind of horror stories were popular. A bit harder to see when you’re in the midst of it, but not impossible. I think what you are seeing that is so similar to a sexual attraction/infatuation may be this: There does seem to be something in our psyches that ‘loves’ or is compelled to delve into our fears and wallow around until we no longer fear it; until it becomes manageable. Then it becomes boring and we’re no longer attracted to it. That may be why more than any other demographic, teens and young adults flock to horror stories, the scarier and more gruesome the better. As audiences get older, they’ve digested those fears and the simulation of that specific kind of terror doesn’t attract them anymore, (they watch the news instead! LOL). Also – Y’know- there’s just this great attraction to blowing shale up. It’s exciting! I suspect we all have a wee bit of pyromaniac within us.

    JMG et al:

    “many people cling to anything that will allow them to pretend that stagnation and decline either aren’t real or don’t matter.”

    Well, yeah, because stagnation and decline are exactly like growing into an old person. It’s boring and way too familiar. Becoming infirm, incontinent, frail, addled, grey and wrinkled…..YUCK! We know it’s going to happen, it is happening, but who is going to fantasise about that?

    I know these are simplistic analyses, but I really do think, in large part – it is just that simple.

    RE: Flying cars!? I was going to say pretty much what many other commenters have said about human drivers.

  109. JMG said: “Homesteader, au contraire, it hasn’t been all that long since a presentation on flying cars was received with orgasmic cries of delight by the TED Talks audience. I think you need to get out more.”

    Isn’t almost every TED Talk received with “orgasmic cries of delight?” I believe the talk you refer to is from 2004, hardly recent. In any event, a few years ago TED Talks admitted that flying cars are a bad idea and will likely only exist in…TED Talks.

    So I ask again, since hardly anyone talks or cares about flying cars anymore, why waste time and blog space shooting them down? Please, give us something useful.

    And though “you need to get out more” is one of your standard put-downs, in my case it’s actually somewhat clever, given my user name.

  110. JMG – I believe your point was addressed my assertion – militaries of the world are a bigger problem than the CO2 boogeyman. I do not require any more information than is currently available to make that assertion.

    Referring to the corpus of your work on global warming, not addressing the military control of the weather and more generally, not addressing the missing $21 trillion, which is 25% of the world’s 2017 GDP, in any prognostication, leaves your corpus without a torso

  111. Fantastic quote for you from Eric Weinstein: “Of course your IPhone is amazing, it is all that is left of your once limitless future.”

    It appears the Eric is completely aware that the area of Progress has ended (no new breakthroughs in science since the 1970s) but is unaware of why that is occurring. It appears as though he is trying to figure out how to restart the Progress train but perhaps he could be put on more sensible track.

    He has a brand new podcast, I think it would be fascinating to hear you both talk. I think together you might be able to get on the same track of dealing “…with the realities of stagnation and decline; …making sensible preparations for a range of non-apocalyptic but still serious troubles…”.
    I’m going to go back to listening to his first podcast (called “The Portal”) to see what he has to say in more detail (as I might not be adequately understanding his position yet).

  112. David, by the lake – re “Astounding Stories”

    I have no doubt that there will be additional breakthroughs in the future. However, I can’t help thinking bout “low-hanging fruit” and “diminishing returns.” So I’m guessing that a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been harvested, and what’s left is at the top of the tree. Those breakthroughs — with the possible exception of AI — will not have the same social impact as those of the past such as heat engines, refrigeration, and communications systems.

    Even AI technology may face a limited lifespan. Diminishing returns again. Plus it’s hard to think of AI without abundant electricity. We may have to choose between refrigerators and electric lights on one hand, and AI-based agricultural harvesters on the other.

    One thing is certain — self-driving cars are going to become a historical curiosity.

  113. Dear JMG,

    thanks for mentioning the French; that makes a lot of sense.

    Dear Bruce,

    Many thanks!

    Dear Caryn,

    I don’t think that we agree much on this one. I don’t think that there is any redeeming factor to what I’m describing. In the Cabala she has a name and that name is Lilith, the lady of the night, of the desert and fruitless sea, who steals the seed of men who sleep alone to breed monsters. She of obsessive fears and obsessive desire.

    The apocalypse hang-up, then, in my cosmology is demonic, the sort of being that looks at a human soul as something akin to take-out pizza.

    I would not conflate her with all gruesome tales, but I do think she stalks about many of the cliches of horror films; the cliche “we’re all going to have the best summer ever!” everyone but the virgin being slaughtered by the evil shadow creature, etc. I’ve despised horror films and stories, and have my entire life. They’ve given me untold nightmares, and make me feel physically ill. I repeat; I do not like this coupling of sex and death whatsoever, frankly. I see nothing redeeming, worthwhile, or good in it.

    In real life, this sort of thing finds its expression in serial killers, bloodlust, the murder of people for mere entertainment, sadistic torture, and other unspeakable horrors. Again, there are beings that view human souls as something akin to take-out pizza and that doesn’t tend to look pretty when they manage to get their fill.

  114. JMG: Re: “[T]he sad thing is that there are many satisfactory outcomes, so long as you’re willing to let go of the notion that there’s anything sacrosanct about the modern American middle class lifestyle!”

    I certainly think we can have a satisfactory lifestyle that is miles less wasteful that we’re seeing around us. As you say, we’re going to have to get used to energy sources that are far more diffuse than those that underpin our present arrangements. What concerns me is that diffuse energy sources translates into diffuse distribution of wealth, and this is something that the entrepreneurial class is going to fight to the last man.

    In the technological age, great fortunes are based on manufacturing, financial prowess, and control of choke points in distribution systems. Prior to the technological age, great fortunes were based on ownership of productive land and control of trade at critical junctures. My concern is that we may retrench into something resembling the feudal systems of that former age, with control of real estate conferring great wealth on those who own it, to the virtual enslavement of those who don’t. And whether the extreme valuations of real estate that we’re seeing in recent decades is the beginning of the sorting-out process.

  115. JMG,

    I discovered your writings in the last year while searching for anything related to William Catton. You are preaching to the choir in regards to the big picture. Thank you for so elegantly continuing his work. Your books are wonderful.

    I am not sure why some Americans do not get man’s predicament, or why modern technological life is mostly embraced and the simple life mostly rejected. The two do seem to go together. I suspect most people do not think and reflect on life, and no one makes money selling conservation.

    I have lived aspects of both lives in the past and find the mostly simple, more sustainable life immensely better.

    I do not blindly reject modern technology or science. Quite the contrary, as I do hold a degree in chemical engineering. There is much to be said about refrigeration, lighting, bicycles, chainsaws, and artificial implants, amongst a very few others.

    Like everything in life, I trust no one inherently and question everything. I always go back to the past to see how people lived as an alternative to today. Then I pick and choose, thinking for myself. It has served me well. I have lived a good life. No regrets.

    I am concerned for my teen sons, though, as well as for civil society. The apocalypse might not be coming, but for many Americans the future might actually seem worse. Angry, hungry, entitled people do not always make for good neighbors, even to those of us who have no cause for the situation.

    Keep up the good work, and may the starfish story with the boy on the beach hold meaning to those of us who are so enlightened.

  116. I’d like to qualify what I said here, because I feel it came out harsher than I wanted. I’m scared of the future and this fear makes me angry.

    I do think that modern medicine is amazing in many ways and it saves lives and allows people with disabilities to enjoy a full life. I simply wanted to point out the downsides of longer average life spans, but I don’t blame anyone who wants to live longer.

    And Boomers, I like to rag on your generation, but individually I love all of you, I think you’re really great people and you have a lot to share with the world. Collectively you’ve made bad decisions in the past, but perhaps humans aren’t made to be wise, or stoic or saints, so maybe it was never possible to get a good outcome in the first place. As Alexander Pope once said ‘To err is human; to forgive, divine.’.

  117. An approach I have taken lately when discussing Renewable energy with Techno-Utopians is to make them think about the energy required to make their dream of running our current lifestyle on solar and wind and the sacrifices required now to accomplish this. Very simply put, if renewable technology such as solar and wind (plus storage) has an energy payback of 10 years ( very charitable when storage is included) then to power our current civilization on such technologies ( if this were in fact possible) we would need to dump nearly our entire civilizational energy budget for the next 10 years in to building out this fantasy system. So I then ask them if they would support the following necessary actions needed to divert our energy budget to building the future renewable grid: 1) stop production of all automobiles, planes, trucks and farm equipment, 2) Donate all the current stable of cars trucks and planes to being recycled as material for renewable energy. 3) Give up all plane and auto travel of any kind, 4) give up heating and cooling homes, offices and schools 5) live off the food that can be brought to them via horse, handcart or cargo bike, 6) At least half the members of any family would have to go to work in local manual agriculture. This is obviously a very simplified version of what would have to happen to build a renewable grid in a decade, if such a thing were possible. Most of the people proposing such a system are not even willing to make one of these sacrifices let alone the the entire suite of them needed.

  118. Owen said:
    “As far as it being a bad compromise, anything’s possible, it’s just a question of money and time.”

    Tripp then asks:
    How exactly do time and money change the fact that what makes a good car makes a terrible plane, and vice versa? What can “they” do to ameliorate the inherent mediocrity of a machine that can sort of pull off both jobs?

    It’s just like Mars settlement. Why can’t we colonize Antarctica first? Antarctica is a bloody tropical paradise compared to Mars – with air to breathe, quick escape routes if necessary, drinking water literally everywhere. Why no interest there? The answer is, because it’s a RELIGIOUS imperative, not an economic one. Blind faith in the great god Progress, that’s all. There’s nothing even approaching logic involved.

    And another question for everybody:
    40,000 automobile drivers die in the US alone every year. Just from the day-to-day navigation of 2-dimensional highways. What happens when we add a 3rd dimension, the Z-axis, altitude? Ahem, and gravity! “They” gonna make that irrelevant too? Your car dies on the road you call for help or get out and start walking. Happens all the time. What about a car 500′ up in the air?? And what/who will it fall ON? Heavens. What about exponentially more difficult training and licensing? Policing? Is there nothing to convince people that it’s a bad idea before we even get to the economics, much less the physics of the thing? I grew up watching the Jetsons too, but I can see how incredibly dangerous the whole idea is.

    Just musing aloud..

  119. William Hunter, JMG, and all,

    Here on the Iron Range, the area where the aforementioned copper/nickel mine has been proposed, the locals have quite a different, yet divided take on the mines. When you take into account that mining has been the sole, major industry in the area since 1900 and that mining has fueled the life of generation after generation of families with some impact on the environment but not the hazards of irreversible contamination which so many who are opposed to the copper/nickel mine speak of, you begin to realize the issue is more complex and nuanced than just mining is dangerous to the environment or mining brings jobs. The State happily took money from the area in taxes for the wealth which was generated, but very little has been given back in terms of helping to diversify the economy up here, nor develop a blueprint for a different livelihood. So while many have taken it upon themselves to find alternative paths, many are stuck with the narrative that the mines have saved us and will save us. In that sense, it is a perfect example of the amnesia which deludes so many Americans. The mines have had times of glory, and times of rapid economic contraction. Yet there are a great many people who insist on the mines being the only way to save us Iron Rangers economically to build a better future. Will they? Most definitely not. On the other hand, that 10-20 years of copper/nickel mining could allow the grounds where many seeds have been planted to become more fertile in growing some diversity, more Green Wizardry. If one takes a look around, there’s a lot of those seeds being planted.

  120. @Patricia Matthews: “I call it the creeping crapification of everyday life”

    I use these exact words regularly! There’s a whole lotta creepin’ goin’ on (on so many levels)…ain’t no stoppin’ it now. Observing and adapting to the creeping decrepitude of my physical body has become a full time job. Watching the insidious creep of the Technosphere is routine. Has it even reached its zenith yet? I’m so eager to see the start of its demise as our Long Collapse unfolds…not sure I’ll be around long enough for that as it’s still a way’s off.

  121. To Sue, re: Ted Trainer. I looked him up in my local public library system, and found nothing. I searched the local land-grant University’s library site, and… 64 hits, mostly journal articles, dating back to at least 1997. Might have to go renew my resident’s card for that university library system!!

  122. Recently saw the film – Red Joan. It is about a woman who leaked secrets to the Russians about the British nuclear programme in the 50s. Based on a true story. Her reason was that the world would be safer if both sides in the Cold War had access to nuclear weapons than if only one did. One of her last statements was that she was right.
    To Caryn Banker – I am not becoming old; I am there already and it is one of the best times of my life. Don’t knock it till you try it.

  123. JMG,

    I’m reading your article this morning and what comes up at work lunch hour convo other than Elon Musk’s Neuralink, The Boring Company and so on. Actually, I think The Boring Company is a more appropriate name for all of his ventures, which from my point of view do nothing but enslave us in the boring dystopia described by Mark Fischer.

    I’m not anti-technology by any means. I’m a software engineer for chrissakes. But technology is just a tool to solve problems. It’s not a religion. If it doesn’t work, scrap it. It doesn’t have feelings. Go for the simplest solution possible. In fact, most engineers have a fetish for minimal solutions but that’s often overridden by “management.”

    Back to the subject of your post, if we never get flying cars and go into terminal decline back to a time without fossil fuels… Would that actually be so bad? Other than the err… societal stuff, living in 18th century Paris or Edo Japan sounds pretty interesting to me.

  124. To anyone who was under the impression that the much touted Green New Deal™ was about saving the Earth because we only have twelve years left, well, take a look at this:

    “AOC’s Chief of Staff Admits the Green New Deal Is Not about Climate Change”

    From the article: AOC’s chief of staff, “Chakrabarti said that addressing climate change was not Ocasio-Cortez’s top priority in proposing the Green New Deal during a meeting with Washington governor Jay Inslee.

    “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal, is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all,” Chakrabarti said to Inslee’s climate director, Sam Ricketts, according to a Washington Post reporter who attended the meeting for a profile published Wednesday.

    “Do you guys think of it as a climate thing?” Because we really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing,” he added.”

    And there you have it. At least they were being honest, if only momentarily.

  125. marlena13: re “[Fusion power] has been 20 years away for a good 50 years.”

    Exactly, and as a matter of fact, 30 years is the figure I’ve been hearing ever since the ’70s, when I was tangentially involved in that field.

    For that reason, my crystal tells me that Fission power is the fallback position despite its many risks and downsides. Once “Saudi America” runs dry and people start experiencing what rolling brownouts mean on 100 degree days in Washington DC and New York City, I think you can count on resistance to Nuclear Power evaporating in the afternoon heat.

  126. Frank, hey, it’s more attractive than Tom Swift’s amazing Triphibian Atomicar, which featured in a kid’s novel in my insufficently misspent youth:

    Engleberg, I expect ultralights to have a long and colorful history ahead of them — but since there will be no highways for many centuries, why bother with the wheels and a drive train for them? It’s weight you don’t need and can’t use…

    Temporaryreality, now that’s synchronicity!

    Aspirant, I ain’t arguing. My generation blew it, and a dozen generations to come will have to pay the price for that.

    Dolph9, in my experience many people in the middle and upper middle classes are aware at some level that their lives are built on a lie, and that’s why they go out of their way to hide from any conscious expression of that ugly fact. Fortunately there are some of us who have gotten over that; we’re kind of dispersed at the moment, but give it time.

    Booklover, can you imagine Tokugawa Japan with solar water heaters, wind turbines, and bicycles? If not, keep working on it until you can…

    Paradoctor, excellent! I appreciate a fine example of quantum handwavionics, and this one’s more quantum than most. 😉

    Robert, governments have run themselves insanely far into debt many times in the past. What normally happens is that they default on their debts, weather the economic turbulence, and a few years later bankers are eager to lend them money again. The US defaulted on its debts in 1933 (technically speaking, they made them payable in paper money rather than gold, but it amounted to a default) and we got over it promptly.

    BCV, nice. I can think of some people I’d like to recommend as test pilots. 😉

    Toomas, I’ll leave the religious dimensions of that whole end of things to those whose religion it is. One way or another, though, as Russia rises, I expect Byzantium’s place in world history to rise with it.

    Jasmine, thank you! You get today’s gold star with oak leaf clusters for uttering the First Unspeakable Truth: “technology is not energy.” Yes, exactly; technology is what you do with energy; it doesn’t mean squat if you don’t have a suitable energy source to power it.

    Christophe, thanks for this! Graeber may have had an editor tell him he had to stick in some hopium at the end — I’ve had to fight that kind of thing constantly from editors and publishers who insist on trying to weasel things around to what I suppose ought to be called the monofuture: the officially accepted pop culture view of the future, as rigidly fixed in the collective imagination as Joseph Campbell’s “monomyth” was in his cherrypicked version of world mythology. I’ve been able to dodge it so far, but then I’ve never written for the Baffler…

    Tripp, I turned 57 last month, so I’m a little unsympathetic. Geezerhood, here I come! 😉

    Sunnnv, interesting. I’ll want to see what Elon Musk’s impending bankruptcy factors into all this.

    Tripp, I’m entirely in favor of grid-tied systems, so long as the people who put them in realize that it’s a temporary patch, not a solution. Especially in a hot sunny climate, taking some strain off the natural gas supply by pumping PV electricity into the grid when air conditioning is going full blast is a good thing. I hope, though, that you’re also considering putting in a solar water heater system — that’s a slam-dunk in the South, and can knock 10-15% off your total household energy use all by itself.

    Jasmine, as I see it, it wasn’t the general population freaking out about nuclear war that kept it from happening, and encouraged governments to put in the nested fail-safe systems and deconfliction procedures we have now. It’s the very long series of war games and simulations that demonstrated over and over again that no matter how you slice it, there’s nothing you gain by nuclear war that’s worth what you’re guaranteed to lose.

    Irena, ah, but let’s bring in two other factors.First, back in the early days of the nuclear arms race, safety procedures were extremely simple and the risk of nuclear war was very high. As time has gone on and technology has developed further, the safety procedures have become more multilayered and systematic, the procedures for managing conflict between nuclear powers have become more reliable, so with each passing year the per-year risk of accidental nuclear war has declined. Second, maintaining nuclear weapons and launch systems isn’t cheap, and corners get cut; we found out after the collapse of the Soviet Union that many of their missile sites were nonoperational, and it turned out that all our missiles in Turkey were firing blanks — no actual warheads were stationed there. Thus there’s some evidence that nuclear arsenals tend to become less effective over time, thus lowering the risk of nuclear war. I’d be interested in what kind of numbers you end up if you factor both those into the picture…

    Phil H, delighted to hear it. I do hope the Labour Party gets a clue about sustainability issues sometime soon…

    Owen, no, you’re missing half the point. It’s not just that you can’t get an affordable flying car; if you shell out the money, you get an awkward hybrid that flies like a penguin and drives like a pallet load of bricks. When you say “anything’s possible,” you fall into the great logical fallacy that drives idiocies like flying cars, because it’s not true that anything’s possible; there are these awkward things called the laws of physics that slap hard limits on what’s actually possible, and they don’t care how many times you insist otherwise.

  127. Dear Prizm, about your statement:

    that 10-20 years of copper/nickel mining could allow the grounds where many seeds have been planted to become more fertile in growing some diversity, more Green Wizardry. If one takes a look around, there’s a lot of those seeds being planted.

    I respectfully suggest that what you anticipate COULD happen, but possibly not. Much will depend on hiring. Locals might want to direct their efforts to ensuring that the company MUST be limited to locals for most if not all of its’ hiring. What can happen, especially with foreign ownership, is that hourly workers are brought in from other locations. Those workers naturally bring their families, some members of which set up their own businesses, using capital provided by relatives who live in other, richer, areas. Uncle and Auntie are not al all interested in any sort of Green Wizardry, seeing it as weirdos who don’t help us, i.e., don’t spend in our businesses, and might even be competitors. The newbies vote as a bloc, get “one of us” on city council or the like, form alliances with the most Progressian elements of your local establishment and you can guess the rest. Those seeds being planted might be mowed down as soon as they sprout.

  128. JMG,

    While the well documented premise of todays post is that neither energy techno-salvation nor Nuclear War/Total Collapse are likely, would you accept the premise that a modest collapse along the lines of the one that occurred in the former Soviet Union in the early 1990’s is possible in the United States in the near future? This is certainly not a return to the middle ages or neolithic times as some imagine for a civilizational collapse, nor would it involve the entire planet, but for many in the middle and upper classes it would feel like it given the historically extravagant resource consumption they are used to.

  129. JMG,

    A lot of people who care about green issues (allegedly) are now hailing nuclear energy as the Saviour, much better than those nasty fossil fuels.

    However nuclear energy plants are hideously expensive and a lot of private companies are not interested in footing the bill. What is the future of nuclear? It’s not clean energy or sustainable long term imo.

  130. Tokugawa Japan is, of course, only an approximation. There are no known real examples of ecotechnic societies, and so, it is not easy to imagine them, because each technology has multilayered influences on its society, and because there are cultural factors, too, which decide what gets adopted and what gets rejected.

  131. When I was younger I saw the future as Space Colonies and rocket ships and really wanted to be Mr Spock when I grew up. I knew all about the limits to growth debate and I bought into the techno cornucopian perspective that if we could just build those giant O’Neal style space colonies we would solve the problem. We could have all the cool techno gadgets and energy and material and space that we wanted all while stopping the pollution on Earth.

    One book changed my mind on the kind of future I wanted to live in.
    That book was
    Bioshelters, Ocean Arks and City Farming
    Ecology as the basis of Design
    by Nancy and Jack Todd.

    Go to the library and check it out.

  132. In order for anything to be possible, it must also be possible that something is impossible. Therefore, by simple logic, the statement “Anything is possible” contains a contradiction, and thus cannot be true.

  133. Eminent and ever-enlightening Archdruid, wow, a post at least partially about personal flight, a topic dear to my heart. Another perspective for the “flying car” discussion is that we in the USA did, for a brief time, have LOTS of people doing personal flight. My dad, as an ex-sailor medic, qualified for various GI Bill goodies, and got his pilot’s license through that. He was a member of a flying club in Central California, putt-putting here and there with his new bride in a flying-club Ercoupe. Lots of other ex-GIs were buying Piper Cubs and Aeronca Champs. Many years later I was a co-owner of an Aeronca L3-B, the military version of the Champ. And I found out what my father and all those other GIs discovered – a small light plane flying at 80 or even 100 MPH airspeed is a TERRIBLE mode of transport. As my WWII-experienced flight instructor would say: “Time to spare, go by air.” Getting stranded at an airport overnight because the weather or the winds went a little bit out of spec gets old fast (Mojave at that time had nothing but flophouse-quality motels, I discovered…)

    Per the Terrafugia Transition: they have been absorbed by a Chinese holding company, Zhejiang Geely Holding Group. The aircraft cost ratcheted up to $280K a few years ago, though the Geely Group are quite coy about what the eventual price and release date may or may not be.

    You can buy a nice Slovenian-manufactured Pipistrel for 1/3rd the price of the Terrafugia, and it has far-superior performance and range. Great little two-seat airplane. Pipistrel has sold (wait for it) just over 1000 airplanes worldwide. Hah. The old small-plane limitations of licensing, hangaring, maintenance, and inconvenience have not gone away. And Pipistrel, compared to all the other small-aircraft manufacturers, is wildly successful!

    For @Homesteader, check the Wikipedia page for “Flying Car”. Also, if you have the stomach for it, check out video presentations from the 3rd-annual Uber Elevate Summit held recently in Washington D.C. At last count, there are over 100 groups at various stages (heh, mostly hiring and fundraising) in the electric VTOL development space. It’s really quite appalling how much money and rendered videos are being thrown about promoting what is a doomed idea.

    Right now, with the exception of a few huckster/fraudsters (hey Paul Moller, I’m looking at you), almost all the promotion and development of flying cars, jet packs, and VTOL personal mobility solutions is being funded and pursued by wealthy Silicon Vally Elites who appear to be driven by a powerful desire to further distance themselves from the grubby non-degreed masses.

    As always, JMG, thanks very much for this forum and for your observations!

  134. JMG: ” Second, maintaining nuclear weapons and launch systems isn’t cheap, and corners get cut; we found out after the collapse of the Soviet Union that many of their missile sites were nonoperational, and it turned out that all our missiles in Turkey were firing blanks — no actual warheads were stationed there. Thus there’s some evidence that nuclear arsenals tend to become less effective over time, thus lowering the risk of nuclear war.”

    Yes, precisely, which is why I’m not terribly worried. As we slide down the Hubbert curve, nukes will become essentially impossible to build and maintain. If no nuclear war erupts by the end of this century or so, then it’ll never erupt, because those nukes will simply not be viable anymore (but they may still poison the ground they stand on), and new ones won’t get built.

    I’d say my numbers were pretty conservative. One in a thousand chance really does take into account all the safety procedures. It’s that n (the number of iterations) won’t grow as much as in my original comment, simply because the nukes will cease to be viable long before you reach n = 1000 or what have you.

    That nuclear waste, though…

  135. @Mots

    That’s positively flattering! Thank you for the read. I might have a few more tricks up my sleeve in this post-industrial canon I’ve been working on. I’d love to spin in into a novella, or a collection of short stories, or a loosely connected novel about the legends and myths of tomorrow. Now I just gotta write it…

  136. One of the best uses we have for PV in my opinion are low cost mobile electric fence chargers for controlling livestock. We use them to control sheep, hundreds of cows, chickens and pigs so we can mimic their wild relatives concentrated movements. Simple and effective! The newest of the technology works amazingly well with little outlay of resources.

  137. Hey @Tripp, love your website and your ongoing contributions to this forum! You mused about grid-tie solar. My observation is: it depends powerfully (heh) on the specifics of your power company. Ours here in SoCal puts a LOT of disincentives in place by requiring: permits, professionally-produced expensive plans/drawings, low reimbursement rates (about 21% of retail), monthly extra administrative fees, TOU-rate, and the ever-looming possibility of the net-metering reimbursement rate being set to zero (this has happened in other states already.) Our utility, SCE, has a bewildering amount of info on all these topics on their website; check into your utility. (TOU is Time of Use, where power costs more or less depending on time of day and day of week. Complicated…)

    We have two plug-and-play PV panels and two beta-test plug-and-play home battery systems (one is partially failed and holds only 50% of its design capacity of 2 kWh.) I have been very careful to consult with my electrical-engineer friends about what is safe and reasonable, and have asked our utility for no more permission to plug in this equipment than I would ask them to plug in a hair dryer. This is Guerrilla Solar.

    Right now as I type the panels are producing 334 watts of power. Our house is consuming 158 watts more than that because I have our small swamp cooler running (but then as I watched, the power consumed from Edison went down to 6 watts; the fridge must have cycled off.) I know the consumption rate because we have an energy monitor (RainForest Eagle.)

    The two panels put out 2.871 kWh total yesterday, and 86.26 kWh last month. Our power production low over the last twelve months was 57.93 kWh in November 2018. Given our 19¢ per kWh rate, you can see that this is no get-rich scheme ($11.00 bill reduction in November, $16.39 reduction last month.)

    Surprising to me, the only thing the home battery system is good for is for Demand-Reduction response. We have signed up with a company that gives Points (pennies) if you go below your ten-day average for any particular hour the power companies say they’ll reimburse for. We often get about $4-5 dollars for an OhmHour, and we just had a high-value one where we netted $14.22.

    Of the other postulated features of the battery (charge during a less-costly TOU rate and discharge when the rate is highest; charge when the panels are producing more power than the house is consuming and then put back into the house in the evening; backup power for power failures), not one has been found to be remunerative. The backup power, for instance: the battery system consumes 10 watts continuously, and over the course of a day will consume 0.25-0.50 kWh (it’s variable due to finicky battery management algorithms.) Our power is VERY stable, so it’s totally not worth it to have an ongoing vampire load like that. The thing that kills the value of the battery system for TOU and for discharge at night: there is (I’ve measured it) only about 80% charge efficiency and 80% discharge efficiency. Thus the wasted energy INCREASES the size of our energy footprint. The battery systems are now charged up the day after a Demand-Response event and then turned off. BTW, when they’re off, since they’re not connected to the internet, you can’t extract power from them even when fully charged. They have to be internet-connected to manipulate them through a smartphone app; there is no other way to control them, sigh…

    Central to all this stuff is having a small well-situated and insulated house in a benign environment that is desert-dry but not actually all that hot.

    A big gamble of all this is that something doesn’t break. Each battery is dependent on the internet, and if as I suspect will happen the company that made them goes out of business and they stop paying their AWS bill, they will be just so much e-waste. I’ve already had one smaller plug-and-play panel I got from Amazon two years ago go dead due to a failed inverter (the panel is fine, but it can’t export its power.) The company that produced that panel is dead too, so any warranty went into the void.

    It is almost impossible to find solutions like I’ve found that aren’t dependent on the internet. So-called “Smart Devices” only seem smart until the net goes down; then they’re dumber than a hammer.

    My counsel: do as much as you can to make your living space efficient (I expect you, Tripp, already have), buy an energy monitor and watch what goes on for several months, utilize any energy consumption monitor web interface your utility provides, get a KillAwatt meter to characterize every electrical device in your house, carefully and thoroughly understand the ins and outs of your utility regarding solar grid-tie (looking for sneaky things like monthly fees and so forth), and then consult with your oracle of choice.


  138. One thing about nuclear weapons that needs to be borne in mind is that they use fissile materials that could be used by nuclear reactors instead. A lot of the reactor fuel in use these days comes from decommissioned nuclear weapons that were scrapped, particularly after the USSR fell apart. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the nukes currently in service in the US and elsewhere end up being scrapped and recycled for their uranium and plutonium to keep nuclear power plants operating a bit longer as the Long Descent gathers momentum and the authorities desperately try to keep electric power grids going by any means available.

  139. “…the vast majority of incurious people will never care to learn about any of this. Many of the rest of us will find that the accumulated weight of a lifetime of commitments and obligations to others, combined with the impossibility of living a life partially in the past and simultaneously in the future, will prevent us from doing the kinds of things we might otherwise hope to.”

    The vast majority of people will never master a musical instrument, but that does not invalidate those who would inspire others to take up musical practice.

    I don’t see how adopting pragmatic retro-technologies such as hayboxes and slide rules (I picked these two because JMG seems partial to them) is “living in the past”. Those things work just well now as they ever did. In other words, if it ain’t broke…

  140. Beau, you’re most welcome.

    RPC, okay, gotcha. You’re certainly right about death, and also about the less than apocalyptic but still really ugly disasters we’re heaping up in our future.

    Kyle, the thing is, Gaia’s gone out of her way to stash carbon under her skin for hundreds of millions of years, so I think it’s more like subcutaneous fat. Now that she’s middle aged, she’s metabolizing some of that, and we’re the cells busy at that task…

    Moofoo Bay, I’ve seen equivalent films and videos; of course real jetpacks have the exhaust on booms going out to both sides, partly for stability and partly to keep from igniting trousers. Still, you’re quite right that it’s not very impressive.

    Jasper, bingo.

    Nastarana, I’ll consider it. I suspect the difference is simply in whether or not celibacy is considered virtuous in a religion; where it’s not, or actively discountenanced (as in Judaism), you’re not going to have monasticism, while religious traditions that prize celibacy tend to gravitate toward monastic approaches. (The Shakers are a good test case — Protestant monastics, distinct from other Protestants in their glorification of celibacy).

    John, but if Lillium doesn’t fly, your basic argument — that technology catches up to a culture’s image of its desires, basically — doesn’t hold. Perpetual motion is a classic example of a case where this didn’t happen; nuclear fusion power is arguably headed the same way — and the flying car is a good example of a case in which people have kept on trying to make the world conform to their desires, and have gotten about halfway there before getting stuck in place by the laws of nature. Thus our technology is a reflection of our collective imagination, but it’s constrained by broader patterns — those acts of will of eternal beings we call “laws of nature” — and also by the acts and states of consciousness of myriads of other classes of beings. We don’t create our own realities, we co-create them…

    Caryn, of course! I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there are several more serious nuclear accidents in my lifetime — reactors melting down, waste storage facilities catching fire and blanketing a couple of counties with lethal fallout, maybe a bomb going off here or there. It’s the specter of all-out thermonuclear war as an excuse for not preparing for the future ahead of us that I want to challenge.

    Homesteader, first of all, you really do need to get out more; Bryan Allen’s comment above got there before I did, listing sources for some of the many people who are still frantically trying to insist that we can have flying cars. Second, I write what I want to write, for the people who want to read it. If you aren’t interested in reading what I have to say about flying cars, hey, there’s the door; don’t let it hit you on the way out.

    Michael, it’s a source of wry amusement to me that when I talk about certain topics — anthropogenic climate change is one of them — I inevitably get people like you doing the classic disinformatsiya move of insisting that no, no, I have to discuss this other thing over there instead! That’s one of the reasons I keep on talking about anthropogenic climate change; anything that attracts that many distracting maneuvers is clearly wortth discussing.

    Tim, fascinating. It’ll be worth seeing if more stories along these lines pop up.

    David, he’s dead right, of course. Computer technology is one of the few technological fields that reach consumers that’s new enough to still be getting more than cosmetic improvements at this point. If he does a podcast, hey, suggest me as a guest — I do a lot of podcasts, and the conversation ought to be fun.

    Helix, as I’ve noted before, feudalism is badly misunderstood by a lot of people these days. There was less of a gap between rich and poor in 13th-century Britain than there is in America today; what’s more, your average feudal peasant worked fewer hours per week, had more vacation days per year, and kept a larger share of the products of his or her labor than your average American employee right now. What we’re seeing with wildly inflated values of investment assets — not just real estate — is an ongoing attempt by the current elite classes to game the system more and more outrageously to prop up their power and influence in a society in decline; that will fail — it always does — as Caesarism overturns plutocracy, to use Spengler’s useful phrase. Actual feudalism is a long way further down the curve, and will emerge after public order has collapsed completely and successful warbands and their leaders become the de facto government. Give it about two more centuries.

    Ecodad, I’ve noticed that people with a background in hands-on scientific fields tend to get what I’m saying more easily than many others. Of course you’re right that we’ve got a rough road ahead of us, but getting ideas out to those who can hear them might just help — one starfish at a time, as the story you cited suggests.

    Clay, yeah, I can imagine how well that will go over!

    JillN, fascinating. Thanks for this.

    Godozo, yes, I’ve seen that before. It’s overly simplistic, but it certainly points to a real possibility.

    Brian, exactly! It is not necessary to have a vast array of technofetishistic gizmos to live a decent, productive, and happy life. If we could cushion the Long Descent and get to a deindustrial society without the usual chaos, I suspect that most of it would find that we enjoyed it.

    Beekeeper, of course. I’ll be talking about that, and about some other evidence along similar lines, in an upcoming post.

    Clay, not only is it possible, it’s likely.

    Bridge, nuclear power is a net energy sink; that’s why no nation anywhere has ever been able to run a nuclear power industry without gargantuan government subsidies and a lot of fossil fuel consumption. As net energy from fossil fuels declines, I expect to see fission power continue to phase out, as it’s been doing for the last forty years.

    Booklover, of course — but what I’ve suggested is one way to think about such an approximation.

    Skyrider, it’s an excellent book. Have you read The Book of the New Alchemists by the same authors? It’s also very much worth your while.

    Will J, nicely done — and of course quite accurate.

    Irena, the nuclear waste is of course the real issue. We’re guaranteeing right now that for tens of thousands of years to come, there will be certain areas on the earth where no one will be able to live, and where those who go there don’t come back. The pro-nuclear types that insist that it’s perfectly justifiable to do that to our descendants for a thousand generations, so that we can waste electricity so profligately today, are to my mind among the most despicable people that exist.

    Mark, sure. Have you factored in the energy costs needed to make the PV cells?

  141. @Mark Angelini

    “One of the best uses we have for PV in my opinion are low cost mobile electric fence chargers for controlling livestock.”

    I second this! I’ve used solar powered fence chargers for a over two decades, for horses, sheep, goats, and what a help it is! Even goats, the Houdinis of the livestock world, respect the electric fence – I was skeptical it would work for them.

    So yes, a nice little niche product, but it saves a LOT of labor spent on fencing…

  142. @Tripp

    You asked re downsides of batteries in a grid-tied system. Our experience was based on local Australian conditions dealing with our local government-owned grid operator. However, when we looked at this, we found that the cost of the batteries and the cost of the extra and more robust electrical systems we would need to install in order to have a legal battery back-up that worked during black-outs would have approximately doubled the install cost of a grid-tied system. It was approximately 1/10 the price to buy a diesel generator, some extension cords and a few cans of fuel. Buying the generator also allows us to run heavy power tools without needing to rewire to three phase power. I suspect, given the environmental cost of batteries, that the generator was also the more environmentally backup friendly option. YMMV.

  143. JMG you have said that nuclear energy is a net energy sink. To me, this is quite a claim when considering the incredible amount of energy contained in nuclear fuel. Can you provide any sources that break down the energy costs of nuclear power, piece by piece, and tally them against the energy produced? I have typically been a proponent of nuclear power mainly because the scale of its harm has been much smaller than that inflicted by fossil fuel power, but have never encounter a real breakdown of the net energy. if what you say is true then industrial civilization as we know is truly screwed from an energy standpoint.

  144. As soon as I saw the word Jetpack mentioned, I recalled something I had seen recently. A gadget called a Flyboard Air. The blessed thing does actually work… It’s certainly a more impressive gizmo than the iconic Bell Rocket Belt. a backpack monster that Bell Aerospace unveiled in the 60s. – with a flight time of about 30 seconds. You’re essentially strapping 5 jet turbine engines to your feet.

    But as a practical mode of transport, is it still very subject to physics. Current specs indicate limited to about eight minutes of flight time, good for about 4km… and for that you’re toting a backpack with 5 gallons of aviation kerosene. So, yeah. Cool, but It pretty much stays in the class of “expensive toys for reckless rich people.”

    I did not see a plan for a solar powered version. *ducks* (Yes, hype city, but that comes with the territory)

  145. Does anyone know of any thorough, realistic accounting of what it would take to replace the current energy supply of the US with renewables? In particular, how much energy storage would we need if we’re running entirely off of solar, wind, and a realistic fraction of hydro and biomass? I’d settle for studies that cover only electricity rather than all energy.

    I’m still not totally convinced of the impossibility of doing this, but it’s clear that it’s a very, very difficult problem. Most of what I’ve turned up about the energy transition seems to be written by boosters of renewable energy, with obviously optimistic assumptions. I’d love to see something clear-headed.

  146. Violet: I grew up in a protestant church that occasionally did evening Hal Lindsey seminars on “signs of the End of Times” and suchlike. I found the atmosphere… icky. I used to describe it as the grown-up version of telling ghost stories around the campfire, you know? Everybody loves a good scare. But it was more than that: a certain hunger and anticipation for the coming destruction.

    You’ve captured the vibe perfectly.

  147. Just read in local alternative paper that Sacramento CA has been selected for an electric car project sponsored by VW as part of its payment for the faked test result scandal. An earlier pilot made a number of vehicles available at $15 hr or $85 per day. Now I have a $200 car payment for a 2017 Hyundai that gets 25+MPG. I suppose that with gas, maintenance, insurance, etc. my total driving expense is something over $300 per month. . But this EV rental would be over $400 a week. The only way I could see myself using one of these EV rentals would be if there were cheap, extensive, convenient public transit for most daily use and one only needed a car for a special excursion, such as driving the grandkids up to see the snow (Sacramento is less than 2 hours from the Sierra Nevada, so such day trips are practical. We are likewise 2-3 hrs from the Bay Area, but it would irk to rent a car for that trip only to park it at great expense for most of the day.) Sacramento does not have cheap, convenient transit to most of the suburban areas–and the whole area is basically a giant suburb. Even in the old downtown there are not the kind of walkable neighborhoods with grocery, laundry, a few good restaurants, a coffee shop, bookstore etc, that one finds in Europe or the east coast. I suppose EVs on these terms may be competitive on the rental car market for out of town visitors, but I can’t see them as a useful addition to the transportation mix for local citizens.

    I suspect that one step on the path down will be forced changes to or general ignoring of much zoning regulation. People will crowd into large houses, create illegal basement or attic apartments, let relatives live in the garage or in a trailer in the back yard. This is already happening but will spread to formerly class neighborhoods. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see law suits trying to overturn housing association regulations that prevent drying one’s cloths outdoors or other practical if ‘unsightly’ activities. We already have the urban chicken revolution in motion and one of the regular commentors writes about struggles to make front yard gardens legal in his city.

    If a major jump in gas prices makes it harder to shop and destroys the free shipping option I bet some people will start buying extra on their warehouse store runs and selling to neighbors who can no longer afford the dues or the gas–informal shops set up in the garage or maybe trading networks. Two or more families go to Costco and you buy the 12 pack of canned beans and the 10 lb package of pork chops and I buy the 12 pack of applesauce and three packages of chicken thighs and we swap. And we save clean jars so that we can split those restaurant sized jars of mayonaise and pickle relish.

  148. Archdruid,

    Is it amnesia though? I’ve met plenty of people who know the historical details of many of the technologies that they promote, but not one of them is willing to deal with the chain of evidence for what it actually is. This goes back to your thesis of people trying to deny reality, because they simply don’t want to deal with the harsh truth that reality teaches. They want those things, ergo there must be a way, there just must!

    Admittedly, I never sat down and thought about the chain of evidence against the nuclear end-times, but reading through the comments it makes perfect sense. There was a point in my youth, right after 9/11, I was bouncing off the walls worried about the end of the world. My mom took me by the shoulders and said “Varun, if the world ends tomorrow you’ll be dead anyway, so why worry about it?” These were the wisest words ever spoken to me, and have basically helped me avoid constantly worrying about the end of the world.



  149. “you’ll hear plenty of well-intentioned people these days insisting that if we only invest in solar PV we can stop using fossil fuels and still keep our current lifestyles.”

    A minority can do so, at least for a while. And I think that is the most likely outcome. When people think “medieval lifestyle” and do re-enactments, mostly they’re knights. Not many people are interested in re-enacting being a hungry serf. When people think of a particular lifestyle, they think of the elite. This makes sense, since we modern Westerners are actually the elite of the world.

    So when they think of the future, they think of being among the elites – the minority tooling around in electric vehicles with solar panels everywhere. They don’t think of being in the slums outside these ecotopic cities.

  150. Flying cars – love this discussion – if somehow* flying cars came to be used on an even modest scale by people of means, i could imagine the news stories:
    “Flying Car Theft by Joyriders Ends in Tragic Mid-Air Crash / Was Collision Avoidable? Jet Pack Set to Auto-Pilot While Flyer Was Sexting / Falling Debris Sets Fire to ‘Pie-From-the-Sky’ Pizza Delivery Air-Van’

    Just because something is possible doesn’t mean it should be done.

    Television is an example of this. Color TV took off in the 1970s – Do you think it’s a coincidence that it wat about this time that Baby Boomers** were derailed from being a generation that could have positively changed things (less materialistic, more just society) to a generation of passive hedonistic consumers worshipping at the altar of the church of progress? Whose ‘vision’ of the future is split between never-ending progress vs. the apocolyptic end of everything (Thank you, JMG for so clearly writing about this!).

    * I’m so glad that pixie-dust hasn’t been synthesized.
    ** as a whole, of course, there have always been outliers, and voices in the wilderness…

  151. Nastarana,

    You’re completely right, with the company financing the copper/nickel mine being foreigners, what COULD happen is that they bring a lot of their pawns over, make big bucks and leaving scraps for who is actually from the area. And without a doubt, that is some of what will happen. On the other hand, I personally know some of the administrative people who have been working for the past 10 years to get the mine through all the legal proceedings who had been employees at some of the other iron mines in the area. Odds are, with the union still strong, if the copper/nickel mine wants to get the support it needs here, they’ll have to employ union members, folks who have some connection with this area. That is what’s happened with most of the iron mines in the area who have changed ownership repeatedly. Arcelor-Mital is a major owner of a few mines, and they’ve not brought many of “their” people. Still, we shall see what happens. One of the points I was really hoping to make was the irony of someone complaining about the politics behind a situation when they haven’t on the ground experience. More than half of the people here want the mine because it’s all they’ve known, and their short history has taught them that it’s all that pays.

  152. A clean energy choice? I received a pitch in the mail today from someone who obviously doesn’t know that I’m a net seller of (PV) electric power. They want me to buy clean, renewable electricity from THEM (with 99% of it being wind-generated, and 1% solar), and they’ll charge me 8.6 cents per kWh (compared to 8.1 cents per kWh for my local utility’s coal/nuclear power). And there’s no fee so sign up, and no fee to cancel. Who doesn’t want clean energy, even if it’s a little more expensive than the system mix?

    However, I found this in the fine print: “… introductory price is 8.6 cents/kWh. After the third month, your price may vary with no advance notice and is based on a number of costs … plus [vendor] operating costs, expenses, and margins.” Why don’t I just send them a book of blank checks, and let them take what they need to achieve the “margins” they desire?

  153. @JMG – I think our difference of opinion about climate change may be due to timeframe. 500 or 1000 years from now, yes, seasonal rainfall will be critical to survival, and the scenario you’ve detailed in your excellent novel Star’s Reach is quite plausible. Ten years from now, which I mentioned as my frame of reference, if we’ve gotten to the point where I have to worry about the rain, we’ll have much, much bigger problems. Personally, I see the climate change reporting being sensationalized by such fine sources as NPR. To scan the headlines, one would think the corn crop this year has utterly failed. Yes, Illinois got 28 inches of rain through June, and is ahead of the 40-45 inches of average precipitation per year, but bumper crops are never the “norm”. We’ll see this fall how the final numbers pan out, but between bugs, blight, droughts, flooding, hail, etc., there’s always something cutting into yields. The recent warm temps in Alaska, we might keep in mind, were breaking or nearing records set back in 1915 – not a statistical aberration, yet.

    @Phil – hundreds of years of fossil fuels? Maybe, maybe not. The way our financial system rewards graft, I have my doubts about the accuracy of “proven reserves”. Right up there with the “proven reserves” of gold in Ft. Knox. I’m guessing estimates are overblown, and the inflection point of panic is closer than most think. I would not be surprised in 5-10 years, that between prices, carbon taxes and rationing, we’ll see pleasure travel by air eliminated, and automotive transportation at half or less of today’s numbers.

  154. As someone who has actually lived on solar for the past two years, in an RV, off the grid 99% of the time, I could not agree more that it’s a fantasy. And I will confess that I have developed a terrible habit of butting in on conversations about solar optimism with “and how long have you lived on solar alone?” Which is generally against my own mind your business approach to life, but the ignorance around solar is astounding.

    Using solar to prop up an oil-powered standard of living simply isn’t possible, never mind the massive amount of oil it takes to produce solar panels, which solar advocates never mention (which also ruins all those post-apocalyptic solar fantasies, making solar an illusion-shattering double whammy — it can let every fantasy down!)

    That said, as JMG hints here, if you’re willing to downsize your life, cut your energy needs back to roughly 1910 era needs, solar works a treat. Keeps my laptop charged, runs a small freezer and the water pump, and uh, yeah that’s about all we need (for a family of five). Propane for cooking of course, though we do use wood fires a lot as well. But once you downsize your needs, you’d be surprised how little you do need.

  155. @Michael Leger – to assume that bum accounting in the DoD means they’re spending it all on weather control, is, err quite a leap. Not that we shouldn’t have a better idea of where the money went, but it could have been stolen in many different ways. When I studied meteorology and climatology, and the math, physics, chemistry and fluid dynamics involved, the numbers are dazzling. The energy required to even have small impact on the weather, with the exception of very localized seeding of clouds, is beyond comprehension. If anyone is controlling the weather, then there is a new energy source which has not yet been revealed to the public which will easily solve all our problems.

    @Nastarana – thanks for the tip on Mr. Lasch. I’ll check with the library system, and see if I can snag one of his books.

  156. Dear Kiashu, re: “medieval lifestyle” and do re-enactments, mostly they’re knights……
    There is an overabundance of internet chit chat crap conjecture by keyboarders, that at the end of the day, does not advance the ball.

    In this vein, I invite anyone with a skill in basic electronics and of hands on working spirit, to visit me free room and board, to build out circuits and explore alternatives in an off utility grid setting. We are a vacation destination and have canoes for inter island travel, oysters, and a semi private sandy beach. One project is to build out beach front self contained energy tiny houses with their own heat pumps, electric hot water, 24 hour computer/cell phone/lighting, refrigerator, base solely on solar electric with a small number of (two lead acid) batteries…..

  157. Mitch, energy researchers have been trying to get such a breakdown for decades now, and it’s remarkably hard to get past the smoke and mirrors offered by the nuclear industry. That’s why it’s useful to pay close attention to proxy measurements such as economic viability. If nuclear power had the kind of net energy its proponents claim it has, building a nuclear reactor would be a profit-making scheme; instead, it’s a recipe for huge losses and permanent ongoing subsidies. That right there is a crucial piece of evidence that all is not well in Glow In The Dark Land.

    It’s not surprising, all things considered, that it should be so. Sure, there’s a great deal of energy concentrated in a nuclear fuel rod, but think about all the energy that has to be invested into the mix. Nuclear fuels don’t occur in the kind of naturally concentrated form that, say, petroleum or coal does; medium-grade uranium ore contains less than half of one percent uranium, many currently used ores have much less, and so you have to invest a great deal of energy to extract heaps of worthless rock in order to get modest amounts of uranium. Nuclear reactors are very expensive compared to other ways of producing steam, too, and then there’s the issue of waste disposal. All these things have an energy cost, which has to be deducted from the energy in the fuel to give you a realistic idea of how much net energy you get from the technology.

    Samurai, eight minutes in the air — yeah, that sounds about right. As I recall, that’s about the upper end of what the better grade of jetpack manages.

    Grebulocities, I haven’t seen one since the late 1970s. It would be worthwhile to find one!

    Rita, as usual, it’s for the Good People™, an opportunity for them to parade their ecological virtue in front of hoi polloi. Nobody who drives a Hyundai need apply!

    Varun, you may be right. It just speaks of a jawdropping level of stupidity that these folks think that wanting something obliges the universe to hand it to them.

    Kiashu, I disagree. It’s a pervasive fantasy of the elite to think that they can just cut themselves off from the masses and thrive; they’ve lost track of the fact that everything they have is produced and maintained by the masses. What usually happens is that some ambitious person among the elite classes realizes that he can take power by championing the cause of the masses, and proceeds to do so — as, indeed, is happening in the US right now.

    PatriciaT, granted! I’d be wholly in favor of flying cars if they had a seven figure price tag and some way could be found to keep the flaming wreckage from landing on anything or anybody else.

    Lathechuck, yep. I get those every so often. I think the word is “scam”…

  158. Regarding the elites and the idea that they can have a separate peace: Why do you think the elite is so obsessed with AI and robotics? I’m quite sure a lot of the elite think that they can replace their human security guards and the human workers who serve them with robots.

    Being a child of top 10%ers, I’ve witnessed my share of Trump Derangement Syndrome, and a lot of it stems from the reality that the coastal elite live in glass houses and extract their wealth from people who either have MAGA hats and guns or people who support Ocasio-Cortez and speak Spanish. They are afraid.

  159. I agree that all-out nuclear war is unlikely, flying cars are most likely not going to happen, and that photovoltaics won’t allow most people to live the way they’ve been living. May he rest in peace, we can thank David MacKay for a great (free!) book on this,

    However, there are some natural glitches that could hit us pretty hard. These are some of the following things that have happened over the past few hundred years; some of them have been worse than others. Some of them had low death tolls, because of geography and population density, but I wonder how long we’ll keep being lucky:

    1700 – Cascadia fault in Northwestern US
    1811 – New Madrid earthquakes
    1815 – Eruption at Tambora
    1859 – Carrington Event
    1883 – Krakatoa eruption
    1908 – Tunguska event
    1918 – Spanish Flu
    1931 – China floods
    1960 – Validvia earthquake
    2004 – Indian ocean tsunami
    2011 – Japanese tsunami

    I mused on this a while ago; ; links to many of those events are there.

    With a worldwide and interconnected economy, that has traded efficiency for resiliency, those stairstep, “catabolic collapse” plunges could be pretty harsh, if some of the events above were to happen today in Europe or the US.

    There’s a comment someone made, “The future is here, but it isn’t evenly distributed.” Some of the situations above might be considered “local apocalypses”, with very non-homogeneous effects. Many in the world were not personally affected by the 2004 or 2011 tsunamis (but folks in India and Japan sure were).

    What sort of natural disaster that has happened in the last 200-300 years would impact the US or Europe the most? Or, short of the improbable asteroid strike or nuclear war, would the modern world always still exist in some form? What could you use to measure ‘collapse’ anyway? If your life was better with a mix of 1930s-1980s technology after some Big Bad Event, would you consider that ‘apocalypse’? Perhaps not.

    I sometimes wonder if Larry Niven’s premise from the Known Space universe (mentioned in Ringworld) is true – humans have been breeding (or have been bred) for luck.

  160. I found my copy of Muddling Toward Frugality, the “Blueprint for Survival in the 1980s” by Warren Johnson, mentioned in comments to the post from two weeks ago. It is a gem of book that I picked up back in said “80s” as a new graduate from a mechanical engineering program. I wanted to be that girl genius who invents the new energy technology that will save humanity from oil depletion. But by the time I had my degree and had been through courses on thermodynamics and power engineering, I knew perfectly well that distributed, solar-derived energy (whether solar PV, wind or biomass) would never do what fossil fuels could do, and we were in for a long descent. Muddling Toward Frugality came at just the right time for me to see the silver lining in our low energy future. Let me quote from the blurb on the back of the book, because it encapsulates the attitude that has kept me going all these years:

    “Above all, it can be a good life. We have enough time to learn how to do things with our own hands once again, how to pull communities back together, how to raise our children, and how to allow our elders a useful and agreeable life.
    “We will be exchanging the grand achievements of large-scale technological society for modest accomplishments on a more human scale. We will have the comfort of knowing that our relationship with the environment is sustainable, and that the Earth is a true home to us.”

    Of course I found very few others, including most engineers, who saw things this way, but I knew it was just a matter of time. Still, it sure has taken a long time for the other shoe to drop!

    Reading through the book again, I found some very interesting discourse on politics and the difficulties of a rational approach, leaving us mostly with the option of “muddling”. One the most interesting passages is where Warren Johnson compares the Jeffersonian pastoral ideal of the independent yeoman farmer with the Hamiltonian emphasis on free markets and commerce – two different forms of individualism that tended to contradict each other. The Jeffersonian ideal lost out to industrial development, Johnson says, because of Jefferson’s weakness: “his unwillingness to accept the necessity of a structure in society strong enough to bring about the good life he envisioned.”

    Jefferson rejected the oppressions of Church and State, yet his pastoral ideal was based on “what he saw in rural England (that) was the remains of the medieval era: English society of that age was a classic traditional society, with common operation of land under feudal ownership, strong religious controls on individual appetites, and very limited mobility.”

    Jefferson’s ideal could never arise from the free, rational behavior of individuals, because the pastoral life evolved under conditions of restraint. Consequently, one of our founding American ideals is based on a fallacy. The American form of government was not robust enough to protect farmers and independent craftsmen from the depredations of fossil-fueled industry.

    And so we end up with the dream of a flying car to escape to our poisoned suburban pastoral paradise.

    The question becomes, is a return to feudalism the only alternative? Or is there another approach that might leverage some of the advances we have made (effective birth control is one very important achievement that could change the shape of future societies) to create a less oppressive, but still healthy, agrarian, locally-based society?

    I have ordered your Retrotopia, JMG, and look forward to reading it.

  161. Jmg, out of curiosity, what would a ecotechnic civilisation use as a substitute for nuclear weapons? Chemical weapons?

  162. Sorry, I can’t remember who asked the question about how much energy storage you’d need to go with a 100% renewable grid. I suspect you’d end up spending nearly as much on storage as generation. It wouldn’t be small either. I wouldn’t be suprised if every town and city ended up with a liquid air energy storage plant of similar size and appearance to its old gas works.

    In addition to that you’d need massive energy efficiency measures, a long distance, robust and flexible grid, up and down demand management, and biogas on-demand generation to fill any gaps. So an incredible amount of work that doesn’t even address the question of liquid fuel or industrial gases (power, transport, and industry would all compete for limited supplies of biomethane, among other things).

    But the original National Grid was built in the 1930s and finished just in time for the Second World War. One of the great near-misses of British history. So…maybe?

  163. JMG – The one place nuclear power really seems to be established is in military ships, especially submarines, where the energy production is much less than a grid-tied power station, and using it cuts the supply chain for coal, gas, or oil-derived energy. So, maybe we should think of a nuclear reactor as a very compact energy STORAGE device: a tremendous amount of energy goes into mining, refining, enriching the isotope ratio, and managing spent fuel, all so that embodied energy can be dropped into a relatively small boat (that is, submarine) that needs no other fuel (nor air) to travel. (Yes, aircraft-carriers also have reactors, but container ships and oil tankers don’t.)

    We use batteries (nuclear or chemical), not because they’re efficient, but because they’re convenient.
    So, maybe if unreliable and intermittent renewable energy was available in such surplus that we could use it to produce nuclear fuel, then small nuclear reactors could carry us through the cold winter nights? I would want them to be relatively small, so the low-grade heat recovered after the steam turbines could be distributed for district domestic heating (including greenhouse agriculture). But we’re a long, long way from having renewable energy surpluses. As for tailoring the refining to “when the sun shines”, that might be closer than we think, since energy-intense industries currently draw cheap power during the night, when the current base-load generation is more than people need.

  164. Beekeeper

    “My husband has terrific memories of his childhood chemistry sets, which probably aren’t marketed for kids anymore. Dangerous, don’t you know.”

    Someone showed me how to make gunpowder with mine. I wound up cracking the kitchen sink. My mother was furious. This was in the 50s

  165. It strikes me that one way of dispelling the illusion of flying cars is to refer to them instead as “driveable airplanes”, which is what in practice they tend to be, i.e. aircraft whose performance has been curtailed to render them suitable for the more mundane task of road use.

  166. Re fiscal apocalypse, I didn’t know about the US’ 1933 equivalent-to-a-default. Most interesting… but I wonder how the US will be able to “weather” what’s on the way now. When a government owes trillions… Do you have any comment to make about Mark Steyn’s “After America”, by the way?

  167. Lest we forget, faith in progress has had some remarkable achievements, such as advances in medicine and a markedly easier lifestyle which has allowed people to live longer and fear the loss of loved ones a little less. These achievements are observable through such feats as having a global population of 7.5 billion, something which is a blip in time when observed over the scale of earth history, but a noticeable blip non-the-less. Faith in progress has allowed some extraction of resources to become much easier, whether that be oil, or as I’ve mentioned mining in some other posts. I’m reminded of how here on the Iron Range, there once was vast quantities of high grade ores. When that became depleted, the goddess of progress waved her hand, allowing taconite to be broken up, crushed, concentrated, and pelletized, reviving a once thought lost industry. So before we get lost in games of rhetoric, a proper memorial to the goddess of progress is due. She has caused what could be considered miracles to happen to many a people, whether that be the lives which have been saved, and the modern technologies which have provided such prime venues for us to lose those saved lives in.

  168. This article claims that “Fossil Fuels Are Far Less Efficient Than Previously Thought” [Bloomberg].

    “Oil, coal and natural gas have generally returned energy at a ratio of 25:1, meaning that for every barrel of oil used in production, 25 barrels have been made. But that measurement, called energy return on investment (EROI), has traditionally been taken when fossil fuels are removed from the ground, and fails to account for energy used during the refining process. When the refining process is accounted for, EROI drops to about 6:1, according to a new University of Leeds study. That’s comparable to the EROI for solar.
    As always, YMMV.
    On the other hand, the article also says that EROI on fossil fuels are falling (because of the low-hanging fruit having been eaten long ago) and that according to their much lower figures for EROI is nearing a critical inflection point.

  169. I looked at the Uber conference on flying cars. They call it “urban aerial ridesharing” aka planes (it doesn’t look like a car) that function like buses. They talk about how its a dream they had since childhood

    JMG, about nuclear waste, the issue is that this waste is stored in containers that will eventually leak and there won’t be the resources to clean up the mess in the future? So huge areas will simply be abandoned?

    Is there any way nuclear waste can be processed to make it non toxic?

  170. MichaelV said:
    “It is essentially a universal law of physics that the more faster and convenient we make something, the more fragile it has to be to do it.”

    Tripp sez:
    Yep, look at Barbaro. Fast as greased lightning…for one race. He won the Derby in 2006 and then shattered his leg while running in the Preakness two weeks later.

  171. Hi sunnnv,

    We’re going to have to politely agree to disagree.

    Do you own an electric car?

    Do you own a solar power system?

    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but the interweb looks like a giant echo chamber to me, and because of this I am unimpressed with replies that rely on links to sources that may possibly be marketing.

    I have real world experience with this technology and have used it every day for over a decade, and I have had to ensure that the solar power system can handle flows of up to 200 Amps. This is no small or cheap matter to be brushed aside lightly as if it is of no concern.

    If you feel so strongly about the technology I suggest you get on board with it and live with it.



  172. JMG,

    Re: grid-tied solar

    Glad to hear it. That’s certainly my take. I basically want to be the weirdo whose house is always a little warmer than folks are used to in summer, vice versa in winter, with tomatoes growing in the flower beds and fruit everywhere else, chickens running around the yard, and what’s that strange glassed-in tank on the south side of their house, guy. And then be the last one on my street with electricity of any kind!

    Yep, a passive solar water heater is definitely on my to-do list. As is trading out the electric batch water heater we inherited with the house for an on-demand gas version.

    After we improve the roof with metal roofing underlaid by rigid foam between the purlins, we want to install one-ish kW of panel surface and see if that’s enough. Maybe we expand to 2 kW, possibly 3, but probably no more than that.

    I know if (when) it comes to it that’s plenty for us since we did just fine with 400W in the woods…and spent 5 years with less than 40W before that. A solar attic fan was the only fixed electrical device we used during those 5 years. But that house is well-insulated and shaded in the right places. I have plenty of landscape remediation to attend to here.

    And the best part about that experience is that now everything feels absolutely luxurious…every hour of every day.

  173. Hi JMG

    Very good post, in fact all the projects from the “wizards” of Sillicon Valley are, almost all, pure pipe dreams

    Take for example the case of the 737 MAX, the huge problems actually caused by a very simple system, the AOA (Angle Of Attack) probe and the MCAS, fairly small routines that run on small processors (in fact there is a 80286); And now we can extrapolate to the case of the driverless cars: can you imagine the nightmare to try to understand why an Uber car smash an small child on the road without touching the brake or something similar in a system of multiple sensors of ultra-complexity with speed of gigabytes in multiples CPU? And what to do to avoid repeating it again?

    The autonomous automobile is a pipe dream full of many enormous problems: technical problems to “solve” the enormous complexity of driving on a road in the real world (nor in the fantasy world of Elon Musk), the costs of the entire system (sensors, software, etc…) ; complexity and costs to maintain all these huge complex systems (trip tests, calibration of sensors, watch dog subsystems, revisions, etc.) of sensors, hardware and software; try to avoid hacking problems; communication problems in real time; and of course Legal problems (for me probably the biggest).

    I know there are billions over billions invested in this s**t technology, but this does not mean it will work; so the lobby to approve it on the roads “at any cost” will also be yuuuuge, as will be the social and economic blowback if approved (as the permissiveness of the FAA demonstrated in the case of the Boeing 737 MAX).

    The problem IS NOT that the number of deaths in the autonomous cars could be less than the existing cars, but WHO is the responsible for the deaths. WHO will be prosecuted in the case of a fatality where the “driver” is reading “The Weird of Hali” and the car is in full autonomous mode ?: the AI software developer? the OEM integrator? the supplier of some faulty sensor? the car maintainer? the regulators that allows a clearly dangerous machine on the roads? WHO will be prosecuted and send to jail? What is the risks for the investors in the fully autonomous cars companies if after some dozens deaths all the fleet of an specific car maker is “grounded” for months and/or years, WHO will pay the bill, the state, you? (as the case of the 737 Max)

    The only way out of this is the (bribed) government to give the “driver” or the propietary of the vehicle, the full responsability of everything (bad) that happens (building a “deathly trap”), and, of course, this attempt will be met with fierce resistance by the Hoi Polloi

    My prefered fracked product of them is the “new-electric-green-sustainable-driverless-drone” (a mixture of your flying car but pilotless, the worst possible of the two worlds), the new bet of Uber to convince investors to give them more money once they have seen the timing to deploy driverless cars never happens

    Almost all the 4.0 industrial revolution proposal from Sillicon Valley are quite similar in essence and give us some indications of the kind of “dominant minority” (using toynbean terms) we have to suffers in the civilization’s decline:

    a) There is not a real demand from the population for this new products (who really wants a driverless car?), it is a kind of “games” playing by snake oil sellers and “technology enchanted” rich people

    b) Almost all of the projects are intended to displace the manpower by AI or robotic systems, they do not pretend to create new products or new industries (as in the case of the lasts industrial revolutions), and all of them are trying to destroy the livelihoods of the wage class and them ask for an UBI for the plebs. So it is an economy like the Ouroboros that eat itself

    c) They are pure Ponzi schemes, living thanks to the “imperial pump wealth” and easy money that allow an extravagant stock valuation for this companies with huges cash losess or ridiculous high P/E ratios

    d) The main bet from the (speculative) investors is that this companies will achieve a kind of monopoly in the future, similar to Google, FB, etc…So the “real” yield will come after destroying the competence with the help of state and local subsidies, tax avoidance systems, off-shoring strategies, destroy regulation, and almost infinite financial support from “truly believers”


  174. JMG, Drhooves – Apologies I’m trying to be concise in my comments. Unpacking:

    Militaries of the world have spent more than 50 years on weather experiments. The US gov’t now has an unlimited budget – Financial Statement 56 (FASAB 56) – to do so. The $21 trillion is likely being used for many many things, advanced technologies are certainly high on the list, weather mod one of them. If they have been moderately successful in their goals of modifying the weather, ignoring the potential impact is ignoring the 800lb gorilla.

    Anthropogenic Climate Change is another epi in the epi-epicycles of climate science. As you note Drhooves, climate is incredibly complex. Blaming general human intervention with high degrees of certainty for what’s happening in our climate is poor science.

    $21 trillion, which is only the amount of identified money missing from two governmental agencies, is of a magnitude that is almost beyond comprehension. Will whatever is being developed save, destroy or enable more muddling through, I don’t know; but ignoring it is ignoring a 2 x 10 to the 12th power pound gorilla.

  175. If only Dion Fortune had known about the giant space walrus looming outside the Cosmic solar system! (chuckle, chuckle)

  176. @ drhooves: I’m sure I don’t know if we have hundreds of years of fossil fuels left. But that is a pretty commonly accepted number, for what that’s worth. Our financial system certainly does, in many cases, reward dishonesty. But it seems his has often caused companies to under-report their reserves, lowering their potential taxes.

    It doesn’t really matter exactly how many centuries we have; I believe we have way more than enough. Decades should be adequate. We will leave lots of fossil fuels in the ground because we have such better alternatives. We might wish it was happening faster, but there is no question the world is finally getting serious about other forms of energy.

    I’ve seen predictions of the end of cars and aviation more than once, and they’ve been completely wrong. None of us knows for sure, least of all me. For good or for bad, I’m pretty sure we’ll be driving and flying for a long time. More and more of it will be electrically powered, but that’s a good thing.

    @ Mitch: I also have no better knowledge about the energy costs of nuclear power. But it sure works, and it makes an awful lot of electricity. France seems to be happy getting most of their electricity from it. Sweden also gets a large percentage of its (electric) power from nuclear plants, and has decided it is good enough that they will continue to do so and expand it. I’m relatively fond of nuclear power. There seems to be no perfect power source, but nuclear is one of the least bad and shows potential to allow a future not unlike our present, with automobiles and trains, air conditioning and the internet. That’s pretty good.

    Nuclear power is currently very expensive, but if we get serious about it the costs will come way down. Better technology, standardization and mass production could make them pretty inexpensive, especially compared to the alternatives.

  177. Just one additional thing re flying cars. The ones that loom largest in the popular imagination aren’t like the ones above. Think of the Back to the Future franchise, or The Fifth Element. The cars there lack wings, propellers, jets, and hovercraft-style fans; they can launch and land vertically with no apparent thrusters; they can cruise at speeds so slow that an actual airplane would fall out of the sky; and they can hover, indefinitely at any altitude (see the traffic jam scene in The Fifth Element). Cars such as discussed here–which are basically auto/airplane hybrids–are at least physically possible. Those you see in the aforementioned movies simply can’t exist, period. The only way they could possibly work would be antigravity; but that isn’t possible under known physics. People don’t really want cars that convert to airplanes–they want Back to the Future cars; and that ain’t happening.

    Speaking of Back to the Future, hoverboards are even more in violation of physics, particularly the Laws of Thermodynamics, than the cars. Despite that, I’ve had several conversations with smart people who were absolutely convinced that they really exist and have been kept off the market for usually unspecified reasons (sometimes “lawsuits” or “injuries” get mentioned). I don’t mean the Segway type of “hoverboard”, BTW, but ones like in the movie. I’ve patiently explained why such boards are impossible in principle, and usually got either blank looks, total disbelief, or “but better technology!” or some combination of the above. As a sometime physics teacher, I find that very frustrating. Sigh.

  178. Dear sgage and Mark Angelini, I wonder if small scale solar powered electric fences might be effective against groundhogs, the gardener’s bane. Mothballs don’t work, I discovered. I appear to be having some success with thorny rose bush clippings in the ditches between the beds.

    Thank you for the references about Byzantium. JJ Norwich is not a historian I have read; I will have to try that set–I do like to read complete works, not abridgements. I find You Tube quite useful. As with anything else, you have to pick and choose.

  179. Mots,

    Your understanding of the possibilities of modern electrical equipment in a low energy future is consistent with mine. Apparently you have more hands on experience. Michael Greer (JMG) is very effective at communicating the absurdity of many popular delusions, but he has been strongly influenced by the community that expects modern technology in most all its forms to disappear in the centuries ahead. Your idea of muddling through is an excellent picture of what the future will likely look like.

    A point I keep coming back to is that the kind of “muddling through” that is possible depends mostly on political and military factors that determine what infrastructure can be maintained. The technology for relatively modern lifestyles (electric lighting, cooking, heating, air conditioning, and computing as well as manufacturing capabilities for “good enough” equipment including the renewable energy systems) is not going away. It can be built at small scale in different ways with local materials if large manufacturing infrastructure and global supply chains become unsustainable. It likely would be even more efficient as measured by EROEI. But it won’t sustain business as usual. It will require a lot of creative compromises and adjustments and muddling through.

    But the main point of this post by JMG is that a generation of humans have been taught to expect flying cars and exponential economic growth with less real work required of them than previous generations put in. I think that as they start to hold their politicians accountable for failing to deliver what they were promised, we likely are entering an era of political instability and maybe widespread warfare. That will make muddling through more complicated. I guess you are more aware of these issues than many if you work sometimes in the DR Congo? I hope JMG is right that nuclear deterrents are an effective means of minimizing warfare even in an unstable global economic environment. I fear the answer is often but not always. A few leaders like Putin, al-Assad, and Kim combined with a mishmash of self-interested reality TV minded politicians like Trump that we seem to elect in most countries these days, and we could easily create a situation like before World War I where war is very hard to avoid.

  180. Dear Prizm, I do take your point about needing to be on the ground before presuming to opinionate about someone else’s town or county. What I do suggest, based on my own experience and observations in more than one Western town, is that whatever staff the company brings with it is very likely not to be friendly to any sort of do it yourselfing, let alone Green Wizardry, and maybe it is time, a suggestion only, before arrival of the company and its’ minions, to get some legal safeguards in place to protect those sprouting seeds you mentioned. For that, you could maybe work with the pro jobs faction. “Sure we understand you need those jobs, we want you to have those jobs, and in return we need your support for some simple changes in ordinances which can protect our self employed livelihoods and our right of subsistence.”

  181. John, I think your response to Mitch did a fine job of covering the issues involved and might even result in a few “aha” moments regarding the future of industrial civilization. More generally, I think our willful ignorance about energy budgets of various schemes for saving industrial civilization (and other matters) has been the rule rather than the exception for many decades at this point. As I’ve said before, money talks and scientists listen; money determines what studies get funded and what results get published. Once in a while there’s an exception.

  182. Speaking of sexualizing the Apocalypse, especially of the nuclear type, it reminds me of some 1960s songs, for example:

    Sheldon Allman – Crawl Out Through the Fallout:

    The Five Stars – Atom Bomb Baby:

    So nihil sub sole novum, its nothing new. I think Freud and his followers wrote extensively about the connection between Eros and Thanatos, the life and death drives in human psyche.

  183. Definition clarification request here: what would constitute an “apocalypse” for you? Obviously, at one end we’ve got the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven and the whole existing world getting rolled up and packed away. Let’s say at the other we’ve got a Richter 9.0 earthquake hitting a densely populated island chain with an extensive nuclear power industry. ;{) Do any of the intermediate catastrophes that would result in, say, a billion folks displaced, with most dying from starvation or exposure, qualify as an apocalypse?

  184. No flying cars here, but some hard lessons about what I can and cannot control according to my principles:

    I can use less energy in my room, or could it I could keep off the internet for the reading of the blogs; and less in my personal purchases. I can walk outside more and choose the dishes in the cafeteria wisely, but can do nothing about the portions, as a small but egregious example; and management, like the universe, hears our prayers but cares not. One of the major losses I didn’t count on was My Own Say in things.Most things. Very humbling and very energizing. (Awright, youse guys… just watch me slither through the cracks here….)

    Epictetus in a luxury warehouse for elders….

  185. @Nastarana

    “I wonder if small scale solar powered electric fences might be effective against groundhogs, the gardener’s bane.”

    Alas, they will simply burrow under it. The only effective defense against groundhogs that I’ve found is constant vigilance – they can do enormous damage in a surprisingly short time. When you find that one has burrowed under your garden fence, you can try live trapping them (Havahart makes some big traps), but I’ve only ever caught very young ones this way. But it’s tons o’ fun to then secretly release them into your friends’ gardens in the dead of night! ONLY KIDDING!!!

    Alas, again, over the decades I have had to shoot some groundhogs if I wanted to have a garden. Not really proud and happy about it, but there it is.

    Groundhog burrows have many exits. Some people try to find all the exits, stop them up, and then pop in a poison gas ‘bomb’. First, good luck finding all the exits. Second, I think I’d rather shoot them fair and square.

    Then again, there’s always the Farmers Market 🙂

  186. @Tripp: I would think twice about replacing the electric water heater with an on demand gas unit. We have a solar water heater which feeds the electric unit. Generally the electric never comes on, as the water coming into it is plenty hot. But if it is needed, it works. On demand heaters are relatively unreliable, compared to a normal electric unit. They are also very expensive, costly to repair and, of course, require gas.

  187. Drhooves, fair enough. I suspect that an interest in adequate but not excessive rainfall may become very common rather sooner than you do, but we’ll see.

    Justin, that makes a great deal of sense.

    Peakfuture, it seems to me that you’ve answered your own question. Our species has been through all the disasters you’ve listed relatively recently; it’s also been through such massive anthropogenic disasters as the Second World War; there has been a lot of disruption and a lot of death…and that’s business as usual for life on this planet. Individual humans, and human societies, both evolved in a world where such things are normal, and that’s why we — individually and collectively — are so good at coping with them. Look at your list; within a few years of each of those events, the survivors had picked themselves back up and life went on. The same will be true of the disasters ahead of us.

  188. I’m very much down with the notion that nuclear weapons (may have/probably/quite likely) kept the back half of the 20th Century from looking like the front half. (Yet there’s an interesting theory floating around out there that WW I & II were really a Second Thirty-Years War, or European Cultural Civil War, that required outsiders like the US and Russia/US and USSR, because they were dragged into it twice, to step, stop the combatants and impose a framework that would prevent a third such conflict.) But I think they are less like a fail-safe device and more like Thomas Jefferson’s assessment of slavery in the USA: holding a wolf by the ears.

    To my knowledge we’ve had at least two northern-hemispheric near-death experiences with nukes: 1) Bay of Pigs when Khrushchev devolved command and control of nuclear weapons to field commanders: Soviet Navy sub commanders. We all may very well have our collective skins to thank for a lowly Soviet Political Officer who talked down his skipper from firing when under USN attack. 2) In the ’90s when Yeltsin actually called for a nuclear attack on NATO (his general officers talked him down, too) when they mistook a Swedish weather satellite launch for an attach from NATO.

    Someone earlier mentioned Pakistan as the wild card in the nuclear club. Depending which faction of the Pakistani Army is in charge on any given day, no way am I going to speculate as to what they would or would not do.

    Third time’s a charm?

  189. I remember quite a bit of sexual innuendo in Kubrick’s “Dr. Strangelove,” beginning with the opening scene. But much of its dark, dark humor went over my head at the time; I was in my Senior Year of HS and very literal-minded. That movie was vastly entertaining in its own peculiar way. As far as discouraging ground hogs, I’ve heard that castor oil at their tunnel entrance is effective. .

  190. If you would find this to be an interesting exercise, I would love to see a post on how to explain Donald Trump to someone who has subscribed to the Atlantic Monthly for 25 years.

  191. Grid Tied Solar

    In 2012 I ended up with a windfall recovery of some retirement saving that had been Ponzied. The broker is still in jail. After paying off most of the Medical bills from the Cancer in 2008-2009 there was enough to have a 3kw Grid Tied system put on the garage. I was still running a couple of largish servers at that time and figured I really would need a 6kw system. Put in what I could.

    Eight full years later I’m still happy with the decision. Has it paid for its self? NO but that was not the point. I have DAILY usage records on the system missing only about 25 to 30 days. (Mostly the first month.)

    As of this morning we have consumed (paid for) a total of 31,566 kWh from the Colorado Springs Utilities (CSU), generated 36,898 kWh with the 14 panels and pushed 22,656 kWh into the grid. In 2012 we had an average daily usage of 18 kWh.

    For the year ending June 28, 2019 our usage is 13.5 kWh and average generated was 12.5 kWh. We actually pay for electricity about 4 months a year on top of the $15 or so ‘monthly connection charges’.

    We’re not particularly careful or wasteful. Most lighting is LED or CFL. Biggest use is refrigerator and freezer. In the winter the furnace fan adds up and the panels are poorly angled as well as shaded by neighbors trees.

    Its not much. I looked into Solar Hot Water but the solar access for the house is such it just was not doable. A friend two blocks away has has both PV and SHW. His PV is almost double mine and the SHW provides a large part of his winter heat. He has no shading problems with his house.

    John – NJ0C

  192. -I expect ultralight to have a long history ahead of them, but why bother with wheels and drivetrain when there will be no highways for centuries?-

    Wheels save you from breaking your legs every other landing. Drivetrains are a weight penalty, but even a lousy driver on a lousy road in a lousy car can drive slowly through a rainstorm. And given only lousy roads for centuries, the ability to fly in good weather would be worth something. Yes, I’m thinking of Amish Aircar Pirates raiding the Mormons, but you know those horse carriages they ride in nowadays would have been top-of-the-line carriages in 1800.

  193. klcooke:

    Kids today just don’t know all the fun they’re missing.

    A couple of years ago, the husband and I went to Old Sturbridge Village for a visit; turned out it was a school holiday weekend and the place was overrun with kids. The staff planned demonstrations that would appeal to the youngsters and did a fascinating presentation of early 19th-century children’s games and toys, a hefty portion of which, I recall, involved very sharp objects and fire. I remember thinking that it was nothing short of a miracle that any of those children survived long enough to reproduce.


    I know I’ve linked to this article before, but it complements your comment so perfectly that I’ll link to it again: “Elon Musk is the Cosmo Kramer of Crony Capitalism”. Enjoy.

  194. Hello I am ultra concerned about the extensive roll out of the Internet of things and smart cities etc – do you feel that the threats are likely to be unfounded – I feel very strongly about the potential harm that it all entails. — Help ! No flying cars needed

  195. Re: Nuclear War

    Back in my youth, I remember the strategic issue being discussed using a very evocative phrase: “Mutually Assured Destruction, abbreviated as MAD.

    That had no relationship to the magazine of the same name. I think

    John Roth

  196. A couple of comments. The first is about solar power. I live about 2000 kms north of Chris of Fernglade and we also have solar power but a small system and grid-connected. We normally get a small rebate from selling to the grid. However we also have a wood heater for winter (it is surprisingly cold here for our short winter) and I wouldn’t want to be charging an electric car on our system. So what we have runs our house, with some AC in summer (but we are pretty stingy about that) and really that is it. We also have a separate solar hot water system.

    One of the things I have noticed from reading this blog over a long period of time is how we are all captives to our own culture and past. The dream of AI seems to be connected with a past of slavery. We have not quite had that in Australia and nor has Europe. Why don’t people just clean up their own mess and get their own drinks? If we all cleaned our own houses they’d certainly be smaller.

  197. Seaweedy, I really like everything you said in your post.

    You boil this down to: “The question becomes, is a return to feudalism the only alternative? Or is there another approach that might leverage some of the advances we have made….to create a less oppressive, but still healthy, agrarian, locally-based society?”

    I think that an answer is: the woken people need to walk away from the plantation and build resilient communities in isolated places (small islands, remote mountain regions). This happened in the last dark age (Irish monastery far away from the center of the decaying empire was an alternative) and we can do much better now due to all the technology available and free time to develop skills. Already we see that the new owners and managers of humanity consider us rural, isolated country folk too stupid, too poor and too off the plantation to bother with. A nice situation.

    By the way, anyone on the Atlantic region of the East Coast interested in meeting between July 28 and August 1 to discuss these ideas? I have scouted out land in West Virginia with others like minded for remote community building before. But I found it more appealing to get much further away from the embrace of the empire corpse, and settled on a small semi-isolated island Yugeshima, (see further away that welcomes hard working foreigners.

  198. DFC asked, “The problem IS NOT that the number of deaths in the autonomous cars could be less than the existing cars, but WHO is the responsible for the deaths.”

    This is an issue which, setting aside the boring old physics and engineering of it all, will likely kill driverless cars: legally, you are never just a passenger, you’re a “backup driver.”

    A woman called a driverless Uber, while it was going from A to B she watched TV. The vehicle killed someone. The state says: “You must be ready at all times to take over the control of the vehicle.” But the WHOLE POINT of driverless vehicles is that you don’t have to drive them. Now, obviously the whole point of driverless vehicles for Uber is that they don’t have to pay a driver. But for the people actually paying for the service… they can’t or don’t want to drive.

    If you have to be an adult with a driving license, remain alert, sober, not watching your tv, and so on, and ready to take control of your vehicle at any time – then it’s pointless. Any new technology must do something not done by an established technology, or do it better. Cars took over from horses because you don’t have to feed them as much and they’re faster. Mobile phones took over from landlines because you could keep one in your pocket. Email took over from snail mail because it’s quicker. And so on. Driverless cars could take over from driven cars except… driverless cars aren’t.

    There are all sorts of wacky ideas pursued these days because large companies are no longer expected to turn a profit so long as they keep expanding, cf Uber, Amazon, Tesla, etc. But as JMG notes, elites past the peak of a civilisation tend to pervert systems for their own benefit in amazing ways if they think it’ll let them keep partying for a bit longer.

  199. Victoria:

    I agree with your uneasiness about a fully connected house/car/life. I suppose that when we have to buy new appliances we can choose the ones that are not connected to the internet (who in the world really needs to communicate with his or her slow cooker anyway?) or to buy used. Maybe if there is enough of a demand for ‘dumb’ appliances, companies will continue to make them or it could be a good career for handy folks to learn to recondition older, analog stuff.

    In other news, there is a small, but growing backlash in Sweden to the drive for a cashless society, Sweden being farther along than any other country. Older people and people who don’t want their every purchase to show up in some data bank are pushing back at the increasing use of non-cash payment options and the stores and services that simply won’t accept cash. I’ve often been told that paying by card is faster than fumbling with cash, but I’ve been in line behind card-paying customers at checkouts and it just isn’t true. My cash moves the line along a lot faster.

  200. Hi John Michael,

    As data point for you, solar hot water works down here in this sunny locale for about eight months of the year. It is an amazing system because once you’ve set it in place, it just happily does its thing. I’d suggest that solar thermal technology produces better returns and is a simpler technology than solar photovoltaic technology.

    During the other four months of the year, I use firewood to keep the hot water toasty hot via a wet back boiler and a thermo-siphon (the two systems are linked into a single system: solar and firewood), and firewood is simply using another form of stored concentrated sunlight. Interestingly too, using firewood as an energy source is an extraordinarily complicated process, although people may feel that this is not the case. Even buying the firewood in is fraught with hazard. A mate recently bought in a load of firewood from someone that they’d been dealing with for years and the moisture content ended up being an unacceptable 20%, which means that a lot of energy gets used in the combustion process just drying the timber. And such a moisture content readily damages the steel of the combustion chamber and flue.

    Like growing edible plants, all of this stuff takes a lot of on the ground experience (and learning from disasters) to master.

    Hope your summer is not too hot.



  201. Hi John Michael,

    Hmm, and driver less cars are a boondoggle. How can an advanced computer with software and sensors and controllers replace some of the most under paid and exploited people in the workforce (taxi drivers)? It is a story that makes little to no sense to me, but I tell ya people are chucking money into such a possibility. More dollars than sense if you ask me.



  202. Coop Janitor: No, I am clearly not smarter than an 1895 8th grader. It’s pretty amazing how well many of those one-room schoolhouses educated children in the past, especially since a lot of them in very rural areas did not have professionally trained teachers. The last of the one-room, all-grade schools in our village closed in the late 1960’s, after which the kids were shipped off to an ugly looking kid factory in a nearby town. It’s hard to know if they’re better educated.

    Here’s a really sad article on the state of public education in parts of the urban US right now. Since I’m not a teacher I don’t know how widespread this situation is, but it’s heartbreaking at any rate. Frankly, I can’t see how these kids are prepared to deal with anything in life.

  203. Seaweedy, feudalism is the normal reset condition after a civilization falls apart, because it’s as close as you can get in an agricultural society to the hunter-gatherer band structure our species evolved with. As I noted in response to an earlier post, feudalism gets wildly misunderstood by most people nowadays; the society you currently live in has much wider gaps between rich and poor than medieval England did, and you also work more hours and take home less of the value of your labor than a medieval peasant did. The big question, to my mind, is whether the feudal societies of the deindustrial future includes such useful customs as trial by jury (which medieval England had, for example) and a concept of human rights (which medieval England also had — check out Magna Carta for the details). That — as well as the potential preservation of useful technologies such as composting and solar water heating — is something we can definitely still influence today.

    S.T., that’s a great example. Of course nobody was ever going to invest the fantastic amount of money that would have been required, so it was never more than a pipe dream anyway.

    J.L.Mc12, chemical weapons have very limited usefulness in war, as both sides figured out in the First World War. No, one of the downsides of the end of the industrial age is that we’re back into a world where wars between great powers are a viable option. I tried to suggest in my novel Retrotopia a way that a nation that wasn’t afraid of its own citizens could arrange things to make itself too expensive to conquer, but that’s about the only option I’ve come up with so far.

    Yorkshire, depends on what powered it. I suspect it was coal-fired, in which case you’re out of luck.

    Lathechuck, I’ve thought for a long time that the new frontier for nuclear power consists of figuring out a way to store high level waste that allows water to be circulated next to it, so that the water boils and can then be used for steam power. Given the amount of heat generated by used fuel rods, that ought to be an option, and only the fact that nobody’s thinking in ruinmen’s terms has kept it from turning into an energy source. Since we’re already stuck with the waste…

    Phil K, I suspect you’d get blank looks. People are still stuck on the flying-car fantasy.

    Robert, I haven’t read Steyn — will have to remedy that. I expect the inevitable default of the US to have effects not too dissimilar to those of Russia’s 1998 default; a lot of nations are already dumping the dollar in international trade and foreign-currency reserves, and the US is doing the smart thing and becoming much less dependent on foreign imports — both of these are pretty clearly preparations for the inevitable day when the US stops payment on its T-bills and the global economy goes through a year or two of turmoil.

    Prizm, so noted!

    Jessica, hmm. Fossil fuels used to have a dramatically higher EROEI — 300 to 1 in the case of light sweet crude from shallow wells — and I’d read that refinery costs were factored into that. Still, I’ll look into it.

    Bridge, in the US most of the really dangerous nuclear waste (used fuel rods and the like) is currently stored in temporary holding ponds near reactors — if anything happens to disable the pumps that keep water circulating, the ponds boil dry, the rods catch fire, and you’ve got a plume of radioactive smoke full of toxic radionuclides drifting with the prevailing wind. The attempts to find a permanent waste repository have gone nowhere for political reasons, so there it sits. My guess is that at some point in the next 50 years or so, most of it will be hauled off to some desolate and very dry corner of Nevada and surreptitiously dumped in trenches there, and that region will become a dead zone for the next 50,000 years or so. If that doesn’t happen, then there will be smaller dead zones located near defunct nuclear reactors all over the country. No, there’s nothing that can make it less dangerous — remember, it’s radioactive, and so only nuclear decay over a timespan of thousands of years can reduce it to a collection of inert isotopes.

    Tripp, talk to your solar water heater person before you replace the batch heater; many solar water heaters work best when linked with a heavily insulated batch heater storage tank. Other than that, go for it.

    DFC, nicely put. For what it’s worth, I have a marvelous new high-tech device for getting people to their destinations in urban areas. To avoid traffic problems, it runs on a pair of steel rails rather than wandering all over the streets; it’s powered by electricity, via a suspended cable; it has a bell that makes a pleasant ringing noise to alert pedestrians to its approach; it employs two people, a driver and a conductor, as the new high-tech alternative to clunky old robots. It’s called a streetcar, of course. The only thing it doesn’t do is exclude the working classes, which is of course why nobody’s talking about it!

    Michael, so? First, the US government has spent more than half a century and billions of dollars on other projects that didn’t work out; check out the history of the nuclear-powered alrplane, for example, or the first five or six attempts at a manned military spacecraft. It’s only in bad science fiction that technologies always pan out. Second, if the US had effective weather control, how come we’ve had something fairly close to that $21 trillion in costs from weather-related disasters over the last half century? Your claim thus doesn’t pass the sniff test. Third, as I’ve already mentioned, it’s a source of some interest to me that the moment I start talking about the real economic impacts of anthropogenic climate change, I inevitably get someone barging onto my blog who hasn’t commented before, and who tries to divert the conversation into apocalyptic fantasies, or supposed technofixes, or conspiracy theories like yours. It’s reliable enough that I’m by no means sure it’s not an organized project. Thus I’ll ask you to go shill somewhere else…

    Blue Sun, no doubt that’s one of the inner secrets of the Cos.Doc., the lurking presence of the Walrus-Pass-Not… 😉

    Turmarion, that’s an excellent point; thank you.

    Phutatorius, I ain’t arguing…

    Aspirant, true enough!

    RPC, what makes something an apocalypse isn’t the scale of the disaster. It’s a difference of kind. The heart of the fantasy of apocalypse is that afterwards, everything is different forever. That’s why the apocalypse meme remains stuck sideways in the human imagination, always imminent in theory, always postponed in practice: at its core is the dream that we can get a world we did nothing to earn.

    Patricia, that’s Stoicism for you!

    KevPilot, I expect Europe to be at war again within my lifetime, so I’m not sure the theory you brought up is entirely wrong. As for explaining Trump to Atlantic Monthly readers, well, I haven’t read the Atlantic Monthly regularly ever, so I have no idea what kind of mindset its readers have.

    Janitor, and that’s quite a reasonable thing to do, as noted above. Glad it worked out well for you!

    Engleberg, fair enough — I was thinking of powered wheels, of course. As landing gear they make a lot of sense. As for Amish air pirates, funny, but not wrong; I think it’s quite possible that the epic poems of deindustrial Dark Age America will feature heroic deeds on the part of ultralight pilots, and that the armies of the ecotechnic Renaissance that follows will have ultralight scouts ahead of the marching columns and radio sets keeping the various units in contact with the commander. It’ll make for a very different way of war!

    Your Kittenship, yeah, that’s way up there. Admittedly Ayn Rand had the intellectual equivalent of the reverse Midas touch — everything she touched turned to crap…

    Victoria, it’s very much something you have to opt into. Don’t buy internet-enabled appliances and the like, replace your smartphone with an older dumbphone or land line, and you’ll be fine.

    John, no, but the magazine made endless fun of that, and everything else!

    JillN, a good point. The thing that drives the fantasy of AI, though, may not be slavery so much as the craving for employees who never call in sick and never tell you that you’re wrong…

  204. Chris – re “EVs and PV, do you have…”

    re EV – Yes, Tesla Model 3 dual motor long range – since Sept. last year. Best car I’ve ever had. Been on a couple of road trips, no problems. Supercharging reasonably fast (this was before v3), 30-40 minutes to get another few hundred miles down the road, just enough time to grab and eat a (quick) meal. It replaces a 13 year old Prius that I had put a Hymotion plug-in kit in back in 2009. Was waiting for Toyota to wake up from their hydrogen fuel-cell dream and make a battery Prius with decent range. Still waiting, and the Prius PHEV is no improvement over the 10yo kit. Thought about getting a Leaf for years, but the older ones didn’t have great range so I’d have to keep the Prius or rent for road trips, meh. And Leafs use CHAdeMO for DC fast charging, which until recently was pretty rare in the US, and even today most sites have only 1 or 2 cables, while Supercharger sites often have a dozen or more. So, when Tesla made a vehicle smaller than the S or X, I ordered it, and gave my 13 yo Prius to someone with a dying 18 mpg ICE vehicle. Net win for the climate. Lowers my dependence on petroleum.

    PV – systems I (have) physically own(ed):
    (1) When I bought a house in California in 2000, 1st thing I did was add a PV system: 10 kWp ASE Americas EFG multi-crystalline modules, Xantrex inverters and charge controllers, sealed lead acid batteries. Grid tied with battery. Also went to most efficient available pool pump so ended up with slight net metering credit to me, which PG&E happily zeroed out each year. That’s cool, somebody used that non-fossil electricity. Also wired critical loads (lights, fridge, microwave, stove igniter, some plugs) to a separate panel to deal with the inevitable blackout due to falling tree branches during the first storm or two of “winter” in California. Was nice, wouldn’t know the power was out until I noticed the oven clock was out. Sold the house and moved on after 6 years.

    (2) New office has a something like 16 kWp system on the roof, was there when I got the building, but I would have added one anyway. Grid tied, no battery. Close to yearly net zero, works great, no problems over 5 years.

    (3) I assembled a 1 Kyocera module with an Outback FX2012 sealed inverter system along with control/status panel, battery box and built a manual tracker for someone to take to Burning Man. Afterward, they decided enough of the playa, so I bought it so I’d have something in case the grid went down suddenly (e.g. Carrington event, …). 2 kW peak AC output means a blender can be used to make cool drinks, though obviously not continuously.
    FYI Outback power is a US company, despite the name. Good stuff.

    In addition, I have plans and a permit for a solar powered (electric, hot water and space heating) cottage to be built on my new property. Alas, building boom in area means contractors are busy and not interested in “weird” stuff like superinsulated buildings, so will work on it as I have time.

    “200 amps” – Why do you think, that I think, this is either “cheap” or of “no concern”? 200 amps means at least 3/0, likely 4/0 or bigger wire, $3 something a foot and up. ALL electrical wiring ought to be done to code, which in turn is based on power dissipation of a given current in a given sized wire with a given temperature rated insulation, appropriately de-rated for a given expected ambient temperature. Did you read and follow applicable code?

    Beyond the codes, there are best practices, like for high amperage battery cables, having their ends crimped to appropriate lugs professionally instead of using clamp style connectors. And using battery terminal grease, especially with lead-acid batteries. And proper DC fuse(s) in battery line(s).

    FYI – The v3 superchargers (250 kW) and the IONITY 350 kW DC fast chargers have liquid cooled cables from the pedestal to the vehicle. Works fine – my TIG welding torch is liquid cooled. Makes for a compact torch, easy handling – the power lead is only 8 mm in outer diameter whereas the uncooled ground lead is easily 15 mm in diameter, and one can weld as long as one wants. (air cooled torches often get too hot to handle comfortably and can have duty cycle limitations).

    Was just trying to correct your misperception that ~125 kW DC fast chargers were unknown and would be catastrophe, when 10’s of thousands are in daily use around the world, and some have been in use for years. If you think 125 kW is crazy, the Tesla Megacharger for their electric semi will be > 1 MW!
    BTW – great post by Russell Graves on that (too – his whole site seems worthwhile):

    I’m sorry you live at a site where winter is (apparently) so cloudy, and you can’t/won’t add more PV, and small wind is likely not a great choice (most places, see Paul Gipe’s excellent site):
    And micro-hydro is rare, and micro-geothermal even rarer. Maybe biomass via Stirling or via gasification and ICE to sooth your wintertime blues and blackouts?

    People need to get used to that.

    I chose (actually chose again after a Home Owners Association nixed my plans at a previous site) a site with great year-around sun.
    FYI, PVWatts is a great tool to use *before* buying property to check out the solar capability for that site. It has pretty good worldwide coverage of weather history.

    So I have put my money where my mouth is (e.g. replaced oil-fired furnace with ground source heat pump in existing farmhouse when I bought the new place, buying offsets until I can put up my own solar, planting trees, eGO electric mower/trimmer/blower, … ).
    And will put more money into sustainability by and by.

    Maybe there’s some disquiet at (most) PV working well, good EVs, etc. in some people due to wanting all sustainability to be so hair-shirt; doomers are that taken to the limit. And maybe some resistance to sustainability because of that hair-shirt representation. But the Model 3 is the best car I’ve ever owned – quiet/peppy/clean, better than Saab 9-3 or Prius. I bought it as a truly useful EV to stop using gasoline, AND it turns out to be really fun to drive. If one has enough PV, even off grid – with enough battery, (and superinsulation, etc.) need for scrimping is minimal (depending on site). The EGO mower is the best I’ve ever used: quiet, powerful, no messing with gasoline/tuneups/oil changes, instant on, enough charge that I have to recharge when it does.
    If someone can’t afford so much the material, then one can seek joy in a more intentional “poverty” of material stuff (or reframe that as “freedom from the binds of material stuff”), hopefully more than balanced with a wealth of (nature) spirituality.

    But we ought to get the facts straight. 125 kW EV chargers are not pipe dreams or catastrophe.
    And PV does NOT have a 10 year energy payback. Depending on technology and LOCATION, it’s 0.7 to 2.5 years, pg 33 ff of:

    Rhisiart has nudged me, I could get a few more trees in and can do some of that pretty soon.

  205. Re: self-driving Cars

    Probably the biggest issue with self-driving Cars is the issue of right-of-way. Either the vehicle runs over wayward pedestrians or the pedestrians take over the streets.

    This issue was dealt with in the 1920s with a campaign that successfully taught pedestrians to stick to the sidewalks and only cross at crosswalks. From the Ideal Section in Dyer, Indiana ( to the pictures of “dumb jaywalkers being struck by cars” to the good road movement becoming a movement to make roads fit for cars, people were trained to defer to the automobile and its requirements.

    My fear is that the laws and mores will be further biased towards vehicles if the self-driving cars becomes more than an experimental plaything. Already there’s legal precedent removing blame from the self-driving vehicle in the case of a vehicle hitting a pedestrian.

  206. Hello,

    What exactly lets you think that Europe could be at war anytime soon? Against whom? What kind of war, a war where a lot of able civilians are dragged by draft into, singing instead of screaming I guess, or rather more like a state of war? What historical factors let you infer this?

    These days, war is something of a shocker in the rich privileged world…

    Other than that, here in Ecnarf, the concept of collapse (Effondrement) has become something of a fashion.
    There is even a glossy designer magazine about it, which was recently crowdfunded:
    And a documentary on public TV about all the people who are now forming communities in real life through social media, buying farms and so on… With a 3 minutes fictional sequence on what a collapsing France could look like (actually just from the point of view of an inhabitant of Paris… Interesting how journalists never change).

    It may do some good for sure!

    But I am wondering, about all the Collapsology rage here. It seems to be generally heralded by people who walk their talk in some way… involving leaving comfortable upper-middle class jobs like web design and buying an old farm to refurbish it.
    It rarely involves moving into a suburban concrete rooster and living on community gardens & a lower class job like housecleaning, while trying to live on a shoestring budget.
    Some of these people, like a young TV actress, seem to think that they will be able to provide safety nets with their farms to the people in their area when everything else collapses.
    Not a bad idea in itself, but it looks a lot like playing a would-be wise king-of-the-hill fantasy as well. Still they deserve respect for what they do, no question.

    It’s just that the mainstream media and the ruling class could be embracing the idea of Collapse precisely because it is based on totally negative premises, and therefore locks the existing social order of things even more in place. Acting like a sort of magickal lock, the kind of thrust block that you were presenting in your CosDoc posts, basically a form of positive evil, if I understand it correctly.

    Also, unlike the 70s hippie back to the land era, which was a very positive minded movement, this movement is based a lot on a negative mindset. Similar to the apocalyptic mindset you describe in the USA and that is so pervasive on Internet forums. I suppose two World Wars, millennia of constant skirmishing, and 40 years of economic stagnation have pretty much obliterated its opposite end (progress cornucopia) which might be why we don’t have a Léon Musc style entrepreneur. But since it is so negative and elitist in an odd kind of way, I expect Collapsology to never become mainstream as a social factor or else to water down significantly.

    Instead, an alternative which has a more positive mindset and actually involves the so called “internal proletariat” could arise and become a more significant social factor. It could also involve the Islamic cultures too, when these change not to work as an oppositional force – which makes it even more taboo.

  207. Tripp – re grid tied system

    Is there not a part of the calculation that says, if one can afford it (and it’s legally permissible, etc.), it will, after a year or two of energy payback, provide carbon-free electricity to somebody for the next 30+ years, so if one cares about climate change/peak fossil fuel/etc., why wouldn’t one at least cover one’s electricity usage?

    PV is scalable, so (easiest/cheapest with pre-planning), one can start with a string or two and add modules/inverters over time if money is tight.

    There can be issues like the power company/local jurisdiction policy saying one can’t have a system bigger than one’s usage, but then it’s time to get an EV and up one’s usage. ;^) (and decrease usage of petroleum).

    Like I’m thinking that instead of waiting any longer for my new cottage with a PV roof, I ought to quit fiddling with offsets and at least get a quote on new roof and PV on the old farmhouse.

    Another thought – is there a community solar aggregator in your area that would “rent” part of your roof for people living in apartments?

  208. Archdruid,

    I kinda wonder if it’s stupid or straight fear that keeps people from facing the crisis? I have to admit your vision of the future is more terrifying than the end times fantasies of every fanatic. In your vision of the future we actually have to face the wrath of the gods. We aren’t condemned to die a fiery death, but to keep living and face every force of nature we previously kept at bay.



  209. @Lady Cutekitten – thank you ever so much for the pointer to the book about the demise of Sears. Craftsman tools used to be such a good deal, and now – meh. Now I know what happened. Sad.

    @Beekeeper in Vermont – re the American Conservative article.

    Beware of people pushing ideology (see Lady Cutekitten’s link above yours).
    JMG wonders if there’s an organized spam campaign, the EV community knows there is.

    A few points (about the article more than a year old):
    * Tesla “oddly” spends $1M in lobbying. Oh horrible, companies spending money on lobbying.
    But it’s ok for Exxon-Mobil to spend $2.7M ytd in 2019, $11M in 2018, … ???

    * I followed the opensecrets link he gives for Tesla, it gives a big long list which you’re not going to total up. But go to the summary tab (1 click) and you find in 2017 the lobbying total was actually only $740K. Norm Singleton LIED. Actually, he may have been confused by the way opensecrets does their list, on the lobbyists list the company is also reported. Or not (confused). At least he thinks Congress ought to fix the cannabis industry’s lack of access to banks. But what would one expect from a libertarian:

    * The $7,500 federal tax break for Tesla has declined to $1,875 as of July 1, 2019, and will disappear entirely on Dec. 31, 2019. The tax breaks for oil companies: they keep trucking along:

    Did Norm mention the subsidy applies to Ford, GM and everybody else? No, blame it all on Tesla.

    * the dive in EV sales in Georgia is noise, and old, from 2017, using data about sales drop after the 2015 repeal of the credit and institution of a tax. (Utility)dive Brief says “The decline has remained consistent in the last year and a half.” Norm wants you to believe that continues to this day. But he lies again.

    * EV sales are growing in Georgia now, from 2017 to 2018 they go from 2,407 to 6,004.
    This is far above their peak of 1,400 before the credit repeal.
    Maybe there are (now) some (more) compelling EVs that more people can afford.

    * And get this, when I followed up to see what the current status of Georgia EV incentives is, (none), I find some Georgia Republicans are proposing a new $2,500 credit. Maybe they’re concerned about peak oil, clean air, mid-East war or something (like an EV battery plant).

    Take home: one must keep up to date on things EV.

    BTW – Q2 2019 was record deliveries for Tesla.
    “Orders generated during the quarter exceeded our deliveries, thus we are entering Q3 with an increase in our order backlog.”

    * Space X lobbies because their competitors United Launch Alliance, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK -> Northrop Grumman, etc., lobby.
    No mention of SpaceX’s lawsuit busting ULA’s monopoly.

    * No mention of this: SpaceX and ULA get 3 launches apiece: SpaceX charges $297M,
    ULA $442M. Even if SpaceX increased their price, what’s a better deal for the taxpayers?

    * re the Texas space center: the American Conservative article says
    “SpaceX has already received roughly $15 billion in subsidy guarantees from Texas, …”
    [Billion with a “B”]
    except when one follows the link, it’s really only $15.3 Million with an “M”.
    Is Norm just making a mistake, or is he LYING again?

    * “and despite meeting just one sixth of the hiring goals it promised, it is requesting $5 million more.”
    But if you actually read the Mercury News article, Tesla returned some money when they didn’t meet the hiring goals, because the project fell behind.
    Unlike Gigafactory 3, which is apparently slightly ahead of schedule:

    I could go on, but you should be able to get the picture now, I hope.

    Be wary of what you read, especially negative stuff, about Musk, Tesla, SpaceX, etc.

    Autonomous Vehicles:
    I too am not so sure about completely autonomous vehicles, the politics and policy issues are daunting.

    But Autopilot (mis-named if you ask me: it’s adaptive cruise control + lane keeping + collision avoidance) works pretty well for me over several thousand freeway miles.
    And this:
    “In the 2nd quarter, we registered one accident for every 3.27 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.19 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.41 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 498,000 miles.*”

  210. JMG said: “The thing that drives the fantasy of AI, though, may not be slavery so much as the craving for employees who never call in sick and never tell you that you’re wrong…”

    Real world example: My current employer, which sells metal and plastic stock, and custom cuts the same for companies, is buying an automated system which handles sheets of metal. The system stands over 80 feet tall with a rotating racking system and two robotic crane arms to pull material. The system has to be built and THEN a building is made around it, its so huge.

    After telling us all about the new system, the Plant Supervisor joked “Yes and it never calls off, or doesn’t show up for work or talks back to you.”

    One of the employees, we were in a pre-shift meeting, asked “how many of us is that going to replace?”

    It just so happened one of the higher corporate execs was down that day, and at the meeting. His reply was that “Its not about replacing people, its about making them more efficient.”

    He mentioned that none of the branches they own, is at full strength on employees because in the current environment they just can’t find people to work for them.

    He went on to say that they are also having a terrible time of getting truck drivers. One of our biggest plants got hit by a tornado last month and the damage resulted in over a million tons of metal they had to send to scrap. That’s a lot of truck loads.

    I’ve read about the lack of people wanting to drive semi trucks. It’s a big problem, compounded by decades of cost cutting, pushing expenses onto the truck drivers, government regulations limiting the time that drivers can work. People who do drive, have been less and less inclined to take jobs that don’t pay.

    After the meeting, I said to a fellow employee, “They aren’t having a problem finding employees, they having a hard time finding employees at the wages they are offering.”

    Seems to me that companies are choosing to invest in robotics, rather than increase the money they spend on wages. Something I learned from reading “Retrotopia” can be changed if politician rewrite the regs. I doubt that will happen.

  211. The National Grid in the 30s was powered by coal, nearly everything at the time was powered by coal. A post-war politician described Britain as “a lump of coal surrounded by fish”. The fish might not be doing so well, but one advantage of the coal industry being shut down to destroy the miners’ union, is there is a lot of it still down there. Hundreds of years of all grades of coal.

    When you look at a map of Britain’s renewable energy potential, there’s an awful lot of it. With the resources and time we have left, it could be developed. It also has the advantage that a lot of it would be heavy engineering rather than fragile high tech. Then there is only the question of what we’d do to the environment in the process, and if it could keep itself going long term – the dreaded EROI. But if enhanced geothermal does prove to work beyond existing fields and can provide baseload renewable energy nearly anywhere, we may be in the clear. At least as far as electricity goes. I go back and forth ever few days between “this is never going to work” and “we might just pull this off”. 🙂

    If nuclear waste is still capable of raising steam, is it really waste? Even if it can’t make enough steam to be a reliable source of electricity, it could still be a steady heat source for industry. One of the biggest promises of 4th generation nuclear advocates is putting the waste through a form of reprocessing called electrowinning or pyroprocessing. It separates the still-good fuel that goes back in the reactor, leaving industrial and medical isotopes, and true waste that is only dangerous for 300-500 years, as opposed to millions. I asked a nuclear engineer whether that kind of waste would be hot enough to use, but never got a reply.

    You also said windmills would compress air to power machinery, I agree and would add folklift trucks and other small industrial vehicles –

    That would be a massive saving of electric / fuel, or human / animal energy, depending on circumstances.

    Just yesterday I discovered that not only can direct-drive windmills compress air, they can liquify it too. That opens up other interesting possibilities –

  212. JMG, yes I strongly advise reading Steyn’s “After America”, in particular his hilarious “motivational speech” to students on page 330, in which he begins, “You can’t always be anything you want to be. I wanted to be a great tap-dancer. Instead I’m a mediocre tap-dancer. But that’s my problem. Your problem is that my generation and your teachers’ generation have put a huge obstacle in the way of you being anything you want to be: We’ve spent your future… But thanks a bundle, it worked out great for us. We of the Greatest Generation, the Boomers, and Generation X salute you, the plucky members of the Brokest Generation, the Gloomers, and Generation Y, as in ‘Why the hell did you old coots do this to us?’, which is what you’re going to be asking in a few years’ time…”

  213. John,

    An 80+ year old retired poly-sci prof just snailmailed me an article from The Economist: “The global crisis in conservatism”

    Mentions Edward Burke and touches on many, (lodges, for example) of your touchstones (as I steadily work my way through the printed Archdruid Report, resisting picking up “Muddling..” till done.

    If you can’t pull up, I’ll snail you a copy.

    Saturday morning in Appalachia near Virginia Tech…just picked beans for canning, off to repair some student housing for a member of the “elite” vacationing on a sailboat off San Francisco. Seriously.

    Jim Garden

  214. @Sunnv: Thanks for all the fact checking. I have no idea if Tesla will survive, but I hope so. They have figured out how to build a better car, pretty much from scratch, and done it.

  215. Phil and JMG,

    Thanks for the advice about coupling the batch water heater with the passive solar one. Makes plenty of sense. And saves a bunch of money! My favorite part.


    Thank you too for that tidbit. I will definitely take a look at that before we go to all the trouble with the battery backup. It offends my sensibilities to not have emergency power, but maybe the generator is a better idea!

    Bryan Allen,

    Thanks for the props!! And your obvious expertise on the subject. Your post will definitely need a reread when I can focus.


  216. Been busy, so apologies, these are replies to some comments waaaay upthread:

    @Jilln; At 57, I’m old or getting there too and I agree. For reasons I could not have anticipated, It’s actually the best time of my life. My point was simply – the slow aging/decaying process is not the stuff of fantasies when one is young or middling.

    @Violet: I apologise then, I did misunderstand you. No, You’re correct. We don’t agree at all on this. My (cosmology?) my view of life and the world I think is very different to what you are now describing.

    @Rita Riptoe: “…I bet some people will start buying extra on their warehouse store runs and selling to neighbors who can no longer afford the dues or the gas–informal shops set up in the garage or maybe trading networks. ” As a grocery cashier, We had a few ‘coupon ladies’ who did this – bought bulk, with coupons/ on sale, especially of non-perishables and had garage ‘stores’ in their “food-desert” (grocery store desert) neighbourhoods. I’d bet people in your area are already doing that too. It’s an off-grid cottage industry. I’m actually in a FB group of ‘re-sellers’ who do that and share info and tips with each other.

    @Varun: Your mom was/is very wise!! LOL

  217. I have trouble with the morality of a “work ethic” when there’s no need for workers. How can you claim that someone is not “pulling their weight” when there’s no weight to be pulled? The conventional wisdom, of course, claims we’ll make up for these job losses through growth and innovation, exemplified by all the chirpy “mission statements” you hear all the time on NPR. We all know how that’s going to work out. We’ll just put everyone to work writing “mission statements.”

  218. Re: Ayn Rand and Sears: As a great specialist in ants said about Communism, “Great idea. Wrong species.” There actually is a wide-ranging species on this planet who might make a go of Rand’s ideas: the solitary big cats. If they can cooperate enough for found a civilization to begin with.

    JMG: re “The thing that drives the fantasy of AI, though, may not be slavery so much as the craving for employees who never call in sick and never tell you that you’re wrong…” In my book, that’s a slave. But Isaac Asimov wrote a marvelous corrective to people expecting that, way back in the 50s. I was called “I, Robot,” and except for his negative portrait on Dr. Susan Calvin, was a good piece of work.

  219. @Darkest Yorkshire the refrain I hear now from XR types is that all fossil fuels should be left in the ground, especially energy as dirty as coal.

    They think renewables will allow them to maintain their current lifestyles lol.

    Funny how Extinction Rebellion never cause obstruction at unglamorous obscure fracking sites, they just do that at city centres where Starbucks is easy to access.

  220. Sunnnv,

    Thanks for that! Good ideas. Had never heard of renting roof space to an aggregate solar provider. Interesting.

  221. sunnnv – It’s O.K. to like Tesla; conversely, it’s O.K. not to trust the company, Elon Musk, or the future of electric vehicles. It’s also O.K. to chuckle at a comparison between Musk and Cosmo Kramer without taking it as a personal affront.

    As for the shining future of electric vehicles, I’m just not buying all the cheer. I don’t think I’m alone. Eric Peters over on The American Spectator calls EVs ‘Elitist Vehicles’ that ordinary schmucks like us cannot afford, but which provide the requisite virtue signalling for the elites who can and he sees in the institution of EV ‘exclusionary zones’ (places in which one may only operate electric vehicles) another way to separate the EV haves from the hoi polloi without. Whether or not this was ever the intention of manufacturers does not keep it from working out that way.

    Your take away: sure, if you’re really interested in EVs it makes sense to keep up with the latest. For us, even though we live (almost) in the middle of nowhere, we need to drive so little that an EV just wouldn’t be a consideration; my Subaru works great around here and is a champ on unplowed snowy roads.

    Legitimate question: EVs are touted as a better option for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles. To me, that makes sense locally – fewer gasoline engines in a particular place means less air pollution in that place – however, the electricity has to be generated somewhere and I don’t think that solar panels and wind turbines are sufficient to create the necessary power to run any large number of EVs, so aren’t we just putting the same pollution somewhere else? If that’s the case, then we’re just inflicting the environmental costs of generation on different people. And if the gist of these ecosophia articles are correct and renewables will never be enough to replace petroleum, what is the large scale benefit of EVs that have to be charged via fossil fuels? If there’s something to be gained, I’m missing it.

  222. TamHob said:

    “Buying the generator also allows us to run heavy power tools without needing to rewire to three phase power. I suspect, given the environmental cost of batteries, that the generator was also the more environmentally backup friendly option. YMMV.”

    Two important issues that get not just overlooked but looked over because burning gas/petrol/diesel is anti-Progressive. Even if it’s cheaper in terms of system cost. It’s not the “right” energy. Systems Theory should become part of the standard core curriculum in our public schools post haste.


    I’m such a joker! What am I thinking? Doing that would DESTROY the economies of the US and Australia. Many products we take for granted today would never even get a second look! I’m certain “they” would never stand for it. Aah…never mind…


  223. Hi all,

    Some more thoughts about driverless cars, starting from the “prophecies” about the “imminent” deployment:

    a) In 2012 the CEO of Google, Sergey Brin said that “we will travel routinely in cars without a driver in a number of years that can be counted on the fingers of one hand”. Well OK, 2017 has passed and nobody “routinely” or not is traveling in driverless cars (without safety driver)

    b) In december 2015 Elon Musk said that “the technlogical problems of driverless vehicles are solved” (wow!!!!), and “We’re going to end up with complete autonomy, and I think we will have complete autonomy in approximately two years.” Well, again 2017, 2018 have passed and nobody go in cars with “complete autonomy”, in fact there are some nasty accidents of Tesla cars where the driver has literally “lost his head” when the car pass below a truck without touching the brake:
    The same accident happened again recently (march 2019); they have not “solved” nothing at all

    c) General Motors CEO in March 2014, Dan Ammann, predicted that “he would be surprised if by 2020 his company was not selling fully autonomous cars”; but where are the GM fully autonomous cars?

    d) Nissan-Renault CEO said in October 2016, that he expected that by 2020 there would be a routine deployment of completely autonomous cars on the roads. Where are they?

    e) In August 2016 Delphi and Mobileye affirmed that 2019 will be “their year” to put into circulation autonomous cars level 4. Dou you at least one of them?

    f) Ford is somewhat more restrained and in 2016 the responsible for developments of Ford said that it will sell cars without steering wheel or pedals (level 4) in 2021. They have to work hard to accomplish it…They will not, of course

    All of these people are immensely intelligent, rich and powerful, they are in the vanguard of progress, so what happened? why so many intelligent and important people are so deadly wrong?

    Well for me the explanation all of this, an also the case of the Boeing 737MAX, is the PONZIFICATION of the corporations, and one only have to see the stocks values and the situation of the real economy to know how this will end up in not too distant future

    It is even boring to discuss the huge amount of problems that have the driverless cars, but one of the reasons the snake oil sellers argue to deploy them is the low number of accidents they have, but they do not say how many interventions the safety drivers have to take to avoid them, but some people have the statistics:

    According to the statistics, EVERY SINGLE MILE the safety driver has to take the control of the car to avoid a dangerous situation in the case of Uber, one of the companies more “advanced” in this field. So the reason for few accidents is that there are very professionals drivers fully in control of the cars to avoid problems, and when the safety driver is distracted, here comes the problems (of course the full responsability is on the driver, not of super-fantastic driverless car and Uber):

    Yeah!, of course, there are two strategies to allow this s**t technology to be deployed:

    a) Avoid pedestrian and “normal” cars to be close to the driverless cars (you know people trend to “abuse” driverless cars because of the software aversion to risks); so the roads and cities “must” change to accomodate “progress”; paid by the taxpayers, of course

    b) Fully change in the laws to “liberate” of responsabilities to the companies that field the autonomous cars or others AI devices. I imagine some arguments in the sens: “we need to change the laws in accordance to progress, laws cannot be a brake on progress, and the current notion of responsabilty is obsolete in the era of AI where there are huge benefits for the whole society that could be curtailed by this old fashioned notion that must be changed”

    They will try both options, but it will not work in any case

    Some months ago I wrote a post about the driverless cars and the 737 MAX, but it is in spanish


  224. Phutatorius,

    Ever since I really got ahold of the idea that humans are animals, and therefore consumers, in the ecological sense, not producers, and that there is nothing we can do to make our activities actually produce anything of ecological value, I’ve figured the best we can do is consume as little as possible.

    We are consumers. (Even the so-called primary industries – farming, forestry, mining – are just converting something that already existed into “products.”) And we are WAY out of balance with the real producers and decomposers currently.

    But that’s probably the hardest part of all this for me to make my own. It’s so hardwired into us from such an early age – be busy and productive, or you’re a lazy shalehead. I mean, is there a more noble thing to be than busy these days? Crazy.

    Educating yourself with a book in a quiet corner, observing the world around you, practicing magic, going for a walk, sitting and staring out the window, praying, meditating, these are all considered uneconomic by conventional standards. Idleness. My dad would not approve! OK, maybe he’d approve of the praying.

    But these are precisely the things we need industrial Westerners to do more of: activities that don’t consume anything more than a few calories of food energy, if that. Most of that other “productivity” is whittling away our chances of avoiding harder times than need be. It’s hard to watch from this angle, isn’t it?


  225. Love to read all the posts about off-grid solar, and grid vs generator. I was off-grid for 11 years with a generator for backup, and finally sprung for a grid connection last year (not grid-tie, see details below). This is Sierra foothills in California, so PGE for the utility. The connection (400 feet between 2 new poles, plus another 350 feet underground) was outrageously expensive, but I’m thankful I could do it.

    I haven’t used the gennie since, but I’m not grid-tied. The PGE connection passes through the inverter, runs the loads, and also charges the batteries when the sun can’t do it alone, but there’s no connection going the other way. In other words, it’s just like off-grid, but substituting PGE for the gennie. In the summer, I hardly use the connection at all, but in the winter it’s great — cheaper than I could get from my gennie, and much cleaner power, since it all comes from hydro, solar, wind, or nat gas around here.

    PGE loved the approach, no extra permits beyond the original off-grid ones, no need to switch to time-of-use. Of course, I can’t sell power back, but I always felt I’d be getting scrooged over by the extra fees and regulations anyway. In many ways, they OWN your whole system once you get grid-tied.

    One other thing I don’t like about grid-tie is that every single watt you could possibly generate at any instant is, in fact, produced. If you don’t use it, PGE does, which means your panels and inverter are running full out all the time the sun is up, often making WAY more than you need for yourself. Nice to help with the environment, but when those components wear out prematurely from all that overuse, does PGE help with your replacement cost, like you help with theirs when they need a new substation somewhere?

  226. JMG,

    Hopefully I can provide some insight on here as to what is possible in regards to minimizng one’s electric use.

    I read that the average house uses about 1000 KWH per month. My family (myself and 2 teen sons I have half the time) uses about 85 KWH per month Spring and Fall, and about 115 KWH Winter and Summer.

    My major annual uses are the 13 year old, energy efficient, 21 ft3 refrigerator and my double-oven ancient electric stove, which I cook/reheat full meals upon twice a day and bake desserts in twice a week. I am economical in using the stove to minimize it’s energy use. When I boil a chicken I then use the hot broth to make noodles. When I bake lasagna, then is when I also make bread and dessert. If I need dessert today, baked beans for tomorrow can be made ahead of time. One gets the idea.

    A major winter use is the natural gas blower motor. A major summer use are the bedroom window fans to cool the house down, as well as ceiling fans to move the air. These use about 60 watts of power. They are turned off when not being used or needed.

    Minor annual uses are lights (all LED estimated to be 1-2 KWH per month), the entertainment center…tv/dvd/vcr/digital converter/amplified antenna (minimal use, maybe 2 hours a week, all on a power strip to prevent phantom use, estimated use 1 KWH per month) and the technology center…internet modem/wi-fi router/modem phone/cell phone charger/tablet charger (all also on a power strip to easily turn off when away from the house as AC to DC transformers are energy hogs).

    Oh, and the 2012 washing machine (bought used of course) used once a week on average. Clothes, especially outer layers, are reworn multiple times. Bath towels are hung up and reused multiple times. I hand wash undergarments, t-shirts, shorts, washclothes, dishcloths, and dishtowels in a Wonderwash. Twice a week. No electricity. I use about 3 gallons of water each time. I then use a spin dryer (200 watts) a minute or two to wring the water out. Wonderful. Takes 10 minutes total, no gym membership required. I can also wring clothes out in a mop bucket (also bought used). Many ways to skin a cat. Living within 40 miles of a large Amish community provides many useful ideas.

    We do not have a dryer. They are energy hogs. Clothes are hung outside or on drying racks inside in inclement weather.

    We do not have a dishwasher. Hand washing in tubs is definitely the Eco way to minimize energy and water use.

    We do not have air conditioning. Upper 90s outside today, same as the past few days. 80F inside feels pretty good with a ceiling fan on. House faces due south, but does get morning tree shade. Outside under tree cover nice as well.

    We do not have a microwave. If you do, put it on a power strip. It, along with most digital appliances, are phantom energy hogs. They consume energy even when they are not being used.

    The vacuum cleaner is used rather infrequently. We have mostly wood floors

    We do not have a coffee maker. If you do, turn it off when done brewing.

    The computer is hardly used anymore. It is not needed to search the internet when a tablet is available. Huge energy hog. Definitely turn it off when it is not being used.

    The water heater and furnace are natural gas. More on those so other time.

    We currently do not have a PV array, but could easily do so with the orientation of the house adjoining the street and facing due south. 3-4 full size panels would do the job, feeding excess energy into the grid when not being used. With a fossil fuel or wood stove, 2 panels tops. Without a refrigerator, 1 panel. I do play around with a panel and battery at a 20 Acre homestead I am working on. Hope to run all electricity there with 12 Volt DC from PV with no large inverters for AC.

    The key to PV is to not use energy unnecessarily. Makes for far fewer panels and smaller storage requirements.

    As I have said before, think for yourself, do not inherently trust people, and question everything. EVERYTHING!!!


  227. @phil Some countries produce a lot of their electricity with nuclear power and that is good and good well, but if the whole endeavor doesn’t actually have a net positive energy then it suggests that nuclear power relies on fossil fuel power to make it possible. If this is true then what’s the point of bothering with it really? We wouldn’t have managed to make electricity production any cleaner and less destructive at all!

    It’s a real shame it’s so hard to find out the answer to the question of net energy from nuclear because I consider it quite important. If pro-nuclear countries are only keeping their nuclear power plants in operation through subsidies then many people including myself have been duped about the long term viability of nuclear power.

  228. Has anyone else noticed the schizophrenic nature of the worship of the Apollo 11 landing on display now? “It’s proof of progress! Now, why haven’t we gone back in decades???”

  229. A brief comment on the ongoing Brexit developments in the UK.

    Today I’ve seen a couple of tweets and now a newspaper report that our extremely Remainery Chancellor, Phillip Hammond has been seen packing his suitcases and moving out of no 11 Downing St. In the UK the Chancellor is the job title of the individual who looks after the money, and although there is a ‘Deputy Prime Minister’ role, Chancellor is the de facto number two. He (to date there’s never been a she) gets the house next door to the PM.

    It seemed fairly likely that he would not remain in his post in the event that Boris Johnson is elected the new leader of the Conservatives, and thus the next Prime Minister of the UK. Votes from Conservative members have been coming in and counted at their HQ and I imagine that by this point the conclusion is fairly clear. He’s may have been given advance warning of the situation, and from this I conclude that Boris Johnson will now inevitably become the next PM.

    BoJo led the Leave campaign, and has made it clear that the UK departs The EU on 31st October with or without a deal. A deal is looking increasingly remote as positions on both sides have hardened since the referendum.

    Once again I note the astrological forecast made here, and remind myself just how unlikely it looked when it was it was published. My mental universe is undergoing a severe remodelling.

  230. Hi JMG,

    Terrific post and community response this week, as always. I’m still only half way through the comments and would love to respond to more folks but I’m just too slow a thinker. So much invigorating thought and debate…I’m grateful to be part of it. Best to everyone on this brutally hot day here in the northeast.

    JMG: Robert, governments have run themselves insanely far into debt many times in the past. What normally happens is that they default on their debts, weather the economic turbulence, and a few years later bankers are eager to lend them money again.

    The turbulence will be like a CAT 6 mega storm though…massive destruction and suffering. Of course, corporations and individuals routinely default through bankruptcy…consider the storied career of nation’s current president. It’s often a very successful strategy but carries a stench of bad faith and fraud. Default we will, nonetheless…more municipalities, more pension funds public and private, very likely individual states at some point. What will be the final triggers causing the nation’s default? No doubt everyone here has lots of credible notions about it!

    JMG: Dolph9, in my experience many people in the middle and upper middle classes are aware at some level that their lives are built on a lie, and that’s why they go out of their way to hide from any conscious expression of that ugly fact.

    I think you’re spot on with this observation. I’d argue that there’s no need to put a ceiling at the upper middle class…seems to me that most of the wealthy/owning class share this trait in spades. They may have more elaborately constructed denial mechanisms and different methods for avoiding self scrutiny, but they’re all about hiding the lie. Delusions run rampant in these times of course, through all levels of US society and culture. and all the generations. Cold wet mackerel smacks for everybody!

  231. kiashu – point of information about the Uber caused death of the Elaine Herzberg in Phoenix

    The woman in the vehicle was NOT an Uber customer, but a Uber employed safety driver.

    The safety driver was supposed to be looking at the road, with hands close to the wheel.
    Well, a problem with automated stuff is people get used to it working, and animals (including us) are lazy by evolution, so often quit expending “extra energy” when they should not.

    Instead, the safety driver was streaming a TV show on her mobile phone.
    (see Distraction in the above wiki page).

    That said, the Uber engineers had disabled their automatic braking in potential crashes to prevent erratic behavior.

    Also, more corporate cheapness – the azcentral article says there had previously been two safety driver/observers per vehicle.

    I think full autonomy is a case of “past the point of diminishing returns”.

    AFAIK there are no truly driverless cars operating in commercial service, and only a couple driverless buses in very limited trial situations. Much of the autonomous vehicle news is still hype.

  232. JMG
    You said “feudalism is the normal reset condition after a civilization falls apart, because it’s as close as you can get in an agricultural society to the hunter-gatherer band structure our species evolved with.”

    What an interesting concept! Never thought of it that way before, but it makes sense. To me one of the biggest differences between a feudal agrarian society and a hunter-gatherer band is the hereditary aristocracy vs a flatter hierarchical structure you would usually find in a group of nomadic people. But still, hierarchies are always present, as you also see in social animals like wolves and baboons.

    This reminds me also of an interesting study of a French village in the middle ages called “Montaillou.” The study used records from the Inquisition, which detailed the social relations in the village and revealed that many of the women had carnal relations with the village priest, and that the local aristocrat lived in material conditions not very much different from the peasants. The main difference was that the lady did not pick lice from the peasants, but the peasants all groomed the lady. Back to the baboons…

    And back to Warren Johnson and Muddling – later in the book he speculates that our future agrarian society will make certain adjustments to become more sustainable than traditional agrarian societies, so that there is hope for a more egalitarian future, with such institutions as trial by jury and constitutional rights, as you say.

    Mots, thanks and I agree with you that we don’t have to wait for collapse but we can be building new self-reliant communities now. But I don’t think we need to go far away to do that. And I don’t think we need to hide what we are doing, except in the case of something like regulations that stop people from selling unpasteurized milk to their neighbors. My friends who have a small goat dairy get around this by creating a farm club and selling only to members. Keeping things small and by word of mouth works just as well and perhaps better than physical isolation. Look at the success of the Amish and Mennonite communities.

  233. Maybe I’m asking the obvious, but is there any correlation with the two extremes you describe (certain doom versus ultimate progress) with class status? From my own limited view, it seems like most of my family who are in the upper tiers of the ‘salaried’ class see nothing but progress (at least for them and others like them). $50-70k for some Solar PV so they can continue to watch Netflix. No problem.

    Some of my acquaintances at the other end of the spectrum who in a former life might have been successful SW engineers now feel lucky to have found work as an assistant manager at the local Home Depot. They are terrified of sliding any further down the ladder. For many of them Armageddon would seem to be preferable.

    Those who are no longer even on the ladder don’t have the luxury of debating flying or electric cars – they don’t even have a car (ok, there is one sitting out back, but it is not going anywhere soon) and they still need to find a way to get to work tomorrow at the Amazon ‘fullfilment’ center and figure out what the kids are going to eat for lunch.

    So it seems to me like we have 3 groups – progress, doom, don’t have time to think about it…

  234. Commenting on a single item on Peak Future’s list of “Natural Glitches” and the Archdruids’s response to it, namely the Carrington Effect.

    In 1859, pretty much the sole use of electricity was in the telegraph system, which itself was new at the time. When the EMP blast hit the Earth, all the telegraph offices on the daytime side of the planet were fried. The telegraph being itself new at the time meant that it was likely more of a convenience than an actual need. After the EMP hit, all that needed to be done was to replace the equipment in the telegraph offices. It was easy to do this within a couple of years, and life went on.

    But if the Carrington Effect happened to-day, virtually all the electronics on the daytime side of the planet, from our personal and corporate computers, to the banking system, to all purchasing done with a card rather than cash would be fried. Just-In-Time delivery would be toast. Modern cars and aircraft would be rendered useless, as would any device than includes software. Note the recent issues with Boeing’s MAX jetliners; these were software issues that caused two planes to literally fall from the sky. I’m sure the list goes on.

    Scale matters. Especially with the world as interconnected as it has become, I don’t see any way of just picking ourselves up in a few years, and life as before just moving on.

    Antoinetta III

  235. Being deep in the oil patch, the EROEI has dropped significantly this last decade. In addition, the only true reason for the shale “revolution” was cheap money. You can count the companies in the shale plays on one hand that are actually making money – the rest are vigorously running on a treadmill of debt and payments due. At the same time, the money has shied away from long term development of more traditional plays, such as the deep Gulf of Mexico plays, even though they are paying out. These deep wells also have multiple zones in most of them that can be perforated later.

    Investor money seems to always seek the fast payout; hence shale plays. I guess it is sort of like MBA types whose only way to run a business is to invest, grow and cash out as soon as possible – which does not lend itself to maintaining a going concern as things were before mobile phones…

    We are approaching another inflection point, IMO, due to Ghawar being shot and the shale plays unsustainable and most everybody well into the depletion side in major big fields. Things have been learned in the shale plays and new tech developed to extend traditional plays when the money returns to them. But if you think back, we have eased up from gas being $2 a gallon to now hanging in at $2.50 to $3 or more, YMMV. All the while people crowing about US shale production numbers and energy independence. ROFLMAO….

    I’m writing another short story to submit to ‘Into the Ruins’ – predicated on a look into the geological near future. Within this vein, as my life has been spent in the oilpatch and I know it very well, imagine if the entire Gulf Coast had the top 75-100 feet of dirt removed by some catastrophic event. Within that, there will literally be thousands of steel pipes sticking up out of the ground from abandoned wells, thousands of miles of flowlines revealed within oilfields strung for miles and miles….

    I am optimistic about post-oil. I believe we will revert to water power and towns around river systems become important again. Someone will become the new railroad tycoon when necessity demands, and yes JMG – trolley cars should become de rigueur, I think. The Eerie Canal re-purposed.

    Interesting times we are looking at – most interesting. Especially if you have your television set to avoid the news media circus. Honestly, how much true news is there to justify multiple 24 hour news?

    Flying Cars, going to Mars (lovely perchlorates), back to the moon….are these our new ‘bread and circuses’?

  236. @Coop Janitor and Beekeeper, re. Kansas 8th grade education in 1895-
    Wow, that was a tough test! Not sure I could score 65 percent to pass, either. But I’m not entirely sure I could pass the U.S. citizenship test, either, at least without some brushing up.

    As an education professional, I’m sad to say that the state of our country’s education system precisely mirrors the dysfunction in the wider society (of course), right down to the fact that the problems are unequally distributed. I think the depressing situation described in the article Beekeeper linked to is likely to ring true in many of the country’s large urban school districts. Other types of districts have other types of problems. Of course there are bright spots, and many hardworking individuals doing their best in difficult circumstances, but we are in fact a society in decline, and all our institutions reflect that.

    That said, I do want to point out that the Kansas 8th grade exam was certainly not taken by all the, say, 15-year-olds in the state in 1895. I’m not an expert in the state’s educational history, but a quick glance at the Kansas State Dept of Ed website told me that the first compulsory education law was only enacted in the state in 1874, and only applied to children ages 8-14, for a 3-4 month long school year. By the end of 8th grade, MANY students in 1895 had likely dropped out of school to join the work force (paid or at home) full time. So only a smaller select group who were motivated to continue to high school were likely to take that exam, and we don’t know what the pass rate was. But the same KSDE document mentions that during the World Wars, illiteracy was found to be widespread among the state’s young men. I mention this because I like apples-to-apples comparisons when possible, and we currently force all 14-to-15-year olds to attend school and take our 8th grade exams, not just a self-selected group. (Sadly, the percentage we really expect to pass might not be far different.)

    Actually, our exams look fairly tough these days too. I’d encourage to check out your state’s 8th grade educational standards. (They are probably easily found through a quick web search; include the subject area you are interested in. English is usually called “Language Arts” and history/geography often goes by “Social Studies” or “Social Science”. Math and Science, thank goodness, are usually less disguised.) You won’t be able to access the actual tests, which are generally kept secure, but if you find the name of your state’s testing system, you can search for “released items”, sample questions that the public is allowed to see. Some of them will no doubt make you glad you are not sharpening up your number two pencils. (Actually, many states now administer all their standardized tests on computers- but let’s not even go there!)

    Here are a few items from Kansas, 8th grade math,

    Looking at these modern-day test items, you might think we expect quite a bit from our 8th graders too. I encourage us all to be cautious about the conclusions we draw based on both sets of tests as documentary evidence.

    –Heather in CA

  237. Hi again,

    “I hope, though, that you’re also considering putting in a solar water heater system — that’s a slam-dunk in the South, and can knock 10-15% off your total household energy use all by itself.”

    I’ve often wanted to ask you about this when you’ve mentioned solar hot water, which I know you enthusiastically support. Are you speaking about low tech passive ‘batch’ systems or ‘active’ systems with flat panels and the need for heat exchangers? I was involved in the active system solar hot water boom of the early to mid 80s. There was a frenzy of activity in Reagan’s first term because there were very generous subsidies in play in the form of dollar for dollar tax credits, both federally and at the state level in MA. Many, many homes in this ‘progressive’ region (CT River Valley of western MA) installed these systems back them and many are still sitting there on the rooftops. I wonder how many of them still work well. Theoretically those systems could be maintained and preserved in working order for quite a while but 35-40 years might be pushing it. They’re certainly not nearly as sexy as all those sleek grid-tied PV panels everywhere. Active systems require some electricity of course but I suspect you’re referring to the real simple stuff. But can’t there at least be a passive batch system that’s connected to the Internet of Things? The humor of feigned cluelessness is intended, in case you’re wondering.

  238. Patricia Matthews,
    I agree that someone who has no freedom in the workplace is really still a slave. In fact as a child I remember the adults talking about being wage slaves and no-one liked the idea.
    Caryn Banker,
    You are really still a teenager compared with me. However I admit not all things about ageing are such fun. When we arrange to see friends these days we have to arrange around everyone’s visits to their new best friends – their specialists.

    But it is still pretty good.

  239. John—

    Saw this just now. Again, not about technology, daydreams of infinite energy, or technotopias, but certainly about amnesia:

    To be sure, the school board has the authority to make that decision, but I have a hard time seeing anything good coming from it. I’m reading your revised edition of TWG right now and the lay of the landscape today seems far too close to what you’ve depicted for comfort. Our internal ties continue to fray and no one is doing anything to repair them. In fact, we seem to be putting our efforts into sawing away at the ones still left. This is not good.

  240. Dear Methethyl,

    Fascinating! I’ve never attended a Christian service, and so had no idea.

    Dear Caryn,

    No worries, and, indeed, no need to apologize! Our disagreement has been very fruitful on my end helping to clarify my thinking. If I may, I wish to express my sincere thanks for engaging.

  241. Your post is timely given the cover of The Economist this week is “The next 50 years in space.” It’s funny though, as the writer quotes the 1969 moon landing issue where The Economist said: “man, from this day on, can go wheresoever his mind wills and his ingenuity contrives…to the planets, sooner rather than later, man is now certain to go.” Despite being wildly wrong, don’t worry, the current issue asserts that new technologies and falling costs mean “there are likely, within decades, to be permanent human outposts on the moon, frequented by scientists and tourists from many countries.” Apparently, the biggest problem is developing the rule of law for space; no mention of radiation levels that are dangerous to humans.

    Much like the century of flying cars, do you think space colonies will still be touted 50 years from now as just around the corner, or will the evangelists of perpetual progress have finally thrown in the towel? Thank you for your insights on these issues.

  242. JMG, Darkest Yorkshire – re nuclear waste as energy source.

    I’m thinking this won’t work all that great. The heat comes from decay of radioactive fission products, which is continually decreasing. At reactor shutdown it’s huge (6.5% of reactor power, about 2 MWthermal/tonne), but rapidly declining. At one year post removal from the reactor, it’s about 10 kWthermal per tonne of spent fuel, but after 10 years it’s only 1 kWt/tonne, when the decay of the decay heat slows down.

    After about 5-7 years, it’s thermally cool enough it can be put in dry casks, which are cooled by passive air circulation.

    70,000 tonnes of spent commercial nuclear fuel (per GAO as of 2012), but it’s spread over 75 sites (for the U.S.).
    Assume 1000 tonnes per site, average age say 10 years, and we get 1MWt per site.
    At hand-waving estimate of 30% efficiency for small-scale turbo generators (but those would use hotter steam), maybe 300 kW electricity per site to start.
    Maybe we’ll double the waste by the time they’re all shut down, but still not something major.

    But #1: how to get the heat from each cask into a steam generator?
    To preserve the dry nature of the storage (i.e. not corroding as fast as if it were in water), one would have to use a dry gas as the first level of heat transfer agent. Pumping gas is fairly inefficient for moving heat.

    But #2: The surface temp of a new-ish representative dry cask will only be 247 – 292 deg F in a 70 F ambient. (ie barely above boiling for water), so that doesn’t bode well for any kind of efficiency (Carnot’s law). And that’s at the start, it keeps declining. Once one gets too low a temp, one is faced with a choice of using saturated steam (very low efficiency), operating under reduced pressure (costly equipment), or using an organic working fluid (can you say “freon” or “propane”? Meaning not good for the air or not good to have mass quantities of highly flammable stuff near nuclear waste.)

    Low temperature thermoelectric systems are only around 5% efficient (ie 5kW per site – chump change), but would be operationally clean. Making them is another matter, they’re usually bismuth or lead and tellurium or selenium. (mildly toxic, toxic, kinda toxic, pretty toxic respectively).

    As if we don’t have enough to worry about, as the casks cool, salt particles in the air (many reactors are near the oceans) start to accumulate, and one has deliquescence where the salts absorb water from the air forming super-saturated solutions. Can you say “corrosion”?
    “Measured temperatures on HOLTEC storage canisters at Diablo Canyon, holding high-burnup fuel 6 years out of the reactor and after two years of storage, showed that the lower parts of the canister surface were already well within the temperature range for salt deliquescence.”

    Since it’s going to cost money to keep these sites secure, maybe it _would_ be a good idea to wrap them in easily replaceable ducts (to keep the salt off) and get a bit of electricity from them to power lights and pay for replacing the ducts.

    @Darkest Yorkshire – check out the attempts at reprocessing, so far it just hasn’t turned out to be economic – even for the French, and it generates lots of liquid wastes from the processing chemicals.

    _Maybe_ molten salt reactors doing (laser assisted?) electrochemistry, but I wouldn’t bet on it working well enough or being economical without very good proof.

    We really need to wait 40-50 years for the casks to cool, then emplace them in salt formations, but as JMG says, it’s politics. I’d estimate leakage otherwise starts in a (few?) hundred years.

  243. I can’t help wondering where all this electricity to power these cars is coming from. Can electricity be generated from hot air?
    So driverless cars really aren’t driverless after all. If I can’t put someone who can’t drive into one and send them on their way they are not really driverless after all. I could do this with a real taxi service.

  244. Hi sunnv,

    Ah, I see. Thanks for the courteous reply, however you are confusing technical possibility with reality.

    Firstly, most people cannot afford either a Tesla or a very large solar power system grid tied or otherwise. You clearly have access to resources and wealth that most people do not have access to.

    Secondly, despite my profession, I have hand built homes and other structures such as sheds. Whilst I consider the possibilities of the use of the roof area and employ that space for the collection of solar energy (PV and thermal), most people do not. The roofs of most houses are not constructed with this possibility in mind (usually instead focusing on aesthetic considerations) and so large uptakes of solar panels are not ever going to happen on any great scale – and note 1 in 5 houses in this country have some form of solar energy capture already on their roof, and even so solar PV only makes up 5% of the entire grid. If every home took up solar, that is still only 25%, which is not enough.

    Thirdly, a solar power system (on any scale) is not going to provide enough energy for one of those super fast chargers. Down here the governments are closing coal fired base load power stations and most are slated to close by 2040 which is at the end of their economic lifespans. The Hazelwood power station which closed down a year or two back produced 1600MW of continuous power. Basic math suggests that at 125kW that is only 12,800 such chargers – and that assumes that the electricity actually makes it to the chargers in the first place and nobody else intended to use it. About one third is lost to heat.

    I like your vision, but I’m not necessarily sanguine that it comports with reality.

    Incidentally, there are theoretical upper limits to what the batteries can handle here and chucking on more solar panels is not necessarily a good idea – or even possible. You have a lot to learn my friend, micro grids have very complicated issues that have to be dealt with.



  245. Hi Heather in CA,

    I saw the practice materials for the citizenship test that was being used in the ‘80’s, 2 of my 3 aunts had to take the test. I couldn’t have passed the test without studying and, like the rest of this crowd, I’m a lot more literate than the average American.

  246. Janitor, if I’d attended the schools that gave this test, it’d be a slam-dunk — but of course that’s the point, isn’t it?

    Chris, it hit 97 degrees F. today, which is pretty hot for New England, and will be roughly the same temperature tomorrow. Oog! As for solar water heaters, bingo — outside of semitropical climates, you need something else for the cold months. Mind you, down in the deep South, solar water heaters work pretty much year round, and an ordinary thermosiphoning system is usually enough.

    Jean-Vivien, between the EU coming apart and the US backing away from its military control of Europe, European nations will either rearm or go under — and once you have an effective military, it’s going to be used. I expect the first stirrings of European militarism will be directed toward small countries outside of Europe, but it won’t stay that way for long. As for effondrement, that’s oddly reminiscent of the Decadent movement in the late 19th century; Ecnarf has a curious talent for catching the oncoming wave of history and then turning it into a lifestyle, an aesthetic movement, and a fashion statement.

    Varun, that may be it — though it baffles me that so few people realize how little technology you actually need to be comfortable and happy.

    David, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when the cost of robotics rises above the cost of a decent wage — as it will.

    Yorkshire, if Brits were willing to accept lifestyles circa 1860, they might be able to do it. It would certainly be better than the future they’re going to get otherwise. As for nuclear waste, it’s waste until somebody actually does something useful with it; waste is simply a resource nobody’s bothered to learn how to use yet.

    Robert, true, O Lord!

    Jim, please do drop me a copy, as I can’t read it without subscribing. It looks, shall we say, colorful — but they draw a useful distinction between conservatism and populism, or as I would phrase it, between elite conservatism and populist conservatism.

    Phutatorius, I’d suggest that there’s a vast amount of work that needs doing — there’s just a shortage of willingness to hire people to do it.

    Patricia, I lost my last scrap of respect for Rand on learning that she went on public assistance in old age. Courage of her convictions? Missing in action…

    Kenneth, interesting. I suppose that’s also an option!

    Ecodad, nicely set out. My wife and I live in an apartment, so some of the details are different, but we don’t have a TV, a microwave, air conditioners, or a lot of other energy-wasting items. Our lives are fine — as indeed yours seems to be!

    Will J, that’s a good one.

    Andy, I’ve read several news stories saying that BoJo is ahead in the voting by around 75% to 25%, so Hammond’s smart to be packing his stuff. It’ll be fascinating to watch what happens next, with Sajid Javid praising Nigel Farage in public — is BoJo going to risk calling a general election with the goal of a Tory-Brexit Party coalition that can shut out the Remainers once and for all? Tune in for tomorrow’s thrilling episode… 😉

    Jim, I suspect it’s going to be less drastic than all that. The government will print dollars like they’re going out of style — as indeed they are — and pull out every other available gimmick to cushion the shock; a collapse in the value of the dollar will make US exports (especially agricultural commodities) insanely cheap by world standards, bringing a boost to Trump’s flyover-state constituents while screwing the inhabitants of the bicoastal bubble; there will be vast amounts of noise and screaming, and then things will lurch into motion again, probably with a new currency not freely tradeable on global markets. Again, we’ve seen this before.

    Seaweedy, Montaillou‘s a great book. A lot of people think automatically of late feudalism whenever the concept comes up, and that’s part of where the illusion comes from. Think of an Anglo-Saxon village in the 8th century or so. You’ve got the lord and lady (in Old English, the originals of those words mean “loaf-warden” and “loaf-giver”) in their hall, which is basically just a big version of the ordinary peasant house; you have the lord’s warband of thegns, and then you have the ceorls or peasants. They all live pretty much the same, except the lord and his family and the thegns and theirs eat a little better and have nicer clothes; the ceorls grow the food, part of it goes to the lord and gets distributed by the lady, and the lord and his thegns maintain public order according to a traditional code of laws in which a simple form of trial by jury is practiced. All things considered, it’s a tolerably equitable system — a lot more so than the decaying imperial bureaucratic state it replaced, which is one of the core reasons the replacement happened.

    Ssincoski, that’s an interesting hypothesis, and not an implausible one.

    Antoinetta, and if it holds off for another hundred years, as it well may — we have no idea what determines the timing of such things, and most of them will by definition go hurtling off into parts of space that don’t have our planet in them — it won’t be much of a problem, either, because the grid won’t exist any more and neither will most of our current electrical technologies. Vacuum tube technologies are fairly resistant to such things, btw…

    Oilman2, I’m pretty sure the US government has made good and sure the shale industry will get as much cheap money as it needs; one of the things a lot of us missed back in the last round of peak oil is that politics trumps economics, though of course physics trumps politics. Many thanks for the heads up, though — and I’ll look forward to seeing your story!

    Jim, depends on the circumstances and the needs of the user. There is no one-size-fits-all solar water heating system! A simple batch system will do fine for one person, another will want a passive thermosiphoning system, a third will want an active system with a pump and a heat exchanger — and all three should be encouraged, so that the largest number of options remains available.

    David BTL, no, it’s not good, and it will not end well.

  247. Hi sunnv,

    I’m curious about you. What do you hope to learn by commenting on this website? You don’t usually comment here unless the topic of solar PV arises.

    Also, in a strange coincidence, I have been having a very long term on again and off again discussion about similar ideas with a very well meaning bloke that lives in a sunnier part of the continent than I do. Now I note that you also live in a sunnier part of your continent, and one idea popped into my head a few weeks back and it is this:

    “Nature does not provide resources consistently across the landscape.

    It seems simple enough until you ponder the deeper implications.

    Like the well meaning bloke down under that I correspond with, I note that generally where it is sunny, there usually isn’t that much water around. And you live in California which has a notable boom and bust climate. As a suggestion, if I were you, I’d be less worried about electric cars and solar PV and more worried about water.

    It may be that at some point in the future a decision might be made between desalination and car chargers and I know which one I’d cut off.



  248. @Mitchell McBride: Your point is valid, but that is a big “if”. I find it almost inconceivable that nuclear power plants take more fossil fuel energy to produce than they ultimately generate. They make an awful lot of power for a long, long time. That said, if someone has evidence that shows that to be true, I would love to see it.

    Furthermore, as equipment becomes increasingly electrified, and we produce fuel with electricity, we will need increasingly smaller amounts of fossil fuels for things like transportation and construction. One day we should be able to make nuclear power plants with, nuclear power plants.

    @Beekeeper in Vermont: It is certainly true that many electric cars just move the location of the pollution from the car’s tailpipe to the generating plant. But this is not true of all electric cars; many are charged with electricity made from renewable energy. This is especially true in countries like Norway, where half the cars sold are electric and the electricity is all renewable.

    The expectation, not unreasonable, is that as we produce more and more electricity from non fossil fuels, electric cars will be increasingly non-polluting. While many suggest we will never get completely off fossil fuels (I disagree), we can certainly get completely off fossil fuels for electricity.

  249. This topic, and the twin perceptions of what the future holds, got me thinking about popular culture. This is often a place where a culture’s hopes, dreams, and fear are reflected, and I believe this is the case in our current era. Post-apocalyptic fantasies of all kinds are pervasive across television, movies, books, and video games. But the other most popular genre in entertainment is superheroes, which seems to represent the myth of progress. We want some great powerful figure to save us. Whether it’s Superman, Iron Man, or a very long list of other characters, the idea is of a godlike but benevolent being to rescue us from our self-inflicted problems. We subconsciously realize that something has gone wrong, the world isn’t moving in the direction we’ve been told it would, but everything is okay because someone else will fix everything without us having to take responsibility and do the hard work of fixing the world ourselves. My greatest concern is where that line of thinking could potentially lead the U.S. and other nations politically.

  250. Re: educational attainment (Heather and others)

    Thanks for both the 1895 test and the 2016 example, and thank you for pointing out that probably not all 15 year old were in school at that time. I had wondered about that. In fact, it surprises me that even with compulsory 8-9 school years in Germany, a certain percentage (2-5%) managed to enter the workforce without being able to read or write anything beyond their name.

    With regard to the 2016 example, I was surprised how much emphasis is placed on following the recommended path to a solution. The 1895 test simply asks for the solution. I think the PISA tests also allow you to take any path you want. As somebody who administers tests (though to university students), I think asking for only the solution invites students to cheat, but there are ways to avoid that for high-stake exams.

  251. JMG, What you’re describing still sound pretty drastic to me! Are you really suggesting that the US might default and switch to a new currency during DT’s second term, or in the next decade? Poof goes our global reserve currency status, bringing an abrupt closure to the massive privileges and advantages it confers. Maybe my CAT6 prediction was over the top…how about CAT4?

  252. Regarding David by the Lake’s comment:

    At the recent National Conservatism conference, Tucker Carlson (Bill O’ Rielly’s replacement on Fox News) was asked the following:

    “What is the most important thought we have not given ourselves permission to think?”

    Tucker laughed and the questioner clarified:

    “What is the most important thought that we have not given ourselves permission to say out loud?”

    Tucker, after some visible discomfort replied:

    “You know, the thing that I go back to, and you know, I’m not even sure that this is, like, spine-tinglingly controversial, but it’s almost ever said, that you know, countries don’t hang together just because. You know, the natural state of man is not progress. That’s, like, a complete lie. Anyone know what the Bronze Age collapse was?”

    *in response to the audience*

    “So, yeah, the one person. So yeah, the Bronze Age collapse, there was a dark ages before the dark ages. So it was about 1500 BC”

    *audience member corrects*

    “1200 BC. OK. Look, I knew it, I bow to superior knowledge. Um, basically, when the sum total of human knowledge disappeared. And we’re not quite sure, we’re still trying to figure out, we may never know. But it mirrored, very much, the dark ages. By the way, do you know how Medieval Europe, the Medieval world, got lead? Lead, the substance lead? For pipes and cooking, for later, ammunition? They took it from Roman ruins. That was the sole source of it, from Roman ruins. Because, the technology, which is not complex technology, required to mine lead and separate it from silver or zinc or whatever, because it’s an alloy usually, was lost. Noone had any idea how to do it. Only for like 1000 years, not a big deal. So what’s the point? There’s no reason that this should continue, apace, forever, on the trajectory it’s currently on? There’s no reason it can’t happen again, it’s happened at least twice, it’s probably happened more than that. But by its nature we don’t know, right? So what’s the point? The point is what does it take to hold a country together? Particularly, a country in which there is no majority? Right, where there’s no obvious thing that holds people together, not even history, because the demographics change so much? I’m not against that, by the way, there’s nothing inherently bad about rapid demographic change, nothing immoral, I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that it does make it important for the people in charge to think through what does hold the country together? What do we have in common as Americans? If a war were to break out, why would we all fight? And what are we fighting for? What is this country, what does it mean? Is it just the sum total of commerce, is it the GDP, is it something more than that? I mean, these are not just interesting academic questions, they are vital practical questions. Because if you don’t answer them, the country will actually fall apart, for real. That’s not a right wing point, that’s an obvious point. And it’s a measure of how unbelievably stupid, and I mean that, literally stupid, like low IQ stupid, like bovine stupid the people in charge are, that they’re not waking up in the middle of the night and thinking ‘Holy smokes, clearly society is becoming a lot more volatile, how do we calm things down, how do we keep it strong?’. And nobody is, like, literally, nobody is. So pressing that question, and we press it a lot, come on, I just made a case for diversity, but the idea that diversity is our strength, okay, tell me how? Is it true in your marriage?”

    *audience laughter*

    “No, I’m serious! And I know there are a bunch of reporters here, and just a heads up, screw you, ahead of time. But I know they’re going to be like ‘oh, Carlson comes out against diversity’. I’m not coming out against diversity at all, I like diversity, actually. Just don’t lie to me about it. Just stop lying, how’s that? And why don’t you explain how it works? If you’re going to make it our national motto, don’t you owe me? And speak slowly so I can understand. How does it make us stronger? If I married someone who, and I’ve been married almost 29 years, if I married someone who couldn’t speak English, and hated all my views, would that make my marriage stronger?

    *audience laughter*

    “Maybe it would, tell me how! If you had a military unit, comprised of people who had literally nothing in common, who couldn’t communicate, would that be a more effective fighting force? Would it be more cohesive? Like, it’s insane, actually, and it’s the truth, it goes back to what I was implying previously, which is that everything they say is the opposite of what’s true. It’s, like, totally bewildering. And maybe the way it’s so effective is that it’s so different from the way normal people lie”.

    It goes on and is great, but I think it is pretty significant that a mainstream media personality told the truth.

  253. Re: feudalism

    Thanks for both the reference to Montaillou and the sketch of 8th century Anglo-Saxon feudalism. One of the things I learned from Wickhams’ “Inheritance of Rome” is that an important change took place in the 9th century, where formerly rather free peasants became much more unfree. Wickham associates this with the Carolingian Empire, but states that, surprisingly, the change was faster and more thorough in the English kingdoms than on the continent. He offers no explanation nor even speculation for this, and it does seem a very remarkable change.

  254. @Sunnv
    Re: Using nuclear waste for energy generation.

    I think you’ve slid off into things nobody would do in your argument. If you take a working nuclear plant as your baseline, in the first couple of years a spent fuel rod is putting out lots of heat. That’s the low hanging fruit that might be worth exploiting. (*)

    Why hasn’t it been done? It’s not like it’s a genius idea – it’s rather obvious in fact.

    A few years ago I saw a real nuclear engineer answer someone who asked what would happen if he went swimming in a cooling pond. The fast answer was that the guards would shoot him before he got that far. And if he managed that, he’d die of radiation exposure in a very small number of minutes. Those rods are hot in more than one way. Gamma radiation laughs at that much water, and neutrons aren’t much better.

    It’s an interesting idea, but the equipment to exploit it is simply too expensive to be worth it.

    (*) By the way, the reason they’re in a cooling pond is because they’re putting out enough heat to melt the casing. They have to be actively cooled or they’ll melt, releasing all that nastiness.

  255. “the responsible for developments of Ford said that it will sell cars without steering wheel or pedals (level 4) in 2021.”

    How can these people not see that this is a nightmare? People have been worrying about Skynet, a fictional AI from a fantasy movie about killer robots, but putting yourself into a car that shuts out any chance of autonomy is OK?

    “All of these people are immensely intelligent, rich and powerful, they are in the vanguard of progress, so what happened? why so many intelligent and important people are so deadly wrong?”

    I feel like this is the big question of the 21st century. There’s a constant mantra in our society of ‘have to be smarter, have to know more,’ and it manifests in all sorts of ways. We want to create machines that are smarter than us. We want our kids to go to school earlier and take more tests so they can be smarter. Hell, we want to genetically engineer our kids to be smarter, so we buy into ridiculous fables of “smart genes.”

    I think we’re hitting the limits of what Faustian intelligence can do. We no longer have wisdom to guide us, we no longer have knowledge to rely upon. We have exceptionally clever idiots churning through reams of momentary data, and the harder they work the worse they make the situation.

  256. Beekeeper in Vermont – re EVs. elistist and long tailpipe.

    1) it’s getting less and less true that they’re elitist vehicles pricewise. Like most things: indoor plumbing, horseless carriages, telephones, … the rich folks had them first because they could afford to fund the development/low volume production of these things.

    Musk’s “secret plan” from Aug. 2006 – definitely worth a read:
    Soak the rich guys for Roadsters, use that money to make the model S to soak more rich guys and their trophy wives, rinse and repeat with model X then bring out model 3: $109k -> $100k -> 120k -> $40-70k

    GM crushed the EV-1 (literally), then Carlos Ghosn made Nissan do the Leaf in 2010. There were others in that time frame, but not as nice or as promoted, done just as “compliance cars” to meet CARB rules (and nobody wanted them because they were so poor, thus their manufacturers could say “nobody wants EVs”). But the Leaf was/is pretty popular, 400,000 sold by March 2019.
    In 2008 the Roadster was released – nobody could say an EV couldn’t be a good drive.

    2019 Leaf starts at $29.9k. Chevy Bolts can be had for a lot off the $34k list. VW e-Golf lists at $32k.
    Used Leafs are readily available. New EVs/PHEVs coming in 2020:
    EV buying guide:

    One can find several of these cost comparisons between Model 3 and things like Corollas at If one does lifecycle costing, EVs often save money in the long run over rather mainstream vehicles.

    2) elitist WRT EV exclusionary zones – cities where air is so bad they ban non-EVs from city centers/charge high fees/etc.:
    Eris Peters seems like he’d rather complain and do the side-show thing (like JMG was talking about WRT conspiracy nuts) than deal with peak-oil/air pollution/climate change. No manufacturer that I’m aware of has ever pushed for exclusion zones – it’s local politics. People are pissed they can’t breathe and their kids are having asthma attacks. Even China’s leadership bowed to this, which means in some Chinese cities, the only way to get a vehicle owner permit is to buy an EV.

    Heard the same stuff when I got my Prius – people like me were only interested in “virtue signaling”. Huh? If I _really did_ realize that peak oil/climate change was bad, what should I do? There were no EVs available, and I felt I still needed a car. I bought the most efficient thing there was at the time (and then made it more efficient when Hymotion came out).

    3) long tailpipe – the stuff in Musk’s secret plan from 2006 is worth a read.
    Natural gas to electric outlet is 52.5% efficient, Roadster 86%, gives 1.14 km/MJoule.
    A Prius is 0.56 km/MJ. So the Roadster goes twice as far on the same fossil fuel energy.
    Musk then gives a table of CO2 emissions, Roadster is 1/3 Prius (natgas vs. oil).
    EV’s are just that more efficient than Internal Combustion Engines (have to be to make up for lower energy density of batteries).

    This UCS map is based on the regional fuel content of the power grids in the US.
    It shows the equivalent mileage a gas car would have to get to match an average EV powered by grid power in that region. And it’s based on 2016 data, which is more coal-centric than now.

    So even just using the grid, in essentially all of America, a good EV is at least as clean as a Prius, often much better, and getting cleaner. ICE is near economical efficiency limits.

    Now – what happens when one puts PV on one’s roof, or buys 100% renewables (if available)?
    Now you’re only dealing with energy/CO2 payback of the car’s manufacture.

    Electric bikes are also useful, on my shopping list.

    4) enough renewables? – or rephrased: “Are we going to spend enough money, fast enough to “make it” without (some) collapse?” I think the answer is “it would literally be a miracle”.
    My take is: the more renewables deployed, the less nasty the decline, and the more of civilization gets preserved through the dark age likely ahead.
    And PV is pretty affordable now, so if one can, then add to the mix on one’s house/office/… . One is paying some worker to learn real world skills, funding an industrial ecosystem, and adding to a stock of PV parts that will be salvageable and useful to (hopefully) establish a sustainable PV industry powered by itself and other renewables. If, say, Germany is 40% renewables electricity now, then its PV industry is getting pretty sustainable.

    With collapse, I expect the total number of vehicles to decline, likely radically. This is part of Musk’s push for self driving – serve as many people with fewer vehicles – but “we’ll see”. Since EVs are more efficient than ICE, we don’t have to do 1:1 replacement oil:electricity.

    My model 3 gets about 4 miles/kWh. Average daily drive in U.S. is 30 miles, mine 40, so 10 kWh. So roughly a 2 kWp PV system would power my ride, that’s 6 to 8 modules.
    When the gasoline runs out, your ICE is frozen unless you have your own oil well and still. Got an EV? YOU can put up PV in most locations … (and then give your many new friends rides).

    Musk is definitely a technocornucopian, and AFAIK isn’t tuned into spirituality, the food system, etc., but most of what Musk is up to, and Tesla in particular, is useful and reasonably benign (unlike the Koch brothers and their attacks on EVs, renewables and climate action via “libertarian” groups).

    I think Musk scares the Koch brothers, et. al., not just from a business competition standpoint, but from the stark message that we must change or collapse. They’d love to believe “his wacky schemes never pan out”, but he’s got a pretty good record of accomplishment.
    From 2016, Musk’s secret plan update:
    “The point of all this was, and remains, accelerating the advent of sustainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good. That’s what “sustainable” means. It’s not some silly, hippy thing — it matters for everyone.

    By definition, we must at some point achieve a sustainable energy economy or we will run out of fossil fuels to burn and civilization will collapse. Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better.”

  257. A couple of intriguing points about Ayn Rand getting Social Security and Medicare:

    1) at the end of one of the chapters of “The New Left – The Anti-Industrial Revolution,” Mrs Rand basically said that taking S.S. And Medicare was just, as it was only getting back what was stolen in the first place. She even went so far as to say that everyone who agreed with those programs had no rights to them, as to them it wasn’t theft but money going where it belonged.

    Having said that,

    2) She actually had to be persuaded to take S.S. and Medicare. Despite the groundwork made to justify said actions, it took a social worker a few visits to get her to accept help from the government programs.

    My guess? Death turned Ayn into a coward. Having watched a woman fight death for nearly three years while bedridden and suffering from incomplete locked-in syndrome, I can understand fully.

  258. Jean-Vivien wrote, “Some of these people, like a young TV actress, seem to think that they will be able to provide safety nets with their farms to the people in their area when everything else collapses. Not a bad idea in itself, but it looks a lot like playing a would-be wise king-of-the-hill fantasy as well.”

    Jean-Vivien, that sounds an awful lot like playing Petit Trianon, only with the current mandatory baggage of SJW signaling. “Let them eat cake” becomes “We must make sure they all have cake to eat.” History rhyming rather than repeating.

  259. Rita, JMG – re: Sacramento EV rental

    FYI – Hyundai drivers have their own EV to drive.
    Hyundai Kona EV, subcompact SUV, highly reviewed. $36,950 msrp to start. Full Federal tax credit available. Maybe California rebate.

    Limited to CARB states, and not that many are being made (nobody beside Tesla built a battery gigafactory – duh), but well liked by many reviewers/owners.

    Even Consumers Reports liked it!

    258 mile range, CCS charging port, up to 100kW fast charge, nice features…

    John – EVs are so common in California that nobody would notice. Model 3 was 7.7% of all cars, 3.4% of all light vehicles sold in California in Q1 2019. Like 1 in every 30 new vehicles.
    And it was just half the BEVs sold. EVs are 4% of total cars in California, 1 in 25.

    A big draw in California is BEVs can get a HOV (carpool) lane access sticker. Or a nice rebate if you’re at <= 300% of federal poverty income.

  260. I got to see a guy with a jet pack fly once. I was about ten and it was around about the time of the lunar landings, and they featured this dude and his jet pack at the county fair in Salt Lake. I guess he flew upwards about ten meters or so as we all watched and landed safely after about a minute. It was really truly memorably unimpressive.
    By contrast, hang gliding, which was developed some time after that, was magic. We took off using the power of our own feet, used scientific principles to find lift and use it to go over mountains, then hunted around for safe landing spots on the other side, tree landings sometimes unavoidable. In post-Soviet collapsed Russia, people built their own hang gliders, harnesses and so on. I’m sure what we learned will be among the knowledge to survive what’s ahead. The urge to fly can be that powerful.

  261. Talking with a HUD worker being deployed to relocate 300 people who have been flooded out in Nebraska from three “500 year floods” within 18 months time……she stated, “Well someone has got to do something about climate change.”

    “Like what?”, I replied.

    “Something!!! I’m tired of people denying it!!”, she replied.

    “I’ll tell you a secret. I participated in a group that realized to drop our carbon emissions down to a level that would stop the atmospheric increase, we’d have to use 10% of the average American’s consumption in heating, electric, driving, and more. Do you know what we figured out?”

    “No, what?”

    “We’d essentially have to turn Amish and start walking most places, growing our own food, stop using air conditioning, and buying things.”

    And with that…..she walked away. Was it something I said?

  262. I guess as to your view of Europe’s future, I’d say that rising powers also have strong interest in keeping Europe stable, so that it keeps buying products from Asia and soon from Russia.
    As for what common sense would dictate, I guess it Should be about focusing on practical skills while fostering the remembering of humanities around oneself (bringing people’s attention to classical painting, littérature, mythology, knowledge of History, etc).

    On a side note, I saw this very interesting article on Reuters about the Hong Kong protests, which almost reads like an insurgents manual:
    Do they think that people in the West don’t see how their own governments are shamelessly creating chaos in rival nations? If the protests are entirely originating from local HK citizens without encouragement from the outside, then please correct me, that would be a relief.

  263. TIL that our *only* problem is that we aren’t optimistic enough. David Deutsch, physicist, writes about how the destruction of optimism in civilizations and individuals is what causes catastrophes. And if we had only remained optimistic we’d be exploring the stars and be immortal. I’m assuming as a physicist, David Deutsch has the math to back this statement up?

  264. Antoinneta / JMG – Re: a modern Carrington Event — As an old electrical engineer, I’ve read a number of papers, popular and technical, regarding the effects of solar weather on our electrical grid, and I’m only slightly worried about a “Carrington-II” event. Here’s why: the worst-case scenario assumes that no defensive measures are taken, and operators just over-ride the circuit breakers to keep the lights on for one more minute, until permanent damage is done. In that case, it could take five years or more to entirely restore it. But if it takes five years for complete service restoration, that doesn’t mean that it’ll take more than a week or two to restore critical operations. Worst-case scenarios assume both worst-case events (huge solar flare), worst-case responses (operator error), and worst-case vulnerability (edge-of-grid location).

    However: grid operators who recognize the problem (based on real-time satellite observations, we’d have hours of warning) and disconnect their equipment by letting the circuit breakers open, will be able to re-energize the grid within a week or two. Of course, a week-long global power outage would be a crisis, but not an apocalypse. None of your commercial or personal electronics are likely to be damaged; they’ll just be unusable until the grid comes back up.

    The grid could be made for resilient to solar weather events by grounding its transformers through capacitors, instead of directly, so there’s money to be made in promoting public awareness of the risk.

    Sun-observing satellites are expensive, and need periodic replacement, so there’s money to be made there, too. Just by coincidence , the most recent flurry of interest in this topic seems to have coincided with Congressional review of the satellite monitoring program and authorization of continued support.

    Finally, the sun is mid-way through several years of quiet conditions, with extremely few sunspots for the last few years. Carrington saw enormous sunspots before the event. So, we have time to make prudent preparations, and must maintain vigilance for the coming decades.

  265. JMG (and others) – From what I read in “The Solar Energy Handbook”, the trouble with solar domestic water heaters is mostly the fact that they don’t last much longer than electric or gas-fired water heaters, but instead of being installed at the lowest point of the building, where leakage can run to a drain, they need to be installed near the highest point (close to the sun!). So, unless the house is designed with solar water heating in mind, leaks (whether of water, or some other freeze-proof heat-transfer fluid) end up dripping down into the living space.

    Freezing wouldn’t be an issue, if people could be trusted to shut off and drain their exposed equipment during the frosty months, but – come on – people just aren’t going to do that every year. Freeze-proof loop systems are more complicated and expensive, and risk cross-contamination. It’s complicated. Maybe we need to have “building-maintenance engineers” who will tune our HVAC/water/electrical systems for the whole neighborhood, according to the seasons?

    Maybe some day we’ll have fully solar-aware architecture, but it’s not what we’re living in now.

  266. Jean-Vivien:

    I sometimes wonder about the long-term sustainability of these ‘let’s buy a farm’-style reactions to current political and societal uncertainties. There are more than a few urban/suburban people who fantasize about living off the land who are sure that growing food involves little more than putting seeds in the ground and watering them. What could be so hard about that? There’s this idea that rural things = simple, urban things = complex, but it’s not so. A really good farmer, large or small, has a tremendous amount of knowledge from experience in his or her head, a lot of things you just can’t get from a book and, as with any skill, there’s a learning curve which requires time and effort. I think that some of this was on display a few months ago when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez toured local allotment gardens in New York City and made comments about certain vegetables (cauliflower in particular IIRC) being ‘colonial’ and people should grow food that comes from their own culture, thus failing to understand the concept of hardiness zones and variations in the length of frost-free growing seasons.

  267. Hi John Michael,

    I sent through a comment on your comment yesterday afternoon…did it vanish in the digital ethers? Just checking…I noticed all the most recently posted comments were from this morning.

    I hope you’re managing this brutal heat. What are your strategies for keeping your apartment as comfortable as possible? We close up our house tightly first thing in the morning (6-7 am), draw the blinds, get a couple electric fans going…it works brilliantly.
    96-98 outside, 74-75 inside.

    There’s a good posting by Albert Bates over at on some fascinating recent work by Ugo Bardi. I think many readers here will find it worthwhile, and there’s a beautiful illustration accompanying it: Bardi and Bates are important voices, though I know you’ve had your differences with each from time to time.

    Finally, there’s a really interesting piece in this month’s Harpers about the rising movement in Hungary of people seeking reconnection with their barbarian tribal roots. Presently its being branded as far right– not too many neoliberal cosmopolitan.globalists will look favorably on it. I suspect similar movements are stirring in many European countries.

  268. @Latehchuck: That may be true for some domestic solar water heaters, (perhaps the passive ones?) but not for mine. My tank is in the basement; should it leak it will run into a drain. It is stainless steel, so leaking is unlikely for decades, at least. The piping is copper, probably good for a century or more. The collectors are glass, not likely to wear out but admittedly susceptible to physical damage. But they can be replaced, if necessary, fairly easily. Cross contamination is theoretically possible, but it uses potable antifreeze so the worst consequence should be foul tasting water and loss of the system until repairs are made.

    The system does use sensors, a motor and computer board of some type. These are all admittedly susceptible to failure, but also easily replaced. It can be run manually, if necessary.

    I have become a big advocate of solar hot water – it just works. It is fairly inexpensive with a rapid economic payback period. My system, in New England, works all year round. It does not make all our hot water in the winter, but it makes some. With a larger system and fewer trees, we might have been able to do it in the winter too.

  269. Regarding a “Medieval Lifestyle”, I used to be a part of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) and we would live in a modern versions for a week or two. I had a 16ft Gher (Yurt) which we build for about $500 which was pretty good in all weather with a wood burning stove and felt lining for cold temps. My feeling is you good live a comfortable life if you had a small community and you weren’t expect life in the technosphere.

    I agree on limitations of PV. We have 2.2 kW of grid tied PV and it probably provides 20% of our needs (with 4 adult children etc). My goal is 20% of power, 20% of food and reduce work commute by 20%. Water and sewage are off grid. I was looking at Mot’s DC system for maybe critical power for well, water pump, fridge etc.

    At my office of 30 people, we installed 8kW with battery storage and we still only supply about 20% of our demand. PV is not going to cut it. Full stop.

    I am looking at NH3 (liquid ammonia) as potential as you can generate it from seawater and electricity and adapt current diesel engineers to run on a 80/20 mix with diesel. Still waiting to see if tech becomes available. In a place like Ireland with lots of wind and agricultural land, it might work. Its also worthwhile to note that we haven’t see any rise in long term temps so far which is interesting in itself.

    As a aerospace/spacecraft engineer, I never saw any potential in flying cars though I am seeing flying drones entering the airspace. Having Amazon fly drones overheard inspires me to re-read Retrotopia for hints on drone removal!

    I am looking at starting a Green Wizard type group here and initial response has been very positive with potential support for facilities offered by the County Council. A lot of hands on people here in rural Ireland so it should be interesting to see what we can get started!

  270. Jean-Vivien: As an ex-Hong Kong resident and expat, with still many ties to people in the city – I have been watching these protests with great interest and reading as much as I can on them.

    There IS outside funding sustaining this movement, through a ‘Democracy Advocate’ NGO, which is ultimately funded by the CIA. as reported, the funding was not much – It was certainly not enough to employ ‘paid-protesters’ – I’d venture to say there is also some sort of training being provided for these logistics. However, I can confidently say the impetus and desire for the protests is 100% coming from Hong Kong people. This is somewhat of a continuation from the 2013 ‘Umbrella Movement’ or “Occupy Central” which in turn was engendered by the student protests against an Education Reform bill. This is not the first rodeo for Hong Kongers. There is a good film on the then-14 year old organiser, Joshua Wong, who successfully led the opposition to that bill,

    Anyway – The extradition law to Mainland China would be the nail in the coffin for HK Basic Law, (which is like the HK “Bill of Rights” or Constitution), or any kind of autonomy for HK residents, expats, (including businesspeople) or even tourists. No one trusts Beijing for fairness in applying this or any other law. Without the stable infrastructure of reliable fair courts, policing, law, etc. The international businesses and banks would simply pack up and move to Singapore or KL and HK would revert back to the sleepy little fishing village it once was or at least a far less important back water city.

    There is also a measure of cultural conflict between HK and Beijing. Hong Kongers see themselves as Hong Kongers first and Chinese second. They are like the unruly child Beijing would like to punish. Also, culturally, Beijing would LOVE to kick those last vestiges, (Banks and businesses) of colonialism out for good. So it’s not inconceivable that Beijing WOULD forgo the financial benefit of those international banks and businesses.

  271. @Justin,

    I would venture to say, (were I to respond to Tucker Carlson’s question) that diversity like almost everything else is great and necessary in certain doses. Like homogeneity, like individuality, like conformity it is on a spectrum or a sort of pendulum swing, if you will. Obviously too much of it, in the circumstances Carlson talks about create a non-functioning society, (or military unit), so his question is equally obviously rhetorical – he’s saying diversity is bad. Full stop. But in total conformity or homogeneity a society gets stagnant and then corrupts / decays, (nothing remains in stasis for too long). Diversity brings new ideas which means new ways of looking at things and new solutions to problems, (and new food, let’s not forget the new food!)

    I’m sure our gracious host or one of our fellow commenters here more educated on medieval / Dark Ages life would know more, but In one history class I took many years ago, my teacher said “The Dark Ages should have been named the ‘Migration Ages’ because in fact, people moved around and resettled so much during that time.” People are always moving around so much, so I often think the push-back against migration, that we see in general is like pushing back on the weather or waves. It is. It just is, so we have to deal with it. Like it or not.

    Unless you meant only that he mentioned that progress and history is cyclical and not linear. But I’m guessing you wouldn’t have shared so much of his commentary if that were it. 🙂

  272. @Phil,
    Hydroelectric power is the main mode of electricity production. … Part of the reason that so much of Norway’s electricity can be generated from hydropower is due to the natural advantage of its topography, with abundant steep valleys and rivers.

    My understanding is that a big problem with going to majority renewable energy power sources is the intermittent aspect of those sources. Our present infrastructure requires a consistent load or it starts to break down. So places that have hydroelectric or geothermal have the advantage of consistent production. As far as I can tell the places that have those natural resources are already producing electricity that way. There is a limited range for transmission, so I can see where the areas that have access to this will be able to have a more industrial future if they want it, but it’s not something that can be applied world wide, it will work somewhat in limited locations.

    Just my $.02.


  273. Sorry should have put quotes around first paragraph. It was from Wikipedia.


  274. @Justin, @Caryn

    Re diversity, commonality, etc.

    As with most things, I’d argue, the truth is found in that muddled middle and not in the extremes. I’d suggest that the issue the Left has, in turn, is that it argues that diversity is an absolute good, full stop. Some is good, more is better, always. Shockingly, I find myself in agreement with Tucker in that yes, a nation-state doesn’t exist “just because,” but rather exists due to some core identity or set of ideals. If there is no such core, eventually there will be no such nation-state. Likewise, a polity that does not control the flow of goods and people over its borders is not a functional nation-state.

    Among other things, I’d further argue that this is why the long-term prognosis of these United States is disunion, because our core is/was our empire. Once that is gone, there is no real reason for the marriage to continue as it exists today. There are steps we could take to increase the likelihood of retaining more of our union (e.g. a looser federation, a more limited central government, a legal path for secession), but that means allowing those who wish to leave to do so in order that those remaining constitute a federation of the willing rather than a union of the compelled. It would also mean taking a more live-and-let-live approach, allowing differing regions to solve their own problems in their own manner.

    We are not taking these steps. Instead, we are all fighting for control of those central levers of power in order to force everyone else to do things our way. This only strains those fraying ties all the more, setting the stage for a more explosive settlement of the issue. I still believe a constitutional convention of the states, as provided for in Article V, is our best chance to peacefully make the needed changes to our system of governance and deconstruct the central bureaucracy that has accreted over our March to empire. But one way or another, this top-heavy, overly-centralized federal system is going to come apart.

    We have alternatives to the standard trajectory of empires, though not the end result. We simply refuse to consider them.

  275. Ryan, I expect the chattering classes to cling to the fantasy of space travel until the dark ages close in for good. It’s our equivalent of the Roman fantasy of a world at peace under the supposedly benevolent rule of the Empire, only rather less achievable.

    Sunnnv, I’d redesign the casks to have the same sort of thermoconducting metal shafts running through them as are used in some tube-style solar water heaters, and run the water through some kind of heat-exchange setup on the outward end of the shafts. That way you can make the casks solid and avoid most of the problems with corrosion. It would take some number crunching to figure out how best to design the whole thing to maximize heat transfer from spent fuel rods to metal shaft to working fluid, but if you can use the diffuse low-grade heat from sunlight to boil water — as indeed you can — it’s not going to be an insuperable problem to make use of the much more concentrated and steady heat from nuclear waste.

    JillN, the producers of hot air these days are certainly giving it the ol’ college try!

    Justin, that’s an excellent point, and you’re far from the only one who’s worried about that.

    Jim, Cat 4 is about right — and you’ll notice that there have been quite a few Cat 4 hurricanes over the years, just as there have been quite a few governments that have defaulted on their debts. The thing is, the US dollar is already losing its status as a reserve currency, and that leaves a gargantuan overhang of dollar-denominated assets that no one needs any more; the least economically damaging way of getting rid of those would be a series of defaults on US government debt, coupled with various measures to keep too much of the impact from hitting US corporations and consumers. Before that’s an option, though, the US has to stop offshoring as much of its economic production as possible, so that goods and services are provided domestically and won’t be cut off in the event of a run on the dollar. Now you know one of the core motives behind Trump’s trade policies…

    Justin, fascinating. If a figure as important in public discourse as Tucker Carlson has seen through the myth of progress, and understands that contraction and collapse are also possible, we’ve come a very long way since 2006!

    Matthias, that’s very common over the course of feudal societies — as stability returns, the nobility begin claiming larger and larger shares of a society’s wealth. That’s what gives kings the opportunity to crush the nobility by appealing over their heads to the common people and building mass armies — check out the first and second Tyranneis in ancient Greece for a good parallel to the European Renaissance. Then the kings get too greedy and are overthrown by the middle classes; then the middle classes get too greedy, and are overthrown by Donald Trump. All very straightforward!

    Cliff, nicely summarized. Of course you’re quite correct.

    Godozo, can you imagine Howard Roark from The Fountainhead going on Social Security? Of course not. As I see it, like most moralists — and in her own giddy way, that’s what Rand was — her rules were intended solely for other people.

    Patricia O, hang gliders and powered ultralights are to my mind among the great inventions of the 20th century, more important than the big clunky overpowered planes that preceded them. Ultralight technology is something that can be sustained over the long term, and so I think there’s a real chance that hang gliders and ultralights will be flying straight through the dark ages ahead.

    Denys, exactly. They all want to have their planet and eat it too.

    Jean-Vivien, not at all. It would be in the interest of quite a few outside powers at this point to see Europe in a state of economic collapse, so that the EU nations are no longer competing with them for export markets and Europeans will be desperate to import goods from other nations. A good thumping European war, fed by outside powers the same way that European powers have fed so many wars overseas, would further that goal immensely.

    Denys, and of course it’s never occurred to him to see if the arrow of causation goes the other way, and people become more pessimistic because they see things falling apart around them. Optimism and pessimism aren’t independent variables — they reflect human experience of the success or failure of a society’s policies and infrastructure. Still, I’m sure that never occurs to those who have blind faith in the great god Progress.

    Lathechuck, thanks for the information on Carrington events! As for solar water heaters, that’s only true of old-fashioned thermosiphon systems, where the water tank has to be above the solar panels. In an active system, a small electric pump takes care of that, and the tank can go in the basement; in a batch system, there is no tank other than the unit itself, and that’s mounted on the roof so any water leaks from it run off the shingles.

    Jim W, was it the one on Cat 4 economic crises? It’s up the stack a ways, and I’ve responded to it. As for the heat, human beings evolved in temperatures like these. We close the place up when the exterior temperature rises above the interior, open it up again once the temperature outside drops, stay thoroughly hydrated, and let ourselves acclimatize so that we’re comfortable. Thanks for the links!

    Jamie, Ireland’s very well suited to deal with the coming dark age, just as it was the last time around. More sustainable organic agriculture, a much more widespread forest-planting initiative, an energy system based on wind and biofuels, and you’ll be good to go. I hope you can get a Green Wizards group going; it seems like a natural fit with what I know of Ireland and Irish culture.

  276. One last comment: Re Ireland, an Irish-American wrote (In the Gainesville Sun, now in the recycling bin in the trash room, emptied this morning) in answer to “Go back to those (dirty, rotten) places you came from. The writer described Ireland today and said he was almighty tempted to do so, it would be an improvement.

    And — if there are any Green Wizards in Gainesville, (doubt there are any in The VIllage), would like to correspond. Can’t meet without being picked up, alas, being without car, and bus transportation (always to local shopping) is scheduled by The Village, going to fixed places at fixed times. And rides to medical appointments, schedule in advance. Rides elsewhere available at ride service prices, of course; my daughter’s mother-in-law has Lyft on permanent speed-dial on her phone.


  277. I think John that you misrepresent the arguments of others with regard to the nuclear threat. The argument that I have consistently heard is not that ‘nuclear war is inevitable and imminent’ but that it is a serious danger and increasingly likely. I have not heard anyone eager for it to happen outside of the biographies of the Pentagon’s many fanatics, however I am concerned when people downplay the dangers perhaps even encourage complacency.
    The argument that ‘it has never happened, therefore predictions that it will happen are not supported’ is weak on a 75 year time scale. If we consider that it very nearly did happen on more than one occasion then we might first thank Vasili Arkhipov (and Lady Luck perhaps ?) then consider the opinions of those who have studied the historic relations of major powers and now ring alarm bells about the closing of diplomatic channels (-channels which remained open specifically because of the danger of mutual destruction). And then compare the levels of public awareness/ discussion of nuclear weapons in Cold War 1.0 and Cold War 2.0.
    That the USSR ‘collapsed’ might again be a somewhat simplistic take. The Soviet empire fell into ruin for sure, but the Moscow government basically remained functional and in control of the vast bulk of military force throughout the turmoil. It is doubtful whether that would have been the case if, say, the degredation had continued for much longer and Russia itself had disintegrated, or if foreign powers hadn’t intervened with their own agendas.
    What we now seem to be facing is a global situation where the decline looks to bottom out at a point in the far distant future. If so, then that is a global breakdown with nowhere to go and no-foreign agent to intervene to stabilise matters, as we’ll all be trying to deal with social turmoil, political firestorms, climate collapse, famine etc. etc.
    I wonder what you make of the concept of ‘evil’ with regard to nuclear weapons? I am sure that you must have shared your opinions about evil somewhere, but I cannot recall. If I regard evil as a fundamental imbalance of cosmic forces operating through humanity, and manifesting in the destruction of the living world (i.e. the industrial dismemberment of Mother Earth), then what essential difference is there between that and the sped up version of nuclear war? In cosmic terms, humans have already wrought a ‘holocaust’ in a mere blip of Earth time as it is, without detonating thermonuclear devices. So in a wider context, one could say, in a sense, that ‘such mutual destruction has happened already’.
    The argument that nuclear weapons have prevented major war is strong, it has to be admitted. It is a limited argument though, for taken to the extreme, we would have armed the whole world with nuclear weapons and stopped all war.
    I think that major war would have survivors. The rich have their bunkers built. Horror of horrors.
    The Reagan administration appealed to the fundamentalist Christian vote for sure, but it was nothing in terms of religiously warpspeed madness in comparison with the current governments of Israel and Iran.
    I truly wish I were re-assured by your words, but it reads as gloss.
    God help us.

  278. Re- feudalism

    Something I’ve always wanted to ask you about is the way David brin describes all the recorded 6000 years of human history as nothing but feudalism,
    It’s is obviously not true but I think he says this because he uses that term to broadly describe any political or social arrangement that isn’t democratic, which is odd considering that he not only talks about history every now and again in his posts, and so should know better, but wrote a few posts explaining how people should not abuse the word fascist since it has a specific meaning and people keep using it wrong.

  279. @Candace: Norway does have a lot of hydropower, which makes it a great place for electric vehicles. But many other countries, and US states, also get all their electricity from non-carbon sources. So there is lots of room for more electric cars, greatly reducing our carbon footprint for transportation.

    The intermittency of renewables is a big problem, but not an insurmountable one. Energy storage, such as batteries or pumping water uphill allows us to store excess wind, solar or tidal energy when it is available, then use it when we need it. Interestingly, electric cars can be a part of this solution too. You can charge the car when there is lots of power (and it’s cheap), but may be willing to give back some of that power if it is needed (and get paid for it).

    Nuclear power can also be a valuable carbon free complement to intermittent renewable power sources.

  280. @David BTL and Caryn:

    1) I ended the transcription where I did because I wanted to get that last sentence in. If you watch the video Tucker has something to say about being personally committed to always being open to diversity (I can’t find it and transcribe, I have limited internet access today).

    2) In keeping with the theme of this post, er, there’s a tremendous and fertile middle ground between the two extremes of completely rejecting diversity and, for instance, allowing effectively unlimited immigration.

    3) Tucker’s point is that unless American elites can come up with a credible explanation of what America is and what Americans all have to do with one another, in an era in which Americans have less to do with each other than they have in centuries, then America is going to stop existing.

    Spent nuclear fuel, encased in a material that is stable enough for long-term storage (for instance, glass or ceramic) could be quite valuable stuff…

  281. Chris – re “What do you hope to learn by commenting on this website? ”

    1. how to communicate better. example:

    @ John Roth re: nuclear waste to energy
    I thought I communicated that it _was_ likely past point of diminishing returns[1] – one starts with thermally (and radioactively) hot stuff giving tremendous energy, but it falls off fairly rapidly at first. Perhaps I assumed too much familiarity with Carnot efficiency, which depends on the temperature difference between source and sink. And I assume that if someone hasn’t heard of Carnot, they’d look that up. Maybe I didn’t express clearly that Rankine cycle equipment efficiency depends heavily on the mass flow of hot vapor being within a somewhat limited range, but the rapid decline in the waste’s heat output during the first few years will make that very difficult, leading to the un-economic situation John Roth mentioned. Maybe he and I are violently agreeing. Clear communication is so hard when one is trying to avoid absolutist positions at ends of a putative spectrum, which spectrum is likely itself a poor model of reality.

    [1] thus the only reason one might do it, was to keep the salt/bird poop/… off the casks to keep corrosion at bay for a while longer by building an outer structure of ductwork and using the hot air to generate some power, but that it wouldn’t be much power for the effort/money/resources and it would involve having to rebuild periodically to deal with the reduced power output of the casks.

    2. not so much to learn, but to share as others have shared with me. To keep traffic down and relevant I don’t often thank people, but there is a lot to be seen here. example:

    @Seeweedy – Mmuch thanks for the two pointers: Muddling and Montaillou
    Montaillou reminds me of Prostitution in Medieval Society: The History of an Urban Institution in Languedoc, by Leah Lydia Otis. Using records of city councils discussing the city owned brothels and their operations, usually by third parties contracted by the cities in the region she studied.

    Also Medieval Prostitution by Jacques Rossiaud
    “In 15th-century France, public prostitution was condoned by all sectors of society. Clerics and municipal officials not only tolerated prostitution, but were often its principal beneficiaries, owning and frequenting brothels quite openly.”

    Back then, people seemed more connected with natural reality, so it was deemed better that men would engage in (mere) sinful fornication with prostitutes, than the more sinful and criminal rape, adultery or seduction of virgins. Then the hookers would often take their nest egg and retire to a convent.

    And triple thanks, synchronistically, when cut-n-paste of the book reference, I ended up clicking on your name, which led me to your blog. I got all excited about biochar, a bit disappointed it wasn’t up to date (tho’ same with my page – lol), but it led me to the Livestock and Poultry Environmental Learning Community and their info and webinars, which they have several on biochar.

    @Justin – while I’m here – thanks very much for the Tucker Carlson post, and the labor of transcription. small typo: “but it’s almost ever said” –> “never said”. The rest of it is very worth listening to as well.

    3. to attempt some of the Sisyphean task of limiting misinformation in the world.

    example: the long tailpipe of EVs. Seems perfectly rational to think so, move a vehicle down the road, the actual moving takes about the same energy, logically it generates same pollution. But do the math based on facts: an internal combustion engine typically delivers 20-25% of the gasoline’s energy to the wheels, while an EV delivers 80% of the wall outlet’s energy to the wheels. So even with a coal powered grid, an EV is NOT dirtier than a gasoline car, and most grids are cleaner and getting more so.

    That said, the typical EV of a hundred or more years hence likely looks more like:
    than the Tesla model X, the “Faberge egg of cars”.

    another example:
    @Antoinetta III re: Carrington event
    “[in 1859] The telegraph being itself new at the time meant that it was likely more of a convenience than an actual need.”

    Actually, the telegraph was already in wide use to (try to) keep trains from running into each other. A train would pull into a siding at the end of one “block” (and start of another), the conductor would telegraph they had arrived and request permission to proceed into the next. If a train derailed, the conductor, or any other trainman who could, would try to climb the nearest telegraph pole and clip their telegraph set onto the wires to notify the dispatcher ASAP to prevent being rear-ended (and summon aid). So it was a vital part of rail commerce in that day.

    4. ““Nature does not provide resources consistently across the landscape.”

    I agree, as I said: “ALL RENEWABLES ARE SITE SPECIFIC”, you’ve generalized that nicely.

    I would not live in Vegas or Phoenix for just the reasons you cite.
    One’s location is a bit of a crapshoot with climate weirding, hopefully my choice is good enough.

    I don’t see wide-spread desalinization as all that sustainable long term, too much energy and one needs either reverse-osmosis membranes replaced on a regular basis, or corrosion resistant alloys and lots of cleaning/repairing. Pack up your PV on your EV and migrate. 😉

    5. re Hazelwood power plant & 12,800 such [125 kW] chargers

    The DC fast chargers only run at those rates for maybe 5-10 minutes out of a 15-45 minute charging session. Li-ion batteries can only accept such high rates of charging without excess degradation when they’re mostly empty. Most such chargers are idle most of the time anyway, only used by those traveling long distances, most people don’t travel at night. Look at a gas station, the pumps are mostly idle.

  282. Patricia M, the essay’s great, but so is your fine Freudian typo: “posrmodernism,” which of course would be pronounced “poser-modernism”. With regard to going back to Ireland, iirc anyone who had at least one grandparent who came from Ireland can move there pretty much at will, and yeah, a case could be made that for many people it’s not a half bad idea.

    Mog, I don’t find “evil” a useful term. As Nietzsche pointed out, not-really-synonyms such as “bad” and “wrong” are quite adequate to the reality; we can recognize, say, bad cooking and wrong answers to tests, and human behavior that’s bad for this or wrong about that, without buying into the common habit — wrong-headed, and bad in terms of its implications and consequences — of loading such things with the arbitrary absolute label of “evil.” As for nuclear war, as I’ve pointed out more than once, the reason I try to inject a certain degree of sanity into that overheated discourse is that so many people use the threat of nuclear war as an excuse not to take action to face the future we’re actually building for ourselves.

    J.L.Mc12, like most blind worshipers of progress, Brin has convinced himself that all human history before his time was an unmixed nightmare of ignorance, misery, and brutality. That’s necessary these days, since progress has proved to be such a mixed bag that otherwise people might stop and say “maybe we should keep the good things, ditch the bad things, and settle for what we’ve got for a while” — and to progress fanatics, that’s the unthinkable sin. Labeling all past human cultures “feudal” is part and parcel of the cultivated ignorance that allows Brin, and so many others like him, to keep believing in the inevitability and benevolence of their ersatz god.

    Your Kittenship, now’s about the time in the historical cycle that people start getting in touch with their inner barbarians, since we’re moving toward the phase when outer barbarians are needed…

  283. Hi Violet,
    re the sexual side of apocalypse fantasy: I’d like to add that car culture, especially “hot rod” car culture (ha ha, yes, a hot rod), wallows in sexual images and language. There’s almost always a sexy young girl in car adverts.
    Here in NZ we have our own variety of hot rodders, we call them “hoons”. They are 99% yopung guys (full of testosterone) wearing baseball caps backwards. A distinctive feature of their cars are “big bore” exhaust pipes, which produce a lot of noise especially when the cars are driven in 1st gear down city streets. Some years ago I got very annoyed at this very real physical assault on my hearing and retaliated by standing on the main street of my town holding a sign that said “Big Loud Exhaust = Little Penis. The response was quite something and I ended up on national TV.
    Don’t get mad, get even.

  284. Am I the only reader who thought the article from Harpers about Hungary’s “inner barbarians” was dripping with disdain and condescension? Not to mention a flatbed load of unstated and unexamined assumptions, such as we all share Mr. Mikanowski’s preference for high urban culture. Notice how he made rather a point of naming Islamic participants in the festival; no other visiting group was identified by him with any specific religion. I found the article most interesting and well written; . Mikanowski does know his craft, but there was overall rather a tone of how dare they presume to defend their borders against migrations that their betters have decided are necessary.

    Mr. Greer, there is also that fine old Anglo-Saxon word “wicked”.

  285. @sunnnv

    It seems to me that your aims would be better served by having your own blog/website, to which you could point occasional links as seemed useful.

    But your long posts of facts and figures and clearly obvious advocacy makes your posting here seem a bit overbearing. I don’t feel like this is the place for it. But it’s not my blog…

  286. Phil – Thanks for that update on solar domestic hot water. It seems to me that running the circulating hot water down through your house to the tank would contribute unwanted summer heat, but that might be balanced by beneficial winter heat. (The most comfortable room in my house in the winter is the room in the basement where heat leaks from the hot water tank (even at the low range of the thermostat, and with an after-market blanket around the tank).)

    Note that a direct connection between copper and stainless steel, with water, MIGHT lead to corrosion problems. That was a problem with first-generation solar water heaters, but maybe it’s fixed now (with plastic interconnections).

    We use natural gas for hot water and space heat (and clothes drying, during the coldest months). Looking at the annual profile, I figure that the hot water part is about 1/6th of our annual bill, or about $130. (That’s for three adults. Three showers a week seems to be fine for us parents, but our son needs a daily bath.) I would expect a solar water heater to be many multiples of that for parts, plus installation.

  287. @Lady Kittenship, that band is really something – a Mongolian Amon Amarth or Burzum if there ever was one… Considering that Scandinavia isn’t producing nearly as many really good metal acts as it used to, it is completely possible that the world capital of heavy metal in the next few decades will be in Northern Asia. It makes sense, in many ways the north Asian steppe tribes are the ‘next people over’.

  288. I googled David Deutsch (thanks, Denys!), and found an interview with him in the Scientific American. Here’s one of many nauseating quotes:

    “Deutsch: Resource-depletion and overpopulation worries are fundamentally flawed. Climate change worries are fundamentally misdirected. Geoengineering is essential, unavoidable and is being downplayed and delayed because of the “moral hazard” that people will be distracted from reducing carbon dioxide emissions. The latter should be the third most important response, after geoengineering and mitigation of the effects of climate (changed and otherwise) on people.”

    It’s interesting that even as he insists that all knowledge is tentative and piecemeal, he speaks with absolute certainty about… well, everything. I guess being a quantum physicist entitles one to a License to Smug from the Radiance.

    I always wonder when guys like Brin and Deutsch will recognize the brick wall we’re bashing our faces into. I suppose if it hasn’t happened yet, it never will.

  289. Yes, I get the general succession from simple feudalism to oppression by nobles, to kings as champions of the people etc. What surprised me, and Wickham too, apparently, is that the loss of peasant freedom proceeded faster in the English kingdoms, which at that time were quite disunited and materially poorer than most areas in the great Carolingian Empire. I had the general impression that Anglo-Saxons enjoyed a fair degree of personal freedom right up to 1066.

  290. I talked to a relative in a midwestern state who was interested in power backup for outages. I asked him about solar+battery and he said it was drastically cheaper to install a natural gas backup generator.
    Also, when traveling through the desert on I-10 through southern AZ, my wife commented that it would be the worst place to be when the power goes out. I agree, those people are really screwed.

  291. HI Justin,

    I liked them too. I plan to order their album when they finish it.

  292. I was in high school during the Cuban Missile Crises in 1962. The U.S. Navy had set up a blockade to prevent Russian ships from entering Cuba. Kennedy and Krushchev both had their fingers on their nuclear triggers. At one point a Russian submarine that was dogging the U.S. Navy lost contact with Moscow. The sub captain thought the war had started and armed a nuclear torpedo to attack the U.S. fleet. Fortunately there was a political officer on board who outranked the captain, and he countermanded the order. A short time later the sub re-established contact with Moscow.

  293. typo in my last comment
    …. ‘governments of Israel and Iran’
    should have read, ‘governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia’.

    crazy, as the old joke goes, is not the same thing as stupid
    I just listened to a discussion titled : ‘The Untited States is a stupid country run by stupid people’.

    Thanks for the reply.

  294. Caryn Banker,
    Seeing people rîoting in an organized way made me assume it was a conspiracy from outside. I guess that while there will be worldwide mainstream media, as the course of history unravels, we will have plenty of opportunities to see how cultural differences do apply to rioting styles…

    As for the fate of Europe, it doesn’t change much to the plans for individuals (rebuild cultural awareness and practical skills, produce and consume locally, stay away from bright coloured banners), does it? Perhaps trying to foster understanding between different cultural traditions, while acknowledging differences (across nations, or across cultural groups, whatever that means)

  295. @Beekeeper in Vermont re: AOC and colonialist cauliflower

    When I saw your post, I thought “no way, they’re conned by some fake news …”, so I did a search and O. M. G.! It’s real. How can someone be so naive? Plantains in NYC?
    D.C. Examiner’s copy of _her_ video.
    says you need hardiness zones 8 to 11 to grow the plant, and
    “10 to 15 months without freezing temperatures to produce flowers and another four to eight months to grow plantains.”
    Lotsa luck on that in New York. Warmest it gets is zone 7, they won’t even grow.

    Thanks for that post.

    @ JMG re: nuclear waste.

    “same sort of thermoconducting metal shafts running through them as are used in some tube-style solar water heaters,”

    Ah – heat pipes. As used in evacuated tube collectors.
    They are _thin_ walled (for good heat transfer) hollow tubes, with working fluid in them and some kind of wick along the walls.

    I was wondering how to bring this thin wall heat pipe out through what I assumed would always be a thick cask wall, and preserve that thickness (for rad waste isolation) without making so much thickness and surface area that we’re back to square 1. But then I realized I don’t know exactly how thick the casks are, so I hit the web. Turns out there are thin ones and thick ones.
    And, they have and want to use more thin (read cheap) ones in California. Earthquakes AND corrosive salt air – what could possibly go wrong?

    3 page PDF about casks and San Onofre.

    Sigh. I give.

    If reactor waste is 1Kwt/tonne, and there are 10 or so tonnes per cask, we’re only dealing with 10 kWt, but at 400K (260 deg. F) or less (after the 5 year cool off in the pool), so low “quality” heat.
    Typical solar thermal parabolic trough is more like 750 deg. F.

    Call me very skeptical on the nuclear waste to energy thing.

  296. @Tripp

    Another consideration when looking at generators is between the ultra-efficient, filtered exhaust but finicky and expensive models and the bog-standard ‘old tech’ which is less efficient with stinky exhaust but is super robust, cheaper, maintainable at home with easily available parts and can run on minimally filtered waste oil from the local fish and chippie. Guess which one we went with 🙂

  297. Question for those members of the community waiting (and perhaps hoping) for Elon Musk to fail – is there anything that would alter your opinion of the man and his approach muddling through?

  298. @Jim W.
    Re solar hot water systems: Here in Nelson, New Zealand, I put in an “active” solar hot water system 12 years ago. I don’t have a frost problem so I don’t need a heat exchanger. The system has 36 evacuated tube collectors which heat the potable water in a 300 litre stainless steel heavily insulated tank which has 2 electric elements as backup. The circulation pump is a very small 12vt dc centrifugal unit which is powered by a small PV panel located next to the tube collectors. I use a standard 240vt ac pump controller modified to run on 12vt dc (all electronics actually run on dc so you just bypass the ac/dc converter inside the unit). With this setup the entire solar hot water system is independent of mains power, and will continue to work in the case of a mains power outage. In 12 years there has been no maintenance other than occasionally washing dirt off the tubes. The pump motor is brush-less and magnetically coupled to the impellor so there’s no seals to leak or brushes to replace. All piping is copper with brazed connections.
    Nelson is the 2nd sunniest location in New Zealand. In summer, the system supplies 90% of our hot water needs (2 adults, no kids). In winter, solar provides around 30% of hot water needs. I expect to get another 20 years use. I did all the installation work myself. No permits were required at the time. I figure the system paid for itself in 5 years.
    If you live in a moderately sunny climate, solar hot water is a no brainer. Its simple, and hassle-free.

  299. @ sunnnv

    Clearly you are not the “typical” car user, at least not in the rest of western countries; you have a home where you can install PV at will in the roof, you have a private garage for you car where you can install a DC charger, you have enough money to by a model 3 and the rest of “sustainable” electric solar systems, and unsurprisingly you like Elon Musk and his projects…Ummm, now I understand your defense of the electric car

    Some thoughts about the electric car dream:

    a) The normal batteries for cars now have a life span around 8 years (drop to 70-75% nominal capacity), but this if you do not live in a very warm climate, and if you treat it carefully, I mean, if you do not use many time the superchargers, otherwise you will accelerate the pace of degradation of the batteries. Li-ion batteries are good for cold climates as in Norway, but very bad for warm climates, because entropy never sleeps, and the best friend of entropy is temperature that degrades the internal structure of the cells. Supercharging + high temp and you have the perfect storm to degrade the very costly battery in a few years. To fight temp (entropy) you have to, yes, use more energy

    b) The costs of the batteries is a good chunk of the cost of the car, and still we have to see any company with red numbers selling electric cars, even with big tax subsidies; and then after 8 years (or less) you have to change all the battery pack, which is not ease recyclable, it is armored because it is all the floor of the car and they have to avoid nasty fires if pierced by a stone or similar; also the batteries itself (Panasonic in the case of Tesla) are not ease recyclable, ot cost a lot of money
    In Spain most of the people buy cars in the segment of 14 – 20 K$, far away from the price of electric cars, and they use their cars for 15 – 20 years; no money for expensive cars + batteries changes

    c) Normal people live in flats in cities, they cannot install roof PV, nor can install chargers in many cases, so they would depend of the grid to charge the cars (street chargers). But charging the cars from the grid have a lot of losses, remember, entropy never sleeps. Some normal efficiencies to take account:
    Energetic efficiency of a coal power plant (chemical energy to electric energy) = around 40%
    Efficiency of HV-LV transformation and transport lines (in Spain, US may be even less for the bigger distances) = 90%
    Efficiency of conversion of AC-DC in low voltage in the charger = 97%
    Efficiency of charging battery (1C) (heat losses you can feel in your fingers) = 85% (for slow process!, more similar to reversible process, supercharging is worse)
    Efficiency discharging the battery to the use = 99,5% (assuming very good battery and cabling)
    Efficiency DC-AC converter from battery to the electrical motors = 97% (considering very good one)
    Efficiency of the electrical motor itself (electrical to mechanical energy in the axis)= 89%

    If you make the calculation the final global thermal efficiency of the coal-electric car is = 25,5, not very good; but the new diesel motors have a thermal efficiency of around 34% – 36%. So which one is more “environmental friendly”, of course none, but the electric car is even worse (I do not consider the losses of the car in the garage but the battery always have energy leaks)

    But also you need to consider the energy to fabricate the armored battery pack that you have to change aprox. every 8 years, and you can see all of this is a energetic ruinous process much more polluting and wasting than the normal diesel car (global pollution, not local, of course)

    d) You want to charge your model 3 in the nights, but the sun shines in the day, so to charge your brand new model 3 using only solar power you need to have a PV battery pack bigger than the battery pack of the car. Have you request a quotation for such a battery? Well, OK, you always only travel 40 miles a day so you only need a battery pack of (quite optimistically) 10 KWh, but remember, entropy never sleeps, you have to change also this battery after some years, shorter time in warm climates, and of course be carefully with your travels, may be you have to wait 4 hours charging the car if there is not any plug available for you

    Yes, it is a technology suited for the rich people that can have money and conditions to install PV + batteries, in many cases heavily subsidized, with expensive cars also heavily subsidized, and they think they are “saving” the planet when it is only a pure waste of resources. Normally many of the same rich families have another gasoline or diesel car, when they have to travel “far away”

    If you try to extend this to the 1,5 billions cars in the world….(of course not, it is only for a select minority)


  300. The word “endgasm” appeared in a dream last night. Had someone here used it before? As far as spent nuclear fuel is concerned, it’s my understanding is the reason a reactor needs to be refueled with fresh fuel is not that the “spent” fuel is really “spent” but that the reactor becomes increasingly unstable as the fuel runs through its cycle; the concentration of all the really nasty fission products like plutonium keeps increasing. “Spent” fuel, of course is the source for the plutonium used in bombs. Generating it was the main purpose of early reactors. “Atoms for Peace” was disingenuous at best. Before the first “piles” as the early reactors were called, were built and operated was there any plutonium in the solar system? I think yes, due to the phenomenon of “natural reactors.” That is a natural vein of uranium rich enough that when water seeped into it, the water’s moderating effect began a chain reaction. This generated heat until the heat drove off the water and the reaction stopped. This cycle went on indefinitely. Thus plutonium in tiny quantities must have existed prior to “the atomic age.”

  301. @Justin and David BTL:

    Thank You both for your replies. Yes, I think we are all 3 in our own ways saying that there is a preferable middle ground between the extremes of xenophobic isolationist homogeneity and an incoherent borderless ‘Babylon’ of diversity. The ideal, I guess is finding the right, (most beneficial) balance in the middle.

    Two thoughts on USA’s lack of cohesion or common culture to bind us.
    1) I think it’s hard for anyone to see their own common ‘culture’ while they’re in it and that is all they experience. I apologise in advance, I know this will sound obnoxious and brainless, but I don’t know any other way to get it across – I think it may be an issue of not seeing the first for the trees. After 20 years living outside of the USA, as a USA citizen – we do have a commonality and distinction from other cultures, even in our confusingly diverse magpie-ism. There are character traits and values that are distinctly “American” that I found easy to recognise while living abroad amongst fellow expats from many different countries and cultures. I certainly never saw it before I left.

    2) One of the strongest of those traits is the extremely high value we place on individuality and ‘freedom’/responsibility for individual success / failure and the near-complete lack of a sense of social or collective responsibility / the benefit and duty of cohesion. Well, maybe that is why it feels like there is no cohesion here? There is a sharp difference between a common USA call to “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” and an equally common Chinese admonition to “Create a Harmonious Society” or as one Dutch friend once said to me, “Well of course, you have to do what’s good for everybody”.

    Generally speaking – self sacrifice for the common good is not one of our cultural goals or markers. Some Left-wing politicians speak in those terms, but even they, then feel the need to temper that sentiment by explaining how self-sacrifice for the common good ultimately benefits us each as individuals. It’s not just a self-explanatory goal in and of itself, as it IS in some other countries/cultures.

    I think you’ll both probably agree that ultimately that most beneficial to the most people is a balance between individual rights and benefits vs. self-sacrifice for the common good, the goal of a “Harmonious Society”. Perhaps the overemphasis on individuality, “every man for himself” is the basis for feeling such a lack of cohesion or commonality. IOW: Our lack of cohesion is our cohesion? LOL.

    3) Maybe an insignificant, but IMHO interesting observation since I’ve been back in the USA, (since 2016), Is that judging only by those ‘happy’ cultural markers like food, celebrations, fashion and style, music…. the melting pot IS actually melting, pretty gooey if not totally melted right now. Particularly between Spanish based and English based “New World” cultures. Much more so than when I left 20 years ago. I know those markers are superficial, but the superficial does insidiously seep under one’s skin.

    Anyway – you may be right – we may break apart, buuuuut I’m not so sure.

  302. @Lathechuck: Good point about the copper/stainless. The manufacturer recommends copper piping, so I hope they have anticipated this problem and planned for it. But I will keep a close eye on it. Thanks.

    I notice no discernible heat from the pipes, but I would have to assume there is some. They are insulated, and run most of the way outside the house. Our basement is always quite cool anyway. And, as you say, it balances out in the winter.

    $160 a year for hot water is quite exceptional – good work. In your case I would not recommend installing a solar heater for economic reasons. If gas prices stay where they are, that would be a very long payback period. That said, there are other good reasons to do it, and you will probably make your money back eventually.

  303. Sandy Fontwit—there is a Harley supply shop at the commercial end of my street and the bikers like to roar around about a mile perimeter on summer nights. I fantasize about buying a portable speedbump and laying out it across the route, lurking nearby to remove it after the crash. Fortunately for all, I can’t afford a speedbump of my own and am not strong enough to maneuver it if I could, so I won’t be guilty of attempted bikercide.

  304. On quicker loss of peasant freedom in England==remember that after 1066 the native nobility were replaced by French speaking Norman knights who did not speak the Anglo Saxon language of the serfs. I would imagine that the main interpreters might have been the local clergy who would have been able to communicate with new French superiors in Latin, the universal language of the church. Hostility toward foreign rulers would lead those foreign rulers to greater severity, etc. It took several generations for the common language of Middle English to develop and even longer for the kings to stop being more concerned with their claims to territories in France than in the just rule of England. Nevertheless the common law influenced the King’s justice in ways that had little correspondence on the Continent. There the dream of resurrecting Roman codes had great influence.

  305. Beekeeper: That is hilarious, regarding the all knowing AOC. And sadly true. I have learned the hard way over the last few years, that farming is actually incredibly difficult and requires sophistication, skill, knowledge, and ingenuity at least equal to most “professional” trades. I passed the CPA test, and am an RN, had the highest score they ever saw at the testing center for the GRE, and still can’t grow reliably more than a few living plants or trees. You have to know a huge amount across a wide range of stuff, and be open, ever open, to learning more, or you completely fail and lose your whole investment. It’s much harder than almost anything I’ve tried in the “real world”. Just take corn. Aside from worrying about getting soil PH right, unless you’re lucky, you have to know they are water hungry, have to have 10 hours of sun in the summer to reach full potential, and on top of that you have to (in a survival situation) worry about predators, cross pollinating, and disease. The weather is a problem, and so are insects. People who did it as kids, and watched it done, may just “know” how to do it, but if you haven’t, you are going to screw up, get over confident, and ruin things. ANd corn is easy, really, compared to a lot of crops. How in the Samhane we ever convinced ourselves that farmers are dumb is really, really beyond me. I know HL Mencken really lit into farmers in one of his essays, and lambasted them, so maybe we can trace it back to that time period, with all the novels set in small town places that were so odiously provincial. In any case, people are in for a rude awakening when they run outside and try to plant stuff in their backyard, with no experience ever doing it before. If they even have a backyard to try it in. Taking care of animals and crops is some of the hardest work people can do, because there’s not going to be office staff standing around with computer tablets eager to be delegated some task. Technically, an engineer has much stronger analytical skills, as do linguists and high end scientific “hard trade” professionals, however, if you define intelligence in a rounded fashion, to include street smarts, cunning, insight, ingenuity, all the way up through wisdom and foresight, being a successful farmer is pretty high on the list of demanding occupations. I live on a rocky hillside that is shaded, and am having a pretty challenging time coming up with possible ways to make the landscape more sustainable without damaging it or using high end machinery.

  306. I know that this is off topic as frack but it is funnier than shiny shale. Ace of Spades used this as part of a link to an essay on realclearinvestigations: Pine-Scented Druid Philosopher and Barkless Ent James Comey.

    And here I thought druid philosophers loved the heady scent of oaks ^-^.


  307. @Cliff “License to Smug from the Radiance” – almost spit out my coffee. Thanks for the laugh! The man also seems like a paid shill, to be honest.

  308. @sunnnv

    > * Tesla “oddly” spends $1M in lobbying. Oh horrible, companies spending money on lobbying. But it’s ok for Exxon-Mobil to spend $2.7M ytd in 2019, $11M in 2018, … ??? (…) But go to the summary tab (1 click) and you find in 2017 the lobbying total was actually only $740K. Norm Singleton LIED.

    Obviously both numbers are total BS.

    Companies spend 100x that or more in lobbying, those are just the official costs of hotel rooms, lunches, air travel, office space, salaries etc of lobbyists. The real lobbying money — the kind that buy favorable judges, senators in your pocket, and laws a la cart, are given under the table, and are so much more that those official numbers that the latter are meaningless.

    Exxon spends 2.7M for their toilet paper. Their lobbying is in the billion range.

  309. @sunnnv

    > “In the 2nd quarter, we registered one accident for every 3.27 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.19 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.41 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 498,000 miles.*”

    Those stats are also complete BS.

    They compare Teslas driving mostly in places like California, from affluent buyers, in conditions allowing Autopilot engaged, and with a top notch car, breaks, etc, to the average across the USA, in all kinds of roads, in all kinds of weather, with drivers aged 16+ and 65+ (not many in either category drive a Tesla), with alcoholics and drug addicts driving (not many in the Tesla driving demographics), with beaten up cars, and so on. That they still only manage a mere 4x better stats speaks volumes… (not that the stats themselves aren’t doctored, as they’ve also been found to do)…

  310. Regarding the propriety of Ayn Rand taking Social Security: this is a specific case of a more general question, namely, “May a libertarian take money from the government?”. Walter Block wrote a wonderful essay on this very topic, which can be viewed at

    To this I do not have much to add, but I will note that some in the libertarian sphere have argued for getting as much money as possible from the government in the form of grants and other handouts. They believe this will put additional strain on the system and hasten the collapse they desire.

  311. I’ve enjoyed the EV discussion this week, and the various stats and perspectives. FWIW, I am definitely in the “EVs are an anti-solution” camp. Just one more way for rich people to take a smug little dump on their “inferiors.” No thank you.

    Self-righteousness is a helluva drug.

  312. Dear Arkansas and Beekeeper, about Representative Cortez and the farmer’s market, here is a zone map for New York State:

    That is based on average temps from 1976-2005 and shows NYC as being 7b. Probably it is hotter by now, so semi-tropical crops ought to be possible, if not either easy or cheap. Much can be done with a southern exposure and south facing wall. Even so, tomatoes from NY never taste the same as those from CA. You can spend hundreds for a greenhouse so that Auntie from the Caribbean can have home grown pineapples, and they still won’t have the authentic taste. I believe there may also be day length considerations with some tropical plants not thriving in long day climates whatever the ambient temps.

    Having said all that, and agreeing that the Representative ought to have been better informed–recent reports do seem to indicate that she needs a better staff–I would take leave to point out that we are very much indebted to rural proudly pro-business conservatives in congress and at USDA, you do remember one Earl Butz, I suppose, and Sonny Perdue seems to be his clone, for our industrialized farming system and over-processed food supply.

    The tropical and semi-tropical crops to which we North Americans are much addicted, from bananas to coconut to chocolate to coffee and others can be and are grown in the Caribbean region, a region with which we ought to be doing whatever we can to establish friendly relations. I do wish members of congress and govt. officials would turn their attention to establishing trade in tropical products with our nearest neighbors in a way which allows those neighbors to prosper, rather than profits going to whatever is the present day incarnation of United Fruit Company of infamous memory.

  313. Arkansas:

    I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can pass a CPA test. Every time I have to discuss anything regarding our (very straightforward, uncomplicated) tax returns with our accountant, my eyes just glaze over. As long as we’re going to have a wildly confusing tax system in the US, good accountants are a gift from the gods.


    Sure, there’s a lot of fake news floating around and some (certainly not all) can be mighty convincing. This is where I think that we in the older cohort have a little advantage: at least in my junior and senior high school we were drilled in proper research practices before the Google was a twinkle in anyone’s eye. We had to find multiple, unrelated sources to back up our research, a big job when you had to use a card catalogue and then flip through the pages of actual books and periodicals (hand writing all your notes, of course) while taking into consideration the reputation of the author/s. College was even more so, with a card catalogue that filled a whole room. All in all, it was good training.

    As for the story about AOC, it passed the smell test not only because multiple outlets reported it and provided video, but it is also in keeping with her ‘I’m-really-smart-and-have-all-kinds-of-fabulous-ideas-nobody’s-ever-thought-of-before’ oversized self confidence. Any person with a lick of gardening experience can predict starvation for anyone relying on their zone 6 or 5 garden to grow their Carribbean homeland’s favorite foods. Of course, none of this applies to my paternal grandmother, who had thumbs so green we were sure she could stick a dowel in the ground and have it flower, but she was an outlier. 😉

    Christopher Henningsen:

    I speak only for myself, but I’m not waiting for Elon Musk to fail and don’t particularly hope he does. However, by nature I’m cynical of Grand New Ideas in Tech™ so I’m always a late adopter or non-adopter of new technology. Besides that, I really struggle with electronic technology – and with that I include remote controls (it was a sad day when buttons disappeared from appliances, moved to remotes and in the process multiplied to excess) – and anything non-analog, so if you need someone to test if your shiny new whatever is really, truly, user-friendly, I’m your girl.


    I feel your pain. We used to live on a corner near a housing development, and each year a new crop of testosterone-poisoned 16-year-old males would get their driver licenses and feel the need to drive up to that corner, have the car backfire and then screech around to the main road leaving tire marks on the street. No sadness at all when we moved away.


    “Endgasm” is a terrific word!

  314. @ Jean-Vivien said:

    “we will have plenty of opportunities to see how cultural differences do apply to rioting styles…”

    I had to laugh when I read this because it reminded me of a book (Lords of Finance) describing the abdication of the Kaiser after WWI. The book describes the chaos resulting from the armistice and abdication and notes that when shots were randomly fired near the palace, the fleeing crowds remained so instinctively law abiding they obeyed the signs to keep off the grass. I read the book years ago, but it’s an image in my head I’ll never forget. I guess cultural differences do impact rioting styles.

  315. @Rita: yes, but the point I got from Wickham is that the Anglo-Saxon ceorla (free land-owners) lost their land rights already in the 9th century, much earlier than 1066. I looked it up, and in fact they did not become unfree, since they continued to go to shire assemblies. They just became tenants to local lords, who became now much richer and more powerful than in the 8th century situation JMG described. Wickham gives no explanation for why this happened so early and so completely in England compared to other European regions, other than saying that “private property rights were established”, which begs the question of why. He calls the whole process “the caging of the peasantry”.
    In any case, the general process occurred everywhere, and that’s why it is important to differentiate between early feudalism after a collapse and later feudalism after social hierarchies have reformed, which is what JMG did in his original comment.

  316. OT: From Magi Monday – loved “anonymous”s summary of your FAQ answers. I’d like to add one from personal experience, for us overanalytical types”

    Don’t overthink it!

  317. @Justin Our local paper just announced new intermediary census numbers that shows our county is now 24% Latino, up from 10% just 10 years ago. The majority don’t speak English and haven’t completed high school. What should our local area which already has an existing population of 90% with only a high school education and no college/trade school, do with even more people without education/skills?

    Stating these facts to someone this past week, I was immediately shunned. I seriously want to know what do. We are flooded with unskilled, low education people who don’t speak English and now what??? To ask this question is to be branded a racist, but it is a serious question.

  318. @Denys – I’m glad to hear it got a laugh!

    I don’t have a good radar for when people are being paid to say what they say. (The sole exception was when NPR brought on a retired general to preach about how more tanks in Afghanistan would bring us swift victory. For some reason I don’t listen to NPR any more.)

    But another thing I saw while googling around is that Deutsch has never had a job. He gets most or all of his income from writing books. Obviously that’s not a terrible thing per se, but one virtue of having a job is you’re forced to deal with the dirt and grime and disappointments of mundane life.

    And I think without that balance, Deutsch has floated off into his immaculate mind-palaces.

  319. Hi sunnv,

    I appreciate the polite response.

    As a suggestion: If you want to think clearly about this topic, I recommend that you consider the word: ‘Conflate’

    The definition means to: “combine (two or more sets of information, texts, ideas, etc.) into one.”

    Take for one example your sentence: “Most such chargers are idle most of the time anyway, only used by those traveling long distances, most people don’t travel at night. Look at a gas station, the pumps are mostly idle.”

    Your sentence takes one idea ‘a gas station’ and then you leap to the conclusion that because a ‘car charging’ station may sort of look the same, that it is indeed the same thing. I’d suggest that they are not the same thing and further that you have conflated the two ideas.

    Gas stations store their energy in a tank in the ground where it is pumped out as needed.

    A charging station cannot store electricity on site so it has to pull it from far far away. And further the electrical energy has to be available at a moments notice without any warning regardless of whomever else wanted the electricity. The electrical grid does not have huge capacity just waiting around for someone to use it. That would be uneconomic and make no sense at all.



  320. While I appreciate that a black swan is per se unpredictable, and while I appreciate that to say “it is different this time” can be to ignore the ways in which a cycle nonetheless repeats,

    I also think that these two ideas can in their own way be “thought stoppers.” The cycle may be more in the nature of a spiral than a circle, and it might at some point spin completely out of its previously known patterns. Historically these have occurred on something less than a global scale.

    There are some factors that seem “different” from previous iterations, if only in degree.

    We have not had eight billion hungry people eating up the planet before. We have not completely taken down the Amazon rainforest. We have not had so many of our support systems entirely dependent on an electronic cloud that could easily be hacked or simply disrupted by a solar flare or a shift in the magnetic poles, etc. We have not had the ready pathways for deadly viruses to sweep the globe overnight. And the technology for at least low level nuclear weapons is entering the hands of non-state actors.

    What we have seen as cyclical in the past might look a bit different from a longer perspective that we have not yet seen. Cyclical, yes, but within a much larger pattern that might include catastrophic collapse.

  321. Nastarana:

    Day length is pretty important. There are, for example, long- and short-day onions. The long-day onions grow up here in northern regions, because in the middle of summer we enjoy more hours of daylight than regions closer to the equator – remember that right at the equator days and nights are pretty much the same length year round. These onions require +14 hours of daylight (measured at the solstice) to produce bulbs; short-day onions are more commonly grown in the southern US, the dividing line being approximately the 35th parallel. Long-day onions last better in storage, handy when you live where winters are long and cold. I don’t know a whole lot about food native to the Caribbean, but I would figure that not only are most of the plants frost-sensitive, they also have evolved/been selected to grow optimally in a place where there are as many hours of daylight during the winter as the summer. That means you wouldn’t only need a heated greenhouse to grow these things way up here in the northern US, but also artificial light in winter to extend the days. I wouldn’t bet that AOC knows anything about this.

  322. Nastarana, watch the Earl Butz debate with Wendell Berry (part of that is in Berry’s new video film offered, which I don’t remember the name of, but it’s worth watching). Ah, here it is.

    Beekeeper, I wasn’t bragging, I’m just a good test taker: life in the real world is far more demanding. I’d have more respect for myself as a successful farmer, and I don’t think that’s false modesty or lack of confidence or low self-esteem. I think it’s objectively harder to farm for a living than to do tax returns. People are lazy, and they confused easier with “smarter”. We are actually lower IQ now, on average, even in the elite classes, than “we” were in the Anglo world circa 1898. They did a study on that recently, which never made the news.

  323. Christopher Henningsen said: “Question for those members of the community waiting (and perhaps hoping) for Elon Musk to fail – is there anything that would alter your opinion of the man and his approach muddling through?”

    What ever respect I might have had for Elon Musk evaporated in a flash when I heard that to test his space vehicle he launched his Tesla car into space. This struck me as the most bombastic, arrogant, wasteful, stupid stunt that only a rich guy could pull off. What possible good could such a person do for anyone or thing other then himself when this is the height of his scientific endeavors.

  324. Denys: what shall we do with those with no education and no skills? I take it one means skills such as plumbing and wiring, rather than the lowly skills of, say, agricultural labor. Which must be done, and back in the other border state I came from, farmers were going bananas trying to find workers to get their crops in etc. Those who could afford it were talking of investing in robots. So… if you eat food, there’s one answer to your question.

    Pat, who reads the business news in a state with only one large city, if you don;t count El Paso, TX; though Las Cruces in southern NM is growing rapidly. Farmers and ranchers still form a good part of our economy.

  325. Regarding electric cars: the future of personal mobility is, indeed, electric. But not the way most people think.

    Here in Southeast Asia, electric scooters, bikes, and trikes, have gone from nonexistent to ubiquitous in just five years. In my city, the biggest customers are the working and lower-middle classes, where dozens of shops have sprung up selling and servicing these things. In comparison, I’ve seen exactly one (!) Tesla, in the roads near one of the country’s most affluent neighborhoods.

    Much has already been said about how much investment in infrastructure is needed in order to support changing over to electric cars. Well, scooters and bikes are very light and thus need very little power to move around compared to SUVs, which are for all intents and purposes, living rooms on wheels. They are cheap to buy and maintain, and work seamlessly with existing infrastructure. Heck, you might even be able to operate one daily with off-grid PV, with judicious use of the provided electricity (just like operating anything on off-grid PV)…

  326. A lot of back and forth about EV’s here – I am NOT impressed. When a tractor can run for an entire day without dragging a separate trailer of batteries (thus rendering the 3-point useless), I might be impressed.

    When I see a solar bulldozer or excavator, you just might color me impressed.

    When 18-wheelers are running on batteries and NOT stopping every 100 miles, I might even grin.

    When I see a drilling rig running on solar and batteries – you will need to get me a stretcher….

    The truth is that everybody is talking about people cars, but they are the light-weights, the flashy and pretty side of ICE. The real heavy work that saves time and concentrates power is not found ferrying people from point A to B. It’s where serious torque and horsepower are used to move earth, animals, freight, etc.

    Methinks we are talking about butterflies to avoid discussing draft horses….

  327. Hey hey Patricia and JMG,

    The island of Arranmore wants Americans to move in to support a dwindling population of farmers and fishers:

    I imagine that there are several places like this that used to be prosperous villages and are now in danger of becoming ghost towns that need people to remain viable. I know that there are several mountain villages in Japan looking for young people and villas in Spain for sale for a few thousand because everyone there has moved to the cities.

  328. Hey hey JMG,

    I was wondering if you had seen these ‘prediction gauges’ using Spengler and Toynbee to map our future. They both go out to the 24th century, but the temporal analogizer in much greater detail. The reason that I ask is because of the timing. By this count it seems early for warbands to start forming.

    Dr. Spengler’s Temporal Analogizer:

    “Dr. Spengler’s Temporal Analogizer selects events from the histories of past civilizations which will be “contemporary” to events in our future.”

    It does so with this basic temporal offset:

    China offset 2300
    Egypt offset 3547
    Rome offset 2127
    Islam offset 626

    Meaning today in our cycle is roughly analogous to 108 BC in the Roman cycle.


    Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West: The 100th Anniversary Update:

    What’s the goodness of fit for these? Are they on pretty much the same timing that you expect or are they off?


  329. @David by the lake and everyone,

    How the frack does it cost $600,000 to remove the mural??!!! What are they covering it up with, gold leaf and printer ink? The pelts of endangered species? That’s more expensive than the entire campus where I got my k-12 education.

    Somebody should call them. I’ll gladly fly out there and remove it for a mere $100,000 using a low VOC paint mixed with unicorn tears.

    Seriously, I’m too outraged by the flagrant waste of education money to even care whether there is a painting there. Do you know what a New Orleans or Chicago inner city school would do with $600,000 dollars? Imagine, a school with desks and books for everyone!

    Jessi Thompson

  330. @Cliff David Deutsch is a physicist at Oxford and it sounds like one of those folks that is paid to sit and think all day.
    He gave TED talks, so that’s what put him in my “shill” category. I have yet to see a TED talk that doesn’t make me want to pick up my laptop and throw it across the room.

    I also stopped listening to NPR because I was shouting back at it. If I had $1 for every time they stated “the walls are closing in on Trump”, “this is the beginning of the end”, “this is uncharted territory”, “Trump is breaking norms”, “we are in a crisis”, and the like, well, I could retire comfortably.

  331. @Tripp – if I’m not too late for this reply… Although I agree that we are not, in any ecological sense, producers, I do think we are capable of being carers, helpers, and maintainers, in the ecological sense. Lovers, if you will.

    My 2c, for what it is worth. Be well

  332. @ Jessi Thompson

    re: Mural

    The article I read, I kid you not, said an environmental impact study was needed for removal. I’m guessing lead paint may have been used in the 1930s, though the article didn’t specify why a study was needed. Even if that’s the case, test it and remediate. I agree, $600,000 does seem like an awful lot of money.

  333. @team10time: “Meaning today in our cycle is roughly analogous to 108 BC in the Roman cycle.” Yeah. Duh! Cicero, Crassus, Clodius, Brutus, Catullus, they’re all right out there on the stage today; we’ve already seen the equivalents of The Gracchi Brothers, Cato the Elder (Carthage Must Be Destroyed! Nasty old tightwad, too), Gaius Marius (who professionalized the Roman Army), Lucius Cornelius Sulla and his widespread proscriptions and confiscations of property thereof, all over the Western World so far. And Roman history is a hoot, unless the writers make it dull. It’s an epic, it’s the tabloids on steroids…. jokes about Orange Julius are pretty much to the point here.

    And sometime around Tiberius’ time at the latest, they reached Peak Lands To Loot.

  334. @Patricia Matthews – Where we live there are few farms because its a forested area. The immigrants mostly live in the county seat which is a post industrial city of 80,000. 98% live under the poverty level. Anything that was farm land is now small McMansion housing and those folks all drive 40-60+ minutes each way to work (also census data – people employed at $65,000 a year or more drive at least that far here).

    But sure, we can bulldoze those home in a couple of decades, fill in the basements, and start farming again.

  335. @JMG

    Regarding Nuclear weapons. I think the sentiment that “…scarcely a shot being fired” is a red herring. Noted, nuclear weapons work as intended. However, the likelier risk of nuclear war has always been as a consequence of an accident or insubordination. I am currently enjoying the sounds of the birds singing because:

    In 1962, one of the three commanding officers of the B-59 Soviet submarine dissented from launching a nuclear torpedo.

    In 1962, Capt. William Bassett refused, multiple times, launching orders to attack the Soviet Union and China.

    In 1979, after waiting six and half minutes out of a three to seven minute operating window, NORAD was able to confirm an imminent attack of 2200 ICBM’s was false.

    And so forth. Perhaps the responses would have escalated into MAD. Maybe there would have been some horsetrading of cities…

    The nuclear record so far is one of luck, restraint and incompetence and not something that inspires confidence. The integrity and function of our institutions that maintain and use these tools have have been in serious decline. I think the specter and devastation of WWII helped cool the heads and actions of previous leadership. Does that kind memory live on in the current crop of military brass and civilian leadership? I would say no. A lot of them want war with Iran……………

    I am not suggesting we obsess over MAD. I am simply saying dismissing the real possibility is akin to a chain smoker dismissing the possibility of developing lung cancer.

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