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Hell in a Hand Basket and Why We’re Going There, Guaranteed (sort of)

Tulum, Mexico. 1986.

Tulum, Mexico. 1986.

[My love of music has me suggesting that a song be played in the background while you’re reading this. There are a couple I’d like to suggest: Talking Heads-Nothing but Flowers; Blue Rodeo-Lost Together (must have some Canadian content); or, given the Ukraine/Syria/Iran/North Korea/Venezuela/Congo African Republic/Senkaku-Daiyou Islands/etc. situations, Frankie Goes to Hollywood-Two Tribes. Enjoy:)]

The ebb and flow of societies is well documented by historians and archaeologists. It seems every society rises in complexity to a zenith of some kind and then falls. There are an increasing number of people who contend that this sociopolitical transformation is fast-approaching for our globalised, industrial civilization, and of those some believe that this shift will be a long drawn out affair of slow decline[i], while others suggest it may be more of a sudden shift[ii], or collapse[iii].

Whether this change takes generations or is much more sudden and dramatic matters not (unless you’re living through the latter one, I suppose); one’s perception of this depends upon the temporal perspective taken. For example, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the oil-dependent, industrialized society of humans lasts 400 years, 200 years up and 200 years down (I think I’m being overly generous here on the demise side).

A 200-year decline may, given normalcy bias, not be perceived as a significant shift at all by those experiencing it. However, if we can step back and view this rise and fall in larger historical terms, say on a 10,000-year basis, this ascent/descent scenario may be perceived as quick and calamitous. I think perspective is everything here. (Note that I’ll continue to refer to the impending change as ‘collapse’ because I tend to believe the change will come quickly, especially once the power grid fails.)

That being said, the antecedents of such collapse are varied and complex. They range from declining marginal returns[iv] to environmental collapse[v] to psychological shifts[vi] to overshooting local carrying capacity[vii] to Peak Oil[viii] to population growth[ix]. Humans don’t require artificial intelligence that perceives us as a threat, a viral pandemic leading to a zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion for our resources to push us over the cliff; we don’t even need a nuclear war. We have our own non-military, sociocultural peculiarities to accomplish it.

As with any complex, dynamical system, the variables that lead to collapse interact in ways both knowable and surprising (such are the emergent phenomenon that arise from complex systems). Feedback that might provide clues to the coming demise tends to be ignored, delayed, or misinterpreted, resulting in dismissal of clear signals. In fact, oftentimes, the actions taken by players can expedite the process of collapse. To this end, I believe that our economic system, with globalisation efforts and its underlying foundation of infinite growth, may be the catalyst that pushes our industrial civilisation over the impending cliff of collapse. But, who really knows? My guess is about as good as anybody else’s[x].

What are some of the components contributing to this collapse endgame? I offer a few: exponential growth of population; dependency on fossil fuels; human hubris; economic credit/debt obligations; climate change; peak resources (especially oil and water); delayed feedback; corrupt political/economic systems; misperceptions; accumulation of toxins/pollutants; misleading information; and just plain, old ignorance (some purposeful I believe). And, don’t forget the black swans.

To me, population growth seems to be the factor that we have pushed in the wrong direction but the underlying variable to this is energy. Populations do not grow if there is not enough energy to support such growth. This energy may take the form of domesticated animal and plant life, or long-stored, concentrated energy (i.e. fossil fuels), but at its base is solar energy and how it is exploited. For tens of thousands of years human population was held in check by limited energy exploitation. The ‘Agricultural Revolution’ certainly gave a boost to human population, especially within new villages, towns, and cities erupting all over the globe. However, once fossil fuels began to be exploited our population took off in a global, exponential explosion. It is this exponential growth of human population that has put us in this bind we are in.

To better understand what is happening, I believe one of the fundamental pieces of information to get a grip on is, in fact, exponential growth. Exponential growth is a concept well-known (think compound interest) but whose consequence has been lost on many. The late Dr. Albert Bartlett was perhaps one of the leading authorities on the implications of such growth and spent much of his professional career attempting to educate people about it. In a presentation he gave thousands of times and was viewed many more times on youtube (viewed more than 1/4 million times; not bad for an old guy lecturing about mathemtics) he outlines the importance of it and its consequences.

Entitled ‘Arithmetic, Population, and Energy’[xi], Bartlett argues, among other things, that zero population growth will happen whether we wish it to or not, it is a mathematical certainty. In the words of others, if something cannot grow forever, it won’t. However, as Bartlett points out, we hold near and dear to our hearts many things that are contributing to overpopulation: education, healthcare, immigration, sanitation, law and order. On the other side of the ledger, however, are forces that counter these: war, famine, disease, accidents, murder, abortion, and infanticide. His point is that we can either deal with the issue of overpopulation by changing our behaviours (and attitudes) or nature will do it for us; the choice is ours (or is it?).

_______________________

…here we can see the human dilemma—everything we regard as good makes the population problem worse, everything we regard as bad helps solve the problem. There is a dilemma if ever there was one.
Dr. Albert Bartlett

_______________________

A burgeoning population and its implications for human sustainability on a finite planet has been around for some time. Thomas Malthus’s treatise on the subject in 1798 being perhaps one of the most well known. Had Malthus known of the incredible boost to global carrying capacity that was about to be unleashed by the exploitation of a one-time windfall of concentrated and easily-transportable energy, petroleum, he may not have been so adamant in his conclusion that the end of growth was near-at-hand. But such are the chances when one attempts to foretell the future.

My own biases, prejudices, predilections, observations, and experiences, suggest this human experiment we are a part of will not end well[xii]. I believe that there is too much momentum, too many people with a sense of entitlement, too many sociocultural myths, too many elite protecting the status quo, and far too much ignorance for us to avoid a global collapse. Unless, of course, Zemphram Cochrane’s trans-warp engine test on April 4, 2063 at 11:15 am, after the Third World War (aka Eugenics Wars), is seen by a Vulcan survey expedition and makes First Contact, saving us from ourselves[xiii].

What typically follows social, political, economic collapse is a ‘dark age’ of some kind and is perhaps best known (at least within Western history) by the years that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. But more on this in another post.

Despite all of the above, there are a variety of other variables that could push a teetering globe into a collapse scenario, particularly geopolitics or a natural disaster. No one knows. Prediction of the future is for meteorologists and economists, neither of which is very good beyond a couple of days for the former, and much less for the latter. I must admit, however, that Marion King Hubbert’s prediction of the coming demise of industrial civilization[xiv], along with the seminal text, The Limits to Growth[xv], are pretty good guesses in my books.

The one thing I am sure of, the more I learn, the more I am finding that I am ignorant of. Although I spent a career as an educator[xvi], I continue to be a student…and perhaps this diatribe is all just an elongated justification of my belief system, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”[xvii]

Olduvai (aka Steve Bull)


[i] Greer, J.M.. The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age. New Society Publishers, 2008. (ISBN 978-0-86571-609-4)
Kunstler, J. H.. The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. Grove Press, 2009/2006/2005. (ISBN 978-0-8021-4249-8)
[ii] Diamond, J.. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005/2011. (ISBN 978-0-14-311700-1)
Orlov, D.. The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivor’s Toolkit. New Society Publishers, 2013. (ISBN 978-0-86571-736-7)
Ruppert, M.. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Oil World. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009.  (ISBN 978-1-60358-164-3)
[iii] I use the following definition of collapse, as proposed by Joseph Tainter (see footnote below): “[It] is fundamentally a matter of the sociopolitical sphere. A society has collapsed when it displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity….To qualify as an instance of collapse a society must  have been at, or developing toward, a level of complexity for more than one or two generations…The collapse in turn must be rapid—taking no more than a few decades—and must entail a substantial loss of sociopolitical structure. Losses that are less severe, or take longer to occur, are to be considered cases of weakness and decline.” (p. 4)
[iv] Tainter, J.A.. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988. (ISBN 978-0-521-38673-9)
[v] Diamond, J.. Ibid.
[vi] Orlov, D.. Ibid.
[vii] Catton, Jr., W.R.. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press, 1982. (ISBN 978-0-252-09988-4)
[viii] Ruppert, M.. Ibid.
[ix] Malthus, T.. An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society. J. Johnson, 1798.
[x] Take a good, long critical look at the world and its leaders. Do you have faith, enough faith that you would risk your own life and that of your family, in the leaders of this world to be capable of circumnavigating successfully the various crises that are erupting with greater magnitude and frequency, from climate change to geopolitical stresses to resource depletion to economic collapse? If you have that much faith in them, well good luck to you. Quite simply, I don’t. I believe they are incapable of managing these dilemmas and cascading failures of the various systems of industrialised civilisation will occur some time in our future. NO, I have no idea when.
[xi] Bartlett, A.. Arithmetic, Energy, and Population. (Transcript: http://www.albartlett.org/presentations/arithmetic_population_energy_transcript_english.html).
[xii] I must admit that my particular pessimistic perspective makes for an interesting dynamic between my spouse and I, for she is the eternal optimist who, as a practising educator, believes in the successful implementation of social engineering to prevent many of the negative consequences (I’ve just retired from the profession but have always been a ‘little’ critical of it, and authority; the latter, in no small part, likely the result of being the child of a police officer).
[xiii] Star Trek, First Contact. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_First_Contact
[xiv] Hubbert, M.K.. Energy from fossil fuels. Science, Feburary 4, 1949. v.109, pp. 103-109.
[xv] Meadows, D., J. Randers, & D. Meadows. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004. (ISBN 978-1-931498-58-6)
[xvi] 9 years as a classroom teacher (grades 6-8), 13 as an administrator (K-8 school).
[xvii] Shakespeare. Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 26-28)

 

Hell in a Hand Basket and Why We're Going There, Guaranteed (sort of)

Tulum, Mexico. 1986.

Tulum, Mexico. 1986.

[My love of music has me suggesting that a song be played in the background while you’re reading this. There are a couple I’d like to suggest: Talking Heads-Nothing but Flowers; Blue Rodeo-Lost Together (must have some Canadian content); or, given the Ukraine/Syria/Iran/North Korea/Venezuela/Congo African Republic/Senkaku-Daiyou Islands/etc. situations, Frankie Goes to Hollywood-Two Tribes. Enjoy:)]

The ebb and flow of societies is well documented by historians and archaeologists. It seems every society rises in complexity to a zenith of some kind and then falls. There are an increasing number of people who contend that this sociopolitical transformation is fast-approaching for our globalised, industrial civilization, and of those some believe that this shift will be a long drawn out affair of slow decline[i], while others suggest it may be more of a sudden shift[ii], or collapse[iii].

Whether this change takes generations or is much more sudden and dramatic matters not (unless you’re living through the latter one, I suppose); one’s perception of this depends upon the temporal perspective taken. For example, let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the oil-dependent, industrialized society of humans lasts 400 years, 200 years up and 200 years down (I think I’m being overly generous here on the demise side).

A 200-year decline may, given normalcy bias, not be perceived as a significant shift at all by those experiencing it. However, if we can step back and view this rise and fall in larger historical terms, say on a 10,000-year basis, this ascent/descent scenario may be perceived as quick and calamitous. I think perspective is everything here. (Note that I’ll continue to refer to the impending change as ‘collapse’ because I tend to believe the change will come quickly, especially once the power grid fails.)

That being said, the antecedents of such collapse are varied and complex. They range from declining marginal returns[iv] to environmental collapse[v] to psychological shifts[vi] to overshooting local carrying capacity[vii] to Peak Oil[viii] to population growth[ix]. Humans don’t require artificial intelligence that perceives us as a threat, a viral pandemic leading to a zombie apocalypse, or an alien invasion for our resources to push us over the cliff; we don’t even need a nuclear war. We have our own non-military, sociocultural peculiarities to accomplish it.

As with any complex, dynamical system, the variables that lead to collapse interact in ways both knowable and surprising (such are the emergent phenomenon that arise from complex systems). Feedback that might provide clues to the coming demise tends to be ignored, delayed, or misinterpreted, resulting in dismissal of clear signals. In fact, oftentimes, the actions taken by players can expedite the process of collapse. To this end, I believe that our economic system, with globalisation efforts and its underlying foundation of infinite growth, may be the catalyst that pushes our industrial civilisation over the impending cliff of collapse. But, who really knows? My guess is about as good as anybody else’s[x].

What are some of the components contributing to this collapse endgame? I offer a few: exponential growth of population; dependency on fossil fuels; human hubris; economic credit/debt obligations; climate change; peak resources (especially oil and water); delayed feedback; corrupt political/economic systems; misperceptions; accumulation of toxins/pollutants; misleading information; and just plain, old ignorance (some purposeful I believe). And, don’t forget the black swans.

To me, population growth seems to be the factor that we have pushed in the wrong direction but the underlying variable to this is energy. Populations do not grow if there is not enough energy to support such growth. This energy may take the form of domesticated animal and plant life, or long-stored, concentrated energy (i.e. fossil fuels), but at its base is solar energy and how it is exploited. For tens of thousands of years human population was held in check by limited energy exploitation. The ‘Agricultural Revolution’ certainly gave a boost to human population, especially within new villages, towns, and cities erupting all over the globe. However, once fossil fuels began to be exploited our population took off in a global, exponential explosion. It is this exponential growth of human population that has put us in this bind we are in.

To better understand what is happening, I believe one of the fundamental pieces of information to get a grip on is, in fact, exponential growth. Exponential growth is a concept well-known (think compound interest) but whose consequence has been lost on many. The late Dr. Albert Bartlett was perhaps one of the leading authorities on the implications of such growth and spent much of his professional career attempting to educate people about it. In a presentation he gave thousands of times and was viewed many more times on youtube (viewed more than 1/4 million times; not bad for an old guy lecturing about mathemtics) he outlines the importance of it and its consequences.

Entitled ‘Arithmetic, Population, and Energy’[xi], Bartlett argues, among other things, that zero population growth will happen whether we wish it to or not, it is a mathematical certainty. In the words of others, if something cannot grow forever, it won’t. However, as Bartlett points out, we hold near and dear to our hearts many things that are contributing to overpopulation: education, healthcare, immigration, sanitation, law and order. On the other side of the ledger, however, are forces that counter these: war, famine, disease, accidents, murder, abortion, and infanticide. His point is that we can either deal with the issue of overpopulation by changing our behaviours (and attitudes) or nature will do it for us; the choice is ours (or is it?).

_______________________

…here we can see the human dilemma—everything we regard as good makes the population problem worse, everything we regard as bad helps solve the problem. There is a dilemma if ever there was one.
Dr. Albert Bartlett

_______________________

A burgeoning population and its implications for human sustainability on a finite planet has been around for some time. Thomas Malthus’s treatise on the subject in 1798 being perhaps one of the most well known. Had Malthus known of the incredible boost to global carrying capacity that was about to be unleashed by the exploitation of a one-time windfall of concentrated and easily-transportable energy, petroleum, he may not have been so adamant in his conclusion that the end of growth was near-at-hand. But such are the chances when one attempts to foretell the future.

My own biases, prejudices, predilections, observations, and experiences, suggest this human experiment we are a part of will not end well[xii]. I believe that there is too much momentum, too many people with a sense of entitlement, too many sociocultural myths, too many elite protecting the status quo, and far too much ignorance for us to avoid a global collapse. Unless, of course, Zemphram Cochrane’s trans-warp engine test on April 4, 2063 at 11:15 am, after the Third World War (aka Eugenics Wars), is seen by a Vulcan survey expedition and makes First Contact, saving us from ourselves[xiii].

What typically follows social, political, economic collapse is a ‘dark age’ of some kind and is perhaps best known (at least within Western history) by the years that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire. But more on this in another post.

Despite all of the above, there are a variety of other variables that could push a teetering globe into a collapse scenario, particularly geopolitics or a natural disaster. No one knows. Prediction of the future is for meteorologists and economists, neither of which is very good beyond a couple of days for the former, and much less for the latter. I must admit, however, that Marion King Hubbert’s prediction of the coming demise of industrial civilization[xiv], along with the seminal text, The Limits to Growth[xv], are pretty good guesses in my books.

The one thing I am sure of, the more I learn, the more I am finding that I am ignorant of. Although I spent a career as an educator[xvi], I continue to be a student…and perhaps this diatribe is all just an elongated justification of my belief system, “a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”[xvii]

Olduvai (aka Steve Bull)


[i] Greer, J.M.. The Long Descent: A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age. New Society Publishers, 2008. (ISBN 978-0-86571-609-4)
Kunstler, J. H.. The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century. Grove Press, 2009/2006/2005. (ISBN 978-0-8021-4249-8)
[ii] Diamond, J.. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. Penguin Books, 2005/2011. (ISBN 978-0-14-311700-1)
Orlov, D.. The Five Stages of Collapse: Survivor’s Toolkit. New Society Publishers, 2013. (ISBN 978-0-86571-736-7)
Ruppert, M.. Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Oil World. Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009.  (ISBN 978-1-60358-164-3)
[iii] I use the following definition of collapse, as proposed by Joseph Tainter (see footnote below): “[It] is fundamentally a matter of the sociopolitical sphere. A society has collapsed when it displays a rapid, significant loss of an established level of sociopolitical complexity….To qualify as an instance of collapse a society must  have been at, or developing toward, a level of complexity for more than one or two generations…The collapse in turn must be rapid—taking no more than a few decades—and must entail a substantial loss of sociopolitical structure. Losses that are less severe, or take longer to occur, are to be considered cases of weakness and decline.” (p. 4)
[iv] Tainter, J.A.. The Collapse of Complex Societies. Cambridge University Press, 1988. (ISBN 978-0-521-38673-9)
[v] Diamond, J.. Ibid.
[vi] Orlov, D.. Ibid.
[vii] Catton, Jr., W.R.. Overshoot: The Ecological Basis of Revolutionary Change. University of Illinois Press, 1982. (ISBN 978-0-252-09988-4)
[viii] Ruppert, M.. Ibid.
[ix] Malthus, T.. An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society. J. Johnson, 1798.
[x] Take a good, long critical look at the world and its leaders. Do you have faith, enough faith that you would risk your own life and that of your family, in the leaders of this world to be capable of circumnavigating successfully the various crises that are erupting with greater magnitude and frequency, from climate change to geopolitical stresses to resource depletion to economic collapse? If you have that much faith in them, well good luck to you. Quite simply, I don’t. I believe they are incapable of managing these dilemmas and cascading failures of the various systems of industrialised civilisation will occur some time in our future. NO, I have no idea when.
[xi] Bartlett, A.. Arithmetic, Energy, and Population. (Transcript: http://www.albartlett.org/presentations/arithmetic_population_energy_transcript_english.html).
[xii] I must admit that my particular pessimistic perspective makes for an interesting dynamic between my spouse and I, for she is the eternal optimist who, as a practising educator, believes in the successful implementation of social engineering to prevent many of the negative consequences (I’ve just retired from the profession but have always been a ‘little’ critical of it, and authority; the latter, in no small part, likely the result of being the child of a police officer).
[xiii] Star Trek, First Contact. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Star_Trek:_First_Contact
[xiv] Hubbert, M.K.. Energy from fossil fuels. Science, Feburary 4, 1949. v.109, pp. 103-109.
[xv] Meadows, D., J. Randers, & D. Meadows. Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update. Chelsea Green Publishing Company, 2004. (ISBN 978-1-931498-58-6)
[xvi] 9 years as a classroom teacher (grades 6-8), 13 as an administrator (K-8 school).
[xvii] Shakespeare. Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 26-28)

 

Will Future Food Shortage, Swine Flu Pandemic Or War Stem World Population Growth? « Swine Flu

Will Future Food Shortage, Swine Flu Pandemic Or War Stem World Population Growth? « Swine Flu.

Will Future Food Shortage, Swine Flu Pandemic Or War Stem World Population Growth?

This is a particularly unpleasant subject to write about and I thought long and hard before deciding to write about my findings in the hope it will prompt others to take note and raise the issues within their families, communities and with those whom you have elected to power, so we can do something constructive about it before it is too late.

By way of coincidence the Government has just announced its response to findings that as a nation we ‘must quickly’ find ways of growing more of our own food and to waste much less as the world’s population grows and acknowledging we will not be able to rely upon imported food to meet our needs.

Yet it concerns me deeply when, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the world’s Governments, Major Charities, Health Organizations and News Media all appear to be silent or very timid in dealing with the impending worldwide catastrophe that will almost certainly occur within the next two generations, unless bold and difficult decisions are made and adhered to.

Upon examining objectively the wealth of evidence, (summarized below), I believe it is reasonable to assume, without such intervention, only a natural disaster such as the global spread of a virus, like a more aggressive mutated strain of Swine Flu to deplete the world population by at least 1 Billion people if we are to avoid otherwise inevitable global wars. (Please bear in mind in 1919 the Spanish Flu was conservatively estimated to have killed somewhere between 20 to 50 Million people at a time when the world population was just 2 Billion and far less mobile).

This is a chilling and rather unpleasant prediction, which you may feel to be far fetched but it is a rational one, made after careful study of the available evidence.

Whilst I am unable to provide the evidential links within this article,

Here are a few basic statistics from respected sources:

1. The World population is set to grow from circa 6 Billion to 10 billion by 2050.

2. Almost all of that growth is expected in the developing nations.

3. In the UK the ‘natural’ population is growing by circa 187,000 per year,  largely due to an ageing population, (that is population growth excluding immigration)

4. To put that into perspective the population of Milton Keynes is circa 185,000. Thus our natural population growth in the UK is a town the size of Milton Keynes every year.

5. By 2050 the UK is expected to have a population increase of 17,000,000, (it is already have one of the most densely populated countries in the world).

6. In the developed world we are experiencing a rapidly aging population. In the US the average age is expected to increase from 34 to 43 by 2025.

7. In 2008, those over age 65 numbered 506,Million. By 2040 that is forecast to increase to 1.3 Billion. Going from 7% to 14% of the world’s population. Most of that growth will be in the developing world.

8. New entrants into the labour force in the developed world are set to fall by circa 33% by 2025.

9. It has been predicted that by 2030, we will need ‘two earths’ to live on and provide the necessary food to feed the expected population

10. 1 in 5 of the world’s population has no access to fresh water.

11. The UN expects the major conflicts in Africa over the next generation will be over water supplies.

12. The growing population will place an ever increasing demand upon the available water supplies, expected to be a 40% increase in demand over the next 20 years

13. Only 2.5% of the world’s water is not salty.Of that 70% is frozen, leaving only 1% of the world’s water as accessible for consumption

14. By 2020 the world’s fresh water supplies are only expected to meet 17% of the demand for consumption, industry and farming.

15. In China the ground water table is shrinking by 1.5 Metres per year.

16. Changing weather patterns are resulting in dry regions becoming arid, forcing migration of the population.

17. Over consumption of the ground water supplies in many countries is causing salinization of the ground as  salt water pushes in to take over the space, leaving it no longer able to support the growing of traditional crops, live stock and wildlife.

18. With current technology, we have circa 50 years worth of economically accessible fossil fuels.

We see on a daily basis the desperate attempts by those eager to come to Britain and other developed countries, as their lives in their home countries becomes ever more hopeless.Based on the evidence I have seen, this is set to increase on an exponential scale and it is this I believe will lead to major conflict.

I do not purport to have all of the right answers but I do know we are going to have to take decisions that, as caring and compassionate people do not sit well with our consciences.  As developed nations we will also have ever increasing pressure on our financial resources to provide improved medical and social care. This is already barely sustainable and in the near future, as the balance shifts between those younger people in employment paying most of the taxes and those in retirement using most of the social care budget, it will simply not be sustainable.

I suspect we will have to say no to medical help that extends the life of the elderly still further. As we will have to limit other life saving medical help to others who need it. I have no doubt this is not acceptable to most of us who are seeing a loved one suffer. We are also likely to have to reduce aide to developing countries, yet we will be reliant upon immigrants to staff many of our service sector posts, including the care sector, if we are to have enough staff to look after our ageing population. This will place even more strain upon farming land, housing supply, water supplies, transport infrastructure, etc.

If not carefully addressed, it may to lead to age related prejudices and conflicts as the young come to begrudge being excessively taxed to provide for those who want to live longer and be provided for at the expense of the working tax payer.

Green, fruitful countries with good harvests, good water supplies and a benign climate, may well may become the focus of aggression to secure the new world wealth, ‘Fresh Water and Food’.

In short, I believe we are left with three unpalatable options:

1. Make the tough decisions, which I doubt we will do, as it is too upsetting and there will be a lack of political and social will. In short, the population of the developed world will continue to bury their heads and hope the problem will go away.

2. We can hope for nature to step in with one or two enormous natural disasters, such as viral pandemics. Very tragic for so many of us who will lose loved ones but at least we did not have to make the uncomfortable decisions.

3. We can wait for various nations to start attacking those countries on their borders and further afield to secure their food and water supplies, for these will be the new oil. Then we will have the ultimate catastrophe!

I would like to think I am wrong in what I have stated and would dearly like someone to prove me wrong but following extensive research, all of the information I have gathered has simply compounded my initial concerns.

Validation of all of the above statements, can be found on my website, where the article is reproduced with all of the links to the background research.

Find More Swine Flu Articles

MIT Research on Global Water Stress by 2050 | Peak Resources

MIT Research on Global Water Stress by 2050 | Peak Resources.

Peak Resources investigates the growing concern of global water stress. It is no big secret that the world population of humans is growing at an exponential rate. The growth of the human population has caused almost every nation around the globe to focus its attention on the available of freshwater for the future while some nations must focus on having fresh water today. Add into the mix the continual pressure from global climate change, and you have a lot of trouble. Hotter temperatures mean less ground water, shallower lakes, and rivers, and less water for crops, drinking, and bathing. To set this into motion, MIT researchers developed a new tool that models the ability of the hydrologic cycle to meet the growing needs of the world population through the year 2050.

Water Stress
Water resources are tied to populations of people. By 2050, the world population, is expected to rise to 9.7 Billion. Of those 9.7 billion people, 5 billion are expected to be living in water-stressed communities or regions. Of those 5 billion people, 1 billion are expected to live where there is not enough water to meet daily needs of people, environment, and agriculture. For some nations, this is not news, India, and Middle Eastern countries are already facing water stress issues.

MIT Model
What the MIT model does is it allows researchers to look at the two variables that are going to have the most impact on freshwater over time. Those being socioeconomics, and global climate change. What they find when they look into how the socioeconomic data changes over time, they discovered that the rate at which populations grow and the changes to economic growth lead to situations of water-stress. What they are talking about are emerging markets, where water is already limited. The impact of the situation is made worse by adding in global climate change.

Results of the MIT Model
As populations of villages and cities grow more food is needed, more drinking water is needed, and more water is needed for industry, but water is finite and the amount of available water is decreased as temperatures rise. But emerging markets and developing countries are not the only people hit by water issues and global warming. The study shows that developed nations are also going to feel increased water-stress as time passes and global warming increases. Overall, global warming is expected to impact how, when, and where rain falls. Changing patterns of precipitation will impact most countries around the globe.

While this model shows a good picture of what the future will look like, it shows something even more valuable. It shows that studies and modeling of this nature are deeply important to humanity. Peak Resources sees clearly that those who have the knowledge to forecast accurately, will be the ones who have the power to make changes. Those changes represent resource investment opportunities. Knowledge is the tool that will shape the future. Water demand is getting worse, and as time goes by the question is how do we deal with it today.

Why Shale Oil Boosters Are Charlatans In Disguise | Zero Hedge

Why Shale Oil Boosters Are Charlatans In Disguise | Zero Hedge.

Something has bothered me of late: why is the price of crude oil still elevated? Other commodities have taken a battering since 2011. Gold, copper and iron ore – all are way down off their peaks. But oil has seemingly defied gravity. And that’s despite increased supply from shale oil in the U.S., still soft demand particularly in the developed world and declining rates of inflation growth across the globe.

What gives? Well, shale oil proponents will say falling oil prices are just a matter of time. And that the boom in shale oil will reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil, leading to cheaper local oil, which will free up household budgets and spur consumption as well as the broader economy. Perhaps … though I’d have thought all of that would be already reflected in prices.

On the other side, you have “peak oil” supporters who suggest high oil prices are perfectly natural when oil production has peaked, or at least the good stuff has disappeared. Yet the boom in U.S. shale oil appears to put at least a partial dent in this thesis.

There may be a better explanation, however. It comes from UK sell-side analyst, Tim Morgan, in an important new book called Life After Growth. In it, he suggests that the era of cheap energy is over. That the new unconventional forms of oil are far less efficient than old ones, meaning they require significant amounts of energy to produce. In effect, the energy production versus energy cost of extraction equation is rapidly deteriorating.

Morgan goes a step further though. He says cheap energy has been central to the extraordinary economic growth generated since the Industrial Revolution. And without that cheap energy, future growth will be permanently impaired.

It’s a bold view that’s solidified my own thinking that higher energy prices are here to stay. And the link between cheap energy and economic growth is fascinating and worth exploring further today. Particularly given the implications for the world’s fastest-growing and most energy-intensive region, Asia.

Real vs money economy

First off, a thank you to Bob Moriarty of 321gold for tipping me off to Morgan’s work in this well-written article. Morgan’s book is worth getting but if you want the skinny version, you can find it here.

Morgan begins his book outlining four key challenges facing economies today:

  1. The biggest debt bubble in history
  2. A disastrous experiment with globalisation
  3. The massaging of data to the point where economic trends are obscured
  4. The approach of an energy-returns cliff edge

The first three points aren’t telling us much new so we’re going to focus on the final one.

Here, Morgan makes a key distinction between what he terms the money economy and the real economy. He suggests economists around the world have got it all wrong by focusing on money as the key driver of economies.

Instead, money is the language rather than the substance of the real economy. The real economy is a surplus energy equation, not a monetary one, and economic growth as well as the increase in population since 1750 has resulted from the harnessing of ever-greater quantities of energy.

In fact, society and economies began when agriculture created surplus energy. Before agriculture, in the hunter-gatherer era, there was an energy balance where the energy which people derived from food was largely equivalent to the energy that they expended in finding the food.

Agriculture changed that equation. It allowed for the creation of surplus energy. In essence, three people could be supported by the labor of two people, allowing one person to engage in non-subsistence activities. This person could make better agricultural tools, build bridges for better infrastructure and so on. In economic parlance, this person didn’t have to concentrate on products for immediate consumption but rather the creation of capital goods. The surplus energy equation allowed for that.

The second key development was the invention of the heat engine by Scottish engineer James Watts in 1769, although a more efficient version was produced later in 1799. This invention allowed society to access vast energy resources contained in oil, natural gas, coal and so forth. In other words, the industrial revolution allowed the harnessing of more energy to apply vast leverage to the economy.

World fossil fuel consumption

In sum, the modern economy is the story of how society overcame the limitations of the energy equation. Or as Morgan puts it: “…all goods and services on which money can be spent are the products of energy inputs, either past, present or future.”

The creation of surplus energy during the Industrial Revolution and subsequent explosion in economic and population growth isn’t an accident. They’re tied at the hip.

Energy and the population

Understanding the distinction between the money economy and the real economy can also help us better understand debt. Debt is a claim on future energy. The ability of indebted governments to meet their debt commitments will partially depend on whether the real (energy) economy is large enough to make this possible.

Era of cheap energy is over

Morgan goes on to say that the era of surplus energy, which has driven economic growth since 1750, is over. The key isn’t to be found in the theories of “peak oil” proponents and the potential for absolute declines in oil reserves. Instead, it’s to be found in the relationship between the energy extracted versus the energy consumed in the extraction process, also known as the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROEI) equation.

The equation maths aren’t difficult to understand. If the EROEI is 10:1, it means that 10 units are extracted for every 1 unit invested in the extraction process.

From 1750-1950, the EROEI of oil discoveries was very high. For instance, discoveries in the 1930s had 100:1 EROEIs. That ratio declined to 30:1 by the 1970s. Today, that ratio is at about 17:1 with few recent discoveries above 10:1.

Morgan’s research suggests that going from EROEIs of 80:1 to 20:1 isn’t disruptive. But once the ratio gets below 15:1, energy becomes a lot more expensive. He suggests the ratio will decline to 11:1 by 2020 and the cost of energy will increase by 50% as a consequence.

Energy returns vs cost to GDP

Non-conventional sources of oil will provide little respite. Shale oil and gas have EROEIs of 5:1 while tar sands and biofuels are even lower at 3:1. In other words, policymakers who pin their hopes on shale oil reducing energy prices are seriously deluded.

EROEI and energy sources

And further technological breakthroughs to better locate and extract oil are unlikely to help either. That’s because technology uses energy rather than creates it. It won’t change the energy equation.

While some unconventional sources offer hope, such as concentrated solar power, they won’t be enough to offset surplus energy turning to a more balanced equation.

Oeuvre to growth tool

If the real economy is energy and the days of surplus energy are coming to an end, then so too is economic growth, according to Morgan. In his own words:

“…the economy, as we have known it for more than two centuries, will cease to be viable at some point within the next ten or so years unless, of course, some way is found to reverse the trend.”

This terribly pessimistic conclusion requires some further explanation. Morgan explains the link between energy and the economy thus. If your EROEI sharply declines, it means more energy is needed for extraction purposes and less energy is available to the economy. Ultimately, this results in the cost of energy rising as a proportion of GDP, leaving less value for other things. Put another way, with the leverage from surplus energy diminished, there’s less energy available for discretionary uses.

Implications

Now I don’t have total buy-in to Morgan’s thesis. It certainly solidifies my thinking that the era of cheap energy is indeed over. It provides a unique and compelling way to think about this. And the proof is seemingly all around us. It explains the high oil prices and the surge in agriculture prices (agriculture relies on energy inputs).

You can’t help but being more bullish on energy and agriculture plays in the long-term. Oil drillers for one as they’re more reliant on increased work than the price of oil. Also, the likes of fertiliser companies given agriculture land is tapped out, making an increase in output essential and thereby requiring greater quantities of fertiliser.

Morgan thinks inflation is on the way given a squeezed energy base with still escalating monetary bases. Regular readers will know that I am a deflationist over the next few years. But nothing is certain in this world and Morgan’s arguments on this front have some credibility.

As for whether this spells the end of a glorious 250 year period of economic growth, well, I’m not so sure. The link between energy and economies is compelling. But whether we’re at a tipping point where surplus energy disappears is a guess. I’m convinced that we’re coming up against resource constraints that will inhibit economic growth. To say that we’re imminently coming to the end of economic growth requires further evidence, in humble opinion.

Impact on Asia

Asia has been the largest demand driver for energy over the past decade. The region’s net oil imports total 17 million barrels of oil a day. China is now the largest net oil importer, having recently overtaken the U.S.. Other large net oil importers in Asia include India and Indonesia. Obviously, higher oil prices would be detrimental to these net importing countries.

It may be somewhat offset by agricultural prices staying higher for longer. China and India are agricultural powerhouses. And the impact of agriculture on their economies is still profound (agriculture accounts for 14% of Indian GDP and 10% of China).

On the other hand, higher agricultural prices mean higher food prices. And given lower incomes in Asia, the proportion of household budgets dedicated to purchasing food is much higher than the developed world. Therefore higher food prices has a larger impact on many Asian countries. Witness periodic recent protests on this issue in Indonesia, Thailand and India. So net-net, higher energy prices would still be a large negative for Asia.

Turning to resource constraints potentially inhibiting future economic growth: given Asia has the world’s strongest GDP growth, it would be disproportionately hit if this scenario is right. The past decade may represent a peak in the region’s economic output. Whether there’s sharp drop or gradual fade is impossible to forecast.

These are but a few of the potential implications for Asia.

AC Speed Read

– The real economy is a surplus energy equation, or the harnessing of ever-greater quantities of energy.

– That equation has deteriorated to such an extent that one can now declare the era of cheap energy over.

– If the economy is energy and cheap energy is gone, future economic growth will be inhibited.

– Consequently, higher energy and agricultural prices can be expected in the long-term.

– The impact on Asian growth may be disproportionately large.

This post was originally published at Asia Confidential:
http://asiaconf.com/2014/01/25/shale-oil-charlatans/

Bill Ryerson: The Challenges Presented by Global Population Growth | Peak Prosperity

Bill Ryerson: The Challenges Presented by Global Population Growth | Peak Prosperity.

As we embark on a new year, it’s important to keep the really big elements of our global predicament squarely in mind. To that end, we’re surfacing this excellent discussion on population growth that Chris recorded in 2012 with Bill Ryerson of the Population Institute.

At the heart of the resource depletion story that we track here at PeakProsperity.com is the number of people on earth competing for those resources.

The global population is more than 7 billion now and headed to 9 billion by 2050. If world population continues its exponential growth, when we will hit planetary carrying capacity limits with our key resources (or are we already exceeding them)? What are the just, humane, and rights-respecting options that are on the table for balancing the world’s population with the ability of the earth to sustain it?

Population management is an inflammatory issue. It’s nearly impossible to discuss without triggering heated emotions, and rare is the leader who’s willing to raise it. And by going unaddressed globally, the risk of problems created by overpopluation grow unchecked. War, poverty, starvation, disease, inequality…the list goes on.

Which is why we feel we need to have the courage to address this very important topic directly. And to have an adult-sized conversation about these risks and what can done about them.

In this podcast, Chris talks with Bill Ryerson, founder and president of the Population Media Center as well as the president of the Population Institute. They explore the current forecasts for world population growth, the expected future demand on world resources, and the range of options available for bringing them into balance sustainably.

We are adding about 225,000 people to the dinner table every night who were not there last night. So that is net growth of the world’s population on an annual basis of a new Egypt every year. In other words, 83 million additional people net growth annually. And that, from a climate change perspective alone, is a huge increment. Most of this growth is occurring in poor countries, so on a per-capita level, the people being added to the population have much lower impact than, say, if Europe were growing at that rate. But nevertheless, just from a climate perspective, with most of that 83 million additional people in low per capita greenhouse-gas output countries – this is between now and 2050 – at this rate of growth, it is the climate equivalent of adding two United States to the planet.

Clearly resources like oil, coal, and gas are non-renewable and will eventually run out or become more and more expensive and therefore not reliable as a source of energy. But what is the renewable long-term sustainability or the carrying capacity of the environment in each geographic territory, and globally? What is the current and projected future human demand for those resources, and do we have sufficient natural resources to meet our needs?

Doing this kind of accounting is not difficult. There are very good robust scientific designs for measuring resource capacity and human demand, and projecting out what do we need to do in some time in the next few decades in order to get from what is clearly population overshoot to achieving something that is in balance. Because as long as we are in overshoot – and the global footprint network’s calculation is we are now at 50% overshoot –  that means we are digging into the savings account of our ecological systems, as you mentioned: the fisheries being one, forests being another. We are eating into the capital to sustain the growing population.

They also explore why population management is such a uniquely controversial topic. Not only are moral, civil, and religious beliefs in play, but the debate is also heavily influenced by large corporate and governmental organizations protecting their interests. So it’s no wonder that a calm, respectful, and reasonable conversation on population remains so elusive.

But we’re going to try to have one here.

Needless to say, our moderators are on high alert and will step in if they are needed. Thanks in advance for your conscientious, levelheaded, and respectful comments. We have the chance to do substantial thinking on some really meaty questions here. Let’s make good use of it.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris’ interview with Bill Ryerson (46m:26s):

PODCAST

Lefteris Papaulakis/Shutterstock

Growth is Obsolete: James Howard Kunstler | Peak Prosperity

Growth is Obsolete: James Howard Kunstler | Peak Prosperity. (source)

The word that sticks in the craw of many who cogitate over economics is growth. The condition that the word refers to has proven disturbingly problematic in recent years, especially as world’s population continues to expand exponentially and the global ecology suffers in response. In fact, Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) called economics “the dismal science” in direct reference to the work of the Rev. Thomas Malthus, because the Malthusian conclusions were so unappetizing — that sooner or later rising human populations would outstrip the world’s capacity to provide for them.

Now it happened that the Reverend Malthus’s notorious Essay on the Principle of Population was first published in 1798, which was about exactly the take-off moment for the industrial revolution. That extravagant melodrama was about marshaling mechanical invention with fossil fuel. The first act ran on coal and allowed populations to expand because it extended the extractive reach for resources by colonialist nations. The second act featured exploitation of oil, which was more powerful and versatile than coal. It also lent itself much more directly than coal to being converted into food for people. The use of oil powered farming machines, oil and gas (an oil byproduct) based herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers, and oil based long distance food transport, has allowed us to convert oil into food pretty directly. This has led to the “hockey-stick” swerve of population growth that took human numbers worldwide from under 2 billion in the year 1900 to more than 7 billion today.

We are in the third act of the industrial melodrama now where the dire sub-plot of peak oil has taken stage. Despite the wishful thinking and happy-talk propaganda lighting up the media-space, we have arrived at the problematic point of the story: the end of cheap oil. This is poorly understood by the public and, apparently, by leaders in business, politics, and the media, too. They misunderstand because they insist on thinking that peak oil was simply about running out of oil. It’s not. It’s about running out of the ability to extract it from the earth in a way that makes economic sense — that is, at a price we can afford in terms of available capital and energy invested (and also ecological destruction). That dynamic is now exerting a powerful influence on modern civilizations. We ignore it — even at the highest levels of intellectual endeavor — because we have made no alternate plans for running the complex operations of everyday life, and because the early manifestations of the dynamic present themselves in the realm of finance, which is dominated by academic viziers and money-grubbing opportunists who benefit from obfuscating reality.

The sad, stark fact is that oil is now too expensive to permit further expansion of economies and populations. Expensive oil upsets the cost structure of virtually every system we need to run modern life: transportation, commerce, food production, governance, to name a few. In particular expensive oil destroys the cost structures of banking and finance because not enough new wealth can be generated to repay previously accumulated debt, and new credit cannot be extended without a reasonable expectation that more new wealth will be generated to repay it. Through the industrial age, our money has become an increasingly abstract and complex product of debt creation. As Chris Martenson has put it so succinctly in The Crash Course, money is loaned into existence. Thus, the growth of debt (allowing the growth of money) has played a crucial role at the heart of our banking operations, and the very word “growth” has become shorthand for this process in the lingo of current economic discourse.

It is quite clear that the banking system has been thrown into great disarray as the price of oil levitated from $11-a-barrel in 1999 to the great spike of $140 in 2008, and then settled into a range between $75 and $110 since 2010. Most of this disarray is a result of attempts to offset the failure to create new real wealth with fake wealth generated by accounting fraud, “innovative” swindling, insider chicanery, high frequency front-running, naked shorting of securities, and the construction of a vast untested network of derivative counterparty wagers that give every sign of being booby-trapped. All this private monkey business has been abetted by public mischief in central bank interventions and market manipulations, fiscal irresponsibility, political payoffs for favorable legislation, statistical misreporting, and the failure to apply the rule of law in cases of blatant misconduct (e.g., the MF Global confiscation of segregated client accounts; the Goldman Sachs “Timberwolf” CDO scam… the list is very long).

In short, a society with deeply impaired capital formation has turned to crime, corruption, fakery, and subterfuge in order to pretend that “growth” — i.e. expansion of capital — is still happening. The consequences are many and profound. The chief one is that the manufacture of fake wealth is such an alluring activity that some of the smartest people in society have devoted their waking hours to making a profit off it. It absorbs all their energies and they are simply not available for other work, such as figuring out a sane and practical way to run civilization in the absence of cheap energy. Added to this is the administrative effort and the work-arounds needed to support all this corruption and dishonesty, which occupy the hours of another class of smart people who work in government, academia, public relations, and the media. The sustenance of these parasitical cohorts more and more continues at the expense of everybody else in society, who cannot find work, or cannot make enough money to pay their living expenses, and who have become deeply discouraged, disappointed, demoralized, and disengaged in their losing struggle to thrive. Hence there is little public vigor to even mount a discussion of these vexing problems and the final result is the greater wholesale failure to construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and what we might do about it.

Another consequence to these disorders of capital is the massive malinvestment directed into things with no future in themselves or, much worse, things that actively undermine the future of everything needed to support any civilized future. For instance, the “innovation” in securitizing and repackaging mortgages — which continues to be a boon for the giant banks in concert with the thoroughly dishonest and technically bankrupt “government sponsored enterprises” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — expresses itself in the activity we call “housing starts.” Economists overwhelmingly agree that a higher number of housing starts is a good thing for the economy and hence for society. But what do housing starts actually represent? These days they mostly take the form of new suburban housing subdivisions, which are inevitably joined by the kit of the strip mall, the big box store, and all the other furnishings of the highway strip. In short, all that glorious “innovation” by the banks produces more suburban sprawl and destruction of rural land, which is about the last thing this society needs when faced with the realities of peak cheap oil, since it is absolutely certain to make these things obsolete, and very soon. It is not any better, either, if the nominal capital — nominal because it is sure to someday represent a loss for some bond-holder or stockholder — gets invested in a 30-story high rise apartment because, contrary to a lot of current delusional thinking, skyscrapers also have no practical future for reasons I have explained in other essays here.

Similarly, the public investments going into “shovel-ready” highway projects, although the fiscal outlays are more transparently based on money that doesn’t really exist. The public, as well as leaders all across society, serenely believe that the Happy Motoring matrix will find a way to go on forever, and that therefore we must make provision for it, not to mention the beneficial side of effect of “job creation” for all the additional workers. Yet the dynamic at work must be obvious: oil will never be cheap again; it will impair future capital formation; there will be far fewer car loans; there will dwindling public funds to maintain the roads; and there is no practical substitute for gasoline that scales to the existing system, nor any prospect of one within a time frame that makes sense — not to mention the gigantic background problem of pouring evermore carbon into the sky.

If these things I mention — highways, tract houses, condo towers, strip malls — represent our current idea of “growth,” and if they are self-evidently bad investments, then we can infer that our current concept of “growth” no longer applies to a reality-based model of our economic prospects. We ought to junk the term and what it implies about the daily business of mankind, and come up with a new way of understanding the place we’re at.

 

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Have We Reached Peak Government?

oftwominds-Charles Hugh Smith: Have We Reached Peak Government?.

If we are not yet at Peak Debt, we are getting close, and that means we are also getting close to Peak Government.

Have we reached Peak Government? That is, a structural point beyond which government can no longer grow sustainably?

To help answer the question, I’ve assembled charts of the foundations of growth: population, gross domestic product (GDP), private employment and output per person (i.e. productivity). These have grown 28%, 75%, 28% and 58% respectively. (I have used 1990 as a baseline, as the past 23 years gives us a reasonably accurate clue as to the long-term trendlines of the current economy.)

In other words, if growth depended entirely on population growth, the real (inflation-adjusted) economy would have grown 28% since 1990. Instead, the GDP rose by 75%. This is the result of rising output per person, i.e. an increase in productivity.

U.S. population:…

 

Three ‘Radical’ Graphs Tell the Story of the Planet’s Current and Future Population | Motherboard

Three ‘Radical’ Graphs Tell the Story of the Planet’s Current and Future Population | Motherboard.

 

Humans – the real threat to life on Earth | Environment | The Observer

Humans – the real threat to life on Earth | Environment | The Observer.

 

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