Wednesday, January 14, 2015

March of the Squirrels

Prediction is a difficult business at the best of times, but the difficulties seem to change from one era to another. Just now, at least for me, the biggest challenge is staying in front of the headlines. So far, the crash of 2015 is running precisely to spec. Smaller companies in the energy sector are being hammered by the plunging price of oil, while the banking industry insists that it’s not in trouble—those of my readers who recall identical expressions of misplaced confidence on the part of bankers in news stories just before the 2008 real estate crash will know just how seriously to take such claims.

The shiny new distractions disguised as energy breakthroughs I mentioned here two weeks ago have also started to show up. A glossy puff piece touting oceanic thermal energy conversion (OTEC), a white-elephant technology which was tested back in the 1970s and shown to be hopelessly uneconomical, shared space in the cornucopian end of the blogosphere over the last week with an equally disingenuous puff piece touting yet another rehash of nuclear fission as the answer to our energy woes. (Like every fission technology, of course, this one will be safe, clean, and affordable until someone actually tries to build it.)

No doubt there will shortly be other promoters scrambling for whatever government subsidies and private investment funds might be available for whatever revolutionary new energy breakthrough (ahem) will take the place of hydrofractured shales as America’s favorite reason to do nothing. I admit to a certain feeling of disappointment, though, in the sheer lack of imagination displayed so far in that competition. OTEC and molten-salt fission reactors were already being lauded as America’s energy salvation back when I was in high school: my junior year, I think it was, energy was the topic du jour for the local high school debate league, and we discussed those technologies at length. So did plenty of more qualified people, which is why both of them—and quite a few other superficially plausible technologies—never made it off the drawing board.

Something else came in for discussion that same year, and it’s a story with more than a little relevance to the current situation. A team from another school in the south Seattle suburbs had a brainstorm, did some frantic research right before a big debate tournament, and showed up with data claiming to prove that legions of squirrels running in squirrel cages, powering little generators, could produce America’s electricity. Since no one else happened to have thought of that gimmick, none of the other teams had evidence to refute them, and they swept the tournament. By the next tournament, of course, everyone else had crunched the numbers and proceeded to stomp the squirrel promoters, but for years to come the phrase “squirrel case” saw use in local debate circles as the standard term for a crackpot proposal backed with seemingly plausible data.

The OTEC plants and molten-salt reactors currently being hawked via the media are squirrel cases in exactly the same sense; they sound plausible as long as you don’t actually crunch the numbers and see whether they’re economically and thermodynamically viable. The same thing was true of the fracking bubble that’s messily imploding around us right now, not to mention the ethanol and biodiesel projects, the hydrogen economy, and the various other glittery excuses that have occupied so much useless space in the collective conversation of our time. So, it has to be said, do the more enthusiastic claims being made for renewable energy just now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a great fan of renewable energy. When extracting fossil carbon from the earth stops being economically viable—a point that may arrive a good deal sooner than many people expect—renewables are what we’ll have left, and the modest but real energy inputs that can be gotten from renewable sources when they don’t receive energy subsidies from fossil fuels could make things significantly better for our descendants. The fact remains that in the absence of subsidies from fossil fuels, renewables won’t support the absurdly extravagant energy consumption that props up what passes for an ordinary middle class lifestyle in the industrial world these days.

That’s the pterodactyl in the ointment, the awkward detail that most people even in the greenest of green circles don’t want to discuss. Force the issue into a conversation, and one of the more common responses you’ll get is the exasperated outburst “But there has to be something.” Now of course this simply isn’t true; no law of nature, no special providence, no parade of marching squirrels assures us that we can go ahead and use as much energy as we want in the serene assurance that more will always be waiting for us. It’s hard to think of a more absurd delusion, and the fact that a great many people making such claims insist on their superior rationality and pragmatism just adds icing to the cake.

Let’s go ahead and say it in so many words: there doesn’t have to be a replacement for fossil fuels. In point of fact, there’s good reason to think that no such replacement exists anywhere in the small corner of the universe accessible to us, and once fossil fuels are gone, the rest of human history will be spent in a world that doesn’t have the kind of lavish energy resources we’re used to having. Concentrations of energy, like all other natural resources, follow what’s known as the power law, the rule—applicable across an astonishingly broad spectrum of phenomena—that whatever’s ten times as concentrated is approximately ten times as rare. At the dawn of the industrial age, the reserves of fossil fuel in the Earth’s crust were the richest trove of stored energy on the planet, and of course fossil fuel extraction focused on the richest and most easily accessible prizes first, just as quickly as they could be found.

Those are gone now. Since 2005, when conventional petroleum production peaked worldwide, the industrial world has been engaged in what amounts to a frantic game of make-believe, pretending that scraping the bottom of the oil barrel proves that the barrel is still full. Every half-baked scheme for producing liquid fuels got flooded with as much cheap credit as its promoters could squander. Some of those—biodiesel and cellulosic ethanol come to mind—turned out to be money pits so abysmal that even a tide of freshly printed money couldn’t do much more than gurgle on the way down; others—above all, shale fracking and tar sand mining—were able to maintain a pretense of profitability for a while, with government subsidies, junk bonds, loans from clueless banks, and round after round of economic stimulus from central banks over much of the world serving to prop up industries that, in the final analysis, were never economically viable in the first place.

The collapse in the price of oil that began this June put paid to that era of make-believe. The causes of the oil crash are complex, but back of them all, I suggest, is a straightforward bit of economics that almost everyone’s been trying to avoid for a decade now.  To maintain economic production at any given level, the global economy has to produce enough real wealth—not, please note, enough money, but enough actual goods and services—to cover resource extraction, the manufacture and replacement of the whole stock of nonfinancial capital goods, and whatever level of economic waste is considered socially and politically necessary. If the amount of real wealth needed to keep extracting resources at a given rate goes up steeply, the rest of the economy won’t escape the consequences: somewhere or other, something has to give.

The economic history of the last decade is precisely the story of what gave in what order, or to put it another way, how the industrial world threw everything in sight under the bus to keep liquid fuel production around its 2005 peak. Infrastructure was abandoned to malign neglect, the last of the industrial world’s factory jobs got offshored to Third World sweatshops, standards of living for most people dropped steadily—well, you can fill in the blanks as well as I can. Consumption remained relatively high only because central banks flooded the global economy with limitless cheap credit, while the US government filled the gap between soaring government expenditures and flat or shrinking tax receipts by the simple equivalent of having the Fed print enough money each month to cover the federal deficit. All these things were justified by the presupposition that the global economy was just going through a temporary rough patch, and normal growth would return any day now.

But normal growth has not returned. It’s not going to return, either, because it was only “normal” in an era when cheap abundant fossil fuels greased the wheels of every kind of economic activity. As I noted in a blog post here back in 2007, the inevitable consequence of soaring oil prices is what economists call demand destruction: less formally, the process by which people who can’t afford oil stop using it, bringing the price back down. Since what’s driving the price of oil up isn’t merely market factors, but the hard geological realities of depletion, not everyone who got forced out of the market when the price was high can get back into it when the price is low—gas at $2 a gallon doesn’t matter if your job scavenging abandoned houses doesn’t pay enough for you to cover the costs of a car, and let’s not even talk about how much longer the local government can afford to maintain streets in driveable condition.

Demand destruction sounds very abstract. In practice, though, it’s all too brutally concrete: a rising tide of job losses, business failures, slumping standards of living, cutbacks to every kind of government service at every level, and so on down the litany of decline that’s become part of everyday life in the industrial world over the last decade—leaving aside, that is, the privileged few who have been sheltered from those changes so far. Unless I miss my guess, we’re going to see those same changes shift into overdrive in the months and years ahead. The attempt to boost the world out of its deepening slump by flooding the planet with cheap credit has failed; the global economy is choking on a supersized meal of unpayable IOUs and failed investments; stock markets and other venues for the exchange of paper wealth are so thoroughly gimmicked that they’ve become completely detached from the real economy of goods and services, and the real economy is headed south in a hurry.

Those unwelcome realities are going to constrain any attempt by the readers of this blog to follow up on the proposal I made in last week’s post, and take constructive action in the face of the crisis that’s now upon us. The energy situation here in the US could have been helped substantially if conservation measures and homescale renewables had received any kind of significant support from the oh-so-allegedly-green Democratic party, back when it still had enough clout in Congress to matter; the economic situation would be nowhere near as dire if governments and central banks had bitten the bullet and dealt with the crisis of our time in 2008 or thereafter, rather than papering things over with economic policies that assumed that enough money could negate the laws of physics and geology. At this point, it’s much too late for any sort of collective action on either of those fronts—and of course the political will needed to do anything meaningful about either one went missing in action at the end of the 1970s and hasn’t been seen since.

Thus all of us will have to cope with a world in which the cost of energy suffers from drastic and economically devastating swings, and the sort of localized infrastructure that could cushion the impact of those swings wasn’t built in time. All of us will also have to cope with a global economy in disarray, in which bank failures, currency crises, credit shortages, and crisis measures imposed by government fiat will take the place of the familiar workings of a market economy. Those are baked into the cake at this point, and what individuals, families, and community groups will be able to do in the years ahead will be constrained by the limits those transformations impose.

Those of my readers who still have a steady income and a home they expect to be able to keep would still be well advised to doublecheck their insulation and weatherstripping, install solar water heating and other homescale renewable energy technologies, and turn the back lawn into a vegetable garden with room for a chicken coop, if by any chance they haven’t taken these sensible steps already.  A great many of my readers don’t have such options, and at this point, it may be a long time before such options are readily available again. This is crunch time, folks; unless I’m very much mistaken, we’re on the brink of a historical inflection point like the ones in 1789 and 1914, one of the watersheds of time after which nothing will ever be the same again.

There’s still much that can be done in other spheres, and I’ll be discussing some of those things in upcoming posts. In terms of energy and the economy, though, I suspect that for a lot of us, the preparations we’re going to be able to make are the ones we’ve already made, and a great many people whose plans depend on having a stable income and its associated perks and privileges may find themselves scrambling for options when the unraveling of the economy leaves them without one. Those of my readers who have been putting off the big changes that might make them more secure in hard times may be facing the hard decision of making those changes now, in a hurry, or facing the crisis of our age in the location and situation they’re in right now. Those who’ve gone ahead and made the changes—well, you know as well as I do that it’s time to review your plans, doublecheck the details, batten down the hatches and get ready to weather the storm.

One of the entertainments to be expected as the year draws on and the crisis bears down on us all, though, is a profusion of squirrel cases of the sort discussed toward the beginning of this essay. It’s an interesting regularity of history that the closer to disaster a society in decline becomes, the more grandiose, triumphalist, and detached from the grubby realities its fantasies generally get. I’m thinking here of the essay on military affairs from the last years of the Roman world that’s crammed full of hopelessly unworkable war machines, and of the final, gargantuan round of Mayan pyramids built on the eve of the lowland classic collapse. The habit of doubling down in the face of self-induced catastrophe seems to be deeply engrained in the human psyche, and I don’t doubt for a moment that we’ll see some world-class examples of the phenomenon in the years immediately ahead.

That said, the squirrel cases mentioned earlier—the OTEC and molten-salt fission proposals—suffer from a disappointing lack of imagination. If our society is going to indulge in delusional daydreams as it topples over the edge of crisis, couldn’t we at least see some proposals that haven’t been rehashed since I was in high school?  I can only think of one such daydream that has the hallucinatory quality our current circumstances deserve; yes, that would be the proposal, being made quite seriously in the future-oriented media just now, that we can solve all our energy problems by mining helium-3 on the Moon and ship it to Earth to fuel fusion power plants we have absolutely no idea how to build yet. As faith-based cheerleading for vaporware, which is of course what those claims are, they set a very high standard—but it’s a standard that will doubtless be reached and exceeded in due time.

That said, I think the media may need some help launching the march of the squirrels just mentioned, and the readers of this blog proved a good long time ago that they have more than enough imagination to meet that pressing need.

Therefore I’m delighted to announce a new contest here on The Archdruid Report, the Great Squirrel Case Challenge of 2015. The goal is to come up with the most absurd new energy technology you can think of, and write either the giddily dishonest corporate press release or the absurdly sycophantic media article announcing it to the world. If you or a friend can Photoshop an image or two of your proposed nonsolution to the world’s energy needs, that’s all the better. Post your press release or media article on your blog if you have one; if you don’t, you can get one for free from Blogspot or Wordpress. Post a link to your piece in the comments section of this blog.

Entries must be posted here by February 28, 2012.  Two winners—one picked by me, the other by vote of the registered members of the Green Wizards forum—will receive signed complimentary copies of my forthcoming book After Progress. I can’t speak for the forum, which will doubtless have its own criteria, but I’ll be looking for a winsome combination of sheer absurdity with the sort of glossy corporate presentation that frames so many absurd statements these days. (Hint: it’s not against the rules to imitate real press releases and media articles.)

As for the wonderful new energy breakthrough you’ll be lauding so uncritically, why, that’s up to you. Biodiesel plants using investment bankers as their primary feedstock? A vast crank hooked to the Moon, running a global system of belts and pulleys? An undertaking of great energy profit, to misquite the famous ad from the South Sea Bubble, but no one to know what it is? Let your imagination run wild; no matter how giddy you get, as the failure of the fracking bubble becomes impossible to ignore, the mass media and a great many of our fellow hominids are go much further along the track of the marching squirrels than you will.

In not unrelated news, I’m delighted to report that the second volume of stories to come out of this blog’s 2014 Space Bats challenge is now available in ebook formats, and will shortly be out in print as well. After Oil 2: The Years of Crisis features a dozen original short stories set in the near future, as industrial civilization slams face first into the limits to growth. Those of my readers who followed the original contest already know that this is a first-rate collection of deindustrial SF; as for the rest of you—why, youre in for a treat. Click here to order a copy.


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Tom Hopkins said...

What are your thoughts on the increasing chatter about artificial intelligence lately??

MindfulEcologist said...

“That’s the pterodactyl in the ointment...” Oh man, I loved that!

As a prophylactic against mental infection by squirrel cases your grounding in history has been very useful. I take a probabilistic approach to assessing evidence and have found adding history to my store of knowledge has made a big difference. It sits well beside the bit of physics and ecology I have picked up.

The inanity of the desperate is everywhere today. Thank you for that image of thousands of squirrels all dedicated to keeping the lights on. Here comes a calculator, slide rule in your case, banishing the whole mess of them with a flick of the slip stick…

I will be warming up my Photoshop but mostly can hardly wait to see what this very creative and engaged group of readers comes up with. Brightens up my whole outlook on the year…

William Knight said...

I don't think I will participate in the squirrel-cage contest, mostly because I find the absurdities of real life to be sufficiently entertaining.

But I do have a serious though equally fantastical thought experiment to pose to you instead.

Suppose we had the ability to do things differently at the start of the industrial revolution - to specify and regulate the use of cheap energy however we wanted. Suppose further that the growth of the human population could likewise be regulated however we liked.

Given those assumptions, what sort of industrialized civilization could have been developed that would be completely sustainable? It would of course be much smaller that what we have today, but presumably above some minimum size in terms of population. It would have to recycle all resources and use only sustainable amounts of energy from forests, hydro power, wind, solar, etc.

Could such a civilization have been developed that would have provided many or most of the comforts and technologies of our times, but for a much smaller population?

Note that I'm not implying such a civilization is actually desirable because our current one has all sorts of pathologies resulting from our disconnection from the natural world. Instead, I'm asking this with a goal of determining what kinds of industrial civilizations are theoretically possible within the thermodynamic limits of our planet.

Alex said...

First I'll need a time machine to get back to February of 2012...

GHung said...

"Those of my readers who still have a steady income and a home they expect to be able to keep would still be well advised to doublecheck their insulation and weatherstripping, install solar water heating and other homescale renewable energy technologies.."

Just a note that those of you in the US who plan to do this and have the ability and desire to take tax credits for such installations, many credits are set to expire in 2016, and, considering the current make-up of Congress (and many state legislatures), I wouldn't count on many incentives going forward. The water heating system we added last year qualifies for 65% of total costs in state and federal tax credits which can be claimed over 5 years. For a breakdown of current state/federal credits see:

Kutamun said...

I think you are quite correct in that this is a 1914 type scenario we are experiencing ...
For me this week the Charlie Hebdo attacks resonated in the same vein as the Assassination of A Buffoonish Austrian Archduke in 1914 in that the first casualty of these events has been truth. For me what has been misrepresented as an attack by radical islam on a furry froggy peace loving egalitarian critter is in all probability the latest stirrings of serious uprising by the internal proletariat of a notoriously imperialistic country whose middle class elites seem completely oblivious to the carnage that modern consumer middle class lifestyles wreak on the imperial periphery as well as its own internal periphery . 10000 troops now deployed domestically , for heavens sake .
(One million dead Algerians , anyone ?? )

Writers such as Mark Levine on Al Jazeera opinion section and chris hedges on truthdig have calmly deconstructed the most likely nature of these attacks , quite apart from the war drums against "Islam" which are now beating loudly to distract the harried and anxious endangered species middle class from the unsavoury prospects of impending financial collapse and the excesses of the transnational stateless ruling class ...Of course the shining white light of radical islam is bound to become an irresistible beacon to draw moths of all disaffected stripes to its flame , but to fall for this obvious chimaera is a disaster for all thinking people who hope to not be used as cannon fodder in the collapse .

Down here in fuzzy cute egalitarian god save the queen nirvana , we are sitting on two thirds of the worlds known uranium deposits , and if my hunch is correct we will soon be having the mother of all debates about nuclear power in this country , as the indigenous people at the maralina nuclear test sites have finally started glowing a slightly less luminous shade of green !
I have noticed various companies quietly moving chess pieces in to south australia in advance of the Olympic Dam uranium project firing up , though the attempt to install a neo con state government earlier this year has failed . I get the sense they are waiting for the coming economic purge before ramping this project up , as once we are all sitting among the smoking ruins of the world economy the debate over nuclear will be that much easier to prosecute with the shell shocked public who by then will mostly be curled up in the foetal position whimpering " mummy

South australia is also the site of significant naval sub building facilities as well as the home of the arckaringa shale oil deposits near coober peedy ( as well as the cooper basin geothermal projects ) asx listing "GDY " a there you are , my crazy energy projects for Skippy Ozland !
Halliburton went within an ace last time the neocons were in power down under of gaining the contract to ship nuclear waste from all around the world from SA spencer gulf up the railway line to alice springs ( pine gap ) and then up to remote Mukaty Station near tennant creek , againt the wishes of the already slightly radioactive locals .( waste from the reactors of u.s nuclear warships , anyone ??) . My guess is that this project is still very much alive

Our next green wizard magical project should be to re- manifest the ageing bards of Midnight Oil for some serious Dead Heart Diesel and Dust , against the backdrop of some hard core Blue Sky Mining .
Interesting that Richard Heinberg points out in his book that there is only 80 odd years of uranium left in the world at current rates of usage , though breeder reactors such as the one at Fuka- sashimi in Japan have been constructed to try and string this out by burning the much more unstable and dangerous Plutonium ....
Happy Days to water the veges !

John Michael Greer said...

Tom, I'd take it as a sign that the other kind is in increasingly short supply.

Ecologist, "the inanity of the desperate" is a keeper, for that matter. I'll look forward to your Photoshopped entry!

William, not only do I think that something of the sort is possible, I'm quite confident that in five or six millennia, that's going to be a very common way for human beings to live. Every brand new human ecology has been an ecological disaster when it first appeared on the scene -- no reason why technic societies should be any exception. (My book The Ecotechnic Future covers this in some detail.)

Alex, that sounds like a promising start. I'll look forward to your press release or sycophantic news story!

GHung, thanks for the reminder.

Kutamun, I'm sorry to say it wouldn't surprise me to see your continent turned into a dumping ground for other people's nuclear waste. No doubt the wombats will do the sensible thing and apply for refugee status in Patagonia.

redmachus said...


The current fad of special pleading for energy breakthroughs that will save us the trouble of having to take any meaningful action about our current lifestyles strikes me as eerily similar to the way the faithful continue to insist that the Messiah (or the Great Pumpkin, for that matter) is really, truly coming this time around. I know you've commented on it before, but it fits nicely with your idea that the myth of progress fills unacknowledged emotional needs, and is a faith that won't easily be shaken.

Violet Cabra said...

As someone who grasps how bad things are likely going to be in the months and years ahead I've found, increasingly, that the place I find the most profound refuge is G-d. I've started reciting Hebrew prayers daily, attended/observed my first Shabbat last week and have began connecting with Jews in my area who share similar life paths and religious feeling.

The structure of the prayers and the awe I feel towards the Divine helps immensely with the otherwise insoluble anxiety and stress of knowing that we're likely on the precipice of very, very ugly times

It is interesting and heartening to note that my rabbi is also a homesteader and the conservative temple in Northampton has an ecuminical community garden.

I feel thankful that I've lived most of my adult life in relative poverty, have a reasonably good skill set for a lower energy future and a good group of friends who are more prepared than most. After I'm done writing this comment I'm going to make a few tinctures and settle down with my stack of herb books and take notes. It may be too late to do much, but it isn't too late to add to a prior knowledge bases and make some sensible preparations. Even now, and even as things unfold there are and will continue to be things we can do to ameliorate our situations, but I can already feel the effects of the winnowing opportunities.

Unrelated: I've been trying to join the green wizards site to no avail, can someone point me in the right direction?

Gunnar Rundgren said...

The other day, I marveled at a TV show (DW) with a German scientist explaining why we had to colonise Mars. And not only had to but could within 25 years. I was totally stunned by his belief in "progress". I don't think he ever counted on the actual cost of doing it on any scale that matters for humanity, to rocket a million people there.

John Michael Greer said...

Redmachus, exactly. Do you recall the scene in Rushdie's The Satanic Verses where the prophet leads his ecstatic followers in a march into the ocean? They're convinced that the waters will part and let them pass; they march on under the waves, singing hosannahs...and after a bit, the first bodiest start bobbing to the surface. I expect to see that scenario replayed in many different ways as we proceed.

Violet, that's a common and a highly constructive response in hard times -- as long as you don't fall into the trap of letting yourself believe that the god you worship will bail you out of the consequences of our collective bad decisions. A good close study of just how gently the God of Israel has treated his chosen people over the centuries makes a useful corrective to that notion, granted.

Gunnar, I've seen and heard the equivalent. The phrase "faith-based handwaving" comes forcefully to mind!

Will Randolph said...

William: My understanding is that the best industrial civilization could have hoped for was to use the one-time gift of fossil fuels to create long-lived infrastructure to enable 'industrial' societies to live better than they had already.

Any investment in physical infrastructure would be guaranteed to decay over time, so any society that depended on physical infrastructure which depended on non-renewable energy would be non-sustainable, though perhaps lasting far longer than the current industrial civ.

Since we're assuming magically competent and cooperative humans, I could imagine using the energy to invest in knowledge and wisdom that could be passed on indefinitely: how to deal with diseases more effectively, how to store food much longer or indefinitely, how to become more resilient to ecological or climatic changes, how to better enrich the biosphere to make human life on earth more resilient, etc.

The only 'sustainable' investment in physical infrastructure I can imagine would be an effort at interplanetary colonization. The infrastructure itself and act of colonizing would be non-sustainable, but after the one-time expenditure of energy, we could hope to have colonies independent of what goes on on earth, making the the human species (and those we depend on) more resilient.

Nathaniel Ott said...

Good post. You may be right about our heading into a 1914 Esq time period, Wichita is partly why I've finally begun getting the ball rolling and getting my affairs in order.

I don't think I'll be participating in your contest but I would like to propose a question(inspired by Williams post). I've been thinking of late: what if fossil fuels did not exist and never had? What if from the very beginning all we had was the annual supply of renewables. Would the Industrial Revolution still have occurred only with renewables or would it have been impossible without our first coming upon the vast and easily accessible FF first? I think about how much knowledge has been gained(including in renewable energy) since we started using FF full stop and wonder if we would still have that knowledge without all those (FF created) inventions. Also how will future civilizations even know how to to make things like solar panels or just general electricity through some other means if that knowledge is lost? Obviously there are ways to do it I'm just curious HOW they'll do it and how they're know how to do it.

Would be a great idea for science fiction novel seeing what kind of civilization would develop without FF's and how.


Five8Charlie said...

Greeting Mr. Greer-

Did you see that Lockheed's new fusion breakthrough will save us?

This is the same Lockheed that is responsible for the F-35 fighter, of course. The 'fighter' that doesn't seem to have a gun that will work for another two years.

Thank you for the voice of sanity every week.

Chester said...


I'm surprised! This is as close to a concrete prediction about the immediate future as I've read on this blog in the last several years. Are we really that far along?

I'm hoping the wife and I can hold on to the middle class incomes for a little while longer until we're in a place to buy a house with room for a garden.

Hard to come by where we want to be near our parents in South Florida, but I'll see what we can do.

I'll have to give the squirrel cage contest some thought. I think I concerned some middle school teachers with my plans for a power plant powered by the bodies of aging baby boomers. It's a natural talent!

Pongo said...

Where I live in Los Angeles I haven't noticed too many squirrel cases espousing crazy alternate energy schemes, although there are plenty of them I know clinging to other questionable ideas. My current favorite mass delusion: the idea of moving to Canada when the poopy hits the fan here in the United States. Because yes, over here there are plenty of people in that stereotypical Hollywood bubble that everyone hears about, folks who are totally self absorbed and not paying attention to the rest of the world except in the most superficial sense. At the same time, I know plenty of "creatives" (actors, writers, directors) who are not like that. These are people who follow the news, are well-educated and have some capacity for critical thought. And when I'm together with my friends in social settings, and the topic turns to politics or the state of the world, everyone will basically admit that they feel like something horrible is about to happen to our country and that we are on the verge of a really serious crisis of some sort. Even the ones who can't explain it just have that feeling. (I often try to distill this blog's wisdom in this situation, but most of them aren't even ready to begin hearing it) So what are everyone's plans for how they are going to handle the crisis when it hits? To a person they all entertain the same half-baked idea that they are going to get in their car as soon as the crisis hits and hightail it to the imagined safety and universal healthcare of Canada.

Now granted, the entertainment industry here in Hollywood is full of Canadians who have every right to return home, but still, one wishes them luck fighting the traffic jam that's sure to show up at the border, since even full-blooded Americans with no claim to Canadian residency espouse this as their plan. Then again, maybe this ambition of getting up and moving to Canada en masse is not really a delusion after all, maybe it's just a really stupid idea. When you consider how long and unguarded the Canadian-American border is, and how many people live on the southern side compared to the northern, it's hard to see how the Canadian authorities could do more than intercept a handful of asylum seekers if there was ever a mass movement to cross that border. Still though, people espousing that hope seem to imagine that they would have universal healthcare and house in the Vancouver suburbs. The reality of it would probably be more like people crammed like sardines into tents and trailers at a frigid refugee camp in the boondocks of Alberta.

latheChuck said...

Just last week, I heard a nationally-distributed radio program (from; you can read the transcript on-line) featuring such energy experts as Deepak Chopra, MD, and Rinaldo Brutoco (entrepreneur) talking about "energy and consciousness". Chopra told us that "both energy and consciousness are infinite", and his business partner Brutoco explained by foolproof analogy that every time we change energy sources, from wood, to coal, to oil, to natural gas, and then to hydrogen... "every time it switches, you get this massive increase in global national wealth. GDP goes up dramatically." ... " Think of what that buys. All of a sudden, we don't have to make the kind of choices we are about infrastructure, education, rising status of women, developing in the nonindustrial world. All these issues start to go away when you switch from scarcity to abundance."

So, there you have it. Change equals progress equals more wealth than we'll know what to do with.

I almost posted this last week, but it seems even more relevant today!

Marinhomelander said...

One of your commentators, Deborah Bender, aka Unknown, was spot-on two weeks ago.

She was correct when she hinted that our local family run nursery would go out of business after 75 years, in spite of selling fruit trees and edibles. In addition the big high end gift shop is gone and so is one bookstore. Next up in this small town will be the preponderance of businesses that cater to women's “needs” such as waxing, lingerie, nails, accessory clothing and other things.

And this is already occurring in the wealthiest, best-educated and healthiest county west of the Mississippi; the Whitetopia of Marin County, California.

Thankfully, there are laws that allow solar installations over and above zoning. Permaculture has been in the forefront and practiced for decades in the county and, you can get money back from the water district for buying compost and other water saving measures.

However, in one last gasp of easy money and tax-credit harvesting, the big developers, accountants and the captive class of professional consultants, public and private, and commissioners, are surfing on all the hard work and activism of generations of real environmentalists.

They are busy co-opting the local politicians into letting them build large (up to 180 units) new energy intensive buildings around dubious new transit projects. This in the name of “stopping” global warming, “doing our fair share” and “creating equity housing”.

Locals are mad and are fighting back with surprisingly effective results in a non-partisan manner. I predict that out of all the spiritualism, (Rahm Das, EST, Synanon, Transidental Meditation, and Alan Watts got their start here and make it a more interesting place), out of all that, real environmentalism and the civic engagement above, there may come a populist and practical philosophy to partially alleviate what’s being discussed.

I would like to meet up with any other readers of this locally.

9anda1f said...

Great post! I think Lockheed-Martin already has it's platoon of squirrels on the march with their truck-sized fusion reactor prototype within 5 years and commercially available units in ten.
While there are some science-types questioning this, Lock-Mart carries significant influence in the political world and coupled with Helium-3 from the moon (and LM's booster/launch capabilities)the company stands to "catapult us forward into the age of free energy!"
Might be a good time to pick up some Lock-Mart stocks! ; )

dfr2010 said...

Now that the dust has settled on the roller coaster month of December for us, it is full speed ahead on making my chicken-related dreams and schemes into concrete plans and actions. It looks like I should focus on livestock, as I have extended my world record of killing mint (!) in a third state with a third distinct soil and climate (Indiana loam, Tennessee clay, now Florida sand). My "secret" to killing mint? I WANT it to grow! At least enough mustard greens have grown for the chickens this winter.

latheChuck said...

One of my friends suggested putting our prison population to good use, turning cranks, or running on treadmills, to generate electricity. I shared with him the useful estimate that the sustainable power output of a human being is about 100W x 10 hours, or 1 kWh ($0.15 at today's typical rates).

Another useful figure, for comparison, is that a coal stoker can shovel 2 ton per hour, for 8 hours a day.

The ratio of energy released is 132,000 (if I've slid my rule properly). Some times, the new thing is just a little better than the old thing, like a better breed of wheat. Other times, it's hard to imagine the magnitude (like digital computers vs. slide rules).

Even so, I sharpened a plane blade yesterday with a hand-cranked grinding wheel, and drilled holes for dowels with a hand-cranked drill.

Marinhomelander said...

Forgot to mention, not only does the site I linked; illustrate the local battle, but a few panels down there are some spectacular illustrations of the future envisioned by past cornucopians.
Why did they have better artists then?

Cherokee Organics said...


Well, I believe that I have discussed with you before the subject of renewable energy and taken it to the inevitable ending of that matter. It's good stuff, but makes for unpleasant reading for expectational folk.

Anyway, I was using solar electric energy today to bake a loaf of bread in an electric oven and thought up a useful (?) concept for the readers to get a feel for how much energy is available in a 4.2kW solar electric off grid system - in the real world.

It's called the loafometer (cool, huh?)! To bake a loaf of bread uses up about 0.8kWh of electrical energy. So 0.8kWh is equal to 1 loaf as measured by the loafometer (should that be a TM?).

So, on the very worst day of energy production here, the 4.2kW of photovoltaic electrical panels produce 0.5 loaves (note the use of the plural) for an entire day.

On the very best day that I've recorded here over many years, the 4.2kW of photovoltaic electrical panels produce 14.3 loaves for an entire day.

As a comparison, the loafometer is quite flexible and it can be used to measure the average households daily electrical usage for a house down under to give approximately: 30.8 loaves.

Those loaves are available whether the sun shines or the wind blows or not as may well be the case. It is an unrealistic expectation of future performance.

It is quite frightening really. Personally I'm happy with far fewer loaves.

PS: I've just thought up a very amusing and dodgy cornucopian premise for the competition.

I also assume that the first person that posts a dodgy media release, gets the credit for it and the idea and can't be copied or modified by later entries?



PS: There is a new blog post up discussing: hot weather; bees; flowers; fruit harvests; native grasses; electric chipping; mulch in quantity; and unexpected tropical monsoons. All good stuff with lots of cool photos: Courting trouble

Kylie said...

Someone last week was asking about survival strategies for the privileged and the 1%. My suggestion would be to use those resources to make yourself as useful as possible in your local area.

That manor house on the hill is a lot less likely to be burned by an angry mob if the gardens are filled with community garden plots, communal orchards and free herbs, if the house employs a dozen young apprentices from local families, and if there's a bicycle mechanic working out of the shed on-site.

Your neighbours can be your support network and your early warning system, or they can be your local vandals and dispossessed enemies.

I would suggest that those of us with greater access to resources have a duty to use them for the benefit of our neighbours. Far better to be a big local employer than an absentee landlord, particularly in the absence of formal security.

pyrrhus said...

Regarding maintaining the streets: the city of Tucson, run by the usual group of leftist clowns and a beneficiary of a mild climate northern cities can only dream about, cannot afford to repair its roads these days.

pyrrhus said...

As to the squirrel cases, and various other forms of perpetual motion, and generation of energy from random heat, they are easily refuted by the Laws of thermodynamics....unfortunately, even my friends who are professional engineers of distinction, aren't familiar with these basic physical laws.

Eric S. said...

The squirrel chase sounds amusing, but at the same time, I’m expecting to see too much of the real thing as it is. Satire is always welcome, though. I think I’ll be focusing more on “crunch time” stuff myself. I wonder if a challenge on that theme would be a good idea for next year? Maybe something like the Krampus challenge, but geared more towards tips and tricks than big engineering projects.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that process of doubling down, and how easy it is to use progress to mask decline. I overhear people talking about the Self Driving Cars that are working their way through the prototyping phase, for instance. Since they rely on Google maps, they would only be able to drive in areas that are programmed into the maps and have reliable wi-fi. The same is true of electric cars that are only viable near an industrial power grid. I can easily imagine a world in which all maintenance and repair is reserved for a few major arteries and a few decaying urban centers but google cars, virtual reality games, and household “robots” that are little more than glorified i-phones make it impossible to notice what’s actually going on until it’s far too late. I think about the “inducer” from the first story in the latest After Oil collection, which was the center of people’s lives in a few urban centers with internet, but was rubbish for a little girl’s odds and ends connections just a few hundred miles away. That ability of technology to provide shiny distractions from the surrounding decay presents a powerful case for less stimulation.

The “as the torch held downward regains fresh strength, so from lowly fortune will Rome soar even more radiantly aloft” language in Rutilius Namatianus’ “A Voyage Home to Gaul” is a constant reminder to me that people will continue to believe in the return of prosperity even long after the world has moved on. But I do wonder if there’ll ever be a day in the foreseeable future when people who value the pursuit of a simpler, handmade life and put spiritual fulfillment before mindless entertainment are more than a scattered fringe.

Glenn said...

Back in the 1960's the Head of the U.S. Postal Service had an anti-mail fraud campaign which said "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't true."

I've found it applicable to a good number of thing in my life, including _amazing_ energy technology claims.

In other energy news; bucked 3 truck loads (small truck) of firewood from a blowdown in the State Park (permit $25, the hard part is waiting to get to the head of the Park Manager's list) and brought it home. By the close of the week we should have next winter's firewood in.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Toro Loki said...

I know how to generate energy using squirrels
Its called squirrel-ka-bob.
Bon appetite.

thepublicpast said...

Presumably the amount of hand-waving around here will reach critical mass and those danged wind turbines will start pulling their weight.

Still, the comment section on one of the Chinese Helium-3 articles I saw this morning were interesting. Few hallelujahs, a good number of complaints about NASA falling behind (Is the Space Race making a comeback?) and a surprisingly large number of folks who pointed out that we've no fusion reactors to speak of.

Nobody mentioned that to send a bulldozer to the moon, let alone a fleet of them (plus regular shipments of supplies and fuel one way, and Helium-3 the other) would blow so much energy so as to make the whole scheme utterly unworkable.

Gardener Green said...

I don't have the time or the imagination to work it up as a "proposal" or a press release but here is a good whacky Idea I got from a SF book I read when a teen. Our 'Hero' had discovered or invented a way to chemically alter common clay and give it photovoltaic properties. By adding it to a paint base, whatever the base is that pigment is added to, one could paint if on their roof and Voila! you had all the energy you could use for next to nothing.

Now the Kicker was that by feeding energy to this material it would glow with light. Paint the ceiling in your house, attach a few wires and wham, instant illumination.

Wish I could remember the name of the book or the Author but it all a distant memory now.

Anyone who wants to use this and work it up feel free. Probably not whacky enough though.

Great Post though

Carl said...

Dear JMG,
" This is crunch time, folks; unless I’m very much mistaken, we’re on the brink of a historical inflection point like the ones in 1789 and 1914, one of the watersheds of time after which nothing will ever be the same again."

I'm sure I won't be the only one that got a chill run down my spine after reading that. Looks like it is past Time to buy my son that chicken coop he wants for his 11th birthday (people call him the chicken whisper). Also brewing 5 gallons of pale ale this weekend (started brewing about five years ago after you suggested it. Last weekend I put in a bare root Asian pear and dwarf nectarine. Now if Nor Cal would just get some more rain.

jean-vivien said...

the media are starting to ask the hard questions now. Why is freedom of speech heralded as a Holy Standard when it comes to defending one of the best cultural legacies from the 70s, a time when prosperity was not just for the White upper-class... and why is that same Standard lowered when the French government blindly takes a black (dishonest, law-despising, mediocre, used to vile provocation) humor comedian into custody because he published one edgy Facebook comment ?

This double standard, enforced by our Heads Of State, is going to add more resent to an already strained society. Said crappy comedian's pique was actually a covert antisemitic pique, referring to the Cosher store part of the attacks. By stupidly advertising that guy with taxpayer money (custody can only make him more popular, AND it is paid by our taxes), the government is at risk of adding antisemitism to the building up of social strains. The elites are truly blind here. Having Israel's Head Of State march to defend peace and the freedom of caricaturing Islam's Prophet last Sunday is certainly going to help ease the growing discontent with our Middle-East policy after last summer's slaughter of Palestinian civilians.
I hope the unity of last Sunday's march is not a horribly realistic illusion, or that it will stand the test of economic hardships facing us.

The worldwide context is also pretty grim. No one knows how Saudi Arabia is going to rule itself, which will add to the US's home energy problems. So I agree with you or JMG that 2015 is standing at the threshold of vastly disruptive events. And yet here people still have trouble grasping simple economic realities, for example that low oil prices are not due to abundance but to a global deflation.

A really useful step on a social level would to find a way of applying the Green Wizardry paradigm to our suburbs. The French suburbs, in terms of landscape and social structure, is our social equivalent of a giant pile of nuclear waste waiting by the roadside. If any other French reader/commenter of this blog has any practical idea in that direction, I would be very interested to hear it. The question for France is not as much going to be How without oil ? as it is going to be What to do with the suburbs and peripheries ?

John D. Wheeler said...

I think people will have a hard time beating

On the other end of the spectrum, I think has one of those systems that would have been great if it had just come a little earlier. It has the potential to do a lot of good, but is going to have some hard times in a deflationary economy.

My personal favorite squirrel cage is to build massive chimneys in the desert that create their own updraft and run windmills off them.

Another exotic idea is to use strings to convert wind to sound waves and convert the audio energy to electricity.

One more conventional idea I expect to see tried is geothermal energy conversion, basically the land equivalent of OTEC, but you can use idle fracking equipment to set it up.

Of course, if we could capture the hot air from politicians, we would have an inexhaustible supply of energy.

John Michael Greer said...

Nate, I'd be delighted to read a SF novel with that premise. How soon do you expect to get started writing it? ;-)

Charlie, clearly Lockheed Martin has gotten used to getting vast amounts of government money by making easy promises that don't have to be kept, and decided -- quite sensibly, all things considered -- that fusion was the best place to get more of it.

Chester, I'm certainly capable of being wrong, but with commodities and stocks both lurching downward worldwide, I think we're in for a thumping crisis in the fairly near future. I'll look forward to your squirrel case!

Pongo, maybe you should do a squirrel case that involves generating energy via revolving doors at the Canadian border, which are powered by Americans trying to flee the country!

LatheChuck, yes, that's going to be par for the course -- and the deeper in economic crisis we get, the more strident the voices will be insisting that Utopia will arrive next Wednesday. An explosive mixture, no question.

Homelander, it'll be interesting to see what happens when the money runs out entirely and Marin County begins its inevitable descent into rust belt status.

9andalf, no argument there -- but I'd be careful about the stocks. A lot of paper wealth is due for a drastic revaluation in the years ahead.

Dfr, in your place I'd get hopping. How on earth can you kill mint? Have you considered a job as an invasive planet exterminator? ;-)

LatheChuck, ssssh! Don't disturb the blissful dream of cornucopian excess with the cold harsh light of reality...

Cherokee, get a trademark on "loafometer"! As for the contest, the first entry to use a given gimmick will take precedence over any copycat entries -- yes, you may consider that an incentive.

Kylie, if members of the 1% did that, and didn't demand exorbitant privileges in return, that might help. I remain highly skeptical about whether many of them, or any of them, will actually go so far as to do that, though.

Pyrrhus, I can point you to plenty of cities and states not run by leftists that have just as bad a time paving their streets. As for the laws of thermodynamics, sssssssh! Don't wake the dreamers...

Kutamun said...

Cant help noticing the common mass psychological reaction to the attacks in both Sydney and Paris has been " Unity "
Now i dont want to open the Pandoras box which the Archdruid has already dealt with in great depth in the recent series of posts on fascism ; but it does appear that these types of attacks have produced some elements of "Fasces "
Ie the sticks bundled together with the axe protruding , carried by the Roman Lictors to signify summary power and juristiction .. If these attacks have been engineered as false flags or not is irrelevant , they are producing effects which are the opposite of individual liberty , ie causing people to huddle together like a frightened easily militarised bundle of sticks ( in a country which likes to think of itself as the very epitome of liberal democracy - France ) .....curious
For some reason i am thinking of Ethiopia ( Abyssinia ) , the Abyss between what is ideal and what is actual , and the Athenian Tarot card "The Emperor " which in some systems corresponds with "Aries " .., i see similarities with the Fasces axe and Athena springing fairly formed from the head of her father , Zeus ...the maternal doesnt get a run ..
Anyway , as my mate Cherokee would say " just sayin '!"

From wikipedia " propaganda of fascist italy " - wikipedia entry
" National and social unity was symbolized by the fascesthemselves, the bound sticks being stronger together than individually.[48] This drew on military themes from World War I, where Italians were called to pull together into a unity.[49] Similarly, he declared that the State did not weaken the individual, any more than a soldier was weakened by the rest of the regiment.[51]

This was part of an explicit rejection of liberal individualism; the punitive aspect of the fasces, containing an ax, not being omitted.[52] Furthermore, Fascism was to be a totalitarian, that is total experience, since it was impossible to a Fascist only in politics, and therefore overtly rejected liberalism's private and public spheres.[53] Fascism was not a party but a way of life.[54] The corporatist state was offered as a unifying form of politics, as opposed to liberal democracy.[55] Fascism and the state were identified, and everything was to be encompassed in the state.[56]

Work was presented as a social duty, because Italy was greater than any individual purpose.[57] Beehives were presented as a model of industry and harmony.[58]

Furthermore, this unity would allow the entire nation to throw itself into support of military necessity.[59] The sanctions imposed by the League of Nations when Italy attacked Ethiopia were used to unite the country against this "aggression."[60]"

John D. Wheeler said...

Oh yes, regarding Cherokee Organics comment, I'm not planning on actually entering the contest, so if anyone wants to take one of my ideas and run with it, feel free!

Also, regarding Helium-3, one of the books advocating mining the moon over a decade ago estimated that the EROEI was about 2-to-1; most sources I have seen suggest an EROEI of 10-to-1 is required to maintain a civilized society. Or, once we spend more than 10% of our energy on gathering energy, activities we associate with civilization get cut out.

Cathy McGuire said...

Wow! I wasn’t expecting to see another contest when I peeked at the site this evening! And David & I have to organize voting, too! Since I plan to enter, and maybe David, we’ll have to pick a couple of members who aren’t entering to gather the votes – unless we can do it publically… I’ve posted it over at the GW site, and on the forum, and we’ll come up with a voting process soon- and I plan to get my mental squirrels running full tilt on an entry! ;-)

Another wonderful post, and yes, it’s increasingly odd to read the news these days – I keep wondering if the Onion has taken over… on the homefront, I keep looking over what I’ve got and trying to guess where my own personal bottleneck might be… the one or two things needed that might make the other parts less useful. Hard to predict when you don’t know what’s gonna be in short supply.

If our society is going to indulge in delusional daydreams as it topples over the edge of crisis, couldn’t we at least see some proposals that haven’t been rehashed since I was in high school?
I got one!! (hand raised and waving): (click on Oil Today, Algae Tomorrow) But it might be on the level of squirrel cases… ;-)

@Violet: The sign up for Green Wizards is complex in order to avoid the intense mountains of spam we were getting. Start with and sign up then email me at c a th y@ cat hym cguir m (take out the spaces) telling me your user name and I’ll upgrade you to “trusted user” – then you can post on the forum (that goes for anyone else who wants to join up).

John Michael Greer said...

Eric, oh, it'll happen. It'll probably take a decade of misery and frantic attempts at pretense, but I suspect common sense will creep in bit by bit.

Glenn, I'll have to go looking for a photo of one of those flyers. It's a concept worth reviving.

Toro Loki, no doubt. That won't prop up the fantasy of entitlement among the privileged classes, though.

Thepublicpast, well, of course. Try mentioning those perfectly sound points, though, and see what sort of reaction you get!

Gardener, hmm! I managed to miss that one. If you ever remember what the book was, I'd be delighted to find out.

Carl, if your son wants a chicken coop for his birthday, you've raised an uncommonly sensible kid. In your place I'd get that bought and gift-wrapped sooner rather than later.

John, oh, come on -- I'm sure you can come up with a wowser of a submission to the contest!

Kutamun, do you remember my discussion of fascism as the authoritarianism of the center? To borrow Cherokee's line, "just sayin'..."

I R Orchard said...

Kutamun: I wonder if the Ozzie financial system will have the resources to build such grandiose schemes if/when the collapse JMG is envisaging happens. Sometimes the fragility of our civilization spooks me. Read "I, Pencil" and mull over how many widgets are needed to build a nuke station, with no bits missing, no excuses. Sure, I saw a pencil the other day that was literally a twig where someone had drilled a hole and inserted a rod of 'graphite', but according to the above essay even that is a complex material with components from all over the planet, not something growing on trees.

Chris G said...

I sometimes judge high school debate, in which I also competed in high school. I enjoy the intellectual culture, and lately, have enjoyed seeing how the young adults handle very adult matters. You know, childhood extends a long time nowadays - often right into the early to mid twenties. The kids are very well informed, and funny to say, as blind as ever.

In the Lincoln-Douglas, or values/philosophical debates, the topic in the Spring 2014 was the balance of environmental impact vs. economic benefit in the pursuit of natural resource extraction. I was fortunate to judge some semi-final rounds in the state championship, so the debaters were quite polished. In a memorable debate, the affirmative side presented a case in which the central value was "Pantheism" with a criterion of social justice. Her opponent - so, affirming the economic benefit of natural resource extraction - countered with the obvious and indefatigable position that development makes people's lives better.

Neither mentioned the possibility of an absence of the fuels required for their either grandiose or destructive plans. It reminded me of a line from, I think, somewhere in the Mahabharata, in which Dharma (as a god) is questioning Yuddhistira (who is his son), and among the questions was, "What is the most wondrous thing?" to which Yuddhistira replied, "Every day we die, yet we go on living as though we are immortal. That is the greatest wonder."

I was reading through the projections, both the realistic projections by Post-Carbon Institute (which when considering that PCI cannot factor in capex, and political/environmental concerns, their realistic estimates are really optimistic!) and the EIA projections. The trouble is that to what extent plans are being made, they are being made based on overzealous estimates - and ones that are terribly front-loaded. That is the trouble for a consumer as well - consider someone contemplating buying a car, thinking gas prices are low. Because fracked wells tail off production by about 80-90% after three years - think about the nature of the process of extraction here, not just drawing off a reservoir, but pulverizing sediments - so the prices of the commodity will bounce up considerably by 2018 or 2019 at the outside.

You have discussed "demand destruction". I imagine that by the above time frame or sooner, there will begin to be mounting reasons for us to either get involved, or arm somebody, in overseas conflicts, which yet again get to play their favorite role of demand creation. And there will be incredibly good reasons, of course.

Dustin Hamman said...

"One of the entertainments to be expected as the year draws on and the crisis bears down on us all, though, is a profusion of squirrel cases of the sort discussed toward the beginning of this essay."

I give you Exhibit A: U.S. fusion program must have energy mission

A co-worker sent me this link today. (He and I had an interesting conversation after.) Apparently it was a leading story on today's 'Nuclear Energy Institute SmartBrief'. I thought regular readers might enjoy it as a prime squirrel case study. It appears they are just getting warmed up!

Fantastic post, as usual, John. I also truly appreciate the call to action. (garden, solar heat, etc.) I found it direct and highly motivating.

Thank you,


p.s. As this fusion program idea is really not terribly creative, I thought I'd also share this slightly more imaginative 'vintage' squirrel case (born out of the last energy crisis and fueled by the promise of 'free' federal money) to get everyone's gears turning for the new contest. Complete with fancy graphics!

Doomed Dome: The Future That Never Was
“The biggest issue, he believes, would be the public taking of land via eminent domain to secure the area around the edges” The biggest issue. Ha ha.

Mark Sebela said...


A small handful of Canadian doomer folk are aware that, for one reason or another, Americans will be showing up sooner or later. Mexicans and people from Central America too.

Canadian writer and social critic, Giles Slade wrote a book about it.

American Exodus -- Climate Change and the Coming Flight for Survival.

Here is an interview he did on Greg Moffitt's, LegalizeFreedom podcast.
John has done a number of interviews on that show too.

P.S. Tell your coworkers they'll never get past the receptionists at the Dr's office without a government issued provincial health card ;)

I R Orchard said...

John D Wheeler:
"One more conventional idea I expect to see tried is geothermal energy conversion, basically the land equivalent of OTEC, but you can use idle fracking equipment to set it up."
We're ahead of you on that one John. Geothermal has been running for years in NZ, Iceland and ?Italy, and the scientists drilling into our Great Alpine Fault commented they had incidentally found an promising source of underground heat that isn't sitting on top of a magma chamber. Of course, as a resource it could never produce the amounts of energy that we need to sustain our profligate lifestyles, but that is one of the big problems, changes are going to happen.

Kutamun said...

Ok JMG thanks for the jog ...i have bouts of lucidity followed by periods of "sleeping beauty" again , hopefully i end up as a prince l not a frog !
Something about the response to these attacks brought this conversation back

Ffascism’s popularity—and it’s the reason why an outbreak of full-blown fascism is a real and frightening possibility as America stumbles blindly into an unwelcome future. We’ll talk about that next week."

escapefromwisconsin said...

"It’s an interesting regularity of history that the closer to disaster a society in decline becomes, the more grandiose, triumphalist, and detached from the grubby realities its fantasies generally get. I’m thinking here of the essay on military affairs from the last years of the Roman world that’s crammed full of hopelessly unworkable war machines, and of the final, gargantuan round of Mayan pyramids built on the eve of the lowland classic collapse."

Er, then it's probably not a good sign that a record number of skyscrapers were built last year:

P.S. I doubt I can top the latest idea that the future will be powered by volcanoes:

Joel Caris said...

Man, I sometimes wonder if I blew my timing. I just picked up an office job with a local nonprofit I've been involved with for the last couple years. It's a good organization doing worthwhile work, building the local food system and supporting small farmers. But it's very grant-dependent, meaning it's system-dependent. And that system won't be here forever--and may well be in tatters in a year or two.

On the other hand, I purposely declined to apply for the job as a full time position and instead teamed with another person in the organization to co-apply, with each of us working part time. Why? Well, so I would still have time to grow and raise food. I'm keeping a bit of side work with the two farms I've been working for over the last three years and will continue to garden and grow food for myself. I still have my flock of chickens. I'm still making yogurt, both for myself and for trade. My hand crank, Wondermill grain grinder just arrived today. I'll use it to grind the flour corn I grew last year. I just joined a local work party group and will get my work party in April, which will be the building and installation of a batch solar water heater. I'm the Treasurer of the local Grange. I have a whole lot of community members who seem to like and respect me. Even though I've given some of my farm work to my new roommate, I've kept some and still know of two local farmers who are looking for extra help, and both of whom expressed interest in me specifically.

My new position's funded for at least one year and probably two, though I can't guarantee a haywire economy won't derail that second year. I'm very purposefully not investing my ego in this new position. I've taken it on, but I'm remaining cautious and not expecting anything permanent from it. I've already accepted that it could end abruptly, and that I could find myself largely or mostly out of work. Obviously, I don't want that to happen--but if it does, it won't shatter my mental and emotional world, and I have some idea of what I'll do to get by (though I also know I'll have to figure much of that out on the fly.)

No, I don't imagine my timing was good on this work change. But I still think there's a good chance I'll manage to scrape by, whatever happens.

We'll see, though. Interesting times, right? I suppose my biggest hope is that I'll find my way and help others find theirs. That I'll be able to offer something to my community. I know I'm doing that now and I'm pretty sure I'll be able to continue doing it in some capacity, whatever happens.

I have to say, I'm nervous to see what this year brings. But I'm fascinated, too. I suppose having a foot in both worlds will just make it all the more fascinating.

notliz said...

Typo alert: the original post says "Entries must be posted here by February 28, 2012."

Credit to Alex who said "First I'll need a time machine to get back to February of 2012..." but it seems you missed the point of his comment.

This is my first post but I've been reading here for a while. Thanks for all your thought-provoking words, JMG!

Tony Rasmussen said...

Hm, well I wrote a silly little something a few years back that seems quite apt for this contest. The basic idea was that we rely on the sun (ultimately) for all of our energy, this leaves us dangerously exposed, and therefore some diversification would be prudent. The proposal: Stellar Energy Harvesting.

Here's the gist, link to the full spiel is below:
"... the galaxy is full of billions and gazillions of stars, and the science of astronomy has established that most of them make our own sun look piffling by comparison. Yet the ramifications of this fact seem to have escaped us. Billions of suns, every one of them way bigger than Sol! These are the true 'alternative energy sources' we should be focusing on.

Though the amount of energy that can be harvested from any one star is admittedly infinitesimal, the number of stars is so large that we can, as they say, make it up in volume. Do not let anyone, whether some hotshot professor or your dear old mum, convince you otherwise. If they even try, do what must be done to silence them and let your conscience be quiet about it.

We therefore call for a national-level 10 trillion dollar Stellar Energy Harvesting Initiative that aims to bring the percentage of our energy harvested from the non-Sol stars up to 5% of GDP by 2035, or your money back.

This Initiative will eventually pay for itself a thousand times over, but up front it will require us to bite the bullet and raise taxes on DVD rentals, lane changes, and kettle corn..."

Stellar Energy Harvesting Key to Energy Independence

steve said...

Dear Archdruid, the time machine mentioned by Alex is in regards to a typo on the deadline for the unworkable energy stories. I think that you meant Feb 2015? Oopsie. Otherwise a great article, thank you for your weekly efforts.

Wizard of Tas said...

The problem with sending a million people to Mars is that seven billion minus one million equals seven billion.

Mars might be a little more interesting, but it does nothing for us down here.

And a spaceship carrying a hundred tonnes of ore... great... should work out to $ten million a ton.

Bogatyr said...

JMG: you truly are prescient. The EU had better stop dreaming and sort out new energy supplies QUICKLY.

Breaking news: all Russian gas exports to the EU via Ukraine are to stop. Russia will export as far as the Turkish border with Greece; if the EU wants the gas to go any further that that, it will have to build its own pipeline.

The best the EU can do so far is to bluster about damage to Russia's reputation... The gloves are off, now.

Spanish fly said...

I'm feeling the blues, so I remember part of thata song...


and see the children are starving
and their houses were destroyed
don't think they could forgive you

hey, when seas will cover lands
and when men will be no more
don't think you can forgive you

yeah, when there'll just be silence
and when life will be over
don't think you will forgive you

ya, you never said a word
you didn't send me no letter
don't think i could forgive you

see, our world is slowly dying
i'm not wasting no more time
don't think i could believe you

ya, you never said a word
you didn't send me no letter
don't think i could forgive you

(prayer in C, of course)

James Mishler said...

"and of the final, gargantuan round of Mayan pyramids built on the eve of the lowland classic collapse"

And here's another case where History may not repeat, but it sure does rhyme...

Scotlyn said...

"weathering the storm" seems apt... As I read this, we're perched on Ireland's northwestern edge at 966 on the barometer, being battered by one of the Atlantic's finest offerings of rushing winds.

Balancing the "weather warning" to batten down with a bit of drollery and entertainment to avert worry seems a sensible approach, JMG. Worry is probably the least useful thing to be doing just now. Thanks!

Repent said...

As mentioned by a few other people above, the new age community has been suggesting for awhile now that people can tap directly into source energy, and even do without eating food:

While I would love to tap directly into source energy myself to reduce or eliminate my grocery bills, on a practical basis- what is the exact method? I further doubt that this source energy will power the tools and vehicles of industrial civilization. The proof is of course in the pudding.

I also feel an inflection point arriving. I think the 1789, or 1914 reference is very valid for the state of world affairs right now. Every article I've read about the collapse of the petro dollar, ignores the obvious question of collapse against what? All of the other currencies are just as much faith based as is the value of the US dollar, why wouldn't they all collapse in tandem maintaining the relative value of the US dollar indefinitely? Still this could be a few years in the unfolding process.

I wonder what your take is about traditional methods people have taken in times of crisis, such as joining unions, illegal strikes and so forth? I was considering joining a union as a hedge against reckless pressure at work to increase productivity forever. Strikes and collective action have traditionally produced some bargaining power and results against the elites.

Scotlyn said...

pS... Like Violet, I'm also trying to join Green Wizards -waiting a while for my invite... Also seeking live links to the conserver leaflet library JMG posted in June 2011? But all the links I've come on are duds...

Jason Heppenstall said...

This is crunch time, folks; unless I’m very much mistaken, we’re on the brink of a historical inflection point like the ones in 1789 and 1914, one of the watersheds of time after which nothing will ever be the same again.

As I read those words a storm is an Atlantic howling outside the house. There is lightening and deep rolls of thunder - very unusual for winter - and the electric lights keep flickering on and off.

How do you do that?

YCS said...

You give a stark warning, and I hope won't be ignored by whoever reads it (including me). The last time a 1914 type scenario happened, large parts of the world went to war. With the drums of war beating against Russia, I'm mentally preparing myself to deal with the idea of being drafted for a war I would principally oppose in every way (including sympathy with the 'enemy').

To lighten my mood I'll try and rise to your challenge - I always had an amusing thought about making convicts generate power on stationary bicycles in return for slightly reduced sentence times.

On another note, I thought you'd be interested to know that nowadays international debating has another meaning for the word 'squirrel'. A squirrel is an case set up with truisms or bad definitions so that it can't be proven false. As an example, I adjudicated a high school debate last year about banning religious symbols in schools. The affirmative team decided to define religious symbols as 'expression of faith' but not physical symbols like crosses and veils (did they think that I wouldn't know English?), to basically 'squirrel' away from the real argument.
Obviously the modern 'squirrel' is just as common as the 'squirrel' of your time.


Gloucon X said...

JMG said- “Since what’s driving the price of oil up isn’t merely market factors, but the hard geological realities of depletion, not everyone who got forced out of the market when the price was high can get back into it when the price is low—gas at $2 a gallon doesn’t matter if your job scavenging abandoned houses doesn’t pay enough for you to cover the costs of a car, and let’s not even talk about how much longer the local government can afford to maintain streets in driveable condition.”

I have to admit that what is going on in the world may be beyond the ability of my meager brain to process. The price of said rapidly depleting substance just went down again by nearly 2% today to $47. At that rate it will be free by Easter. Every day on this planet a billion vehicles that need that substance are switched on and move, more or less, happily along streets. I can’t explain how this happens, but apparently it does happen. If we again have a glut of energy, and gas is $2 a gallon, who needs squirrels? In fact, if this keeps up we may soon see squirrels driving cars.

streamfortyseven said...

The exotic idea to produce electrical current from sound isn't so exotic - you do it every time you use a telephone or a microphone. It's been done since 1876, as a matter of fact, so you could look at an Audels book on electricity (mine dates from 1920) and figure out how to do a homebrew setup. The current could be used to trickle charge a capacitor - they show how to make those, too, by the way. To generate the sound you could make some wind bells - they could be situated in a garden to scare away birds, too. They make noise even with small amounts of wind. You're not going to be making a *lot* of power this way - you might be able to run LED lighting or power QRP radios, but not refrigeration or microwave ovens or electric furnaces or washers and driers or electric water heaters. You might be able to run a local telephone network, though.

Spanish fly said...

Meanwhile, in Europe...

nyatnagarl said...

Nathaniel Ott said...
What if from the very beginning all we had was the annual supply of renewables. Would the Industrial Revolution still have occurred only with renewables or would it have been impossible without our first coming upon the vast and easily accessible FF first? ...
Would be a great idea for science fiction novel seeing what kind of civilization would develop without FF's and how.

There would have been evolution not revolution. Direct mechanical energy (windmills, water mills) can be used for manufacturing. Most all scientific advances before early-mid 18th century are by definition attainable without an FF-based system. Many medical, scientific or methodical insights (like vaccination) are completely independent of that. So in terms of devices off the bat there can be decent clocks, printing presses, telescopes, microscopes, global navigation & cartography etc.
A simple electrical generator can be built without FF input but will be expensive in terms of input (lots of copper wire). However it can last for generations. Its energy will not be squandered on heating, transportation, lighting etc. A good application would be telegraphy, which requires very little energy. No intercontinental undersea cables as we had in the 1860s though, but regional telecommunication. Radio should also be doable.
Roads will have to be built mostly like the Romans did. No cars, bicycles will be only a curiosity because there will not be sufficient paths to make them really useful. Heavy and long-distance transport will be by waterway. Railways with animal-drawn rolling stock as on-site/local transport enhancement (friction reduction) but locomotives will also remain a curiosity if they can only be fueled with wood.
Hot air balloons, gliders, sailplanes are attainable but no motorized aviation or zeppelins - flying will also be a curiosity or local reconnaissance only.
As hinted at, good general medical practice, proper obstetrics, vaccination, antiseptic surgery routines, diagnosis and discovery of major bacterial pathogens, discovery and production of antibiotics will remain principally possible. It is more a question of knowledge than energy.
Therefore life expectancy may be comparable to what FF-based society reaches today - edge cases of terminal disease or extreme trauma will not be treatable but there will be far less civilizational disease.

No internet, definitely.

Make your own guess about the possible quality of life ;)

Maxime Richard said...

Jean Vivien.

I concur with your statement about the surburbs.
I just read a piece about a social worker whose knew the Kouachi brothers when they were just kids. (look for reporterre website) It is an interesting read written by someone that doesn't fall into the emotional trap we see everywhere this days. As a matter of fact, it is a story about neighborhoods falling into Dark Age ahead of the curve just a few metro stations from Paris shiny districts.

I don't have a practical ideas to apply to the peripheric areas. On a more abstract I personally think they should have imposed green civic service for young adults as replacement of the military service. Many places to get young people busy, environmentally and socially aware. I can point the neighborhoods your were talking about, but also national forest (management problems there too!), old abandoned industrial areas in desperate need of human work force to transition/save them for the future needs.

rapier said...

The US fully intends to be the last bastion of whatever it is one wants to call the system we have fostered. I see no reason why it can't be either but the Russian Chinese partnership seems to be a viable competitor if China can remain stable which is open to question. While those participating in the system here will slowly bleed down and globally the losers column will grow this whole process here will have a frog in a pot sort of character.

Of course if my plans for cold fusion are successful, details later, everyone will be rich forever.

streamfortyseven said...

OK, here's my idea for green energy, someone else will have to do the fancy graphics since I'm no good at that:

As we all know, at least here in Kansas, cattle produce a lot of methane - and vent it into the atmosphere. Not only is it a greenhouse gas, it's also a waste of energy, of both acoustic and chemical kinds. The proposal is simple - rig us a collector on wheels to be towed behind each cow (or bull, if you can get close enough). Imagine a Victrola horn situated about six inches behind said cow or methane generator. The horn concentrates the sound waves produced by the gaseous blast and produces a small electric current, which runs a fan, which propels the methane into the collection chamber. The collection chamber is separated from the horn collection unit by a one way flapper valve, and in the collection chamber is an aluminum sponge which bonds to the methane by electrostatic force, provided by the aforementioned gaseous blast. Every night eah collection unit is pocked up and exchanged with a fresh one, and the methane saturated sponge is freed from the methane and returned to its fresh state, the methane collected being used for various things.

The name? The B---S--- Generator
The motto? "It's all BS, folks!"

Robert Crumb could do the illustrating, if I could just find him...

gregorach said...

Gardener Green: I remember that! Like you though, I can't remember the author or the name of it. I do recall that the key thing about this technology was that it was incredibly broad-band: rather than just converting a narrow range of frequencies into electricity, it could capture virtually all incident radiation. I'm sure I've still got it on my shelves somewhere...

Marc L Bernstein said...

Here are some of my musings.

Geologist Art Berman was interviewed by Chris Martenson a little while ago. During their conversation, Martenson wondered out loud whether various tight oil firms, which rely on fracking, would fail and file for bankruptcy as a result of the recent severe drop in oil prices. Berman assured Martenson that it was more likely that such firms would be bought out by bigger ones before they filed for bankruptcy. As soon as I heard that it dawned on me that petroleum geologist Art Berman has been spending too much time talking to conservative investors, stockbrokers, hedge fund managers, etc. As a result, Berman has developed an artificial sense of the stability of the present financial system.

A recent interview of Art Berman ---

Gail Tverberg has no such illusions. She's one of my facebook friends, and has even lapsed into faith-based rhetoric to counter what she sees as a hopeless situation for US society in particular and for industrial civilization in general. She has even said something to the effect that "there is a basic order to the universe" and perhaps something, someone, some entity or some mysterious force would possibly intervene on behalf of humanity in the midst of such darkness. I thought to myself how a certain Archdruid might react at the pollyanna-ish nature of Tverberg's musings.

Tverberg is friends with Ozzie Zehner, whose work "Green Illusions" you might know about. Zehner is quite pessimistic about what would happen to society if it made a massive commitment to renewables in an effort to maintain our current set of living arrangements. According to Zehner, a collapse of industrial civilization would result from such an effort. Of course such a collapse is nearly inevitable anyway but Zehner doesn't go into that matter.

It's quite rare even among public intellectuals to find someone with an appropriate sense of urgency and foreboding but without apocalyptic tendencies. Scientists tend to be focused narrowly on their particular discipline. Public intellectuals such as Morris Berman, Henry Giroux and Chris Hedges don't have the background in ecology (they probably never read much William Catton or Garret Hardin)
to have an appropriate level of alarm and poignancy with regard to the future not only of civilization but also of humanity and the biosphere.

Creative thinker Derrick Jensen cannot bear to ponder the thought that humanity is itself flawed and that humanity's destructive impulses might even be inherent to our nature. Instead, Jensen speaks derisively of the "dominant culture" to which all blame for humanity's destructiveness can be leveled.

Ugo Bardi has been writing about the Seneca cliff, and has developed the mathematics to justify it. If you understand what Bardi is saying, it's not at all reassuring. It means that Richard C. Duncan's "Olduvai theory" []
could be realized in just a few decades.

Guy McPherson's near-term extinction might not be so far-fetched after all, but "near term" more appropriately is referring to a few hundred years, not a few decades. An enormous global human die-off within a few decades seems plausible though and quite catastrophic.

Dagnarus said...

Unfortunately my situation is that of being a research fellow in Singapore. Not a place which I want to be if things go south fast. That said I'm not certain whether it's actually a good idea to just bug out, back home or not. In my defense I only became peak aware when finishing up my PhD about a year ago. Not that the universe will care about that particularly if things go south.

In related news

I doubt this is going to be a positive for the European economy and thus the unfolding financial crisis. Also some which I had a bit of a chuckle over,

Which it looks like it came out just as Russia made the decision to cut off gas through Ukraine. I guess we will see just how dependent Europe is on Russian gas.

Jon from Virginia said...

The squirrel cage contest has a high bar for silly. "Solar Roads" are still vaporware, but the dancetron generator has been for sale since 2008. If blogger buggers the link, the textlink is

Mean Mr Mustard said...

Dear Mr Greer,

My innovative startup venture is currently offering an exciting unpaid internship vacancy to the right candidate actually able to set up a blog and draft inspirational writing and art copy. As a Thought Leader. I don’t bother working too hard with all that technology myself.

The successful candidate must also be able to interact with my fellow Leading Thought Leaders and engage a wide range of stakeholders throughout the global finance, aerospace engineering, and energy sectors to fine-tune my ambitious visionary business plan and secure the required significant levels of investment.

Our aim is to construct two proof of concept prototypes, leading to a fleet of twenty space-borne dirigible craft, each ten times the size, and thus a vastly increased volume over the Hindenburg. (Though the PR copy won’t make that direct comparison for obvious reasons, mainly to do with attracting investors.) These behemoths would be assembled in space by robots and then launched from near Earth orbit in waves (as the planetary alignments allow), to reach Saturn’s moon, Titan. (This has already been achieved with the Cassini probe…) There, the dirigibles would park in geostationary orbit and drop a hose through Titan’s atmosphere to syphon off just a fraction of the vast hydrocarbons from the liquid methane lakes, before making the return journey, powered by some of that payload, and emptying the remaining contents from near Earth orbit through the ‘space hose’ to a processing plant and storage in a depleted North Sea gas field, awaiting the optimum price to sell.

Our Chancellor actually said yesterday that Britain could be the world’s richest economy once more by the 2030s! He didn’t say how that abundant GDP per capita would be shared mind, and as an entrepreneurial Thought Leader, I’ll obviously be lots more deserving than most people are here. The Chancellor will be needing substantial energy supplies to underpin his bold vision though, and the untapped British engineering talent emerging from our universities, currently serving coffee in shopping malls, could be put to proper use once more. Echoing our glorious past, the first dirigible will be called Britannic, and its sister ship will celebrate our partnership with Saturn’s moon, and thus be named Titanic.

CEO, Spacebat Consultancy

Edward said...

@Pongo: During the last American election, large numbers of Americans threatened to move to Australia and New Zealand if Obama won. They seemed quite miffed and often surprised when the residents of my countries (I'm from one, currently live in the other) told them that they would in fact, need a visa and couldn't just turn up and stay permanently.

Don Plummer said...

I finally, after all these years, am reading the late Barbara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, her classic 1978 chronicle of the beginning of the breakdown of medieval European culture and society in the 14th century.

Oh, the parallels!, from climate change to feckless leadership to incessant and needless war-making. Despite the cultural and technological differences, it almost reads like current news.

Nathaniel Ott said...

@ JMG I was suggesting the idea to you, but now that you mention it I would like to right it myself! I imagine the premise would start with the harnessing of electricity in alternate ways and purposes than were used to(probably no electric cars but mabye some other types of interesting machines.) I'd probably get started whenever I find the time and energy. Thanks for the inspiration!

Don Plummer said...

I'm going to defer on your contest to someone with more imagination than I have, but if I could come up with an appropriately detailed but implausible scenario, I would probably write up a proposal for mining the undersea methane hydrates for natural gas production.

KidCharlemagne said...

Being far too lazy to enter a contest, I freely release my gift to the world. I first conceived of this concept in 1976 as a teenager: Digital Energy. Video has been converted to digital encoding, Audio has been converted to digital encoding, now heat will be digitally encoded and pressed onto cd's that can be popped into a heat player.
Players can be upgraded for dvd use so that while you are playing heat, you can also watch a video of a roaring blaze in a fireplace.
I'm taking it a step further and digitizing food from it's Platonic Ideal Forms into Nutrition players that also emit digital flavor and aroma and high resolution images of the ideal nourishment.
Lastly, fuel will be encoded onto cd's that can be popped into after market players installed at your local big box retailer. Renewable energy simply press to play. Of course you will want to keep these cd's in their jewel boxes to prevent scratches, and I needn't remind you that the content on these is protected by the Digital Millenium Copyright Act, so please purchase these from the legal owners and do not share your files or download illegally. Someone has to make money from this you know. There may be free samples of digital cake available.

megpie71 said...

Like Kutamun, I expect there to be a renewed bleating about the wonders of nuclear energy here in Australia. To be honest my beef with nuclear power in an Australian environment is this: all the known designs for nuclear fission reactors currently extant require large amounts of clean, drinking-quality water as a coolant source for the reactor pile. They return this water in a form which is unfit for human consumption, or indeed inclusion in any biological cycle at all (it can't be used to water plants, wash clothes, or even to flush toilets) because it's so heavily contaminated (deuterium, tritium etc). So the boosters for nuclear power here in Australia are suggesting we switch to this incredibly water-dependent form of power generation, in a country which is already so poorly supplied with drinking-quality water that every single mainland capital city has been on continual water restrictions for at least the past decade or so. Where do they think they're getting the coolant from? (Are they willing to pass this information on to the water supply utilities in each state?). As for not using water as a coolant... I think this was tried (briefly) in Chernobyl, and it worked right up to the point where the reactor pile went boom.

It's right up there with the agricultural thought-bubbles floating about for "developing" the northern part of Australia (the bits above the Tropic of Capricorn) into a "food bowl". Really, all you need for these kinds of ideas is a complete lack of knowledge about your chosen subject, and the practicality of a chocolate teakettle.

Andrew said...

Does economic voodoo count as energy vapourware? If so, it looks the The Economist has entered your competition. This is tomorrow's edition's leader:
One zinger: "For decades the big question about energy was whether the world could produce enough of it, in any form and at any cost. Now, suddenly, the challenge should be one of managing abundance." After that, their proposal is to deregulate and stop subsidising energy markets and then there will enough energy for everyone! Hurrah! This is their prescription for absolutely everything, mind.

For what its worth, I think that its this kind of ideological capture of governments and business by the magical thinking school of free market economics that is as much to blame for our current situation as anything else.

August Johnson said...

If this industry is having problems making money, then you know there are problems!

Caesars Unit Files For Bankruptcy Protection In Bid To Trim Debt

"A cash-strapped division of casino giant Caesars Entertainment Corp. said early Thursday that it filed for bankruptcy protection in Chicago, hoping the court agrees to its plan to get out from under $18.4 billion of debt."

Adrian Skilling said...

Those of you who want a laugh and some inspiration might like to check out the Extraenvironmentalist Episode #69. There is great spoof news report on "Whale Gas - A gamechanging technology". Due to the banning of whale hunting, leading to an excess of whale, using the latest technology we can now capture whale flatulence. Can be enhanced using harmless fracking chemicals which dissolve whale carcasses thereby capturing all whale gasses via giant balloons hovering at the ocean surface... you get the idea!

Leo Knight said...

This week my own wake up call came. Cathy and I live in an apartment above my workplace. The owner has had people looking at the building a few times, and this morning informed me that we may have to move in a month. We knew something was afoot, and have been going through our possessions, downsizing, triaging, etc. in case we had to move. Some things mice got into, and cannot be saved. Cathy and I both wish we had a woodstove. At least then we could convert paper waste into useful heat. So now I must search for a new place to live. I will still have my job. The business will move, not vanish, at least for the time being.

One thing that struck me was all the dead technologies I encountered while going through our stuff. VHS tapes, cassette tapes. All were delaminated, warped, etc. completely unusable. I thought of all the time, money and resources used in making those artifacts. Now, useless. Very sad. Paper is also quite vulnerable. Aside from the mice, mildew, mustiness, bookworms have made many of our books unreadable. Cathy has asthma. Just opening one of these little time bombs can send her into an attack.

Gunnar mentioned the "Flight to Mars" fantasy. If you want a laugh, Google "manned Mars mission" and read of all the abandoned projects through the years. I immediately thought of this as our culture's great Mayan pyramid.

I wish I could participate in the squirrel case competition, but life just got very urgent here. However, I find knowing for certain what challenges lie ahead, and taking direct, concrete action, has reduced my anxiety.

Mister Roboto said...

I can't help but wonder what will happen when Syriza, a post-modern quasi-communist party, wins in Greece at the end of this month. One of the reasons the Euro is tanking so badly right now is the mere anticipation of that event. Go, Big Red! :-D

Meanwhile here in The Badgered State (AKA "The Koch Industries Subsidiary FKA The State of Wisconsin"), the plutocratic reactionaries our white, small-town working class so wisely put into absolute power are doing their level best to meet the oncoming crises by being as retrograde as humanly possible. When Republicans in various Internet comment-sections gloat about their victory here, I have taken to trotting out one of my favorite aphorisms: "Everything happens for a reason. Sometimes the reason is people are stupid and make very bad decisions."

This saying also applies to our state Democratic Party hacks, who imposed on the party's voters the weakest possible candidate in this crucial election against Governor Scott Walker without any discussion or any real choice in the primary. I have given up on the Democratic Party. I am now a non-voter. Whatever will happen in the political sphere is simply going to happen, and I pity anyone too beholden to their threadbare codependent fantasies to realize that.

Yupped said...

So the financial world is obviously fairly riggable (a print-print here, a QE-QE there, etc). So it's hard to know if we're at a major inflection point now. If confidence in the system of rigs and pulleys changes and the big players start heading for the doors then all bets are off. But are we? I have no idea, but time will tell, of course.

As for life in the physical world, the fact that oil and commodities are crashing is going to be interesting to watch. In the short-term, it's probably going to encourage continued faith in the system ("gas is cheap, prices are down, let's buy a big truck"!). But what happens in the mid to long-term depends on what people do next.

So, we'll watch and wait the twists and turns. Good season to do it. Beer's brewed, wood is stacked. Meanwhile we just sold our house and for the first time in a long while have a little money in the bank, are renting a home and have an open road. After your post I'm trying to figure out if I feel good or bad about that! It's a weird time not to own a gardening space.

latefall said...

@Jean Vivien:
Oh... where to start?
Maybe with a preface: Talking as a transplant person there are many aspects that come to mind. However there are loads of (material and immaterial) things France does very well. Significantly better than many other places I have seen, and they should not be gambled away lightly by adopting a putative top down fix that may seem to work in some other place.
Also the time scales for improvements may vary wildly.

In the shortest term a change in police behavior and role models other than gangsters and soccer players would be helpful. The police issue need not be restricted to the heavier cases of special counter drug units being "turned around" almost completely. It can be seen in police bicycle patrols (very positive) riding in locations and ways which are forbidden (to the best of my knowledge) - while 2 of 3 browse their smart phone for good measure. Change the laws (if you feel it is necessary) and stick to them! But arbitrary enforcement is not a good idea now.
There is (was?) a FR/DE joint research program on this topic of why there were 2005 riots in France and not in Germany:
This largely gives correlations and not causation of course. Here's a summary, have a look at page 8. It shows violence and disrespect perceived by natives/migrants(largest group)/small minorities

Also, obvious for the short term would be to engage to people in the mosques. Mostly to listen to them and to bounce ideas off of their heads.

latefall said...

re Lockheed fusion:
Here's a statement from the competition:
"Most of all, the concept of putting one of these on the back of a truck amuses me greatly. Very greatly. Even if the fusion core could be made to work (which it likely cannot), the amount of hardware you need to inject the beams, do the neutron screening and tritium breeding plus separation and recirculation would fill a football field. At least with today’s technology."

If you want (4+ h) more on fusion have a look at the links I posted last week.

Strovenovus said...

@Five8Charlie & 9anda1f--

I kid you not: the guy leading the Lockheed fusion team wrote his thesis on the use of fusion reactors for the "fast, manned exploration of the solar system."

I have no doubt that he is a true believer.

Your economic prognosis is compelling when viewed broadly, but I continue to have my doubts about your diagnosis that the recent collapse in the price of oil is being driven by demand destruction.

Yet there is no question that the failure of frack mining operations and the resulting loan defaults could lead to some serious financial carnage. How bad the fallout will be remains to be seen.

The collapse in the price of oil will also stop the fracking treadmill and therefore obscure, at least for at time, whether a peak in frack oil has been reached. There will be plenty of room for continued denial, and claims that unlimited resources remain on tap-- if oil becomes more expensive again.

Cheap oil also acts as a tax cut to an economy primarily driven by consumption. To many, 2015 may feel like the good old days, at least for a while ...

Efraim Grosse said...

I'm afraid I won't be in the contest, but I'll throw my idea in anyway.
Why use little uneducated rodents when we can use big (half)civilized bipeds?
Envision every sheltered wide building turned into a huge non-stop spinning class; every cyclette wired to the system; every contributor to the national energy production spinning his/her butt out for a few cents per watt. We certainly won't be in shortage of people living on 1$ per day. They (we) will be so many that control over access to social utility work-out will be picked up by local mafia.
(More likely than a national Big Brother, truly Orwell style)

Paulo said...

@ Pongo

re: US exodus to Canada.

You can find my comment to this idea in last weeks post, so I won't repeat it.

I envision drones and steel fences to keep the 'exceptional ones' home. At the very least, there will be drastic currency controls. And like I keep saying, unless you bring more to the table than you wish to consume, the great white northern store of Canada is closed unless you have a certified and required trade, or lots and lots of money. And as for money, this year immigration laws changed and the rich take their place in the line 'first come first served'. "No soup for you"!

Seriously, better start preps for relocation, now. Last year would have been better.


Pinku-Sensei said...

"[T]urn the back lawn into a vegetable garden with room for a chicken coop."

That's a good idea, although one should be careful not to tick off local governments where they are still powerful. When she lived in Oak Park, Michigan, a friend of mine made the mistake of planting a vegetable garden in her front yard. The result was Oak Park Woman plants vegetable garden; city objects, which ended up becoming a legal battle that lasted all summer. She and her family have since moved to Seattle, where she hasn't had any run-ins with the authorities over her chickens and garden.

Speaking of backyard chickens, that's another project that should wait until either local government weakens or the zoning regulations change. People find them even more objectionable than replacing lawns with vegetable gardens. Fortunately, some municipalities are starting to see the wisdom of allowing them. I hope your readers live in some of those.

Nastarana said...

If I had money to invest, I would be looking for good, small, American companies--good people doing good work. Companies which hired local folks and put them to work making good and usefull projects. I would not want a large position, maybe big enough to be able prevent any hostile takeovers, but not big enough that the people doing the work think they have to please me.

If I had huge amounts of money, I would be buying some of the empty storefronts mentioned by the Archdruid in an earlier post, and renting them out on easy terms to craftspeople and skilled tradesmen. The difficulty there would be to persuade the local govt. to be reasonable in its demands for tax revenue. I would certainly expect to pay no more than the previous absentee landlord, nor would I be willing to make up his or her arrears.

My favorite crazy energy scheme--please feel free to use it, anyone--is the notion that oil simply wells up from deep in the earth, where it is continuously created by a benevolent Providence. Naturally, those evil oil companies have suppressed this knowledge for their own profit.

rakesprogress said...

I don't have the time or literary chops to write a contest piece, but here's a free idea for anyone who wants it, or just to get the creative juices flowing.

We attach a long arm to the earth, with a very heavy mass on the other end—maybe we can use the moon—to capture additional gravitational pull from the sun. Then a complex mechanism of some kind (patent pending) converts that force into electricity.

The project's FAQ should address the concern that such a system would destabilize the earth's orbit and end all terrestrial life. This is easily addressed by calculations showing that by the time it becomes a problem we will be able to use the immense surplus of energy to adjust the orbit, or move us to a new home in the universe.

The simplicity of the plan pretty much proves it will work, right?

Cathy McGuire said...

PS - Just to explain the Green Wizard sites: the forum is the original site and hasn't changed much. The reason you see a person's name as the url is because teresa is graciously hosting that for free on her own server. The 4-color site ( was created by David to be a place of longer essays and informational pieces (and welcomes guest bloggers!). To get to the Forum from the .info site, look in the top right corner "GW Forum and Community" and drop down the menu, then click "Forum" - I'm sorry if it's a bit confusing, but it is an example of "making do" and "using what one has" - in a tech environment.

Robert Carran said...

The squirrel case challenge is pretty funny stuff.
I drove north for thanksgiving and was joking to my friend about future technologies for travel. Came up with the idea of Travel by Trebuchet. Each trebuchet would be cranked up by wind, solar or water power and people would be launched in pods to be bounced by huge trampolines and caught in huge nets at the end. Of course, as with all brilliant revolutionary ideas, she was not convinced and shot all kinds of holes in my idea. So I then came up with the idea of travel by vacuum tube, like the ones they have at bank drive throughs. She did every thing she could to shoot that idea down too. Funny thing is, I just found out that Elon Musk is ACTUALLY designing and planning to build such a system for travel. Truth is more ridiculous than fiction.
On a more realistic note: I built some solar lumber kilns in Asheville and am drying furniture wood from urban harvested trees. When things get bad, I figure they'll make good food dryers and green houses. I am also getting chip from local arborists (it is free, a "waste product") an mixing it with dirt to create the new black gold, soil.
I'm really curious about other ideas that can double function both as economically viable in the present and viable as future low tech options.

Joe Roberts said...

In your urgency and sense of impending timing in this post, you're sounding more Kunstlerian than usual. That scares me!

I do envy Europeans in the years ahead. While they've become somewhat car-focused and just as technology-reliant as we Americans, they'll have their largely human-scale towns to rebuild again and settle into. What will we Americans do, in our sprawling grotesqueries built for cars, impossible distances between communities, and lack of viable transportation in the vast majority of the country? It's going to be a real mess.

Clay Dennis said...


Your debate story brings back another one that my wife told me some time ago. She was on a high school debate team in Hawaii in the late 70's and had a similer energy debate topic. Her team came up with ,what seemed at the time to be, an equaly outrageous concept to the Squirrel legions that they hoped would catch the other teams unprepared. Their debate concept was for the U.S. to invade Iraq and take their oil. Boy I wish someone had really penciled that one out.

John Roth said...


While I realize that the focus is primarily on the U.S., here’s an interesting article about what might be the wave of the future - or possibly just a flash in a far-left pan. From the middle of the article: “Stereotypes about the Middle East being nationalist, even xenophobic, have left Americans unprepared to hear about an inclusive, egalitarian platform from someone named “Abdullah.” ” Especially one that is handing ISIL their donkey. .

Adrienne Adams said...

Important fact to point out to our "green" friends and relatives (those who will still listen to us): there's renewable, and then there's renewable. What most people on the planet today envision as "renewable" energy are industrial solar and wind capturing devices: the huge wind turbines and vast arrays of solar panels decorating glossy magazine ads and the covers of expensive reports.

In the early 70s, when I first became aware of what was then called Alternative energy movement, what was being built were homegrown, low tech solutions. Soon the geeks got involved, bringing solar cell technology developed for the space program into the mix. Then, inevitably, the fossil fuel industry got interested and entered the market hoping to cash in on this new wave: few remember that Arco was a manufacturer of solar panels for a while. BP invested in solar up until quite recently. But the end of the energy crisis kicked the money out of the burgeoning industrial renewable energy, until its resurgence with high oil prices of the early part of this century.

These modern industrial "renewable" power plants are 100% dependent on fossil fuels for materials, construction, maintenance, and their ultimate delivery of electricity. Take wind turbines, for example: they actually require external energy when idle. Land based wind turbines draw from the grid to keep transformers charged. Off shore turbines in cold areas need diesel generators or grid power to keep the gearboxes from freezing. Wind turbines require oil for gearboxes, replacements for bearings and controllers, and the use of huge cranes or ships to accomplish these maintenance tasks. Solar power plants are a bit less maintenance hungry as they aren't enormous generators perched atop 400 ft steel masts, anchored in hundreds of tons of concrete. But solar power plants require sophisticated electronic controllers, and the manufacture of solar cells is a highly technical industrial manufacturing process--both of which depend upon fossil fuel mining and a complex global supply chain.

The future Renewable energy of which the Archdruid speaks is more likely to resemble 18th century energy sources, such as run of the river water wheels. Twentieth century tech such as insulated walls and passive solar design will enable the wealthier future humans to live more comfortably in the absence of central heating. Simple solar thermal setups of water filled pipes covered with glass will also be effective low tech energy sources. Solar ovens, likewise.

But the vast majority of what we now think of as "renewable" energy sources will not exist with the loss of cheap fossil fuels. We should start now and distinguish in our language the difference between industrial renewables and low tech renewables. Helping others understand this difference is crucial to responding to the limits of our energy future.

Avery said...

This makes three peak oil bloggers now who have declared that 2015 is going to be an economic shock:

Gail Tverberg, who normally takes a sober tone, warning that "More reading of religious scriptures might be in order";
Tom Lewis observing that Dow volatility and copper prices, two traditional signs of incoming economic shock, are both on red alert as of this week;
and now your post that "This is crunch time."

I hope readers with retirement plans, or who have a managing role in their or someone else's investments, are taking notice. Hard assets, close to the ground, are likely to outperform the dollar in the long term, and there's a good chance that a winterized house will be more valuable than 100 shares of Google in 15 years' time (they're currently equally expensive). There's a reason real estate is called "real".

By the way, a commentator last week asked for advice on what the "1%" should do, and I would second that, with a slightly larger scope: what should people with a little spare cash do to help their communities transition?

AngelusCruentus said...

I know you've dissed this strategy before, but I'm still holding onto my gold and silver, so much now that my primary concern is being able to carry it. I was a generation too late to enjoy low property prices and came into the economy right when jobs were at their lowest ebb and housing prices were at their fever pitch. And no matter how hard I've worked to date, gold and silver are the only TANGIBLE investments I've been able to afford to make, since a few thousand at a time is a way to secure precious metals in a way that would be impossible to secure real estate.

I live in Santa Cruz, though... not terrible far from this country's agricultural foundation. A horse-drawn wagon could get fresh food into town in a day. Plus, the population of Santa Cruz is not so high that I think it outstrips the agricultural resources within walking distance. So I'm still with gold and silver, due to no means of moving to the country and my faith that money will always be part of life.

Cathy McGuire said...

Yay! We just got 15 new members on the Green Wizards forum! And, unfortunately, several messages about the difficulties signing on... so I will get on that and see where the glitches are, and I hope you will all persist in trying to join us online!

Kyoto Motors said...

I did notice in the news that Europe appears to be next up to bat at the Quantitative Easing World Series. I wonder what sort of conversations are going on behind closed doors that lead to such desperate measures, proven to be ineffectual.
In a recent article over at, Arthur Berman makes the revealing connection between the end of QE in the US and the slide in the price of oil. Very interesting stuff!
On a personal note, I think I will start looking into the decontamination of soil for my back yard. I'm just a tenant, but what the heck... I certainly hope to stay put for the long run. And I've been composting for years!

Greg Belvedere said...

I'm not sure if I have time to enter the contest, but I have a word of advice for anyone writing sycophantic articles about a piece of vaporware. Pay attention to the way some of those articles in the media use the word "could". It is rather comical.

Ex. If we could put a series of solar satellites in orbit, it could provide us will all our energy.

I feel like every vaporware article I have seen recently has an entertaining use of the word "could". It also seems like when some people read "could" their brains register something more akin to an inevitable outcome as opposed to the highly speculative nature (this is incredibly generous) of these articles.

If I could train a monkey to write it could be my personal assistant.

Anyway, I think it will be hard for contest entries to beat some of the real life examples. But I look forward to seeing them and might submit one if I feel inspired and have some time.

Janet D said...

@Pongo: Amazing.

As someone who has practiced winter survival skills in Northern Idaho, I can assure you that your Hollywood friends with the Canadian fantasies wouldn't last one winter. The growing season is amazingly short there and the food forests the Natives once relied on are long gone.

I won't waste time preaching to the choir here, but suffice it to say that hubby & I decided that N. Idaho was not for us as a homestead place, for multiple reasons, but one of them was how hard it would be to truly be sustainable there (the "survivalists" that abound in N. Idaho would disagree with me, but the vast majority of 'em are still regularly shopping at the grocery store with 90% of the food trucked in from far away). I can't imagine trying to survive off the cuff 100 miles further north.

IMHO, Canada doesn't need to protect many of it's borders; most of the interlopers will perish before they last long enough to trouble anyone.

Dennis D said...

My completely reasonable proposal is to combine solar power with space elevators. Build a series of carbon fibre tubes from the seabed up to geo-syncroness orbit. Freight elevators will run in some of these tubes, to take large mirrors up to space, where they will be used to focus sunlight down other tubes. The quality and quanity of sunlight in space is much greater than at the earths surface, so this will be a major advancement in solar power. The sunlight will be used to boil sea water at the base of the tower, and the steam will be directed through turbines to generate electricity. The waste steam will be directed up other tubes to condense at high altitude, then the water collected will fall back down other tubes to supply hydro-electric generators. The water will be stored in the tubes at altitude, enabling on demand generation during hours of darkness. This collection of carbon fibre tubes will be mutually supporting , much as a large tree is. The economic value of the space elevator taking shipping to and from orbit will ensure the long term profitability of the project, as well as the abundant power resources will support a vibrant ecomomic hub of industry at the base of each tower. This will be called the "Space Power Tree Project", as the carbon fibre tubes will appear to be a tree trunk, with a crown of mirrors at the top.

Eric S. said...

The second crisis in the end of a civilization can be hard to pinpoint except in hindsight. The first crisis of Rome (the wars in Judea, Germania, and Scotland from Hadrian to Aurelius or the World Wars and Depressions of the 20th century) are often seen as both a period of crisis and a golden age. They opened the way to an era of decadence, prosperity, and political shortsightedness. The third crisis (the gothic wars and edict of Thessalonica through the death of Alaric) is seen as the beginning of the end, and the final death gasp (Attila to Odoacer) is what history books skip to. The second crisis, though (the Edict of Milan, the Persian Wars, the death of Julian, and the splitting of Rome under Diocletian) was a stage setter. Rising tensions between the state and a despised religious minority that finally broke and opened the way for a second religiosity (interestingly enough that’s a feature of this round at least in Europe, mainline Christianity in America isn’t quite far enough along on its decline quite yet), but that wasn’t the end of the old temple cults or the secular philosophies. The dividing of Rome was very similar to your scenario in Twilight’s Last Gleaming. In that novel though, day to day life didn’t change much. There were more homeless in abandoned shopping malls, but for most people it was history seen from living room couches and smart phones. After the last amendment, people just went back to work the next day. I guess that’s one of the big points of this blog. Wet mackerels have an emotional impact. People remember where they were at the crash of ’29, or Pearl Harbor, or Kennedy’s assassination, or the fall of the Berlin Wall, or on 9/11. But for most people those were punches in the chest delivered over the radio. If I’m sitting down to Christmas dinner in 2050 looking back, I’ll remember the emotions of the big events of the crisis, if I’m there I’ll remember a few harrowing days, but mostly my life will just be working to make ends meet. Regret for the preparations I didn’t make, gratitude for those I did. But there’s no final exam… just a life that’s a little more raw and real.

jonathan said...

i don't think i'll enter your contest, but i offer this idea for anyone interested: the bio-methane accumulator. why should all of human/bovine/ovine etc. flatulence simply escape into the atmosphere as a nasty, planet warming greenhouse gas? consider the possiblities inherent in capturing all that methane for use as a clean burning fuel requiring no drilling.
on another topic, major events in the financial markets today, especially the swiss national bank allowing the franc to float freely. the dominoes are clearly toppling.
a great essay. i can easily see events playing out exactly as you describe. meanwhile: humming a few bars of "running on empty".

Stephanie Geeze said...

John, lately I've been listening to all your radio conversations with that Northern Irish guy (forget his name) and I've found them incredibly helpful; I also just finished your book Not the Future we were Promised and I plan to read your others as soon as I can.

My own observation lately is that anyone who takes what you say seriously will know that one can't afford to put off learning valuable skills like food production etc. but the double bind for young people is that many of us live in places where learning that trade is not so easily possible at the moment. For example, if one lives in a major urban center where farmbale land is extremely expensive and often miles from where one lives anyway. Or people who live where there is just not enough rainfall to make it work without water rights or an enormous amount of money. The other problem is that many of us young people just don't have access to jobs that pay enough to finance trying to buy enough land to start working on this skill, if they even have a job at all. I know I shouldn't ask for your "advice," but do you think that heading out of urban centers etc. sooner rather than later and learning the trade of food production is something that can't be put off to 15 or 20 years from now, given current economic decline? I mean, its easy to fall into thinking that making a modest amount of money flipping burgers this year is gonna be more important than starting that process. Thanks for your time.

Robo said...

Every time I pass by the windows of one of those giant fitness gyms and see rows of sweaty figures plodding on electric treadmills, I wonder why the process cannot be reversed in order to inject all that plod-power into the national grid. Who needs squirrels? It's a win-win solution. Exercise and renewable energy!

william fairchild said...


On squirrel cages, how about reviving the good ole' reduction plant? The last ones went out of business in the fifties I think. Rather than worrying about mundane products, such as glue (some incremental revenue could be derived from it) the fats from uneaten garbage, livestock, and deceased pets would be processed into liquid fuels. If you took it to the next level, you could take the pressure off local municipalities having to fund potters fields for the indigent, ensuring political support. And surely, one could encourage irritating green types concerned about fouling the environment through cremation or embalming to donate their corpse. Just imagine, your body "fueling the future." Of course, the owners of the remains, or their families, could be recompensed with a nice tax credit, based on the BMI. The more Frito pies you ate, the more your spouse gets in her widow's credit.

I actually think the squirrel cages may tone down for a bit, depending on how long the slump in oil prices lasts. Apparently sales on large pickup trucks and SUVs are going through the roof with gas prices down. Surely good times are here again. Ack! The US public never seems to learn...

Carolyn said...

Well, dang. My partner and I have been living in a shared house with a family of four that we're close friends with, and we're just getting ready to buy our own place and have a baby. I have (for now) a steady well-paying job as a software engineer for a company that provides services for multifamily rental companies, which seems like it would do well in a recession (it did in 2008/2009), at least at first, but in the long run maybe not so much. We were planning on me continuing to work and him staying home to care for the kids and run the household. Now I'm left wondering if this is a good time to try to strike out on our own, or if we should stay where we are. Cohousing is certainly a lot cheaper, but space for growing a family is limited. And babies are expensive, but they may end up being the only retirement resource we have. His family is local, and we have a good solid community of friends here, so even if things go south for us there's a bit of a safety net, but then what if things go south for everyone all at once...I probably spend too much time dithering over this. Maybe it's just time to roll the dice and deal with whatever comes, and try to be emotionally prepared for the fact that that might not be what we'd wish.

Bill Pulliam said...

So a thought that ponders the fundamentals of all of this process came to me while I was working on our upstairs bathroom (spending the money while it is still worth something?):

Is global economic contraction really going to be more disruptive and chaotic than global economic expansion has been?

Because, in reality, our centuries of expansion have been enormously disruptive and chaotic. From the individual experience of entire ways of living being overhauled and rebuilt from scratch every generation or two... to the global wars of imperial conquest and the spread of weapons of mass destruction. True we have had developments in medicine... and a whole new generation of global pandemics. I remind you, HIV continues killing more people around the world every week than Ebola has killed in all of recorded history. And let's not even start on the ongoing disruption of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere or the global mass extinction event that is now entering its third century. And growth does not seem to have done much to get rid of famine and poverty outside of the rich nations.

All these horrors we have acclimated to, yet we dread the unknown horrors of a global contraction. But... will they really be worse? Will the upheavals of the coming centuries really be more dramatic than those of the previous centuries?

I wonder if it is just a case of the devil we know versus the devil we don't.

Vilko said...

@ Kutamun and jean-vivien:

The Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly lived crappy lives, without any realistic hope of improvement. They never had a single good job, and they had lost all hope of ever having one. Radical Islam made them feel like the warriors they wanted to be, not the pathetic, unemployable failures they were in the real world. There are many of them here in France, because it's more and more difficult to be employable. If they were not Muslims, they would be violent anarchists or communists.

The economic collapse will be accompanied by social collapse. We know how it happens: Egypt in 2011, Argentina in 2001, the USSR in 1991. Crime explodes, and the police, whose salaries are not paid anymore, leave their jobs or, worse, turn into criminals themselves.

I live in a flat in a crappy low income town east of Paris, with a black and muslim majority. Hardly the place to be when the economy goes south, but for several reasons it wouldn't be convenient for me to sell my flat and settle elsewhere, although I am retired. Like many of us, I live in a state of quiet schizophrenia: I know that it's high time to batten the hatches, but I do as if it will be business as usual forever.

What can save us? Well, let me be very un-PC here. Who is able to keep relative peace among impoverished, mutually hostile groups? Men like Saddam Hussein and Bashar Al-Assad, who protected minorities and imposed relative secularism. After, say, 2030, I don't know who will rule France (if France still exists as a unified entity) but I guess that democracy as we know it will be dead.

There will still be elections, of course. They have elections in Syria, too. Bashar Al-Assad was recently re-elected. The election was rigged, but Al-Assad certainly has the support of the majority, at least in western Syria, where the Alawites and the Christians live.

It's a sure sign of times to come in France that a half-Cameroonian humorist, a guy who is just a stand-up comedian, can be arrested at 7 a.m. by a dozen police officiers for a tweet which was just a crappy joke. He had written "Je suis Charlie Coulibaly." He rapidly realized he had written something stupid and deleted the tweet. Too late. In France, you can be arrested for posting that on the Internet.

I know, the families of Coulibaly's victims were offended. But Charlie-Hebdo's business was to offend, and that's what they did it for 50 years. They showed drawings of Jesus having anal sex with the bishop of Paris (I can provide the link), etc. For which they were not prosecuted. They even got government funding for their newspaper.

onething said...

The green wizards is just too difficult. I apprently did sign up a year or so ago, but was not able to post or something. Now, I decided to go back and had to do a forgotten password procedure, and was supposed to get an email, but it has not come.

What is the point of having an account setup that doesn't work?

Agent Provocateur said...


Thank you for another great essay.

I'd like to offer a minor correction and some elaboration with respect to the application of the power law for oil deposits.

“Concentrations of energy, like all other natural resources, follow what’s known as the power law, the rule—applicable across an astonishingly broad spectrum of phenomena—that whatever’s ten times as concentrated is approximately ten times as rare.”

Your basic point is correct; however the ratio need not be a one for one inverse relationship. If we take oil as an example, the “size of oil deposit” versus “number of such deposits” is typically plotted on a base ten log-log plot. Such a plot, as for any power law phenomena, typically shows up as a more or less straight line sloping down to the right.

Needless to say, straight lines in nature are cool;)

The basic equation is of the form:

log(Size of Oil Field) = - k1 * log(Number of Fields per Size Category) + k2

i.e. a straight line with a negative slope on a log-log plot; where the “k”s are positive valued constants

One increment drop in number on this plot (meaning 10 times as rare) does not necessarily yield a 10 fold increase in size (meaning concentration) unless k1 = 1 (and it rarely is).

One can also represent the relationship between size and number if one raises 10 to the power of each side of the equation above to get

Size of Oil Field = (10^k2) * (Number of Fields per Size Category)^-k1

In the case of oil, what this curve above tells us (when fitted to the data we have to date) is roughly how much ultimate recoverable oil there is on the earth (i.e. the area under this curve – the “integral” of the curve). Thus we can know this amount despite not having discovered all the recoverable oil there is. And so arguments that “We just discovered a big new oil field” are largely irrelevant to peak oil.

Further, the basic shape of Hubbert's curve for the world can be derived from the curve above. As the larger oil fields are typically discovered first, these are developed and produce first. Now one has a time dimension by assuming that (for the most part) one is gradually working one's way to the right on the size versus number curve (i.e. picking the (big) low hanging fruit first). Basically one just plots the integral of the curve above but replaces the horizontal “number of deposits” with “time” and bingo: one has the humped shaped Hubbert's curve that peaks more or less in the middle. The hump in middle is from the act that the midranged number of midsized oil fields have more oil than either the few big fields or the many really small fields (the two tails of the integral curve).

So yes, the power law for oil is a very powerful law (excuse the pun). It tells us roughly how much ultimate recoverable oil there is and roughly when oil production will peak (about half way through production of the total).

I am very certain you know these conclusions; but its fun to see how relatively simple it is to obtain them from the power law.

Thank you for your indulgence. Now you can go back to comments more relevant to your post.

onething said...

Wasn't it Voltaire who had a satire about cutting off chunks of human buttocks to mitigate famine?

onething said...


I really don't relate to the loafometer. I don't know a lot about how much electric energy it takes to heat your oven or whether the oven is inefficient. I am using a toaster oven more often now as I realized what a waste it is to fire up the big oven unless I'm going to fill it up. Did you say you have 4 panels? I'd like some info on what that really translates to, say to running a fridge, electric lights, and so on.

My sister and her husband have a solar system with just 4 panels, but most people have about 16. She does not have a hot water heater, and does not have a washing machine. They do not feel deprived but I would.

LewisLucanBooks said...

@ GHung - Tax credits are all well and good if one has an income high enough to be taxable in the first place. It's been decades since I've had an imcome high enough to apply tax credits. Still, I'm looking at a beginners "solar in a box" to get my own solar capability rolling.

JMG - Can Peak Squirrels be far behind :-).

I'll pass on the contest. Spring is coming and there's just too much to do around the place. A big push this year. I have a friend who has hitched his wagon to methane hydrates to "save us all." He has latched onto this idea with such religious fervor that there's just no talking to him. So I don't, on that subject.

bcwoodcarver said...

I will be 3 years late for your contest. 2012????

Erik Buitenhuis said...

Just go to and select Alternative Energy as your interest. A few minutes of stumbling comes up with a rich harvest of crackpot ideas:
a human hamster wheel, solar panels on the moon, or a wavepower machine:

Eric S. said...

Not a challenge entry, but since people are sharing their Squirrelware stories, I thought I'd throw a few of my favorites into the conversation:

A father of a friend used to suggest that we respond to oil shortages by just taking our lawn clippings and putting them under heat and pressure until they turned into fossil fuels using the same process that we use to create artificial diamonds. Questions about marginal costs never entered the equation.

By far the worst piece of squirrelware I've ever been exposed to actually came from a prominent figure in the local Druid community in the town I used to live in (sorry JMG, as I'm sure you too well know, Druids aren't immune). He was a friend and someone I respected for a time which made it even more painful to hear. He used to suggest that once we got far enough with 3D printing technology, we'd be able to print hydrocarbons and other concentrated energy resources by fusing hydrogen gas into the required atoms and compounds. I didn't even know where to start picking that mess apart so the whole subject was pretty much a no-go area. I dare anyone making up squirrelware to come up with something as outrageous as that one though.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Speaking of backyard chicken coops - I assembled mine today in our small backyard, which is actually a carport (at least until I get hold of a jackhammer to de-concrete it). I was just admiring my work and showing the two-month-old chickens into their new home when the neighbour appeared, looking over the wall.

"Chickens?" she said.

I replied in the affirmative, expecting the worst.

"How exciting!" she replied.

I said there was a possibility at least one of them was a cock (rooster) and apologised in advance.

"Don't worry, I love the sound of them crowing, it reminds me of the way things used to be when I was younger," she enthused.

Looks like I struck lucky in the neighbour lottery.

ps Shameless promotion of my latest blog relates to a discussion here on the ADR a few months back about the stoics and how we might face our predicament in a sane manner.

latefall said...

re Crunch time:
I just ran into this interesting paper. I haven't worked through it in depth, but it seems obvious that it is rather pertinent to the discussion of "crunch time". It deals with peak (appropriation) rate of various resources and finds them to be highly synchronized. It also has the phrase "limits to growth" in its key word list... Here is a bit from the abstract:
"To test the hypothesis that peak-rate years are synchronized, i.e., occur at approximately the same time, we analyzed 20 statistically independent time series of resources, of which 16 presented a peak-rate year centered on 2006 (1989-2008). We discuss potential causal mechanisms including change in demand, innovation and adaptation, interdependent use of resources, physical limitation, and simultaneous scarcity."
It is available here:

Steve Morgan said...

Here's an entry for the Great Squirrel Case Challenge of 2015.

This one's in the vein of "absurdly sycophantic media article announcing it to the world."

Am I correct in assuming that, like your other contests, interested people are not limited to only one entry?

Brian Weber said...

Ok, calm down everybody. Mr Greer, I admire your immense knowledge and sense of history and our place in it. But I'm not convinced that we're looking down the barrel of Crisis just yet. Look, you're trying to call the breakdown of a centuries-long economic and social cycle. You have to be aware the margin of error is probably +/-50 years! Calling the principle events to within 50 years puts you head and shoulders above any of the great seers of the past (Cicero, Voltaire, etc).

I would like to offer an alternative opinion (still dark, but not black) if I may. Yes, it looks like a recession is coming, likely this year. But I don't think we'll see a real down-step of free energy available to society just yet. Yes fracking activity will decline, but the tight oil resource is not spent yet, and things will remain in place for it to start up again if favorable conditions return, which they could.

At the moment it looks like we'll see a drop of business investment to the tune of 15-20% and a bond market disruption, followed by the usual knock-on effects (local government spending contraction, a pulse of unemployment, weak, maybe declining personal spending). But I do not expect to see the forces of actual *depression*, a la the 2008 banking crisis, this time around. The reason is that the government (together with the banks) have, since 2008, put in place all of the machinery to transfer the losses onto the government essentially in real time. The 2008 panic took policy makers by surprise: systems had to be improvised, laws carefully circumvented, etc. This time around, the response systems are in place, and the laws have been changed.

Plus there are tools yet. Major opinion makers (NYTimes etc) are openly talking about direct central bank transfers to the people. A quarter trillion of this per month will cure a depression fast, though not the deeper problems.

So here's the alternative view: the new trouble will inaugurate a 5+ year period of even crappier growth (by gov measures), maybe an averaged 1-2% rate plus in-and-out of recession, instead of the 2-3% since 2009. After ~5 years of this, even the incredibly dense mainstream economists will start toying with the idea that we're facing deeper problems, and that will scare them. At that point it will be interesting to see which way policy-makers will take us. No way to predict.

John Michael Greer said...

Good heavens -- this post is well on its way to beat the previous record for most comments in the first 24 hours. Between that and a writing project on hard deadline, I won't be able to respond to everybody personally. Everyone who proposed a squirrel case (without making an entry to the contest) or simply posted their agreement with the thesis of this post, consider yourself thanked!

Now, on to such comments as time allows...

Cathy, by all means do the votes publicly if that works. Yes, I'd noticed that it does seem as though the Onion and the regular news media had switched places these days.

Dustin, many thanks for both those links. The dome is particularly choice.

Joel, quite the contrary, your timing was great -- you have a part time income for the near term, and you know perfectly well that it'll go away down the road a bit, so you're not tempted to treat your current income as though you were entitled to it. Many other people are in the same situation, but don't know it yet.

Tony, good. I'm willing to consider that an entry!

Bogatyr, I'm having trouble confirming that story outside the Daily Fail -- er, Mail. Have you found other sources for it?

Repent, if your union is reasonably honest, it's probably worth your while. Look into the fine print, though.

Jason, heh heh heh...

Stream47, there ought to be someone willing to help you out with the graphics. It's a good concept -- by all means work it up and get it in!

Mustard, excellent. I look forward to your illustrated and utterly meretricious press release.

Nathaniel, delighted to hear it! Writing a book may seem like an overwhelming job; just remember that if you can write just one page a day, it'll be done within a year.

Varun Bhaskar said...


Wish I had time to join the contest but too much going on, looking forward to reading the entries though.

I've been meaning to ask. How long will the international transit system stay up and running?



SunsetSu said...

In 2008, when I was 57, I was pushed out of my university lecturer job. I took my teacher's pension as a lump-sum and paid off my most of the mortgage on my house. After looking for work as a college teacher for years, I finally found a low-paying part-time job as a receptionist in an acupuncture clinic. I recently learned that I'm part of a trend: folks over 60 working entry-level jobs. It's hard to be unique when you're a Boomer!

I live in Seattle, which is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and being destroyed by the resident billionaires Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Howard Schultz, Paul Allen, etc. The Amazon Effect is pushing up rents high enough to displace many working people to the burbs.

Like my grandmother, I derive a big chunk of my income from renting out extra rooms in my house. That's how my dad's family made it through the Depression in Milwaukee. I'm having my bedroom painted and carpeted to make it easier to rent out while I retreat to the finished room in the basement.

I like the notion that empires build big monuments just before they crash. Maybe we can look forward to the end of the useless Highway 99 Tunnel, in which Big Bertha the Drill has been stuck for so long.

Mean Mr Mustard said...

"Mustard, excellent. I look forward to your illustrated and utterly meretricious press release. "

Looks like I found the unpaid intern, (Steve Morgan) thinking along exactly the same lines and all ready with the press release too..! Unfortunately he's assumed all those hydrocarbons are American. I imagine we can come to some kind of Antarctic carve up arrangement, there's plenty to go round without resorting to fisticuffs. :-)

donalfagan said...

I just heard from a fellow 2014 attendee that Four Quarters is not planning to hold an Age of Limits in 2015.

I'm curious if anything like it is happening this year.

MawKernewek said...

This is my entry to the Squirrel Case contest, the Doggerland Reclaimation Project.

A series of dikes and offshore wind farms would drain part of the North Sea which could then be planted with biofuel crops.

Kylie said...


The WWOOF movement (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) is a network of farmers willing to provide room, board and instruction in exchange for 4 - 6 hours of labour per day. The quality of instruction and board varies, but it seems like a good low-cost way to get some experience in the field for someone with few ties to their local area. You would need a way to travel from one farm to another, particularly in Australia where they're quite spread out. They've got a website at with more detail.


I'm sure that most children of the privileged wouldn't dream of pitching in. I'm trying to think of ways to shift the target off my back that my grandparents' foresight is likely to put there in the next decade or so. Their refusal to believe in any form of wealth you couldn't hold in your hand looks like it's about to be vindicated again. Any ideas?

Brian Weber said...

To continue my alternative opinion, I doubt we're on the cusp of a 1914 or 1789 just yet. That will come when one of three things happens: 1) financial problems get so bad that even governments can't cover the losses, and consequently they lose control of the currency. Yes, that could be triggered by a big step-down in available free energy. But despite recent problems, we're not facing that yet. 2) A social tipping point is reached and threatens chaos, a la 1967, 1848, or 1789. Yes, unrest has been growing, but we're nowhere near a 1967 yet, let alone an 1848 or a 1789 (though I know things can happen quickly). If/when we get there, the consequence will be overnight legitimization of authoritarian-style government, and we'll get our Fred Haliot or, more likely, a technocratic-beaurocratic party rule, likely some kind of Rep-Dem/corporate coalition. We'll get a temporary stabilization. 3) We get a Black Swan international event, a la 1914. Eg. if NATO and Russia are stupid enough to start directly shooting each other and China is forced to choose sides, or maybe if Japan swings into hyperinflation, or maybe regional war breaks out in the mid-east (could be a homegrown anti-ISIS coalition forms, then breaks up as bids for territory or Iraqi oil fields force the national players onto opposing sides).

I still think a 1 or a 2 is a minimum of 10 years away, and probably more like 20. No one can predict a 3, but I don't think the tinder is dry enough quite yet for a black swan to bring a general crisis---for all the issues (terrorism, racism, right-wing retrenchment, proliferating but poorly thought-out leftist ideologies) that everyone is concerned about now, things have been much, much worse at times in the past. And we're still too comfortable in our lives to risk the really big die-throws.

Bottom line: the hour is late but the bell isn't tolling yet: there's still a little time. Let's make the best of the precious minutes (the next few years) that we still have.

Kaitain said...

@ Dagnarus and Spanish fly:

Payback sucks, doesn’t it? Perhaps the clueless morons who run the EU should have considered how the Russians might react to their latest attempt to put the screws to Russia via the latest Color Revolution/rent-a-coup in the Ukraine. Sounds like Europe could be in for some very cold winters in the years to come, especially since the Russians have made it clear that they intend to shift the bulk of their gas exports to Asia and talk of US natural gas exports to Europe are likely to remain vaporware with the fracking bubble visibly deflating. Anyone who has lived in the countryside can tell you that it’s generally a bad idea to provoke an angry bear…

Moshe Braner said...

@Repent: "collapse of the petro dollar ... against what?"

- against the petro, of course! In other words, we'll eventually find out that you can print dollars but you can't print oil. When that knowledge spreads, the dollar (and the pound and the euro and the yen etc) will start buying a lot less of anything that is real.

Regarding squirrel cases, I find it amusing that a huge portion of the stories on the mainstream media about clever energy-generating devices, from pedal power to jiggling bras, are said to be a great way to recharge your i-junk. This to me discloses a rather innumerate (energy-illiterate) society, since these dreamers never notice that just their light bulbs, for example, require orders of magnitude more power than their i-devices. A complete lack of perspective. I guess they may end up freezing and hungry in the dark, but they'll be able to tweet about it.

Kaitain said...

Speaking of the folly of bear baiting, I think that is a big part of what was going on in France with the Charlie Hebdo massacre. I was listening to John David Ebert’s lecture series on Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West. Ebert argued, as Pat Buchanan and William Lind have, that World War I and World War II were really about the clash between Culture and Civilization in the Spenglerian sense, with Germany and its allies representing the forces of Culture and the Western alliance representing the forces of Civilization.

In Spengler’s theory of history, Culture represents the earlier, organic stage of development in the lifecycle of a civilization and is based on a religious worldview. Civilization by contrast is materialistic, irreverent and irreligious by nature and this is the stage the West is currently in. Islam represents an ancient civilization that has returned to its spiritual roots, a phenomenon Spengler called the Second Religiousness, one which lacks the vitality and dynamism of the earlier Cultural phase but is based on a sense of deep piety and reverence for one’s spiritual heritage.

As I listened to Ebert’s discussion of the difference between Culture and Civilization in Spenglerian philosophy, it occurred to me that the clash between French secularism and Islam is another classic example of a clash between Culture and Civilization. Here we have a nation within a decadent civilization that has allowed millions of Muslim immigrants in and then condones and protects a newspaper that routinely engages in racist hate speech against Muslims and insults their deepest beliefs, what in Russian is known as “spitting in someone’s soul”. Charlie Hebdo has been spitting in the souls of 1.6 billion Muslims as well as those of Christians for years. But whereas Western Christianity is a weak and spent force, Muslims have repeated demonstrated a willingness to defend their religion by force if necessary. It was only a matter of time before an act of retribution like the one in Paris occurred.

Given the vast numbers of Muslim immigrants that France has allowed in over the last several decades, the sort of Islam bashing that Charlie Hebdo has been engaging in is an act of rank stupidity. If this continues, it will fuel the fires of Islamic rage and since France seems bent on continuing its multiculturalist policies, this guarantees that when Islam takes over due to a combination of mass immigration and the differential in birth rates, there will be terrible consequences that follow. It seems likely to me that Jean Raspail’s nightmare is virtually inevitable at this point and that the antics of Charlie Hebdo and the folly of the French government is going to make a great tragedy even bloodier. As I said, bear baiting is usually a bad idea. It’s even worse when you invited the bear in the first place and then allow a bunch of irresponsible, juvenile bigots and hate mongers to keep baiting the bear until it finally gets fed up and decides to bite back.

Ursachi Alexandru said...

@Steve Morgan

"Shares of Hydrocarbons Imported from Titan" - gold!

William Knight said...

JMG said: "My book The Ecotechnic Future covers this in some detail."

Very good. Been meaning to read it, looks like now is the time.

Radu Visan said...

I have a few ideas that could save us all, but due to time constraints a comment describing them is the best I can do. Anyone is free to expand them further if they feel they can get investment money for their effort.

The first one is simple and builds upon your own squirrels example and a topic from last week's comments. Imagine the squirrel power plant, with rows upon rows of the furry creatures in their little wheels chasing suspended acorns. But what if there was something chasing the squirrels themselves? You could double your energy output! This is where the feral dogs come in. Import a few shiploads of them from Eastern Europe and all our problems are solved. The US fulfills its energy needs and the EU has a strong economy again. Plus, I don't know how many squirrels you have, but we probably have more dogs.

The second idea is the greenest I can think of. It uses gravity and could be better than solar power. Instead of large, fragile glass panels destroying the aesthetic of your house, you could simply connect all your roof tiles to pressure sensors, which would use the impact of rain drops, snowflakes and assorted bird droppings to make your home independent from the grid. Granted, a more large-scale approach could be implemented by using the pavements of financial districts, like Wall Street, but that's not really a renewable source, only recurring.

For the third one I'm going to get a bit darker. There are ideas to use movement or residual body heat to charge smartphones, but that's thinking small, since is a concentrated energy source just beneath the surface and we have a time-tested means of extracting it. I'm talking, of course, about blood and leeches, respectively. About 30 or so of them attached every day and you can fill a barrel by the end of the month, which is then taken to a power plant to be either converted to biofuel or burned directly. I even have a title for this one: "The new fashion craze that could save the planet: renewable, organic accessories that give free energy".

Kaitain said...

John Michael, the Russian gas story is being confirmed by numerous media sources outside the Daily Fail, including Bloomberg, Zero Hedge and Business Insider. Several months back, Russia imposed an embargo on agricultural imports from the US and EU in response to American and EU sanctions and warned that further retaliation might be forthcoming if the Americans and Europeans continued their policies. Since then, we have seen a escalation of anti-Russian sanctions, economic pressure and propaganda by both the US and the EU. So its not surprising that Russia decided to do some retaliation of its own and take advantage one of Europe’s greatest vulnerabilities. Note too that Russian officials have said they have other means of retaliating in addition to cutting off or reducing gas and oil supplies to Europe. One of the ideas they have floated is cutting off the overflight rights of American and European airlines through Russian airspace. This wouldn’t hurt American airlines so much, but if European airlines have to go around Russian airspace while their Asian and Middle Eastern competitors don’t have to, that’s going to hurt them big time.

jean-vivien said...

@Stephanie and all those living in big urban centers :

there is plenty of affordable projects in terms of space and money, even in that specific situation. Here are a few (this is actually my project list, but I am very bad at accomplishing any project) :
- growing crickets in a cage (and make pâté out of it :))
- growing snails in a box (in the countryside they are a pest like grass, but in an urban context, a good source of protein, no ?)
- making an incubator out of an aquarium resistor and plastic boxes. Use it (at 25ºC) to learn the basics of cheesemaking. I know, raw milk is illegal in the US, because it is more dangerous than guns...
- mycology, using a lot of the same hardware as for cheesemaking.
- leatherwork is not very practical, since skins take up space. Then just basic knitting...
- preparing and canning food. Meat, for example, does not require that much space for preparation. Learning to macerate it, and macerate stuff in general with oil.
- learning to make leavain out of organic flour and water. Very difficult actually.
- learning to make vinegar (wine culture required in your country)
- a bike repair club / community is also an option if it does not require you to keep tools at home.

All these are vertically stackable options (since you only need plastic boxes or a regular kitchen).

The big problem with urban environments is the lack of sunlight. All options listed can be reasonably helped within that constraint, so long as we get electricity in our homes.
Most of the options would not produce enough to feed you, unlike what countryside living offers (a chicken coop). But they can help you develop unique skills that still deal with living systems. It is very far away from the Green Wizard Glamour of a tender orchard, and less physically demanding.

Even using a pen and notebooks for personal writing projects would be a good option. Like, try to collect family anecdotes or personal memories.

William Knight said...

Will Randolph said "
... Any investment in physical infrastructure would be guaranteed to decay over time, so any society that depended on physical infrastructure which depended on non-renewable energy would be non-sustainable, though perhaps lasting far longer than the current industrial civ..."

Agreed. But I'm curious about the details as to what kind of industrial technology could be developed with fossil fuels and then subsequently be maintained indefinitely by sustainable energy resources.

For example, will sustainable forestry be done with hand axes, hand saws, wool-alcohol-powered chain saws, or even more advanced technologies like hydraulic machinery and vehicles?

What is the limit of industrialization that is possible? Why couldn't it include a limited number of roads, electrical power grids, computers, etc., as long as the total energy required is below the threshold of available renewable energy?

I don't know if these limits are considered either quantitatively or qualitatively in "The Ecotechnic Future", but I look forward to finding out.

Paul said...

I've thought this through very carefully, and I think I may have solved our problem.

No need to thank me. The nobel prize will suffice.

Laylah said...

Combining the squirrels with the chickens, I have a friend who, a few months back, told me with a tremendous amount of excitement about someone her parents knew who had figured out how to turn chicken manure into oil! And it was a miraculous discovery! Really, she couldn't see why he wasn't on some sort of Big Oil hit list already.

I had to explain, as gently as I could, why there was really no need for BP & co. to feel threatened by the miracle. Even though the idea of chicken poop saving "civilization" was bizarrely charming to contemplate.

gildone84 said...

JMG: My apologies, I accidentally submitted this to last week's post. I meant to post it to this week's (1/14/15):
Evidence that the fracking bubble contagion is spreading. US Steel's Lorain Tubular plant in Lorain, Ohio, which supplies pipe to the fracking industry, is laying off 614 workers. They are laying off another 142 at the Houston plant. I live in NE Ohio where the Lorain plant is. Things had been booming there for quite some time. The slowdown was sudden:

Violet Cabra said...

Re: Divine bail out.

Knowing a good amount of Jewish history, I'm in full agreement that my faith won't save me from collective reality. An example from my family history: my great-great grandfather was the only one of his shtetle who survived the pogrom that lead him to come to America. He survived by spending that night in an open grave. I highly doubt he lived when everyone else perished because of the strength of his piety.

More broadly I've meditated on your response to my post and came to see clearly that the vaporware that you mention in this post and others; AI, metastatic interplanetary colonizaton, fusion reactors etc etc represent the idols of the Western Cargo Cult. Aliens are the mysterious angels carrying the voice of the god, scientists the priests, consumers the laity and of course perpetual motion is the holy grail. Faith in alternative energy vaporware is the faith that Progress will save us from our collective choices.

What struck me with this realization is that the rites of the Cargo Cult aren't waiting to be performed in the future. They are happening right now. When scientist-priests suggest whatever implausible techno-fix that will save us, they are are reciting the millenarian liturgy of progress. With energy declining, it appears to me that collectively we are increasingly like the Melanesian left on their island, suddenly cut off from the stream of manufactured goods. I can only imagine that such displays will only grow louder and more popular in the months and years ahead.

August Johnson said...

JMG - Another story about the Russian Gas deliveries.

"Russia plans to shift all its natural gas flows crossing Ukraine to a route via Turkey, a surprise move that the European Union’s energy chief said would hurt its reputation as a supplier."
"Gazprom plans to deliver the fuel to Turkey’s border with Greece and “it’s up to the EU to decide what to do” with it further, according to Sefcovic."

latheChuck said...

I took a look at "" and then I looked at the book jacket for "Engineering in the Ancient World", by J. G. Landels (U. of California Press). It's the same "hamster wheel" concept, except the ancient engineers had to build their wheel from wood instead of clear plastic.
The Ancient Hamster Wheel didn't generate electricity, of course; the torque was mostly used to pump water and operate hoists. (Wind and water wheels would have been used for stationary applications.)

The Modern Hamster Wheel (MHW) output analysis is consistent with what I mentioned earlier: ~100W output power times (maybe) 10 hours per day; 1 kWh of energy. The factor that's missing from the MHW paper is a comparison of the capital cost of the MHW (~$1000?) versus the cash value of the electricity it generates: $~o0.15 per day. So, it breaks even after 18 years of daily operation (with no maintenance expense).

The Ancient Hamster Wheel, on the other hand, can be built with renewable and/or recycled material, and could be used to run machine tools, grain mills, water pumps, etc. "on demand", when you need slow torque and have an excess of unskilled labor. You could even design a wheel to be turned by water, when you have it, and labor when the water is scarce.

Ellen He said...

I won't submit anything for the Squirrelware contest for lack of time, but here's a link to an essay with a desperate-enough 'the doomers were wrong' rantery that could qualify as squirrelcase rhetoric.
This is off-topic, but here's an interesting essay on the relationship between Aspergers and (ir)religiosity:

I wonder if beings with different '-olds' may lack what humans consider to be religious belief or have some completely alien means of viewing life besides (ir)religion, philosophy etc.

SweaterMan said...

@Mr. Mustard -

Check out Arthur C. Clarkes "Imperial Earth". He had that Titan-as-a-gas-station thing thought out long ago...

Sounds great in a sci-fi novel though

Cathy McGuire said...

Yuh – it just keeps coming. Today Switzerland apparently scythed the legs out from under Europe, and I saw $1.99 gas which I never thought I’d see again (and this from someone who remembers 50 cent gas!)

@Chris G: to which Yuddhistira replied, "Every day we die, yet we go on living as though we are immortal. That is the greatest wonder."
Actually it was, “Everyday people die all around us, and yet we…” I love that play! Brooks did an amazing job making it into a mythological sagathat European/Americans could understand – I even got the 3-volume original (translated) books to read.

@Joel: Congrats on the new job, no matter your fears – you’ll likely do some good work in the community and maybe meet new contacts that will be helpful later. And sounds like your reputation would allow you to get back to other work if the office job falls through. Grants are always iffy (I used to make a living writing them, along with my other careers) – gotta write 5-6 at least to get one. Just don’t forget to give them their status reports! They really penalize a group for forgetting those! And I’ll include you in the call when we convene a green wizards confab in Portland! Hope you can make it (we’ll try to give a lot of advance notice).

@Stephanie Geeze: I’m not sure what JMG would advise, but I might suggest at least locating farms or local food groups nearby, and if you can volunteer for a weekend task or something, you’d get a start. And then if things get scary fast, you might be able to go there and apprentice… just a thought.

@onething: don’t give up hope! I’m very sorry that you have had such a hard time signing on. I just sent you an email with password info, so I hope you can get on now.

Kyoto Motors said...

If I might chime in on William Knight's question about theoretical industrial societies... I don't think you can separate "industrial" from fossil fuels. The business models, means of production and even political organization appears to be a function of the enabling power of concentrated hydro-carbon energy. I think the wise scientific petro-techno society might have followed a different path. Capitalists could have responded better to the labor movement for one thing... Petroleum could have been consigned exclusively to public works and essential services. Consumption and growth could have been nipped in the bud... But eventually said society would run out of the stuff too. Or run into greed from the outside...
But anyway, that's not what happened.
Oh well...

Andrew Vines said...

Here is my entry:

On the topic of todays blog, I think the solar roadways project is very relevant. There are some good youtube videos debunking the concept.

One thing to ask is what happens culturally when most people no longer want to believe in the next big breakthrough. I definitely get the sense that it is getting close to a tipping point where attitudes will turn more pessimistic about technology saving the day.

Bogatyr said...

JMG, I read the first report on Zero Hedge just before I went to work, and posted here at that point. When I got home again I looked around and, like you, found no further stories in the MSM, which I also found strange.

I did some more digging around in the few stories that were coming up in fringe stories, and what I found is:

- Russia has confirmed that the South Stream project, the pipeline to the EU that would pass through Bulgaria rather than Ukraine, has definitively been cancelled as a response to meddling from the European Commission; this was announced in December, but the EC thought they would be able to face the Russians down. In this, they have completely failed.
- Instead of Bulgaria/South Stream, Russian gas will now go to Europe via Turkey/Turk Stream. This pipeline will be completed two years from now.
- South Stream would have travelled into the EU via pipelines constructed and then owned by Gazprom. The EC, in the name of 'competition', was trying to force Gazprom to give up ownership of the infrastructure. In response, Gazprom has announced that under the Turk Stream, they will build their own pipeline as far as the border between Turkey and Greece, and it will be up to the EU to continue it from there under whatever rules they choose.

Those are the certain facts. The confusion is over what happens when Turk Stream goes live. Will it be a complement to the Ukrainian pipelines, or will it replace it entirely? I've seen statements that could support either view. This is incredibly important. If the second statement is true, then the EU has only two years in which to build an entirely new trans-European pipeline network connecting to Turkey before the supply of gas through Ukraine goes dead. If they can't get it built, they freeze in the following winter.

Much of the ambiguity and confusion is likely to be deliberate. Nevertheless:

- the clock is now ticking for the EU. They are going to have to find the political leadership, and financial resources, to get the pipelines built in short order. Is this possible?
- Germany and Poland already have separate pipelines to Russia via the Baltic, France has nuclear, and the UK has the North Sea. Will they want to contribute? The countries really threatened by this are Greece and other Southern-EU countries, the ones already hurting from EU-imposed austerity. This move will massively increase existing intra-EU tensions.
- Turkey has consistently been left waiting at the altar in its efforts to join the EU, and appears to be losing interest. At the same time, it's been trying - so far unsuccessfully - to join the Sino-Russian led Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. It could be that Turkey will also 'pivot to the East' and pursue a less Western-oriented policy. It may join Russia's Eurasian Union rather than the EU, for example; it could even, possibly, leave NATO. What is certain is that it's going to have a financial bonanza from the transit fees for all that Russian gas, so inevitably it will join Iran in moving into Russia's orbit.

So, this news really is a bombshell, but it'll take some time for the consequences to become clear.

John Michael Greer said...

Still scrambling to catch up; apologies to all who have to make do with the generic thank you posted earlier...

Megpie, "the practicality of a chocolate teakettle" had me chuckling -- is that a common saying in Oz? Either way, many thanks.

Andrew, the Economist is a bubbling fount of squirrel cases. I'd encourage anyone at a loss for prose for an entry to copy their patented tone of burbling gullibility.

Leo, best wishes for a quick move to a comfortable new place. I know how harrowing that sort of thing can be.

Nastarana, since oil comes bubbling up from the center of the earth, and that's traditionally Beelzebub's territory, doesn't that mean that devil worship is the best way to get more? Those GOP Satanists ought to get working on it...

Adrienne, good. I'll be addressing that in an upcoming post.

Dennis, I look forward to your delusional press release or sycophantic media story!

Eric, excellent. Exactly; I'll be discussing that, too, in an upcoming post.

Stephanie, learning food production in a rural setting is only one of many options. I suppose I should schedule a post reviewing that as we proceed.

Bill, excellent! That reflection gets you tonight's gold star. You're quite right; contraction will be about as disruptive as expansion -- but the disruptions will tend to fall in a very different pattern, and a lot of people who think they're entitled to a free pass from disruption are going to find out otherwise. More on this soon.

Agent, thanks for the math. Yes, I know that I was being sloppy.

Latefall, thanks for the link.

Bogatyr said...

I'm very impressed, JMG, with your suggestion to Dfr that s/he consider "a job as an invasive planet exterminator". Wow. Now THAT's a job...

Aspiring Green Wizards with more humble, craft-based, aspirations may find some interest, perhaps even inspiration, in this RBTH photo-essay: Russian Peasants And Their Craft Jobs. (Hint: looks like the wooden-spoon market might be big).

Kutamun said...

"Address of Beelzebub " by Robert Burns
To prevent 500 Highlanders escaping from under their Lords to Canada to seek the elusive "Liberty"
Perhaps they were after Abiotic Oil !
Long life, my Lord, an' health be yours,
Unskaithed by hunger'd Highland boors;
Lord grant me nae duddie, desperate beggar,
Wi' dirk, claymore, and rusty trigger,
May twin auld Scotland o' a life
She likes-as butchers like a knife.

Faith you and Applecross were right
To keep the Highland hounds in sight:
I doubt na! they wad bid nae better,
Than let them ance out owre the water,
Then up among thae lakes and seas,
They'll mak what rules and laws they please:
Some daring Hancocke, or a Franklin,
May set their Highland bluid a-ranklin;
Some Washington again may head them,
Or some Montgomery, fearless, lead them,
Till God knows what may be effected
When by such heads and hearts directed,
Poor dunghill sons of dirt and mire
May to Patrician rights aspire!
Nae sage North now, nor sager Sackville,
To watch and premier o'er the pack vile, -
An' whare will ye get Howes and Clintons
To bring them to a right repentance-
To cowe the rebel generation,
An' save the honour o' the nation?
They, an' be d-d! what right hae they
To meat, or sleep, or light o' day?
Far less-to riches, pow'r, or freedom,
But what your lordship likes to gie them?

But hear, my lord! Glengarry, hear!
Your hand's owre light to them, I fear;
Your factors, grieves, trustees, and bailies,
I canna say but they do gaylies;
They lay aside a' tender mercies,
An' tirl the hallions to the birses;
Yet while they're only poind't and herriet,
They'll keep their stubborn Highland spirit:
But smash them! crash them a' to spails,
An' rot the dyvors i' the jails!
The young dogs, swinge them to the labour;
Let wark an' hunger mak them sober!
The hizzies, if they're aughtlins fawsont,
Let them in Drury-lane be lesson'd!
An' if the wives an' dirty brats
Come thiggin at your doors an' yetts,
Flaffin wi' duds, an' grey wi' beas',
Frightin away your ducks an' geese;
Get out a horsewhip or a jowler,
The langest thong, the fiercest growler,
An' gar the tatter'd gypsies pack
Wi' a' their bastards on their back!
Go on, my Lord! I lang to meet you,
An' in my house at hame to greet you;
Wi' common lords ye shanna mingle,
The benmost neuk beside the ingle,
At my right han' assigned your seat,
'Tween Herod's hip an' Polycrate:
Or if you on your station tarrow,
Between Almagro and Pizarro,
A seat, I'm sure ye're well deservin't;
An' till ye come-your humble servant,

June 1st, Anno Mundi,

John Michael Greer said...

Steve, you're quite correct. If you can top your first entry -- a real contender, btw -- I'll be delighted!

Brian, fair enough; you've made your prediction, I've made mine. Now we'll see who's right.

Varun, good question. There isn't one international transit system, there's a tangled network involving many different modalities, and so it almost certainly won't have a single stop date.

SunsetSu, those are of the many good reasons why my spouse and I fled Seattle ten years ago and have never looked back. The hideous new public library downtown, probably the worst design for a library I've ever encountered anywhere, was another -- I take my libraries very seriously!

MawKernewek, now that's hubris. Nice; you're in the contest. Any chance, given your residence, that you can drain Lyonesse while you're at it?

Kylie, hmm. I'll think about that and see what I come up with.

Kaitain, I've seen it in those four sources, and it appears to be two different claims -- the Daily Mail claiming that Russia's cut trans-Ukraine natural gas flows now, Bloomberg saying that they're going to cut flows via the Ukrained once they finish building the pipeline through Turkey. The other two sources simply quote those. Why are the other financial and energy media saying nothing about either story? I'm not arguing that it's possible, or even likely; Russia has the means, motive, and opportunity -- but I'd like to see confirmation that this is actually what's happening.

Paul, excellent. You're in the contest.

Gildone, yes, I saw that! When steel companies start laying off hundreds of workers, that's good evidence that something's up.

Violet, good. I've encountered all too many people who somehow have the notion that God or the gods or somebody will surely bail us out of the consequences of our own greed and stupidity; it's not as though we've paid the least attention to them during the time of our absurd prosperity, but hey, they should come scurrying up to save us from having to pay the penalties every one of the world's scriptures say we ought to get for our behavior...

Andrew, good! You're in the contest.

John Michael Greer said...

Bogatyr, no argument, the basic fact of the matter is a bombshell -- and it's very much the Russian sense of humor to respond to Ukrainian natural-gas theft by piping Russian gas to the border of another country that hasn't exactly earned a reputation for sterling integrity -- except this time the thefts are the EU's problem, not Russia's. My question was of the Daily Fail's claim that gas was being shut off right now. Oh, and the comment to DFR was actually intended as a joke...

Kutamun, no doubt!

Dan the Farmer said...

I won't enter because I don't have the Photoshop chops and don't really want to learn, but I'd be pursuing deep sea thermal vent power as the answer to all our woes.

steve pearson said...

A question for anyone who might have the answer: one privilege that Russia gave the western alliance that would be a no brainer to take away was the right of land/rail transit to their forces in Afghanistan. The loss of this would strand pretty much all their equipment in Afghanistan. I have never heard this mentioned as a retaliation to western sanctions.
To Kutamon et al,on the subject of Australian fascism, Have you read D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo? It was set in the 1930s, but an interesting take on an indigenous Australian fascism.
Regards, Steve

mikerobertsblog said...

No need to imagine an energy breakthrough. The BBC have done it already: Smart shoe devices generate power from walking.

MawKernewek said...

There is in fact relatively deep water between Cornwall and Scilly, up to about 70m at most.

I did make a little visualisation of the likely coastlines based on a published paper about post-glacial rebound since the end of the last glacial period:

The five inhabited islands of the Scilly Isles were a single larger island until maybe 3000 years ago, and fairly significant lowland areas north of the north coast would have existed in the early Holocene, but you would have to go all the way back to the glacial period itself to walk from Cornwall to Scilly

Cantre'r Gwaelod off the Welsh coast may be a better bet for reclaimation since there is a larger area that is relatively shallow and a dike from Pembrokehire to the tip of Llŷn would enable drainage of a substantial area:

Bogatyr said...

Since we're talking about geopolitics, and the potential for 2015 to be a year of major change, I suggest looking at this article from John Robb: Saudi Arabia Plunges into an Abyss.

As for "planet destroyer", yes, it made me smile: it brought to mind Dark Star and sentient bombs...

ed boyle said...


re human hamster wheel. Actually docks loading in europe used that sort of contraption preindustrial.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

@Marinhomelander--I think the nail salons of San Anselmo are safe for awhile longer. Hairdressers and cosmetics companies do well during depressions. A decade or so ago, one of the big growth areas for the Avon company was the Amazon basin, indigenous women traveling up and down the river selling beauty products to other indigenous women. In the poorest tribal villages throughout the world, you will see young women arrayed in facial tattoos and jewelry; sometimes the men, too. Attracting a mate is not frivolity.

Bruno B. L. said...

JMG, I often wonder what our present would look like if, say, in the 1900's people decided that the abundance of fossil fuel energy should be used to build a renewable society instead, with fossil fuel usage being restricted to fill in any existing gaps, temporarily. Instead we, uh, burned our reserves in less than three centuries. Millions of years of stored sunlight burned in less than three centuries, and still we believe we are the pinnacle of all evolution! It's quite humbling to remember that. Makes me feel like I belong to a spices of ape that suffers from a very serious narcissistic personality disorder.

PS: my entry is going to involve time traveling expeditions to the resource and oil-rich past as a new form of providing energy for the present (I call dibs on that), led by a distant relative of Cecil Rhodes...does that seems too far-fetched for you?

ed boyle said...

Jet stream wind, earth nuclear core,gulf stream all to betapped into.

Prana, various quantum particles, like solar(photons) collectible.

Micro black holes made by cern for energy production.

Collect thought and feel quanta.

Become energy positive, not an energy sink, i.e. entropic. Use this energy for telekinesis, telepathy, levitation, body heating to replace transport, telecoms, heating,clothes. No need to freeze in dark. With yogic tecchniques keep warm, light a light bulb through touch.

Make ki ball factory using kung fu millions in china. Export to world as energy source.

Jason Heppenstall said...

Okay, here's my Squirrel entry.

King Solomon's Diamonds

A robotic army of subterranean AI miners armed with 3D printers is all we need to solve the world's problems, IMHO.

Diana Haugh said...

Sign of the times: The Northumberland County prison in Sunbury burned down this week. The County has no idea how to come up with 40 million price tag to rebuild so they've instructed police to "use discretion" in making arrests.

Stephanie Geeze said...

To everyone who responded to my comment, thank you. To the person who mentioned WWOOFing, I have been trying to research it and as far as learning the skills go, it seems like hands down the best option. The only thing that concerns me is that I've heard a few urban legends about how WWOOFing crews can sometimes be cult-like. I've heard that many times about ecovillages as well. I don't want to offend anyone on this board, of course, but could anyone comment on the risk that these activities might be dominated by their own inner circle of believers and are hard to break into for new people? thanks.

Violet Cabra said...

The comments are amazing this week, thank you commenteriat for being so thoughtful, smart and sardonically funny!

Stephanie, I don't want to overwhelm you with suggestions, as you've gotten so many really excellent ones already. What I do want to say though, is that food growing isn't the only critical skill. If you're in an apartment in a high rise you can still learn to use a sewing machine, take a week long intensive in wilderness first aid, or even make delicious food on the cheap from bulk grains and legumes. These are just a few ideas, others have been suggested which are just as good.

I imagine the skillsets as basically two pronged: there are skills you use to meet your own needs directly and there are skills you can use to make yourself useful to others and meet your needs through exchange. So even if, hypothetically, your situation precludes you from learning about growing food you can develop the second prong of skills.

Along with this I'd like to offer two other suggestions. The first is seek out community that shares your values and that you can trust. Trust takes time and community is of similar valuation to skills, methinks. If you're close with someone skilled in horticulture you can, potentially, have a relationship with them where you exchange your skill for theirs. If this is someone you like and can trust all the better.

Second, if you accept that there are things you can learn that will better your life given any circumstance, the only thing that separates you from mastering those skills is DISCIPLINE. If you set aside two hours a day to mastering anything, you will rapidly improve. It's that simple. Choose something that catches your fancy, and obsess about it until it gets in your blood. Read books about it, take notes, find others with the same interest to talk about it with, and then practice, practice, practice like your very life depends on it because it very well might.

Hope this is of some help. Best wishes!

Steve Morgan said...

@Mr. Mustard

Sorry for claiming the Titan oil & gas as American. I only saw the comments from the first batch last night before I wrote it up, otherwise I would've known that you'd already claimed them. I'm sure there's no need for fisticuffs, though.

Let's divvy it up this way: you put out the contract for your dirigibles (or have an intern do it), and I'll get SpaceX working on my space-tankers. Whoever gets there first can name the seas after their favorite cultural icons. Second place can have the South Pole.


I thought that might get a chuckle. Still, I wouldn't put it past GS traders to knowingly sell clients something with such an acronym...

Marty said...

There was a hedge fund manager on CNBC this morning, he explained why "the North American shale explosion has been 'uneconomic for drillers.'" but also "The fracking and shale revolution was propelling us to be the largest oil producer in a way that I thought was uneconomic and still is uneconomic for the drillers. But it was going to be enough supply to really disrupt the markets,".

Big oil companies like Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell are finding their business models challenged, he added, "because the days of finding cheap oil is over."

And now that the SNB has decide to unpeg the Franc from the Euro it appears that the Euro project is unwinding, already two FX brokers have failed,

Marty said...

JMG another article you might be interested in from Steve Brown yesterday at

"Be Prepared For An Oil Price Spike"

Explaining why "the longer the price stays below $60/bbl the more dramatically the price will spike when events eventually turn the tide."

David said...

Slightly off the energy/technology focus, but pertaining to implosions of world-view:

I feel for the boy (who, per the story, received no money from the book). He was a only six at the time, then tried to stop the book when he saw what was happening. He is learning a hard lession that many "christian businesses" are ultimately just businesses and when truth goes up against mammon, mammon usually wins. I suspect the only reason the publisher is pulling the book is because he went public.

(It is usually suspicious when reported experiences of this nature mesh in great detail to the particulars of a certain theology. That should be a flag for people.)

The core socio-economic gospel of Yeshua bar Yosef has much to speak for it, if only we can get past the layers of crap that we have buried it under over the past 20 centuries. That is the focus of my personal search.

Nastarana said...

Dear Bogatyr, Thank you for the photo essay. I cannot cook without wooden spoons. And, lapti look like the perfect summer garden shoes.

People with adequate space maybe should consider planting lindens and pawlanias along with their orchards. Linden has so many uses, one could almost call it the Northern Hemisphere version of coconut palms.

Will Randolph, how long do you think your infrastructure should stand. I believe the lighthouse at Alexandria was still standing at the time of the first crusade. It was destroyed by an earthquake sometime during the European Middle Ages. The inhabitants of Seville were still using their Roman acquaduct well into the Middle Ages. Were it not for the depredations of Turkish settlers and Lord Elgin, the Parthenon might well still be in nearly its original condition, minus the paint. Civil engineering projects, built by ancient techniques of piling rock on rock, and strengthened by structural steel, available in copious quantities from uninhabitable skyscrapers, might last a very long time indeed.

Wolfgang Brinck said...

Rod Swenson's website at first brought to my attention the idea that nature favors any enterprise that manages to increase entropy. More specifically, if two different enterprises are working on the same energy reservoir and running it down to increase entropy, the enterprise which does the best job of running down the energy reservoir, that is, the one doing it the fastest is most favored by nature.
So if we look at a given human culture as a scheme for running down a reservoir of stored energy, let's say fossil fuels, then the society that runs it down the fastest is the one most favored by nature. Nature favors industrial societies over non-industrial societies because industrial societies run down the fossil fuel reservoirs while non-industrial societies leave them in place.
Conversely we should also point out that it is free energy which powers industrial civilizations and not civilizations that create the free energy. Fortunately or unfortunately, once the reservoir of free energy has been exhausted, nature no longer has any need for the industrial civilization that ran it down. It is nature's policy to turn its back on a civilization once that civilization has finished its job. There is no retirement program that keeps a civilization around after having so valiantly worked at running down energy reserves and increasing entropy.
We also need to keep in mind that although nature does not necessarily plan its future except of course to dictate that the future shall have more entropy than the present, it was nature that provided industrial civilizations with oxygen in the atmosphere which made the burning of fossil fuels possible. The creation of an oxygen containing atmosphere was nature's first detour from entropy creation and the accumulation of fossil fuels the second which of course nature corrected by allowing the creation of industrialized civilizations which combined free oxygen with fossil fuels to increase the pool of entropy.
So I think we should look ahead to a time of greater ease where there is no longer this mandate of running down the fossil fuel reserves and maintaining a complex culture.

Ed-M said...


Great inspirational article this time. Now I have two squirrel cases bouncing around in my head. One involves Titan, the other, highway bridges and overpasses. Oh, I am sure both will be utterly absurd!!!

158 comments already! Wow.

Ed-M said...

Hi Tom Hopkins,

The increased chatter over AI? I am only speaking for myself, not the AD: that's just the reaction to the elites' delusional desire to do away with labor as part of the economic equation. That it dovetails nicely with the materialist Christian heresy known as the Religion of Progress is just icing on the cake, and the hook with which to sell it to the technicians assigned to develop it, the technogeeks following the story, the "news media," and of course, to we the masses.

Just let them try to implement it, HAHAHA!

Janet D said...

@ Bill & et al...

"Because, in reality, our centuries of expansion have been enormously disruptive and chaotic...."


For some reason, I woke last night and lay awake, pondering the mindset of the conqueror, which is the mindset of our culture, and, really, most of the dominant cultures in the world today. We're the ones who are left after millennia of conquering, and we've brought with us all of the assumptions, mental habits, and assumed rights of conquerors.

I recently read that the Maori of New Zealand - originally warlike in their own way, but still much more earth-centric & respectful than ours ever has been - had originally conquered New Zealand from a very peaceful, enlightened (supposedly) people who were pretty much wiped out after that event.

It seems we've gotten rid of (or sufficiently marginalized) anyone or any group that knows how to live in balance with the earth or in any type of peaceful co-existence with other people.

The only problem is that we're out of places to conquer (not that we've quit trying). And in order to survive (in any numbers) in the future, we have to give up/change many of the habits & assumptions of the conqueror mindset. That won't happen, but it is interesting to notice/reflect on just how much of the way we go about things come from a deep-seated belief of Ultimate Right.

Don't know if this makes any sense to anyone. Deep internal ponderings, I guess.

Shane Wilson said...
Is this something to be concerned with, in light of the fracking bust? With the bubble burst before this gets off the ground, or could they still cause mischief? I know the people involved, and there's a lot of activism against this among people I know. Oddly enough, one" green" friend opposed seems to be in denial that fracking is a bubble that is imploding.
Back to the Canada thing, if there was a humanitarian/political crisis that DID overwhelm our neighbor to the north and create a crisis, they could certainly appeal to China/India/Russia, or all of the above for help containing it. I see no reason why, with assistance, they couldn't put up as much a deterrent as exists on the southern U.S. border, and I'm not certain that it wouldn't be in China/India/Russia's interest to help them in a crisis situation.
I don't think a Muslim takeover of Western Europe is a given. I think there's enough residual pushback among Europeans. It's certainly possible that Western Europe, with the assistance of law and order Christian Russia, could repel Islamist terrorism. Not that we're to that point yet, but I don't think you can underestimate terrorism pushing Europe into Putin's hands, especially in a crisis. Putin's already found it useful to financially support right wing, law and order, anti Muslim parties, and they've returned the favor.

Thomas Daulton said...

Great idea for a contest, JMG!

I may make my own formal submission later, but let me contribute to the readership two previously-written fiction stories which may help people set the mood.

One is an audio podcast which I did _NOT_ write and have no ownership of. But if you'd like to hear a humorous sci-fi story about a _really_ unusual source of alternative energy, check out:
"Flying High on My Hatred of My Neighbor's Dog"

The story appears as text on that page as well as audio. The download link appears at the very bottom of the page, after the story text (look for "Podcast: Download")

That is about a half-hour story on the Drabblecast, which usually specializes in very short stories. I wrote a "drabble", which is a story strictly limited to 100 words (no more no less), on their forum board four years ago. It also seems appropriate.

This is not written as a press release, so it probably doesn't qualify for the contest. But JMG, if you feel like bending those rules and entering this 100-word story into the contest, I wouldn't protest.

"One Treadmill for Another"

Joel Caris said...


Thank you for the vote of confidence! You know, I hadn't quite thought of it that way, but that does work out to be pretty good timing.

While the new job has increased a few costs for me, I've kept those increases minimal and made sure I'm not locked into them. I should be able to reverse course easily, if need be. In the meantime, I'll both save the extra money and use it toward useful tools, seeds, projects, etc.

As for expecting the income to go away--exactly. I'll say, aside from all the external preparations I've made for decline over the last number of years, I think the most important thing I've done is adjusting my internal expectations. In other words, I've slowly moved away from expecting good things to happen to me--or thinking they should happen to me as a matter of necessity--to not taking anything for granted. That doesn't mean I expect bad things to happen to me--it's just that I recognize they very much can, regardless of if I've done anything to deserve it. (And sometimes I earn it!)

I've actually had people comment on this attitude in recent years when something rough has happened to me that I didn't really bring on myself. That helps confirm I'm doing something right.

It's a lot easier to get to work making the best of bad situations if you aren't too busy feeling sorry for yourself and raging at the universe. Not to say I never feel sorry for myself, but I make certain I don't wallow in it. That attitude I've managed to cultivate in more recent times is a big part of why I think I'll manage to make my way through the coming hard times--assuming a good bit of luck and providence!

It also, by the way, is very empowering and leads to much more happiness. I can't recommend this sort of attitude highly enough. It's greatly improved my life, getting away from ideas of entitlement.

Joel Caris said...

Hi Cathy,

Thank you! It is going to be a lot of grant writing and office work--I can already tell that I'm going to have to come up with good habits for managing my time and health. You would think farm labor would be tiring, but it's actually quite invigorating compared to office work! Yikes.

I do think I'll do some good, though, and I hope it will help get a bit more infrastructure in place that will be helpful in the decline. That's my main goal with the work.

As for the Portland GW gathering--definitely keep me in the loop! I absolutely want to make that.

P.S. Made my first cornbread from homegrown flour corn yesterday, freshly milled on my new handcrank Wondermill. It was delightful, delicious, with a deeper and more complex taste than the cornbread made from store bought cornmeal.

Maybe I should do a GW post on the mill . . .

Bogatyr said...

I'll add another data point, germane to the idea of 2015 being the year when collapse sets in in earnest. Nigeria - one of, perhaps the, most important African states - is facing a perfect storm of rising Islamist insurgency, collapsing oil revenues, and a bitterly contested presidential election.

It's not hard to imagine this all going very badly wrong, and the Nigerian petro-state failing. The consequences would include massively increased regional instability, the loss of a major source of oil, and a vast increase in EU-bound refugees, with all that that would mean for European politics. Background reading.

Elizabeth Kennett said...

Dear Mr. Greer,
I think the cheap solar power short story you are looking for is Robert Heinlein's "Let There Be Light". And it would be nice if someone could figure it out.
Elizabeth Kennett

Violet Cabra said...

Stephanie, as someone who has WWOOFed it is indeed true that some places are cult like. My experience is, however, that farms that host WWOOFers are, by their nature pretty open spaces. If I were you I'd make sure to talk to the people who run any farm I'm plan on going to on the phone and ask them straight up about any concerns and feel out the situation. Some farms can be sketchy. I've heard a few third-hand horror stories, but much more unintentional comedy and people starting out on a deeply rewarding path.

WWOOFing was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I highly, highly recommend it.

. josé . said...

Robert Carran said ... "I built some solar lumber kilns in Asheville and am drying furniture wood from urban harvested trees."

Really? That's fantastic!
Is that written up anywhere? If it's on the Green Wizards site, that alone would give me the incentive to try to join up.

I've been fantasizing about doing something similar here (rural SE Brazil), and have even shown some sketches to local builders, but it would be great to know of one that's actually working.

Eric S. said...

@Violet: I'm stealing a few sentences from that last comment you made on skills suggestions and putting it on a sticky tab. Hope you don't mind. I really wish that it were easier to inspire more poor people with low wage full time jobs and small apartments, since there's still so much that can be done.

@Stephanie, Violet, and everyone else: There are also methods of food production that are quite suitable for a small scale apartment setting. I spent the year making starting forays into edible insects and mushroom growing and am getting ready to get more serious and slightly bigger scale with it this year. Both of those are clean, space efficient, simple entertaining ways to do agriculture in even the smallest apartment.

Another niche that I think apartment dwellers are well suited for is turning raw materials into products. Violet and others already mentioned craft skills like sewing or leather crafting. There are also ways to do things with food if that's your interest. I know some apartment dwelling friends who brew fermented foods and beverages. Canning is also a good option, especially if you know people who garden, since a jar of jam, relish or canned vegetables make really good barter for raw produce from someone's garden.

daelach said...

OK, if the "world as we know it"(tm) ends this year, then it's good that I have taken the opportuniy of the still existing internet shopping and international shipping for getting myself a real French beret. You know, the basque thing with the small tip in the center. Made in France with pre-industrial craftsmanship.

Not because of "I'm Charlie", but because I like France anyway. And if the time should come when baguettes, red vine and Gauloises are not around anymore, I still have my basque beret. C'est ça!

Mean Mr Mustard said...


There's already two of us working away on Titan now. North and South Poles (the methane lake districts) are now spoken for by way of a Gentleman's Agreement, just like in the Colonial days. Will you be doing the fracking at the equator?

With all this healthy competition, the hydrocarbon quantities being landed to Earth (in gluts dependent on favourable planetary alignments to allow the gravity assist thing) who knows- it might even permit the continuation of Happy Motoring.

I think we might need a peak oil aware astrologist to help us get these transportation cycles scheduled...

Cherokee Organics said...

Hi onething,

Fair enough. As a suggestion, have a look at your previous electricity bill and find where it provides your total electricity consumption in kWh for that period. Then divide that number by the number of days (usually 30, 60 or 90 days) and that will provide and average daily electricity usage. Let me know what that number is and we can talk more about what it actually means.

Not to stress as I've seen all sorts of numbers from 3.5kWh / day to 55kWh / day. The only way you'll ever understand the process is to look at the numbers and get a feel for them. Otherwise it is really just the dollar cost that you notice!



Cherokee Organics said...


It was pretty funny! I've been busily thinking up a dodgy storyline and hopefully will get it onto the net over the next few days. Good fun and also very silly - this is my kind of contest. hehe! No need to reply.

Hi Kutamun,

Hey, that's my line! ;-)!



Cherokee Organics said...

Hi Joel,

Congrats on managing to keep feet firmly planted on both paths. It is a juggling act is it not? Plus you're building local contacts and networks whilst making an impression. Well done.



exiledbear said...

Turn the earth into a one big dynamo by passing huge coils of wire in polar orbit. You could use the atmosphere as a plasma conduit. Details, details.

Cool a working fluid at the poles and heat it at the equator with coils and a long-ass insulated pipeline. Run a bunch of stirling engines turning dynamos in the middle.

Not exactly power generation and has been mentioned before - use gravity to create a transcontinental transport system, by digging into the earth and letting a railcar slide downwards and then at the middle turns back up.

If I were forced to use nuclear power, I would dig deep into the base of a mountain and stick a bunch of RTGs in there, run the power cables back up to the surface and then seal it all up with a lot of concrete. It runs until it doesn't and then when it doesn't, it's all already buried so deep it won't affect anyone.

chrome_fox said...

Thank you for the post!

Several economists whom I follow have made similarly depressing predictions as you for 2015:

Steve Keen:

John Aziz on UK economy:


I have noted the many fancy (Orwellian) terms coined by the economic elites: "secular stagnation", "new mediocre", etc and the lack of mention regarding energy or Peak Energy. Regardless, the elites are starting to admit that things are not looking too good out there.

Steve Keen also produced an economic model with energy as the factor of production before. You rarely see economists confessing about the insanity of infinite growth on a finite planet. Links here:

In fact, my journey to this blog started with my curiosity with regards to the 2007/2008 global financial fiasco when I was in high school. Can't overstate how much NakedCapitalism blog and their daily links (your blog is often featured these days, by the way) have changed my perspective about society and finance. All roads do lead to Rome, apparently.

Currently reading Energy and Wealth of Nations by Charles A.S. Hall and Kent Klitgaard to help me deepen my understanding on the dynamics between energy and economies.

As for your contest, several ideas on bio-engineering and nanotechnology are floating in my head. I might actually submit a piece in the weeks ahead.

Paul said...

@ John D Wheeler:

"Another exotic idea is to use strings to convert wind to sound waves and convert the audio energy to electricity."

Sci fi got there first!

An author called Colin Capp did a series of short stories about "The unorthodox engineers", and one of his stories, "The Subways of Tazoo" had precisely this idea as it's central theme.

Paul said...

*Kapp not Capp.


oilman2 said...

I am a drilling engineer, dead in the thick of this business, looking at my second oil bust. After the first, I began working towards getting my 4 kids through college. Finished that, and one of my kids is building an organic perma-farm with me, as in trying to set up for grandchildren to work and function there.

Things always go in cycles - just hard to see when your lifetime isn't at the beginning or end.

I think in the end, things will settle down to something resembling pre-Oil - waterworks, power mills, river and ocean transport, etc. I think our kids are nervous and excited, those intelligent and imaginative enough to see through the clutter. As always, some cannot see.

I think time, which is the only thing any of us have to trade, will be more wisely spent. I think civility and thoughtfulness may make a comeback. Greed will never go away, but maybe it can be viewed as unpleasant and frowned upon, rather than glorified.

Something in the communal psyche needs to change gears - energies need to be redirected to quality from quantity, to beauty from flashy - many things need to change in perspective or else we just repeat various civilizations seen in our pre-Oil history, in an altered environment.

We need a new way - we have enough history already to know what did not work and why.

I think our children are up for the change - they smell it coming and want something better and more humane.

I still loved Mary Shelley collecting lightning for powering her monster - let's just build giant capacitors and collect static charges....

FLwolverine said...

Carolyn - no doubt you have other reasons for wanting a baby than as a "retirement resource", but I urge you to seriously reconsider those reasons. If you accept the possibility and probability of the future JMG describes, then I encourage you to think very hard about what that future will mean for your child. I try to envision my parents' childhood in the rural south during and after WWI (yes, that's a "one"). Our future may look much like that past - without electricity, indoor plumbing, vaccinations, antibiotics and other medical care, to name a few things we bow consider "basic". Our future will also have the unrelenting backbreaking work - but with the added problems of an unstable climate and an unstable (if any) government, depleted resources of many kinds, possibly unpredictable amounts of violence.

And maybe the worst part will be the recognition that there's no hope, there's no way out, that things are going to get a lot worse before they start to get better. My mother could dream of becoming a teacher ( which she did), my father could leave home to seek a job "up north". All of which resulted in a nice middle class home and college educations for my sister and me. Not a likely outcome for a child born this decade, I think.

Sorry to be such a downer, but that's the future I see. I'm trying to figure out how to prepare my grandkids for the decline, but I grieve for them and what awaits them.

And whoever says they consider this future an exciting challenge or an improvement over today's situation, I say: more power to you! whatever attitude works for you to get through the coming long descent! But take a good hard look at the reality ahead before you decide to inflict it on generations yet unborn.

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