Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Whatever Happened to Peak Oil?

A few months from now, this blog will complete its tenth year of more-or-less-weekly publication. In words the Grateful Dead made famous, it’s been a long strange trip:  much longer and stranger than I had any reason to expect, certainly, when I typed up that first essay and got it posted on what was still, to me, the alien landscape of the blogosphere.

Over the years since that first tentative post, the conversations here have strayed into some remarkably odd territory:  the history of apocalyptic ideas, the nature of magic, the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, and a good deal more.  All through its vagaries, though, this blog’s central focus remains what it has been since shortly after its 2006 launch: the difficult but necessary task of facing up to the end of the  arrival of hard limits to growth, and the collapse of all those fantasies of perpetual progress that so many people today still use to keep themselves from thinking about the future ahead of us.

That said, my longtime readers may be wondering about the relative absence in recent posts of one of the core themes of this blog’s earlier days. Yes, that would be peak oil.

For those who’ve come to this blog recently, it maybe helpful to point out that this simple phrase refers to a complicated concatenation of ideas. First, despite claims made by rap musician BoB and the few other flat-earthers out there, I think most of us are aware that the Earth is a sphere a little more than 7900 miles across. That means, among many other things, that the Earth contains a finite amount of petroleum—and this in turn means that each barrel of petroleum that gets pumped out of the ground brings us closer to the point at which there’s no more left.

Second, getting oil out of the ground isn’t just a matter of sticking an iron straw into a hydrocarbon milkshake. There aren’t big underground lakes of oil; what you’ve got instead are cracks and pores in solid rock through which oil oozes slowly. Thus production from an oil well usually starts off slowly, rises to a steady flow, and then gradually dwindles away to a trickle as the available oil runs out. Oil fields follow much the same curve: the first successful wells bring up oil, many more wells get drilled, and then you drill new wells to make up for declining production in the old ones, until eventually there are no more places to drill and you’ve got a played-out field. The point at which you can’t drill enough new wells to make up for declining production from the old ones is the point at which the output from the field peaks and begins to decline.

Third, the same thing is true of what geologists call oil provinces—these are regions, such as the Marcellus shale, where you can find a bunch of oil in a bunch of fields that all have more or less the same geology. The reason’s the same: in an oil province, just as in an oil field, production increases at first as new wells go in, then peaks and begins to decline as you run out of enough places to drill new wells to make up for the depletion of the old ones. Apply the same logic to entire countries, and to the whole Earth, and it works just as well. The phrase “peak oil” is a label for the point at which drilling new wells can’t keep up with the depletion of existing wells worldwide, and the overall production of petroleum worldwide begins to decline.

That’s all very straightforward. Back in the late 1990s, when a handful of researchers started to pay attention to the widening gap between the rate at which oil was being pumped out of existing fields and the rate at which new fields were being discovered, that straightforward logic led most of them to equally linear conclusions.  At some point in the near future, they suggested, petroleum production would peak and then tip over into irreversible decline, petroleum prices would soar through the skylights, and a cascade of difficult consequences would promptly follow.

That latter point was by no means an arbitrary assumption. Petroleum then as now accounts for the largest share of global energy consumption, amounting to roughly forty per cent of all energy, including almost all the energy used in the transportation sector. Claims that petroleum products could easily be replaced by other energy sources ignored the hard reality that most other energy sources were already being used as fast as they could be extracted. Claims that imminent technological breakthroughs would surely keep any of these things from happening ignored the equally hard reality that most of those supposed breakthroughs had been tried repeatedly in the past and hadn’t worked.

All this had been discussed at great length back in the 1970s, when the United States hit its own all-time production peak and began skidding down the far side. The issue of peak oil got swept under the rug during the Reagan era and ignored by almost everyone thereafter; by the time the alarm was finally sounded again in the late 1990s, it was painfully clear that most of the time that would have been needed to get ready for peak oil had already been wasted. The result, according to most serious peak oil researchers at that time, would be a traumatic era of economic, political, and cultural turmoil in which a global civilization used to depending on oceans of cheap abundant crude oil got squeezed by steadily decreasing supplies at steadily soaring prices. That was the peak oil standard scenario.

Those of my readers who know their way around the apocalyptic end of the blogosophere, even if they weren’t paying attention at the time, will have no problem figuring out exactly what happened from that point on. Inevitably, the base case was turned into a launching pad for any number of lurid prophecies of imminent doom. The common contemporary habit of apocalypse machismo—“I can imagine a cataclysm more hideous and all-encompassing than you can!”—kicked into gear, and the resulting predictions interbred like hyperactive bunnies until the straightforward mathematics of peak oil were all but buried under a vast tottering heap of giddy fantasy.

Now of course none of those lavishly imagined catastrophes happened. That’s hardly surprising, as identical fantasies have been retailed on every imaginable provocation for decades now—swap out the modern details for their equivalents in previous eras, for that matter, and you can replace that word “decades” with “centuries” and still be correct. What did manage to surprise a good many people is that the standard scenario didn’t happen either. That’s not to say that everything was fine and dandy; as we’ll see, quite a bit of the economic, political, and social turmoil we’ve seen since 2005 or so was in fact driven by the impact of peak oil—but that impact didn’t follow the linear model that most peak oil writers expected it to follow

To understand what happened instead, it’s necessary to keep two things in mind that were usually forgotten back when the peak oil scene was at white heat, and still generally get forgotten today. The first is that while the supply of petroleum is ultimately controlled by geology, the demand for it is very powerfully influenced by market forces. Until 2004, petroleum production worldwide had been rising steadily for decades as new wells were brought on line fast enough to more than offset the depletion of existing fields. In that year, depletion began to catch up with drilling, and the price of oil began to rise steadily, and two things happened as a result.

The first of these was a massive flow of investment money into anything that could make a profit off higher oil prices. That included a great many boondoggles and quite a bit of outright fraud, but it also meant that plenty of oil wells that couldn’t make a profit when oil was $15 a barrel suddenly looked like paying propositions when the price rose to $55 a barrel. The lag time necessary to bring oil from new fields onto the market meant that the price of oil kept rising for a while, luring more investment money into the oil industry and generating a surge in future supply.

The problem was that the same spike in oil prices that brought all that new investment into the industry also had a potent impact on the consumption side of the equation. That impact was demand destruction, which can be neatly defined as the process by which those who can’t afford something stop buying it. Demand destruction also has a lag time—when the price of oil goes up, it takes a while for people to decide that higher prices are here to stay and change their lifestyles accordingly

The result was a classic demonstration of one of the ways that the “invisible hand” of the market is a good deal less benevolent than devout economists like to pretend. Take the same economic stimulus—the rising price of oil—and factor in lag times on its effects on both production and consumption, and you get a surge in new supply landing right about the time that demand starts dropping like a rock. That’s what happened in 2009, when the price of oil plunged from around $140 a barrel to around $30 a barrel in a matter of months. That’s also what happened in 2015, when prices lurched down by comparable figures for the same reason: surging supply and plunging demand hitting the oil market at the same time, after a long period when everyone assumed that the sky was the limit.

Could the bloggers and researchers in the pre-2009 peak oil scene have predicted all this in advance? Why, yes, and as a matter of fact a few of us did.  The problem was that we were very much in the minority. True believers in an imminent peak oil apocalypse denounced the analysis just outlined with quite some heat, to be sure, but I also quickly lost count of the number of earnest, intelligent, well-informed people who tried to convince me that I had to be wrong and the standard scenario had to be right.

The conventional wisdom in the peak oil scene missed something else, though, and that’s had a huge impact on this most recent boom-and-bust cycle. The convenient label “petroleum” actually covers many different kinds of hydrocarbon goo, and these are found in many different kinds of rock, scattered unevenly across the surface of the planet. Some kinds of goo are cheap to extract and refine, but many more aren’t. Since oil companies are in the business of making money, they quite sensibly started out by going after the stuff that was cheap to extract and  refine. When that ran out, they went after the stuff that was a little more expensive, and so on.

All this seems ordinary enough—after all, every other mineral resource has gone through the same curve; the low-grade taconite that goes into today’s iron smelters has a tiny fraction of the amount of iron per ton of ore that the lowest grades of commercially mined iron ore had a century ago. There’s a little problem here, though, which is that the difference in concentration between today’s taconite and yesterday’s better ores is made up by adding energy to the equation. It takes vastly more energy to make a steel I-beam today than it did in 1916, and most of that is a function of the fact that the lower the quality of ore, the more energy you have to invest in getting out each pound of iron from it.

This is also true of petroleum—but there’s a catch, because the point of extracting the petroleum in the first place is that you can get energy out of it. It’s at this point that we start talking about net energy.

Net energy is to energy what profit is to income. To get, let’s say, one barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) of energy, you have to invest a certain amount of energy in the process of extracting and refining it, and the amount you have to invest varies dramatically depending on what kind of hydrocarbon goo we’re talking about. What oilmen call “light sweet crude”—that is, petroleum that’s relatively high in light fractions, and free of sulfur and other contaminants—from the sort of shallow wells that built the US oil industry has a net energy of anything up to 200 to 1: in other words, less than a quart out of each 42-gallon barrel of oil goes to paying off the energy cost of extraction, and the rest is pure profit.

As you slide down the grades of hydrocarbon goo, though, that pleasant equation gets replaced by figures considerably less genial. Your average barrel of oil from a conventional US oilfield today has a net energy around 30 to 1, meaning that just under a gallon and a half of the oil in each barrel goes to pay off the energy cost of extraction. That’s still good, but it’s nothing like as good.

The surge of new petroleum that hit the oil market just in time to help drive the current crash of oil prices, though, didn’t come from 30-to-1 conventional oil wells, for the simple reason that every oil province in North America capable of bringing in that kind of yield was prospected many decades ago and is producing oil at ful tilt right now if it wasn’t drained to the bare rock long ago. What produced the surge this time was a mix of tar sands and hydrofractured shales, which are a very, very long way down the goo curve.

Neither one of them, as it happens, actually yields petroleum. From tar sands, as the name suggests, you get tar, which can be cut with solvents and shipped to special refineries where, if you’re willing to spend the money, you can break them down into the same things you can get much more cheaply from conventional crude oil. From hydrofractured shales, you get mostly very light hydrocarbons, the sort of thing that’s better suited to filling disposable lighters than it is to fueling your car. Both of these still got lumped in with conventional petroleum in the official statistics, which made it much easier for the New York Times and other highbrow propaganda outlets to pretend at the top of their lungs that peak oil doesn’t matter—there’s a rant to this effect somewhere in the Times every couple of months, which may suggest a certain basic insecurity at work, but that’s a theme for another post.

The real difficulty with the goo you get from tar sands and hydrofractured shales is that you have to put a lot more energy into getting each BOE of energy out of the ground and into usable condition than you do with conventional crude oil. The exact figures are a matter of dispute, and factoring in every energy input is a fiendishly difficult process, but it’s certainly much less than 30 to 1—and credible estimates put the net energy of tar sands and hydrofractured shales well down into single digits.

Now ask yourself this: where is the energy that has to be put into the extraction process coming from?

The answer, of course, is that it’s coming out of the same global energy supply to which tar sands and hydrofractured shales are supposedly contributing.

That’s the other half of the picture, as we stumble across the unfamiliar landscape on the far side of peak oil. The jagged landscape of booms and busts will doubtless continue for some time—it would not surprise me at all if the busts kept on coming at something like the six-year interval separating the 2009 and 2015 debacles—and each cycle will hammer the global economy in an assortment of familiar and unfamiliar ways, spreading collateral damage far and wide. Meanwhile the net energy of oil production will slide unsteadily downhill as older resources are exhausted and newer ones, with much steeper energy costs for extraction and refining, have to be brought on line to replace them.

The decline in net energy won’t be visible in the places you’d expect, either. As long as the hard facts of geology make it physically possible to do so, large volumes of “petroleum,” in some sense of that increasingly flexible word, will continue to be produced and consumed. With each year that passes, though, a larger fraction of that output will have to cycle right back into the extraction and refining process, leaving less and less available for all other uses. Thus declining net energy promises to play out over time in the form of creeping dysfunction throughout the economic sphere, in the form of neglected and abandoned infrastructure, failing institutions, a rising tide of permanent joblessness and homelessness, all papered over with an increasingly brittle layer of propaganda spewed out with equal enthusiam from the partisans of every officially acceptable point of view. (If this doesn’t sound familiar to you, dear reader, you need to get out more.)

That’s not going to reverse itself, either, because the resources that would be needed to flood the world with cheap abundant energy again don’t exist any more. We, ahem, burned them all. Again, the Earth is a sphere a little more than 7900 miles across; it never held that much in the way of concentrated energy resources in the first place, and our species squandered everything in our reach in three centuries or so of wretched excess.  The cycles of contraction and dysfunction just outlined are part of the process by which that excess is going away, leaving us with, at most, roughly the same sort of access to energy and its products that our ancestors had before the Industrial Revolution.

We could have made that transition in a controlled and intelligent way, and we didn’t—but that doesn’t excuse us from having to make it anyway. It’s just that we’re being dragged kicking and screaming into the future by forces we chose to ignore but can’t evade. Peak oil is one of those forces; anthropogenic climate change, which has been discussed here extensively already, is another—and it’s another that has been bedeviled by the sort of overly linear thinking on the one hand, and apocalyptic fantasy-spinning on the other, that crippled the peak oil community’s capacity to anticipate the future.

In an upcoming post, I plan on talking about some of the broader lessons to be drawn from that failure—and in the process, I intend to deliver a good hard stomp to one of the habits of thought that did the most to land us in this mess.


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Howard Skillington said...

I will probably not be the first to post that a video can now be seen online of an eagle trained by Dutch police to take out drones.

The eagle is very effective I think it could give Maude Duesenberg some stiff competition.

sgage said...

A long strange trip indeed! Hard to believe it's been so long... Thanks for all the food for thought! It has been really quite nourishing!

Andy Brown said...

We're always fooled by the fact that just because individual humans are capable of tremendous insight, intelligence, forethought, wisdom and compassion - that somehow as a species we ought to be capable of the same. But it's pretty clear that as a species we're no more "intelligent" or "wise" than your average toxic algae bloom.

pygmycory said...

Would binary thinking be the thought pattern you're planning to stomp on?

I'd noticed the downturn of the peak oil scene too. It was kind of hard to miss, if you've been aware of the issue for more than a couple of years. Gail Tverberg has been talking about some of the economic glut and famine issues you mentioned here. While she has a probably-excessively apocalyptic take on the aftermath of peak oil, I have found some useful analysis of the supply and demand mechanism there.

One thing I wonder is how long it is going to take for the current oil glut to run through, and how much oil production is going to drop before it does. The current lot of economic troubles looks to me like its still picking up steam and will get a lot worse before it gets better. That would tend to keep oil prices low for longer than would otherwise be the case.

James M. Jensen II said...

I'm glad I didn't venture a prediction about this week's post; I would have been way off. I'm looking forward to seeing you turn your attention back more fully to peak oil, climate change and the dysfunctional way we think about them.

I once discussed peak oil with my father, and his response was the usual, "Well, when oil gets expensive, we can afford to extract the more expensive stuff." I said something to the effect of, "So, the answer to the end of cheap energy is expensive energy?" Sigh.

I'm trying to imagine what habit of thought you've targeted for a good thrashing. The fact that I'm having trouble tells me that I'm probably still in its grips and I'll be simultaneously disheartened and relieved once you've given it its comeuppance.

Jeffrey Kotyk (Indrajala) said...

Peak oil definitely translates into declining standards of living. One observable result of declining energy abundance is visible in my generation especially (the millennials). I think quite clearly we overall have less energy intensive lifestyles than the Boomers did. The carless lifestyle, for example, is fashionable as much as it is a necessity if working poor (their numbers increase) want to have enough resources to eat and save enough for the future. Whereas before you maybe rented your own apartment (or house) as a twenty-something year old, you now have to have room mates or rent a room in someone's house.

The pressing need to downscale and downgrade your lifestyle is economic in nature, but what that translates into is a lifestyle of less consumption and energy expenditures. Social mobility for a lot of people my age is downward despite having come from middle-class families.

It'll be interesting to see how the millennials' kids cope. Many will grow up knowing that their grandparents had it a lot better, but now they have to use a bicycle and eat vegetarian out of economic necessity. Right now I know people in Canada who cannot afford to eat fresh imported vegetables and meat like they used to, so they switch to canned goods. Their kids will just get used to canned tomatoes in the winter and know that lettuce is a summer only food. Gas stations will feel alien to them. The cognitive dissonance resulting from peak oil will be interesting to track.

Cherokee Organics said...


That was all very common sense really, and also a very clear analysis of the situation. I'll be fascinated to see what digressions arise in the comments this week. My best guess at this point is Space Lizards, anyway that should keep them entertained whilst they are studiously avoiding contemplating the reality of Peak Oil.

Incidentally, I enjoyed your choice of language in the essay as it was very nicely chosen. The economic cycles also roughly correlate to your theory of catabolic collapse. Two steps forward, one back, so it goes - I'm hardly referring to progress either, rather collapse. Certainly the economic indicators are hardly looking good at the moment and they seem to be worsening.

I don't really have anything insightful or even amusing or entertaining to add. With Peak Oil in mind, I'm just getting on with the job at hand here. As an interesting and unusual side note, I’m having to run the wood heater for the first time in months today. The climate has really lost the plot this year as it swings from one extreme to another. Whatever do you reckon happened to the middle ground?



PS: I've got a new blog entry up: Breaking the rocks on the chain gang. Let's see, what's in there? I picked feral apples to turn into hard apple cider. Just in time inventory and manufacturing processes are discussed. Plums were dried. The water storage tanks are slowly refilling. The firewood sheds are starting to also be filled. First ripe tomatoes. Rechargeable batteries are discussed. And I also show how I've been avoiding Peak Rocks - I'm serious too!

Max Osman said...

This was totally worth waiting for, even though I expected something about warfare in the post industrial world. Did you read Andrew Cockburn's book on drones and Gopals book on Afghanistan?
It's just some gist for that mill. The fact that drones have 20/200 vison and that some DOD insiders admit it is a scam and how it relates to the Armies technological fetish is a real eyeopener. ( BTW is that word allowed, I'll drop it if it's not)

David Henry said...

I recently heard a lovely analogy about conventional oil production versus fracking (apologies for not remembering the source but I believe I heard it on the C-realm podcast a couple months ago), "Conventional oil production is like drinking beer while sitting at the bar. Fracking is when the tap runs out so you get down on the floor and suck beer out of the carpet." To be fair, there's quite a bit of beer soaked into the carpet, but getting it out is not so pleasant and you suck up a lot of nasty stuff in the process.

Pinku-Sensei said...

It's tough to talk about peak oil when oil prices are the lowest in 13 years and gas is cheaper than it's been since 2009. Even Paul Krugman is acknowledging that oil prices falling too far, too fast will cause problems. He called it "oil goes nonlinear." Speaking of Krugman, he is still pushing the idea that we are on the verge of a renewables revolution. He really believes that we can produce electricity in a way that will allow us to continue on as we are now without interruption, just more cleanly and efficiently. He also thinks that this renewables revolution will help stave off the worst effects of climate change. Never mind that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists are not convinced and kept their Doomsday Clock at 11:57. They seem appropriately alarmed at the situation.

Speaking of boom and bust cycles, the last one that played out in real estate inspired "The Big Short," which is now the favorite to win Best Picture at the Oscars, placing it ahead of "Spotlight." The news media, other than the comedians, may not be telling the truth about the present and future, but the entertainment media is at least telling the truth about the recent past.

Angus Wallace said...

Hi John Michael,

Do you believe that the society you've outlined in Retrotopia represents an example of a (more or less) sustainable society? If that society were an island (ie. unlikely to be invaded, etc), would you expect them to have further downward steps towards catabolic collapse?

Many thanks,

Avery said...

JMG, I think one important thing that you noticed from the beginning, which a lot of catastrophists didn't, was that Hubbert's original formulation of peak oil was a thought experiment conducted in geological time. He wasn't prognosticating an exact date between 2000 and 2005 for the peak of all oil production; he was thinking of what oil production looks like on a scale of thousands of years, and considering the massive difference in EROI between oil and everything else (and hoping desperately that safer and better-controlled nuclear sources could provide far better EROI).

I am friends with a guy who is a very adamant catastrophist; he insists that California is about to run out of water within a year, and there will be bread riots across the country and people dying in the streets. It's true, California has at most 60-75 years to go before it becomes a desert. But migration will not happen in a single violent burst; it will be slow, hard to observe, and unpredictable, like the often sluggish, depressing retreat of snow lines on mountains across the world. Most every year we will look at the skyline in the winter and the Rockies will have just slightly less snow. Not every year, just most, on and on for decades.

Our grandchildren will be raised in a totally different world from our children's world, but they will not know anything that came before it; just like how our children, for some readers here, don't really know what life was like before 9/11 and Iraq, and how none of us really know what life was like in the 19th century, when people lived every single day without grocery stores or air conditioners. This is part of the slow transformation from the world made by hand to the world ruled by system, and our system, I'm afraid to say, still has many decades of terrible transformations to go through before it peters out entirely.

Justin said...

I look forward to your 10 year post in May! I am curious, is or was there a reason why late Wednesday night is when you post?

Something that I have never really seen discussed in a rational manner is the time aspect of EROEI. I would say that when a barrel of oil reaches the machines that will use the refined products, that is where the energy is returned into the system. That unit of refined hydrocarbons will have been produced and delivered by machines burning refined hydrocarbons over a long period of time - the last being the truck that delivered the fuel to the gas station, the first being quite a long time ago. It seems to me that in a high EROEI system, fuel that is put into machines in oil fields and mines and refineries very quickly turns back into a larger quantity of fuel at the gas station. In a low EROEI system, it probably takes a lot longer - the projects are more complex, the supply chains that make the complex machines that enable even mediocre EROEIs from low-quality resources are longer and therefore slower, etc. And it seems that some of the low EROEI plays have fast decline rates - some don't really though.

My point is that at one point in my life I worked on control systems. A control system is, at least in the context familiar to me and necessary for this analogy, a system that manipulates an unstable process to keep it doing what the operators want by automatically correcting small disturbances before they become big ones. An effective control system must be relatively well-tuned to the underlying system and capable of reacting to perturbations faster than the actual system does. To invoke the official fighter plane of the Archdruid Report (how many weeks has it been since it hasn't come up?), a modern jet like the F-35 obtains its relatively high maneuverability by being inherently unstable (meaning that there is no static control surface configuration that will result in stable flight). The control system must therefore respond to small perturbations in the aircraft's flight faster than those perturbations develop by detecting a problem and actuating the control surfaces to reverse the perturbation faster than it grows. However, if the control system is too much faster than the actual system to respond, it causes oscillation and instability, which can grow out of control.

It is a reasonable, although simplistic, conjecture to say that the oil supply is controlled in the short term by the price of oil. Higher price per barrel means less money (energy) for the rest of the economy, and more for the oil industry, which allows them to extract more oil. Demand decreases, supply increases, the cost normalizes again to whatever the appropriate relationship between useful services and the price per barrel is depending on the underlying physics of the oil industry. However, if my basic conjecture in the previous paragraph is right, as EROEI decreases, the time between when price increases cause a supply increase grows with lower EROEI. The present "glut" is likely a result of the high price of oil over 2009-2014. Because the system took so much longer to respond than it usually does, the constant hammering by the control system led to an overshoot. The expected consequence to this is undershoot. And then overshoot. And then undershoot. For as long as the system holds together.

From my perspective, this phenomenon is why the response to energy descent not as simple as "ramp up the extractive industries even faster to compensate for lower EROEI, by extracting more and processing it back through the system to deliver the same net energy". The dynamics are changing, and an ever-more delusional and twitchy financial system coupled to an energy system that is becoming more slow-paced is a recipe for instability.

MindfulEcologist said...

Fantastic summary of the long, strange trip. Your voice of sanity throughout has been a real help. I'm sure I speak for many in the peak oil community when I say thank you and in particular, thank you for staying the course. Nor do I expect I'm alone in acknowledging that without your steady drumbeat about the importance of lifestyle changes the life I live today would likely be much different.

The polarity of our politics arrived more or less on schedule to dress up the distraction narratives. Those poor narratives that have been sounding more anemic each year over the last decade and now are such a bedraggled sight it really is a bit embarrassing.

With popcorn in one hand and a hoe in the other I'm as ready as I could reasonably be to lend a helping hand to those harbringers of the LESS future. Small is beautiful one of our teachers once said. I think he would have liked your acronym.

Thanks for the decade, wonder how things will look to you a decade hence. I hope your still sharing your thoughts with us then, by whatever means...

Martin Finnucane said...

I've been puzzled and perhaps a bit amused by the economic news here lately. Markets (at least in the US) "swoon" due to low oil prices. That's the official word from what I've seen. So ... isn't that wrong? I mean, lower oil prices should mean cheaper industrial inputs, meaning higher profits, meaning nobody but the hydrocarbon sector should be swooning.

I suspect that the movements of the fabled markets are so far removed from actual conditions of production that the simple equation of cheap energy and increased profitability doesn't matter.

Repent said...

Congratulations on 10 years of writing ! Good luck and I look forward to the next 10 years as well.

Speaking of that, I wouldn't mind a bit to subscribe to or have a paid membership to your newsletter/ magazine after the internet goes dark. Hopefully, they'll still have the post office or something similar around to mail me a copy.

I'm already starting to read more of the old paper books, something about the feel of reading dry old paper in your hands while reclining on the sofa or in bed that staring into a computer monitor just doesn't match.

Justin said...

@pygmycory, in relation to my previous post (yours wasn't published yet when I wrote it). Although I believe that Tverberg underestimates the ability of civilization to adapt, it is disturbing that I came up with a prediction of the future that is somewhat similar to hers, but based on an entirely different perspective on the situation. I certainly don't claim to be an expert, but my analysis makes sense to me. One point I didn't make though, is that demand responds much faster than supply, and the ability of demand to track supply may actually be increasing.

I got rid of my fish tank years ago when I moved (I still miss it), and in fact also used to work in a fish store. Pygmy Cories are awesome though. I never kept them personally, but it was one of my favorite tanks during the slow hours. We did Pygmy Cories, shrimp, and whatever weird small Raspbora or Tetra we could get our hands on in a 20 long.

Although obviously modern fishkeeping is entirely a product of cheap oil, if living situations permit, I fully intend to set up a zero-electricity fish tank the way it was done 120 years ago. Nonetheless its a wonderful hobby.

Juandonjuan said...

The "brittle layer of propaganda" was made more palatable by a (neo)liberal chaser of debt. The aftertaste is starting to make itself evident, but we keep drinking.
How, and when, will we-collectively-look in the mirror and blame ourselves? The few remaining beneficiaries of the current paradigm have a VERY large incentive to distract/divide us while they work on their exit strategy. The small problem that they may be overlooking is that their wealth and power is built on a pyramid of ever weaker/less willing lower tiers. No man is an island(or can live on one hermetically closed to the flow of loot).
To return to the theory of catabolic collapse, the lower tiers of the economy were the first to be tipped into the dumpster, step by step.

Alex said...

You should consider going on the lecture circuit. Another masterful post.

I never would have predicted $30 a barrel oil in 2016. I never predicted the Prius would be so popular. I sure as hell never thought hi-tech, in my case electronics, would pay less than working in a warehouse, digging ditches, or, well, anything. Absolute bottom the the barrel pay, and that's assuming you can find a job in it, which is nearly impossible now. And I'm writing from the so-called silicon valley.

It's a long strange ride we're all on, isn't it?

Ten cent gasoline would not get me driving a car again because I just can't afford it. Where I am, public transportation is more and more in demand and bike mechanic is a solid career choice. I don't see the internet being available to the average person in a few years, because the pipe is squeezing down fast. This is why you need to publish a printed newsletter.

Mark said...

Thanks for this, a timely recap. The cyclical nature of the end of growth is there for all to see if one wants to look, but rather than a short series of sputtering burps before a final crisis these cycles look set to play out over several decades. Which means unless you know what you are looking for the whole process will just be seen as some strange and inexplicable decline. It's tricky to talk about or encourage people to respond more broadly to the challenge of energy depletion when at any one time gas could be a bargain or production investment could be ramping back up? At least it's tricky for me, in my neighborhood. One thing that will extend this cyclical process is the sheer amount of fat and inefficiency in our energy usage to begin with - from building unnecessary infrastructure in China, to central bank price manipulation to regular domestic over-consumption. So, there is quite a lot of marginal demand left to be destroyed, it seems. As many others have said, the economic and social disruptions from these various cycles of boom and bust will be the things that change society beyond recognition, rather than the final fallout from the bright sunny morning when the gas pumps run dry. By the time we get there, there probably won't be a lot left to collapse.

So, it really is a long descent, and knowing that you are on it doesn't make it any shorter. Although I've really enjoyed the Retrotopia series, one thing has been nagging at me. I really want to live in the Lakeland Republic, where people clearly decided to stare reality in the face and went all in on adaptation and change, and have had some fun doing so. The Atlantic Republic, otoh, is still caught up in the cycles of crisis, hanging on to progress by the finger nails despite it all. And clearly it looks like for now we are destined to follow the Atlantic Republic path, as a society. So, I guess we all need to figure out not only how to continue with our own personal collapses, but also how to keep our spirits up over the long haul in a world where there is going to be much gnashing of teeth but not a lot of clear understanding of what is causing the difficulties.

Jeanne Labonte said...

There's a quote that's attributed to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum: "My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a camel, I drive a Mercedes, my son drives a Land Rover, his son will drive a Land Rover, but his son will ride a camel." He was clearly had no illusions about the durability of his lifestyle. A shame we couldn't have been the same.

A good example of people keeping their heads buried in the sand can be found in the little town of Dalton New Hampshire near where I live. There is a group of people trying to get permits to build a drag racing track and are being opposed by another group of people who object to the noise and pollution this would generate. Nobody has yet said anything about this being a waste of fuel.

Maybe in a generation or two this will be a horse buggy race track?

Degringolade said...

Ten Years. Wow...I started reading you back when I was blogging a lot...I think that you were still back in Ashland then. I remember hearing/meeting you when I was down there for the Sheakespeare.

I just went back and checked, I started reading you at the "On Catabolic Collapse" post. Almost ten years ago. Read every one since.

Just to remind all the others here....time to put something in the tip jar.....there are few things out there as worthy.

dltrammel said...

Here's a bleak picture of the Iron country in the northern Midwest of the US today

"Financial turmoil half a world away is melting Minnesota’s iron country"

Classic example of demand raising prices followed by a crash as demand craters.

Bill Pulliam said...

Of course one of the key parts of the Peak Oil predictions was that it represented a peak in production of >> conventional << oil (the cheap stuff). And this did peak as predicted in the early years of this century. But since this key word, "conventional," got left out of most public discourse, it's easy for people to say "see peak oil never happened it's nonsense."

It's also kinda hard for me not to notice that the "unbelievably low" energy prices right now are about double what they were at the bottom of the last crash not even a decade ago. And that these "unbelievably low" oil prices are associated with an economic slump, which they do not seem to be doing anything to help. In other words it's just the same boom/bust cycle superimposed on the long-term decline in cheap energy. Something will eventually happen to cause a supply interruption and price spike. Virtually everyone seems to have forgotten that one of the main triggers for the "financial collapse" of 2008 was the last big spike in oil prices, acting on an economy that was already primed for its bubbles to burst. So when the next spike comes... who knows?

I think the term "peak oil" might have fallen out of favor in general leftie/greenie discourse because so many people seeemd to be secretly rooting for the sudden, dramatic, catastrophic economic freeze-up, collapsed supply chains, food insecurity, and resulting political revolution that a lot of people seemed to think "peak oil" was predicting. The reality is far slower, foggier, and more politically ambiguous than what they expected, so they have distanced themselves from the entire "episode." There's scarcely a trace remaining here of the Transition Town (tm) Green Business (tm) Financial Permaculture (tm, whatever that was supposed to be) revolution that was supposedly starting here in 2008. The City Council decided "Transition Town" was part of UN Agenda 21 and rescinded it, the "Green Evenings" morphed from Financial Permaculture (whatever that was supposed to be) into an odd chimera of garden club, survivalists, and Tea Party, and the major local "job creator" is Mall*Wart selling imported plastic crap...

Meanwhile the macroeconomic and thermodynamic forces just keep chugging along regardless of what we call them...

YCS said...

Thank you for that excellent control systems analysis. I did my compulsory control systems course as part of my engineering degree last semester and your explanation finally clears up my confusion on why oil became cheap now after the fracking boom was busting.

Now if you could explain that to Paul Krugman and all the other hopelessly lost linear thinking economists that would be brilliant, but I doubt anyone could convince those deluded economists who worship their models.

Thanks for the excellent recap! I've sent it to some people who I've struggled to explain peak oil to in the past. It's amazingly concise, I feel tempted to frame a copy of it.

John Michael Greer said...

Howard, no, two people beat you to it last week. It's still a delight to watch, though!

Sgage, you're welcome and thank you.

Andy, surprisingly enough, I'm not so pessimistic about our species. I'd argue that the mess we've backed ourselves into is the product of certain specific bits of bad logic that are hardwired into modern industrial culture, and treated by most of its inmates as truths so self-evident they don't even need to be proven. Get past those -- and I suspect the end of industrial civilization will amount to an economy-size Darwinian lesson in getting past those -- and it's not hard to avoid repeating the same stupidities. "The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our genes, but in ourselves, that we don't stop to think..."

Pygmycory, no, it's something different. As for the current oil glut, I give it a couple of years -- enough time for bankruptcies and the fall of the House of Saud to drop production adequately.

James, that conversation with your father is a classic. I wonder if he ever stopped to think about what "the more expensive stuff" would do to his lifestyle...

Jeffrey, as an early adopter of downward mobility, I'm impressed to see your generation adopting it with as little trouble as you have. That's one of the reasons that "collapse now and avoid the rush" remains my go-to strategy for dealing with all this.

Cherokee, it's been a while since lizard fanciers of the David Ickes variety last made an appearance here, so you may be right. As for the middle ground of climate, though, what happened to it? Why, we burned it for fuel, of course...

Max, "fetish" is okay -- you can use it in public, at least for the moment, and a few of us remember that it isn't an exclusively sexual term!

David, hah! Excellent -- that gets you tonight's gold star for an unappetizingly vivid metaphor.

Pinku-sensei, I think Krugman really needs to get out more. There's a real world out there with which he seems to have vanishingly little acquantance just now.

Angus, we'll get to that as the story unfolds. Stay tuned!

Avery, exactly. Exactly! One of the things that blinds people to what's happening around them is a failure to grasp the pace of historical change. If I were to teach a class on history, one of the things I'd put at the top of the to-do list is getting students to read firsthand accounts of historical events, so they figure out just how gradually those seemingly sudden changes actually were.

Justin, that's a very interesting and, at first glance, promising analysis. Certainly one of this post's core points can be summed up very well by saying that the market's "control system" for oil production runs too slow, and so amplifies oscillations rather than damping them out. I wonder at what point things shift from oscillation to chaotic behavior...

John Michael Greer said...

Ecologist, thank you! By then a print edition of this blog should be standard, and a backup using letterpress will be coming on line.

Martin, there's another factor, which is that those vast amounts of investment money that flowed into the fracking industry count as assets all over the financial system, and as the fracking industry faces impending death due to low oil prices, much of that paper is going to be worth the hallucinations it's printed on. That's the fear that's driving the market down.

Repent, there's a print edition in the works -- more on this in due time.

Juan, exactly -- the only exit strategy that will actually come into play for the rich involves ropes and lampposts.

Alex, the crash in pay in the computer industry isn't an accident. Why do you think there was all that pressure to get as many people as possible trained for the lower end of tech-industry jobs? To crash labor costs, of course. As I noted two weeks ago, when the salary class proclaims some grand project for everybody's betterment, the salary class is inevitably who benefits, while everyone else gets screwed.

Mark, exactly -- by the time the last gas pumps run dry, most people won't know what gasoline looks or smells like, and will never have ridden in anything that uses it.

Jeanne, investing in horse buggy racing now might pay off well down the road a bit!

Degringolade, thank you!

Dltrammel, many thanks for the link.

Bill, I suspect you're right. I'm glad to hear that the "financial permaculture" thing dried up and blew away -- that whole business made my skin crawl -- and the unheralded demise of the Transition Town movement probably deserves a post of its own down the road a bit.

YCS, I'd encourage you instead to forward it!

Mark Rice said...

With this talk of economists and their invisible hands it is time for jokes about economists.

Darren Urquhart said...

JMG: "One of the things that blinds people to what's happening around them is a failure to grasp the pace of historical change. If I were to teach a class on history, one of the things I'd put at the top of the to-do list is getting students to read firsthand accounts of historical events, so they figure out just how gradually those seemingly sudden changes actually were."

I occasionally skip reading the current day's paper and instead go online and read the same paper, for the same date from between 60 and 150 years ago. It is impressive how often the stories are the same as you could read in today's paper, except for the substitution of some names and nations here and there.

All the usual God of Progress articles are there. Fear of the foreigner articles. Decay of society articles. Wild weather articles.

Also interesting to see that advertising techniques haven't evolved either.

Dan Mollo said...

The one thing they don't teach you about the invisible hand of the market is that, sometimes, that invisible hand likes to give you the middle finger.

The one thing I have learned the most from reading your weekly essays all these years is to spot when other writers, no matter what the subject, begin to speak in terms of the myth of progress. It is fascinating how often you begin to see it. Even spotting it in conversation with family, friends, and colleagues is a source of endless entertainment. Thank you for 10 years of thoughtful conversation and analysis!

Patricia Mathews said...

Thank you. I had been quite puzzled by what was happening in oil, but didn't think of a time lag between what the oil producers were doing and what the customers were doing, though I knew demand destruction had to play some role.

It occurred to me that when people say they understand economics, or that economics says this or that, what they have in mind is the mechanical simplicities of their Econ 101 course in college.

Unknown said...

Thank you for another excellent post. I only have one question about your description of the long slow collapse. I hope you were not avoiding the subject because of a taboo, I know you must have thought about it.

The traditional method species use to correct population overshoot is starvation. As you know, there are 7 billion people on this planet, and a remarkably small number of them remember how to live off the land, and even if everyone had this knowledge, there really isn't enough healthy wilderness to support 7 billion humans anyway. Our current agricultural system relies heavily on fossil fuels (10 calories of petroleum for every calorie of food) and a stable climate (moreso than many of those climate scientists predict when they say "the breadbasket will migrate north to Canada", any gardener knows it's not that simple). How exactly do you see this playing out?

Dennis Mitchell said...

So I hear that this oil glut was caused by the Paris global warming treaty. All the producers are selling as much oil as they can, cause we are all going to be good and give up our oil addiction. I'm thinking the downward slide from peak oil will involve even more screwy ideas.

John Michael Greer said...

Mark, funny. Thank you.

Darren, an excellent habit, and one I'd heartily recommend to any reader of this blog.

Dan, you're welcome and thank you!

Patricia, you're welcome. It's one thing to understand economics, and quite another to understand the real world...

Unknown, I've discussed the coming depopulation at quite some length here already -- you might find this post from 2007 and this one from 2014 for starters, along with this fictional account to help put flesh on those bleached bones.

Dennis, thank you! That's a worthy addition to my collection of crackpot theories about peak oil.

Alex said...

He replied to me! *blush* *swoon*

Ok surface mount electronic components were conceived of and planned for in the 1940s or so. 3-d printing about the same time. Anyone remember "Silly Sand?" That's 3-d printing.

This has been coming like a freight train and its my own damn fault for not seeing it coming.

Meanwhile a while generation or three not taught art at all, penmanship, hand craftiness. Thus if you can art at all youre a god.

I don't even have any idea what a superpower whittling is now, let's just say I could probably whittle a Swiss watch if I had the patience.

richard b said...

Hey....I read your 2007 prediction of low oil prices following on from the peak oil event. My goodness. Absolutely spot on.

Of course the rest of that prediction has yet to play out but I fear it's coming...the collapse of renewable energy investment.

There's a term in chess called zugwang - a position where your only possible moves are bad ones. It feels like we are there.

jcummings said...

Thank you for pulling a link to that post you wrote so long ago. It's my personal favorite.

What's so amazing for me is that your advice is so unlike standard fare on the internet. It's funny that so many comments reference a paper version of your blog. How many places on the internet would any of us even bother to hold in our hands in physical form, much less read or subscribe to? If I had a piece of paper with my facebook feed on it, I might turn it over to make a grocery list, but that's about it.

I think it's precisely the nature of your thoughts that make a paper version of your blog seem attractive. Beyond the glib "collapse now and avoid the rush" you don't offer miracle cures or social movements to get behind, you council against analysis that doesn't fit 1. facts on the ground and 2. historical context. You get a tad hyperbolic when frustrated, but more often you're frustratingly rational. Just as an outside observer, I think you and Asimov would have had a lot to talk about, chatting over tea.

I want to fill my brain with more of this kind of thing. Who else out there would you read if it were on paper?

John Brink said...

John and fellow readers: I've mentioned to people that the primary metal our civilization is built on is good old steel (carbon and iron) and that it is getting harder to find rich iron deposits. They are eager to not here about it. I never even get to the point of discussing the incredible amount of electric energy used to smelt it or aluminum.

Here is an example of magical thinking. I read that scientist might be able to genetically modify mound building termites so you could dump a box of them out on the ground and they would build a house for humans out of the dirt and whatever binding bio spit they use. The article didn't mention what food (aka energy) the termites would need to eat while they were building our houses. I hope they aren't planning on making the termites carnivorous.

Damo said...

There is a great 'çomic' which takes the reader through peak oil and Hubberts ideas, thoroughly recommended:

Sort of related to peak oil, here in Tasmania the current talk is of power restrictions for industry. You see, a few years ago Australia introduced a carbon tax (not really that great, but it was a timid start). Anyway, Tasmania has a lot of hydro, so the state owned operator began selling power to the mainland for a nice premium thanks to this new tax. In fact, they sold so much that they ran the dams down to bare minimums. On the one hand, this was a good idea since the Australian public, in their infinite wisdom, elected Tony Abbot who repealed the carbon tax. On the other, more sensible hand, it was a stupid idea.

Since the carbon tax was repealed we have had several low-rainfall years and the dams have never been topped back up. And then, in December, the BassLink cable which connects the Tasmanian and mainland grids developed a fault. So now, the dams are at 19% and falling fast. A gas-peaking plant is running flat out to make the difference. They hope the fault will be fixed in a month or two. In the meantime, heavy rains are not due till July/August and all the money made selling the hydro years ago has been spent restarting and running the gas peaking plant. What is even more madness is that all the talk of power restrictions is for industry. You know, the productive enterprises that earns Tasmania money. No mention of rolling blackouts for residential consumers, no politician would dare suggest that....

Personally, I find solace in the large zucchini growing in my garden patch. For anyone interested I have pictures here:

The Big Short was a great movie. I think many ADR readers will find it very interesting (and funny). At least I did!

I also used to have an aquarium. In fact, I used to keep a marine reef aquarium. What a stupendous waste of electricity that thing was (a small system might use 20-30KW/hrs a day). Very pretty, but I ended up getting out of the hobby as I didn't like how the coral and fish were obtained (they are much prettier in the wild). When I get my own land, I hope to have some sort of pond system, preferably gravity fed by a small creek diversion.

Unknown said...

For sure this drama is going to play out for a number of boom bust cycles. Here in the Northern Oil Kingdom - Alaska, vast stores of natural gas, coal and oil await exploitation. Vast in a human scale, not natural. Creating an economic stimulus when prices spike then a bust when supply gushes forth. A side show now in on tape in the capital Juneau, watching a State government with no direct taxes and nearing net zero revenue from the oil industry tries to fund a budget used to billions from oil.

patriciaormsby said...

A shame I wasn't following your site years back, JMG! I'd have listened to you. It was about 2008 when I was looking at rising oil prices and calculating the point at which commuting to work would no long be economically viable, when i realized that long before then a whole lot of other things would be economically unviable, and my job would be long gone, and that got me to thinking, Well, how does this scenario really play out then? One of the engineers commenting on The Oil Drum put forward calculations that convincingly placed TSHTF in 2012, so I made a number of preparations with that in mind. I do not regret that at all. Mostly, it was learning how to do various things, a lot of which I practice regularly. 2012 came and went. My husband's still slow as molasses about finding farmland--he's terrified of losing money. Eventually, that will come back to bite us, but I no longer have any firm dates in mind. He may be entirely right that a good hard shake of the economic tree will provide a great amount of ripe fallen fruit for the taking. On the other hand, I've made my mental peace with the thought of living the rest of my life in this rickety rental shack. I can (and in my fiction do) envision a scenario in which, for relief of its debts, Japan agrees to provide all loose farmland to someone like Monsanto.

Another thing 2012 did for me is it made me want to know how collapses played out historically, because it became clear people will sacrifice painfully to keep BAU up and running, because we all feel responsibility toward loved ones who depend on it. And that is not the only factor technical-minded folks tend to overlook.

Your site stands head and shoulders above all the other Peak Oil sites I know, because you analyze the historical cases for useful lessons. Though I must mention Dmitry Orlov too in this regard (though his analysis focuses on recent cases) and it looks like his latest book, cowritten, could come in handy for community organizing, which I regard as one of the most important and difficult ways to prepare.

A little bit of good news in that regard: The town I am residing in is notorious for rejecting outsiders, including their own children who find jobs in the cities, but that rejection of outsiders seems to be under attack now from the inside (it's the 70+ folks, slowly dying off, who are worst), because they all can see cases of isolated villages that are dying out because no one younger is moving in. Our town has certain attractions that make it desirable to outsiders. People are beginning to see that they can save this town if they just open up a bit. On Sunday I'll attend a local festival. To my face they are friendly enough. Behind my back, says my husband, they can be really nasty. I think being friendly despite that can't hurt.

Rob Rhodes said...

Elsewhere you have described a scenario in which oil extraction becomes such a large part of the economy that when its production stalls from low prices, the economy stalls too. We seem to be getting a taste of that now. Extraction and support jobs have been the main supply of new, well paid jobs. The sense I get reading the news is that instead of the conventional expectation of growth from cheaper oil there seems to be a hope that the price of oil will rise so we'll have something to do. Even the stock market jitters up and down in time with oil.

John Michael Greer said...

Alex, er, you know, I try to respond to as many of my commenters as I can. Whittling's a really good skill; have you considered, though, taking your existing skill set with electronics and turning it to something more sustainable? Current small appliances, for example, are shoddy and fragile; equivalents from a few decades back often need just a bit of work with a soldering iron or a few new parts and they're good as new, and can be sold to fans of retro tech. I'm sure there are other possibilities as well.

Richard, it's quite possible we won't get a single general collapse in renewable energy, but rather the sort of rolling failures we've seen in the ethanol and biodiesel industries, where some companies make it but a lot of others crash and burn. Still, depending on how low demand goes, solar panel manufacturers could be in for a very hard time once the solar bubble pops.

Jcummings, I don't really have a recommended reading list of current authors -- I follow some peak oil news aggregators, and other than that read mostly stuff that's already on paper, to keep as far as possible away from the echo-chamber effect the blogosphere so often creates.

John, calling that termite scheme "magical thinking" is an insult to honest sorcerers! ;-) As cerebral flatulence goes, that's pretty high up the scale...

Damo, that's a heroic zucchini. I could definitely see stuffing and baking that for party food.

Unknown Alaskan, I'm just old enough to remember before the pipeline went in, when Alaska was practically an economic colony of Seattle. I hope you don't have to return to that status, as Seattle's a fetid mess these days.

Patricia, I hope the festival goes well!

deedl said...

The difficult part about predicting Peak oil ist not that it will happen, but when and with which speed. While every prediction containing a precise date is dubious, every prediction without a date will is to gooey to be believed. The alltime oilprice peak in 2008 was with no doubt the turnaround signal triggering a bunch of interacting consumption and production changes that will lead to peak oil. The question is how much inertia has the fossil fuel economy on both production and consumption side to do these changes. So after the manyfold peak oil announcements a decade ago an impatient society waited a few years and when nothing happened, most of them went back to business as usual.

A mistake in my opinion is the sole focus on oil. The energy flows of the current energy industry are intermingled in many ways (coal is transported by oil, but oil is refined with coal based electricity and so on) and on histories scale a decade between peak coal and Peak oil is just an eye blink.

But right now, while nobody is watching anymore, peak fossil fuel is unfolding. There are several signs to this. First of all there is the divestment movement. It started with some climate idealists, but many investors now got the point that the age of fossil fuels is ending and therefore the risk of stranded assets arises. Without new investments, future output of fossil fuels will decrease. So at the very beginning of the fossil extraction process, the investment, there is a decrease. If we now take a look at the end of the extraction process, the CO2-emissions after burning the stuff, there was 2014 almost a stall. The 2015 numbers are not all compiled yet but it looks like a stall too. So with a certain probability we may be right now at peak CO2 Emission which is the same as peak fossil fuel consumption. So it seems that peak coal arrives earlier than expected and peak oil is later than expected, but for the final result, the end of fossil based industry, this is of no difference.

So it is probable, that peak fossil fuel is happening right now, but nobody watches, because it is happening without a big bang.

ed boyle said...
so we have a jagged downslope like above curve for ice in arctic. Some years is more than others butthe long ter multiyear trendline is decline. One sees this on global temperaature and mauna loa co2 but that is more seasonal and not multiyear. They say crude+conensate peaked at 75 mio barrels in 2005.10 years of goo later we see a lower net energy and a flagging economy. NIRP plus parachute money, direct free income is next. Liquefaction of coal will happen when the peak export model of jffrey west texas hits. China, india, south africa, usa, russia can go on that. Jpanes might figure out the clathrate thing on another price leg up. Tech takes time, luck, sweat to figure out. Tar sands, fracking were tricky business as ewell as drilling 30 wells in many directions or deep sea drilling. When a barrel is as expensive as a fine ounce then we'll be in a fine place indeed but tech will have squeeze or refined every carbon molecule, including obesity donations from the plastic surgeon's waste barrel and the coal from the atlantic sea bed. If WW3 will have been avoided in the intervening chaos is anybody's guess.

inohuri said...

I think the author is posting earlier because he is
having much fun.

If you haven't done it look on the right of the page.
The blog from the beginning is there waiting for
you. It might get you through until he posts again.


The little machine shop is going well. Appropriate
equipment is a Taig Lathe, a much corrected cheap
drill press (an ale can had the right thickness for
the gap between the bore and quill) with 3/8 socket
in the pulley for manual power (great for tapping)
and precision hack saws from earlier eras from ebay.

I did splurge and put a table and base on an old porta bandsaw, it cuts at least 5 times faster than I can by hand and as accurately. Found it neglected in the back of a junk dealer neighbors truck, bought it and fixed it. In Seattle electricity might be around for awhile (depending partly on the EMP sensitive large irreplaceable transformers that no one seems to
care to ground through a resistance). Same for the craigslist grinder which gets used outside.

A bicycle with a freewheeling ratchet looks to be
the best transducer of people power. A coaster brake
could easily unscrew the lathe chuck... I found a 6
speed at church sale for about $6 and stripped it
down to my needs. I won't finish the job until it is
actually needed. Remember that sustained power
from a strong human is only about 1/10 HP and
that is what the early Taig lathe came with. Use ball
bearings instead of bushings, there is a lot less friction.

Costwise it is much like photography, first you buy
the camera and then you buy all the lenses, tripods, printer.... that ends up costing 3 or more times as much. I have been lucky (because of hard work and patience) with ebay and craiglist.

It all seems very modest in today's terms. Without
electricity most machine shops (a few Amish
exceptions with real horses) are completely dead. This can be redone but at great cost and if there is no fuel there is going to be great difficulty transporting the shop to a water wheel, setting up a building with overhead shafts for power etc. Meanwhile there could be efforts to generate 3 phase 220 volt 60 Hertz electricity to feed the 5+ HP motors on the machines that weigh tons but it really isn't sustainable except for where common sense prevails like the Lakeland Republic.

My lathe with motor and chucks fits in a portable case. My machine shop doubles as the laundry closet so once a week I put the lathe in the case so
I can get in the top loader. The drill and saw can
stay put on the dryer.

Oh, and of course the vacuum cleaner that lives on top of the back of the dryer to suck up the swarf. I hate it when I get sparkles in my carpet. Lots of cardboard around the machines and sometimes an acrylic window over the lathe.

Mean Mr Mustard said...


"To invoke the official fighter plane of the Archdruid Report (how many weeks has it been since it hasn't come up?)"

Er, I mentioned it off topic only last week, in my unofficial capacity as ADR military aviation reporter, but I think I got away with it...


To continue with Justin's excellent analogy, severe oscillations risk having the wings ripped off, or the pilot deciding to eject. In oil company terms, those would be sudden company failure or investor flight. Note BP's current woes... Last ones standing would likely be the NOCs, but there again, perhaps with the exception of Russia, oil producing nation states don't seem to have much better prospects themselves, what with most of North Africa and the Middle East and on to the Indian border now in wars of varying intensity. And don't forget the forecast effects of the Export Land Model where they use revenues and their own production to placate or police their populations.

And those wars in grossly overpopulated desert were sparked by food riots when prices soared after drought and the corn to ethanol racket. Not just one stressed system, but several interlinked ones.



Caryn said...

Wowza! Congrats on your 10-year mark, JMG!

I would like to say I wish I'd found this blog that many years ago, I could have collapsed sooner, but honestly, I'm a firm believer in 'Everything happens for a reason' and this timing is a case-in-point. I probably would have been far less receptive to it than I was at the time in my life, (almost exactly 1 year ago today) that I did stumble across it. And to boot, my intro was your wonderful uplifting essay on the 'Butlerian Carnival'. :)

I've not really ventured over to any other peak-oil blogs or sites, but have definitely heard the hysterical zombie-apocalypse doomsday predictions you describe here. Maybe that's why I was never so receptive of the idea.

After 'A Butlerian Carnival', I did go back and read through a lot of your backlogged essays. Perhaps that's why this one is no surprise. You've said all of this before in one way or another, maybe it bears repeating in many forms to get through. Thanks for persevering and explaining the whole thing so well.

Also many thanks to Justin, that was an equally well articulated and replicable explanation for the mystery of low gas prices we seem to be combatting with friends, coworkers and family. It's very helpful to have these when those conversations arise.

mandymeeks said...

Hi John - I read 'The Long Descent' years ago, when I first became aware of 'peak oil', and thank you for it and all your work generally. I too gave talks on peak oil and tried to explain that it doesn't mean we'll wake up to Armageddon on a particular day, or year. When your own personal Armageddon hits you depends where you are on the social spectrum, how much debt you have, whether debt is written off by society and so on.

I found that the eternal optimism required by most environmentalists, just wouldn't allow them to see 'peak cheap energy' (not as catchy but more accurate) for what it was and what it meant to the myth of growth capitalism. Even those firmly against growth capitalism, who understood the finite nature of things, still couldn't quite accept the nuts and bolts of the natural energy balance being restored. I'm with Colin Campbell when he said we wouldn't change until that change is imposed by nature.

I wondered if you'd seen 'Depletion: a determination for the world's petroleum reserve' by the Hill's Group. It came out March 2015 but I think it's behind a paywall. Basically, they look at useful energy (exergy) & think we are at 2:1 globally - 2 barrels of energy out requires one in. Charles Hall et al said something about 3:1 being the minimum.

Also, Gail Tverberg's latest is good on linking energy and economics. She's been another who has helped me get my head around things we're just not taught (supposed to?). Chris Martenson's Crash Course and everything I've read by Richard Heinberg... So frustrating not to get the message through when there's so much good information out there.

All things considered, I hope for a LONG descent!

peak.singularity said...

A few months ago Ugo Bardi looked into the fates of the memes "Peak Oil" and "Peak Oil will save us from Climate Change":
(He also renamed his blog back from "Resource Crisis" to "Cassandra's Legacy")

I find his posts generally very insightful, so, Jcummings, you and other readers might be interested in reading that blog, especially considering Bardi's association with the Club of Rome!

And readers like Justin might be interested by the new blog he launched focused on the system dynamics modeling of the Seneca Effect : increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid :

SumErgoSum said...

Hi JMG. Greetings from the UK. Have read your blog on and off since around 2009 but have never felt like commenting. (In fact can't even remember if I have done so before apart from one a couple of weeks ago to another poster)

Am currently starting to reread some of them and some of your earlier work. Your clarity and consitancy is one of the things that keep me coming back.

This weeks post is an excellent refresher of the core theme, and the themes of demand destruction, over production etc are going to be valuable topics in the next few decades as these cycles replay themselves.

I wish I could have seen some of this coming like you did, but explanations on this and other places on the web have made it look so obvious in hindsight. Strange how the truth is usually so unfasionable until it is rubbed in the noses of those ignoring it. Well not that strange considering how the human mind works. The numerous examples I see of it and the weird and hysterical ways it often plays out will never cease to amaze me.

No doubt halfway though the next cycle people will forget (conveniently or not) about these things, stuck in their own cycles of denial, hope, and the dream of the next revolutionary energy technology, while prices are not at the extremes that tend to derail them.

Whether or not reminders like this one can inject a little bit of reality into popular delusions is hard to tell. All of those who get a glimpse of the reality will have to just keep plugging away without getting our heads bitten off and try not to let fantasies take sway. Having such a clear and well written peice of reality to work from is very useful if we wish to try to educate others or ground our own plans in a better understanding of how complex forces can play out.

Having some of these post in a book form is something I approve of as well, alongside the green wizard practical tips. An understanding of how we got here and ways it may play out is a handy guide. Am definately in the welfare class, so at some point I will have to give up the internet due to cost, and catch up where I can.

I look forward to your 10 year anniversary, and to the continuation of your little utopia. It will be interesting to see how Lakeland republic will face the influx of the outside world, and exactly how your protagonist works out how his visions of progress are incorrect. (I know, I know, wait and see)

SumErgoSum said...

@Damo Really nice comic. Hubbard really was a good scientist, and even if his findings were always going to come across conciderable resistance he kept on despite them.

I was amused by the wistful image of a sea of modern wind turbines being the idea of the "wise investments that will continue to serve us after the oil is all gone" The writer could do with to look closer at this blog to see how that will work out.

Stein L said...

Money's too cheap. Nobody seems to take that seriously. When money costs 0%, or can be had at negative interest rates, it means the world economy is just ticking over. Then money becomes something you use to keep up appearances, to create pretend growth through the "fake" financial economy.
The real world economy of manufacturing is languishing, or being eradicated. China building dozens of empty cities doesn't mean that the Chinese economy is growing, it just means they wasted a lot of money and resources pretending there was a need for dozens of empty cities. (Enough empty apartments in China to house the US population).

We see this everywhere. Money being created out of thin air and getting thrown at things, hoping something will happen that kick-starts the real economy. Alphabet, now supposed to be the world's most valuable company, has a ridiculously low number employees relative to the company's value. And they are basically just diddling around with software that is supposed to get rid of real world economy factors, such as real world jobs.

The future of the "world of continuous growth" is in the hands of people who grew up playing video games and watching unrealistic SciFi movies and TV shows. They are now in Silicon Valley trying to get angel investors to put money into schemes designed to get rid of another group of pesky and expensive employees, in yet another sector of the real world economy.

Internet of things, Age of Automation, The Fourth Industrial Revolution -- you have to be swimming in Kool Aid if you don't see this as Russian roulette with all chambers loaded, aimed straight at society.

"Renewables will make it possible to transition from black energy to green energy," we're told. I point people to Hew Crane's Cubic Mile of Oil to make them understand how much energy we have to replace with other sources, and what it's going to take. The undertaking would be a massive infrastructure project on a global scale, to be carried out in a short time-span to forestall the consequences we need to avoid. And to be effective, it would need massive amounts of fossil energy to run the heavy machinery required. There's a conundrum: we left it too late, because we didn't take the early warnings seriously.

Cubic Mile of Oil at Wikipedia

Angela C. said...

Greetings, sir! I would be interested in your opinion regarding a specific aspect of our family's plan to relocate. We have automatically ruled out areas in the country that fracking is taking place. The reason I am soliciting your opinion in particular is that I see you live in Cumberland and according to the maps I've seen, fracking is very near your town. I don't know how long you've lived there, but was this a consideration when you moved there? Do you think our exclusion of all fracking areas is unduly overcautious? My main concern is contaminated groundwater, polluted effluents dumped willy-nilly, etc. But I was thinking "Geez, if JMG lives near fracking, maybe it isn't the horror show I've imagined." I'd be truly appreciative of any light you could shed on the degree to which we should use fracking as a metric for choosing our super small family homesteading site. Other considerations that are important to us include escaping the bible belt, a good sense of community, and affordable property. I know how busy you must be, so thanks, and keep up the important work!

Larry said...

The government of North Dakota is kind enough to provide monthly oil production statistics from the Bakken region.

It's interesting to note that Bakken production, which was one tenth its current level in 2009, has been at a plateau since September 2014, (at just over 1.1 million barrels per day), despite the number of producing wells increasing from 8,500 to 10,314. Should the music stop (i.e., the financing and drilling of new wells), one can infer from the data that production would drop 2% to 3% per month. As the number of additional wells increased by only ten in the latest month (November, 2015) we may be about at that point.

Nastarana said...

Dear Alex, I second the our host's suggestion about refurbishing small (or large) appliances, surely a growth industry in years and decades to come. All kinds of forgotten skills and crafts require tools. Anyone who can repair and maintain those tools ought to be able to make a decent living and be a respected member of his or her community as well. For example, can you replace frayed cloth covered cords on the older irons, the ones which get hot and stay hot? Or on the cute little old style pre-popup toasters?

Don Plummer said...

John: these links are off topic to the primary theme of this week's Archdruid Report, so feel free not to post this comment. But a couple articles came to my attention that I thought you would find interesting. First, for your amusement, another scientist predicts human extinction within 100 years:

And more seriously, have you read this article about possible ecological blowback from introducing genetically engineered organisms into the biosphere? (So far this is unproven, but it's certainly a cause for concern.)

I liked your comment about "devout economists," by the way.

Bill Pulliam said...

Unknown 926 p.m re: Population regulation...

Population ecology is generally understood about as poorly as economics is. There are lots of factors that go in to the dynamics of population increases and decreases for all species, and people are just another species...

Mass mortallity is actually pretty rare. Much more common are less catastrophic changes in birth rates, survivorship of young, and mortality from various causes. In a favorable environment more young are born or hatched, more of these are successfully reared to sexual maturity, and mortality rates from disease, injury, predation, malnutrition, etc. are lower. Make the world resource-poor, and any or all of these things can shift in the other direction. The idea that populations grow until they exhaust their resources and then crash is mostly a function of artificial closed systems. In the real world populations are trending up or down all the time, generation to generation. Even in the face of direct human intervention, population booms and extinctions of other species usually take place over many generations, spanning decades or even centuries. It's not waking up and finding everybody else died. It's gradually noticing that there are fewer kids, fewer old folks, and that people seem to be living a little bit less on average than their parents did, not more. In some places on earth and some subcultures in the U.S., this is already happening.

Renovator said...

As a species, we certainly don't follow complex systems very well, particularly when extrapolating into the future. Using linear extrapolation in an otherwise highly complex system, with multiple complex subsystems, seems, to me anyways, like a wrong approach.

I see this issue with some current climate change observations. There are multiple complex systems within other geo systems which may react in ways that we don't yet understand or even know to be possible. So, applying linear logic to a highly complex system is a non-sequitur.

This does not mean that the earth's climate is not being affected by anthropogenic means (try eating junk food for a your entire life and see how well your health pans out), it simply means that we need to be wary of falling into the fallacy of false dichotomy. We need to stop using linear means to forecast complex systems.

Since the modern human beast loves to answer complex problems by increasing the overall complexity of its systems, I wonder how much longer our earth will be able to absorb our indolence before unseen/unknown perturbations really start "to lay the smack down" on us, as it were.

Phil Harris said...

I can only add a footnote to your excellent ‘Peak Oil’ summary. It seems useful to put names to history, as you have done before, particularly to the history of the super- protagonist. The late-Nixon era of politic oil deals with Saudi Arabia, and then through Carter and the Iranian debacle to that genial promoter of dreams, R. Reagan, makes for a coherent story. It is still not an inclusive list, but I would tentatively add M. Thatcher, her advisor / appointee Geoffrey (later Lord) Howe, and curiously the Duke of Edinburgh. (Beware especially any Brit bearing an apparently affectionate first name ‘Lord’ or ‘Duke’ or even ‘Lady’.)

Geoffrey declared even before Margaret took power that “We” – he was referring to humanity, or at least the enlightened demographic of which he was representative – “have cracked all the big problems. It is just about ‘rolling out’ the solutions.” He was referring IRRC to India and probably China and other still-benighted populations who still constituted the vast majority of the world and were yet to benefit from Geoffrey’s solutions. Geoffrey believed in markets and even more in bigger potential markets and had a plain-man’s view of modern thought and technology.

Margaret was a bit more nuanced. Margaret had married into the oil industry and had a personal relationship with power. I have often wondered that she had a convenient personality (a sort of wrapped-up British History featuring a ‘White Lady on a Tank’) who believed that her thoughts were her own creation and not inserted by persons cleverer than she was.

The Duke of Edinburgh seems more like a footnote to a footnote, but he defined what I believe was a crux moment some time shortly after 1975. Spare a thought for UK & Ireland which had needed to import the majority of its food since 1850 and was almost wholly urban much earlier than USA and is situated on a very limited agricultural area. Food had proved historically more important than oil – Britland had been a net-exporter of coal through more than a century, and coal supplied most primary energy domestic consumption even after the newly dominant Petroleum Age had dawned for us during the two decades before 1975 and the use of coal had declined.

The Duke addressed British Agriculture – “We had cracked all the main issues” –via large public support providing much of the R&D and innovation and technical and economic supervision for diverse farming, which support had been as necessary as our wartime defence budget, “It is time to turn this national structure over to the market.” or words to that effect; I won’t specify all the ins and outs of what followed. ‘We’ still of course cannot remotely feed ourselves and rely very critically on global and EU structures.

OK, it’s time to wrap up History. ;-) I have just googled up this paper Mingxing Chen et al, 2014. Quote
“If the transformation of human society since the Industrial Revolution were to be summarized in no more than three words, there would be few better alternatives than industrialization, urbanization, and globalization. These three dimensions have close relations with each other. Industrialization leads to the direct output of economic growth, which further gives impetus to a vigorous process of urbanization in both developed countries and newly industrialized ones, mainly via a specialization of labor and the unprecedented development of non-agricultural sectors.”

@Any Dear Reader: If you (believe that enlarging the market to include the majority of the world in order that most should live in the manner of Europeans (forget USA) can be achieved by drilling more wells, continuously or by a transition to a non-oil future, then I can only suggest you drop in on the ADR from time to time to check out progress. Even the guys from Beijing -see above quote – express a few caveats.

RPC said...

R.e. Justin's point on the "time aspect of EROEI"...yup, stabilizing systems with time delays is a royal pain. It's such a royal pain that there's a whole field of knowledge and literature just waiting to be put to use in this context. It's funny, Victorian engineers used to refer to the control system for e.g. a turbine as a "governor." Now what entity with the same root as "governor" might be appropriate to regulate this system? (Especially since what's needed is a resistance or drag function!)

latefall said...

@Justin, YCS
Mix control systems with human cognition (love of simple narratives) and you may very well get the "well read yeast" impression of humanity if you zoom out a little. If you want to read more on this "The Logic of Failure" by Dörner isn't bad. He has a short version on research gate.
Such things could work as educational table-top/role playing games as well I think. The tricky bit is that you can only ask a limited number of questions (with partially incorrect answers) to figure out the game mechanics (rules), and some rules may change over time.

Re eagles vs drones
Not surprising, but probably fairly limited in terms of missions and (early stage) reliability. See anti-tank dogs for examples of how such things can go wrong. Still, like I already mentioned in the drone shoot post I expect more development on that front. If neuro-science/tech does not fully collapse I could imagine domestication to pick up some speed.
What I am more scared of though is when someone figures out how to weaponize migratory birds (e.g. with biological weapons), or bees, etc. And we overreact by getting rid of the entire genus or family.

Congrats for holding out & thanks for the peak oil reminder! Will try to find some time to write something pertinent later. For now I have a late idea for neglected technologies in Lakeland: stilts.

John W. Riley said...

I've recently read all of your posts starting in 2006, John. I look forward to the new ones every week. I often wondered while reading your posts from back then, are you surprised by where we are? I know you've consistently railed against linear thinking, but it seems the jmg of eight years ago would have been surprised by how things have mostly held up. Just curious about your thoughts. Thanks for all the great work.

zaphod42 said...

"... I intend to deliver a good hard stomp to one of the habits of thought that did the most to land us in this mess."

I can't wait! That was an excellent summary by way of explanation of how we got to where we find ourselves today. It is useful as a means of projecting what may come in the future. Yet, that future is as difficult and dangerous to predict as it was in 2006. Still in all, your vision of coming events has been prodigal, as you have simply anticipated that how things go will be similar to how they have gone in the past, believing as you must that human nature has not and will not change, and that nature cannot change.

Now to read the many interesting comments... Thanks for providing a bit of relief from the tripe fed us by today's media.


Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

First, thank you so much for not writing more about the presidential race.

Second, thank you for writing so faithfully, steadily and interestingly all these years, during most of which I've have been following along. Your writing has influenced my life in quite a few ways. (Ditto for all the commenters!)

Third, thanks for the cogent peak oil refresher. Well do I remember first reading here about EROI and boom/bust cycles as the social, environmental and economic as well as energy costs of extraction create increasing drag. It's always good to revisit catabolic collapse as a corrective to the surface distractions of current events and the daily rodomontade to which we are all subjected: a very useful armature on which to build analysis--and action.

Bill Pulliam said...

That phase shifting/time lag Justin talks about really underlies most boom/bust pjenomena in Society and many of those in nature as well. It's the same thing that has lead to the crashing of entry-level SIlicin Valley salaries. And many local and regional housing market crashes. And so on. What he calls control systems you can also think of as damping, that thing the Tacoma Narrows bridge was woefully deficient in.

You would think bynow that petroleum suppliers would have understood how they create the boom-bust cycle and learned to take actions to damp it. Clearly not, however...

Unknown said...

You can add at least two other anthropogenic forces to the toxic mix. The first is water, how we pollute it, waste it, use it faster than natural forces can replenish it and how we undervalue it. The second is soil. We poison it with commercial fertilizers and pesticides which results in the death of the microbiota responsible for soil fertility. We practice monocropping that encourages weeds, disease and insects. We compact the soil with ever larger agricultural equipment further diminishing fertility. No wonder that we have turned our nation's farms into addicts requiring more frequent and larger fixes of agricultural drugs.

Kyoto Motors said...

File this one under "required reading". I hope it gets as much or more circulation as your post on Donald Trump did.
Here in Canada the addiction to Tar Sands wears all political stripes. No one appears to have the guts to recognise it as the losing proposition that it is... Suncor just announced a $2 billion loss. Pipelines are being debated quite hotly as the urgent need to salvage the enormous investments of the recent past. To be sure Alberta is in trouble, but with oil trading below $30 a barrel, the way forward is murky at best. At what point does an entire industry decide to cut its losses? I guess we'll find out, perhaps someday (?)

Twilight said...

Yes, it has been a long strange trip. Back in 1981 as a college freshman we were required to attend a series of freshman seminar classes on various topics. To my good fortune one of those was on the limits to growth, taught by an enlightened materials engineering professor. To be honest the course was disturbing and I did not know what to do with the things I learned, as I could not reconcile it with anything I knew of the world around me. Like most I figured "they'll think of something". But it stuck with me anyway, festering in the back of my mind as I could not unlearn what I knew to be factual.

By the mid 2000's I had found out about Peak Oil and was reading continuously about it. Like many I had exaggerated expectations about how fast the impacts would be. It was almost frustrating that "it" just never seemed to happen. But now looking backward the pace of change has actually been incredible, whether I look back to my discovery of PO or further back to what was really happening when I was a freshman.

Now I see that "it" is happening, and while the details are unpredictable the big picture is perfectly clear. This is peak oil. It didn't go away, rather we are living it.

Next, viewable through any window nearby, the consequences of putting that CO2 in the atmosphere are about to get very, very real.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

I's like to add one more element to the destabilizing forces of peak oil and anthropogenic global warming: ecological destruction, including pollution, species extinction and, importantly, "extinction of ecological interactions," as ecologist Dan Janzen once put it so cogently. AGW is a symptom of this larger problem, as a fever is of a deadly disease, destructive in and of itself and dangerous if not brought down.

You've discussed this before; I feel it is as important as PO and AGW and should be discussed again (and again and again). As "Limits to Growth" points out, and I think Joseph Tainter as well--and as we are seeing around the world--build-up of waste and general ecological destruction are major limiting factors for complex, industrial civilizations, both for the costs involved in rectifying the problems and for the real, physical costs to the biosphere and its inhabitants, including us. Whither biodiversity? Whither the self-regulating systems of the biosphere?

The effects will be as non-linear as those of PO and AGW; the complex interactions of the three will be something awful (in all its senses, archaic included) to behold.

Andy said...

Bill Pulliam and/or JMG - you've both commented in the negative about "financial Permaculture". As this term was new to me I had to do some looking around. I keep finding things like this:

"It is a design tool, a piece of appropriate information technology, that applies efficient designs to generate the least amount of waste for the highest yield, taking into account the true social and ecological costs within a local economy."

Can you please help me understand how or why catalyzing the rebirth of a local economy using the Permaculture ethics of 'Earth care, people care, and fair share of surplus' rather than the exploitative tenets of capitalism (which sees a tree in terms of board-feet rather than as a perennial food source) could be a bad thing? Thanks!

Clay Dennis said...

This time around financialization has made the oscillation much worse on the low side because oil companies that would have shut down in previous cycles for lack of funds are being propped up by selling junk bonds and leveraged loans to investors hungry for yield. The response on the high side will also be much slower and make things much worse than it would have in the past. I get industrial auction flyers in the mail. In the last 6 months I have seen a rash of auctions of heavy manufacturing companies and machine shops in the Oil Patch and Coal Country. If one knows machine tools you can read the history of these companies in the type and age of machines being auctioned. Many of these companies look to have been around since the 50's and had a recent burst of machine tool purchases in the period from 2009-2012. Now they are bankrupt and being auctioned off and their big specialized machines are being scrapped or dispersed to other industries. Most of these machines are no longer manufactured in North America and replacing them will be a long and expensive process when oil prices jump back up. Not to mention the skills and techniques that have been lost as the people who know how to do this work are laid off or early retired. It is one thing to drill new holes in the ground, it is quite another to make the massive valves, pumps, etc that are needed for this industry. No amount of software wizardry can replace heavy metal when it comes to old fashioned resource extraction.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Excellent, and that includes the blog from 2007. Thanks for linking back to that. I love how you think in cycles. Nature is never linear. Yes, one could weep for an entire Saturn cycle of opportunity lost to the eighties greedfest. I never understood it. We remained firmly planted in the seventies, not out of fear of apocalypse but because the life of rural simplicity suits me well. With one exception: We sure love that internet! One thing the Internet makes possible is a healthier relationship between cities and country. There is a bunch of blogs there....Till next week. Thanks for all the great work.

Revere T said...

Speaking of our official fighter jet, here's a recent report:
It appears that an unfortunate F-35 pilot wouldn't even be able to use his ejection seat without inviting a quick death a la Goose in Top Gun.
Maybe someone can train some eagles to put these things out of their misery, too.

Dammerung said...

Current cheap oil is, paradoxically, the proof in the pudding for peak oil. Massive credit to drill was issued by the banks, speculating on higher oil prices, but the massive capacity glut that resulted actually drove oil prices down. Now all the marginal producers are pumping as fast as they can trying to make the monthly payment on the loans they received; they have to sell, even at a loss, just to try to keep the scam going on until the next month. We're literally living month-to-month on affordable oil now. When the marginal producers really start dropping like flies, the price of oil will shoot back up, but NO FORCE ON EARTH WILL BE ABLE TO BRING IT BACK DOWN after that happens.

I know you know this, JMG; just wanted to point out to any readers who don't already know that the current price of oil is, much like the housing or dotcom booms, nothing but a Wall St. pump-and-dump scheme that has its own unraveling baked in.

Andy said...

JMG - I guess the answer to your title is "Nothing - peak oil continues to unfold right on schedule...almost"

I think it's the 'almost' that's still sticking in my gut - not because of your essay but because of the points of view of some of the comments. In spite of the apparent belief by some here that renewables are worthy only of derision, and that the plans being executed today around the world to replace fossil fuel-derived energy with efficiency and renewables should join renewables under the dunce cap, I think that the collapsing price of "oil and oil-like substances" reflects the success, not failure, of the Rocky Mountain Institute's "Reinventing Fire" plan being implemented behind the scenes in the US (and partly in China), and the combination of Jeremy Rifkin's "Third Industrial Revolution" and the EnergieWende/energy transition in Germany, China, and the rest of the EU. Why? Because along with the continuing effects of the long-running recession, they are reducing the demand for fossil energy - and while there's plenty wrong with infinite-planet economics on a finite planet, one thing economics does well is identify the interplay between supply and demand.

Yes, oil producing nations are over-pumping, apparently in order to damage or destroy some of their competition. But before the start of the global financial crisis the planet's energy demands were increasing as exponentially as they always have, yet the Saudis and other producers could not increase production in spite of the spike to $140/barrel prior to the collapse. That more than anything else shows that peak oil is alive and well. Here's the thing, though: If deployment of renewable generation continues - in other words, if we take good advantage of these abnormally low prices for fossil fuel today in order to replace as much of them as possible** - then we'll not only continue to move in the right direction with regards to our existential climate problem, but we may also set the stage for a future where the price of oil never again approaches $100/barrel.

Here's a pine board: ========== I have a hard head. If I'm missing something important, feel free to write it on the board and whack me in the head with the message. ;)


**No, this is not worshiping at the altar of "progress". This is not suggesting in any way that we can use ANY energy source to continue the exponential push towards 'business as usual' prior to a hard collapse. Yes, we can provide the energy we need with renewables as we travel this descent, but not enough to waste. FWIW.

Nick Nelson said...

Been reading the blog for five or so years now. It's great to have a recap every now and again to bring things back into focus. It seems like there's so much disinformation flooding in from every direction it can be hard to keep the big picture in focus. In a little piece of serendipity, after reading this post I open an email from my dad with nothing but a Bart Simpson quote in it: "deny everything, run like hell." Sounds like standard operating procedure for many people today.

CJ said...

Maybe someone has already connected the two, but today's post is in perfect alignment with a post from Tom Murphy at Do The Math -

Reading your post from 2007 was mind-blowing!


234567 said...

I am in the oil business, 3rd generation of a to-be-irrelevant discipline. For planning purposes, you can use 60-66 months as the time it takes for large price changes to work through the global economy. Gradual changes take longer, as there is more time to adapt and innovate. This is based on some non-linear data; like oil companies booking reserves, which traders use to jump or drop stock prices, which in turn determine the available capital a company has for extraction in the medium term, and loan availability wasn't even in the equations, because the people working the problem had never seen a major downturn and the consequences.

Being an old fart and 3rd generation oil family, I have seen this all before.

Peak Oilers didn't go away, we just got weary of explaining long term consequences to people lacking the ability to grasp time (IASD - Iphone Attention Span Disorder). The field of people able to understand and integrate the plethora of inputs and outputs is further reduced by the complete lack of generalists in the general population; specialists cannot grasp the picture due to their self-administered blinders. Peak Oil was laid out by a petroleum geologist, and brought to the government as a warning.

Oil drillers and geologists are multi-disciplinary generalists - a drilling engineer has an apprenticeship AFTER 4 years of college. Petroleum engineers cannot normally jump to other engineering fields, because PE degree is probably the last useful generalist college degree. The other engineering degrees are highly specialized. Petroleum geologists can jump to hydrology, but not elsewhere without extreme effort.

This site will let you wade through numbers that will likely make people realize the truth of things rapidly:

Depletion never sleeps is a mantra for the oilfield. The current numbers bear this out, and also bear out that even with people cutting back on consumption, consumption remains essentially flat - yet depletion never sleeps.

JMG is oh-so correct in that shenanigans are used in terminology to obfuscate and smooth reality. We are in what we call the "bumpy plateau" on the back side of the Peak Oil scenario - where demand destruction occurs. 2009 was big bump #1, and there will be many more.I could give a rats behind for the date of Peak Oil - that is a useless exercise for idiots. However, one might better call it 'Peak Cheap Oil', to get a better feel for our reality.

Saudi Arabia has likely hit peak production - but will not admit this for several years yet - does that pique any interest? They hit their "Cheap-Oil Peak' a few years back. No public numbers will show this, until the event is well in the rear-view mirror - a historians delight. How did this event occur when oil prices are so very low?? It is a bumpy plateau, and termed that because depletion is constant, while everything else is mutable.

I dislike historians - they have it so easy and are not required to prove anything. But I appreciate their value to future generations.

Email me if you have questions JMG - happy to help explain...

Andy said...

...the 11AM news from the Republic of Texas... ;)

Occidental [Petroleum] posts losses of more than $5 billion in 4Q 2015...6000 jobs to be cut in 1Q and 2Q 2016.

ConnocoPhilips cuts dividend; reports loss of $3.5 billion

Shell profits down 56%

And in S Texas fracking news...

The Texas Workforce Commission is reporting the following job cuts since January 1st:
Maersk Drilling: 80 jobs in January
Noble Drilling: 120 jobs in March
Southwestern Energy Company: 376 jobs in March
Tenaris Corp.: 166 jobs in March
National Oilwell Varco: 129 jobs in May
Quicksilver Resources Inc: 164 jobs in April. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March of 2015 and plans to sell all of its assets while working to restructure its businesses.

So, Brothers and Sisters in ADR-ness, expect an uptick in the 'prices' of all things related to "collaps[ing] now and avoid[ing] the rush" as we've got company coming...

Globus Pallidus XI said...

Suggestion: Instead of plotting gross oil production vs time, plot total net energy production due to hydrocarbon extraction (gross amount minus amount needed to extract and refine) versus time.

'Peak oil' might be a myth - but peak net energy production from hydrocarbons? That might be real.

Goldmund said...

John, there's an art exhibit currently showing in Minneapolis called "Hippie Modernism" which focuses, as you might guess, on the cultural innovations of the 60s and 70s. It has been wildly popular with the current generation of young folks who are flocking to it in huge crowds. My favorite room was the one devoted to the DIY, small is beautiful, simplify-your-life aspect of that era, with great photos of the Diggers, the renewable energy advocates, the urban farmers, the bike sharers, the self-education innovators, on and on. My heart went into my throat when I saw a first edition copy of the Whole Earth Catalog displayed in a glass case like a priceless, ancient manuscript. What gave me a super charge of hope was being reminded, once again, that we figured it out once before, and the current generation of 20-somethings seem to be figuring it out again (the ones who enjoy old-timey, DIY music in addition to growing their own vegetables and brewing their own beer.) I'm looking forward to the Mother Earth News, printed version of the Archdruid Report that I expect will be coming out before too long. I want to be among the first to subscribe.

buddhabythelake said...


I'd like to add my congratulations for the upcoming milestone and also thank you (again) for your efforts to lead discussions on these vital topics. You have truly helped me to recalibrate my assessment of the path forward, including the much-needed untying of the emotional "knot" that had kept me bound to (vain) attempts to "save the system" from itself.

It fascinates me how much of our work here is internal (emotional, psychological). The external changes -- reducing energy consumption, simplifying, dis-intermediating -- are required, certainly, but are also "obvious" (using the term loosely, of course). The internal work is just as necessary, if not actually more so, but is much more obscure...not to mention much more difficult :) But changing our perception changes the world, does it not?

I recently had a 10-year work anniversary and used the gift certificate I was given to purchase a pressure canner. Our local nature conservancy is giving a class next month on cheese-making which I am looking forward to. Small steps...

Justin W. McCarthy said...

The same lag/push and pull effect can be seen in livestock futures, that also move on 7-8 year cycles.

The reason for this is that producers hold cattle back when they expect prices to rise in the next few years, and it takes about 3-4 years from there to get a fattened cow ready for market. The more they hold back, the more the swell is in that 4 year-7 year influx, and then the bulge in supply drops the market. The cycle repeats.

Oil is like any other futures in this way now whereas before it was just a matter of opening/closing the faucet in an instant. Now futures expectations of increases in price should precipitate a huge influx of capital investment and another bulge, with a drop again after that. With cattle or livestock, there is a difference. Oil rigs/wells left fallow or huge investments of capital investment that go belly up. Holding back/sending more cattle to slaughter and having fewer births does not burn infrastructure the way tech does.

Bruce Turton said...

Where do I go in the archived posts to find the discussion about "catabolic collapse" Thanks.

Odin's Raven said...

How much difference would it make to include natural gas?

Eric S. said...

One thing that I've found fascinating of late in the Climate Change movement, is that both the position that climate change at this late point in the game can be at best mitigated but not prevented, and the position that while the impacts of climate change will be catastrophic they can be endured and survived, and if we focus on it even prepared on a collective scale appear on lists of "climate change denial tactics," while geoengineering and space colonization continue to be touted as viable potential solutions if all else fails. I'm very much looking forward to that next post about this phenomenon. I sometimes wonder if an event like a collapsing ice sheet, or a region like Saudi Arabia that still has its share of light sweet crude having to switch to fracking make sure the spice keeps flowing would provide any sort of wake-up call...

Meanwhile, regarding the broader question of Peak Oil: Would the oil fields opened up by melting ice sheets potentially throw another wrench in Peak Oil models, putting a huge flow of previously unacceptable crude in easy reach just as the last dregs of scarcity industrialism are on the verge of giving up, leading to one final splurge? Or do you see that as something so far off that the people who have access to that oil will already have adapted to an infrastructure less likely to be exploring for it?

Brian said...

As many others have mentioned, I'd welcome a paper version of this blog, but I'd really miss the comment section that follows each week's post.

Tim said...

JMG, I discovered your blog back in the heady days of 2010 and your reason and sanity while addressing the predicaments of our time resonated with me immediately. It's hard to believe I've been reading your blog for almost six years already. As someone else commented earlier, my lifestyle would not have changed as much as it has if I hadn't been inspired by you and other thoughtful and critical writers. So thanks for that!

I also wanted to through in my support for a print edition of the Archdruid Report. I think that would be just incredible. Do you plan to mail to your readers in Canada and internationally?

Jim said...

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper

It upsets my mindset as an engineer to continue to find the most rational descriptions of the human condition in the writings of a wizard!

Martin B said...

If you'd asked me a couple of years ago what today's oil price would be, I'd have said $200. And I was a keen follower of the peak oil scene, regular commenter to, read all the trendy blogs, etc.

Thank goodness I never wrote that prediction down. I'd look pretty silly today.

Re-reading JMG's 2007 post, he predicted low prices due to demand destruction. But actually, today's low oil prices are due to supply madness. The Saudis have opened the taps and dropped the price, and now everyone has to pump as fast as they can to make enough pennies to pay the interest on their debts, hoping the Saudis will need higher oil prices before the rest of the industry goes bankrupt at these low prices.

In my opinion the oil price could shoot up by a hundred dollars in a couple of weeks, depending on who blinks first. I don't think we have significant demand destruction yet. But it's coming soon.

In the meantime I'm volunteering a couple of mornings a week at a community garden, getting good honest dirt under my fingernails, and hopefully picking up some useful skills. In my little patch of garden my third attempt at a compost heap seems to be decomposing well, finally. Amazing how much practical knowledge even a simple technology like composting requires.

Aron Blue said...


Thanks for the link to the Stuart McMillen comic! Really enjoyed it, and immediately recommended to a friend. What the heck, I'll put yr link up again.

Regarding community building, I'll be at Freddy's Bar in Brooklyn tonight (Thurs) taking pictures for their 5th anniversary party. Any Brooklyn commenters going to that? If so, come up and introduce yourself- I'll be the redhead with the camera :)

Manuel Reenders said...

As a historic nuance to your excellent story I'd like to mention peat.
Recently I came across this story on the role of peat in pre-industrial northern Europe by Kris De Decker:

Long story short: peat provided the non-renewable fuel that allowed the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century. This fundamental role of peat is not widely known, not even in the countries that thrived on it. Needless to say that Northern Europe is long past peak peat.
I hope this interests you and your readers.

jbucks said...

A couple things:

1. Forgive the following question, which maybe betrays my lack of knowledge of economics. I just want to make sure I understand the reasoning behind demand destruction.

People adapt to rising oil prices by making changes to their lifestyles to use less energy, which after some lag time, means that the price of oil drops due to both oversupply and lack of demand.

But what happens next? The price of oil is low, but demand is low, so what drives the price of oil back upwards?

If people see that oil prices are lower, and revert to energy intensive lifestyles, then it makes sense that oil demand goes up as the oversupply diminishes, and the cycle repeats. But if I have made long-term decisions which have reduced my energy needs (let's say I sold my SUV and bought a Prius or just got used to taking the bus to work) then my energy needs are lower for a longer term period. In this case, wouldn't the reduced demand mean that price of oil stays low regardless of supply?

Are there any scientific studies about demand destruction that you or your readers can point me to?

2. In yesterday's Guardian, George Monbiot wrote an article about peak oil and how he now thinks the theory has been proven wrong. He linked to another article by Daniel Yergin in the WSJ, who works for 'an energy research and consulting firm'. I had a look just to understand the other side of the peak oil argument.

On the face of it, Yergin argues against the peak oil theory, but reading behind the lines, he actually doesn't really deny it - his article in summary states that advances in technology mean that oil extraction is more efficient, that technology allows industry to exploit harder to reach resources, that technology helps industry discover new oil fields but more importantly to expand existing oil fields, and finally that increased efficiency on things which use energy (consumer goods and whatnot) means less demand for energy.

What he really seems to be saying is that we can use technology to kick the peak oil can well down the road into the future.

3. An uncomfortable thought that struck me the other day. I wonder if there are those in the peak oil/climate change circles, who might only have a superficial understanding of the misery these things would cause, who actually 'want' them to occur.

These people, who are alarmed about how human societies have been damaging the earth while ignoring any ethical arguments about why they should not do so. The consequences of climate change and peak oil are partly economic arguments, being as they are about limits.

So when saying 'you should not do this' didn't work, the argument changed to 'if you do this, we're all screwed', and now because that hasn't changed anything either, maybe some of these people almost hope that it happens, in a kind of 'you reap what you sow' way. Maybe there's a kind of moralistic frustration that some people have because so many others are causing damage without consequences. Maybe I'm way off base here, though...

Stuart Jeffery said...

It's clear from the graph here: that it is the shale and tar sands production that has increased, not conventional oil. They have helpfully put shale and tar at the top of the graph and you can see conventional oil has flatlined since 2005.

As shale and tar are now uneconomical I would expect the market to react.

Hubertus Hauger said...

I understand the forcasts for the peak everything. Reaching the limits of growth, from which is coming unavoidably collapse and thereafter a compulsory simplification of life.

All our industrious society relies on the cheap easy accessible fossil energy. With unaffordable fossil energy all will tumble.

Production of goods will shrink and more worrysome growing of food will dramatically drop. The lack of comfort will be less of a concern, when people realise how hard it is to get ones daily bread.

Optimistic predictions, which I prefer, see 2050 as the final date of collapse. If mankind is lucky in 2100 we stay at half of todays population, having about 10% of todays energy production.

When we stop resisting the inevitable and start embracing the simplification of life, we will see, there is less horror and more joy in it.

Perl Hacker said...


I've certainly enjoyed reading your thorough analysis of world events. I was once an avid reader of The Oil Drum back in the day and I never imagined we'd be seeing these ongoing cycles of demand destruction and overproduction. In retrospect, I suppose I should have. A useful idea contributed by TOD regular Jeffrey Brown was the Export Land Model, where oil producing nations would gradually begin to withhold greater and greater percentages of their product from the market in an effort to keep their own economies well-supplied with that essential input. This effect (if manifested) was expected to reduce the overall supply of oil even faster than models focused on well-depletion rates and reduced exploration. Of course, here we are today--sitting around like stunned monkeys, awash in $30/barrel oil. I can only laugh at myself, repeatedly.

On a different note, I do wonder about a comment of yours in the final paragraph of this week's report. I realize that--physically speaking--we could have managed our planetary resources in a controlled and intelligent fashion, allowing for smoother transitions. But from the standpoint of human psychology, I have to wonder whether that was ever even a remote possibility, given that the Earth is populated by hundreds of human tribes that are openly distrustful of one another, and who are generally only motivated by their own limited sphere of self-interest. You could easily imagine a well-meaning attempt to manage resources on a global scale failing for all of the same reasons that other rational utopias have failed in the past. In essence, people are always inclined to disagree about the particulars of any important matter, and conflict resolution is clearly (historically, culturally, biologically even) not our strong suit. Would that we were a bit more Bonobo and a bit less Chimp... I am not saying that consensus is forever impossible, of course (though it may be too late) but I have a hard time feeling too much regret over the fact that humans were suddenly unable to rise above... acting like humans. That was a given, right?

Take care,

Joel Caris said...


First of all, thank you for the excellent post this week. That's a very good, succinct, and coherent explanation of what's happening with peak oil, and I might have to share with some people. It's also a good reminder of how decline happens slowly and imperceptibly, if you don't know what you're looking for. With each passing year, I better understand that I almost certainly will never see a specific "collapse" point, except possibly in my own life or the lives of certain people around me.

My main reason for commenting, though, was to share this NYT article with you and your readers. I think it dove tails quite nicely with our fantastic Donald Trump post from a few weeks back. The basic takeaway is that Bernie Sanders' support in Iowa was not exactly what the conventional wisdom expected; he did much better with lower income voters than more affluent ones, which is pretty much the opposite of Obama in 2008. This contributed to surprising strength in rural areas. Furthermore, Clinton did much better with affluent voters, a reversal of her fortunes in 2008.

I think Sanders is capturing much of the same energy on the Democratic side as Donald Trump is capturing on the Republican side. At this point, I have to admit that I'm rooting for Sanders, though I still think it's a real long shot that he wins the nomination. My gut feeling is that the Democratic base is still a bit too well off to go for Sanders yet. It may need another four or eight years to get there. But I could be wrong!

One intriguing supposition in the article is that Sanders may do better in Southern states than expected, due to a strong appeal among poorer, working class whites. The assumption to this point is that Clinton will be strong due to her minority support, which may very well be the case. I'm very interested to see what happens, though, and to see if the seeming righting of the Clinton ship at the moment is real, or if it's just a temporary mirage. It looks as though polls are shifting for her a bit after Iowa and she did a bit better than I expected there, considering the high turnout. Still, her tone deaf comments on Goldman Sachs speaking fees and the continued overhang of the emails issue could yet hurt her.

By the way, I really hope you'll give us an analysis of Sanders' candidacy and the Democratic primary in general some coming week. You sounded like you might in the comments of the Trump post, and I'm hoping you do find you have something to say, because I'd be very interested to read it. I was planning on keeping my attention largely diverted from the Presidential side show this year, but I have to admit I've been sucked in! I'm trying to stay entertained but detached, but it can be hard.

P.S. On a side note, the first issue of Into the Ruins is slowly coming together, with my aim for a late March publication date still firmly in sight. I think it's going to feature some pretty great story-telling, as well as some nice letters and editorial content!

Robert said...

The best analysis of the oil price dynamic I've seen (not that I read a whole lot of them...)

I think there are two additional factors in play that you've not mentioned. One is the role of speculation and the innate instability of the herd / market. The other is the impact of oil prices on the global economy -- particularly with regard to the 2009 price drop which was partly due to the 2008 economic collapse which, in turn, was partly caused by the 2007 price spike (after all construction, which led the crash, is a very oil-intensive business.)

That's the way I've been thinking about it, anyway...

doomerdoc said...

In regards to the supply/demand question, I have studied this topic, like many here, for 7 years now, and I'm still convinced that ongoing depletion of supply completely overwhelms all attempts at reducing demand.

This doesn't mean I'm a fast doomer. I never really was, although admittedly things are taking slower than I thought. It just means that I have a very clear vision of what lies ahead during the coming decades, which is still a reasonable timeline to make plans and predictions on.

And it's not pretty.

As a side note, I recently drove through the wind farms of upper west Texas, and panhandle, and they are impressive indeed. There is nothing out there but desert, they are going to be running for a very long time. Doesn't change a thing, but still interesting.

Dammerung said...

You're not a lizard fanci- er uh I mean lizard believer, JMG? I wouldn't think it was that much of a stretch to connect magic and the suspicion that some of humanity's patently self-defeating own goals might be aided and abetted a by non-human intelligence that delight in or metabolizes human suffering. Maybe not 14 foot lizard people from Sirius as such, but that mental image certainly paints an evocative representation of how such beings might seem to a highly evolved primate.

Bill Pulliam said...

Andy -- that definition you give is for Permaculture (tm) itself. The problem is when you add the word "Financial" in front of it. The financialization of the economy represents a fundamental break between real-world ecological, energetic, resource-based, etc. processes and human economic practices. JMG has posts about this from several years back, maybe Google his name along with "tertiary economy" to find those posts. Financial Permaculture (tm) seemed to believe that the free market profit motive using financial models and incentives can achieve those optimized ecologially efficient design that Permaculture (tm) seeks. "Profits for a Sustainable Tomorrow." In practice it seemed to be mostly a lot of marketing jargon and greenwashing of business as usual. Every time I went to one of their street fairs I felt like I was surrounded by timeshare salesmen.

llamawalker said...


Excellent and straight forward explanation of the different types of hydrocarbons under petroleum's broad umbrella. I used to work in the oil industry (in fact, for Chucky Koch) and it was always interesting to talk with people who thought "oil is oil is oil". We used to purchase barrels of oil that were so incredibly poopy that they were named "Pine Bend Special" after the Pine Bend Refinery in Minnesota! It was very.....fragrant. I used to tell my coworker's son it smelled that way because it was "dinosaur butts". I was going to ask you about effects on the psyche of America when something changes permanently for the populace due to hard limits, but got my answer when I tried talking about net energy a few months back. I got the obligatory "that's an interesting point,but they've got fusion!" response before being told that the new Star Wars movie was THE most important event in the past 15 years........sigh

Doctor Westchester said...


For obvious reasons, I would really like it if you did a post on the current state (or non-state) of the Transition Movement. I've identified a number of issues, but I would like to see if you identified some I haven't.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...


Re Permaculture: I don't know what "financial permaculture" is either, nor do I quite understand why many commenters in this space look down on permaculture generally. I use some permaculture techniques myself, and know several full-on permaculturalists who are pretty good gardeners and horticulturalists. One acquaintance in central Illinois uses three types of self-rigged solar power (for hot water, electric and heat), and uses the exhaust from the house ventilation fan to warm a lean-to greenhouse on the south wall of his house, so they can grow salad veggies in cold weather.

My only criticism would be that certain permies I know take their cues from "Nature" and don't understand the actual, existing native-plant ecosystem we live in as well as I would like. They are sometimes prone to plant invasive species that can cause real trouble in the wrong place. Illinois is not Australia (where permaculture began)! In terms of the philosophy as an approach to design, it seems pretty reasonable. Eric Toensmeier has done good work in an urban area on the east coast. Will it save the world, as some permies think? No, but I do think it's part of what JMG calls "dissensus," or the employment of many different methods to get through times of collapse. A lot of it is very low tech. None of it is really new, but as a system offers a coherence in approach that some people find valuable.

My two cents, FWIW.

pygmycory said...

Justin, nice to hear from someone who recognized what my screen name is. They're one of my favorite aquarium fish.

I tend to think events will be slower and bumpier than Gail does. Doesn't mean she hasn't nicely described an important feedback loop though.

pygmycory said...

Ok, I'll wait to find out what the thought-habit you had in mind is.

Hmmm, yes if the House of Saud falls that could easily drive oil prices up in a hurry, no matter what the rest of the world's economy is doing.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

One of my favorite poems, which seems appropriate to the discussion.

A Song on the End of the World
By Czeslaw Milosz
Tanslated by Anthony Milosz

On the day the world ends
A bee circles a clover,
A fisherman mends a glimmering net.
Happy porpoises jump in the sea,
By the rainspout young sparrows are playing
And the snake is gold-skinned as it should always be.

On the day the world ends
Women walk through the fields under their umbrellas,
A drunkard grows sleepy at the edge of a lawn,
Vegetable peddlers shout in the street
And a yellow-sailed boat comes nearer the island,
The voice of a violin lasts in the air
And leads into a starry night.

And those who expected lightning and thunder
Are disappointed.
And those who expected signs and archangels’ trumps
Do not believe it is happening now.
As long as the sun and the moon are above,
As long as the bumblebee visits a rose,
As long as rosy infants are born
No one believes it is happening now.

Only a white-haired old man, who would be a prophet
Yet is not a prophet, for he’s much too busy,
Repeats while he binds his tomatoes:
There will be no other end of the world,
There will be no other end of the world.

Warsaw, 1944

Varun Bhaskar said...


Congratulations on reaching the ten year mark, I hope my paper will be able to host your articles one day.

By and large I've given up talking to people about peak oil. I'm going to treat it the same way I treat climate change, as context to talk about current events. Arguing with the religious is pointless.



Eric S. said...

Not sure if you caught it, but apparently you had the good timing of writing about peak oil on the same day as the latest big "breakthrough" in Fusion (this time a quarter second plasma burp with hydrogen instead of helium). Have there been any realistic projections done on what the EROEI for a fusion reactor would be if one ever actually got successfully completed? Is there a possibility that history with its sick sense of humor could give us our fusion dream only to have the magnetic fields, heating costs, part replacements and so on give us something slightly better than fission, but not quite as good as wind, then swipe it all away as peak barium strikes? Or are we at a point where the subsidies aren't long for this world even if everything goes according to plan for them?

John Dunn said...

I've been watching peak oil since 1996. I agree that it is a non-linear path. Bubble money has certainly added to this volatility of supply and demand. Energy is the underlying driver of the economy, and money is the deranged way we assign value to energy or its' byproducts. My simple take is that fiscal crashes and war will keep things unpredictable, but poverty will be the direction of travel.

Some notes from the field: using Ebay/Craigs as a ticker, you can see a lot of desperation selling as people try to sell anything to pull in a spare buck. Just down the hill from my place is Boulevard Drive-In Theater with a weekend flea market. $15 to sell. Poorer vendors are selling some pretty sad stuff. Once again, desperation selling. People are selling clothes needing mending, etc., and poorer people are buying them.


234567 said...

@ jbucks -

Oil is finite, and cheap oil even more so. Depletion in oil reserves only stops if you cease 'sucking on the straw'. Otherwise, the reserves dwindle. We put new wells in to get at stranded oil in older fields; we inject steam to heat it; we chase it with nitrogen - but we are always depleting it.

That's why the oilfield is cyclical - price goes up, everybody piles into oil, wells get drilled, production rises, prices fall, everybody bails out. Wash-rinse-repeat. Normally the cycle is about a decade or so.

But as long as you leave the valve turned on, the draining never stops, and this is where oil people make their money - draining and selling the oil. Without selling it there is no business for them, so depletion never sleeps, regardless of the price.

We are really close in terms of demand and supply - the two are not that far apart. Interestingly enough, demand has been almost flat in recent years - indicating a sort of global 'base load' for petroleum, regardless of price. We are looking at a possible oil shock or at least rising prices this year, unless the global economy craters. Traders and speculators and hedge fund managers and governments - all of them lie, but not in the same direction.

As a trading house (like say, Goldman Sachs), if I convince people oil will stay down for years, then the price just keeps dropping as long as people are uncertain. Every little event that looks negative is amplified, which is fine by me since I want the price low to buy, then sell it when the wheel turns. Trillions of dollars at stake - so lying is just 'business'. This completely obscures the real price of oil and the state of things. Having people with a 10-20-90 day outlook on the future makes it very easy to manipulate the price. Computer driven algorithms distort things, like oil, in every market these days - when money moves in a big block, the reaction is in milliseconds.

Oil exporting nations want high prices, importing governments want low prices. The world needs stable prices, but that only happens on paper, because there is so much money looking for more profits. Capitalism, raw and unfettered, is not looking good as the way to the future. It will exacerbate the back side of things tremendously.

Shane W said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shane W said...

If you're in the greater KY area, and you want to "collapse now & avoid the rush", please join us!
The next meeting of the Green Wizards Benevolent & Protective Assn., Tower 859, and Ruinmen's Guild, Local 859 of the Bluegrass, Lexington, KY, will be @ Common Grounds coffeehouse (back rm. if possible) on High Street, 7:00pm, on Thursday, February 11th. in servitio libertas! All are welcome.

Kevin Warner said...

I can see that the effects of peak oil are going to be more painful over time and I wonder if chaos theory might not have some insights into the oscillations of our now unstable system. However what really disturbs me is the other effects that peak oil will have. That stuff is not only for filling our cars with remember. It also goes into bunker fuels for the world's ship, jet fuel, pesticides, fertilizes, plastic production, synthetic rubber, clothing, heating oil, paint and god knows what else.

We'll not only have peak oil but peak car fuel, peak cheap clothes, peak industrial farming, peak home heating, peak plastics and all the rest of it. We may have to start prioritizing what we value most. What can our society do without first - cheap car fuel or plastic?

There is an old 1940 sci-fi story by Robert A. Heinlein called "The Roads Must Roll" which brings up another factor. That story may have a long white beard by now but what it had to say speaks to us even now. In that story he predicted that as oil gets more scare, the American government would declare by law that petroleum to be an essential and limited material of war. As such, the armed forces had first call on all oil, above or below the ground making the temporary conditions of World War II to become permanent.

I can believe this for every developed country but especially the US as even in 2007, some 93% of all US government fuel consumption was by the Department of Defense ( I would not be surprised to find that to be typical. Rationing anybody?

Glenn said...


Last night at zero-dark-thirty, I had a minor epiphany while trying to decide if the dog's restlessness had anything to do with the return of a troublesome raccoon (I got up and let her out, on principle that she's got way better hearing and scenting abilities than me).

Anyway, does Maude Duesenberg use a Barrett rifle chambered in .50 BMG? It happens that the Browning Machine Gun, Caliber .50, M2, HB; also called MA2, is known to ground pounders (infantry) as Ma Deuce.

I've got friends who are Gunner's Mates, and it took me over a month the notice the name. Now I've got to go back and re-read Forgotten Technologies to see if you hid any more groaners in there.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Glenn said...

I've long made the following observation on a likely trajectory for transportation in the U.S.

First we'll try to shift cars to alternative fuels, propane, CNG, biofuels.
Then we'll try to figure out electric vehicles.
Then maybe carpooling.
Then we might start thinking public transportation is a good idea.
Then perhaps we'll try moving closer to where we work; commuting is pretty silly.
Then we might realize that 80% of the jobs, especially for the salary class, are useless makework, simply to distribute money to the upper middle class.

This last was propounded by Buckminster Fuller. It's easy to criticize his inventions and philosophies (he thought industrial mass production was sustainable), but I think he was dead right on the nature of white collar jobs in industrial societies.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Caryn said...

@Adrian Ayres Fisher & Andy:

If I may, I think disdain for 'financial permaculture', disdain for general 'permaculture' like the aggressive dislike and disdain for SJW's, (Social Justice Warriors) which engendered such lively discussion in the last two weeks, as well as the distrust/disdain for carbon-caps & environmentalism in the face of climate change: IMHO, All stems only from a perceived or real hypocrisy on the part of those promoting these ideas.

As Andy said of 'financial permaculture', on the face of it - all of these ideas are pretty indisputably great and sound ideas! The disdain comes when people see the public proponents of these ideas preaching but not doing.

I've read and viewed some wonderfully informative work on permaculture as a farming practice. It is subtly, but fundamentally so completely different than the traditional western farming planning and process, it could (and is) a whole lifestyle/ worldview/ philosophy. OTOH: There is only 1 permaculture organization here in Hong Kong and I've tried to join to learn more go and volunteer on their gardens and learn how-to's, but as yet, they've only really exhibited expending their resources in flying around SE Asia to spread their word. Their website is not a place to find good tips, ask questions etc. but consistently shows glam photos of their regional jet-setting, (and of course fund raising), "Here we are in Bali!", "Join us for our conference on the gorgeous beaches of Phuket!". This suggests to me that this particular group does not really have sustainable gardening/farming philosophy first and foremost in their minds, but are using this trend to fund some really great vacations.

In the same way many 'commoner' people were easy prey to climate change denier propaganda because Al Gore or Leonardo DiCaprio kept mansions and were flying in private jets to exotic capitals to preach climate change awareness. Of course it looks like a scam! "If they can't be bothered to walk the walk, they're obviously not genuinely worried. Why should I trust what they are saying, change/ cut back on my lifestyle so THEY can fly some more?" I think there is also an element of this suspicion of hypocrisy in the backlash to Social Justice - but I don't want to get into beating that dead horse anymore than it has been. :)

Caryn said...

Speaking of beating dead horses, this may be another one, but: I was debating on posting a reply earlier to Juandonjuan. Juan mentioned in his comment, "The few remaining beneficiaries of the current paradigm have a VERY large incentive to distract/divide us while they work on their exit strategy."

I think the notion that at least some, maybe many of the elites or higher end salaried classes benefitting from the current system are aware and making their exit strategy is false or at least very overblown. There may be a tiny number buying/building luxury bunker compounds in NZ or other pristine isolated spots, but only a tiny few, if any really believe collapse could happen to THEM. The concern of saving the planet, going green, the concepts of living sustainably, doing DIY everything from electronics to soap to soup…. I find myself in the odd position of knowing a pretty large number of people in these classes here in the expat community and from what I see - any pretense to sustainability is entirely faddish. It is treated and enacted as the latest cool bandwagon to jump onto as well as new marketing opportunities. e.g.: These are people who make their own soap from expensive exotic oils shipped from 1/2 way around the world, (and then sell it via pop-up-shop for $60 per bar!). i-herb is their very favorite shopping site, even for coconut oil, produced here in Asia, shipped to i-herb in the U.S. and shipped back to them here in Asia. It's i-herb, so it's better. They visibly cringe when I tell them I make soap from rendered beef fat. They're not vegetarians. Fat is just gross.
e.g. the same person who screams a righteous indignation at a grocery store clerk that the apples are wrapped in plastic, (non-biodegradable-petroleum-products!!!) is in the next breath asking for holiday tips for Tuscany, or Whistler or best hotels in London…. Giving up flying away for vay-cay at each and every bank holiday is NOT on their agenda.
I strongly suspect even those luxury NZ compounds are far more luxury than bunker and the compromise on luxury needed for them to become self-sustaining is simply NOT an acceptable consideration.

I know this is only anecdotal evidence, so take it as you will, but I am convinced that the elites and beneficiaries are far more senile than most of us suspect. I often feel like some anthropological spy in these conversations.

Shane W said...

thanks so much for this oasis of sanity in an otherwise insane world, & yes, I will cop to refreshing more than a few times of a Wed. night!
Only a few things, regarding the boom/bust cycles, in your post, JMG, you indicate that this will take place repeatedly over many years, but I'm wondering if you've underestimated the effects of politics on this cycle? Middle eastern politics (ISIS and other guerrilla warfare) are already having an effect on the supply side, destroying petroleum infrastructure and preventing oil that would otherwise come to market in a peaceful/stable time, and it's only a matter of time before politics rears its nasty head on the demand side, as Western industrial countries that are top consumers start to come apart? Maybe this is where Trump and all the other domestic political issues tie into peak oil? I just don't see the boom/bust cycle playing out to the very end before it gets overwhelmed by the politics of the havoc it will wreak on societies (warfare, revolution, national dissolution, loss of empire, etc.) Of course, once one country gets shoved out (or down) of the petroleum market, I'm sure some other will be there to take its place.

Shane W said...

I second your observations--I was involved in a group like that last year, and I quickly found out that they just weren't serious about things.

Max Osman said...

I personally disagree with the belief that oil prices went down because someone pumped too much. Everytime the Federal Reserves doesn't renew QE the price of oil goes down.
This shows to me that without subsidies by the government, most oil today cannot break even.

Bill Pulliam said...

Adrian re Permaculture (tm), Just speaking for myself...

The problem I see is not with the ideas themselves. None of the individual pieces are really new; in fact it is really a compilation of many time-tested schemes from around thw world worked into a framework of 1970s era ecosystem ecology, and as mainstream green movemennts go its conceptual underpinnings are actually quite sound. The issues are with the implementation, and they are several.

First, as you note, many people take a fairly cookie cutter (or almost holy scripture) approach to it, just transplanting the original Autsralian designs to wherever they happen to be. If one were really following the basic ideas, one would start with your own native ecosystems, examine how they function, and build from them. I haven't seen much of this; instead I see a lot of non-native bamboo plantations.

A more insidious problem that I see is that Permaculture (tm) kind of became a pyramid scheme. The term was registered and licensed so that you cannot legally use it without having taken an officially sanctioned course. That is why I always add the sarcastic (tm) after the word. So what I saw whas Permaculture (tm) training schools mostly training people so they could then charge to train other people. Implementations were mostly "demonstration projects" intended for intructional purposes. None of this seemed to really be geared towards actually making any real significant dent in the way we grow food, dispose of waste, etc. etc. etc. on anything but the tiniest scale. A lot of talk... a WHOLE lot of talk, and training, and training trainers, but only pretty small scale actions in most cases. Sure there is nothing wrong with people making a living, but it seemed to become a pretty circular process.

Again, just speaking for myself

beneaththesurface said...

A few months ago my newest housemate, who works for an environmental consulting form, was discussing climate change and prospects for renewable energy. During the discussion, I brought up peak oil. He looked at me, and in a rather condescending, know-it-all tone, dismissed me, saying, "We don't have to worry about peak oil. There's enough oil to last hundreds of years." He didn't know that I have quite extensively studied the peak oil issue for the last decade. I thought about challenging his statement, but all I said was "Well, I obviously disagree" and left it for another time when I (or we) would be up for such a discussion. I think he is fed a lot of misleading data from the EIA at his job.

It's interesting to me how climate change denialism gets a completely different reaction in typical liberal environmental circles than does peak oil denialism. If I were amongst a group of mainstream environmentalists, and denied that anthropogenic climate change was occurring, I'm sure I would get trounced on for being ignorant, anti-science, influenced by propaganda, etc. Yet peak oil denialists don't get trounced on in these circles for being ignorant, anti-science, and influenced by propaganda, even though the concept of peak oil (and the specifics of depletion rates) has pretty credible scientific research backing it (and frankly, much easier-to-understand scientific concepts for the average person than that of climate change). Instead, I get trounced on for even bringing up peak oil. It seems to be a double standard in much of the environmental community.

I'm wondering if peak oil will ever get more media attention that it does now. (It probably won't ever get the same amount of media mention as climate change). Or, will all the consequences of peak oil and the limits to growth continue to make the daily news, with the underlying energy reality hidden beneath the surface for most people?

Cherokee Organics said...


I've been reading your blog and books for years now and I appreciate your voice and the time that you have given this project. It has certainly changed my worldview and actions.

As you may be aware, I've recently been reading the Merlin book and the insights gleaned from that book are profound. Sometimes, I get a bit uncertain about the unusual life that I live down here, the choices that I have made, and the sacrifices that I have endured to live that life. Certainly few seem to want to take that path. And many laugh at me and are all too happy to question me to my face.

Then along comes the book and I clearly see the substitution and subversion of ancient ways into the current paradigms and my breath is taken away at the sheer audacity of it all. I mean seriously, subverting the icon of the Tree of Life is just, I dunno, but, wow. And then in the midst of it all is a path: that of the heussawr and whilst I certainly don't claim that as it would be a big call, it also warms my heart as it is the closest to my lived day to day experience.

In another weird circumstance yesterday, I finally had a reasonable internet discussion with someone who has been deliberately contrary for more years than I care to recall, but has real world experience so can't be easily ignored. Anyway, to cut a long story short he and I finally came to the agreement that off grid solar power systems make little to no financial sense at all and that was the end of a long debate on the subject over a huge period of time and threads. You know my thoughts already on that matter, off grid solar power is good and resilient, but it is most certainly not undertaken for financial reasons.

Which brings me to my next point: I’m starting to believe that contrition and atonement are the most suitable paths for our species given the damage to the biosphere already baked into the cake. Everything else is just talk and escalation.



Janet D said...

Re: permaculture. I've said it before, but it bears repeating....the people (and there are starting to be many) that are successfully implementing regenerative design/permaculture (and there are starting to be more that are getting significant yields, financial and otherwise) are not sitting in meetings and they rarely attend conferences. They are too busy on their own land. Sometimes they do consulting or teach skills-based workshops, but the people who are their customers are also too busy to attend "permaculture-support-group" type meetings. There are a lot of people gaining "green wizard" skills through permaculture, but you gotta get on the path in a serious way (meaning serious study/research) to be able to find them.

Stein L said...

@ C J -- thanks for the link to the energy trap article.

It points to something I have used in presentations and my own writings: the fact that the transition to alternative energy sources is going to require the use of tremendous amounts of fossil energy, because of the infrastructure that needs to be put into place. We'll experience a deficit due to the energy required to maintain business as usual, while we also need to divert energy to the transition. Well explained in your link.

I have a lot of dealings with people who are pro-renewables and alternative energy sources. Almost without fail, they seem to believe that the alternatives will be up and running at the snap of their fingers. It took at least a hundred years to get the infrastructure we're presently using into place, in various areas. Replacing fossil fuels with hydro, wind, solar, nuclear to a sufficient extent to offset global warming worries will take decades -- and will require the use of heavy machinery that can't be fueled with batteries. (Just imagine a heavy earth mover drawing power from a battery bank, you won't move much earth).

Sure, solar and wind is being installed at a rate that outpaces the IEA projections, but are still only delivering a small fraction of the energy required to keep things going without major disruptions.

We're in a bind, heavily reliant on fossil fuels at the moment we're understanding the serious consequences of our reliance on same. And while the major infrastructure now in place was built with cheap fossil fuels, from an energy returned on energy invested view; the transition to needed replacement infrastructure will have to take place with fossil fuels that are much more expensive to extract and put to us. Many of which are also dirtier, thus contributing to the problem while we're trying to solve it.

When I explain this to the renewables adepts, they're initially unwilling to accept the argument. But it does sink in, eventually.

latheChuck said...

STOP THE PRESSES! I just got an announcement of a new book: "Lukewarming: The New Climate Science That Changes Everything", by Patrick Michaels and Paul Knapapenberger. According to the blurb: "climate change is real, and partially man-made, but it is becoming obvious that far more warming has been forecast than is going to occur." So what? It's published by the CATO Institute, which has been at the center of Libertarian skepticism. Getting THEM to turn from "anthropological global warming is a globalist conspiracy" to "well, yes, of course it's happening" seems like a game-changer to me. Even our blog host would agree that some of the warming forecasts are apocalyptically overblown, so there may be common ground here.

Or, maybe it's just an orderly retreat in the face of overwhelming opposition. Either way, it's a fresh sign of reason.

John Roth said...

Congratulations on reaching ten years. Here’s to another ten.

@Don Plummer

You might want to read the takedown for the GM mosquito and Zika outbreak conspiracy theories before spreading it further. It’s fairly long and takes a careful read for the details. (I liked the cat picture at the top of the article.) Also for more conspiracy theories:

Phil Harris said...

I very much value the conversations this week.

Re – ‘population ups and downs’. Just a thought; human kind has done large-scale famines: I think of recent ‘modernisation’ (disturbance of complex previous organisation perhaps); e.g. British early industrialisation & ‘globalised’ market economy and huge famine in parts of Ireland & Bengal. Specifically market ideology exacerbated the Irish famine and another type of ‘modernisation’ ideology played a part in Stalin’s 1930s Ukraine and in Mao’s Revolution.

Re – ‘feedback & control systems in industrial & other economies’. Again a couple of thoughts: CAPEX - capital expenditure - in many oil provinces round the globe saw an enormous increase in the last 5 or 6 years relative to the amount of new production engendered, (‘diminishing returns’), though some more of the latter costly stuff is still in the pipe-line. As an example of high-cost production Euan Mearns says this today of North Sea & Europe, Fig. 11 ” … The dashed line shows that European production has been essentially flat for three years but is now showing signs of rising, the result of the industry working flat out for 5 years on the back of $100 oil.” Euan also makes a point about ‘real total costs’: “The cost of new marginal supply is high as is the cost of maintaining social services in Saudi Arabia and Iraq."

Nate Hagens has been making a point elsewhere for a while. Modern industrialisation has expanded and is maintained on oil which has provided a huge surplus of energy compared with its economic cost, which surplus has boosted the total expansion. If the total economic cost of oil doubles (all the way from discovery through an expanded delivery network through to tools to use the stuff – call it ‘industrial infrastructure’) say from 5% of the resulting total economic activity to 10% of economic activity then ‘we’ could expect half the resultant ‘surplus’ economy, not some minor 5% economic loss to fund more expensive oil. We all live in that ‘surplus economy', some of us to an extent a great deal more than others. I have been thinking about that one ever since Nate floated the concept!


Nastarana said...

Dear Bill Pulliam, I think that trademarking of the term 'permaculture' is no bad thing in itself. This way, USDA does not get to assert that they "own" the term, like they did with the word 'organic'. The permaculturalists do, I think, have some good ideas. The objection I have is that I am not willing to throw out the legacy of 400 years of development of ornamental plants. Man does not live by bread alone. We rose growers are discovering that we can grow our pampered beauties quite well without resorting to the array of chemicals which used to be considered essential.

Mark said...

On the topic of Permaculture, I did a PDC course last year. I wanted some fresh perspectives to go with my years of backyard gardening experience in preparation for setting up a new homestead and small farm. A couple of observations on it:

One of the major themes of permaculture, to work with nature rather than trying to control it, is helpful especially if you are new to gardening or have been approaching the natural world from an "I'm the boss" perspective, as a lot of gardeners reflexively do. The principles are helpful too, such as learning to observe before acting. Yes, much of the content is re-packaged ecology, organic gardening techniques and common sense, which may be irritating to some with lots of experience. But I think it's a useful toolkit for getting newbies into gardening or land management disciplines of various sorts. Just the "work with nature not against it" message is a great foundation.

The problem is all of the hoopla that comes along with it. Despite all its emphasis on observing, going slowly and not trying to dictate to nature, the movement's leading lights seem to have quite a bit of ego and zeal to them, a bit of a rock star vibe. And that plays into the way it is taught - instead of just focusing on the basics of how to do stuff there's quite a bit of this-will-save-the-world enthusiasm sprinkled in. Annoying. Not quite sure why. Bill Mollison himself doesn't seem to be the shy and retiring type, so maybe it started there. Maybe its considered helpful to strut and shock people a bit to wake them up. Or maybe leaders of any movement of the moment tend to be a bit tall for their height. But you probably wouldn't get the same vibe if you took a class on accounting software, say. I also did a Master Gardener course last year and that definitely had a more humble tone.

So I don't know. Separate out the heat and hype and there is still quite a bit of light from doing a PDC. I've found the lessons useful in setting up our new place. Although I might be overdoing it a bit on the swales.

Antonio Dias said...


I think the difference between the attitudes towards climate change and peak oil stem from the kinds of narratives the two support/challenge. We can tut-tut over climate change. It lets us feel we're still in control – even if only in a perverse way, "We can stop it if we try hard enough." While the limits to growth and the consequences of peak oil show us in no uncertain terms that we're not in control.

That's the last taboo.

Adrian Ayres Fisher said...

@Caryn and Bill P.

Re permaculture (long winded, so please have patience):

Thanks for your comments. Your discussion of permaculture groups that don't do much actual permaculture makes sense. And I completely agree with Bill's assessment of the underpinnings.

I didn't realize that there are legal issues involved. I, myself, have always been an ecological/regenerative gardener with a strong interest in using native plants wherever possible owing to my love of my own ecosystem and work in ecological restoration. Thus, I've not hesitated to utilize certain permaculture techniques (but not bamboo! Oh god(s) forfend! Nor Goumi berries, neither! :)) that I've learned from others or through books.

When a local permaculture institute started in a Chicago suburb, I looked at the prices they charge, realized I already understand and know how to do much of what they advertise, and decided not to take any courses. However, I always have viewed it more as a private school: a way for instructors to make a living--as music teachers, knitters, basketweavers or woodworkers might do--not as a scam or train the trainer sort of thing. I'm acquainted with a couple of permaculture practioners who are working with community gardeners in poor neighborhoods in Chicago, who are poor themselves. They don't travel much. I'm not sure most of the ones I know or have heard about locally are "legal."

A more general question might be the extent to which groups might get easily painted with a negative broad brush and perhaps stereotyped owing to practices or hypocrisy evident in a few individuals or even segments of the group. I find bright line categorization and judgement difficult in many cases. (Obviously excepting groups that indulge in or sanction practices such as murder, enslavement, torture, rape, stomping on rights such as freedom of religion or equal rights for all genders--and then there are things like mountaintop removal or allowing a town's water to be poisoned. But that's not really what we are discussing here.)

For example, owing to my membership in a sustainability group (not transition) with members from several towns, I'm acquainted with two women who live in a wealthy suburb near my home. If their town moves any iota towards resilient/sustainable/lower-carbon living, it will be due to their dedicated efforts. Yet both take their families to faraway places for christmas and spring break, etc. So I kind of laugh at them privately, because their flying habits (not to mention their expensive clothes and expensive everything else habits) are so directly at odds with their daily work. I admit to some class prejudice. Yet I can't condemn them as hypocrites and let it go. Better, I think, to work with them and push the envelope in conversation. In their town, at this time, if not them, then who? As the pope said recently, who am I to judge? (And I'm speaking as a naturally judgy person who works to keep that aspect of herself at bay.)

Dwig said...

John Michael and all,

Re: "...the unheralded demise of the Transition Town movement...". I'm reminded of Mark Twain's comment: "reports of my death were greatly exaggerated". In what may be a bit of synchronicity, the February 2016 issue of the "Transition Network Newsletter" features articles on burnout.

Crow Hill said...

JMG: Congratulations for ten years of ADR and thank you.

@Adrian : Thanks for bringing up the topic of ecological destruction. I find there is great immorality in the general indifference concerning the destruction of non-human beings (wild species) --except where they can be useful to humans.

On another topic, not unrelated, which is regularly mentioned in ADR, the dropping standard of living in the USA. It might be that it’s going down to the world norm.

It has been repeated over the past few decades that should all the inhabitants of the world adopt the average American way of life, the resources of several planet Earths would be needed. Water consumption : the average American consumes (-ed?) forty times as much as the average Ethiopian and twice as much as the average European.

Bob Patterson said...

1. The product of fracking is generally a thin, volatile liquid akin to a dirty liquid diesel fuel. Which why trains keep exploding when they derail (unlike cars filled with West Texas crude). In addition, this fracked oil has a lot less material that can be turned into plastics, so look for a price rise there.
2. The recent actions by Saudi Arabia, essentially pumping to the max, indicate that they believe an economic cataclysm is soon to befall the world, and soon most people will not be able to afford to pay for petroleum. In this thinking, selling every drop they can now and trying to perform an IPO of Aramco (to be paid cash now for all their reserves) makes sense.Never before has Saudi Arabia taken the dubious action of drastically increasing spending while pumping to extreme levels that lowers the oil price.
3. Another phenomenon is the net reductions in oil imports (excluding fracked oil) by Saudi Arabia's traditional customers (US and Europe). This has been going on for several years, so it is not a function of an economic downturn. Only the wildly varying demands from India and China have caused overall demand to rise, and those sectors have been hit with economic downturns (exemplified by reduced car sales).

Patricia Mathews said...

@ Nastarana - Yes! "Give us bread, and give us roses." One of my favorite inspirational songs back in the day.

The one I knew:

Except that John Denver didn't sing it on the album I had. A female soloist and a chorus of women slowly joining in.

The original:

I think this says it all.

Myriad said...

Looking back over the years I've followed the ADR, something occurred to me that is either going to sound trivially obvious or outrageously out of step, and I'm not even sure which. But here goes:

The problem with the original Peak Oil "movement" is that it was only about the future. So, like an end times cult, its life depended on its predicted schedules of disaster being accurate.

The strength of this blog is that although it's informed by sober assessment of the likely future, it's always really about the present. That's what makes it so different. (And perhaps why so many of its ideas are so well conveyed by fiction. Meaningful SF and fiction in general is always really about the present.)

Questions like "what does the future hold?" or "what is possible to eventually accomplish?" are only meaningful as aspects of deeper questions that are alive in the present, like "what should we strive for, today?"

Has anyone else noticed that just about every single piece of advice JMG offers would still be good advice even if his every prediction were wrong and it turns out that business as usual persists for another thousand years? At their core these ten years of essays aren't about what's coming to get us. They're about choices we can all make to live our present lives in the world as it is, dare I say, better. About how we could have been living all along. If that happens to also be good preparation for changes the future will bring, that's a nice bonus.

Odd that I didn't notice that sooner.

Fred said...

re: Financial Permaculture - when I did my PDC in 2010, we had a visit from Fred Kittelmann who explained a local Philly system he had started. It has since shut down. Ithaca, NY has a local currency system and work exchange from what I understand.

"Fred Kittelmann has a vision to provide Philadelphia with an alternative system of trade that is socially, environmentally, and economically progressive. Last year, he started a local currency called hOURS, which stands for “helluva Organized United Reciprocation System.” Since then, over 100 people have joined, sharing their skills in a variety of areas including catering, psychotherapy, tutoring, babysitting, writing, gardening, and office assistance.
Similar to Ithaca Hours, hOURS is an alternative local currency that people can use to exchange goods and services with other participants. hOURS is a "mutual credit" trading system that builds community and encourages people to share resources locally. But unlike other local currencies, hOURS is egalitarian in nature; all people's work is valued the same - by the time spent working. hOURS is free and open to everyone.
Here's how it works: individuals register with hOURS and list the goods or services they would like to offer, as well as goods or services that they need. Participants with common offerings/needs exchange the goods or services, paying with hOURS rather than US Currency. The provider's account is credited with the number of actual hours they spent providing services, which they can then use to obtain services from another hOURS participant. hOURS can also be spent before they are earned, which stimulates use of the system. CASHours are used as a medium of exchange for physical goods, since they can not be directly translated into a time value.
Nonprofit organizations can also participate in hOURS. Participants can donate their hOURS to local nonprofit organizations, which can use hOURS to obtain goods or services to further their missions.
The success of hOURS depends on the participation of people who live and work in Philadelphia. To join hOURS or for more information, contact Fred Kittelmann at (215) 551-1490 or Visit hOURS online at"

Moshe Braner said...

This relates to JMG's New-Year predictions a month go: Another sign of the tech bubble popping (again)? "LinkedIn shares dive more than 40 percent, $11 billion wiped out... LinkedIn shares were trading at 50 times forward 12-month earnings versus Twitter Inc's 29.5 times, Facebook Inc's 33.8... LinkedIn stock had already lost nearly a quarter of its value in the last three months."

pygmycory said...

With reference to the Zika virus and the Oxitech mosquitos, I had a look at some of the arguments pro and con and the articles and other information they're using, mostly because I find epidemology interesting, and because I'm not too keen on GMOs. I came to the conclusion that the microcephaly is highly unlikely to be caused by the release of Oxitech's mosquitoes for a few reasons:

-there appears to be a connection between the Zika virus and microcephaly in an outbreak in French Polynesia in 2014. I haven't been able to get references to a peer-reviewed source for that, though. It has produced Gillain-barre syndrome as well.
-viruses are quite capable of mutating to increase virulence all by themselves, and viruses in this family do sometimes produce central nervous system effects.
-the Zika virus is a single-stranded RNA virus that doesn't have a DNA phase. That makes it a lot harder for genes to move between the virus and mosquito or human DNA.

There's no need invoke gene travel in odd directions to get increased virulence and microcephaly. It is easier to get this effect through standard genetic drift and founder effect of genetic bottlenecks when the virus moves to a new area. Occams Razor.

That said, the Discover blog was extremely rude, and I think they should have stuck to disproving the things they had a problem with, rather than attacking the people holding the ideas. There's also the issue that much of the specific information on the Oxitech mosquitos comes from research funded by Oxitech and run at least partly by the company's employees and the like. That meant that I avoided considering that information when deciding who I believed.

The Discover blog focused on attacking the idea of the mosquitoes causing the Zika virus, rather than the idea it might be causing the microcephaly. Since the Zika virus has existed in Africa for a very long time before the Brazil outbreak with the unusual microcephaly, I think Zika can be safely said not to be caused by Oxitech's mosquitoes.

Somewhatstunned said...

Adrian Ayres Fisher said:

(And I'm speaking as a naturally judgy person who works to keep that aspect of herself at bay.)

Big grin, coz "me too". I enjoy your posts, but that sentence particularly tickled me. :)

Moshe Braner said...

Bob Patterson said:
"2. The recent actions by Saudi Arabia, essentially pumping to the max, indicate that they believe an economic cataclysm is soon to befall the world, ... selling every drop they can now and trying to perform an IPO of Aramco (to be paid cash now for all their reserves) makes sense."

- how does the exchange of a real physical resource that will always have value, with pieces of paper that only have notional value, "make sense"? Also, if their goal was to gather those little pieces of paper with pictures of dead presidents, they could get more of them in total, while keeping more of their physical resource for the future, if they were to cut "production" by half.

Perhaps what the Saudi ruling class are really expecting is to be deposed?

"3. Another phenomenon is the net reductions in oil imports (excluding fracked oil) by Saudi Arabia's traditional customers (US and Europe). This has been going on for several years, so it is not a function of an economic downturn."

- the economic downturn started in 2007, mind you. Before fracking got big.

"Only the wildly varying demands from India and China have caused overall demand to rise, and those sectors have been hit with economic downturns (exemplified by reduced car sales)."

- there is a constant drumbeat in the mainstream media about Chinese demand "slowing", but what they really mean is that its rate of growth is slower. But it's still growing. More cars are sold in China each month than in the US (or any other country). And most of those cars (unlike in the US) are sold to people who did not own a car previously. How can that result in lower demand for oil?

Some years back I was giving talks about peak oil and predicting that the future of the world economy will be like a slapstick movie where the "hero" got knocked on the head and is lying under a table, slowly regains consciousness and strength, starts to stand up (not realizing he's under a table), hits head again, rinse and repeat.

Cherokee Organics said...


Ah, not Space Lizards unfortunately, but Permaculture. Very amusing all the same.



Helen Highwater said...

Hi - I submitted a comment a couple of days ago about the use of eagles to take down drones, but it never got published on the website. I'm just wondering why it was unacceptable.

rapier said...

Peak money, as in credit and lots of it, is what staved off peak oil. Combined with the nonsensical urges of businessmen, corporations and entire countries to minimize their profits if not eagerly embrace losing money. It's impossible to overstate how wrong Economics, big E, is on markets and doubly impossible, as if that's possible, for Economics to understand human behavior. A talent Economics has been touting it possesses for a couple of decades now.

Someday if there is still a formal discipline called History this age will surely be called the age of Economics.

Unknown said...

(Deborah Bender)

I hope this isn't too off topic.

Robert Heinlein was just mentioned on Galabes. That reminded me that yesterday I saw a squib in the newspaper saying that now that all combat positions in the armed services are open to women, perhaps they should be required to register with Selective Service at the age of eighteen. I anticipated the dropping of this shoe.

It got me thinking about Starship Troopers (the novel, not the movie). In the book, the armed services are volunteer and they accept everyone, including disabled people. If you volunteer, you will certainly be deployed, as there is a war on. The incentive for volunteering is that only service members and veterans are eligible to vote. A character who seems to represent authorial viewpoint argues that the right to vote is different from other civil rights; it ought to be contingent on making some contribution to society besides drawing breath, and if not military service, then what?

When I read this as a teenager, it made sense to me. Later when people were calling Heinlein a fascist, I reread the book to see if I'd missed something. It still seemed a reasonable proposition though I'd want a noncombatant option for conscientious objectors.

I'm not sure where I stand today on the draft and a standing army in "peacetime", but if we have a draft, I can't think of an argument for exempting women that would not also bar women from combat. It would be different if American women risked their lives every time they got pregnant as we once did. The current draft law is manifestly unfair to men.

Justin said...

Regarding permaculture and Transition Towns: Although I have a great deal of respect for Rob Hopkins, and consider him to be a relevant voice, I went to a local Transition Town event once - not going to say which one. The average age was 50. The average vehicle was a three way split between a truck, a prius, and a normal 4-door. Most of these had been bought after the heady days of 2008, when killing your neighbor with a golf club to take his SPAM was months away (I went in 2013). The group was comprised of nice people (I didn't actually live in the community, but because it's the only one within a long way I checked it out). They had a greenhouse on one member's property, which they were starting vegetables in, and that was it (I'm sure many of the members had gardens at home, at least I hope so). The property had a giant house, with the obligatory PV panels (no hot water panels though). Of course there are other, more successful transition towns out there. I think Peterborough is the best Canadian example, although I've never been.

Regarding the notion of elite exit strategies: Who knows? If you have millions of dollars, a bolthole in New Zealand or somewhere, and a contract to fly yourself and your family there (likely with a company engaged in separating rich, paranoid fools from their money), might be a common purchase bought in the same spirit that so much 'prepper' gear gets bought in - engaging in a power fantasy and assuaging one's worries about where the food comes from without any real thought into surviving a Long Descent as opposed to Red Dawn or The Walking Dead. - Actually, selling fictional evac flights and boltholes to Wall Street types is a good business model which I'm sure is doing well these days. On the other hand, the 'senility of the elite' is certainly on display whenever Trump or Sanders makes a big push. The one person I have had any conversations with who could be said to belong to the 'elite' is definitely senile despite only being 40. His business makes a loss, but he goes drinking with the right government officials and then makes a profit afterwards. It costs me money to drink, he's clearly very special if he can make money getting sloshed.

Pygmycory, Damon, cheeers. Ponds are lovely, and although Eastern Canada isn't really appropriate (although in 20 years who knows), I love those greenhouse-over swimming pool aquaculture/greenhouse setups. I both hope and expect to see a lot of them over the coming years. It seems like clear plastic sheeting is going to be valuable.

Something interesting about Sander's campaign is the massive age gap. He has 85% in 18-24, and not too much less in 25-34 and 35-44. Much less over that. Not bad for a 74 year old Jew who looks like Doc Brown. JMG, what do you think the consequences of a Cruz/Clinton election would be, when you consider that almost nobody under 45 likes either of them?

patriciaormsby said...

@Caryn, please keep beating that dead horse! The information you provide is relevant to me. I used to hang out with and work for the hypocrites you describe (rich greens in Tokyo, in my case). It was fun jetting off with them and staying at luxurious hotels, and the TV (which I have successfully blocked from view now) really portrays such places as THE LIFE, but I don't miss it at all. It was clear that we were engaged in the stark raving opposite of what actually needed to be done. Electromagnetic hypersensitivity gave me the final grand shove, but I'm glad it did. Deep down, those people know just how far from reality they reside. I sleep much better because of the choices I've made. But for the vast majority of people, if they have the means to paper over reality with big smiley faces, that's what they are going to do.

The ones that have willingly opened their eyes are collapsing in the way JMG suggests, they will be trying to establish good relations with their neighbors. There is no place a person can run where what is coming will not reach out to bite them.

Please tell me how you make soap from rendered beef fat! I've not actually tried making lye from hardwood ashes yet, but that's what I'd have to do here, and will do once the need presents itself, and hopefully before then for practice.

Damo said...


Nice observation, and one that I reached myself (although not pertaining to ADR) a few years ago. After a couple of years as a mature aged student at university, I realised I was a *lot* happier, despite living on a fraction of the income. Some of this had to do with the student lifestyle, but most of it was the pleasures of making do with less. My enforced frugality has carried over after graduation and subsequent employment. Even if peak oil does not eventuate in my lifetime, Australia is due a major recession in the near future and these ideas and choices are useful.

Kfish said...

Myriad: I really like your idea of this blog being about what to do with the present. Sharon Astyk talked on her blog about the "Anyway Project": what would you do to prepare for a disaster, that you should be doing anyway?

Daily concrete actions really are the best antidote for empty dreams.

John Michael Greer said...

Rob, very much so -- but don't forget to factor in the amount of investment that has been poured into the oil industry. The people who made those investments expected to profit from them, and in many cases propped up vast teetering heaps of financial engineering atop them; as the price of oil slides, those rickety structures face collapse, and will certainly bring reputations, fortunes, and economies crashing down with them.

Deedl, exactly, and those are points I've made here repeatedly.

Ed, that kind of jagged curve is the way change actually happens in the real world. We'll get into the reasons for that shortly.

Inohuri, you have to admit that there's a certain entertainment value, after being shouted down for years, in being one of the few who got it right...

Mustard, no argument there. For a variety of reasons, including the ones you've noted, the Middle East is likely to be a very difficult place to be for the next decade or so.

Caryn, well, yes -- the only difference between what I said before and what I'm saying now is that back then, I said "This is going to happen," and now I'm saying "this has happened."

Mandymeeks, I've noticed the same thing about environmentalists -- they seem to be even more committed to the mythology of perpetual progress than the population at large -- and that makes my head hurt. When I got involved in all this stuff, back in the 1970s, it was precisely the environmentalists who understood most clearly that limitless growth on a finite planet is a recipe for disaster. No, I hadn't seen the Hills Group's study; thanks for the hint, and I'll see if I can chase down a copy.

Peak.singularity, Bardi's always worth reading, though often worth disagreeing with as well!

SumErgoSum, I'm quite sure you're right about people forgetting, for the simple reason that that's been a constant theme all the way through the process so far. It's astonishing how easily people make themselves forget, for example, that when a tech stock has a price/earnings ratio well up in three figures and no credible plan to make a profit, its stock price is heading for a spectacular crash, or that betting the farm on constantly rising energy prices has turned out to be a really bad choice over and over again.

Stein, exactly. What I call the tertiary economy -- the economy of money -- has become totally detached from the primary and secondary economies -- the economies of natural systems and of real, nonfinancial goods and services, respectively -- and is spinning its wheels in a void. The economy is in "recovery" because people look purely at tertiary economy statistics, and avoid noticing the rolling collapse of the two more real economies -- and they'll keep doing it until they suddenly discover that they can't get goods and services they need, no matter how much money they wave around.

Angela, you need to pay attention to watersheds and hydrology. Where I live isn't all that far away from where fracking is going on as the crow flies, but we don't get water from the fracking regions, and there are mountains and rivers in the way. This end of Maryland got ignored by the fracking companies because the shale here has no oil in it, just natural gas, and that's too cheap to be worth the bother.

Larry, yep. There you see the beginning of the end of the "fracking miracle" right before your eyes.

John Michael Greer said...

Don, thanks for the links.

Renovator, southern Florida is already getting smacked. So are various points on the Atlantic coast -- I've been told by people who live there, for example, that the recent winter storm Jonas caused more damage to some parts of coastal New Jersey than the much-ballyhooed Hurricane Sandy. Keep a weather eye out, and you'll see much more of the same kind in the years immediately ahead.

Phil, ah, yes, the hubris of the privileged. "We have cracked all the big problems." Easy to say, and easy to believe, if you don't have any personal contact with the consequences of being wrong.

Latefall, okay -- what economic role do you see stilts having in the Lakeland Republic, other than giving kids something to do?

John, nope, this is about where I thought we'd be by now: moving steadily deeper into economic turmoil and a massive crisis of legitimacy in the political sphere, with a rising spiral of crises hammering America's fraying global hegemony and the global economy tipping further and further out of kilter. My collapse-of-USA novel Twilight's Last Gleaming is set in the 2024-2026 window, for example.

Zaphod, that's the thing that makes this project as easy as shooting fish in a barrel, on the one hand, and an exercise in frustration on the other. Look at history and there's no need to wonder about how our civilization is going to go down -- there's a specific, utterly predictable sequence of events that marks the end stages of a civilization's lifespan, and it isn't even difficult to fit that to the slight differences setting our civilization apart from others. The frustration is that the vast majority of people, faced by this, will insist at the top of their lungs that this perfectly predictable, reliable, already-well-under-way sequence of events can't possibly happen to us -- no, no, the future has got to follow some delusional Hollywood fantasy instead, and no matter how many times the fantasy fails to predict the future while history gets it dead right, they just keep on yammering about how realistic the fantasy is and how unrealistic the real world has to be...

Adrian, I'm sorry to say that I'll be returning to the quadrennial presidential circus in due time, if only because it's hard to find a better example of acute institutional failure. Still, you're welcome.

Bill, why should petroleum producers damp the cycle? They profit from it. When the boom times come, they suck up investment money and live high on the hog; when the bust comes, they declare bankruptcy and walk away from the wreckage. From their perspective, what's not to like?

Unknown, yes, and there are plenty of others. I could fill an entire post to the bursting point by giving one paragraph to each of the important resources that are being depleted, polluted, or both to the point of uselessness.

Kyoto, my guess is that over the next three years or so, the entire tar sands industry will crash and burn, and take much of the Canadian economy down with it. Then the price of oil will creep back up again, and after a while some clever fool will figure out how to convince investors to forget about what happened the last time they invested in tar sands, and begin the cycle again. Not too many times around that cycle, and there will no longer be a Canadian economy left!

Twilight, nicely summarized. Yes, and a whole series of other consequences of depletion and pollution are waiting in line with baseball bats and brass knuckles. Their turns are coming.

Adrian, yep. Welcome to the endgame of industrial society.

John Michael Greer said...

Andy, and as long as you remain stuck in the realm of feel-good verbiage, you'll no doubt respond the same way. I'd challenge you to look into what "financial permaculture" actually amounts to in practice.

Clay, many thanks for the data point! That's something I was expecting to see, and simply hadn't had time to chase down the information that would have shown it. You're right, of course, that it's an important marker on the downward slope.

Ien, I never understood it either, which is of course where this blog comes from.

Revere, or we could ask the Red Baron to do it...

Dammerung, no, there you're quite wrong. It's not just a pump-and-dump scheme -- that was the whole point of this week's post. The price of oil will soar, placing one set of crippling stresses on the economy, and then demand destruction and frantic investment will cut in again and bring it back down, placing another set of crippling stresses on the economy. Then it will happen again, and again, and again, each time shoving more Americans out the exit door of the official economy into Third World conditions and loading insupportable stresses on what's left of our political and social institutions. Insisting that this time it's different, that the price of oil will finally get around to following a linear course up and up and up, is exactly the sort of mistake that got so many people in the peak oil scene to make so many failed predictions over the last two decades!

Andy, sorry, but yes, you're worshipping at the altar of progress, embracing a "technology will save us!" mythology that the facts won't support. Let me write this on that pine board: renewables contribute almost nothing to transportation fuels, and yet the price of transportation fuels has been dropping as fast or faster than any other form of energy. That proves that the collapse in energy prices has little or nothing to do with the very modest rate at which renewable technology has been deployed, and far more to do with demand destruction and the lag times sketched out in this week's post. As long as you believe what the Rocky Mountain Institute says, by the way, you're guaranteeing that you'll be blindsided by the future -- you might take the time to check out the track record of its predictions sometime.

Nick, Bart Simpson is apparently advising a lot of people these days!

CJ, Murphy's blog is great. It's a fine counterbalance to the sort of handwaving that insists "I know renewables can save us!" and never gets down into the grubby realm of hard numbers and harder facts.

234567, thanks for the report from the trenches! All this corresponds exactly to what I've heard from other oilmen who've commented here and elsewhere.

Andy, yep. It's going to get quite a bit uglier as we proceed.

John Michael Greer said...

Globus, that would be great if accurate information on net energy were easy to come by. Unfortunately, it isn't.

Goldmund, I'm delighted to hear it! As for the print edition, it's in process -- I've recently exchanged emails with the person who's working on it. The moment things are ready for subscribers to sign up, I'll post something.

Buddha, you're welcome and thank you! Cheesemaking is a lot of fun -- my wife and I used to do quite a bit of it before her food allergies blew up. (Long story.) Don't neglect the simple fresh cheeses -- queso blanco, which is a Mexican cheese made with vinegar, was a major fave of ours, and really quick and easy to make.

Justin, fascinating. I didn't know that. It would be interesting to analyze petroleum investment to see if there's a predictable cycle there, too.

Bruce, go to the blog's main page, type in the search string "catabolic collapse" in the little window at the top left, and you'll get all of it.

Raven, effectively none. It's simply another depleting hydrocarbon resource.

Eric, ah, you noticed that, too? Anything other than "we triumph over global warming" or "we all die screaming" is dismissed as "denialism," which just goes to show the deathgrip that the progress-vs.-apocalypse binary still has on the collective imagination. My guess is that once climate change really begins to land heavy body blows on industrial civilization -- rapidly rising sea levels due to the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet is my best guess as to how that will happen first -- the people who are now yelling about climate change will abruptly find something else to talk about that allows them to cling to their preferred view of reality.

Brian, you're forgetting about letters to the editor! The print edition will have a substantial letters to the editor column, which will serve much the same role as this comment page.

Tim, the print edition should be available in Canada and elsewhere, though it will no doubt cost more to cover the postage. I'll make sure to ask the people involved about that.

Jim, wizards and engineers actually have a lot in common -- in particular, both have to deal constantly with the mismatch between theoretical models and the irrepressible crankiness of the real world!

Martin, supply is only part of the picture. Look at total worldwide petroleum consumption and you'll find that it's declined noticeably -- this is why the increased supply is having such a dramatic effect on prices. There have been plenty of other times that supply has gone up without crashing the price of oil by a comparable percentage.

Manuel, thanks for this! I'll have to give it a close look -- the rise and fall of the peat economy might contain some very useful lessons for the current case.

John Michael Greer said...

Jbucks, what happens, of course, is that people respond to the low price of oil by increasing their consumption again -- not instantly, but over time. The high-mileage compact gets old and they decide to buy an SUV; they stop worrying about energy efficiency; they respond to low plane fares by taking more vacations, etc. It's the flipside of what happens on the other end of the cycle, with an approximately equal lag time.

Stuart, good. The fact that conventional oil has remained stuck on a plateau shows that they must also be producing conventional fields flat out, to compensate for the impact of depletion. As that accelerates, and for geological reasons it has to do so, we get more downward pressure on production.

Hubertus, as long as you keep looking for a date of collapse, you'll keep on missing the collapse that's going on bit by bit around you right now.

Perl Hacker, I don't think it would have required global consensus. If one major nation had pursued a postpetroleum economy in advance, showed that it could be done while retaining a tolerable standard of living, and pioneered the technologies that would have been most useful for that, there was a reasonable chance that other nations would follow suit as the downsides of the petroleum economy became ever harder to ignore. The US nearly became that nation in the late 1970s, and then crumpled and buried its head in the Reagan-era sands. I watched that happen; I can't prove that it would have worked, of course, but my take then and now is that it had a real chance of working -- and the collective failure of courage and compassion that doomed the experiment, to my mind, is one of the great tragedies of history.

Joel, I've been watching the Clinton debacle and Sanders' rise with quite some interest. At this point, unless something really dramatic happens, I expect Clinton's campaign to implode completely in the next few months -- once Clinton loses the illusion of inevitability, she's toast, because she's a stunningly inept candidate who seems unable to give the American people a reason to vote for her. The question is who will be tabbed to replace her. My guess is Biden, but we'll see. As for Into the Ruins, delighted to hear it!

Robert, thank you. Yes, those are also factors -- it would probably take a 40,000-word book to sketch out a really thorough model of oil price vagaries, so I left out a lot of details.

Doomerdoc, by "reducing demand" do you mean "voluntarily reducing demand on a national or global scale"? If so, I won't argue at all. If you mean "reducing your own personal demand as a strategy for dealing with supply depletion," there I'll argue; likewise if you mean "involuntary abandonment of high-demand lifestyle choices due to the raw economic impact of depletion."

Dammerung, au contraire. Magic is the art and science of causing change in consciousness in accordance with will, and one of the things a good practical knowledge of magic will do for you is teach you good ways to tell when you're fooling yourself to avoid dealing with some unwelcome objective or subjective circumstance. Space lizards are a great example; the lizard fanciers believe in them because that's easier than admitting that their own choices are creating a world they don't like.

Llamawalker, "dinosaur butts" is a keeper. As for the way that people respond to unwelcome change, well, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross sketched it out in fine detail many years ago: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A fixation on Star Wars backed up by a fusion delusion is a good example of denial...

Doctor W., I'll put some thought into it.

Pygmycory, exactly. We'll see whether that's one of the drivers of volatility as things proceed...

Adrian, thank you for that! Especially considering the place and date when it was written -- for a lot of people in Warsaw in 1944, the end of the world was getting very, very close.

John Michael Greer said...

Varun, any time -- as long as the article is published intact and has the original URL appended as a blog, it can be reprinted.

Eric, the last figures I saw on fusion -- which are admittedly old -- suggested that a commercial fusion plant would cost at least ten times as much to build and operate as a conventional fission plant does, and produce only about the same amount of electricity. The travails of the ITER suggest that the actual cost might be another two orders of magnitude beyond that. In other words, you're quite right -- even if fusion power turns out to be technically possible, it's not economically viable by any measure.

John, thanks for the data point. I'd gotten the sense that the economic situation here in the US has gotten sharply worse for a lot of people recently -- your report seems to confirm that.

Kevin, I remember the story well! You're quite right that the knock-on effects of petroleum depletion are at least as serious as the straightforward ones: consider what will happen as fuel shortages hit construction and mining equipment, to name only one example.

Glenn, that's quite remarkable. I didn't consciously intend that pun at all, which is sad, because that's exactly the kind of groaner I like to make. As to your sequence, possible, but we're running out of time for any kind of controlled attempt to shift to something else...

Caryn, that's certainly my take on things. The very wealthy are no brighter than the rest of us -- nearly all of them got their wealth by the simple expedient of being born into the right family -- and their upbringing and lifestyles leave them hopelessly detached from the real world.

Shane, no, that's part of the model. One of the ways that demand destruction can take place is that entire countries can wreck themselves, thus sharply decreasing their ability to import and consume oil.

Max, excellent. Certainly the marginal production that's responsible for nearly all the recent increases doesn't break even at all.

Beneath, my view is that climate change is acceptable because it feeds the core narrative of our culture, the notion that we dominate nature. "Look at us -- we're so powerful that we can wreck the climate!" Peak oil is unacceptable because it shows that we're subject to natural limits, and that's utterly taboo.

Cherokee, excellent! "Contrition and atonement" -- not the sort of thing most people are willing to think about, but yes, of course you're correct.

LatheChuck, interesting. I bet they find some way to work it back around to "but we shouldn't cut subsidies for the oil industry, no no no."

Dwig, I know there are still Transition groups out there, but it's been a long time since I've seen anyone proposing that the original plan is going to save the world -- and of course we both know that exactly that claim was made, at great volume, back in the day. I think it's quite possible that surviving Transition groups will, well, transition into something more durable and useful, but the original movement, as far as I can tell, seems to have foundered.

John Michael Greer said...

Bob, I read the Saudi situation differently. My guess is that they have a lot less money set aside than they claim, they miscalculated drastically when they pumped into a falling market in the hopes of bankrupting their rivals, and are facing economic and political collapse in short order. But we'll see.

Myriad, excellent! You get tonight's gold star for that. Exactly; a strategy that's going to be meaningful for the future has to be viable in the present, or it'll never be more than a daydream. As it happens, a great many of the things that are needed for the deindustrial future are already relevant and useful right now, so it's kind of a two-for-one deal: get a better life now and position yourself for the future buy collapsing now and avoiding the rush!

Fred, yes, and those have been tried in various contexts for decades now. At best, they become "hobby currencies" amounting for a very small fraction of total economic activity; at worst, they collapse, leaving everyone holding a lot of worthless pseudocurrency. It's a testimony to the unwillingness of people on the left to learn from their own history that the same overblown rhetoric still gets applied to the scheme after decades of experience.

Cherokee, maybe we can sell permaculture courses to the space lizards!

Helen, because self-righteous concern trolling is always off topic for this blog.

Rapier, I ain't arguing.

Unknown Deborah, it's pretty far afield, but I put it through because it's marginally relevant to the Retrotopia narrative, where everybody (both sexes, etc.) does military service.

Phil Knight said...

Saudi Arabia has been indulging in some colossal internal malinvestment. One of the most spectacular examples is here:

Caryn said...

@Adrian & Bill;

Thanks for your reply and your description of the Chicago Permaculture group. It makes far more sense that in fact the groups are teaching the practice and philosophy, (whether to future teachers or simple practitioners) as their main raison d'être. It also explains their efforts going so heavily into 'outreach' instead of into the ground. It baffles me most that that was simply not made clear, (or maybe I'm just being block-headed) at least by our local group. (I wonder why ever not? What's wrong with that?)

And apologies - I think I am coming across as judgmental of my fellow high-flying expats, although I don't FEEL in judgement of them. My interpretation is simply that they have never in their lives ever had experiences that have led them to question their ultimate security, and their security is considerable; but that's just my guess. It's just a fad or fashion, they don't at all seem to really 'get' it. I don't blame them for that. We are all made up of our perceptions and experiences. Nor am I any 'better' for having had different life experiences than they. I don't know of anyone who seems anywhere near the dedication of the two ladies you know, but of course I've talked to my acquaintances/friends about it many times. this is not just a passing weighted observation on strangers. I could relay a gazillion anecdotes and conversations, but UGH! I'll spare you. Everyone here has those anecdotes. Their money doesn't put them in a wholly different category of any other person who can't 'get' it, EXCEPT, I think it makes it that much harder for them to fight the comfy illusion that everything is fine and will be fine.

@patriciaormsby: Thank You! Are you on Green Wizards? There is an awesome long, detailed thread about soap-making in the Crafts Circle. Very informative. I started there and also watched a few youtube videos, (login' the internet while it's still at my fingertips) on rendering beef fat, getting lye from wood ash and different methods of soap making. The VERY WEIRD thing about soap making is that it is addictive fun. You can't stop after just 1-2 batches! You just want to keep trying more new things!!

Don Plummer said...

To Glenn in the Briarpatch:
Regarding your future transportation sequence, my guess is that sometime before we get to the "carpooling is a good idea" line, many of the roads and highways will become undriveable because of neglect. Pay special attention to the condition of bridges and overpasses.

Don Plummer said...

Bramblepatch, not briarpatch. Sorry, Glenn.

Martin B said...

Global oil production PER CAPITA peaked in the 1970s and has been pretty much constant since 1982. So for 30+ years each person on earth has used the same amount of oil each year. Not evenly distributed, of course.

Don't know that it means anything, but it is interesting.

Per Gail Tverberg:

But here's a graph that tells us a lot. Ever since 1986 we have burned more oil than we've found (except for one year). You can see where we are heading.

Patricia Mathews said...

The one doubt I have about drafting women is that in the First and Second World War, women kept the home front going - doing the needed jobs that the men, now at the front, were no longer doing. Leaving the entire civilian economy in the hands of elders, the disabled, and children in case of another such war would cause difficulties. Assigning many of the female draftees, technical specialists, and COs to home front duty would work, but the logistics of a nationalized workforce might be tricky.

Likewise, the armed services are already running into conflicts between military service and motherhood, the latter being a full-time job in the absence of wither universal child care or a village-and-clan structure where relatives automatically take up the slack. Many s/f universes where women serve in the military also mandate semi-permanent contraception for their servicewomen. I know both MZB's Terran Spaceforce and Lois Bujold's Beta Colony did; not sure about Star Trek, but the matter never came up there.

Note, I am assuming wartime conditions, since that's what I knew as a child. Absent those, the National Guard model - training, later regular practice, and serving as a ready reserve in case of real trouble,seems to make more sense. And yes, there is no reason to exempt women from that!

Lou Nelms said...

We live near the peak of oil used to build and power our unsustainable state. At the prolonged plateau, longer than many of us envisioned happening, there is not much planning for the descent. The goal is still delusional -- designed to replicate our 20th century growth spurt when all signs point to the system not being capable of responding to the grow juice anymore, leaving many heads scratching.

Consider that another curve of oil consumption, a subset of the larger global one, would be required to turn this maladaptive beast toward being truly free of oil. A huge investment in oil consumption would be necessary to reshape the entire global infrastructure toward a way of living requiring much less or no oil. At the same time all of the world begs for the bigger ration to keep their current oil fixed wheels and gears turning. There are not many voices out there crying to kill oil demand.

This seems to be the big energy conundrum that everyone, including those who advocate for 100% renewable energy seem to be denying. That we will need a separate curve of oil production and consumption devoted just to get us down this bigger peak. That we will need to invest a lot of oil to require little. Not sure this is in the deck we are dealing. The deck of growth. The deck the world insists it is essential to keep playing. Even with one card left in the deck. Such is the faith in growth. The illusion of us mastering it. I mean we still will need jet fuel for our global eco tours, right?

Shane W said...

interesting about Peterborough being a Transition Town, I was not aware of that. I know an Environmental Studies (I think it is) major @ Trent U, and she never mentioned anything about that.
I hate to see people beat themselves up for being "judgmental". I nearly drove myself insane trying to be "nonjudgmental". "I judge, therefore I am"--to me, judgment is so intrinsically tied into thinking and cognition that the only possible way to be "nonjudgmental" is to be in a coma or dead. JMG, you've spoken before on the folly of "nonjudgmentalness", I'm still looking forward to that post... :)

Shane W said...

I really think the generational fault line between the generations that stuck their heads in the sand and looked out for number 1 during the Reagan/Clinton era (50+'ers), and the generations that are paying dearly for that short-sightedness (under 40's) is a defining feature of our politics. Of course, it's been drilled into our heads since they were born that the Boomers are The Most Important/Powerful Demographic Ever, but there's now more people under 40, and especially, under 50, who don't benefit at all from the current setup, and that's what you're polling numbers are reflecting--50+ support for the establishment/neoliberal consensus, and under 40 support for something/anything else (Trump?/Sanders) One of the defining things of our politics will be how/when the under 40 crowd shakes itself out of its stupor and lays claim to its inherent political clout (whether by ballot box or roadside bomb).
Now, I fully expect that the "ladies who doth protest too loudly" to loudly proclaim that this is not so, but I'd take their loud protestations will a grain of salt.

Sylvia Rissell said...

I keep forgetting "lizard fancier" is a metaphor. The little bearded dragon who lives in a cage in the corner of my dining room doesn't mean they are talking about me!
On a differnt topc, I am starting to identify trade-offs in "things I should do".
For example, if I do home cooking (good), my electric bill goes up (bad).
Or, alternatively, counting calories to loose weight (good) is so much easier if you buy a frozen meal in a box (bad), rather than weighing and adding up lots of individual ingredients.
So, Cherokee's off grid solar (good) is costing him more money (bad).

Justin said...

JMG, this is kind of far afield, but a question came to me this morning: What would the world look like today if AGW and ocean acidification were not real (really not real, I'm not talking about conspiracies). Peak everything would still exist of course. I'm thinking that climate change is functioning as a codeword for peak oil quite a lot of the time.

There is an interesting duality in climate change / peak resources and how people respond to those two realities.

Today there were gigantic pro and anti-immigration rallies in most big cities in Europe, and a couple in the US and Canada. Trump and Sanders are doing shockingly well in polls and the way the media is circling the wagons around Cruz and Clinton surely is going to backfire - it's just too cringeworthy. Something is shifting in the collective unconscious. Jung is absolutely fascinating by the way - I know what I'll be reading for the next few months. A common thread that I've started to pick up is the fact that magic is real, even in a perfect scientific-materialist model of the world - it is just too good a model of individual and group psychology. Of course I have a lot more to read.

An interesting piece by Scott Adams on Trump:

Patricia Mathews said...

Re: peak oil and demand destruction. It occurred to me from personal experience that an aging population also leads to different patterns of fossil fuel consumption. If you can barely walk, a car is necessary; but long road trips and/or a lot of driving is beyond the endurance of someone in that condition. Those in assisted living aren't going much of anywhere.

OTH, turning down the temperature 3 degrees imposes a hardship on the older seniors beyond what it does with even the most spoiled younger person. And so on. These differences may even out, but it's worthwhile taking into account.

Glenn said...

JMG said:

"As to your sequence, possible, but we're running out of time for any kind of controlled attempt to shift to something else..."

Oh, I have no idea if we have time to run through the whole sequence. I was saying that that's how human nature tends to work. Instead of analyzing our _actual_ needs and whole systems, we tend to slightly modify business as usual. Now, frequently that's a winning strategy, making large inductive or deductive leaps can go catastrophically wrong. Incremental change, a la Burke usually works well. In our present case, as a society, we might like to skip a few steps though.


in the Bramblepatch
Marrowstone Island
Salish Sea

Hugo Costa said...

JNG, can you recommend any first-hand account of a historical event? As you mentioned earlier, we really don't have the notion of how slow a historical change may be. Many thanks!

Unknown said...


In my municipality the focus over the last seven years has been on replacing all wooden bridges with either very large culverts or very expensive concrete structures which deliver a very long lifetime with a very low cost of ownership over that lifetime despite having a high initial cost. The roads are stedily being improved and the new engineer is focusing on what roads are maintained, and arguing against maintaining assets that only serve non rate-paying properties.(the state owned forestry company does not pay rates on state owned land.)

As for permaculture and transition towns and peak oil awareness, in Tasmania a group of quite impressive individuals has got together and are having a dialogue with government about the future. Community gardens are something real coming out of that.

At another more random level, there is an awareness and even a celebration of the handmade taking place here. One such example is a local who has taugh himself the art of making Damascus steel and in accepted internationally as a master craftsman, selling knives all over the world, made from recycled car springs and sawmill blades. The Deloraine Craft fair takes place over 4 days, and is a wonder to behold. So many capable people producing such wonderful products on a human scale.

on the flip side, our hyro-electric dams are near empty because the power company has sold all the green energy to the mainland and the interconnect cable has a fault and is now out of action.

Its a roller-coaster all right. Thanks for providing a grab handle for the ride.

Eagle eye

Agasin, thanks for the

Shane W said...

I wish you would speak to the whole issue of "being judgmental", people today apologizing for judging people is like Victorians apologizing for sexual attraction. I don't see any need to be "nonjudgmental" of ecohypocrites, you, yourself have certainly not been "nonjudgmental" when it comes to ecohypocrites--to me, the solution to ecohypocrisy is not "nonjudgmentalness", but not being ecohypocritical in the first place. Who knows, maybe if these people were judged and called out on their hypocrisy, it would stop. Just a guess. I just get so tired of the premium placed on being "nonjudgmental", to think is to judge based on ones values, and there is no way to be "nonjudgmental" than to be in a coma or dead.

windjammer said...

The Earth also contains a sphere of magma 5000 miles across that is hot enough to melt iron, slake lime, melt glass, power steam turbines etc etc. But we'd rather have expensive fantasies of going way out into the cold dark vacuum of space.

Candace said...

@ Justin. Well that seems to be some of the most astonishing statement of hubris I've read in a while. Other than some other obvios observations, the ones that popped out at me were , if Hillary studied NLP why is she so bad at it. Maybe we can convince Adams to be a force for good and reprogram society to use less fuel and pollute less. Seems like he's made the same mistake the advocates of "The Secret" made. Eh, what do I know.

Caryn said...


"I hate to see people beat themselves up for being "judgmental". I nearly drove myself insane …"

I just want to say Thank You for this, for all of your posts and your perspective. I don't always agree with you, but you are always a great thought-provoking contribution to the discussion. Yes, a whole week or analysis of judgment or judgmentalism would be really good. It's definitely a long intricate study. IMHO, The most important aspect - the thing that I try to keep as my keel is whether or not the assessment I have made of someone or something is clouding my thinking. Is it closing me off to seeing things clearly? Is it sneakily guiding me to ignore some bits of info while embracing other bits, (cherry-picking facts)? I also prefer to keep a more 'zen' live-and let live mind frame just because it is less vexing and I'm pretty lazy. And ultimately, most of the time, who cares!? - It's like that meme that goes around - a comic of a person typing furiously on their computer, while their mate is trying to call them to dinner, "I can't stop! Someone is WRONG on the internet!!" Haha!

You also said:
"I really think the generational fault line between the generations that stuck their heads in the sand and looked out for number 1 during the Reagan/Clinton era (50+'ers), and the generations that are paying dearly for that short-sightedness …"

At 54, the 1980 Reagan- Carter election was the first one I was able to vote in. I remember those times very well. I'd have to reluctantly agree with your assessment in this. This was the era of the 'Me-Generation' in full swing. Carter's ideas of responsibility and cutting back on our lifestyles as opposed to the embrace of gaudy luxury, 'greed-is-good', etc. well it was always going to be a really hard sell. Not surprising most people went the other way and took that short-sighted 'Morning In America' path. **Again, I'd so recommend a viewing of "The Century Of The Self" in getting a fuller understanding of it all.



Kung Hei Fat Choi!!

In general spirit, it translates to 'Happy Lunar New Year!", more literally translates to 'Good Luck Making Money!' or 'Good luck for a prosperous new year'. (yup, I know…analyze that!! right?)
We will be out eating (gold-ingot-shaped) dumplings, hiking uphill, (to move up in the new year), not washing our hair, (don't wash away wealth) and watching fireworks and lion dances, (blessings for prosperity) all over town.

Happy Year of the Monkey - may you all be quick, clever, and agile. :)

Andy said...

Damo said...
"There is a great 'çomic' which takes the reader through peak oil and Hubberts ideas, thoroughly recommended:"

Cheers Damo - a great comic indeed!

Pinku-Sensei said...
"...Speaking of Krugman, he is still pushing the idea that we are on the verge of a renewables revolution. He really believes that we can produce electricity in a way that will allow us to continue on as we are now without interruption, just more cleanly and efficiently."

There actually is a very nice renewables revolution happening in the world right now, so I have to agree with the Krugman piece you linked, including this:

"Salvation from climate catastrophe is, in short, something we can realistically hope to see happen, with no political miracle necessary. But failure is also a very real possibility. Everything is hanging in the balance."

Note, though, that he doesn't say anything about the ability to continue on as we are now without interruption. Frankly I think he did a pretty accurate job of translating the ground-truth from the planet's climatologists and science communicators. We can get the planet off enough fossil fuels in time but in order to do that we need a global response on the scale that the US took after Pearl Harbor brought us formerly into WWII. This analysis from Peter Sinclair does a very good job of providing the background that allows interpretation of Krugman's point:
“The world is not on track to achieve the long-term global goal, but successful mitigation policies are known and must be scaled up urgently.”

Andy said...

Bill Pulliam said...
"Andy -- that definition you give is for Permaculture (tm) itself. The problem is when you add the word "Financial" in front of it. The financialization of the economy represents a fundamental break between real-world ecological, energetic, resource-based, etc. processes and human economic practices."

The first quote was actually from a 'financial permaculture' group and isn't anything I recognize from the writings of Mollison, Holmgren, Holzer, or Lawton. I did quote the three Permaculture ethics, however, straight from Mollison's original Designer's Manual.

I think I see your point, though. It seems that "financial permaculture" is yet another attempt to pull regenerative practices 'kicking and screaming' into a fully capitalist system, with all the groans and splinters trying to cram a square peg into a round hole guarantees. Thanks for highlighting something I don't have to waste any time trying to figure out. :)

jean-vivien said...

Hello everybody,
here in Ecnarf the news are getting more surreal week by week. I forgot to mention last week that, because of bird flu risks, all duck growers had been ordered to stop business during spring of 2016.
Expected losses estimated at around 30 % of their usual yearly revenue...
A lot of demonstrations around the country from the agricultural sectors, and heartbreaking testimonies of the plight of this sector. Some testimonies of small producers priviledging quality over intensive agriculture, faring better.
Some agricultor interviewed, denouncing how one Prefect went to a negociation meeting and then uttered an expletive comment about the agricultors' plea straight after the end of the meeting. We are not far from a Marie-Antoinette moment.
Taxi drivers demonstrating in Paris, and a few days later the drivers of UBER and their ilk rioting in their turn. In the news, you could hear some strong invectives between representatives of both sides.
A reform of the French language, brewed since around ten years ago and hatching now, removing our accent circonflexe and "simplifying" spelling (just dumbing down the language and threatening our culture, if you ask me, because I believe that language should evolve by enrichment instead of pauperization).
The government glued in the consequences of its own petty calculations, whereby the reform on taking away nationality from binationals accused of terrorism was supposed to cater to the right of its electorate, but only manages to alienate itself from even more of the political class...
Yesterday the Prime Minister uttered a public comment on how one set of strikes (of which there are many these days, across many sectors of the economy) was "unacceptable".
Demonstrations against the infamous airport project, where people shout against Vinci, a big infrastructure company which would benefit a little bit too obviously from said project, which would also destroy even more arable land.
A lot of damage yielded by marginal groups on the side of these demonstrations. 30 years ago there were no such phenomena, but it has now become usual to stage a demonstration and then see marginal groups taking the opportunity to just break affluent stuff.
The slowly emerging realization that Turkey, now crossing its borders to migrants, might after all not have been our friend.
And one player of the biggest soccer club here, PSG, going to play in China because they would pay him ten millions there... he was from Argentina, anyway.
How long until people start thinking globalization isn't exactly a blessing ? We are quickly going back to a period of rivalties between nations, especially since the media are now commenting on the disparities in 2015 growth numbers between European countries.

jean-vivien said...

When you go to even the most remote of places, like a park in the middle of the woods, or a big shopping center, you find one little vigil asking to see the hand bags.
Just a quick glance, and rather uneffective against determined attackers. But it seems that the culture is changing everywhere across the territory now, and it is kind of delusional, like people convincing themselves that they are doing useful things to protect themselves while I think it is about as effective as random incantations.
The media here are very good quality, but they fail to reach for the big picture just like the US media do. Today on TV we saw a segment explaining that in some cities, the unemployment revenue granted by the state to especially poor people would now be conditionned to accomplishing voluntary work.
Not a bad idea, actually... but how far is it from a communist state taking care of giving work to its citizens ? It looks increasingly like Ecnarf is headed towards a future where people accept an even more securitarian regime of state, while the ability of said state to protect and feed itself and its people becomes increasingly light. Everyone will have a job to do, but it will most often be state-sponsored and in no way paying enough wages to support the sort of consumerist lifestyle that we have all been enjoying for years.
Said lifestyle, and social arrangements everybody here agrees on saying are flawed but there have been nothing better we could come up with. So we continue collectively trying to pursue business as usual, but how far can we stretch it when it gets thinner than a silk thread ?

I always thought the US would be hit hard by Peak Oil. But at least it has a lot of geographical space to for business as usual to be stretched over. The French society runs a different set of arrangements, a stronger state, more egalitarian and less subject to energy issues because we are a lot less wasteful than the USA. The dynamics of catabolic collapse will play out differently here.
Peak Oil will be less of a factor, and diminishing returns of complex systems might play a much stronger part. We are facing Peak Social Project instead of facing Peak Oil..
The more complex social arrangements, like big companies and government, are the first things contracting. But it is dragging everything else in its wake, and when the executive class starts getting hit, you might wish you had spared some of that corn you popped while watching Republican candidates' speeches.
Especially in a riotous naton like ours, and where a lot of poor people identify themselves more to their religions than to a common social project.
In any case I'd encourage you to watch closely what's happening in Europe just now, I hope it won't get wrecked the way that the middle East is being catabolically wrecked. You might see there how social arrangements unravel even in rich countries in the face of economic stresses, some countries have after all already acted as canaries in the coal mine.
The movements taking place here in affluent Europe may be like those of tectonic plates - slow, subterranean, but inexorably gaining momentum until it erupts violently into the sunlight.

jean-vivien said...

By the way... aside from the usual collective tragedy unfolding in Europe,

we may also have, here, one of our future would-be Fred Halliots, and he is not a woman heading a far-right party...

John Michael Greer said...

Phil, exactly. I also wonder just how much of the money supposedly in the sovereign wealth fund has long since been siphoned off into the pockets of this or that Saudi princeling.

Martin, correct on both counts. The one problem with the consumption per capita figure is that it doesn't factor in the rising energy cost of energy -- that is, the portion of each barrel of oil extracted from the ground that has to go to cover the energy costs of extracting and refining that barrel of oil. Put that into the equation, and you've got falling consumption per capita for all other uses -- and thus a contracting economy.

Patricia, well, yes -- and that's why I was talking specifically about a national guard sort of arrangement, designed to cope with foreign invasion.

Lou, thank you! Yes indeed; this is a problem I've been trying to bring up in the peak oil scene since this 2008 post on the "paradox of production."

Sylvia, my apologies! I certainly don't mean to imply any malign intent to those who keep ordinary terrestrial lizards as pets. It's the believers in evil space lizards of the sort that haunt David Ickes' ravings, rather, that I have in mind.

Justin, I see climate change as simply the most photogenic of the consequences of pollution, just as peak oil is the most obvious of the consequences of resource depletion. Those two broader categories are the jaws of the vise that's clamped on industrial civilization's tender parts, and cranking tighter with every turn of the seasons. So, sure, if it wasn't climate change, it would be something else: limitless growth on a finite planet is a recipe for disaster.

Patricia, true enough. I'm not sure if it leads to any decrease in overall demand, though.

Glenn, gotcha. That's reasonable enough.

Hugo, all you have to do is go to your local library and find the autobiography of someone who lived through a historical event that interests you. Alternatively, get a good detailed narrative history of any such event -- the 1929 stock market crash, the French Revolution, you name it -- and as you read, imagine yourself following the events day by day, with no advance knowledge of what was going to happen. There are literally thousands of books like that in any well-stocked library or bookstore.

Unknown Tasmanian, good to hear -- and yes, I include the nearly empty dams in that. You'll need to get used to intermittent electricity; might as well start learning how to do that now.

Shane, if I do a post about the whole issue of "being judgmental," you might not be too happy with the results. As usual, there are two sides to the debate, and both of them have gone to extremes; you've got the people who insist that nobody should ever judge anybody at all, and there are the people who are eager to point fingers at whoever their favorite scapegoat happens to be; and here as elsewhere, the opposite of one bad idea is another bad idea. There's a middle ground between the refusal of judgment and the delights of self-righteous indignation, and that middle ground is where constructive work by and large happens. 'Nuf said!

Windjammer, sure. Now work out the costs of getting any significant amount of that heat up here to the surface to do any of the processes you've sketched out. That's why geothermal power makes up such a very small fraction of the global energy mix, even though it's been being pursued for more than a century now.

Caryn, very best wishes for the lunar New Year!

Bill Pulliam said...

Shane - Something you might wanna keep in mind in your simple generational conflict model... each generation contains both the memory of the previous generation and the seeds of the next. Something as big as a generation of people has a lot more in it than just the dominant mainstream pop-culture media-catching trend. What stereotypes would describe as the extremely homogeneous 1950s also included the beatniks, the civil rights movement, and the origins of the women's and gay rights movements. In the 60s and 70s these became the dominant mass culture archetypes. But the 60s and 70s also held the roots of the "Reagan Revolution" and the shift from "long hair and weed" to "money and cocaine" as the emblems of cultural success. And enough tye-dyed longhairs persisted through the 80s to spark the retro-hippie phenomenon in the 1990s, whose influences still persist now in the teens.

So if you wanna see where the dominant cultural trends might be in another 20 years, you might not want to be looking at the DOMINANT trends right now, but at the opressed, rejected, "COUNTERCULURAL" trends... Trends and deep values don't arise de novo, but evolve via conflict, synthesis, action, and reaction, day-to-day.

ARodrigo said...

Hugo- I recommend reading old newspapers. I was genuinely shocked when the prussians invaded France, while reading my way through the second half of the 19th century. A lot of libraries still have microfilm, I think, and there are news articles online going way back.

Damo said...


I second anyone reading this to check out "The Century of Self" by Adam Curtis. He is an amazing story teller. In fact, nearly any of his documentaries should be considered required viewing. They go a long way to explaining at least some of the madness that is 20th century western culture.

dltrammel said...

File this under "The Military Gets It":

“History tells us we’re probably finished. The rest of the world is awakening to the fact that the United States is (1) strategically inept and (2) not the power it used to be. And that the trend is to increase that. . . . Empires at the end concentrate on military force as the be all and end all of power . . . at the end they use more mercenary based forces than citizen-based forces . . . . Empires at the end . . . go ethically and morally bankrupt . . . they end up with bankers and financiers running the empire. Sound familiar?”

~ Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff for Colin Powell

Reminds me that I read that the US State used mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan to guard their people.

Andy said...

Bill Pulliam - thanks again for highlighting Financial Permaculture. For now I have to rescind my plan to ignore it. It appears that the work is actually being done by Permaculturists and others working to provide a soft landing for our collapse. It seems to be a bit like building various pieces of the Lakeland Republic now so they'll be ready to 'hit the ground running' later.

John Michael Greer said...
"Andy, and as long as you remain stuck in the realm of feel-good verbiage, you'll no doubt respond the same way. I'd challenge you to look into what "financial permaculture" actually amounts to in practice."

As direct as one would expect. ;) I'm very sorry that you think that trying to fix problems without a civil war is being "stuck in feel-good verbiage". I'm an old retired military guy. We don't make a habit of hand waving or pontificating, and we make really poor armchair quarterbacks - we look around, grab a pipe and a roll of duct tape, and get the job done or die trying. I think we need more people willing to do the work - and that's why I'll take Permaculture and a set of PV panels over being in the fetal position under my bed waiting for the ceiling to fall every day of the week. Your mileage may vary, void where prohibited, object in mirror maybe closer than they appear. ;)

Fred - thank you! I didn't connect the dots between the hundreds of local currencies - brilliant!

Adrian - thanks again! I found an interview with Eric Toensmeier talking about the work being done around the country trying to build sustainable and regenerative systems under both meanings of Permaculture - permanent agriculture and permanent culture - with a Financial Permaculture twist. Seems it's all about recognizing that anyone building alternate systems today is forced to connect with the existing systems - including distribution, banking, rules and laws for food prep kitchens, etc. Actually, it looks like they're doing great work! Multi-trophic marine aquaponics that provides more food than freshwater systems without all the damage caused by aquaculture is worth it even if everything else they're trying to do fails! They're taking Mollison, New Alchemy, relocalizing, slow-money, local currency, and more. Very cool!

John Michael Greer said...

Jean-Vivien, thanks for the update on Ecnarf! From my far-side-of-the-pond perspective, it really does look like the European political classes are heading full tilt toward a brick wall of their own making.

Dltrammel, nice to see that somebody gets it.

Andy, okay, at this point you're just flinging insults. This blog is hardly an exercise in hiding under the bed waiting for the sky to fall, and insisting that that's what I'm doing may make a great straw man to bash but that's about it. Nor is it anything but cheap rhetoric to insist that not buying into your preferred set of alternative-energy propaganda is tantamount to encouraging civil war. Here's your hat; don't let the door hit you on the way out.

Candace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
111DFC said...


In general I agree with your post, anyway I think mother nature & “human emotional limits” probably will be more devastating than peak-oil for the fate of our civilization

In the case of the oil peak price in 2008 (140$/bbl) this was not cause by any "real" demand induced shock, it was purely a herding race of casino investors running from the debris of the real estate bubble to the oil & commodity futures, without any increase of "real" demand at all (the economy, in fact, was flat/contracting)

As you know, in 2008 LB was doomed at any price of oil, as today the whole financial sector (or the whole global economy) is doomed at any price of oil

For the mathematics models of IMF, BM, BIS, etc... and all the mainstream economics, the important factors to have an economy growing at full speed are:
a) Cheap oil (now very cheap, cheaper than in 1972). Like sugar in a Petri dish...
b) Low cost of money (low interest, in fact now we have zero or negative)
c) Free trade and free flow of money (freer than any period of history)
d) Increases in productivity & technology (increasing like hell)
e) A docile, flexible and silent mass of politicians (as never before)
f) A docile, flexible and silent work force (as never before)

Why then the economy is in so bad shape instead of start growing at +5%?; well I recommend the orthodox economist to go to Berlin and analyze the 5.000 years old sumerian clapboards where the fate of societies crushed by the compound interest is written in cuneiform script, and also what they did to avoid the destruction of the "civilization". It happens many times

Anyhow, in our age, debt is painting with a thick layer of morality and from 5 centuries ago all the debt crisis are "solved" by large amounts of blood & destruction, and the relief arrives only after a huge human "sacrifice" (ancient greeks call this "holocaust") of debtors. IMHO that is our fate now

After that, if we survive, then we will have the real effect of peak oil

Sincerely yours

Somewhatstunned said...

Shane said

Who knows, maybe if these people were judged and called out on their hypocrisy, it would stop.

Ahem. Who knows? I think we do know. Like telling fat people they are "disugsting"? Hmmm. That works doesn't it?

Obviously, I am not judging you for being judgemental. I am merely noting that, as with indignation and anger, I myself sometimes find myself enjoying these emotions. My enjoyment does not indicate that expressing these emotions have any positive effect whatever on my targets. Once again I speak only for myself (really).

Summary: Certain kinds of publicly expressed "judginess" are very poor persuasional psychology. The point at which "judginess" does start to "persuade" (ie enforce compliance), is when it becomes near-universal.

patriciaormsby said...

I second Shane's call for a post on non-judgmentalness, recognizing that neither extreme is good. I have a lovely intelligent cousin, who upon witnessing and describing unethical medical billing practices, finished by criticizing herself as "cynical." This is a word that has come to describe a) anyone selfishly taking advantage of the flaws in a system, and b) anyone noticing that.

I was brought up believing I had no right to judge, and this is probably very common in societies dominated by ne'er-do-wells, who for various reasons do not want to be judged. In my thirties I finally got a couple of girlfriends to judge a guy for me and I married him. He is the opposite extreme from me. Brought up helping to run a working men's hostel, he had to judge new faces and fast, or he'd be in danger. He can tell a lot from a person's face. The personality comes through. (I can't do this, not having had any practice all my life.) For example, he says to beware of any adult from the privileged classes with the face of a toddler. He or she will have a personality to match. Confucianism, likewise, warns to beware of people who smile too much.

He went about judging my friends and announced that I'd managed to surround myself with people who do not want to be judged--people with serious personality disorders. This happens because when you fail to judge malefactors and are critical of yourself instead, you wind up neurotic, and then normal people start avoiding you, leaving only the folks that smile in your face and are gifted at taking advantage of weak people.

I've got better friends now, though fewer. It is useful to have the insight, but I get friction from my husband when I continue to deal with people whose problems I recognize, which is what I am going to do when interacting with any community.

When I first came to Japan, it was quite conservative, and they still "judge a book by its cover," but not as much as they used to. It's really quite nice for foreigners here at this time. Confucianism sets up a social order with rigid roles and encourages a certain amount of criticism. I love Buddhism, but its "Achilles heel" is its willingness to accept anything, and the society can lurch toward the "anything goes and nothing matters," that James Howard Kunstler decries, as we can see that it leads to a "tragedy of the commons."

There! Let me climb down from my high horse. Silly me. What was I thinking?

Oh the festival! Because some people have started to call for opening up to outsiders, there was going to be a backlash. That was predictable. I felt like a Playboy bunny attending a PTA meeting. Aside from a couple of young girls, who left early, after the short Shinto ceremony, everyone was in the 70+ crowd that is averse to change. About half were happy to see me, and the other half, much more visibly not so than has been my experience in the past. It's got to rankle that I know the local liturgy and they don't. "Okay, so her name is Kitty--but she is a nice girl!"

Mean Mr Mustard said...


Today's Peak Oil news report - the North Sea endgame looms, opening up new opportunities for apprentice Ruinmen.



Somewhatstunned said...

A PS to my last comment, on the "judgemental" thing.

There is a distinction to be made between "judging" and "having an opinion". The attempt (and again, I am speaking entirely for myself here) to be "non-judgemental" towards certain type of behaviour, is most certainly not an attempt to have no opinions about that behaviour, and it is most certainly not a refusal to make some attempt to change that behaviour.

[There is a related issue with the idea that "we should respect everyone's opinion". No we shouldn't! Opinions deserve respect in proportion to how well they have been thought about, the quality and quantity of evidence that backs them up and so on. What we should respect is every one - people - regardless of the dumb things they say. Shouting at them that they are confused or hypocritical or stooooopid, is not respectful. (Blogosphere, please note)].

The fostering of a "non-judgemental" attitude, as defined above, is beneficial for two main reasons. First, for the person who tries to adopt this stance it doesn't support self-righteousness. Second, it promotes asking "why does this person behave like this?" in a much more systemic manner - "what are the external forces and hidden desires which lead to this behaviour?". The more nuanced answers that might arise might suggest ways of talking that stand more chance of changing behaviour than "calling out".

I am well aware that this is not as immediately gratifying as "calling out" (I hate that phrase), plus a good deal harder to do. One of the reasons I don't comment that much on the internet is that I find it difficult not to fall into the shouty culture myself (and have had some failures that I still cringe over).

Cherokee Organics said...


Thank you, it is an uncomfortable thought for most isn't it? I believe it to be a very valid response.

Hey, that's genius. I wonder whether the Space Lizards are buying? Hehe!

Honestly, I never understood that whole Financial Permaculture thing either, it just sounded a bit weird to me. The other thing I've never understood about Permaculture is that people project so much belief onto the concept as a whole. I mean, anyone who understands the original concepts would understand that it is a starting point - not an end point. How can a design process be anything other than a starting point? That is like saying battle plans should always survive engagement with the enemy. It is not a plausible concept and who gets things right the first time anyway? To err and admit to that error is a sign of intelligence.

By the way, I liked the Red Baron v F-35 link. It was very amusing. It took me a paragraph before I even understood that it was a joke! I mean, where is the radar anyway? Hehe!

Oh yeah, the other thing I wanted to mention was that people have this unshakable belief that people in business are involved in that business in order to run a profitable business. Au contraire! I've noticed that there are more than a few private equity firms who appear to purchase companies, appear to saddle them up with debt, appear to take huge management fees in the process, and then at the end of all that they float those businesses on the share market so that they can recoup their original investment + what appears to be an inflated price. My gut feeling is that those sorts of actions are not actually running a company, as they appear to be running a company into the ground for pure profit. It has been my experience that no many companies can survive with huge quantities of debt.



Lou Nelms said...

Thank for for the link to your post on the Paradox of Production. Excellent! Which gets to the real crunch of the energy crisis -- how stuck we are in the oil rut. And how developing our way out is dependent on a huge investment in oil production and consumption. Which is really getting left out of the discussion/debate in the drive toward decarbonizing our energy regime. E.g., planes and ocean shipping were conveniently left out of the Paris talks.

We tend to view energy production and system usage solely within the confines of energy itself instead of taking a more holistic or ecological approach. For example, with corn ethanol, which fit the oil distribution and end use infrastructure well -- the "plug-ins" as you well described in the Paradox of Production -- we greatly ignore the ecological costs resulting from the increased production of corn needed for ethanol. The Midwest experienced great rainfall events twice in 2015, in June and December, bringing streams and rivers close to their historic high water levels. While most of the focus was on the human toll, there was very little news coverage of the enormous loss of topsoil and capital in the form of fertilizers, chemicals, etc. carried downstream. Not a story that civilization grown on industrial agriculture wishes to highlight. That peak top soil is also part of the oil equation. And one of the great costs of forcing plug-ins like corn ethanol into the oil pipeline. The proponents of industrial age hype their conservation efforts but I, living in the heart of corn/soybean land, can tell you that almost no one* is telling the story of erosion like it should be told. That in many respects we are very much like the hydraulic systems, the irrigation regimes, upon which many early civilizations rose and fell. The only difference is ours is a river of oil. The decline of soil, the same.

But the world is focused today on the Super Bowl and the commercials. How could this party not go on forever?

And when will any of this, especially climate change, be a topic of discussion in any of the presidential "debates"?

*One notable exception: 'Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations' by David Montgomery

Dirk & Joh's Wildswan said...

I'll be happy to subscribe to your printed blog when the time comes. Please have it printed in Canada as well so we can afford the postage? :-) :-) :-)

Nastarana said...

Hugo Costa, I don't know about first hand accounts, but you might look at the historical novels of a Mr. Sidebottom; he is an English historian and his meticulously researched novels are set in the last centuries of the Roman Empire. First hand accounts tend to be along the lines of "There are seven hostile ships in our harbor, and you, O Great King have diverted our fleet to your own defense."

dltrammel, I am convinced that one reason for the use of mercenaries in our recent Mideast wars of choice was to have them take out non-military targets of interest to various American and Western commercial enterprises, such as the seed banks of both Afghanistan and Iraq and the Great Manmade River in Libya.

About (non)judgementalism: there must surely be a happy medium between MYOB and pretending to ignore the neighbor who is operating an underage brothel out of his upstairs bedrooms. If you ever live in a severely distressed inner city neighborhood, you learn to mind your manners. Manners can literally save your life.

Many of us have lived through lefty "committed activists" screaming in our faces calling us fascists. Then, a decade later it was the soi-disant "Christian" screaming at you about "morality" because you just ditched the abusive spouse and now your kid can sleep through the night.

My personal view is, 1. so long as no laws are being broken and no children abused, I stay out of your personal business and you stay out of mine. And, 2. other peoples' business success or employment is not my responsibility. In other words, your multiculturalist or capitalist fantasy does not require me to spend money I had rather not spend.

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