Saturday, January 17, 2015

Why deflation is the endgame, conceptually explained

To intuitively understand why deflation is the endgame of our civilization, divide people into miners and everyone else. The miners are everyone in the business of extracting nonrenewable resources, such as oil and metals. Miners are indisputably subject to diminishing returns as we consume the highest ore grades first, which means rising inefficiency and increased costs for every unit produced. Therefore, to keep civilization running, society must allocate increasing amounts of resources to the miners at the expense of everyone else. In other words, we get poorer, and poorer people are able to pay less, rather than more, for commodities. As natural resources get depleted, it therefore follows from the law of supply and demand that commodity prices will go down, rather than up as is commonly and erroneously assumed. Perhaps this becomes clearer if "demand" is understood as "affordability," without which there can be no demand. As their income falls below costs of production, miners will be forced out of business and the necessities of life will no longer be available to humanity. Some people imagine that they can "save" for this eventuality by hoarding gold or whatever, but that is a delusion because the operational fabric of industrial civilization will be broken, so even the simplest amenities such as a toothbrush or toilet paper will not be available at any price. It will be truly horrific for everyone and we have no contingency plan, nothing to collapse back to except the Stone Age.

So, are we there yet? Considering the ongoing price crash with regard to oil and other commodities, I think there is a strong possibility that this is it. Again, I have to credit Gail Tverberg with explaining how increased depletion leads to falling oil prices, or else I would be just as clueless as most people. She is kind of verbose, however, and uses lots of graphs and supporting data which is all very important, but not really needed to grasp what is going on intuitively. So maybe my putting it into few words can help more people understand. She thinks we have at most two years of business as usual left, and then collapse will occur by the end of 2016. And the only remedy she can come up with is to pray for divine intervention.

If you understand how this works, you will quit worrying about comparatively distant issues such as climate change and realize that falling commodity prices is the most ominous problem of our times. Of course, the problem may well morph into something else before it becomes obvious that there is a resource crisis, such as another World War or a crippling financial crisis. But even if we avoid any other major disturbances, deflation will kill us rather soon. After oil prices go too low to encourage further exploration and drilling, for example, the depletion rate of existing oil wells will be at best about 6% per year. So imagine the economy shrinking by 6% as a best-case scenario. Our financial system is not arranged to handle orderly degrowth, however, so most likely there will be a much more rapid collapse instead, in one way or another.


Øyvind Holmstad said...

This is very good news indeed! The alternative is much worse:

Eivind Berge said...

Hmm. I don't know if methane release is really likely to be such an imminent disaster? The Archdruid doesn't seem to think so, even though he doesn't think we will collapse fast and quit burning fossil fuels very soon like Gail does.

Eivind Berge said...

Holy shit! Listen to this:

Gail is so extreme she makes Chris Martenson look like a cornucopian in comparison. She thinks oil will go down to $20 a barrel this year and never recover, which will lead to the end of oil production and obviously the end of our civilization. There is no way we can get the oil price back up high enough if she is right. These are scary prospects, and unfortunately all too plausible as far as I can tell. Although she is open to the possibility that helicopter money might somehow keep things running for another year or two, if the central banks realize that they need to go wild throwing money at everyone, because that is really our only hope at this point.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Thanks for that link to Tverberg's talk! Yes, I don't think anybody really knows where the tipping point is for methane release going mad. I have to look it again. I think one thought temperature could increase 17 degree with just 50 Gt?

Anyway, what will happen if 7 billion people don't get their oil supply anymore and go out cutting down all the woods?

Dan said...

"Anyway, what will happen if 7 billion people don't get their oil supply anymore and go out cutting down all the woods?"

This is already happening in Greece. Its fair to expect this will happen everywhere else too.

I regret reading Gail's blog now. Its as bad as hearing that you've been diagnosed with terminal cancer. At least with a long descent there's time to prepare. How do you even prepare for total collapse?

Eivind Berge said...

Yes, reading Gail's blog is a lot like finding out you have a terminal illness, only worse because everyone around you is also terminal and there will be no palliative care. She is a complete fatalist.

The antidote to that kind of depressive thinking is John Michael Greer, who talks about what he believes can be done in his latest post:

Unlike the mainstream he is at least highly aware of peak oil issues, and he still thinks collapse will be relatively slow and "fractal," as he calls it. It is now 30 years too late to save our modern industrial civilization, but individuals can still position themselves so as to avoid the worst bumps on the way down. There can even be periods with some degree of recovery between crises. If he is right, then Gail is too pessimistic. I still can't figure out who is most insightful, though. For one thing, I haven't seen Greer propose a solution to the problem of crashing commodity prices. How do we get any oil at all if the price falls below the lowest cost of production? Greer also seems to underestimate the role of debt in sustaining civilization and the danger of the entire financial system collapsing and disrupting complex supply lines.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

You are very good in analyzing, Berge. Thanks!

Maybe Greer is too "stuck" to his "catabolic collapse" theory?

After all, he's a male, with male hubris. Tverberg is a female, and is not so likely to be "blinded" by hubris.

Thanks also to Dan for the video! The same thing has gone on at Madagascar for a long time, cutting down sacred and protected woods, even on the UNESCO list.

I also note that Tverberg says "if there are survivors. While Greer keep on repeating about 5% of population will continue, because this is historically standard after collapse.

Yes, he doesn't seem to quite get that if the supply chains of goods will be broken, the oil supply will break down entirely.

But he's a historian, Tverberg is a mathematician.

Dan said...

Thanks, I am familiar with JMG's view. I've yet to see him directly take on Gail's argument even though it's unlikely he hasn't read about it. I get the feeling he's ignoring it having staked his reputation on the collapse being long and drawn out.

I've gone out and bought some prepping/survivalist books though its unlikely they will be much use. I'm an unemployed dental student living in rented accommodation in an urban area so I am not going to be in a position to prepare if collapse comes in the next two years.

Attending a tutorial on root canal therapy this morning felt like an exercise in futility. Such an incredibly expensive and labour / material intensive procedure is sure to become an anachronism. If dentists even exist at all it will be simply to extract teeth. I only continue with the course only because I'm enjoying it and "dropping out because the world is collapsing" seems too crazy to explain to people. But when I hear people's hopes and plans for the future they sound deluded. I can't work out who's crazy me or them.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Yes, I too have been imaginating there's time to make an ecovillage or something, living in peace with other people and nature. But my dreams are fading. My parents have a farm but it's close to a heavily trafficated road, so I'm not able to live there. Especially what we call "raanere", young men on the countryside driving around all night, burning wheels in the roundabout and so on. As it's far from police there they do as they like.

When collapse occur I guess they will be gone and silence return to the place, so that I might survive there with my family?

The problem is that the place is only 80 km. from the Oslo. How to stay all these hungry people off? Gangs of bandits travelling along the roads, plundering and raping. So I really don't know?

I think Greer is a little bit too arrogant about Tverberg. I simply think he finds it impossible to question his grand theory about "catabolic collapse". He has too much identity built into it.

From nature males have difficulty admitting they're wrong, because women are very sharp in identifying losers.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Her er Tverbergs respons til min artikkel i første kommentar:

"Let’s stop talking about climate change. If financial collapse brings down the economy, hardly any of us are going to be around to observe it, assuming it happens. The earth’s ecosystems will recover from climate change; it is human civilization that likely won’t–but human civilization has huge other challenges, as I keep pointing out.

Climate change models haven’t built financial collapse into them, so the story they are telling is seriously distorted. Climate change is popular from a political point of view, because it takes peoples eyes off of our (other) close at hand problems. It is popular with scientists, because it generates huge funding for studying this subject, whether or not we can do anything about it. The one thing we can do that is likely to impact the course of climate change is to collapse the economy, and that seems to be happening already."

Så det ser ut til at Tverberg mener klimamodellene er verdiløse, ettersom de ikke har bygd inn en økonomisk kollaps som må komme. Tverberg synes optimistisk på vegne av biosfæren, men dette som en konsekvens av hennes pessimisme på sivilisasjonens vegne.

Eivind Berge said...

If Gail is right about collapse, then she is also right about climate change. She doesn't deny that global warming is happening and may well be anthropogenic, but we are powerless to put much more carbon into the atmosphere anyway because financial collapse is imminent, so why worry about it? Fossil fuels are leaving us, so us leaving them is a moot point.

This is why I find all the talk about climate change in the mainstream so ridiculous. Everyone assumes humans have the power to burn all our vast so-called proven reserves of oil, coal and gas if we choose to, and they have no idea how wrong they are. This sort of environmentalism is just another variation on the religion of perpetual growth. It is hubris.

And yes, collapse may well be the best thing we can possibly do for the climate -- if the ideal climate is defined as the one humans are adapted to. The environmentalists will get their wish, but most of them won't be around to enjoy it. And if humans aren't around, then who cares about the climate? New species will evolve and thrive in the new environment (including, perhaps, some primitive humans), and our current species aren't inherently any more valuable than whatever may appear next if you remove humans from the equation. So the politically correct position on climate change is nonsensical on so many levels. Until the biosphere gets sterilized by the sun in hundreds of millions of years, life will always find a way, and worrying about climate change only makes sense from the point of view of human industrial civilization -- which is ending very soon anyway no matter what we do.

Eivind Berge said...

Menz Wrightz,

Other commodity prices are going down as well beyond what miners can handle, not just oil. Is this also to punish Russia? And besides, deflation is hurting us as much as it hurts Russia. The European Central Bank just announced massive quantitative easing as a desperate measure. If you look into it, you will realize that the current deflationary trend is a much more profound and worrisome issue than a conflict with Russia.

Dan said...

Does anyone know of any other analysts besides Gail who are saying that oil prices will never rise again? I've finally understood her argument but I still can't understand why nobody else out there has come to the same conclusion. It will be amazing if the collective intelligence of the world's oil experts is wrong but one actuary is right.

Eivind Berge said...

I agree, it is quite amazing if Gail is right and every other oil analyst is wrong. I am not aware of anyone else predicting that oil prices will go all the way down to $20 by next year and never recover. She must be very sure of herself to make such a bold and falsifiable prediction. We shall find out.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

I agree very much on that, seen from a Deep Ecology perspective. Anyway, when one see what kind of society they dream about at the World Economic Forum, collapse and death seems like a relief:

Øyvind Holmstad said...

I think a major difference between Greer and Tverberg is that while Greer sees the economy as fractal, Tverberg sees it as a dome made up of Leonardo Sticks:

In a fractal pattern consisting of lots of nodes many of these can break down before the whole system falls apart:

If the economy is fractal, it will take quite a long time before enough nodes are broken to make the whole structure collapse.

This is how the system is made according to Greer, and it will therefore use considerable time to "wear out".

According to Tverberg and her dome model, just a few sticks have to be removed for the whole structure to fall apart.

I've not studied Greers "catabolic collapse"-theory in depth, so I'm not qualified to tell if his model has seriously flaws?

But Tverberg argues convincingly about her model using present data and statistics.

While Greer continues to refer to historic examples.

Maybe previous civilizations had a fractal structure, while our is different and has a dome structure of Leonardo Sticks?

If this is the case maybe Greers theory of "catabolic collapse" was correct for all former civilisations, while this time the "dome structure" needs to be applied?

Eivind Berge said...

That is an excellent summary of the difference between Greer and Tverberg. I find both of them rather convincing when I read them, and I am not qualified to know any better myself, either. Is our civilization really as fragile as a dome of Leonardo sticks, or is there enough resilience built in to enable a slow, catabolic collapse? Greer has been right so far, but that is no guarantee for the future. He said something interesting in a recent comment to explain his thinking:

"All the fast-crash people insist that we face worse problems than any previous civilization has faced. All the progress-will-save-us people insist that we have more capability to meet those problems than any previous civilization has had. I think they're both right, and that they cancel each other out -- giving us the usual one to three centuries of decline, ending in a half millennium or so of dark age."

Regardless of the evidence either way, he always concludes with his refrain that there is nothing new under the sun on this most ancient of planets. I wish more smart people would weigh in on this issue. If our industrial civilization is really just a hollow dome that can collapse altogether at any moment, then it is insane not to at least try to come up with a contingency plan to mitigate the disaster. This would seem like a far more worthy subject of study than climate change and just about everything else occupying the attention of researchers and receiving funding.

Dan said...

Personally I find Gail's far more convincing. Possibly because I am a natural pessimist and am programmed to seek out bad news. It feels like deja vu as I remember being totally convinced if imminent collapse back in 2009. Back then I was listening to people like Gerald Celente. I went into panic mode and started to read survivalist literature. But when the predictions of doom kept failing to materialise I slipped back into complacency mode. Now that ive just gone and bought tinned meat and water purification tablets I wonder if the same thing is happening again.

Eivind Berge said...

I am not usually prone to pessimism in general and I never took any doomsday predictions seriously in the past. However, Gail's logic is so compelling that I think there is a serious chance she is right. This is not some bullshit like the 2012 prophecy, which I never believed for a moment, though outsiders who don't understand her arguments probably think we are just as crazy. Most of her commenters also seem quite rational and intelligent, yet none can come up with any convincing counterarguments.

I hope we really are crazy... There is a lot wrong with the world, but the collapse of our entire civilization is not a good solution.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

"Dear all
To the mail below:

Enclosed is my poster from the London Planet under Pressure conference 2012, maybe a starting point for a common poster? I have it on pptx, editable.

We should address the elephant in the room: The connection between the current solutions (increased economic growth) and the fact that the growth necessarily must be based on an increase in ES (ecosystem service)consumption. We need an economist with status on our team who dares to incorporate the lack of democracy in the processes…

I have friends who try to publish, inform and be helpful through popularized blogs. For your info, please see (dere kan jo norsk allesammen…):
The Norwegian NHO is releasing a plan for 7 million people in Norway, without any consideration of how to live on sustainable ES:

…and Øyvind, who is expressing my own feelings about our situation:

I will now finally (…) try to look into the documents concerning our publication. Hopefully…
best from T"

If someones proposes a realistic solution that is not high tech "progress", they are debunked. Even Terje Bongard has now joined our company.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Tverberg doesn't believe in Permaculture either:http: //

"Pollution and waste are the flip side of energy use. We are constantly using more materials from lower grade ores. There is huge energy cost associated with attempting to recycle.

In some sense, concentrated ores of minerals of any kind, not just fossil fuels, are one-time gifts. We have been dissipating these one-time gifts; this dissipation is another face of our problem with diminishing returns.

The idea that we can use less is an attractive one, but the way that complexity works, and the way our networked system works, it is very doubtful that we can. It looks like the financial system collapses instead, bringing down the whole economy."

Compared to Tverberg Greer almost seems like a technology optimist and a follower of the religion of progress. A super optimist. Like a merry tango or something. Greers coming Dark Ages sound like the garden of Eden compared to the future Tverberg offers us. Like entering Heaven.

I can really feel how that woman rips me of my faintest hopes. Think I need to read Greer now, to regain optimism and idealism. He has to be my anti-depressiva now.

Eivind Berge said...

I am sure permaculture could work for some people. Gail is probably right that there is no way to save all 7 billion and maintain such a large population for long, but that doesn't mean everything is hopeless. Keep in mind that she is speaking from the point of view of industrial civilization as a whole.

She really goes overboard with the pessimism sometimes. Her logic leads to collapse at every level and she would reach the same conclusion in any era. Her criteria for sustainability are so strict that nothing humans can do would qualify. I can picture her preaching to a band of hunter-gatherers that they will be collapsing any minute now... and then they last for 5000 more years.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Takk! Ja, vi får håpe det. Jeg har fulgt Greer i ganske lang tid, det er først i det seinere jeg virkelig har begynt å lese Tverberg. Greer inspirerer til handling på et vis, selv om heller ikke hans framtid er lys, synes den på mange måter bedre enn hva vi har i dag. Og han mener at vi alle kan gjøre litt i dag som kan gjøre framtida litt bedre i morgen. Så han gir i alle fall meg en slags indre driv for å søke opp noe man kan gjøre i dag, for å gjøre det litt bedre for de etter.

Etter å ha lest Tverbergs kommentarer denne gang, har jeg kommet til at noe av det beste man kan gjøre nå er å plante eikeskoger. Hvis det blir så smått med stål for jordbruksredskaper som hun antyder, vil god tilgang til eik bety veldig mye, da dette er det hardeste og mest varige treslaget vi har. Eik trives godt i Norge, og Helgøya er det nordligste punktet hvor eika kan frø seg selv med eikenøtter.

Ja, de fleste av verdens 7 mrd. mennesker vil vandre inn i undergangen fulle av fremtidsoptimisme. Som en avsluttet en kommentartråd med meg et annet sted nettopp:

«Takk. Jeg vil prøve å nyte tilværelsen i en verden som blir stadig rikere, tryggere og mer rettferdig. Så får sammenbruddet komme som en overraskelse, for det vil det være hvis disse teoriene dine stemmer. De er ikke akkurat mainstream.»

Jeg vet nesten ikke om slike mennesker fortjener å leve uansett?

Eivind Berge said...

Fremtidsoptimismen er forbløffende sterk uansett hvordan det går. Det hjelper ikke å forklare disse sammenhengene til folk flest med teskje engang, for de tar dem rett og slett ikke inn over seg.

Jeg er helt enig i å plante eiketrær. Helst burde staten ha bygget opp et stort lager av enkle redskaper som spader og hakker til hele befolkningen også, slik at folk har et visst håp om å få dyrket mat når industriproduksjonen stopper opp og vi ikke får laget mer metallredskaper. Og mer av den type enkle forberedelser burde det fokuseres på. Men det er de færreste som ser behovet, så det er ikke håp om å få til noen redningsplan for folk flest.

Dan said...

«Takk. Jeg vil prøve å nyte tilværelsen i en verden som blir stadig rikere, tryggere og mer rettferdig. Så får sammenbruddet komme som en overraskelse, for det vil det være hvis disse teoriene dine stemmer. De er ikke akkurat mainstream.»

lol, excuse my flippancy but the schadenfreude I will get from watching the cornucopian mainstream have their delusions shattered may give me that extra will to survive. At least it might be one of the last enjoyments we get.

Another recent example of deluded optimism:

Eivind Berge said...

I've read Greer's latest essay now, and he does seem like a super-optimist compared to Tverberg. They don't appear to be describing the same world or even the same laws of physics.

He thinks aiming for a 1950s level of technology would be realistic. And then after a while we might gradually have to retrogress a bit further, but it doesn't have to get any worse than the kind of infrastructure we had in the 1820s, and sinking that far back probably wouldn't happen until long after our lifetimes. His vision would be like heaven indeed compared to the utter hopelessness predicted by Gail. If only it is possible...

Dan said...

Not directly related to this thread but a reminder of why some sort of collapse is needed ...

Eivind Berge said...

That kind of news makes me look forward to collapse as well. If the only alternative is a feminist police state, it isn't really worth saving. In fact, we shouldn't even help them prepare for the collapse, physically or mentally. Let them believe in their impossible future until they fall as hard as they can.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Yes' I recall someone told me to live in the ecco chamber of Tverberg and Greer. I really cannot se much of an echo here. They contradicts each other all the time. While Greer continue saying we can return to older technologies, using less energy, Tverberg thinks this very unlikely. As she said to me:

"The idea that we can use less is an attractive one, but the way that complexity works, and the way our networked system works, it is very doubtful that we can. It looks like the financial system collapses instead, bringing down the whole economy."

So either Greer is naive, or Tverberg is stupid?

"Kutamun, good. Yes, as I see it, western civilization peaked between 1815 and 1914; the fact that we have more shiny toys than they did doesn't outweigh the vast number of ways in which the cultures of that time were stronger and more viable than ours. The implosion of Europe in the 1914-1954 crisis left Russia and the United States more or less in charge of the smoking ruins; now that the era of US dominance is ending, we should see another steep jog downwards." - J.M.G

The coming Dark Ages were totally missing in this weeks essay. It describes a world where we can stabilize at 1820-levels of technology. But maybe this weeks essay more were meant to describe Greers ultimate hopes for the future? A return to a tecnological level that matches what he finds a peak of western civilization?

After all, he's a fan of J.H. Kunstler, who also shares this dream:

Maybe Greer was reading Tverberg, and had to write this essay to sheer himself up? Like a self medication?

Anyway, I doubth that even Greer understands so much more than about 30% of Tverbergs arguments, like the rest of us.

Dan said...

Eivind and Oyvind out of interest, how are you preparing mentally or physically for this probable collapse scenario? Gail advises those who are non-religious to spend your money in order to have a good time now while you still can. ie. theres not much point in even fighting it. Sounds pretty hopeless advice.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Of topic.

In USA someone is now sentenced to 5 years in prison for adding a link to published material:

A random journalist picked to scare of people.

Eivind Berge said...

If Gail's scenario happens, there is hardly anything we can do to prepare, so spending all your money to do whatever you want now is good advice. Since I have no capital, I have to work enough to support myself though, so I can't do anything too crazy. But anyone with savings and a job they don't especially enjoy should definitely drop out and just relax and have fun. Working hard to save for retirement decades from now would be a complete waste. It is also increasingly pointless (and dangerous) to be an activist for any sort of positive social change, since nothing will make a difference anyway.

Mentally, anyone who becomes aware of these issues is forced to go through the usual stages of grief, and I guess I am close to acceptance. Will just have to take it as it comes. Whatever happens will not be a shock, but I still marvel at the enormity of it. So many lives imperiled and virtually nothing done to mitigate the disaster just boggles the mind. The entire world should make a cooperative war effort towards sustainability if humanity were rational, but we are not. Individuals can gain insight into this predicament, but as a species we cannot. Even if some of the most powerful people in the world became totally aware of what we are up against, they couldn't do much. We are incapable of reacting to overshoot on a societal scale before disaster strikes and then it is too late.

I remember reading about the Doomsday argument back in the 90s, which predicts a huge disaster on purely probabilistic grounds:

Though I found the logic a bit disconcerting, back then my mind was filled with transhumanist thought and I couldn't fathom what the disaster might be. Certainly did not expect peak oil. I guess I finally found out what the disaster will be, and it does make sense. This is the most likely time to be alive because most of the population is about to be toast and there will never be anything like our industrial civilization again. Even the Doomsday argument doesn't necessarily predict a fast collapse though, so I am still not entirely sure if Gail is right.

Anonymous said...

Noget off-topic, men denne forespørgsel til Europa-Kommissionen smager alligevel af feministisk diktatur:

Det mest vanvittige er nok dette: "Agter Kommissionen ikke at opfordre medlemsstaterne til at harmonisere deres strafferetssystemer ved at indføre en skærpende omstændighed for samtlige typer af lovovertrædelser, når disse bliver begået mod kvinder?"

Øyvind Holmstad said...

@Dan, I really don't know what to do? You can store a lot of metal tools and so on, but where to hide it so that it will not be stolen when the crisis come? In some years people will kill you getting your shovel and hoe.

I helped my parents insulate their house at the farm a couple of years ago, so now it needs very little energy for heating. But with bands of bandits travelling along the road, robbing me for my ax and every tool I need to survive, what to do?

Maybe I should do like the squirrels, buy a lot of metal tools, wrapping them in plastic and dig them down one by one at lots of different places? And then hopefully remember where they are as I need replacements for stolen tools. Making a map is not a good idea, as that's too likely to be stolen, and you'll lose all your tools.

This must anyway be done secretly, if not people will think you're mad. Maybe you'll end up in an institution if you're not careful.

Saving seeds is easier, you can just seal them in envelopes and store them in cracks in your house, in stones and trees.

I will still try to "save the world", as I have an idealistic nature I cannot suppress. Anyway, I know it's useless, that it might be dangerous and that believers in progress will hate me for it.

If you don't have an idealistic nature you should definitely just enjoy life, as you otherwise become exhausted and depressed, and will be in a horrible condition when collapse hits you. You will not save the world anyway, just make yourself more vulnerable. So better save your energy and optimism for harder times to come.

Don't feel guilty for wasting energy and resources, if you don't waste them someone else will do it anyway, stealing your fun.

If wasting energy and resources makes you feel sick, spend quality time with your family and read a good book.

Try to gather as much quality time with your family and friends as possible, so that you can die peacefully together, recalling these good memories.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

By the way, here is a video with Geoff Lawton called "SURVIVING COLLAPSE - Designing your way to Abundance":

Dan said...

Thanks for your advice. I appreciate it. I will have a look at that link.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Here is an interesting extract from Tverberg:

"How This Time is Different

Greer, in his talk, mentioned several points about prior collapses:

Typically 95% of the population died off.

The time between civilizations tended to be about 500 years.

The 5% who survived were able to go about doing things, pretty much as had been done in the past.

The downslopes often had jogs and bumps in them, and could be slow.
The question arises as to how helpful this information is with respect to what is ahead. As I see the situation, civilizations that failed in the past were not fossil fuel dependent or electricity dependent. While there was specialization of labor, there was much less specialization than there is today. While there was some trade, the majority of food and clothing was locally produced. The biggest problems were

Growing population

Arable farmland that did not expand to meet growing population

Soil problems (loss of fertility, erosion, salinity)


Competition from neighboring civilizations

Government collapse

Debt problems

Øyvind Holmstad said...

I view the 500 year gap between civilizations as including what I show as the “inter cycle” period between civilizations in Figure 6, above. This is the gap that took place before new growth could occur.

The big problem in the past with civilizations that collapsed was that humans were using renewable resources faster than they could renew. Population continued to expand as well. The combination of rising population and depleting soil and forest resources led to diminishing returns, lower wages for many workers, and difficulty funding governments. A 500 year gap between civilizations took the population pressure off an area. Forests were able to regrow, and soil was able to renew (at least partly through regeneration of soil by erosion of base rock).

Today, we still have the problems we had in the past, but we have some new ones as well:

We are depleting aquifers much more rapidly than they regenerate. In many cases, the water table is far below what can be reached with simple tools. It will take thousands of years for these aquifers to regenerate.

We are depleting minerals of all kinds, so that we now need “high tech” methods to extract the low ore concentrations. These minerals will be out of reach, without the use of electricity and fossil fuels. In fact, the vast majority of fossil fuel energy supplies will also be out of reach, without today’s high tech methods.

Eventually this may change, with new fossil fuel formation and with earthquakes, but the timeframe is likely to be millions of years.
Most people today do not know how to live without fossil fuels and electricity. If fossil fusel and electricity disappeared, most of us would not know how to produce our own food, water, and other basic necessities.

Most of us could not just “pick up and do as we did before,” with respect to our current jobs, if the government and 95% of the population disappeared. Our jobs are often supported by global supply chains that would disappear, as well as direct use of fossil fuels and electricity.

The world is sufficiently networked that most of it is likely to be drawn into a world-wide collapse.

In the past, areas that did not collapse continued to function. These areas could act as a back-up, if functions were lost.

In the past, the 500 year gap was enough to allow regeneration of forests and soil, once population pressures were reduced. If that were our only problem now, we could expect the same pattern again. Such a regeneration would allow a reasonably large group of people (say 500 million people) to get back to a non-fossil fuel based civilization in 500 years, with new governments, roads and other services.

In such a new civilization, we would likely have difficulty using much metals, because ores are now quite depleted. Even reprocessing of existing metals is likely to require more heat energy than is easily available from renewables sources.

We are now so dependent on fossil fuels and electricity that any collapse that does take place seems likely to be faster than prior collapses. If the electric grid goes down in an area, and cannot be repaired, most business functions will be lost–practically immediately. If oil supply is interrupted, it also will bring a halt to most business in an area, because workers can’t get to work and raw materials cannot be transported.

We are bing told, “Renewables will save us,” but this is basically a lie. Wind and solar PV are just as much a part of our current fossil fuel system as any other source of electricity. They will only last as long as the weakest link–inverters that need replacing, batteries that need replacing, or the electric grid that needs fixing. We are being told that these are our salvation, because politicians need to have something to point to as a solution–not because they really will work."

Eivind Berge said...

If 95% of the population died off, then obviously the remaining 5% could not simply go on as before. All the mining operations, supply lines and factories would stop working long before that many people died. There would be no way to keep industrial civilization running after a sudden big dieoff, and this really is different than before.

The big question, as I see it, is how low can we go before the whole system breaks? And how quickly will it break? Will our entire civilization collapse as soon as economic growth is no longer possible, like Gail claims? This is not exactly obvious and completely mind-blowing if true. But she is making a good case for it.

Øyvind Holmstad said...


I wish there could have been arranged a serious meeting between Tverberg and Greer, so that they together could have gone more in depth with these utterly important issues.

It seems like Tverberg's best hope for humanity is an intervention by a higher power. While Greer hopes for an eco-technic civilization on 1820-levels.

But if 98% die of rapidly, there should be plenty of tools, clothes and land for the remaining to survive. Further, these 2% will be the strongest ones. Why shouldn't they survive?

By the way, I put up a part of our conversation including the illustrations:

Hope more people will engage in these issues?

Eivind Berge said...

I agree that 2% (or 5%?) may well survive after a rapid dieoff, and they might even live fairly well initially using the stuff left behind. But they would have absolutely no hope of preserving industrial civilization. There would be no more computers made, the electric grid would be down, and fossil fuels would be almost completely inaccessible, at least for a very, very long time.

That's easy enough to understand. But why do we need to jump directly to that level as soon as we can't add more debt and keep growing the economy? Because that's what Gail argues, and she does so quite convincingly too. Given what is at stake, it is completely crazy that not more people are engaging these issues!

Eivind Berge said...

And thanks for posting those illustrations. At least some of us are raising awareness. I personally can't understand why so many people remain nonchalant about these crucial issues.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Nonchalant is the word!

Degrowth is growing in popularity:

But if Gail is right, there will become too much of it.

Is there a way for degrowth where we can live in balance with ecosystem services, without collapsing the whole economy?

Another problem is that centralized governments surely don't appreciate permaculture, because permaculture is strictly decentralized. This way they will lose control. An important reason why governments won't support degrowth.

Anyway, Tverberg thinks living on less is just an utopian dream, because the way our networked economy works. In her view, we have painted ourselves into a corner, with no escape.

Still, if this is correct, we should do everything in our power to make as many of us as possible survive a rapid collapse.

Like arranging courses in permaculture design. Teaching people survival technology, like making bows and arrows, making a fire without matches, etc. Planting oak forests. Storing huge amounts of metal tools in caves in the mountains. Storing shoes, as Tverberg points out this is a critical issue in cold climate.

Instead, people remain completely nonchalant. Like in the times of Noah.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Here's an article (although a little naive) I found on the top of my favourites bar this morning.

- Survival Skills You’ll Need If Society Collapses:

Teaching such skills should have been done on a massive scale. If Gail is right, or even it's only a 50% chance she's right, we should have dropped all other education and focused on such skills only.

Ranging from kindergartens to universities to adult education.

Øyvind Holmstad said...

"However, before chainsaws and other modern technology, there existed a whole range of the right tools for harvesting firewood.

Two-person crosscut saws, axes, an array of smaller saws, and saw sharpening kits are still available today. These high-quality tools will last a lifetime. With some practice, you and a partner can become proficient in producing enough firewood for barter."

By the way, is there anyone who knows where to buy a really sturdy "two-person crosscut saw"?

It came to my mind that the saws you can buy in ordinary hardware stores are not at all sturdy enough, and generally not useful for two persons.

I think good wood cutting saws will be a critical issue for survival here, as most hand saws made today are just junk. Cutting firewood with axes is too much work.

So please inform me where to buy sturdy wood cutting saws and other items that can last for generations in a post-industrial society!

Dan said...

Im trying to look at things optimistically here but Im wondering about the example of Cuba and how it seemed to adapt quite quickly to the collapse that occured when their Soviet lifeline was cut. A similar thing happened during WWII when parks and golf courses were used for growing food. Doesnt this indicate that rapid dieoff isnt inevitable.

Dan said...

Again, trying to be optimistic but would rapid deforestation necessarily ensue? Im guessing in a collapse situation a lot of people, elderly, infirm or those who rely on medication would die which sucks for them but it would ease the fuel shortagr. Following WWI millions died from an epidemic caused in part by low immunity due to wartime malnutrition. Wouldnt something like this be more likely than 7bn people stripping the last remaining forests?

Anonymous said...

“Lest you forget the nature of money/i.e., that it is a ticket. For the govt. to issue it against any particular merchandise or metal, is merely to favour the owners of that metal and by just that much to betray the rest of the public. You can see that the bill here photod. has SERVED (I mean by the worn state of the note). Certificates of work done. That is what these notes were in fact / before the bank swine got the monopoly. Thus was the wilderness conquered for the sake of pork-barrelers who followed.” — Ezra Pound – postcard to Franklin D. Roosevelt

“And so that you don’t continually misunderstand–usury and interest are not the same thing. Usury is a charge made for the use of money regardless of production and often regardless of even the possibilities of production” —
Ezra Pound Reading, vol. 2, Caedmon Records 1962

“The trick is simple. Whenever the Rothschild and other gents in the gold business have gold to sell, they raise the price. The public is fooled by propagandizing the devaluation of the dollar, or other monetary unit according to the country chosen to be victimized. The argument is that the high price of the monetary unit is injurious to the nation’s commerce.

But when the nation, that is, the people of that nation own the gold and the financiers own the dollars or other monetary units, the gold standard is restored. This raises the value of the dollar and the citizens of ‘rich’ nations, as well as citizens of other nations, are diddled.”~ Ezra Pound

~ Negentropic

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Yes Dan, I really think Cuba is one of the best places to stay when a collapse occures!

And yes, I think the forests are much safer than i thought. Both because the facts you mention, but also because of the poor standard af handsaw equipment these days. The step from an ax to a hand saw can be compared with the step from a hand saw to a motor chain saw. Most handsaws today are not very adequate for logging and cutting woods. Also most axes are too small to be effecient, older axes were much bigger. Most axes and saws today are for hobby use and will wear out soon.

Dan said...


Funny that you should quote the fascist money reformer Ezra Pound as I have been thinking recently about this very question. How would things have been different/better if we didn't have a debt based currency?

I'm not sure if Gail or Greer have seriously considered the arguments of monetary reformers like Bill Still or Ellen Brown. Their argument is basically this: that at least since the founding of the Bank of England the world has been progressively enslaved by an insane financial system whereby private banks have the power to lend money into existence out of nothing as interest-bearing debt for their own profit. The alternative is a more intuitively sensible and rational system where money is issued by the state (with obvious checks) debt free and spent into circulation for the benefit of the people.

Humanity has at various periods managed to escape this system (The island of Guernsey as far as I know is the last remaining place in the world where the state issues its own debt free currency)

What modern monetary reformers often neglect to mention is that Nazi Germany was the last major nation to have done this before it was destroyed by war:

"Under the National Socialists, Germany’s money wasn’t backed by gold (which was owned by the international bankers). It was essentially a receipt for labor and materials delivered to the government.
Hitler said, “For every mark issued, we required the equivalent of a mark’s worth of work done, or goods produced.” The government paid workers in Certificates. Workers spent those Certificates on other goods and services, thus creating more jobs for more people. In this way the German people climbed out of the crushing debt imposed on them by the international bankers.
Within two years, the unemployment problem had been solved, and Germany was back on its feet. It had a solid, stable currency, with no debt, and no inflation, at a time when millions of people in the United States and other Western countries (controlled by international bankers) were still out of work. Within five years, Germany went from the poorest nation in Europe to the richest.
Germany even managed to restore foreign trade, despite the international bankers’ denial of foreign credit to Germany, and despite the global boycott by Jewish-owned industries. Germany succeeded in this by exchanging equipment and commodities directly with other countries, using a barter system that cut the bankers out of the picture. Germany flourished, since barter eliminates national debt and trade deficits."

Dan said...

quote taken from the blog "The Irish Savant"

“In January 1938, the Soviet diplomat Kristyan Rakovsky commented on the German money system. Rakovsky had held posts in London and in Paris and was acquainted with Wall Street financiers. He explained, “Hitler, this uneducated ordinary man, has out of natural intuition and even despite the opposition of the technician Schacht, created an especially dangerous economic system. An illiterate in every theory of economics driven only by necessity, he has cut out international as well as private high finance. Hitler possesses almost no gold, and so he can’t endeavor to make it a basis for currency. Since the only available collateral for his money is the technical aptitude and great industriousness of the German people, technology and labor became his ‘gold’…. As you know, like magic it’s eliminated all the unemployment for more than six million skilled employees and laborers. “Germany’s withdrawal from the gold-based, internationally linked monetary system in favor of a medium of exchange founded on domestic productivity corresponded to Hitler’s belief in maintaining the sovereignty of nations. This was an unwelcome development in London, Paris and New York, where cosmopolitan investment and banking institutions profited from loaning money to foreign countries. Germany no longer had to borrow in order to trade on the world market. Foreign demand for German goods correspondingly created more jobs within the Reich”

Dan said...

Had the Axis powers won WWII most of the world would most likely have adopted this radically different financial system. There would be no booms and busts. No such thing as Goldman Sachs, or the Federal Reserve. There would be no globalisation, instead there would be independent national economies. Debt of course would still exist but banks would only have the power to lend out money that already existed. Our economies would not be driven by the need for frenzied growth to service old debt. Our stores would not be filled with cheap plastic goods from China since the Chinese economy would not depend on exports. Countries would generate capital internally instead of depending on foreign investment. International trade would be a fraction of what it is now.

Had this system triumphed it is unlikely we would be staring at total global collapse now. We would probably be better off in other ways as well. With the Nazi emphasis on eugenics it is likely that genetic engineering and transhumanist projects would have begun in earnest decades ago. With Parliamentary democracy having been consigned to the dustbin, national leaders would be focused on the long term interest of the country instead of the next election. It would have been inconceivable that nuclear power would have been neglected in the way that it has. German Nazi scientists were already years ahead of their time and had so many of them not been executed or dispersed across the world after the war we would probably be a far more technologically advanced civilisation today. At some point we get into pure speculation but we might have already developed fusion power or some other silver bullet.

Eventually we might probably have run into limits to growth but we would be in a far better position to deal with it than we are today. Even if one believes the nonsensical fraud that is the official Holocaust narrative the world as a whole would be incomparably better off than it is today. It goes without saying we would have been spared the menace of feminism as well. It fills me with pain and sadness to think what might have been. At the same time the knowledge that the corrupt liberal globalist system enthroned in 1945 is now finally ending will help me to die in peace.

Dan said...

Here is another peak oil aware blogger who has some interesting views. He doesnt seem to have written on the subject recently but he explains why we should be at least be thankful that Communism dominated much of the world for most of the 20th C.

: "By repressing the economic potential of eastern Europe and China throughout much of the 20th century, one of Marxism-Leninism’s greatest legacies is to have indirectlypostponed humanity’s reckoning with the Earth’s limits to industrial growth in the form of resource depletion and AGW. Had Eastern Europe and Russia become industrialized, consumer nations by the 1950’s-1960’s instead of the 2010’s-2020’s; had China followed the development trajectory of Taiwan; had nations from India to Brazil not excessively indulged in growth-retarding import substitution, it is very likely that today we would already be well on the downward slope of Hubbert’s curve of oil depletion, and burning coal to compensate – in turn reinforcing an already runaway global warming process."

Anonymous said...

Nok en gang pågripelse etter § 140. Skal bli interessant å følge med i fortsettelsen.

Eivind Berge said...

Mulla Krekar arrestert igjen allerede? Wow, det gikk raskt. Men jeg må si han gikk temmelig langt denne gangen i å si ting som rimeligvis kan rammes av § 140. Å utlove dusør for drap på en bestemt person er ganske grovt, og langt verre enn noe jeg noengang har sagt. Jeg ville aldri funnet på å uttale meg slik, for det er jo å be om å bli arrestert. Nærmest et skoleeksempel på hva oppvigling er, så hvis han blir dømt for dette, så er det egentlig ikke overraskende og kan ikke sammenlignes den type retorikk som jeg står for.

Anonymous said...

Ola Evil Eivind Brevik, er Berge!

So, wait, what, you M(h)RA's confound me with your logic...

The biggest problem is now not feminism but falling gas prices...

So if I enjoy falling gas prices, does that not make me guilty of misandry???

BTW-I saw a nice heavey metal band from your homeland called Enslaved.

Do you like heavy metal?

Eivind Berge said...

Once you realize that the driver of falling commodity prices is depletion, it changes your whole outlook. It means there can be no fix for this situation, because depletion can't be reversed. If you don't believe that the low oil price is caused by depletion, take a look at this site:

I know it is a bit counterintuitive that depletion should lead to lower prices, but that's the way it is, and it is actually easy to understand if you think about it.

Misandry is about to be a moot point as well after the government has collapsed. Enjoy your cheap gas while you can, because it heralds the end of oil production and the end of industrial civilization. Oil is getting cheaper because it is delivering less and less net energy to the economy. The problem is we won't get any more oil when the economy is unable to support the cost of extraction. There is no possible substitute for the energy delivered by fossil fuels, so we are out of luck.

Nah, I am not much into heavy metal. I prefer country music.

Andrea Muhrrteyn said...

Re: I have to credit Gail Tverberg with explaining how increased depletion leads to falling oil prices, or else I would be just as clueless as most people. .. She thinks we have at most two years of business as usual left, and then collapse will occur by the end of 2016. And the only remedy she can come up with is to pray for divine intervention.

*~~~~~* *~~~~~* *~~~~~* *~~~~~*
Except of Invitation which was sent to Ms. Gail Tverberg to support the implementation of an Ecology of Peace international law social contract for orderly and humane deindustrialization and depopulation. No response received. Full text of invitation available at EoP PoW Geneva Convention Amendments: Submission Documentation: Legal Supporters & Correspondence: Supporters - Read Receipts (PDF).
*~~~~~* *~~~~~* *~~~~~* *~~~~~*

Sent: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 2:32 AM
To: 'Oil Drum Editors'; 'Nate Hagens'; 'Brian Maschhoff'; 'Rune Likvern'; 'Gail Tverberg'; 'Chris Vernon'; 'Robert Rapier'; 'Samuel Avro'; 'Juan Aguilar'; 'Allison Braxton'; 'Jeff Vail'; 'Luis de Sousa'
Cc: 'Timothy Truthseeker'
Subject: Legal Invitation: MILINT Earth Day submission to Swiss Federal Council

TO: Oil Drum Editors; Nate Hagens; Brian Maschhoff; Rune Likvern; Gail Tverberg; Chris Vernon; Robert Rapier; Samuel Avro; Juan Aguilar; Allison Braxton; Jeff Vail; Luis de Sousa
CC: Timothy McVeigh


If you seriously and honourably support the submission to the Swiss Federal Council -- to implement MILINT Earth Day due process solutions to honourably de-industrialize and humanely reduce planetary population and consumption to ecological carrying capacity limits including the adoption of an international law social contract requiring all the worlds religious, racial and cultural tribes to restrict their members consumption and procreation to ecological carrying capacity limits -- please respond with a ‘Read Receipt’.

Your ‘read receipt’ support shall then be included as attached ‘supporters’ for the submission to the Swiss Federal Council; once Presidents Obama and Putin, the Pentagon, CIA, FSB, NATO et al officials; have concluded there is sufficient support for the submission not to be emasculated, of its fundamental MILINT Earth Day principles.

‘Not Read’ responses shall be interpreted as follows:

You did not read the invitation; or Notice of Legal Argument objection.

Terms of Service: Re: ‘Not Read’ = Notice of Legal Argument Objection:

If your ‘not read’ response is a result of your objection to the Military Necessity CommonSism arguments to implement international legislation to limit the ‘right to breed’ and ‘right to consume’ to carrying capacity limits; to orderly address ecological overshoot and climate collapse; to be submitted to the Swiss Federal Council.

You are invited to submit a brief with your legal argument, and evidence for your legal argument; within two weeks of your ‘not read’ response ‘notice to object’. .......... [ continued ]

-- end excerpt --

FTR: A copy of this comment is posted to Transcript of Comments Correspondence [PDF]: RE: Former MILED Clerk Ecology of Peace v War is Peace culture NWO Negotiations [PDF].

Anonymous said...

Et samfunn som til og med setter politiet på horekunder mens horer er uskyldige, fortjener så visst ikke snille menn. Hvorfor skal vi gidde å oppføre oss pent når mannlig seksualitet er så til de grader kriminalisert?"-har det noen gang falt deg inn at disse horene er ofre ? At egentlig det siste de vil i livet er ha sex med en ekkel fyr som MÅ betale for det. OG hvorfor skal ikke du oppføre deg pent overfor mennesker uavhengig av om du er enig i et lands lovgiving eller ikke ? Hvorfor gir det deg e rett til å utøve vold mot andre ? Det er mye jeg ikke er enige i Norge, men det gir meg ikke rett til å oppføre meg dårlig mot andre, to feil blir ikke en riktig. hallo, jeg er i mot perkeringsreglene i Bergen så d gir meg rett til å drepe E. Berge for han protesterer ikke mot parkeringsregler slik jeg gjør....

Øyvind Holmstad said...

Gail Tverberg responderte til denne diskusjonen her:

Gail the ActuaryJanuary 19, 2017 at 3:57 AM

"John Michael Greer looks at the situation where there are a very small number of occupations, and most of the workers are farmers. If there is a significant die-off in population, the remainder can continue to do their jobs. If the government has problems, a farmer can, in theory, move to nearby area, and continue to farm. Implements are simple. There is no dependence on oil or electricity. In such a situation, even if there is a partial collapse, the remainder can continue. It is much less likely this will be the case, where we have a economies dependent on international trade, a debt-based financial system, just-in-time delivery, electricity, and oil."