What shall we call it?

The Arizona Republic ran my lengthy op-ed in their Viewpoint section Sunday and a follow-up Q&A piece in Wednesday’s paper. So far, a few minutes before noon, email responses to me on Sunday are mixed. About half are vile, in-denial buckets of hate. The other half are thankful, fearful, and/or curious to learn more. One respondent indicated the piece was linked to Oil Drum already, but I haven’t taken the time to find it there.

Below, I paste a few of the notable quotes from my email in-box, with my commentary in brackets:
“I have kids and the Peak Oil business scares the s**t out of me for their sake, if not my own. I’d like to know how soon I should start plowing up my subdivision lot and planting vegetables.” [Good question. I wish I had a definitive answer, other than NOW.]
“Your article today in the AZ Republic was a total embarrassment for people in the environmental profession (actually, I’ve been in it probably longer that you have been alive). It is so wrong and distorted on so many levels, I do not even have the energy to comment. Go to my web sites and start reading my nearly 200 articles on the environment. Maybe you will learn something.” [I did visit his websites, and I did learn something: He believes technology will save us, along with a little re-organization. Personally, I agree with James Howard Kunstler: I do not think we can innovate or organize our way out of this mess. I could be wrong, as I often am.]
“I read your piece “End of the World As We Know It” and was very happy to recommend it to raptor conservationists and raptorphiles on email listservers I participate in. Isn’t it amazing that the Presidential candidates this year are completely failing the public by ignoring the underlying realities behind their desire to continue military occupation of the Middle East by one way or another! Dick Cheney is secretive, but the truth is that so is Obama.” [Yep. Seems we’re pinning our presidential hopes on uber-hawk McCain, who would bomb Iran for fun, Chillary Rodham Clinton, who would follow her husband’s lead in outflanking on the Republicans on the right, and Obama, who think the war we need to win is the one with nuclear-armed Pakistan.]
“Your article in today’s Az Rep is an abomination. Based on lies and so far beyond credibility that you should be fired for even daring to print it. We currently have known reserves IN THIS COUNTRY equal to the amount of oil we have used throughout history. We will be starving in 10 years? Where the fuck do you get that? Put your factual sites where your pen is, motor mouth.” [So I did. It didn’t seem to placate him, though.]
“I’ll make you a bet. If I have to forage for food in 2018, I’ll try to find a nice rabbit to cook for you. If I can go to the grocery store like I do now, you owe me a steak. BTW, the bet is off if we have a nuclear war.” [I took the bet. But I told him it’s a long walk from Indiana to the American Southwest, but he needn’t worry: we’ll probably both be dead by 2018. I’ll bet that made his day.]
I answered all the messages, as I always do. And I was a lot more civil than those who sent hate mail, as usual. I try to remember two things about these folks: (1) They, like the rest of us, have no free will, and (2) they’re very, very scared. Ignorance is bliss, and I’ve taken some away from them.
I wish I had some of my own back.
Wednesday’s issue of The Arizona Republic will feature yours truly in the mis-named Livetalk Q&A section Wednesday, 9 April. I’ll be participating in a workshop on Desert Climate and Fire in the Aquarius Casino & Resort in Laughlin, Nevada, preparing my next-day talk on the topics of fire, biological invasions, climate change, and peak oil. With luck, I’ll get out of Laughlin before supply disruptions in gasoline force me to spend significant time in that hell-hole.
Thinking about those disruptions leads me to this question for my readers: What shall we call this event?
In general, I use the term, “The Greatest Depression.” I’ve seen these terms in print:
The flush
The downturn
The Second Great Depression
The great unwinding
So, what do you prefer?

Comments 35

  • Thanks again for your reply to my query.
    As my field is history, specifcally the history of the US Empire, I prefer the term The Great Decline. Since you frequent LATOC, I wonder if you’ve heard of/read the Olduvai Gorge Theory? (Here’s the most recent published form, http://www.oilcrisis.com/duncan/OlduvaiTheorySocialContract.pdf and a recent blog discussion about it, http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3565 )
    We face a very large problem rooted in our culture and biology with no easy fix. One would hope that global politicos would see it in their interest to sign and adhere to Dr. Campbell’s Depletion Protocol, http://www.oildepletionprotocol.org/theprotocol
    If all we encounter is a Great Decline, we can count ourselves fortunate.

  • Karl — I’m quite familiar with the Olduvai Gorge concept. Thanks for the link! –Guy

  • I prefer to term what is going on now with the economy as The Great Heist of 2008. As the first “great depression” was manipulated and resulted in a lot of “legal” wealth transference upstream, so is this one, as the “bailout” money goes to make larger land and building owners out of a few selected large concerns. The effect will be a return to aristocracy and two classes, or what I termed years ago and anyone is free to use, “technofeudalism”.

    Anyway, perhaps you are correct on the severity of the energy shocks, I think there would be a lot more wars over resources before it got that bad, and that the wars would be worse than just more expensive oil.

    FWIW, we withdrew from normal 100% dependent on large sums of FRNs society some years ago and now are more than half way self sufficient for our basic needs. big gardens, grow our own beef and chickens, greenhouse, firewood is our primary heat, etc. Small amount of solar PV and so on. Living in any town when/if major disruptions occur is not a very good idea, as cities require piped in and trucked in reality for all their necessities, very little is actually stored or produced inside of cities. It can go from normal and comfy to OMG THIS SUCKS in a very short time. and thinking you’ll be able to evacuate then and just go tripping out into the daisy and sunshine filled countryside to “survive” is silly, it won’t happen. You have to “evacuate in advance” to have this sort of move be effective, otherwise you’ll just be a refugee.

  • Thanks for the article! What a stunner! But it actually just woke me up again to what the fabulous instructor, Tom Danielsen, taught me in Bio 101 at Phx College 25 yrs. ago, and what I learned more recently from reading Thom Hartmann’s ” The Last Hours of . .” I teach Art to K-8 students and it seems so irrelevant to be doing so!! I should be telling them so many other things, but where do I begin? I’ll be retiring in one more year, and I’m re-evaluating my plans . . . This is another reason I’m happy that I’ve not had children of my own.

  • Your opinion needs to be debated and brought forward for serious discussion. From those population ecology computer simulations thirty years ago we should have learned more than how to play computer games. Clearly there is a carrying capacity and one of the clear limitations is availability of fuels to sustain this lifestyle. I don’t know whether it’s 10 years or 100 years, but it’s certainly closer today than it was yesterday.
    Do you have any references for developing a more sustainable “modern” existence? What about the availability of modern pharmaceuticals in a post-fuel age America?

  • Oops, I mean “The Last HOURS of Ancient Sunlight.”
    Well, I’m not a blogger, but I’m glad I’ve found yours, and have been perusing your archives. I enjoy your humorous outlook. I also plan to read some of the books mentioned. Any suggestions for a good one to start with?
    As sad as it is, your op-ed was a big dose of reality for me that I needed to hear again, and is appreciated.

  • Ellen — I recommend Richard Heinberg’s recent book, Peak Everything. It goes beyond oil, and it’s a quite optimistic, but it’s a start. I reviewed it, and a few other books, in earlier entries.

  • Guy:
    I’m basically in agreement with you. You seem certain of the date: 2005, for peak oil. Production decline does not necessarily mean peak oil…refinery capacity, OPEC politics etc can also affect this number. I’ve seen anywhere from 2001 to 2050 for peak. My own guess, from a lot of reading, including Matthew Simmons seminal analysis, is that we are within fifteen years of peak oil,perhaps more, if certain curtailments occur. Although this is not a ‘cure’ for the situation, it may mean a small additional margin for all of us to prepare. I’m curious…where did you get the year 2005, and why do you seem so certain about it? My other question is this: if you publish a piece that is clearly one of terminal nature (for us, that is)…is that to scare us into action? Or are you absolutely certain of your time frame? Are you surprised at some of the angry responses? Your basic premise is, I think, sound, but the average reader is so ignorant of the facts surrounding energy and oil that I think such blunt force trauma is sometimes counter-productive. Or, perhaps you have a different take. Might it be that it doesn’t matter, and your piece is like the voice of Ishmael in Moby Dick? I’d be curious as to your response on these thoughts. Thanks for your patience in again plowing through my verbiage.

  • The problem underlying peak oil, global warming, shortages of water, food, etc. is that THERE ARE TOO MANY PEOPLE! The only country that has taken serious measures to address overpopulation, China, has been castigated for the effort. There is too much reverence for “life” preached by religions that hope to breed followers. As resources dwindle the poor majority of people on earth who barely subsist will compete for the meager remnants without regard for the future.
    I feel fortunate that I have lived through the most abundant period on earth, I feel sorry for my grandchildren who will have to make do with what is left.

  • To imagine that the last century represented the most abundant period on earth is a psychology thesis in its own right.
    I disagree a bit with the free will hypothesis. Not winning doesn’t mean your not playing.
    Here’s a poem to illustrate.
    We are afraid
    of each other
    so stop and watch
    the river run
    and know that we too
    are governed
    by a catastrophic ecology
    and that we too are chained
    to a randomness
    that steals from us our gods
    and makes us free
    to choose
    to be
    a keystone species
    on a living planet
    searching for a brain
    that leans toward compassion
    and brims with a sense of wonder
    at all the fools
    and all the pretty things
    that make us look at stars
    and wonder
    who we are and where we are
    and what might be behind the eyes
    of a jaguar or a mountain plover
    or my own son
    playing naked
    on rocks and in rivers
    that still offer hope
    in a limited way
    that the end is
    a beginning
    and that birds will still sing
    Or then again
    maybe it is lost
    and a moment of love
    buried in eternity
    is the only thing ultimately worth
    the price of admission.

  • This will be the Last Depression – but not in the sense the economists would like to see it :)

  • I suggest The Great Unravelling.
    This is my first look at your blogs, Guy, after coming across an article linked from Rense and then searching on your name. I really like your style of writing and your thoughts. They remind me much of the dear departed Kurt Vonnegut, who has been a favourite of mine for nearly 30 years. Your ideas are written with a refreshing openness and humour, which is not much in evidence these days.
    Glad to hear that you’re building a life boat – I wish you all the best with it. Me and my partner are about to move to one ourselves and hope to create something sustainable before TSHTF.
    The more I read, the more it seems likely that we (i.e. all life on the planet, but especially humans) are screwed, but I hope that we can ride the wave and come through. We’ll see.

  • “Oh, whatever shall we name the end of times… Hmm, perhaps the unraveling, or the unwinding, or, oh shucks, did someone insult me? I’ll turn the other cheek because they are all mindless lemurs who are not enlightened as I am.”
    Smug, smug, smug. To extrapolate certainty from remarkably complex and wide ranging data is foolish and irresponsible, and you sir are both.

  • Great article. Many people are in denial. We hit pak oil in 1971 and now import over 60% of what we use everyday.
    Global warming is real.
    That’s why I ride my bicycle to and from work for fun and my health. When gas prices go up I just smile more.
    I also live in a grid tied solar home. It’s easy to be green. It’s also save you lots of money as well as the world.

  • It’s a good thing you link to your editorials here, Guy, because I never read the whole paper thoroughly enough to see them. It’s too bad that some folks don’t get the part about humor being a critical part of mentally surviving this mess.
    You can keep throwing the depressing stuff at them and I’ll keep chipping away at entrenched behavior…not that I really think either of us can make a huge difference in the end. But then again, I’m probably more of a pessimist than you.

  • Dear Professor McPherson,
    I prefer Terminal Depression for the reasons I stated in my blogs yesterday on “The end of Civilization and the Extinction of humanity”
    Please keep up your great work.
    Frank Mezek
    Sun City,AZ

  • I sent the following to the AZ Republic. I doubt they will pick it up given their 200 word limit. That’s far too small to do this justice.
    I first read Guy McPherson’s editorial, “End Of The World As We Know It,” thinking it was tongue in cheek; something more suited for April Fools day. Alas, April Fools day is long past and we must confront nothing more than a personal agenda disguised with dubious, cherry-picked data.
    The oil “peakists” have predicted several times over the past forty years that oil production had peaked and the U.S. was doomed. Most notably, M. King Hubbert predicted we would peak in 1970. Mr. McPherson uses this incorrectly since Mr. Hubbert was right for all the wrong reasons. The energy crisis of the seventies had nothing to do with an oil “peak”; rather it was supply manipulation by the all powerful OPEC.
    Mr. McPherson also fails to acknowledge recent, critical developments in the oil industry.
    Abiotic theory informs us that the conventional belief that oil is organic is simply not true. It is, in fact, continuously produced by natural processes from the earth’s magma. If you doubt this, check out Russia. They adopted this concept nearly twenty years ago and have successfully deployed deep drilling technology to become a giant in the oil industry. Their new-found wealth is directly attributed to abiotic theory and its’ application. In addition, they now maintain a strategic advantage over the U.S. given their compelling efforts in this arena.
    Canada has recently become the leading supplier of oil to the U.S. Why? Canada has the world’s largest deposit of oil sands, representing over one third of the world’s oil reserves. Technological innovation over the past several years has allowed oil from these deposits to be profitably extracted and upgraded. Canada is now supplying the U.S. over one million barrels per day, and growing, from its’ oil sands. While small compared to Canada, oil sands are also prominent in the U.S. and Venezuela. This is a vast and growing segment of the oil industry.
    Investment and developments in alternative energy continue at a rapid pace. It is clear that this is the direction we must pursue in the long-run. Oil production and its’ use takes too much of a toll on our environment; not to mention our reliance on foreign sources. However, fostering one’s agenda through scare tactics is bad science at its very worst. A hypothesis requires us to accept that it may be wrong after evaluation and research. Mr. McPherson’s bold hypothesis, “peak oil spells the end of civilization”, is reckless at best. At worst, it’s the activist side of academia that coerces its agenda through haughtiness and premeditated misinformation.

  • There are some really good essays dealing with abiotic oil. One is a great two-parter by Byron King of Whisky and Gunpowder, http://www.whiskeyandgunpowder.com/Archives/2006/20060301.html and http://www.whiskeyandgunpowder.com/Archives/2006/20060308.html
    Dr. Guy, you might add this nice tidbit from the NY Times noted by Byron at the beginning of his second part: “The concept of Peak Oil has not been widely written about. But people are talking about it now. It deserves a careful look — largely because it is almost certainly correct.” — The New York Times, March 1, 2006
    Another is by an theoildrum.com poster called The Fallacy of Abiotic Oil, http://www.theoildrum.com/story/2005/11/20/184344/95#90
    Oh, and did you see the item where China is predicting a 63% increase in oil usage by 2020? Where the oil would be found to fuel this increase wasn’t discussed.

  • Dear Professor McPherson,
    Please forgive my ignorance
    when I talked to you on the phone on Sunday,you’re the first person I’ve known who agrees with me that we are going into a Depression. Almost all my friends think I’m crazy !!
    Somehow, not knowing then how this works, I got to the “End of Civilization —- “article and posted some of my ideas there.
    Thank you.

  • The world has become so exremely fragile and inter-dependent in so many differnt ways that we will not know which disaster will come first.I’m new around here so please forgive me if I mention things that have already been stated,but there are many trillions of dollars in derivitive instrument
    cotracts, that no one understands,that are highly leveraged and could crash at any time that could destroy the financial markets.

  • Look at vanity, not just greed as the Achilles Heel that can bring the capitalist system down.Consider what would happen if Americans suddenly stopped buying cars for vanity reasons.
    Surely that alone would destroy our economy.

  • We are living in the original, real Vanity Fair.
    In John Bunyan’s “Pilgrims Progress”, chapter 6, the 1st vice that Bunyan tells us is sold in the town of Vanity at it’s ongoing fair is houses.

  • I recommend highly that everyone read “The Revolt Of The Masses”, by Jose Ortega. It was written in 1929 at the start of the Great Depression. You will recognize the Masses. We call them Yuppie Scum today.The similarities to today are striking as we enter the Terminal Depression.

  • The final straw that will break the back of our economy and send us into the Terminal Depression might be the stock market.
    In 1929 our economy was in bad shape:agriculture,which back then was a major part of the economy had been in a depression for a decade and real estate was also in a depression. The stock market collapse was just the final straw that started the Great Depression. Look to the stock market again today to send us into the Terminal Depression. It could start with a one day decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average of 1,000 points.That’s just a drop of about 8%.In 1987 it lost 20% on October 19.
    A greater disaster will be when both the Dow and Japan,s Nikkei 225 ,modelled our Dow, both drop under 10,000. The psychological damage from these events will be of catastropic proportions.

  • While I am sure you mean well and are sincere, do you realize you sound exactly like your ilk in the ’70’s making the same predictions with the same “data?” It would behoove you to read a little history, and focus on the resiliency of marketplaces and the cumulative effect of individual decisions.

  • Tom could not be more wrong.In the Terminal Depression that we are in now marketplaces are anything but resilient, but are instead extremely fragile,fearful,sickly interdependent and calcified. The ability of individuals to make independent decisions is being rapidly eroded by the bad housing and job markets. Sorry Tom, but you don’t know what you are talking about.

  • Interesting that terms like depression, unravelling, collapse, decline, etc.. seem to rule the day. How about the Great Recovery, or Flowering, or Blossoming, or Renewal, or, well, you get the idea.
    Seems like the end of civilization is a more painful concept to most people than the end of a living planet. In human hands, any form of globally-scaled, cheap energy means mass extinction. Let’s hope like hell we don’t find an alternative.

  • Below is a rant.
    There are some folks who “get it”…that we are in deep trouble in ways almost too numerous to count, and those who can’t bring themselves to take the long evolutionary view. Some of the challenges we now face, in no particular order, just in the order in which they came to me, are: overpopulation,global climate change, economies world-wide on the edge of collapse, increasing poverty, massive species extinction, pollution (floating islands of plastic in the oceans), disappearance of honey bees, decaying infrastructure, increase in severity and variety of viruses (how was your flu season this year? I know many folks who suffered a horrendous flu), toxic waste dumps, ethnic cleansing, the spectre of endless war, corrupt officials in top government jobs, corporate monopolies of our FOOD (think ADM, Monsanto)….
    We, as a human species, have overshot our carrying capacity and are fixing to drown in our own crap. I don’t think I like that imagery much, but it will have to do. I’d like to think there was more than a little hope, but as you can tell from the tone of this, I don’t. But a little hope is better than no hope. I hope that pockets of people survive, and that they develop a more humane way of living on the planet. I was never a hippy and am a 65 year-old grandmother.

  • Prof:
    I think the AZ Republic published your article, The End of the World…, on the wrong date. It should have been published on April 1st.
    What foolishness! No where do you account for other forms of energy in your doomsday scenario. We have a super abundant amount of coal and natural gas in this couintry and in other parts of the world. There are tar sands in Canada and there might be an abundance of oil if global warming alarmists were to allow exploration in Alaska and off the shores of the East Coast.
    There was recently a major discovery in deep water off the shores of Brazil and perhaps other future major discoveries now that we are advancing our deepwater exploration technology.
    No where do you account for the ingenuity of the American people and other nations.
    You’re obviously tenured to be able to publish this unwarranted diatribe with the apparent blessing of a major university. One would think that colleagues, administrators or even a newspaper editor would ask for more of a classification of your
    ” The death and suffering will be unimaginable.”
    Sometimes when I get discouraged with politicians, I think how worse off we would be with academicians in charge.
    Bill Dwyer
    Cottonwood, AZ 86326

  • Bill Dwyer is an idiot !!
    He never addressed the central point —the cost of crude oil later this year. Apparantely the fool never read your article Guy.
    He’ll pay for his stupidity.

  • Guy,
    Just a quick note to say thanks for speaking at our Climate and Deserts Workshop in Laughlin, Nevada, April 9-11, 2008. As one of the conference organizers, and the one who insisted on your plenary presentation, I would say that the discussion went in the direction that I had hoped. In the following lunch, later in the day, and into the field trip, the conversation kept coming back to the ideas you presented. Several people whom I have known and respected for a number of years came to a tipping point in their own understanding. This is a good sign for the new Renaissance that one of your questioners mentioned. As for the die off, maybe that’s how evolution works.

  • Thanks for your comments on the environmental crisis
    Even if others disagree, it will hopefully start a dialog for those who were previously disinterested.
    They may rethink owning the gas guzzling SUVs.
    Let’s work together on this.
    Obama, are you listening??

  • Hello Mr. McPherson.
    I am a sixteen year old kid from Glendale, Arizona. I’m currently enrolled in Westview High School, and have meet a great teacher there. I was in class Thursday the 17th when my English teacher was discussing PRIVILAGES OF AMERICANS. After many obvious assumptions of the privileges we all share like color of skin, race, money, etc. He then turned the classes attention to a more important subject. He explained that the United States biggest privilege is OIL. My teacher then proceeded to explain to us how he came about this in an article he read in The Arizona Republic, an article you were in fact featured in. I pulled him aside and asked for information on where I can find more info about The Crash of America. Later last night I found your blogs and read most of them till 4am. My question to you is, what can I do as a teenager right now to change, or whatever change can be done, the course America and the rest of the world has taken? I’m only a teenager, and adult never listen to kids.

  • Dr. McPherson, when ask if there was any way to avoid a complete melt down your answer should have been:
    We must break up the mega farming industry in this country and replace it with small family owned farms. Farm and farmer would be subsidized, and educated by the goverment. As family owned small businesses, operated by american that are currently sitting in our cites doing nothing all day long.But by Working togeter, producing good food, clean air and healthy animals our food chain would soon be back on the right track, we would end our dependency on mirgrant workers, and the earth would be happy again with men cultivating as originally planned.
    The mega farming industry is killing us as a nation. If we don’t get rid of them we are doomed. with small family own farms
    our family unit will be strong again, therefore our nation will start to recover. We’ll become a nation of producers and not a nation of comsumer only. The unemployment figures will cease to be an issure.
    He who will not work will not eat!
    There are so many energy related advantages to this concept and I am sure that you see it now.

  • Fred: The best response to your first question is offered by Derrick Jensen in his book, “Endgame.” It’s a clarion call for the termination of modern-day living, so I doubt you’ll like it. I’ve posted a link to his primary premises at the bottom on the entry for 19 April 2008. I seriously doubt modern pharmaceuticals will be available in our near future.
    Steve: I tried to respond to your question with my subsequent post, from 13 April 2008. Let me know if that doesn’t do the trick.
    Thormon: Yep. But it’s not just too many people, it’s also the consumption habits of too many people. Consider hyper-indulged Americans, for example. We’d need resources from a few more Earths just to support our lifestyles. The world can support a billion people living like Chinese for a long time. But it cannot support half that many Americans, not even for a few generations.
    Mike: Great poem, thanks. But free will is a theory at this point, not a hypothesis (i.e., it’s indistinguishable from fact). Nietzsche was correct about that, as has been demonstrated by a mountain of evidence from contemporary biology, brain sciences, and psychology. Free will is not the same as freedom of choice, as Nietzsche illustrated with the Overman (i.e., Superman).
    Miranda: You wrote, “I really like your style of writing and your thoughts. They remind me much of the dear departed Kurt Vonnegut …” Will you marry me? This is the highest compliment I’ve ever been paid. And, by the way, in what part of the country is your lifeboat?
    Sam Sarsam: I’ve been called far worse than “foolish and irresponsible.” Please try again.
    scott: Please take a look at some of the links I posted in the entry from 13 April 2008. Denial runs deep in the Empire. Beware of strong currents and the possibility of death by drowning.
    Frank Mezek: Thanks for your comments, here and on the other entries.
    Tom: See my comment for scott. If you don’t believe the data, to which you can link from my entry from 13 April 2008, and you don’t believe the data (ditto), I suspect the only think that will convince you is starvation. Or perhaps death.
    Mike: Nice suggestions, and good perspective. I prefer Renaissance.
    Judy: Love the rant. Keep ’em coming!
    Bill Dwyer: See comments for Sam Sarsam, scott, and Tom.
    Debra Hughson: Nice. Very nice. I love your sense of humor, here and elsewhere. Keep ’em coming. As Chile points out, we’re in need of humor, never more than in the years ahead. On the other hand, we have Sam Sarsam, scott, and Tom to provide some of the humor!
    Kyle: I agree that most people do not listen to kids. And I can assure you the don’t listen to the teenagers with whom I am fortunate to work in the detention facility. Alas, I fear it’s too late to save the Empire. We can power down with some measure of respect for each other, but there’s little we can do — you and me, and other kids to whom TPTB are not listening — other than save ourselves. We have options, as individuals. But civilization, which is irredeemable, cannot be saved. Let’s talk some time, when you have time to chat.
    bill stroud: Indeed, local agriculture is part of the answer. But it’s far too late to save 300 million Americans, much less 6.5 billion planetary occupants. For more of my thoughts on agriculture, and other partial solutions, see my lengthy post from 29 August 2007.