The race is on

Everywhere I turn, I read and hear about $200 oil in the near future (here’s one recent example, from somebody who should know better, here’s another from hyperinflation guru Gonzalo Lira, and here’s another from historian Niall Ferguson. Investors are being sucked in, too, and at least one pundit fool has jumped the shark, calling for $350 oil by July of this year. And of course Jeff Rubin is still banging this drum). The per-barrel price of crude oil might hit $200. But I doubt we’ll know about it, since the lights will be out before we get there: Considering the fragility of the industrial economy, I cannot imagine we’ll have fuel at the filling station, food at the grocery store, or water coming out the taps within a few months of oil hitting the $140 mark.

And we might not break the $120 mark, considering the impending hard landing for the Chinese industrial economy (improperly termed a black swan here) and the associated reduction in demand for crude oil. We might see Dow zero before the per-barrel price of oil hits $140. Whether oil soars or China swoons, the race to the bottom is on, with 2011 looking a lot like an ugly version of 2008 for the industrial economy.

Even the vaunted killing machine known as the U.S. military, with its essentially unlimited budget for bodies and technology, cannot maintain the flow of crude oil into the country. Military and political constraints are slapping the U.S. around already, and we’ve only begun to fall off the oil-supply cliff. A bunch of those military personnel and contractors are about to find themselves stuck in unfriendly territory without so much as a bicycle or fraudulent passport to aid their escape.

The oil-price trigger on which most folks in the echo-chamber are focusing is turmoil in the Middle East, and the demise of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia certainly could accelerate a price spike. But, as I’ve pointed out before, we’re due for a spike this year even without unrest in the Middle East. That’s what declining global extraction rates (e.g., Iraq) and increasing global demand does to the price, even if our vaunted military manages to conquer Libya for its oil. Even Forbes knows what most media outlets are afraid to reveal: Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of oil, has no spare capacity.

Or maybe this time is different, and a spike in the price of oil won’t bring the industrial economy to its knees. The ever-clueless cabal of economists at The Economist suggest an oil shock this year will transform the world economy. I agree about the transformation, though not in the direction they think.

In response to the good news about skyrocketing oil prices, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency finds itself in an uncomfortable position. Seems one of their spooks killed a couple of the wrong people in Pakistan, and subsequently was found with embarrassing documents in his possession. The documents indicate we’re trying to “ignite an all-out war in order to re-establish the West’s hegemony over a Global economy that is (sic) warned is just months away from collapse.” So the best measure we can come up with, in terms of preventing collapse of the world’s industrial economy, is to provoke global nuclear war? That’ll almost certainly slow the warming of the planet, but I’m still unconvinced it’s a good idea. Talk about curing the disease by killing the patient.

Although western pundits have completely misjudged the situation in Saudi Arabia, a big war hovers even without meltdown of the kingdom. So predicts noted trends forecaster Gerald Celente , financier Marc Faber, and former Goldman Sachs technical analyst Charles Nenner. World War III would be quite a sequel to the final Super Bowl.

That big war might take American minds off the ongoing global insurrection, which otherwise is coming to the United States, in part because of our capitalism-for-the-poor, socialism-for-the-rich political system (also see this analysis at Zero Hedge). Alas, that’s one of the many consequences of expensive oil and food, not to mention horrific inequities between the wealthy and the rest of us: riots.

On the other hand, we might not need the war to destroy ourselves. Ongoing nuclear issues aren’t restricted to Japan. Rather, the entire Pacific Rim is vulnerable. This is the stuff of nightmares, and it haunts my waking hours, too: a nuclear event, whether or not it results from war, and the subsequent release of radiation into the atmosphere.

As the industrialized world comes apart at the seams, I’m about done waiting for people to get it. Increasingly, it’s becoming a matter of waiting to see it get them.

Next-day update: Upon request, I submitted a brief essay to Transition Voice yesterday morning regarding the disaster in Japan. It’s on their website today.


This essay is permalinked at Island Breath.

Comments 172

  • At this point it really doesn’t matter if people get it. Individuals are infatuated with the Illuminati and the Rapture to blame or save them. We’re so long gone that all one can do at this point is gear up and fall in. Someone point me in the direction of the bottleneck please.

  • Some days I think the collapse is going to drag on for another decade. And some days I think it will be all over by 2015. Then I hear about am international soccer tournamenmt planned for 2022 or a plan for a city in 2050.

    I haven’t looked at the links yet but thanks for further confirmation it’s the rest of them who are insane, and not us, Guy.

    Privileged. ‘Someone point me in the direction of the bottleneck please.’
    May I suggest anyone born after 1979 (peak per capita energy) was born in the bottleneck. The quality of life has definitely been falling since 1979.

  • Well, I can see at least one bright side to all this:

    At least if all this disaster occurs, human society might no longer be organized along the lines of an anthill or beehive, defined by constant frenzy where everyone must either participate in the constant climb to be king of the dunghill or in the constant race to nowhere or be marginalized out of existence, to paraphrase some ideas I’ve learned from Morris Berman.

    But what’s going to take its place?

    People like John Taylor Gatto, for example, have long argued that if we could get rid of this corporate culture, we could finally take back meaningful and happy lives where we’re not slaves to our bosses who toss us scraps and expect us to be “grateful” and we’re not constantly working in sweatshop conditions in factories and our children are not forcibly compelled to attends schools where their peers might mob and violently attack the with knives, etc., etc…

    But what happens if we finally do get rid of corporate culture…but what takes its place is a constant struggle for survival on a polluted world with little food and water?

    And I have one last question.

    How are we going to ensure that this madness never happens again, when the entire population of humanity from university-hungry South Koreans to workaholic Japanese to authoritarian Americans to stiff-upper-lip British have been conditioned to actually DESIRE to work like inhuman slaves all their lives?

    How are we going to make sure that the people Erich Fromm talked about in his works, the people who can’t accept real responsibility and therefore desire to be enslaved because at least the agony of duty and obligation spare them the agony of decision-making, how are we going to make sure they never again gain this much influence over the entire planet’s way of life?

    How are we going to ensure that there is never again such a culture of brainwashing that people will lose the capacity to appreciate their own inherent dignity?

    Does anyone have any ideas?

  • I have a few extra chairs to set up next to me on the lawn, and we can all watch together. Sort of like a Super Collapse Party.

  • Small bands of at most a few hundred people with little or no contact with other groups does not constitute a culture.
    Imagine the world without a cell phone signal.

  • Great points as usual, and the music is “appropriate.” I’m quite concerned that we’re not being told the whole picture on those Japanese reactors.

  • I’m not surprised. The Japanese are a cooperative, collective society. That has several advantages. It also has the disadvantage of a culture that doesn’t like to make waves.

    It makes sense that they wouldn’t tell us any “full story” that might make us panic.

    Which isn’t at all USEFUL, of course.

  • I’m no optimist about the future, but I’m not nearly as pessimistic as some here seem to be. Though I enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s book, The Road, I’ve not yet taken it as a model of where we’re headed.

    Oddly enough, the earthquake and tsunami that have left Japan in a state of shock and painful human suffering, worldwide effects are not all negative. Japan is the world’s third largest economy, and its decline, at least for a while, will be a drag on the world economy, slowing even the demand for oil. As I write, the Nikkei is down about 450 points (Monday in Japan); other Asian markets are down; and crude has dropped below $100. Whenever humans are involved, predictions should be viewed with considerable skepticism. They are seldom right.

    Natural disasters, as well as human-caused disasters, have plagued humans for as long as we’ve been around. Whether we look at the image of Ozymandias or the work of Jared Diamond in Collapse, we see that human civilizations have come and gone. Population growth has ebbed and flowed, as has economic growth. Ian Morris has provided an excellent chronicle of what humans have been through over the last 16 millenniums in his book Why the West Rules—For Now.

    There are nearly 7 billion of us on the planet today. A dieback of 1 billion in a short period of time would be an incredible event, absolutely stunning and unprecedented. Nonetheless it would still leave 6 billion of us. Double the dieback and we’d still have 5 billion. However much damage we are doing to ourselves and posterity by our constant quest for greater economic growth, it is hard to believe that any scenario will quickly trim our numbers back to a more manageable number, say 1 billion, any time soon.

    I have little if any doubt that our energy situation is worsening because we are getting less net energy out of each new barrel of crude because of the rising energy required for its extraction. In turn I have no doubt that higher prices for crude are coming, whether it is from a crisis in the Middle East or otherwise. Nor do I have any doubt that we’ve developed an economic system that is unsustainable, gobbling ever more finite fossil fuel resources on the one hand and spewing ever more carbon dioxide on the other.

    But none of this suggests that the only outcome is an apocalypse of some sort, a sudden depopulation of the planet, a sudden disappearance of industrial society. It is easier to accept that more human suffering is in the offing—we see that already. But it is a long—and highly unlikely—step back from where we are to the hunting and gathering world that we left behind 10,000 years ago.

    I’m sorry that our modern neoclassical economic system is built on some of our worst human characteristics—greed and acquisitiveness, for example. Maybe we can change that as the world order truly starts to collapse, if it does. In the U.S. we’re clearly moving toward a meaner, nastier version of our economic world, but the bleakness of The Road seems very far off to me.

  • “it is hard to believe that any scenario will quickly trim our numbers back to a more manageable number, say 1 billion, any time soon.”

    Well, how’s this for a scenario? …

    Saudi Arabia goes into meltdown.. Pakistan bombs Israel.. Middle East is closed for business.. All available fuel supplies diverted from the public sector.. Businesses shut down.. Just-in-time supermarket deliveries stop coming.. Money stops flowing.. People panic.. Malls burn.. The grid goes down..

    How many do you figure are dead by now?

    Day two…

  • Gary.

    ‘it is hard to believe that any scenario will quickly trim our numbers back to a more manageable number, say 1 billion, any time soon.’

    Try this scenario: one season after the application of urea/ammonium nitrate ceases industrialised food production plummets.

    ‘But it is a long—and highly unlikely—step back from where we are to the hunting and gathering world that we left behind 10,000 years ago.’

    Not just unlikely, impossible, since most of the resources that supported hunter-gatherers 10,000 years ago no longer exist. Of course, if there is no abrupt climate change event (and that seems highly unlikely) and sufficient die-off the ecosystems we have largely destroyed might regenerate to some extent over the next 1,000 years.

  • Meanwhile, while our attention is on union-busting in Wisconsin, full-blown fascism quietly slips into Michigan on the coat tails of a new tea bag governor:

  • Guy, I’m not sure that the reports on the documents allegedly found on Raymond Davis can be believed. It’s highly doubtful he would be wandering around alone in Pakistan, armed to the teeth, with general strategic documents about starting a nuclear war. The sources of that story are the Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service, highly suspect, and The European Union Times, an anti-semitic pretend news site. The line that these documents show that an all-out war is on the cards is similarly suspect. I don’t think that the overall world situation is in any way good, but buying into this sort of disinformation doesn’t help. I’m willing to be educated if there are credible sources for the documents story but I doubt that any will surface.

  • I’ve got my RadAlert running, counting the ionizing events. We’ll see if a little bit of Japan leaves its mark on British Columbia in the next few days.

    Here’s our baseline radiation count (ionizing events per minute) over about 28 hours:

    12-Mar-2011 19:32 10.91
    13-Mar-2011 02:14 10.97
    13-Mar-2011 11:04 11.19
    13-Mar-2011 13:22 11.88
    13-Mar-2011 13:52 12.30
    13-Mar-2011 14:56 12.47
    13-Mar-2011 16:44 11.58
    13-Mar-2011 17:53 12.09
    13-Mar-2011 19:55 11.59
    13-Mar-2011 23:41 11.60

  • @ David foster, Day 2 pls

  • Classic Fortune & Bird: this time it will be different:

  • ‘How are we going to ensure that there is never again such a culture of brainwashing that people will lose the capacity to appreciate their own inherent dignity?

    Does anyone have any ideas?’- librarian

    not surreally, other than those i posted a few hours ago on the previous section of nbl, (emphasize the tragic absurdities of the dogma/faith/’authority’-based culture, and the superiority of reason/facts/freethought as guiding principles). however, with collapse there’s a good chance there will be no ‘recovery’ and thus nothing to worry about anymore. as curtis heretic said, small bands of isolated people don’t constitute a (civilized) culture. no one will have time for brainwashing or being brainwashed in an existence consumed with struggling to survive. if humans escape extinction, it will probably be a very long time (if ever) before civilization makes a comeback. whether humans will have evolved a superior intelligence by that point to render themselves immune to brainwashing is a question no one can answer, but hopeless dreamers can dream of.

    btw, i appreciated the reference to john taylor gatto, whose brief book titled DUMBING US DOWN is the best analysis of ‘education’ as brainwashing i’ve ever come across.

  • Kevin “May I suggest anyone born after 1979 (peak per capita energy) was born in the bottleneck. The quality of life has definitely been falling since 1979.” Because the energy per capita peaked around then per Richard Duncan his target for the begin of the steep drop off is 2012 – although he puts the end of industrial civilization at 2030, life between 2012 and 2030 will feel like the end for all involved.

    Brian “I’m willing to be educated if there are credible sources for the documents story but I doubt that any will surface.” The problem with spooks is that being spooks no credible sources on what they were up to will likely ever appear and if they do they will promptly be discredited. The reaction of the US administration to the event however gives one the hint that something VERY fishy was going on.

    Terry, “with collapse there’s a good chance there will be no ‘recovery’ and thus nothing to worry about anymore. ” Yep, even if some civilization (ie cities) arises again it will never progress to an industrialized civilization as the easy fossil fuels are gone. Given that the easy fossil ground water is gone not to mention that the climate that was favorable to the rise of civilization is going it seems that even civilizations on the order of the Incan or Mayan or Mesopotamian are extremely unlikely.

  • This article about the liklihood of meltdown seems one of the better out there on the web as it is not written by a know nothing reporter but by “Robert Alvarez, an Institute for Policy Studies senior scholar, served as senior policy adviser to the Energy Department’s secretary and deputy assistant secretary for national security and the environment from 1993 to 1999.” The greatest danger may be according to Alvarez in the pools of spent fuel.

    snip There remain a number of major uncertainties about the situation’s stability and many questions about what might happen next. Along with the struggle to cool the reactors is the potential danger from an inability to cool Fukushima’s spent nuclear fuel pools. They contain very large concentrations of radioactivity, can catch fire, and are in much more vulnerable buildings. The ponds, typically rectangular basins about 40 feet deep, are made of reinforced concrete walls four to five feet thick lined with stainless steel.

    The boiling-water reactors at Fukushima — 40 years old and designed by General Electric — have spent fuel pools several stories above ground adjacent to the top of the reactor. The hydrogen explosion may have blown off the roof covering the pool, as it’s not under containment. The pool requires water circulation to remove decay heat. If this doesn’t happen, the water will evaporate and possibly boil off. If a pool wall or support is compromised, then drainage is a concern. Once the water drops to around 5-6 feet above the assemblies, dose rates could be life-threatening near the reactor building. If significant drainage occurs, after several hours the zirconium cladding around the irradiated uranium could ignite.

    Then all bets are off.

  • Jan Steinman

    Revealing video – Rachel Maddow – this is one reason I believe that the system as a whole is set up (by human design or by coincidence of structure) to encourage centralisation of power in the long-term. What I am saying is that the culture of modern government is such that it is intentionally or not working hand in hand with huge economic and financial interests to create a global economic and financial climate entirely under the control of business and banking interests, neutering the power of national governments to intervene.

    It seems to me that before collapse happens (and I do believe we are yet some distance from that), there will be (indeed, IS) a movement towards global corporatism.

    This is not “conspiracy theory”; it is simply an observation of current and historical trends over the last 30 years or so. If it is being guided by a small group of elites, I do not know. I think it more likely an inherent property of the global predatory capitalist system that has taken over the world since the early 1990s.

    Yes, we could have a nuclear war, but at this point I doubt it – as it would not be profitable to TPTB. We could have a complete financial meltdown, but I think that this is not imminent either, though I think there is a serious effort ongoing to destroy the world’s currency, the dollar, and to destroy the power of the people to resist in anticipation of the above objectives – here, business and banking interests feed off each other towards mutually beneficial results.

    We could have total collapse in the next couple years. Or we could have an intermediate step between now and collapse – global corporate governance.

    In any case, collapse is inevitable.

  • I do not live in the United States…. ;-)

  • Kathy,

    I, too, believe that Richard Duncan has a clearer view of the likely stages of the Great Unravelling. Everything starts happening in earnest in 2012. As and I have said before, in the next 20 years, we are likely to see a serious move towards global corporatism. for something like 80% of us, as you say, it will seem like collapse has already occurred. For the top 20% of the world, things will be much the same, though that 20% will shrink as we approach 2030.

    I use these dates, not to predict a specific time, but to indicate a vague period of time that certain events are taking us all today.

  • From what I understand, whatever is happening in Japan’s reactors might take years to resolve if full meltdown does not occur. In any event, the introduction of sea water into the reactors means quite clearly that the government has made the decision to shut these reactors down permanently, thus leaving Japan with a huge hole in its energy requirements.

    This will have knock-on effects globally.

  • Librarian, excellent questions.

    ‘But what happens if we finally do get rid of corporate culture…but what takes its place is a constant struggle for survival on a polluted world with little food and water?’

    The corporate culture will be there until the end. There is no getting rid of it between now and Collapse. Indeed, it will get stronger until the end. But after the dust settles from Collapse and some of us are still around, you will likely see a huge reduction in population (95% or more) living relatively isolated lives in small communities subsisting as they can off the land and recycled goods from the dead era. Life will be hard – no doubt about it. The question many of us might be faced with is the same question faced in anticipation of a global nuclear exchange – “Do I WANT to survive?”.

    ‘How are we going to ensure that this madness never happens again@

    We won’t have to ensure that. It simply will not happen again. Mankind will have lost all capability to renew civilisation. All the easily obtainable resources necessary for a resurrection of civilisation will be gone – minerals, metals, and fossil fuels – along with the technological infrastructure necessary to process the remaining resources. We will have little option but to return to a hunter/gatherer existence – IF environmental conditions at that time permit.

  • Victor, I agree that the move towards global corporatism is strong and thus it would seem that the top layer of the world would hold out longer than the lower layers. But I would maintain that the top layer is in fact more vulnerable than the lower layers. To me all hinges on the electric grid (as foretold by the prophet Richard Duncan). If it comes down, the elite are over, done, kaput. At what point on the slide that happens is uncertain but that the electric grid will come down is certain. It is the most complex machine invented by man and therefore extremely vulnerable. We have left it vulnerable in an age of declining ERoEI and increasing corporate greed, by failure to make it robust, failure to replace and repair, failure to stockpile supplies. Perhaps your grid is in better shape than the US grid due to the compactness of your country and the fact that Brits aren’t quite as insane as Americans.

    I would maintain that the elite will collapse into an insensate pile when the grid fails (perhaps before) leaving the balance of collapse to the rest of us. Lots of insanity and suicides will be the order of the day for them. And well deserved except that we will be too busy with our own troubles to rejoice at their comeuppance. Thus I prefer to enjoy the thought that this will occur when my mind is less occupied with survival.

  • Kathy,

    We violently agree – the elites will fall the furthest and the hardest. It is just that I do not believe we are quite as close to that point as most do on this site. As things begin to unravel, the elite will become stronger until they can no longer maintain their hold on the world.

    I think the grid will go on a country by country basis. It is anyone’s guess as to when a particular country’s grid will go. And although the loss of the grid is sufficient for total collapse, it is not necessary to collapse – there are other factors that might work towards a final collapse of any particular country of even the whole of the world.

  • Something painfully obvious occurred to me the other day and I thought I’d share it with you all; I figure I might not be the only one still not thinking in terms of what life is going to be like without our constant information feeds. It’s entirely possible that many of us will not be aware of global collapse when it finally happens. For example, many people in Japan right now don’t have a clue what’s happening in the rest of the world. They are completely cut-off. They have no electricity, no cell phone service, no newspapers. So too, as other events related to collapse begin to happen around the world, groups of people might become isolated. For them, collapse will have happened, but the actual world situation might not be as dire.

    I don’t have access to television in my home. I don’t receive a newspaper. The internet is the only way I have to keep up with world events. When my internet service went down for five days recently, I struggled to keep connected using the much slower internet connection on my cell phone. And, of course, I used the internet at my office. But, if the internet goes down across this region, or nationally, for any period of time, then I’m in the dark as to world events. There could be nuclear war in New York City and the only way I would know would be by word of mouth.

    My point, if there is one, is that there are bound to be numerous pockets of collapse at different levels of decline. Because I love to know what’s going on, I hope my information stream is one of the last things to fall.

  • It is frequently mentioned on this site that very few seem to “get it”. It is too late to make any difference, of course, but I believe that more people than we realize are starting to wake up – at least to some of the realities which we discuss here regularly. They are not “doomers” yet, but they may be joining us soon. :-)

    Case in point: since I receive my electricity from a rural electric cooperative, I receive a monthly statewide magazine produced by them. The editorial board is notoriously conservative, anti-big government, and frequently a global warming denier. The largest group of readers is farmers. Since there are almost no small independent farm operations left in Arkansas, that means the bulk of the farmers reading the magazine are industrial farmers entirely dependent on oil for every aspect of their operation. So I was quite shocked when I saw a prominent, front-page article this month about “No-work, No-Till” gardening. The article praised the ease and benefits of such gardening methods and went so far as to say that permaculture such as this method is a solution to the problems faced by today’s farmers of rising oil and chemical costs. The article actually suggested that this method might replace current farming techniques! If I wore dentures, I would have dropped my teeth!

    Another clue that public opinion is changing:
    I can’t remember the source for this and a quick google search didn’t turn it up, but I heard on NPR the other day that a recent survey found a significant increase in interest of home canning vegetables and fruits. They didn’t attribute a cause for this, but I did find it interesting.

    Have a great day everyone!

  • (Reuters) – Shaken by the prospect of nuclear meltdown after a devastating earthquake and tsunami, Japanese investors will dump overseas assets on Monday and bring their money home to help finance reconstruction.

    Commentary by Eric deCarbonnel on the above article

    My reaction: After devastating Tsunami, Japan is bringing money home to rebuild.

    1) Japanese investors will dump overseas assets on Monday and bring their money home to help finance reconstruction. Insurers will probably sell some of their most liquid foreign assets such as U.S. Treasuries.

    2) Positioning for this could send the dollar plummeting versus the yen on Monday and lead to a sharp slide in Treasuries.

    3) The crisis could lead to insured losses of nearly $35 billion, one of the most expensive disasters in history.

    4) Three nuclear reactors were at risk of overheating

    Bank of Japan

    1) The disaster is so severe the BOJ will engineer liquidity mechanisms that will reduce the likelihood of forced selling in the Treasury market.

    2) Even if the BOJ does undertake massive liquidity injections, most analysts still expect to see further selling pressure on U.S. Treasuries.

    Conclusion: As a result of the Tsunami, Japan, a big buyer of US bonds, has been taken out of the market. The US financial system has moved a little closer to collapse.

  • David, Kevin,

    It is not impossible to come up with scenarios but you need to attach probabilities to them if they are to have any use to us. I’d recommend starting with probabilities of around .00000000001 and let you go from there.

  • Gary, it is impossible to come up with probabilities as long as black swans exist. The probability that number crunchers came up for a 9.0 earthquake or even one above 7.5 in Japan was zero, therefore the probability they asserted that their nuke plant would be damaged was also zero because they asserted it was good up to 7.5. However the probability of the plant being damaged just abruptly changed when a zero probability earthquake hit.

    Black swans exist, and predictors incorporate false data all the time. But sometimes you can just feel a storm coming….

  • Kathy,

    I don’t doubt the existence of black swans. My comment was directed to Kevin and David because they tried to sketch highly unlikely scenarios that made no sense to me.

    For some the appeal of an apocalypse seems to have considerable appeal, no matter how unlikely it is. The dinosaurs certainly didn’t see the asteroid heading their way, but we are much better than those terrible lizards were at seeing and reacting to events.

    I’m not saying that something beyond comprehension could happen. I just don’t know. But within any reasonable set of parameters I do not right now see something like The Road as a reasonable scenario now or any time soon.

    Some people like to think the worst. I think there are numerous reasons to believe that energy scarcities will increase and that we will need to make some major adjustments, but overnight destruction of all energy supplies isn’t in the cards. Aside from an all-out nuclear extravaganza, which is possible but not probable, it is hard to imagine all systems coming to a halt.

    Oil extraction right now runs around 86 or so million barrels per day. Libya disrupted that a bit. If that dropped to zero tomorrow, it would be devastating, but the likelihood of that happening is exceedingly small, maybe again .00000001.

    Dave, Kevin, and others awaiting “The End” need to be patient and take a longer view.

  • All that really matters is that it (Industrial Civ) ends, obviously the sooner the better and with a soft landing if possible…unlikely.

  • I just watched ‘Gasland’, the documentary concerning gas hydrofracturing. Well worth watching. A clear view of how government and industry work hand in hand to promote the business agenda at whatever cost to the environment and to people. When you see the immensity of the areas affected in the US, you begin to get a feel for just how big this is.

    And now they are trying to move this technology into Europe.

  • ‘The dinosaurs certainly didn’t see the asteroid heading their way, but we are much better than those terrible lizards were at seeing and reacting to events.’

    Not true at all. It is a well-establish finding that humans are no better than most other species (and worse than some) at seeing disaster coming and taking action to avoid it. Indeed, human history is replete with the evidence of such inability. Like other species, we tend to react to crises rather than anticipate crises.

    If you think that it is not likely that there could be a relatively rapid collapse of life as we know it, then you really do not understand the relationship between oil and modern life, and the impact of limited oil production on a global economy based critically upon an unlimited growth model.

    No one is saying that oil production will drop to zero overnight. that is not the proposition. The proposition is that if oil production drops, the economy drops as well. If oil production drops a lot, then the economy is wiped out, as well as large numbers of people. Oil is directly related to food. Oil is directly related to transport and distribution. There are no substitutes for oil – not where transport and agriculture are concerned.

    If the price of oil gets too high, or if shortages occur, then everything dependent upon it (which is most everything) fails.

    Yes, it will not happen overnight, but it can well happen in a few years or even decades, which in the greater scheme of things is a blink of the eye.

    You also do not seem to understand the impact that climate change will have on life as we know it over the next few decades. Again, this is not an ‘overnight’ scenario, but in geologic time, and even within mankind’s history, it is another blink of the eye.

    But the most important thing which I believe you have not taken into consideration when you say something like that, is how fast the collapse of a complex system composed of enormous numbers of inter-connected multi-noded networks can fail. And that can happen almost overnight is the right components fail. And modern civilisation is the most complex system ever devised outside of Nature.

  • Gary.

    The probablity that bulk urea will not be available may be low at the moment but it trends towards 100%. At some point in the not-too-distant future humans will not be able to manufacture urea because there will be no natural gas (the crucial raw material) to make it. Alternatively there won’t be electricity to run the compressors (It is horrendously energy intensive). If Duncan’s analysis is correct the very best we could hope for [if we wanted present arrangements to continue] would be 2030. Irrespective of Duncan’s analysis there is plenty of evidence most industrial systems will be largely defunct by 2030.

    It could well be that long before we run out of natural gas or don’t have electricity the price of gas or the price of electricity make the manufacture of urea uneconomic. We have already had a trial run of that scenario; from memory it was 2005-2006 that rising natural gas prices in the US forced the closure of practically all the ammonia manufacture plant.

    Another aspect which Victor emphasises is that a urea plant is a highly complex system and is vulnerable to failure. Most manufacturing plants are very old and require constant maintenance. Vampire squid capitalism tends to divert profit towards CEO bonuses rather than toward essential maintenance. Sure, there are newer manufacturing facilities in China and Indonesia etc., but as the bottleneck gets tighter we could well see such nations start to look after their own interests rather than supplying the rest of the world.

    The fact is, collapse is underway and it is happening one district at a time: Detroit is a good example of an industrial city in terminal decline, but there are isolated setlements in NZ where the only major employer, the freezing works or the sawmill, closed, leaving almost everyone dependent on government benefits or tourism -and we all know what the future of tourism is.

    The chance of Christchurch ever being rebuilt is zero, much as with New Orleans. North-eastern Japan is the next region to go under. And it may take much of the rest of Japan down with it. Despite the huge injection of money by the BoJ the Nikkei fell 6% yesterday. The second explosion suggests another day of carnage is coming.

  • Gary, what is the probability that Kevin and Guy are wrong?

    I am in complete agreement with the scenarios that Kevin and Guy paint which is why I addressed the comment you made to them. And I also hope that the “soon” scenario is right, not because I love the idea of apocalypse but because I prefer a partial apocalypse to a total apocalypse that unrestrained industrial civilization will bring. So of course my hope in some ways informs my agreement with the “collapse soon” scenario. But events on the ground more highly inform my agreement with the “soon” scenario.

    All the dire predictions of climate scientists have been so far not dire enough. Climate apocalyptic prognostication therefore looks to be a bit pollyanish.

    Of course we are not going to run out of fuel overnight. However a 3% depletion rate means all gone in 33 years and a 6% depletion rate means all gone in 16.5 years. However, things break down well before that “all gone” is reached. More corners are cut to keep profits up. More accidents occur requiring the use of energy for returning things somewhat to normal not for growth.

    Trust dissolves in trade and markets which depend on trust. Money represents trust. As I have noted if you ship your goods from afar, trust is harder to come by. So banks for a fee issue a letter of credit which allows a shipper on one side of the world to feel assured he will get paid when his goods reach the other side of the world. Letters of credit became harder to get in 2008 threatening to bring trade to a standstill. Just one example of the kinds of things that can break down in a global economic system such as ours.

    Trust seems to be weakening, growth of fossil fuel supply is not keeping up with growth of demand, growth of energy per capita ended in 1979, growth of the economy is being covered up by false statistics and infusions of play money by central banks. And you think this can sustain itself for any significant period of time?

    Get a set of Jenga Blocks. Build up a nice edifice. Start taking out blocks per the rules of the game – determine the probability that any particular block will bring it all down. Notice how your “sense” of how fragile the tower is becoming grows with each block removed, and heightens as you see the tower twitch with each block removed. Note that eventually one block still leaves the tower standing, and then the next block brings everything else down. What we are seeing and have clearly seen since 2001, and more clearly since 2008 is the tower losing blocks and still standing, but JUST still standing.

    We can be patient or impatient, it is irrelevant – this is out of our hands. However we can prepare. If we have made some preparations and the end delays no big deal. Its a bit different than preparing for the rapture by reading your bible eh? You get to play in the dirt and milk goats, and play with baby chicks, and eat homegrown food which are all good things end time or no. OTOH….

  • Excellent response Kathy! Especially loved the Jenga analogy.

  • Kathy,

    I responded to David and Kevin, not to Guy.

  • Gary, sorry for the mistake. Guy predicts Dark Ages by 2012 “As I’ve indicated before, I cannot see how we can avoid a new Dark Age by the end of 2012.” (comment section of ) David and Kevin just seem to be filling in possible scenarios for that to happen – so are you OK with Dark Age by the end of 2012 but not with David’s “Saudi Arabia goes into meltdown.. Pakistan bombs Israel.. Middle East is closed for business.. All available fuel supplies diverted from the public sector.. Businesses shut down.. Just-in-time supermarket deliveries stop coming.. Money stops flowing.. People panic.. Malls burn.. The grid goes down..” or Kevin’s “Try this scenario: one season after the application of urea/ammonium nitrate ceases industrialised food production plummets.” both of which seem highly plausible scenarios within the larger scenario of Dark Ages by end 2012.

    Are you saying you have no gripe with Guy’s timeline but have a gripe with those who would fill in how that might occur? If you have no gripe with Guy’s timeline then please fill in your own scenario on how we get from here in early 2011 to Dark Ages in less than 2 years.

  • Dr House, re your magazine from the electric company – we are in the Tallapoosa River Electric Cooperative and get a magazine from them called Alabama Living that sounds just like yours. Gary Smith CEO of Power South Cooperative writes incredibly dismissive editorials about global warming and this month our magazine an article about no till gardening. Power South has 11 cooperatives under its belt so I am guessing your area is one of them. Gary Smith generates heat in the locality of my head every time I read one of his articles.

  • For reference – population figures on planet earth over time
    Before 1400 AD the highest number of humans estimated is 400 million for our planet.


    by Jonathan Adams and Randy Foote

    The tendency of climate to change very suddenly (often in just a few decades) and then reverse has been one of the most surprising lessons of recent study of the last 130,000 years, and its implications for biogeography and for the evolution of human cultures and biology have barely begun to be considered. Sudden stepwise instability is also a disturbing scenario to be borne in mind when considering the effects that humans might have on the climate system through adding greenhouse gases. Judging by what we see from the past, conditions might gradually be building up to a ‘break point’ at which a sudden dramatic change in the climate system will occur over just a decade or two…..

    A small-scale example of man’s inability to adjust to climate change can be seen in the steady desertification of much of the Sahel in Africa, where the Sahara has been advancing. This has led to severe dislocation, starvation and social instability. The climatic oscillations outlined above would be far more widespread and devastating than anything witnessed in Africa.

    In sum, what has been called the gloom-and-doom warnings of the long-term effects of global warming may actually turn out to have been optimistic. The future could well be far more catastrophic than is generally projected.

  • Nikkei down another 5% so far today.

    Panic sellers versus bargain hunters is so unpredictable.


    If Japan didn’t need more geologic (and man-made) disaster, it now appears that the Shinmoedake cone at Kirishima has started erupting again. The volcano had been relatively quiet for the past few weeks, but **SPECULATION** potentially the Mw8.9 earthquake could have brought on some renewed activity (this is clearly speculation because we have no idea what the circumstances surrounding the new eruption might have been). Hundreds of people had to leave their homes after new explosive activity commenced. The noise from this new activity apparently shattered windows up to 10 km from the volcano and produced a ~4 km / 13,200 foot plume. You can see timelapse of the activity from yesterday* (watch starting ~2:18 for the big explosion) and with some images as well (thanks to Eruptions reader Sherine) from the second set of explosions that the volcano has produced since Sunday – fairly impressive sight, with large bombs being thrown from the volcano. The Kirishima webcams still appear to be operational (sixth and seventh from bottom) so you can keep an eye on the activity.


    (Reuters) – Automakers, shipbuilders and technology companies worldwide scrambled for supplies after the disaster in Japan shut down factories there and disrupted the global manufacturing chain….Rolling power blackouts are set to hit Tokyo and surrounding areas over coming weeks, adding to the challenge of inspecting and repairing northern Japan manufacturing plants. Aftershocks and radiation leaks from damaged nuclear power plants also threaten production in the region.

  • picked up this in the comments @ theautomatic earth

    India, Pakistan test nuke-tipped missiles on same day
    2011-03-11 13:10:00

    Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars since their partition in 1947, regularly test-fire missiles to display each other’s capability.

  • over at automatic earth also…this was a comment by grandpa [hope i’m not violating some internet protocol]

    ‘you think the quakes are NOT caused by global warming. …
    Try to follow the geology. It’s Geology 1.

    Is Antarctica covered by ice? why yes, it is. Lots of it.

    How much has disappeared in the past decades.

    Why- thousands of CUBIC MILES of it. Does a cubic mile of water weigh much? why yes!

    Now – follow along. What happens when Antarctica, which, like all continents is lighter rock (usually granitics, and sedimentary, etc) FLOATING on top of heavier mantle stuff (basalts) suddenly weighs billions of tons less?

    What happens to an ice cube you’ve pushed down in your martini when you take your finger off? (hint- it will bob up to the top).

    Does that make ripples in your martini? Do the other ice cubes bob a bit?

    Note to non trolls; when the quake-tsunami hit in the Indian ocean an eon ago, several brave geologists went public and said just what I have here. They were immediately ridiculed into silence by trolls, and the merely delusional who want to hope all this will go away.

    Yes, the quakes are caused by global warming. Yes, they will continue; and get worse, in fact, because major realignments of continental plates are going to be necessary. Of greatest importance is Antarctica; but Greenland also will be stirring things up. Remember that little volcanic kerfuffle that shut Europe way back there around Christmas?


    Now- not one academic geologist is going to state that as flatly as I can, since I have no geology rep to lose. But- I assure you – half of them would say that, if they dared. The other half will continue to hope it is somehow not true.’

    March 14, 2011 2:48 PM

    now this is makes sense in a lot of ways…???is it in the right ballpark?

  • ‘Of course we are not going to run out of fuel overnight. However a 3% depletion rate means all gone in 33 years and a 6% depletion rate means all gone in 16.5 years.’

    kathy, i think u’re in error here. if i recall correctly from prof. bartlett’s video series on exponentials, there’s a formula for figuring out how long it will take for a resource to be depleted by 50% that goes like this: 70 divided by rate of depletion. thus a 3% annual depletion rate results in a half life of about 23 years. theoretically, the resource is never fully depleted because each year less is depleted because it’s 3% of what’s left, which is constantly shrinking.

    here’s a more general observation to several different contributors. perhaps it’s an invalid observation. it’s clear to me that several of u are smarter and more broadly knowledgable than i, which i’m grateful for and pleasantly humbled by. but as u know by now, reality strikes me as generally surreal, which means it defies logic/reason. and so it appears to me re. the strong, precise predictions for teotwawki to occur by the end of next year by such esteemed minds. it seems out of character, a bit of irrationality that doesn’t fit. aren’t u all aware that even the smartest and most knowledgable people are ill equipped to foretell the future with precision and certainty?

    anyway, these are surreally nitpicky observations, for i agree with the general sentiment that collapse is already happening and it’s progress will be more rapid and severe than most who have the slightest clue anticipate. thus what’s important now isn’t whose expectations and timetable for collapse is most accurate, but rather that anticipation of collapse spurs preparation.

    btw, i’m ignorant re. how electric grids operate and thus how vulnerable they are to sudden collapse, but i’m under the impression that collapse in this area can be limited to certain areas and times. thus, isn’t it more likely that instead of suddenly losing power forever, there’ll be a process of periods of interrupted service, as occurs in iraq under u.s. occupation now? a transition period of years between unlimited supply and complete shut-down, in most locales?

  • virgin terry
    re the grid; u describe a situation where for a region there is more demand than supply; then leaving out some of the demand on a scheduled basis works.

    in a collapse scenario parts…transformers are often referred to…are not available & transmission becomes a widespread problem. But i live near a city with a small hydro plant…if working the grid nearby can be matched; & parts robbed from other parts of the grid…a ‘green zone’ for the local powerful folk that is electrified.

  • looks like a meltdown @ one of the reactors, employees leaving..residents to stay indoors, etc….nikki down 6.45%

  • 1. The Moon is closer to the Earth than normal at the moment, so its graviational effect on tides and the oblateness of the Earth is high. The full effect will be seen around full Moon.

    2. After a period of BAU, the Asia-Pacific markets seem to have picked up a bit of fear: all are down significantly at the moment. I think it’s too ealrly for a worldwide stampede for the exits; the next ‘event’ might bring that on.

  • Hi, Sam,

    Interesting idea, and fortunately a testable one, if the evidence can be found. When the last Ice Age ended, huge volumes of ice melted from Hudson Bay and the Baltic Sea in what may have been a short time frame. It’s widely known that those areas have been slowly rebounding ever since. Was there a pattern of significant quakes and/or volcanic activity in surrounding regions in the next few decades to centuries? If yes, that would buttress your idea.

    To Kathy:

    You wrote, “All the dire predictions of climate scientists have been so far not dire enough. Climate apocalyptic prognostication therefore looks to be a bit pollyanish.”

    Have you seen the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) maps cited here (scroll down a bit)? That shows some pretty un-pollyanna prediction for desertification across vast swaths of the world, drought that’s 2X to 4X as severe as the worst of the Dust Bowl and could extend for centuries. Those conditions could easily turn the Great Plains into rolling dune fields; hope your stillsuits are fixed!

    Some sources claim James Hansen has predicted that if we burn all of the reserve oil, coal and gas, we’d plunge Earth into a Venus-like greenhouse. He’s probably right in theory, but I suspect that’s physically impossible — all of the other social and ecological issues we’ll face in the short term would prevent us from ever accessing that much oil, etc. What we’ve already committed future generations to is bad enough…

  • Nikkei currently down 13% on the day and still not over. This could be huge.

  • Kathy,

    I have no “gripes” with any of you. Guy provides this blog as a stimulus to discussion, which is good. He also “walks the walk” by doing what he believes is best for he and others. I respect that.

    Much of what we have here is opinion, so interpretations are bound to vary, perhaps widely. Facts are much scarcer. I have no reason to believe, at this point, that a “dark age” is coming next year. I’m not even sure what different people might mean by a “dark age.” The term “collapse” has a similar problem.

    I think I’m aware of most of the different things that you, David, Kevin, and others have suggested above, and I’m glad to see discussions of this sort. To find people thinking about what is going on around them is refreshing in what James Kunstler referred to this morning as “a nation of morons.”

    I do not question those things which are obvious and measurable. The expansion of the human population and our spread throughout the world, along with our advanced technology and rapacious use of resources, is directly causing the extinction of other species. This was predicted by Darwin and has proved to be true. The retreat of glaciers around the world, coupled with all kinds of other physical evidence, convince me that global warming is occurring. The buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere as a result of our profligate use of fossil fuels leaves no doubt in my mind that our numbers and economic system are responsible for climate change.

    Where I differ from some of you, including Guy, is in accepting that apocalypse is just around the corner. I don’t doubt that things are not looking good–they’re not. At the same time, I do doubt that humans can adequately evaluate the risks associated with various things.

    For example, millions of Californians live atop or close to the San Andreas Fault, which, sooner or later, will again slip, causing a sizable quake (7 plus), which will be devastating. In the meantime they take much higher risks just driving around on local freeways and highways. I’m not sure when the last person died in an earthquake in California, but hundreds, probably thousands, die on the freeways each year, a much higher risk.

    I live half way between the San Andreas Fault and a nuclear power plant. No one has died as a result of either during the five years or so that I’ve lived here, though four bicyclists have died on local roads and dozens in car wrecks during that time. Several have been murdered as well.

    Humanity faces considerable risks, short and long term, many of which cannot be easily evaluated. It is getting warmer–more storms and flooding in some places, more droughts in others, will be part of our future. Global warming will take a toll on humans, but not everywhere and far from equally. Higher latitudes may actually benefit from warming. Sea level rises will be critical to our future, but their toll will be taken slowly unless there is something catastrophic, e.g. a sudden meltdown of the Greenland or West Antarctic ice sheets. I know of no serious glaciologist who predicts either of those events by 2012.

    Global epidemics are likely, including another great influenza pandemic, but we don’t know when and we know much more now than we did when the last one struck.

    Fossil fuels are not going to run out any time soon, though if we really are at or close to “peak oil” it is easy to imagine oil prices going higher. But will that mean a collapse of the industrial economy? I’m not sure. It is just as easy to see us caught in a long period of ups and downs as the industrial economy fades into history.

    Are there too many of us? That’s a good question but it does not have a simple scientific answer. My opinion is that we would be better off with far fewer of us, consuming far less stuff, using far fewer fossil fuels, eating lower on the food chain, and living simpler lives. But that is opinion. It is not shared by all, and certainly not by most Americans.

    Given trends that we can easily see, I would guess, again just opinion, that human numbers are likely to be far smaller in 2100 than they are today. Unlike the media, economists, and many others, I don’t take the U.N. projection of a world population of 9.2 billion in 2050 as “fact.” It is far from it.

    I do not pretend to know what the future will bring, nor do I think that anyone else knows. If it goes badly, some will be better prepared than others; if it goes poorly, it could be disastrous. No one knows.

  • Gary.

    ‘It is just as easy to see us caught in a long period of ups and downs as the industrial economy fades into history.’

    All the evidence indicates we are 5 years past the peak of conventional oil extraction, and we are definitely well past the peak of EROEI. That means we can never have any ups, just pseudo ups generated by the fraudulant creation of money. In fact, measuring from the peak of per capita energy we are 30 years post peak and sliding down rapidly down the slope.

    The ‘all over by the end of 2012’ scenario is more about the collapse of the Ponzi money arrangement that an abrupt fall in availability of oil due to depletion, but collapse of the Ponzi scheme could well lead to a collapse in the oil supply to a lot of places around the world.

    I agree we just don’t know when industrialism will come to an end, but there really is no evidence present economic arrangements or present social arrangements can persist for more than another 5 years.

    2012. 2016. Both are damned close.

    The real point about NBL is that most people are clueless about it all and don’t want to know, as Guy indicates when he writes, and as we all experience on a daily basis.

  • I don’t normally accept without question Prison Planet news, but this seemed reasonable in the light of recent events in Japan:

    If Number 2 reactor undergoes meltdown (and there seems to be little doubt remaining that it is doing just that), radioactive plutonium would be released into the atmosphere as well, and if the prevailing winds are southward, Tokyo and south Japan will be seriously at risk. There is no good news here.

    As Kevin points out, the economic indications could be enormous for Japan and its extended commercial interests around the globe, affecting many different economies. Japan being the third largest economy in the world, this has got to have repercussions throughout the world.

  • The Nikkei has lost almost 20% since the mess commenced (I’m sure it would have been more if a ‘plunge protection team’ hadn’t intervened in the afternoon). That puts it at around 23% of its peak numerical value and around 10% of peak in real terms. Sure most of it is only funny money and doesn’t actually exist, but most people think it is real money and will react as such.

    Whatever attempts are made to rebuild will be done with real materials and real energy resources that have to be paid for via the creation of yet more ‘funny money’. It’s the same with Chrischurch, of course. And a lot of NZ’s funny money ewas coming from Japan. It’s all getting very ‘interesting’.

    Before we get too hyped up about nuclear contamination, let’s not forget that atmospheric tests of atomic bombs were the norm in the 1950s.

  • Gary, sorry if I over reacted to your posts. I still disagree. I think the global system is extremely fragile and the longer it takes to collapse the faster and harder the collapse will be. The problem with predicting scenarios is that the system that holds industrial civilization up is far more complex than anyone can begin to understand.

    Richard Duncan concluded after forming his Olduvai theory that the failure of the electric grid was probably the trigger event of the collapse of industrial civilization.
    “That said, the Olduvai theory uses a single metric only, as defined by “White’s Law.” But now I foresee a calamitous “trigger event” — the declining reliability of electric power grids.”

    As I began to think about this years ago I realized that when the grid went down for good for the last time everything would collapse. Things that can be done another way, won’t be because we won’t have the energy or infrastructure to suddenly bring mules on line to plow, draft horses to pull wagons of coal to blacksmiths to make plows that mules can pull etc etc. As the cities go dark and stomachs empty due to the just on time inventories in stores that are without refrigeration, as the water no longer comes out taps and the feces pile up in toilets that won’t flush, chaos and anarchy will reign. Vehicle travel including electric repair trucks will stop as gasoline can no longer be pumped (although in previous eras it could) and the refineries shut down. Well I could paint that scenario for days. Not a pretty sight.

    So why would the grids go down sooner rather than later (I am addressing the US grid). Partly because they are so complex, partly because with privatization profit has become the bottom line and thus corners have been cut in repairs, maintenance, and skilled workforce. I believe many of the transformers are no longer made in the US as well.

    In 2003 the whole northeast grid went down for 5 days – why? If the findings are correct the triggering event was when “overhead transmission lines in northeast Ohio fails due to contact with a tree in Walton Hills, Ohio”

    In February 2004, the U.S.-Canada Power System Outage Task Force released their final report, placing the main cause of the blackout on FirstEnergy Corporation’s failure to trim trees in part of its Ohio service area. The report states that a generating plant in Eastlake, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland) went offline amid high electrical demand, putting a strain on high-voltage power lines (located in a distant rural setting) which later went out of service when they came in contact with “overgrown trees”. The cascading effect that resulted ultimately forced the shutdown of more than 100 power plants.[9]

    For a longer timeline collapse, multiples of these type grid failures would wear the country down and the inability to get fuel in a grid as complex as the US grid would have far more serious consequences than in a country that has a simpler system

    For a shorter timeline, and EMP attack or a huge solar flare could drop all the grids. If they stay down longer than the fuel supply in the repair trucks they will not come back on line.

  • Don’t say you were not warned.

    I read this book 40 years ago, at about the time the Japanese plants were built.

  • Gary,
    “Higher latitudes may actually benefit from warming.” Like Russia and Siberia did last year?

    The plants and animals do not adapt anywhere near as quick as it is happening. That idea is nonsense.

  • Kevin,

    “Before we get too hyped up about nuclear contamination, let’s not forget that atmospheric tests of atomic bombs were the norm in the 1950s.”

    norm not = safe

    Anyone want to resume atmospheric testing?

  • How many times can we avoid nuclear war? Two instances in which two Russians probably saved the world from nuclear war. The point is that our whole civilization has become so powerful that their are accidents that can potentially wipe humans off the face of the earth. While people daily die on the roads in far greater quantity than in a nuclear war (since we are not in one) a war if it happened would quite possibly be an extinction event for humans.

    On October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph trapped a nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot class submarine B-59 near Cuba and started dropping practice depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. The captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, wanted to launch a nuclear-tipped torpedo, despite the Soviets being informed about the practice[3]

    Three officers on board the submarine — Savitsky, the Political Officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and the Second in command Arkhipov — were authorized to launch the torpedo if agreeing unanimously in favor of doing so. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch,[4] eventually persuading Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. The nuclear warfare which presumably would have ensued was thus averted.[5] Arkhipov’s actions served, in part, as the inspiration for the American film Crimson Tide.

    Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov (Russian: Станислав Евграфович Петров) (born c. 1939) is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defence Forces who deviated from standard Soviet protocol by correctly identifying a missile attack warning as a false alarm on September 26, 1983.[1] This decision may have prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its Western allies. Investigation of the satellite warning system later confirmed that the system had malfunctioned.

    There are varying reports whether Petrov actually reported the alert to his superiors and questions over the part his decision played in preventing nuclear war, because, according to the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation, nuclear retaliation is based on multiple sources that confirm an actual attack.[2] The incident, however, exposed a flaw in the Soviet early warning system. Petrov asserts that he was neither rewarded nor punished for his actions.[3]

  • Kevin,

    I agree with you about conventional oil but disagree about whether that limits us only to downs. As important as it is for transportation, it is not our only source of power. As for Ponzinomics, again I don’t know when it might end. The Fed is meeting today and tomorrow and may well propose QE3. The U.S. has a total debt already of nearly $56 trillion and I certainly can’t pay off my share of that.


    Disagreement is OK. As for nuclear war, if it comes all bets are off.


    Your dismissal is nonsense. You would do well to read more, travel more, or both.

    Again, facts are far scarcer than opinions here. Markets are down almost everywhere as investors try to sort out the global implications of the Japanese earthquake and radiation disasters, along with continued unrest in the Middle East. Crude in NY is below $100.

    I’d still like to see one of you define exactly what you mean by collapse, so that we could better agree or disagree on what it is before we think about when it might arrive. Certainly we are seeing some kind of collapse in Japan right now, but I doubt that it will be permanent. I don’t see Japan as a modern version of Easter Island.

  • Gary,

    I have read voraciously for 50 years. I have traveled as much as my resources allowed, and continue to do so.

  • Gary, I could write a book on what collapse would look like, and of course the sequence of events that I could imagine might vary, so I will just say collapse will be final when electric grids fail in the major industrial countries. I leave it to you or anyone else to begin the thought experiment of no electricity ever again – suddenly without any preparation.

    As I have said on other sites we will do nothing or baby step backwards either of which leads to being totally unprepared when the grid fails.

  • For those of you that are keeping score:

    Black Swan events over the past decade
    • Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon;
    • 78% decline in the Nasdaq;
    • 2003 European heat wave (40,000 deaths);
    • 2004 Tsunami in Sumatra, Indonesia (230,000 deaths);
    • 2005 Kashmir, Pakistan, earthquake (80,000 deaths)
    • 2008 Myanmar cyclone (140,000 deaths);
    • 2008 Sichuan, China, earthquake ( 68,000 deaths);
    • Derivatives roil the world’s banking system and financial markets;
    • Failure of Lehman Brothers and the sale/liquidation of Bear Stearns;
    • 30% drop in U.S. home prices;
    • 2010 Port-Au-Prince, Haiti, earthquake (315,000 deaths);
    • 2010 Russian heat wave (56,000 deaths);
    • 2010 BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill;
    • 2010 market flash crash (a 1,000-point drop in the DJIA);
    • Surge of unrest in the Middle East; and
    • Thursday’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

    Things seem to be picking up.

    Feel free to add any that have been missed.

  • Curtis, starting to look like black swans can reproduce exponentially :(

    2010 floods in Pakistan
    2010-2011 drought China

    meanwhile the phytoplankton in the ocean die unobserved until recently – when a 40 % decline was discovered. Not only are they at the base of the food chain but phytoplankton produce 1/2 the world’s O2.

    Just heard an announcement by the Chinese Prime Minster that people near the nuke plant should avoid contact with the air. I hope that was a bit of a mistranslation.

  • Kathy,

    Definitely belong on the list, thanks.

    Re your scenarios:

    If we each took our top 5, and tossed them in a box, removed the duplicates, and withdrew them one at a time, I don’t think it would make much difference. The end result would be pretty much the same. We are just arguing about the sequence and perhaps minor local differences.

    What we see now in Japan is their future. No way can they rebuild. Not enough money, resources, or time. Ever.

    Already the world has abandoned Chile, Haiti, Pakistan, to handle it themselves. Plus, the GOM is almost forgotten. If it were not for the nukes, even Japan would fade to the back pages in a few weeks.

    The next celebrity meltdown may eventually displace the nukes meltdown. More fun, and easier to understand.

  • I tend to agree that fixing dates to future events in sorta pointless. And it’s also going to very difficult to recognize freefall when it begins because, as the real Dr. House points out, the events won’t be reported, much less tweeted. (Maybe that’s how to recognize it.)

    The scenario mentioned here I hadn’t yet considered is that melting Antarctic ice and the moon at perigee interact (among other things) to destabilize the Earth’s floating crust, causing a spate of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. To me, this is entirely plausible and beyond our control or prediction. Further, if the shield volcano under Yellowstone goes soon (it’s overdue), I can take some cold comfort in knowing that the end of North America will be fast and complete.

  • nice work on the list curtis, really helpful…it is too easy to pass on by…like we tend to do unless it’s us.

  • The reason I raised the matter of atmopsheric tests is not because they were ever safe, but because there are people running round with their hair on fire talking about a huge cloud of radiation spreading across the Pacific and dosing people in North America with high levels of radiation: they seem to have forgotten what happened in the 1950s.

  • Joke of the day thanks to the Wall Street Journal
    “–The near-term impact on Japanese growth is likely to be negative and potentially quite large. However, by the end of this year the reconstruction effort is likely to get underway and provide a substantial boost to growth.”

    Reconstruction is growth? Well heck lets start another war, then we can have more reconstruction of what we break down. We will get growth in the military spending and growth for Halliburton and the likes – enough breaking down of stuff and we can grow forever….

  • Gary.

    ‘Higher latitudes may actually benefit from warming.’

    Are you really unfamiliar with the fact that methane and carbon dioxide are being released from the permafrost and that higher temperatures accelerate the release? I have been saying for a long time, and Sam has recently reminded us, we are on track for an abrupt climate change event, i.e. a largely uninhabitable planet.

    Everything the present dominant culture does and everything it advocates leads to long terms catastrophe.

    The situation in Japan demonstrates how the market provides counter-productive signals. The world is in peril long term with respect to fuel, and Japan has an immdeiate problem of fuel shortages, but the price of oil has fallen because of fears of reduced worldwide demand. We could well see fuel prices drop in the short term, reinforcing the elusion that there is no long terms problem and that recent rises were simply a consequence of events in North Africa.

    By the way, I see that Saudi Arabia has stamped on dissent before it even popped its head out of the sand. Like most other nations, they do seem to be determined to bring about abrupt climate change via the burning of oil.

  • Oops, reinforcing the delusion there is no long term problem.

  • Kevin,

    Agreed. I was questioning your choice of words. We were testing without knowing what the hell we were doing. The usual, go ahead and see what happens.


    We should all torch our homes, and then drive through red lights. We will be rich beyond our dreams. Moronic assholes.

  • Curtis,

    2011 Cyclone, floods Australia

  • Kevin,

    Don’t short us on short term catastrophe.

    A little history about how carefully governments test. In this case chemical, but you get the idea.

  • Kathy,

    You are the leader here. You are in charge of the list. Good job.

  • Curtis, I thought you did a bang up job getting it started. I just added a few.

    But well us doomist we just see doom everywhere what can you expect. Never mind that the people who experience these events feel doomed or are doomed to an early demise, we in the rest of the world should just ignore them and put on a happy face, or so the pollyannas would say :) Move on folks, nothing to see here, just go on to your Starbucks and get a nice cup of latte and leave the worry to our leaders….

  • Thanks, but I can not accept credit. A fellow doomer sent it to me.

    Has anyone been to New Orleans lately?

  • from Counter Currents:

    Kevin, I would like your opinion.

  • Re. The Race to leave it all behind… A very good interview just finished on NPR:

    The Year of the Hare

    “Have you ever felt the urge to chuck it all, slip out the back door, and start life anew?

    That’s just what the main character does in Finland’s best loved novel, “The Year of the Hare” by Arto Paasilinna. Renowned travel writer Pico Iyer, who wrote the forward to the book, did the same thing when he left for Japan many years ago.

    He joins us to talk about the new North American edition of the book and about the benefits of leaving it all behind. “

  • Curtis.

    Undoubtedly there have been cover-ups and promulgation of misinfomration. Such things are standard practise in the nuclear industry (and most others), and governments always deny there is a serious problem, whatever the situation.

    There has obviously been some rupturing of the casings for radioactive isotopes to be present in the steam that has escaped, but I still think the quantites are comparatively small. Release of steam is inevitable when you pump water into a chamber that has material at several hundred degrees. However, this cannot turn into another Chernoby because the design and materials are quite different.

    We are in the dark as to how this will pan out, since we don’t know how far the coolant levels have fallen, whether the containment vessels have been damaged, nor whether it is possible to pump in sea water fast enough.

    As with Chernobyl, you can be sure the people on site are doing everything they can using equipment that isn’t up to the job. My gut feeling is that they will manage to prevent meltdown, but the cost will be enormous.

    Cleaning up the mess could well be the final straw for an economy that has been sinking for two decades.

    So much depends on what kind of summer the Northern Hemisphere has in terms of storms, droughts etc. We’re headed into unknown territory with liars and fools at the helm.

  • Kevin, “It diminished hopes earlier in the day that engineers at the plant, working at tremendous personal risk, might yet succeed in cooling down the most damaged of the reactors, No. 2, by pumping in sea water. According to government statements, most of the 800 workers at the plant had been withdrawn, leaving 50 or so workers in a desperate effort to keep the cores of three stricken reactors cooled with seawater pumped by firefighting equipment, while the same crews battled to put out the fire at the No. 4 reactor, which they claimed to have done just after noon on Tuesday.”

    Democracy now had several good sections on the disaster – in this one Arnie Gundersen, (nuclear industry executive for many years before blowing the whistle on the company he worked for in 1990, when he found inappropriately stored radioactive material. He is now chief engineer at Fairewinds Associates.) says the removal of the workers is a indication of having thrown in the towel….

    “ARNIE GUNDERSEN: It’s got to make the efforts worse. You know, these 750 people that are being evacuated were doing critical work. They weren’t sweeping floors and washing windows; they were doing critical work. So, when the staff, basically, is cut—90 percent of the staff is told, “You have to leave the site”—that’s an indication that a lot of critical work isn’t getting done. I really think it’s also—it’s an indication that management at the site has thrown in the towel and is going to let this thing run its course without any more human intervention. What that means is that—I’m particularly concerned about another aftershock, especially if an aftershock—on the weak Unit 2 containment, which already apparently has failed, and an aftershock would make it worse. The other thing that especially concerns me is that a large group of personnel were fighting the fire in the fuel pool on Unit 4, and again, you can’t have 60 people on a six-unit site and expect that anything gets done.”

  • Kevin,


    Have we ever had anyone other than liars and fools at the helm?
    No need to answer that.

  • brutus
    u bring up a fast collapse re yellowstone’s volcano. winter yearround several years?

    i googled around but didn’t catch anything yet; but i did confirm very active:

    the Yellowstone region, which has not experienced an eruption for 70,000 years, can not be considered extinct. In fact, many scientists consider Yellowstone to be active because of high uplift rates, frequent earthquakes, and a very active geothermal system.

  • I doubt we can predict when it blows again, just like all the other earthquakes and volcanic eruptions we failed to predict. And even if we did, it wouldn’t matter. We can’t respond to something of that magnitude, just like we can’t respond to global warming, species die-off, the darkness of human nature, or even Wall Street corruption. Too big, so no point in worrying, really. I found info at this website that might interest you:

  • thanks brutus

    yeah from u’r link…next eruption could be 2,500 times the size of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.
    600,000yrs. between eruptions; & 40000 overdue.

  • Curtis, I was in New Orleans late last summer, so I guess not “lately.” Passed through east NOLA on my way to the Quarter with my in-laws. Lots of blue tarps still everywhere. Whole shopping centers, giant car dealerships, and medical centers lying abandoned, weed-choked. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Nobody else in the car had anything to say about it, of course. Acted like it was no big deal. I’d not been there since before Katrina, so it really blew me away.

    Sure, there were some homes occupied in that area, maybe over half of them. The rest were still abandoned, ruined. Of course the Quarter was right nice, as they say, though everything seemed… faded, I guess. Like there hadn’t been any new money for remodeling the Riverwalk, the Aquarium of the Americas.

    The MS Gulf Coast has fared much better in terms of rebuilding, mostly… if you count shiny new casinos as better than the old ones. (I do not.) New Orleans, though, looks to be in terminal decline. Deepwater Horizon was another nail in its coffin, I think.

    A Cat. 5 hurricane would finish NOLA (as I knew it) off, if it were able to take out the tourist attractions. Then it may become known mainly for its port, as it used. They may even find use for those old steam riverboats again.

  • Gary, to answer your question/challenge, here’s what “collapse” means to me.

    When the industrial economy collapses, it will be like a tent that is no longer standing. It’s good for nothing. It no longer serves a function. When the collapse of the industrial economy is complete (I believe it has already started), none of it will function. It will be impossible to function as it will no longer exist. Fiat money will have no value. Governments will no longer operate. Anarchy will ensue. There will be no gas for our cars. No food on the shelves of the grocery stores. No medicare. No medicaid. No government assistance at all. No banks. No schools. No military. The internet will not function. The mail will not run. The lights will not turn on. The toilets will not flush. Our current type of economic activity will cease – completely. Totally. That’s “collapse”.

    Everything will be about food and water – survival. Those who have excess food and water (gardens, ponds, etc.) will probably barter for services or labor. Those who don’t have food will either barter for it or steal it. Most will die of starvation or thirst.

    Think about this for a second. We simply cannot live for more than a few days without water. But when was the last time you drank water from a pond or stream? I’m not talking about getting it in your mouth while playing in the water; I’m talking about deep, long, gulps, designed to satisfy your thirst. When the electricity stops and wells no longer pump, the taps will dry up. Where will you get your water then? Will you have to fight someone for the right to get a drink? There is much talk about starvation post-collapse, but the human animal can live for quite a long time without taking in food. Less than a week without water. Talk about reducing the population from 7 billion to less than a billion pretty quickly; turn off the water and see how long it takes.

    I find that many people who don’t quite get how serious our situation will be in the next few years are guilty of thinking in terms of the current situation as if we will be able to use our current resources to help us solve problems.
    – “It won’t be that bad, because the government will help us”. When collapse is complete, there won’t be a government.
    – “I’ll just go to Wal-Mart to get what I need. The free market always works!” Wal-Mart will not only be empty of products, there won’t be any employees there. Wal-Mart employees without gas in their tanks are not going to walk to work to earn worthless fiat money.
    – “I’ll just grow my own food!” If you don’t start before collapse is complete, it will be too late. Where will you get your seed if your money is worthless? Will you just not eat until your plants grow and produce fruit? What if your crop doesn’t bear fruit?
    – “I’ll just go online and order what I need.” The internet won’t be working. Even if it was, where would you find a store in order to buy something? How would you pay for it with your worthless fiat money? How would it be delivered? On horseback?

    My point is that collapse will be a situation never before encountered in our history. Never will have so many people been faced with such a complete shift in how they will be living their lives (or not living, as the case may be). As a physician and a business person, my perspective may be a little bit different from others on this site, but I can see just as clearly how tenuous is our position. One tiny little nudge, and like Kathy’s Jenga game, it will all come crashing down around us. Who or what will provide that last little nudge? Just like Jenga, we’ll simply have to keep playing the game and see.

  • thanks dr. house.
    u’r use of kathy’s jenga leads me to think mechanically of the ‘kingpin’. pull it & the set of gears/parts comes completely apart..unrecognizable. the thing is our system is so complex; & monies ‘guard’, & create backups for the obvious, & known ‘kingpins’…where possible.

    it will perhaps be another ‘pin’ or other part that then causes the kingpin[s] to fail that we don’t even expect/see the cause/effect. we have such incredible complexity that the unknowns far far outnumber the knowns; so as u say we just have to keep playing the game…pull a block… or pull a pin, & wait & see.

  • i consider boots that can be resoled [not many are available even on the web]…kinda a kingpin. bought a pair for all family members, & 2 of us wear them fulltime. there are numerous reviews on the web. a bit heavy; & quite stiff at first.

    Alico Summit Backpacking Hiking Boots

  • Christopher,

    Lately enough, thanks. This seems like another, “you are on your own, good luck” scenario. Particularly the medical center tells it all.

  • Guy said: “We might see Dow zero…”

    And the Dow:Gold ratio even again, and all of the gamblers experience Max Pain together as their monetary (and many other) options expire worthless.

    It is interesting to watch the complacency in the industrial gamblers. The industrialists always assuming the markets will be their tomorrow and that they can guess roughly the supply of this or that months from now, or even years from now.

    The Jeff Rubins don’t seem too worried really. They seem to think they are on high enough ground to safely watch the ebb and flow of the markets during a depression/recession/whateve.

    I wonder if the Jeff Rubins are not making the same mistake the Japanese Nuclear Experts made in their earthquake calculations – plan to withstand a 7, assume a 9.0 will never happan and that you will be around to make money off the rebuilding efforts of others. The Jeff Rubins ain’t worried about no Tsunami, The Jeff Rubins is on top of the world.

  • Dr. House,

    Thanks for your definition of collapse. Though it may fit northern Japan right now, it seems highly unlikely for most of the world, including the U.S., any time soon. Though no one doubts the importance of water for humans, no facts that I know of suggest that we’re anywhere near your version of collapse. You and others are certainly welcome to your opinions, and I hope that all of you who think collapse is just around the corner are prepared for it.

    Thanks to fossil fuels the human population has grown far too fast over the last couple of centuries, probably exceeds the long-term carrying capacity of the planet by billions, and will have to come to terms with physical realities as the age of fossil fuels recedes. But that era isn’t going to end soon unless there is an all-out nuclear war or some other catastrophe that reroutes our current economic and demographic course.

    As you well know, during the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century Europe lost perhaps 30% of its population, but it was not the end of Europe. That would be the equivalent of the U.S. today losing 90 million or more people in a few years, an unimaginable loss. But after that the 200 million or more who survived would face much different circumstances. I doubt that they all would perish.

    I’m not sure why the idea of total collapse is so popular right now, though I would have no trouble arguing that from the perspective of Earth and its non-human inhabitants it would be a good thing. There is no doubt that we’re doing terrible harm to our fellow creatures and to the atmosphere.

  • How to stop collapse: (See bottom of this item from the Independent.)

    Workers briefly suspend operations at Japan nuclear plant

    Wednesday, 16 March 2011

    Workers battling to see off meltdown at Japan’s damaged nuclear plant have been forced to suspend operations following a rise in radiation levels.

    Frantic attempts have been under way to cool down the reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi following a series of blasts triggered by Friday’s 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami.

    But chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano said staff now cannot carry out even “minimal work”, adding: “Because of the radiation risk we are on standby.”

    He was speaking after smoke was seen rising from reactor three and after a blaze broke out at reactor four for the second time in two days.

    Officials had planned to use helicopters and fire engines to spray water in a bid to stave out further radiation leaks and cool down the reactors.

    “It’s not so simple that everything will be resolved by pouring in water. We are trying to avoid creating other problems,” Mr Edano said.

    Some 140,000 people in the area have been ordered to stay indoors, and panic buying of food and water erupted in Tokyo after radiation was detected in the capital.

    Following the crisis in Japan, European energy ministers have agreed at an emergency meeting in Brussels that all 143 nuclear plants in the EU would undergo voluntary “stress tests” to assess the risk from natural disasters.

    Energy Secretary Chris Huhne insisted he was right to order a UK safety review amid warnings from MPs it could hit investment in a planned new generation of domestic nuclear power stations.

    But he also accused other European governments of “rushing to judgments” over the safety of nuclear power in the wake of the Japan crisis.

    More than 3,300 people have been confirmed dead and thousands are missing in the wake of last week’s devastating quake.

    There have so far been no confirmed reports of British fatalities, but around 17,000 UK nationals are known to have been in Japan at the time the catastrophic quake struck.

    More than 500,000 people have been made homeless, and a massive aid effort is under way.

    Aftershocks continue to rock the country, and a 6.0 magnitude tremor struck in the Pacific just off Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo, on Wednesday.

    The Foreign Office’s emergency helpline has been contacted by over 5,480 worried relatives and friends seeking news of loved ones.

    The British Embassy has established a 24-hour consular response centre at a Holiday Inn hotel in Sendai.

    The Foreign Office has advised against all non-essential travel to Tokyo and north-east Japan.

    Concerned friends and relatives of British nationals should contact the Foreign Office on the special number 020 7008 0000.

    The crisis has also hit stocks on both sides of the Atlantic, but Japan’s stocks have shown some signs of recovery.

    Yesterday, the Nikkei closed at its lowest level in almost two years after shedding more than 1,600 points, or 16%, over two days.

    But it later temporarily temporarily surged more than 6% after Japan’s central bank pumped money into the financial markets.

  • Gary.

    Your analogy does not stand up at all well.

    ‘As you well know, during the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century Europe lost perhaps 30% of its population, but it was not the end of Europe. That would be the equivalent of the U.S. today losing 90 million or more people in a few years, an unimaginable loss. But after that the 200 million or more who survived would face much different circumstances. I doubt that they all would perish.’

    The population of England went from roughly 3 million down to 2 million. But all of them were living reasonably sustainably at the time and were not dependent on centralised systems or dependent on corporations for their food and water. And the landbase was largely intact. The implication is that a ‘wipe out event’ would take the population of England from roughly 50 million down to 2 million or fewer.

    I suspect that of the 300 million living in the US at the moment around 2 million live reasonably sustainably and are not dependent on centralised systems or dependent on corporations for their food. That does imply a figure closer to 298 million than 90 million for a ‘wipe out event’ in the US (though the US is nowhere as densely populated as Europe, so maybe 20 million would be a more likely number for survival).

    Sure, the plague was not the end of Europe. Those who got through it just carried on doing what they had been doing before and during the plague years. But when the Industrial Revolution reverses almost nobody will be able to continue doing what they have been doing. And most would have no idea what to do. It struck me hard today when I was reminded that the population of greater Tokyo is 39 million.

    A reversal of the Industrial Revolution is guaranteed. It is only the timing of the process that is uncertain.

  • gary said
    ‘I’m not sure why the idea of total collapse is so popular right now’
    and prior to this…’For some the appeal of an apocalypse seems to have considerable appeal, no matter how unlikely it is.’

    read diamond, tainter…they are the professors of how empires/civilizations change. they go thru stages of collapse[uncontrolled..implied].

    how will we collapse…what technologies, processes can stop us…at least temporarily, immediately… from functioning; and then how do we get going again; perhaps at a lower level of complexity if we can’t reestablish the technologies, & processes….at our previous level of complexity, which takes ever greater amounts of energy[tainter].

    oil is the real ‘lynchpin'[lynchpin – definition of lynchpin by the Free Online Dictionary … lynchpin – a central cohesive source of support and stability]. and it has peaked in real energy terms probably over a decade ago[05-06 measured. oil minus the energy to extract, probably a decade or so before that]. look at what price has done since 00.

    however oil is abstracted by us[particularly the US] into money, & finance. money & finance is in very serious trouble. look what the price of gold, & silver have done this last decade…many believe this is distrust of fiat..i do. guy’s thesis is that money collapsing will take the whole edifice down in a couple of years. Gail the actuary of the oildrum seems to believe the same[for ex.]. finance goes, the dollar & oil go[down], the grid goes.

    i worked a few years at a large coal fired powerplant. one of my first thoughts after learning about peak oil was that those plants would not function without fairly easily available oil. from the ash that has to be removed to the 100 + rail cars of coal that they burn each day…to the repairs that are ongoing in such a humongous place…valves, bearings, grinding coal, making extremely pure water for inside the piping…which were constantly in repair, & running with minor leaks…to the attempts to get the particulates out of the flue gas.

    i think it is possible that the $/oil/grid might not go down as guy, & gail[i think i have her position accurate], foresee. in other words we get some ‘reprieve’ after the lose of one, @ a lower level of complexity. in the US i believe we have a no. of factors working against us…oil addiction, dollar as reserve, & lack of social cohesion are some that quickly come to mind. Victor points to our wealth as one tool we will use to cope, some refer to our military.

    i can’t rule out guy’s scenario. i can’t even say i give it very low probability.; maybe low/medium probability, only in terms of speed/timeframe. what i am quite sure of is that when oil is seriously in decline[& guy thinks that is very soon] the wheels of the industrial complex will lurch & seize up, & then i think food & water & social organization will be the dominate features in all our lives.

    gary u’r initial quotes i lifted seem to imply we are ‘attracted’ to such analysis, rather than these issues are in our face. i believe it is the latter.

  • Gary

    I understand your argument about the resiliency of the system today. It is almost unfathomable that such a hugely powerful system as that which exists today to serve global needs could possible fail quickly. But I suppose in the end, that is just what we are proposing lies in wait for humanity in the coming years. But because our just-in-time, highly tuned, highly efficient global supply chain is so complex and so large, it paradoxically is also very fragile. Break it at just the right points and the whole thing will come down. Let me give you an example.

    You correctly stated that fossil fuels account for the rapid rise in global population experienced over the last 2 centuries or so. This means that humanity has been living on fossil fuels to provide food, energy, and technology. As a result of fossil fuels we have had an explosion of food to keep people fed and cheap energy to grow economically. The availability of fossil fuels has worked in tandem with a global economic model that relies upon continuous growth to both feed a rising population but also to spur scientific and technical advances unimagined even two centuries ago.

    My point is that everything we are as a global community (and for the first time in human history, we ARE a global community), is down to cheap, available energy – everything. We can no longer function as a society without cheap energy. That is not my opinion – that is simply fact.

    That global economy that relies upon cheap energy also relies upon a vast technological infrastructure that has been built over the last 150 years or so. Both the economy and the infrastructure rely upon literally masses (billions) of people to sustain it, people who are both consuming huge amounts of products and those who produce many products. This is a critically important point – today’s modern civilisation is both globalised but highly dependent upon masses of people and cheap energy.

    In the 14th century,as you rightly stated, Europe lost some 30% of its population and survived quite well in the end. But there was a reason for this. At that time the infrastructure was much simpler (not “simple” at all, but simpler in comparison to today’s infrastructure), and the economy, though there was growing international trade markets, was relatively simple as well, being highly localised – most people in those days produced food working in the fields, had simple lifestyles, and had the knowledge and skills and local resources necessary to carry on life no matter what happened in the outside world. When the plague struck, many died, but life still carried on because it was so localised, and therefore, highly resilient.

    This is simply not true today, as we all depend so heavily upon so many others in so many diverse places on the planet, that a disruption in one part of the world can significantly impact the lives of many millions elsewhere. It is this close global interdependency that provides the Achilles Heel of modern life. Attack that heel and the whole structure falls.

    Allow me to be more specific. As has been mentioned on many occasions, the availability of oil is directly related to the availability of food, transport fuel and technology. Increase the availability of oil by making it cheaper and/or providing more supply, and available food will increase, and transport will grow, and technology will prosper.

    This is not opinion. This is fact borne out by history.

    OTOH reduce oil or make it more expensive, and food availability drops accordingly, transport costs increase dramatically (which of course has a knock-on effect throughout the economy), and technological advances and maintenance suffers through lack of investment. In other words, growth is halted and recessionary pressures grow throughout the world.

    This is not opinion. This is well-established knowledge based upon history.

    At long last I come to the crux of my argument (if you haven’t yet fallen asleep on me!). To do so, I must pose a question. In the past as oil prices increased, recession set in world-wide. A lot of people suffered, businesses failed. This always destroyed demand, and in doing so, resulted in lots of oil available at lower prices. As demand built back up, we would go through the same cycle again. Everyone expected it. Some people even made lots of money by such cycles and knowing how they work to their advantage.

    The question is this. What happens to our modern life if the reduction in oil availability is permanent, or even worse, goes into terminal decline? What if 2008 was extended permanently? Let’s take a stab at that. What I am about to suppose is not necessarily the order in which it might happen, nor is it necessarily something that will happen in a short one year period of time.

    If oil were to go into terminal decline – and by this I mean that every year world exports of oil steadily declined, not matter what we did to prevent it – then several things would happen.

    The financial markets would shrink quite quickly – investments taking a dive. This is proven fact – not opinion.

    As a result money and credit (actually credit IS money) would shrink, so that it would be extremely difficult to get money to finance a home, a car, a business, a letter of credit for international shipment, etc.

    The economy would shrink measurably and quickly. It wouldn’t stop as there remains too much inertia in the system to do so – at least at first. Profits would shrink. Businesses fail. Some important businesses would fail – most importantly shipping, overland transport and airlines. As oil prices continued to rise and show no sign of price relief, global and national trade would begin to shrink, and ultimately fail. There is no scenario I can think of that would prevent such failure if oil production went into terminal decline and prices rose beyond the capability to people pay for it.

    As shipping and distribution costs become excessive, so does the cost of everyday life – virtually anything you can think of. At first, people’s discretionary money will shrink – causing a serious drop in overall economic demand, and thus, causing even more business failures. Without mass consumption, there is no economy as we have known it. Next, however, as oil prices continue to rise and actual shortages appear on the market due to export declines, people in poorer less-developed countries begin to starve, and those in richer countries find themselves choosing between food and heat for their homes. And then rolling blackouts start occurring as utility companies must limit power output and parts availability for maintenance is affected by shipping constraints. And food disruptions caused by shipping costs and lack of availability cause supermarket shelves to empty. In many areas of both Europe and America (and all other rich areas) fresh food is transported in from faraway places. Very little is available just within a short distance of any particular town or city.

    Now you could imagine the stress on civil society at this point. Chaos will break out – food riots, energy riots, a breakdown in government services as tax revenues continue to fall and severe budget cutbacks are necessary – sound familiar yet?

    When it gets to the point that people are having to choose between death by starvation and death by exposure, you are reaching the first order of general Collapse. As the economy worsens and food shortages propagate throughout the world, mass die-off is inevitable, the economy is destroyed no longer able to function, and governments and government services fail. The people remaining at this point across the globe find themselves suddenly without food, possibly without ready access to fresh water, electricity and gas supplies shut down permanently (a good portion of the skilled workers running the power plant or gas supply chain have died or come down ill), sewage and waste systems inoperable, cars dead on the road due to high costs of petrol and shortages, schools and universities closed, police and fire services disbanded due to budget cuts, foundries and manufacturing plants closed – causing critical parts shortages which in turn causes other failures of critical businesses.

    Once these things start happening, events will accelerate quite rapidly. So whilst we might get off to a slow start on the road to Collapse, in the end it be overtake us all like a flood.

    And now we are looking at what I mean when I say Collapse – sudden and systemic failure of the global infrastructure accompanied by a mass die-off of humanity not able to live independent of that infrastructure.

    What we are going through today is not part of Collapse, I believe. It represents “pre-Collapse” activity, if you will. Collapse is…well…collapse – sudden, systemic. Pre-Collapse activities are, however, clear indicators of the direction events are now taking.

    And if you believe that substitutes for oil will suddenly arise and be propagated to the whole of the infrastructure in time to replace oil before its advance into terminal decline in the next few years, I would dispute that and challenge you to give me a scenario in which that could be true. I will go further and challenge you to present a scenario in which progress could be made on these replacements during a time in which the economy is falling on its sword and chaos reigns – as it will, once the terrible truth about oil and our dependency upon it become real to the masses.

    Under the scenario presented, there is no return to prosperity – ever.

    BTW, I don’t think “doomerism” is popular at all. Most people laugh at us. And it is not an idea that we wish for, though like you, we can see the advantages to a collapse for the rest of the natural world. We are all extremely concerned folks who have looked at the evidence and seen, as you say “in our opinions”, that the only result that can come about is system failure.

    And I haven’t even mentioned Climate Change!… ;-)