Unintended Consequences: The Long Term Impacts of Crisis Blogging

The genesis for tonight's Campfire topic was an argument with a close friend a few weeks back, questioning the purpose/effectiveness of time spent blogging/speaking/educating about the various systemic errors embedded in conventional energy, economic and social thinking. Her question to me, before I left for a speech at U of Wisconsin, was unexpected:

"How can you be certain that all yours and others 'outreach' efforts will only result in slowing down our consumption paradigm just enough to allow for 20 or 30 more years of pulling in resources from the periphery, thereby unintentionally causing an ultimately greater ecological disaster than the one you are efforting to avoid?

I didn't have a quick answer to that one, though I have since puzzled out a rational response. Tonight's short essay then, is about unintended consequences, our human penchant to 'mess with things', and the benefits (or drawbacks) of wider education on our looming energy crisis.

# Based on a detailed bottom-up approach, CERA sees no evidence of a peak before 2030. CERA believes that we will see an undulating plateau of global production starting sometime after 2030, which is likely to last for a number of decades. Towards the end of the plateau period, we envisage that global production will decline more gently compared to the very rapid production decline predicted by the peak oil lobby.

# The peak oil theory causes confusion and can lead to inappropriate actions and turn attention away from the real issues. Corporations, governments, and other groups, including nongovernmental organizations, need to have a coherent description of how and when the undulating plateau will evolve so that rational policy and investment choices can be made. It is likely that the situation will unfold in slow motion and that there will be a number of decades to prepare for the start of the undulating plateau.

#Oil is too critical to the global economy to allow fear to replace careful analysis about the very real challenges of delivering liquid fuels to meet the needs of growing economies. This is a very important debate, and as such it deserves a rational and measured discourse. Source

The above comments were from a 2007 CERA report. To me it is clear what the risks are of such statements. In following this conventional line of thinking (resources vs reserves, gross vs net, in the ground vs. affordable flow rate etc.) we lose a most valuable asset - time. Resource depletion 'answers' revolve around reducing the amount of existing infrastructure dependent on resources that are about to get scarcer, and investing in infrastructure that can be supported for the long haul. If significant uncertainty exists about timing and decline rates, then the precautionary principle applies. Live to fight another day, etc. Simple.

With respect to blogging, speaking and educating, I have always felt that the facts are on my side (I suppose all of us, even CERA, believe so). A sample of these integrated (not to be rehashed here) facts are:

-we are wired to compete (between groups)
-there is a finite amount of land and net primary productivity available for human appropriation
-the OECD, and social democracies in general, are incredibly dependent on cheap, just-in-time liquid fuels, a fact that cannot be meaningfully mitigated in less than 10-15 years.
-depletion is in a race with technology, and is winning.
-debt/leverage/credit replaced cheap energy for a time, drawing marginal projects into production that are now below break-even. Higher oil and gas prices are needed for long term investments, but supply and demand won't justify such prices.
-we become habituated/addicted to higher novelty/stimulation via the ratchet effect.
-historical resource per capita drops have been met with wars (between groups).
-our steep discount rates, or penchant to overweight the here and now vs the future manifest in a market and political system with nearly ubiquitous short term focus, which ultimately makes marginal futures pricing bad signals of scarcity.


Blogs highlighting our problems in ecology, economics, finance, energy and human behavior abound, ostensibly to publicly synthesize issues not being adequately addressed by conventional media. I'm sure some of that traffic is driven by ego, or by the need to scratch a puzzle solving itch etc. Personally, it feels meaningful to share and accelerate awareness of these wide boundary issues to those who will listen, even to those I've never met. The more people that can articulate and synthesize these manifold related issues, the more likely a non-zero number of localities, communities, regions and possibly nations will have fast tracked changes in reducing consumption, investing in renewables, become more locally interdependent, etc. But my friends pointed query has nagged at me...what if the efforts at raising the bar on energy/sustainability discourse will have unintended consequences. And what kind of consequences?

From wikipedia:

Unintended consequences are outcomes that are not (or not limited to) the results originally intended in a particular situation. The unintended results may be foreseen or unforeseen, but they should be the logical or likely results of the action. For example, historians have speculated that if the Treaty of Versailles had not imposed such harsh conditions on Germany, World War II would not have occurred. From this perspective, one might consider the war an unintended consequence of the treaty.

Unintended consequences can be grouped into roughly three types:

* a positive unexpected benefit, usually referred to as serendipity or a windfall
* a negative or perverse effect, that may be contrary to what was originally intended
* a potential source of problems, such as described by Murphy's law

Our impacts on the future, if any, are unlikely to be binary. Firstly, they may impact different time periods in opposite ways (e.g. a positive impact on the next 20 years but a deleterious impact on 100 years hence or vice versa). Secondly, there are many subgroups (and species?) who reside in the future - it stands to reason that behaviours engendered today will have different impacts across future demographics. Finally, I think it difficult to answer questions about the future without defining how 'success' might be measured differently in future years/generations.

In sum, non-linear systems need to be near the fringe in order to make successful leaps to new trajectories. 'Successful' peak oil outreach may actually bring our existing socio-economic system closer to equilibrium - in so doing, resource depletion mitigation and responses will likely come from the same quiver of unsustainable arrows that got us here to begin with. I do not spend as much time here as I used to. But my overall intent to lessen the social decline rate I expect will accompany a higher-than-socially-expected-oil-decline-rate has seemed to be worth time and effort. To this point I have believed that fewer people using fewer resources will buy us time to figure out more reasonable long term goals than importing Veblen goods and exporting desire for same? But one unintended consequence is what happens during that bought 'time'? I've realized with increasing occasion that the whole story might be a bit more complicated...

Choosing an ineffective or detrimental policy for coping with a complex system is not a matter of random chance. The intuitive processes will select the wrong solution much more often than not. Jay Forrester - Urban Dynamics 1969

Campfire questions:

There will likely be unintended consequences from 'peak oil outreach'. Are they more likely to be positive or negative? What might some be?

Could my friend be right, (or at least in the ballpark)? That educating leaders to put the breaks on our consumptive trajectory might alter the natural human impact pulse just enough to pull in currently non-scarce resources from the periphery, making us worse off in the long run than if we attempt to mitigate?

Mitigating overconsumption, overpopulation, and resource depletion requires a longer term view. But perhaps focusing on making the next 10-30 years more sustainable discriminates against 30 years and beyond?

Tough questions. I don't have the answers. Perhaps some of you do....

It's a fair question, I guess.. but one I get tired of hearing, I have to say in all honesty.

There are a million 'Yah, but..' statements that hit you when you are trying to talk about what you see as a systemic problem, and this one and 'Jeavon's Paradox' are the ones that sound most to me like excuses NOT to alter course. It's as if their argument is that instead of slowing down, averting our material dependencies and not hitting the wall quite as hard is being countered with.. if we keep running full bore, we'll REALLY know there's a wall there.. with some folks postulating that our financial products and mechanical innovations will somehow cut a door for us at the very last second.

This is the classic 'Yelling fire in a crowded Theater' scenario. Most of us here do have the pretty certain feeling that the upshot of Oil's Downslope will be as dangerous as being crammed in a burning theater for our societies. If you send out the alarm wrong, then sure, there is a danger of people trampling each other, or getting stuck at undersized doors.. but it means 'Think hard about how you share these ideas' , not 'Let's sit here for a couple more scenes and see what develops..'

Part of an 'adventurous undertaking' is that you will probably have to be ready for many course corrections. You don't just plow forward stubbornly and blindly.. I mean, who was flying the fwiggin' helicopter, anyway? (I'm guessing Sarah Palin)


" financial products and mechanical innovations will somehow cut a door for us at the very last second."

Is that really such a stretch ? Western civilization has hit a thousand resource limits already. And we're hitting a new one every year or so. 2 years ago Cobalt, I believe, all but ran out. These days, despite the high prices, gold production is down a lot. A few older examples :

Natural stone ran out
Wood ran out (and therefore energy ran out)
Charcoal as a fuel source ran out
Coal has run out in quite a few countries
Fish ran out (not every last species *yet*, but many species did, more do every year)
Climate changed severely on 3 occasions (2 were global warming ... with very positivie results (but still requireing many adjustments), one was global cooling with disastrous results, but again many adjustments later everything was alright (eventually growing potatoes))
Wars depleted just about every resource on at least 3 occasions

We dealt with all these crises, surprisingly well. Of course many other civilizations did not deal with a specific crisis, resulting in total annihilation. The best known example is the culture of the easter island, but in reality just about every culture did this : the muslims (first the mamluks, then the ottomans), the chinese (again they did this many times).

It seems to me that a number of factors are very beneficial to western civilization : the relatively low birthrate pushed by christianity, the presence of free enterprise¸ the fact that christian ideology tries to get people to help one another and disregard class, thereby never causing the farming/working class to die off (which happened to muslims, who used slaves, many times in their history, often with disastrous results. Also the fact that christianity was massively opposed to slavery prevented class wars in western europe for a millenium, so a destructive and idiotic state like the muslim mamluks never came into existence. The divided nature of western europe, as opposed to the singular control centers of the muslims have turned out to have been massive advantages. The fertility rate of muslim slaves(/farmers/workers) is so low it is hard to believe. We're talking between 0.2 and 0.05. This is one of the factors that pushed then to conquer (jihad) africa and totally destoy that continent). This did not prevent various slave classes from destroying nearly all infrastructure in muslim lands. Now I realise many advantages that western civilization had had nothing to do with the civilization itself, for example the widely distributed nature of the west is more a result of that being possible, than of any ideological issue. The distribution, and being out-of-reach of armies led to groups that had to fend for themselves, giving 2 massive advantages : a hell of a lot of research was done, and due to the lack of interdependency any disaster never had any systemic effect.

Clearly the recipe for continuing to exist is (was ?*) rather simple : you need a growing, BUT slow-growing population that uses individualism to try out as many potential solutions as possible, and you need to defend that population from immigration, which would destroy the advantages they had. This lead, ever since the greeks, to rapid technological advancement (even in the dark ages western europe advanced much faster than china or the middle east, even though the damage muslims had done to the knowledge infrastructure of the west was terrible. Both southern italy and egypt, the centers of knowledge of respectively the ex-western roman empire and the eastern roman empire, were burned down by muslim invaders). The advancement of knowledge, and the speed at which it occured were much larger factors than the available knowledge at the time. All of muslims, chinese, some african kingdoms and even mayans had technological advantages at the start of the dark ages. Muslims were not interested in expanding knowledge, and killed the very few scientists they had when science attempted to get started in muslim lands in Egypt and Damascus, neither were mayans. Mayans must have inherited(or conquered) their knowledge like the muslims, and chose not to advance it.

But in the west knowledge advanced. Advancing knowledge led, as we all know, to massive advantages, even if generally not for the inventers. But for nearly a thousand years, advancing knowledge was nearly exclusively done by the church. You see, these days knowledge can be translated immediately to products, and therefore research is an activity that can pay for itself. Even today, however, that only goes for some types of research, like electronics manufacturing and does not work for others, like astronomy or mathematics. Research companies were impossible until 1850 or so, and in most of the world they've only just entered the realm of feasability. Christian clerics, priests, monks and what-have-you, who formed the medieval state, chose to research (apparently to see "the full beauty of God's creation", to illustrate and expand their understanding of the bible), and muslim clerics and chinese ... well, warlords did not. Neither did the mayan (also theocratic) state.

* obviously it's not because this worked in the pas that it works today

It seems to me that a number of factors are very beneficial to western civilization : the relatively low birthrate pushed by christianity, the presence of free enterprise¸ the fact that christian ideology tries to get people to help one another and disregard class, thereby never causing the farming/working class to die off (which happened to muslims, who used slaves, many times in their history, often with disastrous results. Also the fact that christianity was massively opposed to slavery prevented class wars in western europe for a millenium, so a destructive and idiotic state like the muslim mamluks never came into existence.

...ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, I have one final thing I want you to consider. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Chewbacca. Chewbacca is a Wookiee from the planet Kashyyyk. But Chewbacca lives on the planet Endor. Now think about it; that does not make sense!
Gerald Broflovski
Damn it!... He's using the Chewbacca defense!


There are very,very few Christians.

There are very,very many who pretend to be.

I once was a Christian or pretended to be. I am now lost, thank God. There is a God, I am sure. He stands outside the doors of those brick buildings of organized religion and laughs.

For those who are Real Christians? They do not need those buildings. There work is before them and not in those buildings built of stone or brick as tributes to something else,ego,greed,,etc. Where all those egotistical prayers hardly reaches the ceilings. Yes outside the doors where He might wonder...why are they in there when stuff is out here?
Well then to the work...but...........well stuff happens.....


As someone pointed out to me recently:
"So many Christians, so few Lions".

FMagyar, thanks for pointing out the rhetorical strategy. That was so dense that I completely lost my bearings.

Nice to see some history that gets beyond the p.c. revisionism being "taught" by the "educational" system nowadays!

as in, 'OUR Revisionism is better than THEIR revisionism..'

You think that history lesson above wasn't revisionist?

I'll add more later.. it's a family day.

Please save yourself the bother, jokuhl, you've already spilled more than enough cherished myths in my direction. Answer those Qur'an quotes I suggest before you write again about the subject.

The "incomprehension" of the above commenters is exactly analogous to "you can take a horse to water but you can't make it drink".

Some of the methods by which Western Civilization overcame past resource constraints (not all deliberate):
The Crusades, The Black Plague, The 30 Years War, Colonizing the Americas and Australia, taking resources from every country not strong enough to stop it (India, Africa, China, Greater Persia), WW1, WW2.

Western Civilization will probably survive, but that doesn't mean that the resource constraints we face now aren't real or that getting past them to whatever the next functional paradigm is will be at all pleasant for the participants.

I doubt the black plague functioned as a way to overcome resource limits. It slowed down growth, when there was plenty of room left. Now for the west as a whole this may have been a positive function. Neither were the crusades a way to overcome resource limits. The black plague's most "useful" result was embedding basic quarantine procedures, especially for ships, VERY deeply into the west's psyche, and it's only failed to prevent the spread of disease twice since the middle ages. The muslims, by contrast were devasted by disease 5 times in the second half of the 19th century, Europe only once, most muslim countries still have regular outbreaks of leprosy, polio, tyfus and tbc, even some of the richer ones, something which did not happen in the west for close to 250 years now.

You also seem to forget that other civilizations robbed other countries of resources too, yet it didn't save them. The mayans, the incas, the romans, the chinese and the mongols were good at this, just to name a few, and nothing surpasses the devastastation muslims wrought in africa in their search for slaves (the pre-oil "black gold") (not that anyone blames them : you see they killed every last black slave in their lands, so no-one blames them for anything, whereas America let slaves live and survive. Big mistake, apparently, or at least that's the message progressive "equal rights and equal outcome" idiots are giving off by exclusively blaming the ones who did not commit a racist massacre against their slave populations)

The point is that these methods were attempted by just about every civilization. Every one of them failed, except the west. It certainly wasn't for lack of conquests that these civilizations failed. Incas, Mongols and Chinese conquered areas much larger than the Europeans ever did, and it did not help them survive. The muslim ottoman theocratic empire, which conquered at least 40% of the globe (from the gold mines of south africa to hong kong was continuous ottoman territory at one point in time), yet such territorial and material advantages did not help them against the faster pace of innovation in the west.

Chinese civilization has a longer track record than European civilization, and isn't dead yet.

The Mongols relied too heavily on conquest and the leadership of a single individual, they were forced back when the leadership failed. I'd hardly count their empire as a "civilization" in the same sense, though they did manage a fairly good run and defeated all comers while they were in their prime.

What you are missing is that some of these periods (The 30 Years War in particular) were outright failures of civilization, and others were deliberate attempts to get rid of "surplus population". I skipped the Irish Potato Famine which straddles both categories.

The Spanish, French, and English Empires all had lifespans similar to the Ottoman and Russian Empires.

The American Empire appears to be on track for a similar lifespan, possibly shorter if you count it as starting from WW II.

Such is the "success" of Western Civilization.

Not all that spectacular, really.

Exactly, I think the whole Christian argument was meant to be tongue and cheek.

Christians for hundreds of years have been pushing for lower birthrates, by slaughtering people to steal their stuff, before they can have children.

Look at the Spanish Conquistadors for instance, slaughtering and enslaving heathens for Jesus and gold.

The whole Christian argument was clearly a joke.

Wow, so much you wrote is wrong, but I'll limit it to the "reinterpreting history through the Christianity good, Muslims all bad" perspective:

christianity was massively opposed to slavery

Wrong. The old testament is full of slave owning tips and Jesus seemed fine with slavery. Please post any scriptural opposition to slavery (in general, not just Israelites should own slaves not be them)

for nearly a thousand years, advancing knowledge was nearly exclusively done by the church.

This was a church-induced dark ages, where "knowledge" was debating how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. Worldly matters, especially those that presented evidence that contracted holy-books, was actively punished.

Muslim scholars in the dark ages preserved Greek texts ("western" thought) and advanced mathematics.

Yes, they went into their own dark ages later.

Muslim scholars in the dark ages preserved Greek texts ("western" thought) and advanced mathematics.

A whopper of a myth there. What really happened was that all the ancient texts rotted in the humid north but were preserved in the dry Muslim-conquered areas. And the so-called Muslim scholars were in reality Non-Muslims living in dhimmitude (third-class subjects) in the vast jihad-conquered areas.

You don't have to spend much time studying the unchangeable flawless Last Testament to see why scholarship and Muslim don't go together very well. You can see in the Acts of the Apostles the embodiment of the principle of arguing ones's case rather than fighting it; and conversely Saint M's principle of winning one's arguments via violence against dissenters, the notion repeated stated that military victory comes to the "righteous"

The Old Testament is the Jews' ancient history book, and the whole point of Christianity is that it changes from and supercedes it. The principles expounded by JC & Co did not explicitly at any point challenge the Romans' legal principles (because they would have been very quickly executed if they had--which is why Christ's reply "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" was such a clever reply to his enemies' trick question). But those Christian principles of loving one's neighbour as oneself etc most certainly are incompatible with any form of slavery other than one that makes the concept meaningless.
You will search for that in the Qur'an in vain. The Q spends a lot of time discussing the making and taking and keeping of underdogs of various sorts.

No it was not a church-induced Dark Ages, it was caused by the collapse of militaristic Rome and the pagan barbarian gangs' Volkerwanderung. In the midst of a vast reversion to wood-age darkness, the lights were kept shining only in the refuges of the Church. And only out of that church everything about the modern civilisation arose. See Tonybee a study of history.

Hi Nate,

I think this is a fascinating question. On one hand, as a 70 year old guy who hopes to ride is bike for 20 more years and then have a few years of reflection before death, I wonder if we are just tilling at windmills and wasting our time. Maybe we should just spend this time smelling the roses because most people just dismiss us as “doomers”. As I recall, in one of your other posts you commented that facts don’t count for much (or something to that effect). Or, if we really try hard, we might get a few laws past that would result in the “small delay of the inevitable” as your friend suggests – this would not be much to brag about.

On the other hand, I think about my 14 month old great granddaughter who will be entering the adult world about the time I’m leaving it. I think about how my Irish ancestors struggled and sacrificed to create the comfy world I live in today. What am I doing to pass on a great quality of life for my great granddaughter? Do we just shut up because most people think we are nuts? And, how certain are we that we truly have the correct information to support our POV? What if we are wrong?

My answer is that I base my existence on science and logic. I don’t accept religious superstitions just because my parents did. Facts do matter. Science is the best we have for figuring out what to do next as a community. I am certainly not going to look to the christian bible for guidance.

Could my friend be right, (or at least in the ballpark)? That educating leaders to put the breaks on our consumptive trajectory might alter the natural human impact pulse just enough to pull in currently non-scarce resources from the periphery, making us worse off in the long run than if we attempt to mitigate?

I think the question is incomplete. I subscribe to the 3 scenario idea: BAU, Muddle Through, and Rational Plan. I think it is possible to see our glass as half full if a truly rational scenario could emerge from today’s predicament. My inclination is to keep pushing for a rational plan (along the lines of Brown’s Plan B 3.0 suggestions) but I suspect that the probability of meaningful acceptance is very low.

And, of course we need to "mitigate" - how does you friend think we will develop a plan for mitigation if us PO folks remain silent?

My answer is that I base my existence on science and logic

It was science and logic that painted us into the corner we're now in. When in a hole the first thing to do is stop digging. But for us humans (the stupid ape) this seems to be a near impossible thing to do, we just cannot stop digging.

BAU is carry on digging, all other alternatives usually fall into varying the digging speed or digging in a different direction, cessation of digging is just not considered.

We need to stop, we need to adapt back into a natural balance with nature and to do this we must undo most of what we've done (not do more). The scientific genie has to go back into the bottle and the assumption that we are somehow of a higher order than nature needs to be disabused. But I doubt this will happen, we just don't have the intelligence to do it, we only have enough intelligence to destroy ourselves and every living thing on the planet. Science only allows us to accelerate the process, it is our means of making war on nature, it is how we turn the natural living world into a lifeless synthetic world.

The problem with science is its agnostic i.e its neither good nor bad.

Its what you do with it thats the issue. I'd argue the majority of the areas they we perform science in today are geared toward expanding areas that have benefited mankind over the short term.

Science can be though of as a process to develop reproducible answers to questions.

The question of what questions to ask and peruse the answers for is I'd argue not science.

As with any area the number of people capable of performing the art of science is limited and so are the resources society can devote to supporting science.

I don't think there is anything wrong with science as I said its agnostic soviet scientists where as capable of performing science as any one else.

What would be good is to start asking questions about the questions we are asking and become concerned that our desires to see some questions answered may have left many important areas on the fringe of both science and the eventual political implications of the results of various directions in research.

Question the the questions we ask not the method of answering them.

Hi memmel. I certainly used to think that way too. But of coarse the same argument can be used about almost anything. The gun lobby says the same, a gun is neither good nor bad, or a nuclear bomb for that matter. The problem is with the stupid ape, us, and nothing is going to change that. We need to take away the harmful toys, so our inherent tendency to destructive and unbelievably irrational behaviour is contained. Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely. Science is power.

What we need is a new Dark Age, so that we can rebalance ourselves with nature. That isn't going to happen by design, so nature is going to have to do the rebalancing for us. I just cannot see wisdom descending upon the human race and make us do the right thing against all our inherent desires to do the opposite.

Burgundy I don't disagree but I'd argue that we approach the coming dark age far better armed with knowledge then in the past.

First and foremost the printing press and yes we can recreate simple presses if needed whats important is the idea and we have a lot more designs and actual samples.

Associated with this are machine tools I see no reason that they won't continue to exist and they can be readily used to make new tools.

Chemistry of all sorts has no reason to be lost same with physics and electronics.

We could lose a lot of or digital information or not thats unknown but a priori I see no reason that the modern equivalent of a monastery won't work to preserve more then enough of our knowledge. Any bits that are lost are readily recoverable.

However I suspect outside of basic science, medicine and engineering people will find very little of our other knowledge all that useful.

And I think that in the end a scientific rebalancing is whats probably going to happen collecting information about the local ecosystem and developing scientific balancing is going to be important. Certainly people know how to live a renewable life without extensive use of science but I'd argue that the quality of life will be much higher if we can use our science to develop renewable lifestyles that are better than just peasants digging in the mud.

Nature shows that extensive complexity can develop against a fixed energy gradient no reason we can't figure out how to do it. Its just this does not solve our problems or prevent a dark age if you will from occurring its more looking past our short term troubles towards rebuilding a new civilization.

If my concepts are correct absolutely nothing can stop us from moving to a much simpler society well below even renewable resource constraints before we can grow a new complex society in a fixed energy environment.

Where I differ dramatically from people that feel like EV's and Windmills will allow us to continue to increase complexity with perhaps a short time of contraction is on a more basic level.

You simply can't increase complexity in and overall declining energy matrix. If you look at nature the complexity of the system declines steadily as the local resource base dwindles renewable or not. Deserts and the Arctic are simply less complex ecosystems than tropical rain forests with far less species.

Science simply cannot beat this since your effectively claiming you can beat the laws of thermo. Next given the rigid complex nature of our society with a lot of infrastructure and even monetary system built around cheap oil I simply see no way for this system to collapse on its own without take the route of catastrophic failure.

And last but not least the nature of your opponents argument is just as important in determining if your correct as your own. Across the board I've noticed that anti-collapse arguments generally try to simplify the problem till their pet solution work or resort to rhetoric. I have yet to see a single argument for how we would transition our financial system to work in a new finite energy world.
The elephant in the room population is almost never addressed yet its the root problem.

Alan's electric rail/trolley concepts esp coupled with renewable and tied with Westexa's ELP concepts stand alone and above the crowd.

But if you look you see what they really are is a proposal to simplify our society back to what it was like in the 1800's early 1900's. Because together they really propose and net controlled simplification of our society then they are solutions that actually work within my model I have no problem supporting them.

They don't deal with the overall population problem and probably there is still no answer this means that even if we adopt lets call it RERT (Renewable electric rail and trolley) and ELP we still have not solved our real problem.
Thus even this solution will probably only result in enclaves forming where we succesfully execute it. But they would be much larger enclaves than if we do nothing and are a much better foundation for eventually expanding in a renewable fashion.

If the city of New Orleans for example developed RERT/ELP I'd argue it will survive quite well it will eventually have to deal with a very nasty and decisive refugee issue that I honestly don't want to think about. This of course leads to serious questions about how the politics will evolve in regions that are reasonably sustainable as major refugee problems develop.

So the horror is still there and even though I'm personally going to try and move to a region I feel will fare better than most since this does not solve our underlying population problem I honestly don't want to think about what will happen when these enclaves have no choice but to close their borders or be overwhelmed.

If I did not have kids I'd probably move to some remote region and simply live a a hunter gather minimal agriculture type existence. I'd rather not be involved in our future. Only because I think that I might be able to teach my own kids something of what I've learned and that they might take it further keeps me going. I suspect they would have more fun herding Caribou but :)

Hi Burgundy, Memmel & FMagyer,

Little did I know I would initiate this much discussion! I've been on a long bike ride today - 50 degrees and light rain - just like spring in Ireland!

The elephant in the room population is almost never addressed yet its the root problem.

I appreciate Burgundy's POV and, in the end, he may be right - I just hope not (maybe I'm in denial). But, Memmel's POV is closer to mine. I don't think the scientific process is the problem - see FMagyer post below. If the scientific process were actually applied to sacred cows like global population we might possibly set a goal of perhaps 2 billion people and then find humane and peaceful solutions to achieve that goal. But anti science, as often practiced by folks who believe some supernatural being published a book of ultimate "truths", is a huge reason for our current situation. With "go forth and be fruitful" being a statement that cannot be subjected to scientific review - there is little hope. Maybe Burgundy's vision of the future is correct - but, I can find a lot of underlying causes that come before the scientific process. And, I certainly agree that many technologies that have been developed using the scientific process, have screwed up the planet.

Dave,I hope you saw my apology about doofus spandex a few days back and my additional comments.
Now to business all you guys Burgundy, Memmel,Fmaygar, Dave

I read all your stuff with great interest,and find that my conclusions are mostly in agreement with yours,but sometimes I get there by a different route.The good part is that I gain new insights frequently from reading you.

Here is a different route into an understanding of human behavior,human "failings",and science.The book is The Dragons Of Eden,by Carl Sagan,an astronomer of many accomplishments-including the ability to write a book dealing with another scientific field-biology in general and human intelligence and behavoir specifically -good enough to win a Pulitzer Prize.

We don't hear much about this book any more,but it is absolutely worthy of a place on the same shelf as Jared Diamond's books.

It is imo the best single all around book on the subject of intelligence and behavior which is also accessible to the layman and also a fun read.

The message in this book is that we act the way we do because our newly evolved intellects are only marginally in charge of our behavior,in most respects.Stated differently,the internal portions of our brains are our bosses for the most part,and while some of us some of the time may use our latest major evolutionary acquisition- high intelligence/speech/culture- to make decisions some of the time,most of our decisions are made at the subconscious level in/at/by the older parts of our brains we share with the reptiles and our nearer relatives the other mammals.

Any discussion of science and our success or failure is missing a critical ingredient unless we include what we know from science about WHY and HOW we make decisions.

Agree completely. In the end my opinion becomes that we have to evolve some more before we can become intelligent in the group sense. We are as individuals on average fairly intelligent ( many don't like to use their intelligence but that does not mean it does not exist)

At the group level however I think bacterial colonies are yeast are smarter :)

This is because they use direct communal chemical feedbacks.

So I think a better way to put it is that science itself does not fare well when practiced by recently evolved animals with individual intelligence.

On the individual level I'd argue that feeling help as much as they hurt so its at best a draw and maybe postive for feelings. Its at the group level where emotions become very problematic and the average intelligence plummets.

To parody the 12 steps of alcohol treatment one step we must make is to recognize this shortcoming and work to eliminate it. Overtime I suspect we can develop intelligent groups. I'd argue that this blog does a fairly good job. The core subject peak oil has a lot of its important information obscured and we are dealing with a complex system but that makes the subject matter even more challenging.

My only real complaint now is I think that the doomer case is fairly well defined.

My fast crash scenario is either true or false this year.
A slow decline scenario should be provable within 2-3 years.

The arguments are mode and the data supporting them have been well reviewed.

However one problem I have is none of the rosier scenarios address the full range of issues from economic to oil. And you can't seem to get anyone willing to actually put together a full rosy case scenario they all seem to be based on the assumption of limited problem with a well defined solution. Its hard to compare and contrast very well though out and expansive doomer scenario with a undefined rosy case. Even ignoring peak oil completely we find that the general consensus is that the economy will remain weak for years. How on earth is this weak economy going to somehow transition a transportation system developed over almost 100 years to some new form ?

This is never addressed. I think that this is and example of why you have immense stupidity in the collective I guess its common for the big picture to be tossed out and a sort of micro problem with strong feeling to become the center of debate. The population issue quickly devolves into a religious problem for example. Yet these very same people are often critical of the welfare mom and children born out of wedlock esp to teenage mothers. I think it will be a long time before humanity is ready to approach the population issue with intelligence and this alone makes rosy forecasts suspect.

We see this sort of thinking all the time on this blog. Its quite common and very frustrating. And what really drives me crazy is that this sort of thinking is exactly why the damned thing will collapse in the first place. If humans acted intelligently and with prudence in the collective we would not be where we are now. Its not the people voicing concerns about the worst outcomes that are the problem its those that dismiss these concerns with rhetoric and faulty logic that actually ensure the system will fail. The problem is not that the doomers are ignored its that the doomer case is generally not justly dismissed.

You see this from the Green Revolution to Global Warming to Peak Oil and Population. Because timing the demise of complex system is difficult the warnings about the reasons for the ultimate collapse go ignored.

Somehow in the collective we just lose it.
Drives me batty :)

Hi Mac,

Yes, I did read and appreciate your comments on the other post (now closed for comment) - good thoughts.

I've always been a big fan of Carl Sagan, and no, I did not know about that book. It is now on my Amazon Wish List and I'll definitely get it with my next order - thanks much for the tip!

I've often referred to his analogy regarding the potential for us to encounter advanced life forms from other parts of the universe. It was a TV show where he had stones dropped onto a pond - showing the rise and fall of the water plumes across time and space. Too long a discussion for here but one of his main points on that program was that, most likely, all advanced cultures would collapse (like the water plume) unless they could come to grips with the nature of agression that gave them the competitive advantage in the first place.

The problem with science is that, being illuminated by people, it occasionally falls to the same problems as all other human endeavors.

When you find yourself at the bottom of a hole, you can't stop digging. You have to change how you dig. Even if you "stop digging", you still have to "dig" handholds and footholds in the side of the hole to climb out.

The bottom of the deep hole we're in is because of using the shovel of science to dig linearly. Science now needs to dig nonlinearly.

It was science and logic that painted us into the corner we're now in.

It seems to me you may be confusing science with the application and use of technology that has been acquired in some part due to scientific knowledge. Science, imperfect as it may be, is the best tool we have for understanding reality. So not only can it not be blamed for causing our problems, it is probably our only hope of understanding our predicament and figuring a way out, assuming there is one.

Scientific method refers to bodies of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on gathering observable, empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.[1] A scientific method consists of the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.[2]
Source Wikipedia

Indeed. Elsewhere in these comments ThatsItImout claims that the oil depletion debate is over. To some degree yes, but as far as planning and understanding, no.

Here is an analogy relating just to understanding oil depletion:

If you were going across some desolate stretch of land in your car, do you care how much gas you had in your tank? For planning purposes, I would say yes you do. If you were a defeatist sort, you might not. I figure that approaching the depletion subject with some sort of scientific rigor can only help us mitigate the outcome.

I think you are misunderstanding TIIO's point. First, I believe it was from the perspective of what the public's perception is, and more importantly, what the corporate world's perception is.

Second, his point is that it doesn't really matter what happens with PO in the sense that we can't burn all the FFs, anyway, so PO is irrelevant in that sense. That is, there's more than enough because there's more than we can safely use.


Yes, so the public doesn't seem to really care. But TIIO's comparing Britney Spear's popularity to the popularity of Matthew Simmons is like comparing the people's awareness of an oil company like Exxon to cultural critics of Spears' talent. You don't necessarily need a critic to have an opinion of Spears. And you don't need Simmons to know that Exxon is playing the supply/demand game.

The second point is very similar to the effects of positive warming feedback. According to some scientists, all the warming is in place to start the acceleration and anything we do to mitigate it will get swamped by the latency of the verrry slowwwww feedback effects. Ergo, GW is irrelevant because what is in motion will stay in motion for the foreseeable future. And so oil depletion is irrelevant even once more removed beyond what TIIO claims.

So it all boils down to rhetorical bloviating.

I liked FMagyar's comment that "Science, imperfect as it may be, is the best tool we have for understanding reality." He said that in response to another commenter claiming science got us into this predicament. No one can blame science for our use of fossil fuel; AFAIK coal predates modern science as a freakin' heating source that we burned in a stove to keep warm. Geez, we did that hundreds of years ago and we just barely avoided suffocating ourselves with airborn pollution without science getting involved. I will stand by my assertion that no one has quantified oil depletion properly yet, so it is still under debate. We still don't know all the unintended consequences, and rest assured that science and math can help quantify this ... if anyone cares.

The second point is very similar to the effects of positive warming feedback. According to some scientists, all the warming is in place to start the acceleration and anything we do to mitigate it will get swamped by the latency of the verrry slowwwww feedback effects. Ergo, GW is irrelevant because what is in motion will stay in motion for the foreseeable future. And so oil depletion is irrelevant even once more removed beyond what TIIO claims.

So it all boils down to rhetorical bloviating.

Except that what you've said is not an accurate description of the current state of the science. What has been stated is that the effects will last a good thousand years into the future even if we don't add anymore GHGs to the atmosphere. This does not equal the idea we can't limit the effects of ACC. In fact, the opposite. The idea is that since the effects will last a long time, it is even more important to limit GHGs... and to spend some of our efforts on adaption. So, no it's not just bloviating.

Anywho... It wasn't my intent to enter the discussion per se. I saw, and still see, as noted above, a disconnect in your communication. Thought I'd try to help clear it up.


OK. I simply am more in tune with FMagyar's thought process than with what TIIO is saying. In my mind, TIIO is saying to shut the door on further understanding, whereas FMagyar says leave it open.

"Science, imperfect as it may be, is the best tool we have for understanding reality."

Scientifically, we measure the value of a river - and count kwh. Scientifically, we measure the value of an ocean - and count fish. We take them all. One could argue the questions we pose are wrong. I'd suggest as well that the methods of science tend to generate only partial answers. They may be good answers as far as the go, but we humans then disregard the rest - what we don't know, what we cannot measure. Such a reliance on science violates the precautionary principle. And isn't it odd that those who most often oppose applications of the precautionary principle tend to be claiming "science" as the reason they can ignore it?

This is hardly the fault of the scientific method.

Science also tells us that if we take too many fish eventually there will be no more.

You are, in fact, using science to say that science is bad.

Ironic, no?

Science is nothing more than a technique for finding out about the world around us. What you are opposing is the narrow-minded use of science in the service of greed.

You know, the 7 deadly sins aren't so far off. Some are not all that bad in moderation, but allowed to run amok any of them can cause massive damage.

Stoves come with a red warning sticker that says, "Warning, burners may be hot and can cause severe burns."

With this in mind, if you burn yourself on a stove, is it the fault of science for giving us an understanding of how to efficiently heat a surface?

I'll argue no. It's your fault for getting yourself burned. The understanding of scientific principles, that led to the technology of the stove, did in no way conspire to burn you.

How we use a stove, or a big wooden stick, is up to us. The science and the technology itself is inanimate and without guilt. We choose how to apply it.

It not science and logic that got us into this mess. It's technology and the rationalization of our ape brain needs.

We took our wants and drives, and satisfied them through the application of science, through technology.

Science and Logic didn't do this. Our clever ape brains used those tools to satisfy animal needs in short sighted and ultimately detrimental fashion.

If we were capable (as a species and population) of applying science and logic, over emotional and instinctual drives, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

What awkward phraseology! ...you are efforting to avoid? Arghhh! Send your friend back to school!

I rather think your friend posed a false dilemma and you got hung up on it. What are the unintended consequences of not speaking out? Are we better off speaking truth to evil, or should we just let Rush speak his vile mind? And the question is so presumptuous anyway, for it presumes that if TOD did not speak out then no one else would.

Maybe, however, you should think of switching from TOD to TOC ("The Oil Conundrum") because TOD has made its point and all that's left now is arguing over when and to what extent PO, when people should be discussing: Given PO, what now?

Hmmmm, think of TOD as T.ime O.f D.eath just a thought ;-)

My ex-wife and I were very influenced by the original Club of Rome report to not have children and to otherwise moderate our lifestyle. Our children would have been upper middle class high-consuming Americans; in our case I can't think of a downside to our increased awareness.

That said, I don't think that she and I are typical. It's my perception that the average person is way more influenced by family, friends, and 'authorities' than they are by any educational outreach by contrarians. As a result, I feel that my compassionate, empathetic attenpts to raise friends' and familys' consciousness are quite ineffective; it seems the only consequence (unintended or otherwise) is some little peace in knowing that I tried. Seems like a harmless hobby to me....

A woman said "Blessed is the womb that bore you and blessed is the breast that suckled you".
Christ answered "Blessed is the one who keeps the word of the lord, for his is the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, there will come a time when blessed will be the womb that bore no child and the breast that suckled none."

Gospel acording to St. Thomas.

Gospel acording to St. Thomas. Which is not one of the generally recognised four Gospels (for what it's worth).

It was expirgated at the council of Nicosea. Emporor Constantine did not like it.

But . . . to improve the gene pool of mankind your wife and you should have been the ones to reproduce. Because you are smart enough to understand the consequences of growth, esp. population growth. Now these genes are lost from the gene pool.

Well, here's an oldie but a goodie.

But encouraging the sentiment that oil will be more scarce in the future, the Peak Oil message drives up the futures market, making it profitable to buy oil and store it. As less is delivered to market, the current price eventually catches up big time, bringing down a rather vulnerable economy and lowering consumption of oil. There is thus less exploration for new oil, but then the economy picks up and people start buying things including more oil.

Rinse and repeat.

In the absence of "the message", there might be less of the destabilizing oscillations which make it hard to develop alternatives that are needed.

How can you be certain that all yours and others 'outreach' efforts will only result in slowing down our consumption paradigm just enough to allow for 20 or 30 more years of pulling in resources from the periphery, thereby unintentionally causing an ultimately greater ecological disaster than the one you are efforting to avoid?

I have two responses to this. The first is that I don't care about the Earth, only about people. Slowed consumption allowing more time to put in solutions to our problems is a good thing for humanity, even if it's a bad thing for the environment.

The second is to turn the question around. If not slowed consumption while change happens, then what? What's the alternative? Raise consumption, and then have a catastrophic crisis? Instead of lots of little crises, one huge crisis?

By this reasoning, it was better to have Hurricane Katrina than to have a few hot summers, better to have World War Two than to have had a brief war when Germany militarised the Rhineland, better to have a ninety-minute nuclear World War Three than have the half-century long Cold War, better to have a heart attack at 55 than exercise 20 minutes a day from 25 and live till 75.

I don't believe that. "Let's wait and let there be a catastrophic crisis," is the mark of a lazy person, one who seeks excuses to do nothing. Bugger that.

Kaishu, saying you don't care about earth only about people misses the point. Earth is where we live, earth supplies our food, our water, our air. It is sort of like saying I don't care about mothers, only babies. But if a pregnant mother dies so does her baby. The analogy doesn't work perfectly but it is good enough. Humanity and people are different. People never survive in the end. Everyone on earth is going to die eventually. Every baby born today is going to die. The question is can we save the earth in time so that humans can continue to live on it, ie so humanity can continue. Unfortunately we humans went beyond our genes and built a world that we are not programmed to live in. We have eliminated our natural predators and have run amok. I don't know if humanity can be saved or how best to save it but I am absolutely certain that saving humanity requires keeping an environment similar to the one we now have as this is the one we evolved in. We don't have to save the earth but we do have to save the earth as we know it if humans are to continue as a species

I provided the link for a reason. It's tedious for both writer and reader to have entire articles presented in comments, especially across multiple comments to multiple articles.

If you actually read the referenced articles, the writer's comments referring to those articles make a lot more sense.

Kaishu that is true in some cases, but the referenced blog article was even more obscure than your post which is why I just responded to the words that seemed to make sense "I don't care about the earth". Perhaps you do, but frankly if you do why not say so.

In lieu of one....I flag this comment as Appropiate.

Airdale-We can't have a people without earth. We can have earth without people. We can have both if we are serious and not stupid. We have failed the smart test. .....
Next class please.

What's bad for the environment is bad for humans.

So long as the environment worsens, the solutions become more extreme and require more energy.

Unless your solutions will allow humans to live outside the Earth's environment. But a MallWorld with a completely industrialized society, cut off from the Earth's environment would still require ever increasing amounts of energy.

One question I keep asking, and never get answers for is, what problem does your solution solve?

We are quick as a people to think of instant one dimensional solutions when faced with a problem. But we rarely ask, does that problem need fixing? Or is this problem just a symptom of another problem that we should address first?

P: Oil supplies are in decline.
A: Biofuels.

But is it given that the decline of oil supplies is the problem we should solve? It's not a complete description of the problem.

Really, in context, it's that oil supplies in relation to population growth is in a sever decline.

Looking at it this way, we now have two parameter instead of just one. We can address oil supplies and/or population growth.

But, population will grow and we know through experience that we are unable to manage it effectively.

So if we look at the problem of chasing infinite population growth, then we need infinite energy growth.

Suddenly, there are no solutions.

Biofuels are then just a way to kick the can down the road and let the next generation suffer so we don't have to.

In this view, what favors are we doing for humanity?

Thought got humanity into this mess and thought will not get us out of it.

Because of our capacity of thought there is an over population of humanity on the earth. Because of thought we think we need to survive at this level as a species. (Nature, god, gaia) will kick us down a notch and for some reason we think we can still fight against the law of nature. We think we are in control of our evolution but that has been a fallacy since the eugenics movement when we first misinterpreted Darwin's biological theory as a social theory. We are children throwing a tantrum.

By jerry-rigging a few more years of "normalcy" we are, in fact, creating a higher cliff from which we will fall. And for those of us who see the truth of the coming catastrophe, we will be pushed off the edge by the momentum of the mass of unaware.

Let go. Do less. Live by your deeds, not by your words. I will not prolong my life by medicines, by the products of thought. My discomfort is unimportant and is impermanent. Let go of the thought that you need to survive, that your children need to survive.

Most of you are aware of the problem, which is the purpose of these blogs. But awareness is not compassion. Like the man who is aware of the bum on the street but uses that awareness to walk over him.

Love as long as you live.

It's strange how you target 'Thought' as the culprit, as if all thoughts were all the same.

Einstein paraphrased, 'Just because a problem was created with intelligence, doesn't mean you can solve it with ignorance.'

We do have letting go to do. We should simplify many parts of our lives.. and We need to be aware that 'cleverness' is not the same thing as wisdom. But I am also convinced that compassion, love and humor are clear signs of intelligence, and that to function with these traits intact, we need to be able to have good attention, and be able to think.

There's more to our products than just the thoughts that contrived them.. many play the part of tools with which to harness these free energy slaves that we thought would make life better. It wasn't just any thought. It was the thought that we had found a shortcut. Oops!

"It's strange how you target 'Thought' as the culprit, as if all thoughts were all the same."

Exactly correct. Let me ask everyone here a question, and you may be your own judge on this one: How many people here believe that the world's crisis and problems have been caused by the fact taht people think too much?

I once heard a comic say "Everyone fears "thought control". What the hell threat can thought control pose to a people who almost never think?"


Let me ask everyone here a question, and you may be your own judge on this one: How many people here believe that the world's crisis and problems have been caused by the fact taht people think too much?

Asking that question on this blog is like walking into a bar at two in the afternoon on a Tuesday and asking how many people there think that drinking causes problems in their life.

But let me rephrase what I said just a little, not to change my point, but to get it across more clearly. Thought does not solve problems, it just moves them into other arenas. Take oil for example. It solves the problem of getting from point A to point B very fast but it created the problem of war, depletion, pollution, etc.

I did not say the worlds problems are caused by people "thinking too much". I said our problems are created by thought. Someone has to think there is a problem in order to begin fixing it. I have no car, but that only becomes a problem until I think it is a problem.

Refining thought, or "smarter thought" as the comic you quoted above advocates, only creates more refined problems which are more difficult to solve. Underlying all the various forms of thought, we find thought.

And yes, this is all thought, but I am only throwing a wrench into the machine.

If we combine the Monkey Trap (short-termist limited intelligence creates traps) with the generalized Peter Principle (people and species rise to their level of incompetence) we get what could be called the Monkey Principle (a sufficiently intelligent species complicates it's activities until they become insoluble monkey traps) - which as well as describing our predicament, might also be a good candidate for The Great Filter.

(A related software engineering heuristic: it is easier to create complex code than it is to understand it and debug it later; so write clearly, document it, and don't be too clever. Unfortunately we don't have a debugger for industrial civilization, and a reboot may be required.)

Another aspect of this is that however ethically global, scientific, altruistic and long-term we try to make our economic policy, there will be pollutants and "externalities" of longer or broader scope which will accumulate and destroy our common good.

LOL my work is focused on managing complex software exactly like you describe.

What you missed is that some system are complex you can't simplify them and still meet your goals. I'm not talking about the overly complex garbage produced by most programmers but intrinsic complexity.

What you can do and what I do is steal the concepts and processes that nature has developed and set up frameworks and designs that manage the evolution of software.

You have to effectively build in ways to re-simplify software thats complex for no reason and offer a sort of self assembly process that allows software to increase in complexity as needed but in a sane and orderly way.

I googled for where I presented it and it went over like a stone balloon with the folks at Apple :)


Whats funny is they are considered innovative.

So there are ways out of the monkey trap you just steal like a bastard from Mother Nature :)

It's strange how you target 'Thought' as the culprit, as if all thoughts were all the same.

Einstein paraphrased, 'Just because a problem was created with intelligence, doesn't mean you can solve it with ignorance.'

Did you just disprove your point by copying the thought of another person? :^)

All thought is thought. In that "Thinking allows beings to model the world and to deal with it according to their objectives, plans, ends and desires."

Compassion and love have nothing to do with thought.

I remembered an idea I had heard, and thought it was appropriate to this conversation.

The response you offered me also required thought. The question is are we thinking clearly? Are we listening to our senses, to the others around us, to the earth, to our history.. and then carefully considering all these elements as we try to place ourselves in that picture.

To me, 'Love' is our connection with others, with the world, and with ourselves. Our Hearts, Minds and Bodies all have to be present for that to work.


There is information.
There is knowledge.
There is wisdom.

One with wisdom uses information to gain knowledge. But in the end knowledge is of little value as you Exit Stage Left. Your inner core faith and belief is IMO the only item of value.

Wisdom is the path/road..Belief is the goal. Consumption is deadly.

We are simply an information people who have left out wisdom. Or forgotten it or killed those off who did.

And our knowledge made us what we are for we did not apply the wisdom thingy.

Tod is full of knowledge derived from information. Its has little dealings with wisdom. Or it is seen only occasionally.

I am not wise but I do recognize it when I see it. I am still trying to find 'wise'. Information at my age tends to become useless baggage. Wisdom is scarce. I try to suck up to it when I find it.

Hint: Don't look in churches. Try the woods or nature. A few books. Some art. The men on the mountain tops.

What is 'really out there' is what I seek. Like the folks on X Files I guess. Knowledge is fun but in the end goes nowhere important. Love is a good word but overused and twisted now. Used for ugly means.

What do you pass on to your children then? Doesn't matter for the media and the rest will take them over anyway in most cases. Its that kind of world. But its worth the try for really that is all that is left here. Those tiny footprints you made and a stone standing somewhere.

Airdale-I welcome opposing views but I listen to myself mostly and what is 'out there'.

And eat good barbecue.(to add to the above)

I believe with all my heart that the stone age man ate very good barbecue.

Airdale-what you get now is trash and called BBQ. Its not. We failed.

Airdale -- you are on a roll -- keep the posts coming :).

What can we do to reclaim our Stone Age ancestors' heritage of delicious BBQ?

Reclaim? I dunno.
Stoneage BBQ? A deer quarter run thru a downhome BBQ Pit(not charcoal) is rather tasty. Many here prefer it over pork. Deer jerky is very good but most spoil it and let it mold by bad processing. Squirrel gravy is considered a great delicacy and 'burgoo' is the kentucky frontiersman's stew. Still made in central Ky if you can find the good stuff , cooked slowly over an outdoor fire in a cast iron kettle.

This essay seems to be the endtimes of all essays.A search for the Grail of TOD and TSHittingTF. What are we going to do beside jabber about it? When does it all end? When do the guns come out if they do? What will DC do? Are we dumber than yeast after all? Guns or prayers. Share or steal. Rule or let live. What to do with the future rich slave owners?

A big free for all.
Yet the big enchilada of all essay posts IMO. Too bad its goes Dev/Null in the end.

I personally have no answers except go pick the worms off my tomatoes and hoe my corn once more. Check the blackberries and hope for the best. Pick some blueberries for muffins tonight,if I slack off on the larger a tad.

In the country one can put a posted/no trespassing sign on his farm lane or chain it off and then live just about exactly as he wishes.

Airdale-a pair of clean bib overalls,some garden vegetables/fruit to eat,sitting listening to the owls at sunset and a good nights sleep without A/C knowing the Jack Russells are keeping the deer outa my garden(so far).

"Thought got humanity into this mess and thought will not get us out of it."

The majority of the human experience was spent in hunter-gatherer societies, living quite sustainably. These people used thought to survive, make tools, keep warm, find and learn about plants. The above statement is so general as to be as meaningless as "breathing got humanity into this mess and breathing will not get us out" (on second thought, this revised statement seems to have more meaning). I understand and agree with some of your point, but to me it's the kind of thinking that must must change, not thinking itself.

I think the problem is mismatched programs. Our brain programs are evolved in hunter-gatherer environs where we still had predators that kept us under control and did not have the means to rape the planet of its resources. While our brain abilities allowed us to create tools with which to rape the planet that was so successful that no brain programs had much chance to evolve to stop us from destroying ourselves. Being a global civilization we will crash enmass and will not evolve those programs. Once the remaining humans will live in such a depleted environs they won't need them. Conscious thought has been put to use for lies and denial which apparently had some beneficial use for hunter-gatherers. Conscious thought may not have been necessary for much else. Scientists often do their best "thinking" when they are not consciously trying to solve a problem.

Much defining of terms needs to be done to have a very useful discussion of the matter as "thought" is very vague and means different things to different people.

So glad to see a Wulf-Morgenthaler piece here. I've silently admired their work for years but figured their interpretation of the human experience was way too juvenile or gruesome for other intelligent people to appreciate. This has caused me some concern and self-doubt. I have now re-evaluated my WM position thanks to your post which is thought-provoking enough, even without illustration.

For me, personally, it comes down to a genuine sense of legacy. To answer your friend's question, I would say "Great! Perhaps that will create a soft landing and give us time to make adjustments".

What I hope and expect to get out of this 'alarmist' proselytizing is nothing. That is, society will make the progressive small changes and as Fatih Birol says, "leave oil before it leaves us". Later on I expect people to say, "See, what were you so concerned about. Things turned out fine." And, I will be regarded as the fool on the hill, but I will be a contented and smiling fool.

If our reason for warning, alarming, or cautioning is truly altruistic, then we must be prepared to be proven wrong about the consequences over the long run because people actually listened.

I can live with that.

I guess I feel more strongly about this with each passing day.

We people mostly live within the conventions passed along to us -- unspoken premises as well as articulated conventions.

We who are "middle class" -- or even economically better off -- in the "developed" nations tend to see our own rather comfortable lives as normal and as something we are entitled to. We also tend to see the kind of life we have lived for the last 40 years or so as something that will continue on for our children and grandchildren.

All of this is just how we are generally wired.

Some people do question conventional "wisdom" and even struggle to find truth and to understand the complexity of our individual lives or even of the human problematique.

I think that we who seek to understand choose to do what we do because that is the most authentic expression of our human passion that we can find. We need to talk the talk and walk the walk because that is who we are, not because we will necessarily shape a better future for ourselves or for others.

We do not govern our habitat, let alone our own species. We can express our convictions with passion, but outcomes are simply a mystery. There are infinite variables in terms of what the physical universe might do, and in terms of what various people will do when exposed to various ideas.

I sustain absolute vulnerability. I control nothing -- perhaps not even my own attitudes and actions. Even so, I act according to my own passions and convictions. Your friend might do well to reflect upon the inscrutability of the infinite mystery into which we are born as conscious beings.

Our "leaders" might do any number of things. All courses of action will be loaded with more unknown and unintended consequences than with known and intended consequences. That is the nature of the human predicament.

So is life meaningless and absurd? Yes. Is life meaningful and filled with decisions which we must make according to our own deepest values, passions, and convictions? Yes.

I passionately love the habitat that gave me birth -- Mother Earth. I also love the infinite mystery that surrounds my experience. I am too painfully aware of what appears to be human mortality and vulnerability to suffering.

Above all, I am aware that we are ephemeral clowns -- we do what we do based on too little information. We do what seems to be wonderful things. Sometimes those things cause consequences that prove us to be fools. Sometimes our folly is wiser than our wisdom.

I am passionately committed to the idea that we are here to help each other through whatever this is -- Vonnegut's answer to the question "why are we here?" Add that to my love for the habitat that gave me birth and gives me life, and that is a good basis from which to live life. Others have their own ideas -- or are happy to live with little or no original thought at all.

I say that we each walk the walk we feel compelled to walk, and talk the talk we feel compelled to talk. To do otherwise seems to me to not live at all.

We stand at the edge of a ledge due in part to mass ignorance allowing a small vested minority to make all the system sized decisions.

For democracy to work people need to be informed, failing that: fascism as per USA today.

False delimma, incomplete question, a person relaxed in the arms of unconsciousness.

Have to agree with Zen and Love however. Let go, lift the viel.

None of us can know the extent to which our words or actions have impacted others, but I know that mine have made a difference in my corner of the world as yours have in many corners of the world. Sometimes you plant a seed and sometimes you start an epidemic. A friend once said to me that it wasn't until he heard me speak on peak oil for the third time that he "got it." His views on a whole host of issues changed; his life changed. The Oil Drum does that every single day.

Energy is such a rich subject, and if you catch the energy virus, it motivates you to learn more, reach more, be more. Sometimes unintended consequences are better than the intended ones. What would you be doing now if not this? Would it be more fulfilling, inspirational, or satisfying? Would you have educated thousands, inspired them to take stock of their lives, motivated them to action? I don't think so.

I'm in awe of you and the others at TOD who work tirelessly to make this the best site on the web. If I had to take a guess I'd say your friend is really expressing what many of our friends and family experience--a changed relationship as a peak oil widow.

About 18 months ago I started spreading the word around our engineering office of 30 people. These are fairly well educated and technical people involved in electrical engineering and automation, so one would think the physics would be immediately obvious. As in unintended consequences, things don't turn out quite the way you would expect.

It wasn't my goal to "convert" people, but only to make them aware. I have succeeded in that task. Some asked me what I expected them to do and I would reply with "nothing". What you do with the information is up to you (i.e. wisdom), but you have been informed and we're all adults here. This is a brief summary of my observations:

- the varying levels of response reflect the larger society (denial, cautionary acceptance, action)
- most (~90%) are now aware and know to look for the subtle information, or they have a better understanding of energy price dynamics
- I have created at least one monster - not too extreme, or the inner peakist was released
- a few deny or ridicule because they must hang onto their belief systems regardless of their intelligence: i.e. we have one rich-kid engineer that continues to purchase things like V-8 pickup trucks and ski boats. I guess energy depletion is for poor people.
- our firm has made a significant effort to be a leader in the alternative energy industry

In summary, and has been stated a few times in this discussion, intelligence is not a proxy for wisdom. Some people are inviolably bound to their way of life and belief systems and no amount of advice or cautionary words are going to change that. Should the TSHTF, these are the ones I expect will be the first road kill.

The Human experience, or better put, the momentum of civilization, has been as Catton proposed in his famous 1982 book, Overshoot, overshooting our resource capacity into what he referred to as phantom capacity. We over populated, over constructed, over indulged into a phantom, collective illusion. The idea that today equals tomorrow. That what we can use today makes us greater the faster we can make it happen. Don't worry about where more will come from, but instead worry about how fast you can do it. Why we can frac, inject and horizontal drill ourselves to greater extractions of oil, so much faster for a better life for all.

The speed that everything is done and is demanded of projects is such that speed alone is the absolute most important factor. Whomever you work for the story is the same. How fast can you get this done? The other guy can do it in 3 weeks, but we need you to do it in 2 1/2 weeks. What do you think? Can you do it?

Humankind forgot about resource depletion, carrying capacity, or any other 3rd base coach signal about whether to expand or not. The answer was always expand and do it faster. So now we face a post oil peak world that is stuck in a mode of ever faster expansion and cannot even begin to comprehend moderate growth, conserved resources, and maybe even doing without. No, in fact Hummer wasn't dismantled, it was sold to a Chinese heavy machinery manufacturer. Think of the symbolism of that transaction. The US is slowed by a recession due to a mortgage meltdown and resource depletion causing sky high prices, yet the pinnacle of avarice is kept in tact and sold to the next big growth country on the block, China.

We couldn't even get the message when it hit us hard and flat in the face. At least not as a planet of people. No, we sold it and now China will produce and probably sell the same product here in America at a lower price. I wonder if the 100k deduction will still be available?

We're a specie moving ahead when we get any kind of chance at breakneck speed towards an energy depletion catastrophe, with no chance of stopping ourselves. Its just not in our mode anymore to moderate our actions.

Hello Nate,

I am always in favor of full-frontal Peak Outreach [which includes birth control by my definition] as it offers the best chance for Optimal Overshoot Decline. If one examines Duncan's latest Olduvai Update: it predicts the US will plummet at breath-taking speed to roughly 3.5 BOE/C by 2030 as MPP gradually re-equalizes BOE/C worldwide. This is obvious to me, but YMMV.

As our population increases 3 million/year, and as ELM decreases our imports, aided by a dollar losing value, plus an increasing govt deficit program where now 1-in-6 is govt. dependent [not growing their food & energy]: I would expect US BOE/C to probably be decreasing by 2 BOE/C/year. This represents the loss of 80,000 hours of energy-slave labor/year--far faster than we can adopt meaningful conservation & mitigation wihout Peak Outreach. IMO, the US leads the world in energy denial so it will get hit especially hard in terms of a smooth adaptation to ever less BOE/C.

Without Peak Outreach: this rapid energy decline should bring huge US stress levels and widespread erratic behavior promoting many violent acts due to the genetic expression of Hans Selye's General Adaptation Syndrome [GAS]. This is a contra-indicator to building family, community, and national unity, which is obviously the best way to mitigate Overshoot into Optimal Decline.

Thus, successful Peak Outreach might promote many miles of Alan Drake's RR & TOD proposals to make the decline less worse than it has to be. If we can adopt minimal water usage strategies, full-on O-NPK recycling by SpiderWebRiding, Earthmarines to protect habitats plus their enlargement, plus all the other good TODer ideas: this will be much better for the environment's health overall as the extinction rate might even decrease to help in this time of need.

In summary: the more Outreach the better!

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Thanks Bob, I picked up a good lead on the GAS.
I just love Ahha!

Hello Arthur Robey,

Your welcome. GAS is basically the too many cats in a sack problem, or too many rats in a cage; it is encoded into all life as it is an effective evolved specie response to accelerate dieoff to minimize overall damage to the other species & habitats.

The problem with Human GAS is our exosomatic reach to act stupid far longer and further than any other specie. From killing each other [family violence, going postal, Jihad, etc] to poaching game all the way up the scale to the full-on nuke gift exchange.

Doing a 'Digital Countdown', as I posted some months earlier, would do much to make our GAS more like other specie-GAS in total ecosystem effects. But I doubt we will ever do it. Only a 'primitive' tribe in New Guinea partially became this 'advanced' in their tribal behaviors.

Bob Shaw-

I appreciate your posts. But if you truly believe in "full frontal peak outreach," then you might consider using fewer, or often defining, all those acronyms. Those of us who are not POI (peak oil insiders) would benefit considerably if we knew what you (and several others) were talking about.

YMMV--Your mileage may vary; ie. you may come to a different conclusion
BOE/C-- barrels of oil equivalent/capita
ELM--Jeff & Sam's [WT & Khebab] Export Land Model
Google is your friend!

I think that is an intelligent question, and it comes up whenever anyone tries to do anything worthwhile that does not necessarily solve the situation.

For example, when I was working in community health centers, I often wondered whether I was part of the solution (health care for those who otherwise could not afford it), or part of the problem (somehow making a bad situation just tolerable enough to keep the status quo going).

In the end, though, it is not the question that matters. We are pretty sure that on this trajectory, we are toast. It is not impossible that we also be toast on another trajectory, but it sure is worth changing our present one. Your friend is clinging to the mortal danger that is familiar rather than launch herself into the unknown. I am not condemning her - after all, I read and comment on TOD to help me get a glimpse of the unknown, as the known is deeply unsettling.

I think it depends on your message.

Mine is pretty simple regardless of what we do billions of people will die and we will go through one of the most trying times mankind has faced. And this will be done with many nations possessing nuclear weapons. Its not the end of the world but I suspect when it is over WWII will be looked on as a skirmish before the big one.

There is absolutely no hope.

However if we do act not on trying to save ourselves but to start laying the seeds for a new civilization after ours thats a good thing.
I think that false hopes like EV's and windmills are actually worse than doing nothing at all since they prevent people from making the really hard choices that would have to be made to try and contain the horror will will face.

The almost correct solutions are in my opinion the worst ones since as your topic points out they probably result in even steeper collapse later.

Like an alcoholic or drug addict only very tough love works.

Below are some private emails that I think are appropriate for understanding why I'm so harsh.


By definition complex systems always fail at the point of maximum complexity.

One of the few simple laws of my complexity theory. In fact its the
zero law if you will.
Therefore if you have a complex system thats throwing out obvious
failure signals the it will fail.
It has no choice.

Thats not to say it can't simplify and then discover a new way to
create a ever more complex system.
Look at evolution after every single extinction event by any measure
the world eventually became more complex.
Certainly some DNA lines are lost but eventually not only are the
niches filled again they are speciated with creatures that already are
more evolved from the last post extinction burst. Some refinements are
lost but overall the system gains increased capacity for complexity.

The next thing is given complex system collapse at the height of
complexity between the time that collapse starts to happen and when
the system begins to become simple (i.e collapsed ) It has to lie
about its real state.

To prove this assume you know for a fact the system is about to
collapse obviously between that point in time when you know the truth
the current evolution of the system is a lie. Its in a sense making
promises that it will increase or maintain the current level of
complexity when you know it can't. Obviously after the event has
happend you know the truth and can know with absolute certainty that
the system was no longer telling the truth i.e that it would continue
to maintain or increase in complexity. Thus by considering the rear
view mirror case you prove the system on the verge of collapse is
effectively lying about its future complexity.

This is what I mean when I say the system lies what I mean is that any
measure of the systems variables and its complex interaction would
result in a prediction that the system will continue either in its
present state or grow.
At worst a small setback or reordering event is in process. Complex
systems out of necessity sometimes rewire
causing in some cases short term simplification or better a new type
of growth in complexity.

As and example species go extinct all the time and new ones come into
exsistance without general ecosystem collapse.

Of course if you throw humans into the mix people will play of the
expectation of business as usual or a return to the golden years any
day now to perpetuate various scams as long as possible. The greater
the claim that we are close to a return to normalcy when the facts
state otherwise the more assured you are that real collapse is even
more imminent.

And last but not least given all of this our civilization is not only
complex but its based on growing cheap energy supplies and overall
growth. The biggest lie of all is that it will survive declining and
expensive energy and contraction. One reason I detest the alternative
energy crowd is by my metrics they are telling the worst lie you can
given the situation that some how the society will transition with out
collapse bullshit.

Thats not to say enclaves wont from that are eventually based on
alternatives and represent the seeds for a new society but that does
not save the old one.


WOW!! Awesome post Dude! Complexity just became a whole lot simpler : )

Yes, I'm afraid that the example of extinction "simplifying" things is both too close for comfort and unfortunately true. So are we going to be simplified? Well, what are the preconditions for simplification?

Number 1 is....OVERPOPULATION! (the snow is too heavy for the lower layer of snow to hold it so it separates and...)

2 would be environmental degradation thereby threatening food supply. Check. (Simplification in action i.e species loss and pollution dragging everything (complex forms) with it...

3, well that's easy there is no shortage of mendacity around : )

4...Perhaps the great hope that keeps people focused on the wrong thing i.e. Technology! or more simply electric cars : ) which is of course in the realm of lies.

So yes, even I can see a whole bunch of preconditions present : (

So, down to timing. Ahhh, much tougher! : )

But the simple answer is not to guess but observe. I suggest that the last year is credible evidence that perhaps we should pay attention?

Nawwww, the mkt will save us. Adam Smith will arrive in the form of The Second Coming and the Laws of economics will provide for all exponentially increasing humanity in perpetuity : )

And my response:


I don't think its all that hard for the most part you just derive from
this zero law.

On the time aspect whats interesting is the lying about the state
makes the time variable indeterminate.

If you think about it a complex system at the virge of collapse that
tells the truth collapses immediately.

I'm going to collapse NOW. BOOM.

Thus the only thing that keeps the system from collapsing is not
telling the truth aka lying.

When the system finally collapses is determined by when the lie is
pierced i.e when the truth
becomes self evident and the lie is shown to be a lie.

This is indeterminate and effectively happens when the system runs out of lies.

Black Swans can be seen as nothing more than random events that happen
to pierce the lie and
cause early collapse before the lie has in a sense run its course.

The lies of course work because the effectively redirect parts of the
system into maintaining a sham.
A ponzi scheme is the classic but its better to consider them as a
sort of parasite on the host.

In the case of a collapsing system the parasites actually play a role
in killing the host in fact most lies
have the property that the even the lie is trying to prevent or
coverup or a worse one becomes more certain.

So lies about the collapse tend to work to make the collapse both
worse and more certain.

This is why I have proposed controlled collapse as the correct
solution its the only solution.

Complex system are actually defined in terms of their properties i.e a
system is complex if it can lie.
The ability to tell a lie is the signature of complexity.
The certain test for a complex system is to collapse it and see if the
timing of collapse is indeterminate i.e it can lie.

Quantum mechanics by definition is complex. Now I think you can see
why I get all fired up about quantum.
This is more basic. The Universe is effectively the last observer of a
complex system that reads out the truth values
of the quantum not-universe. Its less fine grained in a sense than
quantum mechanics or better quantum systems exist
outside our universe. Small wonder relativity does not easily fit into
quantum its because its not.

More likely the Universe itself is a quantum system acting as the
observer of another quantum system our reality our our universe is in
a sense the overlap of two quantum not-verses with different rules.

Hopefully the memes I strew through the internet can work to pierce the
lies allowing a more controlled collapse.
It why I keep writing. We can I think save the system if we force it
to be exposed for what it is a big lie.
And by save I mean collapse it before more is destroyed. The sooner we
collapse the more resources available for the next civilization.

I've said this before Memmel - if you ever write a book, I'll buy it!

There's a lot of original (to me anyway) thought in what you write, and in general I can't disagree with it. I don't always completely understand it though, and would like to know what books/research you think have influenced you most?

I presume you see this process of building complexity as analogous to dropping grains of sand on to a pile?

Whilst my emotions agree with your policy of piercing the lies, to precipitate a collapse, and I try to do the same where I can, I have a slight philosophical/logical problem with this. If the collapse takes place before it's 'natural' time, is it possible that the collapse will be incomplete, and could create a (seemingly, but not truly) firmer base for an even greater complexity/collapse build in the future?

It seems to me in deciding whether or not to try to pierce the lies, we may be making a value judgement about the present versus the future, although I can't quite pin it down.

I think the other issue that effects our choice to pierce the lies involves (whether we like it or not) our expected outcome of doing so for our relative personal gain. It's hard to admit sometimes, but maybe we have no sound logical basis for choosing this path over the path taken by the majority?

Hope you appreciate that these are just some whimsical thoughts on the issue. I have a hard job making up my mind on these things.


Memm, you write quite a lot of b-s (all that gobbledy in the blockquotes for starters).
And yet immediately above it you are spot on in your prognosis:

However if we do act not on trying to save ourselves [i.e. BAU] but to start laying the seeds for a new civilization after ours thats a good thing.
I think that false hopes like EVs and windmills are actually worse than doing nothing at all since they prevent people from making the really hard choices that would have to be made to try and contain the horror will will face.

The almost correct solutions are in my opinion the worst ones since as your topic points out they probably result in even steeper collapse later.

I'd just question whether it will be an altogether new civilisation or 'just' a reformulation of the present one with the corporatisation-globalisation cancer cut out of it. Comparing with the last years of the Graeco-Roman civilisation, the founding religion (Christianity) is still very much alive in some areas, with no new replacement in sight (and Greenism barely sufficing as the best candidate).

ok, I'll try another analogy.

Is piercing the intrinsic lies of complex social systems (as you, I and others try to do) the equivalent to managing forest fires through Controlled Burns?

We are assuming this approach is better than dropping water on forests that are deemed too dry, and therefore at risk of burning, to prevent forest fires from occuring at all. This seems obvious to me somehow.

We are also assuming however, that we are capable of choosing nature's (or or otherwise optimum) ignition points for where fires should be started - which lies to expose. Which rocks should we push down the hillside to cause the avalanche we seek?

You could try on the assumption that there is no knowable optimum.

Embrace the lack of certainty, revel in the risk.

Shrink the target as much as you can, then strike and pray that your aim is true, because the optimum is not just in "space" it is also in time. Wait too long and you are guaranteed to miss.

That assumption is fair enough, and seems most likely to me. Yes, maybe as you seem to be suggesting, the rational mind can offer no guidance on this, and we should just do what feels right.

True, the idea this stuff also has a temporal element is important.

Memmel, as usual you have an independent analysis and put out a lot of excellent stuff.

However if we do act not on trying to save ourselves but to start laying the seeds for a new civilization after ours thats a good thing.

I'd agree in general, except not just about civilization, but about the options left for all life on earth. My personal target for effects of my actions is the period of roughly one thousand to one billion years in the future. I've run into very few others with similar priorities.

If one looks at things not from the perspective of discount rates and immediate personal fears, but the optimal way in which our species might be able to inhabit block spacetime, it is evident that the planet would have been able to support trillions of humans adequately, without degrading the planet or the biosphere. It still might, but by grinding through extinctions and collapse to the gritty end we are foreclosing such options.

This is why I have proposed controlled collapse as the correct solution its the only solution.

This is one of the elephants in the room in discussions like this. Anyone who looks into complex systems must come to this conclusion, and it is monkey-brain-unacceptable.

More likely the Universe itself is a quantum system acting as the observer of another quantum system our reality our our universe is in a sense the overlap of two quantum not-verses with different rules.

The "special" role of observer in QM implies a privileged frame of reference which is an unnecessary additional assumption. The class of many-worlds interpretations reaches the same results without this assumption. Its possibility also provides an interesting additional philosophical implications for a probabilistic worldview and basis of action.

The sooner we collapse the more resources available for the next civilization.

This goes to the nitty gritty. How about doing a full key post on this? Many people seem to dance around it, but you're saying it outright.

This goes to the nitty gritty. How about doing a full key post on this? Many people seem to dance around it, but you're saying it outright.

I'm not so sure I want stick my neck out that far.

Look the obvious answer is to start forming enclaves now i.e triage the system and start designating the most robust areas as renewable enclaves and probably limit population movement in our out of the enclaves fairly quickly.

However you might notice that doing the right thing would probably initiate the collapse. Maybe a way around this is to pick a area that has good fundamentals but low population many of the regions in the Mississippi and Ohio rivers qualify and fully develop a renewable infrastructure thus population migration into the rebuilt region could be handled for some time.

I'll have to think about it a bit more. The problem is of course the cure is almost as bad as the disease so its pretty touchy :)

My own opinion is that I don't expect anything to be done and I do expect these enclaves to form rapidly when the time is right. What I'm thinking now is preforming them esp in areas which currently have low populations could drain population away from the most volatile areas and potentially reduce it to the point that these areas become enclave candidates themselves.

Generally I've only thought about the utility of the enclaves for future generations I've not been all that concerned about the present since I've tactically assumed that any controlled collapse proposal has a snowballs chance in hell.

This might be a good one for Nate or Gail etc if you actually do it what your really doing is making the system resilient and instead of a fast collapse to simplicity your simplifying it in parts. As more of it becomes simpler the probability of overall collapse lessons.

Before looking at population I'd suggest the first step would be a Debt Jubilee followed by movement to something akin to Shari banking. I'd argue you have to fix the financial framework first if your serious about fixing the system.

I'm ashamed I've never given much thought to anyone actually wanting to try this but you can see the general outlines in this post take the tension off the system even if it results in short term impoverishment thats ok.
Better poor than dead.

I'm moving in a few weeks so I'm pretty busy right now. I'll toss this around a bit in a few threads as it looks appropriate. One promise I've made to myself after I get out of LA is that I will try to submit key posts.

What I probably should do is collect together a chain of key posts I think and work with a few people to vet them. Maybe we need a key post incubator where a post is peer reviewed before we put it on the front page.

Thats not a bad idea.

And last but not least don't tell WHT but I'd really like to connect my ideas with his shock model :) I hate that some of them are only qualitative.
Hopefully he won't read this because he knows he has the right approach I don't want to encourage him :)
But not being able to make a quantitative argument is not wrong mathematical proofs are themselves not quantitative but they obviously are not wrong.

The rationale for doing straight-up educational outreach on this has eluded me even as I've done it some. It "feels like" the useful thing to do... and one should always give extra thought to decisions when that's the case.

Problem is, in a real sense, perturbing human culture is analogous to perturbing an ecosystem, the systems are really very similar. Intuition is not a good guide. There are mongooses in my yard now which have eaten the native species, which were introduced to eat the rats. The rats are thriving in harmonious coexistence with the mongeese.

I'm sorry to just come upon this post as I'm shutting down for the day, and won't be back until late in the day tomorrow - Hawaii timezone and all - but I'd like to expand on the notion that there are some classes of action which are effectively unpredictable in terms of the probability of moving things toward a class of target states, and others which may be more predictable.

Suffice it to say, for now, that I see a clear rationale as prerequisite for some of the most effect types of planning, and thus action.

Once again, a fruitful campfire topic by Nate....

g'nite all, hope to see you tomorrow. Wish me luck with the rats and woozles; and yes my chores of the day will directly involve them.

I think I read a recent post by you stating that the Johnny Carson toilet paper effect had caused you to rethink the wisdom of an educated public. Have you changed you mind? (sorry if I have you confused with another author)

I thought a lot about this and concluded that there is no hope without truth and perhaps a little hope with truth. I'd rather have a little hope than no hope.

With respect to blogging, speaking and educating, I have always felt that the facts are on my side (I suppose all of us, even CERA, believe so).

Absolutely, which is why it's crucial to remain open to the idea that one's facts are incomplete or even incorrect.

Some of these facts are:

-we are wired to compete

We're also wired to cooperate. (Indeed, more primates than just ourselves are wired for fairness and altruism.)

-the OECD, and social democracies in general, are incredibly dependent on cheap, just-in-time liquid fuels, a fact that cannot be meaningfully mitigated in less than 10-15 years.

Define "meaningfully". Mitigation is a matter of degree, not of black-or-white.

Moreover, we know for a fact that liquid fuel consumption can drop significantly in short periods of time, since we've just seen that happen. What allows you to state with confidence that this cannot continue to a "meaningful" degree?

(Moreover, what does this have to do with "social democracies"? Liquid fuels aren't a political question.)

-debt/leverage/credit replaced cheap energy for a time

Isn't physical energy different from notional money? How can debt "replace" energy?

It's worth stating things clearly, regardless of whether they're facts or "facts". Indeed, stating them clearly can help differentiate one from the other.

drawing marginal projects into production that are now below break-even. Higher oil and gas prices are needed for long term investments, but supply and demand won't justify such prices.

The observables are (a) current price has fallen, and (b) investment has fallen. Based on what do you conclude that the cancelled investments are needed to satisfy long-term demand?

An alternative explanation of the observables is that if an investment is needed to satisfy long-term demand, then the expected return on that future demand is what will justify an investment, not current prices that the project would never see anyway. If lower current prices are reducing investment, it should rationally be because they're changing expectations about future demand, and suggesting to investors that these projects will not be needed to satisfy that future demand.

Not saying you're wrong, but you do seem to be using different reasoning than the normal supply-and-demand justification you seem to be referencing.

-we become habituated/addicted to higher novelty/stimulation via the ratchet effect.

And we become habituated to lower stimulation in much the same way. Set point theory doesn't explain everything, but it does make a strong case that we can adapt down as well as up.

-historical resource per capita drops have been met with wars.

Not always. The biggest drop in recent years was the 1979 oil embargo; despite a readily-identifiable "culprit", the resource drop passed relatively peacefully.

Moreover, it's far from clear that major wars tend to be associated with such resource drops: primary energy consumption per capita seems to have increased leading up to both WWI and WWII.

Accordingly, it's not at all clear that there is a significant causal link in recent history.


All of your "facts" might actually be true, but it's imperative that you look critically at these foundations of your argument, and be willing to abandon them if they are not supported by evidence.

Could my friend be right, (or at least in the ballpark)? That educating leaders to put the breaks on our consumptive trajectory might alter the natural human impact pulse just enough to pull in currently non-scarce resources from the periphery, making us worse off in the long run than if we attempt to mitigate?

Of course he could be right. We don't know enough about the situation to say which potential future is "true" and which are "false"; all we can do is guess at how probable each one is.

Is it possible that mitigation efforts will lead to collapse? Of course.
Is it possible that lack of mitigation efforts will lead to collapse? Of course.
Is it possible that no collapse will occur regardless of what peak oilers do? Of course.

The question is not whether something is merely possible; the question is what is the expected benefit from taking an action. If you believe that outreach efforts have a 50% chance of saving humanity and a 20% chance of making a doomed humanity suffer more, then of course those efforts make sense: a higher chance of a larger benefit vs. a smaller chance of a smaller hindrance means - probabilistically - a large expected benefit.

Think of it this way: your friend is having a heart attack, and driving him to hospital will save his life. It could also kill you both in a car accident. Is it worth driving him, despite the risk?

Focus on the expected result, not on an unlikely extreme.

Think of it this way: your friend is having a heart attack, and driving him to hospital will save his life. It could also kill you both in a car accident. Is it worth driving him, despite the risk?

Focus on the expected result, not on an unlikely extreme.

Pitt I love the psych gaming at the end of your post its beautiful and fits my theory perfectly along with the rest of the post but the last little twist was icing on the cake. Good stuff keep it up I need data points like this.
You hit on almost every single methodology I've thought of but throwing the zinger in at the end was gorgeous.

Without people like you its impossible four our society to collapse.

Without people like you [Pitt] it's impossible for our society to collapse.

I couldn't possibly fail not to agree on the falsity of that statement being incorrect...?

So, Dear Pitt, given that :
"It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, it is the age of wisdom, it is the age of foolishness, it is the epoch of belief, it is the epoch of incredulity, it is the season of Light, it is the season of Darkness, it is the spring of hope, it is the winter of despair, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us, we are all going direct to Heaven, we are all going direct the other way—",

, Memmel appears to be putting it to you to say that :

"It is a far, far better thing that I shall do, than I have ever done;"

No, it is this attitude that only pushes the collapse further out.

The friend who is having the heart attack is going to die sometime in the future. But now his is up to his ass in debt to the hospital and the use of the car created more pollution worsening the lives of others.

No problems here were solved, they were just pushed into other arenas.

We invented the problem that the man was having a heart attack. Heart attacks, death, are not problems. They are an important part of life. But we fail to accept it because someone told us that death was bad.

Accept impermanence and you have no problem.


In the end, we all die.

Nihilist philosophy has never solved a problem that I am aware of.

Dylan Thomas said it better than I ever could:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

It is your assumption that I am a nihlist. I am more buddhist but would not call myself that either. I just see how it all works. I love life and living but there is no need for me to levae a mess behind by rageing against the inevitable. Isn't that what all the oil compaines are doing? Reread Thomas's peom from the point of view of Exxon.

But hey, if you want to get your insipriation about life from a codpendant alcoholic feel free.

Unfortunately, great poetry containing wonderful insight rarely comes out of well adjusted individuals. If it did there might be more of it out there.

And you come across as awfully judgmental for a nominal Buddhist. Your rhetorical style and choice of arguments has a strongly nihilist feel to me.

May you find as much enlightenment for yourself as you hope to evoke in others.

Remember, you are talking to Pitt here.

Without people like you its impossible four our society to collapse.

You always have to parse the negative logic carefully. Translating via Boolean logic, this actually reads "With people like you its possible for our society to collapse."

In this case, an unintended consequence of praise is blame.

WHT- your logic is wrong. Memmel's comment on Pitt's key importance in the grand scheme of things says nothing about what would happen "with people" like Pitt. It only refers to the situation without them. (And putting aside the question of whether there are any more people like Pitt anyway.)

Pitt I love the psych gaming at the end of your post its beautiful and fits my theory perfectly along with the rest of the post but the last little twist was icing on the cake. Good stuff keep it up I need data points like this.
You hit on almost every single methodology I've thought of but throwing the zinger in at the end was gorgeous.

Without people like you its impossible four our society to collapse.

Flagged as inappropriate:

4. Treat members of the community with civility and respect. If you see disrespectful behavior, report it to the staff rather than further inflaming the situation.
5. Ad hominem attacks are not acceptable. If you disagree with someone, refute their statements rather than insulting them.

Engaging in personal attacks while failing to address a single argument does nothing but lower the level of discussion here.

Pitt, remember its Memmel. He types too fast.

"Without people like you its impossible four our society to collapse."

He obviously didn't mean this. Likely that he didn't parse the double-negatives as he wrote it.

Can we have a vote on who thinks:
1. Pitt is double-bluffing in that post above;
2. Pitt is simply bluffing in that post;
3. Pitt really is an etc.

Pitt, you got in two of my critiques of Nate's key "facts" before I had time to type them. Great minds and fools think alike (though which is which in this case I am too proud/modest/tactful....).

More accurately we are neither wired to compete nor cooperate.
--Just about all survivable humans have elements of both competition and cooperation about them.
--There are innate (/environmental?) individual differences in the strengths of these conflicting innate predispositions. Many really selfish b-tards alongside many heroic altruists. It's notable in accordance with my unchallenged autism theory http://cogprints.org/5207 that autistics tend to be less competitive, as cooperation is the more fundamentally vital of these two predispositions. (And yes, Pitt I can see you can't understand why (too bad).) Hence less suppressed by the antiinnatia in autism.
--There is an ongoing internal "negotiation" in the brain (/psyche) between the competitive and cooperative drives. It can be very turbulent and is the very essence of most of the greatest literature. Greed vs empathy and guilt etc.

I also agree with Pitt that Nate is wrong about war being the usual solution. What war resulted from the Irish potato famine? Would Hitler really have started wars if Germany was getting hungry at the time?

Pitt's critiques about future supply and demand seem to forget how the postulated gaps between supply and demand have been very much discussed earlier in carefully-researched posts. And they lead in the view of me and many other fools/geniuses to the same understanding of the "facts" as stated by Nate here. We can't rightly do a half-baked re-unpicking of those core issues here.

Pitt's outcomes/probability points I also agree with. Bahh bahh...

-we become habituated/addicted to higher novelty/stimulation via the ratchet effect.

And we become habituated to lower stimulation in much the same way. Set point theory doesn't explain everything, but it does make a strong case that we can adapt down as well as up.

Suppose we offset losses in material novelty with other types of gains. Maybe acquire more social capital.

Suppose we offset losses in material novelty with other types of gains. Maybe acquire more social capital.

Absolutely; "The relationship between money and happiness is pretty darned small".

Apparently, wealth only matters up to quite a low level (about $1000/mo in the US), after which it has little or no effect on happiness. That's essentially one of the reasons I'm not too concerned about the effects of peak oil in the industrialized world - we have so much wealth that even substantial reductions will leave most people with plenty, at least from a survival-and-happiness point of view.

Due to that, I find the dire pronouncements of social chaos to be highly unlikely; why would someone who has enough income to be happy decide to jeopardize that happiness by tearing down their society? How many people would rather see their country burn than carpool? We've adapted to less in the past, and fairly peacefully; what makes this time different?

Honest question (I truly do not know): Are you a climate change denialist? The point is, physical safety trumps income. Besides, it's not the low-paid one would be concerned about, but the unpaid.


Honest question (I truly do not know): Are you a climate change denialist?

Of course not; there is a strong scientific consensus that human activity has been responsible for some amount of (mean) temperature rise in recent history, and that more is likely to occur through reasonably well-understood mechanisms.

What is less clear is what that means for the near future.

As with peak oil, it's clear that this is something we have to deal with in the forseeable future, but it's not yet clear what the problems will be, how big the problems will be, or when the problems will occur (in terms of schedule - there appear to have been effects already, of course, but smaller than eventual effects).

What is clear, though, is that people who claim they know for sure what the future will be like - and who insist on loudly telling everyone they can reach - are deluding themselves. I've spent some time talking with a friend of mine who does atmospheric modelling, and it's quite clear that there's significant uncertainty. Take a look at the various IPCC scenarios, and the confidence intervals - there's a lot of variability there, and anyone who Knows The Future just plain doesn't know what they're talking about.

That's not to say it should be ignored, of course - exactly the opposite.

Climate change and peak oil both represent partially-unknown risks, and hence both should be approached cautiously and with an eye towards risk management. I'd love to see, for example, a substantial revenue-neutral carbon tax in the West, especially the high-consumption US, and see that tax equalized across the world by applying it to imports from non-taxing nations as well. That would lower my personal purchasing power (as I'd likely be above the rebate level), but in the West income is high enough that a small loss of it is a good trade for greater protection from these risks.

That tradeoff may not hold for poorer nations, though, which is something we'll have to understand and deal with if we want to lower global emissions. I would imagine something akin to a redistributive carbon tax - essentially, rich nations assisting developing nations in adopting low-carbon technologies. Again, something I'd happily pay my share of.

Pitt, you are miles out there. Elizabeth Warren www.youtube.com/watch?v=akVL7QY0S8A explains clearly how American middle class are struggling to survive on two incomes and regularly failing already. So how the fourletter word are they going to fare when times get even harder?
$1000 a month is "quite a low level"? Thanks for your kind offer, gratefully received, paypal to my email would be easiest.
Millions of people in the uk can only dream of having that income, again: already.

So your reasoning of why social chaos is "highly unlikely" falls dead at the first hurdle. Besides which, income means zilch if the things you neeeeed are rationed /out of stock, like gas and food.

What's diff this time is Nature doesn't do bailouts (except for the Elder household perhaps).

Nate, I suspect your friend's argument is a logical/ethical fallacy that has a Latin name.

I agree with Pitt the Elder's refutation:

The question is not whether something is merely possible; the question is what is the expected benefit from taking an action.

I have bad memories of a similar argument that was advocated by a few radicals during the 60s/70s. The idea was that radicals should make conditions as bad as possible (poverty, injustice, racism), so as to hasten the Revolution. There were a few problems:

1. The Revolution may never come and you are left with poverty, injustice, racism ... and some people who are really pissed off.

2. Revolutions (like ecological catastrophes) are violent, destructive events. You may have to deal with them, but it is inhuman to wish them on people.

3. It is bad karma to know what is good and not do it.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

"No good deed goes unpunished."author unknown?

Seems like there's a possibility that the longer we stretch things out (by, e.g., conservation), the larger number of people will suffer (due to population growth) when the "cliff" is eventually reached -- barring all-out pandemic, war, etc.

This is a job for Mr Darwin.
Each of us will have to formulate a response to his ecological niche.
1 in 6 will succeed. That is the empirical carying capacity of the planet sans oil.
The ratio might be worse due to overshoot.
Why waken the opposition?
Together we stand?
Call it, and throw the dice.


I would really like to say something on this subject, but am having a bit of a crisis of conscious...I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings or sound as though I am being insulting in any way, but there are some things that must be said to keep this discussion realistic, to pull it back to reality in some way.

So all I can do is issue a preemptive disclaimer: What I am about to say is NOT intended to insult anyone, especially the people here who seem to me in many ways to have such a broad and inclusive view and such observational skill and talent, but on some issues seem to have some astounding blindspots. Just as a banker would not be expected to argue for the end of the use of money, people so close to the issue of peak oil may easily miss certain viewpoints that go against everything they have taught themselves to believe. We all make such errors and have to guard against them.

So, here goes: As part of what I do for a living I do polling and research, such questions as "Have you ever heard of X?" "Where did you hear of X?" "Which do you think is more important(or a greater concern, threat, etc.)X, Y or Z?", and many questions much more deeply involved about what people want, want to do, want to learn, want for their children,families and communities, etc.?

I cannot say who I work for (although some of you may know who go back several years reading my posts)and who funds these surveys, but allow me to tell you (if you do not already know by working in industry, finance or media) that the business community of the developed world know more about human fears, desires, goals, motivations and hopes than we as individuals can ever know about even those closest to us. The business class knows the people of this nation better than you know your most intimate lover. This is true in the entire developed world, and becoming true in the developing and third world as well (do you know that major western polling and research firms are growing by leaps and bounds in China, India, Pakistan, and Africa? Did you know that polling and door to door and phone research is done by Western firms throughout the Middle East, including Iraq and Iran? INFORMATION IS POWER.

I can assure you that the "outreach" or educational" efforts of the peak oil community will cause ZERO drop in consumption. It just ain't gonna happen. Sorry. Real fear of peak oil DOES NOT EXIST in the mass community of the world and is only marginally accepted by even thouse who are aware, and almost no one has heard of CERA, The Oil Drum, M. King Hubbert, Matthew Simmons or any of the peak oil celebraties that are more known here on TOD than the antics of Britney Spears, but to the masses, more know Britney by a factor of thousands. Sorry.

For those who have heard the term "peak oil", ask them to define it. There is no agreed upon definition of "peak", or "oil" or exactly what can be defined as "peak oil" even in the peak community. I have been making this argument for the three years I have been here on TOD and have seen ZERO evidence that anything has made the definition of peak oil, peak, or oil any clearer. In fact as the technology continues to outrun theory, the ability to define "peak oil" has grown increasingly more difficult as I predicted it would here on TOD some three years ago. If you expand out to a discussion of "peak energy" the ability to set definitions becomes almost a philosophical debate akin to how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, and has no relation to the world people actually have to deal with daily and they know it. Sorry.

For purposes of comparison, we should examine the terms that DO in fact have real presence in the minds of the mass population, the policy makers and the elite: Climate change and carbon release. These have so gripped the imagination of the public and the policy makers that even those in the business of producing carbon by the millions of tons must pay homage to the "reality" of the need for carbon reduction and the danger of climate change (global warming).

People may not know exactly what carbon is or what it does, but the consensus is that release of it must be reduced. This is now accepted almost as a religious idea in the developed world. Just as all moralists agree that "sin" and "evil" must be reduced (even though they don't know and can't agree on exactly now this is to be done or even agree on exact definitions) anyone who is to be considered a "modern" informed member of Western culture must accept that carbon release must be reduced. There is no point in arguing any other option (imagine if some executive or government official stepped onto the podium and stated "carbon release is NOT an important issue" he would be laughed off the stage by the Intelligentsia!

The carbon issue is now THE ISSUE as it relates to energy. Here comes the part that may hurt a bit to accept (as if I haven't already pissed everyone off enough!)and it can be stated clearly and simply: Given the overwhelming concern about carbon release, the debate concerning peak oil is essentially over. Here is why:

Imagine that we agree that for the world economy to grow at a level acceptable to lift the world's population out of misery (whatever that level is determined to be), not, mind you, to increase the luxury of those already well off but simply to reduce misery, starvation and suffering, and further imagine that it would require (this is an example) seven new Saudi Arabia's worth of oil to do it, and further imagine that we knew for a fact that those seven Saudi Arabia's were found! Peak oil would be solved! Except...

How much would the carbon released from seven new Saudi Arabia sized oil producers be? Would ANY MODEL EVER DEVELOPED since the birth of the climate change model allow for the biosphere to survive under such circumstances? Does any model of climate change allow for the possibility of even a doubling of oil consumption in the world without predicting catastrophic outcomes?

The same is true for natural gas (slightly less so because it contains less carbon, but still true, and for coal (much more so because it contains much more carbon per energy produced). Here's the important part (capitals are for stressing the FUNDAMENTAL IMPORTANCE OF THIS POINT, not out of rudeness) THE GREATER MAJORITY OF THE EDUCATED CLASS, TECHNICIANS, SCIENTISTS AND POLICY MAKERS ACCEPT THE ABOVE ARGUMENT AS ABSOLUTE FACT.

I repeat the same argument that I have often stressed here over several years: Peak oil becomes a non issue in the above scenario because even if the oil (or coal or natural gas) is found in easily extracted abundence and at a cheap price, it will not be able to be burned legally in the near future in the quantity that it would be needed, especially not in the developed world!

Accepting climate change ends the peak oil debate, for that matter the peak fossil fuel debate. It's over. That train has left the station. If you want to view it as a contest of ideas then we have to admit it: The game is over, and climate change won. Sorry.

Do any study, any polling, any research in the developed world and prove me wrong. I have seen the research and the polling. From the Prius to the windmills, from the new efficient water heaters to the renewed push for solar and/or nuclear energy, they are all being sold to the public on the basis of carbon reduction. Almost no one fears peak oil. Almost everyone accepts and fears climate change, and the businesses and policy makers know it. They do their research.

People accept, as they should, the end of the age of fossil fuels, but not because of a fear of peak oil. The fossil fuel era is finite and mortal, and it is coming to an end. We all should have known this day was coming, and now it has, peak oil or not.

So why are we still here, still posting, still discussing? The answer is TOO simple...we enjoy it! We like each other, we like each others company online, we have in a certain way come to know each other. TOD in many ways has become a social gathering, a group of people joined by mutual interests. Just as there are still many people who chat about jazz music or polo or collecting cuff links, even though these things may have gone somewhat out of style to the masses, so we still discuss peak and oil and energy.

Energy is still important and even if we discuss fossil fuel declines and consumption reduction for the less popular reasons, we are still on the right side of history, peak oil or not.

Because the truth is that oil has peaked (no matter how much may still be out there somewhere) and we are are now essentially discussiong the world post the age of oil. What caused the world to leave the oil era no longer matters now, what matters is discussion of, as the byline at the top of the page stills says "Energy and Our Future", whatever type of energy or future that may turn out to be. I know I still enjoy the discussion and still like the folks here(even the ones I may differ with)! That's why I "crisis blog". I still want a say in trying to urge the direction I think the world should go, and I still enjoy finding new ideas.

Someday in not all that many years those who were here at the start of TOD or here in the early days will die away. Only the newer younger posters and readers will decide whether TOD will continue. Will the "crisis blogging" have changed the world? Almost certainly not. Will it have been worth it being the member of any long term group held together by mutual interests and ideas? Absolutely.

To me, TOD is much more interesting than discussing polo or cuff links or jazz (although I lke cuff links and jazz!)and a bit more relevant. Humans will do what they like to do as long as that is possible. That is why we "crisis blog" even after we know that our chance to "change the world" either for better or worse is gone.


I cannot argue with you.
My own attempts to engage the "outsiders" in my passion about peak oil are probably on a par with everyone elses here. The population's mind is firmly engaged with Kylie Minogues arse.

I may not excuse myself from attending to distant thunder. I am a grandfather. It is my job to steer the family through interesting times. The kids are too busy breeding.

I need daily confirmation of the facts, or my attention will slip.
Mr Darwin does not accept excuses.
It is why I have this new-fangled cortex.


We can't finish this job, but it would be unethical for us to set it aside.

We can't finish this job, but it would be unethical for us to set it aside.

Absolutely. Adaptation and sustainability are journeys, not destinations.

Cracking comment/article ThatsIt. Superb in parts, derailed in others.

Having studied some psychometrics myself I appreciate that there's more to it than surface validity may suggest.
But you still badly overestimate the surveying data. The answers you get depend severely on the questions asked. Knowing what questions to ask, which ones you have overlooked, is very difficult. More than half of scientific genius can be knowing a question is there to be asked rather than knowing how to answer it.
Expressed opinions notoriously betray incoherent thinking. We prefer both lower taxes and more to be spent on services. Add to that the Condorcet Paradox. And add to that the fact that people do not always say what they really think, and rarely do what they say.

Here is my own far less problematic "survey" data, putting aside coverage of the scientifically literate minority who do not pull any policymaking strings anyway so are irrelevant.

Here in the UK (and I don't believe much different anywhere else).
The unwavering official mantra is Sustainable Growth. We must restore Sustainable Growth. We must maintain the car makers for "when" the "recovery" comes. We must plan for growing our cities, for more airport expansion at London Heathrow, building even more cars to be powered by the newly discovered cera-oil. More mega-hospitals and more Olympic Games. Oh, and at the same time we will conscientiously measure the co2 outputs and post them from the Department of Actual Spending Decisions to the Department of Hot-Air Hoping for future reference.

And meanwhile the real implemented thought on the street about carbon reduction is: I need to drive my car, the fuel's getting cheaper again thank God. Yes I respect the cyclists a bit more but I still wouldn't dream of becoming one myself. I still have the right to fly off to football matches as long as I can still afford the 2 day's wages for it. We MUST defend the jobs of the car workers, and all the other polluting industry workers, as the key priority. Stuff the planet, I NEED to get my family fed. THEY should be doing something about it, I haven't got the time or money myself. It's not my fault.

As for why people are here at TOD, you are wrong again. I am interested in better understanding how the future is going to play out now we are post-peak. And in working with others in that process. And in discussing/learning the options and skills as on some of the Campfire series. And in finding others to form a lifeboat group with in the event of some sort of collapse.

Meanwhile some others are here on a mission to promote their vision of wind turbines, EVs, solar, mini-nukes. Others are here to promote the "peak oil" message. I could go on.

I have said before and will repeat here, that the controlling establishment is utterly clueless and a waste of time trying to influence. Climate Catastrophe has got as far as it has into the hypocrisosphere merely because it has inspired heroic "I want to save the planet!" campaigners with fanatical zeal, and thereafter no-one and no-company wanted to disagree for fear of looking evil. The same emotionology does not apply to energy decrease which is a deeply embarrassing and traumatising subject about the generally-incomprehensible thing called energy.

As for persuading the man in the street or your own family, you will almost surely fail simply because you have not studied the esoteric science of persuasive communication. And very few people have, so they fail.

RobinPC, you said,
"Superb in parts, derailed in others." Ahhh,the story of my life! :-)

And your points are well taken. The practice of polling and surveying is far from perfect, but as your closing paragraph said "As for persuading the man in the street or your own family, you will almost surely fail simply because you have not studied the esoteric science of persuasive communication. And very few have, so they fail."

We say at the firm I work with, "we don't have to be perfect, we just have to be better than everyone else."

There is no doubt that much of the so called efforts to reduce carbon release is nothing but greenwashing, intended to sell to the crowd that wants to believe something is being done. But here we return to unintended consequences: The money is being spent on the research and the technology is being pushed forward to reduce carbon release and reduce fossil fuel consumption. The intended consequence of pacifying the customer is having the perhaps not intended consequence of reducing fossil fuel consumption, and the technology, once out of the bag, cannot be put back in. Is it enough to "save the world" (what an idiotic concept there, but one often used!), who knows, and frankly who cares?

Just the other day it was linked here on TOD that oil consumption is now falling much faster in Japan than even the government forecasts predicted. Oil consumption has fallen in the U.S. and we have not yet even implemented anything, we have no real plan yet, and Europe does have a plan, so we can assume that they should do even better...(and their plan is pretty radical, and almost all promotion is based on "carbon reduction".

I feel that peak oil is already here in the OEDC nations, because peak demand is already here whether peak possible production is here or not, and this before ANY of the more radical technologies even hit the market! Oil consumption in the advanced nations will NEVER rise back to the all tops of the early 1990's. That is a prediction from a guy who almost NEVER attempts to make predictions. Oil is simply becoming unpopular and not worth the effort, and soon the technology will reflect that. Will the transition be easy, am I saying "all's well"? Of course not. In any transition there is a losing side, and they will not go down without a fight.

I think that much of the vitriolic attack on renewable energy is put forth by a scared industry, the fossil fuel industry. If technology moves no faster than it has in the last decade, solar will be at price parity with coal in the advanced nations WITH NO SUBSIDIES within three to five years. Who will want the coal then? Leaving aside the carbon issue, coal is logistical nightmare to handle, needs thousands of trains and thousands of miles of track and railcars to move, it is a pain to deal with even if it were carbon free! We are entering a radical new age.

By posting on TOD, (in fact by even knowing it exists) we are taking sides. We are taking the side of the end of BAU, the end of coninued fossil fuel dependence. We are arguing for a different future, although we may differ on exactly what kind of future that will be. My argument is that the path of the future away from fossil fuels is already set, whetehr peak oil in the ground is now or later, no one cares anymore. Even those in positions of authority and technical leadership are abandoning oil as the fuel that should (even if it could) grow the world's economy, even those in the oil industry know that oil as a growth industry is FINISHED. So our discussion, all in good fun and fellowship of course, is essentially "What the hell do I do in the meantime?" Essentially, we want to get on the winning side and profit from it. And if we keep our head and stay open minded, we are in better position to do so than most others.


Methinks you're to some extent repeating your original positions which have been undermined by oneself. Anyway.

I can't disagree with much you've stated. But how come so many accept that climate change is real when the evidence is IMO no more obvious than Peak Oil?

Weather is a common topic of conversation. It takes the edge off when meeting someone. It is a direct experience we all have every day and which we have to deal with every day. And unusual weather is, has been and will probably always be talked about and remembered. It's just that now we have a new explanation that we can blame: carbon and carbon dioxide emissions.

From a social and conversational point of view, that makes the topic even better. And we can appear hip and with it by talking about it. It is in a safe area and non threatening to most.

So climate change is going to be the reason we do things to solve the Peak Oil dilemma. Is that such a bad deal? It is rather common in society to put frosting on the cake to make is more acceptable. Marriage is essentially motivated by sex. But that is too hard to discuss in public. So we talk about love and family and commitment.

Climate change is going to be the cover story for Peak Oil. It makes Peak Oil solutions sell-able and respectable. It makes it possible to do the stuff under the covers that we need to and want to do without looking like a bunch of fornicators.

That's way things are done in the real world. Perhaps it's the best way.

Who told you climate change solutions are going to be implemented? Real world? Every single proposal to address climate change looks eerily similar to the accounting practices of Citi and their ilk. Dramatic climate change will happen most likely, but in any event all proposed "solutions" are thinly disguised money making schemes, so either get in or ignore it, but either way it comes. When coal is by far the #1 global energy source the variety and number of these "climate change" schemes and scams will proliferate, all so complex as to befuddle the sheeple.

how come so many accept that climate change is real when the evidence is IMO no more obvious than Peak Oil?

Scientific consensus, as personified by the IPCC report.

Most people don't scrutinize the evidence for everything they hear; they can't, because there's simply not time to do so. So when almost every expert in the world agrees on something (climate change), most people will take the trust that those experts have built up and assume that the evidence has been scrutinized on their behalf.

For peak oil, and more particularly for the various dire post-peak predictions, there is no consensus of trusted experts, so there is no widespread acceptance.

Climate change is going to be the cover story for Peak Oil.

Highly unlikely.

A close friend of mine works on climate change models. He's well aware of the notion of peak oil, and considers that and climate change to be significantly different problems, with climate change the much more serious. If you talked to people active in dealing with climate change, either on the research side or the policy side, I strongly expect that you'd find they're honestly doing what they do due to climate change itself, not as any sort of "cover" for peak oil.

Peak oil may be important to you, but that doesn't mean it underlies everything in the world.

Doing a Pitt the Elder kind of response here.

Real fear of peak oil DOES NOT EXIST in the mass community of the world and is only marginally accepted by even thouse who are aware, and almost no one has heard of CERA, The Oil Drum, M. King Hubbert, Matthew Simmons or any of the peak oil celebraties that are more known here on TOD than the antics of Britney Spears, but to the masses, more know Britney by a factor of thousands. Sorry.

If you are making a multiplicative factor comparison to Britney Spears and say that awareness of Peak Oil is thousands less, then you are way off.

Say that 50% of the population has heard of Spears, then thousands less than this would be less than 0.05% of the population. If you put this in terms of absolute numbers, this number would be in the 10's of thousands of people that have heard of Peak Oil in the USA.

Since you are an expert at polling, I have to ask what's the deal with this survey:

The results of the survey claim that more people world-wide believe that we are "running out of oil" than not. Does this result from simply the way the survey was worded? It sounds like although people may not exactly what Peak Oil means, they know of the concept.

That survey was published in April 2008 during the hottest price rise in history. The belief ("awareness") now with reduced prices could be very different. And see my reply to ThatsitImOut.

"The results of the survey claim that more people world-wide believe that we are "running out of oil" than not."

So, are we "running out of oil"? Is that the argument that the peak community accepts? Now that the price has fallen by well over half, and then even later recently is rising again, what would the results be? One poll, one time, and possibly not well done is not "research". More interesting to look at multiple polls over longer periods, and use a long view, going at least back to the 1970's, when I bet that over two thirds of the population would have said "we are running out of oil", including the policy makers such as the U.S. President Jimmy Carter. As to Britney, your right, bad comparison, I threw out a guesstimate on that one (see what you get when you don't do real math and research?) so my bad.
(of course we have been "running out" of oil since we pumped the first barrel, just as a newborn baby begins dying on the day it is born, but I am not in the mood for semantic lessons today!)


That's why I put the "running out of oil" in quotes. It was in the survey question, which can seriously bias the outcome. Like you said, its a trick question, and logically 100% of the respondents should say yes.

Yup, you have about as much chance to have/make people accept "peak oil" as you have to get them to accept overpopulation.
And you have about as much chance to get them to do something about "peak oil" as to get them to do something rational about overpopulation.

Those societies or nations with a high discount rate (short term thinking) will continue their BAU ways with perhaps some slight energy efficiency measures. Those nations with foresight will make preparations to "get off oil", but will be challenged to do so on national security grounds ("are we able to defend ourselves?"), economic grounds ("look at those BAU countries making huge profits on cheap energy!"), and politicians who want to be elected by promising "drill, baby, drill" is an easy solution to the problem.

CERA is owned by IHS, an oil company, so they're going to bend their projections to maximize IHS profits (i.e., keep the addict hooked). Yergin, in true form with such a philosophy, has said "The fall in oil prices is a great bounty to hard-pressed consumers."

The Global Warming (aka Climate Change) movement started as outreach.
Now they have Congress Critters fretting about AGW/CC.

Is your friend more worried about getting the message out and making it part of the public consciousness or about getting personal credit for the effort when he questions the value of outreach?

If no one raises the alarm then more of the herd will keep stampeding towards the edge of the ledge. Do you feel good about that prospect? Are you your brother's keeper or do you look out just for number one? Maybe you should "whisper" fire to a few of your friends in the theater?


Maybe you should "whisper" fire to a few of your friends in the theater?

The rest of the people in the theatre, who are watching an illusion on a screen, get very annoyed if you yell.


Have just listened to your talk on Youtube.
Very good lecture.
Agree though with Pit the Elder on evolved co-operation.
And just a thought - are there other forms of sexual dimorphism?
(i.e. resulting from female selection as the well-developed theory of competition for female selection suggests).
Somehow humans also evolved longer life-spans overall than other primates, but women tend to survive longer than men. Bigger resource investment in grandmothers? I have this theory that during the very long period of hunter gathering in small bands, who rely it seems on intermarriage, that all kinds of survival including genetic quality depended on the quality of the grandmothers and their skills and knowledge base and ability to keep the mating system on the road.
(A nomad grandmother only semi-jokingly tried to recruit my eldest daughter and her pal somewhere out on the edge of the Mongolian steppe.)
Joking apart, unintended consequences already abound in the current USA. (Brits are about 5 to 10 years behind you). As you made clear in your talk, obesity has to be the weirdest happening. Worth looking at why things are so lousy. What is the buzz sitting in a traffic jam - popping sugar or a cheesy snack?

Phil, you make a very interesting point about the role of females in human evolution. I had a brief exchange with a person whose blog is devoted to the study of male aggression. I committed the heresy of suggesting that female manipulation is largely responsible for the development of cooperative civilization, an unintended consequence if I ever heard one. Basically, my point was that the older females control the younger females by supplying (or denying) pre and post natal care and a support structure for the raising of the children. I believe this works because one group is exploiting another group for its own gain. Fitness, after all, is a measure of exploitation. People ask how cooperation could evolve in a selfish world. The answer is that cooperation is itself an exploitable resource.

Females created matrimony (would any man think up a thing like that?) By pairing one or more young females with a single male they are asked to give up something: their promiscuity and accessibility to a larger pool of potential mates. Evolution has to give the organism more than it takes in order for selection to occur, so the pay back for waiting and tying yourself to one or a few mates is care for life, including when the young female grows up and is no longer attractive to the males of the village. So, as life expectancy increased, the older females got to keep mating and have children longer than they would in a free love environment. The young females have to accept things like virginity, sexual purity and FGM (which, by the way, is forced on girls by their mothers and grandmothers, not their fathers.) Males don’t care about things like these, but males only think they’re in charge. Or actually males and females exploit each other. Male humans created women and female humans created men.

Females who decide not to play by the rules are denied the support of their fellow ‘church ladies.’ They become the promiscuous wild girls, prostitutes and sluts on the fringe of society. Ever notice how cruel people can be to independent females? Males don’t care, of course. They just know that there’s the kind of girl they would like to spend the weekend with and the kind they want to ‘take home to mother.’ Girls are told to ‘save themselves for their husbands,’ and ‘be a good Pagan, Lutheran, Catholic, Whatever.’

The ones who have a malleable personality and buy into the system of female control have more and healthier children with greater access to the benefits of a well established support system then those who want to play by their own rules. This lets them win at Darwin’s Bingo. Males have to have some fitness benefits, too, of course. What’s in it for them? For the males, they have to forego multiple sexual partners (or cheat, which females, of course, can do, too.) Eventually, though, they have to settle down and grow up. The payback is that, even though they have fewer offspring, more survive and grow up in a societal support system. You can be a part of this wonderful civilization. All you have to do is give up your freedom.

We have been self domesticating for tens of thousands of years. When people talk about the Powers That Be and refer to the masses as ‘Sheeple’ this is what they are responding to. Nobody has been intentionally creating our cooperation based society of repressive rulers and groaning masses. No one is pulling any strings. No Bilderberg, Templar, brick layers ruling the universe. It has evolved the same way that everything else evolves: Because it works. And besides, do you really want to live with feral humans?

Our civilization is an unintended consequence of a successful reproductive strategy.

A point was made to the effect that humanity has encountered limits in the past and survived them. While that is certainly true (so far) it glosses over the process of survival that had to occur. Europeans ‘survived’ the plague and Native Americans ‘survived’ the influx of Europeans in that there are still Europeans in Europe and there are still Native Americans in the Americas. They just looked a lot different after the event than before. Survival is largely a matter of serendipity. A hundred years from now there will still be people descended from those who survive. They will survive because they happen to have something that will be useful in the rapidly changing environment just like every other survivor of every other mass extinction. Random mutations? Evolution is driven by luck.

There is a saying in the Christian bible: ‘He who has ears, let them hear.’ Put quite simply, people will believe what they want to believe. This means that some people are taking the correct actions right now or are lucky enough to be living in Peru out of reach of society’s corrosive effects. These are the next generation’s plague survivors. The rest aren’t. The only real answer is to do the best you can where you are and with the people around you. You can’t change the world, so just change yourself.

This is a fatalistic view, I know. Fish gotta swim and bloggers gotta blog. And the world will go on as it always has…until it doesn’t. That's always been the case.


Firstly, I think this post provides an excellent formulation of the problem.

There is a certain nature of depletion that will occur. One perspective presented above was that it will plateau after 2030 and then slowly decline. This is an answer. Regardless of your position, you should be able to accept the assertion that a correct answer exists because oil production will follow a certain production curve throughout the coming decades and in 50 years we'll know what that answer was.

What are your ethics?

As present-time beings, we have the ability to control the progression of events in the future (within limits, mostly of geology). Ideally, we would like to position ourselves to have a future with say, the least suffering. Naturally, the future with the fewest deaths isn't the same one as the one with the least suffering. Which one of those two you prefer depends on your personal values system you have established.

If you believe in a severe form of peak oil, our collective 'understanding' of the remaining extractable oil plays the largest role in the determining of which of these futures we 'choose'. Presumably, if it were up to a vote, we would all choose the path that is the best by our collective value system. One measure we generally think loosely corresponds both with happiness of general desirability of one's lot is economic output. Call me a greedy capitalist, but that is the most universal of such measures, thus it makes sense that when we're looking for something to optimize, we optimize economic output, or here, Gross World Product (GWP).

Efficient market? Not quite.

In any kind of efficient market theory, the world in which future economic output will be the highest is the world who's understanding of oil depletion is most close to reality. Reality of the oil depletion curve depends on cold hard geology - not entirely - but it's not a bad assumption, and plus, it allows us to decouple oil production activities from adjustment of oil consuming activities in this thought exercise. So people adjust their consuming actions (all non-oil market sectors really) based on the expected oil depletion profile, and the dream of economics is that doing so with correct data gives the highest GWP. But we all know that the market is NOT efficient in reality. Saying this makes me think of all the pundits declaring that economics is 'dead' after the financial crisis that it was oblivious to.

A commonly posed scenario is that true oil depletion in the future will be much faster than commonly thought by society. So let's say we change that right now and reset our understanding to the much more doomsayer reality. The original quote:

How can you be certain that all yours and others 'outreach' efforts will only result in slowing down our consumption paradigm just enough to allow for 20 or 30 more years of pulling in resources from the periphery, thereby unintentionally causing an ultimately greater ecological disaster than the one you are efforting to avoid?

Would seem to indicate that society thinking the accurate numbers (versus the fantasy status-quo numbers) for oil depletion would lead to a lower final GWP. To me, that's a tall glass to swallow, but I don't doubt you could formulate events to make it true. In the world where many people adjust, many more are left not adjusting and continuing present patterns for a longer period of time. Whereas the status-quo world of watching the impending train crash would lead everyone to make the necessary changes after the initial not-so-bad crash.

Is the secret ingredient... integrity?

Think about how strange this sounds though. You're telling the world that you know better than it. It's agreeable by most that having the correct geologic numbers for the remaining oil on Earth won't result in the most ideal post-crash world. For some, the number that gives the most ideal post-crash would would be a world where geologic numbers are slightly over or understated representing small market inefficiencies (I'm personally in this camp), while for others, like the source of the above quote, the world with the most ideal post-crash situation is one where geologic numbers are vastly over or under stated.

I claim that the latter still makes sense. There is a chance that it is correct. But I also claim that it's simply not the route to go. It's a case of treating all of humanity like a child, telling it what you think will produce the best output instead of telling it the truth. Sometimes happiness (utilitarian ethics) and GWP are not the best measures to go by. This would be one of those cases IMO.

Plus, it's only a chance that spreading the bible of TOD will make things better for us. It's much more likely that knowing the reality of oil will make things better in the long run. That's not provable. But we don't need to.

Spreading the truth is reason enough for some. And it should be reason enough for all of us.

If everyone spoke the truth without fear of consequences the world would be a better place. So why go about the convoluted path of applying your values to the most likely world that your actions will create and act by the action that produces the most favorable one when you could just directly apply your values to the action at hand?

The notion of Peak Oil has been around since the Limits to Growth was published and the two energy crisis of the 1970's. I recall discussion of the solutions back then and comments to the effect that solving the energy shortage with some other energy sources, such as nuclear, would lead to continued growth in resource consumption and thus increasing in other impacts on the environment, which would make the overall environmental problems worse.

Looking back, that's what has happened as we've seen both continued population growth and resource consumption has increased. As another poster commented, humanity's efforts have just built the cliff higher, so that we are likely to find the downfall to be more painful. That's because the underlying carrying capacity of the Earth hasn't changed and increasing the energy flow into our consumptive processes just shifts our problems toward some other "Leiberg Minimum" limit, such as that presented by Climate Change.

Efforts at Peak Oil outreach are just a form of education. I think that we are attempting to educate the folks about just one of the Limits to Growth. Once they get the Peak Oil message, people may respond by attempting to solve the immediate problem in an attempt to continue BAU, as in:

There's less oil available so let's find another energy source

Or, they can approach the situation by addressing the underlying problems:

There's less of everything, so lets reduce both consumption per capita and reduce population

I think that the outreach efforts must continue to focus on more than Peak Oil and present the larger situation along with the message of stagnant or declining output of oil. The wide ranging discussions on TOD include many viewpoints and thus the education process extends far beyond just the problems as might be seen from an energy industry perspective. Matt Simmons and others who have focused their efforts solely on the production side of the situation, while doing a great job, are missing the larger problem.

The impacts of "crisis blogging" as you call it can drift away after the crisis is past. Last summer's oil price shock may have been seen as a crisis and thus as oil prices declined, it might have appeared that the problem was over. Peak Oil isn't a "crisis" in the usual sense, as it does not appear to be immediate. For many people, the present "crisis" is the economy and the job situation. Without a job or other source of income, survival in the capitalist world becomes very uncertain, to say the least. Thus, the public's attention has shifted from concerns about Climate Change to the economy and I think it's obvious that people will do whatever is necessary under such circumstances. Again and again, the natural world has lost out to the demands of the human economy, our short term survival needs being first priority.

One can only hope that efforts at "crisis blogging" can overcome the natural tendencies individuals to take what they think they need from the Earth while there's still enough left to allow long term survival of the Earth's natural life support systems, so that humanity might survive as well. Having watched events closely for more than 40 years, my perception is that we aren't going in the proper direction, but we must try as best we can to shape the future. All we can do is get the message out as widely as possible and be ready with solutions as events unfold.

E. Swanson

"How can you be certain that all yours and others 'outreach' efforts will only result in slowing down our consumption paradigm just enough to allow for 20 or 30 more years of pulling in resources from the periphery, ..."

This overestimates the impact of blogs and outreach, most of which is preaching to the choir.

I have noted that many TODers mention their friends are blissfully unaware of impending events. They only know what the mass media is telling them:
the stock market is recovering! (sucker's rally),
buy that house now because we're at the bottom of the market! (because every realtor interviewed agrees that now is the time to buy),
the government is working to solve the problems! (by kicking the can down the road)

Yes I believe Nate's friend is correct.

Let me give a concise example.

In the southern woodlands areas are many pulp mills. Some make chip board, some make paper products. They consume enormous quantities of our valuable, receding woodlands and forests.

Its close in my mind to mountain top removal but has been going on for a far far far longer period of time.

Many acres of dead trees are in huge piles in their wood yards brought by many many big trucks hauling them there.

And so a slow, gradual decline in our societies usage of these products means that less and less of our possibly last remaining resource to preserve life will have disappeared. What to heat with? What to cook with? What to build with?

My hope after being immersed in the looming crisis over the last 3 or so years has lead me to hope that the failure of our wasteful culture is halted as rapidly as possible so that at least the survivors have some resources to start over with again.

We need to end this charade as soon as possible.

Now I see evidence that many of these mills are starting to shutdown.
Is it too late? Right now I don't think so but I could be wrong. Many species of trees are becoming rare or already receded enough to likely never recover.

Oak,pecan and walnut are valuable trees.Why are we sending them to China? Remove enough nut bearing trees and there is soon no more 'seed trees' to propagate the species. This is happening right now and has been for some time.

White oaks are just about all gone around here. Red oaks are rapidly disappearing. Hickory is the only standard bearer left and its going to. Other trees like pecan left long ago so now only a few in yards are left as perhaps ornamentals.

As the timber cutters left the upper NorthWest I think they picked the southern woodlands as their next stop. Enough poor people to not defend the land. Fewer tree-huggers to mount campaigns.

Same with hog confinement feeding. Chased out of N. Carolina by public opinion they came to Kentucky.

We need to shut down. Now. Go to whatever is next before there is no more "NEXT".

Nate's friend needs to put up a Campfire post detailing HER views. IMO.

The land is crying out, we ignore it....a generation needs to die off to make room for another,another that is able to survive,one that is not resource hogs and ugly feeders at the troughs who give nothing back. We need to have something left for the children of the children who will inherit these wastelands. Our offspring have taken us here. Not the hippies but those who came after.

There once was a generation who saw this very clearly. They raised the alarms and tried. They failed and many were beaten for daring to do so. I remember Chicago. I remember Kent State. I remember far more. I still have their books and enough old Mother Earth magazines to refresh my mind as to how it once looked promising. How they tried.

Then we turned and walked away.


We had a similar situation arise on the Big Island with the intent to chip a forest, a completely insane proposition. All legal means did not stop this. Someone burned the plant and machinery down, and it was too expensive to replace. The project was canceled, and the forest were saved.
Now, what was the ethical action? Obeying the law (that supported this proposition), or destroying the means to carry out this action?
When destroying trees is development, and breaking a window is vandalism, where does one stand?


Went I went to Hawaii(Oahu) in the late 50s it appeared to me to still be what one termed a Paradise.

There was the Royal Hawaiian and the Ala Moana. That was about it.

Oh some more smaller ones but still mostly not paved over.One could still go to many many beaches and find them empty. Start a campfire, swim and surf. Drink a beer. It was great.

Today I do not recognize the pictures I see of the islands. The base where I was stationed is gone and replaced by some kind of suburbia.

I always wanted to return but I gave that up and being a trip that would just sadden me. I prefer to keep my memories intact.

Great that the chip plant was stopped.


I lived in Maui 10 years, and became dismayed at the pace of change. I still have a house upcountry, but have not been there for several years.
I share your intent on keeping memories intact.


The human tragedy is that we were not all created equal. Some are definitely more equal than others.

Some believe in fairies, some believe in God, some believe in witch doctors. It is always only the converted who hear the call to their belief.

Only the Intellectuals see the big picture, (that is the definition of intellect) the rest only see the minutiae of their own wants and needs. To try to get them to see the big picture is an impossibility.

The three unavoidable realities of peak oil are

a) The exponential function of limited resources.
b) The exponential function of population growth.
c) The vested interests who always see no evil in status quo.

There is only one workable solution for achieving the longest possible run of sufficiency.

Like a person caught in the desert with a limited amount of water. They cut their water consumption to the absolute minimum and then hope that they reach the end before the water runs out because they know damn well it will run out.

If they do not make it they cannot whine because they did cut to the minimum and no further cuts would have been possible. They did their very best and could have done no more.

If we do not cut energy usage and reduce our footprint on the planet to the absolute least possible we are going to lose the race either sooner or at best later.

If we each do the absolute best we are capable of and we fail we know it was not to be, but we did our utmost. Otherwise each and every one of us is personally culpable and we must not whine when nature plays her final hand.


a) The exponential function of limited resources.
b) The exponential function of population growth.
c) The vested interests who always see no evil in status quo.

Um, exponential functions are cleary counterfactual via reductio ad absurdum. Both (a) and (b) are understood at first-order approximations by anyone with their heads on straight as logistic curves, which were, in fact, the original quantitative characterization of Malthus.

Verhulst did the first derivation of the Logistic, not Malthus. The derivation solves a specific problem, that of a population reaching a steady-state carrying capacity.

As derived, this has nothing to do with resource depletion. Resources don't reach a carrying capacity unless they are renewable, and fossil fuels are not. An alternative derivation, based on dispersive discovery of resources will give a logistic, but it has nothing to do with Verhulst's derivation.

I find the topic interesting so that if you have any insight into how this got completely messed up over the years, please fill me in.

The operative words here were the definition of intellect.

Reductio ad absurdum is clearly ridiculous when creating the metaphor for the big picture.

How about, "In the long run we are all dead, so why worry?"


Thought is a limit function.

Nice. I like it! (so is time)

In other blogs, these kinds of posts usually get tagged with a "meta" label. Reading through many of the comments, I noticed much introspection and self-justification as to "why am I here" (to quote Admiral Stockdale), or in terms of "are we doing the right thing?".

For the record, my main interest is to quantify the oil depletion glide path. I figure that if we can get beyond the hand-waving and introduce a more rigorous approach that we can do better in terms of policy planning. We have people like Debbie Cook participating here who know how to work the grass-roots politics.

Planning is in effect all about avoiding unintended consequences. Business plans are more often about making sure that you don't lose your shirt, than about making tons of money. Of course, it can't mitigate everything but better to plan with a formal quantitative analysis than to SWAG it.

Out of curiosity, how has formal quantitative analysis (which I am in favor of) worked for us so far?

Two part answer.

Assuming the analysis is not restricted to oil depletion, the answer is every hard science field uses it and has worked out very well.

Narrowing it just to oil depletion, I notice that the immediate impulse is to resort to heuristics. The problem with heuristics is that they do not depend on any deeper understanding and therefore should conditions change, the outcome could result in unintended consequences. The standard Hubbert Linearization is a good example of that and Robert Rapier (among others) has noted potential problems with the HL approach.

A very good example of rigorous analysis that I know you are convinced of is the calculation of EROEI. This is most definitely not a heuristic as you can calculate it formally from first principles. If on the other hand people had observed a quasi-EROEI behavior over time and started to plot it to match the empirical results, they could have missed some important characteristic. That is essentially the problem with heuristics -- you cannot easily verify it.

I won't necessarily waste a lot of time looking into EROEI because I know it makes sense and works well (something that commenter "x" has a hard time coping with). But I will continue to lobby to translate that same formality to areas that are more challenging.

But (fast and frugal) heuristics are how we make decisions! Even scientists are humans first. As events accelerate (or decelerate), it will be harder and harder to focus on quantitative methods. I also think that time will preclude us from getting past 95% confidence level on many many subjects. Integration, synthesis, systems thinking and 'guesses' are going to play a larger role than we might like to acknowledge.

Oh, I get it. This comment you made is itself a heuristic. Suggesting that the importance of heuristics is based on a heuristic (i.e. 95%) makes this all too subjective to argue with. This is actually getting way too meta and circular for my tastes.

Fast and Frugal Heuristics

Simple Heuristics that Make Us Smart

Defense of Heuristics as Evolved Decision-Making Core in Humans

Bounded Rationality - The Adaptive Toolbox

Max Planck Institute is ahead of curve with these ideas WHT. We DON'T use math naturally, we use heuristics. So to present math to someone, unless they are trained in it, does not conform to how we decide (unless there is a test...;-)

By the way, in your own sphere of expertise, (and in your own state), this analysis from 1999 (using 1996 oil production) and predicting a global oil peak in 2007 was created using heuristics.

By definition, "heuristic" denotes a method of solving a problem for which no algorithm exists. It involves trial and error, as in iteration. In this discussion heuristic knowledge indicates "soft," "qualitative," or "judgmental" knowledge. Although judgmental knowledge is lacking in the Numeric model, it is crucial for oil forecasting in the heuristic model ("H model").

How do we solve problems/make decisions for which no algorithm exists, when NOT making a decision IS making a decision?

How do we solve problems/make decisions for which no algorithm exists, when NOT making a decision IS making a decision?

Please point me to an example of something related to oil depletion where an algorithm (i.e. a basic understanding) does not exist.
The fact that no one has ever tried to mathematically state this algorithm from first principles is the real issue.

BTW, perhaps we should make the distinction between kinds of heuristics used in science. In certain problems, where a solution doesn't converge, such as in an integrated circuit routing and placement problem, engineers will use a heuristic to guide the solution. They do this not because they don't understand the problem ... no, they understand it all too well. It just takes too long, and that is why they put in a heuristic. It may be what they call a "cheap" heuristic, which doesn't use too many computational cycles or it could be more involved, based on physical principles. The key is that we still have to understand the problem or algorithm from basic principles to create a functioning integrated circuit in the first place.

This kind of analysis apparently goes out the window when applied to oil depletion, and people grab whatever curve they have handy to come up with a prediction. So you are saying this is the natural inclination. I side with my scientist and engineering colleagues and aim for something more rigorous.

Perhaps my poor little, long-out-of-academia lizard brain is missing something here, but I'm going with Nate here.

If I'm reading you correctly, WHT, you're essentially arguing we need to know all this and guessing ain't gonna cut it. Problem is, life just ain't like that in the socio-political realm. In fact, it is exceedingly rare for public policy to be based on the completely known and knowable.

Even worse, to be able to work from that degree of knowledge means you are always working from well behind the wave it is you are attempting to do something about. Not the wisest choice in a situation where our science is already far behind the wave.

Your call for solid verification is wishful thinking and, in this case, quite dangerous.

As a small, related aside, I several times have chided Nate, specifically, and discourse here in general, for taking too much of an "egghead" (<-- not pejorative) approach to all this as far as the public discourse goes. The public doesn't understand the science, and further, doesn't care to. They just want the answer, and they'd very much prefer it not cause them to have to assimilate any radically new information, world views, beliefs, etc. In the end, the fighting over details simply allows them to tune out and accept with great comfort the absurd and wrongheaded idea that we just don't know enough, so there's nothing to be don, and besides, if the science isn't all there, 100% in place, well, where there's billowing smoke there surely can't be fire.

Bringing this full around to Nate's original question, without "the people" collectively acting, there is no hope. Because what we do in our daily lives so directly effects the outcome, policy alone is not going to fix either PO or ACC. People are selfish. Those of us in OECD countries are quite comfy, thank you, and are not all that interested in change. We lack motivation. We will vote down the laws and policies that make us uncomfortable up until we can see clearly that not doing so will make us more uncomfortable.

Embrace the heuristics, WHT.


Did you realize that cheap heuristics caused the whole Wall Street mess?

That seemed to be a very dangerous situation with most everyone caught way behind the wave.

The quants on Wall Street made up junk and they thought it was real. It wasn't real and people got duped. The public didn't want to know the details and somehow they trusted the math their advisors and pensions put in place.

And you want me to embrace that?

Thanks for the setup.


I am with you entirely on the fact that we solved one problem Heuristically by creating another one.

Our Peak Oil problem has no solution because the scientists, the politicians, the financiers, and the public are equally weighted so there is no problem. Those that do are balanced out by those that do not so the equation is zero.

When 95% certainty arrives it will be too late. Those that saw the problem will say, "I told you so", those that did not will not see the problem even when it reaches 100% certainty.


Did you realize that cheap heuristics caused the whole Wall Street mess?

Indeed. But their misuse (whether the denial is believable or not I leave to your judgement, but the guy that developed the risk analysis claims it was misapplied...) in one arena does not rule out their usefulness in another.

Climate Change is a special case. Current trends = no more society. We're going to have to make some leaps of faith. Period.


They could have listened to NN Taleb or anyone else who believed in fat-tail behavior instead of people like Li. My own oil depletion analysis relies on fat-tail behavior. The interesting point is that neglecting fat-tail probabilities in financial risk analysis leads to way too optimistic securitization, but doing the same for oil depletion leads to too much pessimism.

Intuition often fails us; we cannot rely on human heuristics, as this will lead us down the wrong road.

LOL... you are stubborn.

Let me simplify: I don't think either Nate or I are saying ONLY use heuristics; we are saying you have no choice given the dynamics we face. Choices will be made without complete data to depend on.

Ain't no way around it.



You are forgetting how stubborn our opponents (Michael Lynch, CERA, etc) are.

Given the fact that you are so knowledgeable about GW, that surprises me.

Go to a site like climateaudit.org or wattsupwiththat.com and see how the Rethug zealots will shred bad climate change heuristics from Mann and others. Not that they have a better model themselves.

No, it's just that I am quite comfortable with the uncertainty because it's quite obvious we have to work from the worst case backwards because the worst case is actually quite possible.

I know we are going to hit major inflection points before we can fully quantify this stuff. Period. Am I prognosticating? So be it. I'd call it prescient analysis, myself (if it turns out that way.) But the logic is inescapable; to wit:

1. We are consistently underestimating ACC.

2. Given that is the nature of science, we *must* at some point, make a leap into the future unknown wrt setting policy.

3. The simple thing is to work back from what we must avoid at all costs and act accordingly.

Heuristics, here we come!


And you will have one or two of us working the formal angle. Because someone has to do it.

"How can you be certain that all yours and others 'outreach' efforts will only result in slowing down our consumption paradigm just enough to allow for 20 or 30 more years of pulling in resources from the periphery, thereby unintentionally causing an ultimately greater ecological disaster than the one you are efforting to avoid?"

My try for an awnser:

The longer you go into the wrong direction, the bigger the desaster will be. An example is the current economic crisis. It was clear to many people that houses are overpriced already several years ago. But instead of allowing a small correction in price, people kept buying houses on credit. The price rose further and the burst of this bubble was desastoras. A earlier small correction of the direction might have been less painfull.

Option 1: If we use our PO knowledge now it has 2 positve effects:
- We need only a small correction from ever inreasing energy demand to a small anual decrase in demand.
- We have 20-30 more years for preperation until resources become very scare.

Option 2: If we don't use the PO knoweldge:
- We are going in the wrong direction for a longer time.
- The change in our consumption habbits we be at a higher consumption level. An the change will be more radical.
- There will be less time for adaption (new technologies ect).

I think option 2 is more devastating than option 1. Unfortunatly on a global scale i guess the world acts more like the second option.

I hope i could help you with this arguments. (Sorry for my bad english. I wish i could explain my points in more flowery language.)


There can be unforeseen and unintended consequences of any course of action we might take. There is nothing we can do about consequences that cannot be predicted (e.g. stepping out onto a crosswalk at just the moment a drunk driver is coming around the bend). So we must focus on elements for which we can link cause and effect.

The issue is about "thinking" about possible consequences of taking or not taking certain actions. This requires systems thinking about the likely and possible outcomes of an action. While the specifics of WWII could not have been foreseen as an outcome of the Versailles Treaty, certain negative impacts on Germany and Europe as a whole could have been foreseen. We must also accept we'll always have high uncertainty and limited knowledge.

Regarding the specifics of resource depletion and peak oil, one needs to consider consequences of both the option of speaking about, taking actions and educating people, or not.

From my perspective, there is a lot of momentum on this train, and the station is likely too close for a smooth stop. Remaining silent and taking no action leads to the same consequences as the majority who believe we can build magic breaks, stretch the rails or jump to another track (plus those who either simply don't think about it, or trust that "they" will find a solution). Taking action and trying to educate people isn't likely to cause a full-scale breaking effort to lessen the impact. But it could help some regions, some countries, some communities, some people. At the very least, it could help explore a different path than the mainstream (rather than simply floating along with the maintream as a silent observer). And if a tipping point passed, and full-scale breaking took hold, that has the potential to apply remaining resources to solutions instead of squandering.

Could some concerted effort cause more depletion? Not likely, since desperate people and nations will likely do this in any case. Increasing awareness of the need to reduce consumption and live within bounds doesn't seem to have a direct causal link to increased consumption and pushing bounds. However, belief that we just have to pass a rough patch and continue on the same path can easily be used to justify further over-reach and impacts (after all, it would only be temporary....until we find the ultimate energy source and can the extract resources from space...).

Considering potential consequences is very important, and should absolutely be done. But one should focus on plausible causal links to taking or not taking action. We should not get hung up on unintended consequences that cannot be envisioned, as that leads to procrastination and inaction, and hence having no impact whatsoever on the train wreck we see approaching.

Hello Nate,
Is it possible to have copy of the presentation you used in your speech? thanks!!

email me and i can send you a (large) powerpoint..

I regret that I'm zooming past too quickly today due to other stuff I must do, so won't be commenting much as I'd hoped in this very-salient string of posts.

However, even though I have yet to convince myself of the rationale for outreach blogging, I don't think things are hopeless and don't wish to leave that impression. To the contrary, I think there's a game afoot that must be played with all the skill we can muster.

In between the extremes of blog-chatter and political revolution are classes of action which can and will steer large-scale outcomes over reasonable time frames (say 1-20 years) and which may be successfully undertaken - towards any agenda - by relatively small groups of actors.

Those who learn to work with the real dynamics of complexity, who embrace a probabilistic future worldview, and who then make the transition from talk to audacious action and risktaking will tend to account for a disproportionate amount of the steering which is possible.

My non-academic opinion.

best to all the posters, it means something important to me that you're here. And with that, I gotta go...

My general comment on these questions is that we need to distinguish between the possible unintended negative effects of information about peak oil, and the possible unintended negative effects of actual policies adopted in the wake of peak oil.

There will likely be unintended consequences from 'peak oil outreach'. Are they more likely to be positive or negative? What might some be?

Negative unintended consequences are possible, but highly unlikely.

The main negative consequence of information outreach concerning peak oil, would be if the information were taken out of context. The Hirsch Report provides a good example of how this might happen: if people who are saying "we need to do something about peak oil" are taken to mean "we need to convert coal to oil" (one of the Hirsch Report's mitigation recommendations), then we might be labeled as coal-to-oil advocates. However, at this point "peak oil" is heavily contextualized in countless ways and it still hasn't gone mainstream. (When Congress starts debating it, we'll know it's gone mainstream.)

Could my friend be right, (or at least in the ballpark)? That educating leaders to put the breaks on our consumptive trajectory might alter the natural human impact pulse just enough to pull in currently non-scarce resources from the periphery, making us worse off in the long run than if we attempt to mitigate?

Again, theoretically possible but highly unlikely. The reason is debt. Political leaders aren't going to even try to put breaks on our consumptive trajectory until we have reached the clear crisis stage: massive unemployment, hyperinflation, or financial collapse, that sort of thing, so that people say: "This isn't just the worst thing since the Great Depression; it IS the Great Depression all over again, or worse." They'll keep going until the whole thing collapses. There's too much political traction behind growth. Our strategy, IMHO, should be to have a fairly detailed plan to whip out when things reach this stage. We can try to prevent it, for sure, and if we could do the Vulcan mind-meld on our political leaders that would certainly help. (Where's Spock?) But such efforts are relatively "safe" because they are so likely to"fail" (pre-collapse).

Mitigating overconsumption, overpopulation, and resource depletion requires a longer term view. But perhaps focusing on making the next 10-30 years more sustainable discriminates against 30 years and beyond?

Yes, this is a definite problem. We need to advocate radical change when things get to the Great Depression Moment. If it's just, like, "O. K., let's mobilize the country so we can further 'sustainable growth,'" this could be a problem. I am especially concerned about soil erosion (and related agricultural issues), population growth, inequality, and the structural aspects (like debt) which propel us towards a growth economy.

In short, we need to go for "full frontal outreach," as the Smarter-than-yeast guy puts it, and explore all kinds of wild and crazy proposals, refine them, and make them as good as we can make them. There are not likely to be unintended consequences of too much outreach on peak oil. There may be unintended consequences of the plan we put into effect when the problem becomes undeniable.


It seems many answers don't address the question. A key line is

allow for 20 or 30 more years of pulling in resources from the periphery

But people say It is bad karma to know what is good and not do it. or we are doing the right thing , or saying that your friend is having a heart attack, and driving him to hospital will save his life .

But the question, I think, is more in the line of:

Blogging and outreach are going to create a much harder landing, with more pain and catastrophes.

Or taking Pitt the Elder's "expected benefit" example ... what Nate's friend could de asking is "outreach efforts actually have a higher probability of bringing catastrophe than not doing anything".

The underlying idea, I think, is:

  • blogging, outreach => less consumption => more time to actually strip bear all our resources (oil, minerals, soils and what not) => a situation humanity won't be able to come out of => big big time disaster :(
  • Now that is to be contrasted with:

  • no blogging, britney spears, BAU => more consumption => Hit some limits of the system => Big Crisis (possibly wars, population decrease, etc) but there are still lots of forests, fish, minerals, etc to be used for Civilization 2.0 (only the system hit an "error, reboot" before stripping the world bear of resources.

Of course that's a crude simplification, but that's how I understood the question of "unintended consequences". My Answer is that IMO outreach will have little effect until the limits impose themselves. That is not to say it won't help pave the future, or stir the boat in the storm... but until the storm starts it won't change much. Very few people know about TOD, Peak Oil, etc... let alone do something about it. I'm pretty sure in the years to come it will become as fashionable as Global Warming ... but it will most likely have the same electrifying effect on the majority of the population: NILL.

A lot of talking, one in 20 000 US-Americans will buy themselves a pseudo-energy-saving hybrid, politicians waving their arms, emission raising and consumption "flourishing".

The current outreach I think helps a minority today: The TOD bunch, our friends, family, etc. But it may well help people make quick decisions when they face hard questions later on.

2c from London. Massagran.

One of the Assumptions I go into this with, is that the goal of outreach need not be 'To convince the masses' ..

The masses weren't really convinced that the American Colonies needed to fight England. It was a decent percent, but surely not an overwhelming majority. A movement is almost definitively going to be a small slice of the pie.

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

For me, the value of this site and this source of information - is that it reaches its fingers into so many nooks and crannies around the world. The information is broadcastable and duplicatable enough.. but I don't expect the adherents to amount to a great swarming sea of devoted believers.. just a small and slightly growing cadre' of candlebearers.

From The Once and Future King - TH White, 1958 'The Candle in the wind..'

Arthur sends "Tom" (of course, a reference to Thomas Malory) running from the final battle field so people would know of the short time when people lived free from fear and mayhem — "the golden days of Camelot. Carrying the story like a candleflame that might someday reignite the blaze.."

One of the Assumptions I go into this with, is that the goal of outreach need not be 'To convince the masses' ......

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." Margaret Mead

.....I don't expect the adherents to amount to a great swarming sea of devoted believers.. just a small and slightly growing cadre of candlebearers.

I assume the same. The course of events can be moved without the masses being convinced, and it's a damn good thing since they're utterly uninterested, in general, of being 'convinced' of anything non-entertaining.

I've spent the last 35 years organizing small cadres of people to get preposterous things done, and have seen both the promise and limitations. The good news I'd report is that seemingly impossible stuff often isn't. The bad news is that most such activity revolves around dynamic personalities with a short half-life (and their followers) rather than a disciplined investigation of what actually works to move the world.

I've sometimes wondered whether one of the most important functions, in retrospect, of a unique blog like TOD might not be to bring together small groups of such folks. And I've often wished that a greater percentage of the excellent posters here had email contact information in their user accounts to facilitate this. (Hey, if I snag a spare billion bucks and want to send helicoptors for some of you, it'd help.)

Margaret Mead had it right. Paraphrasing her, small groups are much more capable of changing the world than large groups. Yet few really believe and pursue it.


Agreed, it's hubris that makes us feel we can make a global difference, when most of the population has no idea what we do, or feels the impact.

The population at large will be forced to face alternatives, and will do so, when it has no choice.

We will pursue alternatives when we must. We will eat less desirable food stuffs, when we've exhausted the choice bits.

We will work out way down, consuming as much of the planet as we can, as we decline.

In the end, the second way will be taken, because we have no choice, but we will take it, while adhering to the philosophy of the first.

What we can do is work to mitigate the suffering of our own small groups, and that is where change happens.

Fong's Conjecture: Ceteris paribus, the sooner and more complete mankind's contractions in complexity, the better off humans and the earth will be over the long term.

Blog accordingly.

Indeed. An overly long labor/(re)birth is good for neither the mother nor the child.


I hold these truths to be self-evident:

1. Non-renewable resources are, by definition, non-renewable. They can and will run out. (Yes, there is a lot more stuff out in space, including enough hydrogen in the universe to power the universe. Unfortunately, the distances involved and the resource inputs required to span them quickly impose a very harsh law of diminishing returns, so that isn't going to be the golden bullet. Earth is our home.)

2. Once the non-renewables have run out (or very nearly so), we will have no alternative - none - but to rely entirely upon renewable resources.

3. The extraction and utilization of non-renewable resources doesn't just keep increasing exponentially and then suddenly reach a cliff and drop to zero; instead, they all follow a curve which rises gradually to a peak and then declines gradually to zero. This applies to all non-renewable resources, not just oil.

4. We are at or very close to or just past the peak for oil right now. Ditto for most other non-renewable resources.

5. The notion that there are and always will be more and more non-renewable resources available to not just sustain present economic levels, but even to sustain continued economic growth, is simply not credible. Substitution is a perfectly workable strategy when only one non-renewable resource has peaked and there are many other non-renewable resources that have not yet peaked. As more and more non-renewables go post-peak, substitution becomes less and less feasible. Similarly, as more non-renewables go past peak, shortages and bottlenecks force other non-renewables to peak sooner than they might otherwise. A law of diminishing returns comes into play as the cheap and easy resources are exhausted and what remains is increasingly difficult and expensive to extract. It does not really matter how much of something is ultimately in the ground; capital is also a finite resource, and imposes real limits on what can be extracted and how quickly it can be done.

6. A global economy (and, by implication, all national economies) dependent entirely upon renewable recources cannot grow beyond the limits of what those resources can support. If the global or national economy is presently operating beyond those limits, courtesy of non-renewable resources, then that economy will have no choice but to contract and decline as the non-renewable resources deplete, at least until it has reached a level that can be sustained within the limits of its renewable resource base.

7. Thus, we (globally and nationally) are now entering into an era of inevitable and unavoidable economic decline. This must be, we have no choice.

8. Where we DO have a choice is in our response. We can accept the reality and inevitability of decline and pro-actively adjust and adapt to it, or we can be in denial and fight decline with counterproductive and futile actions all the way down. "We" in this sense applies to both individual and collective responses.

9. Even those who make appropriate choices and are trying to positively manage decline may nevertheless make some mistakes along the way - the "unintended consequences" issue of this thread. I see this as being every bit as much inevitable as the depletion of non-renewable resources and the consequent economic decline.

10. Nevertheless, accepting the reality that decline must happen, and that we must end up at a permanently lower level, is powerfully useful in helping individuals and collectives - all the way up to national governments - to stay focused and to not be tempted to make choices with a high probability of being counterproductive or producing unintended consequences. In contrast, those who cling to the vain hope that our economy can somehow be sustained at its current level, or even enabled to continue to grow, are highly vulnerable to making choices that will prove to be highly counterproductive or carry huge unintended consequences.

In sum: I don't know exactly how things will pan out. It is therefore quite probable that I'll make some mistakes along the way. I do have a high degree of confidence as to the general direction in which our economy is heading - down. Knowing this is very helpful: maybe I can avoid the big mistakes and just make small mistakes.

I also share the three way view.

1. We forget mitigation and have a blow out. Crash early. Leave large portions of the Earth's ecosystems in a recoverable state.

2. Find ways to consume every last BTU of energy out of the Earth to slow our decline. Eat every last morsel that can sustain us. When the crash really hits, we'll leave our descendants a barren planet.

3. Find a means to get our population growth turned severely negative now, so that we in effect, reduce our footprint, maintain our high tech civilization, and live in an Earth that can recover from our excesses.

For the last eleven years, since I read, "The End of Cheap Oil", by Colin Campbell and Jean Laherre in the May 1998 Scientific American, I've watched us cling to number one, while proponents of number two brag about making small inroads. Further, for eleven years the proponents of #2 have continued to try to make me a believer in a wide array of alternatives that are on the 'verge' of becoming economical, if only this or that obstacle could be removed. After waiting patiently since the 1960s for fusion power and my new flying car, I'm a bit jaded on the idea that we're on the verge of a new energy source or energy paradigm, that will allow us to chase endless population growth for hundreds of years.

Further the happy talk of population growth slowing for first world nations, is presented as a one dimensional argument, that ignores the dynamics of the real world in which it exists. That is, the first worlders enjoy the luxury of slowing growth on the backs of the working class in other nations. The laborers continue to grow in population. Now that the stability of this system has been shaken up by an end to energy growth, there's no guarantee that first world population growth will continue to stay at low levels.

To follow trends that might slow world population growth through affluence, might well mean that we will need energy production to grow at a much faster rate than we've seen in the past. It must outpace population growth. Though many alternative energy proponents believe that this is possible through the use of algae biofuels, or wind, or solar, or whatever system they've become emotional invested in, we still run into the problem of limits. If we take algae ponds and assume they must grow at 10% a year, we quickly get into some mind boggling acreage, requiring incredible quantities of water and other inputs to maintain.

The power of exponents says terrible things about any long term plan that is intended to fuel growth. It doesn't matter what it is. Infinite growth on a finite planet, is impossible.

Though we are following the path #1 at the moment, I have faith that we will, piecemeal and without adequate planning, pursue #2 when things get rough. We'll cling to civilization like a cat clings to a drowning swimmer. We will consume every last fish we can catch. We'll turn as much topsoil into fuel as we can. We'll contaminate water supplies the world over in a our quest for ever lower quality energy sources.

Though #3 in my view, is the more rational goal, if we wish to manage our decline in numbers. I have no faith at all that we could manage it rationally, nor could we even pull it off. In my view it would require a plan might limit births to one child per ten couples, or some similar drastic action. In light of human history, this is an impossible feat, so for this reason, I am a doomer. I believe that we are incapable of making the tough choices that will stave off disaster.

As both #1 and #2 are essentially plans to kick the can down the road, they don't actually stave off the disaster, that comes from over consumption of energy, coupled with continued population growth.

I seriously doubt even CERA buys their own bull. Remember what Cheney said 10 years ago?

"By some estimates there will be an average of two per cent annual growth in global oil demand over the years ahead along with conservatively a three per cent natural decline in production from existing reserves. That means by 2010 we will need on the order of an additional fifty million barrels a day. So where is the oil going to come from?"

Well it has been 10 years since he said that, and we're a stone's throw away from 2010. Yet those 50 million barrels did not arrive. In Cheney's own words, oil is the "basic, fundamental building block of the world economy". They all admit how important oil is! But our order of building blocks only partially arrived. We dint git no 50 million barrels a day. What did we get? 10? Perhaps not even that. These cretins are not stupid. They know what caused the financial crisis. I really wish people would stop giving the benefit of the doubt, and start seeing these creatures for what they are.

[unintended consequences] One consequence of "drawing things out" in hope of a miracle pops to mind immediately: We end up with too many people globally for a soft-landing, and instead end up simply eating each other.

Humanity went from <2 billion to nearly 7 billion over the space of a few generations buoyed almost entirely on free energy (fossil fuels). Free energy (free as in freedom) is free not because it has no cost of collection or processing, but because it is not bound to orbital physics and is free to move across time and space. Oil is free energy because it can be bottled and moved around, stored, used as needed, it is not tied to location or seasonality. Incident solar energy is (in paradox) not free because you have to be some-place at a particular some-time to get at it, including not-at-night. Storage tweaks to this paradox to not mitigate the physical realities. The equatorial regions are better positioned -- and anyone owning/holding land is in general better positioned -- to get solar energy via the usual route, which is crops. These realities impart a stark and unavoidable cost to solar energy reliance (which was BAU for 1,500 centuries, and will be again shortly) and that overhead cost is what kept populations globally in check. If you doubt the overhead, ask yourself how much overhead goes into getting a bunch of bananas from Ecuador to New York, where never a banana was grown. If you still doubt, ask yourself why equatorial civilizations where so rich, and circum-polar civilizations mostly invaders to the former.

Free energy ended all those limitations, for a while. 7 billion people was the resulting answer, for a while. A return to available solar energy (with it's paradox of overhead cost to anyone not well positioned) will mean a return to <2 billion people, the time it takes to make that transition depending on the weighting of people respective to the solar maximum on Earth; essentially, those further from solar maximum (good land near the equator) will perish all the faster.

If we wait to ween ourselves *entirely* from free energy we ensure that more people are added to world populations, and a good number of those will be far from solar resources. Thus we will likely burn our last barrel of oil not flying to Paris but moving a meager stock of food goods from Mexico to New York. And then people will start to migrate toward the sun, or else perish.

If we ween ourselves right now -- totally, cold-turkey, no modern BAU of any kind by any means -- and go 100% solar agriculture and standards of living we'll still fall to <2 billion, but from no more than where we are now. We'll use our last barrels of oil creating sustainable practices and demolishing parking lots and freeways to get at the dirt under them (try that kind of work without a diesel tractor, I dare you) and perhaps improving water collection/retention methods. People might be too busy working to reproduce much, and we'll decrease our numbers without obvious carnage (so long as we don't fail to reproduce entirely, which is a very real risk.)

But I don't see that kind of soft-landing happening, ever. Does anyone?


Look at Ethanol. In theory, (if you don't look too close,) it looks like a promising solution to peak oil. But if you look closer, it makes the problem worse: Not only does it not increase usable energy, but it depletes topsoil and raises food prices. So given the choice between Ethanol or doing nothing, doing nothing looks pretty good. And given that most other "solutions" haven't been studied to death, (unlike Ethanol,) it is quite possible that they are less than ideal than we've thought as well...

That said, even assuming the worst, I have a very hard time saying "just cause everything we've tried so far doesn't work, we should therefor ignore the problem and not discuss it." I'm just not that sort of person.

Hey TOD readers,

My wife and I have a blog at : http://sv-macha.blogspot.com -- we would love feedback from this community.

Our peak-oil adaptation strategy is to live on a 38 foot engineless sailboat in the San Francisco Bay area. I believe that reviving traditional seafaring skills and lifestyles among coastal communities is going to be an essential element of maintaining worldwide trade, travel, and communication. I would love to dialogue with other TOD sailors.

Our blogging strategy has beeen to balance fearmongering with humor, big picture abtractions with day-to-day lifestyle changes. I'd love to know what y'all think...

- Ari