Olduvai Theory: Toward Re-Equalizing the World Standard of Living - Richard Duncan

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This is a guest posting of Richard Duncan's latest "Olduvai" update, which is an essay that explores energy use and population and as with previous updates arrives at some rather grim conclusions.

On a side note, the paper Richard Duncan wrote with Walter Youngquist in 1999 (when oil prices were in $10-$15 range and stock markets were at all time highs) predicting a 2007 world oil peak was not only prescient and ahead of its time using oil forecasting heuristics, but was part of the core readings from 2003 that caused me to leave the Wall St path to study resource depletion full time.

(I encourage those who have not done so to read it: Encircling the Peak of World Oil Production).

Figure 5. Toward Re-Equalizing the World Standards of Living

Olduvai Theory: Toward Re-Equalizing the World Standard of Living

By Richard Duncan

“Standard of Living” is often (not always) measured by money spent per head. Economists acknowledge that this is a poor measure of welfare – especially during these times of economic turmoil when fiat money becomes unable to purchase basic necessities (e.g., Zimbabwe, recent food riots).

Since the consumption of energy is the prerequisite for all economic activity, “energy consumption” instead of “money consumption,” is a more accurate long term metric for measuring welfare.


This study is based on: (1) historic population and energy data from 1965 to 2008 and (2) backup studies by several scientists. The Olduvai Theory is explained by disaggregating the World into the U.S., the OECD nations, and the non-OECD nations standards of living (SL). The U.S. SL peaked in 1973 (Figure 1). The World SL rapidly increased from 2000 to 2007 (Figure 2). This increase was caused by just a few non-OECD nations (Figure 3). The OECD SL peaked in 2005 (Figure 4). The Olduvai Theory shows each SL curve trending toward the same average SL value that the World had in 1930 (Figure 5).


The Olduvai Theory (OT) is defined by the rise and fall of the World standard of living (SL). The main population data are from OECD (2008) and the main energy data are from BP (2008). The OT is quantified by dividing World population (P) into World energy consumption (E): SL = E/P. 1

Suddenly however, in June 2008 I was pressed to explain the rapid rise in the World SL from 2000 to 2007. The cause turned out to be the rapid rise of the SL in just a few of the 165 non-OECD (‘underdeveloped’) nations: namely China, India and Brazil. In contrast the SL of the 30 OECD (‘developed’) nations peaked in 2005 and has since declined.

Population and energy data from 1965 to 2007, OECD data for 2008 and early 2009, and OECD projections to 2010 are the basis for a scenario toward re-equalizing the World SL from 2008 to 2030.

Backup studies are referenced, quoted and discussed:

  1. M. King Hubbert presented an Olduvai-like hypothesis to the AAAS Centennial Conference in 1948 and published it in Science in 1949.

  2. Jay W. Forrester in 1971/1973 used feedback modeling to show the likelihood of overshoot and collapse of the World ‘STEP’ system.

  3. Walter Youngquist (advance copy ms. GeoDestinies, 2009) describes the grave problems resulting from U.S. and World population growth coupled to the depletion of Earth resources.

Three Geo/STEP Scientists

This section highlights how a Geophysicist, a Systems Scientist and a Petroleum Geologist viewed/view the past and project the future of Industrial Civilization.

M. King Hubbert (1903-1989)

Geophysicist and Professor Emeritus, Columbia University — gave an invited presentation to the Centennial Conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in 1948 titled “Energy from Fossil Fuels.” In it he sketched and discussed an Olduvai-like scenario. His presentation was published in Science, 1949.

Human Affairs in Time Perspective

The present state of human affairs can best be appreciated in the light of a time perspective, minus and plus, of some tens of thousands of years from the present, as depicted in Fig. 8 [frame #1]. On such a time scale the phenomena we have discussed are represented by abrupt, nearly vertical rises from zero or near zero to maximum values. The consumption of energy from fossil fuels is thus seen to be but a “pip,” rising sharply from zero to a maximum, and almost as sharply declining, and thus representing but a moment in the total human history.

Likewise the consumption of energy per capita [Fig. 8, frame #3}, after having risen very gradually from 2,000 to possibly 10,000 kilogram calories per day, is seen to increase suddenly to a maximum value of several times the highest previous value. Again it is physically possible to maintain a high value, as indicated by Curve I, on a stable basis for an indefinite period of time from current energy sources, particularly direct and indirect solar radiation. It is also possible, however, that through cultural degeneration this curve may decline, as in Curve II, to the subsistence level of our agrarian ancestors. 2

Viewed on such a time scale [Fig. 8, frame #4], the curve of human population would be flat and only slightly above zero for all preceding human history, and then it too would be seen to rise abruptly and almost vertically to a maximum value of several billion. Thereafter, depending largely upon what energy supplies are available, it might stabilize at a maximum value, as in Curve I, or more probably to a lower and more nearly optimum value, as in Curve II. However, should cultural degeneration occur so that the available energy resources should not be utilized, the human population would undoubtedly be reduced to a number appropriate to an agrarian existence, as in Curve III.

These sharp breaks in all the foregoing curves can be ascribed quite definitely, directly or indirectly, to the tapping of the large supplies of energy stored up in the fossil fuels. The release of this energy is a unidirectional and irreversible process. It can only happen once, and the historical events associated with this release are necessarily without precedent, and are intrinsically incapable of repetition.

It is clear, therefore, that our present position on the nearly vertical front slopes of these curves is a precarious one, and that the events which we are witnessing and experiencing, far from being “normal,” are among the most abnormal and anomalous in the history of the World. Yet we cannot turn back; neither can we consolidate our gains and remain where we are. In fact, we have no choice but to proceed into a future, which we may be assured will differ markedly from anything we have experienced thus far.

M. King Hubbert, Science, 1949, p. 103-109


Jay W. Forrester

Electrical Engineer, Computer Scientist and Professor Emeritus, Sloan School of Management, MIT — has a remarkable record of innovations and applications in both hardware and software. This essay focuses on his groundbreaking book, World Dynamics (1971/1973) wherein he uses feedback control theory to model the World STEP system.

The World Situation

Many global attitudes and programs seem to be based on accepting future growth in population as preordained and as the basis for action. But, if we make provision for rising population, population responds by rising. What is to stop the exponential growth? This book describes the circular processes of our social systems in which there is no uni-directional cause and effect. Instead, a ring of actions and consequences close back on themselves. One can say, incompletely, that population will grow and that cities, space, and food must be provided. But one can likewise say, also incompletely, that the provision of cities, space, and food will cause population to grow. Population generates the pressures to support growth of population. But supporting the growth leads to more population. Growth will stop only in the face of enough pressure to suppress the internal dynamic forces of expansion.

Many programs—for example the development of more productive grains and agricultural methods—are spoken of as “buying time” until population control becomes effective. But the process of buying time reduces the pressures that force population control.

Any proposed program for the future must deal with both the quality of life and the factors affecting population. “Raising the quality of life,” means releasing stress, reducing crowding, reducing pollution, alleviating hunger, and treating ill health. But these pressures are exactly the sources of concern and actions that will control total population to keep it within the bounds of the fixed world within we live. If the pressures are relaxed, so is the concern about how we impinge on the environment. Population will then rise further until the pressures reappear with an intensity that can no longer be relieved. Trying to raise quality of life without intentionally creating compensating pressure to prevent a rise in population density will be self-defeating. Efforts to improve quality of life will fail until effective means have been implemented for limiting both population and industrialization.

Without effective legal and psychological control, population grows until stresses rise far enough, which is to say that the quality of life falls far enough, to stop further increase. Everything we do to reduce those pressures cause the population to rise farther and faster and hastens the day when expediencies will no longer suffice. People are in the position of a wild animal running from its pursuers. We still have some space, natural resources, and agricultural land left. We can avoid the question of rising population as long as we can flee into this bountiful reservoir that nature provided. But the reservoir is limited. Exponential growth cannot continue. The wild animal flees until he is cornered, until he has no more space. Then he turns to fight, but he no longer has room to maneuver. He is less able to forestall disaster than if he had fought in the open while there was still room to yield and to dodge. The world is running away from its long-term threats by trying to relieve social pressures as they arise. But, if we persist in treating only the symptoms and not the causes, the result will be to increase the magnitude of the ultimate threat and reduce our capability to respond when we no longer have more space and resources to invade.

What does this mean? Instead of automatically attempting to cope with population growth, national and international efforts to relieve the pressures of excess growth must be reexamined. Many such humanitarian impulses seem to be making matters worse in the long run. Rising pressures are necessary to hasten the day when population is stabilized. Pressures can be increased by reducing food production, reducing health services, and reducing industrialization. Such reductions seem to have only slight effect on quality of life in the long run. The principal effect will be in squeezing down and stopping the runaway growth. …

The long-term future of the earth must be faced soon as a guide for present action. Goals of nations and societies must be altered to become compatible with that future, otherwise man remains out of balance with his environment. Man can do vast damage first, but eventually he will yield to the mounting forces of the environment. Can the traditions of civilization be altered to become compatible with global equilibrium?

Jay W. Forrester, World Dynamics, 1973, p. 123-125


Walter Youngquist

Geologist, draws from his experience in living and working abroad, and travels in some 70 countries to observe the vital relationship of population to available Earth resources. He is particularly concerned about continuing population growth against declining both nonrenewable and renewable resource bases—fertile soil and fresh water being examples of the latter.

Selections from the Introduction, ms. advance copy

We are relative latecomers on the scene, and the Earth existed for several billion years very well without us. But with our arrival and our development of culture to the technological age in which we now live, in a very brief time we have had an impact on the Earth beyond what any other organism has ever had. We therefore live in a unique, and what is likely to be a very brief time in human history. Some of us have been very fortunate to live in these times near or at the top of the pyramid of technological and medical advances. But we are at the same time living at a great turning point in Earth and human history.

It is apparent that current political, economic, and social efforts are to keep things as they are—not to change. People in developed countries do not like changes in their lifestyles … if they believe they are good now. But changes come and are unavoidable. …

As much as the future changed during less than in my lifetime, the future of most of those reading this book will surely be equally or more changed from what is the present. Successfully adjusting to a different future from what has been enjoyed by at least some the past few hundred years is the challenge lying now directly ahead. …

In earlier centuries, with many fewer people, these Earth resources were exploited only very slowly and in minor amounts. But within the past few hundred years, with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution … the rate and volume of resource exploitation has greatly increased, … It was the use of these resources that has been the base for the rise of our present civilization, allowing some segments of society to achieve, … a standard of living never before imagined.

Accompanying this rise in standard of living has been a huge increase in population, from an estimated 610 million in 1700 to the current approximately 6.7 billion. This has been a truly astounding event made possible chiefly by three factors: great medical advances including sanitation, the widespread use of high energy density fossil fuels, and the use of these fossil fuels to greatly enhance agricultural production …

[It] is the huge rise in population and related increased Earth resource consumption … that is probably the salient fact of these truly remarkable recent few centuries. …

But these materials … can be extracted and used only once. … Can we continue to maintain the present high standard of living for some of us, by using truly renewable Earth resources … instead of an inheritance from the past? …

Much of the discussion in the following chapters is related to stress on Earth mineral and energy resources, and stress on the environment from population growth. Equally and perhaps more important … are social stresses resulting in part from depletion of resources, such as water supplies and fertile soils … and resulting food shortages causing riots. Also population is growing … faster than are jobs. … Until recently, the outlet for stress from a growing population was migration … but this outlet no longer exists. …

Even the United States, the United Kingdom, and European countries may show stress in several ways including generally rising unemployment, and antagonism toward immigrant labor …

One fact is abundantly clear: we have already exceeded the permanent carrying capacity of the Earth, and the number one problem is to reduce population in an orderly fashion to fit into the new renewable resources paradigm. …

[Nearly] all governmental leaders worldwide are committed to keeping and expanding the present agendas of resource consumption … with the rallying cry of “sustainable economic growth.” The underlying basic problem of population growth is rarely addressed—absent from most political agendas as being “politically incorrect.” …

[Growth] based upon continuing to exploit the finite resources of the Earth is not possible. Yet this is the current basis of the world’s developing and developed economies. … We need to be as self-sufficient, dependent on resources from local economies … for this has to be a part of any sustainable future. …

History is informative and gives us a perspective on how we came to where we are today. But it is the future in which you will live and the future is “not what it used to be.” But it is now arriving … bringing with it more than 190,000 people each day to live on depleting resources. …

It is the purpose of this volume to provide a perspective on the past, but more importantly provide a possible and hopefully a fairly realistic view of what the future may hold. … [Namely] that on this finite Earth high consuming societies are eventually going to be relegated to being an artifact of history. …

Our modern, developed societies tend to be removed, by their present degree of affluence, from the environment as the basis for our existence. Food comes from the supermarket, clean water comes from the faucet. But the closer people live to the margin of existence, the more they realize the vital importance of fertile soil, and safe drinking water, …

How we try to navigate the choppy waters to the future, will determine to a large extent when and in what condition we will arrive to the new land of sustainable renewable Earth resources. … The continued almost inevitable growth of population … against the depletion of Earth resources combine to form the main challenge before us. …

Those who will be living at the end of this century will see much of this land of the future come into view, but even there and then as now, Earth resources will continue to be the base for human existence and will inevitably exert final control over the destinies of nations and individuals. We are made of Earth materials, and its biological products, and on these we survive. To continue to negatively impact our environment is a form of suicide. “Mother Earth” is not an abstract concept but very much a reality, for from Earth we came, on it we depend for our existence. …

Walter Youngquist, ms. advance copy GeoDestinies, 2009


The American Example

Obvious Responses Will Not Suffice

The dynamic characteristics of complex social systems frequently mislead people. … [Urban policies for example] are being followed on the presumption that they will alleviate the difficulties. … In fact, a downward spiral develops in which the presumed solution makes the difficulty worse and thereby causes redoubling of the presumed solution so that matters become still worse.

The same downward spiral frequently develops in national government and at the level of world affairs. Judgment and debate lead to programs that appear to be sound. Commitment increases to the apparent solutions. If the presumed solutions actually make matters worse, the process by which this happens is not evident. So, when the troubles increase, the efforts are intensified that are actually worsening the problems.

Jay W. Forrester, 1973, p. 93-94

Figure 1 shows the U.S. standard of living (SL) during 37 years.

Figure 1 shows the U.S. standard of living (SL) during 37 years.

Evidence in Figure 1 shows that the U.S. SL grew dramatically from 1965 to its all-time peak in 1973. Then, after an erratic 21 years, it went into an accelerated decline from 2000 to 2007. Moreover, recent data show that the decline accelerated in 2008 and into 2009. Details follow.

Growth–Peak–Decline: From 1965 to 1973 the U.S. SL surged reaching its all time peak in 1973. This was followed by a dip-and-rebound from 1973 to 1979. Then from 1979 to 1983 came a precipitous plunge wherein the U.S. SL fell by 14.5% (8.92 boe/c) in 4 years. A rough recovery came from 1983 to a high in 2000. Then from 2000 to 2007 the U.S. SL declined by 4.1% (2.46 boe/c) in 7 years.

Historical correlations: The U.S. SL grew swiftly during low energy prices from 1965 to 1973. Then in 1973-74 – correlated with an Arab-Israeli war – several OPEC nations banded together and refused to export oil to the U.S. Next in 1979 came the fall of the Shaw of Iran – reputedly a ‘puppet’ of the U.S. – accompanied by a steep rise in the price of oil and a plunge in the U.S. SL from 1979 to 1983. This was followed by an erratic struggle wherein the U.S. SL reached a brief high in 2000. Then, beginning with the Dot.com bust, came the ominous decline from 2000 to 2007.

U.S. population vs. energy: The U.S. population grew from 211,909,000 in 1973 to 301,104,000 in 2007 — an increase of 42.1% or 89,231,000 people in 34 years. At the same time U.S. energy consumption lagged at 31.6%. The net result was that the U.S. SL fell by 7.4% from 1973 to 2007. 3


The United States annually takes in more immigrants than do all other nations combined. Somalians now live in Minnesota. Sudanese live in Kentucky. Medicaid is received by 14.8 percent of households headed by Americans, and 24.2 percent by households headed by immigrants. Many compassionate Americans feel that it is our duty to take in more and more immigrants. However, at the current rate of approximately 2.5 million a year, this accounts for only 3 percent of the 80 million people added to world population annually. The United States cannot continue to act as a safety valve for even a small portion of world population growth. Very near the U. S., Haiti has 9 million people living in an area smaller than Malheur County Oregon. Haiti is on international food welfare. We ship food to Haiti, which simply results in more Haitians to whom to ship food next year. More than 27 countries now exhibit this same circumstance. Population is a homegrown problem, and it must be recognized and solved at home, without exporting it. “There is nothing more dangerous than a shallow-thinking compassionate person.” – Garrett Hardin.

Youngquist, ms. advance copy GeoDestinies, 2009, Ch. 20

The Olduvai Theory: Background

The fifth revolution will come when we have spent the stores of coal and oil that have been accumulating in the earth during hundreds of millions of years … it is obvious that there will be a very great difference in ways of life … a man has to alter his way of life considerably, when, after living for years on his capital, he suddenly finds he has to earn any money he wants to spend … This change may justly be called a revolution, but it differs from all the preceding ones in that there is no likelihood of its leading to increases of population, but even perhaps to the reverse.

Charles Galton Darwin, 1953, p. 52

The similarities and differences in the shape of the Olduvai/World curve in Figure 2 are compared to the shape of the U.S. curve (Figure 1, previous) as an aid to understanding both.

Figure 2. Olduvai/World Average Standard of Living

Note well Figure 2 vis-à-vis Figure 1: (1) Both the World SL and the U.S. SL grew strongly from 1965 to 1973: 27.8% for the World SL and 28.2% for the U.S. SL. (2) Compare the ups and downs in each curve from 1979 to 2000 wherein there was a net decline in each curve: 1.9% decline in Figure 2 and 2.8% decline in Figure 1. (3) In contrast – the two curves differ markedly from 2000 to 2007: the World SL increased by a strong 9.7% while the U.S. SL decreased by 4.1%.

The strong correlation between the Olduvai/World SL and the U.S. SL from 1965 to 2000 is evidence that the same events must have influenced both curves during these 35 years. So we ask, “What likely caused the noted difference between the two curves from 2000 to 2007?” This question is discussed and answered in the next two sections. 4


There is coming this century, in places, already here, an inevitable collision between resources available on a finite Earth and rising population demands from both growth and hopes for a more affluent existence.

Youngquist, ms. advance copy GeoDestinies, 2009, Ch. 33

In 1972 the presidential appointed Rockefeller Commission was to examine the future well being of the United States. At that time the U. S. population was approximately 207 million, and the Commission reported they could see no advantage in having more people. But in 2009 the U. S. had 307 million and still growing.

Albert Bartlett has stated: “Can you think of any problem, on any scale from microscopic to global, whose long-term solution is in any demonstrable way, aided, assisted, or advanced by having larger populations at the local level, the state level, the national level, or globally?”

Looking inevitably toward a renewable resource-based future, present population has already exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth, but by 2050 another 2.5 billion are projected to be here. The worldwide number one problem is population, for, as is the motto of one environmental group “Whatever your cause is, it is lost without population control.”

Youngquist, ms. advance copy GeoDestinies, 2009, Ch. 20


OECD Composite Leading Indicators reach new low

The OECD composite leading indicators (CLIs) for January 2009 continue to point to a weakening outlook for all the major seven economies, with the OECD total falling again to a new low and little clear indication of stabilizing soon. The outlook has also continued to deteriorate in the major non-OECD member economies …

The CLI for the OECD area in January … was 9.1 points lower than in January 2008. The CLI for the United States in January … was 10.8 points lower than a year ago. …

The CLI for China in January 2009 … was 14.8 points lower than a year ago. The CLI for India in January … was 9.6 points lower than in January 2008. The CLI for Russia … was 19.4 points lower than a year ago. In January 2009 the CLI for Brazil … was 10.1 points lower than a year ago.

OECD (2009b)

By most accounts there are 195 nations (countries) in the World. The OECD comprises the 30 ‘developed’ nations and the non-OECD comprises the 165 ‘underdeveloped’ nations. For example, the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and Japan are OECD nations. In contrast China, India, Russia, Brazil and Ethiopia are non-OECD nations. The Olduvai/World curve comprises both the OECD nations and the non-OECD nations.

Figure 3 depicts the Olduvai/World data disaggregated into one curve for the OECD nations a second curve for the non-OECD nations.

Figure 3. OECD SL and non-OECD SL Compared

The OECD document (2009b, above) and Figure 3, taken together; reveal several significant facts to explain the recent upshot of the Olduvai/World curve (Figure 2, previous): (1) The OECD SL curve from 2000 to 2007 decreased by 0.8% (0.27 boe/c). (2) The non-OECD SL curve increased by 28.1% (1.62 boe/c). Thus the rapid rise in the Olduvai/World curve from 2000 to 2007 was entirely caused by growth in the non-OECD SL and none of it caused by the OECD SL. (3) The OECD SL reached an all-time maximum in 2005. (4) Then from 2005 to 2007 it decreased by 0.8% (0.30 boe/c). (5) Further, the entire OECD SL fell by 9.1 CLI points during 2008.


“Growth” — A reaffirmed global objective

[In] response to the global economic meltdown, the G-20 was formed consisting of the leaders of the 20 biggest, richest, and emerging economies. A summary statement of their objectives was released and printed in full in … November 16, 2008. One of the clearly stated objectives was to “restore global growth,” to enhance “economic growth,” and foster “sustainable growth.” In total, the term “growth” in various contexts appears nine times.

An additional objective is “to stimulate domestic demand …” In all uses of the term “growth” the G-20 group meant it ultimately in terms of material things. It is clear the fact that “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron … Continued growth in use of both nonrenewable and renewable natural resources is the problem, not the solution. …”

We are already exploiting the Earth’s vital resources at an unsustainable rate. Demand is exceeding resource supplies to the extent that even now more than half the world is in poverty. Standard of living … is most easily measured by per capita consumption of energy. In the United States this peak was in 1973, and now going down quite rapidly. Whatever gains may have been accomplished by the laudable efforts of efficiency and conservation … have been more than cancelled by increase in population, suggested also by the fact that the U. S. is the only industrialized nation with a significant growth in population, now about three million per year. … Nationally, 80% is due to immigration, in California, nearly 100%, where by 2030 20 million more people are expected to arrive adding to the 38 million there now.

Youngquist, advance ms. copy GeoDestinies, 2009, Ch. 33

Focus on OECD Standard of Living

GDP to plummet 4.3 percent across OECD countries in 2009 as unemployment climbs sharply

Economic activity is expected to plummet by an average 4.3 percent in the OECD area in 2009 while by the end of 2010 unemployment rates in many countries will reach double figures … Amid the deepest and most widespread recession for more than 50 years, international trade is forecast to fall by more than 13 percent in 2009 and world economic activity to shrink by 2.7 percent. … In the United States, activity will fall sharply in the near term, but the country could begin to pull out of the recession in early 2010, assuming the effectiveness of the strong stimulus packages and more stable financial and housing markets. … In the large emerging economies activity is slowing as access to international credit dries up, commodity prices fall and export demand weakens. … The Interim Outlook adds that the risks of an even gloomier scenario outweigh the possibility of a quicker recovery. …

OECD (2009a)

Figure 4. The OECD SL: Peak Revealed

Figure 4 focuses on OECD data from 1992 to 2007. Four key facts emerge: (1) The OECD SL grew by a remarkable 8.6% (2.77 boe/c) from 1992 to its all time maximum in 2005. (2) Then it declined by 0.8% (0.30 boe/c) from 2005 to 2007. (3) Economic activity in the OECD area is expected to plummet by an average 4.3 percent in 2009. (4) The U.S. is the largest economy in the OECD, passed its peak SL in 1973 and its SL has since declined. These facts mean that the OECD maximum in 2005 will, I assume, be the all-time OECD SL peak.


Increasingly, from across the globe, nightly television brings to our living rooms photos of malnourished people, particularly touching are the starving children. Advanced countries can provide the means and the knowledge for a given country to adjust its population to its sustainable food resource base, but implementation of that action becomes an individual responsibility, and collectively a national responsibility. Thus far this most fundamental of all humanity’s problems is consistently ignored by all—or nearly all—public officials everywhere. It has never, to my knowledge, become part of any political platform or a politician’s agenda seeking office or one seeking to remain in office. All of the above also relates to the United States.

The number one, most important factor in all of this is current size of population and above all, continued population growth. But this overriding consideration is never recognized. The word “population” does not appear anywhere in the G-20 statement. If this document represents the forward “thinking” of the world leaders of the biggest and richest economies, we are in very deep trouble.”

Youngquist, ms. advance copy GeoDestinies, 2009, Ch. 20

Toward Re-Equalizing the World Standard of Living

The real issues, I believe, rest on the impossibility of a long-term favorable future for the human species if different parts of the Earth remain in grossly different stages of development. On a long-term basis it simply is not possible to contemplate a life of prosperity and luxury in a few favorable cases on the Earth existing permanently alongside poverty and starvation everywhere else. Sooner or later, standards of living work themselves to a pretty constant level, like water finding its own level.

Sir Fred Hoyle, 1964, p. 54-55

Figure 5 depicts four curves, one for each SL category we’ve discussed.

Figure 5. Toward Re-Equalizing the World SL

The vertical scale of Figure 5 goes from 0.0 boe/c to 64.0 boe/c to accommodate all of the SL curves previously shown. Historic data appear from 1990 to 2007 and – along with other data and many references – provide the basis for the Olduvai scenario shown from 2008 to 2030. 5

In Figure 5 the U.S. curve (#4) in 2007 represents 4.5% (0.301 billion) of World population and had a SL of 57.5 boe/c. In contrast, the non-OECD curve (#1) in 2007 represents 82.3% of World population and had a SL of 7.4 boe/c. This difference cannot last for long. The following scenario projects how “Mother Nature” will resolve this problem. 6

The Olduvai Scenario: The U.S. SL plunges (curve 4); the OECD SL dives (curve 2); the non-OECD SL levels off and then sinks (curve 1); the Olduvai SL (curve #2) peaks in 2010 7 and then declines to a scant 3.53 boe/c in 2030. That SL for the World in 2030 will equal the same SL the World had in 1930 – thus giving Industrial Civilization a “pip” of 100 years. In other words: The falling World SL will eventually limit both World population growth and industrialization.


Population now has grown beyond the former abundance of relatively inexpensive basic resources. As costs of the necessities of life rise, strains are appearing across the world. Even in what has been called "the richest nation" the United States the fabric of everyday life is coming under stress. With the addition each year of three million people, the stress can only increase. One can begin to feel a growing uneasiness about the future, both here and abroad. There is good cause for unease, with world population increasing at the rate of more than 80 million a year continuing the assault on the life-sustaining environment.

Youngquist, ms. advance copy GeoDestinies, 2009, Ch. 20

The irreconcilable current trends of a growing population and declining supporting resources seem not yet to be recognized at any levels of political leadership. However, these two facts will collide head-on this century. At best, this will result in a halt to population growth. At worst it could be chaos. The ability of the Industrial Revolution and related technologies to find and exploit the Earth’s resources at an unsustainable rate for a fortunate relatively few societies, by its very success carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. We inevitably face a future of less. However, bringing this message to the developed and developing world’s citizens is not being done. Discussion of this topic and population growth unfortunately remains politically incorrect. Economists and political leaders nearly everywhere continue to endorse the illusion that more people consuming more resources (“buy more”—“increase demand”) is the road to permanent prosperity, whereas now the exact opposite is true.

Youngquist, ms. advance copy GeoDestinies, 2009, Ch. 20


The average U.S. standard of living (SL, Fig. 1) peaked in 1973; from 1973 to 2007 it decreased by 7.4%; the U.S. composite leading indicator (CLI) in January 2009 was 10.8 points lower than in January 2008. Conclusion 1: The U.S. SL will continue falling long into the future.

The Olduvai/World SL (Fig. 2) reached a temporary high in 1979; from 1979 to 2000 it decreased by 1.9%; however from 2000 to 2007 it increased by 9.7%; the increase was entirely caused by increases in a few non-OECD nations. Conclusion 2: The World SL itself will soon begin to decline.

The OECD SL (Figs. 3 & 4) reached its peak in 2005; from 2005 to 2007 it decreased by 0.8%; its “CLI was 9.1 points lower in January 2009 than in January 2008; economic activity is expected to plummet by an average 4.3 percent in the OECD area in 2009 and by the end of 2010 unemployment rates in many OECD countries will reach double figures.” Conclusion 3: The OECD SL will continue to fall.

The non-OECD SL (Fig. 3) increased by 28.0% from 2000 to 2007 and this caused the rapid rise in the Olduvai/World SL during those years (Fig. 2). However, “In the large emerging economies activity is slowing as access to international credit dries up, commodity prices fall and export demand weakens.” Further: The CLIs for China, India and Brazil all fell sharply in 2008. Conclusion 4: The non-OECD SL has already begun to fall.

The Olduvai Scenario (Fig. 5): The U.S. SL falls by 90% from 2008 to 2030. The OECD SL falls by 86%. The non-OECD falls by 60%. The OECD SL melds with the non-OECD SL in 2030 putting the World SL at 3.53 boe/c in 2030. Conclusion 5: The World SL reaches the same value in 2030 that it had in 1930, giving Industrial Civilization a duration of 100 years.

Projections regarding the United States: (1) We will refuse to solve our own problems so Mother Nature will “solve” them for us. (2) Sooner or later industrial decline will cause population decline and, tit-for-tat feedback, population decline will cause industrial decline. (3) The U.S. population distribution in 2100 will look more like the rural geography of 1900 than like the urban geography of today. (4) Trying to stimulate – or even maintain – the present level of domestic demand of nonrenewable and renewable Earth resources will fail. (5) Multiculturalism will cause chaos during the transition to localism.


Dr. Walter Youngquist and Dr. Colin J. Campbell have shared their keen insights over many years. John Gibbons, publisher of http://www.thinkorswim.ie/ motivated this study just as the world economy imploded. Dr. Euan Mearns has demonstrated an astute and useful way to analyze oil forecasts.


1. G means billion. 2. boe refers to the average energy content of a barrel of oil. 3. E means energy consumption in G boe. 4. P means population in G. 5. Standard of Living (SL) is the ratio of E and P: SL = E/P. 6. Geo/STEP refers to complex Geo/social-technical-economic-political systems. 7. Scenario means, “An outline for any proposed or planned series of events, real or imagined.”

End Notes

1. This is Ackerman’s Law, discussed in Duncan, 2005-2006, p. 2-3.

2. M. King Hubbert in 1949 projected that the duration of Industrial Civilization would be more than 1,000 years, some ten times that of the Olduvai Theory.

3. “Re-equalization of living standards: It will be a long slow process but I think the trend will be there this century. You might note also that immigration tends to do the same thing – people migrate out of resource scarce poor countries to countries with more resources – the migrants use more resources and this cuts down total available for all. The USA is a good example. People use energy – more people use more energy, and if there is not enough to go around at low cost, everybody sees a cut in living standards. So migration is a factor in equalization of living standards.” (Walter Youngquist, letter, 8/28/08)

4. The noted Olduvai cartoon (Duncan 1996) can be viewed at here

5. “The expanding economy of the First Half of the Age of Oil led to increasing globalization based on growing world trade and financial hegemony by powerful countries. But the Second Half will likely see reversion to localism as different communities come to terms with the changed circumstances and find new sustainable patterns of life to match the resources available to them.” (Colin J. Campbell, 2009, p. 4)

6. “Forcible imposition of population control would be seen by most people as a sufficiently unfavorable change in the social environment that they might prefer that the forces take the tangible forms of lowered material standard of living and reduced food supply.” (Jay W. Forrester, 1973, p. 122)

7. Latest data at this writing suggest that the OT Peak actually occurred in 2008, but it was then too late to change Figure 5 and the associated text.



Ackerman, F. L. (1932). The technologist looks at social phenomena. In Introduction to Technocracy by Howard Scott (1933). John Day Co., NY.

BP (2008). British Petroleum Statistical Review of World Energy www.bp.com.

Campbell, C. J. (2009). ASPO Newsletter No. 100. April: www.aspo-ireland.org/contentFiles/newsletterPDFs/newsletter100_200904.pdf.

Darwin, C. G. (1953). The Next Million Years. Doubleday. Garden City, NY.

Duncan, R. C. (2005-2006). The Olduvai Theory: Energy, Population, and Industrial Civilization. Winter. www.thesocialcontract.com.

Duncan, R. C. (1996). The Olduvai cartoon is shown at: www.hubbertpeak.com/duncan/olduvai.htm.

Forrester, J. W. (1971/1973). World Dynamics. Wright-Allen Press. Cambridge, MA. http://sysdyn.clexchange.org/people/jay-forrester.html.

Hoyle, F. (1964). Of Men and Galaxies. University of Washington. Seattle.

Hubbert, M. K. (1949). Energy from Fossil Fuels. Science, v. 109, p. 103-109. www.eoearth.org/article/Energy_from_Fossil_Fuels (historical).

OECD (2009a). GDP to plummet 4.3 percent across OECD countries in 2009 as unemployment climbs sharply. 31 March. www.oecd.org.

OECD (2009b), OECD Composite Leading Indicators reach new low. 6 March. www.oecd.org.

OECD (2008). Factbook: Economic, Environmental and Social Statistics. Total Population Table (.xls). www.oecd.org.

Youngquist, W. (2009). GeoDestinies, 2nd Edition, Forthcoming: National Book Company, Portland, OR.

A few personal comments:

I actually met Rich Duncan during an Ecological Economics conference in 2005 in Seattle - I perceived him to be highly energetic, passionate about the oil modeling process and deeply concerned about the future.

I expect many will question his equating energy consumption with standard of living, as it sweeps aside the issue of energy quality and ignores technological improvements (which battle depletion). But it is an interesting perspective as energy, of the quality a civilization comes to depend on, and at a flow rate that continues social momentum (growth), ultimately underpins everything. The conclusion he didn't explicitly draw is that a fiat (belief based) system can temporarily replace real energy growth - the implication being that intact fiat systems borrow from future energy based standards of living creating phantom SL increases that retreat under eventual steep decline curves.

Anecdotally, the 1973 peak in US energy consumption per capita (which can partially be explained by reduction in energy intensity of GDP due to offsourcing heavy industry overseas), is tightly,a nd perhaps not randomly, timed with a)1970 US oil peak, b)1971 cessation of resource backed world currencies (Bretton Woods), c)1973 all time peak in US real wages d)1974 all time peak in US personal savings rateand e)beginning of long term acceleration of debt/credit, both publicly and privately.

I never understood the prima facie reason that industrial civilization would have a lifetime of 100 years (why not 90 or 110?), but Rich Duncans historical efforts in writing and analyzing this topic (much like Jay Hanson, Colin Campbell and others before) predate my own awareness of the topic. I now perceive Duncan's Olduvai view is one of many possible future trajectories for the next 30+ years, perhaps not the most likely, but one probably with double digit odds ...

Nate -

I was about to say more or less the same thing re equating global per capita energy consumption with standard of living. This ratio consisting of total energy consumption divided by total population is useful in many regards, but I hardly think it deserves to be called 'Standard of Living', as that term by now means different things to different people and has all sort of other connotations, many of which have little or nothing to do with energy consumption.

Let's see if I get this right: by the author's definition of standard of living, if I trade in my gas-guzzler for a Prius and super-insulate my house such that my total annual energy consumption is cut in half, then by definition I would be cutting my standard of living in half. Right?

I think perhaps the author may have gotten cause and effect backwards. In many instances, energy consumption increases with standard of living and not the other way around. For example, if I am fortunate enough to get a multi-million dollar bonus while working at Goldman Sachs and use it buy a 120-ft yacht with twin 2,000-hp turbo diesels and three hot tubs, my personal energy consumption will have increased several fold, but that in itself did not cause my standard of living to increase several-fold. No, in this case it was the extra money that caused the extra energy to be expended and not vice versa.

I think I see what the authors are driving at, and I would agree that there will probably be some convergence in per capita energy consumption, with the aggregate steadily dropping in the coming years. But I also think this assumption that energy consumption equals standard of living is a fundamental flaw that casts some doubt on the entire analysis.

Addendum: Another thing that is very likely causing per capita energy consumption to show signs of converging toward some downward trend, is that energy consumption in the industrial sector has increasingly been dispersed due to globalization, particularly regarding the US vis-a-vis China. An energy-intensive product manufactured in China and imported to the US causes the US per capita energy consumption to appear to decrease while causing China's to appear to increase. This is merely a displacement effect, or an accounting artifact if you will, and has virtually no effect on what we normally think of as standard of living.

Even if we don't want to equate per capita energy with standard of living, I think there is some validity to what Duncan is looking at. It clearly doesn't equate with happiness, but it does measure something of importance--how much of the earth's resources we are using each year.

Reducing the use of earth's resources is tricky. Clearly, there are many, even in the "developed" countries, who are barely getting along now. Think of all of those who are unemployed, or have minimum wage jobs now. A reduction in energy usage needs somehow to leave even the poor with enough--otherwise there is starvation and homelessness.

Once energy inefficiencies are wrung out by rising prices,the energy consumption/living standard model looks as if it will hold up just fine to me.Prices are already much higher in Europe and no one should be suprised that they are therefore much more energy efficient than we are here in the states.

Furthermore historical development patterns well established in Europe before the arrival of the automobile probably play a significant part in this debate-any world travelers on the Drum tonight can elaborate.

And of course there is no reason to think that we can't raise energy efficieny levels substantially by reorganizing-shipping by rail instead of truck,etc-and by improving- getting Prius mileage out of all our cars,tec.

But the CORRELATION WILL STILL BE VERY VERY STRONG and I am frankly amazed that so many regulars here don't seem to realize this obvious fact.Maybe every body is more interested tonite in playing gotcha.Lots of good metrics need "calibrating" from time to time.

My apple production is very well correlated ,on average, with my diesel consumption,but my diesel consumption per bushel is gradually falling.

Take away my diesel and my apple production will plummet.So will all the living standards every body seems to think are not correlated with energy consumption.

After most of the ineficiences go away, energy use per capta may become a good heuristic. Yep, it is good enough for analising the EU, or the South America, or Asia. Yet, it isn't good enough to apply into the entire world today.

Maybe after energy becomes more expensive, it will be good enough for comparing very different countries. Today it isn't.

Let's see if I get this right: by the author's definition of standard of living, if I trade in my gas-guzzler for a Prius and super-insulate my house such that my total annual energy consumption is cut in half, then by definition I would be cutting my standard of living in half. Right?

On average over the entire population, and with a time lag, yes. Because the author is not talking about a one-time event. Real energy prices will double every so many years, so the Prius and insulation are only the first step. As an ever-increasing portion of your income goes into "basic" goods and services -- shelter, transportation, food, water -- less goes into other things and the standard of living decreases. There is at least a plausible case for a downward spiral: can we invest in efficiency and new energy sources fast enough to offset the rising cost of available energy? I am personally inclined to believe, and am working on a more formal model, that capital will be the limiting factor, and that results may vary widely from region to region.

mcain6925 -

Well, I would agree that if energy prices go up faster than your personal energy consumption goes down, then you are financially worse off than when you started, all other things being equal. I never said we were not on a downward spiral, as I think we definitely are, the only thing in contention being how steep that spiral is.

However, that does not appear to be what the authors of the article are talking about, as the only thing they seem to think matters is this global per capita energy consumption as some sort of a surrogate for standard of living, and that's where I (and apparently a lot of other TODers) think the authors' premise is flawed. I say call this per capita energy consumption something else, but don't call it 'standard of living'.

I also tend to agree that availability of capital (real capital, not the stuff willed into being by the Fed) could very well constitute the limiting factor as to whether or not we will be able to keep things from coming apart at the seams.

Fundamentally, they're referring to something like this:

that relates per-capita GDP and per-capita energy consumption. GDP is not the only thing that goes into standard of living, of course, but there's a relationship. Certainly no one will assert that the average standard of living in the US (the largish circle at the upper right end of the regression line) and the average standard of living in India and China (the two very large circles down and to the left) are comparable. That there are no national economies occupying the upper left portion of this particular space suggests no one knows how to operate a high-GDP economy without high energy consumption (including Japan, which has been fairly fanatical about this for 70 years). Similarly, that there are none occupying the lower right portion suggests no nation has managed to have high energy consumption without correspondingly high GDP.

For the record, I believe that I used 2004 data when I put this together. Data from The Economist's annual world statistics booklet.

I agree, just like the results are different now for different countries.I can visualize the overall trend over time based on the graphs.One country might have an increase while two countries will have a decrease to produce an overall trend downwards.The NEED for basic services will always be there, so I dont see a change downward very much in the developed countries. It will be the NEED for basic services in the developing world as it is now.
Some basic goods and services can be adjusted based on an increasing allotment of income. Housing and transportation can be adjusted with the increasing allotment. Just look at last year, the truck market went into the crapper because of fuel prices. People wanted smaller more fuel efficient vehicles. People could move to smaller houses in an attempt to lower heating bills, property taxes, and the amount of crap that we can accumulate in a larger house(which might not be the most comfortable but can have an impact). Food and Water-that is the tough part. We obviously NEED those two just for basic survival. As those prices become a larger portion of income there are two choices: 1)Eat less, 2)Consume the same amount which will be offset by the lower housing and vehicle costs. But each scenario in and of itself does not solve the end problem--Sustainability.

Let's see if I get this right: by the author's definition of standard of living, if I trade in my gas-guzzler for a Prius and super-insulate my house such that my total annual energy consumption is cut in half, then by definition I would be cutting my standard of living in half.?

Joule, you can find anecdotal exceptions for ever case. But yes, on average, around the world, the standard of living can be measured by the per capita consumption of external energy. That is, the more energy available to the individual, the higher their standard of living. Again this is on average! Because I am sure you can name a few exceptions to this general rule.

Ron P.

I disagree with this perspective but probably a good % of the disagreement in this discussion is that Standard of Living in Duncans essay was defined in energy terms and not in the 'psychic satisfaction' terms we are commonly used to. I'd argue that in the end, having a higher or equal standard of living (satisfaction) with lower energy consumption will be the ultimate question/problem. We don't NEED all this energy/stuff to be happy, etc.

No, we don't need it. That's like saying growth can be defined by an improving "quality of life". Sadly, most people don't define it that way or understand it that way. You're into a definitional problem here, Nate. I suggest that any common way one might measure quality of life will correlate with energy usage.

State how "quality of life" is measured. And then tell me if it gets you more mates.

cfm in Gray, ME

As Dryki pointed out and I stated above, these things you are taking issue with are implicit in the model. How can they not be? The spareness of the model itself - and I found my self asking for more support and exposition as I read it - must be construed to include these considerations many of you are claiming aren't there. This is extremely flawed logic on your parts, imo.


RE: "Standard of Living"

Any time you try to re-define a term, especially one in common usage and well-understood in its original context, you are asking for trouble.

Perhaps it would have been better if an alternative term were coined. I see no problem with a simple reference to "Per capita energy consumption", which is, after all, what the metric really is.

While we can quibble that per capita energy consumption does not necessarilly correlate with the level of wealth or income of an individual, on an aggregate level there is undeniably some correlation; r does not equal 1.00, but neither does it equal zero.

Let's see if I get this right: by the author's definition of standard of living, if I trade in my gas-guzzler for a Prius and super-insulate my house such that my total annual energy consumption is cut in half, then by definition I would be cutting my standard of living in half. Right?

I think perhaps the author may have gotten cause and effect backwards.

You appear to be misunderstanding the paper.

1. The paper is discussing society, not individuals. Any system will have huge divergences between any given single data point within an aggregate mean or average.

2. He wrote more accurate long term measure. Your scale days (Prius/no Prius) vs. years and decades is in error.

In many instances, energy consumption increases with standard of living and not the other way around.

Again, individual scale, but still incorrect. Without the energy, your SL will not go up significantly long term.

But I also think this assumption that energy consumption equals standard of living is a fundamental flaw that casts some doubt on the entire analysis.

Not at all. You are missing the implicit assumption of the world/SL as it is vs. what it might be. People's perception now is that having a farmstead in a tightly knit community where your energy demands are lowered, but met, is a lower standard of living than living in a mini-McMansion with access to the mall and supermarket. Perhaps the author should have made this explicit, but it seems completely obvious within the context.

Perhaps my perceptions of the author's thoughts are wrong...

An energy-intensive product manufactured in China and imported to the US causes the US per capita energy consumption to appear to decrease while causing China's to appear to increase. This is merely a displacement effect, or an accounting artifact if you will, and has virtually no effect on what we normally think of as standard of living.

Again, this is short-term thinking. In the long-term outsourcing manufacturing has led to a weaker economy, lowered purchasing power and, now, lowered SL as the economy crashes through the floor and the means of stabilization - producing real goods to sell - simply doesn't exist.


People's perception now is that having a farmstead in a tightly knit community where your energy demands are lowered, but met, is a lower standard of living than living in a mini-McMansion with access to the mall and supermarket.

Certainly the low energy homestead is a lower "standard of living" by current standards. Current standards tell us the more we waste/consume the better.

Another factor in the per capita decline in US energy consumption may have been changes in the automobile industry. During the 70's engines were not designed to run on lead free gasoline. They had to be re-engineered over a period of time. The Ford station wagon that I drove in the early 70's got about 10 mpg. Vehicles were large, the Cadillac engine being around 8 liters as I recall. As a result of the energy problems of the 70's automobiles were downsized and engines were improved. Should a move from a 5000 lb car to a 4000 lb car be considered a reduction of ones standard of living? Later of course there were minivans and then the SUV craze. But with engine improvements mileage in these large vehicles was still better than many of the sedans of the early 70's.


First, thank you.

I think that the three quotes at the start of this as the crux of the it. The Standards of Living thing is a side issue, Timetables are in essence a side issue. You can't argue with the progression of Resource extraction and Population growth.

Our children will have a different world than the last 50 years. Period. The Easy Motoring, All you can Eat reality that many of us in the west have enjoyed and thought of as "Normal" was but a temporary and fleeting timeperiod.

First up, TOD should not publish articles by white supremacists with genocidal ideas. I don't care if he says, "two and two make four", no publicity should be given to racists.

I expect many will question his equating energy consumption with standard of living, as it sweeps aside the issue of energy quality and ignores technological improvements (which battle depletion).

More than that, it ignores that much of our energy consumption is wasteful; with rising energy use compared to standard of living, we get diminishing returns, as I've discussed before.

so that "less energy" is not automatically equivalent to "lower standard of living" let alone the mass death and destruction Duncan so often fantasises about.

I now perceive Duncan's Olduvai view is one of many possible future trajectories for the next 30+ years, perhaps not the most likely, but one probably with double digit odds ...

I perceive it as extremely unlikely, if only in the light of his failed predictions - like worldwide permanent blackouts in 2007. His track record in doomer predictions is even worse than Kunstler's.

He's consistently failed in predicting events in the past, and has always erred on the side of "DOOOOM!" So when he makes doomerish predictions for the future, I am extremely sceptical. In fact, the more he cries "DOOOOM!" the more hopeful I am about the future. He's sort of an anti-prophet, whatever he predicts you know won't happen.

And he is a racist with genocidal impulses. It's bad enough we've got climate change denialists writing articles here, do we have to have Nazis, too? Shall we invite some flat Earthers, creationists and Stalinists for good measure?

Doom is part of Malthus's message.
Population will outstrip resources in the end.

You are in total denial of the problem of overpopulation.
The problem is that the increases are so large(75 more million people
every year) that the world is adding a billion people every 14 years. Numbers do matter.

Overpopulation was seen as a problem two centuries ago('solved' by forced immigration to Oz and the Americas).

Your HDI is a joke. Long life(30 years of diminished capacity) and a college education(4 years of misery in school or education of children) do not make a happy life. Neither does noble poverty.

You've badly misjudged human motivation, as demonstrated by Chindia's embrace of noveaux riche philosophy over the alternate theories of Gandhism(preparation for self-sacrifice to the point of mass suicide) and Maoist totalitarianism.
Again and again you offer the hair shirt of Satyagraha as a solution but humans aren't buying it.


The irresistable force of human desire is going to meet the immovable object of resource depletion very soon(within our lifetime).

Do I need to point out how dodgy making energy usage stand in for 'stand of living' is? They may be connected, but its much more a question of what you do with it than how much you've got.

You can see it in the US 'standard of living' peak in 1973 - anyone remember a peak in SL over what we have now?

Add to that Figure 5 being far too smooth and ordered for a decline of that magnitude and speed and I wonder how much can usefully be drawn.

Just one example. I've heard stories from my parent's generation about how a recent college grad with a basic office job could easily afford rent in Los Angeles and still have money to spend around town. Good luck trying that now.

The Genuine Progress Indicator, which adjusts GDP for economic, environmental, and social exteralities, shows a peak during the early- to mid-seventies with stagnant to declining quality of life since then.


Good idea, unfortunately many adjustments to GPI such as pollution, loss of wetlands income distribution are very subjective; could easily be smaller or larger deductions. For example does loss of wetlands cost $94 Billion/year? Does CO2 released in 1950 continue to be a cost?

You both make good points. Garyp is forgetting that much of that gain came from women going to work, etc., (Elizabeth Warren?) and debt.

That debt is now being liquidated at a ferocious rate. Or is the argument being offered that the US average SL is the same today as it was even a year ago?


I'd suggest that most of the increase in the standard of living came from technology. Ever seen "Life on Mars"? While the attitudes are indeed different its technology that creates the biggest dislocation - that and international trade pushing down the price of goods.

I'd suggest that all women going to work has achieved is even more overpriced houses - fuelled by a red queen race to afford 'more' than the Jones.

You can still live a good life on no other debt, if you're sensible.

Compare 1973 to now. You have all the entertainment gizmos you like, can fly around the world on a day or two's salary, live in a big, well provisioned house (albeit badly built and with an inflated price tag) and even keep in contract with people around the world, people you have never physically met, via a computer that also gives you access to a fair sum of all human knowledge, for free.

Yep, I'd say the standard of living today IS higher than 1973, although not without missteps. Whether 2010 is better than 2000 is a different matter.

Optimists need to explain how Americans are going to accept a 95% drop in their standard of living without launching every nuclear weapon in their arsenal. Figure 5 looks like a recipe for total Armageddon to me.


Too many people competing for too few resources intensifies the resource war.

"Is there an alternative to war?" (Jay Hanson's key question.)

I guess we could spread out to the moon and Mars. That in itself doesnt solve the problem, but is funny to think about.
Reminds me of a scene in Matrix "humans are like a virus, they move to an area and consume all the resources. When the resources are consumed in that area, they move to another area". Something like that, maybe not word for word. But there is alot of ring to it.

Here's the YouTube link to the scene.


we could spread out to the moon and Mars.

Don't knock it; there is a large body of literature and myth based on just that premise. Frontier, Manifest Destiny, it's all wrapped up. A friend of mine is writing a biography of one of the driving people behind Biosphere II, so I've been tuned into all the various references. Bush and his Mars rhetoric. Bradbury - he served it up right.

So yeah, actually, do knock it. Knock a hole in it. Sink it.

cfm in Gray, ME

Kunstler did say that he expected Americans to elect "lunatics," "maniacs," and "a cornpone Hitler" who will promise a return to "happy motoring" during the post-peak period. That kind of leadership would launch a major war with other powers over resources.

As for the U.S. nuking the rest of the world, well, that would make us worse than the Soviet Union, which disintegrated relatively quietly instead of trying to bring the world down with the failed government. Honestly, I can see it happening, not as a global omnicide, but as something more regionally directed and ostensibly over other factors. A contest with China and Russia (Cold War redux, anyone) over hegemony would be my top bet. Another one, that a very conservative ex-military wife who works with me proposed, was turning everything between the Indus River and the Nile as part of the "War on Terror." Considering the result, that justification would be beyond ironic.

That is how:

Make that warheads more valuable inside a power plant than inside a misile, then bribe some politicians to make them do what they wanted to do anyway, that is, making the fisile material disapear and some energy appear on some wires somewhere.

Now, if that will be done I can't really know. It worked with Russia.

Obama expressed surprise that he is being hit with multiple serious events. By my count we have 1) energy situation, 2) pandemic 3) The Greatest Depression(TM) *yup, I've TMed it! 4) Global Climate change (not discussed by Obama, but obvious (follow it yourself at http://www.cpc.noaa.gov/ ) 5) Population 6) Food and water resources.

How this will all play out has been the focus of numerous books and countless articles. I cannot think of a similar situation in history. California, unfortunately, will lead the way forward to where ever this all leads.

Best of luck enforcing your trademark.

Obama expressed surprise

Oh gee. Better send my wife (intellectual-property-lawyer-works-for-monsanto) out into the organic garden for some better press.

I dunno, is Obama that numb? Probably. Most of the "Democratic organizers" I know are that numb. Numb as a hake.

cfm in Gray, ME, too near the hakes.

I'm surprised that no one is using the perspective of an academic historian to approach these questions (maybe there aren't any PhD historians reading TOD?).

For example, if lack of cheap energy knocks us back into the 18th Century (or 17th or the Iron Age for that matter) then wouldn't it be wise to: a) scientifically estimate which era we're likely to wind up in, and b) examine the day-to-day living arrangements of that period, c) factor in the effects of certain knowledge that we have now that they did not have then (germ theory of disease, electricity, gunpowder, accurate knowledge of human anatomy, botany, nutrition, binary logic gates, etc.) which would still be accessible even in a low energy world.

Additionally, I quite agree that the criteria for Standard Of Living should be slanted toward how we use energy rather than how much we've got. For example: if you only had 1 Kilowatt Hour of electricity per week, how would/should you invest it for maximum beneficial effect?

"For example: if you only had 1 Kilowatt Hour of electricity per week, how would/should you invest it for maximum beneficial effect?"

Some would answer: to power an Electric Chair. Or to spin up a grinding stone to keep the edges razor-sharp on a tribe's swords and machetes.

Living in Asphaltistan in the middle of a giant desert: I would probably have to use my allotment to pump some water from down below. :(

Sharpen your sword, then take your neighbors allotment. The less of them, the more for you!

No, garrote them while they are sharpening their sword. Take their sword. Have their ex wife sharpen yours.

Have their ex wife sharpen yours.

That looks kinky.

Love and war.

More like sex and death. It would have been even kinkier if you had typed "polish your sword." Freud would have approved.

That said, I don't disagree with you as to what could happen.


For example: if you only had 1 Kilowatt Hour of electricity per week, how would/should you invest it for maximum beneficial effect?"
That's easy keep your families mobile phones charged, use the rest for inside lighting.

When you said electric chair, it made me think of the suicide booth in Futurama. Think there might be a business for these?


How much scientific inquiry does it take to figure out you need a warm house in winter, a veggie patch and good neighbors (simplification acknowledged)?


The "Social Contract Quarterly" (linked to in the first sentence of this article) is not a scientific journal. It's a rag published and edited by overt racists.

Here's the Southern Poverty Law Center on "The Social Contract":

The Social Contract Press
Petoskey, Mich.

With a strong focus on immigration, The Social Contract Press (TSCP) sells books from its on-line bookstore and publishes a quarterly journal, The Social Contract. TCSP says it favors lowering immigration levels merely "to reduce the rate of American's population growth, protect jobs, preserve the environment, and foster assimilation."

But it publishes a number of racist works, including a reprint of the "gripping" 1973 book, The Camp of the Saints (see Fear and Fantasy), a French racist fantasy novel about the obliteration of Western civilization by dark-skinned hordes from India. The novel, like the race war fantasy The Turner Diaries, has become a key screed for American white supremacists.

The Social Contract is edited by Wayne Lutton, who recently the joined the editorial advisory board of the newspaper of the white supremacist Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC).

At a 1997 CCC conference, Lutton said Third Worlders "have declared racial demographic war against us. ... Why are their populations exploding? Because ... our people have exported medical technology and we feed them.

"Had we left them alone, many of them would be going extinct today."

The Social Contract has published articles by James Lubinskas of the racist American Renaissance magazine; Brent Nelson, who like Lutton is on the advisory board for the CCC's periodical, and Sam Francis, current editor of the CCC tabloid.

John H. Tanton, publisher of The Social Contract Press and founder of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, was instrumental in a 1996 effort to add an anti-immigration plank to the Sierra Club platform, a move that nearly split the environmental group permanently.

To editor Lutton, America essentially is a white man's country. "We are the real Americans," he declared in 1997, "not the Hmong, not Latinos, not the Siberian-Americans. ... As far as the future, the handwriting is on the screen. The Camp of the Saints is coming our way."Source

John H. Tanton, publisher of the "The Social Contract" has said that unless U.S. borders are sealed, America will be overrun by people "defecating and creating garbage and looking for jobs."Source

Here's a photo of Wayne Lutton Ph.D., editor of "The Social Contract" (2nd from right), at a meeting of white supremacists on June 11, 2004. Note the confederate flag in the foreground:

This is not news to anybody who's been around for a while. While I don't personally understand why Duncan has chosen to publish the article in the Social Contract, I don't see anything racist in what he himself has written and think we should concentrate on the article itself, regardless of where it is published. It's an interesting article anyway and touches upon most of the things we TODers discuss and think about.

JD writes:

The "Social Contract Quarterly" (linked to in the first sentence of this article) is not a scientific journal. It's a rag published and edited by overt racists.

Overt racist = anybody opposed to uncontrolled mass third-world immigration
Overt racist = anybody opposed to exponential population growth

Sure, play the race card. Don't argue. Calumniate. Defame.



The facts that some people are assholes and that some who aren't associate with the assholes doesn't have anything at all,at all,to do with the truth or falsity of the science behind thier thier conclusions.

I myself gave some thought to working for awhile to help the under developed countries up thier food production as a young and brighteyed ag grad in 1972,but even then I remembered the lectures of one profane old professor who understood not only ag but human nature and he dismissed all such efforts as "help'em double thier production and you just wind up with twice as many of'em".This politically incorrect old guy was incidentally known to contribute professional expertise, time and money to such efforts any way.

I personally think the SPLC is mostly a useful and enlightened organization,and support some of the same goals,but I have seen nothing that leads me to believe that they have any more understanding of real science than any other bunch of preachers and lawyers.

The mess we are in today is in no small part due to misguided efforts to help people with programs such as medicare and social security,which are OBVIOUSLY not supportable over the long run by any means so far proposed,but the designers of such programs wwere either ignorant of the math, or more likely,deliberately ignored it.Or maybe they just believed in compound growth forever-a fallacy debunked in any decent freshman biology class.

Now before you label me as a right wing nut ,allow me to add that my mother(who consumes several hours of my time every day as her amatuer nurse) would have been long since dead except for such programs and they eased the final years of all my now dead close relatives considerably.

But that does not help in the long run.My nephews and nieces don't have a snowballs chance in hell of enjoying such a generous welfare state in thier old age,given the demonstrated falsity of the compound growth forever economic model.

And if we don't come to grips with the hard science such as outlined in this piece here on the OD,THERE AIN'T GONNA BE NO XXXXING LONG RUN.

Except for maybe a few people who will settle thier disputes with rocks and clubs after they use up thier stockpiled ammo.

So lets worry about the science,rather than the messengers.

Thanks,Mac,for that sensible (as usual) post.
Youngquist is emphasizing the fundamental importance of the population overshoot.Of course,this is politically incorrect.
This is precisely the problem that needs to be tackled urgently in a forceful manner and as humanely as possible.Given the head in the sand attitude of the vast majority,realisticly,I don't see this happening.
The Malthusian solution is likely - famine,disease and war.The latter will more than likely be of the nuclear type because of fierce competition for resources..The scenario which Cormac McCarthy illustrated so chillingly in "The Road" is looking more and more likely.

olfarmermac -

This notion that the truth or falsity of what someone says has nothing whatsoever to do with whether the person is an asshole or not is a subject that I've spouted off on in the past and have been called to task on.

On the most literal level that notion is of course absolutely true. If Brittany Spears says that two plus two equals four, then that statement is no less true than if Einstein said it. But things are not always that simple and clear cut.

Once one gets beyond the realm of pure logic or mathematics, then nuances and motives creep in. And when one is dealing with matters that have a social, economic, or political component, then I contend that the character, affiliation, and ideology of the person making the statement DOES come into play. In such areas, WHY someone is saying what he is saying can be just as important as WHAT he is saying.

Here we get into motives and why the content of a written statement is what it is. There's a whole area of study called content analysis. If the media accurately reports one news item ten times more frequently than it accurately reports another news item that runs counter to the first, then it has essentially lied while still telling the truth from a purely literal standpoint.

Regarding junk science and the like, Mark Twain said it so much more succinctly than I ever could: "You tell me whar a man gits his corn pone, en I'll tell you what his 'pinions is."


Thanks for the backup.

It is just not possible to deal with fact based problems w/o facing facts and sometimes you will be called names and suffer worse things if you remind people of facts.I haven't been visiting this site long enough to know anything about the way jd thinks but if he gives more credence to political pressure groups that are mostly concerned with social injustice than those concerned with energy and the environment,he is sorta out of step with most of the regulars here.

Such groups are imo as bad about cherry picking data and feathering thier own nests as any others.

And they really do make me sick with thier hypocrisy sometimes.They can hardly as a rule measure up to the bankers,etc, but they do give it the old school frequently,and they succeed occasionally...I will go no further on this site than offer to debate such issues on other sites devoted to politics.

The Road is at once both the most depressing and touching book I have ever read.The fact that NO EXPLAINATION is given for the death and darkness create a lot of dramatic tension but at the dsame time leaves something lacking as someone of my sort craves the background as well as the human drama.Sure to be a classic.

And as far as Twain is concerned,well if you read him well and often,you will understand more about the human condition that many famous psychologists.I do believe for a fact that he is as good,taken all around, as as writer who ever lived.

I will die poor but I will have at least enjoyed reading a lion's share of the worlds best books!


I like what you had to say and the way you said it.

When I was a kid growing up in the southwest I remember riding a bike on a dirt roads for miles without seeing another person. I would often see deer or fox in the hills. Not anymore. Now we have bike paths along busy thoroughfares next to crowded subdivisions, shopping centers and business parks. Just humanity in abundance. Progress?

Consider the fact that in just a few thousand years we have swallowed up more than a third of the planet's land for our cities, farmland and pastures. By some estimates, we now commandeer 40 per cent of all its productivity. And we're leaving quite a mess behind: ploughed-up prairies, razed forests, drained aquifers, nuclear waste, chemical pollution, invasive species, mass extinctions and now the looming spectre of climate change. If they could, the other species we share Earth with would surely vote us off the planet.

As Patrick Burns said: "The best protection for the environment is no people." http://www.populationpress.org/index.html

A couple of years ago I read Alan Weisman's book The World Without Us. The premise was: Imagine that one day the Earth woke up and for some unknown reason there were no people left alive. All that was left was the infrastructure. How long would it take for the world to recover from humanity and bury any trace of our being here?

One of the unique features of the book is it didn't delve into the drama of why humans disappeared. This relieved the reader of the anxiety about what we might have done to wipe ourselves off the face of the earth and instead focus on how the earth's resilient systems would rebound in our absence.

The logic is simple:

human population X affluence X pollution
Divided by Resourses
= Problems

E.O. Wilson

It seems to me that a lot of people are waking up to the dillemma but it's hard not to form the conclusion thatThe Tradgedy of The Commons will play itself out until we're all played out...finis.


Why should we care about a world without people? I see no reason.

Do we care about the environment on the moon? On mars? Pluto?

Without people the earth does not matter. People give the earth meaning. Other animals have not been able to do that. They live in the moment oblivious to the consequences of their actions even more than we.

The earth can take care of itself. It is the height of hubris for people to think they can distroy the earth or save it for that matter. They can distroy themselves but not the earth. When they do the earth will recover more quickly than many think IMO. To put the welfare of the earth ahead of the welfare of people is nonsense.

Sacrificing people to save the earth makes no sense. They will be sacrificed anyway when the earth can not support them. Why sacrifice people earlier than necessary? It seems immoral to me.

For some reason, the late George Carlin sprang to mind:

"...The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new pardigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?” Plastic…asshole.

So, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that’s begun. Don’t you think that’s already started? I think, to be fair, the planet sees us as a mild threat. Something to be dealt with. And the planet can defend itself in an organized, collective way, the way a beehive or an ant colony can. A collective defense mechanism. The planet will think of something. What would you do if you were the planet? How would you defend yourself against this troublesome, pesky species? Let’s see… Viruses. Viruses might be good. They seem vulnerable to viruses. And, uh…viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed. Perhaps, this first virus could be one that compromises the immune system of these creatures. Perhaps a human immunodeficiency virus, making them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases and infections that might come along. And maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction..."

Always makes me laugh at our predicament.


Do we care about the environment on the moon? On mars? Pluto?

Without people the earth does not matter.

x After reading the slogans above I don't know where to begin but here's a short crash course in ecology:

The terms, r and K, refer to the equation of population dynamics. Where r is the growth rate of the population (N), and K is the carrying capacity of its local environmental setting. Typically, r-selected species exploit empty niches, and produce many offspring, each of which has a relatively low probability of surviving to adulthood. In contrast, K-selected species are strong competitors in crowded niches, and invest more heavily in fewer offspring, each of which has a relatively high probability of surviving to adulthood. In the scientific literature, r-selected species are occasionally referred to as "opportunistic", while K-selected species are described as "equilibrium"

When the resources availability is unlimited in the habitat, the population of an organism living in the habitat grows in an exponential or geometric fashion. Any species growing exponentially under unlimited resource conditions can reach enormous population densities in a short time.

In ecology, a niche is a term describing the relational position of a species or population in its ecosystem to each other. According to the competitive exclusion principle, no two species can occupy the same niche in the same environment for a long time.

And finally invasive species is a non-indigenous species (e.g. plants or animals) that adversely affect the habitats they invade economically, environmentally or ecologically.

Homo-sapiens from a scientific point of view are exactly that: an r-selected invasive species growing in an exponential or geometric fashion, disrupting countless habitats, many of which have existed in balance for millions of years, destroying niches and sentencing those unfortunate species to extinction.

Also keep in mind that 99% of every species that has ever existed is now extinct. We pesky humans haven't been around long enough to be considered a viable species. The tragedy about our species passing into the night is we'll no doubt take 95% of the extant (currently existing) species with us.

Human beings might be clever but don't confuse that with wise.


Why should we care about a world without people? I see no reason.

Thinking like that is why, if ever we encounter an alien species, we will try to kill it. And it's why we don't care about any other species here on the planet, except as far as they directly benefit us. As you say, hubris.

Thinking like that is why, if ever we encounter an alien species, we will try to kill it.

Congratulations! You have just discovered the answer to Fermi's Paradox!

Q: So where are they?

A: They know about us all to well, and dare not make contact!

On the most literal level that notion is of course absolutely true. If Brittany Spears says that two plus two equals four, then that statement is no less true than if Einstein said it. But things are not always that simple and clear cut.

In world of "rhetoric", that is called "ethos". Credibility of the speaker. Would you trust Brittany over the cop with the taser and pepper spray?

The mess we are in today is in no small part due to misguided efforts to help people with programs such as medicare and social security

How do you reach such a conclusion? Are you claiming that prior to the New Deal our economic system was not oriented toward maximizing growth rates and thus consuming resources as fast as possible? I agree that we will have to consume a lot less resources per capita in the future, but the idea that without soft-headed liberals wanting to spread the wealth around, private finance capitalism would naturally form an intelligent self-regulating system is about as absurd a piece of socio-political analysis as I have ever seen.

You can read my posts until hell freezes over before you find anything anywhere in them to indicate that I think "private finance capitalism would naturally form an intelligent self regulating system".

Recognizing and stating that a political arrangement is inherently unstable or unsustainable is MOST EMPHATICALLY NOT the same thing as ADVOCATING some other equally flawed arrangement from the other polar end of the spectrum.You are sir ,either somewhat limited in your reading skills ,or else so wrapped up in your own prejudices that you would willingly smear me with bullshit of your own manufacture.

(Fyi,virtually none of the systems we are currently deoending on to keep us alive are sustainable- especially the banking and pension systems,the energy supply system,the food production system,and as a consequence of dependence on these nsmed systems ,hardly any others.)

(We may have even passed already some known and /or unknown environmental tipping points that mean we are all toast,except the ones of us really good with rocks and clubs.)

Such techniques as you use are as old as history,and they work very well sometimes ,but not here,as the Oil Drum is a site that is frequented MOSTLY BY technically oriented people impressed with facts rather than suppositions.

And we are not running for office,so we could care even less.

As I noted above hypocrisy makes me sick.And character assassination by imputing words and values never spoken or embraced is a technique the political left is especially good at-not that there are not some highly skilled practicioners of the other side of the fence too.

Sign me off a crabby old farmer and a former long haired democrat..

I was not attacking your character. I was attacking your understanding of economics. I understand perfectly well that most of our production systems are not sustainable. However, social security and medicare are not production systems. They are means of providing support to people who have passed the prime of their productive years. Even neolithic villages and hunter-gatherer bands provided support for their old people. Yes, the degree of support has to be conditioned by the overall wealth of society, but your singling out of these two institutions appeared to imply that you thought the very idea of mutual support is inherently unsustainable. If this was not the intention of your post I apologize for misreading it.

You seem to think that I am a left wing ideologue, but I certainly do not think of myself that way. I would agree to the abolition of social security and medicare tomorrow if I thought it would contribute in some substantial way to creating a sustainable society. And in fact I expect these institutions to disappear, although I am not convinced of the necessity of their disappearance. When I look at the U.S. and at the European states with much stronger systems of social welfare than we have, I do not perceive these welfare systems as being their achille's heel. Rather it is our commitment to high levels of material wealth and to continuing economic growth which is going to do us in.

Sign me off as crabby political thinker who is tired of being caught between the technocopians and the doomers. I continue to hold on to the hope that intelligent cooperation is an alternative to rocks and clubs. If that makes me a left wing idiot in your book then so be it.

Medicare and social security are not "economics". Anyone wishes to reduce them to economics should be shot and eaten when they have outlived their usefulness. Unless, of course, the bullet is worth more than they are or they cannot pay for it.

A budget is the physical implementation of social values.

The exchange of resources and support in any culture is an implementation of that culture's social values.

I'm sure our resident actuary can explain in more detail, but medical insurance, pension plans and annuities certainly do relate to economics. Medicare and social security are merely publicly financed versions of the above. In a contracting economy, private and public insurance are both doomed to fail, and it's not fair to single out public insurance.

Roger ,
Sorry I bit back so hard but I came away from reading your first reply sort of irritated since I pointed out in my original post that most of the last generation of my family benefited in a significant (very) way from these programs,and that my mother would not be living today(unless she has died in her sleep in the last half hour- it's time to check on her!)- would be dead w/o ss and medicare.All our hard assets together total only a fraction of her intensive care bills alone over the last ten years.

And Daddy is eighty and looks likely to collect another fifteen years of benefits-if I can keep him off the ladders we use to pick apples!

As a matter of fact after an evening drinking and cooking out and agrueing with my liberal friends,who disagree with much or most of my analysis of our problems,we all agree that we want the same things-a safe, dignified,reasonably comfortable life for every body.We just don't agree on how we can get these things.

We all generally agree that nobody has yet worked out any system that can permanently provide everybody such a life.

The ss/medicare system worked like a charm for my grandparents.They paid in peanuts and drew out substantially for decades,dying if I remember correctly at 88,92,96 and 94 years of age.

It has worked nearly as well for my parents.

The odds of my nieces and nephews getting anything like a break even return of thier contributions is probably close to zero,given the fact that we are on a path that is BIOLOGICALLY UNSUSTAINABLE-and biology is a far far more more reality oriented science than economics,which in the opinion even of many of it's own practiceioners is hardly a science at all.

My own take on the longevity of our current economic system is that if we are lucky,we will descend no farther than to a mild police state over the next few decades,and that the old folks(including me,if my luck holds) will be glad of a sack of potatos and cabbage delivered by a man whose own ration tickets are dependent on pushing a veggie cart from door to door and loading the buckets of night soil on his way back up the street.No truck will move unless loaded both ways with something of very high value.

I have spent most of my time for many years reading as that pleases me more than anything else,and I do believe I have a reasonably firm grasp of economics.

And as I see it,Uncle Sam is flat broke,and the so called trust funds are no more real than flying saucers,since they consist of iou's from one branch of the govt to another-and this was true even before the current meltdown.It's either current tax collections or more borrowed money-and we are now at the point that we are just about as far extended as we can get w/o losing it in the opinion of many ,many professional economists.

And I did get a full year of econ -the same first year as the econ,business and finance majors majors-in a good university back in the dark ages,plus some more specialized econ analysis training inside my core courses.And all my core courses were physical science oriented.

You guys are missing a huge fact.
The life expectancy back in the 1930s was much lower and 65 would have been a ripe old age on average.
The success of modern medicine was the failure of the social safety net.

Porge, you are correct as usual.

But politicians can never resist the temptation to swaeeten the bribe and thereby win more votes.
Every congress gives away the treasury to some favored group or another.

And I should have included some other examples of unsustainable subsidies in my original comment,such as the ones enjoyed by the auto industry,incumbent politicians,and big biz agriculture.

But my mind just happened to be on ss and medicare at that moment.

And in general terms I do not oppose such programs,even thiugh they are unsustainable as designed ,so much as I oppose the hypocrisy associated with the way they are sold to the public.

Furthermore we must recognize-I recognize that the older generations leave us a world with incredible infrastructure that will in many cases last for thousands of years,plus the knowledge base to build upon to solve our current problems .

Not too bad a deal at all.

In the end debts of the financial kind are just paper,and will be repudiated anyway .Let's just hope we live thru the chaos associated with telling our creditors -such as the ones of my generation the boomers(I am one of the very oldest boomers)who have no money that the checks are going to be less generous,and the list of services shorter.Probably much less generous, and much shorter.

The ss/medicare system worked like a charm for my grandparents.They paid in peanuts and drew out substantially for decades,dying if I remember correctly at 88,92,96 and 94 years of age.

It has worked nearly as well for my parents.

The odds of my nieces and nephews getting anything like a break even return of thier contributions is probably close to zero,given the fact that we are on a path that is BIOLOGICALLY UNSUSTAINABLE-and biology is a far far more more reality oriented science than economics,which in the opinion even of many of it's own practiceioners is hardly a science at all.

The basic problem is that it was structured too much like a pyramid scheme. That is the classic pattern with those: first ones in make out like bandits, then the ones later on don't make out quite so good, and the ones at the tail end are left being really screwed.

There are other ways we could have structured our old age security system, ways that would have been actuarially and financially sound. Instead, the politicians went for the pyramid scheme, knowing that they would be dead and gone by the time that the thing blew up and some poor schmucks would be left holding the bag. Well, that time is just about here, and guess who the poor schmucks are going to be?

Most Americans (even educated ones) struggle with basic math concepts. People cannot even grasp that what is happening right now with the USA deficit (both fiscal and trade) is simply borrowing from the future. Obama complains that he inherited a tough situation (and he did), but few realize (especially on TOD) that what he is doing right now will make it doubly difficult for the next guy. The premise is that someday in the USA there will be such incredible prosperity that as much as $1000000 per USA taxpayer (highest estimate) in future liabilities can be absorbed (the Audacity of Hope).

Obama doth complain too much.

He's picking our pockets now for his buddies precisely to make it next to impossible for the next guy. End game.

Me, I like my weasels straight up, thank you.

Yes, those systems were meant to help people as they got older. But, they were not meant to be the only system to help people when they got older. Social Security was not originally intended to be the sole financial support when we age. We were also expected to save in other areas as well. Somewhere along the way people forgot that crucial point. Look on TV and you see all these seasoned citizens complaining because their government check is too small. That is where family falls in just like with farmermac. Family and other savings were meant to fill the gap in assisting our aging relatives. If complete government dependence was the original intention of the programs, then the writing was on the wall from the very first day.
My wife is Chinese, her grandmother gets a very small amount of government assistance. Her parents are supposed to fill in the gap to make sure that the grandmother is well taken care of. The same goes for my wife when her parents approach retirement. I dont hear her parents and grandmother making calls for the government to increase monthly benefits, they take matters into their own hands. If grandma needs to go to the doctor, her children take care of the bill. This is a big contradiction I see to what people say and do in the US. I see so many people say "The government should do this and that to make this cheaper for us". The majority of us are unwilling to take matters into our own hands because it might inconvenience us in some way--we push it off to someone else.

And if we don't come to grips with the hard science such as outlined in this piece here on the OD [...]

So lets worry about the science,rather than the messengers.

Yah, good idea. If Richard Duncan is a legitimate scientist, can you please explain why he publishes his work in a rag published by low-rent racists instead of, say, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or Nature, or Science, or one of the thousands and thousands of other reputable, peer-reviewed scientific journals?

Where the man publishes and what training he has is not the issue.Al Gore is not a scientist,and I personally think that he is a condescending elitist arrogant hypocritical snob but I still don't mind admitting that he is right when he lectures us on our carbon footprints and other sinful ways.-perhaps not in every detail- but then so far as
I know, the work of all the scientists who have ever lived has been and still is subject to revision.

And if we don't come to grips with the hard science such as outlined in this piece here on the OD,THERE AIN'T GONNA BE NO XXXXING LONG RUN.

Well then we're rooted, because there was no "hard science" in the article.There were just graphs of barrels-of-oil-equivalent energy consumption from the past mixed willy-nilly with graphs speculating about the future. Given that Duncan predicted worldwide permanent blackouts for 2007, I take his speculations about future energy resources with a grain of salt.

Energy consumption =/= standard of living

What in fact happens is that as energy consumption rises from nothing to a bit, standard of living (as measured by Human Development Index) rises dramatically. Then there's a period of diminishing returns, so that for example after 4,000kWh per capita of electricity consumption, HDI doesn't improve at all.

People who earn more money consume more energy, even if that energy consumption doesn't actually add much to their quality of life. MY quality of life is not significantly greater if I have a 200cm plasma screen tv instead of a 52cm CRT, a Hummer instead of a moped, halogen downlights instead of CFLs, etc.

My quality of life is significantly greater if I have a single light bulb and a radio instead of none.

There isn't a linear relationship between quality of life - whatever measure you choose for it - and energy consumption.

We can't come to grips with the "hard science" in Duncan's article because there isn't any. It's more premature speculation. I think you can go to the doctor for that.

In a hundred years or so ,his account of the general way the "big picture " has played out will be remarkably consistent with what has happened.So he will have been off a few years or maybe even a couple of decades-so what?

As far as the hard science that is "not there" is concerned I can only conclude you are woefully ill informed in the fields of biology,geology,climate,and energy,to list the most important ones,if you think he is mistaken as a bearer of news.

Even the best doctors cannot predict just how long you will last as you get older-your heart attack or stroke may be an "outlier" .Most of us here in the states can expect to make it to around eighty,but some die in the cradle and some live past one hundred.

You are unable,or possibly just unwilling, to seperate the hard data-the science- from your personal value system.

I have no problem whatsover to have our scientifically illiterate family pastor taking care of the spiritual needs of my parents,and there is a day coming I will be very grateful for his support when the old folks are laid to thier final rest.

But we do not consult with him regarding our medical treatments.

We would be as just as foolish to allow you to tell us whose words to listen to in regard to our future.

Again, if you could point to the "hard science" in his article, I'm sure we'll all be most illuminated.

What I see is speculation. Not even scenarios - based on data and mathematical models grounded in several fields - he's just taken MS paint to some graphs and sketched out some lines. A blind retarded four year old can do that.

You also did not contend with any of the actual substantive points I made, for example that energy consumption and standard of living are not equal.

You can list as many fields of science as you like, you're still not offering anything of substance, and neither is Duncan.

You've pretty much summed up my take on it.

I also consider it simply shoddy science to try to equate "Standard of Living" directly to "energy/person". It is a ridiculous oversimplification indicating lack of thought and effort.

Hello JD,

I don't dispute your right to post the info you did, but I sure wish you would kick it up to the next intellectual level, as your posting is mostly a Semantic 'red herring', IMO. But I wonder if it occurs to you that your posting here & elsewhere [Reddit & your blog, etc] only helps further boost the WWWeb visibility goals that Duncan is seeking to more quickly spread Peak Outreach [See Asymmetric Tactics below]?

I am sure that Richard Duncan would love to see his text first published on the front page of the WSJournal, NYTimes, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time, USAToday, and read in Congress, so that it is included into the Congressional Record, versus the tiny circulation numbers of the Social Contract [but he has to get started somewhere].

I am equally sure that he would be thrilled to be invited to the various TV-broadcast MSM [Spanish stations and BET, too] to discuss this topic much more, and would be equally happy to see it published in Ebony, Jet, and Spanish periodicals, too. Same for Russian, Chinese, Indian, Japanese, African, and European MSM & magazines, etc, as his Olduvai Re-Equalizing Theory has postPeak global implications for all--does it not?

I think Duncan's understanding of depleting energy & resources is far more developed than yours as his latest text does not strike me as being overtly racist at all--you just semantically inferred inside your head that he is such a person. IMO, I think he prefers the larger goal of Pro-Active Peak Outreach to ALL, meaningful mitigation, and moving towards some measure of Optimal Overshoot Decline, but YMMV.

The trick is to get the viral spread jumpstarted: He has to publish somewhere to gain a foothold for a greater audience, and I applaud the fact that his 'Olduvai Re-Equalizing' is being widely spread across the WWWeb by the grassroots. He might be using the very common asymmetric tactic: of being first printed by a controversial publisher so that it can be virally spread even further & faster to foster even more discussion. An earlier example of this: I am quite sure the British King [plus many Colonists loyal to the Crown] were not happy with the first publishers/printers of the Declaration of Independence on and after July 4th, 1776.

Recall that energy & resource response are totally neutral to one's history, beliefs, ethnicity, politics, wealth, social standing, etc. A gallon of gasoline chemically burns the same in the ICE-vehicle of an Al-Queda bomber as it does in Al Gore's vehicle, or your vehicle, or mine. A bag of I-NPK fertilizer has the same Elemental kick on the farmslopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro as it would on a golf course in the Colorado Rockies, etc. Solar & Wind power is ambivalent whether the electricity goes towards jolting an electric chair's energy-recipient or recharging a tribal-owned cellphone in far-flung inner Tanzania or Tibet.

It will be one's calm and reasoned pro-active adaptation to careful utilization of future depleting resources/capita that will determine the path ahead. Emotional kneejerk reactions will only make things worse for all. Recall the paraphrased Einstein quote [see TOD Quotebox in upper right of your screen] that 'old thinking' won't work; it will take 'new thinking'.

Aside from the fact that he publishes in racist publications, it's also worth mentioning that on March 5, 2001 Richard "Olduvai" Duncan predicted that there would be permanent electrical blackouts worldwide by 2007:

A previous study put the 'cliff event' in year 2012 (Duncan, 2001). However, it no appears that 2012 was too optimistic. The following study indicates that the 'cliff event' will occur about 5 years earlier than 2012 due an epidemic of 'rolling blackouts' that have already begun in the US. This 'electrical epidemic' spreads nationwide, then worldwide, and by ca. 2007 most of the blackouts are permanent.


That's either a mistake or a misprint. Duncan has never predicted permanent blackouts by 2007.

That's right, Duncan never predicted permanent blackouts by 2007. It was 2008 that he predicted.

Duncan's ideas seem correct, but if there's a process by which he came up with the 2008 blackout date or the 100 year lifespan of industrial civilization, I've never seen it.

If I remember correctly, he explains where he got these numbers in an earlier version of the theory - I believe 2006.

From my memory - I think he theorized a gradually declining slope in per capita energy use from 2008 to 2012 during which time blackouts or rolling blackouts would start to happen. After this time the slope would become steeper and the likelihood of permanent blackouts would increase.

As to the 100 year lifespan - once again from memory I believe he chose a point where per capita energy use was 30% of the predicted maximum and then assuming a symmetrical graph of energy use looked forward to when we would hit 30% on the way down. The period of time from 30% on the way up to 30% on the way down was approximately 100 years. Why he chose the points he did I do not remember.

This is only my non-technical recollection of take-aways from the first paper I read.


edited to remove misspells

I got those parts, too, but I've never seen him explain why it would be 2008. I've seen his graphs, but never the data behind them. Here's a famous one:


Note that the curve is not symmetrical, and includes predictions into the distant future, based on what data? (I've wondered.)

I don't know what data Duncan is using other than per capita energy use and various predictions re PO, maintenance needs of electrical grids, and population growth (referencing Hubbert, IEA estimates, and Limits to Growth/United Nations).
I do know that his 05 paper states "The most reliable leading indicator of the OT Cliff event, if and when it happens, will be brownouts and rolling blackouts."
So while Duncan put a date to the start of the cliff, it didn't seem to me to be a 'hard' date - perhaps he should have added Orlov's +/- 5 years to it ;^> (do the rolling blackouts in Pakistan, India, and Tibet count as part of a collapse scenario?)
The economic downturn has thrown a lot of wrenches into predictions and while Duncan did mention that a huge factor in collapse of energy systems would be the lack of investment funds to repair/adapt our them, it seems that the degree of demand destruction and its impact was not foreseen.

All in all, when I read Duncan's paper I found it very informative. Where I think he went out on a limb was in assigning dates to future events. Perhaps he shouldn't have done this. I do think he presented a possible future rather clearly and gave reasons why he thought this scenario would play out. I also think the smoothness of the future curve is due to the fuzziness of the data 'out there'

Regards, Al

Thanks for bringing these connections to the table. As suggested in the Walter Youngquist quote, population discussions are politically incorrect. Maybe its because they suggest at a base level the potential for a real life eugenics exercise. Then there's the holocaust, abortion and birth control. Fertile ground for any number of interest groups to take issue or rally around. Not surprised the neo nutcases like his work.

I find the argument compelling that energy production/population ratio is an indicator of standard of living but taken in context of the information you highlighted it now seems a bit reductionist. Credibility of the messenger is important.

I do think the excerpt from Hubbert was excellent. I swiped a quote for a presentation.

I can't help but observe a rough similarity between US Peak Oil curve and the US Standard of Living curve above. And likewise between global Peak Oil curves and the global Standard of Living. Sure, I'm projecting in my own head that there will be a downturn on the global Standard of Living ATRSN (Any Time Real Soon Now).

Not that that proves anything, of course.

Resource exhaustion, cancerous growth, environmental toxicity, climate change and economic injustice: the Horsemen of the Fifth Revolution. Even this post only brings a few of those Horsemen explicitly into the picture. Kudos for bringing the economic injustice forward; that more than anything renders "solutions" impossible, functioning as it does on every level from amygdala brain to the ownership of our political systems.

cfm in Gray, ME

Median global lifespan is lower than 11 years ago so IMO that is a good proxy for median global SOL.

I think the author may have used SL as an abbreviation purposely.

But I think "global SOL" may be more appropriate.

I find this a rather simplistic way to measure SL.

I'd more go to how much one must work to get the necessities of life after which is a choice of what one wants.

For instance I sailed around the Carribean only work 1/mo/yr. As I didn't make much money I would have been call poor and a low SL. But compared to those working their rears off and falling behind I was doing quite well thank you, sipping a cool drink and figuring out just what kind of seafood was for dinner, falling overboard to catch it and what we wanted to do that night, party on the beach or have others over.

As for my energy needs it came to about 2 gal/gasoline/week yet I had everything I needed from my wind or tidal generator.

Now land bound I still only work about 10hrs/week enjoying life having bought a home of modest size though larger than I need, my expenses are so low, $22-45/mo for electricity and another $100 for internet, garbage, water, phone.

And I have plenty of time to build things like my EV's which get the cost equivalent of 250 and 600mpg keep my costs low and SL high.

The basic facts are we waste so much we could cut our energy needs by 75% without effecting our SL but increasing it instead by spending less money, thus have more. As I tell people, it's not how much you make, it's how much you spend and how you spend it.

For instance I eat sirloin, tenderloin, boneless chicken breasts for much less and less time than one would eat at Burger King, etc places and their much worse foods.

One does this by buying quality, things that last decades. Life's quality once ones basic needs are met is more family, friends and enjoying yourself.

In my travels SL is more whether the country is corrupt or not. It's really political. If the politics are reasonable, fair everyone can have a good SL. If not few do.

For instance Mexico has the same resources as the US but keeps all the money in the Elite. But not paying the population a living wage there is no way to make money from them.

Nor is overpopulation going to be a problems as the SL goes up, birth rates go down with Europe, US, Japan dropping in population except for immigration.

I don't think we will ever hit 9 Billion but probably peak at about 8.5 and shrink after that.

In conclusion using RE, recycling, smart use of resources we all can have a good SL.

If we continue buying junk, waste energy, resources and have corruption we won't.

I am a 67 year resident of the Golden State, now the US miner's canary for Jim Kunstler's "Long Emergency". I learned my first words on my great grandmothers lap. a woman born in 1850 when Californi entered the Union of States. Her family established a dairy at 19th & "R" streets, about 50 yards from the Sacramento Valley Railroad, first RR in California. Later on, in 1910 the Western Pacific crossed the SVRR (then the SP) along 19th, so my first years were accompanied by World War 2 railroading, with a backdrop of working steam locomotives. Sacramento also had electric streetcar lines; most of the power from Shasta, Central Valley Project hydropower. Books on the "Pacific Electric Railway" offer a concise study of legacy rail methodology in the States. Everything worked without import oil.

Sacramento Northern, an Interurban Electric line, moved passengers by day, and brought perishables into town for processing and shipping to far places, as did the WP & Southern Pacific. Both big rail lines had general shops, SP the largest, with a Bessemer converter for steel. Naval rifle barrels up to 16" bore were turned at the SP shops for the navy. This was railway background when the USA was exporting food & oil. The rails stayed pretty much intact for another 10 years, until the great freeway mania began, ending all but a skeleton of former rail footprint. Ending in step with the vanishing steel rail network, an America as a lending, not a borrowing nation, no longer energy independendent. Brits can tell a similar story. Japan had electric lines similar to the US, as well.

Point is, rail based economies can play a major role in maintaining a reasonable standard of living. Railway expansion, given updating with renewable energy power source, containerization and modern maintenance practice, still is a good fit in the EIOER envelope. A good compendium of methodologies for local energy & mobility can be found in Christopher C. Swan's book, "ELECTRIC WATER". (New Society Press, 2007). See "Suntrain Transportation Corporation" on web.

In America, existing railway lines offer rationale for rehab of dormant rail feeder branches as early step. This is true in most developed countries. Late arrivals (India, for example) to rubber tire mania need to look at major & secondary arterial planning as corridor for railways, not only for pavement. Add renewable, see (peakoil.net) articles 374 & 1037; green electricity in step with railway power requirements.

A source for US Rail Map Atlas volumes is (spv.co.uk), useful for local planners taking initiative to learn the territory. For helpful general scoping methods, CalTrans in Sacramento, CA, still has a 1995 study (unabridged, "US50/I-80 Reno/Tahoe Rail Corridor Study" publication. This gives readable steps for determination of new rail project feasibility & scoping demographics, etc. It includes ways to upgrade existing line, so in one volume, a general picture of rail upgrade is presented. California can still contribute something for "Plan B"!

One remaining detail for others to expand: Military Railroad Operating & Maintenance Battalions. In America, these were logistics units, in place from Civil War to the VietNam era. Primary mission was military supply role, but domestically, the military rail units assisted in disaster recovery, and would lend a hand when nearby rail lines needed emergency help in an accident or weather disaster. Katrina cleanup/ recovery would have been orders of magnitude faster with rail battalions on the scene. An added Oil Interregnum role for Army/National Guard rr units should include adoption of certain strategic branchlines during the rehab phase. Reading is from American Association of Railroads (202-639-2100), ask for "Librarian", book is James A. Van Fleet's 1956 "Rail Transport & The Winning Of Wars". Eerily prescient, with warnings of domestic attack, import oil dependence...

The equation energy consumed = standard of living is not merely questionable; It is demonstrably false. Productivity per worker hour cannot increase linearly with energy per worker hour indefinitely. If a factory employing 1000 people fired 999 worker, the remaining worker would have available 1000 time the energy that he or she had previously. Therefore if productivity/hour increased linearly with energy per hour the remaining worker could match the productivity of 1000 people. Clearly productivity per hour as a function of energy/per hour must obey a law of diminishing returns; Initial outlays of energy provide big increase in productivity, but the productivity curve must roll over and produce smaller and smaller returns for each additional unit of energy invested as total energy use increases. The implication of this observation is than productivity does not drop linearly with energy use.

In fact as I have pointed out elsewhere the higher the quality of the energy (as measured by the net energy returned for a given input of production resources) the farther out along the curve of marginal production we are pushed. Energy quality in this sense can be roughly measured by the fraction of our total budget which is spent on extracting and delivering energy. If we are only spending 10% our budget on energy then the marginal productivity return on using an extra unit of energy is ten time smaller than the average productivity return at that level of energy use. This conclusion is independent of any assumptions about future efficiency increases. Such increases would further mitigate the effects of a drop in energy use.

I am aware that this conclusion is contradicted by published correlations between energy use and GDP which show an approximately linear relationship. I believe that this contradiction arises because GDP is poor measurement of productivity. To see how I reach this conclusion let us consider the classic case of manufacturing efficiency improvements: Henry Ford's development of the automobile assembly line. This development greatly reduced the cost (e.g. the inputs of production resources, mainly labor) of the automobile. For simplicity let us suppose the pre-Ford automobiles cost $10,000 and Ford's automobiles cost $1000. According to the GDP definition of productivity ten of Ford's automobiles represent the same productivity as one of the pre-Ford automobiles. Clearly this conclusion is false. Equal price implies approximate equal inputs of production resources which is not the same thing as equal productivity. Of course because of the high elasticity of demand at the old high price the increase of sales would be more than factor of ten, so that GDP would indeed increase. But there is no reason to believe that this increase is linearly proportional to productivity. This is one more reason why we need to stop worshiping the god of GDP.

I am not, by they way, arguing that we ought to pursue decades more economic growth via increased efficiency. I am convinced that the OECD nations need to greatly decrease their demand on resources and end the growth orientation of their economies. However, I think that the potential for accomplishing this decrease and maintaining a reasonable quality of life is greater than is indicated by the simple minded equation of energy consumption per capita to wealth per capita.

If a factory employing 1000 people fired 999 worker, the remaining worker would have available 1000 time the energy that he or she had previously.

And the stock price would skyrocket. Which suggests to me there is a lot to the argument. Still, Liebig's Law would apply, and a typical factory would only fire maybe 5% while holding production constant.

Bigger picture, consider whether or not "more energy consumed" leads to an increased "quality of life" for every other species on the planet. Seems to me life is designed to maximize energy consumed given the ecological niche. My guess is that civilization confuses the picture. A monk increases his individual quality of life by using less, but it's not clear to me that even a monk doesn't function as a parasite on a society that uses increasingly more. What is the typical pneumatic teenage girl and consumptive boy all about now? Maximizing energy consumption. What about a peacock? What about a slug? Or the weasel whatever that killed my ducks last night; it didn't eat three of the four, only killed them. The fourth it ate.

What was truly sad about the ducks, clearly they all hung out and died right next to each other. They were not scattered around the pen, but one right next to the other. Hang together or hang separately - didn't change the outcome.

cfm in Gray, ME

In support of your argument, the first few watts of electricity can power a mobile phone, the first tens of watts a refrigerator the next 100's lights or an electric bike, the next 1000's heat or cool a home or provide transportation. These have somewhat equivalent values as far as SL but increasing energy use by orders of magnitude.

Perhaps SL should be =log [energy/capita]

You are losing it,and bad.A worker obviously cannot run a whole factory single handed but he can increase his productivity linearly and even exponentially if provided with bigger more powerful machines.

I can haul a load of apples to town in my pickup-thirty bushels- in an hour round trip but I can haul two hundred and fifty bushels in an hour and ten minutes in my nieghbors big truck.My little truck takes about a gallon to two gallons of gas, my nieghbors uses about six gallons of diesel.Such a truck sells for about five times as much as a pickup truck but it hauls at least ten times as efficiently,and will last at least three times as long,both vehicles given normal care and maintainence.

The less energy you use ,the more inefficiently you work in more cases than not in an industrial society.It would take me two whole days,given my age and endurance, to do that trip with two hay burners but my grandfather did it in a 14 to 16 hour day as a teenager.

This is not to say that trucks can't be designed to get better fuel economy,or that most industrial processes can't be made more energy efficient.

Nor is it to deny that sometimes energy,not to mention money and labor ,aren't expended with regard to the bottom line profit rather than efficiency.

It is accepted practice to overfeed dairy cows,so that some feed is wasted by being left uneaten ,because the last few pounds of feed are worth less than the last few marginal gallons of milk,when you get to the bottom line.

The people who drive super tankers joke about the new next size up coming out with outboard motors.

Thank you Nate for probably the most important post this year or any other year. THIS IS THE PROBLEM. The Problem, The ONLY Problem.

All others are derivatives of this piece. Have had read Richard's original back in 2001ish, I am still in awe of how close he called it. The detractor above are basically nit picking on details that really don't have any meaningful affect on the basic thrust of the piece. Over Population, and Resource usage.

How did Albert Bartlett put it? "Man's biggest shortcoming is not understanding geometric progressions" or something to that effect?

It's all about population my fellow yeasts...

If you subscribe to a God, now would be the time to pray for mercy on us all.

Check UN Agenda 21 for sustainable living.

Here's a link for Agenda 21:

Did you notice that it is 17 years old. Has there been an update recently?

When I saw the headline, I thought that the article would include ideas like Contraction & Convergence (see Andrew Simms book Ecological Debt, among other) and Plan C (specifically the book by that name by Patrick Murphy--the C is for curtailment.)

Adding to what others have said, it is very possible to have a culturally very rich life with very low energy use. James Merkel in Radical Simplicity claims that everyone currently on earth could live sustainably at about the level of the average Parisian in the 1950's. We are probably passed that now, but we could get much closer to sustainable and see great increases in basic measures of standard of living. See also Bill McKibben's Deep Economy and Hope, Human and Wild.

There are all sort of possible ways for people to radically reduce their negative impact on the earth and their use of ff energy. The likelihood that they will be embraced soon enough and fully enough to have much effect on the maelstroms that are now upon us seems highly unlikely to me.

I think the Middle Ages or various traditional small scale societies are the best places to look for what much of daily life may be like fairly soon, though this too may be optimistic. People in these societies had much knowledge, habits, social taboos... that helped them to survive with severe energy constraints. These qualities are not learned and acquired quickly.

Who suffers more when placed in a pot of boiling water, a lobster or an over educated and highly aware TOD reader?

if wishes were horses then beggars would ride

Here's my problem with the most pessimistic predictions: We can maintain an industrial civilization given enough non-oil energy. So then in my mind the question of the continuation of industrial civilization becomes a question of adequate non-oil energy resources.

Just because oil production is going to decline by 3-7% per year why does that mean other forms of energy production will do likewise? Why can't we increase wind, solar, nuclear, power while oil is declining?

Why can't we shift transportation to electrified rails, electrified bicycles, and electrified cars?

We had an industrial civilization before the car. Andrew Carnegie built up huge steel mills before the car. Why can't we do it again? We have far more technology and technological advances continue. So why does civilization have to collapse? I don't see it.

I can see a 25% or maybe even a 50% decline in living standards. But that still leaves us far far above Olduvai people.

Thus my proposed slogan for Alan Drake's hypothetical presidential campaign: "Vote for Alan Drake and things will probably not be as bad as they would otherwise have been."

We can maintain an industrial civilization given enough non-oil energy.

Can is not will. You, and many others, are for some reason discounting discontinuities.


". . . things will probably not be as bad as they would otherwise have been."

If you note my quote, it seems my response was not meant to be to you.


#Jay W. Forrester in 1971/1973 used feedback modeling to show the likelihood of overshoot and collapse of the World ‘STEP’ system.

The use of feedback control systems to model wide-scale behaviors is perhaps one of the most misapplied approaches to understanding depletion and growth scenarios. The basis of Forrester's systems dynamics models ultimately rest on a deterministic set of equations that somehow purport to capture the flow of the aggregate. Yet anyone that thinks about this for a while begins to realize that the real behavior consists of many dispersive flows that work in independently; and only when constructed in composition does it paint the real picture.

Most people do not really care because the deterministic model mimics some of the quantitative behavior that we observe. Yet the dispersive form of the analysis is ultimately simpler to understand in that it captures the actual dynamics, for instance the Logistic form of the depletion curve. It also includes the idea of entropy which essentially replaces the determinism implicit in Forrester world dynamics model and Duncan's Stella model.

I can only guess why Forrester did this originally and can only come up with that it was convenient in that feedback control theory is well understood when applied to systems where it was appropriate (i.e. linear and other control systems that showed deterministic responses). I have fallen into this trap before but have since avoided making too many assumptions on a deterministic world-view.

Bottom line is that Forrester and Duncan have gotten lucky with a barely adequate emulation.

I think we have to confront the issue of whether the 'bottom billion' in China and India can realistically be elevated to a global middle class lifestyle. Of India's 1.2bn people 0.8bn don't have electricity. Of China's 1.3bn it is said only 0.3bn enjoyed the fruits of economic growth.

Perhaps then China, India and the US each have have a core middle class of 300m. That could mean each of these countries can emit similar amounts of CO2 and that amount must steadily decline. None of these countries should therefore increase emissions on the grounds of population entitlement. It also means that larger numbers of people will be sidelined in China and India as unable to be helped. China and India simply have too many people to join the high average CO2 club.

Crunch time for this kind of thinking will come when China and India want more coal imports or if they stall on international carbon cuts. Coal exports to these countries could be cut or they could face carbon tariffs on their traded goods. It's going to get ugly.

As oil and coal become more expensive, renewable and nuclear will become the the preferred growth energy resources. China has just increased its renewable plus nuclear targets for % of energy by 2020, with rapid increases in hydro, wind, solar and nuclear. They have a lot of room to increase real SL while holding CO2 emissions flat.

The compromise will be India and China stabilize CO2 emissions the developed world cuts by 80% and eventually we have a world CO2/capita quota. Australia having one of the highest CO2/capita and high population growth through immigration will have to keep renewable energy growing at our present rate of increase for 20-30years.

I agree with some of the other posters that energy consumption is a useless parameter for quality of life. Just look at life expectancy as the most basic measure of quality of life: it is higher in Europe than in the USA even though US energy consumption is higher, and US life expectancy has increased during Duncan's hypothesized slide to Olduvay: life expectancy was 73.7 in 1980 and 77.8 in 2005 (last available data in http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus08.pdf#026 ) whereas peak oil US was 1973 and peak per capita energy was also 1973 according to today's article.

Likewise, the "going back to the 17th century" assumption some posters mention is out of the question because the advances in knowledge are not undone by lower energy supply: for example, bicycles will be an important part of a lower-energy environment, and they are a 19th century invention, not a 17th century one.

US life expectancy has increased during Duncan's hypothesized slide to Olduvay: life expectancy was 73.7 in 1980 and 77.8 in 2005

I'm too lazy to have read the linked PDF, but if the 77.8 is for people born in 2005 based on trend analysis which doesn't include black swans, it may be delusional.

Expectancy is funny that way.

According to UN statistics, average life expectancy is slightly higher in Cuba than in the US. Makes you think.

Not so. According to the CIA World Factbook, life expectancy in the US is 78.11 years while in Cuba it is 77.45 years.

Ron P.

CIA and the UN disagree?

"(5) Multiculturalism will cause chaos during the transition to localism."

overall i agree with Duncan's conclusions - & for me it matters little that the details of getting there are suspect in minor ways.

the harsh truth is that human nature & our hard wiring will be more of a factor[actually the true problem] than anything clearly measurable, & verifiable.

i do think the above quote will be both true, & not true. here i think Duncan is wrong, or at least too broad a brush in that multiculturism argues for the way out of a warlike stance towards 'others'.

possibly the move to settled/ag life was in a sense a result of the warring, & competition between tribes; & the AG life won.

certainly the racism of varying locales will be as Duncan implies, increasing chaos; but the basis of cooperation between individuals, & very small groups, & even various locales is built on many of the tenants of multiculturalism.

The basis of self-organized, internal cooperation is based on common understandings, common needs, and common threats.

Nearly all of our these are provided by or through cheap energy and the abstraction of money.

right u are; but the human mind is more than these 'commonalities' it can make choices- informed ones that carry forward values like in the 'Road', no partaking of people, though starving.

similarly multiculturism makes our powerful tendency of scapegoating a not ok coping mechanism.

for all the bad/evils of american culture we have done at least enough rewiring in this area with pockets of good results that will significantly help here & there during our collapse.

One word: Internment.


ccpo, you forget "machete"

Been there. Done that.
I'm a Rhodesian. I know the effects of population growth. The Average used to be 6.7 Babies per womb.

Zimbabwe is the future.

Poor soft West.

Read "Tom Brown's Schooldays."
Read "The Saga of Igor Skalagrimson"

Hello MoonWatcher,

Thx[S] for this link as it tends to support my ongoing "She comes down from Yellow Mountain.." posting series.

Hello TODers,

Anybody in Paris that could offer more info on this art show and/or interview the artist? How Peak Aware is the artist, and is he actively promoting more Peak Outreach? Does he have any free pamphlets or cards that can help direct his gallery visitors to his favorite Peak websites, books, or orgs like ASPO, etc?

The Olduvai Cliff by Sam Griffin, Paris

After showing in group shows across the globe for the last nine years -The Olduvai Cliff, opening in Paris's Galerie Schirman de Beaucé this week, will be Sam Griffin's first ever solo show.

..Griffin's nostalgia riddled pencil drawings intricately capture those buildings, places and spaces that both define our cultural landscape and act as markers of its decay.

..The show's enigmatic title is a play on the time-appropriate Olduvai Theorum (the theory that global industry will implode due to dried up resources) which grants Griffin the conceptual green light to tackle his favoured themes of social squandering and cultural transience.
I hope some Euro-TODer can give us some feedback on the possible public effects of this art show.

Does anyone know when the Second Edition of GeoDestinies by Walter Youngquist will be available for purchase?

I regard Duncan's work as a simple tracking calculation. And nothing more. I would use other more generalized ideas about world development to make any predictions, but, I don't see any predictive component in the calculation itself, of Energy to Population.

I've been much more interested in where, and in what configuration, OECD and non-OECD energy use would converge. Olduvai "appears" to be probing for that convergence. After reading the paper over the last week, I'm not sure that it is.

Duncan, and also Orlov for example, are not addressing the supply of natural gas and coal. FWIW, I have moved to the idea that the world is experiencing not the final, but the penultimate energy collapse right now. I really like Orlov's Slope of Dysfunction model. I just don't think it will describe what happens next. As for Duncan, I would almost prefer a long essay explaining why he thinks SL turns down from here. Charts are not predictive.

There is also the matter of the structure, of non-OECD demand. It's a very different structure. It's much more characterized by new, light per capita energy usage but on a massive scale. It's actually the fact that new, non-OECD users are able to utilize much smaller quantities of energy that is frankly so daunting. It's a very different penetration profile. It actually represents monster, gargantuan demand potential that is frighteningly sustainable, at much higher prices.

It's handy, for me, to have Duncan doing this calculation. I started doing it myself with 2004 global population data, and non-OECD energy demand. My key takeway is that even if we do see a per capita convergence between OECD and non-OECD demand, the path to get there is actually deeply fascinating--much more than a simple closing of the spread between the two would suggest.


in a very brief time we have had an impact on the Earth beyond what any other organism has ever had.

More even than the cyanobacteria???

Duncan isn't making his case very well.

He posits that the US(and Canada with similar energy intensity) uses ~60 boe/c will fall to maybe 6 boe/c in 20 years.

That seems unlikely.

North America is totally self sufficient in electricity and natural gas for the next 5 decades at least.

US plus Canada produces 7.5 mbpd and US plus Canada consumes 20.3 mbpd, so the deficit is -12.8 mbpd or -4.7 Gboe.
The population of NA is ~.33 billion people.

That's a decrease of ~14.2 boe/c, not ~50 boe/c if all imports except Canada are cut off.

70% of petroleum (or 14.2 mbpd) goes to transport. 7.5 mbpd would cover
half of that. Car pooling, mass transit, transfering truck traffic to rail, substituting for petroleum in products, replace oil burners with gas, vehicle efficiency, ethanol and voluntary reduction could handle a lot of that.

There is a lot to recommend SL analysis IMO but the 20 year collapse time line is just silly.

He posits that the US(and Canada with similar energy intensity) uses ~60 boe/c will fall to maybe 6 boe/c in 20 years.

Unlikely you say. However at an 8 or 9% decline rate, you'd be at three halvings in as little as 24 years, assuming everything goes smoothly. [rule of 72] Which it won't. Some nations will hoard. Some entities - like the pentagon - will hoard or "prioritize".

Geometric progressions are not reality, it's a artificial, mathematical construct.
That should be a clue that it's not going to happen.
At this board, a geometric decline is always assumed for everything.
Maybe you can come up with a scenario that justifies your prediction.

Of course it won't happen. It will be worse.

The 8 or 9 percent came from EIA documents. I don't for a second believe they are anything but pretty face. Certainly not "geometric". I don't even know what "geometric" means.

So what do you suggest, that they are simply wrong and then what???? Given "peak", there will be decline. What's the rate? Oh, silly me, the concept of "peak" is geometric and therefore appropriate for denial. Spare me.

Certainly not "geometric". I don't even know what "geometric" means.

Geometric(discrete) 8% = 92%^n, n=20 years, .188

Interest compounding is 'discrete' compounding as per your example[rule of 72].

Exponential(continuous) = exp(-n*8%), n=20, .202. is a little more.

Where does the EIA say that the world or US will suffer an 8-9% decline rate starting in 2007,8,9,10?

The Olduvai Scenario (Fig. 5): The U.S. SL falls by 90% from 2008 to 2030. The OECD SL falls by 86%. The non-OECD falls by 60%. The OECD SL melds with the non-OECD SL in 2030 putting the World SL at 3.53 boe/c in 2030. Conclusion 5: The World SL reaches the same value in 2030 that it had in 1930, giving Industrial Civilization a duration of 100 years.

What is essentially being predicted here is a convergence toward mean, "mean" in this case being the mean per capita energy consumption that will eventually be possible. Convergence toward mean is a very common phenomenon, and over long time periods it is a pretty safe prediction to make for any particular element in a system characterized by a considerable range of high-low deviation.

Of course, while reversion toward mean might be a high-probability outcome for a particular member of a larger population, especially the outliers (the US, in this example), that is not to say that every single member of the population must revert to mean without exception. Nor is that to say that the range of deviation must necessarilly narrow. In particular, I am afraid that this notion that the entire world is going to converge toward some sort of "equality", especially in just a few decades, is hopelessly wishful thinking. The last time we had that sort of equality was in the paleolithic era. Some people think that is where we are ultimately heading, and if we are, we might indeed achieve global "equality" - but not in just two decades. More likely, there is going to continue to be a considerable range of deviation between those nations that are the lowest per capita energy consumers, and those that are the higest. The range might very well narrow quite a bit, the mean will certainly drop, and there might very well be some trading of places in the rank ordering. Beyond that, though, and one really is very far beyond any sort of statistical inference and deep into the realm of pure speculation.

As for the target date of 2030, and the implied 100 years of industrial civilization's glory days, I wouldn't take those too seriously. First of all, industrial civilization didn't start in 1930; as I recall, the steam engine and the automated loom might have had something to do with it. Nor do I see any good reason to assert that we are definitely going to level off at 1930 levels of per capita energy consumption; we may, but then again that might just be a milepost on the road downhill. There is nothing magical about 2030 as a date, either. If there is an all-out global thermonuclear war in 2015, for example, the the trend lines all become vertical that year. I suppose there might be scenarios where things get stretched out quite a bit beyond 2030. To achieve that might require that some rather improbable, "black swan" type things happen. Maybe the G20 getting together, announcing that their thinking has been all wrong up to now, and that they are now going to get their act together and try to do the right things in response to the impending crises. Highly unlikely, but an asteroid strike is also highly unlikely; nevertheless, it COULD happen. Taleb's whole point is that "improbable" is not "impossible", and sometimes the improbable DOES happen. I do very much doubt that we're still going to be bumping along at present per capita energy levels by 2030, though, let alone looking at increases. Down is the most likely direction, even if the exact trajectory and time line are uncertain.

What is essentially being predicted here is a convergence toward mean, "mean" in this case being the mean per capita energy consumption that will eventually be possible.

Surely you mean the per capita oil consumption that will be possible. Why would the world be limited to present consumption of wind, solar,nuclear or geothermal energy?

I do very much doubt that we're still going to be bumping along at present per capita energy levels by 2030, though, let alone looking at increases. Down is the most likely direction, even if the exact trajectory and time line are uncertain.

In the last 30 years US per capita energy consumption was flat, but real GDP/capita more than doubled. Why will not this trend of higher GDP/unit energy continue to increase(thermonuclear war excluded)?? possibly at a faster rate with higher energy prices??

In the last 30 years US per capita energy consumption was flat, but real GDP/capita more than doubled. Why will not this trend of higher GDP/unit energy continue to increase(thermonuclear war excluded)?? possibly at a faster rate with higher energy prices??

The thing is, the US has multiple, huge problems. Energy is just one of them. There is no serious effort on the part of anyone that matters to do anything serious and effective about any of those problems. Denial and kicking the can down the road has been the standard response of those in positions of power for many decades now. The present occupant in the White House talks a somewhat (but still woefully inadequate) promising talk, but the actual actions do not yet inspire any confidence. Until I see a massive change in the way those in power in this country go about recognizing our real problems and how they go about responding to them, I fail to see any reason whatsoever to even consider sharing your optimism.

The USA has failed to plan, and thus it is reasonable to conclude that it plans to fail. I see no other logical conclusion.

I've gone round and round with JD on a lot of things, but on the question of where this article was originally published, he is right.

You CANNOT ignore the context in which an article is published. Journalistic integrity requires that one be upfront about sources of information.

If Duncan is publishing his work in racist journals, this is a big problem. In terms of building a movement and publicizing sustainability, this is one of the worst things that could happen. It is important to criticize Duncan for this, and repudiate his work if he persists.

My media background tells me: This is a political/publicity bombshell. You can't ignore it.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

Hello Bart,

See my reply to JD in this thread. IMO, this is what I think is most likely, but I have never met Duncan. If Duncan would refuse to be interviewed by Jet or Ebony, BET, or Spanish media, et al, to discuss his Olduvai Theory [ie, he doesn't want other non-white groups to know about this Thermo/Gene trend]--then I would be much more inclined to agree with JD's posting.

I agree with Bart on this one.

Perhaps we need some new points of view on the subject matter. Try as I might, I cannot really use any of Duncan's material from a purely analytical point of view. In some respects, we should really take a clinical look at the situation. As per the conventions of the scientific world, research really has to be built up from fundamentals and incrementally constructed from a shared set of knowledge. Duncan comes out of left field and he does not make it easy for anyone else to follow his work..

As a for instance, I don't think JD will attack me even though I lay into him. Not to sound pompous or presumptuous but I think he realizes that I don't try to bite off more than I can chew as I work in a more methodical fashion.
Hate to say it but we probably need more JD's out there, and I would just love someone like the annoyances from climateaudit.org to come after me. Hand-to-hand combat is often pretty effective in shaking out ideas. If the climateaudit people had Duncan on their agenda, they would rip him apart, I'm afraid. As of right now, they have their hands full on the climate change so they don't care.

Perhaps, but then I agree with Diamond that humanity has become less intelligent on average. I would say that you need to know why he published there before you can draw any conclusions.

For example, there is a journal out of South Africa that publishes AGW denialist papers. Why? It's a rubber stamp for them. The writers go there for that reason. However, it is also likely they can't get published elsewhere, or wish to avoid legitimate peer review.

So, did Duncan publish there because he's racist, or because he had no choice?

I don't know if Duncan is racist or not, but OFM stated above the group that published the work isn't racist.

I don't know either way, but am troubled by the multiple attacks in this thread in regard to this. If you can't separate the message and the messenger, you've got bigger problems than where Duncan publishes.


It is important to criticize Duncan for this, and repudiate his work if he persists.

Duncan also published his last article in the Winter 2005-2006 issue of The Social Contract Quartlerly. So this is an ongoing association.

Other notable peak oil figures are associated with this same journal. For example, we see Steve Andrews and Randy Udall as authors for the Winter 2005-2006 issue.

Their co-authors? Editor Wayne Lutton (seen with the confederate flag above) who says: white people "...are the real Americans, not the Hmong, not Latinos, not the Siberian-Americans." (Note: "Siberian-Americans" is racist lingo for native americans.)

Albert Bartlett is all over the site, writing articles, providing interviews etc. In fact, there is a prominent link to Bartlett's website right above a click-through add for the racist novel "Camp of the Saints". Considering his intimate involvement with the site, and the fact that it advertises racist literature on the front page, I would have to say that Albert Bartlett is, at the very least, sympathetic to white racists.

JD. Thanks for tracking this stuff down.

It's important to describe EXACTLY what the association is and not jump to conclusions.

For example, links by themselves don't mean anything. Anybody can post a link to any article - the author doesn't have any control over this.

There may not be a connection even if an article is posted on a site. Sites often will post articles without explicit permission.

I think we are going to see a trend of far-Right and racist groups, like the BNP in Great Britain, picking up on the ideas of peak oil and over-population.

Critics like yourself need to be careful to be fair and accurate in your documentation of links.

Groups like The Oil Drum should not hide links (for example the fact that this article originally appeared in the journal of a racist group). This damages the credibility of TOD -- readers begin to wonder, what else might TOD be hiding?

Anyone concerned with peak oil etc. needs to be aware of this troubling link.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

As I said below, we took that link down after we discovered the nature of the organization--there is no obscuring going on here--first we were accused of "pimping" the organization by providing a link, then we're obscuring it by taking it down. Neither is the case, and to attribute that motive to the people involved and in turn impugn their character is frankly disgusting.

We try to do it right here, and we're not perfect, but there has been no evidence prior to this of any ill intent on this kind of issue by the staff and no one here has sympathies with that site that I am aware of. This is blatant cherry picking.

Prof. Goose, the bottom line is this. You are running an article that appears in a racist publication, and was written by a person who supports and frequently contributes to a racist publication. Those are the unvarnished facts, and people should be aware of it. I'll be as shrill as I have to to make those facts known.

The f**king nytimes and wapo, the papers "of record", are racist, white supremacist publications. GO WITH THE ARTICLE.

there is no obscuring going on here

There's a lot of obscuring going on here. First, you describe the publication as "controversial" when in fact it is on the hate group list of the SPLC. Why don't you call it what it is? Second, I pointed out that the subjects of Euan's new post -- Youngquist and Duncan -- both contribute to, and avidly read, The Social Contract. That comment was immediately deleted by TOD staff. I posted nothing but facts in those comments, statements by Youngquist and Duncan and where I found them, and you deleted them because you are concealing their racist connections and views.
Third, I fully expect you to delete this comment, because you don't want people to know that you are censoring the racist backgrounds of the authors you present here.

Anyone concerned with peak oil etc. needs to be aware of this troubling link.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

That is garbage, Bart. If you cannot look at the content of a paper rather than where it was posted, you're the one with problems, not the paper. Your reasoning is exceedingly weak and leads one, frankly, to wonder what you disallow over at EB.

I'm as lefty as they come and see no racism in the paper. The note about multiculturalism might be his code for racism, but it's also a real possibility, as noted by someone elsewhere in these threads. Since it is a valid point to raise, whether it was stated by a racist or not becomes moot.

In the end, it's all about power and money and blood. Being "other" can be very bad in a crisis. (It's one of the reasons I'm leaving Korea.) Leanan has noted this many times. I suppose the two of us are disgusting, hate-filled racists?


At Energy Bulletin our policy is to specify the sources of articles, and, where necessary, give background on the publication or organization.

A number of publications are not what they seem, so giving context is important. For example, several neutral sounding organizations are really puppets for industry groups.

Editors have a responsibility to be clear about the nature of the authors and organizations they print or link to.

Information doesn't exist in a vacuum. Context is all-important.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

Other notable peak oil figures are associated with this same journal. For example, we see Steve Andrews and Randy Udall as authors for the Winter 2005-2006 issue.

See Steve's note down the thread.

Nice to see a few people hanging on to their sanity here, if only a minority ;)

If people can't see that being associated with racists is a problem, and expect the public will just overlook this in favor of "the merits of the theory", then they are more in denial than those they wish to reach.

Of course, if they are only interested in preaching to the converted and generally disappearing up their behind it's not a problem. Or they actually want to appeal to racists. I hope not.

Projections regarding the United States:

(1) We will refuse to solve our own problems so Mother Nature will “solve” them for us.

The US does have a very poor record when it comes to really solving big national problems, so this is a pretty safe prediction.

As Orlov poins out, some problems have no solutions. As I've said here before, I don't even think or talk in terms of "solutions", but rather in terms of "coping strategies".

If the US is bad at doing "solutions", then it is even worse at doing "coping strategies"; instead, denial and kicking the can down the road is BAU.

When you move down from the macro (national) level to the micro (individual and community) level, you do tend to see Americans actually pulling up their sleves and pulling together and doing things that will make a difference, at least in terms of coping strategies if not solutions; de Toqueville noted this about our national character, and it is not yet totally gone with the wind.

(2) Sooner or later industrial decline will cause population decline and, tit-for-tat feedback, population decline will cause industrial decline.

The current global population is in overshoot, and I have no doubt that one way or another, sooner or later, there must be a global population decline.

I am less convinced that this is so much the case in North America. If we sensibly managed our land and water resources, then we probably do have the capacity to feed our existing population on a sustainable basis - barely. Add in another 150 M by 2050, and we may be in trouble, though.

Whether we can isolate ourselves from the consequences of the inevitable global die-off, however, is very much an open question. For example, if a global pandemic kills off a couple of billion people, we in the US cannot expect to remain untouched.

I see industrial decline as something that will happen (indeed, it already has been happening) regardless of what happens with population.

(3) The U.S. population distribution in 2100 will look more like the rural geography of 1900 than like the urban geography of today.

This would be my assumption, too. I would qualify it, though, by the reminder that in 1900 most people were living neither on the farm nor in the big cities, but rather in small towns. It is my belief that it is living in a small town that has the best potential as a coping strategy.

(4) Trying to stimulate – or even maintain – the present level of domestic demand of nonrenewable and renewable Earth resources will fail.

Yes, because it can't be done. We are already in overshoot. We must inevitably deplete the non-renewable resources, and then be forced to live within the means that the renewable resources provide.

(5) Multiculturalism will cause chaos during the transition to localism.

I believe that the transition to localism is inevitable in the long term, but it might not go the way that we might like it to go. Those in positions of great power and wealth have obtained such courtesy of the present, non-localized BAU. It is they who have the most to lose from the transition to localism, and thus it is they who are most likely to put up the resistance and obstacles to relocalization.

It must be admitted that there does seem to be an innate bias amongst all species toward those most like themselves. This tendency in undoubtedly heritable, and has an obvious evolutionary basis. There has thus been a long history of groups of humans favoring those most like themselves, and disfavoring those most dissimilar toward themselves. I am using very polite language here; very often it is a matter of groups killing people not belonging to their own group, or, if they are a bit nicer, they only enslave the outsiders.

One of the glories of the human species is that we are not absolutely bound to this tendency as an iron law. We do have the ability to strugle against and overcome our innate tendencies, and to see humans different from ourselves as nevertheless being FELLOW humans. We have the ability to reach out and befriend - or at least tolerate and cooperate with - those who are different than ourselves. It does not come naturally, and it does not come easily; the really remarkable thing is that is has happened at all, at any time, anywhere.

The US is unusual amongst nations in our high level of diversity and heterogeniety - or "multiculturalism", if you will. It hasn't been easy for all of us to get along with each other, and in fact we've done a pretty poor job of it for much of our history. The amazing thing is that we've done as well as we have. If the US were like Yugoslavia, for example, then today all of the African-Americans would be living in Alabama and Mississippi, all of the Hispanics in Texas and New Mexico, and all of the Jews would be living in Manhattan; this, after millions on all sides had been killed.

The transition to localism is going to be difficult, and the diversity of our population is going to make it even harder. Yes, there will certainly be conflict between groups. I'm not so convinced, though, that the moment that things start to get tough we are going to totally throw overboard all that we've accomplished over several centuries, and revert to raw tribalism. I am hopeful that many of us are at least a tad better than that.

As well as ignoring that Peak Oil doesn't mean Peak Energy, and that SL( standard of living) is not directly related to energy consumption, and ignores improvements in GDP/energy use,
None of Duncans conclusions appear valid;
Conclusion 1: The U.S. SL will continue falling long into the future.

CLI is a short term measure of EXPECTED GDP, not suitable for projecting to 2030.

Conclusion 2: The World SL itself will soon begin to decline.

Those "few non-OECD nations" responsible for increased world GDP ( and increasing energy use/capita) account for one third of the worlds population, should not be lightly dismissed.

Conclusion 3: The OECD SL will continue to fall.,

Projecting GDP for next 20 years on a one year trend! Not sound, what about 1980 recession, did the 2 year decline extend for 20 years?
The CLIs for China, India and Brazil all fell sharply in 2008. Conclusion 4: The non-OECD SL has already begun to fall.

The CLI for China has already returned to above 50, commodity prices have also increased by 50% in last 4months.

Conclusion 5: The World SL reaches the same value in 2030 that it had in 1930, giving Industrial Civilization a duration of 100 years.

This is an arbitrary prediction, ignoring all non-oil forms of energy, ignoring the growth in renewable and nuclear energy over the last 30 years, and ignoring the fact that industrial civilization began without oil and can continue in a future without oil

For the many here that deride Duncan, it would be interesting to see if they can present a better scientific or mathematical explanation that predicts the future oil depletion curve. While they are at that, they should also post their predictions over the last 10 years, and show us how those were superior to what Duncan says, because obviously they have a superior way of understanding but just haven’t quite gotten around to telling us yet.

And if this prediction record, and the comprehensive and better analysis of the oil depletion curve, appears in some politically incorrect news source, well I am still going to go ahead and read it anyway – at least until it is soon published in a MSM article.

I would like to see TOD declare where they stand on racism, and the racist use of peak oil and over-population ideas.

I am particularly troubled by TOD's obscuring the link between this article and a racist organization.

Bart Anderson
Energy Bulletin

I will respond.

There's absolutely no one with a racist bone on this website's staff that I am aware of.

This is a simple case of, as is now currently noted at the top of the article, standard procedure being followed--as is now currently noted, Nate's posting of the link at the top followed past protocols where we provide a link to the previous source.

We took that link down after we discovered the nature of the organization--there is no obscuring going on here--first we were accused of "pimping" the organization by providing a link, then we're obscuring it by taking it down. Neither is the case, and to attribute that motive to the people involved is frankly disgusting.

We try to do it right here, and we're not perfect, but there has been no evidence prior to this of any ill intent on this kind of issue by the staff and no one here has sympathies with that site that I am aware of. This is blatant cherry picking.

I apologize on behalf of all involved for there being a link to begin with. After that, it's up to Duncan to explain his ties with that organization and its site. (Of course, it is Nate's and TOD's name that gets trashed and not really Duncan's...which, I would guess, is more the goal of the detractor.)


And I am particularly troubled that you are demanding that TOD 'take a stand'.

What kind of inquistion are you trying to start?

I WELCOME 'extremist' views on energy and overpopulation even if they come from Stormfront or Chevron.

Why can't you give people opportunity to comment on anything or everything? In fact, JD has effectively made his counterargument because of this post.

If you think political correctness can save the world, then prove it.

I agree.

It is times like these that I think 'why bother'. I'm sure there are others who feel the same way.

On the bright side, the realpolitik that occurs on TOD is probably a good dry run for what will happen in real world future. Odd that I spend time here to learn about resource depletion but get more insights into human behavior...

Rest assured, there will be no peak in human folly. Should keep you busy for a good long while.


Does Richard Heinberg know you act like this? Where are we, Salem?

Thanks for responding, PG.

This is a big issue and will become bigger over time. Far-right groups like the BNP have adopted peak oil ideas, and other far-right and racist groups have adopted over-population ideas for their own purposes.

It's important that all of us in these fields be aware of the potential for abuse of our work. We need to be crystal clear about sources of information, and our attitudes towards suspect groups.

If we are not, than readers will be rightfully suspicious, and we will be attacked as aiding and abetting groups like the BNP and the Social Contract Quarterly.

I have not accused anyone at TOD of racism.

For me, the problem is NOT whether or not the article comes with a link to the Social Contract Quarterly.

The problem is that the original source of the article was not specified. That may not be existing TOD policy, but it's looking as if it should be.

It's sound journalistic practice to explain what the nature of the other organization is, and what the attitude of TOD is towards it.

For example, "The original article was published at XXX and YYY. YYY is a group that has been identified with anti-immigration and racist politics. Although we deplore/reject/whatever those politics, we feel the article is worth bringing to the attention of TOD readers for the light that it sheds on .... etc."

It is not enough to say that it Social Contact Quarterly a "controversial organization" and to pay attention to the message and not the publication. As soon as I read that, I (like any journalist) knew that something was wrong. It's better if TOD is upfront about this, and that readers don't have to wade through the comments to find the lowdown from JD.

I respect the work of TOD authors and editors, and I recognize the difficulty of navigating through landmines like this.

There will be more problems like this in the future, and I think the best approach is openness.

Bart Anderson / Energy Bulletin

(From an email discussion with TOD editors)

We have a chance to learn from this incident, and if we do I think it will be better for TOD and PO in the long run. At Energy Bulletin, we had a LONG discussion about this issue several years ago, when we were wondering how to cover the racist BNP's peak oil platform.

I'm not interested in blame, or even in this one particular issue, which is probably not that important in itself.

My big question: what can we learn from this?

Why this isn't just a side issue:

When the economy is troubled, there's a natural tendency to pick scapegoats. That is happening right now in Hungrary and Italy, among other countries. The Roma (Gypsies) are under attack, as are old-age pensioners and other minorities. These isn't just verbal attacks, but physical. I'm monitoring this news, and it's chilling. I suspect that similar politics will emerge in the US.

How the peak oil movement deals with racism and scapegoating is very important, because I think the influence of peak oil analyses will soon grow dramatically. Peak oil ideas will be used (and are being used now by the BNP) to justify scapegoating.

I don't think it's necessary for peak oil to be anti-racist. But it should be careful that it not allow itself to be hijacked. Careless associations with racist/far right organizations might have been okay in the past when peak oil was marginal, but they will be big deal in the future.

And again, the main thing is OPENNESS.

>> That's way too strong because you don't discuss who does the "identifying" which is completely subjective.

Whether an organization is racist or not can be documented. JD cited the Southern Poverty Law Center's write-up on The Social Contract.. I didn't include it in my example because I was not giving a complete write-up, just a few sentences to give a general idea.

It is also possible to say, "the Southern Poverty Law Center [LINK] identifies the organization as anti-immigrant, with publications that are definitely racist". I think it's better to be clear and detailed as possible, rather than just say "racist",

But however it is done, one needs to give some background on problematic organizations. Otherwise TOD will be attacked.

If TOD were any old website, I'd ignore the issue. But I think people have high expectations of TOD -- for which you should feel pride.

This is part of the general movement of the blogosphere to adopt higher standards -- to re-discover the standards that journalism has painfully acquired over the decades. IDENTIFY YOUR SOURCES -- it's what is pounded into our heads as reporters and editors.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

It was brought to my attention by a TOD partcipant that towards the bottom of this thread, someone named JD referenced the fact that a short rendition of "The Illusive Bonanza," a paper Randy Udall wrote (I helped a little) about Shell's oil shale research in NW Colorado, was published in the fall-winter 2005 issue of The Social Contract Quarterly. Around that time, we had several requests for follow-up from a variety of publications. To cite just one example, the Denver Post ran an op-ed from us on the subject. My vague recollection is that someone from the Social Contract Quarterly asked one of us if they could publish one of the renditions that was flying around. One of us probably said yes; it could have been me, since I think former Colorado Governor Dick Lamm introduced me in passing to either their editor or publisher that fall. If theirs is a pub with racist slant, its unfortunate that our names are associated, however much in passing, because that's definitely not us. Period.

TOD does great work. I probably read at handful of TOD articles a week, typically the ones that Tom Whipple posts in ASPO-USA's daily Peak Oil News. Bart Anderson does great work over the Energy Bulletin as well. Continued success to your collective efforts...

Thanks. Just so you know you are in good company, Barack Obama also had one of his speeches reprinted in Social Contract Quarterly. I am sure he didn't solicit them to have it published there :)

In other words, we can usually tell from the context whether someone is deliberately creating misguided (IMO) alliances.

Post deleted by me (richard)