Things Fall Apart: Complexity, Supply Chains, Infrastructure & Collapse Revisited

This is a presentation by Dr. David Korowicz from Feasta, given at the Oil Drum/ASPO Conference at Alcatraz, Italy in June 2009. It can be downloaded here: Things fall apart: Some thoughts on complexity, supply chains, infrastructure & collapse dynamics, PDF 23 slides, 1.3 MB, text of spoken presentation. It was previously posted on The Oil Drum in August 2009.

Slide 2: Poem

This poem by W.B. Yeats inspired my talk's title.

Slide 3: A 16,000 thousand year switch

Suppose I were to take your new born infant, and by some magic transport her back through 16,000 years to a cave in what is now Lascaux in south-western France. Let's swap your baby with a baby born to a Neolithic mother. There is no reason to believe that in time both children would not turn out to be well-adjusted, unremarkable members of their respective communities. Genetically they are the same. What is clearly different is the world in which they would have to make their way.

Slide 4: Triad/Civilisation

What shaped our modern world is our hunter gatherer minds, and the growth in complexity and size of human society and infrastructure facilitated by access to increasing energetic and material resources. We could say that civilisation is the emergent feature of these interactions.

Slide 5: Title page Thermodynamics of Civilisation

This lecture will focus on the complexity part, but the other elements are always close by.

Slide 6: Far-from equilibrium thermodynamics

In the universe as a whole, entropy, or disorder is increasing. Yet life, our civilisation, the things and institutions we create are ordered. We create islands of low entropy out of the tendency to universal disorder.

To see this we can look at the simple example of a Bernard cell. The molecules in the liquid between the hot and cold plate are moving randomly in all directions. Any one part of the liquid is the same as any other part. As we increase the temperature gradient, we arrive at a point where suddenly there appears lots of convection cells. This phase transition corresponds to the emergence of lots of order and structure within the system.

While the cells themselves are low entropy, we see in the graph that the transition corresponds to a big increase in the rate at which heat is dissipated. Heat is the most disordered (high entropy) form of energy. The dissipation is into the environment outside the experiment. In general locally ordered structures enhance the flow of general disorder and so such structures are thermodynamically stable- as long as there is a continuous flow of free energy through the system. If we reduce the flow of free energy that allows us to maintain the gradient below the critical threshold, the order disappears.

Our civilisation expresses these thermodynamic realities. Far-from-equilibrium thermodynamics gives us a way to view the consequences of what reducing the flow of free energy that is required to build and maintain our society might mean in practice.

Slide 7: Energy Rate Density

Eric Chaisson has, using simple thermodynamic relations, associated energy per unit time per unit mass with complexity. In this graph he has taken the overview of our 'cosmic history' as one of increasing complexity.

Complexity is not a goal of life, merely the result of increasing free energy stores being accessible. Complex humans share the universe with far far more less complex things.

Slide 8: Resources used in Manufacturing Processes.

It is a cliché, though true, to say that life has become more complex. We can see this in the products we produce. This figure shows the energy used per unit mass graphed against process rate of various manufacturing processes. The processes range from manufacturing processes used half a century ago, up to modern semi-conductor and nanotechnology manufacture. What we see is that we are making much more energy intensive products, of much smaller size. The most modern commercial processes are forming distinctive structures on the scale of only tens of atoms.

Let us take advanced semiconductors as our standard barer of complexity. They form the basis of our telecommunications and information processes, being as the basis of mobile phones and their network infrastructure; computers and their network infrastructure; they run our power grids and car electronics, medical equipment and games consoles.

A 32 MB DRAM chip would now be considered archaic, but we see that its 2grams require 1700g of resources. One expects that contemporary Very Large Scale Integration (VLSI) chips require vastly more resources.

Again, all of this reflects the thermodynamic reality that the cost for higher complexity on smaller and smaller scales must be paid in increasing energetic and material resources.

Slide 9: Complexity & the Global Economy

We can see complexity in the number and depth of interactions, numbers of products, the complexity of products, the number of institutions, and the number of specialised roles and their knowledge base.

The remarkable thing about our economy is that it works. Each day I buy bread. The person who sold me that bread need not know from whom the wheat was bought, who manufactured the mixer, or who provided export credit insurance for the bulk wheat shipment. The person who delivered the bread to the shop did not need to know who refined his diesel, who invented the polymer for his gasket, or if I personally have money to pay for bread. The steel company did not know that a small manufacturer of bread mixers would use its product, nor cared where its investment came from. The process required to simply give me tasty and affordable bread, required, depending on the system boundaries, thousands, millions, even hundreds of millions of people acting in a coherent manner. There was no master organiser, nor could there be, given the complexity of the process. From each of us playing our own small part, through the market and price system, the global economy emerges. The global economy, like the formation of birds in flight, is self-organised.

The number of products, their complexity; and the increased infrastructure required to manage elements of the increasingly complex world in which we live all require more complex supply- chains that are required to transform raw materials into products and services that criss-cross the globe. It is said that a car has about 15,000 components. If each of those components has on average 150 components (1%), and each of those 1.5 components, that makes over 3 million interactions- and we have not included staff, plants, production lines, IT and financial systems.
And as things and infrastructure wear out, that's the laws of thermodynamics working again, these supply-chains are required not just to grow the global economy but to maintain it.

In a world of growing population with increased consumption demands, the tendency to complexify will remain a huge driver as new problems and challenges arise. Well it would, were it not for the ecological limits to growth.

Slide 10: Evolution of complexity

As Joseph Tainter has so well demonstrated, societies are problem solving organisations, developing the easiest solutions first. That could be simple, e.g. the need to make bread; or it could be complex, e.g. putting in a renewable energy infrastructure.

As new solutions are introduced they co-adapt and co-evolve with what is already in place. Where they provide some new good or service we like, or provide some new efficiency they spread more quickly through our society.

However we see declining marginal returns in our investments in complexity. This can be seen across the board, for energy, metals, agricultural productivity etc.

It is something that society finds hard to understand. The more complex human, institutional, and infrastructural resources we throw at a problem, the more confirmed we are in our potency as problem solvers. But consider the cutting edge of physics in 1897, the discovery of the electron by J.J. Thompson. It was performed on a laboratory bench, and would have required the services of a master glass blower and a couple of other crafts people. Now consider the Large Hadron Collider, the cutting edge of modern physics which requires over 20 km of tunnels under the French-Swiss border; 72 twenty ton magnets, and thousands of highly trained direct staff- to find (possibly) another particle, the Higgs boson.

We see a similar story in drug discovery. Alexander Flemming discovered penicillin in the 1920's for a cost in the order of tens of thousands of euros, with a huge return to human welfare. Now we spend hundreds of millions on making minor improvements to drugs that have minimal benefits for humanity.

Slide 11: Analogy: An adaptive landscape...

We can look at an analogy of these processes. This figure shows us at a moment, represented by the red triangle, faced with choices in the x-y plane. The problem, say putting in renewable energy infrastructure, has an energy & resource cost represented by the height of the mountain, represented by the cross here.

What we tend to concentrate upon is this cost. However we must also consider the ground beneath our feet-this is the implied infrastructure which includes all those things we take for granted but are essential to the project's completion. These might include the availability of a financial market; that supply-chains work; that contracts can be enforced; that transport systems work, really the list is endless. In total, our implied infrastructure is the accumulation of all the complex organisation and infrastructure up to this point in time, throughout global society, without which, the project cannot succeed.

While most concentrate upon the trip to the summit, the real problem is that the ground is about to crumble beneath our feet.

Slide 12: Supply-Chains and infrastructure title page

Slide 13: Supply-Chains

Let's zoom in on a little piece of a supply-chain and see the essential components. One of the defining features is that we can change suppliers for economic or other reasons, we can substitute S for S'. This means we can loose suppliers in a supply-chain, and the market system allows us to find new ones easily. This can allow us to manage risk. Indeed the system is so efficient that many companies hold virtually no stock and can partake of the efficiencies provided by just-in-time delivery.

If we zoom out and look over the whole supply-chain networks we see that some nodes are essential to the functioning of the whole. Virtually all financial transactions are mediated by banks. If there were a systemic collapse in the banking system, the supply-chain would collapse also as there is no direct substitute available. We saw such a shudder in the system in late 2008 after Lehman Brothers collapsed. Banks would not issue the letters of credit required for international trade as they did not trust counter-party banks. One reason for the 90% drop in the Baltic Dry Shipping Index was due to a temporary freezing of such financing. In the parlance of network theory, the banking system is a hub.

On the basis of our previous discussion, and intuitively it makes sense I think to say:

More complex things have longer and deeper supply-chains.

They have more substitutable components- i.e. there are very few alternative suppliers of advanced integrated circuits, compared to the number of suppliers of say, plastic moulding, or cardbord boxes.

They are more resource and implied infrastructure dependent.

Slide 14: Map of the origins of base materials required for a mobile phone.

This is a nice map showing the origin of the base materials required for the manufacture of a mobile phone. For each element this is only the beginning of a long journey that will directly involve thousands of enterprises before the phone ever appears in your hand.

The implied infrastructure would be the networks of international trade and finance that facilitates this; and the availability of complex mining technologies.

Slide 15: Infrastructure

What has evolved is that we have put these most complex components and infrastructures at the heart of our most critical systems.

To see this process we imagine that suddenly all our IT systems, introduced over the last 15 years, stopped working. The result would not be to return us to where we were just before their introduction. Many people would become uncontactable, records would disappear, business and commerce would be in crisis. Our banking system, airline transport, stock markets would fail. The electric grid would go down. For most, work would become difficult or impossible. The little cash we had would be spent, but could not be replaced as banking systems would fail. We could not buy food and there would be reduced food within the economy. The ability of state to manage the crisis would be greatly impaired. Within days we could see major social unrest. How is it that a series of developments only 15 years old, could if suddenly removed cause such chaos, after all we were fine without it? Well we have seen some of the answers in how complex systems evolve.

The continuous functioning of our supply-chains (particularly in the case of food where just-in-time delivery and globalised sourcing means modern cities could be days away from a food crisis); financial and banking system; telecommunications; energy systems, and transport have become increasingly integrated and co-dependent. A serious failure in one could cause a cascading failure in the others.

What has helped make such systems viable is that they are being cross-subsidised throughout the whole economy. The resource required to build and maintain such complex infrastructure require that we buy games consoles, send superfluous text messages, listen to iPods, and watch YouTube.

The short lifetime and rapid turnover of mobile phones, computers, servers, and network infrastructure are often presented as an upgrade to new technologies and services. This may be so, however a level of throughput is required to keep the system functional. Internally, because more complex structures will tend to fail more rapidly than less complex ones (for thermodynamic reasons, though built-in obsolescence may also play a part). Externally, because of the economies of scale require that such complex and resource intensive components must be produced continuously in quantity.

In this sense we are upgrading just to sustain the basic functionality of the systems upon which we have grown increasingly reliant.

Slide 16 Collapse

Here are a couple of definitions of collapse. It's what we'll talk about now. It is I hope clear from what we have said that complexity and energy flows are inextricably linked, and that a draw-down in such flows are most likely to lead to abrupt changes rather than continuous changes in complexity.

Slide 17: Energy decline & energy budgeted

Here is a familiar Gaussian plot of oil production, we have also an account for declining EROEI, giving us the net energy available to society. Ignore the actual figures, this is just for illustrative purposes.

As we'll see in a moment talking about a money budget in such circumstances is likely to be very problematic, but we could talk of an energy budget for a country. Each of those sections represent energy spent on health-care, general administration, running businesses, schools, and investment, for example.

Well the first thing is as net energy declined, each sector would be under increasing pressure to maintain basic operations. Investing in conventional or renewable energy, which requires a large up-front energy payment for a small annual return over many years would be increasingly difficult. Firstly because there would be less investable energy. Secondly, our social discount rate is likely to increase, that is society is likely to become more short-term. When offered the choice between saving basic employment or health services now verses a slow long term energy payback, it is more likely to choose the former, especially as the stakes rise.

Both of these represent positive feedbacks on declining net energy, and thus on decreasing complexity.

However the above scenario seems far too optimistic, we are unlikely to have such well defined net energy available. There are other positive feedback that will make the decline process far more uncertain as we will now see.

Slide 18 Debt & Opaque money

If energy flows into the economy decline, growth cannot continue, this reflects thermodynamic realities and embedded dynamic constraints.

Debt is a call on future wealth. We can borrow because the principle plus interest has a better chance of being paid back in a growing economy. In a contracting economy paying back the principle will take a growing share of the total economy, never mind the interest.

The sovereign, corporate, and personal debt already accumulated, and governments' attempts to run deficit financing to bring us out of recession are likely to fail as rising energy and food prices choke off growth, and lower discretionary income make servicing debt more and more difficult. Eventually, lenders will realise they are throwing good money after bad, or rather bad after worse.

If countries cannot borrow, they cannot run deficits. If you need to import energy, food, or components for vital infrastructure or services, you will need to export something of similar value. This will mean companies integrated into parts of supply-chains may have to drop out.

Investment will become close to impossible, even energy investments will occur in a much more risky environment.

Our debt based fiat money system is effectively primed for deflation. The pool of money in the economy is maintained by new borrowing as old debt is repaid. A drop off in new debt issuance, and a reluctance to spend (a reduction in the velocity of money), will mean reduced economic activity on top of the energy constraints. Some governments will no doubt discover the short-term benefits of printing money, only to further loose confidence in their currency.

Valuing a currency will become fraught with difficulties, the dollar will no doubt crash, but against what?

We could say that money becomes opaque. We lose confidence in its valuation in space, that's trade; and time, that's investment.

Finally, sticking with our thermodynamic theme, we might remember that entropy and information bare a close relationship, a history going back to Claude Shannon in the 1950's. The collapse of structures and institutions represents a loss of information about how our world works. The increase in uncertainty will be fundamentally stochastic rather than epistemic.

Slide 19: Supply-chain creeping collapses

What I mean by creeping collapse is the loss of individual companies and failing elements of supply-chains. This is in contrast to the failure of a hub, such as the global banking system.

In this list we see some of the constraints we mentioned before, plus some new ones. What is important is that they are interacting together and often re-enforcing each other.

The combined effect will be to reduce more and more the number of companies in the supply-chain, and make the exchanges (physical, monetary etc.) more and more difficult.

By reducing the number of substitutes in the chain, whole chains will grind to a halt for want of critical inputs, further reducing the viability of other members of the chain. In a way just like that old rhyme that encapsulates 'for want of a nail, the war was lost'.

Slide 20: Dis-economies of scale

Economies of scale are the familiar benefits of a globalising world. They mean that not only can goods or services be produced cheaper, meaning greater sales volumes; but also a freed up discretionary income that can be spent on other goods and services.

In the energy/ economic environment I have been discussing, this process goes into reverse. The rising prices of goods (because of the energy cost, supply-chain and money risk reasons), and reduced discretionary income reduces the number of goods sold. This further increases the price at which the good must be sold, further reducing sales.

The rising cost of critical goods reduces discretionary income in the wider economy, reducing broader economies of scale, feeding back into the rising cost of goods. So drawing upon our earlier example, the rising cost of mobile phones which are now quite essential, mean less is spent on games consoles. This further raises the cost of advanced semi-conductor components for the phone.

We might also consider the dependent economy, by which I mean the network infrastructure for mobile phones, or the internet infrastructure for computers. As fewer users buy phones/ computers, or use them less, the cost of maintaining the network rises per user. In addition the cost of maintaining the infrastructure itself is likely to rise for the reasons already mentioned.

Thus we have yet more positive feedbacks driving our civilisation to lower and lower levels of complexity. Eventually networks, or major network functions will become unviable and effectively have to turn-off.

Slide 21: Infrastructure creeping collapse

We might ask how fast such a collapse occurs. We are reminded that most of our critical infrastructure has the most complex supply-chains, is the most resource intensive, is the most dependent upon cross-subsidisation, is the most expensive, and has components with short lifetimes.

The bathtub graph shown describes the probability of failure over time of many components of our infrastructure. We could consider such infrastructure to be scattered with multiple time constants. The systems functionality is set by the shortest critical time constant. That many of our key components (computers, servers, routers etc.) have lifetimes of only a few years does not look good.

In an early slide I discussed how interconnected our infrastructure is. Here a problem is that that even if one sector is maintaining its functionality, it is vulnerable to cascading failures transmitted from other sectors that cannot maintain upkeep of functions.

Slide 22: Scenario: Fast Supply-chain collapse

We saw that beside creeping supply-chain collapse, there is the collapse associated with a hub, in our case we mentioned a systemic failure of the banks.

Well, here is a scenario that seems likely. In essence, at some point in the future, over some period, the debt/ bond market will switch from being ultimately confident about the return to economic growth, to accepting that uncertainty and depression can only continue. As we know, markets tend to change their views over short-time periods.

An acknowledgement of this view will dry up the debt market, crash other markets, and will effectively mean that almost all debt cannot be repaid (or can, with worthless money). This means that all banks will be seen as insolvent.

The speed of such a transition could be in the order of months (baring in mind the propagation speed of the recent financial crisis). A collapse of bank intermediation services would effectively collapse our global and national supply-chains, in addition to instigating a money crisis.

The consequences would be unprecedented, including the prospect of a food crisis in many advanced economies. This would be the detonation point when the world finally absorbs the depth of its ecological overshoot.

Slide 23: Conclusions

The rate of collapse will be dependent upon the the speed of our critical systems- the operational speed of our financial markets, the speed of our supply-chains, and the maintenance rates required for our infrastructure.

In time a collapse will be seen as a series of jumps to lower levels of complexity occurring over decades. This will be set against a background of creeping failures in many of the systems we take for granted. There may be periods of stability or even slight recovery, but the downward trend will be unstoppable.

We are not in the middle of a financial crisis, but at the edge of civilisational one.

What we urgently need to develop now are emergency measures to soften the impact of such a crisis. The omens are not good, but we do have the ability to make better choices rather than worse ones.

Thank you!

Which would be worse?

A collapse of the economic system
A collapse brought about by war
A collapse brought about by plague
A collapse because the Sun tosses a CME (coronal mass ejection) to Earth which results in an EMP that makes electronics go poof!

A CME collapse would be best as few can make a charge of 'this was planned' stick - thus less us VS them to rhetorically make hay out of.

A collapse of the economic system could conceivably bring about war, and make conditions ripe for a pandemic.

While not mentioned directly, chaos theory become more important with increasing complexity, JIT supply chains, and questionable material supply/delivery.

Also not mentioned but implied is the ever present, looming threat of a significant Black Swan.

Yes, both Karl Popper and Nassim Nicholas Taleb would be well aware of a 'Black Swan'.

Plague. Where does it end? Have you ever read 'The Stand' by Stephen King?
You almost described the 'Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse'

Everybody should read "The Stand".

I did.

It was so long and boring that I almost wished I had the plague to make it end.

I like Stephen King's short stories much better than his novels...Tommyknockers, anyone?

The first fifty pages will suffice for people who just want to get a feel for the gut impact of a killer disease breaking out.

I agree that the book needs a severe pruning.

Collapse of the economic system, for me it would be the worst of the worse. I read an article about federal student loans are having troubles at this time since two-thirds of students at for-profit colleges have been avoiding paying back loans, says the Education Department report released the other day. You will find supposedly going to be new “gainful employment” rules. This may establish whether or not educational funding is given. The investment of college is being challenged more and more. Getting debt could be harder with gainful employment rules stating students need to have a projected income that can pay off loans.

This scenario must be obvious to many millions of people at this point.

But still, "nothing", mysteriously, "will be done".


Many of the people who passed the difficult school exams , went to first-rate universities and organize and control everything live in cities, where there is no food or water unless it is shipped in.

Many people who don`t want to play that power/control game or who don`t want to match wits with the school exam high scorers live in the places where there is food and water.

***brain can`t compute.....brain can`t assimilate this, this information doesn`t exist*****

"Let`s wait until the system breaks down and then we`ll go after the food and water using our wits. After all, we did score well on the SATs, that should be worth something!"

"SAT scores will save us!"

So the game may come down to a battle of mental agility, with all kinds of laws or policies being enacted on behalf of the city dwellers to save them....I can also imagine that things will be vastly different in one area versus another.

At least we will find life becoming very interesting indeed. People will stop spending time checking their cell phones.

The Collapse Process - how different part of the brian might be involved...

… most of our beliefs are based on the mammalian brain (bad things like this don't happen to good people, all my experience in living in a first world country [insert country] proves it!?)
I guess most of ToDs like to think their using the neo-cortex... ;-)
… when push comes to shove and anywhere there's no community ... the reptilian brain is my winner in this race (too stressed to think and no enforceable laws to be nice people!)

pi said "But still, "nothing", mysteriously, "will be done"."

I don't normally like to kick around CSM, but this op-ed represents a classic, erudite example of why 'nothing' 'will be done'


Since only like-minded folks are on TOD,(this can be seen as sarcastic, too) and we know how receptive people are to energy depletion concerns, it stands to reason that any emergency measures and plans will be made by individuals, or very tightly knit groups who have laid transition foundations down.

Perhaps those in small communities will come together as events knit and dictate.


Nice post. Just complex enough for my brain to compile. I like the example of the boiling Bernard cells. The connection between constant energy cheap input and entropy or lack there of. The concept of complexity and collapse was also interesting and informative. I'm going to try to support local supply chains, when and wherever possible. I'm poor and powerless, but I can vote with my dollars, though few.

I love beer. I buy a local brand, it tastes good and it's fresh. I also like knowing that my beer didn't travel half way around the world.

I moved out of NYC to a 125 acre farm a year ago. I breathed a sigh of relief this summer once I had a year of freeze dried food and my solar panels in place. I'm getting a second year of emergency food now in cans, and have started my raised beds. I've experimented with biodiesel... I'm learning to get my TDI car and my army truck running on it, and how to fix them. I also bought a lot of ammo and an emergency transactions level of gold. I'm an electrical engineer. I specialize in small grids, and mine is battery backup (that's my tradeable skill). We've got our own water. We've got a huge woodlot.

One of my good friends just bought land nearby, and he's a sergeant who served in Iraq... I'm working pro-bono on a local organic farm to do their solar. My girlfriend is from upstate NY, and knows horses, and we're looking on getting some in our barn soon. We have our own water. We know our neighbors. My friends include mechanics and medics. We've kinda got a plan... certainly not airtight, but we've got breathing room for a SHTF scenario.

So ok, we've got the little peak oil lifeboat. Having done it, I think that's actually the least important part of the whole picture...

a) If you plan a survival scenario it should include what communities you'll connect with. There is absolutely no way to have all of the needed skills. Being able to trade, and being friendly with the people around you is better. In some ways a well prepared place in the city or 'burbs might be better than the country... Unless you want to spend the rest of your life as a farmer (and I don't) you should start thinking about rebuilding some of the complexity that makes our modern life so much nicer than what my dad had on the farm in Ireland. This is a cultural and not a technical problem. I'm an electrical engineer. Can I rebuild a cell phone? No, especially if the network goes sour. But I have built a ham radio... that's an easy one. There's no way to rebuild 2010 if something goes seriously wrong, but I think if you don't panic 1945 is doable. It might not be all you have now, but it is also not living in a cave.

b) I always wanted to move here. I'm prepared to be wrong... and having just completed a study for NYS on battery tech, I think I may well be. Working in energy, I can see some stuff that might make all of this beside the point. I've got friends who's plan is "shelter in place" in Brooklyn, but they have a pretty good plan. Point is, even a small amount of prep is better than none, and may be all you'll need. Don't not do anything because you don't want to move to the country. Don't dither because your plan is not a bunker stocked with 10 years of food with barbed wire around it. Main thing is at a minimum don't make bad decisions based on what you need in the next 2 days.

c) We're probably wrong about what if anything will go wrong and how exactly that will occur. The thing about the Black Swan - you may see the structural problem, but perceiving the triggers and the ultimate effects might be quite hard. When I work in non-linear systems control systems, there comes a point where the best answer is "I've got no friggin' idea what happens next." That's with an electrical system that's tractable for math... people are much less predictable. And Taleb (the Black Swan guy) says similar things about predictions.

d) Redundancies that aren't visible in the city exist in rural areas. Just because you don't know about them, doesn't mean they aren't there. Someone cited the ice storm in the New York North Country; we had something similar in the Catskills last year, and I was very surprised by just how prepared many people were. There are still plenty of people around (including my dad and my girlfriend's dad) who've used draft animals... I'm thinking in a SHTF scenario that a huge new business would be river shipping of food. But upstate NY can feed NYC - it did a century ago. It isn't because our farmers are basically hugely underpaid for the sacrifices involved.

e) Since I've moved up here, I've had a _lot_ of weird conversations with many people that started with "I'm learning raised beds" and ended with a discussion of the Transition Handbook (brought up by them). One of them happened with my dad's home health aide... so if you make a move you will very likely not be anywhere near as alone as you think you are. I'm noticing growing clusters of people who are transition minded up here. In northern California it's a normal topic of conversation... Also, you might not need to be that tightly knit, as long as you keep an open mind about working with people who aren't like you (for example: me - liberal NYC person - my possible partners - fairly right wing friend of mine, local jesus cult that's good with woodworking, the racist dude at the local lumber yard... I'll sell any of them solar.)

Agree with most everything you've said.

Especially this:

Also, you might not need to be that tightly knit, as long as you keep an open mind about working with people who aren't like you (for example: me - liberal NYC person - my possible partners - fairly right wing friend of mine, local jesus cult that's good with woodworking, the racist dude at the local lumber yard... I'll sell any of them solar.)

If and when TSHF you have to be ready to work with anyone, since you may not be able to pick and choose who has the skills that you yourself do not and the only thing you have to offer is a skill that they lack. Sounds a bit like living in an old village community...

Yeah, I've grilled my dad about living in rural Ireland. Key thing - make friends now. Not "Like your new photos on FB friends" but "I'll help you put your new barn roof on" friends. I've got 400 of the former, and I dunno, 5-10 of the latter, and only because I've worked hard on it. Accumulating chits is essential in small community. They're cheap now.

Pretty good points, all the way around. Yes, "it takes a village", and you are lucky others are working through the Transition Handbook.

I was a little surprised to see;

I've got friends who's plan is "shelter in place" in Brooklyn, but they have a pretty good plan.

I wouldn't think their odds of surviving anything but a slow decline are very good, but there's always a chance...

We've got a huge woodlot.

Good, a must-have in rural NY. Do you have a plan for obtaining a bowsaw (or the like), along with the tools and skills to sharpen it?

On draft horses, you may want to consider Haflinger draft ponies that the Amish use (not the pleasure horse line), which are relatively smart, but more importantly, have a high EROEI with regards to hay/feed.

Broadly speaking I'm on board with this post

The issue that will not be addressed is time scales. The problem and its solutions(mitigation) resolve or emerge over periods of time outside the scope of the political/ecnomic cycle. which was always the problem..EG look at oil pricing based on availability in the market rather than the original endowment. and we all know what happened next.
Even the end point of total failure outlined does not mean the resultant collapse of central rule. This can be viewed as both positive and negative. The dystopian vision is a command economy with stringent oversight of its citizens. there may not be flexibility for a migration or exodus to transition communities.
I detect a certain constituency of thinkers who embrace collapse as they envisage a post collapse rebirth of their own world view. I wouldn't bet against the forces of Mordor in such a scenario.

OTOH in the longer term 100-200 yrs sustainability with sensible population management has to evolve. plainly because there is no other choice. "yer canna change the laws of physics"

The emergency steps we will have to take and IME will be taken in our lifetime preclude a new dawn for civilisation. The future or our futures will be perhaps more akin to trying to keep a armada of canoes going upstream with as few as possible getting swept over the waterfall behind us. Broad general high level decisions are going to be made that a lot of us are not going to like or agree with.. the focus is trying keep the number of bad decisions in check for the greater good.

I can't see a global nuclear conflict.. its just too stupid for anyone to do. Yeah somewhere down the road a thunder-ball may go rogue but in the grand scheme of things the trains will still have a timetable thou the airports may be empty.

Armageddon is going to happen in a series of unspectacular downward steps and not even be exciting..yeah seems about right

you will still get up go to work and pay taxes... they did during the black death

Broadly speaking I'm bored with the gloom and doom, and the sky is falling etc. etc. There's lots of energy everywhere. We just have to be clever. The key to energy is conversions, storage and shipment, and reconversions. Yes we know how to convert fossil fuels that burn.
Geothermal, wind, wave, solar, can all be easily converted to pipe-able and ready to use "fuels" such as Compressed Air, Hydrogen, and ORCA (oxygen rich compressed air). Pipes are tubes, a very handy structure, which can be used for transportation infrastructure, and as well bundles of pipes in pipes are no problem, in fact giving strength to the structure. In the long run the cheapest solution is to find the way to centralize renewable energy sources. No big deal. It took me ten years of work but I did it. Read the Tripe System Report.

Steven: I did some calculating, and I estimate that your Tripe track pipe scheme would require about 3500 tons of polyester per mile. That's about a supertanker load every 30 miles. Where the heck are we going to get that much polyester?

Train tracks are made of steel, rocks, and concrete for a reason. Those are the materials we can reasonably obtain in those quantities.

You shouldn't assume polyester resins. An option to much of the bulk would be recycled plastics, such as water bottle materials. Much of the bulk should not be resins or glass but impregnated fiber, such as bamboo, which is strong, and easily grown using our bio products.

Again, to correct the assumption that I want to replace steel rail systems with pipes. This is wrong. The tripe has the steel rails, as you could have seen if you had bothered to look. The report has nice illustrations. Have a look. (ticked)

This is a two hundred year system. That means costs can be borne over decades. There are many models of what would work. I can guess you did not read the report? Or would you be the first to have that achievement?

We need the tripe system for its benefits of providing green energy to all areas of the globe.

Do you calculate the poundages of resins that go to landfills? Steve.

This might be a good place to bring up a word that WHT accidentally coined a while back...


Entropy + Eutrophication.

I just skimmed the top post, as it looks too qualitative for my tastes. I still think we can do much to quantify or harness entropy by characterizing the behaviors that we observe. One area I have been recently looking at is dispersion of material in porous media, which is critical for water contamination and reservoir depletion. The research geologists are really struggling to make sense of the data that they observe because all of their conventional techniques don't seem to work too well. This figure is a breakthrough experiment from a 2 year old paper where all the lines shown are failed fits to the curve. The purple line is my entropic model which runs straight through the green-line data, and it is simple to boot. I have a huge blog post coming up on this topic.

I have a huge blog post coming up on this topic.

Looking forward to it!

Sounds like an interesting alternative approach. I am also looking forward to it.

In time a collapse will be seen as a series of jumps to lower levels of complexity occurring over decades.

Over decades? Not sure about that. Seems like oil will hit a supply crunch within the next several years, as often discussed on TOD, and the next big step down will occur. The implications will be many more foreclosures, business and bank shutterings, with much higher unemployment that will spiral out of any control to counteract by borrowing or printing trillions of dollars.

At a certain threshold, the overall system will not sustain a sufficient number of people either from employment or govt. assistance, and that will lead to how they were referred to in the movie 'Gladiator', (the fans of Rome's Colisseum), as 'The Mob', which will lash out for basic needs. When the grocery stores get looted like they were in post Katrina New Orleans, in this case, they won't get anymore deliveries. Then things will deteriorate quickly into chaos for food and other basic necesseties.

People will be reduced in mode of thinking down to their basic instincts. When people are trying to escape fire, they will trample the people in front of them, then wonder later why they trampled them. When there isn't enough food, they will 'trample' so to speak, the person in front of them, but they won't be thinking why they are doing that in the moment. I refer to these situations as time getting short. The shorter time feels to make important decisions, the greater the clarity of each decision, even if those decisions involve violent action.

We currently live in a society that harshly punishes violent behavior, but in the chaos of time running short, violence will rule, just as it does every day in the plains of the Serengetti.

Hi Peak Earl,

I think you are right. I remember I had a bit of (shameful) failure of nerve here and regretted putting it in almost immediately. It was a bit of a twitching back from the uncomfortable conclusions reached. I think I'm over it now! Tipping Point, which i wrote earlier this year was more forthright.


violence will rule, just as it does every day in the plains of the Serengetti.

Yes, it has always been and always will be survival of the fittest. There are however ecological niches where who or what survives may depend on other factors for survival. Sure if you are one of the lions you will have no choice but to kill and eat the gazelle. On the other hand if you are but a lowly mollusk grazing the algae off the stones at the edge of a pond you are less likely to garner the attention of the lion.

For the record, yes, I'm quite aware that even the lowly mollusk can be eaten with a dash of tabasco sauce...but the chances of it being eaten by a lion are rather slim. A Stork or a heron maybe, but that's a story for another day >;^)

Perk Earl,

I believe you have about as accurate an idea of what collapse will look like over the very short term as anybody.

I personally would much rather be out in the deep country where people are scarce and I could get a drink out of a spring and eat livestock food with no money than in a big city with megabucks even in the form of gold and silver.

Now most people will gag at the idea, but you can stay alive and quite possibly even fairly healthy eating things readily available and suitable for long term storage in large quantities that cost very little, and can be put to good use on a regular basis-such as a ton of "scratch feed"-a mixture of various grains and food byproducts fed to chickens.Such feeds are high in proteins, contain needed fats, some good carbs, and have significant amounts of essential micro nutrients.

Certainly they often do -but not always- contain primary ingredients not generally considered fit for human consumption, and they may contain preservatives likewise unapproved.

But if the choice is between starvation and scratch feed supplemented with whatever you can forage such as ingredients for a raw salad, I gaurantee you will eat your scratch feed porridge and enjoy it.

You will even enjoy dog food porridge if it comes to that;and it might very well be possible to buy all the dog dog food a car will haul for a day or two after people food is suddenly mostly unobtainium.

I mention this because I fear that one, a collapse is a very real possibility, and two, common sense tells me that a lot of my cyber buddies here on TOD are going to get caught with thier pants around thier ankles- meaning totally unprepared for a sudden emergency.

A ton of chicken feed in big bags might seem like a lot to have on hand for only a backyard flock, but it takes only a very modest cubic meter or so of BONE DRY RAT FREE STORAGE. Buy a bag or two -feed a bag or two.If and or when tshtf, you won't starve in the initial chaos, or get shot out hunting something to eat.

After a few weeks, things will be far far safer than in the first few days but still VERY dangerous; but by then some sort of martial law may have been established, hopefully, and some sort of emergency food distribution might be in place.

yep mac.

the feed store... a rural one is my last minute topping off preps, 'go to' place...& if i didn't have preps i'd still go there.

sunflower seeds[for birds], peanuts in the hull[for squirrels, but i've used them for planting seed}, shelled & cob corn, wheat for cover crops, molasses to add to cattle feed, oats for horses, & numerous
ground/mixed feeds[often has soybeans for protein].

Hi Creg,

Don't forget the big bags or blocks of mineral salt-a small chip of that block a day might be the difference between healthy and malnourished.

We have pesticides applicators liscences of course,but if I didn't I might be tempted to pull a gun on a clerk reluctant to sell me a truck load of whatever pesticides are on hand,-particularly Sevin and any others especially useful across a broad range of food crops.

a couple of pump up hand sprayers.

Big trash cans-galvanized or plactic-they are water tight and rat proof.

A generator capable of putting out at least six thousand watts at 240 volts-this is adequate to start the vast majority of domestic deep well water pumps.A pint of gasoline will bring up anywhere from a hundred to two hundred or more gallons of water.

You will hear a lot about gasoline not being storable for any length of time, but with the help of a whiff of ether to get it started, a carbureted engine will run on gasoline that has been stored even without stabilizer for at least three or four years.The ether comes in pressurized spray bombs and can be stored nearly forever.

Fuel injected engines are iffier, but I recently saw a car that had been sitting for five years start and run on the fuel in the car-again with the help of that priceless whiff of ether.The key to this is that late model cars have tightly sealed fuel systems-only a very few vapors can escape, and virtually no air or moisture can get in.All it took was a hot battery and that whiff of ether.

Ergo, the best down and dirty fast way way to store an emergency supply of gas is in the tank of a late model vehicle-if tshtf, there will be plenty of them sitting around, mostly due to a lack of gas of course.

The things at WalMart everybody else will over look-lots and lots of decks of cards, board games for little kids-electronic toys won't run if the power is off.Ni cad flashlight batteries and chargers-can be run as an extra but negligible load whenever generator is running.

Buying some pv at the very last minute will probably be impossible for most people;there are no more than a dozen very small pv panels in stock in local stores around here-just big enough to charge the battery used on an electric fence charger.But still big enough and the right voltage to charge a car battery-meaning you would have a working radio, if you got one of them..

Come to think of it, a truck load of car batteries might be priceless; deep cycle batteries sold at sporting goods would be best.They can be charged with a jury rigged windmill, water wheel,or an automobile alternator/ generator driven by an old lawn mower motor running on wood gas.Maybe even with salvaged solar panels if ts really hits the fan and you can find a few at an abandoned house or business before somebody beats you to the punch.

Walkie talkies will be priceless .

A few spools of the wire used to run telephones and computers might also be very handy-you could probably rig up a party line phone system extending for upwards of a thousand feet with it.

Lots of transparent fishing line-to string up attached to a bell serving as as an efficient burglar alarm-you can't see it in dim light.

Somme automotive alternators, such as the ones on OLDER GM vehicles are super simple to hook up and could very easily be converted into hand cranked battery chargers by removing the belt pulley and replacing it with a small chain sprocket driven by a very large sprocket to get the rpm up to at least 1500. Bicycle chains and sprockets would work just fine.It would be a real workout to turn it for as long as five minutes ,maybe requiring two men, but if there were no other way to charge a battery for a radio or a flashlight.....

'Somme automotive alternators, such as the ones on OLDER GM vehicles are super simple to hook up and could very easily be converted into hand cranked battery chargers by removing the belt pulley and replacing it with a small chain sprocket driven by a very large sprocket to get the rpm up to at least 1500. Bicycle chains and sprockets would work just fine.It would be a real workout to turn it for as long as five minutes ,maybe requiring two men, but if there were no other way to charge a battery for a radio or a flashlight.....'

darn good practical info as usual mac. did this in 1980, & you are precisely right ...took two men to last 5 min [ we did challenges re how long you could last]; but kept that marine band radio batt. charged.

edit; was a bicycle setup


I don't buy this overnight collapse thinking. a Katrina is not the mechanism to look as an analog. Amenities and supplies where physically broken chain breakdown occurs on a product by product/service basis.

a better analog is a warring nation trying to rationalize its industry while suffering shortages

Germany ww2 etc but with out the imminent invasion or warfare, hence decades is a reasonable and IME more likely time frame unit.

I equate a lot of short term doomerisim to a sort of rapture mindset, which i think again is effected by this collective ADD society has. Its pretty common even here to see events interpreted as thou they were signs of the apocalypse signalling the imminent arrival of WTHSHTF

I suspect the rapture is a pyscho-sexual relief belief syndrome that comes in many forms...

technological singularity for the nerds

the post nuclear western for the Doomers

the second coming for the fundies

etc etc

what they have in common is the promise of rebirth to those that have the "knowledge" of the upcoming event.. ones life will be different and you can reinvent oneself rather than being the humdrum mediocre person that you are. I suspect there is a sexual component (which is a bit grubby.....)

The reality of systemic collapse in human terms is it is a process that occurs because it operates in time intervals outside of the human attention span.

The reason why it can happen without response is because it occurs slowly..

take the oft quoted Western Roman Collapse

In that instance the relatively small benefit for most of the population between the decreasing marginal benefits of Roman civilisation and leading some looser Iron age barter lifestyle was inducement enough to keep the roman systems in place during decades of declining wealth. The distance society fell during this period is far less than the US falling into some sort of balkanised Somalian scenario so it's not difficult to see that people will junk civilisation in a piecemeal fashion aiming to keep the basic; health care, food production, education and law enforcements services in place for sometime before the tax /effort burden overwhelms the individual participants to the point that they just "delete f**king everything"

Easter island was hardcore but the process of collapse required decades of environmental mismanagement and decline... they didn't chop all the trees down in one day until they had so few they could!

there is a lot of low grade fossil fuels to dumped onto the bonfire... we will burn it despite the declining returns..which is kinda of depressing.

oil or gas shortages in western economies will not lead to the breakdown of civil society overnight

Yes, we must be careful about our filters. Reading TOD all these years may have created a bias wherein I am filtering out information that does not comport to the doomer mentality that I have acquired over the years. Maybe I am being too negative. The shared mindset of those who get all their news from Fox may apply here to a certain extent.

Assuming that there is a danger of collapse, it seems that we must learn to live in a much more simplified environment. Total collapse will make it impossible for even the back to landers to survive. Even those who live the so called simple life on the farm on dependent upon a very complex and far flung supply chain.

Many here advocate getting lots of guns and ammunition to protect themselves in the future. Well, we already have more guns in this country than any other. And, somehow, I don't think this is making all the gun owners safe. There will always be someone with a bigger gun, or more guns. You can only take out part of the mob as they descend upon your food stores.

You won't be able to take out ANY PART of a mob -particularly an armed mob-without firearms of your own.

I estimate my own chances and the chances of my immediate extended family and nieghbors-in the event that things do descend to mad max conditions-being able to defend ourselves at somewhere between twenty five percent and ninety five percent.

I would put the odds of a similar unarmed pacifist community surviving at less than one percent in a mad max situation.

My immediate community won't have much hope if a rogue group of soldiers show up with first rate military gear and organization;but if a handful of hard core city slicker types organized on the meth trade and/or strong arm model show up, we will be ready and waiting,like trap door spiders, and we will be the predators.

There are over a dozen intelligent and capable men in the immediate rather thinly populated nieghborhood who have been over to Vietnam and the Middle East to see the elephant personally, and they will be in charge of community defense.Virtually everybody has at least a couple of guns;robberies are EXTREMELY RARE, and I have never heard of anybody breaking into an occupied house here with the intention of committing burglary.Every case of home invasion within the general area , so called , has turned out to be a dispute between dishonorable thieves who know each other, to the best of my knowledge.

But we do have a serious and growing problem with thieves who can very easily determine when a house or remotely located barn is unattended.I've been expecting some irate homeowner or farmer to catch such a thief in the act and kill him for some time now.Personally I won't feel sorry for the thief;getting shot is a thieve's occupational hazard, like falling off a ladder is a painter's occupational hazard.

The sob who stole our chainsaws recently probably didn't get more than a day's labor pay for them.Whoever he was, if he had come to us and said he was simply at the point of finding paid work today or stealing tonight, we would have found a days work for him.

Nothing has been formally organized, nothing has ever progressed past the point of an unrecorded conversation, but we can pull together here in a matter of minutes or hours to help fight a wild fire or find food and clothes and a place to sleep for somebody who has lost everything in a fire.

Hi Mididoctors,

The utopian and the apociliptic are certainly strong archetypal attractors for feelings about what the future holds. And for those of us working in the area I think it is important to be cognisant that analysis cannot exist without some projection.

However, dismissing a broadly analytical arguement because you see it as broadly mapping onto an archetypal/ psycho-sexual drama is not a refutation of the analytical argument. The analytical may be still in general true; or indeed the analytical and the psycho-drama may both be largely true.

I've heard this argument in some form on a number of occasions and wondered was it a form of intellectual denial. This may not be true. Or there may be denial, psycho-drama, and analytical truth-a proper mash-up and so thoroughly human!

You write:

If you lose trust in the medium of exchange (money), which is a systemic integrator of the economy, you could have a system wide failure in supply chains. We see some of this happening in the hyper-inflationary episodes in Wiemar Germany in 1923, and in Zimbabwe more recently until the US dollar became the effective hard currency.

You say:

What I and others have argued that while we can learn from history, we should not see it as law-giving.

In particular we have argued that the complexity of our civilisation, strong integration and coupling; the delocalisation of our basic requirements, and inherent structures in the monetary & financial system/ critical infrastructure dependencies/ trust dynamics/ lost local resilience etc suggest that a collapse is likely to be far more rapid than in the case of the Roman or many other empires.

This does not mean 'collapse' is literally overnight, or total.


Hi Mididoctors,

The utopian and the apocalyptic are certainly strong archetypal attractors for feelings about what the future holds. And for those of us working in the area I think it is important to be cognisant that analysis cannot exist without some projection.

However, dismissing a broadly analytical argument because you see it as broadly mapping onto an archetypal/ psycho-sexual drama is not a refutation of the analytical argument. The analytical may be still in general true; or indeed the analytical and the psycho-drama may both be largely true.

I've heard this argument in some form on a number of occasions and wondered was it a form of intellectual denial. This may not be true. Or there may be denial, psycho-drama, and analytical truth-a proper mash-up and so thoroughly human!

You write:

If you lose trust in the medium of exchange (money), which is a systemic integrator of the economy, you could have a system wide failure in supply chains. We see some of this happening in the hyper-inflationary episodes in Weimar Germany in 1923, and in Zimbabwe more recently until the US dollar became the effective hard currency.

You say:

What I and others have argued that while we can learn from history, we should not see it as law-giving.

In particular we have argued that the complexity of our civilisation, strong integration and coupling; the de localisation of our basic requirements, and inherent structures in the monetary & financial system/ critical infrastructure dependencies/ trust dynamics/ lost local resilience etc suggest that a collapse is likely to be far more rapid than in the case of the Roman or many other empires.

This does not mean 'collapse' is literally overnight, or total.



yeah the moral of the story is wolf can still arrive even if the boy is a delusional lying fantasist.

I take your point.

the collapse of currency is a extreme situation for sure but look at zimbabwe and the weimer republic. zimbabwe especially society didn't collapse. if look at societies that really ent off the deep end in recent years resource stress may have been a factor but usually requires the addition of some sort of civil war. In zimbabwe the hospitals still worked! (how baffles me). Afghanistan and rwanda flew apart due to internal conflict. In rwandas case wealth/food per capita was clearly placing strain on society but it needed that extra ethnic conflict factor to really kick off.

One common thing about societal collapse in history is the best examples tend to be small or isolated politically/geographically. Size has a resilience all of its own just by virtue of its size and complexity. So while complexity increases dependancies it also brings a certain amount of fudginess to the argument.

This is really critical.

One common thing about societal collapse in history is the best examples tend to be small or isolated politically/geographically.

A key reason that thsoe societies collapsed was that they had no external sources of help on which they could call.

Even the appalling Zimbabwe and many other societies that tremble on the cusp of collapse can stay there for an arbitrarily long time because, despite the best efforts, their borders are porous. They are effectively sustained by smuggling in resources from the outside world.

The point about the scale of this discussion is that there is a global failure of externalities. We are all isolated from that help and on a very grand scale, a global scale. It is also the problem with the "lifeboat" model. Lifeboats depend on there being some source of "normality" over the horizon tat can come to the rescue and restore that normality to the tro0ubled community.

Beyond peak everything there is no source of the previous normality and those whose preparations are of the lifeboat kind will fail as thoroughly as those who have not prepared at all.

What we need to be doing is preparing for whatever we think of as the new normal. We may be right or wrong still, but the successful ones will be those that can get there first and with the least internal damage to social relations.


A most interesting post demonstrating great insight into the fuzzy semi conscious workings of the minds of various groups of people!

Personally I agree with you that a sudden collapse of industrial society across the board is rather unlikely.

Repeated step like declines of the sort posted as graphs and discussed by Aangel here seem to be much more likely;and I have some hope that collapse as such can be avoided at least in North America, most of Europe,Australia, and some other places not to heavily populated and blessed with substantial resources and educated work forces.

But a sudden and possibly total collapse simply cannot be ruled out,and a sudden decline brought about by anything from a shark fin backside of the Hubbert curve to a war to an outbreak of a killer disease or a financial panic can't be ruled out;and the effects in many places might be as bad, at least temporarily, as a total collapse.

I see dismissing the possibility as running a foolish unnecessary risk-something akin to starting a trip on a long seldom traveled desert road in a car without an emergency supply of food and water.

Even with a sudden financial collapse, the Feds have the power to take over food production/distribution (successfully or not), so we can't assume that would push many to starvation. There won't be a severe enough oil production drop to erase all agriculture and food transportation, at least in the very near term. Replacements (e.g., new combines) and spare parts is a significant supportability problem after that, however.

A EMP event (from an airburst nuke or massive solar event that took down some major portion of the 'national grid'), a severe pandemic, or some other Black Swan could result in a fast collapse.

A most interesting post demonstrating great insight into the fuzzy semi conscious workings of the minds of various groups of people!

I think its absence from the debate here is telling in it self. I cant remember a original post written by someone of credible insight on the subject of our own biases... though it comes up often in passing


Circumstances alter cases.

The slow unwinding of the Western Roman Empire happened in a very different environment.

Britain was a very long way from peak wood, even further from the discovery of deep coal mining and the industrial revolution. Population density was very low and high grade food, fuel and shelter resources were close to hand, along with current skills to produce pretty much everything they needed.

Add to that, the Romans left behind a wide range of buildings and artefacts that were themselves, low energy, relatively low skill resources that could, at a pinch, be dismantled for subsequent users and uses.

Britain, and Europe, were running a very long way from their energy, social and environmental limits. There were always higher grade and easily accessible resources nearby upon which the next phase of social and economic and scientific/technological development could be constructed.

We are at the end of that process. We are pushing right up to those limits in energy, mineral resources, water, arable land, the lot. And beyond in several of those. The next pahse wills ee a reduction in available resources for the first time in human history and we have no tools to deal with that except selfishness and violence.

Population density is critically high in many parts of many countries and way overshot at local levels.

The real question is how mush degradation does it take to collapse the system suddenly and how close are we to the epicentres of that failure?

Just prior to Y2K someone published an online tool to calculate the probability of catastrophic failure from the bug. You entered your best guesses for how vulnerable a range of business streams were from Y2K and then combined your figures to produce an integrated probability for major failure. Even working with rates in the 1-2% range acorss bamnkiuing, transport, agriculture, medicine etc the results very quickly reached 15-20%.

Start pushing some of those numbers to 15-20% in their own right and we will quickly reach 60%+. We are pretty much there.

Yes Roman collapse was not a resource effect in the way we now envisage it.. Though access to slave energy may be writ as a peak effect... as some of us are now thinking about (I am an archaeologist).

however the obvious point about earth being a massive island but without the externalities while correct does not mean piecemeal collapse inside the lifeboat will not play out over timescales outside of economic/political cycles.. hence I tend to buy into a stepped decline prediction.

also like the roman demise where the previous infrastructure was "robbed" clearly has a parallel today with the re-cycling of mined precious metals and the in situ re-use of building materials..

Piling mats for new major construction are often made with "crush" generated by reusing the previous demolished buildings on site

ie the process of mining the past is underway and will produce slack in the system shallowing out the decline ...."somewhat"

we have peaked.. oil that is...I think.. the perception of that event is not widely excepted and while the credit crunch was global it didn't result in all of us getting a mohawk and crossbow overnight

peak oil was a bit of a "meh" moment

We are pretty much on the same page (otherwise we wouldn't be at TOD I suppose) but there is something to note in this bit

however the obvious point about earth being a massive island but without the externalities while correct does not mean piecemeal collapse inside the lifeboat will not play out over timescales outside of economic/political cycles.. hence I tend to buy into a stepped decline prediction.

I agree that there will be piecemeal collapse inside the lifeboat. But the probability of stepped decline in one area also implies other forms of decline in other areas.

Some areas may appear to survive without any great affect until they hit Liebig's law and some tiny, critical resource kicks them off the cliff. Others may bump down the stairs hanging on for dear life.

Who knows, maybe in some places the managed power-down of Transition Towns may work.

But we will have no control over which model we end up in and no way to predict where those models may differ. Preparing for the worst (even if only emotionally) while hoping for the best is about where most of us will find ourselves.

Dissipative structures become much more interesting and long lasting when they maintain information for tool making and seek energy. Imagine a hurricane with a large cyclopean infrared eyeball scanning the seas for warmth and a wind shear detector. All organisms are not much more than this, except we need some minerals for our infrastructure and we have many more sensors and, in the case of humans, an insufficient brain.

Was Duncan correct about the failure of the electrical grid? Will prices of electricity continue to rise setting up a positive feedback loop in which more customers drop-out due to increased cost until utility debt is defaulted upon and employees take a 90% pay cut. The positive feedback will only increase.

It is likely our slavery will only become more repressive as key institutions draw from the productive part of the plantation to maintain their functions, one helping of gruel per day instead of three. The 45 trillion in U.S. unfunded liabilities will be wiped away through default or inflation. It’s obvious the government fears the US populace, more heavily armed than the Taliban, than any foreign terrorist group and have used the war on terror to erect a scaffold of increased monitoring and intimidation of the domestic population with loss of freedoms.They'll even attempt to subvert any political movement that threatens them (Teaparty). I’m beginning to think that the Department of Homeland Security is designed mostly to protect the privileged from the slaves rather than protect the Homeland from external threat.

Just prepare for the draft, mandatory public service, mandatory health insurance to support the medical conglomerate parasite (Oh wait, that’s already in the works.). If you have any disposable income, just kiss it goodbye along with your freedom, until collapse.

Plain old random chance will have a great deal to do with whether collapse is fast or drawn out.
Although the slow step down arguments are to me logical and compelling, the people argueing slow collapse are not adequately considering the possibility that many kinds of trigger events could cause the wheels of commerce to sieze up more or less instantly, like an engine literally melts some of its major parts due to severe overheating.Such engines are not repairable;it might be impossible to get the modern bau economy on its feet againn after just a few weeks or months of near death-we can put Grandma in a nursing home, but there is no nursing home for the economy.

A friend who drives trucks put it this way:

If you are going up a long grade at cruising in high gear and nothing goes wrong,you top the mountian.But if anything goes wrong, and you have to stop, you can't get started again without first second third fourth gears....

The first second third and fourth gears of the modern economy are not just broken;for the most part, they no longer exist.We don't have draft animals anymore in numbers adequate to matter for instance;most houses lack a chimney and therefore cannot be convereted to wood heat on short notice-even if the wood were available.

So the econmony rolls backwards towards the bottom of the mountian,until it reaches a state that is at least temporarily sustainable given the resources at hand, human and physical.

Most of us reading TOD are liable to be dead at that point.

We don't have draft animals anymore in numbers adequate to matter for instance;

You forget, OFM, that there are about 6.7 Billion 'draft animals' available.

Best hopes in front of that plow!


The lack of first, second and third gear is a problem for many, but there are some who do not have all gears running, they have a second truck running just behind the first ready to pick up the cargo.

9/11: Brokerage Cantor-Fitzgerald on highest floors of World Trade Center? They lost 60% of people and all infrastructure. They were the largest broker for 10-year Treasuries. White House offered them any assistance they wanted and needed. They said no-thanks, we are ready. They had all system as of previous day replicated and running in New Jersey and London. They had to manually reconcile some transaction from previous day. The were ready for normal operations less than 24 hours after the attack.

This is extreme, but they were $$$ lifeline for US Treasury.

In most catastrophies, no matter how large, if people can maintain self sufficiency for 3 days to a week, this give ENORMOUS springboard for recovery. First help comes to flood/earthquake/hurricane within 48 hours to three days. Meaningful amounts take a week.
If you have shelter, food and water for this one week (assume complete collapse, up to no water,electricity,heat,food), during this week one can do enormous amount of re-start instead of being forced to wait hungry/cold/wet... And it does not take much.

Ontario/Quebec/Upstate New York had situation quite like that 13 years go during/after the ice storm. Electricity was pretty much gone - transmission lines down, roads were impassable - fallen trees. ATMs and gas stations did not work. Grocery stores were closed. But the restart took only a few days, because as soon as weather trouble ended people could start working on restoration of the system, instead of fighting for survival. Everybody here has a warm jacket, gloves, hat and warm comforter and enough food at home for several days. It was -10F straight after the storm, but nobody died. Yes, it took half a year to fix all the damage, insurance claims and returning to status quo.

Similar with megasystems. Have enough "small system" infrastructure to survive relatively intact acute phase of the fallout, then you can restore small system and over time reconnect them to a larger one. It will not take a week, but will work. But the return will not be to status quo, but some other system. It would be a good idea to discuss now what the new order could be. And maybe get there without Armageddon.


I get your point-and it is a good one-that the "system" is resilient enough to survive a very serious hit;but your examples are examples of localized collapse, not country wide or world wide.

There are many possible ways a nationwide or even world wide collapse could come about, leaving individual communites almost entirely reliant upon thier own immediate resources.

Outside help and shipped in goods simply wouldn't arrive in some cases.

> We don't have draft animals anymore in numbers adequate to matter for instance

I'm back in the village visiting family and i see more horses and even
a donkey or two the last couple years (been a year and a half since i last made it back) than i've seen since my childhood. Today i was surprised to
see a guy walking a horse down the hill by the house. In the other village down the road i ran into one of the neighbors on a path in the fields-
carrying firewood back home on the back of her horse. Until the mid-80s
i might have expected to see this, but since then, not a chance. In the
past 2 years, they're making a comeback. this trend is starting up even
as people in town are still loading up on cars with ever less sustainable payment plans (and they still come up to the village with their shiny new
bubblecars, too, nevermind the horses). Most of the herd hasn't got
a clue, but somewhere the message is creeping out of the woodwork.

Now if only someone would sell me some land up here ;)

(One positive side effect of the villages here emptying into the cities
is that the forest has totally taken back the country during my lifetime. Healthy mostly-oak forest, lots of acorns, lots of wild boars in the woods, we even hear about bears in the last few years which when i was
little were only something found deep in the mountains or in old stories.
So if times get tough, i can at least live from the forest if need be, and the soil will be in better shape in any case)


not just broken;for the most part, they no longer exist

What a great way to explain it, thanks.

It is however rather sobering to consider just how far down-slope the bottom of the hill is.

Compare the beginning of 2008 with today... on an absolute scale we have already collapsed by a certain amount... but over the two year period the collapse was slow enough that most people don't notice the difference.

Two years from now we will be further down the road of collapse, but no alarms will sound... the bad things aren't happening fast enough to alarm anyone.

The danger is that we will (almost certainly, IMO) hit a tipping point, where feedback loops will cause a catastrophic failure of all systems.

We hear, and participate in, discussions about how to avoid this problem. When, in fact, the problem is built in to the system. The question is not whether, but when.

Our discussions on TOD center more and more on how to survive; and, that is where some planning may help some individuals. It will depend on luck, though, as much as planning, since different geographic locations may be better suited to local produce. And, it will depend in large part on education of the local labor force, and adaptability. This, in fact, is where that SAT score thingie might be a help. Being willing is one thing; being able is another. What is needed is both.


That many of our key components (computers, servers, routers etc.) have lifetimes of only a few years does not look good.

While typical depreciation and replacement schedules may have been 7 (mainframes), 5 (servers & routers) and 3 (desktop/laptops) years, that does not reflect the actual lifetime of those equipment. Mainly they reflected the rate of technological change for each class of equipment, such that better/faster/cheaper products were economic replacements for the previous generation.

As budgets were tightened during the recession, companies found that the old, fully-depreciated assets could be left in service longer and replacement purchases were delayed. For example, even when desktop base-units are replaced, there is no reason to replace working LCD monitors. I'd bet that there is still stuff bought in the great pre-Y2K IT spending bubble that is still working in corporate America.

But is the argument that if you are not replacing at those sorts of rates, the infrastructure which produces them will begin to atrophy? So that at some point, when you do need to replace, it will have become impossible to do so (though in practice this will be a stepped descent),


As the rate of innovation slows, the weaker companies leave the market, go bankrupt, or are acquired. So the number of remaining suppliers declines to the canonical 2 or 3 required by anti-monopoly laws. This had been the pattern in automobiles, airplanes, mainframe computers, etc.

Once the industrial segment has reached maturity, the oligopoly suppliers compete weakly among themselves, engage in following the stronger companies price leadership, and are able to charge near monopoloy prices. The businesses remain healthy cash cows until there is some extrinsic shock. Note that in the case of mainframe computers, the remaining player is only IBM, but their competition is from high-end Unix servers now.

Companies in mature businesses can also drive pretty hard bargains with their suppliers, and they usually have contract clauses that allow them to take over production of critical parts from any sole-source supplier.

But it doesn't have to be the big companies, just enough of their suppliers or the suppliers of their suppliers? (That's what I take the author of the post to be saying),


What would be an example of a critical infrastructure supplier who depends on a small business for critical parts supply?

There have been issues with supply chains. Recently, Nissan had to curtail production due to a lack of Hitachi engine controllers modules whose production was impacted by an IC supplier. However, these situations are usually solved pretty quickly.

There have been halts due to earthquakes or other catastrophes. I seem to recall one regarding a piston ring supplier and another of IC ceramic packaging.

The author of the original post is very logical. However, logic is of little use in determining the stability/controllabilty of a system. You really need to know the input/output functions, rates of change, linkages, etc., quantitatively in order to say anything useful about whether, when, how, where, and to what extent a collapse will happen.

...Note that in the case of mainframe computers, the remaining player is only IBM, but their competition is from high-end Unix servers now. ...

Their business now is MAKING high-end servers.

Collapse? You write at the end of the post:

"In time a collapse will be seen as a series of jumps to lower levels of complexity occurring over decades. "

Therefore, the conclusion contradicts the original definition of collapse:

"Collapse: A sudden decrease in complexity"

If it takes decades, it's not a collapse, but a decline, as in "The decline and fall of the Roman Empire"

The "normal" reader will think after hearing your presentation: Well, the scenario outlined in slide 22 did not happen. Thank God, we are saved! All people outside the doomer community think of collapse as a sudden fall, not a decline drawn out over decades.

Hi Biologist,

See my reply to Peak Earl.

in that case, do you have your house in the hills, cans, seeds, guns and ammunition ready?

All people outside the doomer community think of collapse as a sudden fall, not a decline drawn out over decades.

The really big SHTF collapse is a very rare event but there are myriad smaller collapses along the way...leading up to the big one that finally brings it all down.

We could all learn a thing or two from Per Bak:

Ten years ago, a Danish physicist, Per Bak, published How Nature Works: The Science of Self-Organized Criticality, a book that I devoured and still refer to (the paperback cover has an image of sand ripples; it's now, sadly, out of print and used editions seem to be going for either $130 or £130!). Bak used sand pile avalanches as an illustration of the ubiquity of scaling or power laws in nature: the frequency (or its logarithm) of occurrence of something is proportional to a measure (often size) of that something multiplied by itself a specific number of times (raised to a certain power, mathematically speaking). Newton’s law of gravity is a power law; the pull of gravity on an object decreases with distance to the object squared. Since it decreases, Newton’s law is an inverse power 2.3 law—and so is that of sand avalanches: the bigger the event, the more rare it is. But what about the “real world”? Scaling laws show up everywhere—in earthquake magnitudes (each successively larger magnitude on the scale is a multiple of the previous), population distributions, city sizes, the brightness of the Sun, and music (the structure of rock music, classical music, and the spoken word all obey scaling laws). Systems displaying this behaviour exist on the boundary between stability and instability, order and chaos, and Bak coined the term self-organized criticality (SOC)to describe this condition.

It seems even the actual thinking going on in the brains of the doomers is governed by these same general principles. A bit off topic but fascinating nonetheless.

Hi FMagyar,

A good, available and way cheaper(!) alternative is Martin Scheffer's Critical Transitions in Nature and Society. Princeton Univ. Press (2009).


I'm always on the lookout for good reading material, I'll check it out, Tks!

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this gift.

For detailed understanding of Self Organizing Criticality, see

Here are few important points:

(1) A system goes to a critical state and stays there unless acted by an external force.

(2) The system goes to this critical state on its own, without external forces.

(3) A system is a collection of interacting parts, acting as a whole, means system has properties that none of its individual parts have.

(4) A critical state is one where a major state transition can happen applying very little external force.

(5) Systems tend to move towards critical states and stay there in a stable form. This implies that stable is not actually stable.

(6) For a system to self organize itself towards critical point, the system's part must neither be too loosely connected with each other nor tightly connected. A tight connection would be when all or almost all parts interact with all or almost all parts. The optimum state is when each part interacts with two parts.

(7) A system to be a system have to have atleast two parts (such as earth-sun system, hydrogen atom, five relations in confesciuism etc) but what we said above holds for any number of parts above one.

(8) At first changes in system (working of individual parts, mutations etc) move the system towards a critical point (called attractor). Even when no individual part is moving, due to previous moving of those parts the system as a whole moves towards the critical point, call it self adjustment or self organizing. Once a critical point is reached the system tends to stay there unless some external force moves an individual part, when that happen the system reaches a temporary chaos / instability / crash etc and adjust to another critical point. As more and more changes are made to system (individual parts are moved) the magnitude of crash increase till a time comes that the entire system is collapsed (previous collapses are at local levels, not system-wise levels).

(9) Higher the magnitude of crash, lower is its probability / frequency. Mathematically if we put logarithm of magnitude of crash at x-axis and frequency of crashes at y-axis, then we get a straight line.


Earth-sun system. Left on its own, means in absence of any interaction of any force outside the solar system, the cloud of gases adjust itself into a spherical earth and put that earth in an orbit moving around the sun. If an external force occurs such as an aestroid from outside the solar system hitting the earth, the earth may change its angular momentum, speed etc and remain in orbit, losing some of its stability of orbit. If a series of aestroids keep hitting earth then at a point the earth would be as such a low state of stability of its orbit that it would fall in sun (collapse of entire system).

When an empire (lets say tsar russia, imperial britain, united states of america etc) keep getting substantial losses in wars (especially losses of important human resource such as elite officers and soldiers, money, moral, honor) a time comes when the entire empire collapse. It then settle to a lower state of energy, which is also lower state of complexity and power. This lower state is indeed very stable.


1. In construction, each room / corridor should have exactly two doors, not less and not more.

2. In a secret service, every agent should know exactly two other agents, one he report to and one who report him.

3. Never make a matrix organization, always make a pyramid organization. Rigid hierarchies, defined paths of movement of information.

In time of chaos, its better to not do anything for a while. Let the nature adjust the system. It would be the most efficient, most reasonable, most stable state nature would settle the system into. After a while, when dust has settled and system seems to have settled to a state start working again. If you try to swim against the tide when nature is readjusting the system then you may end with a worse state of system than a collapsed state of system and in all scenarios you would severely hurt yourself. For example, when an empire has failed, when central authority has gone missing (gorbachev), when no more commands are coming from the center, when individual parts (states / provinces / generals / divisions / colonies) are breaking free from the center, when parts instead of working in harmony with each other are colliding with each other in chaotic fashion, then its too late to save the empire, only viable thing one can do in such a time is to do nothing, eat savings, sit tight, watch and wait, wait patiently till a new order of things is naturally established, once that happen start working again. Its like when you have two enemies and you find them in war with each other, its better for you to do nothing, take no sides, wait for one of them to kill other or atleast for both of them to weaken each other, when finally they stop fighting with each other due to weakness at both sides or death of one side, then attack whatever enemy of yours is remaining. Its like when somebody is angry and shouting on you, then instead of arguing with a near insane mind, keep quiet, let the steam go free, then once that person is quiet for a while and cooled itself then defend your point of view. Never ever take part in a war you are not prepared for, unless its a matter of your survival or loss of some very, very critical thing you can't afford to lose.

Very interesting. Thanks for sharing this gift.

You are welcome, Wisdom. While I sometimes find it difficult to agree with some of your views, I understand that we have been influenced by vastly different cultural backgrounds and life experiences. At the end of the day we still have the common languages of math, science and a shared human experience that transcends any differences we may have.

Best hopes for a deeper understanding of our shared humanity and a continuing appreciation of reality.

The collapse phase of the Roman empire goes from,

1.)the death of the last pagan Emperor Julian in 363 AD in Iraq,

2.)to the military disaster, death of Emperor Valens at Adrianople in 378 AD

3.)to the official division of the Empire into Byzantine and Western halves in 395 AD by the first Catholic Roman emperor, Theodosius, who dies.

4.)to the sack of Rome by Alaric in 410 AD (Rome probably had ~1 million people in it)

5.)the gradual loss of Gaul and Spain in 407 AD, and North Africa in 429 AD to the barbarians,

6.)Attila invades in 451 AD (and is defeated! and dies in bed) and death of the last dynastic Roman emperor, Valentinian III and the sacking of Rome by Vandal pirates in 455 AD.

7.)anarchy and finally the death of the last figurehead emperor Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD with the Western crown and scepter being sent to Constantinople by the warlord of Italy.

Basically a century of collapse.
A torrent of body-blows to the Roman state.

Population of Rome over time - an interesting graph:

Concerning the timing of collapse.

I like to use the different ways a human being can die as a sort of metaphor.

No blood to the brain kills fast. No air to the lungs will take a minute or so. No water will keep you going a few days at most, and hunger can take a few weeks.

Heart, lungs and brain are fast subsystems, failure here makes for a fast collapse.
Disrupting slower systems, such as digestion, toxin-removal and general maintenance, leads to a much longer and slower collapse.

Human organs do not map directly to the subsystems of human civilization, but the thousands of ways a human being can die should give an idea of the myriad ways civilization can collapse.

It can be as fast as a massive heart attack, as slow as liver failure, etc.

This raises the question of what is best : slow or fast.

Some prefer slow, in the hope that time and effort will provide the means to heal the patient. Trying to keep civilization going will be very costly, and it will destroy a lot of resources. Success is deeply improbable, serious damage to the ecosystems is highly probable.

Maybe we should hope for a fast collapse at the soonest opportunity : with more resources left in the ground, and more of the ecosystems left to heal themselves, there would be a better chance of green shoots growing on the cadaver of today's civilization.

Just as I consider the prospect of my own death, whichever form it takes, to be terrifying and disgusting, so do I feel about whichever form the collapse of civilization takes : terrifying and disgusting.

It is difficult to find a moral compass here. Do we prolong the patient's agony toward a certain death, or do we hope for a kazillion deaths?

Just as I consider the prospect of my own death, whichever form it takes, to be terrifying and disgusting, so do I feel about whichever form the collapse of civilization takes : terrifying and disgusting.

While I agree that contemplating one's own demise can be somewhat disconcerting, I have never thought of death as disgusting. I'm not saying I look forward to it but It just seems so natural and ultimately inevitable. Perhaps because as part of my university zoology course we spent a good amount of time delving into human anatomy and had to dissect both human cadavers and other mammals, my curiosity got the better of me.

Dissecting dead civilizations I believe, can be interesting as well.

Nice analogy. I guess Western Civilization could then be considered a 60 year old, 300 lb Alcoholic smoker with 3 pack a day habit. He could live to be 90, but the odds are against it?


This is OT but you can try to imagine that your soul will be recycled and therefore reborn, I suppose its called reincarnation.

Then you won`t be so burdened by mortal terror....

Anyway, this seems to work for some people.

You know, just another day in Paradise!

Mon Dieu the Doomers are out in force today!

Good thought-provoking stuff in general, but Slide 8 is silly. In 1960 when a computer needed an entire office building, kept toasty-warm by all those thermionic valves, 32MB storage required umpteen huge rotating magnetic drums. A 2g chip is obviously far less resource-intensive than the older technology.

If all the world's IT got frazzled by solar-generated EMP, it would disrupt most OECD countries, but less so in non-OECD countries. Even in the OECD, banking, accounting and admin were mainly paper-based up until the last 2 decades, so older staff would know how to resurrect these. In fact, there might even be some employees, unable to surf the Internet and update their Facebook site, might be forced to get on with some useful, unable to produce tedious Powerpoint presentations and long irritating pointless Emails, might be forced to visit the shop-floor and actually talk to the workers instead.

I'd guess that meltdown of the banking system is the greatest immediate threat, not least because it's happened often before in history, even without the stress of Peak Oil. Of course, there is a well-established portfolio of remedies: bank nationalisation, sovereign debt default, deliberate inflation, establishing a new currency etc. But the remedies are none too palatable.

Severe Space Weather Events--Understanding Societal and Economic Impacts: A Workshop Report

Before deregulation, DoD folks could "advise" the Bell System to implement EMP protection, something would be done, and the costs would be passed on to the telephone ratepayers.

Now we have the cheapest telephone service that competition can bring -- while it lasts.

At the top of this I mentioned EMP.

now I've not digested the 100 pages - but 'tis an interesting position WRT EMP.

One heck of a black swan/things fall apart moment(s).

(I'll also note that the responses were to things man could (mostly) choose to not happen VS cosmic EMP)

This is an interesting post and discussion. Over the last two years I have concluded we are in the early stages of a Tainterian collapse. I think it began around the turn of the century or, it could be persuasively argued, 20 or so years earlier. It doesn't matter. We are there. The headwinds of decreasing marginal returns have ground us to a halt.

One analogy is to the U.S. bombing campaign against Japan in WWII. The AAF ran into a problem. The B 29s flying high altitude missions ran into fierce jet stream winds at high altitude. Airplanes flying at nominal speeds of 400+ knots were actually moving backwards in relation to the ground. The crews had a choice: fight the headwinds until fuel was burned and you crashed or turn out of the wind, abort the mission and land safely back at base.

Either way you ended up back on the ground without achieving what you hoped to achieve but one result was preferable by far to the other. The question is which choice will we make as a civilization?

The USAAF solved the problem by flying lower level missions below the jet stream. These were far more dangerous but succeeded. Will our civilization lower its expectations/consumption/standard of living voluntarily, in a planned way, to try to achieve some objectives? The higher risk, of course, is political for anyone advocating such an approach.

I think the headwinds will begin pushing us backward quite soon. One wild card in the deck is climate change which, to extend the analogy, may be like encountering an engine problem while you are caught in the headwinds.

In any case, I believe our civilization is headed for collapse of one sort or another. And by "our civilization, I mean global civilization. I know some have argued the underdeveloped world will not have as far to drop and will be better off but I don't buy that. Consider what south Saharan Africa would be like with no 1) food aid, 2)aid in procuring potable water, 3) medical aid, 4) disease prevention aid or 5) international peacekeepers. Contemplating that does not bring to mind the word "despair" but rather the word "horror."

In any event that is where I believe we are but I sure hope I am wrong.

I wonder what the editorials were saying during the Great Depression. Cheer up doomers, though things will not be fixed without pain, there is a limit to the pain. We probably just need to start another world war first...

Well, historically Tinfoil, that's usually what I've said before we like things that go boom! The consequences, not so much...

They will be saying its an extreamlly rare quadruple dip resession but we will be out of it soon.

One wild card in the deck is climate change which, to extend the analogy, may be like encountering an engine problem while you are caught in the headwinds.

Using the 2 engine bomber analogy, If one engine is Climate Change, another is Export quantity of Petro declining, or the Credit/Fractional banking collapse....

Like the bomber, we could limp at a lower attitude with one engine gone, but Going from from 1 to Zero engines is a... er.. State Change Event.

How many engines can we lose?

Anyone have any favorite examples of physical resources that were previous more available than they are now, and as a result there has been an obvious decrease in quality of life? Part of the problem with publicizing peak oil seems to be that there are not very many convincing examples of this to point to.

Examples like whale oil fail because petroleum and electric lighting have made it unnecessary. Maybe the best example is free time :) but that doesn't convey quite the point. Land and open space is clearly an example, but it doesn't have much impact on people since earth has always had the same amount of land. I guess examples from biology like the American Bison are pretty good...they used to be plentiful and human societies depended on them, and they were hunted to the point that the resource was gone. But (at least for Euro-Americans) cattle filled in to avoid much quality of life decline. What are your favorite examples?

In COLLAPSE, Jared Diamond gives a number of examples of civilisations that have collapsed due to the exhaustion of a resource, climate change, and failure to adapt.

On a global level, there are lots of examples of resources that have been exhausted, (e.g. whales, passenger pigeons, played out mines and ghostowns), but either replacements are found or new resources are located elsewhere and exploited through trade and transportation. So the global exhaustion of beaver fur leads to a replacement of beaver felt hats by other materials. Exhaustion of Spanish silver mines is compensated for by Mexican and Bolivian silver.

So the question is whether there is something so unique about crude oil that it cannot be substituted for by other fossil fuel deposits (natural gas, tar, bitumen, coal), other extractive energy sources (uranium, thorium, deuterium), or flow energy sources (wind, solar, bio, tidal, geothermal, ...).

crude oil is unique because of its high energy density and its ease of transportability being a liquid.

No, no. Go read the 'save it for the combine' article. We'll fix things with simple battery packs!

There will be substitutes. But has been exhaustively analyzed here, the energy return will be less and decreasing. The amount of useful work per unit of total input will decrease. There will clearly be a decreased standard of living in the future due to a myriad of factors. Whether or not there will be a sudden collapse is, of course, part of the ongoing debate.

I can see us, for example, transforming our transportation mode from the automobile to modes that largely require muscle power. Relatively speaking, this has been somewhat true of Copenhagen for a long time as compared, say, to Atlanta. If Atlanta became like Copenhagen, would this be a "collapse". The people in Atlanta would probably perceive it as such.

Part of the problem, here, is our refusal to take meaningful steps to simplify our systems so that they require less energy and less complexity. Our financial system is another one which is way too complex and cost trillions to resurrect after it almost came apart in 2008. I'd day we learned almost nothing from that experience.

Google st matthew's island reindeer

Interesting story...of introduced reindeer whose population expanded to 6000 in 20 years and then died off in a little over 2 years. But it is not quite what I was thinking of. This kind of thing happens to introduced species with some regularity. And more to the point, it affected humans very little, so it doesn't help much in helping people appreciate the impact that exhausted resources could have on their lives.

Wow, you completely misunderstood why I pointed out the story. Let's try again:

And more to the point, it affected humans very little,so it doesn't help much in helping people appreciate the impact that exhausted resources could have on their lives.

Yes, but it affected the reindeer quite a lot. We are the reindeer. It shows what happens to a species that exhausts resources that it depends on.

Again, we are the reindeer.

Again, we are the reindeer.

Yes, but it affected humans very little.

Again, we are the reindeer.

Yes, but it affected humans very little.

Again, we are the reindeer.

Yes, but it affected humans very little.

Again, we are the reindeer.

Sheesh, next you'll be telling us we are great apes in overshoot wearing antlers made in China at the office Christmas party! Rudolph the red nosed reindeer had a very shiny nose...

Replace 'reindeer' with 'human' and you'll understand that this is meant to be an example about living populations in general. Think about human population overshoot, which is arguably underway right now...

Replace 'reindeer' with 'human' and you'll understand that this is meant to be an example about living populations in general.

Sigh! Does no one get sarcasm any anymore?

Since you brought it up FM, Google the book "The Naked Ape". Despite the religious nuts denials, this is still basically what we are, like it or not.

The difference between us and the Reindeer example, is that we've been able put off the inevitable "die-off" because we've been able to think and use tools to postpone that event, but pending a sizable portion of our species "waking up and growing up" (FAT CHANCE, IMHO) or discovery and release of radically new energy technologies, we're screwed...

Based on History and observation, we won't go smoothly down that "decline curve" either...

Since you brought it up FM, Google the book "The Naked Ape". Despite the religious nuts denials, this is still basically what we are, like it or not.

As an atheistic, card carrying member of the reality based community myself, I'm quite comfortable with the 'Naked Ape' designation, thank you very much! Oh, and I've even read the book...

I do sometimes add /sarcanol tags to what I write but I thought this particular comment of mine didn't need one since it seemed it could hardly be any more obvious. Guess I was wrong.

next you'll be telling us we are great apes in overshoot

Sometimes I think that flinging my poo might be a more effective debating tactic than reasoned arguments based on facts and historical examples.

ganv asks Anyone have any favorite examples of physical resources that were previous more available than they are now, and as a result there has been an obvious decrease in quality of life?

Just thinking, would it be analogous to antibiotic resources?

One upon a time penicillin was cheap and plentiful.

Penicillin built a pyramid of saved lives which we took for granted. But as we started using it for relatively frivolous things like improving livestock for market purposes we entered the phase of over-use and over-reliance.

As a result the resource has been depleted by being rendered ineffective, but with the help of our technology we rapidly found new antibiotics.

However, many of those resources have been depleted at an even faster rate and we are now at the exponential edge where it takes a massive investment in money and research time to find new antibiotics and more and more of those we find have unwanted side effects.

We are now somewhere high up on the exponential curve where the totally resistant rapidly growing number of bad bugs are catching up with us, the EROI is bleak, and we are at future risk from many common infections.

In the case of anti-viruls and anti-biotics The Crash will take us hundreds of years backwards to a point where we are not naturally resistant to much of anything.

I totally agree. :)

And what's worse, climate change will introduce new problems via floods and warming, like plethora of infectious diseases (see Pakistan for quick preview ), migrating southern diseases (Malaria, Ebola) way up north, etc.
In times, when we would really need those ATBs, all of them will be useless...

The economic collapse could also hamper R&D of ATBs, cuz they need some big money and there goes our ability to come up with some new shiny "Stupidiciline" that could prove effective at least for a few days till bugs become resistant again and will even munch on them...

Truly, I can't see any way out of this one. Other than the immediate ATB rationing and using them only when really, once again, REALLY needed, that is...

I'm thinking $150 oil

Anyone have any favorite examples of physical resources that were previous more available than they are now, and as a result there has been an obvious decrease in quality of life?

fresh water.

Its mostly a population growth issue, but there is little that so profoundly effects quality of life, and there are hundreds of millions lacking adequate water now. Were cheap energy available, we could desalinate freely, and pump water from here to there freely, but of course it isn't, and the water situation has been getting steadily worse.

Now lots of tap water is polluted and contaminated with industrial chemicals and pesticides.

How wonderful it would be if people realized that all sorts of paint, plastic, shampoo, etc. has an other side, a toxic side, when the waste products (from incineration, landfills, water treatment, etc.) are treated and go into the air and ground water. There is no "away". We eat and drink poisons everyday. I am pretty sure it wasn`t this way 200 years ago, or even 100 years ago.
That is why so many people buy bottled water now.

When offered the choice between saving basic employment or health services now verses a slow long term energy payback, it is more likely to choose the former

This statement represents one of the key assumptions of the presented argument. Unfortunately, however, not only is no evidence presented to support this assumption, available evidence seems to indicate that the assumption is most likely to be false.

The first type of evidence is theoretical: in a market economy, decreasing supply of a resource should normally correspond to increasing price. When talking about energy, what that means is that when energy is scarce we should expect people to be willing to devote a higher fraction of available energy to the production of energy infrastructure.

The second type of evidence is historical: the world has already faced a multi-year period of declining energy - the 1979 oil crisis - and that period saw increased resources devoted to energy, rather than decreased. France's switch to nuclear energy, increased experiments with oil shales, and intense interest in wind&solar power flourished in that energy-limited environment.

Based on the preponderance of evidence, a reader who was not already convinced of the correctness of the assumption would be likely to dismiss it, and any arguments relying on it. Accordingly, presentations such as this one would be substantially more persuasive if they (a) offered strong evidence in support of the assumption that society will not prioritize energy, or (b) did not rely on that assumption.

High Pitt the Elder,

I am referring to the pretty well researched steep social discount rates in human behavior-see some of Nate Hagens articles on TOD for references. Also the steepening of those rates in times of high social stress/ deep uncertainty/ or growing benefits to defect from cooperative structures.


It would take a lot of analisys, but it would be interesting to try and quantify how much slack is built into our systems. How much of the grid could go down while essential services are maintained? How much transportation off line before food availability becomes critical? Medical supplies? Cash? Water? Fuel? How much, how many days? Which parts of the world are more prone to shortages. Who's most vulnerable? What is each person's/group's fall-back position?

Submarine Service (and Surface Sailing as well) is a great teacher of Plab B. Every critical system has a backup and crews are trained to adopt Plan B on very short notice. I don't think our Western societies are set up this way. This isn't how people think nowdays. Sure, many folks have an extra flashlight, maybe a small bugout kit, but as a society, most of our critical systems are maxed out.

Living off grid, every one of our critical systems has a backup. Our solar is modular. Failure of one or two components won't bring the whole system down. While we have three inverters, all of the things we rely upon will run on one. We often do this when we leave town, flip a transfer switch and two breakers, the house will function on the smallest, most efficient inverter. No 240VAC, but lighting and refrigeration will function fine. Our water system has three pumps, one solar, one 240VAC and a booster for added pressure (off line usually). Two 1200 gal tanks, one for collecting spring water, one up on the ridge for gravity storage. We can run from either one. Two generators, one diesel, one propane (indefinite fuel storage). Hot water: solar, wood, propane or any combination. Food storage: main pantry/root cellar, "secret" stash (really just a small cellar for long term storage of staples). We likely have several months of essentials at any one time.

We haven't spent a huge amount of money on stuff. We are thrifty, but always look out for a bargain. Much of this stuff was salvaged/used or bartered for. A buddy recently got 10 nice 7 gal. food storage buckets (with the vacuum valves and fresh nitrogen packs) from someones old Y2K stash). He didn't trust the contents (looked fine to me), but a trip to Sam's Club and a little cleanup and he has many calories in the root cellar for,,,,,whatever. Cost for the buckets was a trip to the dump. Perhaps $300 for rice, beans, flower, and oats.

Got stuff? How many days of food, water, medicine, fuel, batteries? How much time will it take for you to adapt? How slow will your decline be?

Each increase in complexity along our long evolutionary continuum has resulted in integration of previously independent entities; RNA, chloroplasts, mitochondria, cells, organisms, societies. Upon death, the cells of our bodies cannot simply dissemble from whole and go their merry way. They have given up their ability to survive in the environment without the delivery and removal of metabolic needs by system supporting structures. Many humans have also achieved this type of dependency, being unable to survive without their specialized work function, water and food delivery and waste elimination provided by the infrastructure of the organism/society. I’m not sure I want to be fully dependent upon a system run by mindless bankers, lawyers, politicians and warriors.

When preparing, try also to make allowance for fire prevention or have duplicate resources in separate locations.

#1. I'm not at sold on the "fact" life or devices must become more energy-intensive per kilogram. [Far future life in the universe, as stars die down, will do more and more with less and less energy!] The "fact" of more energy-intensive life sounds like advice (propaganda) from energy companies! Certainly some items like the (now slowing) advancements in computer core devices and uses found for nano-particles, follow that pattern, but many other industries/devices are less energy hungry.... simply to avoid costs!

By the way, the end point of that curve would be... God! Zero mass, infinite power!

I think local inventors of smaller lighter SIMPLER "cars" could cure the gasoline-guzzling habits and I'd suggest a somewhat separated region (eg New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, PEI) promote UNRESTRICTED DEVELOPMENT OF LIGHT-WEIGHT, LOW POWER (any fuel) VEHICLES... by NOT requiring they conform to any regulations except an ability to stop, steer, and have orange lights to warn folks a "Lightie" is on the road or path or snow tract in the bush! Do not require insurance on vehicles under the weight a man can lift! Say 100 kg. Or make it 200 kg if a water boiler is part of the system. Given such freedom, I bet inventive minds would begin now to solve the "automotive crisis"... and winners in the game of building such "Lighties" would surely become new car manufaacturers right in N America again! Exclude present car firms from this race, or you can be sure they'll develop machines using exotic stuff, with a high price, or they'll sabotage it.... or move its manufacturing to China or Mexico!

[During the Lithuania crisis vs USSR, for a while gasoline was almost cut off. Folks resorted to horse-drawn wagons, lightest gasoline vehicles, and "home-made cars" powered by boiling water via burning trash wood etc! That was a short crisis. Given a big region seeking (over a period of years) light-weight, low-power vehicles for "alternative" places and people, to develop such an industry necessarily based on simplicity for these folks mostly in rural areas.... a lot could be accomplished. Look at competitions to make better paper aeroplanes! Simple materials, but better!]

#2. While the Earth certainly must only have a finite amount of oil pools (and as a geo-scientist who wasted years of my life using more advanced computer ideas to find mostly smaller, deeper oil pools, I can really relate to that!), there are other energy sources. Spend more effort finding and developing those!

Even for regular gasoline-motors, in my region oil-sand mining has rapidly replaced hunting for those smaller deeper more obscure pools of conventional oil, as the easier way to go to fill the GASOLINE GAP... mostly to keep US cars running!... in return for intrinsically worthless US "dollars" issued by gangsters! (The Federal Reserve monopoly phoney "money" loaners-at-interest that enslaves society! See #3.)

COAL IS AN ABUNDANT FUEL FOR HEAT, SMELTING AND ELECTRIC GENERATION. It can be used in cars via liquification (Geramny did it in 1940; I saw it at Sasolburg, S Africa in 1980) or in steam cars.... yes, they work! We have lots of coal! But...

You must realize the "green agenda" is bunko.... pushed by Maurice Strong's gang who want to tax you to death via "cap and trade" to their benefit (and to pay Amazonians to DO NOTHING but keep trees as they are, etc!) CLIMATE IS DRIVEN BY SOLAR ACTIVITY!
See video showing evidence: -video with MIT professor (1st frame) and a title like "The Great Global Warming Swindle." (Maybe not exact title)

TIDAL POWER could be harnessed. (Note extreme tides in Bay of Fundy, not far from huge energy consuming places in Northeast US/Canada.That water rising and galling is a massive power source!) Wave energy also has much power across many shorelines! And like tidal, it isn't limited by seasons, daytime sunlight, or local wind! If you are near such a situation, consider how to use it, locally at least for your group!

Think outside the box of declining oil reserves, and rather fixed fuel consumption rates for conventional cars (already burdened with FAR TOO COMPLEX SYSTEMS!!)

#3. This entire essay, while enlightening, makes zero reference to Scripture (which by the way is consistent with the geoscience record, once you interpret it via logic, not tradition - my current project) and the fact we are to obey God's Laws or suffer decline, impoverishmnet, domination by aliens, etc. (Deut 28). And at some point the King (Jesus with a new name, Rev 3:12) will return to impose his rule and overthrow other regimes (I Cor 15:22-24, Rev 19:11-21) AFTER WE LEAVE BABYLON and suddenly destroy this global center of trade, money, shipping, government and money-banking - in Rev 17:18-19:3 (just before the King returns, as noted above, 19:11+).

Quite logically a lot of Christians (we still exist) logically studying their Bibles (a few do this, outside govt licensed "churching" charities) work on getting out of the money-political-corporate-technology bundle of the toxic and failing "Babylon" city and its "daughter Babylons" too! Some with access to the means will focus on terminating the core "Babylon" and its "money" that is the effective "god" and blood paying state functionaries and enforcers. When they don't get paid, they'll do other stuff... necesarily join the revolution!

Whether or not you agree with this viewpoint, count on enough folks to follow it, to regard the destruction of the core of the system as something that will occur... very suddenly too! Of course the declining and suffering stage leading up to this may be long. Indeed we are in it, and have been for decades already, while alien (to our core values) propaganda and changeling idea/person influx has destroyed much of what was "America." [I grew up in Detroit. Don't say it didn't decay. Case closed!]


Something like this (and a plan how to teach us to return to Bible Law, plus much more info) - plus a list of 40 "Babylon" zones to depart! - was on an odd website I recently saw called "Christmarkview" on www dot christmarkview dot webs dot com

PS: #4. ALTERNATIVE MONEY. Over 2500 years of trading made silver the basic daily "money" until the proto-gangster bankers defined gold as their standard (because they could control the few major mines easier than many silver producers!), and then in 1933 they drove the US into bankruptcy, demanded they get all the gold in circulation (theft!), almost doubled it's "dollar" value, they developed a system where their "word" on paper was "money" - like a god to worship and serve! This crap must be repudiated! (Along with anti-Godlaw regimes enforcing it.)

#5. One initial premise of this essay was wrong! It's rather technical, but the modern Adamic (major US lineage group) baby is NOT genetically the same as the baby in Lascaux cave, France, which is upper paleolithic, about 15,000 BC - long before Adam was made! Adam was the only type made in the image & likeness of God (Gen 5:1). (About 4000 BC using Masoretic text data, or about 5500 BC using Septuagint data for Genesis chronologies.) Note that the only one defined as a "son of God" (ending Luke 3:38 lineage list) among all persons who had offspring listed in the Bible (a book to Adams, Gen 5:1-2), was Adam.... and "Adam" is the literal word (vaguely usually translated as "man" or "human") in Gen 1:26-28, where he is given dominion over all the (previously made) LIVING beings - which logically includes pre-Adamites (most of the modern world population). Now the research at Lascaux presumes this art was made by Cro-Magnons, a group with no structural difference from modern men in skeletons. While Cro-Magnon may have appeared a lot like the image of God (unlike other forms like Neanderthal, or original rootstock in Africa), he was still a proto-Adamite, before ADAM. Adam clearly had special genetics added, since he is potentially immortal - one of the "gods" (Adamic Children of God) addressed in Ps 82, also mentioned in John 10:34. (But for the time being we must die, due to Adam's error!) The original Adamic Dominion is what will be restored in the "Second Advent" WAR (note that Jesus with a new name is the perfected "last Adam" I Cor 15:45).

We are now far from Adamic Dominion ways (especially after Abe Lincoln's war!), drifting father away each day. The collapse of the anti-Adamic world "Babylon" system is coming soon. (Adamites will arise and win. Get prepared!)

First, the present system must collapse. Count on it!

How soon? Possibly within my lifetime (and I'm about 60). We CAN know the time and must be aware, warns I Thes 5:4-6. (Working on this chronology is my passion. It can be done! I also solved the riddle of why other lines appear to say no man knows the time... this is another story.)

I've been preparing my family for Peak Oil for over 3 years now...attached is one of my short videos showing what we are doing....


I made some short videos showing how my family is preparing for Peak Oil... I attached one here...