Peak Oil, Carrying Capacity and Overshoot: Population, the Elephant in the Room - Revisited

This is a guest post by GliderGuider. It was originally posted in May 2007. This post presents one model of what the future may look like. There are other, less dire, views as well.

At the root of all the converging crises of the World Problematique is the issue of human overpopulation. Each of the global problems we face today is the result of too many people using too much of our planet's finite, non-renewable resources and filling its waste repositories of land, water and air to overflowing. The true danger posed by our exploding population is not our absolute numbers but the inability of our environment to cope with so many of us doing what we do.

It is becoming clearer every day, as crises like global warming, water, soil and food depletion, biodiversity loss and the degradation of our oceans constantly worsen, that the human situation is not sustainable. Bringing about a sustainable balance between ourselves and the planet we depend on will require us, in very short order, to reduce our population, our level of activity, or both. One of the questions that comes up repeatedly in discussions of population is, "What level of human population is sustainable?" In this article I will give my analysis of that question, and offer a look at the human road map from our current situation to that level.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, the concepts of ecological science are the most effective tools for understanding this situation. The crucial concepts are sustainability, carrying capacity and overshoot. Considered together these can give us some clue as to what the true sustainable population of the earth might be, as well as the trajectory between our current numbers and the point of sustainability.


A sustainable population is one that can survive over the long term (thousands to tens of thousands of years) without either running out of resources or damaging its environmental niche (in our case the planet) in the process. This means that our numbers and level of activity must not generate more waste than natural processes can return to the biosphere, that the wastes we do generate do not harm the biosphere, and that most of the resources we use are either renewable through natural processes or are entirely recycled if they are not renewable. In addition a sustainable population must not grow past the point where those natural limits are breached. Using these criteria it is obvious that the current human population is not sustainable.

Carrying Capacity

In order to determine what a sustainable population level might be, we need to understand the ecological concept of carrying capacity. Carrying capacity is the population level of an organism that can be sustained given the quantity of life supporting infrastructure available to it. If the numbers of an organism are below the carrying capacity of its environment, its birth rate will increase. If the population exceeds the carrying capacity, the death rate will increase until the population numbers are stable. Carrying capacity can be increased by the discovery and exploitation of new resources (such as metals, oil or fertile uninhabited land) and it can be decreased by resource exhaustion and waste buildup, for example declining soil fertility and water pollution.

Note: "Carrying capacity" used in its strict sense means the sustainable level of population that can be supported. This implies that all the resources a population uses are renewable within a meaningful time frame. An environment can support a higher level of population for a shorter period of time if some amount of non-renewable resources are used. If the level of such finite resources in the environment is very high, the population can continue at high numbers for quite a long time. Though some ecologists may cringe, I tend to think in terms of "sustainable carrying capacity" and "temporary carrying capacity". In this article I just use the single term "carrying capacity" to indicate the population level that can be supported by the environment at any moment in time. While not strictly correct, this does simplify and clarify the discussion.

An increase in the carrying capacity of an environment can generally be inferred from a rise in the population inhabiting it. The stronger the rise, the more certain we can be that the carrying capacity has expanded. In our case a graph of world population makes it obvious that something has massively increased the world's carrying capacity in the last 150 years. During the first 1800 years of the Common Era, like the tens of thousands of years before, the population rose very gradually as humanity spread across the globe. Around 1800 this began to change, and by 1900 the human population was rising dramatically:

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Part of the early phase of this expansion was due to the settlement of the Americas, but the exploitation of this fertile land in the 16th to 19th centuries would not seem to be enough on its own to support the population explosion we have experienced. After all, humans had already spread to every corner of the globe by 1900. There is something else at work here.

The Role of Oil

That something is oil. Oil first entered general use around 1900 when the global population was about 1.6 billion. Since then the population has quadrupled. When we look at oil production overlaid on the population growth curve we can see a very suggestive correspondence:

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However, we have to ask whether this is merely a coincidental match. A closer look at the two curves from 1900 to the 2005 reinforces the impression of a close correlation:

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The Food Factor

Are there other factors besides oil that may have contributed to the growth of the Earth's carrying capacity?

The main one that is usually cited is the enormous world wide increase in food production created by the growth of industrial agribusiness. There is no question that it has caused a massive increase in both yields and the absolute quantities of food being grown worldwide. While it has been celebrated with the popular label "The Green Revolution", there is nothing terribly miraculous about the process. When you open up that so-called revolution, you find at its heart our friend petroleum

Here's how it works. Industrial agriculture as practiced in the 20th and 21st centuries is supported by three legs: mechanization, pesticides/fertilizers and genetic engineering. Of those three legs, the first two are directly dependent on petroleum to run the machines and natural gas to act as the chemical feedstock. The genetic engineering component of agribusiness generally pursues four goals: drought resistance, insect resistance, pesticide resistance and yield enhancement. Meeting that last goal invariably requires mechanical irrigation, which again depends on oil.

Even more than other oil-driven sectors of the global economy, food production is showing signs of strain as it struggles to maintain productivity in the face of rising population, flattening oil production and the depletion of essential resources such as soil fertility and fresh water. According to figures compiled by the Earth Policy Institute, world grain consumption has exceeded global production in six of the last seven years, falling over 60 million tonnes below consumption in 2006. Global grain reserves have fallen to 57 days from a high of 130 days in 1986. After keeping pace with population growth from 1960 until the late 1980s, per capita grain production has shown a distinct flattening and declining trend in the last 20 years.

At its heart the "Green Revolution" is yet another example of the enormous usefulness of oil. Without large quantities of cheap oil, this revolution could not have occurred. The simple fact published in a University of Michigan study in 2000 that every calorie of food energy consumed in the United States embodies over seven calories of non-food energy (and other studies that have placed the ratio at 10:1) make the linkage clear. (Update: A 2010 study by the USDA puts total food system energy use at 14.1 quadrillion Btu for the US, which is equivalent to 33,700 kilocalories per person per day--over 10 calories of energy per calorie of food.) The United States currently uses over 12% of its total oil consumption for the production and distribution of food. As the oil supply begins its inevitable decline, food production will be affected. While it is probable that most nations will preferentially allocate oil and natural gas resources to agriculture by one means or another, it is inevitable that over the next decades the food supply key to maintaining our burgeoning population will come under increasing pressure, and will be subject to its own inescapable decline.

Carrying Capacity: Conclusion

Oil and its companion natural gas together make up about 60% of humanity's primary energy. In addition, the energy of oil has been leveraged through its use in the extraction and transport of coal as well as the construction and maintenance of hydro and nuclear generating facilities. Oil is as the heart of humanity's enormous energy economy as well as at the heart of its food supply. The following conclusion seems reasonable:

Humanity's use of oil has quadrupled the Earth's carrying capacity since 1900.


In ecology, overshoot is said to have occurred when a population's consumption exceeds the carrying capacity of its environment, as illustrated in this graphic:

When a population rises beyond the carrying capacity of its environment, or conversely the carrying capacity of the environment falls, the existing population cannot be supported and must decline to match the carrying capacity. A population cannot stay in overshoot for long. The rapidity, extent and other characteristics of the decline depend on the degree of overshoot and whether the carrying capacity continues to be eroded during the decline, as shown in the figure above. William Catton's book "Overshoot" is recommended for a full treatment of the subject.

There are two ways a population can regain a balance with the carrying capacity of its environment. If the population stays constant or continues to rise, per capita consumption must fall. If per capita consumption stays constant, population numbers must decline. Where the balance is struck between these endpoints depends on how close the population is to a subsistence level of consumption. Those portions of the population that are operating close to subsistence will experience a reduction in numbers, while those portions of the population that have more than they need will experience a reduction in their level of consumption, but without a corresponding reduction in numbers.

Populations in serious overshoot always decline. This is seen in wine vats when the yeast cells die after consuming all the sugar from the grapes and bathing themselves in their own poisonous alcoholic wastes. It's seen in predator-prey relations in the animal world, where the depletion of the prey species results in a die-back of the predators. Actually, it's a bit worse than that. The population may actually fall to a lower level than was sustainable before the overshoot. The reason is that unsustainable consumption while in overshoot allowed the species to use more non-renewable resources and to further poison their environment with excessive wastes. It is a common understanding of ecology that overshoot degrades the carrying capacity of the environment (as illustrated in the declining "Carrying Capacity" curve in the above figure). In the case of humanity, our use of oil has allowed us to perform prodigious feats of resource extraction and waste production that would simply have been inconceivable before the oil age. If our oil supply declined, the lower available energy might be insufficient to let us extract and use the lower grade resources that remain. A similar case can be made for a lessened ability to deal with wastes in our environment

It is important to recognize that humanity is not, overall, in a position of overshoot at the moment. Our numbers are still growing (though the rate of growth is declining). However, we are getting obvious signals from our environment that all is not well. These signals seem to be telling us we are approaching the maximum carrying capacity. If the carrying capacity were to be reduced as our numbers continued to grow we could find ourselves in overshoot rather suddenly. The consequences of that would be quite grave.

An Image of Overshoot

The predicament of a population entering overshoot is illustrated by a short scene from the children's cartoon series about Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.

As the scene opens, our hero, Wile E. Coyote, is zooming hungrily across the top of a mesa, propelled by the exuberant blast of his new Acme Rocket Roller Skates. Suddenly a sign flashes into view. It reads, "Danger: Cliff Ahead." The coyote tries desperately to change course, but his speed is too great and rocket roller skates are hard to control at the best of times. Just before the edge of the cliff the rocket fuel that was sustaining his incredible velocity runs out; the engines of his roller skates die with a little puff of smoke. The coyote begins to slow but it's too late, his inertia propels him onward. Suddenly the ground that moments before had ample capacity to carry him in his headlong flight falls away beneath him. As he overshoots the edge high above the canyon floor, he experiences a horrified moment of dawning realization before nature's impersonal forces take over.

Peak Oil

As we all know but are sometimes reluctant to contemplate, oil is a finite, non-renewable resource. This automatically means that its use is not sustainable. If the use of oil is not sustainable, then of course the added carrying capacity the oil has provided is likewise unsustainable. Carrying capacity has been added to the world in direct proportion to the use of oil, and the disturbing implication is that if our oil supply declines, the carrying capacity of the world will automatically fall with it.

These two observations (that oil has expanded the world's carrying capacity and oil use is unsustainable) combine to yield a further implication. While humanity has apparently not yet reached the carrying capacity of a world with oil, we are already in drastic overshoot when you consider a world without oil. In fact our population today is at least five times what it was before oil came on the scene, and it is still growing. If this sustaining resource were to be exhausted, our population would have no option but to decline to the level supportable by the world's lowered carrying capacity.

What are the chances that we will experience a decline in our global oil supply? Of course given that oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, such an occurrence is inevitable. The field of study known as Peak Oil has generated a vast amount of analysis that indicates this decline will happen soon, and may even be upon us right now.

Individual oil fields tend to show a more or less bell-shaped curve of production rates - rising, peaking and then falling. Once a field has entered decline it has been found that no amount of remedial drilling or new technology will raise its output back to the peak rate. The theory of Peak Oil says that the world's oil production can be modeled as a single, enormous oil field, and will therefore exhibit this same production curve. It is intuitive that if all the oil fields in the world enter decline, and insufficient replacement fields can be found and developed, the world's production will decline.

The signals of Peak Oil are all around for those who know what to look for: the continuing two-year-old plateau in the world's conventional crude oil production; the crash of Mexico's giant Cantarell oil field last year; the U.K. slipping from being an oil exporting nation to a net importer in 2005; the fact that three of the world's four largest oil fields are confirmed to be in decline; the analysis on The Oil Drum of Saudi Arabia's super-giant Ghawar field that indicates it may be teetering on the brink of a crash; the fact that over two thirds of the world's oil producing nations are experiencing declining production; delays and cost overruns in new projects in the Middle East, Kazakhstan and Canada's tar sands. To make matters worse, according to several analyses including a very thorough one (pdf warning) done by a PhD candidate in Sweden, the addition of new projects is unlikely to delay the terminal decline by more than a few years.

Understanding the role of oil in expanding the earth's carrying capacity brings a new urgency to the topic of Peak Oil. The decline in oil supply will reduce the planet's carrying capacity, thus forcing humanity into overshoot with the inevitable consequence of a population decline. The date of the peak will mark the point at which we should expect to see the first effects of overshoot. The rapidity of the decline following the peak will determine whether our descent will be a leisurely stroll down to the canyon floor or a headlong tumble carrying a little sign reading, "Help!"

Time Frame and Severity

The first questions everyone one asks when they accept the concept of Peak Oil is, "When is it going to happen?" and "How fast is the decline going to be?" Peak Oil predictions are hampered by the lack of data transparency by many oil producers. They are reluctant to publish verifiable reserve figures, field-by-field production numbers, or observations of the performance of individual oil fields. As a result the fully correct answer to both questions is, "We don't know yet." This isn't the whole answer, though. As with many predictions we can specify probable ranges based on the current evidence, observed trends over the last few years and published future development and production plans. The guesses are becoming more and more educated as time goes by.

Several "heavy hitters" in the Peak Oil field have said the peak has already happened. These include Dr. Kenneth Deffeyes (a colleague of Dr. M. King Hubbert), major energy investor T. Boone Pickens, energy investment banker Matthew Simmons (who first sounded the alarm about Saudi Arabia's impending depletion) and Samsam Bakhtiari, a retired senior expert with the National Iranian Oil Company.

The steepness of the post-peak decline is open to more debate than the timing of the peak itself. There seems to be general agreement that the decline will start off very slowly, and will increase gradually as more and more oil fields enter decline and fewer replacement fields are brought on line. The decline will eventually flatten out, due both to the difficulty of extracting the last oil from a field as well as the reduction in demand brought about by high prices and economic slowdown.

The post-peak decline rate could be flattened out if we discover new oil to replace the oil we're using. Unfortunately our consumption is outpacing our new discoveries by a rate of 5 to 1. to make matters worse, it appears that we have probably already discovered about 95% of all the conventional crude oil on the planet.

A full picture of the oil age is given in the graph below. This model incorporates actual production figures up to 2005 and my best estimate of a reasonable shape for the decline curve. It also incorporates my belief that the peak is happening as we speak.

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Maintaining Our Carrying Capacity

The consequences of overshoot might be avoided if we could find a way to maintain the Earth's carrying capacity as the oil goes away. To assess the probability of this, we need to examine the various roles oil plays in maintaining the carrying capacity and determine if there are available substitutes with the power to replace it in those roles. The critical roles oil and its companion natural gas play in our society include transportation, food production, space heating and industrial production of such things as plastics, synthetic fabrics and pharmaceuticals. Of these the first three are critical to maintaining human life.


Peak Oil is fundamentally a liquid fuels crisis. We use 70% of the oil for transportation. Over 97% of all transportation depends on oil. Full substitutes for oil in this area are unlikely (I'd go so far as to say impossible). Biofuels are extremely problematic: their net energy is low, their production rates are also low, their environmental costs in soil fertility are too great. Crop based biofuels compete directly with food, while cellulosic technologies risk "strip mining the topsoil" at the production rates needed to offset the loss of oil. Electricity will be able to substitute in some applications such as trains, streetcars and perhaps battery powered personal vehicles, though at significant cost in terms of both flexibility and economics. There is no realistic substitute for jet fuel.


Oil is used in tilling, planting, weeding, harvesting and transporting food, as well as in pumping water for crop irrigation. Natural gas is used to make the vast quantities of fertilizer required to support our industrial, monoculture agribusiness system. As oil and natural gas decline, global food output will fall. This will be offset to some degree by the adoption of more effective and less resource-intensive farming practices. However, it is not clear that such practices could maintain the enormous food production required, especially as much of the world's farmland has been decimated by long term monocropping and will require fertility remediation to produce adequate crops without fertilizer inputs.


In northern climates the fuel of choice for building heat is natural gas. Gas is on its own imminent "peak and decline" trajectory, made worse by the fact that it is harder to transport around the world than oil. The only realistic replacement for natural gas is electric heat. It is quite possible that the rapid adoption of electric resistance heating in cold climates could lead to a destabilization of under-maintained and over-used distribution grids, as well as localized shortages of generating capacity. While there are technologies that will allow us to increase the generation of electricity, they all have associated problems - coal produces greenhouse gases, nuclear power produces radioactive waste and is politically unpalatable in many countries and solar photovoltaic is still too expensive. Wind power is showing promise, but is still hampered by issues of scale and power variability.

I think that we will strive mightily to produce alternative energy sources to maintain the carrying capacity, but I am convinced we will ultimately fail. This is due to issues of scale (no alternatives we have come up with so far come within an order of magnitude of the energy required), issues of utility (oil is so multi-talented that it would take a large number of products and processes to fully replace it), issues of unintended consequences (as is currently being recognized with biofuels) and issues of human behaviour (a lack of international cooperation is predicted by The Prisoner’s Dilemma, and behaviours such comfort-seeking, competition for personal advantage and a hyperbolic discount function are planted deep in the human genome as explained in Reg Morrison’s “The Spirit in the Gene” and in my article on Hyperbolic Discount Functions).

We will be able to replace some small portion of the carrying capacity provided by oil, but in the absence of oil it is not clear how long such alternatives will remain available, relying as they do on highly technical infrastructure that currently runs on oil like everything else.


Given the fact that our world's carrying capacity is supported by oil, and that the oil is about to start going away, it seems that a population decline is inevitable. The form it will take, the factors that will precipitate it and the widely differing regional effects are all imponderables. Some questions that we might be able to answer (though with a great degree of uncertainty) are "When will it start?", "When will it end?", "How much control will we have?", "How bad will it be?" and "How many people will be left?" The rest of this article is devoted to a high-level population model that attempts to address these questions.

A Simple Model of Population Decline

To set the parameters of our model, we need to answer the four questions I posed above.

When Will The Decline Start?

This depends entirely on the timing of Peak Oil. My conclusion that the peak is occurring now makes it easy to pick a start date. The model starts this year, though a start date five or ten years from now would not affect the overall picture.

When Will it End?

Given that oil is a primary determinant of carrying capacity, the obvious answer is that the situation will stabilize when the oil is gone. The oil will never be completely gone of course, so we can modify that to read, "When oil is unavailable to most of humanity." We know that point will come, because oil is a finite, non-renewable resource, but when will that be?

Based on the model in the figure above I chose an end date of 2082, 75 years from now.

How Much Control Will We Have?

Will we be able to mitigate the population decline rate through voluntary actions such as reducing global fertility rates, and making the oil substitutions I mentioned above.

I have decided (perhaps arbitrarily) that the oil substitutions would not affect the course of the decline, but would be used to determine the sustainable number of people at the end of the simulation.

Fertility rates are an important consideration. The approach I've taken is to model the net birth rate, the combination of natural fertility and death rates that give us our current global population growth of 75 million per year. I modified that by having it decline by 0.015% per year. This reflects both a declining fertility rate due to environmental factors and some degree of women's education and empowerment, as well as a rising death rate due to a decline in the the global economy. I do not think that traditional humane models such as the Benign Demographic Transition theory will be able to influence events, given that the required economic growth is likely to be unavailable.

How Bad Will It Be?

This question comes from the assumption that the decline in net births alone will not be enough to solve the problem (and the simulation bears this out). This means that some level of excess deaths will result from a wide variety of circumstances. I postulate a rate of excess deaths that starts off quite low, rises over the decades to some maximum and then declines. The rise is driven by the worsening global situation as the overshoot takes effect, and the subsequent fall is due to human numbers and activities gradually coming back into balance with the resources available.

How Many People Will Be Left?

Taking the carrying capacity effects discussed above into account, I initially set the bar for a sustainable population at the population when we discovered oil in about 1850. This was about 1.2 billion people. Next I subtracted some number to account for the world's degraded carrying capacity, then added back a bit to account for our increased knowledge and the ameliorating effects of oil substitutes. This is a necessarily imprecise calculation, but I have settled on a round number of one billion people as the long-term sustainable population of the planet in the absence of oil.


The model is a simple arithmetical simulation that answers the following question: "Given the assumptions about birth and death rates listed above, how will human population numbers evolve to get from our current population of 6.6 billion to a sustainable population of 1 billion in 75 years?" It is not a predictive model. It is aggregated to a global level, and so can tell us nothing about regional effects. It also cannot address social outcomes. Its primary intent is to allow us to examine the roll that excess deaths will play in the next 75 years.

The Model

We will start by graphing the net birth rate over the period 2007 to 2082, incorporating a 0.015% annual decline: As you can see, the net birth rate declines to zero by 2082.

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Is it possible that this declining birth rate will get us closer to our sustainable population goal of one billion?
The following graph shows our population growth with the effects of the declining net birth rate shown above:

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As you can see, my assumption about declining birth rates leads to a stable population, but it's still 50% larger than today. In fact, this projection is remarkably similar to the one produced by the United Nations, which estimates a global population of 9.2 billion in 2050. The message of this graph is clear. If we need to reduce our population, simply adjusting the birth rate is insufficient. There will be excess deaths required to reach our target.

The following graph shows the excess death rate rising and then falling as described above. I will reiterate that the origin of these excess deaths is not considered in the model. It is sufficient to understand that these are not the result of old age or the various "natural causes" we have come to accept as a part of our modern life. These deaths may be due to such things as rising infant mortality rates, shorter adult life expectancies, famine, pandemics, wars etc. Some of these deaths will be from human agency, but most will not.

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Applying the above excess death rate to our current population yields the following curve. As you can see, the number of excess deaths per year increases quite rapidly (consistent with the effects of overshoot) and then falls off as the population comes back into balance with the resources available. The peak rate of deaths comes much earlier than the peak in the percentage death rate shown in the above graph because the population starts to decline rapidly. A lower percentage death rate acts on a larger population to produce a higher numerical death rate. As the population declines so does the numerical death rate, even when the percentage rate still increasing.

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The final graph is the outcome of the full simulation. It starts from our current population and shows the combined effects of a declining net birth rate and the excess death rate due to falling carrying capacity as described above. The goal of the model has been met: it has achieved a sustainable world population of one billion by the year 2082.

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The Cost

The human cost of such an involuntary population rebalancing is, of course, horrific. Based on this model we would experience an average excess death rate of 100 million per year every year for the next 75 years to achieve our target population of one billion by 2082. The peak excess death rate would happen in about 20 years, and would be about 200 million that year. To put this in perspective, WWII caused an excess death rate of only 10 million per year for only six years.

Given this, it's not hard to see why population control is the untouchable elephant in the room - the problem we're in is simply too big for humane or even rational solutions. It's also not hard to see why some people are beginning to grasp the inevitability of a human die-off.


One of the common accusations leveled at those who present analyses like this is that by doing so they are advocating or hoping for the massive population reductions they describe, and are encouraging draconian and inhumane measures to achieve them. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am personally quite attached to the world I've grown up in and the people that inhabit it, as is every other population commentator I am familiar with. However, in my ecological and Peak Oil research over the last several years I have begun to see the shape of a looming catastrophe that has absolutely nothing to do with human intentions, good or ill. It is the simple product of our species' continuing growth in both numbers and ability, an exponential growth that is taking place within the finite ecological niche of the entire world. Our recent effusive growth has been fueled by the draw-down of primordial stocks of petroleum which are about to deplete while our numbers and activities continue to grow. This is a simple, obvious recipe for disaster.

This model is intended to give some clarity to that premonition of trouble. It carries no judgment about what ought to be, it merely describes what might be. The model is likewise no crystal ball. It offers no predictions and no insights into the details of what will happen. It presents the simple arithmetic consequences of one set of assumptions, albeit assumptions that I personally feel have a reasonable probability of being fulfilled.

There are factors that will affect the course of events that have not been considered in the model. Readers may legitimately take me to task for not considering or summarily dismissing the various ways humanity is already trying to alleviate some of the foreseen dangers. For instance, my model does not mention global warming or carbon caps, and dismisses most alternative energy sources as ineffective. The model also does not address the regional differences that are bound to expand as the crisis unfolds. While such criticisms are justified and are well worth exploring in the context of oil decline, the purpose of this article is to take a high-level look at the global population situation, considering the entire planet as one ecological niche with a single aggregate carrying capacity supported by oil in its role as a facilitator of transportation and food production.

The model warns us that the involuntary decline of the human population in the aftermath of the Oil Age will not happen without overwhelming universal hardship. There are things we will be able to do as individuals to minimize the personal effects of such a decline, and we should all be deciding what those things need to be. It's never too early to prepare for a storm this big.

What this post present is one model of what the future may look like. It is one view--not necessarily matching up well with what the real future will bring--but it gives us some things to think about.

I think one place where this kind of model comes to mind is in plans for voluntary reductions to fossil fuel use, perhaps in response to climate change. If the effect is to move forward the decline curve, the question is how much it also moves up the population decline. There might also be a question as to what impact there is on the long-term population.

If there are good fossil fuel substitutes, and life can go on pretty much as before, but at a lower standard of living, moving forward the decline curve is not an issue. But if there are not good substitutes, it seems like the potential impact on population is an issue that needs to be considered.

Thanks for re-posting this, Gail.

I'd urge everyone who reads it to keep in mind that this is not a prediction piece.

Also, a lot of water has flowed under my personal bridge since I wrote this, and I'm no longer gripped by portents of doom to quite the extent that I was back then. My current position is that mankind is capable of tolerating an enormous degree of ongoing immiseration without our population declining significantly (or even at all). But is that "better" than an outright population crash? I have no answer to that.

Could you summarize some of your current estimates, such as ultimately sustainable population, and excess death rate?

You seem to be suggesting that we might not even be in overshoot - what has led to such a dramatic shift in outlook?

For a number of 'developing' countries with weak democracies (and some 'developed' ones, such as Russia), I would not be surprised to see the emergence of many states that emulate Somalia, Uganda under Idi Amin, or similarly anarchic and/or repressive society.

Did you read section 3.2 of the German Military think tank study of Peak Oil? Some choice words about tipping points, where market observers and investors realize that economic growth is over, and inescapable decline is a condition that will last for untold decades;

Banks lose their business base. Cannot pay interest on deposits, because they can not find creditworthy companies.

Loss of confidence in currencies. The belief in the value-preserving function of money is lost. It only comes to hyper inflation and black markets, then to a barter economy at the local level.

Collapse of value chains. Labor processes are based on the possibility of trade in precursors. The processing of the necessary transactions without money is extremely difficult.

Unbound monetary collapse. If currencies lose their value in their country of origin, they are no longer exchangeable for foreign currency. International value chains collapse as well.

Mass unemployment. Modern societies are organized labor and have throughout their history ever differentiated (specialized). Many professions have to deal only with the management of this high degree of complexity and nothing more with the direct production of consumer goods.

State bankruptcies. In the situation described, state revenues decline dramatically. The possibilities of acquiring more debt are extremely limited.

Collapse of critical infrastructure. Neither the physical nor the financial resources for the maintenance of adequate infrastructures. The problem is compounded by the total interdependence between infrastructure's different subsystems.

Famines. Ultimately, it will provide a challenge to produce food in sufficient quantity and distributed.

Overshoot is a very slippery beast when talking about human populations. For animals, a simple assessment of the food supply is enough to call it, but we are so inventive that the impact of overshoot spreads very widely beyond our own species. If we postulate a human population of 20 billion, for instance, it should be possible to feed that many a subsistence diet, provided we are willing to sacrifice more and more other species.

Ultimately there are biophysical limits, but from a purely anthropocentric perspective they are much further away than I thought a few years ago. Of course those 20 billion won’t be driving BMWs or going to Malaga for vacations, and will be eating millet instead of filet mignon, but they will be eating.

As Albert Bartlett points out, the mere fact of global warming demonstrates that we are in overshoot. As does the depletion of oceanic fish, Peak Oil, glacier changes, soil depletion etc. We are pretty obviously in overshoot. What I’m saying is that simply being in overshoot doesn’t imply a rapid loss of human population.

Under such a "grinding down" scenario, the spread of misery would take many forms, from outright starvation in some places, to the rise of despotic governments, to the spread of pandemics, currency collapses, infrastructure collapses and social collapses – the whole litany of catastrophe we know so well, all playing out in different forms and severities in different places. What it might not do is reduce our overall population at anything like the rate I played with in this article.

I have no estimates at all of probable or even possible excess death rates. I think that’s fundamentally unknowable. I still think the long-term sustainable human population for the planet in its current state is probably about 1 billion (if we want to preserve some quality of life and a few other species to keep us company). How we get from here to there is a mystery.

For those who have not seen Prof. Bartlett's video lecture, it is very highly recommended:


probably about 1 billion

Is this just a gut feeling type of number? or based on?

It seems as believable as any, but I have yet to read any well thought out rigorous models that give me any feeling of confidence.

Could this be because such a study would require a substantial budget and a team of researchers and there is little available funding for such an effort?

No, nothing terribly rigorous. It could just as easily be lower than that. It all depends on how deep the underlying resource degradation is and what sort of quality of life is acceptable.

In order to be sustainable our rate of resource usage needs to fall below the rate of natural replenishment. I see no hope of doing that while using fossil fuel stores, so the most rigorous aspect to that number is that it was the population of the planet in around 1800, before FF use started in earnest.

My feeling is that since then we have damaged our resource base, which lowers carrying capacity, but at the same time we have learned a lot about how the world works, which should make us more sustainable. Taken together the two factors might approximately balance out, leaving us with a circa-1800 population as possibly being sustainable.

population of the planet in around 1800

I feel that this assumption is rough "ballpark" type and while somewhat useful is still quite a stretch. The assumption that the 1800 population was max sustainable seems rather weak without additional justification.

Granted one needs to make huge assumptions about lifestyles and mindset issues but it seems like it would come down to planet wide food production possibilities based on predicted sustainable resource availability.

I doubt it was with the technology and organizational modes of the day.. moreover living standards were rubbish... there was little actual gain in spending power compared to post black death britain in the 15th cent.. actual rises in living standards kicked in late the expense of colonial populations it should be added.

however we are not in the same boat and solar has a lot of potential.

what is the power usage per capita that is acceptable and work from there...

the really scary scenario is cramming everyone in at every decreasing standards of living and managing it! what a real dystopian nightmare

I think we do need a target population by year x date to aim for. GG's post was a start, thou the mathematical certainties implied by reaching 1 billion by 2080 does bring a certain horror to the table.

I dont think its acceptable to let 100 millions of people to starve to death every year..

that in mind the promised land is way way off and we have to accept rationing and crowding as a multi generational price for f**king up on a multi generational scale. Its a problem several centuries in the making its not going to unwind in the next 20-70.

if we work with a realistic state of mind life may not be too bad for the overshoot generations in the coming centuries..or at least not out of control horror...

1 billion was roughly the world population at the start of industrialization and the beginning of our use of fossil fuels. Since then there has been a corelated exponetial increase in their use and population growth.

Any sustainable future society and steady state economy suporting it will have to do so without non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels. When environmental degradation due to overshoot is factored in e.g. overstepping maximum sustainable yields or renewable resources such as forests and fishstocks effectively turning them into non-renewable resources, then future carrying capacity must be lower than what we originally began with.

What I have not found a good explanation for is the Wackernagel eco footprint model which puts humanity as going into overshoot in the 80s at about 4 billion people. Does anyone have an idea why the footprint model thinks this is the point humanity overstepped its carrying capacity?

I had not noticed that about Wackernagel. It's interesting, though, since that is the last time we were below 350 ppm CO2, which is where we have to return. It's when the Arctic started its slide toward total melt which we will likely reach in the next few years. The sixth mass extinction was already well underway, too. But I don't know which particular factor was considered decisive here.

As it suggests here:

Fish stock, forests, and freshwater were already showing signs of serious decline, and pollution was significant problem. You'd need to get one of his books, probably, to see the full details of what went in to the calculation.

One thing that people are overlooking is that in much of Asia and Africa, the beginning of serious population increases started before the widespread use of fossil fuels. As important as ff are, there are some other pieces to this puzzle, pieces that will also play a role, for good and ill, on the way down.

It's CO2 emissions that pushes us over in the mid 80's in his model.

Edit: I meant to type 80's but had put 90's instead.

Hi GG,

My current position is that mankind is capable of tolerating an enormous degree of ongoing immiseration without our population declining significantly

In the 70s I read "The Population Bomb"
and thought it made a lot of sense. I was amazed, as the years rolled by, that global population grew at an ever increasing rate. Growing up in the 40s and 50s in Northern Minnesota I thought everyone would yearn for crystal clear lakes/rivers, crisp clean air, abundant forests, fresh food, etc. I was clueless about PO/GW/etc. I just had this deep feeling that people would value a kind of relationship with their natural environment that would limit population growth by some means or another (either violent or peaceful). It just made no sense to me that human density would exceed the kinds of limits I imagined from my childhood experience - why would anyone want to live in a world that exceeded those limits?

Then, I traveled/worked in third world countries and saw the kind of abject poverty and horrifically degraded environment that people would tolerate. The so-called Green Revolution provided sufficient calories for people to avoid death in living conditions that I would find unbearable.

Paul and Anne Ehrlich have a new book "The Dominant Animal" which provides a very good analysis of his earlier predictions - which still have merit today

I couldn't agree more with the author. I have come to the same conclusions. While entertaining, I think all the "solutions" are based on faulty reasoning. The assumptions are that the human animal is an intelligent, reasoning, cooperative entity capable of seeing problems and solving them. All of this, of course, based on the heady belief in one god or another who, ultimately, has our interests at heart. If we're just "good enough" of course. The reality is quite the opposite. We are a clever beast incapable of solving much of anything in a reasoning manner. As we overrun the planet, in much the same manner as the fabled lemmings, we will run this course of action to the bitter end and it will be bitter.

While this will be interpreted as a fatalistic attitude, for me, it is simply the realistic one. I grew up in the 1940s with a father who trapped for a living. We lived on what the environment could provide. I learned about balance and watched it in real life. Long ago, I saw that we, like every other animal, possess fatal flaws. Each of these fatal flaws is the source of strength and weakness. Ours is our "intelligence" and the belief in our "intelligence". The weakness in our intelligence causes us to think we can "think" our way out of problems. "Thinking" our way out of problems results in massive rationalizations that are not based on reality but simply thought processes in which we bend reality to fit our preconceptions of what we want to see.

Hence we'll simply replace 400 million gallons of gas per day (US consumption) with fuels made from grass, corn or some other magical solution. That's where the thinking stops. How this will be done, how quickly, the consequences of any such solution, etc will not be considered until the consequence appears. Anyone who thinks beyond the magical solution is given some sort of negative definition and ignored.

How will we feed 9 billion people? Oh that's simple, we'll just do this or that. We're not even feeding the people on the planet now. But, of course, there's a reason for that or so the rationalization goes. It'll all be better tomorrow. We'll be more cooperative tomorrow. As the drunk says, I'll quit tomorrow. Good luck folks!! Remember, make those rationalizations pleasant!! Me, I'm going to go stack some wood.

I read a paper a while back which stated that the major cause of death in primate populations in a die-off situation is starvation (in carnivors disease is the main killer). I also wonder if our intelligence will result in a different endgame? Still, no other primates have developed nuclear warheads so our intelligence may well factor in to things.

Good one Zeke.
Our massive intelligence serves two purposes.
1 To attract breeding partners. (Same like peacock feathers)
2 To rationalise our stupidity.

And here I thought it existed so we didn't have to wait for evolution to adapt to new conditions.


The die-off and subsequent chaos will destroy a lot of the "knowledge" we have about ameliorating effects, unless exceedingly resilient and robust preparations are made.

And there hasn't been much discussion about degraded social carrying capacity, evidenced by the fact that so many of our interactions between any two people and the surrounding environment must be subsidized by the laser scanner at the checkout, the keyboard and computer, email, weblogs, touch screens, cell phones, to connect with the few people you might call friends.

But as far as all the physical people milling about in our local environments, do we have any idea how to relate to them, all those strangers we routinely ignore, without our technology?

Of particular importance to survival during and after the crash will be our collective ability to work together, yet everyone now seems physically and psychologically wired to not have much capacity for doing so. Even with cheap energy available and the Internet still running, I already see a lot of threads and discussions falling apart and losing cohesion. Stresses from the "economy" cause people to re-focus, have less energy, be more irritable. And we are already a world of several billion tribes with only a few members each.

One thing that has changed in my thinking over the past three years is my perception of the roles that altruism and cooperation play in human societies.

“Nature, red in tooth and claw” is a shibboleth of the die-off crowd, with people like Jay Hanson acting as standard bearers. I no longer see things in quite such a bleak fashion. Instead I see humanity as a paradox factory, living in constant dynamic balance between irreconcilable opposites. On the one hand we have the rapacious self-interest that is well documented, but on the other hand we have a constant current of almost angelic selflessness.

Which of these two opposing sides of our nature gains the ascendancy in any given moment is determined by an interweave of society, circumstances, personal history and genetics. We are far from being the genetic automata that Hanson’s view proposes.

That makes the world a much more interesting and hopeful place, IMO.

So resource wars and energy hegemony from countries like Russia, Iran, Venezuela, etc would not even be factors?

Won't it depend upon the decline rate experienced, and the amount of transition each country/region proactively undertakes ahead of time (or during early PO)?

I don't think any one model of a response will be global in nature, there are too many variables regionally and nationally (i.e., income from 'basics', natural resource wealth, sustainable levels of agricultural output, oil resource wealth and production rates, other energy wealth and production rates (depending on the speed of transition to each energy type), size/capabilities/status of military, geopolitical influences [e.g., bordering Russia vs. bordering Costa Rica], and so forth).

It will most likely come down to nation-states that feel threatened about oil imports being curtailed striking to make certain they get theirs. A certain hegemonic country we all love and hold dear which out spends all others on military budgets will likely attempt to take charge. Sure, they bungled Iraq and are stuck in Afghanistan, like all others who have invaded there, but least we not forget, there are certain nuclear options and why not pursue them when it gets down to that or lights out and mass starvation? I read Jay Hanson getting slammed here for his apparently simplistic beliefs about human nature, but I disagree. He is one smart cookie (for example, he invented the "print spooler" program, and was paid handsomely by IBM for it and other useful, basic programs, and retired very early in life) and he has since done quite a lot of reading over the past 3 or 4 decades. Folks should tread lightly least they look ignorant and foolish.

Oh, and shout out to my fellow doomers here!

the freakonomics crowd point out correctly i think that the altruism thing is overstated because it is largely the response to oversight by peers.

the short story is they reran a lot of the altruistic experiments in novel ways and discovered as the pay off for cheating increased as the incentive to cheat everyone has a price.

hardly earth shattering.

the interesting thing is that as the payoff recedes and things get tighter altruistic behavior appears more and more despite the notion of desperation economics.. which the survivalists would have us believe is some sort of default. not only that oversight (ie regulation) decreased cheating which is the opposite of what is claimed rationing will do.

I always wondered how on earth society held together during the black death when 30% of the population were wiped out in less than a decade. They even carried on collecting taxes and keeping records, got up went to work etc etc.

so perhaps altruism will help operate like some sort of feedback for the excesses of our fossil fuel usage.

the interesting thing is that as the payoff recedes and things get tighter altruistic behavior appears more and more despite the notion of desperation economics.. which the survivalists would have us believe is some sort of default. not only that oversight (ie regulation) decreased cheating which is the opposite of what is claimed rationing will do.

This is an important issue, Midi, if we're allowed to hope to come out of descent with survivors to the human race. Climax ecosystems demand a more cooperative mien, because energy inputs must be mutually shared. The strategy for survival shifts from competitive to more cooperative, focusing less on power and more on efficiency in order to maximize power, improved storages, and complex diverse webs. Greer has a nice explanation of succession:

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours is a saying that has fallen out of common usage, but we may see a revival in the idea. Altruism is not dead, and may be adaptive in the future.

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours is a saying that has fallen out of common usage, but we may see a revival in the idea.

It's almost guaranteed to see a revival, in my view. Yes, we fight and kill each other but within our tribes we certainly pull together to get things done.

Right, so the question for me becomes - how big can our "tribes" be in a post-peak world? What are the maximum, median and minimum sustainable sizes of societies under these new conditions of resource constraint? The large states depending on/requiring loyalty from subjects to very abstract notions of shared identity (US, Soviet Union, Brazil, China, etc.) are largely products of the novel conditions post-1800. (Modern large states in the New World drew on the possibilities opened up by indigenous demographic collapse, while modern large states in the Old World built on already established agrarian or trade empires.) Without necessarily buying into any particular model (relocalization, transition towns, etc.), we're certainly looking at a more socio-politically fragmented world ahead. Yet this devolution would be no simple reversal of the trends that got us to this point; it would play out in a world already-integrated through the internet, international trade, cell phones, memories, traditions, etc. It would entail a rediversification of human societies. It should be a very interesting chapter in the long human experiment.

Here's a discussion from American Anthropologist circa 1975, LovesOregon, from the days when anthropologists still considered the environment a dominant theoretical factor (except for Tainter, who didn't believe Reagan when he said it was a new morning in America). This is all I could access without going to the print collection, but I've seen the number 240 bandied about as the traditional sustainable number sans agriculture and fossil fuels, but I haven't kept up with the literature. My guess is that agriculture allows cities of up to a million, depending on the wealth of the resource base and optimal factors such as rich diversity at ecosystem borders (rivers/ocean/mountains). Fossil fuels allowed much more, of course. So we will see the contraction of urban density in reverse as we descend.

Brush, Stephen B. The Concept of Carrying Capacity for Systems of Shifting Cultivation, American Anthropologist December, 1975 Vol. 77 (4): 799-811.

Carrying capacity, as it is generally defined, focuses on the balance between resources and demand in relation to an optimum population size. Exceeding a region’s carrying capacity results in the degradation of the environment and/or the environment’s resources. Theoretically, the concept of carrying capacity can be applied to a range of life-systems. In practice, however, the concept’s application to human groups is difficult if not impossible (p.799).

Brush analyzes the application of the concept historically within the anthropological community and comments on the concept’s various misuses. He offers a solution to such misuses by suggesting that carrying capacity formulas, when applied, should be left open-ended so that anthropologists can add or drop variables as needed. Brush suggests the highest use value of the concept of carrying capacity is "essentially descriptive and heuristic" (p.809). Ending on a positive note, he concludes the concept of carrying capacity is marked by difficulties in the measurement of key variables. But if these can be overcome, the carrying capacity concept offers anthropologists a valuable way to compare land/human/technology dynamics.

The future will be dispersed, disseminated, and local.

Jay's list gets dumped to my email, I post there, but can't post postive things very often, because he vetts them out. If you don't toe the doomer line you might not see your posts make his yahoo group lists.

I am not hte sum of my genes, I have been alterered to fit the sum of my genes plus lifestyle plus system failures and resets due to actions on my part.

Oils are leached out my legs by my system they don't collect around my heart anymore and never will.

The past 3 days have been my french fries days, I love good french fries, the two store bought kinds that had left overs and mashed potatoes made it into a pot of potatoe soup with left over french fries as a base, minced and boiled in milk broth.

The end is no where near, unless I die soon. LOL

BioWebScape deisgns for a better world.

Hi 710

Just a quick note.

re: "Of particular importance to survival during and after the crash will be our collective ability to work together, yet everyone now seems physically and psychologically wired to not have much capacity for doing so."

I highly recommend checking out these sites:,,,

I know how they might appear - I'm aware of the limitations, including the one of presentation.

My suggestion, though, is based on what I call "the model," itself, which is quite powerful - in theory, and in practice. By "powerful" I mean I've seen it work.

The capacity for love, cooperation, and working together is there, I'd say. We often lack "a way".

I have a paper I'd write up when/if I have the time. I think this "model" above directly relates to self-awareness - certainly listening (without agenda) does. It creates a space for the other person to become aware of their own feelings and needs. This changes the dynamic.

Anyway, there is a certain practical wishful thinking - I wish for the TOD neighborhood to be in closer physical proximity! So, I know what you mean. :)

I met a nurse today, Waves to leah, even though she might never see this. She was wanting to learn how to make fire in a camping type of enviornment and hoe to survive off hte land outside of town. Skilled in finding a vein to stick in and otherwise hard to find arm, mine. I have low water levels in my blood, thick and red low water levels but not dehydrated for me at least.

I had my cell phone and credit card go missing, I reported them stolen, as they were not in my house and my cell phone's numbers were bing called, and people were getting asked about me and other issues, I even left a threatening message on my own cell phone to have someone return a call to my house phone telling my dad that I could go to jail for threatening someone. LOL so my cell is burned for now.

The number will be up and running inside of 2 weeks, but anyone needing to get ahold of me knows my house phone too.

no real names were used on the phone log, only general ref's that meant something to me, you'd have to know how my mind worked to know how I listed people.

Half the names were letters with ... and - and ? and ! points to code for me who they were. LOL, that I could get jail time threatening a theft, of my own cell phone, we really live in a sick world.

Cell traffic was down around here recently especially secondary carriers, increased traffic on the bands can take out sections of town for a few hours, bad but soemthing that some people find fun to watch.

One of the places I go to, I bus the tables if they get busy, I can handle planning meals for up to 500 people all the prep and cooking and all the clean up, it gets to be a big deal when you have to do it, daily though, even if the work is fun to me, it wears on you. So I know where and when I can help others to lessen their loads.

I have a known following, people that know me and follow me and what Ia m doing. Some keep track of me so I don't get into trouble I think half of those think I am crazy or something. LOL. While the others understand who and what I can do and am.

Cell phones are great tools, but if we can't think for ourselves, then we are just as lost as if we could not get by without a car or bus to take us somewhere, even though we have two good feet.

I have less time online to spend, I have more writing to do, several projects going on the same time, I gather 23 editors they get paid nothing, if the book or code or program or what not gets done and works they might get a note in the mail and a check depending on them and our project. I self publish I don't deal with the big houses and I don't get the money for the projects outright, half of them go to other people. Several from TOD have been asked to be editors, and elsewhere.

LOL, live like you want to live, but understand you have to help everyone you can to live a better life, and you have ot be nice even when it pains you to do so, that is our need in life, help others.

BioWebScape designs for a better day and world.
Hugs from Arkansas.

Reg Morrison, author of the excellent 1999 book "The Spirit in the Gene" has a draft of a new paper which ties in nicely with this post. He very well explains the evolutionary causes of our overshoot problem and why it is so unsolvable:

This Cosmic Camelot

My guess is that illness will play a significant part in any population reduction. If people are in weakened condition, or if we can no longer fight off diseases (perhaps carried by insects or rodents) as well because of lack of antibiotics, we could see epidemics in one part of the world or another. If there is less transportation, the diseases may not spread as much as widely as they do today. If my hypothesis is correct, population in an area may follow more of a stair step pattern down, than a smooth curve.

Local failures in crops could also contribute to population production, again in a stair step pattern.

But we really don't know exactly how this will play out, and over what time period.

I think Tainter's Collapse of Complex Civilisations has a lot of useful input to this discussion.

Countries or regional populations will become increasingly unable to tolerate disease, disasters and warfare. Compare the San Francisco earthquake 1906 (375 dead) with New Orleans (1500+ dead). In a time of economic surplus, the former was rebuilt more quickly and the disaster recovery was far better than the latter.

Consider the economic impact of 1918 flu epidemic ( millions of healthy adults dead) with the black death - the latter saw massive depopulation in Europe over a century or more, the former barely dented national or global population growth.

However, I'm not sure how useful it is to speculate on the details. I do not expect to live to see a detailed analysis of the results, either because I die of old age, or I become an early victim, or more likely that the areas where depopulation is most acute will not have population scientists, anthropologists or even news reporters around to count the dying.

It is always interesting to revisit the collapse of the roman empire.

My interpretation is that they went into overshoot from about the time of Augustus (around year zero) : At that time, the northern border (with the germans) was heavily garrisoned, and from historical and archeological remains, most of those legions' sustenance (grain, oil and wine) came up the Rhône and the Rine. By the late 4hundreds, Frank mercenaries were 'protecting' local farms for their sustenance.
The last building of a roman city was in 138. Plagues were rampant in the late 160ies' (and several times later on). Theater and litterature looked back, philosophy became cultish, venerating 'godlike' philosophers, people became obsessed with charlatans who promised them 'a future'
The population of Rome peaked at 1 million around 130 AD, dropped to 3/4 of a million around 400, and then fell to a few thousands in one hundred years.
Around 200 AD, Christians were thought of as a bunch of atheists, much as we describe ecological and social activists as a bunch of terrorists. By the 330ies, Christendom had become an entirely different beast : From a religion of pacifists who were obsessed with poverty, it turned into a sword-bearing defender of the state. In its first incarnation, it fed on the collapse of Rome, in its second, it attempted the impossible task of keeping the empire going.

Quite a few lessons can be gleaned from the history of Rome.

Disease was an important factor, but probably not more than violence, hunger and population movements.

The Fall of Rome took a long time. I cannot predict wether ours will be longer or shorter. Our collapse will take longer than a disaster movie, but it could be a lot faster than the Roman one, as we built a lot more on resources that are a lot less sustainable.

The impact of ideas and culture is uneven, and very hard to predict. On the one hand, the basis for modern scientific thinking was laid by the sofists, empiricists and sceptics of antiquity. On the other, magic became the major theme of popular culture ; Healing and prediction became very good business. The concept of Life after Death was mostly invented during those turbulent years. What a perfect promise to give to a slave : Your life is a misery, but as long as your intentions are good, you'll go to heaven. Cheaper than peanuts.

So who will give us our next salvation, and what will it be? Will we not see the crumbling cities, the piles of corpses, just as the romans did not? Will we blame our misfortunes on magic and witchcraft?

On the other hand, the conditions of the Visigoths generally improved during these centuries.

On the other hand, the conditions of the Visigoths generally improved during these centuries.

Not really.

The Arian Visigoths in France were wiped out by the Catholic Franks under Clovis finally in 507 AD, so they lasted about 75 years.
The Vandals of Carthage, the Gothic Kingdom of Italy and the many of the Spanish Visigoths were destroyed by the Byzantines in the 530s and the last Visigoths were extinguished by the Moors in 718 AD.
The Huns were defeated by the Gepidae in 454 AD and retreated to Central Asia; the Gepidae were then defeated by the Lombards in 567 AD who went on to occupy a depopulated Italy.

Northern Italy from that point was a pawn between the Franks(France) and the Lombards(German Reich/Holy Roman Empire) over the next 1000 years. The last vestige of Byzantine power was their ally Venice.
Southern Italy was occupied by the Arabs and later, the Normans.

Really all the barbarian kingdoms which were'victorious' over Rome were soon themselves exterminated by new waves such as the Lombards, Burgundians and Franks.

"The story of the ruin is simple and obvious: and instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed we should rather be surprised that it has subsisted for so long."
--Edward Gibbon
Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

I do love it when you guys start talking about the Gepidae!!

But back to the earlier post--so Rome hit peak in year 0 and the horrid, immediate, catastrophic consequences was...

They remained relatively stable for another 400 years, nearly half a millennium!!

It's going to be difficult to convince people that peak anything is much of an urgent problem if this is our key historical precedent. Many historian consider much of this period to be some of the best times to live in Europe (with in the Empire at least) compared to the thousand years or so that followed and pretty much everything that went before.

That's one he!! of a fat tail!

Can we present clear reasons why we don't determine that such a luxurious "long non-emergency" is what is in the cards for our post peak future?

They remained relatively stable for another 400 years, nearly half a millennium!!

See you like to see only what you want to see, see.
See the Roman Empire hit peak at year dot see and the went to zip instantly 400 years later see. Is that what you see?

I would love to answer, if I only knew what the heck you were trying to say.

LOL now you can't see..........
Just jokin', forged aboudit

good point but really that is our predicament

just because collapse takes longer than a generation doesn't mean it isn't happening. bit of a hard sell and still needs addressing

As for the roman collapse

Not sure if the population actually decreased to be frank. The evidence is contradictory.

Can we present clear reasons why we don't determine that such a luxurious "long non-emergency" is what is in the cards for our post peak future?

If I may...

- Complexity
- The amount of energy we use (I=PAT)
- high expectations (psychological factor)
- Population density (Rome peaked at 1 million?! - I'll guess that was just the city?)
- Globalization (global input-reliance)

We're not going to be able to "switch things back" to some simpler lifestyle quickly enough to accommodate everyone, IMO.

We're not going to be able to "switch things back" to some simpler lifestyle quickly enough to accommodate everyone, IMO.

I'm of the same view. The government will be the provider of food of last resort for many people as the contraction begins. However, eventually in places that system will break down and people will fend for themselves. But how? They won't all just receive a plot of land and a "Farming 101" book.

Though there will be some sort of economy so presumably people will figure out how to earn something that could be traded for food, I have no desire to witness the years approaching 2050 when the grinding poverty is widespread and most major cities of the world have turned into slums.

Here is the slum condition now:

Planet of Slums

In the Sibyline Books of Prophecy, Romulus (the founder of Rome in 753BC) dreamed of twelve vultures which was interpreted that the Roman Empire would last twelve centuries.

Rome had officially become Catholic outlawing paganism around 395 AD.

By 400 AD the Romans were obsessed and terrified of the prophecy and in 405 AD
Stilicho, the Master General of the West had the pagan Sibylline books destroyed to restore morale.

In Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 AD.

Maybe the Sibyl's prophecy destroyed the Empire or maybe it prolonged it.

I suppose Peak Oil and Climate Change is considered by some as such a dangerous prophecy
though they are based on physical reality rather than a dream.

And then there are interesting pollutants such as Xenoestrogens

Xenoestrogens might efeminise males of all species.
Humans on the other hand evolved brains that had to deal with excess phytoestrogens according to "Left in the Dark" by Tony Wright and Graham Glynn.

So on balance we will be more effeminate and have a healthier brain.

Make of that what you will.

I suspect that the primary limiting factor will be potable water, not oil. It will be interesting to see if the reduction in consumption of energy elsewhere can keep up with the growth in demand for energy for desalination and water transportation. I think that we are going to continue to see a rapidly escalating world population until the human species puts too much pressure on the water supply for other, less adaptable species. At that point every rapidly mutating thing may simply evolve into feeding on us - and the population of humans will decline through a massive and uncontrollable viral extinction event. Hurrah. ;)

Last year several Spanish cities and Greek islands ran low on drinking water. Their answer was to just ship it in. While we still have cheap energy this can be acomplished. Energy allows us to overcome localized resource problems but imagine what the Indus floods would look like if they didnt have the relief and helicopter support reliant on that cheap energy.

I think this is the great example of why so many pin their hopes on the "as-yet-unknown-future-technology-fix". We just pop together the as-yet-unknown free energy device into the as-yet-unknown spaceship and fly to the as-yet-unknown destination and *wham!* populate the galaxy.

Finally! Someone at TOD with some practical solutions, instead of the usual endless doomster hand-wringing.

Yup, and add to that the as-yet-unknown technologies to keep humans in suspended animation until they reach their destination X hundreds (or thousands) of light years away, without any malfunctions from equipment or software provided by the lowest cost bidder...

Technology Fairy BAU-enabling solutions AND a dash of Free Market fundamentalism all in one concise post --well done, sir!

Well, once cheap suspended animation is available, you just need to put 95% of the world population into hibernation and task the other 5% to brush the ants off them.

It seems to work with mice and H2S, not yet so well with primates. But still, what could possibly go wrong?

I know a couple who have a pair of paid for cryogenic chambers ready and waiting for them when they die. I wonder if Fry and Bender will be there waiting for them when they are woken back up?

You silly boys.
I have had words with you before about the difference between cynicism and skepticism..
You provoke me to bring to your attention that there is a nuclear effect in CANR and LENR.

Now while I don't expect you to do your homework and read the literature,
perhaps I can inveigle you into reading The High Frontier by Gerrard O'Neill?

Probably not.

Remember, that while your god might be the god of tinny weenie gaps in your august knowledge,

    Mine is the God of Yawning Chasms.

Mine is a much bigger God than yours.

You provoke me to bring to your attention that there is a nuclear effect in CANR and LENR.


Produce power with it in an unambiguous way and I promise I'll be convinced.

If the effect is so small and sensitive that experienced chemists and physicists working together can't convincingly reproduce it, then it is not likely to be useful even if it is real.

If you think it can be useful, then use it. Don't let us doubters dissuade you from it.

It is apparent that the ability to imagine what is not in front of you has not spread through the genepool .

My assumption was that you had ability.
My apologies.
I did not mean to cause you distress.

Oh, did I indicate distress?

I was just being polite. I think it's snake oil, and if I feel any distress it is for your illusion that it is real.

The current global death rate is about 8.37 / 1000 population - year. For an average population of 8 billion, this would be 66.96 million deaths / year.

An additional 100,000,000 deaths / year would require a death rate of 20.87 / 1000 pop-yr, or a death rate about 2.5 times the current world death rate.

The US death rate is about 8.34, so we are roughly at the world average. The death rate for various countries varies widely. UAE is at 2.11, which reflects a very young population, a very high birth rate, and low infant and childhood mortality.

Some states already have death rates approaching 21. Angola is at 24.08. Nigeria is at 16.56. Russia is at 16.06, and Ukraine is at 15.81.

Therefore, a death rate of 21, or even of 33 as needed to get to 267 million deaths / year, would not necessarily cause widespread social collapse.

As an example, the declining effectiveness of antibiotics due to microbial resistance and the declining effectiveness of pesticides may be sufficient.

I've been intuiting for some time that population won't go much higher than it is now, before turning back down again, and that the likely mechanism will just be an unobtrusive overtaking of the birth-rate by the death-rate.

In the meantime though, even a global population overshoot of the size that we have now is screwing up the planet's life-support systems big-time. Even with a split of Pampered Twenty Percent and Abused and Deprived Eighty Percent (PTP/ADEP) at one-fifth/four-fifths, the screw-up roars ahead. Whichever lifestyle we suffer, brute numbers seems to be the key factor.

Seems plain as day to me that this isn't sustainable, and WILL go down.

Dimity Orlov, writing here: points out that merely-regional screw-ups -- such as the Roman empire, or the US empire after 1971 -- can moderate their predicament for a while by 'importing' (ie, looting at sword/gun-point) supplies of essentials from outside their borders. But when the catastrophe achieves global scope, there's nowhere left from where we can import the essentials of life. As Dmitry says, twice: Planet Earth cannot import oil.

That indicates chaos, collapse and widespread, multi-proximate-cause death in short order over the next few decades. 100 million excess deaths p/a seems to me entirely credible.

But then, on top of the messes which we've already got going to cull our numbers over the rest of this century, there's this other factor, which -- even on TOD -- has become a bit of an invisible elephant.

It's this: Certainly some of the Western-empire states, and presumably the Chinese and Russian imperial states too (and maybe one or two other well-heeled players also) have been researching and meddling about with disease vectors, behind very high secrecy barriers. In the sacred name of 'defence' of course. There have even been rumours blowing about recently of racially-targeted disease vectors becoming practically possible as a result of growing genetic expertise.

'Our leaders' -- whom I prefer to call by the more realistic descriptive acronym of the gics; the gangsters-in-charge -- have shown endless historical instances, ancient and modern, of being very willing to sacrifice large tranches of other people, simply to save their own skins, and to keep their pet megalomanias ticking over nicely. (This date of all days in the year should make that sharply obvious to anyone who's able to face the real story behind 11September01: a small coterie of the US imperial gic-class amorally sacrificing over 3000 of their own compatriots to their 'new Pearl Harbor' made-for-world-TV spectacular, in pursuit of their global 'Great Game, realpolitik. Please see here, for just one of many high-quality, peer-reviewed examples of the hard evidence, before you start up your automatic scoffotron: )

Why on earth would we imagine that there won't ever be -- simply couldn't ever be -- some coterie of gic conspirators somewhere who won't persuade themselves that it's their stern-but-necessary 'duty' to wipe out several big chunks of us common shlubs, since they now have the means in storage in their secret facilities? All the more so since the Earth's basic life-support capability is in dire need of relief from the pressure of our brute numbers. (That at least is objectively true, whatever axe you may or may not be grinding) And even more so again if you can target some conveniently 'other' strand of humankind: the Caucasians getting rid of the Mongoloids and the Africans; the Mongoloids getting rid of the Caucasians and the Africans; the Semites (remember that includes Arabs and Iranians) getting rid of all the other three. And on. Lots of different permutations possible.

If it's actually possible, at realistic funding levels a small fraction of what it costs to make nuclear weapons systems, why wouldn't some bunch of ruthless gics somewhere on Earth contemplate doing it as their 'bounden duty'? What am I saying: ruthless gics? What other kind is there?

And if they did, why wouldn't it all blow up into a storm of unintended complications, on the hallowed principle of Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will? As our situation gets increasingly desperate, some mad stroke like this, by some self-appointed bunch of naked apes, seems to me all too possible.

But even without that, it seems to me plain as day that the sharp upstroke after 1900 in that first graph which GG presents in his post is just bound to be followed by a symmetrical downstroke. It's just in the nature of natural processes. And humankind, despite all our absurd hubris and pretensions, aren't at all exempt from those. I reckon that we can count on it, whatever imponderable detailed processes actually bring it about. And equally clearly, it seems to me, we're not going to make this happen in any humane way; it's just going to happen to us as fate, whatever we think, whatever we do, with or without our consent.

I would be interested in seeing these calculation with some of the newer demographic data. The fertility rate is declining faster than is estimated above, and peak population is currently forecast to be proximate to 2040. When China's population hits demographic peak and begins to decline so does world population. The peak population is also now forecast to be more proximate to 9 billion in 30 to 40 years than 10 billion in 80 years.

Given these parameters, the impact of 'mass death' is yet quite severe but not of the order of magnitude seen, or happening as quickly. Human response could be a yet accelerating fertility decline including a peak population below 9 billion. I could envision a peak population at 8.5 billion and rather than surplus death rates, a continued decline in fertility below replacement. If the decline were say .5% annually a population could fall below 6 billion at 2100. These are still hard facts to bear, and this is truly the elephant in the living room, and it would behoove us all to create the softest landing possible. One thing about human nature, we grow into the spaces provided to us, fill it completely, and irrationally hang on to what we have. We are being asked to do precisely opposite of what our entire genetic lineage has driven us to do.

One thing about human nature, we grow into the spaces provided to us, fill it completely, and irrationally hang on to what we have. We are being asked to do precisely opposite of what our entire genetic lineage has driven us to do.

This is the more typical response of our society's *best* educated members, who should know better. Fear-mongering and irrational blind panic... at the mere *prospect* that a goal every nation should be actively *aiming* for might actually happen by itself.

The most important place for pop reduction is the population that consumes the most--US.

When the US gets its population growth in order and its immigration policies on some rational footing--and when it intentionally reduces its rate of consumption down to something close to the world average--only then can Americans say anything to any of the rest of the world as to what they should be doing on the population front.

Now to be completely hypocritical, I will proceed as an American to propose a goal for world population policies--get ages of first-time parents up to the thirties and keep them to one child per couple and we can have immediate decline in population with no increase in death rate needed (though reasonable attitude/laws on assisted suicide...could help here a bit).

How you get there--mostly giving women more control over their lives, lots of the right kind of education, incentives and disincentives of various sorts, free access to birth control and abortions, encouragement of abstinence and homosexuality/lesbianism/other forms of sexuality that do not produce babies...

The only form of non-consensual sex that should be considered perverse is unprotected sex between a man and a fertile woman. (Full disclosure--hypocritical again--been there, done that.)

I would expect the actual peak death rate to be significantly higher. We are unlikely to follow a smooth path, so there will be periods of lower death rates and we will likely see events that increase the rate dramatically. I also think there is a certain chance we become extinct. This is not a prediction at all, perhaps it would be a 1% change, but when you get fire insurance you certainly don't *expect* your house to burn down. It is wise to consider some unlikely possibilities.

The prospect of civilization decline in impossible for most people to consider. I think the Global Warming campaign is a failing attempt to get people to take a baby step.

One hopeful thing is that some of the trappings of our gluttony do little or nothing for our happiness. One example is the car, a symbol of freedom. It is our golden calf. Yet most of the time we spend in it - commuting - we are miserable. So if we ever do manage to de-stupefy there is a good chance our survivors might be significantly happier people.

This is the article I've been lurking for since I've been on TOD (i.e. when the BP disaster was unfolding).

I wonder if one such ameliorating factor will be the re-use of human bodies as replacement for fertilizer. As macabre is sounds, perhaps there'll be "knacker's yards" for human remains where the excess dead will be made into a rich bone-meal that'll be sewn into the fields. Pushing up wheat, not daisies ...

Excellent article, sobering - yes, but certainly should be seen by everyone so they'll get the impact of peak oil into their minds. I'm already considering drastic steps to take so that my family can be situated in a place where the world's decline will be far away. Into the Wild (Alaska), perhaps?

Heck Matt... why waste a step. Maybe we can go direct to the end product If you are to young to have seen this movie, it would be a good one to rent.

Great write up Gail. I would have to agree with you about disease and lack of medical care. I've gathered a lot of books about regional and national herbal remedies, wilderness medicine, and third-world medical care due to this and the seeds to support it. I have also been learning about permaculture and wild food plants to keep my body working at it's best.

I think disease (especially disease from malnutrition) and migration in the wake of infrastructure collapse will be the main forces that actually bring the population to it's new equilibrium. I think that healers will be very valuable people to know in the future.

I also think that our current situation is like climbing down a long staircase littered with bricabrac in the dark, with only the light from the doorway to guide us. We can see some of the initial dangers but how far down it goes, and where we may trip up is difficult to discern.

One thing about the USA in particular is that we use 25% of the world's resources at peak and that will be dropping much lower. I think we have the farthest to fall of everyone in resource use. That being said there are a lot of materials in the landscape that can be converted to alternate uses as well.

Adaptability is the driving force of both evolution and extinction. How we adapt to these pressures will decide the fate of mankind. Those who fall back on cultural conditioning will fare the worst. Don't just think outside the box, turn it over and plant something useful in it.

Book blames Churchill for Indian famine that killed millions

AFP - British prime minister Winston Churchill deliberately let millions of Indians starve to death, the author of a new book has claimed, alleging he was motivated in part by racial hatred. As many as three million people died in the Bengal famine of 1943 after Japan captured neighbouring Burma -- a major source of rice imports -- and British colonial rulers in India stockpiled food for soldiers and war workers.
Her book, "Churchill's Secret War", quotes previously unused papers that disprove his claim that no ships could be spared from the war and that show him brushing aside increasingly desperate requests from British officials in India. Analysis of World War II cabinet meetings, forgotten ministry records and personal archives show that full grain ships from Australia were passing India on their way to the Mediterranean region, where huge stockpiles were building up. "It wasn't a question of Churchill being inept: sending relief to Bengal was raised repeatedly and he and his close associates thwarted every effort," Mukerjee told AFP in a telephone interview.
Churchill derided Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi as a lawyer posing as a "half-naked" holy man, and replied to British officials in India who pleaded for food supplies by asking why Gandhi had not yet died. "I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion," he told Leo Amery, the secretary of state for India. Another time he accused Indians of effectively causing the famine by "breeding like rabbits." Amery once lost his temper after one rant by the prime minister, telling Churchill that he could not "see much difference between his outlook and Hitler's." Amery wrote in his diary: "I am by no means sure whether on this subject of India he is really quite sane."
"The famine, you could argue, was partly a deliberate act. India was forced to export grain in the early years of war and in 1943 was exporting rice at Churchill's personal insistence. Britain ruthlessly exploited India during war and didn't let up even when famine started. "Mukerjee, a 49-year-old Bengali who now lives in Frankfurt with her German husband, believes the Bengal famine has also been air-brushed from Indian history books. "I was never taught about it in school and my parents never mentioned it," she said. "There's middle-class guilt as they were employed in professions that meant they received rations. But villagers were considered dispensable."

If you're suggesting that there could be covert population-reduction programs put in place, I would have to say that few acts are so barbaric as to be beyond consideration by someone, somewhere.

I think that really large-scale population reductions are only possible through natural mechanisms. Pandemics spreading through malnourished populations are the usual hypothetical method of choice. That's what made me twitch a few years ago when I heard about the Mystery of the Microbiologist Murders. But Mother Nature is a potent old girl, she doesn't really need our help.

I think that really large-scale population reductions are only possible through natural mechanisms.

Agreed 7 billion percent. The human species does not seem capable of reducing our numbers. The only attempt to control the increase was in China with one massive overfed spoiled baby, but even there the population has increased. In some ways people are very capable, but they are also motivated by hormones and natural procreation impulses that get encouraged via religious furvor.

The only way it will occur is on the downslope of net energy. Less energy, less people. I worry on that downleg though about other species. If there is famine for example in Japan, will they decimate the oceans of whales to feed their people? Will wildebeast, zebra and other animals in Africa become extinct as people seek out easy to get food on the downslope of net enery? Will all the other species become extinct as humankind tries in vain to remain top dog?

We could end up with a dustbowl Earth.

I think that really large-scale population reductions are only possible through natural mechanisms.

While I agree generally, this does not take into consideration large-scale biological warfare (i.e., intentional 'designer' pandemics).

The intervals of relative tranquility between previous episodes of major social disorder are:
1351 - 1517: 166 years between the Black Death and the beginning of the Reformation
1555 - 1618: 53 years between the Peace of Augsburg and the Defenestration of Prague
1648 - 1789: 141 years between the Thirty Years War and the French Revolution
1814 - 1914: 100 years between Waterloo and the outbreak of WW I.
1949 - 2010: 61 years between the Chinese Revolution and today.

Note that the total deaths 1914 - 1949 (including the Bengal Famine noted above) are on the order of 200 million due to war, epidemics (notably Spanish flu), famine (notably Ukraine), and genocide (notably Holocaust, with Armenians in runner-up).

Now the Wars of the Reformation and the Thirty Year War were both about religion, while the French Revolution and World Wars I&II were about throwing off the yoke of the nobility. Therefore, they are really in pairs, which accounts for the short interval between them.

So I'd bet on something like 100 to 120 years between the Chinese Revolution and the next global conflict in the 2050 to 2070 time frame, although the effects of Peak Oil and other resource stressors could make the interval shorter, say 2040. But the exhaustion of coal and natural gas may come later.

Biological weapons will most likely be the decisive weapons of choice. Chemical weapons are too hard to transport onto the target and properly disperse. Nuclear weapons destroy infrastructure and leave a lot of radioactive debris as well as possibly nuclear winter if used too extensively. Biological weapons leave all the assets intact, while eliminating the people.

We could end up with a dustbowl Earth.

Although I wrote that, that particular line made me wonder if it's now impossible for there to be any other eventuality? Is it a factor of consciousness level, that once a species can kill other species as easily as humankind can, and once its population exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet, then is it a foregone conclusion that it will end up a dustbowl planet? Think about it - how could it end differently? Either we use up every resource on the way up, or we use up every resource on the way down, but either way the result is the same.

I'd be interested to get Darwinian's thoughts on this.

One of the possible explanations for the Fermi Paradox is that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself. I think it's more likely that it destroys its means to communicate or move off-planet. A resource-depleted dustbowl planet would certainly accomplish that.

So... could it be that our tendency to irreparably foul our own nest (and in the process destroy our civilization and millenia of accumulated knowledge) is how the universe protects itself? Is this the self-limiting mechanism that prevents rapacious, irrational species like ours from spreading beyond our home planet and destroying other worlds?

Hugo Weaving as Agent Smith in The Matrix:

"I’d like to share with you a revelation I’ve had, during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you aren’t actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with its surrounding environment, but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply, and multiply until every natural resource is consumed. The only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You are a plague, and we... are the cure."

The part of me that sees Gaia as a quasi-conscious, self-organizing entity agrees with that framing. The leftover rationalist, materialist part of me says that's a bit of a reification. And the Advaita follower in me says, "Who is asking the question? Why worry about explanations? Let's live it and find out what it feels like as it happens."

Every high school biology student should do a Hay Infusion experiment. IIRC, the procedure is:
1. Get a quart jar and fill it 2/3 full of water.
2. Put a good handfull of dried grass in the jar.
3. Put it in a pan full of water and slowly bring it to a boil, being careful not to crack the jar.
4. Simmer for 30 minutes to sterilize the contents and to dissolve nutrients in the hay.
5. Cover with a clean cloth and let cool.
6. With an eyedropper, innoculate with several drops of water freshly collected from a pond or marsh.
7. Once a day, uncover, collect a drop of water from a few places with a long glass tube.
8. Examine the drop under a microscope and catalog the different types of life forms.

Depending on what was in the drop of pond water, you may get various protozoans and algae to start. Later, there may be larger organisms like rotifers and nematodes. Ultimately, it will become a stinking rotten mess and you will have to throw it out.

Maybe the earth is a Hay Infusion experiment.

Maybe the earth is a Hay Infusion experiment.

That's a darn good analogy. As Dirty Harry once said, "man's got to know his limitations".

Every high school biology student should do a Hay Infusion experiment.

Not a bad idea, but they should also take a long hard look at one of these ecospheres as well. The most important lesson to learn from one of these closed sytems is that even a completely balanced ecosystem will not last forever.

About the EcoSphere Closed Ecosystem
EcoSphere ShrimpThe Inside Story

Inside each EcoSphere are active micro-organisms, small shrimp, algae and bacteria, each existing in filtered sea water. Because the EcoSphere is a self-sustaining ecosystem, you never have to feed the life within. Simply provide your EcoSphere with a source of indirect natural or artificial light and enjoy this aesthetic blend of art and science, beauty and balance.

Because the living organisms within the EcoSphere utilize their resources without overpopulating or contaminating their environment, the EcoSphere requires virtually no maintenance.

EcoSpheres have an average life expectancy of two years. However, it is not uncommon for shrimp populations to be thriving in systems as old as 7 years.

The EcoSphere looks to be very highly artificial, while a Hay Infusion is much more natural. If you make several, they will have different kinds of organisms in each and the sucession will be different. Also, the Hay Infusion can be sampled, so it teaches a lot more about microscope usage and lab technique, scientific sampling and observation, lab notebook keeping, and documentation of experimental work.

Merrill, you totally missed the point... I'm about to board a plane and don't have time to elaborate at the moment.

No, I understand the point that the EcoSphere, even starting out with a carefully balanced set of species and a supply of sea water, will run down over time, even though it is powered by sunlight. The company guarantees them for 6 or 12 months depending on size, so they can't be too confident about multi-year persistance.

It would be interesting to know what the limiting factors are. Perhaps the minerals needed by the shrimp for their exoskeletons do not dissolve back into the water and are gradually removed? Perhaps other elements needed by enzyme systems of the organisms become unavailable.

The point I was making is that it isn't as good as a teaching tool. You have to wait a long time, perhaps several years if you are unlucky, to see the result of the experiment. Meanwhile, there is not much you can do with an EcoSphere except periodically look at it. If you unseal it, bacteria are likely to make short work of the experiment.

It would be interesting to know what the limiting factors are. Perhaps the minerals needed by the shrimp for their exoskeletons do not dissolve back into the water and are gradually removed? Perhaps other elements needed by enzyme systems of the organisms become unavailable.

Close enough, as anyone who keeps a saltwater living reef aquarium can tell you, you need to replenish minerals and trace elements periodically to keep the system healthy.

But my point was that the earth itself can be thought of for all practical purposes, as a closed system. The resources that are needed by all the ecosystems can become locked up, depleted and are not generally replenishable.

In the long term we will all go extinct. The best we can hope for is to stretch out our stay. To accomplish that, we need a couple things, starting with a good dose of luck. We have to understand that we can't exceed the carrying capacity of the systems that sustain us and we must learn to husband our limited resources, because as far as we are concerned they can be considered finite.

Is this the self-limiting mechanism that prevents rapacious, irrational species like ours from spreading beyond our home planet and destroying other worlds?

That is a very interesting idea, but leaves the door open I suppose for rational beings to terra-form alien planets. If we could only get it together, but as agent Smith so aptly put it we are like a virus. I got really jacked when that scene played in the theatre, because mainstream movies usually do not include any perspective on mankind's overshoot. Maybe they thought it was safe because the agents were not us.

"I'm tired of all this 'Ain't humanity neat!?' back-slapping bullsh!t. We're a virus with shoes."

Bill Hicks

Without humanity there would be no women. (or men if that's your preference)

Ain't humanity neat!

the Fermi Paradox is that it is the nature of intelligent life to destroy itself.

The Fermi Paradox - thanks, didn't know about that one, but it makes sense. Maybe that's why they say ignorance is bliss, because lifeforms without the capacity to manipulate their environment to the extent humans can, are in a sense better off because nature holds their numbers in check.

To be technically correct, the Fermi Paradox can be summarized with the following question:

"In our huge universe we can make the assumption that life must be common. Given the age of the universe a certain amount of that life must have developed intelligence equal to or greater than humankind and developed great civilizations. Given these facts, why is it that we have no signs of other civilizations in the universe around us?"

This is the paradox.

One answer to the paradox is that an advanced civilization destroys its capability to remain an advanced civilization for longer than a very brief time.

There are other answers. For instance, we may not know the proper signs to look for, or we may have our views obstructed by other intelligent life.


Deep space travel may have proven to be a technological or economic impossibility, keeping would be travelers home.

Star and planet systems suited to the evoloution of life and later intelligent life are probably numerous, but not necessarily evenly distributed;there may be very few in our immediate stellar nieghborhood.

Other intelligent beings may not use radio or similar technologies to communicate, making it hard or impossible to detect inadvertent or accidental signals.

If there are space going species, there is a distinct possoibility they are quite aggressive and m ore than willing to pay any habitable world that comes to thier attention a visit with malice aforethought, followed by colonization or servitude.More peaceable species may have learned the hard way to maintain a low profile, if they have survived such attempted colonization.

If you drop a baited hook in a lake with plentiful fish at a random spot, the chances that you will catch nothing, especially over a short time frame, are pretty good.Maybe they are out there, but just not close enough to pick up any broadcast made, or make a sufficiently powerful broadcast for us to pick it up.

Personally I think it is utterly foolish to broadcast our address, even inadvertently, if we accept the assumption that space travel in possible.since we know nothing of other possible intelligent life forms, it is impossible to say that they might not be as likely to look at us as nice easily caught food on the hoof as intellectually gifted fellow beings worthy of cooperation and respect.

We have way the hell to many laws and paradoxes on our plates foisted off upon us by egghead worshipping trekkie types who spend thier time building intellectual castles out of mere wisps of hard information and lots of unsupported conjecture.

Given the size of the universe, I'm reasonably sure we are not alone, but that same size dictates a strong likelihood that we are going to remain lonely.

The amount of time required for interstellar travel should not be a problem for robotic life forms, who can simply sleep between stars.

Where are the robotic lifeforms? Why can we not detect them? Since the universe is so old and if space travel on a large scale is possible where are the signs of something intelligent?

singularity is near...or so they say

if true then a race only a few decades or centuries more advanced than us must surely reached the point where the Universe wakes up in epoch 7 (or is it 8..i forget)

the entire cosmos should currently be reorganizing itself into a mass intelligence.

well maybe that idea was a bit far fetched after all.

OTOH the fact that the universe hasn't done this is clearly proof there are no aliens.

OTOOH Kurzweil et al may be talking a load of unmitigated cr4p

Maybe we're in a nature preserve. How often does someone visit each ant hill in the local nature preserve?

Furthermore, why would an intelligent life form be interested in communicating with humans or making its presence known?

Humans have gone from maybe an IQ of 20 to an IQ of 100 in the last 80,000 years. This is a rate of improvement of .001 IQ point per year. Robots may attain an IQ of 100 by 2050. This is a rate of improvement of 1 IQ point per year.

Robots are unlikely to remain interested in humans for more than a century. Humans will simply be too limited to have any meaningful interaction with.

bit of a side track I know and I suspect most of us have shoot the breeze numerous times concerning Fermi's paradox..

however the conclusion I came too is any specific explanation of why they are hiding or not visible despite existing in substantive numbers such as yours (they are not that interested in visiting their own ant farms..whatever)..falls flat on its face by being specific

if intelligent life is popping up all the time any explanation for there absence that is specific based has to apply to all of them.. a common one is they don't communicate with radio but use some exotic FTL tech..well fine but how come we cant hear the dunces like us trying to communicate with radio? where are all the slightly smarter than us guys?

"they are not interested"... what all of them? .. what about the ones that are?

"there is a galactic charter al la the prime directive" .. what about the non signatories or the guys who don't know about the galactic charter like us?

you can apply this counter argument to just about every excuse that attempts to explain evidence of alien civilisations absence but still hold it must be abundant.

Fermi's paradox was a disturbing insight IMO

it strongly suggests rarity.

extreme rarity

Perhaps the ones stupid enough to loudly announce their existence to the universe get quickly gobbled up by some sort of galactic parasite?

The really smart ones stay mum.

then they are rare!

not only that evidence of their existence such as a wave shells of radio signals as thick in light years as their lifespan should still be wafting across the galaxy..unless the galactic overlords have a special FTL system for soaking up such evidence all starts to get one specific excuse piled on an other

it just goes on and on and on

and all these specific conditions have to pretty much apply to everyone!

It doesn't take much rarity, it just takes a bit of dilution.

There could be millions of intelligent races in the universe right now and we wouldn't be close enough to any of them to notice.

dilution is rarity isn't it?

millions in the universe? out of 170 billion galaxies!

almost homeopathic! well not quite i guess hold on (back of enevelope) a million ET civs thats 0ne star in 17 million or so call it one star in 10 million or so

there are 20 civs in the milky way heck call it 200 if you like

and the real problem is only need a handful of successful ones in this galaxy of a sufficient age of a few millions years to be pretty much everywhere... and then your back to all the specific argument nonsense.

Rarity works if you want to refer to it that way, but even extreme rarity leaves so many opportunities for intelligent species that I wouldn't worry about it.

I'd actually be more concerned if we had detected any extraterrestrial intelligence already.

Would they be ET's or eaters?

why isn't one them here?... at a dispersion speed of 0.01c one of them only one has to be 10 millions years old and less if they are nearer

and this specific argument why they should have landed on the white house lawn and said "take us to your leader" works for the rarity side of the argument because you don't need all of the ETs out there to have made it, you just need one!

the exception that explains why they are not here is implausible by the need for it to be ubiquitous while the exception that argues why the should be here is the complete opposite

I am not saying they don't exist but the absence is almost bizarre so much so you end up with all these specific excuses! ie the argument comes full circle

the options are

a) extreme rarity because life/intelligent life/hi-tech civ are much rarer than we think (choose your bias)

b) Hi-tech civ life spans are too short so that the window of opportunity for communication is reduced to almost nil. this a more generalized version of the galactic parasite excuse I guess

b is a bit specific but more relevant to our current predicament.. the fact we cant hear anyone might be a warning from the sky about how evolving intelligence interacts with its environment.

As you pointed out above: 170 Billion Galaxies (that we can detect so far).

We might be the only intelligent species in our galaxy and there is still room for billions more in the universe, those inter-galactic hops just aren't worth doing.

Additionally: who says that life, let alone intelligent life, has to be anything we would recognize at long range anyway?

There are a lot of assumptions about what intelligent life looks like and does built into the Fermi equation. Just adding some natural EM interference to the environment pretty effectively shuts down the development of free-air EM transmissions that we could detect. A star only slightly more active than our own is sufficient for this.

We don't even know that terrestrial biochemistry is the most likely in the universe as a whole. There is a lot we need to learn before we can make any realistic predictions, and we are still developing the ability to learn them.

In short, the Fermi Equation only incompletely lays out what we need to learn to answer the question it poses, and we still aren't even close to learning what it lays out.

Making blanket assertions based on such a staggering level of ignorance is pointless.

hmm perhaps the discussion is fairly pointless but blanketing the options with in that discussion has some merit I think

you raise some good points but they all start to slide into the blanket groups I have already used

the ET life may be so different we don't recognize it excuse.. again specific because all the ETs have to be esoteric and none of them recognizable

their star blocks radio traffic.. again all other civs have to live around radio transmission blocking stars

and so on

we should add a blanket option to cover all this

c) Contrived situation: they remain undetected for some contrived reason or combination of contrived reasons (my pet favorite is we are the first one)

the majority of explanations aired that at first do not seem unreasonable comments fall into option C because of their specific nature

My point is that they don't all need to be true in all cases for things to look like they do for us. Extreme rarity is another special case, by the way, as it assumes that we are special in ways we may not be.

We could simply be the first civilization of our type in our neighborhood.

And I misspoke above: Drake equation, not Fermi equation. It's been a few years since I've gone through this discussion.

well thats the weird point I made about the argument coming full circle

it does indicate that the special case is perhaps us! which is disturbing

thats why its such a bizarre observation

I mean special cases can exist all the time

I'm quite willing to believe there is an alien civilisation out there living in a mobile phone black spot who can't tune in... what I am not willing to believe is there are thousands/millions of ET's who can't phone home for reception reasons!

us being a first one is bizarre.... option c contrived!

special case exceptions that apply to us are more likely than special case exceptions that apply to everybody else...

weird things that make us the odd one out only had to occur once!

the more you thunk about it the freakier it gets

We only need to be the odd ones out in a relatively narrow region of space for theory to match observation.

There could be a thriving interstellar civilization in the Andromeda Galaxy and we could not possibly know anything about it.

For that matter, a civilization on the other side of our galactic core would also be invisible to us.

again specific..they are all on the other side of the galactic core?

similar sort of mindset to those that argue there are massive easy to exploit oil basins/fields still left to be found.. it forms a circular argument

"the oil must exist so therefore it must be where we cant look"..despite having no evidence the oil exists in the first place..

classic example is the unexplored quarters of Iraq.."above ground political factors are impeding exploration and the oil isn't where we can look therefore it has to be there."

stands to reason Alien civs exist in substantive numbers, we haven't found any so therefore they are where we can not look on the other side of the galactic core.

Other galaxies is much more likely.

Separated from us by both time and space, and there's an awful lot more "there" than there is "here".

It seems people always leave out the temporal dimension. We are but a blip on the time scale of the universe.

The Universe has been expanding for billions of years. Not only is there likely a large physical space between habitable worlds, the 'aliens' might have been (are likely?) in the distant past, or far in the future.

Or maybe higher intelligences inexorably evolve in the direction of realizing that communication/expansion/more stuff isn't the point. At which point they dissolve in helpless fits of laughter and stop trying.


Or become like the Apathetics in Zardoz...

Humans have gone from maybe an IQ of 20 to an IQ of 100 in the last 80,000 years.

Where did you pull that out of?

AFAIK there is no evidence for that at all.

"We could end up with a dustbowl Earth.

Although I wrote that, that particular line made me wonder if it's now impossible for there to be any other eventuality?"

I believe that as well. In fact I would go further. No planet can ever have more than one intelligent species in it's entire history. Lower animals and plants can go on forever. But as soon as a species starts using non-renewable resources, that sets a limit. Eventually the intelligent species will have to "go back" to nature.

"Eventually the intelligent species will have to "go back" to nature" Not necessarily. Tribal communities like Native Americans live off the land and they are intelligent. I think all these problems discussed on The Oil Drum are a direct correlation to the system we use to operate it. Money. Growth is embedded in its DNA. Yet, "intellectuals" on this site aren't even discussing creative solutions to replace it. Instead you have guys like Nate who say we have to keep it. That's pretty sad given the overwhelming evidence against market economies.

I wonder if there is data between population growth and ecological constraints/destruction across civilizations that use this method compared to tribal societies. I also wonder if free time from wealthy individuals who later became scientists, engineers helped spurn Technology. Usually if your in a tribe of some sort, you're usually busy doing a job.

Not necessarily. Tribal communities like Native Americans live off the land and they are intelligent.

True, but once the genie's out of the bottle with industrialization and all the maladies that eventuate well into overshoot, then what? Without mechanization to produce 250,000 loaves of bread out of one huge building, 1/2 a million gallons of milk out of another, etc, to feed the masses, then how do those 7 billion and counting go back to sustainable living? It can't, not without a huge reduction in population. There's the buggaboo.

No planet can ever have more than one intelligent species in it's entire history.

Don't you mean one "rapacious, technological, delusional fire-symbiote" in its history? There are other species on the planet now which are quite intelligent; we're just the confluence of an unusual set of attributes and a planetary history which happens to have left an accessible accumulation of burnable fuel.

There's no limit to the number of intelligent species a planet can host in it's history, though we're doing our best to foreclose future options.

Glad to see this keypost again.

Famines usually result from a combination of politics, war, economics, and crop failure.

The distribution of population around the globe roughly approximates the ability of soil and weather to produce food. It is no accident that East Asia, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent, West Africa, Europe, Eastern North America, and the South American Cone contain most of the world population.

Most food is produced and eaten locally. Only a few societies indulge in long distance transportation of food. Small cities and villages depend on food produced in their immediate hinterland.

When crops fail, the cashless peasant is the one who cannot buy food and is most likely to starve. If food is available from outside, it goes first to the wealthy, and then to the cities, where it is distributed by the military to keep order.

Whether food is available from the outside depends on whether the society is able to buy it, whether it is politically disconnected from trade in food, whether its enemies or economic/political masters want to see food enter the society.

Another example of these forces at play would be the Irish Potato Famine. Although the direct cause of the famine and death was the potato blight and the failure of the crop, the British government also provided very little relief. So like the Bengal case in the previous comment, this can also be seen as a "sin of omission" by England.

"British government also provided very little relief"


"Food exports to England

Records show Irish lands exported food even during the worst years of the Famine. When Ireland had experienced a famine in 1782–83, ports were closed to keep Irish-grown food in Ireland to feed the Irish. Local food prices promptly dropped. Merchants lobbied against the export ban, but government in the 1780s overrode their protests. No such export ban happened in the 1840s.[63]

Cecil Woodham-Smith, an authority on the Irish Famine, wrote in The Great Hunger; Ireland 1845–1849 that no issue has provoked so much anger and embittered relations between England and Ireland as "the indisputable fact that huge quantities of food were exported from Ireland to England throughout the period when the people of Ireland were dying of starvation." Ireland remained a net exporter of food throughout most of the five-year famine."

I wish someone would talk about the logistic equation and how it ties into all of this post.

OK. The logistic equation is often given as dN/dT = rN((K-N)/K) where dN/dT is the rate of increase in the population, r is the "intrinsic rate of natural increase" (per capita birth rate - death rate in an unconstrained environment) and K is the carrying capacity.

This equation is a nice abstraction of the behavior of a perfect species in a perfect world. It has a whole bunch of assumptions. Some are: r is a constant; every individual enters the population causing full impact on the other individuals; all individuals immediately experience all other individuals, and "know" what N is; Effects of new individuals is felt instantly everywhere; K is a constant.

There are also other forms of the equation, e.g., dN/dT = rN - (r/K)N^2 that suggest that there is a growth term (r) and a competition term (r/K). Obviously this is mathematically the same, but emphasizes the negative interaction among individuals.

Now in a nicely behaved logistic equation you get a smooth growth curve that starts out exponential, and smoothly "lands" at the carrying capacity. You can think of r(realized) = r(K-N)/K, that is the actual rate of increase of the population at any given population size. Obviously, at the carrying capacity r(realized) equals 0, and births equal deaths. This happens either by the birth rate going down, or the death rate going up. Thus, while r(realized)=0 is a good thing, its not necessarily a happy thing. Most animals see most of their children die, and that would happen to us as well unless we very rigorously controlled our birth rate.

The big thing here is overshoot. The typical cause of overshoots are time lags. That is instead of the equation being as given above, we substitute N at some point in the past. dN/dT = rN((K-N(t-tau))/K). Then the population depends not on the current population size, but on what it was in the past. The result of this is that The population will continue to grow straight on through the carrying capacity and keep growing until N(t-tau) = K. At that point the population will start declining. It will continue to decline until N(t-tau) again crosses K, but by dropping below K.

With time lags you get overshoots and oscillating behavior. If the time lag is great enough you can get a huge overshoot, and then a crash to extinction. You can also get chaos with the right settings.

A classic example of time lags would be deer over browsing an island, and killing next years growth. The next year most of the deer starve, and because of that the shrubs are able to recover. The shrubs recover, and continue to increase until the deer again exceed K, over graze and starve again.

For humans you can think of oil as a renewable resource, but only renewable on geological time scales. Thus perhaps we have "over grazed" the energy supply, and our population is destined to decline until the oil can renew itself and we can go through the cycle again.

On another note: The graph of human population growth is classic exponential growth. I see no reason to invoke oil or anything else to explain why the population has taken off in the past 200 years. That is simply what is expected from exponential growth. It does, of course, beg the question since we know that nothing can grow exponentially forever.

The logistic of most concern is crop yield. U.S. annual increase was constant throughout most of the green revolution, approx. 1.7 bu/ac for corn/maize , starting at 40 bu/ac in 1940 and ending around 150 bu/ac in the 2000's. Thus the percent growth has slowed dramatically. Factors are higher grain to stalk ratio, leaves better oriented toward sunlight, fertilizer, irrigation, pesticides and herbicides and higher plant density.

A plateauing curve implies a limit. Some experts think we're approaching the limits of photosynthesis, and no doubt we've reached maximum plant density.

Early in the green revolution yield increased at a much higher percentage than population, but by now the reverse probably is true. That would explain the decrease in world food stocks. At some point, probably sooner than most realize, the stockpiles will go to zero.

See graph on p3:

The logistic as framed is worthless. It does not consider the stochastic elements that exist in the real world. The parameters in the equation are actually a range in values that will likely vary according to location and because of dispersion in behaviors. It may work for isolated cases like some island, or a very localized ecosystem, or a Petri dish, but not globally or nationally.

Use that stuff and you make the same mistake as the Wall Street types.

I would argue that the equation has some value as an intellectual aide or teaching tool-so long as the teacher makes it known that it represents an idealized hypothetical general case.

I agree that in the real world it should be considered either worthless or worse.


Four years ago I began writing my next novel, a scenario that would describe the life of my fictional great-grandson, yet to be born in 2015. He would live through the rest of the 21st century and in 2099 would write his memoirs, describing how the world of that time came to pass. I was a character in the story, telling my great-grandson in 2022 when I was 85 why the world was so screwed up, and what I had done to survive to that point.

One purpose of my book was to show that people who are alive today will experience the tsunami of decline in the world, that this is not some thing that may happen in the future to someone else. My first efforts were to try to understand just when things would go wrong and why.

GliderGuider's original post in May, 2007, was very timely because it established reason and a time-line I could believe and use as a basis for my story. However, as I worked on the tale and considered some details of cause and effect, I became more convinced that indeed things could be much worse than described, and in some cases events could precipitate major shifts in the course of history. I also decided that our society would see some of the effects sooner than most people expected.

The book, "Was A Time When," is 95% written, 30% editted, but sits idle because I keep getting busy on other projects. But seeing this repost is a great prod for me to get busy and go to completion and publication. Thanks for reminding me that the future is not really improving, and that people are still in denial.

Sam Penny, the Prudent RVer

The only thing we know for sure is that peak oil (copper, topsoil, fresh water, etc) will cause costs to rise. That implies marginal businesses and farmland will no longer be cost effective and will be taken off line. Peak growth. We all agree on that.

But higher costs causes rapid conservation and substitution. This causes prices to crash and things go back to "normal" for a while. So the decline will be a sine wave with peaks and valleys trending downward. It will be a long, unpredictable process. I dismiss as a religious zealot anyone who predicts a rapid die off, disease, or the magical "mother nature's revenge".

What is the sustainable number of humans? Perhaps a 1/3 reduction in population is a reasonable guess. I get that by assuming 1/3 of the crop land will need to be used to produce liquid biofuels to mechanize work on the other 2/3.

I agree with the probability of a sine wave (or staircase) shape and the likelihood of a slow population decline rather than a rapid die-off (this is a major shift in my thinking since I first wrote the article).

I wonder, though, how you are defining "sustainable" if a mere 1/3 reduction in population accomplishes that. For me, sustainable implies perpetuity, and its hard for me to imagine a population of 4 billion+ humans living on the planet in perpetuity - certainly not 4 billion people all trying to live in an industrial society. Perhaps if you qualified the expected standard of living it might make more sense.

I'm sorry if I didn't make that more clear. I'm saying that when liquid fuels run out, it would take 1/3 of the crop land to produce the liquid biofuel needed to mechanize farming the other 2/3. Taking out 1/3 of the farmland means 1/3 less food, thus 1/3 lower population.

What difference does it make what the rest of society does? They would have to use electric power or the energy cost would supplant food. They could do nothing beyond providing clothing and shelter for themselves. The point is there would be enough food to go around. Everything else we do is just feeding someone's greed/ego, politics or leisure time activities.

Taking out 1/3 of the farmland means 1/3 less food, thus 1/3 lower population.
only if we insist of feed so much grain to livestock, and maintaining a high obesity rate. Certainly the developed world could manage of a lot less than 2/3 of present agriculture production, probably 1/3 would be adequate and a lot healthier. The developing world uses a lot less energy in agriculture.
A big food energy use is not farming or transportation but food processing, storage(refrigeration) and cooking.
The other big energy use is driving a 2 tonne vehicle to supermarket to pick up <10kg of food in a low mpg gasoline consuming vehicle. Just replacing this step with an EV would save all the energy used in food production and transportation to retailer.

Dmitry Orlov has an entry at the Culture Change website

  • where he writes about the decline of oil supplies. He predicts rather rapid stair-step declines that are exacerbated by a positive feedback loop where initially small shortages escalate to more shortages and problems due to basic human nature.

    The dynamics that drive a rapid spiral downward in oil supply might have similar consequences in population declines.

    I too think we're more likely to see a shark fin than a symmetric bell curve, per this reworked graphic:

    "a 1/3 reduction in population is a reasonable guess. I get that by assuming 1/3 of the crop land will need to be used to produce liquid biofuels to mechanize work on the other 2/3."

    It will take more than 1/3 to do all the other things ... build (melt metal) etc. and maintain the Machine...IMHO

    Solar and human/pedal power instead of bio fuels .... entropy

    Will sustainability be a hunter gatherer or an agrarian society ?

    Will we have learned/gained enough to hold at an agrarian society ?

    In 1850 there lived 1.2 Billion people. The knowledge then in many vital fields needed to sustain the population was very limited. Oil will not be available for transport but for pharmaceutical products, agriculture, etc., in effect it will be rationed (unfortunately the military will get a large junk). With our knowledge in pest control, bio-engineering, health care and computer support for maximizing effectiveness in many areas, a post-oil population of 1 Billion is much too conservative. In other words, the author implies that the 1850 world with little knowledge could sustain a higher population as we in 2085 with all the progress in science we made in the past 150 years. This seems implausible even when one includes the devastation of the environment and depletion of food sources such as fish. Nature will renew itself if left in peace. Other authors on this subject set the maximum sustainable population to 2 Billion.

    I agree. I continue to see softer paths in all the forecasts. Given modern technologies, not a panacea, but our ability to increase productivity even in a different fertilizer regime. I have seen many many studies that place a reasonable sustainable population number at 3 billion, about the population in 1961.

    Fertility rates are falling much faster than anyone anticipated even in 2005. Healthcare, immunization, and womens rights lead to declining birthrates for reasons Bill Gates, of all people, provides excellent reasoning. Another assumption that has proved to be wrong is that fertility will stabilize at about 2 or 2.1 (replacement). It does not, in many many countries it heads straight to 1.2 to 1.5. The reason populations continue to rise for a time after fertility falls is simply demographic momentum.

    Therefore, right now, peak population is falling in a range from 8 billion to 9 billion. Unsustainable. But at peak in about 2040 and about a .5% decline thereafter, population falls to a level that is under 6 billion. It is yet a large gap, 3 billion being sustainable to 6 billion estimated. But it is not 10 billion and 1 billion.

    I also am not convinced that peak oil, peak coal or any of the other energy peaks will lead to huge disjunctions in total energy any more than peak wood or peak whale oil did. I see massive development emerging for renewables, and a trend to more Class A concepts for solar (thermal solar). The scale of the installations are rising now as well. I have seen solar thermal projects at 1.2 gigs with projects approaching 3 gigs. This compares to 3 to 5 gigs for a nuclear plant. Scale is the problem of renewables and that is getting to be less and less of a problem.

    Total energy is not the delimiter of population. What has to change is consumption patterns, transport patterns, eating, lifestyle, health, welfare of women. Humans need to continue on their 12,000 year project of ever increasing domestication. Our planet gradually becomes a nice domestic zoo, and our patterns become sustainable, and we have to create enrichment so as not to get bored like any good zoo.

    I do also agree that all the various patterns will emerge in the transition. From horrific: Zimbabwe; to fully adapted: Scandinavian countries.

    I see Grain Production as the main limiting factor.

    The world lives on seeds - (Grains -Oil-Animal Products) for calories.

    "demographic momentum"

    Yup, that's what pretty much commits us to at least another billion no matter what happens with average fertility rates (unless one child per couple after parental age of thirty is successfully implemented--not b'y likely--see above).

    And yes, there are other factors as delimiters and contributors to pop. So energy may not be "the [only] delimiter," but it is certainly a or the major one.

    As to turning the world into a zoo, well, so far we've mostly been emptying the zoo of much of it's diversity.

    See Elizabeth Kolbert's "Sixth Extinction" among many other sources on the anthropogenic mass extinction we have been in the midst of for decades now (at least).

    I've been reading "The Coming Famine," a much more analytical book than "Empires of Food," which seemed a bit disorganized, meandered a lot, like this post is going to start

    Peak oil, peak land, water, peak commodities of all kind, are all really just consequences of overpopulation. We're deep in overshoot, and the effort to feed that last forty years of global population growth is going to be catastrophic. We will empty out the oceans, turn our arable land into salty, arsenic-laced desert, drain our underground aquifers, burn all the coal we can get our hands on, and when that doesn't meet our energy needs we'll cut down every last tree on the planet to heat our homes in winter. Every major economy on earth will be forced to contract defensively around agricultural production as the minor economies face regional famine.

    There really is an alternative to global famine and collapse: the orderly disposal of 6 or more billion people as soon as possible. If I had my own totalitarian regime, I would have my best scientists busily engineering some fantastic supervirus guaranteed to wipe out 80-90% of the human race. That seems like the best approach. Plus, if we could compost those six billion bodies, that would return valuable nutrients to the soil.

    Suicide booths always struck me as an unreliable supply chain.

    Since the top 20% or so consumes something over 80% of the resources, the only real "population problem" is this top quintile. Get rid of that (us) and the rest of the world will likely do just fine, as long as they don't replicate our profligate ways and move toward lower pop and consumption quickly.

    Runaway GW, however, has apparently foreclosed the possibility of even this rosy (to the remaining 80%) scenario.

    Wouldn't the top quintile of the remaining 80% become the next problem? Get rid of them and there'd be a new top quintile. And then the next top quintile after that. There's always a top quintile...

    That's why I said: "as long as they don't replicate our profligate ways and move toward lower pop[ulation] and consumption quickly."

    But come to think of it, wiping out the top quintile every generation or so may be the best sustainability project around. Hard to implement, though.

    But really, I see no necessary reason that a top quintile must use 80% percent of resources. You can use 21% of resources and still be the top quintile.

    So long as metal axes, sickles, scythes, plows, spades, spears, knives, arrowheads, etc are available, humans will chop down, dig up, and kill everything in their environment.

    Prior to metal working, neolithic farmers did only limited damage to the environment (e.g. neolithic American agricultural communities or the agricultural communities in the New Guinea highlands).

    However, once you can make metal tools, you can chop down the forests of the northern European plain, dig extensive irrigation works along the Nile and Tigris-Euphrates, build extensive masonry cities.

    Americans managed to "clear the land" of those unnecessary trees and buffalo without the help of oil.

    "So long as metal axes, sickles, scythes, plows, spades, spears, knives, arrowheads, etc are available, humans will chop down, dig up, and kill everything in their environment."

    Humans do tend to be pretty darn goatish.

    But are you absolutely confident that you have done a thorough study of every single relevant human culture that ever existed? Even one partial counterexample would falsify your claim.

    And, quelle surprise, there is one such (at least)--Baltic cultures (Latvians, Lithuanians, Estonian) seem to have actually increased the fertility of their soils and fostered relatively healthy streams and forests, especially relative to their Germanic neighbors to the East. Aldo Leopold has commented on this, as have others. No they aren't perfect ecologically or otherwise, but they don't quite fit into your sweeping generalization. It may not be a coincidence that they were among the latest peoples in Europe to be Christianized, and even then, they retained many of their folk ways into modern times.

    Of course, Soviet occupation changed things rather drastically.

    The iron age started in Sub-Saharan Africa as long as three thousand years ago, with carbon steel showing up two thousand years ago. But the rain forest is still there (though threatened now by industrialization, overpopulation and GW).

    And of course, pre-iron-age humans had various types of fairly effective spears, knives, arrowheads, axes...and somehow didn't manage to decimate every living thing in their environment.

    Even in England, not even close to "every thing in the environment" was chopped down, dug up, or killed with the introduction of iron tools--the greatest rate of deforestation didn't come till the late 17th century.

    In Japan, there was a hundred year period of rapid deforestation, but that was followed by the intentional and careful management of forests that continues to today and is considered a model for world forestry.

    Even in China where there are vast areas where there is no way to no what the pre-human flora and fauna were because they have been so thoroughly and continually worked, many areas adopted strong policies of careful maintenance of local forests, practices now often threatened or overturned by state policies, Red Army practices or new capitalists.

    There may well be many other such examples. But I don't claim to know everything about every human culture.

    The Hirsch report has been available to policy makers for five years. Their failure to take decisive action can only be interpreted as complicity in a mass genocide. (Perhaps occupying the and controlling the Middle East is decisive action.) They will hide behind reports submitted by their lackey think tanks stating that peak oil/net energy could not be determined in advance. It is likely they will extend BAU to pay back friends in high places that require a satisfactory return on prior investment in existing energy infrastructure.

    The Obama $50 billion infrastructure stimulus that will be doled out over the next six years will concentrate on roadways, airport runways and 4,000 miles of railroad tracks. They’re going to run this country into the ground and then apply a SUPER shock doctrine to the slaves. Hard to guess what they have planned for us. Just run away from the trains and buses when they say they’re taking you to a better place.

    Getting at that excess death rate will take more than mere complicity in genocide. We need the biggest homicidal engineering project in human history to pull this off. Leading contenders besides a genetically engineered supervirus would be death/disposal camps (hand out death sentences for parking violations, jaywalking and spitting in public), finding a nearby asteroid and dropping it into an ocean, or more realistically, a good old fashioned nuclear holocaust.

    Just run away from the trains and buses when they say they’re taking you to a better place.

    For most of my adult life I have been anti-gun, seeing the damage they can cause in urban America. In a properly functioning civilization guns should not be owned by the masses; they cause more damage than good.

    Now I am very thankful that my forefathers kept our rights to be armed intact. Civilizations rarely function properly for long. As a result of the number of guns in America it is very unlikely that our government will be able to send us to camps or move us off our land. If it gets really bad then locals will band together and make such attempts very difficult for TPTB.

    I have reversed my position 180 degrees and now feel that it is the duty of an American to own a gun, primarily as a deterrent against potential over-reaching governments in the future.

    I'm a liberal with a gun, and there are more like me every day.


    Funny you should mention that. A few days ago I purchased a Ruger SR9c handgun, my first. I hope that I never have an excuse to use it. It should be clear to all that you are at least 4 billion years old and this pathetically inept government that claims to own you is only a little over two hundred years old. You have stood the test of time and our technological system will not. Everyone should protect themselves and families and try to get through this extraordinary period in human history, that’s what all your ancestors did, passing through all the great extinction events. That is your purpose, to live another day, another week, another year, and another millennium.

    101% agreed, though I wouldn't necessarily describe myself as 'liberal'. Maybe liberal by American standards...

    My fiance thinks I'm a little off kilter for owning a small arsenal, making BOBs, wanting to move to rural PA and set up a farm, etc. Hopefully, if things take a real turn for the douche, we'll have someplace to hide and feed ourselves. I'd say most folks that post on this site are welcome to join, but I'm not sure how big the lifeboat will be. Check back in a few years...

    can only be interpreted as complicity in a mass genocide

    Waaaaay too simplistic. Most of them don't know it exists, 95% of the ones that know it exists think technology will save the day and the rest couldn't move the herd in time no matter how hard they tried.

    Yes, their minds are way too simplistic. Perhaps they should find other work. I like this statement from Albert Speer, Hitler's architect, regarding the extermination of the Jews.

    "I no longer give any of these answers. For they are efforts at legalistic exculpation... But in final analysis I myself determined the degree of my isolation, the extremity of my evasions and the extent of my ignorance...
    Whether I knew or did not totally unimportant when I consider what horrors I should have known about...Those who ask me are fundamentally expecting justifications. But I have none. No apologies are possible."

    One thing is for sure, most of us will need to be able to grow food if we want to survive long-term.

    If you live in a region of the world with a short growing season (which happens to be good for global warming survival) you will have challenges. These challenges may be even harder to overcome as the climate changes and extreme weather events become more common. While you may have warmer temperatures on average you may also have cooler temperatures earlier at the end of the summer.

    I am thinking about building an "earth-sheltered," or "pit" greenhouse:


    Walipini (PDF!):


    Why aren't you digging instead of thinking ?

    Honestly, I am still trying to get out of the denial phase. :-)


    Glider Guider,
    As we all know but are sometimes reluctant to contemplate, oil is a finite, non-renewable resource. This automatically means that its use is not sustainable.

    I think most at this site would agree with this statement, however, the following:
    If the use of oil is not sustainable, then of course the added carrying capacity the oil has provided is likewise unsustainable.

    would only apply if:
    (1) if oil and gas used in agriculture cannot ever be replaced by renewable energy
    (2)or all oil and gas will be exhausted before their use in agriculture(2% of present consumption)can be replaced by renewable energy.
    (3) and population decline cannot occur before oil and gas used in agriculture can be replaced
    (4)and, we continue to use a large part of grain production for animal feeds rather than human consumption.

    Carrying capacity has been added to the world in direct proportion to the use of oil, and the disturbing implication is that if our oil supply declines, the carrying capacity of the world will automatically fall with it.
    The major increases in yields have been due to (1) plant breeding(2) increased fertilizer inputs(3) improved agronomy( including use of legumes) and use of herbicides and pesticides (4) increased irrigation. The major energy use is for nitrogen fertilizer that can be produced by renewable electricity or replaced by legumes and pumping irrigation water can be provided by renewable electricity. Both energy uses are a very small part of present energy consumption(<2%). Herbicide and pesticide use is an insignificant use of petrochemicals.

    And what is the fertilizer derived from? What runs the tractors and more importantly, moves the food and other modern goods from place to place?

    What renewable energy is going to run the tractors and move the food? Ethanol derived from corn?

    I think you folks are seriously underestimating the resourcefulness and creativity of people when they get hungry.

    "And what is the fertilizer derived from?"

    How about air, water,
    and sunlight?

    "What renewable energy is going to run the tractors and move the food?"

    Well, there's always liquid ammonia made from the aforementioned air, water, and sunlight.

    BTW, there are methods of farming that don't require a 400 hp diesel tractor. I read about this right here on TOD just the other day.
    A fresh, no-nonsense approach to intensive farming that can be powered by elecricity.

    Let's keep it in perspective. Most of our power comes from natural gas, coal, and nuclear, and those aren't running out any time soon. Yes, I expect severe social and economic effects here at home, and tragic famines in less fortunate areas. But there is no reason to expect that agricultural output will enter a permanent decline due to the cost of oil.

    My projections:
    1) I agree that the human race is above long term carrying capacity.

    2) I think we may have already shot ourselves in the foot with global warming.

    3) There will be a series of price and availability shocks in liquid transportation fuel.

    4) It will last about 20 years, because that's how long the crash program of building alternate supplies will take.

    5) It will be a rough 20 years. Continued war is almost certain. Another successful major terrorist strike is also probable. I think there's a good chance of a regional nuclear dukeout between the Asian nuclear powers when things get tough.

    6) Computer science will continue to leap ahead, and autonomous war machines will rule the battlefield within 20 to 30 years.

    7) Nanotech and MEMS will also advance rapidly, and many of the war machines will be insect size or smaller.

    8) I think biotech is now roughly on the same part of the development curve as solid state electronics were in the early 60's. Look for miracles crammed into ever smaller packages from this field.

    9) The progress of all these high tech fields will take a hit starting at the next oil shock, but they are so widespread across the world and so obviously fundamental that development will continue.

    Based on all that I think a reasonable scenario might look like this:

    Around 2015 demand from a recovering world economy permanently exceeds the available supply. Oil oscillates between $100 and $200 a barrel. Gas rationing is once again instituted in developed Western countries. The price of everything that depends on oil also shoots up, leading to widespread economic hardship and rapid innovation. The northwestern region of India is unable to obtain the fertilizer they need to sustain their green revolution farms, and the resulting crop failures cause 20,000,000 starvation deaths over the next few years. This further destabilizes the region, leading to terrorist strikes followed by massive government crackdowns. Ground is broken for a new Gen III nuclear power plant in New York. The National Guard is brought in to control the protestors. Standardized nuclear power plants are rapidly deployed in developed countries around the world. Around 2018 the US military gets mired down with keeping Nigerian terrorists from damaging crucial infrastructure. The first autonomous land and air warbots are deployed in this region to patrol the pipelines. Tens of thousands of increasingly desperate villagers are killed while attempting to steal oil to sell for food. Food shortages become common throughout the heavily populated Asian countries. The monsoon rains become increasingly unreliable, causing poor harvests and intermittent small famines. In the winter of 2020, a transmittable form of H5N1 flu finally jumps from fowl to swine to human. It sweeps through the malnourished Asian subcontinent like wildfire, killing 300,000,000 people in three unspeakable years of horror. The pandemic sweeps around the world repeatedly, but the great majority of deaths are in the least developed most overpopulated areas. In 2023 the US finds an excuse to invade Venezuala. A new, more cooperative government is installed and oil export is given top priority. Bolivia ramps up production of lithium from it's high desert deposits to supply the batteries for the sudden electric car craze. Meanwhile Brazil has been developing their offshore deep water fields becoming the next major supplier as the big fields of the Middle East taper off. However, oil remains expensive and the major economies enter a persistent worldwide depression. It becomes hazardous to display wealth by driving a private car or living in a nice home, but open class warfare is avoided through increasingly heavy police methods, and by domestic deployment of warbots. Many mines in America are re-opened as third world suppliers descend into famine and chaos. There are ugly incidents where environmental protestors are lynched by angry crowds of counter-protestors. By 2025 the crash fuel program that was started after the first major oil shock starts paying off as the first really large alternative fuel and fertilizer plants come on line. Wind power continues to be deployed. Solar power plants with thermal storage become common, and the government invests heavily in new high voltage transmission lines, while also streamlining the permitting process and limiting the endless NIMBY protests and legal barriers. In 2027, terrorists intercept a shipment of nuclear material from a power plant in Spain. Six months later Atlanta is destroyed by a 100 kiloton blast. Martial law is declared in the US and Spain. Many innocent people are caught in the crossfire as the terrorists are hunted down and killed to the last man. In 2028, China and Russia square off over oil and mineral resources in the increasingly ice-free Arctic. Meanwhile the US and Canada lay claim to vast swaths of the continental shelf as well, but avoid getting drawn into the brief but intense fighting. Both sides back down with no clear winner. By 2030 intelligent human-class computers become as inexpensive as a laptop is today. Work on human-machine interface begins to produce the first truly hyper-intelligent humans. Tissue regeneration and transplants grown from your own stem cells become routine. In 2032 a misguided but well funded group of radicals designs, fabricates, and releases an artificial bacteria that causes another worldwide pandemic. Once again the majority of the deaths fall upon poorer countries but this time there are also large numbers of deaths in western countries as well. By the time an effective treatment is developed and distributed the following spring, 800,000,000 people have died worldwide. The radical group is slaughtered and their entire town is razed to the ground by raging mobs as the police look the other way. By 2035 ground warfare has evolved to become a handful of cyborgs, each surrounded by a protective fleet of warbots on land and in the air. The survival time on the battlefield for a civilian or un-augmented soldier drops to a matter of seconds. By this time the alternative fuel and fertilizer plants have been expanded to meet the greatly decreased demand and the immediate crisis is over. However much of the world remains malnourished and many basic rights continue to be curtailed. By now the average global temperature has risen another 2 degrees. Weather patterns become more unpredictable and extreme. The last of the polar bears turn to life on land and vanish into the small remaining grizzly population. The monsoons fail every third or fourth year now, and droughts become widespread in India and China as the remaining glaciers dwindle. China builds the world's largest nuclear powered desalinization plant on the shores of the Yellow Sea. By 2040, computers with greatly more processing power than any human become cheap and ubiquitous. Medical science has advanced to allow real time multi-sense integration of man and computer. All future projections break down at this point as these new hyper-intelligent beings become as unpredictable to us as we are to a dog.

    There. Feel better now?

    Interesting scenario. Perhaps humanity is a "flowering" of the DNA-based life forms which is a necessary prelude to post-DNA intelligent beings. That would correspond roughly with eschatologies that anticipate the end of humans as corporeal beings and their joining with god in heaven.

    Put another way, maybe the complexity of the human brain is point in evolution where the Tainter principle--complexity leads to collapse--really kicks in big time on a global level?

    On the other front, I am reminded of a bumper sticker I saw once:

    "Come the rapture, can I have your car?"

    You should write a science fiction book. I think people would buy it.

    There is plenty of energy to replace the oil of ten or more worlds.

    The big question is how to capture it?

    It's 10 kilometers below your feet in most places around the world.

    With current drilling techniques, drilling holes for geothermal energy is economically posible until around four to five kilometers. You would think that within 10 years 10 kilometers could be reached.

    There is one company to take a look at. It's called Potter drilling. Http://


    from the article ...

    "Tapping it will, however, require both technical and economic hurdles to be overcome."

    That's the problem with most of these "energy solutions" ...

    If it ain't economically viable it ain't sustainable.

    Well, that's why the brand new (and unique) drilling technique that Potter has developed is so interesting ...

    Much of the drilling equipment for geothermal wells comes from the oil-and-gas industry, but Bob Potter, a member of the original HDR team at Los Alamos, is trying something different. His firm, Potter Drilling, is pursuing a process called spallation, which uses superheated steam. When it comes into contact with rock, crystalline grains in the rock expand and create tiny fractures, causing small particles, called spalls, to break off. In effect, it is a drill that melts rock, says Mr Potter’s son, Jared, who is the chief executive of Potter Drilling. Spallation can get through rock more quickly than conventional drilling, and the use of steam means there are no costly drill bits that need replacing.

    They have started testing projects. If it really works well, they can drill much deeper (10+km) for a fraction of the cost it would with conventional techniques.

    Say, if a drill bit lasts for 500 meters, to drill 10km, you would have to replace the bit 20 times. Meaning bringing all the pipes up etc.

    If Spallation works as expected, theoretically, you can simply continue until you reach 10km. The concept looks to me like a flamethrower with water to make steam right at the spot where you want to melt the rock.

    I don't know how they remove the "spalls", but I assume they use a water stream. If so, they don't have to pull up their equipment. It all looks very simple to me. In practice it probably isn't, but I can very well imagine that it will be standard practice within 10 years.

    If they can put a man on the moon, this shouldn't be a problem as well.

    The big advantage, in my opinion, would be that you can put geothermal plants right in the middle of cities. You therefore wouldn't need a long grid that would lose half(?) of the electricity through transport friction. If that's the case, it will be economically viable much faster than wind or solar farms.

    Will see, I hope it works well. Unless we discover an unknown cosmic type of energy that we can harvest, I think geothermal is our best hope. Nuclear is my second best, but peak uranium doesn't seem to be far away as well.

    Good luck ... don't bet the farm on it!

    The earthquake problems with geothermal don't come from the drilling technique. We won't see geothermal near big cities until that gets figured out (if it does).

    While I think I do belong in the doomer category there is, however, as I see one point that might not have been included in the food supply discussion and the dramatic fall the could be expected in population when oil gets scarce.

    When I bought my new property out in the country it had been abandoned for some years and had been completely overgrown by weeds.

    While weeding out I also looked up the plants I removed and discovered that most of them had actually been used as food in the old days, but nowadays they were considered weeds. And I tell you that contrary to all those plants that we grow today as staple food in many countries these are just impossible to kill and quite nutricious with the whole plant edible. I actually consider them a very stable food resource available since they outperform all other plants i normally would plant and hence I no longer fear any lack of nutrition, but only a lack of variety.

    Insects are also a great resource that might come into play wether we want it or not.

    I think they could be the next logical step down our way down the energy ladder by preventing a (much needed) population crash, but rather a progress to less ideal food resources.

    Posted links to the first look inside FailBOP on the thread before this. We see the broken drill pipe jammed in the sheer rams. Amazing.

    BOP cam on the Q4000 looks in the fail-BOP and we see the broken Drill Pipe in the annular BOP clear as day.

    There is a lot of about population and overpopulation here

    It should be also noted that the way down is not and will be not pleasant at all. Global birth rate HAS to decline by tomorrow morning down to 1 or so to get some meaningful reduction of population down to 1 billion or less within the next 50-100 years.
    Dynamics of population is driven by a young productive generation. And it is strong. In some countries far over 50%.
    The WWII created about 10M extra death. Without an immediate control of a birth rate (GLOBALY) the need for extra death per year can reach 100M per year for 20-30 years.
    Because we are not able even talk about so drastic measure as is cutting a birth rate down to 1 (per a family) we will face the other option. It will not be fun.

    Fantasy? Just do the math.

    Some can argue that carrying capacity is 10 billion or so. An attempt to stabilize population on such level in a meaningful time of 20-5o years would require cutting birth rate GLOBALY down to 2 or less.

    Cutting birth rate and keeping average live time span would create tremendous problem with a population age distribution – a lot of elderly people over 50, 60 , 70 ant tiny fraction of population in a productive age. Probably not feasibly anyway.

    It is important to recognize that humanity is not, overall, in a position of overshoot at the moment.

    Sorry, but this statement is just flat-out wrong. Humanity is absolutely in a position of overshoot at the moment, by just about any measure, and by no small margin.

    By one estimate the human population exceeded the carrying capacity of the Earth as far back as 1980, fully three decades ago:

    The recent millennium ecosystem assessment from the UN estimates that we have already degraded 60 percent of the Earth's ecosystem services:

    By Catton's own estimate (if you had actually read his work), is that fully 90 percent of the human population will be redundant without the addition of what he termed the "fossil acreage" provided by coal, oil and gas:

    Within two eventful centuries of the time when James Watt started substituting fossil energy for muscle power, per capita energy use in the United States reached a level equivalent to eighty or so ghost slaves for each citizen. The ratio remained much lower than that in many other parts of the world. But, dividing the energy content of the total annual world fuel consumption by the annual rate of food-energy consumption in an active adult human body, the world average still worked out to the equivalent of about ten ghost slaves per person.

    More than nine-tenths of the energy used by Homo Sapiens was now derived from sources other than each year's crop of vegetation.

    The exuberant way of life was now based, therefore, on a pattern of energy use that involved a high ratio of between prehistoric energy and contemporary energy - a ratio that could hardly continue.

    The human species , through technological progress, had made itself more than 90 percent dependent on phantom carrying capacity...

    - From "Overshoot" by William Catton

    Not in overshoot? Try telling that to the few billion folks who are going to find out the hard way that they are already redundant.


    I agree. I was still struggling to understand the term back three years ago when I wrote this, and I definitely screwed the pooch with this statement. We are definitely in overshoot.

    That's what I get for not reworking the article. :-/

    Great article which I read and re-read last night. I saw the world in a new way this morning whilst driving into work. Very eery . . . and also I felt a sadness.

    I also agree with Jerry that the overshoot is enormous. Could the population also undershoot as it stabilises on the way down? I certainly think it could as we lose key workers and key knowledge holders . . . a new dark age?



    It is a great article, overall an excellent assessment of our predicament and I regret not mentioning that at the top of my previous comment.

    Could the population also undershoot as it stabilizes on the way down?

    Yes, in fact that is a quite likely outcome as it is a commonly observed dynamic in other "bloom and crash" systems. I recommend "The Limits To Growth: the 30 year update" for a good discussion of likely trajectories for population and resources in this century.

    The problem with overshoot due to temporary increases in carrying capacity, especially on the scale that we are currently manifesting, is that the long term carrying capacity is also greatly reduced. This is mainly due to the degradation of ecosystem services mentioned before, and the end result is that the environment can only sustain a much smaller population at much lower living standards then it might have before the bloom and crash.

    After the dust settles from war, famine, pestilence and death countless future generations (assuming the Earth is still a viable habitat) will be left with a pittance of the riches that we have enjoyed.


    The new African land grab

    Nations have begun buying up large tracts of land to grow food for import back to their home countries. Saudi Arabia, Japan, China, India, Korea, Libya and Egypt have all jumped on the land grab bandwagon, but agribusinesses and private equity firms from Europe and the U.S. are also joining in.

    What is missing in this analysis is the effect of global warming on the fertility and sustainability of the earth.
    Quite a few ancient civilization were literally extinguished by climate change (Indus, Mocha, Mayan, Anasazi).
    Heat waves extending over several decades, tropical epidemics and a lack of water need to be added to the mix.

    Also missing is the deplorable state of the arable land. Without fossil fuels and the all important artificial fertilisers much of the arable land would have to be abandoned as too degraded for other methods of agricultural use. As it is, our arable land is producing poor quality food resulting in a sickly, disease prone human population.

    Also, when TSHTF much of the surplus overshoot population is going to have to be contained, which will naturally happen in urban areas. This will allow population control, dietary and water control, rationing and also the implementation of technology to ameliorate and reconcile people to their conditions (bread & circuses).

    In thinking how overshoot eventually plays out, a few random points:

    1. I personally think the most hopeful outcome is actually that people become weakened enough through lack of resources (food and medical) that some super disease takes out 50% to 80% of the world population. This would reduce the population before the carrying capacity of the planet goes to zero (see next note), and would give some hope that the remaining societies would have enough resources so as not to fall into total collapse.

    2. The much more likely scenario is that declining resources lead to mass unemployment and/or poverty, and before outright mass starvation of any kind kicks in, various forms of government collapse. Here, imagine the path the US government is on right now trying to keep business as usual going. Insane amounts of debt, currency weakening year after year, impossible future promises made to support seniors and the sick. Then throw in the chaos coming from net energy decline, declining oil imports, etc. At some point, either when unemployment becomes too extreme, or the currency goes worthless, or however else the economy nightmare unfolds, the government goes down. Maybe this happens once, or even multiple times, but each time the resulting chaos has a good chance to breakdown the various levels of confidence needed to keep society and even a minimal economy functioning. There might be food or oil, but people can't get it - they don't have the money, the distribution channels get broken, etc.

    At this stage, people won't just starve - they'll use their intelligence and such to survive for as long as possible. But in the process, probably every living thing will be consumed - every edible plant, every insect, every rat, etc. Areas will turn into treeless deserts or scrublands, and then people will migrate and do the same to any land that will sustain them. Carrying capacity goes to ZERO, from one area to the next, until eventually the globe is pretty barren of life supporting processes. At the end of all this, one billion remaing people is a laughable estimate - more like pockets of people in very remote areas.

    3. People often argue that things won't get as bad as in points one or two because as things get worse, we'll take whatever counter measure: plant gardens, eat less meat, reduce energy use, walk more, use organic farming methods, expand renewable energy, etc (insert your favorite cure-all here). All possible, but at best there measures will delay die-off, not change the fact that die-off is coming. And if you look at all the various countries or civilizations that have experienced some type of decline in the past, how many of them have seen enlightened citizens respond with these types of measures? Some for sure, but just as common seems internal violent strife or countries going to war with neighbors. The key factor in determining the level of violence will be the speed at which resources decline, especially net energy. The global population is in such a state of overshoot, that a rapid decline in net energy pretty much guarantees a high level of violence, as questions of survival come into play.

    4. How fast is the decline? Well think about your view of the world 5 to 6 years ago, and how you view the world today. In that small amount of time, unemployment has doubled in much of the industrial world, the ponzi-like nature of the develop world's assets classes has become apparent, and governments avoided economic collapse by an unprecedented amount of spending that has left most governments basically insolvent. At this pace, when go things go BOOM? Who knows? But the pace of declines quickens, and we know that past civilizations have gone from being relatively high functioning to a state of collapse in as little as 10 years.

    It's likely that a lot of ancient influenza virus types are frozen in the arctic regions for hundreds or thousands of years.

    It only takes a little bit of global warming to melt the ice containing viruses, and some migrating birds in the right spot at the right time, to carry over those viruses to pigs and humans.

    Since it was there for hundreds or thousands of years, humanity has lost all or most of its immunity against it.

    Read some books about the 1918 influenza.

    We were very, very lucky with H1N1-2009. Next time will probably be much different.


    The problem is that the 30% or so increase before the global population peaks will require a near doubling of food production given current consumption trends, which will of course have to change.

    Famine will express first in food price spikes like the 2007-2008 food crisis. Small countries get priced out of the market for food, but there will come a time when there is no surplus anywhere to provide relief.

    The good news is that we waste tremendous amounts of food. A significant increase in the price of food in the U.S. will incentivize individual families to waste less food and food suppliers/distributors to reduce waste on the way to the consumer. Food waste reduction in the U.S. and Europe (where mostly they already have better habits in terms of how much food they buy in one trip) will help stabilize food prices worldwide. That plus the greening of cities will help us feed that next few billion, at least for a while.

    About mid century, however, ocean acidification caused by greenhouse gases is going to blow an even bigger hole in the ocean's ability to feed people already badly undermined by pollution, climate change and overfishing. If we get mass extinction of ocean life, then the game is pretty much over for feeding 9 or 10 billion people.

    The world will have to increase production of food by %50 by the year 2020. We are no where near this. I used to work for one of the major experimental seed producers in the world.

    I worked for a large seed production company crossing different strains of maize. One of my responsibilities was determining if the geneticly modified maize was larger and more robust then the ungeneticly modified. It was usually pretty easy to tell. The Genetic corn was usually stunted and had very few kurnels. I was called a lier and fired shortly after reporting this.

    Here is an interesting thought experiment. Assume you had a simplified world with two countries. One takes actions by one means or another to reduce population growth. The other does nothing. Over the years the 2nd country population explodes, but the people there are miserable on account of overpopulation. The natural tendency is for people to try and emigrate to the 1st country, which nullifies all of the efforts that they have made to limit population growth.

    This is similar to Andrew Schmookler's premise in "The Parable of the Tribes":

    Imagine a group of tribes living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of peace, then all may live in peace. But what if all but one choose peace, and that one is ambitious for expansion and conquest? What can happen to the others when confronted by an ambitious and potent neighbor? Perhaps one tribe is attacked and defeated, its people destroyed and its lands seized for the use of the victors. Another is defeated, but this one is not exterminated; rather, it is subjugated and transformed to serve the conqueror. A third seeking to avoid such disaster flees from the area into some inaccessible (and undesirable) place, and its former homeland becomes part of the growing empire of the power-seeking tribe. Let us suppose that others observing these developments decide to defend themselves in order to preserve themselves and their autonomy. But the irony is that successful defense against a power-maximizing aggressor requires a society to become more like the society that threatens it. Power can be stopped only by power, and if the threatening society has discovered ways to magnify its power through innovations in organization or technology (or whatever), the defensive society will have to transform itself into something more like its foe in order to resist the external force.

    Gandhi's approach was a bit different, yet with positive results.

    Good point. Thanks.

    Gandhi's approach would not have worked in imperial Japan or Nazi Germany or communist China.

    That's probably true. However the fact that it worked in India means that the "Parable of the Tribes" model isn't the only way of thinking about conflict at cultural/political interfaces.

    The U.S. could start to move its military bases to the border with Mexico.

    Instead of wasting time in Iraq and Afghanistan, the troops should patrol the borders at home.

    Perhaps not very exciting, but that would be a good start.

    The country that can't control the size of its population will not be able to control its future. By mid century, strict population growth policies and draconian immigration control will be a necessary feature of every viable nation.

    Did some one here read the book "Catastrophe"?

    The hard cover is difficult to get. You might be better off searching for the epub version.

    Although it has some historical errors, this book brought a lot of historical pieces together for me.

    It was a catastrophe without precedent in recorded history: for months on end, starting in A.D. 535, a strange, dusky haze robbed much of the earth of normal sunlight. Crops failed in Asia and the Middle East as global weather patterns radically altered. Bubonic plague, exploding out of Africa, wiped out entire populations in Europe. Flood and drought brought ancient cultures to the brink of collapse. In a matter of decades, the old order died and a new world - essentially the modern world as we know it today - began to emerge.

    In this fascinating, groundbreaking, totally accessible book, archaeological journalist David Keys dramatically reconstructs the global chain of revolutions that began in the catastrophe of A.D. 535, then offers a definitive explanation of how and why this cataclysm occurred on that momentous day centuries ago.

    The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe. During the exact same period, the ancient southern Chinese state, weakened by economic turmoil, succumbed to invaders from the north, and a single unified China was born. Meanwhile, as restless tribes swept down from the central Asian steppes, a new religion known as Islam spread through the Middle East. As Keys demonstrates with compelling originality and authoritative research, these were not isolated upheavals but linked events arising from the same cause and rippling around the world like an enormous tidal wave.

    Keys's narrative circles the globe as he identifies the eerie fallout from the months of darkness: unprecedented drought in Central America, a strange yellow dust drifting like snow over eastern Asia, prolonged famine, and the hideous pandemic of the bubonic plague. With a superb command of ancient literatures and historical records, Keys makes hitherto unrecognized connections between the "wasteland" that overspread the British countryside and the fall of the great pyramid-building Teotihuacan civilization in Mexico, between a little-known "Jewish empire" in Eastern Europe and the rise of the Japanese nation-state, between storms in France and pestilence in Ireland.

    In the book's final chapters, Keys delves into the mystery at the heart of this global catastrophe: Why did it happen? The answer, at once surprising and definitive, holds chilling implications for our own precarious geopolitical future. Wide-ranging in its scholarship, written with flair and passion, filled with original insights, Catastrophe is a superb synthesis of history, science, and cultural interpretation.

    More recently, examinations of ice cores indicate that the catastrophe was the result of meteor strikes near Australia.
    Magnetite and Silicate Spherules from the GISP2 Core at the 536 A.D. Horizon

    Because there is no evidence for a volcanic eruption during this 18-month time period, some authors have proposed a cosmogenic origin for the dust veil [5]. Our data supports the latter hypothesis. We have found 5 perfectly round, smooth spherules at the depth corresponding to early 536 A.D. Three of the spherules are pure iron oxide. They range in size from 0.3 to 1.3 micrometers in diameter. One spherule is mixed silicate plus iron oxide, with a diameter of 0.5 micrometers. One spherule is Na-K aluminum silicate, with a diameter of 2.6 micrometers. The spherules occur in association with crystals of titanium oxide and zircon, and partially crystalline Ca-Na feldspar. Associated K-Na feldspar and quartz grains have sharp edges. The largest grains in the sample are translucent C-O spheroids of volatile material that is sensitive to the electron beam. The translucent C-O spheroids often contain small amounts (0.2 to 2 percent) of Na and Cl. We also found some calcium carbonate precipitate. We interpret the perfectly round FeO and silicate spherules as impact spherules. The associated crystalline and sharp edged grains are also impact ejecta. The mixed chemistry of the spherules and the lack of Ni are inconsistent with their origin as ablation products from meteorites (i.e. cosmic spherules). Instead they must have originated from a terrestrial impact event. We have found an impact ejecta layer in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Australia that contains abundant magnetite spherules with quench textures and ablated surfaces. Using existing carbon-14 ages, the spherule horizon is from an impact that occurred prior to 900 A.D. and after 70 A.D [6]. The most likely source craters in the Gulf formed from an impactor that was about 640 meters in diameter, in line with the 600-meter estimate of [5] for the diameter of the impactor needed to produce the dust veil event of 536-537 A.D. Because the age and impactor size are both a good match within the errors of our data, the Carpentaria impact event is our best candidate for the source of the impact spherules in the GISP2 ice core. However, much more work remains before we can be certain that the impact into the Gulf of Carpentaria was the source of the dust veil event that began in March of 536 A.D.

    Good to know to complete the picture. Thanks.

    But whether is was Krakatoa, or more likely now, a cosmogenic impact in Australia, for the historical effects on ancient societies, it didn't really matter. We can learn a lot from this history to figure out how our future might look like.

    BTW, what is the chance for a 600 meter impactor to hit our planet vs a volcano explosion with the same impact? Once every 10.000 years?

    Holocene Impact Working Group

    The physical evidence for these two impact events consists of following sets of data: (1) remarkable depositional traces of coastal flooding in dunes (chevron dunes) found in southern Madagascar and along the coast of the Gulf of Carpentaria, (2) the presence of crater candidates (29-km Burckle crater about 1500 km southeast of Madagascar which dates to within the last 6000 years and 18-km Kanmare and 12-km Tabban craters with an estimated C14 age of 572±86 AD in the southeast corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria), and (3) the presence of high magnetic susceptibility, quench textured magnetite spherules and nearly pure carbon spherules, teardrop-shaped tektites with a trail of ablation, and a vitreous material found by cutting-edge laboratory analytical techniques in the upper-most layer of core samples close to the crater candidates.
    In southern Madagascar we have documented evidence for tsunami wave run-up reaching 205 m above the sea-level and penetrating up to 45 km inland along the strike of the chevron axis. The orientation of the dunes is not aligned to the dominant wind direction, but to the path of refracted mega-tsunami originating from the Burckle crater candidate area.

    Burckle Crater

    Burckle Crater lies at 30°51′54″S 61°21′54″E / 30.865°S 61.365°E / -30.865; 61.365Coordinates: 30°51′54″S 61°21′54″E / 30.865°S 61.365°E / -30.865; 61.365 in the Indian Ocean and is 12,500 feet (3,800 m) below the surface.
    Burckle Crater has not yet been dated by radiometric analysis of its sediments. The Holocene Impact Working Group think that it was created about 5,000 years ago (c. 2800-3000 BC) during the Holocene epoch when a comet impacted in the ocean, and that enormous megatsunamis created the dune formations which later allowed the crater to be pin-pointed.
    Numerous ancient writings from various cultures make reference to a "great flood". It has been hypothesized[5] that these legends may be associated with this event. This time period saw: a) the Indus Valley Civilization and the end of its Early Harappan Ravi Phase at ca. 2800 BC; b) the end of the pre-dynastic "antediluvian" rulers of the Sumerian civilization and the start of the First Dynasty of Kish after 2900 BC. ("After the flood had swept over, and the kingship had descended from heaven, the kingship was in Kish."); c) the pre-Xia dynasty rule of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors of China starting ca. 2850 BC (with the first two figures, Fuxi and Nuwa, as husband and wife credited with being the ancestors of humankind after a devastating flood).

    Probably every few thousand years for impactors. A volcanic event causing global harvest failures is probably about every thousand years. Smaller events, with more local effects are more frequent.

    The Roman Empire, the greatest power in Europe and the Middle East for centuries, lost half its territory in the century following the catastrophe.

    In 533AD through 565 AD Rome(byzantium by now) re-conquered much of the formerly lost western empire then lost it again so labeling losing half the territory in the following century as a consequence of a meteroite strike is tenuous at best considering it actually doubled in size first from about the same date then shrank back to the size it was before 535AD

    its a bad start in my eyes credibility wise

    Gonzalo Lira wrote a very nice explanation about the coming economic collapse.

    A great read!

    But questions on sustainability and voluntary control of populations are not what I see as relevant in the 20-30 years future.
    What I see is conflict and wars. Some historians claims that all wars are essentially about resources, hidden in propaganda of ideology and religious BS. If this excellent piece is correct in it's predictions we can look forward to to hell on earth for the next 40-50 years. Until we reach the sustainable 1-2 billon people level.

    The question is, WHO will these people be? Hate to be cynical, but power and wars will decide this. Not voluntary birth-control or ecological activists. Heck, even in todays US the majority of people goes ballistic when birth-control is mentioned, they cannot even take abortions of any kind. Blinded by religious BS as they are

    PS: Pardon my occasional Swenglish.

    You simply do not know what you are talking about-with the exception of a few splinter groups, religious people in the US are very regular users of birth control and are having families consisting of one ,two, or three children most of the time, with two being the most common.Three are kinda rare in my part of the bible belt.

    Now as far as abortion is concerned, people opposed believe it is murder;as I have a sister who is a medical professional specializing in the field of keeping preemies alive, personally I find it hard to disagree.I have known personally of several babi-er fetuses for you squeamish sorts-being aborted that she would have labored mightily to save had they been born at the hoppital where she works-and she would have saved some of them.Most of them ,maybe, as thier Mommas were showing noticeably-which is why I know there were abortions performed.

    Personally I have no skin in this game, being a hard core Darwinist, but as an intellectual who reads a great many history and philosophy books,I believe the general gateway argument has some merit;drinking beer leads to drinking whiskey which leads to alcoholism, at least occasionally.

    Dehumanizing an unborn baby, eccxuse me , fetus, in order to dispose of it might just be the enabling step that leads to euthanizing you someday when you become a "useless eater".

    But I can't get too excited about this;if a woman wants an early term abortion, or a morning after pill, I could care less.Birth control should be free to anybody short of money.Accidents, a failure to think, and smooth talking cads out to get laid are common things.

    I swear to my non existent Baptist god that the liberal rants are getting to be as bad as those of the redneck conservative type seldom seen HERE, thank god.

    As a professional ecological scientist, I agree with GG's elegant outline of the theory but disagree that the ultimate implications are foreordained. Why?

    (1) Too much is left out of this simple model of how things work. Ecologists have long made the mistake of using the ecosystem of their frame of reference, while actually the social-ecological system is a more complete conceptual framework. Here's my rendition of the social ecological system:
    (2) Many things can happen in the transition. People are already working to lengthen the energy transition to enable different outcomes. Me included.

    It's inconsistent for people objecting to BAU in the energy economy to assume BAU in the socio-political sphere. Just relaying recent trends forward, for example, one can imagine a world in which ever-increasing costs of extracting the remaining oil are covered, not by undercapitalized private-sector companies nor inept national oil companies, but rather by competing imperialist democracies and state-capitalist countries (and "devil take the hindmost" for everyone else). That very-costly oil could be used to build/maintain infrastructure that harvests low-density truly-renewable energy flows, rather than directly consuming high-density depleting energy stocks. Done thoroughly, the transition could be very long, albeit ugly perhaps in ways other than the demographic collapse many are contemplating.

    I don't expect anyone here to be convinced simply by the power of my argument. But I think you would convince yourself if you do what I have done--immerse yourself for a decade in study of the current and future actors. The experience will change your views, I guarantee it. But academic study of this can be boring. You'll learn faster/better if you have skin in the game. So I recommend investing small amounts of money in firms that are providing and whom you think will provide in the future the material and energy on which our civilization utterly depends. This will motivate you to watch what they are actually doing and decide whether you want to align your future with theirs. If you are right, you also will generate some income and gain some wisdom.

    If you don't think much is going on here, you aren't paying attention. IMO the USA has some of the best renewable-energy technologies but struggles because it lacks supportive policies. European countries have smarter policies and thus have made the greatest early strides. And China is coming rapidly from behind and will soon be the leader on both counts. IMO.

    I've blogged about this at greater length here:

    The animal in the room sure is big, but it may not be an elephant.

    Union Accuses China of Illegal Clean Energy Subsidies

    The United Steelworkers union filed a legal case with the Obama administration Thursday morning, accusing China of violating World Trade Organization rules by subsidizing exports of clean energy equipment to the United States.
    The filing, more than 5,000 pages long and 18 inches thick, contends that the central government in Beijing and China’s provincial governments have used land grants, low-interest loans and dozens of other measures that violate W.T.O. rules.
    Leo W. Gerard, president of the 850,000-member union, said in a conference call with reporters after the filing that China’s violations of free-trade rules had helped Chinese companies expand their share of the world market for wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power plants and other clean energy equipment, at the expense of jobs in the United States and elsewhere.
    The filing asks the Office of the United States Trade Representative to begin formal consultations with China, which would lead to proceedings at the W.T.O. in Geneva if Beijing did not agree to repeal the subsidies.
    “Unless China’s policies are urgently addressed, the U.S. may never get a fair shot at making the green technologies of the future,” the filing said.
    Nefeterius A. McPherson, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United States Trade Representative, said that the office had accepted the union’s petition and would reach a decision on whether to open an investigation of Chinese trade practices within 45 days. That is the maximum amount of time allowed under the obscure provision invoked by the union in its filing, Section 301 of the 1974 trade law.

    We can't keep up, so we'll try to slow them down...

    The animal in the room sure is big, but it may not be an elephant.

    I've blogged about this at greater length here:

    But of course. It is a T-Rex disguised as an elephant.

    Finally, objections to the “technological fix” inevitably arise, to the effect that new technologies will just bring new problems. Well, of course. We’ll just have to address them.

    The real problem is not technologies, but rather the human mind and the delusions that it constantly embraces.

    Our cultures are filled with numerous irrational memes like, "price" and "economic theory" and the "after life". We swim in these like fish in a clear water lake and hence we can't see the fallacy of any of them.

    Our societal lake keeps us all breathing fine through our gills until it doesn't anymore, because the metaphorical oxygen (a.k.a. cheap oil) has suddenly and surprisingly stopped being there.

    You'll learn faster/better if you have skin in the game. So I recommend investing small amounts of money in firms that are providing and whom you think will provide in the future the material and energy on which our civilization utterly depends.

    First of all, as a general comment after reading all the comments, our situation is not as dire as doomers might imagine. The view out the window of my small bicycle shop in downtown Spokane is one of intense energy use -- and insanity. If we did away with all the cars, asphalt, and almost perpetually empty convention center complex, we could easily reduce our energy consumption by 90%. The consequence would be a population that is far happier. Right now, it is difficult to tell the clinically mentally ill that frequent the area from the office workers that come by. Everyone is unhappy.

    With respect to skin in the game, I would submit that the entire game must be changed. Some thoughts that I shared in a recent email to Joseph Tainter::

    I just listened to the Financial Sense interview and wanted to share my current thinking on sustainability as it relates to the list of six. I've been able to research sustainable development full-time for 14 of the last 18 years. As a non-academician, I've been able to draw from a wide range of sources -- including "The Collapse of Complex Societies" -- and disciplines.

    My thoughts:

    Change must be radical and innovation will social/economic rather than technical. I envision a voluntary club/society with the following rules:

    1) Residential quarters are 500 s.f. or so with passive solar optimized
    2) Common kitchen/dining areas that resemble the kitchens of the wealthy today -- only fully utilized to prepare non-processed, non-packaged gourmet food
    3) No interest charged/earned
    4) Capital sources benefit by locking into a non-inflationary structure -- better than being be-headed
    5) 100% occupancy or as close to it as possible
    6) Infrastructure is high-quality
    7) Artisan economy -- those who work will actually have to directly produce some good or service
    8) Education is liberal arts oriented (liberal arts introduced as early as the age of 8) and free in exchange for working in some artisanal endeavor
    9) All payments will be comprised of a labor component and a capital component. The capital portion is built up in an account that is backed up by the physical assets of the club/society
    10) All transactions are at cost -- no profit; only flow
    11) Anonymity from creditors; a recognition that a jubilee from debt is necessary for a new start subject to playing by the above rules

    As it relates to the list of six [Tainter's list of potential problem areas]:

    1) Funding retirement for Baby Boomers: BBs will not have a retirement as is currently understood: instead they will be engaged in living well by participating in some artisanal endeavor; In a world of limited resources, it is foolish to think that someone can save up enough nuts to live for 30 years.
    2) Healthcare Costs: There will be an emphasis on dying gracefully. No more spending large amounts of money keeping people alive for a few extra weeks or months. Imagine what your healthcare would cost if your doctor lived in 500 s.f. and did not have to finance his or her education.
    3) Replacing infrastructure: The local scale of living would eliminate the need to commute and hence roads would be converted to gardens; Kunstler's rail system finally gets the nod.
    4) Repairing environmental damage: Time, hopefully, heals all things. The key is to convince the Chinese that they need to form a society that is based on access rather than possession
    5) New energy sources: Would not be needed
    6) High military costs: See 4 and 5 above

    It could happen.

    If anyone is interested in discussing a new game, contact me at the email link at

    This analysis, indeed most, leave out the critical and imminent crash of the ecosystem. Emissions from burning fuel have rendered the atmosphere toxic to vegetation...and plants are the base of the food chain. Just as acidification is destroying coral reefs and calcium-based shell life in the ocean (which produces much of the oxygen we breathe) tropospheric ozone is killing trees and other plants that are the base of the terrestrial ecosystem.

    The facts of ozone effects are well-established in reams of scientific studies. Ozone causes cancer, emphysema, asthma, and diabetes - all epidemics. Even worse, the inexorably rising concentration is causing crop losses, and has been shown to encourage insects, disease, fungus, and vulnerability to weather.

    A cursory inventory of foliage will disclose that it is virtually impossible to find a leaf or coniferous needle that doesn't have symptoms of poisoning from ozone.

    This is going to lead to massive food shortages that will diminish the population well before the effects of peak oil are manifested. We should determine the exact source of massive tree and plant decline, and then ration fuel, restricting its use to only the most essential purposes while we transition to clean forms of energy.

    Anything less drastic is ecocide.

    photographs and links to research at

    Thanks Glider.
    Your piece lines up with "Limits to Growth"

    Not much to add except to say (again) that we have backed ourselves into a corner and the only way out is up.
    We either go up or we don't make it.
    As a vital organ for Gaia (the brain), if we don't make it intelligence will spontaneously emerge again and again until the Goldilocks zone moves away from the planet and the oceans are lost to space.
    The planet is such a small and precious jewel. It would be a pity to loose it.
    Humans are a work in progress, and in the random walk of evolution will we emerge from this crisis with more intelligence or less?

    That depends on the cost/benefit ratio of the brain.
    There are birds that have managed to break the size problem and whose brains out-perform ours on the cost/benefit criteria.

    I know people dis agree with me, but the tillage o fthe soil is not a needed thing in growing food.

    It has been proved time and again by others than I that growing food on a small hunk of land in several different climate and water availiblity levels is sustainable over hte long haul. I have been able to safe through only a small effort over 350 gallon of water in a year when the annual rain fall has been running a 6 to 10 inch minus average, when things got realy tough I was getting 5 to 8 gallons of condensation run off from the AC system coming out of the house.

    It was not a great ammount but it provided for the 150 Square foot garden a daily dose of water. I have had several crops of plants growing at once, and did a few experiements with melons and cantaloupes. Next year I will take the time to plant more older true varities that I wanted to grow this year but had time and money issues.

    I have seed saved and grown from see several second generations of plants. I have herb plants self seeding. I have Amaranth that has full seed heads o them to replace seeds sown, and the bugs that like them have left my cucumbers alone and tomatoes.

    I have noticed insects in the yard that are not in the area normally, or werenot untill this year again.

    I buy in bulk online and share with family and friends. I buy in local family owned shops and sometimes the big national and international firms if they are owned by local people. I have several pet places where I spend my time. One of them I wrote about in my Blog a year ago or so, where there was a bit of a confusion, walking about with a pool cue that the case of which looks like a gun case, was not the smartest thing to do during a presidental election, but I did it.

    People thought I was dangerous just for walking about bumming, for cash a smoke, get this, If I offer you money for a smoke, you back off and call the cops becuaes I am being to nice, and not acting like a shiftless bum?! But anyway, I suffer from Asthma, yet a doctor today told me one cigarette was to much, yet a nurse when I explained the chemical reasons for my habit of a few a day for hte chemical and brain reactions told me I was a wise and knowledgable man, and she'd willingly learn survival skills from me any day of the week.

    LOL, people are filled with knowledge, it is how they use it, can you live off the land in any area of the world for 2 to 5 weeks without carrying in vast amounts of food and water with you? I can. I could with a LifeSaver Water filter bottle get up to 250 liters per carcoal filter, up to 4,000 liters total per fitler, and at .15 nanometer filter size filter about everything but water out. Given they are 150 to 250 per unit that is like getting lifesaving devices for familys on pennys.

    Like Jo-kuhl I free cycle, in fact I have a friend who repairs appliences, as well as has a job working in the housing industry, taking older homes, and fixing them up to newer standards or at least bringing them up to code and then renting or selling them. in most areas they are low rent areas they are fixed up and rented out to people wanting a house, but not an apartment, low house costs, rentable garden spaces, and the like allow people to get some of their own food from the land.

    An old couch in the rain can be striped and the wood saved for wood stoves or for other wood projects. TVs out of date canbe striped of parts and copper and other elements and sold as scrap. We ahve tons of infrastructures that can be recycled and used and we have this habit of just landfilling them over with dirt and calling it good, how vain we are.

    Old concrete can be cut to size, or just bundled into a pile for jetties and landscaping uses, bricks the same and almost everything can be re-used that we have ever made, even if they cost is higher, we don't have to run out of things, we think that just because the run off pours it intot he oceans we are doomed.

    Our planet is a recycled ball of sun stuff from the older suns that died billions of years ago elsewhere. Even if it was all made yesterday it is still here today and we can use it, like we have been recycling.

    Our doom is that we don't know half of what we would want to know, what is all that dark non-energy producing space filled up with. Where does it go after the black holes take in all that matter around them, how far till the end of time as we know it, when will it all end and we die in the next space rock hitting plant earth.

    Doomers are people who can't see the end for the trees, or is that happy people? LOL I tried to live this last year using less than 1 gallon of water for bathing and drinking and did a fair job of it. Our water bill is in the lower half or forever, I have caused my dad to rethink how he uses water, from the standpoint that I reuse cndle wax to make more fires for camping with friends and others that I help control fire making skills, and getting in and out of an area without having to carry in bulky kits to get the same job done.

    I am a small guy, not, I am about 285 to 315 at a max, but I can live a week on what most of you eat in a day, drinking as little as 2 liters of water the whole time. Walking 5 to 10 miles, and even having a bad asthma attack and a severe cut to my foot.

    I playe the interlocking hand game called Mercy with an army dude last wednesday night, he was kinda shocked that his beefed up frame could not beat my thin wrists, and smaller hands. LOL, it is not the size that matters, pain levels aside, mine are rather higher than most people's, but I have used my hand and fingers for DJ hand dancing for ages, I play my hands as if they are the DJ to the music I hear, I tlak with my hands, so that people far away can understand traffic signals, I can tell you a lot with my hands, even if you don't speak my langauage.

    One of the fictional stories I write is also getting a game program made for it, I am doing the codingfor that in a language I made up called Dex-Hex, you aren't going ot find the coding elsewhere and you won't be able to have the game system for a while, To many buggs inthe controllers for it, seems the mind can come up with things the body can't yet do.

    Ioda was father of Zoda was father of Xoda was father of Yoda, whom we all know from start wars, The line is getting shorter, lucky for us Yoda has had several children in those swamps, just not with his species. LOL. Ioda lived to ripe old age of 2,000 years before he had Zoda, lived 400 more and taught him all he could, and some say he still haunts the night eating stray fighters in moon rock caves.

    The mind is a terrible think to waste, why are we fretting over tomorrow when we should be living today to the fullest and thinking of how to live the next day with using less than we did today, and still having a fun time at it.

    Been on here 4 years and 52 weeks, almost 5 years, I am not immune to doomer thinking, but my BioWebScape designs do not harbor doomer thinking, thanks, for letting me vent,

    Hugs from Arkansas.

    The mind is a terrible think to waste


    An Image of Overshoot

    The predicament of a population entering overshoot is illustrated by a short scene from the children's cartoon series about Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.

    As the scene opens, our hero, Wile E. Coyote, is zooming hungrily across the top of a mesa, propelled by the exuberant blast of his new Acme Rocket Roller Skates. Suddenly a sign flashes into view. It reads, "Danger: Cliff Ahead." The coyote tries desperately to change course, but his speed is too great and rocket roller skates are hard to control at the best of times. Just before the edge of the cliff the rocket fuel that was sustaining his incredible velocity runs out; the engines of his roller skates die with a little puff of smoke. The coyote begins to slow but it's too late, his inertia propels him onward. Suddenly the ground that moments before had ample capacity to carry him in his headlong flight falls away beneath him. As he overshoots the edge high above the canyon floor, he experiences a horrified moment of dawning realization before nature's impersonal forces take over.
    If you take Wile E. Coyote back just a little, so he is left teetering on the edge, then the slightest push or pull may have a profound affect on his future!

    I am not sure that the "human condition" has the collective wisdom to pull back voluntarily, so we had best hope that a slight nudge was/is provided, as I suspect may be the case?

    That said, the costs will still be great!