Another book for the shelf

You may not have noticed, but different classes of people have different levels of worth to our society, and to those who seek to influence policy.  I think that this was brought home to me anew by reading Jeremy Leggett's new book The Empty Tank - Oil, Gas, Hot Air and The Coming Global Financial Catastrophe.  In seeking to create a sense of the coming crisis he writes (page 62)
In Finland, a somewhat colder country than Britain, the toll of people freezing to death in their own homes in a typical year is precisely zero.  The annual toll from hypothermia deaths in British homes, on average, approaches 50,000. Tens of thousands of grans and granddads dying who wouldn't have died if they lived in the land of Father Christmas with a little insulation in their homes!
 Now I am not sure where he got that number, a quick Google search led me to a site that gives the total hypothermia deaths in the USA in 1999 as 598, with it being a contributing cause in 1,139. These numbers are considered, however, to be considerably under-reported. In either case it raises a level of concern. There is a long article in US News and World Report that brings this situation home to the United States.  There has been an increasing trend to fuel new construction of power stations with oil and natural gas.  However, as the article points out, there is no mandate that a company use that fuel to generate power.
Deregulated natural-gas-fired power generators, under no legal obligation to serve customers as the old monopoly electric companies were, can simply stop generating power. Some plants will be interruptible customers with no backup fuel source. But in other cases, power plants that have firm natural gas contracts will stop generating electricity anyway and sell their fuel at enormous profit. That is precisely what happened during the three-day January 2004 cold snap, when more than 25 percent of New England's generating capacity went off line and the reserve margin was near zero.
 In other words you install electric heating, thinking this is more reliable than gas, but the company that supplies you with electricity uses natural gas to generate the current.  When the winter gets cold, they shut the plant and sell the gas, and lo! No power!  And no level of social concern with the result. But actually it may not be up to the power company
While the Big Chill will hit low-income households the hardest, no one may be immune if the weather turns foul. New England and perhaps all of the Northeast, including New York City, are a special worry. Gas companies grant big price breaks to customers year-round if they agree to have their service cut when supplies are short. Chances are great these discount customers will be shut down this winter, and they include manufacturers, some schools and hospitals, and, ominously, about 77 percent of New England's gas-fired electric power generation, which requires large quantities of fuel.

In discussing this problem at the Denver World Oil Conference, it was pointed out that the normal method of dealing with the cost of winter fuel, is for federal & state agencies and municipalities to provide a series of grants to those who could not otherwise afford heat.  But given the increasing levels of support that will be required, as fuel costs increase, an alternate solution needs to be found. It becomes potentially much more cost efficient to put more of an effort into refurbishing homes with greater insulation, to reduce the heating bill, and to look at permanent solutions to resolving the costs of higher fuel bills, other than the band-aid of giving grants that, increasingly, will not cover even the increase in fuel costs for a season, let along the total cost.

My opening sentence was not, however, meant to apply just to this situation, serious enough though that is.  But I wanted to expand that thought further into looking at how, in the future, supplies of energy will help resolve some of these issues.  And this is where I have a concern with those who follow Dr. Leggett's thinking.  (He is a top campaigner for Greenpeace International and espouses photovoltaic solutions to the growing energy crisis - pointing out that such technology could replace, for example, the current power supplied by nuclear energy in the UK).  There is a coming critical need that a significant part of the world will face if it is to feed and warm itself during the years to come.  Regardless of where the final sustainable energy supply comes from, there is a transition period between now and then of likely at least 20 years.

Those who would dismantle existing power generation systems,  particularly nuclear, should, if they wish to be considered other than heartless barbarians, suggest a much more realistic transition than I found in "The Empty Tank."  The first half of the book cogently describes how we got to where we are today.  And for that reason it will stay in the reachable part of the bookshelf.   However I found the second half, dealing with solving the problem, much less persuasive or realistic in addressing the overall needs that must be addressed, particularly in regard to the size of the problem that must be answered.   Much though Dr Leggett would, understandably wish to see the photo-voltaic industry portion grow, the risks of hypothermia in winter suggest a more comprehensive view of supply needs to be provided.

Finland, incidentally gets its natural gas from Western Siberia does a considerable amount of co-generation and relies on district heating more than most countries.

People living in cold places should consider a catlytic LPG space heater.  LPG is cheap, energy dense, keeps well, and the new heaters have automatic shutoff for low oxygen or tilt.
I have purchased (on eBay) a 10,000 BTU/hr radiant kerosene heater as a backup to electric heat.  I think the cost of kerosene is comparable to LPG, it has an even greater energy density, doesn't require a pressurized tank, keeps well, and can even be burned in a diesel engine or fuel oil furnace if necessary.

I don't know about LPG, but a properly adjusted kerosene heater doesn't produce carbon monoxide, just CO2 and water.  For both types of heaters, you have to be very careful about the CO2 displacing the O2 in a room, even with a low oxygen sensor. It is possible for the CO2 to settle in locations that are low relative to the heater. Some minimal ventilation is a necessity to disperse the several hundred liters of CO2 generated per hour.  

The figure of 50,000 looks like an upper bound of the "Excess Winter Mortality", defined as winter deaths (deaths occurring in December to March) minus the average of non-winter deaths (April to July of the current year and August to November of the previous year).  The UK figures are available from the Office of National Statistics, and vary between about 20,000 to 50,000 over the last 14 years, dependent on the severity of the winter.
If you're right, then Leggett is being, well, let's face it, baldly dishonest. Of course more people die in the winter. But it can't all be laid to hypothermia, for God's sake. It's the flu season, sick people get sicker, depressed people get depresseder (sorry), drinkers get drunker, roads get slipperier . . . It seems obvious that Leggett's Finnish zero is being compared with some quite different British 50, 000.
I have seen that 50,000 deaths number several times now.  I would like to know more about how it was determined, and how it compares to other places.  I could believe it if it can be backed up, but it seems fantastically high - kinda sets off my suspicion alarm.  Could a modern industrial society like the UK really be putting up with this kind of mortality rate on an annual basis - it boggles the mind!
Could a modern industrial society like the UK really be putting up with this kind of mortality rate on an annual basis?

Well, for comparison, a modern industrial society like the USA puts up with about 50,000 MVA deaths per year (Motor Vehicle Accidents). Albeit with six times the population of the UK. That's about 135 MVA deaths per day.

A pointless correction maybe...UK populaton just over 60 million..US population just under 300 million I think.
I'm curious about that, too.  I don't think I've heard that particular number, but I've heard several times that a lot of people freeze to death in the winter in the UK because they can't pay their bills.  Why would that be?  It's not a big problem in the US, and we offer a lot less of a social safety net than the UK.
On average, it is colder in the UK than in the US.  That's not necessarily a statistic, just my opinion from having lived in both places.  It is also more damp, and the housing stock, on average, is significantly older.
So is there any consensus that this is a realistic number?
The anecdotal evidence Nick Rouse gives below (old housing combined with lots of archaic and hard-to-maintain coal heat) seems plausible.  

I also agree that the 50,000 upper-bound excess mortality rate in the winter is foolish to ascribe entirely to hypothermia.  As just one example, in the US 30,000+ people (mostly elderly) die of the flu every year, so scaling to the UK that would be about 6,000 from flu alone, the great majority of them in the winter.

Interesting piece from the Financial Times

"Kuwait said on Monday it would not be able to meet its oil production goals without the help of international energy companies, raising the prospect that the oil majors could get access to its oilfields almost 30 years after the industry was nationalised."

I mentioned yesterday I would post this sometime, this thread is as good as anywhere, I guess.

A couple of years ago I invented this scale as a broad framework for assessing what might be expected. Someday I will probably  devise intermediate points, especially for levels 3 and 4 which I anticipate being the low point of the next 30 years and for which knowledge and skills preservation will be most critical. If anyone knows of similar attempts to devise such a scale I'd be very interested, I've not seen any.

Levels of Collapse

  1. Short term, basic infrastructure and money system remain operational, possible interruptions to electric, gas and water supplies. Less locally devastating than severe floods, earthquakes, storms etc but much more widespread. Many businesses cease operation, significant unemployment. Larger impact than anything in developed countries in last 50 years, worse than 'Great Depression' of 1930s.

  2. Short term, considerable economic dislocation but basic infrastructure and money system (local at least, but probably not at 'normal' value) remain largely intact. Low die off (< 5 to 10% ?) unless widespread lawlessness when it could be higher, perhaps >25% in some dense population areas. Probable need to survive a few weeks or months without normal water / gas / electricity / shopping supplies for a significant proportion of population.

  3. Short term, significant collapse of infrastructure and money but sufficient remains to re-establish pre-existing society if it does fragment and repair most critical damage within months or a few years. Electricity, water, currency value all largely absent for several months, maybe years. Low to medium die off for developed countries, perhaps 20% to 60%. Probably equivalent to go back 40 to 80 years. Most important knowledge probably preserved.

  4. Medium term, most infrastructure, government, money systems fail. Most systems and infrastructure have to be rebuilt locally once the population has learned to survive and feed itself. Medium die off for developed countries, 40% to 80% overall, very variable between urban and country areas, could range from 0% to 95% for different localities. Probably equivalent to go back 100 to 300 years. Significant to most knowledge lost.

  5. Long term. This is mostly differentiated from medium term by the amount of population, skills, knowledge, that are lost. Major die off for developed countries, 70% to 90%. Go back 500+ years. Most knowledge lost.

  6. Very long term. 95% to 99% human population lost, survival and repopulation first priority. Go back 1000+ years, nearly all knowledge lost.

  7. Re-evolve 1. Human experiment terminated. Go back 1+ million years, apes probably still best bet.

  8. Re-evolve 2. Back to small mammals / reptiles / insects, back 50+ million years.

  9. Unicellular / full restart.

The first two levels are insufficient, of themselves, of providing sufficient 're-adjustment' to solve the resource and other problems we will imminently face, thus it is very likely that further shocks / collapses would follow level 1 and 2 collapses.

It is possible that a level 2 collapse might trigger a massive change in human priorities, behavior and intent such that we could avoid anything worse and buy us the time to find solutions - that is my best guess of our best hope. A level 1 collapse is unlikely to be sufficient.

Level 3 or greater collapses will disable countries as functional entities, mostly temporarily in the case of level 3. But local survival becomes the priority for years. Level 3 is the least level of collapse that, of itself, probably makes humanity sustainable for beyond this century.

Using your scale I find the most likely peak oil scenarios between 0.05 and 1.1 but that is only an opinion using my personal intuition.
Very interesting, thank-you for sharing this with us!

Most people that I attempt to talk to about these things have a hard time imagining the several intermediate steps between zero and one on your scale let alone any scenario beyond economic hardship.

For those that are concerned about their future, I attempt to explain the concept of living in and preparing for three different possibilities.

Preparation one: Society as we know it continues but with much greater economic and social problems. Reduced personal freedoms, random shortages of necessities and comsumer items, much higher costs. Higher unemployment and on and on.

Preparation two: Homesteading-back to the land, local communities scenario. Local self-reliance for the basic necessities of life: food, water, warmth and shelter, personal and community healthcare, local safety and security, transportation limited to a few tens of miles.

Preparation three: RUN FOR THE HILLS! Personal and family survival dependant on disappearing into the wilds of nature to avoid the dangers of human contact for whatever the potential reasons. Consider the Jews of Europe and many thousands of others in WWII that ran for the hills before you discount this possibility. I personally had family members that 'ran for the hills' in WWII. Learn basic survival skills such as fire starting and care in all types of weather, wild foraging, basic shelter etc. and practice these skills well before they become necessary. Imagine going "Naked into the Wilderness" (name of a primitive skills book) and imagine the skills needed. At least organize and practice living out of a packpack once in a while.

Good luck to you all!!!

When it comes to running for the hills, leaving Europe resulted in a very high survival rate for European Jews in 1933-45. It was difficult to sneak across borders and obtain false papers, but it was much easier than staying alive in a camp.
Moving to and obtaining legal residency in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Australia, or New Zealand is difficult and expensive, but sure beats the alternative of trying to survive a five year nuclear winter in the northern hemisphere while America learns the difference between superiority and supremacy in nuclear weapons capability. Being able to blow up China or India one hundred times when they can only blow us up ten times is not a usefull deterrent.
You do realize that 7 and beyond are impossible without massive nuclear war?
Is that enough? How about steering several massive asteroids to collide with earth?
Or inducing the Sun to go nova.

Pardon me for not writing a comprehensive list. ;-)

...or a major eruption of the Yellowstone Caldera, or really massive climate change, no doubt we can invent a few more. Besides, I think that there is a probability of about perhaps 0.5% per year of a significant nuclear war over the next 30 years.

The latter points on the scale are for completeness, not as probable outcomes for the imminent changes we face. I devised the scale as a context to assess risks and consider appropriate and wise actions, like collecting and preserving important information, tools and skills, should a particular level of collapse seem possible. Once the level of collapse reaches 6 there is little advance planning can do to make much difference.

A feature of British homes that adds to the incidence of hypothermia is the very high percentage of houses that are made of brick which is a very poor insulator. Before 1930 houses were built with solid 9 inch walls with no cavity and because bricks are very durable and because the British have a love of old things, many of these are still in use. Stuart Staniford mentioned his childhood in such a house in Liverpool  and posted a picture of a very similar house that Ringo Starr lived in. You can see from the pattern of the brickwork that this has solid walls. He also mentions coal fires in the bedrooms. This style of building was a result of a combination of cheap coal and cheap bricks, many of which are made from an almost unique form of clay found in England that has a very small percentage of oil in it sufficient, with care, to fire them without any other form of fuel.

Old people with low incomes living in such houses find it very difficult to keep them warm particularly if they are fairly large houses in which they brought up their families who have now moved out. In common with many industrialised countries mobility has lost us the close knit communities that would care for their old people and prevent hypothermia.

I have a 1865 cottage built originally for workers in the local brick factory. It is lovely, old mellow bricks, lattice windows, lichen covered clay tiles in a fancy pattern and looking out over a very English patchwork of fields across the local village to the rolling chalk hills of the South Downs with two windmills on top ( old wheat grinding type not electricity generating). It came however with solid walls, solid floor, single glazed windows and an uninstalled roof and has cost me a great deal of money and time to get reasonable energy efficiency  ( including a photovoltaic system from Dr Leggett's company).

 I fear many people will not have the resources to do similar even with government grants and with increasing fuel prices  and the possibility of colder winters with the diversion of the gulf stream we will see more cases of hypothermia  here in the UK.

The house my wife and I rented in the early 90's was built some time in the 70's.  (We lived in Sawtry, 1 hr north of London.)  It was horribly insulated.  It had a brick exterior and maybe a interior shell of something.  The windows were single paned and leaked so bad the curtains moved.  I put plastic up on the living room window but the wind blew it off within an hour.  I could NOT put enough tape on it to hold the stuff down.  Finally, I used thumb tacks spaced ever 4 to 6 inches around the window frame.  Even then, the plastic would billow out and shoot a thumb tack across the room.

And don't ask about the electrical.  SCARY!

Thinking of all those british old folks shivering in winter - British Gas and other energy companies are offering free loft and cavity insulation people on benefits/pensioners - my parents-in-law got their's done this way. While some old houses have solid walls - lots of UK houses have cavity walls and can benefit.

I used to live in post WWII housing near Washington DC (Four Corners for the locals).  These two story boxes, mostly faced with oversize brick, originally had only a layer of plaster on the interior, but most owners had furred out the inside walls and filled the voids with insulation.
Interesting.  Most of the houses I've lived in since I was a kid have been stone farmhouses.  Stone has lousy R-value, but a high thermal mass.  It will pick up a lot of heat from the sun during the day, if direct sunlight falls on it.  But I have found that the biggest issue is sealing of windows and doors, and insulation in the attic.  I would think that 9inches of brick would be pretty decent thermal mass too, but perhaps it is not so good - and if it is shaded it would not help much anyway.  And if the mortar is in bad shape, it may allow air through the walls directly.  
People have selling books on the coming economic collapse so long that their creditbility with me is zero. What I have seen is a slow disappearance of the American middle class and slowly rising unemployment everywhere. Most of this is cutting taxes on the rich in order to attract "investment" and create "jobs". This race to the bottom has worsened the education our children recieve, cut the number of police and firefighters in many cities, and driven the professional class to gated communities with private police forces. American labor unions are mostly composed of public employees with no right to strike and therefore essentially powerless. The gap between average (mean) household income and median (50th percentile)has widened considerably the last 30 years. 50% of American families cannot afford to buy American made goods. Janitors and security guards and Walmart clerks can only afford Made in China. For many Americans the occurance of "economic collapse" will be a non event and not much difference in their day to day lives.
From that very perspective I would say "economic collapse" will impact poorer Americans as much if not more then the professional class.  An 80% fall in income for someone making $100,000 to $20,000 will hurt but not kill.  The same fall for someone making $20,000 will turn off the utilities instead of the high speed internet connection.

Of course a collapse from PO will have the utilities off either shortly before or after the "economic collapse" anyway.

Other way around. Replacing imported oil and gas with domestic coal and synfuels and solar and wind will provide plenty of jobs for lower middle class people. It's upper middle class people who will get hurt when they have to pay higher prices to pay for those higher wages.
You think that rich people will benefit because primary and secondary production is capital intensive? Nope, capital intensive is a synonym for construction labor intensive. Most construction cost is the guys that weld it and pour the cement. Machinery is also labor intensive because someone has to build it.
I disagree, wkwillis. During the Great Depression of the 1930's (the closest thing to economic collapse this nation has ever seen), it was the middle and especially working class that suffered the most.  It was they who were unemployed, froze, went hungry, and had their life's saving wiped out.  The wealthy only lost some of their wealth.
Even though you can't predict exactly the same events here as there, I think reading the Orlov articles on the Soviet collapse is instructive. We will probably see many rich men fail, while others are too entrenched to fail. Many new faces will become rich in black market/organized crime.

Consider the wealthy people in your town.  Will the guy with all the car dealerships move on to something profitable or will he be stuck with inventory he can't move and go belly-up? Will the guy with all the fast-food franchises survive? Will all those doctors still have money? Probably. Will they still invest it in ugly speculative projects? Probably, but they'll buy off the inpectors and make it even cheaper. Will all the lawyers have enough work? Probably not all, but some will be busy with bankruptcies and as we sue each other for the wealth that remains. Will people still buy insurance from the State Farm guy?

I was watching "It's a Wonderful Life" last weekend, and thinking about what would happen there. Potter will still be rich. Bailey's S&L will go bankrupt but he'll bring Violet back to town. Working with Martini, they'll run a profitable bordello.  Ernie will deal out of his cab and pay Bert to look the other way. (Some demon will get his spurs.)

Many in the FSU drowned themselves in alcohol; we have plenty of that and pot and crack and meth, too. Unlike the FSU, we probably can't keep busy hanging out at work after it closes. For one thing, work is often too far away. We won't want to spend the effort to get there. We'll join local benevolent associations to do good, and end up fighting off marauders.

And our radios and TVs will tell us to blame the party out of power for ruining the good life we had.

Good points, Donal.
When the banks went down it was the people who had money in them that lost out. The Democrats went from forty percent of the vote to sixty percent because so many of the people who had enough money to have bank accounts lost them. Poor people didn't have bank accounts in those days because they didn't have surplus money.
The poor people weren't madder, it was former Republicans who gave FDR his victory margin.
The poor people today still vote Democratic. It's the former Republicans who will make Hillary (another former
Republican) the president.
ISO New England,the New England Power Pool, has issued this statement on electricity shortage for this winter:

not sure if this was noted elsewhere, but ConocoPhillips has purchased Burlington Resources for $35.6 Billion.  Burlington is a large producer of NG, and its reserve replacement (excluding acquisitions) was 119% last year compared to Conoco's 65%.  The mergers and buyouts continue.  
I had a look around to find out where the 50,000 number came from.  As far as I can tell, it's from a Friends of the Earth forecast of what the situation will be by the end of the current Government's term, and refers to 'Excess Winter Deaths'.  This is a measure of how many more people die in winter relative to the average over the whole year.  The figure for EWD in England and Wales for 2004-2005 was 31600.  This covers all ages and all causes of death.


Arg, I hadn't seen Richard's earlier comment with the same link.
    Googling "Hypothermia deaths in Britain" revealed an article stating that "Deaths from hypothermia in Scotland represent only a very small fraction of "excess winter mortality".