The Black Death as a case study

[editor's note, by Stuart Staniford] This is a guest post from Southsider1 who is a recovering historian. He made some comments to me once about the Black Death as an analogy for peak oil. I don't personally think peak oil is likely to be nearly as bad as the Black Death, but I thought his general insights on what happened then were very interesting.

I'm wary of the more extreme doom-and-gloom predictions about life on the downward side of the peak. When folks like Jan Lundberg write,
It is becoming clear to more and more energy analysts that the United States of America as we know it will not endure for long.
I say, how does he know, and how can anyone know in what way a nation or a civilization will respond to a catastrophe?
One of the nice things about studying history is that you get to look at a good number of specific examples of how people, individually and in groups, have responded to challenges. What history shows us is that societies do not necessarily respond to horrible catastrophes by collapsing, nor do they always transform themselves overnight. What is remarkable is that they often retain as much of the established order as possible. To further explore the question of what might happen in our own future, Stuart asked me to post a discussion of what happened to medieval society when it was hit by the plague known as the Black Death.

Wikipedia has a good overview of the Black Death. First striking in 1348, the epidemics returned in 1360, 1369 and 1375. The overall population of Europe, which has been estimated to be around 75 million in 1340, declined to 50 million in 1450. England possesses the richest sources of medieval documentary evidence, making it relatively easier to estimate population loss there. Here are estimates for the percentage of the total population killed by plague in England:

First epidemic (1348)25%
Second epidemic (1360)23%
Third epidemic (1369)13%
Fourth epidemic (1375)13%

English population in 1347 was at least 3.7 million (some estimates are higher). By 1377 it had declined by around 40%.

Cities were harder hit than the countryside because of poor sanitation and crowding - ideal for spreading disease amongst large numbers of people. For instance, here is a famous source for Siena, Italy, Agnolo di Tura:

The mortality began in Siena in May. It was a cruel and horrible thing. . . . There was no one who wept for any dead, for all awaited death. And so many died that all believed it was the end of the world. . . . This situation continued until September. . . . in the city and suburbs of Siena 80,000 persons died. At this time Siena and its suburbs had more than 30,000 men, and there remained in Siena less than 10,000 men.
I think the staunchest proponent of a die-off scenario would agree that the Black Death was a true die-off.

The Black Death has long been seen as a major event in world history, as important as peak oil will be. So, what happened in Europe? Was there social anarchy? Did kingdoms and empires fall? Was the Catholic Church and the world-view it fostered overturned? Were there widespread revolts and dramatic revolutions? Did the world change over night? In brief: no.

In Spain, for instance, the economic pattern of agricultural and industrial work was not modified. While the plague caused considerable disturbance, there were no fundamental changes in the character of any political, social or economic institution. England did experience peasant revolts later in the 14th century, but these rebellions achieved nothing. In Italy, in cities hit by the plague, disorganization paralyzed political life for a short time, but the influence of the plague on political structures was quite minimal in the long run.

In general, post-plague price shocks, disruption of commerce and labor shortages often led to economic stagnation or decline, but not to fundamental change in the social order. Despite the fact that population was diminished both qualitatively and quantitatively, institutions remained intact. The overall lesson according to historian Philippe Wolff:

...we must not exaggerate the social consequences of the disaster. It does not seem to have overturned the social system.
The psychological shock, however, was immense. Fear of the plague and the sight of disease and corpses aroused constant thought of death. Public morals declined, as another well-known source, Jean de Venette, describes:

For men were more avaricious and grasping than before, even though they had far greater possessions. They were more covetous and disturbed each other more frequently with suits, brawls, disputes, and pleas.... Charity began to cool, and iniquity with ignorance and sin to abound.
Of course, the plague set in motion major long-term changes, much as peak oil will. Structural revolutions did occur, but they did so slowly. In Germany, for example, rural settlements and agricultural lands were abandoned. Prices for food declined and for manufactured goods rose, favoring urban over rural economies. Urban wealth became more concentrated, and people moved from the country into the cities. The landed nobility declined in relation to the urban world, and the state began to exercise real power.

This growth in the power of the state is seen clearly in England too, where, order to preserve the status quo as far as possible, the upper orders of English society drew together into a more cohesive government to facilitate or coerce the members of the upper orders to stand to their obligations, at the same time they were coercing the lower orders more punitively to stand by theirs.
One can imagine much of the same happening after peak oil. Existing governments, institutions and organizations will remain largely intact. There will be a certain amount of disorganization and even chaos at first, but in the face of the crisis, the government's coercive powers will increase in order to maintain established order and put down rebellion. Public morals in general will decline, as the magnitude of personal losses will lead to increased crime and lower social cohesion. The economy will, slowly at first, undergo a fundamental transformation, probably along the lines suggested by Kunstler: suburbs will be abandoned, large numbers of people will begin working in agriculture, passenger railroads will be rebuilt, life will become much more local. Perhaps significant numbers will die.

But that is a long way from Olduvai. As in the Black Death, there is no reason to believe that we will inevitably lose our basic institutions. Governments, corporations, universities, churches, and the whole panoply of civil society can endure - in fact, might even grow stronger. For me, this is a source of hope.

There is a big difference between watching your family die of a disease, and watching them starve.  I think starvation could lead to a bit more anarchy.
Thank you for your post. My initial reaction is to wonder if it is a similar comparison. The Black Death was a disease that killed people but left the infrastructure intact. Peak Oil removes one of the building blocks, one that drives our transportation, economy etc. Also I would one if the economy then was much more local vs a global interconnected one now. Wouldn't the economy then and thus life then have a better chance of staying intact vs now? Just some thoughts.
Instant communications around the world will have an impact that the 1300's did not have. Speedy human reactions will follow.

Also, the Black Death kicked the heck out of Norway with its trading patterns due to the Hanseatic League.

A direct parralel of today's with the middle century society may be a misleading. Todays we have much more complex structure, we have created a very large machine of living that can break into chaos if any of its essential parts (food production and distribution for example) breaks. Clearly unlike us, they did not have that high to fall from.

For a best idea of what a contemporary crisis may look like I suggest reading Dmitry Orlov's excellent Post-Soviet Lessons for a Post-American Century. Personally I really enjoyed that reading as it reminded me of the days we also had to go by without a functioning economy around.

The link above is only part 1 of the 3-part essay;
the entire essay is also available free on .
All three parts are available there too, there are links to the next parts in the bottom of the page.
If there had been several global bird flu pandemics between 1945 and 1970 with a 40% dieoff, that would have been similar to the black death.  Little would have changed except population density.  Pandemic dieoffs create resource abundance for the survivors.  Your neighbors die, you get their house, business, or farm.  Your boss dies, you get his job, or your brother dies, you get his car, etc.

The problems that will come from the liquid fuels crisis, climate change, soil depletion, currency collapse, and resource wars are something else entirely.  Too many people and not enough resources leads to warfare of the most desperate sort, that exacerbates the resource scarcity, destroys infrastructure, and creates a downward spiral.  I believe the societies studied by Jared Diamond in Collapse are much better comparisons to the decline of the oil age.

I think this is a hard comparison to make for all of the reasons cited above.  

I am interested in the psychological reactions to trauma on such as large scale.  This was before the germ theory and ideas of what caused disease may have been related to punishment from God (all that smiting as written in the bible).  Therefore I can imagine a whole lot of collective grief and guilt, both for being a survivor and for whatever was done to "deserve" this punishment.  Didn't self-flagellation develop in the post-Black Death era?

If as a society we ever come to grip with the way we placed ourselves into this predicament I can imagine a similar kind of collective guilt.  Perhaps akin to the post war German generation who asked their parents "What were you doing as Hitler gained power?"

I still get a bit angry when I see the collective denial, but I could forgive easier if there were greater recognition of the situation and everyone's complicity.  I also know how powerful an addiction fossil fuels are and can't imagine any society not using them to excess.  Anyone who grabs that power will conquer or subdue, which sadly may be an inevitable strategy among nation states.  In spite of many good intentions, by now it seems clear that trust is hard to generate and maintain in a globalized, multicultural world.  This is the grief liberals and the weakness neocons play upon.

a good point Jason, and something we talked a lot about a while back (type Kubler Ross or Kubler-Ross into the site search engine if you're interested).  

I think the other point that should be made here is that the trauma, while it might be large scale, will be terribly incremental, likely starting with the poorest (those with the least voice) first.  It will be the proverbial frog in boiling water story that we've all heard too many times...(which relates indirectly to your Germany-Hitler idea).  It will damage the class mobility present in American society (that has already been on the decline in the past decade) and further hamper it elsewhere.  The rich will continue to get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle get squeezed in one direction or the other.  In some essence, it will be exactly as it has been going for the last ten years, but with an accelerant on the flames that consume the middle class.

Although I agree with the comment attributed to Yogi Berra, "Predictions are hard to make, especially about the future," my reading of history and sociology and anthropology suggests that collapse will involve major discontinuities following a long series of incremental events.

There are no especially good historical comparisons. Possibly the most enlightening is the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, in which deprivation of energy in the form of imported grain from North Africa was a major contributing factor. Oddly enough, the Roman civilization did not collapse because government collapsed: As late as 450 and 500 a.d. Roman legions regularly defeated the barbarians. However, one thing the Romans could not figure out how to do (despite notable efforts by some of the later emperors) was to convince Roman women to have enough babies to counteract the effects of the high death rates during (for example) the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius--during which the population of Roman citizens may have been cut in half or even more than by half. By way of contrast, the German women were highly fertile (unlike today, when Germany faces a severe aging and population decline problem--possibly the worst in the world) and the barbarians, whom Rome had fought successfully for half a millenium, finally won the demographic war in the west. (The Eastern Roman Empire, Byzantium, is another and equally interesting story.)

In the long run, demographics rule.

I think this is a very interesting and highly plausible scenario.
In the long run, demographics are just another weighting - ableit an important one - in an ever changing model.
Can you please cite one single solitary historical example of a triumphant civilization with a declining population or a collapsing/collapsed society with a stable or increasing population?

A - Europe - the black death.

B - Africa, today.

Now, to be honest 'stead of cheeky, I agree with you that demographics are very important, but I don't think the correlation is always quite as strong as you seem to believe.

I'm still waiting for the counterexample.

Africa is an interesting example of failed societies, most of which were growing rapidly, until AIDs came along--one of Malthus's positive checks.

Prosperity and confidence tend to encourage population growth. For example, look at the explosion in population of the Vikings, beginning somewhere around the year 800, due in large part to a few crucial inventions: knitted woolen cloth that greatly diminished infant mortality, the curing of ham and bacon plus the salting of butter which gave the concentrated calories (along with strong ale) of energy to row those boats, and some incremental improvements in ship building. Possibly there were advances made in navigational knowledge, but it is mostly speculation as to exactly when this happened, nor do we know precisely how the Vikings determined lattitude, though we have some pretty good guesses.

Note that even major setbacks in the economy, such as the Great Depression, [which was far from societal collapse] can cause birth rates to plummet.

The best way to convince women not to have so many babies is to educate them. Then the problem becomes that the smartest and best educated women have the fewest kids--a serious problem in the long run.

Did you know that both Plato and Aristotle regarded population policy as one of the most important and difficult for government (i.e. city states) to deal with? Alas, because of PC (and I'm not talking about what is made by Dell and Gateway) some vital topics are taboo these days, especially in universities.

I agree that PC-ness is ridiculous ... but that's for another day.

I disagree about Africa; it was both exploding with population and going to hell in a hand basket well before AIDs arrived, though  yes, it's greatest gains where taking place in the late 60's when there was a substantial population increase - however, the population then continued to increase while things fell apart: lot's of nasty business with post colonization, machetes, Idi Amin and such. And now, post AIDs, well ... AIDs is big, but it's so big, it covers a multitude of lesser sins, and was - ahem - "aided" by them in it's formative years.

I think population growth by itself is not enough, though once again, this was hidden from view more often than not previously - all one has to do is consider China; a place formerly run so inefficiently that despite it's billions - it could barely feed itself, and it's influence beyond it's borders was surprisingly low when compared to it's numbers.

Now that they're restructuring and "borrowing" technology - while their population hasn't grown all that much in the past 10 years, their influence is far far greater.

This is somewhat of a corollary to your Viking example, with technology leading to an increase in influence - though without the population increase.

Thus I remain: demographics, and population growth, while important, and often surprisingly predictive, aren't everything.

"Can you please cite one single solitary historical example of a triumphant civilization with a declining population or a collapsing/collapsed society with a stable or increasing population?"

Rwandan Hutu's

Excuse me, but what does the slaughter of the Hutus by the Tutsi or the genocide of the Tutsi by the Hutus show except that Rwanda is a failed state, where census figures are nonexistent?

I did not say that population cannot increase in failing societies; Nigeria is a case of a rotten society sliding down toward total anarchy and chaos, but for a while Western aid and public health measures plus the traditionally high birth rate can overcome the forces of decline. Petrolism destroys societies--not that there ever was much hope for Nigeria once it got stuck deeply in the population trap.

People who say Malthus was wrong should go to Nigeria or other parts of Africa. Just be sure to buy plenty of life insurance before you go, get all your injections, take your anti-malarial pills, drink only bottled water, and be sure to hire bodyguards to reduce the chance of being kidnapped. Oh, I forgot: Bring plenty of cash to bribe the police, who are the worst criminals of all in Nigeria and many other parts of Africa.

Rwandan Hutus are a minotity, their number was reduced greatly by the genocide, yet they are currently the prevailing ethnic group in Rwanda. There you have your one historical example. Keep in mind that human history doesn't follow simple laws. History is not an exact science, whatever pattern there is will almost always have its exceptions.
I see the two extremes - "everything will be fine" and "it is all going up in smoke" - as two sides of the same coin. My guess (although without much evidence) is that psychological or political factors play a greater role in forming these conclusions than analysis. To me Jan Lundberg sounds as silly as Jerome Corsi.
I have a question for Southsider about population estimates relating to the distant past, such as the 14th century.  I must tell you that, as a general matter, I am very dubious about this matter.  Just how accurate are such estimates?  How can anyone at the present really have any sort of clue?  What sorts of empirical data exactly are these estimates based upon?  Can you possibly refer me/others-on-TOD to some clear and concise online primers about this topic?
Unlike the US, written records were maintained in Europe well before the 1870 census.  Thousands of highly detailed and diverse general governmental, public works spending records, tax, property, business contracts, ship cargos and church birth and death records are available, some dating back to 1000 years.  You can actually see paintings and engravings of the people that owned the castles in 1275.  Although some of the actual names have been lost, historians can often make very accurate guesses to whom they represent simply by reference to the privately recorded histories of the families.  Names of mothers, brothers, sisters, cousins and inlaws that died in the plagues are known.  Buy a ticket to Madrid, Rome, London or anywhere in Italy, get on a castle tour or just stop into an old looking local restrauant and see what's available.  I stopped in a pub in Austria that has been in continuous use since something like 1316.  They prove it by displaying copies of enough tax records to justify their claim.  All you have to do to prove it to yourself is go to the records hall and ask to see them.  No unfounded "George Washington slept here" stuff.
For England, the Domesday Book (a sort of census/survey from the late 11th century) provides a lot of data, though it has to be handled carefully. Historians have also been laboriously studying parish records of births and deaths. Archeological methods can estimate how much land was under cultivation and what agricultural methods were employed. That can provide a basis for some inferences about population. But skepticism about the estimates is certainly in order.
PhilRelig, I started with a classic (but a little long-in-the-tooth) authority, J.C. Russell. The Fontana Economic History of Europe has a good intro chapter by Russell which I don't think is available online, but if you have access to a good library or used bookstore you can find it. Wikipedia can provide you with references to more contemporary scholarship. Interestingly, more recent estimates tend to argue for higher population levels in the mid-14th century.
For a fascinating account of how the Black Death profoundly affect English Law and all subsequent property law see Mark A. Senn's award winning article "English Life and Law in the Time of Black Death," in the Fall 2003 issue of the Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal, 38 RPPT 507.  
Thanks for the responses.  I appreciate it.
The plague did not destroy the farm, the cattle, the sheep, the chickens or any other aspect of farm life. The basic machinery of production simply was idled as it was reliant only on the solar budget.

Peak oil will produce a different paradigm. As we are all aware, the population of the planet is at this extreme level because of cheap energy. Population increases marched lockstep with the increased production of oil. Once we remove this fossil sunshine subsidy, the underpinnings of our Malthusian overshoot will be kicked out from under us and our machinery of production will become disfunctional with no serious way to recover the level of productivity necessary to support our bloated population level. There will be a die off. That is inevitable. Anyone who believes otherwise is deluded, optimistic, but deluded.

As to social collapse, we need to look no further than Katrina for a good example of what may happen when we pass the peak.

See, the problem is the people of the middle ages were all well versed in the workings of nature. They each knew to some extent how to make a living from nature. They could farm, weave, build, husband animals, and generally live within the solar budget they had used for generations. We, on the other hand are divorced from nature. If we cut off the cheap energy fueled life-support, we cannot simply go out into the field and scythe the grain, milk the cows, pick the fruit, weave our clothes, and take care of ourselves as the people of the middle ages had. We are like babes in the woods, bereft of skills, wide-eyed naifs who will, at first, wander around with our hands out, begging for our food. When it becomes clear that there will be no food, we may riot. To claim that, because people in mideaval Europe did not riot, we will not riot is specious at best. One need only look at recent riots from New Orleans to the Sudan to see that riots can and do happen.

Panglossian optimism is not helpful. False promises that everything will just be peachy keen so long as we just keep repeating the magic words is harmful to our outlook. There needs to be a sense of urgency because our history is one of consistently ignoring impending disaster until it is upon us. Please, please try to keep typical consumerist inertia in mind.

Peak oil will not destroy hydro power, nuclear power, coal power or smaller contributors such as wind power.

Large ammounts of infrastructure require much less resources to maintain then to build from scratch. The same is true for a lot of factories.

But will people adapt to poorer living conditions by moving much closer to work, probably living in smaller apartments, travel much less and use a fraction of todays yearly consumption of toys? A physical fight around that can bring ruin to manny countries.

The most worrysome scenario is political breakdowns and civil war due to fast changes in peoples luck, not the lack of oil itself.

"Cut off from nature."  Never a more true understatement of today's populus.  Quick test:  What phase is the moon in tonight?  Or ask your wife in what direction the sun comes up?

As for hydropower... global war for water may break out well before the first peak oil war!

Nuclear?  As this week proves, is not a viable option for everybody.  

Solar, not working efficiently for above the 50th latitude.    Did you know that 2/3 of Norway/Sweden/Finland is above the Arctic Circle? (fortunately not too many people, but don't tell them that).  Only about 1/6 th of Alaska is (if that much).

Alternative energy and technological development?;  State of the Union Address!

Funny, I had a very different impression of New Orleans. A few people were killed by violence. A lot of people were killed by neglect. A lot of this neglect was enforced by FEMA (e.g. turning away 500 volunteer boats with skilled operators for a week). Even the people packed into the Superdome in ghastly conditions for a week did not engage in mass killing.

The lesson I take from New Orleans is: Don't rely on the government; don't trust the media. Expect that most people will be good and constructive, and a few bad people will totally paralyze official disaster relief efforts.


I'm pretty much with the previous comentators, Peak Oil is not a desease. Comparisions with the black death are somewhat naive, but it's good to have them anyway. In my previous post I tried to express my felling than one of these days' instutions that will transform is the petro-dollar (remember transform not colapse). In to what? I'd wish I knew.

I stand with Jack, I'm not with either side of that coin. I think we're now on the Highway to Olduvai Gorge, but there are a few exits before we get there. Some of those exits (all?) will require population reduction.

I think we're now on the Highway to Olduvai Gorge

Led there by Olduvai George? (sorry, couldn't resist :)

Very funny!

But don't be fooled by it. We're all on the road to Olduvai Gorge, without a particular leader. It mainly arises of growing population over deminuising resources, we don't need anyone to tell us to do it. of these days' instutions that will transform is the petro-dollar... In to what? I'd wish I knew.
It seems to me that the most urgent problem brought on by peak oil is not a physical shortage of oil, but the likely economic collapse brought on by a shortage of cheap oil. Our economy relies on cheap fossil fuels to feed perpetual growth. On a planet with finite resources, the assumption (and within our current economies, the necessity) of perpetual growth is bound to run up against the limits of nature to provide ever more energy.

I've been considering the problem of the economic consequences of peak oil for some time now. With all due respect to Stuart's argument that there is a depletion threshold under which the economy can gracefully contract, our debt based money system (debt issued today under the assumption that growth tomorrow will be able to repay that debt) and our reliance on constant growth, seem to me to indicate that sustained economic contraction is likely to lead to economic collapse. I have recently finished an essay, The Organic Economy (PDF), that outlines my thoughts on a potential alternative that does not require perpetual growth (and the fossil fuels necessary to power that growth).

You are quite right that the probability of financial collapse is high and the possible consequences . . . well, take a look at the Great Depression, for a well-researched example. Another much-written-about collapse is the German inflation of 1923, which destroyed the German middle class and paved the way for Hitler.

Now combine those two episodes and stir vigorously; add two cups of Middle Eastern war, pour in TID (Totally Insane Debt), and what has always happened in history is that governments go back to making money the old fashioned way. They print it. (Or they debase the coinage, which is equivalent to printing money.)

What will happen to the dollar? Same thing that has happened to the Mexican peso over the past fifty years. At one time the Mexican peso was worth exactly one U.S. dollar (because both were based on the same silver coin, more than two hundred years ago). I think that in the lifetimes of most of us, the Mexican peso will again be worth exactly as much as the U.S. Dollar.

Zip = Zip

BTW, do not buy gold. People who are even rumored to own gold during times of turmoil see their loved ones tortured to death as the guys with guns try to get you to tell where you hid your gold. Happened frequently in the 1970s in Lebanon, happened also on a large scale during the disorders in the Soviet Union vividly described by Solzhenitsin as "the gold purge." The gold bugs never mention these nasty happenings.

Pennies will probably hold their value. Small denomination coins typically keep their value even during the worst hyperinflations, because it is not practical for the government to call them in and demonetize them, and if the price of zinc keeps going up, then our one-cent pieces will have a greater melt value than monetary value.

More on Olduvai Gorge:

Africa's hunger - a systemic crisis

Look at the last (but not least) point gave by the author.

I think this is a good article, although there are a couple of problems with it.

Firstly, as others have pointed out, the nature of the disaster on our resources is different.

Also however, as was hinted by in the article and by Jason Bradford in a comment above, one of the largest effects that the black death had on society was that it changed our relationship with God.  In the next few hundred years after this event our culture went through an enormous change in how we see the world.  The outlook of the masses changed from a `conventional' belief system to a `rational' outlook.  Referred to as the rational enlightenment or the Renaissance.  This was no small change.  In many ways it was equivalent to the change from tribal culture to agriculture 10,000 years ago, which included a shift in outlook equally dramatic. The black death will not have been the only event that brought about this change, but it is arguable that it was a large component of it.

Peak oil is likely to change our outlook in yet another new direction.

I am pleased that other have already said it,
bit I'd like to my tuppence worth anyway.

'Was there social anarchy? Did kingdoms and
empires fall? Was the Catholic Church and the
world-view it fostered overturned? Were there
widespread revolts and dramatic revolutions?
Did the world change over night? In brief: no.

In Spain, for instance, the economic pattern of
agricultural and industrial work was not
modified. While the plague caused considerable
disturbance, there were no fundamental changes
in the character of any political, social or
economic institution.'

Whilst that may have been true then, it is a
completely fallacious argument to suggest the
same would be true of a post-peak world now.

At the time of the plague, agricultural systems
were organic and were largely sustainable. Food
was grown and eaten locally, Nutrients were
recycled locally.

In the developed world, food is not grown locally
nor sustainably. It is only the input of huge
quantities of fossil fuel energy that allow the
current agricultural system to function at all,
and once those inputs (nitrogen based fertilizer,
phosphate  -mined, processed and delivered on
the back of oil, potassium  -mined and delivered
on he back of oil) decline, or disappear
altogether, that is the end of most of the food

Not only that, but number of people requiring
food from the same area of land is currently
around twenty times the medieval figure in the
case of England and the ratio would be similar
in most other locations.

We should also note that nutrients are removed
from the land and delivered into the oceans by
sewage systems. Assuming the sewage systems
continue to operate implies the nutirients
would continue to be lost. If sewage systems
fail, we would anticipate widespread disease
that results from indiscriminate unrination and
defacation by thousands or millions of people.

Whilst many commentators advocate permaculture as
a solution (the only solution) we must bear in
mind that it takes anything up to 7 years to
establish fruit trees and to recondition soil
that has been little more than a sponge to which
chemical are added.

Clearly it is a monumental task to alter all the
structures of society in preparation for Peak
Oil and I see precious little being done.  
Indeed I see continued denial of reality on
behalf of most institutions, right at the
momnent when we should be making frantic

"At the time of the plague, agricultural systems
were organic and were largely sustainable. Food
was grown and eaten locally, Nutrients were
recycled locally."
This is a very idealistic picture of things. There was a lot of wine drunk in England, for instance, and it was NOT produced locally. International trade insured the very quick spread of the plague throughout the Old World. Btw, local food production almost insures the occurance of over- and/or under-production.
Common folk drank ale; nobility drank wine.

The reduction in population in England was a huge boost to the country's economic progress: Wages increased, feudalism decayed faster than almost anywhere else, and farming became way more productive due to less population pressure. The plague was not the only reason, nor even the main reason why England ruled the waves and invented the Industrial Revolution--but surely it helped.

"Common folk drank ale; nobility drank wine."

Sorry, I cannot resist it. There is a good reason for common people (poor) drank ale and the nobility (rich) drank wine at the Middle Ages.

No water treatment.

Ethanol kill germs. 18% ethanol is enough to kill all germs and wine can have 16% to 20 % ethanol. Ale and beer have 6% ethanol I think.

So, if you don't drunk ale or wine (if you are rich enough to buy wine) you had a high chance to die from some intestinal infection. It is easy to see why the egyptians and the sumerians drunk ale. You really want to drink the river Nile water? Or the rivers Tigre and Euphrates waters?

And the greek invented the symposia when they discovered that wine mixtured to water (1-1 proportion to 1-4 proportion) was enough to kill almost all germs that the water had.

A very interesting post, and I generally agree. I certainly don't expect outbreaks of cannibalism as Jan Lundberg has predicted. However...

Comparing then and now, we know that our social capital--the set of connections that makes us a working society--has been declining precipitously in most developed economies. We have fewer common beliefs, and less cohesion, less sense of community, and less trust in institutions than those medieval folk. I'd guess this would make us less cooperative, and more Darwinian, if push comes to shove.

We may not get to collapse from peak oil, but I bet people will be really cranky.

amen on the social capital argument.  For those of you who don't know it, read Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone piece.
The examples above are from homogeneous populations.  When a nation wide tragedy hits the US the racial tensions that are hidden in the system will explode onto the scene.  Xenophobia will grip this country and tear it apart.  Plot that on a graph...


"When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

It wasn't just the plague that haunted the fourteenth century. There was widespread hunger and one of the worst famines ever experienced, in 1314 if I recall correctly. It is my understanding that there is evidence that both the insecure foodsupply and the reoccurance of the plague after six (!) centuries may have both be caused by a change of climate. Anyway, the impact the fourteenth century as whole had on Europe was significant. Witchtrials and anti-jewish progroms, while happening before grew in number as well as vigor. Read Barbara Tuchman's book about the fourteenth century: A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century.

Which brings us to collaps. Societies within generations, not within years. It can only be considered a fast proces when seen on a historical scale. Our expectations, immensly influenced by modern media, tend to think of a collaps to happen overnight, not quite unlike the climate change in the movie "The Day After Tomorrow", but the larger part of disappeared civilisations took several generations to collaps. Another quite important thing to consider is that those collapses had several causes working together rather than one.

That is why I think MicroHydro's remark on soil depletion is extremely important. And that is why I think some nations, cultures or parts of the world might exprerience dear consequences from peakoil while other may simply undergo significant change. I have stated it before: the best thing to do about peakoil is becoming active on political issues. Fix your nations other issues or they will explode in your face.

I like to point you all to this, for instance: Africa's hunger - a systemic crisis
I like to add another thing to the doom-and-gloom versus optimism discussion, which I think is a nonsensical one. For instance if one were to look at World War II as a collaps one could easlily argue that WW II lead to the loss of Europe's colonies, it devastated many cities, at least 60 milion people perished. If you look at the remarkable resurrection of European economy during the fifties and sixties one could say that it wasn't. What would be the lesson we should learn? Be optimistic? Be fatalistic? I think that is a nonsensical question.
Maybe we have to define "collapse" before we continue discussion. IMO collapse should be described as a chronic  system failure that grows over time and at some point overcomes the ability of the system to adapt. The key is that in order to overcome the problem you have to make changes bigger than the system itself permits.

In the case of WWII and the black death, the system was not flawed, we just had a major disruption that was "within limits".

Excellent post! Note also that Barbara Tuchman emphasized that the biggest damage from the Hundred Years War was from the huge and brutal taxes that were raised to finance it.

Finance is not a peripheral issue.

The Black Plague DID fundamentally alter the socio-economic landscape of Europe in many (most), although the effects took some time to become apparent.
First and foremost, the massive die-off reduced the amount of market labor available, resulting in a tremendous increase in the value of that labor, especially true in and around the cities of the age. This made workers (the surviving ones) more valuable, badly disrupting the feudal system arrangements that had existed for centuries, making possible the creation of a middle class (primarily in those same decimated cities), and ultimately made the Rennaissance possible, effectively ending the Dark Ages.

"Doing the math: Fewer people equals more wealth

Plague so drastically reduced Europe's population that a smaller labor pool changed the economy. Ironically, this improved many Europeans' lives -- creating disposable income, which spurred a demand for eastern luxuries and even eastern ideas. (The intellectual and cultural result of this reduction in population and eastward focus was called the Renaissance.)
With so many dead, fewer people were left to work the land. A few workers had the spunk to stand up to the nobles and landowners and point out that they weren't about to give more work for the same money -- not when the supply of workers had become smaller and thus more valuable. The most famous of these uprisings was led by Wat Tyler, an English rabble-rouser who got himself killed for his trouble in 1381.
Post-plague economics forced some large landholders to split their estates into smaller plots. Instead of remaining tenants who turned over the bulk of their crop to the landlord, some laborers actually began earning pay for their work.
Though there were fewer people overall, more people had land, income, and the potential to buy goods. This stimulated a rise in merchants, craftspeople, and skilled traders who could supply goods. Up until that time, you were either rich or poor, usually poor. Now there was a middle class."

Can any parallels be drawn between globalization and feudalizm in this context? I maintain that globalization evolved when the working class got too powerful to guarantee that a profit could be extracted from local labour and the only solution was to move the operations offshore where labour and raw materials could be purchased at bargin prices with only the finished goods transported to the markets. Thereby also improving the efficiency of the transport system. Myself a civil engineer, I realize the importance of a transportation system. After all, it is said that it was usually the first infrastructure project taken on by the Romans as they entered a new area as it guaranteed military control of the relatively unrestricted commerce that easily travel provided. Today, I believe a quick and dirty correlator of GDP can be found in the number of miles of paved roads (but today accuracy requires including seaport and waterway facilities, rail and air infrastructures to some extent). If the transportation system (primarily based on petroleum) is destined to become a more significant component in the global transportation costs of moving goods to market to such an extent that it seems likely to upset the time and distance equation, which must be one of the fundamental necessities of marketing on a global scale, is this not the end of globalization as a viable concept? Communication has been greatly facilitated by the internet, but it still isn't much good at moving anything other than digital products to market. So, is globalization (a type of new feudalizm???) dead out of the gate and a return to power of the local workers and decline of capitalizm (that cannot survive without profit) as we know it with economic evolution towards an "Organic Economy" (mentioned above) at hand? Or will economic activity evolve into "Organic Capitalizm"?
I think globalization simply is investors looking for ways to produce cheaper goods. The high pace of the process is due to the fall of the Sovjet union and lots of country leaders learning that they need to uphold a working law system to get their countries to flourish.

I see a nearly perfect parallell between todays globalization and Swedens industrialization that were among the last in europe. We had in the early 1800:s corruption, monopolies protected by the state and a stagnant economy. The people in power figuerd out that this simply did not work and started to reform and liberalise creating a free market economy inspired by Great Britain and the industrial revolution. The result were not much the first 20 years or so. But foreign continental and British pension funds invested in Sweden due to the cheap labor, cheap wood, good order and a craftsmanship tradition. Child labour were common but it was allwas combined with schooling, everybody had to learn to read, write and count. Our foreign owned and foreign partnership industries grew. At the same time immigration to USA increased enourmously giving our leadership an scare that we had to stop this by increasig our wealth or we would bleed dry by loss of young population. Swedish inventors and investors started new companies that often copied products and I think the legal system were tweaked in favor of them. But we have most allways had low tariffs due to or age old dependancy on sea going international trade.

Our industries grew exponentially, they started to buy competitors abroad and sell abroud since the home market is small. We had luck with not being razed by WW1 and WW2. SKF, Asea, Ericsson, Volvo, Scania, Facit, Electrolux, money and power! The top of the world!  Unfortuantely we started to experiment with socialism during the 1900:s and we also got lazy when we were the second richest people in the world and Sweden stagnated.

Seems to be the same path taken by Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and now China and so on.  The only new thing seems to be large parts of the USA stagnating and that is new for you and your enourmous cultural influence on the whole world makes it into a major issue, welcome to the club. I say large parts since you seem to have a much more dynamic culture and lots of the workplaces and people seem to be moving to your country.

I think we in manny areas in Sweden will continue to stagnate untill the economical fortunes are equalized between countries with roughly equal skills and working legal systems. We have to do the best of the traditions and infrastructure we have today, fortunately most of it has been wisely built and will be usefull in the future. The international 95% US peak oil debate indicates that areas of USA have much larger problems with for the future inapropriate investments.

Very good observations: Roman soldiers spent far more time and energy building roads and aqueducts than they did fighting. Roman engineers had high status and build with huge margins of safety--maybe because it is so hard to do long division with Roman numerals. :-)

The Roman roads were built primarily for military purposes, just as Eisenhower built the Interstate Highway system in the U.S., primarily to be able to move troops and equipment quickly to any part of the country. (In World War I he was in a trans continental truck convoy across the United States, and the horrible experience left a deep mark on him.)

The importance of transportation for maintaining a complex economy and social order cannot be emphasized too much. We can do without jet planes, cell phones and the Internet; none of those is very important compared to road, rail, and sea transportation. And do not forget waterways: a key underpinning of Roman prosperity was the elimination of piracy in the Mediterranean (the terrorism of those days), and if memory serves it took the Romans about 250 years to do that job. Then when Roman finances went bad they could not afford to maintain enough of a fleet to keep down the pirates--which meant that Rome lost its crucial source of cheap energy, i.e. grain from North Africa. No money equals no navy equals no food.

I'll say it again (and again and again, if need be): the Internet 1) is a crucially important resource; 2) can be maintained post-peak.

Without the Internet, information would have to travel by physical conveyance--many orders of magnitude slower and more expensive. And information lets us be far more efficient and effective in a wide range of important tasks, like knowing where to ship food, when and where to send repair people and doctors, what the weather is like upstream, where the bandits are gathering, how to make soap...

It's easy to overlook the Internet because we have never had it before. But it could make a substantial difference in the livability of a post-peak world.

Today's Internet uses a lot of resources because we are using it to send media (entertainment) at too-cheap-to-meter rates. If energy suddenly got ten times as expensive, we could decrease Internet traffic by 90% and hardly notice the difference. Email bandwidth will never again be scarce.


One good thing with such a post peak oil society is what it would do with spammers. :->

Internet infrastructure is also a cheaper way to build a telephone network and we had such before oil use increased enourmously.

Ooh, good point, thanks. If I understand your logic: Because we had a pre-oil telephone network (thus it made economic sense even then), and because Internet technology is cheaper than plain copper wires, it would be worth maintaining some version of the Internet solely for the purpose of supporting a pre-oil telephone network.

And once you have an Internet, it's really easy to send any kind of data over it. Movies would probably be too expensive to send; songs might still be worthwhile (they'd cost somewhat more than a few minutes of phone conversation); plain text would probably still be too cheap to meter!


You are right, Fallout. As I mentioned in my post, over time the Black Death led to the major transformations you indicate, just as over time peak oil will lead to major transformations in our social and political structures. (I suspect that our industrial and economic structures will change more precipitously.) My argument was, rather, that here we have a massive social disruption and yet all the major institutions of society remained intact.

(And it was indeed Wat Tyler I was thinking of when I mentioned failed rebellions in England. As you yourself point out, he was killed for his effort and there was no revolution in English politics.)

Largely agreeing with others comments I think the main difference is "who will get the blame?" Medieval society did not blame its rulers for the Black Death it was an "Act of God". Nowadays we believe that someone must be to blame and in the case of peak oil that is all of us - not God (in any form). Can you imagine a class action against the governments for failing to take action to prevent the crisis? TOD will be cited in evidence, some one must pay!!! Except of course that there will be nothing to pay with.
My point is that while the general reaction to the plagues of the Middle Ages was great sorrow and grief the reaction to peak oil will be extreme anger which tends to produce extreme and dangerous actions.
I recall reading that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, red-faced, belligerent drivers in the Houston area were shouting and screaming at gasoline station owners who had either raised their prices along with everyone else, or who had run out of fuel entirely. The same thing will slowly unfold on a national scale if people realize that they are at risk of losing their precious personal transportation. They see it as their god-given right to own and drive a car when and where they want.

Don't flame me, I'm not making a value judgment here, just an observation!

From what I've read at TOD, IMO the best short-term solution to this in the US will be to build dozens of new nuclear facilities as quickly as possible, while switching the vehicle fleet over to battery-powered and hybrid autos running on a mix of electricity, gasoline and biofuels.

IN order to replace the energy inherent in the oil and natural gas we consume with nuclear power, I believe we will have to build 4000 nukes. That is for the US alone.

Uranium is also suffering a peak that will be accelerated if we start encouraging such folly.

Where did you get that figure from? It seems exaggerated. My home is powered by 50% nuclear and 50% hydro. Our air is clean, and we have a steady supply of electricity.

Coal-fired plants create acid rain which ruin our lakes and kill our fish. Solar and wind have their place but are dilute and inconstant.

Like it or not, our society is going to need to maintain its ability to transport people and goods around the infrastructure we have created. We may not go as fast, nor travel as often, but we will still need to get around, and we will need a reliable source of power to do so.

We will not and can not return to horse and buggies. We are not all going to become Hobbits and live in The Shire. Nuclear is the only proven real alternative to fossil fuels on a realistic scale in the coming century. To ignore its usefulness is folly.

Electrified rail as the dominant form of transportation (other than bicycles and shoe leather) can be MUCH more efficent.

Diesel trains in the US transport 8 x as many ton miles per barrel of oil as do 18 wheelers.  Electrify them (with regenerative braking, where power is generated while braking) with motors that are roughly 3x as efficient as diesels) and existing hydro could take care of transportation (with competing demands from other areas).  A score or so of new nukes could take care of electrified intercity and urban rail, especially if volumes decline.

I strongly suspect that your "4,000 nuke" replaces BTU for BTU nuke electricity for oil.  Not required !

That anger will stem from a simple realization: We made our own plague, our own pestilance. It could have been prevented.  Even at this late stage of the game, meaningful action could be taken to remedy the coming storm.  But 'we' (as a people, a group) continue as if all was well in the world, and will be from now until the end of time.  Just as Kunstler suggests, "we" are sleepwalking into the future, refusing to wake up and see the reality.  Until it bites us in the posterior.
Thought I absolutely agree with you in principal fallout, I'm pretty sure those who hold the reins of public opinion will see to it that a suitable, and perhaps useful scapegoat - say Iran - will be found.

Honesty may happen, but there's no guarantees.

Remember also that both 'Grief' and 'Anger' are natural human responses to loss.  Any kind of loss.  
That could very easily including the loss of civilization and the way of life as we knew it.
I think that economically Peak Oil and the Black Death are diferent phenomena. Both affect the labor/capital ratio, but diferently.

The Black Death destroyed mostly the Labor and pratically not affected the Capital. A consequence is that the wages get higher.

The Peak Oil will destroy mostly the Capital. And a lot of Capital will be used to build new energy infra-structures (nuclear, coal, biofuels, solar, wind). The consequence is that the wages will be lower.

I don't think our current consumer pattern will survive, because the Labor will be more cheap than the capital and the wages will be lower. Not the end of the civilization, but our civilization will need change. I think that surelly the suburban "american way of life" have low chances to survive. However, the "european way of life" that use the public transport can survive.

Be warned, we are going to see the "French Fries" era...not the "Freedom Fries" era. The model will be Sweeden, not USA.

> The model will be Sweeden, not USA.

Bicycling and public transportation commuting during weekdays and at weekends driving to the wood heated cottage(?) in a (old) Volvo?

That would be what well off working families did in the 50:s and 60:s but then they had a new car. Now it would overall be easier to have that kind of lifestyle since we have better infrastructure and more urbanisation. I guess a new car, a cottage or a (sail/motor)boat will be a pick one of three choise for most middle class people.  

Earlier today I read a young mans vision of a good lifestyle in Stockholm. Driving to work on a motorcycle when the weather is good and take the subway when its winter or bad weather. No new roads and little oil needed for that.

Joao, don't you think that a more localized economy could develop that will effectively eliminate international competion and thereby raise the relative (or preceived) standard of wages within more defined areas of the world? It could even lift local wages. Por ejemplo; We wouldn't have to compete with Chinese products if they were no longer economical in our market due to high transportation costs. No more Chinese labor competition. Which is fine and well, as many Chinese products don't reflect my actual need or desire anyway. They are just cheap enough that I'll buy that one, rather than the one my neighbour built specifically for me. (And I'll make do with the foreign version until it breaks.) Diversity of development might even result in a more effective "gene pool" as seen from a product development perspective and promote healthy evolutional variations and eventually superior product species. Hombre! Que tenia mi ultimo cigarillo?
Well, while I think that higher energy prices will make transport prices higher, I don't think that higher energy prices will destroy globalization per se.

The problem, as I see it, is that the Peak Oil will change the Labor/Capital ratio. Less Capital, same Labor, the Capital will be more expensive and/or the Labor will be more cheap. Cheaper labor CAN destroy globalization, we just need that the US labor have the same wages that the chinese.

Can you live with less than one dollar per day? When the US wages get to less than one dollar per day globalization will be caput. And when you ask to me for cigars ("Hombre! Que tenia mi ultimo cigarillo?") I will answer: "Desculpe, não. Primeiro, não fumo. Segundo, minha língua é português e não entendo espanhol..."

João Carlos

Sorry my bad english, my native language is portuguese. And I don't understand spanish....

Sorry, my mistake.  I don't speak any Portuguese, French or Italian, but I do seem to understand them when reading.  I suppose I thought it was the same when a native Portuguese speaker reads Spanish.  I have no idea why.  For the benefit of all then, I reread my own post and it sounded like it was a bit too profound, if you know what I mean.  I then made the statement in Spanish, "Man! What was in my last cigarette?"  Joao answered. (correct me if I'm wrong) "Sorry no.  First I don't smoke. Second my language is Portugues and I don't understand Spanish."  OK, I get it and realize that using other languages here is not conducive to communication and I promise to only use English.

By the way, your English is no problem whatsoever.  No worries there.

Is it energy consumption that creates capital?  I thought capital resulted from an accumulation of wealth, which might be something like having 100 head of cattle more than you need, so you can then loan that 100 to your neighbour, so next year he can pay you back with original 100, plus 5 new calves as "interest", plus maybe 10 for depreciation, and he keeps 10 new calves.  Or maybe he will have as many as 84 new calves with a vast accumulation of wealth, if he had a good year and managed to get productive cows and a very busy bull.  Or is it the accumulation of wealth that is the result of energy consumption??  Perhaps I suppose that in today's economy, it may be more relevant to discuss energy consumption as leading to the direct creation of wealth.  

Does it always require energy consumption to create wealth?  Is this like the second law of thermodynamics analogy, where all things would be equal unless the equality is upset by some power input causing an energy imbalance that creats a potential difference and consequently an exploitable quanity that can be feed in a controlled manner back to the region of lesser quantity?  Did I get it yet?  

With rising energy cost the price of capital will also rise. Partly because energy goes into the formation of capital and partly because of the energy needed to maintain and use the capital for productive purposes.

At some point employers will start preferring manual labor (human energy) instead of machine labor - that is we may witness deindustrialization. It may sound that the workers will be better off with that but in fact they'll be much worse. The necessary work force will be re-recruited from what we now call "middle class" that will disappear. Welcome to the beginning of the 20th century.

Banks create capital. Humans create wealth. Toiling over resources to produce something of value is where wealth comes from. If you, by decree of the king, or whatever other inequitable system, have title to resources that can be toiled over, there is your source of original wealth. You will also be in bed with the bank since they can "capitalize" your enterprise. All you have to do is make a profit so you can pay back the interest on those capital loans. But thats a small price to pay to be able to hire workers to do some serious toiling and produce you some wealth. Too bad the math doesnt work -- capital isnt cattle. capital doesnt make babies for you to use to pay the interest -- it requires the sucking in of more resources than you put out -- a profit. Same thing if you got capitilazed by the small fry "investors" who arent actual banks but try to act like them, they just dont have the fractional reserve scam to guarantee they never take a loss, so they'll want even more "interest".
And if I own a hydroelectric dam (automated controls) ?  Your worldview does not seem to work well with that capital.

Yes, some maintenance required occasionally, property taxes to be paid, but I produce a valued economic good much greater than the value of any labor for maintenance.  (BTW, I have used some of my laboir in designing large hydro plants to buy shares in groups of smaller hydropower plants).

Likewise if I own a fiber optic network.  Minimal labor, material & energy inputs compared to the economic value produced.

Some forms of Capital can be thought of as the tools that amplify productivity.  A man with a shovel can move much more dirt than he can with his hands.  The man that owns 100 shovels can rent them out at a profit.

I think what we are looking at is more akin to the bad weather caused by volcanos and/or comets. This is a collapse of the harvest caused by lack of rain or too much rain or early frosts or late snowmelt. Too many people for the local agricultural base.
Plague comes along later and causes most of the population reduction when it spreads among hungry people.
What happened then (the last bad weather situation in the sixth century) is that every agricultural mainland culture went down. Pastoral cultures survived because pasture is tougher than crops. If the clover dies the vetch lives, if the timothy dies the bermuda lives, etc. There's always something for the horses and cows and sheep, and if there isn't you can always raid the farmers.
So the Eastern Roman Empire survived because they had the islands in the Med that were able to feed Constantinople when the Bulgars and Persians were besieging the walls after overrunning the mainland.
An example in our time might be Australia and New Zealand, if they built synfuel plants and we didn't.
The 14th century, not the black death itself, is a very good comparison. The pattern was as follows:
 - An end to the Crusades
(an end to the Cold War)
 - Bad harvests at the beginning of the century,
(first oil crisis in 1970s)
 - An increase in despotism (Phillip II. of France outlawed the Knights Templars, with hopes to fill his treasury) and an increase in centralized power
(no comparison? Breton Woods?)
 - world wide plague
(no comparison yet?)
 - a long-term struggle as 100-years war begins/Turks move into Arabian world
("war on terror" i.e. Muslim world against the West?)
 - strengthening of polical/social order as England e.g. tie surfs to land.
 - delayed internal political instability as peasants revolt in England (30 years after Plague) and War of the Roses (split royal house)

Every comparison has its problems. But I doubt that the US, for instance, will fall apart, just like there was no thinking of an internal revolt during the Great Depression. Instead, there was an increase of dependence on a central authority. Revolts, internal strife, "a new order" etc.. would probably beginn happening one generation later. Internation relationships, on the other hand will more than likely be (once again!) very turbulant.

- An increase in despotism (Phillip II. of France outlawed the Knights Templars, with hopes to fill his treasury) and an increase in centralized power
(no comparison? Breton Woods?)

How about the rise of corporations and corporatism.
Neo-con fascism.  New imperialism.  

- strengthening of polical/social order as England e.g. tie surfs to land.

The war on the middle class. Outsourcing. The return of indentured servitude (illegal immigrant workers).

One of the most remarkable yet unrecognized accomplishments of FDR in the 30s was how he held off social and economic forces calling for either communism or fascism in the US. There was much talk on Wall Street for adopting the policies of Hitler and Mussolini(they made the trains run on time argument). They wanted an alliance between Wall Street and the Pentagon to replace the failure of democratic processes to raise the economy out of the Depression. On the other side the unemployed masses were buying into the communist argument that capitalism was to blame for their destitution. FDR created new regulatory power to protect investors from the deceptive tactics of brokers as well as social and public works programs that put people back to work.

I hope I dont bore you with more or less patriotic Swedish history snippets but we had the same kind of problems during the same time. It was back them our socialist party became powerfull and also distanced itself from the communists. I think this partly was a reaction on the civil war in Finland beween the communists and the right wing. They saw what real communists could do and also figured out that large scale nationalization were not the way forward. Our communists were also remote controlled from moscow.

Fachism crept in deeper. Sweden has a consensus culture and it was obviously a good idea to sort and cull the population to get a better people-stock quality. Money were invested in research and new theories brough forward, some of them adopted by the nazis in Germany. A large scale sterilizaton program were initiated of gypsies, mentally ill, young single mothers who had nervous breakdowns and other people who obviously could not take care of themselves in a civilized manner. It was active well into the 50:s and realy did not stop totaly untill the pill was invented.

More obvious fachistical tendencies stopped halfway during the second world war when the battle of Stalingrad indicated who was winning. I think the majority liked Great Britain, USA and so on more then the Nazi Germans. Almost everybody was scared about and disliked Sovjet, Russia is our arch enemy and they had attacked Finland. We had for a very long time liked anything German and imported a lot of German culture and technological know how and manny did not notice that a lot of their culture tourned sour with the rise of the nazis. I suspect that the Nazis were more fond of Sweden then the other way around, they had a crazy idea that we were more Aryan then them and some though we would win a fight with them. That was impossible since our army was downsized and neglected after WW1 as it was and still is after the end of the cold war. (Makes me a little nervous. ) Our naive love of German culture were replaced by an even more enthusiastic love of US culture, obligatory german lessons in school were replaced by obligatory english lessons. Please dont turn sour on us, if you do something stupid we might copy it. :-(

Natonalization ideas resurfacad again within the national labour union LO and the socialist party in the 70:s but nothing much came out of it. The idea then were that private profits would be taxed to labor union controlled funds that would buy shares until the means of production were controlled by the workers. Back then you automatically became a member of the socialist party if you joined the union and you joined the union if you worked otherwise very subtle bad things happend to you exept if you had mental skills enough too require non subtle preassure. There were of course no physical violence involved. This outragious idea envigiorated the political debate in Sweden. The oposition became more active and the socialist party responded by scrapping all implementation of theoretical socialism exept reforms that buy the optimum groups of voters or give friends nice office jobs. Since those times a slow separation of the labour unions and the socialist party started. Now the opposition officially likes the labour unions as long as they efficiently act as a support for workers, preferably all workers members or not. I actually like this policy since they do a lot of good, they only have some more bad habits to get rid of.

This consensus culture makes us efficient in doing to the right thing or very wrong things and sometimes we do them for a long time since no one objects. I think it is a good trait in times of hardship that has obvious technical solutions. If we are stressed enough I think we after much agonizing will decide to Do Something and then everybody does the same thing with very good efficiency and a rational explenation for any parts with questionable moral. Our technology implementation and production per capita is amazing and I dont know how we have survived our toying with socialistic ideas with so little harm.

Please tell me more about those inresting times in US politics. It might be important for the near future.

Thanks Magnus, this was a most interesting reading.
What struck me is that I notice a similar tendency of small countries like ours (I'm from Bulgaria) to hook up to a bigger country or culture that we use for a model. But I guess that's normal to some extent.
That was the Public Work Administration Program, no?  Which sponsored many public works designed specifically to employ the unemployed masses such as Mount Rushmore sculptures, and had arms that created the Tenessee Vally Authority (that created many hydropower projects in that area) and others in the Pacific northwest as well as Hoover Dam outside Las Vegas, if I'm not mistaken.  (If the truth be known; Probably still paying for them today, right?)  I believe a far-sighted program of that nature would be appropriate today for the US (and other's) public transportation infrastructure, in order to get a jump on at least one Peak Oil solution, but looks like its not coming anytime soon.  Have to solve that one on  the rebound.
PeakPlus, this is an interesting extrapolation. As I too look for an increased dependence on central authority, one of the things the PO community ought to debate is where the dividing line should be between appropriately strong governement and authoritarianism or outright tyranny.

I agree with Dave's heartfelt and elegant post of a few days ago. No matter how bleak things may seem, I want to work for a constructive solution rather than simply wait to die.

I agree with the other comments posted.  This is not a good analogy for peak oil.  For bird flu, maybe, if KevO's worst nightmares come true.  :)

A dieoff in and of itself is not really a problem.  At least for those who survive.  What we're really worried about are the effects that lead to a dieoff, not the results of one.  

And this does not count as a collapse, as defined by Tainter, etc.  There was no loss of complexity.  (Indeed, there was an increase in complexity, driven by the shortage of manual laborers.) While some experts estimate the drop in European population was as high as 50%, that's not the 80-90% Tainter found was associated with collapse.

What I do find interesting is the question of what caused the Black Death.  We still don't know for sure what disease it was.  Bubonic plague has long been the #1 suspect, but there's no real proof.  One study claimed to find Yersinia pestis DNA in the remains of plague victims, but no one has been able to repeat the results.  (If it was Y. pestis, surely it we could tell?  If DNA analysis could finger typhoid as the epidemic that ended the golden age of Athens 1,500 years ago, then surely we could do the same for plague victims who died a thousand years later.)

Anyway, Yersinia pestis is endemic to Europe, so why would the plague suddenly be such a problem?  Many scientists suspect other diseases, or even a bunch of different diseases.

Some point to Malthusian causes.  The Great Famine of 1315 was only a few decades earlier, where even some of the wealthy and powerful starved.  This may have weakened the population for the epidemics to come.  Also, there were sanitation issues, because a shortage of firewood put heating water for washing out of the reach of ordinary people.  (Peak firewood?)  

There was recently a study in Sweden (BBC TV sorry no reference. Might try a search on BBC.) that suggested a particular famine caused genetic disruptions, not to their children, but was somehow carried over and transmitted to the grandchildren.
I think I heard about that study.  Insufficient food affects not only the people who are starving, but their children and grandchildren.  Even if they got plenty of food.  Fascinating.
Yes, fascinating and possibly explainable.

I was astonished to hear someone explain on a TV talk show some time back, that a female starts her menses with all the egg cells she will ever have. They are not continuously produced. The point IIRC was that older women are more likely to bare children with defects because the eggs have had more exposure to mutagens.

Famine would, I think, increase the mutagenic stress. Also, the economic consequences often leads to delayed marriage.

Postponed marriage worked very effectively in Ireland after the Great Potato Famine to stabilize population after the collapse of their green revolution. Rough figures, rounding off radically to make the point, for Ireland's population:
1800 four million
1848 eight million
1900 four million
1950 four million
2000 four million

Of the eight million Irish in 1848 very roughly two million died of disease and famine and two million emigrated.

Late marriage and many spinsters and bachelors have maintained Irish population with, I believe, no decline in intellingence nor increase in defective births whatsoever.

Ideally, women would begin reproduction at age 18 and quit at age 30. We do not live in an ideal world.

The best is the enemy of the good.

Will peak-oil cause the collapse of society/civillisation?

This is a big question, on its own it probably won't, life will get harder, global economy will collapse, oil is resnsible for not only our transport and energy, but by products from oil are used in 500,000 products from plastics to pharmaceuticals. we are all worried about how we will get from A to B and how our homes will heated etc.

with regards to transport, we will adapt to other forms, and if necessary the horse and cart may come back in many parts of the world. Its the global economey which will take a big hit, and yes this will have a dramatic change on our lives, and in some countries there will be a collapse of society, due to economic collapse.

If we now add climate change to the scenario, then there is a possability this will add extra strain to any growing problems. Last year we saw in New Orleans, breakdowns in law and order, though these were quickly dealt with. The major problem with Katrina was the displacemnet of people having to leave New Orleans, as climate change gets far worse we may see more displacements of people. This will bring with it greater problems and issues, which will lead to possible disorder and discontent. During the final years of the Roman Empire, large groups of people moving from one area to another had a great effect of the Roman society. tough this was one of many problems that lead to the collapse of the Roman Empire, there was no one issue that caused the collapse, but a series of differing issues that compacted on top of one another which led to the collapse.

If we go back to the issue of Peak Oil, the problem is just not the depletion of oil, all fossil fuels are depleting, this will effect society a great deal, but may not lead to a collapse of global civillisation. Society will change, how is the big question, we have to assume it may not be in a good way. We have globally become far to dependant on fossil fuels, its made us lazy. Most people especially in the western world don't grow our own food, we simply go down to the local supermarket/hypermarket and buy it straight of the shelf. Our food comes from all over the world, we can get food that is normally not in season locally, because its grown and shipped in from abroad. I grow my own vegatables in the UK and at some times of the year, mainly in winter I'm restricted by what I can grow and harvest due to the weather conditions, my food is limityed at this time of year, yet I can go down to the supermarket and purchase what ever I need to make up this short fall.

What I'm saying is that in a post peak society this may not be possible, also there is not enough land in some countries to support the current levels of population, what happens when there is no transport to ship food in from abroad, and this is just the tip of the ice berg.

In the end we can not foretell the future, society may or may not collapse. I'm siding on the may not, but what ever happens its not going to be easy, life will get hard, job losses similar to the 30's depression will occur and there is likley to be more armed conflict in the world.

Will global civilization collapse? I return to my most esteemed authority, Yogi Berra, though I cannot remember the exact ungrammatical words attributed to him: "In chances involving people, the odds are never more than 5 to 3, either way." He was correct. We cannot forecast the weather a month hence, nor can we know who will win the Super Bowl on Sunday.

Thus, to me the most logical thing to do is to insure against risks that are insurable, figure out how to whomp up a life raft in case the Titanic goes down, and in the mean time have as much fun as possible.

BTW, I bought a survival kit in 1957, because I thought thermonuclear war was likely. The kit worked: Look at all the people who did not buy survival kits in the fifties and are dead now. In other words, if you have fire insurance, you probably won't need it. In terms of energy, we need all the insurance we can buy; specifically we need to let prices of energy double and redouble again to force conservation; we need to pursue multiple options, from nuclear (yes, including fast breeder reacters), ethanol, windmills, clean coal (which is not an oxymoron, regardless of what parrots shrill), and because I'm a gambler and a crazy wild-eyed optimist, how about this one:

Let's put half a trillion dollars during the next few years and dragoon the 2,000 smartest physicists in the world to work on fusion power. Finance the project with tariffs of about $100 per barrel of imported oil. There is nothing in physics to suggest that fusion power cannot work. If it can be made to work, then we can get on to more important issues, such as reducing world population in a humane way--and learning how to live agreeably and wisely and well.
(last few words stolen from John Maynard Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for our Grandchildren," 1930)

Don't forget that just about everybody in the US has a gun or will get one when it becomes obvious what is happening.  The 'poor' may not be the first ones to die off.  

Those of us who live in Canada might want to keep that in mind when we contemplate whether to arm our border guards.

The poor may be the first, but never the last.
Very interesting account which undoubtedly caused much change in a life of the time, but I don't think it is entirely relavent going back 600 years to postulate much about how a drastic Peak Oil scenario will impact the modern population. Most of the people I know wouldn't go to live in Houston without that gaping-mouthed energy consuming monster called air conditioning. Using a candle to read as much as one single piece of printed paper wouldn't have appeared unusual to anyone in the 1400's, just as taking 2 days to cover the distance from Boston to Framingham would have appeared completely normal. The Earth will become a much larger planet as Globalization tries to continue under sail power and a candle is not going to keep this flat screen illuminated too terribly long.
Globalization will try to continue with more rail transportation across continents, coal slurry fired ships, extremely large nuclear ships and sail  ships. I think it will work out ok but it probaly wont ship as much trinkets arounds, every (large) region will have its own toy and shoe manufacturing.  LED:s will keep your flat screen illuminated, for manny generations if technological innovation stops, there are good chances that we will get better technology.
Nuclear ships. I didn't think about that one. Then I guess Iran's got no chance to be a major maritime power either.
You could have different historical parallels for different countries or regions.  For example, the Viking attacks in Europe.  England was able to unify under King Alfred's successors.  The Franks/Carolingians were not able to defend their people, so the local lords who did gained a lot of power.  [Gross oversimplification.]

For people wanting to know more about the 14th century parallels, I strongly recommend two courses from the Teaching Company:

The Renaissance, the Reformation and the Rise of Nations by Andrew Fix, and Medieval Europe, Crisis and Renewal by Teofilo Ruiz.  I don't have any connnection with them, I just love their courses.

Did the writer consider religion and science?

My thought is that during the black plauge, a lot of people actually thought that god was behind it, and that god would either kill them, or save them, and as such, they followed those rules and expectations.

Today we live in a world of science and understanding, where cause & effect are seen and comprehended.

If we know that our society is failing because of our greedy leaders and corporate whores who are interested in quarterly profit margins above the long term viability of the whole society... couldn't it be thought that there would be some radical shift to a new way of living based on a long term comprehension of the damage we do with our short sited actions?

Faith can lead to blindness, and just letting things happen, which reduces the will to revolt.

Knoweldge empowers the person to act againsts those who are harming them.

Just a thought.

Alphex, in the short term, the Black Death ushered in all sorts of religious fanaticism. One poster above mentioned the Flaggenants (for further reading, here's a classic). Over the long term, the Black Death led to increasing secularism and a deline in formal religious practice. This was for two reasons. First, because they lived in communities, and because many were engaged in chariable works, religious orders were hit extremely hard, and continued to suffer disproportionate deaths in subsequent epidemics. Second, merchants had never been warmly embraced by the church who saw them as overly focused on material gain (and in many cases as guilty of usury). After the plague, cities grew and with them the influence of a more secular-minded and independent bourgeoisie.

Your broader suggestion that we live in a world of scientific understanding is one that gives me a lot of hope. Unlike every other civilization that faced potential collapse, we know that the gods are not to blame and we have a pretty good idea of how we might go about saving ourselves. Our problem, of course, is that this knowledge is still not widely enough diffused, and hence there is no political will to start changing our collective ways. That is why I think TOD is an important outlet as we strive to convince others of the need to change.  

I think the argument can be made that religion may play a great part in how societies react in a peak oil world. You're comment of understanding cause and effect would seem correct with the amount of discovery and knowledge gained, but here in the US I have seen a sizable segment of our population turning away from science/logic and toward religion.

Right or wrong, I definitely expect a significant religious response to peak oil. In this light there are many directions things could go - from faith being used to pull people together to solve the problems to scapegoating of those who don't follow the beliefs.

Either way, I don't expect that pure logic and understanding will lead the masses.

I agree, and you can see it now in the US.  Irrational and religious thought is ascendant, faith outweighs understanding.  It's everywhere in the public discourse, and the clamor to remove the divide between church and state grows all the time.  Soon it will be in the schools too.  We've replaced our previous ideological state enemies with the nearly stateless "war on terror", which is just a euphemism for a crusade against Muslims (hiding a grab for oil).  I expect the pace of this to accelerate quickly as the society comes under increasing stress.
I think there are fundamental differences between the black plague and peak oil. For instance, medieval Europe was already medieval, feudal, and agrarian. Those basic activities did not have to change in response to the plague at all. However, peak oil is going to force basic changes in how our society functions unless we can develop another energy source that is as reasonably cheap and portable as oil.

A feudal society is Diamond's "chiefdom", more than a simple tribe but a far, far cry from a nation-state. Europe was not one homogenous society either. It was a sea of chiefdoms (feudal lords). Some of those chiefdoms did collapse and vanish, absorbed by their neighbors or conquered. Modern society is far more monolithic. I don't need permission from the feudal lord 15 miles down the road to venture into his territory.

Modern industrial society has an incredible complexity compared to medieval Europe. Couple that with the mistake of viewing medieval Europe as a single society, and the conclusion that the plague was irrelevant appears inescapable but I question whether it is correct. If you go back and actually review the individual feudal structures before and after the plague, I suspect that you would find collapse, annexation, conquest, and absorption happening across Europe and at an accelerated pace than before the plagues. Further, I wonder how many of the early European nation-states experienced loss of political control within or at their periphery?

Finally, continuation of agrarian, feudal society was dependent on human and animal energy, both renewable and limited. Continuation of industrial society depends on energy being available. If that energy is no longer available, then society must change (or collapse). And in fact, any social change from higher complexity to lower complexity is collapse of that particular social structure.

It is my belief that Post Peak Oil will be far more catastrophic than Black Death.

No one has yet to mentioned that the sole reason that we have sustained this prosperous way of life so far is directly due to 2 things:

  1. Cheap and abundant oil
  2. The Pharmaceutical Industry, which is dependent on cheap and abundant oil.

With out medicine, this civilization as we know it can kiss its ass goodbye, something so basic as a sore throat will kill us quite easily with out such medicines as antibiotics.

No Food and No Medicine makes for a catastrophic concoction for die off, and to me that is a damn good scenario for social chaos and societal break down.

I agree with the food part, but not the pharmaceutical part.  Sore throats don't kill people, and doctors can't do anything to cure them now.  If we stop giving people antibiotics for viruses it will not cause any hardship on anyone but drug companies.  Childhood vaccinations are not responsible for the majority of the reduction in the diseases they are targeted at, and cause far more harm than they do good.  We can survive without pills for hard ons.

We have many skilled doctors and surgeons who can perform miracles, but there is a large portion of what passes for medicine that is nothing more than quackery.  And the purveyors of pills are the heart of it.  Combined with what passes for food, and you get the obese, unhealthy population we have now.  Good diet and exercise would result in a healthier population than we have now.  It's the food I'm worried about.  

I'd have to agree with you there Twilight - public health services, like clean water, and sanitation: are far more important over-all, than drugs - when it comes to keeping people alive.

Which begs the question - how will these services be effected by the peak: the problem with answering this is, the uncertainty about the magnitude of the peak is so large, guessing about it's symptoms at this point is deliciously moot.


Clean water, sanitation and medicine use a small fraction of the oil consumed and a lot of it is electricity.  They could all survive quite hard times.
Guys, some REAL science, please, stop the pseudo-science ignoramus modi...

Measles is going down at Africa and it isn't because they are geting bettter sanitation. It is because they are geting vacinated. And was sanitation that made the US population more vulnerable to polio at the 50's: better sanitation made the children had less contact with viruses and bacteria, okay, less children death from disenteria, but the children were not immune to the polio virus. So, a polio's epidemy started at the 50's. Thanks heaven that Salk created a vacine...because sanitation don't make us less vulnerable to polio, au contrarie.

There is a Hindu goddess that protect the people from smallpox. I guess that the goddess lose the job after the 80's, because vacination ENDED smallpox. The last guy to have it had at Africa, a place that have NO SANITATION. Anyone that say that was sanitation that terminate smallpox is saying pseudo-science mungo-jumbo tottal ignoramus stupidefactus...

And the most important cause for women's death before the penicilin was childbirth. Why? Infection post-childbirth.

And guess what killed more soldiers at the WWI? Infection. Can you guess why the US DoD produced penicilin at the WWII?

Sanitation is important, but the modern medicine is mostly the responsable for the fact we live more than 80 years now. Vacination and antibiotics are fundamental for public health.

By the way, you think it is possible to make cardio-vascular surgery without antibiotics? Or any intrusive surgery? Kidney surgery to get out stones?

By the way, when you will stop to say these stupid pseudo-scientific bullshit? It is not only the IDCreationism, you are ever showing that you are complete ignorant about Science. Go study, go read something diferent than the Bible, go learn something! To be stupid is not a good thing as you american think. I cannot understand why you elect a stupid president, to be stupid is not beautifull...

João Carlos

Sorry the bad english, my native language is portuguese.

Modern medicine is both good hygienic procedures and medicines. I have no scientific study but I am anyway quite sure that manny of the deaths in childbirth in pre modern medicine days could have been avoided with soap and warm water. This would reduce the care to the one given cows having a hard time birthing and there it works. No insult meant but it is basically the same biology.

Different diarreha(spelling?) sicnesses are made insignificant with good sanitation and water quality. These both makes people weak and kills them in themselvs and in combination with other diseases. Dying from an untreated heart attack is better then dying earlier due to bad water quality.

We need both hygien and medicine but either or is better then nothing. But if I had to choose between good water and hygiene or access to a modern hospital I would choose the water.

"Different diarreha(spelling?) sicnesses are made insignificant with good sanitation and water quality."

Yes, that is true. Good sanitation and water quality lowered children's mortality. Vacination too. Measles's virus isn't transmited by water, but by air. Smallpox's virus was transmited by air too. And can you guess how flu virus is transmited?

And the germs evolve. Evolution is a fact and if you work against bacteria and virus evolution is an evident fact of life. Bacteria will be evolve to be resistent to antibiotics, natural selection is working hard to make all infectious bacteria resistant to antibiotics (well, only the bacteria resistant to antibiotics survive...). That is the reason why we need control the antibiotics use, we are selecting bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. For start we need ban the use of antibiotics at cattle and chicken. Big agrobusiness don't want the everytime you eat a Macburger you are eating antibiotics.

However, we aren't dieing from infections. Before the antibiotics any skin cut was problable to get infected and infections were mortal. Some guys died from infection that they get at skin cuts from shaving the face (a famous example is Lord Carnarvon that died from generalised infection and pneumonia that started from an acidental cut at a mosquito bite shaving the face... and please, Lord Carnarvon not died from the "Mummy's Curse").

Good sanitation and water quality don't will impede that the bacteria that exist at the air infect any cut you have. Or infect your throat. Or that you get pneumonia. I get pneumonia last year, I am alive because I used antibiotics. I fear the day that the bacteria will be resistent to all antibiotics...

It is a medical fact that the women deaths caused by post-childibirth's infection get lower after the antibiotics, any populational statistics show the women's post-childbirth deaths going down after 1950, including the places where there is no good sanitation.

And how the bacteria and virus evolve they can use the good sanitation against us. Polio virus is a good example. Polio virus normally causes diarrhea, only 5% of the cases the polio virus enters the blood circulation and start to damage the nervous cells. However, with better sanitation the children had less diarrhea. The good thing is that the children's mortality get down. The bad thing is that we had a large children's population that never had contact with the polio virus and that had NO IMMUNITY. The history of the native americans can say a lot about what happens when you have a population that have no immunity to a virus. For example, the spanish (100 spaniards?) destroyed the Astec Empire (1 million warriors?)not only because they had horses and steel, but too because they had germs (smallpox). Anything that destroy half Astec's army need be called "lethal weapon"...

Well, as the sanitation made the children's population have no immunity to polio virus and how the polio virus too is transmited by contact and air, you can see why a polio epidemy happened at the 50's.

Vacination is a fantastic tool to combat diseases. Mostly because vacination use the human immune system to combat that diseases, vacination is not a normal medicine (it not combat the germ, it make your body fight the germ). Immunizination (vacination) make the human body immune system be preparated to destroy virus and bacteria that invade our body. That is the reason why vacination TERMINATED a nasty virus as the smallpox virux. That is the reason why vacination will terminate the measles virus. When every person at the world (6 billion people) get vacinated against measles everyone will be immune and the virus will have no place to go.

The problem is create a vacine against flu that works against ALL flu viruses. Or at least to have a bird flu vacine before the pandemia starts (and before the virus evolve to be resistent to Tamiflu).

I haven't looked in depth into the modus operandi of Tamiflu, but it is my understanding that it doesn't target the biochemical cascade that bird flu would precipitate in an infected individual. Essentially, novel flu viruses cause the body's own immune system to over-react to such an extent that the over-reaction itself can be fatal. In combination with secondary infections, the mortality rate can be very high. Creating a vaccine is extremely difficult as vaccines are mass-produced using eggs, but bird flu virus has an unfortunate tendency to kill the eggs.

The aspect of bird flu I find most intriguing is its similarity to asthma, which is also an immune system over-reaction to common causative agents (pollen, dust, cold viruses etc). It makes me wonder if asthma medication, or a more powerful type drug targetting the same biochemical cascade, might be more effective at treating bird flu than traditional flu medication. If anyone here has any connections to the pharmeceutical industry, perhaps they could suggest the potential be investigated. In the absence of better information (which I am looking for but have not yet found), I would probably treat my own family for bird flu with asthma medication if the need arose. I have plenty of it around as my son is asthmatic, but I'd be happier doing so if someone had done a medical study on it first.

Good water is remarkably hard to obtain. A hundred or a hundred and fifty years ago most U.S. citizens drank bad water--in large part because shallow wells often were too close to outhouses. Life expectancy in the U.S. in 1890 was about forty years--just about half what it is now.

Our streams and rivers now have nasty bugs even in remote locations. If protazoa are in cyst stage, they can survive ten minutes of boiling water, and amebic dysentery is one of the nastiest ways to go--and is still common in parts of North America.

To dig an adequate well on my property and put in a hand pump costs about $1,000. Water purifying filters such as those used by campers are much cheaper, but my theory is that if I have my own good water, then probably I'll never need it because the city water will keep running. If worse comes to worse, I may be able to use good water as an export good for drinking, becuause most people will not have access to decent water. To the extent that a dieoff occurs, my guess is that bad water will be the proximate cause of at least one-third of deaths--and probably more.

Compared to the problem of getting good water, it is relatively easy to get food, at least in rural areas where one can trap animals and fish, have gardens, trade skilled services for those with food surpluses, and put out a salt lick so as to be able to kill Bambi at short range.

Uh-huh ...

Turn off the clean water supply to any city, oh, let's say Lisbon - vs it's drug supply - and we'll very quickly see who's being pseudo scientific.

Two Words:

"New Orleans"

"Uh-huh ...
Turn off the clean water supply to any city, oh, let's say Lisbon - vs it's drug supply - and we'll very quickly see who's being pseudo scientific.

Two Words:

"New Orleans"

The funny thing about this thread is that it started to discuss the Black Death. There is something interesting about the Black Death: Florence had the Black Death, Turim not. Both cities hadn't clean water supply or sanitation, however Turin had cats...

If it is possible to boil water no one really need die from diarrhea if there is no clean water supply. The problem is that the people simply not know that they NEED boil the water. Evidently you need some way to get the water (a river? a well?) and some way to boil it.

However, New Orleans is a nice case: the people don't died from diarrhea. The people died mostly from drowning. I don't think that the people died because they drowed at their diarrhea, they drowned at the water that invaded the city.

After the catastrophe some people died from dehydration. That happened mostly to the old. The FEMA simply forgot to send water to the people drink. Oh, they forgot to send food too. And they forgot to send help. See you, a hercuva "good job", the typical good job that you get from Bush II.

New Orleans don't had a diarrhea epidemy or something worse, as a cholera epidemy, mostly because the people simply get out the city.

The fact is that the New Orleans people don't died because they lose clean water supply. They died because the Mississipi River drowned them. It is ever possible to boil the Mississipi River's Water to kill all germs and get no diarrhea. But humans cannot breath water and that was the problem when New Orleans drowned...

"I don't think that the people died because they drowed at their diarrhea"

Careful with that Irony Juan.

Regardless, I still maintain that if you cut off a safe water supply to any city - you'll be in far worse trouble than if you cut off the drug supply: and far faster.

(not having any available energy to boil said water in the first place being totally irrelevant to "" notwithstanding ... )

Perhaps it's the language barrier, but it would be good if you would respond to what I actually said, rather than to some imagined statement.  It would also be good if you could attempt to be more polite, and use facts.  

I did not say that all drugs are ineffective, nor did I say that all vaccinations do not work.  What I said is that vaccinations (in general) are not responsible for reducing the incidences of the diseases they are targeted.  Polio and smallpox are two exceptions, but in the US our children are subjected to over twenty different vaccinations before they are two, and many in the first days of life.  Surprisingly, most kids are not vulnerable to Hep B on day 2.  Now we give vaccinations for chicken pox that is not even dangerous for kids, does not provide adequate immunity, and leaves them vulnerable as adults when it is dangerous.    

If you have ever looked at the rates of mortality (for those that were even fatal) on a timeline, you would see that 80-90% of the reduction occurred before the vaccination was introduced, and therefore they cannot be responsible for the reduction.  I'll see if I can find the link to the graphs.  This would not be a problem if the vaccinations were harmless, but they are not.  Until recently, many of them were laced with high does of mercury, even though it was well known that this preservative was a dangerous neurotoxin.  Further, the stress on immature immune systems of multiple vaccinations can be very damaging.  The epidemic rise of autistic spectrum disorders corresponds directly to the introduction of vaccinations, and grew with their greater rates.  And if you have not lived through the hell of having a child damaged this way, than count yourself lucky - I have.  Vaccinations are yet another well-intentioned program that was subverted by money and profit, and has ended up doing more harm than good, at least in the US.  That is not to say they could not be helpful if done in a rational manner, especially in places with poor hygiene.  

As for antibiotics, of course they are necessary.  If you go to the doctor with a cold, they'll prescribe some for you - and they will do precisely nothing because they don't work on viruses.  Your body will heal itself, and the drug company and doctor will profit.  All is good.  

As for the rest of your moronic tirade, I'm an atheist, an engineer, I read and study constantly, and I'll be one of the ones they come for after our fascist revolution is complete here.  I don't think your English is all that bad; it's your manners that suck.

The aspect of vaccination that worries me the most is that until mid-1993 childhood vaccinations in the UK were made using a bovine serum albumen (BSA) medium at the height of the BSE epidemic in cattle. The powers-that-be discussed warning the population about the risks prior to that time, but decided that they didn't want people turning away from vaccination before a synthetic alternative to BSA was produced. They therefore went ahead and injected millions of children with multiple doses of potentially infective material. The chances of developing a prion disease from direct injection is understood to be substantially higher than the risk of contracting the disease through diet (Britain was putting an estimated 250,000 cattle with BSE into the human food chain per year by 1989).
Damn!  I hadn't heard about that one.  I wonder if the US did that too?  I've had to focus instead on the shorter term manifestations - kinda hard to ignore.

It's the same damned overconfident attitude again, this idea that we know so much, we'll just go ahead an do this to every kid in the country.  And in reality the knowledge was faulty, the product was flawed, someone needed to make more money, pride got in the way of caution, etc. - the typical human failings.  To take such risks on such a scale, the threat had better be extreme.


My point was that without medicine to treat people with an illness, the infrastructure can be rendered useless.

And yes you can die from a sore throat, if it is bacterial in nature.

My dad is Doctor, he prescribed me antibiotics when I had a strep, (type of bacteria), infection of the throat. Had I not been treated, I would have died from a bacterial infection.

Another example would be a friend of mine, who fell over one night grazing his wrist on the footpath, thought nothing of it, when to bed, woke up and had Septicemia climbing up his arm. Without antibiotics, he would have died too.

Without medicine we are very vulnerable.

Antibiotics will soon be renderd useless but that has nothing to do with peak oil.

The biggest problem is that antibiotics are prescribed too often, not choosen carefully enough using the wrong kinds for an infection and often used for too short a time, people stop taking their pills when they feel ok.  Antibiotics are also used in cattle feed in some countries and some peiople use antibiotics for virus infections like a common cold using it as placebo. This leads to more and more strains of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics needs to be rationed, the use much more controlled and also rotated in regions letting a few kinds be unused for a few years while bacteria resistant to them randomly dies out. This is being practised in Sweden together with a ban on antibiotics use in cattle feed and so on and it slows down the problem significantly but it is not solved. It would work much better if all of the world did this and not only a few millions doing a lot of traveling.

This restrictive practise also saves a completely insignificant ammount of energy in unneded  antibiotics. ;-)  A morally tough thing with it is that it probably makes hospitals worse at curing people in the short run but much better at it after a few years. Ten dead patients this year or a hundred in few years or an uncontrolled situation after some more years if no new research bails us out?  Tough moral decision.

The other big problem is that there is way to litte research into new kinds of antibiotics.

I'm not a doctor but I don't beleive that rotating antibiotics may lead to excess death cases, at least it shouldn't IMO. If the case is life treatening then the correct antibiotic will be applied anyway, no matter of the policy. As you note the problem is in the mass usage of antibiotics for virtually any desease.
As I understand it the problem is as follows with totally bogus numbers.
Out of 1000 sick patients 100 will be very sick with a multiple resistant bacteria.
If you treat all 1000 with the best antibiotic you have 999 lives.
But the bacterias get more resistant so next year 998 lives, 990, 950, 900 and the antibiotic is useless.
If you wait untill 100 of the 1000 gets very sick and then start the treatment with your best antibiotic 997 lives and the effect degrades more slowly.

This probaly would give a maltreatment process for the three dying each years since they would have had a good chance to live if they had been treated earlier with the best available antibiotics.

This kind of problem have given variations in strictness of this kind of policy, probably enough to do research on but I have only read popularised versions of the dilemma.

Overall, this has been a most interesting post and comments.  Not too cheery, maybe, but interesting nonetheless.  

There are so many big things going so very wrong right now, most of them interrelated.  It's so very hard for me to imagine that there is any way for us to escape being hit by at least a couple of them.  How sad as a parent to believe that the future will be very hard for my children.  I try to find something to be optimistic about, but the odds don't seem to favor it.

If they grow up to be wise and hard working they can in bad times do a lot of good.  Perhaps an easy future is not what is most important to live a fulfilling life.
Sorry to be new and late to this topic: The black death story illuminates several significant differences. Jared Diamond in Collapse examines perhaps 40 societies that either collapsed or averted collapse. He hypothesizes that at least two of the following five factors must be present
  1. environmental damage
  2. climate change
  3. hostile action
  4. breakdown of an essential friendly trade
  5. Leadership/social decision making failure.
Two examples seem especially relevant to the difference from black death. One is the genuine collapse of Easter Island (95% loss of life, remainder reduced to subsistence) when they felled all the trees, destroying fishing, commerce, and the protection against erosion. The other is Norse Greenland, whose European cattle based way of life was non-negotiable even as the climate change made it impossible to support. In both of these a vital economic element was lost and not replaced.