Of Fossil Fuels and Human Destiny

There have been hundreds of books and essays written on the evolution of Homo sapiens and I assume you are familiar with that history. In this short essay I am going to point out a few things that are usually left out of that story, the part that deals with the very nature of the species Homo sapiens.

First I would like to point out a few things that are common to all species, not just Homo sapiens.

All species produce more offspring than can possibly survive to adulthood and reproductive age. Some produce hundreds of offspring and leave it to chance that a few will survive. Others produce far fewer offspring and care for them for months to years to increase their chances of survival.

However if there is ever an abundance of food for any species, that species will multiply its numbers to take advantage of that abundance until its numbers are so great that the advantage disappears. An example would be the reindeer of St Matthew Island.

In August of 1944 the Coast Guard placed 29 reindeer on St. Matthew Island, a remote island in the Bering Sea. Earlier in the year they had established a radio navigation system there and the Reindeer were supposed to be emergency rations should the men be cut off from supply shipments.

A short while later, with the allies winning the war, the Coast Guard pulled their men off the island but left the reindeer there. But not to worry, the 32-mile long by 4-mile wide island had plenty of the reindeers favorite food. A mat of lichens over 4 inches deep covered the island. By 1957 the population had increased to 1,350; and by 1963 it was 6,000. But the lichens were gone, and the next winter the herd died off. Come spring, only 41 females and one apparently dysfunctional male were left alive.


Another example was documented by the PBS series NOVA titled Rat Attack. [1] This program documents the plight of rice farmers in a remote corner of northeast India. Surrounding the rice fields in this area are forests of bamboo, a common species called Melocanna bamboo, from which the locals build their homes. And living in this tropical bamboo forest are rats. This is not unusual as rats live in all tropical forest around the world. But the rats are few enough in number that they pose no serious threat to the rice and corn farmers in the area

However once every 48 years all the bamboo flowers, fruits then dies. The Melocanna bamboo produces a fruit, a seed pod, that is as large as an apple, some 200 times larger than the average bamboo seed pod. Over the period of a few months some 10 tons per acre of this fruit will ripen and drop. This indeed brings about times of plenty for the rats in the area.

One species of rat, the black rat, is particularly adapted to take advantage of this cornucopia of food. In the right conditions their numbers will shoot up exponentially.

When the bamboo fruit first appears around this one particular rice field the black rats numbered perhaps 100. By the time all the bamboo fruit had all ripened, fell and most of it consumed by the rats, a period of about six months, the black rat population numbered about 12,000. By then any fruit left in the forest had germinated and was inedible. This hoard of rats then moved into the rice fields devouring the crops causing famine in the local population.

Then, when all the food is gone the rats die off. They die of starvation. But a few, a very few will survive.


Carrying Capacity: The term “carrying capacity” has been debated ever since the population debate surfaced in the 1960s. But they were always talking about “human carrying capacity”. But what many fail to realize is that the earth is at 100% carrying capacity for living creatures and has been since the Cambrian Era. Every square meter of fertile terrestrial space has been contested for since then. Every time there is a winner, consequently there is a loser. Every time some creature wins territory some other creature must lose territory. It is, and has been, a constant battle for half a billion years.

All species have evolved adaptations that assist them in the struggle for mating and survival. The Eagle has flight, talons, telescopic sight and so on. All other species have similar adaptations.

Homo sapiens have several adaptations that aid them in their competition. But they have one that gives them a huge advantage over all other species, their brainpower. And make no mistake, we are in competition with other species for food and territory. And we are winning… big time. In fact we are in the process of wiping them out.

10,000 years ago humans and their animals represented less than one tenth of one percent of the land and air vertebrate biomass of the earth. Now they are 97 percent. [2][3]

Vertebrate Biomass 2

Vertebrate Biomass 3

The charts above are the measure of our success. Our share of the earth’s pie is getting larger and the wild animal’s share is getting smaller. And the wild animals share will continue to get smaller until it is almost gone. Some will remain, rats, mice and a few small animals that are able to coexist with humans will survive.

The wild animals are going fast. Go to any open market in Sub-Sahara Africa and you will find “bush meat” for sale. Every kind of animal, except the very large animals like elephants and giraffes will be there. Of course the large cats or other predators will not be there. But they are disappearing nevertheless as their prey, their food supply, disappears.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in about 1750 the world’s population has grown ten fold, from about 700 million to over 7 billion.

Population World

This population explosion was powered by fossil fuel, first by coal then petroleum. Fossil fuel powered both agriculture and industry. In agriculture one man was able to produce enough food to feed hundreds. The green revolution increased production per acre ten fold in some cases.

But as people were forced off the farm cheap energy fueled industry that gave them jobs in the cities. Fossil fuel powered looms, furnaces and assembly lines gave jobs to millions. We are now living in the age of exuberance.

Our population exploded simply because it could. Humans, like all other animals, always live to the very limit of their existence. But when those limits are lifted, like they were for the black rats of East India or the reindeer of St. Matthew Island, the population will just naturally explode. And it will keep rising until it hits the natural limits of the food supply. And if that food supply shrinks, the population will do likewise. It will not be pretty and no amount of rationalizing will change that fact. Richard Dawkins put it this way:

The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive; others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear; others are being slowly devoured from within by rasping parasites; thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst and disease. It must be so. If there is ever a time of plenty this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.
Richard Dawkins: River Out of Eden

Fossil fuel is our bamboo fruit, our mat of lichens. We, as a species, are simply behaving like all other animals have behaved and would behave under similar circumstances. Millions of years of struggling to survive has left its mark in our DNA and our species cannot help but follow where it leads us. We raise our families and seek security for them and worry about their future. But the process of natural selection has always worked within local small populations. We are molded by our DNA to worry about provisions through the next winter and to defend ourselves from a possible attack by the tribe a few miles away. The goings on in the rest of the world have never been a concern to us. But globalization has changed the nature of the game and our genes simply are not aware of that yet.

We are by nature optimistic. That is, optimism is a survival characteristic, a product of natural selection. [4] Optimism has been highlighted as being an important evolutionary part of survival. In his book “Optimism: The Biology of Hope” [5] Lionel Tiger argues that optimism is one of our most defining and adaptive characteristics.

Our future is locked in, it is in our genes. We will behave, in the future exactly as we have behaved in the past. We will act according to the dictates of our DNA. We will continue to consume our natural resources like a drunken sailor going through his rich uncle’s inheritance. And we will continue to be optimistic, we will continue to believe that fossil fuels will last forever, or at least until “something else comes along”.

But they will all decline, taper off until none is economically recoverable any more. The first to go will be crude oil, then natural gas and finally coal. Crude oil will peak in this decade and be almost completely gone by the end of the first half of this century. Then natural gas and coal will go in the second half.

We will not hear warnings of impending disaster and act. We will wait until the disaster is upon us then react. It is simply in our nature to behave in such a manner. And then we will eat the birds out of the trees. [6]

Ron Patterson


When I speak of the behavior of “we as a species” I am talking about the average behavior of the species as a whole, never about individuals. Every adaptation of any species is expressed slightly different in every individual. No two individuals are exactly alike. The strength or expression of every human characteristic can be plotted along a bell curve.

If it were possible to poll everyone in the world as to their outlook on life and asked them where they saw the world heading in the next half century or so, some would be extremely optimistic and positively sure that no serious problems could possibly ever befall humanity. But some would not be nearly as optimistic. However the vast majority of people would fall somewhere in the middle. And the middle would still be quite optimistic. There is no rule of nature however, that says the vast majority of humankind are correct. Where any opinion or other characteristic falls along the bell curve for the vast majority of humankind is simply the result of millions of years of evolution and is in no way a measure of its correctness. Or as H.L. Mencken put it: The most costly of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. It is the chief occupation of mankind.

Bell Curve

1. Nova, Rat Attack
2. Paul MacCready Ted Talk
3. World Society for the Protection of Animals
4. Optimism and Pessimism
5. Optimism – the Biology of Hope
6. Ukraine Famine

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186 Responses to Of Fossil Fuels and Human Destiny

  1. Robert Honeybourne says:

    A very reasonable and clear case well put

    It seems to me that the rate of change is the key. A sudden collapse allows no time for any adaption at all. A slow decline would be different. Which would be more unpleasant is open to debate

  2. graywulffe says:

    Well summarized and the implications are ominous.

    I recommend citing the peer-reviewed paper on St Matthew Island reindeer:

    Klein, D. R. 1968. The introduction, increase, and crash of reindeer on St. Matthew Island. Journal of Wildlife Management, Vol 32, No 2, pp 350-367.


  3. Dennis Coyne says:

    Hi Ron,

    Very nicely written. Along with the competitive nature of humans, there is also cooperation within families, communities, and even nations. On population, the rate of growth has been slowing and contrary to the hypothesis that more energy and food leads to higher fertility rates in humans, the reverse tends to be true, European and East Asian total fertility rates are about 1.5.
    It seems that unlike most other species the fertility rate decreases rather than increases when conditions are favorable and as technology(birth control), and social norms change (women taking more control of their fertility).

    For a different take on what is possible on population see


    And Chart below with different TFR (total fertility ratio=# of live births per female) ranging from 0.75 to 2.5 and an average life expectancy (e) of 90 years.

    • graywulffe says:

      Nevertheless, given the huge number of people alive now, even a reduction in the fertility rate–or the annual rate of growth in population–a huge number of people are being added. Each day there are roughly 250,000 new mouths to feed. That’s a city the size of Boise, ID. Keep that in mind when you sit down at the dinner table: there are an additional quarter million mouths joining you. Each night.

      The current world fertility rate is around 2.6 according to your reference. The idea that fertility would fall to 2.0 or lower on a global basis requires one to believe that much of the world will become “industrialized” or “modernized” in the manner of the West, and this mode of living would then be sustained for a long period of time for many, many billions. I suspect that the resource base cannot support this. Note that at 2.0, there is over 10 billion people out to about 2200, and at 1.75 more than 8 billion out to about 2125. The global population at 2100 may be below 4 billion (equivalent to TFR 0.75), or even much less than this, but I suspect this would be more likely due to a dramatic increase in mortality due to the Four Horsemen.


      • Perk Earl says:

        “Nevertheless, given the huge number of people alive now, even a reduction in the fertility rate–or the annual rate of growth in population–a huge number of people are being added.”

        And that’s the bottom line. Like Ron is saying people are naturally optimistic, so they point to a reduction in the increase in population as a positive sign, when in reality the overall population is still rising, and this is against a backdrop of diminishing returns from energy production.

    • OldTech says:

      And then there is this article today saying that Dropping birth rates threaten global economic growth. If rates continue as described in the article then the future population would follow the lower curves in the plot that Dennis posted above.

      • Dennis Coyne says:

        Hi OldTech,

        Excellent article thanks, a short excerpt below:

        “Couples in the world’s five biggest developed economies – the United States, Japan, Germany, France and the United Kingdom – had 350,000 fewer babies in 2012 than in 2008, a drop of nearly 5 percent. The United Nations forecasts that women in those countries will have an average 1.7 children in their lifetimes. Demographers say the fertility rate needs to reach 2.1 just to replace people dying and keep populations constant. ”

        Note that the article covers a lot of ground, the lack of economic growth due to a smaller labor pool and the growth in the proportion of seniors and the burden they might impose on society, interesting stuff.

        The smaller population will lead to slower economic growth, but personally I see that as a positive as long as real GDP per capita does not fall too fast, a steady or slowly falling real GDP per capita would be ideal for the planet, though the financial system might not weather such a situation very well.

        I’ll have to think on that some more.

    • Political Economist says:

      Hi Dennis, saw your comments on renewables under my previous post.

      I’ve to admit that I’m less confident in the expansion potential of renewables than you’re. Let’s keep this difference and come back for more discussion later.

      • Dennis Coyne says:

        Hi PE,

        Yes we can discuss another time. What seems to never come across in my comments is that I do not have a high level of confidence that renewables can get the job done, nor do I think that such a transition would be smooth (as in no recessions) or easy (it would take a massive effort along the lines of the US experience from 1941-1945). My contention is only that a transition from fossil fuels to other types of energy (renewables like solar, wind, and geothermal along with some nuclear) is possible without an apocalyptic economic downturn.

        Many do not agree, and some very strongly.

  4. Jay Hanson says:


    Nice work! I wish it weren’t so, but I have reached similar conclusions. See http://jayhanson.us/loop.htm


    • robert wilson says:

      Would it be fair to say that in the long run the free market wins?

    • Perk Earl says:

      “…it may be time to recognize the maximum power principle as the fourth thermodynamic law as suggested by Lotka. — H.T.Odum, 1994”

      From the link – that’s a good one.

      • robert wilson says:

        Not to belittle Lotka, Odum and the maximum power principle, but I prefer the fourth law of thermodynamics as formulated by Nicholas Georgescu-Roegan. The dissipation of epithermal deposits of minerals is important.

  5. Doug Leighton says:


    Move over Dennis!

    Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse by Denis Martindale
    “I saw them riding in a dream, Hell-bent upon their course,
    And each one with a sickening scheme as he rode on his horse…
    And so they moved, this world to claim with utmost misery,
    With death and suffering as their aim, their shame and infamy!
    I saw them riding coast-to-coast, on sturdy steeds at night
    And evil had them all engrossed, as if they were held tight…
    And so they moved, one thought in mind, to bring the world despair,
    Until the time four horsemen find their victims unaware!”

    (Maybe I don’t fit in optimist camp.)


  6. rethin says:


    Why in your email did you write this essay is very likely your last?

    • I did not mean I will have no more posts. There will be lots of posts to come, I hope. But no more essays like this one and the one I wrote 13 years ago, The Grand Illusion. http://peakoilbarrel.com/grand-illusion/.

      That one has nothing to do with peak oil or fossil fuels but it is another place where my opinion differs from that of perhaps 99.9 percent of the population.

      Yes there will be lots more posts and comments on the graphs I post. But no more essays in the vein of those today’s and that one I wrote in 2001.

      • rethin says:

        Oh good. You scared me there for a minute. I thought you were dropping a hint about your health or something…

        Keep it up.


  7. Cahoun says:

    This is Ron at his best.

  8. Joel Caris says:

    Excellent essay, Ron. This is why I’ve been working the last few years on reducing my energy and resource usage, learning skills relevant to a world in decline, and integrating into and building my local community. The decline of fossil fuels is a hard fact that defines the shape of our future, along with climate change and ecological degradation. It’s not going to be pretty. While I doubt some of the fast collapse scenarios touted in the peak oil scene are how it will play out, I do expect to see some very hard times in my life and there’s always the possibility that I’ll find myself in a localized fast collapse scenario. If I don’t see extreme hard times in my life, I expect it will be because I died earlier than I hope and missed getting into the true meat of our decline.

    In learning to use less energy and resources, I’m hopefully getting a little ahead of the game. I’m preparing myself for what I see as the inevitable shape of the future, though I expect my preparation will still be short of what the future reality will bring. Still, it’s far better than not preparing at all.

    My optimism is in the work of that preparation, not in any belief that the future will work out okay. I don’t think we’re going to transition to a renewable-based energy supply; I think that’s as dependent on the complexities of a fossil-fueled industrial system as all the rest. I do think homescale, low-tech renewables will have their place as a valuable supply of intermittent power, but I’m guessing I’ll see the end of the national electric grid. Again, assuming I don’t get taken out too early. I’m 33 now. If I’m really lucky, I’ll get another 50 years, but I do expect that to take some luck. Public health is going to drop, extreme climate events are going to rise, food insecurity is going to skyrocket, antibiotic-resistant bugs are going to proliferate . . . yeah, 5o years will probably require some very good luck. I’m glad, at least, that I seem to have a hearty constitution and that I enjoy physical labor.

    My hope in learning to live with less is not just that I’ll be better prepared for the future, but that I’ll be able to help others in my community. The future is going to be really hard, but that doesn’t preclude us still doing good. The key is understanding what’s reasonable to expect. Whatever the future brings, I know that, so long as I’m living, I’ll be able to help out local community members, take joy in the natural world, apply myself toward some helpful task, and share what knowledge I have. I consider that a very valuable life.

    What we have now is a bizarre anomaly in the course of human history. Uncountable generations have existed before us without this abundance, and they’ve managed to lead lives of joy and sorrow. Our ability to do that will continue through our decline. The key is to be honest about what we face, work on building the skills we likely are going to need, and having a sense of hope rooted in the understanding that, no matter how bleak things are, we can still take courses of action and engage in work that will make the world slightly better, help the people around us a bit, and give our lives structure and meaning. That doesn’t require fossil fuels or a renewable energy grid; it just requires some honesty with ourselves and a willingness to engage the work.

    Speaking of which, it’s time to get off this computer and get my ass out in the garden. Sun’s out, and I have beds to work up and onions, potatoes, and brassicas to get in the ground.

    • TechGuy says:

      “I’m guessing I’ll see the end of the national electric grid”

      Consider what happens to all of the Nuclear spent fuel pools when the grid fails:.


      “A 2003 study shows a fire in one spent fuel pool fire could release a radioactive plume that could contaminate eight to 70 times more land than Chernobyl and render about 95,000 square kilometers of land uninhabitable.

      · A spent fuel pool disaster could cause fatal radiation-induced cancer in thousands of people as far as 500 miles from Limerick [PA]. A 2004 study concluded that 44,000 near-term deaths could occur from acute radiation poisoning. People could die as far as 60 miles downwind (Philadelphia is just 20 miles downwind).”

      Consider that even decommission reactors like TMI (three mile island) still have spent fuel pools on site that need constant cooling using a cooling system (grid tied). The lost of the national grid will cause all of spent fuel pools to begin boiling off water with in a weeks time after power loss. After about 2 weeks, the spent fuel pools will begin to catch fire. After that the they release doomsday. Consider that just a single plant that has been stockpiling spent fuel rods for thirty years, has much highly radioactive material than all of the Nuclear bombs in the World. There are 435 Reactors worldwide and 71 new reactors under construction:


      Yet there is no money to deal with the spent fuel pools nor any long term storage site. This will become a huge problem in the years ahead as energy resources deplete and the economy collapses. I would guess it would take 60 years to safely store the existing spent fuel stockpile. Whose going to keep them cool and maintained when the economy is trashed?

      Hope your not homesteading any where near or downwind of a reactor.

      • Joel Caris says:

        Indeed. It’s one of the more horrific moral choices we’ve made to litter the globe in the not-too-distant future with dead zones in the hopes that we can continue our addiction to electricity. Future generations won’t think kindly of us.

        Homestead’s on the north Oregon coast. So far as I know, Hanford’s the nearest site of concern. Of course, we have radiation drifting over from Fukushima, both in the air and water, as well as the fish stock.

        Honestly, I’m probably not in the best place for the future–not that there are any great places to be. This area certainly did support indigenous tribes–though the ecosystem was in much better shape then–and has supported homesteaders and subsistence farmers, so it’s not impossible that a group of people will be making a go of it out here in the post-oil future. But much of what exists here now will be wiped out by economic collapse in the coming decades. I don’t know if I ultimately will be able to stay here or not, but I seem to be making it home and integrating into my community, so this is where I’m making my stand for the time being. It’s not impossible, though, that I’ll eventually be one of the many people migrating in hopes of finding a living. I don’t relish the possibility.

        And, of course, I may just end up taken out by the Cascadia earthquake. I’m pretty well screwed if that hits in my lifetime and I’m still out here, and there’s a solid chance indeed that it could hit in my lifetime.

      • Dennis Coyne says:

        Hi Techguy,

        It is ironic that a lot of time is spent arguing against a possible solution to the problem of an energy shortage. The argument seems to be that the economy is falling apart because we have an energy shortage (at least in part, nobody argues this is the only problem, but many here think this is amongst the most important problems.) One possible solution to an energy shortage is to produce more energy by other means such as solar, wind, and nuclear power.

        Now we can wait until there is very little fossil fuel remaining to begin work on creating the means to produce more energy or we can start now before it is too late.

        I guess most people who are aware that the peak (for oil at least) is likely only 5 (or maybe 10) years away think it is already about 30 years too late.

        You are convinced that more nuclear power will make things worse, especially because you are convinced that it is too late for a transition that maintains any sense of order (I think you may foresee anarchy, though you are rather disdainful of government, so possibly you see this as a positive.) Solar and wind are intermittent and you think that problem is unsolvable (though I believe fuel cell, battery, fossil fuel, or waste burning backup could be workable with smart grid peak power pricing to cut demand where possible.)

        There are some who think the fears over nuclear power are unfounded, perhaps your mistrust of the government and its ability to regulate anything properly has something to do with your misgivings on nuclear power.

  9. Euan Mearns says:

    Ron, very good! I seldom read all of anything but I read all of this! Man’s main strength, his brain, intelligence may set us apart from nature. Our new found ability to communicate with everyone else instantaneously. Nuclear fission can provide a bridge between FF and fusion – though as yet I don’t really believe fusion can work commercially – I am too backward 😉 Looking at Denis’s population curves, the red one, or the one below it, looks like a good one to me. A natural population decline. This presents all sorts of socio economic challenges which are all better than Armageddon. One of the benefits is that a dwindling population inherits the assets of the past – but also the liabilities.

    • Phil Harris says:

      Except I am not sure about the brain.
      But see my reply below to Tom Wilson.
      (Only two years behind you, Ron, but gaining I guess.)

    • Dennis Coyne says:

      Hi Euan,

      If the decline in TFR continues on its current trajectory we will reach a TFR of 1.3 by about 2040, there are places such as Taiwan and Hong Kong that have TFRs about 1.0 and South Korea and Japan are at about 1.3, Europe is at about 1.5 and even South Asia and Latin America should be down to under 2.0 by mid century. Sub Saharan Africa still has a TFR around 5 and the TFR is only decreasing at about 0.9% per year, so hopefully that trend changes to a 2% decrease with a little more development effort in Africa. I put some charts up on this on page 2 using UN estimates of TFR.

  10. Tom Wilson says:

    Hi Ron,
    Whew, you had me scared there for a minute. Not about the being devoured from the inside by rasping parasites thing. I’ll try to forget that image. Nope, like Rethin I was afraid this was your last post. So I’m glad to hear that its not the end for this site and community.

    Ya’ll are far more erudite and articulate than I am on most subjects here, so I haven’t commented. On this topic, I do have one comment.

    Dennis is correct about the falling fertility rates. The Malthusian trap is just one of a number of possible scenarios.

    I deal with about 2,000 people annually, and have broached the energy problem with probably 10-20% of them over the last year. Only one was in full denial, although most hoped (correctly) it wouldn’t change their vacation plans this year. But they are worried and are making changes. What they need is information, viable hope and time.

    So, thank you from the bottom of my heart for organizing this site. I learn a lot from it.

    • Phil Harris says:

      Most optimistic comment I have read in years.
      “2000 people annually”: amazing!
      “So, thank you from the bottom of my heart for organizing this site. I learn a lot from it.”
      Phil H

  11. So as Socrates put it:

    ‘Enjoy yourself; it’s later than you think.’

    • Doug Leighton says:


      I taut Guy Lombardo said dat. And I taut Mr Socrates talked Greek.

  12. HVACman says:

    I’m sorry – but I can’t resist –

    “In his book “Optimism: The Biology of Hope” [5] Lionel Tiger argues that is one of our most defining and adaptive characteristics.”

    “In his book “Optimism: The Biology of Hope” [5] Lionel Tiger argues that is one of our most defining and adaptive characteristics”

    Yes, Lionel Tiger bears repeating…..

    Oh my!

    • Thanks HVACman, I left out the word “optimism” from that sentence. I have fixed it now. It now reads:
      “Optimism: The Biology of Hope” [5] Lionel Tiger argues that optimism is one of our most defining and adaptive characteristics.”

      I can never create a post without making a few errors. I depend on you guys to point them out so I can correct them. Thanks.

  13. John D says:

    I find myself drifting into the metaphysical realm reading this. Here I am, a sentient being on a planet flying through space, alive to witness the beginning of the annihilation of my species. It evokes an awe that cannot be fully explained or understood.

    I guess I’ll go watch Lars von Trier’s movie, Melancholia, again.


    • John D., Melancholia, I never heard of it. But I just checked, it is available on Netflix. I will watch it tonight. Thanks a million,


      • Anonymous says:

        Its a film about the destruction of one person due to depression, but uses the destruction of the earth as a metaphor for that.

        But it evokes exactly the emotions we all must experience once the inevitability of our situation sinks in.

        Meanwhile, another beautiful day in Virginia Beach…


        • Seems it’s also about a messed-up lot and their social constructs that simply need to have a planet put them out of their misery.
          ‘And they died happily ever after.’

  14. Fred Magyar says:

    I guess what never ceases to amaze me is how few among us can actually read the gigantic bold red letters on the wall and make sense of what is written there. But what the heck, I’m still going kayaking and diving out on the reefs this weekend. The living creatures there are certainly on an inexorable path to certain extinction. Yet I have had a few good decades spending time with them.

    Can’t complain! Case in point a few weeks back I was free diving on a reef at about 25 ft down and suddenly found myself in a school of hundreds of very large Tarpon. I had never seen a school that large in 35 years of diving. Perhaps they were spawning…

    I do have to wonder how many of the 250,000 people we added to the world today will get a chance to something like that?

    “Tyrell: The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long – and you have burned so very, very brightly, Roy. Look at you: you’re the Prodigal Son; you’re quite a prize!
    Batty: I’ve done… questionable things.
    Tyrell: Also extraordinary things; revel in your time.
    Batty: Nothing the God of biomechanics wouldn’t let you into heaven for.”
    Blade Runner

    Here’s to hoping that the gods of biomechanics are kind to those of us who can read all that writing on the wall!


    • Perk Earl says:

      “Roy has the same questions we all have; who am I ?, where am I going? and how long have I got?” voiceover by Harrison Ford’s character on that rainy rooftop just after Roy let’s go of the dove symbolizing his soul going skyward. Blade Runner

  15. Kam says:

    “Crude oil will peak in this decade and be almost completely gone by the end of the first half of this century. Then natural gas and coal will go in the second half.”

    If crude peaks and starts to fall, then economy will likely go into depression, and coal & natural gas production will also drop because of this.

    • Kam, you are correct. Once crude oil peaks and goes into serious decline, there is no predicting what kind of economic recession, depression or chaos may follow.

      Thanks for that ray of sunshine. 😉

      • Paulo says:

        Well folks,

        All of Ron’s ideas seem bang on, as do your comments. I cannot disagree. Nevertheless, it does not change one iota that each day I give thanks and look forward with optimism. Perhaps these are the very best days left for our family, and if they are soon to evaporate with troubles and decline I would hate to think I wasted one minute of them. And if this reasonable forecast scenario does not occur any time soon, I would hate to think I wasted one minute thinking it would, because in the end it does not matter nor is there much I can do about it. Our garden is in, we have years of wood heat stockpiled and under cover, our finances are fine, health okay, and we could pretty much live on what we grow. If my kids lose their jobs they could relocate, here. I can’t do anything much beyond what we have done as far as prepping goes. Sure, we could get frantic about it but sometimes you have to leave it up to fate and fortune. Fate is often fickle, regardless.

        Ron and readers, communicating these ideas is a necessary obligation. It is the right thing to do. But when all is said and done, (no trite pun intended), we owe life our very best, and that includes deliberate behaviours such as integrity, hard work, and good cheer……optimism. If there is a way out, a way to go forward, it will take the very best all of us have to offer. It might be no more than keep on keepin’ on, and being cheerful when there is a lot to be down about.

        Posting an essay with such negative implications is a courageous act. You continue to have my respect for your diligent work and for hosting a forum where ideas can flow freely. Thanks again.

        Paul S

    • Patrick says:

      In a recent post Gail Tverberg forecasts our future energy supplies as follows:
      All supplies drop together because they are all dependent on oil.

      • Dennis Coyne says:

        Gail fails to account for price increases that will change how resources are allocated.
        Diesel will still be available for mining coal and producing energy, the price will be greater for oil and other forms of energy and adjustments in transportation, heating, and power generation will be made. It will not happen overnight, but the steepness of the decline that Gail foresees only happens if the economy crashes and never recovers. A spike in oil prices is likely to lead to a recession, it is very unlikely that it will be permanent.

        One argument that Gail makes is the connection between oil use and economic growth, newly industrializing countries grow more quickly than more mature economies so a comparison between India and China(less developed economies) with Europe and the US(more mature economies) is an apple to orange comparison.

        The idea that we cannot substitute for liquid fuels, also lacks merit, buy a more efficient vehicle, move closer to work, take the train, bus, or subway, use teleconferencing more. Efficiency can be increased by a large measure and higher prices will make these things happen.

        On metals, as the price rises, recycling becomes more competitive and less metal needs to be mined.

        Anyway I tend to find Gail’s posts not very persuasive.

  16. Watcher says:

    In the end it doesn’t really matter how many survive. What matters is if you are one of them and in a dominant position vs the rest.

    And you do want to encourage cooperation. You want those others to cooperate in configuring themselves subordinate.

    • Joe Clarkson says:

      About half right. What I would say: “In the end it only matters how many survive. It doesn’t matter if you are one of them so your status is irrelevant. And you do want to encourage cooperation. Everyone must cooperate in configuring themselves subordinate to their descendants.”

      • Watcher says:

        Good luck with changing human nature.

        • Dennis Coyne says:

          Hi Watcher,

          Despite Ron’s assessment there are aspects of human nature besides the “will to win”, it may be that all humans wish to be the Alpha Male, but for many millions of years there are only a minority who play that role. It may be the role that you wish for most (based on many of your comments), but there are other sides to human nature as well.

          There are times when humans perform acts of great courage and sacrifice for family, friends, country, and on occasion for complete strangers. Not everyone spends all their money or wealth like a drunken sailor, there are humans that save and plan for the future, though maybe not as many as there should be.

          So the idea of saving wealth and preserving the value of assets for one’s children is not something that is contrary to human nature at all.

          • Watcher says:

            Well, of course.

            Instinct wants one’s offspring to have a better future, and if you’re dominant then things should be configured for them to be even more dominant. That’s what dynasties are all about. Defeat the enemy and offer him the noble opportunity to serve your family. Be persuasive about it. Point out that the favorable configuration he and his family will have serving your family may fund opportunities for his children to elevate — and then of course keep an eye on things to be sure they don’t elevate to a level you would call “threat”. If something like that is unfolding, pull the plug on things.

            If he is too proud to take the opportunity to improve his offspring’s position, well, you can still keep an eye on him — but risks are low. He was defeated when he had more strength. He poses less threat with none.

            • Dennis Coyne says:

              Hi Watcher,

              There is a certain amount of Machiavelli in all of us I suppose, but not everyone’s focus is solely on power (as in power over others) as opposed to energy per unit time.

              • Watcher says:

                True. Those for whom victory is not an interest will be offered those opportunities to serve the victorious dynasty, and an important skillset will be simply to know one’s place.

                Anyone notice what a great dynasty Sam Walton achieved?

                • “Those for whom victory is not an interest will be offered those opportunities to serve the victorious dynasty…” ~ Watcher

                  Perhaps a severe die-off where humans are again but a mere drop in the ocean of the wild populations will “take care” of those ‘dynasties’.

                  No man is an island dynasty. 😉

                  • Watcher says:

                    Oh let’s be sure we understand something.

                    If there is a die-off, it raises the probabilities of eventual extinction substantially.

                    The easy oil is gone. It’s not coming back. A die off would eliminate the caloric surplus required to go after the very difficult oil, and that means there will be no further technological progress. No more flights to scholarly seminars. Probably no more internet. People whose time is spent behind an oxen won’t have time to fix servers that break.

                    And so the small communities will fall victim to disease, taking their numbers down. Then some natural disaster strikes and down go the numbers further. This is everywhere.

                    Eventually, extinction. Oh well.

                  • Watcher, I cannot agree with your thesis. Humans will go extinct at some time in the distant future but it will not be due to the die-off. The black rats did not go extinct even in the area where they suffered a huge die-off. The reindeer did go extinct on St. Matthew Island but not elsewhere. The reason reindeer did not go extinct is the same reason humans will not go extinct, there were so many of them in so many other places.

                    We humans are everywhere. If we go extinct in one place there will be hundreds of other places where we will not go extinct. Our numbers are far too great and we exist in every niche on earth. We could lose 99.9 percent of the population and still have enough people left to carry on the species.

                    Species go extinct because their numbers are too low and live only in one or two areas. Humans do not fit that pattern, our numbers are enormous and we are everywhere.

                  • Caelan MacIntyre says:

                    Relatively-early/Self-induced extinction is possible of course, but maybe only in conditions severe enough that threaten the arthropods, as in the Permian-Triassic event apparently. This seems to assume, though, that arthropods are ‘tough’ across the board, which I doubt. For example, last week in Shelburne, NS, for the first time ever, I saw a water spider emerge from a marsh, and it made me wonder how ‘niche arthropods’ could be affected. Incidentally, it was accompanied by a chorus of spring peepers, (So small, yet so loud!) which is the reason why I ventured through a footpath there.
                    In any case, from my perch, indications suggest that humans are seriously flirting with that kind of eventuality. I still see one car per person, and it appears as the majority.

  17. wimbi says:

    Good to see a few of the names from the late, much lamented Oil Drum.

    Bigger brain. Well, who knows, we might put it to use and work our way out of this mess with only a few billion casualties. Since I am a gadget maker, I see lots of cute hardware that would make it “easy” to live off the sun without all that blather about rare earth limits and so on.

    I make my usual reference here. Look at the NASA space isotope generators. Little bits of simple hardware that put out real watts and cost huge amounts- but not because of anything intrinsic, but just NASA way of doing things. Could cost closer to a lawn mower.

    Reproduction, simple, make sex dolls that are so attractive that nobody would want to mess with a DNA partner.

    • Old farmer mac says:

      It’s great to run into you here Wimbi.

      Count me in for one of those dolls… where do I send my deposit?

      A couple of decades back I reached the age that the only women I could possibly get are the ones I find totally uninteresting as sexual partners -once in a while I run into one who I wouldn’t mind having for a sister or neighbor of course- which could possibly lead to a relationship– but they are invariably spoken for.

      In general I am afraid Ron has nailed his case down nice and tight.

      But we do act in ways that are not intuitively obvious or in accord with basic biological theory occasionally.

      It is true that the usual thing is for a species to expand to match the carrying capacity of its environment and for the population of it to oscillate a bit around that figure. Sometimes the swings are huge as in the case of the bamboo rats.

      I don’t have links handy but there is a superb record of the populations of snowshoe rabbits and lynx going up and down more in a remarkably regular fashion – this data inadvertently collected in the records of the Hudson Bay company which had a crown monopoly on the fur trade.

      But we humans do sometimes do things that are unexpected according to the basic rules.

      When we get to be very rich – meaning enjoying a typical Western European life style rich- we often stop having children to such an extent that the population will actually start falling in such countries within a few more decades given current trends.

      It is not inconcievable that this trend might spread far enough and fast enough to save us from the worst aspects of population overshoot but I am afraid the odds are very much against this happening.

      Too little too late about sums up population control at this stage of the game.

      Incredibly charismatic and or powerful leaders have emerged in the past and such leaders may again emerge in the future.

      A Gandhi or a Stalin with a yen for a world with a lot less people could make his dream come true over large parts of the globe.

      Yeah. I might hit the lottery too.

      • Doug Leighton says:


        As is so often the case, I think your comments above are spot on.


      • wimbi says:

        Ah come on, OFM, all of us old R&D engineers know that there are solutions to anything. Population. Collapse and quick death of maybe 6 billion people is surely a solution. Maybe we can think of something that might be more cheery?

        So convene the usual wild idea bull session and crank out some wild ideas. For starters, here are a few.

        Sex dolls.
        Sterilization drugs in grain
        Bribery- anybody with no kids gets X$/yr, and X drops as N increases – Call it the artificial wealth syndrome.
        Work ’em to death making the solar revolution
        Soap Operas with totally persuasive subliminal message- no kids= lots of sex, power, speedboats. ( I know, already done, and effective, too)

        Energy. Really no problem here. Solar and wind in plentitude. Pay for it all by quitting the 85% of economy now used to manufacture, distribute, sell, and tote to dump- trash.

        Capitalism, (purpose of life is unrestrained greed) Solution. Firing Squad.

        And so on. Offer a few megabucks for best plans. We all know people will work insanely out of proportion to win a paltry prize.

        Good to hear from you. I humbly await admonition.

        • Dennis Coyne says:

          Hi Wimbi,

          Nice ideas, pretty sure they are not to be taken seriously. 🙂

          • Old farmer mac says:

            Wimbi’s suggestions may be couched in tongue in cheek form- dry humor- but I fear a couple of them at least will have to be adopted on the grand scale if we are to have any hope of avoiding a very hard crash.

            BUT getting the world to adopt such solutions would depend on the emergence of a dictatorial world government with leaders capable of understanding the problem and willing to make the necessary sacrifices.

            It just ain’t a gonna happen barring a miracle.

            I have often wondered if it would actually be possible for a relatively small group of researchers to create and release an incurable highly contagious disease of the human reproductive tract male or female that would render most of us permanently sterile.

            If a drug that would make a man or a woman infertile for some considerable period of time, say for five or ten years, could be invented and mixed with food it would work miracles in places that are severely overpopulated and experiencing famine.

            We could mix it with ready to eat junk food – candy bars- and air drop it by the millions of doses.Properly labeled of course.Maybe with a wrapper that talks like a greeting card does these days. Eat this no baby for ten rainy seasons.

            The ethical implications are both enormous and trivial.If I were in a position to make the decision I would drop the candy bars.

            • Dennis Coyne says:

              Hi OFM,

              We could also try education, empowerment of women, access to birth control and allowing free trade and the free market to spur economic development ( a centrist mix of policy proposals that most mainstream economists would agree on). This would allow developing countries to transition to lower birth rates without anyone “playing god”. And I realize that you might have been kidding. You do know that “:)” will get you a 🙂 if you leave off the quotation marks, I think.

  18. Perk Earl says:

    Ron, interesting graphs currently showing only 3% wild animals. Apart from air/land vertibrates, I wonder what percentage of wild ocean vertibrates have been eradicated at the hands of modern man. It would be interesting to see the decline by decades. At current rates of slaughter will sharks become extinct? Will dolphins still be around in a hundred years? The Japanese recently agreed not to whale hunt in Antarctic waters, only to rescind a couple of weeks later. We just don’t seem to be able to stop ourselves as a species from decimating wild animal species. I had hoped the movie Avatar would help change public opinion, but nothing seems to have changed.

    • Doug Leighton says:


      “According to Bloomberg data, capital expenditure by the largest oil companies is now five times the level it was in 2000. Yet the production of the companies has barely increased. This continuing fall in capex productivity has been masked by the annual average Brent oil price rising to four times the level in 2000. The cost of producing the marginal barrel of oil is increasing. According to Goldman Sachs, over the past two years no major new project has come onstream below $70/bbl, with most in the $80–100/bbl range.”

      Interesting take from the voluminous quantity of information involved in the (good) link. Think we more-or-less know this but doesn’t hurt to see it restated. Big factor going ahead I’d say and I’m sure you agree.


      • Dennis Coyne says:

        Hi Doug,

        I have pointed this out before. Part of the capital spending is to offset legacy decline, lets call it 8% (if there were no new wells brought on line), so for 2013 that’s 6.04 MMb/d of new wells needed just to keep output flat at 75.5 MMb/d. Also the oil sells for about 4 times more than it did in 2000, so 5 times more spending sounds like a lot but given that there getting 4 times more money per barrel, it is not that bad. Also note that in 2000 when you add new output plus output to replace legacy decline we get 7.8 Mb/d, so things were definitely better in 2000 with 33% greater amounts of oil from 20% less capital spending (as a proportion of oil revenue).

        A simple example 620 B in oil sales in 2000 and lets say 62 B in capital spending or 10% of revenue. In 2013 capital spend increases by a factor of 5 so 310 B, and 2.77 Trillion in oil sales so capital spending is now 11% of revenue, not a big increase percentage wise, but we got less of an oil increase to show for it only 2.2 billion barrels in 2013 from new wells vs 2.8 billion in 2000 or 21% less oil with 1% higher spending (11% of revenue vs 10% of revenue).

  19. Mile9 says:

    OMG, that Population Graph looks like an AL GORE HOCKEY STICK, Quick Republicans RUN and HIDE!

    • Old farmer mac says:

      Here is a short excerpt from an article in The American Conservative current issue online free to read about science and politics.

      It would pay all my liberal friends great dividends to read it very carefully and take the contents to heart.
      What was a more surprising result, to me at least, was that “as their level of science comprehension increases, individuals with a highly secular identity become more likely to say ‘they believe’ in evolution; but as those with a highly religious identity become more science literate, in contrast, they become even more likely to say they don’t.” This result is repeated on climate change, as “as their score on one or another measure of science comprehension goes up, Democrats become more likely, and Republicans less, to say they ‘believe’ in human-caused global warming.”

      As Kahan takes pains to emphasize, then, arguments over evolution and climate change are absolutely not matters of scientific education, or knowledge vs. ignorance. They’re culture wars. One can obtain an “impeccable” Ph.D. studying paleontology, or practice neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, and still answer an evolution true/false question in the negative. Likewise, one can enthusiastically and indignantly affirm evolution’s truth while not having the first idea of how to explain genetic mutations.

      Kahan emphasizes that “we must disentangle competing positions on climate change from opposing cultural identities, so that culturally pluralistic citizens aren’t put in the position of having to choose between knowing what’s known to science and being who they are.” And, “you must take pains not to confuse understanding evolutionary science with the ‘pledge of cultural allegiance’ that ‘I believe in evolution’ has become.” Rod Dreher recently made a similar point regarding conservatives and environmentalism.


      Both side are equally guilty of course of badmouthing the other.

      BUT it seems the so called conservatives outnumber the so called liberals at the polls enough of the time to prevent much happening on the climate and energy front.

      IT occurs to me that if my liberal friends would refrain from calling me and my parents and grandparents superstitious fools I would be more apt to consider an issue such as climate change with an open mind.

      (It should be pretty obvious to any body who reads my comments over a period of time that todays conventional conservatives think I am an addlepated liberal.Given the realities of the modern republican party and the modern democratic party I am neither a liberal or a conservative. I do however refer to myself as a conservative since I define the word to suit myself Humpty Dumpty fashion.)

      When you attack a persons value system across the board you can only expect a hostile reaction.

      We are above all tribal creatures that evolved living in small bands where any outsider was apt to be an enemy and therefore suspect at best and most often a known dangerous enemy. Tribal solidarity is far more critical than any other given issue in such a society unless that issue happens to involve short term survival.The tribe is the key to long term survival.

      Our brains still work the same way. We don’t think of ourselves as tribes in the classic sense of the word any more but we are still card carry ing members of whatever ” tribe ” that happens to capture our attention and loyalty.

      My kind of people happen to think of abortions as murder.Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.My baby sister is a nurse who specializes in looking after preemies and she has saved some who could have been legally aborted . I have talked personally to somebody who has spoken personally with a person who survived a saline abortion and was born alive.

      A person in a jail cell is a person. Is a fetus not a person because it has not yet been been delivered from its first home/ temporary jail in the womb?

      I happen to think this country is better off with the citizens personally well armed than otherwise- of course that might have a little to do with my second wife being a Jewess who lost the entire European branch of her family in the Holocaust and my calling the cops once upon a time repeatedly and their taking a leisurely hour to show up when there were numerous cops within five minute drive in squad cars.

      The only real reason I could ever think of for the delay was that they were unwilling to put their fat asses on the line and unwilling to show up until the troubles were over.It could have been racism but the facts don’t fit that explanation very well.

      It might have to do with my finding it necessary to patrol my own property in order to remind thieves that just because an expensive piece of equipment is sitting out in a lonely field it has not been abandoned free for the taking.

      My first wife was looked like Angelina Jolie except better. She used to take many long moonlit rides half naked -tight shorts and tee top- but I never had to worry about anybody bothering her because people in this part of the world back then knew better.

      But when we lived in the city I worried to the extent that I usually escorted her on late night shopping trips.Illegal pistol in my pocket.Fortunately I can carry legally now.

      Now of course the latter portions of this comment will shock many a person with my crudity and insensitivity and lack of concern for the victims of drive by shootings and the wrecked lives of young women not ready or interested in being a parent etc.

      It was composed with that thought in mind in order to help me get my point across.

      People hate your guts when you attack their values.

      Only a fool would make a remark such as” republicans run” in the case above without a smiley face and then expect cooperation.

      I am emphatically not calling the person who made the comment a fool but merely pointing out that he or she cannot expect the cooperation of ” republicans”.

      We seem be better supplied with fools of all stripes than any other resource.

      It is too bad there is no better use for them than as cannon fodder in wars cultural and actual or literal– the kind fought with guns and blood and gore..

      • The Wet One says:

        I’ve become increasing aware that extreme partisanship is dumb. From what you say, any partisanship whatsoever might well be dumb. Especially in a diverse society. Hard to say.

        • Dennis Coyne says:

          Hi Wet One,

          I agree on the extremes. Not so much on the no partisanship, unless that implies unwillingness to work with others. The kind of no compromise atmosphere that currently exists in US politics, is not a recipe for solving problems.

          I think OFM’s main point is to be willing to listen to others without responding with name calling (basic politeness really). Also to realize that what one understands to be true has a lot to do with their politics, though I am not entirely convinced on this point. I should probably read the article.

  20. Dr. Doom says:

    It’s nice to know we humans (and our pets) “won” over the rest of the terrestrial wild animals. We’re winning in the oceans as well, except perhaps for those pesky jellyfish. Maybe we can keep on “winning” by developing a taste for jellyfish. Go humans!

  21. Ibrahim H Gulay says:

    Great resume. Sad but true. The worst part of all is that only a small part of people can see and comprehensive what’s happening and has no power to stop this craziness.

  22. Kum Dollison says:

    Eeeh, I gotta take the other side on this one. We can, easily, power the United States on Solar, Wind, and Cellulosic Ethanol. Virtually all other countries could, as well.

    I see a period of slow, to no growth/recession, but “Armageddon?” nah.

    People can be unbelievably stupid (especially, in a group,) but they are not reindeer.

  23. Steve Bull says:

    Great post. Another wonderful example, and this one using humans, is that of Easter Island. As Jared Diamond argues, a group of 20-30 original settlers came upon a lush island and managed over the years to grow to perhaps 20,000 people living in a complex society capable of creating and moving multi-tonne moai and ahus about with no advanced technology whatsoever. What helped them? It appears that the island was once home to giant palm trees that were used to construct sea-faring canoes to help supplement the island’s diet, construct transportation networks, and hold the soil in place. Over the years, however, the island was deforested and the trees disappeared. Once the trees vanished, collapse ensued. Statues went unfinished, off-shore fishing ceased, and soil began to disappear. When Jacob Roggeveen arrived at the island on Easter Day, 1722, he was greeted by a small group of people who were barely surviving (cannibalism even had set in). A natural human experiment of overshoot and collapse if ever there was one.

  24. Dennis Coyne says:

    More on Population and Total Fertility Ratio

    Based on UN estimates of the World’s Total Fertility Ratio (Births per woman) which can be downloaded at the link below:

    http://esa.un.org/wpp/Excel-Data/fertility.htm see Total fertility (TFR)

    The trend from 1960-1965 to 2005-2010 (most recent estimate) is a negative exponential with World TFR (total fertility ratio) decreasing 1.7 % each year on average since the mid 1960s. If we project the trend forward (see chart below) a World TFR of less than 2 is reached by 2020 and a World TFR of 1 is reached by 2060.

    I do not think it will go that low that fast, but I do not think a TFR of between 1.5 and 1.75 by 2050 is unreasonable. If social norms change so that a one child family is considered the ideal family size (rather than the current western norm of a two child family) then TFR may continue to fall towards 1 (as it has in major urban areas of China). Note that most married residents of these major cities in China are each from single child families and those couples are allowed to have two children if they choose, but most choose to have only one child. The social norms in China for family size have changed and they have changed in Japan and South Korea as well.

    • Dennis Coyne says:

      More charts of TFR (Total Fertility Ratio) for East Asia(low population case), India(middle case), and Sub-Saharan Africa(high population case)

    • Dennis Coyne says:

      Sub-Saharan Africa (UN Data used for all charts)- log scale on vertical axis (exponential trend line on all TFR charts)

      • Dennis, fertility ratio changes in different parts of the world for totally different reasons. In most of Europe the fertility ratio is dropping because better educated people with already a very high standard of living, simply decided they wanted fewer children. In Russia, right after the collapse, the fertility ratio dropped like a rock and stayed low for years. But now it is on the rise because the people are now better off and can afford more children.

        Fertility rate dropped in Russia as the death rate was rising because of very poor economic conditions. But it is now rising for the same reasons:
        ‘Dying’ Russia’s Birth Rate Is Now Higher Than The United States’
        Since 2008, the Russian birth rate has increased by about 10% while the United States has slumped by about 9%.

        In China the fertility rate fell because that was exactly what the totalitarian government dictates.

        But the fertility rate is dropping is Sub-Sahara Africa for another reason, mostly malnutrition and disease. Of course there are some cases where the women have access to birth control and this helps. As conditions get worse this African method of fertility control will spread world-wide.

        • Dennis Coyne says:

          Hi Ron,

          Malnutrition and disease affect population, but do not affect the total fertility ratio very much. You are correct that there are many factors at work, that was part of my point. The argument was that abundant food and energy leads to high population is true if the total fertility ratio remains constant, but it does not.

          The statistics show that the TFR has been falling form 1960 to 2010, it is possible that this will change, but there are many places besides China such as South Korea, Japan, and most of Europe where the TFR has fallen to between 1.0 and 1.5. In addition, many Chinese are not bound by the one child policy any longer and they continue to have small families.

          The idea that the World TFR will fall due to malnutrition and disease seems pretty far fetched, in fact the total chaos scenario could possiblyly lead to a rise in the TFR to African levels.

          The reason for the high TFR in Africa is a lack of development. The peak oil scenario that includes a rapid economic decline to very low output levels would indeed bring population down, but the mechanism would be an increase in the death rate rather than a big change in birth rates.

          A comparison of World, Russian and US Total Fertility Ratio(TFR) in chart below. Note that US and Russia only account for about 6.5% of World population.
          The idea that Russian TFR fell after the Soviet Collapse is a good one, as conditions improved there was a slight rebound based on UN data, for many large regions of the World (with the notable exception of sub Saharan Africa) there has been a fairly steady decrease in TFR which is what we see when we look at the World TFR.

          • dolph says:

            First, much of what we call the developed world, outside of the United States, is quite crowded. Europe and east Asia, as examples, have very high population densities.
            There are two necessary conditions for fertility to fall: development, and density. If either of those is missing, fertility remains high.

            Still, declining fertility is only part of the equation…the other is death rate. Ultimately, the death rate has to increase if population is to stabilize or decrease. But how can this happen when medical science insists that all 7 billion of us will keep living longer and longer?

            A sacrifice has to be made somewhere. It’s clear the developed world has chosen to take excessive care of the elderly and stop having so many children, which is a recipe for decline.

            There is also a conundrum here, of course. If one is concerned about the future, they might have fewer, or no children. But if they have fewer or no children, why are they concerned about the future? Their stake is much less.

            On the other hand, if somebody has many children, in theory they should be more concerned about the future. But if they are concerned about the future, why do they keep procreating and exacerbating the problem?

            Alas none of this can really be resolved.

            • Dennis Coyne says:

              Hi Dolph,

              Let us start with the premise that although average life expectancy may increase in the future it is unlikely to ever rise above 110 years.

              If you accept that premise over the next 200 years then as long as the total fertility ratio (TFR) falls below 2 then population will fall, it will take some time but death rates do not need to increase.
              On page 1 there is a chart showing the results for world population at different levels of TFR. TFR=births per woman over her lifetime. There are many countries with a TFR between 1 and 1.5 and you are correct that they tend to be developed and densely populated.

              Edit 5/9/2015

              Note that the high population density is not a necessary condition, there are places that are not densely populated like Canada for example where the TFR is about at European levels (around 1.5), there is a social norm component where there are different attitudes about the ideal family size, in East Asia they choose 1 child and in Europe the attitude is 2 children, population density may be a part of it, but if so then Canada does not fit the rule.

              • SomeGuy says:

                The average Canadian lives in a more densely populated location vs. the average American – Canada fits the rule just fine.

                Also, the Native population of Canada, which does tend to live in less dense areas, has a much higher fertility rate.

      • Doug Leighton says:


        I think there are too many variables in population dynamics to permit a lot of the generalizations that are being made. My question is: What will adding the combined populations of India and China do to the livability of the planet? This is probably (possibly) going to happen and I doubt the result(s) will be great. These new people will need food, shelter — and fuel.



        • Dennis Coyne says:

          Hi Doug,

          The dynamics are not really that complicated, the most important factor is the total fertility ratio which is why I focused on it. China’s population will stabilize and then decline in the near future and India is also making good progress, Africa (south of the Sahara) is the only problem area most other areas of the world should be at a TFR of 2 or less by 2050. Development aid should focus on Africa it really is not complicated.

          • Doug Leighton says:


            Perhaps but: The U.N.’s newest “high-fertility” world population projections would carry us to 15.8 billion by the end of this century – (and, with life-extension research, which has already achieved six-fold life-extensions in laboratory organisms, even a tiny fractional such achievement in humans, could send numbers world population to even higher levels). This graph depicts humankind’s population growth over the past 10,000 years and adds the numbers reflected in the May 2011 U.N. projections to 2100.


  25. clifman says:

    Nice, concise summary of our elemental predicament, Ron. Brings to mind the great work of Nate Hagens. I’ve been waiting since Sept. for Part II of his “Twenty Things I Didn’t Learn in Business School” (which, if anyone hasn’t read it, is archived on TOD: http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8402 , and delves deeply into the confluence of human nature & population dynamics as it manifests in the interplay between net energy and the financial sector – or something like that). I highly recommend it, and hopefully some day Part II will show up on Nate’s site as promised: http://www.themonkeytrap.us/

    Anyone know what’s up with Nate that has kept him from publishing Part II as yet? It seems perhaps he’s gone all ‘Greenish’ on us, doing some stealth leveraging on some key players…?

    • RalphW says:

      Nate is still floating around the peak oil scene but seems to have wound back the dial a lot. Recently gave a local presentation, commented on a web site, even interviewed on the BBC. My guess is that he is taking more time to be himself at present. It is hard to be lauded as a Cassandra all the time, sometimes you just want to get on with life.

  26. There was something I overlooked yesterday when preparing this essay, “carrying capacity”. I have added the following paragraph up top:

    Carrying Capacity: The term “carrying capacity” has been debated ever since the population debate surfaced in the 1960s. But they were always talking about “human carrying capacity”. But what many fail to realize is that the earth is at 100% carrying capacity for living creatures and has been since the Cambrian Era. Every square meter of fertile terrestrial space has been contested for since then. Every time there is a winner, consequently there is a loser. Every time some creature wins territory some other creature must lose territory. It is, and has been, a constant battle for half a billion years.

  27. Nate says:

    The Smil numbers on human vs wild biomass are from 2000. The current numbers are around (or over) 50:1. Can send you details if you want. I wonder if that number is going to get worse, or better, and how.

    • Thanks Nate. 50 to 1 is worse than I posted, two percent instead of three percent. Yes I would love to see those details. But there is no doubt that the number will get worse. The human population is increasing by about 80 million per year. For every increase on our part there must be a corresponding decrease on their part. Of course it is not necessarily 1 to 1 but when we increase they must decrease.

      I expect by mid century it will be 100 to 1.

  28. Ezrydermike says:

    interestingly enough…I just came across this from Richard Heinburg. Similar theme.

    “In addition to our innate propensity to maximize population and consumption, we humans also have difficulty making sacrifices in the present in order to reduce future costs. We’re genetically hardwired to respond to immediate threats with fight-or-flight responses, while distant hazards matter much less to us. It’s not that we don’t think about the future at all; rather, we unconsciously apply a discount rate based on the amount of time likely to elapse before a menace has to be faced.”


  29. "greenish" says:

    Good article Ron, and good to see some of the old TOD posters still in fine form. A tip of the hat to you all…

    • PeakOilBarrel is starting to look like TOD with all these familiar names. TOD seems to have gone on haitus at the most interesting time, since things seem to be shaping down.

      What’s with the quotes around greenish by the way? It is like greenishish. 😉

      My intuition has been bothering me of late about the carbon cycle.

      • Old farmer mac says:

        One reason I post so much here is the fond hope that by doing so others -especially old TOD hands – will be encouraged to do the same.

        The more comments the more visitor’s traffic is likely to grow- and while I don’t remember him saying so in so many words I think it is safe to say Ron’s primary goal is to get the word out about peak oil and related issues.

        It is beginning to seem a little like a favorite hangout again- and I live too far out in the boonies to have a favorite pub or bar or other place to socialize. Furthermore the sort of people I like to talk to most are sort of scarce in this backwoods cultural and physical.

  30. Watcher says:


    (Reuters) – A Libyan government deal to reopen major oil ports controlled by rebels looks likely to unravel as the appointment of a new Islamist-backed prime minister fuels distrust that is eroding support for the accord.

    It’s a 45 yr old hotel entrepreneur. haha

    That oil is shut in so effectively you might actually suspect the Russians are orchestrating rebel opposition. Or maybe the Saudis, though they sure have been quiet since Ukraine’s elevation of Russian oil and gas control visibility uncorked.

    • Watcher says:

      That is a must read article. Here are two gems:

      Shell (RDSa.L) has called off a multi-billion dollar gas project that was seen as a step towards platform-free offshore production after costs on the pilot project hit seven times the initial estimate. It would have placed all equipment on the seabed, including compression, and would have powered it from the shore, a huge technological step.


      Statoil (STL.OL), the state-owned national champion, has slashed spending, eliminating advanced projects like an Arctic rig that would have been able to operate in two-metre thick ice.

      Defunding R&D to pay dividends. There’s just something systemically inevitable about that as regards natural corporate behavior.

      Is it even remotely rational to expect Putin’s technical staff not to have known this? Norway’s fall hugely increases Moscow’s power.

      • Old farmer mac says:

        Well — come to think about it- the reason corporations exist is to pay dividends.;-)

        They are an artificial life form and it is ok to work them to death.

        They aren’t faithful old workhorses being sent to the dogwood factory instead of being put out to pasture.

        Humor aside I share your concerns about the fate of their customers.

        • Watcher says:

          The issue is a bit accountingish. You suspend R&D to pay dividends . . . that doesn’t speak to earnings. It speaks to cash. You can always borrow at 0% interest to pay anything you like.

          These folks are clearly concerned they won’t be able to roll that loan over at 0%.

          • Woody says:

            The oil companies appear to me to be in the process of making a transition to smaller natural gas companies. The oil side of the business is not able to replace reserves and operate as an ongoing concern so is essentially becoming an internal royalty trust to be wound down with profits returned to the owners (share holders).

      • TechGuy says:

        “Is it even remotely rational to expect Putin’s technical staff not to have known this? Norway’s fall hugely increases Moscow’s power.”

        Russia is tapped out and its doubtful they will replace Shell and StatOil for Arctic drilling. Russia needs the assistances of Western Oil companies to drill in the arctic and with the US-Russia Proxy war in Ukraine, its unlikely the US Gov’t will allow Western Oil companies to work with Russia.

        The net result is an early peak oil date and a steeper decline slope.

        • Watcher says:

          This comes up a lot.

          If you lack expertise, you hire it away and pay what you must. As for Exxon or BP refusing to drill the Kara Sea, Petrochina will be delighted to hire whoever they must and get the contract.

          • Doug Leighton says:


            You are absolutely right here. It doesn’t matter where you are in the oil patch, you have access to any technology or engineering skills you want (or can pay for). And, there is no legitimate reason to say X’s engineers are better than Y’s engineers.

            Another example, at one stage in my life I was tasked with converting Russian derived (Russians use their own methodology) reserves into ones acceptable to Western financial institutions. Even though the method(s) used by the Russians were completely different than ours, we came up with almost exactly the same result.


          • TechGuy says:

            Watcher Wrote
            “As for Exxon or BP refusing to drill the Kara Sea”

            I don’t think Exxon or BP will “refuse”, it will because the US gov’t forbids it. I think Petro China would not be able to do it, or they will have a big learning curve to catch up. If they had the capability they would have already started years ago.

    • Jeffrey J. Brown says:

      Based on the 2001 to 2012 rate of decline in Norway’s ECI Ratio (ratio of production to consumption), I estimate that their post-2001 Cumulative Net Exports* (CNE) will be on the order of about 24 Gb, with about 10 Gb having been shipped from 2002 to 2012 inclusive, which would put their estimated post-2001 CNE at about 42% depleted. This would be an estimated rate of depletion in post-2001 CNE of about 5%/year.

      *Total petroleum liquids + other liquids, EIA

    • Doug Leighton says:


      This is a well written and balanced article. I am married to a Norwegian and as a result spend a lot of time in Norway (family connections). Yes there are a few problems there and they are growing. That said, it’s impossible to imagine how less endowed countries will cope with depletion, overpopulation, etc.


      • Frugal says:

        As a kid living in Sweden during the 60’s, we used to vacation in Norway — it was just a short car ride away. This was before oil was extracted from the North Sea. Norway was then seen a poor cousin to booming Sweden. All Norway had going for it was fish and trees and hydro power while Sweden was an industrial power house.

        Then the oil boom started in the 70’s and everything changed overnight. The roles where suddenly reversed, and Sweden became the poor cousin and this is still the case today. Norway’s oil production peaked about 15 years ago and is now about half its peak volume. This hasn’t stopped the Norwegians from acting like Kuwaiti shieks because oil prices have quadrupled since. Last time I was there I was struck by how lazy they have become. All the menial work seems to be done by foreigners, especially Swedes.

        The end of the oil party won’t be fun for Norwegians, but they’ll survive. They still have forests and hydro although the fish is mostly gone.

        • Doug Leighton says:


          Yes, amazing how quickly the world changes. I agree with your observations totally. Perhaps the only advantage of being an old guy is that you have a bit more perspective on some of this stuff. Maybe!

          As an aside, I did my Master’s Degree In Sweden. It was, for me, a completely useless thesis topic: magnetohydrodynamic (Alfvén wave) theory. However, met my wife lovely wife in the process so I figure I hit the jackpot.


          • Watcher says:

            Soviet silent propulsion.

            • Doug Leighton says:


              If that were the case I’d be rich; Northern (and southern) Lights actually. Well, maybe a little more that that.


        • Pete says:

          Funny how the article rang a bell. The author wrote about a year ago another article about declining competitiveness and work motivation in Norway, due to the oil money.


          The analogy with Nokia and Finland is interesting but exaggerated in my opinion. Here nobody’s fooled by the institutional call for a new digital breakthrough. The Rovio-hype (Angry Birds) is over and Jolla’s new phone is not getting the acclamation expected outside geek circles. Students don’t bother to study computer engineering and university computers run Windows instead of Linux. Sad to waste such an opportunity.

          By the way, China is planning to span a worldwide high-speed train network. Connections to USA over Bering, Europe through Russia / Kazakhstan – Iran – Iraq – Turkey and Singapore via Thailand. Also in the tubes : connecting Africa’s capital cities with bullet trains. Interesting experience of the mind, it would be nice to have an expert’s feasibility assessment here.


    • A new welfare model for everyone, not just Norway, sounds about right and timely, anyway, depending on what it is/turns out to be… Ideally, maybe like people taking care of themselves for themselves, locally, sustainably, regeneratively, and without large-scale, centralized, fossil-fuel-fed capitalist-state pimpocracies.

  31. Political Economist says:

    This week EIA published the May Short Term Energy Outlook. The following graph compares the US monthly crude oil production from January 2010 to February 2014, the monthly averages of weekly crude oil production from January 2010 to April 2014, and the EIA projection of US monthly crude oil production from March 2014 to December 2015.

    The weekly production estimates are never revised. But for any given week or month, the weekly production estimate provides the first estimate of US crude oil production coming from EIA. For late 2011 and much of 2012, weekly production estimates siginificantly underestimated the US oil production compared to the monthly production levels (which are constantly revised by EIA). But otherwise, the weekly production estimates seem to match the monthly production data well.

  32. Political Economist says:

    Before the US oil production peaks, its growth needs to slow down first. For that matter, let’s consider the annual change of US monthly crude oil production (crude oil production of the current monthy less crude oil production one year ago).

    The US crude oil production growth accelerated throughout 2011 and 2012 but apparently plateaued during 2013. Based on the weekly data, US crude oil production growth peaked in September 2013 with an annual change of about 1.6 million barrels per day. But this had to do with the significant underestimate of the September 2012 production level using the weekly data.

    Based on the monthly data, US crude oil production growth also peaked in September 2013 with an annual change of about 1.2 million barrels per day.

    However, according to the EIA Short Term Energy Outlook, the US crude oil production growth will rebound and stay around annual change of 1 million barrels per day until early 2015. Only after early 2015, the US oil production growth will clearly decelerate. Towards the end of 2015, the annual change will fall to about 600,000 barrels per day.

    We will find out if the EIA is too optimistic on this.

  33. Think of wind turbines as reindeer and you have your answer.

    Fossil fuels are being burned and used at a rate greater than that which can be obtained and the demand is inelastic. There is always demand at a price that will be paid, especially in a war zone and during times of war.

    In 2009 dollars, the highest price oil ever reached was during the War between the States.

    Doesn’t seem to change all that much, is always further exacerbated, and the only result is more use of fossil fuels to fuel further devolution of civilizations.

    Peak Insanity seems to be the norm now.

    Regardless of the numbers, the amount of fossil fuels dedicated to defense is the full measure of what it all really is.

    In a nutshell, the epitaph will read: We had to destroy humanity to save humanity.

    Humans need to rethink it all.

    • Old farmer mac says:

      This link is about the early history of the oil industry in this country and well worth a few minutes.

    • “With the environmental crisis, we’re now in a situation where we can decide whether Mayr was right or not. If nothing significant is done about it, and pretty quickly, then he will have been correct: human intelligence is indeed a lethal mutation. Maybe some humans will survive, but it will be scattered and nothing like a decent existence, and we’ll take a lot of the rest of the living world along with us.”
      ~ Noam Chomsky

      Apparently, true democracy may = sustainable civilization; whereas undemocracy may = decline and/or collapse thereof.

      Any randomly-selected country’s laws seem fundamentally undemocratic and unethical, so collapse may be inevitable until or unless the structure of their laws are changed, where they are made uncoercive and democratic… Fossil fuel and climate change issues are of course intimately-connected. Wallmart, Gonesanto, FraqueCo et al. wouldn’t likely see the light of day if it weren’t for ‘thetheir law’, for plutocracy.

      “I think as the years roll on, more and more people will understand that we actually need to change the DNA of this country to have any chance. I think that as the ball starts rolling faster, more and more people will clearly see how the structure of law operates and the necessity of changing it.” Thomas Linzey, Esq.

      “Neofeudalism… signifies the end of shared citizenship… As such, the commodification of policing and security operates to cement (sometimes literally) and exacerbate social and spatial inequalities generated elsewhere; serving to project, anticipate and bring forth a… ‘neo-feudal’ world of private orders in which social cohesion and common citizenship have collapsed… Out of such a marriage of business and government, a symbiosis emerges between the commercial sector’s own private security forces and the local government’s police forces, with repressive outcomes shaped by profit-driven definitions of deviance and a commodification of social control…”~ Wikipedia

  34. Jeffrey J. Brown says:

    Jim Cramer (on CNBC) strikes again, reporting a comment (at 9:32 Eastern time today, 5/9) he has made before, to-wit, we vent/flare more natural gas than we consume. The EIA put US natural gas consumption at 70 BCF/day in 2012, and they estimated that we vented/flared 0.6 BCF/day in 2012.

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that the EIA estimate is too low, but Cramer is asserting that we are venting/flaring in excess of 70 BCF/day, or in excess of 25 TCF per year. This would mean that the US is venting/flaring the equivalent of the combined 2012 natural gas production from: Canada, Norway, UK, Iran, Qatar and Indonesia.

    CNBC seems to broadcasting from Fantasy Island when it comes to energy, and last year one of the CNBC anchors announced that the US was already a net crude oil exporter.

    And so it goes . . .

    • robert wilson says:

      This morning on the Maria Bartiroma business program, First Trust Advisors’ Chief Economist Brian Wesbury said that we have a 1000+ year supply of natural gas.

  35. The Wet One says:

    Merely because people sound so certain of how the denoument of humanity will play out leads me to some skepticism.

    Not that I doubt the general gist of things, just that such overwhelming certainty about the future seems misplaced in light of experience.

    Time shall tell. It always does.

    • Old farmer mac says:

      It’s true that the race is not always to the swift nor the contest to the strong but that’s the way to bet.

      • Doug Leighton says:


        Although I NEVER admit it to her, the smartest person I know (who’s still alive) is my wife. For whatever reason, the gods decided to grant her a (very) high IQ and a photographic memory. And, as she’s said, on more than one occasion, the opposite of optimistic is pessimistic, not gloomy. The message, of course, is don’t be so bloody gloomy about everything. Am I gloomy or, as I prefer to believe, realistic?

        Now this is funny given that Norwegians are a pretty gloomy lot. She also says that the key to life is calmness: not something I mention when I’ve forgotten to take the garbage out, yet again. But one thing that I’ve come to realize: Often my wife sounds quite a lot like you. Don’t get me wrong on this (I’m ALWAYS being misunderstood), I’ve giving you a compliment here.


        • Old farmer mac says:

          The odds are pretty high somebody has thought of almost all of the possibilities. One thing that worries me greatly about the ones that have been identified is that a good many have probably only been given any thought by laymen or one horse professionals- guys and girls with brains and a degree of some sort and maybe a professional license too but lacking in name recognition and power such as comes with a professor ship or holding high office in a big corporation or professional organization.

          Nobody pays any attention to little people until it is too late as a general rule.

      • Watcher says:

        Ya. God fights on the side of the biggest cannon.

    • Doug Leighton says:

      The Wet One,

      Yes, we’re dealing with an equation that has many variables and we (humans) haven’t necessarily identified the most important one(s). Then the ever present logic rule: Never assume that you’ve thought of all the possibilities. Have we?


      • Old farmer mac says:

        Copied from BBC news

        ”Venezuela is rationing electricity after blackouts affected nearly half the country earlier this week.

        A senior energy ministry said power would be cut off for three hours a day in 19 of the country’s 23 states.”

        According to some other sources there will be water rationing too even in the capital.

        The country is suffering from a historical record breaker of a drought but it must be said too that the government has done almost nothing in terms of building new reservoir capacity over the last fifteen years or so.

        No amount of wealth bestowed by nature seems to be enough to trump human mismanagement.

        Considering that Venezuela is a very wealthy country in terms of natural resources this sort of news does not bode well for other countries that must import energy and food and raw materials.

        • Doug Leighton says:

          “No amount of wealth bestowed by nature seems to be enough to trump human mismanagement.” And, if you haven’t already, add Argentina to your list.


          • Doug Leighton says:

            Roman Catholic bishops in Argentina have said the country is “sick with violence” and compared corruption to a cancer “causing injustice and death”.

            “Criminal acts have not only risen in number but in aggressiveness – a violence ever more ferocious and merciless.”

            It says that the Church wishes to see judges and prosecutors acting swiftly, independently and calmly.

            They also criticized “public and private” corruption, calling it a real “social cancer”, which causes “injustice and death”.


            • Dave Ranning says:

              I was in Argentina not too long ago. It was rather civil and easy to navigate compared to Central America in the 80’s, or Columbia.

              Plus, all that great fly fishing and wine, and the women are spectacular!

              But there is corruption, and dissatisfied people.
              Still, massive resources, small population that is well educated, and a rich and vibrant culture.

              This has not gone unnoticed among global elites, who are moving there.

              Although a mess by the standards of our neoliberal friends, when one gets out of that small box, it is one of the few places on the outside of The Empire with a lot of things happening for it.

              Parts of Buenos Aries have an edge, but nothing compared to Bogota in the 80’s, or El Salvador.
              Or LA or Oakland.

              • Doug Leighton says:

                Hi Dave,

                Sure but based on the fact that Argentina has some of the best agricultural land in the world plus all their mineral and oil potential (and a small well educated population) it should be paradise on earth. It would be but for the graft and corruption: That was my point. Furthermore, largely because of mismanagement the country is a now a net oil importer, making digging out of a hole more difficult — a lot more difficult. Another big problem for Argentinians is lack of confidence in the country by international investors. I’m not denying the pluses.


                • Dave Ranning says:

                  Another big problem for Argentinians is lack of confidence in the country by international investors.

                  A feature, not a bug.
                  The last thing you need is the World’s Bank loan shark (the IMF) about to break a couple of legs.

            • It says that the Church wishes to see judges and prosecutors acting swiftly, independently and calmly. ~ Doug Leighton

              What’s the opinion of the corporations?

  36. Old farmer mac says:

    The resource wars are getting well underway.

    http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/indonesian-villagers-driven-from-villages-in-palm-oil-land-theft-a-967198.htmltting underway.

    If I were a native of Sumatra and a young man I would probably be living in what is left of the jungle and sniping at employees of palm oil companies.

  37. aws. says:

    Proppant: The Greatest Oilfield Innovation of the 21st Century

    Posted on April 17, 2014. Drilling Info

    How much [sand] will I need?

    A lot. The first experiments in the 1940s used around 150 pounds of sand, but now it’s around 5 million pounds per well.

    So, if you are in the Eagle Ford and are looking for a 20/40 mesh and your buddies are all speaking highly of “Antioch Sand” you can expect to spend $.056 * 5,000,000 = $280,000 on sand!

  38. Old farmer mac says:

    I am a firm believer in inflation and stupidity. We can count on both as surely as sunrise tomorrow as I see things.

    ”Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., said that she supports raising minimum wage in the state of California to $26 an hour, adding that she doesn’t think such a hike would hurt small business owners. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)”

    I wonder how many businesses would have to leave the state if such a minimum wage were to be passed.

    BUT this will be the sort of ” solution” to income problems we will see implemented going forward.

    IF it were to be passed nationally would social security checks and food stamps and all pensions etc be increased to compensate for the rising prices brought on by rising costs?

    Would people doing hard dangerous nasty work outside that takes years to learn that are making thirty bucks just take up clerking at Walmart where it is warm in the winter and cool in the summer?

    Or would they go on strike for sixty or seventy or eighty bucks ?

    Deflation may be a temporary problem but in the end….. who is going to propose austerity.. other than creditors?

    This country is a democracy of sort and creditors are scarce compared to borrowers.Deflation doesn’t have a prayer politically. People who don’t believe money can be printed into existence rather than loaned into existence are professional fools. They know so much about so little – the current banking system- that they cannot conceive of it being thrown out and a new system put in place.

    Wind and solar farms that can be financed with low interest loans at this time are going to be incredibly profitable in a decade or two once the contracted sales of juice are finished.Depletion and inflation may well triple nominal energy prices within ten to twenty years… whereas the loan payments will be fixed.

    Inflation is not going to solve our economic and ecological problems of course – but it will buy some time compared to a general deflation being allowed to take place.

    I will say this for the lady. Her friends at the banks would not have to worry about houses being repoed very often for as long as the California economy holds together. If a clerk gets twenty five bucks a good mechanic or a nurse or a teacher will get a hundred- and he will be able to afford to assume the payments on a half million dollar house.

    But sky daddy help out of state visitors. A fast food meal will probably cost thirty bucks or more.

    • notanoilman says:

      For comparison, the minimum wage down here, www Mexico, is around 5.6 USD….per DAY! Now, where will any manufacturing, that is left, move to?


    • wharf rat says:

      Hey, y’all
      $26 is a bit much, even for da Rat. Can’t do it all at once, either. We go up to $9 on 7/1, and $10 on 1/1/16, and tipped workers get the same MW as everybody else. San Francisco and San Jose are both over $10.
      We do have some cool conservatives, tho.

      Just yesterday, Silicon Valley entrepreneur Ron Unz announced that he was dropping his drive to get the Higher Wages for California Workers Act on the November ballot. The measure would have boosted the state minimum wage to $12/hour—$2 per hour beyond what the California legislature recently voted to adopt and $1.90 more than the federal proposal that President Obama has put his weight behind.

      It’s a strong idea, which would go at least some way to alleviating poverty in a state with some of the nation’s highest costs of living. Unz says that his meetings with trade union leaders, as well as a slew of wealthy individuals, both conservative and liberal, had generated fine words of support. But, he says, when push came to shove, they didn’t pony up the cash to pay signature gatherers to fan out around the Golden State in the early spring. And with ballot measures having to qualify at least 131 days before the next election, Unz felt that his effort was fast running out of time.


  39. CaveBio says:

    Hello everyone,

    I wish I could have been more a part of the conversation this week, but it is tough to find a few minutes to write during finals week. The reason I wish I could have participated more is that I have a Ph.D. in Ecological Sciences, with my expertise in evolutionary biology and population genetics. When I teach intro biology for both majors and nonmajors, a significant portion of my first lecture deals with many aspects of this well written essay. I follow up on this topic over the course of the two semesters that I have my intro students. Of course I delve into such topics with gusto when I teach certain upper level courses such as ecology, and evolutionary biology.

    In any event, one of the points I have made a couple of times on this blog is that for over a billion people on Earth, collapse has already occurred. Additionally, as more people attempt to move from poverty to “middle class”, others are forced into desperate levels of poverty. As people move from “middle class” to wealth, even more people are forced into desperate levels of poverty.

    So, although what Ron presents here is completely true, humans have an ability to do something that other species can’t–as resources are consumed, humans can sequester resources for certain populations, pushing others out. In that case one could make a plausible argument for the continued sequestration of resources for wealthy countries at the expense of poorer countries and thus a “controlled” collapse. Before people begin to argue my point here please understand I am not arguing that this is what will happen, I am arguing this is what has happened.

    Now, it is very possible that the continued unequal distribution of resources upon which we depend could abruptly end due to some stochastic event resulting in a fast unraveling of our complex global system. It is possible that ELM, or simply a collapse in oil production will bring us to our knees and we end up in a rapid collapse. Terrorism resulting from desperate poverty could so affect our psyche and politics that society begins to crack. I could go on, there are innumerable scenarios that can be postulated here.

    I will not even pretend to think that I can predict what will happen. But I do know that there are countervailing forces at work. I should note that we could greatly ameliorate a lot of the problems we face if we could but agree that we actually face problems. But even given the intractability of our current politics, there are significant changes occurring all around us. I won’t repeat them here as I am sure folks are tired of hearing about them, and or believe they are too trivial to matter.

    I will end by noting that I am not saying that I don’t think a quick collapse can happen–it absolutely can. I am saying that there are countervailing forces that reduce strain on resources and that humans have the ability to selectively distribute resources so that certain populations do not feel constrained. The West has hidden behind the mantra of capitalism to justify the current unequal resource distribution, choosing to believe that all populations could “grow” themselves out of poverty if they only chose to do so. Of course, because our growth has been dependent upon finite energy resources that significantly increase biospheric entropy, that belief has always been nonsense.


    • Watcher says:

      “humans have an ability to do something that other species can’t–as resources are consumed, humans can sequester resources for certain populations, pushing others out. In that case one could make a plausible argument for the continued sequestration of resources for wealthy countries at the expense of poorer countries and thus a “controlled” collapse. ”

      Suppose money loses meaning.

      Pricing oil with a behavioral component seems inevitable. Why should Russia sell oil for whimsically created dollars and have that oil fuel airplanes that take scholars to renewable energy seminars?

      This makes no sense for an exporter. They have to reward the choice not to do research on such things and punish those who choose to do that research.

      This is not original thinking. The Saudi’s have said this sort of thing before. It really is a betrayal of a long standing, reliable supplier. They have to act in self defense by refusing oil to those who would destroy their asset. Insisting on disarmament by customers is probably a good idea, too.

      No point in playing if you’re not playing to win.

    • Doug Leighton says:


      We look forward to your comments and don’t be distressed by Watcher. He probably had a bad nights sleep (and he’s a tad cynical at the best of times).


      PS: And don’t forget the Quality Time with your Little Guy.

      • Watcher says:

        Nah, I wasn’t poking that guy. He noted wealthy countries would get oil and eat vs others not getting oil and not eating. It just occurs to me that wealth may lose its advantage if money loses its meaning.

      • CaveBio says:

        Hi Doug,

        I don’t worry about Watcher. I am sure he is a fine individual, I am just not sure he thoroughly reads a post before making his comments. I actually wrote the following sentence specifically for Watcher.

        “Before people begin to argue my point here please understand I am not arguing that this is what will happen, I am arguing this is what has happened.”

        In any event, I should respond to note that the relationship the U.S. has with Saudi Arabia goes well beyond dollars.


    • Old farmer mac says:

      Hi Tom ,

      I agree. Somewhere in past threads in this very forum you can find comments I have made to the effect that rich countries such as the United States may be able to pull thru the coming general collapse while maintaining a living standard that while not comparable to that we enjoy at the moment one that will still high by any objective historical measure.

      My great great grand father would have been astounded by the mobility made possible by a golf cart powered by lead acid batteries.

      Such a golf cart will leave the finest horse far behind all lathered up and in need of a couple of days of rest in five miles.The batteries can be recharged a lot quicker than the horse can be rested.

      People will be glad to drive golf carts if nothing better is available and think nothing of it.

      Ways to accommodate existing infrastructure to the new realities can be devised. A barber for instance could run a route on his golf cart and save ninety percent of the energy consumed by his costumers coming to him.

      Some Saudi or another remarked that his grandfather rode a camel and that his grand children will ride camels again.( He is wrong of course – his grandchildren are going to eat any camel unfortunate enough to fall into their hands.After that they will have the choice of eating each other or emigrating but they will be met at borders with machine guns.

      Of course the richest and smartest of them will get out while the getting is still good – before the oil that pays for their food is gone.)

      Our supermassive military industrial complex may actually come in pretty handy- not even an potential ascendent Chinese superpower can hope to invade North America for the for see able future.

      And we have enough of natures one time gifts still in the ground here to manage a transition to a renewables based economy – IF we for some reason as a society choose to make the effort and sacrifices necessary .

      That could happen.

      The likeliest scenario in my opinion for it happening:

      IF things get bad enough we could suffer a near collapse and wind up with an authoritarian government capable of forcing the renewables and population issue.

      Mao mismanaged the agricultural to industrial transition badly in China but he at least got it well under way.

      The Japanese managed such a cultural and economic transition in pretty short order once westerners forced them to open up.

      The Egyptians built the pyramids without a central bank or much of anything in the nature of money.

      Germans went from flat broke in terms of money to building a military establishment that could have conquered all of Europe and most of Asia – and did – in less than a decade under Hitler.((There is an excellent case to be made for them wining WWII if Hitler had stuck to politics and left military planning and administration to his generals and their staff.))

      Things can happen that just don’t seem possible to people who are not into history and technology.

      A busted financial system is not all that important in terms of the future once one understands that debts can be and have been repudiated at every scale in times past and a new financial system put into place.Money is only a marker for real wealth which consists of actual physical resources and well trained and highly talented human capital.

      Any thing that is possible ”with money” is possible in the absence of money if the natural resources and human capital are still around.

      All it takes is some body in a position of sufficient power to make it happen.

      We could have a pretty decent life style here in the states for the next couple of centuries based on our coal resource, remaining oil and gas, and conservation and efficiency measures. Within that time frame we could and would solve any remaining problems given the will to do so- population is a no brainer in a well established police state.

      The one good thing to be said for police state style political arrangements is that ruthless leaders with unlimited power can make things that simply must happen -HAPPEN.

      And given that such leaders expect to pass their power on to friends and family they have a VERY good incentive to make things necessary to their own comfortable long term survival HAPPEN.

      Despots are almost always enlightened at least to this extent.

      If they were not they would not have proven smart enough to emerge on top of the heap – which requires both brains and luck.

      I have always maintained that the people who laugh about Malthus being wrong are literally blind to reality as it exists in most places for most people.

      In the end he will get the last laugh but it may be a long time coming in a few favored spots- maybe even thousands of years depending on the prevailing culture at those spots.IF the climate doesn’t go too far haywire a simple agricultural society in the right spot with a religion that controls the local population thru infanticide or abortion or forced sterilization could be stable indefinitely.

      The Virginia tide water area could be such a spot. A lot of different crops can be grown there and the rivers never run dry- not totally. Muscle powered irrigation is a possibility.

      There is seafood in plenty to be had close to shore.Wood to burn and to build and winters not too hard. It could be thousands of years between famine events or major contagious disease outbreaks in such a place if industry and trade never develop beyond the village level given population control.

      • TechGuy says:

        OFM wrote:
        “I have made to the effect that rich countries such as the United States may be able to pull thru the coming general collapse”

        The US is not a rich country. The only thing preventing the US from becoming the next Liberia is the Petro-Dollar and its Military. The US consumes the surpluses of the global economy. Soon or later this is going to end.

      • CaveBio says:

        Well said Mac.

        In the end all we can do is discuss these issues in terms of probabilities. I become very uncomfortable when people begin to discuss a future global apocalypse with the certainty and fervor of an evangelical. An argument that global collapse is more probably than not is certainly a respectable position, and in my quiet moments of thought and reflection I have a hard time dispelling the notion.

        However, there are simply too many variables to know with any degree of certainty what is going to happen. I agree with you that the U.S. may be in a unique position to survive the near future with a descent life relative to historical norms. However, I fear the degree of political hyperpolarity in the U.S. will continue to prevent any action on issues of vital importance to our survival. We cannot solve problems if we cannot even agree what the problems are. If we could but get out of our own way, we could make great strides to achieving a better life for our children and grandchildren.


  40. Kum Dollison says:

    A few years, back, it cost $70.00/watt to build a solar panel. Today, it’s around $0.50 or $0.60 per watt.

    I think I read where First Solar built a solar farm, recently, for $1.50’ish / watt – hooked up, and ready to go.

    Times is a’changin’.

    • Kum Dollison says:

      So what do you get for your $1.50? Well, in a good location (re: just about anywhere in the Southwest,) you’re looking at close to 2,000 watt hrs./yr. for, oh, I don’t know, 5o years (maybe a lot longer?)

      But, at 50 years, you’re looking at $0.015 per kilowatt hr.

      • Watcher says:

        Typical US house is gonna need a 5 kW system. Prices north of $35,000. You can probably go smaller in the desert, for the 0.001% of the US population that lives in the desert.

        This saves $70/month typical electric bill. You’ll have it paid for in just 500 years, assuming the batteries last 500 years and no act of God birds don’t crap on the panels and turn acidic and eat through them, requiring another $10,000. Don’t know what bird crap insurance costs.

        • Kum Dollison says:

          I don’t know why a house would need a 5kw system, or any system, when First Solar is building Solar Farms for $1,500.00/Kilowatt.

          • Watcher says:

            You may have mistyped. A typical house needs 5 kW because that’s what a typical house needs. It burns 10,000+ kW-hrs/year.

            http://solarpowerauthority.com/how-much-does-it-cost-to-install-solar-on-an-average-us-house/ dated April 2012, not ancient history


            “A conservative value to use as a solar panel’s generating capacity is 10 watts/sq. ft. This represents a panel conversion efficiency of about 12%, which is typical.” I’ve seen spectacular 40% numbers. I’ve also seen you can never buy them.

            “The averages across the USA vary from around 3 hours per day in places like Seattle, Chicago, and Pittsburgh, to 5 or 6 hours per day in states like Colorado and California, to a high of 7 hours per day in Arizona. What that means is that the size of the panel array required can vary, anywhere from 400 sq. ft. to 800 sq. ft. (i.e., 4 kW to 8 kW), depending on where you live. You’ll need more panels if you live in a location that gets less sunshine per day, and fewer if you live in a location that gets more.” So 5 kW was conservative. New England is a lot of people. So is Florida and it’s air con.

            “At the time of this writing, the installed cost of solar panels was between $7-$9 per watt: A 5 kW system would cost around $25,000-$35,000.” This is not just the panels, it’s also labor and other materials. It didn’t seem to include batteries and some other stuff, but maybe it did, in which case $30K rather than $35K+.

            There are some subsidies from various utilities, and not from others. Should be shutting off some gov’t money for that, too, soon as some more austerity arrives.

            The Bostonian at MIT is going to be a LONG time paying that back.

            • Kum Dollison says:

              Watcher, my point is: it’s quite a bit cheaper installing Solar at the Utility level, than at the residential level.

              That 5 kilowatts will cost First Solar something like $7,500.00 to install. (The Administration has set $1,000.00 per kilowatt as the goal for “Utility-scale” installations by, I think it is, 2020.)

            • wimbi says:

              I put in a 10kW pv system about 6 months, ago, DIY, for out of pocket about $15K, all of it, all hooked up and running. Since then, in dim appalachia in the winter, I have run my meter back a whole year, at same time using nothing but a Leaf car and all electric cooking, heat pump, everything going on in the house driven solely on solar. I admit I and wife are real frugal by upbringing- during the depression- but there are people around here far more frugal than we are–by choice, BTW.

              Got bargain solar rejects from Sun Electronics- and microinverters.

              I think folks here somehow don’t see all the good solar stuff showballing as I do. And I don’t think this little hill place is all that unusual.

              And another Q- is it true that we are cooked if we don’t leave ff’s in the ground? The science says so, and I believe it. So, what’s the choice? Why are we talking so much about oil instead of solar/wind? They are early in their tech development, and certain to get less costly and easier to use as time goes on.

              Not so ff’s.

        • TechGuy says:

          To build upon your statements:
          The cheap PV panels use Thin-Film semiconductors which degrade 5% to 7% per year. After about 12 to 15 years they go to the land fill. Thermal cycling causes micro-fractures and the dopients that make P-material migrate to the N-Material. The only PV panels that last, are the expensive Monocrystalline panels.

          Another big problem for PV farms is hail storms and thunder storms. Even a nearby lighting strike can take out whole strings of PV panels as the EMF can exceed the PN breakdown voltage rendering them useless.

  41. Kum Dollison says:

    Now, about that “Oil” thang. Those big John Deeres run just fine on corn oil, soybean oil, etc.

    And, my flex fuel Impala would, easily, I think, get 30 mpg on ethanol with a much smaller, higher compression engine.

    BTW, Poet is supposed to go online with their new “Project Liberty” cellulosic ethanol refinery this quarter.

    8o Million Acres of Corn @ 1.25 tons of stover (approx. 1/4 of what’s available) @ 80 gallons per ton of stover = another half a million barrels of gasoline/day that we don’t have to produce.

    Of course, that could pale in comparison to what happens when the Southern states start putting that marginal land to switchgrass, etc.

    • Kum Dollison says:

      Keep this in mind; over the course of only about 3 years the United States replaced 10% of its gasoline with ethanol.

      California went from about 300 megawatts of Solar to 4,500 in about the same amount of time.

      How many people (here, not to mention “out there”) know that Iowa gets about 25% of its electricity from Wind, and that it’s probably going to end up being something closer to 50%?

      I’m not sure that there’s going to be as much sacrifice as we sometimes assume.

  42. Old farmer mac says:

    I would personally rather see this and all other countries walking rather than even consider the possibility of producing biofuels on such a scale.

    As things stand now cellulosic alcohol is a non starter but I do recognize that the bioengineering profession is still in diapers and that somebody may create a microbe or synthetic enzyme that can get the job done.

    But if they do we are apt to destroy the rest of what is left of the environment in the process of manufacturing alcohol given our ”heedless of the future” ways.

    Now in a rational world where the population would be slowly declining as a matter of deliberate choice and biofuels would be used frugally for truly important purposes…….. things would be different.

    Nuclear power plants and an electrified transportation system are a far safer option.

    • Kum Dollison says:

      Yeah, that’s the thing about Iowa – just one Fukushima after another.

      • Kum Dollison says:

        With the occasional Chernobyl thrown in from time to time, just for fun, of course. 🙂

        • Kum Dollison says:

          We found $3 Trillion, or so, to blow off in Iraq. How much Solar, at $1.50/Watt would That have bought us? Two Million Megawatts?

          Two Million Megawatts for 5.5 hrs/day X 365 = 4.015 Billion Megawatt Hrs/ Yr?

  43. Terry Sutton says:

    Ron and all, thank you for the well documented essay and follow-up commentary. For your interest, back in 2000, Michael Green [http://michaelgreenarts.com/series/afterculture] explored North American “after-culture” in a sincere and well crafted series of illustrations, dioramas and artifacts. The link is here, http://art.afterculture.org/index.html

  44. Caelan MacIntyre says:

    It’s the mythical Volkswagen tribe!
    …Although I haven’t read it, JMGreer, not to be confused with Michael Green, recently wrote a blog piece on Steampunk which this kind of makes me think of, even though the style is different.

  45. Terry Sutton says:

    On the subject of properly caring for our global population of domestic animals (65% ), common sense conclusions and realistic recommendations from the “World Society for the Protection of Animals,” 2008; 32 page publication here, http://www.wspa-international.org/Images/REPORT-%20Eating%20our%20future_tcm25-25530.pdf

  46. yt75 says:

    Hello Ron, which data source did you use for the vertebrates bar chart ? (human and their animals, and wild animals).

    Another version :

  47. Pingback: Of Fossil Fuels and Human Destiny | Doomstead Diner

  48. Eric Swanson says:

    Ron, I’m a bit late commenting, but I just found a link to an old article in which the author reaches the same conclusion as you. It was published back in 1995 when Humanity numbered about 5 Billion:

    Energy and Human Evolution
    by David Price

    Population and Environment: A Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies
    Volume 16, Number 4, March 1995, pp. 301-19

    A HTML version is available from Jay Hansen’s web site:

    Thanks to Ilargi at TheAutomaticEarth.com for the link and the reminder.

    • Terry Sutton says:

      Eric, thank you for continuing the conversation…
      From 2008, although highly speculative, a set of alternative scenarios that might contribute to illustrating the feasibility of a benign future, Lutz and Scherbov (2008) show that entirely plausible paths based on an overall Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 1.7 would lead to lower world population size in the long term future.

      Source, “Exploratory Extension of International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) World Population Projections: Scenarios to 2300,” Wolfgang Lutz and Sergei Scherbov 2008; http://webarchive.iiasa.ac.at/Admin/PUB/Documents/IR-08-022.pdf .

      And more recently, “Ecologists have long demanded a smaller world population size with a lighter ecological footprint and assumed, in the spirit of Malthus, that this will come naturally as a consequence of higher mortality caused by overpopulation and the resulting disasters.” Calculations of Basten, Lutz and Scherbov (2013) clearly demonstrate that this desired decline can be reached even under conditions of further increasing life expectancy [particularly when women have access to a better education and family planning].

      From, “Very long range global population scenarios to 2300 and the implications of sustained low fertility,” Stuart Basten, Wolfgang Lutz and Sergei Scherbov 2013; http://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol28/39/28-39.pdf.

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