#162. The business of de-growth

ENTERPRISE IN A DE-GROWING, DE-LAYERING ECONOMY

We start the 2020s with the political, economic, commercial and financial ‘high command’ quite remarkably detached from the economic and financial reality that should inform a huge variety of policies and decisions.

This reality is that the relentless tightening of the energy equation has already started putting prior growth in prosperity into reverse. No amount of financial gimmickry can much longer disguise, still less overcome, this fundamental trend, but efforts at denial continue to add enormously to financial risk.

This transition into uncharted economic waters has huge implications for every category of activity and every type of player. Just one example is government, for which the reversal of prior growth in prosperity means affording less, doing less, and expecting less of taxpayers (with the obvious corollary that the public should expect less of government).

Governments, though, do at least have alternatives. ‘Doing less’ could also mean ‘doing less better’ – and, if the public cannot be offered ever-greater prosperity, there are other ways in which the lot of the ‘ordinary’ person can be improved.

At first sight, no such alternatives seem to exist for business. The whole point of being in business, it can be easy to assume, is the achievement of growth. Whether it’s bigger sales, bigger profits, a higher profile, a growing market value or higher dividends for stockholders, every business objective seems tied to the pursuit of expansion.

None of this, in the aggregate at least, seems compatible with an economy in which the prosperity of customers is shrinking.

In reality, though, both de-growth and de-layering offer opportunities as well as challenges. The trick is to know which is which.

For those of us not involved in business, the critical interest here is that, driven as they are by competition, businesses are likely to be quicker than other sectors to recognise and act upon the implications of the post-growth economy.

Getting to business

How, then, are businesses likely to position themselves for the onset of de-growth? The answer begins with the recognition of two realities.

The first of these is that prosperity is deteriorating, and that there is no ‘fix’ for this situation.

The second is that ‘price isn’t value’.

As regular readers will know, prosperity in most of the Western advanced economies (AEs) has been in decline for more than a decade, and a similar climacteric is nearing for the emerging market (EM) nations.

This fundamental trend is, as yet, unrecognised, whether by ‘conventional’ economic interpretations, governments, businesses or capital markets. It is already felt, though, if not necessarily yet comprehended, by millions of ordinary people.

‘Conventional’ economics, with its fixation on the financial, fails to recognise the deterioration of prosperity because it overlooks the critical fact that all economic activity is driven by energy. There is no product or service of any economic utility which can be supplied without it. Money and credit are functions of energy because, being an artefact wholly lacking in intrinsic worth, money commands value only as a ‘claim’ on goods and services – all of which, of course, are themselves products of the use of energy.

The complicating factor in the prosperity equation is that, whenever energy is accessed for our use, some of that energy is always consumed in the access process. This consumed proportion is known here as ECoE (the Energy Cost of Energy), a concept related to previously-defined concepts such as net energy and EROI.

Critically, what remains after the deduction of ECoE is surplus energy. The aggregate of available energy thus divides into two components. One of these is ECoE, and the other is surplus energy, which drives all economic activity other than the supply of energy itself.

This makes surplus energy coterminous with prosperity.

The relentless (and unstoppable) rise in ECoEs has now squeezed aggregate prosperity to the point where the average person is getting poorer. There is nothing that can be ‘done about’ this, so the necessity now is to adapt.

SEEDS – the Surplus Energy Economics Data System – has been built and refined to model the economy on this basis. Its identification of deteriorating prosperity accords with numerous ‘on the ground’ observations, whether in economics, finance, politics or society.

But general recognition of this interpretation has yet to occur, and, in its absence, the economic history of recent years has been shaped by efforts to use the financial system to deny (since we cannot reverse) this process. The main by-product of this exercise in denial has been excessively elevated risk.

Conclusions come later, but an important point to be noted from the outset is that, as the economy gets less prosperous, it will also get less complex, resulting in the phenomenon of ‘de-layering’. An understanding of this and related processes will be critical to success in an economic and business landscape entering unprecedented change.

The reality of deteriorating prosperity

A necessary precondition for the formulation of effective responses is the recognition of where we really are, and there are two observations with which this needs to start.

The first is the ending and reversal of meaningful “growth” in prosperity. Any businessman or -woman who believes that economic “growth” is continuing ‘as usual’, or can somehow be restored, needs to reframe his or her interpretation radically. Indeed, it’s been well over a decade (and, in many instances, nearer two decades) since the advanced economies of the West last achieved genuine growth in economic prosperity.

For illustration, the deterioration in average personal prosperity in four Western countries, both before and after tax, is set out in the following charts. Examination of the trend in post-tax (“discretionary”) prosperity in France, in particular, does much to explain widespread popular discontent.

Worse still, from a business perspective, a similar downturn is now starting in the hitherto fast-growing EM economies, including China, India and Brazil.

#162 business 01

To be sure, the authorities have done a superficially plausible job of hiding the reality of falling prosperity, first by pumping cheap credit into the system and, latterly, by doubling down on this and turning the real cost of money negative. The only substantive products of these exercises in credit and monetary adventurism, though, have been enormous increases in financial exposure.

The cracks are now beginning to show, and in ways that should be particularly noticeable to business leaders.

Sales of a broadening number of product categories, from cars and smartphones to chips and components, have turned down. Debt continues to soar (which is hardly surprising in a situation in which people are being paid to borrow), and questions are starting to be asked about credit ratings, debt servicing capability and the possible onset of ‘credit exhaustion’ (the point at which borrowers no longer take on any more credit, however cheap it may be).

Whole sectors (such as retailing and air travel) are already being traumatised. Returns on invested capital have collapsed, and this has had knock-on effects in many areas, but nowhere more so than in the adequacy of pension provision (where the World Economic Forum has warned of a “global pensions timebomb”). Even before this pensions reality strikes home to them, ordinary people are becoming increasingly discontented, whether this is shown on the streets of Paris and other cities, or in the elections whose outcomes have included Donald Trump, “Brexit” and a rising tide of “populism” (for which the preferred term here is insurgency) and nationalism.

There are, of course, those who contend that falling sales of cars and chips ‘don’t matter very much’, because we can continue to sell each other services which, even where they are of debateable value, can still be monetised, so will continue to generate revenues. These assurances tend to come from the same schools of thought which previously told us that debt, too, ‘doesn’t matter very much”.

This wishful thinking, arguably most acute in the ‘tech’ sector, ignores the fact that, as the average consumer gets poorer, he or she is going to be become more adept, or at least more selective and demanding, in the ranking of value. In a sense, the failure to recognise this trend repeats some of the misconceptions of the dot-com bubble – and the answer is that you can only be happy about ‘virtual’ and ‘intangible’ products and sales if you’re equally relaxed about earning only virtual and intangible profits. But business is, or should be, about cash generation – nobody ever bought lunch out of notional profits.

Let’s put this in stark terms. If someone is in the business of selling holidays, he or she makes money when people actually travel to the facility, and pay to use its services. They could, of course, sell them computer-generated virtual tours of the facility as a sort of proxy-residency – but does anyone really think that that’s a substitute for the revenue that is earned when they actually visit in person?

Another way to look at this is that businesses are likely to become increasingly wary of middle-men and ‘agencies’. This reflects de-layering, an issue to which we shall return later. But the general proposition is that, in de-growth, businesses will prosper best when they capture as much of the value-chain as possible, ensuring that ‘value’ predominates over ‘chain’.

Ancillary services, and ancillary layers, are set to be refined out, and businesses are likely to become increasingly wary of others trying to monetise parts of their chain.

Understanding value

The second reality requiring recognition is that the prices of capital assets, including stocks, bonds and property, have risen to levels that are both (a) wholly unrelated to fundamental value, and (b) incapable of being sustained, under present or conceivable economic conditions.

Statements like “the Fed has your back” are illustrative of quite how irrational this situation has become. The idea that inflated asset prices can be supported indefinitely by the perpetual injection of newly-created liquidity is puerile beyond any customary definition of that word.

We may not know how long asset prices can continue to defy economic gravity, or how the eventual reset will take place, but the definition of ‘unsustainable’ is ‘cannot be sustained’.

A general point needing to be made is that is called “value” by Wall Street and its overseas equivalents is of little relevance to what the word should mean in business. The interests of business and of the capital markets are by no means coterminous, since the objectives of each are quite different. The astute business leader might listen to the opinions of those in the financial markets, but acts only on his or her own informed conclusions.

From a business perspective, the value of an asset is the current equivalent of its future earning capability. No apology is made to those who already understand this universal truism, because, though fundamental, it is all too often overlooked. This principle can be best be illustrated by looking at a simple example such as a toll bridge.

To the owner (or potential acquirer) of a toll bridge, various future factors are known, though with varying degrees of confidence. He or she should know, at high levels of confidence, appropriate rates of depreciation and costs of maintenance. He has an informed opinion, albeit at a somewhat lesser level of confidence, about what the future toll charges and numbers of users are likely to be.

This information enables him to project into the future annual levels of revenue and cost. He can, moreover, divide the cost component into cash and non-cash components, the latter including depreciation and amortisation. From this, he can create a numerical forward stream of projected cash flows and earnings.

The question which then arises is that of what value today can be ascribed most appropriately to the income stream to be realised in the future.

This process requires risk-weighting. Costs and taxes may turn out to be higher or lower than the central case assumptions, and the same is true of revenue projections. Customer numbers and unit revenues may be influenced by factors outside either the control of the owner or of his ability to anticipate. Degrees of variability can and should be factored in to the calculation of appropriate risk.

What happens now is that a compounding discount factor is created by combining risk, inflation, cost of capital and the time-value of money. Application of this factor turns future projections into numbers for discounted cash flow (DCF) as a net present value (NPV).

There is nothing at all novel about DCF-NPV calculation, and it is used routinely by those valuing individual commercial assets. It is, incidentally, far more reliable than ROI (return on investment) or ROC (return on capital) methodologies, let alone IRR (internal rate of return).

Importantly, though, this valuation procedure is applicable to all business ventures. The process becomes increasingly complex as we move from the simple asset to the diversified, multi-sector business, and increasingly conjectural where rising levels of uncertainty (over, for instance, future rates of growth) are involved.

But the principle – that the worth of a business asset is coterminous with what it will earn in the future – remains central.

The nearest that capital markets tend to get to this is to price a company on the basis of its future earnings, which is where the P/E ratio (and its various derivatives) fit into the process. A more demanding (but more useful) approach substitutes cash flow for earnings, and generates the P/CF ratio. P/FCF (price/free cash flow) is a still better approach, though all cash flow-based calculations need to ensure that a tight definition and a robust methodology are involved.

Where P/E ratios are concerned, both growth potential and risk should be (though often aren’t) reflected in multiples. When one company is priced at, say, 10x earnings whilst another is priced at 20x, it’s likely that the latter is valued more aggressively than the former because growth expectations are higher (though it is also possible that the lower-rated company is considered to be riskier).

Much of the foregoing will be well-known to any competent business leader or analyst. It is referenced here for two reasons – first, because it produces valuations which typically bear little or no resemblance to today’s hugely inflated financial market pricing of assets and, second, because an understanding of fundamental value needs to be placed at the centre of any informed response to the onset of de-growth.

Markets are driven by many factors beyond the trinity of ‘fear, greed and [sometimes] value’. Supplementary, non-fundamental market factors, whether or not they are of meaningful relevance to investors and market professionals, should not exert undue influence on the decisions made by business leaders. “What will my share price be in a year from now?” may be an interesting subject for speculation, but should play little or no part in planning.

This point is stressed here because deteriorating prosperity will invalidate almost all market assumptions. This deterioration is an extraneous factor not yet known to the market. It destroys the credibility of the ‘aggregate growth’ assumption which informs the pricing both of individual companies and of sectors. It impacts customer behaviour, and customer priorities, in ways that markets could not anticipate, even if they were aware of the generalised concept of de-growth.

This is why business strategy needs to incorporate a concept which may be called ‘de-complexifying’ or, more succinctly, de-layering.

The critical understanding – the de-layering driver

It’s useful at this point to reflect on the way in which our economic history can be defined in surplus energy terms.

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors had no surplus energy, because all of the energy that they derived from nutrition was expended in the obtaining of food. Agriculture, because it enabled twenty individuals or families to be fed from the labour of nineteen, created the first recognizable economy and society because of the surplus energy which enabled the twentieth person to carry out non-subsistence tasks. This economy was rudimentary, reflecting the fact that the energy surplus was a slender one. Latterly, accessing the vast energy contained in fossil fuels leveraged the surplus enormously, which meant that only a very small proportion of the population needed now to be engaged in subsistence activities, with the vast majority now doing other things.

This process made the economy very much larger, of course, but it’s more important, especially from a business perspective, to note that it also made it very much more complex. Where once, for example, we had only farmers and grocers, with very few layers in between, food supply has since become vastly more diverse, involving an almost bewildering array of trades and specialisations. The linkage between expansion and complexity holds true of all sectors.

The most pertinent connection to be made here is that, just as prior growth in prosperity has driven growth in complexity, the deterioration in prosperity is going to have the opposite effect, initiating a trend towards a reduction in complexity. One term for this is ‘simplification of the supply chain’. Another, with applications far beyond commerce, is de-layering.

This has two stark and immediate implications for businesses.

First, a business which can front-run de-layering, simplifying its operations before others do so, can gain a significant competitive advantage.

Second, if a business is one that might get de-layered, it would be a good idea to get into a different business.

First awareness

In this discussion we have established three critical understandings:

– Prosperity is deteriorating, for reasons which mainstream interpretation has yet either to recognise or to understand.

– Attempts to ‘fix’ this physical reality by means of financial gimmickry have resulted only in increases in risk, many of them associated with the over-pricing of assets.

– As prosperity decreases, the economy will de-complexify.

These points describe a situation whose reality is as yet largely unknown, but one reason for selecting business (rather than, say, government, the public sector or finance) for this first examination of the sector implications of deteriorating prosperity is that businesses are likely to discover this new reality more quickly than other organisations.

Whilst by no means free from the assumptions, conventions, ‘received wisdoms’ and internal group interests that operate elsewhere, businesses are driven by competition – and this means that, should a small number of enterprises discover and act upon the implications of de-growth, de-layering and disproportionate risk, others are likely to follow.

We cannot, of course, discuss here the many practical steps which are likely to follow from recognition of the new realities and, in some cases, it might be inappropriate to do so.

It seems obvious, though, that a business which becomes familiar with the situation as it is described here will seek to take advantage of inappropriately elevated asset prices, and to test its value-chain and its operations in the light of future de-layering. Ultimately, the aim is likely to be to front-run both de-layering and revaluation. Moreover, awareness of those countries in which prosperity deterioration is at its most acute is likely to sharpen the focus of multi-regional companies.

 

261 thoughts on “#162. The business of de-growth

  1. Spot on: central banks, or their equivalent, cannot control global demand, and that is clearly faltering to say the least (in fact some alarming drops out there in certain sectors!).

    Population growth, unfortunately, only seems to be occurring within national economies at the lowest tier of the population – those with the largest families, the fewest skills, and the least purchasing power.

    Just take a bus ride in London and note the huge African and Asian families, contrasted with the small families, only one or two children, of the professional-class ‘gentrifiers’, mostly Euro-Brits. Who are of course crazily mortgaged-up……

    They keep demand up, en masse, but impose huge burdens in providing schooling, housing and education which only a truly dynamic economy in a growth phase could manage.

    With the falsification of the markets, and looming global resource shortages, are we moving towards a Soviet-style economy in which mass consumerism is steadily strangled (and that is the only model we really have, just look at the high street)?

  2. Apropos hierarchies, they are far from being an absolute evil and are often a natural way of self-organising in an environment of scarcity.

    A peasant or tribal family would, historically, distribute food internally according to perceived priorities, and above all in times of famine. These were hierarchies which were not imposed from above by corrupt and heartless elites, but sensible responses.

    Most valuable: strong males to farm (and fight if a tribal society). Next, maybe the mother if still fertile, then healthy boys and last girls.

    Children were always dispensable, as a healthy mother could pump out more at any time and they were used to very high infant mortality rates.

    A gesture might be made to feed the useless elderly, but it was understood that they couldn’t expect to have their lives saved at the expense of the young and strong as that would pull the whole group down.

    This is how it worked in times of famine in the 19th century in England (if the family didn’t want to go into the humiliating workhouse and chose to tough it out) but something similar has been universal.

    ‘Equal shares for all’ belongs to very primitive H-G groups and sophisticated urban environments able to create rationing systems in times of crisis or to deal with excess population in times of surplus -eg Rome.

  3. Selling the Notion That Degrowth Can Have Positives
    This is a link to the conclusion of a 45 minute talk by a Dr. Stoll. You can hear his pedigree at the beginning. But I think what is most relevant to our discussion here is the summation beginning at the 33:30 mark:
    https://www.masteringdiabetes.org/summit/stoll2020/

    The process he outlines in terms of taking the most important concern of the individual and showing them how to address it is the key…not inundating them with information. This is personalized medicine that is 180 degrees out of phase with the 1990s idea that manipulating genes with machines was the way forward. Some other practitioners of this style of personalized medicine that I admire is Team Sherzai, who work in the field of Alzheimer’s. They operate from the premise that they know just about everything that can be known about Alzheimer’s (which is very similar to Diabetes at the foundational level), but what they don’t yet know is how the patient needs to apply that information to their unique lives. Note: not their unique microbiome or their unique genetics…just do what needs to be done while going about your unique life. It sounds crazy but we are here considering three highly educated medical doctors who are working on how people actually live their lives. Doctors who carried black bags and visited their patients at home practiced this way in a forgotten age.

    If any of us individually want to try to help real people (including ourselves) come out the other side of the Degrowth tunnel living a pretty good life, then we need to study these methods.

    Don Stewart

  4. Thanks Tim, a really concise and powerful essay.
    Two links of interest: 41 Inconvenient Truths about the new energy economy, which really shows how oil is so good at providing energy (but for how long?) compared to renewables, and a BBC Radio 4 programme repeated from 2013 – The Power of Oil.

    https://fee.org/articles/41-inconvenient-truths-on-the-new-energy-economy

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b01s0dkm

    “In order to compensate for episodic wind/solar output, U.S. utilities are using oil- and gas-burning reciprocating engines (big cruise-ship-like diesels); three times as many have been added to the grid since 2000 as in the 50 years prior to that”

  5. Another Example from Medicine
    https://www.masteringdiabetes.org/summit/esselstyn2020/

    Rip Esselstyn just set a new swimming record for his age group (he is 59). His claim to fame is Engine 2 in Austin Tx, where he served as a firefighter. Instead of eating the toxic food which is standard in fire houses, he was eating his plant based diet…to much hilarity and contempt. One day the team was talking, and decided to go to the local lab and get their blood tested. One man had something like 400 on cholesterol. Rip proposed that the whole crew try to save his life by changing the environment in the fire house. They did so enthusiastically, and the results were phenomenal. Rip later wrote his book about the experience.

    At 24:30 and the next 6 minutes reviews the bad state of health and the staggering amount of misinformation and then gets into the heart of a recent intervention in Pittsburg. The fire fighters get instrument readings which show them just how much progress they have made in just one week.

    If your goal is behavior change, then studying these examples is probably a necessity. Arguably, fire house food is the low-hanging fruit, while dealing with a Degrowth economy is a lot harder. So if we really want to change the trajectory, we are going to have to work smarter and harder.

    Don Stewart

  6. Eastern European pragmatism and sensibility, clashes with the Western European nonsense and obsession with esoteric issues and general BS. Multiculturalism, LGBT, green-energy, mass-immigration; you name it. Western European nations appear to be sinking and dying largely due to the sickness of their own minds. Nowhere is this more apparent than in clashes over energy policy.
    https://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Austria-fails-to-turn-neighbours-against-nuclear-p

    Eastern Europe is working with Russia to construct a new wave of nuclear power plants to ensure that their electricity supply remains cheap, dependable, self-sufficient and carbon free. That isn’t good enough for Western Europe, which insists that all new investment must focus on low power density, intermittent energy sources, which will lead to expensive power and dependence on imported coal and gas, fuelling backup plants. They appear to be doing this for no better reason than that they like it. They find it emotionally appealing. And no amount of reality and common sense is going to burst their bubble, either here or on any other esoteric issue. Victor Orban has been sanctioned for attempting to keep Hungary free from Islamic invaders. Will he be sanctioned too for failing to pay homage to the West’s renewable energy obsession?

    For how much longer will Eastern Europe continue to eat dirt from the ridiculous ideologues that run Western Europe? Maybe the next recession will be a turning point.

    • I’m not convinced we can put environmental issues and energy into the same group of things that you mention, things that have sometimes been called PC or ‘trendy liberal’ (and which lie outside the scope of what we discuss here). I would only say that a common factor to all of this is virtue-signalling.

      Where I come at this is priorities. With Western prosperity falling, prosperity-related issues will gain in importance, pushing other issues down the agenda.

      In recent times, most of the West has been ruled by ‘Liberal x2’ elites – a combination of social ‘liberalism’ and economic ‘liberalism’. Neither is really ‘liberal’ – the former seems to involve too much censorship and bullying, and the latter is skewed against the economic interests of the ‘average’ person.

      Looking ahead, the need is to combine pragmatism with economy of method, and with basic principles based on the individual.

      This could be done with a simple statement that all people, irrespective of race or gender, are of equal value. That needn’t be complicated, or form the basis of a lobbying ‘industry’. Principles of equal value mean that there are no “groups” or “communities”, and there is no “black vote” or “female vote”. People are people, not members of groups, and all are of equal value. There needs to be a basic right to freedom of expression, enshrined into law.

      Green issues are different, because there are legitimate concerns about the environment. This, it seems to me, cannot be tackled on the basis of slogans or virtue-signalling. Rather, we need pragmatic understanding and debate about the trilogy of energy, prosperity and the environment.

    • Excellent overview Tim, thank you. I have just be speaking with Gerry in Oz on Skype. Over the last few weeks we have been discussing an alternative paradigm for the new economy we expect to see emerge following the coming crisis. He has penned his idea of how a global financial system might work in future and may be found posted here today:
      http://boomfinanceandeconomics.com/#/

      The only problem I see is that of the fundamental nature of human beings as we tend, in aggregate, to be motivated by greed and fear which will inevitably ends in corruption and distortion of what is maybe an altruistic notion. Nevertheless, perhaps worth a read and comment.

    • Tony,
      Peak uranium is an issue according to what I’ve read. Perhaps Thorium and breeder reactors can help.

      As to your opinions on Western vs Eastern Europe, I agree with multiculturalism and mass immigration, which seem to be causing violent conflicts and social breakdown. As we on this list know, RE is not real, not sustainable without FFs which are required for mining, smelting, etc. to renovate and rebuild. As to LGBT, I think you are off-base. While I don’t think taxpayers should pay for sex changes, people should be free to practice what works for them.

      As to E. Europe eating dirt, the metaphor isn’t clear to me. They can run their countries in ways that benefit themselves. If they hear/read criticism from outsiders, they can ignore it. If you (and others incl. me) are right, the West will soon regret their muddled positions and self-destructive actions.

    • ”all people, irrespective of race or gender, are of equal value”

      I think we can all agree on that. But i won’t share ever decreasing ‘stuff’ with a hundred million migrants from north Africa. I think most of us will agree on that one too. Now what?

    • Immigration is a legitimate matter for discussion, and should, I believe, be discussed in a ‘colour-blind’, non-racial way. Opponents of immigration should never frame the debate in race terms, and those who raise legitimate concerns about migration numbers should not be accused automatically of being racist.

      In other words, the topic should not be treated as ‘off limits’ for discussion – but race shouldn’t be part of that discussion. As I keep saying, ‘people are people’, not steroetypes, and are of equal value.

      There are, I think, two different aspects to this – the humanitarian and the economic. My comments are based on the economic, but I recognise legitimate humanitarian concerns not related to economics.

      In purely economic terms, the argument that immigration does not dilute prosperity (“more people = a bigger economy”) is unfounded. Human physical labour is a tiny component of the energy which runs the economy. More people sharing the same amount of [surplus] energy dilutes prosperity.

      The human role is that of applying and directing exogenous energy, not supplying that energy through labour. This makes a case for admitting those with useful skills, but not admitting those without these skills.

      It seems to me that deteriorating prosperity is going to push migration up the political agenda, This surely calls for more debate on the subject.

    • Yes doc. With ever less to share, this topic will go higher up on the agendas. Culture and faith will regain their positions as the world de-consumes. I don’t see a clash of civilizations, but i see a very hard push against immigration in the near future. As soon as finance fails hard, and we know that is hard wired into the system, reality sets in. And we will have to deal with a world upside down. That is easier with people that have common cultures and believes.

      As we all live in La-La land currently, a discussion is difficult.

      Cooperation is needed, not migration.

    • Whilst I accept that purely sociological issues are a bit off topic here, I would point out that the idea that society can or should be colour blind, is an idea that is a proven failure everywhere that it has been tried. Societies are racially divided everywhere.

      I don’t see what is so noble about pretending that a blatant falsehood is true, just to make a few weak minded people feel better. Wherever people of different race and ethnicity have mixed, there have tended to be racial tensions and violence. On occasions, that was even true amongst the different nations of the UK, people that were far more similar to each other than the completely unrelated groups that mass migration is forcing together in England today.

      Human beings are inherently tribal. And the human brain is hard wired to see people of different race as foreigners. It is in many ways disconcerting to face up to that fact. But pretending it isn’t true will doom you to repeat all the failures that led have led European nations to the brink of demographic apocalypse.

      The problem is that the people pushing failed ideas are not the ones that end up paying for them. Go and ask the young white girls of northern England, if they think race was a factor in their being targeted and raped. The men that did it weren’t interested in raping young Asian girls, they specifically targeted young white girls because they belonged to the host population that they were trying to conquer. Pretending that we can ignore inconvenient truths makes us as contemptuous as the politicians and policemen that turned their backs on those young girls. Yet what took place there is Mother Nature’s way of telling us that the sort of colour blind society that you are alluding to isn’t going to work. I think we should all take the damned hint and stop pushing something that has already led to social wreckage wherever it was tried.

    • Well said TonyH. In de-growth, there won’t be any appetite for political correctness. And again, we will see the world as it is.

      Most people underestimate the consequences of de-growth with 7 billion people, a JIT economy, declining ore grades, rising energy costs and a completely over the top financial system.

      It will be like letting loose a bunch of hyena’s in a kindergarten.

    • 7.8B, 8 in 3 yrs. When TSHTF, the larger the pop. the greater the violence and suffering. But there are still many who say: not a problem.

  7. Alice Friedemann today at Energy Skeptic; Degrowth
    “This site is meant for the very small percent of people who, like me, want to understand reality regardless of how depressing it may be. An even smaller subset of them will actually make different choices about career and where to live than they might have otherwise, choices that may save their lives in the bottleneck ahead. Good luck to anyone who has read this far!”

    To get in the proper mood for her article on steam engines, and their discontents, you can read the previously linked article on inconvenient truths on the new energy economy.

    If I give you the impression that I certainly know how to resolve the issue of Degrowth, I apologize. All I have are some vague ideas. But take the following as an incentive to think:

    “More than a third of U.S. healthcare costs go to bureaucracy: “The average American is paying more than $2,000 a year for useless bureaucracy,” said lead author Dr. David Himmelstein.”

    My (rather shaky) opinion is that our best bet is to begin whacking away at useless and destructive activities. My suspicion is that the best way to approach the subject is to try to carve out a section of society which is not bound by traditional approaches at the national level….like the home schooling people have been able to more or less separate themselves from the public school bureaucracy. Ultimately, our grandchildren are going to have to live without fossil fuels. So we should be keeping an eye on how Geoff Lawton’s Permaculture Research Institute tries to live entirely without fossil fuels in Australia. But in the meantime, there are lots of example of cutting energy usage to 15 percent of the American average. Don’t let perfection be the enemy of the pretty good.

    Don Stewart

  8. HI Tim,
    Looks like others are getting the message:
    “But as the economy ages, and growth stalls, the legacy costs become insurmountable. In effect, the age demographic transitions from a well-functioning pyramid, with a large base of workers supporting a small tip of retirees, to a top heavy inverted pyramid.

    By then the public grifters, like intestinal tapeworms, have taken control from the inside. Rather than making a course correction, they devour their host. That’s when the gig is finally up.

    Local governments default. Pensioners get the shaft. Public services diminish. Infrastructure falls to derelict, decay and disrepair. And formerly grand properties degenerate to single room occupancy housing for the wicked…much like Los Angeles’s Hotel Alexandria in the 1990s”
    https://economicprism.com/living-on-borrowed-time/

    • Thanks Peter.

      Though I can’t recall discussing this before, there are all sorts of ways in which de-growth might get very unpleasant.

      De-growth amounts to telling governments “you’ll have to tax less and do less”, telling bureaucracies “you’re going to become smaller”, telling businesses “you’ll have to sell less, and earn less, and a lot of you will cease to exist”, and the wealthy that “today’s levels of inequality will cease to be sustainable”.

      There’s likely to be huge denial and huge resistance to this, and institutions are often structured in ways that are utterly inimical to shrinking. Beyond anger and incredulity, there may well be a great deal of trying to cheat.

    • Yes, Tim, I agree. I have tried to be optimistic in my Chapter 13 The New Economy projection but I fear that rather than just reverting gently to an 18th century environment we will witness a great deal of anguish, anger and disruption as society declines. It may not be pleasant to be a participant. I suspect that my children will take the brunt of these conditions; it is almost impossible to foretell how it will progress but IMO we can be sure the ‘less will be more’ in the end..Certainly the current excesses are not sustainable and really not to be welcomed.

  9. Last Example of Degrowth, I Promise
    Consider this Gastroenterologist talking, from 14:00 to 17:30
    https://www.masteringdiabetes.org/summit/sadeghi2020/

    So if the rational goal in a Degrowth World is what she describes…healthy food, healthy people, minimum energy usage…then what sorts of individual initiative and what sorts of public policies are called for?

    Don Stewart

  10. Regarding Peak Uranium:

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2016/07/01/uranium-seawater-extraction-makes-nuclear-power-completely-renewable/#1d5845a159ae

    It is unlikely to be a problem for humanity, unless global energy use expands far beyond present usage and nuclear power meets all of it. Uranium is essentially a renewable resource on any timescale of interest to humanity.

    In fact, if uranium can be mined from sea water at $200/lb, it would constitute less than a penny of the cost of a kWh of electricity produced by a nuclear reactor. With a resource this large, breeder reactors would appear to be unnecessary. In fact, we do not even need enrichment capabilities. We could power humanity using reactors that burn natural uranium.

    In terms of the volume of steel and concrete needed to build nuclear reactors, we are also on quite safe ground. It takes about 50,000 tonnes of steel to produce a 1500MWe economically simplified boiling water reactor. To power all of humanity at present electricity requirement (3million MW) we would need 2000 of them. That is about 100million tonnes of steel. The reactors have effective lifetime of about 80 years, so that equates to 1.25million tonnes per year. Global steel production was 1689million tonnes in 2017. So building enough boiling water reactors to power the world for 80 years, would consume about 6% of 1 years steel production, or 0.08% of global steel production on a rolling replacement basis. That is a pitifully small proportion for something that could provide all of the world’s electricity.

    In terms of accident risk, an ESBWR has a core damage frequency of 1 in 100million years. So with 2000 of them, we might expect a Fukushima like accident once every 50,000 years on average. Not exactly something that we need to lay awake worrying about.

    I can only conclude that there are no physical or technological obstacles preventing nuclear reactors from rapidly replacing fossil fuels as the electricity source for planet Earth. The low ECOE and low physical resource requirements would suggest that this energy source should be extremely cheap, much as it was when much of the present day nuclear fleet was constructed in the 1970s. Any obstacles to rapid nuclear development are institutional and political. There are political forces in the world that do not like nuclear power for ideological reasons; want to see it fail and make damn sure of it. We are suffering at the hands of those people.

    • Thanks for the info, Tony. I’d read something about seawater mining before. Please tell us the energy source utilized for that process.

    • China had just announced they will be developing a massive coal mine in Mongolia to help keep up economic growth

      Coal now accounts for 58% of all their energy and they are responsible for all of last year’s rises in CO2 emissions.

      In China coal is King! Although I’m not sure what the new mine’s
      EROEI will be.

    • Ah, I forgot to read the link. It seems negliblr energy inputs compared to what is eventually produced. I’ve been pro-nuclear for a decade or so, and now have better data to back it up. Thank you.

    • A tale of two energy sources. I keep coming back to this reference because it is overwhelmingly revealing at illustrating the relative practicality of replacing fossil fuelled energy systems with renewable and nuclear energy sources.

      http://fhr.nuc.berkeley.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/05-001-A_Material_input.pdf

      On the one hand, we have the economically simplified boiling water reactor that needs about 50,000 tonnes of steel per unit and generates 1500MW of baseload electric power at 90% capacity factor. That equates to a power density of about 30te of steel per average MW.

      On the other hand, we have wind turbines, which need nearly 500te of steel per average MW. And that doesn’t include the beefed up powerlines needed to carry the intermittent electricity. Nor does it include the steel and concrete requirements of the pumped storage plant, or whatever other system is used to manage the problem of intermittency. Whatever it is, it is basically another power station that absorbs intermittent energy and spits out a smaller amount of dependable electricity. Now throw in the fact that the ESBWR has an estimated functional lifetime of 80 years, whereas wind turbines are usually estimated at 20 years.

      Putting all these factors together, it would take about a hundred times more steel production to build a functional wind-based electricity system compared to the equivalent nuclear system based on light water reactors. That would account for about 10% of present world steel production, dedicated entirely to replacing the world’s electricity source. And that is before any thought is given to other consumers of energy, like the energy needed to make the steel, provide transport, space heating, etc. Could we maintain that level of steel production, using renewable energy alone?

      Tim has estimated that the amount of effort required to replace fossil fuel energy infrastructure with a renewable based alternative, is 712 times that of the Apollo project. Given the material resource requirements, is anyone surprised?

      In the past, I maintained some residual interest in the prospect of a renewables transition, because of uncertainties over uranium supply and the possible need for technically challenging breeder reactors. If uranium fuel supply turns out to be vast and not to be a constraint on any foreseeable increase in nuclear power production, then there would appear to be no practical resource limitations standing in the way of a massive increase in the use of nuclear power.

      The question now becomes, why are we embarking on a herculean effort to replace high power density, low ECOE fossil fuels, with low power density, high ECOE renewables, when nuclear power provides low ECOE energy that is practically renewable anyway and appears to be very safe? What other reasons would we have for choosing high ECOE renewables, other than political ideology and quasi-religious beliefs in the moral purity of wind and solar power?

      I would suggest that a SEEDS analysis of nuclear power may yield very promising results. Maybe it will suggest that a new option exists, with the potential to avoid devastating poverty and degrowth as fossil fuels deplete and renewables fail to provide an affordable replacement?

    • Relating to nuclear as salvation, Alice Friedemann wrote: _When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation_ (2015) Perhaps Musk will astound us, but so far his super pick-up truck hasn’t appeared.

      A section of her website pertaining to this:
      http://energyskeptic.com/category/decline/transportation-a-1000-cuts/trucks/electric-trucks/

      I’ve been supportive of nuclear as I wrote in my first post on this topic. Just trying to show differing views. Remember Bohr and Yogi about predictions being difficult!

    • Discussion on the risks of nuclear power seem to focus on the risks of an accident at a single nuclear power reactor. In the another forum, I asked if the world 400+ nuclear reactors collectively represented an existential risk to civilization if all or part of the world’s electrical grid were to go down, or if society were greatly disrupted by abrupt climate change or other similar low probability high impact large scale risks. (This latter point has been raised by others.) Electrical grids would go down globally from a solar coronal mass ejection (CME) the size of the one that hit the earth in 1859. (The Carrington Event). They could go down due to nuclear war, or cyber attacks to digital smart grids.

      My questions were answered by nuclear engineers but I did not receive any answers to my question that were satisfactory, to me at least.

      Beyond that question of cumulative risk of a vastly larger nuclear power base, commitment to nuclear power in an age of declining fossil fuel production – my assumption based on rising ECoE – raises all kinds of other questions. Can you actually build them without diesel fuel? Maintain them? Should you build them if they are going to extend this industrial society that currently poisoning the earth?

      My guess is we will do whatever the energy available to us allows us to do, regardless of the longer term and low probability high impact risks.

    • TonyH

      ” What other reasons would we have for choosing high ECOE renewables, other than political ideology and quasi-religious beliefs in the moral purity of wind and solar power?”

      The other reasons are, of course, military applications of nuclear physics.

      I read the book that you suggested (“Plentiful Energy”) with much interest. It’s easy to see why Carter and Clinton shut down these programs, isn’t it? They even said so (well, they said other things too, but “proliferation” was the only non-crazy thing).

      Or, for example, consider the Bushehr reactor (Iran): http://ceness-russia.org/data/doc/TheBushehrNPP-WhyDidItTakeSoLong.pdf

      Page 7: “The US stance on Bushehr had a serious impact on the project’s implementation… Over the years, US officials voiced four main reasons for their concern over the Bushehr project… The construction and operation of the NPP will give Iran valuable skills and experience and help it train nuclear scientists… The Bushehr project can be used as a cover for unauthorized transfer of sensitive information and technology to Iranian scientists, as well as illicit acquisition of nuclear technology and materials by in third countries…”

      It’s all an anti-nuclear conspiracy, I’d say. However, it will fail. All of it reminds me of Lysenkovism (which also had some non-crazy political reasons, IMO, even though in the aggregate it looks crazy).

    • Shawn

      ” In the another forum, I asked if the world 400+ nuclear reactors collectively represented an existential risk to civilization”

      No.

      “if all or part of the world’s electrical grid were to go down, or if society were greatly disrupted by abrupt climate change or other similar low probability high impact large scale risks.”

      Well, the absense of electricity will bring the “civilization” down very quickly, irregardless of what happens with reactors. Although, I guess that depends on what you mean by “civilization”.

      “Can you actually build them without diesel fuel? Maintain them?”

      The compact, easily transportable storage of energy seems to be necessary. Whether diesel fuel or something else.

      “Should you build them if they are going to extend this industrial society that currently poisoning the earth?”

      My personal experience is that this question is only of interest to people who are already well supplied with energy, electricity and material goods. And they seem to have no intention to either live in poverty or die.
      So, who are “you” here?

    • I doubt that there is any operational data to support the core damage failure frequency you quoted, but core damage is less important than waste management. The real danger from the reactors (in the US at least) is the huge amount of spent fuel in cooling pools.

      These pools depend on the continuous circulation of cooling water to avoid overheating, boiling off the water in the cooling pool and then vaporizing large amounts of radioactive waste into the atmosphere. If there is an extended electrical grid failure the risk of losing control is great.

      Dry cask storage is much safer and most spent fuel can be stored that way after a few years, but it is more expensive than just leaving the spent fuel in a pool, so reactor owners have resisted doing it.

      Until someone actually starts doing something with nuclear waste (90,000 metric tons of it just in the US) that can keep it sequestered for millennia, nuclear energy will have numerous doubters, including me.

  11. Expert disagrees with us re nuclear costs and feasibility. He is highly regarded amongst the scientific and sustainability communities. I’ve known him for years, and he is on a list I co-own. Serious long term record:
    https://criticalscientists.org/en/about-us/chair

    Note re pg. 34 of the below link:
    The Japanese link doesn’t work or me, but the New Scientist link (trying to be optimistic) works.

    Hi,

    this is the key
    (and what is imagination)

    see below what I use about this in my lecture ..

    regards
    Michael

    http://ihp-pc47.ethz.ch/energy21/Vorlesung/vorlesungHS19/energiehs19_8.pdf


    see page 34
    (the rest is also relevant for uranium peak etc etc)

    • From your link: ‘a 1 GW(e) reactor “burns” about 6 gr of natural uranium per second! “membrans” have to filter 10 000 m3/sec water (20% efficiency). The Rhein delivers on average about 2000 m3/sec to the North Sea.’

      10,000m3/s sounds like an enormous flowrate and it makes this sound like an impossible task. But consider that tidal streams have flowrate of 2-3m/s. Let’s say we locate our uranium filters in areas with tidal streams, and the force of flow pushes water through them at 1m/s, say. It would need to have an area of 10,000m2 to filter out the required uranium. That is an area of 2.5 acres. Not a huge area to support a 1000MWe power plant. To power the entire UK, we would need a filter some 3km long and 100m deep. It doesn’t seem huge for what it provides.

      We don’t know anything about the required thickness, density or total mass of the filters, or the number of times they can be used before they degrade. Without that knowledge we are shooting the dark trying to estimate embodied energy of this process. It may take negligible energy to extract the uranium (just leach in a mild acid) but energy invested in manufacturing the filter may still be substantial.

  12. Jim Kunstler Book in March:
    Global Crisis, the Failure of the Futurists, and the Early Adapters Who Are Showing Us the Way Forward

    Forget the speculation of pundits and media personalities. For anyone asking “Now what?” the answer is out there. You just have to know where to look. In his 2005 book, The Long Emergency, James Howard Kunstler described the global predicaments that would pitch the USA into political and economic turmoil in the 21st century—the end of affordable oil, climate irregularities, and flagging economic growth, to name a few. Now, he returns with a book that takes an up-close-and-personal approach to how real people are living now—surviving The Long Emergency as it happens.

    These are all topics of interest here, and Jim’s fiction books in The World Made By Hand series shows that he is able to put together narratives which integrate a lot of considerations. So may be worth your while.
    Don Stewart
    PS. I wish I could say that I get a 50 percent commission on the profits from each book…but I suspect this is a labor of love and the profits may be negative and I might end up losing some of the money the Fed has generously (sort of) handed to me.

  13. This link tells us rather more.
    https://newatlas.com/nuclear-uranium-seawater-fibers/55033/

    1kg of treated acrylic fibres, will yield 5grams of uranium per month. That’s 60 grams per year. A 1000MWe nuclear powerplant, requires 6 grams of natural uranium for 1 second of operation. So 60 grams would yield 10GJ of electric power in a nuclear reactor.

    According to wiki, the embodied energy of vinyl plastics is about 70MJ/kg. The fibres have been doped, so let’s assume an embodied energy of 100MJ/kg. So in their first year they would return 100x their own embodied energy in nuclear electricity. How long would they last in the water? Wave action would fray them in the end and uv in sunlight would make them brittle. If they have similar resistance to polyethylene, it should be possible to get a few years out of them.

  14. Racism; Sexism; Hard Jobs
    Humans can immediately recognize someone of a different race, and probably also a different tribe. The sexes can distinguish each other across a large parking lot wearing heavy winter clothing. If immediately assigned a test of racial and ethnic and sexual discrimination, we all fail the test.

    What changes everything is when we need to co-operate in order to achieve an important goal. Pace those here who think that Degrowth is un-necessary because energy and resources are abundant and may become too cheap to meter….I suspect our future is making do with a lot less, and using some tools we are not currently using fluidly. In such a world the superficial aspects of another human quickly dissolve into the woodwork and we start looking for productive partners. An African refugee who actually knows how to grow beans may be the most desirable guy or girl in the group.

    While I don’t live in Europe, I suspect that the bad blood on frequent display in postings is due to the fact that few people are now actually engaged in a struggle for survival where co-operation has evident advantages. After all, Britons elected a woman who claimed ’there is no such thing as the common interest’. Adam Taggart recently posted a scary video of miles of homeless encampment in the relatively prosperous county of Sonoma, CA. I don’t know whether there is any co-operation between the homeless families. Probably less co-operation if they are American born than if they are foreign born. But those who survive the initial stresses of Degrowth will be rather desperately looking for partners. Race will be the least of their concerns.

    Don Stewart

    • Just on one minor point, Mrs Thatcher’s quotation is, I think, “there is no such thing as society”. But this has been used without her following line which, I think, was, ‘as something apart from the people who comprise it’ (I paraphrase).

  15. ‘The Long Emergency’ is a good title to sell books, but it might be more accurate to call it the ‘Long Grind’, with episodes – some turning, and perhaps with an accelerating rhythm, into permanent states – of emergency for the global network, regions, states, towns, families and individuals.

    This eliminates the apprehension as to when The Crisis will hit – it’s here already, this is what it feels like.

    • @Xabier
      I used to think that a slow grind down was likely. But now I contemplate a Black Thursday when all of the inflation in assets that the central banks have generated turns into a rout in global markets and 90 percent of the wealth disappears in 4 hours. (I know they would close the markets, but once fear becomes the dominant paradigm, it’s all over.)

      Don Stewart

  16. Worth Looking At
    I referenced this before but I think it is worth a second look:
    https://howtosavetheworld.ca/2020/01/06/collective-intelligence-to-make-sense-of-complexity/

    Just take a look at the first diagram. Which environments are Complicated, which are Simple, which are Complex, and which are Chaotic? And examine the responses which some people who have thought about it all believe are appropriate in each respective environment.

    Let me give a couple of examples. Just above, Xabier talks about a ‘long grind’. I would describe that as probably ‘complicated’. Wall Street currently thinks that things are ‘simple’…the Fed has their backs. When, in response to predictions of racial violence, I opined that in the long run competent people try to find each other regardless of superficial differences, I was really talking about a period of ‘chaotic’ followed by ‘complex’. The new, just off the press, climate models which are predicting that instead of 3 degrees from a given level of CO2, the warming will turn out to be 4 to 5 degrees. Such an event would likely constitute a ‘complex’ environment because we would be constantly encountering feedback loops which make everything harder….e.g., constantly rising seas making shipping infrastructure useless, a steady stream of refugees from newly flooded areas, more frequent crop failures, melting permafrost disabling fossil fuel production in the Arctic, etc. The prediction models might only be ‘complicated’, but the response would be somewhere between ‘complex’ and ‘chaotic’.

    It might elevate conversations if we were all a little more clear in describing the environment we are anticipating.

    Don Stewart

    • I’m not sure if you mean climate or economic ‘environment’.

      If the latter, and taking into account the ‘long grind’ vs ‘collapse’ debate, I think I need to publish something succinct about this, even before the Brief Guide To Surplus Energy Economics (which is progressing well, but won’t be all that “brief”).

    • @Dr. Morgan
      My guess is that if we begin progressing more rapidly in the direction of 4 degrees (and keeping in mind that the polar regions would see multiples of that change), and the ice sheets start to melt even more rapidly, and the permafrost melts which destroys much Arctic infrastructure, then the financial environment could clearly be chaotic. IF we could insulate the real economy from the financial economy, it would be in a complex system, with feedback loops we have not encountered in any recent time frame, but the climate models which describe the difference between continental clouds and coastal clouds and their respective effects on solar energy retention or reflection, would just be complicated.

      Look forward to you making everything clear and simple.
      Don Stewart

    • Agreed. We do need precision of terms, in so far as that can be achieved.

      Although, however we describe it, I suspect that to the average person, either well or uninformed, it’s all going to seem like ‘one bloody thing after another’……

      Most unhelpful is the stepping up in manipulation of perceptions (aka propaganda and brainwashing) through news and social media, advertising, etc, by both states and corporations, the intention of which is to leave us immersed in a fundamentally false environment with largely impossible expectations.

      Governments grossly underestimate the capacity of ‘ordinary’ people to deal with crises and stresses, tending to flatter themselves that nothing can run well without their direction; and corporations similarly wish to impose dependency and helplessness – the tech companies clearly aspire to be the new feudal lords, for whose profit we must work, and whose services we must use for every conceivable occasion.

      Unreality is becoming the key note of our time.

  17. Interesting product based on biomimicry, sadly (though not untypical of BBC reporting) the article is short on storage details considering it’s supposed to be off-grid solar generation:-
    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-50717446
    http://Www.Solivus.com
    A lot of good points if practicable to scale up, not posting as alternative to nuclear but for interest. Might as well keep trying to find alternative measures to maintain energy supplies (given reduced consumption is not going to be tackled from a political direction) while we slide – or grind – towards the inevitable. Surely no bad thing to enjoy outlets for our limitless supply of hope while we can!

  18. @Dr. Morgan
    It is good discipline for me to have to put what I am saying into the Complex/ Simple/ Complicated/ Chaotic framework. So now I see that I am underestimating the issue of 4 to 5 degrees of warming.

    The models which are being put forth at this moment are complicated. But, as I understand it, they do not model the potential for a massive release of methane, and thus the potential conversion of Earth into Venus. The models will indicate that a Venusian Earth is more likely, for sure. So the climate could respond to the complicated models with an actual burst of chaos. We might see the butterfly in the Amazon produce a hurricane in London.

    If you are writing a screenplay to support your blogging addiction, you might consider:
    *Financial chaos
    *Generating real economy chaos
    *Generating a chaotic response in human behavior
    *Followed by climate chaos as already committed climate effects exercise their butterfly effect

    I suggest that the finale might be the emergence from a cave into the sunlight of a Garden of Eden on a sequestered Mediterranean island, of a few of your close friends and disciples.

    Don Stewart

    • The best we can hope for is a combination of “trends, issues and scenarios” – or what submariners call “indications and warnings” – which has got to be better than nothing…….

    • ‘Paradise’ is, according to the 19th century writer and traveller Richard Ford, a valley in the Pyrenees, named Baztan.

      Where it rains rather a lot.

      Who needs sun? Just surviving The End would be enough….

    • Thanks – some nice ideas but I’m not quite sure how they’d manage births equalling deaths.

      I would hope that sone elderly members of the population were not in the habit of suddenly disappearng after a trip to their favourite film

    • Yes, neither am I , Don, but we are focusing only on the financial system and leave the ruminations about social planning to others better qualified. :-)))))

    • Well as negative or positive predictions cannot predict the future then we’re stuck in an impasse.

      All this and we’ve moved closer to the idea that we’re all living in a hologram.

      Let me suggest that our ever increasing understanding of the quantum World – including of course the much discussed entanglement – will lead to massive changes to our societies in the coming decades.

      The new technologies based on our understanding will look down on our current achievements in the same way we look down on the technology of the 1920s

    • Excellent example, and one can see it happening all around now: noteworthy that their toy sales have taken a hit.

      Not so good for the poor people in Asian factories making those toys…..

  19. Here’s an example of the interaction of business with government in this new decaying environment. I was alerted to this a few years ago by a friend in the planning world, but it’s coming up in the news.

    The huge UK housing construction companies, eg Persimmon, are undertaking to build one kind of big development, which sounds very nice (green spaces, playgrounds, gentle sloping access for elderly and disabled, etc) and then altering course during construction to build a much inferior -and of course much cheaper – version, with all kinds of corners cut and changes in density, which buyers then find simply awful to live in.

    Local authorities have been cut to the bone, and are simply unable to supervise the building, or contest this cynical strategy.

    They also mostly lack their own in-house design teams who could provide input. (This contrasts strongly with the 1949 development in which I live, which is simply superb in terms of planning and amenities). Although I am fully aware of the irony of proposing local authorities as guardians of quality bearing in mind what they did to British towns after WW2!

    So, we have a perfect example of the intersection of deepening governmental incapacity (‘doing less’) with ruthless business tactics. The authority exists, but is mostly impotent,and the sharks move in for the kill expecting no resistance.

    We are more likely to see that sort of thing than everyone pulling together nicely a la ‘Blitz Spirit’.

  20. Short answer for Shawn on the balance of risks. The world health organisation estimate that 4.2million deaths are caused by ambient air pollution, most of it resulting from fossil fuel combustion.
    https://www.who.int/airpollution/ambient/en/

    In comparison, the worst reactor accident ever known, Chernobyl Unit 4, released enough radioactive pollution to result in 4000 early fatalities in the most heavily exposed populations, with a possible additional 5000 if the effects of very low dose rates are included across much wider populations.
    https://www.who.int/ionizing_radiation/chernobyl/backgrounder/en/

    So pragmatically, for radioactive pollution to result in the same number of deaths as fossil fuel air pollution does in 1 year, we would have to have somewhere between 467 and 1050 Chernobyl type reactor accidents every single year. That is more 1000MWe reactors than presently exist on the planet. We would run out of nuclear reactors to melt. Were this to hypothetically occur (zombie apocalypse, say), the death rate would still be less than 0.1% of the human population. So Rick Grimes would probably be safe, but would have a few extra zombies to contend with.

    But of course we will never face a scenario like that. The core damage frequency of a new ESBWR is about 1 in 100million year. Even older light water reactors typically do not exceed core damage frequency of 1 in 10,000 years. So the real risk of nuclear accidents to any particular person is vanishingly small. None of us have anything to fear from nuclear accidents. By contrast, air pollution may be responsible for 9% of all deaths across the world.

    The threat posed by nuclear weapons proliferation is a bit more real. But the fact of the matter is that countries do not need commercial nuclear reactors to build them. It is questionable that a commercial PWR or BWR would be of any use at all in aiding a state in the development of nuclear weapons.

    • Thank you TonyH for this information, you clearly have experience and understanding on this subject. I am no expert but I did spend some time in Belarus in 1994 and spoke to scientists and doctors about the effects of nuclear radiation on the human body (The area next to Chernobyl, Ukraine was used as a laboratory for the effects of radiation on the human being). We also visited the exclusion zone which is wired off and uninhabitable for a very long time, in truth, no one can be sure how long.

      They each carried personal Geiger counters to check for exposure as people move around and we were also able to test ourselves for radiation. I can’t remember the exact numbers but they registered around 250 something for them and they were working in exposed areas all the time. We however were rated higher, at about 350 something, and asked why we were more radioactive than them.

      They suggested that it was because of where we lived in UK, in Somerset 30 miles downwind of Hinkley Point power station. They said that all nuclear power stations leak which surprised us no end. They also said that until nuclear tests were carried out after the war the background radiation was purely natural. Now it is much more intense and has resulted in a much higher incidence of cancer. I checked out a chart on the incidences which are not conclusive and even then correlation does not confirm causation.
      https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=graph+of+incidents+of+cancer+deaths+from+1900&tbm=isch&source=univ&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiWoPPhwpbnAhVcQkEAHVxCCa0QsAR6BAgIEAE&biw=1229&bih=838#imgrc=TQlMojUbhd6wbM

      And this article rather causes more confusion:
      https://www.jonbarron.org/article/growth-cancer

      I guess we will never be sure how safe nuclear reactors are or can be but there is no doubt in my mind at present that they are an amazing benefit regardless of the perceived risks.

    • The growth in cancer rates since the end of WW2, have a lot to do with changes in diet and lifestyle patterns. The growth in the consumption of sugar and processed meat, the decline in physical activity and the growth in obesity rates. Before WW2, it was not uncommon for adults to experience regular periods of fasting and jobs were generally more physically demanding.
      https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes.html

      Nuclear accidents and nuclear power generation, represent only a small proportion of total background radiation dose to the average human being. Background radiation is responsible for only a small proportion of cancers. There are significant variations in natural background dose rates from place to place. If natural background dose rate were responsible for a large proportion of total cancers, there are many parts of the world where cancer would be an epidemic. People living in Cornwall in the UK, would experience a much higher rate of cancer than the general UK population. The fact that it is difficult to detect any difference, suggests that any impact of background radiation on cancer mortality rates must be relatively small. I quote wiki below. It is not the most reliable source, but provides a good summary.
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Background_radiation

      We are actually on quite solid ground in our understanding how radiation doses increase the risk of cancer, thanks largely to long-term study of Japanese atomic bomb survivors. There have been other studies of effects, based upon medical radiotherapy exposure and study of excess mortality in mine workers exposed to radon. There have also been studies on tissue cultures designed to investigate the relative risks from different types of radiation. These are interpreted by the International Commission for Radiological Protection, which estimates that a 1 Sievert (1000mSv) radiation dose delivered to an adult, will result in a 5.5% additional risk of cancer at some point later in life. On average, a 1Sv radiation dose will reduce life expectancy by a little less than 1 year. There are many that regard this figure as being pessimistic.

      Using radiation risk weighting factors like this and assuming linearity between dose and risk, it is possible to estimate the increase in risk to an exposed person based upon the dose that he has accrued. When average doses are estimated across exposed populations, we can estimate excess mortalities within that population. This is how estimates of mortalities from nuclear accidents like Chernobyl are made. It is controversial, because the doses involved are usually small and there is some debate as to whether very small doses are as proportionately dangerous as larger doses. Some studies even suggest that they may be beneficial in activating bodily repair mechanisms. Incidentally, very similar methodologies can be used to estimate the mortality effects from other types of pollution. We can use modelling to estimate radionuclide distribution from nuclear accidents and use these outputs to estimate the accrued dose to the public in these areas and likely mortalities from a hypothetical nuclear accident. If we can estimate the return frequency of the accident, we can also estimate the population risks that result. To the average person living near to a nuclear power plant, the risk is very small. But the point is, the risk is certainly based upon solid science and is not speculation.

      During normal operation, light water reactors release small quantities of tritium resulting from neutron irradiation of coolant water. Drinking water containing tritium would result in some radiation dose. But the doses involved are tiny compared to other sources. Some of the older gas cooled reactors, had external boilers, which could expose the public to small amounts of gamma radiation if they spent a lot of time near the site boundary. During reprocessing of nuclear fuel, fission product gases are released into the atmosphere. These gases rapidly disperse, but if you are immediately down wind of a reprocessing plant, it is possible that fission gases could result in a small additional dose.

    • Agreed. But how will nuclear reactors exist without (a lot of) fossil fuels, even if it’s better than an off-shore wind turbine?

  21. An excellent article to start the New Year. Thank you Tim.

    As someone who’s worked in business for 40 years, I‘ve already seen plenty of de-layering. I’ve been on the receiving end of it, and on the delivery end of it. Delayering itself is nothing new; it’s always been part of the boom and bust cycle in business. Delayering occurs during downturns, and when things pick up, all kinds of new layers of complexity/cost start to re-establish themselves.

    However, what I sense is coming, and what I think is set out in Tim’s article, is that widespread delayering will become a permanent and continuous process as prosperity declines. That’s something different altogether, and has massive implications for society. I like the idea of being ahead of the game, and I’m working on doing just it.

    • Thank you. I believe that an understanding of the fundamental economic change now under way can prove a significant advantage, because this understanding is essential to getting (and staying) ahead of the game.

    • ‘De-layering’: our old friend, mass redundancies; and perhaps a permanent slide down from middle-class comparative security to insecure/ borderline destitute class for many.

      Huge political consequences from that, obviously. Back to the politics of the 1970’s? Or the 1930’s?

      But, for the UK at least, no easy exit from that prolonged crisis courtesy of North Sea oil and gas,combined with a resurgent world economy.

      Already, just scan the daily news and you will see that schools, hospitals, elderly care, prisons, social services and policing are not functioning at all well.

    • On the subject of delayering Morrisons have just announced 5000 managers are going to lose their jobs inorder to provide more shop floor sales staff

      Obviously huge savings in staff costs while those who lose their job -and can’t find a likewise replacement – will be leaving the so called Middle class.

      As a side note Sainsburys are replacing till staff with self scan technology at a rapid rate.

      I’ve noticed old people huddled around the remaining tills.

      Not only could they be struggling with the new technology but they’re also missing a friendly chat – especially if they’re lonely (which could happen to any of us)

      As the UK – and other populations age – I can imagine youngsters in their 70s having to look after parents who are in their late 90s or 100s.

  22. Tim, given what has been discussed here in recent days, do you believe it would be possible to carry out a SEEDS assessment for the prospects for nuclear energy? It would be interesting to gain some understanding of the real ECoE of different nuclear concepts, versus natural gas, coal, wind, etc. If an energy interpretation of the economy ultimately becomes mainstream, I suspect that there will be more interest in removing institutional obstacles to new nuclear power plants.

    • This would be useful, but only if it includes the energy costs for the permanent and extremely long-term sequestering of the nuclear wastes generated by all the related activities and facilities. Getting good data will be difficult since the time scales involved in the sequestering alone are unlike anything that human society has previously undertaken (i.e., even small yearly energy costs will aggregate significantly over millennia).

    • Re: Nuclear waste:

      From a quantum physicist with a few decades experience:

      Nuclear wastes can be reprocessed. Further, their storage can be a sort of thermal radionucleotide generator, where this heat they generate can be converted to electricity. This is used in limited applications with spacecraft. It is a bit crazy to think the energy these materials generate is just pumped out and dumped.

      LC

    • The energy cost of dealing with nuclear waste is fairly trivial. You dig a deep hole and pour the stuff in. Selecting a suitable geology requires some work. A lot does depend on sensible criteria for storage. Retrievability is not an issue. Also, absurd requirements over retention times should be avoided. There are trillions of tonnes of uranium, thorium and daughter products in the Earth’s crust that do not benefit from any costly engineered containment system.

    • “Nuclear wastes can be reprocessed.”

      Moreover, it MUST be reprocessed to make it viable and competitive (with, say, coal and gas). That’s the whole idea, that’s where the energy is. If not for strictly political considerations (that is, nothing to do with science), that would’ve already happened.

    • From a mechanical engineer, environmental planner, and conservation psychologist (too old to admit to using sliderules):

      Good ideas Steven. Yet, we haven’t done any of that yet except for spacecraft applications. Might be possible to do this with the energy and time we have. But, as a policy recommendation it has to compete with other approaches.

      In contrast, another approach might envision a world that has greatly reduced its population, and achieved an energy footprint requiring only solar throughput. We know life under such conditions is possible because it was what we once did, and what many on the planet today do. As Boulding said, “If it exists, it’s possible.” Of course, how we get there is a challenge. And, as I’d rather not have to rely on a collapse scenario to get there, we need to conduct a great many small cultural experiments, real soon now. But I’d not want any of them to “bet the ranch.” So, cleverly, and cautiously, learning from the past seems in order. Adaptive management (or adaptive muddling) seems in order.

      Tony: The “trillions of tonnes …” you mention aren’t the highly concentrated forms that we have to contend with. Theoretically, we can reduce its lethality (at some energy cost?). But maybe we should be cautious making the leap from solid theory and small-scale practices, to a global-scale experiment? We could invoke either: (1) “…absurd requirements over retention times should be avoided” or (2) the precautionary principle = a strategy for approaching issues of potential harm when faced with uncertainty and lack of direct experience that emphasizes caution, pausing and review before adopting innovations.

      Managing concentrated lethal wastes stored in just a few locations is just the sort of challenge for which the precautionary principle was crafted. And what is considered an absurd requirement tends to change over time (in both directions, certainly).

    • To all,
      From yesterday. Note the last 3 paragraphs re Boris and UK.

      https://futurism.com/the-byte/rolls-royce-tiny-nuclear-reactors

      Rolls-Royce Is Building Tiny Nuclear Reactors
      Lil Nuke

      Rolls-Royce doesn’t just manufacture luxurious cars — it’s also involved in futuristic projects ranging from to .

      Now, the company is eyeing two sites for tiny nuclear power stations it calls “small modular reactors,” , in Wales and northern England — a program the UK government committed to funding in July 2019.

      Mega What

      The planned nuclear reactors are just the size of traditional nuclear reactors and are much easier and far quicker to build as well, . The new reactors take just four years to build, while the shortest build time of UK’s previous reactors was eight years, according to Popular Mechanics.

      Rolls-Royce each station will provide 440 megawatts of electricity — roughly what a traditional reactor generates — but in a much smaller footprint.

      Future Shock

      The UK is currently working to shut down its existing nuclear plants thanks to aging infrastructure and renewed safety concerns, with the goal to .

      But prime minister Boris Johnson stands firmly behind a nuclear future.

      “It is time for a nuclear renaissance and I believe passionately that nuclear must be part of our energy mix,” he said in July during his first day in the House of Commons.

      READ MORE: These Tiny Nuclear Power Stations Could Be, Well, Huge [Popular Mechanics]

    • I’m all for a nuclear future – my Dad used to say it was the way forward twenty years ago – he hated wind turbines

    • raymonddeyoung

      “Yet, we haven’t done any of that yet”

      Not true, much has been done. In many contries these programs were shut down by crazy and vicious politicians and “environmentalists” (e.g., IFS in USA, Superphenix in France). I’m putting “environmentalists” in quotes because one would think that the real environmentalists would welcome all attempts to reduce the amount of actinides in spent nuclear fuel… Nonetheless, the work is still ongoing:

      https://world-nuclear-news.org/Articles/Russia-completes-testing-of-latest-fast-reactor-fu

    • Thanks for the link, Vic. As I’ve written many times, the vast majority of humans won’t voluntarily give up their energy slaves. (MPP)

    • I have just read the article in Popular Mechanics referred to in

      https://futurism.com/the-byte/rolls-royce-tiny-nuclear-reactors.

      I’m disappointed in so many mistakes.

      The author makes much out of the Rolls Royce car company that is making a ‘sharp right turn’ from making luxury cars to making small nuclear reactors. But it is, of course, the completely separate, Rolls Royce aero engine and engineering company that is looking at making small, land nuclear power plants. The company has been making nuclear plants for submarines for over fifty years, so hardly a ‘sharp right turn’.

      I thought Popular Mechanics was better than that.

  23. Delayering; Fires centralized and fires decentralized. Population
    Kris DeDecker with an excellent essay on households and fire and UN Sustainable Development Goals and our obsession with fossil fuels:
    https://www.lowtechmagazine.com/2019/12/too-much-combustion-too-little-fire.html

    I will just note that Albert Bates CoolLab concept and the exploitation of carbon value chains has many parallels with DeDecker’s description of the multiple uses of the family hearth.

    A second note is that, if society evolves back in this direction, large extended families or clans will be the energy efficient choice once again.

    Don Stewart

  24. Simon Fairlie on Planting Trees to Remove Carbon
    http://www.thelandmagazine.org.uk/articles/quality-not-quantity-0

    The British will find that this is exactly relevant to issues currently being discussed in your country. Fairlie wrote a book, which I have often quoted, to the effect that Britain can feed itself, and even have some occasional meat. As he notes in the above article, it would require that we devote less land to growing crops which are fed to animals.

    Don Stewart

  25. Labels; Effective Communication; Toxic Social Media; Human Labor
    https://relationalthinkingblog.com/2020/01/13/letter-from-the-fire-well-smoke-front/

    *Too frequently commenters try to dispose of someone’s actions or beliefs or thoughts by labeling them…e.g., lefties or fascists or racists, etc.
    *In the particular case of Australian fires, social media allowed a carefully orchestrated denial of the obvious by saying that the fires were the work of arsonists. The professionals denied that arsonists were the primary cause, but the denials were drowned out on social media by the usual manipulations plus the need of lots of people to avoid culpability for their own actions.
    *Simon Fairlie, in the previously referenced article, talks about the knowledge and detailed planning and work which needs to be done to properly plant trees for carbon sequestration plus all the myriad uses of wood. It is probably futile to ask a City banker what he thinks about it. But since most people want to ‘do something’, we get vaporous promises by the political parties to ‘plant trees’.
    *In the particular case of Australia, it is evident from Bill Gammage’s careful history that Australia was a managed estate at European contact…managed by fire. It was unimaginably lush with huge populations of animals and birds. We can see with our eyes what a few hundred years of European civilization.armed with fossil fuels can do to it. But I don’t know any politicians who would frame the issues that way. The last time I spent any time with an Australian official he viewed the Aborigines with utter disgust.
    *When we start talking about Fairlie’s ideas for Britain or the notion of using Aboriginal methods to save Australia, we are talking about a lot of human knowledge and labor. It cannot be accomplished by sending thousands of troops from the Chinese army to plant trees, it cannot be accomplished by turning it over to quick-buck capitalist exploitation, and it cannot be accomplished by the ‘sausage making’ of conventional political horse trading.

    I’d like to outline what will work, but this post is long enough already.

    Don Stewart

  26. DeGrowth and Free Peak Oil
    Dmitry Orlov, behind a pay wall, gives his usual idiosyncratic views on the situation in Libya and Iraq and Iran and Venezuela and the inability of Europe and the US to make things go their way. His thesis is that Europe and the US are experiencing industrial decline, Europe more rapidly than the US, and that the inability to get free oil from the oil surplus countries is a factor. A general in Libya, some drones in Saudi Arabia, and some missiles in Iraq fired from Iran have demonstrated that spending lots of money on the military doesn’t necessarily result in the ability to force other countries to follow your whims.

    Don Stewart

  27. Raymond and all,

    A.P. is a former Max Planck geophysicist-chemist friend (50s) living in Zurich. English is his third language, so excuse his spelling, etc. His view:

    If grids fail, there would be no problems in cooling Nucl. facilities (core and pools of “spent” fuel”) as the energy produced by the facility itself would still be more than enough to supply energy to pumps moving around cooling liquids. Even an isolated pool of “spent fuel” produces by himself enough heat to power an engine (e.g. a stirling) that provides a continuous flow of cooling liquid into the pool. All that’s necessary is a legislation that makes the comissioning of such security devices mandatory. The other alternative (or additional backup system) is passive cooling systems that does not need any power source at all (e.g. freshwater captured from higher altitudes and conveyed by pipelines at the heat exchangers of the nuclear facility). Fukushima has shown us the importance of such autonomous systems, and I would be surprised if legislations have not been updated accordingly (but you never know how idiotic policymakers are).

    Below, again, the nonsense of “spent fuel that must be confined for millenia”. It’s an inexistent problem that was created by antinuclear activism and lazy policies. In the west, antinuclearism successfully hindered any fuel reprocessing and the development of GEN IV and Gen V reactors. China and Russia are doing it, will do the job to completion, take the lead, the economic and ecologic profit from it. Anyone with a brain and a chart of nuclides can easily find out what nuclides could be problematic in the “spent fuel”. The most problematic are transuranic neutron capture products. What can be done with such nuclides? re-use these as a nucl. fuel, use as fuel deep space missions, use in nuclear medicine, use tracing technologies and much much more. Radioactive fission products themselves (i.e. non neutron capture products) are generally short lived (pls. LOOK AT A NUCLIDE CHART and make your mind yourself on that!). Studies show their activity to be within 300 years lower than the Uranium ore from which the initial fuel was fabricated. Storage of such spent fuels –done properly- would therefore not be a big deal. Mote importantly, a peaceful, advanced nuclear energy infrastructure would -over time- LOWER, (not rise) environmental radioactivity.

    Last but not least, the two most important sources of environmental radioactive contaminations “that last for millenia” are carbon based fossil fuels (specially: coal) and phosphate fertilizers.

    • There certainly is a vibrant positive response about nuclear power.

      But it might be useful to return to the issue Tony brought up, and my suggestion. Tony suggested, “It would be interesting to gain some understanding of the real ECoE of different nuclear concepts, versus natural gas, coal, wind, etc.”
      I suggested that would be useful but only if all energy costs are included, and with a complete timeline. I’d make that same suggestion if we’d been talking about coal, or rooftop pv, or an agrarian provisioning system, etc.

      The challenge is to do a full life cycle analysis (LCA, i.e., cradle-to-grave). Upstream, for coal we’d include the costs of mountain top removal, transport, changes in type of coal, etc. At the thermal plant we’d have to consider CO2 removal and sequestering (and here, like with nuclear, we’d have to consider the need for very long-term sequestering). Downstream, we’d have to include mercury emissions and deposition, coal ash management, etc.

      LCA always has the challenge of separating theory, small-scale demonstrations, and commercial practice. For instance, we might make a claim that we theoretically could remove all the mercury from the coal before combustion, and store it safely forever. But, if LCA is to be useful to the current policy-making process, then it needs to be done with what is currently, commercially available, not what is theoretically possible. (Policy-making about R&D funding might be the exception here).

      We now have two new analysis tools (i.e., ECoE, LCA) that we did not originally have when considering how to power techno-industrial civilization. We also have two principles, the precautionary principle, and the sufficiency principle (Princen, T. (2005) The Logic of Sufficiency, MIT Press), that emerged from environmental research. In combination, they give a better understanding of our options and the consequences of our choices to the policy-making process.

      I think our grandchildren would want us to use all such analysis tools.

    • I agree re LCA & ECoE. If more radiation and other pollutants, particulates, gasses are emitted by burning FFs than by nuclear plants, the health effects are more than monetary. Should the lesser damaging activity be given preference credits? I seek reversal of human population growth, but not by increasing illness.

  28. Mr Mnuchin’s point – reported here and here – is essentially correct. Those calling for the immediate cessation of investment in FFs, and the near-term cessation of their use, seem to have no idea about the way the economy and energy use function. The ignorance on both sides of this debate is truly worrying.

    I think that a downloadable briefing paper on this, based on SEE and SEEDs, is a priority here – as if my “to do” list wasn’t long enough already……

    • There is an energy source with (I suspect) low ECoE, zero carbon dioxide emissions and resource base that is ultimately so large, that it is effectively renewable. The high power density makes it possible to build up capacity very quickly if it needs to be done.

    • Economy as a Heat Engine
      Justus von Liebig certainly understood the economy as a heat engine. He compared coal to other methods of producing heat, and said that coal would certainly be the foundation because it was the most dense source of energy. He also said that electricity would never be the dominant use of power…rather process heat would dominate…as it does today.

      His bridge over to the human body being a heat engine was a novel idea at the time, and led to the work of the British cookbook author and the work of the scientist at the Dept of Ag in the US.

      So…150 years ago scientists understood that both the economy and the human body were heat engines. At roughly the same time, scientists recognized that it was possible to create enough CO2 to heat the Earth. The cookbook author certainly recognized that feeding too much energy to the human body was as dangerous as running a steam engine.too hot. I can’t find the exact quote right at the moment, but Hippocrates was aware of the dangers of eating too much and recommended some fasting…along with Jesus and practically all other religious leaders…but they probably didn’t understand the heat engine concept. They might have understood the importance of fire to the potter and the blacksmith and probably cooked food rather than raw food and the importance of gathering firewood.

      It took modern Economists to erase the heat engine concept from people’s consciousness.

      Don Stewart

  29. Degrowth; Food; Delusions
    Context: A long and wordy analysis of Degrowth and Delayering in the context of an assumption that nuclear probably won’t save us and wind and solar may help, but won’t preserve our current GDP per capita.

    *125 years ago Healthspan was about 40 years and the years of disease and disability about 5 years. At the present time, the Healthspan is still 40 years, but the disease and disability years have increased by 40 years, so that lifespan has increased from less than 40 to 80. (These numbers are crude, and hide the effect of infant mortality, but you can see the trend.)
    *The current science indicates that we could have a healthspan of 95 years and lifespan of 100.
    *How is it that we have discovered how to use fossil fuels to generate enormous GDP, and what we have gotten in return is no increase in Healthspan? 125 years ago, we spent about half our income on food…and now it is less than 10 percent in the US, with a little more in Europe. I don’t know the exact numbers on the costs of the disease and disability 125 years ago, but the sick-care industry in the US is now 19 percent of GDP.

    Some quotes from the excellent book The Healthspan Solution, by Julieanna Hever and Ray Cronise.

    *”For the first time, we have managed to achieve a decline in health and a rise in early death through excesses of diet on a worldwide scale.”
    *In 1894, the first US Dept of Agriculture scientist wrote: “The most striking fact brought out by these calculations is the difference between the animal and vegetable foods in the actual cost of nutriment. Meats, fish, poultry, and the like are expensive, while flour and potatoes are cheap food. The reason for this is simple. The animal foods are made from vegetable products. Making meat from grass or grain is costly. An acre of land will produce a given number of bushels of wheat, but when the grass or grain which the same land would produce is converted to meat it makes much less food than the wheat”. The power of fossil fuels is plainly evident in the fact that the US and Europe have been able to engage in the wholesale use of expensive animal food while also reducing food costs to less than 10 percent of GDP.
    *The USDA scientist wrote: “In our actual practice of eating, we are apt to be influenced too much by taste, by the dictates of the palate; we are prone to let natural instinct be overruled by acquired appetite. We need to observe our diet and regulate appetite by reason.” It goes without saying that the USDA is now an enthusiastic champion of ‘letting natural instinct be overruled by acquired appetite’…because it increases GDP both in terms of food expenditures and in terms of sick-care expenditures. I will let you guess whether the current plan can be maintained in a Degrowth world.
    *Justus von Liebig formulated the ‘protein for structure plus fuel from fat and carbohydrates’ theory. 15 years later, in 1858, Eliza Acton in Britain published a cookbook aimed at the middle class. It remained in print for more than 50 years. “Modern Cookery, For Private Families, Reduced to a System of Easy Practice, In a Series pf Carefully Tested Receipts, In Which the Principles of Baron Liebig and Other Eminent Writers Have Been as Much as Possible Applied and Explained….I have zealously endeavored to ascertain, and to place clearly before my readers, the most rational and healthful methods of preparing those simple and essential kinds of nourishment which form the staple of our common daily fare; and have occupied myself but little with the elegant superfluities or luxurious novelties with which I might perhaps, more attractively, though not more usefully, have filled my pages….ample directions for dressing vegetables, for making what cannot be purchased in this country, unadulterated bread of the most undeniable wholesome quality; and those refreshing and finely-flavored varieties of preserved fruits which are so conducive to health”. Needless to say, these are not the goals of the current food industry or the governments which subsidize it.

    The book urges individuals to ‘be a Healthspan lighthouse, not a tugboat’. Cronise worked many years for the US government, and has just about zero confidence that it can do anything rational. He is very libertarian. So the emphasis on being a lighthouse.

    If we contemplate the notion that we are entering on a phase of our history where the steadily declining percentage of our income is spent on food is over, and for the foreseeable future we are going to have to put more of our money and work into food acquisition, then I submit that looking through the lenses of the USDA scientist and the British cookbook author will be instructive.

    Don Stewart

  30. While the rationalist technocratic spirit and hope springs eternal in these pages, here is the actual form “managed degrowth” is taking right now:

    “Trump Guts Safeguards for U.S. Streams and Wetlands”
    https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/01/23/biggest-loss-clean-water-protection-country-has-ever-seen-trump-guts-safeguards-us
    Or if you prefer the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/22/climate/trump-environment-water.html

    “The American Gas Association, a trade group representing more than 200 natural gas companies, swiftly hailed the rule as an industry victory.”

    I cannot tell you how depressing this is. It is at moments like this when I wonder where I and my family could possibly go to escape (most of?) (the full brunt of?) this madness. Answer, probably nowhere.

    If you are wondering what is going to really happen when climate degradation and change starts kicking in in even higher gear than now, based on evidence of what actual humans did in the past rather than rationalist hope, I recommend Geoffrey Parker’s, Sunday Times History Book of the Year, “Global Crisis: War, Climate Change & Catastrophe in the Seventeenth Century.” Parker examines what happened during the little ice age and climate upheavals of the 17th Century in every country of the world. The book is massive, about 700 pages long. I only made it through about 250, but I got the gist. Hint: the rationalist, technocratic spirit and a general all for one, one for all bonhomie did not prevail. If you thought what happened in Europe was bad, wait till you read about the harrowing events that unfolded in China.

    Btw, the onslaught of droughts in that century “degrew” the then agrarian economy, and the cities and governments that rested on it, by causing massive crop losses and famines. So you can take that history also as a model for what happens in “degrowth.” As is customary in “civilization,” the grain surpluses from good years are never set aside to save for a 1 – 3 year period of bad summers (let alone the Biblical 7 years), but except for over-winter, livestock support and seed needs, are almost entirely used to support a larger population (growth!) and to spend in order to support foreign adventures to seize more wealth, social aggrandizement of kings, governments, officials, etc. (growth!)

    Here you go, a very tiny flavor of the whole:
    “A third of the world has died.” Abbess Angelique Arnauld, letter, Port-Royale-des-Champs, France, 1654.
    “As in Europe, the worst atrocities occurred when soldiers took a town by storm. A seventeenth-century Chinese play, The Miraculous Reunion, compared the treatment of a captured town or city with ‘pounding fresh onions and garlic to pieces in a bowl’; while an eye-witness account noted that civilians who survived a successful storm ‘had scorched pates, pulpy foreheads, and broken or otherwise injured arms and legs. They had sword gashes all over their bodies, the blood from which had clotted in patches, and their faces were streaked with trickles of blood like tears from burning red candles.”

    • I have this book and just need to finish another before I start reading it.

      The relaxation of water polluting rules will eventually just shift costs from Corporates to the health service as people slowly develop associated illnesses.

      Given the critical state of water supplies within some areas of the US this is a bizarre policy

    • Ultimately, water supply depends on energy. With abundant energy, desalination alone could supply huge amounts of water. With energy supply constrained, though, we can’t even make and maintain pumps and pipes – so we have to prioritize our uses of water.

    • Yes, the gutting of pollution and water quality regulations is insane. These folks have kids too. Some in the Senate & House may be apocalyptic Christians, but surely not most.

    • Well there’s a very small chance the Democrats might get in and reverse it.

      Protecting the environment dies cost money and there’s clearly not enough to round in terms of energy constraints.

      China doesn’t care what it does –

    • @ewaf88
      I recently listened to a podcast by Radio EcoShock. He talked with a Chinese national who had been at Princeton. Now the Chinese guy is working in Shenzen in China. When the interviewer asked him why he moved from Princeton to Shenzen, he said there is no money available for research in Princeton, while the Chinese government is putting money into ecological research.

      One of my neighbors here in North Carolina made the same lament about research money in the US. He moved to the US a long time ago and is now a citizen. But he has made a lot of money as a consultant to the Chinese. He is trying to interest local labs in collaboration with Chinese labs, hoping to get funding for the total venture from the Chinese government. Don’t know how that will work.

      Trump has threatened to prohibit Chinese nationals from working in labs or going to leading universities in the US.

      Don’t underestimate what China can do when it wants to do it.

      Don Stewart

  31. @TonyH I have been investigating your thesis briefly that is why I hope you like to pick up the theme again a bit delayed.
    Greta Thunberg in Davos said, the carbon budget fo 1,5 degrees Celsius is shot in 8 years.
    Nate Hagens says, our civilisational engine is running at about 25 TW
    That does not yield 2000 ESBWR as you claimes but 16.000 (if we want to eat the cake and have it too) for 2920 days equals about 6 reactors built per day.
    Well, if 1.1.2020 were the starting shot for the transition, we are as of today already 138 reactors behind.
    I see a probability of that scenario but without an emergency break for all human activity, we will exorbitantly ovfershoot every limit.
    What I would be interested, if you have an estimate about decomissioning the ESBWR and how much Plutonium waste is generated and how all this fits in the GEN IV reactors (“waste burn down”) concept.
    Thank you
    MM

    • Total human primary energy supply stood at about 18TW in 2014, according to the link below. I don’t know if that includes primary sunlight intercepted by crops. If not, 25TW is probably realistic. Much of that power is lost as waste heat before we can use it. Road vehicle engines are typically 20% efficient and even less so with typical driving patterns. Thermal power stations range from 20-60% efficient; the low end being sub-critical boilers, the high end being combined cycle gas turbine plants.
      http://www.theworldcounts.com/stories/current_world_energy_consumption

      The 3GW I was referring to is global average electricity demand. This is only one part of human energy consumption, but it is a very important one. Electricity has a very high work potential. One unit of electric power will produce 0.9 units of mechanical power in an AC motor. It will also produce temperatures as hot as materials can withstand in an electric furnace. It powers lighting, machinery and electronics. So electricity is the most important end use energy source we have and its availability is far more closely linked to economic growth than energy per se.

      To build 2000 power reactors in 10 years is a tall order. It would require some quite coordinated efforts on the part of government and industry alike to build up the supply lines and smooth the regulatory processes across the globe. In principle it could be done. But there is very little appetite for the increased use of nuclear power in most developed countries. People are frightened of it and most political players have an ideological bias towards the sun and wind.

      Decommissioning is a complex topic. In terms of plutonium production, a 1000MWe light water reactor requires about 30 tonnes of fresh 5% enriched fuel each year. At discharge, about 1% (300kg) of fuel consists of plutonium; another 1% is non-fissioned 235U; and about 4% is fission products. So 2000x 1500MWe reactors would generate about 900tonnes (45m3) of plutonium isotopes per year. Even a millennia of operation providing all mankind’s electricity, would generate a relatively small volume of waste material. Plutonium could in principle be recycled into MOX fuel. If used alongside unburned discharged uranium, or re-enriched uranium, the use of MOX could reduce fresh uranium requirements by up to 40%.

      The expanded use of LWRs only makes sense if uranium supply is sufficient to allow it on a reasonably assured timescale (i.e. most of humanities electricity for a century or more). If seawater uranium extraction can be accomplished at $200/lb, then that is a realistic proposition.

      I would like to see Tim examine nuclear energy concepts as part of his SEEDS analysis. But he doesn’t seem keen on the idea.

    • I do have numbers on this, Tony. But there are some really huge imponderables, as I’m sure you can appreciate.

      One of the greatest influences on my thinking has been an essay written by Andrew Lees, included in a book published back in, I think, 2009. He proposed an all-out effort for fusion, but I’m far from convinced that we really can “put the sun in a box”.

    • On the topic of energy requirements of decommissioning, Weisbach presents a value of 1150TJ in his calculation of EROI for a 1300MWe light water reactor. This is 0.05% of the total energy output of a reactor plant over a 60 year lifetime. It is about one quarter of total energy used in construction. If anyone here can read German, you can follow his references and pin down the assumptions he applied.

      https://festkoerper-kernphysik.de/Weissbach_EROI_preprint.pdf

      Of course, decommissioning cost is dependent upon design. Britain’s low power density gas cooled reactors can be expected to have greater decommissioning costs than the light water reactor examined by Weisbach. And fuel reprocessing facilities will add to decommissioning costs if that option is pursued. The UK’s Sellafield site is a good example of how decommissioning costs can ramp up is an intelligent design process is not applied.

  32. Energy Appreciation
    Even Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice learned the power and the danger of dense energy.

    Now, one does not HAVE to be William Nordhaus to fail to understand the principle. But it sure helps.

    Don Stewart

    • I think it’s the sheer witlessness of all this which worries me most.

      On the one hand, we have the fanaticism which states that we need to stop using all fossil fuels almost immediately (which, amongst other things, takes away our ability to build renewables capacity).

      On the other, there’s the cynicism which states that we should cherry-pick the profitable bits of the environmental agenda (like carbon trading, and forcing everyone to buy a new car), and pour bucket-loads of greenwash over the rest of it.

  33. A good article by Simon Jenkins po n the folly of HS2 in the Guardian today.

    A staggering £8bn has already been thrown away – just imagine what that could have down for local transport needs.

    There’s still talk of terminating at Royal Oak so there would be no time savings anyway – and who’d want to use it if it didn’t take you into central London?

    At least Dominic Cummins is against it so may sway Johnson.

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