#175. The Surplus Energy Economy


In response to the previous article, it was suggested that it would be helpful if we had a comprehensive statement, a sort of Surplus Energy Economics 101, for new readers. This makes a great deal of sense, particularly given how many people have joined the SEE readership since the last time the thesis was set out in this way. The plan is that the article which follows will be made available as a downloadable PDF in the near future.

The aim here is to encompass two themes in a single article. The first is the basic logic informing the Surplus Energy Economics approach. This builds on the long-established principle that the economy should be understood as an energy system, not a financial one.

The second is an evaluation of where we are today on the evolution of the economy as energy interpretation explains it. This makes extensive use of the Surplus Energy Economics Data System (SEEDS), which models the economy as an energy system.


The best way to start is with the “trilogy of the blindingly obvious”. No-one new to the subject can go far wrong if they bear in mind these three principles.

1.1. The economy is energy

The first principle is that all forms of economic output – literally all of the goods and services which comprise the ‘real’ economy – are products of energy.

Nothing of any economic value or utility can be supplied without using energy. Energy can be defined as ‘a capacity for work’ and, historically, everything that we wanted or needed was produced using the labour (work) of humans and animals, plus some early application of the power of wind and water. That changed from the late 1700s, when we learned how to deploy the vast reserves of energy contained in fossil fuel (FF) deposits of coal, oil and natural gas.

There is an abundantly clear correlation between escalating use of energy and the massive increases in population numbers, and their economic means of support, since the late eighteenth century (see fig. 1).

It should be noted that other natural resources (such as foods and minerals) are energy products, too, since we can’t grow wheat, for example, or extract and process copper, without using energy to do so.

Fig. 1

175-1 Population & energy

1.2. Of cost and surplus

Second, whenever we access energy for our use, some of that energy is always consumed in the access process. We can’t drill an oil well, construct a refinery, build a gas pipeline, manufacture a wind turbine or a solar panel, or install a power distribution grid, without using energy, and neither can we operate or maintain them without it. The energy that is consumed in the supply of energy therefore comprises both a capital (investment) and an operating component.

This principle is central to the established concept of the Energy Return on Energy Invested (EROI or EROEI), in which the consumed, cost or invested component is stated as a ratio. In Surplus Energy Economics (SEE), the cost element is known as the Energy Cost of Energy or ECoE, and is stated as a percentage.

Understood in this way, any given quantity of energy divides into parts. One of these is the cost element, known here as ECoE. The other – whatever remains – is surplus energy. This surplus drives all economic activity other than the supply of energy itself. This makes surplus energy coterminous with prosperity.

We can, of course, use this surplus wisely or foolishly, and we can share it out fairly or inequitably. But what we can not do is to “de-couple” economic output from energy or, to be more specific about it, from surplus energy.

1.3. Money – only a claim

The third part of the “blindingly obvious” trilogy is that money acts only as a ‘claim’ on the output of the real (energy) economy. Money has no intrinsic worth, and has value only in terms of the things for which it can be exchanged. No amount of money – be it currency, gold or any other token – would be of any use whatsoever to somebody stranded in the desert, or cast adrift in a lifeboat.


This, then, is how the economy works – we access energy (’losing’ some of it as a ‘cost’ in the process); we use what remains (the surplus) to produce goods and services; and we exchange these with each other using money.

Where, though, are we now, on the evolution of ‘surplus energy, prosperity and money’?

2.1. The short version

If you want a succinct answer to this question, it is that ECoE (the Energy Cost of Energy) is rising, relentlessly and exponentially. The exponential rate of increase in ECoE means that this cannot be cancelled out by linear increases in the aggregate amount of total or gross (pre-ECoE) energy that we can access. The resultant squeeze on surplus energy has been compounded by increasing numbers of people seeking to share the prosperity that this surplus provides.

As a result, prior growth in prosperity per person has gone into reverse. People have been getting poorer in most Western advanced economies (AEs) since the early 2000s. With the same fate now starting to overtake emerging market (EM) countries too, global prosperity has turned down. One way of describing this process is “de-growth”.

In recent times, we’ve tried to use financial gimmickry – credit and monetary adventurism – to counter this adverse trend. Since money acts simply as a claim on economic output generated by energy, this is wholly futile, and can be likened to “trying to fix an ailing house-plant with a spanner”. We’ve been piling up financial excess claims on prosperity at a rate that guarantees a crisis in the financial system. This crisis must take the form of value destruction, which may happen through ‘hard’ defaults, ‘soft’ inflationary destruction of the value of money, or some combination of both.

2.2. The ECoE process

The Energy Cost of Energy (ECoE) at any given time is a product of four factors or ‘drivers’. Each of these evolves gradually, so ECoEs need to be understood and applied as trends.

The first of these is geographic reach, and the second is economies of scale. Both of them push ECoEs downwards, and both can best be illustrated by reference to the petroleum industry.

Starting from its origins in the Pennsylvania of the 1850s, the oil industry spread across the globe in search of new, larger, lower-cost sources of production. At the same time, growth in the size of operations reduced unit costs by spreading the fixed costs of operations across a larger amount of oil produced, processed and delivered. Accordingly, the ECoE of petroleum supply fell steadily through the contributions of reach and scale.

The third ‘driver’, which pushes ECoEs upwards rather than downwards, is depletion. Quite logically, the most profitable (lowest cost) sources of any resource are accessed first, leaving less profitable (costlier) alternatives for later. As this process unfolds, ‘later’ arrives, with low-cost resources exhausted, and replaced by successively higher-cost alternatives. This is why depletion drives ECoEs upwards.

The four ECoE-determining factors – reach, scale, depletion and technology – can be put together in an illustrative parabola (fig. 2). In the early part of the sequence, ECoEs fall through the combined effects of reach and scale. As these drivers are exhausted, depletion takes over, forcing ECoEs back up again.

Fig. 2

175-2 Parabola 2

Technology helps to accelerate downwards trends in ECoEs in the early part of the parabola, and then acts to mitigate increases on the upswing. It’s extremely important that we don’t get the role and potential of technology out of context. Technological potential is always limited by the ‘envelope’ of the physical characteristics of the resource.

For example, advances in fracking techniques have reduced the costs of extracting shale oil to levels lower than the cost of producing that same resource at an earlier time. What this has not done is to turn shales into the economic equivalent of large, conventional oil fields in the sands of Arabia – technology, then, cannot overcome the differences in physical characteristics between these resources.

2.3. The irresistible rise in ECoEs        

As we’ve seen, the ECoEs of FFs have progressed along a historic parabola, and are now rising relentlessly. This trajectory is illustrated in fig. 3.

It must be stressed that the earlier part of the chart, shown as a dotted line, is simply illustrative – we don’t have enough data to know what ECoEs were in 1800, for example, or in 1900. We do, though, know enough about historical events, and about the processes involved, to have a pretty good general idea about where ECoEs were in earlier times. Evidence strongly suggests that a low-point – an ‘ECoE nadir’ – was reached in the two decades or so after 1945. This makes it wholly unsurprising – and not remotely coincidental – that this was a ‘golden age’ of growing prosperity.

Fig. 3

175-3 Long run ECoE NEW

Looking at this historically, it’s noteworthy how two factors, not one, favoured the development of the Industrial Economy through a very extended period. Just as ECoEs were falling (thanks to reach, scale and technology), so the total supply of FF energy was increasing as well. This meant that we enjoyed a ‘virtuous circle’ in which the supply of surplus (ex-ECoE) energy was rising more rapidly than the total (‘gross’) availability of energy.

The situation today, though, is that the reverse applies, with a ‘vicious circle’ rather than a virtuous one. Just as trend ECoEs are rising relentlessly, so our ability to carry on increasing the gross supply of energy is being undermined, not just by the depletion of resources but also by the way in which rising ECoEs are undercutting the economics of the energy industries themselves.

To remain viable, these industries need to sell energy at prices which are both (a) above costs of supply, and (b) affordable to the consumer. The situation now is that, whilst costs are rising, increases in ECoE are also undermining affordability, by impairing the prosperity of the consumer.

In the period immediately preceding the coronavirus crisis, the consensus assumption was that total supply of energy was going to carry on rising at rates not dissimilar to those of the recent past.

Three authoritative suppliers of forecasts agreed that, by 2040, consumption of oil would be 10-12% greater than it was in 2018, that the use of gas would have grown by 30-32%, and that even the use of coal would not have decreased. Along with this would go an increase of about 75% in global vehicle numbers, and of about 90% in passenger aviation.

To those of us who understand the energy economy and the trends in ECoEs, these were never realistic projections.

2.4. Renewables – imperative, but not an economic ‘fix’

As the ECoEs of FFs continue to rise, and as concern increases over the threat to the environment posed by emissions, many believe that a “transition” to renewable energy (RE) sources will transform the situation.

We should be in no doubt that, on economic as well as environmental grounds, transition to REs is imperative. Continued reliance on FF energy might or might not wreck the environment, but would definitely wreck the economy, as the ECoEs of oil, gas and coal continue their relentless increases.

There are, though, two reasons for doubting the ability of REs to underpin economic prosperity by driving overall ECoEs back down the parabola.

The first of these is that RE remains essentially derivative of FF energy. We cannot (yet, anyway), build a wind turbine using only wind power, or a solar panel using solar energy alone. For the foreseeable future, the development of RE capacity will remain reliant on inputs whose availability depends on the use of energy sourced from FFs.

This limits the potential for further reductions in the ECoEs of energy sources such as wind and solar power, tying these ECoEs to the (rising) energy costs of fossil fuels. This is why, as shown in fig. 4, it’s unrealistic to assume that the ECoEs of REs will fall indefinitely, the likelihood being that the linkage will limit further declines in RE ECoEs, and could start to push them back upwards.

This linkage is reflected in the truly gigantic costs (which have been put at between $95 and $110 trillion) of transitioning from an FF to an RE economy. It doesn’t help, of course, that we’re reluctant to accept that the structure of an economy powered by RE electricity must differ from one powered by FFs. In the transport sector, for example, the portability of oil has favoured cars, but trams would make far more sense in an economy powered by electricity.

Fig. 4

175-4 Segment ECoE

The second limiting factor for a transition of the industrial economy to REs is that their ECoEs may never be low enough.

SEEDS modelling indicates that prosperity turns down at ECoEs of between 3.5% and 5.0% in the advanced economies, and between 8% and 10% in the less-complex EM countries (see fig. 8 at the end of this report). The likelihood is that the ECoEs of renewables may fall no further than 8% (at best, with 10% more probable). This would certainly make REs competitive with FFs (on a straight ‘ECoE to ECoE’ comparison), but it wouldn’t be low enough to stem, still less to reverse, the decline in prosperity that is already taking place.

This leads us naturally to the subject of prosperity, but it’s necessary, first, to look at how financial manipulation (‘adventurism’) has simultaneously (a) failed to shore up “growth”, (b) obscured what’s really happening to the economy, and (c) created enormous systemic risk.

2.5. GDP – a victim of distortion

As we’ve seen, money acts simply as a claim on the goods and services produced by the energy economy. Unfortunately, though, the energy basis of all economic activity has never gained recognition at the level of official decision-making, which instead continues to adhere to, and act upon, the belief that economics is ‘the study of money’, and that energy is ‘just another input’.

Accordingly – and heavily influenced by the contemporary fashion for deregulation – the authorities responded to the onset of deceleration in the 1990s by labelling it “secular stagnation”, and trying to ‘fix’ it using monetary policies.

In the period preceding the 2008 global financial crisis (GFC), the emphasis was on ‘credit adventurism’, which involved making debt ever cheaper, and ever easier to obtain. The result was that, though the economy appeared robust, what was really happening was that apparent activity was being inflated by increases in credit. At the same time, world debt grew far more rapidly than reported GDP (see fig. 5), whilst risk not only increased, but became ever more diffuse and opaque.

When these trends triggered the GFC, the authorities set their faces against any kind of “reset”, opting instead to enact various forms of ‘monetary adventurism’. This hasn’t worked either, which is why the world entered the coronavirus crisis with (a) the financial system dangerously over-extended, and (b) no available policies, than those which have already failed so spectacularly.

From a surplus energy perspective, the critical point here is that borrowing has far exceeded “growth” through a twenty-year period in which average annual “growth” (of 3.5%) has been made possible by rates of borrowing which have averaged 9.5% of GDP (see the right-hand chart).

Fig. 5

175-5 World Fig. 2

This in turn means that a large proportion (more than half) of this “growth” has been cosmetic. This goes far beyond the simple ‘spending of borrowed money’, important though that has been. Monetary manipulation drives asset prices upwards, boosting the incomes of all of the many activities which are tied to assets. It also enables governments to provide services that, on an ex-borrowing basis, they could not afford to fund.

Even those people who haven’t piled on extra personal debt almost invariably have customers, or an employer, who has, whilst governments, by definition, borrow on behalf of all citizens.

The situation now is that, if debt was held at current levels (that is, it ceased to increase), global “growth” would slump, from a pre-crisis 3.5% to barely 1.0%.

If we tried to reduce debt to prior levels, much of the intervening “growth” would be reversed.

This leaves us with the third option of continuing to increase our debts, enabling incremental credit to keep flowing into the economy.

Unfortunately, this process creates a tension between liabilities and incomes which must result in one of two things happening. Either borrowers default on debts which they can no longer afford to service (let alone repay), or the authorities have to push so much new liquidity into the system that the value of currencies collapses in an inflationary spiral which constitutes ‘soft’ default.

Along the way, the collapse in returns on invested capital has played a major role in creating enormous gaps in pension provision, a situation that has rightly been dubbed a Global Pension Timebomb.

2.6. The economy – coming clean

What matters here is that financial manipulation, whilst it cannot (by definition) change the trajectory of energy-determined prosperity, can disguise the situation by manufacturing “growth” and “activity” through the creation of debt and other financial ‘claims’ that forward economic output will not be able to honour. (These are known as “excess claims” in SEEDS terminology, and are useful in the measurement of financial sustainability).

This gives us the choice of either (a) waiting for an enforced reset through a financial collapse, or (b) endeavouring to work out what is really happening to the economy behind the illusionary data presented, generally in good faith, to decision-makers, analysts and the public.

The latter course involves the calculation of underlying or ‘clean’ output by adjusting for the GDP distortion induced by credit and monetary adventurism. On this basis, we can identify clean growth, which averaged only 1.7% (rather than the reported 3.5%) between 1999 and 2019 (see fig. 6).

This provides a measure of underlying output (C-GDP) which, essentially, is what GDP would fall back to if we tried to deleverage the balance sheet back to prior levels of debt and other liabilities. Because debt is included in the right-hand chart in fig. 6,  both sides of the distortionary linkage are readily apparent.

Fig. 6

175-6 World Fig. 3

2.7. The prosperity dimension

With C-GDP established, the deduction of trend ECoE enables us to measure prosperity, whether nationally, regional and globally, either as an aggregate or in per capita terms. Prosperity data is illustrated in fig. 7, in which all charts are calibrated in constant value international dollars, converted from other currencies using the PPP (purchasing power parity) convention.

The left-hand and centre charts show a situation that will, by now, be familiar, with reported GDP deviating ever further from the underlying situation (C-GDP), whilst debt escalates, and rising ECoEs drive a widening wedge between C-GDP and prosperity. When, as in the centre chart, we calibrate debt, not against (increasingly meaningless) GDP, but against prosperity, we see how financial exposure, with its growing component of excess claims, has become totally out of control. This situation would look even more acute, of course, if either aggregate financial assets (a measure of exposure), and/or gaps in pension provision, were also depicted.

Rising asset prices provide no useful offset at all, because these are purely notional valuations – they cannot be monetised, because the only people to whom these assets in their entirety could ever be sold are the same people to whom they already belong.

The right-hand chart shows one aspect of the challenge facing governments, as the ability to raise taxes is squeezed by deteriorating prosperity. This presents governments with the choice between curbing their expenditures, or creating hardship (and provoking anger) by worsening the squeeze on discretionary (“left in your pocket”) prosperity.

Fig. 7

175-7 world prosperity debt tax

We can and do, of course, take this analysis a great deal further. SEEDS data and interpretation is used to spell out the implications of de-growth; the extraordinary stresses facing every sector from the corporate and the financial to the realms of politics and government; and the insights that can be gained by applying the SEE understanding to our environmental challenge.

It is hoped, though, that this resumé summarises the logic, methods and conclusions of the Surplus Energy Economics approach in a comprehensive but convenient form. As a final reminder of how energy economics (and ECoE in particular) connect with prosperity, fig. 8 shows the relationships between the two, identifying the levels of ECoE at which prosperity per capita has turned down in the United States and worldwide and was, pre-coronavirus, poised to turn down in China.

Essentially, once trend ECoEs rise above a certain point, the average person starts getting poorer – a trend which no amount of financial tinkering can alter.

Fig. 8

175-8 ECoE prosperity 2


143 thoughts on “#175. The Surplus Energy Economy

  1. As de-growth is inevitable now, the first countries to manage that transition, should their people accept reality, would have a serious advantage. In the same way that political correctness is evaporating in these volatile times, discussion of the old elephant-in-the-room of population over-shoot, might now get dealt with. Most serious problems threatening human quality of life right now can be traced back to resource competition and the collapse in carrying capacity of the land.

    • As I see it, anyone – be it a country or a business – which understands de-growth (as an inescapable process, not as a choice), and also understands the reasons for it, will be able to front-run it such a way as to steal a march on those who don’t.

      This looks like one of those rare turning-points (‘inflexion moments’) which decides who wins and who doesn’t.

      I almost – but only almost! – wish I was running a business or a portfolio at this moment.

      Seriously, though, the current plan here is explore further the various issues mentioned here, using SEEDS to put numbers on them where appropriate.

      I’m also thinking about a downloadable summary of the stats used in some of the tables in this article.

    • Why not ‘run a portfolio’ – just a ‘virtual one’ – as long as you don’t wander into advice (and, therefore, regulation) it would be fun. My hunch is that people need to invest in productive things and those things that are needed, such as water, food, shelter, utilities, etc. rather than ‘wants’ such as fast cars (see Aston Martin share price).

    • I remember, in the early days of ethical portfolios, a friend modelling an unethical portfolio – like the ethical ones, it outperformed the Index.

      Seriously, though, it’s certainly an idea. The hard part, beyond sector selection, might be to spot which companies are going to adopt de-growth planning assumptions, and those which will stick with the old ideas.

      Geographic selection could be just as important.

    • Yes, but as wealth inequality seems to be increasing so there will be a persisting demand for Veblen goods – a friend in the yacht making business says that only the high end of this (large to super yacht) is really making any money.

    • Inequality (of wealth and income) is an issue that’s likely to become increasingly important as prosperity decreases. Logically, there should be growing political pressure for redistribution, driven not so much by envy, this time, as by hardship. This ought to be fertile territory for an old-style or new, ‘populist’ Left.

      More broadly, I feel that few if any governments or political leaders have much of a clue about what the future is going to look like. They still believe that, post-crisis, there will be a return, albeit gradual, to what they are pleased to call ‘normality’.

      We’re in a remarkable situation where the whole economic landscape is changing, but much of the leadership, in business as well as in government, seems to be stuck in some 1990s time-warp!

  2. @Tony H
    This is a response to your comment to me in the last blog. You suggest that our future holds abundant energy. I am willing to try to stretch the boundaries of this discussion in the ‘Farnum Street’ direction of analogical, systems thinking, but going against the basic premise is something I don’t want to do. Partly it’s just the practicalities of a blog which tried to hold two such disparate opinions at the same time, and partly because I think the ‘energy scarcity’ scenario is far more likely.
    Don Stewart

    • I suggest that the future could contain abundant energy if we move to a different energy base that is not based on fossil fuel. I do not question the idea that the economy is an artifact of surplus energy, which has always been obvious to me. Nor do I doubt that the surplus energy that we can obtain from fossil fuels is diminishing and that this was the result of the secular stagnation of the 1980s-90s; and the outright declining prosperity since then.

      If we were living a century ago and facing declining surplus energy from fossil fuels, we would have no choice but to substitute low power density ambient energy sources. But since 1945, we have had the option of a far richer and more power dense energy source. This energy source is being held back by politics, not the laws of physics. A lot of people just don’t like the idea of it and are attracted by the romanticism of the idea of living on ambient energy. The trouble is, a lot of people are going hungry now because of that idealism. We find ourselves suffering the consequences of other people’s idealism. Does that sound familiar?

    • To elaborate slightly, conventional economics states that, since agriculture is now a pretty small part of world GDP (let’s call it 6%, which is about right), it wouldn’t matter all that much if climate change destroyed our ability to produce food, because we’d still have the other 94% of the economy.

      This reflects a question I posed here a while back – if electricity is (say) 4% of GDP, how much GDP would we have left if power supply collapsed? The conventional economists’ answer is 96%. The real answer is somewhere near 0%.

    • Good overview. For those desiring an in depth study of non-renewable resources(NNRs), a colleague of mine whom I’ve known for around 17 years, Chris Clugston, has produced a book with painstaking research. It is worth the $20 for those seeking detailed data on many NNRs.

    • @Steven Kurz, BLIP – I own a copy, but have not progressed past the introduction. Like a trailer for a movie that tells you exactly what is going and leaves no surprise as to the contents. Rather terrifying as the father of a newborn! Steven what is (perhaps you know) Chris Clugston’s view on the wisdom of starting a family?

    • I haven’t read through Blip yet either, and doubt I’ll do so until I’m searching for detailed data. The intro is enough to get the gist. Chris is not as strong an overshoot ranter as I am, but he realizes that things look nasty later this century. I expect he’d advise against breeding, but as I’ve 3 grandsons, I hope we doomers are wrong…somehow.

    • Thanks for the link Don, it explains our economic blind spot in an easy to understand way.

  3. …”that the value of currencies collapses in an inflationary spiral which constitutes ‘soft’ default ”
    But what will they collapse in relation to?

    • ‘Soft default’ cannot do the trick anymore. A soft default means there is still room for expansion after. There won’t be. That is the reason we will experience madness. In currencies, stocks, politics, media, and, in ourselves. Eventually.

      Reality is a bitch as soon as the lights go out.

    • @houtskool
      At least you won’t be paranoid….some recent research showed that ‘unexpected uncertainty’ led to paranoia. E.g., an unexpected event such as Covid-19 and the accompanying uncertainty about lots of daily activities. Those of us who expect the worst may be accused of lots of things…but probably not paranoia.
      Don Stewart

    • Really, this is about process. Hard default is where the borrower doesn’t repay. Soft default is where he does repay, but in money that has lost some, or a lot, of its value. Neither, necessarily, means that there is or isn’t a reset.

    • Correct Don. Sometimes it scares the sh*t out of me though. When we go down hard we have a serious problem. That is why i think there’s an effort (tariffs, covid) to try to pro-actively slow down the real economy. Finance will be dealt with in due time.

  4. Since the economy is really an energy dissipation system, wouldn’t it be simpler to track prosperity by looking at per capita surplus energy availability (without involving monetary values of GDP and debt at all)?

    It should be easy to do on a national basis simply by taking primary energy consumption, adjusting for ECOE to get total surplus energy and dividing by population.

    Although the data would be harder to acquire, a more sophisticated inspection could then look at the distribution of that energy consumption throughout population percentiles to see who is gaining or losing prosperity within countries.

    It would also be interesting to see how well the distribution of energy consumption correlated with income in monetary units. I suspect that the correlation might not be a tight as many would expect.

    • SEEDS does exactly this. Just as current prosperity can be correllated with surplus energy, so debt, as a claim on future prosperity, is a claim on future energy.

      Nationally, though, this correllation can be distorted by trade, which often exchanges low- for high-energy goods and services on a financial basis which ignores these characteristics.

      Monetary units are used in SEEDS output to reflect the world that we live in, where stating that (say) “Italian prosperity has decreased by x BTU per person since year Y, and Italian debt of Z BTUs is excessive” would not make sense to most people.

      Additionally, having both an energy and a financial calibration enables us to reference monetary values from an independent perspective, something wholly lacking in conventional, ‘economics is money’ interpretations.

      Using SEEDS to measure inequality by percentiles would be very useful, but would be a huge exercise in handling data that might not, for all countries, be available on a comparable basis.

    • Measure inequality? In currency? In wealth? In health? In IQ? In EQ?

      Dear doc, please…. i really appreciate your effort. This one hurts though. Inequality is a natural born reality.

      Trying to make everything ‘equal’ is a mental ilness. It simply does not exist.

    • The question was about measuring inequality, not about correcting it. The issue then arises, are we talking about equality of opportunity, or equality of outcomes?

    • Inequality is good. Like borders. And borders on inequality. The real issue is, to me, destruction of currencies and political abuse of ‘money’ that, eventually, blows everything up. Growth, in everything, went way too fast because of this abuse. Greed on steroids, for decades and decades. Provided to us by central banking and politics. Assets, for example, went sky high. Too much power for corporates. That is the cause for current inequality. Inequality is a symptom. Not a cause.

      Trying to correct this inequality gives the system and people that caused it room for another PC mistake.

      Give the power of money to the people, and keep money attached to reality.

  5. Taking S. Keen’s Cobb Douglas Production Function from: https://surplusenergyeconomics.wordpress.com/2020/06/07/173-the-affordability-crisis/#comments
    were ‘E’ is energy input.
    If ‘E’ is regarded as net energy input, then this will fall as ECoE’s increases?
    If there is less energy input, then this will reduce the marginal productivity of labour {and capital}. This will lead to a fall in the demand for labour, a shift to the left of the maximum potential of the economy, and an increase in voluntary unemployment.
    More dynamically, the growth of the potential income/output of an economy will be reduced?

  6. I like this post because it returns us to fundamentals,
    we should never lose sight of the big picture by focusing too much on detail,
    yet detail and background form the brush strokes of the big picture and are still important,

    in the last post Tim alluded to previous episodes of financialisation that hadn’t ended well and I’ve been pondering which historical anecdote sprung most readily to the forefront of his mind when seeking comparisons to today,
    I won’t suggest history repeats exactly but it certainly seems to rhyme in a recognisable manner,

    in ‘The Perfect Storm’ Tim mentioned
    I found it as a pdf:

    Click to access mackaych2451824518-8.pdf

    I find the account of John Law & The Mississippi Scheme absolutely hilarious, you can recognise a lot of the human behaviour back then in the human behaviour of today,
    if people might appear delusional these days it’s fair to say people have always had a potential for delusions and it’s only natural to expect people to be delusional and crowds to be mad!

    I’m going to carry on reading Mr Mackay’s book, it’s really quite a fun read.

    Don’s link to a blog was very interesting because it rightly ridicules Nordhaus but, there was also a post on ‘what traits affects income’ that tentatively suggest it’s ones position within a hierarchy,


    I’m pretty sure that most of mankinds problems stem from having idiots make it to the top of our hierarchies using a fortunate accident of birth, the Peter Principle and the Dunning Kruger Effect,
    from the top of our hierarchies they are able to use the leverage of their disproportionate wealth and status to make the masses follow their idiotic schemes,

    I think racism, a social construct with no rational biological or scientific justification, identity politics and political correctness are mainly used to obfuscate the real problem which is a class war being fought and won by those at the higher levels of the hierarchy, irrespective of their ethnicity or religion, against those at the lower levels of the hierarchy,

    it’s also worth exploring ‘last man standing’ as raised by another commentor, human history has always been about jostling for power and dominance over others and last man standing is the eventual endgame,

    but bear in mind that those playing these infantile games of international power politics, a.k.a. “The Great Game”, tend to be those at the the top of our hierarchies, who got there often not by merit, but by accident of birth, guile, bullshit and avarice!

    • Thanks.

      I’m not necessarily going to publish anything about this but, out of a choice of three, “last man standing” is most likely to be Russia.

      Where ‘class war’ etc is concerned, there are strange parallels with the Puritan ascendancy in England, between the quasi-judicial murder of the King in 1649 and the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660.

    • Russia because it has more per capita energy resources within its borders than the US and China have within theirs?

      If so, this presumes that none of the three will try to acquire extra-territorial energy by force, something that may very well happen when energy supplies get tight. Tensions will certainly rise if that happens, dangerously so.

    • That’s part of it, of course, but not the whole story.

      As I’ve been saying since long before the virus, China is a bubble economy. They’ve been adding debt at more than 20% of GDP annually. The aim, based on the ‘grand bargain’ between the CCP and the public, is to prevent the discontent that would result from urban unemployment. They pursue volume, not profitability. Building a factory whose output isn’t needed provides jobs, not least during the construction phase. We’ve already started seeing defaults, even from SOEs. Excess capacity has had a very adverse effect on margins, so much so that servicing even cheap debt becomes impossible. I suspect that none of what I’m saying here would cause surprise in Beijing. They’re gearing up, as I see it, either for repression and/or for distraction. Energy insecurity makes this worse.

      The US, meanwhile, looks increasingly dysfunctional (and is, I think, going to face a “second wave”, as, I suspect, is Britain).

      Russia is resource-strong, albeit struggling now because of low energy prices. Their exposure to the global financial system is very low, and their ability to influence others through energy policy (n.b. the EU) is extensive.

    • The Chinese would appear to me to be in a relatively strong position. Whilst their annual borrowing is high, it is at least used to finance physical infrastructure projects, which generate return on capital. Also, the Chinese have a strong and diverse manufacturing economy. This allows them to generate exports to pay for any import that they need, something that is reflected in their huge foreign exchange reserves. They have also spent the past twenty years buying up patents and natural resources in other countries.

      In my eyes, this would suggest that the Chinese are in a stronger position than the US, say, which runs a constant trade deficit and is a heavily deskilled service economy. Quantitative easing money there is simply used to inflate the stock market – there is no tangible return from it at all. And far from owning natural resources in other countries, the US (and UK) have hurriedly sold their infrastructure and companies to any foreign buyer that has money to pay for them.

  7. @Dr. Morgan
    Harking back to your previous statements about the possible collapse of the US, you might like to take a look at The Automatic Earth (published on Saturday) for a description of three interesting episodes. The first is the firing of a United States Attorney. The Attorney had gone after Trump’s personal lawyer and got a conviction. Trump claims it was Bill Barr’s doing, and he had nothing to do with it. Barr says the Attorney refused to resign, so he asked Trump to fire him, which Trump did.

    The second episode is the attempt by the government to stop publication of John Bolton’s memoir of his time as a security adviser to Trump. Trump says that the book is ‘pure fiction’ and also reveals ‘top secret information’.

    The third episode is the revitalization of Covid-19 cases. Arizona is now nearing the New York State record in terms of per capita incidence. Many other states are seeing a resurgence. Meanwhile, Trump’s indoor rally in Tulsa is full-speed-ahead.

    Don Stewart

    • The Rally turned out to attract a few thousand people…not the million that were ‘trying to get in’. Blame a few orderly BLM protesters outside who were ‘blocking entrance’.

      I live in a much better educated part of the US than the average. But what I observed months ago was that blue-collar people were understanding just how exposed they were to the virus. Doing business with the Seed and Feed was surprisingly hard. Is Trump’s bluster wearing thin?

      I am reminded of Simon and Garfunkle’s song about the Nixon/ Kennedy debates: “any way you look at this you lose”….Don Stewart

  8. Tim, many thanks again for an excellent and informative article.
    A couple of things that come to mind.

    1. One factor that could cause ECOE to level off more rapidly than we can presently foresee, would be growing use of nuclear energy, with it’s high EROI. Western countries have tied this up in controversy and legislation to the point where it has become almost unworkable. Manufacturing base decline makes it difficult to even build a nuclear power plant in western countries. However, China is building up its nuclear capacity very rapidly. A rapid expansion in the use of nuclear energy could result in a very different outcome to the one that you foresee and yet your article makes no mention of it. It would seem to me to be a wild card in any energy based assessment of the future evolution of the economy.

    2. The ECOE of renewable energy sources is inherently high because of their low power density. The ECOE is constrained by the nature of the resource. The power density of a wind farm is between 2 and 3W/m2 in the UK, with the latter figure being typical for offshore wind farms, where average wind speed is greatest. There is no technological innovation that can improve the power density of a wind farm. Spacing wind turbines more closely results in wind shadowing. Nor is it practically possible to reduce the mass of steel or concrete or polymers used in the construction of the turbines, because ultimately they need to be the size that they are in order to capture the wind and the pylons need the strength that they have in order to resist wind loading. Whilst it is possible to reduce some costs through economy of scale, it is difficult to see where else a declining ECOE would actually come from.

    • Another factor to bare in mind is that renewable electricity harvested from the bus bar of a wind or solar powerplant, is not a like for like replacement for electricity produced by a coal, gas or nuclear powerplant. It varies intermittently.

      This is a problem, as our electricity grid and consumers are configured to an arrangement in which electrical supply follows and is driven by the load placed on the grid. This is an easy problem to deal with when most of the grid supply is from steam raising plants. As load on the generator increases, it slows and steam throttle valves automatically open to increase flow to the turbine. This results in a decrease in boiler temperature as the pressure head on the boiler decreases. The system copes automatically, by increasing fuel flow to the boiler, or in the case of a nuclear reactor, a drop in moderator temperature directly increases the rate of fission. Thermodynamic powerplants have inbuilt load following capabilities.

      This is not the case for wind or solar power plants, for which there is no control of supply – it is driven by nature. To avoid crashing the grid due to frequency changes, one must either limit renewable supply to no more than about 30% of net system energy input (over a year, say) and make up the remainder using a load following (I.e fossil fuel) power plant; have some means of storing energy; or have some way of controlling the demand, or at least a portion of demand. Most likely, some combination of the three would achieve a cost-optimum configuration. In other words, you still need the fossil fuel powerplant, it just burns less fuel. And you end up needing additional system complexity, because of the need to deal with intermittency in the primary energy source. This increases ECOE over and above what is needed for the power plants themselves.

      Intermittency is a form of entropy. And dealing with that entropy comes at a price. Have you incorporated these factors into the ECOE estimates for renewable energy?

    • Jeff, I cannot download from Science Direct, so I cannot examine in detail the claims made in this paper. But I doubt very much that the EROI of wind and solar power is high and increasing. The amount of steel and concrete needed to produce one megawatt of wind power dwarfs that of fossil fuel or nuclear power plants by at least an order of magnitude. There isn’t really anywhere that increases in EROI can come from, because we cannot really ever use less materials than we already do to build wind and solar power plants. Their output depends on the land area that they cover.

      Click to access 05-001-A_Material_input.pdf

      The need for storage will depend upon the local nature of the resource, the degree to which fossil fuel backup is maintained and the degree to which load shedding can be applied to individual users or uses. But dealing with intermittency certainly won’t be free and it will reduce the EROI of an already low EROI (depending on who you believe) energy source.

  9. You will have to explain the mismatch between the 2 lines in your very first graph. Population starts to rise significantly before major fossil fuel use. Is this rise in fact due to fossil fuel use – very low hanging fruit of some sort? Or is it energy-free impovements to lifespan from various inventions? And were those inventions things like discovery of now-exhausted local mineral deposits, or permanent discoveries like plant breeding?
    Then, when energy becomes scarce, it’s the most profligate uses that ought to/will go first – air-conditioning, fast cars, leisure travel.. so a chunk of energy use could be got rid of with no appreciable loss of quality-of-life for most people?

    • The energy use shown must be fossil fuel energy only. Energy use didn’t just start in 1750; there was an enormous amount of wood and peat burned prior to the uptick in fossil fuel use that started about then.

      Part of the population increase prior to the use of fossil fuels (in any great quantity) stem from agricultural innovations like crop rotations and cover crops which spread throughout Europe after being pioneered in the Netherlands. The increased per-worker food productivity allowed for more urbanization, which was a precursor to the eventual development of modern industry powered by fossil fuels. E.A. Wrigley’s Energy and the English Industrial Revolution goes into these developments in some detail.

      Another big boost to the population count was the ‘discovery’ of the Americas by Europeans. The indigenous population of the new world was never really counted as part of the world population because disease killed off many of the inhabitants before they were counted. Colonist populations then got to expand rapidly as they settled the newly vacant land. The pre-Columbian population of North and South America is argued over to this day.

      And you are right about the large amount of energy ‘wasted’ in discretionary luxuries. The ongoing pandemic highlights a conundrum however. It doesn’t really hurt one’s quality of life to eat at home and dramatically reduce one’s leisure travel, but for all those people who make their living in sectors of the economy that provide ‘unneeded’ services like travel and hospitality, the effect on their quality-of-life is profound.

      The shrinkage in energy use that has accompanied the pandemic is matched very closely by the shrinkage in employment. Any permanent continuing de-growth or recession in economic activity will also result in continuing employment declines as well, something with which capitalism is going to have a hard time coping.

    • Thanks. This is a chart I put together back in 2013 for my book, but I believe the definition is traded energy. I have other versions covering more recent time periods, which include surplus as well as total energy, and express these various numbers per capita as well as in aggregates. Here, though, the aim was just to demonstrate the connection between population numbers and energy use.

      People used energy before 1750, of course, but in very small quantities, and seldom traded it. We don’t have numbers going back that far, but the figures were tiny in modern terms. Non-FF fuels are only really relevant in comparatively recent times, such as nuclear, hydro and – very recently – REs.

    • To add to your reply Joe Clarkson; the introduction of maize and potatoes crops to Europe from the Americas increased carbohydrate production in Europe , which increased carrying capacity and thus the population of Europe grew. It took until the eighteenth century for these crops to become significantly wide spread, which happened to just proceed the industrial revolution and the exponential use of fossil fuels. If the industrial revolution had occurred a couple of centuries later, there would be less confusion about which came first, population growth leading to industrialisation or industrialisation leading to population growth. My opinion is the latter, but preceded by another population growth spurt for other reasons.

      Regards Philip

  10. To confess, I’m something of an Odumite (H.T. Odum, C.A. Hall’s mentor) whose 7th law of energetics notes that money flows opposite to real wealth, to which his daughter, Mary Odum, adds ‘its value is counterfeit’. http://sustainable.soltechdesigns.com/human-past.html#7th

    I was inspired to add your blindingly obvious third part to clarify and note that concepts are also counterfeit, especially consensus narratives. I even stole the first graphic to add to my home page (so I could link to this article). I can offer another graphic in exchange:

    As there is no shark fin to be seen, I confess I’m an extreme cornucopian optimist.

    • Eric,
      I met HT Odum when I gave my “optimum population” paper in 2000 to The World Congress of the System Sciences. Brilliant man, and Charlie Hall was smart to build on his work.

      Given the rapid decline in fish stocks, aquifers, topsoil, biodiversity of megafauna, non-renewable resources…and the quadrupling of our numbers in a century, I’m flabbergasted that you are “an extreme cornucopian optimist.”

      Add in the Maximum Power Principle which Odum developed from Lotka, and the free will question…and I’m totally confounded by your position. Great website, though, I had a quick skim.

    • Hi Eric,
      I’m delighted that Tim’s blog managed to lure you into the conversation!
      I’m pretty much a hedgehog and although I’ve only spent a few hours reading your cogitations I’ve not spotted any glaring errors and much food for further thought,
      stick with it, you are far from alone, there are many thinking along similar lines and we may well be building towards a silent majority,

      I was initially confused by him saying he was a cornucopian but after further reading I hazard to suggest he believes that;
      ‘there is enough for everyones needs, but not enough for everyones greed’
      so in a truly sustainable world system, if people are only looking to satisfy their needs, it could quite well appear to be a cornucopia!

    • Matt and all thinking voluntary simplicity is possible on a global scale:

      That is a rare exception to the Maximum Power Principle. (Odum and others). Currently, maybe half of humans are INvoluntarily simplistic. Most are doing all possible to consume more energy, nutrition, mobility, technology, etc. Overshoot does that in spades, but even thousands of years ago expansion of Empires was the rule.

      World Population by Region in 2050
      # Region Population
      (2050) World

      1 Asia 5,290,263,118 54.3 %
      2 Africa 2,489,275,458 25.6 %
      3 Latin America and the Caribbean 762,432,366 7.8 %
      4 Europe 710,486,313 7.3 %
      5 Northern America 425,200,368 4.4 %
      6 Oceania 57,376,367 0.6 %

      Note the preponderance that are not in well to do areas. They can’t voluntarily reduce consumption!

    • Repeating myself, but I’ve heard no rebuttals. RE:
      ” I hazard to suggest he believes that;
      ‘there is enough for everyones needs, but not enough for everyones greed’
      so in a truly sustainable world system, if people are only looking to satisfy their needs, it could quite well appear to be a cornucopia!”

      Does anyone think that a “truly sustainable world system” is possible?

      Does anyone believe that humans can change from venturers, experimenters, mating competitors… into need satisfiers?

      MPP and hierarchy evidence the contrary.

      Great drugs might give temporary visions of those fantasies. 😉

    • I’ll explore this blog further as time and internet access permit. I’m up to 218 ‘missives’ on my site, far too many for even a fanboy to read (if I had one). There is little evidence that more readers than can be counted on one hand have managed to read beyond a few paragraphs, so good to hear of some interest.

      Glaring errors await.

      Considering the guessed at demographics of this blog’s readers, what article would most likely be disagreed with such that critical feedback might be offered? I’ll guess ‘The Doomer Dynamic’. I’m not hoping for confirmation and might do better to read some ecomodernist blog, but if I commented they would consider me ‘not even wrong’ and likely not read anything I offer or bother to correct my errors, ignorance, and illusions. But maybe this echo chamber is different.

  11. Thermodynamics 2.0
    I have previously mentioned this virtual gathering. Here is a link to the agenda and an extract which is particularly interesting to me. Assume that the economic/ social structure we have all become accustomed to is ending (in tears or in flames?). Then evolution becomes important. You can look up Torday and Corning and find some blog posts and YouTube material which explains their notions that it is not primarily competition which guides evolution, but instead the finding of synergies. So, for example, it is common to find a minute dissection of the human genome and some quasi-scientific explanations for how genetic changes in humans have caused whatever it is we want to talk about. But that misses the elephants in the room:
    For a quick overview of which see the new book:
    You can also easily find the first 40 or so pages which explains why human genes (recipes for proteins) are far less significant than the epigenetic control which turns the protein recipes on and off. You will also hear that same theme in one of the YouTube interviews of Dr. Torday.
    There is an unimaginably large amount of genetic material floating around in the world. Humans are a Holobiont which means that we are a cooperative venture between a subset of that ocean of genetic material. Most notably, we could not exist without our gut bacteria and, of course, the mitochondria which reside in our cells.
    Not too long ago I posted Kiran Krishnan’s detailed explanation of the functioning of the immune system. A lot of that sea of genetic material is incompatible with human flourishing. And so we have evolved an immune system to keep the bad stuff out of the body proper. Bad habits, facilitated by fossil fuels, have allowed humans to compromise that immune system, which is directly linked to the current dominance of chronic disease and pandemics. Data out of China shows that obesity is by far the largest factor in deaths from Covid-19, and obesity is caused by compromised immune function and causes immune system dysfunction.

    In my own opinion, the future will inevitably hold a new paradigm of synergy between humans who control fire and fossil fuels (both relatively inefficient in thermodynamic terms, but with vast amounts of BTUs) and the biological (which features the [Maxwell’s] Demon of near perpetual motion) which uses finely tuned interventions which make an enormous difference in our minds. It is unclear to me whether humans will make it over that bridge as a species, or whether some remnant will survive, and what the likely path might be for the remnant.

    Don Stewart

    Click to access T20Program_version04a.pdf


    1:00 pm 1:20 pm 1:40 pm

    Chair: Pier Luigi Gentili
    Themis Matsoukas, Pennsylvania State University, University Par, USA Thermodynamics and the Evolution of Stochastic Populations
    John S Torday, University of California, Los Angeles, USA
    A Thermodynamic Unification of Physics and Biology
    Peter A. Corning, Institute for the Study of Complex Systems, Seattle WA, USA Thermoeconomics: Beyond the Second Law

  12. Steve, regarding your population numbers by continent above, what would be really interesting as an indicator of overshoot would be something like population density per arable land in the world’s regions. I know there are a lot of parameters in how one defines “arable land,” but it would still seem to be a more telling metric than gross population. Another one would be population density to water supply. Are you aware of any available statistics like this?

  13. ‘I know there are a lot of parameters in how one defines “arable land,” but it would still seem to be a more telling metric than gross population.’

    Arable lands are not all the same. The formula of photosyntheses is:
    carbon dioxide + water + light -> sugar (stored energy) + oxygen
    CO2 is evenly distributed everywhere (in the atmosphere), but the amount of sunlight and water varies tremendously. There are also other factors, like the length of growing season (that only partly depends on latitude – e.g., consider the influence of Gulf Stream on the climate of Eurasia).
    So I don’t see any use in comparing countries by square kilometeres of agricultural lands.

  14. Singularity of the non-obvious: money use (and therefore “the economy”) is based on a belief–that supposed “exchanges” be “balanced” and that such reciprocation is expected/required (except when it’s not, which is a surprisingly large part of the time).

    Solution: abandon the (now-global cultural) belief (“exchange-belief”).

  15. Vic,
    Some organizations, such as the U.N., have done studies identifying which countries were capable of “feeding themselves.” Turns out, surprisingly few, but as in everything it all depends on the methodology and assumptions. Likely the U.N. analysis presupposed the continuing use of fossil fuel fertilizer inputs, which really isn’t a given. Even so, it’s a start. . My only point was that that kind of analysis – can a country feed itself with its own AGRICULTURAL output – is a more telling analysis than mere population numbers. Even population density would be a better indicator of the troubles ahead than just the sheer size of the numbers, although that is bad enough.

  16. This is how absurd ‘police state’ Britain has become.

    The Left has ceased control of every institution in the country and are busily turning it into a comedy hybrid of Brazil, 1984 and Soylent Green. I used to think that the decline of Britain was a tragedy, but now I realize that its a comedy.

    Britain really needs a revolution. Albert Einstein once famously remarked that problems cannot be solved by the same kind of thinking that created them. In the political arena, problems cannot be solved by the same kind of people that created them.

    • I agree about the tyranny of the left. Seems to me it mirrors what the right has done for many decades. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The prosecution is absurd in my view.

    • Just a thought but since there’s interest in investment strategy here, and you are staying out of giving it, there might be interest in linking to a Discord discussion group. Don’t know if you are familiar with that app – when you get the right mix of people and subject matter they can be very useful.

      I set up a channel, here


    • *I used to think that the decline of Britain was a tragedy, but now I realize that its a comedy.*

      “The world is indeed comic, but the joke is on mankind.”

      ― H. P. Lovecraft

  17. A Couple of Observations from Thermodynamics 2.0
    *How many people can the world feed? See this article by Peter Corning, who spoke on the Thermodynamics 2.0 forum today:
    Corning describes the system which was developed in the 1970s based on ancient Chinese methods by John Jeavons in California. The system is reliant on human labor, which has enabled it to be popular in places where labor is cheap, but would never convince an Iowa corn farmer. As ECoE inexorably rises, then it may yet be the way we produce our food.
    *Information…is it a fundamental part of Thermodynamics? Some speakers in the Thermodynamics 2.0 forum described a 3-legged stool: energy, matter, and information. A spirited discussion to end the day about what information is and is not, the differences between information in a mechanical system and a biological system, and whether Thermodynamics has anything at all to say about energy. The organizer says that one of the Directors said ‘if you start talking about Information, I withdraw my support.’ John Jeavons, it seems to me, conveyed information, which directed energy and materials into useful pathways. If that is not a proper Thermodynamic concern, it seems to me that Thermodynamics is marginalizing itself. Which is not to say that I know how to resolve all the fundamental confusion that the final 10 or 15 minutes brought to our attention.
    *Norbert Wiener described information as ‘negative entropy’. (There was also a spirited discussion about whether ‘negative entropy’ actually means anything.). But assuming that Wiener was on to something, it seems to me that our focus right now on the end of the thermodynamically favorable cycle of the use of fossil fuels makes the notion of Information ever more central. Was John Jeavons onto something important, or just a futile attempt at doing something which did not maximize entropy, but instead exhibited synergy and decreased entropy, and thus was doomed in the financial sphere?

    In conclusion, we saw a lot of videos from physical experiments which showed arrangements and rearrangements as physical systems adjust to voltages and structures which effect flows. I have made the analogy that, in the near future, we are likely to behave like lichens….searching for the most effective partnerships to enable flow at a lower energy consumption level…or like the ball bearings rearranging their structure to pass more electrical current.

    Don Stewart
    PS. Amateur observations, so caveat emptor.

  18. Tons of interesting and valid information in this valuable blog. I hope it gets widely read, but I’m not convinced the political class will look into it. For them only the short term matters. As you may recall, I look through the MMT lens. The conclusions about the economy you deal with are all based on the fiction that it experts model on poor and unreal assumptions. Reality will not be kind to these models. They assume all the money is borrowed and will ask to be paid back. If that attitude prevails the whole shebang will collapse much more dramatically, worse even than your pessimism predicts., and I agree with your diagnosis otherwise Michael Hudson. says that all debts which cannot be repaid will not be repaid, MMT explains that currency comes from “.thin air”. And is available to all monetary sovereign entities.. I believe this truth will be unavoidable without drastic results. Take pensions. No repayable pension will have the deep pockets required to pay benefits when there can be no contributions from beneficiaries. Even money will cease to be worth its benefits,It will just serve given out x number for coupons. one for bread one for whatever is available on the day. etc

    • Thanks John. Different opinions are always welcome!

      In a sense, MMT is sort of being tried now. In the UK, government net borrowing in April + May was £103bn, and Bank of England QE has been £100bn. Other countries and regions seem to be acting similarly.

    • The political class in the Netherlands just dropped biomass energy.

      Maybe the curve cut their throats, i don’t know.

      In a way, maybe i do.

  19. Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask
    An upcoming talk at the Thermodynamics 2.0 conference:
    Is Nature Ill-posed Complex Holistic or Well-posed Quantum Reductionist?

    I’ll let you know if I receive any blinding insights…Are we all simply ignorant or, alternatively, are the problems intractable? Or is it simply the Other Guy’s Fault?

    Don Stewart

  20. It’s interesting to note that the French government’s coronavirus “app” was downloaded by 600,000 people, less than 3% of the population. Close to 500,000 have since deleted it. The UK version seems to have been a total shambles. So much for the faith placed in technology when put to this sort of test.

  21. Well, it’s the Guardian (June 23), but according to a report discussed there, “Millions of Americans can’t afford water as bills rise 80% in a decade” The Guardian doesn’t frame it this way, but it’s a tale of our rising infrastructure replacement and maintenance costs, built with low ECoE fuels, now impossibly expensive to replace and update with depleting high ECoE costs.

    “Millions of ordinary Americans are facing rising and unaffordable bills for running water, and risk being disconnected or losing their homes if they cannot pay, a landmark Guardian investigation has found.
    Exclusive analysis of 12 US cities shows the combined price of water and sewage increased by an average of 80% between 2010 and 2018, with more than two-fifths of residents in some cities living in neighbourhoods with unaffordable bills.”

    “More people are in trouble, and the poorest of the poor are in big trouble,” said Roger Colton, a leading utilities analyst, who was commissioned by the Guardian to analyse water poverty. “The data shows that we’ve got an affordability problem in an overwhelming number of cities nationwide that didn’t exist a decade ago, or even two or three years ago in some cities.”
    Water bills exceeding 4% of household income are considered unaffordable.”

    There’s an embedded link to the report in the article.

    It would be revealing to see a similar report on the aging natural gas distribution lines that run through many cities in the U.S. Northeast. Here in Boston and its tony neighbor, Brookline, the gas company (National Grid) is doing patchwork triage (it’s not unusual to actually smell leaking gas while walking around spots in Brookline) but there doesn’t seem to be any plan to do a wholesale upgrade. Eventually there will be a similar “affordability crisis” for natural gas.

  22. @Steven Kurtz
    Try to answer your questions, but you may think I am evading them.

    My reasoning starts from chaos. In a chaotic system, neighboring organisms move away from each other at hyperbolic rates. In my words, all relationships tend to break. This is very important because ‘no man is an island’. As I have pointed out, what we call an ‘individual’ is actually a holobiont. So it is more correct to think that the holobiont we label ‘Don Stewart’ is moving away from neighboring holobionts at hyperbolic speed during a collapse into chaos. One simple example is the record divorce rate in the US in 1946…the war had changed husbands and wives in ways they could not bridge after the war was over. Some people have observed the sharp break between middle-class black families and rioting black members of the underclass in the current disturbances. So Tony H is just wrong…everything does not boil down to race. As we see corporations rush to endorse BLM, we can rest assured that they ALWAYS endorse the superficial.

    At the present time in the OECD countries and among the global ruling class, there is one very strong attractor (using systems theory language): making money through financialization and globalization. If you want to see just how far this meme can be pushed, search on Virtual Mate (a Google Ad for this Great Leap Forward came onto my search screen yesterday).

    I subscribe to the Three Legged School branch of Thermodynamics: matter, energy, and information. The Bastard Children of the three are time wasting gadgets, Nascar races, and propaganda. Phenomena such as Virtual Mates are more difficult to categorize. It is well known that sexual activity is in decline across many countries, including the US, Japan, and Finland (which does a sex survey every 5 years). Is that a good thing because it reduces population growth, or a bad thing because it is deviating from what moralists consider to be God-given human nature, or another sign of the thermodynamic exhaustion of the current paradigm?

    Leaving aside all the fringe elements which tend to make my distinctions more fuzzy, I suggest that we begin with the question which is posed by a Solar Array enthusiast: Why is Photosynthesis so inefficient and what can we do to ‘improve’ it? A green plant converts about 1 percent of the solar energy which strikes it into ATP to power its cells. The conversion is over 99 percent efficient (99 percent of 1 percent is converted). From the standpoint of the Renewable Energy Enthusiast, 99 percent is wasted because it doesn’t go into ATP or the solar array equivalent. So why would Mother Nature not improve photosynthesis using Evolution? I suggest that one answer is that the plant can’t survive if it converts 100 percent of the incoming solar into ATP. The world would get very cold as solar heat was diverted into the plants cells, and the cells would reach internal temperatures which would kill the plant. If the air temperature is 80F, one can touch a leaf which is photosynthesizing at full speed and the leaf is cool. In other words, Nature found an ensemble which works. One can say that God made it so, or that Gaia Lives, or that Nature finally got something right after previous debacles such as the generation of too much oxygen (which is a poison). At any rate, we are surrounded by living creatures which are so efficient that Paul Davies considers them ‘Maxwell Demons’…perpetual motion machines of a sort.

    The problem with humans is that we have evolved from living productively in a world powered by solar heat plus photosynthesis with a complement of critters in our holobiont completing our genetic material and furnishing much of our immune system…to a synthetic world powered by fossil fuels and featuring playthings ….but which appears on the verge of collapse….due to such things as Virtual Mates and threats such as deadly viruses and Climate Change and fuel depletion.

    I do not personally think that the current Attractor can survive all the challenges. What will replace it? I suspect that there will be numerous Attractors which form. Some we might label as Radical Communism and some as Fascism and some as Warlords and some as Gangs. Some will go to a Mountaintop to await the Second Coming. On a more hopeful note, we might envision some as being Followers of John Jeavons. Should I, against the odds for someone my age, survive, I will choose what seems to be the best option at the time. As for preparation, my money is on Jeavons (and relatives such as David Holmgren) to offer the best odds. Jeavons and Holmgren have shown that an ensemble can be selected in the world of today which is very different than the dominant paradigm, and operates on a much smaller energy budget. It uses an ensemble more heavily weighted to photosynthesis and the soil food web, with much less reliance on fossil fuels or wood as a fuel.

    Don Stewart

    • ‘So why would Mother Nature not improve photosynthesis using Evolution? I suggest that one answer is that the plant can’t survive if it converts 100 percent of the incoming solar into ATP.’

      Because the production of glucose from water and CO2 requires a long chain of chemical reactions each of which is subject to inefficiencies. This is not because plants are inefficient at what they are doing, it is because glucose is a relatively complex molecule requiring multiple reaction steps and the energy losses stack up. If it were possible to fix glucose with 80 or even 10% efficiency, then a billion years of evolution would have produced that outcome. No one ever escapes the second law of thermodynamics.

      By the same rationale, the production of hydrogen from water by electrolysis can be up to 90% efficient. But to produce synthetic methane from hydrogen, one must first use reduce CO2 over a catalyst bed using hot hydrogen gas and then react the resulting CO with more hydrogen to produce CH4 and water. The overall efficiency is 5-8%. Whilst hydrogen may be pparted out energy future, synthetic methane is unlikely to be. The more complex the required molecule, the more reaction steps. There are energy losses at each step.

      ‘Tony H is just wrong…everything does not boil down to race.’

      I never once said that racial conflict was the cause of ‘all’ of the worlds problems. But to pretend that it isn’t a problem in light of all what has happened is just plain silly. And it is a problem entirely of our own making.
      Marxists, Jews and deluded idealists have spent the past 60 years trying to mold western society into a multi-racial utopia. They stubbornly ignored all the lessons that history could have taught them: that racial division is divisive. Diversity in this area leads to conflict between groups. The black riots known as BLM are the inevitable result and it should be enough to convince anyone who has been paying attention that the last thing we need is more of the same. Madness is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. The US has never been more divided and its divisions have never been more intractable, because they are in the final calculation, due to differences in biology. Evolution has separated them. That they don’t get on shouldn’t be surprising. Some people are passionately determined not to see the blindingly obvious.

    • That’s a good post Tony on both subjects. People who think we can improve on what evolution has done biochemically by applying our infinite human rationality and intelligence with technology are a bizarre breed of utopians; they claim to love science yet ignore that a simple application of an evolutionary lens proves them wrong.

      As for the application of race as via a historical and biological understanding, I would say the same basic thing applies. The evolutionary lens shows that thousands of years of evolution have separated different human groups and thinking that we can just paper that over with money, technology, social programs, or idealistic truisms is just folly. For an understanding of how evolution is a group strategy and not abut individuals I’d recommend reading Frank Salter’s _On Genetic Interests_, “Family, Ethnicity, and Race in an Era of Mass Migration”. He explains the role of evolution and biology in the folly of the globalist project. Integrating this understanding with the energy economics really helps create a more holistic view of what we’re facing and how the people in power are making it all the worse with their “solutions”.

    • @Don S. Please quote the questions you think I’ve asked you that this extended post addresses. I’ve searched back a few days and can find nothing remotely relevant.

  23. Don,
    While many of your biological posts are interesting in themselves, I have a lot of trouble believing that they the way things work at the fundamental biological level can serve as metaphorical models for the intentional structuring of society along those lines. Humans employ metaphorical constructs about society to justify and rationalize hairless monkey hierarchy and map out an operating system based on that hierarchy, not to actually explain how things work. In the days running up to Hobbes, it was common for medieval apologists to analogize society to a human body, with the King as the head, the serfs as the legs, feet, etc. These metaphors are “explanations” in the sense that they explain to you why you “deservedly” are in the particular place in the pecking order that you are in and the King, the Lords, the Church and Jamie (“I’m smarter than you because I’m richer than you”) Dimon, supposedly brought up in the Greek Orthodox church as a young child but 100% pure Calvinist/American in his underlying belief that greater riches = greater favor by God, are in the higher places they are in.

    I similarly have trouble believing that the way things work at the fundamental biological level will or must eventually be mirrored in the ultimate SOCIETAL outcome of human relationships. Hasn’t happened so far, certainly not since we opted out of hunter-gathering in favor of an agricultural bounty. I suspect it is more likely that the evolutionary process will leave humans behind as a surprisingly short (on the geological scale) dead end experiment, because our obsession with hairless monkey hierarchy, social status and society to the exclusion of actual reality is not a valid survival mechanism.

    To the extent that you are arguing that certain actions we can take are “better” than others because they are more aligned with those fundamental processes, well, maybe, but I don’t find this kind of argument convincing and I’m not sure it is correct, either.

    In short, I often find myself very muddled trying to understand where you are going these types of posts. To me, the Jim Jeavons / Holmgren approach is appealing in and of itself as compared to a cublicle / suburban/ urban driving hither and thither lifestyle or being a gang member, but that is because of the way I am bent, I guess. As this process goes on, I find myself less and less interested in speculation in how it will all turn out on some macro level or how we can manage or shape it to turn out based on some hoped for outcome, and more and more interested in just living life the way I think it should be lived. It’s a lot more peaceful perspective.

    • @tagio
      I agree with much of what you say. My main point is that biology has solved a lot of ‘efficiency’ problems in ways that we have not been able to do with fossil fuels and engines. SOME of the biological solutions are very elegant, while the fossil fuel/ engine solutions frequently rely on simply trying to overpower the problem. My suspicion is that, if we want to survive, we are going to have to rebalance our ensemble of behaviors to include more biology and less ‘engineering’. E.g., more. time fishing and less time working at a job we hate so we can make the money necessary to go to Disneyworld. (I can give you a link to a Urologist talking about how the excess adrenaline generated by the constant stress of modern life is behind the big increase in male erection problems…but you probably already know that.)

      So one simple choice:
      *More sex with a less adrenaline producing lifestyle
      *Constant stress with some (usually overblown) promise of more excitement and men with erectile dysfunction in their 20s, for godssake.

      I’m not claiming that a majority of people will ever elect the more biology/ less engine ensemble. (Although a number of observers are claiming that the Lockdowns have made some converts.). I DO think that if any humans make it through this, they are likely to be those who have restructured their lives along the lines I suggest. Of course, I could be wrong…it may all turn out like Mad Max or The Road.

      But, but, but…doesn’t more sex equal way too many children. If we are smart, every woman will have a thermometer which tells her when she is fertile. No penetrative sex then, but everything else goes. Also extended breast feeding of the little ones so that her reproductive time is reduced…which also reduces cancer due to less estrogen. So jettison the obsolete religious belief in ‘maximum reproduction as a duty’ and take the best of the modern and the elegant low-energy solutions where we find them.

      Don Stewart

    • I used a problem solving method called BioTRIZ a few years back.

      It is a derivative of the Russian TRIZ problem solving method. It prompts us to examine how evolution has solved a problem to help us solve an analogous problem in the ‘human sphere’.

      I found it helped generate more options than an engineer would propose relying the collective experience of their discipline alone. Those options also seemed more “elegant”. Additive processes, membranes, segmentation, the type things that don’t intuitively come to mind for people focused on a particular field of engineering/physical sciences.

      Might be worth taking a look at, for the problem solvers out there (?)

    • Thanks, interesting ideas.

      Would it, I wonder, help resolve the current situation?

      Taking the UK simply as an example, GDP was reported to have fallen by 20% in April. The underlying figure, though was roughly -50%, the difference being the £48bn borrowed and spent by government. Borrowing in May was £55bn, taking the total to £103bn. Unrelatedly – if you care to believe that! – the BoE has used a remarkably similar sum of £100bn of newly created QE money to buy and eliminate pre-existing debt.

      Don’t get me wrong – the govt has been right to provide support as it has. Mr Sunak, unlike others I could (but won’t) name, has “has a good crisis”, so far anyway. Monetising ‘just’ £100bn of govt debt isn’t hugely risky.

      Pushed too far, though, this would put the currency at risk. In essence, this is a short-term-only expedient. It can’t safely be used to cope with much of the (a) long-tail fallout (business failures, debt and mortgage defaults, etc) when this turns up, as it must; or (b) a “second wave” of infections.

      We’re now seeing a definite second wave in much of Europe, and daily new cases in the US have just hit a record 45,000. Australia and NZ have closed their doors to foreign visitors, and expect to keep it that way for at least a year. But the UK seems to be rushing headlong out of lockdown, and doing nothing to stop (and little to discourage) a lemming-style rush to the beaches.

      I forgot to add that this is, in large part, a mathematical question. The contribution of aviation to the economy, for example, is tiny. Holidaying overseas hardly counts as a necessity, and neither is cramming onto beaches. A second wave could be enormously costly. If maths points in one direction, why is government doing the opposite?

    • MMT will tell us that a Monetary Sovereign Government can Never . . unintentially go broke as it has monopoly control of the pound. So there are no “borrowings” to burden it with repaying loans. That is fake news, deliberate obfuscation by rogue governments at the height of their incompetence, It is past time to drown neoliberalism as it never ever helps the vast majority of the population.
      The true situation is that only an adequate supply of money will bring the economy back from a cliff. Between 2008 and 2010, the Fed spent $29TRILLION !!! on bailing out banks and we face a much more serious problem. So look at $29 Trillion as a closer estimate of the real costs to come. Knowing its not a debt is the only way to look at such a vast sum. It’s a gift [believe it or not]

  24. @Tony H
    Relative to the efficiency of photosynthesis. I won’t try to quote extensively here, but you can find the relevant information in The Demon In The Machine, pages 151-6. It involves a combination of noise, which makes it more efficient, and quantum effects. Some photosynthesizing bacteria living in deep water can survive on one photon per day.
    Don’t care to debate the racial issue (or non-issue).
    Don Stewart

  25. @Steven Kurtz
    “Does anyone think that a “truly sustainable world system” is possible?

    Does anyone believe that humans can change from venturers, experimenters, mating competitors… into need satisfiers?”

    Obviously, the Amish who have been in the US for hundreds of years have persisted and increased in numbers by doing the opposite. When they finish school, the Amish children are sent out into the world to see how the ‘English’ live. Most of them decide they do not like what they see, and come back and are baptized into the Amish church and live with the set of behaviors they grew up with, which includes sustainable living and lack of competition for worldly goods.

    I tried to define a thought process which might let us think about how the Amish have done it. I think that experience with an ensemble of behaviors which add up to a lifestyle, as compared to the lifestyle they can see with their own eyes in Times Square, can lead to the radically different choice most of the children make. Technology is viewed with suspicion and accepted only after considerable thought and discussion. Somewhat similar to Dmitry Orlov’s recommendations in his book about the Technosphere.

    Don Stewart

    • @Don S. OK, but I wasn’t addressing you in particular. Your answer involves the extreme long shot of having ~99.99..% of humans acquiring the qualities of a rare exception to MPP. Voluntary simplicity is not “in the genes” of any life form that I’m aware of other than tiny minorities of humans. Writing a long essay about that as a way to a “Resolutique” seems highly speculative to me, and that isn’t the focus of this blog. Involuntary simplicity is the rule.

    • @Steven Kurtz
      You addressed the questions to everyone. If you wanted to exclude me, you should have said so and I would not have given you my answer. I also do not claim that 99.99 percent of the people are going to be able to see a way forward. I do think that those who are able to see a way forward are more likely to make it through the bottleneck. I likely will not make it through the bottleneck, simply because I was conceived 80 years ago. So I don’t have any personal axe to grind.
      Don Stewart

    • @Don S. No exclusion intended, but your response was a long essay that didn’t register in my mind as addressing the general questions and position I’ve reiterated here several times before. Why pose examples of rare exceptions as a response to a systemic bottleneck caused by resource scarcities and a tripling of population in our lifetimes? (I’m 75)

    • @Steven Kurtz
      It is a well accepted principle of science that the existence of one exception is capable of disproving a previously accepted Law of Science. The whole revolution in 20th century physics came about because of troublesome discrepancies in Newtonian physics. If there are examples of people who are escaping the captivity of the ensemble of beliefs and structure and actions which we might lump under Neo-Liberalism, and if we believe that the current system is bankrupt, then it is worthwhile, in my estimation, to take a look at the exceptions.

      If you can’t see that, then I don’t see much point in talking about it. One of the speakers in the Thermodynamics 2.0 conclave quoted Henry Adams to the effect that History, Biology, Sociology, Psychology, and Physics were not, in fact, separate subjects. They are merely looking at different layers of reality. Yet our academics have dug themselves very deeply into their silos…which makes most of them irrelevant in the real world.
      Don Stewart

    • OK genius. You win. Turn this into a hypothetical punctuated equilibrium evolution blog!

    • Hi Don,
      I find myself thinking about the Amish, Mennonites, Shakers etc.
      if you could extract the Christianity and replace it with something more akin with the Earth Mother/natural world belief systems that predated Christianity in Europe you’d have a good basic model for future arrangements,

      I was toying with a trinity of;
      the Father: Sol,
      the Mother: Gaia,
      the Children: all life on earth of which we humans are part.

      we could have a grass roots movement of people creating intentional communities on the Amish/Gaia model and opting out of BAU,
      also a non partisan political movement that is based on Ecology/systems analysis & management, not environmentalism like the Greens.
      Ideology would be out, Science would be in.

      but hey, I was raised in a Quaker houshold, I’ve become agnostic to the verge of atheism and I’m a bit of a hippy at heart!

    • @Matt
      Your thinking is one reason I prefer Jeavons and Holmgren as examples, rather than communities held together by rigid religions. Dmitry Orlov, in Communities That Abide, found religious glue to be necessary. I hope not. But I can’t debate that it seems to help.
      Thanks for comment….Don Stewart

    • I don’t think the Amish are an exception to the MPP, they just have different values than the mainstream Western cultural ones. They value piety, hard work, and largely fecundity. They have an average reproduction rate of something like 6.5 children / couple. I don’t think you can pick and choose what works from their lifestyle and think that people wouldn’t want to satisfy their human needs for the MPP in some fashion shaped by their cultural. and religious values.

    • @djerek
      Everyone tries to maximize something. And an Amish farm requires a lot of hand labor. But we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that the Amish are maximizing power. They do not use tractors to plow, they do not have telephones in the house, they do not use smartphones, they don’t have cars (but they may ride in a car). They can use a tractor to do certain kinds of work around the farm, but not plowing. As you can see, they are being very selective in how they let technology into their lives. The “MPP hypothesis” is that any technology which increases power consumption will be embraced…which is obviously not true for the Amish.

      If we shift focus and look at David Holmgren’s work, we find a broad set of values which are guiding the family’s choices: rebuilding ecologies; a large measure of self-reliance; small carbon footprint; pleasure in natural things; community service; etc. Again, these are definitely not about “maximizing power”.

      Both the Holmgren suburban household and the Amish farm are operating at a small fraction of the average consumption of power. I believe Holmgren is about 20 percent, and the Amish are probably lower than that.

      If they aren’t maximizing power, what are they maximizing. I suggest that they are maximizing ‘Integration” as that is defined by Dan Siegel. That is, their whole life including their internal mental processes, their relationship with other people, and their relationship with the larger environment are all tending to harmony (as they perceive it). A true MPP practitioner is just maximizing greed. I won’t deny that some societies can be characterized as “predominately MPP oriented”. But given the state of the world, I think that is a suicidal tendency. If you live in such a society, you should be thinking about how to survive the crash. I won’t comment on the ethics…just the practicality that survival becomes an issue.

      Don Stewart

  26. @Tagio
    One example of ‘ensemble thinking’. The Urologist who was the consultant for The Game Changers tells of taking his wife and teenage son to Sundance for the premiere of the movie. The Urologist had been converted from a heavy meat diet to a plant based diet due to the persistence of one of his patients, the fact that he knew some of the doctors at UCSF who performed the study on the connection between meat and prostate health, and his attempt to help a fellow doctor who was experiencing prostate issues in early middle age. The combination moved him out of his comfortable place eating junk food and changed his life.

    So years later he becomes James Cameron’s consultant on the movie. He discourages Cameron from trying to use machines to show the effect of a single meat heavy meal on erections. But just a few weeks before the film had to go in the can, he called Cameron and said ‘if you are willing to spend the money, I’m willing to try’. They put together the crew and the study subjects, hooked it up, and the results were spectacular. His teenage son, who had ignored his respectful suggestions, said after seeing the movie ‘I’m now a vegan’. That was two years ago, and the son has not reverted back to his junk food suite of behaviors.

    The power of the movie is that it was able to clearly show the consequences of two different ensembles of behavior. The power of the mother and father’s example at home was that the son could see that it wasn’t rocket science to eat a Vegan diet. And anybody who understands vascular structures, even dimly, could put 2 and 2 together.

    Don Stewart

  27. CS Smith elegantly shows the socio-economic dominoes keeling over (relatively slowly at the moment) in 2020 that must mark the start of an epic depression that many may not survive:


    I grew up in a third-world country and the levels of corruption I am experiencing now here in the ‘developed countries’ seem no different, the phenomenon has merely been legalised for all intents and purposes, is all-pervasive to the extent whereby activities such as rent-seeking, pure speculation or scamming are socially acceptable.

    • “the phenomenon has merely been legalised for all intents and purposes, is all-pervasive to the extent whereby activities such as rent-seeking, pure speculation or scamming are socially acceptable.”

      It’s not just considered socially acceptable, it’s considered high status and worthy of praise and emulation! I like Kunstler’s framing of the entire country being turned into a system of various rackets.

  28. FI Warrior,
    Yesterday, Bloomberg ran an article reporting that based on an ITUC study, the U.S. had the least worker protections of any of the G7 economies. The study included a color coded map showing the various levels of protections from best to worst for all of the countries of the world. A quick survey of the map showed that the U.S. was on a par with all of the third world countries and “developing” countries in South America. IOW, the U.S. was a third world country in terms of its treatment of its workers. Not surprisingly, the Bloomberg article did not point out this visually obvious conclusion.

  29. More in the same vein:
    The Supreme Court Has Given the Green Light to Bosses and Financial Managers to Steal From Workers

    All of which is to say that companies will crush everything they can in order to maintain “profits” at the highest possible levels they can. Except for a tiny handful of people capable of adopting and living voluntary simplicity, like the Amish or Hutterites, it’s It’s a smash and grab, last man standing world, There is NO systemic thinking in any of it.

    To Don’s point, the question is whether humans will pillage themselves into extinction seeking to the very end to be a top primate with a rentier existence, or will the small number of humans capable of voluntarily simplicity be able to shield themselves from the coming Mad Max world and make it through the bottleneck and be the new human going forward?.

    Who knows, there seems little point in speculating about it.

    • This is illustrative of the dysfunctional world we’re living in, though perhaps I should qualify that by adding “in America and Britain”.

      I think we here all understand the economy as an energy system with finite capabilities, set in an environment which itself has limitations. But the general view is closer to ‘there are no limits, of resources or anything else, to our ambitions’.

      Nothing much surprises me about the UK any more, but – and maybe because I’ve not been to the States in a long time – I keep getting shocked by how bad things seem to be getting there.

      A common factor to both might, I wonder, be ‘liberal’ economics, and its emphasis on self-gratification? It’s like the sayings of Gordon Gecko, at the time intended as fictional, and designed to shock, have become the norm.

  30. “The first of these is that RE remains essentially derivative of FF energy. We cannot (yet, anyway), build a wind turbine using only wind power, or a solar panel using solar energy alone. For the foreseeable future, the development of RE capacity will remain reliant on inputs whose availability depends on the use of energy sourced from FFs.”

    R.E. can replace ‘All Energy’?

    “Smart Energy Europe Connelly et al 2016 (300 citations, peer reviewed; free similar paper) details a map of the transition from the current energy system to one using 100% renewable energy for All Energy (All Energy is all energy used in the economy: electricity, transportation, heat and industry). They find that using renewable energy for All Energy will cost about the same (within 10%) as using fossil fuels in Europe. In addition, there will be about 10 million new jobs created and no money exported to other regions for fuel so the economy will expand. Their plan includes the expense of building out all the renewable generators, all storage required and the expense of additional infrastructure like district heating.”

    • Just finished reading this. It sounds a lot like a European energy strategy that a friend introduced me to a few years back. To be honest, I would have to say, I find it a bit amateurish. It sounds as if it is written by enthusiasts who have little engineering background. A few specific comments:

      1. Manufacturing electromethane is a very inefficient use of expensive electricity, especially if CO2 needs to be reduced to provide the necessary carbon. Total efficiency is <10%.

      2. Heat pumps aren't as good as they sound. Firstly, they are driven by electric motors, which are inductive loads. They tend to produce power surges when switched on or off, which could result in grid instability. This is one reason why grid connected storage heaters are advocated instead. Secondly, the efficiency advantages are only achievable when a modest temperature rise is needed. We tend to need heating most when it is coldest and the heat pump is least efficient. Ground source heat pumps require a lot of space and are not well suited to urban environments. Air source heat pumps cannot take advantage of the thermal inertia of the ground and are significantly less efficient.

      3. District heating fed by large heat pumps is unlikely to be more efficient than smaller heating units because of thermal losses from pipework. District heating is not affordable outside of dense urban cores. Capital cost (and embodied energy) per customer is a function of population density. Longer pipes mean more thermal losses of well.

      4. Eliminating nuclear power was the first thing on their list. Apparently it is inflexible and inefficient because of its 100% capacity factor. That is convoluted thinking. How could would we logically consider a powerplant with 30% capacity factor to be superior to one with 100% cap factor? The bottom line is, the world does not need elaborate renewable energy plans as long as nuclear power exists. So the first priority of renewable energy enthusiasts is to get rid of nuclear energy. Not because nuclear energy is a poor solution to our problems, but because renewable energy simply isn't an economically desirable solution so long as nuclear power exists.

  31. I’m indebted to Eric Lee and his blog for introducing me to the work of John B Calhoun and his behavioural experiments putting a growing population of rodents into an environment of fixed dimensions to see how they react over time,
    there’s a 2012 film by Mike Freedman called ‘Critical Mass’ that looks at the subject,
    I managed to find a bootleg copy online and watched it last night,
    it’s impossible to ignore the parallels between the social breakdown of rodent populations as they hit population overshoot and much human social behaviour we can observe today in crowded cities,
    you have to note that the protests and rioting have all happened in metropolitan centres,
    the town mice are losing their minds and losing their shit, the country mice aren’t.

    I’ve always been a country mouse and I just can’t hack city living, I don’t know how town mice cope and I’ve noticed town mice behave differently to their country cousins,
    in the 2 million years of human evolution and the 200 thousand years of the existence of anatomically modern humans complex civilisations and cities are a very recent phenomena, only the last few thousand years, we aren’t evolved to live in such close proximity with so many other people, we have to use coping strategies to do it, all it takes is increasing inequality and deteriorating prosperity to stress people enough to push them over the edge,

    it’s kinda scary when your lizard brain kicks in and tries to take over, it’s really difficult to rationalise and control,

    the film briefly looked at lemmings and the mass hysteria they experience when a population goes into overshoot,
    it rather made me think of the anxiety I’ve felt when leaving a job without another one lined up, being unsure how I’ll cover my overheads and unsure of my future,
    there has been much talk in the media about mental health issues, JAM; just about managing and a general sense of uncertainty about what the future holds with an underlying sense of forboding,

    I think an acceptance of the inevitability of de-growth and some planning for the descent to sustainability would make a big difference to the general publics mental and hence physical well being and offset a lot of upheaval that’s almost unavoidable during the way down.

    I rather suspect a degrowthing world with a reducing pace of life, a declining population and a thinning of population density may not be quite as luxurious but probably a lot happier!

    as John Michael Greer likes to say; “collapse now and avoid the rush!”

  32. @Tagio, yes, the US seems to have led the charge in stripping empathy from the culture, but there is an intermediate step to de-growth. (or collapse if it goes faster) I’ve visited South Africa for years and seen a first world country jarringly attached to a third-world one, where the winners live in gated communities out of necessity for protection as well as in pursuit of luxury and live parallel lives to the masses. I’ve heard places like Brazil are the same as is the US if that’s what you’re suggesting. The UK has been easing into this for decades with its soulless council estates (akin to ‘the projects’) which are just concrete barrios really, where hope goes to die and where a good percentage of the population are corralled. There is a whole spectrum of course, with the remaining middle class winners in leafy suburbs and nice villages, but it’s sifting more to feudalism with time.

  33. Ugo Bardi on Holobionts
    Mardi makes many of the same points I have made here recently…no man is an island. He emphasizes more than I have done, recently at least, the notion of shedding the dead wood as a survival imperative. (which precludes killing off the old guys who provide occasional laughs by saying dumb things). Also note that the US government is profoundly against shedding any politically influential dead wood.
    Don Stewart

  34. @DJerek
    It may be worthwhile to consider a few comments by Dan Siegel, from The Developing Mind, Third Edition. Pg 22 A mind that cultivates integration within and between creates well-being. [My note…I think that describes the Amish and David Holmgren in spades. Now the Amish are deceiving themselves in certain respects to my mind, but I don’t think they have many doubts and they resolutely pursue harmony within the group…while separating themselves from ‘the English’.]

    “The “embodied brain” aspect of energy and information flow…What are the mechanisms by which human relationships shape brain structure and function? How is it possible for the interactions between people to affect something so inherently different as the activity of neurons? How might the experience of consciousness—of being aware—actually change the function and structure of the brain as research reveals it does?…And why, and how, might such mental presence alter the molecules of the body—such as optimizing the enzyme, telomerase, that repairs our chromosomes?…even slowing the aging of the body…Research on the mind’s capacity to change the function and structure of the brain is robust…”

    In short, and my words, the notion that everything is dictated by the genes one inherited from mother and father just doesn’t get one very far in explaining the real world. Even if we extend our genetic umbrella to all the microbes that inhabit us and all the other people, animals, and plants we meet every day, we haven’t explained very much.

    I do believe we are dealing with a Bayesian or Markov chain. Everything that has happened has an effect. The fact that some distant relative came from (most likely) Britain to the US and rebelled against King George still shapes who I am today. But what I make of that fact in my mind is more important than the simple event. If I was neglected as a child (a very common occurrence today in the US) then I will suffer brain impairments which may never be fully healed. And the probability may well be that with such impairments I will lead a pretty miserable life. But if I am very lucky and meet the right people or read the right books or just start paying attention…things can change drastically.

    If MPP is the dominant paradigm in my social circle, changing to anything else will be difficult, but not impossible. If there is a collapse of the MPP society, then ‘chance favors the prepared mind’.

    Don Stewart

    • This is a solid post. I was a terse and incomplete in my reply to your first post about the Amish, and maybe framing their status competition as a form of MPP wasn’t the right frame. But generally if we tried to apply their model broadly we’d lack in land and we’d have overpopulation issues. I admire them personally as well, but I think the idea that we could apply their way of life broadly without their religious values isn’t practical on either count.

      I do think Orlov’s book made great points about what kind of groups endure upheaval in the outside world, including that groups that survive relying on religion is key. I don’t personally agree with the religious values and ideas of the Amish but it’s hard to say that it hasn’t been adaptive for them.

  35. FI Warrior, Yes, very much like Latin America, or even the gated communities of Miami for that matter, with the notable exception of Uruguay, which is by far the most European and progressive of the LA countries (no real native population remains, it’s populated largely by Spanish and Italian descendants). In that Bloomberg map I referred to, UY was the only country in LA that had worker protections similar to Western European countries, far surpassing the US’s. .

    There’s an eye opening article on Zerohedge about the fate of the commercial real estate market in NYC, thanks to Covid and the riots. https://www.zerohedge.com/markets/barry-sternlicht-warns-blue-state-mentality-will-lead-40-drop-nyc-real-estate-prices

    “Even before the pandemic, the city was struggling with a crumbling subway, surging homelessness. Taxes have been raised, while city services have deteriorated. And as the NYPD pulls hundreds of undercover officers off the street, virtually guaranteeing that the open air drug markets of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s will make a comeback, along with myriad other quality of life problems, some of the city’s most successful real estate investors think young people are probably better off staying in the suburbs, or moving to some other smaller, better-run city.

    During a wide-ranging Bloomberg interview, Barry Sternlicht, the billionaire founder of Starwood Capital Group, shared a vision for NYC that sounded like the beginning of a disaster movie: office buildings in the city will lose 40% of their value – putting unprecedented pressure on the family businesses of the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner – one-third of all hotels in the city will go bankrupt, and – most importantly – residential rents will plummet as the wave of gentrification that priced out many minorities from the neighborhoods in which they grew up happens in reverse.”

    Apparently, crushing labor costs by using large pools of immigrant labor and otherwise paying the lowest wages possible to all and sundry except the Masters of the Universe in order to goose profits, and turning the city into a playground and theme park for the wealthy by pricing out the lower-middle and the middle class is not a viable or sustainable strategy for long-term profitability and growth, once the underlings become restless over their brutal repression and start smashing storefronts.

    Who could have known? If only there was some way for rentiers and their political and legal machines to know that they have gone too far, before they actually go too far and cause it all to come crashing down, some rule, some “golden” rule that could guide them . . .

    • let me share a couple of comedic clips that predate what’s going on but people seem to be fishing out of the memory hole and re-presenting today,

      I don’t know if you’re aware of Jonathan Pie, he’s a comedian’s character and is supposedly a roving tv news reporter and his act comprises the bits between transmissions and out takes that devolve into rants about the absurdity of what he’s reporting on;

      WARNING: some effing & jeffing is involved!

      then there’s Chris Rock the American comedian who’s pretty mainstream;

      in reality this is pretty much how most normal people feel about things, be they centrists, or left or right of centre,

      I don’t recognise New Labour or the New Democrats as being the slightest bit left wing, I’d be offended to be identified with either,

      did you see Kier Starmer has booted Rebecca Long-Bailey off the frontbench for ‘antisemetism’
      all she did was retweet a link to an article in the Independent with an interview of an actress she likes,
      is this the sort of parallel with the rise of the Puritans you were suggesting?
      the neo-liberal Witchfinder General is on the loose?

    • You raise at least two very interesting issues here.

      First, the Puritans. They were fanatics, of course, but what was so objectionable was their absolute determination to suppress the expression of any opinion which differed from their own. They banned theatres, inns and even country dancing, on the basis that the only opinions that counted were their own priggish obessions. As well as removing (a.k.a. stealing) gold ornaments from churches, they threw the bones of Saxon kings and bishops interred at Winchester through the Cathedral’s stained glass windows. They were hypocrites, inevitably, and were engaged in the wholesale theft of property belonging to exiled royalists. Their crowning achievement (so to speak) was the quasi-judicial murder of the king, and we can be in little doubt about the fate of the princes had they been caught. Those soldiers who believed that the civil war was about equality for the “common man” were hanged by Cromwell. H.E. Bates, in the preface to one of his books, referred to the “puritan poison that continues to taint the English bloodstream” (I’m quoting from memory). It’s a nightmare reminder of what can happen if fanatics take charge.

      As for Mrs Long Bailey, I’m not clear on the facts. But Labour has been split for decades between those who adhere to the party’s traditional aims and those who accept neoliberal economics. My problem with Mr Starmer is that he was one of those politicians, on both sides, determined to prevent “Brexit” after the voters had decided.

    • Omitted from this otherwise accurate depiction are the steady reversals of environmental regulations, attacks on national health care and education funding, and threats to the social security system. Additionally, right leaning conservatives are being appointed in the Justice system to the maximum extent possible. It does seem that most people are angry. If DJT is somehow re-elected, the demise of this country will accelerate. If not for our grandsons, we’d likely move back to Canada.

    • Re Biden or Hillary: of course they are not “the answer.” Just lesser evils in my opinion.

    • Another very good commentary is provided in “Out of the Belly of Hell” by
      Anthony Barnett. A long but very good report on how we are where we are in the global scene.

    • Echoing Steven on “lesser evils,” I recall the pragmatism of the notion that, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time.”

      [I can’t believe that I’d ever quote Donald Rumsfeld. But so it goes.]

  36. @Dr. Morgan
    My assessment of the fundamental problem in the US. For the Right, the problem is that they have no explanation for why an economy consuming so much dense energy cannot afford to pay a reasonable price for that dense energy and is so obviously in need of ever more debt. The obvious conclusion to a Man From Mars is that the economy is thoroughly dysfunctional. Since Jay Powell hasn’t a clue, and money printing is not solving any of the problems, the Right resorts to attacks on ‘liberals’ and Davos Man. The Left assumes that our future is something like the sterile cabin in the Starship Enterprise. We will all dress smartly, have no need of defecation, will teleport ourselves wherever we want to be, and nobody will do any physical work. If a large segment of the population is not progressing toward the Starship, while a tiny minority are harvesting wealth beyond imagining thanks to Jay Powell and company, then the problem must either be ‘Hillary Clinton and other assorted egghead liberals’ or ‘systemic racism’.

    In an ideal world, the political system would withdraw support from the zombie parts of the system, but ease the transition of affected individuals to something new. The ‘ease the transition’ might be socialist (e.g., five year plans) or anarchism (e.g., give people a good sized garden and tell them to feed themselves). In view of the utter dysfunction so many decades of denial have generated, my inclinations are toward anarchism.

    Do I think there is any practical possibility that our current political system can generate a solution? No, I see little possibility of some Great Awakening. Therefore, I favor encouraging people, and particularly groups of people, to look after themselves. Dmitry Orlov’s work on Communities That Abide may give us some ideas. And there are anthropological studies which are helpful.

    Don Stewart

  37. thanks Tim,
    I tried reading up on the Puritans & the civil war on wikipedia but they seem skirt around a lot of detail,
    maybe H.E. Bates is right and the whole subject is still a bit touchy today,
    it doesn’t bode well for the Americans because plenty of Puritans went to the colonies!
    maybe it’s a poison that taints bloodstreams on both sides of the Atlantic.
    I pretty sure I’m neither a Roundhead or a Cavalier, if it all kicks off again I’m going to sit on the sidelines and let them fight it out,
    I’m certainly not joining any Neo-New Model Army to get hung out to dry afterwards,
    it does seem as though all this politicking is carried out by the landed gentry, aristocracy, the cosmopolitan set and the borgeoisie,
    the working man is never allowed to organise, if he tries he’s accused of communism and all the above unite to crush him,
    would that make me possibly a Leveller?

    one thing I did learn from wikipedia is that Douglas Adams must have got the name Arthur Dent from a Puritan cleric who wrote; The Plain Man’s Pathway to Heaven, 1601

    • I read a paper that argued that the American Civil War was largely driven by the same ethnic divisions as the English one, plus the obvious economic issues and slavery. I found it pretty convincing.

    • During the English Civil War there seem to have been a lot of local armed groups (“clubs”), taking neither side, but determined to protect their homes and farms from the depredations of both. That might have been an option for you, rather than the Levellers, who got a pretty hard time.

      It seems to me that the relevance for today is what happens when any powerful group tries to insist that only its values and interpretations are valid, and that all dissent from those views must be crushed.

      The Puritans first emerged as a significant force in the latter part of the reign of Queen Elizabeth (I), so that aspect of the civil war was of very long gestation.

      The Pilgrim Fathers, essentially exiled Puritan dissidents from England, have long been a revered part of American history. It’ll be interesting to see if that is affected by the ongoing revision of US history, which is already affecting, for instance, the reputations of Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson and others.

  38. Zombie Parts of the System
    Charles Smith: “The only realistic Plan B is a fundamental, permanent re-ordering of the cost structure of the entire U.S. economy. Call it DeGrowth, or creative destruction, or disruption if you prefer, but whatever name we use, the reality will be extraordinarily disruptive, uncertain, risky and unpredictable. As many of us has explained over the years, unstable, brittle, fragile systems characterized by soaring inequality, pay-to-play political corruption and dependence on debt, leverage and speculative bubbles were unsustainable. Plan B can be a chaotic mess of denial and failed half-measures that only make all the problems worse, or it can be a positive transformation that results in a society that does more with less. The choice is ours.”

    I have argued that the only realistic government initiative is to withdraw support from the Zombie parts of the system. Charles’ post identifies a lot of the Zombie parts. Separately, he has made the point that a lot of middle class people make their living serving the super-rich: lawyers, dentists, gym operators, fancy restaurant people, hair dressers, etc. If the financial system crashes, then a lot of middle class jobs disappear as their customers disappear. So where is the safe-haven? I don’t think we will have any. Probably there will be an episode of really bad behavior resulting in a very significant reduction in population in the US…worse than the Soviet Union in the 1990s.

    What MAY survive is small groups of people (like the Amish) who are able to be largely self-sufficient. Not that they won’t grieve the benefits they got while buying from ‘the English’. But they probably CAN survive without the English. Alternatively, a little bit less dismal picture is that you get to keep your house, which may not have heating and cooling, but maybe water and sanitation, and whatever government continues to exist gives you dried foods such as grains and beans. But you are responsible for all the ‘wet’ foods such as leafy greens and vegetables and beans.

    It seems to me to be the right time to begin to steadily move in the direction of more self-sufficiency. I view the project with some urgency. Or, possibly, as Charles concludes, we can choose a less complex society, but retain quite a bit of the production capacity we have. Either way, I think more self-sufficiency is likely to be helpful.

    Don Stewart

    • hi Don,
      in individual or group terms self sufficiency is often the word used but when you start moving up the hierarchical scale from communities to regions and nations the term Autarky is (or was pre hyper-globalisation) used,

      I went and read up on it on wikipedia and there’s a lot of historical examples at varying levels of hierarchical complexity,
      I’d like to see the term rehabilitated and increasingly used in political economic discussion to illustrate that TINA is in fact false and there are alternatives,


      the term already got an airing in the political arena when Boris Johnson gave a speech in early Feburary about ‘bizarre autarkic talk about reducing free trade and how he vowed that Britain would be like Clark Kent and remove it’s glasses and leap from the telephone box like Superman ready to freely trade with the entire world’
      then he freely traded his good health for a viral infection and retreated to his hospital bed whilst the highly globalised British economy proceeded to chaotically collapse as the rapid spread of covid-19 cut the feet from beneath it, it’s over extended supply chains and over reliance on imports,

      suddenly autarkic talk ceased to be bizarre and started sounding rather sensible!

      I rather suspect the V shaped recovery will turn out to be U shaped, the U shape will take the form of a U turn as growth switches to degrowth,

      one woman famously said she wasn’t for turning, no doubt her greatest admirers will cling to this sentiment doggedly, but even if they refuse to turn the world will proceed to turn under their feet,
      King Canute proved as much to his retinue, in that sheer force of will or stubborness has no effect on the laws of nature and physics.


    • @Matt
      A rather long reply, but I think I will hit on some points which may interest you.
      *Co-operations is selected for in evolution…up to a point. For example, humans plus many types of microbes plus domesticated plants and animals now dominate the ecosphere in terms of command of resources.
      *But the coronavirus forcefully reminds us that we have an immune system for very good reasons.
      *So the conclusion is that there are limits to co-operation. Whether that be in the schoolyard containing a bully or two, in a dysfunctional family, in a military unit commanded by a psychotic, in a corporation being gutted for private profit, or a world where nation-states stab each other in the back, or in a world where there is vastly more genetic material in viruses than exists in DNA, and a sizable percentage of that viral genetic material can do us lots of harm. Given our transition from ever cheaper energy to increasing cost of energy, the practicalities of co-operative scope may well have shrunk.
      *When white, brown, and black people are at each other’s throats, it is a sign that co-operation is shrinking and thus we are chaotically losing the advantages previously attained.
      *Prigogine (and others) showed that the Newtonian world of linear equations simply did not apply to ‘far from equilibrium’ dynamical systems. He also showed that the far from equilibrium systems would evolve toward increased complexity. But suppose the energy which is feeding the system begins to shrink? Then the same mathematical reasons why the path of increasing complexity could not be accurately predicted will begin to work in reverse? That’s what I think.
      *Consequently, insurance comes in the form of getting more of what you need independently of the complex system. As a simple example, plant some beans in your garden, and save some at the end of the season to start next year’s crop. Or…get out of debt to the extent possible.

      Two things I looked at this morning offer food for thought. The first is Automatic Earth today and the picture from yesterday of children in a trench looking anxiously up at the sky during the Battle of Britain. The article today contains a lament that the US and Brazil may never get on top of Covid-19. It also contains a plea for the return of the sanity of Bobby Kennedy to replace the divisiveness of Trump and Biden. You can also find in a search a 50 year retrospective for the Paul Simon song Bridge Over Troubled Water…it’s sobering to remember the first time that sent chills down my spine…and how quickly everyone forgot it. As for the picture, there are articles about the nastiness of the US government over hundreds of years toward black people. That’s all true, but is not the most pressing issue (IMHO). The most pressing problem I see is the very poor epigenetics being induced in the children of the underclass in the US…whether white or black. These children are going to be as marked as the Dutch children of the Hunger Winter…only worse unless we can change the environment they are living in. The British children in the trench were experiencing something awful, yet most of them probably turned out OK because the post-war environment was supportive enough to dispel the trauma in the epigenetics. I don’t think we in the US even understand the problem, much less have any resolve to change things.

      Don Stewart

  39. Well, some good news, for a change. Humanity is saved! The beautiful people (a/k/a readers of Vogue magazine) are recommitting themselves to Nature, so once everyone who wants to be just like these beautiful people adopt the same sensibility, and abandon living for penthouse suites, pieds-a-terre around the world and haute couture, humans will achieve balance with nature.

    Really, there is nothing that cannot be transformed into virtue and status signalling among hairless monkeys, denuded of all but symbolic action. As long as we inhabit and vibrate within that social virtual matrix, we are freaking doomed.

  40. Matt,

    Your post raises an interesting PR possibility: Autarky (national self-sufficiency) may be an easier sell to the ppl than “degrowth,” while aiming for and achieving essentially the same results .

    • thanks tagio,
      with respect to the British Isles, Autarky could be sold to the general public alongside a sense of wartime spirit, where we stood alone as an island with very restricted trade, we had a land army, we dug for victory, we recycled, we made do and mended, we distributed foodstuff equitably so no one had less than the bare minimum and saw the nations health actually improve,
      workers were sought after, it was every hand to the pumps, everyone was asked to ‘do their bit’
      we could redress the trade inbalance, not by increasing exports which would require extensive re-industrialisation, but by import substitution, stimulating domestic production for domestic consumption, we’d even be creating jobs in the process,
      that which we couldn’t grow in our climate could come from our commonwealth cousins, the Carribean has the climate and is also pretty accessable from the UK,
      we still have links with parts of West Africa like the Gambia & Ghana and they’re pretty accessable by shipping route,
      New Zealand is a bit of a long haul but that’s ok for frozen lamb and butter, etc.

      actually it’s surprising what we can do here, there are an increasing number of British vineyards, some people in Wales are experimenting with growing tea and I found an interesting article on how the Soviet Union was able to produce citrus fruits by using sunken greenhouses and ground hugging varieties of citrus trees,

      if you described this sort of thing to your average Brexiteer their eyes would probably light up with enthusiasm,

      well we are destined to get a Brexit of sorts but I rather suspect it’ll be nothing like I’ve been outlining,

    • In a sense, Matt, part of what you describe was implemented in Britain during the immediate post-War years. Rationing was continued, not ending until 1952. Even building anything required a permit for purchasing the necessary materials. Railways, road haulage, coal and steel were amongst industries nationalised, and even wartime conscription continued, in the form of National Service. Pledges on health and education made during the later war years were implemented.

      One should not overstate the ‘wartime spirit’ that this tried to perpetuate. Even during the war, there was a thriving black market, strikes (especially in shipyards) were surprisingly prevalent, and even rationing enabled some shopkeepers to ‘lord it over’ customers – Tristan Jones’ wartime autobiography is interesting on this. This said, there’s little doubt that people did pull together, and put the national interest before their own interests.

      Could the latter spirit be replicated? It’s hard to say, without the kind of full-blown crisis that, in my opinion, is likelier than is generally recognised. Would that change the minds of those who, for instance, flock to beaches, or hold protest demos, despite the coronavirus crisis? These look like very worrying times for Britain and America, so much so that we might get to see this put to the test.

  41. In our worried guessing of what will happen to us soon, I think Cuba, especially during its more difficult than ‘normal US spiteful economic throttle-hold’ period, gives one of the more accurate clues. The special period was from about 1990 when cheap oil from the USSR no longer lubricated their already basic economy and life got much harder with no warning, then lasted at least a decade if I remember correctly. A totalitarian regime then had to be even more managed to share the meager resources remaining so that all survived if not thrived. It was interesting in that people cooperated because they could see everyone bar the elite were the same, so the level of injustice probably reached the minimum possible for our species.

    The lesson of that time therefore was that people will accept sudden and extreme sacrifice, if the messaging and handling is done in a certain way, where they see no better options and it seems fair even if life is not enjoyable like before. Closer inspection throws up ironies like healthier lifestyles resulting from simplicity meaning people may live very differently but are not necessarily more unhappy. It’s not unlike rural vs urban lifestyles in the richer countries, where the urbanites have more money and/or entertainment, but more pollution, stress and less quality connection to humans or nature*. (*which has been proven via isolation studies to be detrimental mentally)

    Unsustainable wealth with depression and general anxiety from stress as a price of success on paper which is what the Anglo-american way of life translates to, is increasingly being seen as not all that to envy. So maybe, in a few rare exceptions, some countries may scale down systems based on waste fast enough in transitioning to living according to our resources, to yield a generation with a decent quality of life, comparable to some ‘second-world’ examples today.

  42. @Matt
    Another piece part which might be useful:

    I haven’t used Hopkins tool, so don’t have any first hand experience with it. But it immediately caught me as related to the Psychiatrist Dan Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness. Our body and mind are complex assemblages of fairly autonomous systems. For example, the liver goes about its business without much direction from the brain or your left foot. And your mind is formed, in part, by what you perceive is in the mind of the people around you (e.g., the “Esteem” society which some psychologists believe is the system from cave-man days…your survival was directly connected to what others thought about your contribution to the clan.) Siegel makes the point that specialization cannot work unless there is integration. In the body, we have discovered vast signaling networks…e.g., the Vagus Nerve which carries information up and down the body from the gut to the brain and connecting all our organs. And the surprising finding that our mitochondria require a level of free radicals in order to function, and that energy production in our cells is improved by a certain level of noise. And interpersonal relationship signaling requires enormous bandwidth and requires signal compression. For example, if I am talking with someone who makes a slighting remark, I will instantly get a negative feeling by processing a whole bunch of information including what my ‘gut’ thinks about it and how it makes my muscles tense and how my brain retrieves previous examples, and so forth and so on. Siegel’s Wheel of Awareness exercise involves sitting for a few minutes each day and checking in with our systems, from what our ears are hearing to what we are feeling about those we interact with. Bringing that data into consciousness is the first step in achieving integration. Siegel’s practice is about the opposite of any attempt to ’empty the mind’ style meditation, or drinking oneself into a stupor.

    Today we mostly just use money as the tool of integration. If I have more money at the end of the day, then that is all I need to know. But fiat money only has true value if energy is increasing, since it is a claim on energy. Suppose fiat money systems fail. Do we revert back to the sort of Esteem social and economic system that we evolved a very long time ago? If so, then we may very well need to use not only a Siegel style practice to foster Integration, but also a Hopkins style wheel to further innovation in a low-energy world.

    I think it will be a dauntingly hard challenge. Not just technologically, but also because we have become so dependent on the crutch of fiat money.

    Don Stewart

  43. hi Tim,
    I’m not going to pretend that the Home Front during WW2 was a masterpiece of planning and organisation from day one or that Britons demonstrated a uniform ideal of civic cohesion,

    but the neccessities of war were sufficient to oust incompetent incumbents and find effective replacements,
    in many cases it was found that ideology could no longer be afforded and practical solutions that actually worked were implemented which could be at odds with prevailing ideological thought,
    Britain prevailed by the end of WW2 because it had got it’s act together and made less mistakes than it’s opponents,
    the post war austerity period was rather bleak and grey, a somewhat bitter victory, much of what was done was out of practical neccessity where ideology had to take a back seat,
    eventually when the worst was over Macmillan was able to announce that we’d never had it so good and we moved into the era of post war affluence,
    affluence allows laxity and slowly practicality was overtaken by ideology, incompetents are able to finagle their way back into incumbency,
    over the decades leadership and institutional competence have atrophied as incompetence could be papered over by a steady rise in prosperity driven by expanding resource access, not neccessarily competent management,
    in a way a rising tide obscures many cockups,
    now that we’ve reached peak prosperity I suspect we’ve reached peak tolerance for incompetence too,
    is it possible that as prosperity falls the clamouring for improvements in competence in handling the process will increase?
    that we’ve managed to avoid dealing with certain issues because we could afford to ignore them but now when push comes to shove we can’t really afford to ignore them any longer?

    I have to remain moderately optimistic, having gone to so much trouble to get so far as a Nation I find it inconcievable that we’d let it all fall apart through indifference and laziness,

    cometh the hour, cometh the man?

    maybe we just haven’t quite reached the right hour yet?

    • Macmillan actually sits within what I’ve always regarded as a turning-point for Britain, from 1956 to 1963, one which the ‘establishment’ was pretty fortunate to get through more or less intact.

      This period began with Suez, in 1956, which was so shocking to self-esteem that it panicked the UK into a disorganised flight from Empire (Macmillan’s waffle about “winds of change”, and likewise “you’ve never had it so good”, were just so much window dressing, I think).

      Between then and 1963, just seven years, were all the spy scandals, the Cuba missile crisis (a reminder that the UK was no longer a top table player), Profumo, the Great Train Robbery and cultural change (with Look Back in Anger published in 1958).

  44. This article on zerohedge indicates just how far British universities have declined.

    They have become hot beds of far left extremism, corrupted against the very English people that founded them. This corruption apparently extends to the highest level, with this non-white person who advocates violence against white men, defended and even rewarded with a professorship at Cambridge. God only knows what she could be qualified to teach. Conversely, academics that have the courage to question left wing orthodoxy, are hounded out of their jobs and barred from debates.

    I am often puzzled by the reality that it is often the most intelligent of people that do the most stupid things. Why would any white English person support this kind of thing? Why would they have any interest in supporting BLM, which is basically a protest against European society, by resentful invaders?

  45. From another site.
    “ECoC {sic} has been reducing since the huge natural gas finds around the World.
    The only reason energy costs have been rising is the manipulation of the market by the AGW fraudsters.”

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