4 x Chico Buarque


Jorge Riechmann

canibalismo del futuro

Uno de los aspectos más problemáticos e impresionantes de la cultura dominante, que hoy prevalece a escala global, es la ruptura del contrato intergeneracional. En ninguna otra sociedad, a lo largo de esa historia de Homo sapiens que dura más de ciento cincuenta mil años, ha existido este canibalismo de la generación actual respecto a la de los hijos, los nietos y más allá. Se trata de una “dictadura del presente a costa del futuro”, sobre la que insiste, con razón, Harald Welzer: “La cultura del TODO SIEMPRE consume el futuro de quienes han tenido la mala suerte de nacer después que usted”.[1] Sin duda que esto tiene que ver con el proceso de individualización anómica que caracteriza a la Modernidad euro-occidental y con el desarrollo de una estructura productivista-consumista con rasgos totalitarios: pero saberlo no hace que disminuya la gravedad del problema.

¿No sería posible apelar al amor maternal y paternal para frenar la destrucción del mundo? Si hubo por ejemplo un movimiento de Madres Contra la Droga que se rebelaba contra el futuro carcomido que se estaba preparando para los hijos e hijas, ¿no cabría hoy impulsar un movimiento de Madres y Padres Contra el Apocalipsis Climático y la Devastación Ecológico-Social? ¿Qué sentido tiene que todos esos seres humanos que se reproducen hagan toda clase de sacrificios para proporcionar a sus vástagos la mejor educación posible, y al mismo tiempo sean tan ciegos a cómo estamos minando la base natural de cualquier posibilidad de vida buena –e incluso e vida a secas- para las generaciones venideras?


respuestas extraordinarias

“Pero ¿en qué mundo vives? ¿Cómo vas a pedir a la gente que renuncie voluntariamente a una parte de sus privilegios –basados en la destrucción del mundo y la destrucción del futuro? ¿Cuándo, en la historia humana, se ha visto que una elite –y los habitantes de los países enriquecidos somos eso, una elite- cuándo se ha visto que una elite se despojara a sí misma de una parte de sus prerrogativas?” Tienes razón, estoy pidiendo algo insólito e inaudito. Pero si nos encontramos en una situación que no tiene precedentes en los doscientos mil años de historia de Homo sapiens –y por eso empleamos términos como Antropoceno-, ¿no debemos exigirnos precisamente conductas improbables, inesperadas e insólitas? Confrontados a lo totalmente extraordinario ¿seremos capaces de respuestas fuera de lo ordinario?

Bernie Suarez

Think of it from the point of view of ISIS fighters: the bosses who gave you your guns, supplies and are looking out for your safety will tell you what to do next and you will listen. Doesn’t that logic sequence make sense from the point of view of an ISIS fighter? ISIS fighters only do what they are told just like any small gang would. For any individual fighter to act on his own outside of the mission of the group could and eventually would be detrimental to the group. The media is constantly playing the “ISIS is so rich and powerful” card to get you to believe that they can buy themselves out of being tracked, captured, defeated, dismantled and done away with. I’ve been discussing the mainstream media “ISIS is god” psyop marketing campaign for several years now. In the famous words of Obama’s former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel:

Oh this is beyond anything that we’ve seen!

 Timing is something I always emphasize when it comes to analyzing government psyops, false flags and staged events. It’s one of those components of reality that even the bad guys can’t help themselves but to reveal. It’s up to the astute truth-seeking observer to notice the timing of these stories and include the meaningfulness of this timing to the rest of the story. Anyone paying attention can see that ISIS stories essentially disappeared from the mainstream media news during the Summer Olympic Games in Brazil. But following this past weekend’s Olympic closing ceremonies all of a sudden bizarre ISIS stories are surfacing everywhere. Here are just a few recent stories that either involve ISIS or imply ISIS. Either way the stories serve the same purpose – to ratchet up fear as we approach the 15th anniversary of September 11th:

1- All of a sudden (we’re told) that ISIS released a “dramatic 10-second video” as “proof” that supposed hostage “Kayla Mueller” was in their custody in 2013 after being captured in Syria. The human interest component of the story (lending suspicion that this is State propaganda) is as usual over-the-top. (key words in bold)

A dramatic 10-second video released this week by aid worker Kayla Mueller’s family showed the woman pleading for help shortly after Islamic State fighters kidnapped her in Syria in 2013.The brief clip served as her proof-of-life video. U.S. officials confirmed last year she was killed. The cause of her death remains murky, though ISIS claimed a Jordanian airstrike killed her.

“My name is Kayla Mueller… I need your help,” she was reported as saying in the video. “I’ve been here too long, and I’ve been very sick. It’s, it’s very terrifying here.

With this one “brief clip” which you can watch here a fresh new psyop story has been launched on the consciousness of the masses who believe this type of US government State propaganda. To bring it home you then have to offer the “solution.”

Mueller’s parents live in Prescott, Arizona. Speaking to ABC News, her father, Carl, described seeing the video for the first time. “You just go into almost a catatonic state, I think. You can’t even stand up.” Her mother, Marsha, added, “It broke my heart, but I also saw her strength.”

Carl Mueller told The Arizona Republic last June the U.S. needed to take military action against ISIS, and that there seemed to be no repercussions for hurting Americans.

They need to take forceful action against these people,” he said. “They need to know if you kidnap Americans, you are going to die. Right now, they’re given a free pass.”

Conclusion? Or should I say, translation? We need to get out there and kick some butt with some real military action against ISIS. Let’s do it!

Stories like these have replaced the 1950s-style billboards warning us about the “evil Soviets” or how we need to “stop communism.” The difference today is that you can release a 10-second video-clip sold as “reality” news and get a more powerful and broad reaction from the people. The days of relying on politically based propagandized illustrations and billboards to get the message across are long gone. This is a sample of modern-day information warfare at its best.

2- I documented another bizarre story this past week where a hoax ISIS scaremongering event was staged in Prague by a character who seems to have arrived on the scene just a few years ago. Martin Konvicka, a radical anti-Islam anti-immigration “activist” along with his followers staged an oddly realistic “ISIS attack” on the people of Prague causing panic in the streets. His history as an anti-Islam activist (again, timing) seems to have kicked off in 2014, right as ISIS was rolled out to the American public consciousness. Coincidence? You decide.

3- And in even odder story ironically also staged in Prague this week, though not directly attributed to ISIS (yet) but the story subliminally suggests ISIS, an “armed” mystery man was arrested “trying to infiltrate German Chancellor’s motorcade“:

A feared assassination attempt on German Chancellor Angela Merkel has reportedly been foiled in Prague.

Czech police halted an armed man in his car as he allegedly tried to join Merkel’s motorcade during her visit to the capital.

Local reports claim that officers found a baton, a canister of tear gas, cement blocks, and handcuffs in the man’s black 4×4 Mercedes.

“The perpetrator has been detained,” police spokesman Josef Bocan said.

“He is suspected of attempting to cause a crime – specifically an attempt to use violence against an official.”

“Thanks to the professional actions of officers, Angela Merkel’s life was not in danger.

“The incident is currently being investigated by Prague detectives.”

This odd story is an example of the power of propaganda. Without the article stating that ISIS is responsible for this supposed “assassination attempt” the reader is left thinking “ISIS?” and personally I believe this is the intended effect. After all, who else would be caught in this lead-up to the 15th 9/11 anniversary of September 11th globalist terrorist attack on America, in broad daylight mind you, with a baton, tear gas, cement blocks and handcuffs in their car?

In summary, the point is that with the Olympics now done and with the 15th anniversary of 9/11 right around the corner, on cue the ruling elite are ratcheting up the fear and anticipation of ISIS likely for an upcoming big event for which they will blame “ISIS.” Or perhaps it will be a big event that they will use to blame Russia, Syria, Iran or one of the other nation states that have said no to the Western central bankers so they can justify the start of WW3. Either way ISIS will be at the center of this as the propaganda is now building up suggesting that Syria and Russia are attacking the “rebels” who are trying to supposedly attack ISIS.

Let’s face it, we’re coming up on ISIS season (just like they are stirring up the pot for a big Zika virus psyop likely coming this fall) and the recent bizarre stories are just the tip of the iceberg for what they are planning.

It’s time to get familiar with the script:

A. They float out many smaller stories; then they

B. psychologically build you up to the big event.

Let’s prepare for this psyop script and find ways to expose their agenda and their fake and sponsored terrorism without which there is no hope for the new global order they want so desperately.

Thankfully, there’s nothing the ruling elite can do to obscure the revealed knowledge we have about who created, armed and trained ISIS. We can also see for two solid years that the US is not interested in finishing off ISIS. We’ve also observed for two full years that their mainstream media just wants to glorify ISIS and make you think that ISIS is always getting bigger, stronger and scarier. This apparently is the latest memo they (the MSM) has received. The propaganda ammo is flying and the American people’s minds are the targets. Build up ISIS 2014-style and prepare the masses for what is coming.

Gail Tverberg

The Peak Oil story got some things right. Back in 1998, Colin Campbell and Jean Laherrère wrote an article published in Scientific American called, “The End of Cheap Oil.” In it they said:

Our analysis of the discovery and production of oil fields around the world suggests that within the next decade, the supply of conventional oil will be unable to keep up with demand.

There is no single definition for conventional oil. According to one view, conventional oil is oil that can be extracted by conventional methods. Another holds it to be oil that can be extracted inexpensively. Other authors list specific types of oil that require specialized techniques, such as very heavy oil and oil from shale formations, that are considered unconventional.

Figure 1 shows the growth in unconventional oil supply for three parts of the world:

  1. Oil from shale formations in the US.
  2. Oil from the Oil Sands in Canada.
  3. Oil characterized as unconventional in China, in a recent academic paper of which I was a co-author. (Temporarily available for free here.)
Figure 1. Approximate unconventional oil production in the United States, Canada, and China. US amounts estimated from EIA data; Canadian amounts from CAPP.

Figure 1. Approximate unconventional oil production in the United States, Canada, and China. US amounts estimated from EIA data; Canadian amounts from CAPP. Oil prices are yearly average Brent oil prices in $2015, from BP 2016 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Oil prices in 1998, which is when the above quote was written, were very low, averaging $12.72 per barrel in money of the day–equivalent to $18.49 per barrel in 2015 dollars. From the view of the authors, even today’s oil prices in the low $40s per barrel would be quite high. Since the above chart shows only yearly average prices, it doesn’t really show how high prices rose in 2008, or how low they fell that same year. But even when oil prices fell very low in December 2008, they remained well above $18.49 per barrel.

Clearly, if oil prices briefly exceeded six times 1998 prices in 2008, and remained in the range of six times 1998 prices in the 2011 to 2013 period, companies had an incentive to use techniques that were much higher-cost than those used in the 1998 time-period. If we subtract from total crude oil production only the production of the three types of unconventional oil shown in Figure 1, we find that a bumpy plateau of conventional oil started in 2005. In fact, conventional oil production in 2005 is slightly higher than the later values.

Figure 2. World conventional crude oil production, if our definition of unconventional is defined as in Figure 1.

Figure 2. World conventional crude oil production, if our definition of unconventional is defined as in Figure 1.

I would argue that far more crude oil production was enabled by high oil prices than I subtracted out in Figure 2. For example, Daqing Oil Field in China is a conventional oil field, but greater extraction has been enabled in recent years by polymer flooding and other advanced (and thus, high-cost) techniques. In the academic paper referenced earlier, we found that the amount of unconventional oil extracted in China in 2014 would be increased by about 55%, if we broadened the definition of unconventional oil to include oil made available by polymer flooding in Daqing, plus some other types of Chinese oil extraction that became more feasible because of higher prices.

Continuar a ler »

Richard Heinberg

Movie buffs will recognize this title as the most memorable line from “A Few Good Men” (1992), spoken by the character Colonel Jessep, played by Jack Nicholson (“You can’t handle the truth!” is #29 in the American Film Institute’s list of 100 top movie quotes).

I hereby propose it as the subtext of the recently concluded Republican and Democratic national conventions.

At this point most people appear to know that something is terribly, terribly wrong in the United States of America. But like the proverbial blind man describing the elephant, Americans tend to characterize the problem according to their economic status, their education and interests, and the way that the problem is impacting their peer group. So we hear that the biggest crisis facing America today is:

  • Corruption
  • Immigration
  • Economic inequality
  • Climate change
  • Lack of respect for law enforcement
  • Institutionalized racism
  • Islamic terrorism
  • The greed and recklessness of Wall Street banks
  • Those damned far-right Republicans
  • Those damned liberal Democrats
  • Political polarization

The list could easily be lengthened, but you get the drift. Pick your devil and prepare to get really, really angry at it.

In reality, these are all symptoms of an entirely foreseeable systemic crisis. The basic outlines of that crisis were traced over 40 years ago in a book titled The Limits to Growth. Today we are hitting the limits of net energy, environmental pollution, and debt, and the experience is uncomfortable for just about everyone. The solution that’s being proposed by our political leaders? Find someone to blame.

Continuar a ler »

Economies of Scale

In Megacancer


As energy becomes more scarce and there is upward pressure on product price, corporations will try to compensate with increases in economies of scale and larger market share. For economies of scale to reap its full rewards, globalization is necessary for selling product into world-wide markets. This all makes sense for the few wealthy owners of the mega retailers {Amazon, Wal-Mart), corporations (GE), banks (HSBC) , manufacturers, and media. Their goal is to equip large factories with the latest in automation or low paid workers and essentially put less efficient producers out of business, taking their market share and using it to pay for their capital investment. The end result is a relatively small elite owning most of the “business” and its capital and many unemployed human RNA, expected to take advantage of the resultant marginally lower-cost items even though they no longer have income.

At some point, those that are excluded from the benefits of globalization because they’ve lost they’re incomes or have been downgraded, have thoughts of escaping the economy that fails to support them. Some will want to set up their own solar electricity production, grow their own food, collect their own water, but this runs counter to globalization and the need to spread the cost amongst many consumers. It’s likely that legislatures, captured by globalists will eventually pass laws to prohibit opting our of the “market”. You may eventually be imprisoned in BAU until it’s too late to escape it. Economies of scale investments go broke if their market share is falling. Are the massive investments made by the energy corporations falling because the “market” can no longer afford to support the investment? Why do people want to reverse globalization and the pursuit of economies of scale? Perhaps there is no longer enough net energy being produced to support those thrown from the old production lines, even though the wealthy are doing fabulously well with their large, internationalized corporations that continue to take market share from smaller, less efficient producers.

The current desire to reverse globalization in the face of decreasing net energy and bring the jobs home means that the prices of many products will go up on a per unit basis and therefore the jobs that are imagined to come home will be lost anyway. The products are only viable if they can be sold globally using massive factories at low cost. Already new technology and globalization is losing the race with decreasing net energy. The economies of scale will disappear as incomes decrease and product cannot be sold, even product produced from a globalized, highly automated corporation.

To back away from globalization probably means collapse as many products can only be produced on a globalized scale. To continue globalization in the face of falling net energy results in a huge pool of people without jobs and no means to purchase the “economies of scale” product. Prior to collapse, those owning and running the multinational corporations will likely own most everything, at least before the entire thing collapses by shrinkage of markets and/or net energy.



Economies of scale at work on a North Carolina turkey farm. On Thanksgiving Day we thank God for making humans special {systematic} so we could devise ways to consume and enslave the ecosystem, like these turkeys. But these aren’t the only turkeys. Humans are in some cases just as packed into their little cells, their lives run by clocks, and rewarded with the next shovel-full of crap to be thrown into the trough. I wonder if humans will ever be genetically modified  to work within their cellular/factory environments more pacifically and efficiently. We humans seem to be putting on weight in our enclosures, not unlike the incarcerated livestock we eat.

O jornalista e actor Richard Gutjahr, justamente célebre por ter sido a única testemunha com suficiente presença de espírito (e sangue frio!) para virar o telemóvel ao contrário e filmar o ataque do camião-assassino de Nice, conseguiu a proeza de se encontrar também no local do incidente em Munique. Agora vão ver com quem o senhor é casado, que eu não estou para vos fazer a papinha toda, e maravilhem-se com mais uma coincidência.

Que nenhum grande “órgão de informação” mencione tais coincidências é, como facilmente se conclui, apenas mais uma coincidência. Tal como coincidência não pode deixar de ser que hórridos e sanguinolentos ataques em locais públicos, onde se encontram centenas ou milhares de farristas anónimos, nunca nos nos sejam mostrados em mais do que duas ou três filmagens esbatidas e confusas, aparentemente efectuadas com telemóveis made in 2001. (É muito provável, porém, que esta última circunstância não seja coincidência, mas simplesmente uma prova de que Ipods e afins não andam tão generalizados como se julgava e pretendia fazer crer, e que a esmagadora maioria dos jovens e não jovens de hoje – nos EUA como em França – ainda prefere, como eu, a velha tecnologia dos telemóveis que nem fotos tiram.)
Muito mais fácil de explicar é que também as câmaras de vigilância instaladas actualmente um pouco por todo o lado nunca revelem nada de nada: puro azar. O que, por sua vez, só nos pode levar a concluir que a suposta ubiquidade de tais câmaras, tal como a dos Ipods, não passa de um mito. Não, senhores, não há câmaras a mais nem excesso de vigilância, e muito menos se nota qualquer sinal de galopante deriva totalitária, como sugerem alguns conspiranóicos. O que há é justamente o contrário! Se de algo precisamos, como estes tipo de acontecimentos torna claro, é de mais câmaras de vigilância, não menos, e também de mais polícia nas ruas (melhor ainda,forças militares) e, em suma, de um estado de emergência permanente! Só assim teremos segurança, só assim poderemos derrotar os terroristas, esses dejectos da civilização, que invejam a nossa liberdade e nos querem matar a todos.

Mas o mais deplorável neste tipo de coincidências, puramente fortuitas e sempre passíveis de explicação racional, é que elas acabam por alimentar as ruminações de teóricos da conspiração e outros lunáticos semi-paranóicos. Personagens que, escusado é dizer, acabam por se tornar cúmplices dos terroristas, e que por isso talvez não fosse má ideia começar a perseguir judicialmente, pois é absurdíssimo que estes inimigos da democracia se aproveitam das vastas liberdades que esta nos concede para divulgarem teorias falsas e caluniosas, que representam não só uma ofensa à inteligência de qualquer cidadão, mas também um ataque à paz social, à própria democracia e, enfim, a tudo o que há de mais sagrado para nós, cidadãos do mundo livre.

Perspectivas do Colapso

End_of_More (@End_of_More) says: October 18, 2015 at 2:51 pm

In a non expansionist society (such as existed up to the late 1700s), 95% of the able bodied man/woman power provides the actual workforce. They (plus draught animals) supply the necessary muscle effort to keep the monarchy, aristocracy and clergy in idleness. In times of military threat, they might also sustain an army and navy for a short time. It was an energy system that sustained itself over millennia, one way or another. The aristocracy held their position usually by force of ancestral arms, from maybe 500 years previously. People ‘’accepted’’ this as divine intention—unchanging and unchangeable. The rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate—etc etc. The poor man, slave, serf, peasant, (whatever), converted the energy output of the land into grain, meat, cloth, timber and minerals, and accepted a pittance for the privilege of doing so. It was just enough to keep him alive, Old age and ill health were unsustainable, so if you didn’t work you eventually died. The system didn’t provide enough surplus energy to sustain any other kind of infrastructure. No pensions, no healthcare, no child support. Apart from the odd revolution and head rolling, it was life as it was eternally pre-ordained to be.
Then some idiot went and lit a fire under a viable steam engine. From that point on, the non-expansionist society changed to an expansionist one. How? Because more and more people could afford more and more of the products resulting from access to increasing volumes of hydrocarbon fuels. Instead of the cost of a bolt of cloth being fixed by the hours needed to make it by one individual on a hand loom, the steam engine powered hundreds of looms and cloth became cheap in real (ie energy defined) terms. As did everything else.

Over the last 250 years expansionism has kicked off in every direction, and everything has become cheaper in real terms, but only so long as cheap energy has been available to pay for it. Over that period the effective cost of energy was always less than the goods that could be bought with it. Which is the only way an expansionist society can function and sustain itself.
In a non-expansionist society, the cost of energy is in equilibrium with the goods and services it helps to produce. Which is where we are heading right now.
Our 250 years of expansionism is coming to and end, but few know it, and even fewer accept it. We expect to continue to burn fuel at a rate that buys us cheap goods, (or heat, light and aircon—same thing). We are now regressing back to non-expansion, where actual energy use balances work output.
So this is the ultimate problem with electricity supply: the cost of it is beginning to exceed the benefit we get from it. This is being felt by poorer people first, (as always) and as we regress back from our expansionist system, it will be felt by more and more people further up the ladder of prosperity as the average user gradually becomes aware that its affordability is slipping out of reach.
Which is what I’ve been banging on about in my Book—The End of More http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00D0ADPFY

Our fuel-burning infrastructure has been a hydrocarbon super-nova, a bright flash of light that lit up our world, to be followed by a return to darkness

Gail Tverberg says: November 4, 2015 at 1:38 pm

It is hard to imagine that the current situation could go on for more than 6 months or a year without a big problem becoming evident. I suppose that TPTB might be able to keep that big problem from collapsing anything too major for another two or three years, by changing the rules regarding defaults on loans, giving money to individual consumers, and other techniques designed to keep the system going.

I have been surprised with the creativity of those keeping the financial system afloat so far. We can all hope that they will be even more creative this time around.

Van Kent says: February 20, 2016 at 3:25 am

Øyvind, how to solve this predicament of ours? I believe that has been pondered for decades now, By people way smarter then I am, but I see the problem like this;
– We have built a global system that grows or collapses. Everything, including us being alive is based on that system growing ad infinitum. To overthrow this system would require a global “revolution” of billions of people being of like mind.
– A global collapse has never happened like this before. Our species is very stupid concerning things that has not yet happened. We can imagine all sorts of things (think about flying horses, UFO religions etc. etc.) and believe them to be absolutely true. We are utterly incapable of logic and reasoning concerning something that will happen, but has not yet happened.
– Most people know something is wrong. But as long as the ATMs works, cash comes out of the wall, groceries have food in them, the grid is still working, they are not capable of doing any changes in their mental “box”. They will simply refuse to entertain a reality where billions will soon die of starvation and diseases.

For a global revolution to happen, for billions of people to be of like mind, that would require the human brain to be calibrated to reality, which it is not.

I like your way of thinking and respect your will to find “solutions”. But solutions are not possible because our brains work the way they work. What is coming is coming nonetheless, there is nothing we can do to “fix” this.

The only logical thing to do is to plan what you can do, having a checklist of sorts, for today, when SHTF, day 1 of Post-BAU and year 2 of Post-BAU. Build relationships, learn skills, find out who needs what where, how, in what form and how you can get those things without fuel or a working grid. Everything else is more or less a waste of your time, and time is running short. And if you want your brain to be calibrated to reality, then you will have to entertain the idea that whatever you do, you can not control virulent strains, mass migrations of millions or billions of people, lousy weather that causes famines, polluted water supplies, nuclear reactors decaying and becoming time bombs, seas from rising and becoming toxic for life. If all this is agreeable to you, then you have joined the “doomers” who actually have their brains calibrated to reality, despite most people see them as “wackos”.

Fast Eddy says: March 13, 2016 at 4:08 am

A lot of people want more equality in the world…. but ask them to take a 20% cut in their standard of living to make it happen…..

Van Kent says:March 27, 2016 at 4:57 pm

We know there are some war games in the Pentagon. We know they plan to win (whatever winning is). We know they have vast resources. We know it was unususally quiet between 92-01 (like something was being set in motion).

If I was in the Pentagon running NATO/ U.S./ CIA war games I would plan to invade ME when oil was calculated to peak. Nothing else really makes sense. And because we know oil is going to become really expensive, it is just logic to start the fracking boom when oil prices hit a certain mark. To have key trading partners with a strong economy (RE) also makes sense.

As I can see it everything is just about as planned. Everything is just like the war games predicted. Except that right about now, we are in a new territory where nobody predicted we would be. Just about now we are entering something nobody predicted was possible..

Next logical step? What are the war games predicting just about now? I think the next logical step is chaos and mayhem on a scale not seen before (false flags by the dozen) to justify Martial Law. That would be the only logical step for me. Either Martial LAw or an outright WWIII. But having an WWIII is a wee bit dangerous, it might produce outcomes that can´t be predicted.

Fast Eddy says: April 9, 2016 at 3:22 am

The sooner we are gone the better — my only concern is that being the stupid freaks that we are — we have left behind 4000 spent fuel ponds that are likely to poison the planet….

james said: April 8, 2016 at 3:59 pm

Humans are emotional animals and they all seem emotionally intent upon becoming RICH. This basically means maximizing the amount of dopamine/opioid/serotonin in the brain. They want to do this primarily by using technological tools to ingest and digest the ecosystem and mineral/fuel deposits that have been sequestered beneath it. How rich is rich enough? Well, you can never be too rich because humans, being an hierarchical species, have made getting rich a competitive sport. It seems the richness getting will eventually peak and decline, but not before those with the most intense addictions and able organizations feed upon their own societies and thereby hasten their destruction. In the end, all of the left-over infrastructure for obtaining and distributing wealth won’t provide much in the way of happy brain chemicals and therefore it will worthless.

Some people get rich by promising to make other people rich, mostly politicians or other varieties of shysters or bankers. For instance, mortgage people and real estate professionals enticed many people to buy the biggest house possible with the biggest mortgage possible because the price of housing always goes up. And that’s true until the economy stops growing, people can’t get loans or jobs and then the contraction begins. Then the price of homes always goes down. Zero-percent interest rates have helped for a while, but as the contraction continues no one will take out thirty-year mortgages to pay for oversized homes, because they simply don’t have the money. The medical industry has actually overtaken the housing industry in sucking money out of the middle-class. Neither of these are productive, that is they don’t offer a return of energy or resources for the amount expended. They’re just a fine way to burn-up resources that are becoming more limited every day. Don’t try to make sense of it, it’s an emotional thing with humans, like spending billions of dollars each year on kittie cats and doggies. They’ll find out later that they really couldn’t afford to spend money on any of it, but that’s later, and that will be an emotional thing too.

Norman Pagett says: April 19, 2016 at 2:32 pm

It’s possible to make an inspired guess, but everything hangs on those ratios.

The reason or global industrial infrastructure is starting to creak now, is because we built it on cheap energy (oil at 100:1), but we are trying to keep it running on oil at 20:1, and that ratio is diminishing.
The problem isn’t the availabilty of energy (in whatever form), it’s the energy-cost of getting hold of it.
Unfortunately, the majority of people just look on oil as “oil” , without realizing that we are in a closing vice between the cost of extraction, and our certainty that we can go on using it in profligate ways.
We have come to believe in a cornucopian infinity (let’s make America/China/Russia great again!) and cannot accept that we can no longer afford it. . Everybody wants more.
In simple terms there are too many people wanting a share of the hydrocarbon pie.
In brutal terms, they will fight to the death to get it, because their/our lives depend on it.
This universal attitude destroys the “steady state” theories of Heinberg et al.

Just like a house with a sub prime mortgage, we cannot earn enough to bail ourselves out, no matter how hard we work—because our income—oil, is getting less and less. Using the same analogy: You’re struggling to keep a roof over your head, and somebody offers you a job—but it’s so far away and pays so little, you’d be worse off if you took it because it would drain your already depleted resources.

Where we are now is the world economy being carried on those 20:1 wells. Without that ratio, the Bakken and Athabasca could not function, because the overall world infrastructure couldn’t afford the rig production, transport, basic infrastructure necessary to keep them running on a return of only 6:1. We would need all that industrial output just to maintain a bare living standard, (hospitals, food supplies, roads and so on) and struggling to maintain even that.

And don’t forget to factor in the cost of military oil protection. It has been estimated that the true cost of petrol, including military intervention, could be anything up to $15 a gallon http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/true-cost-gasoline-closer-15-gallon-video.html . That comes out of taxation. Post BAU–that military protection will cease

So how long will our 20:1 oilwells last? Given that our oil is balanced by Middle East factors, not very long, (Venezuela is already as basket case, and Russia isn’t far behind) Saudi oil might last 20 years, but they are already selling bonds to finance debt. Not a good sign. They are forecast to become oil importers by 2030 (which fits that) http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/markaz/posts/2015/07/02-saudi-energy-subsidies-hino Exactly where those imports will come from is anybody’s guess.

That puts it 15 years from now—but of course the Middle east is already going up in flames, or playing beggar-my-neighbour. Can we expect Saudi/Iraq/Iran to hold together for 15 years? That’s where most of the 20:1 oilwells are. When they go down, we’re on 6:1, and screwed. And our Muslim friends know it.
Maybe we can give that region 5 years—7 at the outside (half of 15). That puts our crossover point (lower than 12:1) into permanent oil deficit/collapse somewhere around 2022. If we’re lucky.
Well—do ya feel lucky?

Stefeun says: June 12, 2016 at 5:52 pm

Yes, that’s something most people don’t understand: it’s ALREADY TOO LATE, the game is over, there won’t be any recovery, no chance to improve the situation.

We’re living under life-support, borrowing from a future that is getting shorter everyday.
I also agree it’s getting more insane by the day, and sometimes wish for this cruel game to stop asap…

Yorchichan says: June 12, 2016 at 12:38 pm

Gail and others reasoning, as I understand it, goes something like this:

“The financial system is a ponzi scheme in which money is loaned into existence with the expectation it is paid back with interest. Given that money is a claim on future energy, the financial system cannot survive unless the amount of energy being used continues to increase. This is clearly impossible in a finite world and therefore the financial system must collapse. When the financial system collapses the faith in money goes with it and all trade ceases. Without trade BAU is impossible in our interconnected world.”

Norman Pagett says: July 14, 2016 at 1:04 pm

I’ll repeat the forecast i made in 2011: that it wasn’t the 2012 election you had to worry about it was the 2016 and 2020. I said then that by 2016 the chaos in the economy was going to give rise to a raving lunatic of some sort–I said it would be someone of the extreme religious right—I was slightly off, but not in my estimate of crazydom. Instead you got Trump, coming out of nowhere, with promises to fill every fantasy of American greatness. And he just might make it to the white house—but Trump or Hillary, it will make little difference.

So what happens next?—remember I said— beware 2020. By then the economy will be in its final tailspin, because world oil cannot go beyond 2030-ish, and the effects of that will be crushing industry and employment well before then, and results will be blindingly obvious
but the herd will still be convinced its a political problem, and neither Hillary or Trump will have delivered anything of consequence.
By 2020 the majority will be prepared to clutch at any straw, and the POTUS candidate then will be promising restoration of law and order, as well as commercial prosperity. In 2020 you can guarantee in will be an extreme theocrat—why? Because nothing else has worked, and the last resort of hope over experience and common sense is invariably prayer.
Your theocratic candidate will promise to use “all means necessary” to restore order, and the American people will vote him into office.
Just like Hitler in 1933 he will proceed to do as he promises. And the mass of people will cheer him on.
This will, by 2022 (guessing) result in the imposition of martial law—with social breakdown you can forget your constitution—
(2022 is that halfway mark between now and the point of zero return on oil extraction, around 2030ish, causing violence to kick off long before we get there)

Already Trump is advocating suppression of the Muslim faith, deportations and so on–and on. Too extreme for now—but in 4 – 6 years when thing start to get really difficult? Then what?—Already millions are cheering him on, because they have nothing else to cheer for. The extreme theocrat of 2020 will find even more people to agree with even harsher extremism.
Already there are 50 million US citizens on food aid. People with full bellies dont start revolutions—what happens when there’s 100 million–or more? We eat oil. there are no alternatives, and oil is disappearing off the menu. The social cracks are already showing, in a nation with the universal right to bear arms, that makes the outcome unpleasant, to say the least.
Hungry people are receptive to promises no matter how bizarre. Trump has already proved that, just like Hitler did.

So by 2022, welcome to your theocratic dictatorship of the extrem religious right, certain that their god put them there with a divine right to rule by his word.. It won’t last long, they never do. But it will be messy while it does last —we have lots of historical comparisons.

Remember the SS belt had Gott mit Unz stamped on the buckle.


Stefeun says: July 18, 2016 at 6:40 am
Our planet is now full, and all kinds of diminishing returns are starting to show more of their negative impacts.

If ever we had plenty of cheap energy available now, cold fusion or else, it would simply help us destroy what remains, faster.

We can no longer bring same answers as in the past ; today, prevailing problems are in the too big man-made structure (capital, complexity, …) we must maintain and keep growing, as well as in the wastes, growing inefficiencies and entropy we cannot get rid of.
As shrinking is not an option, the only way out is collapse.

We should try to soften the landing, but even that seems increasingly unlikely, as cooperation and rational actions are becoming more and more difficult to implement as long as the situation worsens.


dolph911 says: July 18, 2016 at 2:41 pm

Americanism is the belief that:
– there are no limits in this world; resources, land, money, are infinite, and population can grow infinitely to fill every niche on the planet, and then move into outer space, other planets, other solar systems, other galaxies, until every single corner of the universe is filled with humans
– technology solves all problems; it’s not merely a tool, but technology is the answer to the predicament of humanity itself…all we need is more technology and we all be happy and live forever
– people should, at all times, remain optimistic and young in spirit; to grow old is to die, and this must be staved off using whatever means necessary – just take more medicines, have more procedures and plastic surgeries, and you won’t grow old
– race and religion and class and language and, whatever other differences humans may have, are irrelevant; we will all sing kumbaya under a global, corporate system of infinite progress which will make us all into wealthy consumers

Now everybody in the world has come to believe these things, so it stands to reason that we will all face the consequences of these delusions.

Fast Eddy says: July 19, 2016 at 3:05 pm

I am in a hotel and have tee vee so was watching RT news last night…. they were discussing the refugee problem in Europe — pointing out how not long ago Merkel was saying ‘we need to help these desperate people’ — and they played another clip where she suggested ‘there may be some terrorists among the people let into Europe’

RT appeared to be hinting at some sort of manipulation of the sheeple…. an agenda…. perhaps implying these refugees were purposely let in with the understanding that there would be radicals coming in …

This has something to do with creating an atmosphere of fear and loathing…. could it be the excuse to create the police state required to deal with the end of oil … a way to continue without total chaos for awhile longer without explaining the real reason?

And in the US — we have cops killing innocent people — no charges — no prosecutions… To me this looks like a blatant attempt to provoke the black community. And they have responded as expected…. Will this be used as an excuse for martial law to deal with an economic crisis caused by the end of cheap oil?

The dots are connecting now…. I am seeing through the haze…..


Police investigate the scene after a truck plowed through Bastille Day revelers in the French resort city of Nice, France, Thursday, July 14, 2016. France was ravaged by its third attack in two years when a large white truck mowed through revelers gathered for Bastille Day fireworks in Nice, killing at dozens of people as it bore down on the crowd for more than a mile along the Riviera city's famed seaside promenade. (Sasha Goldsmith via AP)

O camião assassino de Nice acaba de matar 84 (oitenta e quatro) pessoas e ferir 202 (duzentas e duas). Para a eventualidade (remota, eu sei) de o leitor se estar a perguntar como pode estar tão limpinho um camião que acabou de atropelar 286 (duzentas e oitenta e seis!) pessoas, convém esclarecer que em França os camiões são obrigados (tourisme oblige) a ter um sistema automático de auto-limpeza.  Daí que não se veja uma gota de sangue em lado nenhum, nem sequer nos pneus.


O mesmo se aplica às vítimas e ao asfalto, como o mostra a imagem acima. Não é por acaso que os serviços de limpeza da câmara de Nice têm fama de ser os melhores do mundo.

Entretanto, no mundo real, o mesmo é dizer, em países menos desenvolvidos do que a França, veja-se o que fica no asfalto quando 1 (um) indivíduo é atropelado:


Passemos agora ao sangue, ou falta dele, e à quantidade de ambulâncias (ou falta delas) fotografadas diante da discoteca de Orlando na noite em que 50 pessoas foram mortas  e 53 foram feridas. Não, sosseguem, estava a brincar. Morte aos árabes! Morte ao Daesh! Vive la France! Je suis niçois (et Charlie aussi). Terminemos com um poema de apoio a François Hollande e à sua luta contra o terrorismo:


Je suis Paris,
Je suis Nice.
Choupe la pice.



I was in the city recently and the humans were hurrying and scurrying to and fro in their automobiles, trying to hit as many opioid levers as possible within the time allotted away from their technological cells. It was after all Memorial Day weekend, a time to honor those that have danced before us on life’s stage, doing the work of the universe, if only for a brief moment in time’s long expanse. The technological metabolism buzzes, time passes in kinetic energy spent, but it seems people are caught in a never-ending loop of work/reward/boredom that usurps almost every conscious moment of their lives. As one reward loses its effect another one pops into their heads and off they go to fulfill their desire for “happiness.” Rinse and repeat. The endless hours toiling in the technological cells becomes the means to acquire the rewards of which they will soon tire. But what else is a biological organism to do with its newly acquired surfeit of energy and resources and its restless and ecosystem-annihilating brain? Try to find satisfaction? Even the billionaire finds no satisfaction and will sooner or later be swept from the stage without that long sought eternal life of a cancerous HeLa cell. If humans found satisfaction, they wouldn’t last long in the competitive arena of survival of the fittest. The most successful conduits are those that process the most energy and turn it into copies of themselves. But the realm of possibilities for rewards conjured-up by our brains is almost infinite and we become very dissatisfied when anything, including lesser amounts of fossil fuels, pollution controls, wage arbitrage and automation lessen the amount of dopa-dollars we can put in our pockets at the end of each work week. Satisfying those infinite desires for reward within an finite ecosystem body is what civilization is all about. Like a human cellular cancer, the civilizational cancer has been released from all inhibitions as it attempts infinite growth within the ordered system from which it arose.

Now that the technological cancer has been stalling a bit there’s only one thing to do, “Make America Great Again. The British would like to do the same thing, relive the past to obtain vast amounts of wealth from overseas colonies and the Germans tried it too, to make Germany great again after the losses during WWI. And what was so great about these countries at their zeniths? It wasn’t their peaceful ways. No. I think it was their willingness to use technological advances to dominate lesser developed areas. The wherewithal to force other nations and colonies to fork it over or else. A technological head-start from the use of fossil fuels resulted in weaponry against which there was no defense. Commander Perry sailing into Tokyo Bay was very much on a mission to intimidate a a foreign nation into transacting business with the United States, one of the first “economic hit men.” For instance today the United States, the empire du jour consumes about 25% of world GDP with 5% of the world’s population, supposedly due to freedom and democracy, but more likely related to the petrodollar. This percentage must fall as other nations develop and compete for limited and decreasing resources. In their own defense, some nations may simply decide to slow exports of oil and save it for domestic consumption regardless of the pressures and sanctions imposed by the West. Without a doubt the hearty beef stew of material rewards experienced for many decades n the West will soon become the tasteless gruel of poverty as experienced in Greece and Venezuela.

But what the hell, you’ve saved a few dopa-dollars, those not taken by taxation, health insurance, an oversized house mortgage or related theft. Imagine a reward and go blow the dollars and get your metabolic buzz going, it’s what nature is all about. Nature is also about deception, warfare, disease, famine, extinction, death and other eventualities, but humans are dissipative structures, conduits, and their course is set by a compass of desire whose dopamine and opioid needle always points them in a rewarding direction. The more energy and resources you blow, the more successful you are. Nature says so. “Ahhh, the good life.” Perhaps instead of a Mars Mission or Super-Ziggarut project we should be making final arrangements.

Humans, in their self-proclaimed greatness are intrinsically flawed. Humans are no longer a successful species but rather a component in a wildly successful cancer. Seven-billion RNA packed into cells turning out product and tool to be used against the ecosystem and each other at the fastest rate possible. The most successful species on Earth? Not so. No longer a species like the others, but rather an RNA in a rapidly expanding technological cancer. Humans and their technological civilizations, like cellular cancers, are eating the body which hosts their existence.

Humans don’t want to exist on an equal footing with the other organisms because their “live forever” myth falls apart when other animals are included. To live forever a human must follow the moral code that evolved with and is a basis of civilization, the religious creed, the ten commandments, the group think of the tribe, cooperation, social behavior. This moral behavior moderated by the medial prefrontal cortex was one of the evolutionary doors we had to pass through to exist in large cooperative groups which could take advantage of various economies of scale and specializations. In other words, “Be nice and we’ll all be rewarded.” But we’re not nice to everyone, just the in-group, and the many millions of species within the ecosystem are not within our “moral” in-group. We are civilized and civilization brings rewards (as long as your not in a different tribe.) It’s all right to not be civilized to the out-groups. They are not the chosen ones that will go to heaven. They are not technological. But isn’t technology just a rapid means to destroying the system from which it arose? Isn’t the entire ecosystem just another gradient to be reduced? And if technological civilization successfully destroys life and spins off into space, what purpose could it serve that the ecosystem did not already fill. Different materials, different designs, but the same phenomenon, reproducing conduits with no other purpose than to eliminate gradients and radiate heat into space.

Cheb Khaled

Massilia Sound System


6 Corporations Control 90% Of The Media In America

► 99% of Rhinos gone since 1914.
► 97% of Tigers gone since 1914.
► 90% of Lions gone since 1993.
► 90% of Sea Turtles gone since 1980.
► 90% of Monarch Butterflies gone since 1995.
► 90% of Big Ocean Fish gone since 1950.
► 80% of Antarctic Krill gone since 1975.
► 80% of Western Gorillas gone since 1955.
► 60% of Forest Elephants gone since 1970.
► 50% of Great Barrier Reef gone since 1985.
► 50% of Human Sperm Counts gone since 1950.
► 80% of Western Gorillas gone since 1955.
► 50% of Forest Bird Species will be gone in 50 years.
► 40% of Giraffes gone since 2000.
► 40% of ocean phytoplankton gone since 1950.
► Ocean plankton declines of 1% per year means 50% gone in 70 years,  more than 1% is likely.
► Ocean acidification doubles by 2050, triples by 2100.
► 30% of Marine Birds gone since 1995.
► 70% of Marine Birds gone since 1950.
► 28% of Land Animals gone since 1970.
► 28% of All Marine Animals gone since 1970.
► Humans and livestock are 97% of earth’s land-air vertebrate biomass.
► 10,000 years ago humans and livestock were a mere 0.01% of land-air vertebrate biomass.
►  Humans and livestock are now 97% of land-air vertebrate biomass.
► Our crop and pasture lands caused 80% of all land vertebrate species extinctions.
► 1,000,000 humans, net, are added to earth every 4½ days.
► We must produce more food in the next 50 years than we have in the past 10,000 years combined.
► We need 6 million hectares of new farmland every single year for the next 30 years to do this.
► We lose 12 million hectares of farmland every single year due to soil degradation, depletion and loss.
► Humanity has only 60 years of farming left at current world soil degradation rates.
► We already passed world peak production growth-rates in 2006 for wheat, soy, corn, wood and fish.
► IMPORTANT:  All IPCC mitigation, sequestration and adaptive strategies assume m-o-r-e farmland is available,
► In 10 years, 4 billion people will be short of fresh water, 2 billion will be severely short of fresh water.
► One billion humans now walk a mile each day for fresh water.
► Humans and livestock eat 40% of earth’s annual land chlorophyll production.
► We are running out of cheap, accessible potassium and phosphates.
► These irreplaceable fertilizers cannot be manufactured by humans.
► We can recycle phosphates, but we don’t because of because of mining interests.
► The nitrogen cycle is so badly corrupted it kills off river and ocean life.
► We face mounting crop losses due to drought, flood and extreme weather.
► We destroy 13 million hectares (26 million acres) of forest every single year.
► There are 80,000 untested chemicals in our environment.
► Mixed together in our bodies they are even more dangerous.
► We add thousands of chemicals to our food in a untrustworthy regulatory environment.
► We spray so much herbicide and pesticide, our croplands are “Green Deserts”.
► Super Weeds & Super Pests make us spray more & different poisons on the land.
► GM foods destroy soil ecology and poisons us without our permission.
► GM crops destroyed 90% of Monarch Butterflies in 20 years.
► GM cotton stalks kill livestock that eat it.
► 3 neo-nicotinoid infused seeds will kill one bird.  Nicotinoids are water soluble.
► Monocultures cause bee malnutrition due to a lack of bio-diversity in pollen sources.
► Bee malnutrition weakens colonies against poisons, disease and extreme weather.
► We add nanoparticles to our foods without testing for long term safety.
► We add computer designed, synthetic DNA to our food.
► We kill elephants and orangutans in Indonesia to clear forests to grow palm oil.
► This palm oil is burnt as “green” bio-fuel in Germany’s diesel cars in Europe.
► Rainforests are slashed and burned in South America to grow soy.
► Pigs in China eat half of all the soy grown in South America.
► Soy oil is burnt as bio-fuel in Northern Europe.
► Our food is killing off life on earth.



Chapter 2, pages 17 to 35 from “Overshoot”, by William R. Catton Jr. (1982, University of Illinois Press)

Origins of Man’s Future

We are already living on an overloaded world. Our future will be a product of that fact; that fact is a product of our past. Our first order of business, then, is to make clear to ourselves how we got where we are and why our present situation entails a certain kind of future.

To this purpose, consider the information about the human saga assembled in Table 1. Taken a row at a time, this table tells an enormous (and enormously revealing) story. It is the story of a world that has again and again approached the condition of being saturated with human inhabitants, only to have the limit raised by human ingenuity.

The first several rounds of limit-raising were accomplished by a series of technological breakthroughs that took almost two million years. These breakthroughs enabled human populations repeatedly to take over for human use portions of the earth’s total life-supporting capacity that had previously supported other species. The most recent episode of limit-raising has had much more spectacular results, although it enlarged human carrying capacity by a fundamentally different method: the drawing down of finite reservoirs of materials that do not replace themselves within any human time frame. Thus its results cannot be permanent. This fact puts mankind out on a limb which the activities of modern life are busily sawing off.

In the Beginning

Some two million years ago, as represented in the first row of Table 1, creatures of another species – human, but not our kind of human – had evolved from prehuman ancestors by finding themselves more and more adapted to a place in the web of life somewhat different from the place their ancestors had occupied. They had discovered somehow that they could use (rather than merely avoid) fire; they could warm themselves with it, ward off predators with it, cook with it and thus render digestible certain organic substances that would not otherwise have been available to their bodies as nutrition. Whatever the world’s capacity had been for supporting their prehuman ancestors, there was now an additional place for the human descendants of those earlier creatures. Their human traits enabled them to live partly upon portions of the world’s substance not usable by their forebears.

Table 1: History of Major Technological Breakthroughs
and Ensuing Population Increases.
in millions
Most advanced
2 million B.C. hunting and
use of fire,
35,000 B.C. 3 a spear-thrower,
bow and arrow
167 % 1,080 0.09 %
8000 B.C. 8 b horticultural cultivation
of plants
975 % 160 1.50 %
4000 B.C. 86 c metallurgy
3000 B.C. ? agrarian plow
1000 B.C. ? iron tools 249 % 160 0.78 %
1 A.D. 300 d ……………….. ……………….. ………….
12 %
0.20 %
1398 A.D. 336 e hand fire-arms 188.4 % 16.1 6.80 %
1800 A.D. 969 f industrial fossil fueled
41.5 % 2.6 14.28 %
1865 A.D. 1,371 g antiseptic surgery et.
1975 A.D. 4000 h 191.1 % 4.4 27.55 %
[Added data, 26 August 2008]
2008 A.D.
6700 satellites internet,
67.5 % 1.32 table 1950 – 2050

These newly human beings had also begun to make and use simple tools. Moreover, they could teach their progeny how to make and use these artifacts. Each generation did not have to rediscover independently the techniques that had contributed to its parents’ survival. Still, the accumulation of adaptive culture would have been prodigiously slow at first, and for hundreds of thousands of years there could not have been very many of these creatures. Even with fire, tools, and traditions, these humans remained what their prehuman ancestors had been: consumers of naturally available foodstuffs obtained from wild sources by hunting and gathering.

There were no census bureaus in Paleolithic times, of course. But by knowing the dependence of early man upon wild food sources, we can make reasonable estimates of maximum feasible average population density, and can estimate the extent of the earth’s land area capable of supporting such hunters and gatherers. The important fact that emerges is that there could never have been very many millions of them. Nevertheless, these early humans were successful; they survived, reproduced, adapted, and continued evolving.

By the time almost 80,000 generations of human hunters and gatherers had lived, their biological and cultural responses to the selection pressures imposed by their spreading habitats had given rise to a descendant population with essentially the inheritable physical traits we see among men and women today. Thus by about 35,000 BC, the humans on earth were of our own species, Homo sapiens. Probably about three million of them were living by gathering and hunting.

Increased Hunting Proficiency

We cannot really say that three million was the maximum number the Earth could ever have supported in the manner in which they were then living. Still, we can be reasonably sure, from their slow attainment of even that number, that the earth’s carrying capacity for that kind of creature with that kind of lifestyle was not much greater than that figure. However, the gradually evolving cultures of Homo sapiens eventually increased the earth’s human carrying capacity.

About 35,000 BC, someone discovered how much harder and farther a spear could be thrown if the thrower effectively lengthened his arm by fitting the end of the spear into a socket in the end of a handheld stick. Someone else invented a way of propelling miniature spears (arrows) not only faster, but also in a manner that permitted line-of-sight aiming, by fitting their notched ends to a cord tied to the two ends of a springy stick. Using tools like the spear-thrower and the bow and arrow, humans became more proficient hunters, and more of the earth’s game animals became nourishment for human bodies.

With these technological breakthroughs, the worldwide population of Homo sapiens increased in a little over one thousand generations from about three million souls to about eight million. The total human biomass on earth had more than doubled. Still, most of the people in each of those thousand generations would have been utterly unaware of increase, for, as the entry in the far right-hand column of the table shows, each tribe was enlarged on the average by less than 1/10th of one percent during one generation – that is, during roughly the quarter century it took for each new parent to raise his own children and reach grandparent status.

Learning to Manage Nature

But the time came, eventually, for another major breakthrough and another enlargement of the earth’s human carrying capacity. Somewhere, some of the people who gathered wild seeds for grinding into flour observed that seeds spilled on moist earth near where the family carried on its activities sprouted into plants that grew at least as well as those in the wild. In time these plants would bear a new crop of seeds, conveniently harvestable. Homo sapiens went on to develop this discovery into techniques of plant cultivation, effecting a major transformation of the relation of our species to nature’s web of life. Henceforth, some of us were going to obtain nourishment from a humanly managed portion of the biotic community, rather than merely gathering the products of plant and animal species that we could use if we reached them before other consumer animals or invisible decomposer organisms.

This horticultural revolution, by which hunters and gatherers turned into farmers, was followed by a tenfold increase in the earth’s human population. This increase occurred in 1/6th as many generations as the previous increase phase. Such acceleration indicates that mankind’s daring to undertake the management of a portion of nature had again raised the earth’s human carrying capacity. Biologically, this species, with the remarkable capability of achieving cultural innovations, was proving a resounding success.

It began to be possible for a minuscule but increasing fraction of any human tribe to devote its time to activities other than obtaining sustenance. Human social organization could begin developing along more elaborate lines, and the fate of cultural innovation could further accelerate. Each increment of technology gave mankind a competitive edge in interspecific competition. Our species was well on its way to being the dominant member of the ecosystem.

Compound Interest

Note that, even after this horticultural acceleration of population growth, change would have remained almost unnoticeable to those living through it. The increment in an average generation was still a mere 1.5 percent. The starting population of 8 million was, in effect, multiplied in one generation by a factor of 1.015, and then that product was again multiplied in the next generation by 1.015, and so was that product, and so on. The “interest” of 1.5 percent on the initial “investment” was compounded by each generation – 160 times between 8000 BC and 4000 BC. Thus:

8,000,000 x (1 + 0.015) to the 160th power = 86,000,000, approximately.

So the numbers shown in the “generations elapsed” column of Table 1 are more than just expressions of the time intervals between the dates shown in the first column; they must be read as exponents applied to multipliers that are derived from the figures in the last column. Even at low percentage rates of increase per generation, the “compound interest” pattern can produce great change when enough generations elapse.

As advancing human culture extended the niches available to mankind, recurrent surges of essentially exponential growth in numbers became possible. (The well-known “population explosion” of our own time was merely the most recent episode in a process that has been going on since antiquity.)

Tools, Organization, and Standard of Living

By about 4000 BC, stone and bone tools began to be augmented and then superseded by metal tools as Homo sapiens moved into what his history-writing descendants would one day label the Bronze Age. This enhancement of man’s tool kit was followed by further population increase. Metallurgy enhanced the ability of the human species to harvest nature’s products, rather than leaving them to be used by other consumer species. It also gave further impetus to the elaboration of a “division of labor” among increasingly specialized occupations. From here on, the growth of organization among humans would be an increasingly important factor in their dominance over the environment supporting them.

If cultural innovations were to cease, or if some ultimate limit proved impossible to transcend by cultural progress, exponential growth would give way to a curve of diminishing returns. Limited carrying capacity would reduce the rate of growth in successive generations. Eventually, as population approached carrying capacity, the growth rate would approach zero-of necessity. That is what “carrying capacity” means.

But innovations continued, and the ceiling was raised again. Around 3000 BC, man the cultivator of plants went in for an early version of “mass production”, tilling land in larger tracts than before. This was made possible by invention of the plow, which enabled the farmer to begin using non-human energy to turn over the soil – energy supplied by the muscles of an ox or a horse, though at first a plow was sometimes pulled by a slave or a wife (and had to be rather small). One farmer could manage more soil with this additional tool. But an agriculture that used draft animals had to use some of its land to raise crops to be eaten by those animals, so this new technology would not immediately raise human carrying capacity as dramatically as previous innovations had done.

There was also an alternative use for this particular increment in sustenance-producing power. A farmer with a plow and a draft animal could farm enough land to feed himself, the animal, his own family, and perhaps have a bit to spare. So some small but gradually increasing fraction of the population could now do things other than raise food. Human groups could opt for further elaboration of their lives, rather than for simple expansion of their numbers.

About 1000 BC, iron tools began to supplement and replace those made of bronze. Again, some of the carrying capacity increment was used to enhance, little by little, the standard of living of at least some groups.

The separate effects of these last several innovations upon population increase cannot be assessed, because usable estimates of population numbers at the times these new tools and techniques came into use are not available. But between the beginning of the Bronze Age and the birth of Christ (a date for which there does happen to be a more or less agreed upon population estimate) their cumulative effect was to expand the world’s human stock from about 86 million to about 300 million – an average rate of increase of about 3/4ths of one percent per generation. Slower increase continued for another millennium.


Then came a different kind of breakthrough. Early in the fourteenth century firearms were invented, and were immediately put to military use. The first firearms were hardly portable, and hardly suitable for any non-military purpose. If they were to have any effect on carrying capacity, that effect had to be indirect. By changing the nature of warfare they would eventually change the nature of political organization, which would, in turn, alter the way human populations would relate themselves to the resources of the world around them.

Within three generations after these first firearms came into use, hand-carried firearms began to be made. Since these could have had some direct bearing upon human ability to harvest meat, they (rather than their more cumbersome military forerunners) are given a place in Table 1. In the next sixteen generations, we see a higher average rate of population increase than ever before. It is too high, in fact, to be solely due to improved game-harvesting efficiency. It came about quite differently.

The cumulative effects of human increase over the past two million years were becoming significant. The portions of the earth’s land surface available to those human tribes that had thus far experienced all of these technological breakthroughs were coming to be rather fully occupied by humans. But the tools and the knowledge available to these culturally most advanced segments of Homo sapiens were enabling (and causing) some men to leave the land and venture more and more daringly onto the sea. Less than a century after the invention of portable firearms, Europeans would discover lands they had not previously known existed. In the generations after that discovery, the Europeans’ superiority in weapons would enable them to take possession of whole new continents whose prior human inhabitants were much less numerous, because they were still living mostly at the Stone Age hunter-gatherer or early horticultural level.

Firearms did not enlarge the planet. However, they served to enlarge once again the carrying capacity of the world known to Europeans, by making available for settlement and exploitation a “virgin” hemisphere. The expansion of territory available for use by Europe’s already advanced means is the main reason why firearms can be said to have led to the unprecedented rate of increase in human numbers during this last portion of the agrarian period.


I shall call the centuries that followed the sudden expansion of European man’s habitat by voyages of discovery the Age of Exuberance, for reasons to be spelled out in later chapters. During that age, man largely forgot that the world (that is, Europe) had once been saturated with population, and that life had been difficult for that reason. Discovery of the New World gave European man a markedly changed relationship to the resource base for civilized life. When Columbus set sail, there were roughly 24 acres of Europe per European. Life was a struggle to make the most of insufficient and unreliable resources. After Columbus stumbled upon the lands of an unsuspected hemisphere, and after monarchs and entrepreneurs began to make those lands available for European settlement and exploitation, a total of 120 acres of land per person was available in the expanded European habitat – five times the pre-Columbian figure!

Changelessness had always been the premise of Old World social systems. This sudden and impressive surplus of carrying capacity shattered that premise. In a habitat that now seemed limitless, life could be lived abundantly. The new premise of limidessness spawned new beliefs, new human relationships, and new behavior. Learning was advanced, and a growing fraction of the population became literate. There was a sufficient per capita increment of leisure to permit more exercise of ingenuity than ever before. Technology progressed, and technological advancement came to be the common meaning of the word “progress”.

But the aura of limitless opportunity had another effect: further acceleration of population growth. To go into some details not shown explicitly in Table 1, between 1650 and 1850, a mere two centuries, the world’s human population doubled. There had never before been such a huge increase in so short a time. It doubled again by 1930, in only eighty years. And the next doubling was to take only about forty-five years! As people and their resource-using implements became more numerous, the gap between carrying capacity and the resource-use load was inevitably closed, American land per American citizen shrank to a mere 11 acres – less than half the space available in Europe for each European just prior to Columbus’s revolutionizing voyage. Meanwhile, per capita resource appetites had grown tremendously. The Age of Exuberance was necessarily temporary; it undermined its own foundations.

Most of the people who were fortunate enough to live in that age misconstrued their good fortune. Characteristics of their world and their lives, due to a “limitlessness” that had to be of limited duration, were imagined to be permanent. The people of the Age of Exuberance looked back on the dismal lives of their forebears and pitied them for their “unrealistic” notions about the world, themselves, and the way human beings were meant to live. Instead of recognizing that reality itself had actually changed – and would eventually change again – they congratulated themselves for outgrowing the “superstitions” of ancestors who had seen a different world so differently. While they rejected the old premise of changelessness, they failed to see that their own belief in the permanence of limitlessness was also an overbelief, a superstition.

As the gap closed, conditions of life did change – of necessity. The world reentered an age of population pressure. Its characteristics had to resemble, in certain ways, the basic features of the Old World of pre-Columbian times. Except that now there were ever so many more human beings, all parts of the planet were in touch with each other, per capita impact on the biosphere had become enormously amplified by technology, depletion of many of the earth’s non-renewable resources was already far advanced – and the inhabitants of this post-exuberant world had acquired from the Age of Exuberance expectations of a perpetually expansive life.

The Takeover Method

The Europeans who began taking over the New World in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were not ecologists. Although they soon were compelled to realize that the Americas were not quite uninhabited, they were not prepared to recognize that these new lands really were, in an ecological sense, much more than “sparsely” inhabited. This second hemisphere was, in fact, essentially “full”. As we have seen, the world supported fewer people when they were at the hunter-gatherer level than when they advanced to the agrarian level. In the same way, a continent that was (ecologically speaking) “full” of hunters and gatherers was bound to seem almost empty to invaders coming from an agrarian culture and accustomed to that culture’s greater density of settlement.

Ethnocentrism prevented most Europeans from seeing themselves as they must have appeared to the Indians – as competitors for resources the Indians were already exploiting as fully as they knew how. Ecologically, these vast “new” lands did not have “plenty of room” for Indians plus Europeans, as the Europeans easily supposed. Indians living by hunting-gathering and by simple horticulture were going to be displaced by incoming hordes of Europeans practicing advanced agrarian life.

Even if there had been less ethnocentrism, and if principles of Christian compassion had sufficed to preclude all suspicion, hostility, and bloodshed in the interactions between “civilized” and “savage” peoples, total ignorance of the ecological implications of different levels of technology would have enabled the takeover to occur. Europeans were able to move to the New World with no pangs of conscience about relegating the native peoples to a shrinking fraction of these continents. The shrinking fraction afforded insufficient carrying capacity (when exploited by hunting and gathering or by primitive horticulture) to accommodate the number of Indians already generated by their previously more extensive environment. But neither the concept of carrying capacity nor its relation to stages of human culture was part of the European settlers’ mental equipment. So the displacement occurred.

Essentially the same displacement followed from the same ethnocentrism and ecological naivete when settlers from Europe invaded Australia and New Zealand. An approximation of this pattern also prevailed for a while as Europeans later took over the more or less temperate parts of Africa, although there a difference in the invader/native ratio eventually began to reverse the relationship with more numerous Africans eventually beginning to oust Europeans.

All over the world, Europeans had acted on the premise that it was only fair and reasonable for “unused” or “underused” lands (that is, lands being used by non-agrarian non-Europeans) to be “put to good use”. In the absence of ecological understanding, that premise had
seemed utterly sound.

The takeover method of enlarging carrying capacity was far older than the Age of Exploration and the centuries of colonial expansion. Invading and usurping lands already occupied by others was essentially what mankind had been doing ever since first becoming human. Each enlargement of carrying capacity reviewed in the preceding pages consisted essentially of diverting some fraction of the earth’s life-supporting capacity from supporting other kinds of life to supporting our kind. Our pre-sapiens ancestors, with their simple stone tools and fire, took over for human use organic materials that would otherwise have been consumed by insects, carnivores, or bacteria. From about 10,000 years ago, our earliest horticulturalist ancestors began taking over land upon which to grow crops for human consumption. That land would otherwise have supported trees, shrubs, or wild grasses, and all the animals dependent thereon – but fewer humans. As the expanding generations replaced each other, Homo sapiens took over more and more of the surface of this planet, essentially at the expense of its other inhabitants. At first those displaced were creatures with teeth and claws instead of tools, with scales or feathers or fur instead of clothes.

In this takeover process, man was behaving as all creatures do. Each living species has won for itself a place in the web of life by adapting more effectively than some alternative form to a given role. What is true of a species is also true of a subdivision within a species. A given tract of land has greater carrying capacity for the subspecies that can extract more from it than for other portions of the species that happen to be less equipped to exploit it.

None of this is said for the sake of justifying displacement of American Indians (or Polynesians, Aborigines, or Africans) by Europeans. Recently aroused pangs of guilt have made European-descended Americans more conscious of the suffering of those who were displaced. Although guilt feelings cannot resurrect the Indians who were forced to yield their place to more powerfully equipped Europeans, perhaps such feelings can prompt us to think about matters we might otherwise have continued to neglect. By explaining this human displacement episode as a special case of the ecological principle of “competitive exclusion”, we can at least take note of how common the takeover process has been in the ecological history of the world. Then, having seen that, we should also be able to see how fundamentally different the takeover method was from another method by which human carrying capacity has been most recently stretched. Recognition of the difference is essential to understanding the human predicament.

The Drawdown Method

About 1800 AD, a new phase in the ecological history of humanity began. Carrying capacity was tremendously (but temporarily) augmented by a quite different method; takeover gave way to drawdown. A conspicuous and unprecedentedly large acceleration of human population increase got under way as Homo sapiens began to supersede agrarian living with industrial living.

Industrialization made use of fossil energy. Machinery powered by the combustion of coal, and later oil, enabled man to do things on a scale never before possible. New, large, elaborate tools could now be made, some of which enhanced the effectiveness of the farming that of course had to continue. Products of farm and factory could be transported in larger quantity for greater distances. Eventually the tapping of this “new” energy source resulted in the massive application of chemical fertilizers to agricultural lands. Yields per acre increased, and in time acreages applied to the growing of food for humans were substantially increased – first by eliminating draft animals and their requirements for pasture land, but also by reclaiming land through irrigation, et cetera.

This time mankind was not merely taking away from competitors an additional portion of the earth’s life-supporting capacity. (He was still doing this, and still not recognizing that this was what he had always done. But – worse – he was now also not recognizing the true nature of something else he was doing on a vast scale. So man was painting himself into a corner.) This time, the human carrying capacity of the planet was being supplemented by digging up energy that had been stored underground millions of years ago, captured from sunlight which fell upon the earth’s green plants long before this world had supported any mammals, let alone humans, or even pre-human primates. The solar energy had been captured by photosynthesis in plants that grew and died and were buried during the Carboniferous period, without the efforts of any farmers. (As we shall see in the next chapter, the fact that no farm labor had to be paid to raise the Carboniferous vegetation, and that no investments in farm machinery used to grow those prehistoric “crops” had to be amortized, et cetera, helped get us into our present predicament.)

Carrying capacity was this time being augmented by drawing down a finite reservoir of the remains of prehistoric organisms. This was therefore going to result in a temporary extension of carrying capacity; in contrast, previous enlargements had been essentially permanent, as well as cumulative.

Being impermanent, this rise in apparent carrying capacity begged one enormously important question: What happens if population, as usual, increases until it nearly fills this temporarily expanded set of opportunities, and then, because the expansion was only temporary, the world finds itself (like the Indians on their shrunken territories) with a population excess? What are the implications of a carrying capacity deficit for mankind’s future? What happens, for example, when supplies of oil become scarce, when tractor fuel becomes unavailable or prohibitively expensive, and when farmers again have to take 1/4th to 1/3rd of the land on which they now raise food for humans and convert it instead to raising feed for draft animals?

Such questions were not asked as long as we viewed our world with a pre-ecological paradigm. The myth of limitlessness dominated people’s minds. Had anyone conceived such implausible-seeming questions in the Age of Exuberance, the answer might have seemed equally incredible: post-exuberant nations and individuals would have a compulsive need to deny the facts so as to deny their own redundancy. (We shall examine such denial of the new reality in Part III of this book, and again in Part V).

Industrialization came about at a fast enough pace so that it enlarged per capita wealth and was not entirely devoted to enlarging population. In principle, any increase in carrying capacity – temporary or permanent – affords a choice between enabling the same number of individuals to live more lavishly or enabling a larger number of individuals to live at previous standards. When the enlargement of carrying capacity is modest and is spread over many generations, it tends to be used mainly to increase numbers; if it is enormous and comes so suddenly that human numbers just don’t rise at the same pace, it raises living standards. The European takeover of the New World had enlarged carrying capacity (for Europeans) just fast enough to begin having this salutary effect. By drawing down stores of exhaustible resources at an ever-quickening pace, industrialization (temporarily) augmented carrying capacity even faster, affording opportunity for quite a marked rise in prosperity and for a phenomenal acceleration of population increase. The welcome rise in prosperity reinforced the dangerous myth of limitlessness and obscured for a while the hazards inherent in the population increase.

Overshoot Aggravated

Scarcely more than two generations had tasted the fruits of industrialization when the growth of population was still further accelerated by truly effective death control. The role of micro-organisms in producing diseases was discovered. In 1865 the practice of antiseptic surgery began. It serves in Table 1 as a reasonable demarcation of the beginning of an era filled with related breakthroughs in medical technology: hygienic practices, vaccination, antibiotics, et cetera. The total effect of this recent series of achievements has been to emancipate mankind more and more from the life-curtailing effects of the invisible little creatures for which human tissues used to serve as sustenance. Like other prey species newly protected from their predators, we have been fruitful and have so multiplied that we have much more than “replenished” the earth with our kind.

These achievements in death control re-channeled the effects of industrialization; they increased the rate at which human population could increase. More of the unprecedentedly rapid rise in apparent carrying capacity resulting from industrial drawing down of resource stocks was devoted to supporting population growth, and less was devoted to supporting enhanced living standards, than might otherwise have been the case.

Death control was a real boon to the first three or four generations that experienced it. Increasingly, parents were spared bereavement during their child-rearing years, and people of all ages were spared the suffering and debilitation that infectious diseases used to inflict. Fewer children became orphaned. Fewer adults became widowed in the prime years of life.

But all these benefits helped us to overshoot permanent carrying capacity. For most people, as this was happening, “carrying capacity” remained an unknown phrase. The concept was absent from the paradigm by which people in the Age of Exuberance perceived and understood their world. Industrialism had given us a temporary increase in opportunities – a very dangerous blessing. Death control gave us a further rapid increase in population not based on a further rise in carrying capacity. Thus, in the seven generations since 1800, world population quadrupled, and mankind came into a really precarious situation.

The precariousness remained unseen by many. Looking back on a century or two of remarkable technical achievements, accompanied by growth of human numbers that was itself culturally defined as a kind of progress (as every town aspired to become a city), minds that had not yet learned the distinction between methods of boosting carrying capacity and methods of overshooting it foresaw no insurmountable difficulty in simply repeating past breakthroughs. It was imagined, for example, that “fast breeder reactors” and other technological eggs-not-yet-hatched could be counted on to provide further increments of carrying capacity whenever nature’s limits began to hurt. (This attitude will be given a suggestive name in Chapter 4 and explored further in Chapter 11.)

During World War II, the brashly American words of a popular song proclaimed: “We did it before, and we can do it again!” A generation after that conflict, we seemed to be taking a demilitarized version of that cliche as the basis for presupposing the supportability of further increases in the population-technology load upon finite environments. People displayed either persistent ignorance of the carrying capacity concept, or naive faith that carrying capacity could always be expanded, that limits could always be transcended. Such an assumption seemed to underlie the stubborn refusal of capitalists and Marxists alike to acknowledge that the myth of limitlessness had at last become obsolete. There was also the assumption that further advances in technology would necessarily enlarge carrying capacity, not reduce it. Enlargement of carrying capacity had been the role of technology in the past; however, we shall see (in Chapter 9) that there has been a reversal of this role in the industrial era. Technology has enlarged human appetites for natural resources, thus diminishing the number of us that a given environment can support.

Back to Hunting and Gathering

The breakthrough we call industrialism was fundamentally unlike earlier ones. It did not just take over for human use another portion of the web that had previously supported other forms of life. Instead, it went underground to extract carrying capacity supplements from a finite and depletable fund – a fund that was created and buried by nature, scores of millions of years before man came along. The drawdown method that we call industrialism relied for its increase of opportunities upon use of resources that are not renewed in an annual cycle of organic growth. To expect to “do it again” is to expect to find other exhaustible resources each time we use up a batch of them. Only once could the technologically most advanced nations of mankind discover a second hemisphere to relieve the pressure in a filled-up first hemisphere; nevertheless, modern industrial societies have continued to behave as if massive “exploration” efforts could forever continue to “discover” additional deposits of mineral materials and fossil fuels. In short, industrial life depends on a perpetual hunt for required substances. To take one example, in order to continue present rates of use of copper, the United States must each year find 250 million tons of ore (containing 0.8 percent copper) – more than a ton for each of us.

The mineral and fuel deposits upon which we are now so dependent were put into the earth by geological processes that happen only at a pace enormously slow by human standards. Since 8000 BC mankind has been taking over management of contemporary botanical processes, the source of sustenance materials that have renewal times much shorter than a human lifespan. Now we rely, as members of industrial societies, upon other substances with renewal times that may be thousands or even millions of times longer than a human lifespan. Their renewal is by geological processes; present stocks of them were put in place by operation of those processes over immensely long stretches of earth history. Mankind cannot realistically hope to assume management of prehistoric events, or to replenish the ores and fuels now being extracted so ravenously. Instead, we must face the fact that, after ten millennia of progress, Homo sapiens is “back at square one”. Industrialization committed us to living again, massively, as hunters and gatherers of substances which only nature can provide, and which occur only in limited quantity.
A major oil company whose credit card has been a convenience to me in my travels has recently confirmed this – unwittingly, of course – by printing at the bottom of my monthly statement a bit of institutional advertising. In an effort to enlist customer support for its resistance to congressional pressures against combined ownership of both “production” and “marketing” facilities, this company’s message proclaims that it “does the whole job – finding and delivering oil products you need” (my italics).

Our species had been an enormous biological success. But success carried to excess can be disastrous. The shift from takeover to drawdown actually yielded excessive success. As we shall see, this situation has had a natural sequel. Much of the turmoil so vexing to the generation that saw the fourth billion added to the world’s human population can be understood in such terms. We had already begun to encounter the penalties of becoming again what our remote ancestors were – consumers of substances provided by nature and not by man, substances we obtain from sources not subject to replenishment by our manipulations. We became heavily dependent upon hunting for natural deposits of these substances, and upon continually gathering vast quantities for our use. Euphemistically calling the new versions of these ancient activities “finding” and “delivering”, or “exploration” and “production”, only blinded us to what we were doing. It did not protect us from the consequences.


Continuar a ler »

Dave Pollard

supply demand image.001

Lately there has been some suggestion that “Peak Oil is dead” — that because of the recent drop in demand and price for oil, we will never again see high oil prices and will never run out of oil.

What this conclusion misunderstands is that it’s not about running out of oil, it’s about running out of oil that our economy can afford to extract. If oil cost a million dollars a barrel to extract, we would never have mined most of it, the industrial revolution would have stalled a century ago, and human societies would quickly have reverted to a subsistence local agrarian existence with a much smaller human population and much, much less industry and technology.

Oil was a remarkable discovery. Each barrel replaces the equivalent of about 6 person-years of unassisted manual labour. Our industrial economy and global civilization have been built on the ability to employ cheap oil to do the work of billions of people for next to nothing. We continue to depend on that. Our GDP growth correlates precisely with the consumption of oil, and has essentially nothing to do with innovation, technological ingenuity, economies of scale or ‘doing more with less’. When we run out of affordable oil, the game is up.

What is ‘affordable’ depends a lot on the health of the economy and on the incremental cost of extracting each harder-to-get barrel of oil. For most of the last half century, what was affordable was somewhere between $30-60/barrel. When oil prices have soared to the $100/barrel level, the economy has almost immediately started to tank.

The chart above shows the supply/demand curves for oil, in general terms, over that 50 year time and, most likely, the 50 years to come. It’s a bit oversimplified because supply and demand is also affected by stocks in storage, but the amount of oil that can be reasonably stockpiled to cushion again price shocks is pretty small — certainly not years’ worth.

‘Business as usual’ over the last 50 years is shown by the supply/demand curves labeled S0 and D0, intersecting at around $60/barrel. This is a price that historically has been high enough to allow continued exploration but is low enough that consumers and industry can afford it and still make a profit (and not go into unrepayable debt). When OPEC (or political events) have conspired to constrain supply, the supply curve has shifted over to the S2 curve, and demand has necessarily been reduced to the D2 curve, leading to a $100/barrel price (where S2 and D2 intersect). This has proven to be an unsustainable price, and political pressures (i.e. wars, and threats to OPEC partners) have always been applied when the price has reached this level to get suppliers to pump more oil and move the curves back to the S0/D0 $60/barrel level.

But it’s a difficult balancing act. As cheap (inexpensive to extract) OPEC oil rapidly diminishes, and as the remaining oil becomes more expensive to extract (e.g. tar sands, fracking), the point is reached where $60/barrel is no longer enough to warrant continued exploration. And, as we saw in 2008, whenever our teetering, debt-laden (and cheap oil dependent) economy falters, and demand falls even slightly, the price can plummet to the point where even more traditional exploration and extraction become uneconomic. At this price the economies of many OPEC countries also start to unravel, many of which are politically unstable to begin with.

So let’s look what happened over the past year, when the price plummeted to the $30 level. Here are (again somewhat simplified) the factors that led to this:

  • The US, seeking to stimulate an economic recovery after the 2008 debacle, and seeking to punish Russia for its global political and economic muscle-flexing, conspired with the Saudis to increase the short-term supply of oil (we may never know what the Saudis got in return for this devil’s bargain). First world nations also increased their already-massive subsidies to the oil industry to encourage fracking. The combination of these two factors shifted the short-term supply curve to the right (increased short-term supply) from S0 to S1.
  • At the same time, much of the first world was mired in an ongoing recession that gutted the middle class and reduced available spending. Already at their limits in debt, consumers were forced to reduce consumption. Even as price started to drop as a result, they have chosen to pocket the savings at the gas pump to pay off debts or for other needed spending (the real, double-digit inflationary cost increases in health care, healthy food, good education and other essentials, for example). To add to this demand contraction, the artificially-stimulated Chinese economy ran out of steam and has started a long and painful collapse. The combination of these factors shifted the short-term demand curve to the left (reduced short-term demand) from D0 to D1. The intersection of S1 and D1 is the recent, depression-level price of $30/barrel.

This was a ‘success’ in terms of devastating the oil-dependent Russian economy (which requires much more than $30/barrel to be a viable producer due to their extraction costs, which are much higher than the Saudis’). It also devastated the less-oil-dependent Canadian economy and Canadian currency (which fell from above-par to 69 cents to the US dollar as a result). It quickly destroyed the fracking industry and has seized up almost all of the projects to produce more expensive oil (the Tar Sands, deep sea, Arctic etc.). So now there’s a huge short-term surplus of supply (there is no place to put any additional surplus), but the longer-term supply (which requires a price of at least $60/barrel steadily increasing to $100/barrel and beyond to develop economically) looks to be collapsing.

On top of this, the disastrous economic policies of the last 50 years, trying to squeeze out a few more years of ‘growth’ in the industrial economy by artificially lowering interest rates to approximately zero, to get consumers to buy even more by going even deeper into debt, have reached the end of the line. They have not and do not appear capable of working any more. We have reached the point at which the ‘real’ cost of oil, needed to power GDP ‘growth’ and enable the globalized industrial economy to continue, is now higher than the exhausted, debt-ridden, artificially stimulated global economy can afford to pay.

What this will mean is that in future, in a whipsaw fashion, we are going to see a combination of spikes and collapses in oil price, in a cycle that will end in both global economic collapse and the end of large-scale oil production and hence our oil-fuelled industrial culture.

First, we will see some brief and unsustainable resurgences in price, from the current S1/D1 curve price of $30/barrel back up to the stratospheric levels of the S2/D2 curve price of $100/barrel and beyond. This will happen as the global supply of cheap-to-produce ($30/barrel and then $60/barrel) oil evaporates. There is not much of this left to begin with, and we can’t create more of it by subsidizing oil production even more than we already do, because our economy essentially runs on cheap oil — without it there’s no money to subsidize anything.

While brief periods of $100/barrel oil will temporarily spark new exploration and development, this price is, as we have repeatedly seen, unsustainable. With $100/barrel oil, demand will inevitably and drastically shrink, even at a horrific human cost — we simply cannot afford to pay for it. So as the longer-term supply of (especially cheaper) oil shifts left (i.e. decreases) as cheap OPEC supplies are exhaused, moving supply to the S3 curve, demand will also shift left (i.e. decrease) as consumers and entire economies, unable to pay for the more expensive remaining oil, collapse, moving to the D3 curve. The intersection of the S3/D3 curves is, again, the depression-level $30/barrel price. But notice how far to the left this intersection has shifted on the chart! The recent shenanigans and economic stumbles have not drastically decreased global oil consumption (the point on the horizontal axis below the S1/D1 curves at intersection 1, relative to the point on the horizontal axis below the S0/D0 curves at intersection 0). However, the future economic and cheap-oil-supply crashes will catastrophically decrease consumption (to the point on the horizontal axis below the S3/D3 curves at intersection 3).

Intersection 3 is the end game for the global industrial growth economy and the globalized civilization that depends on it. It is not the passing of Peak Oil as Hubbert might have envisioned it, since there will be lots of (expensive to extract) oil left in the ground (good news for climate change, though almost certainly too little too late to stave off the end of our planet’s long stretch of stable climate).

What intersection 3 represents is the passing of Peak Affordable Oil. As this complex interplay of economic factors works its way through in the coming decades, we’re going to see some whipsawing in oil prices (and prices and levels of just about everything else) between hyper-inflationary, and deflationary, Long Depression levels. This will be the hallmark of the Slow Collapse of industrial civilization. Get ready for a rough and uneven ride.

The Wood Chipper Model

For those unable to understand the finer points of the malignancy model, I present The Wood Chipper Model. Imagine the wood chipper in the photograph above to be the sum total of industrial civilization. It runs on gas and emits CO2 into the atmosphere. Into the chipper are fed all kinds of resources, from forests to mined metals to soils, fish. You get the idea. Coming out the other side are all of the products of the resource chipper which is loaded into a truck and distributed to the Wal-Marts, gas stations, and various other retail establishments of the world. Humans want to grab as much of the stuff coming out of the wood chipper as possible, these are rewards. Once used, the products are carted off to a waste dump and piled high into giant civilizational dung heaps. It’s a one way street. Everyone wants to own a part of the wood chipper, because this allows them to lay claim to a greater share of the product coming out the far end of the chipper. The chipper gets bigger and bigger every year and everyone is grabbing whatever they can to feed into the chipper.

One day there’s not enough gas to keep the chipper going and it begins to sputter. There’s not enough gas for the truck either. The people are very worried, but not about the landscape denuded of resources or the atmospheric pollution. They’re worried about the amount of stuff coming out of the chipper. Extra effort is put into finding more fuel for the chipper and distribution truck. Things to feed into the chipper are running low too. Those that borrowed money to build the chipper can no longer obtain enough return to justify expanding the size of the chipper. The chipper stops growing, but the desires for its products never diminish. Gas becomes more scarce and some want to convert the chipper and distribution truck to solar power, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of not enough to feed into the chipper, even if a conversion were possible.

There is some question as to whether the chipper will run out of fuel first or run out of resources to chip into products. One day a crisis occurs and the chipper stops. There are desperate efforts to restart it, but one of the essential parts suppliers for the chipper went out of business from lack of profit. A careful examination would show that not only one but no less than two hundred parts suppliers had gone out of business while the chipper continued to operate with the last remaining stocks of spare parts. When the products stopped shooting out of the chipper, people panicked and began to hoard what remained, but that too eventually ended up in backyard waste piles as it could no longer be hauled to the central dung heap. The wood chipper of civilization, unable to provide enough returns to maintain itself, ceased to function. The inputs were too sparse, the fuel too scarce, the maintenance too high and the products too few. Plans to translocate the chipper to Mars along with the human population did not pan out. Survivors were bequeathed a despoiled landscape, wood chipper remains and numerous artificial mountains of wood chipper waste.

Your brain won’t allow you to believe the apocalypse could actually happen

You may love stories about the end of the world, but that’s probably because, deep down, you don’t believe it could ever happen. But that’s not because you’re realistic. It’s actually a quirk of the human brain, recently explored by a group of neuroscientists, which prevents us from adjusting our expectations about the future — even if there’s good evidence that bad things are about to happen.

A group of researchers from Germany and the UK designed a fairly complex psychological test to determine how people planned for negative events in the future. First, they asked the about the likelihood of 80 different disturbing events happening, such as contracting a fatal disease or being attacked. After they’d recorded people’s responses, researchers told each subject the actual, statistical likelihood of such events happening. In some cases, people had overestimated the likelihood and in some cases they’d underestimated it.

Then, after some time had passed, the researchers asked subjects again about the likelihood of these events happening to them. Interestingly, they found that people had a much harder time adjusting their expectations if the real-world statistical likelihood was higher than what they had first guessed. They had little trouble adjusting expectations for a more favorable outcome. It was as if people were selectively remembering the likelihoods of future events — forgetting the bad odds but not the good ones.

 And in fact, that’s exactly what was happening. The researchers had been doing fMRIs on the people when they did these tests, and were able to see which areas of the brain became active when people remembered (or failed to remember) how likely it was that they would face a horrible calamity. In their paper, published this week in Nature Neuroscience, the researchers write:

We found that optimism was related to diminished coding of undesirable information about the future in a region of the frontal cortex (right IFG) that has been identified as being sensitive to negative estimation errors . . . this human propensity toward optimism is facilitated by the brain’s failure to code errors in estimation when those call for pessimistic updates. This failure results in selective updating, which supports unrealistic optimism that is resistant to change.

Basically, human optimism is a neurological bug that prevents us from remembering undesirable information about our odds of dying or being hurt. And that’s why nobody ever believes the apocalypse is going to happen to them.

There is one fascinating exception to this rule, though. As the researchers note, the only people who consistently offer accurate estimates of bad things happening to them are clinically depressed. So — perfect depression is perfect awareness?

Ultimately our neurological bugginess could serve an adaptive function, which is preventing us from becoming so depressed about the impending apocalypse that we can’t get out of bed in the morning.

Read the full scientific paper via Nature

Utopia (2013)

You won’t like downsizing



That we are entering a period of decline is not in any real doubt, at least not among those with the inclination to think about it. ‘Downsizing’ seems to be the commonly used term, but few really understand what it will really mean. No one will willingly accept downsizing if it means a meaningful drop in their standard of living. So it remains a vague notion that it might be somebody else’s problem, and nothing too drastic on a personal level. There is a misplaced concept that we will drift into it gradually as oil decline eases us into another mode of living that will not be too far removed from the one that we enjoy now. We want the creature comforts that we have known for less than a century to remain a permanent feature of our imagined future.
Our most recent history shows that the slightest slowdown of our current economy by just a few percentage points brings an immediate chaos of unemployment and global destabilisation. Yet somehow that won’t apply to a permanent ‘downsizing’; that seems to follow a different set of social rules, as if we can do it and still retain a civilised existence. And of course without downsizing wages too much. We will still expect to eat, buy ‘stuff’ and carry on in employment and even retain our wheels, with the strange certainty that as long as we have wheels, we will have prosperity by involving ourselves in the exchanges of trade that will not differ much to what we have now.
In the face of imminent global chaos, from climate change, overpopulation and energy depletion, billions are being poured into development of alternative methods of transportation. Elon Musk, though producing a first class electric car, proposes it to be a vehicle for the ‘post oil’ age, which will inevitably mean a downsized environment. He ignores the basic reality that no road vehicle in the context of modern usage can function without an infrastructure that is itself a construct of hydrocarbon. The notion is that we can all get into electric cars and continue to drive from home to work and back, and our comfortable lifestyle can carry on much as before. In other words, it is the vehicle itself that creates and supports our prosperity. If we use an electric car, we can still somehow move a lump of metal and plastic around as an integral part of our employment and leisure.

But the electric car adds to the socio-economic complexity of our over-stressed life support system, it does not simplify it. In addition to the factory itself, an electric car needs sophisticated power hungry production systems, a living environment for its workers, housing, roads, schools and so on, as well as the Bolivian lithium mines and the socio-economic-industrial complexity needed in that country, all solely dependent on a vehicle concept that is ultimately a consumer of the hydrocarbon fuel it is promising to replace. All these systems are (hydrocarbon) energy intensive and expensive to produce. In a downsized society, that complexity will not exist, yet our focus on such dead ends as the electric car shows that humankind does not have the means to rid itself of dependence on the wheel. While the electric car might appear to be a bright shiny symbol of continuing wealth and prosperity, it is in fact a block of embodied energy, as subject to the laws of thermodynamics as any other construction. It demands constant energy input to maintain its viability, and serves no useful purpose in a downsized environment because the means to sustain will not be there. No industrialised nation can maintain its road transport system without the constant input of oil. Fossil fuelled vehicles, whether used on land, air or sea produce our food, sustain our infrastructure and maintain the cohesion of nations. And there are no alternatives.

We must face the painful truth: that our fossil fuelled prosperity (temporarily) allowed us to have personal transport, but it was not personal transport that created our prosperity. A downsized lifestyle will mean that we will no longer be able to move around on a whim, for no better reason than we happen to want to drag a couple of tons of steel and plastic around to buy a newspaper or a carton of milk. The car has allowed us to live many miles from our energy sources, whether food or employment. That is going to end. When considering downsized transportation, remember that probably the most useful wheeled vehicles in the pre oil environment were haycarts and war chariots. The only forms of renewable energy were derived from the waterwheel and the windmill. They were manufactured from trees, and needed the energy input from animal and human muscle to give them functionality. We cannot have a future that is dependent on complex industry. It will not work.
When advocating downsizing, there is rarely, if ever, any mention of the healthcare we currently enjoy, which has given us a reasonably fit and healthy 80 year average lifespan.

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I approach the subject of the physics of energy and the economy with some trepidation. An economy seems to be a dissipative system, but what does this really mean? There are not many people who understand dissipative systems, and very few who understand how an economy operates. The combination leads to an awfully lot of false beliefs about the energy needs of an economy.

The primary issue at hand is that, as a dissipative system, every economy has its own energy needs, just as every forest has its own energy needs (in terms of sunlight) and every plant and animal has its own energy needs, in one form or another. A hurricane is another dissipative system. It needs the energy it gets from warm ocean water. If it moves across land, it will soon weaken and die.

There is a fairly narrow range of acceptable energy levels–an animal without enough food weakens and is more likely to be eaten by a predator or to succumb to a disease. A plant without enough sunlight is likely to weaken and die.

In fact, the effects of not having enough energy flows may spread more widely than the individual plant or animal that weakens and dies. If the reason a plant dies is because the plant is part of a forest that over time has grown so dense that the plants in the understory cannot get enough light, then there may be a bigger problem. The dying plant material may accumulate to the point of encouraging forest fires. Such a forest fire may burn a fairly wide area of the forest. Thus, the indirect result may be to put to an end a portion of the forest ecosystem itself.

How should we expect an economy to behave over time? The pattern of energy dissipated over the life cycle of a dissipative system will vary, depending on the particular system. In the examples I gave, the pattern seems to somewhat follow what Ugo Bardi calls a Seneca Cliff.

Figure 1. Seneca Cliff by Ugo Bardi

Figure 1. Seneca Cliff by Ugo Bardi

The Seneca Cliff pattern is so-named because long ago, Lucius Seneca wrote:

It would be some consolation for the feebleness of our selves and our works if all things should perish as slowly as they come into being; but as it is, increases are of sluggish growth, but the way to ruin is rapid.

The Standard Wrong Belief about the Physics of Energy and the Economy

There is a standard wrong belief about the physics of energy and the economy; it is the belief we can somehow train the economy to get along without much energy.

In this wrong view, the only physics that is truly relevant is the thermodynamics of oil fields and other types of energy deposits. All of these fields deplete if exploited over time. Furthermore, we know that there are a finite number of these fields. Thus, based on the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the amount of free energy we will have available in the future will tend to be less than today. This tendency will especially be true after the date when “peak oil” production is reached.

According to this wrong view of energy and the economy, all we need to do is design an economy that uses less energy. We can supposedly do this by increasing efficiency, and by changing the nature of the economy to use a greater proportion of services. If we also add renewables (even if they are expensive) the economy should be able to get along fine with very much less energy.

These wrong views are amazingly widespread. They seem to underlie the widespread hope that the world can reduce its fossil fuel use by 80% between now and 2050 without badly disturbing the economy. The book 2052: A Forecast for the Next 40 Years by Jorgen Randers seems to reflect these views. Even the “Stabilized World Model” presented in the 1972 book The Limits to Growth by Meadow et al. seems to be based on naive assumptions about how much reduction in energy consumption is possible without causing the economy to collapse.

The Economy as a Dissipative System

If an economy is a dissipative system, it needs sufficient energy flows. Otherwise, it will collapse in a way that is analogous to animals succumbing to a disease or forests succumbing to forest fires.

The primary source of energy flows to the economy seems to come through the leveraging of human labor with supplemental energy products of various types, such as animal labor, fossil fuels, and electricity. For example, a man with a machine (which is made using energy products and operates using energy products) can make more widgets than a man without a machine. A woman operating a computer in a lighted room can make more calculations than a woman who inscribes numbers with a stick on a clay tablet and adds them up in her head, working outside as weather permits.

As long as the quantity of supplemental energy supplies keeps rising rapidly enough, human labor can become increasingly productive. This increased productivity can feed through to higher wages. Because of these growing wages, tax payments can be higher. Consumers can also have ever more funds available to buy goods and services from businesses. Thus, an economy can continue to grow.

Besides inadequate supplemental energy, the other downside risk to continued economic growth is the possibility that diminishing returns will start making the economy less efficient. These are some examples of how this can happen:

  • Deeper wells or desalination are needed for water because aquifers deplete and population grows.
  • More productivity is needed from each acre of arable land because of growing population (and thus, falling arable land per person).
  • Larger mines are required as ores of high mineral concentration are exhausted and we are forced to exploit less productive mines.
  • More pollution control devices or higher-cost workarounds (such as “renewables”) are needed as pollution increases.
  • Fossil fuels from cheap-to-extract locations are exhausted, so extraction must come from more difficult-to-extract locations.

In theory, even these diminishing returns issues can be overcome, if the leveraging of human labor with supplemental energy is growing quickly enough.

Theoretically, technology might also increase economic growth. The catch with technology is that it is very closely related to energy consumption. Without energy consumption, it is not possible to have metals. Most of today’s technology depends (directly or indirectly) on the use of metals. If technology makes a particular type of product cheaper to make, there is also a good chance that more products of that type will be sold. Thus, in the end, growth in technology tends to allow more energy to be consumed.

Why Economic Collapses Occur

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Science News, 1/2/2016


A rapid loss of phytoplankton threatens to turn the western Indian Ocean into an “ecological desert,” a new study warns. The research reveals that phytoplankton populations in the region fell an alarming 30 percent over the last 16 years.

A decline in ocean mixing due to warming surface waters is to blame for that phytoplankton plummet, researchers propose online January 19 in Geophysical Research Letters. The mixing of the ocean’s layers ferries phytoplankton nutrients from the ocean’s dark depths up into the sunlit layers that the mini plants inhabit.

The loss of these microbes, which form the foundation of the ocean food web, may undermine the region’s ecosystem, warns study coauthor Raghu Murtugudde, an oceanographer at the University of Maryland in College Park.

“If you reduce the bottom of the food chain, it’s going to cascade,” Murtugudde says. The phytoplankton decline may be partially responsible for a 50 to 90 percent decline in tuna catch rates over the last half-century in the Indian Ocean, he says. “This is a wake-up call to look if similar things are happening elsewhere.”

In the 20th century, surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean rose about 50 percent more than the global average. Previous investigations into this ocean warming’s impact on phytoplankton suggested that populations had increased. But those studies looked at only a few years of data — not long enough to clearly identify any long-term trend.

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Dmitry Orlov. Hilariante

The Future is Blivets

Dmitri Orlov

If you have been paying attention, you may have noticed that the global financial markets are currently in meltdown mode. Apparently, the world has hit diminishing returns on making stuff. There is simply too much of everything, be it oil wells, container ships, skyscrapers, cars or houses. Because of this, the world has also hit diminishing returns on borrowing money to build and sell more stuff, because the stuff we build doesn’t sell. And because it doesn’t sell, the price of stuff that’s already been made keeps going down, lowering its value as loan collateral and making the problem worse.One solution that’s been proposed is to convert from a products economy to a services economy. For instance, instead of making widgets, everybody gives each other backrubs. This works great in theory. The backrub industry doesn’t generate an ever-expanding inventory of backrubs that then have to be unloaded. But there are some problems with this plan. The first problem is that too few people have enough money saved up to spend on backrubs, so they would have to get the backrubs on credit. Another problem is that, unlike a widget, a backrub is not a productive asset, and doesn’t help you pay off the money you had to borrow to pay for the backrub. Lastly, a backrub, once you have received it, isn’t worth very much. You can’t auction it off, and you can’t use it as collateral for a loan.

These are big problems, and one proposed solution is to create good, well-paying jobs that put money in people’s pockets—money that they can then spent on backrubs. This is best done by investing in productivity improvements: send people to school, invest in high tech and so on. It’s an intuitively obvious idea: productive workers are easier to employ than unproductive workers, because the stuff they make ends up cheaper, and people can afford to buy more of it. Whether they do buy more of it is debatable, especially if there is more than enough of it already and nobody has any extra money saved. Still, the theory makes sense.

But this theory doesn’t seem to be working all that well: no matter how much money we put into automation—robotic assembly lines, internet-based virtualization, what have you—the number of unemployed workers isn’t going down at all. And it’s even worse with driverless cars. In theory, they are great: if the driver doesn’t have to do the driving, then she can spend the time giving her passengers backrubs. But no matter how much money we throw at driverless cars, the number of unemplyed drivers, or unemployed massage therapists, isn’t going down.

But even if we give up on trying to stimulate demand through job creation and just let everyone starve, we can still put our faith in rich people. There are people who are as rich as entire countries! Surely they can spend and consume on everyone else’s behalf, and make the economy boom. But it turns out that it’s very hard for just one person to consume as much as an entire country. To make that happen, it’s necessary to pay people to consume on one’s behalf. But if other people can spend your money just like you, then that defeats the purpose of being wealthier than everyone else, and all that hard work of swindling people and of gaming the markets would turn out to have been in vain.

* * *

But here is a solution that is so stunningly simple and elegant that somebody must have thought of it already. Alas, make a note: I am the first!

A Blivet

The solution is this: sell everything and go long blivets. Blivets are geometrically impossible objects: they can be drawn, but, by their nature, they cannot be manufactured. This solves a major problem with the futures markets, which is that people can actually take delivery of their futures contracts. This means that the stuff being speculated on actually has to exist. And this means that what some people have the audacity to call “the real economy” actually has to exist. What a nuisance!

For example, the gold futures market trades 300 times more gold than physically exists. [Update: the number just went up to 542.] This means that if just 0.3% [Update: 0.18%] of futures contracts resulted in deliveries, the vaults would be empty and there would be nothing to trade. The horrible thing is, unreasonable people, who take delivery of their gold, do exist: the Chinese, the Russians and various other nations with cash on hand or US Treasuries to liquidate keep doing this. Promoting “regime change” and looting various countries’ gold reserves helps a bit (Iraq, Libya and Ukraine have been looted already; Syria should have been looted by now if it weren’t for those pesky Russians!). But the eventual outcome of all this is force majeur: somebody wants to take delivery, but the vaults are empty.

Source: Zerohedge

A similar problem exists with the biggest futures market in the world: in crude oil. Here, traders have been having a merry old time taking advantage of a notional glut, driving the price of crude lower and lower. They could drive it as low as $1 a barrel, but then what? The problem is, nobody on earth can produce oil that cheaply, and so a day will come when somebody will demand delivery on their $1/bbl crude contract, and the only response will be an echo, as tumbleweeds blow across the abandoned oil fields.

You should have guessed the moral of the story by now: if you are going to “ephemeralize” the entire economy—the workers/consumers along with their productive capacity—you better switch to trading in things that are ephemeral too, or you’ll risk a market implosion, deflation, deleveraging and financial collapse followed by poltitical, commercial, social and cultural collapse in four-part cacophony with many screaming refrains and a shrieking, tumultous coda. I am not kidding. I wrote the book on that.

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