It’s been a watershed week here in the world of collapse, watching both the European economy and the Chinese economy circle the toilet bowl. Oil also is back on its downward trend line, and Pigmen everywhere remain perplexed, blaming the problems variously on Socialist Goobermints, Unions or Keynesian Economists, but none of those are in the least bit correct.
The problem is really a very simple one, which is that there are too many people chasing too few resources, particularly the energy resource necessary to live the Industrial lifestyle those of us who have enjoyed that in the west have been pursuing for the last 200 years or so. Here is how we looked diagramatically 200 years ago at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution:
As this trip began, there were just tons of Fossil Fuels in the ground, Coal, Oil and Natural Gas, and they weren’t too hard to find or extract either. In fact in the early years, the Oil just squirted out of the ground under its own pressure, as soon as you popped a hole in the container. It has become progressively harder to extract though, and nowadays to get the last of the extractable stuff up, the Frackers have to pump millions of gallons of water and chemicals to coax the stuff up out of the rocks it is embedded in. Similar with NG, it takes real sweet high tech equipment that can drill horizontal wells to get to the remaining supplies of this stuff. Its not cheap to get this out of the ground anymore.
You also had a relatively low population that was mostly agrarian at the beginning of this trip. Both the North & South American continents were relatively empty of people, with most of the indigenous population wiped out by the Smallpox, Tuberculosis, Scarlet Fever and other diseases brought over to the continent in the early years of colonialization.
There was little pollution in those years, you could pretty much drink out of any stream or even lake without treating the water in any way. Long as you disposed of your own waste downstream from wherever you were, you were OK long as there was nobody else immediately upstream from you.
Most of the CO2 in the atmosphere up at that point was what occurred naturally from forest fires, vulcanism and so forth. There was some addition from Homo Saps burning stuff to smelt metal for Ag Equipment and War Tools, but since the population overall was not that large, it was not overwhelming the capacity of the earth to absorb this waste, or the sun to provide enough energy to replace what was wasted. Overall, it was a fairly Balanced system to this point, although Ag was defintely desertifiying many portions of the planet where it had been practiced for 1000s of years. Over time, even without Industrialization, Ag as practiced in most places would have done the same job as industrialization, though probably not quite as fast.
Fast Forward now here to the situation 200 years later in this game:
All the main resources are shrinking in size, quite rapidly in many areas.
In Fossil Fuel Energy Resource, the real easy sources of Coal, Oil and NG are gone, and just extracting what is left takes more energy and more technology all the time. Accessing Debt Money to do that extraction becomes more difficult as well, and credit to the end consumer to buy that energy also becomes more scarce. All together, this reults in fewer people able to afford to waste this energy, and so little by little, country by country, some folks are triaged off of the credit necessary to participate in this economy. It is most obvious in Greece right now, but it is occurring just about everywhere, even in the Core economies of Industrialized Nations of the FSoA, Germany, the UK and China. In these places you have an increasingly large underclass of people receiving Food Stamps and supplements to stay alive, but they aren’t commuting to work and aren’t buying tankloads of gasoline for their SUVs every week. Currently, out of the 320M people living in the Fascist States of America, 45M of them are on Food Stamps.
While the energy resource continues to deplete, as the second diagram shows the total Global Population continues to increase, which will continue until there is a major fracture in the total system, which seems more imminent all the time. More people all the time need the water, energy and food that the planet can provide on a daily basis. No amount of Debt Issuance can resolve a food deficit problem, in a given year the food to support the population is either there or it is not. A certain amount can be held in reserve, food storage techniques are pretty good these days, but overall the margin here is pretty small. Currently, if there were to be a major falloff in any major food producing region, within one year there would be a major deficit in available calories for the population as a whole. We are already looking at a major falloff in food production from Sunny Califonia, where the ongoing and accelerating Drought situation is likely to make produce a good deal more expensive right here in the FSoA pretty soon. This problem of drought is mirrored in many areas of Ag production of the globe right now, from India to China to South America. It is unlikely to improve anytime too soon.
While you have the problem of steadily increasing human population and steadily decreasing sources of energy, water and arable land, you ALSO have steadily increasing CO2 content in the atmosphere (exacerbating Climate Change issues) and steadily increasing areas of Desertification turning formerly productive food growing regions into deserts. There is no absolute quantification for this I am aware of, however anecdotally it is possible to track it from Syria to São Paulo, from China to India and beyond. Pretty clearly, the Earth is maxed out in converting solar energy to food, and the Human Population can only survive at current levels with close to the current levels of food available to them.
In the end, this is a very simple and straightforward Thermodynamic Problem of how much energy it takes to run the Human Population Engine. In order to survive, each Homo Sap consumes X number of calories each day in food. Because of distribution problems and diet issues with types of food consumed, you have some fat people in some places and some emaciated people in others, but in aggregate you need X calories to keep all the Homo Saps currently walking the Earth ambulatory.
The Industrial Revolution enabled Homo Sap to produce more Food Calories than he ever had before in history, by several orders of magnitude. In the aftermath of WWII, we learned how to create Ag Fertilizer directly from Oil, through the Haber process The Ammonia produced is used to make Ammonium Nitrate, useful in bombs but also useful as an Ag Fertilizer. The very same plants that made the Bombs dropped in the Fire-Bombing of Dresden were converted into making the fertilizer that spawned the “Green Revolution”.
Cheap food was produced by the truckload, and the population of Homo Saps EXPLODED over the last 70 years, from around 2.5B in 1940 to around 7B now. All those people compete for the same resources of water and food, and nearly all of them are dependent on the same monetary sytem that distributes that water and food. It’s a GLOBAL SYSTEM at this point. Few places are completely independent, even food exporting nations like the FSoA are not independent, since in order to export so much food, it imports a lot of Oil.
It’s not just the fertilizer here that enables this, it is also all the farm machinery from tractors to combines, and the whole transportation system from trucks to rail to container ships that moves all this food all over the globe, and often puts outta biz any local production of food as well. It comes in cheaper even with all the transportation than local food production, and each year thousands of small farmers commit suicide because they cannot make a living selling the food they grow.
The MSM, and even the Blogosphere on websites like Zero Hedge often paint the problems we face as simple Monetary Problems and Political Problems, Socialism vs Capitalism, Keynesiasm vs Misesanism, Gold vs. Fiat, Democracy vs Dictatorship, etc. It is none of those things. It’s a straight resource and energy problem which nobody in control will acknowledge, because there is no palatable economic solution to it. It’s not that the only solution entails giving up the Carz and the Happy Motoring lifestyle we have come to expect as a God Given right (the Amerikan lifestyle is NON-NEGOTIABLE according to Dick Cheney), it’s that the only solution is a lot of DEAD PEOPLE.
“I see Dead People”
There is no way whatsoever to engineer the death of billions of people in an equitable manner, there IS no equitable manner for such a catastrophe. Occassionally you hear talk on the internet in the collapse blogosphere of reducing population through birth control, but first off the Chinese tried that with the One Child policy over the last 30 years and it really did not work, and second even such a policy can only be implemented by the most powerful of governments. To be really effective, it requires such onerous proceedures as FORCED STERILIZATION and MANDATORY BIRTH CONTROL, and both of those are wicked difficult to implement on the grand scale in any case.
On the upside to this, the Birth Rate in many developed nations is falling, as more people who realize they simply can’t afford to have children stop having them, but that is more than made up for as people in the 3rd World countries reproduce as fast as they still are able to do so, long as they have enough food to do that anyhow. That supply of food looks like it will run short or be unaffordable for them (or both), so high birth rates and high survival rates for infants in these locations seems unlikely moving forward into the future.
The total population will diminish at some rate, from a decreasing birth rate, and increasing child mortality rate and an increasing death rate in the adult population as well. That will all come from the usual vectors, the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Famine,Pestilence, War and DEATH.
The only real questions left now are how fast this will occur, where the best & worst locations will be to be trying to keep living, what are the best strategies for surving this catastrophe, and whether anybody at all can make it through the Zero Point. Is this Extinction, or a Knockdown Event?
For the individual who realizes this is coming down the pipe, I don’t think it matters which way it actually ends up, because either way, if you want to LIVE, you are going to operate in the same way. You pick the best strategies for survival you can think up and also implement in some fashion, given the resources you personally have. You absolutely cannot depend on you Goobermint to save you in the end, since your Goobermint is quite likely to collapse even before you do, at least if you are fairly young anyhow. Either way its a sorry end, because if everybody dies, its the end of Sentience on Earth. If you or your progeny survive it, it is still a sorry end, because you are left with Survivor Guilt. It is a sure thing that if you are to survive this, somebody else must die in your place. There are just too many people on board the Spaceship Earth now, as a species we are in serious Overshoot, probably 3X to 4X minimum as of now, maybe more than that.
The Greek situation remains an important one to keep track of, because they are the first of the European Nations being kicked off the Titanic of industrial Civilization without a Lifeboat. How quickly will the situation deteriorate there, how long before they deteriorate to Civil War, how long before Contagion brings their problems to the rest of Europe?
These are questions we do not have answers for today, but they will be coming down the pipe in the not too distant future. Of one thing you can be certain here, we are NOT exceptional. This is a very straightforward problem of Thermodynamics, and it will engulf the entire population of Homo Saps currently walking the Earth. It has little to do with the political systems or economic systems we run to manage the resources. None of them can work anymore. There are too many people, too much pollution and waste and not enough resource left for this planet to bear.