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
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.
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.”
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…..