Peak Oil

Richard Heinberg: Peak Oil and the Globe’s Limitations

Those who watched the video at bottom of my recent ‘crystal ball’ post will want to follow up with the next in this new series we’re being drip-fed from The Nation. Richard talks about the very close correlation between increased energy consumption and economic growth, and reiterates that each time the economy begins to recover we’ll hit a supply ceiling that’ll knock the economy back onto its knees.

What politician is going to be able to standup in front of the American people and tell them the truth?” Heinberg asks. “Every politician is going to want to promise more economic growth and blame the lack of growth on the other political party…. The whole political system starts to get more and more polarized and more and more radical until it just comes apart at the seams. — Richard Heinberg

26 Comments

  1. Sorry, but while I do love this site for all the permaculture stuff, this doom-saying gets on my nerves a bit. Was the 1920s crash also because of peak oil? And what about economic crises since then? What about the Swedish crisis – was that because the Swedes were somehow not able to get their hands on oil? And the Japanese crisis – same thing there?

    And Greece – I’m sick of hearing it. It’s not like the country is in revolution. It’s a swathe of the population (and, dare I say it, those with most to lose – people with cushy public jobs). Likewise, the UK demonstrations were run by peaceful groups of students. When a small anarchist fomented violence, the media (including this website) focussed on that.

    Oh, speaking of protests – I presume the 1968 protests were also because of peak oil and they basically caused an overthrow of the world system? Oh wait, no, that didn’t happen… so let’s not presume the same will happen now!

  2. Craig, I am sure that you must despair when confronted by comments from myopic individuals who have little or no understanding of where we are at globally and the reasons why we promote permaculture as a solution. You must wonder how many times and in what ways the message has to be presented in order for them to get it.

    Please take heart that many of the people that associate with this site and the principles it upholds, do understand the dire situation the world is in and the immense need for the permaculture message to spread as an agent of change, if not survival, in this age.

    While looking backwards to past events gives essential knowledge, relevance and clarity as to how we got to where we are now, it cannot be used as a gauge in an ever changing world for solutions to either present or future problems. We live in a vastly different world to that of the 1920s or even 1960s.

    Doom-saying, when facing the possibility of impending doom, is a vital function if it also includes practical means of mitigating the effects of or perhaps even preventing said doom. I see this as an intrinsic part of the permaculture message. Keep up the good work.

  3. Bernie, I don’t think calling me a “myopic individual” with “little understanding” is civilised, fair, or, to be honest, based on sufficient evidence. If you want to attack people of different opinions, go ahead, but personally I am happy to accomodate different viewpoints and love civil discourse as to those differences of opinion.

    Just to clarify: I agree with the doom saying in terms of peak oil – when that happens, and it will, it will have terrible consequences and so we need to work towards a carbon-free future NOW.

    What I disagree with is linking the recent recession with peak oil. There simply is no link. It’s as simple as that. There is also no link between the protests in Greece and peak oil, no link between the student protests in the UK and peak oil, etc. etc.

    To make the assertion that the credit crunch and following recession happened because of peak oil is either naive or uninformed – it is certainly, quite simply, untrue.

    I won’t go into a discussion of why the recession happened, but contributing factors: debt, income inequality between 20% world and 80% world, unbridled consumerism, misregulation of banks, massive imbalances such as China heavily regulating its currency to create a trade surplus, and many more.

    Not peak oil – sorry to burst your bubble :-)

  4. I believe that the current recession is due to manipulation of the debt-based global finance system by those with most to gain. And people do gain in these situations, as money conjured by the banks from thin air passes from the have-nots to the haves as happened in the great depression. Oil is just another commodity that is manipulated in the game that the bankers play. Yes, there will be peak oil. Yes, climate change is real and could kill us all. Growing your own food and getting off the electricity grid, or at least changing to a renewable tariff, are political acts that we all should do, regardless of how much oil is left in the ground. One of the most ridiculous statements that I hear is “we must balance the environment with the economy”. Until our politicians realise the folly of that statement they are not fit to lead us. But we are fit to lead our own permaculture based lifestyles and that is empowering.

  5. Craig, I could not agree with you more. The whole environment vs economy thing is complete nonsense. The two need to grow in tandem. When our ecosystem thrives, we will thrive economically. When it suffers, we will end up suffering economically. It really is as simple as that! Cheap energy has sort of given us a few decades of being able to thrive economically while degrading the environment (though, actually most of us, i.e. the vast majority of the world population are not really thriving economically, despite the oil!), but the point is, even if there are still a few decades left of oil (which may be the case), we need to act now to bring the ecosystem into balance so our economic thriving benefits our ecosystem, thus generating a positive cycle.

    And yes, I agree, simple lifestyle changes can be incredibly empowering, and hopefully will slowly start to turn the current vicious cycle into a virtuous one as more and more people practice permaculture in their lives!

  6. Robin, thanks but nothing in your reply gives me concern to change any of my earlier statements, even your acknowledgement of peak oil ‘when that happens’. It is generally understood that we are now living post peak oil, the US having past that point a number of decades ago and for some years now more oil has been consumed than is produced worldwide.

    You list a number of contributing factors to the recent GFC. I would say that all of those factors are necessarily linked to oil which is the essential driver for all economic activity in all western and, increasingly, all global national economies. In all resource based economies it is a case of either growth or collapse. There is no middle ground. This, in relation to steady (and perhaps rapid) resource depletion, means there is only one possible outcome. Oh, economies may teeter one way or the other for a while as they frantically try to juggle their way through, and these recent events in a number of countries are exactly direct results of of such action. So they are linked to peak oil.

    I said there is only one possible outcome to all this but that is only if all other conditions stay on the same track. We need a spontaneous grass-root backpedalling revolution to turn things around. There are signs of this happening around the world, many of which are reported on this site, and permaculture with its ethical basis is a viable part of that process. We can’t expect any sensible solutions or assistance from governments or business, whose only objective is to continue with the ‘grow at any cost’ philosophy because that is what keeps them in positions of power.

    So, don’t worry about bursting my bubble. My bubble is doing fine, thank you.

  7. I don’t know why this conversation has to be so polarised.

    Robin, your first two comments show some contradictions. In your first you expressed a lot of discontent about the post I put up, using words like getting on your nerves, and ‘sick of hearing it’, etc. Then when someone pulls you up, you come back with quite the opposite: “personally I am happy to accomodate different viewpoints and love civil discourse as to those differences of opinion.”

    Assuming the latter is actually the case, I’m happy to comment also.

    In your first comment you ask if past economic crises have been connected with peak oil. I wouldn’t say they were connected with peak oil at all, as if oil has peaked, it’s only been in the last few years (some say 2005, and there’s some evidence to support this, but it’s quite possible it was in one of the years from 2005 to now, or it could be about to occur). So, I would rather state that past economic crises have been connected with energy issues, rather than a peak in global oil production, which obviously wasn’t happening back then.

    This obvious point aside. I would also state that not all economic crises have been connected with energy. But, I would say that a great many have been.

    I’d recommend you read this article, for example, and this and this.

    As the first article linked to above states, “Every major recession in the post-war period has oil’s fingerprints all over it.”

    Before the last recession/depression, of 2008, started, oil prices jumped like never before. We witnessed airlines going bankrupt, the same for transport industries, etc. These are industries which are directly impacted by increased energy prices. Knock on effects brought the big U.S. car manufacturers to their knees, requiring bailouts.

    These all have obvious economic impacts, connected to employment and general costs of living. When the sub-prime mortgage fiasco hit, the economy was already in an unstable state, due to a much higher percentage of business and personal expenditure going into energy. If you’re stretched to the limit with a mortgage you never should have taken on, then seeing energy (and with it, food) prices increase significantly, then of course people have to start prioritising. Do you make a mortgage payment, or do you use the money to fuel the car so you can get to work (the job pays the mortgage).

    I would be stupid to say that there are not other factors at work here than just energy prices, and I never have. Obviously ridiculous management by centralised government and banks has played an enormous role here also.

    That’s why I say the conversation should not be so polarised.

    But what I do say, is that our present economic model is far from a ‘steady state economy’. Rather, it’s based on continual economic growth. In fact, the way the system is ‘designed’, is that if we don’t have year on year growth, then the economy falters and falls. We have a system based on debt, and unless we have constant growth, we cannot pay the interest on that constantly increasing debt (see The Crash Course, Money As Debt and The Mathematics That Contemporary Economics Ignores on this). An economy based on the need for continual economic growth can only persevere if both of the following two factors are a reality:

    1) We live on an inflatable earth, where resource and space constraints are non-existent or expand to accommodate us
    2) We have a never-ending supply of cheap energy.

    Now, in reference to your statement that we may have enough oil for several generations hence. You are correct. If we raze all the forests of Alberta and extract all its tar-sand oil, and if we extract all the oil out of the large shale oil deposits in the U.S., and if we drill miles and miles deep and suck up everything we can find, then, indeed, there’s still plenty left.

    But, the big issue is that the ratio of how much energy we’re putting in compared to what we’re getting out (EROEI – Energy Returned on Energy Invested), is, and has been, getting ridiculous. This won’t change, and will only get much worse. This is a fact that I’d challenge you to debunk. All the low hanging fruit has been plucked. Now we’re standing at top of the ladder, reaching precariously across the branches, with just one foot on the top rung. We’re set to fall, and we are.

    All the cheap oil has gone.

    I repeat. All the cheap oil has gone.

    The consequences of this I’ve shared many times before. We end up in a zig-zag economic ride, where each upward zag is lower than the last, in a bumpy, shock-ridden downhill slalom. The posts below outline this issue clearly, and I don’t see how you can knock the logic down myself:

    So, this is the roller coaster cycle we’re looking at:

    1. increasing demand causes a surge in oil prices, which causes recession
    2. The resulting economic slowback then reduces demand and so oil prices sink
    3. Reduced oil prices reduces investment in energy infrastructure (fossil fuel, alternative, whatever). We’re here
    4. Reduced investment in oil exploration and development means reduced supply, which means increased oil prices
    5. Increased oil prices mean more recession — Heading into a Perpetual Recession

    I wrote that post in October 2009. The “We’re here” bit at the end of point #3 could possibly be now safely moved to the end of point #4.

    Staring at the Future from the Top of the Slippery Slide

    Last Days of Ancient Sunlight?

    Peak Oil – “The Debate is Over”

    Money management at bank and government level can certainly bring an economy down. I don’t argue with that. But, turn that argument on its head and consider that even the best money management, if we were to magically see it, would be to no avail if the economy is based on a finite resource, like oil. Throw an oil shortage at an otherwise well run economy, and you’d still have economic collapse.

  8. Bernie, well, if nothing in my reply gives you concern to change your statements, then I guess you were right, I’m a myopic individual. Cheers.

    (Actually, I am far-sighted, but who cares, glasses are glasses, right?) :-)

  9. Craig, thanks for your reply.

    To clarify: I believe that it is ok in civl discourse to admit being sick of hearing certain language / reports. What is not ok is directly attacking an individual, which I did not do when I responded to you or anyone else. However, initially, my statement was not refuted on the basis of fact but I was simply called names. Which, I think is not civil at all!

    I respect your opinion. I acknowledge that cheap oil is over. I agree that when oil gets more expensive, it will cause certain sectors of the economy to rebalance, which is a good thing. Do I believe civilisation as we know it will collapse? Certainly not! Why? Through science, we are continually managing to do things more efficiently. Once we expand into the solar system (which we will certainly do) we will also start to solve some of the issues you address with your “inflatable earth” comment.

    But here is the crux of what I think will happen: as oil becomes more expensive, certain industries and ways of doing things will collapse, while others will thrive. And that is a good thing.

    Examples: cheap manufacturing in China or elsewhere will become much more expensive due to transport, thus goods will be produced more locally, making them more expensive. As a result, people will be forced to consume less, but equally, that will be balanced by stopping the manufacturing drain to other countries.

    Another example: car manufacturers will struggle. Public transport companies like trains, buses etc. will benefit despite the increase in fuel costs from more people ditching unaffordable cars.

    It will suddenly become economically viable to invest much more money into building renewable energy sources, and fossil fuel based electricity will stop quite quickly as it becomes economically unviable.

    Time and time again human civilisation has adapted. It will do so again. It will not come apart at the seams – it will simply adapt and change the way things are done.

    People like you and me, at the vanguard of these things, change our behaviours because it is right to do so. For the masses to follow suit and adopt a low fossil fuel life style, that will only happen when the economic levers are right – i.e., that will only happen with a high oil price.

    So, in my opinion, running out of oil is a great thing that we can look forward to. Not a doomsday scenario!

  10. Robin, I agree with a lot of what you’re saying (like some businesses going under, and others thriving, for example), but I believe you’re grossly underestimating things in other areas. If you read the articles I linked to above, near the end of my last comment, I think it may help, as I’ve covered all your points and many more in them.

    For example, you say that we’ll get more efficient, and that will solve things. Again, grossly underestimating things…. We’ve apparently used, since we first starting gorging on oil in the mid-1800s, around 1 trillion barrels of oil. At present and future projected rates of demand we’ll use that much again in as little as 25 years….. Except that amount of oil will not be economically feasible to extract. You say that civilisation as we know it won’t collapse. For civilisation as we know it to continue, we have to either meet that energy gap (impossible), or civilisation will have to rapidly, and profoundly, adapt — i.e. civilisation as we know it will collapse, and another will emerge. What that ‘another’ will look like largely depends on how well people understand what’s happening, and what we need to do about it, and, further, those people need to cooperate to make that transition, as peacefully and compassionately as possible. Historically people have never really been very good at cooperating…. And now we have an incredible number of potentially uncooperative people to deal with. And each of these has high hopes of gaining the American lifestyle that Bush Senior said was “not negotiable”. (Funnily enough, I think it’s definitely negotiable now….).

    Also on the ‘efficiency’ aspect. Have you ever heard of Jevon’s paradox?

    https://www.permaculturenews.org/2009/05/27/why-increased-energy-efficiency-wont-save-us/

    Increased energy efficiency translates to increased consumption. Just as our appliances are getting more efficient, we’re plugging more of them into the wall.

    On the solar front, solar makes electricity, not transport fuel. Nuclear, wind, solar will not help here. The only way it’d help is if we shift our entire automobile infrastructure to electric cars. To do this would take at least a couple of decades, and that with a WWII type mobilisation to fast-track it. The energy involved in doing this, however, is immense, as is the cost. Both become nigh impossible with a crippled economy, and all the work of implementing that change would require fossil fuels.

    And electric aircraft??

    And you overlook that other issue, that our food production systems are wholly based on fossil fuels. Pesticides come from oil. Fertilisers from the natural gas that is a by-product of oil mining. Then there’s all the processing, transport, distribution, retailing, refrigeration (all along the way) and cooking, etc. It’s said that it takes ten calories of fossil fuels to produce one calorie of food in our present industrialised system. To retreat from this would require a massive shift to small scale polycultures. This is a good thing, of course. But this has significant implications socially – think land redistribution (which has historically meant revolution and bloodshed 99% of the time), and the fact that most people know nothing about natural systems of farming any more. Even if you peacefully redistributed the land, people would starve right there with the soil and its potential right there at their feet.

    How much of your food and other needs to you produce yourself? I’d wager very little. Most of the people in the world require a functional money economy, where they exchange labour for money, and money for food/clothes/housing, etc. If the supermarket was empty, or even just half full, you’ll see a hell of a lot of mayhem around you.

    I don’t really see how expanding into the solar system will help us either….

    Again, I recommend you read all the posts…. It’s no fun for me having to take time to repeat thoughts that I’ve expressed better in full articles on this topic….

    Or, failing that, just check back with me in two years from now, and let me know what your world is looking like.

    In the meantime, I’ll continue trying to wake people up. Without a lucid populace, things will get very ugly me thinks. Indeed, they are already.

  11. Hi Craig, I have read a few of the articles you linked to and will take a look at the others. In general I do love this site – all I was trying to say was I seriously doubt the claim that the oil crisis caused the recession – rather, the recession had an impact on oil prices – and that I don’t think we’re heading into the kind of catastrophic scenario you are predicting.

    Don’t forget that it is not that oil will stop all of a sudden – rather what will happen is the price will go up and up, then suddenly it will become economical to extract it from more difficult locations (this is already happening) which will not lower the price but slow down the rise. Already we are seeing a change starting to happen, electric cars for instance are expected to achieve 10% market share by (I think, by 2020), and I think that as the oil price rises these trends will accelerate, driving some out of business, creating new businesses, and thus society will be changing to adapt. It won’t be a crash, it will be a natural evolution as society reacts to a rising oil price and does things differently.

    Food production systems will be FORCED to adopt at least some permaculture methods, as with a high oil price, they won’t be able to finance fertilisers etc.

    Airplanes: actually, electric planes do exist, in fact a solar plane stayed in the air 24 hours recently.
    But, I think for transportation of goods, we will be doing that differently: see “The return of the Zeppelin” https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/8252162/The-return-of-the-Zeppelin-not-just-a-flight-of-fancy.html (sorry for linking to the “Torygraph”, which I actually can’t stand!) – there are also similar ideas, like an airship that looks like a flying disc etc.

    The above illustrates an important point though: we’re not going to simply replace cars with electric cars, planes with electric planes, etc. What will happen is we will do things differently, not because people want to do the right thing, but because they are responding to the economic reality of a high oil price. Think, airship instead of planes, less transportation of goods because of high price of transport, more use of shared transport such as bus and train, fewer people owning cars, thus fewer people living in the countryside (city dwellers currently use orders of magnitude less energy than country dwellers), local food production in cities, on patios, in flats, as people try to grow some of their own food because of high food prices, etc etc. etc.

    We will not replace everything with an electric equivalent. We will do things differently.

    As to your posts – I have read most of the things that you expressed here elsewhere on this site, but that doesn’t mean I believe all of what you predict will happen :-)

    Agree to disagree I think… :-)

  12. What about the simple truth of facing reality?
    Heinberg allows us to do that in a way that is clear.
    I am very grateful for all posts like these.

    Heather Formaini

  13. Robin, yes, have to agree to disagree, sadly. I say sadly, as if people underestimate the consequences, they won’t react, and act, in time. People don’t work energetically and cooperatively to implement the right solutions if they don’t understand or appreciate what will happen if they don’t.

    Your projections, I believe, are far too linear. 10% market share by 2020 for electric cars is wholly too little too late. Such figures are a perfect vindication of what I’m trying to say.

    You said the recession had an impact on oil prices. Please provide some evidence. If you’re saying the recession caused prices to go up, I’m sorry, but the reverse is true, as I already shared – oil prices went up, and substantially, before the whole sub-prime fiasco. Anyone old enough to have been watching oil price rises from 2005 onwards knows this. The recession did have an impact however, as reduced demand meant oil prices went back down. But this just meant oil companies had less capital to invest in finding and developing new fields, which means we’re wholly unprepared for the next time our supply is not sufficient to meet demand.

    The IEA, after doing a full inventory and checking the production rates and declines of the world’s largest 800 oil fields, says that we will require more than 26 trillion investment dollars over the next couple of decades to meet demand. And around half of that is for finding and developing new fields that may not exist. When we get to the point, which we’re approaching, where the energy we get from oil is as little as double what we put in to mine it, then we’ll stop mining it. Just like a fox would stop chasing rabbits if the calories he got from consuming the rabbit was less than he lost in chasing it. As my articles share, if you were to spend one million dollars per day since the time of Christ until now, you’d have spent less than three-quarters of a single trillion dollars. Multiply that amount by 36, and you’ll have what the IEA are asking for. Buddy, this is mega-collapse….

    In regards to society seamlessly adapting to the new circumstances, check out how Tunisia is adapting:

    https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-12198396

    This is all about food price rises and increasing unemployment – both are directly related to oil price rises. Food prices skyrocket when oil prices reached their 2008 high. Food prices are skyrocketing again now, as oil prices are once again edging towards $100 p/barrel.

    You think this won’t happen in Los Angeles, Beijing and London?

    I’ll leave you to your beliefs. I’d only encourage you to ensure you’ve considered everything fully and objectively, as each person who believes we have a non-problem becomes an obstacle to implementing solutions – due to the fact that their words and actions encourage everyone else to be complacent, right at a time where complacency is the very last thing we need. Due to the seriousness of the consequences if you’re wrong and I’m right, I think it deserves some deeper research than I believe you’ve given it to date.

    Kind regards

  14. I hesitate to make further comment here because Craig has made such lucid arguments for the case but I just want to correct certain things in my previous post.

    Firstly, incorrect use of language, where I wrote ‘past’ instead of ‘passed’, something I find irksome in other people and unforgivable in myself. I blame the lateness of the hour, late for me at least.

    I think I also, in a flush of euphoria, may have given the impression I believe that economic collapse can be avoided. That impression I must correct. I think economic collapse in inevitable even if we were to achieve universal will to try to stop it from happening. However, the full effects of such collapse can be mitigated to some extent and for the general good, by the sort of grass-root activities to which I referred.

    Finally, I don’t normally post comments here, or anywhere else for that matter, but I am of the opinion that dissenting voices of the kind which started this comment stream and which was a direct attack on the editorial integrity of the site, must be countered in some way because of the seriousness of the situation. Again, I thank Craig for his lucid posts and perhaps I should have left it to him to do the refuting but I also think that some occasional overt encouragement for the great work and tireless effort he puts into the site isn’t a bad thing.

  15. Well said Bernie. Thanks again for your great work Craig.

    Sometimes I decide to venture into the insanity of trying to convince people that peak-energy/oil is a clear and present issue. Time and time again people stare at me blankly and then say something along the lines of ‘The government won’t let that happen’ or more nebulously ‘They won’t let that happen’. My response if usually to stare blankly back and wonder what hope we have. These are not uneducated people I am talking about either. I wonder if they are referring to the same governments that allow people to build housing suburbs in places subject to serious flooding, or whole settlements in tinder-box eucalyptus forests. Are they the same governments that allow wrecking companies to go into national park and carve up the Earth for a quick dollar? I wonder which governments and which ‘they’ they are referring too.

    After that I retreat to my attempt at a permacultural life-style (which even with great belief and some skills I really don’t do that well at), lick my wounds and rest for a while until I forget and venture out into the mad world to see if I can engage them again. Perhaps Nero understood that things were lost a long time before Rome started burning and so he played the fiddle. I dunno, perhaps we as permaculturists are just playing with ourselves as the world is burning around us. But what else am I gonna do? I’ll fiddle on.

  16. Well, I think I’ve learned that people here do not believe in freedom of opinion. Our way or the highway. Am really quite disappointed, as I didn’t think Permaculture people were so intolerant. I think I will now be reading other Permaculture sites, not this one – allowing dissenting opinons is, in my opinion, a key part of permaculture philosophy. Attacking dissenters is, in my opinion, a key part of fascism not permaculture – but who am I to argue.

  17. Robin – I’m not sure why you take it like that. Your opinion is welcome here. You started the conversation, and myself and others have been offering counter-arguments. It’s all valuable discussion, as I’m sure (I know) you’re not the only one that believes as you do. Who, may I ask, is attacking you? Or did you just say that as a distraction, because you don’t feel your argument is holding up as well as you had hoped?

  18. Hi Craig, the reason I feel this way is because I have been called a “myopic individual”, referred to as “dissenting voices of the kind which started this comment stream” and an “obstacle to implementing solutions” – and you are talking about someone who, as a family, has made a choice to adopt a lifestyle of not having a car, gets their electricity from a green tariff and is trying to grow their own food. I just don’t see how not believing that our civilisation will collapse is so dangerous and makes me an obstacle. I don’t mind people disagreeing with me, am perfectly alright with that.

    Calling me an obstacle to implementing solutions is, in my view, a bit judgmental to say the least. But never mind. I don’t really like the tone of the comments (and in parts I include my own comments in this) so I think I will now refrain from commenting further. To each their own, I say, and I wish you all the best of luck in your permacultural endeavors.

    By the way: articles that look at how to do permaculture in an urban setting, even indoors and on patios (as detailed in Sepp Holzer’s “Permaculture” would be most welcome, as that is what I am attempting. Thanks.

  19. Hi Robin. I was not trying to be judgmental. Rather, I was just expressing my subjective view, which you are welcome to accept, reject or otherwise dispute with your own subjective view as you see fit. This site is an open forum for consenting adults to discuss these issues. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

    In regards to articles on urban and small space settings, why not submit posts – editor (at) permaculturenews.org – telling the world about your own learning curve by showing what you’re doing, with a few accompanying photographs? Such series are beneficial for both the reader (inspiring them and giving them whatever tips you may have picked up along the way) and the writer, as you will find people commenting with recommendations from their own experience. If everyone just sits there waiting for such articles to appear on this site, but they don’t submit them themselves, then they’ll be few and far between. Submit the kind of articles you’d like to see in the world.

    Regards

  20. Again, I thank Craig for his lucid posts and perhaps I should have left it to him to do the refuting but I also think that some occasional overt encouragement for the great work and tireless effort he puts into the site isn’t a bad thing. – Bernie

    Thanks Bernie – yes, it’s always good when people who agree with a writer and/or commenter to pipe up to express this, as otherwise it’s only those who disagree who comment, giving a wrong impression or poor representation about the thoughts of the rest of the people who read this site. And obviously it’s heartening for writers when their understanding is validated by a reader’s own experience.

    Thanks for your support.

  21. @Craig

    “It’s said that it takes ten calories of fossil fuels to produce one calorie of food in our present industrialised system.”

    I think to remember Richard Heinberg in the video above said it takes seven calories of fossil fuels to produce one calorie of food in our present industrialised system.

  22. Hi Oyvind. It’s obviously a hard thing to calculate, but estimates vary from 7-10, and even higher, if you decide you also want to count the navy ships and blackhawk helicopters that are required to secure the fuel in certain countries….

    In total, providing the 3800 kilocalories of food energy available per capita per day in the United States is estimated to consume 10.2 quadrillion BTUs annually. This represents about 10% of the total energy consumed in the United States[148]. By our estimates, therefore, it takes about 7.3 units of (primarily) fossil energy to produce one unit of food energy in the U.S. food system. This estimate is somewhat lower than others presented. Pimentel[130] and Hall[150] both put the ratio of output food energy to input energy at 1:10. — Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System, page 42 (PDF)

    A less-technical article to look at on this:

    https://www.harpers.org/archive/2004/02/0079915

  23. An observation: I would have liked to see Robin also providing substantiating evidence for his/her perspective on decline/collapse.

    The type of descent we’ll experience is certainly up to us. But only to the degree that we’re aware that we have to make changes.

    But honestly, Robin, how many of your family, friends and neighbours are walking the same path you are?

    How many of your family, friends and neighbours are choosing instead to carry on with BAU (business as usual) and ignoring the signs all around them?

    The reality we face is there are far too few people willing to take their heads out of the sand, stop expecting “someone else” to take care of the problems they don’t want to see and begin to act from their own power. (We have a system built on making sure people “don’t” recognise the power they have because they are much more easily manipulated. But we don’t need to go into that here.)

    The point is, we are reaching limits. And in reaching those limits we have less time to make the necessary changes and seem to be left on our own to do what we can.

    Robin, you are certainly doing some very commendable things in your attempts to live sustainably. But are they enough when you think about the numbers of people who continue on with BAU? Are they enough when developing countries are ramping up their use of finite energy sources and everyone is scrambling to secure their access to the fuels that fuel their economies?

    As Craig said, we’ll see where we all are in 2 years.

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