Wednesday, January 01, 2014

The Song of the Snallygaster

I've noticed, over the past few years, a growing lack of enthusiasm in the formerly raucous festivities that once marked the end of one year and the beginning of another. That was certainly in evidence last night in our old red brick mill town here in the eastern end of the Rust Belt. As my wife and I clicked glasses together, the night outside was hushed. It was as though all the people who were grateful to see 2013 hauled away to the glue factory suddenly realized that the new year might well be worse.
I’m not sure why I didn’t share in the general gloom. When you live in a decaying empire that’s trying to meet the rising costs of its short-term survival by selling its own grandchildren down the river, contemplating the future that results from that choice isn’t exactly a recipe for hilarity, and making a career out of writing about that future might seem like a good way to meet each new year in a profound depression or a drunken stupor, take your pick. Still, that hasn’t been the case for me. Maybe it’s that I came to terms with the reality of our civilization’s impending decline back in the 1970s, when you could still talk about such things in public without being shouted down by true believers in perpetual progress and instant apocalypse, the Tweedledoom and Tweedledee of our collective non-conversation about the future; whatever the cause, I waved hello to the New Year and sipped a glass of bourbon in relatively good cheer.

There was at least one extraneous reason for that cheer. One of my solstice presents this year was a lively little book, Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland by local author Susan Fair. Most parts of the United States have at least one book like it, collecting the ghost stories, spooky tales, and weird creatures of the area, and this one is a good and highly readable example of the species. Reading it took me back to some of the least wretched hours of my childhood, when I found refuge from a disintegrating family, and a school life marred by American education’s culture of mediocrity and bullying, by chasing down anything that made the walls of the world press a little less closely against me on all sides. Monster lore played a significant role in that process, and so I was delighted, in reading Fair’s book, to make the acquaintance of one of the local “fearsome critters,” the snallygaster.

Any of my readers who happen to be adept in American monster folklore will no doubt be leaping for their keyboards to tell me that the same word’s spelled “snoligoster” or “snollygoster” elsewhere. Yes, I know; it’s different here. (In western Maryland, for reasons I haven’t yet deciphered, the letter A is more popular than its rival vowels; the Native American name for the local mountain range, written out as “Allegheny” everywhere else, is spelled “Allegany” here and rhymes with “rainy.”) The snallygaster, as I was saying, was a dragonlike creature with huge wings, a long pointed tail, a single eye in the middle of its forehead, and octopuslike tentacles that dangled behind it as it flew. 

This remarkable apparition was apparently all over western Maryland in 1909, and then again in 1932; during both flaps, the newspapers splashed the story all over the front page of issue after issue, and everyone in the region seems to have known someone who knew someone who knew someone who just missed seeing it. Even when it met its end—it drowned, according to newspaper reports, after falling into a 2500-gallon vat of illegal whiskey in the notorious local moonshiner’s haven of Frog Hollow—its presence was evanescent:  its body dissolved in the liquor, and the government agents who were raiding the operation when the snallygaster met its doom proceeded to break open the vat and spill the contents, rather than bottling and selling what would surely have been the most unique beverage ever produced by the region’s less-than-legal distilling industry.

Snallygasters thus share in the most important characteristic of the “fearsome critters” of American monster folklore:  everybody knows about them, but you’ll never actually meet anybody who’s seen one. That characteristic isn’t unique to monsters. It also features in the peak oil scene, and in particular in one of the more common habits of that scene, especially though not only around this time of year. That’s as much justification as you’ll get for the cameo appearance of snallygasters in this week’s post—well, beyond the fact that snallygasters, and local folklore generally, deserve more attention than they usually get these days—because it’s mostly these habits that I want to talk about this week.

The weeks to either side of January 1 each year, as regular readers of peak oil blogs will have noted long since, are festooned with predictions about what’s going to happen in the year to come. That habit’s not limited to the peak oil scene, to be sure, but a curious feature is shared by many peak oil blogs: the prophecies that pop up during this annual orgy of prognostication are quite often the same ones that appeared the previous year, and the year before that, and so on back as far as the archives go. Most of those predictions, furthermore, flopped—that is, the events so confidently predicted did not happen within the time frame the prediction assigned them—but reflections on that awkward reality in these same blogs are about as rare as snallygasters singing duets in your back yard.

It’s high time for this bad habit to get drowned in a tub of moonshine once and for all. Those of us who talk about peak oil and the other troubles closing in on contemporary industrial civilization have precisely one thing to offer that deserves the attention of anybody else—that our ideas, and the predictions we base on them, might help others figure out what’s happening to the world around them at a time when more familiar ways of thinking aren’t providing useful guidance. If our predictions are no more accurate than those of raving maniacs, mainstream economists, and the like, nobody has any reason to listen to us. In point of fact, I’ve come to think that one of the most important reasons why the peak oil movement is all but dead in the water these days is that too many people outside it have read too many rehashes of the same failed predictions too many times, and decided that peak oil writers simply don’t know what they’re talking about.

I’d like to suggest that the lack of attention paid by peak oil authors to the failure rate of their predictions has contributed heartily to that reaction. For this reason, before I review the predictions I made in my first post of 2013 and offer some new ones for the year that’s just begun, I’m going to take a moment to discuss predictions of mine that flopped, and what I’ve learned from those flops.

The first of my failed predictions has evaded my attempts to find it in this blog’s archives, but it appeared sometime in 2007 or 2008, if I recall correctly.  I noted the skyrocketing price of oil, surveyed the claims then being made by other peak oil writers that it would just keep on zooming up forever, and argued instead that it would plateau and then decline over the course of the next few decades. I was, of course, quite wrong, but so were the people whose ideas I was challenging; the price of crude oil spiked up to just shy of $150 a barrel and then crashed at once, plunging to not much more than a fifth of that figure, before resuming a ragged upwards movement to its present level just north of $100 a barrel. The raw volatility of the oil market blindsided me, as it did many others; it was an embarrassing lesson, and one that’s shaped my efforts to estimate oil price movements since that time.

The second appeared in several of my posts and responses to comments in 2009 and 2010. At that time, I was convinced that Barack Obama would be a one-term president.  It was inconceivable to me that the Democrats who spent eight years in a state of spit-slinging fury at George W. Bush’s war crimes, abuses of civil liberties, and huge giveaways to big corporations, would fall all over themselves finding excuses for the identical actions performed by Barack Obama. It was also inconceivable to me that the Republicans, faced with the weakest Democratic incumbent in many decades, would ransack the nation to find a candidate the American people would like even less.  Of course that’s exactly what happened; a great many Democrats demonstrated with painful clarity that the respect for civil liberties and the rule of law they paraded so loudly during the Bush years was simply a cover for the usual partisan hatreds, while the Republican party showed just as clearly how detached it’s become from those Americans—a substantial majority, by the way—who don’t belong to the handful of isolated pressure groups whose vagaries currently shape GOP policy. We haven’t yet had another national election, but I can assure my readers that I won’t be making those mistakes again.

The third appeared in several posts in late 2011 and early 2012, as the hoopla around the fake-Mayan 2012 prophecy was shifting into high gear. I thought, based on historical parallels, that 2012 might turn out to be an apocalyptic frenzy for the record books, with crowds of believers gathering on hilltops to wait for December 21 to dawn and watch the Space Brothers land, or what have you.  That didn’t happen; quite the contrary, in the weeks just prior to December 21, quite a few of the big names in the 2012 scene started backpedaling on their previous insistence that some worldchanging event would surely happen that day. I’ve factored that curious turn of events into my thinking about the next big apocalyptic furore—of which more shortly.

The fourth appeared last February in one of my posts on the current fracking bubble. At that time, for a variety of reasons, I thought that the financial bubble that’s inflated around shale oil in the last few years was within a few months of a messy collapse. I remain convinced that it’s going to pop—bubbles always do, and the fracking business has all the classic signs of a speculative bubble, from the bellowing about a new era of prosperity right around the corner all the way down to the dodgy financial underpinnings—but I was obviously wrong about the timing; the month before, I’d suggested 2014 as a likely date for the inevitable crash, and I should have stuck with that estimate.

So those are the four failed predictions of mine I recalled while glancing back over the nearly eight years this blog has been in existence. There may have been others that I missed—if so, I encourage my readers to bring them up on the comments page and we’ll talk about them. Such mistakes are all but impossible to avoid when discussing something as elusive as the future, and archdruids are no more infallible than anyone else; in fact, the late head of a different Druid order once promulgated an official Dogma of Archdruidical Fallibility to declare in formal terms that he was going to make mistakes.  We don’t have any dogmas at all in the Druid order I head, but the principle still applies.

With that cautionary note in mind, let’s turn to the predictions I made at the beginning of 2013 about the year ahead. Here they are:

“I thus predict that just as 2012 looked like a remake of 2011 a little further down the curve of decline, 2013 will look a good deal like 2012, but with further worsening along the same broad array of trends and yet another round of local crises and regional disasters. The number of billion-dollar weather disasters will tick up further, as will the number of Americans who have no job—though, to be sure, the official unemployment rate and other economic statistics will be gimmicked then as now.  The US dollar, the Euro, and the world’s stock markets will still be in business at year’s end, and there will still be gas for sale in gas stations, groceries for sale in grocery stores, and more people interested in the Super Bowl than in global warming or peak oil, as 2013 gives way to 2014.

“As the year unfolds, I’d encourage my readers to watch the fracking bubble...I don’t expect the bubble to pop this year—my best guess at this point is that that’ll happen in 2014—but it’s already losing air as the ferocious decline rates experienced by fracked oil and gas wells gnaw the bottom out of the fantasy.  Expect the new year to bring more strident claims of the imminent arrival of a shiny new future of energy abundance, coupled with a steady drumbeat of bad financial news suggesting, in essence, that the major players in that end of the oil and gas industry are well and truly fracked.

“I’d also encourage my readers to watch the climate...Most of the infrastructure of industrial society was built during the period of abnormally good weather we call the twentieth century. A fair amount of it, as New York subway riders have had reason to learn, is poorly designed to handle extreme weather, and if those extremes become normal, the economics of maintaining such complex systems as the New York subways in the teeth of repeated flooding start to look very dubious indeed.  I don’t expect to see significant movements out of vulnerable coastal areas quite yet, but if 2011’s Hurricane Irene and 2012’s Hurricane Sandy turn out to have a bouncing baby sibling who decides to pay a visit to the Big Apple in 2013, 2014 might see the first businesses relocating further inland, perhaps to the old mill towns of the southern Hudson valley and the eastern end of Pennsylvania, perhaps further still.

“That’s speculative. What isn’t speculative is that all the trends that have been driving the industrial world down the arc of the Long Descent are still in play, and so are all the parallel trends that are pushing America’s global empire along its own trajectory toward history’s dustbin  Those things haven’t changed; even if anything could be done about them, which is far from certain, nothing is being done about them; indeed, outside of a handful of us on the fringes of contemporary culture, nobody is even talking about the possibility that something might need to be done about them.  That being the case, it’s a safe bet that the trends I’ve sketched out will continue unhindered, and give us another year of the ordinary phenomena of slowly accelerating decline and fall.”

The bouncing baby sibling of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy didn’t put in an appearance, and so the first tentative shifts of businesses and population inland from the vulnerable Atlantic coast will have to wait a few more years. Other than that, I think it’s fair to say that once again, I called it.

My prediction for 2014, in turn, is that we’ll see more of the same:  another year, that is, of uneven but continued downward movement along the same arc of decline and fall, while official statistics here in the United States will be doctored even more extravagantly than before to manufacture a paper image of prosperity. The number of Americans trying to survive without a job will continue to increase, the effective standard of living for most of the population will continue to decline, and what used to count as the framework of ordinary life in this country will go on unraveling a thread at a time. Even so, the dollar, the Euro, the stock market, and the Super Bowl will still be functioning as 2015 begins; there will still be gas in the gas pumps and food on grocery store shelves, though fewer people will be able to afford to buy either one.

The fracking bubble has more than lived up to last year’s expectations, filling the mass media with vast amounts of meretricious handwaving about the coming era of abundance: the same talk, for all practical purposes, that surrounded the equally delusional claims made for the housing bubble, the tech bubble, and so on all the way back to the Dutch tulip bubble of 1637. That rhetoric will prove just as dishonest as its predecessors, and the supposed new era of prosperity will come tumbling back down to earth once the bubble pops, taking a good chunk of the American economy with it. Will that happen in 2014? That’s almost impossible to know in advance. Timing the collapse of a bubble is one of the trickiest jobs in economic life; no less a mind than Isaac Newton’s was caught flatfooted by the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, and the current bubble is far more opaque. My guess is that the collapse will come toward the end of 2014, but it could have another year or so to run first.

It’s probably a safe bet that weather-related disasters will continue to increase in number and severity. If we get a whopper on the scale of Katrina or Sandy, watch the Federal response; it’s certain to fall short of meeting the needs of the survivors and their communities, but the degree to which it falls short will be a useful measure of just how brittle and weak the national government has become. One of these years—just possibly this year, far more likely later on—that weakness is going to become one of the crucial political facts of our time, and responses to major domestic disasters are among the few good measures we’ll have of how close we are to the inevitable crisis.

Meanwhile, what won’t happen is at least as important as what will. Despite plenty of enthusiastic pronouncements and no shortage of infomercials disguised as meaningful journalism, there will be no grand breakthroughs on the energy front. Liquid fuels—that is to say, petroleum plus anything else that can be thrown into a gas tank—will keep on being produced at something close to 2013’s rates, though the fraction of the total supply that comes from expensive alternative fuels with lower net energy and higher production costs will continue to rise, tightening a noose around the neck of every other kind of economic activity. Renewables will remain as dependent on government subsidies as they’ve been all along, nuclear power will remain dead in the water, fusion will remain a pipe dream, and more exotic items such as algal biodiesel will continue to soak up their quotas of investment dollars before going belly up in the usual way. Once the fracking bubble starts losing air, expect something else to be scooped up hurriedly by the media and waved around to buttress the claim that peak oil won’t happen, doesn’t matter, and so on; any of my readers who happen to guess correctly what that will be, and manage their investments accordingly, may just make a great deal of money.

Sudden world-ending catastrophes will also be in short supply in 2014, though talk about them will be anything but. The current vagaries of the apocalypse lobby probably deserve a post of their own; the short version is that another prediction of mine—that the failure of the fake-Mayan 2012 prophecy would very quickly be followed by the emergence of another date of supposedly imminent doom—has already come true, with knobs on. The new date is 2030; expect to see the same dubious logic, the same frantic cherrypicking of factoids, and the same mass production of different theories sharing only a common date, that played such important and disreputable roles in the 2012 fracas.  Since we’ve got more than a decade and a half to go before the next Nothing Happened Day arrives, there’s plenty of time for the marketing machine to get rolling before the snallygaster sings, and roll it will.

Both the grandiose breakthroughs that never happen and the equally gaudy catastrophes that never happen will thus continue to fill their current role as excuses not to think about, much less do anything about, what’s actually happening around us right now—the long ragged decline and fall of industrial civilization that I’ve called the Long Descent. Given the popularity of both these evasive moves, we can safely assume that one more thing won’t happen in 2014:  any meaningful collective response to the rising spiral of crises that’s shredding our societies and our future. As before, anything useful that’s going to happen will be the work of individuals, families, and community groups, using the resources on hand to cope with local conditions. I’ve talked at great length here, and in several of my books, about some of the things that might go into such a response, and I won’t rehash that now; we’ll be talking about much of it from another perspective in the months ahead.

There’s at least one other question about the immediate future that I plan on leaving up in the air for now, though, and it circles back to some of the points I made toward the start of this post. I’ve just noted the times in the past where my guesses about the future have been wrong, explained why they were wrong, and talked about what I learned from the experience. I then reviewed the predictions I made at the beginning of 2013, checked them against the facts, and used the results as a basis for my 2014 predictions. I’d like to encourage other writers and bloggers exploring peak oil, and the shape of the future more generally, to do the same thing right out here in public, review their successes and their flops, and talk about how their 2013 predictions worked out over the year just past.

On second thought, I think we can go further than that. Bloggers and writers in the peak oil community who make predictions, and expect those predictions to be taken seriously, owe it to their readers to subject their predictions to honest assessment once they can be compared to the facts. If it’s reasonable for us to talk about the failed predictions of cornucopians,  fusion-power advocates, and the like, and of course it is, we need to be willing to ‘fess up to our own mistakes and learn from them, rather than just making them over and over again in the fond belief that nobody will notice. Those who indulge in this latter habit are doing active harm to the cause of peak oil awareness, and it’s high time that the rest of us start pointing out that they’re not offering useful insights into the future—just engaging in a hackneyed form of science fiction useful for entertainment purposes only.

The clatter you just heard? That was the sound of a gauntlet being thrown down. It will be interesting to see whether anyone picks it up.


Andy Brown said...
Hmmm. I'll have to dig back through my own blog to see if I've made rash predictions. But in any case, since the turning of the year is a time of reflection and prediction, I took two different stabs at it this week. First, taking the intellectual tack, on December 31st I made 9 predictions about 2014. Second, on the morning of January 1st, I did a New Year’s Tarot reading. The outcomes were as different as can be in tone and content – the reasoned argument full of short-term pessimism (though nothing apocalyptic!) and the tarot reading full of long-term affirmation – but I could stand by each of them equally. It was a nice exercise in contrasting the kinds of resources we can bring to bear on imagining responses to the dilemma we have put ourselves in.

1/1/14, 9:06 PM

Avery said...
"If we get a whopper on the scale of Katrina or Sandy, watch the Federal response; it’s certain to fall short of meeting the needs of the survivors and their communities"

Or just look at a disaster you already mentioned: Congress approved an astounding $57 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid, but most of it disappeared on its way to victims.

It's getting harder and harder to find this information. The Internet seems to guarantee that important stories affecting thousands or tens of thousands of people will be swept away by a tide of reality TV and nonsense. I hope other commentators here will help point me towards a blog or two that document these overlooked stories.

My new year's wish for JMG is that we take some time this year to think about the coming cargo cults, and how today's vaguely defined evil conspiracies of governments, corporations, and Global Elites are bound to loom larger in everyone's minds as we slowly slide into a post-oil worlds. As a better writer than me, I bet you can tie this into the civil religion of progress somehow. :)

1/1/14, 9:31 PM

AA said...
Here's one person taking a self-critical look at his predictions for 2013. With this kind of objectivity he might make a good chess-player.

1/1/14, 9:47 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
Some off the cuff predictions of mine.

- US natural gas prices will move up to $4 to $5 in 2014 and US natural gas production will drop slightly

- Just as GWB invaded Iraq for oil, Obama will make peace with Iran for oil. Dropping sanctions is the quickest and easiest way to increase world oil supplies and moderate prices.

- internal conflict will restrict oil exports from a major oil supplier. I do not think 2014 is the year of the Arab Spring in Saudi Arabia (I think the spark will be lack of electricity one summer).

- The four nuclear reactors under construction in the USA will have their schedule slip by 3 months and price rise by a couple of hundred million. This is actually good news, since these delays and cost overruns are so moderate. TVA will wait till 2015 to commit to another nuke. 2015/16 will see another southern utility commit to build a new nuke.

- USA and fracked oil production will increase in 2014, but growth will be higher in the first half than the second half. A secondary peak will be in 2016 (maybe late 2015).

- China will ok building subways in another dozen Chinese cities.

More later :-)

1/1/14, 9:53 PM

Thijs Goverde said...
I don't follow the peak oil movement much. The only other peak oil blogger I regularly read (that's 'read' in the past tense, unfortunately, as her blog seems to have disintegrated over the past few years) is Sharon Astyk, and she used to evaluate her past predictions before making new ones.

I always assumed this was par for the course with peak oilers. Apparently it isn't - which, in all honesty, makes me feel rather good about not reading more of them.
Instead, books. I've finally gotten around to reading 1493. Great stuff - I've never thought about Peak Rubber before!

1/1/14, 10:01 PM

Pinku-Sensei said...
I'm amused by your use of the snallygaster in the introduction and reminded that shows about the paranormal, including shows about legendary monsters, seem to be as popular as ever, if not more popular. That must infuriate the rationalists, who think this is all hokum. I suspect the popularity of Ghost Hunters, Dead Files, Celebrity Ghost Stories, and A Haunting, all on different channels, must reflect some need that rationalism just can't fulfill.

On to your comments about predictions. There are people on the peak oil scene who make predictions of imminent DOOM, DOOM, I tell you without either modifying their predictions or even acknowledging their small successes. EscapefromWisconsin of the Hipcrime Vocab, who reads and comments here from time to time, posted a list last year of predictions from a major peak oil whose blog comes out on Monday morning that are (or in some cases, were) in the process of coming true. Here it is:

Cities grew faster than suburbs for the first time in a hundred years.

New housing starts are down indicating a floundering suburbia (they're now up from the 2011 trough, but still lower than during the entire 25 years from 1983 and 2008).

Malls are being abandoned from coast to coast and new construction is down (a year latert, mall vacancy is down from the 2011 peak, but still higher than any time during the 17 years between 1993 and 2009).

Gas is very expensive, even in a depressed economy.

Americans are driving less, and the trend is significantly down.

The average age of cars on the road hit an all-time high.

There have been furtive attempts to get high speed rail going.

At least some global trade is reverting to sail.

The Eurozone is still a basket case.

Doctors are now concerned about viruses being spread to more temperate regions by global warming.

Municipal bankruptcies are endemic.

Graduate school students are dropping out and taking up farming.
Americans are increasingly subscribing to a demon-haunted world of a young earth created by God from scratch, and a medieval world view of social relations.

All in all, not a bad set of predictions coming true. By the way, that last one circles back to the point I made about interest in the paranormal. For some reason, I like closing circles.

1/1/14, 10:19 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Andy, good. I'm far less sanguine than you are about Obamacare, to be sure, but other than that I won't argue.

Avery, that's a theme worth discussing, but it's going to have to take its place in line. I have a few other things that need addressing first, and then a sequence of posts I've been researching for a while now -- a future history of Dark Age America, 2050-2550. That should keep us busy for most of this year.

Alan, so how did your 2013 predictions do?

Thijs, Sharon's blog was good, and when she went in for fast-crash notions -- I was amused, while looking up my own flops, to find a conversation of ours from 2008 in which she insisted that a fast crash was happening and so my Long Descent theory had been disproved by events -- she had the grace to admit it. It's primarily the folks on the technological-breakthrough and sudden-cataclysm ends of the peak oil scene that rehash the same failed predictions year after year.

Pinku, not half bad. As for the demon-haunted world, that's the inevitable result of the failure of the cult of progress; as more and more people realize that techno-utopia isn't going to happen, they're not just rejecting technological triumphalism, they're rejecting science and the whole heritage of the Enlightenment -- which, in turn, were hijacked by the cult of progress and used as its stalking horses. Share his feast and share his fall...

1/1/14, 10:34 PM

Trajork said...
While we're on the subject of predictions and politics, I figured I'd ask a question and see what your speculations might be.

What do you expect the important differences to be among the following two scenarios:

-Republicans win the presidency and both houses of Congress over the course of the next midterm and general election cycles.
-Establishment Democrats (e.g. Hillary Clinton) retain the presidency and regain control of the House in the 2016 election.

I'm curious to see what you think the differences between the policies of the major parties would be here. Obviously the empty political rhetoric would be different, but what major policy differences would they have?

My best guess is that the Democrats are a conservative party in the narrow sense of "not wanting things to change" and will generally make decisions that tend to preserve the status quo, with maybe a few minor changes on the outside to try to get the system to work slightly better (perhaps they try to improve Obamacare somewhat while still placating their donors, or slightly expand the welfare system while slightly reducing the military, or slightly increase taxes on the rich, or decide to legalize marijuana federally, etc).

The Republicans, on the other hand, strike me as the party of change I can actually believe in. Motivated by actual beliefs, they might substantially reduce food stamps and other forms of welfare, which could cause marked civil instability. It seems to be lost on their ideologues that the Arab Spring, and a number of other revolutionary waves before it, get started because of sudden food insecurity. Government spending could also be slashed in such a way as to disproportionately affect infrastructure, education, healthcare, or science while skipping over things like corporate handouts and military spending, which may cause collapse to happen artificially quickly, especially if any more unnecessary wars are started while the cuts are in place.

I tend to support Democrats over Republicans mostly because I believe they are likely to bring about a somewhat slower collapse with somewhat less human suffering than the Republican alternative. Within the current American political system, is this a rational belief or not?

1/1/14, 10:35 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
About the fracking bubble -- I think I mentioned last year, and I will repeat this year, that I am always amazed at how long our economy can sustain bubbles. I mean decades beyond what would seem sustainable. I started wondering in the 1980s how housing prices could keep going up once the average person could no longer afford the average house. But the financial system found ways to make it happen, for another two decades. The consumer credit bubble has still not really burst; amazingly it actually survived the housing bubble's bursting, and has begun reinflating. I suspect (fear) that the same thing might happen with the fracking boom.

Overall, I think we have entered a long series of years in which Nothing Happens. Of course a lot happens, but it is just a continuation of what has been happening, and mostly the annoying bits, with creeping creaky slow disintegration. Like the bubbles, the status quo has incredible inertia. Its gradual unravelling is so well concealed that most folks hardly notice it as it is happening. And I also see that the rapid shifts in the zeitgeist that do happen often catch the pundits off guard. Same sex marriages are legal and being performed in UTAH as I write this (and yet still not legal in Oregon...). Tell me anyone who would have bet on that!

1/1/14, 10:51 PM

Thomas Daulton said...
I have no real comments on the predictions in the main post or the comments -- although I find them interesting, even the ones that say not much will change re: energy etc...

However, I did want to share my favorite book of local legends, as a Californian: a book of Native legends called "Californian Indian Nights" by G. Block of University of Nebraska, of all places.

I read that book probably 20 years ago this year, and the images have stuck with me ever since. There's a giant cannibalistic "Rolling Skull" to keep you looking over your shoulder; there's bear-shirters, and Takwish, the evil spirit who lives inside a rock that he can see out of, and "hunts men the way men hunt deer". Fascinating book!

1/1/14, 11:02 PM

KL Cooke said...
The Snallygaster sounds like the Flying Spaghetti Monster to me. I predict that in 2014 it will rise like the Phoenix from its grave in a vat of hooch.

1/1/14, 11:09 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Trajork, good question. I'm not going to hazard a guess, as a good deal depends not on parties but on which individual personalities end up in which positions -- political and otherwise.

Bill, exactly. One reason so many people have convinced themselves that peak oil isn't an issue is that it didn't make "something happen" in the only sense they're willing to imagine -- that is, a sudden apocalyptic collapse -- and the fact that keeping liquid fuel production going by using ever more costly and resource-intensive substitutes is slowly choking the life out of the global economy never enters their heads.

Thomas, thanks for the recommendation! When I lived in the Seattle area, I used to read a lot of Puget Sound native folklore -- lively, powerful, impressive stuff, with no shortage of monsters. The native peoples of this continent generally had some of the world's best monster lore.

KL, I'll keep an eye out for strange winged creatures coming from the direction of Frog Hollow. As for the Flying Spaghetti Monster, well, maybe; my thought was that H.P. Lovecraft might have heard of the snallygaster, and used it as a model for some of the horrors from three weeks before the beginning of time that infest his stories.

1/1/14, 11:31 PM

Sven said...
Regards the possible next hydrocarbon bubble, a quick google search turns up something called 'acidizing'. Some of the internal propaganda sites are already plugging it, and one or two news sites have covered it.

1/2/14, 2:01 AM

Echo Beach said...
For what it's worth my prediction for 2014 is that we will begin to here a lot more about Underground Coal Gasification.

UCG is, to quote the United Kingdom Coal Authority, "the partial in-situ combustion of a deep underground coal seam to produce a gas for use as an energy source .... (the)gas can be used for industrial heating, power generation or the manufacture of hydrogen, synthetic natural gas or other chemicals". This certainly has the potential to be the "new fracking" ....

Happy New Year to all

1/2/14, 2:43 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
I did not make any explicit predictions that I can think of in 2013. And rarely do I tie a date to them.

I am convinced that Saudi Arabia will see a Revolution against the House of Saud - but when ?

Ghawar is in decline, Manifa us the last major oil field to be developed in Saudi Arabia. Domestic consumption is rising rapidly. Peak Saudi exports are behind us, and Peak Saudi production will be soon if not already.

Growing energy imports will drag down the UK economy.

And more are some if the trends I see.

1/2/14, 3:59 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
Another prediction.

Needed, but long delayed, medical procedures for the uninsured will create a huge demand for surgery. But surprisingly, in 2015 & 2016. In 2014, the newly insured will be too cautious and it will take time to work through the system to get to the long delayed surgeries.

This wave of needed surgery will improve the health of the American people and workforce, but drive costs up as the backlog is cut through.

1/2/14, 4:13 AM

Rashakor said...
The long descent will be a jagged staircase where each step is uneven and some may even be long enough pointing up that they may give the illusion on the ground that things are getting better.
It seems somehow that it is very difficult for most people to look past the next quarter and see that the supposed end of a recession is only a relatively short respite on the way to another recession.
BTW, how would you qualify a possible event like WW3 in the long descent? For many apocalyphile that event may appear like something like a sudden collapse. Even if that is just a very steep step in our metaphorical stair case.

1/2/14, 4:37 AM

Friar Puck said...
Perhaps AODA's Canidate-grade reading list should include a 10th book--local folklore (although that would probably fall under the heading of "anthropology").

I'm Googling "Illinois monster lore" as soon as this comment is sent!

1/2/14, 6:01 AM

Phil Harris said...
I am very glad Druids stress fallibility – in contrast with traditions of authority elsewhere. It could save the faith itself having to devote too much time to yet another industry of sacred texts perhaps? ;) I find it is hard enough doing my homework to keep up, but I value the ongoing discussion of Enlightenment values.

“[JMG]…they're rejecting science and the whole heritage of the Enlightenment”

I have been dipping into Verardi’s ‘Hardships and Downfall of Buddhism in India’, via a hat-tip on this blog - Shakya Indrajala - and time-compression in an historical account makes for a scary read. Verardi claims that the closing down of the open society of the Buddhists coincides with decreasing international trade. There are many ‘aha’ moments –“Despotic consequences are inherent in the Buddhist model…” – “[Asoka] tries to channel… towards his autocratic project of building an alternative society”.

Seen from outside, the USA continues as an intensely international system in an expanding phase (even if the system is approaching apogee). Arguably, major changes in the ‘neural structure’ (mostly financial?) and changes consequent on industrial and social upheaval elsewhere in the ‘system’ could cause willy-nilly changes in US internal structure. A year is a very short time but a decade could be a different epoch. The surprising ‘system’ resilience over recent decades, rightly flagged up by Bill Pulliam, might rely on factors beyond USA control.

I wrote the following to colleagues a few days ago:

“I am wondering whether for the last decade the famed Global Economy relied essentially on China's coal miners (a key resource this while), much as the British Empire depended on our miners back in the day. I guess that US Tight Oil, (and Canadian Tar) even at high cost, might maintain the appearance of BAU globally for a few years - until ... they can't. 2013, and China coal faltering for the first time might be a more significant year than we figured?”

best - N'Year and all
Phil H

1/2/14, 6:03 AM

John in Cape Charles Va said...
Here on the Eastern Shore of Virginia and of course in the oceans of the world as well, the near term extinction apocalypse is in fact well underway already. Sea level rise is impacting our shores and the wetlands around them, ocean temperature and salinity rise are impacting our fisheries and human technology applied to the harvesting of sea life is decimating the oceans and the great Chesapeake Bay. Blue crabs, oysters, rockfish and many others are in real trouble. So this time apocalypse is not some fantastical belief of some vain human somewhere, it is here, now, in my day to day reality.

If you haven't already (it's been posted elsewhere), take a look at this lecture at the Navy War College:

I can't fathom a slow descent given Dr. Jackson's data.

All the best in the New Year!

-John D.

1/2/14, 6:49 AM

Steven Zerger said...
JMG, you are truly a treasure. Yes, the inevitable crisis approaches. Doom is of course assured. The noose tightens, but have patience dear reader, the blood still flows. Better to be amused than alarmed, because it will all just more or less feel like business as usual until it doesn’t. It’s a safe bet that a weather-related disaster will happen somewhere and that all but a few people will continue to be utterly delusional. And if the dollar, the Euro, the stock market, and (especially) the Super Bowl aren’t functioning this time next year, we’ll all have better things to do than tally up the score anyway.

I think you and Dmitry Orlov have truly mastered the art of fail-proof prediction. His strategy is heavy irony, but yours reminds me more of the venerable Stubb cooing to his whale-boat crew in Moby Dick: “Easy, easy; don’t be in a hurry – don’t be in a hurry. Why don’t you snap your oars you rascals? Bite something you dogs! So, so, so, then; -softly, softly!

Your rhetorical skills are brilliant. Happy new year!

1/2/14, 6:51 AM

Greg Belvedere said...
I appreciate this exercise in examining your predictions and I agree that others should do the same. I find it useful to do something similar on a personal level as well.

Also, I really enjoyed the blog last week, but did not have time to comment because of the holiday. I often repeat your observation that most conservative christians have more in common with the satanic bible than the gospels a number of times in the last few months and I enjoyed seeing a bit more in depth treatment.

I just received a copy of Green Wizardry for Christmas and I'm looking forward to reading it soon. Happy New Year!

1/2/14, 6:53 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
On the subject of monsters, I got us your book by that very title for Yule (revised edition, of course). My wife devoured it; I'll start on it as soon as I finish up with the Xmas Bird Count season. Will I find the family to which the Snallygaster belongs in there? I've always been curious about these recurring winged chimeras in American folklore.

So does anyone know why the recaptchas are all numbers now? Exactly what is Google up to that they have a whole lot of scanned pages of numbers that the need us to decipher for them? Not the street view address images, but the text numbers. Curious... maybe they got a hold of the NSA phone records? In hard copy...

1/2/14, 7:26 AM

ozoner said...
Firstly, allow me to compliment you on your continued use of some dry humor to make your points. (Although I realize you're not in the "entertainment business", it does make it fun to read your essays! I hope you won't be offended.)

Secondly, I'd have to agree with Bill that in an instant gratification social structure, many important trends are ignored due to the slow-boiled-frogs metaphor.

Thirdly, what I see as a burgeoning trend is people investing a majority of their psychological energies into building fortifications around their egos. Right or wrong, beliefs, prejudices and angles of perception are being protected by louder and louder harangues and threats. It's my prediction that this will continue and escalate as "the squeeze" gets tighter and tighter. As the attendant alienation becomes more overt, possibilities of violence and anti-social behavior escalate as well. We're going to see a lot more "bad acting" by "bad actors". It is also my theory that those who invest in ego-defense the most vociferously will make very poor co-operators, which is going to be key in closer-knit and smaller communities. As we [very gradually] commence to these smaller states of social decision-making, securing a "decent life" that includes a modicum of socially-cohesive justice is going to depend on flexible and thoughtful neighbors.
...I think. ;o)

1/2/14, 7:41 AM

Will said...
something I have always liked about your writing, especially as compared to so many others, is your reasonable tone and your long time perspective, which as a historian I share.
I suggest that you need to look again at the prospects for world civilization. there are genuine efficiencies possible that could save technological civilization by reducing both its costs and its waste. they will not be easy and the process of change will likely be very disruptive. But there is no inherent reason why our great grand-children should not live in comfortable houses with 24/7 electrical power, with the ability to travel and with full access to cultural amenities. for starters, energy is the uber-resource. with energy, everything else can be worked. and there is a lot of energy from the sun. more than enough to run a complex civilization. especially if (as seems increasingly likely0 the population globally begins to decline by voluntary actions soon after 2050.
I also think your take on fracking is too negative. If NG prices climb to $5 or $6 an mcf, the wells make genuine sense as investments. as those prices are not high enough to crash the economy. bill

1/2/14, 7:50 AM

Andy Brown said...
Of course many of the oracles of yore got around this problem of being called out by being cryptic or downright obfuscatory. Four years ago on January first I predicted:

"Yea, though the asp and the bonobo shall entwine themselves in the ribbons of dying typewriters, there shall be milk upon the golden collars of the salarymen -- and distillations of childhood shall scald the nostrils of the Great and unyet Fallen."

Clearly that one has held up perfectly . . .

1/2/14, 8:04 AM

Doctor Westchester said...
I'll throw a prediction into the ring also, though it will be for 2014 - 2015 time period. It will be for often predicted, but so far missing, financial crash. This one might even have the beloved special options package of bank holidays, empty store shelves and gas stations without gas.

However, unless the crash happens in the mid to late fourth quarter of the year, John's prediction that there generally will be stores with food and gas stations with gas will still be quite accurate, though it is likely that there will be fewer of them.

Furthermore the surviving financial industry will be planning for its next bubble. The MSM might even be saying now that THAT is over, we can have "Morning in America" again. Never mind that tent cities would be the fastest growing places in the country

Of course, if this gets combined with a military mis-adventure of the type John described last year in his novel-to-be the outcome might not quite so rosy.

1/2/14, 8:13 AM

Travis Marshall said...
You have spoken at length about the things that individuals can be doing to lessen the impact of an ever increasing poverty ie gardening and learning useful skills. However I have never heard you mention the tenants of Permaculture, ala Fukouaka, Bill Mollison, Paul Wheaton or Sepp Holzer. This is ideology I have seen spread since 5 years ago when I became aware of it. If somehow more of the citizenry could wake up and participate in permaculture while we have the ability to do so we could mitigate some of the misery that awaits. I spread word whenever I can with a typical response being, sounds great but with never actually any effort in implementation (too much on the tube) Are you familiar with any of these writings if so what are your thoughts? I know that I and some of your other readers would love to see this become part of the new religiosity.

1/2/14, 8:16 AM

Larry said...
Page B2 of today’s (January 2, 2014) WSJ has an article detailing why you may have been a year off on your “fracking” prognostication. To quote from For U.S. Drillers, Less Cash
“But the rivers of foreign cash are running dry for U.S. drillers. In 2013, international companies spent $3.4 billion for stakes in U.S. shale-rock formations, less than half of what they invested in 2012 and a tenth of their spending in 2011….”
Also, “Last year 80 big energy companies in North America spent a combined $50.6 billion more than they brought in from their operations…”
However, so as not to worry,a different article on page R4, in a much bigger type face announces, “Burgeoning Supplies Are Likely to Pressure Prices (Downward) as Production Outside OPEC Is Expected to Rise.”
In any event natural gas prices are up significantly this winter from the last one, so people may be surprised when they find their heating costs are up a couple hundred dollars, not that the cost of energy is part of the government’s official inflation statistics.

1/2/14, 8:23 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Sven and Echo Beach, thanks for the tips! You're almost certainly right; as the fracking bubble starts losing air, other methods of scraping the bottom of the barrel will be used as ways for people to convince themselves that the barrel is still full.

Alan, since the Obamacare plans that the poor can (pretend to) afford still have very large co-pays, deductibles, etc., there's unlikely to be any such rush, and if something of the sort happens, unless something happens to reverse current sky-high rates of hospital-based infections and other forms of nosocomial illness, the impact on overall public health is as likely to be negative as positive. As for your other predictions -- well, possibly.

Rashakor, by WW3 do you mean a large-scale conventional war, or a nuclear war? The latter's extremely unlikely, for reasons I covered in a post a while back; conventional war's a good deal more likely, though if it involves the nuclear powers it'll be a proxy war, probably in Africa or the Middle East. Something of the sort is quite likely, but it's just another stairstep down.

Friar Puck, the next review of the curriculum will be in 2017; I don't expect the Grand Grove to want to make much in the way of changes to the core curriculum -- but if individual members want to study monster lore, a case could be made!

Phil, well, our sacred text is Nature, which spares us a lot of quibbling over words!

John, no, what you're seeing is a common or garden variety oceanic extinction crisis, of the sort that's happened scores of times in the last five hundred million years or so of the planet's history. That's a significant factor that has to be worked into any view of the future -- but that doesn't justify using it as an inkblot onto which to project yet another weary round of apocalyptic fantasies.

Steven, my predictions aren't fail-proof at all. If the cornucopians are right and we get some limitless source of cheap energy in the near future, my predictions fail; equally, if the world plunges into apocalyptic dieoff this year, my predictions fail. What I'm predicting is that neither of those things are going to happen. That's not fail-proof; it's just correct. ;-)

Greg, thank you! I hope you enjoy it -- and more importantly, do something with what's in it.

Bill, if it's the new edition, it's got a chapter on the chupacabra, Jersey Devil, and other chimera-like monsters -- I hadn't yet encountered our local snallygaster lore when I revised the book, but that's where the snallygaster would go, along with the gyascutus, the bovilopus, and a variety of others.

Ozoner, not offended at all; I try to make my writing entertaining, even when the subject matter's grim. As for ego fortifications, you may well be right; what I've been noticing is the way that believers in dysfunctional belief systems have been plugging their ears and scrunching shut their eyes and yelling "La, la, la, I can't hear you" even more forcefully than usual -- which may be another expression of the same trend.

1/2/14, 8:40 AM

John Roth said...
I'm holding out some hope for biology. Not "biodiesel," or whatever the current thing is, but straightforward gene engineering of algae to take in sunlight and carbon dioxide and pump out light hydrocarbons. That technology is already at implementation stage 2 (works on a lab bench scale) and, unlike everything else that depends on mining or pumping resources, it's indefinitely scalable at a constant price point. Of course it won't sustain an ever-increasing population, but then nothing will do that - there are too many other resource limits in play.

There are reasons it may never get past implementation stage 3 (demonstration system) but one can hope.

When? A rule of thumb is three years per stage and 2/3rds of all "innovations" fail at each stage. So maybe around 2020 if at all. When does it begin to make a real impact? Dunno.

1/2/14, 8:48 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Will, I'm familiar with both those claims, and have posted extensive discussions here about why they're not useful guides to our future. The short form? Expansive claims for solar energy ignore the energy costs of collection and concentration, as well as the huge energy subsidies solar (like all other energy resources) currently get from fossil fuels, especially petroleum. As for fracking, the issue there isn't raw cost, but the ferocious depletion rates of fracked wells; the way that fracking (and other barrel-scraping exercises) are soaking up a rising fraction of energy, capital, and other resources for the same return in energy; and especially the baroque financial architecture, amounting to fraud, that's been built up around the fracking bubble, and is subject to the usual Ponzi-scheme dynamics of financial bubbles.

Andy, that's a classic!

Doctor W., we've already had the crash; it happened in 2008 and 2009, and the result was exactly what I'd predicted -- the world's major political and financial authorities threw everything they had into the task of keeping the economy from going completely to pieces, and succeeded. We could very well get another crash on the same lines, and it'll get the same kind of response, and fail to satisfy the cravings of the apocalypse-mongers in the same way.

Travis, I have very mixed feelings about Permaculture(tm); I've known some people who've done impressive things with it, but rather more often I've seen it turn into a feel-good ideology with a very nearly cultlike air about it, a sort of green "est" -- those of my readers who were around in the 1970s will know whereof I speak. That might just be growing pains, but we'll see.

Larry, thanks for the heads up! Yes, that would just about explain it. I wonder how long it will take foreign investors to realize that when a US corporation offers you a really good deal on (fill in the blank), that should be taken with the same dumptruck of salt as, say, an email from Nigeria asking you to help get $50 million out of the country...

1/2/14, 9:02 AM

Jasmine said...
Dear Mr Greer

Great Blog. I have a question for you. Your blog has often stated that people back in the 1970’s where starting to get it about resource depletion. These concerns went away in the early 1980 when the neoliberals like Reagan and Thatcher got into power and it became clear that concerns about oil supply where exaggerated. However since 2005 conventional oil production has plateaued out, the price has nearly quadrupled and we have had the financial crisis of 2008. In the light of these crises, I would like to know why our civilization is so resistant to concerns about resource constraints. I know that you have spent much of the last year explaining why our faith in progress has helped to blind us to concerns about resource constraints, as we think that free markets, technology etc will solve these problems for us. But the faith in technology and progress was just as strong in the 1970’s as it is now. So if people were able to start to get it about resource constraints back in the 1970’s, why are they unable to get it now?

If you think about it, our faith in progress was more justified in the 1970’s than it is now. After all in the 1970’s development on technologies like nuclear fusion had only been going on for about 20 years, so it would have been reasonable to assume that workable nuclear fusion reactors were only 10 or 20 years away. Since then we have had a further 30/40 years of development on this technology without any tangible success; so it should be obvious that workable fusion reactors are unlikely. So why are we still so resistant to concerns about resource constraint, when the grounds for our faith in progress are so much weaker than it was in the 1970’s. I would love to hear what you have to say about this.

I have a few ideas about why this may be the case. One of the biggest problems for those who try to alert our civilization about the problem of resource constraint has been the endless exaggerated predictions of catastrophe that have been around since the 1970. I have read some of the books about the environment that were brought out during that decade, and if their predictions had turned out to be correct, then none of us should still be around today. If you keep on predicting catastrophe and it does not happen, then people will stop believing you after a while. Neoliberalism has also been very successful at dominating our culture. Pretty much all of our media, opinion formers and academics have taken on board neoliberalism. There are no alternative voices or ideologies in our mainstream culture. These voices are only found on the fringes. Back in the 1970 Marxism/socialism still had a strong voice. It is important to remember that resource constraint would have been just as much of a problem for a socialist economy as it would be for a capitalist economy. However the fact that there were alternative voices and ideologies in our mainstream culture, created a space in which concerns about resource constraint could be heard. I would love to hear your views on the matter.

1/2/14, 9:03 AM

John Michael Greer said...
John, the deep problem with that technology is the same as with most renewables -- you're trying to make current solar income substitute for half a billion years of fossil sunlight concentrated for you by natural cycles, and the equation just doesn't work. How that deep problem works out in any given case is an open question, but I have yet to see any lab-bench implementations that talk about net energy in any realistic sense, and that's one of the most likely places for problems to crop up.

Jasmine, excellent. You're asking some of the questions that need to be asked. I could spend half a dozen posts talking about the answers. Fortunately I covered much of that ground in this post, this one, this one, and this one. That said, your comment about the apocalypse fetish among would-be radicals is dead on target; we'll be talking about that again next week.

1/2/14, 9:18 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
The Grenelle Environmental Agreement of France (later Grenelle Laws I & II) are Phase I of that conversion.

And the Danish goal to be fossil fuel free by 2050 is another nation on the right path.

Start early and it is not so difficult.

1/2/14, 9:19 AM

Richard Larson said...
Another risky comment! There are so many varibles, don't know if I want to think that hard right now. So just for a quick thought: Even at $10 a gallon (and much higher) for gasoline, used to accomplish something contructive, still makes gasoline a good deal compared to equivilent human labor. But as the price increases from here (at $3.50 a gallon, depends on where you are obviously), the use of this power source will slow, the economy will slow, and vice versa. The question then becomes, at what point will the energy costs of the larger society exceed the difference in the $ of gasoline to human labor?

I listened to a clip from CNBC Cramer a few days ago, and he is pushing investing in drilling (for gas and oil). Drilling more holes might keep the game going a few more years, at the expense of the value of the $ perhaps?

Then there is agri-business food production.

Then demographics ought to be considered in terms of how many are getting paid $ versus how many and how much is being paid in.

The value of the $. The ability of the population to work. The number of non-productive people. The climate. The debt load. Pressure points everywhere all zeroing in on some not-to-distant date.

All varibles.

Thinking about the future is really hard work and the point of making alarming calls, to gain attention, like the boy who cried wolf, and to have lost the interest of the general public, makes sense to me.

1/2/14, 9:31 AM

M said...
While I have not made any prognostications, my year-end essay has some nice parallels with your post here, including a focus on what we are leaving for future generations. You mention Native Americans; I suggest in my piece that we might learn a thing or two from that civilization. It also has, if not exactly a monster, a spirit, a Maysingweh, or tree-place spirit, that is not always benevolent (except to children and occasionally hunters). Here is my essay:

Despite the ostensibly bleak ending (I believe the human race will be around much longer than the next 100 year, and I think Pete Seeger uses that phrase mostly as a rhetorical device to provoke thinking) I too feel pretty good about the coming year.

On New Year's Eve day, I journeyed about 2 hours north to pick up a new bicycle, a long tail cargo bike that I will be using to take my son to Montessori school--he has outgrown the child seat, and I got rid of my car for good over a year ago (though my wife has one).
The person selling the bike met me half way, in Saratoga Springs. He has been running a compost collection business in Burlington, VT, which made curbside pickup of compost mandatory by 2020.

At the last minute, I emailed Jim Kunstler, who lives in that neck of the woods, and he graciously agreed to meet me at his homestead for an interview. In my two encounters with him, he has been very generous with his time and ideas. No doubt he has some failed predictions to answer for, but seeing the work he has done on his property, and knowing that, like you, he has come to terms with the course civilization is on (mainly, he says, through writing a vision of the future, his World By Hand series, the third and penultimate installment of which is on his desk ready for final edits).

The evening was spent with good neighbors. My wife and 4 year old son are visiting her parents far away, and she avidly dislikes the ideas expressed on The Archdruid Report, but I am learning how to remove most of that friction from our relationship.

Finally, a thank you and a wish for a wonderful and peaceful new year to JMG as well as all my fellow readers of this blog. Having this space to come to every week is truly fortifying, especially during times when, stuck between the Tweedledees and Tweedledooms, I start to question why I bother to care what happens in my community.

1/2/14, 9:46 AM

LewisLucanBooks said...
I predict that this spring, JMG will come out with a new book titled "Decline and Fall" The End of Empire and the Future of Democracy in 21st Century America." It will sell more copies and be more widely reviewed than any of his previous books. :-)

I fudged a bit. When I went to Amazon, yesterday, to order my Farmer's Almanac Gardening Calendar, it popped up with a pre-publication price in the "You may also be interested in.." section. I've got my order in.

I'm still plowing through "Green Wizardry" and implementing the exercises. I did a bit of weatherizing. I check my propane use the first of every month. Even though we had a severe cold snap of over a week, I didn't use any more propane then the previous month.

1/2/14, 9:46 AM

Gaianne said...
Today I am reminded of an XKCD cartoon about the BP oil blow-out in the Gulf of Mexico. A typically bubble-headed TV reporter is asking a geologist with sensationalist urgency what is the worst-case scenerio. She answers: The worst-case scenerio is what is happening right now!” Dissatisfied, he breaks off the interview and finds a talking-head who can provide more fanciful material.

It is possible, though difficult, to motivate people to face a disaster or a catastrophe. To motivate people to face a slow, endless grind seems straight-out impossible. They just don't want to hear it, and won't prepare for it. .

I can't help but feel we are in the worst-case scenerio, or pretty near it, for just this reason.

Personally though, I am taking advantage of the slowness. A year ago I could grow vegetables but could not even in theory grow a complete diet. This year has been a proof of concept for a food sufficiency. Implementing this in practice is a whole other story, of course, but I am making use of the time to work toward it. A fast collapse would not permit any of this.


1/2/14, 9:56 AM

dltrammel said...
Here is a pretty good article from a former BP oil exec, with decent numbers that makes the case that we are at peak oil and slowing down.


1/2/14, 9:57 AM

SLClaire said...
So far I haven't tried to make specific predictions about what might happen in a given year on my blog. But I do make goals for myself each year that have to do with increasing resiliency in the face of the long decline, I made my 2013 goals public, and I just wrote a post on the non-garden 2013 goals and what was and was not accomplished. See this post for that discussion. The results of the 2013 garden goals were discussed in the previous post to that one.

As for 2014, the major non-garden goal will be to build a woodshed and get a wood stove, and to start learning coppicing. It'll be awhile before I get around to making the posts on the garden and non-garden goals for the year. Too much writing during the last quarter of 2013 for fingers unaccustomed to it. They need a break!

1/2/14, 10:20 AM

Spanish fly said...
Last night of 2013 wasn't epic here in this spanish town. There were less winos screaming "happy new year" this 2013/14 than 2012/13. The newspaper today told that a Romanian died when he was booze with a friend. Both winos and unemployed, they drank to death (ok, only one of them) with cheap liquor.
Maybe it's a macabre allegory of the european (and western) twilight...

1/2/14, 10:22 AM

João Carlos said...
"The bouncing baby sibling of Hurricanes Irene and Sandy didn’t put in an appearance, and so the first tentative shifts of businesses and population inland from the vulnerable Atlantic coast will have to wait a few more years. Other than that, I think it’s fair to say that once again, I called it."

I am not sure that prediction is a total fail.

You get the extreme weather right, just get wrong the place. Philipines. That was the worst typhon recorded on history.

IMHO, we will see more extreme weather in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017... and so goes, each year worse than the year before...

1/2/14, 10:25 AM

Nicholas Carter said...
We don't, with certain shame-faced exceptions in my impressionable youth of two years ago, and with exceptions among what jmg might call our more "brimstone-oriented" public figures, have a problem with fiction. It's when fictions like cold-fusion are used to guide human behaviors like ignoring peak oil that we become concerned.

1/2/14, 10:38 AM

Nicholas Carter said...
Lovecraft's Mooncalf is a snallygaster with more horns and fewer eyes that lives in western Maryland. So yes, quite directly.

1/2/14, 10:42 AM

avalterra said...

I've always thought I understood your point of view but I recently came to a deeper understanding of why we will not collapse, in the apocalyptic sense, when I read these two articles back to back:

This article point out the growing trend of businesses starting up that are focused on getting people to efficiently share resources. Which is all well and good but it it being sold us a "cool" or "hip" or "enlightened" thing to do - not as a bald necessity.

and then this:

Which points out that the historical event most often pointed to as a 'fast collapse" scenario probably wasn't. It was a slow grinding reduction from a verdant island to subsistence farming and eating rat meat - but stable none the less.

This made me realize that part of the reason we will not collapse is that we will keep adapting while telling ourselves "we meant to do that". Or my new favorite phrase - "we will eat rat meat and call it steak".


1/2/14, 11:02 AM

Yupped said...
I'm imagining someone back in January 1914 making predictions about the year to come, and then drawing broad strokes about how they expected the decades after that to look. Might have been entertaining, but otherwise would have been a bit of a fool's game really. It seems that accurate predictions can only really be fairly unspecific and generally in line with agreed trends (ie. perhaps a bit boring?). Anyone serving up "interesting" predictions is almost certainly about to be wrong, or very lucky.

1/2/14, 11:05 AM

[email protected] said...
Isaac Asimov's predictions for 2014... made in 1964:

1/2/14, 11:08 AM

D.M. said...
It will be interesting keeping an eye on the fracking bubble since I am currently living in the middle of it all in the western part of North Dakota.

1/2/14, 11:16 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
More on the fracking bubble... I hear stories of fracking leases being sold in parts of Tennessee that are on or beyond the fringes of the real-world shale deposits, with actual productive potential would be over-generously described as "marginal." More like "non-existent." This is a primo red flag to me. In a bubble when speculative demand outstrips supply, people start manufacturing bogus supply -- can you say "sub-prime mortgages?" It looks like this is happening in the shale lease market already.

So what would the popping of this bubble look like? Well, I am only guessing here... but investors begin to get concerned that their "properties" are overvalued, and this leads to a domino effect of crashing prices for leases and bankruptcies. Even productive leases get caught in the tide, and the whole market collapses. There is no longer investment capital to develop leases, and the production of shale oil and gas threatens to grind to a halt. Energy prices soar, massive government interventions are demanded to stabilize the energy market. These may happen, in which case the money comes out of funds that would have been spent on other more productive activities, or they may not happen in which case economic activity is seriously dragged down by high energy prices. Either way, the result is more recession, more financial instability, less energy availability, more infrastructure neglect and decay, etc. I have seen this movie before...

Alan - it is way, way to late to "start early." Like by about 40 or 50 years. Denmark will ride the tide of the global economy down, just like the rest of the world, unless they also become "food import free," "internet free," and "power grid free." Which they can't do with existing population and no fossil fuels. It's thermodynamics, not politics.

Another numeric recaptcha,,, maybe Google scanned the world's phone books?

1/2/14, 11:19 AM

shtove said...
Sorry, I missed the 2030 apocalypse.

Google tells me it may be this - I guess the end of humanity will mean the end of poverty:

ps. Is Bob Geldof known in the US?

1/2/14, 11:36 AM

Eric S. said...
Dear JMG,

The Maryland Folklore book you mentioned sounds like a must read, especially since I’ll be moving to Maryland later this month. Your Snallygaster anecdote made my day, and has turned the usually dull lag time between work tasks into an exciting quest for Snallygaster information. Apparently the creature has a pretty elaborate mythology and goes back quite a while leading me to wonder if the coming of the new religiosity will see it and others of its kin once more haunting the hills of Maryland.

As for new years predictions, one other development I see continuing this year is a continuing trend in marriage equality legislation across the US, and that trend being grasped onto by believers in progress as evidence against decline and as a distraction from other issues. The concept that social and moral progress are a part of the same myth as the myth of technological progress as for me been the most eye opening and the most difficult to digest aspect of your current series. I’d never noticed how often issues of civil rights, pacifism, wealth inequality and such are treated as obstacles in the way of technological progress. But lately I’ve started paying attention and noticed how often people talk about civil rights or social justice issues with rhetoric that consists of “we need to stop oppressing each other, the stars are waiting.” As though the only thing between us and our Gene Roddenberry future is for Man (may he rest in peace) to start getting along.

It’s been a difficult thing to swallow for me, because all my life civil rights history has been presented as a series of breakthroughs that has fundamentally changed some aspect of how we as humans see and treat each other. We look at the days before the abolition of slavery or before any other major breakthrough with horror at the thought that our ancestors could have treated other humans so inhumanely, and we look at parts of the world that haven’t made these breakthroughs with sympathy, and with horror at the thought that such things could still be happening today. But when you consider the fact that slavery has been abolished and re-instated at least 20 times just in the last 2500 years, that societies have run the gauntlet from matriarchal to treating women as property, and that homosexuality has been treated as the romantic ideal everyone should strive for, as a crime worthy of the death penalty and everything in between, the image of humans on a path towards a fairer, more egalitarian world just doesn’t hold up.

The thought that here in America we can, and possibly will lose 200 years worth of advances in civil rights is far more horrifying to me even than the thought of losing 200 years of scientific knowledge. It seems to be a common assumption that by the time the class of 2000 (or whatever generation the hope gets pinned on) turns grey-headed racism, homophobia, sexism, etc. will be a thing of the past. I don’t even think it occurs to many people that those attitudes could not only rise up again, but become culturally acceptable. I wonder what your thoughts might be on the future of civil rights, and what can be done (if anything) to carry concepts of human equality through an age of decline. I don’t expect your answer to that last question to be something you can fit into a comment reel, but I do hope it’s a topic that you consider addressing at some point in the future (unless there’s a past essay on your blog that I might have missed, in which case a link would be appreciated).

I apologize for trailing off topic, these are thoughts that have been brewing over the course of your entire year’s worth of posts and I had to express them.

-Eric Singletary

1/2/14, 11:45 AM

Twilight said...
....raving maniacs, mainstream economists, and the like....

My keyboard wore some coffee after that one!

A trend I expect to continue to worsen is that of ever more desperate and aggressive denial, particularly in regard to things like climate change, US fossil fuel energy production, the state of the economy, and as always (the irrelevance of) party politics. It's not always the same people in the same factions on all topics, but a general trend to simply refuse to consider certain issues and to try to prevent any discussion of them. With lots of anger and nastiness too.

As we've discussed before, we're losing any ability to communicate in any reasonable fashion. Shouting each other down seems to be becoming the default mode of public conversation. It's not a surprise on a wider scale, but I wonder how well even local regions will be able to set these poor habits aside.

1/2/14, 12:12 PM

Blue said...
>> [Y]ou're trying to make current solar income substitute for half a billion years of fossil sunlight concentrated for you by natural cycles, and the equation just doesn't work.

The equation works reasonably well - it's the political will and engineering know-how that's lacking (and the will to acquire than know-how).

Back of the envelope calculation:
World energy usage: 140,000 PWH / year
= 15 TW.
Average solar influx = 1000 W/m^2 * 2 (half the day in sun)
= 31 * 10^9 m^2 needed.

* 0.1% (pulled-out-of-thin-air efficiency estimate) / 7 billion
= 450 m^2 land area per person on earth to sustain modern energy usage.

*Solar energy* is not the limiting factor here - that's the only point I wanted to make. You're completely right that we're not going to implement solar / other renewable energy strategies on a large enough scale to help due to other factors.

1/2/14, 12:15 PM

Rashakor said...
Dear Druid,
I remember your essay about the proxy Tanzanian conflict well. I agree that a full blown nuclear conflict is unworkable, however I certainly can imagine a few nukes to at least be unwisely utilized in a broader multilayered conflict (and not even as a concluding feature but more as an opening salvo).
By WW3, I envision more of a messy hybrid between global widespread civilian conflicts, "low and medium heat" international conflicts based on mostly land and resources control, sprinkled with a not-so-well-disguised neo-colonialism and re-independence cycling at break-neck speed.
Such an event (or series of events depending on the point of view of the hypothetical far-future historian)could be really what the apocalypse proponents see as such... even if we both agree that it is just one of the steep steps in the long tumble down the staircase of History. Interesting times indeed, WW3 will probably be orders of magnitude more complex, varied, uneven and long than WW2.

1/2/14, 12:21 PM

Ian Stewart said...
I have to report the opposite. It was not a peaceful New Year's here in California farm country, as people were setting off fireworks for at least an hour around midnight. There were no firework stands set up during the last weeks of December, so I'm wondering where they got them. I am somewhat intimidated by anyone who's able to lay hands on a substantial quantity of gunpowder in the dead of winter, in a state so fragile as California...

1/2/14, 12:30 PM

Doctor Westchester said...
I should have said the next financial crash, since we have already had two this century. On that basis we are coming due for the next one. If Jim K drops his prediction of Dow 4000 for his yearly forecast next week, then that is probably the best indication that the crash is coming soon. ;^)

Since each time more of the furniture and wall studs have to be sacrificed to get the economy kind of going again, it will bitterly amusing to see what goes in the fireplace this time.

1/2/14, 12:30 PM

Unknown said...
@JMG--Do you have a favorite brand of bourbon?

Do moonshiners in your region make decent whiskey or do they concentrate on white lightening?

Whenever I read or hear a list of predictions for the coming year, I always want a review of the accuracy of the current year's list, and hardly ever get it. Good for you.

1/2/14, 12:32 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
A linguistic note -- a common feature of Appalachian speech is the lengthening of many stressed short vowels when they occur before l, m, or n. And short "e" in these positions often becomes a long "a." Hence the long "a" in the penultimate syllable of "Allegany," which receives secondary stress. In a one-syllable word, the vowel is often tripthongized, as in the archetypal southern exclamation of "Dayum!" Pronounce that with a sort "a" in place of the "ayu" tripthong if you are not sure what word I mean. The words for the place where the Devil lives and for those white balls of ice that fall from the sky during thunderstorms are often pronounced the same, "Hayull." I suspect if you were a bit farther south, your beast might have evolved phonetically all the way to "Snailygayster"

1/2/14, 12:33 PM

Ángel said...

My prediction is the same one that I've been doing since few years ago. In the words of Bill Murray in Groundhog Day:

"I'll give you a winter prediction: It's gonna be cold, it's gonna be grey, and it's gonna last you for the rest of your life"

Happy New Year to everyone!

1/2/14, 12:42 PM

Marcello said...
"BTW, how would you qualify a possible event like WW3 in the long descent? For many apocalyphile that event may appear like something like a sudden collapse. Even if that is just a very steep step in our metaphorical stair case."

A nuclear WW3 could happen by accident: an international crisis, some technical snafu and the wrong people in the wrong places losing their heads. Otherwise unlikely.
A conventional WW3 in the sense of a drawn out, all out conflict between the major powers is equally unlikely. First of all nukes make such confrontation something leaders try to avoid. Then nobody is serious about a general mobilization in the way most countries were in the runup to WW2: during the last Iraq war it took quite a lot of time and improvisation to replace softskin with armored cars and that is one of the simplest thing. Switching the Boeing 787 line to F-22 would not happen within an useful time as by the time the need would be recognized it would be too late. Thus the gap between the high attrition rate of a modern high tech war and the ability of the military industrial complex to replaces losses and consumption only at a much slower rate would ensure that the war would be short, even if political constraints were not there.
The scenario published on this blog in late 2012 is a decent account of how a conventional war between major powers would play out: short and high intensity combat quickly followed by negotiations with the losing side being given generous terms. I do not buy a lot of the naval details but the general picture is probably on the mark.
I used to think that robotics could change the dynamics, making some sort of attritional conflict more likely and drawn out but we probably won't make it that far.

1/2/14, 12:43 PM

thrig said...
Speaking of entertaining scifi, C.S. Lewis predicts "a very disastrous" course of events in his "Out of the Silent Planet" if certain forces continue to have their way:

"And we have also evidence—increasing almost daily—that “Weston,” or the force or forces behind “Weston,” will play a very important part in the events of the next few centuries, and, unless we prevent them, a very disastrous one. We do not mean that they are likely to invade Mars—our cry is not merely “Hands off Malacandra.” The dangers to be feared are not planetary but cosmic, or at least solar, and they are not temporal but eternal. More than this it would be unwise to say."

Probably not in the "doom tomorrow, always doom tomorrow" sense of the word disastrous, though.

1/2/14, 1:09 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Alan, "early" was in the 1970s, and we didn't follow up on the promising steps of that decade. An effective response to peak oil had to start twenty years before the peak of conventional oil production -- remember? At this point it's very late in the day, and talk does not cook the rice...

Richard, as the cost of fuel goes up, the cost of labor comes down. At what point do they cross? That's one of the big questions.

M, congrats on the new transport! Glad to hear you're negotiating things with your wife; that's an explosive issue that has wrecked a good many marriages already.

Lewis, glad to hear it!

Gaianne, exactly. The difference is that you're using the time as an opportunity to get ready, instead of a chance to engage in make-believe.

Dltrammel, yes, I saw that!

SLClaire, that's also a good habit. Best of luck with the coppicing!

Spanish Fly, as poetic metaphors go, that one's pretty apt.

João, well, the wrong side of the planet is a little far off for a near miss! Still, the specific thing I was discussing -- the first quiet steps toward the evacuation of the US eastern seaboard in the face of climate change and sea level rise -- hasn't started yet, as far as I can tell, so I count that as a miss.

Nicholas, good heavens, I forgot the Mooncalf! Thanks for the tip. In related news, I (re)stumbled across Manly Wade Wellman's harrowing short story "The Desrick on Yandro" -- highly recommended for fans of homegrown American monster lore.

Avalterra, that's a great phrase. Many thanks!

Yupped, in January 1914 there had been decades of discussion of the inevitability of war between Britain and Germany; I don't happen to know if anybody said, "There's some chance that the war could break out this year, but you just never know" -- roughly, in other words, what I said about the end of the fracking bubble and the spreading weakness of the federal government.

1/2/14, 1:12 PM

Enrique said...
Another Peak Oil related blog I really liked was Carolyn Baker’s, until she jumped on the NTE bandwagon, at which point I lost interest and walked away. It’s a pity, because up that point, she had a lot of things to say that were very worthwhile. While I have no illusions about the mess we have gotten ourselves into and the hard times ahead, doomer porn is as pointless as it is counterproductive.

I think a lot of it is motivated by the idea that if we are doomed anyways, then we don’t have to stop the idiotic and mindless culture of mass consumption and frivolous waste since we’re all going to die in the near future no matter what we do. By contrast, the Long Descent blows all of that away, since no one is going to bail us out and the world isn’t going to end anytime in the next billion years or so, when astronomers estimate that the Earth will be too hot to sustain life due to gradually increasing solar radiation. Instead, we will have to face up to the consequences of the collective choices our society has made, and the results are likely to be very ugly indeed.

As for upcoming topics, is one of those topics you intend to address prior to starting your series on the future history of the coming Dark Age the long awaited series on “the other F word”, to use Juhana’s felicitous phrase?

Concerning the Snallygaster, I too was reminded of Lovecraft, since description sounded a little like Cthulhu and some of the other monsters from his stories.

1/2/14, 1:14 PM

Justin Patrick Moore said...
Last year it was the Krampus. This year the Snallygaster. Since you have written a book on Monsters in the past, I think this should also be a continued feature of your yearly scrying in the Wizards bourbon glass.

I think we will continue to also see quite a bit more "bad weather" that is smaller in scale, yet equally destructive. It just won't get reported on much outside of the communities it effects.

Happy 2014

1/2/14, 1:18 PM

Will said...

You really need to run some actual numbers about EROEI issues, and publish them here. look again at "Sustainable Growth Without the Hot Air. you also need to take seriously the amount of waste that we have built into our civilization which can, in case of need, be sweated out. the process of doing so will not be easy or popular, but it can be done. in WW2, in the UK, material standards of living plunged. Londoners had to line up weekly for a single precious 50-pound bag of coal for heat and cooking. and then they put on their best clothes, many of them, and went to a concert of classical music. my point: if world population does peak, and we avoid nuclear war, and we waste less, and we recycle, there is enough energy and other resources potentially available to keep things running. there is still time. your story about the post-techno world (a few months ago) was charmingly well-written, but not realistic even on a time scale of centuries. of course, it we DO blow up the world, all bets are off. Happy New year.

1/2/14, 1:22 PM

S P said...
The one thing that hardly anybody is predicting but remains the big wild card, the big "black swan": American civil war.

Admittedly this would be very dark for the world, but it is within the realm of possibility. I think it will happen eventually.

1/2/14, 1:27 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Librarian, the link didn't work for me -- still, thanks for the heads up.

D.M., I don't envy you that.

Bill, that's what I'm expecting, right down to the fine details.

Shtove, we'll be talking about that next week.

Eric, welcome in advance to the Free State! As for your broader question, that's a huge issue; I'll consider a future post on the subject.

Twilight, my guess is that the increasingly shrill tones of denial and rage we're hearing are signs of extreme cognitive dissonance. If it keeps building, and I see no reason to expect anything else, there'll be some bizarre and quite possibly horrific scenes before people finally get around to admitting that reality is what it is.

Blue, it's easy to use that sort of vague mathematization as a rhetorical strategy, and so long as you don't look at real-world issues such as the energy cost of energy concentration, say, or whole-system net energy issues, you can make solar energy look really good. Meanwhile, in the real world, large-scale solar electric generation is only viable with big government subsidies.

Rashakor, that's entirely plausible -- say, a cascading series of proxy wars, manufactured "color revolutions," insurgencies, low-intensity conflicts, and economic and information warfare stretching out over a couple of decades and shredding large sections of the industrial world? Hmm. I'm going to need to study that possibility.

Ian, yes, that would be unnerving!

Doctor W., with that I have no argument. My guess is that when the fracking bubble goes, we're going to see a couple of years of serious economic turmoil and contraction.

Unknown, the local product is almost entirely white lightnin' -- "branch water" is the local term. As for bourbon, I'm very partial to the product of the new small distilleries, but those are hard to get here -- Evan Williams' new single-barrel premium product, on the other hand, is quite decent and readily available, and that's what was in my glass on New Year's Eve.

Bill, many thanks! I take it that Florida isn't affected by that pattern -- the spelling "snoligoster" is apparently a Florida habit.

Ángel, that'll do nicely.

Marcello, I don't expect a war on the scale of World War 2 either, for most of the same reasons. A proxy war (or series of them) or a domestic insurgency here in the US seem much more likely.

1/2/14, 1:29 PM

August Johnson said...
JMG – For the last couple decades, maybe more, I've been expecting the economy to crash in some sort of unmistakable form. Well, unmistakable to the person who isn't aware of what’s going on. As you've pointed out and we've all seen, all the stops have been pulled out to keep the juggernaut rolling beyond what anyone would expect. I’m constantly amazed at the next trick that’s devised and even more amazed that it appears to work.

I’m also truly amazed at all the people predicting that the “recovery” is just around the corner. Back in 2004 someone at a talk that I was watching showed this graph, stopping then at 2004, and said that there was no way the housing boom could keep going. Of course you know how they were ridiculed.

Notice how the inflation adjusted Home Price Index had been roughly constant for at least the last 120 years or so. Around 1998 it took off like a rocket. When I hear people today talking about the housing market “recovering”, they’re talking about it recovering to the top of the bubble. House prices today haven’t been this high since 1893! House prices have yet to recover down to where they've been for at least the last 120 years. All they’re wishing for is another bubble!

1/2/14, 1:40 PM

August Johnson said...
As far as energy, just saying that alternative sources can enable our children to have 24/7 energy and comfortable houses like we have now, that comes from someone who hasn't tried to do it, at least not in some form that isn't hideously expensive. What’s necessary is to greatly lower our energy use and plan how to make use of intermittent sources wisely and it’ll make it easier in the future. That’s not easy, but easier. If you’re using Ham Radio and keep your radio on all hours and have endless meaningless conversations about your health, etc., you’re going to have a hard time powering everything on a couple PV panels or whatever other source you may have. But if you schedule your contacts and discuss important subjects, you can even power a tube radio that puts out 150-200 watts like a Drake TR4 on one 200 watt PV panel and a car battery. I know, I've done it. I agree that it’s also a lot easier to use a small PV panel and battery if you use a low-power radio and Morse code. Then a 5-10 watt panel and a small battery would provide hours of on-air time every day. I do that too.

As far as Obamacare goes, you’re quite right about that! The people who are so thrilled about it are the ones who are already covered under some other policy. The people poor enough to really need it don’t get any benefit. My wife and I have signed up as we are required to. Luckily our income is low enough now that we qualify for the full assistance. So we’re out only $24/year. Yeah, that has a $5000 deductible for each of us before anything is paid for. Yet the government is “paying” (Read that “borrowing from China”) $942/month to the insurance company! For a garbage policy that most people who can only afford it won’t get any benefit from since they don’t have $5000/year to meet the deductible. The deductible doesn't drop below $1000 until you get to a policy costing you >$3-400/month and the government is still paying >$900/month on top of that! Doesn't sound like a sustainable system to me or even one that many people will get any benefit from. But the insurance companies do very well!

Oh, you and your heirs also give up any right to use the legal system to pursue claims against the care providers including malpractice resulting in death. You are required to use only the mandatory mediation. That’s in the fine print. It only shows up right before you press the ENROLL button. I don’t think we’ll be using much of this coverage, just continue paying the doctor ourselves, the rare times we do go.

1/2/14, 1:47 PM

zedinhisbigflyinghead said...
I'm predicting more sharktopuses

1/2/14, 1:47 PM

Steve Morgan said...
The shale bubble looks to be in its late summer season, at least around here. The industry lost all four local elections after outspending their opponents by 10 to 1 or so. The local op-ed pages have been full of industry shills lamenting the "emotional reactions" of the voters who banned fracking in their towns, and even the industry-puppet state government is having to pretend to step up regulations on the drillers. The increased costs of equipment upgrades and legal fees don't help the profitability of marginal production.

Elsewhere it looks like another energy related speculative bubble might be in its late winter / early spring season. Chris Nelder recently put out a couple of pieces about Green Bonds and other ways of securitizing investments in renewable power and energy efficiency projects.

There are hedge funds nearby that specialize in this sort of thing, and some of the big 401k-type firms are starting to float these bond options to their clients. Given the likelihood of higher fossil fuel prices after the tanking of the shale bubble, these projects will look pretty attractive to people looking for allegedly low-risk returns.

A bubble is a bubble, with all the risks and downsides, but I can't help but think that this particular sector would be one of the less bad areas for a bubble to happen. After the housing boom there was plenty of over-built real estate. After the shale bubble there'll be plenty of half-drilled wells and finished pipelines to nowhere. A comparable surplus of insulation, wind and solar power, transit projects, and energy-efficient buildings wouldn't be the worst thing to have in the wake of an investment bubble...

Anyhow, thanks for setting an example for publicly learning from your past predictions, JMG. If only those raving economists would follow it.

1/2/14, 2:30 PM

Eric S. said...
Thank you for the welcome. And I'll definitely be on the lookout for Snallygasters. As for my broader question, I did find a (somewhat) satisfying answer to that question from you in the comments for "The God With Three Heads:"

"The end of progress requires the loss of the easy faith that moral improvement (however defined) will happen by itself, but it doesn't mean the end of moral improvement. It simply means that if betterment is going to happen, we -- meaning you, me, and other individuals who care about it, not simply a generic "we" -- have to make it happen." -J.M. Greer

I definitely agree with you though that its an issue deserving of a longer discussion. You've given quite a bit of voice to the history and fate of science, and since the concept of human rights is another legacy of the enlightenment worth preserving into the de-industrial future, it wouldn't be entirely off topic for the current series.

In the meantime, I think I'll do some research of my own. I wonder if there are any modern human rights philosophers or activists who are trying to move beyond the idea of human rights as self-evident truths that anyone with common sense can see. It's a scary idea to face, and one that requires rewriting the entire human rights debate from scratch, since the idea of God-given, inalienable human rights has been built into the concept since before Locke. Establishing a working philosophy and approach to human rights that can survive both an age of decline and the collapse of the religious paradigms that gave birth to the idea in the first place is a challenging prospect.

1/2/14, 2:35 PM

sgage said...
Re: Native American monsters. One word:


This one's a more northern one. If you do a lot of camping in the north woods (as I have), it's nicely terrifying, and can make certain night noises seem rather suggestive...

Back in the 70's when I was a summer camp counselor and hike leader, I used to spring this on my campers around the campfire before bedtime. BAD counselor! ;-)

1/2/14, 2:37 PM

Andy Brown said...
@ Eric,
Speaking as an agnostic, I'd say the power of the human rights idea (such as it was) was never because they were god-given, but rather they were an assertion rooted in arbitrary values and backed by political power. (That is, they were relevant when the assertion had power behind it, and irrelevant when it didn't.)

Anthropologists acknowledged relatively early that human rights were merely a cultural value of the West, but that didn't mean that anthropologists couldn't work toward support of human rights! It only meant that they couldn't rest them on the claim that they were natural, god-given, culturally neutral, apolitical, or universally self-evident.

I prefer to live in a community where humans are accorded basic inalienable rights. And if enough other people make the same decision, then so it can be. And you're right that this is akin to JMG's harangues about progress: namely the idea that something is natural or inevitable can be a huge obstacle to doing the work required to see it happen.

1/2/14, 3:11 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
It is more than talk.

Danish per capita carbon emissions dropped by -26.5% from 2007 to 2012 and French (from a lower starting point) dropped -14.8% in the same five years. Carbon emissions are a rough surrogate for fossil fuel consumption.

Both France and Denmark started in the 1970s. Danish bicycling started then with bikes having a low single digit modal share. By 2020, bikes will be 50% of urban trios in Copenhagen with fewer than 10% in single occupancy cars (their second Metro line open in 2017 (from memory)).

Denmark leads the world in Central Heat & Power plants (2/3rds of their heating comes from CHP). This trend really got going in the 1970s. They are converting many of these CHP to biomass.

France started both TGV and their switch to nuclear in the 1970s.

And other points, Denmark and France are both food exporters (part of Grenelle is converting 20% of French farm land to organic by 2020).

France is moving towards a 50% nuke, 50% renewable grid in steps. in 2020, it will be 75% nuke, 10% hydro, 11% wind and 4% fossil. After 2020, all new buildings will have to have solar panels and the plan is to push solar after 2020. France has 4 GW of pumped storage but their larger electrical storage is trade with Switzerland.

Denmark, Norway and Sweden have a good electrical trade. Norway has a massive surplus of hydro that they export, but they hold back some hydro when Denmark has surplus wind and accept Danish electrical imports. Sweden is about half hydro and half nuke, but they are starting to invest in wind. I see this trade as being sustainable. Denmark has doubled their wind to 4+ GW since 2007 with much more planned.

And Sweden has, or can develop, enough tech to keep the internet limping along.

It is more than talk.

1/2/14, 3:15 PM

artinnature said...
Humility in our culture has become as rare and strikingly beautiful as a 1500 pound Tuna in our oceans. Many thanks for having some (humility) JMG.

Since I started reading your blog, I have been creating and refining an Excel file entitled "JMG's Timeline of Descent" where I record things like major historical events in oil extraction, world population and the like, and of course future events as laid out by you and sometimes other peak oilers. Statements like:

"US natural gas price will increase around this year (2016) due to dramatic decline in rate of extraction"


"Most shoddily built McMansions will have collapsed into heaps or will have been catabolized, aka salvaged for valuable materials" (2021)

I don't see any failed predictions on there, as those that I've recorded are still in the future. Guess we'll see what happens!

Bill Pulliam: I'm a lifelong wild bird enthusiast, how are our birds doing?

Happy new year all!

Cheers from Cascadia

1/2/14, 3:17 PM

August Johnson said...
There's also so much smoke and mirrors in what qualifies as a "Green" building. The Dec 2013/Jan 2014 issue of Home Power magazine had an article about a Colorado home that got a LEED Platinum certification. Believe it or not, this home has electric resistance heat and just installed enough PV to make more energy than was used to run that heat. Grid tied, so the actual electricity that was used to run the heater didn't actually come from the PV, but from the utility. The PV was just sold to the utility at a different time. I guess it doesn't matter if you use an energy hog if you supposedly offset it with an expensive enough "Green" source. I see more of this Greenwashing all the time, just to make people feel good about the "fact" that they are "doing something".

1/2/14, 3:18 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
Re: southern linguistics, one you get south of Appalachia you run into many different patterns. Lengthening stressed vowels is common, but the exact way this happens varies. Unstressed vowels can be lengthened too, giving the stereotypical "drawl," or they can be all but obliterated creating a marble-mouthed mumble. The long "I" is almost universally flattened to a monopthong, but exactly what vowel it lands on varies. Around here the phrase "bright white light" comes out "brott wott lott." I've always thought a southern Henry Higgins could probably identify your class, race, and home county anywhere in the south by your accent. And Florida is a real miss-mash; the farther south you go down the peninsula the less southern the speech gets; but rural parts of the Panhandle can have some of the most amazing drawls to be heard. A bit like Ent-speak, it takes a long time to say anything. My guess would be the Snoligoster's vowels get a real workout, something like "Snaouwleegawster" to non-southern ears.

1/2/14, 3:27 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Thrig, for whatever it's worth, my take is that eternal consequences are the result of eternal causes, not temporal ones. Still, your theology may vary...

Enrique, has she drunk that koolaid? That's sad to hear; she used to be fairly level-headed. As for the other F word, yes, I'm putting together a three-part series on fascism in the deindustrial future right now -- expect it toward the end of this month or in early February, before we start talking about the approaching dark age.

Justin, I'll keep that in mind. The gyascutus and its kin deserve some attention, after all.

Will, whole system net energy calculations are fiendishly difficult, which is why you won't find more than approximations in most cases. Those can be checked quite readily, though, by way of economic factors -- money makes a workable proxy for whole system costs in many contexts -- and since solar electric production isn't economically viable without large government subsidies, claims that it has a net energy yield better than mid-single digits are hard to take seriously.

As for the rest, I suggest we apply the logic of Pascal's wager to the issue. We'll assume for the moment that either you're right about the future or I am. What are the consequences of holding one or the other of those beliefs? Let's start with the people who accept my prediction. If I turn out to be right, they've dodged a really big bullet, because they have time to prepare for the really messy future ahead of us. If you're right, by contrast, they won't have lost anything, and at least some of the skills they'll have learned in following my suggestions will have practical benefits in any realistic future.

Now let's consider the people who accept your prediction. If you turn out to be right, they haven't gained or lost anything because they've just kept on doing what they were going to do anyway. If I turn out to be right, though, they're screwed; they're going to face a really ugly future with no meaningful preparation at all, and their chances will not be good. Logically, then, the reasonable choice is to take my prediction as the working scenario, and while hoping for something better, preparing for the Long Descent.

S P, good. I've been saying for some time now that we're likely to see a domestic insurgency here in the US within a couple of decades at the outside, and possibly much sooner. The federal government is pretty clearly preparing to fight one, and I suspect they have good reason to think that's necessary.

August, exactly! You get today's gold star for stating the unspeakable: the goal of American economics these days is the mass production of speculative bubbles, because that's the only thing that will provide the something-for-nothing economy Americans demand. As for Obamacare, you might want to check the size of your subsidy in some other source -- I've heard from several people now that the federal and at least two state exchanges are quoting wildly inflated figures for the size of the subsidy. Me, I'm planning on paying the fine.

Zed, why does the phrase "jumping the shark" come forcefully to mind at this point?

Steve, oh, granted. I've seen another round of algal biodiesel hype already -- no doubt the pond scum ponzi scheme will be rolling again before long.

Eric, please do that research! It's a massively important issue, and deserves as many minds as possible working on it.

Sgage, a fine example of the species. Do you recall Ogden Nash's fine poem on the subject?

1/2/14, 3:39 PM

Idontlikecheeselol said...
I found this interesting news report on BBC. Looks like your prediction about the plunge into nihilism that follows the cycle of civilizations is right on track!

Also, here is someone taking a look at his predictions in 2013. He got a 50% accuracy rate. It's quite interesting how optimistic he was in some of those predictions.

1/2/14, 3:39 PM

Jason Heppenstall said...
Can't say I have ever heard of a Snallygaster, or even a snoligoster, but I always learn something new here each week. Over here in Cornwall we have a Morgawr - said to be a giant sea cryptic that is occasionally spotted but not photographed.

As for that gauntlet - challenge accepted. Here you go.

1/2/14, 3:41 PM

sgage said...
@ JMG,

"Sgage, a fine example of the species. Do you recall Ogden Nash's fine poem on the subject?"

Thanks for the reference - no, I'd never come across it. My concept of the Windigo (or Wendigo) comes from Algernon Blackwood's tale of the same name. As you probably know, he was a great English horror writer in the first half of the 20th Century, and wrote The Wendigo in 1910. I first encountered his story in a wonderful collection called something like "101 Tales of Horror to Tell Around the Campfire". (Can't remember exactly now.)

Blackwood heard the tale while on a hunting/fishing trip in Canada. His telling was eerie and suggestive and vague and utterly terrifying. I mean, in the story the guy has his buddy dragged screaming out of the tent by his feet, but you never see the Wendigo. You just hear its wailing and howling and moaning on the wind...

Sort of like here right now, with the wind howling around the eves and the snow driving down...

1/2/14, 4:00 PM

Jason Heppenstall said...

Sorry, can't let the Denmark one slip through. Having lived there for 10 years and I came to the conclusion that the whole 'carbon zero' thing was a big lie. Denmark is a small country with only a few people in it. They are relatively rich and earn their money through ingenuity, with a huge number of students going on to do Phds. That way they try to keep ahead of the pack in the biotech, IT and pharma industries.

They also have a very lucratively financed PR industry and know that their 'green' image attracts investment. The average Dane emits 8.4 tonnes of carbon per year - broadly in line with much of the rest of the industrialised world. It is also the most shockingly wasteful society I have ever encountered, with high levels of waste.

I don't want to sound negative but I've been dealing with this stuff for some years and have come to the conclusion that people *want* to believe there is some country out there which is virtuous and to which we can all aspire. Believe me, there ain't.

1/2/14, 4:11 PM

Gaianne said...

Your link seems to include an end-of-sentence period which spoils it.

But without the final period it works fine.


1/2/14, 4:22 PM

August Johnson said...
JMG - Thanks, yes I'll check. If we have to pay any more than the minimal amount, we'll just pay the penalty also.

1/2/14, 4:30 PM

jean-vivien said...
Happy New Year, archdruid and everybody else.
For a while I thought Japan allied to the USA might wage war against China allied to Russia about the senkaku/diaoyu islands... I recently saw this piece of news, interesting that the self-proclaimed Chinese patriot hero happened to be rescued by the Japanese coast guards :

1/2/14, 6:20 PM

BeaverPuppet said...
Thanks for this post, John. I wish some of the financial blogs that keep predicting that the whole house of cards is going to fall at any second, would take some time out to do what you just did. They might actually discover what is missing from their models.

1/2/14, 6:38 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
Net Present Value (NPV) is the main reason that wind and solar have difficulty competing with fossil fuels. The income stream from future years is discounted by a fairly high interest rate.

The NPV of income or residual value 25 or 30 years in the future is basically zero. One example, if a wind turbine was built that could last 50 years instead of 25 years -but cost 10% more- almost no one would buy it. The long lived wind turbine would have a lower NPV than the cheaper unit, although the long lived unit would produce twice as much energy over It's lifetime.

Renewables tend to have most of their costs upfront with minimal operating costs. A cheap natural gas unit burning NG will burn several times it's capital costs in 30 years, even at today's low natural gas prices. So it is the "better" investment. Pay more tomorrow is NPV cheaper than paying less today.

IMHO, NPV is the greatest single obstacle to sustainability.

1/2/14, 6:47 PM

onething said...
I'm confused on this point:

" I noted the skyrocketing price of oil, surveyed the claims then being made by other peak oil writers that it would just keep on zooming up forever, and argued instead that it would plateau and then decline over the course of the next few decades. "

Did you mean to say that the price of oil would decline over the course of decades?

1/2/14, 7:56 PM

Melissa M. said...
While I vigorously hope that my prediction doesn't happen in 2014, I do predict two corresponding events.

Living near the Berkeley/Oakland part of the SF Bay Area, wild turkeys have been introduced. They specialize in blocking traffic, and leaving me suspicious of the intelligence of any hunter who calls their kin wily.

I predict that at the same time that the metalworking company for which I work gets a dramatic spike in custom orders for heavy gauge door jamb armor, the wild turkeys will plummet in numbers and become extremely elusive.

These will both be indicators of very interesting times. But having both a good job and good family in the area, bailing at this time would be counterproductive. Mr. Greer, do you have any thoughts for those with roots in locations which have a high probability of becoming very interesting?

1/2/14, 8:22 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Alan, let me quote your own words back at you: "They started in the 1970s." We didn't -- or, rather, we did, and then chucked it all. Two small corners of Europe, both of them completely dependent on the global economy and on fossil fuel subsidies, happen to have made some of the necessary steps in the right direction, and are talking about making more; that's better than nothing at all, but it's not going to keep the world from having a very harsh time of it.

Artinnature, fascinating. Keep me posted on how I do! ;-)

August, oh man. Yes, I've seen a lot of that -- my favorite was the big house in Ashland OR, two hybrid cars in the driveway, elaborate PV system on the roof facing the street...which meant facing north, and receiving no sunlight. They were there to be seen, not to generate power.

Bill, most fascinating. Here "bright white light" ranges from "braaht waaht laaht" to a vowel sound I'm not sure I can define at all, something like "brat wat lat" with the "a" pulled just a bit toward an "e."

Cheese, thanks for the links!

Jason, duly noted. Yes, I've heard of Morgawr -- claim was that a bunch of Cornish witches in the 70s did a ritual on the beach to summon it, and several sightings duly happened thereafter. Of course most of the media coverage was due to, shall we say, the lack of coverage of the all-women coven that did the summoning.

1/2/14, 8:35 PM

Steve Morgan said...
Er, my post and the linked article had nothing to do with algae or any other lab-bench vaporware. Every bubble must start with investments that have some legitimacy. In this case, the investment firms are standardizing contracts for things like leased rooftop PV systems, industrial wind and solar farms, and energy performance contracts on buildings, all of which have a proven track record of returning capital plus some small interest rate (thanks to government subsidies, of course). It's only once the bubble picks up steam and runs low on legitimate projects that the energy vaporware equivalent of "NINJA mortgages" would enter the picture, and that's a long way off if it's going to happen at all. By the time this bubble would be in full inflation, the algae fad would likely already have gone the way of the hydrogen economy of a decade ago.


No argument that the LEED ratings and such are a questionable bar at best, but I look at such a bubble with an eye toward scarcity industrialism and salvage. Thanks to a (very hypothetical) bubble of energy hogs using huge PV arrays, there would be a lot more PV panels around to salvage for other purposes, not to mention buildings that are much better insulated than the average ticky-tacky box with schizophrenic siding that's typical these days. And if speculative something-for-nothing investments are going to be directed somewhere, what's so bad about financing rail projects, efficient buildings, wind farms, and PV panels for energy hogs? Just because it's done in hopes of getting something for nothing doesn't mean something marginally useful can't come out of it. It would sure beat the stuffing out of the fracking bubble and what it's leaving behind, in my opinion.

Besides, I have an ulterior motive for thinking such a bubble would be nice. At some point the panels in my Carter-era salvaged solar hot water system will need to be replaced. It'd be nice to get surplus 2020-ish models at a discount once they've been salvaged off some project that went belly-up in the next speculative crash.

1/2/14, 9:08 PM

sunseekernv said...
Sven, and JMG et al.

Do note that sfgate was at least forthright enough to mention that acidizing is 100 years old. It was old hat when I was a boy growing up near the Texas oil patch in the 60's.

So like fracking, it's not really new, it's just offered up as a ritual invocation of "wonderful new technology that will save us" in obesience to the religion-of-infinite-progress-forever-on-a-finite-planet.

Given this "new technology" incantation, true believers are not to ask any unsettling questions about why anyone would be looking for petroleum in 3rd rate sources like the Monterey shale, nor why they're intending to exploit it as a tight oil play when it has already been exploited conventionally for decades. And they should certainly NOT read this most excellent reality check on the Monterey shale.

This SPE paper dates acidizing from 1895.
(yes, eighteen ninety five, remember Col. Drake's well was 1859).

Also like fracking, the states that are technically savvy (Texas and Louisiana) have long regulated it tightly have few polluted aquifers to show for their troubles, while the states that trusted the petroleum companies (like Pennsylvania) will have more polluted aquifers to show for that misplaced trust.

Fracking isn't new, the 1st patent for "torpedoes" was in 1865, they used nitroglycerine in those days. For a rather gruesome history of this (horse lovers are warned!) see:

Hydraulic fracturing was first done in 1949.

1/2/14, 9:30 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
artinnature re: the birds -- It's hard to generalize, really. Most species in most areas actually seem to be doing OK, with fairly stable populations. Some are increasing, some are decreasing, dramatically in some instances (in both directions). It's not always easy to see why. Around here some of the most dramatic collapses seem as though they might be stabilizing in recent years; again no one can really put a finger on why. So far there's not much sign of large-scale upheaval. Since birds have a huge variety of ecological niches, they should be good indicators of global change. And near-real-time tracking is getting easier with more and more information from thousands of people around the planet being shared online. So if, for instance, boreal ecosystems start to fall apart, we will likely see the effects in the many species of birds that nest up there and winter down here pretty quickly. Of course, whether we would or even could do something about it if we saw something like that happening is another matter entirely.

There have been some strange events recently that suggest the oceans *may* (heavy heavy caveats on that) be having more troubles than the land. Unprecedented irruptions of Blue-footed Boobies north along the Pacific coast this summer, and Razorbills (a species of auk) south on the Atlantic coast last winter, might suggest bad things happening to food supplies in their normal home ranges. Or they might just be weird events from some odd species-specific cause. Time will (maybe) tell. Old birder adage: Birds have wings and will use them. Any bird can show up anywhere, at any time. There isn't always a profound reason for it.

Vultures are doing great, skyrocketing numbers. What this means.. well, who knows?

1/2/14, 9:55 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Sgage, Blackwood was very good indeed. I haven't read that story of his, at least not that I can remember, but it sounds typically harrowing.

Jean-Vivien, it's an interesting game of brinksmanship, isn't it? Expect more as the US sphere of influence contracts, probably ending in a Sino-Japanese war -- though I won't put a date on the latter.

Puppet, you're most welcome. I suspect most of the financial blogs that run the "this is the year that everything crashes!" nonsense every single year are either talking their book, or have simply figured out that people like cheap horror fiction disguised as predictions of the future.

Alan, no, the problem with solar that matters is inadequate net energy due to the energy costs of concentration. Have you seen the latest work by Pedro Prieto and Charlie Hall on the Spanish PV experience? According to initial reviews -- I haven't had the chance to read the book yet myself -- they were able to do whole system net energy calculations based on real data, including all inputs, and came up with an average EROEI, for solar PV in Europe's sunniest country, of 2.45. If that's right -- I would like to see it replicated, of course -- then solar PV is basically a roundabout way of burning fossil fuels to generate electricity, with a very modest boost from sunlight.

Onething, yes, I thought at that time that oil prices would plateau for a decade or two and then come down, as economic contraction made fewer and fewer people able to afford any oil at all. The last barrel of oil, I thought, might be sold for the equivalent of $20 or $30 in 2007 dollars, because this would be a month's wages for most people in the deindustrial and bitterly impoverished US and not many people could spring for such an extravagance. As I said, I revised that view on the basis of experience.

Melissa, other than bracing for a wild ride, I don't have any particular suggestions.

Steve, I noted the pond scum ponzi scheme simply because that shows that "alternative" tech is already gearing up to replace fracking; of course there will also be legitimate investments, possibly quite a lot of them. I certainly wish you the best of luck in snapping up cheap solar water heater units after the crash!

Sunseeker, bingo. Partly it's a matter of scraping the bottom of the barrel, partly a matter of people trying desperately to convince themselves that their whole way of life hasn't passed its pull date.

1/2/14, 10:48 PM

steve pearson said...
Melissa M, I know the question wasn't addressed to me, but I hear variations of it so often.I'm not even answering it directly. We all die sometime. To me, leaving your friends & family & a place I assume you love to go "somewhere' that might be "safer" doesn't make sense. Believe me, I have done it and am not judging you.
There is a lot of alternative community activity happening in the Oakland, Berkeley area. Why not make your stand there. I know that you seem to have made that choice, so I am supporting you.
What if you go to some more "ideal" place and you don't like them; they don't like you; you can't find work; you miss your friends. It can work; it seems to have for JMG. This is a hugely personal decision though.
When I was young, we had so many chances to frack up and try again. I think the consequences of our actions tend to be more immediate now.
I think the feeling of connection to a place and a group of people is one of the things we have traded for the incredible mobility and opportunity for adventure and experience we have had during my lifetime. We are coming into different times now,and our decisions must be made as a warrior.
Forgive me; this is not aimed at you. Your comment just triggered this chain of thought, for what it is worth.If there has been anything of use to you in it, I am honored.
Cheers, Steve

1/2/14, 11:46 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Ha! I see your Snallygaster and raise you a Bunyip. Should we ever get the chance, we could chuck them in a cage and see which of the entities prevail. My money would be on the Bunyip, just because it's Aussie as, just sayin... hehe! Look at the bones! (Monty Python reference). hehe!

I'm reading about the Dreamtime and it may interest you because it is a glimpse into a sustainable society. The quote is from, "The biggest estate on Earth - Bill Gammage":

"The Dreaming has two rules: obey the Law, and leave the world as you found it - not better or worse, for God judges that, but the same. The first rule enforces and exists for the second. Together they let place dominate time, and translate well understood ecological associations into social relations - kin, marriage, diplomacy, trade and so on. They apply the same relations and obligations to all creation, guarding the universe by outlawing fundamental change, so making all creatures conservationist and conservative. In most other societies an urge for change is so entrenched as to be thought natural, nor is it clear that people entirely succeeded in leaving the world as they found it, but they (referring to the Aboriginals) dedicated their lives to conserving what they inherited, and within the perception of living generations generally they succeeded."

What a truly fascinating book. Plus, I must disclose that it is both cementing and reinforcing my concepts of land management here, for I am indeed a steward of this land here. It is truly astounding at how micro-managed the entire continent actually was before Europeans turned up and upset the entire balance.

It would also be interesting to note just how many of the community here would be happy to subject their entire existence (every waking hour) to that of the decisions of the tribe? I suspect not many would be excited by that concept.

I always understood Juhana's fear and repulsion of the novel for he lived in as fragile a land as here. I get that, but once the genie is out of the bottle then you can only muddle through an uncertain future. There, that is my prediction for 2014: the future is uncertain. hehe!

By the way: 2013 was hottest year on record in Australia – Bureau of Meteorology. Not good.

Hi Trish of the Calm Centre of Tranquility,

I too believed that you were a paid shill. For that I apologise and am genuinely sorry for any offence.

As a helpful suggestion, we are now at a time when people are tuning out because the stories that our politicians are telling us fail to fit the facts on the ground for the everyday person. Expectations are no longer meeting reality so a dose of honesty and respect for the intelligence of the general population wouldn't go astray in political conversations with the public.



1/3/14, 1:02 AM

Juhana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

1/3/14, 1:16 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

(I'm the Unknown who inquired about bourbon.)

@Eric S.--about finding philosophical underpinnings for human rights besides Judeo-Christian religious concepts.

There is discussion within the neopagan religious movement about the bases of ethics within a pagan (nature-revering and usually polytheistic) worldview. The cultivation of virtue is an old pagan idea, but although it provides guidance for individual behavior, virtue-based ethics do not necessarily indicate what individuals have a right to expect from society as a whole.

One possible underpinning for a pagan ethical system arrives at a result similar to the Golden Rule starting from different premises. The rationale for the Golden Rule is either that God commands it, or that we are all God's children and He loves us equally.

A pagan rationale for a similar standard of behavior is absolute interconnection. No one and nothing is separate from the whole; all beings have intrinsic value; whatever we do has effects that eventually come back to us. Many tribal peoples believe that all plants and animals are our relatives. Biological sciences confirm this; all human beings have a common ancestry; and we cannot survive without (for example) the colonies of bacteria in our guts, so feeling superior to anybody or any thing on account of accidents of birth is not rational. It's not clear to me whether this entails a positive duty to defend the rights of others.

captcha number USADeck

1/3/14, 1:36 AM

Damien Perrotin said...
@ Alan, I am afraid that you paint too rosy a picture of France. If we burn less oil, it's because we drive less, and we drive less because gas is at 1,5 € a litter, which is quite a lot with 1700 € a month.

TGV came at the cost of the local lines, the management of which has been dumped on local authorities. The share of rail in freight is falling and most of it goes by truck those days.

The solar industry survives only through government subsidies. When Sarkozy lowered them, half the industry went under.

We built nukes to become independent from foreign oil. It worked fine until the last of our mines closed down more than a decade ago. Now we import uranium from Niger... and move the legion around all over the area to keep the lanes warlord-free.

The last measure from the Grenelle, the ecotax, has been "postponed" because Bretons were unwilling to pay through the nose to make the (bobo)greens feel good and were ready to take it to the street to make their point.

As for organic... it's basically a niche (and a status marker) for the well-to-do. I can't afford it, and I am among the 30%

1/3/14, 1:52 AM

Phil Harris said...
I thought you were a bit short with the commenter watching ocean degradation on his own coastline, backed as he is with studies showing he is not watching a local event.

Similarly, your reference in that context to a 500 Million year time frame as ‘normal’ seems to me to be beside the point. I thought for a moment you were making a joke?

I have been thinking about our ability to use imaginative time-compression to obtain perspective, proportion and a sense of direction and priority. Leaving aside the frankly silly ‘apocalypse’ talk cults or their more ‘scientific’ versions which like to imagine asteroid impact or Yellowstone magma extrusion, my own version of end-of-times includes an ocean collapse (disturbed carbon cycle) accelerating by the end of the century. This would be a slow-motion ‘asteroid impact’ that would make a ‘normal’ human Dark Age appear a very welcome option, albeit one that by then had disappeared.

Chances are that will not happen, even in the next few millennia, but I sympathise with the chap who thinks with some reason he is watching an ocean go ‘phut’ in front of him, much as I would feel for Druids and others as they watched all their trees die for at least theoretically avoidable reasons.

We know, as you have pointed out over years the idiot risks taken on behalf of civilisation even when there is adequate or even ‘dead-cert’ evidence. Even when some public-spirited Japanese persons several centuries back put up legible stone monuments advising “do not build here – Tsunami”– modernity built a cluster of nuclear power stations and storage ponds right where it mattered.

I am all for winning over people to a longer term view, past and future, rather than just take it year by year.

Very best
Phil H

1/3/14, 5:39 AM

GHung said...
"Snallygaster..... octopuslike tentacles that dangled behind it as it flew."

Funny that. The monster of my childhood was the smellygasser.... angel-of-death tentacles that wafted behind it as it shuffled past (that would have been my Dad. He eventually drowned in a bottle of bourbon.) Many folks can describe this clever, gentle, not-so-mythological creature from first-hand encounters. We always stayed ahead of the smellygasser (it was his lot to bring up the rear), or the consequences were easily predictable.

1/3/14, 6:32 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...

In only perfect societies could prepare, then no society would prepare, for none are perfect.

None-the-less, Danish carbon emissions, per capita, were significantly higher than German emissions in 2007 and significantly lower in 2012. This despite the massive German effort @ renewables with their EnergieWende in those 5 years.

I find it hard to discount a -26.5% drop in carbon emissions in 5 years, especially absent an economic meltdown (Danish unemployment in 2007 was <3% in 2007, @ 6.5% in 2012).

The Danes have projects and plans in place to continue reducing carbon emissions till 2002 and are actively working on 2030 plans.

The Danes will find that the last 10% will be the hardest to get off of. If they are forced off that last 10% or so, it will be difficult and disruptive, but manageable with enough social discipline.

And even if a bloc of nearby nations manage to get off fossil fuels in time. they will suffer due to the effects on the rest of the world.

What I see preparation and social discipline leading too is not an absence of suffering and BAU Green, but survival. No mass die-off and some social continuity.

No preparation will be ready for the changing reality we face. But "good enough" preparation and social discipline will allow for making do around the gaps.

Autarchy is inherently inefficient, especially in maintaining modern technology. So some of it will not be maintained. But that does not mean it will be forgotten.

In a century plus, the few societies that prepared may play the role, with some luck, that Ireland has been reported to play in the Middle Ages. Preserving some core knowledge and a decent quality of life.

1/3/14, 8:08 AM

The Goose said...
This has become my favorite blog - love it. Thanks for all your great writing. -- Todd

1/3/14, 8:59 AM

My donkey said...
For 2014, I predict an increase in stupidity of the American populace, continuing a trend that began several decades ago.

This will manifest itself in a higher percentage of people doing stupid things, such as:

* buying stuff they don't need with money they don't have

* blaming society's ills on anything or anyone except themselves

* sedating themselves on TV, movies, computer games, concerts, sporting events, amusement parks, shopping etc.

* arguing about the 2 main political parties as though voting for either one will make a difference in where the country is heading

* complaining about the government or the corporate plutocracy instead of taking responsibility for their own lives

* posting comments on news sites and blogs as a substitute for changing their lifestyle or doing anything to prepare for a low-energy future

I expect the stupidity to keep increasing as long as the oil keeps flowing and the lights remain on.

1/3/14, 9:15 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
Big Easy Alan...

Oh, so many things to say.

Do those Danish carbon emissions include the carbon emitted outside of Danish borders growing the food and manufacturing the imported goods on which the Dane's lifestyle is based?

CHP, TGV, I had to google them. Please define acronyms that are not likely to be universally understood. So where does the fuel for these plants come from? Within Denmark? Is the biomass from Danish forests?

Nuclear? Really? Nuclear is not sustainable or renewable. It is another fossil fuel.

Where do all those PV panels and the necessary batteries, etc. come from? The global fossil-fuel driven economy, that is where. Same for those nuke plants.

Overall, you make no case that the Danish experiment is anything but a small demonstration project embedded within the global fossil fuel economy. Nothing about that suggests it can be scaled up to replace the global fossil fuel economy.

Per capita energy and resource use will fall drastically. There is no way around this. It is ridiculous to think we can, or should, try to maintain a standard of living that is miles beyond anything that our species has ever experienced before the 20th Century.

1/3/14, 9:25 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG, you're in a real linguistic crossroads there. You'll hear influences of the deep south, northern and southern Appalachia (y'uns vs y'all, brah vs bro) and that distinctive dialect associated with Bald'm'r and other places near the Chesapeake Bay warters. And that expanding inland northeast dialect, where you might have to walk six blacks to get to the bass stap.

1/3/14, 9:32 AM

Will said...
think you for replying to my earlier note. but I think you have it backwards on Pascal's bet.

real people make life decisions based on anticipations for the next few years, or at most the next few decades. we plan our careers, we buy our houses, we decide on jobs. a timeline of centuries is irrelevant to such decisions.

hence, the issue for real people is not whether The Long Descent is a realistic possibility, but rather, to what extent that descent will affect the next few years or decades. if people think the techno economy will decline sharply then yes, they should become self-sufficient, learn survivable skills, etc.

but if the world of 2030 will be much like today (or even possibly a bit better), then spending our time and effort preparing for the decline of the year 2100 and beyond, imposes real or even severe costs.

for example, those who took the crisis of 2008-2009 as the opening gun of a long collapse, and who invested in gardening rather than the stock market, missed out on a ton of money and what money can buy.

I share your distaste for many aspects of today's culture. I am convinced that a sustainable world cannot be built on fossil fuels. but I suspect that the process of change will prove more manageable and the end point better (in the sense of keeping more of civilization running) than you apparently expect.

best wishes, Bill

1/3/14, 10:14 AM

August Johnson said...
I've just seen the most wacky example of Greenwashing yet! This "Solar Powered" electric Ford has been all over the news the past couple days. 300 watt solar panel in the roof. Of course that won't make enough to do anything, so they say it'll park under a plastic lens to concentrate the sun by 6 times. Even the majority of the comments see the major fallacy with this! How bad is it on a summer day after your car has been parked in the sun for hours? "Temperature in the car will be hundreds of degrees and all the plastic will be melted!" This isn't even a "concept" car, just a bad joke!

1/3/14, 10:52 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
WW III may, or may not come to pass. But I am concerned about the impact of another "Year without a Summer" during our Long Descent.

Given that the shrinking ice sheets and heavier oceans will affect the stability of the earth's crust, I see the risk of a climate altering volcanic eruption as being greater than our history of the last millennium would suggest. And that historic risk is fairly high.

There will be little long term impact from this dust clouds, but a sudden famine in a stressed society will be "disruptive of social organization".

And then a repeat (larger or smaller) of the 1859 Carrington solar flare will disrupt the electrical and electronic infrastructure that we are so dependent upon.

1/3/14, 10:58 AM

LewisLucanBooks said...
Widespread evacuation of the East Coast hasn't started happening yet (as you state) but, there are some localized abandonment. I've read that some of the severely impacted neighborhoods by Sandy will not be rebuilt. Government buy outs and insurance settlements are shaking out.

Out here on the West Coast, the Shoalwater Tribe has been involved in some land swaps for a couple of years. Moving away from the coast which is slowly being inundated. I ran library deliveries out there, maybe 5 years ago, and it was a topic of conversation.

So, I don't think that prediction was entirely a miss. After 15 years in the Chehalis Valley flood zone, I can't tell you how much relief I felt when I moved up out of the flood zone, two years ago. I really didn't know how stressed out it made me until I moved. It was like a giant weight came off my shoulders. Living in the flood zone, every time it started to rain really hard, I got pretty twitchy.

1/3/14, 11:35 AM

Marcello said...
"my point: if world population does peak, and we avoid nuclear war, and we waste less, and we recycle, there is enough energy and other resources potentially available to keep things running."

World population has tripled since then and a wartime economy is a very peculiar situation. People may accept sacrifices for few years with the thought that the war would end and BAU would resume. If that instead becomes the new normal the great unwashed masses are going to get antsy.
Furthermore our capitalist system requires expansion to compensate for a number of things.
For example running a railway takes fewer people today than in the 1940's due to increased automation, however the people who would have been employed there have so far been absorbed by other activities that did not exist back then (cell phones or whatever). Once expansion ceases and less necessary activities shut down the excess people are not going to be automatically absorbed in those jobs that existed back them. No matter how much people are cheap railways are not going to bring back hand operate brakes, not until they begin to operate on a salvage basis at least. Likewise doing away with coal shearers in favor of manpower is not going to happen until things break apart. And so on.

1/3/14, 11:35 AM

thecrowandsheep said...

Eight years. It is amusing to imagine you as an apocalypter. You would have laid out your prediction for apocalypse in 2006 and then likely ran out of things to say by the middle of 2006.

If druidry were ever to adopt an official sport, it would likely have to be test match cricket, which lasting up to 5 days is the longest version of the game. Test cricket is at the whim of the weather, having to pause in case of rain, tactics have to account for the varying decay of the pitch over the 5 days, there are periodic tea breaks and some ovals have been built to accommodate old trees.

The shortest, most vulgar and thus most popular form of cricket nowadays is so-called "20-20 cricket" which lasts a touch over an hour and is your apocalypse if test cricket is your long descent.

1/3/14, 11:39 AM

barath said...

While we're on the subject of predictions, I'm wondering if you have thoughts on a meta-prediction question I've had for some time (that is, what topics will we be discussing in the coming years to make predictions about).

What I'm wondering is what trends, events, collective mistakes, scientific discoveries or errors, etc. are still completely under the radar, that ten years from now might still be only discussed in forums like this one, only to be recognized by the public another decade or two hence?

Peak oil entered mainstream consciousness circa 2008; climate change did a few years earlier. What will hit the mainstream in the 2020s or 2030s? I know it's impossible to know, but I'm curious if you and others have thoughts on candidates.

1/3/14, 11:50 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
My candidate for future concern will be the various implications and ramifications of failed states.

After that would be the cascading nature of multiple ecological "disruptions". The falling dominos when more than one domino is knocked over.

1/3/14, 12:39 PM

rcg1950 said...
JMG: “I've noticed over the past few years, a growingn lack of enthusiasm in the formerly raucous festivities that once marked the end of one year and the beginning of another … It was as though all the people who were grateful to see 2013 hauled away to the glue factory “suddenly” [my emphasis] realized that the new year might well be worse.”

The world girdling industrial system carries a gigantic amount of social and psychological inertia. Things go on as they have because huge institutions have been built to keep doing what they do, conventional imagination-sapping ideologies are hammered at us and repeated ad nauseam, and individuals have few opportunities or notions other than to go along to get along. All the more so in a system in which the “radical monopolization” (see Ivan Illich, Tools for Conviviality) effectively forecloses alternative (outside the system) means for securing most of life's necessities. All this would leave one to believe that things will continue pretty much as they have, that the system will continue to find a way to sustain itself even as things deteriorate in the manner you describe week after week. But …

There is a way that things break. Stresses build, matter or behavior deforms. It appears to be a linear, gradual process. The starter motor wheezes longer before the engine turns over, but the car still starts. The water keeps getting colder but it still flows through the pipes. People become more dubious that things will get better, but they still retain a little hope. And then “suddenly” one day the car just won't start. The pipes freeze. People go from disoriented to desperate. The last rock keeping San Andreas fault from rupturing fractures. These phase changes are for the most part beyond anyone's ability to predict. And the extent to which they are self-limiting or capable of setting off calamitous cascades of phase changes through a complex interdependent system are pretty much unknowable.

No one in their right mind would wish for the kinds of dislocations the system is capable of, but it would be wishful thinking to dismiss their possibility. The arrogant hard liners who run (and think they control) this system have for many years now been unwilling to give an inch, and in so doing have allowed the stresses to build. But of late there are signs that the relentless ratcheting up of the stress may be reversing at least a little bit. Legal pot in Colorado, De Blasio in NY, calls for amnesty for Snowdon from the NY Times and a big push to raise the minimum wage to name some. So this year, like any other, it could go either way. Let's hope and work for the best.

1/3/14, 12:41 PM

Unknown said...
My our vantage here near the Arctic Circle where employment will reach yet a new record in the vast oil fields of Alaska while production continues to decline in 2014. Even taxes have been dropped on the productions which will have little effect on the output. More and more for less and less....

1/3/14, 2:11 PM

Carl said...
Hi JMG, Up here in Sasquatch (Bigfoot) country, N. California, we are experiencing the drought you predicted for the SW U.S.A.. 2013 and 2012 are the first and second driest years on record. So far 2014 has seen no rain and today it is 70 (I know I shouldn't be complaining what with your storms back east). I saw the Napa river yesterday which should be running fast and full this time of year and it was bone dry. Not going to be good if CA doesn't get some good rainy/snowy storms in the next couple of months (our rainy season). Carl

1/3/14, 3:02 PM

Jason Heppenstall said...
@Alan - sorry if I sound like I'm flogging a dead horse but, you see, I'm convinced that not only is Denmark one of the least 'green' countries in the world, but I never met anyone in 10 years there who had much of a clue about what sustainability actually even meant.

In my role there as newspaper editor I got to meet many people, including former climate minister Connie Hedegaard, who is now seen as the climate change goddess. Yet even she didn't seem to have a clear understanding of basic science and kept repeating that garbage incineration was the 'green fuel of the future'.

Incidentally, it's garbage, oil, coal and trees shipped down from Norway that heat all those district heating schemes they are so proud of.

I also worked there as a freelance copywriter and was sometimes asked to come up with a lot of the green hogwash you'll find coming out of PR agencies there (hey, I needed the cash).

It's also a country of ravenous consumers, with the highest unsecured level of personal debt in the world. And the thing is, they really believe that they are all living free lifestyles - even as they hop on planes to spend the weekend shopping in New York, or to get a bit of a winter tan in Thailand.

I came to the conclusion that the country as a whole is one of the least equipped to deal with the coming decades, and moved my family away from there to a place of relative safety.

I don't have anything against the country, I just wish they'd stop making bold statements about how they will be 'carbon neutral' without having any idea of what that means or how they will get there.

If you want a better role model, look to somewhere like Bhutan.

1/3/14, 3:03 PM

sunseekernv said...
@August Johnson re the Ford concept car

Thanks for the link/video - I had seen this earlier on another site, estimated the roof area and said "no way" do they get 6kWh/day IIRC out of that small an area.

But now I see the idea - use low concentration to leverage the solar cells. When watching the video and seeing the cells I wondered whose cells they could be besides Sunpower, and they turned out to be Sunpower cells!

A little insulation and air gap would keep the car cool enough, so I don't see a huge problem there,
even though they're using a black backsheet. (A white backsheet would reflect some light up to the front of the glass where some of it would reflect back down on the cells - one pays a couple percent penalty for the aesthetics) N.b. the Interdigitated Back Contact on n-type wafer cells have a much better temperature coefficient than regular screen printed cells on p-type wafers.

The problems I do see are:
(a) the parking spot has to be oriented exactly East-West
(b) the vehicle must move autonomously during the course of the day.
(c ) unless one lives close to the equator, one will loose some sun, or have to adjust the tilt of the lens canopy during the course of seasonal variation.

Rather than one special parking spot for one unique plug-in vehicle, people will just cover all the parking spots with PV and have a few inverter/chargers for any EV (including e-bikes).

While I appreciate the clever solution to leveraging "expensive" cells, concentrating PV doesn't seem like it will ever be a big winner:
* low volumes + special parts (trackers) = pricier than commodity flat panel PV
* site specific-ness + reliance on DNI (Direct Normal Insolation) = areas with clouds/aerosols/dust one can get less power out of a concentrator than flat plate getting the whole sky shine. One always pays at least a 15% penalty by using DNI only, often much more.

At least the Ford vehicle is somewhat usable, there is another "breakthrough" making the rounds, where the architect uses a glass sphere to focus sunlight. He's just clueless about optics, claiming the sphere sucks in all the light around it, and even focuses moonlight (big deal - what's the POWER in that light?!).
And he ignores the quantitative energy needs of buildings, sketching in a few of his spheres in a most artistic fashion without the slightest care for the actual kWh of energy consumption vs. the actual power of sunlight per square meter.

TI's spherical mini solar cells didn't work all that great in the 70's, nor have any spherical lenses thru the years worked worth a frack.
PV wants to be flat: maximize the area the sun shines on, minimize the area for optical/recombination losses.

My prediction for 2014 is that CPV will continue to lag, even Sunpower's 5x concentrator,
as commodity PV gets cheaper and cheaper, both the modules and the BOS (Balance Of Systems).

1/3/14, 4:10 PM

Bob tyler said...
"I found refuge from a disintegrating family, and a school life marred by American education’s culture of mediocrity and bullying, by chasing down anything that made the walls of the world press a little less closely against me on all sides. Monster lore played a significant role in that process" This pretty much sums up my childhood experience as well, except the monsters were the campy creations of Hammer Films. What a relief to find that someone else took refuge in monsters.

I live in central Maryland and recently attended a meeting about the proposed LNG expansion at Cove Point near Calvert Cliffs on the eastern shore here in Maryland. It will be interesting to see if this monstrosity actually gets built in 2014. I believe that the goal all along was to export natural gas and Maryland will become nothing but pipelines. Hopefully, O'Malley and his successor will stay the course and not approve fracking in Western Maryland, but I'm not hopeful.

Love the blog.

1/3/14, 4:16 PM

Eric S. said...

I'm definitely quite familiar with virtue ethics, and I'd say it's an obvious starting point. The first step in my research was to drag out my books on the topic (not many, just McIntire's After Virtue, most of Brendan Myers books, and our own Mr. Greer's World Full of Gods, but still a start) with the intent of doing some index and bibliography scouring later this week. Hopefully somewhere along the way I can find someone in the field who is specifically interested in human rights issues.

That should probably be the end of discussion on this topic for now though, since it doesn't have much to do with snallygasters or what's going to be happening this year. In order to keep things in balance, and on topic I do want to point out to John Michael Greer that, while there wasn't another Irene or Sandy, there was the typhoon in Southeast Asia a few months back, which I think fits the bill in the multi-million dollar weather related disasters/climate refugees category, so I think that may actually be a clean sweep for the year's predictions.

1/3/14, 4:34 PM

sunseekernv said...
JMG - thanks for the link about Prieto and Hall's book.

I'm about done with Hall and Klitgaard's Energy and the Wealth of Nations, which has been a teeth gritting disappointment due to numerous typos and other errors. I generally get and agree with what they say, but it looks so fracking unprofessional.

I will add Prieto and Hall to the book list.

The too generous Spanish subsidies brought in the quick buck guys, who:
* built a bunch of small module manufacturers which were too small to effectively compete.
* threw up systems based on getting as much subsidy as possible, without experience or care in the long-term effectiveness of the project.
* bought whatever was cheap, regardless of long-term quality.

Complaints about excess cost vs. real capacity, low quality and out-and-out fraud soon got out of hand, then the government had to lower the boom. Blaming the technology for all the troubles is not honest, the crisis aspect was political in nature. (This may not help in actually alleviating the problems).

Because of the "land rush", costs (and energy use in construction) were higher than in more orderly markets like Germany. Indeed, their slide show shows that modules increased to over 3 Euro/Wp (Watt-peak)during the boom (they're under 1 Euro/Wp now.)

I have to quibble with the reviewer who says the crash of 2008 was brought on partly by over-investment in PV. The Spanish government, in that great tradition of bread and circuses, capped electricity prices paid by consumers, so that neither the PV subsidies OR the massive increases in fossil fuel prices around 2008 were passed on to consumers. The money came by cutting government services - at just the time they were needed most. It wasn't over investment, it was vote-buying subsidies and wasteful giveaways on top of what was needed to stimulate the market.

The 2008 worldwide financial crash didn't help things either.

I took a look at the slides referenced in your link.

These startups in Spain, plus the new Chinese module makers were inexperienced, and made frankly crappy modules, thus the 8% loss due to "over dimensioning of the nominal power" (eg. the nameplate was higher than actual power).
This also accounts for most of the module degradation - 11.4% over just a few years is unacceptable, but if one has no manufacturing experience/effective QA and is buying cheap encapsulant, what does one expect? Tier 1 suppliers modules degrade a fraction of a percent per year, proven over dozens of years in the field.

I also have to quibble with their methodology of calculating energy input. They take the GDP of Spain, take the total energy used, calculate X Euros per MJ, then say we spent Y Euros on PV, therefore the energy cost was Y Euros / X Euros/MJ = Z MJ.

So, for instance does it really cost 71.9 GWh/year to provide 42 MEuro insurance? I don't think so.

I also quibble with charging energy as wasted when most of the Spanish PV companies shut down prematurely. The buildings are still there and usable, and the equipment has long since had a slow boat ride to China.

Conventional life cycle analysis gets an EROEI of about 8.3.

I note that Germany systems are now installed close to 2Euro/Wp
instead of the 6-7 Euro/Wp during the rush in Spain, and that means greatly decreased (energy) costs -> better EROEI. An example: The traditional way of anchoring a module rack is to drill a hole, put a form up, stick some rebar and anchor bolts in and pour concrete. In Germany, if site conditions allow, they use drill-in anchors - big steel screws that just dig into the ground. For the cost of about the same steel in the rebar, one has an easily recyclable anchor in far less time/money/energy.

It will be interesting to dig in to this. EROEI is so critical.

1/3/14, 6:02 PM

Calm Center of Tranquility said...
@Cherokee (Chris), thank you for your comment. You are as gracious as our host, something seen not just in this instance but in comments through the years.

On today's post, I will also accept the gauntlet, though my predictions at this time last year ( involved no risky thoughts whatsoever, and therefore were right on target. For the year to come?... Well, my son moved to Las Vegas a few months ago, and he recently told me about witnessing the robbery of someone's groceries in the store parking lot as they were loading their bags into their car. This is the type of thing I see getting more attention in the year to come. As more people find themselves struggling, there will be more and more of those who feel entitled to take what they are unable to get by other means. Even in my rural bastion, this type of crime is on the increase, and is garnering more and more attention. As for "big" things - I see Pakistan as the wild card in the deck. I lived there many many years ago, and the changes are astounding to me. When you have an enormous population, which includes a staggering number of young men who are unemployed, you have a powder keg waiting to explode. And in Pakistan's case, a nuclear one.

As a response to Chris (and somewhat to JMG) - Both you and JMG have both suggested that the actions of individuals in power only matter in the aggregate, and if that's true, I would have to agree that there's not much difference in who we elect at the national level (and, to some extent, at the local level as well). We have a broken system or rather, several broken systems and it's rare indeed that anyone with a voice that can be heard is working to change things at that level. But I tend to be a pragmatist, so I am willing to see differences among individuals in at least some areas that matter to me, and will continue to cast my votes based on that idea - those votes are certainly not always for Democrats at the local level. At the national level, President is really my only voting option, as Idaho is a red, red state.

I am a liberal, and I live in not just a conservative bastion, but in a place that was an early "heart" of the tea party (and the Aryan Nations, the Militia of Montana, and the John Birchers before that). Though I tend to think of myself as well-informed, it's entirely possible that the way I think is a 'talking' point for Democrats. I just haven't noticed that at all. From my viewpoint, most of my liberal friends are disappointed in Obama, having thought that he was somehow going to solve all the issues they cared about.


1/3/14, 6:37 PM

Dan Bashaw said...
I tend to prefer scenarios -- or future stories like the ones JMG sometimes tells here -- to predictions. They have the advantage of being useful even when wrong, and of allowing us to look at alternative paths forward.

When it comes to actual predictions, a long and fruitful legacy of being wrong has lead me to a rule of thumb that I find quite handy these days: "When predicting the future, everything takes five times as long to arrive and ends up being only half as dramatic as I first think it will."

This rule seems to apply reasonably well for me across many different domains.

It is a way to factor in the countervailing forces that JMG mentioned in a previous post about why projecting trends or events forward as worst cases fails. There are always counterbalances and feedbacks damping change down.

Depending on one's natural inclinations, I bet most of us could adjust the equation and come up with a pretty good variant to help offset our particular biases.

- Dan [formerly 'guamanian']

1/3/14, 7:49 PM

ladyimbriumsholocron said...
All I can say is how much I appreciate the fact that someone on the internet understands the unique fondness that parts of Maryland have for the letter A. We also pronounce "ou" oddly.

1/3/14, 8:22 PM

Grebulocities said...
A comment about paid shills - I think it's important to note that most shills are unpaid. This is how the effect of money spent on paid shills is magnified - unpaid, unaware, but convinced people propagate their arguments, and some of these people are capable of writing posts that look indistinguishable from those of paid shills. If most shills had to be paid, the entire PR industry would make less economic sense than the most rapidly declining shale oil well.

From the perspective of running a blog where intelligent discussion is desired, it's probably not that important - you can just delete uninteresting posts without speculating on the poster's motive. But I've met so many otherwise intelligent and well-spoken people (many of them college professors and the like) who wholeheartedly parrot talking points from some major political or corporate interest(s) that I'm fairly convinced that the (shill-like posts)/(posts actually made by paid shills) ratio is probably very low, likely far less than 10%. Propaganda doesn't work if it can't propagate itself.

1/3/14, 8:59 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

As to predictions, I'm increasingly concerned about the increasing irrelevance of our education system. My reason for this is that somehow we've taken the rise of specialisation too far in relation to education.

The thought dawned on me today as I was working through the garden on various tasks that I'm constantly learning as nature keeps on teaching lessons. There is nothing inherently mystical about that learning either as anyone can read the story as long as they take the time to get their hands dirty and have a reasonably curious mind.

But there's the problem. A person actually has to do something and I see a society bogged down in mindless entertainment. Entertainment is fun and all, but it has to be done in balance.

This is where our education system falls down because it is neatly compartmentalised in people’s lives and is an awards based system. The awards based system encourages specialisation too which is why people can happily say, "you cannot speak about matter x, because you are not an expert in that field". Or: "matter x has not been studied, therefore it cannot be observed".

Such statements kill off natural curiosity and observation skills in people. We in effect spend too much effort trying to split learning and overlook the big picture and inter-relationships of things.

That lack of curiosity and observation which is engendered by the education system combined with specialisation, in turn leads people to put their faith in soothing lullaby’s from experts despite the fact that those stories may not fit the facts on the ground.

Mindless entertainment requires mindless consumers. It doesn't have to be that way though.



1/3/14, 10:48 PM

KL Cooke said...
"Do moonshiners in your region make decent whiskey or do they concentrate on white lightening?"

The two are not necessarily mutual exclusive. Here's a great documentary for when you have an hour and a half to spare.

For the record, I don't drink.

1/3/14, 10:54 PM

KL Cooke said...
Bill Pulliam

When I worked in Kentucky I noticed that in that region "tower," "tire" and "tar" are all pronounced the same--like the roofing substance.

1/3/14, 11:10 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi everyone,

Just in case there are some statistics (or horror show) enthusiasts in the comments section then check this link out:

How Australia's hottest year on record unfolded

Climate change is weirder than anyone may expect.


1/4/14, 12:15 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Blue,

Back of the envelope calculations are worthless. Give it a go in the real world and you'll find that solar energy is awesome, but it will not power an industrial civilisation.

As a disclaimer I live not connected to the electricity grid and the household here is entirely powered by photovoltaics. For the first time this year I went the entire year without resorting to a fossil fuel powered generator.

Without sounding mean, I'd like to ask you what you are currently doing to promote a future based on solar energy alone?

I can assure you that during the depths of winter here around the winter solstice, I can use no more than 3.5kWh/day. Take up the challenge and give it a go, but please do not repeat such nonsense.


1/4/14, 2:31 AM

Andy Brown said...
That made me laugh. My car once broke down in Texas and I was directed to "Tars Tars". When I got there I found it was "Tower's Tires."

1/4/14, 5:24 AM

fyreflye said...
Hi, JMG:
It seems your prediction of yet another bubble arising to succeed fracking has already begun to manifest itself. But who could have predicted that it would be... solar power!?

1/4/14, 7:18 AM

John Roth said...
@Calm Center etc.

Well, I’m fairly liberal, and I can’t say I’m disappointed in Obama, but that’s because I must have some of that old, rock-ribbed Puritan in me, regardless of my ancestors being Italian and German. The Puritans had their “five pillars,” one of which was the Essential Depravity of Mankind. It’s said you never met a disillusioned Puritan - they had no illusions that people would do the right thing in the first place.

Why not Obama? Go back to 2000. The reason we had Bush instead of Gore was the Green party acted as a spoiler. I’ve heard they had substantial Republican funding. 2004. Guy everyone liked named Howard Dean was the frontrunner until John Kerry came from nowhere to get the Democratic nomination and then swoon in front of Bush. 2008? A one-term senator comes from nowhere to unseat the Crown Princess and then has the Republican candidate do a swan dive in front of him. As JMG says, he’s almost indistinguishable from a hypothetical Bush III administration. 2012? The Republicans commit hari-kari with a poorly conceived debate schedule.

If I was in the conspiracy theory mood, I’d think that once was happenstance, twice was coincidence, three times is enemy action.

The other reason I never believed him was his program. It was simply a mashup of all the liberal and new age wish list items, put forth with an emotional religious fervor. For me, that’s an instant turnoff. I don’t know who his advertising agency was, but whoever it was, they deserve a medal.

This gets into the prediction question. I take the “fox and hedgehog” model of evaluating people who make predictions. For some reason the book I was looking for has vanished from Google’s front page, however. There was a study about prediction styles. A “hedgehog” style depends on a single concept, and it’s usually put forth with a great deal of certainty. A “fox” style depends on analysis from a number of viewpoints, and the proponents tend to qualify their predictions, so they don’t sound at all confident. The payoff: “hedgehogs” are about as accurate as hiring a chimpanzee to throw stuff at a wall. “Foxes” can do better, and sometimes do.

Another art of prediction bit: lots of pundits have a neat way of avoiding making bad predictions. They don’t make an actual “prediction,” instead they swan around the subject weaving a spell of expectations and then leave without a concrete statement that someone can point to and say “this is a prediction.” It’s a great way of not being wrong. (I was going to point to an article, but it seems to have vanished. Or else I don’t remember where I saw it two hours ago. Sigh.)

1/4/14, 7:37 AM

Mark Rice said...
This is a comment on the growing lack of enthusiasm in the formerly raucous festivities that once marked the end of one year and the beginning of another.

We used to observe many cars on the sides of the freeways on the morning of New Year's day. These were the cars driven by drunks the night before who did not make it home. This year there was a curious lack of such cars. Also there were not many sounds of fireworks at midnight. If there was, I slept through it. New years just is not a big deal any more.

Could less hope for progress in the coming year contribute to the decline of New Years.

I wonder if people are sensing not just the end of material progress but also the end of what we could call moral or political progress. The Snowden revelations have shattered the illusion of living in an ideal Jeffersonian Democracy.

1/4/14, 2:22 PM

sunseekernv said...
@Blue - was the 0.1% sun-to-biomass or sun-to-electricity-via-PV efficiency?

Run of the mill PV modules are 15% efficient these days.

The "half the day" is way high, typical "capacity factor" (fraction of generation / max capacity) for PV is closer to 20% for decent mid-latitude sun.

@fyreflye - re solar power bubble, NY Times article

The NYTimes speaks "the truth" when it says SolarCity has not made a dime, AND it lies too.
They have a decent gross profit, but are in rapid growth mode, revenue up 52% over last year, but net profit is certainly negative. I don't follow solar retailers, but my take is of course Wall Street is going gaga over SolarCity, there is little else actually growing in the real economy besides renewables.

My take home is the subtle digs at renewable energy are due to the biophobia and materialism in our culture, so the reporter/unhappy homeowner et. al. are playing adolescent disparager, afraid to face "Not the Future We Ordered". Is this really news?: homeowner: "poor me, I only save $200/year", company: "no, you actually save $575/year". No mention of peak oil, climate destabilization, end of empire/economic growth, … .

Will PV scale?
I was interested in the PV industry predictions for 2014 and how well they've done for 2013.

In Q2 2013, the U.S. installed 930 MWp (Mega Watt peak - full rated output) of PV, putting total cumulative US at 10.25 GWp (GigaWatt peak).
At 20% capacity factor, that's equivalent to 2 large nuclear or coal plants running full time. Not sufficient for BAU, but not a bad start, considering we only had 4.4 GWp in 2011.

The world passed 100 GWp cumulative in 2012.
Call that 20 big conventional power plants - that's scale. 2013 will see about 30 GW installed worldwide.

How were the predictions of the PV industry?
In 2008 the European PV Industry Association forecast said the world would install:
2011 13.8 GWp
2012 17.4 GWp
2013 22.3 GWp

2011 30.4 GWp
2012 31 GWp
2013 too soon to tell, but around 35 GWp

conclusion - they're lousy predictors, but good at overachieving.

2014 predictions are around 45 GWp, and 700 MWp totally unsubsidized. Until there's a carbon tax and other fossil fuel subsidies are removed, don't complain to me about subsidies for renewables.

Per inhabitant, in Europe, at the end of 2012:
Europe average 138 Wp
Germany 398, italy 273, Spain 110, UK 29, Sweden 2, Denmark 70

That means each German has essentially 2 solar panels - as of a year ago. Far from BAU - that would take another 30-40 panels or so, plus a lot of batteries, new industrial processes, lifestyle adjustments, etc. (so it likely won't completely happen), but also far from "nothing". While we in the U.S. are dithering, others are doing.

In August 2013, PV and CSP provided 7.4% of Spain's electricity. Along with wind 16.1% and hydroelectric 9.9% and a few others, 36% of Spain's electricity was supplied by renewables in August.

A third of a civilized nation's electricity from renewables!

German PV and wind have hit a peak of 61%, causing financial havoc with conventional fossil fuel burning plants - hah!
Over the 24 hours of Oct. 3, 2013 PV contributed 11.2% to Germany's total electricity production.
Nothing to sneeze at - tens of GW is real power.

1/4/14, 3:34 PM

Dagnarus said...

"So, for instance does it really cost 71.9 GWh/year to provide 42 MEuro insurance? I don't think so."

I have yet to read the book either but it should be pointed out their is always the risk that some of the solar panels/other infrastructure will be destroyed by natural distasters/whatever. These panels will have to be replaced, it is quite possible that 71.9 GWh/year is a reasonable estimate for how much energy will be required to do that.

1/4/14, 7:01 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi sunseekernv,

Quote: "A third of a civilized nation's electricity from renewables!"

Such statements fall into the trap of the gambler in that it considers the wins and forgets about the losses.

August in Spain would have been peak production time for PV (photovoltaic) electricity generation.

How about quoting figures from January or February when the sun is lowest in the sky?

Sustainable has to be defined as meaning installed and measured on a worst case scenario, not a best case scenario. It is too easy to cherry pick data when you are examining best case scenarios.

Perhaps it may also be worth considering that Spain (when last I checked) had a youth unemployment rate of 50% and an overall unemployment rate of 25%. Demand reduction may explain part of the story too.


1/4/14, 9:52 PM

Jim R said...
Here, JMG, I thought you might be interested in this. An episode of book-burning.

And it probably won't be the last. A sign of the times.

I won't make any predictions, but have a sense that things are happening faster now. Not sure how much farther downriver the falls is, but it is definitely closer than it was in January 2013.

1/4/14, 10:00 PM

Thomas Reis said...
@AlanfromBigEasy your Avatar is nice can i have a copy to make a German Version? have you seen the Concept of Electric Canal boats and Electric Cargo Vans in eastern Europe? Also i think for nuclear there will soon no more money to finish all the Projects worldwide I hope so! solar now is the major New Source when it comes to Electricity but Building a electrical Heating and Transporting Industry is expencive and Climate Change and Limits of Ressources will cost us liquidity...

1/5/14, 12:14 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi August,

Thanks for your thoughtful input.

Quote: "There's also so much smoke and mirrors in what qualifies as a "Green" building".

The same thing goes on here too. At the time it really annoyed, but sanguine is the word for today!

The rules regarding these processes have possibly been co-opted by the large house project builders, simply to make it easier for them to comply. At least that is my gut feel (I'd like to be proven wrong).

The house here which I built myself scored on the higher end, but not much better than a well built McMansion. To say I was filthy about it at the time was an understatement (and to add insult to injury I had to pay for the mandatory assessment).



1/5/14, 12:31 AM

Cherokee Organics said...

Quote: "Me, I'm planning on paying the fine."

Are you seriously expecting to get fined for being self insured? Can this really be happening? I thought that you lived in the land of the free market?



1/5/14, 12:36 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Alan,

Frack! It costs me about AU$0.80 per kWh to be not connected to the electricity grid whilst still enjoying electricity.

Please reconsider the economics of renewable energy. I'm happy to pay (and also receive other advantages in this off the grid system), but I don't see many other people wanting to cough up the cash.

Your comments remind me of my miniature fox terrier who is all too happy to sit staring at a log pile all day long (and night too) just waiting to jump on the rats as they come out of their hiding nest.

It is simply not economically feasible and will not produce enough energy in the less than peak conditions. I'm sorry but that is the simple truth of the matter. You use the talking points to stave off an uncertain future of shortage.


1/5/14, 12:46 AM

Somewhatstunned said...
@Jason Heppenstall

Thanks for posting your comments about Denmark - very interesting to hear a personal opinion about this. From what you say, it seems the UK is no longer the world's leading producer of sustainable hot air - we can't even do that anymore :)

PS. Given that you're in Cornwall, I do hope the recent storms haven't hit you too hard.

(Geographical note: I'm in the sheltered micro-climate of Bristol, which is the UK southwest regional capital but which, from Jason's point of view, probably looks like "just outside London". But for anyone in N. America or Aus looking at the map, it seems like Jason and I are almost next-door neighbours).

1/5/14, 2:40 AM

Mansoor H. Khan said...

I glorified you and Oswald Spengler a little bit on the Naked Capitalism blogpost. It also contains my dumbed down verson of Spengler'r main idea:

Salaam (Peace!)

1/5/14, 4:08 AM

Cathode Ray said...
Onwards and Upwards according to these predictions about air travel in 2114:

True believers in the faith of progress!

1/5/14, 4:09 AM

Mansoor H. Khan said...

A very, very, very good summary of Spengler's ideas:

Mansoor H. Khan

1/5/14, 4:31 AM

sunseekernv said...
@ Dagnarus

Prieto & Hall's methodology is: take total national primary energy divided by total national GDP to get a conversion factor from Euros to MJ (Mega Joule). They then add up the cost in Euros of stuff, like insurance, multiply by their factor, and say that's how many MJ. My point is a lot of money going to the insurance company is profit, taxes, etc. - the energy cost of which is negligible. At least from the slides, they didn't mention getting actuarial information (which I assume would be very proprietary) and figuring out what the insurance companies really are (planning to) pay in actual claims. My impression is they just took each expense line item and converted to energy. One can hope that over the whole project that things average out to their conversion factor, but as the fraction of the economy analyzed gets smaller, there would be more and more skew - either way.

Unfortunately, true energy data is often hard to come by and/or verify, though there is much better info in Europe than the U.S. The companies installing solar do keep track of money very closely. Thus Hall's method.

Other people who do bottom up energy calcs get the (average) 8.3 EROEI number (vs. the 2.3 number).

How much of the discrepancy is Prieto & Hall's outdated/corrupted-by-Spain's-PV-land-rush (cost) info and possible skew from mean money to energy factor, and how much is from missing info in bottom up studies?

@ Cherokee Organics

Yes, August is a peak PV time. But note that wind was 16.1%.
If you go to the Spanish grid authority's realtime demand site
(assuming you want to read the English version), you can see that "right now",
say at 13:40 Spain time on 5 Jan, wind is providing 43.9% of Spanish electricity needs.
Note the pie chart in upper right-hand, you have to mouse-over the chart to get the numbers.
Hydro 13.6%.
PV in not shown in real-time, I guess since many systems are small/distributed and takes a while for smart meter info to filter in.

The realtime chart can be moved backwards.
Got down to the calendar in lower left and enter/select a date, then hit "Consult selected date" button. After a few moments the curve will change. By mousing over the curve, one can move the time the pie chart shows data for, then mouse over the pie chart.

Note the double peak in the day - PV is taking a big bite out of the afternoon peak (and the profits of fossil fuel fired peaking power plants; which, speaking of shills, those impacted profits is a large force behind the "renewables are bad" propaganda one reads).

But on
they show the daily balancing for 3 January 2014, and renewables were 53.1% of the mix.

A detailed report can be done from that page.
Click on the box "DAILY BALANCING" in the middle line.
One can get a daily or monthly report.
The daily report has "Rolling Year"
Hmm, looks like the monthly is just a daily on the last day of the month.
Well, Dec. 2013 has 37.2 % renewable for the month, 42.4% renewable for the year.
Wind at 21.3% beat nuclear 21.2% and coal 14.5% for the year - blow wind blow!
PV was 3.1% for all 2013, solar thermal 1.8%.
"Thermal renewable" (biomass?) was 2%, hydro 14.2%.

A delightful surprise to see Spain at 42 % renewable energy averaged over a whole year!

I checked August 2013, RED says 35.1% renewables vs. the link I referenced before of 36%. Guess they rounded up inappropriately. Actually looks like August was a bad month for total renewables.

I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to find the comparable info for Germany and Denmark. ;-)

Perhaps if JMG wants his books to survive the dark age, he should make sure they're translated into Spanish and German. Looks like they're the only places with (a) enough renewables to make any difference, and (b) reasonably universal languages (vs. Latin and Greek from the last dark age). (half joke, sort of collapse comedy akin to gallows humor).

1/5/14, 7:06 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, I've heard of the bunyip -- one of my favorite books of my misspent youth, Bernard Heuvelman's On the Track of Unknown Animals, discussed it. Given the raw weirdness of the known animals you've got down there, I wouldn't be surprised at much!

Phil, understood. I've been getting bombarded recently with what I suppose could be called apocalypse spam -- email after email making sweeping and dubious claims about our imminent demise -- and may be too snappish about the subject at this point.

Ghung, funny.

Goose, thank you.

Donkey, talk about shooting fish in a barrel... ;-)

Bill, here that big city downstate is as often as not called Balmer. As for the rest, no argument -- Cumberland's been a transport hub and a crossroads since long before your ancestors and mine showed up on this continent, and you can hear it in the local talk.

Will, sure, if things were going to stay the same or get better from now until 2030, that might be reasonable. For most Americans, things have gotten steadily worse over the last decade, and I'm suggesting -- for reasons discussed at length in this blog -- that they may get a great deal worse over the decades immediately ahead. Sure, the stock market has bubbled up again; how much good has that done for the ever-expanding fraction of Americans who have no job and no unemployment benefits? It's easy to remain stuck in abstractions and arbitrary predictions; look at what's happening on the ground, and the easy optimism you're promoting is hard to support.

August, stay tuned. The more desperate our situation becomes, the giddier the technological gimmicks will get.

Alan, this is fascinating. Why is it that so many techno-optimists like you are equally fascinated by sudden catastrophes, but won't grapple with what lies between those two extremes -- the ordinary historical process of decline and fall?

Lewis, that's the wave of the future -- pun intended. A lot of real estate too close to the coasts or to flood-prone rivers is going to have to be abandoned in the years ahead.

Crowandsheep, I confess to not knowing the first thing about cricket, but a five-day match with breaks for tea does sound very Druidic.

Barath, that's going to take some thought. A good question, though!

1/5/14, 7:16 AM

John Michael Greer said...
RCG, that's one of the ways that things break. Another is slow decay without any obvious snapping point at all. It's worth noting that as far as records suggest, nobody stared at the news in, say, 476 CE, and shouted, "Great Jupiter, the Roman Empire has fallen!"

Unknown, "more and more for less and less" is a very good summary of the future ahead of us.

Carl, the climatological models I've seen suggest hideous drought conditions over most of the dryland West; that was one of the reasons my wife and I moved east. Still, the Napa River bone dry in January? Good gods...

Bob, Hammer films weren't central to my youthful monsterology, but I certainly enjoyed them; to this day, Christopher Lee is my idea of a vampire -- forget about those sparkly kids!

Sunseeker, most interesting. I'll look forward to more discussion of the new book. I'm far from sure that conventional life cycle analysis adequately captures the full energy cost of PV, but it's an issue worth exploring.

Dan, as rules of thumb go, that's a good one.

Lady Imbrium, as a newcomer to the state, the local language has been a repeated source of interest to me!

Grebulocities, that's an excellent point. As I mentioned in response to an earlier commenter, I get flurries of apocalypse spam seemingly aimed at convincing me that this time is different and we're really truly all going to die by 2030, and I have no reason to think that's paid for -- any more than the folks who pop up now and then pushing their favorite paranoid scapegoat fantasy on me are on somebody's salary.

Cherokee, all good points, and we'll be talking about all of that when I get to the sequence on education I need to do one of these days.

Fyreflye, there will be any number of candidates for "the wonderful new energy source that will save us all and make vast profits!" as the fracking boom goes bust. Solar energy is certainly a contender, and if Prieto and Hall are right, the solar industry has all the more reason to flog their product as fast as possible before more people (and nations) figure out that it's not cost-effective.

Mark, fascinating. Where do you live?

Jim, I heard about that. Do you recall my post from 2012 about the deliberate embrace of false beliefs, and the pathologies that rise out of that? This is a classic example -- and it's also a reminder, for those of us who care about ecological knowledge, that it's not a good idea to count on institutions to preserve that in an increasingly challenging time.

1/5/14, 7:36 AM

sunseekernv said...
G'day Cherokee Organics,

re: AU$0.80/kWh

Fair dinkum, most folks would chuck a wobbly if they had to pay that for power.

That translates via goggle currency exchange as US$0.72
(And, "True, most folks would throw a tantrum if…")

From the rate I'm guessing you paid around AU$15/Wp for the panels, inverter/charger, batteries, racking, wires, etc., and are factoring in some battery changes through the years.

One of the reasons for large scale "utility" PV installation is that cost goes way down due to economies of scale.

Recent costs for PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) are at or less than US$0.10/kWh.

The soon to possibly expire ITC (Investment Tax Credit) takes 30% of the cost of the plant up front, and much activity is driven by RPS (Renewable Portfolio Standards - state requirements that utilities get X % of power from renewables) but other than that there's usually no other subsidy for utility scale plants in the U.S.

Batteries would add a buck or two a watt, so one could hand wave that fully battery backed up utility scale plants would only be double, i.e. US$0.20 / kWh. (depending on where, coal and natural gas are 5 to 10+ cents/kWh wholesale).

Retail rates in the U.S. vary, often with time-of-day and/or tiered rates, from 11 cents/kWh up to 50+ cents/kWh.

So a great many people could actually save money with PV right now (though not if they had batteries - but then they'd have some peace of mind/resilience), but that leads right back to the link fyreflye gave, where the ignorant homeowner is whining about not saving enough money with PV. Most people don't (care to) know about peak oil, …, and how fracking valuable is will be in the not too distant future to have some PV. (battery backed or at least able to provide power when the grid is down, like the new SMA sunny boy TL-US series).

1/5/14, 8:06 AM

mary said...
6@ Eric S and others about human rights. This book by Matt Ridley may be of interest in your search:
The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation

1/5/14, 10:24 AM

sgage said...

"one of my favorite books of my misspent youth, Bernard Heuvelman's On the Track of Unknown Animals..."

It was one of mine, too! One of my brothers used to sort of crawl around on the floor pretending to be a dreaded Tatzelwurm - used to crack me up. Some of the 'photos' in that book were wonderful. I haven't thought about that book in decades...

1/5/14, 12:44 PM

Bill Pulliam said...
JMG -- actually according to 23andMe (a.k.a. the genomics arm of Google) apparently about 1/64th of my ancestors have been in North America for thousands of years. No personal family history attests to this, but an awful lot of the known lines trace back to northern Georgia in the early 19th Century during the time that the tribes were attempting to assimilate, before they were forcibly "removed" anyway. But of course the FDA has ruled that it is harmful for me to have this information. Now when I see all those Trail of Tears historical markers I think, wow, some of my 5X-great-grandmothers were probably on that death march... Maybe that is the "harm" the FDA is trying to protect me from?

Cherokee -- yes we are going to start fining people who refuse to participate in the private health insurance market. And the irony is that this scheme was initially concocted by the supposedly freedom-embracing Republicans. Because charging taxes and having the government pay for the care would be socialism, but mandating participation in a private market is free enterprise...

1/5/14, 1:01 PM

jean-vivien said...
And one for the laughs...
One tour with the fusion cow-boys :

I do totally respect these people on a scientific level, I just take issues with the sensationalist presentation

1/5/14, 3:54 PM

John Michael Greer said...
Cherokee, yep. The Obamacare program doesn't actually provide health care coverage for anybody; what it does is require everybody in the country to buy health insurance from a private firm, under penalty of law, at whatever cost the private firm wants to charge, and then provide subsidies to the poor that (for the moment) cover most of the cost of the cheapest and worst policies -- for example, the kind that still require you to pay $5000 per family member up front before the insurance kicks in. It's impressive, in a way: the Obama administration took one of the most dysfunctional aspects of American life, our corrupt and largely incompetent medical system, and actually figured out a way to make it worse.

Mansoor, glad to hear it, many thanks for the links, and salaam aleikum!

Ray, very funny.

Sgage, did you read his sea serpent book? Living close to the Pacific, in an area inhabited by one of his hypothetical undiscovered pinnipeds, I was a great fan of that as well -- Nandi bears and tatzelwurms were all very well, but the thought of actually seeing a long-necked seal on a Boy Scout hike along the coast was to be treasured...

Bill, duly noted -- for that matter, my family has a don't-talk-about-it-in-front-of-Grandma story about a Lakota farmhand and the farmer's daughter, who were respectively my great-great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother. I should have specified the ancestors who came over post-1492, of course.

Jean-Vivien, I'm glad to see that there are people working on long shots like that. With those possibilities covered, I can keep working on the much more likely futures that will happen if they fail.

1/5/14, 4:15 PM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
Re: storing electricity

The best solution is utility scale pumped storage - and traditional dam hydroelectric.

Centuries long life (rebuild generator rotors every 50 years or so), up to 80% efficiency, on-line in a minute or so, currently built examples cost an order of magnitude or better than batteries.

More later

1/5/14, 5:27 PM

Mark Rice said...
To answer your question -- I live in San Jose CA. But I am originally from Balmer Merlen. When I was young I read about a state I never heard of -- Mary-land.

On New Years day, I accompanied my daughter on a drive to Gilroy to visit her horse. The year before she made the same New Years morning drive and observed many more abandoned cars along the freeway. In just one year there seems to be a big shift away from big New Years celebrations.

1/5/14, 7:55 PM

Herb Desson said...

1/5/14, 8:10 PM

onething said...
I don't think we need Judeo Christianity to have human rights and ethics. The golden rule is fairly universal. The problem is that people could never have built civilization with their own labor. Without draft animals and pack animals, we couldn't do it. And slaves are another way. We gave up slavery in this country as the industrial revolution was taking off.
I also suffered in school and had a difficult mother. My main memory of school was unbearable boredom, being scolded for reading, and feeling painfully sorry as kids who couldn't read were called upon to read aloud year after year, while I was forced to do daily busywork to "study" my spelling words which I already knew how to spell.

My refuges were reading, and the woods, and my sister.

1/5/14, 8:25 PM

Agent Provocateur said...

Good Gods man! Where is the old druid verve, the zest for detailed divination, the throbbing thrill of perceptively peering into the spiritus mundi (sorry, the Latin didn't allow me to make a 4rd alliteration). By Eingen's beard, you wrote a book on prognostication. You have the tools man, pick them up, pick them up! Ok … so if you haven't got the nerve, then allow me ;-)

Now I would pick through some chicken entrails but these are is short supply given I've already slaughtered all of my meat birds. The few layers I have left are too precious to me so I am constrained to pursue more down to earth means … yes, I'm talking geomancy. Given you wrote “The Art and Practice of Geomancy”, and said book is my sole source of information on the means and meaning of this method of divination, I gratefully attribute all credit for accuracy (such that it may be) to your benevolent self. Indeed, what follows is a divination of which much is in your own words. This is appropriate as I am doing the reading in your stead.

Here goes. The “world” is just too general a subject so lets restrict ourselves to the USA. After all, its still important. So the question is “How will the USA fare in 2014?”. The querent (the one asking the question), of course, is my humble self; however, this is third party question as the reading is done on your behalf. So, as the subject matter is government, we look to the 10th house for its significator and treat that as the querent. To keep it simple, I will number the houses and list the figures in them (in English, for the uninitiated) from that house.

And the answer is (drum roll please): To be continued … See the next post.

1/5/14, 8:48 PM

Agent Provocateur said...
Geomancy reading for “How will the USA fare in 2014?”:

1) Sorrow: Yeow ... bad start .. but accurate: the USA is depressed.
2) Joy: Hmm, for financial matters this suggest things will look up … buuuut “is unfavourable for “any question in which stability and deep roots are needed, and very unfavorable when a secret needs to be kept” pg 58… so double hmmm. I think we can see the better reading here.
3) Boy: the 3rd house represents international relation with neighbouring countries and Boy is “always unfavorable in matters where stability, prudence, and maturity are advantages” pg 41. Looks like nothing new on the foreign policy front.
4) Prison: Uh oh …. looks like some trouble in real estate, but hey, again nothing new here either.
5) Ending: This suggests a “situation nearing completion and thus ripe for change” pg 59 related to state governments (the kids). The 5th house is also related to personal pleasures and so the figure suggest a change in these. Life will get less pleasant.
6) Crowd: The 6th house governs federal civil servants and Crowd indicates “no direction or focus of their own” pg 45. I'm thinking a continued absence of moral direction. There is nothing dazzling different from last year here.
7) Sorrow: Same figure as in the 4st house so connects the two houses. So close (trade) partners will be in the same depressed state; same for known enemies (China? Both partner and enemy?). Perhaps something new here for Canada and China as these do not appear to be suffering quite the same as the USA yet.
8) Outward Fortune: The 8th is the traditional house of death and “money or property … loaned to another person” pg108; The figure represents “unstable success” and “unfavorable for matters in which fickleness or instability is a problem” pg63. I'm thinking things look sufficiently good on the outside to indicate and death is not immanent. The federal government should not expect its money back though. I doubt it does in any case.

To be continued (only one more … and short at that).

1/5/14, 8:57 PM

Agent Provocateur said...
The very last of Geomancy reading for “How will the USA fare in 2014?”:

9) Danger: As 5th from the 5th we are talking municipal governments (the grandkids) as well as “religion and spirituality” pg 109. Danger is said to be “good in all that is evil and evil in all that is good” pg 52. This sums up the prevailing federal philosophy as practiced rather well. Municipal governments will continue to be in trouble. What can I say; its getting tedious: no real change.
10) Danger (again). Same figure as in the 9st house so connects the two houses. The 10th house refers to the querent's reputation, social standing, and the weather. So many municipal governments continue to look bad (insolvency) and the weather continues to be very bad. Also, the reputation of the federal government will continue to get a battering. Again not much change from last year.
11) Prison: Same figure as in the 4st and house so connects the two houses. This house represents “friends, associates, promises, sources of help, the querent's hopes and wishes” pg 110. clearly there is no help for the USA from outside, in particular for real estate. The matter is locked up.
12) Beginning: Generally fortuitous but weak in the 12th house. The 12th governs “debts owed by the querent, imprisonment, anything secret, and enemies the querent doesn't know about.” pg 111. It is “unfavorable in questions where ending something is desirable” pg 61. It is hard to see how a new beginning in any of these things is good. So, a new beginning in any or all of debts, imprisonment (of citizens of the USA), secrets, and secret enemies.

In terms of how the year will unfold we look to the 1st (start), 10th (middle), and 7th (end) and 4th (final result, the aftermath). These are Sorrow, Danger, Sorrow, and Prison respectively. These speak for themselves.

So there you go: It has been foretold.

But wait, wait. JMG, you consulted this oracle already didn't you? And before writing your essay. You sly dog! You knew there would be no significant change save getting worse. Well, I had nothing really to add and I took your time to prove it. Sorry.

No doubt you have noticed some subtleties in interpretation that I have missed, or perchance a glaring error. Feel free to comment. Be gentle though, I am a novice at this hoary art..

P.S. I know why you did not do this. I'm just having some fun. As always, loved the essay. All the best to you and those you love in this new year.

1/5/14, 9:01 PM

sunseekernv said...
@ Cherokee Organics re: fines for not having health insurance

Isn't compulsory voting still the law in Oz?

@jean-vivien Thanks (I guess) for the links - I really should have not looked into them, needing to get on with solar house plans.
(I'm in the "New Alchemy" typology per Green Wizardry).
But since I didn't resist, and did some calcs, might as well share them.

The fusion thing I did NOT check out, not really qualified and it looks like engineers being serious. (But I ain't holding my breath).

The triboelectric thing caught my attention when the video said 400 watts per square meter. That would be amazing, competing with exotic multijunction compound semiconductor cells now only found on spacecraft and HCPV (High Concentration PV).
So I found his papers at:

The plastics involved are fairly ordinary, but he has done a lot of optimization/trials, so I'm not sure how much more improvement they'll get.

So what could one get from walking about?
A post peak world is not going to be able to afford to pave sidewalks with plastic and wires, so I assume "magic" shoes.

* 400 Wp/m^2 for the material.
* actual shoe contact area 4" x 8" --> .1 m x .2 m = 0.02 m^2
* brisk walk, 20 minutes/mile, 2.5' per pace. == 2,112 paces/mile

2,112 paces/20 minutes = 105.6 pace/minute = 1.76 pace/second
= 0.568 seconds/pace

The power only comes in short pulses. From pics in the papers, the pulses are very short.
They have to be a small fraction of pace time.
* 20 milliseconds per pulse, full power per this pulse

NOTE: piezo electrics and tribo-electrics work by deforming material, so voltage/current is only generated when material is deforming. The voltage may stay once deformed, though reality is it leaks off even without external circuits.

NOTE in the video, they stomp on the floor or smack the little box on the table.
Also, lighting LEDs for a fraction of a second engages visual persistance, there's not that much power going on.

So "capacity factor" is .02 seconds per pulse / .568 seconds per pace = 0.035
So, 8 Wp * 0.035 = 0.282 W continuous.

About a quarter of a watt - really?

In 3 miles of walking, I'd generate 0.282 Wh.
(That's Watt (singular/fractional) hour, NOT kilo-Watt hour)
If I pushed a bicycle with a rim powered generator I'd get way more. (typical bike generator is 3 to 6 watts). And if I had a bike to push, I'd ride it and say frack those magic shoes.

What if no bike, but I had a PV powered hat?
* 10% flex CIGS or really cheap wafer PV (vs. 15+% better PV)
* half sun (500 W/m^2) (some clouds, occasional shade tree, hat not pointed at sun).
* hat PV area is 8"x8" (.2m x .2m) = 0.04 m^2 (same area as both shoes together)

efficiency * light power per area * area = output
.1 * 500Wp/m^2 * 0.04 m^2 = 2 W continuous.

Cheap PV gives at least 8x the power, and I can stop to cool my weary feet in a stream while still getting power to listen to the radio. (or charge a light battery and quietly catch dinner without having to stomp my shoes and scare the fish).

I got to get back to house plans, might have to go cold turkey on this blog for a while.

Another prediction - triboelectrics don't amount to much power generation, ever.

1/5/14, 10:18 PM

KL Cooke said...
"I thought you might be interested in this. An episode of book-burning."

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."

Heinrich Heine

1/5/14, 10:40 PM

Grebulocities said...
JMG: "As I mentioned in response to an earlier commenter, I get flurries of apocalypse spam seemingly aimed at convincing me that this time is different and we're really truly all going to die by 2030, and I have no reason to think that's paid for -- any more than the folks who pop up now and then pushing their favorite paranoid scapegoat fantasy on me are on somebody's salary."

To expand on my point a bit, I didn't think you thought that paid shills were behind apocalypse believers and conspiracy theorists. What I mean to say is that a substantial portion, probably most, of the posts you have to deal with that look like comments by corporate or political shills are likely to actually be real, unpaid opinions by people who have been convinced by propaganda of one sort or another. I'm going to use an example from something I know well (I studied molecular biology as a grad student for a couple of years), but this sort of process is going on in a number of political and economic arguments.

Take, for instance, a molecular biologist who has never read your blog before and whose views are scientifically mainstream. Suppose the post s/he comments on somehow involves genetic engineering of crops. His or her response is likely to be indistinguishable from that of a comment by a paid shill for a large biotech company - it will be articulate, it will come from a new user, and it will likely start by dispelling common misconceptions it thinks "anti-GM" activists have and conclude by saying that a biotech-driven Second Green Revolution is the key to feeding humanity.

Of course, the reality is more complicated - genetic engineering has shown quite limited promise at engineering better food crops, and it is mostly used as a way for a few corporations to gain intellectual property rights over large parts of the world's food supply. The actual innovations, such as inserting glyphosate resistance or production of Bt toxin, are being easily defeated by evolution. Numerous glyphosate-resistant weeds and Bt-resistant corn borers have appeared all over the Midwest and are defeating efforts to combat them with biochemical tools.

Now of course molecular biologists should know what's really going on - anyone who understands evolution would know that the techniques that have been used are guaranteed to fail as resistance evolves. In reality, though, they often side wholeheartedly with biotech firms and would make a post like this, assuming anti-GM activists are scientifically illiterate.

Some of them receive corporate grants and are biased for obvious reasons. But - this is the important point - most such people are not receiving corporate grants. Their sense of purpose and meaning in life is built around improving humanity scientifically, and they imagine that further scientific progress in agriculture can solve future world food supply problems. This happens to be exactly the view biotech firms are pushing - so you'll never know if such a post is originated by a truly (financially) disinterested scientist or a paid spokesperson of Monsanto et al.

This same process occurs in political issues as well, or anywhere else where educated people have personally identified with exactly the beliefs that certain interests are pushing. The situation from last week where someone falsely appeared to be a paid shill of the Democratic Party or its allies is a classic example - I know many highly educated types who would have made exactly the same sorts of arguments. A person who believes in Progress, and who believes that the Democratic Party is advancing Progress, would make arguments that sound like (and are in some cases taken from) the Democratic platform or Obama's slogans. Successful propaganda propagates itself.

1/5/14, 11:07 PM

Dagnarus said...

"Batteries would add a buck or two a watt, so one could hand wave that fully battery backed up utility scale plants would only be double, i.e. US$0.20 / kWh. (depending on where, coal and natural gas are 5 to 10+ cents/kWh wholesale)."

I'd like to direct you to this do the math post by Tim Murphy, The upshot is that if the US wanted to build battery storage for the entire electric grid using a lead acid battery it would require all the world's lead and then some to do it. You would likely find similar problems with lithium-ion batteries and cobalt and so forth. Oil isn't the only thing which is in limited supply.

@AlanfromBigEasy said...

"Re: storing electricity

The best solution is utility scale pumped storage - and traditional dam hydroelectric.

Centuries long life (rebuild generator rotors every 50 years or so), up to 80% efficiency, on-line in a minute or so, currently built examples cost an order of magnitude or better than batteries.

More later"

Similarly I would direct you to also by Tim Murphy. Sites which are suitable for pumped hydro are not infinite.

1/6/14, 12:28 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi JMG and Bill,

Thanks for the replies. The irony wasn't lost on me either.

We currently pay 1.5% of an individual’s income (soon to be 2%) towards covering everyone's medical expenses, with a surcharge for higher income earners.

Often at the doctor you will have to pay a small top up fee, but overall the system works and I was fully covered for my hospital visit a few weeks back - a fact to which I'm grateful, as I was in no condition to think about such matters.

I'm honestly not sure I could come up with $5k per person/year as a new and unexpected insurance bill, so you have my sympathy with your situations. Private health insurance here doesn't cost anywhere near that amount.

It smells to me like someone is making money somewhere in this legislation. It just seems totally weird from my outsider’s perspective. Given it has bipartisan support, I’d have to suggest that the legislation was penned by the industry?

There has been speculation that the bunyip was actually real at one stage in our recent past (I've seen the bones of the beast at the Naracoorte caves): Diprotodon. It is a fearsome beastie and kept the forests reasonably clear of under-brush!

Hi sunseekernv,

Yep, that price per kWh assumes a 20 year life span for the components. I have to treat the batteries very respectfully to get this lifespan out of them too. They are a major cost component in the system.

You completely failed to address the economic issues I raised in relation to Spain (unemployment).

As an interesting aside, Australia has a small island territory off the east coast with a fascinating convict history called Norfolk Island. They recently installed a lot of grid connect solar PV panels. It all worked fine until one day the island generated more than they used and the entire system popped. Yes, renewable energy makes it really difficult to manage demand.

You should not expect anything different from a much larger electricity grid. The components that are being installed right now are completely incapable of adapting to this circumstance. It'll happen, trust me. There is a reason why I've had to pay so much to have an island system as it accounts for this situation which happens most days here (the sunny boy inverter/charger you mentioned is not a bad option, but like off grid it is expensive and few want to pay - and that one operates like a small UPS (uninterruptable power supply) for a household. Note the word small).

Hi Agent,

Just out of interest, why do you use a koala bear as an icon?

They are infrequent visitors here and all I can report about their behaviour is this:
- they're grumpy;
- they're mostly drunk because of the toxic diet they consume;
- they sleep for long periods of the day (up to 20 hours a day);
- they have these wicked claws which look like they'll do you up a treat. People rarely include these claws in photographs; and
- in the dark of night when they're most active they sound like razor back the wild boar is coming to kill you. Scary, blood curdling stuff.

Truly, they look cute, but pack a real punch. There's not much to recommend them as they make unpleasant company.



1/6/14, 12:59 AM

Tracy G said...
I did a Celtic Cross tarot spread for 2014. That's not my usual habit—I was following an urge to shake up the routine. I asked: "Are there any trends [that will affect me personally] that I need to consider for the upcoming year?"

Frackin' swords everywhere. Literally half the cards have them, including the 2 of Swords inverted in the basis, the 10 of Swords upright in the conscious, and a sword in the hand of Justice inverted in the final outcome. I'll be interested to review that in twelve months to evaluate the accuracy of my interpretation.

Meanwhile, it's a good thing I have a gallows sense of humor.

1/6/14, 6:27 AM

thrig said...
Energy rant time! 450 square meters of solar somewhere so folks can enjoy the comfort of overheating their homes by winter, overcooling them by summer, and otherwise spewing light pollution all the hours of the day? Just take your circadian rhythm out back and shoot it.

Let's do ignore the minor issues of where those 450 square meters would need to be, how much infrastructure (carbon!) and resources (more carbon!) would be required to run the powerlines or whatnot to where one lives, and how exactly the resources would be mined (doubtless by burning carbon) and shipped (yep, more carbon) and manufactured (hey, carbon!) and then shipped again (heyo, carbon!) and installed (my oh my, carbon!) and then hopefully recycled when past its prime--let me guess--by burning carbon! It's what we do.

Thence to the hand-waving--oh, fuelpails or pumped ponds or whatever will obviate little to none of all that carbon burning. Look out the window! Carbon-burning cars and trucks and busses. Probably a few electric vehicles, but those were a market failure 100 years ago--carbon is too good a deal. Look at most any construction site. Everything there burns carbon. Look for the actual pumped storage numbers from TVA--best of luck, a coworker tried, and failed. Meanwhile, there's some 1200 new coal plants being built or on the books to be built. Guess what those plants will do? Transition us to a post-carbon economy? I think not. During West coast fuel shortages some years ago (James D. Hamilton, Historical Oil Shocks) police in Washington state had to stop and ticket a group of car drivers out burning scare carbon--they were on a pleasure trip.

1/6/14, 8:38 AM

AlanfromBigEasy said...
Very quick note: I found Tom Murphy's analysis of pumped storage quite flawed.

Florida is a very hard case for a 100% renewable grid. Much of the USA for a 90-95% renewable grid is quite difficult but doable at affordable prices. The last few percent is often intractable.

1/6/14, 10:46 AM

John Michael Greer said...
Alan, that's handwaving. Do a little research into what would be needed, compared to the number of viable sites for pumped hydrostorage. It's another neat idea that doesn't pass the test of quantification.

Mark, okay, that's a data point worth noting.

Herb, thanks for the link. Glad to see that somebody else is paying attention!

Onething, I suspect a lot of us had that kind of miserable school experience. Sympathies!

Agent, an interesting reading. Did you post this to the Geomantic_Campus list, by any chance? They'd give it a thorough working over!

Grebulocities, yes, I figured that. Of course you're right -- the point in hiring shills in the first place is to get talking points into general circulation, and if you've got plenty of people talking your points already, why worry?

Cherokee, got it in one. Nancy Pelosi, who was the Speaker of the House when this monstrosity was made law, famously said "We have to pass the bill to find out what's in it."

Tracy, odd that swords would appear so frequently. ;-)

Thrig, square on the mark. Solar power as currently practiced is a way to burn fossil fuels, with a little boost from sunlight. That doesn't mean it can't be used otherwise -- but using solar energy without huge fossil fuel subsidies requires a completely different approach, one that has precisely nothing to do with a cozy modern middle-class lifestyle.

1/6/14, 10:47 AM

Unknown said...
(Deborah Bender)

Onething writes, "I don't think we need Judeo Christianity to have human rights and ethics. The golden rule is fairly universal."

I have a Wiccan friend named Don Frew who has been active in interfaith work for decades. A colleague from a different religious background is sold on the universality of the Golden Rule and created a poster of Golden Rule equivalents from many cultures. Mr. Frew wrote an article critiquing this effort; I believe it's been published online in an interfaith newsletter and I can try to find the reference if you wish.

There are three major religious categories in the world today: Abrahamic, Dharmic and Pagan, plus a number of religions that don't fit into any of those categories. I believe that finding the Golden Rule in a religion or philosophy that is not of Abrahamic origin requires cherry picking and quoting out of context. If you look through all the ethical maxims of a culture or religion, you may find something that resembles the Golden Rule, but that doesn't mean that it is important or basic to that religion's ethical system.

Hunting for universal commonality of a belief or principle that is central to one's own religion can be a way of showing that one's own religious beliefs are correct. The claim that the Golden Rule is nearly universal is this kind of enterprise, I believe. If you drop this assumption and look at what people in other cultures are really taught to model their behavior on, the basis is sometimes very different, especially in honor societies.

1/6/14, 11:53 AM

Joseph Nemeth said...
Just an idle thought: why is it that so many people look for "leadership" from politicians? Politicians are the ultimate followers. Use the expression, "He's concerned about which way the wind blows," and I seriously doubt that most people's first thought is "sailing ship captain."

1/6/14, 3:20 PM

sunseekernv said...
lunchtime - and just can't stay away.

@Dagnarus - Tom Murphy is almost always great,
but why does he propose a 7 day battery? The sun won't shine at all for 7 days? We have no wind and the wind blows nowhere for 7 days? We have no hydro, biomass (to burn straw men!?) or geothermal in the mix?

I'm not claiming perfection or that we will have BAU.

I've no time to search around, but a lot of work has been done on integrating large amounts of renewables, even 100%, so it is technically not that big a deal. (Not that that will ever happen at current power consumption levels due to other constraints on a post-peak economy).

If we have enough renewables to "gracefully" degrade, the existing or enhanced grid lets us move power, and we don't need a 7 day battery - 5% of 1 day is probably enough to provide stability (along with load shedding). If we're into more of a salvage mode decline, PV systems are small/standalone, and a few salvage batteries work great, and we have to get a good night's sleep anyway because we've got manual labor to do, so not having 24x7 everything is not a big deal.

No question renewables are more costly: one has to provide (more) storage and do without sometimes. So paying for renewables means a smaller economy - welcome to living within our means; but doing without them means essentially the end of civilization. And the increased cost of fossil fuels due to depletion means costs are going up anyway, therefor economies are declining anyway.

And many renewables keep declining in costs, which is why I question Prieto & Hall, using updated numbers for system costs (down half) means their EROEI is doubled to 4.6, pretty close to the 5:1 widely assumed as needed to maintain (though NOT grow) a society. Also, the crappy vendors are gone, so degradation is lower than they assumed, and lifetime is longer.

speaking of smaller economies…

@ Cherokee Organics - unemployment in Spain

? are you presuming that was caused by PV installations?

I doubt it. Much of that money was spent in Spain on salaries, etc., and it was investments on the order of 28 Billion Euro, coming in from all over the world.

Here's what I think.
Spain has no oil, no gas, and their coal mines are declining.
Go to Spain, look at oil, gas, coal.
2008 they used about 1.5 million bpd.
Brent oil prices went from US$57/bbl in 2007 to US$147. What did doubling Spain's basic energy costs do? Call it 50 Euro/bbl increase * 1.5 million bpd * 200 days of pain = 15 Billion Euro "tax" on current income, just for liquid fuels - ALL OF WHICH WENT OUT OF THE COUNTRY. And that's not counting the ripple effect of increased costs of everything else.

Unlike the US, which produces all its coal, most of its gas, and half its oil, Spain imports nearly everything. A lot of the increased oil price in the US got recycled into our own economy, softening the blow to the US.

The US is also the world's reserve currency (lucky us - for now), so many recycled petrodollars ended up in the US (thanks Spain - ah, imperialism ;^).

The rest of Europe and the world got clobbered in 2008, including those parts with no big renewable push. How was the recession where you live? It's still with us on the West coast US, not as horrible, but I know plenty of people without jobs for years.

Now back to plans for net negative cottage with very close to passivehaus insulation...

1/6/14, 3:28 PM

Joseph Nemeth said...
@JMG -- on the subject of predictions, I'm going to make a prediction about the stock market, which I'm borrowing (actually stealing outright) from one of the talking heads on Fox News, which I had the misfortune of watching back in 2008 while trapped in a small, dark room waiting for my tires to be rotated.

(In an excited voice): "Well, this stock market is going CRAZY, Pheobe! We've never seen anything like it. There's only one thing sure about what going to happen next, and it's that the market will go up, or it will go down. Unless, of course, it stays the same…."

Y'all can bank on that one. :-)

1/6/14, 3:57 PM

Ben Echols said...
Japan’s Abenomics says that Fukushima has not and will not ever be a cause for concern, but then who can blame him. Who would lend him dollars to buy oil if they thought Japan might never recover? With the help of the Yakuza, they are certainly making progress. Scouring the streets for the homeless and otherwise disenfranchised has been a boon to TEPCO, which otherwise might have been saddled with at least minimum wage plus health cost. But I digress. Let’s talk about the Artic. 
In the Artic, methane gas releases are growing at an astonishing rate. You might think that the IPCC might be on top of this, but you’d be wrong. Nothing passes through the IPCC that isn’t 6 years old. That’s 3 years in the peer review process, followed by three years of political sabotage. What use to bubble up in isolated streams, is now 1 mile wide plumes. That’s a lot of methane. My brother asks are we able to harness it? It comes up along the ring of fire. Evidently the rise of temperature in the artic has destabilized the shallow deposits of methane clathrate causing a dramatic increase of methane release. The tremors along the ring help shake loose he methane.
It turns out that methane rises and when it reaches the 70K to 100K altitude, radiation breaks it down, and the water combining with meteoric dust, forms nocto-luminescent clouds, which have now begun to be observed as far south as Denver, where they have normally been confined to the artic.
It is laughable that the global warming deniers are still active in their denial, but there you have it. We pump 44 cubic miles of pure CO2 into the atmosphere every year, just from oil... Small amount maybe, but it all adds up. Satellites that can measure the incoming and outgoing heat to and from the earth have been measuring a .6 watts per square yard imbalance. It sounds like a small number, but added up equates to 400,000 Hiroshima bombs of heat added to the earth every day. The deniers point to the Antarctic ice growth this past year, but then the ice is only 2 meters thick, so who gets the last laugh?
So predictions…
1. The Arctic ice will melt 80+% this coming summer. If 100%, then we are a year ahead of schedule. Yay! Nice to be early.
2. Methane concentrations in the arctic will exceed 3000 PPB.
3. Earthquakes will destabilize the Fukushima holding tank spilling the remaining contents.
4. The fracking will lose all investors.
5. Weather with continue with extremes and records highs and lows, with very active gulf storms. Haven’t seen those in a couple of year now, have we?
6. Twitter will set new records.

1/6/14, 6:29 PM

Agent Provocateur said...

Being an infrequent visitor (posting), active at night, sometimes unpleasant company etc. I couldn't help experiencing the fleeting suspicion you were describing me not my icon. Whatever the case, here is the answer to your question:

As a young child I had a stuffed koala bear made from the real fur of something. It had no claws and quietly sleep all the time. It was cute but not very cuddly. Still, I have fond memories of it. I wore the fur off its arms. When I was asked for an icon, that was the first one on offer that struck my fancy. No deeper meaning than that … or is there?

OK. In keeping with the monster theme, I admit it. I am a were-koala. Mwahaha!

Segue: I skied down and back to the chicken coop in this morning. This evening I traded my skis in for skates given there is more ice than snow covering everything after the last ice storm. Safety first! Interesting weather we are having here in southern Ontario; something about the Arctic Vortex (not to be confused with the Total Perspective Vortex). This is the first time I've skated up (herring bone technique highly recommended) or down (prayer highly recommended) a hill. I expect you are having better weather. Well, perhaps not, record breaking drought, heat waves etc.



No. I haven't submitted the reading. I had never heard of Geomantic Campus until you mentioned it. Neither had my Google algorithm. It took a while but I found it. Notwithstanding a “through going over” doesn't sound pleasant, I just submitted a request to join. A little remedial divination never did anyone any harm.


1/6/14, 6:52 PM

onething said...

So far as I can tell, the Christian version of the Golden Rule is superior, in that it tells you a positive, to do unto others as you would be done by, therefore including good actions. In Judaism, it is expressed as "What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary" which is an instruction to refrain from doing evil unto others. The Islamic is also quite good, ""No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself." It reminds me of the New Testament epistle which states that he who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar.

Buddhism - "Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful" matches the Judaic, and Hinduism - Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you" (Mahabharata 5:5157) is also the same as the above.

Was that cherry picking?

Then too, the larger problem is that despite the teachings, people regularly do things that are completely unjustifiable. How, for example, do you go and take slaves when your Bible says "As you do unto the least of my brethren you do unto me"? Despite that Buddhism actively teaches compassion for all sentient beings, the worst cases of animal abuse seems to come from Buddhist countries. My worry is therefore more that when economics troubles press hard, people are going to do what they do.
Truthfully though, I am vigorously in favor of trying our darndest to hold onto our sense of right and wrong in the treatment of others.

1/6/14, 8:34 PM

Dagnarus said...

First my comment was directed at the idea that it would be a simple matter to back up industrial solar production with batteries. If this is not what you were trying to suggest I apologize :)

"but why does he propose a 7 day battery? The sun won't shine at all for 7 days? We have no wind and the wind blows nowhere for 7 days? We have no hydro, biomass (to burn straw men!?) or geothermal in the mix?"

Did you read the article? If you did this point was specifically addressed do you have a problem with his explanation "this is not literally 7 days of zero input, but could be 8 days at 12.5% average input, or 10 days at 30% input". If you disagree with this you should have addressed this specific issue, as it stands you have implied that the author of the article did not even consider a concern with it which was specifically addressed. Also as to biomass/hydro/geothermal, part of the point of the article was that the undertaking was nigh impossible even if you required an order of magnitude smaller battery.

"I'm not claiming perfection or that we will have BAU."

I agree that if we expect less we are likely to be able to get more done.

"I've no time to search around, but a lot of work has been done on integrating large amounts of renewables, even 100%, so it is technically not that big a deal. (Not that that will ever happen at current power consumption levels due to other constraints on a post-peak economy)."

Just because a small community can do it does not mean that it can be accomplished globally. For one thing a small community can purchase the materials required without causing supply shortages. Also they may have easy access to pumped hydro.

"If we have enough renewables to "gracefully" degrade, the existing or enhanced grid lets us move power, and we don't need a 7 day battery - 5% of 1 day is probably enough to provide stability (along with load shedding)... "

Just to put things in perspective if the US were to stay at current energy consumption levels and were just to use your 5% of one day battery then 5Gt/7/20 = 36Mt. This roughly half of known lead reserves. If energy consumption had decreased to just 10% of previous levels then the battery would require 3.6Mt roughly 5% of known lead reserves a lot more doable, especially as not all of the batteries have to be lead based/you can also use pumped hydro. That said it still looks pretty gargantuan to me. As an aside does this powered down society have the ability refine silicon to the necessary 99.999999% purity to make new solar panels?

"And many renewables keep declining in costs, which is why I question Prieto & Hall, using updated numbers for system costs (down half) means their EROEI is doubled to 4.6, pretty close to the 5:1 widely assumed as needed to maintain (though NOT grow) a society."

I believe one of the assertions of Prieto & Hall was that most of the energy invested didn't go into making the panels but rather into building access roads,fences, power lines, and all every else which was needed to install and maintain the panels. The cost of producing the panels halving has no effect on these other costs associated with production, thus would not result in a doubling of EROEI.

"Also, the crappy vendors are gone, so degradation is lower than they assumed, and lifetime is longer."

When did the crappy vendors go away. I would be interested in sources on this issue as the last I saw about it was, and I am interested to see how the situation has evolved since then.


1/6/14, 11:13 PM

Cherokee Organics said...

Oops. I accidentally misinterpreted your comment to refer to the insurance policy when it was actually referring to the excess on that policy. Still, it's a frack load of cash...

With an excess like that, it is probably not even worth insuring. Insurance is akin to gambling after all.

I suspect that Nancy meant something else entirely in that video, however it was a classic Freudian slip. It wasn't a good look.

Seriously too, what was all of the cheering about in the background to that video? How could health insurance possibly ever be a replacement for preventative measures – seriously diet to diabetes, by paying a premium? The conflict of interest is monstrous (in keeping with this week’s theme)!

Hi sunseekernv,

Quote: "? are you presuming that was caused by PV installations?"

Seriously, the unemployment there is no laughing matter. It is also very unlikely to get resolved in the short term.

Quote: "What did doubling Spain's basic energy costs do?"

This is what decline looks like. The last time I filled up the car it cost AU$1.60/litre (3.8 litres to the US gallon). Australia, the last time I checked imports 0.5Mbpd of Oil.

I understand that energy costs are lower in the US, but even with 50% imports, prices are only kept down in your domestic markets through a vast network of military and trade deals. This too has a cost for your domestic economy. It is a serious business.

Quote: "The US is also the world's reserve currency (lucky us - for now)"

Exactly, and the US is also printing US$75bn/month to subsidise your domestic economy and currently the rest of the world are accepting those tokens and treating them as if they had value and were asset backed. There are risks in pursuing that strategy, but then there are risks in not pursuing that strategy too.

I don't wish to sound like a bummer, but there is some serious and complex gear going on in the world.

Quote: "Isn't compulsory voting still the law in Oz?"

Yes, this is correct. The fine is about AU$40 from memory. The situation arose because historically Australians were apathetic and hence failed to turn out to vote. Nowadays, the turnout is about 95% of the population.

There is an unexpected benefit of this policy and the US would do well to consider this benefit: Political parties do not have to expend energy convincing the population to vote. This means that political donations are much lower here relative to the US.

It is my opinion that people (and other entities) do not donate large sums of money to political parties and expect no return on that investment. It would be wise for you to consider that point as it has implications for your domestic politics.

Whilst you are critiquing Australian political systems, you may want to also consider the advantages of preferential voting systems versus first past the post systems.

Out of curiosity (and financial gain), I worked at the recent federal election here as a vote counter and I can say definitively that it was an honest and robust system that was run by the public service and overseen by the major political parties.

We're all good you and I. The thing I think you overlooked though about the AU$0.80kWh, was that during winter, I only had access to a sustainable yield of 3.5kWh/day. Something for you to think about.

1/7/14, 12:26 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi thrig,

I hear you man. All true comments.

Hi AlanfromBigEasy,

I appreciate your thoughts and comments. However, about the dams as a hydro storage, what happens when you have a drought?

Down Under, we have the Snowy Mountains Hydro scheme and some serious Hydro dams in Tasmania, but those areas are subject to drought and sometimes they just can't supply.

I really believe that people miss the point that renewable energy schemes in order to be sustainable, have to take into account the worst case scenarios.

Our current electricity grids are built around continuity of supply and regularity of supply and renewable energy systems are incapable of meeting those two objectives. I'm not saying they're bad, it is just that they don't look like the supplies that we are used to.

Also, it would be nice if people understood that grid connected solar PV systems are actually pretty useless should the grid ever fail. Those PV panels will make a nice chicken shed roof, or something like that.

1/7/14, 12:26 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Deborah,

Those are fascinating points.

The Aboriginals took those belief systems one step further and extended the concept of "do unto others" to include animals, plants and the landscape.

My gut feel says that this completely addressed the problem of the tragedy of the commons. Sure you can treat other people as you would treat yourself, but if you do not also conserve the local ecology as it is, then your actions to your neighbour (or whomever) are meaningless.

It is also interesting to note that historically, in subsistence western cultures, 90% of the population were involved in agriculture. Yet, in the Aboriginal culture, all of the population were charged to care for the environment one way or another. In return they rarely worked for more than 3 to 5 hours per day to sustain this feat.

The implications are fascinating and it is worth remembering that they survived here as a coherent, continent wide culture for over 40,000 years (obviously they had some serious initial ecological dramas, which they overcame and evolved). We could learn much from their outlook.



1/7/14, 12:38 AM

flute said...
I write my blog in Swedish, so most people will need Google Translate to understand it. I do make a habit of evaluating my predictions, though I haven't gotten around to doing so for 2013 yet.
One prediction I'm pretty sure was right is that Norway's crude oil extraction has kept on declining by around 6 percent this year too, although Oljedirektoratet consistently predicts that the production will start levelling out instead of continuing at the same decline rate. The production figures for December will be out in about a week's time, so I'll see then how good my guess was. The figures up until november show a yearly decline of around 6%, so I'm pretty confident that I was right. We're already starting to see signs of trouble in the Norwegian housing market (the world's most absurdly inflated housing bubble), which was a prediction of mine for 2013 based on their declining oil production and exports. Housing prices have fallen around 6% from May to November.
A failed prediction of mine for 2013 was that the Al-Assad regime in Syria would fall.
A better prediction of mine was that the US would not attack Iran, but that Iran would have to tackle their population's discontent with the results of the sanctions, and sure enough the Iranian regime negotiated a deal even though they consider the US to be evil incarnate.
The EU circus has fared better than I expected. However there are as I predicted still widening gaps between the major players, e.g. Germany under Merkel and France under Hollande. Greece and Spain have miraculously managed to keep the collapse somewhat contained without any urgent need for new "aid" packages from the richer EU countries, though one could argue that official unemployment of >25% in fact equates to collapse.

1/7/14, 2:12 AM

Les said...
@ JMG & Chris @ Cherokee et al:
The Obamacare discussion is very interesting - I had a mate staying over a few months ago who was waxing lyrical about how good Obamacare is going to be (a wealthy expat socialist Pom living in Australia, so a definite expert on the subject) and how the poor in the US are finally getting a break.
Our largest monthly bill is for health insurance, at a shade over four hundred bucks for the pair of us. Although aussie public hospitals will treat anyone (except tourists) for free, getting treatment when you need it can be problematic. My missus had polio when she was a bub, so we know there are certain things coming up that will need attention, that the public system will view as "elective". Her prosthetic hip is tipped to last somewhere between 7 and 25 years. Back in 1996 when the prosthetic was installed, the total bill to the insurance company was about 35 grand (for a near 6 week stay in hospital, due to complications with a split femur). Her knee job two years ago came in at a little under half that. Jim Kunstler's recent stay in a New York hospital had a 15 grand per night bed & breakfast fee, let alone the actual surgery and anaesthetic. You guys really are being fracked.
Chris, re off grid and batteries, I recently tracked down some Ni-Fe batteries from a guy (almost) near you in Healesville. Anecdotally there are examples of these made by Edison before the first world war that are still in service, with greater than 50% of their original storage capacity. The old ones mostly seem to stop working due to breakdown of the battery casing.
The new ones have casings made of:
Dang. Fracked again. While the new casings should last better than the old ones, the capability to manufacture them into the future is therefore limited and large scale application will never happen, never mind how plentiful the materials for the battery chemistry are (Nickel, Iron and Potassium Hydroxide).
So on a purely selfish plane, I figure that these batteries will allow the missus to continue to enjoy her somewhat middle class existence for the rest of her life; we'll continue to work our butts off to make this farm sustainable and those who come after us will still be able to enjoy lighting and other low voltage applications until the end of the century or so (hail storms notwithstanding). The neighbours of the future will have to come here to use the ham radio.
Finally, I was over having a squiz at JHK's blog just now and in the sidebar was an ad for that read "For every investor that missed out on the shale & gas boom: THE NEXT 5 OIL & GAS TRENDS". I couldn't resist and had to go and look at - could not stop laughing. It totally reminds me of those ads for bodybuilding products from the 50's 60's and 70's, complete with IRRELEVANT CAPITALISATION, hyperbole and dead cat smell. Priceless.

1/7/14, 3:39 AM

Andy Brown said...
Deborah and Onething,
One thing that I'd chime in with on your very interesting exchange. I'd say it's pretty universal to encourage people to play nice with some version of the golden rule. But it's also pretty universal to draw circles around your own in-group - The People, the brethren, (true) human beings, or whatever. So you can pretty easily constrict the rule to exclude Blacks (not really human) or spiritual leaders can try to expand it to include all humans or all living creatures. The religious challenge in times of collapse and conflict is to keep that circle of True Fellow Humans from tightening like a noose down to nation / village / family / self. Or, it may be as some doomers claim, that the noose may be the binding that keeps you and your loved ones alive as others founder. But this dynamic is at play in any religious/political tradition that I can think of - and it is the one that I keep my eye on.

1/7/14, 5:50 AM

Phitio said...
predict the unleash of a crisis, especially a dislocation type or phase change type, is useless. Those are events that are certain by definition, but unpredictable in timing by nature. Like death.

True peak oilers are evaluating scenarios, not predictions, and the same is true for the Club of Rome folks. It is a fault of our civilization to have permitted to let such scenarios to become more a prediction than a simple integration of trends.

Leave the predictions to the millenarian cultists , and the scenarios to the wise.

But please be careful: the crisis DO indeed happen, even the disastrous ones, tough is silly to wait them or try to catch their timing. Ignoring their probable arrival is also very silly.

1/7/14, 6:42 AM

Steve Morgan said...
"Steve, I noted the pond scum ponzi scheme simply because that shows that "alternative" tech is already gearing up to replace fracking; of course there will also be legitimate investments, possibly quite a lot of them."

Ah, I think I get it now. I was focused on the more legitimate investments as a matter of preference (I'm a big fan of insulation!), looking at the bright side of such a bubble. Your point about the algae was an "and" rather than an "or," pointing out some of the rest of the story. Thanks for clarifying.

1/7/14, 8:25 AM

John Roth said...
@Bill Pullam

No, the FDA isn’t saying that 23 and Me can’t sell you genealogical information. It’s saying that they can’t sell you or advertise that they can give you health information. 23 and Me was emphasizing the health aspects; that’s apparently what they were building their business model on: building a Google-style genetic health data base. Guess who one of their major investors is related to?

@Agent Provocateur

What time and place did you use for your chart? I’m familiar with several techniques although I won’t use the usual “U.S. Charts” that are passed around - they’re a great example of herd instinct following the crowd rather than examining the matter on its merits.

@Joseph Nemeth

Have you ever heard leadership defined as: “Find which way people are moving, get out in front and yell ‘follow me?’”

1/7/14, 8:54 AM

Joseph Nemeth said...
@Deborah, onething:

The question is, who is my neighbor/brother/fellow-human?

People seem innately tribal in their thinking, and tribes tend to be small, homogeneous, and exclusive.

Tribes typically dehumanize the "other." Tribal ethics don't apply when dealing with demonic subhumans.

Universalist interpretations of the Golden Rule run contrary to tribal human nature.

Even within the full flower of Christian society during the Medieval period, the Golden Rule did not apply between the different classes of society, or to those outside of Christian society. That's just as true, today. The ideal of a classless society in which the Golden Rule would apply universally is far from reality, and not even a universally-embraced vision.

1/7/14, 9:49 AM

Liquid Paradigm said...

"So far as I can tell, the Christian version of the Golden Rule is superior, in that it tells you a positive, to do unto others as you would be done by, therefore including good actions."

Which would seem true, until one has encountered a particularly obnoxious individual whose rationale is that if s/he were a horrible sinner lost in the darkness, they'd certainly want someone to badger them relentlessly about Path X to Paradise Y.

Been there, done that, been that. Quite done. I'm not knocking the rule itself, but I think the "negative" version of it is a much-needed balance. I certainly agree with you on your final point. :)

Belated Happy New Year to folks!

1/7/14, 10:14 AM

Bill Pulliam said...
John Roth -- I was being a bit sarcastic about 23andMe and the FDA; I know perfectly well what the FDA's claims are. Now let me tell you about my actual experience with 23andMe and with mainstream medical health-care providers when it comes to screening tests:

There have been some highly publicized glitches, but my experience with the 23andMe results is that they are presented clearly, quantitatively, and with abundant caveats and qualifications. A numerical estimate of your increased or decreased risk is given, so you can see if the estimated risk is 8% higher or 68% higher. You are also told what the basis for this risk estimation is (well-established versus preliminary research) so you can gage how reliable the information is.

Now, with ordinary health care providers. I have found that they run screening tests arbitrarily without even asking me in advance if I want them. The result are presented vaguely, without much explanation, and often with referrals for follow-ups. Additional research on my part usually shows that these recommended followups are not actually supported by solid research, and even the value of the screening test is usually revealed to be questionable at best.

And which one does the FDA decide to drop the axe on? Perhaps the one that is NOT making as much money for the health care industry and its habit of overly aggressive screening and treatment? So 23andMe might make someone forgo a colonoscopy? Good for them. The actual benefits of routine colonoscopies in the absence of other risk factors are dubious at best. The odds that your life will be saved by detecting an early-stage cancer are similar to the odds that your colon will be perforated.

1/7/14, 12:39 PM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Agent,

We're cool. You are most definitely a were-koala. Please keep the noise down at night though! hehe!

Hi Dagnarus,

Batteries have to be able to supply for several days as they do not allow a user to draw down on their full storage capacity at any one particular time. There are some serious inefficiencies with batteries. Hence, the larger the battery, the higher the current that they can make available. Batteries that supply large currents from small capacities don't last very long (think car batteries).



1/7/14, 2:59 PM

onething said...

The marketing of certain things are now required of me. When I admit a patient, I cannot progress unless I answer the question whether they have had a colonoscopy within 10 years. Same for vaccination against flu. Such things are being added more often. Nursing didn't used to be like that.

1/7/14, 3:54 PM

sunseekernv said...
@Cherokee Organics

Hi, I'm unable to find anything of the Norfolk Island grid catastrophe - any links you might have?
What I did find was/is using manually managed diesel generators - ouch.

re Australian voting - no critique, was a question.
Compulsory voting has advantages as you note,
especially if one has "none of the above" as a choice.
Many here are in favor of "instant runoff" voting,
a.k.a. preferential voting or ranked voting systems.
The dominant political parties frustrate that - wonder why? ;-)

As to grid connected systems being scavenged for roofing panels for chicken sheds, that may be for thin film. Copper Indium Gallium Selenide, CdTe (Cadmium Telluride), and amorphous silicon are all moisture sensitive materials, so the actual semiconductor material slowly corrodes as water (vapor) diffuses into the modules.

Crystalline silicon, particularly mono crystalline cells, are themselves pretty impervious to moisture. Failure is due to emitter shunts (bad processing/defective wafers/poor design), cracking solder joints (bad processing/bad design), corrosion of solder/metallization (water/corrosives influx),
interconnect shunts (water/tin whiskers), and open circuits due to cell cracking (preexisting defects, poor encapsulation).

While emitter shunts are hard to deal with (one could conceivable find localized shunts and grind them out - but emitter poisoning is impossible to fix), all of the interconnection issues could be dealt with by someone with simple tools.

A D'Arsonval meter with battery for resistance and shunts for current measurements, pointy knives, soldering tools. Some wire, ideally silver plated, solder, and ideally some kind of goo to seal things a bit.

(assuming polymer backsheets - glass-glass modules are much harder to fix).

Fixing modules is virtually never done today, just too expensive due to the labor hours in the current scheme of things, but if/when the grid goes down, my take is that the caretakers/neighbors/passers-by of any large no-longer-grid tied PV array are going to walk off with as many modules as they can carry.

A PV module (or several), without an inverter, can drive DC motors for water pumping (domestic, irrigation, solar hot water systems, aquaculture, etc.) With some attention, it can even charge a battery, though one must monitor the battery very closely.

I would predict some itinerant "lectromen" (did you read Star's Reach?).
This class of trades-people would travel about like tinkers used to, fixing up PV and small wind systems, and things like simple DC motors (without power semi-conductors, one must use brushes and commutators, which wear out).
They test, recondition, and accept trade-ins for new and rebuilt batteries. Some might sell/repair lights, radios, electrical meters, battery hygrometers, etc.

There are simple relay based regulators that could be used for more un-attended battery charging, but labor may well be cheaper.

I could foresee on a farmstead/small hamlet, that the cripples/elders/kids would be put to work keeping solar ovens/cookers, batch solar water heaters, and PV arrays with associated batteries tracking toward the sun, attending to the food being prepared, using the batches of hot water to wash clothes/dishes/etc.

The other folks will be out in the fields… doing hard manual labor. The availability of (some) PV, even with hundred year old wafers, will bring so much ease/comfort/safety that those who can will have some PV/wind/small hydro. (safety being my drinking water pumped thru sand filters, then boiled or ozonated, my dishes washed in very hot water, my snot rags and baby's diapers washed in very hot water, my skin cleansed in warm water, my wounds washed out with sterile water, etc.)

As a bazillion people go over the peak of civilization, there will be peak firewood.

captcha is sunny

1/7/14, 9:40 PM

sunseekernv said...
well, yahoo mail is hosed, so I can't send/receive things to/from my architect… so back to the fray


re: Tom Murphy's article.

(1) he ignores real-world renewables intermittency data, and states he goes over the rule of thumb of 3 days to 7, because "We're not a nation tolerant of power outages." (my answer to the nation is - tough!) Yes, there are places where the sun doesn't shine much for weeks, but most places are not like that.
7x - to get to only a day's of storage
(2) he wants to run everything on electricity, with no efficiency.
3x - run heat off of solar thermal/geothermal/biomass & be way more efficient.
(3) he ignores all the stuff about grid stability from Fraunhofer studies and others, not about a hippy commune, the nation of Germany. (and Spain).
10x +/- (debatable) all the battery needed to stabilize a grid.
(4) he assumes we'll run every bit of power thru a battery. I say that's nuts, 90% of stuff will be run during the daytime, or use hydro/wind/biomass.

7x * 3x * 10x * 10x = 2100x smaller battery.
5 billion / 2100 = 2.4 million tons of lead.
He says we have that.

I agree, even those sorts of efforts are "gargantuan". We needed to get the 20 year head start that the Hirsch Report said we need, but the Hirsch Report was ignored (in the U.S.). Thus it's likely they won't be done to the degree needed to do (anything close to) BAU. We may have no hope, but at least I want to blame our inactivity rather than lack of physical resources (when that is the case - for agriculture, etc. - lack of physical resources for sustainability seems to be the case).

re: pure(ish) silicon for PV and semiconductors.

I looked at this for the Krampus challenge:

re: Prieto & Hall

I did say system costs were half, not module costs.

Around 2007, modules in Europe were at 3.50 Euro/Wp, they are now 0.70 Euro/Wp (for decent commodity modules) - an 80% decline!

Around 2007, large ground mount systems in Europe were 6 - 7 Euro/Wp, they're now 2.60 - 3 Euro/Wp.

So BOS went from 2.50 - 3.50 Euro/Wp down to 1.90 - 2.30 Euro/Wp. Down, but not so much compared to modules.

So total systems costs went down by about half.
Thus EROEI doubled.

re: crappy vendors.

OK, should have said "are going away". Their modules will unfortunately hang around for a while.
But then there's this:

The PV industry is taking steps to, if not weed out the bad apples, to "start naming names".

I predict that, barring physical damage, a current Sunpower module will still be capable of useful power in 50 years. (maybe down 50% or so).

1/8/14, 12:06 AM

Cherokee Organics said...
Hi Les,

Good for you. I wish you well with those NiFe batteries. Many years ago, I saw some that were encased in glass and they looked awesome.

Apparently, the glass containers were plentiful and to be had for not much cash when local manufacturing declined in the early 90's.

PS: If you're headed down this way, think about dropping by or crashing over?



1/8/14, 12:51 AM

Marcello said...
"It is also interesting to note that historically, in subsistence western cultures, 90% of the population were involved in agriculture. Yet, in the Aboriginal culture, all of the population were charged to care for the environment one way or another. In return they rarely worked for more than 3 to 5 hours per day to sustain this feat."

It would require whittling down the existing population by orders of magnitude. Then you have to hope that there is no more sophisticated society around with your address and the means and desire to get where you are. While this might not be completely unreasonable in Australasia it is bound to be a suicidal option in Eurasia and in most others places.

1/8/14, 5:46 AM

JP said...

"RCG, that's one of the ways that things break. Another is slow decay without any obvious snapping point at all. It's worth noting that as far as records suggest, nobody stared at the news in, say, 476 CE, and shouted, "Great Jupiter, the Roman Empire has fallen!" "

Well, in part that's because 476 CE is a red herring, in my opinion.

I think that the snapping point of the Western Roman Empire was when Justinian and friends trashed Italy in true Thirty Year's War style.

Germany recovered from the Thirty Year's War.

Rome didn't recover from the Gothic War.

1/8/14, 8:40 AM

Agent Provocateur said...
@John Roth,

The divination system I used was geomancy not astrology. There certainly are similarities between the two systems. The 4 element of geomancy is exactly the same as that of astrology i.e. 4 quadrants generated by orthogonal two axises of order vs. chaos and inner vs. outer. These quadrants are 4 boxes for sorting any mental object. Following Ptolemy, if you further subdivide each quadrant/element into whether the activity of the object is increasing, fixed, or dissipating; you get the 12 signs of the zodiac and their corresponding 12 houses.

Geomancy does not require a time and place to calculate the contents of the houses. Though, in the chart type I used, these houses do correspond directly to those in astrology. The figures (one per house and three others I did not disclose) are generated by unconscious choice, much like I Ching figures are generated, and not by time and date as in astrology. Each geomatic figure represents a unique situation where each of the four elements is either active or inactive (2^4 gives 16 possible geomatic figures).

Prison for example represents a situation where fire (chaotic attention directed outward i.e strong desires/emotions) and earth (ordered attention directed outward i.e. a concern for concrete practical issues) absence air (ordered attention on inner objects i.e. no relationships with other minds) and water (chaotic attention directed inward i.e. no vision or myth). This would be a person or group trapped in the material world with no guiding vision or connection to others i.e. in a prison of some sort.

If the forgoing gave the impression I know what I was talking about, pleased be forewarned. Even if you were to take the leap and accept geomancy as an effective way of determining future trends (something I'm not committed to myself if for no other reason that I see something in the system that may make it be internally contradictory), you'd have to factor in the fact that I really don't know what I'm doing. I'm completely new at it. So, if you live in a climate like mine, you could go to any road and find a big chunk salt suitable for use in digesting my initial post. Rinse off the sand first though!

I did the chart mostly for fun. As our indulgent host did in fact write a book on geomancy (which I had just finished reading and enjoyed very much) I though it would be appropriate given his reticence with respect to specific forecasts. Besides, if the start of the year isn't a good time for reading oracles, when is?

@ Thread on Golden Rule

For what its worth, I think all that is really important is what works. Societies that work (sustain happiness) are societies where people don't exploit each other. The Golden Rule works reasonably well towards that end. Still it must be applied wisely since there are times when you have to be cruel to be kind. Its the kindness that matters.

1/8/14, 5:06 PM

talus wood said...
"So paying for renewables means a smaller economy - welcome to living within our means; but doing without them means essentially the end of civilization. "
sunseeker, you're belief in progress and our journey to the stars reveals itself :-)

1/8/14, 6:04 PM

Mark Sebela said...
Sir Geldof is right.Humanity will expire on April 29th 2030. That's a Monday and Bob Don't Like It!

1/9/14, 9:09 PM

Don Plummer said...
Bill Pulliam wrote:
"What a weird language standard English is to have lost the second person plural."

Actually, Bill, it's the second person singular forms that we lost. "You" forms, in Old and Middle English, were the plural forms. The singular form was "thou" and its related forms. Over time, English speakers dropped "thou" and began using the plural "you" (and its original subject form "ye") for both singular and plural. "Thou" was dropped from common speech by the Early Modern English period (around 1500), but was retained in poetic and religious writing for a few centuries after that.

One area where I would love to see humanization take place is to restore live people to answer the telephones. Whoever thought telephones could be answered by machines, which could then direct a call to the right place without flaw and without frustration, deserves a place in one of Dante's inner circles.

1/31/14, 4:47 AM