Thursday, October 18, 2007


Why am I a doomer? The key question facing humanity post-peak oil is "What is the decline rate going to look like?" Right now nobody has a good answer to that because we're still arguing about whether we've even peaked or not. But ignoring that problem for a moment, whenever peak does arrive, the decline rate question becomes the big one.

The key problem becomes adaptation rate of alternative technologies versus the decline rate of fossil fuels (because natural gas appears to be at or near peak also and coal is not really that far off). If we can adapt as fast or faster than we decline then we may even experience a "boom" of sorts. If we cannot adapt as fast or faster than the decline rate, then we have problems. The exact nature and scope of the problems are not clear and it is not even clear that worse declines would lead to worse problems. Worse declines might trigger an emergency mindset sooner, thus saving us from ourselves, for example.

The problem that most "doomers" see is that historically, no energy shift in the history of industrial society has occurred in less than 50 years, or about 1.5%-2% change annually. Decline rates are already posited to be likely larger than this with the lower bound on decline rates most frequently expected to be around 4% and even industry experts seeing the possibility of 8% declines. Clearly, society has never faced this sort of problem before and therefore this problem is very likely going to require extraordinary measures rather than "business as usual" methods. So far, there has been no "crisis" mindset adopted by any nation in the world and therefore we remain in the "business as usual" mindset. This is what gives many "doomers" concern.

It is important to note that we have the technology to solve these problems but that using the technology we have would result in a society that looks different than the one we have today. Solving the energy crisis would mean denser housing, more transit oriented development, electrification of transportation, and a vast array of other effects that would fall out from those primary changes. Such a society would not necessarily be a bad place to live, just different than the "happy motoring suburbia" we have today, and maybe even better.

The negativity often expressed here is an outgrowth of the lack of response by national governments coupled with the awareness that the problem is already expected to be larger than normal modes of operation can handle. Also, note that many here refuse to accept that we also have massive concurrent problems with climate change, loss of arable soils, fresh water depletion, loss of biodiversity, and overpopulation. These problems are compounded by the extraordinary nature of the projected decline in fossil fuels. It is my belief that all of these problems are technically solvable but technology alone never solved anything by itself. Problem solutions involve politics, i.e. human interaction. If a political solution is not forthcoming then there will not be a solution, regardless of whether technology offers us such a solution or not. So what we need and are not yet getting is a crisis mindset on the political landscape to deal with these sorts of problems. Even in the European nations the notion is "business as usual".

Now, I will say up front that I cannot prove that the "business as usual" methods will definitely fail but, based on history, I can find no example where these business as usual methods have solved problems like these ever before. So by not adopting a crisis mindset througout our entire society, we are taking a gigantic gamble and it is a gamble that history suggests we are going to lose. I am not aware of a single prior civilization that continued to do things the same way and which faced one or more of these kinds of problems that did not collapse. Those civilizations cited by Tainter and Diamond that did survive serious crises, did so by changing urgently. Thus, until I see our society deliberately choosing to succeed, I must assume, based on the historical record, that we will fail (and therefore collapse). Given that many population biologists are of the opinion that we are in serious population overshoot only enabled by our civilization's existence (and dependence on fossil fuels), the loss of that civilization must be presumed to be accompanied by serious loss of life and disintegration of the social structure, as has happened repeatedly throughout history.


gernos said...


Where you write:

Even in the European nations the notion is "business as usual".

I would have written

Especially in the European nations the notion is "business as usual".

As a Brit working in a European organization living in Germany, my impression is that the typical educated European is considerably less able/willing to contemplate the end of BAU/TWAWNI than his american counterpart and is correspondingly less able/willing to draw the necessary conclusions from the Peak Oil scenario. Ours is a culture of spin/gloss/compromise/caution/consensus/understatement. The extremes of american political opinion, spanning say, from Bush/Cheney to Kunstler/Heinberg aren't significantly represented over here.
So dont expect anything proactive from us in the coming years.

RAS said...

Greyzone, I fully expect our society to collapse and there to be massive loss of life. But I don't consider myself a doomer. Why not? All societies collapse eventually. It happens. Not everyone will die of course; and there are many other societies left in the world. After the collapse people will pick up the pieces and go on. There will probably be a new dark age, and then hopefully a new and better civilization will spring from the ruins of the world.
Just because it's a catrostophe doesn't make it the end of the world.

originalsaxon said...

Considering what Gernos said, this is only relevant to standard Anglo-Saxon paranoia that results from living in shithouse societies that have gladly consumed their social capital in order to make a small portion of the population rich. Witness Thatcher, Reagan, and all other US presidents up to the present day.

What Gernos sees as a failure to perceive the end of BAU is actually a confidence in European social capital compared to the US/UK. The US/UK may very well be consumed in some near-perfect doomer paradigm ... because they were set up for it beforehand.

Europeans see no reason to panic because they consider (reasonably enough) that their societies do not consist entirely of Anglo retards propagandized to ineffectively 'look out for number one' for the last thirty or so years.

Americans contemplate 'the end of the world as we know it' NOT because they are Peak Oil aware and so on, but because they are isolated, propangandized idiots who nonetheless feel on some level that they have been sold a bill of goods. They live in the 'greatest nation on earth', and yet why do their lives suck so totally? Even an idiot gets a gut feeling as to when he has been suckered.

The UK is objectively at the same level as Portugal, but survives because of the UK's financial and legal services sector, which itself only manages because of US hegemony. Perhaps Gernos realizes this on a subliminal level ... a little push and the UK goes right down the crapper where it actually belongs.

That does not mean the same happens to the Germans or the French. When Peak Oil hits, it will be even more important to be able to supply capital goods and technical know-how rather than periwigged BS and second-rate shilling for the Yanks.

Oscar said...

If you are a Doomer, I am a double doomer, because I dont think tecnology will save us this time, not for all this people and the way of life these people want.
Tecnology need energy, and what you have?
-Hidrogen: mutch loss of energy producing it, liquifying it, storing it. Platine and other rare metals for fuel cells are very limited and need much energy for mineral processing. Never will be a truck propelled by hidrogen!
-Biofuel. The great foulish thing.
When we have no fuel and fail the green revolution, and have generalized famine, we then reserve a large area for feeding cars? Cars eat like 2000 people,
we will tranform the earth in a desert in no time.
-Solar cells - not enought net-energie.
-Wind energie - good, but very limited.
What do you have next?

Lea said...

Interesting comments.
Agree with ras though.

Everyone is up in arms and hyperventilating in my opinion.

No ill intent meant originalsaxon but you're description of Americans is accurate only for 70% or less of the population. There are good, kind, wonderful Americans and if you're naive enough to believe the garbage thrown at you by the mainstream media then your attitude is spot-on.
Now, I'm not here to make you my enemy, but it has been my experience that the above comment directed towards you will probably be taken that way.

What do you want me to say as an American, "I hate you too".
Very unproductive and not a solution.

BTW Into the Grey Zone, followed your link from Survival Acres Blog. Enjoy your comments there. Now there's a doomer site. No solutions, just constant criticizing.

fallout11 said...

Sorry lea, but as you probably recall from mathematics not all problems have a workable solution...certainly not ones this complex and interrelated.