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« President and Congress, Thanks for Proving My Thesis | Main | How Might Humanity Survive a Radically Changing World? »

August 13, 2011


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On the declining net energy curve, don't you think the elite will continue to cannibalize the economy to keep their wealth intact - further deregulation and austerity cuts on the poor and former middle class. That's what's happening now. And this will continue towards a social breaking point, i.e. riots and revolts. And since most people are so ignorant of the true reasons for the end of growth, that a more overt fascist corporate state will emerge:

"What these assorted court rulings and incidents add up to is a nation that is fast imploding, one that is losing sight of what freedom is really all about and, in the process, is transitioning from a republic governed by the people to a police state governed by the strong arm of the law."

Combing the internet, I'm impressed how artists have a better way of expressing reality than anyone else.
Does this painting summarize the bush era the best, or what?:


From all my readings, Bob Chapman summarizes my thoughts the best for the future of America:

"...the bottom line is they're saying there is not enough money in there[Social Security and Medicare]... well, there's not enough money because they took it already. And they want to take more money from there so they don't have to cut the military budget. That's the main thing... because the military industrial complex is very, very powerful in the United States and has been for a long, long time. And it's very profitable and, on top of that, whenever nations, and this is historic in nature, ... whenever nations are in trouble they have another war... whether it's the Pelopennesian War, World War I, it doesn't make any difference. Leadership will have a war, and that's what's going on in the Middle East right now; we have a chain of local wars - Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Pakistan. And they're going to continue to do that if they can, or can get away with it. Over the past ten years, a new study from Princeton pointed out that over that period between 5 and 6 Trillion dollars has been spent on making wars. So the underlining part of the [deficit] bill that was passed was to cut Social Security, Medicare, and some other things and to make sure very little was cut from the military budget or section... The most egregious thing that was done was this appointment of six people from the House and six people from the Senate to decide how the [deficit] bill is going to be structured, what's going to be cut, and if there will be any tax increases. This is a total abrogation of the United States Constitution; it's an end-run around the Constitution. And it's an attempt, another attempt, to ensconce a President, this President perhaps[or any figurehead put in power by our faux democracy], of the United States as a dictator. And this is what this is all leading to. It's called Corporatist Fascist Government[State]."

Roselle Fredman

George, I am working my way to becoming more sapient with your help. I am looking forward to your next blogs on becoming prepared for the future so that I can pass on what I learn from you. Will your blogs include how to build a more sustainability society in the near future, and will it start at the community level?


Boomer demographics will exacerbate the secular (super-secular or permanent) downward trend. The fastest rate of change of increase in the number of Boomers turning age 62-65 (when 50-80%+ of Americans leave the labor force to draw down on Social Security, Medicare, and retirement savings, if any) begins this year and into '13-'16, with a slower rate of increase into the early to mid-'20s.

The composition of US household spending will shift from housing, durables, autos, and child rearing (high multiplier) to property taxes, house maintenance, utilities, insurance premia, and out-of-pocket costs for medical services and medications (low multiplier).

The avg. 10-yr. private per capita GDP rate has decelerated from 2% at the secular peak in '00 to negative as of '10 to date; and the effect on the bottom 80-90% of US households is manifestly more negative and will worsen hereafter.

As the Boomer demographic drag takes hold with a vengeance, the next mini-peak demographic cohort (the "Millennials") is coming of age and eager to get a share of the now-shrinking economic pie for themselves; however, they will face high debt/income levels, permanently high structural unemployment and underemployment, and falling per capita real income before they even get started with their peak household formation, earnings, and wealth accumulation phase of life.

If I could be so presumptuous as to offer advice to young and old alike it would be to begin immediately to double and triple up for housing, transport, and child and elder care. Real per capita net energy and material consumption will decline over the long run by 60-75%; therefore, it is imperative to act to mitigate the negative effects on one's material standard of consumption and well-being by reducing individual expenditures by sharing with others with a single household.

Get used to sharing. The opportunity cost of doing so is low compared to the loss of individual purchasing power and material standard of consumption by not doing so.

If you have any, take your money away from Wall St. and the financial services industry. The system is the definition of parasitism.

Eat communally from local farmers markets. Volunteer your time to assist the process and encourage others to get involved.

Learn trade skills, as George advocates. Establish family or community cooperatives, trusts, etc., and purchase in bulk with like-minded types tools, materials, etc., to allow for self-reliance.

For employers in the current debt- and tax-laden environment, US labor is relatively costly. But one's labor will become quite cheap in the decades ahead. Take advantage of it. One will be quite surprised by how inexpensive it is to live collectively with purpose and persistence. Today's median household income is around $50,000, which includes a paycheck's worth of income in taxes each month (more for upper-income households), one-third more to the landlord or mortgage lender (or gov't by proxy today), and one-quarter for auto transportation. Doubling and tripling up for housing could reduce the cost of housing, taxes, and transport by 50-66% (all else equal) per capita per household without reducing one's material well-being much, if at all; it is a matter of time and choice and when it becomes a necessary mass-social choice.

Those who choose to do so now will benefit disproportionately in the years ahead.

John Baez

Do you really need to keep telling us that "the world IS going to HELL in a HANDBASKET"? After about a dozen posts on this theme, your readers have probably made up their minds either to agree or disagree. Further repetition seems unlikely to have much effect. Wouldn't it be better to talk about what you plan to do? You said you'd do that, and I'm looking forward to it.


What gets me is the fact that no one in power is paying any attention to climate change - which results in more and more DOCUMENTED damage every year. How are insurance companies going to be able to cover all this and more going forward? (hint: they won't be able to, due to the vast decline in wealth and the continuing degradation of the environment). Just look at all the spring tornadic damage, the massive flooding and the extended drought in Texas to get an idea what will happen in the future (and we are just entering hurricane season)! This is happening world-wide.
Since we aren't changing ANYTHING that causes climate change (the continuing use of fossil fuels while we have them on idiotic stuff like mowing lawns and NASCAR) don't expect anything to improve on the climate front. We've become obsolete as a species.

George Mobus


I do agree that things will pretty much continue on as they currently are, essentially as you describe. And I agree the breaking point (tipping point?) will alter the dynamic. But I imagine that what comes after will look more like the French Revolution aftermath, at least for a while. Then, without fuel to continue the fights, the real pain begins.


Thank you for the note, but my guess is you are already in the more sapient category just because the wise know they do not know enough.

I will be posting something on a general plan. It does start with community. But it also is not going to discuss the salvation of anything like BAU. See my comment below to John B.


Sounds like reasonable advice.


See next comment below this group.


Climate change is one of the issues that will be amplified due to the fact that just when we need energy for adaptation, we will be running low.


George Mobus

John B.,

Patience young Jedi. Seriously, though, I suspect you have missed a few postings in the past. In fact I really have explained what needs to be done and given many hints, clues, as to how to do it.

Please remember I am not trying to prevent the "going to hell in a hand basket" for society. I am speaking to people who already do know that they need to be doing something different from the jobs-consume-grow routine of our current situation. And those numbers are sadly few.

I see on your home page that you are interested in "saving the world". I applaud your efforts and intentions. And quite honestly I wish you success if it is possible. I think it is exciting to be at a point in our scientific understanding of the world where we actually do grasp dynamics and networks and all of the glorious aspects of systems. That is why I am toiling over a fundamentals of systems science text book, just in case it is needed! My hedge, as it were. Understanding whole systems would be (and is - see below) the key to any kind of salvation, if it could be broadly disseminated in time to make a difference.

Nevertheless, the other side of that coin is that we still haven't succeeded in applying systems thinking to the most macro scale. And in cases like Limits to Growth, where some have come close, we still haven't incorporated all of the necessary variables, like human decision making and evolutionary selection against low sapience. It is when I look at those factors that I conclude that it is wiser to prepare for the worst possible scenario rather than waste time and energy on long shots (esp. those that seem to contradict the 2nd Law).

I have run a series of articles in the past that gave a fairly good description of the results of my analysis of what a sustainable living situation would be and how to achieve it. This article, is the last in that series but it contains links to all of the previous ones.

To summarize (and I do have a post in the works that does this with more detail):
1) Learn everything you can about permaculture - not just reading books but practicing as well. Permaculture is systems ecology applied to the human condition - emulate natural systems, but with human dignity.

2) Find people of like-mind to form a community, minimum number probably 30 adults with a broad array of manual labor skills.

3) Find a location far from the madding crowd (and far from major highways, esp. north-south corridors) with climate projections that suggest relatively stable conditions. I've been using Climate Wizard:

You will need approximately 4 hectares of mixed use land (forests, fields, watershed, stream, catchment, etc.) per person for true sustainability. This is considerably more than you often hear about in self-help organic gardening books ("Feed a Family of Four on One Acre!"); I'll explain why in the coming post, but it is also given in the above links.

4) Do not try to prepare by buying into a lot of high tech energy solutions, e.g. solar panels or wind turbines. You will have no way to repair or replace them in twenty years. Best to learn (from permaculture) how to rely on natural real-time energy sources through low tech. The most important energy sources will be food and wood (stream can be employed).

5) Design for a life that is going to be manual work, of course, but also gives room for self-actualization. Again these ideas are explained in the above links.

Community and location are the keys. Be ready to relinquish all ties and reliance on the civilization that capitalism has built. Prepare for a long period of dark ages (but sequester books!). This means that you have to understand why the current system has turned into the antithesis of life supporting. (That is why I spend so much effort on pointing out the flaws!)

Only those who already understand this will be able to do it. The rest? Well, it is survival of the fittest in the end, isn't it?

As for me personally, I have reached an age where contemplating some long-term planning probably isn't in the cards. Personal conditions and health matters will trump my actually doing these except as I attempt to show my kids how to, for example, raise their own food. In the end they too will have to decide what course they will take. In my life I have actually practiced pretty much all of this at one time or another and have a pretty good understanding of how it can be accomplished. I am trying to inspire several others (mostly former students) to learn how to become more self-reliant and community organizers.

If you were thinking I was going to explain how to save the world, I am sorry to have left that impression. In other posts I have suggested ways to ease the pain with actions we could be taking (feasible) now. But I have also realized how incredibly politically impossible they are. Again, this is the reason I spend time railing against what is happening in our political system (allow me to blow off steam in my own blog please :^)

Best wishes for your efforts. If there is anything I can do to help you, given your understanding of my thoughts, don't hesitate to ask.


George Mobus

For all.

I am flattered that Tom Friedman, in the Sunday NYT, borrowed my title to this blog. His article: "A Theory of Everything (Sort Of) ( - may be subscription required) purports to explain "What's going on here?" after asking that question. Then he goes on to explain why the world is having all of these problems using his standard theses (globalization, competition, IT revolution) and our lack of proper responses through investment, education, etc.

If you get a chance to read it, let me know what you think.


Jack Dingler

Tom Friedman is a wonderful chameleon.

He's done a lot of damage with his book, "The World is Flat".

On the one hand, I'd like to argue that he's cynically disingenuous, that as a writer, he's simply pumping out whatever he thinks people want to hear.

But I think like many people, he's following one fad after another, unable to place them in relative importance to each other, or see how they are connected.

I'm not sure what else to say about man who can write with such authority about the truth of diametrically opposing views.

George Mobus

Professor Charles Hall, the systems ecologist at SUNY Environmental Science & Forestry and one of the prime developers of the energy return on energy invested (EROI) concept, has hit one out of the park again! He pointed out to me in an e-mail that it is not necessarily the case that we have passed peak net energy in aggregate, but rather have passed peak net energy per capita.

This has certainly got to be the case because of population increases faster than net energy growth, especially over the last twenty to thirty years.

This ties together many of the themes I have written about here, population overshoot and net energy. While I'm still concerned that we might have already passed the peak of net aggregate, it should be clear that each of us commands far less personal energy (in the form of monetary wealth). This puts my claims on "safer" scientific footing I think.

Thanks Charlie.

George Mobus


I always thought Friedman was a keen observer, calling attention to phenomena that most of us might have missed. But I agree that his capacity for analysis and interpretation leave a great deal to be desired.

thanks for the comment.



Concerning Tom Friedman,
Is he related to Milton Friedman? One would think so with the pro-globalization/free market ideology that the article in question represents. He misses the point that it's the failure of capitalism which is at the heart of the unemployment problem:

"Today the capitalists claim to have solved overproduction with techniques like 'just-in-time' production. Yet only a few years ago, massive overproduction was the major factor in the South-East Asian economic crisis which has decimated the living standards of the working class of the area. Overproduction is also at the root of the current international crisis. After 1997 the US was able to temporarily ameliorate the situation by acting as the 'buyer of last resort' for the world's goods. This is now coming to an end.

Even in instances where overproduction has been partially overcome, it is replaced by a crisis of overcapacity. That is when capitalism is only able to function by leaving a large proportion of productive capacity idle. In the European car market there was a massive 40% overcapacity in 1999.

This has been the primary reason for the merger mania that has swept the world car industry. In the full knowledge that some factories will have to close and some firms go to the wall, the world's car producers are slogging it out for markets in a fight to the death. This is what lay behind the mass slashing of jobs at Ford Dagenham, Vauxhall Luton and Longbridge.

The method by which the capitalists have restored their profits in the 1990s has laid the seeds for a catastrophic crisis. They have driven down the wages of workers in the West whilst simultaneously moving production to the ex-colonial countries where labor is cheaper. Inevitably, this is exacerbating the problems of overproduction and overcapacity."

Not only that, he never mentions peak oil and peak resources in general which surely plays a part in the dysfunctional world where the economy(capitalism) must grow in purpetuity.

Also, a notable comment left by a reader of his article really lays bare the emptiness of Friedman's words:

"The premise underlying all of Mr. Friedman's interpretations, is that capital owners are themselves sovereign, and have inalienable rights to own, invest, and move their capital freely over the globe, without needing to account to any local group of people. He has perhaps spent too much time in the air, 30,000 feet above every border, every community, every human. Yes, the Internet and the iPad permit many forms of skills and services to be moved at the speed of light.
But most things that people do, and need doing, are not so virtual. Crops grow in real soil. Water and energy require real infrastructure to be managed, processed, stored, delivered, conserved. Children must be nurtured, held, sung to, and reassured, in person, by real humans. Bridge building, Chemotherapy, Law Enforcement, CPR -- these are not done by iPad apps, or overseas; they are done by people, in one's own country.
No. The destabilization we face now exists precisely because capital owners have usurped the power that can only be granted to them as a privilege for managing the people's wealth responsibly. The globalization paradigm is a grotesque abomination, a disease that is the direct result of the wealthy usurping so much power that their own homelands are no longer of any interest to them.
But all of this wealth, all of this power, can and will taken back.
For starts, eliminate the unnecessary, and damaging, advantage the rich have in their capital gains tax rates, which are lower than what middle class workers pay on wage based earnings.
Global billionaires, who pit one county's working class against another's, are sitting on top of a precarious, unsustainable, aberration. You should be watching Mubarek's fate as though it is your own."


there was an interesting paper on the arXiv yesterday. Just in case you haven't seen it:

Too bad that Tom Friedman didn't mention that all these issues around globalization have been created by legislation and could easily be dialed back again. But of course the ruling caste has to sell them as inevitable.

step back


What's going on?
Well, I'll tell ya.

One has to watch these two-faced "R"-tard Tea Partiers very carefully.

I just saw an interview on TV with a far right Tea Man. He was asked about Medicare and about not betraying those of our elderly who have paid into the system by cutting off their life supports.

He said the US Constitution never promised us a Nanny state. When you get old, you have to look to your own family to take care of you. This country is not your family and it's your fault you didn't make provisions ahead of time for your real family to take care of you when you get old and sick.

So what is so two-faced about that?

Well, let's juxtapose that position with the one the "R"-tards take when you are young, when you can "be all that you can be" and you can join the Army. In that case, this country is your family, your dominus patre (higher father) to whom you swear your "patr"-iotic allegiance and for whom you make "the ultimate sacrifice" because after all, you love your country and it loves you right back --so long as you are young, healthy and exploitable.

Turn old and frail and you're on your own buddy.

That is what is going on.


Hi, first time posting, good discussion.

I feel more concerned this go-around than I did back in '08, partly because the economy is exactly where I guessed it would be earlier in the year but also because, as you say, the talking heads obviously don't have good peripheral vision and as mere heads, they can't swivel themselves around and see the bigger picture. They just keep spouting the same line of thought that caused the producers to call them back for another installment of "Hang in there for the long term, fellas!"

Consider that the '08 recession 'L' came after highs of $145/bbl oil, the recession 'L' of '11 is happening after only $125/bbl oil (Brent, OPEC Basket) - the question in my mind is will the next recession 'L' be triggered after $100/bbl oil?

I worry about how the 'price signal' of peak oil and peak economy is muted by all the whistling past the graveyard punditry somehow portraying as normal the oil prices increase of 600% in 10 years, wages stagnated for 30 years and (thanks to 'Trickle Up Economics") wealth held by the 1% has risen to a higher level than anytime in the last 80 years.

BTW, on the topic of energy per capita (Duncans 'Olduvai'), a couple plots I made from BP's stats are here - not net energy of course –

One last thing, preparing for the future is kinda my thing, I've been posting about it for over seven years on one of the peak oil forums and have changed my life fairly dramatically in that time. I also have 5 rules:
Don't Buy
Don't Borrow
Don't Specialize
Don't go Hungry
Don't be Dependent



William Catton describes the insatiable human ape species as "Homo Colossus". I suspect the culling of our species will on a colossal scale.

Were the population growth rate of the peak-Oil Age era to regress to the long-term rate of population before the Oil Age began, and particularly since 1950, our 2nd-order of exponential magnitude larger population will decline at least 40-50% and then as much as 75-80% by the end of the century.

George Mobus


Friedman reminds me of Maslow's famous Law of the Instrument - that if the only tool you have is a hammer, you will treat every thing as a nail. Friedman has a very small toolkit and tries to explain everything with those ideas. I was amazed when he started writing about ET - energy technology - as if it were the same kind of phenomenon as IT - information technology. He apparently thinks IT is the solution to all economic woes, and if only ET would emulate IT all would be well with the world. My guess is he doesn't grasp the difference between Moore's Law and the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics. After all, they're both called "laws", right?

The point the commentator made re: real work meeting real needs versus virtual (entertainment) work is really cogent. Once the growing industrial economy had produced the epitome of real wealth (hard and useful assets) it had nowhere to go to continue generating paper. Then when net energy started to drop...


Interesting article. High food prices set up the conditions and then some triggering event (usually political) lights the fuze. Funny how the MSM always focuses on the political issues as the 'causes'. It is what they understand, and apparently all they understand.


In other words you can't expect ideologies (at either end of the spectrum) to be both consistent and complete. Hmm, sounds like the Gödel's Incompleteness explanation of politics!


Love it. Some time back when I first started writing about sapience and its evolutionary track I suggested we should be called Homo caladus meaning "man the clever". I defined cleverness as the potent combination of high problem solving intelligence and creativity/inventiveness. Sapience would deal with deciding which problems we "should" solve and make sure that the solutions didn't hide consequences we would regret in the long run. Ergo, the current species is obviously clever and just as obviously NOT sufficiently sapient given the complexities of the problems we have, ourselves, created.


Good rules. Excellent conjecture re: trend in oil prices needed to trigger recession. If it holds up, and I suspect we will get to see this in real life, it could be because at each cycle people have less purchasing power and any climb in fuel prices will suck off what they do have. Interesting.


Interesting. Do you have a calculation that you could share?


John Baez

George: thanks for your kind and detailed reply to my rather grumpy comment about your recent grumpy posts about the American political scene, which is enough to make anyone grumpy.

You wrote:

"Please remember I am not trying to prevent the "going to hell in a hand basket" for society."

Yes, you've made that very clear. And I've actually read many of your old posts about 'what needs to be done'. I was just trying to say that a continued examination of this big question seems a lot more fruitful, or at least enjoyable, than your last few posts. But of course it's your blog.

"I see on your home page that you are interested in "saving the world". I applaud your efforts and intentions. And quite honestly I wish you success if it is possible."

Thanks. I use the phrase "saving the planet" in a somewhat jocular way. I don't actually think in terms of "saving the planet". I actually think of it as minimizing the disaster.

If we knew the world were ending - if it were going to be completely destroyed - we could relax. But this is highly unlikely. What's likely is a disaster of some sort. But even if a disaster of some sort is certain, there are different degrees of disaster, and it’s our responsibility to minimize the disaster.
Any piece of valuable biological, cultural, or intellectual information whose destruction we can prevent, counts as a small triumph.

Like you, I'm hoping I'm too old to need to eke out a good lifestyle in a much tougher world. I don't mind being poorer. Starving would be quite unpleasant.

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