Open Letter to The Zeitgeist Movement

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on August 25, 2016



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This open letter to The Zeitgeist Movement replaces an essay I originally promised to Diners, "Peak Oil Revisited Part 2: Why business as usual guarantees that global industrial collapse will be complete by 2030". I have not had the time to elucidate all aspects of my argument in detail and Dr Louis Arnoux is probably doing a better job with his articles on this topic anyway. He is a true energy expert, I am merely a lay person trying to interpret the thoughts of the experts for the general public.

The other "Peak Oil Revisited" essay I promised, "Part 1b: Is an International Standardised Energy Dollar feasible?" has proved to be much more complicated than originally envisioned and is the lowest of my priorities at the moment. Even if an ISED is feasible it is unlikely to ever see the light of day for political reasons.

Graph1 TheELM   Graph2 ELM over NetEnergy   Graph3 net energy cliff

Graph 1                                                        Graph 2                                                        Graph 3


by G. Chia, August 2016

Dear L and C (Queensland TZM organisers),

As you know I ran sustainability meetings for doctors and scientists from 2006 to 2013. I note your Zeitgeist group is holding a meeting on sustainability on 10 September 2016. As a starting point for your discussion you may wish to display on your projection screen the letter I wrote earlier this year to "Doctors for the Environment Australia" (see attached pdf). When I subsequently met with the Queensland DEA representative, Dr David King, he could not offer any factual or logical objections against my letter. His only comments were that although my views were consistent with those of many scientists, he felt he had to give DEA members "hope". DEA are operating on the false hope they can fix rampant global warming which has now spiralled out of control. They have completely ignored more immediate energy and economic issues.

Energy analyst Dr Louis Arnoux has informed me that world average1 EROI (energy return over invested, or to use the proper mathematical description for this ratio, energy return divided by energy invested) for petroleum fell below 10:1 a few years ago. Dr David Murphy's figure for world average EROI of 17:1 for 2013 was an overestimate because Murphy himself wrote in his paper (published by the Royal Society) that his figure did not account for the energy costs of fuel refinement and transportation2.

According to other EROI luminaries, Drs Hall and Lambert3, a ratio of 10:1 is the minimum required for a complex industrial economy to function properly.

Some parts of the industrial world can continue to function at present because they have captured4 the few remaining high EROI (>10:1) sources for themselves. Others areas eg Southern Europe are losing or have lost access to such high net energy sources ("Hi-NES")5, hence they are now deindustrialising and collapsing. The rest of the world will never industrialise. We have no significant liquid hydrocarbon replacements for conventional petroleum. Unconventional petroleum, with its woeful EROI of 3:1 or less, is an environmentally devastating scam and a stock market Ponzi scheme.

Decline in Hi-NES is the primary reason for the current global economic contraction6, a fact that conventional economists are too venal or too stupid to acknowledge. The present low price of oil is deeply misleading and is hiding the fact that oil has become less affordable/available for most people around the world due to demand destruction and deflation, temporarily freeing up more oil for "lucky" countries such as Australia.

Dr Jeffrey Brown's export land model (ELM) shows that oil availability for oil importing countries will eventually fall off a cliff (see graph 1 from in which I have corrected a caption: the red line shows GROSS world oil production, which does NOT take into account the energy invested in that oil production. Hence the yellow circle is an overestimate of when zero oil will be available to oil importing countries). A more accurate curve on which to superimpose the ELM should be downslope of the Net Hubbert curve as shown in graph 2. Prior to me doing this, I do not believe anyone else has combined ELM and EROI concepts and it is high time someone did so.

A most vital concept to understanding why global industral societies will soon suddenly and catastrophically collapse, just as a teetering Jenga tower suddenly collapses, is the mathematical fact that the net energy available (= energy return minus energy invested) falls off a cliff when EROI declines to 5:1 (see graph 3).

Sudden catastrophic collapse is consistent with the view of Dr Ugo Bardi, one of the original "Limits to Growth" scientists, who calls this phenomenon the "Seneca cliff". Dr Bardi is an incredibly smart scientist whose dire warnings over many years have been blithely ignored by all the stupid sheeple around him, hence he titled his blog "Cassandra's Legacy".

In human terms, plummeting EROI in the absence of any plan to transition to a post carbon lifestyle, will mean social breakdown, war, starvation7 and mass die off on a monumental scale. No part of the world which depends on petroleum will be spared.

We can understand why TPTB promote false hopes for the future to the clueless sheeple, using extravagant bread and circuses like the Olympics. Such theatrics keep the herd distracted and subdued. Be assured that once the masses revolt, the drones will be deployed.

On the other hand, offering intelligent people false hope for the future is in my view deeply inappropriate, especially if useful measures can be taken right now to mitigate impending hardships. Unfortunately the window of opportunity is closing fast. What is your transition plan?

You may vehemently reject my warnings and choose to ignore this letter because everything seems "fine" to you now, however denial will not make a looming catastrophe magically disappear.

One of your previous speakers promoted manned space travel to Mars. How useful, do you think, is that sort of meeting?


Geoffrey Chia, August 2016



  1. Global "average" EROI of below 10:1 at present means that most oil fields now yield EROI below 10:1 (eg perhaps only 8:1 or 6:1). However there are a few oil fields which continue to yield a high EROI (eg perhaps 20:1), oil fields which the vultures are now circling.

  2. Murphy DJ. 2014 The implications of the declining energy return on investment of oil production. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. A 372: 20130126.

  3. Lambert, Jessica G., Hall Charles A. S. et al. 2014. Energy, EROI and quality of life. Energy Policy 64:153–167 "There is evidence…that once payments for energy rise above a certain threshold at the national level (e.g. approximately 10 percent in the United States) that economic recessions follow. "

  4. Such capture can be accomplished by fair means (eg providing useful products to the oil vendors in exchange for their oil), or foul (eg the criminal protection racket known as the Petrodollar).

  5. Being starved of credit

  6. In China, intolerable pollution has been a major factor for their economic slowdown, as well as the marked reduction in overseas demand for their industrial output

  7. Mass agriculture is crucially dependent on petroleum (also natural gas)

19 Responses to Open Letter to The Zeitgeist Movement

  • When I first saw Hubbard's nice bell shaped graph sometime in 2003, I looked at the right hand side of the graph to see where the oil supply would become low enough to collapse industrial economies.  My uneducated guess was somewhere around 2030.  Once that idea wormed its way into my consciousness, I wandered through the world around me and tried to picture what it would look like in another 30 years.  For instance, the island I live on in SF Bay is surrounded by marinas with lots of splendid white plastic boats and whenever I took a walk with my wife and we passed by all those plastic boats, I would mutter, 30 more years, 30 more years by which I meant that in 30 more years there won't be any resins to produce those kinds of boats.  After doing this for about a dozen times on different occasions and in different places, my wife got tired of it and I stopped muttering, 30 more years.  Ten years have passed at least, and I should be muttering 20 more years, though the world economy has not yet collapsed so in the eyes of my wife I don't have much credibility and in any case, I don't want to annoy my wife any more than I do otherwise.  Aside from that, according to actuarial tables, I have 13 years left to live and I will be one year short of 2030 when I die and so I may well miss the collapse, so I may have to settle for the runup to the collapse and the shrill denial on the part of the media that it is happening.  Fusion energy will still be 20 years out as it has been all along.  Ray Kurzweil's singularity will still be 15 years out.  At least the man was smart enough to predict an event far enough in the future so he won't look like a fool when it doesn't happen because he will be dead when it doesn't.

    There are others that feel that collapse will be a long drawn out event.  However, I doubt it.  I spent a good deal of my working life in factories all over the US installing various automation technology and so I am intimately aware of the long and complex supply chains that make these factories possible.  Either everything works or nothing works. General Motors spent millions of dollars a year flying critical components all over the country in hired jets to assembly plants since the lack of a single component would shut down a whole assembly plant.  People who imagine that we can pick and choose which parts of our industrial society we can choose to keep running are probably wrong.  

    In any case, this article is a breath of fresh air.  It is good to be reminded that the world economy is on a trajectory toward the Seneca Cliff from which it cannot be diverted.  Having some sense of which direction the world is heading in helps in making decisions and gives us the courage to stop wasting time on foolish things.

    • UnhingedBecauseLucid says:

      ["Ray Kurzweil's singularity will still be 15 years out. At least the man was smart enough to predict an event far enough in the future so he won't look like a fool when it doesn't happen because he will be dead when it doesn't."]

      lol. — True, but that overhyped fortune teller will have sold way too many fairy tale books in the meantime …

      ["People who imagine that we can pick and choose which parts of our industrial society we can choose to keep running are probably wrong."]

      I work in a Laser cutting workshop, and I know for a fact how true that statement is.
      If people knew…


  • jj says:

    Absolute accuracy of EROI figures is often called into doubt, and the timelines can also be significantly more extended than predicted but the end of EROI trajectory can not be in doubt for fossile fuels -it is going to crash, and probably sooner than publicly admited by the companies and governments involved.

    The ever out of reach mirage of controlled self sustaining nuclear fusion could provide an out – but it hasnt panned out yet.

    Nuclear fission could add some more years to our current levels of energy consumption, and so could new or more broadly embraced 'green' energy. But they won't be enough as Peak Uranium is either past or right around the corner, and 'green' energy doesnt reach the >10:1 ratio needed by our current infrastructure .

    Combining Fission, 'green' energy, and massive increases in energy efficency while cutting the total per capita energy used could extend our current industrial society somewhat – possibly even by decades – but even then we would continue to have reliance upon the fossile fuels until they run out and cause massive economic and industrial dislocations and disasters.

    If global climate change is only 10% correct, adding that feature into predictions of the future means massive global suffering on a scale to make malthus cry.  

    • Spud Coolzip says:

      If the world's biggest economic powers suddenly shelved their greed (hah!) and most nations' leaders decided to stop wasting money on weapons development and work on new, clean energy sources (fat chance), we might have a chance to stop at least part of the stampede off the cliff, but that ain't gonna happen without lots of people in high places having an epiphany in the next year or two. Developing something like a totally meltdown-proof accelerator-driven subcritical reactor that can be tweaked to run on any element at least as heavy as thorium and could power the entire US for decades on just spent fuel rods and reactor waste (and depleted uranium and thorium thereafter) could potentially allow us to limp along on about a fifth of what we currently consume, but that would take decades to fully develop – time we probably don't have. I mention this in response to jj's comment about peak uranium.

      Shit, I think we're gonna miss the last bus out.

  • EtyerePetyere says:

    How can be   "Dr Bardi is an incredibly smart scientist "  when just up until like a half a year ago he was still a big proponent of renewable energy as some solution to our energy problems and he did not recount that up until today … I am asking 

    • RE says:

      Actually Ugo still promotes renewables and specifically photovoltaics.

      It's not entirely wrongheaded.  Renewables can't support a population of 7.2B in the style to which we have become accustomed, but they probably could support a population 1/100th the size utilizing 1/10th the energy per capita.  So a 99% die off to 72M and a reduction in energy consumption to around the level of an Indian farmer probably would work.

      Climate change of course presents additional problems, so you might have to cut your Homo Sap numbers down to 7.2M to account for that.

      • EtyerePetyere says:

        Blödsinn !  (German for nonsense)  You folks have absolutely No clue what kind of supply chain is being needed to produce any renewable system and distribution . But yeah 99% of humans will voluntarily lay down ad die and the rest will go to factories to produce photovoltaics while the smarter ones will work on how to use them in an efficient way . those are going to be the intellectuals of that time , I am wondering will Ugo BaRDI BE AMONG THOSE ?  the diligent factory workers ,or the dead ?, Definitely not the intellectualité

      • EtyerePetyere says:
      • EtyerePetyere says:

        Künstler writes ;

        "A lot of wishful thinkers would like to believe that you can run contemporary life on something beside oil. But the usual “solutions,” solar and wind energy, don’t pencil out, especially when you consider that the hardware for running them — the photovoltaics, charge controllers, batteries, turbines, and blades, can’t be mass-produced and distributed without the very fossil fuels they are supposed to replace."

  • barry says:


    According to chart two above….

    First to go are the countries who import the most oil and thus are going bankrupt first.

    Greece, Egypt, Argentina, Portugal, Spain, Italy,  etc.

    Then the EU itself collapses.

    Capital flees to the United States in a last vain attempt at wealth preservation, markets soar.

    By 2018 the world monetary systems gives out and "leaders" attempt to create a new monetary system.

    Between 2018 and 2020 all hell breaks loose as the new monetary system fails, wars break out over the planet's few remaining high EROEI oil reserves.

    Most humans die, period.

    2021.75 The survivors become scavengers of industrial civilization and roaming hunter gatherers as there is no stability to allow farming to exist.

    Ok, so make a bag of stone arrowheads and a set or two of moccasins and a warm coat!

    Harsh, Unavoidable Reality, but I Got it.

    • EtyerePetyere says:

      Maybe the timeline is rather to short but the sequence of events plausible . and even if this could be dragged out for a longer time economically the next disaster , chatastrophic climatchange will take care of it for sure my timeline is on a decadal scale on this i.e. 10-15 years 

  • St.Roy says:

    It looks the Seneca Cliff and the McPherson Cliff hit at the same time.  Not much chance of getting out of the life alive!

    • RE says:

      Nobody ever gets out of life alive.  Death is an inevitability for all living things.  Planets die, Suns die and the Universe will die too.  The question in all cases is what is the timeline?



      • EtyerePetyere says:

        This is starting to sound like some MCpherson heresy . I.E.  "We all die "  

        • RE says:

          No, Dr. McStinksion predicts ALL will die in the very NEAR TERM.

          I've never denied Homo Sap will go extinct.  All species eventually go extinct.  The issue is the timeline.  20 years to extinction is ludicrous, except with an asteroid collision or MAYBE Global Thermonuclear War.  Climate Change by itself won't wipe out ALL Homo Sap that fast.


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