Norman Pagett

From Oilslick to Tyranny

End_of_Moregc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Norman Pagett

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Published on the ExtraNewsFeed on June 5, 2017

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A prosperous society is an orderly society.

People with full bellies, stable homes and secure employment do not allow themselves to be involved in civil disorder. Unfortunately we are living on borrowed money in a bankrupt society. When our debts catch up with us, society will collapse, violent disorder will ensue and martial law will be inevitable. Pre-oil, despotic rule was the norm and democracies did not exist; we are going to return to that era.

The hallmark of the tyrant is already being stamped on the nation for anyone willing to recognise it. Suppression of truth is already in hand, information on climate change has been removed from government websites. It is the preparation for your future governance. No names are given here, because no-one will recognise the opportunist until he makes his grab for ultimate power. It will not be who you expect it to be.

forget Wall St., this is what world bankruptcy looks like:

 
 

 

 

 

 

Oil is our prime source of energy, ‘alternatives’ cannot power our industrial infrastructure.

Any business that continually burns through its assets at ten times the rate of replacement can be said to be bankrupt; that describes the global economy. Fossil fuels are the only asset we have, because everything else is a derivative of coal oil and gas inputs. Without heat, nothing can be manufactured. We elect politicians to lie on our behalf, because we want to be told that our resources and growth are infinite. In return for our votes, they are happy to do this. Everyone is complicit in the grand deceit, to accept the truth would destroy the existence of all of us.

So to perpetuate that lie there is a collective insistence that the global economy must continue to function to a very simple (but ultimately nonsensical) formula:

the more fuel we burn, the greater our gross domestic product. The faster we burn it, the higher our percentage growth.

Our machines and the (finite) fuels that move them now form the sinews that hold all nations together. They feed us, provide heat, light and transport, and with equal importance, stabilise international democracies and political systems.

No matter how complex or mundane your current job, whether garbage collector or brain surgeon, someone, somewhere is producing sufficient surplus energy to support it.

Prosperity is not an infinite right

Collective prosperity at the global level depends on cheap surplus fossil fuel energy. For 2 centuries we have been able to use those fossil fuels as collateral for future debt, to build ever bigger machines to extract elemental resources from the earth. This has been our great burning, because extracted materials of themselves are of no use to us unless we use heat to process them into desirable commodities.

That excess heat is altering our climate beyond human tolerance.

But heat provides our industrial growth economy: fuels must be consumed to sustain it and provide continued employment to make things that are ultimately thrown away in order to consume more to enable our debts to be continually carried forward. Our system of rolling debt depends on increasing energy input ad infinitum. So the one who asserts that climate change is a hoax gets voted into office, granting permission to burn our planet forever.

Without economic stability, democracy cannot survive.

Fuel resources have been a once-only gift of nature, and there are no viable substitutes. When they are no longer freely available, the effects will be catastrophic and force the events outlined here because the availability of surplus energy directly underpins our economic system. Without surplus energy you cannot have a modern democratic society. Be under no illusions, on current trends the events outlined here are certain. Only timing is in question by a few years either way.

Our global bank balance in oil has been falling for 70 years.

We are living on legacy oil. Oilwells cannot be refilled by votes, prayers or money.

We have created an industrial economy that is entirely predicated on a single factor: converting explosive force into rotary motion. Those six words separate us from the economics of the horsedrawn cart, windmill and sailing ship. They also separate us from the disease and deprivation that was the lot of our forebears only a century or two ago. Only fossil fuels can supply that explosive force at the rate we need.

The global industrial economy is now an interlocked progressive whole. It will not allow isolationism to function, neither will it allow a return to a previous era and downsized economic environment. We demand more, you have heard the aspiring tyrant’s words that promise more.

Political promises evaporate when there is insufficient energy to support them.

The notion of “Saudi America” is reassuring, but the facts are not.

Despite the rhetoric and posturing, reality cannot be ignored: the USA produces around 9 Million barrels of oil a day, but uses 0ver 19MBd. (2016). This imbalance is not going to change, despite collective belief to the contrary.

Price fluctuations and the ebb and flow of gluts should be ignored. If the cost of oil rises to a level that sustains the producers, users can’t afford to buy it; if it falls, oil producers can’t afford to extract it. This is the economic vice that is inexorably crushing the global industrial system as oil supplies decline.

Real wages fall in lockstep with oil depletion.

As surplus energy falls away, so does real income. We have substituted debt for income and allowed that debt to grow to mask the reality of our situation. We are stealing from our own future and from generations unborn to stay solvent. It might be called intergenerational larceny. When our great grandchildren arrive they will find nothing left for them to burn.

We are already in the phase of expending too much energy to get energy, which is why real income has been static for 30 years. We live in an energy economy, not a money economy. Wages are paid from energy surpluses, not printing presses, and that surplus has been gradually reducing.

The mirage of infinity.

The killer factor is Energy Return on Energy Invested, EROEI. Over the last 150 years civilisation has been built based on coal that returned an EROEI of 50:1, and oil that returned 100:1. Those ratios of return provided the cheap surplus energy that created our industrial infrastructure, and led to the expectation of infinite affluence.

We cannot maintain our current lifestyle using expensive fuels which give a return ratio of only 20:1 (and falling), which is what the best oilwells deliver.

Around 14:1 our society might hold together in a rudimentary sense if consumption could be balanced at that level, but 80 million new people arrive on the planet each year. They demand to be housed clothed and fed, spreading available resources even thinner. The mothers of the next 2 billion people are alive now. They will reproduce as a matter of personal survival, taking global population beyond 9 billion by mid century, guaranteeing our fall off the ‘energy cliff’.

The Energy Cliff:

There are numerous interpretations of the ‘energy cliff’, offering different return ratios that will supposedly allow our industrial society to function. 14:1, 12:1 even 8:1. The exact figure is irrelevant, right now we are entering the ‘elbow curve’ of the cliff, pinning our energy hopes on PV, wind, nuclear and tarsands; the ultimate downturn is inescapable. Wind and solar farms cannot supply sufficient concentrated energy to replace oil.

We are 7.5 billion people on a planet that, pre-oil, supported between 1 and 2 billion. By any reckoning, 5 billion people do not have a future, let alone 2 billion more due over the next 30 years.

We must burn fuel to maintain what we have, but the act of burning destroys what we have. This is contrary to human instinct, so the only recourse will be armed conflict to take what others have. All wars are about survival and acquisition of resources. Conflict will drain what little energy we have left and finally exhaust any survivors.

When we reach the point of having only shale or tar sand oil or wind turbines returning 5:1, there will not be enough surplus energy in our industrial systems to provide the economic momentum we need, and maintain the necessary machinery to power the system.

When our wheels stop turning, we stop eating. Our situation is as brutally simple as that. Electric vehicles cannot function outside a hydrocarbon based infrastructure, and no transportation can exist beyond the extent of its purpose. A collapsed economy removes any such purpose. Battery power will not deliver fresh water and remove your wastes, and there isn’t going to be a bucolic utopia where we all become rural gardeners. We don’t know how, there isn’t enough room and probably not enough time. Hungry people will not allow a second harvest.

But the demand for answers will persist, a search for those responsible for our misfortunes, and insistence that our lives are restored to the ‘normality’ of previous times. Already the finger pointing rhetoric of the despot is being cheered on a wave of ignorance and bigotry: lock up opponents and dissenters, suppress the media, remove the unwanted, ignore the laws.

When that (and more) is done, all will be well. They are words from recent history, overlaid on our own time. We thought fascism was impossible in civilised nations; as long as prosperity held for all, that was true. As prosperity fails, it is stirring again, with an appetite easily fed but never sated.

Secession

As energy supplies deplete, the industrial economy will enter its terminal phase, still under collective denial. But no nation can hold together without the fuel sources that created it. Secession will become inevitable, into five, six, seven or more regions in the USA, along racial, religious, political and geographic lines. The faultlines are already there, with no energy base there will be nothing to stop ultimate breakup. Other conglomerations of states and provinces will also disintegrate. The EU, Russia, China, Africa will react and deny, but the end result will be the same: Energy depletion = social collapse.

As civil unrest takes hold, governments will act in the only way they know how: violent suppression to restore order. This will mean military intervention and imposition of martial law as civil breakdown becomes widespread.

At that point your elected leader will assume the role of dictator and suspend the constitution. Once established, godly certainties among those around him will cloak this in righteousness and subvert it into a theocracy of the worst kind. That will make it easier to identify the heathen and justify any form of retribution. It will be fascism cloaked in holy orders. It will not be the first time: Hitler’s army had “Gott Mitt Uns” stamped on their belt buckles.

Those who support him will become part of the new order. Those who do not will be dismissed from office, either voluntarily or by force. Police and military will fall in behind whoever pays their wages, and enforce the new regime. Totalitarian states have shown that there is never a shortage of willing hands to perform unpleasant tasks. They are always ready and waiting to be recruited.

The inevitability of regional secession will inflame regional differences, and spark civil war(s). It will be the time of petty states and tyrannies, each regime desperate to resist the decline into a different lifestyle, certain that the mess can be ‘fixed’, and only ‘they’ can fix it by enforcement of ideology. Yet without the power of fossil fuels there will be an inexorable regression to the brutalities of medievalism, with power resting only in the command of muscle.

Eventually they will be forced to accept each other’s existence, for no better reason than there will be insufficient means to do anything about it.

Welcome to the (dis) United States of America.

So what of the years to come? The dictator’s power will grow for a time, and make life unpleasant for millions, but ultimately his Reich will extend only to the door of his bunker. No doubt he will remain in his seat of imagined power for as long as possible, issuing incoherent commands that cannot be fulfilled because there will be insufficient energy to do so, just as his predecessor discovered 75 years ago.

Downsizing

End_of_Moregc2reddit-logoOff the keyboard of Norman Pagett

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 29, 2015

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What Downsizing really means…

That we are entering a period of decline is not in any real doubt, at least not among those with the inclination to think about it. ‘Downsizing’ seems to be the commonly used term, but few really understand what it will really mean. No one will willingly accept downsizing if it means a meaningful drop in their standard of living. So it remains a vague notion that it might be somebody else’s problem, and nothing too drastic on a personal level. There is a misplaced concept that we will drift into it gradually as oil decline eases us into another mode of living that will not be too far removed from the one that we enjoy now. We want the creature comforts that we have known for less than a century to remain a permanent feature of our imagined future.

Our most recent history shows that the slightest slowdown of our current economy by just a few percentage points brings an immediate chaos of unemployment and global destabilisation. Yet somehow that won’t apply to a permanent ‘downsizing’; that seems to follow a different set of social rules, as if we can do it and still retain a civilised existence. And of course without downsizing wages too much. We will still expect to eat, buy ‘stuff’ and carry on in employment and even retain our wheels, with the strange certainty that as long as we have wheels, we will have prosperity by involving ourselves in the exchanges of trade that will not differ much to what we have now.

http://techdrive.co/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/elon-musk-335x223.jpgIn the face of imminent global chaos, from climate change, overpopulation and energy depletion, billions are being poured into development of alternative methods of transportation. Elon Musk, though producing a first class electric car, proposes it to be a vehicle for the ‘post oil’ age, which will inevitably mean a downsized environment. He ignores the basic reality that no road vehicle in the context of modern usage can function without an infrastructure that is itself a construct of hydrocarbon. The notion is that we can all get into electric cars and continue to drive from home to work and back, and our comfortable lifestyle can carry on much as before. In other words, it is the vehicle itself that creates and supports our prosperity. If we use an electric car, we can still somehow move a lump of metal and plastic around as an integral part of our employment and leisure.

But the electric car adds to the socio-economic complexity of our over-stressed life support system, it does not simplify it. In addition to the factory itself, an electric car needs sophisticated power hungry production systems, a living environment for its workers, housing, roads, schools and so on, as well as the Bolivian lithium mines and the socio-economic-industrial complexity needed in that country, all solely dependent on a vehicle concept that is ultimately a consumer of the hydrocarbon fuel it is promising to replace. All these systems are (hydrocarbon) energy intensive and expensive to produce. In a downsized society, that complexity will not exist, yet our focus on such dead ends as the electric car shows that humankind does not have the means to rid itself of dependence on the wheel. While the electric car might appear to be a bright shiny symbol of continuing wealth and prosperity, it is in fact a block of embodied energy, as subject to the laws of thermodynamics as any other construction. It demands constant energy input to maintain its viability, and serves no useful purpose in a downsized environment because the means to sustain will not be there. No industrialised nation can maintain its road transport system without the constant input of oil. Fossil fuelled vehicles, whether used on land, air or sea produce our food, sustain our infrastructure and maintain the cohesion of nations. And there are no alternatives.

http://www.welcome-to-lancaster-county.com/images/amish-market-wagon-opt.jpgWe must face the painful truth: that our fossil fuelled prosperity (temporarily) allowed us to have personal transport, but it was not personal transport that created our prosperity. A downsized lifestyle will mean that we will no longer be able to move around on a whim, for no better reason than we happen to want to drag a couple of tons of steel and plastic around to buy a newspaper or a carton of milk. The car has allowed us to live many miles from our energy sources, whether food or employment. That is going to end. When considering downsized transportation, remember that probably the most useful wheeled vehicles in the pre oil environment were haycarts and war chariots. The only forms of renewable energy were derived from the waterwheel and the windmill. They were manufactured from trees, and needed the energy input from animal and human muscle to give them functionality. We cannot have a future that is dependent on complex industry. It will not work.

When advocating downsizing, there is rarely, if ever, any mention of the healthcare we currently enjoy, which has given us a reasonably fit and healthy 80 year average lifespan.

A prime safeguard for the health of citizens throughout the developed world is the ability to remove and dispose of human waste and provide an inflow of fresh water. But to do it there must be constant availability of hydrocarbon energy. Electricity will enable you to pump water and sewage but it cannot provide the infrastructure needed to build or maintain a fresh water or waste treatment plant; for that you need oil, coal and gas. Modern domestic plumbing systems are now made largely of plastic, which is manufactured exclusively from oil feedstock, while concrete main sewer pipes are produced using processes that are equally energy intensive. In a downsized society fresh water will have to be carried from its source, and sewage will not be moved.

http://static.progressivemediagroup.com/uploads/imagelibrary/Mogden_STW_Water.jpgBut we are even more deluded when it comes to the medical profession and all the advanced treatments and technologies it has provided to keep us in good health and make our lives as pain free as possible. There seems to be a strange expectation that we will remain as healthy as we are now, or become even healthier through a less stressful lifestyle, where we tend our vegetable gardens and chicken coops in a state of bucolic bliss irrespective of any other problems we face. And while ‘downsizing’ – a somewhat bizarre concept in itself – might affect other aspects of our lives, it will not apply to doctors, medical staff, hospitals and the vast power-hungry pharmaceutical factories and supply chains that give them round the clock backup. Without that backup, your medical practitioner might know what ails you, but more often than not won’t be able to offer you any more help than a tribal witch doctor.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that hospitals use twice as much energy per square foot as a comparable office block, to keep the lights, heating, ventilation and air conditioning on 24/7 and run an array of equipment from refrigerators to MRI scanners. We have a blind faith that we can continue to benefit from this highly complex, energy-intensive healthcare system, irrespective of any decline in our energy supplies. We know of the conditions endured by our not-so-distant forebears, and recoil in horror at the prevalence of the dirt and diseases they had to accept as part of their lives.  We should perhaps stop to consider that they did not have the means to make it otherwise. Like our forebears, we also will not have the means to make it otherwise.  A downsized society will no longer be able to build outwards and live in a spreading suburbia, so must be forced back into crowded environments, inevitably reverting to a more medieval lifestyle which will make the spread of diseases inevitable.

City Lights 2012 - Flat mapNor does downsizing appear to apply to the other emergency services we might want to call on if our home is on fire or those of criminal intent wish to relieve us of what is rightfully ours. We might put solar panels on the roof, and banks of batteries to supply power, but a downsized society will not have the engineering complexity available to manufacture a single lightbulb, heating element or the basic components of an electric motor. Without those, any electricity production system is useless. You may be able to recondition an electric motor up to a point, but you cannot repair a lightbulb. A downsized lifestyle means a dark lifestyle, or put more bluntly a naked flame society. Alternative lifestylers seem to have blanked out the detail that fire engines, ambulances and police cars need fuel, and the people who man them need to get paid, fed and moved around quickly. They will not have time to indulge in the fantasy of self sufficiency. In other words ‘we’ might reduce our imprint on the environment, as long as those who support our way of life do not. Humanity, at least our ‘western’ developed segment of it, is enjoying a phase of good health and longevity that is an anomaly in historical terms. There is a refusal to recognize that our health and wellbeing will only last as long as we have cheap hydrocarbon energy available to support it. While there are those who profess to welcome a return to the freedom of a frontier society with minimal or non-existent law enforcement, the ravages of the diseases that were an everyday part of frontier life will not be accepted as part of it, particularly when accompanied by the knowledge that such diseases are curable but the means to do it are no longer available.

Since the introduction of modern drugs and the availability of products that can kill bacteria, we have set out to do just that. Bacteria have had a bad press, but they keep us alive, if only to serve their own ends. In our haste to kill off or control almost every microscopic form of life, as well as larger species, we have forgotten that bacteria have been around in one form or another for about 2 billion years and possess a collective survival strength that is far in advance of ours. We have only been here for about 2 million years, and have held our delusion of controlling them for less than a century. If humankind ceased to exist, bacteria wouldn’t be aware of our demise; without them, we couldn’t last a week. On that basis, which is the dominant species? Our attempts at eradication have merely caused them to retreat for a while and given them the means to mutate into new and more deadly forms. When our hydrocarbon energy shield is no longer there to protect us, they will return to wreak their vengeance, and reassert their position as top predator.

http://tpucdn.com/npu/img/2014/08-27/12049-7a176461_600_400.jpgThat we are subject to laws not of our own making will be hard to accept, because humankind has elevated itself to the position of biological supremacy, and created gods and written holy books to offer proof of that. A growing awareness that something is wrong will foster denial of it, in the same way that we see the reality of climate change denied. That is part of human nature. We can look around and see the proof of what we are, but the actual sum total of human endeavour has been to overpopulate our planet far in excess of its carrying capacity. Before we learned how to use the destructive forces of hydrocarbons to control bacteria and microbial life ‘for the good of humanity’, they kept our planet as a safe living environment for all species by controlling any excesses. Without our hydrocarbon weaponry, microbial life will reassert dominance.

The deniers will vent their frustration and anger, and apportion blame and demand that diseases be cured. But there are just too many humans to allow the possibility of a human solution. We are genetically programmed to fight for survival, just as bacteria are. But with no hydrocarbon armoury, it will be a battle we cannot win, any more than the plague victims of the middle ages could win their fight against disease. Their great die off resulted in a third of their population being wiped out, with no knowledge of the cause other than a certainty of divine intention. On a planet with 7 billion people, which has a carrying capacity of around 1 billion, we may not want to admit to an impending die off, but we know it has to come, and within this century. The difference between ourselves and our medieval forebears is that we will know why but will be equally powerless. When the die off begins, violent reaction is certain, and that will help bacteria in their task of rebalancing our numbers.

The infrastructure of modern healthcare hasn’t given us immortality, but it has provided the next best thing: long, safe and comfortable lives. But it relies entirely on hydrocarbon energy, and in the future a range of problems will make it progressively more difficult for us to exert control over disease as that energy source goes into irreversible decline. Disease will become more prevalent, not only in localized outbreaks, but at epidemic and even pandemic levels. Healthcare systems cannot downsize, they are either there or they are not.

And yet the greatest loss in a downsized economy is likely to be our democracy.

You don’t think much about the democratic state you live in. A few gripes about it sometimes, but other than that, things coast along reasonably well. You vote one lot of useless politicos in, and another lot out. Or maybe don’t vote at all. They never change anything, being swept along by the tide of circumstance just like everybody else.

But your democratic state is an unnatural state.

Through almost all of recorded history mankind has lived under autocratic rule to a greater or lesser degree, always enforced by the threat of violence, either on a personal or collective level.

In the sense that we know it democracy has been selectively planted only during the last 2 centuries, with universal suffrage appearing in different places at different times. But it has not in any sense taken root. It is a fragile concept that we are going to lose as our environment alters and degrades with climate change and energy depletion. Before the industrial revolution, the concept of democracy and human rights did not exist. It may not seem immediately obvious that our democratic state is dependent on surplus energy, but it is.

Euro_collapseWe look to Ancient Greece, or more specifically Athens itself for the origins of our democracy, but while Athens in the 4th century BCE had a population of 100,000, living in what we think of as democratic harmony, they also had an underclass of about 150,000 slaves who supported their economy. Slaves had no part in the Athenian democratic process, but they allowed the free time for their owners (men only, women were not part of it) to go about their leisurely democratic business.

Had it not been for slave-energy, Athens would have found it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain the sophisticated business of democracy. Providing the means to stay alive doesn’t allow much leisure for political thinking. In England, Magna Carta might be seen as part of the democratic process, but it only applied to the nobility who forced it on the King. The underclass who provided the energy sources from the land had no part in it. They had much the same status as the slaves who belonged to the Athenians.

We differ in our time only through the surplus energy of fossil fuel that has allowed us to enjoy the luxury of democracy.

We have had access to that surplus energy for only 250 years, and fully exploited it for less than 100 years. In every developed nation in the world, that period of time has seen the growth of universal suffrage and allowed it to become normality.

But it is a fragile concept and we cannot claim this as a fundamental human right, despite the endless assurances of politicians.

When our coal, oil and gas has finally been used up, our comfortable environment will vanish with it. The unpleasant reality of the world outside the comfort zone of our cars, warm or cool homes, healthcare on demand and reliable food and water supplies will reassert itself and our democratic niceties will vanish as we strive to survive.

An energy depleted economy will mean a downsized state and a breakup of established law, because no government can exist outside the boundaries of its own energy range. In that situation you can have no control over your position within your future state or nation, and the way in which you will be governed. The individual details might be open to question, but millennia of past history supplies a broad outline: weakened states submit to whichever despot can hold power. We will not only have a downsized economy, we will have autocratic rule by someone who has seized the opportunity of weakness and used it for his own ends.

And you thought Greece had a problem?

Off the keyboard of Norrman Pagett

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Published on Collapse of Industrial Civilization on July 29, 2015

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Petroleum-Highway

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End_of_MoreWhile we might think of money as supporting our economy, only energy can support the solvency of a nation, and only surplus energy can fulfill the aspirations of its rulers and the desires of its citizens. Until the advent of the industrial revolution, and in particular the universal availability of cheap oil, that energy could only come from territory that could produce sufficient food and other essentials for any level of civilized living. We might ‘demand’ that our leaders provide new hospitals, schools, roads and all the other things that make life comfortable, but without the necessary surplus energy to do it, it is impossible. No political posturing or promises or taxation can change that.

Most deny it, but we live in an energy economy, not a money economy. Without the continually increasing forward thrust of energy input, no economy can exist in the context that we have become used to.

Not just the Greeks, but those charged with governing every nation on Earth, have lost sight of the fundamental law of collective survival: if a nation doesn’t produce enough indigenous surplus energy to support the demands of its people, they must beg, buy, borrow or steal it from somewhere else, or face eventual collapse and starvation until their numbers reach a sustainable level.

Our lifestyle support system has been based on that premise since prehistory. Nomadic tribesmen, probably in the region of present day Iraq, had the bright idea of fixing borders around land, then growing their food supply instead of chasing after it. Fences and borders meant land could be owned and given value that could be measured in energy terms.

What we know as civilization is based on that simple concept. Land and its potential energy became capital, and our genetic forces ensured it was exploited to the full. Primitive farmers knew nothing of calorific values, or capitalism; only that too little food meant starvation, sufficient food averted famines, and surplus food offered prosperity. No one wanted to starve, few were content with sufficient, so the drive for surplus became relentless. It still is; only the scale has changed, it has become the profit motive in everything we do. Everybody wants a payrise, few refuse one. We are all capitalists, we differ only by a matter of scale.

Enclosed land needed strong control and the will to fight for it. Strength prevailed while weakness went under as resource competition ebbed and flowed across tribal territories. If land produced enough spare food and other necessary commodities, it was possible to equip and feed an army, and use it to occupy more territory. In that way collective energy could rapidly roll up small territories into a nation or an empire, create warlords and kings, and give credence to gods who were invariably on the winning side.

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Possession of land and what it produces is the hidden support of what we now understand as our economy and the viability of our infrastructure. Conflict makes that economy even more profitable and one that is built on power and aggression provides the potential for endless resource warfare, whether bloody or political. In 1941 Germany invaded Greece using the bloody version. In 2015 Greece is experiencing the political version. As a small weak country Greece lacks the resource strength to resist.

The more land that could be held and ruled, the more food-energy could be produced. Surplus energy that came in the form of meat and grain and timber was too big to carry around, so tokens of gold and silver became an accepted measure of energy value.

Different civilisations arose and used different monetary systems, but all broadly followed the pattern we are locked into now: those who controlled the land controlled the energy that supported the prevalent economy, whether primitive or sophisticated, warlike or peaceful. With sufficient surplus and a big enough labour force held in some kind of serfdom or dependency, tokenized energy could be diverted to pay for the construction of cities, castles and cathedrals. While the labour of men to build them, the allegiance of soldiers to guard them, and the faith of priests to pray over them might be bought with gold and silver, the system depended on a supply of food and basic commodities well above subsistence level, ultimately provided by the heat of the sun. That’s why the great early civilisations and empires began in the warm tropical and sub tropical regions of the world. And why Eskimos did not field armies, build cities, or inflict the hysteria of mass religion on themselves; they didn’t get enough sunshine to provide the energy resources.

That gave rise to the factors we still live with today: warm productive stable land sustains a bigger healthier population. People eat and procreate, need more sustenance, and demand that their leaders provide it, so the thrust of constant expansion is inevitable in order to feed them. This was as true for small farming settlements between the Tigris and the Euphrates, as it was for the Roman Empire. It was the force that drove the European industrial powers outwards to carve up Africa, the Americas and the Far East to give a privileged section of humanity a prosperity that has been unique in our history. Those of us who enjoy those privileges have lost sight of where they came from, and how fragile they are.

Consequently we are still locked into the same energy-hungry capitalist dynamic, only now we believe that money has not only been substituted for the energy that created it, it has replaced it. In most people’s minds, the illusion of money has supplanted tangible, hard resources. Energy is no longer regarded as necessary to sustain prosperity; we can print it, or better still, make it appear electronically.

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Who needs oil? Keynesian economics says that perpetual growth will come through passing bits of coloured paper or plastic from hand to hand at an ever-faster rate.

The leaders of every advanced industrial nation are driven to promise this kind of ‘growth’ to their people, for no better reason than because there has always been growth, so our future will be growth driven too; they and we know no other way. We believe the lie that money itself has taken on an intrinsic worth of its own.

The Greeks fiddled their accounts, joined the EU and accepted the common currency of the Euro and the collective certainty of the money-driven nature of growth, at a time when oil was $25 a barrel. With oil so cheap, any concern about indigenous energy sources was irrelevant. They had a world class (oil dependent) shipbuilding and sea transport industry, and (oil dependent) tourism was booming. In the late 90s, when oil had fallen to $18 a barrel, they borrowed $11 billion to buy still more energy to burn in order to stage the 2004 Olympic games. Greek prosperity depended on infinite supplies of hydrocarbon fuel, but they followed the common belief in infinite money.

When the price of oil peaked in 2008, the crash was inevitable. The certainty that money represented wealth was destroyed by the price of oil, but they borrowed billions more to try to prove it hadn’t. Any reason was better than reality: that you can’t run a cheap energy economy on expensive energy.

The latest clutch of Greek politicos got themselves voted into office because they told the Greek people what they wanted to hear: that prosperity could be voted into office, as if the availability of indigenous energy within their borders was a matter of political choice. Alexis Tsipras believed the Keynesian fantasy and convinced himself that borrowed money put into endless circulation will generate wealth and ‘growth’. $11 billion spent on the now derelict Olympic stadium should have served as a warning, but it didn’t.

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More ‘bailouts’ have been agreed; the Greeks will now settle back into their soporific lifestyle and the headline writers will find something more newsworthy. But the hammer of reality has only been lifted temporarily from the anvil of their economy. In a year or so, when the Greeks have spent their latest loan, it will crash down again, harder.

The Greeks are not money-bankrupt, they are energy-bankrupt.

But so is every other nation, to a greater or lesser degree. Saudi Arabia is in a worse state of energy bankruptcy than the poverty stricken Greeks, they just don’t know it yet.

A century ago, Greece had a population of around 5 million, and had only partially freed itself from control by the Ottoman Empire. Despite wars, revolution, hyperinflation and foreign occupation during the 20th century, it remained poor but largely self sufficient as a pastoral country. During that period, the population doubled, due in a large extent to reclaiming Turkish held territories in the early 20th century. In a worst-case scenario, if Greece defaults on its debts, and drops out of the EU and the European currency, 11 million Greeks will be left to feed themselves at a very basic level. They will have no choice but to fall back on a more primitive lifestyle, forgo the luxuries bought by oil consumption and live on the energy sources within their own borders. When they do that, their energy bankruptcy will disappear.

100 years ago, Arabia had a population of 1.5 million, and was also a region of the Ottoman Empire. The term Saudi had not been prefixed to it and the Gulf States did not exist. Their people were basically nomadic, with no concept of national identity, or civilization approaching the Greek level. Though under nominal control of the Turks, they were effectively protected by their hostile desert. Living was primitive, but like the Greeks, self sufficient on their terms.

Then in 1938 oil was found in Arabia, now the population is over 30 million. The current excesses of Saudi Arabia are too familiar to need recounting here. We’ve all watched the Saudis use their oil to build unsustainable cities in deserts, where previously there had been none. They have used their oil to suck finite water out of aquifers and desalinate seawater to maintain the fantasy of endless prosperity. They buy in every conceivable luxury and try to outdo each other with meaningless towers of vanity that they see as expressions of wealth and status. They build because they can, believing the economic nonsense that spending energy-based tokens, i.e. money, creates profit and wealth. Just like the vanity of the Greek Olympic venues, the glittering towers of Riyadh and Mecca and Jeddah are seen as a source of commercial prosperity that will deliver and provide cashflow long after the oilflow has dried up.

Vertropolis-3

As the Greeks discovered when the energy flow stopped going into their arenas, they began to disintegrate. Without constant energy input, money embedded in concrete, glass and steel can only show a return if more money (energy) is constantly added to resist the ultimate certainty of entropy. No one has pointed out that while Saudi towers may be designed to last 100 years, the oil-energy that supports them will run out in less than 30, maybe as few as 20 years. (It has been suggested that Saudi might become an oil importer by 2030, though exactly where the imported oil will come from, or how it might be paid for, is not clear). Then the towers will start to fall apart just as the Saudi economy will fall apart because the oil-energy they use to fuel such vanities is borrowed from their own future. And they will have no means of repaying it; their creditors are not foreign bankers, but their own young and dispossessed. They will violently reject the certainty of a life as goat herders and camel traders if only for the reason that they wouldn’t know how.

Just like the Greeks they will demand that the lifestyle they know carries on unimpeded by the reality of energy shortage. They will try to borrow money to maintain it, with the same result. Bankruptcy on the Saudi scale will make the Greek version look like a small bank overdraft. Unlike Greece, the desert is hostile to human life at the current Saudi density, and needs constant input of food, water and air conditioning to survive 50o C summer heat.

11 million Greeks can feed themselves from their own land. 30 or 40 million Saudis are going to have to face the brutal truth that they can’t. The Saudis currently produce about 10 million barrels of oil a day, and they have to use one third of that to keep themselves alive and in the luxury they think they need. They have created an artificial existence entirely dependent on trading oil for food, and face a future of actual starvation, because there will not be sufficient surplus food energy available anywhere in the world to prevent it once the oil has gone. At current rates of growth their population is projected to reach 60 million by 2050 so between now and then a sudden and catastrophic end to the oil-excess is certain. That life-subsidy of one barrel of oil in three will rapidly disappear, with Saudi using constantly depleting oil to buy food at constantly increasing prices in a race to stay alive. Unemployable young men face a non-future where their luxurious privileges are stripped away by forces beyond their control and understanding. With the oilwells sucked dry, the US fleet will sail away from Bahrain, and discontent will manifest itself into riot. In perhaps only 10 or 15 years, Saudi Arabia as a viable nation will not have sufficient indigenous energy to prevent collapse. There will be nowhere to buy, beg, borrow or steal it from, and no oil for export. Which is where Greece is right now.

Since the oilwealth kicked in and the population exploded, Saudi now has a youth bulge in their population. 37% are under 14, 51% are under 25. Already the unemployment rate in the 16 to 29 age range is reported as 29%, possibly much higher. Of those with graduate level jobs, most have been absorbed by the public sector, with Shias being actively discriminated against by the dominant Sunnis. Jobs requiring technical skills are filled by foreign workers. Effectively this means that virtually all wages and unemployment benefits are paid out of oil revenues. This is where violent unrest will come from when the oil flow begins to dry up. Already Saudi has paid out $billions in freebies to pacify their unemployable young men, while maintaining the unreality of gasoline at 16c a liter, effectively using oil to subsidise itself.

With its oil wealth diminishing, Saudi is a ticking time bomb, split by religious factions and sectarianism, confined by repression at a medieval level and surrounded by religious zealots who see infidel industry being supported by the holy oil that rightfully belongs in the land of the prophet. Compared to that, Greece is an oasis of tranquility.

Masked Sunni gunmen pose for a photo during a patrol outside the city of Falluja April 28, 2014. Iraqi soldiers say they have been trapped in and around the western city of Ramadi. They say they have run low on tank shells, lack aerial cover and armoured vehicles, and have been hit by high casualties and desertion rates. In March and April, ISIL seized a dam in Fallujah, flooded farmland on the outskirts of Baghdad in Abu Ghraib, and drained offshoots of the Euphrates river; the Iraqi government evacuated the main prison for Sunni detainees in Abu Ghraib because of the ongoing clashes; and militants, thought to be from ISIL, bombed the country's oil pipeline to Turkey.  REUTERS/Stringer (IRAQ - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS CONFLICT) - RTR3MZIX

For a different energy/economy collapse scenario, move on to China.

There, energy is being locked into unusable real estate on a truly colossal scale, concentrated on building cities in places where there are no people to live in them. City after city is being constructed right across the country, creating an illusion of ‘Gross Domestic Product’, where officials can only achieve recognition by the rate at which infrastructure is built. A building without people in it is disregarded as irrelevant. 6 million people enter the Chinese job market every year. Construction creates employment, GDP means everything and urbanization targets must be reached.

Employment is the biggest thing for well-being. The government must not slacken on this for one moment … For us, stable growth is mainly for the sake of maintaining employment. Prime Minister Li Keqiang, November 2013

If an apartment block or shopping mall costs $10 million to build, then that is the ‘value’ of the building on the ledger of national prosperity. If it stands empty for years, the ‘value’ is somehow retained. In China, the motivation is different to that in Saudi Arabia or Greece, but there is the same determination to spend money on projects that are intended to deliver infinite commercial prosperity based on the imagined value of the building itself.

They are building dozens of fully functioning cities on the assumption that workers will show up to fill them. But of course those workers will need food as well as ongoing and permanent employment, which isn’t going to be there, so the ghost cities will not have the means to exist. The cities are where people are supposed to live, the countryside is where food is supposed to be produced.

OB-ZA324_0924gh_G_20130924011534

But both need vast quantities of oil to function. At the current rate of growth of around 8% a year, by 2035 China will (in theory) be using the same volume of oil currently consumed in the world now. That won’t happen of course, because the world oil supply is the same for China as it is for Saudi Arabia, twenty years, maybe much less, no matter how much they buy in and hoard. The Chinese desperation for oil will become critical, just as Saudi exports begin to become unavailable. As supply tightens, so conflict over it will increase, thus restricting supply still further until conflict brings oil production to a virtual standstill. But the Chinese ‘ghost cities’, just like Saudi towers, are intended to last a hundred years.

The figures don’t add up; it’s arithmetic too frightening for most to contemplate. China is dependent on its ever increasing production system to generate new jobs. That drives suicidal pollution and insatiable resource consumption because like capitalist governments everywhere, growth must be prioritized over the environment. Growth without oil is impossible so while the ghost cities of China have a value according to government statistics, they produce nothing; and until they do, will have no value at all. Even if some workers do manage to occupy parts of the ghost cities, without oil there won’t be sufficient power to keep them functioning. Under the inflexible second law of thermodynamics, without constant energy input, entropy takes over and buildings begin to deteriorate from the moment they are completed.

Detroit has followed a different path to bankruptcy.

Detroit Ruins

Ruins at the abandoned Packard Automotive Plant (September 4, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan) serve as canvas for graffiti artists. 78,000 abandoned buildings are strewn across Detroit’s 142 square miles.

Whatever the causes of Detroit’s demise, and there can be said to be many, the overall picture is one of declining energy input. People moved out and no longer spent money on making the city a viable entity. The car plants closed, removing the need for people to be there, the loss of inhabitants removed their collective energy, and the city began to fall apart. The result is unequivocal: remove energy input, and any artifice declines, decays and collapses at an accelerating rate.

Detroit is a bankrupt microcosm of the USA: a nation of 330 million people built entirely on the capitalist system needing infinite expansion, drawing on finite energy borrowed from a future that is unsustainable.

America differs little from the disaster scenarios of Saudi Arabia and China. Finite water is being relentlessly pumped out of depleting aquifers, and finite hydrocarbon is being turned into fertilizer to produce food while cities are forced to grow in hostile deserts. The products of Detroit and cheap fuel allowed suburban sprawl to spread 50 miles out from city hubs across the nation because food and water could be delivered, sewage disposed of and climate altered to personal taste. Declining oil supply will render suburbia hostile to modern living as we know it; the local environment may look different, but the effect on human existence will be the same as the excesses of Saudi or China.

Saudi Arabia, China and America are examples of what our future is going to be. But every nation is promising itself a prosperous future while borrowing from it at an ever-increasing rate, making certain that it cannot exist.

The input of oil into national economics has not exempted humanity from the laws of physics. The trappings of civilization have not altered our fundamental rule of existence: whether your station in life is humble or exalted, if you don’t produce food from the earth on a personal basis, your life depends on someone, no matter how many stages removed, converting sunlight into food on your behalf. Not only that, it must be sold at a price you can afford within a stable environment. Essentially, civilization is just that. Remove it and most will starve while those with enough personal resilience will have no option but to revert to hunter gathering or even scavenging, because what we call civilization is as fragile as the oil it sits on. For the millions of homeless people living on the streets in our ‘civilised’ cities, civilization is over. For them there is little hope of a return to prosperity, with a good job, a warm home and security.

History shows that a radically destabilized environment results in war, famine, disease and death. Any one of those four can and will exacerbate the other three.

Our civilization is becoming increasingly unstable, and right now the four horsemen are getting restless.

In one hundred years time, would you prefer to be living in the United States, China, Saudi Arabia…..or Greece?

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