Published on the Doomstead Diner on October 18, 2015
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A few days ago, doing my usual Web Surfing for Collapse articles to link to on the Diner and our new r/globalcollapse Reddit sub, I ran into an article on the Greanville Post titled WHAT IS EUROPE. CONTINENT OR PENINSULA?
The article featured as its Header Pic a NASA image of Europe taken at night from Space. The image is actually just a crop of the much larger composite night time map of the world assembled from data acquired by the Suomi NPP satellite from April through October 2012, which I reduced in size and heads this article. The full size pic in all its glory can be accessed by hitting the link under the header photo to the NASA website.
What that article was meant to show was how Europe really isn't a "Continent", although it is defined as such in most of your Geography Textbooks, but really just a Peninsula of the much larger Eurasian land mass. However, that is not what really struck me when I looked at the Header Pic, what struck me was the vast difference between the Brightness of the Eurozone versus the Darkness of the African continent below, at least the portion of it visible in that cropping. Africa is the "Dark Continent" in more ways than one here.
During the middle of the 19th century, Africa was referred to as the "Dark Continent," because little was known about the mysterious land itself. The term "Dark Continent" was most likely used for the first time by United States explorer and journalist Henry Stanley.
Obviously, with that thin band of lights on the Northern end of Africa, it's pretty obvious they're burning a whole lot less energy there than is going on nightly on the European Peninsula. Although most often conversation amongst Energy Kollapsniks TM revolves around the availability of Liquid Fossil Fuels for powering the transportation systems we use, in reality it is the Electricity that defines the culture and lifestyle of Homo Industrialis. When you look at the whole Map of the Globe lit up like a Suburban McMansion at Christmas, you can actually track the progression of Industrialization; you can see why the countries that are in control of Industrial culture are who they are and why everybody else out there is not particularly happy these days. I have discussed this aspect of Industrial Civilization and Electricity before in The Dimming Bulb, in this installment I want to look at it from the Historical and Geopolitical perspectives.
You can easily tell where the Industrial lifestyle began, and you can trace it's march around the Globe as well. The Brightness of the lighting tells the whole story if you know just a little history, and it tells you a lot about where things are going in the future too. Before we go Back to the Future though, let's do a little review of how this all got started.
Practical application of Electricity began in the mid 1800s, and by the late 1800s the frst central power stations came online in Jolly Old England and in the Northeast of the FSoA.
Central power stations and isolated systems
The first central station providing public power is believed to be one at Godalming, Surrey, U.K. autumn 1881. The system was proposed after the town failed to reach an agreement on the rate charged by the gas company, so the town council decided to use electricity. The system lit up arc lamps on the main streets and incandescent lamps on a few side streets with hydroelectric power. By 1882 between 8 and 10 households were connected, with a total of 57 lights. The system was not a commercial success and the town reverted to gas.
The first large scale central distribution supply plant was opened at Holborn Viaduct in London in 1882 Equipped with 1000 incandescent lightbulbs that replaced the older gas lighting, the station lit up Holborn Circus including the offices of the General Post Office and the famous City Temple church. The supply was a direct current at 110V; due to power loss in the copper wires, this amounted to 100V for the customer.
Within weeks, a parliamentary committee recommended passage of the landmark 1882 Electric Lighting Act, which allowed the licensing of persons, companies or local authorities to supply electricity for any public or private purposes.
The first large scale central power station in America was Edison's Pearl Street Station in New York, which began operating in September, 1882. The station had six 200 horsepower Edison dynamos, each powered by a separate steam engine. It was located in a business and commercial district and supplied 110 volt direct current to 85 customers with 400 lamps. By 1884 Pearl Street was supplying 508 customers with 10,164 lamps.
By the mid-1880s, other electric companies were establishing central power stations and distributing electricity, including Crompton & Co. and the Swan Electric Light Company in the UK, Thomson-Houston Electric Company and Westinghouse in the US and Siemens in Germany. By 1890 there were 1000 central stations in operation. The 1902 census listed 3,620 central stations. By 1925 half of power was provided by central stations.
The wiring spread outward from there, and India got wired up pretty well.
South America a bit less wired.
Africa barely got wired at all.
So how come India got wired up but Africa did not? Ask yourself who was running the show in India in the 1800s? It was the main colony of the declining British Empire, the one the Sun Never Set On because they were running all those new Lightbulbs! LOL. The Brits were not at the time in charge of Africa, really nobody was far as Westerners were concerned, that's why it got called the Dark Continent, besides the fact it was populated by dark skinned natives.
As time went by into the early 1900s, a couple of other places got decently wired up, Japan & China.
In the mid to late 1800s, the Anglo-Amerikan Industrial Empire was in an Expansionary Phase, and the Gunboats of Cmdr. Matthew Perry "opened" Japan forcibly in the 1850s to join the expanding Industrial Empire, as I covered some time back in the Mr. Peabody Visits Japan article. Still in the Coal fired period at this time, the Gunboats weren't using Oil yet. The Brits were bizzy trying to make China the same kind of colony that India was, but unfortunately had some Boxers willing to fight them on this.
Boxer Rebellion: Background
By the end of the 19th century, the Western powers and Japan had forced China’s ruling Qing dynasty to accept wide foreign control over the country’s economic affairs. In the Opium Wars (1839-42, 1856-60), popular rebellions and the Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), China had fought to resist the foreigners, but it lacked a modernized military and suffered millions of casualties.
The Chinese weren't happy Kowtowing to the Japanese, and the Japanese weren't happy Kowtowing to the Gaijin Imperialists either, so everybody got in a big ass fight over this eventually. The fight was called WWII, which got ended with this:
The Nips were outclassed with Industrial Killing and their well wired Island was turned into an Industrial Factory for Carz and Electronic toys, starting with Transistor Radios moving through Walkmans up to the latest in Smartphones, though of course in recent years have had serious competition on this stuff from the other slaves on the Asian Continent from Korea to Thailand to China.
However, at this point in the post-WWII years the further Wiring of the World began to slow, if not come to a complete halt. With the Victory over Japan and Germany, why was further electrification of Africa and South America not undertaken? SA is a little more wired than Africa, but not by much.
As with most places that have been wired up post WWII, it's mostly along the coastline not much going into the interior. There are a few reasons for this.
First one is that by and large, most population centers and Big Shities lie along the coastlines. Reasons for this?
1- It's easiest to do trade with many places via boats. You can put a lot of cargo on a boat and move it around the world over the oceans without using a whole heck of a lot of energy to do it. In fact in the Sailing Era, that energy was all Renewable.
Even in the modern Container Ship era utilizing Fossil Fuels, this is relatively low energy consumption. The ships can run on "Bunker Fuel", which is basically unrefined Oil.
2- Coastline areas are usually pretty flat land condusive to large scale Agriculture. The fresh water flows down from higher elevations to these neighborhoods, so you have a continuous source of water if you are at the mouth of a decent size river, long as nobody upstream is using it all or contaminating it. New York Shity at the terminus of the Hudson River or London at the terminus of the Thames river are typical examples of this.
3- It's relatively EZ to get rid of all your WASTE if you are right on the coast. The Sewage goes into the Big Sink of the Ocean.
Woolongong Sewage Treatment Plant in Oz
So the vast increase in global population since the Industrial Era began has occurred mostly at the coastlines, which of course is not Good Newz with Sea Level rising. Just ask Miami.
For the most part, the Build Out phase stopped in the early 1970s at the latest, and the last 40 years has been all about continuing to bring in the necessary energy to all the places already built out to keep running them. In some of the older industrial Big Shities like Detroit, that has already failed/collapsed.
So your next question is just how does all the energy flow INTO the places it still goes to? This is a pipeline and transport question mainly, although there are many geopolitical conseqences of trying to take energy stores from one location and move them to another one. Let's look at the current pipeline networks for Oil and NG in North Amerika and Eurotrashland.
As you can see the greatest density of pipeline networks is in the TX/LA/OK neighborhood, and then filtering up from there to the North East and Upper Midwest. This of course because in the early days, all the BIG FINDS of EZ to extract low EROEI oil in the FSoA came in these locations, and then that oil needed transport to the Industrial centers of the Midwest and to the Northeast trading ports with Europe.
As the amount of oil that could be extracted at a cheap price inside FSoA borders began to decline, those same networks were used to ship around Oil accessed/stolen from other big repositories on earth, most notably Saudi Arabia of course. The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) was built to be able to offload oil from VLCCs (Very Large Crude Carriers), more commonly referred to as Super Tankers.
A few more large pipelines were built as time went by to move the oil out of the ground to the places that were burning it, most notably the Alaska Pipeline:
The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System (TAPS) includes the trans-Alaska crude-oil pipeline, 12 pump stations, several hundred miles of feeder pipelines, and the Valdez Marine Terminal. TAPS is one of the world's largest pipeline systems. It is commonly called the Alaska pipeline, trans-Alaska pipeline, or Alyeska pipeline, (or the pipeline as referred to in Alaska), but those terms technically apply only to the 800 miles (1,287 km) of the pipeline with the diameter of 48 inches (122 cm) that conveys oil from Prudhoe Bay, to Valdez, Alaska. The crude oil pipeline is privately owned by the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.
The pipeline was built between 1974 and 1977 after the 1973 oil crisis caused a sharp rise in oil prices in the United States. This rise made exploration of the Prudhoe Bay oil field economically feasible. Environmental, legal, and political debates followed the discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, and the pipeline was built only after the oil crisis provoked the passage of legislation designed to remove legal challenges to the project.
As the Wiki article indicates, it only became economical to build this behemoth of a pipeline after the Arab Oil embargo of the 1970s drove up the price of Oil. Lately there has been talk about building a natural gas (NG) pipeline out of there, either going across into Canada to join up with the current system of NG pipelines down there, or along the same route as the Oil pipeline down through Alaska, to be shipped out by liquifying the gas and dropping it onto specialized Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) ships, for sale then to the Japanese and Chinese slaves.
The problem with either of these pipelines being built is that the price you can get for NG doesn't justify the CapEx for building it. You'll never even pay off building the pipeline, much less make a profit off of it at the current prices. You would have to bet the price the consumer will pay for it will rise substantially, but how can that happen with fewer people working all the time at ever downward spiralling wages? So both projects have stalled, although the Alaska Goobernator is still pushing for it because something is necessary to keep the economy running around here as the Oil in the Prudhoe Bay fields depletes and gets lower prices all the time. He's got a huge hole in the state budget these days, and things are getting desperate down in Juneau.
Stalling also is the drive for further Oil exploration either in the Arctic Ocean or the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Shell Oil recently stopped their exploration there after sinking around $9B into that White Elephant, and this week Da Goobermint decided not to offer up any leases for the oil companies to even bid on. Why not? Because they will get the same result that the Brazilians got a couple of weeks ago when they offered up leases for sale in the supposed Giant Oil Reservoirs in Deep Water off their shores. They got no bidders practically speaking. Same as the NG pipeline for Alaska, with the price of Oil as low as it is, the CapEx involved in accessing and drilling up this Oil is huge, and you can't pay it off at the prices the consumers of the oil can afford to pay. Although Environmentalists are gladdened by this decision and hope some Polar Bears will be saved, this decision has nothing to do with Environmental consciousness on the part of Da Goobermint or the Oil Companies. It's strictly an economic decision.
Now let's move over to Europe, where you see a similar history and similar economic issues as far as continuing to move the Oil from under the ground where it still remains to the places that have been burning it since Oil replaced Coal as the main energy driver for their industrial economy. First, let's look at the Pipeline Maps for Europe:
As you can see, similar to the build out of Oil Pipelines in North America from where the Oil was found down in TX and OK to where it was burned in places like Detroit and Cleveland in the early part of the 20th Century, pipelines were built to take Oil from where it was found in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and bring it to the Industrial Factories where it was being burned, primarily in Britain and Germany in the early 20th Century. While the Boxers were fighting in China, you had a similar battle going on in Europe over who would get to control the Oil coming from MENA, and the first big battle was fought for this, that was WWI.
The Brits won this war against the Krauts, with the assistance of their then still flush with oil former colony of the Amurkans. They carved up MENA into a bunch of random countries from the old Ottoman Empire with the Sykes-Picot Agreement to insure the flow of energy would come their way after the war.
The Sykes–Picot Agreement, officially known as the Asia Minor Agreement, was a secret agreement between the governments of the United Kingdom and France, with the assent of Russia, defining their proposed spheres of influence and control in the Middle East should the Triple Entente succeed in defeating the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The negotiation of the treaty occurred between November 1915 and March 1916. The agreement was concluded on 16 May 1916.
The agreement effectively divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire outside the Arabian peninsula into areas of future British and French control or influence. An "international administration" was proposed for Palestine. The terms were negotiated by the French diplomat François Georges-Picot and Briton Sir Mark Sykes. The Russian Tsarist government was a minor party to the Sykes–Picot agreement, and when, following the Russian Revolution of October 1917, the Bolsheviks exposed the agreement, "the British were embarrassed, the Arabs dismayed and the Turks delighted."
As you can see here, even prior to WWII and the Holocaust, there was an "agreement" about Palestine, later to become Israel. Essentially, Israel was designed to be the Military Base from which to maintain control over all of MENA Oil assets. Endless Military Aid has been furnished to the Israelis since WWII as a means to maintain this control, and the warfare down there between the Israelis and all the Arab states which surround them has been virtually continuous since WWII.
Despite the ongoing wars down there through the time period, overall the Oil was successfully transported through the pipeline system to the factories in Northern Europe, and even the Krauts who lost both WWI and WWII actually did fine here, since the same banksters financed both sides in the battle and after the war was finished, refinanced rebuilding of all the factories in both Britain and Germany that had been destroyed in the war to begin with! LOL.
Like North America with the building of the Alaska Pipeline, the Northern Europeans also got a fresh infusion of Juice with the discovery of North Sea Oil, and both Britain and Norway got a big bonus from this over the last 40 years, but this bonanza is starting to run thin now, and there are no new good sources of local Oil to be accessed at anything within a reasonable price range to justify the CapEx. So the Western European Nations are getting desperate for Oil and NG, and their last, best hope for this is…the RUSKIES!
Mother Russia still has a decent supply of Oil left, not just in the Arctic Ocean but out there in the vast land mass of Siberia too! What's the problem? PIPELINES! Getting the Oil from where it still is in Mother Russia to where the Eurotrash would like to burn it will take extensive construction of new pipelines, which in some cases are even longer than the fucking Alaska Pipeline! Besides that, the Eurotrash are competing against the Chinese, who would like to have new pipelines for this treasure trove of still remaining Fossil Fuel Energy piped in THEIR direction. Who if either will the Banksters finance for contstruction of said new pipelines? Just like Alaska, they won't fund either one of them, because there is no Return on Investment (ROI). in no place left on Earth is it possible to sell the energy at a price the consumer can afford to pay for it.
Knowing all of this, it is now possible to predict where the Lights will go off first and how the Powerdown off Industrial Civilization will proceed.
You have two Legacy Infrastructure Projects here, built out from the beginning of the 20th Century to move the energy around, the Electrical Grid and the Pipeline Network. Both systems are decaying, and the ROI for either fixing and maintaining what has already been built or for building new ones simply is not there anymore. It just costs too much to drag the energy out of the ground and move it over to places where fewer and fewer people all the time can afford to burn it. The persistent GROWTH necessary to finance such a system has come to a halt now. The population of Homo Sap across the whole planet has exceeded the capacity of the planet to support that population on an Environmental and Resource level, and so that population must and will contract. The easily accessed Fossil Fuel Energy that allowed for the exponential growth of this population is now all gone, it exists now as CO2 up in the atmosphere.
The population of Homo Sap will begin its decline first in the Peripheral countries, better known as the "3rd World". Similarly, the Lights will start going off first in these countries, and the Legacy Pipeline and Electrical Grid systems that deliver the Energy to the 1st World Nations will continue to function a while longer, but become ever more difficult to maintain and to continue to input new Energy to ever more impoverished consumers of the Energy, and they too will then begin to shut down one by one at first perhaps, but at some point the whole system will crash. This may occur in tandem with or shortly after the crash of the monetary system controlling this distribution of Energy.
The Last Big Shities to still have Lights On from central grid power? In all probability, Berlin,the City of London and New York Shity on Wall Street, the centers of the Finance that built the whole system to begin with. When the Lights Go Out on Broadway, you can say that TEOTWAWKI has arrived. It may take a little while yet, but you can watch the progress inward, you can see it happening in real time. It's not a conjecture anymore, it's reality.
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Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on July 12, 2015
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Going back a few years to my early days exploring collapse phenomena on the PeakOil.com website, "coincidentally" with the massive economic perturbations of 2008-2009, there was a huge Earthquake Swarm at Yellowstone National Park, which sits right over a "hotspot" on the surface of the earth and has been the site where 3 known Supervolcanic Events took place in the geological history of the earth.
The Yellowstone Caldera is the volcanic caldera and supervolcano located in Yellowstone National Park in the United States, sometimes referred to as the Yellowstone Supervolcano. The caldera and most of the park are located in the northwest corner of Wyoming. The major features of the caldera measure about 34 by 45 miles (55 by 72 km).
The caldera formed during the last of three supereruptions over the past 2.1 million years: the Huckleberry Ridge eruption 2.1 million years ago (which created the Island Park Caldera and the Huckleberry Ridge Tuff), the Mesa Falls eruption 1.3 million years ago (which created the Henry's Fork Caldera and the Mesa Falls Tuff) and the Lava Creek eruption 640,000 years ago (which created the Yellowstone Caldera and the Lava Creek Tuff).
For folks interested in Collapse, nothing gets the juices flowing more than contemplating ULTIMATE Fast Collapse scenarios, of which the Supervolcano is among the most interesting, and also the most probable on the Geological level as well, since these things blow off with fair regularity, and it's a certainty one of them will blow again at some point in the future, although you can't pinpoint exactly when that will be. Another difficult timeline question for the kollapsnik here.
The other big one often brought up on the Cosmological level is the posibility of an Earth Collision with a Planet killer Size Asteroid.
These also happen with some regularity, but not as often as supervolcanos blow off. As far as Yellowstone is concerned, based on its cycles so far, it is due or overdue right now for a blowoff, and then there are a few others sprinkled around the planet that could blow at any time.
However, do we really need a Supervolcano to go ballistic for geological disturbances to change the earth climate and ocean chemistry? I don't think so, and evidence seems to bear this out. When the Earthquake Swarm hit Yellowstone in 2009, I became very interested in this phenomenon, and with my friend Stormbringer on PeakOil.com we ran one of the longest running and most popular threads there ever, it went over 100 pages deep in posts (20 to a page) and went on for months. This got me curious about whether there actually was an increasing level of geotectonic activity, aka Earthquakes & Volcanic Eruptions.
At least in the case of Earthquakes when beginning the research, it did appear true that Earthquakes were increasing in both Frequency & Magnitude over the last 20-30 years. This was evident from the graphs supplied by DLindquist of the USGS.
Total Strength 8+ Quakes 1975-2013
Total Strength All Quakes 1975-2013
Now, one of the "debunking" theories here is that there are not more quakes or stronger quakes, just they are being better reported. However, seismographs in 1975 were plenty sensitive enough to measure any quake above say 4 on the Richter Scale anywhere on the Globe, and Geologists all over the world have been recording this stuff going well back to the early 20th Century. So the records are pretty good, especially since 1975 when DLinquist's graphs start off.
Now, earthquakes when they go off release a LOT of energy, the biggest ones past around 9 on the Richter Scale dwarf even the Tsar Bomba, the largest thermonuclear device ever detonated. That would include the Sendai Quake that wrecked Fukushima and the Anchorage Quake of 1964. Here's a list of significant Quakes from Wiki;
Approximate TNT for
Seismic Energy Yield
|−0.2||7.5 g||31.5 kJ||Energy released by lighting 30 typical matches|
|0.0||15 g||63 kJ|
|0.2||30 g||130 kJ||Large hand grenade|
|0.5||84 g||351 kJ|
|1.0||480 g||2.0 MJ|
|1.2||1.1 kg||4.9 MJ||Single stick of dynamite [DynoMax Pro]|
|1.4||2.2 kg||9.8 MJ||Seismic impact of typical small construction blast|
|1.5||2.7 kg||11 MJ|
|2.0||15 kg||63 MJ|
|2.1||21 kg||89 MJ||West fertilizer plant explosion|
|2.5||85 kg||360 MJ|
|3.0||480 kg||2.0 GJ||Oklahoma City bombing, 1995|
|3.5||2.7 metric tons||11 GJ||
PEPCON fuel plant explosion, Henderson, Nevada, 1988
Irving, Texas earthquake, September 30, 2012
|3.87||9.5 metric tons||40 GJ||Explosion at Chernobyl nuclear power plant, 1986|
|3.9||11 metric tons||45 GJ||Largest of the Manchester 2002 earthquake swarm|
|3.91||11 metric tons||46 GJ||
Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb
|4.0||15 metric tons||63 GJ||Johannesburg/South Africa, November 18, 2013|
|4.3||43 metric tons||180 GJ||
Kent Earthquake (Britain), 2007
Eastern Kentucky earthquake, November 2012
|5.0||480 metric tons||2.0 TJ||
Lincolnshire earthquake (UK), 2008
|5.5||2.7 kilotons||11 TJ||
Little Skull Mtn. earthquake (Nevada, USA), 1992
|5.6||3.8 kilotons||16 TJ||
Newcastle, Australia, 1989
|6.0||15 kilotons||63 TJ||
Double Spring Flat earthquake (Nevada, USA), 1994
|6.3||43 kilotons||180 TJ||
Rhodes earthquake (Greece), 2008
|6.4||60 kilotons||250 TJ||
Kaohsiung earthquake (Taiwan), 2010
|6.5||85 kilotons||360 TJ||
Caracas earthquake (Venezuela), 1967
|6.6||120 kilotons||500 TJ||San Fernando earthquake (California, USA), 1971|
|6.7||170 kilotons||710 TJ||Northridge earthquake (California, USA), 1994|
|6.8||240 kilotons||1.0 PJ||
Nisqually earthquake (Anderson Island, WA, USA), 2001
|6.9||340 kilotons||1.4 PJ||
San Francisco Bay Area earthquake (California, USA), 1989
|7.0||480 kilotons||2.0 PJ||
Java earthquake (Indonesia), 2009
|7.1||680 kilotons||2.8 PJ||
Messina earthquake (Italy), 1908
|7.2||950 kilotons||4.0 PJ||
Vrancea earthquake (Romania), 1977
|7.5||2.7 megatons||11 PJ||
Kashmir earthquake (Pakistan), 2005
|7.6||3.8 megatons||16 PJ||
Nicoya earthquake (Costa Rica), 2012
|7.7||5.4 megatons||22 PJ||
Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2010
|7.8||7.6 megatons||32 PJ||
Tangshan earthquake (China), 1976
|7.9||10.7 megatons||45 PJ||
1802 Vrancea earthquake
|8.0||15 megatons||63 PJ||
Mino-Owari earthquake (Japan), 1891
San Juan earthquake (Argentina), 1894
|8.1||21 megatons||89 PJ||
México City earthquake (Mexico), 1985
Guam earthquake, August 8, 1993
|8.35||50 megatons||210 PJ||Tsar Bomba—Largest thermonuclear weapon ever tested. Most of the energy was dissipated in the atmosphere. The seismic shock was estimated at 5.0–5.2|
|8.5||85 megatons||360 PJ||Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2007|
|8.6||120 megatons||500 PJ||Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2012|
|8.7||170 megatons||710 PJ||Sumatra earthquake (Indonesia), 2005|
|8.75||200 megatons||840 PJ||Krakatoa 1883|
|8.8||240 megatons||1.0 EJ||Chile earthquake, 2010|
|9.0||480 megatons||2.0 EJ||
Lisbon earthquake (Portugal), All Saints Day, 1755
The Great East Japan earthquake, March 2011
|9.15||800 megatons||3.3 EJ||Toba eruption 75,000 years ago; among the largest known volcanic events.|
|9.2||950 megatons||4.0 EJ||
Anchorage earthquake (Alaska, USA), 1964
Sumatra-Andaman earthquake and tsunami (Indonesia), 2004
Cascadia earthquake (Pacific Northwest, USA), 1700
|9.5||2.7 gigatons||11 EJ||Valdivia earthquake (Chile), 1960|
|13.00||100 teratons||420 ZJ||Yucatán Peninsula impact (creating Chicxulub crater) 65 Ma ago (108 megatons; over 4×1029 ergs = 400 ZJ).|
|32||3.1×1029 metric tons||1.3×1039 J||Starquake detected on December 27, 2004 from the ultracompact stellar corpse (magnetar) SGR 1806-20. The quake, which occurred 50,000 light years from Earth, released gamma rays equivalent to 1036 kW in intensity. Had it occurred within a distance of 10 light years from Earth, the quake would have possibly triggered a mass extinction.|
Now, this is mostly just the biggies. However, in aggregate you probably get more energy released by the total number of 4-6 Intensity Quakes you get each year than the big ones. Here is the chart for the 4+ Quakes:
The 5+ and 6+ charts are similar, all showing a peak of activity around 2011-2012. All this energy had to go somewhere, where did it go?
Now look at the chart for Ocean Heat Content:
When does ocean Heat Content start rising? 1992, EXACTLY the year you start to see increasing total energy released by Earthquakes! THAT friends is a SMOKING GUN.
What else occurred at the SAME Time? Ocean Acidity levels started rising and the pH dropping (lower pH is Higher Acidity, it's an inverse scale)
As you can see, it was in the late 1980s to early 1990s that Ocean pH began its real roller coaster ride downward below all previous measured minimums going back to 1700. Getting an up to date number for 2015 has so far proved difficult, but I suspect it is well below 7.9 now.
Now, where does Ocean Acidity come from? Well, definitely CO2 contributes here, dissolving in water to form the Bicarbonate Ion, HCO3-. however, Sulfur also adds to ocean acidity, forming the Sulfate Ions.
Sulfur is found in oxidation states ranging from +6 in SO42− to -2 in sulfides. Thus elemental sulfur can either give or receive electrons depending on its environment. Minerals such as pyrite (FeS2) comprise the original pool of sulfur on earth. Owing to the sulfur cycle, the amount of mobile sulfur has been continuously increasing through volcanic activity as well as weathering of the crust in an oxygenated atmosphere. Earth's main sulfur sink is the oceans as SO2, where it is the major oxidizing agent.
How much sulfur does a typical Volcano Eject and what are its effects on the environment?
Volcanoes that release large amounts of sulfur compounds like sulfur oxide or sulfur dioxide affect the climate more strongly than those that eject just dust. The sulfur compounds are gases that rise easily into the stratosphere. Once there, they combine with the (limited) water available to form a haze of tiny droplets of sulfuric acid. These tiny droplets are very light in color and reflect a great deal of sunlight for their size. Although the droplets eventually grow large enough to fall to the earth, the stratosphere is so dry that it takes time, months or even years to happen. Consequently, reflective hazes of sulfur droplets can cause significant cooling of the earth for as long as two years after a major sulfur-bearing eruption. Sulfur hazes are believed to have been the primary cause of the global cooling that occurred after the Pinatubo and Tambora eruptions. For many months a satellite tracked the sulfur cloud produced by Pinatubo. The image shows the cloud about three months after the eruption. It is already a continuous band of haze encircling the entire globe. You can learn more about the cooling effects of sulfur hazes by through the sulfur dioxide plume from the Llaima Volcano, which erupted on New Year's Day in 2008.
What occurs if the eruption is not into the atmosphere, but directly into the ocean from subsea geotectonic activity?
Submarine volcanoes are underwater vents or fissures in the Earth's surface from which magma can erupt. They are estimated to account for 75% of annual magma output. The vast majority are located near areas of tectonic plate movement, known as ocean ridges. Although most are located in the depths of seas and oceans, some also exist in shallow water, which can spew material into the air during an eruption. Hydrothermal vents, sites of abundant biological activity, are commonly found near submarine volcanoes.
With 75% of the activity coming beneath the ocean (which only makes sense since 75% of the surface of the earth is under water), even a slight increase in the amount of sulfur being released can significantly alter the Sulfur Cycle.
Notice that nowhere in this Sulfur Cycle is the quantity of Sulfur released through volcanic activity each year accounted for. I doubt anyone knows how large this quantity is, or how it changes from year to year or over geologic time either. So it is very difficult to quantify in order to measure its total effect on the ocean chemistry. Regardless of that, if you accept the hypothesis made by the study authors that geological activity was the cause of Dinosaur Extinction, it is reasonable to suppose this quantity can at times be very significant. Is this one of those times?
What about the Volcanoes? Are they really more frequent or just reported better? Here's a chart going back to 1875 from the Smithsonian Institute:
Now, maybe you can argue Volcanic Eruptions are better reported now than in 1875, but that doesn't explain why you see the dropoff in eruptions from 1980-85 and the subsequent higher peak after that.
Besides that, you have this chart with recent numbers in the years 2000-2014
What explains the vast increase between 2007 & 2009? I don't think reporting or instrumentation changed that much over those 2 years.
All of this evidence points to some level of Geotectonic contribution to the changing climate, however nobody in the mainstream of Climate Science will even consider this as it applies to the present day situation, they are too invested in the theory that Climate Change is entirely Anthropogenic and the result of Carbon Emissions from Fossil Fuels since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. While it seems likely this is a contributing factor, I don't see how you can dismiss the rest of the evidence that there is a Geotectonic component to this as well.
The whole bizness led up to the Geotectonic Ocean Heat Transfer Theory, which you can read up on here on the Diner Blog if you are so inclined.
Despite the fact nobody will apply this reasoning to the current situation, in recent months a new theory about the Extinction of the Dinosaurs at the end of the PETM came not from the preciously accepted Asteroid Impact Theory, but in fact from increasing Vulcanism. Here are Parts 1 & 2 from John Mason on Skeptical Science:
Posted on 19 March 2015 by John Mason
Part One: Large Igneous Provinces and their global effects
A mass extinction is an event in the fossil record, a fossilised disaster if you like, in which a massive, globally widespread and geologically rapid loss of species occurred from numerous environments. The “Big five” extinctions of the Phanerozoic (that time since the beginning of the Cambrian period, 541 million years ago) are those in which, in each instance, over half of known species disappeared from the fossil record.
How did they happen? The causes of such events, with a truly global reach, have been a well-known bone of contention within the Earth Sciences community over many decades. The popular media likes to portray such things as Hollywood-style disasters, in which everything gets wiped out in an instant. But in the realms of science, things have changed. The critically important development has been the refinement of radiometric dating, allowing us to age-constrain events down to much narrower windows of time. We can now, in some cases, talk about the start and end of an event in terms of tens of thousands (rather than millions) of years.
Such dating, coupled with the other time-tools of palaeomagnetism and the fossil record, have made it possible to develop a much clearer picture of how mass-extinctions occur. That picture is one of periods of global-scale pollution and environmental stress associated with large perturbations to the carbon cycle, lasting for thousands of years. Such upheavals are related to unusual episodes of volcanic activity with an intensity that is almost impossible to imagine. The geological calling-cards of such events are known as Large Igneous Provinces (LIPs). Bringing environmental and climatic changes at rates similar to the ones we have been creating, they have been repeat-offenders down the geological timeline. This introductory piece examines LIPs in the framework of more familiar volcanic activity: it is the only way to get a handle on their vastness.
For those readers already familiar with LIPs, you may want to skip this and go straight to Part Two, which covers the biggest extinction of them all, at the end of the Permian period, 252 million years ago (Ma). With more than 90% of all species wiped out, it was the most severe biotic crisis in Phanerozoic history. The extinction was global: almost all animals and plants in almost all environmental settings were affected. An idea of the severity can be visualised by considering that the time afterwards was marked by the beginning of a coal gap lasting for ten million years: coal-forming ecosystems simply did not exist for that time. Likewise, Howard Lee has recently considered the relationship between the end-Cretaceous extinction – the one that got the dinosaurs – and LIP volcanism here. But for those who are new to LIPs, it is recommended that you read this post first.
A sense of scale
Let's start by contextualising that volcanicity, starting with an especially well-known example. Mount St. Helens is one of a number of volcanoes in the Cascade Range of the north-western United States. In early 1980, it began a period of activity with earthquakes and clouds of steam billowing forth: by the middle of spring its northern side was starting to bulge ominously, a sure sign of magma and pressure build-up. On May 18th, following another earthquake, its entire northern side collapsed, depressuring the magma and volatiles beneath in an instant. The resulting blast destroyed everything in a 600 square kilometres zone around the northern flank of the volcano. A huge cloud of hot ash shot skywards, reaching over twenty kilometres in height. Ash and debris, mixed with great volumes of meltwater, brought major flash-flooding and mudflows into local rivers. The energy released has been estimated to be equivalent to a 24-megaton nuke and in total this nine-hour eruption spewed out some 2.79 cubic kilometres of felsic lava, ash, gases and debris. Remember that last figure.
The famous eruption of Krakatoa on August 26th-27th 1883 reached its climax on the 27th: the largest explosion, at 10:02 A.M, was heard 3,110 km (1,930 mi) away in Perth, Western Australia. The eruption and the tsunamis associated with it killed over 36,000 people according to official figures. This incredibly violent and destructive eruption, with an energy-release likened to a 200-megaton nuke, produced an estimated 21 cubic kilometres of eruptive products. Again, remember that figure.
Now, contrast those deadly eruptions with the mostly late Permian Siberian Traps LIP. The province contains what may be the largest known volume of terrestrial flood basalt (dark-coloured, iron and magnesium-rich lava) in the world. How much? At least three million cubic kilometres. That's enough to bury an area the size of the United Kingdom beneath a layer of basalt some 12 kilometres thick.
Fig. 1: We're gonna need a bigger graph! Volumes of well-known volcanic eruptions compared to LIPs. Geologists may argue that comparing single eruptions of various standard volcanoes and LIPs is like comparing apples to oranges. Actually, that's the point!
A large igneous province is defined as a vast accumulation, covering an area of at least a hundred thousand square kilometres, of igneous rocks episodically erupted or intruded within a few million years. The majority of erupted products may in some cases accumulate within much shorter time-spans of tens of thousands of years or less. Total eruption volumes are at least a hundred thousand cubic kilometres. Erupted products are dominated by repeated flows of basaltic lava ("flood-basalts"): weathering and erosion of these stacked basalt sheets often gives the countryside where they occur a hilly, stepped topography. Such areas are often referred to today as "Traps" because of this distinctive landscape: the term, as used in "Siberian Traps" or "Deccan Traps" is based on a Swedish word for stairs. Rocks intruded beneath the surface in LIPs include ultramafic (dense, iron and magnesium rich) and alkaline (sodium and potassium-rich) bodies, plus uncommon types such as the carbonate-rich carbonatites. LIP events are infrequent along the geological timeline, with an average of one such event every twenty million years.
Fig. 2: Plate tectonics 101: oceanic crust is erupted at mid-ocean ridges and tens of millions of years later it is consumed at subduction zones. Graphic: jg.
Plate tectonics has over the years been particularly involved with what goes on at existing plate boundaries such as subduction zones and mid-ocean ridges (fig. 2), where magmatism is highly focussed. However, LIPs reflect another set of processes altogether, where vast amounts of mantle-derived magma make it to the surface within plates. They have played a significant role in the development of the hypothesis of great plumes of hot rock and magma occurring deep in Earth's mantle, which create localised "hotspots" that occur irrespective of tectonic plate boundaries and are the sites of major, within-plate eruptions over millions of years. That there is still much lively (and at times acrimonious) debate concerning the Plumes Hypothesis, including postulated alternative formation-mechanisms for LIPs, need not concern us here. That LIP events occurred and how they affected the biosphere is our focus.
Pollution from volcanoes
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of pollution is as follows: the presence in or introduction into the environment of a substance which has harmful or poisonous effects.
Harmful or poisonous effects depend on the physical and chemical properties of any one substance. Substances are widely variable in their toxicity in terms of concentration. Carbon dioxide, essential to photosynthetic plantlife, has other properties which, at higher concentrations, make it dangerous. As a strong greenhouse gas, any substantial increase in its atmospheric levels over a matter of a few centuries make it a pollutant because of the impacts of rapid climate change. At much higher levels it becomes an asphyxiant – a gas that kills by displacing air, thereby causing suffocation, as tragically evidenced in 1986 at Lake Nyos, in Cameroon. Here, the magma underlying the floor of an old volcanic crater-lake gives off carbon dioxide, with which the lake water becomes super-charged. At depth, the pressure of the water-column above keeps the gas stably dissolved in the water. However, any triggering mechanism that suddenly forces a lot of that deep water upwards to shallow levels where that confining pressure is absent can cause it to explosively degas. In the 1986 event, a large cloud of carbon dioxide burst forth from the lake. Due to its relative density, it rolled along the ground, displacing the air as it did so. Over 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock died from asphyxiation in nearby communities. Like many substances, carbon dioxide is best taken in moderation.
All subaerial volcanic eruptions blast out gases and ash into the troposphere and in some cases the stratosphere. The most important volcanogenic gases are water vapour, carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide and halogen compounds such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride.
Of these, only carbon dioxide can contribute to global warming over a geological timescale because of its centuries-long atmospheric residence time (the time it takes natural processes to remove most of it again). At present, global volcanogenic carbon dioxide emissions are calculated to be up to 440 million tonnes a year. This can usefully be compared to human carbon dioxide emissions of (in 2014) 32.3 billion tonnes a year – ours are presently two orders of magnitude greater than those from volcanoes. LIP eruptions are another matter: the entire Siberian Traps LIP eruptive cycle is estimated to have produced thirty thousand billion tonnes of carbon dioxide. Bearing in mind the residence time of carbon dioxide, if eruptive events are continuous or closely-spaced enough to keep recharging the atmosphere with it, a long-lived warming effect would occur.
Sulphur dioxide's greenhouse gas abilities are somewhat stunted as it tends to form sun-blocking sulphate aerosols (suspensions of fine solid particles or liquid droplets in a gas) that have a net cooling effect. Unless an eruption is powerful enough to inject a lot of the gas up into the stratosphere (where sulphur compounds may also cause damage to the ozone layer), the cooling effect is short-term – just a year or two, by which time the sulphate has mostly returned to the surface, dissolved in rainwater and thereby giving a short-term acid rain effect where that rain falls. Stratospheric sulphate aerosols have effects lasting for a few more years, but unless they are continuously supplied then the system recovers to its pre-eruption state. Additionally, because of the way that Earth's airmasses interact with one another as a result of the planet's rotation, gases have to be injected into the stratosphere from a relatively low latitude if they are to be spread on a truly global basis. So a pattern emerges of a steady global warming due to increasing carbon dioxide with shorter, often more regional punctuations along the way in the form of sulphate-induced cooling.
Water vapour quickly cycles back to the surface as rain, bringing with it (in addition to the sulphate) the volcanic ash out of the troposphere. The halogen compounds likewise acidify that rainfall and at higher local concentrations make it directly toxic. Halogen compounds injected into the stratosphere also cause ozone layer damage.
Historically, there are several good examples of problems caused by major eruptions causing short-term atmospheric pollution. A good example is the eight-month long fissure-eruption of Laki, which began in June 1783 in Iceland (a mere 15 cubic kilometres event). Apart from vast amounts of lava, Laki released an estimated 122 million tonnes of sulphur dioxide, fifteen million tonnes of hydrogen fluoride and seven million tonnes of hydrogen chloride. The effect was to leave parts of the Northern Hemisphere shrouded in an unpleasant fog for several months. The acidic, halogen-rich haze and resulting toxic rains were highly damaging to terrestrial life in Iceland, Europe and North America. Livestock mortality in Iceland was over 50% and a quarter of the island's population perished in the resultant famine.
Fig. 3: Extinction magnitude through the past 400 million years plotted against the age and estimated original volume of large igneous provinces. Continental flood basalt LIPs are shown as black bars, while oceanic plateau basalt provinces are shown as gray bars. Abbreviations: D = Devonian; C = Carboniferous; P = Permian; Tr = Triassic; J = Jurassic; K = Cretaceous; T = Tertiary; CAMP = Central Atlantic magmatic province. Figure is adapted from Bond & Wignall, 2014.
Killers and non-killers
The geological timeline of the Phanerozoic (part of which is shown in fig. 3) is marked by a number of LIP events. A few seem to have had little impact on planetary life, especially the oceanic plateau basalt provinces (perhaps underwater eruptions have different outcomes?); some are linked to moderate extinctions and some are linked to major mass-extinctions. Why this variability and what makes a LIP event a killer?
Fig. 4: potential kill-mechanisms associated with Large Igneous Provinces. Graphic: jg.
Several factors are clearly critical in determining the outcome of a LIP event. The state of the biosphere and climate prior to an eruption – how stressed the systems are – must be important. Any occurrence of other global-scale events coincident with a LIP eruption – such as a large asteroid impact – would only make things worse. But the most important factor must surely relate to the "three D's" – the distribution, duration and degree of pollution.
Distribution, duration and degree of a pollution event depends on frequency and intensity of eruptive events (the pollutant supply) and the residence times of the pollutants involved. Continuous or very frequent intense events over tens of thousands of years would not only provide sufficient pollutants but give them adequate time to be spread globally at dangerous levels. On the other hand, continuous low-intensity eruption over a similar time may not raise levels of pollutants to harmful values, or perhaps only do so on a regional basis. Low frequency LIP eruptions occurring over longer timespans may still yield vast volumes of lava, but the low frequency allows ecosystem recovery in between eruptions. Therefore, it is possible for some LIPs to have had little more than local effects whereas in others the global ecosystem has been almost completely overwhelmed.
Now we have had an overview of LIPs and their effects, we can look at a specific example in Part Two with the end-Permian mass-extinction, how it occurred and its links to the Siberian Traps LIP – and its significance compared to the pollution caused by modern-day human activities.
The following paper, available online, is an excellent overview of LIPs and their role in specific extinction events – it also has an exhaustive list of references for further reading.
Bond, D.P.G. and Wignall, P.B. (2014): Large igneous provinces and mass extinctions: An update. In: Keller, G., and Kerr, A.C., eds., Volcanism, Impacts, and Mass Extinctions: Causes and Effects: Geological Society of America Special Paper 505.
Posted on 19 March 2015 by John Mason
Part Two: the Siberian Traps and the end Permian mass extinction
With more than 90% of all marine species and 75% of land species wiped out, the end Permian mass extinction was the worst biosphere crisis in the last 600 million years. The extinction was global in reach: almost all animals and plants in almost all environmental settings were affected. An idea of the severity can be visualised by considering that the time afterwards was marked by the beginning of a coal gap lasting for ten million years: coal-forming ecosystems – i.e. forests – simply did not exist for that time.
The onset of the mass extinction coincided with the main part of the eruption of the late Permian Siberian Traps Large Igneous Province (LIP), 251.9 million years ago (Ma). It contains what may be the largest known volume of terrestrial flood basalt in the world. Estimates vary but they start at volumes of at least 3 million cubic kilometres of igneous rocks that were erupted onto and intruded beneath the surface during the event. There are some much larger volume estimates that take into account "missing" erupted rocks since eroded away and the likely ratio of intruded to erupted rocks. Either way, as eruptive cycles go this was one of the biggest ever.
At the same time, there was a dramatic perturbation to the global carbon cycle, involving the injection of enough carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to triple the pre-existing levels and raise temperatures substantially. There were severe problems with other pollutants: acid rain, soil erosion, algal blooms and ocean acidification and anoxia all took a dramatic toll on life on land and in the seas.
That the Siberian Traps eruptions, the greatest of the Big Five mass-extinctions and carbon cycle havoc all happened in broadly the same geological timezone suggests they may not be unrelated. However, coincidence is not necessarily cause. For example, what if the extinction occurred a million years before the Traps were erupted?
To resolve such key questions we make use of high-resolution radiometric dating and biostratigraphy – the precise study of changes in the fossil record over a geologically short and age-constrained time-frame. This post takes a look at the latest advances in research concerning the extinction event and how it unfolded, and then goes on to see how it compares to what we are doing to the planet. It's not exactly good news.
Fig. 1 (above): Earth at the time of the end-Permian mass extinction, 252 million years ago. Re-annotated from Christopher Scotese' Palaeomap Project.
Fig. 2 (below): Modern-day Asia with the vicinity of the Siberian Traps (see fig. 3 for details) outlined in red.
Constraining time: the Siberian Traps, the mass-extinction and zircons
Getting the exact timing of the Siberian Traps and the mass extinction nailed has long been a major goal of the Earth Science community. In recent years, such age-constraint has materialised, since precise radiometric dating of rocks has come along in leaps and bounds. The sedimentary rocks in the type sections for the Permian-Triassic boundary, in China, have long been scrutinised in depth, their individual beds numbered, their sedimentary characteristics described and their micro and macrofossils catalogued layer upon layer, so that the precise point in the sequence where the extinction occurred has been well-defined.
Fortuitously, there are also beds containing volcanic ash within the critical Chinese sequence. These yield tiny crystals of the mineral zircon, which is zirconium silicate. Zircons may be dated using high-precision methods that exploit the radioactive decay of uranium (a trace element in zircons) to lead. The technique of U-Pb dating, as it is known, involves (in a nutshell) separating out the zircons from a sample of rock – a painstaking process – and through analysis, dating them. Then repeat with the ash-bed above, and the one above that, and so on. As a result of the dating, it is now thought that the onset of the main extinction was at 251.941 +/- 0.037 Ma and its duration was less than 61 +/- 48 thousand years.
Fig. 3: Geology of the Siberian Traps LIP. The main outcrops of lavas, tuffs and intrusive rocks are shaded green. Basalt lavas that are known or suspected to be buried at depth are shown in red. The estimated limit of the Siberian Traps LIP is indicated by the dotted line. After Saunders & Reichow, 2009.
Zircons are rare in basaltic rocks such as those found in the Siberian Traps, but there are some rocks there from which they can be obtained. The overall subaerial sequence in the Traps (fig. 3) is an early pyroclastics formation – smashed rock and ash formed by explosive volcanic activity, overlain by up to four kilometres of basaltic lava flows. Between some of the lava flows there occur thin felsic tuffs, silica-rich rocks whose precursor was volcanic ash, which do contain zircons. Using new data based on those zircons, the eruption of the Siberian Traps LIP commenced with explosive magmatism and pyroclastic deposition between 255.21 +/- 0.37 Ma and 252.24 +/- 0.12 Ma. Eruption of lava-flows was from then on sustained until 251.904 +/- 0.061 Ma, giving a maximum period of 300,000 years or so for a large part of the lava production. A hiatus then followed for some half a million years before activity recommenced in some areas and kept going until 250.2 +/-0.3 Ma, into the earliest Triassic. It is clear that by the point of the onset of the mass-extinction, a huge quantity of products had been erupted.
Carbon cycle disruption
So: we have the large part of a LIP eruption in the 300,000 year long lead-up to the extinction interval and over it, and we have the extinction itself. What other lines of evidence might connect the two things as being more than coincidental? Firstly, something dramatic happened to the global carbon cycle (the complex system by which carbon is exchanged between organisms, soils, rocks, rivers and oceans and the atmosphere) at precisely the same time. It became grossly overloaded.
Variations in the carbon cycle on Earth are recorded by changes in carbon isotope ratios through time. Carbon has two stable isotopes, carbon 12 and carbon 13, occurring in a ratio of about 99:1. They are partitioned in natural systems: plants, be they mighty trees or lowly green algae, preferentially use carbon 12 in photosynthesis. Things eat plants and thus the resulting isotope shift in favour of carbon 12 is spread up though the food chain. Where the plants and the remains of that food chain end up preserved in the geological record – for example as coal, limestone or other fossil material – they will carry that same, "light" carbon isotope ratio. If the coal is then burned, forming carbon dioxide, it will add that light carbon to the atmosphere and, in due course, to the oceans.
Now, the lead-up to the Permian-Triassic boundary (fig. 4) coincides with a major, negative carbon isotope excursion, lasting for over 500,000 years, of 4 parts per thousand (from +3 to a typical earliest Triassic value of −1‰), as measured in both marine carbonates and organic material. Superimposed on this negative trend there was, during the descent from positive to negative values, a much briefer even more negative spike (from +2 down to −4‰). The spike marked the onset of the extinction itself and, including its subsequent rebound, it had a duration of between 2,100 and 18,800 years. It is so distinctive that it serves as a marker-horizon all over the world, pinning down the start of the extinction-interval even in sedimentary rocks that are unfossiliferous.
Fig. 4: the type section of the Permian-Triassic boundary in southern China, showing the dated ash-beds, the extinction interval and the carbon isotope record from the time including the dramatic, negative spike at the onset of the extinction. After Burgess et al, 2014.
To change, in its entirety, the isotopic ratio of the vast quantities of carbon dissolved in the world's oceans by this amount, requires a massive perturbation to an already-perturbed carbon cycle. It would need the injection, to the atmosphere, of a vast amount of isotopically light carbon. The changes in carbon dioxide levels at the time have been estimated using the stomatal leaf index in fossil plants and isotopic studies of fossilised soils. From around 2300ppm in the late Permian the levels jumped to as much as 7832+/-1676 ppm at the time of the extinction – a trebling. Where could that extra carbon dioxide have come from?
To begin with, it has been estimated that the entire Siberian Traps LIP eruptive cycle produced thirty thousand billion tonnes of carbon dioxide directly from magmatic outgassing. However, mantle-derived carbon dioxide is not that light, which makes it difficult to reconcile as the single source responsible for the isotope excursion. One suggested solution to that problem is that the recycling of subducted oceanic crust into the pre-eruption magma added a lot of lighter carbon to the mix. If that was the case then the eruptions could – perhaps – better account for the isotopic excursion.
Another quite credible solution involves the liberation of huge quantities of isotopically light carbon dioxide and methane as a consequence of the heating and combustion of coal and petroleum. Such gases are referred to in the literature as "thermogenic", meaning that they were produced by heating stuff. There's an awful lot of coal in the Middle Carboniferous to Lower Permian sedimentary rocks that underlie the Siberian Traps. Beneath that there exists an older Palaeozoic sequence of rocks that includes a great thickness of Cambrian evaporite beds (mostly rock-salt – sodium chloride and anhydrite – calcium sulphate) and associated significant concentrations of oil and gas. Deep pathways for both intruding and erupting magma would have passed up through the evaporites and coal deposits alike, baking them (liberating carbon-based gases) and also bringing coal mixed with magma up to the surface (where it would immediately combust – fig. 5). The explosive nature of such combustion has been calculated to be sufficient to push the eruption-plume up into the stratosphere. Evidence for coal combustion has been discovered in the form of particles closely resembling coal fly-ash in a Permian-Triassic boundary sequence in Arctic Canada. Back then the area was at a similar latitude to and downwind from Siberia, and although other workers have suggested the material could be char from wildfires, which may produce similar particles, comparison of the particles with those making up modern fly-ash shows that they are identical in structure.
Evidence for major gas release associated with the Siberian Traps LIP is present in the form of thousands of hydrothermal vents – deep-seated pipe-like pathways to the surface taken by superheated mineral and gas-rich water – developed in the rocks situated above sills and other intrusions. Some of them are actively mined for the minerals that they contain. Each vent represents a degassing location with surface expressions at the time of the activity in the form of geysers and fumaroles. Hydrocarbon gases such as methane and halogen-bearing compounds like methyl chloride would have been the main products: methane would of course oxidise quickly to carbon dioxide once reaching the atmosphere. It has been estimated that these processes could have added as much as 100,000 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Fig. 5: Schematic showing the interaction of magma and coal seams in the Siberian Traps. Now multiply this in your minds eye by many times and you have what it was like there in the late Permian. After Ogden & Sleep, 2012.
Methane clathrate destabilisation has also been invoked, but with little real evidence in contrast to the volcanogenic and thermogenic sources outlined above: given that both of those scenarios are entirely plausible, it's probable that they both had a role to play. Now, just try to picture the scene at the height of these eruptions. Numerous volcanoes with lava fountains continuously on the go and great lava flows spilling out over the landscape for as far as the eye can see. Towering eruption-plumes of black sulphurous smoke, lightning-riven and merging into a hellish dark canopy stretching over the horizon. In between the volcanoes, bubbling, reeking fields of fumaroles, with clouds of steam and every now and then the whoosh as another explosive geyser shoots skywards, and another and another. Siberia at the height of the Traps eruption would have been like Mordor on steroids.
Kill-mechanisms on a polluted Earth
Unsurprisingly, a variety of kill-mechanisms have been proposed for the end-Permian mass extinction, mostly linked back in one form or another to the Siberian Traps. There is good evidence pointing to a rapid, dramatic increase in marine and terrestrial temperature. Decreases in the oxygen isotope ratios of shallow marine limestones indicate that seawater temperatures across the extinction interval rose by as much as 6–10°C. Studies of ancient soils occurring in terrestrial sedimentary rocks of the same age are consistent with this finding. Problems arising from repeated massive injections of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere would tend to persist over much longer timescales than those caused by other pollutants simply because of the long atmospheric residence time of carbon dioxide. With eruptions taking place even a century or so apart, CO2 levels would be recharged often enough to provide a net atmospheric gain on each occasion.
There is also evidence of severe disruption to ocean chemistry. The calcium isotope records of marine carbonate rocks and of calcium phosphate minerals that preserve conodonts (teeth-like microfossils) have recently been studied at one of the key sections in southern China. Both reveal a negative excursion over the extinction interval. Such parallel negative excursions in both carbonate rocks and conodont calcium phosphate cannot be accounted for by a change in carbonate mineralogy. However, they are consistent with a negative shift in the calcium isotope ratio of seawater, something best accounted for by ocean acidification.
Supporting that assertion is the fact that marine animals suffered significantly different levels of extinction which depended on two key things. These were firstly their requirements for carbonate ions in constructing their skeletons and secondly to what extent they were capable of buffering (controlling) the pH within their cells and maintaining efficient respiration under more acidic conditions. Poorly-buffered forms with the highest need for carbonate ions, such as some corals, were hit hardest; forms whose carbonate ion requirements were minimal fared much better. The generic extinction rates of the two groups at each end of the spectrum of resilience were 86% against 5% respectively. The bottom line is that if you have a skeleton or shell made out of calcium carbonate and the ocean at the depth at which you live turns a bit too acidic (meaning its pH is reduced too much), you are stuffed.
The Traps also gave out huge quantities of sulphur (6300-7800 billion tonnes), chlorine (3400-8700 billion tonnes) and fluorine (7100-13,600 billion tonnes): it has been suggested that these figures may even be an underestimate. Stress inflicted on terrestrial plants by repeated episodes of acidic and toxic rainfall was doubtless a part of the problem. Sulphur dioxide, forming sulphate aerosols in the upper atmosphere, can lead to abrupt albeit short-term cooling and also the impairment of photosynthesis due to partial blocking of sunlight – a so-called “volcanic winter”. However, given the high latitude at which the Siberian Traps eruptive cycle occurred, this would not have been a global effect. For stratospheric pollutants to be spread globally, they need to be introduced closer to the equator, where upper air circulation spreads them towards both poles. More regionally, atmospheric conditions would have ameliorated over a few years as the sulphate returned to Earth in acidic rain, with the climate returning to its hothouse state.
The effects of manmade acidic rain have been studied widely, albeit in modern ecosystems. Prolonged influxes of rain-introduced sulphate and other acidic compounds lead to the leaching of essential bioavailable minerals such as calcium, potassium and magnesium from soils and the spread of the acidity into stream systems: in depleted soils, the trees are affected immediately. Conversely, aluminium gets converted into a bioavailable form, which causes serious disruption to a number of plant metabolic processes. Acidic rainfall of a prolonged nature clearly causes severe ecological damage. Plant community die-off leads inevitably to habitat-destruction and food-chain collapse.
The removal of plant communities over wide areas has other serious effects. Plants bind soils together and act as a physical barrier to their erosion. Take a lot of those plants away and the soil is defenceless. Evidence points to a change in river characteristics at the time, from slowly meandering systems running between vegetated banks to bleak, braided gravelly channels of the type which dominated the land surface for the hundreds of millions of years before plants colonised it. There was an abrupt influx of land-derived sediment into the sea at the time, burying shallow, limestone-forming sea-beds all around the world. The rocks record major soil-erosion to have continued for some time after the extinction itself, a sure sign of the lasting nature of such environmental damage.
Increased soil removal by rainfall and rivers led in turn to increased nutrient flux to the sea, causing marine algal blooms and the consequential development of "dead-zones", extensive areas of ocean anoxia. There exists abundant isotopic, geological and biological evidence for widespread hypoxia or anoxia in marine sediments spanning the Permian-Triassic boundary from all around the world. In anoxic conditions, sulphate-reducing bacteria are able to thrive: liberating hydrogen sulphide as a metabolic product, they can produce a condition termed euxinia, meaning sea water with a high sulphide concentration, and toxic to many other marine creatures. Euxinic conditions do occur in today's oceans, but are localised and mild. It has even been suggested that euxinia became so widespread at all depths in the end-Permian oceans that it reached the surface, outgassing to the atmosphere. Atmospheric hydrogen sulphide at concentrations of more than 500 ppm can make you very unwell very quickly: never take anyone seriously who says that gases occurring in trace amounts are by definition harmless.
Fig. 6: Clobbered from all sides – the many kill-mechanisms at work in the end-Permian environmental disaster. Graphic: jg.
We may not be able to travel back in time to see what actually happened at the end of the Permian, but we continue to gather the evidence. As Gimli famously remarks in the second part of Lord of the Rings, "No sign of our quarry, but what bare rock can tell!" Today, the rocks are giving up more and more information about past conditions with each passing decade. In the case of the end-Permian, they point to wild temperature swings, acidic rainfall, dead plant communities, massive soil erosion, toxic, acidified seas (fig.6): in other words, the biosphere was clobbered from all directions, repeatedly.
Are we creating the same issues now?
There seems little doubt about it: a massive volcanic episode like the Siberian Traps, volcanism unlike anything Humanity has witnessed, has the potential to create a massive and multi-faceted pollution event on a global scale, with deadly serious consequences for climate, land and ocean chemistry. Could modern human activities have the same effect?
There are a number of differences between Earth today and in the late Permian: some work in our favour and some not.
Firstly, although the late Permian already had a Hothouse climate with high carbon dioxide levels, it is not the absolute levels of CO2 that matter so much: rather, it is the rate at which they change. The rate of emissions in the end-Permian episode, as witnessed by the carbon isotope-spike at the point of the extinction, exceeded the ability of both oceans and biosphere to absorb them. The result was environmental catastrophe. So even though we're not starting with the same conditions as the late Permian, we can't take too much comfort from that fact.
Secondly, geography: in the late Permian there were no polar ice-caps and continental configuration was quite different with landmasses mostly lumped together in the Pangaea supercontinent. End-Permian sea-level rise would have involved thermal expansion alone: in this case we are at greater risk because there are major ice-caps available to melt.
Thirdly, it is thought that late Permian ocean circulation was sluggish, making it easier for anoxic conditions to develop than is the case now with our generally well-mixed oceans.
Fourthly, the sulphur dioxide released by the Siberian Traps volcanism has no modern anthropogenic equivalent. Our sulphur dioxide emissions peaked at ca. 130 million tonnes a year in the 1980s when treaties were agreed to limit pollution from them and the trend is gradually downwards. Compared to the estimate for the Siberian Traps (6300-7800 billion tonnes), one can see that even a century of human emissions at peak levels would still be orders of magnitude less.
An estimated massive (100,000 billion tonnes) carbon dioxide release is thought to have been responsible for the dramatic carbon isotope-spike accompanying the extinction. Let me make this plain: such a spike cannot be generated without something of a drastic nature happening that involves a lot of carbon. The underground cooking of hydrocarbon-bearing evaporite and coal-bearing rock sequences by hot magma has been convincingly blamed for at least part of the release. So how does it compare to our CO2 emissions of ca. 32.3 billion tonnes a year? The late Permian carbon isotope-spike lasted some 2,100 to 18,800 years. Let's round off the figures to make them easier to see in the mind's eye: 2000 to 20,000 years. On the 2000 year scale, to produce a carbon dioxide burp of this magnitude, 5,000 billion tonnes would need to be emitted per century: on the 20,000 year scale it would take 500 billion tonnes per century. That's the range. Our emissions, if they carry on at the present (2014) rate? 3,230 billion tonnes per century. The conclusion is stark: we are outgassing carbon dioxide at the same (or greater) rate as a Large Igneous Province whose overall effects killed most of life on Earth at the end of the Permian.
Late Permian volcanism and associated mass extinction took place, it is thought, over a maximum of several tens of thousands of years. Our self-inflicted environmental changes, assuming for one dreadful moment that we don't get cracking and do something about them, are occurring over a few centuries. The kill-mechanisms may differ slightly from the end Permian events because of the differences outlined in the paragraphs above, but the most likely cause of any future large-scale extinction is nevertheless clear: prolonged environmental stress caused by widespread pollution. Extinction-level events occur when changes to the environment's physical and chemical properties occur on too widespread and rapid a basis for many species to successfully adapt or migrate. If anyone can think of a better incentive to clean our act up than that, let's hear it.
This is not an exhaustive list but the findings in these papers (obtained via Google Scholar) are all incorporated in the above account. The new radiometric dates are the work of Burgess and colleagues. For a good general account of LIPs and their effects, the Bond and Wignall paper is a good place to start.
Benton, M.J. and Newell, A.J. (2014): Impacts of global warming on Permo-Triassic terrestrial ecosystems. Gondwana Research 25, 1308–1337.
Bond, D.P.G. and Wignall, P.B. (2014): Large igneous provinces and mass extinctions: An update. In: Keller, G., and Kerr, A.C., eds., Volcanism, Impacts, and Mass Extinctions: Causes and Effects: Geological Society of America Special Paper 505.
Burgess, S.D., Bowringa, S. and Shenb, S. (2014): High-precision timeline for Earth’s most severe extinction. PNAS, vol. 111, no. 9, 3321.
Burgess, S.D. (2014): High-precision U/Pb geochronology of large igneous provinces and mass extinctions : testing coincidence and causation. Ph. D. thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.
Dobretsov, N.L., Kirdyashkin, A.A., Kirdyashkin, A.G., Vernikovsky, V.A. and Gladkov, I.N. (2008): Modelling of thermochemical plumes and implications for the origin of the Siberian traps. Lithos 100: 66-92.
Grasby, S.E., Sanei, H., and Beauchamp, B. (2011): Catastrophic dispersion of coal fly ash into oceans during the latest Permian extinction: Nature Geoscience, v. 4, p. 104–107.
Hinojosa, J.L., Brown, S.T., Chen Jun, DePaolo, D.J., Paytan, A., Shen Shuzhong and Payne, J.L. (2012): Evidence for end-Permian ocean acidification from calcium isotopes in biogenic apatite: Geology, v. 40, p. 743–746.
Kump, L.R., Pavlov, A. and Arthur, M.A. (2005): Massive release of hydrogen sulfide to the surface ocean and atmosphere during intervals of oceanic anoxia. Geology, v. 33, no. 5. p. 397–400.
Ogden, D.E. and Sleep, N.H. (2012): Explosive eruption of coal and basalt and the end-Permian mass extinction. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciiences USA 109(1): 59-62.
Retallack, G.J. and Jahren, A.H. (2008): Methane Release from Igneous Intrusion of Coal during Late Permian Extinction Events. The Journal of Geology, volume 116, p. 1–20
Saunders, A. and Reichow, M. (2009): The Siberian Traps and the End-Permian mass extinction: a critical review. Chinese Science Bulletin, vol. 54, no. 1, 20-37.
Schobben, M., Joachimski, M.M., Korn, D., Leda, L. and Korte, K. (2014): Palaeotethys seawater temperature rise and an intensified hydrological cycle following the end-
Permian mass extinction. Gondwana Research, Volume 26, Issue 2, 675-683.
Self, S., Schmidt, A. and Mather, T.J. (2014): Emplacement characteristics, time scales, and volcanic gas release rates of continental flood basalt eruptions on Earth Geological Society of America Special Papers, 505. 319 – 337.
Sephton, M.A., Looy, C.V., Brinkhuis, H., Wignall, P.B., De Leeuw, J.W. and Visscher, H. (2005): Catastrophic soil erosion during the end-Permian biotic crisis: Geology, v. 33, p. 941–944.
Sephton, M.A., Jiao, D., Engel, M.H., Looy, C.V. and Visscher, H. (2015): Terrestrial acidification during the end-Permian biosphere crisis? Geology, v.43, p 159-162.
Sobolev, A.V., Sobolev, S.V., Kuzmin, D.V., Malitch, K.N. and Petrunin, A.g. (2009): Siberian meimechites: origin and relation to flood basalts and kimberlites. Russian Geology and Geophysics 50, 999–1033.
Svensen, H., Planke, S., Polozov, A.G., Schmidbauer, N., Corfu, F., Podladchikov, Y.Y., and Jamtveit, B., 2009, Siberian gas venting and the end-Permian environmental crisis: Earth and Planetary Science Letters, v. 277, p. 490–500.
This of course is a completely different theory than the previously accepted idea that the Dinosaurs bit the dust resultant from and Asteroid Collision.
Interestingly enough, numerous scientists have taken this as evidence that "Pollution" was the cause of Dinosaur Extinction, just in this case said Pollution came from natural Earth Processes which burned up a lot of stored Carbon and caused the various cascading effects we observe now, this time as these scientists believe because of the Anthropogenic burning of fossil fuels.
Can you really call it pollution though if the Earth itself does this periodically? Apparently, it is part of the Earth's cycles to periodically burn up all the Carbon that the life forms store up over time. Not a whole lot different than forest fires, just on a much longer time scale.
There is little doubt that forest fires like this put Gigatons of CO2 up into the atmosphere when they light up, like they are in Alaska as I write this article.
Large wildfires in the western United States can pump as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in just a few weeks as cars do in those areas in an entire year, a new study suggests.
As forest fires devour trees and other plants, they release the carbon stored in the vegetation into the atmosphere.
Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the University of California used satellite observations of fires and a model to estimate just how much carbon dioxide is released based on the amount of vegetation that is burned. The results of the study are detailed in the online journal Carbon Balance and Management.
Why is it so hard to believe that Volcanic Activity, which sources energy far greater than that available at the surface of the earth could not be emitting far more Sulfur into the environment and far more heat than that possible either by Homo Sap bunring fossil fuels or Wildfires going off? There are many cycles involved here with both the Earth and the Sun that we do not know how they work or on what time scale either. The sun itself can emit more or less energy on a periodic basis. Ice Ages come and go on a periodic basis. If you accept the theory that geotectonic forces caused the Extinction of the Dinosaurs, what was it that set off those forces? Until you can explain these phenomena, you can't simply ascribe all the effects we see these days to anthropogenic causation and the burning of fossil fuels, although this no doubt is also a contributing factor.
Besides not knowing precisely how much Sulfur gets ejected each year by subsea volcanoes, there is also no means to determine precisely how much heat the Earth radiates through the crust directly beneat the Ocean. Today, you might sink down some sensors which could measure that, but you have no historical reference point for it. You don't have sensor readings from 1975 to compare with, and you certainly do not have readings from the PETM to know how hot the ocean floor was then. The only thing you really can compare are the gross morphological changes which occur with really big earthquakes and/or volcanic eruptions, and the latter mainly limited to eruptions that occur on land based Volcanoes, not subsea ones. So this is a difficult theory to quantify, which is probably one of the reasons your typical scientist won't touch it with a 10 foot pole.
What just about no Climate Scientist will do these days is attribute Climate Change to anything BUT Anthropogenic Causation. Why is that?
Primarily I think it is because there is a huge political component involved here, and because many of these scientists are also folks who are disgusted with the damage that industrialization has brought to the planet, which is extensive regardless of whether it is the principle cause of climate change or not. Even in the absence of climate change, Industrialization has turned most of the planet into a sewer, and it's only getting worse every day. So they blame Homo Sap for everything, and won't even consider the idea that perhaps the Earth is going through another of it's geological cycles where the core heats up, increased earthquakes and vulcanism result from that, and burning of stored Carbon and melting Clathrates results in turn from that.
What this evidence DOES show however is that even if you burn up virtually all the Carbon available to the Ecosphere (a thin layer of the earth that goes from a few miles below sea level to a few miles above), the Earth system never seems to progress to runaway Venusian style Global Cooking, but rather plateaus out at around 12C+ above the current average global temperature, at 22C.
22C is equivalent to ~72F, which is quite a survivable temp for both Homo Sap and the plants and animals he feeds on. Besides that, it is an AVERAGE Global Temp, and the Temps at the higher latitudes are likely to be a good deal lower than that. So just on the basis of Global Warming, it is quite a stretch to say that a 4C rise in Global Average Temp will destroy all habitat and make it impossible for any Homo Sap to survive anywhere.
This of course does not take into account the many other things which threaten the long term survival of Homo Sap, including all the Nuke Puke out there and the distinct possibility of a Disease or many diseases with high infection rates and high mortality rates may develop during the spin down. Both of these are probably likely, but neither is likely to completely wipe Homo Sap off the map on a 20 year timeline as Guy McPherson promotes, or even on a Century long timeline. For an extinction level event to go that fast, you really would need the Planet Killer Asteroid, not even Yellowstone going Ballistic would do it across the whole globe.
Is this Good Newz? Yes and No. No, it's Bad Newz because even without going Extinct in 20 years, the kind of population knockdown we are set up for here and looks close to unavoidable is absolutely HORRIFIC. It's hard to imagine how any survivors will cope with such a vast and rapid change, along with all that death surrounding them, even spread out over a Century.
The Good Newz is that this is HIGHLY unlikely to cause the Extinction of ALL life on Earth in the near or even medium term, although in the long term this is guaranteed when the Sun Goes Red Giant (or actually a bit before that). Beyond that, it's unlikely Homo Saps and Sentience gets wiped out that fast either, and we have some chance to rebuild for a Better Tomorrow, at least those who make it through the Zero Point may have such an opportunity.
In the meantime, you basically have two choices here, which are:
1) Give up Hope, go into "Hospice", Roll Over and DIE (the NBL Philosophy)
2) Maintain Hope, Never Give Up, Never Say Die, Keep on Going through Hell until you get to the Other Side, Never QUIT until the Fat Lady sings for you. (the Diner Philosophy)
If anybody has reason to opt for Door #1, I do. I'm a mess, and have lived longer than I should have already. But I am NOT GOING TO QUIT! I will FIGHT TO SURVIVE for as long as I can, because the purpose of living is just to live for most creatures. For Sentient Creatures, there is one more Imperative, which is to learn as much as you can before you Cross the Great Divide. Every additional minute you stay alive is one more minute you can learn something, and come that much closer to Eternal Truth before you pass into the Great Beyond.. What happens after that remains an Impenetrable Mystery, but it seems highly unlikely to me that it is all meaningless and without any purpose, and while alive you try to figure that meaning & purpose out to the best of your ability.
Then you die, and something else happens.
SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE
Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
Published on From Filmers to Farmers on June 2, 2015
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Manufactured Fake Shit
The Dr. Pooper Papers, Issue #2:
While it would be nice to think that in times before the industrial era that farming was a wholly benevolent practice, the truth of the matter is that similar to today, agriculture actually began with annual monocultures.
Nonetheless, there did emerge over the millennia various farming methods and practices of which were adapted to the unique and sometimes changing conditions of their particular places. Likewise, many different practices have been employed by many different cultures in order to maintain fertility of the land.
Those people of the Far East, as described by F.H. King in his (1911) book Farmers of Forty Centuries: Organic Farming in China, Korea and Japan, meticulously made efforts to return all organic materials back to the soil: food scraps, animal manures, straw, as well as night soil (human waste). As King put it,
when I asked my interpreter if it was not the custom of the city during the winter months to discharge its night soil into the sea, as a quicker and cheaper mode of disposal, his reply came quick and sharp, "No, that would be waste. We throw nothing away. It is worth too much money." In such public places as railway stations provision is made for saving, not for wasting, and even along the country roads screens invite the traveler to stop, primarily for profit to the owner, more than for personal convenience.
Similar-minded practices include growing certain crops with the specific intent of plowing them back into the ground to reinvigorate the land with organic materials, while others, to varying degrees, have drawn upon outside sources to supplement fertility.
The most enormous and ancient of these off-farm additions has been the annual flooding of the Nile River, carrying along with it nutrients emanating from far-off mountains and the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. These nutrients ended up adding to flood plains that farmers planted into as far away as Egypt, until, that is, the Aswan Dam came along and ruined that "free lunch."
Somewhat differently, many cultures have purposefully gone out of their way to collect various nearby materials to add to the fertility of the land. When WWOOFing in New Zealand 10 years ago I helped a friend collect huge wads of seaweed from the beach to be applied and added to the fertility of his garden (a practice partaken by those of the British Isles for centuries now), and I even WWOOFed with one couple who, believe it or not, claimed to collect roadkill to add to their compost piles.
But with a demographic shifting from rural areas to enlarging cities some 20 or so years ago due to various facets of the Industrial Revolution, a growing amount of mouths in cities needed to be fed by a shrinking amount of hands on the land. And with farming turning into more of a profit-seeking venture by absentee landlords than a way of life for those closer to the land, pressures were being put on the land for maximum extraction. In other words, the highest levels of efficiency were sought after, which has generally meant cutbacks on the costliest "input" â€“ human labour.
Monumental changes were thus spurred to take place via the addition of industrial off-farm "inputs" â€“ solidified bird excrement (guano) being the first â€“ which enabled farming to transform away from the practice of nutrient recycling into that of nutrient importation, and which had the side-effect of making consumers out of farmers.
For it was over in South America that massive 10-50 metre deep deposits of guano existed on the Chincha islands off the coast of Peru, the result of a lack of rainfall which would have leached the nutrients out into the sea. As a result of the demands put upon the land by the new and unsavoury farming mentality, commercial shipments of this guano then began to be exported to the United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries in the early 1840s, peaking at a rate of nearly 600,000 tonnes per year in the late 1860s.
It is worthwhile to note however that while some farmers were eager to pay (and rather expensively) for this off-farm fertility, others, who had a responsible ethic leaning towards self-sufficiency, eschewed the guano and saw nothing wrong with the continued use of crop rotations as well as their labour intensive on-farm salvaging of manures from their own barns and pastures.
But regardless of those who made do without, what had been a resource used by Peruvians for thousands of years became plundered, exported, and exhausted in a mere six decades.
Furthermore, and with an uncanny resemblance to the atmosphere surrounding the present-day situation with oil, events quickly turned into a state of flux. As Vaclav Smil described it in his book Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production, there similarly existed
rising prices in an oligopolistic market, fears of resource exhaustion, attempts at price controls, the U.S. government getting involved in schemes of armed intervention, [and] American entrepreneurs… rushing to explore and exploit new deposits on tiny islands and reefs in the Caribbean and in the Pacific.
As the guano supplies inevitably began to dwindle, various other minor sources of industrial-scale fertilizer began to be utilized. However, all of these couldn't come near to meeting the growing demand that agriculture was increasingly becoming reliant on due to the new land practices, and incessantly growing urban populations.
It was in 1909 then that the German scientist Fritz Haber appreciably pulled off what William Crookes had been calling for a decade earlier (mentioned in my previous post), essentially the creation of fertility in the laboratory. With the process later adapted to a larger scale via the assistance of the BASF chemist Carl Bosch, what had been devised was a process whereby atmospheric nitrogen was combined with hydrogen derived from fossil fuels to create ammonia (NH3), roughly 33,000 cubic feet of natural gas (today's predominant feedstock) currently required to create one ton of fertilizer.
To this day the ammonia provided by the Haber-Bosch method accounts for 99 percent of all synthetic nitrogen fertilizers added to our soils every year â€“ some 150 million tons, equal to that of all naturally derived sources â€“ which means that roughly 40 percent of humanity (about 3 billion people) owe their continued survival to the process (and which is why some call it the most important invention of the twentieth century). Along with mined phosphorous and potassium, these products make up the bags of petrochemical NPK fertilizer that one sees on store shelves with the three digit combinations (10-1-5 for instance) and which end up on our suburban lawns and golf courses, and in a greater scale, on our crop fields under the guise of "plant food."
However, just as there are limits to growth, limits to oil extraction levels, and so forth, there are limits to petrochemical fertilizers. A time will come when, much as occurred with guano, supplies will reach their peaks and other means of fertilizing the land will be required. There is, however, no next bonanza of easily sourced fertilizer supplements to tap into.
In other words, if the land is to be expected to bear food, then ecological means of maintaining its fertility will be required. This includes, but is not restricted to, crop rotations, the application of composted food scraps, and, very un-21st century-like, the application of livestock manures and human wastes to the land.
Since animals in the industrial agricultural system are raised on CAFOs (concentrated animal feedlot operations), this means that their manures are too concentrated in individual locations to have any economically viable chance of being spread across the land far and wide. This implies that small mixed farms will have to become the norm, where manures will generally only need to fall a few feet before they reach their required end-point.
As if that weren't daunting enough of a transition, the return of nutrients to the land via human wastes is a whole other issue. With the current corralling of people into ever more crowded and packed urban centres, it might be said that our modern cities are the human equivalent of CAFOs. Nonetheless, it would be nice if the question was simply: How do we get all those human wastes to the land? But that's far from the case, particularly when it's not only hard enough to broach the topic of industrial collapse amongst polite company, but when talk of human feces is generally taboo.
Whatever then can we do?
Well, I hate to say it, but could it be that the dark arts of advertising may come to our rescue? Back in 1928, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, Edward Bernays, published his controversial book Propaganda, his treatise on "the scientific technique of shaping and manipulating public opinion." In it, Bernays recounted that
in the manufacture of American silk, markets are developed by going to Paris for inspiration. Paris can give American silk a stamp of authority which will aid it to achieve definite position in the United States.
Did it work? You betcha!
The result of this… was that prominent department stores in New York, Chicago, and other cities… tried to mold the public taste in conformity with the idea which had the approval of Paris. The silks… gained a place in public esteem.
One can't help then but wonder â€“ could Paris do for American shit what it did for American silk?
Regardless of the chances of that happening, we need to begin to realize the importance of returning human wastes to the land. And for that to happen, a reimagining of the saying "money makes the world go round" might be a good place to start.
As explained in a previous post of mine, money is a proxy for energy. Therefore, it might be closer to the truth to say then that it is actually energy that makes the world go round.
However, as we are not simply energetic beings but rather corporal beings of a biological nature, it can perhaps be said then that not even energy makes the world go round. For us humans who require sustenance â€“ not simply energy â€“ to feed ourselves, to grow, etc.; and since the maintenance of the land â€“ and thus manure â€“ is required to allow for the conditions for that possibility, it might be more useful if we got down to the nitty gritty of it all and called a spade a spade. And by that I mean one thing and one thing only:
Shit makes the world go round.
Off the keyboard of td0s
Published on Pray for Calamity on January 5, 2013
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Solving a problem relies first upon a trustworthy identification of the problem. This can be easy with simple problems, like a flat tire. It can be extremely difficult with complex problems such as climate change or the social ills of poverty and exploitation. It should be a no brainer that complex societies create complex problems with not one but various strands of the root establishing any particular issue. Most analysis that gets peddled by the architects and shills of the dominant culture is usually lacking in comprehensive diagnosis. This was summed up famously by H.L Menken when he said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
In our culture, it is not uncommon for positive outcomes of a system or arrangement to be credited widely to the culture as a whole. This is evident for me any time I try to have a discussion about the destruction wrought by a culture dependent upon industrialism and technology. Those who have never questioned the society in which they live immediately point out medical advances, knowledge of the cosmos, communications technology, etc. as these pinnacles of human development and existence, as if these inventions and discoveries are the new floor for human existence which we can never again sink beneath. These advances are attributed to democracy and capitalism, and the theme becomes, “Industrial capitalism may not be perfect, but it has given us a standard of living once unfathomable, and there is no conceivable reason to not only retain these developments, but to continually expand upon them.” This is bundled in a word; “progress.”
There is a very intentional paradox that comes into play if the problems created by industrial civilization’s “progress” are trotted out. Poverty for instance, is often blamed on the individual who struggles with it. Staunch defenders of capitalism will nit pick the minutiae of decisions and habits of each individual poor person who ever dares associate their condition with overall social or cultural architecture. The resounding lie is that anyone can rise on the economic ladder should only they work for it. This lie is successful because on it’s face, it appears true. Anyone could become rich. But not everyone could become rich. Not everyone could be middle class. Capitalism requires a struggling underclass that can be forced through social conditions and laws into taking low wage work. Low wage work is the majority of the work available within a capitalist paradigm, and thus it requires a majority of people to be trapped in a social condition which will leave them no option but to undertake this work.
Arthur Young, an English writer and pamphleteer of the mid and late eighteenth century wrote, “Everyone but an idiot knows that the lower classes must be kept poor, or they will never be industrious.”
Poverty is a necessary condition of capitalism. How an individual navigates this poverty is in part up to them, but they do not create the condition, and they do not create the other social parameters which stem from it.
Social conditions from access to education, housing, and food, quality of medical care, level of policing in one’s neighborhood, race, perceived gender or sexual orientation, access to a clean environment, etc. will all play a role in the development of the individual from the time they are a newborn, or even in utero. Black children raised in a poor urban community with a high crime rate, lack of grocery stores, and lower quality education will clearly have a disadvantage economically relative to upper middle class white children who attend higher quality schools and eat a more balanced diet. This should be obvious. When the disadvantages manifest as individual inability to escape poverty, or as criminal behavior or drug addiction, the blame is always place squarely and solely on the individual.
In Dr. Bruce K. Alexander’s paper, “The Roots of Addiction in a Free Market Society” it is argued that the dislocation caused by capitalist society is a major factor causing addictive behavior. He writes:
“[D]islocation is the necessary precursor of addiction. … [F]ree markets inevitably produce widespread dislocation among the poor and the rich. As free market globalization speeds up, so does the spread of dislocation and addiction. In order for ‘free markets’ to be ‘free,’ the exchange of labour, land, currency, and consumer goods must not be encumbered by elements of psychosocial integration such as clan loyalties, village responsibilities, guild or union rights, charity, family obligations, social roles, or religious values. Cultural traditions ‘distort’ the free play of the laws of supply and demand, and thus must be suppressed. In free market economies, for example, people are expected to move to where jobs can be found, and to adjust their work lives and cultural tastes to the demands of a global market.”
Alexander goes on to reference specific native tribes in North America removed from their lands and stripped of their cultures and he directly links their high incidences of addiction to this dislocation. What his paper clearly lays out, is that social problems have social causes.
Whenever a person in the US snaps and goes on a rampage with a firearm, the society that created that individual is rarely implicated, and never implicated with any level of seriousness. Such implication would have serious ramifications for the ego and identities of those who support the dominant culture. It would also create a condition of responsibility society would then be compelled to address through altering it’s internal parameters. To ignore the culture that creates the psychosis, nihilism, and other mental and emotional disfunction prerequisite to waltzing into an elementary school with a rifle and murderous intent is to essentially declare that the occasional massacre of children or movie patrons is OK, a necessary evil of our otherwise high and glorious “way of life.” Instead of the culture taking responsibility for the monsters it creates, guns are blamed, whether an abundance or a lack.
The scope with which most social critique is attended is variable depending on the desired outcome. A macro view is applied to hide the blood in the cracks, a micro view zoomed in on the individual whenever the culmination of a sociopathic culture of death results in an individual acting out this cultural psychosis in a socially “unproductive” way. Should Adam Lanza or James Holmes had joined the Marines and manifested their violent sociopathy in an Afghan village or from behind the controls of a CIA drone attacking weddings in Pakistan or Yemen, we would likely never have known their names. People would clap for them as they walked through an airport in their fatigues.
No doubt, the prescription psychotropic drugs both Lanza and Holmes were taking affected their behavior. I do not think this is contrary to the thinking that the dominant culture generated their psychosis. In fact, I think it proves the point. More and more people in the US are taking prescribed anti-depressants and anti-psychotics. The numbers are one in five men, and one in four women are taking these mind altering drugs. If industrial civilization and capitalism provide such a wonderful “standard of living;” if this way of life is the pinnacle of human existence, why does almost a quarter of the population require a drug to make them feel better about it? Add in the number of people who drink alcohol or smoke marijuana, and it’s likely that a large majority of the population needs to achieve an altered state of consciousness on a regular basis merely to cope with the daily requirements leveled on their shoulders by this society.
But if we zoom out, we see happy shoppers and smiling twenty somethings taking “selfies” by the thousands.
If we cannot identify the cause of a problem, we will not likely solve the problem. If depression, addiction, and poverty, or even cancer, pollution, and climate change are viewed with the improper lens, these problems with social and cultural roots will always be attacked at the individual level. Individuals are blamed for their addictions. Individuals are blamed for their poverty. Individuals are even blamed for their cancer, and treatment is always about the individual, never prevention of the spread of toxins which cause it. This blame will not always sound like condemnation, harsh and critical as the blame attached to poverty, because cancer crosses class and race demographics. White grandmas get cancer, so we won’t be mean about it. But illness prevention is offered through individual diet, individual exercise, never through a social change that bans coal fired power plants, the creation and ultimate incineration of plastic, or the use of sodium nitrite in meat. Of course individuals can do their best to maintain their health and fitness. But we cannot not breathe in the dioxin or glyphosate in the air.
Even in the case of climate change and ecosystem collapse, what are the solutions proffered by capitalists and purveyors of the dominant culture? Individual reduction in consumption. Individual bicycling. With this focus on the individual behavior, corporate profits are safe and anyone who raises the alarm about ecological destruction and climate change can be attacked for their lifestyle impurity while the message itself drowns under screams and howls decrying the use of a car or computer by she who raised the alarm. I suffer this madness regularly both as a writer who publishes my work online, and as a direct action activist who has used a pick up truck to transport the materials and people into forests where tree sit campaigns blockaded the construction of tar sands infrastructure. Never mind the basic equation that I’d be willing to burn one million barrels of oil if it were able to prevent the shipment and ultimate burning of several hundred thousand barrels of oil per day for the next decade or two. Never mind Jevon’s paradox and the fact that conservation of oil by one individual only results in extra consumption by another who takes advantage of increased supply. The idea that the solution to a problem with global reach and social, economic, and cultural underpinnings rests entirely on the individual is patently absurd and intellectually lazy.
Striking one’s gaze in an intentionally overly broad or overly minute direction is an obfuscation employed regularly by the media, politicians, and others who have a vested interest not in solving problems, but in perpetuating them and profiting off of false solutions. A recent study demonstrated that two thirds of the emissions responsible for climate change are generated by ninety companies globally. According to the author of the study:
“There are thousands of oil, gas, and coal producers in the world, but the decision makers, the CEOs, or the ministers of coal and oil if you narrow it down to just one person, they could all fit on a Greyhound bus or two.”
The implications of the study are fascinating and grabbing headlines, but I fear there is a reductionism in the reactions to the study, as a complex and global problem which has not one taproot but many roots that stretch and meander in various directions, is being described as something that can be halted by focusing on a busload of individuals. To be sure, the power of these individuals is great, and I in no way want to diminish the negative impact of the decisions these people daily make. Financing climate change skepticism, altering media coverage through advertising and influence, and regularly seeking investment for new coal, oil, gas, bitumen, and kerogen projects is absolutely disdainful behavior with globally deleterious ramifications. These individuals and these companies should be pressured and punished respectively. But lacking a cultural and social shift away from capitalism and antiquated profit and domination based definitions of “progress,” such pressure and punishment will ultimately prove ineffective at solving our penultimate problem.
We look at our bodies and we see flesh. If we look at them under a microscope, we can see our tissues are comprised of cells. A little more zoom and we can see the organelles within the cell. Building those organelles are compounds comprised of molecules which are in turn built of atoms which consist of variously charged particles, themselves containing quarks and on and on possibly to infinity. If we turn the device around and look outward we see that our planet exists within a solar system, spiraling around a galaxy, itself but one small galaxy housed within a universe of billions of galaxies which itself may be housed within a larger super universe that might be nothing but a quark within God’s cat’s butt. This is all to demonstrate that scale and scope offer perspective, but the perspective is meaningless without context of where it resides within the whole.
Mechanistic thinking and reductionism was a product of the enlightenment period In this time, the conceptualization of the Earth as a living entity was diminished. It is commonly known that indigenous cultures looked to the Earth as a living entity with spirit and flesh and consciousness. Even the ancient Greeks and Renaissance Europeans held such views, surprising as this may seem. Of course, cultures varied in their interpretations of how this was to play into their behavior, but the predominant response was that as a living Mother, the Earth must be respected, and her resources must be harvested and utilized consciously and with care.
This view of a living universe, with even stars and planets as living and conscious entities was stripped away during the so called “enlightenment” period. Carolyn Merchant writes eloquently on this transformation in cultural concept and it’s disastrous results for ecology:
“Whereas the medieval economy had been based on organic and renewable energy sources–wood, water, wind, and animal muscle–the emerging capitalist economy was based on nonrenewable energy–coal–and the inorganic metals–iron, copper, silver, gold, tin, and mercury–the refining and processing of which ultimately depended on and further depleted the forests. Over the course of the sixteenth century, mining operations quadrupled as the trading of metals expanded, taking immense toll as forests were cut for charcoal and the cleared lands turned into sheep pastures for the textile industry. Shipbuilding, essential to capitalist trade and national supremacy, along with glass and soap making, also contributed to the denudation of the ancient forest cover. The new activities directly altered the earth. Not only were its forests cut down, but swamps were drained, and mine shafts were sunk.”
The rise of Francis Bacon’s scientific method came hand in hand with new cultural understanding. The Earth was dead, inert, without life or feeling. The Earth and nature were impediments to an increase in human “standard of living.” Belief systems which held the Earth to be a living and sacred mother to be tread upon delicately and with care were obstructions to progress and wealth accumulation.
“The removal of animistic, organic assumptions about the cosmos constituted the death of nature–the most far-reaching effect of the scientific revolution. Because nature was now viewed as a system of dead, inert particles moved by external rather than inherent forces, the mechanical framework itself could legitimate the manipulation of nature. Moreover, as a conceptual framework, the mechanical order had associated with it a framework of values based on power, fully compatible with the directions taken by commercial capitalism.”
“The emerging mechanical worldview was based on assumptions about nature consistent with the certainty of physical laws and the symbolic power of machines. Although many alternative philosophies were available (Aristotelian, Stoic, gnostic, Hermetic, magic, naturalist, and animist), the dominant European ideology came to be governed by the characteristics and experiential power of the machine. Social values and realities subtly guided the choices and paths to truth and certainty taken by European philosophers. Clocks and other early modern machines in the seventeenth century became underlying models for western philosophy and science.”
While civilizations based upon exploitation and expansion predate the thinking of Bacon, Decartes, and their contemporaries, these “enlightenment” thinkers founded a nihilism which became the cultural basis for an exponential increase in the rapacious destruction of the living Earth as well as the destruction of people’s and cultures which refused to adopt such methods of thinking and behaving.
This mechanistic view, this selective lensing of poverty, addiction, disease, and psychosis has the elites of money and privilege singing the praises of the dominant culture and maneuvering the levers of power for ever more of the behaviors and policies that are bringing about these maladies while never solving them. Viewed as merely cogs in a grand social machine, individuals suffering poverty and addiction are told to shape up or be removed into a cage where defective cogs are isolated.
Humans globally now stand on the precipice of catastrophe. Mechanistic approaches to food production have boosted short term yields at the expense of long term soil health and fertility. Despite water now tainted with glyphosate and phosphorous and soil stripped of the organic material which provides fertility, scientists are genetically modifying plants and trees to continue raising production yields despite common sense screaming that dominating nature is shortsighted and priming society for an agricultural collapse. Human attempts to manipulate nature under the mechanistic view that one part can be destroyed without affecting the whole continue to fuel climate change even as storms of record size and ferocity make landfall across the globe and as the jet stream is skewed bringing extremes of cold and hot into regions both south and north of their usual boundaries.
The ability to view the world holistically is not merely the ability of the grand scientist or mathematician who can compile and compute all of the variables in a system and spit out an accurate prognosis of a given issue or problem. As our ecological and social problems beg for holistic approaches, society instead seeks more and more compartmentalized “experts” who have spelunked into the deep caverns of their niche specialties. Hence the economists who don’t understand peak oil, the business people who don’t understand climate change, and the doctors who treat the symptoms, never once seeking the causes of various diseases and conditions.
The holistic ability this era craves is wisdom, itself the product of patient and caring people, listeners and observers who understand where the value of science and logic both begin and end. Wisdom is rare, it is quiet, it is humble, and thus is almost never even requested let alone respected by the dominant culture.
“Progress” is the grand value of the day. It is to be unquestioned. No endangered species or human culture is allowed to stand in the way of progress — not even if that endangered species is the human animal herself. It was a demented and flat thinking culture that wrote the definition of progress which is now vaunted, and if there is any hope for humanity I don’t think it’s hyperbole to suggest that this hope at least partially resides in a redefining of “progress.” New widgets, wealth accumulation, and the bending of nature to the whims of the capitalist should not by default be considered progress. More often than not these contrivances do not advance the comfort or position of but a minority of the human population, and they do so on the backs of the poor majority. More often still, such “progress” is so destructive ecologically that were it not for mechanistic reduction hiding the costs from view, one would have to be a dedicated and shareholding huckster to call it “progress” at all.
If the survival of our species and the living web we depend on is a concern at all, we must begin to understand progress as peace, not production. Progress must mean equality, not subjugation. Progress must mean sustainable stewardship, not domination and control. Most of all, we must foster the wisdom that we are all linked with each other and with the living world, and that we cannot manipulate each other or the world for a benefit in one capacity without likely causing a deficiency in another. We need to praise the slow and thoughtful analysis which attempts to understand all parts of an issue. Where the living planet is concerned, we must understand that our meddling has consequences that multiply themselves in seen and unseen ways, thus meddling should be kept to a minimum and undertaken with grave attention.
The scale of human industrial activity is so large and it’s rate of process so fast, that such a revolution in consciousness seems unlikely absent some cataclysm which halts the furious pace of capital flow. To be sure, the cataclysm is waiting in the wings. Whether or not the challenges it brings are met with true progress of the mind and being is to be seen.
Off the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
Published on The Daily Impact on May 21, 2015
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Our friends at the Doomstead Diner (they frequently repost Daily Impact essays) have caused a bit of an uproar among doomers — their term for people who believe the crash of industrial society is imminent — by conducting a poll on whether and when all humanity will be extinguished by the collapse. The Human Extinction Survey immediately revealed strong differences and strong feelings among the doomers surveyed. Just a few years ago it was controversial in the extreme to raise the prospect of collapse; now the idea is moving to the mainstream but wait, extinction? Yikes.
Questions determine their answers. While I am interested in this topic and wanted to participate, I found the survey questions didn’t offer the choices I would make in discussing it. So instead of selecting from the offered alternatives, I offered the following:
I’m not sure I believe in the extinction of people. Civilizations, yes, and this industrial one is surely doomed. But people endure. The Anasazi (Chaco People) are still with us, as the Navajo (Dine). We still have Aztecs and Mayans, although their civilizations crashed. Hell, I even have dinosaurs running around in my yard, we call them chickens now. Soak a cow with broad spectrum antibiotics, spray a field with pesticides, bomb a battlefield till the rubble bounces — there are always survivors.
I agree that a near-extinction event is in the offing. When it will happen and how many people it will leave behind are, it seems to me, both unknown and unknowable, so I don’t concern myself with marking my calendar or setting my alarm clock. What makes sense to me is to do everything I can to maximize my family’s chances of getting through to the other side, and then we’ll see what we see.
It has been my observation during 30 years or so of reporting on the environment that industrial humans have always underestimated two things: the harm they are doing to the natural web of life; and the power of the natural world to heal itself when the harm is stopped.
It bears remembering, I think, that the world’s best scientists have been pretty consistently wrong in their appraisals of climate change. Not, of course, on the questions of whether it’s happening or whether humans caused it, those have been answered beyond any reasonable doubt. But they have been wrong about the speed of its onset and its severity in the short term. This is not meant as a criticism of scientists, it is only to observe that no one is ever going to be completely right in predicting the behavior of a system as enormous and complex as the global climate. So it seems appropriate to me to listen with respect to the arguments of those who now predict imminent extinction, as I hope they will respect this layman’s response: It ain’t necessarily so.
All my life I’ve made a distinction between the Utopians the the Pragmatists. Utopians put great effort into designing the world as it should be and then trying to herd the rest of us into it. Whether they design a best-of-all-possible world, or a dystopian world, same process. Pragmatists try to fix what they can reach, wherever they find themselves, and do not concern themselves with picturing how the world would look with everything fixed (or broken). They know it is beyond them. Count me a pragmatist.
We all know that each of us is going to die — when, where and how, we cannot know. Yet the inevitability of death does not deter us from finding meaning and fulfillment in the time we have. Nor does our lack of knowledge prevent us from trying to ensure a decent afterlife, whether through religious zeal or cryogenics or something else. Even if we are convinced we are all going to die together, say on an August afternoon in 2019, we are still obliged, it seems to me, to live until then according to our values.
It has never been up to us to decide whether our lives are meaningful, or worthy. Life is its own meaning. Our duty is to see it through as well as we can.
SURVEY SUBMISSIONS TO DATE: 277
Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on May 17. 2015
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Early on when I began my journey into the World of Collapse, probably the biggest and most contentious issue that got kicked around on the Collapse forums and blogs was whether the monetary system would collapse in Hyperinflation or Deflation. In fact here on the Diner itself this remains one of the most popular threads, with more than 30 pages of posts at this point.
Lately however, the Doom community has become more Doomerish, and what is being kicked around now is whether Homo Saps are bound for Extinction, not in some long distant future but in the Near Term. In fact, some folks like Guy McPherson of Nature Bats Last are predicting this Extinction Level Event will occur as early as 2030, only 15 years down the line from present day. Obviously, if you are in the process of going Extinct, the monetary issues pale before that one! LOL. For the purposes of this survey though, we will consider anything under a Century as "Near Term".
In an effort to get a better clue on what people think will occur here (and WHEN!?) as we move along the Collapse Highway, I worked up a little Survey utilizing yet another of the numerous Plugins I have installed lately to spruce up the Diner before I Buy My Ticket to the Great Beyond TM. 🙂
Before you take the Main Survey, if you haven't done so already here on the Diner, you may want to place yourself in on our Taxonomy of Doomer Types Survey. If you have already done this survey before, don't do it again, it will skew the results. I haven't got a way yet to stop Duplicates out by User. I don't want to require email addys or any identification for these polls, as I think that would discourage readers from responding to them.
I came up with this taxonomy back in my days Blogging on The Burning Platform with Jim Quinn. I had just 2 categories for it back then, now I am up to 4 with it. Here's the old table though for some descriptions. This goes back to 2011 BTW.
|Dollar & Monetary System||We can fix the monetary system and rehabilitate the Dollar if we STOP PRINTING, feed Helicopter Ben to the Lions, Slash Spending, allow TBTF Banks to FAIL, Incarcerate the Criminal Banksters and use Precious Metals to underpin the currency.||The monetary system cannot be rehabilitated by any means, there will be a complete collapse of ALL Fiat money and financial instruments and commerce will for quite some time be mainly Barter. PMs will only retain value in areas where there is a surplus of basic commodities.|
|Inflation, Hyper-Inflation, Deflation, Stagflation, DICK UP YOUR ASSFLATION||WTF CARES ANYMORE? WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES.||WTF CARES ANYMORE? WE ARE TOAST NO MATTER HOW IT COLLAPSES.|
|Energy||To resolve our Energy problems, we must IMMEDIATELY begin building more Nukes, Drill Baby Drill for more Local Oil and build more Hydro Plants and Wind Farms, and eventually pick up the slack from lost energy from Imported Oil sources.||Lost Energy from depleted Oil is Irreplaceable and it is far too late to stop an extensive Power Down throughout society which will halt most of our Transportation methods and bring down the Electrical Grid. Our only choice is to prepare for a Low Energy footprint in the future.|
|Goobermint||We can fix Da Goobermint if we Vote Out all the scumbag CONgress Critters and replace them with Honest Politicians who cannot be Bought who all demonstrate the Wisdom of the Founding Fathers and abide by the Constitution. Said new Goobermint will be made much smaller with fewer Regulations and less Taxation, allowing Commerce to revive as the Free Market takes over.||Da Goobermint is inherently unfixable and corrupt and cannot be rehabilitated via the Ballot Box. Only a Revolution can remove the current power structure, and the results of a Revolution will likely bring a new Goobermint as bad or WORSE than the current one. The failure of the monetary sytem and energy systems will eventually render all large scale Goobermints unable to function, with the power vacuum filled by local Warlords and Dictators in most places.|
|Jobs||We must stop the offshoring of Productive Jobs and rebuild our Manufacturing Base in order to build an export based Mercantilist economy with a Trade Surplus.||The Industrial Model is FINISHED, even if we could rebuild Factories here in the FSofA, we wouldn’t have the Oil to run them anyhow, and there won’t be anyone here or abroad who could afford the products we build with them anyhow, because of the upward spiraling cost of energy measured in EROEI.|
|Immigration||We must Seal the Borders and deport all Illegal Aliens and get FSofA Citizens to work at all the scut jobs at below Minimum Wage they currently fill to reduce Unemployment and reduce the liabilities of Aliens who are soaking up free Medical Care in the Emergency Rooms of our Hospitals.||We can TRY to seal the borders and deport the Illegal Aliens, but they will just be replaced by more home grown Citizens who are falling off the economic cliff and will be just as big a drain on the Medical System. Besides that, at least on the Border with Mejico, it will likely create an ever growing Shooting War with a Tsunami of Wetbacks seeking to escape an even worse situation in Mejico.|
|Imperialism & Foreign Wars||We must STOP trying to be the World’s Policeman, bring all our Boys & Girls HOME and reduce the outrageous COST of maintaining the Big Ass Military.||As soon as we STOP running all our Imperialist adventures, we will basically be CUT OFF from the Foreign Oil still making its way across the Sea Lanes to our Refineries. We also will crash just about the only type of “productive” thing we build here anymore, which are the Weapons of War and we will bring back a whole new crew of people to put on the Unemployment line.|
|Free Shit Army & 30 Blocks of Squalor||We must end all transfer payments, all Welfare, Social Security and Medicaire which are all unfunded Liabilities we cannot afford. Former Welfare recipients will be FORCED to go back to work and become Productive Citizens rather than Useless Eaters. Old Folks will rely on their Savings and their Extended Families to take care of them in their dotage.||The minute we knock down all these social support mechanisms is the minute we turn into Egypt or Libya or all the rest of the 3rd World countries where the people with Nothing Left to Lose go BERSERK. We don’t HAVE jobs these people could do, even if they were qualified to do any job, which they are not for the most part. Most Old Folks have no savings, and the Extended Family died back in the 1950s for the most part. The Medical Industry as a whole would COLLAPSE without Goobermint input, putting the Doctors, Nurses and Medical Records folks on the UE lines also.|
|China will succeed long term because they are net creditors, have most of the Industrial infrastructure and have more Science and Math geniuses studying at Elite Universities.||China is TOAST because of outrageous Population Overshoot, a depleted Water Supply, insufficient arable land and insufficient local supplies of remaining Fossil Fuel energy.|
||Boomers should be EXTERMINATED||Pigmen should be EXTERMINATED|
The latest Compact Description of each of the new categories is below, and you can go HERE to take that Survey if you have not done so already. However, don't navigate away from this page until you take the Survey below, which is much more comprehensive.
Tell Us How you Categorize Yourself
Off the keyboard of td0s
Published on Pray for Calamity on November 29, 2013
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Part 1 of a Conversation with td0s
For those unaware of my biases going into this piece, I would like to lay them bare. For one, I believe human industrial activity is destructive to life globally, through the addition of toxins to ecosystems and organisms, to deforestation, climate change, etc. I believe that unless human industrial activity is halted, the mass extinction that this activity has already set underway, will cause ecosystem collapse and likely human extinction as well.
I also believe that human political systems and economic systems have been designed to contain within them no “legal” means of dismantling them. This is to say for instance, that the U.S. government as it is laid out does not contain a legal and accessible path for the so-called citizens of the United States to unmake the U.S. government. The only power “citizens” of the United States have is to vote (so long as they have not been convicted of a felony, are not in prison, have a valid address, and are above the age of eighteen) for politicians and to ask these politicians to act in a certain manner. One cannot vote to end the U.S. government. One cannot vote to abolish the congress or the presidency, etc. This is the bind most people find themselves in around the globe. National governments are allied in purpose and practice with capitalist business enterprises which all seek to exploit the natural world and the labor of the masses for profit.
If the premises I laid out are true — that human industrial activity is destructive to life on Earth, and that this activity is supported and promoted by governments which cannot by any “legitimate” methods be unmade — then people who struggle against this system must break the law; that, or acquiesce to the fate laid out for them. My personal preference is the struggle, and this has been a topic of discussion lately in more and more mainstream circles. Even actor Matt Damon, reading a speech by deceased historian Howard Zinn on civil disobedience, recently aired this conclusion.
In radical anti-capitalist circles, the system at large which combines state and private wealth, force, and power is often referred to as “the machine.” It is an apropos description in that interworking human organizations are a technology of sorts, and that as in a machine, no one part is responsible for the machine’s total behavior, yet each part is necessary for it to function.
If the situation we find ourselves in which I described above is accurate, where then in this machine should those who resist it, strike? Which “gear” as it were, would be the most vulnerable to pressure, allowing those who would fight to save the living planet and human dignity even a remote chance at success?
Often, in conversation at various levels, the “consumer” is blamed for the ills of the world. It is the “consumer” who drives demand for petroleum products. It is the “consumer” who purchases sweat shop labor products from low wage paying big box retailers. This is the argument put forth by those who sit in the upper echelons of the social hierarchy, blaming those in the classes beneath them for “demanding” that corporations set out to drill new deep water wells in the ocean or blow up the mountaintops that sit above coal deposits.
It’s not surprising that those who are rewarded handsomely for sitting in a controlling position at a corporation that is responsible for massive ecological damage would shift the responsibility from themselves to those who ultimately buy their products. It’s more disheartening when those who are themselves a part of the underclasses of society accept this blame and hand it out horizontally.
What this myth of consumer responsibility actually accomplishes is not only to create a self-chastizing public that refuses to apportion responsibility to those who actively decided to engage in destructive practice, but it also generates a motive to seek products that are supposedly less harmful in their creation. This is the force behind “green capitalism.” With this mode of thinking in place, capitalism is safe to continue on it’s way, and the masses who are concerned with the continually growing pace at which ecosystems are destroyed will be convinced that the solution is not in resistance to capitalism, but is in fact on a store shelf waiting to be purchased. This is of course, ludicrous.
Capitalism has as it’s founding motivation, profit. Profit requires growth. As all production is sourced in the natural world, growth necessarily requires larger and larger swathes of the natural world be destroyed so they can be made into commodities to be sold for profit. It doesn’t matter at all if the cars coming off of assembly lines are hybrids, they still require vast mining operations to access the raw materials from which they are made, they still require energy drawn from fossil fuels to be assembled and distributed, they still require for construction a vast workforce fed by mono-crop petroleum based agriculture, and they still require a large quantity of purchasers who acquire the currency for said purchase through labor in the growth based paradigm.
The argument placing the bulk of the responsibility for the destruction of capitalist enterprise on the “consumer” (in quotes because I do not find it wise to condense people to beings whose sole function is to consume) is absurd for a multitude of other reasons. The most glaring, is that not purchasing a product will not necessarily make it disappear. Vegans and vegetarians could easily contest to the fact that their refusal to purchase meat hasn’t actually shut down a single slaughterhouse or feedlot. Their choice to abstain from purchasing product from an industry they despise may make them feel better, but it is not harming that industry. Also, certain industries are backed financially by the state. As airlines have found themselves less and less financially stable over the past decade, the U.S. government has stepped in to keep them afloat. The arms industry is another great example of this. Consumers do not buy depleted uranium munitions, fighter jets, or nuclear missiles, yet they exist in great numbers. The corporations that produce them reap billions and never once have to concern themselves with public perception. The same is true with petroleum companies who receive billions of dollars in subsidies from the U.S. government. If a massive boycott were to commence against oil companies, the U.S. government would deem them “too big to fail,” and would step in and support them financially, as the U.S. government itself is dependent upon a petroleum driven military apparatus and economy.
Less obvious, is that the organization of society itself requires that people utilize certain products in order to survive, primarily, petroleum. Using the U.S. as a template, before petroleum the physical layout of towns and cities was far different than it is today. Mostly due to the age of oil, the creation of the highway system, and with the implementation of zoning concepts, people’s lives and the necessities of life became more and more spread out geographically. The homes were built in one place, the food was grown in another place, and the jobs where people could labor to acquire currency were in another place. A reliance on cars and semi-trucks (a reliance intentionally manufactured by for profit entities such as Standard Oil, General Motors, and Firestone Tire with the aid of government) has built in a requirement for people to depend on the internal combustion engine. Even living in an urban area, where one may predominantly ride a bicycle (ignoring for a moment where that bicycle came from) the food people eat is grown an average of fifteen-hundred miles away from them on petroleum dependent farms, and trucked about the country until it reaches their nearest grocery store. This is true for the clothing they wear, the water they drink, the medicines they take; it all comes from somewhere else and becomes accessible to them via a hydrocarbon. This was a system designed for maximum profit, and no “consumer” can un-design it. To abstain from it would mean death, or at least destitution. The destitute fall victim to the police.
Even if we pushed on our “consumer” and barked, “Go live in the woods if you want to stop the machine of industrial capitalism! Stop supporting it!” Where would they go? Capitalism has sliced and diced all the land and sold it to those with access to capital, or the state has taken it for their own, so they can slowly sell it to industry. There is no place one can legally, permanently settle without first acquiring capital, which requires participation in the system. Not to mention, the surface water is now all poisoned with agricultural run off, mercury from coal fired power plants, etc. so even attempting to live in national parks, hiding from the park staff becomes mostly untenable, and leaves one prey for the state.
It is extremely common for people who have come to recognize the many political, economic, and cultural calamities we face to believe solutions will come from the top of the social hierarchy. The status quo meme is that by pressuring those with political and economic power, the masses can influence the decisions made in governments and businesses for the better. While this may occasionally be true on small issues, these issues are usually symptomatic of the greater malaise of industrial capitalism, and thus they are band aid measures only. If we are talking about actually taking apart the power structures that are rapidly bringing us closer and closer to our demise (and simultaneously existing on a foundation of human misery) then appealing to those in power is pointless. If they had any conscience to appeal to, they likely wouldn’t be actively making unconscionable choices to begin with. Beyond that, even from within the system the system cannot be demolished. The President does not have the power to unmake the executive branch of government. The congress cannot — and would not — abolish capitalism. It’s silly to even pontificate on how the rich and powerful would decide that they should no longer be rich and powerful, let alone go through the process of making this delusion a reality.
So where does this leave us? If the individual’s lifestyle choices have no ability to dismantle industrial capitalism, and if even the people who hold high offices in either state or capital cannot (and absolutely would not) dismantle industrial capitalism, then are we to believe that there is absolutely no method by which this destructive system can be dismantled? That does not seem possible. Systems of human organization are constructs that exist in human minds only. These constructs are made to seem real by the violence perpetuated against those who violate the edicts of the system, but they are indisputably imaginary. We cannot accept that the systems humans invented are permanent and fixed and we are resigned to allow them to play out to their cataclysmic conclusions.
The police, I would like to offer, are one of (if not the) largest obstacles to dismantling the overarching systems of state, capital, and culture which we must remove and replace if we are to survive, and to survive with dignity. I suggest this because without the police the system of capital could not stand. As it exists now, the world is extremely stratified as far as wealth and access to resources are concerned. Obviously, the wealth gap between the west and the global poor is enormous to the point of being disgusting. Even within the west, the wealth gap is quite significant we all know. This wealth gap is maintained they will say, by law, and law is maintained by the force of police and the penal system. I may be belaboring this point, but for a very specific reason, namely that my stated premise at the outset of this essay is that there is no legal method of dismantling the political or economical systems. At the very bottom of our understanding we must embrace the conclusion that the law must be broken, and that the police are the primary hurdle to strategic law breaking.
During the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement, multiple attempts were made across the United States to occupy not only parks, but buildings. in other words, to move the struggle from public space (which was still met with violence) to “private property.” The most notable attempt to occupy “private property” was arguably Occupy Oakland’s attempt to occupy a vacant convention center with the intent to create a community center to house the homeless, among other goals. The police in Oakland, working on behalf of the local government in one regard, but working on behalf of the entire system of capitalism and “private property” in another, used swift and brutal violence to beat back would be occupiers.
It seems obvious to me that the point of fracture that must be exploited is at the level of the police. Look at any resistance movement, whether a direct resistance to the claims of the owner class, a resistance to the ecological destruction and genocide of fossil fuel extraction, or even the small and constant unarticulated resistance of life in poverty (whether squatting, stealing to survive, being evicted, selling drugs, breaking zoning laws to garden, etc.) and you will find in every instance, the police are called in to exert violence against the so called “perpetrators.” People have been throwing their bodies into the gears of the machine for generations. Whether striking coal miners and autoworkers in the early part of the twentieth century, or environmental activists who defend forests from the canopies or who set bulldozers on fire, the will to resist capitalism’s immiseration of themselves and their communities has always been and is still real and present.
What there isn’t, at least at this time, is a willingness to overwhelm the police with a greater violence than they mete out, at least not in the comfortable west. Perhaps at this time, this unwillingness to go on the attack against the police is wise. After all, the consequences of failure are severe. In time, the consequences of not going on the attack against the police may become more readily severe and thus change this attitude, but right now, other strategies to sap the police of their power should be employed.
It’s common parlance when speaking of revolution to reference the pillars of power – the ideological and social foundations which hold up any system of power – and how successful revolutions must knock out these supports. In a popular web video called “Revolution, an Instruction Manual,” that was recently released, these pillars are referenced:
“There are three stages of revolution. They are sequential, and they correlate directly with the three pillars of power. The first is the ideological revolution. This is where we undermine the belief systems which support their control, this is where we systematically erode at their illusion of legitimacy, their aura of power. We expose these criminals for the scoundrels that they are and we inspire discontent among those who the state depends on for its functioning. If you’re new to this, welcome to the party. It’s already in full swing, and guess what we’re winning. The powers that be have lost control of the dialogue, and they know it. The second phase is of the revolution is strategic non-compliance or more accurately defiance. This can take many forms, and multiple approaches can be used at the same time. The goal of strategic non-compliance is to interrupt the chain of obedience for as long as possible as many times as possible, to publicize that interruption on as large a scale as possible, to document the police and or military brutality that follows and to distribute that footage far and wide. The purpose of this is to damage the ruling party’s image, because power is all about image. It’s all smoke and mirrors.”
There have been many instances in history where leaders have been overthrown. There have been very few, if any, in which a total revolution has occurred. Rulers and politicians have been ousted, new constitutions written, but almost all political revolutions have left some form of capitalism in their wakes, including the communist revolutions which never dissolved their states, and ultimately turned to state capitalism. It should be stated though, that in the instances where governments have been toppled, it has often been the case that the police and security forces have eventually capitulated to the will of the masses, in essence, ceasing to fight them and either fighting alongside them, or stepping aside altogether. This was the case in East Germany before the collapse of Soviet Communism and it was the case in Egypt before the ouster of Mubarak. It should be noted that in the latter case, anti-Mubarak demonstrators did burn police stations, free prisoners, and take the weaponry abandoned there.
According to Mohamed Gamal Bashir, who participated in the revolution:
“Let’s not forget what happened in the days between 25 January and 28 January, this glossed over part of history,” he says. “There were constant clashes in Omraneya for example, and there were people in Talbiya trying to get to the Foreign Ministry. The fighting continued long after the political elite were tear-gassed out of the square on 25 January.” Bashir speaks of the “harafish,” whom he defines as youth with no prospects who often skirt the edge of the law. He claims that their actions led to the revolution’s success. He says that they burnt police stations in their neighborhoods in response to decades of oppression by police against the poor. “The power of this revolution came from these harafish burning police stations and from the collapse of the Interior Ministry. That was utilized by the political elites who centralized the struggle in Tahrir Square. Without this confrontation, the revolution wouldn’t have been possible, and every police station was burnt to the ground because people have been dying inside them for years.”
Delegitimizing the police sounds like a monumental task, especially in countries of privilege and propaganda such as the US. In the US, Hollywood has carried water, so to speak, for the police for the better part of a century. TV shows and films have consistently presented the police as selfless heroes, who even when they break the law only ever do so for the greater good of the innocent. Reality television shows such as “C.O.P.S.” present a narrative of law breakers never getting away from the police, which not only adds to the mystification of the role of police, but makes law breaking seem impossible to get away with. Media outlets, pundit talk shows and the like, always present police and law as sacrosanct and unquestionable, shouting down anyone who suggests that police are violent or unnecessary. Even in cases of blatant abuse and brutality, media outlets run straight faced and supposedly “level-headed” statements about investigations into said abuse, asking the public for patience while the facts of the case are brought to light. Usually, after such statements in which police higher ups defend actions of brutality as “justified,” the case is swept from public view and the offending officer is returned to station.
Again, confronting the police then in the US and similar states not only means confronting their truncheons, but confronting their image. Cop watching is an amazing tool in this regard, as more and more people post to the internet videos of police acting out violently. But this is not enough. It’s not enough to witness abuse of power if it is not contextualized. The media, doing the work of the social hierarchy, will always blanket the police and their actions no matter how egregious under the context which preserves the system. Derrick Jensen describes this very well in EndGame with his fourth premise:
“Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.”
The long and short of this premise is, “Cop hits you, he gets away with it. You hit cop, you do time.” There may be no immediate way to eliminate the legal consequences of defending oneself against a police officer, but the social context which surrounds this premise can change with concerted effort.
We must also acknowledge that it is not enough to decry the police for perceived misuses of their power, because this allows the police as an institution to remain valid in the eyes of the public. Police in general must be delegitimized. The very idea that a small group of primarily white males can use violence against anyone else, and that no one is allowed to defend themselves against this violence must be shown for the grotesque perversion that it is. Unfortunately, the status quo perception of society requires police to maintain it, so delegitimizing the police as an institution often first requires delegitimizing society itself. This is a difficult Mobius strip of reasoning to have to impart. Humans left free to associate and organize as they please do not require police to maintain their social structures unless these social structures create social strata of “haves” and “have nots.” I think it’s reasonable to assert that no person will voluntarily arrange themselves as a “have not,” and would instead leave a social organism that would make them “lesser” than others, ultimately meaning such social organisms would not exist, or would not exist for very long. Er go, truly liberated societies axiomatically are societies which do not need police and could not have them. Societies that require police to maintain themselves are not free societies, and are thus bound by violence.
This point is succinctly made by Earth First! Journal editor Panagioti in his essay, “The Ecology of a Police State.”
He starts off by stating, “Imagine being an environmental activist in a world where police can get away with killing young people for vandalizing a fast food joint; where a government’s local law enforcers are collaborating with giant energy corporations to stifle opposition; where a sheriff demands funding for a program urging neighbors to snitch on anyone who says they hate said government. Sadly it doesn’t take much imagination, does it? In case you weren’t inspired to click the embedded links above, they reference recent stories of these things occurring in the US. In light of this reality, it’s crystal clear that global ecology will never be stabilized as long as the police have anything to do with it.”
Further into his essay Panagioti references practical methods and attempts at weakening local police forces:
“I know, many of you are nauseous just reading the words “vote” and “election,” but I’m not saying you shouldn’t be sick to your stomach. I’m saying suck it up and learn what’s going on around you. If you avoided every bathroom that smelled like shit, you’d be in a lot of pain and doing possible damage to your excretory system. Likewise, if you ignore what your enemies are doing because its unsavory to your senses… maybe you’re more of a liberal yuppie than you realized. So hold your nose and try going to some City or County Commission meetings for starters. If you live in the New England area, local budgets might actually be something people are already organizing around. If you live anywhere else, it will probably be you and a few other Libertarian Party wingnuts in the crowd. Try and make friends with them, even if they’re drooling on themselves or foaming at the mouth. Chances are they can explain to you in simple terms how the budget works and who the players are. Oh, and try to look half-way decent. Most of these things are televised, and, for better or worse, its likely that someone will approach you in a local bar and say they saw you on the TV.”
What this boils down to is finding ways to make the police less effective. Whether through sticker and wheat paste campaigns using humor as the Otpor! movement in Serbia did, or through local referendums concerning police budgets, or sabotaging police equipment, the time to whittle away at police power is in between flare ups of massive social anger and action, so when it is crucial, police are weaker in the streets, and fewer and further between in the rural areas where devastating infrastructure usually is built.
Which tactic is best employed at which time is a decision to be made by individuals, the larger take away here being that the police and the penal system are the thin blue line between the will to move beyond capitalism, and the ability to do so. While frightening, is there any other conclusion when one recognizes the need for disobedience? When it becomes an accepted reality that laws must be broken for our continued survival, is it not cognitive dissonance to think attacking the law enforcement structure is unnecessary?
We won’t shop our way to a livable planet. We won’t vote our way to a livable planet. We won’t garden our way to a livable planet. We will not maintain a livable planet hiding in our homes, waiting for those with power and wealth to make it so. We will not survive if we are obedient to those who run the machine. To be sure, even outright attacking the industries that kill the living planet may not be enough. There is no reason to hope, only a roll of the dice that is heavily weighted against us. But we have allies. Hurricanes and droughts and wildfires and all of the other natural forces of destruction will grow in frequency as human civilization further destabilizes the climate. We can let the juggernaut of calamity bowl over us, primarily the least among us, or we can act strategically to save habitat, to save life, and maybe, just maybe, have something make it to the other side of the bottleneck.
Off the keyboard of Allan Stromfeldt Christensen
Published on from Filmers to Farmers on March 15, 2015
Can these new Greek gods (minus the ties) conjure energy
from thin air? (image: Sergey Khakimullin)
Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner
Over the past couple of months the story keeping many people on the edge of their seats has been the ongoing dilemma of Greece’s detested debt burden, its Great Depression-worthy 25% contraction of its economy, and its voluntary or even forced withdrawal from the eurozone – the fabled “Grexit.”
For about five years now, heavy austerity policies (cutbacks in government spending) have contributed to what is being described by some as a “humanitarian crisis.” As per stated in the conditions of €240 billion in loans that Greece has received over these years, the Greek government has had to significantly cut back on expenditures, which has included laid off government workers, reduced pensions, a gutted minimum wage, and the selling of state institutions. Partially as a result of this, general unemployment is a bit above 25% while youth unemployment is at nearly 60%; suicide rates are up by 35%; rates of divorce, depression, children suffering from malnutrition, children suffering from physical and emotional abuse, and hospitals lacking basic equipment and medicines are all up; infant mortality has increased 43%; and married women are begging brothels to let them work, but who are then turned away because, well, it’s apparently illegal to sell oneself for sex if one is already betrothed.
Nonetheless, and to the acclaim of many alternative media outlets, late-January saw the stunning election-win of what is called a far-left political party, Syriza. The prime mandate on which it was voted in on by the Greek electorate was to reverse the five-year policy of austerity and to essentially tell its Troika creditors (the European Union, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund) to shove it where the sun don’t shine.
With Syriza promising to repeal all the aforementioned discomforts, accolades came pouring in, possibly the most astoundingly hyperbolic drivel coming from the online magazine Truthdig.
No, ticking a different box on a ballot while changing nothing about the way you live your life changes absolutely nothing.
Exhibit #2: “[W]hat the European elites perhaps fear most is a successful left-wing government in Greece.”
Painting this as a left-wing versus right-wing issue is about as ridiculous as it gets. That should be made obvious as I continue.
Exhibit #3: “Opposing austerity means nothing more than bringing back the mainstream policies of mid-20th century industrial societies… (which remain in place in Northern European countries),… but that represents an existential threat to the logic of neoliberalism and must be drowned in the bath.”
Long story short, and elaborated upon in a moment, wrong again. Industrial civilization is coming to an end.
And finally, exhibit #4: “Syriza’s appeal… is about more than just alleviating the crisis – it’s about a common-sense vision for a better, fairer society that goes beyond Europe’s progressive social democracies of the second half of the 20th century. And herein lies the tremendous promise of this moment: Out of crisis, an empowered left may be born that not only takes on neoliberalism, but also raises the specter of something truly worth fighting for, the most humane and egalitarian technological societies yet.”
Now please don’t get me wrong – I’m not a fan of neoliberalism in the slightest. But with that out of the way, let me just say then that paralleling the energy of actual slaves that allowed some Europeans to live lives of privileged comfort in the 19th century and prior, what the “progressive social democracies of the second half of the 20th century” were based on was the latest energy of slaves. Or in other words, on fossil fuels. No fossil fuels, no “mid-20th century industrial societies.”
In other words, what’s going on isn’t just another juvenile left-versus-right debate-class game. Because the fact of the matter is that thanks to peak oil we’ve now entered the early stages of a world that is smacking up against the limits to growth. Simply put, since the world’s supply of conventional oil (that under the ground and deserts) peaked in 2005, and since conventional plus unconventional supplies of oil (the former plus tar sands, fracking, and deep sea oil) are all about to peak as well, the world simply doesn’t have the energy required to power the continuation of economic growth. With growth slowing down in some places and even reversing into contraction, this means that there is less economic activity to create revenues to pay off debts. Greece just happens to be one of the first losers in this game of musical chairs, also known as triage from modernity and the industrial economy. Why might Greece be a deindustrializing vanguard?
First off, and unlike a “Northern European country” such as Norway, Greece doesn’t have abundant supplies of oil to power its modern industrial economy, nor to sell on the open market to pay for imports (or to pay off debts). Secondly, unlike Japan (which has barely any domestic supplies of fossil fuels either), exports of baklava don’t quite bring in the revenue that Hondas and Nintendos do, and being part of the eurozone, Greece can’t print out yen (or euros in its case) to paper over all its problems and convey the illusion of solvency.
(That being said, Norway and Japan will soon enough be losing out in the musical chairs game as well: crashing oil prices are already hitting some in Norway hard and are a sign of things to come; and when the world can no longer afford high-tech Japanese toys, Japan is going to be in a world of pain which no yen sorcery will be able to paper over and which will make the Greek situation look like a case of the chickenpox.)
Unfortunately, and as all appearances indicate, Syriza is under just as much of a mass delusion as Truthdig is. As Greek finance minister (and former academic on game theory) Yanis Varoufakis stated in a New York Times opinion piece before Syriza’s election win, he wants to “bring back growth,” to “table our proposals for regrowing Greece,” and that there will be “[n]o more loans – not until we have a credible plan for growing the economy in order to repay those loans [and] help the middle class get back on its feet.”
Again, this is utter nonsense. Unless Varoufakis and company are on the one hand trying to pull a fast one on the Troika, or on the other hand trying to fool the Greek electorate, then it appears that Syriza is just as much of a band of deluded fools as the ones whose offices they took over, and that Varoufakis’ New York Times piece is nothing but a game theorist trying to take game theory to the next level and so game theory-theory other game theorists.
Since, as already mentioned, growth is now over, similar talk about securing Greece a “new deal” is just as ridiculous. In a time of booming growth, sure, it could be possible, but when growth is stagnating the world over – even in China, and even in Germany – foreign lenders aren’t about to sacrifice their middle-class creature comforts so that Greeks can have back their middle-class creature comforts thank you very much.
Regardless of that though, if Syriza were to implement a default on Greece’s loans and unilaterally pull off its Grexit from the eurozone, it could thus free itself from the euro straightjacket and enable itself to reissue and print as many new drachmas as it likes, even Greenback-styles, via the government and not private banks. However, not only would a new drachma crash in value the moment it was released, and not only could there be a line-up of unscrupulous and pissed off former creditors itching to take revenge on the newly issued currency, but who in their right mind is going to want to sell oil to Greece for depreciated drachmas, particularly when all they’re likely to get in return for the depreciated currency are container ships of said baklava?
However, even though discussions about money and currency provide plenty of fodder for pundits on the payroll, money has essentially nothing to do with the current problems in Greece. As I explained in my previous post,
the core function of money is that it enables us to command energy – the energy used to move our bodies with, to power our machines, to feed to domesticated animals whose energy we then use to do work (which nowadays generally means entertaining us), etc. In other words, it might be tough and/or inconvenient, but one can get by without money. You can’t get by without energy.
In other words, what Greece needs in order to revive its growth, its middle-class creature comforts, its “European social contract” and “mainstream policies of mid-20th century industrial societies,” and the rest of all that claptrap, is oil. Greece isn’t short on money. It is short on energy.
Is the Greek populace aware of all this? For the most part I would say no, and if solidarity marches with the chant of “let Greece breathe!,” which recently erupted in Paris, Madrid, Amsterdam, Berlin, Copenhagen – basically all over Europe – can be taken as an indication, then the answer is no. Most of Europe apparently hasn’t the slightest clue that remaining in the eurozone (in order to maintain modernity) means debt peonage, and that a quick Grexit means poverty on a whole new level for much of the Greek populace.
So unless Syriza is planning to come out straight with the Greek electorate and inform them that modernity and industrial civilization (the myth of progress) are coming to a close, and that they’re going to have to cut back on – if not give up – their happy motoring, the majority of their imports, and their pirated Netflix feeds, then the only option they have left to make up for their shortcomings is to print energy. But not even these new Greek gods can do that.
To be fair, those on the other side of the negotiating table have even far less credibility to speak for. For starters, when the Troika and the rest of the Wall Street shills state that no further aid will be granted upon Greece until all austerity measures are met, this is a load of disingenuous BS. So are statements by finance ministers who proclaim that “Greece has lived beyond its means for a long time.” Truth be told, only a miniscule amount of those loans actually stayed in Greece, with an even tinier amount going to assist the hungry. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the loans are simply shuttled right back to banks in Germany, France, Holland, etc., simply to pay off interest on the old loans and prop up their parasitic banks. In short, it is banks that are being bailed out, and on the backs of Greeks, to boot.
To explain why this must inevitably happen requires a little lesson in banking. As it stands, private banks currently enjoy the racket of being able to create money out of thin air (no, they don’t simply lend out the deposits of others) under the fractional-reserve, interest-bearing debt system. Furthermore, because private banks create and issue out the principal but not the interest, there is never actually enough money in circulation to pay off all the loans plus all the interest. While some players in this game of musical chairs do in fact earn enough profits from their loans to pay back all the principal plus interest charges, since the system was short the funds to pay back all the principal and all interest charges in the first place, not only do some end up short of the funds to make payments on their debts, but since their initial loans were siphoned away as profits by those who managed to pay off their loans and interest (and who may have even stashed away some money as savings) these “losers” in the game sometimes lack not only the interest but even the principal to pay back. In other words, unless they – Greece – miraculously switch(es) roles with one of the “winners” – a Germany – then their loans can never actually be paid back.
On global and national scales, when in the past “losers” in this game have claimed bankruptcy, the system has been able to somewhat absorb the losses thanks to economies growing at strong enough rates. That is, copious and growing amounts of fossil fuels enabled enough economic growth so that new loans could be created quick enough in order to inject new money (“liquidity”) into the system to cover (paper over) the defaulted loans.
However, as things now stand, if enough “losers” in the game were to now claim bankruptcy, not only would they be throwing themselves into a world of pain, but, and through no direct fault of their own, they could theoretically precipitate an implosion of the entire interest-bearing debt, fractional-reserve, house of cards, monetary system. Reason being, since peak oil means that there is no longer an increasing amount of cheap fossil fuels available to spur on economic growth, this then means that there simply isn’t enough new economic activity to seek out new loans to pay off the interest on old loans.
Sure, in the past central banks have ramped up the “printing presses” (also known as “quantitative easing,” or QE for short) in order to temporarily paper over the problems until the oil started flowing again, but this time the problem isn’t that the oil is being held back for whatever political reason(s), but that it has finally reached its maximum level of output. Yes, central banks all over the world are currently “printing” money like there’s no tomorrow, and banks are offering super-low-interest-rate credit cards to pretty much anyone who can fog up a mirror, but in the long run this can only lead to inflated currencies, bankruptcies galore, and things getting uncomfortably hairy.
Since the oil has now peaked, growth can no longer continue and the grandiose fractional-reserve, interest-bearing debt system is coming to an end. For now there is just one Greece, but soon there will be another, then another, then another, until it is discovered that not only the European Union but the entire world is essentially insolvent. No amount of austerity, free market ideology, Keynesian stimulus, or any other fake solution can right this ship.
Sure, in the short run perhaps Russia with its massive fossil fuel reserves will prop up Greece for a while longer, allowing those on the left to pompously vilify those on the right as being the bad guys here. But that just kicks the can down the road and buys Greece – never mind those next in line – just a few years of token respite. On the other hand, perhaps the European Union and Greece are planning for some kind of orderly Grexit. But that still wouldn’t address issues of energy shortages.
In summation, at this point in time there are no options left to avert serious economic pain, but that doesn’t mean that implementing the suggestions that some have been speaking of for years now (and even decades) are all for naught. Although this is putting it a bit simplistically, the more localized our food systems become, the more local currencies we implement (like the Tem in Volos, Greece), the more we strengthen our local democratic systems, the better we’ll be able to deal with the upcoming collapse of our national and global economies.
As I like to say, the best, easiest, and most accessible way(s) to enable this to actually start happening would be to ditch the TVs and forego yet more purchases of brand new cars. But truth be told, those have actually always been good ideas.
Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on December 7, 2014
Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner
While all eyes are focused right now on the Oil Price Collapse, with it’s numerous implications as far as the Energy Industry, Bankstering and Transportation Industries are concerned, in the background and not well reported on or chronicled statistically is the ever widening problem of Electrical Grid Blackouts & Brownouts.
Even more than liquid fuels for transportation, Electricity DEFINES the Modern Industrial Culture, and is considered an “Essential Service“.
Living without electricity in today’s technological world may be difficult to imagine. Yet the reality of living without computers, mobile phones and entertainment systems, and managing a transport system thrown into chaos by an absence of traffic lights, trains and subways, may become increasingly common, according to an academic study published today.
New research by Hugh Byrd, Professor of Architecture at the University of Lincoln, UK, and Steve Matthewman, Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, reveals that today’s occasional blackouts are dress rehearsals for the future, when they will occur with greater frequency and increased severity.
According to the study, power cuts will become more regular around the globe as electrical supply becomes increasingly vulnerable and demand for technology continues to grow at an unprecedented rate.
Professor Byrd said: “Electricity fuels our existence. It powers water purification, waste, food, transportation and communication systems. Modern social life is impossible to imagine without it, and whereas cities of the past relied on man-power, today we are almost completely reliant on a series of interlocking technical systems. Our research therefore explores what happens when the power goes off, and explains why the security of fuel supply is such a pressing social problem.”
Electrical power has been defined as a ‘critical infrastructure’ by the International Risk Governance Council, in that it is a ‘large-scale human-built system that supplies continual services central to society’s functioning’. However, electricity supply is less robust than commonly supposed.
You simply cannot run any modern city without copious amounts of Electricity, most often provided by Coal Plants around the world, but with dependence also on all the forms of Fossil Fuel and Nuclear, as well as Hydro and Wind Power in selected locations.Every one of these forms of Power generations faces issues now, and the grid which distributes the power also is deteriorating and keeping it repaired and functional after every weather related problem from Tornadoes to Ice Storms and just plain old T-Storms costs every community more money they just do not have every day.
Going back to 1989 in Mr. Peabody’s WAYBAC Machine, Richard Duncan developed a metric of PER CAPITA Energy, which is much more important than precisely how much Oil is coming out of the ground at any given point in time, although despite the Hype on Fracking, Oil Production globally has been FLATLINED for near a decade now, and the Fracked stuff just keeps us treading water, at an enormous price.
In the intervening time between January of 2005 and January of 2014 though, the Total Global Population of Homo Sapiens has increased by roughly 1 Billion People with a current total population somewhat in excess of 7 Billion, for a roughly 15% Population increase over the time period:
So, just to stay EVEN in Per Capita Energy Consumption, over this time period Energy Extraction would have needed to increase also by 15%, but obviously it has not. The amount of AVAILABLE per capita energy has been decreasing for quite some time, due mainly to Population Increase while the extraction rate for energy has remained more or less Flatlined for around a decade now.
At this point however, as credit becomes constricted to access energy in most places of the world (Ugo Bardi for instance noted that Italy has seen a 35% drop in Oil Consumption over the last decade), it’s not just Per Capita energy consumption that is on the downslide, but GROSS TOTAL CONSUMPTION as well.
You can see this in this chart from Doug Short, which shows a 10% drop in Gasoline consumption here in the FSoA over the last 6 years since the end of the Consumption Peak in 2008
So, the Demand Destruction and decreasing consumption of Energy is pretty apparent by the numbers in the Liquid Fuels area, but what about in the even more critical area of Electricity, powering the Lights, the Sewage Treatment Plants, the Elevators and the Subway systems of the major cities that have exploded in population since the Age of Oil began?
Fortunately for us observers of Energy Resource Depletion & Dissipation, we have available the Suomi NPP Visible Infrared Radiometer Suite, which has made some marvelous images of the night time Earth, including the Black Marble Image.
Here’s the Flat Map of the Whole Globe, revealing clearly where industrialization has infected over the years:
Remarkable how small a portion of the world really got Wired Up here before burning through the legacy of a few million years of fossil fuel collection
After doing a bit of Googling, I found these two images of North America, one from 2012, the other from 1995.
Now, these two images were captured with different equipment, but you can see unmistakeably how much the Great Plains area has diminished in overall lighting, with one notable exception, that VERY large and bright spot I circled in Yellow. What do you suppose that is?
That folks is the Bakken Oil Fields around Williston, ND. It’s partially increased electric lighting, but mostly NG Flaring. Here’s a Closeup View:
You can see the opposite effect if you look in the Southeast, increasing brightness down there where a lot of development took place through the period.
With the Suomi Instrument now up, detailed analysis of changing amounts of “light pollution” have been undertaken, most notably around Europe in this report published in January of 2014 in the Journal Nature:
The analysis is very thorough, and generates some very interesting data
We assessed changes in artificial lighting in terms of the extent of the areas decreasing and increasing in brightness over the region. The method was validated by the successful attribution of regions of both increasing and decreasing intensity in a calibration area in South-West England to urban and industrial developments, confirming that the observed direction and timing of change is consistent with known changes in nighttime light intensity on the ground. We then extended the approach to map areas of increasing and decreasing brightness across Europe. While the brightness of nighttime light pollution across Europe is increasing overall, clear regional differences exist, with considerable regions experiencing apparent net dimming over the period.
Here is the area around Southwest England used for calibration purposes. Blue areas are decreasing light intensity, Red areas increasing:
Highlighted regions: (a) Annual trend in brightness for areas associated with the china-clay (kaolin) industry, (blue line); total china clay production (black line). (b) Annual trend in brightness for the urban region of Torbay (blue); total power load on municipal street lighting in Torbay (black). (c) Annual trend in brightness for Wytch Farm onshore oil field (blue); total oil production from the field (black). Map generated using ESRI ArcMap 9.2.
For Europe as a whole, here’s the maps and analysis:
(a) Intercalibrated mean brightness for Europe 2005–2010. (b) 10-year change in brightness, calculated as the difference in mean values for the periods 2005–2010 and 1995–2000. Grey areas are saturated throughout the time period, so trends cannot be detected. (c) Proportions of the total land surface area for which artificial light was detected to increase (orange) and decrease (blue) by more than 3 DN units in constituent countries of Europe. *Data south of 65 degrees latitude only. Map generated using ESRI ArcMap 9.2.
Changes in European light pollution
In common with recent studies in Asia13, 16, 24, Europe has experienced a marked net increase in nighttime light pollution since satellite images first became available (Figure 2). Inferences about heavily urbanised areas must be treated with caution as the DMSP/OLS sensors saturate at high light levels; however, marked regional differences within the unsaturated rural and suburban areas exist. It has been previously noted that large areas of some countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Moldova and Ukraine, experienced a contraction in lighting following independence22; the effects of this change are still evident in this study over a more extended time period. Widespread decreases in brightness also occur in Hungary and Slovakia. Moreover, we find that several economically developed countries, including Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Northern Germany also show areas apparently experiencing detectable localised declines in brightness.
The changes here aren’t uniform, and while some are predictable based on the current economic situation, some others are counter-intuitive. Here’s a Geographical breakdown of a few selected locations:
(a) Belgium shows decreases in nighttime brightness along the motorway network, while neighbouring regions of France have increased substantially in brightness. (b) Slovakia shows marked decreases in brightness, with the exception of Bratslava and towns in the west of the country. In contrast, neighbouring regions of Poland have become substantially brighter. Map generated using ESRI ArcMap 9.2.
As you might have expected if you follow collapse dynamics, countries formerly in the orbit of the Former Soviet Union (FSU), which did not glom onto the Western economy after the fall like Slovakia see a marked Dimming of the Bulbs, whereas countries like Poland got Brighter Bulbs in the aftermath of that collapse. Southern European Nations which saw a lot of investment over the time period got brighter, whereas aging industrial countries like Belgium and the Netherlands have grown dimmer.
Moving around the globe to the East, you can see the close relationship between power consumption and GDP by looking at the graph of Power Output versus GDP for the period from 1998 through 2012:
What can we expect moving forward here into the future?
Well, far as China is concerned, those numbers are going to continue to slide, and in all probability you are going to see the Bulbs go Dimmer in China over the next couple of years. Even more than China, India is likely to see total lumens decreasing rapidly as time passes.
Unlike the numbers dished out by the Chinese Politburo or Da Fed and the BLS here which can be easily massaged to make it appear as though there is “Growth” where there is no real growth, the image data generated from the Suomi Satellite is harder to disguise, though of course not impossible either since both NASA and NOAA are Goobermint agencies. At the moment however, there are probably too many scientists with access to the real time data streams to falsify the imagery, and too few people who recognize what is going on for it to matter on a political level if the Globe clearly shows a progressive and increasing Dimming effect.
If you are aware of these things though, this provides one of the BEST METRICS around to observe the collapse of Industrial Civilization. At the moment I am unable to locate a way to access regular updated satellite imagery on this for the typical web surfer, however I am hopeful that my good friend Ugo Bardi, Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Firenza may have better luck through the university system.
Besides watching and cateloging as cities like Detroit and Hoboken grow dimmer, another fascinating Bright Spot to watch over the next year is that Bonfire going on in the Bakken right now, which one of my friends in the industry who flies in there regularly says is simply amazing to see from the air. With an already 40% decrease in Drilling permits being applied for as the price of Oil drops here, it seems likely that this particular Bright Light will be a lot Dimmer next year, and dimmer still the year after that.
How LONG will it take for the Planet to go COMPLETELY Dark at night? Probably a relatively long time, but at the same time there will probably be occassions where large regions go dark simultaneously and other occassions where the overall lumens decrease rapidly in a given location as many of the lights are extinguished. A simple example would be a struggling municipality cutting off half its Streetlights in order to save on the Electric Bill. Or a Suburb with a lot of foreclosures having a greater number of Dark McMansions.
The Comparison Photo I put up of North America 1998 vs 2012 probably gives the best indication of how the loss of electric power will go, first disappearing from Low Population Zones and gradually spreading toward the densely populated areas. It looks as though California is getting close to being Sunffed Out going West from Bakken, and moving Eastward the Mississipi River Population Zone will see more Dimming. This correlates well with the ongoing Geopolitical problems in places like Ferguson, a suburb of St. Louis, and of course rust belt cities like Detroit and Gary, Indiana.
In the Final Countdown, probably only a few Major Metros of First World cities like NY Shity, London, Berlin etc will still have so many lights on they resemble Diodes on a circuit board. How LONG will this process take though? Absolute Light Intensity Dimming in North America over the last 15 years is discernable, but it hasn’t totally stopped BAU in the FSoA. If the regression is a linear function, in another 15 years things would be worse, but not altogether different.
Thing is, this is probably not a linear function, as suggested by Ugo Bardi’s Seneca Cliff.
Once the dropoff begins, it tends to accelerate with many positive feedback loops involved. So in all likelihood we will see acceleration of this phenomenon around the globe over the next 15 years, and a significant portion of the currently Lit Up portions of the Black Marble will have gone dark by then.
Here in the FSoA, probably the most significant one to watch over the next couple of years is the Hoover Dam. As of Novemeber 2014, the water level is at 1083 feet. Here’s the last few years of records for Lake Mead:
2007 1129.55 1129.35 1125.79 1120.69 1115.89 1113.50 1111.58 1111.84 1111.06 1110.95 1111.22 1114.81 2008 1116.46 1116.93 1115.65 1110.61 1107.05 1104.98 1104.42 1105.13 1105.76 1107.94 1107.33 1110.97 2009 1111.78 1111.43 1107.40 1101.26 1096.92 1095.26 1094.20 1093.73 1093.68 1093.26 1093.52 1096.30 2010 1100.02 1103.21 1100.66 1098.00 1094.30 1089.30 1086.97 1086.91 1083.81 1082.36 1081.94 1086.30 2011 1091.73 1095.78 1096.39 1095.76 1097.90 1102.38 1107.07 1113.45 1116.04 1121.00 1125.82 1132.83 2012 1134.18 1133.06 1129.41 1123.93 1119.38 1115.84 1115.92 1116.56 1115.16 1116.50 1117.24 1120.36 2013 1122.32 1122.14 1118.59 1112.91 1108.36 1105.98 1105.92 1106.13 1106.92 1104.04 1106.36 1106.73 2014 1108.75 1107.94 1101.71 1094.55 1087.46 1082.66 1080.60 1081.55 1081.33 1082.79 1083.57
Hoover reaches the “Dead Pool” level at 950 feet, still 130 feet away, but relief from the drought affecting the Colorado River watershed is nowhere in sight at the moment.
“The level of Lake Mead is supposed to drop to an elevation of 1081.75 over the next few days, which is the lowest elevation it’s ever been since the lake was filled when Hoover Dam was built,” said Rose Davis, Bureau of Reclamation.
Lake Mead is not only the primary water source for Las Vegas, but it’s also how Hoover Dam produces power. Simply put, the lower the lake, the less electricity.
“Our concern is the ability to generate power. We’ve seen a 23 percent reduction in our capacity to generate power since the lake continues to drop,” Davis said.
The hydroelectric facility is taking steps so its current capacity of 1592 megawatts won’t go down anymore.
“We’ve been proactive over the last five years in putting in new equipment that operates more efficiently at low lake levels,” Davis said.
Three wide head turbines have been installed, and two more are on the way in the next couple years. It’s hoped they will arrive before Lake Mead gets to catastrophic levels that could bring the dam to screeching halt.
“What we call the dead pool, which is the elevation of Lake Mead where Hoover Dam cannot generate any power is about 950 feet,” Davis said.
Even without complete shutdown at Hoover, a 23% Reduction in power output is already hugely significant. Referencing back to the close connection between GDP and Electric Power however, such a large reduction in Power Output means a similarly large reduction in GDP for the neighborhoods served by Hoover, which are vast going from Vegas to Phoenix to Los Angeles. To replace that power they have to BUY fossil fuel power off the grid, every Kilowatt Hour Hoover does not produce is more money out of the ever more insolvent coffers of everyone living in this neighborhood.
However, until Hoover shuts down completely, these issues mostly are not recognized, neither by the typical J6P nor the MSM reporting on it and not even by most Economistas. They don’t tie the ever decreasing Standard of Living to the Falling Water Level in Lake Mead. These are disparate phenomena to them. In fact your Standard of Living is ALL about how much Power you consume, and the higher the power consumption, the higher your ‘Standard of Living”, at least by the common metrics of the Industrial Era such as GDP. The less access you have to energy, either Electricity or Gasoline to power your car, the lower your Standard of Living will be, eventually achieving 3rd World levels where the vast majority of the population has access to neither one.
How fast this will actually spin down still remains an open question, but now we do have Metrics by which to observe it, and to document that in fact there IS a Collapse in Progress, which most of the population remains in Denial about. The end result is quite clear, it is the End of Industrial Civilization, and this is the FINAL COUNTDOWN.
Prior Collapse Cafes of Interest
Financial Storm Flags Up: Take Cover
First published at The Daily Impact August 23, 2014
This is not about TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It), nor about the Crash of the Industrial Age (Wait! The acronym for that’s CIA!) that we expect. But it is about a very hard time we are all about to go through, most likely beginning before next year is out and ending God knows when. Most probably, it will not end, but like the last Great Recession simply deliver us to a new plateau of diminished expectations that will become the New Normal. This imminent event is being forecast by a rising chorus of voices like those who warned us 10 years ago that a prosperity based on subprime mortgages, and financial derivatives thereof, could not stand. These voices — actually some of them the very same people — are telling us that we face not one, but two, train wrecks that will be nearly simultaneous, in that one will bring on the other.
Train Wreck Number One could come at any time, and it is being brought on by the same people that caused the last one. Playing with Other Peoples’ Money, with borrowed money and with play money in the casinos otherwise known as stock, bond and commodity markets, the banksters (as someone has brilliantly labelled them) have inflated a number of bubbles, most smaller than the housing bubble was, but together capable of doing as much damage. They include:
- The Car Bubble. Same formula, different asset. Sub-prime, low-interest-rate, long-term loans for cars, with the loans bundled, securitized, sold, resold and resold again. Everybody involved is making tons of money (25 per cent of all car loans are now subprime, and another 25 per cent are leases, many designed for people who can’t qualify for a subprime loan) until the music stops and the whole system folds.
- The Housing Bubble (The Sequel). In which the Masters of the Universe, having driven millions into foreclosure or under water (with mortgages exceeding the value of their homes) snap up bargains via short sales and rent them out. What could go wrong with that>? Being a landlord is easy, right? These cash purchases are giving the appearance that the housing market is recovering much faster than it is.
- The New Covenant Bubble. Business lending has become dominated by a new instrument known as the “covenant-lite” loan. Previously, business loans included a covenant signed by the borrower to the effect that the proceeds would not be used for non-productive things, such as buying in stock or paying bonuses to CEOs. Not so much anymore. The result is that instead of flowing into the economy, helping to create jobs, products and services, loan proceeds are going into the pockets of those who play in the Car Bubble and Housing Bubble casinos.
- The Stock Bubble. This is the big one. Stock prices on average are at all-time highs, for no good reason. Price-earnings ratios are in the stratosphere, right where housing prices were in 2006. Phoenix Capital Research recently put it this way:
“The market is extremely tired and the systemic risks underlying the Financial Crisis are in no way resolved. With investor complacency (as measured by the VIX) at record lows, the Fed withdrawing several of its more significant market props, and low participation coming from the larger institutions, this market is ripe for a serious correction.”
Among the authoritative people (we are not referencing those doomer quotes down where you see “One Simple Trick to Cure Cancer” links, okay?) who have recently run up storm flags:
David Stockman: “the watchword at this point is stay out of harm’s way. We are headed into a perfect storm of policy failures. Train wreck is a pretty good term to describe what is coming.”
John Ficenek: “Investors are dumping riskier debt faster than during the financial crisis in 2008. The money is rushing to safe havens such as US government bonds and gold. The staggering shift in investment strategy marks a reversal of the chase for returns that has been in place for five years.The credit market usually leads the equity market during turning points, as happened when credit markets cracked first in 2008.”
Bob Buckland: Citi Bank analyst Buckland has defined four phases the economy typically goes through, Phase One following a recession and Phase Four being the next one. He says we’re in Phase Three.
Train Wreck Number One, then, which could begin at any moment, is a “serious correction,” aka “crash,” of the stock market, with all the attendant collateral damage, much amplified because these guys are playing with borrowed money. Personal and corporate wealth will evaporate, banks that are too big to fail, will fail, and we may need swift, decisive action from the government to save the system, as we did in 2009. Wish us good luck with that.
And then there’s Train Wreck Number Two. More on that next time.
Oil Storm Flags Up: Take More Cover
First published at The Daily Impact August 24, 2014
The second train wreck about to sledgehammer the world’s economies is the implosion of the oil-and-gas renaissance scam. This implosion, most likely to occur in 2015, may occur before Train Wreck Number One (the financial “correction,” see the previous post, Financial Storm Flags Up: Take Cover) and bring it on, or it could kick in just afterward as the panicked Masters of the Universe run for the lifeboats. The cumulative effect of the two events will be devastating and lasting. They are not likely to bring on, quite yet, the ultimate crash of the industrial age — there is a lot of momentum left in the old battleship yet. But they will come close. Because while the financial implosion may not be quite as bad as that of 2008, the end of the oil scam, in itself, will be devastating to the world.
Big Fracking Lie. For at least five years now, the hype has been relentless.
Technology, in the form of hydraulic fracking, has saved us. With it, we have unlocked huge new reserves of oil and gas that will last a hundred years. We will surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia, become Number One in the world again, even reach energy independence! It’s gonna be great!
Now, the hype wasn’t aimed at you and me, it was directed at the people who move money around, because it takes a lot of money to frack a well. And in that respect the hype has worked — panting investors have opened their checkbooks and emptied their minds to finance this new American oil boom — even though, as I have been writing here for five years [See A Frack Job for Marcellus, December 2009, and many others], the hype flies in the face of arithmetic and logic.
There is no question that during the past decade, hydraulic fracturing in horizontally-drilled wells has greatly increased U.S. extraction of oil and gas. Gas frackers pretty much blew themselves up by bringing so much gas to market that they lowered prices below the cost of production; in the past two years natural gas extraction has been virtually flat.
Oil is a different animal. It goes into a global system, and is priced globally. The 3.7 million barrels a day of additional oil from the four main shale-oil plays in the U.S. went into a system that gobbles 80 million barrels a day, in a country that uses 20 million barrels a day, so the impact on global prices has been minimal. At best, shale oil can be credited with preventing steep price increases over the past five years or so based on flat and falling oil production in the rest of the world.
It is remarkable that it still seems irrational to talk about the end of the shale oil and gas boom and the return of peak oil worries, because the evidence all along has been abundant and clear that the boomers are the ones who have been irrational. And mounting evidence now indicates a breakdown is near:
- Nothing lasts forever; fracking doesn’t even last a year. Traditional oil wells increased in productivity over years, then declined gradually over years, often having a useful life of 20 years or so. Fracked wells max out in a few months, then decline an average of 60 per cent in the first year. So if you’re a fracking company, and you want to show your investors rising production in your second year (and you do), you had better bring a new well on line at the beginning of that year. And two more the next year, and four the year after that. You’re on a fracking treadmill.
- When the treadmill goes around fast enough, it throws you off. This treadmill effect is the reason why none of the players in the fracking revolution are making any money. According to a report out of Energy Aspects last year:
“As a result, the average Capex (capital expenditure) spending of the 35 companies analyzed to serve as a guide to the industry has amounted to a staggering $50 per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) over the last five years, at a time when their revenue per BOE has averaged $51.5.”
- The only way to stay on the treadmill is to borrow money. Lots of money. Led by the frackers, the oil business as a whole is going seriously into debt with little to show for it. According to the US Energy Information Administration, 127 oil and gas companies worldwide took on $106 billion in additional debt in the first quarter of this year, while at the same time selling off $73 billion in assets. Collectively, their cash flow for the past year was negative $110 billion. In the shale patch alone, according to Bloomberg, in four years debt has doubled while revenues have risen 5.6%.
- The sweet spots are going sour. The hypists have talked continuously about shale oil reserves as if all oil-soaked shale rock was equal, and equally available to extraction. In the immortal words of Rick Perry, “Oops.” The “reserves” of California’s Monterey shale play were the basis of much of the “America’s Back” hype, until the EIA took a second look and downsized the estimate — by 96 per cent. Of course the wildcatters are picking the low-hanging fruit first. Correction: They have picked it. The only oil-shale field that has not peaked yet is North Dakota’s Bakken, where last year there was increased production in only one county.
Given all this, what should we expect? According to a study by Australian oil scientist David Archibald, for example, shale oil production in the United States will peak in mid-2015 and resume its steep, irreversible decline. (Okay, he’s a climate-change denier and an ice age promoter, but in contrast, he knows something about oil. Check out all his charts before you dismiss him.) This fact alone will remove from world markets the only plausible reason for optimism about the economic future. The effects will be disastrous, especially when you combine them with those of Train Wreck Number One.
Duck, and cover. Get under your desk and put a helmet.
Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.
Off the keyboard of Surly1
The Right to Remain Silent…
Originally published on the Doomstead Diner on date
Discuss this article here in the Diner Forum.
“. . . What most likely lies ahead is not a series of satisfying American-style solutions to the economic problems of the 99%, but a boiling frog’s journey into a form of twenty-first-century feudalism in which a wealthy and powerful few live well off the labors of a vast mass of the working poor. Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same.”
― Peter Van Buren
On Saturday I attended a family reunion for a branch of Contrary’s far-flung, extended German-Irish family. The trip occasioned a full day of travel, but like many family meetings, rewarded with new friends, good food, abundant laughter, and plenty of conversation.
Before we left, Contrary advised me that many of the women in this wing of her family held opinions much like her own, which is to say pretty progressive/left-wing. Whereas the men were very much conservative, and argumentatively so. So before we left I asked Contrary, “If the talk turns to politics and I find myself listening to arrant, right wing claptrap, should I hold my tongue?” (In spite of what long time readers of this space might think, I am housebroken and DO know how to behave in groups.) Her response: “Why in the world would you do that?”
Sometimes these things write themselves. In the fullness of time I found myself in the backyard, taking a break from Ghana v. Germany in the World Cup, quaffing a beverage and in the company of Men Discussing Current Events. One of them observed what a blight unions were on the working landscape. He offered a tale about how, supposedly after Hurricane Sandy, phone company union workers for a New Jersey resisted working with the nonunion help from “right to work” states like Virginia. And then came the the piling on. So I asked a question: “Any idea where the phrase ‘right to work’ came from?” No one knew. The answer: “It was the brainchild of the Dallas public relations plan in 1947 to give an fair-sounding name to a campaign of anti-union activities meant to cripple the ability of working people to negotiate their work conditions compensation.”
Oh yeah, what’s your point? I went on:
“Any idea what percentage of the private industrial workforce belongs to a union today? Heads shaken no. “6%,” I replied, “Does it not seem reasonable that the many complaints you hear about how unions are crippling this country are really the complaints of industrialists who, with their boots on the necks of the American worker, don’t yet feel they have enough of an advantage?”
Then a cousin mentioned the minimum wage, as in, there shouldn’t be any.
“Really?” I asked. “Do you have any idea what the 1978 minimum would be if it had kept up with inflation? No idea. “Over $22 per hour.” Well, came the reply, there still shouldn’t be a minimum. Then I made a point that struck home to this group of devoted family men: “Do you remember how it was when we were growing up? The parents of the people in this house, like the one I grew up in, lived a life where the man worked, and supported a family, sometimes running to eight to ten kids.” Point made: Contrary’s family is extremely prolific. “That’s because a working man could earn enough working a job, sometimes two, to support a family– even a big family. Where are those manufacturing jobs today? They are in Mexico and the Pacific Rim, and the export of those jobs has been subsidized by favorable tax treatment for the industries that moved them. Sound fair?”
Grumblings. Then one of them mentioned “welfare.” As comedian Ron White once said, “I had the right to remain silent, but I did not have the ability.”
“Glad you mentioned welfare. Don’t you just hate welfare queens?” Nods of assent. “Wouldn’t you just love to get the welfare queens off the dole? Don’t you think constant handouts erode self-reliance?” More vigorous nods now. “The biggest welfare queens we pay for are American corporations. The same ones that export American jobs, bank their earnings overseas, then park their boodle in the Cayman Islands or in Switzerland to avoid American taxes. All while using roads and other infrastructure that you’re paying for. Man, I hate me a bloodsucker like that, don’t you?”
Yeah, but real welfare, food stamps, SNAP… “The SNAP program costs $76 billion a year. And the big food producing companies love it. And banks like JP Morgan make money on both ends of the SNAP card business. On the other hand, corporate tax concessions, givebacks and other forms of legalized bribery cost working folks like you and me $180 billion a year. More than twice SNAP. Sound fair to you?”
That pretty much derailed the political part of that conversation. I’m not sure I’ll be invited back anytime soon.
50 years ago, a group of men like that, middle to late middle age (or in my case, rapidly approaching senility), working-class types, would have favored progressive causes. One of the marvels of our age remains how working people have been convinced to vote counter to their self-interest by a consistent torrent of plutocrat propaganda. Within my lifetime the role of government as guarantor of the rights of the little guy has evaporated, as industry has infiltrated and suborned the regulatory apparatus of government. And if you are convinced that your government no longer works for or represents you, the guy who wants to “drown it in the bathtub” is likely to receive a better hearing.
Fortunately for me, before I entered into the above conversation I had perused an article by Peter Van Buren in TomDispatch. Van Buren is the author of The Ghost of Tom Joad,” and his vision of what is happening in the economy would have been excruciatingly familiar to Steinbeck.
The striking trend lines of social and economic disparity that have developed over the last 50 years are clearly no accident; nor have disemboweled unions, a deindustrialized America, wages heading for the basement (with profits still on the rise), and the widest gap between rich and poor since the slavery era been the work of the invisible hand. It seems far more likely that a remarkably small but powerful crew wanted it that way, knowing that a nation of fast food workers isn’t heading for the barricades any time soon. Think of it all as a kind of “Game of Thrones” played out over many years. A super-wealthy few have succeeded in defeating all of their rivals — unions, regulators, the media, honest politicians, environmentalists — and now are free to do as they wish.
Van Buren answers the question, “Why Don’t the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches?”\ and Eight Other Critical Questions for Americans.” These are the sorts of questions being discussed by people at, well, family gatherings. And a key issue is that the working people of this country are only receiving one side of the story. It is a good read: you owe it to yourself to give it ten minutes
Van Buren ends his thus:
Once upon a time, the original 99% percent, the serfs, worked for whatever their feudal lords allowed them to have. Now, Walmart “associates” do the same. Then, a few artisans lived slightly better, an economic step or two up the feudal ladder. Now, a technocratic class of programmers, teachers, and engineers with shrinking possibilities for upward mobility function similarly amid the declining middle class. Absent a change in America beyond my ability to imagine, that’s likely to be my future — and yours.
Surly1 is an administrator and contributing author to Doomstead Diner. He has contributed a number of forgettable rants, articles and moments of spittle-flecked invective on this site, and has been active in the Occupy movement. He shares a home in Southeastern Virginia with Contrary and a shifting menagerie of relatives, some of which may not now come to visit since he opened his big yap at the reunion.
Off the Microphone of RE
Aired on the Doomstead Diner on June 12, 2014
Discuss this Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner
People who talk about Sustainability and Renewable Energy and who revere the older ways of living we once had just about uniformly revile the automobile. There is no doubt that the automobile is an unsustainable technology, or that its use over the last century has developed an equally unsustainable infrastructure and style of living.
My friend Steve on Economic Undertow writes about this all the time, and presents the choice being made here, to Feed the carz at the expense of Feeding the People. You can’t keep the carz running and at the same time run an economy that keeps the people fed. The Carz simply waste too much energy, for no real remunerative reason in the end.
The problem of course is that you can’t simply dispense with automobiles, when you have built an entire infrastructure and society precisely around that device.
Steve writes in a recent blog:
“Take away the autos and there is a vanishingly small need for petroleum”-SfV
My response, fairly predictable for anyone who has followed the diner over the last couple of years;
Take away and replace with…what?
For the rest, LISTEN TO THE RANT!!!
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Funny how, in the current national rapture of techno-narcissism, it is harder than ever to do something that for generations used to be as simple as pie: to get somebody on the telephone. It’s especially funny in a time when phones have become a prosthetic extension of every human hand and pretty much the be-all and end-all of human culture. I hold a phone, therefore I am!
It’s not so funny that the places where it is most difficult to connect to a live human being are among the most critical activities, most particularly every branch of health care. Hospitals now operate under the entirely false and obviously dishonest premise that a robotic phone routing system is the best way to handle communications. Notice that, in the logic of this system, no distinction is made between mundane business and medical emergencies. Everybody who calls get’s the same perky robot —always a woman, by the way, in a dishonest attempt to provide false reassurance that a “caring” presence (Big Sister) is at the other end of the line. Whether you call about a billing error or having just shredded your foot in a rototiller, the message at the other end will always be democratically the same: “Your call is important to us.” (Not.)
I dwell on these matters because I spent an inordinate amount of time last week calling around to several hospitals and doctors offices to get some of my medical records for a lawsuit I am prosecuting against the manufacturer of a defective hip implant that gave me cobalt / chromium poisoning. Note also that we have contrived to make it nearly impossible to obtain our own medical records.
Now I am, going to reveal to you why it is so difficult to get a live human being on the telephone at these important places: because the more of a racketeering matrix medicine becomes, the more it seeks to evade responsibility for the consequences. That is, the more medicine becomes a criminal enterprise, the less it wants to hear from its client/victims. The same ethos is at work in just about every other realm of corporate enterprise in the USA. Our problem in the USA is not “capitalism,” it’s racketeering. Why we fail to comprehend it is one of the abiding mysteries of contemporary life.
The biggest offender after medicine, of course, is banking. They don’t want to hear from you either. They enjoy the privilege of swindling you by both tiny-and-large increments on transaction payments and near-zero interest rates and mortgage contracts where no title record of collateral can be located, and that all works very nicely for them. But they’re too busy creaming off profits to talk to their customers. In both medicine and banking, even the few remaining human secretaries to whose answering machines calls are torturously routed will not return those phone calls. “Your call is important to us.” (Not.)
Now all of this raises a couple of questions. How did we get to this sorry place? And why are citizens not violently angry about it?
To some degree, this situation represents the sheer diminishing returns and unintended consequences of technology. In a nation infatuated with technology, these entropic effects are always ignored. We just don’t want to hear about it, and our related infatuation with feel-good public relations bullshit spews a fog of concealment over it. We apparently like being deceived and don’t mind being tortured.
Robot phone answering systems also allowed corporations to off-load the cost of doing business onto their customers, mostly in the form of wasting vast amounts of their customers’ time. Included in the off-load was the cost of paying receptionists (as telephone answerers used to be quaintly called) and all their medical and retirement benefits — just another manifestation of the vanishing middle class, by the way, since a lot of women used to be employed that way (let’s skip the gender equality side-bar for now). After a while, the added privilege of companies being able to evade responsibility for their actions hugely outweighed the cost-saving advantage of firing some lower level employees.
It ought to be self-evident that this could only happen in a profoundly corrupt, dishonest, and degenerate society, because it took the form of a social compact that accepted this sort of behavior as okay. Doctors especially don’t want to be accessible to their customers. It enhances their aura of supernatural authority to be as unreachable as possible — and most of them these days are safely embedded in the protective corporate matrix one way or another as well. I suppose you can always pray to them and hope for a reply, since that is obviously the system they are trying to emulate. And, after all, this is an especially pious society. But try asking a plain question like, “how come you charged me $34,000 for four hours of anesthesia?” and you will be hung out to dry until the end of time.
As for outrage, I am frankly amazed that the various armed lunatics at large in America are so busy shooting up schools when many more people are actually being harmed, indeed ruined, by the health care “industry” and the banks.
If you have a theory about all this, please offer it up in the Comments department.
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.
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Of the microphone of RE
Aired on the Doomstead Diner on May 16, 2014
Discuss this Rant at the Podcast Table inside the Diner
…There are any number of things going on here at any given time these days, you have China and Japan in disputes over the South China Sea and Senkaku Islands, Thai Color Wars ongoing all the time, the North-South Korea endless conflict, but the HOT one of the day here is China vs Vietnam.
Similar to the Russia Ukraine conflict, this is NFL Linebacker vs Jockey territory in terms of outright warfare, but of course as the Boys in Black Pajamas proved during the LAST conflict over in Vietnam, assymetric warfare is not waged well by the Industrial War Machine, so by no means can you say the Chinese will walk all over the New Vietcong. If the Chinese decide to go in on that one, they’ll be in the same sewer the FsoA was in the 60’s, and the French before them when they tried to hold onto the territory as a Colony…
For the rest…LISTEN TO THE RANT!
Apparently someone at the US State Department put out the fire in John Kerry’s magnificent head of hair, because he has stopped declaiming (for now) on the urgent need to start World War Three over Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula. In my lifetime, there has never been a more pointless and unnecessary international crisis than the current rumble over Ukraine, and it’s pretty much all our doing.
After all, we kicked it off by financing the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected government. How do you suppose the US would feel if Moscow engineered the overthrow of the Mexican government? Perhaps a little insecure? Perhaps even tempted to post some troops on the border?
Since the end of the Cold War, the US has engaged in a nonstop projection of power around the world with grievous results in every case except in the breakup of Yugoslavia. The latest adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been the most expensive — at least a trillion dollars — and mayhem still rules in both places. In fact, news reports out of Kabul on NPR this morning raised doubts that the scheduled elections could take place later this week. The country’s so-called Independent Election Commission has been under rocket attack for days, the most popular hotel for foreign journalists was the site of a massacre two weeks ago, and the Taliban remains active slaughtering civilians in the lawless territory outside of the Afghan capital.
Of course, even those dreadful incidents raise the rather fundamental question as to why anything about Afghanistan really matters to the USA. How many years will it take for us to get over the fact that Osama bin Laden ran a training camp for jihadists there? Right now you can be sure that somewhere between Casablanca and East Timor there are training camps for religious maniacs and thousands more casual meet-ups among aggrieved young men with testosterone boiling in their brains and nothing else to occupy their time but playing with guns. Are we going to invade every land where this goes on?
One part of our ever-evolving reality is that the global economy is in the process of cracking up. Despite the claims of one Tom Friedman at The New York Times, Globalism was not a permanent installation in the human condition. Rather, it was a set of transient economic relations brought about by special circumstances in a particular time of history — namely, a hundred years of cheap energy and about fifty years of relative peace between the larger nations. That’s all it was. And now it’s dissolving because energy is increasingly non-cheap and that is causing a lot of friction between nations utterly addicted to high flows of cheap oil and gas.
The friction is manifesting especially in the realm of money and finance. The high energy addicted nations have been trying to offset the rising cost of their addiction, and the absence of conventional economic “growth,” by borrowing ever more money, that is, generating ever more debt. This ends up expressing itself in “money printing,” that range of computerized banking activities that pumps more and more “liquidity” into “advanced” economies. The result of all that is the mis-pricing of just about everything (including especially the cost of borrowing money), and an increasingly antagonistic climate of currency war as all players vie for the supposed advantages of devaluation — most particularly the ability to dissolve their own sovereign debts via inflation.
The finer points of all that are debatable as to eventual consequences but we can easily draw some larger conclusions about the macro trends. The global orgy of cheap goods and bubble finance is ending. Nations and indeed regions within nations are going to have to find a new way of making a living on the smaller scale. This is sure to include new arrangements for governance. The breakup of nation states is well underway and is moving from the margins inward to the political center — from the hopeless scrublands of overpopulated nations that will never “develop” to the increasingly sclerotic giants.
The USA is exhibiting pretty severe signs of that sclerosis in the demented behavior of its leaders in episodes such as the current unnecessary manufactured fiasco over Ukraine to the physical deterioration of our towns, roads, bridges, and all the plastic crap we managed to smear over the mutilated landscape to the comportment of our demoralized, mentally inert, drugged-up, tattoo-bedizened populace of twerking slobs.
In short, it is self-evident that Russians have an abiding interest in the Crimea and we have none, while both the material and cultural life of the US is in a shambles and much more worthy of our own attention.
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.
Team Obama pulled a cute one last week nominating Blythe Masters, JP Morgan’s commodity chief, to an advisory committee of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) which supposedly regulates activities on the paper trades in corn, pork bellies, cocoa, coffee, wheat, corn — oh, and gold, too, by the way, in which JP Morgan has been suspected of massive gold (and silver) market manipulations and other misconduct lately. That would include the 2011 MF Global Fiasco in which nearly a billion dollars from “segregated” customer accounts somehow ended up parked over at JP Morgan as a result of bad derivative bets on tanking Eurozone bonds. MF Global, primarily a commodities trading brokerage, was liquidated in 2011. The CFTC never issued referrals for prosecution to the Department of Justice in the matter and, of course, MF Global’s notorious CEO, Jon Corzine remains at large, enjoying caramel flan lattes in the Hamptons to this day. Such are the Teflon transactions of the Obama years: nothing sticks.
There was such a Twitter storm over Blythe Masters that she withdrew from consideration for the committee before the day was out.
JP Morgan is one of the specially privileged “primary dealer” banks said to be systemically indispensible to world finance. Supposedly, if one of them is allowed to flop, the whole global matrix of global debt obligations — and, hence, global money — would dissolve in a misty cloud of broken promises. They are primary dealers to their shadow partner, the Federal Reserve, and their main job in that relationship is buying treasury bonds, bills, and notes from the US government and then “selling” them to the Fed (earning commissions on the sales, of course). The Fed, in turn, “lends” billions of dollars at zero interest back to the primary dealers who then park the “borrowed” money in accounts at the Fed at a higher interest rate. This is, of course, money for nothing, and even small interest rate differentials add up to tidy profits when the volumes on deposit are so massive.
This “carry trade” was started because the primary dealer banks were functionally insolvent after 2008 and needed to build “reserves” up to some level that would putatively render them sound. But that was a sketchy concept anyway since accounting standards had been officially abandoned in 2009 when the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) declared that banks could report the stuff on their books at any value they felt like. In short, the soundness of the biggest banks in the USA could no longer be determined, period. They were beyond accounting as they were beyond the law. At the same time, the banks began the operations of shifting all the janky debt paper, mostly mortgages and derivative instruments (i.e. made-up shit like “CDOs squared”), value unknown, from their vaults to the a vaults of the Federal Reserve, where it resides to this day, rotting away like so much forgotten ground round in the sub-basement of an abandoned warehouse of a bankrupt burger chain.
All of these nearly incomprehensible shenanigans have been going on because debt all over the world can’t be repaid. The world’s economy, as constructed emergently over the decades, can’t function without repayable debt, which is the essence of “credit” — the fundamental trust implicit in banking. You have “credit” because other persons or parties believe in your ability to repay. After a while, this becomes a mere convention in millions of transactions. What’s happened is that the conventions remain in place but the trust is gone. It’s gone in particular among the parties deemed too big to fail.
Everybody knows this now and everybody is trying desperately to work around it, led by the Federal Reserve. Trust is gone and credit is going and debt is sitting between a rock and a hard place with its grubby hands pressed together, praying that it will be forgiven, forgotten, or overlooked a little while longer. By the way, the reason trust and credit are gone is because oil is no longer cheap and world economies can’t grow anymore. They can’t afford to run the day-to-day operations of a techno-industrial society. They can only pretend to afford it. The stock markets are mere scorecards for players who can only lie and cheat now to keep the game going. Somewhere beyond all the legerdemain and fraud, however, there remains a real world that is not going away. We just don’t know what it will look like when the smog of fraud clears.
James Howard Kunstler is the author of many books including (non-fiction) The Geography of Nowhere, The City in Mind: Notes on the Urban Condition, Home from Nowhere, The Long Emergency, and Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology and the Fate of the Nation. His novels include World Made By Hand, The Witch of Hebron, Maggie Darling — A Modern Romance, The Halloween Ball, an Embarrassment of Riches, and many others. He has published three novellas with Water Street Press: Manhattan Gothic, A Christmas Orphan, and The Flight of Mehetabel.
The rot moves from the margins to the center, but the disease moves from the center to the margins. That is what has happened in the realm of money in recent weeks due to the sustained mispricing of the cost of credit by central banks, led by the US Federal Reserve. Along the way, that outfit has managed to misprice just about everything else — stocks, houses, exotic securities, food commodities, precious metals, fine art. Oil is mispriced as well, on the low side, since oil production only gets more expensive and complex these days while it depends more on mispriced borrowed money. That situation will be corrected by scarcity, as oil companies discover that real capital is unavailable. And then the oil will become scarce. The “capital” circulating around the globe now is a squishy, gelatinous substance called “liquidity.” All it does is gum up markets. But eventually things do get unstuck.
Meanwhile, the rot of epic mispricing expresses itself in collapsing currencies and the economies they are supposed to represent: India, Turkey, Argentina, Hungary so far. Italy, Spain, and Greece would be in that club if they had currencies of their own. For now, they just do without driving their cars and burn furniture to stay warm this winter. Automobile use in Italy is back to 1970s levels of annual miles-driven. That’s quite a drop.
Before too long, the people will be out in the streets engaging with the riot police, as in Ukraine. This is long overdue, of course, and probably cannot be explained rationally since extreme changes in public sentiment are subject to murmurations, the same unseen forces that direct flocks of birds and schools of fish that all at once suddenly turn in a new direction without any detectable communication.
Who can otherwise explain the amazing placidity of the sore beset American public, beyond the standard trope about bread, circuses, and superbowls? Last night they were insulted with TV commercials hawking Maserati cars. Behold, you miserable nation of overfed SNAP card swipers, the fruits of wealth and celebrity! Savor your unworthiness while you await the imminent spectacles of the Sochi Olympics and Oscar Night! Things at the margins may yet interrupt the trance at the center. My guess is that true wickedness brews unseen in the hidden, unregulated markets of currency and interest rate swaps.
The big banks are so deep in this derivative ca-ca that eyeballs are turning brown in the upper level executive suites. Notable bankers are even jumping out of windows, hanging themselves in back rooms, and blowing their brains out in roadside ditches. Is it not strange that there are no reports on the contents of their suicide notes, if they troubled to leave one? (And is it not unlikely that they would all exit the scene without a word of explanation?) One of these, William Broeksmit, a risk manager for Deutsche Bank, was reportedly engaged in “unwinding positions” for that that outfit, which holds over $70 trillion in swap paper. For scale, compare that number with Germany’s gross domestic product of about $3.4 trillion and you could get a glimmer of the mischief in motion out there. Did poor Mr. Broeksmit despair of his task?
Physicist Stephen Hawking declared last week that black holes are not exactly what people thought they were. Stuff does leak back out of them. This will soon be proven in the unwinding derivatives trades when most of the putative wealth associated with swaps and such disappears across the event horizon of bad faith, and little dribbles of their prior existence leak back out in bankruptcy proceedings and political upheaval.
The event horizon of bad faith is the exact point where the credulous folk of this modern age, from high to low, discover that their central banks only pretend to be regulating agencies, that they ride a juggernaut of which nobody is really in control. The illusion of control has been the governing myth since the Lehman moment in 2008. We needed desperately to believe that the authorities had our backs. They don’t even have their own fronts.
Is the money world at that threshold right now? One thing seems clear: nobody is able to turn back the plummeting currencies. They go where they will and their failures must be infectious as the greater engine of world trade seizes up. Who will write the letters of credit that make international commerce possible? Who will trust whom? When do people seriously start to starve and reach for the pitchforks? When does the action move from Kiev to London, New York, Frankfurt, and Paris?
Off the keyboard of RE
Published on the Doomstead Diner on January 19, 2014
Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner
The Big Newz last week on the Economic Front was the Jobs Report from the Bureau of Lies & Statistics, which now has the FSoA UE Rate down to a remarkable 6.7%! We are doing FANTASTIC! This is down from Double Digit UE Rates around 11% following the Financial Crack-Up of 2008. Happy Daze are HERE AGAIN!
From Zero Hedge
Curious why despite the huge miss in payrolls the unemployment rate tumbled from 7.0% to 6.7%? The reason is because in December the civilian labor force did what it usually does in the New Normal: it dropped from 155.3 million to 154.9 million, which means the labor participation rate just dropped to a fresh 35 year low, hitting levels not seen since 1978, at 62.8% down from 63.0%.
And the piece de resistance: Americans not in the labor force exploded higher by 535,000 to a new all time high 91.8 million.
The jobless, laborless recovery continues to steam on.
ZH of course highlights the OBVIOUS canard being pitched out here, which goes to the Denominator in the Equation, who the BLS counts as UE and Looking for Work. The UE measured rate by the BLS obviously went down tremendously as soon as Da Federal Goobermint dropped millions off from Extended UE bennies that were running 99 Weeks. Once you have used up your Bennies, you no longer are counted as looking for a job, whether you found one or not by the time the bennies ran out.
At the same time, the “Labor Participation Rate”, the percentage of the population who actually has a Job continues to drop here off the map. Are we expected to believe all these folks no longer need or want a job?
Part of the reason for this is Demographics. Overall the population is aging, and more of the Boomers Retire each year, and at least for now can collect SS and whatever Pension is due them, at least if they were not working for the City of Detroit for the last 30 years. However, we still do have Immigration going on, and we still do have homegrown young folks graduating from High School and College. The percentage of either class of people able to find “Jobs” in our current economy continues to drop here, and their hopes for the Future drop with them.
Of course this is NOTHING compared to what is ongoing in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy these days, where Youth
Unemployment is reaching into the +50% category. In a society where having a JOB to earn MONEY is essential if you expect to stay out of Prison or not live in a cardboard box on the street, I can’t think of any better recipe for Social Unrest than these kind of UE numbers.
If you are older here and go UE, even if you are not QUITE yet eligible for SS, decent chance you have some savings to live off, or maybe a paid off McMansion you can sell and live off the proceeds in a trailer park while you wait for SS to kick in. Or you can try and get SSDI a bit earlier than 62 for regular SS retirement FRNs.
So there is still some Safety Net here for Job losses, which goes a long way toward explaining why we do not yet see the kind of social unrest already ongoing in Greece and Spain. How long this can continue to play here remains an open question of course.
So, the bottom line here on all of this ongoing collapse nonsense revolves around the JOBS, which have been since the Industrial Revolution the means by which MOST people get some MONEY to then be able to buy food, pay Rent to the Rentier Class and buy energy with which to run the carz they need to get to work and participate in said Industrial Economy. Jobs disappear, the ability to participate disappears with it.
What ARE the jobs of the Industrial Economy though? Well, for a while during the early Growth Phase here in the FSoA, those jobs were Industrial Factory type work, as we provided hardware to run both WWI and WWII. We had copious sources of local Cheap Energy to run the Factories back then, and besides that after destroying much of the Infrastructure in Europe in both wars, it needed to be rebuilt, providing a lot of work for Factory workers here in the FSoA, where nothing got Bombed.
During the Post WWII period also, the FSoA Industrialists began the largest Public Works project in the History of Mankind, the Eisenhower Interstate. The reason was not to develop Commerce, although that came out of it as a means to Finance the project, it came from the realization by the Military arm of the Military-Industrial Complex that in order to move their Tanks and Hardware around this vast continent, they needed ROADS upon which to roll that hardware.
As a Young Lieutenant in the Army back in 1919, Dwight D Eisenhower had to move a Convoy across the old “Lincoln Highway”, which was really a Hodgepodge of paved and dirt roads, and the equipment they had got bogged down all the time. Fuel stops were vitually nonexistent, so they had to have their own Fuel trucks travelling with them to stock up at the few fuel depots that existed at the time in the more majore motros connected toa Rail line. It took WEEKS to make it across the country.
From the Illinois Dept. of Transportation website:
In late June 2006, a caravan of vehicles organized by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) will travel across the United States from San Francisco, California to Washington, D. C. to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the Interstate Highway System.
The AASHTO Anniversary Caravan of 2006 will follow Interstate 80 much of the way. It will be retracing, in reverse, the approximate route of a famous previous expedition, the Transcontinental Army Motor Convoy, which followed the Lincoln Highway across the country from Washington to San Francisco in 1919. PHOTO (ABOVE): Soldiers pushing a disabled truck during the 1919 Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy, Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 86-19-190
The remainder of this section will describe the 1919 Army Convoy; report on its three-day trip across Illinois and relate what the 1919 Army Convoy meant for the future of American Roads.
ORIGINS AND PURPOSES OF THE 1919 ARMY CONVOY
World War I (1914-1918) was the first large scale military conflict that employed vehicles powered by the relatively new internal combustion engine. Airplanes, trucks, motorcars, and tanks were used on both sides. However, they lacked the reliability, flexibility, and capacity for moving large masses of troops or equipment over long distances on inferior European roads. The vast majority of WWI military transportation on land was done by horses and railroad trains; nevertheless, by the end of the war, most military leaders saw the potential for increased use of motorized troops and equipment in military campaigns of the future.
The end of the war also inspired the leaders of the Good Roads Movement to resume their public relations (PR) campaign to convince the public to demand better roads from state and local governments. The PR campaign had been put on hold during the 1917-1918 period while America was engaged in WWI. Early in 1919, Lincoln Highway Association leader Harry Ostermann had persuaded the War Department to conduct a transcontinental motor convoy trip from the East Coast to San Francisco on the marked route of the Lincoln Highway.
The purpose of the convoy was two fold: 1) it was to be a training exercise and 2) a test of the feasibility of the long distance movement of military men and supplies by auto and truck.
From the Good Roads Movement’s viewpoint, the convoy was meant to produce positive PR by demonstrating that long distance motor travel was possible. It was also meant to heighten awareness of existing poor roads that comprised much of the Lincoln Highway and other roads in the Unites States. Return to Top
AN EPIC JOURNEY FULL OF CHALLENGES AND OPPORTUNITIES
Amid much hoopla, speeches and fanfare, a 76-vehicle combined “public-private” convoy, including 56 military vehicles, 209 officers and enlisted men, and dozens of private citizens took off from the White House on July 7, 1919. (LH/MAIN STREET, p. 83).
Later that evening, the convoy was joined by two, last minute volunteer Army officers. They were Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower and Major Sereno Brett, who were to serve as observers for the Army Tank Corps. PHOTO: Major Sereno Brett, Harvey Firestone, Jr., and Lt. Colonel Dwight Eisenhower at 1919 Army Convoy stopover at the Firestone Homestead, Columbania, Ohio, July 13, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 70-520-3.
The convoy was to operate as if the country was at war and that an Asiatic enemy had destroyed railroad lines, bridges, and tunnels. They were also to act as if they would be traveling through enemy territory and thus, had to be self-contained and self-sustaining over the 3,250-mile route. Maintaining the illusion of being at war or being truly self-sustaining proved to be very difficult, as was the trip itself.
Among some of the military personnel, there was even doubt whether or not the convoy could actually make it across the continent. The vehicles were untested over long distances. Many sections of the Lincoln Highway were unimproved dirt roads. Finally, few military personnel; especially enlisted men, had much experience with motor vehicle driving or maintenance. Eisenhower later wrote that the trek was a genuine adventure. “We were not sure it could be accomplished at all. Nothing of the sort had ever been attempted.”
At first, in the East from Washington through Indiana, the roads were generally good but mechanical problems with the various vehicles and logistical problems slowed the convoy’s progress. Military discipline among the men also was “conspicuous by its absence,” according to one observer. About the familiarity of the men with operating trucks, Eisenhower wrote:
All drivers had claimed lengthy experience in driving trucks; some of them, it turned out, had never handled anything more advanced than a Model T. Most colored the air with expression in starting and stopping that indicated a longer association with teams of horses than with internal combustion engines. (EISENHOWER REPORT)
As the convoy (also referred to as the “train” by some) headed into Illinois and the West, road conditions along the Lincoln Highway presented serious challenges that often delayed and sometimes halted the convoy. The Highway ran on dirt roads through most of Illinois, but the weather was dry, so it was possible to cross the state in a few days. Of the roads between Illinois and California, Eisenhower, in his post-trip report wrote:
The dirt roads of Iowa are well graded and are good in dry weather; but would be impossible in wet weather. In Nebraska, the first real sand was encountered, and two days were lost in western part of this state due to bad, sandy roads. Wyoming roads west of Cheyenne are poor dirt ones, with weak culverts and bridges. In one day, 14 of these were counted, broken through by the train. The desert roads in the southwest portion of this state are very poor. In western Utah, on the Salt Lake Desert, the road becomes almost impossible to heavy vehicles. From Orr’s Ranch, Utah, to Carson City, Nevada, road is one succession of dust, ruts, pits and holes. This stretch was not improved in any way, and consisted only of a track across the desert. At many points on the road water is twenty miles distant, and parts of the road are ninety miles from the nearest railroad. (EISENHOWER REPORT)
In fact, one of the biggest problems was the poor state of the bridges along the Lincoln Highway. PHOTO: Army Truck testing the holding power of one of many small bridges crossed during the Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 81-17-25.
Advance notice of the convoy spread and its arrival in towns along the Lincoln Highway were occasions for celebrations and plenty of speeches imploring listeners to demand more public funding for “Good Roads.” The convoy passed through 350 communities, and it was estimated that more than 3,000,000 people witnessed it along the route. Millions more followed the trek in newspapers and early motion picture “newsreels.” PHOTO: 1919 Army Transcontinental Motor Convoy on Review, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1919. Eisenhower Library Audiovisual Department, photo 81-17-55.
The convoy did make it. Battered, but unbowed, the caravan arrived at the gates of Lincoln Park in San Francisco. However, it had taken until September 6, 1919 for it to reach its destination, a grueling sixty-two (62) days!
In November 1919, Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower wrote a seven-page report relaying the observations he made during the Army Convoy to the Chief of the Army’s Motor Transport Corps (M.T.C.). He summarized the results as follows:
The truck train was well received at all points along the route. It seemed that there was a great deal of sentiment for the improving of highways, and, from the standpoint of promoting this sentiment, the trip was an undoubted success. As stated before in this paper, it is believed that the M. T. C. should pay more attention to disciplinary drills for officers and men, and that all should be intelligent, snappy soldiers before giving them the responsibility of operating trucks. Extended trips by trucks through the middle western part of the United States are impracticable until roads are improved, and then only a light truck should be used on long hauls. Through the eastern part of the United States, the truck can be efficiently used in the Military Service, especially in problems involving a haul of approximately 100 miles, which could be negotiated by light trucks in one day. (EISENHOWER REPORT.)
THE 1919 ARMY MOTOR CONVOY IN ILLINOIS
The 1919 Army Transcontinental Army Convoy crossed into Illinois on the afternoon of Saturday, July 19, 1919. It stopped the next day for a Sunday rest period in Chicago Heights. The trip was resumed on Monday July 21, 1919, and the convoy camped over that night in DeKalb. On Tuesday July 22, 1919, the convoy left DeKalb and crossed over the Mississippi River Bridge at Fulton, Illinois and entered into Iowa that evening.
During the two full days it spent on the road in Illinois, the convoy covered about 172 miles in a little over 21 hours on the road. It was fairly lucky with the weather and thus the roads, but as the following account from the convoy’s daily log reveals, it had its share of problems with the vehicles, drivers, and equipment in its journey across the Land of Lincoln.
(Read the official Army account of the convoy’s journey thru Illinois).
So basically from the 1950s right up until around 2008 when the Sub-Prime Mortgage Bubble popped, as the Industrial Jobs began to leave the country in the 1970s to go to Cheaper Labor Markets in places like Mexico, India and China, fairly decently paid work in the Construction Industry took their place. Many jobs even for highly paid well educated folks like Civil Engineers, Architects, Electrical Engineers, Plumbers et al, as every new Mall and every new Suburban Subdivision needed to be Wired Up and Plumbed to keep the Sanitation Decent. As the communities sprouted like mushrooms across the once Pristine Wilderness of the FSoA, Civil Service Goobermint workers in every field from Police Work to Sanitation workers to Teachers were necessary. Where did the MONEY come from to PAY all these people for these new JOBS in these new communities?
As with ALL money since the beginning of the Industrial Era (and really long before that, btu expanding exponentially through this period), the MONEY came from the Issuance of New Credit done by the folks who have controlled this since the beginning of the Colonial Era at the LATEST, the TBTF Banks and the small number of people who control them, often referred to here on the pages of the Diner as the “Illuminati”. In 1692 the Bank of England was Chartered, and despite a real lack of Precious Metals in England at that time, these folks issued CREDIT on what basically was all the resources of the New World they were set to exploit. They did not HAVE the “money” to issue out, they CREATED the money to issue out. Long as everyone under their Political Control HAD to use this money (“Legal Tender”) they could LOAN it to others, who then owed them Interest. Anyone on the Inside of this Scheme never really could go Broke, as they could always issue themselves newer and bigger Loans to further buy out the Resources, and the Flow Begins of this money through the economy. EVERYTGHING comes to depend on this flow of money, and constant INCREASE in the money supply otherwise the interest being charged cannot be paid up on. whenever a Contraction or even just a slowdown occurs, Depressions ensue, Deleveraging occurs and most of the population gets hung out to dry. this was the narrative pretty much from 1700 right through to the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Throughout the period of the post-Revolutionary War here in the FSoA, Credit was issued by Industrialists in Europe to first off exploit the Coal Resources here and ship them back to Europe to power their Factories, and then to further build out Industrial Infrastructure here. The Railroads were the essential component of this, because without them there was no moving the Coal from the mines of West Virginia to the Ports on the East Coast. So the Jobs of those days came in the form of Coal Mining and Railroad construction, and as the railroads expanded across the continent, new communities based on this new type of Industrial living popped up like Buboes across the landscape.
Still, it was basically an Agrarian Paradigm, with most people in the country engaged in local Agriculture, right up until the Great Depression. Reason for this is that it really was not until the 1920’s or so that the first ICE Tractors became available, and Ag was still very Human Labor intensive through the 1800s. Even going into the Great Depression in the 1930s, most estimates I have read put 90% of the population here living and working locally in the Ag paradigm.
For those who did not Own Land, up until the Civil War you had explicit Slavery for the imported African Labor force, so I don’t think you can really call what they did as a “Job”. During the Reconstruction period, you had Sharecroppers, and not sure this form of exploiting labor can be called a Job either.
Where what we think of now as Jobs being paid with Money emerged here was first in the Coal Mines and along the Railroad Tracks, work which was uniformly low paid and very dangerous also. Workers who performed these jobs were recruited from places like China and Ireland, where conditions for their populations were so bad at the time that just the CHANCE to come over here and work in one of these jobs was a step up, though for many it proved a disappointment for sure as they died in dangerous working conditions, and often had wages so low surviving on what you could buy from the Company Store was pretty difficult
The upshot of this period as the Factories began to pop up as well was a workforce that became increasingly Organized, with Labor making it’s first Battles here against the Capitalist class in control of Credit Creation, money, and by this time virtually all the worthwhile Property across the country.
In fact this battle started in Europe where the whole Industrial paradigm began, and Jobs (or lack of them) and ridiculously low pay and bad working conditions developed alternative ideas to the Capital Exploitation model. Specifically, Karl Marx and Friederich Engels developed the Communist model, which the Bolsheviks in Russia tried to implement, becoming increasingly bastardized over time. In fact that model was probably corrupt right from the get go, as Trotsky and Lenin likely got most of their funding for that Revolution from Industrialists in Germany and England.
Over here, as the Great Depression took hold, similar Movements towards Communism and Socialism began to gain traction, the Wobblies were a growing force, and everything possible was done to keep that movement from gaining traction. Labor Union was pitted against Labor Union, Union Bosses were paid off, the Pinkertons were brought in to disrupt Organization and physically threaten anyone organizing, and overall the Capitalist class was successful in destroying the Labor Movement in the FSoA as we moved into and past the Great Depression.
The IWW promotes the concept of “One Big Union“, contends that all workers should be united as a social class and that capitalism and wage labor should be abolished. They are known for the Wobbly Shop model of workplace democracy, in which workers elect their managers and other forms of grassroots democracy (self-management) are implemented. IWW membership does not require that one work in a represented workplace, nor does it exclude membership in another labor union.
In the 1910s and early ’20s, the IWW achieved many of their short-term goals, particularly in the American west, and cut across traditional guild and union lines to organize workers in a variety of trades and industries. At their peak in 1923, IWW membership has been estimated at about 40,000. However, the extremely high rate of IWW membership turnover during this era (estimated at 133% per decade) makes it difficult to state membership totals with any certainty, as workers tended to join the IWW in large numbers for relatively short periods (e.g., during labor strikes and periods of generalized economic distress).
Nonetheless, membership declined dramatically in the 1920s due to several factors. There were conflicts with other labor groups, particularly the American Federation of Labor (AFL) which regarded the IWW as too radical while the IWW regarded the AFL as too staid and conservative. Membership also declined in the wake of government crackdowns on radical, anarchist and socialist groups during the First Red Scare after WWI. The most decisive factor in the decline in IWW membership and influence, however, was a 1924 schism due to internal conflict, from which the IWW never fully recovered.
Compromises were made however, and the New Deal of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt incorporated numerous salves to buy off the Working Class, primary among them the creation of the Social Security system. Unions also still retained decent power in the post WWII period as the Automotive Industry ramped up in the FSoA, and for a short while the Working Class Heros of Industrialization did OK here, from say 1950 to maybe 1970 or so, though you did have to usually have “Connections” to get inside any of the powerful Trade Unions of the Era.
Over time of course the Unions and their ability to negotiate a better wage for their workers has been systematically diminished, and on a Media level the whole IDEA of Unions and Collective bargaining has been subject to non-stop Bernays style propagandizing against, to the point through the 90s-00s that even the Blue Collar workers such collectives work best for were convinced they were bad. Go to any Kneejerk Conservatard Website like the one Mike “Mish” Shedlock runs on Global Economic Analysis, and you will find non-stop BLAME being placed on Unions as the Cause of all our problems. See folks, if we just got rid of those nasty Teacher’s Unions and Auto Unions and all those “Big” Pensions they negotiated over the years, we would have PROSPERITY again! LOL.
Prosperity for WHO? Certainly not Prosperity for the Pensioners who have their pensions ripped out from under them, that is for sure. Certainly not Prosperity for the next Generation of Workers either, who in order to keep our products “competitive” on the Global Market need to drop their Wages down to whatever it is the Chinese of Mexicans or Egyptians are getting these days, like $2/day there. the folks who PROSPER from reneging on Pensions are the Rentier Class, aka the Illuminati. See, they are the “Secured Bondholders”. gotta pay them off before you pay the pension of anyone who worked for the City of Detroit for the last 30 years. As the economic system which Industrialists used to build out their system falls apart here, they hang out to dry everyone who ever worked in the system in ANY capacity, from an Industrial Factory Worker to a Coal Miner to the Police Force of Detroit, who for near 100 years protected the “Property” these folks claimed to own, thoroughly polluted and then abandoned.
Same Bizness occurring over in China now, just at a vastly Accelerated Pace as first the Hot Money drops in there to “Create Jobs” in Industry, profit is sucked out on the back of cheap labor, the resource landscape of the country is destroyed and then when no more Profit can be pulled from this mess, they “Unwind the Carry Trade”, Newzpeak for the Rentier Class packing their bags and Private Jets with whatever they can and GTFO of Dodge, leaving the rest of the Chinese Population to die in the stinking sewer they made of that land mass.
Today, as we speak, this whole paradigm is coming to a close, for numerous reasons.
First off, there really is no NEW place to go to either exploit Resources or Exploit Labor to gain “Profit” for the individual or corporation that has not already been thoroughly sucked dry. Though there is still some fossil fuel energy left in the ground to extract, the energy cost for pulling it up comes ever closer each day to the cost the consumer of this energy can afford to pay. Without continuing expansion of Credit, there is no ‘money” flow to the end consumer, and while the Central Banks provide endless Quantitative Easing FREE CREDIT a ZIRP to their member TBTF Banks, said Banks do not pass this money on in the form of new loans to anybody further than one tier below their line. Do you think a lot of Individuals line up to buy a Facepalm IPO? Who are the “Investors” in Facepalm, and where do they get the money to invest in that piece of shit Social Media White Elephant? Faceplam has NEVER turned a Profit since the day Mark Suckerbug and the Winkletwins dreamed it up. Regardless, “investors” subscribed to the IPO to the tune of like $100B, least that is around where the Market Cap is here I think. Where did they GET $100B to “invest” in Facepalm? They BORROWED it from the Federal Reserve, rehypothecating worthless MBS as collateral to invest here. This is the circle jerk of money creation, and folks on the inside get fabulously wealthy off of it, but everybody else gets screwed to beat the band here. Constant investment in ultimately non-productive and worthless enterprise that simply burns energy faster all the time, until there is nothing left to burn, which we are not at yet but getting closer to all the time. Ongoing here really since the very first Railroad Tracks were laid here in the FSoA in the early 1800s.
So, in the final analysis, this is where all the “JOBS” came from. Money created as Debt to exploit the resources of the New World, accessing a fabulous wealth of stored energy, first from Coal, then following that from Oil. Every last “Job” that has been created through the era all comes from the downhill flow of this energy as it is burned, and with less and less available to burn all the time, there are fewere and fewer Jobs to be had that depend on the burning of this energy. Politicos calls for a “Return to Growth” are a chimera, there is no growth, really there has not been for 30 years here or so. The “growth” you see is Numerical Smoke & Mirrors, pretty arbitrary numbers overall that get bigger all the time, while the population at large gets poorer all the time. The FSoA population has been getting steadily poorer under this paradigm, but not until now has it really been evident, masked well by Financialism and control over the Global Reserve Currency of the Dollar.
Besides the fact there is no new place to GO to exploit resource and labor, the result of 200 years of this shit is that we are now Neck Deep in our own sewage, with far too many people on the planet who have opportunity for truly productive things to do with their lives and who are pretty much 100% Dependent on the system continuing onward for their own survival. Willfully trying to exit the system while it continues to function is close to impossible in most places, really you have to go way out into the bush to even try something like this, and few people are prepared to do that these days.
Those of us who are engaged in building the SUN Project see all of these things quite clearly. There are no easy answers, no simple ways to exit, and a “Crash on Demand” by a large percentage of the population walking away from Industrialization simultaneously is unlikely to occur as a willfull thing, though it may happen organically quite rapidly if the current systems fail rapidly in cascade fashion.
For those of us involved in SUN, we seek to redefine the ideas of Jobs, Work & Money. Jobs as we have known them through the Industrial Era are already going the way of the Dinosaur, and as Bruce Springstein write in “My Hometown”, they ain’t ever coming back.
We don’t NEED no Stinkin’ JOBs, and we don’t NEED the Debt Money pitched out here by the Illuminati for the last 200 years of Industrialization either. Like the “Assets” this money created, it is all going quite Worthless now. What we NEED is to work together, to build our communities, to work for the common good of our Species and the Planet we live on. We are rapidly running short on time here to make such changes in anything but the most Painful Way conceivable, and Heliopaths seek to avoid such a nasty endgame, if not for everyone, at least for those who see what is coming and wish to do the best they can to avoid it with us.
Perhaps you think this is all useless, it is too late already and the End is Written in Stone. If so, I wish you well and I will see you in the Great Beyond when we all get there. I personally am not concerned with whether the End is Written in Stone or not, because that does not materially affect the way I approach this End Game. Maybe I will go down, maybe my friends will go down too. However, if that is how it plays out, we will GO DOWN SWINGING.
IT AIN’T OVAH TILL THE FAT LADY SINGS!
SEE YOU ON THE OTHER SIDE
Published on the Archdruid Report on July 10, 2013
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There are nights, now and then, when I sit up late with a glass of bourbon and look back over the long strange trip that’s unfolded over the last thirty years or so. When a substantial majority of Americans straight across the political landscape convinced themselves in the early 1980s that mouthing feel-good slogans and clinging to extravagant lifestyles over the short term made more sense than facing up to the hard choices that might have given our grandchildren a livable future, that choice kickstarted a flight into fantasy that continues to this day.
Over the seven years that I’ve been writing and posting essays here on The Archdruid Report, in turn, a tolerably good sample of the resulting fantasies have been dumped on my electronic doorstep by readers who were incensed by my lack of interest in playing along. There’s a certain amusement value in reviewing that sample, but a retrospective glance that way has another advantage: the common threads that unite the fantasies in question form a pattern of central importance to the theme that this sequence of posts is trying to explore.
Back in 2006, when I made my first posts suggesting that the future waiting for us on the far side of Hubbert’s peak was a long, ragged descent punctuated by crises, there were three common ways of dismissing that prediction. The first insisted that once the price of petroleum got near $100 a barrel, the sheer cost of fueling the industrial economy would trigger the economic crisis to end all economic crises and bring civilization crashing down at once. The second insisted that once that same price threshold was met, any number of exciting new renewable energy technologies would finally become profitable, resulting in a green-energy boom and a shiny future. The third insisted that once that price threshold was met, the law of supply and demand would flood the market with petroleum, force prices back down, and allow the march of economic growth to continue merrily on its way.
A case could be made that those were reasonable hypotheses at the time. Still, the price of oil went soaring past $100 a barrel over the next few years, and none of those predictions panned out. We did have a whopping economic crisis in 2008, but emergency actions on the part of central banks kept the global economy from unraveling; a variety of renewable energy technologies got launched onto the market, but it took massive government subsidies to make any of them profitable, and all of them together provide only a very small fraction of our total energy use; and, of course, as prices rose, a certain amount previously uneconomical oil did find its way to market, but production remains locked into a plateau and the price remains stubbornly high.
That is to say, the perfect storms weren’t, the game-changing events didn’t, and a great many prophets ended up taking a total loss on their predictive investments. It’s the aftermath, though, that matters. By and large, the people who were making these claims didn’t stop, look around, and say, “Hmm, clearly I got something wrong. Is there another way of thinking about the implications of peak oil that makes more sense of the data?” Instead, they found other arguments to back the same claims, or simply kept repeating them at higher volume. For a while there, you could go visit certain peak oil bloggers every January and read the same predictions of imminent economic doom that appeared there the year before, and then go to another set of peak oil bloggers and read equally recycled predictions that this would be the breakthrough year for some green energy source or other, and in neither case was there any sign that any of them had learned a thing from all the times those same predictions had failed before.
Nor were they alone—far from it. When I think about the number of arguments that have been posted here over the last seven years, in an effort to defend the claim that the Long Descent can’t possibly happen, it’s enough to make my head spin, even without benefit of bourbon. I’ve fielded patronizing lectures from believers in UFOs, New Age channelers, and the fake-Mayan 2012 prophecy, airily insisting that once the space brothers land, the New Age dawns, or what have you, we’ll all discover that ecological limits and the laws of thermodynamics are illusions created by lower states of consciousness. Likewise, I’ve received any number of feverish pronouncements that asteroids, solar flares, methane burps from the sea floor or, really, just about anything you can imagine short of titanic space walruses with photon flippers, are going to wipe out humanity in the next few years or decades and make the whole issue moot.
It’s been a wild ride, really. I’ve been labeled dogmatic and intolerant for pointing out to proponents of zero point energy, abiotic oil, and similar exercises in wishful thinking that insisting that a completely unproven theory will inevitably save us may not be the most sensible strategy in a time of crisis. I’ve been dismissed as closed-minded by believers in artificial intelligence, fusion power, and an assortment of other technological will-o’-the-wisps for asking why promises of imminent sucess that have been repeated word for word every few years since the 1950s still ought to be considered credible today I’ve been accused of being a stooge for the powers of evil for questioning claims that Bush—er, make that Clinton—uh, well, let’s try Dubya—um, okay, then, Obama, is going to suspend the constitution, impose a totalitarian police state and start herding us all into camps, and let’s not even talk about the number of people who’ve gotten irate with me when I failed to be impressed by their insistence that the Rapture will happen before we run out of oil.
Not one of these claims is new, any more than the claims of imminent economic collapse, green-energy breakthroughs, or oceans of petroleum just waiting to be drilled. Most of them have been recycled over and over again, some for over a century—the New Age, for example, was originally slated to arrive in 1879, and in fact the most popular alternative spirituality magazine in 1890s Britain was titled The New Age—and the few that have only been through a few seasons’ worth of reruns follow familiar patterns and thus fail in equally familiar ways. If the point of making predictions in the first place has anything to do with anticipating the future we’re actually likely to get, these claims have flopped resoundingly, and yet they remain wildly popular.
Now of course there are good reasons why they should be popular. All the claims about the future I’ve listed are, in practical terms, incentives to inaction and evasions of responsibility. If rising oil prices are guaranteed to bring on a rush of new green energy options, then we don’t have to change our lifestyles, because pretty soon we’ll be able to power them on sun or wind or what have you; if rising oil prices are guaranteed to bring on a rush of new petroleum sources, well, then we don’t need to change our lifestyles, either, and we can make an extra donation to the Sierra Club or something to assuage any lingering ecological guilt we might have. The same goes for any of the other new technologies that are supposedly going to provide us with, ahem, limitless energy sometime very soon—and you’ll notice that in every case, supplying us with all that energy is someone else’s job.
On the other hand, if the global economy is sure to go down in flames in the next few years, or runaway climate change is going to kill us all, or some future president is finally going to man up, impose a police state and march us off to death camps, it’s not our fault, and there’s nothing we can do that matters anyway, so we might as well just keep on living our comfortable lifestyles while they’re still here, right? It may be impolite to say this, but it needs to be said: any belief about the future that encourages people to sit on their backsides and do nothing but consume scarce resources, when there’s a huge amount that could be done to make the future a better place and a grave shortage of people doing it, is a luxury this age of the world can’t afford.
Still, I’d like to cycle back to the way that failed predictions are recycled, because it leads straight to the heart of an unrecognized dimension of the predicament of our time. Since the future can’t be known in advance, attempts to predict it have to rely on secondhand evidence. One proven way to collect useful evidence concerning the validity of a prediction is to ask what happened in the past when somebody else made that same prediction. Another way is to look for situations in the past that are comparable to the one the prediction discusses, in order to see what happened then. A prediction that fails either one of these tests usually needs to be put out to pasture; one that fails both—that has been made repeatedly in the past and failed every time, and that doesn’t account for the way that comparable situations have turned out—ought to be sent to the glue factory instead.
It’s in this light that the arguments used to defend repeatedly failed predictions can be understood. I’ve discussed these arguments at some length in recent posts: the endlessly repeated claim that it’s different this time, the refusal to think about the implications of well-documented sources of negative feedback, the insistence that a prediction must be true if no one’s proved that it’s impossible, and so on. All of them are rhetorical gimmicks meant to stonewall the kind of assessment I’ve just outlined. Put another way, they’re attempts to shield repeatedly failed predictions from the normal and healthy consequences of failure.
Think about that for a bit. From the time that our distant ancestors ventured out onto the East African savannas and started to push the boundaries of their nervous systems in ways for which millions of years of treetop living did little to prepare them, their survival and success have been a function of their ability to come up with mental models of the world that more or less correspond to reality where it counts. If there were ever australopithecines that couldn’t do the sort of basic reality testing that allows food to be distinguished from inedible objects, and predators from harmless animals, they didn’t leave any descendants. Since then, as hominids and then humans developed more and more elaborate mental models of the world, the hard-won ability to test those models against the plain facts of experience with more and more precision has been central to our achievement.
In the modern West, we’ve inherited two of the great intellectual revolutions our species has managed—the creation of logic and formal mathematics in ancient Greece, and the creation of experimental science in early modern Europe—and both of those revolutions are all about reality testing. Logic is a system for making sure that mental models make sense on their own terms, and don’t stray into fallacy or contradiction; experimental science is a system for checking some mental models, those that deal with the quantifiable behavior of matter and energy, against the facts on the ground. Neither system is foolproof, but then neither is anything else human, and if both of them survive the decline and fall of our present civilization, there’s every reason to hope that future civilizations will come up with ways to fill in some of their blind spots, and add those to the slowly accumulating body of effective technique that provides one of the very few long-term dynamics to history.
It remains true, though, that all the many methods of reality testing we’ve evolved down through the millennia, from the most basic integration of sense inputs hardwired into the human brain right on up to the subtleties of propositional logic and the experimental method, share one central flaw. None of them will work if their messages are ignored—and that’s what’s going on right now, as a vast majority of people across the modern industrial world scramble to find reasons to cling to a range of popular but failed predictions about the future, and do their level best to ignore the evidence that a rather more unpopular set of predictions about the future is coming true around them.
Look around, dear reader, and you’ll see a civilization in decline, struggling ineffectually with the ecological overshoot, the social disintegration, the institutional paralysis, and the accelerating decay of infrastructure that are part and parcel of the normal process by which civilizations die. This is what the decline and fall of a civilization looks like in its early-to-middle stages—and it’s also what I’ve been talking about, very often in so many words, since not long after this blog got under way seven years ago. Back then, as I’ve already mentioned, it was reasonable to propose that something else might happen, that we’d get the fast crash or the green-energy breakthrough or all the new petroleum that the law of supply and demand was supposed to provide us, but none of those things happened. (Of course, neither did the mass landing of UFOs or any of the other more colorful fantasies, but then that was never really in question.) It’s time to recognize that the repetition of emotionally appealing but failed predictions is not a helpful response to the crisis of our time, and in fact has done a great deal to back us into the corner we’re now in. What was Ronald Reagan’s airy twaddle about “morning in America,” after all, but another emotionally appealing failed prophecy of the kind I’ve just been discussing?
Thus I’d like to suggest that from now on, any claim about the future needs to be confronted up front by the two hard questions proposed above. What happened at other times when people made the same prediction, or one that’s closely akin to it? What happened in other situations that are comparable to the one the prediction attempts to address? Any prediction that claims to be about a future we might actually encounter should be able to face these two questions without resorting to the kind of rhetorical evasions noted above. Any prediction that has to hide behind those evasions, in turn, needs to be recognized as being irrelevant to any future we might actually encounter. My own predictions, by the way, stand or fall by the same rule, and I encourage my readers to ask those questions of each prediction I make, and answer them through their own research.
Yes, I’m aware that those two questions pack an explosive punch that makes dynamite look weak. It’s embarrassingly common in contemporary life for theories to be embraced because of their emotional appeal, and then defended with every rhetorical trick in the book against any inconvenient contact with unsympathetic facts. As suggested in last week’s post, that’s a common feature of civilizations toward the end of their rationalist period, when abstract reason gets pushed to the point of absurdity and then well beyond it. Fantasies about the shape of the future aren’t uncommon at such times, but I don’t know of another civilization in all of recorded history that has put as much energy as ours into creating and defending abstract theories about the shape of the future. With any luck, the civilizations that come after ours will learn from our mistakes, and direct their last and most overblown abstractions in directions that will do less harm.
In the meantime, those of us who are interested in talking about the kinds of future we might actually encounter might find it useful to give up the standard modern habit of choosing a vision of the future because it’s emotionally appealing, demanding that the world fulfill whatever dream we happen to have, and filling our minds with defensive gimmicks to keep from hearing when the world says “no.” That requires a willingness to ask the questions I mentioned above, and to accept the answers, even when they aren’t what we’d like them to be. More generally, it requires a willingness to approach the universe of our experience from a standpoint that’s as stunningly unfashionable these days as it is necessary—a standpoint of humility.
What would it mean if, instead of trying to impose an emotionally appealing narrative on the future, and shouting down any data that conflicts with it, we were to approach the universe of our experience with enough humility to listen to the narratives the universe itself offers us? That’s basically what I’ve been trying to suggest here all along, after all. That’s the point to my repeated references to history, because history is our species’ accumulated body of knowledge of the way human affairs unfold over time, and approaching that body of knowledge with humility and a willingness to listen to the stories it tells is a proven way to catch hints about the shape of the future as it unfolds.
That’s also the point to my equally frequent references to ecology, because history is simply one subset of the behavior of living things over time—the subset that deals with human organisms—and also because ecological factors have played a huge and all too often unrecognized role in the rise and fall of human societies. Whether humans are smarter than yeast is less important than the fact, and of course it is a fact, that humans, yeast, and all other living things are subject to the same ecological laws and thus inevitably experience similar processes over time. Attentive listening to the stories that history tells, and the even richer body of stories that nature tells, is the one reliable way we’ve got to figure out what those processes are before they clobber us over the head.
That act of humility, finally, may be the best ticket out of the confusion that the collective imagination of our time has created around itself, the proliferation of abstractions divorced from reality that makes it so hard to see the future looming up ahead of us. By turning our attention to what actually happens in the world around us, and asking the hard but necessary questions about our preferred notions concerning that world and its future, we might just be able to extract ourselves far enough from that confusion to begin to grapple with the challenges of our time. In the process, we’ll have to confront once again the issues with which this series of posts started out—the religious dimension of peak oil and the end of the industrial age. We’ll proceed with that discussion next week.