Collapse Is Already Here: It’s A Process, Not An Event …

30 01 2019

A great article by Chris Martenson, which omits the fires in Tassie….. as I write, collapse is very obvious down here in the Huon. Authorities have closed the road to Geeveston, and the survival of our shed and ducklings is in the lap of the gods now. Today’s conditions – air pollution index early this morning reached a staggering 1400 at home – are going to escalate to severe, with building losses expected.

Updated 30/1/2019 fire just 1000m from the Fanny Farm
Photo looking West taken by my neighbour Matt
15 months ago, that hill was covered in snow…!

By Chris Martenson

January 26, 2019 “Information Clearing House” –   

Many people are expecting some degree of approaching collapse — be it economic, environmental and/or societal — thinking that they’ll recognize the danger signs in time.

As if it will be completely obvious, like a Hollywood blockbuster. Complete with clear warnings from scientists, politicians and the media.  And everyone can then get busy either panicking or becoming the plucky heroes.

That’s not how collapse works.

Collapse is a process, not an event.

And it’s already underway, all around us.

Collapse is already here.

However, unlike Hollywood’s vision, the early stages of collapse cause people to cling even tighter to the status quo. Instead of panic in the streets, we simply see more of the same — as those in power do all they can to remain so, while the majority of the public attempts to ignore the growing problems for as long as it possibly can.

For both the elite and the majority, their entire world view and their personal sense of self depends on things not crumbling all around them, so they remain willfully blind to any evidence to the contrary.

When faced with the predicaments we warn about here at PeakProsperity.com, getting an early start on prudently shifting your own personal situation is of vital strategic and tactical importance. Tens of thousands of our readers already have taken wise steps in their lives to position themselves resiliently.

But most of the majority won’t get started until it’s entirely too late to make any difference at all. Which is sad but perhaps unavoidable, given human nature.

If everybody around you is saying “Everything is awesome!”, it can take a long time to determine for yourself that things in fact aren’t:

Real collapse happens slowly, and often without any sort of acknowledgement by the so-called political and economic elites until its abrupt terminal end.

The degree of rot within the Soviet Union went undetected until its final implosion, catching pretty much everyone in the West (as well as in the former USSR!) by surprise.

Similarly, one day people woke up and passenger pigeons were extinct.  They used to literally darken the skies for hours as they migrated past, numbering in the billions. Nobody planned on their demise and virtually nobody saw it coming.  Sure, just as there always are, a few crackpots at the fringes noticed, but they were ignored until it was too late.

Our view is that collapse of our current way of life is happening right now. The signs are all around us.  Our invitation is for you to notice them and inquire critically what the ramifications will be — irrespective of whatever pablum our leaders and media are currently spewing.

While the monetary and financial elites strain to crank out one more day/week/month/year of “market stability”, the ecosystems we depend on for life are vanishing. It’s as if the Rapture were happening, but it’s the insects, plants and animals ascending to heaven instead of we humans.

COMMITTING ECOCIDE

Be very skeptical when the cause of each new ecological nightmare is ascribed to “natural causes.”

While it’s entire possible for any one ecological mishap to be due to a natural cycle, it’s weak thinking to assign the same cause to dozens of troubling findings happening all over the globe.

As they say in the military: Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. But three times is enemy action.

Right now, Australia is in the middle of the summer season and being absolutely hammered by high heat.  Sure it gets hot during an Australian summer, but not like this. The impact has been devastating:

Australia’s Facing an Unprecedented Ecological Crisis, But No One’s Paying Attention

Jan 9, 2019

It started in December, just before Christmas.

Hundreds of dead perch were discovered floating along the banks of the Darling River – victims of a “dirty, rotten green” algae bloom spreading in the still waters of the small country town of Menindee, Australia.

Things didn’t get better. The dead hundreds became dead thousands, as the crisis expanded to claim the lives of 10,000 fish along a 40-kilometre (25-mile) stretch of the river. But the worst was still yet to come.

This week, the environmental disaster has exploded to a horrific new level – what one Twitter user called “Extinction level water degradation” – with reports suggesting up to a million fish have now been killed in a new instance of the toxic algae bloom conditions.

For their part, authorities in the state of New South Wales have only gone as far as confirming “hundreds of thousands” of fish have died in the event – but regardless of the exact toll, it’s clear the deadly calamity is an unprecedented ecological disaster in the region’s waterways.

“I’ve never seen two fish kills of this scale so close together in terms of time, especially in the same stretch of river,” fisheries manager Iain Ellis from NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) explained to ABC News.

The DPI blames ongoing drought conditions for the algae bloom’s devastating impact on local bream, cod, and perch species – with a combination of high temperature and chronic low water supply (along with high nutrient concentrations in the water) making for a toxic algal soup.

Watching the video above showing grown men crying over the loss of 100-year-old fish is heartbreaking. This fish kill is described as “unprecedented” and as an “extinction level event”, meaning it left no survivors over a long stretch of waterway.

We can try to console oursleves that maybe this was just a singular event, a cluster of bad juju and worse waterway management that combined to give us this horror — but it wasn’t.

It’s part of a larger tapestry of heat-induced misery that Australia is facing:

How one heatwave killed ‘a third’ of a bat species in Australia

Jan 15, 2019

Over two days in November, record-breaking heat in Australia’s north wiped out almost one-third of the nation’s spectacled flying foxes, according to researchers.

The animals, also known as spectacled fruit bats, were unable to survive in temperatures which exceeded 42C.

“It was totally depressing,” one rescuer, David White, told the BBC.

Flying foxes are no more sensitive to extreme heat than some other species, experts say. But because they often gather in urban areas in large numbers, their deaths can be more conspicuous, and easily documented.

“It raises concerns as to the fate of other creatures who have more secretive, secluded lifestyles,” Dr Welbergen says.

He sees the bats as the “the canary in the coal mine for climate change”.

A two-day heatwave last November (2018) was sufficient to kill up to a third of all Australia’s known flying foxes, a vulnerable species that was already endangered.  As those bats are well-studied and their deaths quite conspicuous to observers, it raises the important question: How many other less-scrutinized species are dying off at the same time?

And the death parade continues:

Are these data points severe enough for you to recognize as signs of ongoing collapse?

Last summer was a time of extreme draught and heat for Australia, and this summer looks set to be even worse. This may be the country’s  ‘new normal’ for if the situation is due to climate change instead of just an ordinary (if punishing) hot cycle.

If so, these heat waves will likely intensify over time, completely collapsing the existing biological systems across Australia.

‘Like losing family’: time may be running out for New Zealand’s most sacred treeMeanwhile, nearby in New Zealand, similar species loss is underway:

July 2018

New Zealand’s oldest and most sacred tree stands 60 metres from death, as a fungal disease known as kauri dieback spreads unabated across the country.

Tāne Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) is a giant kauri tree located in the Waipoua forest in the north of the country, and is sacred to the Māori people, who regard it as a living ancestor.

The tree is believed to be around 2,500 years old, has a girth of 13.77m and is more than 50m tall.

Thousands of locals and tourists alike visit the tree every year to pay their respects, and take selfies beside the trunk.

Now, the survival of what is believed to be New Zealand’s oldest living tree is threatened by kauri dieback, with kauri trees a mere 60m from Tāne Mahuta confirmed to be infected.

Kauri dieback causes most infected trees to die, and is threatening to completely wipe out New Zealand’s most treasured native tree species, prized for its beauty, strength and use in boats, carvings and buildings.

“We don’t have any time to do the usual scientific trials anymore, we just have to start responding immediately in any way possible; it is not ideal but we have kind of run out of time,” Black says, adding that although there is no cure for kauri dieback there is a range of measures which could slow its progress.

(Source)

People are rallying to try and save the kauri trees, although it’s unclear exactly how to stop the spread of the new fungal invader or why it’s so pathogenic all of a sudden.  It could be due to another natural sort of cycle (except the fungus was thought to have been introduced and spread by human activity) or it could be a another collapse indicator we need to finally hear and heed.

It turns out that New Zealand is not alone. Giant trees are dying all over the globe. [it’s been reported that the world’s two tallest flowering trees here in the Huon have burned….]

2,000-year-old baobab trees in Africa are suddenly and rather mysteriously giving up the ghost.  These trees survived happily for 2,000 years and now all of a sudden they’re dying. Are the deaths of our most ancient trees all across the globe some sort of natural process? Or is there a different culprit we need to recognize?

In Japan they’re lamenting record low squid catches.  Oh well, maybe it’s just overfishing?  Or could it be another message we need to heed?

To all this we can add the numerous scientific articles now decrying the ‘insect Apocalypse’ unfolding across the northern hemisphere. The Guardian recently issued this warning: “Insect collapse: ‘We are destroying our life support systems’”. Researchers in Puerto Rico’s forest preserves recorded a 98% decline in insect mass over 35 years.  Does a 98% decline have a natural explanation? Or is something bigger going on?

Meanwhile, the butterfly die-off is unfolding with alarming speed. I rarely see them in the summer anymore, much to my great regret.  Seeing one is now as exciting as seeing a meteor streak across the sky, and just as rare:

Monarch butterfly numbers plummet 86 percent in California

Jan 7, 2019

CAMARILLO, Calif. – The number of monarch butterflies turning up at California’s overwintering sites has dropped by about 86 percent compared to only a year ago, according to the Xerces Society, which organizes a yearly count of the iconic creatures.

That’s bad news for a species whose numbers have already declined an estimated 97 percent since the 1980s.

Each year, monarchs in the western United States migrate from inland areas to California’s coastline to spend the winter, usually between September and February.

“It’s been the worst year we’ve ever seen,” said Emma Pelton, a conservation biologist with the Xerces Society who helps lead the annual Thanksgiving count. “We already know we’re dealing with a really small population, and now we have a really bad year and all of a sudden, we’re kind of in crisis mode where we have very, very few butterflies left.”

What’s causing the dramatic drop-off is somewhat of a mystery. Experts believe the decline is spurred by a confluence of unfortunate factors, including late rainy-season storms across California last March, the effects of the state’s years long drought and the seemingly relentless onslaught of wildfires that have burned acres upon acres of habitat and at times choked the air with toxic smoke.

(Source)

Note the “explanation” given blames the decline on mostly natural processes: late storms, droughts and wildfires. I believe that’s because the article appears in a US paper, so no mention was permitted of neonicotinoid pesticides or glyphosate. Both of these are highly effective decimators of insect life — but they’re highly profitable for Big Ag, so for now, any criticism is not allowed.

Sure a 97% decline since the 1980’s might be due to fires, droughts and rains. But that’s really not very likely.  There have always been fires, droughts and rains.  Something else has shifted since the 1980’s. And that “thing” is human activity, which has increased its willingness to destroy habitat and spray poisons everywhere in pursuit of cheaper food and easier profits.

The loss of insects, which we observe in the loss of the beautiful and iconic Monarch butterfly, is a gigantic warning flag that we desperately need to heed.  If the bottom of our billion-year-old food web disintegrates, you can be certain that the repercussions to humans will be dramatic and terribly difficult to ‘fix.’  In scientific terms, it will be called a “bottom-up trophic cascade”.

In a trophic cascade, the loss of a single layer of the food pyramid crumbles the entire structure.  Carefully-tuned food webs a billion years in the making are suddenly destabilized.  Life cannot adapt quickly enough, and so entire species are quickly lost.  Once enough species die off, the web cannot be rewoven, and life … simply ends.

What exactly would a “trophic cascade” look like in real life?  Oh, perhaps something just like this:

Deadly deficiency at the heart of an environmental mystery

Oct 16, 2018

During spring and summer, busy colonies of a duck called the common eider (Somateria mollissima) and other wild birds are usually seen breeding on the rocky coasts around the Baltic Sea. Thousands of eager new parents vie for the best spots to build nests and catch food for their demanding young broods.

But Lennart Balk, an environmental biochemist at Stockholm University, witnessed a dramatically different scene when he visited Swedish coastal colonies during a 5-year period starting in 2004. Many birds couldn’t fly. Others were completely paralyzed. Birds also weren’t eating and had difficulty breathing. Thousands of birds were suffering and dying from this paralytic disease, says Balk. “We went into the bird colonies, and we were shocked. You could see something was really wrong. It was a scary situation for this time of year,” he says.

Based on his past work documenting a similar crisis in several Baltic Sea fish species, Balk suspected that the birds’ disease was caused by a thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency. Thiamine is required for critical metabolic processes, such as energy production and proper functioning of the nervous system.

This essential micronutrient is produced mainly by plants, including phytoplankton, bacteria, and fungi; people and animals must acquire it through their food.

“We found that thiamine deficiency is much more widespread and severe than previously thought,” Balk says. Given its scope, he suggests that a pervasive thiamine deficiency could be at least partly responsible for global wildlife population declines. Over a 60-year period up to 2010, for example, worldwide seabird populations declined by approximately 70%, and globally, species are being lost 1,000 times faster than the natural rate of extinction (9, 10). “He has seen a thiamine deficiency in several differ phyla now,” says Fitzsimons of Balk. “One wonders what is going on. It’s a larger issue than we first suspected.”

(Source)

This is beyond disturbing. It should have been on the front pages of every newspaper and TV show across the globe.  We should be discussing it in urgent, worried tones and devoting a huge amount of money to studying and fixing it.  At a minimum, we should stop hauling more tiny fish and krill from the sea in an effort to at least stabilize the food pyramid while we sort things out.

If you recall, we’ve also recently reported on the findings showing that phytoplankton levels are down 50% (these are a prime source for thiamine, by the way). Again, here’s a possible “trophic cascade” in progress:

(Source)

Fewer phytoplankton means less thiamine being produced. That means less thiamine is available to pass up the food chain. Next thing you know, there’s a 70% decline in seabird populations.

This is something I’ve noticed directly and commented n during my annual pilgrimages to the northern Maine coast over the past 30 years, where seagulls used to be extremely common and are now practically gone.  Seagulls!

Next thing you know, some other major food chain will be wiped out and we’ll get oceans full of jellyfish instead of actual fish.  Or perhaps some once-benign mold grows unchecked because the former complex food web holding it in balance has collapsed, suddenyl transforming Big Ag’s “green revolution” into grayish-brown spore-ridden dust.

To add to the terrifying mix of ecological news has been the sudden and rapid loss of amphibian species all over the world.  A possible source for the culprit has been found, if that’s any consolation; though that discovery does not yet identify a solution to this saddening development.

Ground Zero of Amphibian ‘Apocalypse’ Finally Found

May 10, 2018

MANY OF THE world’s amphibians are staring down an existential threat: an ancient skin-eating fungus that can wipe out entire forests’ worth of frogs in a flash.

This ecological super-villain, the chytrid fungus Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, has driven more than 200 amphibian species to extinction or near-extinction—radically rewiring ecosystems all over Earth.

“This is the worst pathogen in the history of the world, as far as we can tell, in terms of its impacts on biodiversity,” says Mat Fisher, an Imperial College London mycologist who studies the fungus.

Now, a global team of 58 researchers has uncovered the creature’s origin story. A groundbreaking study published in Science on Thursday reveals where and when the fungus most likely emerged: the Korean peninsula, sometime during the 1950s.

From there, scientists theorize that human activities inadvertently spread it far and wide—leading to amphibian die-offs across the Americas, Africa, Europe, and Australia.

(Source)

Frogs, toads and salamanders were absolutely critical parts of my childhood and I delighted in their presence. I cannot imagine a world without them. But effectively, that’s what we’ve got now with so many on the endangered species list.

This parade of awful ecological news is both endless and worsening. And there is no real prospect for us to fix things in time to avoid substantial ecological pain.  None.

After all, we can’t even manage our watersheds properly. And those are dead simple by comparison. Water falls from the sky in (Mostly) predictable volume and you then distribute somewhat less than that total each year.  Linear and simple in comparison to trying to unravel the many factors underlying a specie’s collapse.

But challenges like this are popping up all over the globe:

Fear And Grieving In Las Vegas: Colorado River Managers Struggle With Water Scarcity

Dec 14th, 2018

On stage in a conference room at Las Vegas’s Caesars Palace, Keith Moses said coming to terms with the limits of the Colorado River is like losing a loved one.

“It reminds me of the seven stages of grief,” Moses said. “Because I think we’ve been in denial for a long time.”

Moses is vice chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, a group of four tribes near Parker, Arizona. He was speaking at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association meeting.

The denial turned to pain and guilt as it became clear just how big the supply and demand gaps were on the river that delivers water to 40 million people in the southwest.

For the last six months Arizona’s water leaders have been experiencing the third stage of grief: anger and bargaining.

Of the seven U.S. states that rely on the Colorado River, Arizona has had the hardest time figuring out how to rein in water use and avoid seeing the river’s largest reservoirs — Lakes Mead and Powell — drop to extremely low levels.

Kathryn Sorenson, director of Phoenix’s water utility, characterized the process this way: “Interesting. Complicated. Some might say difficult.”

One of the loudest voices in the debate has been coming from a small group of farmers in rural Pinal County, Arizona, south of Phoenix.

Under the current rules those farmers could see their Colorado River supplies zeroed out within two years.

The county’s biggest grower of cotton and alfalfa, Brian Rhodes, is trying to make sure that doesn’t happen. The soil in his fields is powder-like, bursting into tiny brown clouds with each step.

“We’re going to have to take large cuts,” Rhodes said. “We all understand that.”

(Source)

Oh my goodness. If we’re having trouble realizing that wasting precious water from the Colorado River to grow cotton is a bad idea, then there’s just no hope at all that we’ll successfully rally to address the loss of ocean phytoplankton.

That’s about the easiest connection of dots that could ever be made.  As Sam Kinison, the 1980’s comedian might have yelled – IT’S A DESERT!! YOU’RE TRYING TO GROW WATER-INTENSIVE CROPS IN THE FREAKING DESERT!  CAN’T YOU SEE ALL THE SAND AROUND YOU?!? THAT MEANS “DON’T GROW COTTON HERE!!”

A WORLD ON THE BRINK

The bottom line is this: We are destroying the natural world. And that means that we are destroying ourselves. 

I know that the mainstream news has relegated this conversation to the back pages (when they covered it at all) and so it’s not “front and center” for most people.  But it should be.

Everything we hold dear is a subset of the ecosphere. If that goes, so does everything else. Nothing else matters in the slightest if we actively destroy the Earth’s carrying capacity.

At the same time, we’re in the grips of an extremely dangerous delusion that has placed money, finance and the economy at the top spot on our temple of daily worship.

Any idea of slowing down or stopping economic growth is “bad for business” and dismissed out of hand as “not practical”, “undesirable” or “unwise”.  It’s always a bad time to discuss the end of economic growth, apparently.

But as today’s young people are increasingly discovering, if conducting business” is just a lame rationale for failed stewardship of our lands and oceans, then it’s a broken idea. One not worth preserving in its current form.

The parade of terrible ecological breakdowns provided above is there for all willing to see it. Are you willing?  Each failing ecosystem is screaming at us in urgent, strident tones that we’ve gone too far in our quest for “more”.

We might be able to explain away each failure individually. But taken as a whole?  The pattern is clear: We’ve got enemy action at work.  These are not random coincidences.

Nature is warning us loudly that it’s past time to change our ways.  That our “endless growth” model is no longer valid. In fact, it’s now becoming an existential threat

The collapse is underway. It’s just not being televised (yet).

DAVOS AS DESTINY

And don’t expect the cavalry to arrive.

Our leadership is absolutely not up to the task. If the Davos conference currently underway in Switzerland is a sign of anything at all, it’s that we’re doomed.

The world has been taken over by bankers and financiers too smitten by their love of money to notice much else or be of any practical service to the world.

By way of illustrative example, here’s the big techno-feel-good idea unveiled on the second day of the conference.  The crowds there loved it:

Yes, folks, this is what the world most desperately needs at this time! /sarc

While I’m sure drone-delivered books is a heartwarming story, it’s completely diversionary and utterly meaningless in the face of collapsing oceanic and terrestrial food webs.

Sadly, this is exactly the sort of inane distraction most admired by the Davos set in large part because it helps them feel a tiny bit better about their ill-gotten wealth. “Look!  We’re supporting good thngs!”  The ugly truth is that big wealth’s main pursuit is to distort political processes and rules to assure they get to keep it and even amass more.

Drones carrying books to Indonesian children provides the same sort of dopamine rush to a Davos attendee as Facebook ‘like’ gives to a 14-year-old. Temporary, cheap, superficial and ultimately meaningless.

The same is true of their other feel-good theme of the day. “Scientists” have discovered an enzyme that eats plastics:

That’s swell, but you know what would be even better?  Not using the bottles in the first place. Which could be accomplished by providing access to safe, potable water as a basic human right and using re-usable containers.  Of course, that would offer less chances for private wealth accumulation so instead the Davos crowd is fixated on the profitable solution vs. doing the right thing.

In viritually every instance, the Davos crowd wants to preserve industry and our consumer culture as it is, using technology and gimmicks in attempt to remedy the ills that result.  There’s money to be made on both ends of that story.

The only thing that approach lacks is a future. Because it’s not-so-subtly based on continued “growth”. Infinite exponential growth. The exact same growth that is killing ancient trees, sea birds, insects, amphibians, and phytoplankton.

Who wants more of that? Insane people.

In other words, don’t hold out any hope that the Davos set representing the so-called “elite” from every prominent nation on earth are going to somehow bravely offer up real insights on our massive predicaments and solutions to our looming problems. They’re too consumed with their own egos and busy preening for prominence to notice the danger or care.

As they pointlessly fritter away another expensive gathering, the ecological world is unraveling all around them. The oceans are becoming a barren wasteland.  The ancient trees are dying.  Heatwaves are melting tar and killing life.  The web of life is snapping strand by strand and nobody can predict what happens next.

In other words, if you held out any hope that “they” would somehow rally to the cause you’d best set that completely aside. It’s no wonder social anger against tone-deaf and plundering elites is breaking out right now.

From here, there are only two likely paths:

(1) We humans simply cannot self-organize to address these plights and carry on until the bitter end, when something catastrophic happens that collapses our natural support systems.

(2) We see the light, gather our courage, and do what needs to be done.  Consumption is widely and steeply curtailed, fossil fuel use is severely restrained, and living standards as measured by the amount of stuff flowing through our daily lives are dropped to sustainable levels.

Either path means enormous changes are coming, probably for you and definitely for your children and grandchildren.

In Part 2: Facing Reality we dive into what developments to expect as our systems continue further along their trophic cascade. Which markers and milestones should we monitor most closely to know when the next breaking point is upon us?

To reiterate: Massive change is now inevitable and in progress.

Collapse has already begun.

This article was originally published by Peak Prosperity





Kevin Anderson & Hugh Hunt – A Rule Book for the Climate Casino

14 12 2018

https://ScientistsWarning.TV – Kevin and Hugh are back with us this year discussing the new ‘climate glitterati’ that come annually to Davos to feign concern about the climate while they discuss techno-fixes that might allow the (in their minds at least) to continue their excessive lifestyle that is heading us directly for runaway climate change and collapse.

Hat Tip to Chris Harries for this COPOUT chart…..




What is this ‘Crisis’ of Modernity?

22 01 2017

But why is the economy failing to generate prosperity as in earlier decades?  Is it mainly down to Greenspan and Bernanke’s monetary excesses?  Certainly, the latter has contributed to our contemporary stagnation, but perhaps if we look a little deeper, we might find an additional explanation. As I noted in a Comment of 6 January 2017, the golden era of US economic expansion was the ‘50s and ‘60s – but that era had begun to unravel somewhat, already, with the economic turbulence of the 70s. However, it was not so much Reagan’s fiscal or monetary policies that rescued a deteriorating situation in that earlier moment, but rather, it was plain old good fortune. The last giant oil fields with greater than 30-to-one, ‘energy-return’ on ‘energy-cost’ of exploitation, came on line in the 1980s: Alaska’s North Slope, Britain and Norway’s North Sea fields, and Siberia. Those events allowed the USA and the West generally to extend their growth another twenty years.

This week, there has been an avalanche of articles on Limits to Growth, just not titled so……. it’s almost as though the term is getting stuck in people’s throats, and are unable to pronounce them….

acrooke

Alastair Crooke

This article by former British diplomat and MI6 ‘ranking figure’ Alastair Crooke, is an unpublished article I’ve lifted from the Automatic Earth…… as Raul Ilargi succinctly puts it…:

 

His arguments here are very close to much of what the Automatic Earth has been advocating for years [not to mention DTM’s…], both when it comes to our financial crisis and to our energy crisis. Our Primers section is full of articles on these issues written through the years. It’s a good thing other people pick up too on topics like EROEI, and understand you can’t run our modern, complex society on ‘net energy’ as low as what we get from any of our ‘new’ energy sources. It’s just not going to happen.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Alastair Crooke: We have an economic crisis – centred on the persistent elusiveness of real growth, rather than just monetised debt masquerading as ‘growth’ – and a political crisis, in which even ‘Davos man’, it seems, according to their own World Economic Forum polls, is anxious; losing his faith in ‘the system’ itself, and casting around for an explanation for what is occurring, or what exactly to do about it. Klaus Schwab, the founder of the WEF at Davos remarked  before this year’s session, “People have become very emotionalized, this silent fear of what the new world will bring, we have populists here and we want to listen …”.

Dmitry Orlov, a Russian who was taken by his parents to the US at an early age, but who has returned regularly to his birthplace, draws on the Russian experience for his book, The Five Stages of Collapse. Orlov suggests that we are not just entering a transient moment of multiple political discontents, but rather that we are already in the early stages of something rather more profound. From his perspective that fuses his American experience with that of post Cold War Russia, he argues, that the five stages would tend to play out in sequence based on the breaching of particular boundaries of consensual faith and trust that groups of human beings vest in the institutions and systems they depend on for daily life. These boundaries run from the least personal (e.g. trust in banks and governments) to the most personal (faith in your local community, neighbours, and kin). It would be hard to avoid the thought – so evident at Davos – that even the elites now accept that Orlov’s first boundary has been breached.

But what is it? What is the deeper economic root to this malaise? The general thrust of Davos was that it was prosperity spread too unfairly that is at the core of the problem. Of course, causality is seldom unitary, or so simple. And no one answer suffices. In earlier Commentaries, I have suggested that global growth is so maddeningly elusive for the elites because the debt-driven ‘growth’ model (if it deserves the name ‘growth’) simply is not working.  Not only is monetary expansion not working, it is actually aggravating the situation: Printing money simply has diluted down the stock of general purchasing power – through the creation of additional new, ‘empty’ money – with the latter being intermediated (i.e. whisked away) into the financial sector, to pump up asset values.

It is time to put away the Keynesian presumed ‘wealth effect’ of high asset prices. It belonged to an earlier era. In fact, high asset prices do trickle down. It is just that they trickle down into into higher cost of living expenditures (through return on capital dictates) for the majority of the population. A population which has seen no increase in their real incomes since 2005 – but which has witnessed higher rents, higher transport costs, higher education costs, higher medical costs; in short, higher prices for everything that has a capital overhead component. QE is eating into peoples’ discretionary income by inflating asset balloons, and is thus depressing growth – not raising it. And zero, and negative interest rates, may be keeping the huge avalanche overhang of debt on ‘life support’, but it is eviscerating savings income, and will do the same to pensions, unless concluded sharpish.

But beyond the spent force of monetary policy, we have noted that developed economies face separate, but equally formidable ‘headwinds’, of a (non-policy and secular) nature, impeding growth – from aging populations in China and the OECD, the winding down of China’s industrial revolution,  and from technical innovation turning job-destructive, rather than job creative as a whole. Connected with this is shrinking world trade.

But why is the economy failing to generate prosperity as in earlier decades?  Is it mainly down to Greenspan and Bernanke’s monetary excesses?  Certainly, the latter has contributed to our contemporary stagnation, but perhaps if we look a little deeper, we might find an additional explanation. As I noted in a Comment of 6 January 2017, the golden era of US economic expansion was the ‘50s and ‘60s – but that era had begun to unravel somewhat, already, with the economic turbulence of the 70s. However, it was not so much Reagan’s fiscal or monetary policies that rescued a deteriorating situation in that earlier moment, but rather, it was plain old good fortune. The last giant oil fields with greater than 30-to-one, ‘energy-return’ on ‘energy-cost’ of exploitation, came on line in the 1980s: Alaska’s North Slope, Britain and Norway’s North Sea fields, and Siberia. Those events allowed the USA and the West generally to extend their growth another twenty years.

And, as that bounty tapered down around the year 2000, the system wobbled again, “and the viziers of the Fed ramped up their magical operations, led by the Grand Vizier (or “Maestro”) Alan Greenspan.”  Some other key things happened though, at this point: firstly the cost of crude, which had been remarkably stable, in real terms, over many years, suddenly started its inexorable real-terms ascent.  And from 2001, in the wake of the dot.com ‘bust’, government and other debt began to soar in a sharp trajectory upwards (now reaching $20 trillion). Also, around this time the US abandoned the gold standard, and the petro-dollar was born.

 


Source: Get It. Got It. Good, by Grant Williams

Well, the Hill’s Group, who are seasoned US oil industry engineers, led by B.W. Hill, tell us – following their last two years, or so, of research – that for purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel, by the oil industry (the IOCs) is rapidly trending to zero. Note that we are talking energy-cost of exploration, extraction and transport for the energy-return at final destination. We are not speaking of dollar costs, and we are speaking in aggregate. So why should this be important at all; and what has this to do with spiraling debt creation by the western Central Banks from around 2001?

The importance? Though we sometimes forget it, for we now are so habituated to it, is that energy is the economy.  All of modernity, from industrial output and transportation, to how we live, derives from energy – and oil remains a key element to it.  What we (the globalized industrial world) experienced in that golden era until the 70s, was economic growth fueled by an unprecedented 321% increase in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973 was actually of the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, which is to say, the industrialised fraction of the global population. The Hill’s Group research  can be summarized visually as below (recall that these are costs expressed in energy, rather than dollars):

 


Source: http://cassandralegacy.blogspot.it/2016/07/some-reflections-on-twilight-of-oil-age.html

[This study was also covered here on Damnthematrix starting here…]

But as Steve St Angelo in the SRSrocco Reports states, the important thing to understand from these energy return on energy cost ratios or EROI, is that a minimum ratio value for a modern society is 20:1 (i.e. the net energy surplus available for GDP growth should be twenty times its cost of extraction). For citizens of an advanced society to enjoy a prosperous living, the EROI of energy needs to be much higher, closer to the 30:1 ratio. Well, if we look at the chart below, the U.S. oil and gas industry EROI fell below 30:1 some 46 years ago (after 1970):

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/the-coming-breakdown-of-u-s-global-markets-explained-what-most-analysts-missed/

“You will notice two important trends in the chart above. When the U.S. EROI ratio was higher than 30:1, prior to 1970, U.S. public debt did not increase all that much.  However, this changed after 1970, as the EROI continued to decline, public debt increased in an exponential fashion”. (St Angelo).

In short, the question begged by the Hill’s Group research is whether the reason for the explosion of government debt since 1970 is that central bankers (unconsciously), were trying to compensate for the lack of GDP stimulus deriving from the earlier net energy surplus.  In effect, they switched from flagging energy-driven growth, to the new debt-driven growth model.

From a peak net surplus of around 40 GJ  (in 1973), by 2012, the IOCs were beginning to consume more energy per barrel, in their own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations), than that which the barrel would deliver net to the globalized industrial world, in aggregate.  We are now down below 4GJ per head, and dropping fast. (The Hill’s Group)

Is this analysis by the Hill’s Group too reductionist in attributing so much of the era of earlier western material prosperity to the big discoveries of ‘cheap’ oil, and the subsequent elusiveness of growth to the decline in net energy per barrel available for GDP growth?  Are we in deep trouble now that the IOCs use more energy in their own processes, than they are able to deliver net to industrialised world? Maybe so. It is a controversial view, but we can see – in plain dollar terms – some tangible evidence fo rthe Hill’s Groups’ assertions:

 


Source: https://srsroccoreport.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Top-3-U.S.-Oil-Companies-Free-Cash-Flow-Minus-Dividends.png

(The top three U.S. oil companies, ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips: Cash from operations less Capex and dividends)

Briefly, what does this all mean? Well, the business model for the big three US IOCs does not look that great: Energy costs of course, are financial costs, too.  In 2016, according to Yahoo Finance, the U.S. Energy Sector paid 86% of their operating income just to service the interest on the debt (i.e. to pay for those extraction costs). We have not run out of oil. This is not what the Hill’s Group is saying. Quite the reverse. What they are saying is the surplus energy (at a ratio of now less than 10:1) that derives from the oil that we have been using (after the energy-costs expended in retrieving it) – is now at a point that it can barely support our energy-driven ‘modernity’.  Implicit in this analysis, is that our era of plenty was a one time, once off, event.

They are also saying that this implies that as modernity enters on a more severe energy ‘diet’, less surplus calories for their dollars – barely enough to keep the growth engine idling – then global demand for oil will decline, and the price will fall (quite the opposite of mainstream analysis which sees demand for oil growing. It is a vicious circle. If Hills are correct, a key balance has tipped. We may soon be spending more energy on getting the energy that is required to keep the cogs and wheels of modernity turning, than that same energy delivers in terms of calorie-equivalence.  There is not much that either Mr Trump or the Europeans can do about this – other than seize the entire Persian Gulf.  Transiting to renewables now, is perhaps too little, too late.

And America and Europe, no longer have the balance sheet ‘room’, for much further fiscal or monetary stimulus; and, in any event, the efficacy of such measures as drivers of ‘real economy’ growth, is open to question. It may mitigate the problem, but not solve it. No, the headwinds of net energy per barrel trending to zero, plus the other ‘secular’ dynamics mentioned above (demography, China slowing and technology turning job-destructive), form a formidable impediment – and therefore a huge political time bomb.

Back to Davos, and the question of ‘what to do’. Jamie Dimon, the CEO of  JPMorgan Chase, warned  that Europe needs to address disagreements spurring the rise of nationalist leaders. Dimon said he hoped European Union leaders would examine what caused the U.K. to vote to leave and then make changes. That hasn’t happened, and if nationalist politicians including France’s Marine Le Pen rise to power in elections across the region, “the euro zone may not survive”. “The bottom line is the region must become more competitive, Dimon said, which in simple economic terms means accept even lower wages. It also means major political overhauls: “I say this out of respect for the European people, but they’re going to have to change,” he said. “They may be forced by politics, they may be forced by new leadership.”

A race to the bottom in pay levels?  Italy should undercut Romanian salaries?  Maybe Chinese pay scales, too? This is politically naïve, and the globalist Establishment has only itself to blame for their conviction that there are no real options – save to divert more of the diminished prosperity towards the middle classes (Christine Lagarde), and to impose further austerity (Dimon). As we have tried to show, the era of prosperity for all, began to waver in the 70s in America, and started its more serious stall from 2001 onwards. The Establishment approach to this faltering of growth has been to kick the can down the road: ‘extend and pretend’ – monetised debt, zero, or negative, interest rates and the unceasing refrain that ‘recovery’ is around the corner.

It is precisely their ‘kicking the can’ of inflated asset values, reaching into every corner of life, hiking the cost of living, that has contributed to making Europe the leveraged, ‘high cost’, uncompetitive environment, that it now is.  There is no practical way for Italians, for example, to compete with ‘low cost’ East Europe, or  Asia, through a devaluation of the internal Italian price level without provoking major political push-back.  This is the price of ‘extend and pretend’.

It has been claimed at Davos that the much derided ‘populists’ provide no real solutions. But, crucially, they do offer, firstly, the hope for ‘regime change’ – and, who knows, enough Europeans may be willing to take a punt on leaving the Euro, and accepting the consequences, whatever they may be. Would they be worse off? No one really knows. But at least the ‘populists’ can claim, secondly, that such a dramatic act would serve to escape from the suffocation of the status quo. ‘Davos man’ and woman disdain this particular appeal of ‘the populists’ at their peril.





Choosing between our economy and our future

12 02 2015

Christiane Kliemann

A guest post from Christiane Kliemann who writes on postgrowth, alternative economy and societal change. She is a member of the Degrowth 2014 team

The new year has just begun and we’re already inundated with horrible news: two new reports have collected further evidence that human economic activity puts life on Earth at risk, and another shocked us with the fact that the 85 richest people on the planet are as wealthy as the poorest 50% – and that the gap between them is still widening. Not to mention the brutal attack on the Charlie Hebdo office, the ongoing wars and conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine and the devastating situation of refugees.

At the same time, a lot of effort is being spent to reassure us that economic growth and a capitalist economy are essential for solving what some call the “crisis of civilization”.

Growth is the perennial buzzword of the World Economic Forum – and this year is no exception. Delegates keep assuring us that their own profitability is vital for safeguarding humanity, while we ordinary people go about our day-to-day lives: we happily drive our cars, book flights to our next holiday destination and raise our children as we’ve always done.

It seems that we are in collective denial about the threatening implications of reality. We still trust in the old narratives that growth and competition are good, that technology and experts will fix it and that capitalism is history’s ultimate victor.

Not only ecological limits and growing social inequality, but also the increasing violence of fundamentalists of all sorts indicates that it is high time for a new economic and social narrative. An economy that is essentially based on competition will always perpetuate violence and hatred.

Wanted: new economic narratives

Before a new narrative – degrowth, for example – can gain ground, we have to accept that there are only radical options left. We have to choose between our economy and our future.

Even now, degrowth is already appealing to a growing number of people, as last year’s Fourth International Conference on Degrowth for Ecological Sustainability and Social Equity in Leipzig proved.

It embraces many aspects that are common to a rising number of social and ecological grassroots-initiatives around the globe:

  • Integrating social and ecological issues instead of playing them off against each other
  • Replacing economic growth with a holistic idea of wellbeing
  • Turning away from resource-intensive production and industrial agriculture
  • Claiming more democratic participation and co-creation
  • Preferring small and decentralized solutions with short feedback-loops, re-localization of economic cycles and decentralization
  • Prioritizing sufficiency and resilience
  • Creating resilient livelihoods instead of unstable jobs in fragile globalized supply chains

In circles closer to the mainstream, I have personally observed that criticizing the dependence on economic growth and calling for a social-ecological transformation of the economy is welcomed by many.

Doubts and reluctance stem from the widespread perception that transforming the system is unrealistic, given the powerful interests of the elites.

Ordinary people feel subject to, rather than masters of, their circumstances.

In order for the vision of a degrowth society to become broadly accepted as a realistic option, we need to agree on the following points:

  • Growth and climate stability are incompatible
  • Continuous growth does not increase prosperity
  • Growth will soon come to an end anyway
  • After a certain point, the ecological and social price paid for keeping up growth becomes unacceptable
  • Growth and Western consumption patterns are increasingly resented in the Southern Hemisphere
  • The “trickle down” effect has been proven wrong
  • There is no such thing as “green growth
  • Degrowth does not only mean less, but differently, i.e. meeting everyone’s needs more sustainably and equitably with fewer resources
  • Degrowth is not against innovative technologies, but requires them to be administered democratically and “convivially” based on the precautionary principle

It is high time to shape a broad social movement

Despite what corporate interest groups say, we can all understand that a good life does not require ever more traffic, bigger houses, and greater quantities of waste. We cannot square the benefits of “more stuff” when it threatens our ecosystem and coincides with extreme poverty in some parts of the planet.

A good life requires long-term security in meeting everyone’s basic needs: food, shelter, affection, leisure, protection, understanding, health, participation, creation and freedom. All of these requirements are dependent on a healthy planet.

If we take our oft-cited Western values seriously, there is no doubt that we have to change our ways and ensure that our values come before any corporate or private profit.

It is high time to shape a broad social movement that pressures governments and businesses to help adjust consumption and production habits to allow the good life for everyone. We want cooperation instead of competition, common instead of corporate interest, solidarity instead of greed, strong social relationships instead of meaningless consumption, mindful resource stewardship instead of extractivism and compassion instead of indifference. We demand less traffic, fewer mega-projects and more community-based policy.

It is high time to take our future in our own hands and to realize that our current economy is part of the problem and cannot be part of the solution.

Originally published in the Guardian.