The Bumpy Road Down, Part 5: More Trends in Collapse

21 02 2018

IrvMillsIrv Mills has published the fifth and last part of his 5 part series called ‘The Bumpy Road Down’, previous instalments being available here.





In my last post I started talking about some of the changes that will happen along the bumpy road down and the forces and trends that will lead to them. (The bumpy road down being the cyclic pattern of crash and partial recovery that I believe will characterize the rest of the age of scarcity). These changes will be forced on us by circumstances and are not necessarily how I’d like to see things turn out.

The trends I covered last time were:

  • our continued reliance on fossil fuels
  • the continuing decline in availability, and surplus energy content, of fossil fuels
  • the damage the FIRE industries (finance, insurance and real estate) will suffer in the next crash, and the effects this will have
  • the increase in authoritarianism, as governments attempt to optimize critical systems and relief efforts during and after the crash

Oscillating overshoot with declining carrying capacity

I’ve once again included the stepped or “oscillating” decline diagram from previous posts here to make it easier to visualize what I’m talking about. This diagram isn’t meant to be precise, certainly not when it comes to the magnitude and duration of the oscillations, which in any case will vary from one part of the world to the next.

The trends I want to talk about today are all interconnected. You can hardly discuss one without referring to the others, and so it is difficult to know where to start. But having touched briefly on a trend toward increased authoritarianism at the end of my last post, I guess I should continue trends in politics.


Currently there seems to be a trend towards right wing politics in the developed world. I think anyone who extrapolates that out into the long run is making a basic mistake. Where right wing governments have been elected by those looking for change, they will soon prove to be very inept at ruling in an era of degrowth. Following that, there will likely be a swing in the other direction and left wing governments will get elected. Only to prove, in their turn, to be equally inept. Britain seems to be heading in this direction, and perhaps the U.S. as well.

Another trend is the sort of populism that uses other nations, and/or racial, ethnic, religious and sexual minorities at home as scapegoats for whatever problems the majority is facing. This strategy is and will continue to be used by clever politicians to gain support and deflect attention from their own shortcomings. Unfortunately, it leads nowhere since the people being blamed aren’t the source of the problem.

During the next crash and following recovery governments will continue to see growth as the best solution to whatever problems they face and will continue to be blind to the limits to growth. Farther down the bumpy road some governments may finally clue in about limits. Others won’t, and this will fuel continued growth followed by crashes until we learn to live within those limits.

One thing that seems clear is that eventually we’ll be living in smaller groups and the sort of political systems that work best will be very different from what we have now.

Many people who have thought about this assume that we’ll return to feudalism. I think that’s pretty unlikely. History may seem to repeat itself, but only in loose outline, not in the important details. New situations arise from different circumstances, and so are themselves different. Modern capitalists would never accept the obligations that the feudal aristocracy had to the peasantry. Indeed freeing themselves of those obligations had a lot to do with making capitalism work. And the “99%” (today’s peasantry) simply don’t accept that the upper classes have any right, divine or otherwise, to rule.

In small enough groups, with sufficient isolation between groups, people seem best suited to primitive communism, with essentially no hierarchy and decision making by consensus. I think many people will end up living in just such situations.

In the end though, there will still be a few areas with sufficient energy resources to support larger and more centralized concentrations of population. It will be interesting to see what new forms of political structure evolve in those situations.


For the last couple of decades declining surplus energy has caused contraction of the real economy. Large corporations have responded in various ways to maintain their profits: moving industrial operations to developing countries where wages are lower and regulations less troublesome, automating to reduce the amount of expensive labour required, moving to the financial and information sectors of the economy where energy decline has so far had less effect.

The remaining “good” industrial jobs in developed nations are less likely to be unionized, with longer hours, lower pay, decreased benefits, poorer working conditions and lower safety standards. The large number of people who can’t even get one of those jobs have had to move to precarious, part time, low paying jobs in the service industries. Unemployment has increased (despite what official statistics say) and the ranks of the homeless have swelled.

Since workers are also consumers, all this has led to further contraction of the consumer economy. We can certainly expect to see this trend continue and increase sharply during the next crash.

Our globally interconnected economy is a complex thing and that complexity is expensive to maintain. During the crash and the depression that follows it, we’ll see trends toward simplification in many different areas driven by a lack of resources to maintain the existing complex systems. I’ll be discussing those trends in a moment, but it is important to note that a lot of economic activity is involved in maintaining our current level of complexity and abandoning that complexity will mean even more economic contraction.

At the same time, small, simple communities will prove to have some advantages that aren’t currently obvious.


All this economic contraction means that almost all of us will be significantly poorer and we’ll have to learn to get by with less. As John Michael Greer says, “LESS: less energy, less stuff, less stimulation.” We’ll be forced to conserve and will struggle to get by with “just enough”. This will be a harshly unpleasant experience for most people.


For the last few decades globalization has been a popular trend, especially among the rich and powerful, who are quick to extol its many supposed advantages. And understandably so, since it has enabled them to maintain their accustomed high standard of living while the economy as a whole contracts.

On the other hand, as I was just saying, sending high paying jobs offshore is a pretty bad idea for consumer economies. And I suspect that in the long run we’ll see that it wasn’t really all that good for the countries where we sent the work, either.

During the crash we’ll see the breakdown of the financial and organizational mechanisms that support globalization and international trade. There will also be considerable problems with shipping, both due to disorganization and to unreliable the supplies of diesel fuel for trucks and bunker fuel for ships. I’m not predicting an absolute shortage of oil quite this soon, but rather financial and organizational problems with getting it out of the ground, refined and moved to where it is needed.

This will lead to the failure of many international supply chains and governments and industry will be forced to switch critical systems over to more local suppliers. This switchover will be part of what eventually drives a partial recovery of the economy in many localities.

In a contracting economy with collapsing globalization there would seem to be little future for multi-national corporations, and organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. While the crash may bring an end to the so called “development” of the “developing” nations, it will also bring an end to economic imperialism. At the same time, the general public in the developed world, many of whom are already questioning the wisdom of the “race to the bottom” that is globalization, will be even less likely to go along with it, especially when it comes to exporting jobs.

Still, when the upcoming crash bottoms out and the economy begins to recover, there will be renewed demand for things that can only be had from overseas and international trade will recover to some extent.


Impoverished organizations such a governments, multi-national corporations and international standards groups will struggle to maintain today’s high degree of centralization and eventually will be forced to break up into smaller entities.

Large federations such as Europe, the US, Canada and Australia will see rising separatism and eventually secession. As will other countries where different ethnic groups have been forced together and/or there is long standing animosity between various localities. If this can be done peacefully it may actually improve conditions for the citizens of the areas involved, who would no longer have to support the federal organization. But no doubt it will just as often involve armed conflict, with all the destruction and suffering that implies.


The cessation of services from the FIRE industries and the resulting breakdown of international (and even national) supply and distribution chains will leave many communities with no choice but to fend for themselves.

One of the biggest challenges at first will be to get people to believe that there really is a problem. Once that is clear, experience has shown that the effectiveness of response from the victims of disasters is remarkable and I think that will be true again in this case. There are a lot of widely accepted myths about how society breaks down during disaster, but that’s just what they are: myths. Working together in groups for our mutual benefit is the heart of humanity’s success, after all.

Government response will take days or more likely weeks to organize, and in the meantime there is much we can do to help ourselves. Of course it helps to be prepared… (check out these posts from the early days of this blog: 12) and I’ll have more to say on that in upcoming posts.

The question then arises whether one would be better off in an urban center or a rural area such as a small town or a farm. Government relief efforts will be focused on the cities where the need will be greatest and the response easiest to organize. But just because of the millions of people involved, that response will be quite challenging.

Rural communities may well be largely neglected by relief efforts. But, especially in agricultural areas, they will find fending for themselves much more manageable.

I live in a rural municipality with a population of less than 12,000 people in an area of over 200 square miles (60 people per sq. mile, more than 10 acres per person). The majority of the land is agricultural, and supply chains are short, walking distance in many cases. Beef, dairy and cash crops are the main agricultural activities at present and they can easily be diverted to feed the local population. Especially if the food would go to waste anyway due to the breakdown of supply chains downstream from the farm.

So I think we’re likely to do fairly well until the government gets around to getting in touch with us again, probably sometime after the recovery begins.

In subsequent crashes the population will be significantly reduced and those of us who survive will find ourselves living for the most part in very small communities which are almost entirely relocalized. The kind of economy that works in that situation is very different from what we have today and is concerned with many things other than growth and profit making.


The move toward automation that we’ve seen in the developed world since the start of the industrial revolution has been driven by high labour costs and the savings to be had by eliminating labour from industrial processes as much as possible. That revolution started and proceeded at greatest speed in Britain where labour rates where the highest, and still hasn’t happened in many developing nations where labour is very cheap.

Sadly, the further impoverishment of the working class in Europe and North America will make cheaper labour available locally, rather than having to go offshore. During the upcoming crash, and in the depression following it, impoverished people will have no choice but to work for lower rates and will out compete automated systems, especially when capital to set them up, the cutting edge technology needed to make them work, and the energy to power them are hard to come by. Again, the economic advantages of simplicity will come into play when it is the only alternative, and help drive the recovery after the first crash.


In the initial days of the coming crash there will be problems with the distribution systems for food, medical supplies and water treatment chemicals, all of which are being supplied by “just in time” systems with very little inventory at the consumer end of the supply chain. To simplify this discussion, I’ll talk primarily about food.

It is often said that there is only a 3 day supply of food on the grocery store shelves. I am sure this is approximately correct. In collapse circles, the assumption is that, if the trucks stop coming, sometime not very far beyond that 3 day horizon we’d be facing starvation. There may be a few, incredibly unlucky, areas where that will be more or less true.

But, depending on the time of year, much more food than that (often more than a year’s worth) is stored elsewhere in the food production and distribution system. The problem will be in moving this food around to where it is needed, and in making sure another year’s crops get planted and harvested. I think this can be done, much of it through improvisation and co-operation by people in the agricultural and food industries. With some support from various levels of government.

There will be some areas where food is available more or less as normal, some where the supply is tight, and other areas where there is outright famine and some loss of life (though still outstripped by the fecundity of the human race). In many ways that pretty much describes the situation today but supply chain breakdown, and our various degrees of success at coping with it, will make all the existing problems worse during the crash.

But once the initial crash is over, we have a much bigger problem looming ahead, which I think will eventually lead to another, even more serious crash.

With my apologies to my “crunchy” friends, modern agriculture and the systems downstream from it supply us with the cheapest and safest food that mankind has known since we were hunters and gatherers and allows us (so far) to support an ever growing human population.

The problem is that this agriculture is not sustainable. It requires high levels of inputs–primarily energy from fossil fuels, but also pesticides, fertilizers and water for irrigation–mostly from non-renewable sources. And rather than enriching the soil on which it depends, it gradually consumes it, causing erosion from over cultivation and over grazing, salinating the soil where irrigation is used and poisoning the water courses downstream with runoff from fertilizers. We need to develop a suite of sustainable agricultural practices that takes advantage of the best agricultural science can do for us, while the infrastructure that supports that science is still functioning.

The organic industry spends extravagantly to convince us that the problem with our food is pesticide residues and genetically engineered organisms, but the scientific consensus simply does not support this. The organic standards include so called “natural” pesticides that are more toxic than modern synthetic ones, and allow plant breeding techniques (such as mutagenesis) that are far more dangerous than modern genetic engineering. Organic standards could certainly be revised into something sustainable that retains the best of both conventional and organic techniques, but this has become such a political hot potato that it is unlikely to happen.

As I said above, during the upcoming crash one of the main challenges will be to keep people fed. And I have no doubt that this challenge will, for the most part, be successfully met. Diesel fuel will be rationed and sent preferentially to farmers and trucking companies moving agricultural inputs and outputs. Supplies of mineral fertilizers are still sufficient to keep industrial agriculture going. Modern pesticides actually reduce the need for cultivation and improve yields by reducing losses due to pests. It will be possible to divert grains grown for animal feed to feed people during the first year when the crisis is most serious.

Industrial agriculture will actually save the day and continue on to feed the growing population for a while yet. We will continue to make some improvement in techniques and seeds, though with diminishing returns on our efforts.

This will come to an end around mid century with the second bump on the road ahead (starting at point “g” on the graph), when a combination of increasing population, worsening climate, and decreasing availability and increasing prices of energy, irrigation water, fertilizer, pesticides and so forth combine to drastically reduce the output of modern agriculture.

Widespread famine will result, and this, combined with epidemics in populations weakened by hunger, will reduce the planet’s human population by at least a factor of two in a period of a very few years. Subsequent bumps as climate change further worsens conditions for farming will further reduce the population, resulting in a bottleneck towards the end of this century. Without powered machinery, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides and with drastically reduced water for irrigation, agricultural output will fall off considerably. And our population will fall to match the availability of food. I do think it unlikely that the human race will be wiped out altogether, but our numbers will likely be reduced by a factor of ten or more.


It is a sad fact that many people, communities and nations, when faced with the sort of challenges I’ve been talking about here, will respond with violence.

In the remaining years leading up to the next crash, I think it is likely that even the least stable of world leaders (or their military advisors) will remain well aware of the horrific consequences of large scale nuclear war, and will manage to avoid it. As has been the case since the end of WWII, wars will continue to be fought by proxy, involving smaller nations in the developing world, especially where the supply of strategic natural resources are at issue.

War is extremely expensive though and, even without the help of a financial crash, military spending already threatens to bankrupt the U.S. As Dmitry Orlov has suggested, after a financial crash, the U.S. may find it difficult to even get its military personnel home from overseas bases, much less maintain those bases or pursue international military objectives.

But even in the impoverished post-crash world, I expect that border wars, terrorism, riots and violent protests will continue for quite some time yet.


Whether from the ravages of war, climate change or economic contraction many areas of the world, particularly in areas like the Middle East, North Africa and the U.S. southwest, will become less and less livable. People will leave those areas looking for greener pastures and the number of refugees will soon grow past what can be managed even by the richest of nations. This will be a problem for Europe in particular, and more and more borders will be closed to all but a trickle of migrants. Refugees will accumulate in camps and for a while the situation will find an uneasy balance.

As we continue down the bumpy road, though, many nations will lose the ability to police their borders. Refugees will pour through, only to find broken economies that offer them little hope of a livelihood. Famine, disease and conflict will eventually reduce the population to where it can be accommodated in the remaining livable areas. But the ethnic makeup of those areas will have changed significantly due to large scale migrations.


I’ve been talking here about some of the changes that will be forced upon us by the circumstances of collapse. I’ve said very little about what I think we might do if we could face up to the reality of those circumstances and take positive action. That’s because I don’t think there is much chance that we’ll take any such action on a global or even national scale.

It’s time now to wrap up this series of posts about the bumpy road down. At some point in the future I intend to do a series about of coping with collapse locally, on the community, family and individual level. I think there is still much than can be done to improve the prospects of those who are willing to try.


The end of the Middle East

14 03 2017

I have to say, I am seriously chuffed that Nafeez Ahmed is calling it, as I have been for years now…. In a lengthy but well worth reading article in the Middle East Eye, Nafeez explains the convoluted reasons why we have the current turmoil in Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. He doesn’t mention Egypt – yet – but to be fair, the article’s focus in on Mosul and the implications of the disaster unfolding there……

It never ceases to amaze me how Egypt has managed to stay off the news radar. Maybe the populace is too starved to revolt again….

After oil, rice and medicines, sugar has run out in Egypt, as the country has announced a devaluation of 48% of its currency. In Egypt, about 68 million of the total 92 million people receive food subsidized by the State through small consumer stores run by the Ministry of supply and internal trade. After shortages of oil, rice and milk, and even medicines, now sugar scarcity has hit the country. Nearly three quarters of the population completely rely on the government stores for their basic needs.

Egypt produces 2 million tons of sugar a year but has to import 3 million to face domestic demand. However imports have become too expensive.  The country is expected to receive a loan of 12 billion dollars (11 billion euros) from the International monetary Fund (IMF) to tackle its food scarcity. The price for sugar in supermarkets and black markets are skyrocketing as well, with a kilogram costing around 15 pounds. If available, one could get sugar from subsidized government stores for 0.50 euros per kilo.

Nafeez goes into great and interesting detail re the dismaying shenanigans going on in nafeezIraq and Syria at the moment. I’ll leave it to you to go through what he wrote on the Middle East Eye site on those issues, but what struck me as relevant to what this blog is about is how well they correlate with my own thoughts here…..:

Among my findings is that IS was born in the crucible of a long-term process of ecological crisis. Iraq and Syria are both experiencing worsening water scarcity. A string of scientific studies has shown that a decade-long drought cycle in Syria, dramatically intensified by climate change, caused hundreds and thousands of mostly Sunni farmers in the south to lose their livelihoods as crops failed. They moved into the coastal cities, and the capital, dominated by Assad’s Alawite clan. 

Meanwhile, Syrian state revenues were in terminal decline because the country’s conventional oil production peaked in 1996. Net oil exports gradually declined, and with them so did the clout of the Syrian treasury. In the years before the 2011 uprising, Assad slashed domestic subsidies for food and fuel.

While Iraqi oil production has much better prospects, since 2001 production levels have consistently remained well below even the lower-range projections of the industry, mostly because of geopolitical and economic complications. This weakened economic growth, and consequently, weakened the state’s capacity to meet the needs of ordinary Iraqis.

Drought conditions in both Iraq and Syria became entrenched, exacerbating agricultural failures and eroding the living standards of farmers. Sectarian tensions simmered. Globally, a series of climate disasters in major food basket regions drove global price spikes. The combination made life economically intolerable for large swathes of the Iraqi and Syrian populations.

Outside powers – the US, Russia, the Gulf states, Turkey and Iran – all saw the escalating Syrian crisis as a potential opportunity for themselves. As the ensuing Syrian uprising erupted into a full-blown clash between the Assad regime and the people, the interference of these powers radicalised the conflict, hijacked Sunni and Shia groups on the ground, and accelerated the de-facto collapse of Syria as we once knew it.  


Meanwhile, across the porous border in Iraq, drought conditions were also worsening. As I write in Failing States, Collapsing Systems, there has been a surprising correlation between the rapid territorial expansion of IS, and the exacerbation of local drought conditions. And these conditions of deepening water scarcity are projected to intensify in coming years and decades.

An Iraqi man walks past a canoe siting on dry, cracked earth in the Chibayish marshes near the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriyah in 2015 (AFP)

The discernable pattern here forms the basis of my model: biophysical processes generate interconnected environmental, energy, economic and food crises – what I call earth system disruption (ESD). ESD, in turn, undermines the capacity of regional states like Iraq and Syria to deliver basic goods and services to their populations. I call this human system destabilisation (HSD).

As states like Iraq and Syria begin to fail as HSD accelerates, those responding – whether they be the Iraqi and Syrian governments, outside powers, militant groups or civil society actors – don’t understand that the breakdowns happening at the levels of state and infrastructure are being driven by deeper systemic ESD processes. Instead, the focus is always on the symptom: and therefore the reaction almost always fails entirely to even begin to address earth system sisruption.

So Bashar al-Assad, rather than recognising the uprising against his regime as a signifier of a deeper systemic shift – symptomatic of a point-of-no-return driven by bigger environmental and energy crises – chose to crackdown on his narrow conception of the problem: angry people.

Even more importantly, Nafeez also agrees with my predictions regarding Saudi Arabia…

The Gulf states are next in line. Collectively, the major oil producers might have far less oil than they claim on their books. Oil analysts at Lux Research estimate that OPEC oil reserves may have been overstated by as much as 70 percent. The upshot is that major producers like Saudi Arabia could begin facing serious challenges in sustaining the high levels of production they are used to within the next decade.

Another clear example of exaggeration is in natural gas reserves. Griffiths argues that “resource abundance is not equivalent to an abundance of exploitable energy”.

While the region holds substantial amounts of natural gas, underinvestment due to subsidies, unattractive investment terms, and “challenging extraction conditions” have meant that Middle East producers are “not only unable to monetise their reserves for export, but more fundamentally unable to utilise their reserves to meet domestic energy demands”. 

Starting to sound familiar..? We are doing the exact same thing here in Australia…. It’s becoming ever more clear that Limits to Growth equates to scraping the bottom of the barrel, and the scraping sounds are getting louder by the day.

And oil depletion is only one dimension of the ESD processes at stake. The other is the environmental consequence of exploiting oil.

Over the next three decades, even if climate change is stabilised at an average rise of 2 degrees Celsius, the Max Planck Institute forecasts that the Middle East and North Africa will still face prolonged heatwaves and dust storms that could render much of the region “uninhabitable”. These processes could destroy much of the region’s agricultural potential.

Nafeez finishes with a somewhat hopeful few paragraphs.

Broken models

While some of these climate processes are locked in, their impacts on human systems are not. The old order in the Middle East is, unmistakably, breaking down. It will never return.

But it is not – yet – too late for East and West to see what is actually happening and act now to transition into the inevitable future after fossil fuels.

The battle for Mosul cannot defeat the insurgency, because it is part of a process of human system destabilisation. That process offers no fundamental way of addressing the processes of earth system disruption chipping away at the ground beneath our feet.

The only way to respond meaningfully is to begin to see the crisis for what it is, to look beyond the dynamics of the symptoms of the crisis – the sectarianism, the insurgency, the fighting – and to address the deeper issues. That requires thinking about the world differently, reorienting our mental models of security and prosperity in a way that captures the way human societies are embedded in environmental systems – and responding accordingly.

At that point, perhaps, we might realise that we’re fighting the wrong war, and that as a result, no one is capable of winning.

The way the current crop of morons in charge is behaving, I feel far less hopeful that someone will see the light. There aren’t even worthwhile alternatives to vote for at the moment…  If anything, they are all getting worse at ‘leading the world’ (I of course use the term loosely..), not better. Nor is the media helping, focusing on politics rather than the biophysical issues discussed here.


Is Australia’s energy crisis starting…..?

9 03 2017

This morning on the news, we were woken up to the fact we could be facing gas shortages in Australia. And because more and more electricity is generated with this fuel (Tasmania and South Australia immediately come to mind), the repercussions could be electricity rationing, as well as gas for heating and cooking.

An assessment from the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) is warning that, without a swift response, Australia could face a difficult choice — keeping the power on versus cutting gas supplies to residential and business customers.

“If we do nothing, we’re going to see shortfalls in gas, we’re going to see shortfalls in electricity,” AEMO chief operating officer Mike Cleary said.

The analysis said without new development to support more gas-powered electricity generation, modelling showed supply shortfalls of between 80 gigawatt hours and 363 gigawatt hours could be expected from summer 2018/19 until 2020/21.

It’s not like we weren’t warned……  I wrote about this almost three years ago…. at the time, I quoted Matt Mushalik…: “In July 2006 then Prime Minister Howard declared Australia an energy super power. Two years earlier his energy white paper set the framework for unlimited gas exports while neglecting to set aside gas for domestic use”

Bloomberg agrees…..

Australia, the world’s second-largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, needs to remove road blocks to gas exploration on the east coast that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull blames for a looming domestic supply crisis.

“We are facing an energy crisis in Australia because of this restriction of gas,” Turnbull told a business conference in Sydney on Thursday. “Gas reserves or gas resources are not the issue. The biggest problem at the moment is the political opposition from state governments to it being exploited.”

Hang on a minute…… if we are indeed the world’s second biggest gas exporter, why do we need more exploration (code for really dirty coal seam gas)..? And if we are exporting so much gas, why can’t we cut down on the exports, and keep some for ourselves?

I smell a rat…….

According to Bloomberg again……

Origin Energy Ltd, Australia’s largest electricity company, on Tuesday said Queensland gas intended for LNG exports to Asia may be diverted to ease an expected supply shortfall this winter.

So there’s no problem then…?

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, owner of the $20 billion Queensland Curtis LNG development, said in an emailed statement that its QGC Ltd. subsidiary will continue to make gas available “where we have the capacity to do so.”

gas burning.So there’s capacity for export but not for domestic use…. and the hogwash continues at full speed with more statements like “Energy security has come under scrutiny since a state-wide blackout in September hit South Australia, the mainland state most reliant on renewable energy generation. Turnbull’s conservative leaning government called the state “utterly complacent” due to its over reliance on renewable energy following a partial blackout in February, whilst later attacking other left-leaning state governments for similar ambitions.” Oh I get it now…..  it’s the renewables’ fault that we are short on gas. And what on Earth is a left leaning state? You mean like Queensland’s ALP government going full steam ahead to support Adani’s project for the world’s largest coal mine..?

Give me a break Malcolm….  this is all your greedy lot’s fault, you damn well know you can get more money for gas overseas than we are willing (or able) to pay for it locally.

Do the morons in charge really think we are all dills who can’t see through all their propaganda?   “Economics and engineering, they should be the two load stars of our national energy policy,” Turnbull said. “We’ve got to get the ideology and the politics out of it.”  YOU first Malcolm….. you’re not interested in Australia’s energy security, you just want to kow-tow to the right wing nuts in your party, and maximise your mates’ profits…..

Consumer groups are saying it’s too early to advise people whether to switch away from gas, despite the forecast by the Australian Energy Market Operator of a looming shortage on the country’s east coast. Energy Consumers Australia (ECA) said householders should instead research the most competitive offers available from across the range of energy providers. I think consumers should look at alternative technologies myself. While I constantly discredit solar PV on this blog, the most sustainable form of solar power, solar water heating, is struggling to make inroads these days.

Some of the advice is simply ludicrous…. as if LED lights will save you from an energy crisis (let’s call a spade a spade here..) and “The main use of gas is in central heating and hot water, so if you’re building a new house think about reverse cycle air-conditioning or heat pumps” Mr Stock said.  But but…….  Mr Stock, do you realise it’s possible to build houses that actually do NOT need any heating and cooling?

And people wonder why I think we’ll be rooned…….. my wood fired AGA‘s looking pretty good right now.

Peak Farming….?

15 01 2016

As the financial system unravels, the weather goes ballistic all over the world, and the demands of a growing population increase the pressure on food production, breaking strains are starting to appear.  The perfect storm of Peak Debt, Climate Change, and even Peak Oil in its own pervert way are starting to even emerge in mainstream media. Except of course, they don’t call it what I call it, but nonetheless, the signs are here.

This appeared on the ABC’s news website this morning:

Rural Debt and Drought Taskforce hears calls for Queensland Government to set up own bank

Graziers struggling with debt in drought-declared North Queensland have lashed out and broken down in front of visiting politicians and economists.

The Rural Debt and Drought Taskforce met about 40 farmers in Ayr on Thursday to discuss what some called “criminal” and “disgraceful” behaviour by banks.

“You will starve — the whole country will starve” if governments do not “pull their heads in” and bail out the industry, one man warned.

People always look at me blankly when I mention food shortages in Australia……  ‘Is he mad?’  But there you have it, the farmers aren’t stupid.  AND we still have oil to farm with! What do they think……..  no, know, will happen when we start having fuel shortages?  And not too soon either the way the price of oil is going, now under $30 as I write.

The gathering heard some lenders were devaluing properties across the region by up to 30 per cent, forcing graziers to pay higher interest rates because the loans were now considered higher risk.

Nicole Foss was right all along, obviously….. deflation is here alright.

Taskforce chairman and Mount Isa MP Rob Katter again argued the Queensland Government should set up its own bank to takeover loans from private lenders.

“These things are effective instruments. They keep industries going,” he said.

Proof politicians have no idea.  Mind you, what else could you expect from someone wanting an ethanol industry?

Once upon a time, farming was about producing excess food to feed the masses. Now, farmers buy food in supermarkets, and work for money, trapped in the Matrix. Now I have an aware farmer for a neighbour, we have interesting discussions over the fence or over a beer or cider…. Thank goodness some people understand me, and what is going on…. otherwise we’d all go the way of the suicide wave happening in the Indian farming sector.

Australia headed for energy crisis……

12 07 2014

The news coming in regarding Australia’s energy security are getting more and more worrisome.  Add to that the fact we will soon be totally out of oil, and you have to wonder “what next?”.  We are seemingly led by total morons who have no idea what they are doing, consider money to be far more valuable than energy, and in the process are leading this country to rack and ruin…..  How long we have left before all our chickens come home to roost is anyone’s guess, but the mining industry is already starting to sack people (and we haven’t even hit Peak Mining yet..), [official] unemployment is back up to 6%, and it’s high time the people of Australia got rid of the idiots in charge…..

Matt Mushalik

Matt Mushalik

Energy Super Power Australia’s East Coast running low on affordable domestic gas

In July 2006 then Prime Minister Howard declared Australia an energy super power. 2 years earlier his energy white paper set the framework for unlimited gas exports while neglecting to set aside gas for domestic use. It is a bitter irony that at the 10th anniversary of this energy white paper we read that gas shortages in the Eastern market will result in price increases and that there is not even enough cheap gas for gas fired power plants which are supposed to replace dirty coal fired plants or serve as a back-up for renewable power. Wrong decisions a decade ago (or even earlier) now come to the attention of the public as price rises hit the pockets of consumers.

And what has been completely forgotten is that natural gas is the only alternative transport fuel to replace oil. Conventional oil peaked in 2006 (Yes, Prime Minister, under your watch), US shale oil is likely to peak before 2020 and the Middle East is disintegrating in front of our TV eyes faster than energy and transport planners can change their perpetual-growth mindset. An energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains is needed to replace all oil based fuels in Australia. This gas is locked away in long term export contracts. Well done. Les jeux sont faits.

(1)          Recent events

Electricity providers return to coal-fired power as natural gas export revenue soars

The rising international price of natural gas is causing electricity providers to return to coal-fired power, with Queensland among the first to make the move.

Fig 1: Tarong power station in Queensland

University of Queensland energy analyst Dr Liam Wagner says the rising price will push other power companies to make similar decisions.

“Gas-fired electricity is becoming more expensive; gas in Australia is going to become more expensive with exports,” he said.

“In the future we’re going to have less gas because it’ll be far more expensive to burn it here and the gas producers will be able to make more money overseas.”

Nation will be paying the bill for poor energy policy

The government, unlike other governments around the world, allowed unfettered access to global markets. The building of the export gas terminals will push the prices for gas inexorably up towards world prices. Indeed, wholesale gas prices are widely forecast to more than double to match international prices.

Many in the gas industry are calling for the rapid development of environmentally suspect coal seam gas fields in NSW to counter higher prices. This policy simply will not work as prices on the East Coast are now linked to world prices. No amount of domestic production will change this dynamic.

As we can see in the following report, AGL is proud to have connected the domestic market to the Asian market to make quick profits, instead of developing a plan which would use gas domestically in the medium and long-term to maximise economic benefits for the local industry. The quarry mentality continues. The expected shortages are presented as an argument for even more coal seam gas.

AGL raises spectre of gas rationing if gas shortages are not tackled, it tells the NSW Government

Gas shortages will lead to rationing along with job losses, especially in Sydney’s west, energy utility AGL has warned as it intensifies pressure on the NSW government to allow the development of gas projects in the state that tap gas trapped in coal seams.

This is the report:

AGL Applied Economic and Policy Research

Solving for ‘x’ – the New South Wales Gas Supply Cliff

March  2014

“During this discovery and appraisal phase, it was evidently clear to resource owners that the east coast gas market was not sufficiently large enough to enable the monetisation of reserves in suitable timeframes and at the scale necessary to maximise profit, and so developing an export market for natural gas in the form of LNG was a logical strategic solution. Not only would it result in the rapid expansion of aggregate demand, but would also have the benefit of linking domestic gas prices, historically ca $3 per gigajoule (/GJ), to the north Asian export market price of ca $6-9/GJ equivalent ex-field ‘netback price’ over the medium term(p 2)

“On Australia’s east coast over the period 2013-2016, we forecast that aggregate demand for natural gas will increase three-fold, from 700 PJ to 2,100 PJ per annum, while our forecast of system coincident peak demand increases 2.4 times, from 2,790 TJ to 6,690 TJ per day. This extraordinary growth is being driven by the development of three Liquefied Natural Gas plants at Gladstone, Queensland”.  (p 1)

“Almost simultaneously, a non-trivial quantity of existing domestic gas contracts currently supplying NSW will mature. Much of that gas has been recontracted to LNG producers in Queensland – thus creating a gas supply cliff in NSW. Compounding matters, recent policy developments have placed binding constraints over the development of new gas supplies in NSW”(p 1)

Fig 3: NSW gas supply cliff lead to price increases

These developments are a bitter irony given that the public has been told many times that Australia’s gas resources are abundant. All LNG export contracts were presented as great achievements.

(2)  Wrong decisions 12 years ago

Although LNG exports to Japan had started in 1989 (20 years contracts with 8 power and utility companies signed in 1985), the 2002 LNG deal with China was Howard’s first main contribution towards a poor energy policy.

Australia Wins China LNG Contract

John Howard: “I am delighted to announce that today I have been advised by the Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji that Australia’s Northwest Shelf Venture has been chosen by China to be the sole supplier of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to its first LNG project in Guangdong province.”

5 months earlier, John Akehurst, Woodside’s Managing Director, warned in a report with mixed messages:

Mar 2002

Challenges for Australia

Australia has large gas reserves which have the potential to meet a much larger proportion of Australia’s energy requirements, including liquid petroleum requirements (via CNG, LNG, Gas to Liquids). Gas for oil substitution would deliver significant greenhouse benefits and help Australia meet its Kyoto target. Increased LNG exports would partly offset the cost of rising liquids imports and help address their impact on the balance of payments.  (p 8 )

However, greater use of gas will require substantially more investment in gas production and pipeline infrastructure. Without such investment, south eastern Australian gas markets will, within a few years, face possible gas shortages. Major consumers will find it more difficult to secure long term supply contracts on sufficiently competitive terms (p 9)

Fig 4: Superimposition Akehurst forecast with actual production

LNG export projects and gas-based value adding projects are needed to underpin the cost of bringing new gas supply sources to shore and to justify the initial investment. These types of projects compete on world markets (primarily with projects in Asia) and the provision of an internationally competitive investment environment including fiscal terms is a key driver. (p 10)

Of course one cannot have it both ways. To replace petrol and diesel in Australia one would need the energy equivalent of 5 LNG trains.

(3)          Howard’s flawed Energy White Paper June 2004

Fig 5: excerpt from Howard’s June 2004 energy white paper

This white paper just rationalises decisions already made earlier by formulating following policy principles  (p 53)

  • Commercial decisions should determine the nature and timing of energy resource developments, with government interventions being transparent and allowing commercial interests to seek least-cost solutions to government objectives (e.g. environment, safety or good resource management objectives).
  • Government objectives should generally be driven by sector-wide policy mechanisms rather than impose inconsistent requirements on individual projects/private investors.

And on page 128:

Australia’s gas reserves are sufficient for more than 100 years at current production levels, or more than 200 years of current domestic consumption. Furthermore, prospects for finding and proving up more gas are good, subject to finding markets. However, the location of Australia’s major gas reserves—to the north and north-west —compared with major demand locations—to the south-east—is sometimes raised as an issue (see Figure 6 and 3 in Chapter 2—Developing Australia’s Energy Resources).”

Note the term “At current production levels” which of course is irrelevant when LNG exports are doubled or tripled.

Fig 6: Map of oil and gas resources in the EWP 2004

Fig 7: Map of gas pipelines in EWP 2004

The Geoscience Report “Oil and Gas Resources in Australia 2004 writes: Natural gas has a current “life” estimated at 65 years, but past estimates have been as low as 39 years (in 1993) and as high as 76 years (in 2001). These estimates include all resources and production in the JPDA with Timor-Leste.”

Fig 8: Geoscience Australia’s reserve to production ratios

The EWP 2004 continues to argue:

“Predictions are made that supplies of gas to major urban markets will run short in the next decade, as production in the Cooper Basin and Bass Strait declines. This has resulted in calls for financial support towards the building of major pipelines from either the Northern Territory (to access gas from Sunrise and other Timor Sea fields), Papua New Guinea or north-west Australia (to access gas from either Carnarvon or Browse Basins). While reserves of gas in existing fields close to southeast markets are declining, this does not represent an energy security concern.

Exploration is occurring in the south-east and is resulting in new discoveries and development, such as in the Otway Basin. The development of coal seam methane is also increasing supplies of gas in the region. In addition, holders of the large remotely located gas reserves are actively seeking markets to monetise these reserves. These efforts include actively investigating pipeline projects for bringing supplies of gas from north and north-west sources, as well as seeking LNG export sales in Asian markets. The number and activity of these competing proposals provide a degree of confidence that these supplies will become available once economic, noting that this will in all likelihood occur at higher price levels than those currently enjoyed in some south-eastern markets.

Given the size and placement of gas reserves relative to current and future gas demand, gas supply is not likely to become an issue for the short to medium term. Pre-empting market outcomes in these circumstances is unlikely to add significantly to energy security, but could inflict significant costs by precluding less costly options (such as further development of the Gippsland and Otway basins or coal seam methane).”

The task of building North/West-East gas pipelines was not pro-actively followed up by State and Federal governments but dropped altogether in favour of exports. No wonder this laissez-faire approach went wrong.

CO2 emissions

The EWP 2004 argues:

“The shape of future international action on climate change is unclear, but the potential costs of future adjustments and long life of energy assets makes it prudent to prepare for the future.” ( p 131)

LNG development could increase Australia’s energy emissions by around 1 per cent of energy sector emissions. However, to the extent that exported Australian gas replaces more greenhouse intensive energy in the importing country, global emissions may decrease as a result of Australian gas production  (p 137)

This is just an argument in favour of LNG exports while none of the LNG contracts included a clause that coal fired power plants equivalent to the energy content of the gas should be decommissioned in the destination country. The above example of Queensland going back to coal shows that not even in Australia the job of using gas to reduce emissions is taken seriously.

(4) Energy super power declared in 2006

The Prime Minister has outlined his vision for energy and water, saying the nation has the makings of an energy superpower.

(5) Actual gas production

Let’s have a look at gas production statistics

Fig 9: Australia’s gas production 1977-2013

 Data are from APPEA:

We see peak gas in the Cooper basin between 1999 and 2002 at around 260 bcf. Right at that peak, Howard failed to pursue building a gas pipeline to connect Western offshore gas with Eastern gas markets.  While LNG exports on the West coast surged, the East coast remained on a bumpy production plateau.  Western Australia has a 15% Domgas policy but also did not introduce gas as a transport fuel. As WA’s LNG gas goes out the window, Queensland and NSW are forced to go for environmentally questionable coal seam gas.

Fig 10: Australia’s LNG exports

The first 3 trains (2.5 mt pa each) mainly supply Japanese utilities, while the Guangdong contract (3.3 mt pa over 25 years) required train 4 (4.4 mt pa)

(6) Conventional gas depletion in NSW, Victoria and South Australia

The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) estimates in its Gas Statement of Opportunities 2013 that current conventional 2P reserves would be depleted by the mid of the next decade.

Fig 10: Depletion of conventional gas reserves (2P) in the South East

“Under the modelled production-cost conditions, consumption of Denison Trough 2P reserves occurs first in 2019. Consumption of Otway Basin 2P reserves begins in 2020, and it is completely consumed by 2023. Bass and Cooper basin conventional 2P reserves are consumed in 2025. Gippsland 2P reserves are consumed in 2026. The 2P CSG reserves in Queensland are sufficient to supply demand until the end of the 20-year outlook period.”

Fig 11: Gas shortfalls in the South East

 “Additional 3P reserves and 2C resources are available in the Otway, Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins. The 3P/2C reserves in the Bass, Gippsland, and Cooper basins are sufficient to ensure supply until the end of the 20-year outlook period, provided current transmission and production limitations remain unchanged. The 3P/2C reserves in the Otway Basin are only sufficient to ensure supply until 2028 or 2029, depending on the level of support the southern states receive from production in the north.

Given its role in supplying demand in Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney, the Otway Basin reserves consumption is a significant event, with substantial infrastructure investment required to manage changing system flows.”

(7) Domgas Alliance report

Australia Domestic Gas Policy Report (Nov 2012)

History has proven that countries with large resource endowment do not automatically gain an economic competitive advantage over countries that do not have such surplus endowment of resources. Exporting countries have to take the necessary precautions to avoid what are known to economists as the Natural Resource Curse and Dutch Disease. Australia’s large LNG export boom, that is well underway, has the capacity to trigger both of these symptoms and the subsequent regrets.

Gas resource rich countries rely on a comprehensive menu of interventions and gas regulations and policies in order to protect the national interest and the best interest of the general public regarding the use of indigenous gas production. Benchmarking illustrates that Australia does not manage its gas resources adequately to ensure that gas explorers and production companies operate in a manner that is consistent with a vibrant domestic gas market.

Gas resource rich countries, regions and continents generally export gas only after they first develop their own domestic gas market into a vibrant one that has very high gas consumption rates per capita and a high gas penetration in the total primary energy supply. To do otherwise destroys value and effectively de-industrialises the exporting region.

Australia needs to have sufficiently comprehensive policies and regulations in place in order to control and manage the export of raw commodities. Simply relying on market forces without comprehensive guidelines and controls to mitigate inequitable market power is one extreme while nationalising all resources is the other extreme. Neither of these scenarios has proven to serve the public interest very well.

(8) Gas price outlook

The following graph from the Eastern Australian Domestic Gas Market Study by BREE, Department of Industry, shows Energy Quest’s doubling of gas prices by the end of this decade.

Fig 12: Gas prices will double


Decisions on excessive LNG exports have been made more than 10 years ago and are irreversible. They continued ever since – irrespective of which State or Federal governments were in power –and will lead to yet more LNG exports.  Consumers will have to pay higher gas prices for having elected these governments.  Another regret will come in the next years when it becomes clear that gas is needed as transport fuel.

Fig 13: Glimpse into the future: truckies protest drive around  Canberra’s Capital Hill

Previous articles on this website on gas

9/5/2012    Queensland plans to export more than 10 times the gas NSW needs (part 3)

6/5/2012   Howard’s wrong decisions on offshore gas exports start to hit transport sector now

13/10/2011    NSW gas as transport fuel. Where are the plans?

11/10/2011   Australia’s natural gas squandered in LNG exports

The Coming Famine

6 10 2013

The Coming Famine is a discussion paper by Julian Cribb and Associates#

In coming decades the world faces the risk of major regional food crises leading to conflicts and mass refugee movements. This is driven primarily by emerging scarcities of all the primary resources required to produce food and a global failure to reinvest in it. This paper outlines key factors in emerging global food insecurity and proposes some solutions.

Julian Cribb

‘The Coming Famine’ published by the University of California Press and CSIRO Publishing, August 2010.

We’ve all heard by now the forecast that there will be 9.2 billion people in the world by 2050.  And current projections suggest human numbers will not stop there – it will keep on climbing to at least 10-11 billion by the mid 2060s.

Equally, the world economy will continue to grow – and China, India and other advancing economies will require more protein food.

Thus, global demand for food will more than double over the coming half-century, as we add another 4.7 billion people.  By then we will eat around 600 quadrillion calories a day, which is the equivalent of feeding 14 billion people at today’s nutritional levels.

The central issue in the human destiny in the coming half century is not climate change or the global financial crisis. It is whether humanity can achieve and sustain such an enormous harvest. #

The world food production system today faces critical constraints. Not just one or two, but a whole constellation of them, playing into one another – and serious ones.

This is the great difference from the global food scarcity of the 1960s. Then the constraints were around skills and technology – and the generous sharing of modern agricultural knowledge and technology in the Green Revolution was able to overcome them.

Today the world faces looming scarcities of just about everything necessary to produce high yields of food – water, land, nutrients, oil, technology, skills, fish and stable climates, each one playing into and compounding the others.

So this isn’t a simple problem, susceptible to technofixes or national policy changes. It is a wicked problem.

The world is haemorrhaging nutrients at every link in the chain between farm and fork. On the farm it appears that anywhere up to half of applied nutrients can be lost into soil, water and the environment.

#Our resources of mineral nutrients are starting to decline. When Canadian Patrick Dery applied Hubbert’s peak theorem to phosphorus (Figure 2) he found, to his dismay, we had passed it in 1989.

According to the International Energy Agency, peak oil and gas are due in the coming decade. These spell scarcity and soaring prices in the primary nutrients – nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) – that sustain all advanced farming systems worldwide. In food production there is no substitute for these three nutrients: they are as essential to plant growth as water and light.

At the other end of this equation we are ruining our rivers, lakes, seas and oceans in ways that prevent us from getting more food from them. Each year we pump around 150 million tonnes more nitrogen and 9 million tonnes more phosphorus into the biosphere than the earth’s natural systems did before humans appeared: we have utterly modified the planet’s nutrient cycle, more radically even than the atmosphere or fresh water cycle. That we may double our release of nutrients to the environment as we seek to redouble food output is alarming.

The rest of this fascinating paper can be read here.

More on Egypt

21 07 2013

Over the past few months, I’ve written a fair deal of commentary on Egypt as I believe it to be the petri dish of the future, the test tube of collapse.  Along with Syria.  And whilst seemingly hundreds and hundreds of column inches have been consumed in the media over Egypt’s search for freedom and democracy, the need for a secular government, the need for economic reform to kick start new growth to get the Egyptian people off Tahrir square and back to work so they can service their debt, my views, whenever they’ve been aired on the Drum or the Conversation are met with astonishment and even derision….

And now, along comes this:

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood failed the most basic test – feeding the people

No bull………  now who’d a thunk…???

The political deadlock, in which it appears that the Egyptian Military will not consider restoring Mursi to the presidency and the Muslim Brotherhood will not back down from its demands for reinstatement, shows no signs of easing.

What is clear is just how far the Brotherhood’s fortunes have fallen. Beyond the loyal supporters and members keeping the vigil in the square outside Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque in Nasr City, in the marches in Giza and the protests in Alexandria, it is difficult to find a fan. Those who do not support the military’s intervention in the revolution — yes — but a Brotherhood fan? They appear to be thin on the ground.

“Many of the poor thought the Brotherhood would help them live a better life, but they did not,” said Mohamed Abd El-Sabour, from the Cairo neighbourhood of Shubra.

“Then religion got in between the people and the Brotherhood — they thought as long as they were religious and prayed that we would trust them, but they needed to do something much more concrete than that. They needed to make real progress,” the 33-year-old said. Two months ago he was forced to leave his job as a salesman and start driving taxis.. The economy — and being able to fill his tank again after the recent chronic benzene shortages — are the key issues that occupy his mind.

“Eventually the Muslim Brotherhood will have to accept their fate and leave,” he said. “The experiment has failed.” His was the mildest opinion offered to Fairfax Media last week.   Source


After paying a monthly rent of 300 Egyptian Pounds (A$47), there is little left over for food and other essentials for Mona, a widow, and her three daughters.

Her struggle is, in essence, Egypt’s struggle, yet it is one that the deposed Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government forever failed to grasp.

Families gather for a mass iftar (breaking fast) in Tahrir square  earlier this month.

“I eat here with my daughter so we don’t take Iftar alone,” she says, acknowledging that the last year had been especially tough on finances.

Conscious of the crackling tension around her, Mona won’t be drawn on the downfall of Mohamed Mursi on July 3 — a move his supporters claim was a military coup but his detractors say was the will of the millions of people who took to the streets calling for his removal.

But the volunteer manager of the communal Ramadan table, at which around 70 people eat each night, is more forthcoming.

“We give people rice, vegetables and meat, some people come not just for the food but to be together — this is the real Islam, this is not the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Waleed Tyson, 40.

Egypt is riven with divisions — between pro- and anti-Mursi protesters, between Islamists and secularists, Islamists and Coptic Christians, those who support the revolution and those who believe it was a military coup and between the Muslim Brotherhood and everyone else — and the fear that these tensions will spill over into violence is ever-present.

And why is all this happening……..??  Well,Ruth Pollard, the SMH Middle East Correspondent thinks “amidst the frustration at the Brotherhood, felt by the opposition National Salvation Front, al-Nour, and Tamarod, there is also optimism that in the so-called second wave of the revolution, Egypt may have been spared worse turmoil.”

Ruth Pollard has obviously never heard of Peak Oil or overpopulation…….  but at least it’s a start that someone out there is acknowledging food and fuel shortages (even if only fleetingly..)  How long will it take for the MSM to put two and two together is anyone’s guess.  But I’ll send her this blog post and test the waters….  keep fingers crossed!