civilisation decline

Oil Decline & The Decline Of Civilisation


Oil Decline Scenarios Part 1, Slow and Easy

What will happen as the world runs out of oil? Well, there are two possible decline scenarios; Slow and Easy (part 1) and Fast and Chaotic (part 2). Let’s look at our Slow and Easy option first.

Oil is a finite reserve. In other words there is only so much of it available and when it is used up and gone, it is gone for ever.

Oil powers our entire transport system (exception, electric trains and trams) and our entire machinery infrastructure used in agriculture, construction and mining.

As oil runs out, the world will either have to find other power sources for these functions or watch the functions slowly decline with the decline in oil supplies.

Here are some future scenarios as oil supplies tighten and eventually begin their terminal decline.

  1. Oil will become  more and more expensive relative to wages and income. Therefore individuals and companies will look for less expensive substitutes to high cost oil consumption. These substitutes will include i) smaller and more fuel-efficient cars, ii) less suburban and more inner-city living, iii) use of more public transport, iv) moving away from large cars to small engined transport such as scooters, mopeds and motorised bicycles, and v) increasing human powered transport options such as bicycle pathways.
  2. Increased efficiency in the design and manufacture of oil and petrol consuming machines such as hybrid engines and high fuel efficiency (high mpg) vehicles.
  3. Moving away from transport options such as vehicles based on gasoline powered engines to other power sources such as electric vehicles, cars and buses and trucks powered by liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), and the development of biofuels and biodiesel. And increasing the development of non-gasoline engines such as hydrogen and ramjet engines.


Now look very closely at those three options and ask yourself if this is already occurring. Well of course it is, and has been now for over 40 years.

The world is not awash in oil. If it was we would still be paying twenty cents a gallon like we were back in the 1960s and we wouldn’t care about fuel consumption and mpg for our vehicles. We are running out of the cheap easy to get oil. What is left is hard to find & hard to get non conventional oil sources, And it will run out in the not too distant future too.

Now look at those points above 1 to 3, and you can imagine that society can keep applying these principles as oil runs out over the next hundred or so years. This would go on until there was no more oil left and the entire transport fleet has been converted off oil to other energy sources. This of course is what would be the ideal situation, and this is what the oil (energy) companies, the technocrats, the car and truck manufacturing companies and the futurists would have us believe. Well, perhaps they are right, but as usual there are quite a few problems.

Here are some of the problems; i) converting transport options over to the electricity grid will require a massive boost in electricity generating power. For example, Germany has calculated that if just 1 in 10 German cars converted to plug-in electric vehicles, this would be enough to crash their electric grid, ii) in most countries converting to electric power is just changing the fossil fuel source from oil (gasoline) to coal, which in effect is no solution to the fossil fuel problem at all, iii) as I have repeatedly pointed out in “Entropy Wins” renewable fuels such as bio diesel, cannot be produced in quantities large enough or input price low enough to match fossil fuels, iv) some transport options such as aeroplanes and international shipping cannot be converted to either electricity or renewable fuels and entire new power trains (engines) and fuel sources will need to be developed and v) vital large (& very large) machinery used in producing food, mining & infrastructure also cannot be converted to electricity or other power sources readily. This last point could have major ramifications to society & involve government intervention & fuel rationing on a massive scale to keep these vital industries functioning.

There are a lot more details we could go into but in summary, even a slow and gentle decline away from an oil based transport system will create massive problems, result in significant changes in the design of our cities and our personal lifestyles and can only result in a significant decline in transport options available to humanity. The least significant impact of this will be a decline in personal transport options. A more significant impact of this trend will be a significant decline in the transport of food, vital materials and manufactured goods from point of origin to places where they are needed. And a catastrophic impact of declining fuel oil will be a significant decrease in food production and mining strategic products.

Even a slow and managed decline in oil production will burden humanity with massive problems some of which, almost certainly, will not be able to be solved adequately.

“We’re all going to hell in a handcart, Moira! It’s the end of civilisation, it really is! Fetch my pen! The Telegraph shall hear of this!”

The Mayan Elites Called For More Human Sacrifices To Forestall The Ongoing Decline Of Their Civilisation. So Too Do Our Elites.

The fundamental problem with issues such as Climate Change and Ecological Degradation is that they stem from a core problem, the exponential growth of human demands upon the earth, and thus the only solution is an end to that growth. With the industrialized human societies having spent the past two centuries developing a tight fit to the exponential growth facilitated by fossil fuels, an end to that growth will require wrenching changes to how those societies are structured and operate. Such changes, while producing great concern to the general populace, will be extremely threatening to those that have succeeded under the current societal arrangements. These are the rich and powerful that have most control over media organizations, as well as other determinants of social reality such as the school system and the workplace. To help affect the creation of social reality in their favor, they have created many so-called “independent” think-tanks, and hired public relations groups, to help create a perception of uncertainty on subjects such as climate change and to gain more access for skeptics to the media22,23.

Just as it may have made sense for the Mayan elites to call for more sacrifices to forestall their societies downfall, rather than accept the reality in front of them, it may make sense for the current elites to call for the magic of the “invisible hand” of economics and the wonders of human technology, rather than accept the current reality that so threatens their own wealth and privileges. The longer they practice such conscious ignorance, the more they stand to be accused and attacked, the more such ignorance will be seen as beneficial. Once the media spell is broken, and the duplicity of the elites understood, the wrath of the general populace may be truly horrific. The search for others to “pin the blame on”, and ongoing extensions to the means to monitor and control society, are completely rational actions in this context. If even the members of the police and armed forces come to blame the elites for not taking the actions required to stave off calamity though, nothing may save the rich and powerful from a brutal denouement.

Hence the desperate need to keep control of the construction of social reality, and have the general population live in a mental world made up more of misleading hallucinations than actual reality. Such a state can be maintained for lengthy periods of time, as has been the case with the North Korean population who have for decades existed in a social reality more made up of fantasy than reality. Many commentators also give significant weighting to the inability of the East German authorities to block the television signals from the much more prosperous West Germany in undermining the basis of the communist state. Those that consider the internet to be a democratizing antidote to media concentration and control both misunderstand the ongoing concentration within media 24,25,26 on the internet, and the ability of authorities to block sources they find threatening. Also, as has been shown by the details provided by such whistle-blowers as Snowdon27, our new connected age may make the tracking of dissident opinion-formers much easier for the authorities.


Entropy Wins. All Civilisations Decline. Ours Is Going Down.

External image

Photo; Mumbai, India

  • Environmental Collapse
  • Global Warming & GHG’s
  • Toxic Pollution
  • Renewable Resource Depletion (fish, forests, farmland, fresh water, food)
  • Non-renewable resource depletion (minerals, coal, oil, phosphate fertiliser)
  • Peak Oil & easy to get Fossil Fuel decline causing global energy transition & decline
  • Economic collapse.
Egypt Is A Prime Example Of Economic & Social Collapse Due To Energy Decline

Diesel shortage pushes Egyptians to the brink

wotfigo;; Egypt used to export oil from its northern Mediterranean oil fields. When Egypt was oil & energy rich it used this fossil energy to grow its population & its economy way beyond any level of sustainability. Just ; Ike the rest of the world. Like all oil fields, Egypt's oil fields declined over time & Egypt stopped exporting oil. Now it cannot produce enough oil for its own needs & has become a net oil (Energy) importer. As Egypt’s net energy has declined so too has its economy. It is now in serious trouble. The recent Arab Spring uprising to oust the hated dictator Mubarak has not solved this problem of declining energy & declining living standards. Egypt is in deep trouble & the primary cause is available net energy.

Diesel supplies are drying up as a cash-strapped government struggles to cap a mounting bill for subsidies it has promised the IMF it will reform to secure an elusive $4.8 billion loan desperately needed to keep a sagging economy afloat.

The situation appears near breakdown with growing shortages, unsustainable subsidies and foreign exchange reserves running out, raising the risk that fuel bottlenecks lead to food shortages and pose a risk to political stability.

Foreign reserves are down below $15 billion, less than three months’ imports, despite deposits from Qatar and Turkey. The Egyptian pound has lost 8 percent of its value this year and a black market has emerged for hard currency.

The nation’s strategic reserve of diesel fuel is down to three days’ supply, the official MENA news agency quoted a government official as saying last week. Bakeries that use diesel to make staple subsidized bread have been told to keep 10 days’ fuel supply but not all have the capacity.


There Is No Major Economic Recovery. Get Used To It.

External image

wotfigo; The Guardian keeps talking about a “Double Dip” recession. This is NOT a doble dip recession. It is the same recession that started in 2007 for the same 3 reasons, gutted economies, debt deflation & declining energy base. There is NO RECOVERY. You need to get this into your head & take actions to protect yourself.

Two of these actions you need to consider are 1) try to limit your exposure to being forced to earn an income in the corporate wage slave economy. Once they have you hooked it’s hard to get out. and 2) decrease or limit your debt levels as fast as you can You do not need a new car. (My car is a 1987 diesel Landcruiser and it is basically indestructible). Try to pay off your house or move to a cheaper suburb or move to a smaller house.

Being in heavy debt will be one of the worst mistakes you can make as the world economy continues its descent. About the only growth industries left will be military/security, mining and energy production. If you are in one of these industries you should have a job for life.

How Our Civilisation Is Starting Its Decline Part III. Complexity.

Photo; Angkor Wat (present day Cambodia).

 A broad view of the context in which finance, energy and resources operate, looking at issues of how society functions at a macro level. Context is vital to understanding the bigger picture, particularly human context as it relates to the critical factor of scale and the emergent properties that flow from it. We have continually emphasized the importance of the ‘trust horizon’ in determining what functions at what time, and what kind of social milieu we can expect as matters evolve.

Expansions are built upon the optimistic side of human nature and tend to lead to greater inclusiveness and recognition of common humanity over time. Higher levels of political aggregation, and more complex webs of trading relationships, come into being and achieve popular support thanks to the benefits they confer. In contrast, contractions tend to reveal, and be driven by, the darker and more pessimistic side of human collective psychology. They are social and are political as well as economic. In both directions, collective attitudes can create their own self-fulfilling prophecies at the societal level.

Trust determines effective organizational scale, extending political legitimacy to higher levels of political organization during expansions and withdrawing it during periods of contraction, leaving political entities beyond the trust horizon. Where popular legitimacy is withdrawn, organizational effectiveness is substantially undermined, and much additional effort may go into maintaining control at that scale through surveillance and coercion.

The effort is destined to fail over the longer term, and smaller scale forms of organization, still within the trust horizon, may come to hold much greater significance. The key to effective action is to know at what scale to operate at any given time. As we have said before, while one cannot control the large scale waves of expansion and contraction that unfold over decades or centuries, understanding where a given society finds itself within that wave structure can allow people and their communities to surf those waves.

With gratitude to The Automatic Earth:

Entropy Always Wins. Here's Another Explanation Of Entropy.

 Physics fights backs

In 1921 a Nobel Chemist called Frederick Soddy (best known for making major contributions to the discovery of radioactivity whilst working with Ernest Rutherford) held a series of lectures on Economics [4]. This was to later form the basis of a book published in 1926 called “Wealth, Virtual wealth and debt”. Soddy began by asking how mankind lived; how we came to acquire the material riches of Industrial Development. In answer to that question, Soddy proclaimed that it is almost exclusively by sunshine. His explanation was based on following the energy / food chain that affects all living creatures.  This energy chain was somewhat reprised recently in the first episode of Professor Brian Cox’s TV series “Wonders of Life”. Here we are taken to exotic locations and shown elaborate computer graphics to convey the same point Soddy made 90 years ago in a comparatively sparse lecture hall in London.

Life forms take high grade energy from the external environment and use this to power themselves. The plant kingdom is the biological equivalent of solar panels, absorbing energy from the sun’s rays and creating complex sugars through Photosynthesis. A whopping 130 terra watts of energy is absorbed by 100% biodegradable, 100% recyclable, perfectly sustainable self-replicating “solar breeders” that also happen to look, smell and taste nice too! The animal kingdom takes its energy either from the plants, or from other animals in the form of food. Animals can’t directly acquire energy from the sun, but do obtain it indirectly. As Prof Cox explains in his inimitable big budget way, the natural laws of physics state that order tends to flow into disorder; entropy being the term for disorder. The second law of thermodynamics explains why water can’t flow uphill and that given the arrow of time why (within a totally closed energy system) the normal tendency is for things to deteriorate to a lower grade of usefulness. “Real wealth rots and rusts”, Soddy reminds us. Life on the other hand appears to contravene this process, but in reality this is only because it exploits high quality external energy, in the process creating a localised improvement in order (for the organism), but externally increased disorder (otherwise known as waste and pollution). At first glance it may appear that life is cheating the laws of physics (fighting the process of entropic degradation), but in totality it is not. Life is merely a temporary parasite from an energy point of view; feeding off something or someone else for its personal use, and dumping less useful energy in its wake. Without the external energy source, there is no life.


How Our Civilisation Is Starting Its Decline. Part II. Energy.

Photo; The Great Maya City Of Tikal (Now in present day Guatemala).

The second hurdle is likely to be energy. Changes in supply and demand for energy are very much grounded in the real world, albeit in a highly financialized way, hence they unfold over a longer time frame. Over-financializing a sector of the real economy leaves it subject to the swings of boom and bust, or bubbles and their aftermath, but the changes typically play out over months to years rather than days or months. Financial crisis can be expected to deprive people of purchasing power, quickly and comprehensively, thereby depressing demand substantially (given that demand is not what one wants, but what one can pay for).

Commodity prices fall under such circumstances, and they can be expected to fall more quickly than the cost of production, leaving margins squeezed and both physical and financial risk rising sharply. This would deter investment for a substantial period of time. As a financial reboot begins to deliver economic recovery some years down the line, the economy can expect to hit a hard energy supply ceiling as a result. Financial crisis initially buys us time, but at the expense of worsening the energy crisis in the longer term.

Energy is the master resource - the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now that we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff, that surplus (above that which has to be reinvested in energy production) is rapidly diminishing. We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling. Net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly. The implication is that society will inevitably be simpler.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity - an attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

We are poised to throw away what remains of our conventional energy inheritance chasing an impossible dream of perpetual energy riches, because doing so will be profitable for the few in the short term, and virtually no one is taking a genuine long term view. We will make the transition to a lower energy society much more difficult than it need have been. At The Automatic Earth we have covered these issues extensively, pointing particularly to the importance of net energy, or energy profit ratios, for alternative supplies. We have also addressed the intersections of energy and finance.


Solutions? Sure There Are Solutions. But They Will NEVER Be Implemented.

wotfigo; The World is facing four catastrophic trends, any one of which will have a very high likelihood of causing the collapse of modern civilisation. I sometimes get accused of portraying the worst in humanity without offering or contemplating any solutions.

Here are the four catastrophic trends; 1) overpopulation 2) resource depletion (food, freshwater, forests, strategic minerals, phosphate fertiliser) 3) pollution (greenhouse gases industrial pollution, agricultural pollution, dead marine zones, plastic and on and on) and 4) the end of cheap available fossil fuel energy, especially oil. As I have tried to portray innumerable times in “Entropy Wins” the level of complexity and sophistication of any civilisation depends directly on its available net energy supply. Our available energy supply from fossil fuels, especially oil, is decreasing. The complexity and sophistication of our civilisation can therefore only continue to decrease.

Now here are the solutions in the same order; 1) Rapid global population de-growth strictly enforcing a one child per family regime. Likelihood of Happening: 0. 2) resource depletion depends directly on the level of population (see 1 above) and the quality of lifestyle and economic demands. Solution; rapid depopulation and rapid decline in economic consumption. Likelihood of Happening: 0. 3) controlling pollution can only be achieved with rapid population de-growth and rapid economic decline. Controlling greenhouse gas emissions can only be achieved by immediate cessation of mining and combusting all fossil fuels. Likelihood of Happening: 0. 4) We are running out of the cheap and easy to get fossil fuels. There are no substitutes. Renewable energy cannot possibly supply the same level of fossil fuel energy (at least at the same cost). Energy decline is inevitable. Therefore the decline in complexity and sophistication of civilisation it is inevitable. Likelihood of Reversing This; well, there is always the possibility of a miraculous breakthrough in some highly energy density source such as nuclear fusion or thorium powered nuclear fission. So the likelihood of reversing our energy decline is not exactly 0, But right now I would guess the probability of energy decline in our civilisation is pretty close to 99%.

As you can see from above, the solutions themselves will actually mean the end of civilisation as we know it. Rupert Murdoch (CEO of Fox News and the Wall Street Journal) recently stated the same concept. This is the quandary, or enigma if you like, the modern world now faces; either rapid uncontrolled and disorderly civilisation decline or rapid controlled (and hopefully orderly) civilisation decline.

Therefore in effect there really are no solutions because whatever happens from this point on, decline is 100% locked in and guaranteed. I disagree with Rupert Murdoch because I believe that if civilisation, and this means governments and individual humans, can see and address the problems then, I believe the planet and civilisation will be better off with an intelligent controlled decline back to a civilisation that is 100% sustainable. However I believe the Likelihood Of This Happening; 0.

Sad isn’t it? Prepare for the continued decline of the biosphere & civilisation. I hope I am wrong. wotfigo.

Civilisations' Decline - The Next Few Years

External image

Predicting The Near Future (5 to 10 years

From wotfigo;  

OK, I’ll hang my neck out here. I hope I’m wrong.

 This blog is predicated on 3 observations; i) all civilisations eventually collapse, ii) our overpopulated modern high technology civilisation  has become unstable because it is  reaching finite limits in natural support systems, & iii) our civilisation is totally dependant on  massive energy use in electricity & liquid fuels. Nearly all of this energy (80%) is derived from fossil fuels (oil & coal). There are no substitutes that match the high energy density & low cost of fossil fuels. We are on Peak Fossil Fuel use now, especially in oil. Declining energy supplies in the very near future are guaranteed. The complexity of modern civilisation & the goods & services it provides will decline.

So here’s the near future as I see it. There are 2 major forces at play at the present.

i) The global economy is in a mess & is declining everywhere. (It is my opinion that this decline, initiated by the collapsing debt bubble, has been caused by the tightening supplies & high costs of fossil fuels). But it doesn’t matter what the cause is. All economies are totally dependant on energy throughput (costs & supplies). Because of Reason (ii) below, the global economy will continue to deteriorate.

ii) All the easy & cheap to get fossil fuels have been used. We are almost certainly on Peak Oil production now. Exporting countries (Saudi Arabia,Kuwait,Russia,Kazakhstan,Iran,Iraq&Venezuela) are developing fast & using more of their available oil thereby limiting export volumes. Oil supplies will tighten dramatically in the very near future, probably less than 5 years. Importing countries such as Europe,USA,Australia,Japan, China etc. (basically the entire G20 lessRussia) will suffer major economic turmoil.

Summary;  Economic decline will continue. There is no rebound to prolonged or sustainable growth. Economies, stock markets & industrial outputs will continue to decline. Poverty, unemployment, homelessness & declining living standards will continue to worsen. The young will be especially hit hard. They have no chance of establishing themselves & reaching their parents standard of living. Declining fuel & energy supplies in the very near future will exacerbate these problems.