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Ugo Bardi: The Banquet of Consequences

Why we've earned the coming future of resource scarcity
Saturday, April 5, 2014, 2:15 PM

Everybody, soon or late, sits down to a banquet of consequences.

~ Robert Louis Stevenson

"Growth is the problem; not the solution" says Ugo Bardi, Professor of Physical Chemistry at Italy's University of Florence and author of the recent book Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth is Plundering the Planet.

In this week's podcast, Professor Bardi and Chris discuss resource depletion and its growing impact on geopolitical events and the world economy. In many ways, the future is becoming increasingly predictable due to the obvious math of resource extraction. Many of these predictions, by the way, are not new; but an accelerating preponderance of evidence now indicates we are quickly moving into the era where future forecasts are now becoming present reality.

From Bardi's perspective, human society has been running at an unsustainably high rate of consumption given the resources it depends on. At some point, the limits of scarcity will force a contraction of the status quo. Bardi concludes that time is now:

People ask me:  Are we running out of rare earths? Are we running out of oil? Are we running out of natural gas? And it is very difficult to give a simple answer to a question which is not the right one. Because if I say No, we are not going to run out of anything, then people just switch off their attention. They say Okay, if we are not going to run out of anything, thank you very much, bye-bye Professor.

But really the question is not when we run out of something, but When are we able to afford a certain mineral commodity? Because it is a very well-known story, and it goes back to 19th Century, to the work of William Stanley Jevons, that the cost of extraction increases over time. Simply because you pick the low hanging fruit, so to say, in this case you pick a fruit, which is below ground and not from a branch. But it is the same concept, you have to go deeper and deeper to get the more difficult minerals, if you run out of the easy, the least expensive mineral that you can effect.

So this is the problem, and at some point, you do not run out of anything, you run out of your financial capability of buying, of paying for this task of extraction. So I try to refrain from these questions. It is not a question of running out, it is a question of diminishing economic returns. A concept that also goes to Jevons, back in mid-19th Century. It is a very simple concept, diminishing economic returns. So you make less and less money, and in order to keep your profit, the company, which it reflects, has to raise prices, and at some point customer will say, well we cannot afford that anymore. At that point, it is like it is stuff running out, in the sense that you cannot have it anymore. It is still there, the mineral is still underground, but you cannot afford to extract it, and that is the problem.

All commodities: mineral commodities, fossil fuels, whatever you have -- it is the same problem everywhere, because we have been mining for tens of thousands of years. But in the past one or two centuries, we stepped it up, the speed of extraction. Right now we have extracted the easy resources. Now we will start having troubles because we have to access the difficult resources. These resources are expensive. And if it is expensive then it means that you have to allocate resources to pay for these results. So that is having bad effects on the economy.

My impression, and not just mine, is that many of the problems which we see today in the world, economic problems, political problems, strategic problems, geo-political problems, are due to the fact that resources everywhere are becoming scarce in the sense that they are becoming expensive. And at this point, you have to fight for what is left.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Ugo Bardi (40m:26s):


Chris Martenson: Welcome to this Peak Prosperity Podcast, I am your host, Chris Martenson. We are hitting limits to growth. And that is a fact that is becoming ever less disputable with every passing day. And of course recognition of this is being fought tooth and nail by those who wish to preserve the status quo, or at the very least, their belief in it.

One often overlooked area concerns mining and the physical resources that we demand from the natural world. Here to talk with us about this today is Professor Ugo-Bardi who teaches Physical Chemistry at the University of Florence in Italy, and he is interested in resource depletion, system dynamics modeling, climate science with a special view on fossil fuel depletion, and on the development of renewable energy. He is a member of the scientific committee of ASPO, which is the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas. His blog in English is: cassandralegacy.blogspot.com, and he has a new book out that we are going to talk about today. It is called Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet Now that is our topic today, welcome Professor Bardi, it is a real pleasure to have you on the show.

Ugo-Bardi: Thank you, it is a pleasure for me too.

Chris Martenson: Great, so there is so much to talk about with you, I hardly know where to begin. So let us set the stage for our listeners. Your latest book, Extracted, what is it about and who is it trying to reach?

Ugo Bardi: Well that is a good point; I think the target of this book is the same as it was long ago for the Limits of Growth. We are trying to raise in a certain way the consciousness of people about this problem that we have. And it is very difficult because it has to do with the way our society takes decisions. Why do we do, what do we decide to do a certain kind of things. And very often, very often I think decision make is based on the decision of faulty data, faulty theories and half-baked models. That is a big problem because I could make an example when the latest events in Ukraine, you can see they have been furiously maintained that the United States could replace Russia in providing natural gas to Europe.

Chris Martenson: Right.

Ugo Bardi: Now if you just give a look to the date, that is not possible, makes no sense, it would take decades at least. And even assuming that present trends continue and the American market does not increase its consumption, still now the United States is an importer of natural gas. So the idea that somehow the US can make an enormous investments needed to build such a structure, it would need to liquefy gas, bring it to Europe and then eventually replace Russian pipelines which bring gas here. So you see, I have this feeling if we were to ask the politicians like Mr. Obama or Mrs. Merkel, if they believe in what they are saying, I would think that they do believe. They read newspapers and make their mental models on the basis of what you read in the newspapers. And that I think is a very dangerous thing to do because if you look at the data, for instance, production of natural gas in 2013 in the United States increased just 0.9% with respect to 2012. Indication that we are already facing big limits in what we can do in terms of increasing production. This is an example, it is not the, in itself, the whole story of minerals of what you are doing, what you are trying to do and how we can manage such a huge, gigantic, little-known subject. And that is a big problem we have I think. It is not so much that we do not know about minerals, but we have troubles assimilating this knowledge into decision-making.

Chris Martenson: Well indeed we do, and to build on your example, there are two main points that come out of the natural gas example. The first is: can you increase your production of it? Certainly we always want to increase our consumption of these things, but production has to precede consumption. And the second is that however much there is, eventually, someday, it runs out. And both of those things happen, right? So let us talk then about this idea that we have about decision makers. We have people, not just politicians but I think ensconced in companies on Wall Street, in living rooms all across the world who think that we can always just continue to increase our production of various things. Your book, Extracted, begins to talk through the issues around mining and various things, copper, tin, bauxite, aluminum, you name it, and it is actually a far more complex subject than most people would realize. But the big trends, the big trends that you are noting in your book are that we seem to be having to go to ever greater lengths to chase minerals in order to bring them to market.

Ugo Bardi: That is a point, the whole point is that. You see I always have this difficulty when people ask me, "okay, but are we running out of this or that? Are we running out of rare earths? Are we running out of oil? Are we running out of natural gas?" And it is very difficult to give a simple answer to a question which is not the right one, because if I say "no, we are not going to run out of anything," then people just switch off their attention. They say "okay so if we are not going to run out of anything…" they will say, "thank you very much, bye-bye Professor." But really the question is not when we run out of something, the question is: up to when are we able to afford a certain mineral commodity? Because it is a very well-known story, and it goes back to the 19th Century, to the work of William Stanley Jevons, that the cost of extraction increases over time. Simply because you pick the low hanging fruit, so to say, in this case you pick a fruit, which is below ground and not from a branch. But it is the same concept, you have to go deeper and deeper to get the more difficult minerals, as you run out of the easy, the least expensive minerals that you can extract.

So this is the problem, and at some point, you do not run out of anything, you run out of your financial capability of buying, of paying for this task of extraction. So I try to frame these questions—it is not a question of running out, it is a question of diminishing economic returns. A concept that also goes back to Jevons, back in the mid-19th Century. It is a very simple concept: diminishing economic returns from extraction. So you make less and less money, and in order to keep your profit—the company which extracts has to raise prices, and at some point customers will say, "well we cannot afford that anymore." At that point, it is like it starts running out in the sense that you cannot have it anymore. It is still there, the mineral is still underground, but you cannot afford to extract it, and that is the problem. And that—why do you suppose over all of the metal commodities, mineral commodities, fossil fuel, the rock, whatever you have, it is the same problem everywhere, because we have been mining for tens of thousands of years. But in the past century, one or two centuries, we step it up, the speed of extraction, so right now we have extracted the easy resources. Now we are starting to have troubles because we have to access the difficult resources, the resources are expensive. And if it is expensive then it means that you have to allocate resources to pay for these resources. So that is having bad effects on the economy.

My impression, and not just mine, is that much of the problems which we see today in the world—economic problem, but also political problems, and strategic programs, geo-political problems—are due to the fact that resources everywhere are becoming scarce in the sense that they are becoming expensive. And at this point, you have to fight for what is left.

Chris Martenson: I totally understand why people say "if this getting too expensive, maybe we will not go after it anymore," but as a scientist myself, by training, let me flip that a bit. Because what we are really saying is that the marginal utility of going and getting that next ingot of aluminum, say, is not worth the benefit we are going to get from that as a society. But are we not really saying that the work required to get—not just human labor but the total work of applying a force over time—the work required to get the aluminum no longer justifies the benefit that we get as a society. And costs are just—as costs go up, that just reflects the fact that more and more work is required.

Ugo Bardi: You mean energy.

Chris Martenson: Energy yes.

Ugo Bardi: The energy. Eventually, it is all a question of energy because to extract minerals, you need energy. And that is the problem, you need more and more energy, and you have less and less because energy comes from minerals, which are fossil fuels, you see the problem?

Chris Martenson: That is exactly the problem, and so as I look at this, I am seeing that—I think you are absolutely right, we have to look at everything interconnected. What is happening in the Ukraine, Yemen, Libya, what has happened already in Egypt and continues to unfold. We could look at those as political events, but you might look at those and say these are resource events.

Ugo Bardi: Very likely yes, I think you can say that actually. Of course it is an interpretation, but it makes sense. You can see a country like Yemen, you cited Yemen, it is a very interesting case. Yemen was an oil producer, not a small one, it produced an important amount of oil, and they went through a complete cycle of production. It went up to about half a million dollars per day, which is a substantial amount, and then it went down. And now, at this point, it is very close to producing just as much as it consumes, so it would not be able to export anything anymore. Why that? Well if you look at the newspaper in Yemen, everybody says it is because of terrorism, it is because of Al Qaeda, it is because of sabotage, it is because our politicians are thieves, it is because of an evil conspiracy against us… But really if you look at the date of the production curve of oil for Yemen, it goes through a very nice, very clear bell-shaped curve, which simply indicates depletion. Depletion in the sense that Yemen oil went through first, through the easy resource, which is oil that is close to the surface, which was easy to extract. And then slowly the investments needed to extract more oil became so high, that nobody wanted to make these investments anymore, so eventually production starts to decline. And now you can see that Yemen is a disaster in a political sense and social terms. It is a complete mess of tribes fighting each other. And that I think you can explain in terms of sympathy, people do not have any more money, do not have any more service. They are running out of food actually, you can read that even the gas in Sana’a, the capital of Yemen, you have problems because the service stations cannot provide any more gas for people who need to fill their tanks. So you see what can happen. But if you look at the data, there is still some more oil in Yemen that could theoretically be extracted. But at such high cost that it is not done, and will probably never be done.

Chris Martenson: Well, this is an important point then which is this idea that when you get down to diminishing grades of ore or very small pools of oil left under the ground, or whatever the marginal resource is. You need to do more and more and more simply to stay in place. Something in your book called the "Red Queen syndrome."

Ugo Bardi: Yes.

Chris Martenson: And just describe that for us if you would.

Ugo Bardi: Well of course, I think everybody knows the story of the Red Queen and this strange place in the book, Alice in Wonderland where you have to run just as fast as you can just to stay in the same place. And that is the point, I mean if you want to keep extracting oil, you need to invest more and more resources. And that is a problem, because your resources are limited, you have to take them—more than limited, you take the resources from something else, or something that you could find useful, at the level of a state if you want to keep extracting oil, and if you have to pay more for it, it means you have to save on social services, Social Security, and retirement funds, or whatever you have. And that is the problem of what we are seeing here. And there is no doubt that costs are increasing.

The oil industry spent more than $600 billion dollars in 2012 to prospect and develop new sources of oil, which is a lot of money. It is one of those decisions that you wonder, who decided that as a world, as human kind, we should spend more than $600 billion dollars in this specific purpose? And the answer is that there is no organism, no body, no structure that decides this. It is a result of micro decisions taken at some level that somebody thinks we will have a return from spending a lot of money to develop new oil sources. And so this money is spent because of the financial system that thinks that it is a good idea so it allocates resources to developing energy resources in the form of fossil fuels. But this is a choice. We could have had reasoned a different way; we could have invested that money in nuclear plants, for instance, or renewable energy plants. And you see all these kinds of macro decisions, which eventually you see in the world—you read about that after these decision have been taken. They are leading the world in some direction, but the problem is that spending so much money in developing new oil means that we are taking the road of diminishing returns. You see what is the problem. I think this is a major mistake that we have made as a civilization. And it will be very difficult to address it.

Chris Martenson: Well is that—it sounds suspiciously like the decisions the Romans made.

Ugo Bardi: Yes, don’t you think so?

Chris Martenson: Yes, they are diminishing—their productive engine of course was their military, and that is how they went out and secured additional resources, after they depleted their own soils or depleted the mines, and they used that same tool, their military, well past the time that it made any sense, deepening into diminishing returns and—

Ugo Bardi: And they spent a huge amount of money building fortifications around the borders of the empire. And that was a major loss of resources, that eventually—it kept the empire working for a while longer, but eventually spending too much destroyed them.

Chris Martenson: So when I see one of those gigantic, offshore, ultra-deep water platforms, I ought to be thinking of it as a Roman fortification?

Ugo Bardi: Could be, could be, that is a good idea. It would be interesting to think in these terms. I mean you have to think, as usual, and as we said at the beginning, it is a question of vantage. How much energy is that platform bringing in comparison with the energy and resources which have been needed to build it? Now I think we are close to being even in that. The ratio of the two energy's is getting close to one. And energy is a physical perimeter, but not necessarily a financial perimeter. From a financial viewpoint, you can still make money, even losing energy. So that is another big problem we have. Because people who take financial decision do not know anything about energy.

Chris Martenson: Well you know, mining has been going on for thousands of years some people tell me. And they say "well perhaps, maybe there are thousands more years left." And as you mentioned in your book, the truth is, you can take any piece of ordinary rock and if you could decompose it all the way down, you would find all kinds of elements in there. As I understand the data, in the last 34 years, just 34 years, half of all the copper ever minded in history has been mined. What I would like you to do is help our listeners understand the mining process. Because I think it is understanding what the process actually is, as you go from this ore, which looks like rock, which might have .2% copper in it, to that finished ingot. Can you walk us through those steps so we could—

Ugo Bardi: I could try, I could try. The interesting thing is how the mining process is today and what it should be in the future, and what it will be probably, and what we could make it if we really were thinking how to make what I could call "sustainable mining," which is, I think possible. I am not pessimistic, I think we could do it, we can walk out of this situation if we really want to. The point is that now, right now we mine from sources which are extremely diluted in comparison to what was the standard 100 years ago, 1,000 years ago.

So in the beginning, think of world for instance, people will use panning, you know what is panning, finding nuggets in rivers. And the grade of an ore is 100 of a magnitude, it is 100%, a nugget of gold can be 100% gold, or at least 100% precious metal. It normally contains a little silver, but that is good anyway, you do not care too much. But then they had to move already from the time of the Romans, the beginning, they would find nuggets in the Alps. But then they had to move it, to go to the mother lode, which means you have to dig out gold out of the mountain, which takes a lot more work. You have to use picks and hammers and all that. And then you go on and end up be several cycles of mining. The gold is a good example, but copper is the same. You have to go using more and more energy to mine for lower and lower grade ores, which means that today you can mine gold from ores—you can take this rock in your hand, and you do not see any gold because it is so diluted that you do not see it by the naked eye. So you have to use a lot of chemistry which involves cyanides and mercury and whatever to get this gold out, which is expensive. It can still be done. There is a story, for instance, of the mines that the Romans exploited in what was at that time the region of Dacia, which today is Romania. And then today there are talks about reopening the mines in Romania because now we have ways of extracting gold, which make it possible even from extremely diluted deposits. It is possible. It may bring a profit, but it costs a lot of energy. And that is the big problem.

And so you see, I think we are approaching a point in which recycling will cost as much or less than mining. Because so far, we have not recycled so much, we have recycled very little, because in general, mining costs less than recycling. There is nothing to do about that. Many times we do recycling because we think it is a good thing to do. But if you consider the cost involved, it still is less expensive to mine many materials than recycling them. I will make you another example. You know about lithium batteries. Lithium batteries are the latest development, the best batteries we have now, and you may be interested to know that the lithium recycled from batteries is near zero percent. Because lithium is still so cheap to mine, that it makes little sense to recover it from old batteries, which is stupid if you think about that, because eventually, we will be in trouble. But as you mine more lithium, lithium is exhausted slowly, and then you will have, at some point, you will have to mine the lithium out of batteries, which will happen, absolutely. And then with all minerals you have this slow transition from mining being cheap and recycling being expensive to a point in which mining becomes more and more expensive and recycling does not become so cheap but it becomes not so much expensive than mining. At some point you can choose to do recycling.

So I think it is possible to—at some point in the future we will be able to move to an economy which recycles 100% of everything. It is not impossible, it is possible. Just think of land plants, trees for instance. You know, we have had trees on this planet for 300 million years, and trees use minerals. Trees are miners. They take minerals out of the ground. But in 300 million years, they did not run out of anything, okay. So how can they do that? Because they recycle 100%. How can they recycle 100%? First because they use little, they are careful, and they use solar energy. So if you are careful, you use little and you use solar energy, you can recycle anything at 100%. But it takes a certain way of doing it. You cannot do it so wastefully as we have been doing it so far, up to now.

Chris Martenson: So it takes energy and one of the areas you mentioned before that I hear a lot of, is people think that we could limit our use of fossil fuels by moving into, say, nuclear energy, by which I mean uranium as the nuclear source. Is that going to be possible?

Ugo Bardi: I personally think not. If you read my book you will find some discussion about nuclear energy. And with nuclear energy we have a big depletion problem, which cannot be ignored. It may not be so bad as some people think, but it is there. Right now we have this big problem because uranium is a finite resource, just like fossil fuel, like oil, like gas, like coal and all that. So in the case of nuclear power, it depends a lot on the kind of technology we use. If we remain within the present of nuclear technology, the kind of reactors we use today, then there is no way that we can expand nuclear energy to a level such as it can replace oil and give us enough energy to do everything we really want to do, and we need to do if we want to survive as a civilization. And of course, some people may have a point in saying that we can develop better technology. It could be. And if we could develop much better technologies then we might be able to extract, for instance, uranium from seawater, and that would give us a lot of uranium maybe. But I might be skeptical about that. But there is no—as always, when you are discussing about technology, there are always new possibilities. So you cannot say with absolute certainty, "we do not have enough uranium, no matter what." But right now, we are in trouble. That is sure. For a problem of mineral, uranium, availability.

My opinion, renewable energy is a much safer bet because in that case, we rely mainly on minerals which are abundant and cheap, like silicon for solar cells, which is the main component of a solar cell is the silicon, and we just use traces of other minerals to make the contacts, and we need a bit of aluminum which is also abundant to make the plant. Then we need the electronics, which we need not just cheap minerals, but that is the general problem, electronics for nuclear, for fossil fuels, for renewable, the same problem for everything. So I think renewables are a reasonable, safe bet on where to go to obtain abundant and cheap energy.

Chris Martenson: Let us talk about the scale of that. We could obtain abundant and cheap energy, but do you think we could do that at the scale we are currently using energy? I am looking at a chart here which shows total world energy use, and fossil fuels are, give or take, about 80% of that mix right now.

Ugo Bardi: Yes, that is right, that is a big problem. I mean I think we could, I do not think we will. Because there is such strong resistance, so much is being intended to stay with the business as usual, people are reluctant to invest now for a future gain. So right now, it is still a difficult proposition to say whether it is better to invest in fossil fuels or renewable energy. Because the yields of the financial returns from renewable energy are very good, but over a longer time span. And as human beings we have a tendency to discount the future as you know. So we prefer, normally, a buck now than a buck in 10 years from now. So that is the reason why I think we are still investing so much money into fossil fuels, even though it is a dead-end road. So in principle, technologically, I think it is not impossible to—it is possible to make a system that produces a lot of energy from renewable sources. A lot. I mean, even much more than what we are doing now from fossil fuels, and to produce it for a long, long time. But it is expensive, we need to make sacrifices, we need to think long-term and we need to make big modifications in our society.

Chris Martenson: Well let us talk about that for a second because information does not lead to behavior changes in humans. I was just at a conference recently where I was speaking and Paul Ehrlich was there as well, and so he wrote, Population Bomb and the year before, or two years before I was at the same conference, and Dennis Meadows was there, so, Limits to Growth. Both of these books proved rather handily I think that information is insufficient to lead to cultural decisions. In your view, what does lead to change?

Ugo Bardi: That is a good point, a good question. As you say, we have plenty of information about the present crisis, it was predicted with reasonable accuracy back in 1972. We knew that we were facing a resource crisis, absolutely, but we did not do anything because, I think, we have such a good propaganda system, which was developed mainly during the First and Second World War, which now works so well that it affects also the people who use it. So if we want to convince ourselves that resources are still abundant, that there is no such thing as climate change, if there is it will not do us any harm or whatever… If the system works, and even the people who theoretically manage it, eventually get so they start believing in their own machine. So it is a big problem that we have, is that we have a system which really does not have the capability of doing long term decisions. We work on—everything is on a short term. And we have big problems here, because, you see, our system is still somewhat primitive, because to make a real efficient decision system, we need to integrate various decision levels of society from the bottom to the top. And our system is extremely imperfect because the bottom can influence the top only every four years or so by those games we call elections. But really the top is not very much influenced by the bottom and we will need a more integrated chain of decision making, but we do not know how to do that.

At this point it's so inefficient that some people are now saying that we want back a dictatorship, which I think it is a bad idea. It is a solution which is worse than the problem, because when you have a dictatorship, then the top has no contact with the bottom, and it is worse. But really, earlier—we have this gigantic problem, and we do not know how to solve it. I think we have to put up with the consequences of this system which is unable to make wise decisions. And so we will have to understand that the hard times coming. But again, I think eventually there is a reality out there. So no matter how well we can convince ourselves that the fossil fuels are abundant and the perfect energy source, eventually we will be forced to stop using them, there is nothing to do about that. And if renewable energy, as I think is so much better as it is, then we will use renewable energy. There is no alternative to using the right thing to use eventually. I think you can make mistakes, if there is a road that will lead us away from this predicament which we in now, I think eventually we will take it, but it will not be easy.

Chris Martenson: Well it is interesting you know, my work has led me—as a scientist I love information, data, all of that, but my work has led me to the conclusion that information is not helpful if that information is being presented and it runs counter to the beliefs that happen to be entrenched. And we have a belief in growth. We talk about growth constantly at the political level, at the banking level, so the finance and the political systems are both entwined around this idea of growth. To me, the problem and the solution are the same thing. So if growth is our problem, then ending growth is our solution. That is really the only conclusion I can come to. Does your work take you any other directions?

Ugo Bardi: No, it is correct. Already Jay Forrester, who was the inventor of what we call system dynamics, which in turn is the basis of the study titled The Limits to Growth, he said exactly the same thing. The problem is that there is growth. Growth is a problem, it is not a solution. This is a curious aspect of human beings so that usually you understand what is the problem, the critical point of the system, but you act on it in the wrong way. It is so typical, it is growth you know. People realize that growth is a problem, but then how do they react? Instead of slowing down growth, they try all what they can to speed up growth. And then they make the problem worse. Let me make you another example about depletion: Everybody understands that we have a depletion problem, right. So what do they say? "We should drill more." But they do not understand that if you drill more, Drill Baby Drill as you know, you drill more, you run out of it faster, so you worsen the problem. So if you have a depletion problem, you have to drill less. But it is exactly the opposite of what politicians, companies, chairmen and whoever you ask the questions say.

Chris Martenson: So we have that there, and here is the interesting thing: In your book, it is just full of all these examples of where we are clearly in a depletion stage where the—I think I will use a word here—I think the rational response to entering a stage of depletion is to ask the question, "how are we going to get by with less of this stuff coming out of the ground?" Not, "how do we apply technology so we can still get more of it out of the ground?"

Ugo Bardi: Exactly, exactly, and so as you see, it is a big problem that comes with a communication system which we have, which is not adapted to ask these kinds of questions. It is very difficult to use the media to pose these kinds of questions, it is nearly impossible.

Chris Martenson: So let me turn to the hopeful part of the story, hopefully. When you are interacting with students these days, what is the—are you seeing that they are maybe having a different view of how the world works and around growth and around limits than in times past?

Ugo Bardi: What I say to my students normally I say, "you know, boys and girls, I think I should have to apologize because my generation has destroyed most of the resources that you could have used. But on the other hand," I tell them, "if you were in our position you would have done the same." And so you have no right of moral indignation [Laughs]. It is a problem which has to do with human beings, so there is not much that you can do. Even students, I think they are starting to realize the problem, but really it is very difficult for students to take a position, because—I can put myself in the position of somebody who is 20, 25, or 30 years old, and the situation for people of that age is very difficult, especially here in Europe and in Italy— let me say nothing about Italy—but you see, if you realize that we are really running out of resources, we have to make big changes in our lifestyle or we'll have big problems, even about survival, physical survival. I mean I think there are no qualms in saying that we will have these problems. And so there are several possible responses where I think some of these young people exaggerate, they move to the countryside, they start becoming peasants and cultivating potatoes and things like that. Which I am not sure is the right response. I think we have to keep—to stand and try to work on the problem.

And I do not think we have to abandon what we have been doing up to now to move to a rural society. That would be a wrong decision I think. We have to try to strive for a society in which we still have energy, but where this energy is abundant. I like abundant energy, I think everybody likes abundant energy. It does not mean that we keep growing forever, but we can have energy from renewable sources. And then with this renewable energy, we can manage our remaining mineral resources to keep a certain level of prosperity. A certain level. That does not mean that we can grow, that does not mean that we can waste. That does not mean that we can keep increasing population and our growing things. But I think if we have just a minimum degree of wisdom, which maybe we have, maybe we can make it.

Chris Martenson: And this is, I think, one of the main points that Limits to Growth put forward, which I read in your book, which was a great summary of it, which is that Limits to Growth was not a prediction, although it is turning into a prediction. But that Limits to Growth was simply saying, "If we continue on our current course, here are some possible consequences." And so what I like about that, is the idea that we always have choices. We just—we can choose to do this or that. We chose to put $600 billion into more exploration for oil and energy. We chose to put trillions of dollars back into a banking system that is clearly too big and made some really poor decisions. We are making those sorts of choices. We are making choices around Ukraine that a military solution is increasingly the way we want to go. These choices now have consequences that are different in this world than they were in the world of when I was a boy or when my father was growing up, right, because, in that world, you had the resources necessary to correct your mistakes. You could Marshal Plan and rebuild Europe. I am not as sure that after we make the next set of bad choices and we wreck some stuff—

Ugo Bardi: Eventually we run out of bad choices too, right?

Chris Martenson: Right, you go into the sort of dark ages, right. The Romans pull out of Europe and—

Ugo Bardi: It could be, we could be.

Chris Martenson: Things have to replenish themselves naturally, which takes time.

Ugo Bardi: And eventually you know what Stevenson is reported to have said, "Sooner or later everyone sits at the banquet of consequences." At some moment you face the results of your choices.

Chris Martenson: And that is what this interview has been about. I want to thank you for your time, we have been talking to Ugo Bardi, Author of Extracted: How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet. It has been a great discussion, thank you so much, and I hope to have you on the show again sometime.

About the guest

Ugo Bardi

Ugo Bardi teaches physical chemistry at the University of Florence, in Italy. He is interested in resource depletion, system dynamics modeling, climate science and renewable energy. He is member of the scientific committee of ASPO (Association for the study of peak oil) and regular contributor of "The Oil Drum" and "Energy Bulletin". His blog in English is called "Cassandra's legacy". His most recent book in English is "The Limits to Growth Revisited" (Springer 2011). He is preparing a new book titled "Emptying the Earth" sponsored by the Club of Rome that should appear by the end of 2012.

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SPAM_Matthew Blain's picture
SPAM_Matthew Blain
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Deaf Ears

I sent this letter off to a local politician a couple of days ago.


I do not expect a response, but am I on the right track in my understanding/fluency?



Matt Blain




Dear Sir,

I write in response to the question you posed earlier this week on 3AW, “Where are all the promoters of growth?” It’s an interesting question, and one that may tie all our issues, both grand and personal, closer than we think. Though I am not an expert on such matters – indeed, I’m just your Average Joe, married 25 years, 3 kids, mortgage, too-little saved – I did reacquaint myself with some basic maths a few years back. I’ve concluded the effort to sustain steady growth may prove unachievable.

We know when something grows, it will eventually double in size. Whether it’s money earning interest, a living thing or even a whole economy. How fast that thing grows depends on the rate of growth. For example, $100 at 10% annual growth becomes $200 after roughly 7 years. The Chinese economy at 10% annual growth doubles in size in the same period. A tree that grows at 10% annually, same thing... Simple compounding maths we should all be aware of [should]. Yes, in reality external forces bump such figures around, however the basic premise remains: Something that grows must eventually double in size. And something that continues to grow, doubles in size again and again.

While this “doubling effect” looks fantastic on paper (indeed, is essential for our future nest eggs), I’ve been asking myself this... How many times can a thing double in size? In reality. That is, is there a limit to how large a thing can grow?

The Tree
At 10% annual growth, our tree doubles in size every seven years (* see below for more detail)...

Planted in 1960, 1 metre tall
1967, 2 metres tall
1974, 4 metres tall
1981, 8 metres tall
1988, 16 metres tall
1995, 32 metres tall
2002, 64 metres tall
2009, 128 metres tall

A mere 10%, year on year. By 2009, after a few short decades, our tree is taller than a Californian Redwood and half it’s total growth occurred in the last seven year period. It seems that compounding maths involves considerable acceleration.

Our tree took 40 years to reach its physical height limit. Can it rise anymore? By next year can the tree be over 200 metres tall? The answer of course is no; the tree cannot physically push/pull nutrients up that high and overall weight becomes an issue; branches will get too heavy and snap. Granted, there’s room for a bit more girth, however there’s neighbouring trees to consider and an escalating fight for limited nutrients. So does it simply stop growing?

Of course, trees don’t grow this way in reality, at a fixed rate. Nothing does. But there exists a pattern nonetheless; something slowly takes hold, then burgeons very rapidly for a period, then slows gradually, eventually stops. Growth remains dynamic.

Still, the basic maths of compounding growth can be plotted and measured and extrapolated to other forms, such as the Chinese economy mentioned above (it doubled in size several times over in a similar period). But economies, like trees and anything else that grows, require two basic ingredients... Energy. And Stuff. For mankind, energy comes in the form of fossil fuel (crude oil is the key, as it is permits global distribution of Stuff) and physical human activity. Stuff is everything taken from the earth (iron ore, copper, silica, crops, etc).

In short, for an economy to grow, it requires greater and greater (forever accelerating) amounts of energy and stuff. That’s what “sustained growth” is. But without an increasing supply of energy and stuff (required for the doubling effect), growth must slow and eventually cease. It’s this basic and fundamental.

Given the current diet of human endeavour – more people wanting more – and challenges of keeping energy cheap (it will be interesting to see what a barrel of Arctic Oil sells for in the coming years), my questions to my fellow man remain... Where on our tree timeline do you believe we are? Can we achieve impossible heights? Or are there truly limits to growth? It’s a question for a global scale.

Mr Abbott describes our current financial position as having “significant challenges”. Indeed. There is no public discussion of growth limits, compounding, nor the doubling effect. I wonder if privately they look at the basic maths? I truly hope they do. It affects us all.

Thank you for your time.

Kind regards,
Matthew Blain
Concerned parent

1960, 1 metre tall
1961, 1.1 metres tall (1 metre + 10%)
1962, 1.21 metres tall (1.1 metres +10%)
1963, 1.33 metres tall (1.21 metres + 10%)
1964, 1.46 metres tall (1.33 metres + 10%)
1965, 1.61 metres tall (1.46 metres + 10%)
1966, 1.77 metres tall (1.61 metres + 10%)
1967, 1.95 metres tall (1.77 metres + 10%) - rounded to 2 metres for purpose of this demonstration

FreeNL's picture
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You forgot to factor in

You forgot to factor in the Nuclear powered chainsaw wielding maniacs. That tree will be cut in half or maybe chopped all the way to the stump shortly as a third deforestation has been planned for our area. 

Not sure if a new tree will grow out of the stump. It might just die out


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So many assumptions, so little time.

Professor Bardi and the Limits to Growth conclusions are unassailable and can only be attacked at the very foundations. I have to resort to speaking past the conversation and attacking the assumptions.

In speaking past the conversation I invoke to a much greater timescale. It looks as though the curves are set in stone- there will be a population collapse. But why let a good crisis go to waste? And this crisis is going to be a doozie. You thought the second world war was bad? You ain't seen nothin'

Here I spoke about the problems with Kirchoff's Laws. Why is this arcane concept important? Because it exposes our deep ignorance about the fundamentals of how the world operates. And then there is Rupert Sheldrake's "Nature of Formative Causation" which was so upsetting to the collective model of Science that it lodged in their throats like a chicken bone.

Did you know that the speed of light varied between 1908 and 1948? It was decided to fix the problem by defining distance in terms of the speed of light, not the other way around! How shamefully embarrassing. How should we weigh precious egos in the scale against the fate of our civilization, not to mention the massive dieoff of people? .

 Never let the physicists tell you they know what is going on-they don't. Their whole edifice is a lot of kludges.

Here Yasuhiro Iwamura discusses transmutation of various elements. I seem to recall a conversion rate of 80% for some element.

If the Low Hanging fruit is depleted how about the High Hanging fruit? I would appear to be a lot easier to get and there is an unimaginable abundance of it. Did I say that it was going to be processed on Earth? No, I did not. The Earth is too precious to be abused by manufacturing.

Here is a picture of one such piece of fruit. I have not done the maths but I believe it to contain more minerals than Hammersley Iron Ore.

Today’s cornucopia included a presentation from Gerhard Schmidt of the University of Mainz, who says that platinum rings come from outer space.

More precisely, the idea is that platinum, gold, and other precious “iron-loving” metals were stripped from the planet’s superheated self as Earth formed, but then were delivered back to the exterior layers by asteroid impacts once things cooled down a bit.


Am I prepared to watch our Civilization perish with glee? No.

But first- Bring on the Crisis.


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Wow... we are getting to Alchemy..

So this D2/Pd system can be played for energy, or for transmutation it seems?  Amazing stuff here.  Keep it coming Arthur.  ICP/MS don't lie... I have one down the hall from my office. 

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ALOHA!! Here at Kaimu Nursery we grow orchids and other tropical flowers. In my studies to increase production there are certain chemicals called "growth regulators" and "growth stimulators". Money based on its quality can also cause the same economic results. Under our current monetary system we have increased population and consumption based on debt. What is debt? In simple terms it is borrowing from the future to consume in the present.

You can see these "debt effects" at the US Treasury. For instance on March 31, 2014 the US Treasury reported net debt increase of $863BIL over a six month period(H1) of FY2014. We can now equate that to a more layman's view as to the consequences of that action by our government.

Now lets take that $863BIL debt and see how it looks by comparing it to Exxon. Exxon was formed in 1882 under the Standard Oil Trust. That means Exxon(XOM) has been around in various incarnations for over 130 years. If you look up Exxon market cap as of last Friday it is at $420BIL. Now take that $420BIL XOM market cap and divide it into the six month $863BIL debt increase at the US Treasury. You get 2.05! That means in six months the US Treasury issued enough debt to buy over two 130 year old Exxons.  

It took Exxon over 130 years to drill and risk capital to find oil and gas to service the needs of the USA. It took the US Treasury a few weeks to input debt auctions that resulted in $863BIL. The US Treasury usually holds these auctions on Tuesdays and Thursdays. What did the US Treasury risk and does the US Treasury have a product that can create an Exxon that creates jobs and services for the needs of the global masses? Or does the US Treasury simply create a product(debt) that only has a use for the maintenance of their entrenched political and monetary monopolies?

My question is this. Why would we entrust a corrupt government and central bank who devised this monetary system to be responsible and credible and efficient in the way they construct this massive debt and its distribution? It seems our modern money is backed by nothing more than the human condition and resultant whims of politicians and their bankers. Not very stable in my opinion and certainly wide open to massive infinite corruption.

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ALOHA!! Deaf, Dumb and Blind is no way to go through life! I have written numerous letters to Hawaii Congressmen and even to George Bush(W). I only got replies from Inouye and Akaka back when they were still alive. The answers were from their staffers and they referred me to other phone numbers and websites. I never heard back from "W"!

I made "W" an offer back in 2007. I said I would forfeit all my rights to receive Medicare and Social Security benefits if he would exempt me from ever having to pay federal taxes for the rest of my life. I thought it was a fair trade as I do not have that much more earning years left.

Maybe someday due to my State and Federal pestering I will achieve "Patriot Status" and be placed on the government "No Fly List"!!

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Oops ...

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CAT Cuts Workforce Again

CAT bought Bucy in 2010.  Plant workforce slashed in half since 2013.  I purposefully talked with Ladish and Bucy employees in bars near the plants and the mood is not good.  Bucy was a very profitable company making unique product.

See http://www.jsonline.com/business/caterpillar-lays-off-60-workers-at-south-milwaukee-plant-b99242216z1-254193621.html

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Abundant renewable energy?

The interview brings up the possibility of abundant renewable energy.  I am concerned that an abundant renewable energy solution to our problem is a pipe dream in todays world.

It's not that there isn't some political motivation to move in that direction.  You can't drive anywhere in the Midwestern United States without passing giant windmill farms.  

Personally, I can't see these wind farms, without considering the energy and resources that it took to build them and wonder if the energy they return justifies the resource investment, or even if the windmills have a positive return over their useful life.  Finally, if they do cost justify, does the return include the cost of dismantling and disposing of the giant windmills, once they are past their useful life.

Simply from a visual perspective, it would seem that our current approach to renewable energy is a lot more capital intensive than existing conventional energy infrastructure.

One of the energy books or articles I've read, included the following visualization.  If you took a lump of coal and placed it in the sun, it would take 1,000 years of sun shining on the lump of coal to equal there energy stored in the coal.  If true, that implies to me that the future will require both renewable energy plus an entirely more energy efficient world economy.  

Any chance we have to produce an abundant renewable energy society would require not only renewable energy installations that are efficient at capturing energy, but also manufacturing infrastructure that efficiently produces the renewable energy installations.

Here's the kicker, IMHO, the flaws in both democracy and capitalism are becoming clear.  So, how do change the direction we are headed in without correcting the problems that got us here?

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Renewable Energy Is Not The Answer...


renewable energy cannot be 'the answer' if the question is 'how do we continue to consume as much energy per capita as we currently do?'

The reason is simple enough....renewable energy lacks the energy density and overall available flow rates that we get from our lumps of coal and gallons of oil.

On that first point, humanity has never before attempted to migrate from a higher energy density system to a lower one.  The mistake most people make is assuming that our prior experiences of moving from wood to coal, and then from coal to oil/gas, are relevant to the shift from oil/gas to solar/wind/algae.  They are nearly perfectly irrelevant because this next transition heads in exactly the opposite direction:  Higher density > Lower density.

On the second point,  the flow rates of all renewables are a function of the rate that energy flows from the sun to the earth.  It's a decent flow rate, to be sure, but it's got a limit and it cannot compete with sucking or digging out literally a hundred million years of ancient sunlight in a hundred years.  

Finally, it all comes down to energy return on energy invested, or EROEI.  Literally nobody has ever done a full cycle analysis that would include sustainably manufacturing every single component of an alternative installation using the same energy from said installations (while delivering some surplus energy to boot) because such a system does not exist.  There are hidden and not-so-hidden fossil fuel inputs baked into every one of the thousands of steps and components of every "alternative" energy system.

This is the closest thing we have to a full cycle analysis and the results are very much not encouraging for those who want to believe in a seamless transition:

Tilting at Windmills, Spain’s disastrous attempt to replace fossil fuels with Solar Photovoltaics

Aug 17, 2013

This is the first time an estimate of Energy Returned on Energy Invested (EROI) of solar Photovoltaics (PV) has been based on real data from the sunniest European country, with accurate measures of generated energy from over 50,000 installations using several years of real-life data from optimized, efficient, multi-megawatt and well oriented facilities.

Other life cycle and energy payback time analyses used models that left out dozens of energy inputs, leading to overestimates of energy such as payback time of 1-2 years (Fthenakis), EROI 8.3 (Bankier), and EROI of 5.9 to 11.8 (Raugei et al).

Prieto and Hall added dozens of energy inputs missing from past solar PV analyses. Perhaps previous studies missed these inputs because their authors weren’t overseeing several large photovoltaic projects and signing every purchase order like author Pedro Prieto. Charles A. S. Hall is one of the foremost experts in the world on the calculation of EROI. Together they’re a formidable team with data, methodology, and expertise that will be hard to refute.

Prieto and Hall conclude that the EROI of solar photovoltaic is only 2.45, very low despite Spain’s ideal sunny climate. Germany’s EROI is probably 20 to 33% less (1.6 to 2), due to less sunlight and efficient rooftop installations.

Ouch!  A 2.45 EROEI in sunny, beautiful Spain.

That's not even close to enough to run our current incarnation of a complex society and probably isn't enough to even run the specific industries necessary to sustainably manufacture, install and maintain those same solar installations.

But...if we truly adjust our thinking, and get away from the fantasy that we're going to maintain our current living arrangements but using solar/wind/algae, and begin the process of developing other living arrangements, then I think we'll get by.  

The shifts will neither be small nor easy.   Everything has to be relocalized.  We'll have to do a lot of cultural maturation in a  very short amount of time, shifting from 'consumers' to stewards which implies a complete reorganization of what we value, prioritize, and even idolize.  

In that new future billionaire financiers are so despised they no longer exist and the most prolific farmers who best increase the value of their soils are revered.  

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Re: Renewable Energy Is Not The Answer...

Thanks for the article Chris, 2.45 EROEI is almost an order of magnitude lower than the 15 to 20 number that we usually read.

On a side note as an engineer who designs microchips for a living, the endnote section got my attention:

Endnote: This book was only available online at the University of California. It’s a shame libraries are putting many journals and books into electronic versions only.  Especially this book.  Microchips, motherboards, and computers will be among the first casualties of declining fossil fuels, because they have the most complex supply chains with many single points of failure, dependence on rare metals, and so on (see Peak Resources and the Preservation of Knowledge for details). I encourage you to get your (university) library to buy a hard copy of this book, so that future scientists and historians will understand why our society didn’t replace fossil fuels with “renewables” even though we knew oil couldn’t last forever.



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I predict a very large

I predict a very large population (>80%) drop in the next 20 years or so, so energy issues will be largely a moot point in my opinion. The only scarcity will be for the left over slaves after the purge.  

There will be relatively unlimited energy for the "new" management at the new greatly reduced population totals.

With any luck something will happen to cause this to change course, but i have my doubts at this point.



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Thanks, Chris, for the book

Thanks, Chris, for the book review you referenced with more accurate EROI estimates for solar PV. Actually, it seems to be more of a comprehensive summary and original article than just a book review, and it has a great title to boot.

Fred, thanks for quoting the endnote regarding the fragility of microchips, and hence IT systems, raising the possibility of needing to preserve knowledge in books and other forms.  I usually envision a society 20-30 years down the road where simple smart phones and computers, and the information networks that make them so appealing, are still working.  This is based on a vague and probably unjustified belief that the percentage of electricity needed to supply the IT products and networks would be small enough in size, and people's willingness to pay for access to the networks would be great enough, that we will be able to keep them running even after we have let other systems contract more, such as perhaps a big part of our transportation networks.  But, after reconsidering the high amount of energy embedded in a microchip, maybe many aspects of the IT network would fall away earlier, as the endnote suggests.

Hopefully the failure of IT networks and computers is an if and not a when.  ​ In his near-future collapse sci-fi books, Paolo Bacigalupi has characters who supply the energy to their treadle computers by pedaling.  But, if computer parts are made to last 10 years - at the outside, and require a huge amount of energy to produce, then maybe the whole industry is so dependent on mass-produced disposable parts that even very simple digital products will be rare fairly quickly.  I hope that the disappearance of digital networks is still a matter of "if" and not of "when."

But, in that light, maybe storing information in books does indeed make the most sense, although stone tablets, or at least cuneiform in baked clay might last longer.

I assume that someone on the Peak Prosperity team already prints each comment from each thread and keeps them filed, alphabetically ordered and cross-referenced.  A further step towards resiliency would be for the whole website to be gradually transferred over to a mail correspondence system.  Towards this cause, I will keep my eyes peeled for bargains on carrier pigeons in my area.  Once the fiat currencies have collapsed, good carrier pigeons will cost three chickens each, at a minimum!

In solidarity,


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Re: Thanks, Chris, for the book


The thing that’s clear to me is the technologies that we are enjoying today (computers, tablets, smart phones, etc…) is only possible in a world with hundreds of millions of consumers that can afford to buy the products.

There are millions of man-hours in development time to make a smart phone for instance. The foundries to manufacture the chips that you find in these electronic devices represent billions of dollars of investments.

So with this kind of numbers, the math only works if hundreds of millions of product are sold and growing…

What will happen when for economic reasons the consumption of these products start to go down? It’s difficult to see how these huge investments will be able to continue.

One my think that we can continue to live very well without cell phones and tablets.  However the side effect will also be the decline of other technologies that indirectly benefit from these multi-billions dollars chip foundries but don’t have the volume to justify the investments.  Think medical and scientific equipment for instance that require advance technologies but are low volume. Or powerful computers used for simulations.

So the idea that we’ll always come up with new technologies that would save us once the economy start to decline is questionable for sure.  We might well experience “peak technology” with “peak energy”


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When will we begin mining the dumps where a lot of those minerals have been 'stored' for the last few decades?

I know, I know, finding mother boards and other electronics dumped 30 years ago is very energy intensive... Then there is 'how do we retrieve the elements from the components?' - Even more energy required. Then there is the problem of 'kicking-up' all of the hazardous waste buried along side of all of those elements.

But, what happens when those costs are figured out and compared to the costs to mine 'fresh' elements?

We aren't there yet, right? Perhaps, not yet. But it will be when and not if...

Sadly, I doubt we will make it to that point because we will have polluted and poisoned our planet to the point of no return. For example, when will the next Fukushima happen? OK, don't like that one, think about this... EROEI gets so bad, there is not enough money or resources to care for all of the tons of spent fuel rods that must be kept cool sitting in pools in every nuclear plant across the globe. The time to act is past. We are all fook'ed.


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cmartenson wrote:In that new
cmartenson wrote:

In that new future billionaire financiers are so despised they no longer exist and the most prolific farmers who best increase the value of their soils are revered.  

Wow, paying respect where respect is due?  Now there is something to look forward to in a future many, perhaps rightfully, paint as bleak.

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FreeNL wrote:I predict a
FreeNL wrote:

I predict a very large population (>80%) drop in the next 20 years or so...

And I thought I was a pessimist?!

You must be envisioning all out war and every man for himself?  I am still hoping some of us are smarter than that. 

Perhaps it's a failure to be realistic on my part, but if I held that view of the future, it would detract from my enjoyment of today.  I refuse to ruin the calm before the storm with an excessively dire outlook.

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Actually understanding that

Actually understanding that the future will be grim for most people is a benefit to me  as theres no reason not to go do the things I always wanted to do, right now.

I don't suppose to know the thoughts of the psychopaths running this show, but i do know that they have no value for the vast majority of human life, so i have no expectations that they will change and when their power becomes absolute, their cruelty will be unrestrained.


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The 'Aha!' moment.

I have struggled with a point of cognitive dissonance for years, and Ugo Bardi uttered a single sentence that has set me on a path out of my quagmire. I wonder, how does an energy company stay in business if it takes more than 1 unit of energy to acquire 1 unit of energy to sell to consumers... negative EROEI. Ugo said (paraphrasing), 'You can still make money [in the energy business] even though the process of acquiring the energy you sell to consumers results in a net negative EROEI.' A net energy loss. ...sell... ...sell... ...Umm, OK. I'm in sales. It is a subject I know... What does this mean? ... ...money... ...money... ...money... AHA! That's how they do it! Money games! ...duh.

I am a scientist by training and business executive by trade, and I have long tried to reconcile the issue of how do you stay in business when 'natural economics' say you should be out of business. To my simple mind, it would be something like a large tree that, throughout the many years of its growth, took in less energy (from sunlight, chemicals, etc.) than what was required for it to grow to become a large tree- yet it grew in spite of the net energy deficit. The economy of the natural world would never support such an arrangement. Indeed, the fiat currency arrangement made by the humans is not supported by the economy of the natural world. Everyone who may read this note knows well that it is the edifice of fiat currency that props up our un-natural human economy. And, even though I know it to be true, it is still difficult for me to wrap my head around the fact that our money has no basis in or connection to the physical world.

There is a price to be paid. I think that's how the universe works. But, I just can't sort it out yet. What is the price? Who pays it? All of us? Or just some of us? And when does the bill come due?

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Thinking out the box

Two points.

Firstly, Limits to Growth clearly concluded that economic AND population growth were the problem. Controlling only one of these was not enough to stop collapse in their models. 

Secondly, we need to incorporate the interests of future generations into our democratic system. Maybe have a group of people, randomly chosen and undismissable, who are not allowed to own anything, given the median income by the state, whose sole mandate is to look after the interests of future generations. They would have, say, 30% of the vote.

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Good question Hugh


Even though I have become a rabid Kindle devotee over the past few years I have also started a collection of hard cover traditional books on topics such as intensive gardening, identifying edible wild plants, cooking and first aid.  My hope is, I would always have enough battery or solar power to start up my laptop but you never know.  In the interim they make nice conversation pieces and look quite attractive on the living room book shelves.


RossFlint47's picture
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In your introduction to the


In your introduction to the Ugo Bardi podcast The Banquet of Consequences

Why we've earned the coming future of resource scarcity

by Adam Taggart

you quoted him as saying:

... All commodities: mineral commodities, fossil fuels, whatever you have -- it is the same problem everywhere, because we have been mining for tens of thousands of years. But in the past one or two centuries, we stepped it up, the speed of extraction. Right now we have extracted the easy resources. Now we will start having troubles because we have to access the difficult resources. ... 

... My impression, and not just mine, is that many of the problems which we see today in the world, economic problems, political problems, strategic problems, geo-political problems, are due to the fact that resources everywhere are becoming scarce in the sense that they are becoming expensive. And at this point, you have to fight for what is left.

Could this be part of the push by Putin / Russia to re-establish the Soviet Union?


RossFlint47's picture
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Resource depletion and the future my granchildren will inherit.


A Disturbing Walk in a Geological Garden

In May 2012, my wife Judy and I visited an Irish town – Bunmahon – on the southern coast of the Republic of Ireland. The town lies within what is called the Copper Coast of Ireland, a location rich in mineral and geological formations and features.

There is a tourist feature at Bunmahon - a “Geological Garden” 
that reflects a variety of environments under which the area has evolved over 
the last 4.54 billion years. Obviously it is not a traditional garden, rather a grassed area encircled by a 200 metre-long path, which depicts the 4.5 billion years of our earth’s existence. At significant stages there are plaques laid within the walkway and rocks on the lawned areas detailing the different phases of development of the earth’s structure and its evolvement down to the present day.

So far so good. However, at the end of the walk there is a plaque that not only identifies when human beings were established on earth, but also the period of time that is depicted, is in scale with the age of the earth. Humans have really been on the planet for a fraction of the lifetime of the Earth. Archeologists estimate that modern humans have been on the Earth for about 200,000 years.

If the length of the walk is 200 metres (representing 4.54 billion years), the period of time for human beings is 9mm (approx 200,000 years – give or take a few thousand and even less for “modern” human beings.)

If we accept that the industrial revolution commenced in 1750, the primary date when we began to systematically extract the majority of the earth’s minerals, and approximately 150 - 200 years for fossil fuels, this 250-year period represents .036 millimetre in the 200-metre walkway!

Or to put it another way, if 4.5 billion years is represented by 1 day – 24 hours – then humans have been on earth for 10 seconds, and in a period of .05 of a second, less than the blink of an eye, we have been depleting the earth’s mineral, ore and fossil fuel reserves.

The implication is this; in a period of 250 years, we have used up the vast majority of the available mineral and fossil fuel reserves on earth which took millions and millions of years to lay down. One (alarming) estimate that I read recently stated that in the next decade we will use as much mineral and fossil fuel resources as we have used since the time when we first began “harvesting” them (or perhaps I should say “exploiting” them would be more appropriate statement.)

In other words, in the lifetime of my grandchildren (the eldest being 13 and the youngest 1) available mineral and fossil fuel reserves will be too expensive to extract or purchase!

Richard Heinberg writes:

"If the world consumes these resources (Antimony, Chronium, Gold, Indium, Lead, Nickel, Silver, Tantalum, Tin, Uranium, Zinc) at only half the current US rate, they will run out within 60 years."

From The End of Growth page 142 – Richard Heinberg (Published by Clairview 2011; reprinted 2012)

Since I first became aware of the global crisis facing humanity, and our responsibility for caring for the environment and resources of the earth, I have tried very hard not to be pessimistic, but the walk around the Geological Garden and SEEING the proportions represented and THINKING through the implications, I can hardly hold onto any form of optimism.

 Ross Flint

If anyone considers the figures I have presented to be inaccurate, I would appreciate your corrections.


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