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Fragility and Collapse: Slowly at first, then all at once

Dmitry Orlov, Club Orlov
This article is based on the notes from one of the talks I gave at the Age of Limits conference.

I have been predicting collapse for over five years now. My prediction is that the USA will collapse financially, economically and politically within the foreseeable future… and this hasn’t happened yet. And so, inevitably, I am asked the same question over and over again: “When?” And, inevitably, I answer that I don’t make predictions as to timing. This leaves my questioners dissatisfied, and so I thought that I should try to explain why it is that I don’t make predictions as to timing. I will also try to explain how one might go about creating such predictions, understanding full well that the result is highly subjective.

You see, predicting that something is going to happen is a lot easier than predicting when something will happen. Suppose you have an old bridge: the concrete is cracked, chunks of it are missing with rusty rebar showing through. An inspector declares it “structurally deficient.” This bridge is definitely going to collapse at some point, but on what date? That is something that nobody can tell you. If you push for an answer, you might hear something like this: If it doesn’t collapse within a year, then it might stay up for another two. And if it stays up that long, then it might stay up for another decade. But if it stays up for an entire decade, then it will probably collapse within a year or two of that, because, given its rate of deterioration, at that point it will be entirely unclear what is holding it up.

You see, the timing estimates are inevitably subjective and, if you will, impressionistic, but there are objective things to pay attention to: how much structure is left (given that large chunks of concrete are continuing to fall out of it and into the river below) and the rate at which it is deteriorating (measurable in chunks per month). Most people have trouble assessing such risks. There are two problems: the first is that people often think that they would be able to assess the risk more accurately if they had more data. It does not occur to them that the information they are looking for is not available simply because it does not exist. And so they incorporate more data, hoping that they are relevant, making their estimate even less accurate.

The second problem is that people assume that they are playing a game of chance, and that it’s a fair one: something Nassim Nicholas Taleb calls the “ludic fallacy.” If you drive over a structurally deficient bridge every day, it could be said that you are gambling with your life; but are you gambling, exactly? Gambling normally involves games of chance: roll of the dice, flip of the coin, unless someone is cheating. Fair games form a tiny, insignificant subset of all possible games, and they can only be played in contrived, controlled, simplified circumstances, using a specially designed apparatus that is functioning perfectly.
(5 June 2012)

Policy-makers slow to take peak oil action

Brendan Barrett, Our World 2.0, United Nations University
It is over a decade since the launch of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO) — a network of scientists and others working to determine the date and impact of the peak and decline of the world’s production of oil and gas. In the interim, peak oil has gone from an “extremist fringe theory” (see upcoming Peeking at Peak Oil for more details) to an accepted fact addressed by some of the world’s most influential bodies including the International Energy Agency (IEA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Yet, in almost all countries of the world, policy-makers remain silent, inactive or, perhaps worse, deliberately ignore this issue, hoping that it will just go away.

When talking about policy-makers, I am referring to government bureaucrats, rather than elected politicians. For the latter, in large part, peak oil presents too great a challenge and as such is filed under “not while I am in office” category. There are many exceptions to this rule, but not enough. Career bureaucrats, on the other hand, have to put the national or local interests first. They have to consider all issues, however unpleasant the issues may be. At least that is the theory, especially in more democratic countries.

The peaking of conventional oil production ought to be a priority issue to be tackled by every national department of energy, agriculture, environment, transportation and economy (to name but a few). It should also be on the agenda of every ministry of foreign affairs as they will be required to negotiate through a new, dynamic, unchartered and complex global energy paradigm. They may be responsible for deciding whether we continue to fight over energy supplies or whether we can find a collective and peaceful response to the energy challenge, with Richard Heinberg’s Oil Depletion Protocol being the only significant proposal on the table at the moment.

Not every country is at fault. There is, for instance, the 2006 “Making Sweden an Oil Free Society” report from the Swedish government’s Commission for Oil Independence that aims to move the country away from oil by 2020. While not free from criticism, it was a serious attempt to address this pressing problem. Just across the border, the Danish government released an energy strategy in 2011 calling for a transition away from fossil fuels to green energy by 2050, perhaps not fast enough but still a good start.

There have also been some very important policies introduced at the local level. For example, the North American city of Bloomington, Indiana, established a Peak Oil Task Force in 2007 and published a ground-breaking report in 2009 entitled “Redefining Prosperity: Energy Descent and Community Resilience”. This 258-page report looks at how to ensure that municipal services continue to function, how to create resilient land use, transportation and housing, and how to cope with issues such as food, water, waste and healthcare in a post-peak oil world.
(6 June 2012)
Suggested by EB contributor Michael Lardelli. -BA

Colin Campbell discusses changes in world energy supplies
Dr. Colin J. Campbell, Local Campus
In this video Dr. Colin J. Campbell disdusses world oil supplies and the consequences of Peak Oil. This is the first in a series from the New Energy Era Forum held in West Cork, Ireland recently.
(June 2012)

Global debt and oil prices

Matt Mushalik, Crude Oil Peak
… We compare the stacked debt curves with the NYMEX oil price:

(6 April 2012)
Author Matt writes: “A very popular post”