From oilslick to tyranny
People with full bellies, stable homes and secure employment do not allow themselves to be involved in civil disorder.
Unfortunately we are living on borrowed money in a bankrupt society. When our debts catch up with us, society will collapse, violent disorder will ensue and martial law will be inevitable. Before our era of fossil fuels, despotic rule was the norm and democracies did not exist; we are going to return to that era.
The hallmark of the tyrant is already being stamped on the nation for anyone willing to recognise it. Suppression of truth is already in hand, information on climate change has been removed from government websites. It is the preparation for your future governance. No names are given here, because no-one will recognise the opportunist until he makes his grab for ultimate power. It will not be who you expect it to be.
forget Wall St., this is what world bankruptcy looks like:
Oil is our prime source of energy, ‘alternatives’ cannot power our industrial infrastructure.
Any business that continually burns through its assets at ten times the rate of replacement can be said to be bankrupt. That describes the global economy as clearly as it describes the smallest business enterprise.
Fossil fuels are the only asset we have, because everything else is a derivative of coal oil and gas inputs. Without heat, nothing can be manufactured. We elect politicians to lie on our behalf, and offer prayers that the laws of physics should be contravened. We want to be told that our resources and growth are infinite. Everyone is complicit in the grand deceit; to accept the truth would destroy the existence of all of us.
So to perpetuate that lie there is a collective insistence that the global economy must continue to function to a very simple (but ultimately nonsensical) formula:
the more fuel we burn, the greater our gross domestic product. The faster we burn it, the higher our percentage growth.
Our machines and the (finite) fuels that move them now form the sinews that hold all nations together. They feed us, provide heat, light and transport, and with equal importance, stabilise international democracies and political systems.
Our machines also keep us in employment: No matter how complex or mundane your current job, whether garbage collector or brain surgeon, someone, somewhere is producing sufficient surplus energy to support it and pay your wages.
Prosperity is not an infinite right
Collective prosperity at the global level depends on cheap surplus fossil fuel energy. For 2 centuries we have been able to use those fossil fuels as collateral for future debt, to build ever bigger machines to extract elemental resources from the earth. This has been our great burning, because extracted materials of themselves are of no use to us unless we use heat to process them into desirable commodities.
That excess heat is altering our climate beyond human tolerance.
But heat provides our industrial growth economy: fuels must be consumed to sustain it and provide continued employment to make things that are ultimately thrown away in order to consume more to enable our debts to be continually carried forward.
Our system of rolling debt depends on increasing energy input and burning it ad infinitum. So they who assert that climate change is a hoax get voted into office, granting permission to burn our planet forever.
Without economic stability, democracy cannot survive.
Fuel resources have been a once-only gift of nature, and there are no viable substitutes. When they are no longer freely available, the effects will be catastrophic and force the events outlined here because the availability of surplus energy directly underpins our economic system. Without surplus energy you cannot have a modern democratic society. Be under no illusions, on current trends the events outlined here are certain. Only timing is in question by a few years either way.
Our global bank balance in oil has been falling for 70 years.
We are living on legacy oil. Oilwells cannot be refilled by votes, prayers or money.
Without oil and its derivatives, our employment comes to a stop.
We have created an industrial economy that is entirely predicated on a single factor: converting explosive force into rotary motion. Those six words separate us from the economics of the horsedrawn cart, windmill and sailing ship. They also separate us from the disease and deprivation that was the lot of our forebears only a century or two ago. Only fossil fuels can supply that explosive force at the rate we need.
The global industrial economy is now an interlocked progressive whole. It will not allow isolationism to function, neither will it allow a return to a previous era and downsized economic environment. We demand more, you have heard the aspiring tyrant’s words that promise more.
Political promises evaporate when there is insufficient energy to support them.
The notion of “Saudi America” is reassuring, but the facts are not:
Despite the rhetoric and posturing, reality cannot be ignored: the USA produces around 12+ Million barrels of oil a day, but uses 0ver 19MBd. (2016). This imbalance is not going to change, despite collective belief to the contrary:
The USA cannot produce sufficient oil to sustain itself.
Price fluctuations and the ebb and flow of gluts should be ignored. If the cost of oil rises to a level that sustains the producers, users can’t afford to buy it; if it falls, oil producers can’t afford to extract it. This is the economic vice that is inexorably crushing the global industrial system as oil supplies decline.
Real wages fall in lockstep with oil depletion.
As surplus energy falls away, so does real income. We have substituted debt for income and caused that debt to grow to mask the reality of our situation. We are stealing from our own future and from generations unborn to stay solvent. It might be called intergenerational larceny. When our great grandchildren arrive they will find nothing left for them to burn.
We are already in the phase of expending too much energy to get energy, which is why real income has been static for 30 years. We live in an energy economy, not a money economy. We cannot devote our commercial existence to the businesses of finding new sources of energy.
Wages are paid from energy surpluses, not printing presses, and that surplus has been gradually reducing.
The mirage of infinity.
The killer factor is Energy Return on Energy Invested, EROEI. Over the last 150 years civilisation has been built based on coal that returned an EROEI of 50:1, and oil that returned 100:1. Those ratios of return provided the cheap surplus energy that created our industrial infrastructure, and led to the expectation of infinite affluence.
Energy is required to sustain all life forms, we cannot go on taking more than our fair share.
We cannot maintain our current lifestyle using expensive fuels which give a return ratio of around 18:1 (and falling), which is what the best oilwells now deliver.
At around 14:1 our society might hold together in a rudimentary sense if consumption and some kind of commercial activity could be balanced at that level, but 80 million new people arrive on the planet each year, while the elderly refuse to die. They demand to be housed clothed and fed, spreading available resources even thinner. The mothers of the next 2 billion people are alive now. They will reproduce as a matter of personal survival, taking global population beyond 9 billion by mid century, guaranteeing our fall off the ‘energy cliff’ because the means to sustain that number does not exist.
The Energy Cliff:
There are numerous interpretations of the ‘energy cliff’, offering different return ratios that will supposedly allow our industrial society to function. 14:1, 12:1 even 8:1. The exact figure is irrelevant, right now we are entering the ‘elbow curve’ of the cliff, pinning our energy hopes on PV, wind, nuclear and tarsands, with a fantasy of fusion power thrown in; the ultimate downturn is inescapable. Wind and solar farms cannot supply sufficient concentrated energy to replace oil.
When we reach the point of having only shale or tar sand oil or wind turbines returning 5:1, there will not be enough surplus energy in our industrial systems to provide the economic momentum we need, and maintain the necessary machinery to power the system.
We are 7.5 billion people on a planet that, pre-oil, supported between 1 and 2 billion. By any reckoning, 5 billion people alive now do not have a future, let alone 2 billion more due over the next 30 years.
We must burn fuel to maintain what we have, but the act of burning destroys what we have. This is contrary to human instinct, because our ‘survival brain’ hasn’t developed beyond the level of the hunter/gatherer; the only recourse will be violent conflict to take what others have. All wars are about survival and acquisition of resources. Conflict will destroy what energy sources we have left and finally exhaust any survivors.
When our wheels stop turning, we stop eating.
Our situation is as brutally simple as that. Electric vehicles cannot function outside a hydrocarbon based infrastructure, and no transportation can exist beyond the extent of its purpose. A collapsed economy removes any such purpose. Battery power will not deliver fresh water and remove your wastes, and there isn’t going to be a bucolic utopia where we all become rural gardeners. We don’t know how, there isn’t enough room and probably not enough time.
‘Transition towns’, the current idea for downsizing and return to some kind of agricultural utopia, cannot exist outside a fossil fueled environment.
Harvests will not withstand the onslaught of hungry people
But the demand for answers will persist, a search for those responsible for our misfortunes, and insistence that our lives are restored to the ‘normality’ of previous times. Already the finger pointing rhetoric of the despot is being cheered on a wave of ignorance and bigotry: lock up opponents and dissenters, suppress the media, remove the unwanted, rewrite the laws.
When that (and more) is done, all will be well. They are words from recent history, overlaid on our own time. We thought fascism was impossible in civilised nations; as long as prosperity held for all, that was true. As prosperity fails, it is stirring again, with an appetite easily fed but never sated.
As energy supplies deplete, the industrial economy will enter its terminal phase, still suffering collective denial. But no nation can hold together without the fuel sources that created it. Secession will become inevitable, into five, six, seven or more regions in the USA, along racial, religious, political and geographic lines. The faultlines are already there, with no energy base there will be nothing to stop ultimate breakup. Other conglomerations of states and provinces will also disintegrate. The EU, Russia, China, Africa will react and deny, but the end result cannot be avoided:
Energy depletion = social/economic collapse.
As civil unrest takes hold, governments will act in the only way they know how: violent suppression to restore order. This will mean military intervention and imposition of martial law as civil breakdown becomes widespread.
At that point your elected leader will assume the role of dictator and suspend the constitution. Once established, godly certainties among those around him will cloak this in righteousness and subvert it into a theocracy of the worst kind.
That will make it easier to identify the heathen and justify any form of retribution. It will be fascism cloaked in holy orders.
Those who support him will become part of the new order. Those who do not will be dismissed from office, either voluntarily or more likely by force. Police and military will fall in behind whoever pays their wages, and enforce the new regime. Totalitarian states have shown that there is never a shortage of willing hands to perform unpleasant tasks. They are always ready and waiting to be recruited.
The revolving door of the White House will no longer lead out onto Pennsylvania Avenue.
The inevitability of regional secession will inflame regional differences, and spark civil war(s). It will be the time of petty states and tyrannies, each regime desperate to resist the decline into a different lifestyle, certain that the mess can be ‘fixed’, and only ‘they’ can fix it by enforcement of (theocratic) ideology. Yet without the power of fossil fuels there will be an inexorable regression to the brutalities of medievalism, where the command of muscle reflects political power.
Eventually seceded states will be forced to accept each other’s existence, for no better reason than there will be insufficient means to do anything about it.
So what of the years to come? The dictator’s power will grow for a time, and make life unpleasant for millions, but ultimately his Reich will extend only to the door of his bunker. No doubt he will remain in his seat of imagined power for as long as possible, issuing incoherent commands that cannot be fulfilled because there will be insufficient energy to do so, just as his predecessor discovered 75 years ago.
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