WEAP model on The Oil Drum

[Note update below. Paul’s updated model is here.]

There’s a lengthy discussion on The Oil Drum of Paul Chefurka’s World Energy and Population: Trends to 2100. I mentioned Paul’s paper in the introduction to the previous post here, and recommend it to anyone interested in an excellent, readable analysis of the relationship between peak energy and global population. It goes a long way toward bringing into focus much of the essence of our global ecological crisis.

I haven’t read all the comments on The Oil Drum, but there’s clearly enough material there to keep an interested reader busy for days. Good stuff.
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[10/21/07] Update: See Paul’s newer World Energy to 2050. Given Paul’s reassessment of his WEAP model (see this link, but also Paul’s comments below), a few more words are in order. It seems the key conclusion resulting from over 400 comments on the paper on The Oil Drum was that it did not successfully establish a causal link between energy decline and population decline.

That said, I believe the paper has had real value. First, it does contain excellent examinations of some important issues. Second, getting it in front of large numbers of people who could discuss and critique it has moved the discussion of this hugely important topic. We now have some new indication of how difficult it is to demonstrate beyond doubt a link between energy decline and population decline. It remains, of course, a problem of tremendous importance.

This is all very speculative, of course, but if true, it may in time help clarify the role of peak energy in the looming convergence of major ecological problems.[1] It could turn out to provide a smidgen more hope for the human future. Unfortunately, with a number of key ecological crises underway, some form of population crash remains a clear concern. See the comments for more.
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[1] Converging ecological problems include climate change, mass extinction, deforestation, aquifer depletion, soil erosion, depletion of fish stocks, and more, all in the context of increasing population overshoot and consequent decreasing carrying capacity.
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28 responses to “WEAP model on The Oil Drum

  1. The work of Paul Chefurka is as important as any I see on the subject of “peak oil,” energy and steadily increasing absolute global human population numbers. Few people are as farsighted, have thought so deeply or spoken out so loudly and coherently about the “world problematique.”

    Thanks, Paul, for all you are doing and for the courageous way you are going about it.

  2. This is the first overall reaction to that discussion that I’ve published.

    That thread on The Oil Drum is one of the more intense intellectual and emotional experiences I’ve had recently, on a number of fronts.

    As I expected going in, the readers of The Oil Drum are a very tough audience. If an article is presented as having a technical underpinnings, they has better be correct and defensible. If an article claims to draw conclusions from technical and numerical analysis, the links from the assumptions through the analysis to the conclusions had better be explicit and defensible. That audience responds poorly to handwaving, unsubstantiated claims, sloppy logic and opinions masquerading as fact.

    In retrospect I agree that my paper committed all of these epistemological sins, something many of the readers were quick to point out. Fair enough, one of the reasons I write this stuff is to learn from both the writing and the reactions. Many of the criticisms were fair, though some were worded more strongly than others.

    The primary challenge was “You have not proved that straitened circumstances in global energy will result in a population crash.” And, in truth, I hadn’t. Many countries have thriving technical and industrial bases with a per-capita energy consumption that would make a Canadian throw up their hands in despair. There are no examples I can find of countries where population growth has been reduced by energy limitations. Making that linkage therefore required handwaving and unsubstantiated claims.

    There are hints that a convergence of ecological, economic and energy crises (the 3E crisis as I call it) could result in the spread of famine and disease. Qualitative scenarios have been proposed for this, but they aren’t supportable by quantitative analysis just yet. Trying to pin such an outcome on a single factor is very hard to do. Establishing that such a single factor could precipitate an outright die-off is even harder (read, damn near impossible). Trying to objectively draw such a connection is to have one’s opinion masquerade as fact.

    Finally, if a conclusion (such as “energy reductions will result in a die-off”) is logically unsupportable it means axiomatically that the logic used to arrive at it was sloppy.

    So, on the terms in which I presented it, this paper has to be judged a failure. Your humble servant has to admit he’s perhaps not quite as smart as he hoped he was, and that in this case his reach exceeded his grasp.

    I still think some portions of the article are useful, especially as a foundation for further thinking. The Net Oil Export crisis, for example, seems to be something we should pay a lot of attention to in the coming decade. The degree to which wind and nuclear will be able to offset the decline of oil and natural gas, what the limits on wind wind power development might be, and the Hobson’s Choice presented by coal deserve a lot of thought as well.

    On the question of population, it has to be asked whether the 3E crisis may in fact not reduce the world’s population after all. Is it possible it might simply degrade the global quality of life to the point that we have 8 or 9 billion people living like 14th century serfs, but still happily reproducing enough to keep the population from falling?

    Finally, are the portents of apocalypse that so many of us are starting to feel so strongly rooted more in our inner world than in the outer one?

    I’ve only just started re-examining my position in light of these questions, but the journey already promises to be an interesting and productive one.

    Here’s to truth!

  3. By the way, I’m posting this response to the original thread on The Oil Drum as well.

  4. Well Paul, that is a whole lot more humility and courage than most people would show.

    This is a bit off the top of my head, but . . . I actually think you may be selling yourself and your paper paper a little short. It’s true, I suppose, that you didn’t “prove” the link between energy depletion and die-off, or didn’t provide an air tight logical chain to support it. But I’m not sure that’s really possible. You know this stuff much better than I do, but isn’t the argument, at base, dependent on this logic:

    Increasing energy availability and use (fossil fuels, particularly oil) correlated with huge growth of the global population, and might reasonably be assumed to have enabled that growth by enabling much larger scale farming as well as things like more widespread heating, air conditioning, medicine, etc. Therefore, if fossil energy use enabled huge population growth (superexponential in fact), it’s depletion could (should?) easily trigger a die-off.

    To this add (a) that humans are not magically separated from other species and so are vulnerable to die-offs, just as other species are, and (b) the convergence of peak energy, mass extinction, climate change, aquifer depletion, and economic factors, all brought on in large part by population overshoot, and these factors compounding one another.

    So no, there isn’t absolute proof there, but it’s rather compelling logic. Any model has to make assumptions. I can’t see any way to do an experimental study to test the energy-population linkage. [1] All you can do is to try to firm up the logic and maybe offer a few scenarios based on a range of assumptions.

    You may have gone from A to B to C, with a debatable assumption and some slightly less than complete logic at B, but everything at A and C is still solid stuff, eh? Just firm up B.

    I’m thinking of Catton’s work as well. I think he sees some degree of crash as inevitable. He shows pretty convincingly that we’re in overshoot, asserts that humans are not exempt from crash as a result of overshoot, etc. It’s merely a logical sequence, and not one that we can really “prove.”

    So one can quibble with your numbers for renewables and such. But to quibble with the assumption that energy depletion won’t result in population reduction seems to be saying, “Energy availability enabled population growth, but in the face of energy depletion there will be other factors which allow us to continue to support our present or larger numbers.” I don’t know. It’s interesting, but at present the logic that energy decline should mean population decline seems the more solid.

    I would encourage you to take some time to absorb the critiques from The Oil Drum. As you suggest, a barrage of 400+ comments, some extremely harshly critical, is a very intense thing to process emotionally. Take heart in the fact that criticism is far easier than original creation and it does seem everyone’s a critic. Process it over a period of time, take a breather, then consider whether WEAP can be revised and strengthened, or just what the next step is in connecting the dots between peak energy and population (as well as climate, extinction, etc.).

    It’s a hugely important topic, and your work has brought it some real attention recently. As I said on The Oil Drum, that’s definitely a real contribution, no matter what revisions or new analyses come down the pike.

    You ask, “Finally, are the portents of apocalypse that so many of us are starting to feel so strongly rooted more in our inner world than in the outer one?”

    Hmmm. yes, that’s something we should be examining at every turn, I suppose. But there’s no denying some very serious ecological issues playing out today. Mass extinction, peak oil, climate change, etc. should be enough to stir some very troubling concerns, shouldn’t they? But, yes, I do think it’s reasonable to remain open to a range or possibilities. Tough to predict the future.

    And to the extent your projections might turn out to have been too pessimistic, you gotta admit that’s damn good news. 😀

    BTW, Paul, any thoughts on Chris Clugston’s article on roughly the same topic? I haven’t read it yet, or an article on population he has on Culture Change, but am wondering if you and he differ substantially anywhere.

    [1] You do make the interesting observation, “There are no examples I can find of countries where population growth has been reduced by energy limitations.” But as someone on The Oil Drum pointed out (I’m elaborating a bit), we live in an age of trade. If it weren’t for food imports, perhaps it would be easier to point to such countries. (This goes to some of the things discussed by Daniel Quinn, Russ Hopfenberg, etc. in explaining the high pop growth in countries that also have starvation.) But yes, there’s something to ponder here. And Cuba seems an interesting case study.

  5. Thanks for the supportive words, John.

    The main ground I’m giving back (at least for the moment) is the idea that declining energy will necessarily result in an overall population decline. I haven’t changed my mind on the rest of the Problematique, the “3E” crisis of energy, ecology and economics, either in terms of the probable severity of its impact or the fact that population-driven consumption is behind it.

    However, the notion of an energy-mediated die-off is going to be put to one side for now. One of the stronger pieces of evidence against it at the moment is the continued existence of North Korea. They suffered far worse than Cuba following a similar cessation of Soviet oil exports, and similarly haven’t shown signs of a population reduction as far as we can tell. Famine, yes. Utterly lousy quality of life, yes. Perhaps even a population plateau. But no die-off. They’ve still got 25 million people living in a hard-scrabble Workers’ Paradise. And that’s with a really lousy agricultural climate compared to Cuba, and a government that’s totally insane. They get little food aid, their borders are closed. The people are in desperate circumstances, but the effects of famine and exposure don’t appear to be lowering their population significantly, at least not just yet.

    I’ll be investigating the idea that the energy-population link may be largely a one-way function. I.e. it enables population growth as the energy base expands, but has much less effect on it as it contracts. That makes some sense to me, as the growth side of the energy curve resulted in a lot of human learning that remains even as the energy declines.

    I have to say that repudiating the concept of die-off seems to have lifted a bit of weight from my shoulders. It implies that human efforts, large or small, are important and that work spent improving local conditions has potentially lasting value. On the other hand, the fact that there may not be a die-back could be construed as the worst possible news. We will gather round the world’s last tuna with tears in our eyes but forks in our hands, John Michael Greer’s theory of “Catabolic Collapse” may be borne out, and entropy will rule. That is no less dismal a future, but at least it’s one in which population control measures might mitigate the course of events. Though I’d hate to be a wild pig or a spotted owl over the next century.

    Nobody ever said H. Sap. wasn’t supremely adaptable.

  6. Dear Paul,

    Keep going…………….

    For me, your following words have profound implications.

    “Finally, are the portents of apocalypse that so many of us are starting to feel so strongly rooted more in our inner world than in the outer one?”

    Many years ago, more than I care to acknowledge, the great man, Buckminster Fuller, came to Chapel Hill. Nothing of what he said has remained riveted in my brain except one thing. In clear, naturally persuasive, and easy to understand terms, he explained, using what seemed like a mountain of scientific evidence, how the world we inhabit was about to come to an end. His comments were frightening.

    Some months after his speech I picked up a local newspaper in which I read an obituary for Bucky. At that moment, I experienced a sense of relief because it occurred to me that Buckminster Fuller’s “end of the world” pronoucement was likely nothing more and nothing else than a “projection” of something that was dimly, vaguely present in this great man’s inner world……….. an awareness of the end of his own existence.

    Of course, what I thought after reading the obituary, with such a sense of ease and enhanced personal security, could be correct. It could also be correct that Rachel Carson, J.N. “Ding” Darling, Garrett Hardin, Donella “Dana” Meadows and many other people in our time are simply projecting onto the the outer world in which we live a primary fear of the end of our own lives. In doing this, we would be engaged, I suppose, in a psychological strategy some might call, following the great Pulitzer Prize winning psychologist, Ernest Becker, the denial of death.

    There is more than one way that the denial of death can be expressed in human experience.

    Let us consider another example of people apparently engaged in the denial of death. The leaders of the predominant culture appear to ignore good scientific evidence and take hold of ideas borne of political convenience, economic expediency and logical contrivance in an effort the relentlessly pursue a “primrose path” marked by the seemingly endless growth of a patently unsustainable global political economy. In a small, noticeably frangible world, the infinite expansion of economic globalization, unrestrained and increasing per capita consumption, and unregulated human propagation simply cannot continue much longer, much less forever. Good scientific evidence exists ubiquitously that makes something clear to us: a finite planet the size of Earth cannot sustain the huge scale and anticipated growth rate of certain human overgrowth activities endlessly.

    In the behavior of many too many leaders are we witnessing yet another example of people denying death? Are leaders avoiding what we know to be real and also engaged in the denial of death?

    If this was so, would it become possible to see and understand that objective concerns for our individual lives and the lives of our children especially, for the future of our species, for the prevention of biodiversity loss, for the protection of the environment and the preservation of Earth as fit place for human habitation are well founded?

    If we simply employ good scientific evidence, reason and common sense, does it not now become possible to at least acknowledge that ominously looming global challenges, ones already visible on the far horizon, are human-forced and, if not addressed by necessary changes in human behavior, could eventually produce colossal problems, the likes of which only Ozymandias has seen?

    Always,

    Steve

  7. Well, it could turn out that energy decline, in itself, will not correlate extremely strongly with population. The one way hypothesis for energy-population is intriguing. It may nevertheless correlate modestly, impacting food, the economy, etc. at the same time that they’re affected by climate, aquifer depletion, mass extinction, and so on. Together, compounding one another, all those events are mighty ominous.

    The good news would be that without an absolute, direct and automatic energy-population link, we might have a slightly larger window in which to bring population down and more reason to be optimistic about things like the relocalization movement.

    There is some educated speculation that we humans could survive a loss of, say, half of all other species. (The result being what Dave Foreman called “a nightmare world of deafening silence where no bird sings”) We don’t know. But there’s no question that as extinctions continue, we approach some point at which we could not survive.

    And as we continue in population overshoot (if only under our current living conditions, but likely even under conditions of greatly reduced consumption), we approach uncharted territory, but clearly cannot continue in increasing overshoot beyond some point which, historically, will have to come soon if it hasn’t crept up on us already.

    I guess what I’m trying to get at is that even without energy decline, there are enough other ecological issues converging, as we further overshoot carrying capacity, to threaten us with a population crash of some sort. I do think, as Steve suggests, that, as we continue collectively to ignore that, there is a sort of denial of death at play.

    I’m not sure I can make the permalink work for it, but I think Toby Kelsey’s response (“You are being too harsh on yourself. . . .”) on The Oil Drum is pretty good.

    For anyone reading along, here’s a link, btw, on Greer’s “catabolic collapse,” mentioned by Paul above.

  8. Adding to my comment above…

    Paul, you wrote:

    On the question of population, it has to be asked whether the 3E crisis may in fact not reduce the world’s population after all. Is it possible it might simply degrade the global quality of life to the point that we have 8 or 9 billion people living like 14th century serfs, but still reproducing enough to keep the population from falling?

    In line with what I said above, if the “ecological” of the 3 “E”s progresses far enough, it seems indisputable that crash of some sort will happen. Consider these points:

    1) While world population might stabilize this century, it may well do so at a size about 40% larger than today. And whether it will stabilize at all in that time is really quite speculative. (Link)

    2) Recall that while in overshoot, carrying capacity is constantly being reduced. So it would seem we could sit there with a stable population, without increasing energy use, and still cause accelerating ecological decline.

    3) An interesting question is whether species extinction would cease if both human population growth and per capita consumption growth were to stop. I don’t think we know. But #2 gives me doubts.

    But the hope your reassessment of WEAP gives me is that we have a little more time.

  9. Did a little googling and found that North Korea has been a food importer for some time. I don’t know the details, but there are bits about it in this Wiki article.

    Perhaps this has been enough to make the difference. Had they been unable to import food the famine there might have led to a die-off.

    Just speculating… I guess a big question re energy and population would be whether energy will decline worldwide enough to completely stop food imports to nations that depend on them just to get by. Again, it was Russ Hopfenberg’s argument that fertility rates are high in nations which struggle with famine because they do receive food aid which allows them to stay barely afloat. I gather it must take pretty extreme and unrelenting food shortages to trigger truly massive die-offs.

  10. Dear John,

    I think our personal experience discloses to us that it takes a lot of food and other resources to “live well,” given the values in the predominant culture. As best we can, most of us in the ‘first world’ insulate ourselves from the poor and downtrodden, and avoid at every turn getting up close and personal with those less fortunate among us in the human community, the ones who are suffering the effects of extreme poverty. Suffice it to say, that mountains of evidence indicate to us that organisms, including human organisms, can exist on limited amounts of sustenance. I make a distinction between the millions of people who are experiencing relatively normal growth and development as well as living well and the billions of stunted people worldwide who marginally exist, as you put it, on just enough “to stay barely afloat.”

    Always,

    Steve

  11. I’m working up the follow-on to this article taking a different approach to the population question. Instead of postulating a die-off, I’m looking at the effects given a UN-style slow growth to 9 billion by 2050 coupled with an overall energy decline. The results are almost as scary as an outright die-off.

    Here’s the narrative summary:

    – Total energy supply declines by 36% from today’s level, or 43% from its peak in 2020.

    – given the growth in population, average per capita energy drops from 1.7 toe/person today to 0.8 toe/person in 2050 – a drop of 54%

    – If that decline is spread more or less evenly through the world’s population, we end up with over 7 billion people living on the average per capita energy of today’s India, just over a billion people living like Hungarians or South Africans, and less than a billion people with an energy lifestyle better than France or Russia.

    I have no clue what would happen to Africa, that only gets 0.15 toe/person today, and would grow from 720 million to 1.4 billion people under this scenario.

    Tell me the ghost of little Tommy Malthus isn’t going to come knocking in that scenario…

    Stay tuned for the publication in a week or so.

  12. Dear Paul,

    Honestly, who among us is more carefully and ably examining the “world problematique” than you?

    Keep going,

    Steve

  13. Dear Friends,

    I find it irresistible not to at least take a moment to wonder aloud what Galileo is doing tonight. My hope would be that his head is NOT spinning in his grave. How can Galileo possibly find peace when so many top-rank scientists refuse to speak out clearly regarding whatsoever they believe to be true about the distinctly human predicament presented to humanity in our time by certain unbridled activities of the human species, here and now engulfing the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit?

    Where are the scientists willing to support at least some of the good science being presented in the solid scientific observations and empirical data from the likes of Paul Chefurka?

    Perhaps the something in the great work of Paul Cherfurka will give Galileo a moment of peace.

    Sincerely,

    Steve

    PS: Surely, a Chinese curse is evident now: yes, definitely yes, we live in interesting (Tower of Babel-like) times.

  14. Steve,

    The irony is that in a world of nearly 7 billion, you would think there would be more Galileo’s than ever. Oddly, a larger percentage of the few people trying to bring attention to these issues are informed “amateurs,” myself included.

    I wonder if it has a lot to do with the way the profession of science works today. Too much pressure to get grants and publish so as to get more grants etc. It’s not like in Galileo’s time. Perhaps the world is paying a price for that.

  15. Thanks for the florid praise, Steve (blush). I’m no Galileo, and like John I’m aghast that this issue isn’t getting the attention it deserves from real scientists.

    Anyway, we all do what we can, and here’s my next kick at the can: “The Daughter of WEAP” is up on my web site. No die-off this time, just a solid, detailed look at our species’ energy future and some examination of what will happen if the UN’s Medium Fertility Case turns out to be correct and there are 9 billion of us stomping around on the planet in 2050.

    It’s at http://www.paulchefurka.ca/WEAP2/WEAP2.html

    Let me know if my Paullyanna optimism distresses you too much.

  16. Yeah, well, I thought you were becoming way too optimistic to be any fun, Paul. But then I read this comment on the Oil Drum . . .

    http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3148#comment-255358

    . . . and realized you were still gonna be the life of lil’ Tommy’s party. 😉

  17. I’m only now catching up with the discussion but did just finish reading Paul’s revised paper. I’m really impressed (and a bit envious because it’s the sort of work I’m am trying to do in bits and pieces). I’ll go back and have a closer look but here are some initial comments:

    If anything, the energy numbers look optimistic — which is a good thing as it makes it harder to say Paul is biased toward a pariticularly dire outcome. For instance, hydro continuing to grow at any significant rate isn’t plausible in my view given that we’ve already tapped the best sites and river flows are not increasing. But that’s just a nit pick.

    The link between traditional energy production (gas and coal fired power plants and nuclear power generation) and water use isn’t made in this paper or in many others I’ve read. To a certain extent I don’t mind that here. How much can a person do in a single essay? But to understand the future we have to make this link.

    A recent work from the University of Michigan using data from the USGS shows for the USA 1% of water is used in the home and 39% in agriculture. So far so good. I was a little surprised that only 1% was home-use, but the thing I found shocking was that power generation consumes 39% of all fresh water, the same amount as agriculture! Think of the trade offs we are going to be facing.

    Of course, land use is also a factor to link to energy production and population. Again, you can do only so much at one time in a single paper.

    Another issue that jumped out for me is related to a comment in the paper about the usefulness of moving to electric cars and trains. I agree; it’s a smart move. But, still, we then have to produce a lot more electricity to power those cars and trains. It’s very difficult to convey how concertrated the energy is in a gallon of gasoline and how much more electricity will have to be produced to come close to the mobility we now enjoy thanks to oil and its refinement.

    This becomes another quality of life issue for the future. What will the world be like in terms of how the economy works (global and regional trade) and what our leisure is like when mobility is severly contrained with respect to what we enjoy today?

    Paul’s last chart titled “Population and Energy” is excellent and a great way to end the paper. To a certain extent we can be sidetracked by whether or not there will be a population die-off. It’s more than enough to focus on quality of life issues. When we come to the point at which a greater and greater portion of the population is poor, reversing the trend we have been on, then, as a civilization, we are on a downward trend. That’s enough to get my attention.

    Excellent work Paul. I’m happy to echo all of Steve’s sentiments about what you are doing even if you do blush. And thanks, John, for bringing it to my attention.

  18. Trinifar,

    Thanks for your review and comments. If you go back to the article this morning, you’ll see that I’ve taken on your comment about hydro. I think I got mesmerized by the mathematical projections, and reading your comment snapped me out of it. The future of hydro development isn’t nearly as imponderable as wind and solar, so it’s actually more defensible to use a hand-constructed, gradually slowing growth curve than a purely mathematical projection.

    As I said earlier to John, rest assured I haven’t stopped beating the die-off drum. What I’m going to try and do is sneak up on it from behind, using escalating fertilizer prices (from rising hydrogen costs due to the decline in natural gas) as my signpost.

    Here’s how I intend to proceed:

    I need to first quantify the energy changes in a selection of poor countries from now to 2050, based on their usage of various energy sources and rates of change I’ve established in my model.

    I’ll translate that into GDP changes using the work of Ayres and Kummel that analyzes of the energy contribution to GDP.

    I’ll then need to come up with a believable estimate of fertilizer prices based on the rising cost of natural gas. I may also factor in the probable costs of replacing some of the hydrogen made from from methane with hydrogen from electrolysis.

    Then, looking at the current fertilizer use by my target countries I’ll try and project the impact of fertilizer costs onto their (presumably declining) economies, and try to figure out if those costs will be supportable. I suspect they won’t be, and that a lot of countries are going to find themselves in the position of Malawi who were in a famine situation until the government stepped in and subsidized fertilizer costs.

    I’ll use that information to project declining fertilizer use, declining crop yields and declining per-capita grain production. From that we should get some realistic estimate of how much food the poor nations will be able to produce, and what shortfall would need to be made up by forign aid.

    This will all be based on the UN population projection, but by the time the shopradsheets have cooled down we sould have a better idea how out of whack that projection is likely to be.

    I’m going to publish my findings as a seeries of chapters to let people review the methodology and results.

    It promises to be an interesting and informative journey…

    Paul

  19. KEEP GOING………………….

  20. Coincidentally, on this subject check out http://europe.theoildrum.com/node/3090 for a discussion of post-peak agriculture in Pakistan.

  21. We cannot wait until next year……..for the world to change.

    Dear Friends,

    Thanks so much for all you are doing and planning to do differently. Your examples have got to have something to do with what is required of us all now. All of us have got to find new ways of making a difference just like you are doing.

    Here we are, one year away from US national elections. Many people seem to be “marking time” and waiting for a new day. For the moment, and since the turn of the century, leadership has not been up to the challenges of our time.

    Because the problems that I am seeing cannot wait “until next year,” I keep doing what I am doing, and hoping to do things better by doing things differently. Current leadership appears to be making bad matters even worse, not doing things better. If leaders keep doing what they are doing now, we will likely keep getting what we are getting now. Therein lies a big problem.

    Always glad to hear of initiatives like Paul Chefurka’s and to know so many other people are active. Not just to me personally, but for everyone’s sake, the work at hand is vital.

    Sincerely yours,

    Steve

  22. I’ve just posted the second part of my unfolding series of articles on what I think the near future is going to look like and why.

    The first part was the global energy scenario developed over the last few months and substantially revised following its critique on the Oil Drum. That baseline article is here: World Energy to 2050.

    The new article looks at the impacts of energy decline on national economies. I link the calculated GDP changes with national demographic projections to look at the effect on per capita GDP out to 2050. The latest article is here: National Energy Decline and the Growth of Destitution.

    Here’s a short excerpt:

    Current statistics from The World Bank indicate that over a billion people today live on a single dollar a day – half of the population I listed above as comprising the poor of 2006. The growth in that population, coupled with the drop in per capita GDP, implies that well over twice that number will be desperately poor in 2050 – perhaps as many as 3 billion in 2050. According to the same source, about half the world’s population today lives on less than $2 a day. If the scenario developed in this article is close to being true, that number could double by 2050. That demographic and economic earthquake could leave 6 billion people – almost the size of today’s entire global population – trying to survive on such a pittance.

    Paul Chefurka

  23. The article with my updated energy scenario to 2050 is now up on the main page at TOD. I’ve been told that Part 2, “Energy Decline and the Growth of Destitution”, will go up on Monday.

  24. Man, you have been productive lately, Paul!

    This should be interesting. 🙂

  25. Thanks to the teachings of science, our children regularly report to us that Earth is round and finite in space-time. Easy enough.

    Then, why is it that grown-ups with the very best education and responsibilities for ensuring a good future for the young deny one of these basic, irrefutable scientific facts?

    While there is a clear consensus among young and old alike that the planet we inhabit is round, many political leaders and powerbrokers in the global economy act as if Earth is somehow infinite, not limited in its capacity to perpetually fulfill the needs and wishes of the human species. Their widely shared, consensually validated and specious thinking supports the idea that the Earth is a sort of cornucopia, a seemingly endless provider of whatsoever human beings desire. Our relatively small and frangible planet is treated by these erstwhile leaders like an ever expressive teat at which the human species continuously and eternally can suckle.

    Take the example of the world’s supply of oil. Children see that the oil supply must be limited because the Earth itself is bounded not boundless. In these times, the young ones recognize that older folks are rapidly building oil rigs everywhere on the surface of Earth, draining fields of their petroleum and then voraciously consuming it. Nonetheless, many people continue to consume the limited oil supply as if there must surely be no end to it. Given the requirements of practical reality, why are there not electric cars and trains taking us where we need to go? Where are meaningful economic incentives for limiting profligate oil consumption and promoting the development and use of alternative fuel sources? The policy-making and political decision-making processes of these leaders consciously ignores the current massive dissipation of the Earth’s limited oil resources. Perhaps such behavior is both irrational and irresponsible.

    It took millions of years for the oil reserves to form, thanks to God. And in the span of my lifetime it appears a few generations of voracious human beings, now numbering over 6.6 billion, are righteously “sucking up” the lion’s share of the planet’s petroleum capacity. If we old-timers simply keep doing what we are doing now to maximally expand oil production for immediate consumption, what resource base in petroleum will be left for our children and coming generations to this good Earth?

    Steven Earl Salmony, Ph.D., M.P.A.
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population
    http://sustainabilitysoutheast.org/
    http://journals.aol.com/sesalmony/HumanandEnvironmentalHealth/

  26. Here’s the link to Paul’s update article: http://canada.theoildrum.com/node/3222

  27. Yet another interesting blog, a very good article on a long range of typical “growth is madness” topics: peak oil, industrialized farming, global capitalism, etc. The number of people who are waking up to the greatest challenges of our times, is growing, growing, and growing. – 🙂

    – —

    http://complexsystemofpipes.wordpress.com/category/economics/capitalism/

    “Not long ago, I reproduced George Monbiot’s suggestion that a global recession might be worth hoping for. There’s an increasingly terrifying threat of human activity rendering the biosphere uninhabitable, bringing a series of catastrophes we an refer to by the sanitised label of a “global population crash”, and for all the efforts of environmentalists it’s hard to see what could save us from our own economy, short of its complete collapse.”

    “A generation after the oil embargo of the 1970s, few people realise just how dependent we have become on oil in less than a century. It’s not just cars, it’s not just heating our homes, and it’s not just manufactured consumer tat and white goods. In fact, most of use as much oil through the food we eat as through our transport and our home. Agriculture is intense these days, with tractors, pesticides and fertilisers pushing farms way beyond their natural limits. As the oil runs out, there’s every chance of the food running out.”

    “Even without biofuels, though, the end of abundant oil has very serious consequences for our food security. Intensive, unsustainable agriculture is half the problem, the other half being intensive, unsustainable food distribution. Our farms will no longer work half so well, and we won’t be able to ship everything from farm to table via processing plants in Poland or China. For the problem isn’t just of intense farms, but of an intense, global farming industry; one that’s extremely reliant on oil.”

  28. Part 2 of this analysis, “Energy Decline and National GDP in 2050: The Growth of Destitution”, is up on The Oil Drum at http://canada.theoildrum.com/node/3230