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Is global collapse imminent ?

September 3rd, 2014

Reader ZM points me to a paper with this title, by Graham Turner of the University of Melbourne. Not only does Turner answer “Yes”, he gives a date: 2015. That’s a pretty big call to be making, given that 2015 is less than four months away.

The abstract reads:

The Limits to Growth “standard run” (or business-as-usual, BAU) scenario produced about forty years ago aligns well with historical data that has been updated in this paper. The BAU scenario results in collapse of the global economy and environment (where standards of living fall at rates faster than they have historically risen due to disruption of normal economic functions), subsequently forcing population down. Although the modelled fall in population occurs after about 2030—with death rates rising from 2020 onward, reversing contemporary trends—the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. Given this imminent timing, a further issue this paper raises is whether the current economic difficulties of the global financial crisis are potentially related to mechanisms of breakdown in the Limits to Growth BAU scenario. In particular, contemporary peak oil issues and analysis of net energy, or energy return on (energy) invested, support the Limits to Growth modelling of resource constraints underlying the collapse.

A central part of the argument, citing Simmons is that critics of LtG wrongly interpeted the original model as projecting a collapse beginning in 2000, whereas the correct date is 2015.

I’ve been over this issue in all sorts of ways (see here and here for example, or search on Peak Oil). So readers won’t be surprised to learn that I don’t buy this story. I won’t bother to argue further: unless the collapse is even more rapid than Turner projects, I’ll be around to eat humble pie in 2016 when the downturn in output (and the corresponding upsurge in oil prices) should be well under way.

Given that I’m a Pollyanna compared to lots of commenters here, I’d be interested to see if anyone is willing to back Turner on this, say by projecting a decline of 5 per cent or more in world industrial output per capita in (or about) 2015, continuing with a sharply declining trend thereafter. [minor clarifications added, 5/9]

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  1. Hermit
    September 3rd, 2014 at 13:27 | #1

    A major correction has to be on the cards. 2015 i.e. next year is when we starting exporting east coast gas even though we won’t enough for ourselves at a reasonable price. However liquid transport fuels are even more crucial, representing some 45% of primary energy consumption I believe. The world oil price has been remarkably stable since 2008 but the volume plateau has been held up by liquid fuels that are harder to treat or extract, for example tar sands, condensates, heavy sour crude, grain ethanol, oil drilled in 2km deep water and on prime farm land via horizontal drilling and fracking. The earliest fracking peak I’ve seen is 2016 but others are saying 2018. China is making liquid fuel from coal but hidden away well out of the cities.

    If aggregate economic activity is roughly proportional to net energy consumption that suggests everything will slide downwards in sync. I’d say most of us have reduced our flying and driving so there may not be much more to cut. Even the auto industry is saying just 3% electric car sales by 2020. Something big is going down soon. Time to re-read The Magic Pudding.

  2. Jim Birch
    September 3rd, 2014 at 14:02 | #2

    I’m a fellow Pollyanna. I haven’t read the paper but I guess some of their model coefficients are based on business as usual rather than creative adaptation. The big underlying driver of the real economy is human capital and this doesn’t change vx jhjery fast. It’s not that shocks and resource depletions don’t hurt but rather that they also provoke responses, provided we have the flexibility to adapt.

    The type of shock that I think might produce a serious general slump in living standards would be a new lethal highly communicable disease, a global war, or a large asteroid strike.

  3. kevin1
    September 3rd, 2014 at 14:13 | #3

    Is this the same Graham Turner who owns the Flight Centre group and fronted the national press club recently with Dick Smith arguing (pretty incoherently) against economic growth?

  4. Jim Birch
    September 3rd, 2014 at 14:18 | #4

    “If aggregate economic activity is roughly proportional to net energy consumption that suggests everything will slide downwards in sync.”

    True, but this is a big if. Especially if by energy consumption you imply fossil fuel consumption. It seems to me entirely possible to have prosperous economy without fossil fuels. In fact, inevitable.

  5. kevin1
    September 3rd, 2014 at 14:20 | #5

    @kevin1

    Oops, I guess not.

  6. BilB
    September 3rd, 2014 at 14:24 | #6

    I am with Turner in principle, but I think that rather than a big crash there will be a progressive crumple. The reason that I believe this is that we are not out of options yet. China has just cut a gas deal with Russia, the US is drilling into their local high cost reserves, there is plenty of coal available, there are many countries which are accustomed to coping with energy shortages, Europe is in a bind but new vehicles are more efficient and Europe has a higher affordability access to these, and there is plenty of coal. For the time being I don’t see the pressure on Oil resources pushing the price up rapidly in a manner that would trip a recession cascade. I feel that we are a good 8 years away from that risk. But anyone who fails to take advantage of the present economic calm and not acquire a healthy amount of solar pv/thermal is I believe foolhardy.

    Has anyone else noticed that the oil companies seem to have abandoned their roller coaster fuel pricing and prices have settled at under $1.40 per litre (for the basic stuff)? What ever the reason, it says that there is still flexibility in the system. So I think that 2015 is a premature call.

  7. Hermit
    September 3rd, 2014 at 14:40 | #7

    @Jim Birch
    The catch is it takes a lot of fossil fuel to make energy technologies that are not fossil fuel. Silicon for example used in solar panels is made with the help of coal. Same goes for steel, cement, aluminium, rare earths and so on. It’s hard to see anything but liquid hydrocarbon powering passenger jets. Turner probably dreads the day he has to ask $10k for a Sydney to London economy class ticket powered by synfuel. There must be a least worst path which I suspect we are not taking.

  8. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    September 3rd, 2014 at 14:52 | #8

    Not very worried about Peak Oil but I am very concerned at the prospect of Peak Phosphorus and ocean food chain collapse (which, ironically, is partly driven by overuse of phosphorus). The latter could easily happen within the next 20 or even 10 years.

  9. ZM
    September 3rd, 2014 at 15:00 | #9

    I have to finish reading the article before making a considered comment. But my understanding of Turner and the Limits to Growth book is that a downturn towards collapse becomes apparent or we see the onset of collapse around 2015 , but the convergence to proper collapse really happens more towards 2100 , Turner in The Guardian says around 2070, not 2015. The MSSI paper seems to be saying with Peak oil , collapse in oil has started now seriously in terms of expense to get oil, and this will have effects economically, but I am not sure of the other things .

    I will repeat my comments on LtG to Jack King, he says my reading of the figure on LTG p. 124 is wrong. But anyone can download the PDF – and see. Please correct me if my reading of the figure is wrong – but the sharp collapse to the low values on the fertile axis looks to happen closer to 2100 than 2000 to me.

    ““The “standard” world model run assumes no major change in the physical, economic, or social relationships that have historically governed the de- velopment of the world system. All variables plotted here follow historical values from 1900 to 1970. Food, industrial output, and population grow exponentially until the rapidly diminishing resource base forces a slowdown in industrial growth. Because of natural delays in the system, both popu- lation and pollution continue to increase for some time after the peak of industrialization. Population growth is finally halted by a rise in the death rate due to decreased food and medical services” p. 124
    There is a figure with curves for the various things like resources, population etc on that page too. It shows a convergence to collapse a bit before 2100 on the axis. you can download a pdf of the 1972 book from the internet and check the graph on that page yourself.
    “The behavior mode of the system shown in figure 35 is clearly that of overshoot and collapse. In this run the collapse occurs because of nonrenewable resource depletion. The indus- trial capital stock grows to a level that requires an enormous input of resources. In the very process of that growth it depletes a large fraction of the resource reserves available. As resource prices rise and mines are depleted, more and more capital must be used for obtaining resources, leaving less to be invested for future growth. Finally investment cannot keep up with depre- ciation, and the industrial base collapses, taking with it the service and agricultural systems, which have become dependent on ind-qstrial inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hospital laboratories, computers, and especially energy for mechaniza- tion). For a short time the situation is especially serious because population, with the delays inherent in the age structure and the process of social adjustment, keeps rising. Population finally decreases when the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services.” p. 125
    “The behavior mode of the system shown in figure 35 is clearly that of overshoot and collapse. In this run the collapse occurs because of nonrenewable resource depletion. The indus- trial capital stock grows to a level that requires an enormous input of resources. In the very process of that growth it depletes a large fraction of the resource reserves available. As resource prices rise and mines are depleted, more and more capital must be used for obtaining resources, leaving less to be invested for future growth. Finally investment cannot keep up with depre- ciation, and the industrial base collapses, taking with it the service and agricultural systems, which have become dependent on ind-qstrial inputs (such as fertilizers, pesticides, hospital laboratories, computers, and especially energy for mechaniza- tion). For a short time the situation is especially serious because population, with the delays inherent in the age structure and the process of social adjustment, keeps rising. Population finally decreases when the death rate is driven upward by lack of food and health services.” p. 126

  10. ZM
    September 3rd, 2014 at 15:01 | #10

    By fertile axis I mean vertical axis, sorry

  11. John Quiggin
    September 3rd, 2014 at 15:07 | #11

    OK, Hermit, glad to have you on record. Crash by 2020 at the outside.

  12. Hermit
    September 3rd, 2014 at 15:31 | #12

    My bad. Graham Turner of this report is a Melbourne academic and researcher. Graham Turner founder of Flight Centre is an ex vet and now partner in crime of Dick Smith in wanting immigration severely restricted.

  13. rog
    September 3rd, 2014 at 15:41 | #13

    On a local level the prosperity promised by coal mining and transportation in the Hunter Valley has been offset by a higher AUD, knocking local exporters hard; corruption of politics at every level (#ICAC) and pollution of water, soil and air by micro particles affecting health. Long term adverse effects still to be experienced and evaluated. Not sure of the nett benefits, if any, to your average household.

  14. Tim Macknay
    September 3rd, 2014 at 16:10 | #14

    Argh. Messed up the formatting. Prof Q, do you mind deleting my previous?

  15. Tim Macknay
    September 3rd, 2014 at 16:10 | #15

    Turner probably dreads the day he has to ask $10k for a Sydney to London economy class ticket powered by synfuel.

    Hmm. Based on my rough calculations (based on publicly available statistics), the per-passenger fuel cost of an A380 flight from Sydney to London in 2014 is, conservatively, around US$400 (or 82c per passenger-litre). Sydney-to-London economy airfares are currently around A$1500 . So in order for the airfare to rise to $10,000 based on fuel cost (I’m assuming rough parity between the dollars), the price of jet fuel would need to rise by 2200% or so, to around $16 per passenger-litre.

    To put the $10,000 fare in context, a Sydney to London airfare in the late 1970s cost around $2300, or just over $9000 in today’s money. So an increase in fuel price by a factor of 22 would put the cost of air travel back to roughly where it was… in the late 1970s.

  16. BilB
    September 3rd, 2014 at 16:36 | #16

    Tim, if air fares Sydney to London were b$10,000 then the traffic volume would be dramatically reduced. There would be scrapped planes at air field all over the world and a huge part of the fare would be required to keep airlines afloat carry those huge losses so the fuel to fare ratio would stay very much the same 2370 for fuel (a 6 fold markup) and 7630 for the airline or around today’s first class airfare. The seats would very likely be spaced a little further apart. (based on your assumptions)

  17. John Quiggin
    September 3rd, 2014 at 16:49 | #17

    @BilB

    There’s no need to keep airlines afloat, and no way passengers can be charged to make this happen. Precisely because they are vulnerable to this kind of thing, airlines go into and out of bankruptcy all the time.

    A big reduction in passenger numbers would imply that the value of second-hand planes would fall to zero, so all the costs would be fuel costs.

    BTW, Tim you don’t need to talk in terms of passenger-litres, the relevant unit is just litres and the price is going to be similar (net of tax differences) to that of motor fuel.

  18. Tim Macknay
    September 3rd, 2014 at 16:53 | #18

    @BilB
    Yes, I agree. Although how dramatic the reduction would be would depend on the rate at which the price increased. I think a 22-fold increase in the fuel price is very unlikely. And a rapid 22-fold price increase is even less likely. A doubling or tripling of the fuel price would be more plausible, but the impact on airfares would be much less significant – perhaps not even significant enough to arrest the growth in air traffic.

  19. Tim Macknay
    September 3rd, 2014 at 16:57 | #19

    @John Quiggin

    Tim you don’t need to talk in terms of passenger-litres, the relevant unit is just litres and the price is going to be similar (net of tax differences) to that of motor fuel.

    Right you are. My process led me to think of ‘passenger-litres’, but of course there is no difference.

  20. John Quiggin
    September 3rd, 2014 at 17:00 | #20

    Now lets have a go at the cost of synfuel (based on, say, switchgrass). Let’s say we want it to be competitive with coal based fuel at $200/barrel and we do this by imposing a $200/tonne carbon tax. That’s roughly equivalent to tripling the input cost of the coal. Finally, suppose refining and processing into aviation fuel costs 50c/litre

    A barrel is about 150 litres and a litre of fuel yields about 0.025 tonnes of CO2, so the fuel would cost around $2.50/litre before tax.

    To sum up, even with no oil and a whopping carbon tax, we are not going to get anywhere near $16/litre, or, as Tim points out, anywhere near the cost of air travel in the 1970s.

  21. jungney
    September 3rd, 2014 at 17:07 | #21

    It depends on how you measure global collapse. If measured in orthodox terms like ‘downturn in output (and the corresponding upsurge in oil prices)’ certainly not by 2015. If measured by ecological values such as the rate of deforestation and species extinction, or the loss of biodiversity in general, then global collapse is already well underway. Just because you haven’t hit the ecological refugee trail (yet) doesn’t mean that the collapse of the world economy isn’t happening. It is, just not near you.

    BTW, Whitehaven Coal, NSW, has applied to the Planning Assessment Commission, to Minister Pru Goward, to alter its plans for clearing the Leard State Forest to allow for spring clearing which will place numerous native animals at risk in a period when they are rearing their young. This is the last remnant of white box forest, a forest that was almost continuous between the Qld and Vic borders as short a time ago a 1950, and is already regarded as a critically endangered ecological community.

    That’s what I understand by global collapse. Not diminished industrial production but a globe entirely given over to the reconstruction of nature for human instrumental purposes. Even if global capital could do this and feed the world, which it won’t, then it will still be a shite world to inhabit.

  22. September 3rd, 2014 at 17:23 | #22

    Before anyone turns up to claim that biofuels are impossible on the basis that they know this in their heart of hearts, let me cut that short by pointing out that hydrogen will do the job as well. Actually, a different synthesised fuel would probably be superior, but hydrogen will do the job and also puts an upper limit on the costs of air travel without any agriculture being required and no need for discussing any complex chemistry.

  23. Ikonoclast
    September 3rd, 2014 at 17:27 | #23

    First, let us consider Turner’s key words:-

    “… the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline.”

    Therefore 2015 is not the collapse as such. It is the “first appearance” of the “general onset”. In like manner, the first appearance of a mere runny nose can presage a severe or even terminal case of flu. Only in hindsight is it known to have been the start of a flu and not a cold.

    A sharp decline in per capita industrial output “begins” in 2015. Any decline following growth begins with the first infinitesimal drop after the peak. At that point the drop is not suddenly and immediately 5% as Prof. J.Q. wants us to call it. And it is not as Prof. J.Q’s. words would have it “a decline … in world industrial output in 2015.” It is a decline in “per capita industrial output” happening from 2015. Those are Turner’s words. I agree with Turner’s paper. I agree that circa 2015 is the starting point in Turner’s terms and definitions.

    I will not make a prediction based on Prof. J. Q’s. misconstruction of the onset of collapse by being foolish enough to predict an immediate 5% fall in absolute industrial output in 2015. However, 2015 will likely see the beginning of the decline in per capita industrial output for the world.

    In the long term, collapse is biophysically certain and will likely be clearly underway by 2020. The EU periphery, MENA, Pakistan and few other regions are starting to collapse now. But USA and the BRICs are probably still growing (well maybe not the “R” in BRIC). The USA and BRIC growth can only continue for a few short years at best. Absolute world growth I expect will end by 2020. So I will probably lose my 2020 WGP < 2010 WGP bet with our host. If I had made it 2025 WGP < 2010 WGP, I probably would have won. But plus or minus 5 years is nothing in long term history.

    LTG logic is irrefutable. The scientists are saying LTG is here. The economists are saying "not yet" or even "not ever". If you believe the economists, I have a perpetual motion machine to sell to you.

  24. Hermit
    September 3rd, 2014 at 17:28 | #24

    When they don’t mention cost it can safely be assumed to be exorbitant
    http://wteinternational.com/solar-jet-fuel-could-revolutionize-the-future-of-aviation/
    The US Air Force wants to make jet fuel from coal.

    Check out Resilience d0t 0rg for Peak Oil updates. A recent article suggests world liquid fuels could decline in volume terms not just energy content from 2016. I think it’s safe to say there will be less oil sold in 2020 than in 2014. After that you’d think it would be a lot less.

  25. Fran Barlow
    September 3rd, 2014 at 17:43 | #25

    And I, despite my relative impecuniousness, managed a pilgrimage to London in the late 1970s. ;-)

  26. Tim Macknay
    September 3rd, 2014 at 17:52 | #26

    @Fran Barlow
    In time for the S@x Pistols?

    @Hermit

    I think it’s safe to say there will be less oil sold in 2020 than in 2014.

    I certainly hope so. Peak oil will be a valuable driver of low-carbon technology take-up – if it ever bloody happens! Damn peak oilers and their inaccurate predictions! ;)

  27. John Quiggin
    September 3rd, 2014 at 18:21 | #27

    OK, Ikonoklast is also in for evident collapse by 2020.

  28. John Quiggin
    September 3rd, 2014 at 18:24 | #28

    @Hermit I wouldn’t be at all surprised by a reduction in global production/consumption of oil. Consumption in developed countries is already well below its C20 peak. Oil consumption per person (globally) peaked in 1979.

    The question is, so what?

  29. iain
    September 3rd, 2014 at 18:29 | #29

    The Hirsch report was for global oil production peak in 2015. The main issue is that liquid transport fuel is still not easily/quickly replaced.

    “…projecting a decline of 5 per cent or more in world industrial output in 2015, continuing with a sharply declining trend thereafter.”

    Put me down for 2017 for the first bit. The second part of that sentence is mirky to predict.

  30. Hermit
    September 3rd, 2014 at 18:43 | #30

    Enthusiasts for dimethyl ether synfuel reckon it will be priced around 80% of LPG (propane/butane) with 60% of the energy. That could be around 65c per litre however that is via the natural gas-methanol route thus fossil fuel based nor I believe subject to excise. Like LPG it needs some compression (15 bar) but these days lightweight tanks can be made from carbon fibre.

    To make synfuel from biomass carbon the biggest cost is likely to be hydrogen which if split electrolytically from water comes in about $7 per kg or 500 mol . That cost has to come way down perhaps using high temperature nukes or solar furnaces.

    Conceivably a synfuelled passenger plane could do Sydney-London with some extra stops. To see DME powered flight throw a can of hair spray in a fire. Actually don’t do that. They’re going to have to pay European backpackers a lot more to come here and pick fruit.

  31. Tim Macknay
    September 3rd, 2014 at 18:52 | #31

    @iain

    The Hirsch report didn’t specify a date for global peak production, but noted that the date was unknown, and that guestimates considered credible at the time ranged from 2006 to after 2025.

    One of the main limitations of the Hirsch report was that it assumed that conservation, efficiency and demand-side measures were not possible or desirable (the only ‘conservation’ measures it considered were replacing or retrofitting cars and light trucks with diesel, hybrid or electric drivetrains), and that it was necessary for annual American vehicular travel to continue to increase at the rate at which it had increased for the decade or so leading up to the year of the report (which I think was 2005).

    The report’s conclusions should be understood in that light. Obviously, those assumptions were incorrect. I suspect that the limitations of the report arose from the ideological environment of the US government at the time – i.e. any suggestion that Americans should drive less, or use smaller cars, was anathema.

  32. Jack King
    September 3rd, 2014 at 19:56 | #32

    @John Quiggin

    The LTG model is seriously flawed (as I commented in the global warming thread). According to the model, severe resource depletion (of which non-renewables like oil are a big part) began their rapid downward slop 2 decades ago. Now we see oil reserves stretching out many decades into the future. The other LTG variables which are about to collapse are industrial output per capita (this will be a big surprise to China) and food per capita.

    As you have pointed out, models that try and act as a crystal ball are flawed. To me they are nothing but white noise.

  33. Ikonoclast
    September 3rd, 2014 at 19:58 | #33

    @John Quiggin

    John, as an agricultural economist you will be familiar with Liebig’s Law of the Minimum. Growth or de-growth is controlled not by the total amount of resources available but by the scarcest essential resource (the limiting factor). Liebig’s Law will surely apply to the world economy at some point.

    There are some resources which are essential and non-substitutable when it comes to human biology and the human economy. The first resource in this category is energy. Nothing can substitute for energy. This is a both a physics law and a truism by definition but not trival for all that. However, while nothing can substitute for energy, different forms of energy can directly substitute in some cases or indirectly substitute in others by transforming energy types at the cost of some lost exergy. Exergy is the energy available for useful work. If we can substitute solar and wind power on a broad scale for the old non-renewable sources we can solve our energy problem.

    Fresh water is also essential and non-substitutable when it comes to human biology, ecology in general and food production in particular. Again, different “forms” of water are available in the sense that seawater is available for substitution if it can be desalinated. Desalination requires energy. The fresh water problem looks like being even more serious than the energy problem. I think as an agricultural economist you will appreciate the fresh water problems which are beginning to confront certain regions of the world. You would also be aware of the serious decline of freshwater lakes, rivers and aquifers around the world.

    “Three years of research show that by the year 2040 there will not be enough water in the world to quench the thirst of the world population and keep the current energy and power solutions going if we continue doing what we are doing today,” said Bejamin Sovacool, director of the Center for Energy Technology at Aarhus University in reference to the dual reports released Tuesday.

    The report recommended that nuclear power and coal, which use an excessive amount of water for cooling purposes, should where possible be replaced by wind and solar, which use virtually no water.

    The research stated that “electricity generation from thermoelectric power plants is inextricably linked to water resources.”

    In many countries, including the energy-guzzling US, energy production is by far the biggest source of water consumption, bigger even than agriculture. In 2005 41 percent of all water used in the US was for thermoelectric cooling.” – RT News.

    By the by, it’s instructive that the energy and water crises are so clocley linked and they both point to the need for solar and wind power. However, key areas of the world are being impacted by water crises now.

    “Water scarcity already affects every continent. Around 1.2 billion people, or almost one-fifth of the world’s population, live in areas of physical scarcity, and 500 million people are approaching this situation. Another 1.6 billion people, or almost one quarter of the world’s population, face economic water shortage (where countries lack the necessary infrastructure to take water from rivers and aquifers).

    Water scarcity is among the main problems to be faced by many societies and the World in the XXIst century. Water use has been growing at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century, and, although there is no global water scarcity as such, an increasing number of regions are chronically short of water.” – UN Water for Life Project.

    There might not be a global fresh water shortage yet but there are certainly serious regional shortages occurring now or very imminent. Fresh water will be a key limiting factor along with and in conjunction with energy issues. Following on from that, these problems will manifest as food shortages in the poorer regions.

  34. September 3rd, 2014 at 22:10 | #34

    Let’s go retro-Stalinist and use Material Product. I’m in for Peak Global Material Product per capita by 2020. The proxy, as with the Big Mac index, is simply the weight of GDP. Growth will dematerialize. But this is a Pollyanna story. The dematerialized components of national income can grow without limit. Whether the prospect of people spending 90% of their consumption like today’s super-rich on restaurants, designer clothes and drugs, and tickets to rock concerts makes sense is another matter. At some point the Culture stops bothering with money.

  35. September 3rd, 2014 at 22:17 | #35

    I’m with Hanrahan on this. We’ll all be rooned.

    However I wonder if the thing that will get us will be the rise of silly beliefs, of which Prof Q’s zombies are one sort.

    And of course with the Russians going crazy, maybe it will be the nukes that get us.

    On the positive side, birth rates are falling, and if we survive peak population later this century, we may come out ok.

  36. kevin1
    September 3rd, 2014 at 22:21 | #36

    @James Wimberley

    “Growth will dematerialize.” Europe plus US is about 1 billion people of a current world population of 7 billion. There’s a lot of material goods to be acquired yet.

  37. jungney
    September 3rd, 2014 at 22:35 | #37

    @Ikonoclast

    Up around the Narrabri area the issue with water is how the coal mines will draw down the aquifer which, on the basis of local knowledge and in the absence of scientific data, looks like being too much for ongoing and sustainable agricultural production.

    Water wars. What joy the future promises!

  38. Ikonoclast
    September 3rd, 2014 at 22:55 | #38

    @John Brookes

    Are the Russians going crazy? Or have they been provoked by US/NATO encirclement? I would say it’s the latter. There is no group on this planet more crazy than the US MIPE (Military Industrial Political Elite). We need GORT – “Genetically Organized Robotic Technology” to sort us out.

    “Klaatu barada nikto.” – My suggestion for translation is “Klaatu commands no.”

    For those who don’t know, I am referencing the the movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still”.

  39. Hermit
    September 3rd, 2014 at 22:59 | #39

    @Ikon in some places evaporative cooling for thermal plant may use too much fresh water while other places have water to spare. Qld’s Kogan Ck and Milmerran coal stations use closed loop radiators like a petrol engined car. Some desert solar thermal plants need water for top up and washing mirrors. Rather than cooling towers thermal plant on the coast can use condenser tubes immersed in seawater.

    An example was California’s San Onofre nuclear plant. See the image in the link whereby beachgoers oblivious to the mortal danger walk their dogs nearby
    http://www.cbsnews.com/news/calif-utility-to-retire-troubled-san-onofre-nuclear-power-plant/
    California banned once-through water cooling ostensibly to save fresh water but justified it for seawater cooling as it was supposed to harm fish larvae. They have a wonderful approach now…import coal power from over the state border where the emissions are unseen.

  40. September 3rd, 2014 at 23:42 | #40

    There are some interesting predator-prey models of civilization collapse that model the relationship between ruled and ruler as predator-prey with the predator able to build up a stock of resources it can draw down upon; these models, it is argued, offer a description of past societal collapses (such as the Mayans). A key part of these models is that as the productivity of the prey (the ruled) declines, the predators are able to keep consuming from their stored resources, and don’t see the trouble coming until its too late. Maybe they should be renamed pollyanna-prey models; or rich economist-low income labourer models.

    It also seems to me, just looking around at what is going on in the world, that some social harbingers of collapse can be inferred. Most particularly, we have a belt of chaos and destruction ranging from the border of Tunisia in the West to the border of Iran in the East. The societies falling apart at the seams in that little band of chaos are often very lacking in non-fossil fuel resources (particularly water and agricultural land). It’s often said that the Arab spring was precipitated by changes in food laws and subsidies. Perhaps they’re a good model for what happens when there is a large imbalance between ecosystem services and the demand placed on them?

    Do we think that the GDP-per-capita statistics in the area controlled by Islamic State, or the Misrata militia, have been rising?

    Then we have California, trapped in a once-in-a-millenium drought with no clear signs of how it can break, and no efforts underway to even conserve water – the drought continues to spread and unless they get an unprecedented snowfall this winter will likely still hold most of California in its grip. There is no current sustainable solution to a lack of water. Desalination has been suggested but the possibility that desalination can be implemented on a scale necessary to provide water to 20 million people and support some of the largest agricultural sectors in the country is pretty slim. No one’s talking about what will happen in California if the snows don’t come for two more years. Is that collapse?

    There is a lot of talk on this thread about increases in the price of plane tickets. That’s not collapse; that’s first world problems. No one in Western Iraq right now cares two hoots about the price of plane tickets; they’re more worried about the insane death cult that has come rampaging out of a failed state. That’s what collapse looks like, and the question we should be asking is how deep are the environmental roots of that collapse?

  41. ZM
    September 3rd, 2014 at 23:56 | #41

    I was at a talk late last year and the defence researcher member of the panel said the Arab Spring is being talked about in defence circles as the first climate change social /political unrest. I think this was explained as due to the drought that caused Russian grain crops to fail, Russia limited grain exports as a result, and food prices spiked in the Middle East.

  42. Jack King
    September 4th, 2014 at 00:54 | #42

    @ZM

    I will repeat my comments on LtG to Jack King, he says my reading of the figure on LTG p. 124 is wrong. But anyone can download the PDF – and see. Please correct me if my reading of the figure is wrong – but the sharp collapse to the low values on the fertile axis looks to happen closer to 2100 than 2000 to me.

    ZM…the crucial variables, Resources, Food Per Capita, and Industrial Output per Capita, start their inexorable plunge shortly beyond the middle of the y-axis (the middle would be the year 2000). I personally worked with some of these models and tweeked variables to determine different outcomes. It would be a pretty cool tool if it worked. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.

  43. Ivor
    September 4th, 2014 at 01:28 | #43

    Ikonoclast :
    First, let us consider Turner’s key words:-
    “… the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline.”
    Therefore 2015 is not the collapse as such. It is the “first appearance” of the “general onset”. In like manner, the first appearance of a mere runny nose can presage a severe or even terminal case of flu. Only in hindsight is it known to have been the start of a flu and not a cold.

    Yes exactly. Pollyanna Keynesians are up to their old tricks.

    Presumably 2015 was a pretty good guess given the data available in the late 60′s and early 70′s. But I don’t think honest readers would now hold them to 2015 specifically.

    Arguing about timelines is not the point.

    This is a provocation by denialists.

    The science is now in – once the rest of the world demands the same level of per capita resource use as in the developed world, and with population growth, the system must collapse.

    Capitalism is based on exponential growth. That’s the core problem.

    Quiggin’s generation had it all. Are they going to leave future generations with nothing?

  44. September 4th, 2014 at 02:52 | #44

    @kevin1
    There is something in this. But look at the trend in China: coal and pig iron production have already gone flat, at a GDP per head a third of the OECD average. What do status-conscious African youths aspire to more – a car or an iPhone?

  45. jrkrideau
    September 4th, 2014 at 06:28 | #45

    I cannot really see a collapse by next year but it seems that most people here are assuming a relatively benign climate. I am not all that confident past 2025 or 2030. I have not read the LtG report (well since about 1974) so it may cover some of my points as did faustus.

    I’d suggest that something we need take into account is catastrophic weather (Queensland Floods, Calgary Canada floods, the lovely Toronto Ice Storm, drought such as hit much of Australia a few years ago plus the nasty US Midwest drought last year. And I think the jury is still out on this, I would not be surprised to see more tornatos in the USA.

    Coastal flooding is likely to pose a much more serious risk (well almost everywhere but especially places like some parts of Vietnam, Bangladesh and Southern Florida are not likely to be around much longer and all it takes is one more hurricane just a bit bigger than the last one to take out good bit of New York City and maybe a few other places along the east coast of North America.

    While none of these, probably even in combination, seem likely to bring about a total collapse they are all going to reduce our room for manoeuvre. Losing the Vietnamese rice crops alone is serious and all we need is a few adverse weather events to put serious strain on food supplies, transportation of goods, and probably energy supplies because we cannot move them.

    About then we start getting civil unrest, mass migrations, and the price of an airline ticket is immaterial.

  46. J-D
    September 4th, 2014 at 06:58 | #46

    Seems to me that nobody is prepared to make a prediction in terms specific enough that it will be possible to determine after the event whether the prediction came true — not specific enough for a bet on it to be made and then settled one way or the other. That may be wise.

    On the other hand, making predictions so general that there’ll never be agreement on whether they came true doesn’t strike me as wise. Better to make no predictions at all.

  47. BilB
    September 4th, 2014 at 07:45 | #47

    Here is a graphical comparison to the Limits to Growth model

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/looking-back-on-the-limits-of-growth-125269840/

    Reality is tracking the model reasonably well, based on Turner’s work.

  48. Ikonoclast
    September 4th, 2014 at 07:56 | #48

    @Ivor

    Prof. John Quiggin is of the same generation as me. I admit I too have been critical of my own generation at times. (I am a late baby-boomer born in 1954.) However, if we correctly apply Marxist analysis to capitalism we will see that generational blaming is beside the point. What is happening is entirely consistent with the inner workings of Capital. Capitalism is tending as predicted to oligarchy, monopoly, empire and the destruction of all values other than the value of capital and its concentration in fewer and fewer hands. Without strong socially interventionist, financially re-distributionist and properly democratic nation states (which are countervailing forces), we are simply witnessing the standard tendencies of capitalism.

    Capitalism suffers from both internal and external contradictions. The topic here is the issue of external contradictions. Capitalism, under its inevitable oligarchic control, demands and requires endless growth. This endless growth requirement is in contradiction with the natural limits to growth.

    Now, I would like to make another prediction. When the collapse happens everyone will be proved right in their own mind. What I mean is all the groupings will claim collapse proves them right:

    (1) Limits to Growth theorists will say it proves the limits to growth thesis correct.
    (2) Nuclear power advocates will say it happened because we did not adopt enough nuclear power.
    (3) Fossil fuel advocates will say we did not subsidise fossil fuels enough.
    (4) Wind and solar advocates will say we did not subsidise W&S enough.
    (5) Libertarians and neocons will say we did not free the markets enough.
    (6) Capitalists will say we paid too much welfare and did not assist business enough.
    (7) Marxists will say we did not socialise the economy soon enough (or at all).
    (8) Environmentalists and thermoeconomists will say we did pay nearly enough attention to biological and physical laws and their constraints on human population and economy.
    (9) The religious will say we ignored their deity of choice.

    Empirically speaking, some of these views will be true, some false and some untestable. But the great majority of human beings do not make considered judgements on empirical evidence at the best of times. They will be even less objective when panicked, hungry and angry. Take a look at Pakistan currently. Work has been done (at MIT I think) on correlating food price spikes and shortages with civil unrest and revolutions. The correlation is strong.

  49. Jack King
    September 4th, 2014 at 08:00 | #49

    @BilB

    The computer run that is pictured in this article, is NOT the same one that is used on pg 124 of the 1972 book. Keep in mind that there where at least a half dozen runs with different outcomes. The one in this article was obviously one of the more optimistic scenerios where policy makers were actually heeding the policy recommendations.

  50. Jack King
    September 4th, 2014 at 08:13 | #50

    @Ikonoclast

    Capitalism is tending as predicted to oligarchy, monopoly, empire and the destruction of all values other than the value of capital and its concentration in fewer and fewer hands. Without strong socially interventionist, financially re-distributionist and properly democratic nation states (which are countervailing forces), we are simply witnessing the standard tendencies of capitalism.

    a

    My God! You are not only an iconoclast, but you are as Marxist!

    But the great majority of human beings do not make considered judgements on empirical evidence at the best of times.

    Got it…how about a means test to see if they are qualified to vote.

  51. BilB
    September 4th, 2014 at 08:32 | #51

    It looks pretty close to me, Jack King. I suspect that Turner acquired the original model code from the Donnela Meadows Institute or perhaps directly from Donella’s husband Dennis, who was the director of the modelling project, and re ran it on today’s computers. The Y scale is compressed and the services graph is either indicated differently or added from the original data, but otherwise it is a fair representation of the original.

  52. Jack King
    September 4th, 2014 at 08:52 | #52

    @BilB

    The slope for food per capita is completely skewed from the original. It doesn’t take a trained eye to figure this out. take a minute and compare the two. They are completely different scenerios. If you tweek the variables you will get different outputs. You really need to read the book in context to get the sense of it.

  53. rog
    September 4th, 2014 at 09:05 | #53

    Air travel cops a fair amount of flak but I have heard comparisons made with the power required to run the Internet – they are about the same with huge amounts being consumed by “cloud” installations.

    Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates

    link

  54. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 09:14 | #54

    rog,

    The main distinction is that the internet can be run from renewable energy grid connections – air planes cannot, they need to carry fuel. Using plant based fuel takes land that could be used for other purposes like food growing and reforestation, and plant material that could otherwise be returned to the soil as nutrients, lessening the need for ghg emitting artificial fertilisers.

  55. rog
    September 4th, 2014 at 09:16 | #55

    A Berkley study into power usage

    suppose we replace some fraction of business air travel worldwide with teleconferencing. Each year there are 1.8 billion air passenger (one-way) trips; suppose 25% of those trips are eligible for elimination and are replaced with video conferencing. This yields 400 million passenger trips eliminated yearly, each of which uses roughly 20 GJ, saving 285 GW total. Thus, by replacing one in four plane trips with videoconferencing, we save about as much power as the entire Internet, and in particular we save a lot of oil.

  56. rog
  57. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 09:43 | #57

    Jack King,

    I will try to embed the figure as a Flickr , but to me looking at it the collapse is closer to 2100

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/127469372@N07/15109774106/

  58. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 09:44 | #58

    Hmmm, that did not work as intended :( anyway, it is a link to the figure

  59. Ikonoclast
    September 4th, 2014 at 10:14 | #59

    @Jack King

    Why the shock? I am Marxian in my thinking. Marxian economics is distinct from Marxism being more heterodox, more empirical and less ideological. To be Marxian certainly does not mean support for Soviet style “communism” or any such nonsense. The Soviet Union was in fact a totalitarian state capitalist system. It was not socialist in any Marxian sense.

    The statement “the great majority of human beings do not make considered judgements on empirical evidence at the best of times” does not imply that there are special individuals who always do so and thus who should be benevolent or malevolent dictators. Democracy (true democracy if we had it) is not perfect. It is as Churchill said:- “Democracy is the worst system, except for every other system.”

    That being said, our parliamentery democracy is a token democracy in many ways. Indeed, our so-called democracy is now a two-party / one-ideology system with both parties bought, suborned and controlled by neoconservative oligarchic capital, A society cannot be democratic until capitalist ownership and power is broken and the workplaces become democratic; worker worked, worker owned and worker managed.

  60. September 4th, 2014 at 10:45 | #60

    ZM, as I mentioned earlier, hydrodgen or other synthetic fuels can be used and they can be created using renewable energy. Looking at a map of Adelaide airport I see there is room for about 7 million square meters of solar panels. With 20% efficiency for the panels and 1/3 efficiency for liquid hydrogen production that would produce hydrogen fuel with an energy equivalent of about 700,000 liters of jet fuel or enough to fly about 20,000 people a day to Sydney in modern fuel efficient planes. That’s enough to fly everyone in Adelaide to Sydney and back about three times a year. And much more efficiency can be achieved with simple changes in airline operations. For example, considerable fuel savings could be made by increasing flight times and using propeller planes instead of jets. Also, seats could be removed from planes and passengers strapped into vertical harnesses instead. Charging by the kilogram for passengers and luggage would result in further efficiencies. (High speed rail is looking better all the time, isn’t it?)

    Just to be clear, the solar panels don’t have to be located at the airport. It’s just an example of what could be done with land that’s already set aside for aviation. And to be even clearer, like a jellyfish, I don’t think hydrogen will be used as aviation fuel. After all, there is no shortage of conventional oil in the world. Not if people stop burning it. It seems likely to me that the electrification of ground transport will keep the cost of oil low enough to make it practical for applications such as passenger flight. And I’ll mention it is more efficient from an area of land required perspective, to burn oil and use agriculture to remove and sequester the CO2 released from the atmosphere than to use agriculture to produce biofuels. But remember that I just mentioned that hydrogen or other synthetic fuels could be used for flight. Agriculture is not a requirement.

  61. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 10:56 | #61

    Ronald Brak,

    Everything I have heard about hydrogen is that it is not practicable, it is highly explosive , and no one has worked out a way how to make it a usable everyday scalable fuel.

    Do you have a new update on the practicability of hydrogen?

    We can’t keep using normal fossil fuel oil because it causes climate change.

    People can just travel less and go by train and boat.

  62. Troy Prideaux
    September 4th, 2014 at 11:13 | #62

    @ZM
    Yeah, I tend to agree there. It depends a lot on what you’re pulling the hydrogen from. If it’s from water, then the efficiency will be terrible (nowhere near 33%). It would need to be removed from some renewable hydrocarbon. Then liquefying it *alone* takes about 30% of its potential energy output. It is considerably more hazardous and leaky than hydrocarbon fuels. Its density is terrible translating to a requirement for larger volumetric fuel tanks with the requirement for significant insulation. The storage itself will require non trivial energy inputs to keep it in the liquefied state.

  63. September 4th, 2014 at 11:48 | #63

    @Ikonoclast

    Not sure that the Russian position is really defensible. I mean, while the Russians might be encircled by other countries, so is Switzerland, and last time I looked the Swiss weren’t looking to build a buffer around themselves. And I don’t see other countries planning to invade Russia by stirring up discontent amongst ethnic minorities inside Russia.

    By all means the Russians might feel threatened by NATO, but only in the sense that NATO might seek to curtail Russian adventurism.

  64. Fran Barlow
    September 4th, 2014 at 11:57 | #64

    Rog said:

    Worldwide, the digital warehouses use about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants, according to estimates

    Err no … at least not on the basis of the figures supplied. There’s a difference between 30 billion watt hours and 30 billion watts. The first is a measure of power demand, the second, installed capacity. Assuming it’s 30 bWh (or 30GWh). You could produce that with 1.25GW of 24/7 capacity — a bit over 1 nuclear plant.

    Also, as the article from which you took this stated, there’s a lot of redundancy and waste in the data centres — servers that are running that are doing very little computational work, running versions of apps that have been replaced and upgraded and are running elsewhere and should be decommissioned.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/23/technology/data-centers-waste-vast-amounts-of-energy-belying-industry-image.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    Interestingly, Google houses many of its servers in Iceland, which allows them to run the centres entirely on renewables and use the icy waters as a heat sink.

  65. Jim
    September 4th, 2014 at 12:08 | #65

    John

    I’ll join you for at the table in 2016, but I can’t imagine that there will be humble pie on the menu. I cannot see a lot of reason for significant growth in industrial output in the short to medium term for several reasons, but I cannot see anything that would cause any sharp decline either.

  66. September 4th, 2014 at 12:42 | #66

    This process of playing gotchas with figures from 40 years ago is pretty reprehensible. When denialists sneer at scientists for not being able to predict the exact date of arctic sea ice loss, or of reaching a particular warming threshold, we rightly point out to them that this is just stupid. Yet here we have a post demanding people give precise percentage declines with precise dates, for a study from 40 years ago. And this demand from an economist – a discipline that can’t predict a crash five years from now to within a five year time frame.

    The limits to growth work obviously needs to be seen in the context of some degree of uncertainty about the time frame. They appear to have couched this in terms of the beginning, middle and end of a period of decline. You can’t just expect the exact date and character of the beginning of a near century-long decline to be predicted accurately to within a year – especially if you come from a discipline that couldn’t predict the GFC from five years away.

  67. September 4th, 2014 at 13:17 | #67

    ZM, hydrogen being highly explosive is entirely the point. This is why kerosene is currently use to power planes. Because it’s highly explosive. The most powerful non-nuclear bombs in the world operate by spraying kerosene in the air and then detonating it. All else equal, the more energy a chemical holds per kilogram, the more effective it is as an aircraft fuel. As for whether or not highly explosive chemicals can be used safely, there are people who drive everyday using petrol and fly using kerosene. There are even people who drive using hydrogen every day. Also, hydrogen is used safely everyday in many industrial processes ranging from oil refining to fertilizer manufacture.

    And just to be totally jellyfish, no one is going to build hydrogen powered planes.

  68. September 4th, 2014 at 13:22 | #68

    @Troy Prideaux
    Tony, what figure are you using for electrolysis efficiency? Efficiencies of over 50% are possible with enough capital expenditure (PDF):

    http://www.hydrogen.energy.gov/pdfs/review12/pd090_ayers_2012_p.pdf

    PS: Just to be clear, no one is going to use hydrogen powered planes.

    PPS: Unless they do. But it is currently not a realistic method of replacing kerosense.

  69. Tim Macknay
    September 4th, 2014 at 13:32 | #69

    @Ronald Brak
    Don’t tell hermit – he’s clearly terrified of the prospect of an aircraft powered by dimethyl ether. If he finds out kerosene is just as bad, he’ll never fly again. ;)

  70. Troy Prideaux
    September 4th, 2014 at 13:44 | #70

    @Ronald Brak
    Being rich in energy (per unit weight) is not synonymous to being highly explosive though. Paraffin wax has probably just as much energy as kero, but its physical properties translates to different explosive hazards. The deflagration rate of an air:hydrogen mix is much faster than a kerosene vapour:air mix or even petrol vapour:air mix. Couple this with its tendency to leak through places that other fluids simply can’t and its deficiency of detectable odor or colour provides you with a hazard that at least requires consideration.

  71. Ootz
    September 4th, 2014 at 13:48 | #71

    SG#16

    “”Yet here we have a post demanding people give precise percentage declines with precise dates, for a study from 40 years ago. And this demand from an economist – a discipline that can’t predict a crash five years from now to within a five year time frame.
    “”

    A case of, why bother with ‘Interpreting probability’ when you can simply ‘quantitative ease’ the problem away.

  72. John Quiggin
    September 4th, 2014 at 13:50 | #72

    Presumably 2015 was a pretty good guess given the data available in the late 60′s and early 70′s. But I don’t think honest readers would now hold them to 2015 specifically.

    But that’s exactly what Turner is doing. Read the abstract for goodness sake: it’s printed right there.

    As a general observation, Ivor, your comments are both rude and obtuse. You’ve added nothing to the discussion since you arrived. Anything further that I take as an insult directed at me or other commenters will lead to an immediate and permanent ban. That includes the response that is undoubtedly forming in your mind as you read this.

  73. John Quiggin
    September 4th, 2014 at 13:52 | #73

    @faustusnotes

    Same applies to you. The 2015 date isn’t mine, it’s Turner’s, and it’s not from 40 years ago, it’s a 2014 publication.

  74. Hermit
    September 4th, 2014 at 13:55 | #74

    @ Tim M
    Not terrified, insufficiently funded. LNG (ie methane fuelled) planes could be the go since the cold requires less pressure containment
    http://www.bluecorridor.org/ngvs/natural-gas-industry/could-natural-gas-aviation-be-in-our-future/
    Some suggest world peak natural gas will be circa 2030 but when oil slides maybe from 2018 ships and land vehicles will want first dibs on natural gas. The key to cheap dimethyl ether from biomass is cheap hydrogen which like so many other things remains out of reach.

  75. John Quiggin
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:00 | #75

    @jrkrideau

    And others: To be clear, the risk of catastrophic collapse from climate change is real and serious, although unlikely to be realised in the next 10-15 years.

    But the valence of Peak Oil (and coal, and gas) switches sign here. Turner (and it would seem quite a few others) predict imminent disaster based on running out of (or low on) fossil fuels. If you care about the climate the sooner Peak oil happens, the better, and the fact that, in the developed countries it has already happened is one of the limited signs of hope.

  76. September 4th, 2014 at 14:05 | #76

    Troy, I called you Tony for some reason in a post above that just got out of moderation. Sorry about that.

  77. Tim Macknay
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:14 | #77

    @Fran Barlow

    Err no … at least not on the basis of the figures supplied. There’s a difference between 30 billion watt hours and 30 billion watts. The first is a measure of power demand, the second, installed capacity.

    Fran, nobody mentioned watt-hours. But if they had, 30 billion watt-hours would be a measure of energy consumption, not power consumption. Power consumption is measured in watts, the same as power production. So the figure of 30 billion watts would seem to be an estimate of the data centres’ power consumption, which, if accurate, would indeed roughly match the combined output of 30 large power stations, just as the quote in rog’s comment states.

  78. Tim Macknay
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:16 | #78

    @Hermit
    I was alluding to your comparison between a dimethyl ether-fueled aircraft and a spray can tossed into a fire. I realise you weren’t entirely serious, of course.

  79. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:31 | #79

    John Quiggin,

    I haven’t read the full article yet as I have had other things needing doing, but I think because you’ve only read the abstract you don’t quite understand what Graham Turner is saying. Turner is noting the beginnings of a long term down turn in 2015 – not that there is imminent collapse in 2015. As history has so far followed the standard run business as usual scenario without appropriate government policy making – I would presume the proper collapse around 2070-2100 in the figure could be staved off – should appropriate policy mean we stop following business as usual scenario and follow an interventional it’s scenario instead.

    I think Turner has pointed out some concerns he has that the needed levels of government intervention could be difficult to fund at the moment because of the gfc, peak oil, and the higher costs of extracting mineral resources due to having already mined most of the easy deposits (this is why there is so much open cut and mountain top removal mining now – because the quality of deposits is so low they can’t get them out profitably in a more environmentally sensitive way).

    I should have it finished by tomorrow to make a comment with quotes .

  80. Troy Prideaux
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:36 | #80

    Ronald Brak :
    Troy, I called you Tony for some reason in a post above that just got out of moderation. Sorry about that.

    No probs – thanks for the link. It seems my understanding of the efficiencies are way out of date.

  81. John Quiggin
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:42 | #81

    @ZM You say

    Turner is noting the beginnings of a long term down turn in 2015 – not that there is imminent collapse in 2015.

    Turner says:

    the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. Given this imminent timing …

    (emphasis added)

    I can’t see how you can sustain your reading in the face of such unequivocal statements.

  82. John Quiggin
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:44 | #82

    Then of course, there’s the title of the paper (and this post). Turner’s answer is pretty clearly “Yes”, wouldn’t you say?

  83. Collin Street
    September 4th, 2014 at 14:53 | #83

    But if they had, 30 billion watt-hours would be a measure of energy consumption, not power consumption.

    Energy consumption is power, energy/time. Power consumption is gibberish in this context, unless you’re talking about the rates at which power plants wear out.

    > If you care about the climate the sooner Peak oil happens, the better

    Not necessarily! We may want to use the oil to build equipment to decarbonise the economy, there’s a rather nasty “we don’t have the capital to fix our loss-makers” possibility.

  84. September 4th, 2014 at 14:54 | #84

    John, I have said nothing rude or obtuse. I even linked to a post of mine about work by Bardi, who is cited in the paper you link to. Furthermore, your claim that this paper is predicting a year ahead because it was written in 2014 is obviously not true. The 2015 date is not Turner’s and he makes this clear. The paper is presenting a comparison of the World3 scenario from Limits to Growth with publicly available data. i.e. it is reporting on the accuracy of a 40 year old comparison. The abstract also doesn’t state 2015, it states “about 2015.” You are the one insisting that a prediction from 40 years ago needs to be precise in its particulars to within 5%, and its time frame to within a year – do you really think that’s reasonable?

  85. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:01 | #85

    John Quiggin,

    I have to read it more carefully, but I think he is pointing to the decline of mineral resources. People I’ve talked to in the field say this is a concern – hence there is now a move to more environmentally damaging resource extraction methods to keep profitability via increasing externalities.

    You are an economist, not me, but maybe you would know about the trueness of this statement compared to present reality and near future likelihood (I would have to do too much research to work out if it’s justified – it is quite a short article so things are not given lengthy explanations). The modelling seems to use physical models mixed with economic models … the government thinks we do not have enough capital, they are always complaining about it and making cuts – so they would seem to agree with Turner about diminishing capital and not enough to fund services like education.

    “Until the non-renewable resource base is reduced to about 50 per cent of the original or ultimate level, the World3 model assumed only a small fraction (5 per cent) of capital is allocated to the resource sector, simulat-ing access to easily obtained or high quality resources, as well as improvements in discovery and extraction technology. However, as resources drop below the 50 per cent level in the early part of the simulated 21st century and become harder to extract and process, the capital needed begins to increase. For instance, at 30 per cent of the original resource base, the fraction of total capital that is allocated in the model to the resource sector reaches 50 per cent, and continues to increase as the resource base is further depleted (shown in Meadows et al., 1974).

    With significant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient capital available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output (per capita) begins to fall precipitously from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow.The reduction of inputs to agriculture from industry, combined with pollution impacts on agricultural land, leads to a fall in agricultural yields and food produced per capita. Similarly, services (eg. health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

    Diminishing per capita supply of services and food causes a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and a somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options).The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the BAU (Figure 1) shows that average living stan- dards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita basically reflecting OECD-type conditions) resemble those of the early 20th century.
    The implications of the BAU scenario are stark: Figure 1 depicts global collapse of the economic system and population. Essentially this collapse is caused by resource constraints (Meadows et al., 1972), following the dynamics and interactions described above.The calibrated dynamics reflect observed responses within the economy to changing levels of abundance or scarcity (Meadows et al., 1974), obviating the need for modelling prices as the communication channel of the economic responses.”

    I will upload figure 1 to Flickr and link to it so as to make it convenient for everyone.

  86. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:05 | #86
  87. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:08 | #87

    He also says there is still time for social action to make things either better or worse. I think I will finish it before commenting again.

    “In terms of social changes, it is pertinent to note that while the authors of the LTG caution that
    the dynamics in the World3 model continue to operate throughout any breakdown, different social dynamics might come to prominence that either exaggerate or ameliorate the collapse (eg. reform through global leadership, regional or global wars).”

  88. ZM
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:12 | #88

    Just one more thing.

    He does not say the full collapse is imminent.

    He says the *onset* of the collapse is predicted around 2015 – and that this *onset is imminent* – which it is because 2015 is only next year, next year is very imminent as we are already in September.

  89. rog
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:18 | #89

    Slightly OT us this link to a gov.au site which recommends Ian Lowe article on BAU. Ian Lowe says that we have two options, BAU (steady as she sinks) or become a clever country by investing in our future. There is no indication that we are inclined to select the second option over the first

    if we adopt that approach we will continue to run down our capacity for science and innovation, driving our best talent overseas or into unproductive activity and remaining an unattractive option for the scientists and engineers of other developed nations. We will continue to sell our resources, our industry and even the land itself. Our economists will continue to look puzzled as abandoning policy to the market results in our continuing economic decline, probably even claiming that their market-oriented approach would have worked if only governments had been more ruthless! Besides supporting the balaclavas-and-pit-bull-terriers approach to industry reform, they will encourage governments to tinker with essentially trivial reforms, such as introducing a tax on consumption, instead of confronting the structural reasons for our economic problems. We will become a bleak back-water, eking out a poor living from our declining commodities and the willingness of tourists to enjoy what remains of our natural heritage.

    It’s almost a given that the Abbott govt has not read the Ian Lowe article.

  90. Ikonoclast
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:27 | #90

    @John Quiggin

    The quibble ZM and I had was that Turner predicted PER CAPITA industrial output would flatten and decline from 2015. You were asking people to predict a 5% decline in industrial output (no per capita) from 2015. It’s a bit different.

    Yes, per capita world output will cease rising in or about 2015 IMO. A flattening and then drop in total world output will take a bit longer. I think this will flatten by about 2020. The drop thereafter will accelerate slowly but surely. I think the world economy might be shrinking by about 2% or 3% per annum by 2025. Five percent (5%) shrinkage per annum will start happening about 2030. That’s a rough guess. From that point on it could turn into a “Seneca Cliff” or we could stabilise major regions of the world economy (but not all regions) and start building a steady state, renewable, circular and ubiquitous resources economy. Crude quantitiative material growth (in total infrastructure and population) will have to cease but we might keep on achieving qualitiative growth in knowledge and technology for a very long time at least in theory. But climate change might wreck even this hope.

    So I do see a major crisis and human kind going to the brink of collapse. What happens then I am not sure. I have tended in the past to think that collapse will continue but the overall historical record of human kind does indicate an ability to recover, consolidate and progress in new directions at key junctures in world history. This could hold true in some regions. It will be a patchy and regional phenomenon if the stabilisation occurs. Some of the more badly placed regions will collapse. Of that I feel fairly certain.

    So, I have some qualified hope for the long run.

  91. Tim Macknay
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:33 | #91

    @Collin Street

    Energy consumption is power, energy/time. Power consumption is gibberish in this context, unless you’re talking about the rates at which power plants wear out.

    I think it would be more accurate to say that power is the rate of energy use or consumption. “Power consumption” is a commonly used, plain English term which generally refers to the power (in watts) at which an electric appliance operates. I don’t think its meaning is particularly obscure.
    Obviously, if you want to be pedantic, both ‘energy consumption’ and ‘power consumption’ are gibberish, since neither energy nor power can be ‘consumed’ (because, y’know, the conservation of energy, and all that). But if you’re merely being sensible, then the meaning of ‘power consumption’ is pretty straightforward.
    I presume you don’t dispute that the power required to operate the world’s data centres is something different from the energy used in their operation. The former is measured in watts, and the latter in watt-hours. It seems pretty obvious to me that the article quoted by rog was referring to the former, whatever you choose to call it.

  92. September 4th, 2014 at 15:42 | #92

    I think with the Turner article rather than arguing about whether in discussing ‘imminent’ collapse, Turner is predicting it or simply discussing the LtG scenario*, it is better to use his measured comment in the conclusion

    Regrettably, the alignment of data trends with the LTG dynamics indicates that the early stages of collapse could occur within a decade, or might even be underway.

    Also though I don’t want to put too much emphasis on personality, I do think personality does come into this, and it is probable that whether one thinks there will be an imminent collapse or not does in part reflect whether one is an optimist or pessimist.

    Myself I’m an optimist, but also quite old – so I have learnt that while things don’t always work out as well as I hope, they usually do work out better than the pessimists predict! Based on the latest polls showing both concern about climate and support for the RET rising, I predict this: we will get some shocks (basically climate based events) over the next five years and this will prompt people to start taking more action to mitigate climate change and avert disastrous scenarios (although we inevitably will get more temperature rise etc).

    It will be a bumpy ride though and there will be some disasters, particularly for people on low-lying coastal land and islands. I hope the Abbott government gets brought to justice one day for their crimes in the present (especially against asylum seekers) and against future generations.

    *(which is not clear although I think he does seem to be supporting it at the first point where he discusses it)

  93. September 4th, 2014 at 15:46 | #93

    also it seems likely that we will get more terrible droughts and bushfires in south eastern Australia in the next five years. Abbott and his ilk will probably keep trying to say they are not linked to climate change, but I think it will become increasingly clear that they are criminals.

  94. Ootz
    September 4th, 2014 at 15:50 | #94

    The curve or rather it’s inclination is more relevant than the singular point of it’s peak in relation to useful predictability of various scenarios.

    As well as the social or spacial variables Ikon and others are pointing towards have to be taken into considerations. Hence the concept of resilience has become of great interest in risk management within various fields.

  95. September 4th, 2014 at 15:55 | #95

    A weakness (with hindsight of course) in the LtG scenario is the relative lack of attention to climate change. Turner doesn’t seem to fully acknowledge the implications of this, but does say that the scenario is more about resource (energy) limitations.

    In this discussion, the issue is confused because we are talking about climate change as well as or even more than about resource constraints. So overall I think JQ’s challenge is a bit – sort of too difficult or unfair – because the basis of what we are talking about is inevitably confused

  96. Jack King
    September 4th, 2014 at 16:04 | #96

    @Ikonoclast

    Marxism is certainly more egalitarian…..everyone is poor. So Marx was in favor of democracy?

  97. Fran Barlow
    September 4th, 2014 at 16:54 | #97

    @Tim Macknay

    I wasn’t sure exactly what the article was claiming about the energy demands imposed by the world’s commercial data servers. Depending on how you interpreted the words there was a difference of 2400%

    That seemed significant to me.

    If they really meant to say that 30GW of capacity at 100% availability was needed, then they should have said so.

  98. Nathan
    September 4th, 2014 at 16:54 | #98

    @Val
    I think Val has got it exactly right. That quote is almost (see 3 below) the only point where Turner seems to make his definition of imminent more explicit [1], so I think it’s fair to say that he is not actually committing to a 2015 timeline.

    That said, I think it’s reasonable to get that exactly that impression from initial reading. Although I enjoyed the article I actually quite dislike the tone of the abstract and title, since they both imply a stronger position than the one that is actually taken. In particular, I suspect the 2015 date is put in their precisely to grab the attention of someone who thinks an incredibly bold prediction is about to be made.

    For my two cents on the actual content:

    1) I don’t really agree with John’s statement “A central part of the argument, citing Simmons is that critics of LtG wrongly interpreted the original model”. It seems to me Turner spends a good couple pages disparaging what he sees as unfair criticisms of LtG, but this is all irrelevant to argument Turner plans to mount for why LtG is plausible. My criticism is that all of this could have been removed without changing the conclusions of the article, but I suppose it’s good to engage with previous criticisms. I presume John’s objection is that he’s engaging only with the clearly mistaken criticisms.

    2) The major argument is that the LtG BAU scenario that predicts an imminent collapse does quite well matching 40 years of historical data. But this is a bit question begging, in that these are precisely the years where the limits to growth aren’t really meant to show up in the data. Turner then counters this by trying to identify real world phenomena (peak oil being a prominent example) that mirror the mechanisms by which the LtG model predicts collapse (basically, we have to sink more and more resources into extracting the hard-to-get remains of the dwindling resource).

    3) Interestingly, the conclusion of the peak oil section seems to be that we’re actually doing a lot better at unconventional extraction than the LtG BAU scenario expects given we’ve already passed peak production. So from this standpoint Turner tweaks the model and suggests a delay in collapse of a couple decades. On the other hand, the collapse is more catastrophic when it comes. But it’s funny that he doesn’t mention in the abstract or conclusion that this section of analysis is indicates collapse is rather less imminent than 2015.

    4) My other gripe with this is that it doesn’t really engage with what seems like the other big potential flaw in the LtG mechanism as exemplified by peak oil. Namely, IIRC per capita oil use is declining in developed countries and relatively flat in developing countries. This suggests that (modulo population dynamics) demand could perhaps stabilise/decline in the future. Unless I’m mistaken the whole point of the LtG model is that demand is meant to stay high (or even keep increasing) until the crash. It reckon this is the criticism it would have been most interesting to see addressed.

  99. Ivor
    September 4th, 2014 at 17:25 | #99

    @Jack King

    So how come there were no food banks and homeless in Tito’s Yugoslavia? Why was there no 25% unemployment?

    Have you seen the US food stamp data recently?

    Have you looked at UK housing for those on normal wages?

    Under self-managed socialism, no-one is poor because no-one is rich.

  100. Tim Macknay
    September 4th, 2014 at 17:48 | #100

    @Fran Barlow
    No matter. I was just having an attack of SIWOTI, anyway. :)

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