Mar 202019
 


Johannes Vermeer The lacemaker 1669-71

 

You could probably say I’m sympathetic to the schoolchildren protesting against climate change, and I’m sympathetic to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call for a Green New Deal. Young people are the future, and they deserve a voice about that future. At the same time, I’m also deeply skeptical about their understanding of the issues they talk about.

In fact, I don’t see much understanding at all. I think that’s because they base their comprehension of the world they’ve been born into on information provided by the very people they’re now protesting against. Look kids, your education system sucks, it was designed by those destroying your planet, you need to shake it off and get something better.

But I know what you will do instead: you’re going to get the ‘proper’ education to get a nice-paying job, with a nice car (green, of course) and a nice house etc etc. In other words, you will, at least most of you, be the problem, not solve it. And no shift towards wind or solar will make one iota of difference in that. Want to improve the world? Improve the education system first.

 

Climate change is just one of an entire array of problems the world faces, and in the same way the use of fossil fuels is just one of many causes of these problems. And focusing on only one aspect of a much broader challenge simply doesn’t appear to be a wise approach, if only because you risk exacerbating some problems while trying to fix others.

In order to fix what’s broken, you’re first going to have to find out what broke it. The impression I get is that fossil fuels have been named the designated culprit, and people think that if only we have access to some other form(s) of energy we’ll be fine. But species extinction appears to be at least as large an issue as climate change, and the loss of 60% of all vertebrates, and 90% of flying insects in some places, since 1970 is linked to climate change only sideways.

 

 

It’s one thing to run into problems you could not have foreseen. It’s quite another to run into them because you elected to ignore readily available knowledge. But it’s the latter issue that’s behind by far most of the problems we’re running into. Because, again, our education system is broken.

And perhaps we should try to be forgiving when well-meaning children and young politicians don’t have a full grasp of political and economic issues heaped upon them by older generations. But physics? That you can only and always ignore at your own peril.

The First Law of Thermodynamics says energy cannot be created or destroyed; the total quantity of energy in the universe stays the same. The Second Law of Thermodynamics says that the use of energy produces waste (because entropy tends to increase). Neither law talks about fossil fuels.

This brings me once more to one of my favorite quotes of all time (because it explains so much):

“Erwin Schrodinger (1945) has described life as a system in steady-state thermodynamic disequilibrium that maintains its constant distance from equilibrium (death) by feeding on low entropy from its environment – that is, by exchanging high-entropy outputs for low-entropy inputs. The same statement would hold verbatium as a physical description of our economic process. A corollary of this statement is that an organism cannot live in a medium of its own waste products.”
– Herman Daly and Kenneth Townsend

And unfortunately, as I’ve said before in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity:

What drives our economies is waste. Not need, or even demand. Waste. 2nd law of thermodynamics. It drives our lives, period.

Not only do we produce waste with every calorie of energy we burn, our economic systems depend on us burning as much as we can. We ‘optimized’ them for it. Energy efficiency is the enemy of our economies. We transport ourselves in vehicles that are 20 times our own weight, and that use only 10% of the fuel we put in them for the purpose of transporting us. That’s what keep the economic engine going. It’s also what destroys the planet.

 

There’s probably no moment of deeper despair for the world than when I see a Swedish schoolgirl and a Dutch historian pop up at Davos to tell the billionaires and power hungry ‘the truth’. Davos is the last place to be when you have good intentions. All those people owe their money and power to the system you say you’re protesting. You think they’re going to give it up, or even risk it?

What those people will tell you, and what many of you are already parroting (check the Green New Deal), is that ‘going green’ will be a very profitable undertaking. Get the best of both worlds and eat it too. Tempting, for sure, but also incredibly stupid.

I covered that before as well in Heal the Planet for Profit, in which I cited an article by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney literally called How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change.

That epitomizes the Davos crowd. Stay away from that. There’s nothing for you there. They just want you to be inefficient in the use of another form of energy, only more this time. “We’re going to use a huge sh*tload of fossil fuels to build an infrastructure that allows us to use less fossil fuels.” Darn, that makes a lot of sense. “We’re saved!”.

See, saving the planet, and all the species we’re eradicating as we speak, will at the very least require an enormous decline in energy use. Because that’s the only way to reduce waste production. But that in turn will mean a huge hit to the current economic system, which cannot continue without the principle of maximizing waste production that it’s based on.

There appears to be a principle in nature that says when you hand a species an X amount of ‘free’ energy, that species will burn through it as fast as it can. Perhaps that’s simply a move towards equilibrium. The species will maximize energy use per individual, and proliferate, create more individuals, it’s a very predictable process, from bacteria in a petri-dish to the human species.

So maybe it cannot be helped, or stopped. But you can try. It’s just that, if you want to do that, you’re not going to achieve it by insulting your own, and my, intelligence through the complete disregard for the laws of physics, the most reliable gauges we have when it comes to understanding our world and the impact we have on it.

That goes for the schoolchildren, and it goes for Ocasio-Cortez and other Green New Deal proponents too: ask yourself what physics says about it. Ask yourself what will happen to the economy. Never presume it will be easy or even profitable. You’re not going to save the planet for profit; you’ll have to find a different incentive.

And get educated. But forget about universities, they’re one of the leading drivers behind the mess you find yourselves in.

 

 

 

 

Mar 122019
 
 March 12, 2019  Posted by at 10:35 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Robert Rauschenberg Buffalo II 1964

 

Theresa May Claims ‘Legally Binding’ Changes To Brexit Deal (Ind.)
Legal Uncertainty Hangs Over Brexit Vote (EUO)
May Tries To Claim Victory – But The EU Has Conceded Next To Nothing (G.)
Britain Must Leave EU By May 23 Or Hold Own EU Vote (R.)
Former Australian PM Calls Brexit Trade Plan ‘Utter Bollocks’ (G.)
Mueller Probe Already Financed Through September: Officials (R.)
Marco Rubio Accuses CNN Of ‘Russian Collusion’ (RT)
Manafort To Jail – Not About Justice; Not About Russia (Ron Paul)
News Corp’s Australian Arm Calls For Google Breakup (R.)
Facebook Removes Warren Ads Calling For Facebook Breakup (Pol.)
Facebook Bans Zero Hedge (ZH)
Biden on the Relaunch Pad: He’s Worse Than You Thought (CP)
Ides and Tides (Jim Kunstler)
Synthetic Chemicals Use Doubled In 20 Years, Will Double Again In Next 10 (G.)

 

 

Trying to patch together an idea of what was decided. It all appears vacuous. May assures Britain that the EU can’t make the backstop permanent, but 1) it can, and 2) it never wanted to, provided Ireland is taken care of properly. I can’t get rid of the notion that the UK can’t get rid of the notion that Ireland is a second-class country.

Biggest ‘gain’ for May: the UK can unilaterally declare that it believes it can unilaterally halt the backstop.

Today will be all lawyers trying to translate the hollow terms into legalese, but I haven’t found anything that could convince anyone anything has changed since two days ago. Maybe she’ll swing a handful votes, but she lost by 203 last time around.

 

WSJ: “The EU offered a new legal instrument that would allow the U.K. to seek independent arbitration if it believed the EU was not negotiating a new trade agreement in good faith. If the U.K. claim were upheld and the EU continued to drag its feet, the U.K. could be freed from the customs arrangement. The EU also offered a legally binding pledge to work quickly on a future trade agreement to ensure that the backstop is temporary. The two sides also agreed that the U.K. would set out its own interpretation of the deal, which would state that the U.K. believes it has the option to bring the customs union arrangement to an end.”

Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter: “The Prime Minister’s negotiations have failed. Last night’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes Theresa May promised Parliament, and whipped her MPs to vote for.”

Green Party’s Molly Scott Cato on Twitter: “I’ve never before seen a prime minister deliberately try to mislead her own Parliament. There have been no legally binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. This is action worthy of an autocratic leader from a banana republic not the leader of a democratic country.”

Theresa May Claims ‘Legally Binding’ Changes To Brexit Deal (Ind.)

Theresa May claims to have secured significant changes to her Brexit deal in a last-minute dash to Europe just hours before she must put her plan to a critical vote in parliament. In a late night statement on Monday in Strasbourg she argued the new-look deal meant Britain could not be trapped in the “Irish backstop” so hated by Eurosceptic Tories and her DUP allies, but major doubts remain over whether it is enough to win their backing on Tuesday. The prime minister’s deputy David Lidington warned that if her deal is rejected for a second time by MPs it will “plunge the country into a political crisis”. European leaders warned there would be no “third chance”, but Conservative Brexiteers insisted there are still “very worrying features” to the agreement, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “MPs must reject this deal tomorrow”.

The announcement came after another dramatic day in Westminster on Monday, which began with talk of Ms May potentially delaying Tuesday’s vote on her deal after a seemingly fruitless weekend of talks. But speaking an hour before midnight, she said: “MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. “Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.” The backstop is an arrangement in the existing withdrawal agreement that comes into play if the EU and UK fail to agree future trading arrangements by the end of 2020, thus keeping the Irish border open, but also locking the UK into a customs union with the EU on a potentially indefinite basis.

[..] In a commons statement Mr Lidington revealed that the UK had secured two new documents, a “joint legally binding instrument on the withdrawal agreement” and a “joint statement to supplement the political declaration” on future relations. There is also a third element – a unilateral declaration from the UK setting out what actions it would take if it felt the backstop is being abused by the EU. Mr Lidington said the new legal “instrument” confirmed that the EU could not try to trap the UK in the backstop indefinitely, because commitments they had made to not do so were now legally binding.

Read more …

It often takes going through several articles to get a rounded picture.

Legal Uncertainty Hangs Over Brexit Vote (EUO)

Uncertainty continued to hang over Tuesday night’s (12 March) big vote on Brexit in the UK parliament, as British MPs tried to make sense of last-minute tweaks to the exit deal. The opposition Labour party indicated it would vote against the accord. “This evening’s agreement with the European Commission does not contain anything approaching the changes [British prime minister] Theresa May promised parliament and whipped her MPs to vote for,” Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said on Monday. “It sounds again that nothing has changed,” his shadow Brexit minister, Keir Starmer said. Two MPs from May’s ruling Conservative party said the same. “Seems UK is still permanently locked into the EU, but can ‘argue’ it can leave. The catch? EU decides if we can leave,” Adam Afriyie said.

“We’re being played,” Sam Gyimah, a former Tory minister said. Nigel Farage, the EU-phobic British MEP for the UK Independence Party, was the most outspoken. “Nothing has changed. Reject. Reject. Reject,” he said. Meanwhile, the so-called Independent Group of ex-Labour and ex-Tory MPs said Brexit ought to be delayed in order to hold a second referendum. Dominic Grieve, Britain’s former attorney general, echoed their position. “The proper thing to do is to put it back to the public in a people’s vote, in a second referendum,” he said on Monday. Afriyie’s comment on being “locked into the EU” referred to the so-called ‘backstop’ – the previous deal that the UK would remain in the EU customs union until it found a mutually acceptable way to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The backstop prompted a historic majority of 230 MPs to reject the withdrawal deal in January, raising the prospect of a no-deal Brexit on 29 March. But EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and British prime minister Theresa May agreed three new documents at a meeting in Strasbourg, France, late on Monday designed to assuage those fears. The first one said the UK could start a dispute in an arbitration court to quit the backstop if the EU did not want to let it out. The second one said the EU and UK would try to find alternative arrangements to the backstop by the end of 2020. The third one was a unilateral British declaration in which the UK said it could quit the backstop if the talks on alternative arrangements broke down.

Both May and Juncker were emphatic in saying that the tweaks gave the UK the “legally binding” guarantees it needed to avoid being locked in to EU customs rules. “It [the backstop] would never be a trap, if either side were to act in bad faith, there is a legal way for either side to exit,” Juncker said.

Read more …

Jonathan Freedland is a bit of a douche, I avoid him mostly. But he makes some points here.

May Tries To Claim Victory – But The EU Has Conceded Next To Nothing (G.)

Think of what the ERG and the Democratic Unionists object to about the key stumbling block: the Northern Irish backstop, the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. They don’t like the fact that it has no time limit, that it could, theoretically, go on forever. And yet the best that May’s new motion laid before parliament could say is that the new legally binding joint instrument “reduces the risk that the UK could be held in the Northern Ireland backstop indefinitely”. “Reduces the risk” is not the same as “eliminates the risk” – and it’s that that many of those Brexiters wanted to hear. (Put aside the fact that it was always an unrealistic demand: you could say the same about the entire case for Brexit.)

A second demand of the Brexiters, one bizarrely endorsed in January by May herself and a majority of the Commons, was that the backstop be replaced by “alternative arrangements.” Gamely, May tried to pretend that she’d won an EU concession on that too, and that those alternative arrangements will be in place by December 2020. As indeed they will – if they exist by then. But for now, the technological wizardry so great that it would render the backstop redundant does not exist. And so this was another hollow victory.

Finally, the Brexit crowd wanted the UK to have the unilateral right to exit the backstop whenever it liked. May did indeed get something unilateral – the right to issue her own unilateral declaration, in which she could freely state that “it is the position of the United Kingdom that there would be nothing to prevent the UK instigating measures that would ultimately dis-apply the backstop.” This is rather like my son winning the right to declare that it is his position that he should get more pocket money. It doesn’t mean I’ve agreed to give him more pocket money. The clue is in the word “unilateral.” The EU is not bound by this UK declaration and has, in fact, conceded nothing.

Read more …

Anyone checked what the bookmakers say on the date? UK elections for the EU Parliament would be hilarious.

Britain Must Leave EU By May 23 Or Hold Own EU Vote (R.)

Britain must leave the European Union by the time EU voters elect a new European Parliament on May 23-26 or will have to elect its own EU lawmakers, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Monday. Writing to EU summit chair Donald Tusk after agreeing a deal to break Brexit deadlock with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Juncker wrote: “The United Kingdom’s withdrawal should be complete before the European elections that will take place between May 23-26 this year.” “If the United Kingdom has not left the European Union by then, it will be legally required to hold these elections.”

Read more …

Seems obvious.

Former Australian PM Calls Brexit Trade Plan ‘Utter Bollocks’ (G.)

The claims that British trade with the Commonwealth can make up for leaving the EU is “the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments” advanced by Brexit supporters and “utter bollocks”, the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd has said. In a lacerating piece for the Guardian, Rudd dismissed the claims by some Brexit supporters that the UK could strike deals with his country, New Zealand, Canada and India to soften the blow and said the UK risked undermining western values by leaving the EU in a weaker position when it left.

“I’m struck, as the British parliament moves towards the endgame on Brexit, with the number of times Australia, Canada, New Zealand and India have been advanced by the Brexiteers in the public debate as magical alternatives to Britain’s current trade and investment relationship with the European Union,” he wrote. “This is the nuttiest of the many nutty arguments that have emerged from the Land of Hope and Glory set now masquerading as the authentic standard-bearers of British patriotism. It’s utter bollocks.” Of the prospect of a free trade deal with Delhi, he writes: “As for India, good luck!”

[..] he cast serious doubt on suggestions the UK could quickly come to a free trade agreement (FTA) with India, pointing out that talks he began with the nation on behalf of Australia a decade ago are still going on. “A substantive India-UK FTA is the ultimate mirage constructed by the Brexiteers. It’s as credible as the ad they plastered on the side of that big red bus about the £350m Britain was allegedly paying to Brussels each week. Not.”

Read more …

Have a nice summer.

Mueller Probe Already Financed Through September: Officials (R.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the team he assembled to investigate U.S. President Donald Trump and his associates have been funded through the end of September 2019, three U.S. officials said on Monday, an indication that the probe has funding to keep it going for months if need be. The operations and funding of Mueller’s office were not addressed in the budget requests for the next government fiscal year issued by the White House and Justice Department on Monday because Mueller’s office is financed by the U.S. Treasury under special regulations issued by the Justice Department, the officials said. “The Special Counsel is funded by the Independent Counsel appropriation, a permanent indefinite appropriation established in the Department’s 1988 Appropriations Act,” a Justice Department spokesman said.

There has been increased speculation in recent weeks that Mueller’s team is close to winding up its work and is likely to deliver a report summarizing its findings to Attorney General William Barr any day or week now. Mueller’s office has not commented on the news reports suggesting an imminent release. Representatives of key congressional committees involved in Trump-related investigations say they have received no guidance from Mueller’s office regarding his investigation’s progress or future plans. The probe, which began in May 2017, is examining whether there were any links or coordination between the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin and the 2016 presidential campaign of Trump, according to an order signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.

Read more …

Little Marco lost so bigly in 2016, why’s he still around? Court jester? Or is he going for McCain’s place as warmonger in chief?

Marco Rubio Accuses CNN Of ‘Russian Collusion’ (RT)

Senator Marco Rubio, the most outspoken cheerleader of US regime change in Venezuela, lashed out at several major outlets for not using his preferred terminology, going so far as to accuse CNN of ‘Russian collusion.’ “In order to undermine the constitutional basis for [Juan Guaido’s] interim Presidency [sic], Putin’s Russia repeatedly describes him as the ‘self-proclaimed’ president of Venezuela. And so does CNN,” Rubio (R-Florida) tweeted on Wednesday, adding, “Russian collusion?” It was the latest in a string of tweets by the senator whom President Donald Trump is, for some unknown reason, allowing to drive US foreign policy on Latin America.

On Tuesday, Rubio targeted the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal for their coverage of Guaido, this time objecting to their use of the term “opposition leader.” Rubio’s badgering of the media came shortly after State Department spokesman Robert Palladino tried to do the same thing with diplomatic correspondents in Foggy Bottom. Referring to Guaido as anything other than “interim president” was feeding “the narrative of a dictator who has usurped the position of the presidency and led Venezuela into the humanitarian, political, and economic crisis that exists today,” Palladino argued.

Read more …

CNN and Manafort, both. And neither.

Manafort To Jail – Not About Justice; Not About Russia (Ron Paul)

Former Trump campaign official Paul Manafort has been sentenced to nearly four years in prison for acting as an unregistered agent for Ukraine. But looking at the media coverage of the case one would never know that “taking down” Manafort was not all about Russia collusion. Reporting…or propaganda?

Read more …

Have they asked the CIA? Has Elizabeth Warren?

News Corp’s Australian Arm Calls For Google Breakup (R.)

The Australian arm of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp called for an enforced break-up of Alphabet Inc’s Google, acknowledging the measure would involve global coordination but calling it necessary to preserve advertising and the news media. The demand, published on Tuesday as part of a government inquiry, goes beyond the recommendations of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) which crossed swords with Google by requesting a new regulatory body to oversee global tech operators. In an 80-page submission largely centered on Google, News Corp Australia said the U.S. company had created an “ecosystem” where it could control the results of people’s internet searches and then charge advertisers based on how many people viewed their advertisements.

Efforts to curtail Google’s market dominance around the world had failed because of the search engine operator’s record of “avoiding and undermining regulatory initiatives and ignoring private contractual arrangements”. When Google had agreed to change its methods in response to investigation or new regulations in other countries, it often soon replaced the conduct with new methods which had the same effect: directing traffic and sales to its own sites and hurting competition. Calling Google’s behavior “anti-competitive”, News Corp accused the Mountain View, California-based internet company of damaging publishers’ ability to generate revenue and ultimately the sustainability of the news industry.

Read more …

And restores them again. But what nincompoop did that? Does (s)he still have a job today?

Facebook Removes Warren Ads Calling For Facebook Breakup (Pol.)

Facebook removed several ads placed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign that called for the breakup of Facebook and other tech giants. But the social network later reversed course after POLITICO reported on the takedown, with the company saying it wanted to allow for “robust debate.” The ads, which had identical images and text, touted Warren’s recently announced plan to unwind “anti-competitive” tech mergers, including Facebook’s acquisition of WhatsApp and Instagram. “Three companies have vast power over our economy and our democracy. Facebook, Amazon, and Google,” read the ads, which Warren’s campaign had placed Friday. “We all use them. But in their rise to power, they’ve bulldozed competition, used our private information for profit, and tilted the playing field in their favor.”

A message on the three ads said: “This ad was taken down because it goes against Facebook’s advertising policies.” A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the ads had been taken down but said the company is in the process of restoring them. “We removed the ads because they violated our policies against use of our corporate logo,” the spokesperson said. “In the interest of allowing robust debate, we are restoring the ads.” Warren swiped at Facebook over the removal, citing it as evidence the company has grown too powerful. “Curious why I think FB has too much power? Let’s start with their ability to shut down a debate over whether FB has too much power,” she tweeted. “Thanks for restoring my posts. But I want a social media marketplace that isn’t dominated by a single censor.”

Read more …

How long’s it been, 3-4 years?!, that Facebook blocked the Automatic Earth account? Still waiting for an explanation.

Facebook Bans Zero Hedge (ZH)

Over the weekend, we were surprised to learn that some readers were prevented by Facebook when attempting to share Zero Hedge articles. Subsequently it emerged that virtually every attempt to share or merely mention an article, including in private messages, would be actively blocked by the world’s largest social network, with the explanation that “the link you tried to visit goes against our community standards.” We were especially surprised by this action as neither prior to this seemingly arbitrary act of censorship, nor since, were we contacted by Facebook with an explanation of what “community standard” had been violated or what particular filter or article had triggered the blanket rejection of all Zero Hedge content.

To be sure, as a for-profit enterprise with its own unique set of corporate “ethics”, Facebook has every right to impose whatever filters it desires on the media shared on its platform. It is entirely possible that one or more posts was flagged by Facebook’s “triggered” readers who merely alerted a censorship algo which blocked all content. Alternatively, it is just as possible that Facebook simply decided to no longer allow its users to share our content in retaliation for our extensive coverage of what some have dubbed the platform’s “many problems”, including chronic privacy violations, mass abandonment by younger users, its gross and ongoing misrepresentation of fake users, ironically – in retrospect – its systematic censorship and back door government cooperation (those are just links from the past few weeks).

Read more …

The Democrats are killing their chances if they go with the old crowd. But then, they are controlled by that crowd.

Biden on the Relaunch Pad: He’s Worse Than You Thought (CP)

When the New York Times front-paged its latest anti-left polemic masquerading as a news article, the March 9 piece declared: “Should former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. enter the race, as his top advisers vow he soon will, he would have the best immediate shot at the moderate mantle.” On the verge of relaunching, Joe Biden is poised to come to the rescue of the corporate political establishment — at a time when, in the words of the Times, “the sharp left turn in the Democratic Party and the rise of progressive presidential candidates are unnerving moderate Democrats.” After 36 years in the Senate and eight as vice president, Biden is by far the most seasoned servant of corporate power with a prayer of becoming the next president.

When Biden read this paragraph in a recent Politico article, his ears must have been burning: “Early support from deep-pocketed financial executives could give Democrats seeking to break out of the pack an important fundraising boost. But any association with bankers also opens presidential hopefuls to sharp attacks from an ascendant left.” The direct prey of Biden’s five-decade “association with bankers” include millions of current and former college students now struggling under avalanches of debt; they can thank Biden for his prodigious services to the lending industry. Andrew Cockburn identifies an array of victims in his devastating profile of Biden in the March issue of Harper’s magazine. For instance:

• “Biden was long a willing foot soldier in the campaign to emasculate laws allowing debtors relief from loans they cannot repay. As far back as 1978, he helped negotiate a deal rolling back bankruptcy protections for graduates with federal student loans, and in 1984 worked to do the same for borrowers with loans for vocational schools.” • “Even when the ostensible objective lay elsewhere, such as drug-related crime, Biden did not forget his banker friends. Thus the 1990 Crime Control Act, with Biden as chief sponsor, further limited debtors’ ability to take advantage of bankruptcy protections.” • Biden worked diligently to strengthen the hand of credit-card firms against consumers. At the same time, “the credit card giant MBNA was Biden’s largest contributor for much of his Senate career, while also employing his son Hunter as an executive and, later, as a well-remunerated consultant.”

Read more …

“..you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse..”

Ides and Tides (Jim Kunstler)

What you really had to love was Mr. Powell’s explanation for the record number of car owners in default on their monthly payments: “…not everybody is sharing in this widespread prosperity we have.” Errrgghh Errrgghh Errrgghh. Sound of klaxon wailing. What he meant to say was, hedge-funders, private equity hustlers, and C-suite personnel are making out just fine as the asset-stripping of flyover America proceeds, and you miserable, morbidly obese, tattooed gorks watching this out on the Midwestern buzzard flats should have thought twice before dropping out of community college to drive a forklift in the Sysco frozen food warehouse (where, by the way, you are probably stealing half the oven-ready chicken nuggets in inventory).

Interlocutor Scott Pelley asked the oracle about “those half-a-million people who have given up looking for jobs.” Did he pull that number out of his shorts? The total number out of the workforce is more like 95 million, and when you subtract retirees, people still in school, and the disabled, the figure is more like 7.5 million. There was some blather over the “opioid epidemic,” the upshot of which was learn to code, young man. Personally, I was about as impressed as I was ten years ago when past oracle Ben Bernanke confidently explained to congress that the disturbances in Mortgage-land were “contained.”

David Leonhardt of The New York Times had a real howler in his Monday column on the state of the economy: “Americans are saving more and spending less partly because the rich now take home so much of the economy’s income — and the rich don’t spend as large a share of their income as the poor and middle class.” Suggestion to Mr. Leonhardt: Learn to code.

Read more …

Our chances of survival drop by the minute.

It’s Daly-Townsend’s take on the 2nd law of Thermodynamics: “No organism can survive in a medium of its own waste. “

The reason is that an organism’s waste is toxic to that organism.

If they don’t teach that in schools, why bother to attend?

Synthetic Chemicals Use Doubled In 20 Years, Will Double Again In Next 10 (G.)

Sales of synthetic chemicals will double over the next 12 years with alarming implications for health and the environment, according to a global study that highlights government failures to rein in the industry behind plastics, pesticides and cosmetics. The second Global Chemicals Outlook, which was released in Nairobi on Monday, said the world will not meet international commitments to reduce chemical hazards and halt pollution by 2020. In fact, the study by the United Nations Environment Programme found that the industry has never been more dominant nor has humanity’s dependence on chemicals ever been as great.

“When you consider existing pollution, plus the projected growth of the industry, the trends are a cause for significant concern,” said Achim Halpaap, who led the 400 scientists involved in the study. He said the fastest growth was in construction materials, electronics, textiles and lead batteries. More and more additives are also being used to make plastics smoother or more durable. Depending on the chemical and degree of exposure, the risks can include cancer, chronic kidney disease and congenital anomalies. The World Health Organization estimated that the burden of disease was 1.6 million lives in 2016. Halpaap said this was likely to be an underestimate.

In addition to the human health dangers, he said chemicals also affect pollinators and coral reefs. Global chemical production has almost doubled since 2000 and is now – if the pharmaceutical business is taken into account – the world’s second largest industry, the report noted. This is expected to continue for at least the next decade owing to massive increases in the expanding economies of Asia, Africa and the Middle East. By 2030, the industry is projected to almost double again from 2017 levels to hit $6.6tn (£5tn) in sales; China is forecast to account for 49.9% of the world market.

Read more …

Oct 222016
 
 October 22, 2016  Posted by at 11:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle October 22 2016


NPC Fire at S. Kanns warehouse, Washington, DC 1908

Why Corporate America’s Debt Is a ‘Major Risk’ (BBG)
Ignoring the Debt Problem (Volcker/Peterson)
Bank of England Says Authorities Mustn’t Fine Banks Because Groaf (Bill Black)
Think Canada is a Progressive Paradise? That’s Mooseshit (G.)
No, Hillary, 17 US Intel Agencies Did Not Say Russia Hacked Dem E-mails (NR)
Rigged Elections Are An American Tradition (Paul Craig Roberts)
EU Parliament Chief, Canada Minister In Bid To Save CETA Trade Deal (AFP)
Greek Union Files EU Human Rights Case Against Austerity (COE)
Gove Says Criticizing Carney or BoE Policy ‘Equivalent Of A Thought Crime’ (DM)
Up To 25 Feared Dead In Attack On Migrant Boat Off Libya (AFP)

 

 

You guessed it: interest rates.

Why Corporate America’s Debt Is a ‘Major Risk’ (BBG)

Are investors in denial about how dim the outlook is for American businesses? That’s the question Société Générale’s Andrew Lapthorne, global head of quantitative strategy, posed to his bank’s clients. “Asset valuations are extreme; returns are poor, the probability of losses is high and the ability to recover any losses quickly is low,” he writes. In particular, the strategist sounded an alarm over the state of corporate America’s balance sheet. Company spending exceeds cash flow by a near-record amount—a fundamentally unsustainable situation—as net debt continues to increase at a rapid pace.

In many cases, companies have used debt to repurchase their own stock, flattering their bottom-line financial performance. While not all buybacks are financed by debt, Lapthorne did note a correlation between net repurchases and the change in corporate indebtedness. “U.S. corporate balance sheets are a major risk going forward,” he says. “U.S. corporates are massively overspending.” To be fair, servicing this debt load isn’t as onerous as it might appear, because of low interest rates. And despite the recent steepening of corporations’ yield curve, companies have continued to extend duration, which offers them more certainty about what their interest payments will be over the long term. “For corporate credit, there’s very little concern about short-term coverage from the market,” write analysts at Bespoke Investment Group. “We note that maturities continue to creep up slowly; despite higher spread costs, corporates are generally borrowing further out the curve and ‘locking’ low rates.”

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As Steve Keen observes, ironically, it’s Volcker and Peterson themselves who ignore the biggest debt problem: private debt. Which is much higher:

Ignoring the Debt Problem (Volcker/Peterson)

Together, the two of us have 179 years of life experience and 13 grandchildren. We have served presidents of both parties. We have seen more campaign seasons than we care to count — but none as strange as this one. Insults, invective and pandering have been poor substitutes for serious debate about the direction in which this country is going — or should be going. And a sound and sustainable fiscal structure is a key ingredient of any viable economic policy. Yes, this country can handle the nearly $600 billion federal deficit estimated for 2016. But the deficit has grown sharply this year, and will keep the national debt at about 75% of GDP, a ratio not seen since 1950, after the budget ballooned during World War II.

Long-term, that continued growth, driven by our tax and spending policies, will create the most significant fiscal challenge facing our country. The widely respected Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by midcentury our debt will rise to 140% of GDP, far above that in any previous era, even in times of war. Unfortunately, despite a brief discussion during the final presidential debate, neither candidate has put forward a convincing plan to restrain the growth of the national debt in the decades to come. Throughout the campaign, Donald J. Trump has called for a combination of deep tax cuts that appear to far exceed proposed spending reductions, at the clear risk of substantially increasing the ratio of debt to GDP. Hillary Clinton has set out more balanced and detailed proposals, but they would still fail to stabilize and reduce our debt burden.

Whoever wins, the new president will eventually face fiscal realities that force him or her to develop strategies for decreasing the national debt as a share of the economy over the long term. Our current debt may be manageable at a time of unprecedentedly low interest rates. But if we let our debt grow, and interest rates normalize, the interest burden alone would choke our budget and squeeze out other essential spending. There would be no room for the infrastructure programs and the defense rebuilding that today have wide support. [..] we’d be dependent on foreign investors’ acquiring most of our debt — making the government dependent on the “kindness of strangers” who may not be so kind as the I.O.U.s mount up.

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Always good to read Bill.

Bank of England Says Authorities Mustn’t Fine Banks Because Groaf (Bill Black)

Elite bankers and the pathetic economists who serve as apologists for their frauds specialize in proving our family saying that it is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody. The subtitle of the WSJ article providing the latest proof is “Fines on banks translate into $5 trillion of ‘reduced lending capacity,’ bank says.” The “bank” referred to is the Bank of England, which is supposed to be the UK’s primary bank regulator. To be kind, the “study” by BOE is so embarrassing that a better descriptor of the BOE would be “fraud enabler.” “The roughly $275 billion in legal costs for global banks since 2008 translates into more than $5 trillion of reduced lending capacity to the real economy,” Minouche Shafik, a deputy governor of the BoE, told a New York conference of regulators and bankers Thursday.

BOE’s methodology and “logic” (which it did not make public) are easy to guess. It is not sufficient that elite banksters are able to become wealthy from leading the worlds’ most destructive financial frauds with impunity from prosecution, civil suits, and enforcement actions. It is vital that the banks no longer be fined for conducting these massive frauds. When banks are fined they lose some of their profits from these epidemics of frauds, bid-rigging cartels, predatory lending, aiding and abetting elite tax fraud, and money laundering for terrorists and violent drug cartels. For the sake of brevity, I will call these collectively “fraud proceeds.” Banks remain highly leveraged despite modest increases in capital requirements, so the BOE’s staff is assuming that each dollar of fraud proceeds that the banks lose to fines reduces total bank size by $18.18. They are assuming that the typical bank has a miserably inadequate capital requirement of slightly over five percent.

There are a number of fatal problems with BOE’s “logic” and (unstated) methodology. First, under the BOE’s “logic” the more profitable banks become by defrauding their customers the faster the economy will grow. The bank CEOs who led the three most destructive epidemics of financial fraud in history were apparently Soviet-style (pun intended) “Heroes of Capitalism.” Except, of course, what they actually drove was a massive financial bubble that produced the Great Recession. The projected loss of GDP in the U.S. due to the Great Recession is $24.3 trillion – and the loss of eurozone GDP is far larger because their economic losses have occurred over a far longer time and have been far deeper than in the United States. Only central bank economists would be so dogmatically divorced from reality and so moral challenged that they would think that allowing banksters to keep their fraud proceeds and avoid all accountability for their crimes would be good for the economy.

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“When your next-door neighbour is a billionaire celebrity genius with automatic weapons and an undying need for attention, you can get away with all sorts of stuff.”

Think Canada is a Progressive Paradise? That’s Mooseshit (G.)

Quick – picture Canada. What comes to mind? A progressive wonderland of polite manners and majestic moose? What America might be if it evolved a little? That place you’ll move to if Trump wins? If that’s what you think, that’s fine by us. In fact, it’s our brand: not America. The nice guys. Dull, kind and harmless. That’s how we like to be thought of. But it’s mooseshit. We are not the country you think we are. We never have been. The first prime minister and founding father of Canada, John A Macdonald, was a raging alcoholic. He spent entire campaigns fabulously drunk and once vomited on stage during a stump speech. When his rival pointed it out, Macdonald shot back that he hadn’t puked because of booze, but because he had been “forced to listen to the ranting of my honourable opponent”.

It was a deflection worthy of Trump. Macdonald handily won the election. The reason the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (our “Mounties”) ride horses is because during the labour movement of the 30s, horseback was the best way to trample protesting immigrants and miners. By the 60s, the horses were mostly just for show and the Mounties’ regular activities included subjecting suspected homosexuals to the “Fruit Machine”, a device designed to measure erotic responses to gay porn. These days, Canada is the third-largest arms dealer in the world. Our Alberta oil sands produce more carbon emissions each year than the entire state of California. Our intelligence agency is allowed to act on information obtained through torture. And a lot of French Canadians are into blackface comedy.

Little of this is widely known, because we happen to share a border with America. When your next-door neighbour is a billionaire celebrity genius with automatic weapons and an undying need for attention, you can get away with all sorts of stuff. It’s nice to be thought of as the world’s nice guys. And it’s useful – it obscures a lot of dirt.

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When I first hears her make that claim, I was thinking Russia must have been real eager to get caught. Why Trump didn’t jump on it, I can’t tell. Take a look for yourself which agencies are included:

No, Hillary, 17 US Intel Agencies Did Not Say Russia Hacked Dem E-mails (NR)

Hillary Clinton in last night’s presidential debate tried to avoid talking about the substance of the damaging WikiLeaks disclosures of DNC and Clinton campaign officials by claiming 17 U.S. intelligence agencies determined that Russia was responsible for this. After Clinton made this claim, she scolded Trump for challenging U.S. intelligence professionals who have taken an oath to help defend this country. What Clinton said was false and misleading. First of all, only two intelligence entities – the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – have weighed in on this issue, not 17 intelligence agencies. And what they said was ambiguous about Russian involvement. An unclassified October 7, 2016 joint DNI-DHS statement on this issue said the hacks

. . . are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts. These thefts and disclosures are intended to interfere with the US election process. Such activity is not new to Moscow — the Russians have used similar tactics and techniques across Europa and Eurasia, for example, to influence public opinion there. We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.

Saying we think the hacks “are consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts” is far short of saying we have evidence that Russia has been responsible for the hacks. Maybe high-level officials would have authorized them if Russian hackers were responsible, but the DNI and DHS statement did NOT say there was evidence Russia was responsible. My problem with the DNI/DHS unclassified statement is that it appeared to be another effort by the Obama administration to politicize U.S. intelligence. Make no mistake, U.S. intelligence agencies issued this unprecedented unclassified statement a month before a presidential election that was so useful to one party because the Clinton campaign asked for it.

The Obama administration was happy to comply. Clinton tried to defend the DNI/DHS statement by repeating the myth that U.S. intelligence officers are completely insulated from politics. She must think Americans will forget how the CIA crafted the politicized Benghazi talking points in 2011 and how SOUTHCOM intelligence analysts were pressured to distort their analysis of ISIS and Syria to support Obama foreign policy. And that’s just under the Obama administration.

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PCR could have done a tad more research, I’m thinking.

Rigged Elections Are An American Tradition (Paul Craig Roberts)

Do Americans have a memory? I sometimes wonder. It is an obvious fact that the oligarchic One Percent have anointed Hillary, despite her myriad problems to be President of the US. There are reports that her staff are already moving into their White House offices. This much confidence before the vote does suggest that the skids have been greased. The current cause celebre against Trump is his conditional statement that he might not accept the election results if they appear to have been rigged. The presstitutes immediately jumped on him for “discrediting American democracy” and for “breaking American tradition of accepting the people’s will.” What nonsense! Stolen elections are the American tradition. Elections are stolen at every level—state, local, and federal.

Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s theft of the Chicago and, thereby, Illinois vote for John F. Kennedy is legendary. The Republican US Supreme Court’s theft of the 2000 presidential election from Al Gore by preventing the Florida vote recount is another legendary example. The discrepancies between exit polls and the vote count of the secretly programmed electronic voting machines that have no paper trails are also legendary. So what’s the big deal about Trump’s suspicion of election rigging? The black civil rights movement has fought vote rigging for decades. The rigging takes place in a number of ways. Blacks simply can’t get registered to vote. If they do get registered, there are few polling places in their districts. And so on. After decades of struggle it is impossible that there any blacks who are not aware of how hard it can be for them to vote.

Yet, I heard on the presstitute radio network, NPR, Hillary’s Uncle Toms saying how awful it was that Trump had cast aspersion on the credibility of American election results. I also heard a NPR announcer suggest that Russia had not only hacked Hillary’s emails, but also had altered them in order to make incriminating documents out of harmless emails. The presstitutes have gone all out to demonize both Trump and any mention of election rigging, because they know for a fact that the election will be stolen and that they will have the job of covering up the theft. [..] Don’t vote early. The purpose of early voting is to show the One Percent how the vote is shaping up. From this information, the oligarchs learn how to program the electronic machines in order to elect the candidate that they want.

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Well, it certainly dies hard. How many hours has Obama spent on the phone for this malt minute turn?

EU Parliament Chief, Canada Minister In Bid To Save CETA Trade Deal (AFP)

EU parliament head Martin Schulz and Canada’s trade minister Chrystia Freeland were meeting Saturday, saying they hoped to revive a trade deal threatened by the refusal of a Belgian region to sign on. Schulz wrote on Twitter he would also meet with Wallonia’s socialist government head Paul Magnette, who has moved to stop the bloc’s 28 nations from signing the accord. The meetings in Brussels are aimed at “reviving CETA talks. We can’t stop at the last mile,” Schulz wrote, referring to the agreement’s name. On arriving at the parliament building, Freeland said: “The ball is in Europe’s court. We hope that it is possible to find a solution,” according to the Belga news agency.

Canada blasted the European Union on Friday as incapable of signing international agreements, as the talks to persuade Wallonia to sign up to the huge trade deal broke down. Freeland appeared on the verge of tears after walking out of negotiations with the head of the French-speaking Belgian region on the deal that has been seven years in the making. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had planned to travel to Brussels next week to sign the deal but that visit looks almost certain to be called off.

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May I suggest they get good lawyers.

Greek Union Files EU Human Rights Case Against Austerity (COE)

A public hearing of the European Committee of Social Rights today focused on how austerity in Greece has affected social rights under the guidelines of the European Social Charter. The committee granted the hearing request, which was made by the complainant organisation, the Greek General Confederation of Labour (GSEE) v. Greece.

The complaint alleges that some laws enacted in Greece as part of the austerity programme affect workers’ rights in a manner that is contrary to Article 1 (the right to work); Article 2 (the right to just conditions of work); Article 4 (the right to a fair remuneration); and Article 7 (the right of children and young persons to protection) of the 1961 Social Charter; as well as of Article 3 of the 1988 Additional Protocol (the right to take part in the determination and improvement of working conditions and working environment). Greece’s Minister for Labour, Social Security and Social Solidarity George Katrougalos and GSEE president Yannis Panagopoulos attended the hearing. The Committee, which monitors commitments to the European Social Charter, is expected to issue its decision to the public by mid-2017.

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Brits are funny even if they don’t mean to. Ming dynasty was 14th-17th century.

Gove Says Criticizing Carney or BoE Policy ‘Equivalent Of A Thought Crime’ (DM)

Michael Gove has launched a scathing attack on the Governor of the Bank of England, comparing his arrogance to that of the cruel Ming emperors. The former justice secretary said that like the rulers of medieval China, the pro-EU Mark Carney believed his judgments had ‘near-divine’ status and that he was infallible in his actions. But in reality, many of his policies – such as printing money and cutting interest rates – had been shown to have created significant economic problems, he said. Mr Gove said the Canadian banker should show more humility – as it was technocrats like him who had brought the ‘disaster’ of the euro and failed to predict the 2008 crash. He said Mr Carney should ‘ponder the fate of the Chinese emperors’ who were finally overthrown because they could not bear any criticism.

The attack by Mr Gove, a senior figure in the Leave campaign, echoes his criticism before the referendum of ‘experts’ who predicted a slump if we left the EU. In an article for The Times, he wrote: ‘At different eras in world history there have been sacred figures who, while apparently of flesh and blood, have been elevated to inhabit a special realm of near-divinity above the rest of fallible mankind. In medieval China, they had the Ming Emperor, Lord of Ten Thousand Years, who employed the Mandate of Heaven to decide the fate of millions. ‘His person was held to be inviolable and without imperfections. ‘Those who dared to question his rule were flayed alive, their skin left hanging from a hook to emphasise the emperor would brook no challenge to his authority.

In contemporary Britain we have Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, who employs control over interest rates to decide the fate of millions. ‘His position is held to be independent and without any error. ‘And so any criticism of his actions is regarded as a thought crime – and those who dare to question his rule are flayed in the press with dire warnings left hanging in the air to emphasise the Governor will brook no challenge to his authority.’

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Yeah, it wasn’t crazy enough yet.

Up To 25 Feared Dead In Attack On Migrant Boat Off Libya (AFP)

Up to 25 people were missing, feared drowned, Friday after men on a Libyan coastguard speedboat attacked a packed migrant dinghy during a rescue operation off the north African state. German NGO Sea-Watch, which is taking part in the multinational search and rescue operation in the Mediterranean, said the tragedy happened after its boat Sea-Watch 2 and a passing oil tanker were sent to help the distressed dinghy in the early hours. As the rescue operation proceeded just beyond Libyan territorial waters north of the port of Sabrata, a speedboat bearing the Libyan coastguard insignia arrived and tried to steal the dinghy’s outboard engine, spokesman Ruben Neugebauer told AFP.

The men, who spoke Arabic, beat some of the migrants with sticks and some clambered onto the dinghy, causing panic which resulted in one side of the boat deflating and most of the passengers ending up in the sea. After the assailants left, Sea-Watch said it rescued 120 people and recovered four corpses from the water. Other bodies were seen floating but could not be recovered and it was estimated that between 15 and 25 of the people who had been on the board were unaccounted for. Sea-Watch said in a statement that its two speedboats had been “hassled in an aggressive way” during the attack, “preventing our crew from providing life vests and medical aid to the people in need.” “All of these deaths could have been avoided but for this intervention,” Neugebauer added.

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Oct 222016
 
 October 22, 2016  Posted by at 7:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Why The Global Economy Will Disintegrate Rapidly


Pamir, Last Commercial Sailing Ship To Round Cape Horn 1949

 

We have written little on the topic of energy lately, other than related to oil prices going up and down, empty OPEC ‘promises’ to cut oil production, and the incredible debt load threatening to crush US -and Canadian- unconventional oil and gas. It’s a logical outcome of focusing more on finance than energy, because we feel the former has a shorter timeline than the latter. Something that harks back to our Oil Drum days.

But that doesn’t mean that the idea and/or principle of peak oil has disappeared, or that we have completely forgotten it. It has just been snowed under by the financial crisis (and by unconventinal oil and gas). And while we continue to find that the financial world will dump us into a bigger crisis sooner than energy will, it’s useful to look at oil et al from time to time.

Please note: we don’t wish to deny that oil depletion has its own dynamics, but in our view those dynamics will be hugely affected by the financial crisis that is looming big and will strike first. A crisis that, by the way, will affect not just oil and gas, but solar and wind just as much. You can get only as much ‘alternative’ energy as you can pay for, and that is before we even mention solar and wind’s EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Investment).

What the world needs to do, but we very much doubt it will voluntarily, is not to look for other forms of energy to replace oil and gas, but to look for ways to use much less energy (90% or so) while still maintaining societies that function as best they can. We doubt this because man is no more made to volunteer for downsizing than any other species.

The interview below with Louis Arnoux by the SRSrocco Report, combined with an article Louis wrote in July on the site of our old friend Ugo Bardi (is Florence really 6 years ago already?), is an excellent opportunity to catch up on energy issues.

The discussion of energy relative to finance will no doubt continue, and Louis doesn’t seem to have the exact same view as us, but that’s fine, or at least it shouldn’t deter us from listening. This graph from his work, for instance, contains a great depiction of what EROEI really means, and how it works out, and that is important to know.

And yes, we are aware of the contradiction between the provocative title of this post (borrowed from SRSrocco Report) and our own view that it’s not energy that will bring the economy down; the internal dynamics of finance don’t need any help on their way towards crashing the system. But it’s a great title nonetheless.

 

 

First, here’s the SRSrocco Report interview, below it you’ll find the article. Note: this is part 1, links to parts 2 and 3 are provided.

 

 

 

Louis Arnoux: Some reflections on the Twilight of the Oil Age – part I:
Alice looking down the end of the barrel

 

 

This three-part post was inspired by Ugo’s recent post concerning Will Renewables Ever ReplaceFossils? and recent discussions within Ugo’s discussion group on how is it that “Economists still don’t get it”?  It integrates also numerous discussion and exchanges I have had with colleagues and business partners over the last three years.

Introduction


Since at least the end of 2014 there has been increasing confusions about oil prices, whether so-called “Peak Oil” has already happened, or will happen in the future and when, matters of EROI (or EROEI) values for current energy sources and for alternatives, climate change and the phantasmatic 2oC warming limit, and concerning the feasibility of shifting rapidly to renewables or sustainable sources of energy supply.  Overall, it matters a great deal whether a reasonable time horizon to act is say 50 years, i.e. in the main the troubles that we are contemplating are taking place way past 2050, or if we are already in deep trouble and the timeframe to try and extricate ourselves is some 10 years. Answering this kind of question requires paying close attention to system boundary definitions and scrutinising all matters taken for granted.

It took over 50 years for climatologists to be heard and for politicians to reach the Paris Agreement re climate change (CC) at the close of the COP21, late last year.  As you no doubt can gather from the title, I am of the view that we do not have 50 years to agonise about oil.  In the three sections of this post I will first briefly take stock of where we are oil wise; I will then consider how this situation calls upon us to do our utter best to extricate ourselves from the current prevailing confusion and think straight about our predicament; and in the third part I will offer a few considerations concerning the near term, the next ten years – how to approach it, what cannot work and what may work, and the urgency to act, without delay.

Part 1 – Alice looking down the end of the barrel


In his recent post, Ugo contrasted the views of the Doomstead Diner‘s readers  with that of energy experts regarding the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels within a reasonable timeframe.  In my view, the Doomstead’s guests had a much better sense of the situation than the “experts” in Ugo’s survey.  To be blunt, along current prevailing lines we are not going to make it.  I am not just referring here to “business-as-usual” (BAU) parties holding for dear life onto fossil fuels and nukes.  I also include all current efforts at implementing alternatives and combating CC.  Here is why.   

The energy cost of system replacement


What a great number of energy technology specialists miss are the challenges of whole system replacement – moving from fossil-based to 100% sustainable over a given period of time.  Of course, the prior question concerns the necessity or otherwise of whole system replacement.  For those of us who have already concluded that this is an urgent necessity, if only due to CC, no need to discuss this matter here.  For those who maybe are not yet clear on this point, hopefully, the matter will become a lot clearer a few paragraphs down.

So coming back for now to whole system replacement, the first challenge most remain blind to is the huge energy cost of whole system replacement in terms of both the 1st principle of thermodynamics (i.e. how much net energy is required to develop and deploy a whole alternative system, while the old one has to be kept going and be progressively replaced) and also concerning the 2nd principle (i.e. the waste heat involved in the whole system substitution process).  The implied issues are to figure out first how much total fossil primary energy is required by such a shift, in addition to what is required for ongoing BAU business and until such a time when any sustainable alternative has managed to become self-sustaining, and second to ascertain where this additional fossil energy may come from. 

The end of the Oil Age is now


If we had a whole century ahead of us to transition, it would be comparatively easy.  Unfortunately, we no longer have that leisure since the second key challenge is the remaining timeframe for whole system replacement.  What most people miss is that the rapid end of the Oil Age began in 2012 and will be over within some 10 years.  To the best of my knowledge, the most advanced material in this matter is the thermodynamic analysis of the oil industry taken as a whole system (OI) produced by The Hill’s Group (THG) over the last two years or so (https://www.thehillsgroup.org). 

THG are seasoned US oil industry engineers led by B.W. Hill.  I find its analysis elegant and rock hard.  For example, one of its outputs concerns oil prices.  Over a 56 year time period, its correlation factor with historical data is 0.995.  In consequence, they began to warn in 2013 about the oil price crash that began late 2014 (see: https://www.thehillsgroup.org/depletion2_022.htm).  In what follows I rely on THG’s report and my own work.
Three figures summarise the situation we are in rather well, in my view.
Figure 1 – End Game
For purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel by the oil industry (OI) is rapidly trending to zero.  By net energy we mean here what the OI delivers to the GIW, essentially in the form of transport fuels, after the energy used by the OI for exploration, production, transport, refining and end products delivery have been deducted. 
However, things break down well before reaching “ground zero”; i.e. within 10 years the OI as we know it will have disintegrated. Actually, a number of analysts from entities like Deloitte or Chatham House, reading financial tealeaves, are progressively reaching the same kind of conclusions.[1]

The Oil Age is finishing now, not in a slow, smooth, long slide down from “Peak Oil”, but in a rapid fizzling out of net energy.  This is now combining with things like climate change and the global debt issues to generate what I call a “Perfect Storm” big enough to bring the GIW to its knees.

In an Alice world


At present, under the prevailing paradigm, there is no known way to exit from the Perfect Storm within the emerging time constraint (available time has shrunk by one order of magnitude, from 100 to 10 years).  This is where I think that Doomstead Diner’s readers are guessing right.  Many readers are no doubt familiar with the so-called “Red Queen” effect illustrated in Figure 2 – to have to run fast to stay put, and even faster to be able to move forward.  The OI is fully caught in it.

Figure 2 – Stuck on a one track to nowhere

The top part of Figure 2 highlights that, due to declining net energy per barrel, the OI has to keep running faster and faster (i.e. pumping oil) to keep supplying the GIW with the net energy it requires.  What most people miss is that due to that same rapid decline of net energy/barrel towards nil, the OI can’t keep “running” for much more than a few years – e.g. B.W. Hill considers that within 10 years the number of petrol stations in the US will have shrunk by 75%…  

What people also neglect, depicted in the bottom part of Figure 2, is what I call the inverse Red Queen effect (1/RQ).  Building an alternative whole system takes energy that to a large extent initially has to come from the present fossil-fuelled system.  If the shift takes place too rapidly, the net energy drain literally kills the existing BAU system.[2] The shorter the transition time the harder is the 1/RQ.  

I estimate the limit growth rate for the alternative whole system at 7% growth per year.  

In other words, current growth rates for solar and wind, well above 20% and in some cases over 60%, are not viable globally.  However, the kind of growth rates, in the order of 35%, that are required for a very short transition under the Perfect Storm time frame are even less viable – if “we” stick to the prevailing paradigm, that is.  As the last part of Figure 2 suggests, there is a way out by focusing on current huge energy waste, but presently this is the road not taken.

On the way to Olduvai


In my view, given that nearly everything within the GIW requires transport and that said transport is still about 94% dependent on oil-derived fuels, the rapid fizzling out of net energy from oil must be considered as the defining event of the 21st century – it governs the operation of all other energy sources, as well as that of the entire GIW.  In this respect, the critical parameter to consider is not that absolute amount of oil mined (as even “peakoilers” do), such as Million barrels produced per year, but net energy from oil per head of global population, since when this gets too close to nil we must expect complete social breakdown, globally. 

The overall picture, as depicted ion Figure 3, is that of the “Mother of all Senecas” (to use Ugo’s expression).   It presents net energy from oil per head of global population.[3]  The Olduvai Gorge as a backdrop is a wink to Dr. Richard Duncan’s scenario (he used barrels of oil equivalent which was a mistake) and to stress the dire consequences if we do reach the “bottom of the Gorge” – a kind of “postmodern hunter-gatherer” fate.

Oil has been in use for thousands of year, in limited fashion at locations where it seeped naturally or where small well could be dug out by hand.  Oil sands began to be mined industrially in 1745 at Merkwiller-Pechelbronn in north east France (the birthplace of Schlumberger).  From such very modest beginnings to a peak in the early 1970s, the climb took over 220 years.  The fall back to nil will have taken about 50 years.

The amazing economic growth in the three post WWII decades was actually fuelled by a 321% growth in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973, was actually in the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, i.e. the industrialised fraction of the global population.

Figure 3 – The “Mother of all Senecas”

In 2012 the OI began to use more energy per barrel in its own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations) than what it delivers net to the GIW.  We are now down below 4GJ/head and dropping fast.

This is what is now actually driving the oil prices: since 2014, through millions of trade transactions (functioning as the “invisible hand” of the markets), the reality is progressively filtering that the GIW can only afford oil prices in proportion to the amount of GDP growth that can be generated by a rapidly shrinking net energy delivered per barrel, which is no longer much.  Soon it will be nil. So oil prices are actually on a downtrend towards nil. 

To cope, the OI has been cannibalising itself since 2012.  This trend is accelerating but cannot continue for very long.  Even mainstream analysts have begun to recognise that the OI is no longer replenishing its reserves.  We have entered fire-sale times (as shown by the recent announcements by Saudi Arabia (whose main field, Ghawar, is probably over 90% depleted) to sell part of Aramco and make a rapid shift out of a near 100% dependence on oil and towards “solar”.

Given what Figure 1 to 3 depict, it should be obvious that resuming growth along BAU lines is no longer doable, that addressing CC as envisaged at the COP21 in Paris last year is not doable either, and that incurring ever more debt that can never be reimbursed is no longer a solution, not even short-term.  
Time to “pull up” and this requires a paradigm change capable of avoiding both the RQ and 1/RQ constraints.  After some 45 years of research, my colleagues and I think this is still doable.  Short of this, no, we are not going to make it, in terms of replacing fossil resources with renewable ones within the remaining timeframe, or in terms of the GIW’s survival.
Next: 

Part 2 – Enquiring into the appropriateness of the question

Part 3 – Standing slightly past the edge of the cliff

 

 

Bio: Dr Louis Arnoux is a scientist, engineer and entrepreneur committed to the development of sustainable ways of living and doing business.