Yesterday, I came across something of interest. The claim was that a civilization like ours requires a EROEI (energy return on energy invested) ratio of 30:1 in order to survive in its present form.
Oil extraction used to be at an EROEI of 100:1 – 100 barrels of oil extracted for ever 1 barrel of oil expended. And now, I read where it is just 5:1 for unconventional oil (tar sands, shale extraction).
The article didn’t go any further on this point, but I’ve been thinking it over. This would mean that civilization would be in a severe contraction, especially in all areas where there is little to no surplus wealth. And that is exactly what I’ve been seeing and reading about.
But the reality of what this means seems to be misunderstood. There is no way that anything even remotely resembling our present civilization can be maintained when the “wealth creation” of oil is at such a low ratio or anything approaching this. We’re spending too much energy (and wealth) to extract too little oil. Whatever wealth is generated, is literally being burned up.
And of course, the so-called “renewables” (which aren’t) won’t do squat for changing this.
It’s a predicament all right. No way out of this one. I’ve described the “low-hanging” fruit problem before. We’ve plucked out all the easy to obtain resources, which the article also mentions as a “one shot wonder”. We don’t get to do this again – ever. Once these easily found resources are extracted, oil, minerals, they’re gone forever. It should also be obvious that this is what built our civilization, but it should be just as obvious that we cannot hope to maintain our civilization without a constant new supply of these resources. The notion that we’re going to be able to keep expanding civilization falls flat on its face.
Contraction and collapse will be the result. Which is what I keep reading about with many businesses now going under. Oil not only lubricates the global supply chain (resource extraction, production, transportation), oil actually IS the global supply chain for every product imaginable (including those solar panels). But it’s not just oil that we’re running out of either.
I don’t know for certain if the EROEI is as low as 5:1 already – but it probably doesn’t really matter. I don’t care how many angels can dance on the head of a pin either. I’m experiencing a huge slowdown in activity in this region. It’s quite stupendous. A few phone calls and emails reported the same things elsewhere.
There is a mad scramble to “drum up business” by everyone that I know. And it is not working. Not even close. People have become very tight-fisted and aren’t spending money (or credit, as the real case may be). They’re experiencing the same massive squeeze businesses are experiencing. The tap is drying up. The flow of wealth from natural resources into jobs, products, industry activity and business revenue is being squeezed harder and harder. From my perspective up here in the wet North, it feels wrung-out like a dirty dish rag.
Yet – on the other hand, I do see money being spent by those that still have it. I think what I’m witnessing (we all are) is the transfer of the remaining wealth. And what they’re spending their money on does not make much sense to me – they’re still buying into this civilization as if it is going to continue just like it “always has”. They’re buying cars and trucks and toys and eating out and buying stocks and basically just goofing-off with their remaining wealth, almost as if they have no idea at all that it can’t last much longer.
They’re not buying anything to actually prepare themselves for the coming collapse. Oh, I’ve read the stories that claim they are buying up remote land and preparedness supplies, but I know first-hand that this latter point is false. They’re not buying supplies as claimed, these are spiked stories full of falsehoods. I’m in close contact with the actual, real canneries in this country – they’re in severe contraction themselves. They’re laying people off and cutting their hours. Real estate too, around here anyway, is deader then a door nail. It’s not moving at all and prices have fallen sharply.
If there is any truth to these stories, I think we’re witnessing the upper-crust (wealthy) jumping in and buying up land and pretending they know what it takes to develop a retreat, but that’s all. And it’s a very, very tiny number of people, everyone else is just trying survive in-place, hold on and hope things will somehow improve.
I can’t see how they will, unless war starts. That’s always good for the economy. It takes a while for the blood, err wealth to make it’s way through the grinding gears of the system, but eventually it does. But it’s also horribly wasteful when it comes to resources and energy supplies. And it does not really accomplish much of anything except make the rich even richer. But stupid politicians will use any excuse to do more stupid things – including a temporary “kick-start of the economy” by sacrificing your sons and daughters (who they’re now also trying to draft into combat. This bill was passed by the Senate last year).
The bottom line is obvious too. Civilization can only go downhill once the EROEI declines and decline it has. And it can only go downhill once the easily extracted resources have all been consumed. It cannot maintain itself or expect the same levels of growth experienced in the past. And with populations now 100 times what they were – the people of the planet will all begin to suffer and face hardships more and more, because there simply isn’t enough wealth creation to give them anything better.
And wow – I didn’t even mention climate change, not even once. But I will say this: I think the long-awaited “storm” has now fully arrived. It certainly has for me and those that I know.