Sunday, October 27, 2013

Revisiting Texas's Electrical Power Predicament—Part 1

I have written about Texas's electric power situation a few times over the past few years, and now, it's time for an update. 

I wrote about Rolling Blackouts in the South Western USA due to the shut down of multiple electrical power generating plants in Texas during a cold snap in February 2011, with cascading effects on the ability of neighboring state New Mexico's ability to receive pipeline shipments of natural gas and have rolling blackout of there own. 

As I discussed in August 2011 Revisiting Rolling Blackouts in Texas, rolling blackouts nearly reoccurred, as the State faced what turned out to be the hottest summer on record, for Texas and some neighboring states. The body responsible for managing electric power flow for ~85% Texas, Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), estimated that the State came within 50 megawatts (MW) of interrupting flows to industrial customers, that is, industrial load shedding. 

In January 2012 I took a more in depth look at Texas's Electrical Power Predicament with a three part series (see Part 1, Part2, Part3).  Back then, my assessment was that there were three factors all conspiring to squeeze Texas's ability to sufficiently maintain or grow it's electric power supply to avoid rolling blackouts:

            1) increasing demand due to growth in population and increasing economic activity;

            2)  the implementation of several rules by the EPA that would cause some of Texas's older coal-fired power plants to shut-down; and

            3) the unlikelihood of alternative electrical energy sources being built in time or have sufficient capacity to meet the expected summer power demand.

Maybe some think that should have added a fourth factor: ever-increasing hotter summers, but, I did not see this as necessary condition to cause an increasing mismatch in electricity supply and demand sufficient to cause rolling blackouts.   All that would be needed are summers as hot as the summer of 2011, a continuation of the population and economic growth trends, the announced closure of certain coal-fired power plants and a lack in adequate growth or capacity in new power sources.  For instance, in some of the scenarios I ran in my earlier series (Scenarios 1 and 2, Part2), assuming exactly the same energy demand as in 2011, predicted the possibility of anywhere from 12 to 17 of industrial load shedding and from 1 to 11 days of general rolling blackouts for the month of August, that could be applicable to 2012 and 2013. 

Happily, these predictions were wrong.  Most of the rest of this article explores the three above-mentioned factors to assess what did not happen to cause the prediction to fail.

Texas's population, economy and forward predictions

One possibility is that Texas's population growth or economic growth have stopped or at least slowed down since 2011 and therefore the expected demand for electric power was not forthcoming.

The data shown in Figure 1 suggest that this has not been the case.

Figure 1 shows Texas’s population and annual GDP (left and right axis respectively) from 1987-2012 and some projections through 2015.  The blue line and symbols corresponds to the Texas GDP based on US census bureau estimates with projections for 2012 and on from USA Government Spending.   The red line and symbols shows Texas's population from the Texas State Library based on US census bureau estimates.  The green line and symbols shows population estimates and projections from the Texas Department of State Health Services).  The vertical line divides the 2012 and earlier data estimates from the projections for 2013 to 2015. 

From 2011 to 2012, Texas's population according to the US census bureau data increased by 1.5 percent/year.   The Texas DSHS estimate is higher at 2 percent/year.   A 2 percent/year population growth rate is closer to Texas's average yearly rate of 1.97±0.63 percent/year (last 20 year average and SD) using the US census bureau data.  Texas's population growth rate is about double the USA's yearly rate of 1.05±0.58 percent/year (last 20 year average and SD).  The Texas DSHS projections for 2013-2015 suggest continued growth rates of 2 percent/year. 

From 2011 to 2012, Texas's GDP was estimated to increase 5.8 percent percent/year.  That is slightly lower than the 20 year average of 6.3±3.3.  The GDP is projected to increase by 4.4 to 5.8 percent/year for 2013-2015. 

Overall then, there are few signs of any significant downturn or slowdown in Texas's population, economic growth, or, in government expectations of growth going forwards.  In a previous post, I showed that Texas's electric generation capacity has been growing at about 2 percent percent/year to match the population growth rate (Part 1 Figure 3).  I would expect that the growth rate is power generation would have to stay at 2 percent/year just to keep up with the population growth rate. 

Texas's summer weather

Another possibility is that there have been cooler summers in Texas and therefore less electricity demand, since in the summer, air-conditioning can account for a substantial amount of electric power use. 

Data reported by the Southern Regional Climate Center suggests that the summers 2012 and 2013 were not particularly hot, at least compared to the summer of 2011. 

Figure 2 shows the average monthly temperatures for Texas for the last 20 years for the months of June, July August and September (caution the vertical scales for each month are not the same). 

The red circles highlight the average temperatures for 2011, which was high for June, July and August, but not so high for September, as compare to the previous years since 1993 or compared to 2012 and 2013.  In contrast 2012 and 2013 average temperatures are closer to trend line for this period. 

So, electric power consumption in Texas benefited from having typical summer temperatures in 2012 and 2013. 

Texas's summer electrical power consumption. 

Of course, Figure 1 and 2 doesn't tell us about daily high temperatures, which typically occur in the mid-to-late afternoon, and would typical be the cause of electrical power demand spikes as people return to their residence and turn on the AC to cool the house down.

To get a better view of this, you have to look at the actual hour-by-hour power loads. 

I still have the hourly load date for the July August and September 2011, but sadly I did not save the data for June 2011, which is no longer available at ERCOT's website.  I am saving the data for June-Sept 2012 and June-Sept 2013 before these disappear as well.

Figure 3 shows the hourly loads for August 2011 (red) August 2012 (green) and August 2013 (blue).  The solid pink line shows ERCOTs estimated capacity to produce electricity (73000 MW), and, the orange line shows the point where industrial load shedding would begin (68344 MW), circa August 2011.

In August 2011, there were several days in early and mid-August that got close (e.g., within 1500 MW or 66844 MW) of industry load shedding in the late afternoon): Aug 1, Aug 2, Aug 3, Aug 9, Aug 18, Aug 19.  The all-time peak for 2011 was 68293 MW at 4 pm Aug 3.  That was about 50 MW away from load shedding.

In contrast, for Aug 2012, only one day reach similar levels: Aug 1 at 66489 MW.  In fact, this was the only day in the summer of 2012 that exceeded 66,000 MW.

For Aug 2013, there were a few more days where power consumption exceeded 66,000 MW: Aug 5, Aug 6 and Aug 7, with Aug 7 being the highest at 67180 MW—that's 1164 MW less than the all time peak day of Aug 3, 2011.


Even though Texas's population and economy has continued growing at the same pace as in 2011, its power consumption was not as high in 2012 and 2013 as in 2011.  Probably average summer weather, at least cooler than 2011, had a lot to do with this.  For the last two years, Texas has been lucky by having just average summer temperatures. 

One thing that is apparent to me is that Texas is in a race to grow its power generation at least at the same rate as its rate of population increase, with the severity of summer weather thrown in as a wild card.  

So what about those older coal fired power plants that in 2011 were expected to be shut down under the EPA enforced clean air act and various anti-pollution rules?

In part 2, I will discuss Texas's coal-fired plants and other potentially sources of electricity that may or may not be coming in the near future.
January 19, 2014: clean up the legend to Figure 1 and correct some spelling and grammer issues.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Thoughts on living through a period of collapse

This post is based on a collapse scenario that I briefly outline at the outset.   If you have read any posts in this blog over the past few years, then the basis of the scenario will be familiar to you. I will also quote throughout, the words of some thinkers that have informed my viewpoint on what to expect living through this scenario.

The world is entering a period when continued increases in the net amounts of energy available for human use will plateau and then decline.  This is mainly due to our inability to continue to produce fossil fuels (that is, extract and refine, oil, gas and coal), at ever-increasing rates and at an ever-increasing net energy profit.  In particular, a decline in the net energy in the form of petroleum consumption (that is, the consumption of oil or its products), will occur first among the fossil fuels.  A significant decline in economic output will occur concurrently and proportionally to the declining rate of petroleum consumption.  The rate of petroleum consumption decline, however, will vary from region to region, because petroleum made available from domestic production, plus imports, varies from region to region.  Consequently, the decline in the rate of petroleum consumption, and, the economy in general, will be non-uniform. 

What should someone living through the 21st century expect based on this scenario? 

Expect the economy to trend downwards erratically

There really is a level of denial about the problem we've got.  Conventional economics doesn't factor in this term energy return-on-energy investment.... Unconventional oil mean you have to put in much more energy in to get energy out....This is not an economics issue.  This is an issue of the biophysical characteristics of the reservoirs....The political and business world look at this problem in 20th century economic terms: that somehow, if you put the price up, everything will be solved.  We will find substitution from all sorts of different sources to replace the cheap oil we've been accustom to using. And that is not happening.  We have recession in the US, Europe.  We are desperately trying to get a way out by basically printing money. And it is not working.  ... If you look at what has happen since 2008, the oil industry has poured vast amounts of money into increasing levels of exploration and getting into more expensive sources, and we haven’t been able to lift production.  And so the price of oil has stayed at about $100 per barrel.  And at that price it is very hard to kick-start the economy.  Every time we have got to $100 per barrel previously, the economies of the world have gone into recession.

Ian Dunlop  ABC RN Big Ideas ASPO-Australia  Australian Oil Vulnerability Risk Management Conference Brisbane  June 4th 2013

There really is no viable replacement for conventional cheap oil, in my opinion. 

Every new potential alternative source, deep off shore oil, tar sands, shale/tight oil, arctic oil etc..., will be heralded by investment advisors, economists, businessmen, politicians and their media outlets as THE thing that will allow the economy to grow to great new highs.  But, the price of oil needed to support the production of these alternative sources of oil will also strangle the economy, and so, the consumption of oil will go down.  As this so-called petro-business cycle, or more aptly, petro-business spiral, continues, the baseline of conventional cheap oil continues to be consumed and depleted.  For each new upwards cycle, the economic recovery will be a little bit weaker than last time because the cost to fuel that cycle will be more and more expensive.

Expect the standard-of-living to trend erratically downwards, and, don’t expect anyone in power to acknowledge that this is happening. 

It's clear that fossil fuels cannot power us forever because our net energy return on fossil fuels is declining, and at the same time, renewables by themselves don’t have the capacity to give us the energy per person that we are accustom today. So, what does this tell us about the future?  It tells us that either we are going to have a future in which there is less energy per person than we have today and that will probably mean a lower standard of living, or, it tells us that we have to use energy much more efficiently and parsimoniously than we do now.

—Joseph Tainter, October 2012 interview on What Now

A declining standard-of-living means a declining gross-domestic product per capita.  This will get manifest as a decline in purchasing power for most individuals, declining employment opportunities, a declining ability to save for retirement, and a break-down of social welfare system. 

Kathy McMahon has referred to this as sucky collapse, and, she's right.  Working  longer hours and/or harder for less pay; taking care of indigent children/parents/relatives, who didn’t know how to live within their means, and now are broke; continually being nickel-and-dimed to death by higher prices for goods and services, increased taxes and government fees, in a word, sucks.

Maybe the elites of society can expect to get an ever-more affluent standard of living, but, for most people, the “American dream,” really is a fantasy. 

Dreams can be hard to let go of.  Most people have not or will not accept that their standard-of-living has declined and is still declining, even as is happens.  And, no one in power wants such awareness to occur, because this would just tighten the steepness of the spiral of economic decline as people correctly react by pulling back on their spending and saving more.  Governments of the world are united in a war against savers by keeping interest rates low.

A downward spiraling economy can be obscured from public view in many different ways. Examples include, printing money, lying or changing the definition of various economic and employment statistics, decreasing the size or quality of goods and services while increasing the price of those goods and service, and, by providing an infinite number of entertaining, mindless, distractions. 

A declining economy and declining standard-of-living are even easier to hide when the decline is not smooth.  Don’t expect a steady decline in the economy or standard-of-living any more than you should expect that petroleum production and consumption rates will steadily decline.  I don’t even except a stair-step shaped decline—more of a saw-tooth pattern. Upward spikes in the petro-business cycle will be reported as periods of “hope,” “growth,” or “green sprouts,” even if that growth is just fake nominal growth due to money printing.  Downward spikes will be reported as “temporary set-backs,” with new highs in growth just around the corner. 

A declining economy and standard-of-living are also easier to hide when different regions undergo economic decline at different points in time and at different rates.  Politicians in charge of a region in steep decline will blame another region for its troubles and then foment anger and hatred of its citizens against the citizens of the other regions with softer decline, thereby deflect anger away from themselves.  

Get used to living simultaneously in two different worlds

The problem with the philosophy of MORE is that MORE, as already noted, doesn’t have any intrinsic meaning. After all, once you have it, you then want—MORE! That’s the American Dream. But the awareness of this dynamic—assuming we ever get to that point—puts us in a particular bind, at least as far as serious social change is concerned. We are finally talking about a kind of conversion experience; and beyond the individual level, which is itself no small achievement, that can only happen when history presents us with a no-win situation. The bald fact is that we cannot maintain the American Dream...because we are running out of resources, oil in particular. The American Dream cannot survive without energy, and lots of it.
—Morris Berman In Praise of Shadows
In psychology, cognitive dissonance is the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel "disequilibrium": frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc.

I experience the cognitive dissonance of living in two worlds every day.  I hear media/government reports about how great things are going, and how the “dream” is still alive, but at the same time, see people in the neighborhood or friends and family members getting into serious trouble.  For instance, the US is supposed to be having an economic recovery right now, and, I do see some improvements. 

At the same time, I know of people who have lost their jobs but continue living the same lifestyle, in denial, until they run out of money, or their working spouse gets sick or loses their job, and even then, they continue to live in their house in the same way as before.  Maybe eventually they just disappear, moved out or evicted, I guess.  I know of people that go on lavish vacations and eat out nearly every night, but when a basic appliance or their car breaks down, they have to take out a loan to get it fixed or replaced. 

The Future Has Arrived — It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed Yet

attributed to William Gibson

Gibson’s 1980s fiction novels were based on a view of the future that extrapolated the trends at the time and this resulted in the prediction of highly technologically complex society forming in some countries, Japan, while other countries, the USA, languished in old technologies.  The differences were not just regional differences in advanced technologies: there were also vast differences in populations within in each region.   In today’s parlance, a small elite class, (“1 percenters”) had access to the latest technology and a larger non-elite class (“99 percenters”) had comparatively little access to technological advances. 

But there has always been an elite class and they have always had first access to the latest technology—in fact this tends to drive and fund technological innovation.  I think that the future that has already arrived, and ongoing, is a shift within the 99 percenters, from middle class to poor class.

It happened 4 years ago, almost a year after the December 2001 crisis. It was a social studies class and this teacher... was explaining the different kinds of social pyramids. ... We even had a text book with those darn, cruel pyramids! The first pyramid explained the basic society. A pyramid with two horizontal lines, dividing those on top (high social class) those in the middle (middle class) and the bottom of the pyramid (the poor, proletarian). The teacher explained that the middle of the pyramid, the middle class, acted as a cushion between the rich and the poor, taking care of the social stress. The second pyramid had a big middle section, this was the pyramid that represents 1st world countries.


Then we turned the page and saw the darned fourth pyramid. This one had arrows from the middle class dropping to the low, poor class.


“What is this?” Some of us asked. The teacher looked at us. “This is us”

“It’s the collapsed country, a country that turns into 3rd world country like in pyramid five where there is almost no middle class to speak, one huge low, poor class , and a very small, very rich, top class.”

“What are those arrows that go from the middle to the bottom of the pyramid?” Someone asked. You could hear a pin drop. “That is middle class turning into poor”.

—ferfal, Studying the SHTF at the University: Dark omens.

I don’t know exactly what pyramids ferfal was looking at in his class in 2002, but they were probably the so-called, “social class pyramids,” like this.  For a society with a large middle class the pyramid actually looks more like a diamond, with a fat center such as recently attained by Brazil. 

The uneven future arriving is the trend for large portions of the populations in the developed regions North America, Europe, Japan to shift from middle to poor class, with a shift in the opposite direction for the developing countries Brazil or China.  Again, I don’t expect the shift to be smooth and I don’t expect the developing countries will be able to hold onto their gains in the long term. 

I also except the same shift to play out unevenly, at smaller scales, within countries, within provinces/states, within cities, within neighborhoods and within families.

Don’t get too upset, its just human nature

It is important to understand that we did not evolve as a species to be broad scale thinkers, that is, to think broadly terms of time or space.  If you think about the conditions in which our hunter-gatherer ancestors evolved, these were conditions in which they only needed to know their own territory, perhaps the territory of adjacent hunting gathering bands.  And, they had no capacity to understand long term history.  They had only oral accounts, perhaps accurate for two or three generations, and so we never evolved the ability, or the inclination, to think broadly in terms of time or space.  It doesn't come naturally to us.


The high complexity that we have today is a fairly recent phenomenon in human history.  Our ancestors lived in much simpler societies. And we tend to equate the term complexity with the term civilization and think of complexity as progress.


Complexity is not free. ... There is no free lunch in the world of complex systems. Complexity always has a cost.  We express the cost in terms of currencies like: work, time, labor, many-that's a big one, standing in line at airports, annoyance....whereas in fact the ultimate currency is energy.  All of these come from energy.  Money comes from energy, work comes from energy, even time spent standing in line at an airport takes up your metabolic energy....  So, complexity comes from energy and complexity requires energy. But if complexity requires energy, then why does complexity grow?


Complexity grows because it is useful to solve problems. We usually solve problems by developing more complex technologies.


As complexity grows, society has to produce more and more energy to "fund" the complexity, to pay for the complexity. Conversely, during the rare periods when humans have had surplus energy—and we are in one of those periods now—that also allows complexity to grow. This relationship is what I call the energy-complexity spiral.  Surplus energy allows complexity to grow, but most of the time complexity grows to solve problems requiring more energy. ... Complexity and energy are the twin keys to the problems we have today and the problems in the future, and, how our societies can’t be as they are today.

—Joseph Tainter, October 2012 interview on What Now

Humans are short term thinkers, and, society certainly doesn’t reward long term thinking or decision-making with a view of historical contexts.  As the size of the group of humans being considered gets larger and larger, the group in the longer term, doesn’t behave too much differently that a group of bacteria when exposed to a new finite supply of energy, say some sugar cubes.  Those cubes are consumed as quickly as possible, the population grows, and when the cubes are gone, the bacterial population drops back down to the level that the environment could support before the cubes showed up.   

Of course, humans are smarter than bacteria, in that we can find hidden cubes of energy, for instance, in the form of cubic miles of oil.  Society as a whole is busily chewing through those cubes of oil, and becoming more complex with each passing year, with little regard to the longer term consequences when the number of cubes available starts to dwindle.  But that’s just human nature. 

If the energy problem can’t be solved, then it will be reframed as an opportunity

Our conversion to a different mental outlook will thus come in the form of a crunch, in which the subdued lights and the quiet shadows...will get praised because we can no longer afford to have the bright lights burning 24/7. The Russian-American sociologist, Pitirim Sorokin, called this the shift from a “sensate” culture to an “ideational” one, and it is this shift that we are now caught up in. If history is any guide, it won’t be a whole lot of fun, because when you’ve been doing something for a long time it becomes very hard to shift gears. It’s a little like detoxing from heroin, I suspect. But there could be a few benefits as well....

—Morris Berman In Praise of Shadows

If Tainter is right, and our complexifying society requires ever-increasing amounts of energy to support it, but, the available sources of energy are in decline, then society is in for a very rude awaking.  And, as Berman says, it won’t be a whole lot of fun.  

Still, collapse has to happen, and so, it will eventually.

Decreasing available energy means that societies will have to de-complexify and become simpler.  It means that new problems will not get solved, or, the solutions will have much higher human costs than they did in the past.

Perhaps economic de-growth will some day be acknowledged as inevitable and celebrated as a great opportunity. 

Who hasn’t at some point, during a crazy hectic day, thought that living at slower pace with more free time on one’s hands for more local community involvement and self-discovery, wouldn’t be a good thing, an opportunity, in fact?  

This sounds fine, but, I don’t think that my grand-parents and great-grand-parents, or their contemporaries, thought too much about the benefits of simple life, or, of self-discovery.  Rather, unless one was in the idle gentry class, I think that people in the not too distant past were just worried about putting food on the table or making their next payment to their landlord or the tax collector. 

I think that idolizing a return to the “simple life” is manifesting a coping feature of human behavior—psychological reframing. 

Reframing is a very useful way of dealing with the trauma of an external problem that just can’t be solved.  A declining standard-of-living due to declining rate of energy production and available energy to consume is exactly such an external intractable problem.  I see the growing media and political attention to the “happiness index” as a form of reframing.

Don’t give up hope: you still may have a purpose

Live as if you were living already for the second time and as if you had acted the first time as wrongly as you are about to act now.

Victor Frankel, Man’s Search for Meaning

After all of this perhaps you think that you should just head for the hills and bide your time in a bunker until all hell breaks loose and collapse sets in, or, just go on a party binge because there is no tomorrow.

I think taking either of these actions would be a mistake. 

I suppose you can hide in a bunker for a while—until you run out of money or get sick.  Likewise I suppose that you could party—again, until you run out of money or get sick.  But, by then you will be in a much poorer position than now and make yourself a burden on someone else.  Don’t do that.

I expect this decline, for most regions except maybe Africa, to unfold over decades of time, and, people close to you, your friends, neighbors and family, are going to need your help. 

At present those people are probably blind to what is unfolding and why, and, they also are probably not ready to hear about it from you.  It’s just human nature—for most—so just get over it.  There’s not too much that you can do right now to help them see what you can see.  Accept that, and your relationship with those people will become a lot easier.  

So, what can you do?

1) First, you can adopt the purpose or goal of at least avoid making yourself a burden on others by not wasting your time and resources and by saving more. 

Accept it that most likely everyone of working age that you know, including yourself, is probably going to have to face extended periods of unemployment.  In the USA, the average duration of unemployment after losing a job is about 9 months; in Europe, that number jumps to 15.7 months.  I expect these statistics to worsen going forwards, but not in a straight line.   For most of those in their 50s and 60s, once they lose their jobs, then that will be it, unless you have a hobby that you can turn into work, or, have your own business. 

So, don’t give up your day-job just because you feel depressed about the future. 

And, if you unemployed now and eventually find work, keep that job as long as you can and build up a reserve of money to cover your living expenses for at least an extend period of unemployment in the future.  

Accept it that large portions of the population of older people have saved almost nothing for retirement and living on social security or old age pension benefits alone is a pretty Spartan lifestyle.  One interesting SSA statistic is that 23% of married couples and about 46% of unmarried seniors rely on Social Security for 90% or more of their income.  There are also reports that Social Security will “run out of funding” by the early 2030s.   But it has already been since 2010 that payroll taxes are not enough to cover the benefits paid out and so already the government has to borrow or print more money to pay some of these benefits.   The excess payroll taxes not spend on benefits from previous years got spend on other things. 


Does anyone still doubt, going forwards, that the promised benefits will be cut back, or, will purchase less then what they do now? 

So, once again, don’t give up your day-job just because you feel depressed about the future, or, because you are sick of your job, or, because you just feel tired.  Hang on for as long as you can, and do the best you can to get out of debt and build up some saving.  Your future self and your relatives will be grateful. 

2) Accept that most people in your life are not going to follow step (1), and, therefore they will need your help–that will be your second purpose.

As Tainter points out, most humans are very poor long-term planners and the idea of voluntarily setting aside money for a period of unemployment or for retirement doesn’t work very well for the vast majority.  Maybe after repeated cycles of downturns and partial recoveries, but never as good as last time, for most people it will finely sink in that we are living in different times, but, I’m not holding my breath.

You probably know people in your life, whose lives already look a financial train wreck waiting to happen, and you know that they are not going to listen to you until it is too late.   When their financial train wreck does occur, you will have to help them. 

The burden of doing this is high.  In my opinion it is, or will be, much harder to decide how to do (2) than just doing (1) because you likely won’t be able to help everyone that needs, or wants, help.  How many people can you afford to assist without putting yourself at risk of become a burden your self?  This is a tough question to answer. 

Here’s another tough question: should there be strings attached to giving help?   In my opinion, help, or continued help, should at least be conditional on a putting a rational budget and saving plan in place.  What I think should be avoid is a display of anger and resentment because of the unfairness of it all—that just isn’t going change anything.  Just be happy that it is not you in need of help and you are capable of helping. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Doom Takes a Holiday

This is somewhat of a 3rd anniversary post for me and a way to feature, and in some cases say goodbye, to some blogs and websites that I have been following.

I have seen it developing for a few years now.  Numerous blogs and bloggers dedicated to describing some form of doom: which here I will broadly define as the prediction of a decline, and in some cases rapid collapse or end of civilization as well know it, are dropping out or transforming into something else.

When civilization does not collapse by the expected time-line or there is simply not sufficient attention paid to the expounded collapse scenario, the blog and blogger either shuts down or transforms into something/someone else.  

How this manifests varies quite widely. 

The rest of the blog gives some examples.

Some bloggers, like Davos, the original editor of the Daily Digest at, and then proprietor of his own blog,, and contributor to financialsense, simply stop posting, and the former posts on their web sites disappear as well. 

For others, the shift away from doom is signaled by a shift away from writing and talking about climate change, peak oil, economic collapse, population overshoot and life after the crash, etc... to something completely different and more socially acceptable.  For example, Matt Savinar switched to astrology, Dale Allen Pfeiffer switched to writing fiction novels  and 2-beers-with-Steve’s shifted to talking about child rearing, nutrition and fitness. 

Still others show signs of a slow burn-out, and, then drop-out, likely from the exhaustion of  continuously following and reporting on negative news day-after-day and being broadly ignored. 

As “Bill Hicks” put it at TDS blog several months ago, in his final post:

In the 13 months since I started this blog, I have pretty much said everything that was on my mind when I started it, and nothing substantially new has happened since then. Every day when I peruse my usual news sites, it's like watching the Bill Murray flick, Groundhog Day: a slowly unfolding downward grind with the powers that be playing all the games they can to keep the facade of business as usual propped up as long as possible.
In slightly different vein, are some comments leading to Dave Cohen’s announcement DOTE Goes Off The Air:

this blog, traffic-wise, fundraiser-wise, will never be what it was even a year ago.
What would you do in my position?
Would you keep publishing? Or would you stop?
Let me tell you something.
When DOTE disappears, nothing will replace it—ever.
People who think they know something believe that—
anthropogenic climate change is the problem
or, peak oil is the problem
or degradation of marine ecosystems is the problem,
or ... something else
Of course, none of these necessary consequences of Human Nature (behavior) are the real problem...
and then this:

Writing DOTE goes nowhere for me. Writing DOTE has not opened up a single opportunity for me for life after DOTE. Nobody has offered to underwrite a book I might write. Nothing happens. I need to face the music. It's time I faced the horror—the terror—of life after DOTE
I have no idea what I will do. But I can not live with the frustration of writing this blog anymore. And what is worse, my frustration is so bad that I have become an asshole (with high blood pressure). I tell people off for making comments which seem to me to fall short of the mark I am aiming for on DOTE. I have become a jerk.
Humanity may or may not be doomed—probably is—but one thing that's looking clearer every day is that I am doomed. I am not going to get that interesting life.
I have wanted to stop writing this blog, on and off, for some time now, for these reasons and others I haven't mentioned. I've given everybody three weeks notice, which is only polite, and I've also given myself three weeks to summarize all the work I've done here on DOTE. I won't be wasting that time, and hopefully, I won't be wasting yours.  from Is Humanity Doomed?

Addictions are hard to kick, however, and I still see new “long threads” (aka posts) appearing on DOTE.

And then there is the Doomer, formerly known as Mike Ruppert, aka “Tracker of Truth” (TOT). One of my favor posts on DOTE was Doomer Porn Alert where Cohen ripped on Ruppert’s pronouncement of US and then world economic collapse in July—that’s July 2011.

About a year ago, Ruppert announced leaving Collapsenet.  Collapsenet was founded by Ruppert with a mission of “alerting and preparing people around the world.”

I thought that Sofistek’s comments following Ruppert’s final post hit pretty close to the mark:

Hmmm. Mike has provided a lot of great stuff, and his analyses, when not including specific time-based predictions, have been excellent. I remember Matt Savinar switched to astrology after many years at lifeaftertheoil What a turnaround. Now Mike seems to be switching to a more spiritual life and talks about spirit forces at work. What's going on?
It's odd that after two years of predicting imminent collapse, he's now going to spend time writing a book. Is it going to get released? Is it going to be available in all the usual places? Perhaps he thinks the new "golden age" will magically appear as his book is finished, so that we can all rush out to whatever substitutes for a book shop then to buy it. He was talking about what seemed like a relaxed journey to LA, 15 months or so, after his scary move to Sonoma county, when he was lining up safe houses along the way, in case the journey couldn't be completed as the world imploded.....
I'd be happy to be proven wrong about Mike's past predictions but I've got a long list of where he got them wrong (in fact, I can only think of a couple he got half right). He never acknowledges failed predictions, which is sad, but I still look up his writings and talks because he's largely right about connecting the dots. It's just impossible to predict the time-line, and Mike has proved that over and over again.

Given that the world should have gone to hell in a hand-basket a long time ago, I'm surprised that Mike now appears to think that there is plenty of time to write and publish another book. However, this seems to gel with his belief in a new "golden age". It is this switch, and the firm belief that the world is waking up, that I find disappointing, because I see no evidence of that. Remember that he has also predicted some miraculous event for on, or around, December the 21st. Remember when he said Greece was going to a hard default in late March? He keeps on with the predictions and seems to actually believe them, himself.

A few months later, Ruppert emerged as TOT apparently to speak only on spiritual matters.  But then a few months later, he reappeared as Ruppert on Max Keiser discussing peak gas and oil and more recently, suggesting the imminent end of all life on earth within 15 years, but still asking for donations to finish his music album (32-33 and 46-48 min).  What a guy.

The imminent end of all life on earth due to rapid global heating is a near-term extinction meme that has been popularized by some talks given by Guy McPherson  (for example Age of Limits 2013 or Bluegrass Bioneers 2012 warning: off screen there is a crazy man in the audience laughing throughout McPherson‘s talk) and some posts on his website, Nature Bat’s Last (for example we’re done and coming to terms).

The basis for near term extinction seems to be founded on the concern about positive feedback responses, such as methane venting in the arctic oceans, and permafrost regions of the world, methane being a short-term atmospheric strong green house gas.  The premise for near term extinction due to this feedback appear to have originated in a blog post from Malcolm Light of the Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG) predicting rapid acceleration of methane release leading to rapid temperature increases and extinction in 2031 and 2047 in North and South Hemispheres.  McPherson has picked up that ball and run with it, in the above talks and the TOT has poured accelerant over it. 

Still, the news of our imminent demise may be premature.   As Alex Smith has pointed out in Will Humans Go Extinct Soon?, the data that Light relied on was preliminary and has since been revised.  Smith seems to suggest this might just be being used as providing a “greenie” acceptable basis for an agenda to drill in the arctic, “to save the world.”   And let’s not forget the billions of dollars in grants needed by AMEG and others to “further study the phenomena.”  But I drift...

At the Age of Limits conference, McPherson indicated that his efforts generally have been a failure.

Here are KMO and J Smith, a conference attendee, discussing this:

          4:38  Don't think that we are dissing Guy.  We are grappling with the difficulty of living in an age of limits where one officially trumpeted narrative says limits don't matter and another narrative that say limits do matter, so much so that we're all doomed.  And, for people not living up to that official narrative, that alternate narrative can be very attractive, and I myself have certainly succumbed to it, although I see that this can be subtly destructive and lead to self-sabotage.

          11:15 KMO: Guy McPherson has about the most dire assessment of our predicament of any of the people we've just named. He is talking about near term human extinction before mid-century.  Not many people are willing to follow him there, including people considered doomers. ...

           JS: He gave two presentations ...

           17:25 KMO: One thing I wonder about, and its not necessarily tied up with Guy McPherson, he's the example right now who takes a very pessimistic view ... He left a very good teaching position at a University.  He was a tenured professor.  He was teaching honors students and prisoners and he was getting paid 6 figures a year to not to come to work and teach in his own department where he had been banned.  He had it pretty easy and he walked away and he built what many would pejoratively label as a doom-stead.  He was building something that he was hoping would endure.  He was doing it sort of racing against the clock because he thought industrial civilization was going to crash.  He thought it was going to crash in short order. It doesn't seem that it {industrial civilization} is going to any time in the near future, and so he has gravitated towards near term human extinction due to run-way climate change....  One has to wonder if there is some element of wish-fulfillment there.  It was such an abusive and unjust system that he walked away from and he cannot imagine it continuing that he will give a better and more patient hearing to any story of coming to an end soon. 

         JS: Yeah that was his second presentation.  And you know I felt somewhat sad listening to that presentation of his as did many other people. ... He characterized what he did or what he has done as being something of a failure.  And my sense was, my interpretation, was that he may have been seeking a kind of external validation for his efforts.  He presented three reasons for why he characterized it as a failure.  One was that wanted to divorce himself from empire and he has not effective done so.  .... The second thing was resistance.  It sounded like he wanted to set an example for other to emulate, and there hasn't been that kind of emulation.  There isn't a Guy McPherson movement! ... Also he cited an unfortunate development in his living situation there.... he described a situation of some tension I guess to put it mildly that had developed between him and those that share the domicile with him.... and that is disappointing to him.

KMO himself recently moved from the “Farm,” a former hippy commune in rural Tennessee, to one center of empire, New York City. 

Here he is in this technically poor, but still interesting interview with Kathy “peak shrink” Kathy McMahon from January 2013:

KMO: When we spoke in 2008, I was married and I was living near Chesapeake City, Maryland, where I am right now and since then I spent two years in rural Tennessee and now I have been living in New York City for about nine months.  My life is much better than it was in 2008.

KMM: It is interesting that we try and imagine what the future is going to hold and this is an interesting conversation to start out with. We try as humans to imagine what the future is going to hold, and I think that we do a pretty lousy job of it...
... one of the things I noticed while I was giving a talk was the people didn’t get particularly excited or involved with my conversation about bad things that are going to happen that are not dramatic. I other words they tended to be looking for dramatic collapse instead of the story I reason feel is important to tell, which is the “sucky” kind of collapse. 

The kind of collapse where your can of tuna and spaghettios shrinks, but the price stays the same. And your cost of electricity just continues to go up.  And your boss is expecting more work from you every week, and not paying you any more, or, is cutting your pay, or, not giving you raises the way you might have gotten ten years ago.  It’s interesting to me that when you tell a story that 80-90 percent of the forests are gone, that 6-90 percent of the fish in the ocean are gone—and that these have pragmatic as well as dramatic impacts on people—somehow  that message does not seem to be as ear-catching as “next Tuesday the world is going to collapse.”
One of the fantastically amazing things about being human, is that we initially face trauma, and then, if the trauma goes no long enough ... we change our selves when the external world doesn’t change.  One of the most used and effective strategies for families in trouble is what we call reframing.  They just begin to say, well you know what, the price of gas is 3.75, 4, dollars, but I suppose it keeps us all more at home more frequently. Or, it allows us to look at what we really value and now we are not wasting as much money as we used to.  Or, we don’t have the money to go out to eat and as a result we are loosing weight as a result of this.  So what used to be a trauma suddenly is reframed into the “hidden good” the positive aspects, and, we just begin to accept it.

I imagine that KMO’s move to New York coincides with the ending of any notion on his part that there would be a rapid economic or civilization crash, at least in the USA, any time soon.  KMO has pretty well adopted the notion of a long decent, such as articulated by John Michael Greer.   If collapse is going to unwind over decades of time, then we all have to accept it and get on with our lives despite the ongoing problems. 

Here is Kathy McMahon, in another interesting February 2013 interview with Alex Smith, talking about her idea of “sucky collapse,” but also discussing the respective moves of the host and interviewee, in opposite directions (~43:00 min mark):

AS: I plan to leave the big city in 2014.  I’m going to keep doing the radio show from a rural village where I can grow some vegetables and be more in touch with nature.  That’s partly insurance against what I see as the developing decline, whether it’s slow or fast. You know some people how are leaving that rural area and are coming back city.  Do you want to tell us about that?

KMM: Well I was surprised in my interview with KMO that he’s left the Farm, in Tennessee, and moved to New York City.  He lives in Brooklyn at this point, and has really a cosmopolitan lifestyle that he’s groovin’ on that he’s digging it.  
For myself, one of the things that I came to the conclusion on after thinking a lot; a lot of things came together with Nicole Fosses visit.  One of the things that really became clear to me is that me are living in an enormous house, we’ve got nine acres.  We’re surrounded by three sides, actually fours sides, by woods—you can’t see our house from the road. We have the ability to farm.  We had chickens, geese, at one time, we have able the ability to cut our own firewood to heat our stove.  We have food stored and all that kind of stuff. 

But, what we realized was that despite all of that, as we are aging, one of the real advantages is to be in a small city or a large town, and, be able to be within walking distance of other people and activities.  We are kind of bucking the trend—we are going from a really rural environment to not as large as New York City, but, a walkable small city.  That’s been an enormous shift for us and our thinking and it has really shaken us up in terms of the way we had traditionally thought and planned about what the future holds.  We’ve prepared for a future that now we are going to have to completely revamp what our goals are.  ... We are entering into our 60’s and for us the firewood could be there and ready, but if you are not capable and skilled to cut it down an bring it in—that’s a problem.  And if you are 40-50 minutes away from any kind of a food store and you have a bad harvest one year, that puts you into a very difficult position as the price of gas continues to go up.  ... We are hoping to dramatically downscale and live in a much small place and be at a walkable location where our output {consumption} of fossil fuels will be dramatically less.  And with some fear and trepidation we are looking forward to investing into a community again and doing more work and being part of a small city part of the life of a large town. 

Maybe Kathy’s high hopes for her move is just a demonstration of reframing, since this is likely going to be an expensive and time-consuming, and perhaps, one-way move. 

But, it does demonstrate the point that, if you believe that decline will occur over decades, then you should think about how and where you plan to grow old in the middle of a long “sucky collapse.”

Incidentally, KMO is still releases free episodes to the world wide web, but, has now created a C-realm vault with content behind a pay-wall. 

The move to NYC and setting up a pay wall demonstrates, that if there is going to be a long, slow, sucky collapse, then we are all going to have to figure out how best to continue living, i.e., making money, in the midst of it.  

Switching towards being a pay site, in my opinion, eventually, inevitably means that the best material gets held back for those “paying” customers while the free material tends to degrade.

For Chris Martenson’s website, for example, this means presenting “teaser material” for free in “part 1,” and leaving the rest of story, including advice, in “part 2,” behind a pay wall.   

My blog’s name is derived from the user name I created at Martenson’s former site while, in 2008, Chris was still putting out parts of his multiple part series the “crash course” which I am happy to see is still free online.  The crash course’s punch line was how the next 20 years were going to be completely different than the last twenty years, and how this would really start to manifest during the 20-teens—that is, right about now.   Things have changed somewhat in the intervening seven years, but much more gradually than I think Martenson was expecting, at least back then.  Indeed, a few years ago, Martenson entered into a new business partnership with Adam-Taggart and the site was renamed to suggest a shift towards a more positive tone, and, to becoming a profitable business.  

For Jim Puplava’s financial sense news hour, the move towards being a paid subscriber site has meant still putting out weekly free content, but putting most guest interviews behind a pay wall.  I don’t listen to Puplava much anymore as I found the free content to be repetitive.  But, I did listen to two interviews with Eric Townsend from July and August of this year.  These shows suggest that Puplava’s assessment of the risk of near term collapse have been significantly downgraded. 

Puplava seem to have become a full fledged cheer-leader for investing in stocks—especially blue chip high dividend paying stocks.  He dismisses the budget deficit, currency collapse, hyperinflation, the housing market, declining treasury purchases etc... as likely to cause a sharp decline or collapse for several years or maybe decades to come.  What about peak oil?— shale/tight oil boom will forestall peak oil for decade or so.  What about gold?—for a decade, Jim touted gold as an excellent investment, but now he thinks that gold, if not out-right confiscated, will be indirectly confiscated via taxes.

My sense is that Jim or PSF Group has shifted away from a fundamental analysis of the economy to more of a technical trend analysis to inform it’s investment decisions. 

For some completely opposite view points then Puplava’s, I think, based more on a fundamental analysis of the economy, here’s Martenson predicting the S&P500 falling 40% by fall.

Or, listen/read the guys at McAlvany:

Kevin: Let’s just bring this into the current market. Dave, we are being told that we are in this roaring bull market in the stock market, but every signal out there is telling the person who actually is observing that this is the makings of a bear market, not a bull.
David: And it is a bet on recovery. It is a hope for recovery, and certainly the one element there that is predictable is the money printing. We are running out of buyers. We are running out of people to come in and buy the stock market, but we are not yet running out of money, because the Fed has made its commitments, and at this point, has done nothing to reduce its commitments....

Kevin: Last week, Dave, the failure in Detroit was new information. But since then we’ve seen The Economist magazine come out and talk about the rest of the states around the country. And of course, then we have national pension plans to look at, when you try to stimulate the economy, to try to get the growth that we had over the last few decades, and it’s just not happening. These pension funds are already underfunded, but they are certainly not getting any gain from the equities market.
David: ... It’s not just Detroit-centric. It is a far more pervasive issue. Where are the other pensions in the country? Everywhere. Every state, every teacher’s pension. In every state of the union you have that. There are the commonly made mistakes of over-estimating growth rates on the assets in the pension basket. That’s a common mistake. But the universal curse, and actually, the universal cure, is far more simple.
David: .... GDP is now a statistic which is back again, the Commerce Department, the Bureau of Economic Analysis as a subset to the Commerce Department, is doing a major overhaul of the way they classify components in GDP, and that is happening this week.

The last time this was done, you mentioned 1999, that’s when software was converted from a company expense to an investment, and thus, it created a boost to GDP, categorized as an investment. Again, it goosed the GDP statistic higher. Now, there is going to be a host of new “investments” which were previously counted as expenses, and this is so critical, with the net effect being an improvement in GDP by as much as 3%.
David: I’m flabbergasted. This is really what’s scary. All our GDP stats will be adjusted going back to 1929, with many of the previously documented recessions simply disappearing, because again, if there is a larger economy, things appear to be growing instead of contracting in certain years, the improvement to the GDP statistic is something that will literally cause a softening of all those past blows. You may have remembered recessions in the 1970s, or in earlier periods in U.S. history. Guess what? In the light of history, they won’t be as severe. Why? Because we will see in these new components, which were a part of the economy, as it is retold. This is such revisionist history, but because of the improvements discovered and implied retroactively, back to that timeframe, I kid you not, this week marks a massive revision in economic history....

Or, read Bit Tooth Energy’s cautionary tale evolves over shale gas or watch this Shale Truth Interview Series, of energy analyst, Arthur Berman discussing shale/tight oil in the USA.  The point is that shale/tight oil companies in the USA are losing money or at least not making money from these oil plays—as he says, some of these companies are “train wreaks.”  At some point, maybe sooner than later, if investors pull out their money, then these companies will fold and along with it the oil being produced.  Alternatively, if oil produced from shale/tight oil becomes profitable because the price of oil goes up then this will put the breaks on any kind signs of nominal economic growth.   

Perhaps Puplava would acknowledge all of this, but, then argue that it doesn’t matter, because the present trend is for the stock market going up and there is nothing else that looks more worthy of investment at this time, and, not investing in the market over the last 4-5 years would have meant missing a substantial investment return.   Don’t fight the fed.

For me these differences in opinion drive home the point, that regardless current trends, or the pronouncements of pundits, it is important to maintain a balanced investment portfolio—but that’s a topic for another day.

To me, oil shale or tight oil is analogous to a hidden, stubble form of inflation that we having happening all around us.   Consumer products, like packaged food, might be sold at the same price or slight higher price, but the content inside the package is shrinking. 

Oil production from shale/tight oil formations in the USA might lead to a few million barrels of additional oil production per year, and that oil might get sold at about the same price as any other barrel oil.  However, much more energy went into producing that barrel from shale/tight oil as oil produced from conventional oils well.  So while the “size of the package” of oil being produced in the USA might look the same, it costs a lot more to produce it.  At the moment, that extra production cost is not being directly passed on to the end user.  Rather, it is the investors in these shale/tight oil “plays” that are paying the price in the form of purchasing the shares of stock of the energy companies. 

Finally, I can see that governments can and will keep up some facade of nominal fake economic growth for some period, by printing money, reporting bogus statistics about the economy and allowing to big-to-fail companies to lie about their “assets” and engage in insider or high-frequency trading. But I am very skeptical that there can be any form of economic growth without a concurrent rise in rate of energy consumption.  For the most part, that means consuming fossil fuels to generate more electricity (gas and coal) or enable more transportation (oil) per capita.  Therefore, if the world is at a peak in ability to extract net energy from fossil fuels per capita, then the world is also at a peak in ability to have more real economic growth. Maybe there is something better to invest in.  But again, I drift...

The point here is that if investment companies like PFS want stay alive by attracting and retaining paying investors, then eventually they will have to paint a positive investment picture and show positive short-term investment returns, albeit nominally positive returns.  So, if the price of gold goes down, and stock go up, then you had better recommend stocks. 

The final example that I will give in this post is the announcement that The Oil Drum form (TOD)  will go into archive mode at the end of August.  I was going to TOD fairly regularly but have stopped for the past few years.  I was always amazed at how some articles could generate hundred of comments—how did people have time to do this, I would wonder. 

George Mobus’ comment on the demise of TOD helped me understand why might have I stopped going to TOD routinely. 

My chief interest was and continues to be net energy available to do economic work (useful or not). It is net energy, especially net energy per capita, that is the governing factor in economic health. In my opinion, it has turned out that focus on peak oil has been a distraction from the core of understanding what is ailing the world. Most of my articles were about this.
During this time, and unbeknownst to me, there were some philosophical counter currents in the staff in terms of what TOD should be and what its mission should focus on. In the end some of the longer-term editors decided that technical issues with peak oil were the raisons d’être for TOD and they would no longer consider what were for them side issues, e.g. the economic implications of energy, energy return on energy invested, and very definitely collapse of civilization. Several editors who had been responsible for posting articles in these arenas, including hosting my guest posts above, found themselves in a reduced influence status and subsequently have faded from active posting. Some have gone to their own blog sites.

From Mobus’ comment, I can see that most of the topics I write about probably would have not been welcomed on TOD. 

Among the 130 comments following of the announcement, I see JanLars Mueller’s  comment that ASPO USA intends to set up a new form “a focus on technical oil and gas issues, but will focus in particular on the nexus of energy/oil and the economy, with additional content on energy-related security and environmental issues.”  Unlike TOD however, ASPO-USA is a paid member site, so it will interesting to see how open this forum or any similar attempt becomes, if and when it gets off the ground.