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 www.chrismartenson.com, and then proprietor of his own blog, www.psychopathiceconomics.com, 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 crash.net. 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 www.crismartenson.com 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 www.peakprosperity.com 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’ĂȘtre 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.