Collapsing Down the Plum Tree

Having recently started this From Filmers to Farmers blog, one which quite often brings up the topic of peak oil, I was recently confronted with a question that I had unintentionally been avoiding for some time: Do I envision a fast collapse or a slow collapse?

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Hello Allan

Enjoyed reading your analogy drawn from a real world experience. Thanks for sharing this and the fast/slow summary, and the small dose of wisdom drawn from trying to get down a tree.

Your post reminded me to pull open the Dr. Dennis Meadows presentation from the 2014 Age of Limits conference. ( I attended two days, sorry we did not meet then, that I can recall). Dr. Meadows is one of the smarter guys around I think you will agree. I thought I would take the liberty to add a couple of notes of interest from that presentation/talk that might add to your slow/fast discussion.

As a “systems” guy, Dr. Meadows says that “Growth will stop when the pressure for and against it are equal. Thus the most intense problems will be felt before the end of physical growth, because that is when the most intense pressure for growth is exerted.” It feels like we are in that end period now, it is hard to know, and those of us who study these LTG issues are biased towards seeing things in this framework.

Dr. Meadows noted that “Shocks from positive loops tend to be fast” and he included the financial system as one of those positive loops. He also noted the problem of coupling the financial system to a slowly changing systems (such as mineral depletion) can cause the system to change abruptly.

Finally, if I remember correctly, he noted that the LTG model did not really speak to how things happen after we reach maximum growth and into collapse. That statement was surprising to me, because the standard BAU LTG scenario seems to project downward curves after peak. But perhaps there is no contradiction in that, as those curves project declines in physical things, without really speaking to “how”

I too am most perplexed by how the financial and economic system responds to the withdrawal of (net?) energy from the system. For now, my working assumption is that the financial system of today breaks, destroying most of the digital wealth markers that exist today, and then reconstitutes itself in some form for the ride down. The physical flows of BAU continues in some form, until, my guess only, we get abrupt climate change/droughts or a global-wide disaster in the oceans.

In any case, I (all?) need to spend more time thinking about how to get down from your “tree”



Thanks for those additions.

Although I don’t recall too much of Meadows’ talk, that’s an interesting point you bring up of his. If I gather correctly, perhaps one example of this final push of “most intense pressure for growth” can be said to be fracking, where much physical “pressure” must be exerted to extract that which allows for growth. I suppose you could call it desperation. But like you say, it’s hard to know whether or not we are in that end period now. Will Arctic drilling allow for yet another mad dash? Will the triaging of Greece and whomever else free up resources for more wealthy countries? My guess is as good as anybody’s I suppose.

I have a similar suspicion to yours regarding climate change. I get the impression that the effects of peak oil will be felt first, to be followed by even stronger effects (than what we are currently experiencing) of climate change. An unfortunate “kick 'em while he’s down” kind of thing.

And you were at Age of Limits in 2014, eh? Remember the part where we were told by Meadows to hold our hands apart and clap on “three”? Well, after he said “two” and then clapped, I was quick enough to notice and so not clap, but then a whole slew of people clapped, which somehow made me clap, then he said “three” (and a few people clapped). Whoops. Lesson learned, I hope.


Yes, I fell for the Meadows clap trick, like 99% of the rest. I always thought I was immune to herd behavior etc., but I yawn when other people yawn, and now I know I clap when other people clap, or at least, I disregard/mis-hear instructions the same way as everyone else. But at least we know that about ourselves?

I’ve a copy of the Dr. Meadows slides from that day, if you are interested. Regards. Shawn

Alan, I recommend a more thorough reading of Hubbert’s work, rather than focusing on the more censored version advertised by peak-oil centric internet sites.

Hubbert’s first claim of peak oil in the US took place in 1938, and it was supposed to happen in the US by 1950. His first explanation within the literature of peak profiles, including oil I believe, was in 1949. 1956 was him changing his original estimate, and quantifying it using the technique he had already published on in 1949.

In the 1956 paper you reference, Hubbert made 4 different peak oil predictions, 2 for oil in the US, 1 for gas in the US, and 1 for oil in the world. The single one you refer to is only 1 of a two scenario set. 3 of these 4 predictions were outright failures, and the one that peak oil fans advertise, the one you mention that the recent gains in oil production have discredited, is only 1 of 2 for US oil.

That “little blip” you refer too has also been called “the fastest oil production growth in United States history” by the Administrator of the EIA. You will understand if your “little blip” and his statement are compared in light of experience, information and qualifications in this characterizing this anomaly that has already discredited HUbbert’s one remaining, reasonably accurate, prediction.

Hopefully you will consider that Ugo Bardi’s years of no experience in the industry, no training within the professions within the industry, and ability to only create random all decline, all the time, always collapse faster scenarios in might be suspect. Hubbert was a geoscientist of the first order, and not a college professor with a habit of stretching the truth in an industry he is unqualified to comment on, let alone analyze.

If you have studied anything about peak oil with an objective bent, as opposed to it just being a cool idea to trigger a prayed and hoped for result, paragraphs 2,3 and 4 here are enough to convince most anyone that qualifications and experience in this regard truly matter.

Or maybe the thing is to try and slow oneself down. Like I said, I noticed what was going on, but then clapped anyway. Moreover, just before the clap thing I was also one of the people who volunteered to go up and do the finger-hula-hoop thing (or whatever that was). That’s something that I would rarely to never do (I usually prefer to observe and take it in), but figured that with a newly started website I should be extrovert-man! Bad idea, I think, and probably got me moving too quickly. Having seen Wendell Berry speak a few times, he can be really slow, but really on the mark when he does speak.

And sure, send the Meadows slides over. I think I did write down his email address but never did email him for whatever reason.

I should read up more on Hubbert’s stuff, and if I’m not mistaken, there’s also two biographies of his coming out soon. I look forward to them.

Sure, Hubbert’s predictions weren’t spot on (they were close), but what can you expect? As you say, they were scenarios, and they were based on the best data available at the time. Nonetheless, his scenario of a 1970 US peak actually came true. Is that to be discounted and pretended to not have occurred because other scenarios of his were a bit off? I think not. Then again, perhaps 1970 was a lucky guess. But again, does that discount that it actually happened?

Moreover, while you mention that the “little blip” (the fracking bubble) has been deemed “the fastest oil production growth in United States history” by an EIA administrator, it’s likely also going to be followed with the fastest crash in US oil production in history. That’s how fracking works. And where will that leave us?

Does any of that discount or “discredit” Hubbert’s writings? Certainly not. What it does mean is that Hubbert didn’t have a crystal ball and so was unable to predict every little detail along the way. If you really expect that such long-term predictions can be accurately made to the decimal place, you’re surely going to be in for a round of disappointment.

“Hopefully you will consider… Ugo Bardi’s years of no experience in the industry… an industry he is unqualified to comment on, let alone analyze.”

Ugo Bardi’s? What about my experience of no years in the industry and unqualifications? Do I think that that should hamper me from looking at various points of view and forming my own opinions? Certainly not. In fact, I tend to think it’s a good idea. If not I’d be little more than an automaton, “objectively” deferring my mind out to supposed experts, in the meantime all too excited with how much they were willing to pay me or how many bread and circuses they were willing to supply me with.

Likewise, and as I said in the post, if you’re up a tree and make it a point to avoid looking down, or even go so far as to deny that you’re up a tree in the first place, well, look out.

UPDATE 18/05/2015: Not only are there two biographies on Hubbert that I know are coming out, but I just noticed that a comic strip about Hubbert’s story came out the other day. If that’s your thing, it’s worth checking out – Peak Oil: A Graphic Story.

A biography by Mason Inman being one of those two perhaps?

Yeah, Mason Inman’s Oracle of Oil is one of them (although I just read on his Twitter page that it’s now due 2016). Supposedly there’s another one coming out by a Canadian (and I don’t mean me), this year, but that’s all I know.

Hello, RGR. Thanks for noting my shortcomings - we all have plenty and maybe I have more than others. Still, for the record, I feel that I could note that I worked for some 10 years in industrial projects related to oil refining and some 20 years in joint projects with the aerospace industry. So, maybe I know a tiny bit of what industry is and how it operates. Just a little note and thanks for your interest!

It always amazes me the lengths that otherwise intelligent people will go to in an effort to discredit peak oil. It’s such a simple concept! You have a glass of water, imagine that you are God and the glass contains all of the water that you have created. When you drink all of the water it’s gone (although admittedly, pending you are an anthropomorphic god, you will pee a good bit of it back out and so this analogy does fall apart).

Fossil fuels are finite. When we use them all there is no replacement. We can’t have infinite growth on a finite planet. So on and so forth. These are simple concepts to get, but the psychology of previous investment and normalcy bias get in the way.

For the record…they don’t count our votes. We have a Corporatocracy.

I’d gotten halfway through your first paragraph and thought, “yeah, and if course the reply will be ‘then use a hose to fill it up again!’”, i.e. technology. Then I read the red if the paragraph. LOL.

And based on the timing of your comment I’m presuming your last sentence was in reference to that Divide and Distract post of mine. Well, what do you know, Trump actually won. I knew he’d win if it was all on the up and up, but I really didn’t think he was “supposed” to win. And what do you know, he actually won.

Democracy works?