video review: Crude: The Incredible Journey of Oil by Richard Smith


I’ve watched a lot of good documentaries but this one produced in 2007 by Richard Smith for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is among the very best.

Usually, the more important a non-fiction work is, the more scientific disciplines the author integrates into a coherent story. In this case, Richard Smith does a remarkable job of weaving geology, chemistry, biology, thermodynamics, climate, history, and economics into a fascinating story that follows a carbon atom as it moves about the planet over the last 200 million years.

I often marvel at, and wonder how we were blessed with such a large quantity of crude oil which we have used to build an amazing civilization. This documentary does a very nice job of explaining how crude oil was formed 160 million years ago on a hot greenhouse planet with near dead and toxic oceans. The photosynthetic bacteria that converted CO2 and sunlight into the carbohydrates that later became crude oil acted to remove CO2 from the atmosphere thus cooling the planet and returning it to a healthy environment for complex oxygen breathing life like ourselves.

Humans are now reversing this process by burning fossil carbon and returning the CO2 to the atmosphere which may return the planet to an environment incompatible with civilization. Unless, ironically, we run out of oil first, which will also cause our civilization to collapse.

What’s different this time is that humans are doing in a hundred years what took geology thousands or millions of years in the past. This speed makes the outcome more difficult to predict but common sense suggests it’s unlikely to be good.

Given that 10 years have elapsed since the documentary was produced it’s a credit to Richard Smith that it’s still relevant and accurate, although it’s a concern to see how far we have unraveled in 10 years with melting poles, record temperatures, stalled economic growth, zero interest rates, money printing, failing oil companies, and global social unrest.

It’s also a concern, but expected in light of Varki’s theory on denial, that we collectively have not yet acknowledged our predicament, let alone taken any steps to make the future less bad.

Highly recommended!

If you’d like a higher quality version than what’s available on YouTube it has been recently ripped in HD and available as a torrent here.



By Chris Martenson: Signs of Distress

What if there’s nothing wrong with the people who are anxious or depressed, but the exact opposite is true; those who are cheerful and chipper are missing the plot?


The world is edging closer to the final moments after which everything will be forever changed. Grand delusions, perpetuated over decades, will finally hit the limits of reality and collapse in on themselves.

We’re over-budget and have eaten deeply into the principal balances of all of our main trust accounts. We are ecologically overdrawn, financially insolvent, monetarily out past the Twilight Zone, consuming fossil fuels (as in literally eating them), and adding 80,000,000 net souls to the planet’s surface — each year! — without regard to the consequences.

Someday there will be hell to pay financially, economically, and ecologically as there simply isn’t any way to maintain these overdrafts forever. Reality does not renegotiate. Its deal terms aren’t compromisable.

For those who have the neural plasticity to actually see what’s happening around us, the changes are already here, blatant and frightening. Younger folks, with their fresher eyes and fewer ties to the past, can see them a lot easier than their elders.

The prosperity enjoyed by the past few generations — especially the Baby Boomers — was stolen from future generations. All the while, they pretended as if their borrowing-heavy standards of living were the result of sheer genius and intelligence; like trust fund babies who mistake being born on third base for hitting a triple.

Young people have sussed this out; and are now pulling back from many of the principal occupations of their forebears — like marriage, babies and buying homes and cars. This perplexes older folks, who are beginning to find themselves increasingly at odds with the generations following after them.

Humans can be very very smart, but the flip-side of our ingenuity is our capacity for self-delusion. We’ve very consistently preferred to look past our faults. That can work for a while, but eventually an incomplete view will lead to a complete disaster. For example: depleting our topsoils today to grow more eventually leads to a collapse of our food system tomorrow. Similarly, increasing societal complexity ultimately drains the resources out of an empire, until it withers and fails. Such is what we can learn from history. Each of these examples is rooted in the self-delusion that today’s actions don’t have real consequences.

Monetary printing experiments like those currently being run by the world’s central banks are the ultimate form of self-delusion. Money is the most potent form of social communication, underlying all contracts and agreements. Violate those and literally everything falls apart, as we are seeing happen in real-time in Venezuela right now.

Money printing and its other historical debasement equivalents, serve to cover up (barely) critical signals. Derelict ideas that should die a quick death, instead, persist. Mis-priced money leads mal-investment (e.g., Italian junk debt selling with the same yield as ten year US Treasury debt!!). Extremely unfair redistributions of wealth from the bottom to the top result. Every. Single. Time. This time is no different.

By Ron Patterson: Africa in Peril


The wildlife decline in most of the world is terrible, but in Africa it is catastrophic. By 2100 there will be no megafauna whatsoever in Africa. All elephants, giraffes, rhinoceroses, lions, gorillas, chimpanzees, and even zebras and wildebeest will be totally extinct. And the culprit in this huge animal extinction is Africa’s massive overpopulation problem. It is terrible today but is about to get a whole lot worse.

The population of Africa, in 2016, was 1.22 billion. The UN estimates that in 2100 the population of Africa will be about 4.45 billion. Notice that is an increase of about 300 million from their estimate just five years ago. But their 2100 population estimate has doubled since their 1998 estimate.

In 2100 one African country, Nigeria will have a larger population than all of Europe combined.

The reason for this Sub-Sahara African population explosion is the decline in infant mortality rates along with their very high fertility rate. With the exception of South Africa, Sub-Sahara African women have 5.5 children (average) during their life. This rate has been slowly decreasing but not enough to decrease the population growth significantly.

The top 15 fertility rates in the world are all in Africa. The Sub-Saharan population is increasing at the rate of 2.5 percent annually. This is double the rate of both Asia and Latin America.

By 2100 there will be no megafauna whatsoever left in Africa except for humans and their domestic animals. Elephants, giraffes, rhinos, and even zebras and wildebeest will all be gone. And of course, all the big cats like lions and cheetahs will be gone as well. Even the hyenas will disappear because there will be no prey for the prey animals to feed on. However, a few wild dogs may remain as there will likely still be a few small ground animals for them to feed on.

Many will say that Europe is even more overpopulated than Africa. And this is true at this point in time. But that will definitely not be the case in the future. And remember that the wildlife in Europe is already gone except for small animals like rabbits and squirrels and a few foxes that prey on them. The wild European megafauna disappeared decades or even centuries ago. Okay, a few mountain goats, lynx other such animals still thrive high in the Alps. But wherever in Europe it is possible for humans to settle and farm, the megafauna has been driven out, usually to extinction. And that will soon be the case for Africa as well. The last habitat for megafauna, in Africa, Asia, and the Americas, is disappearing fast. It will soon be gone.

Extinction is permanent! If civilization survives another million years the elephants, giraffes, lions and all the other megafauna will still be gone. If you don’t think this earth has a very serious human overpopulation problem, then you are stone blind to the peril of our wildlife.

By Erik Lindberg: Economic Growth – A Primer


Erik Lindberg thinks and writes about many of the issues I think and write about. Two differences between us are that Erik is more intelligent and is a much better writer.

Here is the impressive catalog of Lindberg’s work.

His most recent essay is a primer on economic growth and discusses:

  • relationships between the economy, energy, and environment
  • why we like and want economic growth
  • why economic growth is the greatest threat to humanity
  • the magnitude of human overshoot
  • why improvements in efficiency won’t help
  • how and why money is created
  • why the design of our system is brilliant (on an infinite planet)
  • why the design of our system requires economic growth
  • why economic growth must end
  • why the end of economic growth will be very painful
  • why the next economic depression will be different
  • why it is difficult to switch to a new economic system
  • why no one is to blame

I wrote a similar essay here, but I think Erik’s essay is the most accurate, complete, concise, unbiased, and well written treatment of the topic I’ve seen.

For anyone seeking to understand the most important issue we face, this is one of the best places to start:

The only topic that Lindberg does not discuss to my satisfaction is why, despite overwhelming evidence, do we not acknowledge or discuss, let alone attempt to act on, our predicament?

Lindberg acknowledges that denial is the reason we ignore facts, but does not explain the ubiquity and strength of denial in an otherwise intelligent species.

I remain the only person I know of that thinks Varki provides the best explanation for our collective denial of reality.

By Nate Hagens: Blindspots and Superheroes

Here is this year’s Earth Day talk by Nate Hagens.

I used to preface Nate’s talks by saying he provides the best big picture view of our predicament available anywhere.

While still true, I think Nate may now be the only person discussing these issues in public forums.

Everyone else seems to have retired to their bunkers and gone quiet.

If you only have an hour this year to devote to understanding the human predicament and what needs to be done, this may be the best way to spend it.

You know you are in trouble when…

Examples of denial are both profound and unacknowledged.

The short-term solution to our problems is the long-term cause of our problems: economic growth

The long-term solution to our problems is the short-term cause of our problems: reduced consumption

All political parties in all countries and almost all citizens, including the few citizens that understand our predicament, reject our best course of action: austerity

Most citizens have no idea how fortunate they are to be alive at this point in history: Blindspots and Superheroes

Despite wildly different beliefs about our predicament, there is one thing that almost everyone agrees on: I don’t want to change my behavior

The only problems society does not acknowledge, or discuss, or act on, are the only problems that matter: species extinction, limits to growth, debt, peak oil, overshoot, resource depletion, climate change, sea level rise, fisheries collapse & ocean acidification, nitrogen imbalance & tree decline 

Every country has similar economic problems and not one leader anywhere in the world connects the dots and publicly acknowledges the root cause, even after they leave office: declining energy surplus a.k.a. energy extraction cost + debt

Citizens believe the exact opposite of reality: technology creates wealth and energy rather than energy creates wealth and technology

Citizens misunderstand the root cause of social unrest and wars because the media presents these conflicts as political or economic problems and ignores their underlying forces: biophysical constraints

There is evidence that feedback loops are taking over and causing some problems to go exponential: climate change, CO2 emissions, ice loss, sea level rise, debt

The previous year’s worst case predictions are tending to become this year’s most likely prediction: sea level rise

Actions that improve the long-term worsen the short-term: air pollution masks 0.5C of warming, austerity and debt reduction, renewable energy, population reduction 

The only possible permanent solution is rejected by the belief systems of 90+% of citizens: population reduction

The only possible permanent solution is too slow to avoid the worst problems: population reduction laws

Countries fortunate to have a low birth rate often cancel their good fortune with immigration: Canada

The few people who understand the severity of our problems do not set good examples in their personal lives: leaders, climate scientists, environmentalists

History suggests that the consequence of not voluntarily contracting our economies as non-renewable resources deplete is an unthinkable war, so we don’t think about it: nuclear weapons

The quality of our leaders is declining because those people with high intelligence, wisdom, and integrity do not want to be in charge of our predicament, and because citizens are feeling the impact of overshoot, do not understand what is going on, and are angry: Trump

The leader of the free world denies science and issues daily, jaw-dropping, cringe-inducing tweets: Trump

The one world leader that did understand the problem and spoke out was rejected by the citizens and no longer speaks out: Jimmy Carter

We do not acknowledge that the world’s economic problems began with the peaking of a key non-renewable resource: conventional oil

Low energy prices have led citizens to believe we have a glut of fossil energy when in fact: all types of energy have peaked

We do not discuss or act on economic history research that shows countries always get into serious trouble when they permit an important ratio to exceed a threshold we long passed: debt to GDP

Bankers, the creators of money, do not understand the one thing that creators of money should understand: thermodynamics of wealth

The professionals with the most influence on public policy use models that violate the most trusted laws of physics: economists

The scientific theory that explains the relationship between the economy, energy, and climate is ignored by everyone that should understand it: Tim Garrett

The people who deserve the most respect and admiration get the least: scientists

The people who deserve the least respect and admiration get the most: celebrities

All types of non-fossil energy do not provide a substitute for the only energy we can’t live without: diesel for trucks, trains, ships, tractors, and combines, and mining machines; plus natural gas for fertilizer

People who think the shale revolution will make America prosperous and energy independent ignore one thing: facts and more facts

Intelligent people who understand the climate change threats, like James Hansen and Bill Gates, and who want business as usual to continue, know that nuclear energy is the only option, but they ignore a problem: peak uranium

If climate deniers continue to win elections and try to maintain the existing electric grid they’ll find that strategy may not work for long: peak coal

A key component of our infrastructure appears durable but is not: reinforced concrete

Citizens most vulnerable to a fragile global supply chain with only a few days of inventory experience the strongest illusion of abundance and security: inhabitants of large cities

The “green” revolution, which increased food production to enable 7+ billion humans, was and is entirely dependent on fossil energy, and has long-term consequences that will make a return to traditional agriculture very difficult.

Most citizens are not even vaguely aware of the invention that enabled their existence and created about 50% of the nitrogen in their bodies: Haber-Bosch conversion of natural gas to fertilizer

Well meaning environmentalists demand that we stop subsidizing fossil energy companies without understanding the source of all that they cherish in modern civilization: fossil energy

Well meaning environmentalists demand that we stop subsidizing fossil energy companies without realizing that many fossil energy companies are going bankrupt: ExxonMobil

A solution frequently advocated makes things worse by accelerating growth and decreasing system resilience: efficiency

The best solution for removing CO2 from the atmosphere is being harmed by the same activity that creates CO2: planting more trees which are then injured or killed by ground level ozone

All climate science models that do not predict disaster now depend on an unproven technology that we probably can’t afford and other species definitely can’t afford: BECCS (bio-energy with carbon capture and storage)

We have not acted to prevent a predictable and very dangerous side effect of trying to maintain business-as-usual with low interest rates: increasing wealth gap

We still enjoy historically vast surplus wealth that could be deployed to improve our future lives but we are squandering it: military, airports, highways, new cars, high rises, etc.

Earth with its diverse complex life and a highly intelligent species is extraordinarily rare, precious, and worth fighting to protect, yet we dream of other barren homes: colonizing Mars

The tool that could be used to unite citizens in common purpose and useful action is instead being used to create tribes that reinforce preexisting beliefs: internet

Many people are hurting and lashing out in anger because they do not understand the cause of their pain: Brexit, Trump, Syria, Venezuela, etc.

The few sources of information that understand and communicate the truth are under threat: fake news

Few people study or heed the best predictor of the future: history

The majority of citizens share a common characteristic that makes the election of an intelligent and wise leader empowered to do the right thing unlikely: wacky beliefs

None of our schools teach skills useful and relevant to our future: growing food and other forms of lower complexity life skills

The thing that enabled the evolution of our high intelligence and its ability to understand and act on problems is the same thing that causes our problems and prevents us from acting on them: denial of reality

The theory that best explains our existence and our self-destructive behavior is ignored by everyone, including those people seeking to understand our problems: Varki and Brower’s denial of reality theory

Readers are encouraged to submit additions to the list.

By Chris Martenson: Dave Murphy Interview – Glyphosate: Unsafe On Any Plate

This interview by Chris Martenson of Dave Murphy on the health dangers and wide-spread use of glyphosate is the most persuasive case I’ve heard for eating organic food.

I have for a long time been puzzled by gluten intolerance. Our civilization was founded on wheat. It seems to me something important has changed.

A friend speculated that the problem is not gluten in wheat, but rather the glyphosate used to desiccate wheat, a relatively new farming practice, that is damaging vital flora in our gut.

That makes a lot of sense to me, and could explain why some people feel better when they stop eating wheat.

I don’t eat much wheat but I’m cutting out Cheerios and switching to organic oatmeal for breakfast.

See also…