By Dr John Sydenham 02/01/2023
Global society faces stasis or collapse. We do not know exactly when this prediction will happen but it will happen in the next 10 years and possibly begin this year.
The immediate cause of the problem is climate change. This is creating huge uncertainty in the fossil fuel market place. There is also a lack of easily available fossil fuels so the extraction cost has moved slightly upwards and this has a surprisingly large effect on the economics of the world.
The rise in the cost of energy is being blamed on the Ukraine war. This is a correct explanation of some of the sudden price "spikes" seen in the graph below but the underlying price of energy rose before the war.
Source: Trading Economics
Since 2019 the underlying cost of energy has risen by 400%. The superficial cause of the rise in energy costs in 2021 was an under investment in maintenance. Massive maintenance projects were outstanding:
The maintenance delays were due to under investment and the cause of the high energy prices was under investment. Not just in maintenance but in exploration and exploitation. The reason for this under investment was the need to switch to sustainable energy sources.
The best way to understand what happens as investment and energy flows change is to use Global Systems Models. These are computer models that dynamically calculate how a change in parts of the global economy will affect the whole economy. The most famous of these Models, called "World3", successfully predicted the current problem with energy supplies in 2014 (Turner 2014). The problem is not that oil and gas run out, it is that we need to divert investment from oil and gas at the same time as extraction costs are increasing. This leads to a very bumpy ride for the global economy because if demand falls (such as during COVID) the investment continues to fall and when demand revives production capacity is low so prices skyrocket as supply fails to meet demand.
The Global Systems Models show that it is not just energy supply that creates a problem for the global economy. As the economy changes to be sustainable various metals and other resources experience the same problems as energy and these problems also occur in the service sector (ie: garages will close and the great car economy will stumble). Extracting some resources is also becoming very expensive (Copper, Phosphorus etc.)
So two things are happening. The biggest change at present is the move to a sustainable economy but the cost of resource extraction is already causing problems and in a few years will cause enormous problems. On top of these immediate economic factors we have created an ecological crisis where nature is in steady decline from loss of worm populations to loss of wild forests.
How serious is the economic and social collapse? Provided we do not take any really bad economic decisions it is a disaster in 2040. The graph below suggests that around 2025-2030 there may be a global food crisis and by 2040 industrial output will crash:
Source: Herrington 2021
However, if we reverse some of the current policies in response to the energy crisis we will return to earlier models of the evolution of the global system. The crashes happen earlier:
The economic collapse may happen by 2030, possibly starting now. Notice that a rapid collapse causes less pollution and hence less climate change. In some ways it may be our best option.
There does not seem to be any way out of this disaster. We should have acted to stop population growth in the 20th century but now it is too late. The models show that even introducing comprehensive technology has little effect. The models suggest that by changing our social system it might be possible to ameliorate the worst effects but Global Systems Models cannot really cope with authoritarian governments and miss the massive problems they create (The Aral Sea, Chernobyl, Lop Nor etc). Proposing authoritarian solutions because it is remotely possible that this might result in enforcement of the right decisions is a dreadful error.
Journalists failed to believe that climate change was happening and allowed themselves to be diverted by the International Business Interests that caused the problem. They are now completely ignoring this other strand of scientific prediction and setting us up for catastrophe. The UK is well placed to confront the coming disaster provided it keeps its population below 70m (and reduces it) and invests in self reliance such as ensuring a base level of strategic industries and nuclear power.
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