Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Olduvai cliff: are the lights going out already?




Image from Li and Li, "international journal of remote sensing." h/t Colonel Cassad". The image shows the nighttime light pattern in Syria three years ago (a) and today (b).


Those among us who are diehard catastrophists surely remember the "Olduvai Scenario" proposed by Richard Duncan in 1989. The theory is a version of the peak oil idea, but focused on electricity production. It says that the gradual depletion of fossil fuels and mineral resources will gradually lead us back to the stone age ("Olduvai" from the area inhabited by our australopithecine ancestors). According to Duncan's update of his theory, the start of the precipitous decline ("Seneca style") might have started around 2012.


 
Clearly, we are not there, yet, and the new stone age still seems to be far away. But, there are some ominous symptoms that something bad this way comes. I stumbled into pictures of Syria now and three years ago, and they are impressive. The lights are going out there, already. And note that it was obvious from the beginning that the decline was to be accompanied by wars and internecine strife; just as what's happening in Syria. Surely, two pictures don't mean that the catastrophists are right; but surely they provide food for thought.








15 comments:

  1. Ugo, here in Britain we keep being informed that there is 'no chance' of blackouts this winter - despite the operating margin for electricity production being razor thin due to plant outages and shutdowns.

    And then today, from the power distribution company, everyone in my area received a glow in the dark fridge magnet with instructions for what to do in case of a blackout.

    Just in case ...

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    1. We received our fridge magnet yesterday in the Midlands. You can imagine how easy it will be to get through to that number in a blackout! And what will they say anyway? "Sorry you have no power" - yes really helpful! I just hope they are honest enough to allow planned power cuts rather than sudden blackouts.

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  2. Did the lights go out in Libya and Tunisia? I'm assuming Egypt is still floodlit.

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  3. I love this passage from his work, written in 2001:
    "Although all primary sources of energy are important, the Olduvai theory identifies electricity as the quintessential end-use energy of Industrial Civilization...[A]ccording to the Olduvai schematic, world energy production per capita will decrease...[then] there will be a rash of permanent electrical blackouts worldwide. Consequently the vital...functions—communication, computation, and control—will be lost.
    ...Mother Nature then solves for us the (apparently) insuperable problem of the Tragedy of the Unmanaged Commons, which the human race seems either incapable or unwilling to solve for itself.
    Governments have lost respect. World organizations are ineffective. Neo-tribalism is rampant. The population is over [seven] billion and counting. Global warming and emerging diseases are headlines. The reliability of the electrical power networks is failing. And the instant the power goes out, you are back in the Dark Ages."

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  4. China is the one to watch here, if you can see the lights through the Smog.

    Electricity production YoY negative growth now.

    http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-RjQBASNXImk/VC2K8ienenI/AAAAAAAADn0/2ymrxt_Pldo/s1600/photo.PNG

    RE

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  5. "Duncan's update" link doesn't work.

    Is it this?
    http://www.thesocialcontract.com/pdf/twentythree-two/tsc_23_2_duncan.pdf

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    1. @eduard please no alien politics links...it discredict the idea behind ressource limits

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  6. But the other countries have the same light than before. It seems civil war is the reason for their "unlighting".
    And yea, peak oil might have an indirect influence in Syria civil war.

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    1. Yes, of course. Lights go off because of the war. But what's the reason for the war?

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  7. I'm not sure that most people would accept Syria as evidence on account of the war. People could be hiding the light to avoid detection, or be in bomb shelters or it could be damage to infrastructure. Now if there was a similar shift in Italy or UK.........which there could be this winter as Jason has mentioned, then that would tell a different story.

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  8. Richard Duncan's predictions are substantially different than those made by the Club of Rome group (1972 study, 20 year update, etc.), or most recently, by Jorgen Randers in his book "2052" . All of the studies predict a serious decline of industrial civilization during this century, but Duncan's prediction is the most dire. He might be right. The interdependency of the global economy is alarming (transportation networks, communication networks, timely extractive activities, maintenance of infrastructure, etc.) and few nations are anywhere close to resilient with respect to shocks to their economies resulting from resource depletion or even climate change. There are too many things that can go wrong. Incipient collapse can feed back on itself and the process could accelerate. I feel sorry for all the young people in this world that will have to suffer through this tragedy or die as a result of it.

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  9. I read that Syria (in)civil war /insurrection/ revolution/ protest movement, among other factors of political / religious and ideological disgruntlment was influenced also by some years of mass immigration in the biggest cities of sunni muslims from rural villages abandoned because of loss of grain harvests caused by drought, increased temperatures, loss of fertility, desertification, which means exactly Climate Change / Global warming in action, caused by excess of greenhouse gas (Co2 etc) caused itself by the excess of the booming population multiplied by the increased per capita consumption. Also the booming local population with high proportion of young people lacking prospects of employment is a thrust toward belligerancy (preference for violent solutions and war) according to a widely circulated theory about the problems caused by rapidly increasing population.

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  10. Traducción al español..

    El acantilado de Olduvai: ¿empiezan las luces a apagarse ?

    Publicado por Ugo Bardi



    Imagen de Li y Li ", revista internacional de la teledetección." h / t Coronel Cassad ".(vínculo) La imagen muestra el patrón de luz nocturna en Siria hace tres años (a) y hoy (b).


    Aquellos de nosotros que somos catastrofistas acérrimos seguramente recuerdan el "Escenario de Olduvai" propuesto por Richard Duncan en 1989. La teoría es una versión de la idea pico del petróleo, pero se centró en la producción de electricidad. Se dice que el agotamiento gradual de los combustibles fósiles y recursos minerales gradualmente nos llevará de nuevo a la edad de piedra ("Olduvai" de la zona habitada por nuestros antepasados australopitecos). De acuerdo con la actualización de su teoría de Duncan, el inicio de la caída precipitada ("estilo de Séneca") podría haber comenzado alrededor de 2012.



    Está claro que no estamos allí, sin embargo, y la nueva edad de piedra todavía parece estar muy lejos. Sin embargo, hay algunos síntomas ominosos de que algo malo de este estilo viene. Me tropecé con fotos de Siria hace ahora tres años, y son impresionantes. Las luces van por ahí, ya. Y tenga en cuenta que era obvio desde el principio que el descenso iba a ir acompañada de guerras y luchas intestinas; al igual que lo que está sucediendo en Siria. Sin duda, dos fotos no significan que los catastrofistas tienen razón; pero seguro que proporcionan alimento para el pensamiento.

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Who

Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome and the author of "Extracted: how the quest for mineral resources is plundering the Planet" (Chelsea Green 2014)