Cassandra has moved. Ugo Bardi publishes now on a new site called "The Seneca Effect."

Friday, December 29, 2017

An Open letter to the School of Public Health, UQ, re: the looming net energy cliff

Geoffrey Chia publishes here the letter that he sent to his colleagues a few months ago. As you may have expected, he received no answer. But we know it is how it goes. So, here it is, for the record. Geoffrey Chia has also been the author of a previous post on "Cassandra's Legacy" (UB)

Open Letter To: Staff of the School of Public Health,
University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia, August 2017

From: Dr Geoffrey Chia, MBBS, MRCP, FRACP

Re: The looming Net Energy Cliff, Global Economic/Industrial collapse and Human Die-off

"infinite consumption from a finite resource base is impossible"
Dear Colleagues,

I am a Cardiologist who convened the group "doctors and scientists for sustainability and social justice" in Brisbane from 2006 to 2013 I am writing to your department in the virtually forlorn hope that a tiny handful of you may open your eyes to the most urgent public health issue we face, which will horrifically accelerate human suffering and die-off within a decade1. The effects are already being felt in many parts of the world, masquerading as global economic recession2 or the collapse of certain Middle Eastern societies. This issue has been ignored, denied and dismissed for years by "endless growth" economists and other flat earthers, but denial does not make a problem go away. I refer to the looming catastrophic curtailment of liquid hydrocarbon fuels, the "net energy cliff" that we face in the near future, which will trigger ever more wars (perhaps even nuclear war), cause global economic and industrial collapse, and cause the die-off of billions of people worldwide.

The countries most addicted to petroleum will be hardest hit and Australia will be no exception.
Climate catastrophe is undoubtedly the greatest existential threat to humanity. Despite a huge campaign of deceit and denial perpetrated by the commercial media bankrolled by fossil fuel interests, it can no longer be ignored, now that we see ferocious firestorms burning communities to the ground or torrential floods sweeping through countries or unprecedented droughts, heat waves and storms year upon year. The horrific humanitarian consequences of sea level rise alone boggle the mind, let alone the devastation of our food bowls and other impacts3. However blinkered focus on climate disaster alone, without examining all aspects of the limits to growth, will result in everyone being blindsided by this more urgent public health issue. Especially because mitigation against climate disasters (fueling the fire fighting vehicles and aircraft, relocating and rehousing communities etc) will depend on energy we will not have. The looming collapse of industrial civilisation due to the net energy cliff will curtail fossil fuel emissions far more precipitously and effectively than any greenie campaigning or the Paris Accords can ever achieve.

Why should you listen to anything I say? Because I cite robust information and analyses from honest independent researchers (not corrupted by business interests), views based on hard mathematics and the laws of Physics, every bit as indisputable as the law of Gravity4,5,6. I have repeatedly invited scientists and engineers to try to falsify these arguments, which they have been unable to do. "Sustainability" activists frequently state that "infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible" which is absolutely true. Equally true is the fact that "infinite consumption from a finite resource base is impossible". Our supply of "easy" oil is finite, is depleting in a non-linear fashion (net energy availability declines slowly at first, then abruptly falls off a cliff) and we cannot run industrial civilisation without it. It is a fact that we have overshot the carrying capacity of this planet and there will be hell to pay when the "easy" oil suddenly dries up and we face cold turkey withdrawal.

Contrary to the technofantasists, we have no upscalable alternatives6. Unconventional oil is a scam and those who promote it are liars or fools7,8 Current low oil prices have emboldened the peak oil deniers and led to widespread complacency. However low prices are largely due to demand destruction, not oil overproduction. Low prices do not change the reality of ongoing, relentless, terminal depletion of conventional oil.

Prior to the global financial crisis of 2008, a tiny handful of individuals who looked at the hard data predicted that a looming sudden financial crash was inevitable. The only uncertainty was the exact timing. Meanwhile the majority herd of sheeple continued to place blind faith in a fraudulent system without looking at any data. The same situation exists today with crooked financial shenanigans based on bogus claims about unconventional oils made by deceitful commercial interests8.
I expect most of you will ignore this message and bury your head in the sand.

You will only have yourself to blame when food vanishes from the supermarket shelves, mountains of garbage pile up in your neighbourhood and centrally controlled services grind to a halt with dry taps at home, unflushable toilets and failure of the electric grid6. If the impending population cull results in the die-off of stupid people, biologists will simply attribute that to natural selection at work. If you open your eyes however, you will discover how feasible it is to protect yourself and your family from the worst effects of collapse, provided you plan in advance9. But time is short. The tiny handful of you who are sapient enough to apprehend this vital reality must spread this message to other potentially sapient people and you must incorporate Peak Oil studies where they firmly belong: as an integral and essential part of the Public Health education and research curriculum. I can only speculate why so-called "centres of learning" like UQ have essentially ignored this massive elephant in the room10.

What about the risk of spooking the herd and causing a mass stampede by sending out this message? I have been a voice in the wilderness for more than a decade regarding this matter and despite meeting with and writing to politicians, doctors, scientists and engineers, have achieved no traction11. I know of only a few sapients who are truly aware of this issue, who can be counted on the fingers of an amputated hand. Richard Heinberg reckons that less than a million people worldwide actually understand how dire the near future is going to be.

It is irrelevant if the vast majority of sheeple believe that the Earth is flat. If the data and evidence show that the Earth is round, then it is round and the majority sheeple are clueless and deluded. Truth is not determined by democratic vote nor majority opinion of the masses, it is determined by objective scientific scrutiny. The herd mindset has been completely captured by trivial drivel and monumental deceit perpetrated by the establishment media (who propagated the criminal "WMDs in Iraq" lies). Those corporate lackeys dismiss realists such as myself as "alarmists", to which I respond: if a house is on fire, those who raise the alarm are acting to save lives, but those who deny it are murderers.

Listen or don't listen, live well or die miserably when the crunch comes, it is up to you.

G. Chia Aug 2017

  1. essential interview with energy expert Alice Friedemann:
  2. Former Queensland State Minister for Sustainability Andrew McNamara said to me years ago at a private meeting that he had no hope whatsoever that the political process will be able to address this issue. He should know, having tried his best during his time as Minister (he previously wrote a White Paper on Peak Oil vulnerability in Queensland with former Transport Minister Rachel Nolan, which was ignored). I was naively optimistic many years ago when Andrew and Rachel held office, that it may be possible for the majority of Australians to eventually transition to fossil fuel free sustainable lifestyles, guided by wise leadership and scientific recommendations. There is zero hope of that now and it is inevitable that the vast majority will die in chaos, perplexed and resentful that the promise of a flying car in every garage touted by the hubristic media was never delivered.


  1. US natural gas just hit another all time record:

    1. Consumption has been flat for at least two years. It is all to be seen whether this October blip means anything more than a blip

  2. Peak Oil protagonists have been warning us for decades starting all the way back to King M Hubbard himself. The simple truth is that they all have been wrong regarding the timing question. Undoubtedly, they will be proven right eventually. The real question is therefore how should we live in view of the inevitable depletion ? There are no really good answers to this important question. I have been following the peak oil debate for 20 years. It is unlikely that my life will be affected by the final outcome since I am already over 70 years old with a remaining life expectancy of perhaps 15 years. I tried to take advantage of my understanding of peak oil by restructuring my investments. The end result was that I suffered from huge losses by making wrong bets, bets I would never have made if I did not know about the peak oil issue. So knowing a lot about peak oil is not necesserily the best preparation for the uncertain future.

    1. I would be very interested in knowing how you restructured your invstments.

  3. Comment regarding the laws of physics and the looming net energy cliff:
    The amount of energy required for the extraction of oil can be made understandable in the following way:
    Earth interior and exterior are in thermal equilibrium, originated in millions of years. (except volcanic areas). This equilibrium is masked by a thermal gradient of about 35 K/1000m. Without human intervention the equilibrium and the gradient will last for further millions of years.

    If the earth surface gets heated and the interior gets cooled, the whole heat to do that must be delivered by external energy sources. The warmer the surface gets, the colder the interior gets, the more energy is necessary to overcome the temperature difference.

    It is the same as with an electronics capacitator. The work to load it is proportional to the voltage it already has. The stored energy is ½ C U^2.

    Oil extraction results in a heating of the earth surface, because oil is warmer than the earth surface. So we expect an always increasing temperature difference and an always increasing work to squeeze the oil out of the earth. At some point in time the work required will be as large as the chemical energy of the oil. To calculate this work the entropy rate balance equation for control volumes, which is the mathematical formulation of the second law of thermodynamics, can be used. This equation indeed results in a very steep cliff.

    A happy new year to all writing for and reading this blog !

    1. I doubt that the climate change on the surface of the earth is due to the fact that the oil pumped out of the deeper layers of the earth's crust is warmer than the surface of the earth. The volumes in question are not big enough in order to make a difference.

  4. Anonymous 2
    I know it's only passing comments on a blog but it's a sad note to take with me into 2018: I haven't a clue what you are trying to say. In particular, you write: "Oil extraction results in a heating of the earth surface, because oil is warmer than the earth surface."
    I think, on the other hand,I understand the difference between 'snowball earth' and the surface / atmospheric temperatures controlled by water vapour and regulated by trace non-condensing gases retaining solar input of radiation.

    Geffrey Chia
    As predicted in the 1980s and early 1990s, it has been a slow business seeing the 'climate signal' rise very gradually above the 'climate noise' of ‘normal weather’. Earlier climate science got it about right that high confidence that reality matched the predictive models would emerge sometime after the year 2000. I think sadly Geoffrey Chia makes an exaggerated claim about what we have seen so far in the way of storm, tempest and fire. Can somebody help him?
    Similarly, the mix of remaining fuels available to affluent countries, admittedly deteriorating, seems adequate to prop up public utilities for a while yet. Australia like my own country has serious public health issues related to lifestyle and modernised 'poverty' in late-phase industrialised urban life. ‘Emergency’ failures need preparation, but, short of war, society–wide breakdown like climate change is far more likely to be gradual over generations; i.e. removal of modern conveniences. Interestingly, Australia could learn that a leaner life as demonstrated in some poorer countries could turn round many health issues and at the same time prepare them for a fitter future as the oil age winds down.
    best for next year

    1. Yes, the comment by anonymous2 is nothing more than a passing comment. Maybe I shouldn-t have let it pass but, in the end, it makes little difference. We seem to be all lost in the face of the enormous things happening around us and some of us react a little strangely. So it goes

    2. Yes, of course, Ugo. We all have our moments. I look forward to reading your blog and all the comments next year!

  5. The famous physicist Stephen Hawking said a few years ago, that humanity has 1000 years left to escape the looming catastrophies on Earth. In his thinking, space and other planets are the solution to our problems. Just this summer, he revised his prediction, now saying that humanity has only 300 years left to escape Earth into space.

    Indeed, on a finite planet, there are only finite resources. So any form of energy relying on mining mineral resources is destined for failure sooner or later. The only alternative is either moving on to other planets and continue the game of extracting finite resources or, to learn to live within the limits of scarcity dictated by the size of our planet. The sun will continue to radiate solar energy for millions of years, which for practical purposes, means forever. In addition, the amount of solar energy hitting the earth is much larger than the energy requirements of humanity. So instead of lamnenting about peak oil and its consequences, we should be thinking about strategies how to increase the rate of captured and stored solar energy. In addition, we need to dramatically increase the efficiency of energy usage. Houses can be built which do not need energy for heating or cooling. Lots of energy is wasted in unnecessary transportation. We need more people working on these problems and fewer people writing on peak oil issues.

  6. Your graph indicates an EROEI of over 10 for Algal Biofuels. Do you have a source for that?

  7. Dear Dr Chia,

    You may be interested to know that I applied for the position of Associate Professor of Environmental Health at UQ in 2017. One of the stated reasons for my rejection was that my major research interest (Limits to Growth and health) was of no interest to them.

    Some of my many (more than 50) papers and chapters relevant to this topic can be accessed at


    Adjunct Prof Colin D Butler

  8. Nice to see that many people better placed in our hierarchies of importance have tried to raise the alarms. My personal failures are then insignificant. Our fore-knowledge of disaster is in the subconscious of many people, but we are animals that live in the current systems. The insouciance of elites is literally of biblical proportions, and the wrath of god (in reality physics and complexity) will apply to all of us and our descendants, which is what I picked up from younger years of biblical literature study. No consolation really. The implication is that everyone with more than average common sense secretly knew they were breaking system laws of sustainability, but as a social organisms in competitive short term survival mode we had to break the rules.



Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)