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28 June 2007 @ 11:32 am
Olduvai Theory Refresher  
If you aren't already familiar with the Olduvai Theory, this article is probably the best introduction to it. In short,
The Olduvai Theory states that the life expectancy of industrial civilization is approximately 100 years: circa 1930-2030. Energy production per capita (e) defines it. The exponential growth of world energy production ended in 1970... Average e will show no growth from 1979 through circa 2008 ... The rate of change of e will go steeply negative circa 2008 ... World population will decline to about two billion circa 2050 ... A growing number of independent studies concur....
Basically, it says that industrial civilization is about to collapse, never to return, and that a massive die-off will coincide with that collapse. There are several problems with this theory:
  1. It is a social science theory, making it "soft" at best.
  2. It attempts to predict the future, and since the actual future is unverifiable until it becomes the present, its ultimate predictions are untestable.
  3. The author or the theory and the organization behind it have questionable scientific legitimacy.
However, since jezebel873 started collecting news stories, which was before this community was created, there has been a growing body of supporting evidence in the news, and the basic concepts of the Olduvai Theory are the rationale behind many of the news stories jezebel873 uses in choosing stories so being aware of it will make her news posts make slightly more sense.

Power Outages: As we travel down the decline side of the Olduvai curve, we should expect to see increasing incidences and duration of power outages. As some states will be further along than others (due to political and geographical factors), we should see varying degrees of power outages in different states. Indeed, this is what we are seeing.
Power outage sweeps part of New York City. “A power outage struck parts of Manhattan's Upper East Side during a heat wave on Wednesday, shutting down some subway services and electricity to buildings in one of the wealthiest parts of the most populous U.S. city.”
Where summer blackouts are most likely. “Boston, Southern California, and southwest Connecticut/New York City: These are the spots facing the biggest risk of electricity blackouts this summer, according to a report to be released this week by the North American grid overseer.”
16-hr blackouts spark more violence [in Pakistan]. “People took to the streets Sunday and held up traffic for a major part of the day as Karachi remained shrouded in darkness due to unannounced load shedding."
Kankarbagh [India] residents protest against power, water scarcity. “Hundreds of angry residents of Ashok Nagar in Patna on Friday morning blocked the Kankarbagh bypass and chanted anti-government slogans for nearly four hours after enduring a week without electricity or drinking water.”
Peak Oil. In addition, there is the peak of world oil supplies.
Oil price surge a risk as non-OPEC production peaks, BIS says. “Oil prices have a 'substantial' risk of surging higher and boosting inflation because non-OPEC production may soon peak, the Bank for International Settlements said in its annual report.”
Ongoing analysis at The Oil Drum, specifically in the form of the Export Land Model [more], indicates that the world peak of oil production has already occurred. Energy resources are not the only thing in decline, and these other resources can also be expected to comply with the Export Land Model [more].
Lead prices hit record high due to lower exports from China. “Lead futures on the London Metal Exchange soared to an all-time high last Friday at $2,540 a tonne amid concerns that China, the world's largest lead producer, will reduce its exports of refined lead, thus tightening the world's supply.”
China’s molybdenum quotas may cut exports by 30%. “China's newly adopted molybdenum export quotas may cut exports of the minor metal by as much as 30 percent, aiming to keep more of the country's mineral resources in Chinese hands…”
Demand for helium is rising while supplies remain short. “'The bottom line in terms of helium supply is that there is very little excess helium refining capacity, and domestic supplies of crude helium are growing ever tighter. Until overseas plants are fully online and/or additional plants are built, we're potentially facing additional supply disruptions, if not shortages,' the bureau adds.”
Monetary System. Those of you who have watched Money as Debt know that the world's monetary system is really just smoke and mirrors. Intimated in that video, but not explained in detail, is that the monetary system behaves as if it exists in a world with infinite resources, but as you know, the world's resources are finite. As a result, the peak and decline in the value of e also represents the peak and decline of the world's monetary system. In abstract terms, the amount of money in the world represents the total amount of useful resources available to humans for the rest of time.
BIS warns of Great Depression dangers from credit spree. "The Bank for International Settlements, the world's most prestigious financial body, has warned that years of loose monetary policy has fuelled a dangerous credit bubble, leaving the global economy more vulnerable to another 1930s-style slump than generally understood.”
Infrastructure. The result of the combined decline of resources and monetary system means that the construction of new infrastructure and the maintenance of old infrastructure will slow to the point where infrastructure is crumbling faster than it is repaired or replaced.
Is aging infrastructure slowing the US? “'There's a tremendous need,' said Larry Roth, a professional engineer who is deputy executive director of the engineers' group. 'Not only are we not keeping pace with growth, but we're not keeping pace with the maintenance that's required. As a result, our infrastructure is simply crumbling.'”
This appears to be the road to Olduvai gorge.
(Deleted comment)
Sperm Production Unit 873peace873 on June 28th, 2007 07:01 pm (UTC)
I read that thread on the Oil Drum that you are talking about and it was great, as the Oil Drum usually is. There is a big, mostly spastic, discussion of it here:

Regarding the precise numbers, there is really no way of knowing. And there were a number of different conclusions based on different assumptions in the TOD thread, as I recall. My own analysis is that 2 billion is the maximum for world population if you want to live an a reasonably bearable fashion and if you want to achieve sustainability.

Unfortunately, a global population crash is very likely to leave the planet unsuitable for human life. As a population of humans crashes, it tends to destroy everything in the area it has inhabited. In the past, this has occurred on a very small scale; e.g., an island (e.g., Easter Island). This time, the crash will occur on a planetary scale. So, 2 billion survivors is actually optimistic. We're very likely going to be cut down to around 2000.

But I can't predict the future.

I agree, though, that at some time in history (maybe even right now) 18 billion people could have survived on earth, albeit under horrible conditions. For that to actually happen in practice, the process of de-industrialization would have to not occur. We would have to magically achieve the primitive state capable of sustaining 18 billion people instantly.

Another problem I have with those numbers is that even at 1 billion people, there would be a limit to how long people on earth could live like westerners. Similarly, 18 billion people couldn't live on the earth under horrible conditions forever.

The Olduvai Theory's 2 billion assumes that the people will be living in a sustainable, pre-industrial fashion, and that the decline of industrial society will not make the earth uninhabitable.
fried2stylesfried2styles on June 28th, 2007 06:29 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you put this stuff in the theoretical context it deserves, as opposed to being an undifferentiated "wall of doom". When I write my post-apocalypse novel(I almost wrote "post-calypso"?), I'll use it as the template for the Great Collaspe. You and Jezebel will get 10% of any profits, deal?
Sperm Production Unit 873peace873 on June 28th, 2007 07:31 pm (UTC)
She tends to just report the facts because the facts don't often lead you into a blind alley of philosophical blabulation and hysterical argument. She's not interested in that kind of thing. I tend to not bring it up very often because I assume people have read over the community's profile page. It includes everything you need to know to place the news stories into context. Although a link to the community's book list is there, I don't think you have to crack a single actual book to be informed about why she posts what she does. I don't want to be annoying by pointing out the framework repeatedly.