The Eco Experts
“Robert, for starters, the unraveling of the global economy, a significant worldwide depression while regional economies get started up again, shortages of energy, food, and consumer goods, and wars in various corners of the planet, not all of them far from the industrial nations. Oh, and the collapse of at least a few democracies into autocracy. Hang on to your hat…”
John Michael Greer
Back in 2019, when I posted here on my nervousness about the coming peak in our industrial civilisation, I did wonder, at the back of my mind, that maybe, the LTG BAU modelling was wrong and we would carry on enjoying economic growth, prosperity and stability in global trade into the early 2020s.
I think we can now safely assume that the LTG BAU model is very much tracking real life back on planet earth.
For those that need a refresher on the current state of play, I strongly recommend reading John Greer’s recent blog post on the subject here. It covers, again, topics that I have been blogging about for years but in a succinct format. The very short summary is the reserves of cheap, economically viable and non-renewable fossil fuels critical to the functioning of our industrial civilisation is slowly running dry and we are now in the era of stagflation, economic contraction and the crumbling of the edifice of our elaborate industrial civilisation; that was built on absurdly cheap fossil fuels. Managing that long-term predicament will be the central fact for the rest of our lifetimes (and our children and grandchildren thereafter).
I have also covered on this blog, see here, the financial implications, risks and opportunities of where we are going and why the mainstream approach to investing is doomed longer term. The team at investing haven are a good source on the few niche opportunities in the market, principally lithium companies, clean energy/EV stocks and the graphite sector. Given most asset classes have fallen this year, in what most financial investors have agreed has been an incredibly challenging market conditions, this is an early sign of just how difficult it will be to actually generate a nominal, let alone a real (e.g. inflation adjusted) return this decade.
That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just difficult. I will carry on blogging on the risks and opportunities from an investing space but for those with limited time, I strongly recommend signing up to the free investing haven newsletter that gives their high-level outlook on the markets.
It’s also important to differentiate what I consider short-to-medium term investing opportunities (e.g. green energy stocks, uranium etc) that will see a huge burst of public and private investment and the longer term macro/fundamental outlook on these technologies. For example, there is currently a renewed buzz around nuclear power and how it can get us out of the energy crisis we face with the very real risk of blackouts in Europe, Japan, China and even North America within a few years.
If nuclear was such a great technology and viable economically, we wouldn’t have such a small amount of energy derived by the atom in the 21st century. It’s extremely expensive, takes years, if not decades to open an atomic plant and issues around the radioactive waste have never been properly resolved. It does, once open, ensure base load power to the grid – something that is vital if you expand your reliance on solar and wind which are intermittent – and that is why it is back in the news. So, expect to see a surge of government subsidies into this sector this decade which should benefit, potentially spectacularly, beaten down uranium stocks.
Renewable energies and their related stocks are even more of a rollercoaster ride but during the euphoric cycles these clean energy related stocks can soar. Again, as this superb article in Financial Sense notes, there are huge problems with green energy and how it can be scaled up over this decade. Again, I do expect a big push this decade, but how far it goes before it hits the bottlenecks remains to be seen.
I agree with the thinkers Peter Zeihan and John Greer, that the energy most likely to be used up in the coming generation is King Coal. It is widely available across the world, is relatively economical to mine and has the advantage, unlike nuclear, of not needing highly skilled labour to keep it going. A few years ago, when the “experts” were talking on Bloomberg about fossil fuels being stranded assets and how oil demand had peaked, I expected ESG trend to abruptly switch to energy security as the main challenge, and at some point in the future, a “just do anything to keep the lights on” approach to energy.
In Europe we seem to be very close, if not already in, that latter panicky stage of policymaking. The reason we aren’t there yet is the energy literate crowd are still pinning their hope on nuclear saving us and so are not incredibly bullish about coal. Coal is a disaster for the environment but, given a choice between keeping the grid on and burning dirty coal, everyone will burn the coal (like us Europeans are already doing). So, I think that coal shares are probably a good long-term investment, particularly if markets crash in 2024.
My main message is do not rely on the politicians. They are, in general, energy clueless and so are many of the experts who advise them. If you are fortunate enough, you should invest personally and at a community level, on steps to reduce your reliance on the grid and the wider corporate supply chains.
There are a number of “buckets” involved in this. The first is reducing your energy expenses, so to speak. Insulate your home, delay turning the heating on in the winter, cycle more, drive less and other relatively easy wins to reduce your energy footprint.
A second strand is to take advantage of certain goods and services when they are still relatively economical and available. I have been on record before to predict that global tourism and the wider global airline industry will unlikely be around on a large scale beyond 2030. I don’t know if that prediction will pass or not but given the world has largely reopened after the Covid lockdowns (a reminder, after all, how the world could close down most tourism if we wanted to again), if you do wish to travel, in particularly to far flung destinations, it’s probably best to do it now when you still can.
Amazon will probably be spoken about in near mythical terms generations from now. People will talk about how once, when fossil fuels were plenty, that folks ordered stuff on a phone and it was delivered to your door within a few days. And you order nearly anything you wanted! So, take my advice and order whatever you think might be useful now, when you can, before it becomes either unavailable or too expensive. I have stockpiled lots of stuff that I know that I will need in the future years which is quite literally at a click of a button. As globalisation and the wider globalised supply chains unravel this decade, that luxury will fade away so better get whatever you need now when you still easily can.
There are more capital-intensive things you can do to prepare for the future, depending upon your situation and wealth. For those with homes, consider solar thermal (this provides hot water to your house via the sun), greenhouses (so you can grow your own food), investing in businesses that will do well in our new scarcity economy and reducing your energy footprint. If you have sufficient capital, consider buying local arable land that can be rented to farmers or to grow food yourself, something I would love to do if I had the means.
To summarise, even for those who can’t consider solar thermal or buying land, taking even small steps to reduce your energy consumption is a good start, whether that is driving less, insulating the house, wearing jumpers in the winter, cycling and walking more and growing a few lettuces and tomatoes in the summer months. Anything is better than nothing and will help you in the decades ahead.
7 thoughts on “Living with the Long Descent – Part 2”
I found this article useful in many ways. Many thanks!!
I’m also dipping into some of your earlier posts, and hope to read more
of them over the coming months.
I wrote an article, published in Communities Magazine this spring, that
builds upon John Michael Greer’s work and adds links and comments that
would be useful for this audience. I’d like to mail you a copy. If
you’re interested please send me your snail mail address. (Eventually I
will have a PDF version of my article …. I am behind schedule on that
Please send me a copy, I will send you a private message with my email.
Fascinated to hear more on your thoughts on my blog. Always enjoy feedback!
As a preparation for the upcoming time, it is assumably favourable to acquire stocks of goods, if possible. Prepping, as we like to call it.
Depending on location, budget, space,opportunities…there will be individual strategies to prep right.
My thoughts on spending some capital are:
– a flashlight for brownouts is certainly important
– depending on location, stocks of potable water
– assets like tool-boxes, hunting knives, pocket tools…are things I would bet
somebody will want in the near future
– hygienic articles. If there is disposable income and space, in greater stock also to offset inflation
– warm clothes of all kind, for us in Europe
– Sleeping bags and tents: also in a cold apartment, both is practical
– thick blankets if possible. Maybe also a smaller bed, depending on a situation
– Tradeables most military people across the board recommend: cigarettes, alcohol, batteries, first aid stuff, medications, matches, fire sparking iron bars, lighters, lighter fluid and so on
– Books of all kinds…
– Foodstuffs, preservables, my personal strategy also: grain products like oats that take very little energy to cook thoroughly
– Depending on one’s expectation camping stuff for cooking, lanterns..
Precious metals I considered of a very transitory nature in their value: as we have heard from JMG, and also is heard from various survival people, it can also be a most unfavourable thing to have in certain times.
Like in the old Nibelung ring saga, gold can be afflicted with a curse of violence and unwholesome desire.
As such it will probably be good if at all to offset inflation for a time. Currently its price is artificially highly contracted through paper I.O.Us, and the message that those promises don’t exist as a whole has not yet found its way to the light of day.
If planning to resettle, there will be many considerations, innumerable and very individual. One should be aware of the value of one’s skills and the mood of the people there. Unless you’re a beautiful young woman when considering skills, hehe.
That truth isn’t very correct these days 🙂
To go further into the preparatory measures: formulate scenarios (as grid stability people often do) – what if there’s no mobile connection anymore? Could radio devices be of use? How do I meet my people? How do we leave each other messages? (My personal idea here in Vienna is: leave messages written in oil chalk on the walls)
The next preparations are of a psychological and physical nature: how do I train my mind and body? How do I do it under radically different conditions (no gym open, no lights on)? How do I keep myself from overthinking and overheating thought about this crises (even these thoughts I present)?
The next, social: how will people around react? Which strategies will soon appear frequently? Whom do I trust on what?
Sometimes social relations must be put to the test..-
Optionally and with greatest caution if you know what you are doing: self defense,
but otherwise also escape scenarios. What if my neighbour has a fire, and all I did evaporates, however good I did it?
What if for one or the other reason I have to move my stuff elsewhere?
Also of course, how do I preserve my stuff right, and avoid risks like gas cartridges going up in smoke?
The next, intellectual: what news do I need to read to get a glimpse of what may concern me, and where can I see the track records of these news?
For now, Austria as is, is better prepared than Germany for this winter. From official numbers, gas will suffice for this winter, and a sufficient share in our silos is owned by the govt company. There is good buffer capacity available in the alps, and the hydro plants have the potential to go on for a time.
For Germany, none of these things is unfortunately sufficient. The social heat is greater in Germany than in Austria, although also here it is well heating, I can tell you.
Will be a fascinating winter no less.
kind regards, Curt
Most of that list is pretty useful to have. I have a basic prep list to cover short-term emergencies should the grid go down.
Basically, my aim is to be fine should the grid go down for days on end: I have wind-up equipment, radio, walkie talkies, batteries and cooking gear in the event of no electricity. I even have a portable toilet that can be used if the sewage system is down.
But, these are probably not going to last forever and isn’t a long-term alternative to the grid. I think we need to be realistic about what is likely to face us in the coming decades, which is after all the era of scarcity industralism.
Scarcity, not a Dark Age or salvage society after industrial civilisation implodes. So, yes, prepare for blackouts but don’t go too extreme on the prepping front.
What is a bigger risk for us in Europe is a global depression, the loss of value of cash and other financial assets, the loss of a job, rising taxes and no pension down the line. Soaring food and energy bills.
Prepare, as you are in the eurozone, the collapse of the euro at some point. All that suggests gold might be rather useful as a alternative asset in the decades to come.
Emotional, financial and skills resilience will be more useful going forward. Keep your debts low, get used to a frugal lifestyle, learn to develop income streams outside the state/corporate economy, learn to DIY things yourself, like growing some food or fixing old equipment. Learn to cope with crises and don’t get too sucked into a materialist/consumer lifestyle that will be going away.
I think west Europeans like us will return to a 1970’s lifestyle this decade, and at some point afterwards, by the 2040s, a 1950’s lifestyle.
There is actually quite a big difference between those two lifestyles. A 1970’s lifestyle isn’t too bad, eating out is rare and for special occasions, folks grow a bit of food themselves and cook a lot, people have less stuff and what stuff they have they try and keep longer but people still have vacations in Europe, drive and live a lifestyle not so different from ours now.
A 1950’s lifestyle is tough, poor and quite often lacks access to reliable electricity or even mains water. Look up living standards in your area during the 1950s or chat to some elderly folk. My parents remember rationing, having to go to the toilets outside and a very boring, seasonal diet during the 1950s.
Local family farms were still quite common and people had to make do with their own limited resources. It was a tough life in many ways (although comparatively rich compared to the rest of the world outside North America).
As for your thoughts at the end of the post, you seem to be referring to a collapse in society. Barring Austria entering a war or getting into a civil war, these scenarios are rather unlikely, at least in the shorter term. I do think Europe could descend into war in the coming decades but outside that, preparing for war, escape and so on wouldn’t be my priority.
Focus instead on staying healthy, building reserves of wealth, avoiding or clearing debt and building skills that can provide an income in the future.
There is a wildcard that us west Europeans need to consider. The possibility, however remote, of large scale sickness and/or death from the Covid vaccines in 5 to 10 years. That is something to monitor and would make your more “extreme” worries more plausible.
My suggestion, consider where you might leave Europe and what is realistic for you.
Well considering those analyzing the official stats for electricity generation and resource supply, mostly ex-military, the situation does not look good for Germany as an example;
Whether a greater grid collapse comes this winter is unclear, but rolling brown outs become more and more likely.
We already see it in Ukraine, where management of this situation is reportedly running into serious problems.
According to the calculations we expect systemic disturbance in Germany between January and February – we will see about this prediction.
Europe is almost devoid of resources of its own, and now with this faltering fragile constellation of cheap energy from Russia, the major industries of Germany are leaving the boat already.
Given that the EU seems to circumvent some sanctions accepting higher prices, there still may be some type of supply for this energy intensive infrastructure.
However, with the industry gone, I do not see how Europe would pay off the rest of the suppliers on the global markets to still deliver; this looks much like a negative feedback loop.
Arguably the real consequences haven’t yet surfaced – oil and diesel sanctions are to follow, more and more critical raw materials and resources are becoming scarce, but this is still in process.
For the German industry, I see no possibility for that to return. Without industry and finally mineral resources, what kind of industrialism is it going to be?
The “social heat” I mean is a spike in crime and violence, and that is already here. That including rampages of either nationalistic turks or middle eastern immigrants with no perspective, a thing on the rise here in Austria too.
With more young men flooding into the country than in 2015 while Austria’s capacities are getting low, all the while the people here already starting to fear for their existence – I cannot see any good direction this is going towards.
Given, miserable states of affairs and slums can be a rather persistent phenomenon without endangering a state – but I see great potential for violence here.
Finally, these items I mentioned are certainly good for a spontaneous event of emergency, but they are also useful mid-term for recurring disturbances, and as assets to store value in.
A good toolbox bought now will certainly find someone interested to buy in the near future. As you say, a fiscal/currency collapse is well possible – in which case it is an advantage to have tradeables. Yes also precious metals of course, but to beware because these will draw dangerous attention very quickly.
All in all it seems that Austria will make it through this Winter alright, but also questionable how much of our industry will remain. Without cheap resource supply – and that is very limited geographically – I don’t see much of an industrial future.
Of course in dynamic times like these many things may happen, including a renegotiation with Russia (let’s see about their winter offensive), and other things.
What concerns the vaccines: inconclusive. Many arguments against it and linked studies do at a closer look say something different than what critics try to prove, many weak arguments appearing very often, as I have checked myself several times. Other arguments may be more solid, but it remains difficult to discern, especially for the outsider. John Michael Greers Link to the peer reviewed studies is certainly interesting – unfortunately I found no time giving it someone literate in molecular biology to evaluate. I suppose though these are immedeate consequences;
I am not sure whether any vaccines have something like effects delayed for years. Adverse vaccine events in history are relatively soon after injection, which makes sense. Unbalanced vaccines may kill, but once the ingredients of the vaccines have been metabolized by the human body, it is generally only the immune system’s memory remaining.
Many attribute a rise in cancer, mortality and inexplicable death to the vaccines – well that is an interesting hypotheses, however those bringing it forwards usually do not consider other obvious factors for these phenomena: increase in stress and difficult living conditions, and it is well known stress fosters cancer and all other kinds of health disorders, together with a lack of exercise (lockdowns) and another increase in substance abuse and unhealthy lifestyles. Environmental toxins released due to lack of funding for sanitary management are also an option.
It’s rather weak not to consider that and solely ascribe it to an assumed vaccine impact.
Anectdotically, it does seem that the vaccines often cause immedeate but often permanent dysfunction that doctors refuse to document, as far as I know.
Wouldn’t disagree with that overall outlook.
If you live in places already facing high crime and troubled social issues, things will get only worse. I would consider moving to a safer area if I was you.
Preps are overall good things to do but like I said, its easier to just move to an area with very low crime rates and a strong social/community bond and certainly safer than trying to hold out with lots of weapons and preps. Just my view but then I’m a cautious person by nature.
in regard to gold I would keep it in Switzerland (use Goldmoney or something similar) and keep on a small element of physical gold and silver at home. During WW2, those wealthy people who had gold in Switzerland did much better than those who had it stashed at home.
But, I still think the bigger risks are economic and energy derived, job losses, market crashes, inflation, and the loss of the value of money. You are more likely to lose your job and go bust before any Hollywood style movie scenes of violence and unrest on the streets (unless you live in a very troubled area on Austria) – and if so, MOVE!
As for the vaccines, I said it was a wildcard. We simply don’t know and that is a failure of the authorities.
Still, it is a real risk and the mRNA vaccines are not traditional vaccine technologies so we simply don’t know the long term consequences. There are some small scale studies that are very alarming but I do agree with you that it is hard to work out as a non-expert just how serious or not it is.
Its one I watch and monitor without making any definite views (although it is clear that these vaccines do have a unusually large adverse reactions compared to traditional vaccines so for that reason alone I am very wary of them.
I agree with you about Hollywood Action Catastrophe Scenarios. We as humans tend to think in terms of recounted stories – myths at times – where there are recognizable individual personalities we can relate to, or we can despise or project any emotion on.
I am certainly not immune to this kind of imagination, however often I can see it in action in others.
The strategic chessboard of geopolitics and resource flows are relatively faceless on the other hand, the role of the individual minuscule, a human collective at work. I like to compared it to the weather – a single droplet of water doesn’t make a cloud.
Just how far the weight of one personality like a political leader or para-political “investor” goes isnt clear to me – sometimes in history it seems the decision of only one individual would change the course of great events, at other times it seems that any grand historic figure is merely a representation of the faceless human collective so we can relate to it.
What is your opinion on the relevance of the individual in the course of history? I like to compare the course of history with the course of a river, a statesman may play the role of an engineer controlling the gates of a dam, rerouting the water flows yet never entirely in their control, never immune against force majeure like a storm or a flood.
“Prepping” certainly is somewhat a natural reaction against the overwhelming news of these shifting tectonic plates that are the politics and economy, because we think in stories and here it reads like an action catastrophe movie, but in a large picture, it maybe isn’t any singular cataclysmic event but rather a flow of events in slow motion.
Surely skills are the best bonds against an uncertain future, if there are any. My limited prepping was to some part geared for an event like electricity shutdown, but to a bigger extent just buying useful stuff now that may become much more expensive or unavailable soon.
I admit that for now, acquiring new stuff from organized business and then selling in on the internet would be a net loss, due to the uncertain nature of private-to-private sales vs the reliable commercial law that secures business-to-customer relationship.
We’ll see whether that changes – I think fully equipped tool-boxes of some quality will continue to be in demand, just as will be candles. I don’t think either will diminish in price – wildcard would be a total collapse of the Euro currency, as you said. In which case having those things isn’t too bad either.
What concerns crime and security: I live in the central city of Vienna, where many politicans and prominence live. This part is well secured; However, I am more careful about travelling at night time and such things. The hot spots of crime and dysfunction are in the southern end of Vienna. For now that’s OK, technically I can move to a wealthy suburb, where also many important people reside. This one is well secured also. For now, our public space is despite all still a very safe haven, much safer than eg Paris.
So I will put out a prediction here and we can see whether it will materialize:
Timeframe: January-february 2023
Event: rolling brown-outs in Germany ie shutdown of grid for whole provinces/regions
As I said, this is still very unclear, but there are many indications in this direction.
In spring many predicted a dire situation for Germany this Winter and a shut-down of its industry. Well, the industry is already leaving, so this prediction wasn’t so wrong.