BAU is over
This chart has made a few appearances. It's not updated, but it's good enough for discussion purposes.
US sanctions have caused Russia to cut off its usual exports, notably oil and fertiliser.
Their removal from supply chains is driving up energy and commodity prices that were already trending up.
Commercial food production is driven by gas derived fertiliser, and the crude oil product, diesel.
Since energy is the economy, higher energy prices are being felt throughout the global economy.
In the low energy world that awaits us all, real food and goods become more valuable than funny money created out of thin air. The US reserve currency is under threat.
If you're a Saudi, accepting Chinese Yuan for oil will feed their people. What does the US have to offer? It exported its manufacturing, and its currency is grossly overvalued. Saudis won't need crap weapons from the US if their people are starving.
The Saudis may be reassessing who their enemies are. Who they can trust. It's well known that they're unhappy with the US at this time.
The chart demonstrates that static or declining incomes are being gobbled up by increasing debt and increasing compound interest on that debt.
Rising commodity and oil prices can't be absorbed other than by taking on more debt. It's reflected in the private debt to GDP ratio. Our ratio is about the highest in the world.
More debt means less consumer spending and business investment. With neo-liberal governments avoiding deficits, and preferring to spend on their donors and protection of their assets, there's not enough household, business and government spending to employ all available resources. The result is unemployment, and underemployment. We've been voting neoliberal for decades.
Many householders and businesses have reached the point of no return. They'll never be able to repay their debt. A large tranche needs to be written off (modern Debt Jubilee), otherwise recession will be permanent until the affordable dense energy runs out.
If you look at the chart, West Texas Intermediate was US$81 in October 2021, and trending up. Today's WTI spot price is US$113.
Millions of 'nice' Americans failed to reign in their evil, corrupt leadership. They looked the other way, while enjoying a free ride at the world's expense. They didn't jump up and down much when their own people exported their jobs to Asia. They only got grumpy when they saw their debt train heading towards bankruptcy station. That's how TV stars get elected, speaking also of Ukraine.
The continuation of cold war animosities is bringing the global economy down, and closer to war. Millions of 'patriotic' Americans are getting behind their leaders while they lead them into economic ruin. Most will end up with negative equity (having nothing but net debt).
We live in strange times. Crazy leaders. Ignorant sheeple. Eventually, billions will starve as affordable dense energy either runs out or is cut off.
At what point, will the crazies tell the sheeple? Conversely, will the sheeple ever connect the dots?
When will their leaders desert the sinking ship for their bunkers? Will Biden ever know that he was the sacrificial lamb?
This post is available at energyskeptic.com
Food shortages as the energy crisis grows and supply chains break?
by Alice Friedemann
Preface. This is a long preface followed by two articles about how supply chains and complex tractors may be affected by energy shortages and consequent supply chain failures in the future. Which we're already seeing, as massive numbers of ships sit offshore waiting to be unloaded, and a shortage of truckers to deliver goods when they do arrive.
Supply chain failures will only get worse, affecting food supply and making the prediction of 3 billion more people by 2050 unlikely. We are running out of time to replace fossil fuels with something else that is unknown and definitely not commercial for transportation, manufacturing and other essential services and products. Even the electric grid needs natural gas to stay up, no matter how many wind turbines or solar panels are built (Friedemann 2016).
The reason time is running out is that global conventional oil, where 90% of our petroleum comes from, peaked in 2008 (EIA 2018 page 45), and world oil production of both conventional and unconventional oil in 2018 (EIA 2020).
In the unlikely event you don't know why this is scary, consider that we are alive today thanks to heavy-duty transportation, which runs almost exclusively on diesel, four billion of us are alive due to finite natural gas derived fertilizer, 500,000 products are made out of fossil fuels, and much of our essential manufacturing (cement, steel, metals, ceramics, glass, microchips) depend on the high heat of fossil fuels. There is not much time to come up with processes to electrify or use hydrogen to replace fossil fuels, which don't exist yet, let alone rebuild trillions of dollars of infrastructure and a new unknown energy distribution system, triple the electric grid transmission system, and replace hundreds of millions of vehicles and equipment to run on "something else" (Friedemann 2021).
So how can new wind turbines and solar panels be made? They are entirely dependent on these industries which depend on fossil fuels for every step of their life cycle. The electricity they and nuclear generate doesn't power heavy-duty trucks (tractors, harvesters, long-haul, mining, logging), locomotives, ships, airplanes, cement, steel, and so on.
As I write this in October of 2021, the economy has come rip-roaring back. But for how long? A looming energy crisis is likely as gasoline and natural gas prices keep increasing. Gasoline in my area is $4.69 today. But that won't last — 11 of the past 12 recessions have been due to high energy prices (Hamilton 2013). Nor does it appear that Saudi Arabia will be able to increase production enough to lower oil prices (Watkins 2021).
A recession in turn is likely to drive businesses bankrupt, breaking essential supply chains. I'd nominate microchips to be the first to fail. They are also very vulnerable to an energy crisis since fabrication plants have hundreds of long supply chains, an incredibly high amount of purity required for air, water, gases, and chemicals — which is highly energy intensive to accomplish, and chip makers can't afford to have power outages because they need reliable electricity for months around the clock.
As microchip production fails, there goes the rest of civilization, of oil and natural gas drilling equipment, solar panels, wind turbines, computers, and vehicles, and even as really simple gadgets like toasters. To give you an idea of how vulnerable they are, here's a summary of "The Fragility of Microchips":
Creating a chip begins by cutting a thin 12-inch slice, called a wafer, from a 99.9999999% pure silicon crystal, one of the purest materials on earth. Wafers require such a high degree of perfection — particles 500 times smaller than a human hair can cause defects — that even a missing atom can cause unwanted current leakage and other problems in manufacturing later on. Consequently, sometimes only 20% make it to the end. Traveling particles are insidious, and can cause a chip to malfunction, perform poorly, more slowly, or die later on. Since typical city air has 5 million particles per cubic foot but these processes require a maximum of 1 particle per square cubic foot, building chip fabrication plants is expensive, $10 billion dollars or more. City water, chemicals, and gases need to be 99.999999% or more pure, requiring energy intense and extensive complex treatments.
It's even more complex than that though, as shown in "How are Microchips Made?".
And their need for reliable electricity (chips can take 4 months to make) is not going to be possible in an electric grid dependent on unreliable wind and solar power without the backup storage that natural gas and coal provide now. The only energy storage battery for which there are enough materials on earth for just 12 hours of world electricity are Sodium Sulfur (NaS) batteries (Barnhart 2013), and you'd need at least four weeks of storage due to the seasonality of wind and solar. Yet only lithium energy storage batteries are being made commercially, competing with electric vehicles for limited amounts of lithium. Nor can we scale up pumped hydro or compressed air energy storage enough to store electricity (see energy storage posts for details).
Wafer fabrication for a chip can require several thousand steps using many kinds of machines, and if any of these need a new part that can't be obtained, or a replacement bought, then then manufacturing stops. Here are just a few of the kinds of equipment needed: high-temperature diffusion furnaces, wet cleaning stations, dry plasma etchers, ion implanters, rapid thermal processors, vacuum pumps, fast flow controllers, residual gas analyzers, plasma glow dischargers, vertical furnaces, optical pyrometers, and many more.
The EROI of wind and solar don't matter since they depend on fossil fuels for every step of their life cycle, especially for transportation, manufacturing, and products made out of fossil feedstocks.
On top of which the supply chains they and other technology depend on will break. In fact they have been for decades, we just haven't noticed. Take for example the tractors provided by NGOs to farmers in poor nations. Years later the tractor breaks and rusts in the field due to lack of a part or mechanical know how.
The developed world is on the verge of these problems as well. Take tractors for instance. Farmers in the U.S. and elsewhere take pride in their self-reliance. The can get parts and fix their own tractors without help. But not any longer. On modern tractors the computer software that squeezes a bit more profit by precise planting, harvesting, and application of water, fertilizer and pesticides is proprietary. And parts that can be replaced are so hard to get that farmers are buying second planters and other equipment just to get replacement parts.
Liebig's law of the minimum will grow as energy declines, supply chains break and eventually cause widespread failures, much as Ben Franklin put it: "for want of a nail a kingdom was lost":
"For the want of a nail the shoe was lost, For the want of a shoe the horse was lost, For the want of a horse the rider was lost, For the want of a rider the battle was lost, For the want of a battle the kingdom was lost, And all for the want of a horseshoe-nail."
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com Author of Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy; When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation", Barriers to Making Algal Biofuels, & "Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers". Women in ecology Podcasts: WGBH, _Planet: Critical, Crazy Town, Collapse Chronicles, Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, Kunstler 253 &278, Peak Prosperity, Index of best energyskeptic posts
There's a grassroots campaign being waged by farmers to restore a fundamental right most people don't realize they've lost—the right to repair their own farm equipment.
But tractor makers like $68 billion John-Deer, who sell over half of all farm machinery in the U.S. and a third sold world-wide, say farmers have no right to access the copyrighted software that controls every facet of today's equipment, even to repair their own machines. That's the exclusive domain of authorized dealerships, creating a monopoly and destroying the age-old culture self-reliance.
Tractors are insanely complex today. When the cab door is opened the computer onboard sends notice to the cloud using a cellular transmitter. It continues to transmit moisture and nitrogen levels in the soil, precisely calculate where to pout seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides. With such real-time data, farmers can optimize when to plant and harvest crops and use less fertilizer and pesticides.
Meanwhile, these complicated tractors shut down at times due to a computer fault, and it can take technicians many hours to show up to do a software fix. On top of that, these tractors are vulnerable to cyberattacks – an enemy could shut down thousands of tractors right at harvest time for example. Or a geomagnetic storm could do enough damage to shut the tractor down. Yet letting farmers update the software is risky, a mistake could send a 20 ton tractor to careen into the farmhouse.
Weinraub M (2021) 'Desperate for tires' – Components shortage roils U.S. harvest. Reuters.
Manufacturing meltdowns are hitting the U.S. heartland, as the semiconductor shortages that have plagued equipment makers for months expand into other components. Supply chain woes now pose a threat to the U.S. food supply and farmers' ability to get crops out of fields.
As harvest ends, we will see farmers at equipment auctions not for the machinery – but for parts," Peterson said. "We're already hearing from guys talking about buying a second planter or sprayer, just for parts."
For some farmers, the shortages are forcing them to reuse – or repair – old parts. Access to steel, plastic, rubber and other raw materials has been scarce during the pandemic, and manufacturers are preparing for even more shocks after power shortages forced several Chinese smelters to cut production in recent weeks.
One pain point for dealerships is an industry-wide shortage of GPS receivers, which are used to run tractor guidance and data systems.
At Ag-Pro, the largest privately-owned Deere & Co dealership in North America, staff in Ohio have been digging out GPS units that date back to 2004. Until now, they were essentially worthless.
Equipment manufacturers are faced with a painful choice this harvest season: Send parts to factories to build new tractors and combines to sell to farmers or redirect those parts into the field to repair broken equipment for existing customers?
CNH estimates that supply chain constraints ranging from increases in freight to higher raw materials prices have cost the company $1 billion. That lag has forced the company to turn some factory parking lots into storage lots. At CNH's combine plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, hundreds of unfinished combines sit outside, waiting for parts.
Barnhart C et al (2013) On the importance of reducing the energetic and material demands of electrical energy storage. Energy Environment Science 2013: 1083–1092
EIA (2020) International Energy Statistics. Petroleum and other liquids. Data Options. U.S. Energy Information Administration. Select crude oil including lease condensate to see data past 2017
Friedemann A (2016) When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation. Springer.
Friedemann A (2021) Life After Fossil Fuels: A Reality Check on Alternative Energy. Springer.
Hamilton, J.D. 2013. Historical Oil Shocks in Routledge handbook of major events of economic history. Routledge.
IEA (2018) International Energy Agency World Energy Outlook 2018, page 45, International Energy Agency.
Watkins S (2021) The Facts Behind Saudi Arabia's Outrageous Oil Claims. oilprice.com