Brexit For Collapsitarians

Whither Brexit?

Here in Brexit Land, political tension is running at fever pitch, and the United Kingdom (UK) is competing with the United States and Venezuela to see who has the world’s most dysfunctional political system.  Almost three years ago, the UK voted to leave the European Union (EU), and with the leaving date almost upon us, we still don’t know whether we will actually be leaving, and if so when.  Brexit has been dominating the news media both in the UK and across the rest of the world, and thousands of gallons of metaphorical ink have been spilled in newspapers, TV and radio broadcasts, podcasts, websites and blogs as people try to understand what it all means.  Here is my contribution: a beginners’ guide to Brexit, in question and answer format, written from a “collapsitarian” viewpoint. 

What is Brexit?

BRitain’s EXIT from the European Union.

When will it happen?

A good question.  The date originally set for Brexit was 29th March 2019.  Because the UK Parliament couldn’t agree on what terms we wanted to leave, and rejected the deal negotiated between the EU and the British Prime Minister Theresa May, the EU granted us an two week extension of time until 12th April, which at the time of writing this blog is only a week away.  There are still frantic negotiations going on between the political parties (Labour and Conservative plus several minor parties), between front-benchers and back-benchers, between the Prime Minister and her cabinet, and between Britain and the EU, the outcome of which could be that Brexit is postponed by up to a year, or we leave without an agreed deal on 12th April, or we have another referendum which reverses the decision of the original referendum, or one of several other options.  Right now, nobody knows.   

Why are we leaving the EU?

Because we had a referendum on 23 June 2016 in which the British people voted to leave by a narrow margin (51.9% to 48.1%).

Why did we have the referendum?

Because the former British Prime Minister David Cameron held the referendum in the course of manoeuvring for political advantage, expecting that the electorate would back him and vote for the status quo.  They didn’t do either.  That’s the trouble with democracy: voters sometimes just don’t understand what is expected of them and do the wrong thing, causing endless headaches for the political and financial elites.

Why is the Brexit issue so divisive?

Friendships, families and political parties have been torn apart because some members are Leavers / Brexiteers, some are Remainers, and they find it difficult to find common ground or even have a civilised discussion without getting emotionally overheated.  Feelings are strongly held on both sides.  The main point of contention between Leavers and Remainers seems to be the economy.  Leavers think Remainers place too much emphasis on the economy; Remainers think Leavers don’t pay it enough attention.  In the interests of balance, I am going to try to summarise the main arguments of the Leavers and Remainers.

Leavers: their slogan during the referendum campaign was “Take back control”.  They think that the amount of control of our national affairs which we have surrendered to the EU jeopardises our integrity as a sovereign nation.  EU laws take precedence over British laws, the European Court takes precedence over the British courts, and perhaps the most emotive issue of all, the EU requires us to accept an unlimited number of economic migrants from other EU countries – basically anyone who wants to live and work here can come.  One of the fundamental principles of the EU is that there must be free movement of people, goods and services across the borders of member states.  Leavers are concerned about the impact which unlimited immigration has had, and would continue to have, on British jobs, culture and way of life.  The flow of economic migrants is mainly in one direction: into the UK.  It’s not like there are lots of British people leaving the UK for better paid jobs in, say, Greece or Poland.   

Leavers don’t want to send large sums of British money to the EU to be redistributed to member states which are struggling economically (Greece again comes to mind).  Before it joined the EU in 1973, Britain managed perfectly well by trading with both EU and non-EU countries, particularly the Commonwealth countries (the former British Empire colonies) and can do so again.  There are 195 countries in the world, only 28 are in the EU, the remainder (167) are outside the EU and trade with each other and with the EU quite happily.  Statistically, older people are more likely to be Leavers, one reason perhaps being that they can remember the days pre-1973 and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Remainers point to the economic benefits of remaining within the EU.  Because of the harmonisation of regulations and the free movement of people, goods and services within the EU, it is easy for businesses to export and import goods with the minimum of red tape.  Many businesses operate long supply chains and just-in-time inventories with components being manufactured in Europe and sent to the UK for assembly, or vice versa.  If we left, it would be an economic disaster for Britain, because our access to European markets would be restricted, and there might be customs duties and tariffs to pay on goods moving across borders – if, indeed, the goods are allowed to move at all.  Essential supplies like medicines may become more expensive or unavailable.  If our goods for export don’t comply with EU regulations they might not be allowed into the EU.  Leaving would deny our young people the opportunity to live and work in EU member countries.  Now they can move freely, but if we leave they would need visas and work permits which might not be granted.  The EU (then called the Common Market) was formed in the aftermath of World War 2, and it has helped to maintain peace between European countries for more than 70 years.  Statistically, younger people are more likely to be Remainers, one reason perhaps being that they have never known anything other than being in the EU.  

How many British Prime Ministers have resigned or been voted out of office in connection with Britain’s membership of the European Union?

So far, three.

Margaret Thatcher resigned in 1990 in connection with her opposition to joining the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).  Most of her cabinet were in favour of joining the ERM.

John Major lost the General Election in 1997 in connection with Britain’s subsequent exit from the ERM.  Major was a supporter of the ERM but was forced to withdraw from it in the wake of the financial turmoil of “Black Wednesday” demonstrating, in retrospect, that Thatcher had been correct.

David Cameron resigned after the 2016 referendum on leaving the EU.  Cameron campaigned to “Remain” but resigned after the referendum voted “Leave”.

The jury is still out as to whether the current British Prime Minister, Theresa May, will be the fourth to lose office in connection with the EU.

What do doctors’ organisations say about Brexit?

The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners (both of which I am a member of) have come out strongly against Brexit:

Where do I stand personally on Brexit?

As I already stated above, I have done my best to present a balanced view of the main arguments put forward by the Leavers and Remainers.  However, I am now going to nail my colours to the mast and say that I am firmly in the Leave camp.  This is partly because of my age: older age group, and therefore statistically more likely to be a Leaver.  It’s also because I can foresee significant societal disruption, if not collapse, coming upon us in the next few decades as a result of resource depletion, climate change and the failure of growth-based economic policies, and I think Brexit is more consistent with what we need to be doing, and where history is taking us anyway whether we like it or not.  I find the Remainers’ arguments unconvincing for the following reasons:

Most Remain arguments focus on the economic benefits of remaining in the EU.  The implied assumption is that global trade with its long fragile supply chains and just-in-time inventories will continue as usual, economies of member states will continue to grow at 2-3% per year, and we will continue producing and consuming stuff at an ever increasing rate.  However, I believe that future economic activity will be increasingly constrained by resource depletion, particularly oil, and that far from expanding, the global economy will soon begin to contract, long supply chains will start to break down, and economic activity will become more localised, with producers and consumers in a much closer geographical relationship with each other.  I think this will happen regardless of whether we are in or out of the EU, so we might as well get used to trading with each other locally sooner rather than later.  Or to put it another way, “Collapse now and avoid the rush”.

I am also mindful that every environment has a carrying capacity – the maximum number of individuals it can support.  The British Isles is no exception.  The population of the British Isles at the start of the Industrial Revolution – around the year 1800 – was around 10 million.  Today it is is around 66 million.  Most of that growth was due to abundant fossil fuels which revolutionised our ability to grow and distribute food, manufacture goods and power our homes and workplaces.  Take the fossil fuels away, and the carrying capacity becomes much less, perhaps approaching pre-Industrial Revolution levels.  If we already have 56 million more people than our carrying capacity can support, it would folly to increase that number even more by unrestricted immigration – we need to adopt policies to gradually downsize the population.  However, the concept of carrying capacity is deeply taboo at the moment and is not at all part of mainstream political, economic and media discourse.

I am also unconvinced by the “EU prevents war” argument.  Between the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and the start of World War 1 in 1914, Europe enjoyed 99 years of relative peace even though the EU didn’t exist.  In contrast, the United States went to war with itself in 1861 even though it was supposedly a single political entity.  War is a state of mind, not a trade agreement.

Aren’t Leavers just racists and xenophobes in disguise?

Absolutely not.  It is an indication of the emotional intensity of the issues that name-calling like this occurs in the debate.  There are probably some racists and xenophobes on the fringes of the Leave movement, just as there are in any movement, but having legitimate concerns about immigration does not make one a racist or a xenophobe.

Why is the Irish Border issue such a stumbling block in the negotiations?

Because it’s basically an insoluble problem.  To understand the Irish Border issue you need to rewind through almost 500 years of Irish history, back to 1541 when thousands of English and Scottish Protestants began to arrive and settled mostly in Northern Ireland.  This resulted in communities of Irish Protestants descended from the settlers, and communities of Irish Catholics descended from the indigenous peoples, who had, and still have, an intense, lifelong and completely irrational hatred of each other.  It’s rather like the hatred which has existed, or still exists, between Sunni and Shia Muslims in the Middle East, Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda, Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia, or between the supporters of rival football teams.  

In 1921, in an attempt to keep the two factions apart and keep everyone happy, Ireland was partitioned into mostly Catholic Southern Ireland (now the Irish Republic) and mostly Protestant Northern Ireland (still part of the United Kingdom).  That was when the Irish Border was created.  However, you can’t legislate to make people like or trust each other, and sectarian violence has continued to periodically flare up between the two groups.  A particularly bad patch occurred between 1968-1998 when there were bombings and shootings nearly every day; this period is referred to euphemistically as “the Troubles”.  During this period there was increased security at the Irish Border to prevent armed gangs crossing the border to attack the other side.  Since then things have been calmer and border controls have been relaxed, but ethnic tensions have always simmered below the surface.  If the UK leaves the EU, the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic would become the border of the EU and would be subject to increased security, which might cause ethnic tensions to flare up again.  However, if the EU is to maintain its integrity, there has to be a border there: hence the problem is insoluble.

Most kids in Ireland go to either an all-Catholic or all-Protestant school, and never get to know each other.  The long term solution would be to teach the kids in integrated schools instead of having segregated schools, so they grow up together and learn not to hate each other.  Then the Irish Border issue would become irrelevant, or at least much more easily solved.  However, this suggestion would horrify most Irish parents and church leaders and as far as I know it is not on the table for discussion. 

What will happen on Brexit Day?

In my opinion, very little.  It won’t be the economic disaster forecast by the Remainers or the economic Promised Land forecast by the Leavers.  Life for the most part will just carry on as normal.  The more serious problems will come further down the line, compared to which Brexit will just be a footnote in history.  For example, the British Houses of Parliament lie 10 metres above sea level.  If the polar ice sheets melt due to global warming, sea level may rise in the long term by up to 58 metres, putting the Houses of Parliament and much of London underwater.  However, while the minds of our politicians are focused on Brexit, sea level rise is not up for discussion.

But that’s assuming there is a Brexit Day – we will know within the next week.  As we wait, you may want to ask yourselves, “What might a society in the early stages of collapse look like?  Might it look something like this?”

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

Sleeping with the enemy

How far should you compromise your ideals in order to gain “a seat at the table” and the opportunity to influence decision makers? This question was explored in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) a couple of weeks ago in an article headed “How medical leaders win friends and influence people (1)”. Normally, I skim this sort of thing over breakfast, file it in the circular file under the sink, then once a year, pretend I’ve read it in order to scrape together enough Continuing Professional Development points to keep my medical licence going for another year. So I duly filed this in the usual place and went to work. However, something about it kept bothering me, so when I got home, I retrieved it from the circular file and thought long and hard about its implications.

I will never hold public office, be the president of a medical Royal College or sit in a think tank (whatever that is). When I die, my colleagues won’t write a glowing obituary praising my achievements and my leadership abilities. My portrait will never hang in the corridors of power. For a start, I find meetings intensely boring and I would rather be gardening, walking in the countryside, playing music or doing almost anything else other than sitting in a meeting. But more importantly, my views are so divergent from the mainstream that my presence in most meetings would be disruptive and would make it hard for the meeting to reach consensus.

For example, I believe that the world’s food and energy supplies will decrease during the course of this century. Most people think they will increase. I believe that infinite economic growth is physically and mathematically impossible. Most people think that it is not only possible, but necessary and desirable. I believe that we should be educating people to expect fewer and simpler medical services during the course of this century, and to take more responsibility for their own health. Most people would denounce this as “austerity” or “cutbacks” and believe that in future we will be delivering more technically advanced treatments such as pharmaceutical and genetic therapies which are tailored to individual patients, and that we will find “cures” for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimers disease and the like. Put me in a meeting with a group of “normal” people and you have a recipe for arguments, frustration and complete lack of progress.

The BMJ article advocates a “soft power” approach. The whole article is available to read online, but I can give you the flavour of it with a few extracts. According to the BMJ, “colleagues who are very vocal and say exactly what they think…just did not get invited to discuss things.” “To do your best by the members and fellows you need to be at the table to be part of the discussion to find the solution.” “Colleagues who criticise a particular politician for coming up with a ludicrous policy get the response you can imagine from that politician…You’re certainly not going to be invited to come and give your views”. “Those who take an adversarial approach may not even get the opportunity to influence politicians”.

In recent years, mainstream environmental organisations seem to have taken this advice on board. For example, in my younger days I can remember organisations like Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Green Party being much more outspoken and in the public eye than they are today, and Greenpeace in particular engaging in many highly publicised direct action campaigns, mostly illegal. Nowadays, they are much less likely to be in the news, and when they are, they are more likely to be promoting positive non-threatening messages about renewable energy and sustainable development. I have no doubt that they are following the BMJ’s advice and engaging with their respective governments in a co-operative way in congenial, non-confrontational meetings behind closed doors.

The problem with this approach, though, is that it works best if only small or incremental changes are needed. For example, suppose you represent doctors and they want a 4% pay rise. The government says it can only afford a 2% pay rise. You have a meeting in which pleasant and civilised negotiations take place, you explain your position, the government explains its position, and you compromise on a 3% pay rise. Problem solved, everyone’s a winner, all off down to the pub for a pint. What’s not to like about that?

However, this approach fails to deliver when major changes are needed. Let’s take, as a hypothetical example, climate change. Let’s say that you believe that we need to stop digging carbon out of the ground and burning it, stop wasting oil on frivolous things like flying on jet planes for foreign holidays, stop building airports and spaceports, and start a major program of reorganising our energy and food supplies on sustainable principles. And you believe we need to do these things now. Right now. Immediately.

If you adopt the BMJ approach, here’s what will happen. You will not be invited to take part in discussions about the subject owing to you being too “vocal” and “adversarial”. Instead, participants will be invited who adopt a more conciliatory, collaborative approach and are willing to make compromises. The meeting or meetings will eventually produce a position statement in which any action or targets are postponed until far off in the future, when those around the table will be long since retired or dead. Agreements will be voluntary rather than compulsory. There will be loopholes giving governments ample opportunity to opt out. Instead of cutting carbon emissions, the favoured approach will be to redistribute the emissions, with high emitting governments having the opportunity to “buy” the right to emit carbon from low emitters. Meeting targets will be dependent on the development of new technologies which do not currently exist in any workable form, but might exist at some unspecified future date. An “echo chamber” mentality will develop, in which all the people at the meetings have similar views (give or take minor variations) and reinforce each other’s views, and people with significantly dissenting views are marginalised as being difficult, disruptive or unrealistic. Consensus is achieved, and the participants leave the meeting with a sense of a job well done.

Does any of this sound familiar?

As I said at the start of this piece, I have no ambition to be offered a “seat at the table” for discussions about the future course of humanity. I will leave that to the great, the good and the wise, and good luck to them. I hope they all have fantastic obituaries. I have, however, written a book “Post Peak Medicine” containing what I hope will be some helpful suggestions for anyone wondering what a post-peak healthcare system might look like, which is available for free download from my website

However, I don’t expect it to be reviewed in the BMJ.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

(1). How medical leaders win friends and influence people. Tom Moberly, British Medical Journal 23 February 2019.

The Winter Solstice, and suggestions for the New Year

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England.  The Druids celebrated Christmas here for 5,000 years until the ceremony was rebranded as the Winter Solstice by nineteenth century neo-Pagan revivalists

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!  At this time, the turning of the year, people often make predictions about what they think may happen in the next 12 months.  I’ve done this myself in the past.  But this year, I don’t feel able to make any predictions.  I’ve been looking at the signs with mounting unease, and I think we are accelerating towards a catastrophe which will be brought about by a combination of resource depletion (particularly fossil fuels), climate change and the collapse of an unstable economic system, it’s a race to the bottom as to which will get to us first, and the race is too close to call.  At this point, I think anything could trigger it, even something quite minor, and there’s no point in trying to predict what that thing might be.

Let me give you a couple of examples.  On 28 June 1914, an obscure Austrian aristocrat called Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in an obscure Serbian town called Sarajevo.  Until that point, probably very few people outside Austria had even heard of him.  That assassination set into motion the war machines of Germany, Russia, France and Great Britain, resulting in World War 1 and the deaths of 16 million people.

On 17 December 2010, an obscure Tunisian street vendor called Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire as a protest against harassment by police.  Absolutely nobody outside Tunisia had ever heard of him.  This set off a wave of protests across the Middle East and North Africa, widely known as the Arab Spring, which resulted in, among other things, the Syrian civil war, the rise of ISIS, massive migrations of refugees out of the region, proxy wars between the USA, Russia and Iran, multiple terrorist attacks in the Western world, and the deaths of millions of people.

It would be absurd to suggest that the deaths of Ferdinand and Bouazizi directly caused the deaths of those millions of people.  Those were accidents waiting to happen, and those incidents were like the last grain of sand on a pile which causes it to collapse, or the last snowflake falling on a mountainside which sets off an avalanche.  I think we are entering another period of global instability in which any event, however small, could trigger a crisis.

The nature of the crisis is fairly easy to predict (war, famine, mass migration, the deaths of millions of people etc., same as the last few times), but its timing, and the nature of the triggering event, are not.  It could be a software bug in a Wall Street computer which causes a trading algorithm to start executing “sell” commands causing a wave of financial institution collapses.  It could be a malfunction in a military satnav system which causes a warship or aeroplane to stray into the wrong zone.  It could be the assassination of a minor Saudi royal which triggers a Saudi civil war and an oil shortage.  It could even be a slightly off egg in Donald Trump’s breakfast which causes him to send a particularly offensive tweet.

So this year I’m not going to make any predictions about what I think might happen in the next 12 months.  Instead, I’m going to give you a list of suggestions for things you might want to consider doing in the next 12 months.  In no particular order, these are:

Get to know your neighbours.  Hopefully they are nice people, but if they are not, or if you think they might sponge off you or rob you in a crisis without giving anything in return, you might want to consider moving.

Position yourself so you have some form of direct access to food.  This may mean moving close to, or into, a farming or fishing community, or practising growing your own.  Living in an apartment in the middle of a big city may not be a good idea at this time.

Ditto, fresh water supply.  I understand that in the absence of power for water pumps, there is unlikely to be a water supply above the third floor of most buildings.

Learn to play a musical instrument.  This is good for getting to know people (see “neighbours”, above) and for stress relief.  And boy, are we going to need stress relief in the decades ahead.

Ensure you have a useful, tradable skill which can be practised in the absence of fossil fuels or advanced technology.  I’m thinking basic carpentry, blacksmithing, food production (see above), animal husbandry, making shoes and clothes, midwifery, basic emergency room skills like suturing or setting fractures, basic herbal medicine.  I’m not thinking website or app design, marketing, neurosurgery, financial services or beauty parlour work.

Consider putting about 10% of your savings in precious metals of small denomination coins.

Assemble a collection of books which tell you how to do stuff like make and mend clothes and shoes, grow food, look after animals, purify water and treat minor illnesses.  You can assemble your collection as paper books or PDF files on your computer, depending on your resources and space, but if the latter, make sure you have a way of powering your computer using solar panels.  I can particularly recommend Survivor Library (

Make sure you have a radio which works, or can be recharged, off solar panels, to keep up to date with breaking news.

Pay attention to your physical fitness.  If you are overweight, smoke, drink to excess or take drugs, now is the time to do something about those things, because you don’t want to find yourself trying to deal with a wide scale societal crisis and your own health problems at the same time.

Learn how to make wine or beer: see “stress relief” above, and it’s also a very tradable commodity which you can exchange for other stuff.

Take care of yourself and your own family first before trying to help others.  That may sound selfish, but it’s like the instruction you are given on aeroplanes: “Put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others”.

Good luck.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

The new logo

(If you are reading this by email, you might not see the pictures , so may I suggest you visit the WordPress blog itself so you can see what I’m talking about)

I’ve never been much good at visual artwork.   Back in 2010 when I first started the Post Peak Medicine book and website, a reader was kind enough to draw a logo for me, which looked like this:


It’s pretty basic, but it stood me in good stead for the last 8 years, so thanks again, Kimyo from the Hubbert’s Arms forum, whoever you are.

But time has moved on, the logo is starting to look a bit dated, and as I now have a number of publications available for download on the Post Peak Medicine Website, with more in the pipeline, I decided I needed a new and flashier logo to put on all of them and give the website a more unified and upmarket feel.  The fact is, people don’t take you seriously unless you have a good logo.  Big corporations know this, which is why they spend millions designing their logos.

So I decided to have a go.  As I’ve already said, graphic design is not my strong point, and many days passed while I laboured, with much wailing, gnashing of teeth and imbibing of wine and aspirin in the process.  Eventually, out came the new logo which looks like this:

PPM new logo 500x675

Cool, huh?  Now everyone will take me seriously.  Or maybe not.  Anyway, a lot of thought has gone into the symbolism contained within the logo.  The serpent is an longstanding symbol of the medical profession, dating from ancient Greek times.  The wavy lines in the middle of the circle symbolise the basics of peak oil theory: the first curve represents discovery of oil, the second curve production of oil, and the two peaks are separated by around 40 years, after which both curves are in decline.  And “Post Peak Medicine”…well, that speaks for itself.

Big corporations usually have some sort of slogan or mission statement, you know, “Forward Together” or something like that.  I drew the line at that though.  If Post Peak Medicine had a corporate slogan it would be something like “Look out below”.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin



Helicopter collection during TT Week, Noble’s Hospital, Isle of Man

This week there are three helicopters parked outside our local hospital. The Isle of Man is a small, mostly sleepy island (population 84,000) and there usually aren’t any helicopters at the hospital. The fact that there are three of them can mean only one thing: TT fortnight has come round again.

Motorcycle and wall

Motorcycle and wall – a bad combination

The TT (Tourist Trophy) races are an annual ritual peculiar to the Isle of Man. Billed as the most dangerous road races in the world, the only thing I can think of which compares to them is the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, except that in our case, the “bulls” travel at speeds up to 200 mph. The TT races are motorcycle races, but unlike conventional races, they are held not on a specially designed racetrack, but on a 37 mile circuit of public roads which are closed to normal traffic for the occasion. The roads contain all the things you normally find on public roads: lamp posts, bus stops, gateposts, houses and the like. There are frequent coming togethers of high speed riders and stationary objects, which usually don’t end well – hence the need for the medical evacuation helicopters. So far this TT we have had two deaths and one critical injury among the race competitors – and I don’t think anyone is counting the crashes by the ordinary visitors. For example, watch this YouTube video:

But be warned – it’s not for the faint hearted.

45,000 visitors come to watch the races, bringing with them 15,000 motorcycles and 8,000 cars. Pop-up tent cities, hamburger stalls and trackside seats spring up everywhere. There is a travelling fairground, fireworks, stunt riding, the Red Arrows aerobatic display team and a general carnival atmosphere. All schools are closed for a week. If you’re not into motorcycles, the effect can be rather overwhelming, so much so that many Isle of Man families take holidays over the TT, leave the island and rent their houses to visitors. For those of us who stay, getting to and from work becomes a bit unpredictable because of the scheduled road closures for the races, and unscheduled closures due to accidents among visitors.

Watching all this, I have a feeling of “fin de siècle”, which translates from French literally as “end of the century” but more metaphorically as “end of an era”. The first TT races were held in 1907, and I’d like you to put yourselves for a few minutes in the mind-set of that era and try to think what people were thinking then. The first oil well had been drilled 48 years previously (in Pennsylvania in 1859), various types of internal combustion engine had been invented to make use of the new fuel, which was much better than the whale oil which preceded it, and the Age of Steam was beginning to give way to the Age of Oil. Oil powered ships were starting to replace steamships, early motor cars were starting to replace horses, and the Wright Brothers had made their first powered flight four years earlier, introducing a totally new form of transport. It was therefore natural for the early manufacturers of motorised bicycles, such as Triumph, Matchless and Norton, to want to showcase their new machines and show the public what they could do. Hence, the TT races were born, in an era in which scientists and engineers were like magicians, conjuring up one new wonder after another, and seducing people with new technologies which seemed to hold unlimited promise.


A Norton motorised bicycle from the 1907 TT

Fast forward 111 years and where are we now? The complications and side effects of the course we set for ourselves at the beginning of the 20th century are much clearer to us now than they were to our ancestors four generations ago. Oil based transport by land, sea and air has made it much faster, easier and cheaper to move people from one place to another, but at the cost of making all places very similar. You could land by plane in Britain, the United States, Dubai or Australia, and if it wasn’t for the signs, you wouldn’t know which country you were in.

The world population has grown from 1.7 billion in 1907 to 7.6 billion today, thanks mainly to our oil based food supply chain. The side effect of that has been to turn over more and more land to human food production and habitation and to push wildlife to the margins, and in many cases to extinction. We have also gone down a one way street with no return: what happens to the food supply and the human population when the oil supply starts to decline?

We have altered the climate by pumping carbon waste into the atmosphere, a change which for all practical purposes is permanent, because it won’t be reversed within the lifetime of our species.

We have created an economy which depends on perpetual growth. In 1907, technological progress was an optional extra, a fun toy to play with. Oil powered machines, especially those which could fly, were a wonder to be marvelled at but our lives didn’t depend on them. Today, perpetual technological progress and perpetually increasing efficiency are essential, because without them our economy would collapse. We are like a hamster on a wheel, running faster and faster to stay in the same place.

Our fast paced and stressful society has resulted in more people than ever before taking antidepressants, opioids and benzodiazepines. In the United States for example, around 13% of the population takes an antidepressant, 5% a benzodiazepine and 5% an opioid – and those are just the legal ones.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoy our TT Races and all the carnival atmosphere which goes with them, but I think we may be basking in the late afternoon sunshine of our Age of Oil before twilight sets in. While the music keeps playing, keep on dancing.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

A Mindfulness Walk from Ballaugh to Bishopscourt in Early Spring

Today we are going to do something a bit different.  I’m tired of commenting on the antics of Theresa May, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin et al, so here is a chapter from my book-in-progress, “Medicinal Plants of the Isle of Man”.  The information in it is extremely local to the Isle of Man, so I would like to apologise in advance to readers in Texas and other foreign parts who have never seen a wild garlic or Wall Pennywort plant, but you might find the general principles interesting.  This book is meant to be a companion volume to “Post Peak Medicine” and to explain to local readers in the Isle of Man how and where where to find local medicinal plants and what to use them for.  The post on WordPress includes a picture of a blackthorn flower, taken by me at Ballaugh, Isle of Man, yesterday, so if you are getting this by email which doesn’t include the photograph, you might want to take a look at the original.  So here goes:


Blackthorn flower

Blackthorn in flower in early Spring, Ballaugh, Isle of Man

If you are new to herbal medicine and wondering where to start, I’d like to take you on a guided walk from Ballaugh to Bishopscourt in the Isle of Man, along the old railway track, and encourage you to practise mindfulness along the way. No, I’m not talking about some New Age hippy nonsense, I’m simply asking you to pay attention to what you see along the way, and particularly to what plants are growing where, and why, as this will help you to find them later when you need them. If you don’t live in the Isle of Man, you can still practise doing your mindfulness walk somewhere else; just follow the general principles.

First please note that I’ve described the walk as taking place in “early Spring”, and not for example on 25th March (which is when it actually took place). This is because Spring is when the plants think it is, not when you think it ought to be. Owing to some unusually harsh weather recently, Spring is at least a couple of weeks later this year than usual, and if you were to do this walk on 25th March next year you might find it entirely different.

Our walk takes place on a section of the old Manx Northern Railway, which opened in 1879 and which used to run from Ramsey to St Johns. It closed in 1969, the track was taken up and part of the route is now a public footpath.

Because it is a former railway, the track bed is level but the surrounding land isn’t. As a result the walk goes through a series of embankments and cuttings which create a series of micro-climates favouring the growth of different species. As you walk, you should of course admire the breathtaking Manx scenery, but I also want you to pay particular attention to what is within 10 feet of you.

The embankments are raised above the level of the surrounding land, creating an exposed, dry, sunny, windy environment. This favours the growth of plants like grasses, gorse, blackthorn and bramble, which grow vigorously and tend to crowd out other species.

In the cuttings there is more shelter from the wind and sun, favouring the growth of other species. As you walk through a cutting, are the sides gently or steeply sloping? It makes more difference than you might think. Gently sloping sides let more light in and favour the growth of grasses. Steeply sloping sides let in in less light, discouraging the more vigorous species and allowing the rarer and more delicate species to gain a foothold. Take note of the compass bearing or the direction of the sun. The north facing wall of the cutting is cooler and damper and here you will find damp loving plants such as mosses and hart’s tongue fern. The south facing wall is slightly warmer and dryer and you are more likely to find wall pennywort (navelwort) here, which loves vertical surfaces (hence its name) and has in the past been used as a sterile dressing for wounds and burns.

The trees are mostly still bare, but the blackthorn flowers are coming out (the flowers appear before the leaves) and the new shoots of elders are beginning to show. Take note of where the elder bushes are if you are planning to make elderflower wine later this year. In late Spring these bushes produce masses of sweetly scented elderflowers which make a very nice wine, but you only have about a two week window to collect the flowers. If you miss them, then they are gone until next year.

At some places along the way you will see daffodils and primroses. Look up and you will see a cottage within 100 feet. These are not native wild plants; they were planted by the cottage owners.

At a couple of places along the way you will pass a stream, and at Bishopscourt you can go up into Bishopscourt glen. In these damp places, and in most of the Manx glens at this time of year, wild garlic grows in great profusion, choking out for the time being any slower growing and more delicate plants.

If you are planning to collect plants for use in herbal medicine, it pays to be familiar with your patch and to walk it several times a year, because different things can be seen at different times of year. For example, at this time of year, early Spring, it is obvious that the flowering trees are blackthorns, because they produce flowers at this time of year, before the leaves, whereas hawthorns produce theirs a couple of months later, in late Spring, after the leaves come out. Come back in Summer, however, and the two trees may be difficult to tell apart.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

Ye shall know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:16)

Google eyes

Google eyes

Recently it was my birthday (I’m not going to say what date that was, for reasons which will become clear later) and when I did a Google search, I was surprised to find a “Happy Birthday” greeting from Google, complete with an image of candles.  I didn’t know how Google knew that, but I was busy at the time, I couldn’t be bothered looking into it and I just wrote it off as one of those “weird web” things.

The issue surfaced again more recently in a more sinister form when I tried to delete an online “profile photo” of myself stored in my Google account.  There was nothing particularly sinister about the photo, just a standard head and shoulders shot, but it was out of date and not particularly flattering and I thought “let’s get rid of it then”.  I couldn’t.  I spent an hour trying to delete that photo when it was the Christmas holidays and I had better things to do.  I consider myself a fairly proficient Internet user, but I tried everything I could think of to delete that photo without success.  First I tried following all the obvious links to things like “my account”, “my profile”, “update details”, “images” and so on.  I right clicked and left clicked on the picture and hit the “delete” button many, many times.  I tried to replace it by uploading a neutral landscape photo.  It was very easy to upload a new photo, but impossible to delete the one which was already there: I just found that both photos were then stored in my Google account.  I tried Googling for “how to delete your Google profile photo” and found some instructions, but when I tried to follow them, they didn’t work.

After an hour of this, it looked as though the only way of permanently getting rid of the photo was to permanently delete my Google and Google plus accounts, which is what I did, ignoring the warnings from Google that I might lose personal data, passwords, apps, photos, videos and other things in the process.  I wasn’t too worried about this because I’m old fashioned and store very little data “in the cloud”, preferring to store it on my computer hard drive and backup removable hard drives instead.

Once I had done that I reflected on what had happened.  I don’t believe the programmers at Google are stupid, or that the impossibility of deleting that image resulted from careless programming.  Those people are probably more intelligent than I am and earn more money than I do.  Note the ease with which I could upload, but not remove, images.  I think that Google is trying to create a personal profile for everyone on the Internet (that’s where they extracted my date of birth from), and that having an identification photo attached to that profile is so important to Google that they have deliberately made these photos impossible, or at least very difficult, to delete.  Unlike your physical address, email address and phone number, which change frequently, your appearance changes only very slowly and your photo is therefore a particularly valuable piece of information to have.

I had to re-read that last paragraph a few times to make sure I wasn’t coming down with a bad case of paranoia, but I don’t think I am.  Google has already photographed almost every square inch of the planet with applications like Google Earth, Satellite View and Street View, and for a long time they have been compiling an index to almost every piece of information in the world – the Google search engine.  It would make perfect sense, from a corporate strategy point of view, to start building a database of every person in the world, or at least, everyone who uses the Internet.

I looked up Google’s policy on data collection:

It all sounds very bland and reassuring. “We collect data to make these services work for you”, “we store and protect what you create using our services”, “you decide what types of data we collect and use”, “you can permanently delete specific activities or even entire topics that you don’t want associated with your account”.  But, as I said at the start of this article, “Ye shall know them by their fruits”.  If, in reality, Google makes it almost impossible to delete data, this makes the reassuring words meaningless.  Or, if you prefer a quote from Adolf Hitler, “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed”.

What Google is doing – building a database in which any citizen of the planet can be recognised from a facial photograph – is very, very dangerous if it falls into the wrong hands, or even if it remains in Google’s hands.  It is far in excess of anything envisaged by George Orwell or Stalin.  I may have deleted all of my Google accounts, but I’m not naïve enough to imagine that my data and my photo have been deleted: I am sure Google has archived them away in some vast server farm in California.  However, there are at least two benefits to deleting my accounts: as the data ages, it will become less useful, and if Google ever uses it, they will have to admit that they cheated by archiving the data instead of deleting it.

Welcome to the brave new world of 2018.  Happy New Year.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

World War 4

Assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, which started World War 1

It’s that time of year again when people dust off their crystal balls and peer into them to try to predict what the future holds.  For this season’s predictions, I am going to concentrate on my near term forecast for the UK, and what World War 4 may look like.

As I’m sure you know, the UK voted in a referendum in June 2016 to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), and this has caused political and economic instability ever since.  The British Prime Minister Theresa May scored an own goal in June this year by calling an early general election, hoping to get a vote of confidence in the way she was managing the Brexit process.  What she actually got was a vote of no confidence and a decreased parliamentary majority.  The UK Government is currently surviving by means of an alliance with a little known fringe party, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland.  Before the election this party was so little known that newspapers ran articles with headlines like, I kid you not, “Who are the Democratic Unionist Party?”:

Anyway, this lot have been propping up a weak UK government ever since, so that it can continue to push its policies through Parliament.  My forecast for 2018 is that this arrangement will break down, there will be another general election, and that the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will be voted in.  The political instability will then continue pretty much unchanged.  So much for that.

Now for the question of World War 4.  No, that’s not a typo, because I am counting the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) as the First World War.  During this period, multiple European countries fought against each other in multiple coalitions, there was some peripheral engagement in North Africa and North America, and it was just as much a World War as the two subsequent ones.  However, so as not to cause any more confusion, from now on I will refer to the Napoleonic Wars as World War 0.5 and the two 20th century World Wars as World Wars 1 and 2.

Wars are fought with whatever weapons are at hand.  So, World War 0.5 was fought mainly with men, swords and horses.  The French are said to have fielded 47,000 horses in the Battle of Waterloo alone.

World War 1 was fought mainly in trenches with men, guns and explosives

World War 2 was fought mainly with heavy oil powered machinery (tanks, aircraft, battleships), men and explosives (unmanned rockets and bombs dropped from aircraft).  It culminated with the detonation of two primitive nuclear bombs.

What will World War 4 be fought with?  Let’s look at what is in short supply, what is in plentiful supply, and what the most vulnerable points of the combatants might be.

We don’t have the horses to fight a World War 0.5 style campaign.  They could be bred up again, and indeed they probably will be bred up, but this will take many generations and a remodelling of society to rebuild the necessary infrastructure such as blacksmiths’ forges, stables, farriers and so on.

With peak conventional oil now starting to come into view in the rear view mirror, we probably don’t have the oil resources to fight a World War 2 style campaign reliant on heavy machinery.  We probably also don’t have the infrastructure to build (and destroy) hundreds of tanks, ships and aircraft every week, because that would need (among other things) plentiful supplies of coal and iron ore and the foundries and factories to process it.  Coal is still plentiful in the United States and China but the coal industry in the UK has almost shut down compared to its peak around 1900.  Most of the heavy industry which was formerly in the West has relocated to China in the name of “globalization”.

We have plenty of people (world population currently 7.6 billion) and they are cheap and easy to produce, so I would guess that in World War 4, we will see more of a return to large numbers of people fighting on foot using hand weapons, as in World War 0.5 and 1, and as in medieval and Roman times before then.

Nuclear weapons are good for deterrence but largely pointless as weapons of war.  If the purpose of war is to take and hold territory, nuclear weapons don’t help to do this – they just render the territory useless and uninhabitable by either side.  So my feeling is that although occasional nuclear weapons may be used in World War 4, for example to disrupt communications (see below), they probably won’t play a major role.

Information technology, fake news and propaganda is likely to play a larger part in World War 4 than in previous wars, because so much of our society is built around information technology infrastructure.  People are already starting to worry about vulnerability of undersea communication cables to Russian attacks:

and the same goes for the vulnerability of satellites to be shot down, and the vulnerability of ground based IT equipment to a nuclear weapon airburst, or electromagnetic pulse (EMP).  We have had endless fake news about the supposed Russian invasion of Ukraine and the supposed Russian meddling in the US presidential election, with almost nobody in the mainstream media putting the other side of the story or asking the difficult questions.  Propaganda and fake news have always been used as weapons of war.  Both Western and Eastern societies are vulnerable to misuse of communications in this way, the West because of the tendency of media corporations to merge so that most media outlets are controlled by very few people:

and of course broadcast media in China and Russia have always been tightly controlled by the State.

A relatively recent example of propaganda being used as a weapon of war can be seen in the Rwandan civil war (1990-93).  Crude propaganda was repeatedly broadcast over the state-controlled radio referring to the Tutsi population as “cockroaches”.  This ultimately led to the genocide of around 1 million Tutsis by their Hutu countrymen.  This civil war was fought by people on foot using hand weapons, because both of these were in plentiful supply: see above.

And what might be the trigger which sets off World War 4?  Well, it could be anything at any time.  World War 1 was set off by the assassination of a little known Austrian aristocrat, Archduke Ferdinand, in the little known Bosnian town of Sarajevo.  World War 4 could be started by one of the many thousands of Saudi Arabian princelets competing for power.  It could be started by one of Donald Trump’s tweets.  Who knows, it could even be started by accident.

Have a great Christmas.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin

A failure of imagination


Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  Spot the physician office.

I left Canada for the Isle of Man over a year ago, but my Canadian medical licence has not yet expired, and as a result I am still on the mailing list of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO).  I was therefore interested to receive from that venerable body a notice of a consultation on a new draft College policy on “Physician Services During Disasters and Public Health Emergencies”.

Having written an entire book, Post Peak Medicine, on how physicians might provide services during the greatest disaster of all, the “Long Emergency” following peak oil, I was somewhat interested to see what this policy might contain, and read it carefully.  It is thankfully quite brief – only four pages – and the main thing which struck me about it was its lack of imagination.  Specifically, the only disasters and public health emergencies which it could foresee were brief ones, following which life would return to normal (or what we believe to be normal, which in historical terms is actually highly abnormal).  There was no discussion of what might happen in the event of a disaster of such magnitude and duration that the normal institutions of society, such as the CPSO or the economy, cease to function, and/or a permanent lifestyle change is forced upon us.  Specifically, the expectation of the policy, and the College, is that “physicians must provide physician services during disasters and public health emergencies” (page 3).

Yeah, right.  That is fine for relatively minor disasters such as a localised severe weather event lasting no more than 24 hours, but the author of this policy obviously doesn’t read the same books or visit the same websites that I do.  Take a look at this:

“…fire trucks were driven by stoned teenagers in weird uniforms…” (during the civil war in the former Yugoslavia).  Had the firefighters reported for duty to provide firefighting services?  No, they were protecting their families.  Or there’s this:

An article in The Lancet describes the physician shortage in Iraq due to doctors leaving the country because of fears of violence.  Or this:

When Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 (see picture above), 37% of a sample of Disaster Support Professionals (DSPs) interviewed said they evacuated the area either alone or with family members.

The reality is that in a severe and prolonged disaster, doctors and other emergency service personnel are likely to look after themselves and their families first, regardless of whatever policies and guidelines are in place, and I can’t blame them for doing so.  Family must come first.

This failure of imagination is endemic today in public discourse in the media, politics and economics.  When oil becomes too expensive or unavailable to burn in car engines, people can’t imagine that we may have to stop driving cars: surely we will just switch to electric cars?  When aquifers and glaciers stop supplying water to farmland, people can’t imagine that millions of people may starve to death: surely we will just get food and water from somewhere else?  When central banks print billions of dollars per month out of thin air, people can’t imagine that it could lead to paper and digital money becoming worthless: stock markets always go up over the long term, right?  People like me who think otherwise aren’t welcomed into the public discourse, which is one reason why Post Peak Medicine keeps a low profile (for the time being).  And it’s the reason why I don’t think I’ll be contributing to the CPSO consultation.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin


Dymon Storage Ottawa

Inside Dymon Storage, Ottawa, Ontario

It’s 4 am and I’m alone at a Dymon Storage facility in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  Storage facilities like this have been springing up like mushrooms throughout the Western world for the last few decades.  Dymon has eight locations in Ottawa alone, and that’s just one firm’s locations in one city.  There must be hundreds of thousands of them throughout Europe and North America.

Indigenous people generally have few possessions, but consider the ones they have to be very valuable because they are mostly hand made and a great deal of time, skill and love goes into making them.  We, on the other hand, have so many mass produced possessions that we don’t know what to do with them, so we put them into storage facilities like this one.

I’m on the third floor of the building and there are maybe a couple of hundred storage units on this floor.  Same again on the floor below me.  There’s a grid of corridors with hundreds of storage pods leading off them, protected by hundreds of identical metal shutters.  The whole thing is bathed in soft, uniform white light, it’s very quiet, and the atmosphere reminds me of the back room of an undertaker’s parlour, the part the public never sees, where the bodies lie on identical metal shelves.  Maybe this where our civilisation goes to die?

I’m not usually up and about at 4am, but I’m here trying to sort out our stuff, the stuff we put into storage in Canada before moving to the Isle of Man.  We dithered for months trying to decide whether to give it away, dump it or ship it to the Isle of Man, and in the end we decided to do all three: give some of it away, dump some of it and ship the rest.  So I’m here sorting it out.

Back home it’s 9am, but here it’s 4am, I’m still running on Isle of Man time, hence the unearthly hour.  I’m the only human being in the building.  In earlier times, there would probably have been a custodian or nightwatchman, but now with the march of progress, s/he has been replaced by a central computer which controls all the building’s functions.  Being the only person in the building at 4am plays strange tricks with the computer’s algorithms.  It is programmed to assume that if nobody presses any buttons anywhere in the building for half an hour, the building is empty and it should switch off the lights to save energy.  So every half an hour, all the lights go off and I have to walk to the elevator in the dark and press an elevator button to signal to the computer that I’m still here and it should switch the lights back on again (there are no human-controlled light switches).  A real custodian wouldn’t have made that mistake: he would know that human beings don’t just disappear.

So I’m sitting in my storage pod surrounded by the debris of nine wasted years in Ontario: photograph albums, a wedding dress, Christmas tree ornaments made at school by the kids, the obligatory six years of tax papers, you know the sort of thing.  Then my mind starts to play strange tricks on me.  Do the things in this storage facility know they have been abandoned by their owners?  Are they, in some way, sentient?  Do they have souls?  Stupid questions I know, but that’s what you do when you’re three thousand miles from home, lonely and jet lagged to hell and in one of the world’s most unlikely buildings with only a dysfunctional computer for company.  You think stupid thoughts.

I know a tax return doesn’t have a soul – that would be absurd – but how about something more personal like a wedding dress?  And what happens if, over the years, the two people who got married drift apart, maybe separate, maybe find other people to be with?  Does the wedding dress lose its soul and become just an ordinary piece of fabric again – does it stop being special?

My contract with the storage company says that if I stop paying the rental on the unit, after 30 days the company has the right to clear out the unit and dispose of the stuff.  I expect that happens quite a lot.  You can’t bear to part with your stuff, but you have nowhere else to put it, so you put it into storage intending to come back for it.  But that time never comes, and you get busy with other things, lose interest in it, run out of money, get sick, maybe even die, and then the junk removal people come and take it away.  If things have souls, that must be the biggest possible disappointment – being abandoned by your owner.

I wonder what is behind those hundreds of other steel shutters which line the corridors of the building.  Drugs, guns, cash, stolen goods, dead bodies, God knows what all could be in there.  But mostly I expect it’s just stuff like mine, of sentimental value to the owner but little use or interest to anyone else.

Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin