Brexit: Dispatch from the Frontline

I am writing this post from the Isle of Man, which is a small island off the coast of Britain. I arrived here just over a week ago. Before you start saying “Isle of What?” and reaching for Google maps, that’s not important right now, and I’ll tell you all about it another time. I was planning to write this blog post about why I’m here and what I’m doing in the Isle of Man, but six days after I arrived, the Brexit fiasco erupted so I thought I’d better write about that instead.

Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last week, you’ve probably heard about Brexit, but just in case you’re a bit confused about the facts, I’ll try to bring you up to speed.

“Brexit” is short for “Britain’s exit from the European Union” (EU). The back story to this is as follows: Britain joined the European union as a result of a referendum held in 1972. The British Prime Minister David Cameron (shortly to be ex-prime minister, see below) organized a second referendum of the British people to ask whether they wanted to leave, or remain in, the European Union, which was held on 23 June this year. Quite why he thought this referendum would be a good idea is unclear; it seems to have been an attempt to gain some kind of edge over his political rivals. In the weeks leading up to the referendum, there was intense campaigning by both the “Leave” and “Remain” factions, but nobody seriously doubted what the outcome would be: there would be a lot of impassioned speeches and a lot of grumbling, but at the end of the day the British people would vote to maintain the status quo and continue membership of the EU.

Everyone, including the “Leave” faction, was therefore stunned when the result of the referendum was announced the morning after: the British people had voted, by 51.9% to 48.1% to leave the EU. This was not supposed to happen, and consequently, nobody had prepared for it. In the days following the result there was intense political bloodletting, with Cameron resigning as Prime Minister, and a vote of no confidence being called to oust Jeremy Corbyn, the Leader of the Opposition. Right now, it’s not clear who is in charge of anything or what is supposed to happen next. The problem is, anyone who campaigned strongly to “Remain” (like Cameron) would be unacceptable to half of the electorate, anyone who campaigned strongly to “Leave” (like Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party) would be unacceptable to the other half of the electorate, and anyone who sat on the fence and didn’t declare strongly for either side (like Corbyn) would be unacceptable to everyone.

The “Remain” campaign focused mainly on the economic benefits of staying in the EU. The “Leave” campaign focused mainly on immigration. In the end, concerns about immigration trumped concerns about the economy. There have been attempts to portray the immigration issue as “racist”, but that would be to either misunderstand or misrepresent what the campaign was about. It was not about racism, but about sovereignty. Membership of the EU is based on free movement of people, goods and services, and the EU Commissioners have pursued these goals with an obsessional, almost puritanical zeal, allowing no compromise. You have to allow total, unrestricted immigration or you can’t be a member of the club. The problem is that this conflicts with the basic right of a sovereign country to exercise control over who enters, and who remains in, the country

Despite the global hysteria I find it difficult to get excited about Brexit for two reasons. Firstly, the countries of Europe have been dancing a complicated dance with each other for over two thousand years. In turn, they are sometimes the underdog, sometimes dominant, sometimes at war with each other, sometimes at peace, sometimes they trade with each other, sometimes they put up trade barriers and embargoes. Sometimes the ruling class of one country will impose itself by force on the ruling class of another, sometimes they will forge alliances by intermarrying. This is particularly true of the Big Six countries: Greece, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, England. All of them except Germany have at one time controlled a world class empire (Germany had a stab at this in the 20th century but didn’t get very far) and all of them have at one time been a collection of primitive tribes under the control of a more powerful neighbour. Britain joining the EU and then leaving it again are the latest iterations of this dance which is likely to continue for many centuries after the EU is disbanded.

Analysis of the referendum results suggested that older people were more likely to vote “leave” whereas younger people were more likely to vote “remain”. I suspect that is because to get a grip on this thing, you need to have a historical perspective on it, and older people are more likely to have that perspective. As a card carrying wrinkly (I’m 56) that probably explains where I’m coming from.

The other reason I can’t get too excited about it is because the whole question of EU membership could well become irrelevant in the near future. The free movement of people, goods and services presupposes that we have the physical capability to do this. Most of this movement is made possible by fossil fuels. Two little words which were not heard at all during the campaigning were “peak oil”. If the world is currently at or just past peak conventional oil, then this unrestricted free movement may only be possible in its current form for another couple of decades, after which it will be a moot point.

My predictions for what happens next: I think there will be continuing political and economic instability for several years until a new equilibrium is found. It’s difficult to be sure what that will look like, but it will probably be something like the pre-1972 situation. I would also guess that the next crisis to hit the EU may be “Grexit”, or “Greek exit”. The Greeks are probably assessing the situation right now and wondering whether they would be better off defaulting on their mountain of unrepayable Euro debt, leaving the EU and forming a closer alliance with other non-EU countries like the UK, North America and Australia.

Good luck everyone, and I’ll keep you posted.

Supping with the Devil

“He who sups with the Devil should have a long spoon”.  English proverbial saying, 14th century.

In our medical office, Thursday is drug lunch day, when a pharmaceutical company rep buys the whole office lunch and in return, gets the undivided attention of the physicians for one hour to promote whatever the product du jour happens to be.  In biological terms it’s a bit like a host-parasite relationship where the pharmaceutical company is the host, the physicians are the parasites, and the reception and nursing staff are the commensals (they get to eat the food but don’t have to stay for the talk).

Today was a bit different because the drug rep was accompanied by Dr X (not his real name), a professional colleague from a nearby town who gave us a talk about the benefits of orlistat (Xenical) and liraglutide (Saxenda) in the treatment of obesity.  The drug rep was from Novo Nordisk who, coincidentally, just happen to manufacture Saxenda.

I sat through the talk with a mounting but ill defined sense of unease.  Of course, I agreed with Dr X that obesity is a big problem in industrialized societies (in the US, 35% of the adult population is obese).  Naturally, I agreed with him that it is associated with many medical conditions including heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, gallbladder disease and gallstones, osteoarthritis, gout, sleep apnea and asthma.  And it goes without saying that I agreed with him that Xenical and Saxenda could produce (in the short term anyway) a reduction in obesity and the associated medical conditions.  So prescribing Xenical and Saxenda seemed like a no-brainer.

And yet…something still troubled me which I found it difficult to put my finger on.  I suppose it boils down to this: where has the sense of personal responsibility gone?  The principle of losing weight is very simple: you weigh yourself once a week, you keep cutting down your calorie intake until it’s below the level of your calorie requirements, and at that point your body starts burning your excess fat and you lose weight.  That’s it really.  I’ve done it myself, it’s not all that difficult, and it works 100% of the time.  Eat less and you lose weight.  Look at the photos of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps: you don’t see any fat people.

So why is it my job, as a physician, to do for people what they won’t do for themselves: curb their appetites?  It seems to be part of the trend towards hyper-professionalization in modern society.  Low self esteem?  The psychologist will fix it.  Want entertainment?  Don’t bother learning to play a musical instrument, just download some professional entertainment from the cable TV or internet.  Car or household appliance broken down?  Have a repairman fix it or buy a new one.  Worried about the economy?  The economists will take care of it.  Too fat?  The doctor will fix it.  But for Heaven’s sake, don’t try to fix these things for yourself.  Let the professionals do it for you.

Glacial delusions

I’m a regular listener to the C-Realm Podcast, run by KMO, and I was intrigued to hear KMO read out the following post which appeared on the “Friends of the C-Realm” discussion group, posted by someone called Morris:

“No buts about ‘can’t’. Because I’ve been shown what people can do when they choose. Still another friend in a group in Nepal on a successful project to re-grow a completely melted glacier in the Himalayas. That’s a real accomplishment. And how much of it did you see in the news?”

So Morris is clearly a can-do optimist about what can be done in the face of climate change and the other converging crises of the 21st century. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. But the story about re-growing a melted glacier intrigued me because it sounded so improbable. How would you try to re-grow a glacier, and could there possibly be any truth in this? So by doing multiple Google searches for combinations of words like “Nepal”, “glacier” and “re-grow” I was able to piece together the facts of this story, which are as follows:

In 2010, Peruvian inventor Eduardo Gold devised a bizarre experiment in the Western Peruvian Andes (not Nepal): paint rocks white in an area where a glacier had melted to see if it could be persuaded to re-grow. The theory was that the black rocks exposed by the retreating glacier absorbed sunlight and warmed up. If they were painted white, they might reflect sunlight, cool down and allow ice to re-form over them. Gold obtained $200,000 in funding from the World Bank for this and set to work with four men from the neighboring village of Licapa to paint the rocks white using a mixture of locally sourced lime, egg whites and water. This was extensively reported in the mainstream media at the time by Maclean’s, the British Broadcasting Corporation, Colors Magazine, the Daily Mail and Pique News Magazine, among others.

Since then, there has been silence. Despite the initial surge of interest, there was apparently no attempt by the mainstream media or anyone else to followup on the project, find out if it worked or not, take before-and-after photographs of the newly formed glacier, or anything else of that sort. The story appears to have died without a trace. I can find no evidence of anyone trying a similar experiment in Nepal or anywhere else.

There are so many things wrong with this picture that it’s difficult to know where to start, but I will give it a try. Where, for example, are you going to get enough eggs to cover the Andes (or the Himalayas, or both) in egg white? Where are you going to get all the chickens from to lay the eggs? What about all the children in the Andes (or the Himalayas, or both) who are suffering from malnutrition? Wouldn’t it be better to feed the eggs to them? And so on. You can see where I’m coming from so I’ll leave it there.

Both on the basis of common sense, and on the basis of the media silence over the last six years, this is a story about a crackpot scheme which never had any chance of success and in fact, didn’t succeed. Why Morris chose to re-tell it as a project carried out by “a friend in Nepal” is unclear. Maybe he got wasted in the bar that night and posted it while firing on two neurons. Maybe the pharmacy was closed that day and his meds ran out. Whatever – it doesn’t matter. I want you to pay attention, not to the delusional Morris, but to the wider picture, because this is a scenario which we are going to see playing out with increasing frequency over the next few years.

This is an example of extreme wishful thinking. We really, really want to believe that we can fix the problems facing us, that “someone will think of something”, so we tell ourselves stories to try to prove to ourselves that this will happen. These stories may be about fracking, nuclear fusion, an infinitely growing economy, desalination, cloud seeding, relocating to Mars or painting the Andes (or Himalayas, or both) with egg white. The things they all have in common are: they are greeted with great fanfare by the media and True Believers as the Next Big Thing, there is little critical examination of their plausibility, and when they fail, they are quietly discarded and replaced by the Next But One Big Thing.

Did I tell you about my idea to solve all the world’s problems by having the entire human race cryogenically frozen while Google figures out a solution to climate change? Just give me $200,000 and I can prove it.

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http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/a-hill-to-dye-on/
http://www.bbc.com/news/10333304
http://www.colorsmagazine.com/blog/article/painting-the-mountains-white
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2067442/Paint-white-One-mans-quest-bring-glaciers-Peru.html
http://www.piquenewsmagazine.com/whistler/painting-rock-while-glaciers-melt/Content?oid=2291754&storyPage=4

Christmas greetings

Once again, it is the season of goodwill and shopping.  So in these difficult times, in a spirit of inclusiveness, I would like to invite all my readers to enjoy your Christmas, Ramadan, Hanukkah or whatever other festival you celebrate.  But please don’t go round wishing people “Happy Holidays” and hiding the Christmas trees in case they cause offence: let’s all do our own thing, enjoy celebrating our cultural heritage and let others do the same.

As I haven’t posted anything on this blog since May, followers may be forgiven for thinking: have I died, have I lost interest in Post Peak Medicine, should I “un-follow” this guy (or whatever the correct term is)?  I am happy to say that the answer to all of the above is “no”.  This is just a very occasional blog which I write when I have time, and recently I have been overwhelmingly busy with other things, including an important survival gardening project (of which you may possibly hear more next year), a pending international relocation from Canada to the British Isles, and the day to day demands of a busy medical practice and a growing family.

So here is my Christmas blog, and I would like to close out 2015 with some personal “Best of” recommendations.

Best new book of 2015

I am going to recommend “Prosper” by Chris Martenson and Adam Taggart.  Chris took the peak oil world by storm in 2008 with his video presentation “Crash Course” emphasizing the three E’s (Energy, Economy and the Environment).  His latest book continues where the Crash Course left off, and the emphasis is not so much about learning about the three E’s, but more about using them to prepare yourself for the future.  I’m only part way through it but so far it looks every bit as good as the original Crash Course.  You can buy it in various formats (e-book, paper book, CD) from Amazon.  Just go to your national Amazon website and search for “Prosper”.

Best new podcast of 2015

I am going to recommend “Conversation Earth”, a new weekly podcast hosted by Dave Gardner of “Growthbusters” fame.  The initial podcasts included interviews with some well known names like Al Bartlett and William Catton (both now deceased: these interviews were recorded a few years ago).  Good for dispelling that feeling of “Am I alone in the universe in thinking like this?”.   You can find it in iTunes.  There is a slight technical glitch in that the podcasts do not seem to play on an iPod Shuffle.  If anyone has this issue, please email me and I will explain how to workaround it.

Best blog of 2015

I haven’t come across any really good new blogs so I am going to recommend one which has been around for several years: the Archdruid Report.  John Michael Greer never disappoints with his fresh and insightful ideas, week after week.  You can find it at

http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com/

Best Christmas gifts of 2015

Forget about the latest iCrap: buy gold and silver bullion.  See my blog post from this time last year.  It’s probably one of the best gifts you could give your children and grandchildren.  The problem is, you can’t actually physically give it to them as a Christmas gift because they won’t know what to do with it and they will think you are weird.  Put it in a locked cash box under the bed (unless you live in Sweden: see below).

Best social skill to learn in 2016

Learn to play a musical instrument.  Or if you already know how to play one, learn to play it better.  During a societal collapse there will probably be plenty of time for sitting around a camp fire singing songs, and it will be community- and morale-building.  This is my favorite instrument:

20150428_170313

It’s a Hohner 1-row 4-stop melodeon in C.  I also have a Hohner 2-row melodeon in D/G.

Scariest news stories of 2015

No, not the ISIS atrocities in Paris, or Russia and Turkey trying to start World War 3.  Here are the two news stories which scared me the most:

http://www.sciencealert.com/sweden-is-on-track-to-become-the-world-s-first-cashless-society

https://www.credit-suisse.com/ca/en/news-and-expertise/economy/articles/news-and-expertise/2015/03/en/sweden-we-dont-accept-cash.html

Sweden is going cashless.  Many stores and restaurants don’t accept cash any more, but insist that you pay for everything by credit card.  So Sweden has moved one step closer to a surveillance state, with every transaction trackable by the Government, and everyone’s money susceptible to confiscation, “haircuts” or whatever the Too Big To Jail banks want to do with it.  Oh My God.  How could the Swedes have done this to themselves?  Just hope that it never comes to a country near you.

And then there’s this:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/paulson-rcmp-subscriber-info-warrantless-access-1.3337028

The RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, for non-Canadians) want ISPs to identify any subscriber to them, on request, without any warrant or judge’s order.  Similar to previous story, but substitute “end of online privacy” for “end of financial privacy”.  This news item attracted 1551 comments, almost all of them negative.

You may think I’m being paranoid, but here’s the problem.  The way we currently do things as a society is unsustainable on multiple levels, including energy supply, financial, food supply and many others.  “Unsustainable” means “cannot be sustained” which means “must end”.  Therefore, many of the things we did during the 20th century will have to end, and be replaced by new ways of doing things in the 21st century.

Our political and economic leaders have no plans in place for this, and therefore the transition from the old ways to the new ways is likely to be messy, to put it mildly.  Laws are going to remain in place enforcing the old ways of doing things long after the old ways have become inappropriate, because people are not going to get around to repealing them quickly enough.  For example: as industrial agriculture winds down for lack of oil to power machinery and lack of natural gas and phosphates to make fertilizer, people are going to have to produce more food locally or go hungry.  So local small scale farming of small animals like rabbits and chickens is probably going to increase, and people are probably going to want to buy and sell these things among themselves.  But there are probably numerous laws on the statute books restricting this on public health, environmental and taxation grounds (has that chicken been vaccinated?  Is it lowering neighborhood property values?  Have you declared it on your tax return?).  Although these laws will eventually be repealed or ignored, they may be problematic during the changeover period.  The last thing you want during this period is Big Government trying to micro-manage things using vast electronic databanks with details of all your activities.  Big Government will need to back off and let people do their own thing, and it may find that hard to do.

Finally, here is a comment from a family which tried pioneer-style small farming and came up against exactly the kind of bureaucratic red tape which I have described above:

“My wife and I tried this years ago. The regulators disallowed us selling extra eggs in town. The poultry marketing boards limited the number of birds we could have. They shut down our pickling business because we canned in our kitchen. They wouldn’t allow self butchered meat to leave the farm thus discouraging barter. Of course the pioneers were not shackled in like manner.”

If you want to read the original in its context it is here:

http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-pioneer-family-1.3341336

On that note, may I wish you all a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and good luck.  I’ll be back…

An insight into the mind of the Bank of Canada and infinite growth

Happy Victoria Day Weekend, for those readers who live in Canada.  And for anyone else, have a happy weekend anyway.

Periodically I try to engage with the Powers That Be about the subject of infinite growth (impossibility of).  It’s rather like binge drinking: it seems like a good idea at the time but I always regret it afterwards and need a few aspirin to recover.  Here is my latest correspondence with a nice lady called Natalie at the Bank of Canada, who is obviously doing her best to be helpful.  I asked the bank to clarify their recent statements on “full capacity” and “sustainable economic growth”.  I’ve published the full correspondence here but added a few comments of my own at the bottom.

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From: Nathalie Smith [mailto:nsmith@bank-banque-canada.ca] On Behalf Of Public Information/Information Publique Sent: Thursday, May 14, 2015 11:28 AM To: Peter Gray Subject: RE: Full capacity?

Dear Mr. Gray,

In that context, economic growth refers to real GDP growth. Also, real GDP and potential output are related concepts, as potential output is the level of real GDP that can be sustained in an economy without adding inflationary pressures. As indicated in the previous response, reaching full capacity around the end of 2016 means that the level of real GDP will have returned to the level of potential output.

Because the Bank judges that there is excess capacity at the beginning of the projection horizon (i.e., the level of real GDP is lower than that of potential output), real GDP growth will need to be temporarily faster than projected potential growth to bring the real GDP to the same level as potential. Thereafter, full capacity will be maintained if real GDP grows at the same rate as potential output.

Sustainable growth means that the economy is operating at full capacity and growing at the rate of potential output. At the same time, the composition of the drivers of aggregate demand needs to be balanced. In this regard, the Bank has been saying that, in order for the Canadian economy to return to sustainable growth, we need a rotation of demand toward exports and business investment.

Best regards,

Nathalie Smith, Public Information Agent/Agente de l’information publique

From: Peter Gray  Sent: May 13, 2015 11:30 AM To: Public Information/Information Publique Subject: RE: Full capacity?

Thanks Natalie, but I would be grateful for one further point of clarification.  Can you confirm that economic growth and economic capacity are completely independent variables?  I quoted you the sentence

“Economic growth in Canada is expected to average 2.1 per cent in 2015 and 2.4 per cent in 2016, with a return to full capacity around the end of 2016” (January 2015 Monetary Policy Report)

because I found it confusing, because economic growth and economic capacity were talked about in the same sentence as though they were equivalent.  However, from what you are saying, I understand that they are independent.  So, for example, am I correct in thinking that you could (hypothetically) have economic growth of zero percent but still have full economic capacity?  That would presumably be the case if the economy did not grow between 2016 and 2017 but real GDP and potential output remained in balance (i.e. excess capacity was also zero)?

Also I have a separate question: can you explain what is meant by “sustainable economic growth”?  This phrase is used in several Bank documents, for example, “Double Coincidence of Needs: Pension Funds and Financial Stability” (Speech, Lawrence Schembri, 15 May 2014).  Over what period does the bank judge economic growth to be sustainable?  For example, if you have economic growth of 2.5% per annum, this would result in growth to 720% of original size over 80 years, 5184% over 160 years, 37,324% over 240 years, and so on, which does not appear sustainable over very long periods.  So does the Bank have a shorter time frame within which it considers growth “sustainable”, and if so, what is that time frame?

Thank you!

Peter Gray

From: Nathalie Smith [mailto:nsmith@bank-banque-canada.ca] On Behalf Of Public Information/Information Publique Sent: Wednesday, May 13, 2015 11:05 AM To: Peter Gray Subject: RE: Full capacity?

Dear Mr. Gray,

In response to your inquiry, “The Bank expects that the economy will reach full capacity around the end of 2016.” (p. 21)

In that context, full capacity means that the level of real GDP will have returned to the level of potential output.

Recall that the amount of excess capacity at the beginning of the projection horizon (i.e., 2015Q1) is estimated to be between 1/2 and 1 1/2 per cent, with the projection constructed around the midpoint of that range (i.e., -1 per cent). (p. 20)

Additional information about the potential output can be found in the “Appendix: Updated Estimates of Potential Output Growth” (pp. 31-32).

Best regards,

Nathalie Smith, Public Information Agent/Agente de l’information publique

From: Dr. Peter Gray [mailto:pgray@bayviewmedical.ca] Sent: May 12, 2015 9:13 PM To: Public Information/Information Publique Subject: Full capacity?

Dear Bank of Canada

Please will you explain what is meant by “full capacity” as in:

“Economic growth in Canada is expected to average 2.1 per cent in 2015 and 2.4 per cent in 2016, with a return to full capacity around the end of 2016” (January 2015 Monetary Policy Report)

Thank you!

Peter Gray

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My comments on the above

Infinite economic growth is clearly impossible, as I demonstrated to Natalie with my calculation of how, for a 2.5% annual growth rate, the economy would have to grow to over 37,000% of its original size over a 240 year period.  Natalie obviously can’t admit that infinite economic growth is impossible – that would go against all her training and all the Bank’s policies – so she tries to sidestep it with a number of arguments which actually don’t make sense when you examine them carefully.

“Potential output is the level of real GDP that can be sustained in an economy without adding inflationary pressures”

No, these seem to me to be two completely different concepts.  “Potential output” and “real GDP” relate to what is physically produced in the real world.  So if you have a factory which has enough machines to produce 100 widgets per day, but only 50 widgets per day are being produced per day and 50% of the machines are standing idle, then you have 50% of potential output being produced.  “Inflation” on the other hand is an artificial concept relating to the amount of money in the economy, which can be increased or decreased independently of physical output.

“Full capacity will be maintained if real GDP grows at the same rate as potential output.”

True, but full capacity would also be maintained if there was no growth of either real GDP or potential output, i.e. if they both remained the same.  Using the widget factory example above, the factory could remain the same year after year, producing the same number of widgets with the same number of machines.

“Sustainable growth means that the economy is operating at full capacity and growing at the rate of potential output”

No, this is simply not true.  Sustainable growth means that there are enough physical raw materials to allow growth to occur.  If the supply of raw materials is limited, then if the economy is already operating at full capacity, no further growth is possible.  If each widget in the example above requires 1 ounce of plumbium to manufacture, and only 50 ounces of plumbium per day can be sourced, then the potential output is 50 widgets per day, the actual output is 50 widgets per day, the widget factory needs to dispose of its surplus machines because it is already operating at full capacity, and no further growth is possible.

Predictions for 2015 and beyond

A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my readers! As this is the time when people traditionally make their predictions for the coming year, I am going to get in on the act too. Here are my predictions for the next 1, 5 and 25 years. Remember this is just for fun, so don’t go and sell your house or give up your job on the basis of what you read here. However, I would suggest that now is a good time to convert some of your assets to gold bullion in quarter-ounce denominations, if you haven’t already done so.

Next 12 months

I expect no significant change from the last 12 months. Sorry if this a rather more boring prediction than some of the other prophets of doom out there. Oil, gold and silver prices will continue to be unstable but with a slow underlying drift upwards. Political, economic and media leaders will continue to talk up an economic recovery while the economic situation on the ground slowly deteriorates. Atmospheric CO2 levels will continue to increase. Weather patterns will continue to be unstable. Global population will continue to increase. Global debt will continue to increase.  Proxy wars will continue to be fought in various parts of the world, ostensibly about liberating the people from communism, capitalism, fundamentalist Islam, or whatever, but in reality the root cause of these wars will be access to resources.

Next 5 years

It is fairly clear that peak conventional oil occurred around 2005. This passed largely unnoticed because the economic recession reduced demand, and the decline in production of conventional oil was compensated for by increased production of unconventional oil (fracking, tar sands and heavy oil) which was previously uneconomic to produce. These compensatory mechanisms cannot last, and I would expect total world oil production (conventional plus unconventional) to peak out around the year 2020 and decline thereafter. The decline will be slow at first but will gradually accelerate, and will be accompanied by increasing cost and shortages and economic and political disruption.

Next 25 years

I am going to talk here in some detail about the breakup of Canada. This is not because I think Canada is more important than anywhere else, but because I live here and I therefore have a feel for what might happen. I wouldn’t presume to make predictions for the 25 year future of, say, the United States or the United Kingdom, but if any readers have their own ideas about what might happen to their own countries, please post them here because I’d be very interested to read them.

I’d like to start with an analogy of throwing a ball. If you throw a ball into the air, you can predict its trajectory with considerable accuracy. It will reach peak velocity as it leaves your hand, it will gain height and lose speed until it reaches peak height, and then it will follow a trajectory of increasing speed back down to earth, unless a “black swan” event occurs such as the ball landing on a house roof, or being caught by a passing bird. You know that it will follow this trajectory because you have seen it happen many times before.

It is more difficult to predict the precise shape and timing of the trajectory, and at what moment the ball will return to earth, because this depends on many variables including the weight and shape of the ball, initial velocity, angle of throw and wind speed.

So with Canada, we can predict with confidence that at some point the country will break up, for the simple reason that all countries, empires and civilizations are in a constant (but slow) state of flux, and all eventually break up. For examples, see the Sumerian Empire, Assyrian Empire, Persian Empire, Greek Empire, Roman Empire, Turkish-Ottoman Empire, Spanish Empire, British Empire and so on.

Predicting the timing of the breakup is much more difficult because of the numerous variables and unpredictable factors involved, which are far more complicated than throwing a ball. Here is my best guess, but I could be out by a couple of decades either way.

Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories, and my guess is that the breakup will be initiated by the most oil rich province, Alberta. This may surprise Canada-watchers, who would probably assume that a breakup would most likely be led by Quebec (a largely French-speaking province) which has been talking about seceding from Canada for decades. However, the talk in Quebec is largely just that, talk and little action, it is not really in Quebec’s economic interest to secede, and the majority of the population have never supported it.

With Alberta, it’s different. This province contains most of Canada’s tar sands, and derives most of its income from mining those tar sands. As global oil supplies contract and become more expensive, Alberta’s tar sands will become more valuable and sought after. Alberta has already entered into long term contracts to supply oil to the US and China, and over time its economic interests will increasingly converge with those of the US and China, and diverge from those of the rest of Canada, which will expect it to supply them with cheap oil but bear the environmental costs itself. Eventually I can see Alberta either pursuing independence so it can keep the oil revenues for itself, or being coerced by economic or military force into a de facto union with the US or China. If this occurred, it would also probably cause a de facto separation of British Columbia from the rest of Canada, because geographically it lies on the other side of Alberta. I think there is a high probability of this happening in the decade 2030-40 but, as I said, given the difficulty of timing the future, I could be a couple of decades out either way.

What are your predictions for the futures of your own countries?

Good luck and don’t forget the gold

Peter

Two new chapters just added to the book

Hi everyone

A few new people have started following this blog since I last posted, so I would especially like to extend a warm welcome to those newcomers.  As you have probably noticed, this is possibly the most inactive blog on the planet, being updated only two or three times a year, usually when I have made a significant addition to the book.  I am pleased to announce that I have recently added two new chapters to the “Background” section.  One is entitled “Maintaining your professional credentials post collapse” and was recently published as a guest post on Dmitry Orlov’s blog.  The other is an entirely new chapter entitled “Where to live?”  These chapters, like the book, are written mainly for medical professionals (doctors, nurses, pharmacists, dentists) but I hope that others will also find the general principles useful.

As always, the latest version of the book, together with the new chapters, can be downloaded free of charge from
http://www.postpeakmedicine.com