Monumental destruction


Rushen Abbey, Ballasalla, Isle of Man

In 1536, Henry VIII of England began his infamous “Dissolution of the monasteries” in which he disbanded monasteries, priories, convents and friaries in England, Wales and Ireland. One casualty of this process was Rushen Abbey in the Isle of Man, which was dissolved in 1540. Today, the romantic ruins are a magnet for tourists who can enjoy a presentation of the abbey’s history followed by a strawberry tea in the restaurant, and perhaps some wedding photographs.
On 21 June 2017, the retreating forces of ISIS destroyed the Great Mosque of al-Nuri in Mosul with explosives. The mosque was built in the 12th century by Noureddine al-Zanki, a famed commander and a contemporary of Saladin, and was a significant holy site in Iraq.
On 12 August 2017, in Charlottesville, Virginia, white supremacist protesters descended on the town to protest against the planned removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E Lee. The bronze statue has stood in a public park in the town since 1924. The white supremacist protesters were met by anti-racist protesters, violence was used by both sides, and the event culminated in a car being driven by a white supremacist protester into a group of anti-racist protesters, killing one and injuring 19 others.
Three monuments in three countries, with apparently little in common. And yet…
On this blog I generally try to avoid commenting on foreign affairs. Goodness knows, we have enough domestic crises of our own to worry about, with loose sheep on the mountain road, horse trams obstructing traffic on Douglas promenade, and Ramsey Pier falling into the sea, and we don’t have time to worry about goings-on in far away countries about which we know little, like the United States. However, there are worrying similarities between these three events which I felt were worthy of comment.
In all three cases, monuments were destroyed or slated for removal for basically ideological reasons. Henry VIII wanted to consolidate his power as both Head of State and Head of the English Church, and the Catholic monasteries, with their allegiance to the Pope, stood in the way of that and had to be removed. ISIS destroyed the mosque because it held symbolic importance to them: its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi used it in 2014 to self-declare the “caliphate” and to let it fall into enemy hands would have been unthinkable. They have destroyed numerous other monuments and historic sites for being insufficiently aligned with Sunni Islam. The statue of General Lee symbolises freedom of speech and racial segregation to the white supremacists; to the anti-fascists it symbolises racial oppression and abuse of human rights.
Cycles of ideological tolerance and intolerance come and go, and I don’t think the time we are living in now is much less tolerant than previous times – yet. Some pretty unpleasant things were done in the name of ideology in medieval times. For example, here on the Isle of Man in the 18th century, if you solemnised marriage without a licence you were liable to have your ears nailed to a post and subsequently cut off while still attached to the post. Read all about it here:
However, there are signs that the pendulum may be starting to swing back from tolerance towards intolerance. The statue of General Lee has stood in its current place since 1924, and the al-Nuri mosque since the 12th century, and nobody had thought of removing either of them until now. That suggests that what is happening now may be different from what has gone before.
It may seem presumptuous for the Isle of Man (pop. 83,000) to be giving advice to the United States (pop. 323 million) about ideological tolerance, but I’ll try anyway.  General Lee was apparently a talented and brave soldier who rose through the ranks of the Confederate army to become one of its generals, and then general in chief. He was also a cruel slave owner who encouraged his overseers to severely beat slaves captured after trying to escape. He appeared to have a confused moral stance on slavery, writing in a letter to his wife that slavery was “a moral and political evil.” Like many other historical figures, he had contradictions, imperfections and inconsistencies, and a moral compass which was probably not unusual for the period of history he lived in, but different from our own. For better or worse, he played an important role in history, and he can’t be airbrushed out of history by removing his statue.
So my diplomatic Manx solution to this problem would be to leave Lee’s statue in place, and to erect opposite it a matching bronze statue to the Union General Ulysses S. Grant, to whom Lee surrendered in 1865. As far as I know, there are statues to Grant in Washington and New York but none in Virginia. There you are, problem solved, mine’s a pint. Now I’ll get back to sheep herding.
Slaynt vie, bea veayn, beeal fliugh as baase ayns Mannin


Beware of the Sheep

Post Peak Medicine book is completed

Opium poppies Douglas Promenade Isle of Man

A sign of things to come? – opium poppies on Douglas Promenade, Isle of Man, planted by the Department of Infrastructure.  They are legal to grow here, but don’t try this at home.

The book “Post Peak Medicine” which I started in May 2010, is now completed.  At least, it’s as completed as it ever will be; I will keep tinkering with it around the edges and trying to improve it, but it’s now substantially in its final form.  You can download it here.  Here are some of the things which have changed, or haven’t changed, in the latest edition.

My original intention was that the book would be a collaborative effort, that physicians and nurses would write sections on their areas of interest and that I would merely compile and edit it.  With the exception of the section on nursing, that hasn’t happened and I have ended up writing most of the book myself.  That is largely because in the last few years, the concept of peak oil has fallen off the public radar compared to its high point around 2008, with many people believing that it has gone away, or it was a mistake to begin with, or it has been solved by fracking, renewable energy, Elon Musk’s hyperloop pods or some such nonsense.  I believe that is not the case, peak oil is very much here and it will start to bite increasingly severely in the next few years, but I don’t think we can afford to wait until people wake up to finish the book.

One thing which hasn’t changed is that it’s still free to download.  However, there is now a Paypal “donate” button on the download page.  I am not trying to make a profit out of this, merely to cover the annual website hosting fee which I have paid myself for the last seven years.  A suggested donation is three US or Canadian dollars or two British pounds, but nobody is checking whether you donate or not.

People sometimes set up a Facebook page for this kind of thing, in the belief that Facebook is free.  It isn’t: the product which is being sold on Facebook, dear reader, is you.  Post Peak Medicine carries no advertising, and nobody is going to harvest your details with the idea of trying to sell you something.

There are a couple of new sections in the book since the last edition: a quite lengthy Author’s Preface explaining why the book was written, and a section on Surviving the Dark Age – A User’s Guide (OK, a bit tongue in cheek, but if there’s a Dark Age coming you might as well at least try to enjoy it).

I have written, re-written and re-re-written the chapter on Herbal Medicine which was by far the most difficult chapter in the book.  Most herbal medicine books place too much emphasis on “traditional knowledge” and too little emphasis on whether the remedies actually work, and most herbal remedies have had little or no formal testing.  I have used a few general principles in deciding whether to include a herbal remedy or not:

If a medicine has been widely used for thousands of years, I have given it the benefit of the doubt and included it without looking too hard for scientific evidence.  Examples include alcohol, opium and cannabis.

If there has been a scientific study which has validated a medicine, I have tended to include it, even if the evidence is weak; however, I have excluded medicines where multiple studies have shown no effect.  An example of the latter is colloidal silver, beloved of survivalists.  Don’t waste your silver trying to dissolve it in water: buy some proper medicine with it instead.

If a medicine is thought to have some toxic effects on some people, I have tended to include it on the basis that it probably has some biological effect as opposed to being just a placebo.  Example: Kava has been implicated in liver damage including some deaths, and is banned in Europe and Canada for this reason, but still used in the USA.

Finally, I am dividing herbal medicines into a “must have” core list and a “nice to have” list of plants which grow locally.  The latter is obviously going to vary according to your own local area so you are going to have to compile your own local lists.  I am starting work on a slim companion book “Medicinal Plants of the Isle of Man” for readers who live on the Isle of Man.

I have tried to liven the book up a bit by adding more hyperlinks, particularly to short YouTube videos.  This may seem a bit odd for a book which is supposed to outlive the Internet, but as time goes by, the videos can be embedded in the book, or the book can be printed on paper without any significant loss of meaning.

Any comments and suggestions are welcome.  Good luck.

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

Brexit 2 – Will They Never Learn?

Theresa May does not look happy

Greetings from Brexit Land, the country which gave you Brexit 1 and is now pleased to present the sequel – Brexit 2. If you’ve been paying any attention to the mainstream news lately, you may have heard that the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, recently called a General Election and that this resulted in a hung Parliament (a Parliament where no single party has an overall majority). Before the election, Mrs May had a good working majority and two years of her term left to run. She didn’t have to call the election at all, but did so in the expectation that the people would return her to power with a bigger majority, effectively giving her a vote of confidence in the Brexit negotiations. They didn’t. She has singlehandedly managed to derail her party, the country and the Brexit negotiations with scarcely any help from anyone else at all.

As if this wasn’t incredible enough, it’s even more astonishing that she should be repeating exactly the same mistake made by the former British Prime Minister David Cameron a year ago. If you remember, Cameron decided, for reasons best known to himself, to seek an unnecessary referendum on whether the UK should leave the EU, expecting that the people would vote the way he wanted them to (to remain in the EU). They didn’t. They voted to leave, giving rise to the Brexit we all know and love today.

Maybe there is a virus lurking in the fabric of 10 Downing Street (the British Prime Minister’s residence) which causes strange mental health symptoms in successive occupants. However, a more likely explanation is that we are in the early stages of what Kathy McMahon has called a “slow, sucky collapse” and what John Michael Greer has called a “stair step descent”. Let’s look at this through the “slow collapse” lens and see if we can make sense of it.

The main issue which derailed Cameron was immigration. The British public were uneasy about the flood of immigrants into the country, mainly economic migrants from eastern European Union countries and refugees from the wars in the Middle East. We were obliged under the terms of the EU treaty to accept an unlimited number of the former, and there was public unease about the limited controls on the latter and whether a proportion of them might be Islamic extremists. Cameron failed to read the public mood correctly and did not appreciate the strength of those concerns. He resigned immediately after the Brexit vote was announced.

The reason for the large number of economic migrants is because of the differential between the poor economic conditions in their home countries, and the better (although still not great) economic conditions in Britain. This is because economic growth is faltering across the world, but patchily, faster in some places than others. Although economic conditions in Britain may look relatively good to someone who is living in Poland, we still have to borrow money every year to plug the gap between Government spending and income.

The current round of wars in the Middle East, and the rise of ISIS, have their roots in the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the political and economic chaos which followed. The US invasion of Iraq, in turn, had its roots in US domestic peak oil in 1970, the point at which the US stopped being self sufficient in oil production and became increasingly dependent on Middle East oil. After all, if the US had enough domestic oil of its own, why would it waste blood and treasure invading Iraq? And if political and economic conditions in the Middle East were good and everyone had decent jobs, homes and incomes, why would anyone be interested in supporting ISIS?

Fast forward to last week, and Theresa May’s general election fiasco had two principal causes: the fact that, like Cameron before her, she had failed to read the public mood correctly, and the fact that as Home Secretary in 2010 she implemented budget cuts which resulted in the loss of 20,000 police officers. The budget cuts were made as a result of adverse economic conditions and the need for the Government to rein in public borrowing.

Unfortunately, in the run-up to the election there were two major terrorist incidents in Britain: a suicide bombing at a concert in Manchester on 22 May and a van-and-knife attack on London Bridge on 3 June, both inspired by ISIS: see above. This focused the electorate’s attention on the need for sufficient police numbers to provide adequate security, and Theresa May’s mistaken action while Home Secretary in cutting those numbers, with predictable results.

What we are looking at here is a gradual and patchy economic decline in Britain, Europe, the Middle East and the USA which is producing chaotic and unexpected results as the various parts interact with each other. In my last post just after the Brexit referendum, posted on 30 June last year, I said that “…there will be continuing political and economic instability for several years…” My prediction going forward is for more of the same and quite likely another British general election in about a year’s time.


The Post Peak Medicine website, book and email account have been offline for the last few weeks due to technical difficulties related to my recent international relocation, and various other existential crises which I won’t bother you with right now. If you have sent me an email recently and I haven’t replied, please accept my apologies, but I haven’t been able to receive any emails for weeks. I hope to have things up and running with a new hosting service in the near future.

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

Putin did it – right?


OK, I said I wasn’t going to do any more blog posts, but this subject is so compelling that I had to write just one last post about it before I shut up. It’s about the recent meme which has taken hold of the world’s media, that Vladimir Putin hacked into Hillary Clinton’s email server and published her emails in an attempt to influence the course of the recent US presidential election. American intelligence agencies have concluded with “high confidence” that Putin was behind the attacks.

They have presented their conclusions, which they expect us to believe, but not the evidence, which is secret. In response, President Obama expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US on 29 December. Putin denied any involvement in the security breach and has declined to respond by expelling a similar number of US diplomats from Russia. The mainstream media seem to have mostly swallowed the story without question. Everyone knows that Putin did it.

All righty then. Let’s put all that on one side for a few minutes and look at how the Internet really works. Here’s a personal anecdote of my own. In 2002 I was the victim of an attack by a spammer in which about 10 million emails were sent out by the spammer with my name and email address on them. I received about 10,000 “replies” from recipients of the emails asking to be unsubscribed from my (non-existent) mailing list, as a result of which my email inbox was swamped and I couldn’t receive my own genuine emails for a few days until it was sorted out. This was a type of denial-of-service (DOS) attack and I learned a few valuable lessons from it:

  1. It’s very easy to “spoof” an email (make it appear as though it came from somebody else).
  2. It’s very difficult to identify the perpetrator. This one was never identified, although I had my suspicions who it might have been.
  3. The general public are very naïve about the way the internet works. Did 10,000 people really believe that a spammer would put his own genuine return address on an email? Apparently, yes.
  4. Once 10 million people are convinced that you sent an email, it’s pointless to deny it because nobody believes you. After all, your name and email address are on the email so that proves it, right? Case closed.

Next let’s look at the apparently unrelated topic of child pornography on the Internet. This is depressingly prevalent even on the Isle of Man, as this news item shows:

The way such people are normally prosecuted is as follows: The police set up a covert “sting” operation in which they pose online as people interested in downloading or distributing child pornography. When they have drawn a few suspects into the net, they monitor their activities online for a while, then perform a surprise dawn raid on their home, seize laptops and other electronic devices, and if these are found to contain child pornography, that’s enough evidence to secure a criminal conviction because it meets the legal standard of “beyond reasonable doubt.” That seems to have been what happened in the news item above.

Note, however, that the evidence gathered during the initial Internet surveillance is NOT the evidence which is used to convict, because it’s not strong or reliable enough. It is only used as a basis for forming a “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect may be engaging in criminal activity, which justifies further evidence gathering such as an arrest and questioning or dawn raid. That’s the main reason why the police are opposed to amateur internet paedophile vigilante groups: they may be able to entrap and “out” paedophiles and publish their details on social media, but by the time the police get involved, the suspect has destroyed the physical evidence so no conviction is possible.

Next let’s look at the phenomenon of “ransomware”:

This is where a criminal installs malware on your system which encrypts and locks all your files and you have to pay a “ransom” for the key to unlock the encryption. It is a billion dollar a year crime in which 65 percent of end users pay the ransom. It is almost impossible to trace and prosecute the perpetrators because they are so good at covering their Internet tracks.

And finally, let me tell you about the Tor browser. I am using it to publish this blog post right now, it is available for free download from and its purpose is to “spoof” your location so that you appear to be in a different place from where you really are. As I write this in the Isle of Man, the browser’s control panel is telling me that to any outside observer who is trying to track my location, I will appear to be in Norway (and the spoof location changes at random). Try this for yourselves if you don’t believe me.

The point of all these examples is to show you that things on the Internet are rarely what they seem, identities and locations are easily “spoofed” and information is unreliable. Therefore, for the US intelligence agencies to claim that they have concluded with “high confidence” that Putin was behind the recent security breaches is completely implausible. They can’t possibly know that without doing a dawn raid on Putin’s office and seizing his computer equipment, and as far as I am aware they haven’t done that. The most they can have is something less than “reasonable suspicion”, let’s say just “suspicion”, and that doesn’t seem enough to justify expelling 35 diplomats. There are numerous other suspects for the security breach, none of whom can be proven to have done it without physical evidence. I think it was more likely an inside job by one of Ms Clinton’s own staff, possibly with some help from outside, but my guess is as good as anyone else’s.

Repeatedly poking Mr Putin in the eye with a stick seems a dangerous game for the US to play, and I hope for all our sakes that Mr Trump is able to tone it down when he takes office.

Herbal medicine, and going dark

Herbal medicine and going dark

This blog is going to “go dark” (go offline) for the next few months, possibly permanently.  I am sorry if this is a disappointment to those of you who follow it regularly, and I am flattered that so many of you have signed up to follow it and seem to think I have something useful or entertaining to say.  I don’t want you to think that I have been arrested, or hospitalised with severe depression, or changed my mind and become an economist, so here is the reason.

There seem to be many events occurring which are pointing towards some sort of global crisis in the near to medium term: Brexit, Trumpism, the rise of nationalism and religious fanaticism around the globe, continuing global economic instability, continuing political instability in the Middle East, imminent peak oil in Saudia Arabia, the imminent collapse of the US shale oil fracking industry, and so on…   I feel a bit like many people probably felt in 1860, or 1913, or 1938: there is something big and bad just around the corner, even if it’s not clear exactly what and when.  Or in the words of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, I sense “a great disturbance in the Force”.

I would like to do something useful in response to this.  One (arguably) useful thing I have done is relocate myself and my family to a large rock in the middle of the Irish Sea.  OK, I know some of you are not on board with that one, but let’s move on.  The other thing I would like to do to benefit my fellow citizens is complete a project which I started in 2010, which is my book on Post Peak Medicine.  You can download it here:

It is still very much a work in progress.  I would especially like to finish the section on evidence based herbal medicine.  This is intended to be a bridge between traditional and orthodox medicine, or herbal medicine rewritten in a form which conventionally trained physicians can understand and have confidence in.  Too many herbal medicine textbooks state “Plant X is reputed by (insert name of indigenous people) to be a cure for diseases A, B, C, D and E” but no evidence other than “traditional knowledge” is put forward to support these statements.  I would like to research the controlled trials which have been done and try to sort out the herbal medicines which have a genuine physical effect from the ones which have only placebo effect.  This is going to be a marathon task as there are hundreds of herbal medicines to sort through, it is going to take a lot of time, and I’ve decided I don’t have the time to do that and also keep writing a monthly blog.

Here are a couple of examples of why this is useful.  Take a look at this article on making your own colloidal silver, beloved of survivalists:

It’s reputed to have antibacterial properties.  The trouble is, controlled clinical trials show it doesn’t work.  So you can save yourself the time and trouble of making colloidal silver, and use your silver for something more useful like bartering for food.

On the other hand, the herb Valerian has been shown in controlled clinical trials to be an effective hypnotic and sedative.  And that’s what we’re going to need going forward into the Long Emergency: not cholesterol lowering drugs, or antihypertensives, or appetite suppressants, but lots and lots of sedatives.

“Evidence based herbal medicine” started life as a chapter in the Post Peak Medicine book, but it now looks as though it is such a large subject that it needs a separate book in its own right.  Therefore, if you visit the Post Peak Medicine downloads page (see above), you will now find two download links, although the second one is currently empty.

Splitting the book into two has the additional advantage that I can show “Evidence based herbal medicine” to more people than “Post Peak Medicine”.  Herbal medicine is an acceptable topic for mainstream discourse, even if it is still viewed as a bit eccentric.  Discussions about the end of economic growth, or peak energy, or the collapse of industrial civilisation, are definitely not acceptable in mainstream society (yet), and I would guess, probably won’t be until the facts are so obvious that it’s impossible to continue to ignore them.

If you want to know about the progress of the book you can download the latest version from the website or email me at PeakDoc  (at)  And with that, I’m signing off.  Have a Merry Christmas, a sedated New Year, good luck, and as always:

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

The US Election

Sitting here atop a large rock in the middle of the Irish Sea, I have a similar feeling about the US election that the local Spanish fishermen probably felt in 1805 as they witnessed the Battle of Trafalgar taking place off their shore. They would have marvelled at the sound and fury of the British, French and Spanish navies duking it out, they might have had a vague feeling that they were witnessing some historically momentous event, the significance of which they didn’t fully understand, and they would probably have guessed that regardless of who won, it wouldn’t benefit them. Which it didn’t: the British won but Napoleon still invaded Spain. I didn’t get to vote in the recent US election (not being a US citizen), but as half the talking heads on the planet are now analysing the election result, I’m going to throw in my tuppence worth.

There are many similarities between Trump’s election victory and the recent vote for Brexit. In both cases, the ruling political and economic elites wanted a continuation of the status quo, the ordinary people wanted anything but that, and the will of the people prevailed over that of the elites. In both cases nobody is sure what happens next.

Immigration seems to have been a major factor in both results. The ruling political and economic elites want more immigration, because more immigrants means low wages which means cheap stuff which means higher profits which means higher share prices. The ordinary people, who mostly don’t have shares, stock options and profit related bonuses, can see that more immigrants means fewer jobs and lower wages for them, and that it has a distorting effect on local communities. You can easily assimilate a handful of Syrian, Mexican or Polish families. However, when hundreds or thousands of such families move in, this changes the nature of communities as mosques replace churches, halal supermarkets replace butchers’ shops, and Polish instead of English becomes the dominant language in the community centre. This isn’t what people want and it’s not what they signed up for when they moved into the community. Also, despite humanitarian concerns about people from war zones seeking asylum, it’s not physically possible to relocate all refugees from all war zones from the Middle East and North Africa into the West – the scale of the problem is just too big.

People have compared Trump to Hitler. It’s true that both men came to power on a wave of popular sentiment fuelled by adverse economic circumstances, but there the similarity ends. Hitler was a brilliant orator and he had a plan, even if it was an insane, perverted plan. Trump can’t seem to open his mouth without putting his foot in it, and I haven’t been able to discern any coherent plan so far. So I’d like to offer you my own historical comparisons.

Clinton I would compare to Henry the 7th of England. You know what you’re going to get: a member of the hereditary ruling aristocracy who is going to continue broadly similar policies to those of Henry the 1st though to 6th. That’s why the majority of people didn’t vote for her.

Trump is more difficult to place. I would liken him to a second-rank player who is swept to power on a wave of popular emotion, or who finds himself in the right place at the right time, but who doesn’t have the talent or intellectual capability to consolidate his grip on power in his own right. I would liken him to Mussolini (shot by communist partisans in 1945), Robespierre (guillotined on the order of the French National Convention in 1794) or the teenage Roman emperor Romulus Augustulus (appointed by his father and deposed at the age of 16 by the Roman general Odoacer just before the collapse of the Western Roman Empire). I wish Mr Trump well with his endeavours, I really do, but I have a deep foreboding about it, because as you can see from the historical examples I have cited, second rank political leaders in times of great change often come to a bad end.

I think the best outcome for this election would be if Trump can quickly assemble a group of competent, trusted advisors who can craft a coherent set of policies for him on immigration, foreign policy, the economy and women’s rights, out of the mess of incoherent speeches which he has made over the last few months. He could then act as a figurehead while the policies are implemented in the background by people who are more politically experienced than he is. If this is done I think he is more likely to bring about “hope and change” than Obama ever was. If this isn’t done, I have a bad feeling about where this whole thing is going.

Good luck – we’ll all need it.

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


Today I’m going to talk about overshoot. Other people have written about this far more eloquently than I can – for example, Albert Bartlett and William Catton practically made it their life’s work to educate people about overshoot – but there’s no harm in revisiting it from a slightly different perspective. I’m going to set the scene by briefly reviewing the last 11,000 years of human history. Don’t worry, I know you’re all busy people so I’m going to give you the condensed version which shouldn’t take more than five minutes.

We’ll begin at the end of the last ice age, or more correctly, glacial period. This ended about 11,000 years ago, giving rise to the current Holocene interglacial period. The great ice sheets which covered most of Northern Europe and North America retreated and the climate became warmer and more stable. These conditions enabled humans to spread rapidly across the planet and to transition from nomadic hunter-gatherer bands to settled agricultural societies and complex civilizations.

Humans are very adaptable animals and soon filled almost every available ecological niche. To illustrate this let’s fast forward to the Battle of Jericho, which is said to have taken place around 1400 BC, or 7,600 years after the ice sheets retreated. The story of Jericho is told in the Book of Joshua in the Hebrew Bible. It says that the children of Israel were slaves in Egypt, but were led out of Egypt by the prophet Moses, and after many years wandering in the desert, came to the promised land of Canaan. Moses instructed them to seize the land by conquest and placed them under the command of Joshua. Jericho was the first city of Canaan to be taken. Following God’s law of “herem” the Israelites took no slaves or plunder but slaughtered every man, woman and child in Jericho, sparing only a single Canaanite prostitute.

Most historians think that the story of Jericho is a myth, that neither the exodus from Egypt nor the battle of Jericho ever happened, and that the story was written for the purpose of nationalist propaganda or to illustrate a theological point. However, whether this particular story is historically accurate or not is largely immaterial, because the migration and subsequent conflict which it describes were probably typical of many which occurred in the Biblical era. The main points which I want you to take away from this are that (according to the story) both Egypt and Canaan were already fully occupied. The maximum carrying capacity of the land had been reached and there was no room for any more people. The only way for the Israelites to establish themselves was to displace people who had already settled in the region. As they did not have the numbers or the military muscle to displace the Egyptians, they displaced the weaker and less numerous Canaanites, and as there was no room for the displaced Canaanites, they had to be disposed of. Nothing personal; just business.

Now let’s fast forward again to 476 AD and the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The reasons for the fall are many and complex, but the main issue seems to have been an expansion in the numbers of barbarian tribes in north-eastern Europe and central Asia such as the Huns, who swept southwest across Europe, displacing other tribes such as the Goths and Vandals into the Roman Empire, who in turn displaced the Romans eastwards towards their new base at Constantinople, abandoning Rome to its fate.  Again we see the same dynamic at work: the land was occupied up to its maximum carrying capacity, there was no room for any more people, and any expansion had to be at the expense of someone else.

Fast forward once more to 1492 and Columbus’ discovery of the vast empty lands of the Americas, ripe for colonisation. The problem with this story is that it’s a Western myth. The Americas had already been discovered and every available niche was occupied by indigenous people: there was no room for anyone else. The vast empty plains of the North American Midwest discovered by the European settlers (“Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam” etc) were an illusion: every square mile of grassland was already claimed, occupied, hunted or cultivated by indigenous people. The only way the Western colonists could free up the land for their own use was by displacing the existing inhabitants by disease, war, coercion or trickery.

The point I’m making in this brief guided tour of human history is that very soon after the end of the last glacial period the planet was fully occupied by humans. What do we mean by “fully occupied”? This means that the number of humans expanded until it met or exceeded the carrying capacity of the environment. Carrying capacity varies greatly depending on the nature of the land. For example, in the frozen Canadian Arctic or in the Australian desert outback there may only be a handful of people per thousand square miles, but if this is all the land can support, then this is the carrying capacity and it’s fully occupied. In contrast, the warm and fertile farmlands of southern England can support dozens of people per square mile.


This land is fully occupied…


…and so is this.

There are a few tricks we humans can deploy to temporarily increase the carrying capacity and accommodate greater numbers. One way is to transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer way of life to a settled agricultural way of life. This was first tried in the “fertile crescent” area of the Middle East, otherwise known as the “cradle of civilization”. Much more food can be produced by farming than by hunting, but often this is only temporary and crop yields fall as longer term complications occur, for example, depletion of minerals in the soil, or salination from prolonged irrigation. The Middle East is much less fertile now than it was 6,000 years ago.

Local carrying capacity can be increased by importing food from elsewhere; for example, ancient Rome imported large quantities of grain from Egypt, and today’s Middle East countries import food, technology and expertise into into their barren, mostly desert land, paying for them with oil revenues. This is a zero-sum game because any increase in the carrying capacity of the importing area is offset by a decrease in the carrying capacity of the exporting area. This is the problem when, for example, farmland in Africa is appropriated for growing cash crops for export.

Finally, the environment can be “mined” for resources in an unsustainable way, resulting in a population boom followed by a bust. Easter Island is one example of this – and also most of today’s “advanced” civilizations. Most of our food is made from and/or transported by oil, and farmlands are irrigated by water from deep aquifers which are being drained faster than they can be replenished. It’s logical to expect that as the availability of oil and water decline, so will the availability of food and the size of the population.

We can put some figures on this. Wikipedia’s World Population Estimates suggest that at the beginning of the Holocene interglacial period there were about 5 million humans worldwide. As the ice sheets retreated, the land warmed and the practice of agriculture spread, human numbers increased to around 300 million and stayed fairly constant at that level until around 900 AD. From 900 to 1800 AD the population slowly but steadily increased by about 100 million each century, reaching 900 million at the start of the Industrial Revolution. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution the population has exploded to over 7 billion – that’s an average increase of around 1 billion people every 30 years, far exceeding any known historical population growth rates. This has been made possible by the mining of non-renewable resources – fossil fuels, water, topsoil, minerals – and to a lesser extent, expropriating land from hunter gatherers worldwide and converting it to industrialised agriculture.

So where do we go from here? As Steincke said, it’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future, but here is my best shot. I’ll look first at what seems to be the most likely global result, followed by zooming in on some of the finer detail.

The sustainable carrying capacity of the planet is probably around 1 billion people, similar to the pre-industrial population. There is a lot of happy talk from politicians and environmental and human rights organisations who say that population isn’t the problem, and that if we only had a more equal distribution of resources we could support even more people than we have today. I don’t buy into that because it sounds like wishful thinking. Distribution of resources never has been fair and probably never will be. A more likely outcome is that as resources become scarcer, the human population will shrink back towards 1 billion, and we will lose some 6 billion people along the way.

I think that only a minority of those deaths will be from starvation (but see below). The majority of deaths will be due to conflict: either directly from injuries sustained as a result of the fighting, or indirectly due to the mass migration of populations out of war zones. The events following the collapse of the Soviet Union also suggest that many deaths will be caused by psychological trauma; for example, alcoholism and suicide.

Conflict of all kinds will spread and intensify. As oil and food supplies dry up in the Middle East, there will be mass migrations of people out of the area. However, few countries will be willing or able to receive large numbers of refugees. This will set up conflicts between the incoming refugees and the populations of the receiving countries, and also internal conflicts between factions within the receiving countries who want to either accept the refugees, or keep them out. (Does any of this sound familiar – think Brexit?).

North America will experience an action replay of 476 AD, but with the migrations being from south to north instead of north-east to south-west. As the climate warms and the aquifers dry up, people will try to migrate from the hotter, drier regions to the cooler, wetter regions to try to achieve better economic and food security. Mexicans will migrate north across the border displacing people from the southern US, people from the southern US will try to move into the northern US, and there will be increased pressure on Canada to accept American migrants. (Again, does anything sound familiar, especially to people living near the Mexico-US border?).

Countries in possession of valuable resources will find that this is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because selling them to the highest bidder may bring great wealth (if wealth is worth anything), and a curse because they may attract floods of refugees and possibly invading armies. I am thinking particularly of Canada’s farmlands, forests, tar sands and fresh water and whether the US is going to want a piece of that action. The US has already invaded Canada twice: in the American Revolutionary War in 1775 and the War of 1812. What goes around, comes around.

I have a bad feeling about the Far East, and in particular India and China. They each have 1.3 billion people, that’s 2.6 billion people between them, which is one third of the world’s population. With so many people, if things start to go wrong they could go really wrong really fast, and I can see food shortages there resulting in mass starvation. In China’s Great Famine in 1959-61 there were 36 million deaths due to starvation.  India is already one of the highest ranking countries in the world for children suffering from malnutrition.

However, to prove I’m not just a doomsayer, I would like to point out one bright spot on the horizon which is southern Africa, that is to say, that part of Africa south of the Sahara Desert. I think Southern Africa could potentially come out of the Long Emergency, or whatever you like to call it, rather well. For the last 500 years the continent has suffered greatly at the hands of European colonists and entrepreneurs: we have taken their farmland and used it to grow Western cash crops, destroyed their indigenous cultures by sending missionaries, exported millions of them to work as slaves on cotton and tobacco plantations, dug up and carried away their mineral wealth (for example gold, diamonds and cobalt) and lured them into taking out unrepayable loans at high rates of interest. No wonder the place is now a mess. However, if Westerners would just leave it alone, it could come through the traumas of the 21st century relatively unscathed or even improved.

As for me, I’ve made my choice. I and my family have moved to the Isle of Man, a tiny island in the middle of the Irish Sea, human population 88,000, sheep population around 15,000. We have a fairly good idea where our next meal might be coming from, we are unlikely to get many refugees, and we don’t have any oil, gold or diamonds for invading armies to dig up or fight over. But in case you are thinking of coming here, I have some bad news for you: we’re full. No room for any more people.

Good luck.

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

Beware of the Sheep