/* Added by TWP, 10/12/2012 */ /* End of addition */

One of the live oaks that bless my home

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Quo vadis, Britannia?

Where are you going, Great Britain?

The ongoing vigorous discussion of Brexit seems to be vacuous on both sides of the argument, because it misses the most important physical realities of staying alive in Great Britain, not merely of who gets to stay there. The British Isles consist of some 6000 specs of land with the total area of 315,000 square kilometers (the area of Poland or Arizona). They are inhabited by over 70 million people (roughly twice the population of Poland and over ten times the population of Arizona).

My own calculations of Great Britain’s carrying capacity pointed more towards 3 million people, who could be sustained by the local environment. This means that to stay alive the Brits must be a part of a global community; otherwise they will perish. And that’s that.

Let me rephrase now: The United Kingdom is a small, overpopulated and rather insignificant country, which thought otherwise and consequently made a rather suicidal choice that would expose its terrible existential weaknesses. The European Union seems to hold almost all cards in this hunger game, but does not quite realize it yet.

After a temporary upward hick up, Great Britain’s oil production will continue to decline precipitously. And she has produced almost all of her available natural gas and coal. Therefore, to keep lights on and stay warm, the Brits must be a part of a global community. And how about the all-imported raw materials for industrial production to create those good domestic jobs? Foreign trade and treaties anyone?

So how did the world’s oldest democracy get so thoroughly confused and followed the irresponsible advice of its local Trumps? It is all about economics, stupid.

Economics is a pseudo-science of intermediate asymptotics, which describes the human systems that are much bigger than their smallest elements, but much, much smaller than the environment that contains them. It is a pseudo-science because the key phrase, “intermediate asymptotics,” has been forgotten.

The global economy and - in particular - the British economy violate the “much, much smaller” part with deadly consequences. If most of the world leaders and population are inside of a wrong narrative, the results can be catastrophic. The current narrative is that of a seamlessly integrated, smoothly operating global economy that provides for all and lifts the poorest nations out of poverty.

But what if there is not enough of the Earth to support this global economy of 7.3 billion people? What if the human economy (our household) is interfering with the Earth’s support systems: air, water, soil, and her households, forests, savannahs, lakes, rivers, estuaries, seas and oceans? In short, what if the entire global support system for the human economy is breaking down? What if we already need four Earths to deliver on the promises of today's global economy?

At this point the accomplished economists will shrug me off, because I must be talking nonsense. Look at all of the phenomenal growth in money supply around the world. Look at all of the things this money can do! Yes, says I, this electronic imaginary money will only hasten the demise of the still functioning real ecosystems that protect us from demise.

But I digressed.

Let’s go back to the hapless Great Britain. In my mind, she is like that Yale economist, Irving Fisher, who shortly before the October 29, 1929, market crash, famously proclaimed, "Stock prices have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau.” Perfect timing! The rest will be a very painful journey of changing the narrative for everyone.

Perhaps it will take someone like  Mr. Trump to modify the narrative in the U.S.?

P.S. 07.03.2016. The estimated population of England between the years 1800 BC and 1700 CE,  averaged 3 million people, but was less than 2 million for 3000 years. At the time of William the Conqueror's Census, this population was 1.7 million people.  Add 1 million people for Ireland and Scotland, each, and one may obtain an estimate of about 5-6 million people, who could be sustained by the U.K.  If people in the near future will want to live on more resources than a 1000 years ago, the number of supported individuals will drop proportionally.
Source: References 3-5 in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demography_of_England
P.S.P.S. 08/04/2016. It seems that the economic situation of U.K. is far worse than even I thought: Read here.


  1. UK managed to survive with more than three million people prior to the creeping creepy bureaucracy of the EU came to the fore. Switzerland gets by fine.

    P.s. You forgot to mix in "Perfidious Albion" and the Henry the Eighth versus The One True and Apostolic Faith. ;)

    1. Yes, but this is all in the past, as are the British Empire, coal mines, steel production, car production, strong unions, and so many other things they yearn for.

      Only the future matters, and it does not look good for the U.K.

      If Amsterdam becomes the next London Financial Center, England loses her biggest remaining source of income.

  2. With the weather the way it has been recently in the UK we can always commence Cray fish farming or if things dry out we can just start producing soylent green.

  3. 3 million seems like a serious overestimate to me in the absence of fossil fuels. Maybe 300,000.

    Europe will not do much better though, since they will be under constant migration pressure from the Middle East and Africa.

    The EU is a corrupt and incompetent anti-democratic organization. Best to leave now and collapse early and avoid the rush.


  4. I did this exercise for an environmental class I taught years ago at U.C. Berkeley.

    It's very difficult to establish what the carrying capacity Great Britain really is. On the one hand, I tried to extrapolate from the William the Conqueror's Domesday Book of 1086, a comprehensive survey of all English households for tax purposes. I was struck by the fact that the English agriculture then was not much different from that in 1850. On the other hand, I tried to use the photovoltaics and other renewable forms of energy to augment the carrying capacity. The result was 2 to 3 million inhabitants, if I remember correctly.

    I can be corrected.

  5. If we do a similar exercise for the whole world in the absence of fossil fuels, what sort of carrying capacity do we come up with? I'm sure the list of countries that have populations that could be sustained following the end of the age of oil and coal is a short one.

    1. I did this exercise in 2007, in my OECD paper, "How Can We Outlive Our Way of Life?" The upper limit seems to be 2 billion people. From this extrapolation (a dangerous procedure in itself) it follows that we now need almost 4 Earths to survive.

    2. WRONG WRONG WRONG ! SUSTAINABLE POPULATION WORDWIDE 7-12 MILLION PEOPLE MAX LIVING A HUNTER GATHERER LIFESTYLE https://damnthematrix.wordpress.com/2016/02/28/no-really-how-sustainable-are-we/

    3. Yes, the roaming hunter-gatherer bands are no longer possible. I am talking about the intensive agriculture practiced in some countries at the end of the nineteenth century. Even with this caveat, we have overshot by a factor of three. The U.K. has overshot by a factor 12-15!

    4. that means that about 10,000 years ago with human migration starting into the americas and 1st with the extermination of the megafauna . in the americas and also in europa .some process (the fall?) has started which kicked humanity out of an evolutionary equilibrium and a process stated a bit later called agriculture which was a technological answer and mitigation to the dinishing ressource base i.e megafauna the very last stage of hunter gatherer sustainability . than agriculture as the second technology after fire and than specialisation hystorycal processes etc in a blink of an eye (in geological time ) we are here today . Brexit no brexit the end of the rope . it seems that nature the universe is not interested to stay at certain stages of equilibrium but pushes always further even taking big risks . where do we go nobody knows . One thing is sure people who want sustainability or going back to earlier stages are mistaken .think of the Grateful Dead – The Wheel Lyrics
      The wheel is turning and you can't slow down,
      You can't let go and you can't hold on,
      You can't go back and you can't stand still,
      If the thunder don't get you then the lightning will.

    5. Whenever i am censored i know i made the valid argument . Humans or the experience of the human existence embedded in a 3 dimensional spacetime continuum is coming to a dissolution . People who settled or invested or are trying for propagate themselves be it thru money or wealth accumulation or thru procretive breeding will realise the futility of it . they settled with compromises of civilised forms of behavior like unnatural monogamic pairbonding and anxietyes etc . they have failed the intelligence test and missed out on real life wich is passion lust and pleasure of which the highest form of experience is pleasure . they settled for survival instead of living and life . they have failed

  6. What about our observable ability of terra forming. Moving plant species from one location to another over time.


    This just scratches the surface of what may be possible in a low energy future but this kind of project takes time to develop.

    Jeoff Lawton seems to think that we could feed current populations on 3% of equivalent land area with adequate nutrition (not the foods most recognize today).

  7. I don't know, Duncan. By looking at their website, I concluded that 3 million people with plenty of time on their hands perhaps could do this type of agriculture, but not 70 million people, who mostly live in big cities.

    1. I agree Tad, but business as usual is just not going to work, this we already know and going by the example of Cuba, food is where time will have to be spent.

      Once the system is mature & established the maintenance required is fairly low.


      One documentary I have found useful in terms of this kind of system is:-


      Also understanding ancient horticultural societies outside of western style city culture. Much of this knowledge is being recovered but again time is the real issue.



      I see either a very different future or no future at all (buisness as usual).

  8. In the meantime, this is what’s in store for all overcrowded populations, even if they have plenty of food, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_B._Calhoun.

    John B. Calhoun’s most famous experiment, the mouse universe, was created on the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) property in a rural area outside Poolesville, Maryland. In July 1968 four pairs of mice were introduced into the Utopian universe. The universe was a 9-foot (2.7 m) square metal pen with 4.5-foot-high (1.4 m) sides. Each side had four groups of four vertical, wire mesh “tunnels.” The “tunnels” gave access to nesting boxes, food hoppers, and water dispensers. There was no shortage of food or water or nesting material. There were no predators.

    Initially the population grew rapidly, doubling every 55 days. The population reached 620 by day 315, after which the population growth dropped markedly, doubling only every 145 days. The last surviving birth was on day 600, bringing the total population to a mere 2200 mice, even though the experiment setup allowed for as many as 3840 mice in terms of nesting space. This period between day 315 and day 600 saw a breakdown in social structure and in normal social behavior. Among the aberrations in behavior were the following: expulsion of young before weaning was complete, wounding of young, increase in homosexual behavior, inability of dominant males to maintain the defense of their territory and females, aggressive behavior of females, passivity of non-dominant males with increased attacks on each other which were not defended against. After day 600, the social breakdown continued and the population declined toward extinction. During this period females ceased to reproduce. Their male counterparts withdrew completely, never engaging in courtship or fighting. They ate, drank, slept, and groomed themselves – all solitary pursuits. Sleek, healthy coats and an absence of scars characterized these males. They were dubbed “the beautiful ones.” Breeding never resumed and behavior patterns were permanently changed.

    The conclusions drawn from this experiment were that when all available space is taken and all social roles filled, competition and the stresses experienced by the individuals will result in a total breakdown in complex social behaviors, ultimately resulting in the demise of the population.

  9. Brexit is what I call "The English Spring" whose causes, it may be argued, are similar to those of "The Arab Spring" heavily affected by energy decline, but also the financial crash of 2008.

    Energy production in the UK has dropped 60% since the year 2000 (BP data). A staggering decline.

    If Brexit does proceed, it will likely be the end of the 300 year old bipartite union that is the United Kingdom. The northern Kingdom, Scotland, will probably vote for independence from the southern Kingdom of England (which includes Wales and Northern Ireland) in a second independence referendum (the first independence referendum was in 2014 and was lost by a margin of 55% to 45%). Scotland may well end up being the continuing state in the EU (Scotland voted by 62% to 38% to remain in the EU).

    Most remaining oil and gas is in Scottish waters. Although not a sunny country, Scotland has 25% of the European wind resource and most of the UK's hydro.

    Many Scots had their eyes opened to the problems of their governance in the long lead up to 2014 once Social Media and public meetings managed to get information to those (mostly younger) Scots not yet completely brainwashed by the mainstream media and BBC.

    The short EU referendum didn't give time for this to happen in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Their problem remains one of their governance at Westminster. Yet they have been brainwashed into blaming the foreigner. Their eyes have not yet been opened. Yet, if they look across to the Republic of Ireland, they might see a county whose growth rate has been over 20% for all quarters of 2015.

    1. A Hamilton, your assessment of Scotland's population, energy and education I believe are correct. However, what's missing is an understanding of a declining world in terms of overall energy consumption, available farmable land, pollution growth, climate change, etc.

      Scotland quite probably will go for independence again and quite honestly I think they'll get it, and should. But they'd better be prepared to build a huge Pict Wall to keep the Roman-Britons out this time, because the pressure from across the border will be intense :)

    2. Britain's carrying capacity as an independent, self sustaining country will be the sum total of the energy it can produce through sustainable means over the long haul. Currently it appears that sustainable energy sources are able to replace coal, gas, oil, etc. in countries like Germany - so I'd say there is hope. Given that you recognize that the future is very uncertain, that collapse is quite possible for all "advanced" economies, then surely it is better for Britain to learn how to sustain itself now rather than later? The EU is a failed experiment, it was surreptitiously forced on to it's residents via the back door, and I'd expect to see Italy and others start the process of moving out any time soon.

      You can thank our elites and money grubbing failed EU MP's and their corporate backers for the situation, as well as our banksters. The Common Market was a decent idea, the rest is a farce.

  10. Just been watching this TV series :-


    The claim here that just prior to the railways UK's population was about 8 million.

    I wonder how much food was coming into the country at that point and it's distribution?

    1. I am not sure, Duncan, but from reading about Thomas Malthus I recall that roughly 1/2 of food was imported. But, again, I will not swear by this number.

    2. http://tradingconsequences.blogs.edina.ac.uk/2014/04/08/a-quick-exploration-of-ten-nineteenth-century-british-imports/

      British railway food distribution commenced some time after 1830.

      These graphs fit with that.