The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage

Summary:  Pirates roam the seas, doing massive damage but avoiding retribution from the world’s civilized nations.  Because they’re invisible!   To stop this scourge we must overcome our blindness.  We can do so, if we wish to do so.

Somalia’s pirates are a trivial threat to the world’s economy and political regime.  A more serious threat are the fleets of powerful nations, raping the fisheries of poor nations.  Their actions demonstrate our contempt for justice and unconcern for the world’s ecosystem.  The consequences could be severe.

  1. Globalization, Roving Bandits, and Marine Resources“, Science, Boris Worm et al, 17 March 2006
  2. Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services“, Boris Worm et al, Science, 3 November 2006 — The author’s forecast that unless global policies change, 100% of seafood-producing species stocks will collapse by 2048. 
  3. Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?“, Costello et al, Science 19 September 2008
  4. The ur-articles about the tragedy of the commons (update)

Links to other posts about pirates appear at the end.


(1)  Roving bandits of the modern seas

Globalization, Roving Bandits, and Marine Resources“, Science, Boris Worm et al, 17 March 2006 — Excerpt:

Overfishing is increasingly threatening the world’s marine ecosystems. The search for the social causes of this crisis has often focused on inappropriate approaches to governance and lack of incentives for conservation. Little attention, however, has been paid to the critical impact of sequential exploitation: the spatially expanding depletion of harvested species. The economist Mancur Olson argued that local governance creates a vested interest in the maintenance of local resources, whereas the ability of mobile agents — roving bandits in Olson’s terminology — to move on to other, unprotected resources severs local feedback and the incentive to build conserving institutions. Distant water fleets and mobile traders can operate like roving bandits, because global markets often fail to generate the self-interest that arises from attachment to place.

The effect of roving bandits can be explained by “tragedy of the commons,” whereby a freely accessible (or open-access) resource is competitively depleted. Harvesters have no incentive to conserve; whatever they do not take will be harvested by others. Developing the institutions to deal with commons issues is problematic and slow. Roving banditry is different from most commons dilemmas in that a new dynamic has arisen in the globalized world: New markets can develop so rapidly that the speed of resource exploitation often overwhelms the ability of local institutions to respond.

(2)  Will global fisheries collapse by 2050?

Impacts of Biodiversity Loss on Ocean Ecosystem Services“, Boris Worm et al, Science, 3 November 2006 — The author’s forecast that unless global policies change, 100% of seafood-producing species stocks will collapse by 2048.  Abstract:

Human-dominated marine ecosystems are experiencing accelerating loss of populations and species, with largely unknown consequences. We analyzed local experiments, long-term regional time series, and global fisheries data to test how biodiversity loss affects marine ecosystem services across temporal and spatial scales. Overall, rates of resource collapse increased and recovery potential, stability, and water quality decreased exponentially with declining diversity. Restoration of biodiversity, in contrast, increased productivity fourfold and decreased variability by 21%, on average. We conclude that marine biodiversity loss is increasingly impairing the ocean’s capacity to provide food, maintain water quality, and recover from perturbations. Yet available data suggest that at this point, these trends are still reversible.

Replies to this article are here.

(3)  Can we prevent the collapse of our remaining fisheries?

Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?“, Costello et al, Science 19 September 2008:

Recent reports suggest that most of the world’s commercial fisheries could collapse within decades. Although poor fisheries governance is often implicated, evaluation of solutions remains rare. Bioeconomic theory and case studies suggest that rights-based catch shares can provide individual incentives for sustainable harvest that is less prone to collapse. To test whether catch-share fishery reforms achieve these hypothetical benefits, we have compiled a global database of fisheries institutions and catch statistics in 11,135 fisheries from 1950 to 2003. Implementation of catch shares halts, and even reverses, the global trend toward widespread collapse. Institutional change has the potential for greatly altering the future of global fisheries.

(4)  The Ur-source of research about these issues

  • The Tragedy of the Commons“, Garrett Hardin, Science, 13 December 1968 — Alt link here.  “The population problem has no technical solution; it requires a fundamental extension in morality.”
  • The Tragedy of the Commons Revisited“, Beryl L. Crowe, Science, 28 November 1969 — “Major problems have neither technical nor political solutions; extensions in morality are not likely.”

For more information from the FM site

Reference pages about other topics appear on the right side menu bar, including the Naval warfare and strategy reference page.

Posts on the FM site about pirates:

  1. All about Pirates!, 12 December 2008
  2. More about pirates: why we no longer “hang them high”, 5 January 2009
  3. A Piracy SitRep, 12 May 2009
  4. What is this “justice” that war-loving Americans speak of?, 31 December 2009
  5. More about those pirate demons in Somalia, 2 January 2009
  6. The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage, 4 January 2010
  7. New research about pirates!, 3 March 2010

17 thoughts on “The real pirates sailing the seas, in whom we have no interest and from which we will suffer massive damage

  1. baduin

    Why it seems to me that every second post here seems to be a cry for immediate enthronement of a World Emperor?

    Obviously, this august personage is hiding under a phrase from a bad translation of Benedict XVI, “a reform of the United Nations Organization, and likewise of economic institutions and international finance, so that the concept of the family of nations can acquire real teeth.”
    FM reply: Please explain. I see nothing remotely like that. The opposite in fact, many posts urging the American people take responsibility for our nation and take the reins of government.


  2. anna nicholas

    Somewhere I read an idea that agriculture was a bad thing , and we’d have been better off living as hunter gatherers . Which when you see the rampant success of every inch of unchecked weeds ,and the rabbits , deer , birds etc that can convert them , compared to stuggling/pampered rows of crops , may be true . But the big snag with that would be overharvesting , as with the fish. At least you know you have to give something to the soil to get next years crop .
    Intensive farming of captive fish ( like sheep ! )is not all that successful – great problems with disease.
    Yes , world government needed- but where you going to find a dozen honest , effective leaders , with a vision of justice for people and care for the planet ?
    Down , imans, down . Nobody asked you .


  3. Fred

    This post is not “a cry for immediate enthronement of a World Emperor.” It merely provides useful context for the further examination of the “Somali pirate” issue.


  4. Greg

    Another great subject. An exploration of which will bring us right back to the (non) sustainability of another modern practice.

    Of course in a complex matter such as this (and ALL food subjects ae fraught with sustainability issues and complexity) I have no major insights except to note that mostly it is (as usual) a lack of Political Will coupled with public illiteracy that allows the drama to continue and at our eventual peril. Having read these two books on the tragedy of overfishing and the ineffectual attempts to just dent the the headlong rush to extinction, one could do no better than to start with these:
    * The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat, Charles Clover
    * Hooked: Pirates, Poaching, and the Perfect Fish, G. Bruce Knecht

    TRAGEDY of the COMMONS, modernly popularized in the late 60’s by Garret Hardin, a former Prof, I had the pleasure of studying under, outlines ALL one needs to know about this and the fate/results of “globalization” on steroids we now live with.

    The really sad thing is that the ones who can afford Blue Fin Tuna at their local US sushi bar (having been caught in the No Atlantic and rushed to Tokyo fish markets THEN back to the US Sushi dens!)will continue to dine at any cost while the average joe will purchase “Atlantic Salmon” (a farmed facsimile thereof)at their local Grocwer and/or Walmart that is dyed RED and fed antibiotics to escape the detritous of farmed fisheies for a mere $4.99 a pound.

    The Pirates and Fisheries are simply the emerged part of the ocean-going Iceberg that is the real dilemma of an institutional Food culture the world over.

    Wet your appetite with this: Hungrey for Change — “You’ll never look at dinner again in the same way.” …and it may change the way you personally use ALL food in your daily life.

    And that is what is needed in the USA……personal, small scale changes.
    FM reply: Thanks for reminding me about Hardin’s work. I’ve added it to the post.


  5. Mikyo

    World government needed? This may be the wrong forum, but try to imagine for a moment that some problem could be solved without using force. What if, what if the mission is not to go chasing pirates. Maybe it is simply to stop buying stolen fish. And help persuade others to stop buying them also. Possibly by calling attention to the theft? Helping to ensure that everyone notices what is happening over there?


  6. OldSkeptic

    Well there’s been lots of attempts to create a real body of international law to deal with things like this, e.g.: Law of the Sea, Landmines ban, BW bans, of course the NPT, ban on torture … the list is endless. And some have been successful … except for a certain ‘rougue’ country that blocks/impedes/sabotages/ignores/subverts/etc them …a little place called the got it … the US.

    Take the NPT, under attack from the US for ages now, Bush just made it more, how shall we say it, obvious. A very hard try has been going to replace the NPT with just what the US wants, Tranlated we like you Pakistan you can have a bomb (then), ditto Israel and (now) India. Iran, yes you could have had nuclear power under the Shah, but not now. Et al, et al.

    I picked up the UN Convention on Torture one when the Bush Govt, pre 9/11, pulled out of that and Isaid to myself “who do they want to torture”. Well we found out about that didn’t we (everyone is the answer, including -especially?- US citizens).

    So when you have this environment, there is no leadership and you get the great ‘race to the bottom’. Because there is no moderating force (international law backed by at least the majority of major nations) then personal plunder is the correct answer.

    I touched on this in an earlier post … how long can you individually remain honest and law abiding when your society is dominated by plunderers? The same applies to countries.

    Now the ‘tradgedy of the commons’ is not set in stone. Humans have sophisicated methods of ‘payback’ to moderate behaviour which works reasonably well in small numbers in a local sense. But, when elites backed with large amounts of force do it then these mechanisms fail, the power imbalance is too large.

    International law and agreements basically are attempts (some successfull, some not so) to restore a power balance between the various actors, moderating the powerful and giving the weak some clout, thus (sort of) restoring the ‘commons’. The advantage to the (smart) powerful is that it is cheaper, since they will always get more anyway, so trading off ‘some’ for a basically guaranteed ‘more’ at a cheap price is logical. Plus it is low risk.

    Sadly not the ‘neo-con’ crowds’ position and as they still dominate US policy their ideas must be studied and realised. Bill Lind’s ‘maximalist aims’ is a perfect description, the aim is always total win with a much higher risk (bit like Wall St I suppose). Therefore because you can ‘win everything’ because your armed forces are so big and/or you are so rich then why do any trade off at all? Trouble is that this is high risk poker with incaluable risks and costs, and sometimes even the ‘big boys’ lose.

    The reality is that, as an example, a Law of the Fish, could be hammered out pretty quickly and the major naval powers enforce it almost instantly, instead of just some volunteers playing tag with (one of the worst offenders in all this) Japanese fishing/whaling fleets.

    Want a historical precedent. When the UK banned slavery the Royal Navy enforced it, yep even against the US and that one was interesting because it ran against direct UK economic interests (they were the biggest slavers).
    FM reply: When did the US “pull out of” the United Nations Convention Against Torture? Wikipedia does not mention this. Of course we’ve probably broken it systematically under the Bush regime.

    “direct UK economic interests (they were the biggest slavers).”

    This is a bit vague, but not true in any broad sense. The UK was not the biggest user of slaves when they passed the Slave Trade Act 1807 (perhaps Spain?). They might have been the biggest in the slave trade (don’t forget the Arab slave traders), but that was a relatively minor part of the UK economy. The biggest effect in the UK of the Act was to the owners of plantations in the Caribbean colonies, who were devestated.


  7. OldSkeptic

    Cooperation or conflict is the choice for the World now. We have hit peak oil*, peak credit, peak food, peak water, heck even peak phosporus and lead.

    Now do we all go down fighting each other … in a nuclear armed World!… or do we become smarter than yeast.

    * Pick your year 2005-2009, however the old discussions are over we have hit it, peak oil is now. Notice despite the GFC fuel is steadily costing more and more? Australia’s CSIRO (and they have a good rep its our peak scientific agency) is predicting $AUS 4 a litre by 2018 … at least (do your own translation into your currency and volume). At that price Australian suburban life goes out the door.

    Look at my post in FM’s “peak oil doomsters debunked, end of civilisation called off” (note FM agrees with peak oil and has been warning about it for ages, part of his ‘wake up’ call to the US).
    FM reply: While I agree with your prescription, your descriptions of the current world are mostly false (upon available evidence).
    * Excess global oil production capacity is the largest its been in many years. And oil stockpiles, government and commercial, are similary high. So actual oil production, flattish since aprox 2006, reflects low demand — not peak supply. Nobody pumps more than demanded. Storing it on the floor is messy.
    * As I showed during the alleged food crisis in 2008 (see the FM reference page about Food), it reflected low stockpiles (political decisions), weather, and the larger commodity price cycle. Prices of many foods are roughly the lowest they’ve been in human history (in real terms, or in terms of gold). Which mocks any talk of peak food. You can find price graphs of various commodities adjusted for inflation (aka, in terms of gold) at Nathan Lewis’ website: New World Economics, 20 December 2009.
    * Peak credit just reflects myopia. The west is not the world. Leverage ratios, both public and private, are low in Asia.
    * There is no “peak water” crisis, 19 June 2008

    “Notice despite the GFC fuel is steadily costing more and more? ”

    As is copper. And we’re not at peak copper. It’s a commodity cycle, perhaps with an element of price manipulation added.


  8. Mikyo

    I have read somewhere that one way to show leadership is by example. Maybe this great nation could stop buying the fish … unilaterally?


  9. Galrahn

    UN law of the sea is poorly developed to protect the maritime domain of failed states. It really isn’t very well developed for managing complex issues post-cold war.

    Coast Guards are critical for protecting maritime resources, but the global coast guard sucks. The US coast guard is smaller than the NYPD, and the US Navy doesn’t do CG work for other nations.

    The Europeans have Marines on their fishing boats (France and Spain) around Somalia. Tells you a bit about policy. When the EU tried to pass a regulation regarding EU nation ships fishing in Somalia’s EEZ, the regulation was blocked by France and Spain.

    Pretending like the pirates care about environmental issues or fishing diminishes credibility. Those guys are criminals. Sympathetic losers in a complex political struggle is a western narrative manufactured to explain events, but reality is much more complex.

    You do realize you are talking about problems that are distinctly ‘not American’, right? What exactly would you have the US do about fishing problems of other nations FM? Sanction Spain or France? Support Australia’s condemnation of the Japanese fishing industry? The comments blame the US for doing nothing, but to do something would be a specific violation of the cold war era bilateral system of international laws that protect exclusive economic zones.

    This conversation is not up to your usual high standard.
    FM reply: Galrahn is one of the best analysts of naval issues writing on the Internet. But IMO this is not up to his usual high standard.

    (1) We cannot fix all the ills in the world, but we can try to fix the serious ones offering clear (if not easy) paths to solutions.

    (2) When problems result from the developed nations failure to control themselves, we might at least be less self-righteous about it. Destroying the Somalia’s fishing grounds then preaching about the resulting piracy is the sort of thing that the Old Testament God would respond to with fire some the sky.

    (3) “What exactly would you have the US do about fishing problems of other nations FM?”

    What is the point of this sentence (esp as I have repeatedly mentioned diplomacy as the solution)? Look at past challenges. What should we do about the whales? Treatment of POWS? Chemical weapons in wars? Nuclear prolifferation, nuclear weapons in space, nuclear testing in the atmosphere? Reslease of CFCs into the atmosphere, destroying the ozone layer? In all of these we got off our butts, ignored those who said it was too difficult, and negotiated solutions.

    Fishing is one of the world’s super-industries, before we all must cower. While profitable, it can be regulated more closely (as are other industries).

    (4) “to do something would be a specific violation of the cold war era bilateral system of international laws that protect exclusive economic zones.”

    Why? Do you assume that a unilateral military response is the only option?

    (5) “Pretending like the pirates care about environmental issues or fishing diminishes credibility.”

    This misses the points made not only in previous posts but also most professional analysis of this issue (so I find it amazing that you, of all people, say it). Most social problems must be addressed by both prevention and treatment. First, the Somalia pirates resulted from actions which we (the developed nations) can prevent in the future –reducing the odds of piracy spreading. Second, as seen in most of the analysis about the pirates, treatment requires a spectrum of responses — of which military action is but one component. And as I am sure you know quite well, its the smallest component (patroling is too expensive, convoys logistically difficult, punative raids effective but unlikely)

    On a deeper level, their leaders explicitly refer to these issues. How do you know they’re lying? That many in Somalia became pirates only after their fisheries is IMO prima facie evidence that your statement misrepresents the situation.


  10. Burke G Sheppard

    I pass this along as some may find it of interest. Apparently the shipping industry does not consider Blackwater, or Xe, or whatever they call themselves, to be a cost effective solution to the pirate problem. (I argued against the use of PMCs to fight pirates on the StrategyPage D list, and feel somewhat vindicated). In any case, anyone who wants an “expeditionary yacht” can pick one up cheap.

    Blackwater’s pirate-fighting navy has sunk!“, US Naval Institute, 4 January 2010 — Excerpt:

    The saga of America’s private-sector pirate-hunting Navy is over. That’s right. Blackwater’s (Or Xe’s) Navy is up for sale–in Spain, no less!

    Make an offer! Blackwater’s former flagship, the McArthur, is a modified 183′ Norfolk Shipbuilding Expeditionary Yacht. And it can be yours for $3.7 million dollars–so put your money down! There’s been a “Major Price Reduction” already, so this ship won’t last long!

    … Now, all this must come as a rude shock to those in the milblogosphere who happily regurgitated Blackwater propaganda or credulously promoted Blackwater’s anti-pirate Navy. Here’s an example of the irrational press-release-fuelled exuberance {“Blackwater Ready to Fight Pirates“, Galrahn, Information Dissemination, 16 October 2008}

    “…The French are already using private contractors for these purposes. This is the next logical step based on those calls. Unless the citizens of the US are ready to push the US Navy to make this a top priority, something that requires political action, this is seen as one of the limited but cost effective ways for the shipping industry to respond…”

    Blah, blah. The only thing was that nobody in the shipping business saw Blackwater as a cost-effective means to fight piracy. And few in the blogosphere bothered to do their due diligence–most just joined in the hype and began braying away (it’s a distressing habit that extends to the latest topic-of-the-day–be it ASBMs, piracy, or whatever–beware those who constantly hype the popular programs and suck up to the powerful people).

    FM reply: Thanks for the link to this! Note that the search for private sector solutions continues, as shown here “A.P. Moller Maersk Hires Security – Vessel for Anti-Piracy“, Galrahn, Information Dissemination, 4 January 2010


  11. Mikyo

    Zounds! So many jokes, so little time. Just insert your own one liners :)

    North Magnetic Pole Moving Due to Core Flux“, Richard A. Lovett, National Geographic News, 24 December 2009 — “Earth’s north magnetic pole is racing toward Russia at almost 40 miles (64 kilometers) a year due to magnetic changes in the planet’s core, new research says.”


  12. Galrahn


    We are in more agreement than not based on your reply, but the countries that must change to protect African fishery issues are Spain and France. The US is not the problem here, and the EU has consistently found no consensus for action.

    I really wish I understood even one example where a clear path ahead in terms of action for the US exists today, but absent a path of independence for Somalialand I have none – and despite your implication – I do not see a viable military solution to piracy anywhere. The costs for military action would be astronomical compared to the desired objectives.
    FM reply: Of course we’re in agreement, to some extent. I get much of my info and insights about these issues from your website.

    “but the countries that must change to protect African fishery issues are Spain and France.”

    Given the importance of fisheries to the world’s food supply (and the now obvious need to avoid creating more Somalias), that there are a small number of malefactors makes a diplomatic solution relatively easy. We did it for whales, we can do it for fish. And no military action was needed.

    Once there is diplomatic agreement, then illegal trawlers become criminals (just like pirates). Trawlers will be easier to find and punish, of course. Their catch could be confiscated at port. OrtThere might be a role for the world’s navy forces enforcing any agreements, perhaps like the British navy did with the Atlantic slave trade.


  13. Pete

    RE: Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons,” and the overuse of common resources, the problem IMO is that we have yet to adequately address the fact that corporations are designed to internalize profit (including natural resources such as fish and game, timber, precious metals, etc.) and externalize costs. Market cost of getting a fillet of salmon or yellowfin tuna at your local eatery, does not adequately reflect the costs externalized by the businesses, from the factory fisheries on down the line to your table.

    I’m in my forties, and as a child, I cannot recall having such easily available seafood, or for that matter, off-season fruits and vegentables. It was a big deal going to the seashore, because only there could one get fresh crab or lobster, for example. You couldn’t get strawberries in the dead of winter as one can now, even in the snowy Midwest. Now, all of this stuff is air-freighted to us.

    I don’t lose sleep at night worrying about the fisheries of the world, though perhaps I should, but my wife and I have started “eating local” whenever possible, and cutting back on products grown halfway around the globe and jetted in. There is an old-school solution my Danish relatives use to sidestep this problem: the greenhouse. They grow off-season fruits and veggies in their greenhouse. They aren’t thereby dependent on the whims of the world market in fuel or ag futures.
    Perhaps this is a solution from the past whose time has come again.


  14. OldSkeptic

    Sorry to disagree but the arguments about peak oil are: was it 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 or 2009? The main reason is the decline in all the non-Middle East production (Mexico, North Sea, et al). Plus the decline in ‘export available’ oil, in some places production has been maintained (or even increased) but the increased domestic consumption has actually reduced the amount available for export.

    New resources are either:
    * Very expensive, Brazil off shore ones need $100+ to be cost effective .. and we need to invent whole new technologies (which we will, but it wont be cheap).
    * Politically tricky. The Caspian are is one area that has potentially good reserves (plus gas) but not all the sea areas have been worked out yet.
    Plus we have the indeterminables:
    * Gandahar (Saudi Arabia), a super field that must be getting near to the end of its life soon.
    * New technology that ramps up production faster, holds peak production for longer .. which then falls off a cliff, instead of the softer Hubert curve of olden days, North Sea comes to mind (this also applies to a certain extent to gas production as well).

    We all know that new reserve finds have lagged behind consumption since, the (to lazy to check it FM feel free to correct) the 80’s.

    So we are, despite the GFC, there. And even factoring in speculation, history shows us that when at a closely matched supply/demand situation prices become very volatile. Translated big swings up and down on small changes in demand/production, or even expectations of changes. Who knows what would happen with a war against Iran in this sort of situation. The Iraq/Iran war did raise prices significantly despite that the World had much larger buffers (e.g. North Sea and Mexico). Now the buffers are much thinner.

    Stored reserves are neither here nor there, a few weeks at best, in some places they are non-existant.

    Note, as an aside, the new coal gas seam gas finds should be more expensive, mainly because they run out quickly in the local area (even though their may be a lot in the greater area), so you need more rigs and they have to move a lot (increased capital costs) at current low prices rigs are shutting down in the US… another failure of the commons.

    Better hope for all that Iraqi oil to hit the market soon, though talk of 12mb is just that .. talk. It will take ages to get even up to 5mb a day which would barely offset projected declines in the North Sea and Mexico (which will soon be a net importer).

    Note as another aside: the (little talked about) impact of US military consumption (roughly equal to Switzerland). This is probably increasing (at best it is constant) and definitely has an effect on keeping the oil prices up.

    I aint gonna run out soon, but the tight supply/demand position (aided with not reined in speculation) means we face increasingly volatile prices, which also has the negative impact of decreasing investment (potentially a viscious cycle, make more money out of speculation rather than real investment).

    Heck think about it, the ‘sucking vampire squid’ has a vested interest in creating a war with Iran .. think about it, at the very least a risk factor.
    FM reply: I’ve written tens of thousands of words about this doomster nonsense, and I’m not going to repeat it here. Peak oil is coming, but there are few signs of its arrival yet — or even in the next 3-5 years. Just to mention two of the more glaring misrepresentations.

    (1) “Brazil off shore ones need $100+ to be cost effective”
    It’s clear to anyone paying attention that, as experts long predicted, oil prices of $100+ will bring on substantial new supplies, offsetting exhaustion of the world’s low cost giants and super-giants. That’s only 20% more than today’s price, 1/3 less than the 2008 spike peak. That’s nothing, as commodity prices go.

    (2) “Better hope for all that Iraqi oil to hit the market soon, though talk of 12mb is just that .. talk.”
    More Iraq oil is coming. Not soon, but probably much faster the skeptics believe (remember how the Kuwait oil fires would create a global recession and global cooling?). Given today’s massive excess capacity, more oil is not needed — and would depress development of unconventional supplies and alternative energy sources. While 12 mbp is unrealistic, an increase of 2x or perhaps even 3x from current 2+ mbd is likely.

    (3) “the new coal gas seam gas finds should be more expensive, mainly because they run out quickly in the local area”
    I don’t know what you’re attempting to say, but it looks like an attempt to ignore the massive (and still increasing) potential to increase natural gas production. It might be a game-changed in world energy use. The “natural gas cliff event” was a testable prediction of the peak oil doomsters — and has been decisively proven false.

    If you are referring to the skeptics about unconventional natural gas production (e.g., Arthur Berman), they are a small minority view.


  15. OldSkeptic

    Food is another area entirely. But we have hit about the limit, if for no other reason many areas have hit ‘peak water’, some ‘peak soil’. Plus, I love all these people who say ‘technology will save us’, then cut spending to .. technology. The UK just cut 25% (really) of Physics PHDs the other week. Prior to, during and for a while after the ‘Green Revolution’ many countries had State owned agricultural research programs/institutes, plus worldwide ones like the FAO. Well we got rid of all that rubbish since the ‘free market 80’s’. Since then we have Monsanto, which the full weight of the neo-liberals, neo-cons, IMF, et al, et al, sadly et al, have forced on us. In the US you are even worse you have tainted, diseased food … because it is all ‘self managed’ by the industries … bah .ha ..ha.

    The UK was even better creating a cannibalistic cycle of feeding cattle … themselves (=BSE). Which shows that humans really are stupider than just about anything else in the animal kingdom, which avoids cannibalism except in emergencies because of the disease/parasite risk (those that did ignore that rule are now extinct).

    Once upon a time we took food seriously, not now. Example: First thing our new ‘Labor’ Govt did here in Oz, cut agricultural research. On top of all the cuts the prior Liberal/Labor (right/left) Govt have done over the last couple of decades. And we are definitely at peak water, peak soil, peak oil and many other peaks.. plus we have much less rain and we are getting a lot hotter. Yep a political consensus to starve us in the future.

    Similar situation everywhere. Seed banks ran down or deleted or, as in the case of Iraq, destroyed. Agricultural research destroyed everywhere .. I mean everywhere, look up the budgets.

    Just as the’ blood sucking vampire squid’ has captured economic policy, plus the rest of the FIRE economy, and the Military Industrial State has captured overseas policy, Monsanto has captured US (and increasingly international) agricultural policy.

    Whole new laws have been invented (and enforced worldwide) to ensure their seed monopoly. You a US farmer and you are legally not allowed to keep some of your produce for next years seeds (heavy Feds come in Black helicopters to take you out if you try that). Or if you are not a GM farmer and if some seeds from GM crops land in your area .. you get penalised, not the other farmer or Monsanto.

    Meanwhile, droughts increase across huge swathes of the World, there is a wheat rust devastating huge areas in Africa and the Middle East. Plus water shortages. Aquifers running down in Western Australia, India, etc, snow melt declining, glaciers disappearing.

    And the population keeps increasing.

    Yep politics here, but realistically even if we did all the right things we could barely keep place with the systemic decline. Plus there is the inevitable delay, rebuilding all that lost agricultural knowledge will take decades. “Doing the right thing”? Given today’s politics and economics, frankly it is so unlikely that there will be Worldwide increase in Agricultural research that we can look to 2 certainties:

    Obesity will disappear in the rich countries by 2030 at the latest (if food stamps are cancelled in the US due to economic collapse make that 2015 there). The World population will never get to the predicted 9B, realistically will start declining post (roughly) 2020 but not in a nice way. Plus ‘peak oil and gas and phosphorus’ will impact as well.

    Yeast I say. I like yeast it is far more intelligent than Homo Sapiens (or is that Homo Saps). At least yeast never says anything stupid.
    FM reply: My guess is that your forecast about peak food is almost certainly wrong. In fact, I doubt you can cite much data to support it (forecasts don’t count; we could paper Texas with all the forecasts of doom written in the past 2 centures). Also, low food prices provide a powerful market signal that you’re wrong.

    The “peak water” meme is just dumb, for most of the world. Any underpriced resource will be in scarce supply. That’s pretty much the meaning of scarce. You might as well talk about “peak pretty girls.”

    ‘droughts increase across huge swathes of the World”

    Droughts are a cyclical phenomenon. Do you have any evidence that their incidence is increasing? Or is this selective reading of the news, ignoring things like “Floods kill scores in Brazil“.


  16. anna nicholas

    #15 . I agree with your view – but not the yeast . Yeast requies substrate . Is not a perpetual motion machine. Also , if you are shipwrecked and drifting across the ocean in an open boat with your family and a 20 ml syringe , as you do , apparently you can survive by sticking seawater rectally .


  17. OldSkeptic

    Well I can take Austrlia as an example, the ‘canary in the mine’, since I know it best and we are facing problems today that will haunt other countries in the near future. For 2009 and the last decade see: Australian’s Bureau of Meteorology. Parts of the country (SE Australia) now in the 15th year of drought. SW Australia in drought, or well below average rainfall. Note these are the major food growing areas of Australia. The last 3 decades have seen steadily rising temperatures (see BOM chart). Perversly massive floods in the Northern areas as the monsoonal belt moves further south.

    Agricultural production down overall, example in 2001 Australia grew 1.6M tonnes of rice, 2006 1MT … 2008 18,000.
    Or Wheat: 2006 25Mt, 2008 13.6Mt (source Australian Bureau of Statistics)/ Other crops down a lot of a fair bit: cotton, lupins, canoloa. Others holding up either beacuse they are in areas with good rain (mid northern Queensland, Tasmania, or still have access to irrigation.

    Now zero water allowed to be taken from the Murray riiver in many areas for agriculture .. as there is no water available. Driving through Mildura recently fruit trees are being bulldozed. The small belt around the Murray/Darling river system produce 40% of Australia agricultural production.

    Salinity, salt rising now affecting major areas around the Murrey and SW Australia. Desertification, loss of topsoil, also impacting many areas. Victoria State Govt builds a water pipeline from the Goulburn River for $1.2B, now admits it may never be used as there is no free water left there.

    Record temps all over the place, Melbourne last summer 46C, 3C higher than the record, rails actually buckled bringing public transport to a halt. Lowest on record rainfall over many places. Highest temps across huge swathes of the country (see the maps on the BOM link). And this is in Australia, long used to heat and drought and we are breaking records everywhere.

    Other facts, Western Australia long use of aquifers at a faster rate than they are replenished means the water table is dropping. Adelaide South Austrlia most of its water comes fromn the Murray, ever increasing salinity means it will be undrinkable within a decade or sooner. Melbourne, Victoria dam capacity down to 30% the lowest on record. All on water restrictions. Some country towns in VIC/SA have to drive in all their water in tankers.

    I work in the insurance industry catastrpohies skyrocketing, floods (in northern areas) moving from 1 in 100 years to 1 in 10 as the monsoonal belt moves southward, as well as areas never hit before being inundated. Bushfires, last year killed nearly 200 people (and we are used to bushfires, it is the normal environment for us.. these were firestorms, you know like Hamburg in WW2, moving at 100kph and melting alloys). Major bushfires in NSW and SA already in 2010.

    Cyclical? This is OZ mate and we have never seen anything like it.

    Modern agriculture needs: oil, fertiliser, soil, water. Many areas around the World have ‘mined’ their soil and water (india for water comes to mind, a lot of the US for soil). And fertiliser (phosporus and nitrogen) are also mined. When the oil/gas/phospherus/water runs out then agriculture collapses. Even as they just become scarcer and more expensive then that flows directly into food costs. Some have argued that ‘peak phosphorus’ has, is just about to, happen.

    Plus, and I just learned this very rcently, soils are becoming carbon depleted in many places. Not long before we will have to seed a lot of our soils in Oz with carbon (from coal of course, yet another reason to abandon coal fired power stations). We haven’t even worked out how to do that and the cost will be massive … all that agriculture R&D being shut down is biting us badly.

    Worldwide we have no food reserves left. About 10 years ago food stocks started running down (New Scientist article is one example … can’t remember the references, look it up). About 5 years ago we basically ran out. Now there are none.

    Increasing population, declining (or at best static temporarily) food production .. does not make for a happy World. Oh, last year (or 2008) didn’t Walmart ration rice purchises? Even the US is not immune.
    FM reply: This misrepresents the facts to such as a degree as to be false, IMO. A decade-long drought in Australian tells us zip about global weather patterns. Geological records show droughts that last decades — even centuries — in Australia. That’s common knowledge. For example, Diamond discussed this at length in his book Guns, germs, and steel.

    (2) “This is OZ mate and we have never seen anything like it.”
    If by “we” you mean whites, yes. Europe discovered Australia in 1606. If by “we” you mean people, false. People have lived there for 40-50 thousand years, and seen far worse droughts.

    (3) “Record temps all over the place”
    The US is seeing record cold temps all over the place. It’s called weather. Most areas of the world, like the US and Australia, have only short histories of weather records, hence frequently set new records. It means zip.

    (4) Your points about depleting ground water and rising soil salinity are valid. Offsetting this is the low level of farm productivity in much of the world. Real food prices fell by aprox 60% fro 1960-2000, and have started to rise again. As they rise, capital flows back into food production. Agricultural investment in many nations (e.g., India, China, Russia) has skyrocketed from its trough in the mid-1990’s — up from 5% to 20%+ in terms of investment/ag value added.

    (5) A comment like this with food prices at multi-century lows (in real terms) is bizarre.



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