While some global whiners are predicting death, disease and reckless fish, an ominous array of other forces are gathering. The time of plenty, peace and abundance could be coming to an end. I’ve finally had a chance to look at David Archibald’s hot new book, and it’s a book that needs to be discussed. It’s the debate we ought to be having. (I’ll be referring to it again on this blog).
In the West we have rarely had it so good: since World War II things have been relatively peaceful; the sun reached a once-in-8000-year global maximum, keeping us warm; the big easy oil fields were tapped, gifting us the cheapest energy in human history; and the most obvious gains in agriculture meant food supply increased even faster than populations grew. David Archibald paints a provocative argument of a world where a cooling sun means grain supply can’t keep pace with demand, oil production starts to slide and forces of unrest in the mid East collapse to chaos while those in the far East rise ascendant.
David Archibald writes:
Who are those four horsemen? A severe, solar-driven cooling is one. Over the next twenty to thirty years, we are going back to the climate of the early 19th century as the best case outcome, or the climate of the late 17th century at worst. Here in the mid-latitudes of North America, growing conditions will move three hundred miles south from their current position. The United States will be producing twenty percent less grain by 2030, taking the United States out of export markets. Grain prices will return to 19thcentury levels in constant dollar terms.
The second horseman is the fact that a number of countries, but particularly those in the Middle East, are playing a big game of musical chairs. One day the music will stop and there won’t be enough grain to feed everybody. This outcome will be brought forward by the climate-driven reduction in grain supply.
The consequent population collapse will take the Middle East back to the population levels of the Napoleonic era. Every grain importing country is at risk to some extent. As Yemen or Afghanistan or Egypt tip over into collapse due to starvation, there will be an immediate bidding war on the world’s grain markets for what stocks are available. It will all be a big surprise when it happens.
The third horseman is our energy supply, starting with oil. In short, the oil price has tripled over the last ten years but oil production is no higher. It hasn’t responded to the price signal because production is physically constrained by geology. Soon oil production will tip into decline and the price rise will resume and accelerate. We can solve our long term energy supply problem by commercialising the thorium molten salt reactor. There are literally hundreds of designs for generating nuclear power, but thorium in a liquid salt is the safest with the least waste generation. Commercialising that reactor is absolutely necessary if we are going to maintain a high level of civilisation going forward.
The fourth horseman is the Pakistani nuclear bomb program. Not so much their current stockpile of nuclear weapons but the fact that they keep on building more reactors for making weapons-grade plutonium. They have three operating and they are now building their fourth. This is a country with a literacy rate of 55% and frequent power blackouts. Let’s not descend into cultural relativism by suggesting that they don’t have their priorities right.
[Read the rest in American Thinker]
Obviously there is much to debate, and this is the debate we ought to be having, not the one about the carbon scary fairy. Here’s just one of the many geopolitical questions he stakes out the territory on: Will shale gas and fracking keep the cheap energy flowing? David Archibald describes shale as less a revolution, and more a temporary filler that will become expensive quickly. Archibald has an energy plan for the West involving thorium for electricity, and coal to liquids for your car. His detailed knowledge of energy prices and demand means he forecasts some quixotic and perverse situations — we should not be wasting compressed natural gas in power stations, he predicts its real value lies in cars and transport. Likewise, coal he explains is better used in coal to liquids, again to replace the oil that become increasingly and prohibitively expensive. We can save both these resources for our cars if we use thorium for our electricity, and if we keep electricity out of our cars. It’s just too inefficient: “Approximately 20% of the charge of an electric car battery is needed just to haul the battery itself around.”
Something that stands out for me is the editing. Unlike many books today, Twilight of Abundance has done intense months of rewriting and reviewing and it shows. It has that polish and quality we used to expect of all top books in the days before rapid print. Regnery have brought out the best. It’s easy to read, but also rich with information (some books are easy because there’s nothing of substance to get in the way, not this one).
This book is a resource I will be returning to. I may not agree with everything he says but I have to do research before I put up any objection. Archibald is marking out the terms of this debate, and is ahead of the game. Buy the book. Send me your objections. This is the debate we have to have. The other stuff is window dressing.
Yes, the Amazon review below is that David Evans (the one I married). He’s a hard man to impress, he read this book to the last page, and it did shift his views.
By David Evans
Rare insights by someone across several important sectors: energy, geopolitics, climate, and food. They interact in predictable ways, but no one else is talking about them. Although well informed on these topics, most of the insights and much of the information in this book were new to me. I knew enough to find this mostly very credible. Archibald makes a convincing case for a future where food is running short in countries in the Middle East and North Africa, peak oil eventually passes even though postponed for a few decades by fracking, the sun shows us who is really running the climate by cooling a touch (which contracts food production, particularly in the northern reaches of Canada and Russia), and the age of cheap energy is over unless we get imaginative with thorium. Our studied ignorance of these matters in the West may leave us at a nasty disadvantage. We are not prepared for this sort of future, and our elites as yet have no clue and no desire to know.