When the Bat Runs Out of Hits

Sitting in front of the computer, trying to pull an article out of it … Nietzsche was right: when you gaze long into the screen the screen also gazes into you!

Gaze long enough into Twitter …

… sooner or later you see everything!

Think a minute about the superstition of baseball players; rationality on the baseball diamond has limits. Because most of what happens on the field is random, players tend to obsess about the little things they can control: skipping carefully over the baselines painted on the field rather than treading on them, adjusting the straps on their batting gloves certain ways before readying themselves for each pitch. What they eat before games, how they dress and what they put in their pockets or around their necks, what they do to warm up: all of these and more are ritualized because these little actions appear to contribute in non-tangible ways to success in an extraordinarily difficult endeavor. Asked what kind of bat he uses, the ballplayer answers, “one with some hits in it.” Obviously, a solid piece of maple has nothing in it but the odd termite, yet at the metaphysical level, who can say for sure? Maybe there is a Hall of Fame career in there. The hunt commences until the proper bat is found, the player hangs onto it as long as possible until the hits are ‘used up’ or the bat breaks.

I need to be looking for a computer with articles in it …

The Gulf of Mexico is laying siege to Houston and environs: that is, the city of six millions has discovered the ocean has some water in it, billions of cubic meters have arrived unasked and have parked themselves where they are … ‘inconvenient’. Here are consequences unwinding under our noses; of our unwillingness to admit responsibility for ourselves and our actions. Storms happen but the combination of unrestricted real estate development and rising overall temperatures offers outcomes we have so far been pleased to ignore.

Harvey is the latest in a long series of storm-related flooding events one following hard on the heels of the other: New Orleans earlier this month, Houston last year and the year before and the year before that: the Sandy superstorm that flooded New York City and the subway; Katrina and Floyd and Hugo and Allison.

USA, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, China. The hits keep coming. Spengler was wrong, the West is not declining but drowning, leaving behind a bathtub ring, mountains of moldy sheetrock and rotten sofas.


There is also the routine ‘non-storm related’ flooding: (Miami Herald):

The king tide topped seawalls, rose through storm drains and crept up oceanfront parks at the tide’s peak, creating images that underscore concerns about the impacts of sea level rise on Florida’s coastal communities.

Scientists say the seasonal high tides, which have created a nuisance in places like Miami Beach, Fort Lauderdale and the Keys for decades, are increasingly compounded by the rising seas that are spurred by climate change. Studies have found that millions of Floridians are at risk of being displaced by rising seas.

Miami, Bangladesh, a few obscure islands here and there; Norfolk and the Chesapeake Bay. Don’t worry, be happy soggy!

Neither high ground nor deserts turn out to be much help: Ellicott City, Maryland was flooded last year after a ‘freak’ thunderstorm appeared over the area bringing the gift of six inches of rain in a little over an hour. A racing, ten-foot wall of water and mud gutted residences and businesses leaving the town in shambles. A month ago, Goslar Harz in Germany was inundated after storms unloaded over Lower Saxony. Germany has been flooding repeatedly as has England, France, Yemen. Deserts have become places where people drown, (BBC, 2009).

Flood Deaths in Saudi Arabia Rise to About 100

The number of dead in floods following Saudi Arabia’s heaviest rains for years has risen to around 100, officials say.

Dozens are said to be missing and some reports suggest the death toll will rise further in the city of Jeddah.

The authorities say they are providing food and temporary housing for those made homeless and considering how to compensate the worst affected.

But critics accuse them of negligence and say this “disaster” should never have been allowed to happen.

A lawyer has threatened to sue the Jeddah authorities, while thousands of people turned to the social networking site Facebook to vent complaints about inadequate infrastructure on a specially created webpage.

Many of the victims in the Red Sea port city died in their vehicles after the flash floods – either by drowning or in car crashes. Some reportedly were killed when bridges collapsed on top of them.

The casualties have not be counted in Houston but it is likely, as in Jeddah, that the greatest number of victims drowned in their cars attempting to navigate streets and highways turned into rivers.

One would think the managers would take sensible steps to address risk. Cities cannot be moved but mitigation is possible: there have been storms and floods for millions of years these events are not foreign to humans. Houses and other buildings are lifted above the flood level, (sprawling) development in valleys and low-lying areas is avoided. Open spaces that absorb water are left undisturbed or brought back to their natural state. Meandering watercourses hold more floodwaters than do concrete canals and drainage ditches which simply channel water from some neighborhoods to others: the solution involves restoring the old watercourses. Water can be adapted to, we’ve done it before, we have to choose to do so now.

Our all-out industrial assault on our climate can be mitigated as well: It isn’t hard to understand using fewer machines and de-industrializing our agriculture, all that is needed is the will to do so. The bottom line is resource conservation: we either conserve voluntarily or are compelled by the force of events … fire, floods and droughts. The choices aren’t difficult to understand, it is only the beguiling metaphysics of disproof that appear closer to hand in the short run and less costly than conservation. Yet the short term never lasts, it invariably morphs into the long variety; look out the window in Houston and watch a thousand ton concrete barrier float by … what comes by afterward? Nobody really wants to find out.

The adaptations long delayed are turning out to be absolutely necessary and immediate. Aside from the human costs, displacement from expensive real estate means declining prices with adverse affects to the credit regime which propels our entire economy. A modest real estate ‘correction’ was a contributor to the 2008 finance crisis. As their borrowers fell ‘underwater’ and defaulted on their payments bank collateral was worth less, leading to a system-wide margin call on lenders. That such an unpleasant eventuality might occur had become unthinkable to the lenders and system regulators. Banks ignored risk even as borrowers were mailing back their house keys. Like the ballplayer and his hit-filled bat, risks were assumed to be abstract and unprovable … until it was too late.

At some point the metaphysics goes into reverse: the ‘idea’ of displacement gains more currency than what the actual losses themselves might indicate. If one city is vulnerable then so are others. If Houston and New Orleans suffer real estate losses, what about Philadelphia or Boston? London, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Tokyo sit at sea level, so does San Francisco and Mumbai, Lagos and Sydney. Cities on the sea made sense when commerce was wind-powered and cargoes needed loading and unloading by hand. Economic convenience was an asset that turns out over that longer term to be a liability with astronomical costs attached.

Because it isn’t possible to link with absolute certainty flooding to over-development or warming climate, the metaphysical argument permits risk of to be ignored even after it materializes as actual costs that must be met by real people. Context matters: a ballplayer’s gesture is funny but the inundation of big cities is serious business: a trillion here and a trillion there soon adds up! The costs of reconstruction — real or imagined — loom larger in the mind than what cities can earn … the metaphysical notions are then turned upside down: it becomes a matter of opinion whether soon-to-be rotting, decrepit cities are worth anything at all.

After weeks or perhaps a month, water in Houston will recede and the repairs will begin along with a tally of the costs. Economists will step forward and insist that rebuilding efforts will be good for GDP and the local economy, that insurance companies are flush, that everyone will be made whole, yadda-yadda. The economists’ metaphysics ignores the cumulative effect of recurring floods, where the same houses are repaired at someone’s expense year after year. It is an absolute certainty Houston be flooded again; perhaps next year … or even next month. Storms expose our vulnerability: our infrastructure is untimely and inadequate. Even as each high tide in Miami reminds residents of pending flood, developers in Miami build expensive condos on the ocean with customers a lining up to buy. It is a collective suspension of disbelief that works until it doesn’t any more, when the bat runs out of hits.

38 thoughts on “When the Bat Runs Out of Hits

  1. Ken Barrows

    Welcome back! A random thought: tax cuts are meant to generate wealth but neither individuals nor corporations are wealth creators. What a problem.

  2. Volvo740...

    Thanks for your latest post Steve. Something is happening – maybe it’s that we’re rolling over peak oil and entering the era of permanent recession with every tool in the bag use to mask it? Perhaps it will take 5 years for this to be super clear in the oil production statistics – if they publish true stats.

    But even if they don’t there will be other signals. Vehicles sold. Airplanes sold. iPhones sold. Google Searches. #Gas Stations. #Grocery stores. Road conditions. At some point it becomes impossible to hide the trajectory. And that trajectory will asymptotically reach 0 on many fronts. What happens when everyone can see this?

  3. Frank Schoenburg

    Welcome back Steve! I thought the collective suspension of belief would end on a large scale right after I took all of my money out of the stock market 7 years ago. We’ll get there eventually.

    I saw a tweet of yours that suggests paying women not to have babies. At first I ridiculed the idea. Then I gave you the evil eye (I’m not that violent). Now it’s self evidently the way forward. Do you have $$ figures and a framework on how this would be implemented in mind? I’m curious.

  4. Tagio

    Welcome back to blogging, Steve, I missed your view of things and your way with words. “Economic convenience was an asset that turns out over that longer term to be a liability with astronomical costs attached.” Might as well put that on our collective tombstone.

    Charles Hughes Smith was out recently with an article about why economic doom is baked in. Based on his usual and preferred “factor analysis,” our goose is cooked because wages of the bottom 80% haven’t been and aren’t increasing. Tverberg has been saying much the same thing for some time. Apparently the notion that an economy is an ecology of sorts is well beyond the grasp of our world’s titans of finance, CEOs and MBAs, whose only model of causality and consequence is the straight-line, Newtonian billiard ball-collision world where reducing labor costs yields increased profits, period.
    I much prefer your metaphysical explanations to this proximate cause stuff, which still reflects the engineer’s or manipulator’s perspective, the thing that got us into this mess in such a big way to begin with. Stepping back, it’s pretty clear that the real problem with people is the way that they make so-called “decisions.” Some 40 years ago nuclear power was going to provide virtually free electricity in the future. So full speed ahead, even though we didn’t know what to do with the waste that will be toxic for 10,000 years and still haven’t addressed it. Re: Houston, Miami, etc., what’s that, they’re flood zones? NP there’s lots of money to be made and tax revenues to be had developing the hell out of it.

    “The costs of reconstruction — real or imagined — loom larger in the mind than what cities can earn … the metaphysical notions are then turned upside down: it becomes a matter of opinion whether soon-to-be rotting, decrepit cities are worth anything at all.” I doubt I’ll live to see this Bright Day of Dawning, but I guess I can hope.

    Thanks for a thoughtful article.

  5. Eeyores enigma

    Hey Steve!

    I’m sure your bat/laptop has plenty more hits left in it the problem is that it might not be as fun anymore to swing it. I do hope there is at least some cathartic benefit for you in writing.

    As far as; “the real problem with people is the way that they make so-called “decisions.”

    The problem is that all decisions are made based on the available information and right now “people” are only getting bad, wrong, manipulated, misleading, information so what kind of decisions can we expect from them?

  6. Volvo740...

    Some truth comes out of MSM: “Electrical power is needed, too, to keep water and sanitation systems operating.

    For those with a generator, fuel supplies depend on the success of a logistical network trying to keep gas flowing to all points of battered and sweltering Florida.

    “Power pretty much drives everything,” Christopher Krebs, assistant secretary for Infrastructure Protection at the Department of Homeland Security, said at a news briefing Tuesday.”

  7. Tagio

    Two interesting articles pertinent to Steve’s article:
    https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2017/8/30/houston “Anyone suggesting that more wetlands or more pervious surfaces would have done anything to mitigate what has just happened is lacking a proper sense of scale.”


    “There is a chain of soft corruption shielding people from the feedback that should come with their decisions, from the way we structure and sell mortgages to the entire system of moving risk from private balance sheets to the public sector. In a world where banks and insurance companies were expected to experience losses, even failures, when they got things wrong, flood insurance would be both mandatory and cost-prohibitive for most people in these kind of flood prone areas.
    Are we really going to subsidize flood insurance at the national level and then turn around and spend tens of billions — maybe more — constructing stormwater management and mitigation systems to protect these same homes? If we insist that the problem here is a lack of engineering and planning, that is exactly how we’re going to respond.
    The actual damage from the flooding in Houston is more about flood insurance, mortgage regulations and bank bailouts than it is about engineering or planning. Failure to grasp that only ensures that future disasters will be greater than those in the past.”

  8. Tagio

    Steve, if you have time to indulge me, what do you think the effect of the depreciating dollar (103 in January to about 91 now, 11.6% decline) on the price of oil? It would be cool to see a chart with the two overlapped. Is it contributing to, or will this lead to, an increase in the price of barrels in the U.S. from overseas? I assume it will not affect shale at all since that is a total internal U.S. matter, where dollars = dollars.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      Dollar depreciates vs. other currencies except the one that matters: petroleum.

      Dollar can’t depreciate much or the high nominal price causes a credit freeze and the price falls again.

      Keep in mind, currency traders cannot make money unless currency crosses fluctuate. Stability is the enemy!

  9. Creedon

    Tagio said: Steve, if you have time to indulge me, what do you think the effect of the depreciating dollar (103 in January to about 91 now, 11.6% decline) on the price of oil?
    I have also been following the decline in the dollar. There seems to be a legitimate trend in the world to de-dollarize. The developing world pretty much has to because the dollar no longer supports their economies. China and Russia are working at moving outside the dollar. They also have to for their own survival. John Williams would say that this is a predecessor to hyper-inflation. He has been predicting that for years. Trying to build a new world system in the face of declining world energy is fraught with danger. I have learned that we cannot predict anything for sure.
    Welcome back Steve, your website is always more civil than some that I visit.

  10. ellenanderson

    Hey welome back – can’t believe I haven’t even looked at EU for nearly three weeks. For a long time I checked every day and then gave up. I have been looking at your twitter posts but twitter makes my head spin. It is still unfashionable to discuss conservation or population control. Everything else is talked to death. So much chattering and tweeting. Are we the wiser for it?

  11. Ken Barrows

    I know this national anthem story of the day is small potatoes in the larger scheme of things, but it does show that a lot of Americans are scary people (not the protestors) and won’t handle the Triangle of Doom very well.

  12. Creedon

    Jim Rickards is saying that this fall marks the beginning of the oil for yuan for gold markets in Shanghia and the end of the petrodollar. You may be noticing that the U.S. has not yet mounted an invasion of China. Go figure.

  13. Dan Johnson

    Steve, can you comment on the possibility of central banks facilitating limitless credit to big players and preventing “collapse,” such that we get another twenty years of Dow and Tesla growth, increasing wealth inequality, while the real economy goes to ashes? Kunstler, Tverberg, Ilargi, Alice Friedemann at energyskeptic.com, et al., peak oil sympathizers, all assume a collapse is inevitable. But what if it’s not? What if the real economy slowly contacts over 50 years, while finance continues ever upward? Could you comment on this possibility? This would disappoint everyone hungry for a collapse, but what if this is the real trajectory? We should also examine this possibility. Thanks.

  14. Volvo740...

    Some thoughts. If the economy contracts to near 0 over 50 years, I would still call that collapse. 2% decline year over year – it doesn’t take long before that adds up to 10%. Rome collapsed a lot slower than that.

    It’s likely to go faster. Peak Oil is today / or yesterday / or 2005. There might just be 20 years left of BAU. Or less.

    Add in a crumbling infrastructure, and a lot of energy needs to go to just rebuild a bridge, or an energy grid or a water main.

    Debt is the real killer here, since we’re in this debt – slavery relationship.

    1. steve from virginia Post author

      I’m not sure why this comment was held up, it does not bide well for ‘Artificial Intelligence’ or self-driving singularities.

  15. Creedon

    Dan, your scenario actually seems like the most likely one right now. Jim Rickards is saying the new regime at the Fed is going to go back to zero interest rates and easy money again, which should put the dollar collapse back on track. Energy to the world is dropping, but human beings are resilient and just about anything may happen. I heard last night that Tesla has built a semi truck. Now they need to build road graders, back hoes and cranes. Is the world crazy or not?

  16. Volvo740...

    “I heard last night that Tesla has built a semi truck”

    What problem does an EV or ETruck solve? They are really just the latest “green” fashion statement. But if you look at the Keeling curve all you see is a perfectly smooth curve upwards – that seems to be accelerating. There is no reduction in CO2 emissions. Peak oil may change that, unless other feedback loops that emit Methane and CO2 kick in first…

    1. Bachs_bitch

      “What problem does an EV or ETruck solve?”

      It amounts to replacing a healthy heart with a high tech substitute with the same/slightly better functionality, then declaring that singularity has been achieved.

      I’ve always thought the fast/slow collapse dichotomy is a bit silly. The collapse will be both fast *and* slow depending on which aspect of society we’re discussing.

  17. Dan Johnson

    So one theory on this, let’s say the central banks have learned how to avoid financial collapse, so that won’t happen, it will be litetally bull markets forever. At the same time, the real economy is inevitably “contracting” due to EROEI and peak petroleum. This may take decades. EVs, driverless cars, and perhaps even renewable energy generation all serve a useful role at this point by providing an investment area for the bull market, while facilitating strangulation of the real economy, controlled demolition, a “space” that can still grow without petroleum, cannibalizing from other markets. Driverless is obvious, it creates unemployment, so less discretionary fuel burn by non elite workers. EVs probably won’t be deployed in enough quantity in OECD to directly reduce fuel burn through miles driven, but perhaps they make electricity more expensive, thereby slowing the real economy and discretionary fuel burn by non elite workers. (Renewables also help to make electricity more expensive. See Euan Mearns.) ZH had an article about how every EV is money-losing, yet every auto company is diving head-first into this. They are getting investment and subsidies “from above” (trace back to ZIRP) rather than relying on customers for credit, “to retire their debt.” This is the new norm for industrial economies? Renewable energy equipment front-loads both the emissions and the credit injection, with the hardware as collateral to facilitate the credit injection. All of this mentioned can be powered/fabricated using cheap coal electricity rather than petroluem. We can pretend it reduces GHG emissions. We know it either front-loads emissions, transfers to coal plants, or has no effect.
    If I understand Steve correctly, credit created by central banks reduces the purchasing power of everyone else proportionally. Isn’t this also useful at this point, because as CBs do more of this, non elite workers have less ability to buy petroleum? Peak oil due to EROEI will be masked as “peak demand.” I’m curious for others’ thoughts and reactions. Thank you.

  18. Creedon

    Dan, I like your thinking. This is an idea that is not very popular, but in reality is the most likely scenario. The dis-function will become mind numbing. There is a poster over at the thread I follow at peak oil news that is talking raving, cynical talk, but the reality is, that as time goes on, everything is going to get so ridiculous that the most cynical among us are going to be the sanest.
    A second scenario, expounded by B.W. Hill is that oil is going to 12 dollars a barrel by 2020, basically because of the reasons that you mention. At 12 dollars a barrel, the dollar as world reserve currency would collapse, I believe, and we would than have a fast collapse scenario.

  19. ellenanderson

    @RE – I love your requiem. Thanks for a great piece of writing. I am glad that you are letting the docs take care of you even if it sucks.
    @Steve – so what is going on and what was the motive? if you know.

  20. Creedon

    The real answer to all of this is that we must vastly reduce our standard of living. This is exactly what all of us are trying to avoid. Are there many in the developing world who are trying to un-develope. How many on this site are working diligently to lower our standard of living.

  21. ellenanderson

    I would guess most everyone on this site is at least preparing for what is coming eventually. Common sense tells us that we personally are better off if we use less and save more. I have read that per capita energy use is falling in developed countries. All of this is by necessity and is going to happen anyway. But so long as industrial capitalism continues to plague humanity (with the support of governments everywhere) the wasting of resources will continue. It has to continue. That is how things work. We enclose resources, put them into private ownership, borrow money to extract them to produce things that we then throw away (waste) as fast as possible. That is how the world works. Right now the production of consumer goods is not profitable enough so governments are supporting the system by making weapons and wasting them killing people. Our semi-comfortable material lives are supported by war. If you think about it, most of what we consider to be advances in consumer technology were developed as tools of war (starting with canning to support Napoleon’s army.) Well time to go ferment some cabbage and check on the turnips….

    1. Volvo740...

      Prepping is hard. I have built a small 220 sq ft home that can be heated with wood or diesel. But i can’t see myself felling and spitting a tree without my Husqvarna. Also, there are only 7 large trees left on the property… I have the skills to have chicken, but I’m not quite sure what to feed them post SHTF. Today I get bags of food from the Grange. That said, I’m trying. It gives me something to focus on that I enjoy. But living without a grocery store is difficult to envision. Living without money – even harder.

  22. ellenanderson

    For sure. Living without money would be tough unless nobody has any in which case we will figure things out. Also, America was cleared of trees without a single gas powered chain saw. We should all have a couple of cross-cuts with sharpening jig and tools. They aren’t as good as they used to be but you can get old ones.
    I have a Silverfire Hunter Stove. Works pretty well in a very small space for cooking and uses only scraps of wood. Check out Low Tech Magazine.

    1. Volvo740...

      Thanks for the link to the stoves. Cool stuff. I guess de-forrestation would be rampant in a non fossil fuel world? It’s sort of already. Most areas logged where I live. Could grow back of course, but not at the same time as we’re switching to fire wood….

      It’s hard to see a way out sometimes. Lots of people in condos etc. What are they going to do? But if there is no food, I don’t think it matters. In the end this is exactly what it will come down to. Where you live, will there be food and water, and do you have the means to get them? Then you need some shelter – and that’s the fun and easy part.

      If land was cheaper and/or there were fewer CODES required for building, I think there could really be an innovation in small living. Building insulated zip tie domes would be very cool for example!

  23. ellenanderson

    You can grow a lot of food in a little space. The problem is having enough water and maintaining fertility without polluting the water supply. Plenty of people all over the world know this and are working on local solutions. Some will work and some will not. But the goal has to be to minimize destruction and waste. For the most part this whole effort is opposed by the state. Remember that there is not really a difference between the state and the corporations that try to control all human activities. The corporations are chartered by the state and defended by its legal structures. Corporations are legal constructs and it is convenient for the government to pretend that there is a “public sector” vs a “private sector.” A threat to corporate control of our lives is, at this point, a threat to the sovereign itself. So we can expect a fight. I guess little people have to get out of the way without copping out. How to do that I don’t know. The protest movements themselves seem to have been incorporated into the corporate theatrical production. Somebody, maybe Jensen, described the alternative/solar energy proponents as “ghost dancers.” One does have to try not to become part of a cargo cult. The construction of commercial solar facilities on forest land is the real threat to forest health. Not you gathering sticks and leaves for a little fire in an efficient stove. That is fun. Enjoy!

    1. ellenanderson

      What a brave man – a few like him in every generation to set an example for the rest of us. The pipelines are organizing people all while they fail financially.

  24. Volvo740...

    Reading the latest nuclear report is eye opening. The French section is electric! I used to be such a proponent of these “non-CO2 emitting” machines (if you disregard construction and fuel production…). In fact as a kid I write articles about nuclear power. Now we see that the world is collapsing to a simpler state, and this technology symbolizes to like nothing else complexity.


  25. Creedon

    Dan said:
    “Peak oil due to EROEI will be masked as “peak demand.” I’m curious for others’ thoughts and reactions. Thank you.”
    The thing is that the American economy is still in a growth phase. We haven’t really gotten to the stage of things contracting yet. Things will contract when demand truly begins to diminish and big money recognizes such.

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