Belmont Club

A World Lit Only By Fossils

She was the “stiff headmistress” to Trump’s “Great Salesman” but being that didn’t help her.  The New York Times contrasted Theresa May with the American president calling her “reserved, slightly awkward and serious, Mrs. May does not even have a Twitter account and does her best to remain silent on the key issues of the day, putting her head above water only when she must.”  Yet she lost an election that should have won by a landslide forcing her into a deal with a Northern Ireland party to form a government.

Her chief defect according to British pundit Piers Morgan, was a lack “of basic gumption”.

Perhaps the lesson in May’s defeat is that all political courses are now risky and simply not being Trump is no guarantee in a world that has become unpredictable.  Richard Haas, the author of A World in Disarray said that things were falling apart faster then he had imagined.  He tweeted, “I know I wrote a book re disarray, but things getting out of hand w Qatar, N Korea, UK election, Comey, Afghanistan, Venezuela, you name it.”

That is because a”world in disarray” is being roiled by causes far deeper than Trump.  There is disorder — entropy — lose in the system requires which requires an infusion of external energy that is unavailable.  The existing resources simply can’t cope. One example which stands out is the economics of terrorist prevention.  The Washington Post explains the reason Lone Wolves keep surprising the authorities is because it takes four cops to monitor a single terror suspect,  quoting a European terror expert.  “Since it takes at least four agents to monitor a single suspect, it becomes apparent that many European countries lack the resources to monitor all of them and that there’s an overload of security information.”

Monitoring the 23,000 Jihadis thought to be in the UK would require every policeman in Britain.  It’s impossible and many are left unwatched.  The situation simply gets worse over time.  The policeman to population ratio is ordinarily 1 to 227, so each Jihadi (4:1) requires almost a thousand times more police resources than the average Joe (1:227). In other words, there’s not enough free energy in Britain to meet political demands: to simultaneously rebuild the Army, maintain council housing, expand the NHS and play multi-culti host.

That is why May fares no better than anyone else.  Entropy is extending its lead all the time.  Globalism has made it possible to fund disorder from the profits of order.  Qatar, for example has recently been accused of being the Switzerland of Terrorism.  Yet it receives a vast income not only from the sale of natural gas but from holdings in the West.  The BBC remarks that “Qatar owns more land in London than the Queen.”

It’s hard to walk round London and admire the sights without admiring something paid for by Qatar. From some of the most famous hotels and landmarks to the cranes arcing over the South Bank, Qatar has a substantial finger in a huge number of pies. The UK is Qatar’s single largest investment destination, with £35bn in place and another £5bn on its way in the next five years.

The very engine of Europe powers the wrecking ball which is shatterering its foundations. There is simply no escape from a “world in disarray” without a revolution in the cost curve.  Any attempts to finesse a solution run hard up against this basic constraint and are as futile as rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. But if the problem is an energy deficit where are more resources going to come from?  There are two possibilities.  A large cost shift might come from either accepting a less orderly world or finding more cheaper energy to support the current Western standard of civilization in the face of the entropy challenge.

An example of the cheaper strategy is illustrated by Iran’s relative immunity to Salafist terror attacks.  Why has Iran been so resistant to ISIS till now despite it’s physical proximity to the Middle East while the UK suffers serial attacks?  The answer suggests the Christian Science Monitor is that a relatively closed society is cheaper to defend than multicultural Britain. It does not require four policemen to monitor one suspect.

Despite its critical role bolstering local forces to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria, Iran has been virtually immune to the insecurity and ISIS attacks that have plagued the region, from Libya to Afghanistan. …

Analysts say one result will be a rally-around-the-flag reaction that sets aside the years-long controversy over the expenditure of Iranian blood and treasure in the battlefields of Iraq and Syria.

“The immediate impact will be the enhanced popularity of Iran’s counter-terrorism policy in the region,” says Hassan Ahmadian, a Middle East specialist at Tehran University.

“The people now feel more the linkage that the government has been speaking about, that ‘If we don’t fight them there, we will be fighting them here in Iran,’” says Mr. Ahmadian. “It was important, and it is now more important, to show the linkage between its policy in Iraq and Syria and national security inside…. It gives Iran’s arguments a more robust base.”

One answer to a “world is disarray” is reverting to the more primitive state.  This has a great advantage of being known. However if the West aspires a “higher” civilizational state then it must to find a cheaper source of energy.  It’s widely thought that “civilizations can be characterized by their usage of energy” so it is not hard to accept that escape from the current stasis necessarily involves a corresponding cost revolution.

Jean-Marc Jancovici, an advocate for the phasing out of “fossil fuels”, correctly understands that “the slowdown of the economy has a main cause: the slowdown of the energy availability per capita”.  It has stagnated in Europe and is probably driving much of the current middle class unrest.  Yet he appears to believe the way to get more energy while abolishing “fossil fuels” is increasing process efficiency.  Since “in Europe, the available energy per capita will go on decreasing” the only way forward is to get more bang for buck.  Hope is a smaller car or a smaller house.

The problem with Janovici’s approach is most of our prosperity still — in fact increasingly derives — from the “fossil fuels revolution” of the industrial revolution.  The promised efficiencies of the Greens have not materialized.  Without it the world remains in trapped in a world of rising entropy. Daniel Yergin points that out the only ‘revolution’ to actually occur in the past decades has been the unconventional-oil and-gas revolution, not the wind, solar or efficiency breakthroughs awaited by the climate changers.  Impressive though this has been he knows it has offered only incremental increases in the energy equation.  Unconventional oil and gas has modified, but not revamped the cost curve.  All Yergin can do is hope something will turn up. He writes:

I don’t know what the pathway’s going to be to solve the problems. But when you have a lot of bright people working on a problem in a sustained way, you will probably get to a solution. Will it be 5 years or 15 years? We don’t know but, ultimately, need drives innovation. I see this as all part of the great revolution that began with the steam engine, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to end. It’s going to continue in the oil and gas industry, and it’s also going to stimulate innovations of other kinds among renewables and alternatives.

We’re not always going to be able to predict where the innovations will happen. Not by any means. But this great revolution in human civilization around energy innovation is going to continue as far as we can see—indeed, much further than we can see. Of course, history tells us that geopolitics can come along and deliver some shocking surprises, but surprises are one of the key characteristics of energy over the long term. One thing we can be sure of: there are always more surprises to come.

The future will belong to something.  Thorium, fusion — something.  Until the Revolution the world will have to cope with a rising level of disorder with only modest increments of additional energy at its disposal.

Follow Wretchard on Twitter

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Support the Belmont Club by purchasing from Amazon through the links below.


The Strange Death of Europe: Immigration, Identity, Islam, This book by Douglas Murray is not only an analysis of demographic and political realities, but also an eyewitness account of a continent in self-destruct mode. Declining birth-rates, mass immigration and cultivated self-distrust and self-hatred have come together to make Europeans unable to argue for themselves and incapable of resisting their own comprehensive change as a society. Murray includes reporting from across the entire continent, from the places where migrants land to the places they end up, from the people who appear to welcome them in to the places which cannot accept them.

Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders, by Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras and Ella Morton. Every page shows how strange and marvelous the world really is. With compelling descriptions, hundreds of photographs, charts, and maps for every region of the world. Tagged as addictive by readers.

The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy – What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, by William Strauss and Neil Howe. First came the postwar High, then the Awakening of the ’60s and ’70s, and now the Unraveling. In this book, published in 1997, Strauss and Howe apply their generational theories to the cycles of history and locate America on the brink of a crisis. Are you ready for the Fourth Turning?

For a list of books most frequently purchased by readers, visit my homepage.

Did you know that you can purchase some of these books and pamphlets by Richard Fernandez and share them with your friends? They will receive a link in their email and it will automatically give them access to a Kindle reader on their smartphone, computer or even as a web-readable document.
The War of the Words, Understanding the crisis of the early 21st century in terms of information corruption in the financial, security and political spheres
Rebranding Christianity, or why the truth shall make you free
The Three Conjectures, reflections on terrorism and the nuclear age
Storming the Castle, why government should get small
No Way In at Amazon Kindle. Fiction. A flight into peril, flashbacks to underground action.
Storm Over the South China Sea, how China is restarting history in the Pacific
Tip Jar or Subscribe or Unsubscribe to the Belmont Club