Sadly, It Truly Isn't Just a River in Egypt

When you teach people about how to learn about/research complex problems, they are usually instructed to follow some version of this process:

(1) identify the process through which social problems are constructed,
(2) identify existence of the social problem,
(3) identify core causes of the social problem,
(4) identify structural solutions to the social problem, and
(5) identify individual actions that contribute to structural solutions.

I guess that's what we here at TOD (and the rest of the PO blogosphere for that matter) are trying to do.

The catch is that this social problem hits really close to home. One of the "core causes of this problem," at least as I see it, is a lack of public awareness or even perhaps mass denial of the coming peak oil phenomenon.

Americans are at various stages of awareness and acceptance of our addiction to oil. Viewed from afar, the range of public attitudes seems remarkably similar to the five stages of grief famously described by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, or acceptance. (the Kubler-Ross ideas were initially recorded here by Bob Burnett)

For many of you who have been following this topic prior to or even during the existence of this blog, you're likely past the point of the initial denial. However, many people are not likely to want to discuss peak oil, or cannot, once they actually hear the peak oil evidence.

Also, as I have discussed before, many people may not want to think about the problem, or may not have the capacity to think about peak oil, because it's just too big. (Believe me, there are some days where it's tough to think about this.)

My first exposure to "peak oil" was on a long overnight drive, flipping through the stations, I stumbled across Matt Savinar on Art Bell's Coast to Coast AM show. Some topics on Art's show are at least interesting enough to keep me awake, so I listened.

I'll never forget my reaction. "Hooey!" I said. "It can't be that bad."

About a week later, I remembered the show and went over to Savinar's site while bored and read some more.

"Hooey!" "It really can't be THAT bad." "If this were true, someone would do something about it."

Then, interestingly, I didn't hear about or think about a darned thing related to the topic for a while afterwards.

One day, about a month later after reading Savinar, my subconscious must have digested it all. I started thinking about it again. I got angry. I started writing about it on my blog, and I was pissed off.

The process is, of course, different for everyone.

Now it's a few months later. I'm still not sure whether I am in the bargaining phase or the acceptance phase to be honest. Perhaps I am depressed! But at least I am trying to inform and discuss here at TOD and in my real life.

(This is but part one of a series of posts I am going to be doing on the psychology of threatening situations as it applies to peak oil. I think it's important to understand how the human animal deals with tough information. It's very instructive and important to understand, especially when you're trying to talk to people you care about.)

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The process of 'getting' Peak Oil is an identity crisis, writ large and small.

Disorientaton. Role confusion. Fear of acting out of step with society's norms, right along with private fear of not acting to deal with the crisis so clearly up ahead.

If everybody and their grandma already knew and was dealing with it, it would be straightforward to grasp and get on with adjusting. But it will be years before Peak Oil is 'the facts of llife.'

Setting career and life goals, investing in property and a community, working and saving and paying taxes -- all empty facades if die off is only decades away. What pensions plan, national bank -- national government -- is going to be able to fulfill the rosy promises current society is built upon? None.

There is a reasonably 'happy place' everyone who's been through this crisis gets to. Like a drunk waking up on Sunday morning, on a park bench in the village square, they look around at their actual physical neighborhood, city, county at most, and say,

"I live here, right here. I'll make or break right here. Not in some cyber, jet-set, 1200-mile Caesar Salad, day-trading, house-flipping, re-fi, SUV of commercials on the telly future. That's all going away.

My county, my parish or shire. This watershed. The local electrical grid. These farms. The skills and social sense of community that exists or can be created. Right here."

That's when the nickel drops, and you start with where you are.

Right here.

Interesting article in Econbrowser

Last week's news was not encouraging. British Petroleum announced that U.K. oil production was down 10% over the last year, suggesting that the decline in production that began in 1999 as North Sea fields are depleted may be accelerating. Concerns about possible turmoil in Nigeria may have also worried markets. But the most important factor continues to be strong world oil demand.

Why didn't the longer term futures prices, like that of the December 2011 contract, move up with spot prices in response to the news?
You have to read the article to get the answer!

It is a fairly straightforward process to project the coming Hubbert peak in oil production. Projecting the ultimate outcome of PO, however, is not such a straightforward exercise. There are far too many wild cards. Many people seem to imagine the worst that could happen, and become convinced that it will happen.

Though a "die-off," or "die-back" is possible, it is not inevitable. Amory Lovins has presented a pretty good scenario for how peak oil could be mitigated in Winning the Oil Endgame with current technology. We are also in a period of accelerating technology growth that could enable us to eventually become radically more efficient and get much better at producing fuel from renewable sources. Techology will not be a panacea, but it's potential role in mitigating peak oil is too often dismissed by "peak oilers."

I believe that we are likely in for a period of wrenching change as we rebuild our cities and restructure our economy. Some (perhaps many) will die as a result of the coming changes. But it doesn't have to mean the end of civilization. The real question, and the biggest challenge, is whether we can face this issue with some degree of wisdom and committment to the preservation of civil society, rather than endless conflict.

I choose to be hopeful and optimistic on this issue. Not because I am naive about the enormity of the challenge that awaits us, but because I am far more interested in contributing to a solution than heading for the hills with a cache of bullets and bullion.

An Interesting article in Japanese by Bill Totten titled "Reducing Japan's Dependence on Oil" at
The English translation is at Bill Totten's site

There are lessons to be learned for us here in the US

antifa pretty much scores a TD here.

What most people have a lot of trouble with is the sheer amount of material one needs to digest to come to the REAL conclusion, the TRUTH. It isn't just Peak Oil - PO is just one of the many self-inflicted problems we are staring in the face.

Even if PO wasn't an issue, we still have the debt load that the politicians heaped upon us unaware. We still have falling wages,disappearing jobs and wealth concentration courtesy of "Free Trade" (those who don't understand this should read Henry Liu in the Asian Times) and numerous other fines to pay the economical piper. The "havenots" will soon become so poor that social change becomes their only answer. That will happen sooner or later, but unless we change systems, we will be doomed to repeat this whole scenario again.

Even if PO wasn't an issue, we would be looking at gloabl warming and pollution issues coming to a head. Glaciers and ice sheets are melting, the thermohaline current is weakening, red algae is blooming everywhere, amphibians (ecological parakeets) are dying off worldwide, male fertility is in decline in the industrialized world...the laundry list is very, very long.

And then there is overshoot, combined with resource depletion in many areas, not just oil. 60% of world resources have ben used in the last 50 years. Even the silliest 3rd grader will ask, "What does that mean when I grow up?" because 60% gone means 40% remaining, and 3rd graders understand the pie diagram.

Doing your homework for Peak Oil opens a plethora of other issues that fall into the same "emergency" category. Many will never finish the homework, becoming too afraid or overwhelmed and continue "business as usual"; which will work until they are forced to change by circumstances. Many will deny it forever, even when it becomes obvious, simply because they cannot adapt - they cannot wrap their mind around it.

There are many responses - but it simply doesn't matter what your response is. All these issues, unless we change our behavior immediately and en masse, will come home to roost. Humanity has never changed behavior en masse unles forced to do so. Nothing has ever united us as a species, and that is the only way to derail the train.

Demand could be cut by 50% for oil, pushing the Peak back. But it remains a fixed, finite amount. It WILL happen, just a bit later. Yet slowing the world economy will have other deleterious effects, just as pronounced. And if it isn't Peak Oil, then it may be Peak Fresh Water or Peak Cement or Peak Iron...

antifa is right - you can work within your locality and actually produce change. Whatever Wall Street, federal government or world powers do is beyond our control. We are at the point in this country where state and national voting is even problematic. Thus your only option is a local network, where people actually get to know one another, and issues that have a direct bearing on change to sustainability can be addressed. You may have to couch it in other terms, but selling sustainable is easy, because it is sensible and it feels right to people. It is inherently logical, when viewed against the status quo.

And what if your local network is essentially too big to be addressed? IMO, you are in a very unsustainable place, and you might want to explore your options.

It was an eye opener when I asked myself why I live where I do. I think it is a question more people should ask themselves. Others are: "Am I happy living the way I do today?" "Is my job really rewarding, or am I trapped by my own debt obligations?" "If things fall apart, can I make it here?" "Am I actually providing a valuable service to people, or pushing paper around for bucks?"

Hard questions, all. But if you have done your homework and you see these many issues heading for us, how can you NOT ask these questions? Before you can make a difference, you have to come to terms with yourself and the way you have been living. And then you MUST change or reject all you have learned and rejoin the herd.

It is NOT an east thing to do. It's hard for Americans to swallow that we are screwed in so many ways. It's hard to admit that your society has been all wrong, that you have been so blind.

That's why the Earth was flat for so long.

"That's why the Earth was flat for so long." Touche, j.

Indeed. I've been thinking about this for a while now, and obviously I believe that our society will change in my lifetime. And yet, it worries me that I've become a little complacent again. When I first heard about PO, it was a very rough 2 weeks. Afterwards, I thought I had come to terms with it, but we all know that isn't really true, or else I'd already be radically changing my lifestyle (not just changing the little things, like eating organic). I still live in NYC, I still haven't bought land in the country.

Eventually, is knowing what to expect going to be enough? One thing is knowing what's coming, yet another thing is preparing for it. I wish I knew more about how to deal with the here and now. Does it really make sense to leave my job and learn about organic farming? What if there does happen to be a technological revolution that makes oil depletion much less dire than we believe? Will I have ruined my life given that eventuality? (I spent a long time getting my PhD in something that will be wholly useless if the economy collapses, but as you might imagine, I'm loathe to give up on my investment right now. On the other hand, organic farming might be a really great profession, PO or not.)

I'm not so sure I agree with this analysis. In any of the great "coming disaster" scenarios, there are at least three camps. Those predisposed to believe the worst, those predisposed to think everything is just fine and and a large third camp that ranges from people who are looking at the facts but haven't made a conclusion to those that aren't aware of the issue.

In looking at history, it is fairly clear that the "The world is coming to an end" hypothesis has a very poor track record. So people's skepticism isn't irrational.

Personally, I have been doing all I can to learn about peak oil and do believe it is a real phenomena. But it is also clear that a lot of people believe it because they are predisposed to politcally or in terms of their human nature.

I think the same is true of global warming (which I also believe). I think about half the population naturally falls into either the instantly believes or instantly rejects camp before really evaluating the information.

I think this is why the majority of people tend to reject the "run for the hills" approach to communicating peak oil related issues. I have looked at the Die Off website and some of the other fatalistic pages. Frankly, I think these people are predisposed to this belief and have latched on to peak oil.

My opinion is that oil is running out and that we are already bumping up against permanent supply constraints. However, I have more faith in the ability of humans and the market to adjust. I do see a lot of merit in the arguement that "the wolf is at the door and the equipment to make the wolf trap is outside the shed". I do think policy makers are in delusons and will make the adjustment much more severe.

However, I do think that as the current price inches up past a sustained $60-70 per barrel, we will shave off demand and start to utilize alternatives. This combination will modulate pressure on oil and create a flattening of the peak oil curve. These could be some severe symptoms surrounding this. Change in lifestyles, recessions, etc, but I think the fatalists are overreacting.

The world could easily survive a 3-5% demand drop, without having to grow our own food. It would involve mothballing SUVs, higher prices (and lower use of transport of) for non-local food, limited airtravel, and some other lifestyle adjustments that we would not make voluntarly.

But we will survive. Realistically, a reduction in consumption growth if a few % in China and the US, would change the peak curve and buy several years fo time. I do think it is going to hurt and probably most in the poor regions of the world, where their existence is more precarious.

Again, I do agree that peak oil is upon us and that our lack of reaction to it is going to hurt. My arguement is NOT that we should do nothing about peak oil. I think it is urgent that we do address the issue. However, my point is that when you corner your neighbor and say grow your own food the world as you know it coming to and end, there are reasons why they are skeptical and they don't all involve them being dumb.

I am sure this post will be unpopular. I will be interested in hearing why my theory is wrong. However, i also hope that people will gve some thought to the message that they are sending and if they really want other to change their minds, be open to the fact the the future is very uncertain and no one has ever been right when they predicted the end of the world.

Jack, I doubt that the post will be unpopular.

I think your number is a bit off...I don't think real changes will occur until we hit a sustained $80/bbl. (that's @ $3.5/gal). But, even then, lifestyles will be slow to change.

What it seems to me that you are understating is humanity's ability to deal with such a massive change. Don't think about us, we're smart enough to at least consider the possibilities..not to sound elitist...but it's the sheep/lemmings I worry about. Take away hope that future is going to continue to get better, insert the idea that life is going to become as hard as our ancestors had it, and you're going to have some sort of mass hysteria at least for a time.

I also think that you discount the geopoilitcal instability caused by such changes. Without a hegemon, this world's going to get pretty darned interesting, if not downright medieval...

Jack, likewise, I don't think your view is totally, or even mostly off.

In addition to PG's comments, though, I also think you're understating the endgame. Sure, we could flatten out the peak if everyone played nice, and maybe that's what most of us are hoping for. But this doesn't negate the fact that someday we're going to run out of drillable oil. Now, I realize I'm going beyond what we've been advocating on TOD--"we're not talking about the end of oil, we're talking about the end of CHEAP oil"--but ultimately the global popluation WILL have to think about the end of oil too.

Hopefully the era of expensive oil will have (a) not entirely collapsed society, and (b) allowed us to think up alternatives so that when the end of all oil comes it will be manageable. Many of you do have kids and grandkids, don't you?

Re: psychology of threatening situations

I'm glad you've posted on this, Professor Goose. This is a subject I've spent considerable time thinking about. I'll try to keep this short.

There are three aspects to this: 1) socially-constructed realities, 2) pyschological defense and 3) the human religious impulse.

With regard to realities 1), just as a fish is not aware of the water it swims around in, Americans (in this case) are the fish and their energy-addicted culture and lifestyle is the water, ie. the socially contructed reality they have unconsciously assimilated. When I first heard someone refer to Americans as "consumers", I knew the game was over. And of course, this label is never questioned. For young people born after say about 1975, they have never lived in any other type of reality. Peak oil and its consequences completely undermines this culture. This fact is way too overwhelming for most people to acknowledge. Note also that part of the socially-contructed reality is the American sense of entitlement to 25% of the world's energy at 5% of the world's population. Obviously, there's a problem here. This leads to

Psychological defense mechanisms. Generally speaking, such mechanisms are unconscious strategies the mind uses to avoid unpleasant realities or acknowledge "bad" behaviour. Since these strategies are so pervasive and are not subject to awareness, it is often pointless (or worse) to point them out. Americans are by and large regressed in that they remain in a childlike fantasy land (Hummers, Star Wars, anyone?) and dissociated in that they completely fail to notice the degradation of the environment, the health care system, corporate behaviour, the education system, the corruption of their govenment, et. al. As a result, we say they in denial about their true situation. Add to the list above the energy crisis.

Finally, there is indeed a reaction to everything going downhill which is itself largely unconscious -- this is the turn to fundmentalist religion. There are two types in this case, the religious impulse that includes God (fundamentalist Christianity) and the secular religions (The Free Market God, the Technology God). In both cases, we see a largely unconscious reaction (another form of psychological defense) to a societal situation spinning out of control. Most people who actually respond to the Peak Oil situation say two things. The free market will operate to adjust to the oil shortage by increasing production (somehow this "invisible hand" will put more oil in the ground) or encouraging efficiency and, also, some magical technology will change the laws of thermodynamics and come up with some efficient new source of cheap energy. For the God fearing folks, little of this matters since the Rapture is just days away.

Lastly and most importantly, groups who are under tremendous pressure dealing with threatening situations are very likely to find scapegoats (internal or external) and resort to violence against them. When the shit hits the fan here -- arbitrarily defined here as oil at $100/bd -- look for some very destructive consequences. Americans will do anything they can to avoid dealing with the real consequences of their historical and on-going actions.

Thank you both for great replies. Sometimes it's hard to capture a complex thought in a single post and you have both added to what I hoped to communicate. I agree with both of you.

I think what I was trying to say it that the world is unlikely to follow a straight line path with everything else being the same, but with less oil. There will be big adjustments. Some will be more drastic than others. The impacts at a geopolitical level and among the economically vulnerable are hard to predict.

I do think our cheap (subsidized) oil policy and gluttonous use is leading blindly toward a world with problems we can't anticipate or understand. I wouldn't eliminate disaster as one possible scenario.

However, I do think that leading with the worst case scenario in communicating peak oil issues is not the best approach for getting our message across.

Looking behind the scenes I see a pretty signiciant shift ijn the way the world is viewing peak oil and climate change. Some pretty staunch republicans such as Dominici and McCain are coming around on climate change and doubts about future oil supplies is entering the mainstream and energy markets.

I guess my point is that in communicating these issues, i think it is better to be effective than right. I would rather change the world then sit in the rubble afterwards saying I told you so.

Dave: yep, you've anticipated where I am going to head in tomorrow's post on this, defense mechanisms, etc., etc.

Jack: I just fear for society's ability to adjust BACKWARD. All's well as long as the economy grows and there's reason to have hope for children and and and...but when humanity figures out that it is on a sustained and different path than we have been on, I personally think it will take generations to adjust. That adjustment time will not be pretty unless we come to some sort of collective understanding...

and then there's the question of who will enforce such a collective understanding and whether or not it will benevolent...

This question of peak oil psychology is an interesting and important one. There's a great piece by Jim Bliss called Peak Oil: Beyond Optimism and Pessimism ( in which he talks about how he's grappled with these issues.

I'm not sure that the five stages of grief analogy is really the best way to look at it though. I certainly don't see how that applies in my case. I think Jack is closer to the truth when he wrote about people's predispositions. Jim Kunstler, for example, has had to answer the criticism that his antipathy toward suburbia has predisposed him to latch onto PO. I think he handles that criticism well, and he's right that PO is a serious problem regardless of his predispositions.

In my case, I've always had this underlying feeling that there's just not enough. It could be blueberry jam or fish emulsion fertilizer or oil, but I always feel like, whatever the resource, I need to make sure I conserve it in my own personal use. I have no idea if this is the reason behind it or not, but I recall reading somewhere that babies who aren't breastfed can develop a feeling of scarcity because, unlike a breast, a bottle can run out of milk. This may not even be true, but the idea has stuck with me.

Anyway, the idea of peak oil fits right in with my predisposition toward scarcity. I never felt the need to deny it. I was never angry about it. I don't think I've bargained over it. I've definitely suffered depression, but not, as far as I can tell, because of PO. I've always just accepted it. We live in a finite world, so it makes perfect sense just to accept it.

The more I learn about PO, the scarier things look to me. I guess I gravitate toward the more bleak scenarios. However, I'm always questioning whether I'm doing so because of my predispositions or because there's truth there, and I keep finding that it's the latter. I pretend to be an optimist sometimes, but then I'll read a new report about Saudi Arabia's production or about China cutting deals in Canada, and then my PO attitude realigns with my predisposition.

Regarding the "The world is coming to an end" hypothesis, it does have a poor track record for most of us in industrialized countries since the industrial revolution. Throughout history, however, various societies have flourished for a while and then crashed. I haven't read Jared Diamond's new book, Collapse, but I understand that in it he documents a few such cases. It looks to me like we're heading for another of those collapses now, but on a grand scale this time.

Dr Sol

One thing that I think is getting to much attention is the price of gas at the pump and what it will need to be to be before any real demand for oil will be destroyed. I know that the price at the pump is going to get everyone heated under the collar but, eventually, people will start car-pooling or looking for other transit solutions.

The piece I am interested in reading about is what the price of oil is going to do to food prices as well as how various corporations/institutions are going to deal with rising transportation/heating costs and the tidal effects this will have on the economy.

Where is the tipping point for a business like Cargill that has to deal with huge transportation/production costs? What are the signs of real stress to those businesses -

It seems to me that catastrophic levels of unemplyment will be the real sign of peak oil and the most terrifying in th eshort term? Or am I missing something? Unemployment, mortgage defaults, homelessness -

I almost think our individual access to goods (including high, inflationary pricing) will be of secondary concern to an economic collapse with widespread unemployment.

Dr S: I have wondered about those of us "attracted" to peak oil as well. Do we all share an affinity for disaster porn? Do we root for the hurricane instead of the people hunkered in their homes?

Carla: one thing, it won't be "everyone" that gets heated under the collar, it will be those who are in debt, overextended, or just poor to begin with. that's the sad part.

Ianqui posted on a related topic a ways back...but what you have there is a darned good idea to explore. My gut reaction is this: massive inflation and less quality products unless technology gets involved.

You're right on the unemployment as a sign, but I think the market is a pretty good indicator as well.

I think JLA understates the case; we can become radically more efficient just fine with today's technology.  Look at Primary Energy for examples of established process changes with huge impacts.

Dave talks about the religious impulse and talks about a "technology god".  Ironically, he's named the one agency which actually does thing in the real world; it doesn't answer prayers, but if one performs the appropriate scientific research and follows it with engineering, you get magic things which really work!  Unfortunately for the mystics, science explains the magic and takes all the fun out of it.

His mention of "the laws of thermodynamics" proves that Dave is one of the mystics; if he understood them he would realize that they are not a barrier.  Hey, Dave, prove me wrong:  tell me the thermodynamic definition of ΔS and why it's significant to steam engines and not to PV cells.

Moral of the story:  listen to your scientists and engineers.  Delve into the details.  Many of them are in denial or fuzzy on the details themselves, but you can tell the difference by asking them to justify their positions and checking them against references and each other.  Then, once you've weeded out the ideas that won't work, go pick some that can and go work on them (or hire people to do it).  Market the products; the best ones will win.

Yes, I understand what you mean by the market being a good indicator of peak oil. Yet, I think that the market as anything remotely related to everyday life is pretty much of a stretch for at least 75% of all US citizens. So, in terms of a broad recognition of the real crisis we're dealing with, what the market does will not have a direct impact on what consumers do -

As in Jane Consumer hears that the price of oil has topped $70/barrel, so she decides to stop by her local Wal-Mart and buy comnpact lightbulbs.

Bu, if Jane Consumer hears that the regional airlines is filing for bankruptcy and her neighbors a pilot and the airline PR people talk about the cost of fuel as the straw that broke the camels back, she may consider looking into buying a more fuel-efficient car. And she will start to panic when he husband comes home and says that he has just lost his accounting job with the trucking firm he worked with -

So, it almost seems like we have a situation in which we are all frogs in a pot on a stove and the invisible hand of the market is turning up the heat one degree at a time and we won't know we're in hot water until too late.

I know that's the global warming problem but - given our global economy - the sort of indirect, incremental highway to hell just seems right.

And - it's easy to understand why it's so easy to ignore: you make little individual adjustments along the way, until the whole pot is in trouble big time.

Jack--PO isn't the only game in town; it's only one part of several related to the use (boom) of fossil fuels and their decline (bust). For this an ecological pov is needed, and both "Overshoot" and "Limits to Growth" are required reading to understand the depth of our predicament. It should come as no surprise that global peaks in oil, NG and coal at the same time that global climate change is becoming highly visible. The unique richness of the OECD's small number of states having used up almost half of the original endowment of fossil fuels to gain that richness makes clear that the whole idea of "developing" the immiserated peoples of the world out of poverty is very misleading.

I agree that dealing with the reality presented by our predicament challenges our psychology. Writing about it all is therapy because you're communicating with others within your new in-group, which is part of the out-group you're also in now that you know the realities of PO and its relatives, and the blog transforms itself into an ongoing group therapy session.

Some adjustments do make a serious difference, though:

Jane gets tired of paying $75 to fill up her old Explorer.  She gets $1000 on the trade-in for a 2006½ Prius with the grid-charge battery option.  Plugging in every night, she's using electricity for half her driving and getting 42 MPG on the other half.

Down the street, John replaces his worn-out furnace for a unit with a Honda cogenerator.  It runs 24/7 for most of the heating season, powering John's lights during the day; it also back-feeds the grid, charging Jane's car at night.  Now John's heating needs are helping to transfer Jane's demand from oil to natural gas.

Outside of town, a farmer rents a fractional-acre pad to a wind farm operative.  Once the concrete has cured, it soon sports a 350-foot tower with a 400-foot diameter turbine at the time; when the wind is good it cranks out 5 megawatts.  When wind power is cheap enough, John's furnace switches from natural gas to electricity.  Now John is heating and Jane is driving on the wind.

There are all kinds of little synergies that are quite feasible but nobody's using yet (very few people know how to see them).  Isn't that neat?

It is neat, Engineer-Poet. And, I do find myself hopeful about finding alternatives to our crazy, out-of-control assault on our earth that PO is just one part of -

But I am afriad that that we will not have the time, nor the wherewithall as a society to be able to get to that point. On a practical everyday level, we are so far removed from the real forces that are shaping our lives and, especially, our futures, so that it is hard to see a future outside of these parameters -

People pay taxes to fund an army to fight a war a world away; people buy gas from a pump filled by a tanker driven from Mississippi filled in a port from a tanker that has sailed from a world away; we buy bananas to feed our children from stores that have been stocked from trucks driven from a post in Miami filled by a tanker that has sailed from Brazil. Food comes from stores, energy comes from gas stations or some mysterious energy company that we don't even think about but maybe once per month.

I worry that there is such a disconnect between the resources we need for our lives and the means we have as a a society and as individuals for gathering and using those resources.

It's just really faraway - both in distance and time. The land of denial -

Yet, I walk around in a world in which I see huge, huge, huge problems everyday. I walk to work and cross over a major freeway that is filled with bumper-to-bumper traffic every morning and every night. And, when I get home, I climb into my own car and drive my kid halfway across town to play T-Ball and the whole time I'm thinking I'm crazy and we're all crazy.

I would never, never push my car across town to take my kid to play t-ball - it just would not happen. I doubt I would even go that far - 8 miles round trip - on a bike with a 6 year old after a long day at work on a humid summer evening. But I don't know for sure -

And, I really think that people need to get to that point - they need to figure out how much the resources truly cost and then doing the math.

I really like the image Collin Campbell uses when describing how much human horsepower is equal to a gallo of gas.

And I don't really know how to share that message with people right now - people are so used to gas, to oil, to eating oil, to wearing oil, to walking on oil, and it will be hard for people to get it -

Maybe it's a Noah's Ark kind of thing - a real difference between before and after -

I think the amount of travel parents do to schlep kids to appointments is insane, too.

Why can't you reserve a corner of the local park and have evening tee-ball within walking distance?  Maybe even as an after-school program, no travel required at all.

I think that everyone agrees that we need a critical mass of people who are willing to make and demand behvioral changes on all the levels that it is needed. The question is how will we get that? Is it going to happen "automatically" once the feedback from the whole system starts to kick in? Or another way to ask this question is "how bad does it have to get before people change their behavior?"

It seems to me that everything that we can do now--crafting effective messages, setting up models for solutions once people get there is a problem, educating leaders, making sure our local infrastructure is healthy enough to sustain us--everything needs to happen as much and as fast as we can make it happen.

Understaning how messages work, understanding persuasion is one of my areas of study. There are many dimensions to consider. But image a propaganda campaing like the ones during WWII when conservation and self-sufficiency were patriotic ideals and there was enough momentum in these ideas that social pressures came into play. So you have both internal and external motivation.

Persuasion happens in increments. With each effective message people move along the continuum a little bit more. Yes some are predisposed to believe in doomsday scenarios. That just means they are easier to persuade.

We do need to understand the roll of doomsday in constructing our message. For some it will make it easy to minimize it--just this morning my friend and I were discussing this whole issue. She lives in a small town and is hoping to help the town prepare. She mentioned peak oil to her postmaster and he said "I've been hearing about the end of the world my whole life."

That was true for me as well. I was extremely resistant at first. And I had a lot of anger that my friends and hubby were pressuring me to look at the issue. At least it seemed like pressure at the time.

What finally made it possible for me to look more deeply was finding a point of view that was looking at solutions to the problem ( Only then could I deal with the overwhelming feeling of helplessness that the whole idea brought up. I needed to have something constructive to hang on to.

I think a usefuls excercise would be for us to share our collective experiences of how we came to be able to grapple with PO. I imagine there are probably as many paths as there are people. But there may be some themes that we can discover and learn from and use as we try to pass the word on.

Carla--The public act of grocery shopping provides an oportunity to act by example in a way that aften leads to communication thusly: reuse your plastic bags for the same things you used them for in the first place and other shoppers notice, and sometimes a conversation happens that covers these points--plastics are made from oil, which as the price of gas tells us is a finite commodity that in Europe has made shoppers either buy or supply their own plastic bags--which is usually all there's time for. Another thing is to comment out loud about the origination of some fruit or veggie and link its now higher price to higher diesel costs, and inflation and the logic of globalization becomes a topic. There are other situations that can become a "teachable moment" that prompts further inquiry; it's not necessary to expound upon PO theory to present the message. And although we hate to admit it, teachers know they will have failures no matter how hard they try to educate/illuminate, but we swallow that bitter pill and continue.

Another part of the dissonance is the realization that we've stolen/are stealing from our progeny and the shame it brings. Then you realize that to appologize you must do battle with the whole of our culture and its images/messages to make your children understand why you are saying what you're saying. But by appologizing you empower yourself and telling the City Council how it is becomes a lot easier.

E-P: That assumes you have a park within walking distance. Hah.

karlof1: You can just point them to my posts on these issues: Making the Community a Better Place, and Our Oil-laden Food Chain. (Sorry for my fit of self-promotion!)

Of course, I have to say that since I've started refusing bags, the only people I seem to have made an impact on is the cashiers who think I'm insane for dropping apples and cans of black beans in my purse when I forget a canvas bag. I have dreams of sitting outside Whole Foods with a placard saying "Don't take the bags! Bring your own!" Whole Foods already gives a green bag refund, although 5 cents isn't much.


Here in Finland in 1860's there was a period in certain areas (something like 'southern ostrobothnia' or so in english...) where certain future issues for young men came up.

The area was practically all farmland and the farm went always to the oldest son. Anyway the farm families had usually several boys and when those boys (who had learned to live well according to that times standards) noticed that their future was to be worse than their fathers' they congregated to groups called 'häjyt' (that could be something like 'evil young men who do not care a whit'...) and caused trouble for about ten years or so. Several got killed in knife fights and such; some were prisoned and sent to Siberia; some found their place in society. Dr Ylikangas has written a study about them and their times - I do not know if it is available in english.

What I'm coming to, would it be possible that this kind of phenomen could happen when 'young men' see that they cannot drive cars like their fathers could, that they must stay rather put where they are and generally their future is going to be a lot bleaker than they had reason to expect few years back... they might get somewhat frustrated and that would probably not be a very nice situation.

The book is in finnish:
Heikki Ylikangas
Härmän häjyt ja Kauhavan herra

Ah, found a translation. Earlier period, though.... Don't know if there is any website to describe this:
The knife fighters: Violent crime in Southern Ostrobothnia, 1790-1825 (Annales Academiae Scientiarum Fennicae. Humaniora)
Author(s) Heikki Ylikangas,
Release Date 1998
Manufacturer Academia Scientiarum Fennica

And these had only knives, axes and some wood (there are some finnish films that attempt to show what it was like - not very good movies...) - and in US (and elsewhere too) more efficient weaponry can be nowadays obtained...

Hoping that nothing will come about that,

There was one guy on the net who did a pretty good analysis of all the De-Nile mechanisms. Unfortuneately I didn't bookmark his site. It was a PDF or power point that explained how we humans think we are different from "all other critters of the world" and how the laws of science and population overshoot will not apply to us, even though they work time and again for all other species that procreate beyond their sustanable energy supply (food supply).

He had a bunch of funny cartoons.
In one, a guy is hanging by his nails off a cliff edge, about to fall into the abyss.
A passer by sees him and says, "Don't worry, Technology will save you."



It has been popular to cite the Ostrobothnian mentality. South Ostrobothnians are described as a people controlled by strong social ties; said to display ‘herd mentality’. Their genes are thought to contain violence-causing elements. The South Ostrobothnian is quick to pull his knife and attack, especially when drunk. Another characteristic is a strong hereditary trait of a love of freedom.

Sounds to me to be description out of an American Western!

stepback:  Humans have this strange ability to acquire energy and other resources from different and even alien ecological niches, or even a-biological niches (coal, oil).  Most organisms have to speciate to do anything like that.

We're near to exhausting the resources of the oil/coal/gas eater niche, but there's plenty of resources left in the solar-converter niche and humanity is mutating to take advantage of it.  Fast enough?  Maybe.... maybe not.

I used to think I was a pessimist before following this blog; I'm a crazy optimist now.

I believe that much of the transportation requirements for the average city and town dweller will be solved via electric vehicles. Nanotech has advanced re-chargeable battery technology significantly, to the extent that it only takes 1/20th the time to charge a nanotech battery, and the batteries can absorb from 10 to 100 times more charges (battery life cycles). And there's likely more to come on this front.

This technology, combined with rationing of the dwindling fossil fuel supply, should greatly reduce the slope of the peak oil curve, since 65% of the oil used in the U.S. is for transportation.

As for agriculture, the Cuba experience after the USSR left that country in the oil lurch, provides hope that we aren't going to starve to death in the absence of fossil fuels for agriculture. Woolfatthedoor has more, in the article titled 'Hope from Cuba':

There will be a gradual change in habits brought about by the diminution of fossil fuel supplies, but I do believe that humanity will deal fairly smoothly with the transition to different technoligies and lifestyles. There could certainly be a period of several years of misery but will it compare with the two world wars and a great depression during the 1900's? We seemed to survive those blips without looking back.

MD: I wish I could agree. The technology you propose is years away from mass implementation and scalability. If resources become scarce, as the empirical case has been made here in many posts will probably be sometime this year, if it has not occurred already, there will fewer and fewer resources available to develop alternative forms of energy.

Believe me, I am a big fan of alternative energy and would love to see nothing more than for it to work out. However, we don't have time for "gradual" changes. Cuba had that time, we here in the US have much further to fall, I fear.

I'm only part way through the comments, but I've noticed a number of people talk about "land in the country."

I read a charming story this past week (don't have a link, but it was on one of the peak oil or sustainability blogs). The author had moved to rural Oregon, become fully sustainable and ... basically discovered that his neighbors were a buch of red-staters and/or meth-heads. He moved to a medium sized Oregon city, put a garden in his city lot, discovered that his neighbors all had gardens and fruit trees, and lived happily ever after.

(If suburban lots have water, they can produce a lot of food.)

... and now to keep reading the excellent comments

Re: The comment of the Poet-Engineer:

Well you're obviously worshiping the Technology God and I made an allusion ("thermodynamics") to the now much maligned and misconstrued "Science God". NOTE that I am a firm believer in science (a candle in the dark, as Carl said) and frequently post at on the very real science behind climate change. I just also happen to have an interest in the psychology behind the peak oil situtation.

That said, I'll try to take up your "thermodyanmics" challenge. A good description of the laws of thermdynamics can be found here. There you will find, as I'm sure you already know, that delta S is the change in entropy in a system where entropy is roughly the amount of disorder in a system. Quoting,

"The origins of thermodynamics lies primarily in the 19th century, the Steam Age. It was James Watt who invented the steam engine. The cost of fuel (i.e. coal) and manpower had to be calculated to determine the efficiency and performance of steam engines. In other words, how much work can you get for your dollar? Efficiency is equal to work output divided by the heat required to do work."

For PVs, there is still an efficiency question since energy conversion (heat to work) is still relatively poor. In steam engines, the heat in (burning coal) creates steam that does the work. The coal is the limiting resouce. In PVs, the heat in (from the Sun, a virtually infinite resource) creates work much llike a living plant (or its cells) does. The differences involve the availablitiy of the resource (coal versus solar energy) and the efficiency with which they can be utilized. In both cases, local increases in orderliness are offset by increases in the disorderliness of their surroundings as the laws require. Fossil fuels merely store solar energy over geological time. They are the convenience that fueled the industrial revolution.

So, the delta S is much more significant to steam engines than it is to PVs. However, the real problem here is taking advantage of that infinite supply of solar energy both for the total amount of energy industrial societies require and for converting it to specific uses (like fuel for cars). In each and every case (e.g. biodiesel, coal gassification), the feedstocks required (from conventional sources) are extremely inefficient or negative. That is why there is a problem.

When I said ignoring the laws of thermodynamics, that is what I meant. Energy is conserved (1st law) and entropy increases with conversions (2nd law).

I think the burden of proof is on you to show us all how PVs or some other technology will preserve industrial civilization as such. If you've got some scientific quibble with what I've said, say it and then show your case that industrial civilization, dependent on its out of control energy demands, is not f**cked.

OK, my short story on peak oil "acceptance." I found the idea while out web surfing, and thought it was weird. It was weird enough to make intereseting reading, but I didn't try to classify it as true or false. Sorta like the first time I heard of global warming. I didn't really worry about it again, until I saw oil production curves for Oman and Syria, and both of them peaking. I thought "whoops, those are a couple thousand miles apart, that's a big coincidence." So I kept watching and my confidence level grew.

I do see supply getting tight, and I don't see (other than us, here) many people noticing. On a short ~20 mile shopping loop last Saturday, we saw 8 hummers. Today on the freeway I saw a Ford Expedition jacked up monster style, but with a "God is Awesome" license plate frame. (Orange County, California)

Will socieity shift in time? No. What will that mean? I'll call it now (for whatever that is worth) as something worse than the 70's but better than the 30's. A lot depends on how gas prices (and home heating prices) go over the next year, and what kind of response that illicits.

BTW I forgot to mention one of my hot buttons! No one worries because the


Now, as to whether that is a natural instance of denial or a purposeful disinformation campaign ... let discussion ensue.

Odo, can I just say "yes" to the "or" question? :)

I've been heavy into PO for almost a year now, -an American living in a country that has a per capita petroleum consumption of about 6 - 7 barrels per yr as opposed to the 25 or so barrels that my compatriots (and family & friends) back in the good 'ol U.S. of A. scarf down every twelve months.... Hey, I used to do it too... You really have little choice if you live there. Just by being born in the United States you start out your life consuming a disproportionate share of the planet's resources. By the time you're old enough to notice you aren't entitled to them, that you've merely been unbelieveably fortunate, and/or cast a vote about it, (that is if you ever do) you'll have already depleted more non-renewables than most south Asians or Latin Amiericans will over their entire life spans. ---with liberty and justice for all....

Sometimes I think about the amount of change (and the suffering it will entail) just to get the US down to the level of consumption where I live now. I've just come back from a visit to the States. We,... well, some of us the more priviledged here, don't live badly. By world standards, this is not a poor country, but even as much as it is currently being infected by North American style concepts of upward mobility, it is nothing compared to the mindless, shameless, & self-righteous orgy of overconsumption and waste carried on day-in and day-out in my homeland.

---Like I say, I've just come back from a visit. And to get everybody in the USA down to 1/4 of their current consumption - which as true peak oilers know, is gonna have to happen one way or another. Probably sooner rather than later. Well, FWIW my observer's opinion is (having gone through it myself), for the most part, you all are not up to it. I know that's negative, but bear with me a sec.

Adjusting to a lower standard of living when one goes to a foreign country often produces a bad case of "culture shock", just a psychobabble term for stress. People get irrational, even violent. Ready to run for the nearest (perceived) exit, and over anything or anybody that gets in their way. Granted language problems and etc. contribute a lot, it isn't just the lower standard for everything. The point I'm trying to make is it's hard enough to cope with and retain your sanity when it's just you or you & immediate family. When it's close to 300 million people or more all at once it's gonna be a whole different ball game. Because as the oil -among other things- gets more costly & scarce, the US will start to become like a foreign country to it's own inhabitants. Stuff's gonna break down, and fixes will either be long delayed or eventually not affordable/available. Large numbers of people who have never REALLY known want are likely to find out about it the hard way: quickly. I sadly conclude there will be no smooth transition. So many millions of you are armed to the teeth, after all. It was bad enough lots of places with the oil shocks of the 70's -I'm old enough to have waited in gas lines back then and seen the short tempers & groupthink about who was to blame & what to do about it. You can't stand and watch American rush hour traffic on any large (or small) city freeway system, contemplating its utter indispensability to the "American way of life", and seriously believe that the adaptation necessary will happen peacefully or voluntarily in the time available even under the most optimistic projections -to do so is to still be stuck in denial.

profgoose, I was thinking "and/or" but didn't want to make it too easy ;-)

I came across an interesting fact at is that even though the US consumes 25 % of the world's oil on a per barrel basis, it uses up 40% of the oil on a btu basis. I wonder how that works? Any takers?

Thank you, Extra!!

I lived in several countries abroad, and that is probably a big part of what contributes to my pessimism/lack of optimism, and I just didn't realize it. Thanks for helping me grasp that.

If technology was going to save us, Exxon, BP, Halliburton, Hughes, Schlumberger and Shell would already have the market cornered - just look at the dollars involved, and the picture becomes clear. Instead, they are playing a waiting game, and soon another round of consolidations will ensue. That is the endpoint for oil companies - when you cannot find it, you buy it. When you cannot buy it, you hold on to what you have for the best price.

Please don't tell me about the BP and Shell alternative energies - these are token when you look at their budgets. We have all put the hydrogen animal down at TOD, and we are left with wind, solar, hydro, biofuels and wave. Please don't tell me about future battery technology - it would take 3-5 years for this to take hold in the industry due to plant retooling and market penetration, and then more years for the price to drop with economy of scale.

I think when we are forced to crank things down, we will default to regional power solutions based on regional resources. Cities can exist, but not overly dense ones unless there is local rail and hub markets.


Suburban gardens can work, but not to feed a typical family of four - not enough real estate. I have already tried, and it is nigh on impossible even using petroleum fertilizer, and I am in the SunBelt! You can cut your purchases back dramatically, but you just cannot quite make the self-sustaining volume. Protein is also a problem - cannot do chickens in town, and cannot hunt nearby (legally). Maybe the housing bust will leave some abandoned homes that can be used for extra growing area?

Electric cars can work, but the draw on the crappy electrical infrastructure will make it problematic. We have already had one blackout in Houston this summer. It would take your entire roof of PV's all day to fill the typical electric car, which doesn't leave much for the washing or fridge. But if you are going to commute at all, it will have to be electric or hybrid.

Climate is in flux - I have been watering constantly in Houston as we are well below the normal rainfall average. Other areas are abnormally soaked this year. What will this do to your attempts to "grow your own"? What happens when a hurricane rips your garden to bits?

There is so much in flux right now that many of us have begun preparing for things already. Call me a nutcase, but I do not want to suffer any more than I have to, nor slide down the ladder of civilization more than a rung or two.

Current alternative energy strategies are not ready for prime time, as people have already mentioned - it is not being done commercially now, so there is nothing we can count on near term except simplification and working within nature as much as we can. Once things stabilize socially, then we can move forward and build something better, that fits well within the ecology.

In the mean time, we all have to surf the wave and try to keep our footing as best we can.

in terms of suburban lots & gardens, i was thinking that it could take a strain off transportation. These guys (found by way of Talking Flying Donkey) do pretty well:

3 tons?

but as I remember from the "victory gardens" of the 70's ... greeness of thumbs varied.

I'm an excellent gardener (spoken as Rain Man, on driving)

oh, and some new neighbors moved in next door to my mom. they brought a few chickens, which are totally illegal. but in that california suburb (fairly in-city, 1/4 acre lots) no one cares. they've been there for years now. rooster crowing and everything.

eggs would probably be slow to get expensive here, but if they did, i'm sure everybody would have chickens ;-)

I always go back to Schopenhauer:

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident. "

I think Hubbert got to the first stage the minute he opened his mouth. Most of the corporatists are still fixated on the second stage and the rest of us seem to have found the third stage.

The only problem with this is that it's only after all the stuff comes crashing down can one look back and see where it all went. Not much predictive power.

Golly Gee! where is the Engineer-Poet's reply to my post? Where I said

I think the burden of proof is on you to show us all how PVs or some other technology will preserve industrial civilization as such. If you've got some scientific quibble with what I've said, say it and then show your case that industrial civilization, dependent on its out of control energy demands, is not f**cked.

So, a response?

J--In Houston, you should be able to have great crops of sweet potato and taro, which would be your main carbohydrate sources--forget the grasses unless you need to feed livestock like cows and horses. An alternative to chickens are rabbits. Peas provide protien, regenerate soil and can be grown densely. For suburbia to increase acerage, its streets and sidewalks must be turned into one narrow paved lane and utility right-of-ways turned into community gardens. These sorts of things and more will need to be done if we want the least amount of hardship.

The descriptive word to describe Extra's anticipated deviant behavior is anomie--Columbine is an example. Fortunately our in-group grows and therapy continues.

Dave, we have a LOT of coal. We don't need to invent some new technology, we just need to adjust our values. IOW, in a survival situation how much would you worry about air pollution? (one of the things i've predicted, if we need to make a "rapid response" is the building of "quick and dirty" coal power plants)

Now, for a truly happy future we want to find a series of clean and effective energy sources ... IMO none of them are a slam-dunk.

Conservation is therefore vital, to buy time for invention.

karlof -

I know about rabbitry - but not doing it yet. Been trying to max out garden production without the neighbors losing it. If it looks like a vegetable garden, then the homeowners association gets nutty and writes me tickets, so my beds are all in the back for now, with figs and pears and such in the front. Sweet potatoes are going to be planted alongside a nearby drainage ditch, as they will propogate on their own (I am quietly seeding the green areas around me with various local things, because I am a total whacko).

Still looking for ideas to hit my city council with - got any?

ODO (aka RainMan - LOL!) -

You cannot compare CA to TX - the growing seasons are different! CA doesn't have 100 degree temps to deal with either. CA, S. TX and FL are abnormalities in terms of the rest of the US climate. But I probably got about 2/3 of their yield last year, thanks to my butterbeans, figs, squashes and melons.

Anybody here know how to germinate tamarillo?

And in case anybody wants to know - my company has been experiencing an increase in dry holes drilled, IN SPITE OF 3D seismic. And this is in developed fields....twice as many as last year.

Just another data nail in the oil coffin....ho-hum....

shoot, i was spell checking in google mail and pasted too much. sorry.

it would be nice if you could delete that, and just keep this shorter version:

J, I was doing some surfing last night on dry-gardening. That was interesting. If this became a disaster movie, the San Gabriel Valley (where I grew up and my mom still lives) would be pretty dry - without a lot of piped in water. As a kid, I remember that we needed about 105F to be impressed, and I remember very clearly that my dad saw no reason for me to stop painting my grandmother's house when it was passing 112F. ;-)

I'm not an expert, but I bet it would match some places in Texas. ... ah, a zip code to garden zone converter!

My mom's house is zone 10 and down at the beach I'm ... zone 9.

But yes certainly, it is possible to garden dry areas but yields per square foot go way down. (if you have room to try one, zuni waffle gardens look like fun)

odo -

gimme that zuni waflle link!!

Is it meaningful that here and elswhere online, the discussion of what to do about PO does seem to include an analysis of 'just because we can, should we'?

For a moment consider the differing approaches to lack of health as practiced by allopathic and alternative forms of medicine. Modern western medicine tends to treat the symptom, where traditional / alternative practices focus on the cause. May I be so bold as to posit that the array of problems now facing mankind, PO and the range of resource depletion issues (i.e. water, crop land, etc.), degredation of natural environments and loss of bio-diversity, vestigial democracy, resource conflict in the guise of liberation movements, and the host of woes we face and contemplate are in fact symptoms.

The cause of these problems is right in front of us and is defined mainly by the way in which a minority of the global population forms its existence, and the resulting desire of a goodly remainder of our global populace attempting to duplicate that status. To develop a meme whose main focus is to save as much as possible of the current structure seems likely to become more Jevons Paradox than panacea.

Take for example the solution component of PV as a means to produce electricity. Even if all of the supply side and efficiency issues can be solved, the circumstance remains where whatever infrastructure is created, it must also have a lifespan and be disposed of. Has anyone here looked at the nature of batteries and how toxic not only the byproducts of production are, but the impact inherent in the spent batteries the infrastructure must replace to remain viable?

This may be a gross misanalysis, and who here is not human (if you are not , please stand up and hand over the plans to your zero point energy interstellar vehicle), but my years as a librarian researching the nature of our realtionship with energy screams of a zig not taken when we zagged. The push to find a way to replace as much of the current energy / society paradigm screams likewise. I open for discussion the possibility that even though technology does offer the possibilty of altering current practices, we should not seek it. I will offer that the analysis of alternative sources of energy lacks a concerted and critical review of just what the environmental impacts are to attempt to support an ever increasing number of people living with a level of energy consumption anywhere near what is currently enjoyed by us in the industrialized societies. In short, it is my opinion that we should maybe be calling for more of a power-down to a pre-industrial rather than post-industrial paradigm.

There is enough reason to question the sustainability of even a fraction of the industrial meme as expressed by the technology of today. I understand that this may be a harder pill to swallow than even the reality of PO was. However to ignore or dismiss this is to seriously flirt with a future that, despite all its well meaning, may turn out to be as great a bust as not doing anything at all; or as near to nothing at all as the current trend of resource acquisition through armed conflict and ignoring / lying about the situation.

"PO does seem to include" should read "PO does not seem to include".


yours in earnest discussion

-da fool

And so, fool on the swill...

What would you have us do?

Short of complete anarchy as an enema, society will try and push forward with past methodologies, because the mass unconsciousness knows nothing else.

I would love to "power down", but I would also like access to surgical procedures and medicinal drugs, and I would think electricity isn't asking too much. Ours is a wrongly-directed culture. How do we right it?

"What would you have us do?"

I'm still trying to figure out if there is merit to my hypothesis. The 'what to do' would most likely come after a conclusion that indeed it would be a better endeavor to eschew the techno-possibilities in favor of a lightest footprint society.

I will admit that some time has been spent thinking about what if anything is worth saving, and I come up with a short list:

-modern dentistry
-trauma medicine

Beyond that, my purpose in raising the subject is just that. Dialogue. Is there a way to weigh the options and decide amongst them? Is the analysis of symptom / cause valid? Do the technological remedies hold just as much potential negative impact so as to seriously raise the issue about the sanity in pursuing them? Is there enough evidence to support the hypothesis that pursuing alternatives to shore up as much of modern existence as possible is indeed an enterprise of Jevons Paradox?

Does one need to have the power-down to lightest footprint plan formulated and ready for submission to approach these questions? I should hope not.

We face a daunting task in approaching the realities of our relationship with energy use. I just thought it prudent to raise an issue that I had not seen being discussed. I apologize for not having the solution to offer if indeed there was something to my musings.......

your musings are not light - maybe you should check out some light fiction - LOL!

My digging has led me to the current money system, and although the Islamic system is better, it still has issues. But you have to ask yourself what caused people to divide the commons and take ownership originally? Why do we garner and hoard resources? These are not easy to answer, and creating a society where this doesn't happen was Gene Roddenberry's dream too. Too bad he never told us how we got there!

Zuni ... I think this is the best summary:

This might surprise you, Dave, to hear that I have higher priorities than responding here.  But I'm finally getting back to you.

Your response and the thermo link are what I'd expect from someone whose understanding is superficial at best:

1.  It is a quote of someone else's writing rather than a statement from personal knowledge.
2.  As proof of the above, it is written primarily in response to "intelligent design" arguments rather than as an exposition of thermodynamics as such.

Someone who had a firm grasp of the subject would have answered differently:

dS = δQ/T

This is significant for steam engines because they are moving heat from glowing-hot flames through metal walls to steam at a dull red heat (at most), and so forth.  It is not so significant for photovoltaics because the only entropic limitation of PV is that it can reject all the entropy in the incoming sunlight; this represents a lot less energy at Earth's 300 K than it does at the Sun's 5700 K.  Steam turbines run at the margins of what their materials allow, while no PV technology either demonstrated or hypothetical is close to being limited by Second Law considerations.

The point I intended to make is that everyday devices and processes have enormous wastes of what engineers call "availability", or ability to do work.  Every process which burns fuel in a flame to be used at a lower temperature causes an increase in entropy, usually without even attempting to recover power from it; the availability of this energy is wasted.  Every last one of those processes is a candidate for power recovery and thus more efficient use of fuel:  gas water heaters, furnaces, users of industrial process steam, even bakery ovens might be re-engineered to produce power as a byproduct of their use of heat.  This power is not free; it requires extra fuel, but this displaces fuel used elsewhere to make electricity.

Primary Energy has a number of case studies, white papers and examples from their own work which shows how this can be done and how big the potential is.  I've extended this to the domestic sphere.  If you look at what's feasible with off-the-shelf technology, it is more than sufficient to carry us through the next 15 years or so even on declining supplies; when you add gas-optional hybrids and wind power to the mix, we could be downright comfortable while slashing our demand for all fuels (not just petroleum).

Solar is currently the high-cost source of renewable energy, running 25¢/kWh or so in most locales.  But that's quite an improvement; it was once $100/kWh, and prices of cells (and their power) have been on a steady downward slide for decades.  Even if nothing comes along to replace silicon, technology and process improvements will continue to cut costs; the latest is the one-micron flexible "polymorphous" cell, projected to cost about 1 Euro ($1.34) per peak watt in a couple of years if it goes into volume production.  At that price, raw PV power would cost about 10¢/kWh.  If you were cranking out deca-gigawatt quantities of these cells each year and built inverters in the same volume as we build computer power supplies, overall cost of solar electricity in the American southwest should be considerably less than juice currently costs in Japan.  (It won't do in Chicago in the winter, but for that we could use flying wind turbines.)

Lithium-ion batteries are also going through technology changes and sliding down the cost curve.  After another 15 years they should be able to take over the job of running most road vehicles; if we start promoting GO-HEV's today the job should be largely done by then.  If you can go 300 miles at highway speeds on a charge and can recharge in 20 minutes, you have little or no need for liquid fuel of any kind.

Do you think that we can't preserve industrial civilization as such with energy at that price?  If you don't you not only have to explain how we're doing it today, but how it will be impossible after another decade-plus of cost reductions.

(WTF is this new HaloCrap limitation on link count?)

Well, thanks for your long reply Engineer-Poet.

I do admit to only a naive understanding of the issue you brought up and I sort of wanted to see what you had to say. I'm not a physicist.

I will certainly study what you've said and look at the Primary Energy site you mention. I sure hope you're right about improvements like Lithium-Ion batteries running cars and such.

Right now you are the only one I've read saying such things -- I can't mistrust you for that -- but, why aren't others picking up on the solutions to offer?

Solutions are all over.  The combination of Li-ion batteries and cars has been done by both CalCars and AC Propulsion.

What remains, besides volume-based cost reductions, is to start putting things together; this is mostly "glue" (demand management, etc.) rather than technical advances.


Lead acid batteries for my electric are going to cost me $1700.

Lithium were quoted to me at $7900

What is the driver for Interstate, Sears and other lead acid manufacturers to change?


If you are looking at battery technologies, this one is also worth considering


What are you buying, Yellow Tops?  $1700 would buy 25 or so of the deep-discharge batteries that I repowered my used UPS with; they hold about 1.2 kWh apiece.  I can't imagine the same capacity of lithium-ion going for less than $15,000 unless you got some amazingly good deal.


If Europositron can make product, they'll kill the cell-phone market and then the laptop market.  The basic figures look to make aluminum kill everything, if sticky details like thermal runaway don't crash the party.  But their website does not mention dates for anything; there is no start listed on their timeline.

The whole thing could be vaporware, or a scam.  Only time, and investors braver than I, will tell.

Rajiv -

I do have an oilfield connection into lithium batteries. I can tag along on a big purchase order....but the price defeats the design purpose of my vehicle!!

But you didn't address my question, E-Poet:

What is the driver for lead acid manufacturers to change to lithium?

I cannot see this happening as long as the main use for batteries is in conjunction with internal combustion engines. There is simply no need for that type of energy storage in a vehicle with an alternator or generator, which are ubiquitous.

Why will lithium move to the fore in an internal combustion world predicated on low price?

The reason for Li batteries to take over in Electric Cars is the Energy Density to Weight/Volume. Electric car conversions that rely on Lead Acid, get a Max of 50Wh/Kg or 100Wh/L compared to 200Wh/Kg or 425Wh/L. The Al technology may get you to 1350Wh/Kg or 2100Wh/L. So you are no longer toting around the large weight of Lead Acid batteries. So your efficiency and range of operation increases, and the time between recharges decreases.

Rajiv - i get it with electric - I am building one now.

But E-Poet assumes lithium will soon be cheap due to demand.

I question this in the extreme, as there is no demand outside of electric vehicles per se.

Electric vehicles are years away from general introduction. And don't hit me with the Honda - if I think it is too pricey, then it is too pricey for most people.

So where is the demand that is going to make lithiumj cheap enough to actually use in the next 5 years? Hell, it will take US automakers that long to retool the EV-1 for market!

J currently, the main demand is from cell phones/PDAs and laptop computers. Yes you are right, the demand for higher power storage currently is just not there, and hence no incentive for battery makers to retool to higher power storage devices. I am hoping that larger number of solar cell installations, and the need to store larger amounts of energy would shift the Li producers to develop a product. Currently of course all Li battery production is oriented toward the samll handheld market.

If GM had continued with the EV program, things may have been different. From what I know, the GM EV users were extremely pleased with their vehicles, and did not want to give them up. But GM forcibly repo'ed the vehicles. I believe that GM felt that the limited range of the EV prevented them from marketing the vehicle, coupled with the high costs of alternatives to the Lead Acid batteries.

Rajiv -

The demand in my business is for powering downhole tools, and the battery packs are reasonably robust, and designed for temperatures in excess or 200 degrees. I think they can be readily adapted, especially since they are cylindrical and smaller than traditional batteries. It's the voltage I am having to contend with.

But my first go at this will be DC power for acceleration and lead acid for simplicity.

Lead-acid batteries are so heavy that they are unable to haul their own weight more than a couple hundred miles on road tires; their advantages are high power/volume (good for starting an engine) and very low cost.  Li-ion has energy/weight and 650 pounds of them are enough to drive the tzero test car nearly 300 miles; what they are lacking right now is power/weight and cost, and the original formulation has problems with thermal runaway.

The move from lithium-cobalt oxide to lithium iron phosphate cathodes gets rid of the thermal runaway problem, and nano-particle structure increases the power, slashes the charging time and boosts the lifespan to thousands of charges.  Maybe aluminum will edge it out someday, but lithium is definitely Good Enough to displace most motor fuel needs, just as lead-acid is Good Enough to give ~20 miles of electric range and displace half or more.

EP -

But then, there's that darned cost thing again, and that no demand thing...

If there's no demand, just who is buying this stuff?

EP -

You want me to buy 300-400 of those to put in my car??

The largest commercially available lithium I have been able to secure is one used to power downhole telemetry in survey tools in the oilfield. They are about 2" in diameter and 10 " in length. Cost? $5500 each.

I am not debating their existence - I will forever debate their usefulness in present form and price for anything other than high dollar specialty items and electronics.

By demand, I am talking about demand in the realm of serving as a vehicle power source today, not in 5-10 years. I am sure if there were electric vehicles, then economy of scale would kick in and their price would fall.

But TODAY, none of this is helping me with my project. TODAY there are no mass-produced electric vehicles powered by battery packs (more than 500 per year, ok? not 50). TODAY this option is not economical for use in a car despite the lower weight and higher power density and all the other great things. If legislation were passed requiring electric vehicles, it would be a matter of YEARS before they would make up a substantial part of the driving fleet.

TODAY, lead acid is the only reasonable solution if you actually want to drive an electric car without spending more on the battery pack than the rest of the car.

I think that you assume if it exists, then it is available, and commerciality is inevitable or at least rapidly possible. I think this is the disconnect between your position and some of the other people here at TOD when we are discussing technology issues. Maybe I am wrong, but I thought it might help in communications with slower guys, like me, the grizzled old engineer who actually knows how to use a slide rule....

Oh, I agree with you about today.  NiMH rules in the hybrid market (~1.5 kWh storage, high power) while more energy storage at reasonable cost still falls back to Planté's invention (in 1859? has it been that long? where does the time go...).

Where things are going.... that's a very different matter.  As I stated elsewhere:  Li-ion is going to wind up cheaper in $/kW and $/kWh than NiMH fairly soon (it's up to roughly 60% in kWh/$ now, and the physical limits are further away).  When it does, all the hybrid car makers are going to switch over.  Sales volume of (fairly large) cells is going to multiply, and the consequential economies of scale are going to shove prices down even further.

Incidentally, $5500 will buy you about 1050 of these 18650 cells; at 7.2 Wh/cell nominal, you'd get 7.5 kWh of storage.  I'm not sure what your down-hole battery holds, but I'll bet that it's not even close.  That's the difference between speciality cells and what's built by the tens of millions for the laptop market.

I look at that, and I'm sure that the shift to Li-ion traction batteries is going to start something just as big.