Swan Song Wish List

I began posting on TOD in 2008 when I was a PhD student working with Charles Hall on basically everything energy but focusing specifically on the connections between EROI (energy return on energy invested) and the economy. Most of that work is summarized in a paper I published in 2011 called “Energy Return on Investment, Peak Oil, and the End of Economic Growth.” Since graduating in 2010, I have continued my work on EROI but also branched out into the field of ecosystem services and environmental policy as a faculty member in the Geography Department of Northern Illinois University and as a policy analyst at Argonne National Lab. And although I have not posted much in the past two years (mainly due to time constraints of the jobs and two young children) I have remained an active reader on TOD and other energy sites.

I wasn’t really sure about a topic for my last post on TOD, vacillating between economics, energy, and/or EROI. I wanted to cover a variety of topics that have become important in my research but that were not necessarily closely related. So I decided to just list them out, a sort of wish list of things that I think most people in the energy space don’t, but should, understand. This list is hardly exhaustive; frankly, they were the items that came to me over the past couple of weeks so I encourage readers to add their own wish list items into the comment section as well. I hope you enjoy the list and thank you so much to TOD and all the readers/commenters for a great, and educational run!

Follow me on twitter: @djmurphy04

1) I wish that peak oil people knew that the actual date of peak oil is irrelevant.

What we care about is the increased prices, increased volatility in prices, geopolitical changes, and all the other impacts that come along with a tightening global oil supply. These changes occur not when the production of oil peaks, but when supply is unable to keep pace with demand, which is basically what happened from 2004 – 2008 and is still the case today. These impacts are already being felt, and they are all the validation of the concept of peak oil that I need.

2) I wish that economists understood the laws of thermodynamics and what they imply about the importance of energy in economic growth.

Economic growth, measured as an increase in GDP, is fundamentally a thermodynamic process, and is therefore bounded by the laws of thermodynamics. For all the economists out there – here is how the laws of thermodynamics limit economic growth, in its most basic iteration. GDP is the sum of the final sale of goods and services in a nation for a given period of time. The production of goods requires, at a very basic level, materials and the energy required to manipulate those materials into a final product. Or, in the case of services, energy is expended directly in the execution of that service. Both goods and services, in other words, require energy. To grow the quantity of goods and services, then, the energy used to produce those goods and services must also grow. Of course efficiency improvements can produce more goods and services with less energy, but efficiency improvements are also bounded thermodynamically, so they can only do so much (not to mention the rebound effect…). At some point energy use will have to grow as well. As a result, increasing GDP requires increasing energy production.

Once we realize that economic growth is tied to energy we can begin to understand why GDP cannot grow forever.

3) I wish that politicians would realize that GDP is an awful measure of well-being.

The rationale behind using GDP as a measure of well-being is so simple that it confused me the first time a read it. Here it is, in a nutshell. The goal of neoclassical economics is to maximize utility, or human well-being, and one can get the highest utility when one can satisfy all of her/his particular wants and needs. To satisfy wants and needs in a free market requires one to purchase goods and services, which itself requires money. So how can we ensure that one can purchase all the goods and services necessary to satisfy her/his wants and needs? Simple, we grow income levels (i.e. GDP per capita). As long as incomes are growing we assume that people can satisfy more and more of their wants and needs and overall well-being is increasing. (If there are any economists searching for a more academic description, please seek out the work of John Gowdy, who says more or less this same thing but uses words like Potential Pareto Improvement and such.)

But GDP is an awful measure of well-being because it measures only the final private goods and services sold in the economy, and omits a whole host of others that are crucial not only for our survival but for our well-being. Conversely, GDP also includes items that we would scarcely consider as contributing to well-being.

Take Hurricane Katrina, for example. That one storm caused well over a hundred billion dollars worth of damage, yet all the materials bought for reconstruction and services rendered to emplace those materials added to the nations GDP. Would anyone really every say that Katrina was a good thing, or that we would really like to have another one? No, of course not. But if we simply looked at GDP numbers, especially in the local state economies, we might conclude that it was.

Many of the items ignored by GDP are public goods and services, and some of those could be considered ecosystem services. A few of the more recognizable services are: climate regulation, fresh water provisioning, and storm surge mitigation. Let’s take fresh water provisioning, for example. Say you have a house with a water well which provides all of your drinking water needs for free. Lets just say that an industrial operation moves in on your neighbor’s property and spoils the well, forcing you to buy bottled water. Guess what, you are now contributing to GDP and increasing your overall well-being! Examples like this are manifold.

Aside from these ecosystem services, there are myriad other services that also go unvalued in GDP but nonetheless play an important role in human well-being, such as housework, value of volunteer work, higher education, crime rates, divorce rates, income inequality etc.

All of these examples are real issues that factor into ones overall well-being yet are not factored into GDP.

So if not GDP, then what? There has been much research in the area of alternative macroeconomic indicators, the most popular of which is probably the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI). The GPI calculates a more comprehensive value of well-being by factoring in many of the items I mentioned above. For example, the State of Maryland now calculates the Genuine Progress Indicator (http://www.green.maryland.gov/mdgpi/indicators.asp) and tracks it alongside the state GDP. Vermont is pursuing a similar endeavor. What these indicators are showing us, as does the peer-reviewed literature on the subject, is that while the GDP has been growing steadily over the past 40 years, the GPI has been flat for most OECD nations. (1)

Transitioning to GPI or some other similar metric at the federal level could also go a long way at decoupling energy and the economy. Think about it, many of the example services I listed above require very little if any energy consumption. If we truly want to be a post-industrial economy, than we need post-industrial metrics by which to measure economic success, and GPI might be such a metric.

4) I wish that the polemic rhetoric around fracking would stop.

Fracking has risks, but so does conventional oil extraction, driving a car, hockey, and everything else in life. The question is one of risk-reward; does the utility that society receives from natural gas outweigh the potential environmental (and other) risks involved in its extraction? And since the environmental risks involved are determined by local factors, such as local geology and hydrology, there is no universally correct answer. Some areas with particularly valuable aquifers or sensitive environmental areas may want to avoid drilling altogether, while other areas may not.

That said, groundwater systems are complex and often span across county and even state boundaries, making regulation a difficult task at the state level. It is therefore incumbent upon the EPA to take an active role in not only producing best management practices to avoid problems before they occur, but also in assigning liability and fining culpable parties when mistakes are made. In addition to these cross-boundary hydrological issues, budget cuts have depleted state environmental agencies leaving them more or less unable to regulate this industry by themselves.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, we must create legislation with the following in mind: water is a basic need for survival; natural gas is not.

Minor Item

5) I wish that energy analysts, particularly those at the EIA and other energy database managers, knew that:

Conventional Oil ≠ Shale Oil ≠ Oil Sands ≠ Natural Gas Liquids ≠ Ethanol

They do not have the same costs, in either energy, dollar or environmental terms, nor do they even contain the same energy content. Please do not sum their production together and call it simply “oil”. Thanks!

1. Cobb C, Goodman GS, Wackernagel M. Why Bigger Isn't Better: The Genuine Progress Indicator - 1999 Update. San Fransisco, CA, USA: Redefining Progress, 1999.

Can't say I disagree with anything you say here David! Nice one.

"3) I wish that politicians would realize that GDP is an awful measure of well-being. "

Why would they do that? That's why they're politicians. All they care about is that enough voters don't figure this stuff out. The US a "net energy exporter"? I doubt most of them repeating this crap believe that. All they care about is that their constituents believe it.

6) Make it a crime, punishable by mandatory prison time and loss of all benefits derived from public service, to lie to or knowingly mislead the public.

That might create a selection process I could live with.

Anyway, thanks for all of your contributions over the years, David. Your veracity and sincerity are among those things we could take to the bank.

Here are some things that would greatly help in that regard:


We, the People of the United States of America, reject the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling and other related cases, and move to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights.

and http://www.wolf-pac.com/

I support a Constitutional amendment saying that corporations are not people and they do not have the right to spend money to buy our politicians.

Without blocking corporations/ultra rich from buying elections there's going to be little progress anywhere else.

strongly seconded!

Is it all right to say "I wish TOD would keep going"?

Or at least......

I wish that TOD comes back after a little while.

I wish that people would develop more spiritual connections with physical nature, even if it's labeled as heretical or pagan, or whatever.

(I'm pagan, and it's wonderful, by the way.)It doesn't have to mean anti- any other religion, incidentally. I've learned that here.

I wish there were fewer people. Economists should go first. They are worse than worthless. They cause real damage with theories no better than religion. Steve Keen excepted.

I would say Real Estate developers should go first. They are the ones who benefit most directly from more people and finance local campaigns in favour of politicians with a 'Growth is Wonderful' agenda.

Traffic Engineers.

Just joking really. Engineers are fabulous grounded practical mathy types that we all rely on in so many ways [like everytime we use a bridge or an airplane]. No, really my only problem is with the society that put them in charge of a whole lot of things that they are not qualified to do, and to be fair, didn't/don't even think they are doing. Like designing the entire built environment for example [see the last sixty years].

They were were just making traffic flow as well as possible and providing as many parking spaces as could ever be desired- not their fault that privileging these two things above all else would make much of the urban world ghastly, inhuman, and ironically; not worth visiting - even by car. Not to mention unsustainable and unsupportable. Collateral damage, outside their remit.

Somebody else's problem. Ours.

A really good engineer is need to fix this world. A Human Engineer, perhaps.

Boulding (the rarest of humans, a good economist) "An engineer is one who spends his life finding the best way to do things that should not be done at all."

Full disclosure- I am an engineer trained and directed to think up things that kill people. I quit doing it, and as reward, got no money for trying to think up things that made the world a better place. But fun.

Hi wimbi

We who have not been killed by those things are grateful to you.

In our neck of the woods traffic engineering is now entirely about slowing traffic and reducing traffic capacity. In residential areas this means lots of four way stops. On arterial roads it means bulb outs so you cannot get around vehicles waiting at an intersection to make a right hand turn, and speed bumps.

Around here they call that "Traffic Calming".

But if they recant and work to construct an economics that puts the whole full thermodynamic COST on things, we will let them pull their neck back offa the chopping block.

I wish energy policies were formed and framed by cross party concensus in decades rather than terms of political office.

1) I wish that peak oil people knew that the actual date of peak oil is irrelevant.

Yes, the global peaking is a complex process which started in 2005, not an event which you can pin down to a particular year of maximum production and its immediate aftermath. Apart from the impacts you mentioned we witness now the result of peaking oil production in countries like Syria. This is a good article:

Peak oil, climate change and pipeline geopolitics driving Syria conflict
Root-cause environmental and energy factors sparking violence will continue to destabilise Arab world without urgent reforms


thats not why peak date is irrelevant...its irrelevant because we care about how much energy costs to do work for our society, whether its peaked or not doesnt tell you how much it costs. More and more dollars (mostly debt) and effort can be expended to keep gross production going higher but if its at higher and higher costs the benefits to society decline well before the 'peak'. (which is happening now, 92% of americans have flat to declining wages since 2007, and are paying higher prices - ergo for most people growth is already over).

nice comments Dave. I particularly agree w your GDP comment.

It is not irrelevant because the impact on the world will be lessor on the rising edge of the plateau than on the falling edge.

The doomers underestimated the timing, but instead of admitting their mistake, they now seek to pretend that the timing is irrelevant. Some of us told you doomers there would be a price response, the world economy is more resilient than you credit and some countries can fall like dominoes before other countries freeing up supply for the ones still standing. I still suspect Simmons' statement, when Saudi Arabia's production peaks, the world's production will peak, will occur within a year of each other.

I'm learning to love reality, and wishing doesn't fit with that. But I'll play along in the spirit of farewell.

I wish that we had long ago learned that using money as a society/culture was/is/would be to our eternal detriment and chose to live without the concept of exchange like all the other species.

Maybe we still have time to do so.

As TOD winds down, I want to specifically thank you for your time several years ago when podcaster KMO (the C-Realm) and I (teach at Onodaga Comm College) unexpectedly stopped by your office at ESF after talking with Charlie Hall. You graciously gave us quite a bit of time for a C-Realm podcast. You were most kind. Best wishes, - Karl

That was a good podcast----

Thanks Karl. I was flattered that you were interested and had a great time. Hope all is well.


Our local Rev bought my dad's 10yo Lexus last week (2-door sporty version, V8).

What a wacky world we live in.

I re-listened to that podcast yesterday. It was and is very good.

Monthly Brent prices exceeded $100 for six months in 2008, while monthly Brent prices have exceeded $100 for 30 of the past 31 months. My premise is that net oil importing OECD countries like the US have been coping with high oil prices by trying to keep their "Wants" based economies going, via deficit spending, with said deficit spending financed by real creditors and by accommodative central bankers.

And in my opinion, regarding oil supplies we are only maintaining something resembling Business As Usual because of sky high rates of depletion in post-2005 Global and Available Cumulative Net Exports.

The following chart shows total global public debt versus the decline in the GNE/CNI ratio* from 2002 to 2011:


For 2012, total global public debt rose to $49 trillion, as the GNE/CNI ratio fell to 5.0 (EIA data).

What I define as Available Net Exports (ANE, or GNE less Chindia's Net Imports) fell from 41 mbpd (million barrels per day) in 2005 to 35 mbpd in 2012.

Or, total global public debt divided by ANE rose from $660,000 per bpd of ANE in 2005 to $1,400,000 per bpd of ANE in 2012.

*GNE = Combined net exports from top 33 net exporters in 2005 (BP + EIA data for chart), CNI = China + India's Net Imports. At a GNE/CNI ratio of 1.0, China & India alone would theoretically consume 100% of GNE. Debt data from Economist Magazine.

Ever since I read this article about propane shortages from this 2008 Oil Drum, I have been looking for a model that answers "Where" to complement your ELM model, which tries to answer "When", an End Of the Line Model, so to speak. All the models I tried stunk, though.
So I wish the Oil Drum regulars would try their hand at a EOLM model, go out with a bang, so to speak. I would love to hear what you and 2nd law rules and Web have to say.

What are your ideas along this line?

I think a good model is one that can explain most of what we see, with the fewest variables.

When I think about nations I think of a couple of things: Does the nation have a surplus of domestic energy? If a nation has energy, it can create goods and services to trade for things it does not have. Importers must pay top dollar for fuel. Which means that they must turn the fuel into goods and give a much larger percentage of those goods back to the fuel seller. Those with domestic energy can subsidize the price they are able to pay by selling goods made with the domestic fuel. So a country that imports will eventually be outbid by a country with domestic fuel supply.

I think those countries with growth in a fuel supply are in better shape that those with a declining fuel supply. Growth means high EROI fuels, and decline means low EROI fuels. This makes for a fast to calculate proxy for EROI. Maybe growth rate could be used?

I also think natural resources are a key feature. For instance, the US has a lot of oil, gas and coal, but actually is pretty limited in iron ore. China has much more iron ore. So does India. And they have a very close link to Australia. Those drilling for oil and gas need to be paid in a currency they can convert to steel, fuel, and labor for drilling more oil. So I think iron ore, copper, aluminum ore, etc are also good predictors of who will be able to afford expensive fuel. China has a growing oil, coal, and iron ore supply.

The third item is established consumption. Once a society has been built, it takes energy to maintain. The higher the total energy consumption, the more built infrastructure that needs energy to operate. Such a society is going to be vulnerable to rising expense. Residential and some part of Commercial energy consumption are generally losses. So are personal mobility vs business mobility. I think China is growing because more of its energy is producing goods and services that it resells. Europe and the US are carrying a lot of built infrastructure cost.

Lastly there is politics. The US can tax others through its currency. Pakistan can beg fuel aid. So can Egypt. Inside of the US whole cities exist because they can redirect goods and resources into places where nothing should have ever been built. Phoenix, Arizona for instance. Why is the automobile semiconductor industry in the southwest when Detroit has houses sitting empty? Politics. Why are submarine torpedoes designed in a deep land locked state like Minnesota. Politics. Space craft in Texas? Politics.

What happens when those political energy flows are disrupted? The society as a whole gets healthier (it rains in Detroit and is near food production) but that small region will take a major down turn. I think collapse will thus be much faster (for some) and much slower (overall) than we expect.

These are just my intuitions. I don't have conclusive data to back this up. Brainstorming the factors to include in the design of experiment...

Jon my intuitions are very similar. Especially this:

"I think collapse will thus be much faster (for some) and much slower (overall) than we expect."

As Stuart Staniford says of Peak Oil: "It will not be synchronous" nor will its effects.

Both in time and in place across the world, and this is already observable.

The key transition that a society must make expeditiously to be on the more successful side of this ledger is away from dependence on liquid fuels and to an economy powered by electrons.

This electricity may well be sourced from a dirty primary source such as coal [China] or cleaner sources [Pacific Northwest, NZ, Iceland, increasingly Germany, Scandinavia], but either way this is how to avoid fast collapse. IMO.

Then there is the longer term issue of Climate Change......?

I have been looking for a model that answers "Where" to complement your ELM model, which tries to answer "When", an End Of the Line Model, so to speak.

Could you clarify this a little? Are you asking where do supply shortfalls hit hardest?

Who has the most fragile chain? That is the question the End Of The Line Model tries to answer.
The North Dakota farmers were literally at the "end of the pipeline" and not priority users in a period of heavy demand. If the pipeline ended in the financial district of Manhattan or the Federal district of DC, somebody else would be SOL. So the farmers were not large consumers, their demand was intermittent, and they had neither the financial or political pull to get their propane, nor the time to retool for substitute fuels.
Now for a different example. Suppose Bhutan, a small landlocked country, gets its diesel by truck from India. So India has to exchange debt or Rupees or goods for oil, pipeline it to distant states, and both have surplus and be willing to accept debt or Nu or goods from Bhutan.
So who has no chair when the music stops?

Hi jon

To second WT - could you please clarify the Q?

Regarding shale gas / fracking: opposite to your wish, the EPA has been caught neglecting its duties to protect the public, instead colluding with the frackers by hushing up its own research. The "polemics" are absolutely needed in order to force the EPA to do its right work.

Yep. Polemics, tho they make me uncomfortable, are necessary in the face of the awful facts of the case. But I have argued with my good friends doing it that they could kill fracking deader faster by dumping ff altogether and going to solar. And, I'm being even a little successful at it.

PS. Thanks ever so much to all for these great comments. They cheer me up. Lotsa good people here!!

To the wish list I would add: I'd like to understand better the relationship between lifestyle and impact. It is a truism amongst American "greens", at the least, that if you buy a Prius and put some solar panels on your roof and buy a $39.95 "carbon offset" to atone for your vacation flight to Timbuktu then you have eliminated your impact on the world. In my more pessimistic moods I think that one's real impact is directly proportional to one's income, and the only way to truly be "green" is to be poor. Not just live poor, but be poor, because if you put any money in the bank then the banksters get to play with it, "leveraging" it into even more impact. And if you give the money away, then it's still doing the damage, but under somebody else's name. But what is "money"? It's just relative claims over our energy supply. If you burnt your cash, the rest of the "money" will just increase in value, as the same energy supply is still out there to be exploited. Perhaps there is no way personal lifestyle can truly affect the planet, given the indirect effects on other people's actions? Or perhaps there is a value to ones actions, via setting an example, eventually influencing other people? Or perhaps that does not matter as long as a few people are willing to use up any of the voluntarily unused resources? This has been churning in my head for years, but we never had a good conversation about here on TOD.

Which brings up the connections between peak oil and climate change. When I wrote "impact" above I did mean climate impact, which is what most people (outside the TOD realm) think about. But this is intimately tied to peak oil. Not only are most of our energy sources one and the same as most of our carbon emission sources, but also peak oil will make most of us poorer, a lot poorer over time, and that will affect our ability to consume both goods and energy. It also causes us to scrape the bottom of the barrel in ways that cause more climate impact per unit energy (one more reason for "polemics" :-) Peak oil will also constrain us economically from doing many of the things that some climate hawks imagine will save us, such as large scale carbon sequestration.

So also add to the wish list: I wish that both peak oilers and climate activists better understood the connections between the two, which make both issues much more complex and insoluble.

Poverty: tough one. See what you mean but there is such a thing as a bank without banksters. Trust Switzerland to have one: the Alternative Bank Schweiz. It's pretty good. They publish a complete list of all the projects they gave a credit to, every year. Most of our money is being invested into renewable energy projects via bonds dedicated to that purpose by the bank. The interest rate is 0.25% but the capital doesn't go bang when the market crashes. See Wikipedia, Ethical Banking. Those who read German can check out Andreas Missbach's book "Saubere Renditen".

You are correct that the vast majority of all monetary expenditures have a negative impact on resource availability and environmental health. There are however a few things to spend money on that have an unequivocally positive impact.

I think that the best of these is planting trees. I think it is possible to mitigate much of one's "lifestyle impact" by taking carbon out of the air and turning it into potential fuel. Depending on where the trees are planted, it takes about 10-40 acres of trees to sequester the lifetime emissions of a small middle class US family. I doubt if there is enough room on the planet for everyone to atone for their consumption in this way, but for those of us that do, it eases the guilt somewhat.

In some areas, on the edge between forest and prairie, or between savanna and desert, planting trees, and taking care of them, can determine their survival. But in most areas, either the local climate is tree-friendly, or not. Where I live (Vermont), if you want trees, all you have to do is stop mowing for a few years. And once the forest is a certain age (about 60 years old around here), it is probably not sequestering much more carbon, since the tree biomass reaches a steady-state - the older trees die and rot. I heat my house in part by burning wood, using trees that died on their own in my back yard. That only accelerates their stored carbon being released by about a decade.

I would suggest Iceland. 98% of the Icelandic forests were cut down when the Vikings settled there. About 6 billion tonnes of carbon (not CO2) were released.

I can help anyone that wants to, to direct investments where not only the trees planted, but their offspring, will collect carbon in their own mass plus the soil.

I am the only non-Icelandic member of their tree growing club.

Best Hopes,


I wish that I could live long enough to see how the peak oil story ends. But, as Roger Ebert pointed out in his review of the French movie Last Year at Marienbad:

"Viewing the film again, I expected to have a cerebral experience, to see a film more fun to talk about than to watch. What I was not prepared for was the voluptuous quality of “Marienbad,” its command of tone and mood, its hypnotic way of drawing us into its puzzle, its austere visual beauty. Yes, it involves a story that remains a mystery, even to the characters themselves. But one would not want to know the answer to this mystery. Storybooks with happy endings are for children. Adults know that stories keep on unfolding, repeating, turning back on themselves, on and on until that end that no story can evade."

Hi David,

Thanks for all the work posting EROI articles to The Oil Drum. EROI is one of those keystone concepts that I wish every economist and energy modeler understood.

Also, great work on the Minimum EROI and other articles. They are a fantastic resource.


A great synopsis David, (excuse me, Dr. Murphy). While it seems that each of your points may have been discussed in various ways over the history of The Oil Drum, it is extremely valuable to synthesize and distill things to their essence, as you have done here.

While it is important to keep a conversation going (even if people are saying things that've been said before), to be most useful to people that don't have time or inclination to visit websites like The Oil Drum, it is vital to synthesize ideas and information into more condensed form. One of ASPO-USA's goals in developing The Energy Xchange (energy-x.org) is to provide more syntheses and "best of" content (interim site up now, full site to be launched later this fall).

To grow the quantity of goods and services, then, the energy used to produce those goods and services must also grow....As a result, increasing GDP requires increasing energy production.

This doesn't follow. The *quantity* of goods and services does not have to increase for GDP to grow. Both goods and services can increase in value through new features and better quality.

For instance, the number sold of light vehicles (cars, pickups, SUVs, etc) in the US has been pretty flat for the last 40 years, yet the value in GDP of those vehicles has risen very substantially. Same thing for many other things: steel products, appliances (washer/dryers), TVs, homes, etc.

The *quantity* of goods and services isn't really growing that much in the US and OECD.


Ultimately, of course, once everyone has all the goods and services they want, there's no reason for GDP to grow, and we can work less. A lot of French seem to feel they're pretty close to that point...

How do you distinguish between a real improvement and between a pseudo-improvement? For example, I recently replaced a washing machine that was manufactured in 1977 (Philco brand) and was still working perfectly until the heater stopped working, and there are no replacement parts available anymore. A new washing machine performs about the same, the only real improvement is lower energy and water consupmtion. However, there is no chance of a current washing machine lasting 36 years like the old did. So there you have a massive GDP improvement on paper, which in reality brings only a tiny real improvement (or maybe even a negative one, when you compare the energy savings with the fact that these new machines need to be replaced much sooner, it's likely that the total resource consumption is way higher). And the same goes for millions other products and services which generate huge GDP numbers on paper, but where the real quality, durability and life improvement is either tiny, nonexistent, or negative.

I agree, it can be hard. Heck, I just replaced a 6 year old washing machine (complete with electronics) with a nice, oldfashioned Speedqueen with no electronics - more durable, *much* easier to clean. The reductions in water consumption in new machines seem to have greatly reduced wash quality!

Service quality can be hard to measure. Is a laparascopic surgery better? It should reduce OR time, days in the hospital, surgical accidents, etc. But, is the surgical result itself better? It takes lots of time and research, but, it can be done.

A "goods" example: new cars are much better: safer, with Electronic Stability Control, much better brakes, air bags; higher fuel efficiency; an MP3 input dock (apparently very important!), etc.
A service example: birth certificates now take 5 minutes to issue, instead of the bad old days where you waited all day.

I just replaced a 6 year old washing machine (complete with electronics) with a nice, oldfashioned Speedqueen with no electronics - more durable, *much* easier to clean. The reductions in water consumption in new machines seem to have greatly reduced wash quality!

That is not true in general, at least according to this analysis of the performance under varied conditions of 10 washing machines manufactured between 1 and 30 years prior.

They found a progressive reduction in consumption of water and electricity, with the oldest machines using 4x the energy and water of the newest machines (circa 2004; machines of 2013 are significantly more efficient), in part because older washers required substantially higher temperatures to achieve the same level of washing performance.

As a result, the older washer model will cost around 25% of its purchase price every year in operating costs, vs. 6-7% for the new model. If we assume a 36-year lifespan for the older model (which is inflated, of course, by survivorship bias), its total cost will be 10x its purchase price, with 90% of that representing direct use of energy and water. The newer model will have operating expenses of 2.3x purchase price, meaning one could purchase a new washer every 5 years and still spend less than using the older model. Taking the observed average of 14 years, someone buying the new model will spend half as much money over that 36-year period.

As fun as it can be to complain about how things were better in the "Good Old Days", it's very often not true.

But it may be true that many of the more recent products are built to last fewer years. It's still possible to get better ones, but most people shop by price. I am hoping that my washing machine will last a second decade - so far it's been wonderful. It's a Bosch Axxis front loading European model. Gentle on the clothes and cleans well, with very little water and detergent. I did have to pay about $900 (a decade ago) for this marvel - double what the typical American washer would have cost.

i'm not arguing about operating cost, or resource consumption. I'm disagreeing about cleanliness.

Take a look at the comments on some washers on Amazon, or ConsumerReports.com, You'll see consumers who are very unhappy about persistent smells in their clothes after washing. Apparently, reductions in water consumption make washers very hard to keep clean. That was our experience, as well.

We did the same thing a couple years ago, after our new HE washer self-destructed. Buying a new conventional washer with electromechanical controls, we knew it would use a lot more water, but might last longer. The dealer agreed, saying our original washer probably lasted 20 years (22, exactly) and the HE washer lasted two years, so the new Maytag would probably work for 10-12 years. Lighter steel chassis, lots of plastic, and smaller, cheaper motors and pumps are probably the cause. Plus no commitment to replacement parts. A bad recipe for the long emergency.

I am reminded of the ISS Soyuz craft using vacuum tubes because they are easy to make and reliable. Classic guitar amps use them too, the best coming from Russia. And heck, they are safe from EMP!

What was the Sci-fi novel that featured completely custom tools, manufactured to fit each owner? I think we need that mentality, looking forward. Sadly, it doesn't mesh with corporate greed.

Nick, I think another Dr. Murphy has written a good refutation of that old economists' argument.

Read it again - at the end Tom Murphy agrees that growth can continue in this form, though he prefers to call it "development".

It's also important to point out that Tom's argument that infinite growth is impossible is a straw man - give a good economist more than 5 minutes between dinner courses to think about it, and he'll tell you that. Human energy consumption can level off far below theoretical limits, and still be far more than humanity needs.

GDP is an awful measure of well-being because it measures only the final private goods and services sold in the economy

I agree that production is a poor measure. On the other hand, if you have to fix the damage from Katrina, then you're glad that you have the productive capability to do so. If you didn't, you'd have the hurricane damage and no repairs.

More importantly, GDP includes *public* goods and services, not just private stuff. It includes sewers, and police, and jails (for better or worse). I think what you mean is that it doesn't include stuff that isn't measured, like ecosystem services.

I guess we need more jails! And prisoners! And the GDP will grow even more if we force those prisoners to serve as free labor for some corporations! Oh wait - we're already doing all of that as fast as we can in the US. And still our GDP isn't growing. Sigh.



Good point about public goods. But there are plenty of public goods/services, like the ones I mentioned that are not counted in GDP. It is still a service/good even if it is not measured.

Conventional Oil ≠ Shale Oil ≠ Oil Sands ≠ Natural Gas Liquids ≠ Ethanol

They do not have the same costs, in either energy, dollar or environmental terms, nor do they even contain the same energy content

By shale oil I assume you are talking the crude oil from the Bakken and Eagle Ford. It has less energy content than oil from the basket of other crudes? First I heard.

Oil out of the shale plays is conventional oil, the wells have one heck of unconventional decline curve relative the historic conventional well but the oil that comes out of them is regular old fashioned crude oil--in the ballpark with WTI.

I have one swan song wish of my own to add to this superb list.

This TOD group about to disperse is the smartest single large bunch or naked apes anywhere, no doubt, but we are still just naked apes, and subject to ape's failings.

Please, everybody- Remember that you cannot reason with a man, or a woman , or a child, unless they perceive you as either a friend, or at worst, a neutral messenger.

Make fun of a republican, and / or what passes for a conservative today, and you have a near zero chance of helping him see the light in respect to environmental issues.

When so called conservatives make fun of environmentalists in particular and scientists in general, they have the same near zero chance of getting that audience to listen to an argument about for instance fiscal responsibility .

The two key words too keep in mind are nuance and subtlety .

The rule is simple- attack the behavior, not the perpetrator.

You can simply mention that anybody who is driving a larger vehicle than they really need is sending our money overseas to people who are not necessarily our friends for instance. this message will prick the conscience, gently, of a guy who cares about his country and drives a 6000 pound truck to fetch his beer, if he has a semi- functional brain.

Mention Ford f250 in a derogatory tone to a guy making payments on one and spending enough for gas to cut into his beer, in such a context and he will automatically hate your guts..

The choice is between preaching to the choir, and to the people who have not yet taken the message to heart.

Definitely good points, OFM. I will, however, point out that the current public perception is that the guy fetching beer in the 6000 lb truck is not sending his money overseas, but rather supporting his brethren in North Dakota... Overcoming the disinformation of the MSM megaphone is difficult indeed, no matter how nuanced or subtle one's approach is.

"Overcoming the disinformation of the MSM megaphone is difficult indeed ."

And that is putting it mildly!

This is where nuance and subtlety in communication come into play.

I have been known to act surprised when communicating the fact that we are still importing about fifty percent of our oil consumption,, saying "I just found out that according the the federal govt website EIA , we are still importing x millions of barrels a day out of our total consumption of x barrels. I could n't believe it at first, but it's true- I checked these other sites too- they all say the same thing!!"

This is as about as bare bones as subtlety and nuance can get of course and only works when you are talking to a stranger in a social situation during a social activity. it never hurts when you are dealing with a working redneck conservative to point out with great indignation that his republican hero's in Washington cut a deal with thew big auto companies and the UAW( all way over paid pinko commie democrats making about three times as much, or more, than your typical a patriotic non union working guy- sarc) to virtually give away new heavy duty pickup trucks to his employer.
If you work at it a bit, you can find ways to get people to start thinking.

Well put. Miley Cyrus can dance half-naked in front of millions, but one misplaced comment about Peak Oil will cost your career. Read it and weep! I've got to learn nuance.