How vulnerable to oil shocks are we, really?

This is a guest post by user Davidyson, who is living in Potsdam, Germany, peak oil aware since May 2004, computer scientist, journalist, consultant, project manager and web specialist, currently freelance consultant, closely acquainted with several senior people in the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

When oil prices reached last year’s maximum without causing more than a slight slowdown of economic growth, many pundits claimed publicly that the absence of severe consequences were due to a growing independence of GDP creation from oil in our more efficient and more service-oriented economies.

The following analysis tries to reason to what extent this is really true, and at what point serious consequences will set in.

Unless our governments undertake rationing of oil use and/or tax to destroy demand, the main effect of peak oil will be a rising oil price. Under fundamental market mechanics, it will rise so high that it destroys all the potential demand that can no longer be satisfied with the declining flow of oil. In free market economies, demand always equals supply. If oil production slides, something’s got to give. But who is going to give?

Demand destruction comes to the people and from the people. All product and service industries, and even the bureaucracy and the military ultimately exist to fulfil some (often only perceived) consumer need. Only if price increases can no longer be passed on through the supply chain to the end user because a too large number of potential buyers can no longer afford the product, pressure to deal with the oil shortage is exercised.

There are three strategies that an end user can use to deal with rising energy prices:

1. Continue your lifestyle on credit and hope the crisis is going to go away soon.
2. Reprioritize spending – stop or reduce spending in one area to be able to continue spending in another. Of course, people would usually assign a higher priority to satisfaction of the more basic needs and the retaining of the more important status symbols. Spending for other needs would be scaled back. Most people would rather hold on to their homes than continue their weekly visits to the nail studio.
3. Increase efficiency and conserve – downsize, use things longer, eliminate frivolous waste, invest in more efficient technology, recycle.

Now what if you cannot seriously reprioritize, because most of your spending is vital? And you cannot increase efficiency, because the technology is not available in your country or you cannot afford the upfront investment for more efficient technology, even if it exists? And of course, because you had to get by with a minimum of oil/energy/goods so far, you have already squeezed out all behavioural efficiency you can. Waste is a privilege of the affluent.

So, first, high oil prices destroy demand from people who physically just cannot pay the price, no matter how urgently they would need the stuff. This will mainly apply to very poor people around the world (not necessarily only in developing countries) with a dependency on oil but without capacity to compensate for drastically rising prices. (Of course, people living without any oil dependency will be the least directly affected.)

Imagine you own a small vegetable farm in Africa. You really need this one tank full of gasoline to transport your ripe produce to a market to make money and so to be able to buy vital supplies. You drive to the petrol station on your last couple of drops and find that the price has risen significantly since last week and you just don’t have the money to pay for enough gallons/litres to get you to the market and back again. Your produce will quickly rot in the sun, destroying your investment and probably even your livelihood. Even if you make it to the market somehow by quickly borrowing money to buy the fuel, your potential buyers will likely be so stretched that they cannot afford the usual amount of shopping and certainly not at the increased prices you have to ask for to compensate for the more expensive gasoline and to pay back your loan.

The inflation imported with the oil cannot easily be compensated by the local economy – the country’s value creation just cannot keep pace with the rapid energy price increases. Your farm becomes unprofitable: You must ask for high prices, which most of the market cannot bear. A perverse situation: some food still finds buyers at very high prices, but their demand is limited. Most of the food is unsaleable at a profitable price. In poor countries, if you don’t have a family to support you, going broke as a small farmer is an existential threat: you loose your farm, get displaced, perhaps in your desperation you must take on slave-like work for the remaining affluent, and/or even send your children into the streets as beggars or sell them as prostitutes or child soldiers.

And what if significant parts of the rural population get caught in the death spiral of economic decline? Less and less food reaches the urban areas due to reduced transport and given-up farms, food prices explode even more. People starve; the urban survivors eventually get dependent on foreign food aid – if it ever comes. The “developed” countries can’t send corn anymore; they need it to substitute ethanol for gasoline.

How does the soon ensuing chaos in the poor countries affect the developing or the developed countries? “Poor” countries are actually often wealthy in terms of resources which the developed countries need. The more chaos in the countries of origin of these resources, the more likely supply disruptions and therefore unanticipated shortages become – see Nigeria.

Okay, now let’s pretend these problems are far away and the side-effects for “us” in the developed world can be handled – even if only by military intervention. But now the thumbscrew of depletion turns again: demand destruction that happened among the poorest gets overtaken by a further decline in oil supplies. Who’s next?

At some point, the three strategies described above to deal with rising prices will have to be adopted in the developed world, too.

Increasing efficiency and conservation can both have a stimulating and a depressing effect on the economy: If investments in new technology (cars, appliances, energetic home improvement etc.) are made, this acts as stimulation. One dampening side-effect: The energy embodied in the old technology must be considered “stranded”. Even recycling, if it ever happens, can only recover a part of it, according to the laws of thermodynamics. So there would be a surge in energy demand to develop and build all this new technology, increasing price pressures even further.

Adopting behavioural efficiency, even if just as a reduction in discretionary spending, most likely acts as a depressing factor for the economy: as products get used longer, energy gets used with more awareness, and less and less luxury products and services get consumed, whole industries loose their viability, starting with those with a low original profitability.

Now does a reduced energy intensity (the amount of energy used to produce one unit of GDP) make us less vulnerable to oil price shocks?

As is the so often the case, it depends.

Clearly, it makes product prices less volatile – if energy makes up only, say, 2 percent of a product’s price, doubling the energy price will make the product only about 2 percent more expensive. This sort of price increase can often be compensated by optimising other inputs into the product or by just lowering the expected profit margin.

But there is another scenario. For many products, especially in highly competitive markets of commodity products, profit margins are low, and often, energy contributes much more than 2 percent to the price. This would not be a big problem if producers all suffered the same and if they could change their product’s price quickly to just pass on the price hike to their clients. Some manufacturers will have made longer-term fixed-price energy contracts which protect them from price volatility, some other producer’s contracts will just happen to end as the price jump happens and yet others will be generally less energy efficient than their competitors or operate on a smaller profit margin or according to a tight amortisation plan.

Also, the price for the products they sell cannot always be adjusted with short notice, especially in volume product industries.

So, the effect of sharp price increases is not being felt evenly within any given industry. Manufacturers with bad timing for recontracting energy purchases, with fixed sales prices, low energy efficiency and small margins will suffer the most. If they cannot adapt quickly, they might withdraw now unprofitable or uncompetitive products from the market or even go bust.

A real shortage of these products could result, as the competitors who are still in business cannot arbitrarily increase production to compensate. If the products are part of a longer manufacturing chain, the consequences would “spill” to all dependent manufacturers – and possibly their complete value creation would be endangered.

The luxury products, the consumer service industries and the entertainment industry will probably suffer most, in fact, they will suffer a double whammy: their energy bills will increase while clients are less likely to use their often not-so-vital services, due to re-prioritisation of their spending. Here, some fairly high “value” creation (or: GDP creation) gets threatened due to relatively small energy price increases.

Another facet is the likely behaviour of the credit industry. How likely is it that you as an investor get cheap credit (or any credit at all) if the bank is fully aware that the economy is under increasingly serious strain? And even if you get and take the expensive, risk-adjusted credit, how likely is it that you will be able to pay it back in a shrinking economy?

Would you even dare to invest, once you become aware that no one can tell you with any useful degree of certainty a ceiling for energy prices that you can use as input for your business plan?

Of course, actual shortages (“you can’t get the energy almost no matter how much you pay”) would wreak the biggest havoc: complete industrial value creation chains would be paralysed even if only a single, but vital raw material or half-finished product would no longer be available due to energy supply disruptions. With just-in-time manufacturing, many manufacturers could survive such a blow only for days or maybe weeks at best.

davidyson and Professor Goose

Thanks for putting up this post, I particularly like the summation of what a good energy policy should do, I hope very government in the world takes a look and gives consideration to this principle.

I'm from the US, and our very poor people are mostly dependent on cheap gasoline. The very poorest of the poor, the homeless, can't even afford a car except for the newly poorest who sleep in their vehicles.

Poor people in the US always buy used cars. Because they were better maintained, this mostly means used luxury cars like Caddilacs and Lincolns, and these vehicles are gas hogs.

They live in places without or with poor public transportation, because thats most of the US outside of a few cities . They are the rural poor in a decrepit huse trailer, or the old person in a bad neighborhood, or the handicapped person on SSI struggling to live anywhere at all.

What this means is that Alan Drake's electrification of rail is a necessity. It will cut transportation fuel by at a minimum of 1/6th easing pressure on prices, it make it possible for mant of us to get rid of automobiles altogether, and it doesn't hurt anybodies profits except long haul truckers, and they can be absorbed by the new RR jobs and expansion of local trucking. The bottom line,

Bob Ebersole


You're so right in a lot of ways.

This post really touched why I (speaking for myself here, but I know others on staff feel the same) give so much time to making this site function. Raising awareness and educating people about energy is my continued goal, but it's about the awareness of the human toll that motivates me to do this.

Of course, most of you know this, but unless we prepare now:

The poor of the world will become poorer, less socially mobile upwards than they are already, and less hopeful. (of course this raises the question of happiness and wealth I know...).

As we have discussed many times, the middle class will continue to be bifurcated into either the lower class or the upper class, with most going to the former.

Have you ever seen a person go "backwards" in their life not out of choice? It creates huge traumae for the entitled, it changes their mindset, makes them less social, not more.

On another point, my greatest fear at the moment is that we will be confronted with a serious recession, which will destroy US demand, but also squash serious investment in alternatives (both sources and means) because the price signal will tell the market all is well, no need to worry here. If that happens, it will just be another step along the long, slow, secular slog into obscurity for the US...and a further continuation of recent trends.

Professor Goose,

I've not only lost my class status through the changes in the economy, I became a heroin and crack addict and homeless. Through getting rid of drugs and changing circumstances I have regained at least a part of my former place in life. But I've not forgot either the destitution or dispair, aand I have to help others so I can stop my tendancy towards the selfishness and selfcenteredness that was the root cause of my behaviour. And I'm not kidding, that kind of altruism is a necessity, that's the real basis of Acoholics Anonymous and the other 12 step programs that have split off and grown out of A.A.
Bob Ebersole

Welcome back Bob.

I have friends who have endured similar pain--and I do not envy any of you the means of gaining your strength back.

Altruistic--it's a funny word. So many people think of it as meaning "sucker." I rather think of it as meaning "concerned and helpful."

But then again, maybe I am just a sucker. Where's Nietzsche when I need him? :)

Where's Nietzsche when I need him?

He was hugging a horse the last I heard about him.

indeed, even if he did go to the nuthouse for a few years following the incident I imagine he still thought a lot about his embrace.

From Daybreak:

Not enough! - It is not enough to prove something, one has also to seduce or elevate people to it. That is why the man of knowledge should learn how to speak his wisdom: and often in such a way that it sounds like folly!

Without vanity. - Passionate people think little of what others are thinking: the condition they are in raises them above vanity.

The selfishness and selfcenteredness that was the root cause of my behavior

My psychiatrist friend (who will be able to attend Friday @ ASPO-Houston :-) has also mentioned that. She spends one or two days/week as part of her residency at Odyssey House (a residential drug rehab center in New Orleans). As well as the total helplessness and despair that too many fall into and is so difficult to climb back out of.

The Path to Happiness and Fulfillment is not through Self.

My applause on your honesty and sharing the insight !

Best Hopes,


It is a little risky sharing that kind of thing over the internet with people I don't know. Its almost a sure thing this bring out the troll in some people, but the again, they can't hurt me.

The coming economic disaster is going to cause a lot of dispair. And the drugs I mentioned are a small suicide .Everybody knows their results, yet there are new addicts made every day. Their allure is partly this distructiveness though, they are a little suicide. The suubjective effect are emotional numbing, and a form of ecstacy. The reason most people never climb out is because they return with the excuse "I won't let it get me this time" or, "to hell with it, I just don't care anymore".
So, I think many people will return to them or start to use as their whole world falls apart.

One of the things that made me vulnerable was tying my whole self image up on my carrer and place in society. I'm a landman, and a great one. On a couple of different occassions I've put together oil prospects that were immensely profitable. But if I put my entire self-esteem in that, I'm a fool. I , like all humans, have a need to like and respect myself, and I want others to love and respect me. The best way for me to learn this, I figured was to observe what I liked, loved and respected in other humans, and to apply it in my own life.

The people I respect most are creative, i.e. they go within themselves to tap something thats part of every person yet greater than every person. In most parts of the world this is called God, in others a muse, or even a meme.Yes, I know its not scientific, but its there for me.

The persons I respect most are all people who try to give of themslves to others generously. And, in this site I find a lot of people who do that-thats why I decided to speek out about this , in spite of any personal risk. Prof. G., I really respect that about the editors and contributors here.

The people I respect most are kind and compassionate. I think every person needs to look at other to see how they can help them out, becuse the sum total of good in this world try to do good and it accumulates, and, this truly is a good world.

As far as love, we all need to be loved. But if you want to be loved, that deperation drives others away. If however, I love other people in the sense of wanting the best for them and trying to help them acheive their goals, its oftened returned. Another of the paradoxical truths about being human.

I also need to distinguish what I really need in my life. I need food, clothing and a place to sleep at night, the rest of it is more than enough. And i'm more than blessed that way-my main worries are needing to be on a diet because of too much to eat, and I refuse to borrow trouble on the rest of it

The people I respect most are kind and compassionate. I think every person needs to look at other to see how they can help them out, becuse the sum total of good in this world try to do good and it accumulates, and, this truly is a good world.

I think the world operates on the might is right principle. Physical, economic or otherwise.

My mom feeds the pigeons often and the big ones push the smaller ones away, the cat will catch or attempt to catch even the biggest pigeon, the dog will chase the cat etc...

Someone in the first world can get a face lift, while the Indonesian making the same person's nike shoes and track suit can't get basic health care.

Humans have the capacity to think beyond this limited greed based paradigm, I do believe that what I see in the real world validates the might is right doctrine that overrides any significant altruism.

I think the biggest problems are overpopulation and inequality. The two share a relatinship Ricardo's "iron law of wages" overpopulation also leads to a feeling of despair when contemplating assistance to the masses.

of course there are always preditors and prey. But what other species even makes organised attempts to help others?
Is there dolphin welfare with one dolphin bring a ration of fish to a crippled dolphin?Have elephants in Africa set up refuges and camps for the child soldiers?
And the answer is none. They are incapable, I'm sure is the excuse, or reason, but the fact remains that man does try to aid the helpless members of society and do things like set up refuges for orphaned gorillas and orangatangs.

There's a meme to help others. Any science that is published has the motive of helping others through sharing knowledge. Rven the Jehova's Witnesses that come to the door do so to keep you from going to hell. And even if you disagree with their premise as I do, I know they are tring to live their faith and share the joy they find with me, so I just tell 'em god bless you, I'm happy with my church, I'm very glad to see that you are witnessing as the bible tells us all to, take their magazine and shut the door. I guess its lying to them but the easiest way to move them down the street.
Bob Ebersole

Thank you for sharing this.

I'm not so sure other animals don't make organized attempts to help others as they certainly seem to be a lot more intelligent and sophisticated than we have assumed. This piece on elephants was heart-rending for me:

We are constantly having to revise our view of the 'lower' animals in terms of their having not only feelings but somewhat sophisticated culture.

"I'm not so sure other animals don't make organized attempts to help others as they certainly seem to be a lot more intelligent and sophisticated than we have assumed."

We have a deck with glass panels. There's a bird feeder outside my window, over the deck.

Every other week or so, a bird -- generally a fledgeling, who hasn't learned yet -- flies into the glass and knocks themselves silly.

When that happens, I go out, pick up the poor thing, and set it on the railing, so that when it comes to, it won't immediately fly into the glass again.

The funny thing is when a semi-conscious bird is sitting there, other birds will come up and sit with it -- they never sit on the deck railing otherwise. It isn't just relatives; it's often birds of different species.

It's probably anthropomorphic to think so, but I like to think they're keeping the dazed bird company until it can fly again.

:::: Jan Steinman, Communication Steward, EcoReality ::::

The Law of Mutual Aid --a treatise by Peter Kropotkin. Can GOOGLE it and read it on the net.The subject ranges across various species.
By the way, amazing thread, this. Warms me heart.


I stand saddened and ashamed of my species. That's a masterful piece of writing, and I had no idea of what the elephant extermination is destroying.

About 40 years ago an oil operator named Bill Kilroy bought an elephant for his ranch in Brookshire. He was arich Republican, but this was in the early 60's, pre Nixon presidency or the "southern strategy" that enshrined Republican racism. My father would take us out to visit a lot. Bill Kilroy was given two more babies by other rich Pachyderms, and he hired an elephant trainer. I don't know what ever happened to the elephants, but the trainer was arrested for child molesting.

William S. Bill Kilroy was a very nice man and a great operator, a big buddy of Bob Mosbacher's. Ran a big drilling fund and died about 10 years ago. He operated a lot of wells, too. I'm glad I knew him.
Bob Ebersole

Certainly predator and prey and the distinction is strong or powerful over the weak.

It's why some punk with a gun or knife can take your wallet in an alley and the same punk if caught gets to front court and go to jail.

I don't want to put a "good" or "bad" spin on things. Just and observation.

I would add that it is easier to give in a world of plenty when you yourself have a surplus. Take away that surplus and induce even a mild defecit and giving becomes impossible.

We could live in a better world. If humanity came together decided to share resources more equally AND most importantly agree to somehow control our numbers. A planet with five hundred million people, working for each others mutual benefit without being marketed the need for rapacious overconsumption. That would be in my view a better world.

I concur with concerned. I respect Bob, for his effort on this website, and his eloquent and persistent dedication to discussions about energy and our future, etc. I am not optimistic like him though, and am not sure on a whole that human nature is all as shiny as he polishes it up to be. I think his "God meme" is a little too much--if anything he is really using it disingenuously. Religious hatred is pretty apparent and one doesn't need to cite anything modern--their own source texts indicate this. Of course, it doesn't have to be, there are plenty of tolerant, moral and loving lambs of God (I guess they just haven't read their books, or perhaps don't understand them--but lets not argue scripture, I'd just footnote the header-image here)... This is of course clearly just my biased opinion!

Economic inequality is not alone in the human world either. There is emotional crisis all around the world (this is something even the "developed nations" cannot escape from, as evidence here in this own thread.) The level of "insanity" in Iraq I'm sure is pretty horrific, if it could even be measured (they'd blow up the social scientists--all sides.) Read your Celine, war is insane (but don't hate). There is a lot to be concerned about if one wishes to be (hint: most don't, or aren't doing anything, or don't know what to do, etc). From my observation most of the country is not all that concerned. That's my smug conclusion, for the four pennies it's worth.

Judging from politics, save nuclear war with Iran and a spiraling war in Iraq (where is that again? there is one somewhere else too, but I can't be bothered with that) everything is Jolly Well Fine, onwards and upwards with the American dream (whatever the hell that is). That is until we crash into a fruit cart.

I really should abide by the second dictum I posted upthread and not be so concerned about nitpicking like this, I just have to respond to the AA pipe-dream that if we all love God and love one another it will all be alright...

It's moments like those I want to join up with the John Birch Society, vote GOP and read Schopenhauer. I don't have a lot of faith in people, I guess is what I'm saying... Until polls prove otherwise, I'm sticking with my guns (that's a metaphor--you never know here...)

mr f,
I didn't say I believed in god. If any thing, i'm a vague deist, I go to the Episcopal church. We're the church that can't play chess, we can't tell a bishop from a queen. Luckily,most Anglicans don't care what you believe, just keep it to yourself.

And i'm not blind to either the good or evil that church's and religeous people do. Church's set up soup kitchens, and they also have driven many people to suicide with their attitudes about being gay. Church members often shun people that are different, but who else will come sit with a dying person?

I get a small buzz from the service, the ritual puts me in a meditative or contemplative mood, but that's likely self hypnotism. but so do Hindoos and Budhists and whirling sufi dervishes. and all the mythology is just that, mythology. If it moves you, ok, but its ok if it doesn't. and some of it is absolutely evil, like St Paul justifying slavery, or the story of Lot whiich seems to endorse rape, child molesting and incest. But I do think acting in other peoples best interest, kindness, altruism-acting with love-is the best instruction for human relationships ever written down. But there are sure a lot of kind, loving atheists too, and they are just as important for a better world.

So the real answer to my little sermon is doubt everything, know that you are not god(the most important thing) and try to be a good person, whatever that is.

I'm guessing the hermeneutics of "being good" and "knowing you're not God" reaches from here to Betelgeuse.

The one thing that really differentiates humans from animals is that we don't HAVE to act like animals. While the hard-wired programming of instinct has a more profound and pervasive influence on our behavior than many of us like to admit, we nevertheless have evolved minds with the capacity to over-ride that underlying programming. We can choose to not act the way that animals naturally would under the circumstances. Thus you have firemen plunging into a burning building that any animal would run away from.

Not really over-ride, more like understand, manage, and suppress. Firemen experience fear, they just know how to deal with it. And that comes from a lot of backup, training, and practice. And they still get injured, burned, or killed.

Our higher reasoning is barely 100K to 200K years old, while the mammalian (limbic) and reptilian (r-complex) brains, upon which higher reasoning is built, are hundreds of millions of years old. There's a lot of baggage in there. And when higher reasoning fails an individual, too much or conflicting information, it's a survival mechanism to turn to the more "primitive" functions.

Oh, and by the way, humans don't just act like animals. As a mammalian species, we are animals. Look it up.

We have intractable problems if we can't start dealing with humans as they are rather than how we think they should be.

We have intractable problems.

In the book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb (page 86) there is a section called Peer Cruelty

Essentially, he points out that there are 2 types of profession - steady and boring or lumpy and interesting. Being a landman is clearly in the latter category - you can work for years without reward and if you are lucky may make a fortune out of one deal.

The problem is how to deal with the comparison between your apparent "failure" when your wife is comparing you to her sister's husband - a "successful" car salesman. You may have to put up with years of apparent failure before, if you are lucky, making it. In retrospect, everyone will say that they knew you had it in you.


Maybe I need to go back and post some of those comments you made to me a few days ago when I questioned the usage of the FAQ rules on postings(or the lack of them) and you called me very rude and ugly names.

A "hick" I was. All I knew was the 'ass end of a mule" and more in the same vein. A real hatchet job. Did you feel better afterwards?

If I need to review it, please inform me so. I think though
that I have it correct. I did note that you had broken even more of the FAQ rules with that reply, more than the ones about sourcing,calling opinion/fact.etc.

Maybe YOU need to review it instead.

Airdale-still looking for that mule's ass end


go right ahead. Its always easier to look at someone elses behaviour than look at your own. And scapegoating was the thing I called you out on-but hey, now you can discount me and pose more effective ad hominem attacks in the future!

I owe any stability I have in my life to AA, and it has worked for the past 28 years, and I'm an agnostic so I don't know what that says.

I think that Bob is right and that the only way for us to survive will be to pool our skills and support each other, It wont be easy and we may die in the attempt but at least we would not "go gently into that good night"

I am 70 and I can recall some of life in the oil scarce civilian life during WW2 in the UK, A lot of horse and cart and battery vehicle deliveries, producer gas generators towed behind buses. steam trains,bicycles, street cars. Food growing (Dig for Victory). Food, clothing, etc rationed, Standing in line for everything, coal shortages, everything shortages, but survival.

People took care of each other, not all the time, but enough

It was not an unhappy childhood.

That is why I have some hope although I could well be wrong

Quite a revelation for TOD there, Mr. Bob sir, and I thought we were supposed to remain anonymous at the level of press, radio, and film?

Oh dear, now I've gone and done it, too.

the big book and the 12 and 12 don't mention internet. And my motive was not to boast or engage in a self-agrandisement, but rather share how I've come to want to help others. But if you don't like it, that's your problem, not mine.

The poor of the world. Let them eat cake or dieoff. What other choice do they really have?

Have you ever seen a person go "backwards" in their life not out of choice? It creates huge traumae for the entitled, it changes their mindset, makes them less social, not more.

Been there, done that. It took me about ten years to get my financial life built back to a lower but relatively secure and sustainable level. Now I'm glad I'm no longer living that former life.

A lot of it depends on mindset and values. If you define your entire sense of self-worth and purpose in life in terms of an ambitious climb up the ladder and the obsessive accumulation of stuff, then the tumble down will indeed be extremely traumatic, and quite possibly fatal. Fortunately for me, my ambitiousness was of a more modest and curable variety; ditto with my acquisitiveness. I'm now here to tell you that there are more important things in life than the box in which one resides in an organizational chart or the number of steps and backsides over which one has climbed up the pyramid. Furthermore, life does not consist only of the size of one's paycheck or the stuff bought with it.

I don't want to seem snarky or unsympathetic, but people in the third world can easily switch back to donkeys and camels to transport their goods. -- while Western suburbanites will cut back on trips to the nail salon.

Easily? NOT.

1. The population has doubled or tripled since donkeys were in vogue.

2. Donkeys and camels have to be fed. The land required to produce food for livestock is significant and competes with human needs.

3. Donkeys and camels have to be produced in significant quantities and that takes time.

The backbreaking labor in Africa will revert to human backs I'm afraid. You go to work with the animals you have, to paraphrase the Donald (Rumsfeld).

Yes you are snarky. Where is the third world farmer going to get the capital to buy a donkey and a cart? How much of his production is now lost to feeding the donkey or else how much must he spend?

Get real. Donkeys are not free nor is the maintenance of them free. Sheesh.

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett
Into the Grey Zone


My suggestion-the three wheel bicycles with a trailer like Beggar uses and posts the picture of sometimes. It would make great practical aid for Africa, or for that matter here to transition from fossil fuel.or other designs-I'm not familiar with them, but maybe he or some other person could post us some links here. Fat tire bikes can make it on very primitive roads and paths.

Livestock does need to be fed, but some is better than others. Donkeys and camels both do o.k. on desert and semi-arid vegetation. Goats and some breeds of sheep too.Oxen and horses have a great water requirement that make them marginal for many areas, while if you expect them to have time to work instead of browsing, grain.

You're definitely right about the capital. Expecting persons with $3 per day per capita income to invest is cruel and insane, and thats 1/4th of the worlds population.
Bob Ebersole

Yes, bikes are a good idea now, but ...

Where do these resources come from, the rubber, wood, metal for tires and frames, and energy to build, transport, and maintain the same, where they won't already be in extreme or critical demand by someone else?

If we are prosperous, we could buy one ourselves, and if we are both prosperous and generous, buy them for others and give them away.

Jeffry often mentions bicycle repair as a productive after the crash trade. This might be a good addition for the business.
Bob Ebersole

I suspect UK prices might be crazy but...

thanks pondlife, that's exactly the type of bicycles I meant. They are very common in Mexico and Central America, but surely not starting at 700 lbs. sterling. Galveston has at least a couple of people who have converted their bicycles to fishing bikes, with rod holders and baskets for fish and ice. Some companies on the docks used to use bicycles with walky-talkies to deliver tools and supplies around a job site, and when I was a kid drugstore would have kids deliver perscriptions ect., and small grocers to deliver phoned in orders.

I guess because we all do it, people forget how fantasticially expensive autos are in our budgets. Even to just keep one parked, the maintainence, insurance and depreciation add up to at least $300 a month a vehicle.Bob Ebersole

Even to just keep one parked, the maintenance, insurance and depreciation add up to at least $300 a month a vehicle

Not for my 1982 M-B 240D :-)

Insurance - $53/month

Depreciation - Since I hope to keep it till someone takes my keys away in 30 years or so, perhaps $25/month (I paid $11,500 for a very low mileage car in perfect condition).

Maintenance - Oil change 1/year or so. Change radiator fluids every 3 years, same for brake fluid, rubber also decays with time not miles (tires both). Ignition key is showing wear so I need to replace soon. Say $20/month with some minimal driving ?

Since I drive @ 180 miles/month (5 to 6 gallons of diesel), my actual costs are closer to $30 to $35/month.

I knew what I was doing when I bought Otto (inside engineering joke).

Best Hopes for Reliable Evacuation Vehicle :-)


We just ordered a Rhoades Car, and while they're not exactly cheap (ours came to about three grand), we're convinced that it will turn out to be a good investment.

Looks interesting. Please do a follow-up post on a future Drumbeat when you have gotten delivery and use dit a bit.

Here is my mighty Azor:

Not cheap by any means! But I can haul 100 pounds of whatever and the bike does not complain in the least. Stainless steel rims, wide tires, heavy duty luggage racks, etc.

Do the math...

A bike weighs about 20 pounds, a car weighs about 3 or 4 thousand pounds. One car equals 150 to 200 bicycle's worth of raw materials. Plus... a bike is almost 100% recycleable.

My guess is that if we were to use the retired cars currently in our landfills, we'd have enough steel and aluminum to fulfill our bicycle needs indefinitely.

If we were to replace cars with bicycles tomorrow, peak oil and CO2 emissions concerns would go away for centuries. For sure... a lot of folks would have a tough commute, but change is always difficult. Moving from cars to bikes is arguably less traumatic than getting shot at, bombed, terrorized, unemployed, or otherwise starved to death... which are the likely Peak Oil options.

Here's the kicker... for a relatively large segment of the population, it is do-able. Most folks can ride a bike 5 or 10 miles, given safe routes. And a lot of those same folks might be surprised at how much they would NOT miss their cars once they got past the inertia that defines our hedonic lifestyle.

Take it one, very small, step further and electrify the bikes using current technology, like in-hub dynamoes, and the commuting issue is probably 80% solved.

There will be metals available, and we have already done the high energy part of production--
SUV's will make great shelters also---
I don't think access to steel will be a problem, but rarer metals will be---
Steel is lying all over the place---- I just took a walk in a redwood forest, and found available steel from pre- 1930-

yes but how many here, raise of hands, has the knowledge right now and enough practice in blacksmithing?
It's not as simple as sticking a piece of metal in a any old fire or as one person here thought using the so called Archimedes death ray then pounding it with a hammer. It was not very easy for a average blacksmith in the middle ages to make even very poor quality steel that was used in a knight's armor and sword. It will be even tougher for wannabe blacksmith post peak to try to reshape high quality car or building grade steel no matter the mount of rust on it. also the middle ages type furnace might have trouble with exotic metal types too.


I'm not a welder or a metalurgist, but I've got several friends who make a lot of metal scupture, from equestrian statues to art cars.

Iron metals melt about 1500-1600 degress farenheight, copper around 1750, Tin about 450, lead about 650 and silicon (glass) about 2500 degrees. These are all doable in the home, people have been smelting metals for 2500 years at least. The secret to getting these temps are in fuels.

A fire requires a fuel and oxogen. In blast furnaces, the furnace is fed coke and oxogen, and coke is either a residual product in an oil refinery, or made by cooking coal, so a coal-to-kerosene plant will have a saleable prodcts beside just kerosene and coal gas,( this is whats wrong with our CO2 calculations in our analysis of the coal to whatever plants, the CO2 should be assigned 1in proportion to all the products, not just gasoline or Kerosene) its pure carbon. At any rate, a blast furnace feedsa steady stream of oxogen and coke and that makes it burn faster.

At any rate, when those guys are smelting at home they use pressured welding gases for fuel mixed with pressured oxogen, Another fuel that was used in more primitive processes is charcoal, with a fan or a bellows to force the air in the fire. But this is more suitable for wrought iron or welding.

Forming the metal can be done with either thhe lost wax process for making a mold, or a permanent metal mold as long as the mold has a higher melting point, or by pounding and shaping with a hammer and chisels. Blacksmiths also have grinding wheels, files and chisels that they use. But this is a genuine craft, and it takes years of working with metals to get this part right.

I swear that there are more people who talk through their hats on this site than any place around. Its not like the info is hidden, its on the internet and in thousands of books, plus if you go watch a real craftsman you can see a lot of stuff done. Most people really like you to take an interest in what they do, and are happy to demonstrate. It makes them feel good about what they do. ome of them even take apprentices, like a helper. Good AC mechanics, plumbers,car mechanics all do some of these crafts too.

And you'd better learn some of it, there aren't going to be too many systems designers jobs after the crash during brown-outs and with Indians soliciting your jobs over the internet. Try a metal shop class at your local community college , or take welding or a sheet metal course. But please stop talking doomer shit about things you know nothing about, its one of the main reasons the general public makes fun of peak oil people and environmentalists.
So far this evening I've had to explain about cows, horses and mules and their merits as draft animals, plus basic metalurgy that an ancient roman would know how to do. Last night I had to correct people about fertiliser, tell them how to build a worm farm and explain recycling paper on the NYC Keypost, its as though people have never turned a spade in a garden or read up on the worm farm ads in the back of Popular Mechanics, but please stop posting nonsense about stuff you've never done. There are guys making art bicycles. Go take them a six pack and get them to show you what they're doing, it might be fun.Make some friends.

Most people in this country who are skilled workmen do it by choice, they're not just some dumbass who could't get a job selling computers. They enjoy making things and being creative, and they are proud of their jobs.

OK rant over, I feel a little better.

Bob Ebersole

I know two (both worked in the streetcar barns) and Irish Channel Ironworks makes specialty ironwork (usually wrought iron, but some steel) for railings and other local needs. About ten blocks away.

Best Hopes for Old Skills,


And yet the scary thing is that any move towards less cars and more bicycles that might be happening in Western countries is being overwhelmingly swamped by the Chinese move away from bicycles and towards cars - which is, as I understand it, actual government policy.

Every time I use a bike for a short trip (<7km) with no need to carry significant cargo (and assuming clement weather), I honestly wonder why people see any advantage in cars. Unless there is really is no traffic at all, and parking is unlimited, biking is almost always just as fast if not faster, and certainly far more convenient - not to mention much cheaper and safer.

Of course for many people it's partly laziness, but when you look at what's happening in China I think it's also to some degree a prestige/status thing - and of course, once you've spent so much of your income on a car, and have to pay a large, flat yearly rate to maintain it, you feel like you want to get maximum use out of it. On top of that there's the perception that its unsafe - especially if the only realistic route requires that you main roads with heavy automobile traffic. I think all of these problems can be "fixed" though (well, maybe not the laziness issue), with a combination of advertising and more intelligent government and insurance policies.

America has been laid out to accommodate commuting by car, but most of America will accomodate scooters just as well.

In Taipei most people ride a scooter to work. These things are something between a Vespa and a motorcycle - they work OK on freeways.

If this kind of scooter were legal on the LA freeways, most people could switch to commuting by scooter. They cost a few thousand dollars, which amounts to a monthly payment of $50 or so? Lot cheaper than the gas for a car, even today.

In old cities like New York, a lot of people drive a car to a train station, then commute by train into the city. Those people can choose to swap out the car for a scooter today, because scooters are legal on local roads.

This is the "lowest-hanging" fat we can easily trim from American commuting waste.


I am the happy owner of just such a scooter. 90mpg. Best damned thing I ever did...and I love it.

they will be cool soon enough.

Cars will always be cooler than scooters, because cars are more expensive (i.e. rare.) The same has always been true, everywhere in the world. A horse was always cooler than walking.

Aircraft are even cooler than cars. John Travolta is the only private citizen to own and fly a 747. Wouldn't it be cool to hop a ride on that? Most people would say yes.

Compared to a car, a bike or scooter is sensible and frugal. Saying "it's cool to be frugal" is kinda bizarre. Being frugal requires not spending as much to seek people's approval. Being cool means being approved by people.


Sakaiya's book _The Knowledge-Value Revolution_ presents a slightly different hypothesis. He hypothesizes that it is cool to flaunt consumption of whatever is available plentifully, in surplus. For example, these days what is really cheap is fossil fuels. So the cool thing is to be extravagant and use such fuel extravagantly.

He presents a nice example of a shift in coolness. His example is from Japan but it holds in the West too I think. Before maybe WW1, labor was cheap. So people had lots of servants. After WW1, labor got scarce. Now it is not cool to have lots of servants.

A similar idea: fine old art is quite scarce. It it not cool to buy up such art to destroy it. What is cool is to preserve it very carefully.

Sakaiya points out that we are headed into fossil fuel shortages. This book is from the 1980s but is still well worth reading I think. A warning - the translation seems quite horrible! Not that I know any Japanese, but the ideas are quite nice, yet the expression is sloppy and twisted. I am just guessing the discrepency is because the author is a deep thinker and the translator couldn't follow!

So what Sakaiya proposes is that it will be information that will become cool to waste.

Actually, one could view the whole internet as a splendid fulfillment of his prediction!


That is the most interesting idea I've heard in a very long time. Thank you for explaining Sakaiya's hypothesis.

If there are bits of Japanese that need translation into English, I am happy to do the job for free.


An electric assist bicycle is even cooler :-)

BTW, could you resend the eMail you mentioned ?



I just got a scooter a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, it slipped out from under me in the first week and I got some nasty road rash. The helmet saved my face.

Just because it's a scooter that doesn't mean you don't need a helmet. So, go get a good helmet.

Much of what is called desert in Arizona would be called something else in the Middle East. Camels would have a ball over there.

This really happened in Australia and now the wild camels of Australia have increased in numbers dramatically over the past 80 years.

Now now Grey, just because you broke a nail there is no reason to get testy:)

I read that post by West as sarcasm, sort of in the line of my father rode a whatever, I ride a really hot whatever, and my son as you say can kiss his ass goodbye. The trip to the nail salon I think is` pretty easy we've all been going there..

On another point, my greatest fear at the moment is that we will be confronted with a serious recession, which will destroy US demand, but also squash serious investment in alternatives

Porfessor Goose
I would think that destroying US demand would be just what the Dr. ordered. (include US under the heading of 'destroyed western demand' if you like). As far as alternatives good luck with them good luck without them. Just like more roads equals more traffic more energy produced will just mean more energy used. I came in at a pop of 2.5 at 6.5 billion and climbing what would one expect as far as energy use. We are not interested in solving our real problem so it will solve itself.
If there is no Devil, then why do we dance with him?

Greyzone, others
I actually wasn't trying to be snarky. It just doesn't make sense to me. Why does the third world farmer need to own the donkey? Cannot he simply swap some of his produce as a transportation fee?

Where are the donkeys per capita figures? Camels per capita? Average distance from farm to market? What about World Bank and other development programs? Or studies? Responses have essentially no data.

The headline post is just a narrative without substance.

[snarky=on]What distinguishes this from doomer porn?[snarky=off]

Bob's reply probably said it best:

You're definitely right about the capital. Expecting persons with $3 per day per capita income to invest is cruel and insane, and thats 1/4th of the worlds population.

There's the problem in a nutshell. This is even why "microloans" and microcredit were invented and is how they change the face of the world one person at a time.

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett
Into the Grey Zone

.... and many people don't realize how third world countries have become very dependent on fossil fuels for running their agriculture over the past 30-40 years of the green revolution. The Pearl Buck picture of the peasant driving the oxen or working the fields by hand has been rapidly disappearing.

Yes,and the problem of cource is the world overpopulation. This problem WILL BE SOLVED by nature. Of course the poorest in densely populated areas will be the first on the dieoff list.


Your statement that third world can easily switch back to donkeys and camels to transport their goods reveals a profound ignorance of the "third world."

The third world, or at least the size of the third world, is largely due to the so-called "green revolution." This involved the rapid dissemination of first world, energy-intensive farming practices into the third world. Many traditional methods, including the use of pack animals, have gone by the wayside. While the population of humans increased exponentially, the pack animal population did not. And, I would like to point out that if a farmer switches to trucks to move their produce, they would have no incentive to keep a hungry animal around.

So, your answer is less snarky than wildly uninformed. As to your sympathy, clearly that is lacking as well.

There ARE estimated to be between 200-400 million cows in India. So maintaining huge populations of draft animals on limited forage does seem possible. Not sure about your point about traditional methods having gone by the wayside, could be something to that but I have to think those skill-sets could be relearned. Human ingenuity in the face of hardship is stunning. I certainly think the population of draft animals could be revived in a short time, given a need for them.

sldulin, have you ever seen an Indian cow-the full blood bramins are tiny, but I'm not talking about the ones bred for size in the US. Indian cows are maybe 48-60 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh maybe 500 lbs. Tiny.They don't castarate bulls, so no steer and tons of little range bulls.

Dairy is the orthodox Hindu substitute for meat. India south of the Himalayas is about 1/2 the size of the lower 48 and what now 1.3 billion people or so, but they are mostly vegetarian, certainly a lot less chicken or fish, some goats. Pre British the population was about 300K, so that's sustainable even with little medicine.

I don't know how many people in the US know how to train oxen, but we certainly have plenty of big cattle. Cattle take about 2 years to grow to maturity, but I have no idea if you want a draft ox to be smart or stupid. Docile is the code word for stupid in the cattle business. The old long horns are pretty smart, smart as a horse, and they are at least partly descended from draft oxen, they are old spanish cattle. A cow drops 1 calf every year and is fertile for about 10 years, so it shouldn't take too long.

A mule has about twice as much stamina plowing,are good riding, and are smarter, too. They are the preferred pack animal, also the Comanches preferred mule meat to horse or cattle ( TE Ferenbach on that one). So some dam horses and a jack ass would likely make a better post-crash business.
Bob Ebersole

"A mule has about twice as much stamina plowing..."

And they'll last your lifetime, too, unlike the ~20 years you'll get out of a horse. (A mule can live 70 years or more.)

:::: Jan Steinman, Communication Steward, EcoReality ::::

Bob, thx for your reply regarding Indian cattle, I've wondered about them, as the Brahmin cattle we see here are enormous. My point was that it seems natural to suppose that in a post-peak world, the human/domesticanimal ratio could be expected to shift a bit to more animals, even considering challenges to FF based agriculture and vulnerable distribution systems. I'm NOT predicting a return to the stone age. I would expect that our children's children will be familiar with both digital downloads AND how to harness a 2 horse team (or sail a skiff).Basic parameters of a not-bad life.

Mules are very smart compared to horses or oxen. The only problem with mules is that they need a smart man to manage them. If the mule-train driver gets them to pull hard and then they all fall forwards - they will never trust him again!

Hi Cherky,

I found the article a trifle uninformed too.

Imagine you own a small vegetable farm in Africa. You really need this one tank full of gasoline to transport your ripe produce to a market to make money and so to be able to buy vital supplies. You drive to the petrol station on your last couple of drops and find that the price has risen significantly since last week and you just don’t have the money to pay for enough gallons/litres to get you to the market and back again. Your produce will quickly rot in the sun, destroying your investment and probably even your livelihood. Even if you make it to the market somehow by quickly borrowing money to buy the fuel, your potential buyers will likely be so stretched that they cannot afford the usual amount of shopping and certainly not at the increased prices you have to ask for to compensate for the more expensive gasoline and to pay back your loan.

If you are on a farm in Africa I would say it would be more likely you would be indentured and working for the man and not growing veggies for the market. Likely growing coffee beans so that a lot of fat assed western latte eating layabouts could swan about imitation coffee houses feeling righteous, though as well these days, sad and fearful because all the screws staples and duct tape can't keep the economy together and soon they wouldn't be able to employ all those hapless ignorant blacks who would be lost without their guidance. What oh what would those burdens of the white man do...?

Well I guess those jigaboos would dance with glee and start ripping out all those coffee plants and once again grow all the things they used to grow to feed themselves, maybe they would even grow a little coffee for their own use this time and to hell with that gallon of gas.

If there is no Devil, then why do we dance with him?

Thanks for a very useful thought piece. I think of small farm households in the Andes, where I've had the great privilege to live and work over many years - many people who even now are still only partly dependent on the fossil-fueled market system. There is a widespread apprehensiveness people have, even in a big city like Lima, with throwing their lot in completely with the modern/urban/industrial/commercial/fossil-fueled system; many people make a point of returning to their home villages, often deep in the mountains, on annual feast days to maintain their ties to land and community - to be sure riding buses and trucks to do so. These people who stubbornly cling to such local ties, even those that have emigrated to the big city, may well have the last laugh, since their local, often periodic markets linking up mostly solar-powered agro-pastoral production systems will continue.

BTW, the word "Andes" comes from Quechua "ante-i" (from anti or inti = sun), meaning roughly "the place where the people of the sun live".

one of my sisters spent 3 years in Peru in the mountains. She said when somebody asked where she was from and said Texas, they would ask how many days burro journey it was... apparently they thought it was just another Andean mountain village Whats scary is that the same could be easily asked by one of our local rednecks"and how many days drive?"
Bob Ebersole

if you are so inclined... :)

Good starting point, but the argument doesn't track. The poor African farmer has only three energy sources, the sun, his labor and the fuel to get to market. Cutting the fuel is disastrous. The industrialized economy has several energy sources. Raising the cost of one enough quickly generates major rebalancing and substitution. Having many more options completely changes the vulnerability. Murray

You are correct that modern complex prosperous societies are far more resilient and able to cope with major disruptions than are simpler highly integrated cultures. However, the consequences of $100/barrel oil will be serious, the consequences of $200 oil majorly disruptive, and the probable consequences of $300 oil (all in 2007 U.S. dollars) disasterous to economies such as that of the U.S.

High prices alone--forget about actual shortages for the time being--can trigger massive increases in inflation combined with zero or negative economic growth. Speaking as an economist and a student of economic history, it is hard for me to escape the conclusion that in store for the U.S. and other modern societies are economic disruptions of a magnitude not seen since the Great Depression.

How effectively we in modern societies will deal with the disruptions caused by Peak Oil is the 64,000 X 1 trillion dollar question. Intelligent policies can make a great deal of beneficial difference, e.g. Alan Drake's proposals. Business as usual, head-in-the-sand policies can take a seriously bad set of problems and create much worse outcomes. I am not a doomer, but it would be foolish to dismiss collapse scenarios as impossible or implausible.

In economic terms the future is going to be harsher than the past. Hard times are coming, but how governments, communities, corporations, and families are going to deal with these hard times is not at all clear. The cornucopians are certainly wrong, but it is not by any means certain that the extreme doomers will prove to be wrong also. There are no good substitutes for cheap oil: That fact is fundamental and one from which we cannot escape.

Dan Sailorman is right. We cannot predict where on the bulls-eye the dart of peak oil will hit. But, as a student of economic history, Don surely knows about the evolution and dissolution of bubbles and manias. Many people know about the dot-com bubble and a few know about the many others such as the tulip mania, and as you know, these vaporware bubbles caused real hardship when they burst. The truth be told, we do not need tulips or the Internet to survive the next day or few decades, but we do need a constant input of fossil sunlight.

Here is where I think that many people make an incorrect connection. They equate a mania or bubble that involved such ephemera as tulips and dot-coms with the withdrawal of oil. These are not intimately related. When we withhold a crucial part of our daily needs, that is water or food, we may actually die. And there is nothing more frightening than a mob of people who have not eaten for a week rushing to greet your UN supply vehicle. Riots start at the drop of a hat even though they are unarmed and you carry H&Ks. So, the truth is fossil fuels which prop up our agricultural system are the underpinning link in so many crucial chains. Pull that pin and the result is not pretty.

Fuel too expensive for truck drivers? Expect food shortages in our just-in-time system within three days. What then? Obviously we cannot plant seeds and wait for mature plants. If we redirect fuel to critical needs, then all other needs suffer. Put a finger in the dyke and another leak springs up. If we do not feed people, they will be unable to work. If we feed people, some industry may not have the energy it needs to function. Economic contraction on a massive scale.

There is a lot of fat in the system, but removing that fat will be difficult. Some of it will self-apply. Unnecessary car trips will stop. But those trips often resulted in a purchase of something, a soda, something to eat, maybe a movie. The economy will suffer somewhat. There will be a countering balance. Less travel means less road wear and that means less costly road maintenance. But then the balance swings the other way. Less travel means fewer trips to the mechanic, to the auto body shop, to the car wash.

Once the consumer wrings out the fat in their energy misuse, what comes next? Factories can turn off unused lights, office workers can telecommute, and so on. But there is a problem. The basic paradigm of the capitalist system demands growth. This means that the economy will grow into the new roomier energy clothing and we will be back at shortage levels again, except we will have already cut the fat. Then what?

While I would like to believe that we will have a kinder gentler economic downturn, a recession rather than a depression, economic history does not in any way indicate that we could expect anything other than a real humdinger of a depression.

This is not doomerism, it is simple reality. When you live on a ship, you do not plan only for a little water in the scuppers, you plan for a gaping gash in the side of your vessel that gives you ten minutes to evacuate the ship. We should not plan as if we will certainly suffer only slightly in the event of a sudden drop in oil pressure. We must plan for the worst, as if the oil pan has dropped and we are in turn two at Daytona at 145 miles per hour with oncoming traffic.

Don't go into a four year war with a two day supply of bullets.

Don't open the space shuttle window to wave at the earth.

Don't use the pin on a hand grenade to clean your teeth.

Don't check the sofa for coins during a fire.


Don't drink and metaphor.

"Don't drink and metaphor"


It seems that there are many possible ripple effects that PO could trigger, and predictions made here or anywhere else are just guesses, of course. It is interesting to note the ripple effects that the housing downturn/subprime fiasco is having across the developed world already though... if such a small shift in one part of the economy can have such far-reaching effects, it does point to PO bringing major changes, and perhaps very swiftly too.

"You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created."
Albert Einstein

Increasingly I find myself making a concious effort to maintain a positive and optimistic attitude - even in the face of the facts, which would appear to show that we're going to hell in bucket!

Personally I don't believe we'll ever really see the full effects of Peak Oil, anyway not most of us on this site. That is probably a 'gift' we've reserved for our children.

I've always been rather sceptical about the longterm benefits of the 'capitalist, free-market, system' mostly on environmental grounds. It sometimes seems like the 'market' has grown like a cancer in our society; out of the marketplace in our old towns and cities, consuming and invading everything in its path. Destroying and smashing perhaps as much, if not more, than was created.

This may be the central paradox of Capitalism - that it has released truly earth-shaking power to transform our world, yet this power, unchained, unchallanged and unstoppable, may well lead to unparalelled destruction. It's almost like we've made a faustian bargain with a force, let's call it Satan for fun, that we don't really fully understand and the 'price' we must pay in this bargain is hidden from us behind a conjured veil.

It's this 'veil' that interests me at present. The veil has subtly altered the way we think and perceive reality, so that we no longer really 'see' the world as it really is. The profound consequence of this, is that we don't actually see the need for fundamental, structural, change; because the veil has become so successful in sluring our focus and vision.

What I'm trying to say is, that we desparately need to do is re-focus our vision on reality rather than the 'myth' that 'Satan' has sold us in this rigged and twisted bargain we've unthinkingly entered into.

The myth is that we can maintain almost infinite growth on a finite planet. Perhaps even calling it a myth is inaccurate. Perhaps it's just a huge, all-consuming, Lie.

Even now, when the wheels are starting to wobble, it's not in principle too late to change course, only this will require massive intellectual effort, courage and white-hot honesty about the true nature of the global society we have created, or sold our souls for.

We have to break the bargain with Satan, win our souls back, rip the veil to shreds, or sit back and ride the bucket down to hell.

There is an old fairy tale, I don't remember the name (or the details exactly, but the main thing).

A poor fisherman catches a magical fish, who says "Let me go and I will give you three wishes"

He asks for prosperity enough and the fish grants it. He is no longer poor and has enough to eat.

His wife asks why they could not wish to be rich? He returns to the sea and calls for the fish. The once blue sky has darkened with clouds.

He asks the fish to be wealthy and the fish grants it. He is now very wealthy, but it does not take long to get used to great wealth. He asks, why can I not be king and rule the world?

He returns to the sea. It is dark and storming. He calls to the fish. It appears.

He asks the fish to be king and rule the world. The fish says "No, this I cannot grant!". And with that the fisherman loses everything and is reduced to poverty again, and is left deeply unhappy.

I don't know when this story was written. I read it as a child (70's). It seems to me that humanity has overreached itself before, and these fairy tales are left as a warning to those who come after to live modestly. Personally, this story reminds me of global warming.

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

The (short) story of the Japanese stonecutter is similar, but with an important different twist.

Nice! The stone cutter is very Buddhist. Reincarnation and everything.

They have a link to the fisherman and his wife story. It is much more complex than I remember it.

The man did not want to go, but neither did he want to oppose his wife, so he went back to the sea.

Ah! :) There, 95% of oil consumption explained.

Reading this, I am immediately reminded of something written over 150 years ago. In the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx praises capitalism for the enormous developments it has brought to humankind, then goes on to foretell that it will become a curse, that capitalism will turn everything into a commodity, and all human relations will be governed by the profit motive. Many people on TOD have remarked that we will need some kind of planned economy to have any hope of solving (or at least surviving) the coming problems. That a backward country like Russia was not able to make a planned economy work successfully doesn't mean we can't do it.
Trying to manipulate the capitalist market to make the changes we need won't work, because the capitalists control everything with their money, and they won't let you make the changes we have to make to survive. Competition forces them to concentrate on short-term profits. Even if they see the need for, and want, to make long-term major changes to help the country as a whole, if they do, this will usually hurt their own companies economically. As Marx pointed out, capitalism changes and evolves, and today we have Enron and Halliburton style capitalism to deal with.
The reason capitalism has to keep on expanding forever, is that capitalism produces profits, which have to be reinvested as capital to make more profits. After all, what else could they do with their money? If they used it for any other purpose, their competition would have more money than they would. and beat them.
Authoritarian democratic cooperative societies are going to have the best chance of getting through the coming crises.

Oh really? We can switch over instantly to electrified transport? We can switch over instantly to nuclear electricity generation?

Oh we cannot, can we? We have to invest capital first, don't we? There is time lag, isn't there? There is the political will to actually make the switch needed, isn't there?

If the price of any energy source rises too fast there will be shortages. You cannot just create hundreds of nukes overnight and turn them on. You cannot throw out the investment in fossil fueled infrastructure overnight. It has to be amortized to pay off the debt that was taken on to create it. And if you do NOT pay off that debt you are defaulting, sending the entire economy straight to hell in a handbasket.

The industrialized economy has potential access to many energy sources but actually bringing them online involves time, capital, and recognition of the need to switch. The question is whether we have enough of all three to make that transition or not. This is a legitimate problem and the assumption that we will make the switch borders on religious lunacy. It is a faith based position. A scientific position would examine all the above factors and would further craft policy that would ensure that we move quickly enough to avert disaster. To rely on the "free market" (what a laugh!!) is asinine and is actually grossly irresponsible.

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett
Into the Grey Zone

How many options do we really have?

On any meaningful scale we have nuclear, coal, methane, and petroleum. However diesel fuel is required to power the trains that take coal from the mine to the plant. So when we have less oil, we have less diesel fuel, we then effectively have less coal. If we convert coal into oil to power the train, we again have less coal.

When we lose an option, it affects our other options as well. We aren't much better off than the poor African farmer, because at least in the event of his losing the sun (from too much cloud cover), losing his motor fuel, or losing his own labor, he knows he's screwed.

We, too, are losing a primary energy source that we use to get all our necessities and which we use to get other primary energy sources. How do rising oil costs affect the current operating costs of the coal mine, the natural gas plant, the nuclear plant?

Our global, complex, interconnected system gives us a little more time to deal with the problem, but we're ultimately in dire straits just like the poor farmer. More fractal self-similarity.

However diesel fuel is required to power the trains that take coal from the mine to the plant

Note the Burlington Northern Line out from the Powder River Basin of Wyoming. And the Pittsburgh to Harrisburg section (already electrified from Harrisburg to Philadelphia).

Best Hopes for Electrified Railroads,


Thanks for your straightforward description of how life with energy depletion may develop around the globe. It is obvious that the poorer countries will suffer first -- some are doing so now. Many people I talk with seem to think our industrialized world will be immune, but as you point out, the same problems arise here as well.

Continuing with the thoughts in your last paragraph, one area of concern is the problem of keeping manufacturing and technology moving forward. They will face growing shortages of what I call "feedstocks," and as a result, may move into a period of negative growth.

Let me give you an example. I work with a young inventor in AZ who has developed a unique new design for an LED lamp to replace 12-volt incandescent bulbs. It was based on a somewhat unique LED chip manufactured in the Far East. We started 18 months ago to introduce this product to the RV and boating industry, and the success and interest has been very good. But when we started to ramp production, our LED vendor in the Far East proved to be incapable of providing quality product in sufficient quantity. I ran out of product to sell, and the project went to standby until another LED source could be located and qualified.

That LED chip we needed was our feedstock, and without a supply we had no business. Luckily, we have found a replacement, but it has cost us six months at the wrong time.

That kind of episode will be repeated over and over when our country (and the rest of the world) starts into the slide that comes with oil depletion. Companies will be forced to trim their product lines, and some component used by one company will no longer be available. More and more will become obsolete. I fear it will be an ever-expanding spiral downward.

How long before your laptop or PC quits working and needs to be replaced? How long do you think Intel can keep making Pentium processors? I know from experience electronics die off after a time, even without the obsolescence effect. What about the wide-screen TVs and satellites and GPS? How long will all our toys keep operating?

IMO, we could very well enter into a period of negative growth in technology, as more and more of our toys (and manufacturing systems) die off and leave no progeny, no alternative. It will be insidious, but as time passes, it will be inexorable. There won't be enough knowhow or the tools or the parts or even people left around to keep our technology machine going.

Sam Penny
the Prudent RVer

What makes sense to me is that the hardship will start around the edges (among the poorest) in Western countries. It seems that the US is inclined to act out aggressively given the current king, which will result only in loss of life and further depletion. As prices increase, the middle class will be affected. I don't go to nail salons as it is. I cut my own hair. However, I do drive 21 miles to work. Every day I wonder how long I will be able to keep that up. Typically, I have driven 10 miles or less to work, sometimes using the bus. After 10 months of unemployement, I chose a longer commute to bring in income. While we have more options than african or asian countries, they are not good options. Coal is one of the options. As depletion becomes more obvious, we will have fewer options. Our lack of preparation as a nation will make the US highly vulnerable. European nations plan. Americans believe in the free market til doomsday.

thats why Alan Drakes Electrification of Rail idea is a necessity, not a choice. Have you contacted your local congressman about these problem, have you referred him (or her) to Professor Goose's Threads. We need to set up a nationwide campaign to get this on their radar screens, and quickly. First let's get names of people in every state and congressional district, then lets all agree to email or mail them a package.

If you are interested in helping out, I need emails, names, addresses and congressmen. Please email them to me at Bob Ebersole two thousand and four (numeric, all lower case and run together at
I want this on the presidential and congressional campaigns. I've never worked at this kind of thing on the internet, so anyone that could help please, email me. I'm not experienced enough at this kind of thing to be the person heading it up, so real executive types or fundraiser types email me too.
Bob Ebersole

Bob, watch for the Energize America threads this week...there's a lot of good stuff in there (including some rail that Alan can chew on).

How long before your laptop or PC quits working and needs to be replaced? How long do you think Intel can keep making Pentium processors?

I spent 20 years in the chip business, so these questions really resonate for me. The fundamental fact about the chip business is that it runs on volume. The overhead is astronomical. A chip factory costs a few billion dollars. The processing has many steps that involve super high tech equipment with an army of PhDs to keep things running. But once the manufacturing line is in place, maybe ten thousand chips a day can be pumped out, at an incremental cost of - well, I don't know, but maybe tens of dollars each, if not less.

One reinforcing feedback loop has driven the industry - the higher the production volume, the lower the price can be set, because the huge overhead is amortized over that larger volume. So sales goes up and prices go down. Not your garden variety economics! Though of course at some point some kind of diminishing returns will always come into the picture to limit production.

Another dominating dynamic has been Moore's Law. The increasing volumes yield increasing operating profits which get fed into development of even fancier technology - higher overhead but lower unit cost, e.g. the shift to 300 mm wafers.

What seems to be happening now is that the industry is having a very difficult time pushing the technology. The clearest evidence of this is the emergence of multi-core chips. Anybody would rather have one CPU that's twice as fast instead of two CPUs. But it is becoming infeasible to make faster CPUs!

Anyway, reinforcing feedback loops can run in two directions! If volumes start to drop, then prices will have to go up to cover the overhead. That is a nasty spiral!

Of course overhead comes in two flavors - the initial cost of building the factory, and the cost of keeping it running. Maybe we can just stop the train and hold the technology right where it is, use the machinery we have to keep producing the same old chips on the same old machines. It's a tricky game though. A lot of the diagnostic equipement, e.g. electron microscopes, that you need to maintain the operation of a working factory, the microscope maker might be staying in business because of all the advanced research work, that's what keeps the microscope maker's volume high. The unit cost of microscopes could sky-rocket if the advanced research disappears.

Tricky business!

If we dumped M$ products our systems would last much, much longer. I'm still buying 486/100 boxes for utility duty ... FreeBSD runs just fine.

I've been predicting a plateau in computer technology for about the last fifteen years. I think I've personally reached it with my Thinkpad X40 - light, relatively fast, and I'd buy a dozen for spares. Long life is going to become more important than the need for speed.

I'd buy a dozen for spares.

In 1981 I was using an IBM 360/65 that was running a similarly ancient version of OS?MFT. The IT team had stopped updating the operating system and was just patching bugs. The machine essentially never crashed any more from operating system bugs. But the hardware, maybe 15 years old or so, was getting CPU parity errors, so it was replaced shortly thereafter.

So a stabiity strategy seems like it ought to work, just to stop technology advancement and to fine tune and clean up what we have. This ought to work as a way to maintain robust and efficient machines.

But it is really a big change from the current economics of the electronics business. Look at musical recordings! I am sure glad I didn't spend a lot of money stockpiling styluses for my LP cartridges!

A lot of it depends on what you are using computers for. For example, I think the NSA uses Multics. That was peak operating system technology, from about 1968. Unix was a pared down version of Multics, for the personal minicomputers DEC was making and Bell Labs was buying around 1971. Of course M$ came out of TRS-80 and similar stuff - unprincipled hobbyist glop. Anyway, NSA can use Multics because they don't exchange data with anybody!

But if you want to use a computer as a communication tool, then you're pretty much stuck surfing the shifting standards. The whole industry seems to be built on shifting standards. How to restructure, to batten down the hatches and weather the storm - it does look like we need stable standards. That is a huge change. From an engineering perspective, it is a move to sanity. But from a business perspective, it looks like suicide. Or anyway like hibernation or suspended animation or something similarly un-fun.

Looks like a big challenge!

Roger K

Although these discussions of the details of how oil shortages will be translated into economic suffering are interesting, I find them to be somewhat beside the point. The point being that sooner or later oil depletion will cause economic growth to stagnate or decline. Increased efficiency of energy use may be able to maintain economic growth for a while, but as Davidyson correctly points out, the important energy conserving technique of reducing consumption would have a depressing effect on the economy. Given our current economic institutions the end of growth will undoubtedly cause severe problems. But rather than speculating about the detailed development of those problems, our intellectual energy would be better spent speculating about the kinds of economic and social institutions which are required to create a stable functioning social system in a post-growth world.

The problem is that the key institutions of private finance capitalism (the banking system and the stock market) cannot function in an environment of constant or declining output. That this assertion is true can be understood in a simple fashion.

First consider the banking system. If society’s total output of economic goods and services is constant or declining then the purchasing power represented by banking system reserves cannot be increasing. Or at least it could be increasing only if bankers and people with holdings in banks were getting richer at the expense of the rest of society, a situation which could continue only for a finite period of time. Another way of saying the same thing is to say that when the output of economic goods and services stops growing, real interest will cease to exist. Of course fake, inflationary interest could still exist depending on the details of monetary policy. If no possibility of real bank reserve growth exists, then for-profit banks in the sense that they exist today can no longer function.

Similar conclusions can be reached about the stock market. If the total output of economic goods and services is not increasing, then the purchasing power represented by stock funds cannot be increasing. The fundamental physical process of capitalism is the present provision of goods and services to production enterprises in return for future production of goods and services enabled by the provided capital. In an environment of constant overall economic output this exchange of present goods for future goods will, on average, be an equal exchange. That is the value of the future goods produced will equal the value of the present goods provided to enable the production process. The average equality of this exchange is the definition of a zero growth economy. The function of capital investment in such an economy will be to preserve wealth not to increase it. Therefore, the stock market as a general money making institution will no longer be possible.

If our economy is not to end up as a low tech village style communism, then fundamentally new methods need to be found for capitalizing new production enterprises and for extending credit to existing production enterprises. Asking people to embrace voluntary simplicity while leaving the institutions of private finance capitalism untouched is not going to produce a sustainable economic future.

Even in a declining output economy, stock markets etc. can continue to function, and will still remain the best way of allocating even declining capital stocks. The problem is, ‘productive’ investment will require risk adjusted returns as great as any other investment, including oil.

If Peak Oil becomes accepted wisdom, and there is widespread belief that it will lead to a long period of rising oil prices, as well as declining prices of other assets, people will sell other assets for oil until oil prices are so high, and other prices so low, they all start moving in step again. Only then are other asset classes attractive. Matt Simmons’ $200/barrel may not be nearly high enough to effectuate this.

Back in the .com days, when the Dow first broke 10,000, I bet someone it would hit a low of 5,461 before it ever hit the 40,000 fashionably bandied about back then. Barring some seriously inflationary monetary policy, I might still end up in the money on that one.

You mystify me. How can the stock market function if the real average return on investment is negative? We are not talking about the collapse of an overvalued market while real underlying productivity improvements continue forwards. We are talking about a real permanent decline in physical output. Money made by investors represents the right to consume economic output. If real physical output is stagnant or declining then investors can increase their right to consume economic output only by impoverishing somebody else. You need to stop being mesmerized by financial jargon and start thinking in terms of real physical productivity.

Of course our present system is way too complicated for me to understand! But it seems to me that some kind of stock market can work even with declining productivity. There just needs to be some kind of positive productivity.

The most primitive example would seem to be a farm field. If a farmer can produce more food than he eats, then there is a surplus that can be sold. The owner of the field can be somebody different than the farmer. The owner and the farmer can split the surplus. The owner's share of the surplus, that is the return on the owner's investment.

You seem to be missing the point. If a lot of highly productive land was lying about unexploited then there would be a real opportunity for productivity improvement and thus for successful investment. If on the other hand productive land is already highly exploited then the opportunity for investment is much more limited. If I happened to have some excess money I might buy some land from a farmer who is abandoning the business and rent it to someone else for a share of the profits. But if the overall productivity of land is not increasing then my profits comes at the expense of a poorer existance for my tenant relative to the original farmer-owner. If such a process of 'invesment' continues we end up with class of relatively rich owners and a class of miserable tenants who are bare ekeing out a subsistence living.

In the past wealth was accumulated over generations by merger (marriage or conquest). Usury was illegal (in a flat or declining economy it is very difficult pay back a loan).

So, are the the investment tools of modern capitalism high tech inventions? Or would they have been invented long ago, if a long growth economy had existed and allowed them to function?

I expect insurance would still be very popular, because that spreads risk. If you cannot get credit, some kind of insurance would be needed to handle crop failures, etc.

I remember reading the Domesday book in collage (a kind of 1000 ad census) and then about how war reduced many of the holdings described in it to wasteland. There are many reasons the population might cycle below the carrying capacity, and then slowly rise up again. One could imagine a sort of long term sine wave, wobbling up and down. On the up, stock markets work! On the down, well, failing stock markets help push them down faster!

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

If such a process of 'invesment' continues we end up with class of relatively rich owners and a class of miserable tenants who are bare ekeing out a subsistence living.

Isn't that how things been through all history? I don't see why the peaking of petroleum production is liable to change it.

Yes, it has been that way throughout history. But the large productivity improvements of the last two hundred year have relatively improved the situation. If someone invests in a new technology which improves real productivity then workers and tenants can have increased standards of living too. This is the reason why security guards and grocery store clerks have access to varieties of physical wealth the pharoh's of Egypt could not have dreamed about. If history is destiny then feudalism is our future. My hope is that relatively democratic methods of social investment can be found that will allow wealth preservation without the creation of class of serfs.

My hope is that relatively democratic methods of social investment can be found that will allow wealth preservation without the creation of class of serfs.

I share the hope. The massive changes that peak petroleum production are bringing certainly provide an opportunity. Points of instability are sensitive to small impulses that can send a system into different new patterns.

Somehow my thinking these days is captured by the distinction between root vegetables and grains. Grains more easily allow accumulation of great wealth, which then motivates militarization.

It's a bit like that type of money where the value declines automatically. E.g. the Woergl script:

that type of money where the value declines automatically

Demurrage, that's what it's called.

If things get that bad, the real return from any asset will be negative. Not just stocks. Even in such a world, the most productive companies, which are the only ones to make it past IPO, will perform better than less productive ones. Hence, they will remain the single best place to keep your savings, even if all you accomplish is sliding into poverty slightly slower than the next guy. Remember, in this world there are NO non declining investments, since as soon as one surfaces, its price will ‘instantly’ be bid up to the point where it, too, is priced high enough to resume its decline in step with everything else.

Since it is also an asset, not even oil is immune to the above logic. As soon as there is general agreement that we are in an open ended period of negative growth, and that oil is getting increasingly scarce, investors will quickly trade out of stocks and into oil (futures) in volumes large enough for expected future returns from oil and stocks to realign. No one in their right mind will buy stocks if it is obvious that oil will provide higher returns.

Still, even in the most extreme circumstances, the combined value of owning every single certificate of stock issued by every single company in America will likely remain more valuable than a fractional barrel of oil, so this trading of stocks for oil is bound to end somewhere. I was just suggesting it might not end with oil at merely $200/barrel, and/or the Dow still above 5461.

The virtual person corporation is, by definition, a sociopath, and a cheap energy addict. When cheap energy goes the corporation as an organizational unit will undergo the same sort of things that happened to monarchy. How many monarchies are left today? What has taken their place?

The village, the city state, and the nomad band are organizational constructs more likely for the 21st century man than the transnational corporation. Their cheap energy culture plate is about to get very inhospitable.

"If things get that bad, the real return from any asset will be negative"
while i agree that investment will be much harder, that phrase should be "If things get that bad, the average real return from an asset will be negative"
Just as now, during a time of growth, people can loose money, during a time where the stock market is falling there will still be stocks and options that represent true investment opportunities (ie, you get back more buying power than you put in) this is possible because your investment also allowed the person invested in to have a greater return that without your investment and/or the current price for something did not represent its true value (also quite possible with the economic turmoil that will occur).

I absolutely agree with that sentiment. Peak Oil, or even Peak Energy, won’t make every single venture unprofitable. But, even if it did manage to do so for a period, that still wouldn’t mean a stock market couldn’t function.

If I invest in a company in return for a share of the profits, that company cannot pay me anything unless it creates real wealth. If it does so without harming or diminishing wealth creation elsewhere in the economy then the newly created wealth represents real economic growth. This process is not finding a niche in a stagnant economy; It is growth plain and simple. If on the other hand the company in question cannot succeed without taking resources from some other production enterprise and causing it to fail, then my gain is somebody else’s loss. If in a zero growth economy a group of investors are consistently increasing their net worth, then somebody else is getting poorer. A failure to understand this fact is a failure to understand basic arithmetic.

In point of fact investing in production enterprises that do not increase society’s net wealth will be necessary. If, for example, in a few year time skyrocketing prices for natural gas drive us to replace natural gas fired generation with renewable generation and the renewable generation is in fact more expensive per unit of net energy delivered, then the installation of that generation is not going to increase society’s wealth. It is mere going to keep our wealth from diminishing faster than it would otherwise. If the growth of renewable generation is driven by private investors increasing their net worth, then the rest of society will be getting poorer. Wealth maintaining investments (as distinguished from wealth increasing investment) must be social in nature. It is not possible for you to increase you net worth by investment without harm to someone else’s wealth unless your investment also increases society’s net worth.

I might be misunderstanding you, but it seems to me you are mistaking a zero growth economy for the classic example of a zero sum one. In the zero sum case, the defining characteristic is that no action taken by any actor influences the total size of the pie, which is fixed a priori. Hence, one man’s gain is inevitably another’s loss.

In a real economy this is not the case, regardless of whether real growth is positive or negative. How efficiently economic actors allocate resources over a period, will in either case influence growth rate over that period.

Say, for example, I can afford 100 ears of corn today, but, due to negative growth, only 50 next year, and that this is the case for everyone else, too. Now, if instead of keeping my assets under the mattress, I invest them in a company that develops a way of growing corn more efficiently, the combined effect of more abundant corn, and my stocks’ appreciation, may allow me to buy 90 ears next year, for a ‘gain’ of 40. I’m poorer than at the outset, but I still had an incentive to make the investment.

At the same time, more abundant corn also enables those that didn’t invest to buy 60 ears, instead of the 50 they could afford were it not for me ‘getting rich’. So, despite negative growth, the ‘normal’ rules of the market still apply.

Peak Oil may well lead to periods where many will be poorer than they were the year before, i.e. negative growth, but that doesn’t mean the invisible hand will somehow be chopped off at the wrist.

We are talking about a real permanent decline in physical output.

Not necessarily. We are not now facing peak energy, we are facing peak fossil fuels. For some reason people can not accept that we have an essentially unlimited supply of fission fuel (I know, many think otherwise). It also might be possible to some day harness enough wind and solar to grow physical output above where it is today. We may choose not to do so and it also might not be possible to transition to a new energy base because the severity of the short term shortfall destroys modern civilization. But permanent decline is not the only possible outcome.

It is possible that we transition, after a downturn of a few decades, to a nuclear, solar, wind powered world with electric transportation and use the plentiful low grade hydrocarbons for plastic, fertilizer and the like. Even if we do not like this idea we should not rule out this possibility. It might be more easily achieved than many of us think.

I am sceptical about nuclear fission being able to maintain current wealth levels, for one reason because of the problems of turning electricity into transportation fuel. It can be done of course, but I believe it will results in a substantially higher transportation cost than do fossil fuels. But even if I am wrong, neither nuclear fission nor any other energy technology can fuel everlasting growth. Sooner or later our economic system must enter a state of wealth maintance rather than a state of constantly increasing wealth. Wealth maintaining enterprises (as distinguished from wealth increasing enterprises) cannot be financed by private investors attempting to continuously increase their net worth. Some form of social investment will be required.

Gas/electric hybrids as nearly cost competitive with conventional cars today. Eventually, we will have to switch to plugin hybrids or all electric cars. There might also be some other way to fuel them I would still expect that the energy to synthesize the fuel will come from fission (and eventually wind and solar as well). You could be right that cars will never be as widespread as they are now.

Uranium is a common element in the earth's crust and is expected to be exploitable at high EROI even at many orders of magnitude lower concentrations than today's ores. When you throw in Thorium and other fuels cycles, fission fuel may well last until the sun consumes the earth. We are talking at least thousands of years and probably a few more orders of magnitude more than that. For practical purposes fission fuel is inexhaustible.

Clearly other resources, such as arable land and water will be limiting factors sooner than that. I favor a lower population and less resource consumption but not getting there through a big die-off.

When oil production declines the challenge will be shifting away from use of liquid fuel toward electricity. We can make as much energy as electricity as we get from oil.

Capitalists who develop ways to substitute electricity for oil will make fortunes as oil production declines.

Hey hey Roger K,

I completely agree with you. I think this is one of the most serious issues for a post peak world. We need to be focusing on a system that can make long term investments that can take 30-100 years to pay off. Also, interest on loans needs to be addressed. Fractional banking with interest is only tenable in an economy with exponential growth.

This is going to require a major revisioning of our current capitalist system. We will need to forge an economic system in which utility to society is at least as important as monetary return on investment.

I can see the problem with stocks as well. When the future prospect of a corporation are tanking, the value of the corporation goes down until it equals the price one could get for selling off all the assets unless the corporation is in debt, in which case it goes to zero.

The solution I propose is socializing the ownership of industry, but retaining a market economy:
Commonwealth economics, see previous post here

Worker owned business. In essence, the benefit of a worker owned business is that it has multiple bottom lines, not just profit. All businesses must be profitable, but worker owned businesses must provide other tangible goods to the employee/owners like heath care, day care, pensions, long term stability, environmentally sounds practices, meaningful democratic control by the workforce, etc. Further, if ownership is vested in employment, then ownership is nontransferable, thus no stock market, thus no stock market volatility sending chaotic signals to the economy.

I originally started working on the concept of a worker owned economy because of the Iron Triangle effect of all businesses on policy and politicians. But, I think it would be a good starting place for an economy after the fall.

The two big problems with worker owned businesses are

1) access to capital
If ownership is nontransferable then it can't be leveraged in any finance agreement.

2) auto generation
Worker owned businesses don't start up nearly as often as sole proprietors or corporations do.

The solution to this problem is to build what I call a "financial engine" to spit out and fund worker owned businesses and cooperatives.

I think if we were to retask existing Community Development Corporations with creating worker owned businesses instead of ordinary businesses we solve the first problem. The next step is to build a financial institution that is subordinate to the industry and community like the second order cooperative bank of the Mondragon Corporation Caja Laboral.

I know this isn't a silver bullet and it will create new problems as well, but we desperately need to reorganize the economic structure of the world. The current economic system is after all what brought us peak oil, global warming, and the coming credit crunch.

I would very much like to see an entire posting dedicated to the topic. If anyone wants to contact me out side of this forum I can be reached at my user name here at the oil drum team10tim at yahoo dot com.


In free market economies, demand always equals supply.

Maybe I'm just being picky, but it always annoys me when I see this idea trotted out. It just isn't that simple and I think this phrase is extremely misleading because it implies that the amount consumed over a unit time is always exactly equal to the amount on hand in the marketplace over that same unit of time. A situation that almost never occurs

All this phrase really says is that amount consumed equals amount supplied, which is an obvious truism and rather meaningless to the discussion because it doesn't take into account production rates or inventories or, in the case of perishables, shelf-life and other aspects of market dynamics.

Sailorman has posted some more technically correct phraseology on supply-demand that we should look at.

End picky rant.

I look at it this way. How did we survive before the advent of oil? Find a place that still works that way and then find a way to live there, and preferably do it a few years ago.

Because you need to become a useful member of a small, hardy, well-established and very rural self-sufficient community with a plentiful supply of manual labor, farm animals, good soil, lots of sun and fresh water and preferably a pleasant, year-round growing climate. No need for heat or A/C. Bountiful hydroelectric power is also a nice luxury, but not a necessity. (Likewise, internet!) Lots of public transportation, but you can walk, ride a bike or straddle a burro to get wherever you need to go, never very far.

I'm sorry it's not for all 6 billion of us, obviously, but so far it works for me. I only wish I'd still be here to see what it's like 50 years from now.

Maybe I'm missing something but I don't get this notion of a "service based" economy being less vunerable to oil shock. The only way an economy can become less vunerable to energy shortages is to use less energy intensive products. What the US has done is off-shored those products without reducing CONSUMPTION. The switch to transistors from vacuum tubes resulted in less energy use initially but the icreased access to those solid state products almost certaily increased their overall use, and thus overal energy use. Certainly the increased consumption of energy in China and India are offsetting any reduction in manufacturing in the US and the use there, as everyone notes, is significantly less efficient that that use was in the US.

Where the stuff is made is a lot more important that the basis of the economy is in the land where the products are consumed.

A further riddle: If we are a "service based" economy why is energy use in the US continuing to rise?

Once we hit peak production (assuming 2010), the decline will not be borne equally around the world. Since the USA imports 60% of what it uses, I think the USA will bear a disproportionate share of the scarcity. If you factor in a ten year period over which imports will fall to zero, assume a 5% annual reduction in domestic production, and assume the continuation of the trend in increase in the energy invested (3.5%) part of the EROEI equation, then one could make a case for US oil availability in 2020 to be only 23% of what it is in 2010.

To me this is extremely vulnerable and hardly could be dealt with by eliminating "unnecessary" production. I just don't see how any economic system could function under such conditions to provide even basic needs.

And then, under such scarcity that will result from the downside of the oil production curve, where will the energy come from to fuel the huge investment necessary to attempt a conversion to alternatives, most of which are marginal anyway.

Vulnerable somehow does not seem to be an adequate word to fully describe our position.

I think the real issue is who can afford the price, not where the energy comes from. We may be much more vunerable on the basis of the wealth-generating capacity of our economy than on import issues. I predict we will continue to get more of Nigeria's oil than any Nigerian will for a long time to come.

USA should not be as vulnerable as Europe. USA has very much "fat" that can be shaved off. If USA takes down oil consumption to EU levels, then USA is almost self dependent with its own oil production.

If USA for example taxed gasoline as in EU, it would have beneficial effects on oil consumption.

But of cource this will not happen, so long the military option to grab the oil remains.

The lower consumption of the EU depends for a large part on planning for a lower consumption. You can't simply identify the superfluous consumption and catch up. Even simply replacing machinery with their more efficient equivalent would be a huge undertaking. And then there is still the spatial organization, which can only be made efficient by evolution over a long time, or abandonment and rebuilding.

The military option to grab oil is an illusion. There's not enough oil left in the Persian Gulf to make a grab worthwhile. The US won't do it.

I agree with you about the "fat" that America can cut. We can make buildings more efficient. We can switch from large cars to diesel mini-cars and probably cut our gasoline consumption to a quarter of current levels.

The doomsters around here need to stop fantasizing and take a hard look at reality.

We are going to build lots of nukes to power electric cars and electric trains. Maybe our living standard will drop 10% or even 20% while we make the transition. But per capita GDP will start growing again and we'll eventually far surpass where we are now.

Compare the fictional Africa farmer in the story with the contents of links from todays' drumbeats:
1. Zimbabwe
"The holidays come amid worsening shortages of power, water and basics like bread and milk in many towns and cities across this once-prosperous southern African nation."
2. Tanzania
" peasants would now suffer even more as they have to spend money equivalent to three bags of maize to plough an acre of land in the wake of the new petrol and diesel prices."

I have been lurking here for quite a while, and am amazed by the quality of articles and comments contributors provide for free. There are probably $100,000 research reports handed to c-levels and similar ranking public officials daily, which don’t contain the depth of research and thought contributed here, free of charge.

The general feeling of impending doom strikes me as excessive, though, particularly with respect to Peak Oil’s effect on the developed world. I base that on the following, and if my assumptions are way off base, I’d like to be corrected.

1) At a macro level, cheap and abundant energy has increased capital returns much more than labor ones, and energy scarcity will hence hit capital harder than labor. Since, on average, poorer people derive a lesser share of their income from capital than wealthier ones, the biggest losers from Peak Oil will be those with the most to lose.

Widespread demechanization of production processes may even boost demand for the most vulnerable, the so called ‘unskilled’. An example of this would be oilmanbob’s vision of future oil production, where lots of ‘little guys’ in east Texas can continue to thrive from fields considered depleted by the majors. The same goes for farming, where increased human input can again make up for some of the shortfall caused by scarcity of energy intensive fertilizers. In general, substituting locally aware human labor for the centrally managed, mechanized substitutes so appropriate for the oil age, will allow production from more marginal and differentiated locales. Add to this greater cost of transportation, hence less competition from cheap labor in faraway lands, and it’s not obvious to me that Peak Oil need be such a calamity for the ‘poor’.

2) Most people in the developed world live at a point of their utility curve showing massively diminished returns from wealth, so it takes a big change in nominal wealth, in either direction, to drastically affect utility and happiness. For example, if Peak Oil causes an economic downturn leaving your Manhattan 1 bedroom worth $300,000, rather than the $1million it is worth today, feeling poorer might suck, but you are still living in the same apartment. Similarly, vacationing in the nearest state park isn’t that much worse than going on an African safari, even at 1/20th the cost and energy consumption.

Once over the initial soreness, even riding a bicycle to work instead of driving doesn’t have to be that bad. Especially so when roads are not packed with the cars of all those others who can no longer afford to drive.

3) Combining 1) and 2) suggests the specific individuals nominally hit hardest by Peak Oil are those who’s utility, and hence ‘happiness’, is the least sensitive to such a hit. This is essentially saying the effects of Peak Oil won’t actually feel as hard on the body as economic statistics makes them look.

Again, all of this only refers to the developed world. In parts of the world where actual starvation is already a problem, Peak Oil will likely have much more horrific effects.

Dislocations will negatively affect almost all of us regardless of the eventual benefits (or lack there of) once things "settle down" into a new equilibrium. (I keep thinking of the transition from the Soviet Union to Russia).

And post-Peak Oil will create an ever shrinking pie, preventing a new equilibrium, for at least a generation.

And in such a situation, those without resources will be more vulnerable than those with resources (except for those that are predators). Multiple options are good thing !

And not least is bewilderment, confusion, depression and lack of hope.

My plans can make a difference, and mitigate the effects (not least in providing hope and a sense of social direction & cohesion) but only in part.

Best Hopes,



Its not just in East Texas that I see independents thriving, its in every oil and gas area in the Lower 48 and Canada. My guess is the majors may sell all their remaining fieds in the United States, but keeping their pipelines, their refineries and petrochemical plants, and their retail operation. That way they'll lose all the political flack and environmental, but even more to the point, the depletion is such they can't make a profit at it, and the exploration and production overhead is horrific. Only the deeper gulf and possibly the artic have any promise for profitable fields for them, but the other countries on the planet will want to keep all the money at home, so they won't sell anything but oil products in export trade. At least thats how I see Jeffry's Export land model playing out

And I see the downshift affecting most the people who put their self-image as being the things and jobs that they have, rather than their love of their work,families and community being the place where thy get their self image.
A good gardener that helps their family and society fresh, tasy food, or a carpenter that learns how to use recycled building material to help their community stay warm or cool, will still retain a good self image. Its the people who spent there lives in a souless corporate job but are sucesses because of their paychecks, and never took the evenings to know their family and next door neighbors will lose. The people who only watch TV or play an acomputer. and never met their neighbors or a comunity gardenwill lose, but they've already lost.

I agree the rich will suffer most, they have the most to lose. They virtually always define their status and self image from excessive wealth. They're sure to renain relatively wealthy, but unless they have passions that inspire their lives with a sense of purpose, or learn to share and take a real part in their communites, it be devestating to them,

Bob Ebersole

What we are discussing here is whether the current dislinearity - high prices not leading to greater supply - is a lag time problem or a geological inevitability.

May I point out that the vast majority of current oil installations are near the ocean. There is no geological reason for this, but many commercial and political reasons. North American oil installations have been continental in scope, but if America were like Africa - politically unstable and potentially unfriendly - would we have drilled in Wyoming or just moved on to another colonial opportunity after Texas?

Who knows how much oil lies under the Sahara? Algeria, Tunisia, Libya all have significant amounts but the majority of the capital has been deployed within gunboat range of the coast. When we have had our way with Iraq, we will move into some of these more difficult areas.

That said, depletion rates are going to prevail long before then. While the initial response may be a stock market crash, the fact that investment will then go to mitigation schemes and energy efficiency and alternative generating equipment, I see a potential boom in other areas. Crying over United Buggy Whip going down in 1907 meant you missed out on Acme Piston Ring.

Will the transition be seamless? Of course not. The Rogers vacuum tube concern is now a thriving cellular communucations network, but there were some trying times along the way. I'm going to stick my neck way out and say that the end of elastic oil supply will result in the largest boom in history in which our ability to mass produce will finally be used for something other than planned obsolescence, war, or frippery. With the option of more fossil fuel input being finally off the table we can get on with building real and lasting prosperity as opposed to consumer slavery.

Or not.

Yes, as I am taking a Micro econ course (The theory of how individuals and firms make decisions) and as I have my final tomorrow I want to add some wisdom here.

The law of supply is mentioned once, which is that at greater price more supply will be available. This is undoubtedly true, if we had enough free energy we could construct crude oil out of liquefied air and a particle accelerator. The costs of this would be astounding (probably billions of dollars per barrel) but it could be done.

Most oil people are probably techno-worshipers, technology can do anything and everything cheaper. My opinion is that people as a whole, when educated and informed make the proper long term choices. Right now most people in power are already tossing in their hats and preparing for the worst (look at how much it is costing the USA to get the oil in Iraq). Europe is attempting to lower energy requirements on all buildings, brazil is burning everything it can to make ethanol. China is dashing headlong into the abyss of industrial wasteland. India is jumpstarting itself into a service economy. Most of the arab nations are stealing from the populace (both jobs/money and women) causing a radicalization of the men contained within, while at the sametime building enormous wonders.

I will say my worst case opinion, once peak oil is publicly broadcast, less than 2 days later there will be panic as people analyze how they can live without oil. They will yield to EVERY AND ANY demand which keeps them alive.

In the best case, wind + pv + 3-4th gen nuke plants + coal will keep us running until fusion comes up.

If fusion comes up, humanity has beaten nature. Once fusion is done nothing else even matters.

I'm still waiting for someone to turn lead into gold.

Humanity, as a product of nature, will never beat nature. Inasmuch as we accomodate nature, nature will accomodate us. And the meek shall inherit the Earth, after the lawyers have probated the will.

Dude this was figured out a long time ago.

The US is the master at turning lead into gold. Its a simple recipe. Take a small amount of lead attach a brass casing containing explosive propellant and fire the lead through a pipe at anyone who does not give you their gold or in todays world oil.

In more problematic cases you simply need to increase the amount of lead and propellant. If this fails you move to the transmutation of uranium which ensures you can not only get all the gold you want without worrying about the former owners but makes some cool glass to boot. Not only that the uranium that is not useful called depleted uranium is a excellent replacement for lead.

Particle accelerators do just that. There is a small catch however: the energy used is worth more than the gold created..


There's a couple of reasons why oil production is mostly offshore or near the coast. The first is geological, oil is found primarily in marine sediments, and many coasts and bays, continental shelves are still near oceans

The second economic, major oils E&P needs huge fields to cover their overhead, and they need uninterrupted supply. So they drill offshore and near onshore basins first as the transportation is cheaper by ship, and the supply can be protected easier

If there really are some more ghawars (unlikely,IMHO) they are probably going to be in areas that are far inland that the majors cant't get to, places like the interior of northern Mexico, or the interior of Africa.

National oil companies are like the big oil companies in
that their revenues get immediately taken by their owners, the governments, and their overhead so high that they can't make money on smaller fields, and they need to really watch drilling and geophysical expenses. Are their big basins holding giant fields that have never been exploited? it seems very likely Bob Ebersole

Thanks for the post far more coherent than my ramblings.

One point I'd like to make is that the oil industry itself will suffer from the effects of global peak oil just like any other industry it is not immune and is highly decentralized with production and product creation along with suppliers spread throughout the globe. Also a lot of production is in these same poor countries who will be starving for lack of cheap gasoline/diesel which is a serious problem.

I think you have captured the core concept but its worth considering how these apply to the oil industry its not immune and is in many ways the most fragile industry we have.

Hello Davidyson,

Thxs for the thoughtful keypost and thread.

Your Quote: "How does the soon ensuing chaos in the poor countries affect the developing or the developed countries?

Sadly, this could be shockingly fast: Extrapolate the ongoing Pakistani decline and then the wrong people gaining control of the fifty nuke warheads on missles:
US worried over loose nukes in Pakistan

WASHINGTON: The United States is having anxiety attacks over the prospect of loose nukes in strife-torn Pakistan, even as India seems unperturbed by it.

An ongoing security review of the evolving situation in Pakistan by the US reveals that Washington has full knowledge about the location of Pakistan's nuclear weapons, but it is not certain who might start controlling them if there is a shift in power.

In an intriguing story, CNN reported on Friday that beleaguered military ruler Pervez Musharraf "controls the loyalty of the commanders and senior officials in charge of the nuclear program, but those loyalties could shift at any point."
Obviously, Asimov's Foundation concepts of predictive collapse and directed decline would seek to minimize these superhuge cascading blowbacks; the safe extraction process of these bombs must be a key study area in the Pentagon right now. My feeble two cents.

Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Here's an interesting piece about Musharraf:
(normally a new one every 14 days, so may change on the 15th).


A Sunday off from work, I go around the TV dial a few times after doing some chores, nothing but the normal, 'America's Funniest Home Videos, the big win by Tiger Woods, accepting a trophy paid for by Buick ("Drive Beautiful" their slogan, golf and auto driving become one). Millions of dollars given away on the green endless acres of manicured golfcourses, the sportspeople and their cadre of followers jetting from country to country. Such is the energy poverty of the world.

Bored, I decide I will check out what kind of wisdom is on TOD. Maybe some interesting thoughts on oil production, natural gas or breakthrough energy technology.

What I got instead, in this string was so much more informative in a deeply philosophical way, AN ABSOLUTE CLASSIC of the school of thought of peak oil doomerism.

The string opened with a keypost that had as it's opening sentence,
"Unless our governments undertake rationing of oil use and/or tax to destroy demand, the main effect of peak oil will be a rising oil price."

Pretty straightforward that, huh?

But such is the power of the "aesthetic" what can be called the "school" peak doomerism that within only a few posts, we were down to arguing whether the world would run on donkey carts or recycled bicycles. Within a handful of posts, the modern world was gone. The natural resources that humankind now bring out of the ground in the millions of barrels and millions of tons almost daily had all disappeared. Technological development had ground to a stop, and in fact descended into abyss. Deffeyes' stone age by 2030 had returned, potentially even quicker than that. All the advance that had taken 5000 years to achieve, all the breakthroughs, all the culture, disappeared as humanity descended to an almost peasant status, in many cases barely more than apelike., and hundreds of millions, billions (?) die an early death.

We see here the sheer power of human desperation to believe that they will not die alone in their bed, but instead that the world must go with them. This trait is common to all cultures, but seems to carry an inordinate amount of cultural influence in the West.

And we see something common to all apocalyptic "schools" in the secular school of peak doomerism, that being the ability to go past all facts with quick "bromides" of truth, that of course have an small element of truth in them, but only a sliver. These however become the guideposts, the received wisdom from the priesthood. Such is a completely internally consistent aesthetic built up, one that is understood by the initiates instantly. Certain words and certain phrases function almost as a type of chant, receiving understanding nods. These are the ones about which no question, no doubt will be broached nor accepted.

Such is a powerful "aesthetic" or "school" made. And while not all of it's accepted wisdom is put in exactly these words, below are a few elements of what create the "Zeitgeist" of peak doomerism or Apocalypse:

Change will be bad. There seems no doubt of this if one reads the thought of most peak doomerists. While they applaud the "powerdown" and the destruction of modernism, any technical development is by it's very nature a dead end. The effort is wasted, and all roads lead back to petroleum, so it is just a refutation of truth to claim that technical improvements are possible, symbolic of mankind's (Americans in particular are considered extraordinarily evil in this regard) arrogance and hubris. Change, which formerly has led to all advance of humankind will now lead to only collapse and suffering. In fact, neo-primitive strands are very apparent, in which the case is made that ALL prior change has in fact been evil, although veiled as advance.

Despite the preaching that peak is "not about running out", peak doomerism really is about exactly that. The world resulting from peak is normally viewed not as a "petroleum short world", but a "petroleum EMPTY world". Even the smallest attempts to do anything are dismissed if they involves so much as a beaker of petroleum, or for that matter, any extracted mineral.

Because "peak", as a truly wise initiate knows, is not only about petroleum, it's about metals and ores and water and wood and land and air and EVERYTHING. Thus the recently popular theories of PEAK EVERYTHING, in which everything runs out at once. Thus the popular images of human as "detrivore", able to extract nothing, but living as dung beetles on the materials left behind by prior generations (a poetic image in a way, of human doing the same biological duty as the dung beetle, acting as cleanser instead of destroyer)

This leads us to the conclusion that the Earth is essentially hollow. Despite the fact that humans have never been able to drill more than a few percent into the exosphere of the Earth, it is seen as certain that there is really very little left of any real use to humans, and if there is, it is an environmental sin to extract it.

The belief now is that we are nearly out of not only oil and gas, but coal depletion is on the near horizon, as is the depletion of uranium, and of course all the metals will be gone soon.

Recently, there has been discussion of the inability to extract silicon for solar chips, even though it is over half the volume of the crust of the Earth.

The crust alone is predominately given as silicon, aluminium, iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium oxides by most geology books, but these are seen as impossible to extract because of course we will be out of petroleum (well, we say only peaked, but we might as well say out, since the hated “change” will destroy our societies ability to extract them)

Of course, this is all because we are a finite planet, this is beyond refutation. Ignored of course is the continuing flood of energy pouring onto the Earth daily. You will never see a true initiate of the catastrophist school accept an illustration like this as useful:

These types of ideas are nothing but plants, seeds of false hope planted by the evil who accept the possbility of continuing forward.

Photons descending on Earth in greater volume that ALL the power we use by multiple magnitude, useless....silicon by the trillion ton, useless, carbon and aluminium, iron, calcium, magnesium, all useless,hydrogen by volumes unimaginable, all trapped, cannot be used, useless.

Nothing but desolation everywhere, the horror!

IMPORTANT FINISHING DISCLAIMER: So, am I a “Cornucopian”, claiming that all is rosy, no worry? Of course not. But that is the way I will be portrayed, and sadly, so strong is the power of the catastrophist Zeitgeist and so much a part of the worldview by so many, that is the way I will perceived by many here.

For that I am sorry. I believe that the changes needed will be difficult. They will be challenging. We will need EVERY element of society if we are to hope to pull it off without increased suffering by millions.

Oilmanbob gave us the most useful and moving posts on this string, being open about his life challenges.

In less challenging ways, we have all faced our times of utter desolation, destitution, our rock bottom. I have known years of unemployment, and suffered ongoing depression without even being aware of it until after the fact. I have seen times that I was at the edge of giving up on myself and on life.

I cannot speak for Oilmanbob, but ONLY EFFORT pulled me back from the edge.

This is why I wrote this post. There are many people out there in the world who are vulnerable, who are looking for something to believe, who are prone to believing the worst possible scenarios with very little evidence.

I will beg again that we not put forth horrific stories and tales for sport. These people are already on the edge of hopelessness. Of what benefit are horror stories to scare them that are IN NO WAY based on science or fact?

Bad times may indeed be on the way. Destruction of all we know may occur, soon or later., or we may enter a new age of clean prosperity, with more democratic energy base and a more just society than any we have seen to this point. Or something in between.

We do know that for each of us, the world we know will indeed end in a relatively short amount of time. Is our time better spent in “howling at the moon” and attempting to scare those who are so easily scared, or are we better off to actually use the MONUMENTAL amount of material that we have available to us to create a new and clean and prosperous energy base? THE OUTCOME IS NOT A FORGONE CONCLUSION.

But sowing despair will certainly make the job no easier. WE WILL NEED EVERYONE'S BEST EFFORTS TO DO IT.


Roger Conner Jr.
Remember, we are only one cubic mile from freedom

Can I nominate this for post of the month?

I concur...solid.

I agree, there are solutions that can soften the landing and string things out--the institutions of government will seek to use those to maintain society as best they can--but it will be slow getting to them.

Still, I fear the real and tangible class struggles that even a single spike could cause, let alone multiple spikes. As I said above, the middle class will be split slowly.

Jobs, lives, people--all will change--not for the better...but I tend to think that the changes will be secular enough that people will be frogs in a pot with the heat slowly turned up: it will be a long slow slog.

We already know the US is between the Scylla (inflationary pressures) and the Charybdis (deflationary pressures). The question really is where are the freaking Furies that are going to change that's the uncertainty and the volatility that whipsaw people into fear.

I don't mind listening to either the doomers or the optimists, as long as their analysis is interesting and thoughtful.

Do any of us REALLY know what's going to happen?


What The World Needs Now Is A Good Deus Ex Machina

We know some of what is going to happen:

- More diesels.
- More hybrids - including pluggable ones.
- More electric rail.
- More insulation in houses.
- More smaller cars.
- More passenger rail.
- More shipping rail.
- Movement of people to be nearer their jobs and jobs to be nearer people.

I could go on. But just apply logic. How will people respond to higher energy prices? Not too hard to figure out, really.

There is not compelling evidence that Uranium or other possible fission fuels are practically limited.

It is also the case that there are many people who cannot consider the possibility that this assertion is true because they are so invested in it not being.

The issue with nuclear power is more cost and time to completion and of course waste. Not that nuclear is not viable. We would need a major program to develop nukes.

Next of course world wide nuclear power is extremely problematic with unstable governments. Pakistan for example is of concern right now. You really need a fairly stable world to ensure we don't eventually end up with regional nuclear powers similar to North Korea. So globally nuclear power does not seem that viable unless we see a lot of changes.

I see nukes as more useful for energy intensive retreats but on the same hand hydro can probably provide enough energy for pockets of complex manufacturing.

In general if oil declines slowly then we probably have plenty of time to work through developing better nuclear power plants and also deploying them. But your really talking about a 10-20 or more time scale. So the nuclear option is highly dependent on starting yesterday.

I happen to think it will not be a slow decline and since your not seeing our leaders really push nuclear I suspect that have the same feeling.

Although I don't like the approach probably the best solution is coal fired plants without C02 capture but otherwise good pollution control and a strong program for renewable and a move to electric rail.

This would buy us time to develop better nuclear technology notably a strong fusion push which solves a lot of problems.
I think if we really pushed it we could have fusion in 20 years and at the same time have phased out a lot of the coal fired plants anyway. In the interim well designed nuclear fission plants could be deployed at a reasonable pace.

Short term for the US the answer has to be a lot more coal for better or worse coupled with electric transport and a strong renewable program the total C02 load could actually decrease from today even with a large build out of modern coal fired electric plants at worst its probably about even.

There is a cost and time to completion issue but I think that is mainly due to not having standard designs and having a lot of irrational opposition. I think the next wave will use only a small set of designs. If society gets serious about the energy crisis, the opponents might get overruled.

I do not think waste is the issue. What comes out of a reactor is partially spent fuel (it still contains more than 90% of its useful energy). In the 1980s it was thought that the best thing to do is just bury it. I do not think that makes sense any more. No matter if that makes sense technically, it does not fly politically, especially the long lived waste. Because of its small volume and the time needed to cool, it is perfectly viable to keep it at the reactor site for decades, perhaps as long as the service life of a plant. Then we should burn up the long lived portions and recycle the rest. I do not think we will need to permanently dispose of anything for a long time, again because of its very small volume.

Proliferation is an issue even if we do not have nuclear power. All the developed countries either have the bomb or could build them in short order without nuclear power. Power reactors are not good sources of bomb material. After 6 months, the Plutonium in a LWR has too much of the non fissionable P240 isotope to be usable for a bomb and the Uranium is only slightly enriched, not the 90%+ you need for a bomb. Not many power reactor will be built in countries that are not capable of producing bombs by other means.

I am not willing to settle for pockets of manufacturing. If we power down, we have a big die-off in the developing world and we cannot know that the rest of the world will survive the chaos.

Our leaders have not been pushing nuclear today (except Republicans and people in Europe and Asia) because of the political opposition and because it is not clearly superior to climate wasting coal and gas. Once they come around to doing something about global warming and realize that gas will peak soon and coal will in 20 years the political climate will change. Once the crisis becomes real, attitudes will change.

I do not think fusion will be part of the solution. It is still far in the future and when is does come it will have problems that we do not recognize now. There are no problems with fission that have to wait for fusion. There is an essentially unlimited supply of fuel, we have built an excellent safety record in the West and they are cost competitive before the crisis is recognized. You do not need to have serious problems to have serious enemies.

I think a big coal build out would be a disaster. That’s the one thing that could really push the climate problem over the brink (the rest is resource limited). There has not really been much progress in cleaning up the coal plants that are being built. Finally, the US has already peaked in coal energy content and there is good reason to believe the world will peak in about 20 years. In the tail we will be consuming increasing low quality stuff which will be even more damaging to the environment.

I do not think the only possible outcome for the world is a big power down with its necessarily attendant die-off, resource wars and environmental devastation. We might be able to transition, after a downturn to a new energy base, one that would have a big nuclear component. I do not think that is such a horrible prospect.

Another 2000 word diatribe from Roger... as useless as ever.

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function." -- Dr. Albert Bartlett
Into the Grey Zone

given that the range of opinions of the GP range from "usless" through to "post of the month", would you mind explaining some of the downsides you see to this post (as step back has done, below)?

upthread Prof. Goose posted a few positive points to support his view that this was a good post, while wizofaus posted the "post of the month" idea, without similar defense of his view.

To everyone, while agreeing/disagreeing with peoples view is one of the upsides to this site, rather than simply posting a "yay" or "nay" post, highlighting what you consider the good/bad points will help further the critical analysis of whatever point of view is proposed.

YAY !!!

Andrew is correct.

We should all seek to activate the critical reasoning parts of our brain rather than the social emotional conformity parts.

DISCLAIMER: So, am I a “Cornucopian”, claiming that all is rosy, no worry? Of course not. But that is the way I will be portrayed, and sadly, so strong is the power of the catastrophist Zeitgeist and so much a part of the worldview by so many, that is the way I will perceived by many here.

For that I am sorry. I believe that the changes needed will be difficult. They will be challenging. We will need EVERY element of society if we are to hope to pull it off without increased suffering by millions.

OK Roger. We won't call you a flaming cornucopian.

Just a few things to temper the force of your counter-doomist post:

1. With regard to that giant solar energy cube you point to, 3/4 of that energy falls on oceans. I don't know what percentage of the remainder falls on reachable land. The point is that we cannot practically get to all of that energy. 1kw/m^2 is still 1kw/m^2 ... a rather low energy density number.

2. There are some elements of our society that just couldn't give a care if millions suffer. Millions already do suffer: Katrina, Darfur, Iraq, etc. etc.

I had not bothered writing to this because I felt it was a doomer-lovefest disconnected from any reality that I was seeing. Roger's post was a turn toward what I think would be a more useful discussion.

I am a cornicopian although I recognize there are pollution challenges, climate change challenges and the desirability of efficiency and a need to shift from fossil fuels.

I expect very slow change until a couple of years after a petroliquids peak/plateau where demand is constrained. $60-200/barrel will stimulate the level of activity we have now. Plans that take 5-20 years to really take effect.

The primary article and all other articles do not take about rate of decline and very little about mitigating actions. I think a 50% improvement in efficiency is possible over 10 years which would allow for a growing economy to increase GDP and still reduce overall fuel usage. Plus we can build more nuclear and renewables and shift over 20 years to different energy sources and mostly off fossil fuels. Although unconventional fuel (oilsands, shale) and biofuels will still be around in volume which most doomers want to ignore.

Physorg talks about smaller nano-boric acid particles that can be added to motor oil within 2 years for a 4-5% fuel consumption reduction in all cars. If the new nano-particle motor oil was mandatory or added at low cost to all motor oil than at the next oil change after its introduction there would be reduced gasoline usage.

A software patch could save 2.6% of fuel for modern cars Adapting batteries and the engine starter to take advantage of more fuel efficient computer control would save 5-6% of fuel.

Combined those two things can be introduced even to installed base of most cars for 10% fuel savings.

Edmunds discusses how much fuel can be saved by changing driving habits

Test #1 Aggressive Driving vs. Moderate Driving

Result: Major savings potential

The Cold Hard Facts: Up to 37 percent savings, average savings of 31 percent

Recommendation: Stop driving like a maniac.

Test #2 Lower Speeds Saves Gas

Result: Substantial savings on a long trip

Cold Hard Facts: Up to 14 percent savings, average savings of 12 percent

Recommendation: Drive the speed limit.

Test #3 Use Cruise Control

Result: Surprisingly effective way to save gas

Cold Hard Facts: Up to 14-percent savings, average savings of 7 percent

Recommendation: If you've got it, use it.

Test #6 Avoid Excessive Idling

Result: More important than we assumed

Cold Hard Facts: Avoiding excessive idling can save up to 19 percent

Recommendation: Stopping longer than a minute? Shut 'er down

In 1973, the USA had 55mph speed limits.

Technology and legislation can be used to encourage and enable the savings above.

What environmentalists have already been promoting would get more adherents and adoption and would allow for more energy savings with limited comfort impact.

1. People would be able to drive less with minimal suffering
Arrange a shorter commute, being able to telecommute more (skype video)
2. Carpool more and use more public transportation.
Some actual effective action with stronger government support and actions.
3. Bike and walk more
Folding bicycles and electric bicycles can be combined with public transportation to make a travel system that is less fuel intensive but does not waste time. Some people may also consider all electric mopeds and motor bikes.
4. More people will buy a more fuel efficient vehicle when they do switch their car (not everyone)

Rough energy usage
33% industrial
33% transportation
33% home

Homes can get far more energy efficient with minimal strain (in place fixes). I do not see an abandonment of the suburbs.

Industrial efficiency can be greatly increased. Better processes and superconducting engines (2010, 1000 HP superconducting engines for industrial processes)

Superconducting engines for boats.
Trucking and rail efficiencies.
Airplanes can also get 50% more efficient.


Roger Conner writes the post I wish I'd been clever enough to write. Great job Roger.

The severe apocalyptic doomerism of so many commenters here really decreases the value of TOD. Yes, we are faced with Peak Oil. Yes, it is going to cause huge economic problems and dislocations. But, no, we aren't going to go back to walking and abandoning either cities or the countryside or both.

We can't talk seriously here about what big problems lie ahead and what we can expect if the comments section of every TOD post quickly gets taken over by doomsters who get an obvious thrill out of imagining seeing even the highest and mightiest reduced to Mad Max At Thunderdome (or maybe The Omega Man or perhaps The Poseidon Adventure).

We can keep the electric part of our economy running and expand the electric part. That'll cost something from our living standards. Not everything will shift easily to electric power. So what's going to be hardest to shift away from petroleum? We ought to talk seriously about this without fantasizing about empty country towns, empty suburban tracts, or empty cities with rusted rail lines and deserted bridges leading up to them.

Rather than slander, how about analysis? I'm just saying.

The crew of the Titanic saw the threat and turned the ship, but it was big and turned slow. It still hit. The world economy is big and turns slowly. The energy decline rates are fast and getting faster.

There are 10,000 coal plants. To replace that infrastructure with solar cells from the nano solar factory (one of the largest by far) it would take 20,000 years. Yes, 20,000 years. Now, exponential growth of solar will shorten that, some, but what people who predict all sunshine and light must do is show how this transition will happen. Specifically: Rates of growth. Tons of steel. Dollars of investment. Limits on pounds of rare metals. And bound those in growth rates in reality.

Because the reality is that society predicted our current dilemma back in the 70's and has done almost nothing to steer around the ice berg. Many on the bridge are arguing there is no ice berg (infinite growth in a finite world). And they are currently holding the wheel.

So rather than slander and hand waving, how about a clear explanation of why nothing has changed during the last 35 years? And why the lack of change will not continue forward?

Should you do such an analysis, you might increase the value of TOD. I would be glad to assist.

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

Jon, My analysis is really simple: We have huge amounts of capital. We have huge amounts of technology. Faced with declining oil production why wouldn't a $13 trillion per year economy build, for example, 1000 nuclear reactors in 5 to 10 years?

Change in the past versus the future: People didn't have to give up oil 20 or 30 years ago. They'll have to gradually use less of it when less of it gets produced each year. That'll drive up its price and make the prices of alternatives more appealing. So why won't they switch to alternatives at that point? I figure people are practical and are not set in their ways when change is forced upon them by changing circumstances.

Solar plants: But we can build nukes. A small fraction of our yearly production of steel will supply the needed steel. Building large numbers of nukes is not a big stretch. I've said this. Brian Wang has said this. This argument just gets ignored in favor of comments about how, for example, there won't be enough energy to convert existing steel into bicycles.

Really, why can't we switch to nukes? We can use electric power to smelt aluminum. We can use electric power to run heat pumps for winter heat. We can use electric power to move trains. We can use electric power to charge the batteries that A123 Systems is going to make for cars.

The general trend is toward more use of electricity. Hydraulics are getting phased out in many applications (e.g. in cars) in favor of electric power. My neighbor has an electric lawn mower because it is more reliable and avoids the need to mess with gas, oil, and cleaning air filters.

Granted the switch to electricity for some applications where oil is currently used will cost more. We'll suffer some sort of living standards stagnation or drop for a while as we make the switch. But there's no need to plan for total societal collapse.

why wouldn't a $13 trillion per year economy build, for example, 1000 nuclear reactors in 5 to 10 years?

Because we cannot for a multitude of reasons.

We might be able to complete 5 new nukes by August 14, 2017.
I expect not more than three to be commercial (with more in various stages of completion) in ten years.

You seem to fail to understand the limitations in nuke production. Watts Bar II, 60% complete, will take 5 years and $2.5 billion to complete if TVA stays on budget & schedule (unlikely IMHO).

People - Experienced nuke builders are scarce and old.

Inexperienced people built Zimmer, a nuke that was 99% complete and then scraped and converted to a very inefficient coal fired plant.

Process - Building aircraft is a close analog to building nukes (many nuke procedures are copied from aviation). Boeing has built a/c for decades, yet when they tried to almost double production they ran into an endless series of snafus from suppliers and internally (late 1990s). In the end, they halted the production line and spent a month just unraveling the problems and restated at a slower rate.

Unlike Boeing, the USA has not built a new nuclear plant in decades.

Suppliers - Boeing cannot build a/c out of recycled beer cans, and much of the steel used in nukes is high spec (if it is safety related, the specification and paperwork are detailed) and some safety related steel is high alloy, etc.

World-wide there is one supplier for very large nuke forgings (in Japan) and another that can handle larger forgings (France from memory). The USA will have to out-bid other nations for limited capacity.

The US suppliers (except those that supply parts for maintenance) are moribund and will have to be restarted.

Almost all of that $13 trillion GNP has zero use in building a new nuke. Many of those industries that supplied parts for nukes in the 1970s are simply gone, replaced by service industries.

Just an overview of the problems in building large nukes.

Best Hopes for a crash building program for wind turbines,


"Crash program" and "nuclear rectors" are two phrases that should never, ever appear in the same paragraph, except in criticism. I am not anti-nuke, but I am most definitely anti-poorly-sited-and-built nuke. I would think that anybody with an ounce of common sense would feel the same way.

No proponent is advocating "poorly-sited-and-built" nukes. We just cannot have the criteria established by the anti-nuke crazies.

No proponent is advocating "poorly-sited-and-built" nukes

Magnus Redin was bemoaning the wasted heat by locating them so far from loads, i.e. Urban centers.

Con Ed wanted to site a nuclear reactor in Queens, NYC.

The nuke proponents implicitly think that the quality of teh past is "good enough" and perhaps too good (see Chinese part critical parts, and having automotive assembly workers and companies make nuke parts).

THE STANDARD OF QUALITY HAS TO INCREASE in order to to keep current, or only slightly degraded, safety levels.

By the time the last nuke proposed retires after a 60 year service life, the total nuke operating years will be orders of magnitude (say x20 or x50 or even x100) all that we have observed to date. Just because there were no significant issues (saying Chernobyl was exceptional) with the first 1%, or 2% or 5% of total projected experience, does not automatically mean that the same result will apply to the remaining 99%, 98% or 95%.

Think of Browns Ferry 1, where a fire almost completely severed the reactor controls from the control room.

Perhaps one signal got through but not the next while it was operating. An uncontrolled and unstable reactor.

Just one OOPs that needs to be controlled quite rigorously !

Best Hopes for SAFE nuclear reactors,


No documented loss of life for the Western nuclear power industry in its history but still, "THE STANDARD OF QUALITY HAS TO INCREASE". Why does that kind of standard not apply for other forms of generation? Each year thousands or tens of thousands of people die from coal generation but that's OK with you? Why this inordinant fear of nuclear?

Are you advocating reasonable standards or just trying to kill nuclear power? And what if a big nuclear build up is the only way to prevent a massive die-off (I think it is)? Should we not consider what causes the least loss of life and the best quality of life outcome and not be ruled by irrational fear?

You are making a false dichotomy.

Wind, Solar, Geothermal, small hydro, HV DC & pumped storage can be built FASTER and most likely cheaper (look at historic promised prices of nukes and delivered costs to see why promised prices for new nukes (including that one in Finland under construction) should be viewed VERY skeptically).

A "Rush to Nuke" would drive nuke prices up like Canadian tar sands prices are going up, surely making wind cheaper.

We can build more wind F A S T !

I noted your little caveat "Western" nukes. If we build fast and loose like you seem to want (parts by Ford ! Made in China), the new nukes will be closer to Soviet quality. Engineered and built by people without nuke experience and minimal screening due to the enormous personnel demands.

For the reasons stated, we need SAFER, not more dangerous nukes.

Nukes are inherently dangerous and should be held to the highest standards !

And they can come on slowly and play a secondary role to wind in getting off coal and natural gas.

I am not anti-nuke, I am just against unsafe nukes. And nukes are really not required in numbers much larger than today to eliminate FF electrical generation.


If I thought those other generation option could scale fast enough I would support them more, too. We should build them as fast as we can.

You are fooling yourself. You set unreasonable, irrational standards for nuclear that you do not for other sources. You are definately anti any reasonable role for nukes.

Nuclear energy is extremely powerful but it is not inherently dangerous to the extent that you make it out to be. Human ingenuity has proven that we can exploit it safely. You are not being reasonable in the concerns you express.

Sterling he is being very reasonable. If your failure rate is 1 in 100, and then you build another 1000, that is 10 failures. The more you build, then the more statistically certain a failure becomes. If you want to build 10x more, you need 10x safety. If you want a 1000x more, then you need 1000x safety.

It is not unreasonable to demand *higher* quality if there are going to be more in operation, it is standard product manufacturing procedure.

Also, from the little reading I have done on Nuke EROI, it is clear that high safety is one key reason US plants now run profitably. If the units must be often shut down for inspection or repair, profits suffer. Especially on Nukes because all the money is up front. (at least with a Gas plant, you don't pay for fuel if it is not running). (personally, I would be very worried about the economics of fuel cycles that use highly corrosive cooling fluids for this reason).

So I would think as a Nuke advocate, you would be pressing all out for the safest possible designs constructed to the highest quality. The fastest way to kill off a boom in nuke construction is another 3 mile island.

Another important point is that new reactors are much less safe than reactors in the middle of the design life. That is going to skew the safety statistics. Mechanical systems have high initial failures, very low mid life failures, and then high end of life failures. New designs have similar issues. It will be important to start slowly to incorporate fixes.

"You are not being reasonable in the concerns you express."

I think you should be careful where you point that finger.

Jon Freise
Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

The Chernobyl was 1 in 600 failure so far. there are 438 plants now but others built, operated and then closed.

Where is your safety standard for coal plants? They are building more and not making them safer.

How about for wind turbines ? If you say the industry has to increase beyond France's zero deaths how about wind ? BTW: if you site a wind farm by a peat bog you increase green house gases.

This article discusses some environmental effect from wind turbines. (drying out peat bogs in europe). I am again in favor of wind but they do interact with the environment.

Wind also needs to consider environmental effects. (Big 40-60 story tall butterfly effects)

I am saying that the new nuclear plant designs are both safe and safer than prior designs.

If we are "analyze and not fantasize" where are your figures and sources on reactor safety to backup your claims on new reactors being much less safe.


If we build a "Rush for Nuke" as has been proposed here, with low quality parts and inexperienced people w/o a safety culture and minimal review of plans and proposed sites, will result in lower quality.

Chernobyl, besides causing the early death of people yet unborn, also removed a fairly large area from human use. And since there have been advocates of placing new nukes close to cities (close enough to use the waste heat for heating), the combination of proximity and quality is frightening.


We can add enough wind to supply half the MWh needed in North America in twenty years. Faster than we can build nukes safely.

Add a few new nukes (say 35 nukes, avg, 1.5 GW), some new hydro (17 GW in Canada, 4 GW in USA) and solar and geothermal and a lot of pumped storage and FF shrinks to nothing.

My concerns are exceptional rational and based on good statistical analysis.

You set unreasonable, irrational standards for nuclear that you do not for other sources. You are definitely anti any reasonable role for nukes

No other power source can do what Chernobyl HAS done ! and that was not even the worst possible case. Containment structures are not foolproof (and you want any fool to build a nuke from what I have seen. Parts by Ford !).

I would be happy to see nuke supply 25% to 33% of US electricity. That is certainly a reasonable role for nuke and close to as much nuke as the grid can easily accept (~50%).

Nuke killed itself in the past with it's cost overruns and delays. The new Finnish Areva reactor seems about to follow that exceptional well trodden path.

Putting our trust in a "Rush to Nuke" sets up society for ANOTHER dismal economic failure by the nuclear building industry. They failed once, what guaranty do we have that they will not screw it up again ?

Wind is the safe (economically & schedule), FAST option with certain costs. Nuke is not.

For $6 billion, T Boone Pickens could have (supposedly, according to sales people) built a 1.6 or 1.7 GW nuke with money left over. Instead he chose to build 4 GW of wind with lower GWh (1.35 GW avg).

Ask yourself why ?

Best Hopes for the Business Acumen of T Boone Pickens,


If I thought those other generation option could scale fast enough...

Did you even LOOK at the graph of new wind in my post ?

Doubling every two years. 12 GW installed as of 1.5 months ago (perhaps another 1 GW by the end of August).

Best Hopes for Fast, certain new non-GHG generation,


Your chart was tiny and the writing is illegible.

World wide wind turbine shortage causing project delays

The 12GW of wind total for the USA.

More than 3,000 megawatts of wind power turbines will be added in the United States -- enough to power about 825,000 households, the American Wind Power Association said.

This is less than the power (Mwh) provided by the Brown Ferry Plant because of high operating capacity for nuclear (90%) versus 25-35% for wind.
Wind power from the wind industries own estimates is 31 billion kWh/year (2007), in 2005 17.8 billion kWh. (13.2 billion kWh added over 2 years. 130 billion kwh added over 20 years (which would be better than the business as usual case from the AWPA and better than what is expected from EIA). Total electricity sales increase by 41 percent in the
AEO2007 reference case, from 3,660 billion kilowatthours
in 2005 to 5,168 billion kilowatthours in 2030. 160 billion kwh would be 3% of the total. The EIA is expecting 220 billion Kwh from all non-hydro renewables. Replacing in place fossil fuels for 2030 would mean getting about 4000 billion kwh. 25 times more than an optimistic case for wind in the USA. In 2005, the USA had 1,067 GW of power. 1,522 coal plants making 335GW. 3,753 petroleum burning plants for 65 GW, 5467 natural gas plants making 437GW. 80% fossil fuel.

The industries own calculation of annual added wind

Business as usual is between 1 and 3 GW per year added, Growth scenario gets it to almost 10GW per year added in 2020. The aggressive case would be the initiation of unapproved legislation and simultaneously building new and better electric grid to the wind farms. The American wind power industry does not have your fantasy of a doubling of wind every two years. Did you spot some massive electrical grid infrastructure buildout in the government budgets? I must have missed that.
The US is expecting to add in the reference case, 292 gigawatts of new generating capacity (including end-use CHP) by 2030. Coal-fired capacity, which typically is expensive to build but has relatively low operating costs, accounts
for about 54 percent of the total capacity additions
from 2006 to 2030. Natural-gas-fired plants, which generally are the least expensive capacity to build but have comparatively high fuel costs, represent 36 percent of the projected additions. Replacing half of the new power added would be increasing the expected wind power addition by EIA to about 15-20 times more.

Across the five main AEO2007 cases, nuclear generation grows from 780 billion kilowatthours in 2005 to between 799 and 1,010 billion kilowatthours in 2030. The low case is if natural gas gets cheap again (I don't think NG will get cheap).

In the AEO2007 reference case, generation from wind power increases from 0.4 percent of total generation in 2005 to 0.9 percent in 2030.

I think more aggressive power uprates are possible than the 5-20% that are getting approved up to 50% with MIT donut fuel and nanoparticle coolant tech for existing reactors.


edit - see below -

Did you spot some massive electrical grid infrastructure buildout in the government budgets? I must have missed that

New legislation was passed a couple of years ago that made it much easier and faster to build transmission lines. As a result of this legislation, the Phoenix utility has announced plans for two lines to Wyoming to bring in coal and wind power recently. More on the way.

My "go slow" nuke approach is comparable to the "Aggressive" approach by the AWEA, and will run into the same issues limiting the AWEA except that nuke sites will run short even under a "go slow" nuke approach. Every new nuke site requires new transmission lines and even a "go slow" approach will likely result in some local grids becoming saturated with nuclear power (~50%).

My "go slow" approach is also generally comparable to the "slow" build-up of nuclear capacity in China (past and future).

ATM, 30 new nukes completed in the next 20 years is the "Aggressive" case for the nuke industry, and my "go slow" approach would build significantly more than that.

BTW, just where would you place new nuclear power plants in California ? Finding new sites for nukes will be major problem with a "Rush to Nukes".

The AWEA does not model a crash program for wind, such as you advocate for nukes. So apples to oranges. (My "go slow" on nuke is really quite aggressive in the Real World).

BF 1 is experiencing quite a few operational problems (as new nukes tend to do, 90% capacity seems to only be reached after a half dozen or more years after start-up or re-start-up). Rancho Seco had a lifetime capacity factor of 37% (from memory) and BF 1 has a lifetime capacity factor of less than 10% so far (being down for 24 years after an accident is not good for stats), so 90% is VERY far from a given.

And I recognize that doubling times will lengthen as the installed base grows from every two years to three years and even four years.

But I advocate a crash program for wind, HV DC lines and pumped storage as you advocate a crash program for nukes. No organization has modeled a crash program for either generation type.

The current world-wide boom is useful for developing wind turbine models, training people, increasing crane capacity, wind surveying a variety of sites and planning new transmission lines.

I advocate starting a crash program from a running start.

You advocate a crash program from someone whose coffin lid is just now being pried off before raising them from the dead.

I think my crash program can run faster than yours (for at least the next 15 to 20 years).

Best Hopes for the FAST solution, Wind,


I am in favor of more wind as well, but I just don't see it happening yet. Maybe in the next US administration. Maybe Europe will build their supergrid.

I support the lifting the California ban on nuclear power plants.

State senator DeVore’s initiative would prohibit new nuclear plants from being built within five miles of any of the state’s 34 coastal Areas of Special Biological Significance or on a navigable river.

No such biologically significant area is located in San Luis Obispo County. Inland areas such as Fresno and Victorville are the most likely locations for a new plant. A group of Fresno entrepreneurs, called the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group LLC, has proposed building a plant and is advocating repeal of the state’s nuclear moratorium. One thing to notice is that I can point to companies actually spending millions of dollars to get their nuclear plants built or to clear the legislation to make it happen. the Fresno plan calls for the use of waste water for cooling.

No nuclear plants in the pink areas of this map

I would equate the 30 plants in the USA as the growth case for the USA but it is only potentially 10% of the new global building boom of nuclear power. So if you are saying that any cumulative crash wind programs globally will exceed the global nuclear renaissance over the next 15-20 years then you have a bet.

In the USA, I would bet that by 2030 at least 20 of the nuclear plants get completed. This is my view of the current business as usual. My growth case is oil prices staying high and some form of anti-coal legislation (something related to carbon costs) in case 40 nuclear plants get built by 2030 in the USA (about 60 GW of the power to be added by 2030) and up-powering at about 20% rate is applied (the full potential of the MIT up-powering is not made) for 20 more GW, almost every plants gets extended net 75GW or 25% of the new power. My aggressive (but with milder or later peak oil and strong carbon taxes) case (in the next administration) and if the MIT up-powering technology is fully developed and applied 120 nuclear plants get completed by 2030 and 50% up-powering is applied for 300 GW more power. The super aggressive- crash program is if peak oil hits hard and early and climate hits hard too for more anti-carbon, then the US could ramp up to 300 new nuclear plants. In all of the cases most of the build completions are in the 2020-2030 time frame. In the last two scenarios, a lot of wind gets built too.

My current projection is that we will probably see the growth case, but things depend on what actually happens with oil, climate and carbon taxes.

China's go slow approach is to add about 80 nuclear plants by 2030 in China. If that is "go slow" then I guess we would be on the same page if the USA adopted that "go slow" approach.

Most of the USA siting plans are for another nuclear plant to be added to an existing nuclear site. 2 reactors become 3 or 4.

Where are the projects, companies and legislation for the growth case for wind or for the aggressive case ? I see one globally in Europe but nothing in the USA.

Europe supergrid proposal, which has not been approved or funded yet,296,p1.html

Unfortunately neither aggressive case in wind or nuclear is likely in the USA without a significant legislative shift in the USA (an actual commitment to infrastructure leadership).


I count the completion and activation of the Brown Ferry reactor this year as a newly completed US reactor build.

The US went from mainly having completed five nuclear reactors in the 150 MW reactors to 560 Mw range from 1960 to 1968 and then scaled up eight 500+MW reactors in 1972, ten in 1973 and 12 in 1974. They had to train the people for an entire industry in 5 years.

The USA is in a better position now in 2007 then they were in 1967. Five years from the high nuclear production rate of the seventies. Plus there is a global industry and recent experience of completing four other reactors in 2007.

There are constraints to full nuclear build scale up but building new forging plants can also be done. It would take a committed mobilization effort. This is similar to how the US has let its infrastructure in general come into poor condition. Money will need to be spent. Serious trillions of dollars for infrastructure, including energy grid and new power plants.

The restart of industry in the US has already begun in 2005 and 2006.

Aug. 1, 2006 executives of European-based nuclear supplier, Areva Inc., electric utility Constellation Energy, and heavy component supplier BWXT announced their goal to manufacture Areva's new Evolutionary Pressurized Reactor (EPR) in the United States, with 80% of the materials and manpower supplied domestically. Toward this goal, BWXT will start to produce pressure vessels and other heavy components for nuclear power plants, for the first time in two decades.

In the Fall of 2005, Constellation Energy and Areva formed UniStar, to put together teams that will design and build new plants, and train personnel to operate the new plants. On Aug. 1, they announced that the manufacturer BWXT will join their consortium.

This reporter asked if these companies had looked further down the supply chain for nuclear plant components, and had considered a role for the increasingly idle capacity in the U.S. auto industry, with its reservoir of highly skilled manpower and production facilities, for the production of modular components for new nuclear plants.

Christopher said they are surveying all of industry to see what capabilities can be mobilized. "We have the auto industry and its subcontractors on our list of vendors to talk with, as well as the nuclear shipyards and others. But I don't think that dialogue will get very detailed until some time 2007 [when they've come closer to completing the final EPR reactor design]. Note: this has now been done.

He added, with optimism, that if this new venture is successful, "within five or six years the scale of this facility would approach that of Areva's Chalon St. Marcel Heavy Equipment Manufacturing Facility," which today can manufacture 20-24 steam generators and some reactor vessel heads.

GE and Hitachi are scaling up to make hundreds of reactors

Russia is scaling up to capture a large share of the market.

Canada's CANDU reactors do not need the big pressure vessels. Probably a new plant in New Brunswick will provide some power to the eastern US.

The US mainstream and government does not believe in peak oil, so there has been no mobilization to build a lot of reactors in the US. There is some belief that there should be some nuclear plants and so we have the 19-30 orders. So the capacity is being built for 1 or 2 reactors per year in the US. Enough to build the expected orders. After peak oil arrives then orders will scale up and the nuclear build program will hit a higher gear. There will be a lag in the nuclear power scale up, but once the need is clear then more construction capacity will be brought online. I think that nuclear should be scaled up more to replace coal. This is possible but there is no political will to even stop building more coal plants. Plus we have misguided environmentalists who side with the coal interests and believe that coal sequestering will happen and ignore all the other pollutants.

Nuclear build capacity can and will be scaled with the orders for new reactors. The 7-10 year scale up time is correct but we can proceed a lot faster. The US is CHOOSING not to at this time.

The nuclear industry and the US government is at least leading most of the "oil drum" community. Not many people here are saying that the nuclear power industry build scale up is moving too slow. It is pointed out but only a few people recognize, "hey we should take the legislative steps to speed this up and encourage business to build more capacity. We could complete 12 reactors per year like we did in 1974. We have about twice the economy now. If we really wanted to we could build 24 reactors per year. We could supply all of our new power needs and stop building coal plants and even replace some of the old plants or create extra capacity so that we could cleanly power more plug in hybrids and electric cars. We could actually have an energy, transportation and infrastructure plan....nah that would take real leadership. Lets wait until we are in a bit of trouble and then do some more. If we screw around we will still have time to build as many nuclear and coal plants as we need, plus by screwing around we can get people to let us drill in ANWR to cover the temporary shortfall."

Boeing ramped up from 285 planes delivered in 2004, 2005 to 398 in 2006. (more 777 and 737) and is ramping up the 787. Airbus is delivering about 400 per year.


I count the completion and activation of the Brown Ferry reactor this year as a newly completed US reactor

Then you live in a fantasy land. All they did was rewire major sections of it and recertify safety systems that had been dormant for 24 years.

BF 1 was been a fully operational commercial reactor when a fire exposed serious safety flaws (hard to scram when the wires from the control room to the rods are burned through).

The reactor vessel, steam turbines, cooling towers, etc. ertc. were all in place.

I agree with WNC Observer, "Nuclear" and "crash program" should never be used in the same sentence without a negative.

If we (or the French) did a crash program before, WE SHOULD NOT DO IT AGAIN ! Being lucky once is no guarantes of a second time.

A steady, SAFE increase in build rates is what is needed fro nukes. I do NOT TRUST anyone with your "rah rah" attitude towards nukes making policy. I do not trust you to , and others like you, to build and operate them safely.

There were those that wanted Zimmer to go commercial "as is" and decried the regulators that refused a license to them.

BTW, a LaRouche link has no credibility. If they say that the sun rises in the East, I would go out at dawn with a compass to confirm.

Are you one of them ?


I understand that LaRouche can have credibility issues.
But this was easy to confirm.

BWXT is building nuclear reactor vessels.

Why are you tossing around accusations and saying something has "no credibility" when you can google up your confirmation.

12 reactor completions per year in the USA was not and would not be a "crash program"
Scaling up to 24 reactor completions per year worldwide would not be a "crash program"

It is a matter of a standard industry ramp up.

You say there are only two makers of pressure vessels and I pointed out there are at three more coming online. S Korea, BWXT in the US and China. There is also probably a russian maker too. None of it is a crash program.

If you do not trust what I say then look it up and confirm. I think my accuracy rate is pretty high. You can also not believe it, whatever. The rate of nuclear build is increasing whether you believe it or trust it or me or not. The fantasy that you have is that your opinion will effect the choices that were and are being made. I just report that things are moving faster than most here realize and that they can go faster in a safe and simple way (100% loan guarantees instead of 80%, wooo, financing so scary, restart or build more parts companies and convert people and plants from building auto parts to nuclear parts, wooo, so reckless) and if things got desparate which they have not then they can go faster still.

Am I one of them ? One of who ? Another commenter on theoildrum ? Yes? Am I paid by any energy company ? No. This conspiracy delusion in terms of commenters on a blog is wacky. This place is just not that influential for someone to pay to get a message out. Spending money on lobbying senators and congressman that is where the money was spent. You live in a fantasyland where someone would pay someone else to sway your opinion.

Are over 100 coal reactor completions per year a crash program ? How about the 11 being built in the USA now ? If you and others were successful in having slower nuclear plant being built that means more coal plants. Just like it meant that for the last 40 years (although for a while we had quite a bit of natural gas plants, we have reached the limit on them). If we built 20 nuclear reactors in the USA by 2020, would more people die from nuclear or from the 30 coal plants that would be built ?

If you think that enough wind can be built to offset the coal then good luck.

I will trust the go slow and build more coal plant people, when all of the new and old coal plants have scrubbers for SOx and gas bag and other treatment for NOx and particulates and are sequestering the CO2.

Your lack of trust in building what has been proven to be thousands of times safer for 45 years is being on the side of 30,000 guaranteed deaths each year in the USA and 1 million+ worldwide each year. Is the death and illness and property damage from coal pollution imagined ? Do you care about those real deaths ? Do you think there should be a plan to address those deaths ? Or is your response I recommend a go slow approach so that more people continue to die from air pollution because I am scared about some kind of nuclear accident. The leak headlines scare me. Even though no one died except in 1986. Because I and those like me are afraid, those people should keep dieing. Coal miners should keep dieing. People being hit by coal trains and coal trucks should keep dieing and being injured.

We both would like to see more electrification of transportation and more wind power. I am just willing to allow nuclear to shoulder more of the burden in saving lives and I am more realistic in terms of how fast the electrification and wind power is happening or at least I am less satisfied with solutions where one million die every year.


"This conspiracy delusion in terms of commenters on a blog is wacky. This place is just not that influential for someone to pay to get a message out. Spending money on lobbying senators and congressman that is where the money was spent. You live in a fantasyland where someone would pay someone else to sway your opinion."

Undercover PR and marketing is a common enough practice and has been for a while, and the importance of utilising blogs, blog monitoring and contributing to online news sites has also been realised in recent years. I'm not saying you or anyone else is paid to get out a message, but to deny that it happens is what is delusional. We swim in propaganda.

"You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created."
Albert Einstein

More reactor vessel and supplier deals.

In April 2007 Westinghouse signed a US$ 350 million contract with Doosan Heavy Industries in Korea for two pressure vessels and four steam generators. Those for the other two AP1000 units are likely to be made in China: the reactor vessels and steam generators by Harbin Boiler Works, First Heavy Machinery Works, or Shanghai Electric Co (SEC). Korea Power Engineering Co. (KOPEC) and Shanghai Nuclear Energy Research & Design Institute (SNERDI) will have major engineering roles.


Those for the other two AP1000 units are likely to be made in China

This comforts me. Chinese QA and integrity in fully disclosing all flaws and engineering issues is legendary.


well even if the USA builds all 30 of the planned nuclear reactors over the next 20 years. About 200-300 reactors will be built worldwide and about 80 of them will be in China, 20 in the Ukraine, 30 in India, 20 in Russia etc...

I think there is F all that you can do about it but wring your hands.


The Chinese, unlike the Americans, have been steadily increasing their build rate for nuclear reactors.

Unlike China, the USA is starting from a multi-decade dead stop (repairing Browns Ferry I was a good warm-up to start a slow build-up. A similar rate (with 2000 = 2017 or so) for new nukes for the USA would be fine with me.

I recognize national sovereignty, and I also know that not all those plants will be finished on time and on budget (nukes have a HORRIBLE history of economic screw-ups, unlike wind).

Twenty nukes on-line in the Ukraine in 20 years ? Right.....


Who is building the nuclear plants in China ? There have progressed to about 50% local content and they are trying to move it up to 70-75%. It is Westinghouse, Canada Candu, Francatome/Areva, Russia. Global companies make the reactors. Does GE in the US not have access to the knowledge and the people of GE in Europe ? You seem to have heard of the airplane, experienced people/project managers etc can get on those and fly from Europe to China and to the USA.

China plans a fivefold increase in nuclear capacity to 40 GWe by 2020 and then a further three to fourfold increase to 120-160 GWe by 2030.

The Ukraine has 15 nuclear reactors now supplying 46% of their electricity.
Kiev wants to build 11 new nuclear plants by 2030. Ukraine has had natural gas cutoffs from russia and want to reduce dependence on russia.,1518,412837,00.html
Sergei Kiriyenko, CEO of the nuclear company Rosatom, says Moscow aims to build 40 new reactors in the next 25 years.
The Ukraine has 20 proposed reactors. My quote on the Ukraine reactors seems have been a bit high and the Russians a bit low.


China has had a build-up in their rate of nuke construction that is not that different from what I would like to see in the USA (which is a bit faster than what will actually happen).

China went from crawling, to slow walking, to fast walking and is planning to jog. A reasonable acceleration.

Both you and I want to dig up the coffin of US nuke building industry and revive a dead industry. I want to hand him (?) a warm cup of tea, stretch the legs and start limping around a bit. You want to put him into a track suit and line him up for a 200 m dash !

Using foreign managers for major construction projects usually does not work (that is why they do not do it). Given the cultural differences, I cannot see this happening (MAYBE a Canadian manager).

Best Hopes for Reality Based Planning,


I see again that the coal death issue was ignored as it always seems to be. How about it. Any urgency there ?

How about it from any anti-nukers. Where is the realistic plan to save people from coal death ? The 50% solutions over 10 years running through congress now are good enough ? Continue to let 15,000 per year die in the USA after 2017? Diesel and oil waste (waste that goes into the air) deaths ?
No marches ? No help for China or India or other countries with fossil fuel waste problems that kill 3 million per year.

Any hopes or action for fossil fuel waste ?
Maybe you can send a card to the funerals of those people instead. Oh thats right sending 3 million cards per year would cost $3 million.

I want to get nuclear back into the fight and replace the serial killers of coal power plants and fast. Show me how you figure that won't work out. The nuclear plants will not be on fault lines, most are going to existing sites, they have the new designs, all have containment show me how what I am saying is a rush? Show me exactly how it would be worse than coal OR show me that wind will in reality replace the coal.


You make a false dichotomy. It is *NOT* coal OR nuke.

Nuclear power has a long and sordid history of over-promising and then failing. The death of nuclear power construction in the USA after the late 1980s (yes a handful were finished after that, many a decade late) was a self inflicted wound.

Delays, cost over runs and cancellations are the norm for nuclear power in the USA. And the problems that are developing with the 1.6 GW Areva in Finland show that the nuke building industry STILL has problems delivering on their promises.

If you want to redce coal ASAP, join me in calling for a crash program in building wind, solar, geothermal, small hydro, HV DC transmission and pumped storage ! And we will build as many nukes as we reasonably can, but we should NOT count on them being finished on time or on budget. They come on-line whenever they are finally completed.

I hear all these wild promises of how fast nuclear plants can be built, and I think of more than a dozen nukes that were canceled after starting construction, the constant multi-year delays (some over a decade) and constant cost over runs. And the multi-year shut-down of all Babcox & Wilcox nukes after Three Mile Island.

Nuke can promise, but can it deliver ?

The fact that none will be built in the USA without loan guarantees (AFAIK) tells me that the risk of failing to deliver is just too great for private companies. Given their history, I understand why.

Nuke is NOT the best alternative to coal, it is the second wave, mop up response that will arrive "when ever". Especially not a "Rush to Nuke" which multiplies the risk of L O N G delays, operating problems and cost overruns.


They are falling behind from about 5 years constructioning time to 6 years due to the design being new and untested and handling quality problems due to new suppliers.

It is fairly ok if a 20% delay would be the norm for first units and suppliers working up to become nuclear grade.

In December 2003, the consortium formed by AREVA and Siemens signed a contract for the construction of Olkiluoto 3 with the Finnish utility Teollisuuden Voima Oy (TVO).

Last week the start date was pushed back (again) to 2011.

A time delay of over 50% seems likely before completion.

Costs also appear to be escalating in Finland. And with only one unit under construction in the EU, there is no competition for resources.

Add bottlenecks and competition for all nuclear related resources and things can get worse.

My "go slow" schedule (which is slightly higher than the aggressive industry schedule) is also probably above the maximum economic rate of ramp-up and could not be meet without significant cost over runs. A "Rush to Nuke" could very well become a massive snafu.

Nuclear cannot be counted on to be on-time and on budget.

Thus the need for gov't loans and subsidies with the taxpayers sharing in the risks of building nukes.


Building aircraft is a close analog to building nukes

Well at least I could find one phrase of yours that I sort of agree with. The US built about 300,000 aircraft during World War II from a very low production base. There is a good analog for what is needed.

You are using the production rate under a voluntary construction suspension to determine what is possible in a World War II level global effort, where we would use 25-50% of national income! You think we could only build 5 plants in 10 years? It staggers the mind how you lack imagination. Let's hope the Taliban does not try to invade America. If you are right about out economic prowess, we would not be able do anything to stop them.

Let me rephrase that.

Building MODERN CIVIL aircraft, such as the Boeing assembly line, is a close analog to building nukes

I DO NOT want nukes built under a "WW II type effort".

I D NOT want nukes built under a 1970s French style effort !


I could be persuaded that we could built to completion 8 new nukes in the next ten years, and 20 more in the five years after that. I would have to see the same dedication to quality and experience and safety that I see at Boeing.

I do not want to fly in a GM airplane, or have a nuke with Ford parts.

However, if the effort proposed by some in the industry, to use auto workers building unfamiliar parts and Made In China critical parts, I am opposed to it. And I could be motivated to march and lobby against a "Rush to Nuke".

Best Hopes for SAFE nukes (new ones SAFER than ANY built before),


Yes, mimicking the zero deaths from French reactors is the highest priority thing to be improved or stopped. No marching against coal plants. Can't actually march against something that is actually killing a lot of people and is actually dangerous. Let the "rush to coal" continue. US mining deaths have doubled from about 24 per year to about 50. But there is no safety risks there. Kill thousands with pollution and poison (arsenic, toxic metals) carry on, coal gets an exemption because they have been doing it for over 70 years.

You do want to fly in a GM airplane? But driving in any kind of car is OK. Cars of any manufacturer just kill 44,000 per year in America.

The designed in risks of a particular kind of system are OK. It is the execution and operating risks that count.

Deep fried fries, junk foods and other unhealthy foods are ok, even though they cause more deaths from health problems.
It is only bacterial contamination that slips though on plants or into meat that matters. It is the smaller unintended risks and deaths that matter. If something is designed 100 to 10,000 times more deadly then carry on. Especially if those deaths are in the 'usual way'. Some kind of newer infrequent but sensational death those like the Saw movie deaths are what are really frightening.

Nuclear bombs are scary. They killed almost 180,000 people in 1945. Oil and chemical bombs and guns, that killed 200 million in the 20th century. Boring. 500,000 to 1,000,000 Iraq War deaths for an oil war. Boring. Let us focus on N Korea testing 1 kiloton nukes. Iran too. Let us not let make more reactors because our nuclear materials could fall into the hands of N Korea and Iran. what is that they already have nuclear materials and either have bombs or will have bombs. They can't get pregnant again while they are already pregant ?

The real numbers related to safety is too complicated. I won't actually calculate and compare actual risks, that would be work, I would rather follow my gut and knee jerk reactions.

Looking at the actual improvement in manufacturing quality. Building to specs over the last few decades is again too hard. Real data and math. Ick.

The fact that even GM and Ford have manufacturing quality that is statistically close to aircraft parts. the improvements in nuclear safety. The new ones that are already safer than any built before... Obviously not good enough.

Kill me and the people I know and don't know the good old fashioned way. Hit us on our anti-nuke march with a good old fashioned truck full of coal. Give 25% of us on our anti-nuke marches more cancer, heart attacks and asthma deaths from air pollution while we March and go around outdoors.

While you "hope for safe nukes", get killed or made sick by air pollution. Eat more fish with mercury and arsenic. Those are the only sensible ways to have an energy source kill you.


And all of that is before you consider what we will do to cope with peak fossil fuels. Bring on 5 billion people dying. The anti-nuclear fever is so strong that they will resist even if it means the whole world will need to go to hell.

Alan, you completely lack an adequate sense of urgency about this. What we face is a very serious crisis that could, many people think, result in much of the world's population dying. You need to be thinking about doing a lot more than what you are now considering.

Wind is faster, more certain and probably cheaper.

New nukes can fill a secondary, later role to gap fill.


Where is the proof ? The facts for this statement.
Wind is faster ?
That has never been the case in the USA over any 2 year or greater span.
Worldwide is has not been the case that wind has been faster in terms of kwh added. Some isolated anomolies like Germany.

Nuclear power is still adding now with power uprates and operational efficiency.

Under current business as usual

The NRC staff has approved 113 such applications to date. As a result, approximately 4,900 megawatts-electric (MWe) in electric generating capacity have been added to the nation’s electrical grid. This is equivalent to about 4.9 nuclear power plant units. The NRC currently has ten additional uprate applications under review, and an additional 10 applications are expected through Fiscal Year (FY) 2008. In April 2007, the NRC staff surveyed nuclear power plant licensees to determine whether they planned to submit additional power uprate applications over the next 5 years. Based on this survey, licensees plan to request power uprates for 28 nuclear power plants over the next 5 years. If approved, these power uprates will result in an increase of about 1,473 MWe in electrical generating capacity, or roughly 1.5 nuclear power plant units. Browns Ferry 1 is an additional 1153 MWe.

2.5GW from 2007-2012. 20 billion kwh. 60% of the wind power that exists now. Power uprates can be pursued more agressively.

MIT donut shaped fuel
Hollow 14-mm cylinders shown here can increase efficiency by 50% (would work on the 104 existing reactors in the USA). Likely deployment starting in 2016 through 2025.

My charts and data below shows that even in the growth case wind will not be adding more kwh than nuclear. Plus as I have shown with more agressive power uprates and nuclear construction nuclear can add a lot more in the near term, mid term and long term.


Alan, you completely lack an adequate sense of urgency about this

Nuke slow, Wind fast.


Experienced nuke builders? Are you serious? We need welders. Got them. Can train more. We need electricians. Got them. Can train more. We need people to pour concrete. Got them. Can train more.

What's so special about building a nuclear power plant that requires many years of experience doing it? I don't see it. In my experience in engineering environments if you hire really smart people to work alongside the people with many years in an industry then the smart ones catch up in 2 or 3 years (if not sooner) and become better than the average long established workforce. I've seen this in automotive, aerospace, and other areas where I've worked.

We have engineers who build huge projects in oil, mining, factories, bridges, and other big things. We have lots of construction workers. We can build stuff.

Specifications for nuke building: Hire people from aerospace who know how to maintain big paper trails (or computer trails) of how each part got built and inspected. This gets done for military and commercial aerospace.

Existing suppliers can build new plants or new suppliers can enter the market. The world has lots of capital and management and engineering talent.

In a "Rush for Nuke" if you make the MINIMUM they will hire you. We have a shortage of engineers in this country, not "plenty of".

Zimmer was managed by a guy who had built several coal fired electricity plants. GREAT experience, right !

Aerospace experience has the greatest cross training. Part of it is managing paperwork, but a larger part is the safety culture of aerospace. But how many ?

Petrochemical controls are another good potential source (screw up the wiring and kill a few people and cost the company dozens or hundreds of millions).

Electricians and welders have to have nuke ratings (their helpers can just be good master electricians with some control and/or high voltage experience. Wiring homes does not cut it, even for helper). After a couple years experience (18 months ?), they can get their nuke rating.

The "road whores" that go from one nuke refueling outage to the next are the pool to start from in building a new nuke (but some are still needed for refueling outages). Their helpers can multiple the # of nuke rated electricians in a couple of years.

There is a safety culture in the current nuke industry. One reason for nuke rating is transmitting the culture.

Your cavalier attitude will erode that safety culture and quite frankly frightens me.

You attitude has motivated me to fight strongly any "Rush to Nuke" !


BTW, fudge paperwork on a nuke job, five to ten years in federal prison (memory on the length of the sentences).

No, we do not have a shortage of engineers. If we had a shortage then engineering salaries would be much higher than they are.

There are a bunch of reasons that industries build at 10% or 20% per year and not 1000% or 10,000% per year.

You say there is plenty of steel, but all that steel is allocated. What you really need to measure is excess capacity. And if you want more, you have to pay more and take someone elses supply. Now for commodities like steel, it is easier to scale. But that steel needs to be made into parts at factories that can do the work. To build these kinds of numbers, you might have to build factories.

Then there is the economics. We don't live in a command economy. 1,000 reactors is like 2-5 trillion dollars of upfront investment to be paid back over the lifetime of the reactors. This is an enormous draw down of physical resources and redirection of energy. Just think of what the tax rates would need to be to raise the funds?

These nuke plants have to earn a profit, or the whole growth cycle stops. While coal is cheaper, new Nuke plants are not going to earn a profit. So there would have to be some change in regulation to allow inefficient market operation (monopoly, carbon tax, something). One of the cited reasons for the halting of new nuke construction is the deregulation of the market halted monopoly pricing practices that paid for higher nuke costs.

If you don't have experience designing and building large power plants (and forgive me, but it does not sound like you do), but you still want to contribute, then what I suggest is you take a historical pattern (like the US build or French build) and then continue the pattern in time to estimate what is possible. Take the role of a Journalist, and start finding expert sources you can speak with in person.

There is an MIT report discussing the economics of nuke construction in detail. I would also read that. Many bright people have studied this issue. Sometimes you can get further standing on the shoulders of giants.

Jon Freise
Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

1000 reactors won't be necessary unless oil production just plummets rapidly and natural gas does too. My point is that we can produce as much energy from nukes as we now get from fossil fuels.

Fast builds: At the outset of WWII all the soldiers of US Army could fit inside a sports stadium. The Navy wasn't big either. I had an old history teacher who told me how he sat on an island in the Pacific around late 2004 and watched a fleet of the US Navy pass by. It took 3 days to pass and the entire time he could see huge numbers of ships. His comment to me was that at the outset of the war all those ships were ore in Minnesota or Wisconsin. Look at what that ore was and where that ore was 3 years later.

Fast builds are possible if we just need to do it badly enough. Surely, if our alternative becomes (as some here obviously believe) return to riding horses and donkeys and mass starvation then we'll decide that, yes, we really do need to build nukes badly enough.

As for experience building nukes: Henry Kaiser had no experience building ships at the outset of WWII. His company innovated automated ship manufacturing methods, the company achieved an incredible Liberty Ship build rate (1 a day? something like that) and he obsolesced pre-war methods of building ships.

Could we do a fast build rate and still maintain quality? Sure. Though it would take a revolution in construction methods. For example, want accurate welds? Don't use human welders. Use welding robots designed for building nukes. Might be hard to justify the R&D if the number of nukes getting built is low. But up the build rate high enough and it becomes practical.

(revised as of 9:11pm Aug 15 - Final)

Alan: 9.4
Advancednano: 8.5
Sterling: 7.2
gTrout: 8.8
FutureP: 8.2
NZ: 8.7*
WNC: 8.2*
Roger: priceless (I don't care what GZ says)

For those still following and wanting a summary (IMHO). Saved the really nasty stuff for a rainy day.

Best hopes for a good night's sleep and stronger upper-level shear in the very near future.

*P > 0.05 (clear opinion; small sample size)

Above: 2004 was supposed to be 1944.

>take historical pattern like US build and French build and estimate what is possible

Hello, I already did that and placed the links onto theoildrum and my site.
12 reactor completion peak in 1973 for the USA.
60 reactors in the decade of the 70s USA
47 reactors completed in the 80s for the USA
Before 1967 there were 14 reactors and only 3 were bigger than 71MW.
France had their peak build in the 80s with 43 reactors

Worldwide about 150 reactors were built in the 1970s and 190 in the 1980s and 50 reactors in the 1990s

From 2010 to 2019, the world could go back the build rate of the 1970s with 150 reactors. The US technically could achieve 60 reactor builds from 2015-2024 (just like the 1970s) but won't because there is no will. The US and global economy is twice as big as it was in the 1970s. The same percentage level of effort would be double the build rate.

Taxes do not have to be raised. It is just loan guarantees, which have no cost unless there are defaults. Bonds are raised for the construction.

I have been reading and putting links and quoting expert reports.


The US technically could achieve 60 reactor builds from 2015-2024 (just like the 1970s)

Not on any reasonable commercial basis.

You failed to extend your by decade schedule.

1970s -60
1980s -47 (only handful past 1986)
1990s -3 (Comanche 1 & 2 in 1990 & 1993, Watts Bar 1 1996)
2000s -0.2 (Repair Browns Ferry 1)
2010-2014-0.4 (finish Watts Bar 2)
2015-2020 (TXU 1 & 2, Calvert 3 and, perhaps a couple more).

Twenty or more years between Watts Bar 1 & TXU 1 !

(BTW, 1973 was a statistical anomaly, 1972 & 1974 were significantly lower. 12/year was never a sustainable rate in the USA)

Unlike the Chinese who have an active nuke building program and are simply building on an existing base of active experience and capabilities, the USA will be restarting from almost scratch (BF 1 & Watts Bar 2 will help, as will our active nuke maintenance program).

Our GNP may be larger, but our heavy engineering abilities are significantly less.

See the problems that the EU is having in building ONE new nuke after a shorter delay since the four French N4 reactors were built. (AREVA is basically an update to the N4 design).

The MAXIMUM economic and safe rate that I can foresee is

Watts Bar 2 finished (40% left) by 2015.
Five new complete by 2017
Twenty Complete 2018-2022
Fifteen in 2023 & 2024 (8/year by 2024 seems reasonable)

40.4 vs. 60 2015-2024

or 60 2018-2027 vs. 2015-2024

That is the delta between us. Wind can do more, sooner IMO.

Nuclear may be like ketchup. You pound on it, again and again, and nothing comes, nothing comes, nothing comes and then a *LOT* comes ! :-)


1968 1 tiny one
1969 3 completions
1970 4 completions
1971 3 completions
1972 8 completions
1973 10 completions
1974 12 completions
1975 6 completions
1976 8 completions

so the first phase up was the 1962-1971 build cycle. (starts being about 5-7 years before)
then it was 1967-1976 build cycle. Which had 9 per year from 1972 to 1976.

So you are agreeing that it would be economic and safe to return what was proven could be done in the 70s. That is an improvement (previously you had a 4-5/year peak). I agree that the 8-9/year level is the likely maximum case for what we will see if the US government and business urgency does not increase. We have no carbon tax and no peak oil and we do not really care about coal deaths. The continuing differences that we have are that I do not view the mid-70s as the pinnacle of US ability to build things, I think that engineers and scientists can improve, I think worldwide capabilities can be tapped, and I want both more nuclear and all of the renewables that you ask for. I also think that all of the major energy solutions take time and will take big effort and that we cannot afford to not drive every part of the convoy of solutions at anything less than full speed. Every year one more nuclear reactor is in place and operating displaces 3 large coal plants which saves about 100 lives/year in the US.
Twenty more reactors running an avg of 3 years more from 2020-2025 is 6000 lives. A 9/11 and an Iraq war 2 number of US deaths. Still 3000 saved even IF coal got 50% cleaner. Then from 2026-2035, a 50% differential would be say another 40 more. 60 reactors or 400 reactor years. 40,000 lives. Still 20,000 lives even IF coal got 50% cleaner. Preventing a 9/11 per year in deaths every year from 2026-2035 is worthwhile. It would be on top of whatever we can get from wind power and the renewables. Replacing the 2000 to 3000 billion kwh from coal is a big job, but every year faster that it is done saves lives...a LOT of lives.

People will continue to die from the pollution but we need to look at the long term and fix it.

This chart shows that even in the 90s and into 2000 the kwh from nuclear kept going up from about 540 billion kwh in 1989 to 750 billion kwh in 2000 and up to 790-800 billion kwh now.
Added 4.2 reactors since 1989 (you forgot seabrook-1) but added 210 billion kwh in the 90s (7 times more than the 2007 wind energy) and another 40-50 billion kwh in the 2000s. (more than all of the wind energy in the US as of 2007)

Operational efficiency gains that made that achievement have about run its course. Moving from 90% to higher is tough. (although a 5% gain would be another 40 billion kwh again more than the current wind)

Power up-rates. 18-24 month application process, 2-3 years to implement. Current up-rates 5-20%. 50% power ups are possible with MIT tech (donut fuel and nanoparticles). 50% power-up over 20 years would be 400 billion kwh to the current fleet of US reactors.

Power uprates from technology, more reactors, lives to be saved from 2017+ (only 10 years away and 4 years sooner with an agressive program of power up-rates). There are lives to be saved and I want to save them and I don't want mistaken understanding of risks and science illiteracy to stop those lives from being saved.


We do not need to raise nuclear power plant production rates by 3 orders of magnitude next year. The decline in oil production isn't going to be that sharp. So I think you are knocking down a strawman of your own devising.

My point is that we have options available to substitute for oil. We don't have to let our economy collapse. We can produce lots of energy using non-fossil fuels energy sources.

No, we should not build unprofitable nuclear power plants. Completely agree.

As for what is possible for industry to do: It depends on the level of desperation. Given a sufficiently desperate situation we could convert 100 or 500 colleges and universities into nuclear construction skills centers and teach everything from welding to nuclear engineering. The skills gaps could be filled.

The people who think they've got skills that are hard to replace are almost always wrong. We could train large numbers of people to do nuclear plant construction and nuclear plant operation if oil production started dropping so rapidly that we were in a crisis situation.

You make several unwarranted assumptions.

One is that the appropriate response to shortfalls of oil (and presumably natural gas) is more electricity.

With concurrent massive infrastructure investments, this can be true (electrification of transportation, geothermal heat pumps for space heating, solar and air source heat pumps for domestic hot water, some bio feedstocks for petrochemical) but without this massive investment, it is not true.

You also assume that the best source of new electricity is a massive fleet of nuclear reactors. I believe that renewable sources of electricity, coupled with HV DC transmission and pumped storage, would be 1) faster and 2) cheaper than a "Rush to Nukes". (The grid cannot accept more than ~50% nuke w/o pumped storage). Any crash program should be focused elsewhere and nuke should be allowed a natural commercial rate of growth.


My assumptions:

1) If more electricity isn't the substitute for declining fossil fuels then what is? Biomass is a bad idea. We are already using an increasing fraction of all the land surface due to growing populations and rising affluence which is increasing the demand for land for cattle and other livestock.

2) Concurrent massive investments in ways to use electricity: Of course this is necessary. I've argued for years for more battery research for example. But the rise in costs of fossil fuels is already driving some of that investment. Plus, advances in electronic components are enabling this shift. It is not just better batteries. We've got better voltage regulators and other analog and digital devices.

3) Best source of new electricity: I advocate for accelerated research on photovoltaics. But nukes cost a lot less. Wind: It is going to grow too. But the southeast of the US doesn't have much wind and that is where most of the next round of nukes are going in.

Well Future Pundit,

... looks like you're starting to change your tune.
I apologize for the large dose or reality that smacked you in the face here at the TOD.

Dreaming was so much nicer.

I too wish I had never heard of Peak Oil.

P.S. As for nukes in the Southeast ... read this story about the Alabama nuke plant.

Don't you wish these evil teeter TODders did not come to the table with discomforting "facts"?

I do not see many "facts" in your posts.

Here are facts. Alabama is mostly coal powered.

If you need power to account for shutdowns which do happen (nuclear is on 90% of the time over years) and coal only 70% wind is working 25-35% of the time, THEN you need to have spare capacity. You plan ahead and do not have only just enough so that any hickup causes death. Capacity planning. Systems design planning. Sorry to smack you in the face with engineering.


My analysis is really simple: We have huge amounts of capital. We have huge amounts of technology.

Dear Future Pundit:

We also have huge amounts of uneducated and uneducatable Joe Sixpacks running around on our planet.

All this "we" talk doesn't help when a vast majority of the mainstream herd still hasn't heard about Peak Oil.

When they finally do hear about it for the first time, they will fall for the traditional denialist escape clauses:

1. "The Market" will save us
2. "Technology" will save us
3. "The Government" will save us
4. The smart "they" out there will save me and I don't have to worry my pretty head about such things. Instead I need to focus on what Paris wore yesterday and who Lindsey partied with the other night. Hey, did you hear Jenna got engaged to the Rove guy?
5. My religious deity (John From Cincinnati) will appear out of nowhere at the right moment and save my rear end. Repent yea sinners. The end is near. So kiss it good bye.

Your denialist dream about nukes is just an extension of the "Technology will save us" dream. Did you see the story the other day about how they had to shut down a nuke plant in Tennessee because the river was too hot? That was just on the day they needed the juice to power the air conditioners to combat the 105F temperatures.

There are many, many people in the United States who fall into the category of the poor who will suffer because they will be the first who cannot absorb the cost of rising energy costs.

I cannot speak of the entire country, but in Minnesota, the social structure has evolved in such a way that an underclass of low wage factory and service workers are forced to commute to their workplaces because of the housing costs closer to work. Many of these people already use the bus system that grew up around this situation.

In rural Minnesota, many of them cannot own a house for the simple reason that the houses that might afford to own are ancient and energy inefficient. Essentially, they could not afford the utility bills, etc even if they are given a mortgage if they are already mired in debt (which,again, may be because they were irresponsible or to survive financial difficult like used car breakdowns, etc).

I speak from personal experience myself with these issues. How many people are in similar situations? I haven't the statistics on hand, but I think it is chunk of the workplace large enough that if the squeeze accelerates, it will cause labor disruptions. Wage inflation (wages have to rise to cover transportation housing expenses at the bottom), maybe localized employment because jobs are concentrated in larger cities and commuters cannot commute to extent as before. I foresee bus systems must expand even in rural areas that now don't have enough potential ridership to justify them.


CenterPoint Energy, the state's largest provider of natural gas, reported that about a third of its customers - about 208,000 businesses and households - owe money after the heating season.

More than half of those delinquent customers are at least two months behind on payments, and owe an average of $1,500.

Xcel Energy has also noted increased delinquencies, as has Minnesota Energy Resources, which serves 51 counties around the state.

What this says to me is that the poor are living on credit. They don't have the money to pay for fuel even in warm winters. If they cannot afford fuel, they cannot afford investments in efficiency. A really cold winter would be a disaster.

I am not sure how you would discover what is happening with gasoline.

Jon Freise

Analyze Not Fantasize -D. Meadows

Unfortunately, rural bus service like like uses a LOT of fuel. per pax-mile. And bus transit companies will be hard pressed to keep service levels constant as fuel prices rise.

The only viable solution may be a network of electrified commuter rail and walking, biking in decent weather to a station, and driving something economical in winter snow & cold.

Something like the Boston MBTA commuter rail network.

Best Hopes,


Wisdom. Maturity. Forethought. Fearless Leadership. Parenthood.
These are things that are needed, but in short supply in the world. It takes fearless leadership to stand in front of the world and guide people to unpopular actions and uncomfortable places. Who will guide the world in a Descent Plan which tells the Profit Motive Corporatocracy to disband and reform as Creative Cooperatives instead of Competitive Resource Sinkholes? Who will take the authority of the State and rescind the charters of corporations which merely exist to harm people and environments through vaguely legal actions? Who will be willing to fight for reduced consumption, reduced populations, reduced comforts, reduced cashflows, and reduced debts?

"Not I" said the cat.
"Not I" said the pig.
"Not I" said the duck.
"Not I" said the president.

The reductions will happen all on their own. It is the pulling out of the dive and leveling off farther rather than closer to zero that requires the leadership.

Venezuela may stop exporting oil to the U.S. within a few years and Mexico is in decline. I see a time in our future when rationing will be necessary. We may have mag stripe cards that will allow us to buy only so much over a given period of time.

Gosh, what can one say that hasn't already been expressed in this most introspective and cathartic series of posts?

In a white cloak with blood-red lining, with the shuffling gait of a cavalryman, early in the morning of the fourteenth day of the spring month of Nissan...