Turning an Oil Tanker

Change, it seems to be the word of the moment. And it seems to be one of those popular words that pop up every time there is a likelihood of a change in the Administration. But when we change we should know what to expect from that change, and that does require more than a little knowledge of the consequences. One thinks of the Bay of Pigs debacle, or the politicization that led to the disaster that has been the Federal response to the damage Katrina imposed on New Orleans.

I was thinking of the ignorance of consequences as I read Baron Wormser’s book The Road Washes Out in the Spring. As one of the “hippy culture” of the 60’s he chose to build a house in rural Maine, discovering after having put it up that they could not afford to run a power-line to the house. Thus, through the raising of a family, they did without electricity (apart from a small generator to run a hand-iron, a Skil saw for large carpentry, and a blender). Water was pumped by hand, and heating and cooking used wood stoves. But, when they first went through a winter, they had no appreciation of the amount of wood that would be required, and so, accompanied by a flash-light, he ended up sawing and splitting wood into the night, for they had no backup furnace. They also became very dependent on the condition of the road of the title, the typical rural dirt road, with culverts and infrequent maintenance.

On a small, individual level, such impacts of change can be accommodated. But on a larger scale, as changes unfold, society does not have that flexibility of the individual. What we need is proper preparation. On one of the news shows this past week I watched a correspondent trying to steer a model oil tanker. Since the turning radius and stopping distance of these behemoths is measured in miles, it required considerable pre-planning to get to where he wanted the tanker to go. It mirrors, in many ways the needs that we have for a pilot for the future of our energy program. Without recognition of the realities of societal inertia, and the length of time it is going to take to develop significant alternative approaches, we may end up, as tankers have, on the rocks.

Proper planning thus requires a certain depth of knowledge that understands what is really achievable, and which can be accomplished in a given amount of time. But, as the political hands would turn the tanker of State, its safe passage will then turn to those in the industries who must implement the changes mandated. One thing that has already become evident in the debate about the energy future is that new energy supplies cannot be created merely through passage of an act of Congress. Even with the consequently heavy Federal investment in cellulosic ethanol, the technical issues that bedevil that program will not be easily solved within the short period of time before the anticipated need for the fuel it promised arrives.

Political rhetoric and will, although important, are insufficient for the needs of the future. What is also critically important are the skills and knowledge of the workforce called upon to make the needed changes. It is easy to say that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention,” but that fails to recognize the small base of people and knowledge upon which some of that responsibility for revolution is placed.

A small personal anecdote may perhaps illustrate the point. As part of what I do with the rest of my time I have, on occasion, helped in the development of technologies that improve energy extraction from the earth. Some time ago a group of us suggested a method of improving a particular process in one such industry, but given the cost:benefits perceived at the time, the suggestion was not taken up.

Time has moved on, and now the PTB have decided that this would be a good idea, and would like to discuss it further. Unfortunately, in the meantime, three of my colleagues have moved on to greener pastures, and finding qualified faculty in our disciplines is becoming increasingly difficult, even as more of us do move on or retire. The net result is that the amount of time available for research declines, as teaching loads rise, and the ability to respond to such requests starts to vanish.

Our own local situation is not unique. Increasingly there is a concern for the future supply of scientists and engineers, even as the need for them grows. In the same way as the development of a new fuel source, creating a future supply of qualified and knowledgeable personnel requires an investment and time (on the order of ten years). And, instead of this becoming a priority, instead one hears of declining demographics, and the drop in interest in the engineering and science disciplines in schools.

Change, in other words, needs proper preparation if it is to be effectively handled. More than most others the energy field will change dramatically over the next ten years, and the impact that it will have on society will be overwhelming. We need the planning and pre-positioning of resource that will make the transition of minimal impact to society. But so far it does not look as though that is happening. Energy supplies and energy futures do not appear to have much impact in the current political debates, even though the writing is starting to appear on the wall. And thus, unprepared, we are likely to stumble into the future, which does not bode well either for us, or for the long-term health of the next Administration.

And on a small personal change, I replaced my car this week. After it being repeatedly suggested that I was being perhaps more than a tad hypocritical, I did go out and get a hybrid. I ended up with a Camry – and before anyone asks, I relied on a recent U.S. News Report that suggested it was the best of the breed. Time will tell!

P.S. Baron Wormser was Poet Laureate of Maine, from 2000 to 2005, and while the book tends to romanticize the life that the family lived for nearly twenty-five years (they then moved into a more modern (1850's) house in a nearby town - after the children left home), it is a very pleasant description of a way of life.

If there's a drop in interest in engineering and science in the U.S., I suspect it's mainly due to the lack of employment. They invented H1B's to get cheap talent, after all.

Also a factor is the dismal state of US K-12 education. Too many students are not graduating with the necessary skills to cut it in an engineering program. We're not talking Nobel Prize level here, but they do have to be able to do the math. There was no problem producing enough HS graduates in the 1950s that were prepared enough to make it through an engineering degree. Now, it is a problem.

Dude, where's the incentive? You can make more as a plumber nowadays than with a BS in most science or engineering disciplines. High school students may be smarter than you think. How many wealthy mathematicians do you know?

I just read that in 2007 according to the BLS, total engineering and architectural jobs created were 54,700. Doesn't really seem likely to create any shortages. Especially with a hundred thousand H1Bs available.

Starting salaries for some engineering disciplines are as follows:
Aerospace Engineering $50,642
Architectural Engineering $46,830
Business & Management $44,711
Chemical Engineering $55,418
Civil Engineering $45,173
Computer Engineering $52,850
Computer Science $51,308
Electrical Engineering $52,963
Geological Engineering $46,300
Information S & T $47,750
Mechanical Engineering $52,252
Metallurgical Engineering $51,626
Mining Engineering $52,755
Nuclear Engineering $57,800
Petroleum Engineering $75,750

Source MO S&T

Mmmmm petroleum! Where do I sign?

Where I live plumbers make $40/hr, so about $60,000/yr. When the median salary in the U.S. is about $45,000/yr, those starting salaries are fairly pathetic. If there was an actual engineering shortage, they'd be much higher.

Any field where a significant fraction of the BS graduates cannot find a job when they get out isn't experiencing any real shortage. It does however look as though your area, petro engineering, might have a shot at attracting more people.

Where I live plumbers make $40/hr, so about $60,000/yr.

Note, though, that those are starting salaries. They will approximately double for an engineer with 5-10 years of experience.

Hardly, unless you make it into management. This is more typical:

5-10 years

Those ranges were in the 80's to 100's, which is about double the starting salaries. In my own experience, everyone I work with had doubled their salaries by the 10 year mark at the latest. I did it in 4 years, but only because I accepted an international assignment which comes with several premiums.

$40 is not starting salary! In VT it takes 5 yrs to be a master plumber. And guess what, you'll likely start at $12! After 5 years, if you pass the test, you're still no where near $40, if you work for someone else.

My comment was that the engineering salaries are starting salaries. What is being compared is an established plumber's salary versus a starting engineering salary - an invalid comparison.

Where do you live? I just checked the dept of labor site. Median wage is $20.50 (national). Highest state was $29.

Granddaughter, a senior ME at UVA, has several good offers for June. One is a major oil refining Company on the East Coast offering over $60,000.

Incentive? What incentive?

Annual compensation for hourly jobs in the Big Three auto industry: $145,000 ; annual compensation for professors $93,000. On the whole, engineers in industry don't do any better than professors, as their jobs don't last long enough to vest the vast and lavish pension benefits which form a big part of compensation at the Big Three, government, and, often, academia. Oh, and they don't get overtime, and, in some industries, their travel is not so much to academic conferences at resorts in Bermuda and Hawai'i as it is to worksites in torrid deserts in summer, or frigid Arctic wastes in winter.

Oh, and I was forgetting, auto workers start earning four to ten years earlier than college grads, and they do so free of crippling college debt.

Things have not changed one iota since I knew a somewhat demoralized guy in grad school who saw his friends from his auto-industry town already ensconced in luxurious houses, owning big cars and boats, and so on, while we were still in, well, college-style housing. Nor since a relative living temporarily in northeast Wisconsin was agog at the way folks there showed no ambition beyond the local paper mill, as that paid much more than they expected to net by getting a higher education.

The comments at the link tell me there is zero likelihood of change in the foreseeable future. It's a sociopolitical issue independent of any diminishing of opportunities that might be caused by oil and energy issues. It follows that as someone here mentioned, the goods and technologies and alt-energies will continue to appear by magic, "poof", from elsewhere. How else should they appear?

That is, they will appear until they don't. Or until the dollar has tanked so far that it no longer matters to "us" whether they do or don't.

In addition to this, the professors that I know in Physics all complain about the hassles of raising funding for research. There are little dibs and dabs of money here and there, and if you write enough grant proposals, you eventually get enough to hold together a program. Of course you spend all of your time writing proposals and dealing with performance reviews...

Which brings me to a 2nd point. The supply & demand dynamic for PhDs doesn't work well. Each professor takes as many students as he can get funding for, but there is no guarantee of a job for those that graduate. Essentially the only thing that regulates the number of students is a difficulty in attracting the students in the first place (because kids eventually figure out that the field isn't as lucrative as one might have thought in the first place), and of course the availability (or lack of) research funding.

Colleges and universities are trying to reduce the number of tenured faculty positions - they want to hire people for a teaching stint of a couple of years, and then send them on their way to their next posting. They become in effect highly educated migrant workers, but people reach a stage in their lives where they want to settle down and so forth, and this sort of transient life eventually gets very old. For those that want an academic research career, you end up with multiple post-doc appointments, and then perhaps you get a proper permanent job of some sort.

For those who have an insatiable curiosity, the professor's job sounds a lot more interesting despite all of the drawbacks that you noted, but if you add too much administrative BS, people would be more inclined to just take the money.

Liebig minimum for plants might be water, sunlight, nitrogen, sulfur, potash, etc.
What's the Liebig minimum for technology? Research money, Engineering money, Inventor money...
Say, we took one billion dollars out of the hundred billion we spend on research each year and gave 1,000 inventors 1,000 to 1,000,000 dollars each, reserving half for administration, what results would we get? What inventions would get the prize money?

It's even worse. The teachers many of us had in the 50's and 60's were mostly very smart women with fewer options than today. So, we had the best and brightest teaching us from Kindergarten on up. These women are now out of the teaching corps.

I am involved with Teacher preparation now (undergrad and grad) and the students entering the teaching field, while still mostly women, are no longer as smart and curious as in the old days. In addition, with the de-professionalization of teaching (here's the curriculum, don't deviate) and the requirements of No Child Left Behind (endless testing of often meaningless trivia), many of the remaining inspired teachers are simply getting out of the field. Helicopter parents, incompetent administrators, and parents with lawyers second-guessing everything that happens in the classroom finishes off the rest of the good teachers.

What this really means is that the "generalists" in the gradeschool classrooms who need to know a little about a LOT of things, or at least how to show students HOW to learn, or simply model curiosity, - are simply not there. The students I run into in teacher prep are rarely curious about anything more than might be on the next exam. I don't think this is unique to teacher prep but since these students have potentially 30-40 years in front of THEIR students, this incurious installed learning infrastructure will potentially be with us for a very, very long time. Of course we know that half of all new teachers leave the field within 5 years. Guess which teachers stay, and which ones leave.

As the great Mogambo says, "We are all freakin' doomed!"

Rev Karl

My wife is a senior teacher in the UK. Your description sounds EXACTLY parallel to hers.


Rev Karl and pondlife, my wife has been teaching here in Lithuania since she graduated from the Pedagogical Institute (yeah, I know, that dates me, if anyone knows the local folkways). Add Lithuania to the list of countries with a teaching system under severe stress. Rev Karl's phrase "here's the curriculum, don't deviate" really sums it up. What a succinct way to describe de-professionalization. A flickering ray of hope, however: in discussions of what to do, more and more people refer to the need for professional respect, and that is not just a code phrase for higher pay. There is increasing awareness that the generations that transformed Lithuania from a rural backwater to an industrial backwater (sorry, couldn't resist...) are aging, and replacements are desperately needed. Without good teaching, those replacements won't be coming any time soon.

The students I run into in teacher prep are rarely curious about anything more than what might be on the next exam.

Aha. This is the invisible hand working its wise magic!

Economic efficiency dictates that one keep his nose to the grind stone.

Along with poor employment prospects and students unmotivated to do the hard work of math and science, we are starting to see the negative externalities caused by the obsession of American business with efficiency. Efficiency, say many capitalists, is the end-all and be-all of pleasing the stockholders. So we work the engineers harder, pay them less and dispose of them when the stock price drops. Who is motivated to enter that field? High efficiency means sacrificing reliability, thoughtfulness and planning. When we were turning out engineers, we were inspired by Kennedy and challenged to go to the moon. Many felt a purpose in becoming engineers. The lack of commitment which employers show toward their employees has consequences which we are beginning to feel.

You've got to remember that this lack of skill has been one of the prime objectives of our educational system. This lack of skill is a measure of our success. Earlier in the last century, we had not gotten our schools sufficiently well organized to guarantee failure. Now we have.

If you were young and bright and were being canvassed for work.
1. Unglamorous work and moderate pay.
2. Flamboyant high flying life style salary and bonus in the millions of dollars per year.

Hmmmm... I don't think you need to be a rocket scientist to work that one out.

There are incredibly talented individuals in America that could do math that would make your head spin. This talent increasing gets siphoned off to the financial industry.

If I were good enough I would take option 2 above.

Biggest things that I have noticed about the shortage of engineering types is that the companies don't want to hire anyone with more than three years experience. After that the wages wanted by the canidates are high enough that an H1B is cheaper and there is no heavy retirement package dragging along with the H1B. There is many engineers that are working outside their fields because they don't want to be laid off every three to five years because the beancounters know it is an easy way to keep their wage budget low.

I recently received my 20yr award, but I do not expect the job I have to last much longer anyway, and I do not expect to ever get another full time engineering job. What people in general fail to understand, is that as more and more of the people and organizations that performed this function, and the collective abilities we had are disbanded, they will not easily or quickly be rebuilt. As for me, I've tired of it anyway - I need to make a living, and I expect my engineering skills to be useful to me, as they have always been, but there is zero appeal in a the prospect of a corporate job designing widgets. Nor the commute of course. It is a real, tangible part of the industrial society being torn apart that few seem to notice - except Paul Craig Roberts perhaps.

What people in general fail to understand, is that ...

The sheeple never knew that you existed in the first place.

All they knew was that the gizmo magically appeared in the store.

It still does.
Designed in Taiwan.
Mass produced in China.
Appearing like magic at Wal-Mart.

Hang in there buddy. There is life after engineering.
signed --an ex-engineer

You're partially correct about the lack of understanding about where these things come from, but that is more recent. At one time there was great national pride in our science and engineering - and I think people did generally know about it. I also think some still believe it is there, when it is long gone.

As far as life after engineering, I'm quite looking forward to it (it never defined my life anyway)! Problem is I've been trapped like everyone else, so it makes extracting myself difficult. Lately I've been deflected by an attempt to save the organization and jobs I've been involved with, but it looks like that may be done with now - so it's back to the project of personal re-invention.

Just out of curiosity, roughly how old are you?
My first guess is that you're in your mid 40's (=20 years service after graduating college at age 21?).

However, given your talk about the good old days when "there was great national pride in our science and engineering", you sound like you're more my age --in the mid 50's. Yes July 1969 was a glorious time. Neil Armstrong was taking his first small step onto the moon; American technology seemed like it was unstoppable and George Jetson's world would be just a hand reach away. Oh how times have changed. (Sigh.)

My personal experience is that the older you are, the tougher it becomes to make a radical change in life. We tend to get stuck in our ways. Old dogs don't learn new tricks as quickly as do the young pups.

Best of luck in your new endeavors.

You are correct in your first guess, however I come from a family of engineers - may Dad is an Engineering Professor. I remember as a child how exciting it all seemed - the things that were happening were just amazing, and it seemed that a universe without limits stood in front of us. Amplified no doubt by a child's perspective. I had no idea at the time how it all related to cheap and abundant energy, and how the laws of the universe, the planet, and human nature would impose their limits.

I still believe the most important preparation one can do is to embrace change. The details of what is coming are unpredictable, so one must be ready to adapt and not get stuck believing in things that are no longer real.

Depends on the environment you work in and how talented the people are. If you are a really good software developer you will make over $100k around where I work. The better people I know are making $100k to $120k. The superstars working as high paid consulting contract workers are making more.

Since I'm aware of how much talent varies in engineering I'm always wondering about the level of talent and motivation among those who complain about how bad it all is. Maybe it is that bad in local markets even for very talented people. I do not know. But I can tell you in some markets talented people are making $100k+.

As for farming work out abroad: I've seen enough managers learn the hard way that this does not always work that I'm far less threatened by this than I felt a few years ago. I've talked with developers and managers in Europe about this and they tell similar stories. I think we've tapped out India. The Indians I know tell me that salaries have skyrocketed there and the cheap ones in India are not talented.

I'm thinking about buying such an "end of a mile long dirt road" place now. I see the lack of a road as an advantage WTSHTF.

My only problem is, what sort of community (or lack thereof) is at the other end of said road.

"The lack therof"

Yep; it is hard to stand watch over the wife and kiddies all night and then go out and work the truck patch during the day. Better to be in a small town where you know the people and vice versus where you can have some one watching your back when you down hoeing the tater patch.

Our road isn't that long, maybe 1500' but DIYer you have to have one of these:


Deer trip it sometimes late at night but other than that knowing someone is headed towards the house is a comforting thing.

where are all the doomers going to get the AA batteries for THAT techno-fix?

Mine has been running on 4 for at least 18 months. So I figure 18 months give me some leeway. I always keep a good stock of batteries in the freezer anyway.

A dog (or two) works pretty good too.

I live near the end of a rough dirt road. I've got a few good neighbors; I feel safe.

That's a key element to living in the woods--good neighbors.

Agreed, though most up here like their privacy. We had a birdhunter up here from Mass, ran across a bear and he let loose on it, so we had one really pissed off bear and one scared shitless guy from Mass.. Phone tree lit up like Xmas, everyone passed the word along to get the little ones in the house if they were playing outside. Works for fires just as well. all volunteer fire and ambulance up here, no police force at all.. maybe a few county mounties who pass through every once in a while.

But it is hard to live at the end of as unpaved road in the woods and also hold a paying job as an engineer. Where will the engineering talent come from?

There won't be much engineering.

Then we all live to ripe old ages of 50 if we're lucky. No antibiotics, no vaccines, no MRIs, few drugs. Even if you're isolated with your own power and food your life expectancy is going to be fairly short.

Well I don't know, I'm a broadcast engineer by training, and I found plenty of work climbing mountains in mid winter. Got into computers very early on and started one of the first ISPs up here.
Unix box with multiport serial cards and modems and sold dialup accounts for $75 a month.Still fed the woodstove every night. The lifestyle was great for taking a gamble on starting a business. Then I got into high speed wireless and all my tower contacts came in real handy.

Ran that whole mess for 13 years and sold off the access stuff, we now run a web hosting business from home. Servers are co-lo'd in Canada so we can avoid the patriot act. Been a lot of fun down at the end of this road.

After two years of working my son through highschool, all AP classes with massive homework consisting mostly of BS makework, which he could do with his eyes closed but frequently questions the purpose and therefore suffering bad grades, we came to a decision.

We are talking to his counsler and cutting his work load in half and re-enrolling him in piano sylibus. This is a very advanced program of classic piano and music theory that he dropped out of due to school pressures.

He got choked up when we offered this option.

He can play classical piano with enough feeling that even his adjudicators get choked up but he loves school and advanced math too.

It got to the point where I was asking myself is he failing school or is school failing him.

I decided that rather than set him up for high stress, indoctrination, and even possible failure, it would be best to set him up for success and he can easily advance himself from there when he matures.

By the way this is not the easy way out by any means it means more time, work, and money, from all of us.

P.S. I live in a university town and am in contact with students all day. They all say that only an MBA works in their field and makes money, the rest just do lowly research or work in the restaurant industry.

I know that there are many professors here but I just have to say The American education system sucks. It is not preparing anyone for what is the future.

Well done souperman. I think it is important that we understand that it is parents responsibility to educate their kids. Not the state, not the school and certainly not the church. Our kids in the future will require broad skills and curious minds. Not dumbed down qualifications from so called "prestigious" universities.

I can well imagine that you son now regards you as a hero in standing up to a system which tried to destroy him.

A college degree is a bad investment in most cases. The maggots have outsourced and insourced everything. Mortgage fraud or public malfeasance and graft are better career options IMO.

"If you are so smart, how come you have so much money?"
If one is educated, collaboration with the current economic system is impossible, both morally and intellectually.
Sociopaths are rewarded and idolized in the current economic model.

Sociopaths are rewarded and idolized in the current economic model

In The Gulag Archipelago, Solzhenitsyn talks about the irony of college professors and physicians being imprisoned and guarded by thieves, rapists and murderers.

Our system is different, but maybe not quite as different as we might think.

Yep, I wouldn't help the maggots running this country even if I could. They started the war against middle America, and they shall perish by their own devices. It won't be long before even our nuclear weapons won't work without parts made in China. They have raised a bunch of dumb-assed amurkins, and try to import the brains at cut rate prices. Some day that turkey will come home to roost, and the maggots will be led away in chains by the chinese or someone, and I'll be laughing in my grave. MUAHAHA@!

First of all, thanks HO for the link to the preview of Wormser's book. It really resonated with my life and I'll have to buy it.

Although I only worked as a research chemist for a few years before moving into production management and process development, I kept my membership in the American Chemical Society (Darn near 50 years now.) and ACS has been touting getting ready for your second carrer for more years than I can remember. Who wants to spend time and money for a carrer that isn't durable? All one has to do is read Chemical and Engineering News each week to see layoff after layoff where either the work is outsourced or the operation closed.

I'd also note that college wasn't fun in that my degree program had so many mandated requirements. Out of four years, I took one lousy, one semester course just for the fun of it.

As I've mentioned before, in retrospect I wish I had go to an Ag school.


1. I have a daughter with a PhD in geophysics. Jobs in that arena require high-end funding and a societal commitment to research. Needless to say, she just went back to school to get a teachers degree.

2. I remember reading a story about a farm wife during the depression, standing outside her house with a tear in her eye as she watched electric-company employees string the poles in front of her house. She knew it was the beginning of the end of the drudgery and darkness she had lived with all her life. Take a lesson from THAT lady: you don't want to live without electric power if you can help it!

Take a lesson from THAT lady:

One might do better to look at the data about the effects of 'modern' tools in the more depressed parts of Africa.

A small water pump. Lights. A radio. Less smoke cooking gear.

Heading Out,

Gee how timely a bit of chit chat, that about turning a tanker and just after TOD shoots its midnight watch. Well who says one needs to know where one is going or the best way to get there, on TOD just shout 'war, oil, famine, oil conquest, oil and death, oil' and state the apparent and obvious in terms as oblique and obscure as possible and hope no one notices the lack of substantive use it is to do so. Or one can do H G shows like the one you are doing now.

The Finance section was, IMO, a real boon for navigating ones travel from what looks to be the beginning of the collapse of our oil fed economic system to whatever post oil life of limited energy sources we will enter. Finance seems not to have touched the forelock often enough to Peak Oil and also IMO, the PTB on this ship.

I think that without understanding that the Canadian Oil drum Finance section gave there will be a lot of needless financial suffering. That is too bad!

Increasingly there is a concern for the future supply of scientists and engineers, even as the need for them grows.

"....but they will come up with something to replace oil as soon as it runs out. It's just the oil companies holding back all that technology so they can bleed us dry first."

God I hope those oil companies have all that secret technology becasue it seems that they might not come up with the goods afterall! Hmmm didn't think of that.

Why would an oil company try to come up with a product that would compete with oil? It's a no brain-er. This is what is behind oil employee, shareholder and management opposition to ethanol. Watch the money. That's where the decisions are made. No business selling a product in short supply is going to invest in a competitive product that would likely lower the price of its current product.
It's that simple. They will liquidate by buying back stock, merging, and increasing dividends first just like they've been doing for some time.

More than half of all the top US engineering schools are made up of foreign nationals.

The US is so pitiful, it can't even field a majority of under-grad students from the US in it's own elite engineering colleges.


Most of the foreign students recruited to US engineering schools are "cherry-picked" from every country in the world. Every country, no matter how poor or disadvantaged, always has a certain percentage of it's population it is just plain truly and naturally gifted. Bravo

Locate them, and offer them a full scholarship or similar aid package, and it's not too hard to see they would take it, versus a life of few opportunities.

Throw in a US citizenship for good measure and it looks like a pretty sweet deal.

Out-sourcing would not be as attractive if the home town team had some real depth.

Try equaling the foreign "cherry picked" talent with some good olde home girls and boys from the US education system before you moan and despair about 'furaners'. US math and science scores suck.

Try paying engineers more than the blood sucking parasites on Wall-Eyed Street.

Well, right now the hot field is bio. We're going to heal the **** out of the 7 billion of us living on the face of this planet. So no need for engineers and scientists in other fields.

Greetings Heading Out,

I think what is trying to be communicated in this essay is that alternatives to current fossil fuel consumption take years to develop and, like the model oil tanker which has irreversible momentum, the absence of research or planning is sure to have future unpleasant consequences. One reader even erroneously cited an HG Wells War of the Worlds radio scare as a parallel to the message of alarm. I am troubled and puzzled by such a response.
At the Peak Oil Conference Richard Heinberg praised the work of Stuart Ewen and Ewen's research and criticism of the development of the consumer culture. My own reading into consumer history reveals that America is now, and always has been, a land of wealth and material consumption, and the pursuit of this has resulted in an attitude of singular intolerance with the elimination of nearly all native inhabitants along the way.
George Santayana, I believe, observed that those who do not acquire the wisdom of history are doomed to repeat the very same mistakes. Education and intelligent promotion are critical. There is no better place to start than the University, which is the intelligentsia of American culture and are the shapers, according to Noam Chomsky (who cites the thinking of Edward Bernays and Walter Lippman) of public opinion (the name of Lippman's book, in fact). I am trying to reach interested students in Hyde Park at the University of Chicago. How will future generations condemn the Baby Boomer generation for consuming the Earth's resources? This strikes me as more important than career choices or salary.

Kevin Walsh
Chicago Peak Oil

If you want more engineers, give engineers the wages and especially job security that would lure more people into the field. Use that good old market we love so much. Whining about the moral failing of young people for not providing an abundant technical workforce isn't going to shame them into undertaking a(for most people) difficult field of study. If the powers that be in the US(government, industry, etc) can't find a way to make that happen, maybe they don't want more engineers and scientists after all. At least, not in the US

HO, Interesting.

"..base of people and knowledge upon which some of that responsibility for revolution is placed."

You realise that extremist idea's like this one may end up in you being locked away without trial and tortured as home grown terrorist, don't you?

Anyway, I'm carefully planning step-by-step change. I'm not so pleased with the slow pace in which I'm only able to go forward, but I am pleased with the accomplishments so far. Next is a new roof with a solar water heater.

I am a US high school science teacher in my 29th year of teaching. I still find kids excited about science and the how math can give a new view to how the world works. But Unfortunately I have seen that interest fade as they leave my class.

The explicit goal of Education (at both k-12 and college level) has evolved from one of creating an informed, intelligent, active society to one of job training. Few of my students (I teach mostly seniors at at college prep high school) are interested in pursuing their passions in college - they just want to find a major that can make a lot of money.

They, of course, are merely products of their society. As an example, my district's new overarching mission is to prepare students for 21st century global employment. It seems to me that education has moved from serving society to serving corporate interests.

It is quite clear to me that solutions to our major problems (PO, GW) will not be coming from inside current corporate structures. I can't see how the current educational system will help us.

By the way, I live at end of a 2.5 mile dirt road - I love it when we get washed out or snowed in. I'm then forced to slow down just a bit more.

It seems to me that education has moved from serving society to serving corporate interests.

Education serves the State.
The corporation is the State.
Praise be to be big brother (and his other brother, Jeb).

[[Vote for John Edwards.]]
Ignore the above subliminal message.

My comments after some thought on the subject as regards the 'starting out' survivor/farmer/exhippie/whatever.

In the old fashioned way: You married young,many times you married at 17 or 18 and the girl you chose might be 13 or 14.

You married one who would easily bear children and was of the right frame of mind as to what was needed to live,work and raise children.

You started having offspring early as to have those younguns available to share the workload as soon as possible.Girls to help mama,boys to help papa.

You hoped to have some good land as a result of marrying into it or inheriting some or just starting as a sharecropper and bootstrapping your way up.

You worked hard during the daylight hours and went to bed when the sun went down. You had to be a fit and able man and not a weakling. Men then were proud of their strength and ability to work hard. Women prided themselves on being good cooks and good mothers.

Today: There are so many many problems with todays young folks and men and women in general that its very very unlikely that any of them will ever adapt and have the requirements nor the desire to be able to pull off what their ancestors did.

They will simply not be able to do it. Most all will die.
Those of us who came up in this environment and observed it and lived it are becoming fewer and fewer each day. We are many times looked upon with suspicion and doubt. I myself only communicate with my peers who were aware as well. We therefore pass NOTHING on.

The future looks bad.

Airdale-Bad news rides a fast horse

Also, most of those people left 8th grade knowing far more and being far more literate and numerate than the typical college graduate these days. AND they had leared how to do an amazing array of practical stuff through experience on the farm.

Now, we award BA degrees to people who cannot locate the USA on a world map, who cannot write a readable paragraph, and who cannot balance a checkbook. They also couldn't cook an egg, let alone identify the animal that it came from.

It was a smart move for the supermarkets to put in the bar code scanners. Rare is the cashier these days that could actually figure out how to make change, let alone be able to identify strange substances like turnips or brussels sprouts so they can be correctly priced and rung up.

These, the vanguard of the new US "Information Economy"!

Also, most of those people left 8th grade knowing far more and being far more literate and numerate than the typical college graduate these days. AND they had leared how to do an amazing array of practical stuff through experience on the farm.

The first part I'm highly skeptical about, but the second part I'm sure is true.

It was a smart move for the supermarkets to put in the bar code scanners. Rare is the cashier these days that could actually figure out how to make change, let alone be able to identify strange substances like turnips or brussels sprouts so they can be correctly priced and rung up.

Did you ever consider the cashiers don't know the different substances because they no longer have to, due to bar codes? You learn what you have to learn. Yeah, they might not be able to identify the vegetables when they got hired, but if the need be they would be able to within two weeks of starting work.

In my supermarket, the fresh produce generally isn't bar coded anyway. So they still do have to identify it.

Now they want you to tie up the plastic bag with a twisty and write the produce code on the twisty. In case the checker doesn't recognise dried pineapple or something.

WNC Observer..., i can feel our collective national IQ drop as you write.

I'm not sure people were all that literate. When I visited my husband's relatives I heard old folks talking about how common illiterate adults were.

I'm also not sure that marrying a thirteen year old was ever a good idea. Sixteen and seventeen year olds are physiologically ready for childbirth, having a baby at twelve or thirteen can be tough on both you and the kid.

Also, even now a lot of women pride themselves on being good cooks and good mothers.

Finally, be careful about bad mouthing young people. If go to a farmers' market, for the most part, the sellers, even the sellers who are growers, are not old geezers. Not all young folks are video game addicted nonenitities. There are a lot of young people who can fix stuff, knit stuff, grow stuff, teach stuff, fish, and shoot.

In poverty cultures the women don't get enough to eat and don't start to menstruate till 16 or 17. They could marry them off as young as they wanted as long as they didn't feed them too well.
It's so much better today.

Both the subjects of problems in education (and what I am proposing to do about it) and how hard it is to control a massive inertial system are covered in my blog at: http://www.questioneverything.typepad.com/

In the Dec. 8th and Dec. 11th columns I ask, "Are we really educating people?" and "Is the Modern Version of Education Killing Us?" In the Dec. 17th column I explore an issue that I think has a great deal to do with the problem in education in "Back to critical thinking among faculty". Educators may be a little taken aback by my assertions there (I am a professor myself, so I am being self-critical as well), but I think we have to ask ourselves what we are missing.

On Dec. 26 I explained why we should be concerned about phenomena like global warming because as Heading Out explains, massive systems with momentum are very hard to control. I used my experiences driving a submarine to explain why velocity and acceleration information are needed in order to make correct control decisions.

I do have a plan for fixing education and it is pretty far outside what most people would imagine. You can take a look at it at:


I should add that some of the comments above reflect the difficulty of getting out of positive feedback loops. People complain because certain careers don't pay enough, or that raises don't come often enough (whether teaching or engineering). At the same time we bemoan the profit motive that drives companies to outsource and increase shareholder value. Or we complain about our stock portfolio's performance if our companies don't show growing profits and sales.

What is the difference between and individual feeling like they should maximize their own 'profit' via increases in wages vs. companies doing what they have to to maximize their profits and sales?

I don't think you can have it both ways. You can't complain that certain jobs don't pay enough to attract the brightest people and at the same time denigrate corporations for attempting to lower their costs and raising their profitability.

>> creating a future supply of qualified and knowledgeable personnel requires an investment and time (on the order of ten years). And, instead of this becoming a priority, instead one hears of declining demographics, and the drop in interest in the engineering and science disciplines in schools. <<

Aw, stop fretting you foolish worrywarts. China and India are cranking out engineers like mad, so they will "solve" the alternative energy problem for us. Meanwhile it's gonna take a whole lot of B-school majors and international relations types to import, market, and sell all that alternative energy here in the good old USA...not to mention armies of barristas to brew the mental fuel for rescuing the Happy Motoring life...

...Oops! But how do we pay for it?

Hmm...I know! Dollar hegemony! Peg the greenback to bioethanol, and make every country on earth use dollars to buy the stuff.

LiveGreen/GoYellow and prosper, O homo automobilicus!

Hans Noeldner

"Civilization is the presence of enlightened self-restraint."

"They also became very dependent on the condition of the road of the title, the typical rural dirt road, with culverts and infrequent maintenance."

Something I allude to once in a while. In this case, I just got home Mon. from a vacation.
The price of being in the sunny Caribbean during the once every 3-5 year gullywashers we get? Foot deep gullies on my drive.
The solution? (Well, stay home in gullywashers? Nah)...a month of occupational therapy throwing road debris into the back of Truck Shadowfax, and driving it up to where it came from. It's a battle I'll have to fight for the rest of my life.
What, me worry?


I googled

the phd glut payne

Giving graduate degrees is a business.

Once a Univeristy starts awarding graduate degrees, then it can't stop.

I was on the computer science faculty at washington state university between 1996-79.

Initially wsu and stanford were the only two universities west of the mississippi awarding phd degrees in computer since. Initially we got great graduate students.

When I got back from sabbatical leave at University of Illinois in 1973, lots of schools offered phd degrees in computer science.

Problems with recuiting guality graduate students began.

I was on the graduate student addmission committee at times.

Name of the game is to send out acceptance letter to the best looking applicants.

When they decline, then acceptance letters are sent out to the next group.

This continues until the number of required graduate students are assembled.

This got depressing. And eventually disaster struck.

So I went to work at Sandia labs in 1980. More interesting. Actually TOO interesting.

Hope you all enjoy my comments on liberal arts education, especially the email from Dr Chris Griffin and his photo.

I would hate to be starting out today.

cheers from gleefully-retired senior citizen techie who is now, out of necessity, pursuing law with power engineer Arthur R Morales.

The problem with engineers.

For the most part, they are not big picture thinkers. There are probably thousands of engineers that read this site, but have never invested a disproportionate amount of their money in energy. And, what is perhaps the GREATEST future of all? Well, I kind of think that it might be engineering. But, the right kind.

In the not too distant future, robots will rule the world. Virtually no manufacturing job will exist, except making and servicing robots. The Japanese are way ahead on this. But, think of it. You do not want a robotic vacuum cleaner. Or a robotic lawn mower, etc. You want a robotic you! If you had a robot that would mow the lawn, using your lawnmower, vacuum the house using yours, feed the dogs, guard the house from intruders, take care of bedridden elderly, do the wash, do the dusting, etc. it would be a different, and hopefully better life.

What would people pay. Well early adopters of television in many instances paid $50,000 for TV (in today's $'s). Plasma sets went for $35,000+. So, let's say that a first iteration reasonably reliable robot cost $250,000 in today's $'s. Well, early adopters (the rich) would be all over that. And, when they got down to $25,000 ten years later, the entire middle class would want one. In effect, it would become cost effective for what it could do, if it became a "mechanical" human slave. It would respond to your verbal instructions, just like a human. If you said, remind me in a week to do something, it would. It would be tireless, and available 24 hours/day, 365 days a year. You would become "lost" without it - hence high paying repairmen.

If you do not think that the above will happen by 2050, well, then - you must be an engineer!!

I'm a person who happens to do engineering for a living - and I'm wondering if you've been drinking! You're are talking about a world of even more complexity, which will require even more energy to support. Let me re-phrase your statement to what I see:

In the not too distant future, manual labor will rule the world. Virtually no manufacturing jobs will exist, except making things in small shops by hand.

Also, engineers usually have little to invest in anything - it's not like we do anything worthwhile like making PowerPoint presentations.

jbunt..., have you ever heard of peak oil?
do you know what this site is all about?

Sometimes, when my thoughts are darkest, I begin to suspect that the ultimate dream (or maybe even the plan) of the rich and powerful is a world minimally populated with just them, plus all the robots they needed to cater to their every need.

The rest of we billions will have become redundant, surplus, disposable. And then my dark thoughts start wandering to the suspicion that perhaps the lack of action wrt to PO, GW, etc. isn't due to inertia, ignorance, stupidity, etc. at all. I start wondering if perhaps they are not viewing the demise of billions as a bad outcome at all.

Dark thoughts. I hope they are no way near the truth.

Why bother building mechanical robots ...

when you already have human robots?

Let's just go back 100 years to 1908. Now give a speech predicting nuclear energy; lasers; everyone on the planet connected to everyone else electronically; I-phone capabilities for the masses; farmers going from 50% of the population down to 2%; 70% of the people doing nothing - employed in "service" industries (millions going into cubicles in 50 story office buildings at 8 am, leaving at 5 pm after 'working' all day writing on paper, talking to people, and typing on a computer); millions of people daily flying around at 400 miles an hour - on business, on vacation or for leisure, etc.; surveillance that can monitor every phone call in the world and select ones to listen to; surveillance that can record conversations in office buildings by detecting the vibration of the glass windows from a mile away; computers that can perform trillions of operations per second; cameras that can view an atom; cameras that can view the edges of the universe; satellite cameras that can read the time on your watch from space; manipulating stem cells to grow human parts; reading individual peoples genetic code to find out if they will become sick in some way;

One could go on for page after page listing things that have happened in the last 100 years, any one of which would have gotten you laughed off the stage. Well, I guess that all of it happened because of oil and we will never be able to replace oil. Think again - better yet, just think (like your parents and grandparents apparently did).

technology is not the same thing as energy - and in fact, coal, then oil happened and we had a window that was unique

please tell us what you see now that will replace the liquid fuels we use to run civilization

Actually, it was at the turn of the twentieth century a lot of sci-fi tropes started. H. G. Wells Martians had airplanes and he was writing in the nineteenth century. The extent of the info revolution was not predicted, though James Clark Maxwell wrote a poem about a male geek and a female geek courting online via telegraph. There was a realization of what could be accomplished if a nuclear chain reaction were possible. Also, people imagined electricity and, later, radiation leading to all sorts of other weird and wonderful things.

In the first half of twentieth century, you had speculations about the internet and hypertext and science fiction about kits to create living things. You probably could have spoken about that stuff in the nineteenth century and not gotten laughed at.

While think some folks on this site do denigrate human creativity and romanticize the past, a lot of what we have was enabled by cheap energy and environmental carelessness. I think that in the future we'll see a spotty pattern of misery for some and wonders for others. I, for one, enjoy cooking food and find the value placed here on growing and preserving it refreshing, though I worry that the soil around my house is contaminated by old lead paint.

I think we'll be able to replace some oil by various silver bbs and don't hold with the economic gloom and doom tomorrow thing,
but I don't expect the tech fairy to grant all our wishes either. Assuming there is a big fat apple to be plucked is silly when you see mostly leaves.


ne could go on for page after page listing things that have happened in the last 100 years, any one of which would have gotten you laughed off the stage. Well, I guess that all of it happened because of oil and we will never be able to replace oil. Think again - better yet, just think (like your parents and grandparents apparently did).

So in 1908 which one of those advances could not have been predicted by the leading scientists of the day? Not likely, as most of the underlying science for the next centuries advances had already been discovered. Einstein published his papers in 1905 on relativity and photoelectric effect. I’m sure he and his peers could easily have foreseen atomic energy and lasers. DNA would not have surprised Gregor Mendel You grossly underestimate the scientific knowledge at the turn of the century. Most of the advances in the twentieth century were built on already discovered theories. So anyone with a very good scientific background could have guessed what was going to develop. And yes, all of the developments did happen largely because abundant and cheap energy, a large part that were petroleum products. What amazes me is your audaciousness at dressing down engineers as to their concerns about the future. These people know technology, live it and breath it, and if they are concerned I think it is time to get worried. You present the future to be a repeat of the past, but as I showed above the future in 1908 was somewhat foreseeable, the future we face is much less so, given the decline of energy sources and the absence of major new scientific discoveries.

Let's just go back 100 years to 1908.

Fair enough.
Now let's go FORWARD 100 years to January 2108.
What does your neighborhood look like?

Yup. It looks like Naples, Italy 100 years ago.
And those are the upscale neighborhoods.
How did this awful thing happen?

*1. Well, first there was no oil for the garbage trucks.

*2. Second, the Mr. Fusion device never showed up like "they" had promised it would in that science movie, Back to the Future II. So there was no convenient place to incinerate all our massive waste products.

*3. Third, it turned out that Malthus and Albert Bartlett (the exponential function professor) were right all along, although perhaps slightly off in their timings. Population cannot keep growing exponentially forever and all the gee-whiz iPhones and meGadgets did not change the fundamental laws of science. Semiconductor technology had not shrunk the size of the average human excrement. On the other hand, McDonalds and Burger Emperor had super-sized it!

*4. Fourthly, because there were no jobs in science, all out grandkids had become accountants and lawyers. Then one day they woke up and realized that pushing paper doesn't build pyramids. But it was too late by then. The inevitability of "progress" had inevitably come to a dead end.

Oh yeah.
But the politicians keep promising "change",
... and happier days ahead ... because the Dream never dies.

Ah, but the human robots sometimes get sick, or drunk, or do drugs, or just decide to not report to work, or don't follow instructions, or make mistakes, or goof off, or get inconvenient ideas in their heads like unionization and strikes, or demand more money, or accept jobs elsewhere. Human robots also have to sleep and have this notion that they should get some time off occasionally.

With the mechanical robots, you get something that is pretty close to 100% reliable, that can work non-stop 24/7/365 with only reasonably and mostly predictable short down times for maintenance. You get something that will do exactly what it is told to do, all the time.

Mechanical robots, in short, are the perfect workers, the perfect slaves. The only way the average human can compete against them is on the basis of price. It is a race to the bottom, until the robots get good enough and cheap enough to force our wages to drop below subsistence level, at which point most of us have been priced out of existence. At that point, the only humans still needed are those who own & control the robots, and a few brainy types kept around to continue improving on robotics design -- until AI improves enough to render them redundant, too.

Which raises the question: at what point will General Ned Lud make a re-appearance?

OK, enough of this nonsense. Robots are mechanical devices with moving parts. Moving parts wear out and break. Moreover, energy is required to power mechanical devices which move. Batteries wear out and must be replaced. Robots do not appear ex nihilo, they must be designed and manufactured, distributed and sold. Malfunctioning robots may cause damages which must be compensated; the robots will, in time, need to be refurbished and repaired. And so on. Massive infrastructure with all the logistical requirements to support it is needed to produce the society of which you speak.

In the meantime, you still need to use the toilet, from time to time. What do you do when the toilet stops up? How about when a tree root grows into your sewer line? Robots may appear to be an answer but no AI has shown the versatility and ability to guess and adapt that humans are so good at. Robots are still automata, they function according to a given set of rules. Events outside of the rules are badly dealt with. Sorry, your proposal does not compute.

Robots (defined in the broadest sense) can and are being produced in factories populated mainly by - robots.

The multipurpose anthropomorphic robot of sci-fi is not the way things are going. Instead, the robots that are actually working are specialist robots, from the Roomba to robotic devices on assembly lines to interplanetary space probes. Don't think in terms of a C3P0 robotic butler, let alone a Commander Data. Instead, think in terms of dozens or hundreds of different, purpose-built robots, each doing a different task. There could quite possibly be robotic roto-rooters - but that is all that they would do.

Hmm. We've come full circle, back to plumbers again! Did I mention my husband is half way to being a master plumber. He switched careers mid life with my approval, despite the (temporary) crappy pay. Word of warning to any engineers - it's very physical.

He knew his job couldn't be outsourced, I'll let him know the robot hoards won't take his job either!

"With the mechanical robots, you get something that is pretty close to 100% reliable"

Oh come on - this is absurd. Mechanical devices are designed, produced, and maintained by people. You see very high levels of automation in factories making smaller products with few moving parts, but we're nowhere near the point where machines on the scale of robots could make other robots with no help. Battlestar Galactica was not real, just a bad TV show.

How about if we had self-replicating, self-healing machines with enough intelligence (OK, sometimes just barely) to work autonomously from verbal directions? And are powered by simple forms of biomass?

I sometimes wonder if people are paying any attention to the world around them! Look around you as you move around - materials are attacked by sun and weather. Things deteriorate over time - concrete fails, metal oxidizes, plastics deteriorate, things wear out and fail. How many things (of similar complexity and capability) do you have that are as old as you are and have seen constant use the way your own body has, that are still intact and functioning?

Much closer to 100% reliability than human workers. Note I did say they still needed downtime for maintenance.