Four Billion Cars in 2050?

The Tata Nano will sell for about $2500 (US) in the base model, and get about 51 mpg (US). Source: Wikipedia.

After taking a hiatus from my regular Monday blog spot for a couple of weeks (to focus on another obligation) I want to pick up where I left off - exploring the quantitative barriers to getting most of the way to a sustainable planetary civilization by 2050. Last time, I laid out what I was trying to do:

This post is the start of an attempt to sketch out what an integrated solution to the world's food, energy, land, climate, and economy problems might look like. My basic goal is to get to a somewhat defensible story of how civilization could get to 2050 in reasonable shape, despite the problems of climate change, peak oil, global population growth, etc.

Since it's not possible for me to entirely solve this problem in a week of part-time work, I put this out as a hasty straw-man. Feel free to point out the parts of this that don't work, or where my ignorance of some of the relevant issues shows particularly badly. Of course, I don't make the claim that I can predict what will happen forty years ahead. Nor do I expect the global population to pay much attention to what I think they should do. Instead, the value of a scenario is to try to think through the general issues that society faces, and the value of an integrated scenario is that we can think about how all the parts fit together holistically, whereas usually they get projected separately by specialists, and even the obvious interconnections get missed by decision-makers (if we try to solve our fuel problems by converting food to fuel, perhaps the price of food might go up).

With that said, for the remainder of the piece I'm arrogating to myself sole authorship of all relevant international treaties and implementing legislation at the national level. Here's how I'd go about it. In this first piece, I've analyzed the overall requirements for the problem, but only fleshed out any detail on the population, economy, and energy sectors; I did not have time to write up my analysis of transportation and agriculture/land issues. I will do so in a future piece.

and some of the requirements I saw as necessary in order to consider a solution viable:

  • Population: The global population is able to grow and go through its demographic transition with death rates continuing to go down. No die-offs.
  • Economy: The world economy is able to grow on average over the period - modestly in developed countries, faster in developing countries.
  • Carbon emissions: The global energy infrastructure will be mainly replaced with non-carbon-emitting energy sources by the end of the period, and residual emissions will be rapidly diminishing.
  • Fossil fuels: I assume that peak oil is here about now but that declines will be governed by the Hubbert model (and thus will be gradual). I assume natural gas and coal are globally plentiful enough that climate policy is required to prevent their full use.
  • Technology: I do not assume any massive breakthroughs - no technological miracles that solve problems in ways completely unknown or untested today. However, where technological sectors have long established rates of progress in key metrics, I extrapolate the metric to continue improving at the historic rate (eg the economics of solar power, or the yields/acre of agriculture are assumed to keep improving on the historical trajectory).
Then I looked at the energy sector and we saw that there are several potentially feasible ways to power civilization. They aren't cheap or easy, but solar, wind, and nuclear all have good to excellent EROEI and a fairly large resource that could be exploited. Solar in particular has the best learning curve historically (the rate at which price falls for each doubling of the installed base of the technology) and the highest growth curve and fewest barriers to early adoption (except cost). However, the renewable options are growing from a tiny base, and nuclear faces ongoing political resistance, so in the short term conservation and efficiency are critical requirements if we are to make it to the long term.

Still, if as a society we were serious and determined about solving our energy/climate problems, and we made the right investments, there seems to me little doubt that there are a number of feasible technical paths to a non-fossil-fuel energy infrastructure for civilization. Indeed, I argued that energy would likely become cheap again after a couple of decades of being expensive, once a renewable civilization was over the hump (the hump having been caused in part by failing to make more progress in the 1980s and 1990s).

However, there are many other resource constraints that we might hit along the way. So I want to continue surveying the terrain at a very high level and look at the automobile sector under the rough assumptions I outlined in Powering Civilization to 2050. In particular, how many cars might we expect by 2050, and how can we possibly power them, given that there will be less oil, not more, by that time. I think most readers would intuit that if society was wealthier in 2050, as I postulated, then if they possibly could, the planet's citizens would tend to drive more, not less.

But how much more? In my earlier scenario, I postulated a world GDP of about $350 trillion in 2006 dollars by 2050 (on a purchasing power parity - PPP - basis) which arose by assuming reduced economic growth in the near term due to problems of recession and energy constraints, but then renewed growth as those ultimately lift. Given the UN's medium population projection of 9 billion people, that gives a world GDP/capita in 2050 of about $28,000 (versus about $11,000 recently).

Now, global figures on auto ownership have proven hard to find. The best I've been able to get is some data from the EIA for a small selection of countries, and the world as a whole, for 1990 and 1999. However, it's probably enough. I combined that data with GDP data from the IMF, and UN population data to come up with the following graph:

Cars per thousand population versus GDP/capita for selected countries in 1999 (using 1999 PPP dollars). Bubble area is proportional to population. Sources: Auto ownership from the EIA, GDP data from the IMF, and population data from the UN.

As you can see, at least for the available data, there is a pretty strong linear relationship between income and car ownership. 93% of the variance in the latter is explained by the former. For each additional $1000/year in average GDP per person, you get about another 25 cars per 1000 people. This strong relationship between income and car ownership seems to match the views of transportation economists, who believe that people everywhere are willing to expend a roughly constant fraction of their time and money on getting around:

Both travel budgets are of very rough nature only. However, since they apply to virtually all people, independent of income, space, and time, strong regularities in aggregate travel patterns are observed when we compare cross-sectional and longitudinal data of all travel surveys, including those from the developing world. The travel money budget along with country-specific characteristics of the transportation system (land-use, prices, etc.) translates disposable income into daily distance traveled. All other patterns can be largely explained by the travel time budget. Using this approach, travel patterns of countries with very different characteristics at first glance evolve on nearly uniform trajectories. Thus, despite their only rough stability, the travel budgets offer a simple, elegant framework on the basis of which average travel behavior characteristics can be approximated on aggregate levels.
While there isn't enough data above to prove this statistically, it rather looks like the major secondary variable controlling car ownership would be population density. The country with the lowest car ownership for their income level is the Netherlands, which is one of the most densely populated countries in the world, and the region with highest car ownership for income level is Australia/New Zealand, which is one of the most sparsely populated parts of the world. This matches the intuition one would get from US data, where public transportation ride share is highly correlated with population density, and auto usage inversely so:

Transit and private vehicle share as a function of census tract density. Source: Commuting in America III.

There's a similar pattern in vehicle ownership - households in areas with the highest population density (over 10,000 persons/mile) are much more likely to have no car, and much less likely to have lots of cars:

Number of private vehicles per United States household as a function of population density in 2001. Source: 2001 NHTS Summary of Travel Trends.

This is somewhat encouraging for keeping the car count down, since the average world citizen in 2050 is likely to live in a very dense city in what we today call the developing countries (a lot of them will be pretty developed by 2050 under my assumptions). However, the discouraging thing is that those countries are growing the fastest economically, and that means rapid growth in car ownership also:

Annual growth rate in cars per thousand population versus annual growth rate in GDP/capita between 1990 and 1999 (using current PPP dollars). Bubble area is proportional to population. Sources: Auto ownership from the EIA, GDP data from the IMF, and population data from the UN.

Whereas high car ownership is entirely a function of being a wealthy developed country, high growth in car ownership comes from being a low income but fast growing country. Particularly striking is Korea, with an extraordinary 14% growth rate average in car ownership over the decade of the 1990s. Korea was a middle-income rapidly-industrializing country, which obviously leads to a lot of car buying. These days, China and India, with a third of the world's population, are working their way into that status.

So let's try to roughly guesstimate the number of cars people might buy if they weren't resource constrained under this scenario, and then look at the resource constraints that might prevent them from having that many cars. I'll do the guesstimation three different ways which should give us a rough sense of the ballpark.

The first method is to note that the $28k/person/yr GDP in 2050 (expressed in 2006 dollars) would be about $23k in 1999 dollars. On the straight line in the ownership versus GDP graph above, that would place us at around the 500 cars/person mark. However, if we figure the average citizen is at Netherlands densities, we might knock 200 cars/person off that total to come out around 300 (give or take). With 9 billion people, that's about 3 billion cars in round numbers.

Another way to get to it is to notice that in the growth rate comparison, the average elasticity is a little more than 1 (ie 1% growth in income/capita leads to 1% growth in car ownership/capita). The EIA says that global car ownership in 1999 was 122 per 1000 people, which was 730 million cars. This source says there were a little less than 1 billion cars in 2006, so let's figure 1 billion in 2007. So car ownership grew 4%/year, and the global economy averaged 4.3% growth over the same period. Close enough to an elasticity of 1. So if we extrapolate that out to 2050, we go from 150 cars/person and $75 trillion today to $350 trillion and thus about 700 cars/person in 2050. If we again knock a couple of hundred off for high density city effects, we would get down to around 500 cars/1000 people, or about 4.5 billion cars. This is effectively to say that another 40 years of economic growth at something like current rates would place the world average roughly at current European levels of car ownership, which sounds reasonable if only we can find some way to power that many cars.

The third method is to use some data from here which show production of autos (rather than ownership). Production from 1997 to 2005 grew at an average rate of 2.43%. If we apply that growth rate to ownership and extrapolate to 2050, we get 2.8 billion vehicles on the road at that time.

So all three methods come out somewhere in the range of a few billion vehicles on the road in 2050. Whether it's 3, 4, or 5 we can't know, but clearly it would take something on the order of a major economic collapse somewhere along the way for there to still only be 1 billion cars on the road then. (For example, Soviet car ownership declined from 357 per thousand people in 1990 to 134 per thousand people in 1999, so that's what a major economic collapse can do). Let's take 4 billion as a reasonable working number, with the understanding that this is ± 25% (at least). Is there any way that many cars could be built and powered? Let's first look at powering them, and then building them.

Running Four Billion Cars

The Tata Nano will sell for about $2500 (US) in the base model, and get about 51 mpg (US). Source: Wikipedia.

Ok, so I don't think we need to spend very long on the idea that that many cars could be run primarily on oil. Let's try to roughly figure what kind of oil that might need. I don't have global mileage numbers, but in the US, vehicles do a fairly stable 10-12000 miles/year:

US annual vehicle mileage for vehicles of varying age grades. Source: 2001 NHTS Summary of Travel Trends .

Older vehicles do less, newer vehicles do more. Part of this might be income related, and since the average world citizen in 2050 will still not quite have achieved today's US income level, and will live in a denser city than today's average US resident, let's figure 10,000 miles/vehicle. So we're looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 trillion vehicle miles per year. If we take the Toyota Prius/Tata Nano as exemplifying 2050 average fuel economy - about 50mpg - then we'd need a little over 50mbd of gasoline/diesel to run the 4 billion cars, even under the assumption they were pretty efficient. This won't work at all. In my scenario, we'd be down to about 35mbd of total oil production by 2050, and we'd want most of that for other things (aviation, heavy machinery, petrochemicals etc).

I don't really see doing too much supplementation of this with biofuels. Even the 1mbd of biofuels the world is already producing is causing a lot of problems, and it has the potential to get much worse quickly. Although cellulosic ethanol in theory could help, in reality most of the good agricultural land on the planet is already in use, and expansions onto the remaining land will tend to create far more carbon emissions than they save. (See two recent Science papers by Fargione et al, and Searchinger et al which are pretty convincing on this point).

So to run 4 billion cars, we should be looking at more like an average fleet economy of 200mpg to 250mpg, to keep the fuel bill down around 10mbd. That makes it likely that most of the energy would have to be coming from something other than liquid fuel.

There are two basic possibilities. The first is the hydrogen economy, in which renewable/nuclear power is used to produce hydrogen via electrolysis. The hydrogen is then used to power vehicles (and other things). I'm deeply sceptical about this whole idea. My objections are not primarily technical (though there are technical concerns) but rather based on the market diffusion problems.

Generally, diffusion of a new technology requires that there be early adopters who see value in it, then a larger group of less early adopters who are willing to do it once the worst bugs have been worked out, then the bulk of customers who only convert once the technology is really well established and their friends are starting to do it, and then finally the holdouts who cling to the old way of doing things until it becomes really not viable. This is the mult-stage diffusion process that has to occur.

Hydrogen has the huge problem of requiring a new infrastructure. So there need to be both early adopters on the infrastructure side (investors willing to fund hydrogen pipelines, gas stations owners willing to put in a hydrogen pump, etc), and early adopters on the consumer side (people willing to buy hydrogen cars). And in the early stages, both of these kinds of early adopters are going to have a miserable time because there won't be enough of the other kind close by. (I buy a hydrogen car, but have to drive 100 miles to buy hydrogen, or I open a hydrogen station and I lose my shirt because there are only three hydrogen car owners in my city).

Now, if hydrogen cars were the only way to get around at a decent speed, people would find a way to get over these hurdles (after all, cars succeeded in displacing horses). But hydrogen cars will have the problem that there are already lots of gasoline cars on the road. Gasoline of course is expensive and likely to get more so over time. But hydrogen is even more expensive and, even in my scenario, is not likely to get cheap for decades. In the meantime, a hydrogen car is at a serious disadvantage to a gasoline car. Therefore, they won't get adopted any time soon.

The other story, which I think is a lot more appealing, is that the present trend to hybrid gasoline/electric cars moves onto a plugin-hybrid stage in which the car has a larger battery and motor and gets plugged in to the electric grid at night or during the day at work. This has a far less serious adoption barrier. We already have distribution infrastructures for electricity and liquid fuel, so the only early adopter needed is the buyer of the plug-in hybrid. To the extent the grid needs to get expanded over time due to increased electricity usage by plug-ins, this will be done on the basis of clearly proven demand trends and can be a relatively low-risk decision. The speed of adoption of plugins will essentially be controlled by the relative prices of electricity and liquid fuels (including any carbon emission surcharges and governmental incentives).

In this scenario, power for cars will be predominantly coming from electricity by 2050, which I have already argued could be plentiful if we make the necessary infrastructure investments. So then the issues become whether it might be feasible to build that many plug-in hybrids.

Building Four Billion Plugin Hybrids

I stress of course that I'm not proposing that we make any crash program to build plugins. I'm simply proposing that as the economy grows and people, particularly in developing countries, get wealthier and want more cars, we create incentives to shift the car population gradually to hybrids and then plugin hybrids. Such incentives are already in place in a number of countries (eg the hybrid tax credit in the US). If this is done sufficiently, we would end up with a few billion plugin-ins by 2050. Market forces will do a lot of the work, since electricity is already cheaper per unit energy than liquid fuel, and the gap is likely to widen over time.

So then the question is what other resource constraints might we run into along the way, given that energy is not one in my scenario (at least not in the long term). Some things are fairly clearly not problems. The bulk of the car is made from steel, perhaps aluminum in future (lighter), and plastics. Iron and aluminum are the two most common metals in the earth's crust and are unlikely to be serious resource constraints this century. Plastics will be available from oil as long as we can mostly stop burning the oil in automobiles. The necessary roads can be made from concrete, and we are very unlikely to run out of limestone to make the cement, or sand and gravel.

Two issues seem to me to be potentially pressing - lithium for batteries and copper for motor wiring. I will examine lithium in detail now, but defer copper, which is a more general concern, to a future piece. (Roughly speaking, those familiar with the copper issue can imagine that it comes down to an argument about how much copper usage can be substituted by much more plentiful aluminum).


The best battery chemistries known for future automobiles all appear to involve lithium. Lithium-based rechargeable batteries have more energy density per unit weight, as well as carrying more energy per unit volume:

Energy density (weight and volume) for various battery technologies. Source: Wikipedia.

For these reasons, lithium is coming to dominate a number of rechargeable battery markets (laptops, cordless power tools) and it seems reasonably forseeable that it would also dominate the plug-in hybrid market. So in this section, I want to take up the question of whether we would run out of Lithium before 2050. An important analysis for considering this issue is The Trouble with Lithium which seemed quite alarming when I first read it, though now I have run the numbers myself, I am more sanguine. It's also useful to read the most recent USGS commodity summary, as well as the longer 2006 Minerals Yearbook entry on Lithium. Also, Costs of Lithium-Ion Batteries for Vehicles has much useful data. I also recommend this nice overview presentation on mineral resource limitations on Earth in general (though some of the graphs are dated).

The concerns raised in Trouble With Lithium are two-fold. One is that the best and cheapest sources of lithium are limited to a few geographic regions (principally certain high desert regions of South America and Tibet) and that therefore the world would be as vulnerable to political problems with these regions as it is now with oil and the Middle East. The second is that the expansion of lithium mining required to support a plug-in hybrid world would be enormous relative to present day production. There is some validity to both these concerns, but let's first look at the total amount of lithium available, see if that's enough, and then come back to the potential bumps along the way.

The best estimates available are these (expressed as thousands of tonnes of elemental lithium).

VariableQuantity (KT Li)
Reserve Base13,400
2005 Production21.4
2006 Production23.5
2007 Production25

As you can see, there is not an urgent lithium problem - reserves/production is currently about 250. (As far as I know, no-one has raised a serious question about the validity of lithium reserve numbers). However, this is with hardly any cars containing lithium batteries. How does four billion of them change the picture?

Let's take a moment to look at the definition of reserves and reserve base:

Schematic of various categories of reserves and resources. Source: Resource Limitations on Earth.

Basically, reserves are the material that we know where it is today, and we believe with high confidence that we know how to get it out of the ground profitably at today's prices with today's technology. The reserve base additionally includes known or reasonably inferred deposits of material that are technically recoverable but marginally economic. After that, we get into resources that either haven't been discovered, or are sufficiently dilute or inaccessible that no practicable way is known to extract them at near current prices.

Thinking about 2050, it seems to me that the reserve-base is the best guesstimate of how much lithium might be available if really needed (ie if we haven't figured out a better idea in the meantime). This allows for improvements in extraction technology and/or higher prices (manageable by a wealthier society), but we aren't getting out into "lithium from seawater" territory - the "reserve base" is lithium in known deposits.

Furthermore, since cars are 95% recycled even now, it seem reasonable to assume that long before 2050 we can pretty much be recycling all or nearly all of the lithium. So the calculation I'm going to assume (and I freely admit this is just a rough back-of-the-envelope sort of exercise) is to just divide the 13.4 MT of lithium reserve base by the 4 billion cars, which gets us an average of 3.3kg of lithium per car. Now, currently, it takes 0.3kg of lithium to get 1 kWhr of battery capacity, so that 3.3kg of lithium represents about 11 KWhr of electricity storage.

A reasonable assumption is that a plugin would require about 0.2 kWhr/mile. Thus the 11 KwHr average battery is 55 miles of all-electric range, or about 90 km. Now if we assume that they all get charged at night (figuring that the extra charging during the day for some cars is cancelled by others that can't or don't charge at night) then we can basically treat this as the maximum amount of daily mileage that can be covered by electricity, rather than liquid fuel.

Which allows us to make use of this data on the cumulative distribution of daily miles:

Cumulative distribution of personal daily travel distance in the US, UK, and an estimate for developing countries. Source: The Geography of Transport Systems, summarizing data from Regularities in Travel Demand: An International Perspective.

The average world citizen in 2050 is probably going to do a little less mileage than the US/UK numbers (given very dense cities). Thus more than 95% of vehicle days would be covered on electricity alone, and therefore it's pretty comfortable that the 50mbd of oil requirement (assuming 50mpg) would fall below 10mbd.

(Obviously, powering even more cars after 2050 would require at some point that we find more lithium, figure out how to extract it from seawater profitably, discover some better battery technology, or somehow otherwise work around the problem. I'm willing to live with this - who knows what 40 years of innovation will come up with. We wouldn't be worried about peak oil if it was 40 years off, and so I'm not going to worry about running out of lithium then -- we have to leave our children something to do...).

Now, let me go back to the other concerns raised in Trouble with Lithium. The author, William Tahil, spends a lot of time concerned about the disconnect between the current production of lithium and the amount required to turn out all of today's car production with lithium batteries, or convert all of today's cars on the road to lithium. But these are not reasonable models for the time path of lithium/plugin adoption occurring. Instead, the right way to frame the question is to assume that the market for lithium-ion batteries in plugins grows gradually over time, and then look at the required growth rate in lithium production and see if it looks outrageous. In my case, for a first quick calculation, I'm just going to look at what constant growth rate is required to produce a cumulative 13.4MT of lithium by 2050, and then compare that to recent history. Here is the recent history:

Recent history of global lithium production (exclusive of the US). Source: USGS. Note that the USGS doesn't publish US production because there is only a single US producer. The US will not be a major factor in lithium production going forward.

The darker green curve is actual lithium production. The compound annual growth rate from 1994 to 2007 is 11.46%, and the implied smooth curve is shown. Now, it turns out that if we were to assume that growth rate going forward, then we would mine almost 26 million tonnes by 2050. To get only the reserve-base number of 13.4 million tonnes, the average growth rate in lithium production between now and 2050 should be 9.35%. This doesn't seem an obviously outrageous growth rate.

The second major objection Tahil raises is the geographic concentration of lithium that will thus give some countries a lot of leverage over global supplies. He is undoubtedly right, but this will be only one of many such world problems, and far from the most serious. The world is going to be ever more dependent on the Middle East for oil in coming decades. The world will be critically dependent on Asia for a lot of manufactured goods. Asia and the Middle East will be critically dependent on big food exporters like the US and Brazll to eat. If we don't trade, we are all going to be in a world of hurt. In this context, concentration of lithium exports doesn't seem like the worst problem (at least if lithium exports stop, it only hurts the ability to build new cars, not run the existing ones).

In conclusion, these stylized facts seem to be roughly true:

  • With the existing known reserve base of 13.4 million tonnes of lithium and less than 10 mbd of oil, we could run 4 billion cars in 2050.
  • If we assume most residents of the planet are living in dense cities in the third world with degrees of public transportation comparable to dense western cities today, then 3-5 billion cars should be enough to satisfy people's aspiration for automobile transport by that time.
Oh, and I think we could reasonably hope that the darn things will drive themselves by 2050!

In the next 5 years we'll face a completely different problem: how to mass produce 4 billion components for renewable energy systems. This is because in that time the Arctic summer sea ice will disappear, with incalculable consequences for the weather and climate of the Northern hemisphere, including the destiny of the Greenland ice sheet to which Stuart has alerted us 2-3 years ago.

Causes of Changes in Arctic Sea Ice; by Wieslaw Maslowski (Naval Postgraduate School)

In the meantime, NASA climatologist James Hansen is moving the goal posts from 450 ppm CO2 to 350 ppm as the threshold for dangerous climate change.

So what should be discussed here is how we can re-tool all those car plants which will inevitably close down as a result of peak oil, into manufacturing plants of wind generators, solar panels, solar water heaters etc.

We should also discuss what needs to be done to get all that CO2 out of the atmosphere again because we are now already above 383 ppm. Time is now critical. For 50 years planet Earth is out of energy balance with space. We see now increased heat exchange between the equator and the poles.

4 bn cars is the last thing we need. A planning horizon up to 2050 is completely academic. We can consider ourselves lucky if we have good plans for the next 10 years. For the Australian context I have calculated that - if we want all essential transports sustaining our present life (food, basic consumer products etc.) and all traffic in rural areas to continue at present levels capital city motorists will have only 1/5th of current fuel supplies by 2020 (assume 30% reduction of oil supplies according to the EWG report). By that time, therefore, long distance commuting in urban areas by private car will be history. Mandatory car pooling will help while we build up electric urban rail on all freeways as has been done in Perth.

I am sorry to say this very clearly: our unrealistic car dreams will kill this planet.

matt, i agree with you. the next 5-10 years will be critical. but i believe it's wrong to assume that we will convert the factories by assuming the current economic situation. most likely, they will postpone the investments, and only in the final hour will we rush to a green frenzy. but by that time, most of the money that could be used to get a head start will be used for building smaller (petrol) cars, hybrids, biofuels, and so on. When the governments will realize that they need rail, there will be little money to do the task in a big way, because much of the income will be lost due to the citizen's eroded buying power and increased government costs.

long story short, i believe we'll just keep digging deeper hoping for some miracle, and one day we'll realize it takes a tremendous effort to climb back up. we're not "hoping for the best, preparing for the worst". we're just hoping for the best and expecting for it to happen.

All this effort to move around when we could be building places that have almost everything we needed within walking distance.

I call it the transportation illusion: the illusion that solving the problem of how you get to the people and things you need is more important than solving the problem of how to ensure that the people and things that you need are already living and existing where you are.


Chris Vernon circulated this latest offering from Hansen a couple of weeks ago - its the same you have but with the voice over. I gotta say I thought this was off the bad end of the scale and not worth the time of day.

You make an astute observation:

In the meantime, NASA climatologist James Hansen is moving the goal posts from 450 ppm CO2 to 350 ppm as the threshold for dangerous climate change.

So would you care to say which of the laws of physics have changed to cause such a dramatic revision of this theory. Or is that Hansen and colleagues have just been plain wrong in their understanding of the natural world? So if they were wrong then why should anyone believe them to be right now?

The latest temperature anomaly map from GISS is indeed worrying:

All that anomalous warm in the arctic region. And all that anomalous cold in central Asia, Africa, Greenland, The Pacific and Antarctica. We need to remember that these maps compare today with the mean datum period of 1951 to 1980. There is absolutely no reason to believe that this datum period is normal.

If Hansen is right you may as well kiss your ass goodbye - cos we're already passed 350 ppm and heading north at break neck speed. There is nothing on this earth going to stop China, India, the ME and others having a C based binge - that is until FF run out - the peak year is 2020.

I share your concern about the loss of Arctic sea ice and I also share your concern about the additional forcing caused by CO2 and other GHGs. The main worry here is that no one seems to understand the consequences of these phenomena on Earth's climate. The sighting of a blue parrot in a Norwegian Fjord I dare say will send panic through the international GW community.

4 Billion electric cars are of course part of the remedy - of reducing uncertainty about what we are doing.

"If Hansen is right you may as well kiss your ass goodbye"

Been there, done that.

I think concerning ourselves with how to build so many cars is a total distraction.

Please don't be so dismissive with comments like "which of the laws of physics has changed." It helps to understand the social context in which climate change science occurs (much like the denial around peak oil), and to understand how the the dynamics of ice sheet collapse have been misrepresented by models.

Please read:

I basically concur with Climate Code Red: In a few years we either go into an "emergency mode" and dispel with "normalcy" to deal with the problem or we let that window slip away and be faced with the existential crisis of being alive for a short while as it all goes to hell.

Jason, it wasn't like this in Nansen's day - too much f*ing ice back then:

The first voyage of Fram proved that the Arctic Ice pack rolls on a conveyor belt of ocean currents and is renewed every 3 to 4 years? So when I hear folks talking about irreversible loss of Arctic Sea ice I really gotta laugh out loud. Do you think the IPCC are aware of this?

Climatecodered does reference the fact that ocean currents have warmed the water the Arctic ice pack sits on. So this comes back to the critical question:

Is our climate controlled to a large extent by ocean currents or is it vice versa? Off course there is a bit of both - but I always learned the former to be dominant.

Any physical scientist who has been out in Alpine snow conditions in Spring is aware of the power of albedo in melting snow - as a patch of soil expands exponentially in spring sunshine - at the expense of snow pack. If the IPCC and Hansen et al have failed to model this correctly it leaves me with a feeling of dismay.

So what exactly is the evidence that anrthopogenic climate forcing is the cause of the current decline in Arctic Sea Ice summer minima?

Trends in perennial sea ice extent:

Source: Nghiem et al., Rapid reduction of Arctic perennial sea ice

And the pattern of arctic ice circulation:

Note gyre in center. Source: NSIDC.

Yes, NSIDC shows it best.

Animated table 4 on the above link is showing constantly moving, thickening and thinning sea ice. It was once in color, now in less informative B/W. Can someone follow up on this to change it back to what it was?

Just now it displayed in color for me. It did seem like a slow server but worth the wait. Thanks.

Thanks for the charts Stuart - I learn something every day. The general idea of water flowing in through the Bering straights and out through Baffin straights and E Greenland holds though. And the water coming in the top is warm.

The main point I wanted to make here is that the Arctic Sea Ice is on average very young - a handful of years old - and is renewed on an "annual" basis. Its not like the Greenland and E Antarctic ice sheets which have taken hundreds of thousands of years to millions of years to form. If we lose these then I'm prepared to accept that they are lost "forever" to all intents and purposes for Homo Sapiens. All we need is one (or a series of 2 or 3) really cold Arctic winter to restore the Arctic Sea Ice to its former glory in terms of volume. Whether or not that happens soon is another issue.

Your first chart showing perennial sea ice extent is extremely interesting. Would you agree that the 1957 to 1971 we have some form plateau and that the current trend of accelerating loss began in 1972? 1972 looks like a really dramatic year in the Arctic. What happened?

To my eye what we are experiencing now, started then. So is this anthropogenic GW or is it something else? My chart up the thread has 126,053 million tonnes oil equivalent (mmtoe) burned 1900 to 1972 and 251,166 mmtoe burned 1973 to 2007. So we have burned more than twice as much in the last 34 years than in the preceding 72 years.

If the onset of Arctic Sea ice loss in 1972 was due to human activity then we are well and truly screwed. The thermal and kinetic inertia of the ocean atmosphere system will ensure on-going highly unpredictable climate change for decades - and there is absolutely nothing man kind will be able to do to prevent this. At best we can mitigate effects by building coastal defenses and prepare to cultivate Greenland - like the Vikings did 1000 years ago!!

If on the other hand the onset of sea ice loss in 1972 is due to a natural cycle then is it not the case that what we are experiencing now is a continuation of that same cycle that has presumably happened many times before? And Planet Earth and all its species survived.

Where my position differs I believe from your own and certainly from the GW advocates is that I am uncertain which of these options is true. I actually lean quite strongly towards the latter - that is perhaps down to denial - but also down to the fact that we know The Vikings cultivated Greenland as I already mentioned. I would see some danger that anthropogenic GW may amplify the natural cycle - unquantifiable and unstopable.

If it is the case that we have jumped off a GW cliff then we had best prepare our parachute. Flapping around hysterically trying to regain the cliff edge just ain't going to get us anywhere. If we have jumped we can't go back.


it's all a matter of rate of change (as is so often the case!).

If warming comes too quickly, we are toast.

If it comes slowly, we can adapt. We human beings could possibly adapt even to quicker climate change, but nature can't. In former times, when there was climate change, it usually took hundreds to thousands of years to manifest itself.
This time, the exploding CO2 emissions could do it really fast - too fast for slugs, bugs and cheetas.



Davidyson - I should know more about past mass extinctions, but don't, other than they probably were not instantaneous.

Are there any examples to date of species lost to global warming? This is a straight question - I don't know the answer.

I am aware that we are losing vast numbers of species from rain forests and other habitats - and this is a true and avoidable tragedy. It brings us back to what I believe we need to focus on which is population reduction some how - and that of course will ultimately lead to lower CO2 emissions.

I'm also aware that fish stocks are moving around as are birds and insects in response to the rapid warming we have experienced this past 20 years or so. The structure of food webs and ecosystems are changing - as they always have done so. But are species getting wiped out?

Indonesia provides a very interesting case history where vast tracts of rain forest have been burned to grow bio fuels - and this has been in response to declining oil production in Indonesia.


The American Pika is thought to be headed for extinction. They live at altitude and can die if the temperature goes over 23o C for an hour. The species extinction rate is about 50,000/yr. Presumably some of these lost their last members as a result of climate change but many other human activities, particularly related to land use and fishing lead to this high rate. The normal rate is about 50 to 500/yr.
Other species considered affected by climate change are the Polar Bear, Moose, Florida Panther, Canada Lynx, Brook Trout, Salmon, Mallard Duck, American Gold Finch, Sage Grouse and Coral.


"The main point I wanted to make here is that the Arctic Sea Ice is on average very young - a handful of years old - and is renewed on an "annual" basis. Its not like the Greenland and E Antarctic ice sheets which have taken hundreds of thousands of years to millions of years to form".

Oh, certainly. But still, there is a distinction between the stuff that's five or ten years old, and thinner ice. Once the perrenial ice is gone, it's harder to recreate it because the thin stuff melts faster every summer and lets more heat into the ocean.

The reason why it's probably irreversible are heat stored in the ocean, and basic physics suggesting that global temperature can only go up from here (bumpily but basically up). The reason people think this is almost certainly due to anthropogenic GW is because climate models pretty much all predict a much warmer Arctic, and lo and behold we have a much warmer Arctic (albeit that the sea ice melt is going much faster than they predicted). The climate models are fairly well able to explain the 20th century temperature history by now, and able to distinguish natural variability from forcing in general. However, it's certainly possible that some kind of natural fluctuation is accelerating the anthropogenic trend here. I suggest reading something like this GISS E paper (PDF) on the model data fit. Incidentally, I think you'll regret criticizing Hansen in public like this - he really is first rate, and I don't think you've done the spadework yet to understand the issues, let alone be criticizing leading thinkers on it.

Here's a speculation: it almost appears that climatologists are much better at modeling the atmosphere than they are at modeling the ocean, and better at the ocean than the cryosphere. Would that seem accurate to others?

Stuart said:

it almost appears that climatologists are much better at modeling the atmosphere than they are at modeling the ocean, and better at the ocean than the cryosphere.

Which seems a shame considering the oceans are so important, and is one of the reasons why it seems to me to be premature to be too certain of the future course of events, although the probabilities are clear.

The Navy has been running subs under the Arctic for decades. Turns out Arctic sea ice loss is about 80% so far when thickness and not just extent is calculated.

Hansen has also proposed was to geoengineer a refreezing of the Arctic using injected atmospheric sulfates. The ice cover can be rebuilt quickly, which is important because if the Arctic opens up then Greenland could go quickly, which would then mean the loss of W. Antarctica and a runaway greenhouse effect from permafrost melt, etc. This could quickly lead to Lovelock's nightmare scenario, which I dismissed when it initially came out but the more I learn the more I am afraid he looks right.

While the Arctic is being artificially kept cold to buy us time the global economy needs to decarbonize over a 10-20 year period and carbon needs to be sequestered in soils and vegetation regrowth to bring us down to 300-320 ppm.

Forget about 450 ppm and peak fossil fuels saving us. I was giving talks while at UC Davis about peak fossil fuels making the SRES reports grossly wrong about emissions potentials, but at the same time the slow feedbacks of the climate system could take a 1-2 C initial warming into a positive feedback loop that gets out of hand. I never imagined it would happen so soon.

Jason - I gotta say I can at least respect your position on this. It is unequivocal. 300 - 320 ppm takes us almost back to pre-industrial concentrations and this tallies with my observation that the current cycle of sea ice loss (area) appears to have begun in 1970 when concentrations were about 325 ppm. I dare say volume losses will have started many decades before

And so what your saying is the time for 1/10th measures let alone half measures is over and we need to try and refreeze the Arctic, virtually shut down combustion of FF and take drastic measures to reduce atmospheric CO2 form its current levels.

And so if your are right in your analysis of our situation I can respect this point of view. I must add that I sincerely hope that you are very wrong because you are aware that none of this is going to happen and proposing it will be seen as bat shit crazy by 90% of people on Earth - until they are gasping their last gasp in a parched (or drowned) land scape.

What I cannot respect then are those who hope half or 1/10th measures might work. If you lack total commitment then you are as well doing nothing at all.

So I conclude by repeating I hope you are wrong and I hope Hansen is wrong. I certainly lack the commitment to do what you would ask - if for no other reason that I find it very difficult to believe that 30 to 40 ppm above the historic baseline will be lethal for our climate - and the target for reductions seems to be shifting on a daily basis. And there seems to be so much of the climate - ocean - ice system that is still very poorly understood.


Where I grew up, the only war memorial was a civil war memorial. Names from other wars have been added to it but a single statue of a soldier surrounded by four green cannons is the marker.

In 1783, a petition was brought to parlimement to abolish slavery in England. Quakers were also organizing in Philadelphia in 1775. Between 1861 and 1865 12% of the US population was freed from slavery and much of its real and paper wealth evaporated. That is about 90 years between conception that there was a problem and putting an end to the problem.

In 1903, Teddy Roosevelt established the first National Bird Preserve and in 1970 we had the first Earth Day. Slavery was abolished in England 50 years after the first petition. Environmentalism is a little slower. In 2006, the USGP called for an 80% cut in CO2 emissions within a decade (your bat shit crazy kind of thing). The GOP was established in 1854, seven years before the start of the Civil War. What is a little different is that no one running for president now thinks global warming is not a problem.

The US seems to go through spasms of about four years durations from time to time to fulfill a commitment to freedom that has built up over a period of 90 or so years. The transformation of industry in the 1940's, the emancipation of the slaves in the 1860's, Civil Rights in the 1960's, the Great Awakening of the 1730's or the Revolutionary War of the 1770's were all culminations of themes of freedom that had been brewing for generations. I think that global warming, or giving due consideration to the ecosystem, can be seen as a freedom issue. In deep ecology, it is a matter of respect for all life while in human terms it can be seen as securing the blessings of liberty to our posterity. This was one of four reasons given for establishing the Constitution so you could kind of say that it is part of our mission statement.

I would thus not be too surprised to see about four years of enourmous activity starting within a decade that leaves the US and the world quite transformed with global warming looking like it is well on the way to solution. That the challenge appears to be growing greater as we learn more about the situation is probably not something to worry about. It will only spur us to greater effort I think. Interesting times....


Chris - thanks for all your input here. But I remain skeptical. I accept that GHGs will lead to warming and climate change superimposed upon the natural cycle of the Earth. Warming superimposed a cooling phase may lead to stability and warming superimposed upon a warming phase may lead us into new and worrying territory.

I just read the link on Arctic Ocean currents posted by Matt:

It basically shows what I was trying to say - that warm water flowing in through the Bearing straights may account for 50+% of the recent sea ice loss. Now it is predictable that the GW crowd will jump up and down claiming this is further evidence of GW. I'd tend to want to know more about longer term ocean circulation cycles. You just need to look at a map of ice loss - and you see it is concentrated around the Bearing entry point.

Incidentally, the Maslowski presentation has charts of ice area, thickness and volume that present a totally different picture to that presented by Stuart with a sudden onset of change in 1997.

Looking at the moving target for CO2:

Kyoto about 350 ppm
Hansen initial target 350 ppm - but aiming at 300 to 350 ppm
Jason Bradford - 300 to 320 ppm

I'm afraid i just don't think there is a chance of meeting any of those. In fact I think the most likely out come is that CO2 marches up towards 450 ppm and will only start to decline when FF peaks - around 2020.

The difficulty in turning around the atmosphere is best illustrated by looking at the CFCs - hailed as a great success. Much easier to tackle - and yet stabalisation / small reduction is all that has been achieved to date. A major triumph yes. The methane chart here is interesting - not much sign of runaway melting of clathrates here. I wonder if this is pipeline repairs in Russia

I remain concerned that a significant portion of what we see in the Arctic today has nothing to do with Man. We can sit back and hope that there is a corrective mechanism that is currently unknown - one of very many unknowns. If there is not, and Greenland begins to melt in earnest then we may well see a panic set in among global leaders - but then it will likely be too late.

You mentioned investment and IPCC scenarios down the thread. The big stumbling block here is the need to spend a fortune now to maybe prevent a catastrophe that might happen, as opposed to waiting to see if the catastrophe happens and then spending the money to mitigate the consequences when you know for sure what and where the problem lies.


Maybe relevant research paper linked at climate ark on historical flows of water into Arctic (15 million years):,german-scientists-warn-of...

Hamburg, Germany - Marine scientists in Germany have issued an alarming warning about the radically alteration of the circulation of water in the Arctic Ocean. The findings by the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM- GEOMAR) in Kiel, Germany, have dire implications for climate change in the Northern Hemisphere.

Hitherto, the circulation of the Arctic Ocean was driven by the formation of sea ice rather than the inflow of North Atlantic deep water.

Recently, however, the shrinkage of sea ice due to global warming has resulted in the startling reversal, according to the study by the German scientists which is published in the new journal Nature Geoscience.

Galactic - curiously i spent the greater part of my professional career analysing sediments for Nd isotopes (oil reservoir rocks). We also just had a long email exchange about looking at Arctic ocean floor sediments - I'b be particularly interested in paleo ecology indicators that might indicate the presence or absence of sea ice for the last 10,000 to 1,000,000 years. This I believe will become one of the biggest questions this decade.

The paper you reference i fear may have the cart before the horse - concluding that the disappearance of sea ice has caused ocean currents to change and not vice versa!


I think you need to separate the emissions reductions from the response of the atmosphere which takes longer. The CFC emissions have been cut dramatically and the effect is now showing in the atmospheric abundance in your chart. The residence time of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is longer than for CFCs so emission cuts lead to stabilization rather than the reduction you see in the chart. In order to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide, we need to remove it from the atmosphere. It turns out that this is fairly easy to do in the sense that removing carbon dioxide can multiply loaves and, possibly, fishes. Cutting emissions also looks as though it can be done in a way that makes energy less expensive.

In each of the American upheavals over freedom, prosperity has increased as a result. This was not the intention of those movements. My working hypothesis is that moves to increase freedom tend to broaden the pool of creative inputs. Buckminster Fuller points out that when the war to end fascism came to a close, automation had grown so much in four years that there wasn't any work for the demobilized soldiers. So, everyone when to college and this resulted in a huge rise in prosperity. Perhaps doing the right thing puts people in the mood to do more of it.

It is worth remembering that in the lead up to that war there were leading Americans like Senator Bush who greatly admired Germany and sought to assist its efforts. There are many now who feel that fossil fuels are worth fighting over. Perhaps oil depletion helps get past this kind of thinking since it is becoming clearer that we are going to have to make do without fossil fuels sometime while global warming sends us in a particularly productive direction. Regardless, it does feel as though things are coming to a head.

So, seeing the result of cuts in CFC emissions in the atmosphere is encouraging. It shows that we know what we are talking about. But, we also know that to reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will require efforts to remove it. This is an enormous challenge in scale and perhaps just the thing to cure the ennui that leads to such products of idleness as mortgage backed securities.


I agree completely about the urgency of the climate issue.

Your chance of selling the planet's population on a no-car, no-plane future are zero. Nada. Not going to happen. If that's the alternative, people will decide it's hopeless and take their chances on adapting to climate change. This kind of proposal is irrelevant at best and actively counterproductive at worst, in my opinion - allowing the perfect to be enemy of the good enough.

We need to propose something that can meet (most of) people's aspirations.

We need to propose something that has a prayer of working. The fact that a global supergrid and stock market growth until the end of the century can be 'sold' to gullible people does not mean that they sensible proposals. If physical reality and peoples aspirations are in conflict, guess who is going to win.

"People's aspirations"?
Really. A century ago who "aspired" to own a car? Car ownership is human nature? Because advertising con men have sold us a load of BS we are now all doomed?
You are right RK physical reality always wins.
And while the gang here at TOD spins pipe dreams some of them should figure out that social reality is constructed by us and could be rearranged by us.
Not that I expect that to happen

I think one could argue that there is a strong aspiration towards personal transportation, whatever is available at the time. Once individual wealth reaches the necessary level, a sizable fraction of people look to become independent of public transportation, with its schedules and/or sometimes limited availability. Technology and cheap fossil fuels have (temporarily, at least) greatly lowered the threshold for the amount of wealth needed to reach that point.

Whatever is, is the only way things can be. And we will create the tech and make the investments to make sure it stays that way.

Devise circular arguments and submit to Fate.

I'm not worried about 4,000,000,000 cars ever happening, I'm worried about the utter death of imagination.

Once individual wealth reaches the necessary level, a sizable fraction of people look to become independent of public transportation, with its schedules and/or sometimes limited availability.

Dunno bout dat, when I lived in the Big Apple I didn't own a car, got to work on time almost every day and I wasn't even poor. I personally knew well to do people who took the subway just like I did. Some of them were in advertising creating ads to sell cars, they laughed all the way to the bank.

I aspire to anti-gravity flying vehicles and space-timewarp travel to other planets and suspended animation and eventually uploding myself to the galactic wide web and living forever! Please can't I have my fantasy for just a little while longer? None of these things are dependent on fossil fuel - I promise. Not in my fantasy anyway.

So you need to identify which parts of what I'm proposing, specifically, are physically impossible (with numbers).

Yes, the supergrid is far fetched but we do have plenty of fission fuel. And it is pretty clear that we could build a primarily nuclear based grid fast enough to satisfy Stuart's model. It just might not happen the way he hopes.

You don't need a supergrid for nuclear, as you can put them where they are needed.
You don't really need one for renewables either, as long as you use them where they are most appropriate, fro instance solar in the South of the US, but not trying to power the North by that means- all you need then is overnight storage.

Limited extensions of the grid for wind would help to reduce variability.

It was clear from Stuart's earlier article on energy that costs are greatly reduced if you allow some nuclear energy in the mix, and alternatives would be very expensive, if indeed they can be done, as they relied on continued massive improvements in the costs of solar energy at the same rate as has happened in recent years - personally I feel that this rate of increase will level off to some degree before long, as maintenance and installation becomes a larger part of total cost, but solar should be good to provide at minimum peak load capacity and probably almost all capacity in sunny areas.

I prefer however to base proposals on what we can be sure we can do - we know that we can power society with nuclear energy,and only modest engineering development is required to get better burn of fuel and so on - we have thousands of operating years of experience, and one whole society, France already gets most of it's electricity from nuclear power.

If solar turns out to be economical I would be all over it though! - that is not going to happen without major breakthroughs for the cold and wintry north though.

I'm all for going in stages. The important thing now is to provide subsidies/mandates to ramp up solar/wind as fast as possible purely on a fuel displacement basis, while permitting nuclear plants wherever they can overcome local political opposition, and fighting coal plants tooth and nail. Fund R&D into anything and everything that even vaguely makes sense. Actual development of a super-grid can happen in stages - more continent grid structure to begin with, and then as the solar and wind costs continue to fall and we want to drive the penetration higher than intermittency will allow without wider averaging, more grid elements can be added.

I think care needs to be taken in providing subsidies for renewables.Feed-in tariffs and mandates can grossly distort the market and lead to missalocation of resources.

In my view the correct and most neutral way of doing things is by a carbon tax
Here in the UK conservation efforts have been pathetic or non-existent.

By putting money into that we get a lot more 'bang for the buck' in terms of carbon reduction than by building power sources.

Things are different in America, but here in Europe mandates and huge feed-in tariffs have lead to a lot of capacity and vast expense on wind power where the wind don't blow and solar power where the sun don't shine.

According to Deutsche Welle 30c/kwh and high taxes are leading a lot of the public to loose interest in efforts to mitigate carbon emissions.
They are leaders in conservation, but their efforts to generate power from wind where it isn't windy and solar at their latitude bemuse me.

Recent Government plans in the UK to develop 33GW nameplate of off-shore wind, actual hourly output of around 10-11GW from Government figures would cost around £40bn.

For the same money you could buy around 14 of the 1.6GW, some 1.44GW actual hourly output of Areva like that being built in Finland, allowing an additional $2bn on top of the present $4bn , total $6bn, £3bn pounds per reactor.

That is about 20GW of power to the grid, all of UK baseload. fuel costs in nuclear power are a minor part of the cost, and life expectancy of the plants is around 60 years, as opposed to 25 years for wind.

It should be noted though that in the UK wind power has excellent load-following characteristics.

Just the same it is clear that a conservation program in the interim before a nuclear build program would lead to much greater overall reductions in CO2 emissions, and more value per pound spent.

Current EU regulations though mean that the wind resource counts towards renewable targets, whilst a nuclear build or conservation don't.

This wouldn't matter if resources were infinite, but they are far from that- personally my guess as to what will actually happen is that some wind power will be built, but nothing like target as it just gets too pricey, and money which could have been used much more effectively will have been wasted.

None of this should be taken as a knock on wind in general, and it is clear that in the US, for instance, there is a lot of potential for on-shore wind power, and China with it's low costs has even better prospects.

As for opposition to nuclear power, a lot of moderate people are coming, however reluctantly, to support nuclear power in order to reduce CO2, whilst a lot more are still bamboozled by false claims of how much we can do with renewables at the moment.

In an engineering sense at any reasonable cost what we can now is conserve, and use our thousands of operating years in nuclear to build that up, with modest engineering advances in fuel burn and so on.

Wind also has a big part to play in many areas, and hopefully solar in suitable regions, and this is the realistic perspective.

The 'no nuclear whatever the cost' brigade - in economic terms or to the environment in CO2 emissions - will doubtless plan to stamp their feet, and scream and scream and scream until they're sick but my guess is that as a political force in the UK at least they will be finished as soon as the first power cut hits, which is probably not long given the dire state of power planning here.

Here is a costed perspective on conservation:

Unless there is a shift in world energy policies, global energy demand is set to accelerate, putting increasing strain on the world economy and the environment. Yet additional annual investments in energy productivity of $170 billion through 2020 could cut global energy demand growth by at least half—the equivalent of 64 million barrels of oil a day or almost one and a half times today’s entire U.S. energy consumption.

Global warming aside, a lot of folk such as the Chinese are likely to take a close look at this as difficulties and the expense of supplies bite - for that country it would make an immense difference in purely economic terms.

I would put a lot of emphasis on conservation - expenditure there can build in cost savings.

life expectancy of the plants is around 60 years, as opposed to 25 years for wind.

With minor refurbishment and rebuilds, wind turbines should easily be kept operational for a hundred years.
And then with major rebuilds, should be as good as new.

Steel does not fatigue that fast, and there is no radioactive waste.

I hope that is so, but do you have data on that?

Certainly the wind companies only specify around 20-25 years, and due to sudden changes in wind speeds stresses are high. I believe in some instances they have even affected the foundations.

The sea is also a very challenging environment, and salt water does not much agree with much engineering.

I would have thought that experience in the North sea on oil rigs would have lead to relatively close estimates of life expectancy from the companies concerned, although I accept that rebuild would cost a lot less than the first build.

Maintenance costs on the nuclear alternative would not be cheap either, so I am not attempting special pleading.

And, in the USA, spend $135 billion to $175 billion on "on-the-shelf" Urban Rail projects that can start physical construction in 12 to 36 months

And start electrifying our freight railroads.

Best Hopes,


France already gets most of it's electricity from nuclear power.

Yes and no.

There is an irreducible 10% FF in French power generation (even with 10% hydro, which also helps meet peak demand).

All night long, France sells power to it's neighbors at very low prices, to displace their hydro (Swiss), FF (most of them) or fill their pumped storage (Luxembourg) and often buys back peak power at premium prices.

In isolation, modern nuke cannot supply much more than 50% to 60% of the power (without pumped storage).

Nuclear would also benefit from a super-grid. Texas nukes could sell power to Florida at dawn there and to Phoenix & So. CA after 10 PM CST, and pumped storage in the Rockies, Ozarks or Smokies late at night.

Best Hopes for HV DC transmission,


I can't really understand where you get the idea that there is an irreducible minimum of 10% of FF needed for nuclear, Alan.

At the moment it is not worth doing away with it financially, and energy storage is an issue, but if we do indeed turn to plug-in hybrids you have a built in energy store so you could run the nuclear plants all the time.

So prospectively at least it does not seem that it is irreducible.

And your idea of pumped storage would also reduce the irreducible! :-)

After the last four N4 nukes were built in France, the nuke building industry in France (large & influential) wanted to build more, but France had "too many nukes", despite the continued FF use.

The lack of expansion created a disruptive dead time between 1999 & 2003 (the last two French nukes completed) and 2007 (start) and 2012 when the first EPR is scheduled to be finished. Construction personnel were idled and found other employment during this idleness.

If a 5th and 6th N4 reactor could have displaced the carbon emissions (and imported fuel costs), they would surely (IMHO) have been built.

I also found out that

France is the world's largest net exporter of electric power, exporting 18% of its total production (about 100 TWh)


It seems it all depends on what is meant by 'irreducible' - I would go for impractical in this case, and at this time.

When someone asks 'why' the answer is usually 'money' and that seems to be the case here.

They are part of a wider grid and can easily get power form fossil fuel as needed, and pumped storage would presumably have been more expensive.

Overall though, if they had really wanted to they would have been able to do so at a relatively minor cost, as they have around 50 reactors do building another 2 would at most cost 1/25th more.

The impact on the bottom line would be much greater though, and it is not surprising that they chose not to.

A large fleet of electric cars would surely alter the equation though as they would mostly be charged overnight off-peak, as would rising fossil fuel prices or insecurity of supply.

A large fleet of electric cars would surely alter the equation though as they would mostly be charged overnight off-peak

Not sure I agree with that. An article on TOD some months back about new battery technology suggested that the ones in question (LiFe) could be charged in 5-10 minute with really high amperage. I think this would lead to a whole network of immediate charging stations just like today's gas stations. This has significant consequences for the architecture of the grid.

Nobody has cheap gasoline in their garage.

OTOH, most people could charge their car at home much more cheaply and quickly than at a "gas" station.

You are really killing me. I might as well weep, accept the loss of the whole planet then. Cause what you are saying is we should just give in to our perceived need/greed and not ask for anything other than the destruction of most life forms, Gods creation in some belief systems, instead of telling people the truth and asking for some self sacrifice for long-term survival.

If you want a 4 billion car future, run the numbers on how that gets us down to 320 ppm.

If you can't show that it can be done, than your proposal is most counter-productive and irrelevant because there won't be many people around by 2050. Your proposal seems to guarantee die-off, which is what you claim to want to avoid!

Everyone wants to be rich. That's not possible. So everyone is disappointed. Nothing about your plan is going to change that, so why even bother? I don't believe in "evil" in the spiritual sense, but a continuation of business as usual "lite" is about as close as it gets.

And I never said anything about a "no car future" or "perfection." I am much more nuanced and complex than that and so is Climate Code Red.

Your proposal seems to guarantee die-off

No way. We are so close to peak fossil fuels that there is really not anything we can do to avoid going to about 450 ppm but there is also not enough fossil fuel to go beyond that.

Stuart's scenario does not have a net carbon impact. It does not increase the amount of fossil fuel that will be consumed over the best case scenario. Other than possibly leaving perhaps 20% of the coal in the ground, consumption of all fossil fuels will peak in 10-15 year and then follow the same trend down no matter what we do.

The fact is that there are plentiful supplies of nuclear, wind and solar and none of these has to have serious negative environmental effects on the world. Once people realize this, life will go on. We will build a new energy infrastructure, a new fleet of vehicles. The world will grow and people on average will grow richer, as they have for the last hundreds of years. This is not evil.

People are inventive and ambitious. We find ways to make our lives better. Fossil fuels have been a blessing and a curse. They have cause tremendous growth of cities and population and are causing a climate crisis. I hope they will run out in time to prevent a major climate disaster. The climate crisis is largely out of our hands. But the end of fossil fuels does not have to mean the end of development and the reversion of society to some more primitive state. There would be no moral good in that.

But the end of fossil fuels does not have to mean the end of development and the reversion of society to some more primitive state. There would be no moral good in that.

I don't see that morality has anything to do with it. A supply crunch possibly coming in 2012:
Is likely to reverse economic growth. Mr. Staniford appears to be leaving any cost analysis for a future article, but as he himself states a lot of the scenarios he is suggesting will depend on economic growth:

The world economy is able to grow on average over the period - modestly in developed countries, faster in developing countries.

Is this likely ? The same thing worries me for Nuclear power. The cost is so prohibitive the British government wants to leave it all to private investors. How much of that nuclear infrastructure is likely to be in place before we start to see an "oil supply crunch" ? Relocalizing food distribution chains would appear to be a far more realistic solution in the short term.

I am not sure where you got the idea that the cost of nuclear power is prohibitive. The British government is doing it privately because that is the way the energy market works over here.

The only reason nuclear looked more expensive than fossil fuels was because it has internalised a lot of the costs which are born by the rest of society for coal and gas.

Any sort of emissions tax or carbon tax puts nuclear well ahead, and supply constraints are likely to mean that gas at least will rise a lot in the future.

As against renewables, the only one apart from hydro to give nuclear a run for it's money is wind, which on land in the US with their great wind resource may compete.

In the UK unfortunately most new turbines would have to go off-shore, that is the Goverment's plan, and the costs for that according to Government figures are around twice that from nuclear.

Nuclear plants also have a 60 year life expectancy, so after the first 20-25 years of a nuclear build you start to get power from the old plants at maintenance and fuel costs.

You will probably have to pay more for power than you do at the moment for power from gas and coal plants in the US, but not prohibitively so.

The only thing which looks likely to come in cheaper than nuclear is conservation!

You forgot to mention the VERY long time it takes to get enough nuclear power on-line in Britain to make up the retiring nukes, aand displace natural gas, not to mention coal.

By the time that 7.5 GW of new UK nukes are on-line (a minimal figure BTW, much more are needed even in a Rush to Wind scenario), the UK will be pawning the crown jewels for LNG. Coal appears to becoming scarce on the world markets ATM.

Wind can be built in some quantity quite quickly, more so if built on-shore.


Perhaps a compromise ? Say a British "Rush to Wind" until 7.5 GW of new UK nukes are on-line and another 6 GW under construction and at least 33% complete ? Then scale back subsidies if the market situation seems to warrant it and cut wind subsidies out all together when the UK has 25 GW of new nukes on-line (and 1 GW of old nuke).

As you know Alan, when I came across the excellent load following characteristics it altered my thoughts on wind power here.

However, if the Government is right on cost it still sounds darn expensive.

My preferred option is expenditure on conservation to reduce the gap, but the government policy has indeed dug a darn big hole and I am not sure if that alone will fill it.

So I would tend to agree that some build on off-shore turbines will be needed, but £40bn is a fair old chunk of change to fund after you have thrown away £100bn on Northern Rock, so perhaps a smaller build would be possible.

Perhaps costs might be held down by building rather more turbines on-shore - the good load following characteristics might make that a more worthwhile sacrifice, as my prime objection to land-based turbines was that if you were just generating a lot of power when it was least needed then it would not be worth it.

The objections of the Scots, Welsh and Irish to building more turbines, as they would see it to benefit the English, though are real and won't go away, and many of the best land sites in England are taken.

Your suggestion on getting the French to build a couple of reactors near the channel and buying all the output might be a good one too.

One way and another it is a real mess in England.

As you know EdF is building one 1.6 GW EPR on the French side of the approaches to the English Channel. A short underseas transmission line to England.

Building two more at the same site (I think that there is room) with the same work crew etc. is the best stop-gap on the supply side. They might be finished 12 to 18 months apart. Get a 35 year contract for all 3.

HV DC to Iceland and Norway also should be looked at.

On conservation, just translating the rules & regs & incentives for new and old buildings from German would be an excellent start. Your climates are not that dissimilar.

As for funds, yes that is a problem !!

Higher rates incentivize conservation at considerable pain. Higher taxes (perhaps on petrol ?) would be a good place to start there.

Best Hopes for the Brits,


You won't overcome the temptation of the British Government to fiddle with regulations rather than adopt them straight from another country, and in building regs they actually have a point.

The problem is that the British building industry has always been very cyclical, used by successive governments to regulate demand.

In contrast the German industry has been much more stable, and their workforce is very highly skilled.

So for instance British architects have proposed a different way of meeting Passivhaus insulation standards, as they did not think that the very tight standards for air-tightness and the use of mechanical ventilation was possible in Britain.

Instead they have proposed passive ventilation and large porches front and back, which unfortunately would eat into the already limited floor area of British homes.

You might have similar obstacles to just importing standards in America.

In other areas their insistence on British certification is just silly.

The Areva nuclear design has already been passed by the Fins and the French, and other potential designs have been certified in other countries which have very capable regulators.

What do they think they are going to add but more delay?

OTOH they probably feel they have to do this for political reasons.

Actually Alan, thinking about it further a shortfall of 7.5GW should be quite possible to cover with conservation, given the truly awful efficiencies at the moment.

This is about 10% of peak generating capacity. I have no access to information to estimate potential savings in the industrial and commercial sector, but given that they often leave their lights on all night for a start it is presumably of the same order as in the residential sector which comprises 40% of the market.

With 3 million houses out of a total stock of 24million in the lowest insulation band and a further 9 million in the band just above it is clear that massive savings are possible before you even consider other measures like air-heat pumps for the 5 million homes off the natural gas grid or upgrading the power standby specifications of electrical equipment.

Not that I think there is a cat's chance in hell of the Government actually putting a proper co-ordinated program together, but they could surely cover most of the gap if they did.


Emotions can run high here. We both know that so much is at stake, we are both taking big personal risks, in different ways, because so much is at stake and we care deeply about the world. Let us honor that in each other. If I have misunderstood your position or ClimateCodeRed's, I apologize. Perhaps you could explain how many cars you do think would be appropriate and why. We have much to learn from one another, let us continue to dialogue and constructively criticize the various options put forward.

An analogy I often think of is that, as a civilization, we are lost in the mountains, and it has started to snow. Visibility is dropping fast. There are cliffs all around, and we are starting to feel a little cold. Things look pretty scary. We are starting to realize that we have made some big mistakes coming up this particular path on this particular day. We were warned, but we ignored the warnings - it looked pretty sunny up here to most of us when we were lower down on the mountain earlier in the day. Now that the blizzard is closing in, some of us are denying that there's any problem, shouting "Follow me, this is easy", and heading straight for one of the cliffs. Others of us are panicking, running about and shouting, "Oh my God, we're all going to die".

In a situation like that, what is needed is to get out the map and compass, huddle round, and with a nice balance of briskness and calm rationality figure out where on the map we are, what the various cliffs around us are, and what way offers the best chance to get the party down off the mountain to somewhere that is tolerably warm and safe. It will be best if we can build a clear enough understanding that the party can agree - it's a bad idea to split up when lost in the mountains.

We know that impulsive decisionmaking can get us in a lot of trouble. Many people thought biofuels a good direction, but instead we find a cliff yawning at our feet as we start to go down that direction. It is important when we look at a particular direction on the map that we ask "how steep is the slope that way?" "If we keep going in that direction, does the terrain get rougher or smoother?"

It is in that spirit that I offer my ideas, and also critique yours. I accept that our society is going to have to make changes, big changes. I accept that we are going to have to make sacrifices. At a minimum, we are going to have to build an awful lot of new infrastructure, which is going to be very expensive. So when you say "instead of telling people the truth and asking for some self sacrifice for long-term survival." I agree with you on the need for that.

But where I have a hard time is that I have found it very difficult to get you to tell me to tell me "the truth" of just how much "self sacrifice" you want us to make along your path. I'm not convinced you know. You won't answer questions about how much of a paycut you want people to take in a relocalized future. You won't present calculations of how many people the world can feed if we stop trading food globally. You want us to take a particular path down off the mountain, but I don't see that you've done the work of figuring out how steep that path is, or whether it comes down to a safe place. I think you need to do that.

It's true of course that climate change is an enormous danger. But it's hardly the only danger here. If we take actions that cause the world to get much less wealthy in a hurry, as I believe the kinds of proposals that you favor are likely to do, then those consequences will not be spread evenly. There will be people who will starve and there will be people who will revolt. Perhaps a lot of people. Social stability is a major concern here. I think you need to think that path through a lot more carefully than you have, and be in a position to convince other people of goodwill that you really have the best path to propose.

And you challenge me in the same way, and rightly so. I presented a scenario for energy use last time that should give you a general idea of the path of future carbon emissions I'm imagining. I believe I've argued pretty defensibly here that the 4 billion cars can be run on less than 10mbd of oil. In general, I propose to move to use renewable energy as the basis of civilization as fast as we can manage without wrecking our society. I will adjust the scenario as I go, and I will continue to try to flesh out more sectors - time limits me - I have a full time job, with mouths to feed and rent to pay. I do my utmost.

In my mind, my scenario is the about the best I can imagine being able to sell the world to do, and probably somewhat better than that really (the world is showing a huge propensity to stay in denial). Obviously, so far, the schemes that environmentalists have been proposing over the last couple of decades have not attracted enough support to have any discernible impact on the growth in global carbon emissions, so I suggest that thinking a lot harder about this question of public acceptability is very important. Splitting off and heading down the mountain alone is unlikely to help either you or the rest of us.

You seem to feel that moving to mostly but not entirely eliminate carbon emissions by 2050 is not nearly fast enough, would cause a die-off, and that going much faster is both a) possible, and b) would make a major difference in the outcome. I don't follow your logic here - perhaps you could lay out the steps for me.

For some people, it seems to me that peak oil, climate change, etc are almost a game, something divorced from reality. It's like a scary adventure movie that is exciting to watch, but somehow doesn't quite touch them as something that is going to be a reality in their lives. They are disappointed if the clouds appear to lift for a minute and the scary show isn't as vivid. And it becomes a way for people to advocate for whatever they wanted to do anyway, regardless of whether it really meets the need of the hour or not, which to me is a kind of frivolity.

I don't see it that way at all. This is no movie - I believe that we are really up on the mountain together in the snow. The stakes are high. People really are going to die if we make bad decisions - a few people already are dying from high food prices. Doing nothing is not an option either. I have my children with me on this journey and I am absolutely damned determined to have done everything within my talents and energies to help the party make a good decision, so that my kids have a future. Of course, I am only one of the 6.5 billion people up here on the mountain. So I have no real control over what we all decide to do. All I can do is put my best thinking out there, and hope that somebody somewhere reads it and it ends up making a difference. For all its many faults, which frustrate me at times, TOD still seems to be the place were the best all round conversation on the global predicament is happening.

Stuart, I like The Poseidon Adventure movie analogy.

They see the wave coming try evasive action but the wave hits and the ship capsizes. (The world around them is turned upside down, nothing is quite the same).
Some are killed immediately.
The survivors gather and most decide to wait for rescue. (Trusting in the great power of human technology to save them) They are ultimately engulfed as rescue never comes.

Some decide to try and find a way out.
Along the way there are right and wrong turns to make, there are obstacles to overcome and people die along the way. All the way, time is running out, the ship is sinking (the climate they could rely on is changing).

Eventually a small percentage of the original ships passengers and crew survive.

The end

But right now, it's impossible to tell just how bad the situation is. It's far from clear that the situation is hopeless. And until it is hopeless we have a duty to do whatever we can to bring the ship through intact.

Stuart - a great speech and a great analogy - though I missed your reference to Posiedon.

If you are on the mountain in bad weather the last thing you want are members of your party in panic and worse than that, others breaking down in tears saying they never wanted to to climb the mountain in the first place.

You have no control over the storm and don't know whether it is going to blow over or get worse. All you can do is dig a hole, put on a hat gloves and fleece, take stock of your provisions, break out the whisky and start telling cannibal jokes.

It would also be cool if some members of your party were watching what was going on before the storm blew up - those cornices on the cliff above looked mighty dangerous. Have you dug your hole in a safe place? Or is it in line with the energy decline avalanche that will most surely wipe you out if it hits you.

Personally I don't think there is anything we can do to prevent anthropogenic GW if it is indeed an issue. But we can take many precautionary measures to avoid the avalanche and I'm with you 100% of the way in building a bridge to that future.

I agree with Euan here in this subthread. That was extremely well written.

To use your analogy, we have a difference of opinion on the route to take. You think that your route is passable, I do not, and all we have for definitive data is a topographical map with inadequate data#. Your path is the path of least resistance to change in our current culture.

In either case (passable or not) your path has a tight margin for error and can easily lead to catastrophic failure.

What I advocate has a wide margin for error, and a series of soft failure modes.

I want to rely on existing technology, with adjustments made as improved technology arrives, instead of planning on continued advances arriving at specified times.

To briefly outline an overview, I want the thrust of government policy to promote a massive build-out of a Non-Oil Transportation system (EVs not heavily promoted but mainly left to market forces) and a massive build-out of renewable energy with associated HV DC transmission and pumped storage in the near future. Those two thrusts will take all the effort we will likely be able to muster.

Non-Oil Transportation includes:

Electrified intercity railroads (hopefully with some semi-high speed express tracks that can handle passengers and low & medium density freight at 100 to 125 mph. See CSX proposal for DC to Miami).

Urban Rail is all flavors (Rapid Rail (subway), Light Rail, Streetcars, Commuter/Regional Rail) and associated TOD (The low hanging fruit is that about a third of Americans want to live in TOD, and less than 2% do. Meeting this unmeet existing demand for low energy living should be a top priority).

Some Electric Trolley Buses where streetcars will not work well.

Bicycles for Transportation


I would be willing to include Seqways as a adjunct.

All of these (except Segways) have significant elasticity of supply. In a crisis, they can surge their supply on short notice and even more supply over longer periods of time, with marginal new supply of transportation often costing less than the average, but certainly no more.

And all supply enormous gains in energy efficiency (on the order of end use 20 joules of gasoline or oil for 1 joule of electricity, even better for bicycling). These efficiency gains have enormous implications for GHG and GW.

And all are long lived. Things built today, with cheap energy, will not need replacement in a period of prolonged crisis.

As the existing Oil Based Transportation System is stressed##, transportation can shift quickly and easily over to the Non-Oil Transportation System (remember elasticity of supply) IF THE NON-OIL TRANSPORTATION SYSTEM EXISTS !

## I do NOT expect a smooth decline on oil availability, but a disjointed series of crisis. These repeated shocks to our Oil Based Transportation System (if there is no alternative) will tear at our social and economic fabric and reduce our ability to adapt (see our doomer friends).

I also support a plan to convert the North American electrical grid to 90% non-GHG. The last 10% will have to wait on new technology and events as they develop. My guess is 30 years best case, even with strong gov't incentives. A future TOD article.

The problem with EVs and why I do not support a strong push for them is that

1) They have little or no elasticity of supply
2) we are several decades away from the marginal source of electricity being non-GHG and
2b) they are not as energy efficient as Urban Rail (see #4)
3) They do not promote TOD, with it's inherent energy efficiency
4) They are not on the market today (except for GEM) and this creates a wide range of unknowns.

I would have no problem with $400 tax credits for Segways and $1000 tax credits for EVs *IF* this does not detract from higher priorities. The market, given our culture, will give adequate support for a rapid conversion to EVs and there is little that the Gov't can do.

Returning to your analogy, I see one member of the party (France) clearly heading down this path for the last 35 years. They seem to like the feedback and are increasing the pace as the storm clouds gather.



# A couple of decades ago I had an "interesting life experience" in the Rocky Mountains due to going down a stream that could not be scaled back up and running into a shear 12' cliff with a steep scree at the foot. It did not show on our topographical map.

I was going to post something similar, but you beat me to it.

I think the key here is what is considered a realistic aspiration. One small example: China is already choking in smog (even affecting Japan: and facing enormous problems with gridlock (e.g.

And this is with only a fraction of the population owning cars.

Why do they aspire to this? Maybe because they aspire to being like the US and Europe, where cars are seen as signs of wealth.

What this doesn't consider is that maybe people on a large scale will finally get fed up with all the problems caused by cars, and they will no longer be seen as anything more than what they are: a useful tool in certain circumstances.

Actually, there's already a movement in Europe and even parts of the USA to take back the streets from the negative effects of cars: e.g.

Ok, one other point. Stuart completely neglected the electric grid effects of his plan. I calculate that to power our current fleet of passenger cars would require a constant 65GW in the USA alone, totaling over 1.5 TWH per day. While this may not sound like a lot of additional capacity, from a DOE/PNL document on the subject:

It is questionable whether today’s electricity infrastructure
and capacity mix will be able to support this level of loading on a sustained basis. Planned outages for
plant maintenance would likely need to occur more frequently, making it more difficult to schedule
maintenance. Furthermore, the overall system reliability could be reduced in this high-use scenario as
less reserve capacity is available to the system operators for managing system emergencies.

While not insurmountable, in a situation of economic disaster brought on by peak oil, it will certainly present major challenges. Add that to the need to heat more and more people's homes with electricity (due to shortage of fuel oils), the question will become: cars or heat?

I think Alan's proposals are much more realistic. We will redefine expectations, using electric cars only where really necessary, and using other modes in most other circumstances. This will save money, and address many other problems related with automobiles. Why use a car for short trips when a bike or walking is so much more efficient and cost effective (and healthy)?


So you don't think that over the next twenty years or so the US can manage to build 65GW of extra capacity?

That's just a pinch over 3GW a year, or just over 1% of present US capacity.

What is going to cause this decrease in US build?

Wind alone can do that comfortably, and the use of electric batteries in cars would smooth any intermittency issues.

The US challenge is going to be to replace much of the Natural Gas generation and some of the coal as well.

As with the British "Rush to Gas", the USA built very little but NG plants for about a dozen years.


The problem is threefold:

1. Our aging and over-capacity electric grid infrastructure, which is already strained in summer months (e.g.

2. The need to replace a large amount of current natural gas and some coal fired electric generation capacity with other alternatives, as those commodities reach peak. Hence, it will be a substantial effort to just maintain the status quo

3. That cars won't be the only additional load on the grid. Think heating, lots and lots of heating. As heating oil supplies dwindle and/or get very expensive, the only available alternative for many will be electricity. I haven't calculated it, but I strongly suspect this would be a very large load on the system.

Given the combination of the above factors, yes I do think that this build out will be very challenging. Not impossible, but it would certainly require a major investment in things like nuclear, starting now, not in 10-20 years from now.



My frustration is that you are asking me to do the impossible: give you specifics about "self-sacrifice" and "income loss" in a situation that I consider to be paradigm shifting and too complex. Does a general going to war tell the soldiers--we expect these many losses of limbs, this many losses of eyes, this many losses of lives, this many losses of future mental stability? Can that even be done? It is too messy. In an emergency you lay out the problem, people agree it is an emergency, they have the attitude of "whatever it takes" and we go from there. Actuaries, accountants, engineers can all give ball park estimates of the scale and rate of change but this level of detail can wait. What is first needed is agreement of what needs to be done and how fast, something like: 300-320 ppm, fossil-fuel free economic transition within 20 years, possible geoengineering for ice caps, carbon sequestration projects.

What is first needed is agreement of what needs to be done and how fast, something like: 300-320 ppm, fossil-fuel free economic transition within 20 years, possible geoengineering for ice caps, carbon sequestration projects.

You are not even going to get the rational climate scientists to agree to that goal.

"My frustration is that you are asking me to do the impossible: give you specifics about "self-sacrifice" and "income loss" in a situation that I consider to be paradigm shifting and too complex. "

I agree it's complex. But without making some effort in that direction, you're another guy shouting "this way" without having taken the time to figure out whether or not you're advocating going over a cliff.

When you sharply reduce people's wealth, or equivalently, sharply increase prices for essentials, they get mad. They protest, riot, or revolt. They fight wars. That is a danger that needs to be seriously considered. Eg fuel protests in Europe, the French Revolution, this paper on the correlation between conflict and climate/food supply in historical China.

The level of wealth that the global economy produces is heavily dependent on global trade. If we were to follow a strategy that sharply reduced trade, we would produce far less wealth. All hell would break loose.

And then we would have the big die-off, resource wars and environmental devastation.

The breakthrough with the Millennium Institute T21-USA model (funded by ASPO-USA)is the strategy with the highest GDP in 30 years, also had the lowest GHG and lowest oil consumption. Specifically

GDP 1.50 (2006 =1)
GHG 0.50
Oil consumption 0.38

The best strategy for all 3 metrics (and best national defense policy), a combined maximum push for renewable, reasonable nuke power growth and a maximum push for electrified rail.


Stuart, the mountain analogy is great, but there's two problems with it:

1. More a boat than a mountain
On the mountain, if somebody panics and runs off, it's mainly their problem, and they will be the ones to pay the price. But with GW, and to some extent Peak Oil, we are all in the same boat. Even if you manage to get a group behind you, your efforts will be meaningless unless most people agree to follow your plan. You showed it very well with your biofuel-food articles.

2. Who has the magaphone?
We didn't just end up on a mountain. We went on an organised trip. The tour-leaders assured us it was safe and good for us, actually they're still saying so. But we paid them good money; they are making a profit from this adventure. Their words and actions are motivated by profit.

Unfortunately, the tour-leaders still have the megaphone. And they're shouting out loud that it's all fine. You, on the other hand, are standing in the corner, with a compass and a map, quietly and calmly explaining to the small group around you that it's not at all fine, it's really very dangerous, but you have a way out. Some look at you with amazement. Then they lose interest. The group leaders said there's free videos starting now.

I'm with you on this one. Sadly, it's not Hansen I'm losing faith in. I'm losing faith in TOD contributers, especially Mearns and Staniford. For all their bluster, they don't have a clue about how modeling of complex systems happens. Which makes me wonder...maybe peak oil is a hoax? Oh right, that's an ad hominem attack. Just because they tout peak oil doesn't make the theory wrong... But I'm certainly not paying attention to them anymore.

Sadly too, Mearns is possibly partly right. I don't think there is any way we are going to stop the effect of anthropogenically driven global climate change now. We can struggle and fight for change, but I think our human nature is such that we don't want to really look (or are not able to look) at the long term consequences of our actions.

Geez, Stuart, probably 90% of the world's population is no-car no-plane now. When the U.S. car culture fails miserably, I'm guessing fewer people outside the U.S. will aspire to it.

We need to propose something that can meet (most of) people's aspirations.

Stuart, your post talks about reaching a sustainable society in 2050 but you seem to think that any solution that doesn't include economic growth is dead in the water. I must assume that you think that economic growth is sustainable. Could you explain why you think this is true and, if not, when do you think people will have to accept a solution that boesn't include economic growth (regardless of whether it meets their aspirations)?

There is no economic law that says economic growth is incompatible with sustainability. For example, economic growth includes growth in intellectual capital (art, entertainment, software, etc.) and there is no a priori reason that kind of growth cannot be sustained. There are clearly some types of growth that cannot be sustained indefinately but that is not true of all types. And transition growth is not necessarily incompatible with sustainability. Sustainability itself is not an overriding good, although it is probably a good idea over the long term. In the long run, we are all dead and the world will be consumed by the sun.

The more pressing need is to stabilize and, hopefully reduce world population. The only way to do that that has shown consistent results is through development, which will require growth.

Correct, there is no economic law that states that economic growth is unsustainable. However, natural limits will always trump economics. Even if intellectual capital can grow, it is not the economy and will require resources to exploit. An increase in economic activity ultimately requires more stuff to be produced, more stuff to be used, more services to be provided. Whilst efficiencies can help alleviate natural limits, they will never be able to make them irrelevant.

I agree that development can reduce population growth, but if it requires more economic growth, you had better keep your fingers crossed that natural limits are not hit before population stabilises. However, if it does stabilise, do you think people, especially those who have benefited most from the economic growth, to happily give up future growth, in order to maintain their current standards of living? If they won't do it now, they won't do it then and that is also a pressing problem.

An increase in economic activity ultimately requires more stuff to be produced

True, but, as mentioned, that "stuff" can be produced substantially more efficiently.

Germany is arguably a good example of this; despite still having a large manufacturing sector and despite its GDP growing by ~25% since the mid-90s, its energy consumption has been flat that whole time (per EIA figures). In general, there's a great deal of scope for doing things more efficiently than we do now. There are, for example, 50% efficient coal plant designs, even though the average installed plant is under 40% efficient in Europe, under 35% in the US (IIRC), and lower yet in places like China.

It's not clear that exploiting efficiency gains like those (or qualitative changes like renewables) will be sufficient to allow growth to continue, but it's not clear that it won't be sufficient, either, so "growth must stop this century" is not something that can be assumed.

However, if it does stabilise, do you think people, especially those who have benefited most from the economic growth, to happily give up future growth, in order to maintain their current standards of living? If they won't do it now, they won't do it then

I don't agree that if people won't do it now they won't ever do it. In particular, in a Star Trek-like utopian future of ease and comfort, I would expect there to be a great deal less pressure for economic growth than there is today in China. Economic growth is making a huge difference to the everyday lives of millions upon millions of Chinese, but the effect of continued growth has been much less stark for people in the West (based on my experience, at least); the difference between an oxcart and a car dwarfs the difference between a car and two cars.

Part of economic growth is increased efficiency, so effectively the only way growth can go to zero is if the level of resources being consumed is declining as fast as the efficiency of using them is increasing, which seems an unlikely balance to strike. Since the total supply of perhaps the most important resource - energy - is effectively unlimited due to the massive solar influx, it's not clear that there are looming physical limits that cannot be sidestepped by substitution, just as people propose sidestepping the physical limits on oil availability by moving to renewable energy.

It's possible such limits exist and are imminent, of course, but people have been suggesting it to be the case for decades, meaning the claim really needs evidence to back it up.

Germany, along with the world, as a whole, has reduced the energy intensity of its economy. I don't know if the absorbtion of East Germany gave them an opportunity to do better, or if they are exporting some of their energy use overseas. Efficiencies can never go beyond the (highly improbable) limit of 100%, so economic growth ultimately needs more resources (energy included).

Since the total supply of perhaps the most important resource - energy - is effectively unlimited due to the massive solar influx, it's not clear that there are looming physical limits that cannot be sidestepped by substitution, just as people propose sidestepping the physical limits on oil availability by moving to renewable energy.

I don't know how the "since" phrase leads to your conclusion. Solar influx appears to be unlimited but it requires resources to harness and I still wonder if drawing increasing amounts for our own use (ultimately converted to heat) will ever start to have undesireable side-effects (apart from the land and resources needed to harness it). So I don't think it follows that, just because there is a lot of solar energy, we can substitute something else for any depleted resource.

meaning the claim really needs evidence to back it up.

Like topsoil erosion, scarcer fresh water, soaring commodity costs, plateaued oil production, human impact on the environment? The comment is often a way of saying that no action is needed until obvious shortages are seen in some critical resource. I think the finite nature of our planet, including its ability to absorb our pollution, is evidence enough. Limits to Growth, and other books have argued the point quite well.

I don't agree that if people won't do it now they won't ever do it.

That may be true but do you have any evidence for that? This would be a good time to move to sustainability in developed nations, since we, possibly, have the energy to make the changes. Do you think it is remotely likely that the people of developed nations will willingly forego economic growth as their part in a sustainable future? If you don't, why do you think the developing world would do so, once they reach the standard of living currently "enjoyed" by developed nations (which will have gone further by then)?

Germany, along with the world, as a whole, has reduced the energy intensity of its economy. I don't know if the absorbtion of East Germany gave them an opportunity to do better, or if they are exporting some of their energy use overseas.

At a guess, both were factors. I know that there was a lot of highly inefficient industry in East Germany that, while expensive to replace, offered substantial scope for modernization.

More recently, though, the trend has continued, which I'd guess is more due to conservation zeitgeist and laws - minimum insulation requirements on buildings, and the like.

Efficiencies can never go beyond the (highly improbable) limit of 100%, so economic growth ultimately needs more resources (energy included).

Depends on the rate. If efficiency improves so 2% fewer resources are needed per unit of production per year, using the same quantity of resources per year will allow production to grow at 2% per year. Alternatively, production could grow at 1% per year, meaning less resources are needed each year, meaning 1% growth could continue indefinitely using a finite amount of resources - 100x the consumption in the first year would be enough resources for all time.

Exponential functions can be just as powerful for conservation as for growth.

So I don't think it follows that, just because there is a lot of solar energy, we can substitute something else for any depleted resource.

I didn't say we could; I said it wasn't clear the we couldn't. The difference is that I'm not saying "I know the answer", I'm saying "you don't know the answer, so we need to look more carefully".

In particular, there's a lot of things that can be done with (effectively) unlimited energy to compensate for shortages in other resources. Synthesizing hydrocarbons from atmospheric CO2 and water is one example; it's too inefficient to be interesting now, but if energy is no problem, there's much less of a barrier. Similarly with mining lower grades of ore, or extracting minerals from seawater, or mining garbage dumps, or...

Maybe those things won't be effective or won't be sufficient, but given loads of cheap energy there's a lot that can be done to compensate for shortages in other resources, so it's something that needs to be taken into account when analyzing the situation.

Like topsoil erosion, scarcer fresh water, soaring commodity costs, plateaued oil production, human impact on the environment?

All of those have been true for a long time, save for plateaued oil production, which isn't true (by the latest IEA figures, at least). People thought these were at their limits 30 years ago, and were wrong; based on what do we believe they're at their limits now?

I'm not saying they're not; I'm just saying that it's a claim that needs evidence to back it up.

Moreover, a simple list like that doesn't answer the question. The question is whether there are physical limits are looming that cannot be overcome by substitution, mitigation, or other reasonable measures.

The comment is often a way of saying that no action is needed until obvious shortages are seen in some critical resource.

Perhaps, but it's not what the comment actually says, so it's a mistake to assume that's what everyone means by it.

If I ask for evidence, it's because I think you've made a questionable claim, not because I want to make a claim of my own.

I think the finite nature of our planet, including its ability to absorb our pollution, is evidence enough.

That's not at all evidence that a problem is imminent, though.

People have made the "it's clear we're at the limit now" claim for decades, and no brick walls have been encountered, meaning "it's clear" and "it's true" don't appear to be strongly related.

Maybe there are imminent problems, but that's a claim that requires evidence to back up.

I don't agree that if people won't do it now they won't ever do it.

That may be true but do you have any evidence for that?

Again, there's a difference between me not believing your claim and me making a claim of my own.

However, I gave you an example of why current behaviour might not accurately predict future behaviour. Another example is the strength of various Green Parties, especially in Germany; people in some areas are taking ecological considerations increasingly seriously. Witness the strong buildouts of solar and wind in Germany, despite the country not being well-suited to either.

Like I said, though, asking what happens "without growth" is making a very strong assumption about the world being in a particular special case. Fundamentally, "zero growth" is largely a straw man, and it's likely much more useful to talk about resource availability and figure out from there what its effects on growth would be.

Even if intellectual capital can grow, it is not the economy

The production of intellectual capital is just as much part of the economy as the production of phyical stuff. Its share of over all production continues to rise.

There may be physical limits to most resouces but they may not be reached before the Earth is consumed by the Sun. Most resource are not destroyed when they are consumed. They are just transformed.

If we stop and reverse population growth, that will go a long way to slow the destruction of wild lands. We will not need to continually build new housing sub divisions. All kinds of output will not need to grow. More and more of their desire for stuff will be supplied by low impact intellectual property.

I didn't say it wasn't part of the economy, only that it wasn't the whole economy. Do you expect the whole economy to be composed of intellectual capital that never actually gets used or even created? In order to do either, it takes resources. But I wouldn't expect intellectual capital to ever become even the main part of the economy, would you?

To hope that no essential physical limits are reached before the sun consumes the earth is, well, wishful thinking and I hope social or economic policy doesn't rely on that.

I agree that most resources are transformed, rather than destroyed, but the only way that will become an important fact is if, eventually, all resources are simply recycled, though even that would consume resources in the process. However, I don't see that happening without a wholesale change in the way society is organised and certainly not with economic growth happening.

I agree that a stable population (and possibly reduced from today) is important but it is also important to recognize that economic growth is unsustainable. It seems that many hope that it can continue long enough to somehow correct the population problem. That is, it is hoped that using one unsustainable aspect of human behaviour can correct another unsustainable aspect. Wishful thinking.

it is also important to recognize that economic growth is unsustainable

Sorry. Not buying it. It might be true that some types of economic growth, like building coal power plants, become unsustainable. But it is hard to imagine many types for which that it true in a time frame that is relevant for us to consider. It is certainly not true for unspecified growth, because you can always come up with types that do not have immediate limits, like arts, software, entertainment, financial services, etc. Our economy is increasingly dominated by these types.

What relevance does it have for us that some types of growth might become unsustainable 100 or 1,000 years from now? It would be the height of presumption for us today to try to determine for the future how those people should run their lives and conduct their affairs. Just because it looks to us today that some kinds of growth cannot go on forever, how do we know that people in the future will not figure out how to overcome obstacles we see today?

And what is magical about a growing amount of an economic activity vs. a constant amount of it? Or transitions from one energy base to the next? Let’s say we burn up all the oil in the next hundred years. Before that we move to a nuclear/renewable base. 200 year for now we move to a fusion base. What is the problem with that?

There is nothing inherently wrong with economic growth and no reason that it has to stop any time soon.

How is it possible to disentangle certain "types" of growth from others, and of what use would that be? If economic activity increases beyond the inflation rate, then that will require more stuff to be made, more stuff to be used, more services to be provided and consumed. Arts require materials, tools and energy to provide, and resources to present and view. Entertainment the same. Software takes resources to develop, distribute and use. Financial services also use resources. Some of the resource use may be trivial but still real and these things don't amount to the economy. Why do you say that these non-productive parts of the economy are increasingly dominating the economy? I think it unlikely that they dominate the economy but, even if true, they will certainly not be the majority of the economy long term, nor will their increase use less resources.

There is nothing "magical" about a growing economy or stable economy. However, only a stable economy has a chance of being sustainable. It's simple natural limits.

There is nothing inherently wrong with economic growth and no reason that it has to stop any time soon.

It's inherently wrong because it is unsustainable. Nothing you've written shows that to be a false premise. Whilst it can be sustained for some period of time, natural limits will get in the way eventually. You talk about limits kicking in only centuries away. However, you don't know that. There are many who can see the limits getting near in all sorts of resources, and in the environmental effects. It is complacent to believe the limits are so far away that it will be some future generation's problem. Maybe you believe that future generations will somehow find a way to usurp natural limits (which would, indeed, be magical) but that is not good reason to ignore the problem now. It is more likely (i.e. certain) that natural limits will impose themselves eventually and there is no reason to assume that "eventually" will not be within our lifetimes (heck, isn't that what CERA and big oil have been trying to tell us for years?).

Unfortunately, we seem destined to always assume that there is a solution that allows us to be complacent and not act until it is too late to avoid unmanaged collapse.

" I wouldn't expect intellectual capital to ever become even the main part of the economy, would you?"

It already is. That point was passed in the 1950's, when the US was still a net exporter in manufacturing. Manufacturing is now only 17% of the US economy (and that includes a lot of knowledge workers in manufacturing companies). If all outsourcing were to end, manufacturing would still be substantially less than 50% of work, and services would still be more than 50%.

So would you care to say which of the laws of physics have changed to cause such a dramatic revision of this theory

What has changed is our ability to understand climate better. The research is advancing rapidly. We can hardly keep up with the new data published now on a monthly basis.

In my opinion (I am not a climatologist), we are doing a live experiment with the world's climate. Or should it be called an experiment with the life of our civilization?

All of civilization has been an experiment anyway. Religion and spirituality are the quests to find out what the experiment is trying to prove.

The answer that comes from a lot of religions is a kind of apocalyptic end to it all once we have proved oursleves to be a species of incredible greed and stupidity. Not surprising really just animal instinct.

Most species will breed and multiply up to the environmental constraints that surround them and we kid ourselves if we think that we are any different. We just happen to have been very, very adaptable and very cunning in our use of energy which gives us a hugely expanded environment with us at the top of the food chain.

We have no predators that can limit our population growth so we will keep growing until we reach equilibrium with the energy and other non-bio life support systems. The Earth itself will reject our civilization and there is not much we can do ultimately do about it. We can tinker or sacrifice a few of our number but eventually the destiny of planet Earth will be a humanless one.

No other species however has had the ability to kill off all life on Earth so that there is no hope for life itself to continue in the only place in the universe that we know it exists.


Hansen published a really nice piece of work in Philosophical Transactions this Summer. The albedo flip mechanism seems to explain the response of the climate to orbital forcing very nicely. This is quite masterful work. As a part of that paper there was some investigation of climate sensitivity in paleoclimate data. The sensitivity, albeit based on a scaling from regional Antarctic data, looks to be closer to 6o C per doubling of CO2 rather than 3o C. The explanation for this would seem to be that slow feedbacks have about the same final effect as fast feedbacks. A higher sensitivity means a lower amount of CO2 puts us into a situation where certain climate consequences become inevitable. So, the laws of physics are the same, but the understanding of their application is becoming more astute. This is what one hopes for in science.



Maybe I'm being a bit harsh on climate science - and of course we are permitted to learn and revise our ideas as we go along.

Three or four things have got under my skin about the way the GW debate is heading:

1. There is massive uncertainty in the climate models - but nevertheless climate science is calling for the Global Economy as we know it to be shut down - with little regard to consequences this might have for the destiny of Man. I think this is one issue that Stuart has taken issue with.

2. Climate science is being driven by events that are not understood. The current panic presumes that loss of Arctic Sea ice is caused by Man. No quarter seems to be given to the possibility that natural cycles contribute or may even be the main cause.

3. If we are experiencing extreme anthropogenic GW now then there is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent this running its course. It is pure vanity to think otherwise. Capital spent in futile attempts to reverse this would IMO be better spent in preparing for the consequences.

4. In the real world this means not wasting billions on carbon sequestration - but instead building new (C free) sustainable energy infrastructure and sea walls

5. Many of those engaged in the GW debate, some of whom have joined the energy decline debate, seem to want to return to the past and are using these issues to advance their relocalisation agendas.

My vision of the future would be 1 to 3 billion souls living in an ultra high tech and prosperous world that is very different to the one we live in today. Offer mankind that vision (without a dieoff) and we may achieve it.


Doesn't all science disagree with Republican religious fundalmentalism? Isn't that where you are coming from? Let's be honest with ourselves.

Euan said:

1. There is massive uncertainty in the climate models - but nevertheless climate science is calling for the Global Economy as we know it to be shut down - with little regard to consequences this might have for the destiny of Man. I think this is one issue that Stuart has taken issue with.

Precisely my feeling. Although I agree that man-made global warming is the the likely explanation of what is happening, some of the degrees of certitude expressed stagger me when talking about complex poorly understood phenomena.
That is without going into the quasi-religions ramblings of those who want to use wholly inappropriate terms like 'GW denier'.

In practical terms a lot of the measures we would take would be the same with or without GW, conservation, moving from Fossil fuels and so on, and it is unclear to me that sequestration is even possible on any scale, except possibly through agrichar, which is a good idea in any case, and so actual policy differences are limited.

Complex? Complex is understanding that time is another dimension! What is the fabric of our universe -- that is a difficult question. If a certain group of politicians find the theory of relativity inconvenient, I am sure you will be there denying that time slows as velocity increases (even though you probably are not a physicist).

The theory that adding compounds to a closed system and those compounds increase warmth is pretty darn simple idea to understand.

Yup, if it was one-for-one, but it is not.

The proposal is instead that through a whole bunch of feedback mechanisms the purely mechanical effects of that increase get magnified, whilst negative feedbacks are relatively unimportant.

To support this model have been made, which claim to match climate history better than alternatives.

I emphasise that I agree that this sounds the likeliest outcome, but the IPCC themselves are not sure of the result, that is one reason why they give us a bunch of different scenarios and not a forecast.

It is not so simple as you imply.


I think if you read the IPCC report, you'll see that economists have been consulted. It is not the case that climate science is calling for the the global economy to shut down. There is some indication though that mitigation costs less than adaptation. So, a transformation of the global economy away from fossil fuel use would seem to make sense. If you read the report, concern for the destiny of Man is at its base. In my opinion, the economists have missed a crucial distinction in kinds of mitigation efforts: but that likely only makes mitigation that much less expensive compared to adaptation.

The loss of the Arctic sea ice is not really presumed to be caused by Man. Rather, it is a prediction of climate models. This tends to boost confidence that the models are including relevant physics. The loss appears to be happening faster than expected based on present models so there is an opportunity to improve the models by including more physics I think, but this does not disprove the physics that is already included.

I think that reversing global warming is possible and desirable. There are a number of natural carbon sinks which are not operating at historic levels and profitable changes in land use can restore these. There also appears to be the potential for scale in sequestering carbon in a profitable way in cropland and marginal land soil as well an inkling that new sustainable fisheries might play a large-scale role in sequestering carbon. Your objection may be based on the idea that carbon must be sequestered as carbon dioxide. This is not the case. Sequestering carbon in elemental form can boost agricultural production and sequestering it in mineral form is exothermic and thus might be made to pay. Consideration of the possibilities for sequestration is only beginning but there are some very encouraging leads.

I think that relocalization is more of a way forward than a way back. Your low population vision surely is relocalization taken to an extreme. My picture tends more towards a greater harmonisation with bioregions where people live. Learning the ins and outs of the local ecosystem allows better cooperation with it. Ensuring food security bioregion-by-bioregion leads to very robust global food security. Perhaps this is not what you think of as relocalization but it does seem to me to be a way to accomodate a larger population in a sustainable manner. It may well be that population will reduce at some point, but that needs to be a choice for that generation rather than forced by our unwillingness to build a world that can make choice possible.


but nevertheless climate science is calling for the Global Economy as we know it to be shut down - with little regard to consequences this might have for the destiny of Man

Without a massive dieoff or a drastic reduction of birthrates which would lead extreme age imbalance in society, a population below six billion people does not seem to be in the cards for many decades into the future. The question is how do we transition from where we are now to a sustainable future without social chaos. I think that the answer is that we don’t, not because it is physically impossible to do so, but because it is politically and psychologically impossible to do so. The most sensible strategy from a physical viewpoint is to voluntarily limit consumption and to share resources fairly. To me this strategy does not imply ‘radical localization’. It implies developing an economic system whose goal is to produce a decent quality of life with a minimum consumption of resources. In many cases centralized manufacturing of long lived products will be substantially more efficient. If we can figure out a way to manufacture less computers and make them last longer we should do so even if it puts computer engineers out of work (That’s where the ‘fair sharing’ comes in. People who work themselves out of a job for the benefit of society should continue to be supported by that society). Many luxury items (jet skis, 300 hp sports cars, 60’’ plasma screen televisions, etc. can be discontinued. I personally do not give a damn about the “highness” of the tech which supports me with the possible exception of health care, and even there I do not want to be kept alive for another decade and a half after the quality of my life starts to degrade. The OECD nations should reduce their resource consumption and allow the less developed parts of the world rise to meet us on some reasonable middle ground. At that point we can assess the ecological sustainability of our economic system and opt for more material wealth if and when it makes sense to so.

I realize, of course, that these ideas are just a socialist wet dream of a touchy-feely, environmentalist, tree-hugger moron, and so have no chance of being acted upon. Only someone like me with a PhD in physics and 22 years of engineering experience in Silicon Valley could possible think that they make sense. Since they do not make sense we will naturally have to grow until we collapse. This is the essence of a strategy of supporting the economic status quo. Private finance capitalism by its very nature produces huge inequalities in wealth, and as Stuart so well illustrates, those people who have got hold of the long end of the stick will give it up only when it is pried out their cold dead hands. The idea that five decades in the future we will suddenly decide that we are 'wealthy enough' to abandon competitive accumulation as our modus operandi is nonsense.

The breakup of our current social structures and a period of chaos and suffering seem inevitable. I spend my time thinking about what kinds of social and economic structures will work in a sustainable manner in the long term, because the breakup of the old norms in no way implies the development anything more intelligent. The breakup of the Soviet Union was followed by the development of gangster capitalism and rampant alcoholism and greatly decreased life spans. They are now achieving some degree of ‘success’ from a macro economic point of view, but when their supplies of oil and gas start to decline the shit will hit the fan. Stuart’s suggestion that in a world of cutthroat economic competition they should plan on the sunny south sending them loads of electricity on global super grid does not strike me a great strategy for the future.

Proposing that constant growth should not be the goal in all societies at all times is not a proposal to shut down economic activity. Please do not talk nonsense.


Please consider two things.

1. Hansen has been consistently wrong by being too conservative.

2. Hansen's trend lines have all been in the right general direction but ended up falling below the reality.

The same can be said about the IPCC. This is not a case where they have random noise errors above and below. They have consistently predicted the right direction of climate movement and they have consistently been too conservative on where it actually went.

To me this says that (a) the observation of the direction of the trend is correct and (b) the severity of the situation is far worse than even the worst case models given by climate scientists thus far. As for stopping climate change, we won't. We're far too greedy, short sighted, and self-indulgent of a species to act in any rational, cooperative manner. Want proof? Look at the global credit crunch around you. There go the "best and brightest" of the world out to rip each other off down to the last possible second in a massive Ponzi scheme. To expect better behavior than that on climate change seems to me to be wishing for a human being that does not exist.

I think that this is where human-induced climate change deniers do the world a disservice. They usually inflate the uncertainties ("massive uncertainty," says Euan) and imply (if not state explicitly) that because there are uncertainties, no huge effort to slow or adapt to climate change should be undertaken. The same people also assume that economic growth is sustainable and so hope to continue reaping the benefits of it, hoping governments everywhere will ignore the consequences of it.

Euan is not denying human-induced climate change. He and I are saying that we are so near peak fossil fuels that nothing we could possibly do would slow emissions faster than declining resources will force on us. If you have not done so, check out Dave Rutledge's analysis (professor at CalTech). The bottom line is about slide 50. His point is that there is only 1.3 tboe of coal left (compared to the widely used 1.2 tboe for oil).

Once peak fossil fuels hits (Euan thinks by 2020), people will be so traumatized by having to do with so much less, that there is no way that they will agree to do without even more. Even if we slow it down and burn it later, this will have very little impact over the long term.

The bad news is that there is little we can do. The good news is that the IPCC have used 12-18 tboe for coal when Hubbert Linearization says there is only 1.3 left so the worst case is only 450 ppm, even if we do nothing.

There is nothing on this earth going to stop China, India, the ME and others having a C based binge - that is until FF run out - the peak year is 2020.

I agree. Oil and gas are going to peak and head down sooner and faster than we could ever muster the political will to hold them down. There is just no way that we will leave any of them in the ground, except the low grade stuff. With coal peaking by 2025, we have some chance to leave some of it in the ground. But Rutledge estimates there is only 1.3 Tboe of recoverable coal left, much less than the 12-18 Tboe that the IPCC uses in their models. The short to mid term prospects for climate change are discouraging but there is almost nothing we can do about that. FF peaking will do much more than we could ever hope to just to mitigate climate change. And Rutledge says the worst that can happen is 450 ppm, assuming we burn up all that is left.

Two points:

1) What about Ultra capacitors (EEStor, etc.)? The promises made would negate the Lithium issue.

2) Much of the transport currently employed is unnecessary. Commuting to work being prime amongst them for most people. If cities reduce car ownership significantly, since people don't need them for their everyday lives, what might telecommuting and more enlightened planning achieve?

I believe that EEstor is not going to work. I saw a blog posting by a physicist who had previously deep experience with barium titanate capacitors.

The essential problem is that it appears they made a giant, simple mistake at the outset.

The error is that they apparently took E=1/2 C*V^2 from freshman electromagnetics, plugged in some numbers and came up with a rocking energy density, and then got the VC funding.

VC funders all have some decent engineering background so it looked reasonable: "ultracapacitors are a materials engineering problem, and we're going to solve it with hard core chemistry and nanoparticle processing". Which they might do.

The problem is that 1/2 C*V^2 is wrong. In the high voltage region there is very strong dielectric saturation due to the underlying physics: you have to integrate instead (0..V_max) and the effective dielectric K is a *decreasing* function of voltage.

Sure, the zero-volts K is going to be huge. But energy density is going to be orders of magnitude less than the dream, which means, unsuitable for transportation.

Notice how all PR releases from them have never once given the actual figure that matters: experimentally *measured* energy density, not implied.

It seemed like a great dream, but like many other things, you can't wish around the laws of physics.

PS: This is why I think we need strong fission build-up now. Because we can't wish around the laws of physics, either in climate or energy, and hope that undefined things with enormous thermodynamic barriers are going to help, versus something with clear large scale capability and mature engineering. Once we've retired every single coal plant on the planet and made coal mining a Crime Against Humanity punishable by international prosecution and life imprisonment, then we can seriously consider retiring the annoyingly tricky and complex fission plants with more pleasant technologies.

DALLAS, TX, January 9th, 2008 -- Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] has signed an exclusive international rights agreement to integrate and market Electrical Energy Storage Units (EESU) from EEStor, Inc., for military and homeland security applications. Specific terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Well, I think EEstor could make some pretty good ultracapacitors.

But they'll be in the same range as other ultracapacitors.

I don't think they are going to be able to do what people really wanted: better energy density than Lithium-ion batteries with far greater current capacity and longevity.

Also from the physics text: 50% of the energy in the charged capacitor is in E field in the dielectric, the other 50% is mechanical energy due to the compression of dielectric by the field - like winding up a spring. This piezoelectric effect has been the main application of barium titanate up to now, and the limits are well known. If you overdrive the transducer it shatters. Stress is greatest at the edges, so transducers are built as cylinders or spheres to avoid this, then sometimes wrapped in pre-stressed carbon fiber to contain the force. It will be interesting to see how Eestor solves the problem.

Hi mbkennel,

I'm trying to do energy storage research at the University of Oklahoma along the lines of silicon or carbon nanotube/nanowire based capacitors and I was interested if you could send me the blog and e-mail of that physicist. Perhaps he be interested in working with me? Thanks
my email is

I'm sorry, it was an anonymous blog posting on somebody else's blog about EEstor.

So the name of the person is still unknown.

read the comment by Emosson

"dielectric saturation" "barium titanate" EEstor might start for a google search.

I think the main problem is that, even at theoretical limits, a capacitor does not store more than a smallish fraction of the energy of a battery. I realize that ultracapacitors blur the lines somewhat, but in a battery you are completely removing electrons from one side of the reaction and storing them on the other. Lots of electrons are involved -- like Avogadro's number of them. Though the potential is only a few volts, the battery can keep pushing electrons through the circuit for quite a while.

In a capacitor, OTOH, the electrons are not moved about in bulk quantities, but remain attached to their parent atoms. The capacitor's potential drops off quite rapidly as it discharges.

It's like the difference between pumped storage and a wind-up spring. The spring can release its energy very quickly but doesn't really store much when fully wound-up.

As for the "lithium issue", there are lots of other choices in battery chemistry. It's just that lithium (being right next to helium) gives the very highest energy-to-weight ratio. Sodium has a somewhat similar chemistry, and is quite common. And not all that heavy, really, unless you're trying to launch it into space.

Thank you once again for another very stimulating and thought provoking article - this kind of approach makes us examine our ideas for feasibility, and certainly helped clarify issues in the first article in this series on energy in 2050.

A couple of comments on your thesis here:

I also was a bit concerned about lithium availability, although over a shorter time horizon as I felt that adequate alternatives were available anyway over the longer term , but that the present emphasis by car manufacturers on lithium was perhaps ill-advised and that in the even of a oil shortage in the next few years it would not be feasible to switch a substantial proportion of the developed world's car fleet to plug-ins in short order due to lithium's price and availability - early days for lithium from the sea.

IOW I was concerned with a short-term shortage.
Discussion set my mind at rest, as it appears that the main reason why no more resources have been found is that no-one was looking very hard, and supplies should be fine for several years production at 30million vehicles a year or so.

In the longer term the source you quote for 'Trouble with Lithium' further sets our minds at rest, as as he indicates supplies of nickel for NiMiH batteries or Sodium Nickel Chloride batteries are of another order of magnitude to Lithium.

Sodium iron chloride or zinc would move us to a resource base which is for these purposes essentially unlimited.

It is possible with zinc to use a solar tower or a nuclear power station to turn zinc oxide into zinc, which could then be fed as slurry to cars, which would oxidise it and the slurry would be pumped out on refill and sent around again to be re-formed.
This would mean we could use something very similar to present filling stations.

In short there is no way we should be unable to run the 4 billion cars you hypothesise by 2050.

4 Billion in 2050? If we make it over the hump in good order. I'm more interested in the next decade. How many new car owners will be created in the 1 billion strong India due to the Nano just as we're going into the global oil crunch? It can't be a good thing for the near term to suddenly make a car affordable to hundreds of millions for the first time.

Surely the answer to that one is simple: if oil availability declines as forecast, then its price will rise sharply. India's emergent middle class will then decide to spend their rupees on cable-TV rather than the Nano.

Trust me: if oil prices continue to rise, then there will not be a billion Nanos sold.

That car looks like a real P.O.S.. I know, that's not the point, just sayin'...

I don't worry about that many EVs on the road, the status quo is going to fight them every step of the way.

'Four billion cars'

I'm sorry, but it would surprise me if the world currently has four billion bicycles.

And yes, there are a number of reasons why the number of bicycles would be less - whether it be geography (Winnipeg is not a real bicycle friendly city in January, and anywhere with enough hilly terrain will be a challenge) or practicality (a motorized vehicle can travel farther, and carry more, in a wider range of conditions).

But consider that in a city with one million bicycles, for example in China, how much physical space will be required for the vehicle alone. Assuming 5 m2 (roughly the size of the Nano), and 100,000 bicycles being exchanged for 100,000 cars, the city will need to find 500,000 m2 within its boundaries to merely park the cars when not being driven. Yes, parking garages can help, but generally, an auto needs more than one parking space - but realistically, this means that said city needs to find 1 free square km of space, which no one is currently using, merely if 10% of the population no longer rides a bicycle. Your case suggests that easily 30%-50% of this city will be driving in 2050 - however, where that city is supposed to find several unused square kilometers is left unanswered.

After all, there is a reason why such reasonably prosperous areas as Singapore, Hong Kong, or New York do not have higher car ownership rates, and it has nothing to do with the cost of energy or automotive technology.

I don't honestly think that if 300,000,000 million Chinese can afford to own an auto, that the Chinese will be able so easily find 3000 square kilometers of currently unused land in their urban areas.

Well, China has 137 people per sq. km, which is half the level of the UK, a third of the level of South Korea, and a fifth of the level of Taiwan. Space is not the problem.

Lack of oil, on the other hand, might well be.

China's figures are misleading, it does have a population density of 137 per sq. km. However, 2/3 of the land mass in the country is some of the most inhospitable places on the planet, either the Gobi Desert, or the 17,000 ft Plateau in the west of the country.

In usuable terms, its more like 500 people per sq. km. That makes it among the highest in the world.

people can't live on 17,000 ft. mountains, or in 3 inch/year rainfall zones. Its just not happening. 4 billion cars is a pipe dream, we'll be lucky to have 4 billion people to drive 400 million vehicles (cars+ships+planes+trains). World's changing mighty fast, lets not forget the brutal reality of nature.

You illustrate the fundamental problem of automobile transportation:

The MORE people you have, the WORSE it gets!

This is the opposite of trains:

The MORE people you have, the BETTER it gets!

When there are more train passengers, then you can run more trains per hour. This makes the train more and more convenient. Most train systems in Asia run 20+ trains per hour per track (one direction) for the busiest hours. Also, the major cost of a train is capex for the track and stations, plus station employees. This is spread over more people, so the per-passenger costs get cheaper and cheaper. Then, as more and more people use the train, it becomes economical to include more and more stations/areas within the train network. As it gets bigger, the train network becomes more and more useful, because it can be ridden to more and more destinations.

Which is better for China? China has lots of people. Therefore the system that gets WORSE AND WORSE when there are MORE AND MORE people using it is better, right? I don't think so.

This also helps describe why Amtrak can't quite get off the ground. It lacks critical mass.

You make a good point about space. How much space is taken by a train system? The track itself is about the width of a two-lane road. The station takes almost no space, and can even be put underground. When a city no longer has gigantic roadways and parking lot deserts to accommodate cars, not to mention the useless greenery that architects then add to make the roadways/parking lots a little more tolerable, it becomes very walkable.

You illustrate the fundamental problem of automobile transportation:

The MORE people you have, the WORSE it gets!

This is the opposite of trains:

The MORE people you have, the BETTER it gets!

Much better said than I managed to do !


PS: We have a real time experiment in France. Last fall, they announced the goal of building 1,500 km of new tram lines in a decade. My reading of French (English language press never picked up on the story per Google) was that 1,500 km of trams would be started 2008 to 2017 and all finished by 2020. Cost 17 billion euros from the national gov't and 4 billion euros from local sources.

An excellent set of points. And don't forget that trains can be electrified without the need for mining vast amount of lithium.

And you miss the fundamental problem with trains - given enough income, people will choose to drive instead (note car ownership level in every European country, which all began the 20th century with excellent train networks). I am completely in favor of public transport wherever there is enough population density to make it viable. However, the only way everyone is going to choose to take the train/bus is if they are too poor to afford a car.

However, the only way everyone is going to choose to take the train/bus is if they are too poor to afford a car.

A fundamental and profound error.

I was just looking up the latest commuting statistics for Washington DC.

The number of those commuting via public transit in 2006 was 10% more than those driving single occupancy cars.

The reason that I track DC is that is was a typical American non-Urban Rail city in 1970. Per memory, only a few % took the bus, and that % was dropping (4% in Metro area). It was completely transformed by building a good (it could be better, see extension to Tysons Corner & Dulles and 14 other worthwhile Urban Rail projects Ed Tennyson & I have identified#).

Note also the increasing % walking to work and other (mainly bicycling I assume).

Washington DC could not support the existing job density (with the advantages that come with that) without DC Metro.

# The first year (no TOD effects) ridership of the two new subway lines plus light rail, streetcars & commuter rail would be, per Ed, 80% of current public transit ridership, with much of it being outside DC proper. With expanded TOD, even more.


"The number of those commuting via public transit in 2006 was 10% more than those driving single occupancy cars."

So what proportion of the population of DC don't own a car?

I have been DC modal share for several years. Single occupancy car is down % wise, and public transit, walking and other have been increasing with carpooling increasing slightly.

I do not think that auto ownership has been decreasing due to increasing poverty in DC. If anything, gentrification is going hand in hand with increased transit ridership.

I will have to look up data.

I own a car (my infamous white 1982 M-B 240D). I have driven it twice in the last 3 weeks, about 9 VMT. My goal for 2008 is <60 gallons of diesel (barring evacuation).


To answer my own question, the Wiki entry for DC says the population density for DC would be 9000 persons/square mile. The NHTS data I showed above:

suggests such a city would have about 28% of households with no car. Ie 72% of households with a car. I think this is a fine example which supports my point - given enough wealth, car ownership amongst the population will be quite high even if they have access to a good mass transit system. Do you have an example, or different data, that supports your point?

The actual data is 36% of households w/o a car.

90,287 out of 250,456 households in 2006.

More later (You tend to post on the WORST possible days ! :-(


PS: I would not characterize the DC public transit as "good" (except on the very poor scale of the USA), but as "adequate". Build 15 more Urban Rail projects that were justified at low oil prices and I would them call it "good".

Thanks for the data. So I contend this supports my point - give reasonably well-off people a mass transit system, and a lot of them will still own a car if they can. (This should be a no-brainer - we ran the experiment in every western European country, and they all ended up with a bunch of cars).

The utility of a car declines as transit quality improves. So does VMT.

A separate gov't incentive (higher annual tag prices, parking fees, etc.) can increase the cost to exceed the utility, with significant social benefits.

I see some significance in the 8% delta between predicted and actual.

It is not as if DC has more than an adequate, i.e. not a good, transit system.

Off for sure now !


The DC metro isn't that convenient. It's expensive and has so few stops spread over such a vast area that it's next to impossible to get to one's destination without a car at one end or the other. Also, it's a star topology with no outer ring, so a trip to the next town over might involve an hour's travel downtown and then back out again. Unless it's rush hour we go downtown by car -- it takes ten minutes as opposed to forty-five.

Contrast that to Paris, where you can get to within three blocks of anywhere on the metro.

Did this experiment recognize the inherent condition that these well-off people were making this choice to own cars during oil's upslope?

Would you really contend that people will continue to insist on car ownership if it becomes generally known that Liquid Transp Fuels are 'permanently flat or sagging', and all-too likely to continue that way? That is, of course, putting the Cart before the ICE, as it were, and considering the behavior of an oil-thinned economy once it is finally known.. but for this subject today, isn't it sensible to anticipate that situation and the likely changes in priorities that might be right around the corner?

As with the premise of the main post, predicated on a continual population rise.. it pretty much makes the argument implausible to me right out of the gate. I have to expect population to start tracking our energy curve, and similarly, I can't prove that people's preferences for car ownership WANTS TO change, but I can't see how the auto-industry, road infrastructure and gas and service station availability, to name a few Canaries.. won't be getting the rugs pulled out from under them in the years following the peak, so that the decision will be supply-driven easily as much as from demand. A sinking tide, if you will.

I think car ownership will increasingly become an unsupportable luxury, as much as that is not something people would dream of 'voting for' today. I'm not getting rid of my car.. not til I simply have to.. but then, of course.. I will. (As it is, I use it very little, and look for ways to eliminate more trips by walking and biking.. but it's a great device)


But ownership and usage are two very different things.

An example which runs contrary to your theory is my brother.

After working for several years close to the financial heart of London, and after making some lucky 'bets' on the stock market, he and his wife live virtually mortgage free in a top-floor apartment, not 2 blocks from Tower Bridge in London (North bank). Their combined wages are in the top 5% in the UK, so they are what you would call 'wealthy'.

Indeed, they do own a car - a 1996 Ford Fiesta.

This poor vehicle has spent the vast majority of it's life locked up in the ground-floor garage of his apartment block. It very rarely sees the light of day, as my brother and his wife travel virtually everywhere by public transport. He has told me that on several occasions he has had to recharge the battery after long periods of inactivity.

Just because people are wealthy, does not mean that they shun the public transport system.

Indeed, in large cities like London and Edinburgh (where I spent 6 years living car-free), traveling by car can be a slow, frustrating and expensive (parking fees and tickets) venture.

I believe that if you provide a good public transport system (as Melbourne has done over the past few years), then people from all walks of life will patronise it, regardless of how many cars they own.

Actually, I would say another metric is more important (and more indicative);

DC % of non-car commuters = 47.95%
Carfree database at BikesAtWork.Com

2006 data was even better.

If one subtracts the work-at-homes, the non-car commuters in 2006 were even better, 56.5% (Note other includes taxis as well as bikes, scooters, motorcycles, roller blades, ferry, ... so 56/5% is a SLIGHT overstatement).

If work-at-homes are called non-car commuters, then the 2006 data is 58.3% non-car in DC.


'However, the only way everyone is going to choose to take the train/bus is if they are too poor to afford a car.'

Interestingly, I know several people who take the train to their workplace because it they find it both cheaper and faster - that is, as a rational decision. Admittedly, these are people only earning something like 70,000-100,000 euros a year as computer programmers or otherwise involved in the insurance, banking, or telecommunications industry.

Which makes them too poor to afford to drive an hour each way to work, I guess.

I find the switch between VMT and car ownership to be interesting - I know couples that own a car, but who never drive it to work, as both use the train. The train being faster and cheaper, which seems to be a concept that people who feel the automobile is paramount have a hard time understanding. Or as a certain hippie pointed out, we construct our social reality - at least in Germany, no one considers using public transportation to be somehow inferior, used only by those who can't own a car. Maybe that is because it is common to hear on the traffic reports something along the lines of 'all parking spaces are filled at event X (concerts, fairs, soccer games, etc.)- please use public transport.'

In the Karlsruhe region, the number of passengers has been steadily rising over more than a decade as more people choose an alternative to the automobile. An alternative which in part is encouraged by both regional governments and employers - after all, ever larger parking lots are a cost for an employer. And many citizens hate the noice and smell of the current volume of traffic, which they are trying to beat back - with fair success. However, I'm equally certain that car ownership has not declined.

But even a Porsche owner is likely to bicycle more than occasionally, and would be just as inclined to sit in the ICE to travel for business as drive for hours - after all, a Porsche is no faster in a traffic jam than a truck. And being late is considered poor form, Porsche or no Porsche. Not that the Bahn is perfect - it is merely beyond your control, and thus understandable.

"This also helps describe why Amtrak can't quite get off the ground. It lacks critical mass."

amtrak ridership is up for the past 5 or so years.

You keep saying that but its just not true

There was a small increase in 2000 when the high speed line was opened on the NE Coridor. Since then, for the past 8 years ridership has not increased at all.

From your article

Amtrak, which serves a daily average of 69,000 riders on 300 trains, saw total ridership increase just over 1% in fiscal year 2006, which ended Sept. 30.

A 1% rise over 1 year. Looks to me like that falls into the statisitcal noise catagory. As you can clearly see from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics ridership has been more or less flat for the past 8 years.

Let me say it again, stop repeating that Amtrak ridership has risen over the past five years. Its just not true.

Let me say it again, stop repeating that Amtrak ridership has risen over the past five years. Its just not true.

Nationwide, Amtrak ridership reached 25,847,531, the fifth straight year of increasing traffic.

I can't even begin to respond to that. Its an unsourced number from a blog.

Let me again quote you the numbers from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics

2006 24,392,017
2005 25,374,503
2004 24,972,470
2003 24,028,045

So please explain to me, where are these increases?!? Do you have any actual statistics?

But consider that in a city with one million bicycles, for example in China, how much physical space will be required for the vehicle alone. Assuming 5 m2 (roughly the size of the Nano), and 100,000 bicycles being exchanged for 100,000 cars, the city will need to find 500,000 m2 within its boundaries to merely park the cars when not being driven. Yes, parking garages can help, but generally, an auto needs more than one parking space - but realistically, this means that said city needs to find 1 free square km of space, which no one is currently using, merely if 10% of the population no longer rides a bicycle. Your case suggests that easily 30%-50% of this city will be driving in 2050 - however, where that city is supposed to find several unused square kilometers is left unanswered

Ah, this would explain why Europeans don't own cars, since they were unable to fit them into their pre-existing cities.

If you can get by without a car on a daily basis and only need one occasionally to get to someplace not well served by transit (or maybe need to haul something), then rental cars are the way to go. Most European cities have rental car agencies conveniently located downtown.

Having car rentals be widespead and conveniently available is going to be at least as important as mass transit in getting people out of their cars.

People are not going to get out of the cars unless you pry their cold dead fingers from the wheel. That's the point here. You aren't going to change that. If you give them really great mass transit and pack them in tight enough, you might get them down somewhere around 400/1000. Anything much less than that is complete speculation with no worked examples.

"People are not going to get out of the cars unless you pry their cold dead fingers from the wheel."

amtrak rider ship is up and people are getting their cars repoed like crazy. same for their homes. so?

I corrected you above. Please stop repeating this.

Are you an idiot? I corrected your Amtrak ridership claim, not foreclosures.

You did not correct anything and I was responding to someone's car comment.

From the article

This total, for the period October 1, 2006-September 30, 2007, topped the 24,306,965 for the previous 12 months and is greater than the passenger count of 25.03 million reached in 2004

FY 2005 24,306,965
FY 2004 25,030,000

So 2004 was greater than 2005. How in the world is this 5 straight years of growth?

Do you know what I think is going on here? Amtrak is playing loose with the statistics, and representing statitical noise as actuall "growth".

The reality is Amtrak ridership has been flat for the last 8 years (minus some noise in the numbers).

This total, for the period October 1, 2006-September 30, 2007, topped the 24,306,965 for the previous 12 months and is greater than the passenger count of 25.03 million reached in 2004, before Amtrak transitioned some services to a commuter rail operator.

you didn't put that last part in. I won't judge. I don't know what kind of statistical noise you're talking about.

isn't the common doomer view that people won't get out of their cars? well rider ship is increasing in the last 5 years there is no doubt about that. why 8 years ago doesn't matter is because that was before gas prices started their long climb.

"I don't know what kind of statistical noise you're talking about."

You don't understand a 1% rise in ridership is just statistical noise?

Is it possible that such a move may yet occur? Sure. The 06-07 ridership numbers showed a small increase. Only time will tell if this is the start of a larger trend.

Not that you have any credibility, but you only do yourself a disservice by continuing to claim that there has been any sort of meaninful move to rail over the last 5 years when the statistics from the US DOT show otherwise.

US population is increasing at close to 1% annually. Any change in absolute numnbers of Amtrak ridership less than or equal to the population growth rate means that the overall percentage of people taking Amtrak has not changed or even declined. i.e if in a body of 400 people you have 100 taking Amtrak and 300 taking cars, then increase the body to 404 (1% increase in population) then the next period of measurement you see 101 taking Amtrak and 303 taking cars, you have exactly the same situation as you have always had, at least on a percentage basis.

Amtrak ridership must rise faster than the rate of population growth to be meaningful as an indicator of willingness to change transportation habits. John15 has not demonstrated that such a rise is occurring.

You obviously don't understand what statistical noise is.

You are conflating two scenarios:

1. The null hypothesis, i.e. that the change was due to random fluctuation
2. The increase ridership hypothesis, that due to various factors, ridership increased

You are assuming that because the change was small, 1%, that "obviously" the change was due to the null hypothesis. You have absolutely no way of proving that, just as much as I have no way of proving that it is due to the competing hypothesis (though I could possibly gain evidence if so inclined by doing various statistical tests to assess the probability of the null hypothesis).

The least you could do, if you insist on repeating this, is to provide some evidence, such as a rudimentary t-test, to show that the null hypothesis can't be ruled out.

Until then, your posting resembles statistical noise.

The thing is, though, the cost and hassle DOES get to be too much for some people, and they DO elect to not own a car. For people living in dense cities, owning a car is quite a pain. Parking is at a premium and quite expensive. Insurance and taxes are expensive. Fuel and service are often not very conveniently located. Everything is all very expensive, and often more trouble than it is worth. Especially if your life situation makes it quite feasible to get by without a car on a daily basis, and if rental cars are available for those few times when you do need a car, then it is quite reasonable to question: why bother with the things? One can save a lot of money and a lot of bother by just not having them. There ARE people that arrive at just such a conclusion; as the costs of owning and driving a car increase, one might expect that their numbers increase.

As I have emphasized in other posts here, there is a difference between doing without OWNING a car and doing without ever DRIVING one. For the person that only needs to drive a car a few times a year, rentals offer a very reasonable and economical alternative to all the expense and bother of owning one year around. I would also venture to guess that the calculus might change for quite a few people were car rentals to be more convenient for them.

Look. I don't give a crap about what activists think people should do if only they were better people. I care about what statistics show that generally imperfect people actually do under various circumstances. So I pick the best case known to me (Holland) and basically extrapolate that, which is how I come out somewhere in the 4b range. If the developing countries proves to do a poorer job at promoting alternatives to the car than Holland, then car ownership would tend to go higher if resource constraints didn't intervene.

Stuart, I understand your frustration with activist perspectives.

Before assuming cars are the answer, however, I would want to explore this first:

Do you think car desires are inevitable because they tap into something basic about humans?

Or are cars so desirable because a huge industry and marketing system exists to build and promote them?

If we understand what basic needs are met by cars and could assess if there are alternative ways to meet those needs that are less resource intensive, would that be interesting to explore?

Or, is it too late to change the built environment and we are locked into cars because of the previous investment in infrastructure in many places (but does that imply it must be so elsewhere)?

IMO, the basic human desires at issue are desire for mobility, and desire to prominently display social status.

It's true that there's a huge amount of marketing effort that goes into trying to channel this, but marketing really doesn't work unless it taps into some desire people already have (I've worked for a number of product companies and we always spend a sizeable fraction of time messing around trying to figure out what customers want - most new consumer products fail because people don't want whatever it is and no amount of advertising is going to tell them different.

"Desire for mobility." That's it right there. Convenvience of knowing it's handy when one needs it to go whenever one wants to break free from the confines of the home base. The part I can't stand about public transit is 1. Waiting 2. Super-bright lighting 3. Obnoxious riders 4. Lack of flexibility to come and go as I please.

I worry about Peak Oil from the standpoint of wondering if the day will come when I have to give up my wheels.

Try a bike.
Great freedom.
Great mobility.
People travel across the globe with them.
Minimal expense.
No supporting oil oligarchs, oil executives, etc.

I've driven a lot in my time, and still do when necessary, but biking is way more fun and freedom-giving.


You are a fine man and are making great contributions to this website. But with all due respect, you and I just have some basic differences in assumptions & worldviews.

I started my working life in the late 1970s, and saw with my own eyes people who used to drive to work taking mass transit (buses, there was no light rail there) and carpooling. Yes, they still HAD cars, but they were not USING their cars (for their commutes, at least) - they were left parked at home. This was all driven by the fact that their wages were stagnant while double-digit inflation was driving up the cost of everything, motor fuel most of all. They might not have liked it, but they did what they had to do. People DO respond to changing circumstances, and they DO adjust their behavior when they have good reason to do so. This is part of the reason why I have a little more scepticism about some aspects of modeling than you apparently do. I apparently have a greater appreciation for the ability and propensity of people to change instead of to just continue to operate as they have in the past, as if they were on "automatic pilot".

Secondly, I am more inclined to view peak oil (really peak non-renewable resources, more or less) and the awareness that we are reaching irreversible (within a scale of centuries) tipping points in GCC as driving a fundamental and far reaching paradigm shift in how we view the world, how our economy works, and how our society operates. I'm sure you are familiar with Kuhn and know that paradigm shifts do happen; surely we have good reason to believe that we are very likely seeing one happen before our eyes. Given the likelihood of a paradigm shift, I tend to be especially skeptical about extrapolations of the past into the future. I think it more reasonable to think that people are going to be doing some things differently in the future because they are going to HAVE to be doing things differently. I have no doubt that there is going to be a lot of denial and resistance along the way. Sooner or later, however, people are going to have to start adjusting to new realities, whether they want to or not.

Thirdly, I tend to have a personal philosophical bias toward multiple choice and diversity rather than centralization and "one size fits all". I appreciate that human societies, true free market (not corporatist) economies, and natural ecologies are all naturally and remarkably diverse, and that the greater the extent of the diversity, the more healthy the system generally tends to be. Thus, when considering our energy future I tend to think that developing a wide mix of alternatives will serve us better than will putting all of our eggs in a single basket. I also suspect that the mix will differ in each locality, depending upon local circumstances. Similarly, as I have stated elsewhere on this thread, I think that a mix of transport options will serve societies better than an exclusive reliance on one single transport option; this holds true whether that single option is the motor car or anything else. I also think that the mix will vary depending upon circumstances. I have no doubt that there may well be four billion households that would like to have at least the level of personal mobility that a small NEV offers. That is not the same thing as saying that they would want motor cars to be the only transport option available to them, or that they would necessarilly elect to use their motor cars exclusively under all circumstances, regardless of the other options available or their relative costs. Different modes of transport occupy different "niches" because they are adapted to those specific niches better than other modes. This is an ecological approach toward looking at transport, and I think it has a lot to say for itself.

Finally, while I am not a "dieoff doomer", I hold a considerably more pessimistic view of the future than you apparently do. I operate under the assumption that the peaking and depletion of FF and all non-renewable resources inevitably means that humankind MUST eventually transform itself into a sustainable economy based entirely upon the carrying capacity of the earth's available renewable resources. This is the end to which the aforementioned paradigm shift is taking us. It might take us a century or more to get to that state, and I have no doubt that many are going to be swimming against the tide, being carried kicking and screaming into the future. It will be a powerful, irresistable force, however, and cannot be stopped or changed. Better to make our peace with the inevitable and adjust ourselves to it sooner rather than later.

What this means is that I suspect that the average per capita GDP that can be sustainably supported globally in the long term will have to be considerably lower than the $28,000 figure that you are working with in your article. No one knows for certain what the number must be, and we could debate it a length. However, given that the world economy is presently consuming resources at an unsustainable rate, this would suggest that we will need to be ending up by the start of the 22nd century at something considerably less than the present ~$11,000; by mid-century, we will already need to be well on the way toward that lower figure. There will be room for some variation around that average, of course. However, I see little reason to think that countries at the top of the heap, like the USA, can possibly hope to end up any better than with a soft landing to something like 1/4 of our present per capita GDP (i.e., to around something like maybe $10,000 or so). We could, of course, end up a lot worse, as many other countries that are less well endowed with natural and human resources undoubtedly will. In my own thinking I am assuming a global average of $5,000, with that $10,000 being the upper bound, but those are only working assumptions. (Some might suggest that a massive die off (which neither of us wants) might make it possible to leave each person with a bigger slice of the pie, there being fewer left to divide it. However, I doubt that things will work out that way. If we can't avoid a massive, catastrophic dieoff, then the inevitable damage to the infrastructure and the environment will be so great that the carrying capacity will be permanently reduced as well; fewer people, but also a smaller pie.)

Thus, well before 2050 -- and probably within the next decade or two -- human society is going to be forced to come to grips with the reality that we are going to have to operate within a permanently limited resource base, and to get serious about adjusting ourselves to it. As I have argued above, if we are smart and lucky, we just might be able to have societies where there are still some NEVs available to take some people on some short trips, and there may be a mix of other transport options to provide some mobility to most people. Because mobility inherently requires the expenditure of energy, however, and because the supply of energy is going to be at a premium, the whole notion of human mobility is going to have to be re-examined and re-prioritized. In an energy-scarce society, people will only be moving about to the extent that they truly need to do so; wasteful movements will be prohibitively expensive, and thus unaffordable, and thus won't happen, and thus will not need to be accomodated by transport systems. People may not like it, but they will do what they need to do. This paradigm and set of assumptions thus leads me to radically different conclusions than yours, and leads me to very much doubt that there will exist anything close to a 4 billion car (of any size or type) future.

I agree with most of your viewpoint, in contrast to Stuart's world view.

However, I don't think that mobility will have to be as constrained as you think.

Just two examples, electric rail gets the equivalent of hundreds of MPG per passenger (if not more).

My electric bicycle (which is set up to carry up to 200 lbs of groceries, kids, etc gets between 500 and 1000 mpg equivalent, depending on the assumptions made about equivalency/conversion of gasoline to electricity. That is between 20 and 50 times more efficient that the current US fleet average, and can easily be run by a minimal solar source (I have enough solar panels to charge the bike, it requires only 250 watt hours per day, or 1/4 of my 1,000 watt solar system for 1 hour of sunlight).

So there are already other options. It is just a matter of people deciding to use them.

Have you ever lived in a city with a great mass transit system Stuart?

Reasonable ones - grew up near Liverpool, worked in London for a while. Both of those are cities were it's quite feasible to do everything by public transit. Now live in SF, which is not as good, though better than most US cities.

I do. Can I answer for him?

I live in Tokyo, a fantastic rail system. I can also see that just about every household has at least one car. And while most daily commutes are done by rail, those cars still get driven a heck of a lot.

I can't imagine a better scenario for low car ownership than Tokyo. Dense, large population, extensive rail/bus system, expensive gas, sky high insurance and parking costs etc etc.

Yet its very much a car culture here. If you can't convince the Japanese to give up their cars then perhaps you'll never be able to convince anyone anywhere.

Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Suzuki, Isuzu, Mitsubishi - I think I am starting to recognize a pattern why even in Tokyo, many Japanese feel having a car is necessary.

BMW, Porsche, Volkswagon, Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Daimler - Yeah, I'm starting to see a pattern here.

Absolutely - which is why Karlsruhe is so interesting. Stuttgart and Mannheim, the other two major cities in Baden-Württemberg (along with other cities near Karlsruhe, such as Gaggenau, Wörth, and Rastatt), are either thoroughly or heavily dependent on automobile (Stuttgart region/Rastatt), truck (Wörth/Gaggenau), or bus (Mannheim) production.

And yet, surprisingly, the city with by far the most innovative and effective transit system in this Bundesland has no serious connection to the automobile industry. A Bundesland that is heavily dependent on automobile production for much of its economy, a fact patently obvious to everyone here. A Bundesland where the interests of the automobile industry remain consistently well represented at all levels of government - except in Karlsruhe, a city which has never had any real connection to that industry. (And for those who believe that the Greens are responsible for any and all anti-auto policies - Karlsruhe's city politics are dominated by the same CDU that runs most of this Bundesland.)

The fact that Germany continues to actually have a functioning transit system is not because of the auto industry, it is spite of it. And provides a bit of insight into the idea of a socially constructed reality.

One of the most absurd things I saw in my first year living in Germany was the construction of a 'demonstration' project in Mannheim showing how a bus could flexibly replace a street car. The street car stop in the middle of a street was reworked so that a bus could pull into it, and pick-up/discharge passengers. Of course, the bus sat in slow moving traffic before and after using the stop, but it was a 300,000 DM project, paid for with taxpayer money, which Mercedes just coincidentally happened to be involved in, having a bus factory in the same city.

But as Germans tend to be obstinately pragmatic, the results were so idiotic that even Mercedes couldn't use such a demonstration to grow support for the idea that a bus sitting in traffic is an improvement over a train running on the same open track that had been in place for decades, which delivered its passengers more quickly than a bus possibly could, especially when taking into account the fact that the train carries 2 to 3 times the number of passengers. Which just might lead one to the conclusion that increasing bus sales wasn't really the point, if just 10 out of 100 hundred former street car users decided to buy a car, since it would be an improvement over a miserably slow and crowded bus trip.

Not that Mercedes & Co. have given up trying to convince everyone that cars are the best way to travel, it is just even the most status conscious manager can see the advantages of sitting 1st class in an ICE without wasting hours driving. As a matter of fact, it is the status conscious managers that one tends to see doing just that - otherwise, they would be in 2nd class.

I live in Tokyo, a fantastic rail system. I can also see that just about every household has at least one car. And while most daily commutes are done by rail, those cars still get driven a heck of a lot.

Japanese logged 850B passenger-kilometres in 2005. On a population of 127M, that's 4,200 passenger miles per person per year. At an occupancy rate of 1.6 passengers per vehicle (which is the rate for the US and UK), that's 2,600 vehicle miles per person per year.

By contrast, the UK logs 500B vehicle-kilometres per year. On a population of 60M, that's 5,200 vehicle miles per person per year, or almost exactly twice as many as Japan.

There's likely to be a number of factors creating that difference, of course, but it seems likely that Japan's fantastic rail system plays a very substantial role.

People are not going to get out of the cars unless you pry their cold dead fingers from the wheel.

That is the bitter truth. Personally, I hate cars, and I much prefer life without one. But most people don't feel that way, and it's better to be realistic and face up to that.

I live in Osaka, which has a superb mass transit system. Most people I know don't have a car, and here you really don't need one. Nevertheless, the roads are absolutely clogged with cars at all hours of the day.

Most people I know don't have a car, and here you really don't need one. Nevertheless, the roads are absolutely clogged with cars at all hours of the day.

This implies that they built just barely enough roads for those people that did have cars. If they built more, more cars would be bought.

Severely limit car infrastructure and provide excellent public transportation is the best strategy.


What if the public transportation system is seriously over capacity?

BTW, they are building more roads. Lots of big expensive highways all over Japan. They aren't building any more rail.

Don't get me wrong, Alan. Regarding cars, I agree 100% with you, and even Jim Kunstler. I love the car-free life in the dense urban environment. But that's just my personal preference.

The raw fact is that people love cars. And it's not just about transportation. Cars are status objects, and part of human mating rituals.

Yes that is true. But cars are starting to lose their appeal......especially young people (according to newspaper polls) (here) say they won't buy them (and sales of cars are dropping every year here (in Japan) since 1992. Toyota and Honda et al say they are VERY CONCERNED. (Good--I personally detest the things). By the way, noticed a few local huge used car dealerships out of business recently as gasoline hit 150 yen/liter. acres of abandoned cement doesn't look as nice as a meadow!!!

"Severely limit car infrastructure ". Exactly. If you (de-jure or de-facto) outlaw the cars, people won't use them. Otherwise, they will. And guess how popular you'll be for proposing to outlaw them.

Then outlaw trucks and semis.
Long haul freight goes back to rail and everybody's happy.
The guy that does that has my vote.

It is far easier never to build more streets. highways and parking spaces than it is to take them away. Even within the USA, a halt to further road building and investing those funds in Urban Rail is a preferred option. And one can slowly take away existing auto infrastructure by reducing maintenance.

From a holistic perspective, developing nations would be very well advised to NOT invest limited infrastructure funds in distorting the urban form for the automobile. Large up front costs and large continuing costs, many paid for by society at large. And a large oil import bill !

Anyway, out the door to catch George French and his band :-)


Also the French commonly take lane km from streets and give them to new trams (often times growing grass between the rails).

Just back from some excellent jazz :-)


Most people I know don't have a car, and here you really don't need one. Nevertheless, the roads are absolutely clogged with cars at all hours of the day.
You must live in an expat bubble. Japan ranks 11th in world wide car ownership per capita at 543. The UK is 20th at 426.

But I agree with the second half of your comment. Yes the roads are clogged and no, they don't need the cars for the most part. Like Stuart said, if people can afford a car, they inevitably have one.

Actually, you should look at 'Stadtmobil' in Germany - an interesting business model, where many people 'split' car ownership, in a way. That is, 'Stadtmobil' owns a number of vehicles, from Smarts to Mercedes vans, and you reserve your time to use the vehicle, which can then be left at one of their designated parking areas.

Stadtmobil actively works to reduce car ownership by increasing the use of individual vehicles. Obviously, the system is not perfect, but an increasing number of people are using it - why pay 100% of the costs for a car to sit around 95% of the time?

And Stadtmobil is a business - for example, though a normal car owner realizes no tax benefits from vehicle depreciation, Stadtmobil as a business most certainly does. Stadtmobil provides a trade-off - the lack of perfect 'convenience' in owning a vehicle compared to paying perhaps 5%-10% of the cost of owning a vehicle. With Stadtmobil, you can choose between any number of vehicles depending on your actual needs, a luxury not available to a typical car owner.

That such a system could make a few billion autos redundant is part of the constructed 'social reality' a certain hippie was referring to. We don't do things one way because that is the only way - we do them because decisions and choices were made.

This is an example of exactly the sort of multi-modality that we need. The paradox is that placing Stadtmobil stations at each mass transit node doesn't take away from mass transit ridership -- it increases it substantially. Making more cars of the Stadtmobil type available to people can actually reduce the number of people who feel they need to own a car and drive it all the time.

It would be instructive to compare downtown Amsterdam or Prague (in the case of Prague, without any gas stations at all) with a city like Berlin or Frankfurt - after all, urban 'renewal' does not always happen with a bulldozer blade. I don't think the number of cars owned in the first two cities is going to double, ever, unless something along the lines of Germany's urban renewal opportunity comes along in the future.

But you are absolutely correct that even in Western Europe, car ownership has been increasing - in part, because in Western Europe, the automotive industry remains a major part of the 'capitalist' economic system (rich/well-off people drive cars, correct?), while public transit/trains are part of the 'socialist' economy (even the poor and not well-off can travel), and in part, because not owning a car now seems so radical.

However, it is interesting to see how owning a car is not the same as using it, especially as the price of fuel keeps climbing. I find the trains to be more full now than a few years ago, especially of a certain demographic - people wearing suits.

But consider that in a city with one million bicycles, for example in China, how much physical space will be required for the vehicle alone. Assuming 5 m2 (roughly the size of the Nano), and 100,000 bicycles being exchanged for 100,000 cars, the city will need to find 500,000 m2 within its boundaries to merely park the cars

Let's put some numbers to this.

Consider Changsha, the capital of Hunan, picked simply because I know someone from there. With a population of 6 million people, a vehicle ownership rate equivalent to the UK would result in 3.3M cars. Let's assume they currently have zero cars, so we know we're way overestimating.

It would take 16.5km^2 to park those cars. Again, let's over-estimate, and let's multiply that by 20 to take into account expanded roads and such. That would give us a requirement for 330km^2 in the city.

The city covers 12,000km^2. 330km^2 is 2.8% of that.

So, even wildly inflating the numbers, we're still at a tiny percentage of the city's area. I think perhaps you're overstating the space requirements of a car compared to the size of a city.

I think my size estimate is very, very conservative - I simply take the physical size of a Nano (4.5 m2), round it to 5 m2, and then say each vehicle requires 10 m2 of physical space. Notice I have not included the normal distance between autos in my estimate (though arguably, it is covered in the .5 m2 rounding), any extra infrastructure (gas stations, auto dealerships, the equipment yards of the machinery used to maintain the roads, etc), and any expansion of the existing street network.

As a realistic question - do you honestly think any Chinese city has ca. 3% unused land just hanging around, waiting for development? I find it hard to imagine.

do you honestly think any Chinese city has ca. 3% unused land just hanging around, waiting for development?

No, but neither did Manhattan or Boston, and they managed.

So did London, Paris, Dublin, Berlin, Rome, ... Most of Western Europe had 80-90% fewer cars in 1960, and yet seems to have managed. To assume that China won't be able to do something similar is to assume that they have constraints nobody else had, which really needs evidence.

Leaving aside prestige projects and distortions caused by extreme disparities in wealth, I don't think the Chinese can afford to be building parking garages on the scale that the well-off Western Europe of the 1960s did - in part, because the average income in China would have to be 10-20 times more than it is today.

China is a remarkably poor country, with a huge population and several intensely industrialized regions. Most of China remains incredibly poor and undeveloped, and any government that attempts to provide suitable facilities for large numbers of automobiles will be unable to contain the social unrest from tens to hundreds of millions of people who want somewhere to live with clean water and without a dirt floor. Even now, the Chinese government has a very hard time containing social unrest based on human misery - it is a major reason for China's extreme efforts in censoring things like the Internet or cell phone text systems.

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words:

China has built the second largest freeway system in the world:

Looks like they can still fit quite a few cars on it. The total length is as great as the freeway systems in Germany, France, and Canada together. All of it has been built in the last 20 years.

Shanghai subway lines #4, #6, #8 and #9 opened up between Dec. 29th, 2007 and Jan. 2, 2008.

Last time I looked (one must make this caveat with Chinese subway plans), Shanghai planned to build 17 subway lines (4 of the 17 are not yet under construction apparently, #1 opened about a decade ago).

By every metric (length of track, passengers, passenger-km, stations, rolling stock), Shanghai should operate the largest subway system in the world when completed.

Comparable plans for other large Chinese cities.

It is NOT all just about cars. I suspect that there will be a change in emphasis as oil (and later lithium) supplies tighten.

I noted about two years the response of local authorities (with central approval no doubt) to higher oil prices was to add km to several planned subway lines and add two new lines to the plan (15 to 17). "Reduced oil use" along with reduced pollution and increased mobility were the reasons given at the time.

More new subways and railroads and fewer (or no) new highways may well be the Chinese response to post-Peak Oil. It is, in fact, the only logical response.

Best Hopes for Chinese Urban Rail,


China is a remarkably poor country

China had about the same per capita GDP (PPP, inflation-adjusted) and car ownership rate in 2002 that Spain had in 1960.

China's a poor country, but poor countries have become rich countries in 42 years before - in 2002, Spain had more cars per capita than Britain.

It may boggle the mind, but minds get boggled sometimes, and every major analysis I've seen suggests that China will become a rich nation over the next 40 years, roughly on par with where the West is now.

let's multiply that by 20

I think that is likely too low. My gut says x50. Multiple parking spots, access to the parking spots (graph a typical parking lot, perhaps a third to a fourth is covered by cars. Space to open doors on either side, space in front of the car, turning radius into the spot, entrance and exits.

Each car requires more than two parking spaces, say 2.5 (USA cities often have 8 to 10 parking spaces/vehicle (from memory). So 2.5 x 4 = 10 times the area of the car just for parking.

Then roads and the support facilities.


This strikes me as being off in fantasy land. I wonder how many dozens of times we will run into Liebig's Law of the Minimum before we produce four billion cars. How much oil and other products will be needed to actually produce the cars themselves? What will be the pollution impacts? How will we do this, along with all of the other things that need to be done, like maintaining/upgrading the grid, building new electricity supplies, and paving the roads?

If a person looks at one little piece of the problem, it looks solvable. It is when you look at the broader picture that the solution falls apart.

Stuart - "I postulated a world GDP of about $350 billion in 2006 dollars by 2050"

Change to Trillion

Thanks - fixed.

Given his assumptions, he's right. He's assuming energy is cheap by the time his four billion cars are sold. He's assuming world GDP has kept right on going up, and it's not all BS GDP like the U.S. (it's actual productive capacity).

Take it for what it's worth. It's a superficial cut at a BAU economy to see if it's at all feasible.

"This strikes me as being off in fantasy land. I wonder how many dozens of times we will run into Liebig's Law of the Minimum before we produce four billion cars."

That's exactly what I'm attempting to analyze. However, I can't do it all in one week :-)

I agree with Gail, this was also my reaction to this piece. We will never get close to four billion cars because we'll hit so many other limits first.

Focusing on too small a part of the problem was the major weakness with Stuart's last piece about industrial agriculture as well IMO...

I agree with gail 100%. I guess Staniford is one of the ones I ignore because I think alot of the stuff he writes is fairy tale B.S.

There seem to be two types of people on this site..., those who know the world is a ball and that peak is a symptom of growth..., and those who still jsut don't get it.

There seem to be two types of people on this site...

...those who know they don't know everything, and those who don't know they know nothing?

That you believe something doesn't mean it's true. If you don't realize that, you also don't realize you belong to the second group.

Those little wheels are going to depend on well maintained road surfaces. They wouldn't even reach the bottom of some potholes around here. Is there anyone can comment on whether something like this would work with narrower and larger diameter wheels? It seems to me that would have consequences up and down the drive train. Or is it just a matter of changing gearing?

cfm in Gray, ME


two small points:
1. Current technology says 50mpg can be done easily. But there are currently also 80 mpg cars available (the VW Lupo 3L). So maybe 50 mpg is a bit conservative. I would expect at least 100 mpg by 2050, based on the ordinary ICE, together with a cubic foot of electronics / sw

2. Assuming 10.000 miles/car/year may be a bit pessimistic. Anything below ca 8 miles can be done on bicycle and a lot of people will do so (maybe not all ofcoarse) Above 40 miles, public transport becomes competitive, so I would expect some more impact there. Especially when oil becomes more scarce out there, people would easily switch.

3. Getting people to drive small cars is really a marketing thing. Look at this car. Does that look like a dull geek car to you?


That's looks pretty cool! My only fear is that tiny vehicle vs. an SUV, truck, 18-wheeler, etc. If nearly all cars on the road were this size then it would be safer driving this. But imagine getting T-boned by a raised 4x4 or an SUV or being caught in the wind off an 18-wheeler.

The circumstances you'd be using that electric car (commuting) the traffic wouldn't be going much more than 25 mph anyway. I personally would have no fear driving it since I already drive a GEM.

To be sure both looks and size matter. The Mercedes SMART looks pretty much like this - a great wee car for getting to work or to Tesco. My main worry with these wee cars is safety. For so long as our roads are populated with trucks and SUVS and Range Rovers all driving like they are driving an impregnable tank at great speed (which they are) - you just can't feel safe sharing the road with them in a Dinkey car.

The solution then is to have speed limits that are inversely proportional to the mass and power of what you are driving. Trucks get to go at 10 mph, SUVs at 20 and so on. The VW Lupo would be permitted to go at 60?

The trouble is the idea of one size fits all. Driving around town or city streets should be perfectly safe for an NEV. They have no business being on a highway, though, and don't have the range for it anyway. If you are just going to have an NEV, though, you need to have an alternative mode of transport that will take you where the NEV can't. If you can only afford one car (or one car per working adult) and no good alternatives are available, then you end up driving the same vehicle everywhere as your ONLY mode of transport. It is very inefficient and uneconomical, but it is exactly the situation that we have created for ourselves here in the US.

Weird that PedalPusher made the exact same comment 2 hours earlier - which wasn't there when I wrote mine. My wife says I live in a parallel universe - I'm beginning to believe her.

Driving round town in Aberdeen, we have to share the road with trucks, Porches and bicycles. I agree entirely that we need to classify roads for different use. We have a huge problem with bicycles right now that have to share the road with everyone else. If there were roads for NEV's and bikes and others for the heavy duty ICE vehicles that would be an enormous leap forward. In the the UK I suspect that our politicians are about 3 years and 9 months away from grasping the inevitability of this.


When oil becomes more scarce, then also the big SUV's become more scarce. Remember that the assumption was that by 2050 cars get an average of 50 mpg? So I'm not so worried about that, because it has happened already in continental europe after the oil crisis. Driving an SUV in the Netherlands is really very-very-very expensive. No Joe Sixpack can afford that.

About the different type of vehicles on the road:
- All over Europe already separate biking lanes are set up. Here in the Netherlands this is massive. You can go anywhere on a bike without having to share the road with a car. And the rest of the world will follow once oil prices go up a bit more.
- When in 20xx oil production has halved, that means that there will be 30% less vehicles and they will be 30% more efficient (0.7*0.7 = 0.5) 30% less vehicles will immediately solve all traffic problems. Especially when people will drive max 75 km/h.

Interestingly, in the USA, approximately 1/3 of households have only 1 vehicle; 1/3 have 2 and 1/3 have more than 2. It gives then that most people have driving options available. I personally own a GEM and a Toyota PU. The GEM gets by far the most miles because my situation allows it. The longest trip in the GEM is 15 miles on arrival back home. Fortunately, I live in Washington state which allows MSV's with a top speed of 35 mph.

Indeed, I argued that energy would likely become cheap again after a couple of decades of being expensive, once a renewable civilization was over the hump (the hump having been caused in part by failing to make more progress in the 1980s and 1990s).

A concept of mine is Maximum Commercial Effort the maximum effort possible with purely commercial incentives. Less than war time efforts for critical projects (as assumed in the Hirsch Report). An example would be current efforts to develop Canadian tar sands.

Maximum Commercial Effort does not come cheap ! Best case for a 90% non-GHG North American electrical grid with maximum commercial effort is 30 years, not 20, with 40 years entirely possible as the quickest realistic time frame.

IMO, one cannot get cheap non-GHG electrical power in massive quantities by 2050. The marginal costs may have dropped by 2050 but all the embedded capital costs of earlier decades will still be with us.

So your assumption of cheap non-GHG electricity by 2050 is unrealistic. You underestimate the costs and time required for conversion.


I like the "Maximum Commercial Effort" concept and I agree with you that maximum commercial effort would be unlikely to be sufficient. It will take significant government incentives for quite some time. I will come back to the energy infrastructure at some point and build a more detailed model, but propose to keep circling around the various sectors at a high level first to make sure I've identified all the key issues.

Stuart - thanks for the interesting thought piece. Being a long time scenario builder myself, I'll avoid the temptation to question your assumptions. Most of the comments before me have done just that, and that's fine, but it is, after all, your scenario.

Rather, I'd like to give you a couple of things to chew on within the context of your scenario.

1) Your attempts to estimate the total number of autos is largely based on an income to ownership relationship. Consider that the use of average incomes may distort your final number by not reflecting possible changes in income distribution. By using current ownership to income ratios, you are essentially hypothesizing that income distribution at the current time is representative of income distribution in 2050. We all know that income distribution has been changing toward a more bipolar model, will that trend continue and impact the ownership possibilities?

2)You support the plug-in hybrid solution, in part, with the observation that "we already have distribution infrastructures for electricity and liquid fuel...." Consider that you may have succumbed to a bit of developed world blindness. One would assume that the vast majority of the new autos will not be in the already developed world, but in the developing world where that infrastructure is not as ubiquitous as you may have assumed. Consider also that over the next 40+ years you are assuming a 50% growth in population. Where will these people be living? If there is a simple one to one relation between population an the need for new infrastructure (and this is doubtful when one also considers you posit increasing incomes) then the infrastructure will also need to expand by at least 50%. In short, you may be overly optimistic when you suggest that this infrastructure already exists.

Hope these help in your continued efforts to build your scenario. Thanks for the good work!

"We all know that income distribution has been changing toward a more bipolar model, will that trend continue and impact the ownership possibilities?"

I think this is mainly a function of policy. FWIW, I'm personally of the view that income inequality has gone a bit far, and we could do with making the tax structure somewhat more progressive (though certainly not back to the levels of the 60s/70s) and focus somewhat more on poverty reduction. I think the rightwing backlash was a necessary correction to the oversocialization in mid century, but has now gone too far.

Stuart - it sounds like you are answering a question about income distribution in the United States. Remember, you aren't building a scenario about a single nation. There is no policy institution that can impact income distribution on the world scale. And until the process of globalization is addressed, along with its momentum toward unfettered, unregulated "free" markets, I think we can expect continued concentration of wealth. You accept most other current day trends as continuing on into the future, I think you need to address why this one won't.

I would be all for higher taxes, if the entire increase could be spent on biotechnology trying to figure out how to raise peoples IQ's. Short term, just doling out money will not improve much of anything. I expect that if most of the readers here were dropped in Dafur, their primary thinking would revolve around getting out so that they could survive in a reasonable location. Not, wow, I need to find a woman and have 20 kids (hope that 10 live) so that they can take care of me and the goats in my old age.

I think the big thing we have to get away from is the "one size fits all" mentality. The future of passenger transport must be multi-modal, for the simple reason that different modes are most efficient at different scales.

At the neighborhood level (and I include the CBD as a "neighborhood" here), getting around on foot, or bicycle, or maybe roller skates or skateboard or Segway, is going to be the most appropriate answer for most people, most of the time.

For such local trips in bad weather, or for the infirm, or for slightly longer (but still local) trips for shopping or to work), a small NEV with a range of <25 miles or so and a top speed of <35-40 mph would be quite adequate. Assuming that the modes I discuss below are available, I see no reason why such a vehicle would not be quite adquate to serve for MOST people's transport needs, MOST of the time. We all (or should) deplore the phenomenon of people hopping into an SUV to drive a few blocks to get a quart of milk, and for good reason: it is overkill. Most of the energy used in the trip is being used to transport the vehicle back and forth, not the passenger. The truth of the matter is, if it is raining or one is nursing a sprained ankle and thus can't walk or bike, an NEV is all one really needs for that short hop to pick up that quart of milk. (Actually, what we really need to do is to get back to the daily neighborhood deliveries of milk, but that is another story. Even with those, some people are occasionally going to come up short and need something unanticipated.)

For longer metro trips (across town, suburb to CBD), what a metropolitan area needs is a functioning mass transit system - anything from shuttle buses and urban transit buses at a minimum, to trams/streetcars if possible, to subways in the densest cities. Alan Drake has already written extensively about these, so I won't add much here. My main point is that while we all love and dream of electrified rail, even ugly old bus service would be preferable to NO mass transit, and may be a necessary transition step. Even if it is just buses, getting people out of their individual motor vehicles and into mass transit is essential, and it is the frequency of service that is one of the keys to making this happen. The other key is a system of rental bicycles, Segways, and NEVs at each station. With this, one need only walk or bike or drive one's NEV to the nearest station, park & ride, and then rent something if necessary to get to one's final destination. Because most of the world's built environment has not been designed and built on the basis of Transit Oriented Development (this is not exclusively a North American phenomenon), such a multi-modal approach is essential if urban mass transit systems are actually to work as a viable alternative to the private passenger automobile.

For intercity travel, we need electrified passenger rail. We can debate heavy vs. light, high speed vs. not. The key thing is to make it possible (across all daylight hours) to get from the CBD of one city to the CBD of the nearest neighboring city faster than it would take to fly or drive a car; only this will suffice to move most people out of the cars and airplanes and into passenger trains.

As for areas too remote to be well serviced by passenger rail, rental cars fit the bill. This is the one case where the average person might ever need to drive a motor vehicle with a greater range than the typical NEV. Such vehicles could perhaps be PHEVs. I don't know if we can get the number of trips that would still need to be driven in this category down to the point where ethanol or biodiesel begins to look more reasonable, or if we need to be looking at wind or PV-generated hydrogen, or what; another debate.

Finally, very long cross-continental trips will still need to be by air (for those with lots more money than time and can afford it), or by a multi-day sequence of short intercity hops (for those with lots more time than money, i.e., most of us). The idiocy of someone driving clear across the country in an SUV will hopefully become a distant memory.

I should point out that under such a scenario (and I think that economic logic and market forces could go far toward driving us in this direction), what we would be talking about is eventually equipping much of the global population (and most of the developed world's population) with nothing more substantial than NEVs; the number of longer-range rental cars required would be relatively few. Thus, we are talking about materials for batteries and power to recharge them that would seem to be a more reasonable proposition compared to equipping them with even a Tata-sized EV. Equiping the whole world with private passenger vehicles that are going to have the range and speed to serve as an all-purpose means of transport to the exclusion of all other modes is simply impossible, and it is utter nonsense to think or hope otherwise.

I hate to think about what the planet would look like in 2050 even assuming we could somehow get enough clean energy and lithium. What about all the other resources required? Where do they come from? And how much land will we have to destroy to get there? In the mean time, let's figure out a way to get along with less cars, not more.

Let us reclaim our cities from the death dealing automobile, starting now.

Found this doc while having a lively debate with JD: Google Answers: Size of Market for Motor Scooters
I doubt most will have the pleasure of indulging in a dashboard or trunk/boot soon. Most of the mass in a personal automobile is non-essential for day to day applications. An E-bike would do as well, even in hilly terrain with an elderly/out-of-shape rider. Electric bike sales in China are simply utterly mad at the moment - 25 million sales expected for 2009.
International Herald Tribune

Some resource constraints to consider in a car-centric future that you believe possible (I do not).

Land - Increasing percentage auto use > increased percentage of urban/suburban land area devoted to the car/decreased area for people.

Absent a decrease is m2 per person (quite possible in USA, not so in 3rd World) this decreased percentage of urban land area for people > increased VMT# (per person, per vehicle) AND increased areas being urbanized (sprawl). Sprawl would not grow with human population increases but with human plus auto population increases, with per capita (car) land requirements quite possibly greater than the m2 per capita (Human).

# The higher the VMT, the more m2 required per car for both travel lanes and parking.

Concrete, asphalt & steel - Infrastructure required per car increases as car density increases##, which requires substantial capital and resources (asphalt, concrete & steel). Asphalt is disappearing today as it is upgraded into liquid transportation fuels, concrete is a minor CO2 source today (3% from memory), but requires substantial energy to make. The same for steel.

## Minimal auto & truck infrastructure (Montana rural roads as an extreme example) require less infrastructure/vehicle as auto density increases, but by the time that significant congestion appears, the ratio increases as density increases. Parking garages instead of parking lots, elevated freeways instead of city streets.

Increased car use will require significant amounts of capital and physical resources for the cars and the infrastructure for the cars, at a time when capital and resources will be need in many areas to mitigate declining oil production.

Just building additional renewable generation for current levels of aluminum production will be quite a challenge.

Quite simply, there is not enough capital or resources to "do everything all at once". The much lower costs### (in capital & resources) that I propose (bicycling, Urban & electrified InterCity Rail) can more easily be afforded while building out renewable generation at Maximum Commercial Effort.

### Almost all components of Urban Rail have life cycles of 40 to 100+ years. So a new subway started tomorrow and finished in 2012 (say DC Metro extension to Dulles) will likely need rolling stock just past 2050 (2052). New rail in 2062, etc.

Cars will require multiple life cycles till 2050. (The USA uses too short 30 year life spans in some cases, I use streetcars built in 1923/24).

Best Hopes for Stuart NOT making all the rules & decisions,


I agree asphalt appears to be an issue (though I would guess that it could be made from the tar sands?) In any case, my understanding is that concrete makes better roadways than asphalt. Concrete and steel basically come down to energy - they don't create an independent resource constraint.

Space used by people will be much less if they are concentrated in cities than if they are spread out as peasant farmers.

The point you raise about lack of capital to do everything is an important issue, and I will come back to it after I have circled the major areas.

In an Urban setting, the infrastructure resources required per car and per VMT increase as car density increases. An issue quite familiar to Chinese city planners (actually city planners just about everywhere).

There are a series of positive feedbacks with increased auto use.

Increased cars require more m2 of urban area.

This increased m2 runs into constraints which dramatically increase resources required to mitigate the increase in m2.

Increased area for cars increases distances traveled (not only farther to drive since spacing between human activity is increased, but often transforming walking trips into auto trips)

(Illustration: Knock down corner grocery store to erect parking garage so people can drive to new grocery store, over streets that have to be expanded from 2 lanes to 4 lanes or 4 lanes to elevated freeway).

Increased distances traveled x Increased # of cars = Increased lane km of roadway and increased parking demand (parking demand is as related to VMT as to # of cars I have been told by Urban Planners)

The cost of increased lane km in established Urban areas follows an almost exponential function (inflation adjusted) over time. (Again told to me by Urban Planners).

You can argue that we can create enough resources to meet the increased infrastructure (capital + maintenance) but I think that we will be resource constrained. And the end result of such a choice results in a reduced quality of life, so why make that choice ?

Asphalt is recycleable and concrete (cement) is a big source of CO2.

A slower exponential-growth curve could fit the recent history of global lithium production if it didn't have to hit the 1994 and 2007 points exactly.

How shall the car gain nuclear cachet?

I'm going to be blunt:
-Why is Car Culture so great that we want 4 billion cars? I personally hate having to drive everywhere and would prefer to walk or bike (get the cars off the road and I won't be peddling like hell to avoid being hit!)
-How are you going to manufacture 4 billion cars without expansive international trade? Raw materials from thousands of places have to be shipped to other places for processing then thousands more for construction. Do you foresee having international trade on the scale that we do now in a post-peak world? And if so, how will it be powered (i.e. big cargo ships, air)? And how will it be powered without carbon emissions?
-Growth of economies and populations are not things I think we need either, and I'm not sure how either can be sustainable. Rather than talking in terms of "growth" or "die off," what about a "die down" where birth rates decline and we let the population slowly decline... as a best case scenario

-Why is Car Culture so great that we want 4 billion cars?

It helps sometimes to visualize the end-game. The end-game in this essay, assuming we can sustain infinite economic growth: is 4 billion cars. That's a shocking number. But a useful one, since it indicates our relationship to automobiles is fundamentally constrained. On a gut level, we know the planet is too small for 4 billion cars. 4 billion cars speaks to massive, never ending gridlock. Commuting hell, if you wish.

So we see that cars really are a dead end. This a novel proof, independent of energy or finance. What is the real tipping point to hellish gridlock... 1 billion? 2 billion?

With the emphasis on "gut level", unconstrained by any actual facts or logic. The average per capita car ownership at 4 billion cars would be a little lower than the European average now, considerably lower than the US. So while the commute will no doubt continue to be a drag, the "never ending gridlock" is quite unlikely (though certainly a lot of concrete will have to be poured).

I with you on the ratio of cars to population. It sounds, on the surface, given European levels it's doable... but, and this is a big but, there's the real issue of adding 50% more people and 50% cars to Europe... that's my gridlock issue. Going from 6 to 9 billion souls is going to be tricky business...

Can European cities absorb 50% more cars?
Can American cities?

I cannot imagine my own city with 50% more cars. Which is where my gut reaction came from. There is no place for new roads. We'd have to stack new capacity vertically. And go underground. And heaven help us if we ever needed to repair a bridge...

Most of the growth in people/cars is going to be in developing countries.

That part of the scenario seems a bit Utopian. I doubt much of the currently developing world becomes middle class in that timeframe. They have not made any where near that amount of progress in the last 42 years. Not even India and China.

I doubt much of the currently developing world becomes middle class in that timeframe. They have not made any where near that amount of progress in the last 42 years. Not even India and China.

I'm not so sure about that.

China, to take the most obvious example, has been the dominant force in reducing world poverty, lifting hundreds of millions of people past the common "$1/day" threshold, and its middle class is significant and poised to grow rapidly. Compared to the misery of the Cultural Revolution, they've made gargantuan strides.

It's not clear what the exact economic situation is for most Chinese, but what is clear is that it's improved enormously in the last 20-30 years, and is almost certain to continue to improve very substantially. The same is true of many other large, less-developed nations (e.g., India, Brazil).

You might be right but it is hard to say. From the data referenced by Stuart, Africa has about 30 cars / 1000 now and he is projecting a world average of about 500 in 2050. That is a 17 fold increase in the 42 years to 2050. China has about 18 / 1000 now, so if they had less than 1.1 / 1000 42 years ago then they would have grown more than Stuart's scenario. Can those be compared like that? When you start from almost nothing, it is easier to get big percentage increases (like wind and solar).

I do not doubt that China and India have had tremendous growth. Will China grow from 18 to 500 in 42 years (28 fold)? Seems unlikely to me. (I realize that 500 is a world wide average.)

From the data referenced by Stuart, Africa has about 30 cars / 1000 now and he is projecting a world average of about 500 in 2050.

And his projection is roughly in line with those done by academics. This paper is the one I referenced below, and their model predicts 2B cars by 2030.

China has about 18 / 1000 now, so if they had less than 1.1 / 1000 42 years ago then they would have grown more than Stuart's scenario.

China's ownership rate grew from 0.38 / 1000 in 1960 to 16 / 1000 in 2002, which is a 10% annual rate. Things really do change that fast in the real world.

The NYU paper projects China's ownership rate will reach 270 / 1000 by 2030, which is an 11% annual rate.

Will China grow from 18 to 500 in 42 years (28 fold)? Seems unlikely to me.

Like I always say, that you believe something does not make it true. There are a lot of things that are strongly counter-intuitive but true nonetheless. Our intuitions are trained on everyday situations, and a lot of things - like statistical projections - aren't all that "everyday" for most of us.

18 to 500 over 42 years is 8.2% annual growth, which is lower than the rate China saw over the last 42 years, and lower than the rate they're projected to see until 2030 according to the NYU model. Similarly, the total number of vehicles in the world grew at a 4.6% annual rate from 1960 to 2002; getting to 4B by 2050 would be a 3.4% annual rate.

I'd argue it's really not all that unlikely. Indeed, from what I can see it'd take a substantial change in the way the world works to avoid it happening.

I concede to obviously better data.

Stand on a freeway overpass.
I see cars, vans, service vehicles, utilities and trucks lots of trucks.
I wonder what percentage are owned outright. How much debt is speeding down the highway? What percentage are workers or people commuting to or from work? To simply sustain those vehicles we need a vibrant and probably expanding economy.
Chindia can industrialize all it wants, without consumers and credit the exercise is pointless.

IMO speculation about the future and billions of cars is just It can only occur if at minimum the status quo remains. Even if the economy just slowly contracts there will be far less of all vehicles and vehicle miles travelled.

An economic cloudburst caused by debt and/or climate change will see a far different world in twenty years than anyone can imagine.
In the meantime, most of the industrial world is committed to chugging along with a business as usual attitude, which will only change when it's forced to and of course too late.

"-Why is Car Culture so great that we want 4 billion cars? I personally hate having to drive everywhere and would prefer to walk or bike "

Unfortunately, only a tiny and dropping fraction of people agree with you:

You conflating cause and effect. The cause is public investment in roadways and other policies to encourage sprawl, the results are changes in urban form, increased obesity and reduced walking .

It seems VERY unlikely that a basic human urge (to walk) would be significantly modified over the space of a couple of decades, yet that is what you seem to say. I could accept a cause-effect relationship between obesity-walking, but I see both as likely results of a larger cause.


So give me the counter-example. Where is the place that as a result of more desirable public policy, walking/biking have been steadily increasing?

Davis, CA, Portland OR, and I have noted the walking modal share increasing in DC.

Davis has about 25% modal share for bicycles (from memory)

It will be VERY interesting to see the results in France of velib. Too soon for data yet (Paris ordered 10,000 velibs, then anotehr 10,000 and I think 6.000 more).

GAD, it is hard to get out of here and walk to my series of chores.


I used to live in Davis - it's true there's high modal bike use, but I'm not aware of much of a trend. I would guess that the strongest possible case you could make would be Amsterdam:

Amsterdam is a city particularly suited to the bicycle. In particular, its physical structure (the
compact semi-circular form), the absence of any great variation in height and the many
bridges make cycling a very convenient form of transport. Throughout the first half of the
twentieth century, the bicycle was the primary means of transport, both for travelling to and
from work and for social and recreational purposes. Until 1955, the proportion of journeys
undertaken by bicycle remained extremely high, at over seventy-five per cent. Thereafter, the
bicycle's share declined, as a result of increased prosperity and the resultant growth in car
ownership. Furthermore, Amsterdam expanded considerably in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Many residents chose to move to the outer suburbs or to other cities altogether. The car
enabled them to commute the greater distances involved, while those greater distances and
longer journey times made the bicycle a far less attractive option..
The rapid increase in car traffic, especially in the 1960s, caused serious congestion in the city
centre. Amsterdam soon proved to be less suitable for intensive motorised traffic. Many roads
were too narrow and it was impossible to ensure efficient through flows of traffic at many
junctions. Businesses moved to the fringes of the city and into the greater Amsterdam region.
Employment in the city centre and the harbour districts declined. The 'suburbanisation' of the
previous years continued. This led to further shifts in commuting patterns and the distances
involved, whereby car ownership and usage once again rose significantly, with a proportional
decrease in bicycle use.
The City's policy plans aimed to improve accessibility through investments in public
transport, to include the construction of a metro network. Bicycle use was to be encouraged,
discouraging car use at the same time. In the 1960s, the parking problem developed into the
main traffic issue: should the city adapt itself to accommodate motorised transport, or should
it consciously avoid doing so? Use of the bicycle continued to decline, reaching a low point in
the 1970s with fewer than 25 % of all journeys being made on two wheels.
In response to the strong growth in motorised traffic and the associated congestion, the
reappraisal of the bicycle started. Local actors like neighbourhood committees, Provo and the
Cyclists' Federation once again made the public aware of the bicycle and it’s possibilities. In a
desire to conserve the historic centre of the city, these inspired groups launched a variety of
campaigns and demonstrations designed to make the city authority and policy-makers think
again about separating traffic flows, or conversely, combining traffic flows.
Alongside the traditional acceptance of the bicycle, its image enjoyed a further boost as an
environmentally friendly, healthy means of transport which does not demand much space and
which helps to improve urban accessibility. Unlike the Swiss city of Basle, Amsterdam has
never had a strong and active pro-car lobby.
In 1978, a new City Council took office. It opted to conserve the cultural and historic value of
the city centre and to encourage the use of the bicycle and public transport. Soon measures to
encourage the use of the bicycle were taken. These included the construction of a 'Main
Bicycle Network', the improvement and expansion of facilities for cyclists, and the removal of
physical obstacles within the cycling infrastructure.
The Main Bicycle network is a finely meshed system of cycle routes between major
residential districts, employment areas and the city centre, usually along the quieter roads.
The routes of the network were chosen with the requirements of comfort, road safety and
social safety in mind.
In the 1980s, a working party was set up to oversee the realisation of the cycle infrastructure.
In addition to city officials, the group included representatives of the Cyclists' Federation. An
additional annual budget was made available to help resolve problems. In the 1990s, the City
Authority continued to put extra amenities for cyclists into place, including some outside the
Main Bicycle Network itself, such as storage facilities at railway and metro stations.
2. Current situation and future policy
Today, Amsterdam has a population of approximately 730,000. There is a high rate of cycle
ownership among adults over twelve, at around eighty per cent. This is due to such influences
as the introduction of paid parking in large parts of the city, whereby the bicycle is once again
seen as an attractive alternative to the car for short distance trips. In Amsterdam, the preferred
mode of transport is currently 35 % bicycle, 40 % car and 25 % public transport. These
statistics have changed very little since 1980. The number of journeys made by bicycle is
greatest in the city centre and in the pre-war districts.

So, what did I choose in my article as the exemplar when picking a global car ownership percentage to focus on? The Netherlands! It doesn't get any better in the real world.

"GAD, it is hard to get out of here and walk to my series of chores."

Better drive, it will be quicker :-)

Personally, I'm sitting in a cafe, working, with my bike locked outside.

Just a quick stop between errands

An earlier TOD post by Noizette (Geneva is one of the richest cities in the world).

Alan: Since about 5 years sections of the city of Geneva have practically been closed off to cars, only been accessible on foot/bike/public transport because of building all the new tram lines. The plan is to have the whole city car free and only public transport, though every main/subsidiary artery will always be open for gas driven cars, police / ambulance/ service/ deliveries etc. One lane only.

The economic pain has been considerable.

Ppl need to believe in, or be coerced into, long term planning.

Right now a whole huge quarter is closed - ppl who work there get up at dawn and walk or pile into temporary buses that chug around alternate routes. That section has something like 50 K inhabitants, a world trade center, a main hospital, a huge mall, 50+ small bizs, 4 huge schools, etc. etc. It has also become impossible or very difficult to park at, or even get to, the airport, which has encouraged ppl to take the train (which arrives in the center), - if you arrive at GE airport you can get a free ticket for the public transport.

I’m looking forward to seeing the end result.

The public transport company, in conjunction with the state, arm-twisted state and private organisms to offer their employees (1) a ‘discount’ on season tickets, the cost was borne in part by the cos., in part by the tax payer (state), in part by public trans. co - it worked. A huge surge. I now have a year ticket for trolley bus, gas bus, mini bus, tram, boat, train, and some of the services in the link, as well as per year a free bike for a month (the idea there is to let ppl try it without the pain of a financial outlay of buying a bike) over the whole territory (small, for sure), for about 400 dollars a year. I walk, I’m free, any conveyance that shows up, I can take it, without paying.

(1) In Geneva, personal car trips are first of all - in kms per year - for shopping and leisure, second for going to work. The difference is small and moves up and down.

link, in french

"...ppl who work there get up at dawn and walk or pile into temporary buses that chug around alternate routes..."
If this sort of thing has been going on for five whole years and shows no sign of ending, then Geneva is a city I would want to leave posthaste. That's too many years to spend piddling away one's finite life in that useless manner. If that's what it's like after they close it off to cars, and they're basically going to keep it closed off even if they ever "finish", then how does that life style, or, rather, non-life style, ever end? (There's plenty of comments throughout this thread about tyrannically-minded know-it-all activists seeking to force their agendas upon others at any cost, so I'll refrain from expanding on that point.)

Even for many trips into Manhattan, probably the overall worst case in the USA, driving is much faster than the transit system, even when the transit stops are reasonably located for the trip at hand. (One hour versus two for Staten Island to Midtown.) Insane as it may seem if you've ever driven in New York's rush hour traffic, the real Liebig's minimum, as it were, is parking, and for obvious reasons. But few places are as overcrowded as Manhattan, so I expect to see more Nanos for a while at least, not fewer.

What's the use of putting up with the huge expense of a big city, the crowding, the incessant noise with its attendant health risks, and in many cases the crime, if social engineers and "planners" are out to ensure that one is to consume all one's spare time walking, or "chugging around" (I like that one, I'll have to remember it) in a bus a snail's pace, with never a waking moment to enjoy, say, the cultural opportunities a big city can offer? The insane amount of time spent commuting - unless one is fantastically rich, or is willing, in order to live affordably and commute a reasonable distance, to go to the hospital every three months upon being mugged - is a big reason I never really wanted to return to New York, nor would actively seek to live in Chicago, LA, or, dare I say it, NOLA.

You know, it occurs to me that one of the basic features of much European mass transit in places like Amsterdam, Karlsruhe, or Geneva is being missed - the idea of a 'year card.'

That is, a card that simply allows you to travel anywhere in the transit region, any time the system is functioning.

The freedom is completely different from that experienced by a car driver - a transit user in Karlsruhe simply waits a few minutes for the next train or bus to arrive, travels to where they are going, changes their mind to go somewhere else which simply means using another train, arrives, meets with friends, and then all 8 decide to enjoy a movie and dinner. And the money saved on parking alone can pay for a another glass of wine or beer, without having to worry about driving.

Once you get used to the idea of transportation as a public good, it is difficult to actually convince people it is not in their interest to enjoy it. The train I use also travels to Baden-Baden - the number of times you will see women with furs and men with formal wear going to an evening performance is amusing.

Essentially, the car is about 'me' - and the train is about 'us.' An attitude which tends to be very threatening to any number of profit oriented organizations.

Alan FBE,

This is purely anecdotal: I have lived in Portland, OR for the last 2 1/2 years. ThankTheLord I have just moved back to coastal CA (great waves this am). Portland has massive ugly traffic jams every day, going BOTH directions, on every main road/highway in and out of town, every morning and afternoon. Contrary to it's reputation as "bike friendly", it's as dangerous a place to bike as I've ever been. There are NO dedicated bike routes (no cars), only 1 path around town that does not go where anyone wants/needs to go. All bikes must battle cars, and regardless of 'right of way', bikers will be dead right if they attempt to blithely pedal to work or play.

I strongly support what you advocate, but God (or whoever) help us if Portland is our example of happy non-motoring. Almost by definition, one can meet one's basic needs, in a city, without driving. Food and a paycheck are within walking distance of a hovel, but the body count is significant among the walkers and bikers around Portland. And as mentioned above, owning a car is economically out of reach for more and more people all the time. I would bet that poverty is probably the greatest corollary to lower VMT - no?

So, this is a rant. I'm just frustrated that a place as dysfunctional as Portland is held up as utopia. It's roads, fumes, cars, traffic, bad drivers, bad access and pavement. Yes, I"ve commuted on the MAX. It's great for going to the airport. It's OK for bikes. It's lightly utilized. It's lost in a traffic wonderland.

End rant. Nothing personal.

Where is the place that as a result of more desirable public policy, walking/biking have been steadily increasing?

Arlington has been one of the poster children for TOD. When I was working with the Millennium Institute at Court House Station on the Orange Line, it had ALL of the earmarks of newly built TOD, down to the car-share parking. Offices, retail and residential all in one place.

However, these numbers are SO good, I wonder if it is a statistical artifact (Laurence Auerbach could tell better).

Numbers are 2005 & 2006 for Arlington VA.

Car Single.......62,102..66,141..+4,039
Car Pool..........10,518...9,302...-1,216
Public Transit.27,133..32,146..+5,013
Work at Home..6,693...6,387.....-306

Here's the counter example, decreasing inflation adjusted gas prices during the period your chart covers:

A 100 mile range electric car at 200 wh per mile with battery density rated at 250 wh per kg, the battery for each car would weigh: 100x200/250=80 kg.
4 billion cars times 80 kg=320 billion kg or 320 million tons of lithium and the reserve base is quoted at 13.4 million tons.
The 250 wh/kg is also too optimistic for present lithium batteries which is 78 wh/kg.(.28/3.6MJperkwh=.078)--I take it that this post is for a 'currently' feasible technology.

4 billion such electric cars assuming 10000 miles per year(a hundred 100 mile electric trips per year) would require 8000 TWhrs (4E09 cars x 10000 miles x200wh/mi)
27 quads of renewable electricity just for cars in 2050, today the world produces 100 quads of all electricity.

Just how much do you love your car( cart)??

I'm thinking that 0.5-1 billion NEVs with max range of 25 miles, max speed of 35-40 mph, and max annual utilization of maybe 1-5K miles is about the most that we can realistically hope for. Even that might be too much, but it is getting quite a bit closer to the above figures.

majorian- suppose the cars are powered in the future with the PVs on their roof?

Given the size of a car's roof, you'd need to be parked all day in the sun to drive a mile.

To call that idea impractical is an understatement.

With 9 VMT in the last 3 weeks, it would work for me :-)

In best case, a possible supplement even for me (last 3 weeks have been atypical, Mardi Gras, etc.)


Alan, You are lots of things. But ordinary is not one of them :-)

Do you know what is ordinary in New Orleans ? >:-)

Best Hopes for Our Diversity and Tolerance,


I was thinking more 2050 not 2008.

Why? Is your car roof going to be bigger in 2050?

I think a more elegant solution is to erect large PV arrays over parking lots to power metered recharging stations (with net metering to grid).

Your calculations are in error because only a very small fraction of the weight of the battery is the lithium. Even the lithium salt is only a small part lithium. For example, lithium perchlorate is Li ClO4, and the Cl and O atoms are both heavier than the Li (atomic weight 35.5 and 16 respectively, versus a shade under 7 for Li). Then add cathodes, anodes, membranes, solvents, casing, ...

Fine, that's 7 grams of Li per 106.5 grams of LiClO4 is still 21 million tons(320 x 7/106.5=21) and the reserve base cited is 13.4 million tons so you're already 56% over.
BTW, perchlorate mixtures are explosive.
Lithium perchlorate isn't the only lithium salt they are looking at, try LiBrF6(93g amu), LiPF6(76g amu) would require even more lithium.
I'll leave off all the cathode, anode, memberane, solvents( I believe Li-ion batteries use ether which is explosive), membrane....
because I don't know if its figured into the 250 kwh/kg you posted(wikipedia says 77 kwh/kg for current Li-ion batteries).

IMO, you're still wildly techno-optimistic on lithium ion batteries.
At the risk of injecting some gloom into the car euphoria,
how much would lithium ion batteries for a car for 4 billion people cost?

The optional lithium ion 450AH battery for a chinese electric car costs as much as the car itself($10000).

$10000 x 4 billion cars equals $40 trillion dollars, which is more than half the present world GDP($72 trillion) just for those damn Li-ion batteries!

Have you ever considered lead acid batteries?

Well, if every car in the world were to be replaced today at new rates, then I think you'd find it would cost more than world GDP. It's not an accurate comparison.

if every car in the world were to be replaced today at new rates, then I think you'd find it would cost more than world GDP.

It's easy enough to check, at least to a first approximation. (Plus, I'm curious now.)

Let's suppose a new car is $20k; that's including all the new ones in the West (more) and things like the Tata Nano (less). There were 800M cars a few years ago (see the link I gave elsewhere), but let's round that up to 1B.

1B cars * $20k/car = $20T; world GDP is about $50T at market exchange rates, or $65T PPP-adjusted. So replacing the world's cars would probably require the equivalent of about 4 months of world GDP.

FWIW, manufacturing is roughly 20% of world GDP, meaning that replacing the world's cars would take the equivalent of 1.5-2 years of world manufacturing output.

4 billion cars times 80 kg=320 billion kg or 320 million tons of lithium

Lithium batteries aren't made of pure lithium.

At 160Wh/kg (see below) and 0.3kg of lithium per kWh (SS's link), we get ~5% of the mass of a LiI battery is actual lithium. So 320Mtons * ~5% = ~16Mtons = more-or-less the level of reserves SS was talking about.

The table is wrong, and has a pretty bogus-looking reference for its lithium figures. The corresponding page directly on lithium-ion batteries as well as other sources suggest twice that density, or 160Wh/kg, although recent developments appear to have made twice that, or 330Wh/kg available. (Their previous line of batteries were tested by the Canadian Forces, and found to deliver 210Wh/kg, which is close to the 225Wh/kg in the specs.)

Considering that lithium batteries are expected to continue their trend of 8-10% capacity increase per year (which, funnily enough, describes almost perfectly how long it took to get to 330Wh/kg from 200Wh/kg), it seems like SS's assumption of 250Wh/kg is probably too low by a significant amount.

4 billion such electric cars assuming 10000 miles per year

Both of those are probably too high.

Analyses like this one suggest that world GDP in 2050 will be in the same ballpark as SS estimated, but probably a little lower, around $250T in inflation-adjusted PPP dollars. That'll leave more people with less cash than Europe has, and so probably result in fewer cars. This paper estimates 2B vehicles in 2030, which would suggest perhaps 3-3.5B vehicles in 2050.

I'd also argue the estimate of 10,000mi/yr is too high. The UK, for example, had 33M vehicles in 2006 - 550 per thousand persons - and about 300B vehicle miles, or about 9,000mi/vehicle. With per capita GDP rates below those of the UK - and comparable population densities in many of the emerging economies - I'd expect fewer vehicle miles per capita.

SS's estimates are all pretty close to these ones and are all fairly reasonable; I'm just pointing out that his calculations should probably be taken as a reasonable upper bound for what would be required. Using the estimates I've linked would reduce the construction requirements by 10-20% (fewer cars) and the energy requirements by 30-50% (fewer cars driven fewer miles), which are close enough that SS's analysis applies pretty directly.

27 quads of renewable electricity just for cars in 2050, today the world produces 100 quads of all electricity.

The world's transportation sector already consumes that much energy, with the large majority being the vehicles we're talking about. Under the projections I linked to rather than SS's, the amount of energy consumed by cars&trucks is likely to fall, thanks to the much greater efficiency of electric drivetrains.

Whichever set of projections you prefer, though, the quantity of energy isn't a big deal. It's a huge number, of course, but it's pretty similar to the current huge number, so it's by no means outside the bounds of possibility.

You might be right, but I also allowed a Netherlands offset over what the straight income/car ownership level would predict, which tends to lower my vehicle numbers.

Thanks for the useful links!

The reference you cited gave about 110 kwh/kg for LiP type batteries as the probable type for cars and used 160 kwh/kg for the improbable lithium cobalt batteries.
110 kwh/kg is a lot closer to 77 kwh/kg than SS's 'probably low' 250 kwh/kg.

If you look at Electrovaya's photo, they are advertising a 225 kwh/kg Li-ion polymer battery with 330 kwh/kg only as a 'target for the next generation'.

Personally I wouldn't want buy an expensive car that couldn't go at least 10000 miles a year(50 miles a day).

Pitt, I think you've been 'hyped'.

I don't agree with you raising the world GDP to $250 trillion dollars (a 3% growth rate in the midst of peak oil??) while leaving the price of batteries the same?

I'm not sure if you are interested in renewable energy
for the Li-ion cars.Today the world gets 27 quads of electricity from all the hydroelectric dams in the world and 27 quads from all the nuclear power plants in the world. Assuming the current renewables is at 2.7 quads, that would require a growth of ~6% in renewable energy each year, double the 3% growth rate above just to cover lithium batteries for cars. Sounds improbable, no?

If you burn coal to make the power, you'll end up burning more fossil fuel than with ordinary hybrid cars.
5 miles per kwh x 2000 kwh/ton of coal=10000 miles per ton or .2 pounds of carbon per mi versus a similar looking hybrid 40mpg--.025 gallons per mile x 6.6 pounds per gallon=.165 pounds of carbon per mile.

But that defeats the whole idea of using EV cars on environmental grounds. Might as well just use oil.

If you look at Electrovaya's photo, they are advertising a 225 kwh/kg Li-ion polymer battery with 330 kwh/kg only as a 'target for the next generation'.

Your photo is from 2005; my link is from 2007. Your information is out of date.

I don't agree with you raising the world GDP to $250 trillion dollars...while leaving the price of batteries the same?

I said nothing about battery prices; that's your assumption, not mine.

(a 3% growth rate in the midst of peak oil??)

That's the estimate from PriceWaterhouseCooper; if you think you have stronger evidence than they do, feel free to share it.

Assuming the current renewables is at 2.7 quads, that would require a growth of ~6% in renewable energy each year, double the 3% growth rate above just to cover lithium batteries for cars. Sounds improbable, no?

No. Current growth rates for renewables are far in excess of that, and 6% is a low enough growth rate that it can be kept up for decades. As one example, China's economic growth rate over the last 30 years has been 8%, so there's nothing remotely improbable about something much smaller growing at a lower rate for slightly longer.

2000 kwh/ton of coal

  • Coal for power plants has 27GJ/ton.
  • 1GJ = 278kWh
  • 27GJ/ton * 278kWh/GJ = 7500kWh/ton

Are you trying to say the coal plants of 2050 will be 27% efficient? Europe's coal plants are already 38% efficient on average, with newer plants over 40% efficient and designs being looked at that are likely to be over 50% efficient.

Plus, your calculations for carbon emissions are wrong, since coal isn't 100% carbon. It's 60-85% carbon, vs. 87% for gasoline.

Between the two of those, coal-powered EVs would cause about 1/3 less CO2 than 40mpg gas-powered cars.

If you burn coal to make the power, you'll end up burning more fossil fuel than with ordinary hybrid cars.

You're wrong, but why use coal? Vast numbers of batteries is well suited for variable sources like wind and solar, and the task of building the renewable sources to power those cars is (literally) an order of magnitude smaller than the task of building the cars themselves.

and the task of building the renewable sources to power those cars is (literally) an order of magnitude smaller than the task of building the cars themselves.

That's an interesting claim. Can you flesh that out a bit, Pitt? (or is it already present and I've missed it)

Reason I'm asking is that we already have an industrial base nicely tailored to auto manufacturing. But the capacity doesn't exist for PV or other renewable approaches.

In this case, the renewable sources are well ahead of the cars. Solar produced 3.8 GW of peak capacity in 2007 and wind added 20 GW of capacity is 2007. Those were 50% and 30% annual growth rates respectively. Assuming, as Stuart does, 0.2 kWhr/mile, at 20% capacity factor for solar and 35% for wind this amounts to 186 GWh/day or 23 million 40 mile round trips a day. So, if one third of new vehicles were plug-in hybrids in 2007, the renewable capacity would be there to power them. If wind and solar growth continue, then by 2011 annual addition to capacity could power auto manufaturing that is 100% plug-in hybrid. In fact, we expect a few plug-in hybrid production lines in 2009. The energy source is well ahead of the technological transition in transportation.


That's an interesting claim. Can you flesh that out a bit, Pitt? (or is it already present and I've missed it)

I went into it in some detail in the discussion surrounding GliderGuider's first " 2050" article.

The short form is that you can do a back-of-the-envelope estimate by looking at the relative prices of the two projects (replacing America's 250M cars vs. adding generating capacity to power them). $20k is probably a low estimate for a car, and that gives you $5T.

Wind power is about $5M per MW delivered ($1500/kW @ 30% capacity factor), which gives 8760MWh/yr (call it 8000). Each car is going to be driven about 10k miles; at 200Wh/mi, that's about 2MWh/car/yr, meaning that $5M of wind turbine can support the energy needs of 8000/2=4000 cars = $20k*4000=$80M of cars.

You'll want to add things like storage and transmission capacity to the cost of the power, but it's still in the order-of-magnitude range.

(It's interesting to note that the US's manufacturing capacity is, roughly speaking, 20% of the economy, or about $3T/yr. $3T/yr / $5M/MW = 600,000MW = 600GW = 5,000TWh/yr = 25% more electricity than the US generated in 2006 (EIA), meaning the scale of adding the generating capacity for those cars is about 3 months of manufacturing capacity.)

Reason I'm asking is that we already have an industrial base nicely tailored to auto manufacturing. But the capacity doesn't exist for PV or other renewable approaches.

Factories can be retooled; however, it's not clear that wind turbine manufacture is vastly different from the manufacture of other large machinery, and the US has (despite the tales of manufacturing woe) quite a large capacity in terms of machinery manufacturing.

Of course, don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting the wind buildout would or could be done in three months; that's just to demonstrate the scale of the problem.

Well, Pitt, you posted the $250 trillion dollar economy so I guessed you thought that was reasonable (as Price Waterhouse does). I would think that $10000 batteries would increase at the rate of inflation and remain too expensive for 4 billion Third World car buyers.

I assumed you believed in Peak Oil and that Peak Oil would interfere with such techno-fantasies. Was I wrong about that?

I think that 27 quads of renewables in 2050 for electric cars is unreasonable. Greenpeace has done projections showin a base case of 4.83 quads of renewable electricity and an alternate high exponential growth case of 45.3 quads. I think it is far more likely that
renewable electricity will go to the existing power grid for light, heat, power to make up for vanishing
fossil fuels. See tables on page 65,66,etc. below.

The average output of power plants is around 30 percent and the amount of energy in coal varies dependent of the coal rank. World coal is a mix of low grade lignite and bituminous so your 27 GJ is very high indeed. Ultra critical steam boilers are about 35% efficient and IGCC
with hydrogen powered gas turbines and backup steam turbines is 40-45%. I don't see how IGCC can be much higher as gasification itself is currently ~60% efficient.

Oak Ridge uses 6150kw per ton of coal as an average, with 2000kw/ton for power plants~32.5%.

If I use your number for coal 2.86 instead of mine for straight carbon 3.66 and
use the number 3.07 for octane instead of my 3.66 my calculation above .2x.8=.16 pounds for coal and .163 x .83 or .135 pounds for gasoline, you still are burning more in the fossil plant than I am in the hybrid. Only if I buy your assumption of 50% efficient coal plants do I get to 31%. But in reality my hybrid gets 55 mpg, so I can get some credit for that?

I find your number of 38% hard to believe given that coal in Europe(Germany for instance) is mainly lignite, which is higher in ash and moisture and which reduces combustion efficiency. Getting steam cycle power plant real world efficiencies up above 33% is very difficult.

Vast numbers of batteries is well suited for variable sources like wind and solar, and the task of building the renewable sources to power those cars is (literally) an order of magnitude smaller than the task of building the cars themselves.

This variable source theory that batteries in cars can power the grid doesn't add up because you have to invert the power 80% efficient to turn it into DC and invert it back again at 80% to make it into AC. You're down a third to being with. People drive their cars in the daytime, which is also when demand peaks so the cars are not available to feed back into the grid as well as being depleted from driving.

Electric cars are quite expensive ~$1000 a kw while wind(the cheapest renewable) is another $1000 a kw so it doesn't look like these cars will be an order of magnitude smaller (cheaper) than building renewables electricity. But if it is why build those cars at all?

Better to forget the electric cars and build renewables for lights, heat, power, etc.

Mr.Pitt, I find you in everyway to be an extreme techno-optimist(possibly a cornucopian) and dismissive of my reasonable objections.

You may be only fooling yourself!

I would think that $10000 batteries would increase at the rate of inflation

The GDP figure is, as I pointed out explicitly, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

I assumed you believed in Peak Oil and that Peak Oil would interfere with such techno-fantasies. Was I wrong about that?

I believe what the evidence supports.

I think that 27 quads of renewables in 2050 for electric cars is unreasonable.

You're certainly entitled to your opinion, even if it's uninformed and intended only to reinforce your other beliefs.

You've offered no evidence to support that belief, though, and there's plenty of evidence to cast significant doubt on it (e.g., the equivalent of 4 years of current US manufacturing capacity could build enough wind turbines to provide all of that electricity, calculations are later in the thread), so any argument you make which relies on this belief is basically dead in the water in terms of convincing anyone who doesn't already agree with you.

World coal is a mix of low grade lignite and bituminous so your 27 GJ is very high indeed.

From my link:

'"Typical" coal (rank not specified) usually means bituminous coal, the most common fuel for power plants (27 GJ/t).'

Your beliefs on the matter of energy issues have been shown to be wrong enough times that nothing you say will be taken seriously without evidence to support you.

I find your number of 38% hard to believe

That's your problem. Take it up with the EU if you think they're lying.

This variable source theory that batteries in cars can power the grid doesn't add up because you have to invert the power 80% efficient to turn it into DC and invert it back again at 80% to make it into AC.

While it seems doubtful you're right (e.g., over 90% efficient appears to be possible now, much less in 2050), it really doesn't matter anyway - the energy supply problem is so much smaller than the vehicle replacement problem that the power supply could be doubled without materially affecting the amount of time it would take to roll this out.

The losses aren't a big deal - they're about the same as from pumped storage, and that gets used all the time.

People drive their cars in the daytime

Most people are parked for most of the daytime. Moreover, the continents are large enough and high-voltage DC transmission is efficient enough that morning and afternoon rush hour will be nicely spread out over a period of many hours (~5 hours for the US, for example).

Not that it matters, since it would only make sense to design the grid to have reliable storage capable of bridging such easily-forseeable gaps. Pumped storage is the obvious candidate, since it's already widely deployed, well understood, and quite efficient.

It would be useful for you to do some research into this, since all of you objections have been dealt with extensively in many places. One good way to approach that is to try to find cites to back up your claims before you post them; if you can't find support - or you debunk your own claims - you know not to post them and you learn something in the bargain.

EDIT: upon reflection, it turns out you're not only wrong, you're arguing against something I wasn't even saying. I'm not proposing V2G - using the fleet of vehicle batteries to feed back into the electricity grid. I'm just saying that large number of batteries can accept different flow rates of electricity vastly more easily than most applications, since all that matters is the sum of the power delivered, not the instantaneous rate of delivery (within a range, of course). So you're wrong, but it's irrelevant anyway.

Mr.Pitt, I find you in everyway to be an extreme techno-optimist(possibly a cornucopian)

That you believe something doesn't make it true, despite the apparent trouble you have accepting that.

and dismissive of my reasonable objections.

I can't be dismissive of something that isn't there.

You're breezily dismissing authoritative data, like the results of a study by the EU into the efficiency of their own coal plants, while insisting I should accept whatever number you pulled out of the air; how is that, in any way, "reasonable"?

You're arguing as if everything you believe is unassailable fact, and anything you don't like is obviously wrong, and that simply not the case. You don't know what you're talking about on this topic - as has been demonstrated repeatedly - and complaining that I'm being dismissive is nothing more than whining. I'm dismissing what you're saying because it's verifiably incorrect, and because you have a demonstrated history of being consistently wrong.

If you don't want to be dismissed, don't be so obstinately wrong. Simple solution, no?

I think Stuart made life a bit difficult for himself by basing his case upon lithium, although in fact it should do fine as it represents only a small part of battery costs, no-one has really been looking for it and we could probably get it from sea water if we had to.

If you check out Stuart's links to 'The Trouble With Lithium' the author suggests a couple of other possibilities which are much less resource constrained and would do the job.

Sodium Nickel Chloride, NiMiH, Sodium Iron Chloride and zinc are some of the other possibilities, while for a shorter range EV advanced lead-acid might do the trick.

There are enough other possibilities out there that whatever constrains the use of electric cars or hybrids, not having batteries for them does not seem to be the thing that will stop it.

Looks like "they" are on the case to do for alternative energy what they did for the computer.

Silicon Valley Starts to Turn Its Face to the Sun

How can you have Peak Tech if the very companies that use so much energy are so involved in trying to produce it and move it forward?

The computer analogy is often used, but completely inappropriate. The reason being you can miniaturize information processing, and that makes it cheaper, faster, lower power. But you can't miniaturize energy capture, so Moore's law simply does not apply.

Sure there are definitely gains in terms of materials, thin film etc where the silicon and disk drive makers have experience, but there is not going to be a revolution in performance.

It doesn't require a revolution. Extrapolating the existing well-established learning curve is plenty.

That's good, because you can't extrapolate beyond 100% efficiency.

"but there is not going to be a revolution in performance."

1. you do not know that.

2. what if we don't need one?

1. Actually, I do know that. Computers (PCs) have increased in power over 1000 times by reducing the feature size. The current feature size of 65nm is still much larger than the theoretical limit, but practical limits arise from the materials and technology used. If those practical limits are overcome, computers could yet increase in power another 100 times.

By contrast, efficiency of PV is already in the region of 20%, it simply cannot be increased by 1000's of times. If Moore's law did apply (doubling every 18 months), we'd be done in 5 years. If PV is where computers were in 1970, we'd get as far as 1975.

2. I don't know, it was your idea. If it is not relevant, why did you refer to it?

1. I don't know where you're really going with this. it seems we are arguing different points. my point is that the first computer was huge and now I am typing on a small portable computer that runs on (lithium!)batteries. solar, like computers, will be more personal. that's my point. everyone has a computer now.

Everyone has a computer? I think your experience world is coming up a bit short. Currently, less than 20% of the global population owns a computer. This, too, will be an issue with "personal" solar. Will we one day speak of the solar divide?

"Everyone has a computer?"

in the US.

According to this site in 2007, out of 116 million households, 84.3 million owned personal computers. Your "everyone" in the US is closer to 73%.

73% is close enough for me.

I think it's not a matter of different points from different people, but that in your zeal to make a point, you may have fallen into talking past yourself. Solar has the potential to get considerably cheaper but it is not going to get personal in the same sense as iPods and computers, because it simply cannot be miniaturized very much, either as panels, or as complicated mirrors plus heat engines. I can already go out and buy a 15-20% efficient panel, I don't expect ever to get beyond about 70-80% in mass production, and thermodynamics limits me to 95% or so (6000K sun, 300K earth.) In other words, roughly a factor of four is about it.

By contrast, a CDC6600 computer cost somewhere north of $4 million in about 1964, which is about $25 million today, and it took up several floors of, say, the Courant Institute building at NYU. A small Linux desktop or notebook costing some hundreds of dollars will be at least twenty times as powerful (in true random-access memory bandwidth), or a hundred or more times as powerful overall. So let's call it an improvement by a factor exceeding 5 million. It shows how bad the joules-to-operations ratio was in early computers.

Now, when you find a $500 solar panel or mirror gadget occupying a square meter and yielding 600 million watts instead of the present 120 or so, let's talk again...

I think it's not a matter of different points from different people, but that in your zeal to make a point, you may have fallen into talking past yourself. Solar has the potential to get considerably cheaper but it is not going to get personal in the same sense as iPods and computers, because it simply cannot be miniaturized very much, either as panels, or as complicated mirrors plus heat engines.

I am not talking past myself, whatever that means and certainly haven't shown zeal.

I said nothing about Ipod or computers and nobody knows how personal they will get. if we can get enough PVs on the roof that can power an ipod and a computer then that sort of changes the game and makes my point.

Being pedantic here, we could get the same results of a moores law analogy if it merely applied to watts per dollar rather than efficiency.

Not that I expect that to happen, mind.

That, too, would require more miniaturization than is possible. Computers have improved on a performance/cost basis by a factor of millions since the early days of the 1960s. It's early days for energy harvesting, but "harvesting" is the catch.

You might conceivably, over time, get a $500 solar panel down to $0.0001 if you could make it 0.5mm square, or if you could mostly replace it with a mirror and make the mirror 0.5mm square. But you can't make it that small, the harvest is proportional to the size. The mirror or panel can never be smaller than 20% or 30% of the best size possible now. And nobody is manufacturing any useful, engineered material of any kind whatsoever for $0.0001 per square meter, nor ever will. Just plain window glass is $10 or more a square meter.

"The reason being you can miniaturize information processing, and that makes it cheaper, faster, lower power."

Termodynamics puts contrains here too. We can't make computer faster and lower power forever.

That is a quite similar issue to the energy one, we can grow a lot theoreticaly, but don't have the technology/resources to do so.

Does peak tech ride the Microsoft bus?

Microsoft is getting results already. A shuttle-bus service for employees launched in September at its Redmond, Wash., headquarters takes 30,000 commuter miles off the road per day. More than 30% of Microsoft’s workforce is in commuter programs or groups, according to the company.

A 2006 solar-power retrofit at its research center in Mountain View, Calif., provides 15% of that building's energy needs and generates 400 kilowatts of power at peak capacity. Microsoft's Quincy, Wash., data center runs on hydro power and the facility's trucks on biodiesel. The Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher program is turning out 5,000 refurbished machines for reuse per month.

Biofuels may get us 20% and lighter more efficient hybrids could get us 30%. That might make up for a 50% increase in the number of cars over the next 20 years. We need to find ways of transporting people more efficiently. Do they really need to go in the first place? Telecommuting from a home office can be done one or more days per week for office workers. People living closer to work would help as well.

Mass transit where you can use an electric cars to get to mass transit and use zip cars to get to and from business and shopping would be more efficient. There are SO many ways that we can use less fuel worldwide, it is pretty easy to add it all up. Of course, motoring will always be an enjoyable thing to do, but a weekend drive is much more relaxing that rush hour stop and go traffic.

Your only problem is that people do not like to do it they way you think they ought to. People everywhere, in every country, given the opportunity and income to buy and use cars, will do so. You will not find a single exception. So the only ways to get people to not buy/use cars are either a) to make sure they are too poor, or b) outlaw cars in one way or another and use the coercive power of the state to enforce the mandate.

Personally, either a) or b) sound to me like a much more unpleasant world than one with 4 billion cars. There are things much worse than sitting in traffic for an hour a day.

sitting in traffic all day sounds like encouragement for trains and buses and etc.

Given a binary a) cars for everyone vs. b) cars for no-one, of course everyone would dislike option b. However, the binary a) cars if you are lucky/rich enough to afford them, tough luck for everyone else vs. b) cars as one transport mode among many, with something for everyone, is an entirely different situation. People won't like a non-car world, but there are also plenty of people right now that don't like at all the lack of alternatives.

To give just a couple of personal examples: I would prefer to bike to work, but don't have a sufficiently safe route, so I must drive; I would also like to take a light rail passenger train to the nearest big city instead of having to drive, but it isn't available, so I must drive. However, even if these options were available to me, I'd still want to have a vehicle available, because there might be other circumstances when these options won't work as well as driving.

It is not the fact that passenger cars exist, and available to common people, and are occasionally used, that is the problem. The fact that too many people have to few alternative options is a problem. If the alternatives exist, and too many people are still driving instead of using the alternatives, then we can look at strategies to nudge them in the direction of the alternatives.

So the only ways to get people to not buy/use cars are either a) to make sure they are too poor, or b) outlaw cars in one way or another and use the coercive power of the state to enforce the mandate.

Although there's always c) make public transit so convenient that loads of people use it instead of driving.

Certainly works for me when I visit Eastern Europe.

Certainly works for me when I visit Eastern Europe.

I'm assuming you would not advocate we live through fifty years of communist dictatorship :-)

I'm assuming you would not advocate we live through fifty years of communist dictatorship :-)

If it produced a world full of Czech women, I'd consider it.


(Yours isn't a totally facetious point, of course - it's no accident that the former-Communist-bloc countries have more extensive transit systems and lower car ownership than their western neighbours, and no accident that car ownership rates are rising despite the transit systems. Regardless of how they got there and whether they'll stay, though, the existing transit systems are enormously convenient, and make it vastly easier and more pleasant to spend time there without a car than in somewhere like Los Angeles.

That convenience won't stop everyone from getting cars, but it will shift the point at which it's worthwhile to get a car, as well as shifting the point at which it's worthwhile to drive. Combined with high gas prices, I'd expect comprehensive transit systems would make a significant difference in vehicle miles driven; consider the relative ridership of the subways in LA and London, for example.

For everyone, there are times when a car would be handy. It makes a difference, though, whether it's handy 99% of the time, or 90%, or even 50% or 10%, and the existence of a viable alternative will see people finding themselves in each group.)

For many, perhaps most, Americans, it is "Drive or Starve". This results in high VMT, a car for every adult capable of driving and often for teenagers as well.

OTOH, a married couple might keep a single car for convenience, or use a car-share if one operates in the area. And very low VMT.

Going from "Drive or Starve" to "Nice to Have One for Occasional Use" only drops the # of cars by half (or 2/3rds) but it devastates the VMT.

In the case of an oil supply emergency, occasional users can stretch a single tank of gas for several months or just do without entirely. The Drive or Starvers can led to social collapse without enough oil for their cars.

Will limited range EVs change thing for the Drive or Starvers ? Not as much as SS may think, given their patterns of use. EVs are likely a better fit with those living in TOD.


My point is that for all but a few fortunate Americans, we essentially have a unimodal transport system. The private passenger car is it, your one and only option. Even one's own feet are not an option if you want to stay alive in some places.

While there are some people that like this state of affairs just fine, there are plenty of other people (including lots of poor people who are too busy working at multiple minimum wage jobs to have the time or money to be able to post their comments on websites like this) for whom this state of affairs does not serve them well at all.

The trouble with unimodal transport systems is that when circumstances change to the point where that mode is no long economical or viable, then you are left with NO mode of transport. Lots of eggs, one basket.


Does familiarity breed contempt?

Far from it - Hungarian women are more attractive in my eyes than Czech. The same can be said for how of all the Eastern European countries I have visited, Hungary had by far and away the best food, with people who appreciated well done cuisine on its own merits.

The Czechs may have an edge in beer, but only there.

Maybe I dont like beer enough, but the one Czech beer I've had was the most bitter vile stuff I've ever tried to imbibe. Mind, some people like their beer that angry at them.

I can tell you from personal experience what the trade off is.
In the winter of 2005 I took the bus to work.
At the time I lived in the suburbs of Toronto and toronto has just about as bad a climate as you can get for discouraging you to stand at a bus-stop in winter.

Anyhoo... My commute was: rush out the front porch to the bus stop about 6.30, get there about 6.45. Bus arrives around 6.50. Get to oakville terminal around 7.05.
Bus to Erindale mall arrived around 7.15. Get off bus at intersection of Oakville and Mississauga Bus Routes at around 7.45. Catch mississauga bus for meadowvale mall around 8.15. Get off at meadowvale mall at around 8.45. Get last bus which dropped me off about a 300 yard walk from work at 9.15.

If I did the same commute in the car I would leave around 8.30 and be there by 9.15.

Now, here's the clincher: I'm probably more stubborn than most commuters in the sense that I was willing to spend chunks of time in -30C temperatures to wait on the bus to prove a point. The truth is, unless I was forced to by necessity (I couldn't afford gas) there's no way I would do this again.

About the maximum reasonable tolerance I would have is one change of bus.
I would be willing to drive partway to meet a bus with one change.

Would the vast majority be willing to do that instead of spend an hour in traffic?

Personally I doubt it: so though more and more people WILL take the bus out of necessity (they can't afford gas), I seriously doubt that people will do it willingly.

Sounds like they needed to run an express bus out to your area.

And that's the thing. It is not like urban bus lines are set in stone. They can change their schedules and routes. They can add more buses. They can respond to changing passenger demand.

Whether they WILL or not is a different, mostly political, question.

FF buses are, unfortunately, not the solution. A stopgap at best.

I was wondering if any of the planned/proposed TTC light rail lines would be coming close to either you or your work ?

Best Hopes for Non-Oil Transportation,


That may be the experience of many people that have ridden the bus system. It takes a long time with many transfers to get to where you are going. They really need to find a better way, if they want people to take the bus instead of the car.

I have concluded that the bus and light rail systems are mainly for people that do not drive. If that is the case, then they need to tell people this when they ask for money to build any of these.

They usually put the bond measure on the ballot talking about traffic congestion. It has been my experience that those programs do not seem to reduce congestion by any significant level to justify the costs.

I have concluded that the bus and light rail systems are mainly for people that do not drive

You are generally right about buses, but quite wrong about Urban Rail.

A single example, I saw New Orleans only billionaire several times on our streetcars.

On a statistically level, more people commute on public transit in DC than do in single occupancy cars. Most of those people have cars.


Building 4 billion more cars seems like something a doomed civilization might try. These cars remind me of the stone faces on Easter Island.

if we can build 4 billion cars that sounds like a civilization that isn't doomed.

Is there some analogy of Godwins law for peak oil/doomer/millinialist sites where all topics eventually compare civilization to easter island?

The Doomers do seem to love their Easter Island and their Olduvai Gorges.

my other favorites.

where are we going to get the materials/power and etc. for that?

will it scale? the answer of course is not a question it's a statement of no that won't work.

Is there some analogy of Godwins law for peak oil/doomer/millinialist sites where all topics eventually compare civilization to easter island?

Just keep pointing to the evidence that Easter Island didn't collapse?

There is now. It's called "Dezakin's Law". ;-)

The lithium availability problem may be partially solved by the development of the lithium nanowire battery, invented by researchers at Stanford.

The new version, developed through research led by Yi Cui, assistant professor of materials science and engineering, produces 10 times the amount of electricity of existing lithium-ion, known as Li-ion, batteries. A laptop that now runs on battery for two hours could operate for 20 hours, a boon to ocean-hopping business travelers.

"It's not a small improvement," Cui said. "It's a revolutionary development."

The greatly expanded storage capacity could make Li-ion batteries attractive to electric car manufacturers. Cui suggested that they could also be used in homes or offices to store electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.


If it becomes commercialized, it will help to make the batteries lighter/smaller, which is good. However, it has not impact on the amount of charge per lithium atom, so it doesn't make any difference with the ultimate lithium constraint.

Stuart wrote:

Now, if hydrogen cars were the only way to get around at a decent speed, people would find a way to get over these hurdles..

Who knows how competitive hydrogen will be in the end, but the workarounds aren't too mind-bending. The early adopters would be those organizations that run large fleets of vehicles locally in dense urban environments. Fleet owners have often used less-than-standard vehicle fuels for some time (natural gas and propane).

These organizations are large enough that investing in hydrogen storage and even production facilities doesn't seem a huge stretch especially if (as is often envisioned) hydrogen production on a local smaller scale becomes feasible.

Still a hurdle, though.

who says we're going to use lithium batteries?

Population: The global population is able to grow and go through its demographic transition with death rates continuing to go down. No die-offs.

I think that Staniford's "Four Billion Cars in 2050?" may be one of the most deluded pieces of writing ever posted on this site, and the above blockquote culled from the feverish mess is the most obvious canard.

There is no need to go point by point in order to defeat this overwrought love song to technology.

All one needs to recognize is that time does not stop in the year 2050.

Let's say that we achieve all of these goals. Let's say that we even are able to somehow overcome all of the resource restraints, of which there are many, and we get where this piece wants us to go.

Then what?

We now have more people. More people who are still using earth-destroying tech, whose very numbers rely upon that earth-destroying tech.

Are we going to then ask them to give up that tech when the finite qualities of living on a sphere suddenly become evident? Ooops! Sorry. We didn't think about that simple fact? We forgot to add in that variable? We didn't see the freaking OBVIOUS? We thought we'd be able to gin up some other technological "Hail Mary" that would allow us to grow EVEN MORE?

Which one of you technophiles will then go before the world and explain, hat in hand, "Well, we are very sorry to announce that we have frittered away what were once relatively abundant resources in order to satisfy our egotistical dreams of a Star Trek future. Those resources which could have been used forty years ago to guide the planet to true sustainability, are gone. We have single-handedly engineered the greatest unnecessary loss of life in the history of this planet. Can you ever forgive us?"

A little reminder of the key concept that even the self-lauding and self-promoting people on this site seem to forget in their haste to kiss technology's arse:

Dr. Albert Bartlett: Arithmetic, Population and Energy: The retired Professor of Physics from the University of Colorado in Boulder examines the arithmetic of steady growth, continued over modest periods of time, in a finite environment. These concepts are applied to populations and to fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal.

Then what?

I think that if there's any sentence that puts off blatantly an obsessed mind for the holocaust, this is it. Whenever someone comes with a rationale that puts off many fears, the obsessed always comes back, always asks "and then what?" back, as if that is some kind of an argument. It is an argument, alright, but one out of despair. It is so blatantly frequent that I have an advice for all of you doomers:

Stop it. It ain't smart.

It reminds me one that many christian zealots also do, when confronted with the setbacks that science inflicts on their superstitions. Whenever a scientist unlocks certain until-then mysteries, it makes God retreat ever so unto the holes of the "so-far undiscovered things".

"And then what?" asks the retreated zealot, as if the ignorance of scientists is proof enough that God exists. In here, ignorance of what would happen (in a scenario!) beyond 2050 is treated as an evidence that we will rot in a burnt planet.

Curiously enough, the parallels don't stop here. The never-ending paternalism that we are conceded by our priests in "do-nothing, ask nothing, believe the bible, science is evil" camp, always demonizing what the society "has become", also lurk in here. The do-nothing chorus is repeated ad nauseum, as if a life of boredom and nothing new under the sun is a thing to desire.

A world with a stopped clock. Just people giving birth to more people. Why should we have stupid dreams of "star treks" and the likes? Why do we keep on stubburningly hope to achieve a better society, to constantly "build" new things, discover new realities? Why oh why should we have ever built the internet, so we could have a conversation thousand miles apart, and be aware of a pending world problem?

Why should we dream of going into the stars? Why? Isn't a life of eternal quietness dumber than a sudden blimp of courage, intelligence and brilliancy, even if it only happens in a brief timespan? Even if we die trying so? Isn't that what life stands for? For More, not less?

What should we tell our kids then, "Oh, I'm sorry that I've wasted not all but some of your resources just, you know, to dwell around, make some steaks, laugh a bit with pals, you know, nothing really important, but I guess we used a little less energy so you can perpetuate this type of life forever. I'm fortunate to tell you we didn't die trying to conquer the stars, to shine more than our ancestors and to work hard and harder to understand this world we live on. It would be a waste of time-space."

How inspiring that world would be!

The day any of you people successfully rebut Dr. Bartlett's talk on exponential growth, I will shut up.

Unfortunately, for those weirdly physics-challenged people who claim to be "geeks,' that would be impossible.

Physics doesn't care if you go after the messenger who merely states PHYSICAL FACTS.

Refute Bartlett, then we can talk. Otherwise, your arguments mean zero, zilch, nada.

For a bunch of people who clutch the cloak (or should I say diaper?)of science to their holy selves, and who say, "Splutter, splutter, YOU can't say that!! You don't hold the royal science scepter of infallible geekhood!!," you all seem to have a tenuous understanding of basic physics at best.

Again, refute Bartlett. Then we can talk.

As to the maroons who infallibly say, "Okay, Mr. Anti-Tech Guy, quit using tech." Lol. We swim in a sea of tech. In fact that is the ENTIRE FREAKING POINT YOU CREDULOUS BOOB!!!!!!!! AAARRRRGGGGHHHH!!!

We cannot live without it. The population of the planet could no sooner go out and start hunting and gathering as the main source of calories than you could learn the basic precepts of exponential growth. What happens when the resources run out????!!?!?!?!? WHAT? WE DESTROYED THE DAMNED PLANET!!!!! There are no wild places left. No clear, clean streams, no truly complex ecosystems, no unfouled air, no fish in the ocean. You guys have succeeded!! Weeeeeeee!!! Look, Ma!!! We killed the planet!!! Let them eat tech.

What then? That is a valid question. In fact, it is the A NUMBER ONE question. To say that that is a bad question is to essentially admit you cannot think. That you are incapable of rational thought. That is what all advanced planning is based on!! Then what?

If we did not worry about the effects of our actions, we would be haplessly firing off guns in crowded elementary schools and such.

I reassert my original statement: In summary, you guys are increasing the number of people who will suffer unnecessary deaths and the likelihood that it will happen all in the name of your egos.

You do not care to look into a de-technologizing path because it goes against your manly instincts to "fix things" with cool shiny tech. I am sorry that the one simple truth as so eloquently stated by Dr. Bartlett interferes in your juvenile fantasies, but it does.

Utopia is not what I am looking for. Only reality. It is the techno-fetishists who seek TechnoTopia® not I. Reality is the simple underlying ground upon which you stand and fantasize.

"Smart Growth" is an oxymoron.

Exponential growth is a death sentence.

You misunderstood my argument. I'm not trying to shut you up, you're completely entitled to your ridiculous viewpoint of the world and to express them. Shill out. I also don't need to refute Bartlett when he says trivialities about exponential growth. I accept those very well. You're the one who seems to have seen the Holy Grail in your fifties of age or something. I deal with this math stuff since I'm 4.

The population of the planet could no sooner go out and start hunting and gathering as the main source of calories than you could learn the basic precepts of exponential growth. What happens when the resources run out?

Again shill out and stop pretending to know what I don't. To ask if a resource is really running out and to ponder alternatives and options is the rational method, whereas your method seems to be despair about it, obssessing about it, cheering up every bad news that glorifies your world view, indignating whenever a solution is proposed, reeling about when the world will be nigh. And then an entire lifespan has passed and you did zilch, nada, as you like to say. The rest of us are the ones who have really to ponder what to do, how to solve things, how to fix things and in the meantime to listen to the noise garbage you still manage to defecate.

What then? That is a valid question. In fact, it is the A NUMBER ONE question. To say that that is a bad question is to essentially admit you cannot think. That you are incapable of rational thought. That is what all advanced planning is based on!! Then what?

I agree that it is a valid question, but then you have to be serious about it and study it. Just because exponential growth is limited to a finite planet doesn't mean that all human activity is afected by it. Human pop is growing less faster every day. It will reach 9 billion probably "and then what?" it will stagnate and probably even fall slightly, as in the first world countries. Not all is bound by simplistic exponential curves, despite all of your presumptuous speech.

I reassert my original statement: In summary, you guys are increasing the number of people who will suffer unnecessary deaths and the likelihood that it will happen all in the name of your egos

I'm sorry, but I am not. I never bought into a consumer-frenzy lifestyle, nor am I forcing anyone to buy SUVs, McMansions and use them. People are free, I am afraid. And the prospects that are in this scenario aren't "proposed", as far as I can tell, they are previewed. Forecasted. Are you going to blame the weather forecast for the heavy rain? That's stupid.

Utopia is not what I am looking for. Only reality. It is the techno-fetishists who seek TechnoTopia® not I.

And nobody forces you onto it, and that's the truth. Abandon it. There are extraordinary examples of communities that don't follow BAU, you only have to find them and be a part of them. On the reverse of the medal, you aparently are the one who's trying to force unto us your pol-pot philosophy. Good luck with that.

Exponential growth is a death sentence.

And stagnation is a life sentence of boredom and totalitarianism (how in other way would you force people not to dream and build things?).

Or, put it other way, Isn't death and taxes the only certainties of life?

PS: Bob Cousins, that's friggin hillarious!

The day any of you people successfully rebut Dr. Bartlett's talk on exponential growth, I will shut up.

Why would I rebut a strawman?


You are hereby ordered to stop using technology. Technology is destroying the planet. Shut down your computer, and move away from the keyboard. Compliance will be enforced using the full powers of the International Organization of Engineers and Other Geeks. We will...

"Er, guys what powers do we have?"
"Not much boss, no ever listens to us"
"Can't we send round the Engineer Police?"
"Dude, we don't have any Engineer Police!"
"Erm, can we send a nasty virus?"
"Well.. that gets us into real trouble with the feds"
"Sheesh, the best we can do is a sternly worded email?"

OK, never mind what we will do. We'll think of something. Anyway, please stop using the tech. I know we invented it coz we though it was cool, but we made a big mistake, 'k? So I know you will understand. Anything invented after 1903 (e.g crayons) is bad. Possibly even earlier. To be safe, don't use anything invented after 1600 (e.g. flush toilets - just throw your crap on the street). We are not sure about the wheel either, we'll get back to you on that.




Warning: this communication must not be read nor transmitted using techology (it's that bad). Internet routers should memorize it word for word (NO pencils!), then walk (barefoot of course) to the next router, and repeat it verbally.


Hey doomers, someone somewhere is using computer technology to solve the world's energy problems.

You don't understand the concept. Things get better after 2050. Promise. About 2075 cars will fold up into your briefcase, you don't need parking, just put it by your desk. (For blue collar types there will be lunch pail foldups.) We won't need roads or asphalt because we won't be on wheels. Cars will run through the meadow on little cat feet.
"All God's gentle creatures will drink from warm seas of pink lemonade."

I feel less threatened by those who believe in some technical Utopia than by those who earnestly desire the most boring imaginable Utopia.
If I gotta suffer on a planet with 4 billion cars can I at least have a George Barris Kustom P3 Ferrari?

We didn't see the freaking OBVIOUS? We thought we'd be able to gin up some other technological "Hail Mary" that would allow us to grow EVEN MORE?

Apparently you didn't see the obvious, which was that the world's population is projected to stabilize and slowly decline all on its own, just as it's already doing in most of the developed world. See, for example, here, or just go read up on the UN population projections.

Basically, all of your ranting is predicated on the assumption that population is going to keep on growing endlessly, and the available evidence suggests that assumption is false.

Pitt: Re your link, it is hard to take "researchers" seriously when they haven't figured out that global life expectancy is currently lower than 11 years ago. Their vision of an entire planet eventually becoming like Western Europe is idiotic in the extreme.

The reason they haven't "figured out that global life expectancy is currently lower than 11 years ago" is because it isn't true as you could have determined for yourself with two minutes work.
The only place it's been dropping over the last decade is sub-saharan Africa (primarily due to AIDS).

Stuart: As per CIA Factbook, current ave is 65.82. As per link, 97-98 ave was 66 yrs. Without disparaging your Wikipedia bible, I think we can agree that after climbing for decades, global life expectancy has flatlined (I say slightly declined). Note from the WHO of 1998 that they predict a global life expectancy of 73 yrs in 2025 which would imply 68.6 years in 2008 (a target not reached)

You're mixing sources that are probably using different methodologies. If you stick to the CIA Factbook, say, they said 63 in 1998 and 65.82 now.

Stuart: It is my understanding that the number can be arrived at using different methodologies yet there is an actual accurate, correct number that exists under the definition. Which means: life expectancy in 1998 might have been 63 or 66, now it might be 65.82 or 67 (Wiki). It might have increased or decreased over the last 10 years. This is a departure from the trend of the previous decades, IMO. The article I criticised painted a very benign picture of world population trends, IMO-lowering birth rates with a rising life expectancy.I don't see the evidence to support this-and I don't agree with your logic that taking two minutes to check Wikipedia proves one's point absolutely.

Watch out for statistics - you can get burnt! ;-)

As others have pointed out here, your figures appear to be in error.

But even supposing that they were correct, you can get blips in statistics which still do not counter a trend.

Suppose, for instance, that you have a part of the global population which has a very long life expectancy, and that population is static or decreasing and their life expectancy is slowly rising.

Suppose you have another part of the population which has a lower life expectancy, and the numbers of them are rising rapidly and their life expectancy slowly rises.

Let's put some numbers on it - you start off with two people, one with a life expectancy of 90, the other with a life expectancy of 30, so you add them together and divide by two to come out with an average life expectancy of 60.

Now the life expectancy of the population with the high life expectancy goes up to 95, and the expectancy of the lower part climbs to 35, whilst the population of the first stays at 1 and the population of the second doubles.

We now have 95+35+35/3 = 55!!

So everyone is living longer, but the average life expectancy has dropped!

Of course, these are very artificial figures, but similar bear-traps abound in statistics, so it is usually better to take a longer term view, and in this case it is clear that for over a century life expectancies have been rising globally, and, aids apart, that shows no signs of stopping.

Dave: I am aware that the reason global life expectancy has peaked and will soon decline materially is because the countries with the lower life expectancies are growing their populations faster. IMO we haven't seen nothing yet but I could be wrong-we shall see.

You are wrong. World life expectancy has not declined.
There have been some declines in parts of Africa due to aids, but not enough to cause reductions in world life expectancies.
United Nations Population Division Home Page

As SS pointed out, your problem is that you're taking numbers from two different sources and then complaining that a third source hasn't "figured out"...something.

It's not clear what your argument is here, but it doesn't really matter, since it's wrong anyway.

Taking numbers from the same source, such as the UNFPA State of World Population reports in 2000 and 2007 shows that world life expectancy has increased for both men and women. (Note: I used 2000 as the starting year simply because it was the first year with that info.)

Their vision of an entire planet eventually becoming like Western Europe is idiotic in the extreme.

Not that that's exactly what they're suggesting is going to happen, but why do you say that? Based on what evidence do you make that assertion? "Because your gut says so" is not, as it turns out, a compelling argument.

Again, poor reasoning on the part of the hoi polloi here on TOD.

The problem is that the population is already 6 billion too many, and it got that way because of fossil sunlight.

In other words, no fossil sunlight, no 6 billion.

I have never said the population will grow forever. I have always said that that is impossible.

Basic reading and comprehension skills on this site would go a long way to avoid the waste of time and electrons that posts like yours represent.

The problem is that the population is already 6 billion too many

And your evidence for that is?

I have never said the population will grow forever.

Of course; I was using hyperbole to illustrate the problems with your argument, which very clearly assumed vastly more growth than serious demographers expect we'll ever see.

And, yes, what you wrote was talking about enormous amounts of growth, what with your ranting about "the finite qualities of living on a sphere", pimping a talk that uses the spectre of rampant exponential growth, and the like. Maybe you didn't intend for what you wrote to talk about growth far in excess of what evidence suggests we'll see, but it did.

The day any of you people successfully rebut Dr. Bartlett's talk on exponential growth, I will shut up.

World population stopped growing exponentially over 20 years ago.

All of Dr. Bartlett's examples built on the assumption of exponential population growth are irrelevant at best and misleading at worst, since world population growth is not exponential, and hasn't been for decades. At this point, people who talk about "exponential growth" and "population" are almost certainly either clueless or misrepresenting the facts to push an agenda.

I never thought that to grow "exponentially" meant that, e.g., population had to continue to expand at an increasing rate. I don't think anyone here can argue that world population grew near 2.0% per annum a few decades ago and it's about 1.1% now. Time will tell where we go from here, but growing at any percentage is still exponential.

For the more optimistic, growing exponentially at a decreasing rate may be good enough. For the doomers, not at all.

Hypothesis: Nanonano is dumb as hell.


Take a linear progression. 1,2,3,4,5.

If you make an assumption that in the number 2, "one" has been added to 1, making 2, that's a 100% increase. Next number, "3", is 2 plus 1, which is a 50% increase. Next, it'll be a 33%, etc. That's a decreasing incremental population.

Only a retard dumb would call it an exponential function.

By Nanonano standards, it is an exponential function.

Therefore, Nanonano is dumb as hell.


And what is it that has slowed population growth? Development.

6 billion maybe wouldn't be too many if ALL of us lived <$500-1000 per capita GDP lifestyles.

Apparently you didn't see the obvious, which was that the world's population is projected to stabilize and slowly decline all on its own, just as it's already doing in most of the developed world. See, for example, here, or just go read up on the UN population projections.

Unfortunatly a decrease in population growth is accompanied with a massive increase in consumption.

So yes, as developing nation industrialize their pop growth slows. Too bad they start consuming like industrialized nations at the same time.

Diamond talks about that here
"The population especially of the developing world is growing, and some people remain fixated on this. They note that populations of countries like Kenya are growing rapidly, and they say that’s a big problem. Yes, it is a problem for Kenya’s more than 30 million people, but it’s not a burden on the whole world, because Kenyans consume so little. (Their relative per capita rate is 1.) A real problem for the world is that each of us 300 million Americans consumes as much as 32 Kenyans. With 10 times the population, the United States consumes 320 times more resources than Kenya does."

Cherenkov -

I profoundly fail to understand how this point is not obvious. Can anyone argue that degradation of most everything is trending on? If we manage to continue until 2050. what won't be much worse in regards to degree of degradation? Can anyone here reasonably argue that biodiversity will be greater? That less habitat will be destroyed? That there will be more of ANY natural good?

A misconception of overshoot is that not only are we beyond carrying capacity, but that every day we degrade the current and future carrying capacity. So it's getting worse on both ends.

Think about today's technology: how much of it is simply allowing us to utilize diminishing amounts of natural abundance? Agricultural 'advances'? - how to grow food in a more f-ed up environment. Seen this way, technology is making, ultimately, things worse.

So to repeat: We make it to 2050, somehow, then what? Everything is worse - what's not to see about that? Isn't it clear?

Also: Global population today carries major momentum, even a drastic reduction in birth rate will NOT prevent population from climbing by billions more.

Don't count lead acid batteries out for ev's. Most of them are currently recycled when depleted. In addition there's new technology being applied by the likes of Firefly Energy with its sponge graphite electrode which doubles the life and the Aussies with their Ultrabattery which marries lead acid with the ultra capacitor.

you might keep the hypothesis "no die-off",
but it seems really incompatible with 4 billions cars
so if you try to find a plausible scenario, you'd better explore what Cuba has achieved
in the last ten years
and try to extrapolate from their numbers (even for the US)
they provide a living example that a drastic reduction in resources
does not automatically lead to fatal collapse.

All you Doomers, avert thine eyes.

Trillions turn green
Investment dollars flow to climate change, clean tech
By Thomas Kostigen, MarketWatch

SANTA MONICA, Calif. (MarketWatch) -- Institutional investors are committing billions of dollars to investments in climate change and are embarking on a bold new action plan to raise the profile of energy efficiency and clean technologies around the world.

These billions of dollars are to be understood as being distinct from the trillions of dollars flowing to maintaining BAU.

"Trillions turn green"

did you see that article title?


I'm beginning to like these 'can-do' posts of yours. Of course there is always the possibility that we won't get there in terms of sheer numbers due to costs rapidly escalating for commodities, etc.

I would urge you to take a look at the possibilities enabled by OTEC (Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion). Lithium is one of the potential by-products. The creation of Hydrogen -that might be transported as Ammonia- another. The mass production of potable drinking water and aquaculture 'products' yet another important product -as well as Energy of course.

This short .pdf should give you a flavour for this:

-I think that potentially this technology has legs due to the holistic possibilites of its outputs to tackle mulitple pressing needs of mankinds future and -perhaps more importantly- could be a new extension to the lifespan of 'Big Oil' should it wish to employ its deep-sea rigs and end-to-end delivery infrastructure. Of course to ramp up from where we are would take a heroic effort that simply may not materialise

Regards, Nick.


I appreciate the realistic observation in your article, "Now, if hydrogen cars were the only way to get around at a decent speed, people would find a way to get over these hurdles (after all, cars succeeded in displacing horses)." This is true of any option. Stongly discounting the possibility that we will change everything to enable us to live and work next to train stations, and the number of these is such that we can move at a "decent speed", we will drive.

There is a real way to get to 2050 in good shape, but first we have to identify some very wrong answers that cloud the picture.

There is some very serious misinformation and wishful thinking about electric cars and plug-in hybrids. Many people are confused about the equivalence between BTU and kWHr. The equivalence between heat energy and electrical energy is subject to the effect of a heat engine when converting heat into electricity. This fundamental fact means that for every BTU of heat energy that gets converted into electrical energy, about two BTU of heat is thrown away. A rigorous analysis is presented at using fully referenced US EIA data. While there are ways to use electrical equipment to make cars more efficient, the efficiency benefit is far less than might be expected.

The Miastrada is a car concept that is based on the idea that people will find ways to continue driving at a decent speed. By enabling high speed driving, yet traveling about 200 MPG, the whold premise of your analysis changes. The fact that very little infrastructure change is needed makes this a real way to get us to 2050. Conventional cars will need to be replaced, better sooner than later, but this can realistically be done as existing cars wear out.

The only difficulty is changing the way people think about cars. To do this we have to overcome the notion that cars should look the way the Detroit fashion industry has taught us they should look. We also need to overcome the notion that riding in cars is a social event that requires side by side seating.

Unfortunately, cars didn't displace horses. Horses were just cut loose and motors were put in the carriages. The Miastrada is more like riding the horse. It is far more appropriate for personal transportation. Putting engines in carriages was an obvious development. See for a real innovation. (No goods or services are for sale at this website. However, I have an interest in Miastrada Corp.)

Those that understand that putting an engine in a wheeled vehicle was an obvious thing to do, the Miastrada is the only car that has been invented in automotive history.

For nuclear power at any rate the BTU's dissapated as heat are already accounted for in the power ratings of the stations, and the cost of the electricity to run a car would remain trivial compared to petrol.

You raise an interesting point though, as although solar power is currently more expensive than fossil fuel power, it seems possible that at least in sunny regions it would already come in below the cost of petrol per mile driven.

It is battery costs which currently put the cost up.

I don't really think we are going to be riding around on your car-horse!

Hey, what's going on with all this cornucopia stuff anyway? I come to TOD for proof why we are all doomed, with charts and numbers and stuff. I don't want to be told we can carry on doing more of the same. I'll have wasted all my time for nothing!

Seriously, you promised me a collapse. I'll be really disappointed if there isn't one. Please Bob, give me a fix of your Zimbabwe stuff, I needs it, plz.

I suggest you go view Dr. Bartlett's video on exponential growth.

It looks like you need a refresher course in basic physics. (Not a good idea to drop out of High School, Bob.)

Not doom, just physics.

Teaching Geeks Reality For Over Forty Years

You're definitely on a roll today :-)



I do appreciate that you work very hard at this and all of it volunteer work. Kudos. I just wish you would spend that time working towards a sustainable future instead of perpetuating the problem. My frustration lies with so-called "engineers, scientists, and other intellectuals" who are apparently unaware of many basic physical facts.

Sigh. Yes, I get frustrated, and yes, I go a bit nutz, but that is a small price to pay to remind people that growth is finite in any finite system.

My attacks on you are intended to shake you and many here up. I will keep doing so until someone here can refute the basic laws of physics. (I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.)

So, all anyone has to do is refute Dr. Bartlett's presentation on exponential growth, and I can go back to growing amaranth and raising rabbits.


Cherenkov Rad

You are fighting a straw man.

No one here would seek to argue that exponential growth continues forever.

The really interesting point is: 'when does it stop?'

Stuart's post seeks to show that for many things like economic growth and car use the answer is: 'not yet'

So to properly argue against that you would have to show that the answer is now, or nowabouts, not to show that exponential growth will not go on forever.
Nothing has been demonstrated to the effect that a slowly declining world population of around 10bn, with a very high standard of living, possibly pretty static by that stage, but much, much higher than the current world average is impossible.

Sorry to spoil your ego, but Stuart was responding To Bob Cousin, not you.


I don't know, for me sci-fi was fascinating at a certain age and mostly it is useful as a sort of philosophical stage, like a modern western or knights in shining armour to try out our funny ideas of how the future should turn out in a perfect world of one's own making. I suppose in 1900 or whenever people wrote some pretty crazy stuff but never foresaw waht really happened with oil and cars and suburbia and computers and internet and ecological problems and 6-10 billion people. If you put together all your scenarios that you are supposeldly bundling on your PC over the months, which are fairly unrealistic and unmanageable individually, Stuart, into a big scenario sometime later then you will have to throw everything away anyway so I don't see the point.

I am presuming ELM and the electric grid problems, as in Pakistan, China, and South Africa amontg other countries will kill things short in several years or more in USA, Japan and Europe (coal shortages, NG shortages) and cause lots of rationing and a global recession of long duration in the coming years and that coming out of it to resume a high growth free market economy will not be a real serious option due to ecological damage and low quality reosurces with low quality energy (low EROEI) left.

I mean if you really believe maybe your dreams will come true. It's a noble effort of course for an idealistic free market capitalistic materialist but terribly misguided in view of the "rights" of the other speices, like say trees and plants and various mammal and other species on earth. To call that sentiment semi-religious (Gaia,etc) or unrealistic as "people will vote with their wallets and kill off the planet in a free market economy so why bother to talk such nonsense" is also a moral decision of yours.

I am just not a technologist. Biology is the highest technology in my eyes and cannot really be improved upon all that much. Look at the foot for example, a highly developed transport mechnism developed over millions of years by trial and error. Amazing piece of work. Wind tunnel that. We put on a mocassin too avoid cuts but what else do we need?

In this way we can live sustainably for thousands of generations in harmony with the planet we are an organic part of, breathing fresh air, fishing and hunting/farming sustainably, dying when our time is come and going to our maker in peace of mind, knowing we have not damged his/her creation more than when we arrived and that we have left something beautiful for our children.

So how do you plan to feed 9 billion people? And how do you plan to persuade them all to accept being poor?

And how do you plan to persuade them all to accept being poor?


The most specious argument on the planet.

First of all, what do you mean by poor? There is this wonderfully egotistical belief that "poor" people around the world do nothing but pine away for our "superior" lifestyle. (Not to mention that there is a serious argument that our lifestyle actually promotes happiness.)

The truth is hunter gatherers, who many on this site would look at with abject pity as "suffering" extreme poverty, are happy. They are just fine.

Most suffering among the "poor" comes from the environmental and social degradation and deterioration caused by the technological elites. In order for there to be a bunch of us (yes, I include myself, sputterers) technological elite, there must be an enormous passel of "poor" people. Since we externalize the costs, the environmental, social, and economic costs, these horrible externalities must land somewhere and you can be sure the won't land in good ole up-standing holier than thou techno-bourgeois land.

No. The trick is not to worry about how billions of "poor" people who have never participated in the techno-fantasy will react when we finally deign to tell them that they are missing out. No. The problem will come when the reality of a finite world tells you and your SUV driving, tech-worshipping, ain't we got tech crowd that the party is over. That no amount of wishful thinking, or reordering the thermodynamic deck chairs on the Titanic will keep your fat butts in the techno-fantasy massage parlor/casino of free and easy living.

No. I would be worried for the rich -- the elite of the world, the middle class, the engineers, managers, and cubicle monkeys. You need to look out for all those NASCAR mokes out there in American fantasy land who hate the elites, who resent to no end you and your superiority complex. When the go juice goes away, look out. They are armed, they will be angry, and they were not educated with a liberal philosophy that would require them to be nice to all of you. You see, these vicious people grew up suckling at the teat of the Reagan/NeoCon hate machine. These are proto-fascists, waiting for the right trigger to start an immense coast to coast riot that will leave the world quaking. They are heavily armed. (I know some of you troglodytes are a hankering for some "action" and believe me, I can't wait to see you go toe to toe with Joe Sixpack. Nothing says ouch like the sudden cold realization of thirty years of easy engineer living in suburbia suddenly tangling with down and out, always scratching for a living, in and out of jail Joe Sixpack. I wait with glee!)

No. Your basic ideas are all backass ackwards.

The truth is hunter gatherers, who many on this site would look at with abject pity as "suffering" extreme poverty, are happy. They are just fine.

I would agree that H-Gs did not generally live in a state of abject misery.

But the ethnographies I've read certainly don't paint a picture of consistent happiness. Instead, there were on occasion feuds over women (that could and did turn lethal), deep anxieties about dividing up kills fairly, bitter complaints about perceived unfairness that could be raised years after the event, partial marginalization of the handicapped, fear of hunger and neglect by others.

You may want to take a look at this recent book:

It's a great book about people who (when Europeans first observed them) were far from miserable. However, the author documents scenes we would recognize. Like a mother-in-law bitterly hectoring her son-in-law for 2 hours straight on how she believed he had no intention of providing for her, a handicapped man who fell from his crutches and was laughed at by the rest of the band (making no effort to assist him). There was also the case of an elderly man with no kin. On a journey he was allowed to fall behind and was devoured by lions. (There was much soul searching after that event, but it occurred nonetheless).

Richard B. Lee's famous ethnography of the San bushmen similarly doesn't portray a blissful culture. They were definitely not non-violent. He describe them generally as a people of "malice and humour". And, very interestingly, he describes the case of a young bushman who hated the privations and dangers of the bush and was very eager to accompany Lee on a trip to a larger center.

The Adam-and-Eve-in-the-Garden view of hunters and gatherers doesn't hold up to scrutiny. They may well have been, in many cases, "The Original Affluent Society", but like modern affluent people frequently lived lives that were far from consistently happy.

I quess we'll all be having upper class pate?

Unfortunately many of them won't know what to do when the go juice and the food stop rolling in. I think they'll destroy each other first, and the desperate will do the bidding of anyone who has the go juice and food. In otherwords, if it happens like that it won't be as organized as you think. It will be chaotic.

looters attacking looters, that sort of thing. eventually there will be organization, but by then things will be plentiful again, relatively speaking, and some modicum of order will return.

And how do you plan to persuade them all to accept being poor?

Consider the US Great Depression. 25% of the working population had no jobs. Another 50% had jobs, but were just hanging on by their fingernails. The remaining 25% were OK, but were nevertheless in belt tightening mode. Hardly anyone was doing well, almost everyone was doing worse than they had been. If you asked people, a very great percentage would say that they were "poor" - or at least "poorer" than they were.

How were they persuaded to accept being poor? There was no persuasion involved at all, other than the cold hard persuasion of reality.

Now I will admit, one would not have been able to successfully persuade people that this was now the natural and permanent state of affairs to which they must adjust themselves from here on out. People knew that this was an abnormal situation, and that something could be and must be done. This next time around, however, will be different. This time, decline and poverty WILL be the natural and permanent state of affairs. It will take a very long time to persuade people of the truth of that reality to the point where they accept it. To a large extent, though, it will simply take care of itself. As the economy continues to decline year after year, more and more people will have to adjust themselves to the reality. Adjustments that they initially thought were just going to be temporary keep on going on year after year, and they gradually become used to this being the normal condition of their lives. People may never give up hope of a turnaround, but eventually their lives end, and they are replaced by younger generations that never have known anything but their new, permanent decreased circumstances. As far as their lives are concerned, this will be "normal". The stories and histories and artifacts of the more affluent past might be sources of interest or resentment, but they will cease to become relevant to people as they get on with the business of living their lives.

This time, decline and poverty WILL be the natural and permanent state of affairs.

That assertion needs to be supported with evidence. No one has proved that the world has an energy shortage. There is just a shortage of conventional types, which will run out soon. Stuart and others have described plausible scenarios where we switch to an alternative energy infrastructure and poverty does not become the natural and permanent state. You can not just will these scenarios out of existence.

It is not just energy, it is also minerals and ocean fisheries and land with its agricultural productivity. Ultimately, we will have to live within the means that a renewable resource base can supply - a renewable resource base that in some cases (ocean fisheries, for example) are becoming considerably and permanently degraded. As for energy, yes, there is enough sunlight falling on the earth's surface and enough wind blowing around and enough ocean currents flowing around and enough heat below the earth's crust to provide us with unimaginable amounts of energy. However, all of that requires minerals to build the equipment to harvest that energy, and all of that construction requires megabucks of capital. This raises the question: How much capital investment can the world really generate? And maybe a question that is more to the point: Why aren't investments of the magnitude needed already being made? For one thing that is very clear, there is no way that renewables are even going to replace the energy supplies lost to FF depletion at present rates of investment.

Why aren't investments of the magnitude needed already being made?

Because the magnitude and nature of the problem are not widely understood.

there is no way that renewables are even going to replace the energy supplies lost to FF depletion at present rates of investment

Agreed. But mankind is capable of mobilizing if the nature of the threat is understood. The US spent 38% of GDP on the war effort in 1944. Today that would be about $6 trillion. That would be enough to buy enough nuclear reactors to supply more than 100% of all current US primary energy. I am not saying that we could build them that fast but we could finance them in one year. If we mobilize. The oil industry is planning to spend something like $15 trillion over the next 20 years or so. And all that will do is slow the decline.

Renewables will be an important part of a solution but not as big as nuclear, in my opinion.

I believe we are straining agricultural production, and ethanol sure does not help, but I do not think we are at the breaking point in the developed world. I am concerned about the developing world, especially Africa, with their high growth rates and poor agricultural potential. I agree that ocean fisheries are in big trouble. We may lose our wild fisheries and have to rely more on aquaculture.

How would you feed 9 billion people And how do oyu plan to persuade them all to accept being poor?

Your statement shows some basic conceptual problems.

1) linearity - similar to previous climatic predictions of the IPCC, UNO population projections, and deficit projecitons for the USA till 2100 you presume a stable linear system. In all hstorical concepts no political stability and linear growth can be presumed for such a time period. Given global warmign and PO/Peak FFs it is highly unlikely that the population will continue growing after the fossil fuel and food surpluses disappear. More likely is that a political crisis of global proportion will start like WWI in say Pakistan or Taiwan,etc. drawing USA/Nato and Russia in and ending after many in billions of deaths. Barring this worst case, then simple famine due to low water tables/lack of glacier melt and diesel fuel to pump out water along with unstable weather, heat waves reducing crop yields guarantees shortages and megadeaths. There will therefore never be 9 billion people on the earth.

2) Let us say we suspend disbelief for a moment and that there will be 9 billion people at some future point in time. Again you are presuming that some central authority (the global community) has the responsibility of feeding this mass of people. Presuming that national governments exist in similar form to the present (India, Poland, Uruguay) we might presume foresight to store local grain surpluses in good years for the local population so that in bad years there will be food. However the current global trading system, diue to lack of FFs should collapse, along with food surpluses and the willingness to share any such surpluses so that there is no global community concerned about what happens in central Africa, India, or somewhere in Uzbekistan or China or anywhere else when reports of famine crop up. Due to fuel and food shortages there will be neither way nor will to fix the problem. Charity begins at home.

3) Your last statement of maintaining wealth of the population just flows from the previous presumption of a linearity of the globalized market economy situation for which somebody has the responsibility to do something. Now the globalization theory propagated since the 1980s for East Asia/Eastern Europe and arguably since the War for Japan/Western Europe states that if global growth continues along with a reduction of trade barriers and the free flow of capital, travel and services then a rising tide will lift all boats. The juice that grows system since its beginning even back to the first globalization with the expansion from Europe was fuel, be it North American forests till 1850s and European trees to build the Armada, British sailing ships (and Chinese if you believe the book 1421) and then coal,oil and NG and now last of all ethanol, the cat eating its tail. Without Chinese coal free trade and globalization would have been much less during the last decade. The offloading of production (and pollution) can only reduce costs so much. Eventually people must eat and desire a better life. Even if fuel continues eventually, as I have said in a much earlier post, the Chinese, etc. must want to keep their manufactured products for themselves(ELM for manufacturing) once the growth of annual coal production stops. If they have only sufficient goods for themselves to maintain their ever rising standard of living less and less will be exported. This flows from basic ELM theory and the depletion of coal reserves upon which manufacturing production is based. The global goods trade and with it the finance architecture will therefore break down just as the global trade in FFs will break down. Thoes who have will keep for themselves what they have. Food for fuel/goods will be trade between USA/China/Arabs. Ipods and Tata Nanos will be superfluous in the coming decades. Fuel(coal, NG) will be used for fertilizer production and heating. What is left will not be wasted to maintain exponential growth. We see the current coal shortages and blackouts across the world, hitting manufacturing in Pakistan and mining in South Africa. This will only spread. IMF debts will go unpaid and the post war international finacial architecture will vanish as it is based on the fiction of exponential growth. This fictonal belief has led to the growth of derivatives on the financial markets in western nations to the tune of hundreds of trillionsof USD, many times the global GDP for speculation on GM stock for instance, which is almost bankrupt.

So your concept shows lack of simple foresight and depth and commonsense. We cannot plan for something that cannot occur. The current system and its trajectory cannot be saved. Population growth, trade and consumption growth are in overshoot based on excessive Chinese coal production and Arab/Russian oil and must fall. A graceful collapse is the best that could conceivably be managed.

galactic- don't forget about the land shortage all the realtors told us about in 2005.

Whatever. Can you put some numbers on that?

I am just not a technologist. Biology is the highest technology in my eyes and cannot really be improved upon all that much. Look at the foot for example, a highly developed transport mechanism developed over millions of years by trial and error. Amazing piece of work. Wind tunnel that. We put on a mocassin too avoid cuts but what else do we need?,

Well in my case at least, a good pair of fins, full wetsuit, mask snorkel a speargun and as long as most of the 6 billion landlubbers stay the hell of my local reefs, I might even be able to feed myself by hunting and gathering. Oh and I'd gladly trade the 4 billion cars stuck in traffic on their way to their cubicle prisons for a nice sailboat. Come to think of it you could probably put 4 billion sailboats on the oceans and probably still have some room left to sail. I have nothing against technology, solar panels, wind generators, GPS, depth finders, computers, etc. But cars?! give me a freakin break. My new motto is ride a bike or take a hike. This past weekend my girl friend, my son and I took the Tri Rail from Hollywood to Coconut Grove Florida,a 50 plus mile round trip for a total of $10.00 US, granted we did have to plan a bit because of the Sunday schedule. I don't know what we saved in lack of stress for not having to drive on I95 but it was more than worth it. When will people start to grasp the concept that cars are just plain bad for your health. Being addicted to oil and wealth and power is more than just a metaphor. And no you don't have to be poor to take the train, just smart.

In this way we can live sustainably for thousands of generations in harmony with the planet we are an organic part of, breathing fresh air, fishing and hunting/farming sustainably, dying when our time is come and going to our maker in peace of mind, knowing we have not damged his/her creation more than when we arrived and that we have left something beautiful for our children.

The dinosaurs tried that sustainable living trip, and they're ALL DEAD.


Dinosaurs and Birds

Back to the Chicken Dinner...

In a nutshell, the majority of palaeontologists working on the ancestry of birds agree that dinosaurs, particularly small theropods, are the grandparents of present-day parrots, partridges and pigeons. There are some detractors to this emerging orthodoxy but the dino-bird theory is supported by both the most widely used methodology (cladistics) and a rapidly growing collection of primitive birds and advanced meat-eating dinosaurs. A reasonable assessment of the debate would have to conclude that it's all over, including the shouting, in favour of dino-birds.

Perhaps this may cause you to think twice next time you tuck into a roast chook. Would you relish your meal quite as much if your humble chicken's relatives (such as Tyrannosaurus) were still around to defend them?

The dinosaurs tried that sustainable living trip, and they're ALL DEAD.

Apart from the odd crocodile, a few snakes, a couple of lizards, and then there's birds of course..........

They sustained themselves just fine - by adapting themselves to a changing environment.

There's a lesson in there for us humans. . .

galacticsurfer said:

In this way we can live sustainably for thousands of generations in harmony with the planet we are an organic part of, breathing fresh air, fishing and hunting/farming sustainably, dying when our time is come and going to our maker in peace of mind, knowing we have not damged his/her creation more than when we arrived and that we have left something beautiful for our children.

Since I would already be dead if I were 'in harmony with nature' , whatever that means, then the appeal is limited.

Sure, I like grass and flowers and so on, but I can't believe that you are serious about this pap.

Most of us who have had the dubious pleasure of being really 'close to nature' have a much less dewy-eyed perspective.

The wilderness only became the popular subject of romantic affection with the rise of classes who were not really threatened by it, as they were amply resourced to avoid too much harmony with something which might kill them or starve them at any time.

The medieval view spoke of horror at the wastelands - their ideal was a nice controlled garden.

They were in too close contact with nature to be sentimental.

Yes, but was the worldview of the Middle Ages better than that of the Romantic Age?

It was certainly more practical - as is the way of people who really have to be close to nature rather than fake it.

Which would you trust to put the dinner on your table in a reliable fashion, Thoreau or a Medieval peasant?

If you don't mind eating beans, Thoreau is your man. You might want to read his book Walden. Making provision for food was a big part of what he was doing, with time to write as well.

BTW, Thoreau was associated with the transendentalist movement rather than the romantic movement.


Chris, it seems odd that you should be so concerned with the meaning of terms when you have such difficulty with them yourself.
You alleged that their was corruption in the issuance of nuclear licenses in the US.
I asked you for evidence of this and you replied with further speculation that if parties in the US were publicly funded no more licenses would be issued.

Since you are plainly either unable to understand what the difference is between speculation and evidence, or are arguing entirely disingenuously in an attempt to confuse and spread baseless slander, it seems you go for terminological exactitude only when it suits.
I am afraid you have no credibility left, since you will not retract and cannot substantiate.

On the issue at hand I was plainly using romantic in the broad sense, and equally clearly chose Thoreau rather than the more obvious Wordsworth precisely because Thoreau chose to mess around for a couple of years growing beans.


I've made my meaning clear. You refuse to acknowledge that corruption is an issue that we have been dealing with in the US for some time. Reading the newpapers might broaden your horizon.


Your meaning might be clear, and so is your total lack of evidence.

Once again you are trying to pull the wool over people's eyes, rather than take part in a proper discussion.

Innuendo and smear is not debate, and nor are your continual cherry-picking of the least favourable possibilities whenever the word nuclear is mentioned, without minimally setting out the other very different possibilities and results from other studies, most egregiously recently in your presentation of Greenpeace's claims of mortality at Chernobyl, with nary a mention that the World Health Organisation has totally different, lower estimates.

It is not your having your opinions that is the problem, but the continual efforts by yourself to slant the debate, hide the facts from anyone who happens to be ill-informed on the subject so that they can make up their own minds and to denigrate by any means possible opposing viewpoints.

I notice that you were not keen on the idea of a carbon tax, on the grounds that it was too transparent and people might be aware of what they were being forced to pay for ridiculous and unfeasible schemes, when you would much rather hide the true costs and make their decisions for them.

Since you either unaware of what evidence is or seek to obscure the issues I repeat that you have zero credibility, and neither is your judgement sound.

I reject your suggestion to scan the newspapers for the outpourings of other fanatics as any sort of 'evidence' of anything except that there are a lot of people out there who have difficulty dealing with reality.

I have no idea of the degree of corruption in the US nuclear licensing process, if any, but you have provided nothing at all to back up your claim that it is prevalent.


Again I urge you to read, with perhaps an effort to seek understanding, so that you migh not get into arguments with yourself arising from your own misunderstanding.

An effective carbon tax is impoverishing. Thus, rationing is preferable. So far as I know, I said nothing about transparancy and this is just another case of you putting words in someone else's mouth, something that you commonly do. This type of argumentation suggests that your perception is not clear. Try taking a few breaths, reading what people actually say rather than what you think they say, and you'll find that conversation flows more genially.


I see you are still trying to fan-dance your way around the fact that you have presented no evidence for your allegation of corruption in the nuclear regulatory process, just more unfounded allegations.

Weak Chris, unbelievably weak.

He didn't eat his beans. He sold his crop. He was, however, a big bread eater. (but didn't grow wheat)

I learned to make bread from Walden. But Thoreau's recipe isn't his own, it's a two line instruction from a classical text.


"It was a singular experience that long acquaintance which I cultivated with beans, what with planting, and hoeing, and harvesting, and threshing, and picking over and selling them — the last was the hardest of all — I might add eating, for I did taste. I was determined to know beans."

But he did say:

"Not that I wanted beans to eat, for I am by nature a Pythagorean, so far as beans are concerned, whether they mean porridge or voting, and exchanged them for rice; but, perchance, as some must work in fields if only for the sake of tropes and expression, to serve a parable-maker one day. It was on the whole a rare amusement, which, continued too long, might have become a dissipation."

On the other hand, he did get beans to other people's tables.


Three simple comments:
1) Cars and all consumer products will have to be made to last longer. For example we have an old Singer sewing machine from the 1920's that still does the job. Cars likewise should be designed to be reliable and easily repairable and have a lifespan measured in decades or 100s of thousands of miles. Growth in economies needs to redirected to the service sector, repairing not re-manufacturing.
2) Three car technologies seem to be possible, the hybrid plug in, the pure electric battery car or a car working from compressed gas. The hybrid will suffer increased petrol costs and scarcity as we progress and the reliability as the cars get older is still untested. The battery car suffers from the long recharge periods, not exactly plug and go. The batteries are heavy restricting the range. Not a problem for the commute or shopping but a problem if you are planning a driving holiday or live in Montana. The car being developed to use compressed air seems on the face of it to be simple technology and the tanks can be recharged in minutes and not hours. And compressors are already found in all garages, just need to be scaled up a smidgen. This all assumes that we can and will produce the electricity needed.
3) Are concrete roads really a good idea, assuming global warming is caused by CO2, as the manufacture of concrete releases masses of the stuff?

It appears that the bulk of CO2 in concrete manufacture comes from the fuel use, that some of the CO2 given off in the calcination of the limestone is reabsorbed, and that the whole thing is two orders of magnitude smaller than the fossil fuel problem. So a first quick look suggests we could live with this.

For the last year and half I've admired Stuart's ability to press his analysis wherever the data leads him. His articles are must-reads, in my view, because he really understands the difference between analysis and advocacy.

Folks, this is exceptionally rare among people who offer their work for free! We are very lucky to have him.

Although a world with 4 billion cars isn't one I'd choose, I'm very keen to find out what the real situation is. For that, there is just no doing without those willing to attempt hard-headed, clear-eyed appraisals. Hats off to Stuart! (where ever this journey takes him)


Thanks to Stuart's leadership, we are making real progress towards imagining solutions. TOD might actually make a difference in how this all turns out.


I am doing energy storage research at the University of Oklahoma. I believe that it would be much more realistic to look at a fully electric car scenario when extrapolating the future out so far, simply because the electric car with proper energy storage technology is superior to hybrids. Proper energy storage technology has recently come about and will likely be implemented with a few years. I believe it might be better to look at the effects of a large influx of electric cars charging from the grid.

Here is a link to a paper that recently came out that has increased the energy density of lithium battery 10 times. As far as the concerns about the supply and production of lithium, I agree that there are large obstacles. However such an increase in efficiency would allow you to use less supply, but driving down the price and advancing this opportunity in the market will all but swallow that I imagine, Jevon's paradox if you will.

Also I don't know if this is a joke or not, but the company is very secretive and but supposedly has something very good.

EEstor lol, I sourced wiki, I know I'll burn for it someday, Not sure how the barium titanate supply is looking..

and All Hail SS, good article! Keep up the bio-fuel research I love those articles. Also I recently heard indirectly from a former head of the Botanical Society, and head of the Botany Department at OU, that mono-cropping switch grass is a bad idea, due to lack of diversity, putting the ecosystem at high risk of failure.

I noted this above, but the Stanford work doesn't change the charge per lithium atom, so it doesn't make any difference to the ultimate lithium requirement.

Ahhh your right, guess I wasn't really thinking it through enough, Thanks

the Stanford work doesn't change the charge per lithium atom, so it doesn't make any difference to the ultimate lithium requirement.

How close are batteries to using all the charge-carrying capacity of all the lithium atoms they contain, though?

If they're not using 100% of it - and I'd bet they're far from it - then there's certainly scope for reducing the lithium requirements. In particular, the article notes:

"The electrical storage capacity of a Li-ion battery is limited by how much lithium can be held in the battery's anode, which is typically made of carbon. Silicon has a much higher capacity than carbon"

The sticking point seems to be how much lithium is used, not how much is physically in the battery. The paper doesn't detail how much lithium is used (since that wasn't the point), and I doubt calculating the theoretical charge-carrying capacity of lithium would tell us much, but I would be very surprised if this design didn't reduce the raw lithium requirement substantially, as in factor-of-two-or-more.

(Assuming it works commercially like it did in the lab, of course.)

Probably the best solution is to forget about electric battery cars completely.
Here's a compact compressed air car that goes further than the electric cars of today(200-300 km, or 8 hour commute). It has an on board compressor you can plug into at home.

At any rate, it's gotta be a helluva lot cheaper.

As a learner from The Oil Drum and Peak Oil posts, and a septuagenarian [45 days younger than Saddam] legal activitist , I've been attending PNM electric integrated resource planning meetings.

In addition to

irp participants are talking about possible effects of plug-in cars on electrical loads.

Let's see what happens.

We have studies on what plugging in means for the grid.

Pacific National Lab's Surprising PHEV Study Released

Michael Kintner-Meyer
Kevin Schneider
Robert Pratt
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
Operated for the U.S. Department of Energy by Battelle Memorial
Institute under Contract DE-AC05-76RL01830

The U.S. electric power infrastructure is a strategic national asset
that is underutilized most of the time. With the proper changes in
the operational paradigm, it could generate and deliver the necessary
energy to fuel the majority of the U.S. light duty vehicle fleet. In
doing so, it would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve the
economics of the electricity industry, and reduce the U.S. dependency
on foreign oil. Two companion papers investigate the technical
potential and economic impacts of using the existing idle capacity of
the electric infrastructure in conjunction with the emerging plug-in
hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) technology to meet the majority of the
daily energy needs of the U.S. LDV fleet.

With the proper changes in the operational paradigm

Ain't going to happen.

EVs owners are not going to be compliant enough and we do not have enough natural gas to run the marginal generation more hours.


'Ain't going to happen."

anything can happen in a crisis.

Additional supplies of natural gas to run electrical generators all night will not magically appear just because we are in crisis, and neither will human selfishness disappear.


Alan, in the pdf they state that they run the analysis that way because the timing and rate of introduction of plug-in vehicles was uncertain, so looking at what could be done with the current grid was the most realistic way of appraising the potential.

My take on that is that they don't actually expect there to be no upgrades of the grid needed, nor that all EV drivers would charge at the best time, but that just the same we have quite a bit of room to manoeuver within the constraints of the present grid, so that capacity increases might be surprisingly modest.

In particular, one of your favourites, wind, would seem to be well placed to provide the needed power, and this use would tend to decrease the problem of intermittency and storage.

The right cost structure should do a great deal to ensure most charging takes place at the right hours, although I personally suspect that by the time there are enough PVEH's around to make much difference many especially in the South and West may choose to install PV on their roofs and do most of their charging at home - this would certainly decrease the load on the grid.

Another thought provoking post by Staniford, and a very good string of thoughtful and differing replies, (well, o.k., down to Cherenkov's arrival but still a good string of posts!)

A chart of great interest is cited in one of Stuart's replies, the chart showing the 3 bars for transportation usage changes comparing 1980,1990, 2000.

It is interesting to look at and think about the reasons for the differences from decade to decade. For example, people driving alone goes up, and carpooling goes down. This of course is explained by the continuing increase in variety of work schedules. I commute from a town to an office. I have several friends/coworkers who commute almost exactly the same route, or I could pick them up along the way, but our schedules never match. The corporate world is not interested in changing work schedules to make commuting cheap or efficient.

The other is the decline in walking. This is easily explained by an aging population. Walking was fun when I was young. Now it is closer to painful than fun. I still walk some, and am trying to more, but it is very, very difficult and in the winter....well, a painful exercise, I would rather use the treadmill indoors, meaning I get exercise, but walking is not workable as a transportion alternative in very many cases.

One notes that the number of people who work at home has gone up, albeit from a very low base, but it is at least beginning to show on the charts. "Telecommuting" has to this date been one of the most disappointing trends projected, not living up to even a small percentage of what is possible.

We have to assume that at some point, telecommuting will begin to increase, and thus, miles driven for commuting will decrease. Remember, a car burns no fuel sitting still!

Computer use for distance work and telecommuting is still tiny even in the most advanced countries, and in it's infant stages. In the developing world, the possible growth in working from home by computer could have a huge effect on vehicle usage, almost impossible to project. Remember, we are talking (at least Staniford is) about a time window of 48 years (which discounts the argument that Stuart is talking about "doing everything at once.)

I am willing to project one thing: The Tata Nano is not representative of the type of car that will be driven in 2040 or 2050! The design is basically a variation of the "city car" programs that were so popular in the 1970's, but which delivered very little in the way of real results. The design is already 35 years out of date!


Tata has also an agreement to produce several thousand MDI compressed air cars(70 mph, 125 mile range).
They look pretty cool.

Well if idea goes for compressed air cars, that's just more lithium for us!

I'm wondering if the tech breakthrough already occurred but we missed it, namely light weight carbon fibre high pressure tanks. Either for compressed air or biomethane (bottled cow farts). No doubt there is going to be a gruesome collision when a tank will rupture then they'll get it right.

Thanks Stuart for a great post. As someone with a family, living close to public transport in a big city, I can comfortably say that car ownership makes my life FAR easier than having to rely on public transport and/or bikes as beneficial as both those forms of transport have been to me.

So I entirely agree with your thesis that given the possibility, car ownership in developing countries will tend toward that in developed countries.

I like your plan and it appears that Valence technology have a Li-ion battery with the required lifetime and energy density already. I expect plugin-hybrids will cost WAY more than a Tata nano for a long time though.

Dr. Bartlett Worship And The Exponent Hysteria

In the string above, one will see that Cherenkov has once again discussed his fascination with Dr. Bartlett and the Exponential Growth factor.

Now, Cherenkov seems to think that only he and Dr. Bartlett have ever heard of the power of the exponent, and that those folks who read or post at TOD are simply too ignorant to grasp such a concept.

The first time I was exposed to exponents was in the form of a joke. It was said that a clever country boy was offered a job on a farm, and when the subject of pay came up, the boy said, "I tell you what, I will take one penny on the first day, just one penny, and after you see how I work out at the end of that day, just double my penny everyday." The farmer could not believe it, a boy silly enough to work for a penny for a full day's work, so he said "Sure, I will do that, and even doubling the pay everyday, that's a great deal for me, after all how fast can a penny double into much we are starting from such a low base."

Of course, we all know how the story works....within weeks the boy is making a fortune and it is still doubling every day!

It's an amusing story, and the presentation by Dr. Bartlett that Cherenkov references is full of stories just like that, using grains of sand, ski lift tickets, population and other such examples to illustrate his point.

As I said, they are amusing. They are also essentially useless. For example, Dr. Bartlett uses one example discussing population and uses a population growth number.

Below is a link showing real world population growth:

Here is what Dr. Bartlett says:

"In the summer of 1986, the news reports indicated that the world population had reached the number of five billion people growing at the rate of 1.7% per year. Well, your reaction to 1.7% might be to say “Well, that's so small, nothing bad could ever happen at 1.7% per year.” So you calculate the doubling time, you find it’s only 41 years. Now, that was back in 1986; more recently in 1999, we read that the world population had grown from five billion to six billion . The good news is that the growth rate had dropped from 1.7% to 1.3% per year. The bad news is that in spite of the drop in the growth rate, the world population today is increasing by about 75 million additional people every year."

Do you notice a gap in the logic? Notice that Dr. Bartlett only assumes exponential function when it suits his argument and the population growth is going UP! Why does he not look at the "dropped" period, down from 1.7% to 1.3%, and assume that will continue to occure at an exponential rate?

The same is true of course of energy consumption. The belief in the 1970's was that oil consumption would only go up. Then came 1982, and we saw an astounding collapse in oil consumption. If you want a chart, go to Google images and put the words "Peak Oil" in, you will see the astounding decline in production and consumption of oil, a trend so powerful that we did not reach the old peak again until the mid-1990's! Why did no one assume the exponential function would continue, and that soon we would be at 0% oil use! Does Dr. Bartlett ever consider what a negative growth rate some 15 years does to the outlying years component of "exponential growth"? If you want to see for yourself, consider what it would do to your investments to stop all growth on your money for 15 years! Of course many of us who remember the 1970's remember the effects on growth of a 20 year gap in growth of earnings. The effect on "exponential growth" is staggering.

I know, the idea that 15 years of negative growth would only increase by exponents leading to 0 use of oil sounds silly, but it is the kind of silliness that Bartlett is willing to project on the upside. If you don't believe me, read Bartlett's talk so valued by Cherenkov, in which for example it is pointed out that the weight of the human population will be greater than the weight of the Earth in 2400 years:

What gets in the way of the exponential function is FACTS. We all know for example, that the farm boy used in our amusing story would not get away with his little joke in the real world, because as soon as the farmer began to see what was going on, he would break out of the deal. In other words the conditions would change, and fast.

So what fact gets in the way of the exponential function when it comes to population? Well, Cherenkov is not going to like to hear this, but what gets in the way is technology.

In 1965, my mother had the last of her four children. She caught the doctor in the hall of our building while he was making a house call, and asked him about something another woman had told her about, something that would see that the 4th child she had just birthed would be her last. The pill was still a novelty then, no one even knew if it was safe, but she was willing to take the chance.

Of my mother's four children, three grandchildren have been produced. Several of my cousins and myself have produced none, and are getting past the age where we will be able to. Her mother had 8 children (7 surviving) and my fathers mother had 7 children. Three generations of...2 women producing 14 children (my grandmothers) 1 woman producing 4 children (my mother) and 3 women and one son producing 3 children) in my own generation. FACTS. This is why comparing humans to yeast and monkeys, as so many are prone to do here, is rhetorical garbage. Let me know when yeast invents a birth control pill.

Cherenkov may take note that the birth rate is lowest and dropping fastest in the most technically advanced and wealthiest countries. But that shouldn't be is bad, right?

The most advanced nations have options, and their citizens have options. If you have no chance in life to engage in interesting careers, move about, and enjoy entertainments, babies are pretty much all that's left. But in the richest technically advanced nations, we have other things to do in life, other than create babies.

Dr. Bartlett's use of the "exponential factor" is useful to keep us alert to the effects of continued, uninterrupted growth, growth that occurs like a clock, at a steady uninterrrupted pace. In the real world however, that type of growth seldom occurs. If it did, all of us who invest money like a clock, growing at a nice steady "compound interest rate" would be wealthy. How come we are not? Because the real world gets in the way. Look at historical interest rate moves, historical stock tables, and what you will see is anything but stable "exponential" growth. When I was young, it was very popular for investment guru's to point out the miracle of compound interest and say "see, you will only have to get 8% return per year on your money, that would a very conservative guess, anybody will make at least that, even on a CD or a bond...." My, how the world has changed!

Even weaker than Dr. Bartlett's dire pronouncements based on an amusing academic exercise is Cherenkov's linking of technology to human misery. Cherenkov may not like cars, markets, and the freedom these things bring. But replace these things with making babies as a hobby, and the environmental horror and suffering would only be far worse, if you do not believe it, look on the map linked about for the places with the highest population growth.
Hint: It ain't a Hollywood or a Manhatten zip code, trust me. :-)

Dr. Bartlett closes his talk with the insulting condescending style that has been so well aped by his worshiper Cherenkov:
"So I hope I’ve made a reasonable case for my opening statement, that I think the greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand this very simple arithmetic."

And I hope I have made a reasonable case concerning the limits of acadamic mathematical models when applied to the non-linear messiness of the real world.


I have not read much on what Cherenkov has written but I think much of your Bartlett Bashing is unfounded and stems from the fact that the article was really long and you skimmed it.

know, the idea that 15 years of negative growth would only increase by exponents leading to 0 use of oil sounds silly, but it is the kind of silliness that Bartlett is willing to project on the upside. If you don't believe me, read Bartlett's talk so valued by Cherenkov, in which for example it is pointed out that the weight of the human population will be greater than the weight of the Earth in 2400 years.

I do believe in the next line or two he says:

Well, we can smile at those, we know they couldn't happen.

This makes you sound very logical, as you explain a point he states a paragraph later.

Do you notice a gap in the logic? Notice that Dr. Bartlett only assumes exponential function when it suits his argument and the population growth is going UP! Why does he not look at the "dropped" period, down from 1.7% to 1.3%, and assume that will continue to occur at an exponential rate?

The answer to your question is (a paragraph later):

here's a very profound lesson in that cartoon. The lesson is that zero population growth is going to happen. Now, we can debate whether we like zero population growth or don't like it, it’s going to happen. Whether we debate it or not, whether we like it or not, it’s absolutely certain. People could never live at that density on the dry land surface of the earth. Therefore, today’s high birth rates will drop; today’s low death rates will rise till they have exactly the same numerical value.

You either skimmed too much or completely misinterpreted the article and it's tone.

He was explaining we are to start encountering limits to growth and they have very profound implications for all of us. I also believe that if we take the idea that technology will always save us from our problems, that we are going to severely disappointed. If the average person doesn't understand the basic math, chemistry and science behind the technology then our society will be learning very hard lessons in the form of death, starvation, famine ect. until we are extinct or learn these principles.

perhaps you misinterpreted the tone of the article as condescending. I've posted a link to a video presentation of this transcript. To get the rest look in the related videos bar and go to 2 of 8 ect. I'm too lazy to post the rest, sorry.

Reply to

First, I take your points, and it is true that Dr. Bartlett would use an example and then disclaim it, so that he would suggested horrific outcomes to the mind of the audience or reader, and then disclaimed the example that was used to project horrible outcomes.

I hope I did not come across as bashing Dr. Bartlett. As I said, his lesson should be kept in mind. But I am not convinced that the effects of the exponential function are that mysterious to most people. If anything, we are more aware of them now than in past years. Today, we can take a hand calculator and start multiplying with the strike of a button, 2,4.8,16,32,64,128,256,512,1028....see how fast doubling gives us a high number? Only 10 doublings puts us over 1000! The binary language of the computer makes it second nature to us all (Bartlett was born and educated before the computer age, so all of these may still seem like magic to him).

So, yes, keep the effect of exponential function in mind, but also keep in mind that in the real world, things seldom move in nice smooth exponential jumps again and again. If it were so, we could project all outcomes accurately, sit back and count our money, and be content. Ohh, only if it were so!

What we are having to deal with is much more complex than the exponential function. We are having to deal with fast swings, volatile price moves based on information that seems usable by only a very small group who can create movement that is totally non related to supply, demand, or growth (or lack thereof). Today, planning is much more like "surfing" multiple fast moving waves, or trapeze working without a net. Opinion and fact, data and information are hurled about, with no easy way to seperate one from the other. Social networks are impossible to establish, because status and location change completely and almost daily. It is a "non-linear chaotic flux" function much more than an exponential function than is the function of our age.

Anyone who simply throws a number out there, assumes a nice steady march of doublings and plans and invests on this basis runs the risk of being completely lost in the real world we live in today.


Re: Social networks are impossible to establish because status and location change completely and almost daily.

This is the reason for the resurgence of religion IMO. It is a longing for authority and stability in a disorienting world.

Re: It is a "non-linear chaotic flux" function much more than an exponential function that is the function of our age.

Nicely put and insightful. It's the reason I gave up stock trading. "Non-linear chaotic flux." Love it.

I agree, I do agree Bartlett's arguments lose much of their luster do an oversimplification of the problem. I just disagree that people have such a good understanding of these rates of growth. When you see examples of our pro-growth society and our materialistic shallow world you can't, or, I can't help but think nobody understands that we are on the way to decreasing our population simply because we've overshot the carrying capacity of the planet and technology saving us is a fools wish. Your right though it's a bit to simple. I do like the models of the Limits to Growth 30 year update, I'm going to by the book. Theres a bit more complex math in there :D.

Thanks, I see what you were getting at now.


At the risk of forcing you to find more lithium, it seems to me that there is a connection between moving transportation to electricity and your plan to have one side of the world supply the other side with electricity at night. The batteries in cars will degrade with use and be swapped out. I do not think they will be recycled immediately though. A battery degraded in performance below transportation grade is still a very good battery. I expect that the used batteries will find use in stationary storage. PG&E is already contracting to buy used batteries manufactured by Tesla Motors for this purpose. In all I expect about 0.5 days of stationary storage to result from the electrification of transportation. Thus, I would suggest that the morphology of a large grid would be chiefly north-south to handle seasonal variation in insolation rather than east-west to handle daily variation. You can find more discussion and links on this subject here:

This will need about 4 times more lithium, but I suspect that it will happen. It does not make sense to recycle while the things still work.


Excellent point. There is considerable residual value in those batteries. They might even moved out of the car and into the basement of PV powered homes.

In the model that is developing so far, utilities would own the batteries. But, a residential aftermarket might occur as well.


The two most important areas where I disagree with your analysis (or rather, the possibility of 4 billion cars by 2050) are 1) the environment and 2) social equity.

We don't just possess 'cars' in a vaccum. We have a large external consumption system linked to cars: water, medicine, asphalt, rubber, steel, and all the other non-energy inputs that are part of a consumptive lifestyle. We are borrowing heavily from ecosystems and biodiversity as it is. Unless you accompany these 4 billion cars with a change in HOW we consume, then 4 billion cars will accelerate the environmental destruction we witness today. We need more multicriteria analysis. People are too used to using dollars when there will be several, possible many, limiting variables going forward in addition to energy. (Here is the software package we use at school)

Secondly, its not enough to have 4 billion cars - these need to be spread reasonably evenly. (e.g. the wealth can't continue to concentrate via rising GINI index) as certain parties will choose to help the poor/less well off - in a struggle for resources, nations will choose sides. This will happen over something innocuous, e.g. an Archduke being assassinated. Unless ALL ships generally rise together, or at least have the perception of being able to bridge the aspiration gap, then wars follow. Look at all the resource wars in the past few hundred years alone.... If it were possible to put 6.5 billion of us in stasis, including the politicians, and have 100 million scientists and engineers work for 20-30 years getting things ready for when people reawaken, then I could see it. But real events are going to cause some===>many of those 6.5 billion to throw wrenches and other things into the engineering plans of more cars, more highways, more computers, more stuff etc. Unfortunately this is tough to model.

After reading the article and all the posts so far, the dangers of a lithium shortage are all too clear.

Back on your meds, people.

We are in overshoot, and there will be a dieoff. We're only one species, and we don't really need to all drive around just because it's physically possible. We do, arguably, need a functional planet.

Of course, Stuart posits no dieoff for this exercise as of 2050; fair enough. He notes:

People are not going to get out of the cars unless you pry their cold dead fingers from the wheel. That's the point here.

That's what it will eventually come to, probably, whether the number is 4 billion or (believe it) fewer. Gee, be nice to do something useful instead. There must be several million saner ways to increase our aggregate dopamine levels.

Stuart, I have high hopes - per your comments to Gail - that your future posts will take into account the sort of stuff she raised, and put this whole exercise into a more realistic perspective.


All this talk is just so unrealistic, and distracts from the real issues people will face! There WILL be a dieoff, and it will be well BEFORE there are 4 billion functioning cars on this planet. If you need me to prove that or provide references, just pretend you're a deer and nibble on some lichens :-) Cheers.

Obviously, powering even more cars after 2050 would require at some point that we find more lithium, figure out how to extract it from seawater profitably, discover some better battery technology...

Potential chemistries with greater energy density and much more common materials exist -- sulfur/zinc and sulfur/aluminum both qualify on those counts. Current sulfur chemistries don't do well on recharging; the sulfur compounds formed apparently involve big enough changes in molecular size that the structure deteriorates after a relatively few discharge/charge cycles. A few billion dollars/euros of research focused on the right sort of nanotech structures might be a total waste -- or produce a much better battery.

Your estimate for Lithium is wrong.

With 6200 reserve at year 2005 and an annual consumption of 21.4 (at year 2005) and an annual growth rate of 1.08

I have calculated that the lithium reserve would be gone in 41.4 years so in the year (2005 + 41.4) 2046.4 I would have expected all the lithium reserve to be produced.

As I noted in the article, I'm assuming that the reserve base is usable by 2050, not just the current reserves.

1st time poster here. Car culture is not human nature. Perhaps some collective shame and soul-searching will attend the acceptance of declining oil supplies. Culture can change. Cigarette smoking has been banned in restaurants and bars in Italy. Anything is possible.

I am amazed how you have the doomers on the run in this thread. You have spoken the unspeakable. It has been an article of faith here at TOD for perhaps the majority that peak oil means we cannot have sustained economic growth and rising incomes. I have often thought that I was just about the only one who thought we could.

However, you are even more optimistic than I am, especially for the developing world. It will require a sustained effort to transition to a new energy infrastructure of the type you have envisioned and it is hard to see how we have yet begun to turn the ship. There could be a great deal of turmoil in the next twenty years as the old order tries to hold on. I think your view that incomes will even out flies in the face of the world's experience, most especially in the US.

You have show impressive intellectual leadership. Taking on the relocalization/subsistence agriculture folks showed courage against intense romaticism. I am impressed that you are not resting on the politcal capital that you built up with all your very impressive but less controversial analyses.

Sterling said,
"There could be a great deal of turmoil in the next twenty years as the old order tries to hold on."

How very true.

I found Stuart's post excellent and well argued. So well argued in fact that the error may be in that it makes the possible sound easy, which it will not be.

Right now, we are facing a shortage of creative and well informed people, which is a liability in any age, but more now than ever.

Our system of creating change is broken. Banks, political leadership and corporate structures are populated by people who are running scared. They are simply trying to ride out to the finish of their careers, and are NOT in the mood to make daring changes. They think that conservativism will protect them, so they are falling back on outdated methods (extreme limiting of freedom in the corporate structure, control of communications, attempts to shut down dissenting views and re-inforcing corporate hierarchical structures.

At some point, many in the workplace, and most importantly in financial and technical professions will be forced to network outside the corporate structure and build the new age, leaving behind the old guard. The period of glasnost in the former U.S.S.R. comes to mind.

The political leadership of the advanced nations will have to then decide whether to develop a structure allowing a much less rigid businesess and financial environment, one that allows for risk. Right now, all the calls seem to be for exactly the opposite, with the current status quo guard begging for more "top down" direction and regulation, in taxes, in laws governing the structure of autos, cars and other consumer items, and in extreme micromanagement of the financial system. If this trend continues it will be catastrophic for the developed world and disable it's ability to change. No where is this more of a problem than in the wealthy advanced nations of Japan, the U.S., and the E.U, all of which have vested interests who know that the coming age will end the hegomony of the current big bank, big auto, big centralized energy industry.

Alvin Toffler referred to this in the 1980's as "The coming super-struggle", and felt it could be a period of turmoil as great or greater than the age which birthed the Industrial Revolution. We often forget that the industrialization of the world was also known as the "Age of Revolution" as monarchial rule collapsed around the world, and the American Civil War, WWI, and the Russian Revolution and Communism occured.

It is possible that the birth of the new age can be done while retaining peace and stability, but history shows that the odds are not good for this to occur. Thus, "peak oil" is only a tiny sliver of the changes we may have to face soon. By becoming fascinated to the point of making "peak oil" a fixation, the lens through which we view all things may indeed by every bit as dangerous as being completely unaware of it.

Personally, I am thinking in terms of HEDGING. By this I do not mean this pseudo hedging we hear about in "hedge funds" (what a misnomer that is!), but real Deep Systemic Hedging.
For us baby boomers, it is important to take pause, for this unbalanced, chaotic world is the place we will spend the rest of our lives. Only the young (high school age or less) will live long enough to see whether or not we succeeded in the goals that we are putting forward today.
Ironic isn't it, that us "non-doomers" are beginning to show the deepest concern, albeit in a much more complex and broader way, than the doomers. The doomers have a comforting romantic view of a primitive world, slower, simpler, more local, somehow more "human" that the world we now know.
The non doomers suffer the burden of not being able to comfort themselves with such a simple romantic view of the future.


"Ironic isn't it, that us "non-doomers" are beginning to show the deepest concern, albeit in a much more complex and broader way, than the doomers."

The Doomer label itself is about as descriptive and helpful as Hippie, Joe Sixpack, Backwardist or He-man.. Who isn't worried in one way or another about the future, and hoping to set up the imperfect pieces of today so that it will work out alright, and even maybe be better than this?

Your characterization was so patronizing to the 'slow and simple, but hoping to be more 'human' Doomers', while trumpeting the deep, subtle complexity of your group's suffered burdens .. well I have to suggest that this kind of 'us them' definition is about as Romantic as it gets. That kind of condescension based on a very simplistic label has pretty much nowhere to go.

I thought the 'Hedging' angle was much stronger. It suggests to me that anyone who's looking at this is in many ways sitting on the fence, ready to jump to one side or the other when the conditions show us a better option.

Optimistically Terrified,

Is "doomer" a more simplistic label than for example "cornucopian"? Your point is well made, though, that labels always limit understanding, but distinctions are made on the basis of language and labels, and there are various philosophical "camps" inside the peak aware community. They are certainly more flexible and in flux than labels make them appear to be.

On the "Hedging" angle, the "sitting on the fence" aspect is partially true, but I am trying to mentally make it much more than just that in my own thinking. I will be honest, I do not know if I am able to master the art of, to use your words, "deep, subtle complexity", but I am becoming more and more convinced that this is what is needed to survive and even prosper in the coming years. Your caution about labels is a great starting point, the caution concerning language and what is really being said will be important. Other "labels" come to mind: Exactly what do we mean by "wealth", "power", "status", and "security" in the coming years? Many folks seem to measure value in simplistic terms, "x pennies per kilowatt hour for this, x plus 2 pennies for that means that x wins." But if x plus 2 pennies hedges the effects of sudden power interruption, or reduces carbon release? The equations will only get more complicated with each passing year.


You have spoken the unspeakable. It has been an article of faith here at TOD for perhaps the majority that peak oil means we cannot have sustained economic growth and rising incomes. I have often thought that I was just about the only one who thought we could.

It must have been lonely out there, just you and the other 6 billion people on the planet ! I don't think anyone could claim that Mr. Staniford has proved it is possible to sustain economic growth after peak oil.

I don't think anyone could claim that Mr. Staniford has proved it is possible to sustain economic growth after peak oil.

I am not saying he has. But maybe now someone making that argument will not just be ridiculed and shouted down like I was when I started to say that we should take another look at nuclear energy. I am glad Stuart has given voice to ideas that I was afraid to express. Now let's fight it out over the competing visions.

I'm a long time reader from Australia and first time writer. Not sure how many cars will fit into Chinese cities in 2050 and don't think it very relevent. Do know That at current growth of 1 new coal fired power station every week or so (indefinitely) and 80-90 extra Gigawatts capacity this year.. there'll be plenty of other things to worry about by 2020 if we get there. Asia is using enormous amounts of thermal and coking coal to satisfy their electricity/ infrastructure demands. Recent spot prices for coal have doubled due to supply problems in South Africa; Australia and the recent record snowstorms in China.
We experience first hand the demands for commodities from Asia. Europe doesn't rate and the US is stagnant as far as energy demand growth counts. At last count there were over 80 panamax ships waiting to load coal from our East coast.
"Reality sucks" as they say!! But as least I'm well invested into Coal; Oil; and Gas producers and light on windmills.
The stated Chinese Government plan is to move 300 million people into cities that have yet to be built by 2020. Now that's a plan!!!
P.S India is just warming up.

Well, Stuart.

I was going to write a friendly rebuttal to "Powering Civilization to 2050" and then you go and write this, with the 4 billion happy motorists! Maybe I should write it up. Unfortunately, it won't have too many graphs in it. It will have lots of allusions to findings on human behavior, examples from human history, etc. Actually, you don't really need any of that. Just read today's newspaper.

Here's the root of the problem as far as I'm concerned.

Conservatism -- I use the overarching principle of trying to assume as little change in the way the world works as possible - I assume it remains a more-or-less free market world, in which national governments regulate their own countries to temper the worst excesses of the free market and periodically enter into treaties on the more pressing global problems. I assume it remains full of highly imperfect humans most. I assume people are willing to come together and take collective action for the common good, but only when the need for that action has become so overwhelming and immediate as to be irrefutable.

Hence, 4 billion very efficient vehicles. This is certainly a sanguine view of human nature. Perhaps you have not thought through what "highly imperfect" means?

This brings to mind a phase that pops up from time to time -- a person is smart, people are stupid. Humans are social animals. Group behavior (e.g. nation states, tribes, religions, etc.) is psychologically regressive and thus generally means conflict, not cooperation, will rule the day. The future is not an engineering problem. Climate change alone will spur all sorts of intra-group conflicts because of regional problems with the food & water supply. But that's just one part of the problem. Many other resources will be running short because human demands simply can not be met. Groups under survival pressure are not likely to negotiate. They are more likely to shoot first, and ask questions later.

"Civilized" behavior (however defined) is a thin veneer, always has been.

There was a lot of resistance to Lyell's gradualism when the outrageous hypothesis was put forward that a big rock from outer space had wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs. Most of that resistance fell away when they found the crater. Similarly, the hypothesis of catastrophism applies here, for the human overshoot is creating circumstances of a type that is reminiscent of the mass extinctions of the Phanerozoic (543 mya to the present). There just isn't going to be enough to go around, and as that happens, people will fight for the scraps that are left. This does not necessarily mean a really massive die-off -- there will be a market correction :-) -- but it does imply a whole lot of global chaos.

And in such a chaotic, conflict-riven world, nobody will have the means or opportunity to build 4 billion cars.

All of us become accustomed to the obvious barbarity in human behavior. We must, or else we will not survive. This is what psychological defenses are for. But that does not mean the underlying savageness is not there.

I admire your optimism, but can not buy into your story.

best to you,


I see 4 billion cars in the future as no problem

One in every garage.

and thats where they will stay.

Now and then we go out to the car, climb in, turn the key and the windshield turns on showing us a picture of what it would look like as we back out and drive around.

Small hydrolic pumps wiggle the car around enough so it feels like we are moving.

OK! Solved that one. NEXT

4,000,000,000 x $30,000 = $120,000,000,000,000. And that's just for the cars. Couldn't we just all get Nintendos instead?

transition wrote: So I entirely agree with your thesis that given the possibility, car ownership in developing countries will tend toward that in developed countries, about Stuart’s thesis.

Yes, but with a twist... and Switzerland seems to be a case in point, despite the impressive efforts that are being made in some towns to do everything possible to augment public transport, including territorial manipulations, forcing businesses to thrash parking places, making public street parking impossible, etc.

In Switzerland, the % of travellers-kms (not goods transport) in 1950, was 56% by public transport, with 52% by rail, 3.7% by road (note), 43% by private conveyance (incl. bike, horse...)

In 2005, 21% by public transport -15% by rail, 3% by road. 78% by private vehicle.

Public transport kms. rose regularly during that time (and the network expanded). They come close to tripling. However, private vehicle kms were multiplied by a bit more than 14.

What we see here is the flowering of the oil age. Rising population; rapid construction of road infrastructure; cities and small urban centers that grow, villages and small outposts, and scattered habitations that die out. On the one hand, Switzerland’s history would tend to make Gvmt. planning and public transport a priority; on the other hand, its libertarian spirit and laws, as well as very local Gvmt. saw to it that multiple private initiatives that became possible with the combustion engine flourished. Was this a real personal preference for the car? Certainly, in a way - the new gadget, the status symbol, etc. But the Swiss have always liked their public transport, considered it even glamorous, somehow. No, rather it was a societal preference. The car was easier and in a way more fun to develop as multiple different actors could get a finger in the pie, and personal initiatives could be implemented. Hundreds of choices opened up - in agriculture, in territorial arrangement, in the planning of industry, housing, etc. All could be uncoupled from the set routes of the public transport and branch out, literally so....Boom times...

And this picture is quite different in developing countries today, be it in the cities, the country, etc.

note. left ‘other’ - boat, planes for ex., 3% in 2005 - and after the decimal aside. Numbers from LITRA.

I wish I'd been able to visit this thread earlier. But I was dumbfounded to scan/read it today and see not one reference in a large post and over 400 comments to a hypothetical cost of gasoline!

While I have a deep respect for the analytical work discussed here--not just that of TOD editors but the climatologists and everybody else--I think Euan's comment about the complexity of the climate change problem and the corresponding lack of complexity in our models applies here as well.

All of these systems--transportation, economics, energy, climate change, human volition--are insanely complex. All of our models are sorely undersized IMO. I was impressed with the presentation of the Millennium Institute T21-USA at ASPO-Houston, but I'd like to see it developed to perhaps 100x of its current complexity.

We don't even know what all the factors are! I think the shifting (and varied) conclusions of the climatologist community demonstrates this nicely. It seems like every year we learn of a couple more factors that have a huge impact on the models' predictions.

In short, we should be extremely humble about our faith in the predictive ability of our models. On that point, I agree with Euan wholeheartedly.

However, I can't ignore the precautionary principle. Climate change is already causing severe problems on a hundred different fronts, and whether it is anthropogenic in origin seems rather academic to me. The Army's former chief of staff, Gen. Gordon Sullivan, had a good quote about this: “People are saying they want to be perfectly convinced about climate science projections, but speaking as a soldier, we never have 100 percent certainty. If you wait until you have 100 percent certainty, something bad is going to happen on the battlefield.”

We've already got plenty of bad things happening. But we're slow to respond, slow to accept it, and mostly in denial, having a very hard time giving up the "me first" attitudes that we've successfully held all our lives--no great surprise there.

However we get there, I believe we must start putting sustainability first in all of our decisions. THEN we can talk about what we want. I think the Native Americans offered a good model of how a society can act when sustaining the health of oneselves and the environment are priority one.

While I am very much in support of relocalization wherever it makes sense, I certainly do not advocate for the destruction of the global economy just on principle (nor do I know any other relocalizers that do; I call strawman on that one Yoooon).

Somehow we have to get beyond these polarized ideas and, as Stuart put in his very nicely developed metaphor, huddle up, have a rational discussion and try to plot a way back down the mountain.

To that end, I don't see this exercise as being particularly useful, due to the lack of many factors that surely will come into play. It's a nicely done exercise, as always with Stuart, but I can think of some important missing elements without much effort:

  • As I said, the price of fuel. If it starts experiencing wild gyrations, as I fully expect it to as we approach and begin our descent down the oil peak, it will play havoc with everything, and some of those effects will linger. People will move, change jobs, change vehicles, reduce their driving miles, start carsharing, opt for public transport, and lots of other adaptation strategies.
  • Our ability to even build new cars and new RE capacity in a scenario of declining liquid fuels. For one example: How long does it take for us to reach the point where we can mine ores, transport them, smelt them down, transport the metals to manufacturers, and then transport the finished goods, using only renewably generated electricity for all of the above? What if we can't maintain the long supply chains that we now count on? (I understand that it now requires about 8,000 parts to make a commercial wind turbine, which come from all over the world.) If we have peak fossil fuels by around 2020--I agree with Euan on that possibility--then we have only 12 years left to sorta kinda keep building stuff freely. After that, it will get progressively harder, and more expensive. In short, let's call this factor "vulnerability."
  • The economy. Here's something I worry about: The subprime meltdown as I see it has about another 9 months to go. Banks, insurance companies, hedge funds, the whole building industry, etc. all stand to lose much more than they already have. The foreclosures we're seeing now are the result of defaults six months or more in the past; the defaults that will happen toward the end of 2008 won't hit the ground until mid-2009. I wouldn't pretend to predict how it all will shake out, but let's say that the major stock indexes worldwide experience another 20% correction, and that the all the world's overheated real estate markets do the same, by the middle of 2009. I expect more people to be out of work, more trouble for the Big Three, and just a hard time all around. But oil consumption only slows a little, and then about 6 to 9 months after the markets bottom out, we hit the absolute peak of oil production. The double-whammy puts all the world's economies in a very difficult spot, desperately in need of recovery but unable to put enough fuel in the tank to do it.
  • Growing sentiment in favor of renewables and carbon control. People are increasingly resistant to poor fuel economy, hosting a coal or nuke or LNG plant, to wars for oil, to polluted skies and kids with athsma, to mercury contaminated fish and the whole rest of the miserable litany of abuses we have heaped upon the planet and ourselves. We should not underestimate this factor. Whether it suits Stuart's conception of "rational" or not, citizens are increasingly exercising influence over what paths we should take from here.
  • Carbon taxes or cap-and-trade schemes. The U.S. is effectively going to be the last to join the world party on mandatory carbon control, and it will come with a cost. If it results in some kinds of economic destruction, I think people will accept it as a necessary growing pain and work toward renewables all the harder. If we all have to start paying a carbon tax on the liquid fuel we still have to use as we transition through hybridized cars, it will be that much less incentive to drive a POV.
  • A resurgence of better public transpo and rail, attracting far more ridership than it has had historically.

Like I said, that's just a few off the top. The point is, any of these factors, and a whole lot of others (war, for example) could radically change the whole scenario. What if we find ourselves in 2011, with most of us still driving what we're driving today (because we couldn't afford to replace it), only gasoline is fluctuating between $7 and $10/gal, shortages are frequent, roads are in progressively worse shape because our municipal budgets are busted because the tax base is ruined from a fallen economy, right as we start feeling the effects of fast-dropping exports due to the completely insane explosion of construction in the Middle East? (I understand there are now more construction workers than citizens in Dubai.) Will people make an historic shift to public transpo if it's available to them? You bet they will.

And what if it's not available to them? They'll struggle to get to work. They'll move, change careers, maybe see their employers go out of business. A thousand things could change. Very few of them, in my estimation, point to a continuance of our lives of Happy Motoring.

I get the impression that Stuart is seeking a mathematical way out of our problems. By making assumptions or ignoring issues (such as the supply of steel and concrete, with no consideration of the resources needed to mine and process the iron or limestone), he can arithmetically wriggle his way through to 2050, with economic growth intact and with our lifestyle largely intact. All of the objections that you an others raise are largely ignored or side-stepped.

At least that is my impression of his recent articles and responses.

First off, you've done a pretty good job of trying to triangulate your numbers. It's interesting to see how well GDP/capita and cars/1000 people correlate.

Here are some comments. Let's assume that for environmental and safety reasons a car has a life of 10 years. I also read that it takes about 20 barrels of oil to make a car today (I would say that this would be only for the manufacturing). Let's assume that we've made some good progress on that front and have gone down to 10barrels of oil.

a. We would need to manufacture about 400 million cars a year leading up to 2050 (give or take).
b. We would need 4 billion barrels of oil to do so or about 10 mbpd. Does not help matters
c. We would need about 150 million tonnes of steel each year. Current world production is 750 million tonnes.

Seems stretch to me

The other issue is that car prices do not reflect the full social costs of car ownership (roads to be built, enforcement, parking space, etc). If that were to happen, demand for cars would go down.

I lived in Singapore from 2001 to 2007. The govt there has successfully controlled cars by limiting the number of cars allowed to be sold each year - ca30000. Each permit is auctioned and if you want to own a car you need to shell out about 20000USD upfront to get the permit. They have an excellent public transport system. As an expat there I did not bother buying a car (a Toyota Corolla would have set me back by about 50000USD). Contrast that with Bangkok which looks like one big parking lot during peak hours. You can take 2 hrs to cover 3 km in the downtown areas.

I now live in Bangalore a city of 6 million people and about 600 km2. We have 400,000 cars and about 1.5 million two wheelers. The average speed during peak hours is about 11km/hr and going down. All the public money seems to go into improving the road infrastructure and other things suffer. I dread to think of the day when there are 3 million cars on the roads. If half of these million cars were out on the streets, we would need 10000 km of roads (6 meters pitch length and 2 lanes of traffic). We don't have that sort of money to invest in roads.

I suspect we're going to hit a lot of road blocks (physical and policy) before we hit the 4 billion number. I hope we do.

My two cents.


Trams cost 57% as much as Urban Highways, and carry more people (without oil)

This is the amount needed for building the 19.7 km of the TramTrain urban network, i.e. 17.2 million Euros per kilometre. (One kilometre of urban highway costs 30 million Euros.) This investment covers rolling stock, trackbed, depot and control centre, road surfacing, upgrading of public space, urban furniture, road signage, etc.