McCain’s Energy Plan: Correct Diagnosis, Killer Prescription

With gas topping $4 per gallon and oil prices seemingly reaching new highs every week, more pain at the pump is certain in the foreseeable future, and energy policy is rightfully claiming its place as a major topic of the 2008 election. Indeed, John McCain gave a major campaign speech earlier this week in Houston specifically on energy (the full transcript can be found here) and addresses the issue again this week in Santa Barbara. It is worth looking in more detail at how he describes the current situation, and what he is proposing.

The first thing to note is that his description of the current situation is largely correct. While he probably overemphasizes the role of speculation in recent price rises, he does point out that this is correct only as far as it represents a fundamental shift between growing demand from places like China and India and supply which has had trouble keeping up lately. He also rightly points out that US dependency on imported oil has been growing, and that the amounts of money paid out to often hostile oil-exporting countries are reaching record levels. He also pointedly reminds us that the policies of the past 40 years have done little to change this trend.

And his first policy recommendation is most appropriate: “energy conservation is no longer just a moral luxury or a personal virtue. Conservation serves a critical national goal.” This is, of course, an obvious dig to the current occupants of the White House, and in particular to Dick Cheney who famously said that “conservation may be a sign of personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy.” Putting conservation and energy efficiency, i.e., action towards demand reduction, at the forefront of his policy proposals is a good thing and would be a real change from earlier policies.

In his Santa Barbara speech, he also emphasizes energy efficiency, and he fleshes out some sensible proposals in that respect, including direct action to make government offices and vehicle fleets energy stingy. He also suggests to set up a kind of “X-Prize”: a $300 million prize for a highly efficient car battery system. These prizes have shown their effectiveness to motivate inventors and entrepreneurs in other fields, and while this may be criticized like a gimmick given the scale of the challenge, it’s certainly focusing on the right things.

Further, McCain acknowledges systematic climate change, and the widely-supported theory that fossil fuels play a significant role in fostering it. He specifically argues that energy policy must include measures to curb carbon emissions, via cap-and-trade mechanisms. This is another politically-savvy change from the current administration, given that overwhelming majorities of Americans agree with him on this.

But when one moves to his recommendations, the gap is suddenly yawning with this diagnosis. His concrete proposals include more drilling in the USA, more nuclear energy, and, in an apparent nod to standard Republican economic fare, less regulation (for refineries) and lower taxes (on gas). “Apparent” because the targets seem wrongheaded: if no refinery has been built in the US over the past 31 years, as McCain asserts, that does not mean that “refining capacity” and runs has not increased in the past 15 years via investments on existing sites, and it does not mean that there are any refining shortages.

In fact, refining margins are significantly lower than last year, making the increase in gas prices much less than the increase in oil price would have warranted. And lowering gas taxes can only bring results in direct contradiction to his stated goals. By reducing prices at the pump, it will increase demand (or stop demand reduction efforts); more likely, it will lead to higher margins for oil companies — which probably don’t need the help. Either way, it will not help moving away from the addiction to oil, as diagnosed by President Bush in his 2006 State of the Union address.

With his proposals to open currently closed off areas of the USA for oil production, John McCain seems to think that the problem is addiction to foreign oil rather than to oil per se. But a country that controls 3% of world oil reserves while consuming 24% of world demand cannot seriously expect to be self-sufficient for very long. Indeed, the 21 billion barrels of inaccessible reserves that McCain wants to open to production represent barely 3 years of total US consumption. Even if they were brought to the market rapidly, their impact would be temporary. In fact, the Energy Information Agency, in a report published in 2007, concluded that "access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030" and that "any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant." Authorising drilling in currently closed areas will not bring more oil to the market, and will not bring prices down. Pushing it as energy policy perpetuates the hope that it is somehow possible to come back to worry-free times of cheap and plentiful oil. But this is by no means a distinguishing feature of John McCain: this is the real "third rail" of US politics, and no politician has dared touch it so far.

Similarly, his policies with respect to coal and nuclear are focused on the supply side rather than the demand side; but at least, in that case, his prescriptions can be implemented. Nuclear energy has become endlessly controversial, as arguments about what to do with the waste or about vulnerability to terrorist attacks are brought against those that point out, as McCain does, that it is an essentially carbon-free, relatively cheap power source. However, it is certainly possible to move towards a significant share of electricity generation coming from nuclear: after all, it took France less than 15 years to go from no nukes to 80% of its consumption coming from 58 nuclear plants - all using an identical US design provided by Westinghouse. On the coal front, US reserves are also sufficient to ensure plentiful power generation for some decades; however such a policy would go against McCain's professed goal to reduce carbon emissions, as carbon capture and storage is still a theory rather than an industrial reality and is likely to remain that way for many years. Moreover, nukes and coal are not - yet - substitutes for the main use of oil: transportation. Until plug-in hybrids or other electric vehicles become dominant, or people move massively to light rail, electricity will not be a meaningful substitute for oil. And coal to liquids technology is unlikely to ever be scaled to the current needs of US motorists, given the need for vast volumes of water in the process.

So, despite his claims to provide a break from the past, McCain's proposals are stuck in the very same mindset he criticizes - the one that drove Hillary Clinton to push for lower gas taxes, Bush to call for renewed offshore drilling, or Obama to support coal production in the Appalachians: the fundamentally American notion that there is no limit to what one can do, and that solutions will be found by going for more, or bigger, rather than doing less or smaller. But as the global scarcity of oil, that incredible, irreplaceable gift of nature, wich packs energy in a dense, easily transportable form, becomes more obvious, and as we need to increasingly fight with the Chinese and others for it, a revolution in our minds will be necessary to no longer take it for granted. It is a pity that McCain, whose description of today's crisis is spot on, cannot take that jump yet beyond that minimalist $300 million reward for better batteries. That would make him a maverick - and a much needed one.

This article previously appeared at Pajamas Media.

Well he isn't great, but he's a whole lot closer than "solar and wind" Obama. Drilling in the US would produce energy. Nuclear power will be required to run the PHEVs.

We should drill everywhere and build nukes, but that is not the answer. Nearly every organism on Earth lives within a solar budget. We can also.

We think of electricity has a high density power source, Edison did not. Here is a quote:

1910, Source: Interview in Elbert Hubbard's Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great:
"Some day some fellow will invent a way of concentrating and storing up sunshine to use instead of this old, absurd Prometheus scheme of fire. I'll do the trick myself if some one else doesn't get at it. Why, that is all there is about my work in electricity--you know, I never claimed to have invented electricity--that is a campaign lie--nail it!"

"Sunshine is spread out thin and so is electricity. Perhaps they are the same, but we will take that up later. Now the trick was, you see, to concentrate the juice and liberate it as you needed it. The old-fashioned way inaugurated by Jove, of letting it off in a clap of thunder, is dangerous, disconcerting and wasteful. It doesn't fetch up anywhere. My task was to subdivide the current and use it in a great number of little lights, and to do this I had to store it. And we haven't really found out how to store it yet and let it off real easy-like and cheap. Why, we have just begun to commence to get ready to find out about electricity. This scheme of combustion to get power makes me sick to think of--it is so wasteful. It is just the old, foolish Prometheus idea, and the father of Prometheus was a baboon."

"When we learn how to store electricity, we will cease being apes ourselves; until then we are tailless orangutans. You see, we should utilize natural forces and thus get all of our power. Sunshine is a form of energy, and the winds and the tides are manifestations of energy."

"Do we use them? Oh, no! We burn up wood and coal, as renters burn up the front fence for fuel. We live like squatters, not as if we owned the property.

"There must surely come a time when heat and power will be stored in unlimited quantities in every community, all gathered by natural forces. Electricity ought to be as cheap as oxygen, for it can not be destroyed.

"Now, I am not sure but that my new storage-battery is the thing. I'd tell you about that, but I don't want to bore you..."

There actually is no energy crisis. Power generation is 69% inefficient and transportation is 80% inefficient (urban transport is 96% inefficient). Inefficiency in both infrastructures can be decreased below 30%.

If 423 miles per gallon is practical, why do we get 18 mpg moving a person in city? Masdar, the zero-carbon city being built in Abu Dhabi will power its transportation network with solar.

McCain's entire energy plan is nothing but Pork-Barrel and Gimmicks:

1) Providing Half-a-Trillion-Dollars (!) in Subsidies to the Nuclear power industry.

2) Create a $300 Million "award" for electric car batteries. Even though the batteries we have work just great. The problem is cost, which can only be solved by economies of scale for production, and purchase of those batteries. As such, offering an award, only after that has been achieved, would be entirely moot by the time the cost is brought down that far.

3) He wants to save us about 8 pennies-a-gallon on oil, but 2 decades from now. A price difference that could just as easily be counteracted by global oil markets next week, much less decades from now. At the risk of putting coastal state economies into potential collapse.
(As much as he says Katrina/Rita was "no-problem", even though over 700,000 gallons of oil were leaked offshore. And 4 million gallons were leaked onshore)
And apparently the Supreme Court cut the 20 year old Exxon Valdez damages in to pieces. Probably considering they STILL haven't payed for it in full. Meanwhile 20% of those involved in the class action suit are now dead.

4) Save us 8 pennies-a-gallon on oil, now for a few months. But at the expense of jeopardizing the 35,000 road maintanence jobs. And crippling the American roadway infrastructure. Which is rather moot because he wouldn't even be President this Summer to begin with.

Well, cap-and-trade will just be another opportunity bubble for Wall Street to push paper around while making big bucks for the dealers. And Sen. McCain's domestic energy policies would surely be just window dressing as "our guys" pump Iraq dry during decades of occupation as we await "stabilization" on the way to our bankruptcy. Sen. Obama's policies may differ in the margins, but once Dick Cheney whispers "Peak Oil" in his ear, his fundamental approach will likely be identical.

Don't make your choice based on energy policies.

And who invented carbon trading ? ENRON who was looking for the big bucks from , as you said it " paper shuffling !".

Pretty standard GOP. To wit, decide what they want to do first, and then claim that will fix any existing problems whether that makes sense or not.

The "X-Prize" idea is a step. But what is needed is a realization by governments that they are not inventors nor very good administrators.

In the mobilization for World War I communications infrastructure was monopolized of security reasons. The concept of "natural monopoly" expanded to power generation and transportation infrastructure. We locked in place for a century the wonderful innovations of Bell, Ford, Edison and the Wright Brothers. Governments managed the details of HOW to implement infrastructure.

Challenging HOW with a different WHAT was not allowed. We created a mono-culture of infrastructure that mirrors the mono-culture of agriculture that caused the Potato Famines.

In 1984 communication infrastructure was de-monopolized. Long protected analog networks were re-tooled to digital and then fiber and wireless. Stunning examples of how free-markets, a rich ecology innovates better than a mono-culture monopoly.

We need a different WHAT. Masdar is implementing Personal Rapid Transit (PRT). Heathrow is implementing PRT. Uppsala Sweden is implementing PRT. This is a great technology. Hopefully we will implement it on a vast scale. Summary of the industry. And here is a statement of Performance Standard for beating 100 miles per gallon.

Also, hopefully PRT will not be monopolize this effort. As great as it will be, it should be modified and/or displaced by better. There is always a better way.

Also, hopefully the concept of "X-Prize" will shift to the government setting standards of performance, WHAT is needed, and allow the rich ecology of a free market to churn the HOW.

BTW, I have talked and/or met with both McCain's and Obama's staffs about this. Not much response from either.

I'm curious, did you really expect much of a response from the McCain or Obama people? (serious question) If so, why?

IMO, politicians do not respond to the individual, or any group smaller than a majority for that matter. They will do the "right thing" only after most constituents agree that it is the "right thing".

Personally, I do NOT expect any political process to help with any of our pressing problems. In fact, I expect political processes to hinder progress in addressing our problems until they have no other choice. And I sincerely hope that by that time it is not too late to provide any meaningful mitigation.

Does that make me a cynic, or a realist?

Did not expect much but was hopeful.

I agree Egon to some degree, however at least this time around the two candidates running seem to be willing to look at reality vs. the current Bush regime which simply decides what they think is right in a vacuum, and then stands by it ad infinitum with Fox Noise supporting their position verbatum. I figure both candidates will need to be educated, but at least their open to the possibilities.

I think the X-Prize idea appeals to the American lottery mentality.... the fantasy of getting fabulously lucky. It also appeals to the movie mentality that one big idea can change everything, or one great person can make all the difference. Most important advances come from lots of people having lots of little good ideas. Most advances are (horrors!) social inventions, and emerge from communities (are we allowed to use that word in Amerca?) of engineers and tinkerers pushing existing (not revolutionary) technology forward.

A functioning patent system should reward them by giving them limited monopoly rights... that's the X prize for everyone... (yes, patent lawyers aren't cheap, but it's more democratic and more practical) rather than one big prize for one big idea. The patent system more closely matches how technologies are created and brought to market.

The X prize idea sounds like one more example of just how dumb the average American is, always ready to believe in a fabulous pot of gold at the end of the rainbow waiting for the one big man who make the heroic journey to discover it. It is designed to sound like a solution to the average Joe. Nothing more. It is not how the world usually works.

Well.... Not really true at all.

The X prize offers large entities like duracell a shot at a large immediate ROI on R+D money. The last X prize resulted in several times the prize money itself being spent pursuing it. It passes the R+D, administration of R+D and all the other aspects that government is bad at off to the private concerns that ARE good at those aspects and leaves government doing the one thing government does well, spending money.

Jerome, you write:

[McCain's]concrete proposals include more drilling in the USA, more nuclear energy,, and, in an apparent nod to standard Republican economic fare, less regulation ...

I don't understand why you included a mention of 'more nuclear energy'in a context that implies you consider it to be a bad idea. In fact, 'more nuclear energy' may be the only realistic alternative to 'more drilling'. Or the choice may between 'more nuclear energy' and total economic collapse. It's as matter of relative risk and determining which is the lesser evil.

Or the choice may between 'more nuclear energy' and total economic collapse. It's as matter of relative risk and determining which is the lesser evil.

Do we still have the luxury of a choice? The problem is not lack of oil reserves, at least not yet. It is that in the race to offset the decline of the flow rate existing oil wells, we can't install enough new oil wells fast enough to bump up the flow rate where we want it to be. How could the solution be the move to a totally different energy source? This replaces the oil flow rate with an electricity flow rate. This requires replacing not only oil wells with nuclear power plants, but also all the distribution and storage infrastructure plus the energy consuming devices. This just increases the difficulty of the task by an order of magnitude.

Given infinite amount of time, the replacement of oil with nuclear could perhaps be done. The problem is we are dealing with a race. If the transition is not done on time, then we have to deal with forced demand destruction.

How could the solution be the move to a totally different energy source? This replaces the oil flow rate with an electricity flow rate.

PolR, I didn't make any such proposal. I just suggested that nuclear energy shouldn't be ruled out. If one includes externalities (climate change factor) I would even say that nuclear energy should be 'ruled in'.

The problem to solve is replacing the incremental decline in imports of oil less any efficiency savings

I prefer to say the problem is to find energy savings to match the decline in imports less new energy that can be brought into line in the given time frame. Same equation, different focus.

You must not leave the time out of equation and it is hard to see how non-oil energy can replace oil this fast given the magnitude of the infrastructure. Simple things like using a bicycle to job commute instead of a car can do a lot. Also buying products that are made near where they are consumed instead of made on a remote continent can also help. The good news is these things will occur naturally as oil price rises.


Nuclear ~$3500/kw investment
Wind ~$1500/kw investment

Even allowing for intermittency, correctly sited wind is cheaper, takes about half the time to install, doesn't require a river nearby, and has no waste disposal problem. What's not to like?

Hi TJ,

And let's not forget DSM. The client file I'm currently reviewing: a 3.2 kW reduction in demand and an estimated 26,940 kWh/year in energy savings. Utility cost: $2,370.23. Capacity factor: 100%.


wind has a 25% capacity factor. That means that to get the equivalent of 1, 1 gwe nuclear power plant you need to install 4 gw of wind which in turn = $6000/kw of similar capacity factor energy production. In addition to that, wind is unreliable, which means that for every watt of wind power you install you need to keep spinning reserve which must be either fossil fuel plant or hydro (which is already tapped). In addition to THAT, in order to exceed 20% of total energy penetration, you must have either energy storage on a vast scale, or long distance transmission capability on a scale that does not currently exist.

Wind is great, but it there's only so much you're going to do with it.

All of this is neglecting the local resistance which always crops up whenever you actually go to build a windfarm.

I did say "correctly sited". Also, if you're using a 25% capacity factor, you do not get to say it's also unreliable and needs backup capacity. You've already installed enough wind to take care of that.

Yes, I DO get to say that it is unreliable. If you build 4 times as much of it to accomodate the capacity factor, you STILL need the storage and backup generation. The 25% capacity factor was just to get to the point where you are producing a comparable amount of KWH total, you then need to make it usable by providing it when you need it rather than when the wind is blowing.

The 25% capacity factor IS for properly sited wind. As penetration grows, the best sites (the ones that provide that juicy 25%) get used up and the capacity factor drops.

Not to mention estimated capital life of 1/3rd that of a reactor.

Wind is neat. It might even be useful. It services a totally different need than nuclear and shouldn't be viewed as an alternative to nuclear. That kind of thinking is why Germany is building more coal plants.

The second part of your comment is very insightful. The first part isn't because of the non lineary nature of the interest cost with the lifetime of the loan. That benefit is mostly societal, not economical/financial.

Or you could accept the cost of intermittiency, i.e. load management is a part of the solution. With any intermittent source or combination of intermittent sources, there will be periods when some degree of load shedding/management is necessary. The trick is to make a mix of intermittient, and reliable sources meet your economies needs. If I had a choice of 100% intermittient power, or 5%baseline plus 95%intermittient (this is a fairly extreme example), I would be willing to pay a premium for that 5%. So the real question (which involves statistics) is how much of a premium I am willing to pay (at any point in the reliability spectrum) for a unit more reliability. The answer to that will involve economics, and industrial design, as well as cultural attitudes.

The cost of money has a giant effect. If you're shooting for 15% ROIs or better on your projects, you always end up with the low investment options. Anything that requires a lot of investment and long construction times just does not get authorized. This is one of the big reasons most nations are building a lot of ultra-cheap gas power plants even now.

re: TJ
==The cost of money has a giant effect. If you're shooting for 15% ROIs or better on your projects, you always end up with the low investment options. Anything that requires a lot of investment and long construction times just does not get authorized. This is one of the big reasons most nations are building a lot of ultra-cheap gas power plants even now.==

Exactly, thats also why the arguments that "Nuclear power has longer lifetimes" doesn't really hold much weight.

Since it has a horrible ROI, with a high default risk, and the loan increment is massive.
Exactly the hallmarks of what makes it poison to investors.

Even after spending $13 Million bucks on planning, not even Warren Buffet can find a way to make Nuclear power profitable on an open market.

Utility operators won't even touch it unless 100% of the capital loan risk is covered by the Fed.

The cost-of-money is more than giant, it's absolute.

The cost-of-money is more than giant, it's absolute.

At the present time, that's for damn sure. Unless you're a defense contractor.

Whether people are for or aginst Nuclear or wind is not the the point Wind is scalable quickly by most developed nations and every Kw/Hr or MJ of energy produced by wind displaces the same amount of gas/coal being burnt .Which we will have to burn on the days there is no wind!
personaly I would rather have a huge wind turbine and not leave all the nuclear Waste Shit to my sons/Grandsons to solve. Bar burying it in a hole nobody has come up with a better a idea yet.

Why everyone frets about spent fuel that can be stored in a parking lot and no one gives a thought to the mountains of toxic waste that will be toxic forever I dont quite understand.

I propose doing geologic storage of nuclear waste under the mountains of nonnuclear toxic waste that no one worrys about today.

"I propose doing geologic storage of nuclear waste under the mountains of nonnuclear toxic waste that no one worrys about today."

I am anti-nuclear, and yet I think this is brilliant :D

Beware the false comparison. Mercury is toxic forever, but it ends up sinking in to what will be future coal. It occurs in nature and we are just overdoing it. Nuclear waste includes isotopes that do not occur in nature and thus has a much more dangerous effect.


Beware the poorly educated assertion. Mercury is but one of the toxic waste materials that are around forever. PCBs are a second example that come to mind but there are thousands of examples. Whether the isotope "exists in nature" or not has no bearing whatsoever on the risk level posed by the material. Most of the most powerful toxins occur regularly in nature, including among others, cyanide.

Nuclear waste is only dangerous at the "standing next to it kills you" level for 10 years or so, after that it drops to the "eating more than the RDA gives you cancer", it remains there for a few hundred years and then drops to the "I wouldn't suggest building your house out of it" level. The dangers of rad-waste are massively exaggerated.

PCBs last for a long time, but not forever. Perhaps you would care to try again?


By the time mercury is isolated by the environment, nuclear waste has all decayed. So what? At least we isolate spent fuel from the environment. In terms of measurable risk, there are millions of people who have been killed by toxic byproducts. Compared to how many who have been killed by spent fuel?

We should bury the thousands of tons of spent fuel under the millions of tons of arsenic, mercury, etc. There should be enough just from the founderies of solar cells.

This type of arguments have been busted several times in other threads. Ignorance of grid dynamics, proliferating the baseload fallacy, omitting historical reliability factors, technical power output curves...

All aspects of propaganda. Not really helping to solve the problems.

Think constructive guys.


I didn't say I didn't like wind. But your cost calculations are not undisputed. All depends on what you mean by 'correctly sited'. You may have indicated the lowest conceivable cost of wind energy generated electricity rather than the average cost.

Naturally, in regions where there is no wind, wind turbines cannot generated any electricity, and the cost per kw reaches infinity.

True. And in places where there is no water, nuclear would be closer to $7000-8000/kw. The above numbers are pretty close to the cheapest for both types of power that I've come across. Jerome once estimated the investment costs for France for it's nuclear program; they were around $2800/kw. And that was with ultra-low financing, a large number of standardized reactors, and probably most importantly, over twenty-five years ago when oil and water were cheap.

For my own WAG, I'd say that with the current state of the economy, nuclear is going to die a quick death, along with anything else that requires billions of dollars of investment right at the start.

Perhaps it would be less confusing if the cost comparisons were made on the basis of kWh rather than capacity.

Estimates or calculations differ considerably depending on your source. For example, according to a recent report commissioned by the UK authorities, a 'nuclear' kWh costs 2.3 cents, while an 'onshore wind' kWh costs 3.7 cents.

But then they would say that, wouldn't they?

While according to the Earth and Sky Women's Peace Caravan for a Compassionate Society, the 'nuclear' kWh costs a minimum of 10 cents, while the 'wind' kWh costs a minimum of 5 cents.

But then they would say that, wouldn't they?

Eh. I personally wouldn't believe either of them without looking at the particular project economics: the investment required, the project life, the depreciation schedule used, the decommissioning costs, etc. They would of course have to be evaluated using the same time frame and cost of money.

Carolus Obscurus,
Why are we arguing about which is cheaper, whether the cost is 2.3 or 10cents/kwh for either wind or nuclear? These prices are a bargain if we can replace 1 gallon of gasoline with 2-4 kwh of electricity( based on using a PHEV or BEV) its a no-brainer( $4-8 for gasoline versus 10-40cents for electricity!!).
Rather than a $300 million prize(stunt), use the money towards the first 100,000 PHEV or BEV sold in US. Or better still, spend $3Billion towards the batteries of the first million vehicles so that all manufactures could have a shot at starting production. The US doesn't need another brilliant invention, we need to get into manufacturing what has already been developed. A new invention is going to take >10 years before getting into mass production. In that time you could have 10 million new PHEV's on the roads.

World wind capacity expansion(>25% a year?) is going flat-out, this needs to be maintained. It will still take many years for wind capacity to reach 20% of electricity capacity in most countries. New nuclear capacity should also be encouraged.

Neither are going to solve the problems created by peak oil unless the peak is a long way off, conservation in all forms is the only short term(5-10year) solution, this means more gasoline fuel efficient cars, less driving( car pooling, less shopping and recreation trips),better use of fleet mix(higher VMT by the most efficient vehicles), more use of existing mass-transit. Gasoline rationing may be needed if real shortages occur, but should only be used after introducing much higher registration taxes on low mpg vehicles( new and used), much higher fuel taxes(European levels), and greatly increased CAFE standards next year not 2015 or 2020.

re: TJ
==Nuclear ~$3500/kw investment==

$6000-$8000/kw all-in investment, would be more realistic.

And that doesn't even encompass the fact that the Decommissioning Costs seem to keep doubling every few years.

In deference to you and nuclear energy, might I suggest you'd want to get away from fission and its long lasting radioactive waste and focus instead on a currently working thermonuclear plant about 98 million miles away.

Best of all, its currently operating at capacity and for FREE.

Use it.

the choice may between 'more nuclear energy' and total economic collapse.

It seems that anything other that total economic collapse will result in backsliding into business as usual until there is another bigger crisis, and over and over, another crisis, until there is total economic collapse.

New theory: "Peak Crisis"

Remember, we still have coal as an option to battle the 'total economic collapse'. Well under certain technical assumptions about future energy systems at least.

Pollution and GhG would be the issues then. Heavy metals and soot etc are nasty although they might be strongly mitigated through technical intervention. But not a very plausible cause for total economic collapse.

GhG could very well be though. So again it's down to a technical assumption - some form of exponentially scalable carbon sequestration. Pretty grim hopes for that IMHO, especially globally.

I think nuclear fission can contribute much stronger but it's not a plausible silver bullet at this point in time. There's a lot of local succes but globally it's a moribund industry. And due to lack of private investment, there's not a lot of hope for that to change on the short term. The specialized nature of a lot of the equipment is another negative for rapid short term growth. Aerodynamics, construction, mechanical and electrical engineers are more common than nuclear engineers and can be borrowed from other industries. Same for PV and ST. Micro-electronics, general mechanical engineers respectively.

Things could get better on the medium to long term, but then will competitors just sit back and read the newspapers? What kind of competitive market will there be in one or two decades? I guess it makes sense to find out but we can't afford not to accelerate development via an equal incentive structure.

After peak, the growth rate in produced oil is negative. This will produce a halving period, as opposed to the doubling period that results from a positive growth rate. So if the rate of growth goes to -3.5% then in 20 years production will be half. Actually it might be even worse for the USA because we import 60% of what we use and most of the decreased production of the world could come out of what we import; we might be down by 2/3 instead of 1/2 in 20 years.

So what would be the point of building more refineries!!!

Building a new infrastructure, whether it is nuclear, wind, solar cells, batteries, electric motors, electric cars, etc., requires additional resources including energy. If we are in an energy deficit, then putting an additional burden on the system means that someone must give up some of what they are consuming to free resources for the new infrastructure. Conservation is a very limited source of freeing up resources, so very rapidly we will not be conserving but we will be deprived; a very dangerous situation.

This is an impossible situation. It certainly is beyond the capacity of politicians and bureaucrats to solve it. The best they can do is get out of the way, but this is not going to happen because every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he knows what needs to be done, and the politicians are just going to do what seems to be currently popular as the clamor to do something grows louder and louder. As the public pain increases the clamor grows. Look at the ethanol disaster for example, or the government blocking nuclear plants for the last several decades.

Just remember that government solutions crowd out private solutions. Resources are limited so if government directs them into the solution they see, then the resources are not available for private solutions, including what you think you should do on your own to protect yourself.

If you are relying of McCain or Obama to save you from the consequences of depleted resources your are mistaken. As I write this, in the background, Obama on the news is promising Latinos to rebuild the infrastructure (he mentions roads, bridges, dams, levies), provide everyone health care and a college education, to send more troops to Afghanistan, and to invest in new energy technology. Yea! Give me a break!

Regardless of McCain being a toady for the US Chamber of Commerce, which he is even though he arrives at this position independently, at least *his program* would have an impact. Drilling everywhere as he advocates would increase the supply of oil domestically. That is a fact. Building more refineries beyond the incremental expansion they have done for the past 15 years would increase the supply of gasoline. And, building 45 nuclear power plants were mean 45 coal plants NOT built and would cut in to potential serious increases in carbon emissions.

Compared to Obama with his abstract plans for solar and wind, McCain *sounds* more reasonable and assertive.

David Walters

And, building 45 nuclear power plants would mean 45 coal plants NOT built and would cut into potential serious increases in carbon emissions.

You are of course overestimating the intelligence of the average voter. The concept of relative risk (which you implicitly invoke) is simply beyond the comprehension of over 95% of the electorate.

They want to eat their cakes and have them too. No nuclear plants and no coal plants and no wind turbines in our back yard and no drilling in Alaska ‘cos we get our electricity out of the socket anyhow so where’s the problem?

You are of course overestimating the intelligence of the average voter [...] simply beyond the comprehension of over 95% of the electorate.

Ah, the "if you don't agree with me it's because you're stupid" argument. I left that behind when I was six years old.

If you're unhappy with decisions being put in the hands of the people, you could always migrate to Iran, Libya, Equatorial Guinea, or some other dictatorship. They think the public is too stupid to be trusted with decisions, too.

They want to eat their cakes and have them too. No nuclear plants and no coal plants and no wind turbines in our back yard and no drilling in Alaska ‘cos we get our electricity out of the socket anyhow so where’s the problem?

I know of no instance where the public was asked in a formal ballot which power source they preferred for their area. There have been a couple of referenda on whether or not to have nuclear in the whole country (Sweden, Italy - both said "nope"), but none asking about their particular area.

I'd ask the public in a formal ballot. That's democratic power-sharing.

A power plant will be built to accomodate our power needs. Our electorate/council will be entirely responsible, both legally and financially, for building, maintaining, and dismantling and cleaning up after this plant. This is a preferential vote for which power plant will be built in our electorate/council. Number the following in order of preference, with 1 being the most preferred.

* nuclear
* solar
* wind
* hydro (in some places)
* tidal (in some places)
* geothermal (in some places)
* coal-burning
* natural gas-burning
* none - ie, either have no electricity, or provide your own from your home somehow

It'd be interesting to see what each area would vote for. That's an excellent way to deal with NIMBYism. "Okay, you don't want this in your backyard. What do you want in your backyard?"


Most people vote for Solar because it sounds cool (or wind if the local area is not sunny).
Coal or nuclear gets the vote of all the people who can add up, but they get over-ruled.

The community goes ahead with the renewable option over the objections of the engineers who point out that an astronomical amount of money will need to be spent on storage given the current state of the technology.

The implemented solution is a compromise that is both largely intermitent and seriously underpowered.

The community then suffers limited power supplies while imposing unusually high local taxes to fund payments on the bond issue. Many people move away, the tax base declines, they go bankrupt.

This serves as a warning to other communities aboout the dangers of holding a referendum.

I'm smelling another anti-democracy advocate here, but I'll try to proceed as though you're speaking in good faith.

Democracy is not the mere exercise of a vote, but the whole process of public discussion, advocacy, critique, and so on. Any vote ought to be preceded by a period of public discussion. So we go beyond what "sounds cool".

The idea would be to have each area develop its own energy resources. So there'd be no "warning to other communities", because all the communities would be doing it.

Nothing would prevent the communities from having an electrical grid, addressing problems of intermittency exactly as we do today.

But basically it doesn't sound as though you believe in democracy. The people are too dumb to know what's good for them. As I'm neither a fascist nor a communist, I don't agree.

Anyone who disagrees with you is obviously a fascist.

A functioning democracy requires an informed public. Do you think we have an informed public?

The people are, potentially, smart enough to know what is good for them. However, in practice, they don't know what's good for them. Take a look around you.

If people go to government schools where logic and finance are not on the curriculum, and get their opinions from TV,newspapers, magazines and advertisements, then "the people" end up lacking any coherent understanding of how the society they live in actually functions.

Only a small minority ever engage in "the whole process of public discussion, advocacy, critique".
By that logic, the vast majority do not participate in democracy.
If you hold a poll, 90% of the votes will be from people who are in effect, not citizens.

No, anyone who says the public are too stupid to decide what's good for them is potentially a fascist.

Yes, an informed public is better placed to engage in their democracy. But there are degrees of being informed. We do not all have to be Nelson Mandelas to avoid being Homer Simpsons.

But basically it doesn't sound as though you believe in democracy.

Here's one possible answer:

No, I don't believe in democracy. For the same reason I don't believe in God - I am no longer convinced that He exists. I did believe once, but I found it difficult to reconcile what I had been taught with what I saw around me.

Do you believe we live in a democracy?

It seems to me that candidates are pre-selected by powerful interest groups, and formulate policies to cater to those interest groups. These interest groups use the media to shape public opinion, so in the end we have a hoodwinked public voting for tweedledum and tweedledee. Real choices are not even on the menu.

This isn't some idea I dreamt up. You'll find Noam Chomsky on the left and Ron Paul on the right saying the same thing. And surveys show about 80% of Americans feel politicians don't really listen to the people.

Do I advocate democracy? Yes. And I think you can point to various countries at various periods in time that had healthy functioning democracies. When it is running properly, it is superior to all other forms of government.

But you can't say you really have a democracy unless you have an informed public.

If the US public were once again to become politically involved and made an effort to educate themselves (as a result of a great crisis, hypothetically speaking), then the US might again be a functional democracy - without the need for any change in the formal power structure.

But given the curent state of citizenship, they might react to a crisis by flocking to populists who promise easy answers and appeal to emotion.

I think you're assuming I live in the US.

It's common for Americans to assume that everyone they speak to is an American. But it's a bad assumption.

A corrupted and inert democracy is still a democracy, just as a sick person is still alive. Sick people can get better, they get better by a determined effort to do so; if they decide to just die they often do. Not all who try to get better survive, but virtually all who give up die.

Likewise, a democracy loses corruption and inertia by a determined effort to do so. Not all democracies which try to revive themselves succeed, but all which do not try fail.

No useful change was ever wrought by apathy and despair.

Plus, most of the world's democracies aren't as corrupted and inert as the USA's.

It is very common for Americans to assume all kinds of silly things. But then perhaps most people do. More importantly, Americans take particular disastrously silly things for granted. Like, thinking they all have the 'freedom' to drive a car when that's really just collectively shackling ourselves to foreign oil. Not to mention a suboptimal transport system.

It's ironic and paradoxical how individual level freedoms translate into collective slavery.

Now, before you start accusing me of being anti-US, I should tell you my passport says I'm a US citizen. In fact I'm a patriot and that's why I'm unhappy with the currently proposed 'solutions' and mindsets of leading politicians. All of the presidential candidates have disappointing energy policies IMHO.


For the record, I would personally favour a mix of nuclear and solar. Solar has a lot of potential to meet peak daytime loads in sunny areas. Storage technologies need improvement but there are some promising avenues, especially in regard to concentrated solar thermal. Geothernal and hydro are nice if you can get it.

I just think putting engineering questions to a vote is daft if you have an uninformed public. And if you have an INFORMED public who can actually agree on solutions, the politicians will just take a poll and go with public opinion anyway.

There is NO point in building more standard refineries. If some significant feedstock source is being underutilized, a case can be made for more specialized refining capability. Heavy sour crude is an example here. If the world had more heavy sour refining capability today, that might effectively increase oil supply by a couple million barells/day.

In any case any solution is going to involve a number of silver BBs. Heavy sour refineries, and drill, drill, drill are both examples of silver BBs. Caliber of the BBs will not be equal. Any decent strategy will have enough BBs, that in combination they can handle the need.

And the 'impossibility' of the situation is the pain of our growth economy, having just touched global constraints. The world is not growing. This has been obvious 'all the time', and the authors of 'Limits to Growth', 'Overshoot', and a lot of other books, have tried to inform about the looming crisis for three decades or more, mostly for deaf ears and blind eyes.

BECAUSE our economic system has no mechanism to account for natural resource constraints, and the concept of non-renewable resources has certainly not existed in the petroleum economy. Used resources are not shown as cost items. At least not anywhere in the Norwegian economy that I have seen during the 35 years I have been working closely with marine technology for this sector. The value of natural resources in-place is nil. In one oil company's Annual Report, a number called 'reserve replacement ratio' is displayed as a measure of sustainability. A value of 1 or higher was purportedly a 'criterion' of sustainability. Now even this doesn't work any longer.

To the US the oil constraint seems to be the first and most painful one. And the weak dollar is more a consequence than a cause of the high oil price. Other resources are also close to some limits: Food, uranium, phosphate, ..? More spending may be like gas to the fire. After the globalization it is difficult to see any growth potential. (Deuterium from the moon for fusion reactors was seriously envisioned in a space technology 'promotion' program!!).

What we need is a SUSTAINABLE economy. Is that possible? Sustainability requires that growth is followed by decay.

What we need is a SUSTAINABLE economy. Is that possible? Sustainability requires that growth is followed by decay.

I don't see why not. Keep in mind that it is only the debt-based monetary system that requires endless growth. Consider Japan: it has negative population growth and near zero economic growth without anyone really hurting.

If we all cut our consumption of everything by 30% -- which is not hard to do -- this would not produce a standard of living that was substantially lower since a huge part of consumption is pure waste and whimsy. I can say this with some assurance because over the last year I have done just that and my quality of life is in no way reduced. In fact, its better because I am divesting myself of a lot of useless junk. And with less consumption, I need less income.

Therefore I would say that, at least in theory, post peak doesn't have to end in catastrophe, although the consumerites and political hacks will ensure that it will.

We need to learn from ants (and bees). They possess collective intelligence, which means they perform much better in mass than as an individual and the sacrifice of an individual for the good of the mass is the norm. We are in collective chaos!

It strikes me as ironic that the GOP can blame the Dems for the lack of a comprehensive long term energy policy. Since Jan 20, 1981 the Dems have controlled the White House and both houses of Congress for only 2 years. That is 2 out of the last 27 years. For 6 of the last 7 years the GOP has controlled the White House and both houses of Congress yet failed miserably at instituting an energy policy that is anything other than let the market decide. They have roundly ignored the Hirsch Report's recommendations for the last 7 years and have kissed Big Oil's butt while holding hands with the tyrannical House of Saud. Their knee jerk response to the price rise has been to call for tax cuts and turning a blind eye on Big Oil's and Big Coal's rape of Mother Earth. Somehow we are to expect something different from a man who has been silent on energy policy during his long tenure in Congress to offer up anything truly helpful. Can we really expect new tricks from that old dog?

I happen to be old enough to remember the TV commercials touting nuclear energy.
The verbatim quote from the ad went.........
"Nuclear energy will soon become so clean,efficient,
cheap and safe that it wont pay to meter it"
This commercial ran for a long time in North east
Ohio approximately 35 years ago.
Anything a politician spews in order to be elected,
I trust as much as info-mercial in the wee hours of the morning.
MCcain is part of a cabal.....the many chosen few if you will.
Just because he tickled your ear doesnt mean he isnt
blowing smoke up your skirt.

"Nuclear energy will soon become so clean,efficient,
cheap and safe that it wont pay to meter it"

Right. Which company made this advertisment, and what evidence can you find of it's existence?

It seems to me that you've got the infamous Lewis Strauss quote mixed up with nuclear energy advertising - Strauss was not an expert on nuclear technology at all, and he wasn't talking about commercial nuclear fission power plants as we know them today.

Let's give a $300 million reward to the first guy who can figure out how to disguise a brutally effective national energy conservation program as a tax cut that will fool the voters.

That's EASY. 25% of national expenditure is government. Stop spending all nonessential portions of that and you'd cause a recession that would drop our oil consumption by 30-40%. At the same time you would get to cut taxes by 40 or 50% because you wouldn't be spending the money.

Presto! A national conservation campaign hidden in a tax cut!

I'm not much worried about McCain's energy recommendations. They aren't going to happen good diagnosis or not.

He will lose the Midwest by being against ethanol. He will lose California and Florida by being for drilling off shore. He will lose the rust belt buy being for conservation which will spell the death of Detroit auto manufacturing, since as usual they are unprepared.

He's trying to put light between himself and the Bush administration which he has supported for the last eight years. It ain't going to work. Few believe Bush anymore and the same is true for McCain. It is as simple as that.

I have just finished reading the first 37 comments on this article. If the lack of agreement I see here among a supposied like minded group is so evident, it is no wonder why nothing has been done on a national scale where there are dozens of competing positions.

A Bemused Observer

Exactly. "their leaders talked, and talked... and talked."

Time to start reading up on applied madmaxology because there's very little chance on getting agreement on any useful course of action. Even the no-brainers like windfarms (yes, despite my pointing out the engineering limitations above, I DO support windfarms for rapid deployment) meet massive opposition when the rubber meets the road.

The problem is, an engineering issue has been politicized beyond functionality. The measures that actually work are politically unpopular and the measures that are politically popular don't work. It is as simple as that. The result being that we do nothing. and every day that we do nothing means more death and destruction before any recovery can even be considered.

"applied madmaxology"! is that yours? that's genius.

Never underestimate the importance of knowing where your towel is. From H2G2, "A towel," it says, "is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have." :)

No. I can't claim the credit for "applied madmaxology", I saw it here in fact in a different thread. But Adopting it seems like a logical step.

Look, it's a tough universe out there, there's all kindsa people tryin' to kill you, do you, rip you off. If you're going to survive out there, you really need to know where your towel is.

You can take comfort in knowing with absolute certainty that the cabal of movers and shakers...
"The many chosen few" have think tanks filled with the
most paranoid bunch of psychopants you could ever emagine.
Those in power always have a vested intrest in hiding the power they have from those great unwashed masses
who are programed like Pavlovian dogs to believe they
are powerless.
These leaders are in constant fear of being usurped
by the garlic eating hordes of drones that their
policies impact.
"madmaxology" as you so eloquently phrased a fear of world leaders, as well it should be.
A poker face and a steel resolve wont protect them...
Airforce #1 cant stay airborne without oil.
Bush had his motorcade attacked on the day of his
inauguration 4 years ago.
It sped up several times to escape the onslaught.
"FFF YOU BUSH" could be audibly heard on every venue
that broadcast the event live.
With the advent of PO and economic collapse being
evident to any casual observer...its gonna get worse
before it gets better.
As a side note....I wish too thank the admins of this site.
No one thus far has said this site is going to cure the worlds problems,but the way they are addressed here are top shelf.

My vote is for a horse,a plow, and a bag of seeds.You know, a real green movement.
I'm not going to hold my breath though.Opinions are like buttholes, everyones got one.

Don't forget the gun, or I'll be barbequeing your horse and making porridge with your seeds.

Then what are you going to eat next month/year?


"....But when one moves to his recommendations, the gap is suddenly yawning with this diagnosis. His concrete proposals include more drilling in the USA, more nuclear energy, and, in an apparent nod to standard Republican economic fare, less regulation (for refineries) and lower taxes (on gas)...."

I am sure those overbloated cornucopian USGS world reserves have plenty to do with "...lets just go and ramp up drilling in the lower 48..." to solve our crisis right now.But I suspect what the USGS is prevaricating about is telling us that they pad their world reserves with tar sands and oil shales.

If they really want to go after the oil shales in Utah and Colorado along the Green river, I guess thats their perogative.I hear Shell is buying up land and water rights in the area.If they do that however, you can kiss the Grand Canyon goodbye.The Green River flows into the Colorado River as it enters the Canyon.The lower 48 realistically cannot be 'drilled' anymore to have any sort of measurable impact.The parties definitely over in the lower 48 as far as conventional drilling goes.There would be nothing conventional about open pit mining for oil shales.
They are already doing alot of drilling off the coast of California right now.I just drove down the coast not long ago and saw several offshore rigs in the Santa Barbara area, by coincidence.

As far as nuclear,I do not think many people realize that a nuclear power plant, no matter how safe operating proceedures are carried out, emit radioactivity under normal operating conditions by venting coolant contaminated with radioactive elements.They claim it is not a significant amount,however, and is no more dangerous than back ground natural occurring radioactivity.
Cool. Whats there to be worried about then?
Im sure we could always find a cheap house downwind from one of those reactors no matter what the housing market was doing.

He also rightly points out that US dependency on imported oil has been growing, and that the amounts of money paid out to often hostile oil-exporting countries are reaching record levels.

Americans and europeans can't understand simple logic. If you not want your enemies to be hostile kindly take your armies out of their countries. You have no right to be their. Their natural resources are their, if they not want to take it out of ground or not want to sale it its their right. No matter how bad a dictator they have you have absolutely no right to go there unless their majority ask for your help.

When you not understand and still go there they fight back and then labelling them hostile brings you no good. You are the aggressor, the invader, the looter, the bandit. They are the defender, the freedom fighter. No matter how fancy your weapons are or how loud your noise is or how bad words you use for them the reality is that you are the evil, they are the good.

If your only justification of invading them is that you think they have wmds then they have a bigger reason to invade you because you have more wmds and its not only what they think, you also admit that you have them and lots of them.

If you think they can't handle it and you can then understand who has proved to be unable to handle it. America is the only country to use nuclear weapons in war and not once but twice, so that shows a lot. If you say that is story of long ago and you are mature now then look at how easily nuclear weapons were lifted and transported hundred of miles in your country and how easily a mishap could have happen. Also take a look at the vulnerability of british nuclear weapons system as recently told by telegraph newspaper.

If iran must be invaded for trying to have nuclear technology then usa, russia, britain, france, china, india, israel and pakistan must be invaded first and in sequence because of having that technology.

If iran must be invaded for trying to help hizbullah which saved lebanon from israeli invasion then israel must be invaded before that for invading lebanon at first place.

If you are so good that you want to "free" the people from dictators then don't forget robert mogabe of zimbawe, janta of burma and musharraf of pakistan.

If you want to bring democracy in middle east then learn to respect already existing and flourishing democracies there in iran and palestine and not hate them just because you not like those particular political parties that are in power in those democracies.

I know this blog is supposed to be about oil, but with all due respect to our wise friend from Pakistan, I'd like to tell a very short story from the good old USofA. I was taking my daily walk yesterday with my lovely wife (who happens to be Japanese) and our three little girls. We passed a park at which several men were playing soccer, and I noticed that they all appeared to be of Middle Eastern descent. After exchanging friendly greetings of “good morning” with one of the men who had run over to the sidewalk to retrieve a ball, I made the comment to my wife that “I wonder why everyone in the world can’t get along as well as we do here.” Her immediate response to me was something to the effect that “people come here because they want to.”

My reason for mentioning this is simply to say that anyone can rattle off a long list of reasons why any country on the planet is “the aggressor, the invader, the looter, the bandit” etc., etc., etc… The harsh reality, however, is that countries are made up of people, and those people have to live together – both within and between their respective borders. I’ve travelled to and lived in a number of countries, and I’ve never seen anything quite like the diversity and harmony that exists here. I’m not saying that our country is perfect. On the contrary, I fully recognize that we have a very full plate of problems – one of the largest of which is our seemingly complete lack of a coherent, long-term energy policy. However, I will say that my “in-laws” in Japan are all very fond of America, despite the fact that it dropped two A-bombs on them 70 years ago and has “occupied” their country with 10s of thousands of troops ever since.

Just a little bit of food for thought.


I feel everything you say. I only wish your first line "Americans and europeans can't understand simple logic." weren't true. Actually I can't speak for the Europeans. Americans are full of what is called "American Exceptionalism" -the notion that we are a uniquely rightous nation, which can do no wrong. I don't know if that attitude was ever justified -perhaps somewhat just after WW2 it might have been. But everyone, but us blind Americans can see that such an attitude is a slippery slope towards becoming just the sort od country we thought we were rebelling against originally. I do at least feel a tiny bit of hope. I think we actually have a candidate for president who feels as you do. I'm sure Obama is aware of the many criticisms of America in the world. I just don't know if politically he can dare own up to this understanding, the average American interprets criticism as being anti-American. Keep up the communications, maybe, just maybe, the message will start to get through.

Sorry to burst your bubble, Mr. State (or Enemy, if I might be so bold), but "Americans" aren't full of anything - people are. The core problem with humans, unfortunately, is that they generally have too little faith in themselves to face the world as individuals. Instead, they cling sheepishly to titles that associate them with larger groups, like countries, or religions, or political parties. That allows them to feel stronger and more secure than they otherwise would, and gives them the “courage” to venture out in to what otherwise would be a pretty terrifying place for them (i.e., reality). My preference is to focus more on the reality itself, and formulate my decisions and actions on what I see going on.

Your observation that “we actually have a candidate for President who feels as you (refering to WisdomfromPakistan) do” is probably accurate, and that’s why he’ll never win. He may look good on the surface, but deep down inside, my guess is that most individual Americans will sense his negativity and decide not to vote for him. What the people of the world need right now isn’t an American President that tells them that the US is the cause of their problems, thus reinforcing their instinctive desires to point their fingers at someone else. They need someone who will work with them in a collaborative manner to take on the big problems that threaten us all, regardless of our nationalities, religious affiliations, or political beliefs. I’m not sure if McCain is that man, but at least he has some credentials and isn’t basing his whole candidacy on some ambiguous call for “change.”

The bottom line is that we've all been placed on this big green marble together, and we'd better figure out pretty quick how to get along. Slapping labels on each other and throwing around ambiguous phrases like "American Exceptionalism" isn't gonna get us very far. We need to cut the bull and get down to business. If not for ourselves, than for our kids and grandkids.

As an Obama supporter I nevertheless think it's time someone hit Barack pretty hard on a number of his recent energy policy commentary(ies). Much of which is coming from his energy advisor, Jason Grumet, who himself was an early cheerleader for corn ethanol. More of the same here in the US: highly educated, highly intelligent people who appear to be intellectually unequipped to see the problem in its totality.

Remember, we are Americans so the overestimation of our grasp of problems and their solutions is not only way, way overestimated by ourselves, but especially overestimated by the rest of the world. We're nothing special. That's what needs to be understood. And even if McCain or Obama really did have a clue, and their advisors had a clue, the dead-weight emanating from American society would pull them--and will pull them--down into the abyss. This most recent flurry of societal finger-pointing at speculation as the cause of the oil price is a deep, intellectual embarrassment for us. And that's only one example.

More of that coming.


Hello TODers,

IMO, the Presidential candidate, who wants to win by a huge, landslide margin, just has to propose the following:

All golfers must henceforth walk the course-->pushing a hand-powered rotary lawnmower [with grass-catcher] ahead of them all the way, with their golfbag slung across their back.

No caddies, No golf carts, No professional greenskeepers. No power tools allowed for course upkeep. PGA tournament golfers must cut and collect a minimum of 500 lbs of grass-clippings in order for their 18-hole golf-round to be considered official.
I think putting this into the public discussion arena will generate sufficient awareness of Peak Everything that the voters will flock to vote for this proactive candidate. Then relocalized permaculture can move speedily ahead.

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

Why is this story in "The Oil Drum:Europe"?
I'm new here, but that just doesn't make any sense.

Maybe because the European MSM is more Peak Aware than the American MSM? My local Phoenix,AZ media is a joke, when we should be the global leader in Powerdown and other mitigative actions.


I'm not sure, but I think Jerome lives in Paris (France (Europe)). ;-)

not to worry, Jerome is a writer for TOD:E. Though, you do have a point...have to think about the re: content vs. writers.

Either way, welcome!


I agree that the contradiction between "conservation serves a critical national goal" and build more refineries indicates a real shortcoming in understanding. On the other hand, as stupid as the gas tax holiday is, the tax is such as small fraction already that it can't have a big effect on demand. It will really just lead to poorer highway repair. Demand reduction in the US might happen through European level fuel taxes, but we have a speedier way: declare a fuel shortage and institute our rationing plan. One should see a big dollar recovery if we were to do this I think. Do you agree?


Hello TODers,

A 'British Bhopal' for their Organic Gardeners? This is the last thing the UK needs as they go postPeak. Yikes!
Home-grown veggies ruined by toxic fertiliser

Gardeners across Britain are reaping a bitter harvest of rotten potatoes, withered salads and deformed tomatoes after an industrial herbicide tainted their soil...

...Shirley Murray, 53, a retired management consultant with an allotment near Bushy Park in Hampton, south-west London, said several of her allotment neighbours had used the same manure bought from a stables and all were affected.

'I am absolutely incensed at what has happened and find it scandalous that a weedkiller sprayed more than one year ago, that has passed through an animal's gut, was kicked around on a stable floor, stored in a muck heap in a field, then on an allotment site and was finally dug into or mulched on to beds last winter is still killing "sensitive" crops and will continue to do so for the next year,' she said.

'It's very toxic, it shouldn't get into the food chain. You try to be as organic as you can and we have poisoned our food....
Bob Shaw in Phx,Az Are Humans Smarter than Yeast?

Weighing in from Australia - and stepping way outside my field of expertise, so this will all be subject to correction by wiser heads.

I think a missing factor in energy policy is financial. A case should be made for building a regional banking sector, with government as final guarantor, having a mandate to finance local developments which would support relatively self-sufficient economic regions. That is, privilege decentralized infrastructure and productivity over national and international systems, even though the latter have better economies of scale and can accumulate capital more rapidly.

My own position is pretty far left. But I took the point of some articles by Ron Bailey on the venerable libertarian site, Bailey was writing about climate change and carbon, how they seem to overwhelm every realistic mitigation scheme; and he wound up saying that the most effective use of the money would be to leave it in peoples' pockets, and let them make their own arrangements.

Something to that. Of course, people with a lot of money have a lot of choices, while those on a tight margin may find their only choices driving them from bad to worse. But what makes it especially threatening for the poor is that they don't have effective local organizations, nor entrepreneurial backgrounds, nor capital.

The local bank, serving a local community, used to fill that need. The bank was largely in the same boat as the local businesses, had to know them well, had an interest in their survival. I won't list all the pressures to amalgamate that have been working through the last century, but there's no doubt they have led to an incredibly streamlined system for disconnecting money from locality, and reattaching it to demographics, and to particular modes of saving and borrowing. And that has probably tended to optimize economic growth; but it has also tended to where productive capacity is centralized, but consumption is spread way out.

You have this maxim round here, Economize, Localize, Produce; and you've talked substantially about what this means for individuals. I've no doubt, as early adjusters, so to speak, you're way ahead of the game. But you can see how big the risks are, even with your eyes open, in making a bad call.

Surely, ELP needs to be done on the scale of a mini-economy that can look after itself, in terms of staple foods and transport, and finance. And I'd reckon that scale is substantially larger than the independent commune - more like a city with surrounding townships. That size is big enough to finance taxi fleets, light rail, wind farms, agriculture. Projects that would be Herculean for a family or commune become practical; and if there are better technologies coming, cellulose-to-ethanol etc, a regional economy can take advantage.

This picture of the mid-level is what's missing from not only Bailey's perspective, but pretty much everyone's. Neither Party apparatus in the US is thinking this way. And that's silly, because the mid-level offers a real chance for transition to a low-transport economy, while leaving in place the entrepreneurial modes and economic relations that people are used to. It's the economies of scale that have us hooked on the present levels of fuel consumption.

Your point is well made.Without effective enabling mechanisms people have no real choice.
To take a simple example, if you wish to economise on heating but live in rental property, how do you make that choice?
The only way of getting the standards up in that environment is by legislation.

On an even more serious subject, third world farmers have been bankrupted by agricultural surpluses being dumped on them by America and Europe, often under the guise of 'aid'.
This destroyed peasant agriculture in Haiti, and meant that Africa has gone from being a food exporter to aid-dependent importer.

The Irish potato famine was partly caused by seemingly trivial differences between their legislation and that on the UK mainland, so that land improvement was not practicable.

Getting it right is tough, but laws are important, and are frequently abused by vested interests to make their effect the opposite to that intended, so that the food industry and politicians latched on to methods of reducing the costs of their agricultural policies by ruining the third world, under the banner of 'aid', so utilising compassion for uncompassionate ends.

eDaveMart, you write:

The Irish potato famine was partly caused by seemingly trivial differences between their legislation and that on the UK mainland, so that land improvement was not practicable.

The chief cause, however, was overpopulation. The famine was Mother Nature's nasty solution to the problem that there were too many people living on too little room. Malthus 101.

You have to know how many was 'too many' for that argument to be true.
The population also rose greatly in the rest of Britain, and it moved form being self-sufficient in food to being an importer, and so they were only fed because industrialisation enabled the food to be paid for.
Ireland had the population increase without the industrialisation.
This was partly due to geographic and geological reasons - little coal to enable industrialisation, for instance - and partly due to political and legislative discrimination.

Thanks for that, DM. Of course I agree about the misdirection of aid; and although I should research it properly, I'm pretty confident in thinking that the entire history of the World Bank and IMF ought to be reviewed, on the basis of their assuming that transport would continue to get cheaper - whence, trickle-down effects would inevitably work to raise the standards of living of plantation states. Instead of which - honestly, I don't know, but isn't Cuba better off than Haiti at present?


Now that's to the point, Grey! ;)

The $300M prize is NOT how people run serious R&D efforts.

There was a long discussion over at Environmental Economics, from which I repeat a few posts:
It sometimes makes sense to use public money to subsidize efforts that:
- require long-term research
- private industry hasn't thought about
- offer long-term benefits, but need a limited-time subsidy to help get down the cost curve to be competitive with longer-established technologies

Let's see:
- Strong universities have well-established battery projects
- Some car companies, especially Toyota & Honda, have been doing serious work on batteries.
- Various companies are trying much harder building electric cars.
- Venture capitalists look at business plans all the time for better batteries, and even fund some.

This doesn't sound inattention or lack of interest.

In any case, big ideas for crash R&D projects are generally silly, showing that people asking for them don't understand R&D portfolio management.

I worked 1973-1983 at Bell Laboratories, at its height 25,000 people and arguably the strongest industrial R&D lab ... ever. Its record for innovation is rather good, in part because for a long time it knew what business it would be in, and would support brilliant scientists working on things that might or might not pay off in 20 years. Monopoly money is nice: much of the bedrock for computing & communications, transistors, solar cells, lasers, UNIX, etc.

But, we had a standard mantra:

"Never schedule breakthroughs."

Rather, in R&D we did "progressive commitment", with R+AR being 5-10% of the total staffing:

Research (R)
Applied research (AR)
Exploratory or Advanced Development (ED)
Deployment (scaleup)

This means, one has a bunch of small R efforts spread across many years. One selects promising ones to turn into AR efforts. The most promising move on to ED and then D. You only do D with technologies you know work. The big money is in scaleup and deployment.

You could never count on R/AR for anything in particular, or on any particular schedule, but you always kept an eye on them to grab anything interesting.

This also means that if you want to have large-scale effects soon, you do it with technologies you have in hand *right now*, while managing the R&D flow.

CA managed to keep the electricity/capita flat over the last 30 years, while the US as a whole rose 40-50%. This was just paying attention and making myriads of incremental improvements, not needing any magic technology.

More R&D on energy efficiency of all sorts is quite welcome, but just throwing giant pots of money out there is silly. In particular, with a few rare exceptions, government employees are not equivalent to good venture capitalists in choosing and nurturing some kinds of projects.


The devil is in the details. I'm not against prizes in general - the DARPA prizes for robot cars have been terrifically productive ...

but those efforts are *very* different from creating new battery technology, i.e., they were really system integration efforts, often by teams of students. (And DARPA is a government entity with some track record of funding good R&D.)

My issue is seeing calls for massive R&D efforts, into areas that in fact could sue R&D funding. It's just that I've done R&D, or managed it, or helped evaluate project proposals for funding, or done R&D project trouble-shooting [including for a guy who was later Bell Labs President] for 35 years, and the devil really is in the details.

It would be nice to feel that those calling for such really understood R&D management... I can be convinced, but it is all too easy to waste money. Just out of curiosity, how's the US budget compare for military R&D and energy R&D? Hmmm.

Right now, if it were me, I'd be funding all-out efficiency efforts with current technology, and a lot of that is just policy. For example:

a) If the EPA weren't so busy fending off CA and its friends [gas mileage]

b) And the DOE weren't busy fending off CA's wish to require more efficient electrical transformers [and washing machines]

c) And if Congress could manage to renew Renewable Tax Credits

d) And if every state PUC rewarded utilities for being efficient, not just generating MW

We'd save large amounts of energy.

Hello fellow doomers

I have read enough this site is peak bs,,HENRY,, aren't we wise to say replacing oil with ethanol is a disaster,

I would much rather give my money to an american citizen or did you hear about 911 no?

aren't we just a little misleading to say the government has been blocking the utility's from building [ any new ] nuclear power plants...when it has been the environmentalist movement demanding environmental impact studies that go on for years and new ones are added before the first ones are completed,,,ect ect, our current president has been trying to build these nuclear power plants for years now and almost everybody here knows it,,,

Henry you said,,
Just remember that government solutions crowd out private solutions. Resources are limited so if government directs them into the solution they see, then the resources are not available for private solutions, including what you think you should do on your own to protect yourself.

bs,,,it's the other way around,,the private environmentalist movement has been crowding out the government that has been trying to protect all the people while the environmentalist movement have been trying to protect shellfish at the bottom of a river somewhere and place more importance on shellfish than on his fellow man and has meddled in our energy supplies now to a point where your trying to blame it all on the government to hide your blundering ways,,,just keep on building ng fired power plants and see what happens,,

The demand for oil is now greater than supply and we all know what that means,,, there is no need to cut off our electric supply at the same time,,, I think the most idiotic statement that I read here was the fuel supply for nuclear power plants will only last for a hundred years so there's no reason to build any more. As j Hendrix may have known there is no way out of here says the king to the lier,,,cheap oil is gone--cheap ng is gone--wind and solar do not replace neither of these as free as sunlight and wind may be.

So now your environmentalist movement proposal is to use very expensive oil to replace/update our current electric power supply system by adding one that is intermittent and dependant on the wind to supplement power for 3 hundred million people and does NOTHING ,,,to address our transportation fuel disaster that's upon us now ? .

it's a joke no ?

OK here's the deal,,,,there's no oil/gas to burn in the cars any more,,with nuclear electric we have a hundred years more to re tool and build electric cars or walk and bike it's just that simple

Thomas Edison may be right about electricity I hope so because we must electrify our road ways to be able to move food to the city's IE trolley trucks, maybe a little slower than what we have now but whats the hurry? timken bearing and Allison transmission will make a bundle building gearboxes for those GE electric motors,,,,or we can push our cart to the country put the veggies in it and push it a hundred miles back to the city and eat,,,it's just that simple.

a peak doomer.

The new carlrove inspired Republican mantra to "solve" the energy crisis is DRILL DRILL DRILL. On the west coast, the south coast the east coast in the Potomac River! Why don't the neons drill in Iraq instead. There is probably some oil there. Or was that their intention all along?