"Energy Resources and Our Future" - Speech by Admiral Hyman Rickover in 1957

M. King Hubbert made his views about peak oil known in 1956, at a meeting of the American Petroleum Institute. Many people don't know that only a year later, in 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover started trying to publicize the fact that fossil fuels are finite, and were likely to peak in the first half of the 21st century. Many of the things he said then are words we wish people had listened to years ago:

Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.

Today the automobile is the most uneconomical user of energy. Its efficiency is 5% compared with 23% for the Diesel-electric railway. It is the most ravenous devourer of fossil fuels, accounting for over half of the total oil consumption in this country.

I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants--those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age.

On May 14, 1957, Admiral Hyman Rickover gave a speech to the Minnesota State Medical Association called "Energy Resources and our Future." This speech was posted in December 2006 on the Energy Bulletin, and also appeared on The Oil Drum. This speech was made available by the work of two people: Theodore Rockwell, author of The Rickover Effect: How One Man Made a Difference, who had this article in his files, and Rick Lakin, who sought out the article and converted it to digital form. Since the speach is one many will want to read, we are repeating it again.

Energy Resources and our Future

I am honored to be here tonight, though it is no easy thing, I assure you, for a layman to face up to an audience of physicians. A single one of you, sitting behind his desk, can be quite formidable.

My speech has no medical connotations. This may be a relief to you after the solid professional fare you have been absorbing. I should like to discuss a matter which will, I hope, be of interest to you as responsible citizens: the significance of energy resources in the shaping of our future.

We live in what historians may some day call the Fossil Fuel Age. Today coal, oil, and natural gas supply 93% of the world's energy; water power accounts for only 1%; and the labor of men and domestic animals the remaining 6%. This is a startling reversal of corresponding figures for 1850 - only a century ago. Then fossil fuels supplied 5% of the world's energy, and men and animals 94%. Five sixths of all the coal, oil, and gas consumed since the beginning of the Fossil Fuel Age has been burned up in the last 55 years.

These fuels have been known to man for more than 3,000 years. In parts of China, coal was used for domestic heating and cooking, and natural gas for lighting as early as 1000 B.C. The Babylonians burned asphalt a thousand years earlier. But these early uses were sporadic and of no economic significance. Fossil fuels did not become a major source of energy until machines running on coal, gas, or oil were invented. Wood, for example, was the most important fuel until 1880 when it was replaced by coal; coal, in turn, has only recently been surpassed by oil in this country.

Once in full swing, fossil fuel consumption has accelerated at phenomenal rates. All the fossil fuels used before 1900 would not last five years at today's rates of consumption.

Nowhere are these rates higher and growing faster than in the United States. Our country, with only 6% of the world's population, uses one third of the world's total energy input; this proportion would be even greater except that we use energy more efficiently than other countries. Each American has at his disposal, each year, energy equivalent to that obtainable from eight tons of coal. This is six times the world's per capita energy consumption. Though not quite so spectacular, corresponding figures for other highly industrialized countries also show above average consumption figures. The United Kingdom, for example, uses more than three times as much energy as the world average.

With high energy consumption goes a high standard of living. Thus the enormous fossil energy which we in this country control feeds machines which make each of us master of an army of mechanical slaves. Man's muscle power is rated at 35 watts continuously, or one-twentieth horsepower. Machines therefore furnish every American industrial worker with energy equivalent to that of 244 men, while at least 2,000 men push his automobile along the road, and his family is supplied with 33 faithful household helpers. Each locomotive engineer controls energy equivalent to that of 100,000 men; each jet pilot of 700,000 men. Truly, the humblest American enjoys the services of more slaves than were once owned by the richest nobles, and lives better than most ancient kings. In retrospect, and despite wars, revolutions, and disasters, the hundred years just gone by may well seem like a Golden Age.

Whether this Golden Age will continue depends entirely upon our ability to keep energy supplies in balance with the needs of our growing population. Before I go into this question, let me review briefly the role of energy resources in the rise and fall of civilizations.

Possession of surplus energy is, of course, a requisite for any kind of civilization, for if man possesses merely the energy of his own muscles, he must expend all his strength - mental and physical - to obtain the bare necessities of life.

Surplus energy provides the material foundation for civilized living - a comfortable and tasteful home instead of a bare shelter; attractive clothing instead of mere covering to keep warm; appetizing food instead of anything that suffices to appease hunger. It provides the freedom from toil without which there can be no art, music, literature, or learning. There is no need to belabor the point. What lifted man - one of the weaker mammals - above the animal world was that he could devise, with his brain, ways to increase the energy at his disposal, and use the leisure so gained to cultivate his mind and spirit. Where man must rely solely on the energy of his own body, he can sustain only the most meager existence.

Man's first step on the ladder of civilization dates from his discovery of fire and his domestication of animals. With these energy resources he was able to build a pastoral culture. To move upward to an agricultural civilization he needed more energy. In the past this was found in the labor of dependent members of large patriarchal families, augmented by slaves obtained through purchase or as war booty. There are some backward communities which to this day depend on this type of energy.

Slave labor was necessary for the city-states and the empires of antiquity; they frequently had slave populations larger than their free citizenry. As long as slaves were abundant and no moral censure attached to their ownership, incentives to search for alternative sources of energy were lacking; this may well have been the single most important reason why engineering advanced very little in ancient times.

A reduction of per capita energy consumption has always in the past led to a decline in civilization and a reversion to a more primitive way of life. For example, exhaustion of wood fuel is believed to have been the primary reason for the fall of the Mayan Civilization on this continent and of the decline of once flourishing civilizations in Asia. India and China once had large forests, as did much of the Middle East. Deforestation not only lessened the energy base but had a further disastrous effect: lacking plant cover, soil washed away, and with soil erosion the nutritional base was reduced as well.

Another cause of declining civilization comes with pressure of population on available land. A point is reached where the land can no longer support both the people and their domestic animals. Horses and mules disappear first. Finally even the versatile water buffalo is displaced by man who is two and one half times as efficient an energy converter as are draft animals. It must always be remembered that while domestic animals and agricultural machines increase productivity per man, maximum productivity per acre is achieved only by intensive manual cultivation.

It is a sobering thought that the impoverished people of Asia, who today seldom go to sleep with their hunger completely satisfied, were once far more civilized and lived much better than the people of the West. And not so very long ago, either. It was the stories brought back by Marco Polo of the marvelous civilization in China which turned Europe's eyes to the riches of the East, and induced adventurous sailors to brave the high seas in their small vessels searching for a direct route to the fabulous Orient. The "wealth of the Indies" is a phrase still used, but whatever wealth may be there it certainly is not evident in the life of the people today.

Asia failed to keep technological pace with the needs of her growing populations and sank into such poverty that in many places man has become again the primary source of energy, since other energy converters have become too expensive. This must be obvious to the most casual observer. What this means is quite simply a reversion to a more primitive stage of civilization with all that it implies for human dignity and happiness.

Anyone who has watched a sweating Chinese farm worker strain at his heavily laden wheelbarrow, creaking along a cobblestone road, or who has flinched as he drives past an endless procession of human beasts of burden moving to market in Java - the slender women bent under mountainous loads heaped on their heads - anyone who has seen statistics translated into flesh and bone, realizes the degradation of man's stature when his muscle power becomes the only energy source he can afford. Civilization must wither when human beings are so degraded.

Where slavery represented a major source of energy, its abolition had the immediate effect of reducing energy consumption. Thus when this time-honored institution came under moral censure by Christianity, civilization declined until other sources of energy could be found. Slavery is incompatible with Christian belief in the worth of the humblest individual as a child of God. As Christianity spread through the Roman Empire and masters freed their slaves - in obedience to the teaching of the Church - the energy base of Roman civilization crumbled. This, some historians believe, may have been a major factor in the decline of Rome and the temporary reversion to a more primitive way of life during the Dark Ages. Slavery gradually disappeared throughout the Western world, except in its milder form of serfdom. That it was revived a thousand years later merely shows man's ability to stifle his conscience - at least for a while - when his economic needs are great. Eventually, even the needs of overseas plantation economies did not suffice to keep alive a practice so deeply repugnant to Western man's deepest convictions.

It may well be that it was unwillingness to depend on slave labor for their energy needs which turned the minds of medieval Europeans to search for alternate sources of energy, thus sparking the Power Revolution of the Middle Ages which, in turn, paved the way for the Industrial Revolution of the 19th Century. When slavery disappeared in the West engineering advanced. Men began to harness the power of nature by utilizing water and wind as energy sources. The sailing ship, in particular, which replaced the slave-driven galley of antiquity, was vastly improved by medieval shipbuilders and became the first machine enabling man to control large amounts of inanimate energy.

The next important high-energy converter used by Europeans was gunpowder - an energy source far superior to the muscular strength of the strongest bowman or lancer. With ships that could navigate the high seas and arms that could outfire any hand weapon, Europe was now powerful enough to preempt for herself the vast empty areas of the Western Hemisphere into which she poured her surplus populations to build new nations of European stock. With these ships and arms she also gained political control over populous areas in Africa and Asia from which she drew the raw materials needed to speed her industrialization, thus complementing her naval and military dominance with economic and commercial supremacy.

When a low-energy society comes in contact with a high-energy society, the advantage always lies with the latter. The Europeans not only achieved standards of living vastly higher than those of the rest of the world, but they did this while their population was growing at rates far surpassing those of other peoples. In fact, they doubled their share of total world population in the short span of three centuries. From one sixth in 1650, the people of European stock increased to almost one third of total world population by 1950.

Meanwhile much of the rest of the world did not even keep energy sources in balance with population growth. Per capita energy consumption actually diminished in large areas. It is this difference in energy consumption which has resulted in an ever-widening gap between the one-third minority who live in high-energy countries and the two-thirds majority who live in low-energy areas.

These so-called underdeveloped countries are now finding it far more difficult to catch up with the fortunate minority than it was for Europe to initiate transition from low-energy to high-energy consumption. For one thing, their ratio of land to people is much less favorable; for another, they have no outlet for surplus populations to ease the transition since all the empty spaces have already been taken over by people of European stock.

Almost all of today's low-energy countries have a population density so great that it perpetuates dependence on intensive manual agriculture which alone can yield barely enough food for their people. They do not have enough acreage, per capita, to justify using domestic animals or farm machinery, although better seeds, better soil management, and better hand tools could bring some improvement. A very large part of their working population must nevertheless remain on the land, and this limits the amount of surplus energy that can be produced. Most of these countries must choose between using this small energy surplus to raise their very low standard of living or postpone present rewards for the sake of future gain by investing the surplus in new industries. The choice is difficult because there is no guarantee that today's denial may not prove to have been in vain. This is so because of the rapidity with which public health measures have reduced mortality rates, resulting in population growth as high or even higher than that of the high-energy nations. Theirs is a bitter choice; it accounts for much of their anti-Western feeling and may well portend a prolonged period of world instability.

How closely energy consumption is related to standards of living may be illustrated by the example of India. Despite intelligent and sustained efforts made since independence, India's per capita income is still only 20 cents daily; her infant mortality is four times ours; and the life expectance of her people is less than one half that of the industrialized countries of the West. These are ultimate consequences of India's very low energy consumption: one-fourteenth of world average; one-eightieth of ours.

Ominous, too, is the fact that while world food production increased 9% in the six years from 1945-51, world population increased by 12%. Not only is world population increasing faster than world food production, but unfortunately, increases in food production tend to occur in the already well-fed, high-energy countries rather than in the undernourished, low-energy countries where food is most lacking.

I think no further elaboration is needed to demonstrate the significance of energy resources for our own future. Our civilization rests upon a technological base which requires enormous quantities of fossil fuels. What assurance do we then have that our energy needs will continue to be supplied by fossil fuels: The answer is - in the long run - none.

The earth is finite. Fossil fuels are not renewable. In this respect our energy base differs from that of all earlier civilizations. They could have maintained their energy supply by careful cultivation. We cannot. Fuel that has been burned is gone forever. Fuel is even more evanescent than metals. Metals, too, are non-renewable resources threatened with ultimate extinction, but something can be salvaged from scrap. Fuel leaves no scrap and there is nothing man can do to rebuild exhausted fossil fuel reserves. They were created by solar energy 500 million years ago and took eons to grow to their present volume.

In the face of the basic fact that fossil fuel reserves are finite, the exact length of time these reserves will last is important in only one respect: the longer they last, the more time do we have, to invent ways of living off renewable or substitute energy sources and to adjust our economy to the vast changes which we can expect from such a shift.

Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.

Engineers whose work familiarizes them with energy statistics; far-seeing industrialists who know that energy is the principal factor which must enter into all planning for the future; responsible governments who realize that the well-being of their citizens and the political power of their countries depend on adequate energy supplies - all these have begun to be concerned about energy resources. In this country, especially, many studies have been made in the last few years, seeking to discover accurate information on fossil-fuel reserves and foreseeable fuel needs.

Statistics involving the human factor are, of course, never exact. The size of usable reserves depends on the ability of engineers to improve the efficiency of fuel extraction and use. It also depends on discovery of new methods to obtain energy from inferior resources at costs which can be borne without unduly depressing the standard of living. Estimates of future needs, in turn, rely heavily on population figures which must always allow for a large element of uncertainty, particularly as man reaches a point where he is more and more able to control his own way of life.

Current estimates of fossil fuel reserves vary to an astonishing degree. In part this is because the results differ greatly if cost of extraction is disregarded or if in calculating how long reserves will last, population growth is not taken into consideration; or, equally important, not enough weight is given to increased fuel consumption required to process inferior or substitute metals. We are rapidly approaching the time when exhaustion of better grade metals will force us to turn to poorer grades requiring in most cases greater expenditure of energy per unit of metal.

But the most significant distinction between optimistic and pessimistic fuel reserve statistics is that the optimists generally speak of the immediate future - the next twenty-five years or so - while the pessimists think in terms of a century from now. A century or even two is a short span in the history of a great people. It seems sensible to me to take a long view, even if this involves facing unpleasant facts.

For it is an unpleasant fact that according to our best estimates, total fossil fuel reserves recoverable at not over twice today's unit cost, are likely to run out at some time between the years 2000 and 2050, if present standards of living and population growth rates are taken into account. Oil and natural gas will disappear first, coal last. There will be coal left in the earth, of course. But it will be so difficult to mine that energy costs would rise to economically intolerable heights, so that it would then become necessary either to discover new energy sources or to lower standards of living drastically.

For more than one hundred years we have stoked ever growing numbers of machines with coal; for fifty years we have pumped gas and oil into our factories, cars, trucks, tractors, ships, planes, and homes without giving a thought to the future. Occasionally the voice of a Cassandra has been raised only to be quickly silenced when a lucky discovery revised estimates of our oil reserves upward, or a new coalfield was found in some remote spot. Fewer such lucky discoveries can be expected in the future, especially in industrialized countries where extensive mapping of resources has been done. Yet the popularizers of scientific news would have us believe that there is no cause for anxiety, that reserves will last thousands of years, and that before they run out science will have produced miracles. Our past history and security have given us the sentimental belief that the things we fear will never really happen - that everything turns out right in the end. But, prudent men will reject these tranquilizers and prefer to face the facts so that they can plan intelligently for the needs of their posterity.

Looking into the future, from the mid-20th Century, we cannot feel overly confident that present high standards of living will of a certainty continue through the next century and beyond. Fossil fuel costs will soon definitely begin to rise as the best and most accessible reserves are exhausted, and more effort will be required to obtain the same energy from remaining reserves. It is likely also that liquid fuel synthesized from coal will be more expensive. Can we feel certain that when economically recoverable fossil fuels are gone science will have learned how to maintain a high standard of living on renewable energy sources?

I believe it would be wise to assume that the principal renewable fuel sources which we can expect to tap before fossil reserves run out will supply only 7 to 15% of future energy needs. The five most important of these renewable sources are wood fuel, farm wastes, wind, water power, and solar heat.

Wood fuel and farm wastes are dubious as substitutes because of growing food requirements to be anticipated. Land is more likely to be used for food production than for tree crops; farm wastes may be more urgently needed to fertilize the soil than to fuel machines.

Wind and water power can furnish only a very small percentage of our energy needs. Moreover, as with solar energy, expensive structures would be required, making use of land and metals which will also be in short supply. Nor would anything we know today justify putting too much reliance on solar energy though it will probably prove feasible for home heating in favorable localities and for cooking in hot countries which lack wood, such as India.

More promising is the outlook for nuclear fuels. These are not, properly speaking, renewable energy sources, at least not in the present state of technology, but their capacity to "breed" and the very high energy output from small quantities of fissionable material, as well as the fact that such materials are relatively abundant, do seem to put nuclear fuels into a separate category from exhaustible fossil fuels. The disposal of radioactive wastes from nuclear power plants is, however, a problem which must be solved before there can be any widespread use of nuclear power.

Another limit in the use of nuclear power is that we do not know today how to employ it otherwise than in large units to produce electricity or to supply heating. Because of its inherent characteristics, nuclear fuel cannot be used directly in small machines, such as cars, trucks, or tractors. It is doubtful that it could in the foreseeable future furnish economical fuel for civilian airplanes or ships, except very large ones. Rather than nuclear locomotives, it might prove advantageous to move trains by electricity produced in nuclear central stations. We are only at the beginning of nuclear technology, so it is difficult to predict what we may expect.

Transportation - the lifeblood of all technically advanced civilizations - seems to be assured, once we have borne the initial high cost of electrifying railroads and replacing buses with streetcars or interurban electric trains. But, unless science can perform the miracle of synthesizing automobile fuel from some energy source as yet unknown or unless trolley wires power electric automobiles on all streets and highways, it will be wise to face up to the possibility of the ultimate disappearance of automobiles, trucks, buses, and tractors. Before all the oil is gone and hydrogenation of coal for synthetic liquid fuels has come to an end, the cost of automotive fuel may have risen to a point where private cars will be too expensive to run and public transportation again becomes a profitable business.

Today the automobile is the most uneconomical user of energy. Its efficiency is 5% compared with 23% for the Diesel-electric railway. It is the most ravenous devourer of fossil fuels, accounting for over half of the total oil consumption in this country. And the oil we use in the United States in one year took nature about 14 million years to create. Curiously, the automobile, which is the greatest single cause of the rapid exhaustion of oil reserves, may eventually be the first fuel consumer to suffer. Reduction in automotive use would necessitate an extraordinarily costly reorganization of the pattern of living in industrialized nations, particularly in the United States. It would seem prudent to bear this in mind in future planning of cities and industrial locations.

Our present known reserves of fissionable materials are many times as large as our net economically recoverable reserves of coal. A point will be reached before this century is over when fossil fuel costs will have risen high enough to make nuclear fuels economically competitive. Before that time comes we shall have to make great efforts to raise our entire body of engineering and scientific knowledge to a higher plateau. We must also induce many more young Americans to become metallurgical and nuclear engineers. Else we shall not have the knowledge or the people to build and run the nuclear power plants which ultimately may have to furnish the major part of our energy needs. If we start to plan now, we may be able to achieve the requisite level of scientific and engineering knowledge before our fossil fuel reserves give out, but the margin of safety is not large. This is also based on the assumption that atomic war can be avoided and that population growth will not exceed that now calculated by demographic experts.

War, of course, cancels all man's expectations. Even growing world tension just short of war could have far-reaching effects. In this country it might, on the one hand, lead to greater conservation of domestic fuels, to increased oil imports, and to an acceleration in scientific research which might turn up unexpected new energy sources. On the other hand, the resulting armaments race would deplete metal reserves more rapidly, hastening the day when inferior metals must be utilized with consequent greater expenditure of energy. Underdeveloped nations with fossil fuel deposits might be coerced into withholding them from the free world or may themselves decide to retain them for their own future use. The effect on Europe, which depends on coal and oil imports, would be disastrous and we would have to share our own supplies or lose our allies.

Barring atomic war or unexpected changes in the population curve, we can count on an increase in world population from two and one half billion today to four billion in the year 2000; six to eight billion by 2050. The United States is expected to quadruple its population during the 20th Century - from 75 million in 1900 to 300 million in 2000 - and to reach at least 375 million in 2050. This would almost exactly equal India's present population which she supports on just a little under half of our land area.

It is an awesome thing to contemplate a graph of world population growth from prehistoric times - tens of thousands of years ago - to the day after tomorrow - let us say the year 2000 A.D. If we visualize the population curve as a road which starts at sea level and rises in proportion as world population increases, we should see it stretching endlessly, almost level, for 99% of the time that man has inhabited the earth. In 6000 B.C., when recorded history begins, the road is running at a height of about 70 feet above sea level, which corresponds to a population of 10 million. Seven thousand years later - in 1000 A.D. - the road has reached an elevation of 1,600 feet; the gradation now becomes steeper, and 600 years later the road is 2,900 feet high. During the short span of the next 400 years - from 1600 to 2000 - it suddenly turns sharply upward at an almost perpendicular inclination and goes straight up to an elevation of 29,000 feet - the height of Mt. Everest, the world's tallest mountain.

In the 8,000 years from the beginning of history to the year 2000 A.D. world population will have grown from 10 million to 4 billion, with 90% of that growth taking place during the last 5% of that period, in 400 years. It took the first 3,000 years of recorded history to accomplish the first doubling of population, 100 years for the last doubling, but the next doubling will require only 50 years. Calculations give us the astonishing estimate that one out of every 20 human beings born into this world is alive today.

The rapidity of population growth has not given us enough time to readjust our thinking. Not much more than a century ago our country - the very spot on which I now stand was a wilderness in which a pioneer could find complete freedom from men and from government. If things became too crowded - if he saw his neighbor's chimney smoke - he could, and often did, pack up and move west. We began life in 1776 as a nation of less than four million people - spread over a vast continent - with seemingly inexhaustible riches of nature all about. We conserved what was scarce - human labor - and squandered what seemed abundant - natural resources - and we are still doing the same today.

Much of the wilderness which nurtured what is most dynamic in the American character has now been buried under cities, factories and suburban developments where each picture window looks out on nothing more inspiring than the neighbor's back yard with the smoke of his fire in the wire basket clearly visible.

Life in crowded communities cannot be the same as life on the frontier. We are no longer free, as was the pioneer - to work for our own immediate needs regardless of the future. We are no longer as independent of men and of government as were Americans two or three generations ago. An ever larger share of what we earn must go to solve problems caused by crowded living - bigger governments; bigger city, state, and federal budgets to pay for more public services. Merely to supply us with enough water and to carry away our waste products becomes more difficult and expansive daily. More laws and law enforcement agencies are needed to regulate human relations in urban industrial communities and on crowded highways than in the America of Thomas Jefferson.

Certainly no one likes taxes, but we must become reconciled to larger taxes in the larger America of tomorrow.

I suggest that this is a good time to think soberly about our responsibilities to our descendants - those who will ring out the Fossil Fuel Age. Our greatest responsibility, as parents and as citizens, is to give America's youngsters the best possible education. We need the best teachers and enough of them to prepare our young people for a future immeasurably more complex than the present, and calling for ever larger numbers of competent and highly trained men and women. This means that we must not delay building more schools, colleges, and playgrounds. It means that we must reconcile ourselves to continuing higher taxes to build up and maintain at decent salaries a greatly enlarged corps of much better trained teachers, even at the cost of denying ourselves such momentary pleasures as buying a bigger new car, or a TV set, or household gadget. We should find - I believe - that these small self-denials would be far more than offset by the benefits they would buy for tomorrow's America. We might even - if we wanted - give a break to these youngsters by cutting fuel and metal consumption a little here and there so as to provide a safer margin for the necessary adjustments which eventually must be made in a world without fossil fuels.

One final thought I should like to leave with you. High-energy consumption has always been a prerequisite of political power. The tendency is for political power to be concentrated in an ever-smaller number of countries. Ultimately, the nation which controls the largest energy resources will become dominant. If we give thought to the problem of energy resources, if we act wisely and in time to conserve what we have and prepare well for necessary future changes, we shall insure this dominant position for our own country.

Edit: For those wanting further evidence that this speech was actually given, this is a link to a scanned in version of a Christian Science Monitor article dated June 5, 1957, reporting on the speech.

Congressman Roscoe Bartlett quotes from this speech every time he does one of his special order speeches. Problem is, he seems to be making those speeches to a largely empty room, as can be seen if you watch his most recent long enough. At Energy Policy TV a list of some of his most recent speeches can be found here. In the description of his most recent speech on the Energy Policy TV web site there is a link to Rep. Roscoe Bartlett's web site, where he links to the Rickover speech.

It is sad that this gentleman, whatever his motives, has been trying to raise awareness of these issues for over three years and you still need to make a key post containing this speech. Maybe you could link to this speech in your overview?

Alan from the islands

Maybe you could link to this speech in your overview?

It belongs in the sidebar, defcon 4.

I've read this speech several times and always find myself wondering about Rickover's background and education. Excepting climate change, I don't have any better understanding of Peak Oil and resource depletion now in 2008 than he did 50 years ago. He's clearly made of different stuff than Petraeus or Colin Powell. Probably the times trained and demanded different stuff.

cfm in Gray, ME

Being father of the nuclear navy, he must have had some wits. He is one of those people about whom the term genius actually applies. My definition of a genius is one with extreme intelligence, excellent memory (I console myself with the thought that but for a weak memory... ha-ha...) and the insight to apply them effectively.

I've no doubt of his genius.


ccpo -

There is no doubt that Admiral Rickover was a brilliant and highly perceptive man. But he was no angel, either.

He was a master at ruthless bureaucratic in-fighting, was extreme adept at shamelessly cultivating powerful congressmen to ensure generous funding for the Navy's nuclear program. He also had a well-deserved reputation as a vindictive SOB and a real tyrant to work for.

He certainly didn't get to the position he did by being a nice guy. Being a small, scrawny little fellow, and a Jew to boot, must have made for very tough going when he was a midshipman at Annapolis in those less enlightened days.

OK. Does personality have anything to do with genius?


The first problem is convincing people that Peak Oil is real.

Then, they must understand that alternative energies will help little and will actually makes matter worse by accelerating oil depletion.

Then, you have to change national policy, but that is determined by constituent and interest group pressures.

Then you have to change international policy. Because the demand for oil is so high, it will always be higher than production; thus the depletion rate will continue until all recoverable oil is extracted. Thus the U.S. cannot conserve its way out of this catastrophe even if every car was permanently parked starting today. The U.S. is 1/4th of the consumption of oil.

A good, decent, and credible member of Congress can only get 15 colleagues to join his Peak Oil caucus. So Bartlett can't even get policymakers to step one.

So goes the Titanic.

The first problem is convincing people that Peak Oil is real.

Once oil production begins to decline it seems that people will be convinced very quickly, albeit belatedly. With a production decline, talk of speculators causing the problem immediately stops. I guess that "above ground factors" can still continue in various forms, but will have to become much more specific and come with an "expiration date" if they are going to continue to promulgate a "late peak oil".

Of course, most everyone has been late to the party including myself and most of the posters on this site. The time to start talking about Peak Oil and solutions was decades ago. I am amazed that Rickover did so so long ago. The economists and financial pundits of the day must laughed at him.

It's amazing how prescient individual human beings can be when counterpointed with how utterly stupidly we behave en masse.

My S-in-L tonight felt obliged to tell my wife she should just defy me on preparations for Peak Oil, AGW, etc., despite the fact my wife and I make all decisions together - so there's nothing to defy - and the S-in-L has never done even the slightest research into any of the issues.

My S-in-L and M-in-L's attitude is: money will solve everything. Just make money!

All this despite living in one of the most vulnerable nations on the planet with regard to energy issues.


Truly, it boggles the mind how willfully blind people choose to be. The above people are educated. They make money. They have no serious wants or needs. Ah, but perhaps that's the problem. Life is like manna from heaven: it just keeps giving.



It seems like we got a whole package of beliefs when we found that fossil fuels could make life better and better:

1. Things will get better and better forever.
2. If we invest my money properly, we can participate in the ever-increasing prosperity.
3. If we have enough money, all our problems will be solved.
4. We don't really need extended family, because the money we save and government programs will take care of our problems.
5. We don't need traditions any more, because things are changing so much.
6. We don't need churches any more to pass on traditions and belief systems. He who dies with the most toys wins.
7. Television and what it portrays models what our life is about.
8. Parents don't need to educate their children on traditions, values, and what is important. That is the role of schools.
9. It is possible and reasonable to retire at an early age, and expect the money we have saved plus social security to take care of us.

Once we have bought into this belief system, it is very difficult to start thinking in terms of what a declining world is likely to look like. I expect the people with the most money, and the most belief that it will solve all their problems, will be in for the biggest shock.

ON BELIEFS POSITIVE AND OTHERWISE, Health, and my buddy Eeyore.

Gail says,
"It seems like we got a whole package of beliefs when we found that fossil fuels could make life better and better", and then goes on to give a few tenets of said "belief".

This demonstrates the power of "belief" in human thinking and planning. Gail, your points of percieved belief are interesting and valid in many ways, some more than others, but if we are to be fair, we must also give a few opposing points of belief that have sway over human thinking, points that are often seen here on TOD and in many other places. Like your points of what we may call "optimistic belief" or "business as usual" beliefs, some of these "pessimistic" or "business no more" beliefs have a bit of empirical, scientific or factual support, some have less, and some have none at all and are accepted as matters of faith:

1. Things will only get worse from here on.
2. What is the point of investing my money for the future when there is no real future?
3. Money is fiat and fake and economics and investment is a made up scam, so why put any value in it?

(I will skip over the "traditions" part, because these are so personal and so deep to a person and or family that I don't feel comfortable telling others how to conduct themselves in this area)

4. Alternatives to oil and gas are fake, if there was anything better than oil or gas we would have found them and be using them by now.
5. The big technical breakthroughs have all been made, there will be no technical advances forward.
6. Most of these problems are the fault of the United States because we use most of the worlds oil.
7. It is our cars in America that have done this, do away with them and everthing will be fine.
8. One nation can do nothing to help itself, and to think so is nationalist Imperialism, everything must be done at the global level.
9. Schools and colleges with their secular fascination with technical, scientific and economic education offer nothing.
10. Western ideas such as capitalism, private property ownership and individual worth and rights have led us down the false path and are worthless.
11. It is impossible to live a good live and retire based on sound planning and discipline nowadays, those who do it are either crooks or are well connected insiders.
12. The prosperous class will get their comeuppance and suffer, just you wait and see.

Above just a few points of what I call the "Eeyore" philosophy, named after the charming but dark mooded donkey in the "Winnie the Pooh" stories.

For Eeyore, the only philosophy is "woe's me" and "why bother". His one true conviction is that things will get worse before they get better, if they ever get better, and why should I think they would get better?

In the Pooh stories it played in good fun, but if the philosophy is lived out in life on an ongoing basis it can have serious consequences for health and well being, for a person, for a family and for a nation.

Allow me to climb on the soapbox and say to people who have in a certain way become my online friends..."FRIENDS, think about your thinking! Can you continue on in a life of dispair? Can you carry the burden of the world friends? Can you blame yourself and your nation for EVERYTHING? Can you live in self loathing of the nation and the culture that created you?" I have BEEN THERE brothers and sisters, ohhh, have I been there! Take charge of your life and LIVE!"

That was in fun, a bit of spoof of the old Southern preachers I grew up around, but seriously...

You do have to think of your own health. Living in desolation and despiar is painful, it hurts. It is bad for the health. And when enough people do it, it is bad for the nation.

You do have to think of your own finances. I know that many here believe things are going to get worse and worse and worse to infinity, but you must be ready, because...what if they don't? And if they do, do you believe that your personal financial situation will not matter? I know people in the financial community, and some who can HONESTLY say "so if gasoline goes to $10 a gallon, I can live with that. I wouldn't want to pay that, but I could."

The reason they can say this is because they invested against all advice in the 1970's in the darker years when many did not. In a certain way, their investment was an act of faith. It could have went the other way. If I invest today in the future, will it pay off? There is NO GUARANTEE, but there never has been! But if paper money goes to garbage and economy fails completely as some predict, why would I want the paper junk anyway? I might as well try to leverage it!

One more little thing I did not mention above about matters of "faith". In the last several weeks I have heard more and more people falling back on the authority of "physics" to justify their gloom. Physics is now used in the same way the Word of the Lord was once used as in "but the Lord says..." In very many cases, if a person actually bothered to try, they could find no evidence that the Lord said any such thing, at least not in any Holy Writ known to humankind. Such it is with physics, where it sounds like Richard Dawson on the old "Family Feud" game show..."SURVEY SAYS!"..."PHYSICS SAYS!"...

When we invoke the Holy Word of Physics, we are not saying something may be difficult to do, or that something may be expensive to do, or that something may need much brainpower and effort to do, we are essentially invoking the very Word of Physics to say it can or cannot be done.

So in the case of energy, I will close with a link to one of my favorite illustrations, this one I found here at TOD...PHYSICS SAYS!...
Now CHEER UP, we have work to do!

Roger Conner Jr.


In response to the graphic reference at the end of your post, I assume that the inference is that of an overlooked salvation, that an ample, sweet, ripe fruit is dangling right in front of us and we fail to see it.

The catch is that fossil fuels, coal, oil, and methane, all came to us in the wondrous wrapper of a 'battery' - concentrated energy stored and ready for release and use on demand.

Sunshine is delightful in the moment, but needs copious amounts of oil to retain it's usefulness for a rainy day.

And the subtext of that graphic is "don't worry, be happy" there's plenty out there and more where that came from and somebody will figure out how to tap it out, so just be happy.
Just what the cornucopians want to hear so they can tell us the American lifestyle is not negotiable and keep on with business as usual.
I have been reading Kevin Phillips about late stage empires and I rather doubt we are capable of the clarity Rickover shows, who lived at a time of Peak Empire.
The grandchildren of peak empire just want to suck their thumbs, hold on to whatever serves as blanky, and just be happy. Make big bad peak everything go away.
When a presidential candidate mocks the other one for a serious energy conservation recomendation and wants to enter his wife in a Miss Buffalo Chip topless contest...I'd say we are in full descent.

"In response to the graphic reference at the end of your post, I assume that the inference is that of an overlooked salvation, that an ample, sweet, ripe fruit is dangling right in front of us and we fail to see it."

I would argue that I did not intend to infer that it is "dangling right in front of us" in the way you are saying. But it is in front of us. Whether we are clever enough to scale it and use to anywhere near it's potential is the question that remains unanswered.

As for the "copious amounts of oil" required to devolop and exploit solar power (and other renewables such as wind, geothermal, tide, etc.), "copious" is a relative term. We burn "copious" amounts of oil with no hope of a return. How much oil has been used in the construction of Beijing roads and skyscrapers in the last ten years?



Or Dubai?



Manmade islands create the map of the world:

Manmade islands palm:


"Copious" amounts of oil, steel, aluminum, concrete, coppoer,glass, and other resources are used all over the world everyday for projects that offer no hope of energy return, only the assurance of more energy consumption. "Copious" amounts of money are also poured into these projects. It is fascinating that financing and materials can be found for these often questionable projects, but is always short for renewable energy production.

My point in using the illustration was this: When people tell you that we only have "X" amount of barrels, BTU's, kilowatts, Joules, or whatever way you want to measure it of energy left, and then we are "out", it's all over, it's done, civilization is finished, and THEN claim the supoport of "physics" to make these claims, I know they are most certainly not correct, and I don't care what value is assigned to "X".

It is with great sadness and discomfort that I have seen people using almost any "fact" they want to use, and then claiming science and physics support these so called "facts". It is known that many people will not bother to question these "facts" if science is invoked, or may not even know how to begin to question them. It is preying on the scientific illiteracy of the public.

I make my living at this time by employment in the market and media survey business. I assure you that if you showed most people the illustration I used at the end of my post, they simply would not believe it. They have been told for years that alternative energy, especially solar, is "pie in the sky", "marginal" and far too expensive to ever be useful. I have heard folks right her on this board attempt to ridicule and humiliate anyone who discusses alternatives with comparisons to "getting methane from the moon of Saturn". We are now teaching our children in peak oil presentations that alternatives are a "myth". It causes us to question why such a relentless attack on alternative programs is felt to be needed at a time when the cost of extracting oil and gas is going nowhere but up?

So be it. But I still have the ability to ask questions, to check underlying assumptions. I am sure not going to destroy my mind and my investments with unwarrented assumptions that cannot be proven in any way. Yes, we face a crisis, yes we need to change and no, the changes are not being made fast enough.

But some of the attacks on the alternatives are utterly outragous. Right here on this string for example cjwirth says:

"No, I'm scared too, because I know what the impacts of oil depletion will look like and that alternative energies policies will accelerate oil depletion and demonstrate that humans are not smarter than yeast."

With the exception of biofuels such as ethanol, I ask for any evidence that alternative energies increase oil depletion. ANY.

I will not become a defeatist and destroy my own health and my ability to enjoy life based on such nonsense (and I do not fault cj, what he is saying is said so often that has become mantra that no one even bothers to question), and I question the wisdom of anyone who does.



I don't wish to suppress your hope and enthusiasm. I just believe the graphic to be misleading.

The operative word in the big yellow orb is "available", which is quite different from "operational".

From CNN, October 2007:

"According to the BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2007, solar, wind and geothermal combined only account for around 1 percent of the world's electricity generation, with the International Energy Agency (IEA) putting solar power's contribution to the global energy supply at just 0.039 percent. In the United States, solar power meets less than 0.01 percent of electricity needs, according to the Los Angeles Times."

Let's double the estimations above just to cover the possibility of bias or misreporting. Regardless, the resulting large yellow circle is now less than a dot, so small that it is not visible on the scale of the graphic.

I make PO presentations and I do my darnedest to minimize the doom factor. But are we really doing people a service by offering up a hope which may not be intrinsically false, but is inherently unreasonable or impractical?

Regarding: "With the exception of biofuels such as ethanol, I ask for any evidence that alternative energies increase oil depletion. ANY."

Every alternative incarnation hastens the depletion of energy by the very nature of the pursuit. A photovoltaic device is but oil in another form. Scrambling for replacements accelerates the inevitable, and only serves to soothe and console those living in this moment. My children, and especially my grandchildren, deserve some measured constraint.

We have to embrace the only true long-term solution: power down, get small, go slow, simplify,...just get by. In time, it will be forced upon us anyway.

Peace to you -


First to your point "The operative word in the big yellow orb is "available", which is quite different from "operational".

True, but of course nothing except raw nature is operational unless humans make it so. Coal, oil and gas are "operational" because a century and a half of decisions, investment and mental and physical effort made them so. It may be noticed that nature does not seem to exist to provide us with the energy we need. We have to extract it ourselves. So it is true for all creatures. In this, oil and gas have little advantage compared to any other energy source except that they are relatively heavily concentrated stores of energy (which can be an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the structure built to deal with them) and they are portable IF the infrasture is built to make them so, which took decades of intellectual and financial development.

To your reference to the BP Statistical Review and the low amount of energy produced by the renewables, this is absolutely true. The world produces barely as much energy by way of renewables as a percent of all energy consumed as it did in the 1970's. It is not "physics" that dicates this, but simply an almost complete stoppage of development of the renewables for almost three decades. The lack of renewables in energy production is simply a lack of will.

To your more interesting point, "Every alternative incarnation hastens the depletion of energy by the very nature of the pursuit. A photovoltaic device is but oil in another form."

First I am assuming you meant "Every alternative incarnation hastens the depletion of energy" was actually intended to mean "hastens the depletion of oil" or perhaps fossil fuel, because to call a photovoltaic device "but oil in another form" is almost certainly a bit of an overreach. It may involve some oil in it's construction, and or some natural gas, and or some nuclear, hydroelectric or coal. Of course the nuclear, hydroelectric or coal may have some oil in it's extraction/construction, and the food eaten by the workers that built the hydro or the nuclear plant may have some been produced by using some oil and on and on...this is the way in which EROEI is used against the alternatives to the point of infinite regression.

So based on this logic, would we say that no energy producing devices such as solar panels, windmills, or Concentrating Mirror Solar stations should be built, because they do indeed consume some resources?

If that is true, should we not forbid the construction of energy consuming devices such as autos, TV sets, home computers, cell phones, motorcycles, speedboats, washing machines, clothes dryers, on and on and on before we stop the production of energy producing devices such as solar panels, concentrating mirror solar stations and windmills? Do you honestly see that happening in the world? It would mean suicide for whole nations such as Japan, the U.S. and European nations to do so, and do we assume that the newly arrived developing nations would do likewise?

You say,
"My children, and especially my grandchildren, deserve some measured constraint." Is it "measured constraint" to cease the development of energy returning devices while continuing to build energy consuming devices? Because I assure you, even if the U.S. decided to assinate it's economy by taking the ascetic road to building nothing, many other nations would not.

You say,
"We have to embrace the only true long-term solution: power down, get small, go slow, simplify,...just get by. In time, it will be forced upon us anyway."

I think that we should reduce waste to the absolute minimum, yes. I beliew that we can afford in many cases to "go smaller". It used to be called "appropriate scale". Simple where possible is good. But there is a limit to how little we can use before we cease to exist as a culture. There is a reason far exceeding convenience that interstate highways were built, that a national electric grid was built, that a national phone system and internet was built.

Alvin Toffler once pointed out that speed of communication, travel and change are important deciders in the survival of a culture. Go too fast, and the culture flies apart. Go too slow, and it declines into oblivion, unable to retain cohesiveness, soon to be overrun by powers that continue to develop technically, culturally and intellectually. Those cultures that choose to "just get by" do not. They die.

To return to your point about the energy used to construct the renewables, I often ask people a challenging question: Do you believe that the first oil well was built using oil? Do you believe that the first natural gas well was built using natural gas? Do you believe that the first nuclear power plant was built using nuclear power? Does that make sense? Then why would such a standard be placed on the renewables? It is totally non-sensical.

I had on my other now failed computer a photo that was so charming to me, I kept it on my desktop to look at every now and then: It was a photo of an oil hauling ship, from the earliest days of the oil industry. It was not a tanker, in that the oil was still hauled in barrels, loaded by hand from wagons drawn by horses.

The ship was powered by sail.


My point in using the illustration was this: When people tell you that we only have "X" amount of barrels, BTU's, kilowatts, Joules, or whatever way you want to measure it of energy left, and then we are "out", it's all over, it's done, civilization is finished, and THEN claim the supoport of "physics" to make these claims, I know they are most certainly not correct, and I don't care what value is assigned to "X".

It is with great sadness and discomfort that I have seen people using almost any "fact" they want to use, and then claiming science and physics support these so called "facts". It is known that many people will not bother to question these "facts" if science is invoked, or may not even know how to begin to question them. It is preying on the scientific illiteracy of the public.

You are ignoring several very simple and very obvious points that go along with the generalizations you are making: how many people see only collapse, and fire and brimstone collapse, too? How many see that collapse as permanent? How many see a potential collapse as leading to rebirth?

As for the energy, you know well that the issue is not the amount of energy in the system, it is how it is used, how quickly it can be utilized and whether a transition will be smooth or not.

Again, you are caricaturing people, not being objective or fair.


I'm not sure who you are directing this to or trying to describe. I don't know anyone who thinks the way you describe, not even here on TOD. I think you have over-generalized some valid complaints and some currently true realities to equal value systems. A few examples.

1. Things will only get worse from here on.
Does anyone believe this is true for every person? However, given the convergence of AGW, economic downturn/collapse, political instability (and outright fraud) and energy decline, it is a safe bet that for some period of time things will get worse for most, is it not? But even then, how many of those who post here think the downturn will be permanent?

2. What is the point of investing my money for the future when there is no real future?
This is a valid question as regards BAU on two levels: this downturn could be very, very long. A prudent investor has to consider that. Those that are certain of it absolutely should act in that way. But your post hints at these things being invalid. How so?

3. Money is fiat and fake and economics and investment is a made up scam, so why put any value in it?

Absolutely. If you feel that the fiat/fractional banking system is a source of many of our problems, why would you support it? That's just intelligent action based on your understanding of the current system.

Etc. So, I find your analysis typically shallow as it lies on a base of caricatures of real issues.


ccpo says "So, I find your analysis typically shallow as it lies on a base of caricatures of real issues."

I can only ask, and I will let you be the judge, do you feel that my "caricatures" of many peoples views was a greater caricature than Gail the Actuary's portrayal of the views of many Americans that I was replying to?

I have great respect for Gail. Based on my reading of her material, she has a mind like a steel trap, clever and smart. But in this case, I felt compelled to answer in defense of the American people and the American culture at large.

There is a point at which the continual attacks on everything the American culture, and in fact much of Western culture has been built around will be answered.

It is fascinating to see that in every nation that the possibility of living a materially better and more comfortable life with more variety of experience is offered, the opportunity is taken up with great zeal. It is the Americans however who are portrayed as "greedy" and ignorant, as some type of materialistic yahoos for taking advantage of what technology and economic development have offered them.

Yes, we have many excesses, some of them almost idiotic if you really look at them. But are we more prone to excess than the human race at large? Are we more prone to believe that with effort and planning we can continue to live well than humans at large? Are we more prone to walk away from our "traditions" when offered the goodies that modernism brings than humans at large? I would say these points are very arguable.

On the issue of fractional banking, fiat money, etc., you ask, "If you feel that the fiat/fractional banking system is a source of many of our problems, why would you support it?"

Simple: Because it has supported me, and it has supported hundreds of millions of people in the developed countries in achieving a standard of living unheard of in human history.

I have known people who had "no faith" in investing, in financial planning, in economics all my life. These people are now into middle age or older, and they are bitter and angry. How is it that the system seems to have worked for those who did invest, who did plan, who did diversify? They now see their old classmates and friends taking vacations, living well, and worrying far less about every one penny move in gasoline prices. These people did not as you say "support" the core tenets of the economic system or the ideas of prudent investment and planning, so now the system does not support them. Now they want to feel bitter and picked upon. It was their choice.

Economics is a social science. If you want to extract the advantage from it, you must study it and make sound choices based upon what you learn. The same is true with opera, with art, with NFL Football and with culture in general, and with any other pursuit that is "fiat" and man made. Almost all human activities except maybe sex and death are man made. Our ability to enhance everything we do by way of "fiat" activities is what makes us human. We even try to find ways to dress sex up. In the physical reality, a whore, a princess or a supermodel all function exactly the same. It is culture, the attachment of "fiat" cultural values that make one experience more valued or thrilling than the other.

It is o.k. to laugh at "fiat" currency. Just don't be angry when you see your friends who accepted the value of culturally valued money going on vacations, living in comfortable homes, going out with high maintainence women and wearing nice clothes and jewels that look anything but "fiat". :-)


"Just don't be angry when you see your friends who accepted the value of culturally valued money going on vacations, living in comfortable homes, going out with high maintainence women and wearing nice clothes and jewels that look anything but "fiat". :-)

Yes. But is it not likely that fiat currency is yet another artefact of massive use of fossil energy? It only represents the expectation of future riches that will be gained by exercising the option to go on burning up as cheaply as possible the one-off legacy of oil, gas, coal, etc.

As Rickover said:

Fossil fuels resemble capital in the bank. A prudent and responsible parent will use his capital sparingly in order to pass on to his children as much as possible of his inheritance. A selfish and irresponsible parent will squander it in riotous living and care not one whit how his offspring will fare.

All that's happened in the last 30 years is that the world has partied on as if the sharp warning of the 1970s never happened. Now there is a need to do what we could have done earlier, only now it will have to be done with less energy and with a far bigger millstone round our neck in terms of massive, energy-intensive, highly interlinked infrastructure to support. Annoyingly, a great deal of that infrastructure is only there in order to peddle worthless junk to the many so that the few can enjoy their fiat money, vacations and high-maintenance women.

I can only ask, and I will let you be the judge, do you feel that my "caricatures" of many peoples views was a greater caricature than Gail the Actuary's portrayal of the views of many Americans that I was replying to?

By far. Your list was full of things I don't see many saying, except maybe cjw. Her list was full of things I actually see and hear all the time. I have yet to speak to someone not a participant on these forums who actually thinks collapse is even *possible,* let alone at all likely.

I felt compelled to answer in defense of the American people and the American culture at large.

And that was your first mistake. From a certain perspective, the US experiment has been a grand adventure. From another - or virtually any other - it is going to end up an abysmal failure. It's kind of like we built the fastest car in the world and promptly ran it into a cliff wall on the first run across the salt flats.

We have raped the planet and are the second-most responsible, after Britain, for the killing of the ecosystem we live in. We will surpass them in time, I'd guess. Then China will pass us. Then everyone dies.

Yes, that's success.

It is the Americans however who are portrayed as "greedy" and ignorant, as some type of materialistic yahoos for taking advantage of what technology and economic development have offered them.

You're just taking it all personally. It's not personal. We have been profligate and must shoulder blame. You are simply trying to rationalize this away.

Simple: Because it has supported me, and it has supported hundreds of millions of people in the developed countries in achieving a standard of living unheard of in human history.

I guess I must point out the oft-repeated FACT: Most industrialized nations, particularly the US, do not, in fact, score higher on scales of satisfaction and happiness. Period. Material goods and their possession do not equal happiness or a high standard of living.

Had we lived sustainably on the earth up to now, sitting on your ass in front of an HD TV would never have been thought a good standard of living. People would, perhaps, actually spend time together.

Even if not, had we modernized sustainably, I have no doubt most would be happier and healthier. Regardless, what we have now is suicide, so it's not something to celebrate.

I have known people who had "no faith" in investing, in financial planning, in economics all my life... Now they want to feel bitter and picked upon. It was their choice.

And, in the end, they didn't consume as much and helped slow the rush over the cliff. In the end, they will be thankful of their lack of participation. You are looking at things only as they are and in a perspective based on BAII (Business as it is) which is not a legitimate way to go about this. The issue is what is happening now and what is coming. Again, you can't claim victory for "The American Way" if humanity ends up dust as a result.

It is o.k. to laugh at "fiat" currency. Just don't be angry when you see your friends who accepted the value of culturally valued money going on vacations, living in comfortable homes, going out with high maintainence women and wearing nice clothes and jewels that look anything but "fiat". :-)

Did you not pay any attention at all to what Gail and I said?

I don't laugh at fiat currencies, I retch at them. They are inherently evil and were considered so for most of human history, and with reason: they are part of what creates inequality among people. The money changers were chased out of the temple for a reason: they are leeches. I don't mean that figuratively. They literally suck the wealth out of others.

As for the rest, please. What a perfect snapshot of what I find most disgusting about profit as the basis of human activity. Profligate spending with zero regard for fellow beings or the future generations.

I and mine are quite happy, thank you, without a yacht to play on.

You should know better than to taunt a teacher - at least one who loves what he does - with material bull excrement.


Well said, RC. While the posts on TOD offer insightful analysis of energy and peak oil issues, I find that many of the comments dwell excessively on negativity.

At the end of the day, things are usually neither as good as they seem at the top, nor as bad as they seem at the bottom.


The graph on page 5, previously posted by Kiashu here, http://www.theoildrum.com/node/3697#comment-312235 ,
shows that the US could reduce its per capita energy consumption by 70% while still maintaining an excellent quality of life (and functioning industrial economy).

Do the doomers out there really think that it's impossible for all of the renewable (plus nuclear) choices out there to meet 30% of today's energy production?

I'll go you one better: I think we can reduce it to a tenth or less of waht we use today. But can is not will, and there are those who will get very nasty if you try to persuade them to drop at all, let alone 2/3.

Your argument works against you, actually. It shows that the ELP plan CAN work and SHOULD be the way of things - and will be if we wish to survive. This is what many a doomer actually thinks needs to happen and will happen.


About point #8. It has been my belief that it is the job of churches to teach us traditions, values, and what is important. Priests, rabbis, mullahs, etc have spent centuries debating what is most important. It is why after turning their backs on churches as teenagers they go back to church when they have children in their 20s and 30s. Schools have the job of teaching what the marketplace claims is most important which can be very different than what churches teach.

There is a lot of work on the psychological aspects at Peak Oil Blues.

Rickover's speech would be regarded as farseeing if given ten or even five years ago. That is was given 50 years ago is quite amazing.

Still, there are some things I'd like to point out. Rickover, in the end, is concerned about preservation of the empire: "...we shall insure this dominant position for our own country." His perspective is not that of survival of the human race. He is inferior to people like Einstein in that respect -- also a bright and farseeing fellow.

And while pointing out some of the negatives of nuclear power, he's somewhat inconsistent. He sees the problems of solar and wind in requiring expensive materials and infrastructure, but this is much more so with nuclear.

He does touch a key problem which is the crucial role of transport and implicitly recognizes the vast superiority of oil over all other fuels for that purpose, and therefore predicts the ultimate demise of the auto. Others will say electricity via hydrogen or fuels cells will obviate this. I dispute this, but won't argue it here.

His description of the population problem is very powerful and even he underestimates what has happened since. But population cannot ultimately be controlled on other than a global and cooperative basis.

That, to me, is his biggest limiation: he sees what is coming, and what we now face directly, but in the final analysis he thinks it can be solved technologically and within the framework of a dominating power.

I noticed many of the same points, but given that he was an admiral whose job was to build a nuclear fleet I can readily excuse his nationalistic and nuclear perspectives. It is good and proper to note such potential biases, but to me that in no way demeans the man or detracts from the value of his accomplishments or message. I imagine he was the best man for his job, and his sense of national duty obligated him to clearly state his long term concerns. Who knows, starting then the problem may well have been solvable via technology and in the framework of a dominating power?

I do think our elders were more accommodating of personal oddities coupled with brilliance than we are today. Einstein was an outspoken pacifist who has difficulties with some personal relationships. Patton was crazy in more ways than one. Von Braun was a driven technologist who would apparently work for any purpose. Each made profound contributions to the world and our country despite "politically incorrect" facets of their being. It makes me wonder where our current geniuses are hiding, and whether we've succeeded in dimming their lanterns just when we need them most.

...but to me that in no way demeans the man or detracts from the value of his accomplishments or message.


We should recall when speaking of the "nationalistic" aspects of Rickover and other thinkers of the 1950's that many intellectuals thought in different terms in those days compared to the way we do now.

There was more of a belief that a nation could and should be responsible for and fix it's own problems.

We know that this idea has limits. There are many things that can really only be properly addressed at the global level, and we now feel that international cooperation is the only way to really address certain problems if we hope to reach a truly effective solution.

But there is some validity to the old theory too. The Americans have recently become the "they should..." nation instead of the "We can" nation. We now have a tendency to try to tell other nations in the world what they should or should not do, or can or cannot do, sometimes to the point of becoming preachy and cloying, while we make no effort to improve ourselves.

It approaches the limits of hypocrisy for the U.S. to give sermons about reducing energy consumption, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing transparency in the financial community, etc., when we have so very much work to do in these areas ourselves.

Let's face it: If the darker of the "peak oil" and "export land" models are correct, the United States can do nothing by itself to change Peak Oil either in occurance or in timing. Nothing.
Ironically, we do not use enough of the world's oil to matter as a nation to the larger occurance of Peak Oil, and we are not now one of the nations with fast growing energy demands. The same is true concerning greenhouse gas emissions. The United States now emits a declining share of greenhouse gas compared to the world's growing emissions simply because we are becoming a smaller portion of the world's economy. The U.S. acting alone will be able to have barely marginal effect on climate change despite the howling and ranting of Hansen.

What we can do however matters much to our future as a nation, and we matter to the world by power of example. If we can repeatedly, year after year, continue to bring down our oil consumption, and bring down our greenhouse gas emissions WITHOUT seriously injuring our own economy, we will be the model of how a nation can survive on into the modern era. As other nations model after our methods of advanced efficiency technology, "elegant" product design, and advanced renewable clean technologies, they will ape us on the path of decreased fossil fuel consumption just as they aped us on the path toward fossil fuel waste.

While we are doing this, we will provide jobs and financial investment opportunities for the future for own people and preserve our own valuable financial capital.

We cannot order other nations, especially those who are for the first time seeing a way to provide for a humane existance for their people, to stop what they are doing, stop using energy, stop striving to have the things we have always taken for granted. It is inhumane and wrong to do so, and they will not obey us!

What we can do is clean up our act and reduce our own waste. What we can do is develop the most advanced renwable and efficeincy based energy system in world history. What we can do is take care of own business, not because we are evil "nationalists" or "imperialists" because it is the right thing to do. Rickover would have surely felt that with our power and money, we were obligated to the world to set the example in the 1950's, and we still are today.

"Physician, heal thyself."


The United States now emits a declining share of greenhouse gas compared to the world's growing emissions simply because we are becoming a smaller portion of the world's economy. The U.S. acting alone will be able to have barely marginal effect on climate change despite the howling and ranting of Hansen.


--- G.R.L. Cowan, H2 energy fan 'til ~1996

When I was about 10 years old, just about when and Hubbert and Rickover wrote about Peak Oil, my father told me much about oil.

He told me that this oil age we were living in was a speck of time in all of human history and that one day oil would be gone. He only had a night school education from Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, studying oil technology. He worked for Atlantic Richfield Refining Co. in Philadelphia for 20 years, testing oils by running various engines for thousands of hours to test engine wear for different oils. In addition to testing oil by running engines in the lab, the "lab boys" tested oil by driving cars for thousands of hours on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. A number of my dad's buddies died in accidents on the Turnpike.

My dad was just a technician in a lab, but he was very intelligent and self-educated. I know that read Compton's Encyclopedia from cover to cover. I often wonder if he got his knowledge of oil and its place in history from Drexel Institute, from Hubbert or Rickover, or from his general knowledge. I will never know, but I knew much about all energies from an early age.

I knew from age 10 that there's a lot of energy in a gallon of oil, and I grew up studying the globe with this knowledge. In 1982 I read the 600 page study National Academy of Sciences study ENERGY IN TRANSITION - 1985 TO 2010.


After reading it I knew that there was no transition to make.

Then I watched for 25 years as university professors indoctrinated students with ideas of solar energy as the solution. They didn't stop to think that the problem is liquid fuels and that it takes a lot of energy to concentrate solar energy, including wind energy. They didn't want to listen then, and they and their students still won't listen. Many said then that we would find a way, and now it is 1 minute to 12 o'clock and many still say the same thing. Ideologies are hard to reckon with.

Kenneth E. Boulding (a NAS study panelist) made the following critique of the 1977 National Academy of Science and National Academy of Engineering (NAS/NAE) study “Energy in Transition 1985-2010.” (Page 617):

“In preparing for the future, therefore, it is very important to have a wide range of options and to think in advance about how we are going to react to the worst cases as well as the best. The report does not quite do this. There is an underlying assumption throughout, for instance, that we will solve the problem of the development of large quantities of usable energy from constantly renewable sources, say, by 2010. Suppose, however, that in the next 50, 100, or 200 years we do not solve this problem; what then? It can hardly be doubted that there will be a deeply traumatic experience for the human race, which could well result in a catastrophe for which there is no historical parallel.

It is a fundamental principle that we cannot discover what is not there. For nearly 100 years, for instance, there have been very high payoffs for the discovery of a cheap, light, and capacious battery for storing electricity on a large scale; we have completely failed to solve this problem. It is very hard to prove that something is impossible, but this failure at least suggests that the problem is difficult. The trouble with all permanent or long-lasting sources of energy, like the sun or the earth’s internal heat, is that they are extremely diffuse and the cost of concentrating their energy may therefore be very high. Or with a bit of luck, it may not; we cannot be sure. To face a winding down of the extraordinary explosion of economic development that followed the rise of science and the discovery of fossil fuels would require extraordinary courage and sense of community on the part of the human race, which we could develop perhaps only under conditions of high perception of extreme challenge. I hope this may never have to take place, but it seems to me we cannot rule it out of our scenarios altogether.”

I knew that these days (now) would come to pass in my lifetime, and so I never had children. Peak Oil preparations for me started long ago.

There is plenty of room on the lifeboats for anyone who wants to get off this Titanic.

Clifford J. Wirth Email: clifford dot wirth at yahoo dot com or give me a phone call which operates here as my old USA-NH number 603-668-4207


I really enjoy your posts - probably because I totally agree with them. In my case, it was the impact the Depression had on my Mom and Dad as well as their families that led me to a different view of life and society. Although I was born in 1938, the effects were still lingering even when I was a small child. I swore I would never be placed in a similar position.

Having done the corporate trip where I was high enough organizationally to know how the game was played, I decided that I had to take action. This was in the late 60's and we actually made the move in 1974. It's an action I have never regretted.


PS We never had kids either. In fact, out of all of our relatives, only two had kids.

Thanks Todd,

Those who know about the depression probably have a real sense that things will not always be so good as now.

My parents and grandparent taught me a lot about the Great Depression and how life was before the depression. My grandmother told me about the 1918 flu in Philadelphia and the wagons that came each to cart off the dead.

This helps in understanding that we live in a special time. With this understanding, people are more likely to accept that things will change for the worse.

When the Admiral gave this speech, I was a lieutenant pilot in the Air Force and certainly not flag rank but I knew these facts from discussions in college in Texas 1950-1952, long before the Admiral gave this speech. There were discussions about population out of control and limited finite resources with basically the same arguments he used. I see this speech as taking then current knowledge and making a brilliant presentation pulling together the many parts.

About that time I was flying fighters 2 flights every day burning about 750 gallons of JP4 per flight. In 1957, the year of his speech, I went to SAC and flew B-47s about 17500 gallons per nine hour flight and with multiple refueling, the flights could be extended almost indefinitely at about 2000 gallons per hour. The Navy was doing similar things so in that sense though we knew these peak oil things, we paid as little attention to them as Alan’s Sister in Law. We also knew the dangers of smoking and called straight short Camel cigarettes “Coffin Pegs”, but most of us smoked. In fact, we got 4 cigarette sample packs in each flight lunch in the B-47s.

So knowledge and information does not lead directly to action. Most of my generation (and the ‘Greatest Generation’) quit smoking when they noticed a shortness of breath, not before. I’ll bet better than even money Admiral Rickover smoked. It will be the same with the general population now. They will not pay any attention to information or take any action until they really feel the effects. The general population is just starting to feel the effects but not really enough to take much action. They will cut back a little driving, sure. But will they talk to the Pope that the church’s philosophy is possibly wrong. Or tell anyone that they cannot have more than two point one (huh?) children. Can't own a Hummer if you can afford one. Never happen!

I believe it will only happen when we are far behind the power curve. Google "F-100 Saber Dance" to see what behind the power curve is about.


The results will be about the same … that’s why I am a doomer.

Vaya Con Dios

Wasnt that long ago in America that portly women who
were pale from lack of sun light were deemed sexy.
The reason being was that thin and taunt and tanned
women were lower social class and worked outside in
the sun in the fields.
The pale and portly women were from the highest social
caste and gained pounds from eating and not burning
Today thats all upside down and the rich play tennis
and sail yatchs while the lower social castes are
inside in their cubicles or on the factory floor.
People view change with suspicion and voice loudly how
they refuse change and yet....they often flip 180 degrees and pay any price too do so.
Theres a tanning salon in every strip mall in the USA!
Peer pressure causes many females to purge themselves
of caloric intake to the point of death even.
Educating peoples to these facts about human nature
and society wont do any good whats-so-ever....
"NO PARKING FIRE LANE" signs draw parked vehicles like
grave yards draw headstones.
Every war ever waged had an economic price and yet
everytime a politician sells a new war...its sold to
the people because 'WAR IS GOOD FOR THE ECONOMY' and
the majority swallows it everytime.
Tilting agaisnt windmills is preferable...or flying
kites....then trying to educate those who know what
they know.
Gardening,fishing,hunting used to be chores and now
they are hobbies.....soon they will be chores again.
A wood fire was a necessity and now its ambiance and
soon it will be a necessity again.
They'll find out soon enough I figure....fat girls
didnt go out of style over nite...its gonna take some
time for this change too.
"No skinny girls were harmed in this simulation"!

I distinctly remember a geography class in high school where my teacher, a Mr. Brown stated that oil would begin to run out about 2010. I remember thinking that it wasn't something I should worry about I'd be 35 by then, it seemed like a long time in the future.

Less Flying means more fuel consumption?

As airlines cut capacity, increase prices and milk the customer for every little amenity, wouldn’t that mean more people driving instead of flying?.

According to the numbers proposed by The Heart of Mathematics by Edward Burger written in 2004 (http://books.google.com/books?id=M-qK8anbZmwC&pg=PT680&lpg=PT680&dq=driv...)
If 10% less people fly and drove instead, there would be an extra 170 million miles driven a day or 62 billion extra miles driven per year.

Does anyone here have numbers about the fuel efficiency of flying vs driving to a certain destination?, it is my impression that it is more fuel efficient to fly from Amsterdam to Paris (45 min flight) then drive for 5/6 hours?

Basically, by switching from flying to driving, individually the driver will probably pay less for the trip, but collectively all those drivers will consume much more fuel to reach the same destination.


I actually managed to find more data regarding planes fuel efficiency (http://science.howstuffworks.com/question192.htm), a Boing 747 uses 5 gallons per mile, and if on average it transports 500 people, this would be an efficiency of 100 miles per gallon, much better then the 25 miles per gallon for an average car, only if the car is transporting 4 people the efficiency is similar.

If we assume that on average each car will have 2 passengers, fuel consumption could increase by 50% to transport those 10% of passengers who skip flying in favor of driving.

The above is not taking into consideration the fuel savings of not driving to the airport, however those are probably offset somewhat by the fact that driving entail the possibility of traffic jams.


If all 500 jumped on a through train they would all get there in a few hours for a lot less than 5 GPM.

Not only that, on the train they could walk around, go to the club car, have some beers or wine and not spend a fortune, eat a decent dinner, watch the scenery, and maybe get some good sleep.

The assumption that all those who reduce their amount of flying will drive instead is obviously false. In the US the number of miles driven and the number of airline flights are both falling.

If we are wondering if Rickover can effectively communicate the idea of Peak Oil to Congress, then we only need look at how long it took for Gore to convince Congress of Global Warming. In the early days of his diatribes, the early 80's, there was zero response, zero action taken. It was as if he was talking to a brick wall. They thought he was looney and or they just didn't want to do anything that was politically risky, so Gore was ignored. In any case, Rickover talking to an empty room doesn't surprise me. Wait twenty more years and he might get a couple dozen reps scattered throughout the auditorium.

Am I the only one that is scared to death that the oil prices are going to keep dropping? It is a harsh reality making everyone bite the bullet of high fuel prices and the effect on our economy, but unfortunately it is the only thing that has motivated our population toward the new alternative energy push.


No, I'm scared too, because I know what the impacts of oil depletion will look like and that alternative energies policies will accelerate oil depletion and demonstrate that humans are not smarter than yeast.

Alternatives consume fossil energies and yield electric energy, which is not what we need.

Oh, you say you have a contraption that will turn solar/wind energy into liquid fuels.

I'd like to see your plans for that, including where the capital investment and fossil energy investment is going to come from.

Anyone got any plans for us to look at?

The world is waiting for your brilliant plans and you will make billions and billions of dollars and you will save billions of lives.

Many people can see the results of global warming around them. For example, skiing businesses in many areas are collapsing from warmer weather and less snow. And many areas of the U.S. are experiencing droughts and hot than normal weather.

So far Peak Oil has not the same obvious impacts. But with higher gasoline prices and much higher fuel oil heating bills this winter more people will begin to learn about Peak Oil impacts. When gasoline hits $10 per gallon, people will take notice.

Also, the media have avoided focusing on Peak Oil impacts, which will result in mass fatalities soon. Most people, including me, don't want to think about such horrors.

I'm a university professor, so maybe somewhat smart. I once had the opportunity to work for a man that I continue to admire and hold his intelligence in awe. He, in turn, at one time worked for Admiral Rickover, whose intelligence he held in awe. I hope that gives you some idea of the genious of that man. Rickover = [Out of Box Thinking]^3

BTW, I've got some great "Rickover stories" to relate, if interested.

So you tell us you are a guy who is not quite as smart as some other guy who is not quite as smart as some sailor.

Ok D3PO Yarn on


Did Rickover smoke? I doubt it.

And his views and attitude were not mainstream.

Hyperactive, political, blunt, confrontational, insulting, flamboyant, and an unexcelled workaholic who was always demanding of others – without regard for rank or position – as well as himself, Admiral Rickover was a thundering force of nature and lightning rod for controversy. Moreover, he had "little tolerance for mediocrity, none for stupidity." "If a man is dumb," said a Chicago friend, "Rickover thinks he ought to be dead." Even while a Captain, Rickover did not conceal his opinions, and many of the officers he regarded as dumb eventually rose in rank to be admirals and were assigned to the Pentagon.


"If you must sin, sin against God, not against the bureaucracy. God may forgive you, but the bureaucracy never will!"

— U.S. Admiral Hyman Rickover

whilst it's quaint to read Rickover and wonder what kind of society we'd be living in if people with his abilities and attitudes had real power, I believe it's important to realize that the admiral was working in protected environment - the United States military, a lavishly funded state within a state, a non-democratic, publically funded form of "socialism".

Admiral Rickover perhaps represented a dying race - the "true" conservative. However, though he was well informed and intelligent and imaginative, he appears to have been politically naive and lacked understanding about the underlying mechanisms that the modern capitalist state is founded on.

So Rickover could calmly observe the world from his protected environment and declare without really having to take responsibility for actually changing the direction society was moving in, a direction that was leading towards eventual disaster.

It's a mistake to imagine that intelligence or knowledge are really that important in a market society. They are nice to have, but no substitute for control or power founded on great wealth. A prime example of how wealth trumps everything else is the case of president Bush, who lacks both yet has, through his family and class, massive economic power.

This isn't meant to be a Marxist analysis, social classes existed way before Karl Marx trained his eye on them and began his famous disection and analysis of capitalist society; but Rickover should have read Marx if he really wanted to understand why his analysis and warnings didn't stand a chance of being implimented within the bounderies of bourgeois democracy.

I think that average people have a really hard time dealing with really smart people, and vice versa. That's why genius kids often end up bored and with discipline issues in high-school, where they chafe at the structure of enforced uniform mediocrity managed by small-minded but self-important administrators. It doesn't get easier for most once they get into the workplace, either.

I imagine that Rickover, Einstein, and many others understood political realities well enough, but that didn't stop them from articulating what they believed was "right" on topics they felt were important. Certainly he had no more "responsibility for changing direction" than you or I might, as his job was to build a nuclear fleet that helped CREATE the protected environment we've all enjoyed for decades.

I don't see that capitalism makes much of a difference in this case, or in the path to disaster in general, except that it is more efficient than most economic models at hastening along the inevitable end. I don't see Marxist, communist, dictatorial, or other instances of power on the earth doing a heckuva lot better at planning for the peak, and those that may be (say Cuba and Brazil) have backed into it rather accidentally. Most modern societies that started with Marx seem to be struggling to achieve the same accomplishments as capitalist societies, and are slowly turning into "bourgeois democracies" along the way.

Maybe a true genius and perfect visionary will solve the implementation conundrum, but otherwise I imagine that likes of Rickover (or Simmons, or any other peaker) will have to make the best of the slide along with the rest of us.......just maybe a bit more easily and intelligently.

Was not Jimmy Carter a follower of Rickover? That was a case of those in power with a finite resource vision of the future not accomplishing much.

It is government that creates the obstacles to possible solutions to the energy crisis. Government has blocked nuclear power plants and offshore drilling, but has invaded Iraq to give control of Iraqi oil to international oil interests. Government has created thru legislation huge pockets of power that corrupt the free markets and substitute corporate privilege for a competitive market. So I seriously doubt that the government is going to do anything but continue to line the pockets of their friends and themselves. Who benefited for the great ethanol "solution" and who had wealth transferred out of their pockets for example? Look at all the wealth that is being squandered by government to research fusion when even the scientists working on the projects openly say what the government is willing to fund will not work.

If a disaster is to be prevented, which I think is asking for the impossible, solutions will come from individual minds, not the lumbering blunder of politicians and bureaucrats. McCain and Obama both are suggesting central planning and control, neither of which have much of a track record of success in anything. Even wars are only won because the loser is more incompetent that the winner. It is a shame that those attracted to government positions are those who believe in the omnipotence of government, instead of understand it is more akin to the Great and Wonderful Wizard or Oz.

Carter was a student of Rickover. In 1977 Carter tried to rally the nation toward conservation and was laughed off the stage.


Carter then lost the election of 1980 to Ronald Reagan who promised the nation a limitless future and promptly dismantled Carter's energy policies and put the nation on a path of maximum energy consumption, including the 600 ship Navy, an enormous boondoggle.

The American public views Ronald Reagan as one of the greatest presidents. Like John Wayne, he epitomizes all that is wrong with America. But hey, that is what arrogant Americans wanted then and now.

The most powerful and arrogant Americans will fall the farthest in post peak America. They will look for scapegoats and will never admit that they were wrong.

Their fate will be the same as others. Things will get worse and worse. Then one day the electric power will not come back on, ever. Everyone will stay where they are. Nothing will move. Their past wealth and power will mean nothing. No food, no clean water, no heat, some news coming in on the shortwave. No way to do anything about it.

I say you assessment of the future in your final paragraph is highly probable. It looks to me like mankind has not nor will be unable to develop substitute adequate energy sources which leaves us with an unsolved problem, and time is just about up as we stumble around the peak of the oil production mountain with no where to go but down.

I think it is significant that transition to any possible new way of living will require an immense amount of energy itself. All these schemes for alternatives require an energy investment up front, and from where is this energy to come when we don't have enough to sustain ourselves? Even a transition to take us backwards in time to more localized, low tech agricultural lives takes added energy to build the necessary infrastructure.

The world is in for a big shock once production begins its relentless decline. If we don't get much past 85,000,000 BPD and decline sets in at even a 3.5% rate, in 20 years we will be down to 42,500,000 BPD worldwide. The first halving of production produced by a negative rate of growth will result in the biggest absolute decline because we are starting from the largest daily production rate ever achieved. Twenty years is really not that long a period, but loss of 42.5 MBPD is huge.

For countries like the USA and UK the problem will be even worse because we will suffer the brunt of the decline in production as oil exports from our suppliers fall even faster than worldwide production itself falls. And of course we are more highly dependent on oil than many less developed areas of the world.

I don't see that much of the industrial age will be functioning, including most importantly the electrical system as you stated. The laws of nature dwarf the creativity of mankind.

Yes, it is hopeless, the only solution is depression and cultural suicide.
(Leaving resources for others investments, wohoo! :-) )

Make me 10% as smart as Rickover and I'll probably be a lot smarter than you.

OK, here's one I recall. Rickover always liked to personally interview the applicants for the nuclear submarine command crew. One trick question he used was "Make me mad." Usually, the applicant would do something unimaginative, like curse him. Nope, no pass. One guy comes in and gets the request. He stands up, and proceeds to knock all of Rickover's stuff off his desk. Rickover says, "nope, not mad about that, you'll have to do better". So, the guy goes over to Rickover's personal model of the Natilus submarine, his baby, grabs it and throws it on the floor, smashing it to pieces. So Rickover says, "OK, now you're making me mad". The sailor passed the interview.

Cute story D3PO, even in the rehearing, but, unless you hit reply or otherwise direct your comment, it makes me think that you can only be talking to god. Wow ... that sure does make you a clever dude, and boy at 10 times that, Rickover must be the cat's PJ's when it comes to having the smarts!


Last year, I created a 4-column poster for one of the exhibitors http://www.ampmobileconversions.com/ at the Southeastern Energy Expo (http://www.seeexpo.com/) and I'm trying to update it based on some earlier work: http://www.rtpnet.org/~teaa/energyassess2.html. I realize that I am neophyte with respect to offshore drilling and started to write about it. I have some numbers but I want to convey the enormouscy of what it would cost to drill off the East coast and other prohibited areas in the Gulf to acheive "energy independence" and later compare those figures to the cost of solar for the North Carolina area. I want to keep this to an 11" by 8.5" page. This is what I have written so far:

Drilling Off shore on the Continental shelf? It's going to take 4 years to build the first rig if we started today. It's going to take a two or more months to drill the first hole. If oil is found, then it will take several more months to a year to lay a pipeline to shore. What do we get? If we are very lucky, about 5,000 barrels a day. Dry holes have been drilled offshore.

By 2013, we will need to import 20 million barrels a day. We would need approximately 4,000 such wells; more like 8,000 to 10,000 wells. For shallow water, the cost of renting a rig is approximately $40K/day or approximately $4 million to bring in a well.* For deep water wells, “Brazilian Petrobras awarded Norway’s SeaDrill with contracts for three deep water rigs worth up to $4.1 billion, with day rates in excess of $600,000. “** To drill 6 deep water wells a year over 5 years, we would need 133 rigs with operating costs in excess of $80 billion/day to drill 4,000 deep water wells. Offshore drilling is going to take time, huge amounts of money measured in the billions, and lots of luck. The total for all this over 5 years could well be in the low Trillions. Would it be better to spend this money in other ways?

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_well, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_platform

It's a lot to try to convey on a single sheet of paper in large type. Any help would be appreciated.


Where did "If we are very lucky, about 5,000 barrels a day." come from? Good production platforms would produce 100,000 to 250,000 bbls/day.

It is not clear that there is any oil off the East Coast. Someone in the last few days commented that we have found offshore oil in the past, it was near where onshore oil had been found earlier (Texas, Louisiana, and California). We have not found oil onshore along the East Coast, so at there is no particular reason to believe that oil would be found offshore there.

Someone who works in the oil and gas industry could give you better detail as to exactly how it would work out. I can give you my impression. Basically, offshore drilling would first need to be approved by congress. Then oil companies would need to bid for tracts they think might be worthwhile, and start doing whatever testing could be done from the surface, to see if the site seemed to have promise. If the leased area seems to have promise, they would get in line to lease a drilling rig of an appropriate type, to drill a test well or two. They would also have to apply for various permits, to make sure that there are no environmental issues involve. All of this would take at least five years.

If the first wells were successful, they would get in line to rent a drilling rig of the appropriate type to drill additional test wells. If these wells are in deep locations, it might take more than a year each time a drilling rig is lined up to be rented.

Once they are satisfied that there is actually a reasonable amount of oil that can be extracted in an economical fashion, engineers would need to figure out a plan for exactly how this could be done, and how the resulting oil and natural gas could be transported to shore. Developing this plan would no doubt take at least a year, probably more. Then they would need to apply for more permits. This would likely add another year.

Once the plan is drawn up, the oil company would need to find contractors to work on the various parts of the plan. Depending on the location, it may be necessary to design and build special equipment for the location. If a new platform is to be built, this could take two years. Leasing drilling rigs of the correct types could take a year or two. Building the pipelines (separate for oil and gas) would require various permits, and could take three or more years.

If it is in a deep-water location, all of this process is likely take 10 years or more before the first regular oil production begins.

No matter how many wells are drilled, it is unlikely the amount of oil extracted will make a big dent in our import needs. We have been drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, near Louisiana and Texas, for a long time. In the area close to shore production peaked in 1997 at 371,000 barrels a day; in the "Federal" areas farther offshore, production peaked at 1,559,000 barrels per day in 2003. These are not very large amounts, compared to our imports. If we drill in areas that do not seem to have as much promise as the Texas and Louisiana area, we are likely to have much less success.

In his latest interview, Matthew Simmons noted that there are no rigs available for drilling.


I’ve been a petroleum geologist for 33 years and will offer some adjustments to your model. Above all else, you’re much too optimistic on the timing. It would take at least two years for the lease nominating process to identify blocks to be put up for auction, Then a couple of years minimum for seismic data acquisition (seismic crews are currently tied up for a couple of years on prior commitments). After the seismic is acquired a good year for interpretation. Then it’s the better part of a year for permitting to drill. To summarize this initial phase a good 5 years before the first well is spudded. Forget about 4 years to build a drilling rig…they already exist. Companies taking lease will have already contracted the drillers for these new projects. But you still need to add the better part of a year for rig mobilization and logistics setup. Then you’ll need at least 2 to 3 years before enough exploratory wells are drilled to identify a field worth developing. Once that phase is reached it will take the better part of 2 years to fabricate, transport and install a production platform. It the field is large then at least a couple of years to drill it up.

You can probably forget the pipeline unless it’s a very, very large field. Such a pipeline would take at least two years to plan/permit and then several years to lay. It would take a large number of field discoveries in the same general area to justify a major lay. If there’s a big natural gas discovery the same time frame would apply. Your well cost are a little low too…double your numbers. I think you messed up your “$80 billion/day” number…maybe you meant total costs. Bottom line: many 10’s of billions of $’s and probably a good 15 years before there is a significant amount of oil/gas coming off the east coast. And maybe closer to 20 to 25 years.

On the other hand, whatever money is spent belongs to the shareholders of the oil companies and neither you nor anyone else has a say to how it would be spent. ExxonMobil is no more qualified to develop alternative cars or solar panels then are Google or Phiser Drugs (both of which have much, much higher profit margins then ExxonMobil). Seriously. There is no aspect of oil and gas exploration that translates to alternative energy sources: different work force, different skills and different business plan.

I’m in favor to open up additional areas of the OCS to leasing and drilling under the same rules and regulatory policies that the Gulf of Mexico OCS has successfully worked under for the last 60 years. No…it won’t change the price of oil anytime soon. No…it won’t change PO’s arrival to any great degree. No….it won’t give us “energy independence’ (a term that annoys the hell out of me every time McCain et al use it). And, no….it won’t destroy the environment.

But it will help the economy. I’ve elaborated on the benefits before. The positive should be obvious. They are real and significant. But these areas will be leased and drilled at some point in time. Not because it’s good for the economy. Not because it’s a logical thing to do. Not because it is a good business plan for the oil companies. It will be done because the politicians will do it to appease the angry gasoline buyers. Peter, I’ll be glad to go my position in more detail if you like but there’s little reason to debate the issue. It matters little whose right or wrong. If you believe in PO then you know these areas will be drilled. It’s a question of when and not if, IMHO.

p.s. Just like me, 97% of the oil industry won't benefit from increased OCS drilling. In fact, it's counterproductive to our self interests. As a patriot I would like to whatever could be done to lessen the eventual impact of PO on our economy. But I someone who draws a paycheck by providing a commodity to the market, increasing that commodity by any amount is not in my best personal interest.

Thanks for your insights. I too am in favor of drilling. This is a link to a post I did earlier on the subject.

"a good 5 years before the first well is spudded."

What does "spudded" mean?

If Rickover were alive today he would sort out the Yucca Mountain debacle.

Like some other posters I had some thoughts about population and resources during the early 50's. At Houston's Jefferson Davis Hospital during the early 50's, there was a serious baby boom and some students and medical staff were concerned about grand multipara patients, those having 8 or more pregnancies. The first serious conversations that I encountered about possible implications of fossil fuel depletion were from the McGill biologist N.J,Berrill around late 1956 or early 1957. I am not sure when I first heard of Rickover but he was well known when I was in the Navy, from late 1959 to 1961. He had a reputation for being an extreme workaholic and for expecting much from those under him.

"...M. King Hubbert made his views about peak oil known in 1956, at a meeting of the American Petroleum Institute...."

Just think when Marion went public with his data there was roughly 3 billion people on planet earth.
No population problem, plenty of time to re-examine the current paradigm.

This generation and our fathers blew it.

For the love of money - we and our fathers blew it.

M. King Hubbert - an intellectual man among boys!

P.S. television didn't help our cause either.

OK, well I think it's like this....

99.999% of people are incapable of 'getting' peak oil and the associated threat. It takes an ABNORMAL mind, a combination of particular psychological and emotion state to be able to handle/conceive the big picture.

I'm talking one person in 100,000. You are a freak.

Rickover was one of us. People with our 'mindset' have always be around. It's just that with the internet we have found a way to group together and discuss the situation from our shared viewpoint.

TOD won't achieve anything. No one listens to freaks.

We are freaks, we are in the 0.001% minority. Somehow, due to your personal psychological/emotion condition, you can 'see' the big picture regarding peak oil, and that is very, very rare.

Being a freak sucks, you don't fit in. And the worst thing about it is watching your fellow freaks who don't realize that the mainstream are incapable of 'getting it' run around trying to get them to. The maintsream can't, and therefore the MSM won't. The future is already set. The mainstream live in a bubble that consists of only yesterday and today.

For me TOD isn't about saving modern civilization, its about watching its collapse via drumbeat news items. And collapse it shall, because it isn't utopia and it's not even trying to become it. Modern civilization is just dominated by massive corporations (made up of people, and hence performing in the same way all groups do) seeking to survive.

I'm enjoying the show, I have to admit that it's happening more slowly than I expected (Born in 1976, PO aware early 2005), and for than I am extremely grateful.

I have been celebrating the recent WTI price 'collapse' greatly. I'm rooting for sub $100 all the way! I see SO many PO people annoyed at the 'price collapse'. Cobb's recent article explains it all. Queuing theory! Brilliant!

Nice post, this is new information for me, amazing speech. Clearly there has been an effort to tune such people out of meaningful policy change. Many of the comments above also highlight the fact that now, it's wake up time. The intersecting emergencies of global water resource depletion, energy depletion, food emergency and population increase are immediate.

Oh wait, I've got to stop typing, NPR/FOX/NBC/CBS/ABC/BBC/CNN/Washington Post/Your Local Paper/etc is reporting on the Edwards scandal. Gotta run.

We should not be so awestruck by Rickover's intellectual prowess that we fail to notice the 'pig in the parlor' (i.e., an error as blatant and obvious as a big ol' muddy hog rooting around in an otherwise prim Victorian parlor.)

I'm speaking of his failure to accomplish anything effective concerning the situation he so eloquently described. Indeed, the route he followed in life was its antithesis, a veritable testament to the waste and misdirection that he preached so ardently against in 1957. For that he deserves triple censure. First for being a leading force in the arms race that nearly ended life on earth, second for being a bit of a hypocrite, and third for being smart enough to know better on both counts.

The Victorian metaphor is especially appropriate in that hypocrisy was also the hallmark of that other gilded age of empire.

Einstein was a genius in science who made a mistake (the atomic bomb project) outside of his field of expertise (war and politics are not mathematics or theoretical physics) so enormous that it dwarfs the contributions of his life's work. At least he apologized.

Rickover was a genius as well, who chose not to apologize.

There are only two possibilities here, folks. Either he truly comprehended the importance of the points raised in his speech and decided to ignore them in favor of something else, or he did not.

If the first was true, then shame on him.

If the second case was true (that he did not really 'get it' well enough to take his own conclusions seriously) then he wasn't fully as brilliant as his speech would lead us to conclude.

In either case let's spare the praise, not because the Admiral was either a good guy or a bad guy... but because it is not pertinent.

The point is: Ad Hominem science is as illogical as ad hominem argument. Rickover is as irrelevant to the validity of Peak Oil and its predicted consequences as Isaac Newton is to the existence of gravity.

More importantly what should give us pause is this: If a person as highly placed, influential and outspoken as Admiral Rickover did not, during the six decades of his career, bring about any really significant improvements to US energy policy, then what does that suggest about our own chances of doing so in the next couple of years?

Is this doomer talk?

Oh, you betcha.

That is amazing for something written over 50 years ago. Too bad people didnt take his advice on these matters. The question is, why? I do not think you can answer it without getting into the occult.

I am quite certain that if the Rickover of 1957 were to be transported 50 years into the future and left to wander on a typical American suburban street after sunset, he would see all the blue lights coming from the homes and he would surely think that some offworld intelligence has seized and enslaved the human race. The world we are living in today is more of a sci-fi horror than the greatest works of the genre from 50 years ago.

"Man's muscle power is rated at 35 watts continuously, or one-twentieth horsepower."

Does Rickover's 35 watts seem correct? That's less than a conventional light bulb.

Furthermore, I can ride my bicycle to work in an hour. Or, in other words, it takes 35watt-hours to get me and my bicycle to work. If I had an electric bike, that means that I could travel 14x roundtrip to work on 1 kilowatt-hour!? A kilowatt-hour here in NW United States in about tenth of a dollar.

What's wrong with my reasoning? Or is it Rickover's claim of 35 watts?

If this ability to move about on an electric bike is really this inexpensive (energy-wise, not money-wise) then I'm suddenly not leaning so much to the doomer side of things! Woo-hoo!