The Future of Oil Companies--Open Thread

One of the comments from my e-mail this morning, from Phil Hart in Australia:

Solutions do not appear to be coming from government or corporations. So who is going to lead us out of this mess?

I think oil companies are getting worried. Beyond the current crisis, they have no idea how they will be viable big businesses in just a few decades, apart from the idea of selling five times less oil for ten times the price and/or being given access to most of the Middle East.

In an era when auto makers look to be close to bankruptcy and oil prices are too low to justify most kinds of investments, what kinds of outcomes do you see? Is there anyone who might lead us out of this mess? Where will oil companies be 20 years from now?

"Welcome to DOE-XOM - May I direct your call upstream or downstream?"

Some will go out of business, some will diversify. Oil will never go completely away. As the price rises, people will have more incentive to buy electric cars and will buy them. The price of plastics going up will force people to switch to something else and/or plastics will use a plant based oil. Oil that isn't suited for refining will be used for asphalt.

I wonder more about what will happen to all the refineries and gas stations.

Before plastics came along bone was used in a lot of products, plastic replaced it. I supose in the future we could go back to it quite easily enough.

"Oil that isn't suited for refining will be used for asphalt."

Sure but eventual asphalt will be dug up and be used for more useful things especialy when there are not enough cars running on that road any more.

I have no idea what is going to happen. But I do think people compartmentalise their thoughts; and in this instance the nexus between the capital markets and energy production is easily forgotten or ignored. It is as if the whole of the rest of the economy will hum along smoothly while people change their cars. It seems unlikely.

The idea that

"people will have more incentive to buy electric cars and will buy them"

seems to be one of these instances. Will they have jobs? Will they have food? Will the economy still support large scale sophisticated enterprises like car production?

I think electric cars are irrelevant because the formation of a large middle class is dependent on growth and growth on oil. Without economic growth and with a growing population wages can and will be forced down from this alone not even including all the economic ramifications of a end of growth. Thus a large wealthy middle class capable of buying cars period is questionable.

One of the problems I have with renewable is that no one has really done a good job of showing how the economics work if our country was going to switch to renewables. I'm not saying we won't and I also believe some people will have electric cars but I see no compelling reason why these won't be restricted to the upper class. I could really care less if some rich google millionaire can drive around in his 50k electric car or more likely is 200k bullet proof electric electric care over time.

The point is that without a realistic comprehensive at least outline of how a renewable society would work given our current economic situation its hard to not dismiss the movement as one that only caters to the wealthy.

I'm sure a lot of people would disagree but if we do end up with third world demographics who is going to get the electric power from the windmills ? Will it go to clean sanitary housing for the well feed poor who ride to work on electric trains ? Because the renewable energy crowd chooses to ignore the underlying social and financial issues that must be addressed I argue that in general its either a side show or more insidious producing solutions that will be limited to the top segments of society.

The problem of course is that most people involved in renewable come from the upper middle class and simply cannot fathom that they have no right to stay there. Much less consider for a moment true renewable solutions that work for billions of poor people.

Certainly we have a rich historical record that could help guide a real global and balanced push to renewable energy.

I was reading an artical the other day about how one neighbourhood in Michigan was going to have its services cut off because many of the houses were now empty due to the mortgage crisis.
I was wondering if in the future we would see neighbourhoods having services cut off because of large numbers of residence being unable to pay bills?

The petrol stations I can tell you end up as apartment buildings. On the corner near our old home were two sites on either corner, they were left vacant for about five years - environmental regulations, when there's been petrol in the ground, nobody can live there for so many years. And then they built apartment buildings on them, with offices on the bottom floor.

Of course this is Australia, where vacant land you're allowed to build on is short. As I understand it, the US suffers no shortage of vacant land, many buildings are left empty even with millions homeless. So I suspect that over there, the old petrol stations will be left to be scavanged for their scrap value.

The petrol stations actually cannot be used for residential housing for a traditional home with a garden. It is calleda sensitive use and is prohibited from old fule sites, even though they have been decontaminated. Too much risk that someone might want to plant a few veggies or let the kids dig in the dirt. Apartments above commercial offices or shops is one way to isolate the residents from any residual contamination. Often these sites are zoned for residential development and need to go through lengthy negotaitions with councils to find a development which meets the zoning laws as well as the environmental laws. Many people see them as prime sites but they have a host of complicating factors when you try to develop them.

In Lawrence, Kansas, USA, I know of two 1930s-era gas stations (at least one of which was still in service 15 years ago) which are no longer gas stations, but retain the same buildings. One of them is a place where ceramics are made and sold (a small business) and the other, up until a few months ago, was a bar. Right now it's vacant and up for rent. Both of these locations are well suited for foot traffic. In contrast there are abandoned service stations in places in the city where foot traffic is sparse, and these locations have stayed vacant for years.

Assuming we (US) don't embrace socialism,and nationalize compnies, I think that we can expect to see a big slowdown in the Majors.

The major companies have for so long been internationally focused that would be forced to turn their attention to domestic producers. M&A's would become primary growth vehicles.

You mean socialism as in government ownership of major companies, like the British have recently done?

I think logically that the US will eventually nationalize the oil companies because of the huge demand for fuel by the military. Somewhere I remember seeing some estimates that the military uses close to 50% of all US petroleum but I could be way off. It is likely the same thing will happen to NG companies too.


More like 5% but still the biggest single user.

Companies have planning horizons out to five years. Its not urgent until 3 years or less. As such they are consumed with the crunch and consequent depression.

They hope to live long enough that 5+ year problems become an issue.

For sure oil companies will be selling a lot less oil in the future as the resource depletes. However, that doesn't mean they are a bad investment, it all depends what they do with the value that is inherent within them and whether they manage to provide shareholders with a good return. That return can be short-medium term in the form of cash from oil revenues or longer-term as diversification of the business away from oil. If the latter, then the key will be investing the cash generated from oil in a way that is more profitable than returning it to shareholders - same as for any business. And the fact that many big oil co's are cash-rich could put them in a strong position to successfully diversify and build new business. In the end that is a call on the ability of the management - often an underrated aspect of a company if carrying out financial analysis but IMO absolutely critical.


It has been said by several people on several occasions here that Big Oil could simply make the switch and become major alternative energy suppliers, because with their vast cash reserves they could, many times over, buy out every ethanol producer, every solar panel producer, and every wind turbine producer. While this may be technically true, and while some oil companies have done considerable research in the alternative energy field, I don't think it is ever going to happen, at least not in any major way.

Why? Because Big Oil is structurally and culturally wedded to the finding, extraction, processing, and distribution of fossil fuels. I could picture them getting more heavily into coal (of which Big Oil has vast holdings), tar sands, and possibly oil shale if things get bad enough, but it's hard for me to see what they would bring to such areas as solar, wind, etc. It doesn't look like a natural fit.

And one should not underestimate the corporate culture factor. At the beginning of the 20th Century the Pennsylvania Railroad was easily capable of buying up every single automobile manufacturer. But it did not and had absolutely no interest in attempting to do so. Why? Because it was run by railroad men, and running railroads was what they did. Period. It was beyond their comprehension to even dabble in these newfangled spindly little stink pots called automobiles. Also note that circa 1958 IBM had no interest in acquiring this promising tiny company called Xerox, nor did IBM think much of the concept of the PC when Apple made it's now-legendary beginning.

So as long as Big Oil can make a decent buck doing fossil fuels, that's what it will continue to do to the bitter end. They may use their financial clout to acquire other companies, but in my view that could just as easily be Coca Cola or MacDonalds as solar energy or wind turbine companies. This gets down to the basic concept of big money trying to find the most comfortable and profitable home.

Good points.

In addition my experience with the culture of Big Oil companies is that they would be unable to successfully run an alternate energy industry. I can easily see a Big Oil company purchasing an alternate energy company and pouring mega amounts of money in it and abandoning it after a few years. Big oil and Oil Shale in the 1970s and 1980s in the US is an example. Another is some of the Big Oil forays into uranium production in the 1970s.

Big +++ Joule. My favorite saying within the corporate culture is "We've never done that before" Another example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is the wagon manufacturers at the turn of the century. Couldn't be troubled with the those new fangled automobiles. They would never work. Most new car companies developed from bicycle manufacturers. The two largest wagon manufacturers in New England were located side by side in my home town of Woodville, Massachusetts where I grew up. 5000 people lived there in 1900. When I grew up there in the 50's there were 500. Today you can't even find where the buildings were.

Most new car companies developed from bicycle manufacturers.

Maybe they could go back again.

This suggests that it is possible for companies to change their focus of products, so long as the products do similar things: from cycles to cars is just from one form of transport to another.

Likewise, the oil companies could go from one form of energy to another.

Most don't. But just because most corporations are run by stupid and unimaginative people doesn't mean that it's inevitable that all should be.

Most oil companies will perish. Some will adapt. That's the way capitalism works. Well, when we let it anyway.

The Harvard MBA has lot to answer for. Check out this podcast from Radio National (Australian ABC)

Something happened to management culture decades ago and now being a Master of Business Administration, especially from Harvard, is rather on the nose. MBA, it's being said, can also stand for 'Mediocre but Arrogant', or 'Management by Accident'. Reporter, Stephen Crittenden.

When I enrolled at Otago University in 1983 it was known to all other students as "Master of Bugger All"

One major that is making smart moves is Total : they are getting into nuclear energy in a big way, through shareholdings and joint ventures. They are applying their "local knowledge" to the Middle East, where they already have a number of contracts for building nuclear plants in Persian Gulf oil-producing nations.

I worked for General Atomic in the seventies when it belonged to Gulf Oil. They had not a clue about the business. They sold half interest to Royal Dutch, which was no help. They both finally bailed and "gave" the company to a private investor.

The big problem with the majors moving into other areas is the short term culture of any big "publically" held corp. The management wants to make a lot of money in the short term to justify their bonuses and perks. In fact they probably couldn't keep their jobs if they tried to make the organization a viable entity, say, ten years in the future.

I agree.

When the big oil companies bought up the large U.S. mining companies in the mid- to late-seventies it was an unmitigated disaster. Big oil had no clue and by the time the majors let go, the mining companies were all but destroyed. Most never recovered.

Big oil thought they could make money at hard rock mining because they made money at soft rock only to discover that mining companies have IRRs more like grocery stores than oil companies.

I haven't worked for an American mining company since I was in high school. Are there any? Newmont and Phelps Dodge is about it and Newmont only survived because they were tiny in 1975.

So who is going to lead us out of this mess?

The question, in my view, is being framed incorrectly. Instead of resisting the energy transition before us, embrace it.

You'll have a much better experience this way and you'll be more open to the benefits of Energy Descent, too.

To answer the question more directly, though: the people leading us out of this mess are the thousands of community activists, the people running this site and other "regular people" who are waking up and taking action instead of letting resignation and apathy take hold.

But it will not be the politicians or the business leaders or even academia, who depend explicitly on business as usual.

For instance, a small group of people asks our politicians to be courageous and stick their neck out, and some will, but the majority have done that once or twice in the past and learned quickly that the majority of the public doesn't want leadership. They want their politicians to be their representatives articulating the consensus that exists at the moment. If a politician moves too far out in front, very soon they find themselves a former politician (some exceptions, of course, but this is overwhelmingly the case).

So a better question to ask oneself is:
How am I going to express leadership today?

Your post indicates that you believe that a transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources is possible at sufficient scale to feed 6.7+ billion people and avert human population collapse. You laud all the "regular people" who refuse to allow resignation and apathy to take hold. Your "can do" attitude is apparent in your call for "taking action," and exerting leadership. But what if such a transition is impossible? What if even if it's possible it's undesirable due to the impact of such an inflated human population on biodiversity & ecosystem integrity? Have you ever considered that the well intentioned proactivity you advocate may be counterproductive? Have you ever considered that rather than engaging in frenetic activity that may prove ineffective or counterproductive is the inferior course to doing nothing and letting nature bring human population back to within the carrying capacity of the biosphere?

Obvious troll is obvious.

Sometimes I swear I'm reading fark.

As unpleasant as it may be, the questions darwinsdog is raising are ones we should be thinking about. Sometimes what looks like the best solutions really just use up resources (or otherwise disturb the natural system) and lead to more die-off than would otherwise be the case. We need to be examining our proposed solutions carefully.

How about middle ground rather than the extremes of maintain the illusion that everything will be fine or that nothing can be done so don't bother. Middle ground being that we need to do productive preparations at an individual or activist level (no government can afford to acknowledge the problems), however, at the same time, we have to expect that we can only have a limited impact on the final outcome.

Darwinsdog, the transition maybe impossible but perhaps by trying to do something we can arrive at the other end with a little less pain and far more humanly. Wouldn't that be better?

Exactly. I have no illusions that we're going to arrive at 2100 with anywhere near 6.7 billion of us (I have always talked about population die off from my very first public presentation on peak oil) but some number of people (who likely prepared) are going to do OK or at least better than others who did nothing.

After an earthquake, would you rather have a coleman stove with some fuel and some food to cook or not? It's really that basic, in my view.

Besides, in North America, with the amount of food we waste plus the amount we feed to animals before we eat them, there should be plenty of food to go around by using the 5 mb/d of domestic oil production toward farming. The question to me is do you want to wait in ration lines or do you want some control over your food destiny (by growing your own or banding together with others in a community garden)?

The degree of carrying capacity overshoot by humans is unprecedented by vertebrates of large body size. Often populations that exceed K by a mere 10% or so crash very hard. Natural history offers no analog to a population in excess of K by an order & a half of magnitude. The crash will be very hard. Perhaps all the way to extinction in the first wave. Or perhaps relic populations in the Southern Hemisphere were oscillate in numbers for a few generations before environmental stressors & Allee effects pull them down to extinction. We are in the midst of a great pulse of extinction. Ecosystems are collapsing due to the sheer overburden of human population. The biosphere is under severe stress and even without the specter of peak oil the days of human overpopulation are numbered. In this sixth great mass extinction episode vertebrates of greater than about mean body size are doomed. Fish much larger than a bullhead catfish, birds much larger than a starling, mammals much larger than a rat.. aren't going to make it. Do you really think that you can prepare for an extinction event of this magnitude? Do you really think that having a Coleman stove & a little gas & maybe some stored food is going to save you? Seriously?

The probability of your scenario playing out is definitely non-zero, it may even be better than 50% for all I know. However, I don't think it's 100% and no one will know for sure until it happens.

So if you think it's 100%, more power to you. You are entitled to that point of view, you may even have very good evidence for it.

But what if you are not correct? In that case, I'd much rather:
a) work to prevent that from happening in the first place since it's a more fun way to live life
b) be prepared for the set of circumstances that land on the spectrum between "total annihilation" and "hard landing;" I don't think a soft landing is possible

Personally, I'm preparing for situations closer to the die off end of the spectrum because I believe that it's prudent to do so. I do expect there to be social turmoil, and possibly martial law, but see my other comment about feeding ourselves: I think it's possible.

At the risk of repeating myself, though, I do not have such high hopes for everyone currently alive today. It's definitely going to get messy.

deleted double post

Today I went to the beach, it was a lovely day here in South Florida. I saw lot's of washed up seaweed and jellyfish. I contemplated creating a solar dryer with scraps from a dumpster nearby to dry the jellyfish and make protein strips. It may not be gourmet cooking but it is edible.

Oh yeah and I saw a couple of nice large crushed scorpion in the parking lot, edible as well... If your only concept of food is a ham and cheese sandwich purchased at the supermarket you're probably *NOT* going to survive.

However if you don't mind paddling a kayak on the ocean while dragging a small plankton net to filter for lunch, hey you never know you might live an extra day or two. Obviously if the ecosystems change drastically only those organisms that are opportunists will survive. Sure might be interesting.

Anyone out there interested in starting an insect farm?

Earthworms are edible too and taste a bit like bacon once dried.

I shall sleep happy toningth knowing that you, at least, will be making no preparations for energy descent and will be stepping up first to take your own place in the great extinction. Leaves more food and other resources for me and mine.

I couldn't agree more with your points. Unless you're praying to the tooth fairy, any reasonable person spending a bit of time with some basic calculations will come to the same conclusion. We're living in the time of plenty and hundreds of millions are starving to death. I'm pushing 70 so will probably be after my time but, most certainly, not my grandson's. Far too many people haven't realized that unrealistic hope can kill you.

I like Kunstler's term when asked if he is pessimistic:

"I prefer to call myself an actualist."

I would call myself the same thing: life is going to get hard, many people are going to die either from starvation or from illnesses that once could easily be cured with a little dose of modern medicine or even good public sanitation and the informal economy will likely become the entire economy. That's being an "actualist" in my view.


I certainly didn't say that we're going to be able to stop all that from happening. Work with what you've got and bring leadership to whatever the situation is.

But what if such a transition is impossible?

These and some other "what if" are really not productive. The best way to put yourself in a deadlock of inaction is to ask too many "what if"? This is the kind of thinking that tries to find a problem with every suggested solution. Instead we should look for solutions to every problem.

Inaction is also an action, and probably the worst possible action (if you agree that BAU just isn't gona work).

Sure it is good to think things through, but at some point, you will have to make a decision to act and take your chances. The "what if" are just that "what if". So you take your chances, give it your best shot based on what you believe has the best chance of success and hope for the best. What else can you do really?

If you don't have something constructive to offer, it may be better not to try to undermine the enthusiasm of people who try (they might actually end up saving your ass, even if you don't think it possible). So in this case I do suggest inaction (i.e. when you offer criticism try to make it constructive, if you can't it is better to just shut up.

Sorry for being so blunt Darwin's dog, I do think you are smart guy and have good insights, but could you try to apply your insight and smarts in a constructive way?

Comments that boil down to "Whatever you suggest just isn't going to work, we are all doomed anyway" are utterly useless, even if they might be true.

PS: I don't actually mean you should shut-up, nor do I think there is a real danger that you will follow that advice :-) But I want to challenge you to try to come up with a constructive idea.

He didnt say anyone was out to save all 6.7 billion of us. But the people he is talking about might save some people assuming the polititians dont get in the way.

Your post indicates that you believe that a transition from fossil fuels to alternative energy sources is possible at sufficient scale to feed 6.7+ billion people and avert human population collapse.


Over half the world population already feeds itself with little or no fossil fuels. They have a pretty terrible standard of living, but they're not starving to death. The question is not whether we can feed the world. Of course we can. The question is whether we can have a billion obese people. We probably can't. But that is no great tragedy.

But what if such a transition is impossible?

You never know until you try. One of the greatest American thinkers, Henry Thoreau, told us that since we may fall short of what we aim at, we had better aim high.

Of course you may prefer a life of despair, since that gives you a fine excuse for utter idleness. Have fun.

letting nature bring human population back to within the carrying capacity of the biosphere?

Advocates of a "dieoff" ought to have the courage of their convictions, and begin with themselves. Bye-bye, I hope it's not too painful.

Don't think we can feed the world 7 billion people. Even right now, with a lot of oil -- one billion are living in poverty. Oil allowed us to move food around -- allowed us to have the fertilizer for crops, etc... The US will be okie -- since we are net exporter of food and our population density is relatively low. What will happen to countries like England, Japan, etc... where most of their foods are imported.

Last year, with the high oil price pushing up food price, we saw unrest in Philippines and a few other places. In the US, announcement of rice shortage made people rushing to their supermarket to get all the rice they can get (at least in California). The thing is -- there weren't even a problem of shortage. The next famine sweeps through Africa or Asia -- our hands will be tied. We won't have the capability to response to such situation. That is the issue. Sure, most of us here in the US will probably be okie -- but I can see boats of people are lining along the shore.

Don't think we can feed the world 7 billion people. Even right now, with a lot of oil -- one billion are living in poverty.

And people were living in miserable poverty when I was a kid and there were 4 billion people. And when there were 1 billion. And in Rome's day when there were 300 million.

It's not high population causes poverty. People have lots of children because they're poor, not the other way around - creating cheap labour they can have on their land or send to the cities to send money back home is their way out of poverty.

We've got plenty of food, as I note here. We produce enough grain to give everyone around 3,000kcal and 75g of protein daily, 50% more than needed by an adult doing moderate physical labour. Add in the tubers, fruit, nuts and vegetables, and it's easily twice the food we need. So we could feed 13 billion.

Half of the food produced is produced with little or no fossil fuel inputs. It's just some peasant in the field with a hoe and maybe a buffalo crapping. So if we have twice as much food as we need, and half is produced with little or no fossil fuels, it follows that even if the fossil fuel supply stopped overnight, no-one would have to go hungry.

Yet people are hungry today, even with twice as much food as we need. Why? It's just that we put a fair chunk of our food into our fuel tanks, a larger chunk into livestock, and the rest isn't shared out fairly.

There are 300 million obese people in the world, and 750 million overweight people. There are 800 million people living in hunger. These numbers lead to obvious conclusions, but they're not conclusions we fatties like much.

Nobody is going hungry because the world does not and cannot produce enough food.

Kiashu your argument using the absolute total amount of food produced is not correct.
I'm not sure it deserves even to be called wrong.

At least since the days of reasonable ship travel sometime back in B.C totaling the entire amount of food produced and available arable land in any region within say a months travel has always resulted in us having more than enough food yet we have had famine after famine.

Effectively since recorded history has begun and probably well before the world has never once had a probable with food solved by your calculation. And people have starved repeatedly.

Your even ignoring the primary cause of most famines which is war. In fact you can find plenty of cases where crop failures of the same magnitude result in no or little famine but large famines if the region is at war.

I actually don't think large sectors of the US will face famine I'm not convinced all of the US could escape famine much less outside the US. Just including some reasonable levels of turmoil makes the potential for famine in the US fairly high.

In fact we have a national holiday call Thanksgiving because early settlers almost starved.
I'd argue using your method that you would assert this was impossible. Its not because your calculation has absolutely nothing to do with the causes of famine.

I didn't say there wouldn't be famines ever again. I said that there never have been and would never be, for any reasonable world population, famines because the world doesn't have enough food for everyone.

If your argument is that global scarcity causes a "dieoff", then the fact of there being no scarcity rather knocks that argument down.

The volume of world trade, helped along by cheap fossil fuels, isn't an issue for food. Once you get into country-sized regions, virtually all of them can feed themselves.

Some choose not to feed themselves because they'd rather put their labour force into factories or armies, for example ancient Rome and 19th/20th century Britain.

Others neglect feeding themselves due to being enamoured of free trade, like modern Mexico; bloody civil unrest is the usual result.

It's true that civil conflicts cause famines. To that we can add dictators. Some cause famine through incompetence, like Mugabe in Zimbabwe, Lenin in the Ukraine, or Kim in North Korea. Others cause famines through malice, like Pol Pot in Cambodia, Stalin in the Ukraine, and so on.

There has never been a famine in a democratic country without a civil conflict. This is because local scarcity can always be made up for by plenty somewhere else. The presence or absence of fossil fuels is irrelevant to this - when it comes to food, you'll always find a way to get it there. Ancient Rome was able to maintain a city of a million just with sail and rowing galleys transporting their food.

It's worth remembering that a third of all the freight tonnage shipped by sea in the world is oil. That's certainly not going to be the case twenty or thirty years from now. The world eating is not under threat, unless our countries collapse in civil conflicts and/or suffer brutal dictatorships. The world being able to tool around on ride-on mowers on a Sunday afternoon is certainly under threat.

There has never been a famine in a democratic country without a civil conflict. This is because local scarcity can always be made up for by plenty somewhere else. The presence or absence of fossil fuels is irrelevant to this - when it comes to food, you'll always find a way to get it there. Ancient Rome was able to maintain a city of a million just with sail and rowing galleys transporting their food.

And the corollary there has never been a famine without civil conflict or some sort of civil distress.

Look I've also made the observation that if we worked hard and really changed how we live we could reduce our population with dignity i.e we could feed our current population. Any simple review of our resource base esp our fisheries would suggest that we are certainly stressing our food supply. And the other big one you ignore is water and the role oil plays in agriculture etc etc etc and infinitum. I recognize its theoretically possible but at the same time taking the route of reducing our population with dignity requires some dramatic social changes. I also argue these are highly unlikely.

I suspect from reading your posts that you feel we don't even need to reduce population but can probably double it without problems and maybe double again god only knows where cornucopian's suggest the limits of growth are. Generally I've found most feel like at best we need to go through a bit of restriction and redirection and their are no real limits. If your a true cornucopian then this argument is mute because you really don't see any limit and thats the first step you have to take to consider a closed or finite world.

From there its simply a matter of working backwards to come up with real limits and possible bad case scenarios then work out what has to be done ASAP to avert future problem and also and far more important target a real sustainable goal. The population level is a critical part of sustainable living.
The limiting case of say 1 million people living on the planet would have effectively unlimited resources.
Geologic change and concentration of materials would ensure that all resources were effectively renewable.
With work a population sustainable over millions of years could well be higher esp if you expand off of earth.

Thus its trivial to see that by limiting population growth you could readily create a real utopia in the sense envisioned by most cornucopian's however the endless growth argument seems to have no ending and no assurance that at some point in the far future the teeming masses would all be living the lives of the rich and famous. You have the weak uncertain promise of technical advances but I'd argue that today I can afford far less than my parent could. Housing cars and yes oil have become ridiculously expensive the chances of a retirement slim and the future for most of the worlds population bleak with any cursory look at the world today. Not to mention the environmental damage to the point of altering the global climate.

At some point enough is enough BAU is not the answer hand waving arguments that some abstract value is high enough while reality repeatedly shows failure after failure don't work.

Its time to turn the tables people claiming that electric cars and food and this or that silver bullet technology are now in the hot seat they have to prove its different from the past. At the end of the day not a single technical advance has turned out to be useful long term to the human race not even medical advances which have played a large role in our population explosion. Hell even the printing press is debatable having caused as much harm as good spreading lies as well as truth. At the end of the day our own greed repeatedly destroys any inherent goodness in our actions and creations. We fail because we believe we have no limits.
However we have stripped the entire planet of enough wealth that we now must decide we no longer have the choice to make mistake after mistake our species in general will be forced to change or destroy our own planet. We can certainly debate what needs to be done and what the limits are but they exist and they are real.

Advocates of a "dieoff" ought to have the courage of their convictions, and begin with themselves. Bye-bye, I hope it's not too painful.

Then overpopulation advocates like yourself should move to a not-so-nice Third World slum so you can enjoy the conditions you promote.

Population is exploding in the poorest countries in the world.
Those people will become poorer. You smile on their misery as it 'accuses' the rich.

Energy consumption in the low growth developed world is flat/falling but it is rising amongst the growing number of poor who cannot invest in energy production.

This is exactly analogous to Malthus population principle.

"The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man. Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetical ratio. A slight aquaintance with numbers will show the immensity of the first power in comparison with the second."

In that sense, developed countries are more sustainable in their lifestyles than poor countries are in theirs.

But money tells only part of the story. People need a decent society. Overpopulation robs them of that.

Just compare the two maps. With the exception of Russia and China, political instability tracks with population growth
not consumption.

Then overpopulation advocates like yourself should move to a not-so-nice Third World slum so you can enjoy the conditions you promote.

I don't promote anyone having lots of babies. I just say that nobody is going hungry because they have a lot of children, nor are the world's environment or resources being depleted seriously by the world's poor. It's not a family of 8 in the slums of Mumbai who are screwing up the world, it's dual-income-no-kids-holidays-in-Bahamas types like us.

Population is exploding in the poorest countries in the world. Those people will become poorer. You smile on their misery as it 'accuses' the rich.

Population is increasing almost everywhere. However, this is not the reason for their poverty. In fact, in many cases having children is a way out of poverty - they get free labour for their subsistence farming, allowing them to get higher yields from the land, have a surplus and improve the farm, even sending some children to education; and to send some children to a city to work in a factory or as a government clerk, or to a foreign country, and send money back home to the village.

I neither advocate nor condemn these choices of theirs; but I recognise their choices as a reasonable response to their circumstances, and I recognise that, as I said, their choices are not harming the Earth. Whereas ours are.

I smile on no-one's misery; though for some miserable people I have more sympathy than others. When a well-off Westerner wails that they're unable to change the slightest part of their lifestyle, "but I can't because -" I have zero sympathy. For the impoverished I have lots.

In that sense, developed countries are more sustainable in their lifestyles than poor countries are in theirs.

What a bizarre chain of logic. By that logic, Bill Gates' lifestyle is the most sustainable of all.

Look, you don't need any elaborate chains of logic to justify wanting to live the fat, juicy, profligate waste lifestyle. It's fun! Just go ahead and say, "mmm, waste is good, I love it!" and leave it at that.

Population is increasing almost everywhere. However, this is not the reason for their poverty.

This seems to show a total lack of basic common sense on your part, motivated by your desire to condemn wasteful lifestyles.

Birth rate 'harms poverty goals'

Having children is not a reasonable choice unless you reasonably believe the means to grow the economy exists as was pointed out by Malthus. Malthus thought people who can't afford children should'nt have them.

I neither advocate nor condemn these choices of theirs; but I recognise their choices as a reasonable response to their circumstances, and I recognise that, as I said, their choices are not harming the Earth. Whereas ours are.

I find that to be absolutely shocking!

First let's leave aside CO2 for the moment, as it is a longer term threat.
Do you think that the OECD is doing more environmental harm to the planet than the Third World reaching out for more land?
Certainly we could do much more but objectively the West is pushing environmentalism on countries like Brazil, Indonesia, etc.

Read the comments at the bottom of this 'blame the West' article. The truth is that Third Worlders are responsible for their own messes which are mainly caused by population
growth-->poverty--> environmental degradation. And the problem is getting much worse, efforts of ecological economists not withstanding.

Let's say explotation = trade/wealth(GDP)

How much explotation(aka trade) goes on between the OECD and the Third World?
The portion of the US(13%) and Japan(14%) GDP from trade is tiny and Europe mainly trades with itself.

Third World countries get their wealth from the OECD, not the other way around.

You think that the wealth of OECD countries is simply waste ($=waste).

Projections are that the economic growth will be slower in overpopulated countries than in developed ones over the next 50 years as we go careening toward 10 billion people.

but objectively the West is pushing environmentalism on countries like Brazil, Indonesia, etc.

Dunno bout Indonesia but I personally know home grown grass roots Brazilian environmentalists, scientists and activists who would tell you that they are quite capable of figuring out what needs to be done all by themselves, thank you. Some of them actually think that what the West, (BTW is Brazil considered East nowadays?), is pushing, is detrimental to Brazil's environment and not at all in their interest. Who wudda thunk it, eh? Those durn Third World Brazilian hicks can sure be uppity, one might even get the impression that they're an independent country in control of their own destiny and resources. Check out this link:

Bem-vindos ao ScienceBlogs Brasil!

Posted on: March 18, 2009 12:05 PM, by Erin Johnson

ScienceBlogs Brazil brings together the most original and influential voices within the Brazilian science community, some of whom have already won accolades for their blogging. Edited from São Paulo by Carlos Hotta and Atila Iamarino, ScienceBlogs Brazil launched Tuesday with 23 Portuguese-language blogs on topics ranging from genetics to the environment . "I think we need people committed to raising scientific awareness in Brazil," said Carlos Hotta, "and I am certain that ScienceBlogs Brazil will turn our local voices into global ones."

Do you think that the OECD is doing more environmental harm to the planet than the Third World reaching out for more land?


The Third World is indeed responsible for many of their own problems, but not all. The fact is that they're trying to industrialise, and when countries go from being mainly agricultural to industrial economies, they make a mess. The conditions in British coal mines in 1850 were horrendous, and cause the deaths of thousands of miners; the conditions in Chinese coal mines today are horrendours, and cause the deaths of thousands of workers.

Industrialising countries have dreadful environmental and worker safety and rights. That's how you industrialise quickly, by not caring. If you care, then it's much slower to do.

We in the West got our wealth by trashing the environment. Now that we're wealthy suddenly we care about the environment, and wag our fingers at the Third World and tell them to be more thoughtful. For example an article on the Tata Nano,

Wheels Magazine's features editor, John Cadogan, says the car's release will have a major impact on the world automotive industry.

"This is an absolutely landmark car on a global scale," he told the ABC's Midday Report.

"When India gets to the level of car ownership that we enjoy in the West, which is about 700 cars for every 1,000 people, it could double the number of cars on Earth, presently 900 million, growing to 1.8 billion.

"That will have profound impacts for carbon dioxide production, greenhouse [gases], the environment and health generally." [...]

"Oil is running out and in fact we're at about peak oil production now and China and India are running to the party and the keg is half empty," he said.

"So what that's going to do is increase demand, fix supply, join the dots, economics 101 tells us that the price can only go one way and that is up."

When the West was building and driving hundreds of millions of cars he wasn't worried. But now that those nasty dark-skinned people are doing it, well isn't that terrible oh no what about the environment and the economy?

What's needed is for the Third World to have a model of industrialisation, of development which does not require trashing the environment. At the moment they're not getting that from us.

At the first level of approximation of development of economies,

Agricultural -> industrial -> ecotechnic

is much easier than

agricultural -> ecotechnic

But we've been too lazy and stupid to do it. So when we tell the Third World they must not trash the environment, we're not offering them an example or ways to avoid doing so by installing wind turbines or whatever. We're just telling them not to do it. We're telling them not to industrialise, and to remain subsistence farmers.

Amazingly, they're unimpressed by this advice.

So what we need to do is first change our own societies. We need to burn less stuff, and eventually burn nothing, and to replace all this waste with renewable energy and closed-cycle manufacturing, and efficient use of it. And then we'll be able to advise them on how to get where we are, either through our wise experience, or through them seeing the mistakes we made trying to do it.

What your analysis is missing is scale.

In the past there were far fewer people involved in the environmental 'devastation'of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
In 1900 there were just 1.6 billion people in the world and only
500 million were living in industrial age conditions. Now there are almost 7 billion and all of them wish for a comfortable Western lifestyle, which you decry.

Is it too far-fetched to suggest that 14 times as many people aspiring to the western lifestyle will cause 14 times the damage?

This dust up started with you telling doomers to go hang themselves while you keep spinning lies about ridiculous 'models of development' to be imitated by the Third Worlders and exaggerating the effects of western consumption on the global environment.

A totally unbalanced view, IMO.

Earth population 'exceeds limits'

What your analysis is missing is scale.

Not really. I've previously noted that the US and Australia alone could cause catastrophic climate change.

Given the damage already done to it by the West as it industrialised, the world can't take even 320 million people living as Westerners do today. Population isn't the problem; wasteful consumption is.

Now there are almost 7 billion and all of them wish for a comfortable Western lifestyle, which you decry.

I decry our wastefulness, not our lifestyle as such.

For example, people were speaking earlier of the environmental damage the Third World is doing to itself as it industrialises. But much of the damage they suffer is due to Western consumption, as discussed here. Regular readers of TOD probably are quite familiar with Shell's actions in the Niger Delta, for example.

That filth isn't there so that Nigerians can eat burgers and drive SUVs.

It puzzles the Third World that the West wasn't worried about the Third World's environment being trashed for Western affluence, but becomes very concerned about it when it's trashed for Third World affluence.

The thing is that affluence doesn't have to be wasteful of energy and resources. Someone who for example lives in an apartment with a couple of other people, has no car, good insulation and CFLs, overall energy-efficient appliances, buys renewably-generated energy, walks up to 5km or cycles 15km or trains 30km to work each day, eats not more than a pound of meat and fish a week, and the rest fresh fruit and vegetables, mostly rents or borrows or buys secondhand and usually not new stuff, goes to the cinema or live music for entertainment, once a month goes away to the country on the train for a weekend away with their spouse and/or children, and/or once a year for a couple of weeks... this person certainly has an affluent lifestyle. But it's not wasteful.

Whereas someone who drives 15km to work each day, half the 45 minute journey idling in traffic, eats 5lbs of meat a week, throws away a quarter of their food, leaves the aircon on while they're out of the house so it'll be cool as soon as they come home, puts the plasma screen tv on as they enter the house, with it on in the background even when they're not using it, flies interstate or overseas for every holiday - this person is also living an affluent lifestyle, but a very wasteful one.

Now, both of these lifestyles are only possible in affluent countries. But one is wasteful, and the other not. One is unsustainable, and the other sustainable. One will sputter out along with fossil fuels, and the other - if we sort out shit out fast - could be kept up for millenia.

Energy and resources, like money, can be well or wastefully-spent. In the West energy and resources are cheap, so we spend them wastefully. Donald Trump doesn't shop around for his suits, and most of us don't consider whether a 50W fan and cool drink would cool us as well as a 3,000W airconditioner.

I'm very much in favour of a Western affluent lifestyle for all. I'm not in favour of profligate waste for all. Not for anyone, in fact.

This dust up started with you telling doomers to go hang themselves

Not doomers as such. Just those who advocate a "dieoff". If you think that humans should be killed for the good of the Earth, begin with yourself, then we might take you seriously. I live the life I advocate for others; dieoffers can die the death they advocate for others. Each ought to demonstrate the courage of their convictions by going ahead and doing what they advocate.

I'd have to agree with you on this one... the way I am seeing these crises being handled is leading me more and more to thinking that the current leadership will not or cannot make the necessary changes. I can't remember where it's from (could be this site), but I keep recalling the phrase:

"The purpose of a system is to resist change."

..the current leadership will not or cannot make the necessary changes.

And what leadership do you think will or can make the necessary changes? We recently elected new leadership here in the US. Supposedly, the electorate voted for "hope" & for "change." Are you not satisfied with the outcome? Who do you think might do a better job? Have you considered that the current leadership can not make the necessary changes because such changes are impossible? Have you considered that collapse of a population that exceeds the carrying capacity of the biosphere by an order and a half of magnitude is inevitable, regardless of leadership?

And what leadership do you think will or can make the necessary changes?


You and me, and her and him. Not some twat in a suit in an office somewhere with a nameplaque.

Those we elect are not leaders, but followers. We the public make the changes we want, demand more changes, and drag the elected leadership kicking and screaming along with us. That's the way positive change always happens. Waiting for some grand messianic leader is just childish.

So Mote it be


The producers are brokers as much as they are capable of delivering physical product. As long as there is (some) demand and supply out there, somewhere, they will be able to survive by simply being middlemen.

Right now it is unclear how fast and how far demand will fall. There are simply too many factors. The decline in overall real estate values cannot be underestimated, value drop removed a large source of financing for the car industry as customers used credit lines or refinancing cash to buy increasingly expensive autos. As the various vicious cycles in production, unemployment and financial impairment gather steam, it s hard not to see demand dropping quite significantly from where it is now.

So far retail demand has been pump- price sensitive - where 25 cents either way on gas prices determine whether there are more or fewer miles driven - but the accumulation of forces outside the cost of gas at the pump will start to weigh more and more as time passes. Unemployed do not buy much of anything including gas.

It's too early to look for a change of direction. Too many people believe that the 'worst is behind us' or that 'growth can be revived'. Leadership momentum has been building for growth for too long for a tectonic social change as is suggested here to take root overnight. Although consumer- level growth ended decades ago, the enterprise and government level prime movers are still focused on providing more and more growth. They have cultivated constituencies overseas in developing countries as well - it will be impossible to tell the Chinese that 'growth is bad now, you have to stop doing it!'

The growth idea has to burn itself out.

Much of the economic development of the past twenty years has been based on the penetration of computers, internet, cell phones, IT- based management as well as more automobilization and electrification. There are no new 'internet' level consumer inventions on the horizon to drive growth. The costs of auto use that have been externalized since the beginning of the industry (highways are good) are now being reevaluated. The world- wide real estate bubble has just started deflating. There is no invention mainspring for a new burst of economic development.

If some country could start building and scaling molten salt Thorium reactors (which will also burn nuclear waste from conventional reactors) this could become the starting point of new and more robust (less dependent of various forms of inflation) economic development. Right now, the idea is running uphill; the conventional nuclear industry is wedded to fixed schedule refueling cycles solid core of enriched U235 and outside reprocessing. Thare are Uranium supply limits to conventional nuclear production. It may be 2015 or 2020 before any any of the Thorium- based designs are available for buildout and another fifteen years before deployment. The lack of policy leadership is glaring.

The DOE ought to employ a hundred thousand men working in shifts around the clock out in the Nevada desert building six or seven different versions of these reactors. Pick the design that works best then start an assembly line. By 2020 the coal power stations could be replaced and taken offline. Start by hiring the ex- auto workers ... the person to think of is Leslie Groves. He did just this and built an entire nuclear infrastructure in three years.

Groves' greatest contribution to the Manhattan Project was in imparting his own driving energy and determination to get the bomb built as quickly as possible. He was the key leader in transforming what had been a slow paced, poorly coordinated, theoretical and laboratory research effort of a few universities into a fast moving, highly articulated, truly massive juggernaut involving thousands of scientists, engineers, technicians, workmen, and soldiers, as well as hundreds of companies and governmental organizations, spread all over the United States and the world.

Can the petro companies do this? It would be smart but unlikely for the cultural reasons listed by others and the belief in the industry that anything electric will lead to the 'electric car' and put the gas engine out of business. The inventory of conventional cars is too large to be easily replaced by electrics so the legacy demand will remain for some time. The simple MW per MW replacement of atmospheric carbon- source electric power with nuclear will not allow for production growth. Reactor power could be widespread in fifty years but scaling from the current high level of FF capacity would be very difficult. Standing pat would be an accomplishment.

Even with two hundred thousand men ...

LF/T reactors could allow stnding pat and provide a bridge to lower consumption. Much of the basic science alreadyt has been done at Oak Ridge and this knowledge provides a good spring board. Additionaly, they could be designed to be "cookie cutter " models and utilize the abandoned car assembly line for manufacture. Would you allow us ladies to also participate?

Would you allow us ladies to also participate?

I was under the impression you ladies were in charge!


I don't understand why nothing (much) is being done, a bridge ... anything ... would be better than more fumbling along.

I have suggested writing to var. authority figures but after burning myself out on the Bailout nonsenes with not even a reply I think it is a waste of time.

More people are discussing fire- brands and pitchforks in polite conversation. These folks are yet to be heard from.

The Oil companies are in the liquid fuels business and after oil get short, including the now difficult to unharvestable heavy oils, they will become " liquid fules com[panies in full. They will start to produce methanol and dimethyl ether as the Chinese are doing today to displace gasoline and diesel.

The feedstock will likely be coal or natural gas but since the facillities will be large to keep the little guys out, they will be capable of sequestering the carbondioxide as the Synfuels plant in Bullah ND does today. (look out for the return of " deep gas" nee "geopressured" once the shale beds start to drain.

If natural gas is the feedstock the plants can be much smaller but the cost of the new liquid fuels will still be quite low. See the Badger Engineering report comissioned by Tip O'Niel or the Australian Government's report in the 70's.

Before we get there though we will be harvesting the abundant heavy oils of the world from Russia, the Canadian Tar Sands or Orinocco Basin and keeping the refieries humming. PetroBank's THAI process may play a critical role in keeping costs down and yields high as may some new technologies in upgrading.

Liquid fules will be around for a long time as they have significant advantages in energy density, form filling and ease of management. The big oil companies will be there pretending to have saved our bacon.

Be well


I agree that hydrocarbons are the fuel of the future since they have 300-500 times the energy density of batteries. Until they can get fuel cells to work well on hydrocarbons the engines will be piston and turbine. Maybe electric drivetrains. However with synfuel I'm not sure about
- gas vs liquid
- fossil vs bio carbon
- bound vs elemental hydrogen input.

I suggest a methane dominant gas could be the universal fuel of the future. Already natural gas, coal seam gas, biogas and methanated syngas are mainly methane which in pure form delivers 55 MJ/kg. These can all be blended. Converting to Fischer Tropsch GTL robs a lot of the EROEI, maybe 30-40% if I recall. Despite the hype about PHEVs and FCVs few are in the production line whereas in places like Iran NGVs will be built in volume.

If this hunch is right the question is whether an existing oil major will follow that path. Anything could happen. In this neck of the woods a company that makes medical opiates has a sideline in biodiesel from poppyseed oil. If the current oil majors believe they are too big to fail their more nimble successors could come from any industry.

What will happen to the supply and price of natural gas if the transportation sector is converted to run on it?

We will eventually have global peak natural gas. Natural gas is also used to heat homes & water, cook, manufacture plastics, make fertilizer and other vital uses in industry. Using CNG to power transportation simply postpones the problem of resource depletion allowing the population to continue increasing and increasing the size of the crash when the system finally snaps.

If we do not go renewable, sustainable and environmentally friendly, the vast majority of us will be history.

When natural mainly methane gas runs out we can use 'unnatural' or synthetic methane. If the carbon is from biomass not coal it can be recycled indefinitely within the biosphere. Hydrogen could come from nukes or renewables from splitting water. Start with syngas from charcoal
C + H20 = CO + H2 This step doesn't provide enough hydrogen so add some
C0 + H2 + 2H2 = H20 + CH4 to create easily separated water and methane. The net energy depends on the type of catalyst, pressure and purity standard.

When burned CH4 + 2O2 = 2H20 + CO2 which are absorbed by plants and water bodies. The idea is as natural methane fuel phases out synthetic methane albeit expensive is phased in seamlessly. Even with a high fuel cost it will provide the average outer suburban commuter an affordable return trip without a fill up. When there are no fossil fuels current design battery cars will have to be charged at work for the return home.

Affordable long distance battery only cars are so far a pipe dream. In contrast tens of thousands of vehicles already run on 'natural' methane, just not the synthetic kind.

You have considered the chemistry, but have you considered the scale and environmental impact of your proposal?

Among other uses you propose to replace propane and fuel oil with methane to heat homes while retaining the current usage. Charcoal is produced by heating wood without combustion (or incomplete combustion) to remove water and other components. Since there are not enough trees to perpetually heat all houses using wood stoves, I rather doubt that using them to make natural gas would be viable. Since humans already destroy arable land at an unsustainable rate, I am doubtful that the biosphere could withstand the stress of your proposal. Is there enough water? Is there enough fertalizer to make the plants grow quickly enough? What happens to the ability of the soil to support a forest over hundreds and thousands of years as loggers continually cut down and regrow trees without returning nutrients to the soil? Can the biosphere support the rate of production and consumption that you envision?

Said by Boof:
When there are no fossil fuels current design battery cars will have to be charged at work for the return home.

Affordable long distance battery only cars are so far a pipe dream. In contrast tens of thousands of vehicles already run on 'natural' methane, just not the synthetic kind.

As you point out battery powered vehicles (EV's) do not provided a suitable replacement for our current transportation system using current technology. Plug-in series hybrid vehicles (PHEV's) are a superior substitute. A PHEV runs off a battery for short range travel and activates a liquid or gas fueled generator for long range travel. Since the majority of personal transportation consists of short range, local trips, PHEV's have the potential to reduce U.S. gasoline consumption by about 75%. A generator is more efficient, less expensive to replace and less expensive to modify to run on different fuels than an ICE in our current cars. For most personal transportation it is easier to eliminate long distance travel than short range travel in the event of high liquid (or gas) fuel price or shortages. A road trip to a national park is easier to sacrifice than a trip to work or a grocery store. PHEV's would reduce the scale of the problem making it easier for the biosphere to provide fuel for long distance travel.

PHEV's do not address the problem that bitumen is needed to make asphalt. Bitumen is currently made from crude oil and can be made from tar sands and oil shale.

Never ignore the financial cost of a proposal. If too many things become expensive, we will not be able to afford the system that was built from using a stockpile of cheap, ubiquitous fossil fuels. If we try to sustain the unsustainable, we will exhaust our resources, crash and burn. Some day we may have to decide whether it is more important to have a warm house, than to travel along a paved interstate highway.

Politicians definitely won't lead us out of this mess any more than will our corporate elites - and for basically the same reasons: their behaviors are antithetical to sustainability. Here is "No Race for Small Footprints", a little something I wrote last summer:

Burning through aviation fuel just as fast as money. Multiple flights per candidate per day. High-speed armored convoys at every stop. And always with a phalanx of fossil-fueled media in their wake.

It’s not just that prospects with small Footprints need not apply for the job. No, it’s also the virtual certainty that our frenzied election process will quickly cull anyone – candidate or newsperson - who has any VISCERAL comprehension of how small we-the-people must make our Ecological Footprints to save Earth. Walking gently and living carbon-lite are totally alien to their way of life. If those who are swept up in this hyper-metabolic machine “got it”, they’d either go mad or have to quit out of conscience.

We are damned fools to expect either Obama or McCain to lead us to the Sustainable Promised Land – or for the mainstream media to reveal where it is on the map. They’ve long since flown far beyond it, and they aren’t looking back.

Valero bought 7 Ethanol Refineries, including Verasun's research division.

Who was it that said "continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity"?

Written by spunkledevil:
Politicians definitely won't lead us out of this mess any more than will our corporate elites - and for basically the same reasons: their behaviors are antithetical to sustainability.

High prices or shortages of crude oil and other vital resources will eventually change this attitude. If neither politician nor corporation adapt, they will perish although the change may come too late. The question perhaps should not be who will lead us out of this mess, but what events will force people to understand or change their behavior.

If we ever start to use Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) in a big way we will need companies that can operate deep sea rigs...


What sort of EROEI do they expect from OTEC?

"Conventional OTEC" is a non-starter when compared to the electricity producing potential of the AVE which operates between heat sources and sinks over a much wider temperature range than does OTEC, and also uses heat exchangers and expanders planted firmly on the earth's surface, while also having less concerns about corrosion mitigation.

When using sea water, the AVE is really a form of OTEC that uses the tropopause (-30 C) as a heat sink rather than the cold (+10 C) ocean layers that may be a mile or more below the surface. They both use water gathered from the sea surface, that may be at 25-35 C, for their source of thermal energy.

A veritable "no-brainer". (ref:

I expect oil companies to morph into energy companies. Saudi Arabia is a good place to look at, as they are seriously looking at investing in solar energy production. They are also looking at moving up the value chain to refining, and the next step is to go to plastics, fertilizers etc.

I think that this will be a path for many oil companies.

Many more companies will specialize in extracting more oil and gas from what were considered uneconomic sources, especially old depleted wells. These will be smaller upstarts. You have seen it with gold mining and oil production already.

Some of the big boys will die, some nationalized and some taken over.

Another example is BP morphing into Beyond Petroleum. Clearly they see the writing on the wall.

Personally, I expect the oil business to explode in profitability over the next two decades, even with a lot less production. I imagine 50% less oil but 10X price increase, with an overall profitability increase of 4-5X. They might actually shrink their size in terms of personnel.

After that, we have to hope that clean nuclear and clean coal plus industrial scale solar can be made to work. There are some interesting new spins on Fusion combined with Fission. Clearly a lot more focus is needed on this because almost all the energy originates from Fusion and the Sun.

One element neglected is the interplay between commodities. As oil gets pricey and rare, then it get pricier to mine and all materials become expensive, including basic stuff of life like water. Water is needed for biofuels and most industrial processes in large quantities. Steel and Aluminum are need for wind, solar, mining etc and all are needed for oil drilling and production. There is a vicious cycle that drives up costs to the point where a barrel of energy takes a barrel of energy to produce...

By the time we get to that stage we had better have cracked the Fusion problem or we will be all toast.

To oil company execs and governments, this is an Outside Context Problem.

Politicians and financial types have very limited imagination -- that's why they're not mathematicians or engineers ;-). Once these types get to be in charge of an enterprise, all hope of innovation is lost.

The IOCs should be left to die in their own time -- if given massive life support they'll die anyway, not much later, and absorb resources that could have gone to something useful. Likewise the large auto makers. Let entrepreneurs pick up the pieces and make something new, if they can.

So, the outcome I see in 20 years is the death throes of large dinosaurs. However, most of the world will be far too distracted to notice.

On the contrary, a lot of these financial guys are world class in the imagination department-because your goals are not the same you do not recognize it and the MSM works overtime to muddy the waters. Financial innovation, which has ballooned over the last 15 years, is based on the imagination of the Grifter, the Con Man. The goal is to get the money without providing any benefit to the person or persons whose money you are getting-the problem is that unless the scam is unclear, they won't give you the money. The thing is, a very small % of the population spends their whole life thinking this way-on Wall Street and in Washington it is a very high %. I agree that eventually they will destroy any enterprise, because that is the ultimate ending of the story-usually they have planned an exit strategy or escape.

FWIW: IMHO The International Oil companys will be with us for a while yet but they will be in a constant state of flux as they chase the last remnants of oil available to them. Some may merge but it is also possible that some could de merge or split up, offloading unprofitable assets and shrinking to the size of the remaining jewels. The NOC's however serve a different master and may find themselves being milked of more cash and being further hampered from further investment. This may even open up some new opportunities for the IOC's to help out. My guess is that China will be front and centre to "help" out and may be willing to sweeten any deals by supplying weapons to questionable regimes.