EPA Ruling and Where We are Headed

Today's newspaper is full of stories about the yesterday's EPA ruling:

EPA paves way for broad emission limits

The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday declared that industrial greenhouse gases are a danger to human health and well-being, opening the way to broad new regulations to reduce carbon dioxide and other planet-heating gases.

The finding could lead to far-reaching rules that are likely to heavily affect cars and trucks, which account for nearly a quarter of the nation's greenhouse gas emissions, and utilities, which are responsible for more than a third.

With this ruling, it seems likely that either through legislation or through EPA action, steps will be taken to require vast investment in technologies to try to limit the various greenhouse gases. Let us think about where the world is headed--does this vast investment make sense or not?

Long term, where are we headed?

In a world of limited resources, I would argue that we are headed for a world in which everything is reused and recycled over long periods. Investment is likely to be small scale and local. In fact, as the amount of resources (oil, natural gas, minerals) available declines, the amount of resources available for investment is likely to decline as well. What resources we have are likely to be devoted to local pottery or clothing manufacturing, or some other necessities that can be made with local materials. Local water availability and soil quality will be major issues, as will be availability of open pollinated seed. We may need to use animals to supplement human labor.

Where will all of the new laws or EPA rulings send us?

We don't know for sure yet, but the impression one has is that the intent is to try to maintain business as usual, through more investment in technologies which will allow automobiles to have higher mileage and utilities to emit more CO2. We want to build the platform out a little farther, in a different direction, to jump off from. In doing this, we will use up more of our scarce resources, and I would argue, still not look at where we need to be headed for true sustainability.

How does one get from where we are, to where we need to be?

It seems to me that one has to have a true roadmap, with an idea as to where one is headed, not just build the platform out farther, and hope that some new technology will somehow fix the problem in 2025 or 2050, when we hit the new larger bump in the road. I will argue that long term, wind turbines are not sustainable, nor are plug-in electric vehicles. These are attempts at temporary fixes, that will require quite a large amount of resources.

Over the next fifty years, the amount of resources we will have available for investment is going to be headed down rather than up. Printing money won't help this situation, because ultimately the resources are physical goods, and these have finite limits. Whatever we spend on investments in this new direction will be less to spend on investments in the direction which we ultimately want to be headed, assuming there is a different direction that makes more sense.

How does one deal with this situation? Does anyone else see how the EPA roadmap ultimately leads to sustainability? Do we assume Steve Chu's fourth generation biofuels will bail us out, somewhere down the line? Is there a better way of dealing with our current problems? How do we spend our limited resources that are available for investment most wisely?

Gail -

Having had some direct familiarity with the whole environmental regulatory process, I would say that this declaration by the EPA is merely an opening gambit and little more.

Long before any actual binding CO2 restrictions are put into effect, there will be an endless chain of hearings, industry comments, lobbying, and legal challenges. The lawyers will be busy lawyering, and the consultants will be busy consulting. By the time it is all done (if it ever is done), the result will more than likely be something that is pretty toothless and more feel-good than effective.

The single thing that will pretty much neuter any EPA efforts at CO2 emission reduction policy will be the economic impact of such measures (or at least the claimed economic impact put forth by various industries and interest groups). My prediction is that the whole process will be highly political and exceedingly messy and not likely to go anywhere, at least anytime soon.

Then of course, we have the question (best answered by climate experts and not the likes of me) as to whether a relatively minor reduction in CO2 emissions from one country is really going to have a significant effect on global ambient CO2 levels and whether such efforts will just be a futile waste of limited resources that could better be deployed elsewhere.

The EPA itself seems to indicate this will be a long slow process. According to the WSJ article (enter title into Google to pull up article):

U.S. in Historic Shift on CO2

On a conference call Friday with environmentalists, EPA officials stressed they would take a go-slow approach, holding two public hearings next month before the findings are official. After that, any new regulations would go through a public comment period, more hearings and a long review.

"Whatever the process it, it will be the time-honored and ordinary process of soliciting public input," an EPA official said.

New regulations driven by the finding could be years away. But unless superseded by congressional action, the EPA ruling eventually could lead to stricter emissions limits.

The one thing all of this discussion does is increase uncertainty for projects that would have gone ahead in the past, particularly projects making fossil fuels and manufacturing of any item that uses fossil fuels. No one wants to go ahead with anything, until they know what kind of regulatory framework they will be facing. It seems like this uncertainty by itself acts as another brake on the economy--adding to problems caused by lack of credit and low fossil fuel prices.

At the same time, the EPA is not even suggesting where we ought to be headed next, except for lower CO2. The assumption is that we need to figure out a way to do business as usual, in a lower CO2 way, even if this takes a huge amount of investment for a very short-term result. No one seems to be interested in long term thinking and planning.

No one wants to go ahead with anything, until they know what kind of regulatory framework they will be facing. It seems like this uncertainty by itself acts as another brake on the economy--adding to problems caused by lack of credit and low fossil fuel prices.

I wouldn't lump "the economy" into one big ball of carbon-emitting activity: seems that if people want to invest without the "uncertainty" of CO2 regulation, they would invest in community-scaled food operations, wind turbines, energy efficiency, solar of varying kinds...the brakes you mention could actually direct investment towards economic areas that help move society towards something more sustainable.

Some of these--wind turbines and solar PV--need subsidies, or a non-level carbon field to "work".

Coal burning already has a non-level playing field with the ability to emit mercury, CO2, SO2, particulate matter, etc without paying for the right to pollute. Finally, they will have to pay for at least some of this pollution in the form of cap and trade. That will level the playing field so that wind and solar thermal can compete fairly.

This has to be the best news for starting to take steps to slow down oil use. The LA Times article you quoted goes on to say;

"If it is not, 13 other states and the District of Columbia have committed to adopting California standards. That would essentially require a major increase in fuel efficiency across 40% of the U.S. car market.

"While the federal government was asleep at the wheel for years, we in California have known greenhouse gases are a threat to our health and to our environment," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Friday. "That's why we have taken such aggressive action."

As a practical matter, officials said a federal endangerment finding would have little effect on California, which, in 2006, passed a comprehensive law to slash the state's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

Besides passing carbon dioxide rules for vehicle tailpipes, California is well along on determining how much carbon each industry is responsible for cutting.

The state has committed to obtain a third of its electricity from solar, wind and other renewable sources by mid-century. And next week it is expected to pass the world's first regulation to ratchet down the carbon intensity of gasoline and other transportation fuels, from production to combustion."

Sure, this means less investment in new coal fired power stations, and new oil refineries, BUT A BIG INCREASED INVESTMENT IN "SOLAR, WIND AND OTHER RENEWABLE SOURCES".
Too bad the US wasted 8 years with Bush policies, when they could have had Schwarzenegger or Gore policies, but at least back on track to doing something more than more drilling.

Then of course, we have the question (best answered by climate experts and not the likes of me) as to whether a relatively minor reduction in CO2 emissions from one country is really going to have a significant effect on global ambient CO2 levels and whether such efforts will just be a futile waste of limited resources that could better be deployed elsewhere.

To ask the question seems to answer it. Of course we won't waste resources that could better be deployed elsewhere. We will instead waste resources arguing over how they can best be deployed, as you described in your first paragraph. I wonder if a "democracy" can ever get to first base?

Now we have news (posted in the Drumbeat) that East Antarctica is actually accumulating ice, as though this invalidates the global warming notion. It seems fairly obvious that local cooling can be the result of global warming (that's how a refrigerator works, after all), but that isn't how they present it.

There is something in our makeup that demands a maximum of confusion and obfuscation. And I don't think we are anywhere close to Peak Stupidity yet.

Then of course, we have the question (best answered by climate experts and not the likes of me) as to whether a relatively minor reduction in CO2 emissions from one country is really going to have a significant effect on global ambient CO2 levels

I've always read that because CO2 concentrations is a global measure, and because sub-450 (or sub -550) is a global target, that ANY reduction ANYWHERE is equally valuable (though not equally costly).

There will be an endless chain of hearings, industry comments, lobbying, and legal challenges.

There will be. But now they can happen at all levels. One can make the "argument from authority" now that the new mall, new subdivision, new whatever in one's local town will increase pollution. That's fairly powerful where one is dealing with the little-d authoritarians that typically fill planning boards, town councils and state committees. [They typically won't accept the argument unless it's vetted from above and then they will accept it blindly.]

This can open up all sorts of stuff at state and local levels - much as Clean Water act did. [Note also the recent oneworld report describing how Clean Water protections have been stripped from nearly 2/3 of US waters by court rulings.]

Still, it's one of those real world stinky facts one can drop on j-random-committee-of-destruction.

cfm in Gray, ME

The lawyers will be busy lawyering

Bring on the lawyering!!!!!

Seriously, I don't see it ever happening. It is obvious that the only way to reduce CO2 emissions is to make fossil fuels so damn expensive that people stop using them. I think the last couple of years has proved that our economy doesn't function under high energy prices.

Things will just muddle along, getting progressively worse, until either the magic cheap energy replacement comes along, or until we get the final collapse.

History will mock this decision!

Hello Todders,

I received an official Ministerial response the other day to a query on how compounding math (and so-called limits-to-growth) factored into our government’s forecasts. The letter (quite lengthy) highlights ongoing funding programs at universities and government institutions, as well as re-tooling programs, promoting innovation in business and general initiatives including tax incentives…

Here’s a couple of grabs…

“It is true that growth in Australia and globally is generally exponential. Resources are therefore being consumed at a faster rate each year, particularly due to the dramatic increase in growth in China. However, it is not true to say that growth cannot be sustainable. Through technological advances and innovation, we can develop new methods and ways of doing things which can allow us to continue to have growth in the long term, but in a sustainable manner.”

“For example, CSIRO and a number of Australian companies are developing strains of algae which can produce oil which could power Australia’s transport fleet in the future when conventional oil supplies are in decline”.

“…are developing world leading solar power technologies, which can replace fossil fuel usage for electricity generation”.

The letter closes with…

“Research is also being undertaken in a number of other areas, which will help address the problem of maintaining sustainable growth, such as waste, food production, urban design, greenhouse gas emissions reduction, water management and biodiversity conservation. Through innovation and technological advancement, long-term growth can continue, in a sustainable manner”.

Though I probably should have asked for time-and-scale estimates in my original mail to the Minister (I assume the government believes we still have decades), it’s all good right… Right?

Regards, Matthew Blain, Melbourne Australia

I would love to see the whole letter. Perhaps we could submit it for a TOD post. If you are so inclined, send it to one of the editorial submissions for TOD so we can have a look.

A good follow up set of questions might be: "Are we already in ecological overshoot caused by growth? And if so, do we need to have an economic contraction? Or do you believe that we can both grow the economy while reducing ecological load now and in perpetuity?"

I think it represents the classic government response from anywhere in the world.

Societies are facing the predicament: can't get what they want, can't admit that they can't get what they want, therefore stay in denial as the situation deteriorates. Jared Diamond covers the politics of this well in his book "Collapse."

Whenever I see the GDP decline I cheer the fact that the Earth is getting a break, however slim. It's like being abused at a decreasing rate, going from a punch in the face every minute to a punch in the face every 1 minute 10 seconds.

Do I need permission?

I let the writer know about this post and gave him this link (guess I'm still not quite out of the bargaining stage, so deliberately didn't use any names - trying not to burn too many bridges!). Also, the letter came by regular post, so will have to retype it all.

BTW, a staffer needed my postal address. I gave it along with a few links. Here was his reply (this may REALLY get up your goat! :))...

"thanks for the links, you will be pleased to here that I have seen a lot of what Peter Schiff has been saying and I have seen Chris Martenson's Crash Course and Albert Bartlett's lecture too, I'm also a reader of the Oil Drum."

Cool or disconcerting?

Regards, Matthew

There are alot of jobless people who do not cheer when GDP declines.

It is a conundrum. But what were they doing? How many people have jobs that essentially liquidate the very assets that keep us (and most other species) alive?

There's plenty of useful, non-harmful, work to do. If we had an economy where macro-indicators like GDP DIDN'T also correspond to an increase in the ecological debt then I would feel otherwise. Until then I will keep cheering on the "bad" news.

I like the EPA decision. Anything that makes it less likely that coal will be mined is a good thing.

I'm on board with you Jason. Here in my neighborhood there are a lot of people on the front lines of coal mining/power that appreciate your support. Anyone that thinks that we in the US have stopped building new coal plants is underinformed. Mountaintop Removal and Valley Fill mining has not stopped yet either but is being dealt some good body blows.


We'll see...

This brand new "clean coal" facility is also capable of using switchgrass as a fuel. How much switchgrass does it take to make 278 megawatts anyway?


Current battle that may benefit from EPA position:


Thanks to all who take a moment to help central Appalachia.


Get your bumper sticker here:



I would bet that ifn they were cutting the tops off the Rockies that you would likely hear the screams all the way to DC.

Yet for the poor folks of the Appalachians? A big sigh. Thats it.
"Change the channel dear,would you?"

Obama don't care. He is from Chitown doncha see? Now he is worried about Mexico.

Airdale-the little owl in the Northwest got lots of play. Mountains don't seem to count. Honey bees or wild birds neither. Above my bed a house wren has built its nest. I am letting it stay there. Each morning it finds the hole in my living quarters and wakes me as it flys to its nest. Right above my ceiling fan over my bed. I am missing the barn swallows. Airdales of the skies. They can go ahead and put droppings on my VWs ,,just let them come back.

And I will order some of those stickers.


Thanks Airdale.

You know you are a poet:

Above my bed a house wren has built its nest.
I am letting it stay there.
Each morning it finds the hole in my living quarters
and wakes me as it flys to its nest.
Right above my ceiling fan over my bed.
I am missing the barn swallows.
Airdales of the skies.
They can go ahead and put droppings on my VWs
just let them come back.


I saw an amazing movie where the connection is made between flipping on a light switch and a mountain being blasted to smithereens. I lived 9 years in St. Louis and would make trips to the Ozarks, a couple of times to Kentucky, so I know the bioregion a bit. Those forests and creeks are absolutely wonderful. Few people know that some of the greatest diversity of amphibians and fresh water aquatic life lives in the SE US. Old mountains with isolated, endemic populations getting exterminated so we can have the most consumption with the least marginal utility perhaps in world history. It sickens me to think what is going on.

Probably "Kilowatt Ours" Good documentary by a young couple. Optimistic, too!

Thanks for all you do. We're reading out here in the heartland looking to you and Willits and others for inspiration.

Buy a sticker ;-) Full disclosure, I don't belong to WV Highlands Conservancy but I buy stickers 20 at a time and give them to a local business that sells LED's and other energy saving hardware to give away.

We're fighting...

Which decision? Yours to post? Mine to reply?

Frankly the EPA or whatever regulating carbon dioxide will matter little given what is already baked into the cake. Economic arguments will be used to slow down adoption - but if one has not noticed the whole idea of constant growth is being questioned I still await the explanation of the pH change in the ocean and how that is not tied to global atmospheric CO2 levels.

I agree that if we had a rational government and political system, what remains of real wealth would be invested in rebuilding regional and local social and economic infrastructure, especially where it comes to food and farms.

Unfortunately, as Gail says, this zombie system is determined to prop itself up and maintain the simulacrum of business as usual as long as possible. That includes an insolvent central banking system continuing to conjure absurd amounts of money out of nothing for as long as it can enforce the global illusion, and it includes the government continuing to spend these prodigious amounts.

Given those facts, I'd say spending the funny money on carbon mitigation and large-scale renewable infrastructure, while I agree the latter is unsustainable on account of the oil platform it requires (not to mention the pipe dream of continuing the happy motoring dystopia with PHEVs), would be an infinitely better way to run out the remaining big-dollar years than bank holding company bailouts and the Global War on Terror.


While I share quite a bit of your pessimism, I do think that we won't see a time where it won't be possible to build wind or solar energy systems because of resource constraints. For example, iron and steel can be made using carbon from wood as both fuel and the chemical needed to reduce the iron ore (rust) to produce steel. That's the way it was done for thousands of years before coal was used. It's long been possible to make plastics from biomass, so those materials would still be available. We may find that other users of these materials would lose out in the competition for those resources, but energy is so basic that I think wind and solar would be the last to suffer. Noting this does not imply that we will be able to continue business as usual, but instead may see a return to more basic styles of living that use much less energy.

Yes, vast effort will be needed to replace enough of the existing fossil energy sources and machines which consume that energy with renewable, sustainable sources and devices. I think we are faced with an either/or choice in that spending those vast sums you mention may only be possible for a brief time as we go forward. Either we spend that "money" for more oil, gas and coal, or we spend it for renewables. With the fossil energy sources, once the "money" is spent and the fuel used, there will still be a need to continue to spend ever more "money" for the next source, be it renewables or nuclear or ??? Notice I use quotes with the word "money" as we all have learned that debt money isn't quite as real as we thought...

You wrote "ultimately the resources are physical goods, and these have finite limits", but this is not strictly correct. The material resources, i.e. the metals, etc, can be recycled if enough energy were available. They don't leave the Earth, they become dispersed and thus difficult to recover. Mining high grade ores produces low cost metals, but lower grade (i.e., less concentrated) ores are available as well, once they become "economic". Fossil energy is entirely different and once used, it can not be re-used. I think you need to be clear about this difference. There are many possibilities to cut our use of fossil fuels and thus cut our CO2 emissions while maintaining a flow of enough energy to get the job done. I would not count the engineers out just yet, since we've not really had the chance to pursue even the known technologies at the levels we already know to be achievable. We still don't have an admission by TPTB (including Prez BO) that we've got to learn to live differently, which would be needed to mobilize the vast numbers of people who must change their lives (hopefully, for the better)...

E. Swanson

I can see little wind mills, used to pump water, as likely a whole lot more sustainable than the huge wind turbines and the massive infrastructure that surrounds it. I can also see solar thermal as perhaps being very long-lived. But I don't see that people are thinking in terms of what level is truly sustainable. It is the bigger (and more infra-structure dependent) the better.

Do you think big wind will die because the big corporations that keep the infrastructure going will collapse with economic collapse, or because of EROI?
I tend to agree with you about the end result...little projects that can be fixed by some guy with some practical engineering knowledge, but not big projects that require grid interties and massive voltage up- and down- stepping. I also think there will be a huge industry of micro solar-PV and lead acid batteries. Even as the batteries die, the PV panels can provide a lot of work during daylight. I doubt I can provide 100 watts with my own labor, but it doesn't take a lot of PV to do that. I hope we move beyond lead acid, but that technology allows for fairly low tech recycling/refurbishing so it might be what survives. MAybe PV panels continue to be produced in the vicinity of big hydro, maybe the technology improves for easily produced thin films...either way I see PV as our future.


Big wind requires parts that are machined to very tiny tolerances (or vibration will cause them to fall apart). Because of this, there is little chance that replacement parts can be made locally. Turbines need to be connected to a sophisticated transmission system, and there need to be roads to transport the parts and the workers to the place where replacements are needed. All of this is embedded in a much bigger system - financial, for one thing. There are too many places where Liebig's Law of the Minimum can come into play.

It seems to me that high EROI is necessary but not sufficient for an energy source to be of value long term.

Have you even ever taken apart an induction motor? Have you looked at how a DFID works? I hate to rain on your parade, but power transformers are also pretty simple, and reliable. I miss when this site was mostly full of engineers...

Why do insurance companies require maintenance with replacement of some parts every five years? I have read that wind turbines have 8,000 parts, and I cannot imagine that they are all inside the induction motor. If we start putting wind turbines out at sea, we will have more corrosion than on land. It is still a very complex system.

Gail -

The car you drive probably has almost as many parts. The number of parts, in and of itself, is not necessarily an indicator of complexity or difficulty of maintenance. Other factors are far more important.

The 'guts' of a large offshore wind turbine is probably no more temperamental or prone to problems than a moderate size diesel engine. Yes, there are machined parts requiring certain close tolerances, but there are also such things in your car or your refrigerator.

I don't see operating in an offshore environment all that much of a problem. We've been operating very complex machinery in hostile marine environments for about a century and half .... in the form of ships. It's all just a matter of good design and good materials engineering.

When you get right down to it, there is little about even the largest wind turbine that is truly high-tech. However, a complex electrical grid is a whole other story.

These parts are in the gear box. Alternatives to gear boxes are in development such as Direct-Drive and Digital Displacement Hydraulic transmission. A direct drive permanent magnet generator consists of only one or two moving parts.

p.s. Engineers are aware of corrosion.

Somehow I picture the modern wind machines as a little more complex than the motors I made with paperclips and D-cells as a kid. Dunno anything about DFIDs...but I vaguely remember some things about cryogenic diode laser systems and HgCdTe detectors, if that's worth anything. I also know that when my Sunnyboy shut down it wasn't a matter of rewinding a transformer...I had to get some new e-proms and kick it a few times. Fixin' my table saw motor I can do, fixing my connection to the grid....not necessarily. As I recall, my PV panels are warranteed for 25 years, but the inverter only for 5 (Thankfully, I am a couple years into borrowed time.)

In seriousness...I agree that good decisions necessitate some technical smarts, but I think that the point Gail and others often make is that our world and our toys are very complicated, and there is a very good chance it will be increasingly difficult to fix those toys. My inverter, for example; the part I needed was too cheap to worry about. But if the guys who make the chip, or program the chip, go out of business, it can create a serious headache to get a substitute.

You are correct that wind turbines, HVDC, nuclear power plants even hydo electric plants all require complex machinery that must be maintained by an at least one industrial society in the world. In Africa these machines exist now with very little local back-up but still function.

Now the real question is why would the US or Canada or Australia or Europe fail to continue to provide this technical back-up both locally and overseas?

A total collapse of state and federal governments would be required, not a recession, or depression or a shortage of finance. The total loss of all oil is unlikely for at least another 50 years. The loss of >90% oil is possible by 2050, but why would this prevent maintaining the electric grid, providing 30-50% of present electricity production, keeping major roads and rail lines repaired?. This would result in almost no gasoline for private cars and probably regular rolling blackouts at peak demand, lots of 3rd world countries have this now, life goes on. People our age in UK and Australia have lived through months of severe rolling blackouts, it's not too bad, still can cook , have hot water, light most of the time. At least no one is dropping bombs on us, as our parents had to tolerate as well as gasoline and electricity rationing A million barrels/ day of gasoline can go a long way in US if people only drive fuel efficient cars, car pool and only travel essential trips. Sweden and Australia managed to run trucks on wood gas, during WWII, this could be used in US for 10% of transport until electric vehicles were produced. We could re-build steam driven road repair machinery( was used in Australia until 1955). Steam trains could replace diesel or diesel run on coal/water fuels.

More likely is that progressive shortages( and the EPA and better CAFE) will improve fuel economy to >50mpg, some vehicles will be electric or PHEV by the time oil really becomes scarce, the remaining 100M SUV's and light trucks will be crushed for steel to manufacture wind turbines, we will continue to have major power disruptions perhaps one a year instead of once a decade as we do now, life will go on in the suburbs, may have water restrictions for lawns, using A/C, gasoline rationing, electric only lawn-mowers, not dropping off school kids by private vehicles, total paper and plastic recycling.
We don't have to go back to pre-industrial living, we will never discard electricity its just too useful.

All of this is embedded in a much bigger system - financial, for one thing.

If what you meant was capital, in the "national production minus consumption" sense, then I agree with you completely. It is not clear that there is enough capital to convert the system from what it is to what it needs to be in the time frame over which that must occur. And if you include long-lived consumer goods such as occupier-owned housing stock, even more so.

If what you meant was today's enormously complex financial system, I disagree. The Roman Empire's trading network covered the entire Mediterranean, as well as trade as far as China (silk was a prized fabric in Rome by 100 B.C.), with a financial system built on a notation that didn't include zero. Each of Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and England built global trading networks involving hundreds of ships and millions of people, stock-based companies for aggregating large amounts of capital, insurance, etc., and did it all with a financial system implemented with pen and paper.

I doubt I can provide 100 watts with my own labor

True for most of us. Measurements of world-class bicyclists show they can sustain about 400 watts for a period of a few hours while racing. Amateur riders can seldom do more than 100 watts over a sustained period. And that's under fairly optimal conditions -- stationary body position and gearing that allows fine-grained adjustment to load conditions.

I agree that PV is a 'sleeper' that could easily go prime time. The combination of say 2.5 kw grid connected thin film on every suburban house roof wired to a two day uninterruptible power supply could remove the need to build new power stations or new transmission lines. We need to get the cost way down, say $5000 per house.

Both crystalline PV and the 5-15 minute backup UPS are familiar to many. Just make it more bang for the buck. If PHEVs take off as predicted (I think otherwise) the solar output could be switched between the house battery and the car battery.

I think the "bigger is better" is a largely western, free market economy paradigm. In some situations, anything that grows too big to be manageable or affordable by an individual, family or local community is too big. From my perspective as a native of a third world, island nation, smaller distributed renewable energy projects are a better fit. A solar water heater, a solar powered cooker, few PV panels and/or a small wind turbine on each house is more practical than large centrally located facilities. I have not seen any clear explanation as to why hundreds or thousands of small (1-10kW) PV and/or wind installations would be a bad thing for an electricity grid.

One problem I see for small wind in urban environments is that it would appear that the height requirements for regular (horizontal axis) wind turbines would make them impractical. While vertical axis turbines have characteristics that make them more suitable for urban environments, they are less efficient and too expensive for anywhere but, areas with very good wind resources. These guys seem to be on to something:

The Jellyfish Wind Appliance is a small 36-inch tall vertical-axis wind turbine (VAWT) with a solid-state controller and a variable-speed induction generator that plugs directly into an existing wall socket and automatically generates power whenever the wind blows. The Jellyfish can be mounted on rooftops, wind towers or even existing street light poles - which are already pre-wired to the grid and have the tower already in place! And, it can generate up to 40 kWh per month in moderate winds enough to light an average home using energy efficient light bulbs. With a target price under $400 the Jellyfish would be an affordable option for many households and developing communities looking to harness wind power for the first time. Working in tandem with the existing power grid, the Jellyfish enables large-scale distributed-generation, delivering power exactly where its needed and reducing the demand for costly transmission infrastructure.

Why hasn't this been done yet? Is this just a pipe dream? If it can really produce the average 40kWh per month that they're aiming for at that price, I'd jump at it. With electricity rates in my country hovering around 18c/kWh for the lower tier and 23c/kWh, the payback period would be a little over 4.5 years if your use is less than 100kWh per month and under 5 years if you use more than 140kWh per month! They claim to be aiming for a $200 price tag with volume. At $200 a solution like this would make sense in my situation even if it only produced 10kWh per month. If this could actually be done, it would be a perfect example of bigger not necessarily being better.

Alan from the islands

No..Bigger is better because of the huge amount of power that a city needs. Let's take Washing to D.C. How many coal fired power plants serve the D.C. area? I don't know but I think you would be surprised at the number of power plants it take to serve a large city. It will be interesting to see the power grid set up for wind turbines when they supply a large percent of a city's power. The wind turbines will have to be large in number and large in size.

Each situation has its own peculiarities, but in the SW we should have solar on "every rooftop". Why trash thousands of acres of desert for PV arrays and power corridors? Assuming we can maintain some semblence of BAU (I did say 'assuming'), we should be producing power locally. We should also plan on dealing with minor inconveniences that might lead to brownouts (or mandate that A/C units turn off under some conditions.) Added bonuses of having your own PV is insulation from price increases and a greater awareness of how much power one uses (for slightly nerdy types who like to keep track of such things). Power traders might not like this arrangement, but I can't see why we don't produce 1/2 our power locally....except it requires investing in the future....

Small, local, and able to be built by many, that's the ticket.
Bigger is badder, as e.g. the 3 rivers gorge dam. When that goes down, lots of power lost.
With 100,000 smaller turbines, they're less prone to crap out, and more locally serviceable in more locations.
Here in the high desert, with (as low as) 4% humidity we use evaporative coolers which use a fraction of what AC does.
And, they are more manufacturable than AC, more rebuildable, and servicable.
I just bought a 2nd set of 45W PV panels from that Chinese tool place yesterday, and my goal is to use them 'while the sun shines' to do things like power my swamp cooler directly, grind grains and do mechanical work, run fans when needed, and pump water into reservoirs, or through solar HW systems. This will reduce my need for lead storage batteries, which someone said upthread ARE rebuildable.... And probably locally if we learned how.
Total PV is for the very wealthy, but PV assist to Solar Thermal is not too expensive for some of us. And better EROEI.
We just learned yesterday that we are getting credits for our solar hot water unit. So far we're earned about $1500, and that does not include the original $900 we got when we installed it 7 years ago. So now, our out of pocket for it is only $600, and dropping. We're already well in the black, and turn our electric HW backup off for 7 months out of the year. And, I will confess, solar hot water 'feels' nicer than FF.
There was a post awhile back on solar air heaters on the campfire, and I learned alot and am going to continue to add them to our house.
Small is beautiful as Schumacher said, and that works not only with infrastructure, but economics I would guess.
Good discussions here today.

Wind is a particularly tricky source of renewable energy. There are some areas where the wind blows fairly consistently and with a high enough speed to generate enough electricity to justify the cost of the systems. In some areas like where I live, this is not the case. Since 1:00pm today the average wind speed has been 2.6 mph with a maximum of 16.4 and a minimum of 0 (measured 6ft. above my roof) . It is typical to have even less wind at night so the cost of your average wind turbine could not be recovered in any reasonable time frame where I live.

So let's look at solar PV. Where I live, it's a lot more reliable and fairly intense, with the sun being directly overhead at noon at this time of year. I estimate that the average two story building ha enough roof area to supply all it's electricity needs for a moderately low energy existence (no AC or electric water heater or electric stove). Even big box stores/malls could produce a significant portion of their day time electricity needs from their own roof area. Multistory/high rise buildings do not allow for this and it is concentrations of such buildings that exist in most modern cities and require large power plants.

So while your typical high rise building does not facilitate small scale renewables, there are probably large amounts of buildings that could reduce their carbon footprint substantially through their use. You might even describe the amount of such buildings as huge so, you'd end up with a huge amount of small scale renewable energy sources supplying you huge amount of power. Come to think of it, if all these residential buildings had grid tied systems they could end up supplying huge amounts of power to the grid during the day time peak hours while their occupants are at work/school! It's basically the same concept that dr_dr oulined above, large amounts of distributed, small scale sources obviating the need for thousands of acres of land just for PV arrays.

Alan from the islands

Slashdot had a blurb up about a 1-year small wind turbine project in the Netherlands. I'm not sure why there is so much 'nega-hype' in the article, but the bottom line is that they are not cost effective.


Here's hopeing that jellyfish really is something unique.
I'd buy a 40kwh/mo windmill for $400 just for the fun of it.

I think the "bigger is better" is a largely western, free market economy paradigm.

1) Bigger is better ties into economies of scale arguments - so yea western.
2) Bigger also means easier to control. Think of how many things exist as 'control surfaces' - ways for others to mold your behavior. Large corps are eaiser for the government to control. Large one source firms (like energy companies) are typically blessed with special government protection that allows 'em to always make a profit.

Economics of scale is not an argument, it is a physical fact that a very large number of technical processes scales in such a way that the ammount of building material, man hours and machine hours for building a factory and running a process increases slower then the output as you increase the scale.

This do of course have limits, not every physical function scales in such a way, the parts can become too large for the manufacturing equipment or to hard to move and the logistics can favor smaller units closer to the raw materials or the customers.

And some types of equipment even becomes more efficient when they are large rather then small with lower losses per kWh, for instance turbines or transformers.

Another point regarding the availability of metal in a post-PO world. A lot of doomers like to point out that there is no way people will able to mine steel or copper without fossil fuels anymore, and they are right. However, a lot of that steel ended up in junkyards, and still more of it sitting on four wheels, and plenty of it sitting inside skyscrapers. Copper is hard to find in ore form, but there is plenty of copper wire and pipe around, including in junkyards. Let's hope that China doesn't call in too much debt in the form of steel and copper, however.

I think that there is a number of solutions to the situation the world is in. Shooting them down because of their inability to power a society as wasteful as North America is beyond ridiculous. Just like President Bush presented a false dilemma to Americans when he explained that the only options America had were "The War on Terror" or "A mushroom cloud over America", the future of North American society will not be a techno-fantasy, or a catastrophic population crash, but probably something in between.

Or, look at the optimist view this way: Ultimately, humans will go extinct or colonise the galaxy. We might go extinct in the next century, or we might revert to a stone age mode of living and go extinct in 2 million years. If we keep technology alive throughout the coming dim ages, then we retain the possibility, however slim, of a renaissance. It is a remote possibility, to be sure, but I do not think PO means the stone age. I think it means a simpler, less energy intensive mode of life, and I think it means population decline, which will be terrible, globally, but I think North America will be lucky once again and escape the worst of it. I think that even if my vision of a far less resource-intensive, but not stone-age way of life fails in the end, it will allow time for a more reasoned transition back to the stone age than is possible now. A successful transition will change the zeitgeist in a way that will make a better future possible.


A lot of junkyard steel has a lot of differing metallurgical properties such that its very very difficult to forge for a blacksmith. For one its not amiable to tempering except with a method of heat treating via a controlled furnace or other means.

For instance most forgers of knives tend to stay with metal with properties that are temperable. Like water tempering or oil tempering.

I stick to older truck springs and some axles. I really prefer carbon steel for knives anyday. The ones which keep the polish look good in collections but are pretty much worthless other wise.

Most horse shoes are mild steel. Rebar is a total waste of time. Its made of junk.

Just my two cents worth as a blacksmith , not practicing for a time now as I lost most all my equipment in an unwise farm auction and finding any replacements is a real bitch. And costly too I might add.

Airdale-note that huge amounts of our scrap iron go to China,,or did before the prices dropped out ,scavengers were scouring the countryside and hauled away much of it around here

As someone selling carbon offsets, I am selfishly pleased at the ruling. As someone who has been following the peak oil scenario and it's outfall, for ten+ years, I recognize that this is just another attempt to piss into the wind.

It seems like it will be all of the middle men who will profit from this that will push along whatever is done.

It is always the case of whose ox is being gored.

Guess who was pushing their profit-making machine during the 8 years of the previous Administration.

I see Drumbeat has this article:

Worst Environmental Problem? Overpopulation, Experts Say

Overpopulation is the world’s top environmental issue, followed closely by climate change and the need to develop renewable energy resources to replace fossil fuels, according to a survey of the faculty at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF). . .

“Overpopulation is the only problem,” said Dr. Charles A. Hall, a systems ecologist. “If we had 100 million people on Earth — or better, 10 million — no others would be a problem.” (Current estimates put the planet’s population at more than six billion.)

Somehow, I don't see the EPA, or for that matter any other governmental agency, even mentioning the population issue.

Gail, I feel that the EPA and other agencies are actually agents of resistance to change.

Real problems do not get addressed precisely because carrer people in corporations or government -- it matters not which -- are rewarded for presenting the desired version of reality rather than the truth

The truth -- population overshoot -- trickles down in dribs and drabs, but the flood of information, analysis, and activity is designed to reward blind ecocide.

Bill Moyers interviewed a very perceptive journalist and producer of HBO's "The Wire."

One of the things that Simon brings out -- and this struck Bill Moyers as the most important and disturbing thing -- is that police, teachers, politicians, and people in business have all learned that it is more important to game the system -- or "juke the stats" than it is to do the right thing.

Police officers are promoted for churning out high numbers of arrests which have no effect on crime -- small-time criminals are back out on the street, or else sent to overcrowded prisons while three more small-time criminals take their place. Crime flourishes while police focus mostly on taking down addicts and small-time drug dealers.

Students are not being evaluated in massive school tests -- these are poorly devised to punish or reward teachers and administrators. Therefore, teachers are admonished to "Teach to the test" -- in other words "juke the stats" so that they look better but the students pass tests with information that means nothing to them and is forgotten.

Politicians and journalists have gutted government and media of meaningful public discourse which is replaced with press releases that no one believes.

The interview is worth seeing:


Last week Moyers interviewed regulator William K. Black, who cracked down on the S&L's during the Reagan administration, and who has written "The Best Way To Rob A Bank Is To Own One."

William K. Black talks about "control fraud" in which CEO's or agency directors use their institutions essentially as hold-up weapons within the system. This is our business model: gain control and drain the system of wealth.

My point is that Alan Greenspan's worldview supposes that everyone is motivated to keep institutions strong and healthy so that they can serve the next generation. In reality, leadership uses positions of power to simply gain more welath and power to the exclusion of considerations of impact on the environment, human society, or the future.

There is no future, Gail -- and the people at the top make decisions as if there is no future, just a game of grabbing as much power and wealth as possible, and letting the chips fall where they may.

Why would any government agency try to push the issue of population overshoot when such an effort would immediately end the carreers of those pushing the issue?

Again, whether one is in government or industry, the system must be gamed for the benefit of those with the power to hire, fire, and control relatively large institutions.

So many of us are (or act) surprised/dismayed/alarmed when Authorities do what they are authorized to do. Not only is the EPA's (and most other Agencies & Departments') astonishing behavior intrinsic to their nature, it is the nature we deliberately empowered them to have. 'Suicidally credit based capitalistic perpetual growth for exorbitant short term gain regardless of unimpeachable logic to the contrary' is what we built the machine to do, in sickness and in health until death do us part. Well? That's what it's doing.

Anyone who has been a Capitalist or a minion of some corporation will simply not be able to create or fathom solutions so long as they adhere to the silly notions that underpin the very existence of Capitalism or Corporatism in the first place (e.g. the belief that financial profit from capital is either virtuous or sustainable, or the insane idea that an abstract incorporation is in any legitimate way comparable to a living human being.)

It is imperative that as many individuals as possible stop thinking in those old ways. Just don't expect officials and bureaucrats to do so. They can't, and they wouldn't if they could.

Gail is right. This Administration is intractably committed to the fore-doomed attempt of restoring Business As Usual. Their opaque procedures and obscure strategies are no more inscrutable than the desire for a continuing personal paycheck. Follow the money.

Doomed to failure? Well of course it is! I reckon their arithmetic skills are at least as good as yours or mine, and that's all the math that's required.

I personally view government behavior with the same attitude I watch weather reports and forecasts. The weather is often boring, sometimes lovely, and occasionally scary as hell... but in no case is it subject to human intervention other than getting ready to endure whatever nature is throwing at us.

That's where the Oil Drum shines. Best damn weather persons on the planet. When not standing in awe of the job they do we should bow in gratitude.

Overshoot is defined by a certain checkmate in mitigation except through drawing down population and consumption whether by design or default. If we repeatedly arrive at the conclusion that doing this by design is impossible for cultural, economic, resource, geopolitical, reasons than one has to ask the exestential question of why we persist? I can recall dozens of threads on this board where we come to exactly this place with no resolutions and then tomorrow brings another topic that leads again to the exact same realization. Really, why do we persist?

Gail, did you think fossil fuels would last forever?

Look at the reserves data. 1200 Gb of petroleum left. If we use it up at a rate of 30 Gb per year that's 40 years. If oil depletes at 2.5% per year in 40 years the world will still have used up 2/3 of all that petroleum.

On the contrary, this EPA announcement is the best possible news.

It means that now we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels as much as is possible in the next 40 years.

No reason to delay.

Also, you seem to think that cellulosic ethanol is an unproven technology. It is twice as expensive as corn ethanol
but otherwise do-able.



The US and Canada could produce 450 million tons of switchgrass. At 100 gallons per ton, that's 50 billion gallons of E85(25% of current gasoline consumption). If this could be produced from using ~150 million tons of coal burying all the plant CO2 with CCS. E85 gets 72% of the mileage of gasoline.


Actually, Majorian, Poet says they have the price down to $1.00 over the cost of corn ethanol, and will have it down to $0.50 by the time their first plant comes online. This would put them down in the $2.00/gal range ($2.50/gal, now.) Poet is THE quality company in this space, and I'd be loathe not to take their comments seriously.


You'll like this. Poet has a new zero-discharge ethanol process installed at their Bingham Lake plant which reduces water usage 25% to 2.6 gallons of water per gallon of ethanol down from 3.4.


There are a lot of misconceptions about water. Only about 4% of the ethanol produced comes from irrigated corn. Of that 4%, the overwhellming majority is from shallow irrigation wells (ie. not from the deep reservoirs like Ogallala.) Also, an acre of corn transpires and enormous amount of water back into the atmosphere (about 4,000 gal/day, iirc.)

The ethanol industry is, actually, making significant strides on water issues. Much more so, I think, than virtually any other energy industry.

Gail -- how will we deal with this situation? Do we have a road map to guide us so that we can get from here to there?

I think that it is crucial to look at human nature as the larger context for these questions.

First, we do not agree on who we are, where we are, who we want to be, or where we want to be.

Second, we humans ware already dealing with the situation in two ways that fit with how we have behaved in the past.

We are squandering resources when we are able to do so. The developed world is spoiling itself to death, mistaking our fragile, brittle, and complex infrastructures with enduring habitat. Ecocide becomes mass suicide.

Just as importantly, we are dealing with "getting from here to there" by killing off people and other living creatures who do not matter to us in order to have more for ourselves.

In these ways we are making the world into a living Hell. The world is getting more violent -- not less violent. Even as the Obama administration continues, we will sell more arms, not less. We will kill, imprison, and torture more people, not less. We will shred more of our habitat each day, not less.

The EPA is one of the institutions that helps people keep up the illusion that we are actually in control and that the course of the human species on the planet is governable and capable of being organized and ordered in some sort of just and sustainable way.

We tell ourselves these lies to keep the fear and rage from flooding our minds -- and our collective media-minds -- to the point that we can no longer function for this day, this month, this business quarter, this year.

Actually, our species is not on some sort of manageable, governable trajectory toward sustainable existence on this planet or traversing the stars a la Star Trek.

We are already "Lost In Space" and we have not really left the planet. OK, a couple of folks have made little journeys into orbit around the planet. A moon trip and a tiny space station do not give us "Full Spectrum Dominance" in the solar system, let alone sustainability off-planet.

I am amazed at how many people believe that we are capable of doing anything other than running riot over the planet.

Even so, I keep plugging away at becoming more sustainable, even as I watch the Tower of Babel being built on a fault-line, designed and built to destroy the very ground upon which it stands.

I do wonder who will survive the next twenty years, if anyone.

People around me talk as though the EPA, Social Security, Wall Street, and other institutions will be restored so that life will go on for us. I am thinking that the odds for the survival of even one billion people over the next thirty years are very poor.

The road map is very clear. My guess is that Obama is the Face of Friendly Fascism as we design even more effective ways to kill and enslave people -- the same old road map being followed by leadership all over the planet.

I think the current news is a good start. Behavior will take time to change. If you ask Americans to list what is important issues, most would have very little clue. It's them that we need to change in order to make a dent in whatever environmental and energy goals we need. We all have relatives and friends -- and yet -- it's still hard to convince them what are the crisis we are facing in the next 5-10 years. I was talking to a group of friends -- we were talking about housing crisis and most thought now is the time to buy and expected the US economy to bounce back and to keep going up and up. I was trying to tell them about the energy problem but I am telling you it's not really effective. Most have no concern -- the most concern they have is all the jobs going to China.

In the US at least, the environmental concern will be a bit less urgent than the energy crisis. I know Katrina can put that to test real quick but an energy crisis would affect the whole country way a lot more. So Obama must rank different crisis and attack them: economy, health, energy, environmental. During Bush time, all of these problem got pushed away or not addressed seriously. We think we can make up lost time in 100 days -- we wont. It is not like I put a lot of faith in Obama to solve everything -- but whatever he can do, he need to put some thinking and responsibility back to Americans; he needs a lot of help. There are many things will be tried -- and some of them will fail and lessons will be learned.
This country is a capitalist system and we saw how "inefficiently" it has been going in the last 20-30 years. We might want a different system where resource is needed to be allocated in order for us to adjust to 2050. Instead of keeping a system where "growth" is rewarded, a new system where efficiency and sustainability is the buzz words.

What I am saying is the US is not ready yet -- how and when to say it in a way that people will GET it. I am expecting a few shocks before it starts to sink in.

Even with another Katrina-like event in the US I think most of the predicted delaying tactics will eventuate. Australia's cap and trade scheme is not supposed to start until July 1st 2010 but conservatives have worked themselves into a lather. They predict the end of civilization no less. Freebies are being handed out every month as the countdown draws near; funding for 20 carbon capture projects being the latest. A Senate inquiry is listening to all kinds of submissions on the scheme ranging from fine tuning to total abandonment.

Therefore I doubt that administrative action will really make much difference. Politicians are too timid to pass tough laws. I think there will be emissions cuts anyway due to the economic slowdown but not as much as James Hansen et al would want. However those unforced cuts could still be higher than what governments would impose under a barrage of lobbying.

Thus I see three scenarios for emissions cuts;
high - what climatologists want
low - what is politically doable
intermediate - what will happen anyway.

Solar thermal plants have only been expensive, basically hand built protoypes to date. Crank these up to mass production and you would expect manufacturing and construction costs to fall markedly.

Lets face it they are pretty basic in technology and as for construction, though you need some pretty fine tolerances and positioning, doesn't fall into the sort of complexity and difficulty as seen with some other alternatives (pretty minimal in concrete, steel, etc, requirements as well). The EROEI calculations would be interesting.

They also seem, on the face of it at least, to offer reasonable scalability (though I'd been interested in analysis from any others about this), offering greater flexibility in placement, regional power delivery ,etc.

How does one deal with this situation?

Both the utopian and the doomerian positions are theoretical possibilities with low probability, so both can be dismissed out of hand. It would be a wonderful miracle to find an unlimited source of energy; it would also be a miracle, but this time not so wonderful, to have a complete collapse.

So, we're somewhere in between, trying to muddle through. You seem to want some major, Herculean, project to deal with disadvantageous climate change (DCC), but that, too, is a theoretical possibility with no clear and definable danger--except somewhere in the future, near or far. DCC is not a clear and present danger for most people. Major projects are not undertaken without the stimulus of some catalyst--some direct event that "forces" people into action, and without some "leader" who makes the call to action. Witness Roosevelt and the Declaration of War after Pearl Harbor, even though carnage was being wrought for years before that.

So, unless and until we have a clear and present danger--like an immediate rise of sea levels, or dangerous famines (which may be closer than most think)--the best we can hope for are "democratic" decisions, in other words BAU, foot dragging, and modest actions.

One deals with the situation by trying to be prepared--conceptually--for whatever comes along. This country will probably keep muddling along with economic and environmental policies of modest aims and results and experience a slow but steady decline--unless, of course, some miracle event occurs. Given the extensive resources this country has--a lot of it in landfills--and its enormous capacity for self-deception, I'd guess that we could see a good ten to twenty years of decline before the country suffers real pain--and still no great action will be performed barring those miracle events.

Give a man a half bottle of Brandy and Benedictine and tell him it's all he will ever have again, and what does he do? Nurse it along for as long as possible, or down it, chuck the bottle and search for some alternative--or just do without?

We're not going to conserve; that's futile. Carbon trading is just another bubble and scam. Electric cars may do for the next 20 years, but what then?

I see a fundamental problem with the civilizational collapse model where long range trade stops: At far lower levels of per capita energy usage in the late 18th century we had continental trade, continental railroads, and big steel mills and other industries producing complex manufactured goods.

Seems to me the proponents of how Peak Oil will cause collapse need to reconcile their thinking with late 19th century America's economy. How far down is our per capita energy usage going to go? How will that level compare to our energy usage in, say, the 1890s? We ran rail with coal. We'll still have enough coal to do that.

Why does specialization of labor collapse so far that highly refined parts cease to be manufacturable? I don't see it. I feel a convincing case on this has not been made.

At the end of the 18th Century the world population was 970 million. At the end of the 19th Century the world population was 1.6 billion. At the end of the 20th Century the world population was 6 billion, and in 2009 it is currently 6.77 billion
Maybe we had far lower levels of per capita energy usage in the late 18th and 19th century, but we had a lot more space! A lot more hectares per person to provide all our inputs.

People are going to starve. That's why some Peak Oil people predict collapse.

People are going to starve. That's why some Peak Oil people predict collapse.

A sufficiently distressed economy will result in starving people but will the starving people be relevant for the non starving? Extreme powerty in manny african nations has been irrelevant for most of the industrially advanced economies even if people with a good heart want to do something about it.

It could even be the other way around, that the demand destruction in starving societies make resources available for well run economies.

Agreed about the importance of total population size. But the misery will not be evenly spread post-peak just like it is not evenly spread today. Sitting here in the West Coast of the United States I'm working out what happens in the US. I don't see the collapse hitting here because I do not expect more than at most a halving of available energy in the US.

Cutting our per capita energy down to a half or even a quarter the current rate of consumption is not enough to stop the trains running or the farm tractors running. It'll shrink more people into existing dwellings in cities and leave some outer suburbs as ghost towns. It'll cause houses to get hotter in the summer and colder in the winter. But life still goes on.

Now, what happens in Nairobi or Lagos is ugly. But those of us in Western countries aren't going to experience civilizational collapse.

I don't buy the assertion (it isn't even an argument) that we won't have people in the US making parts for wind towers or locomotives. The amount of energy we need to keep the key mechanical and electrical pieces working is a small fraction of what we use today. The amount we need for agriculture is also a small fraction of what we use today.

One needs to conjure up financial collapse as the catalyst and cause for physical civilizational collapse. The physical constraints aren't big enough to cause civilizational collapse. But financial collapse can be done quickly with enough bankruptcy courts. It is just a lot of debts going bad. Fast financial liquidation can set the stage for a quick restart of a complex economy with a high degree of specialization of labor.

How can you be so sure that there won't be people starving in the US, and other Western countries? Already there are many living in 'food deserts', miles from the nearest fresh food, only accessible by car. Even if the richest people in these countries will still have the power to get the best food, the national system could still come under a lot of pressure - starving people get desperate, and while they still have the physical strength to do something, they will... Starving people also don't think very rationally. I'm sure we've all had the experience of not eating enough for a day, and becoming irritable and unable to think clearly.

Global food stores are very low. Natural fertility in the soils is very low. There is very little available arable land left that is not already being worked. Inputs, especially phosphate, are becoming more scarce, and increasing in price. Water is becoming an issue, especially in the US and Australia. The supply networks are likely to break down or become unreliable. And the knowledge of productive small scale organic farming has disappeared from the general populace, and will need to be relearnt, with many mistakes along the way to be expected.

I hope I am wrong, but I suspect the Western countries will be feeling the food pinch. Maybe not as many of us will die as in the 3rd World countries, but there will be enough instability to put a serious spanner in the works - maybe a big enough spanner to collapse the current system.

Already there are many living in 'food deserts', miles from the nearest fresh food, only accessible by car.

So instead of driving every day or two to get food, they drive every week or two, buy fewer perishable foods, and carpool with the neighbours. 10x reduction in fuel usage with nothing more than a change in behaviour.

If you're going to argue that people won't be able to make once-a-fortnight trips for groceries, you're going to need to explain why. I have yet to see a plausible explanation for how we get from where we are now to collapse and mass starvation in Western nations.

(I'm not saying it's not possible, just that a great many people seem a lot more interested in wallowing in their apocalyptic fantasies than in critically examining the assumptions that underlie them.)

Inputs, especially phosphate, are becoming more scarce, and increasing in price.

Fertilizer prices are decreasing after their recent spike, much like the prices of most other commodities.

The supply networks are likely to break down or become unreliable.

Why? This is a huge assumption.

And the knowledge of productive small scale organic farming has disappeared from the general populace, and will need to be relearnt

Why? If an input such as phosphate becomes a problem, why do you assume that small-scale farms will be better suited to tackling that problem than large-scale farms with access to the best information and trained professionals?

Organic farms need not be small; indeed, extensive study (e.g., Rodale) is being done to determine how best to combine organic and commercial agriculture.

What Pitt The Elder said.

Suppose you live too far from food. Easy solution: move closer to it. Or do as Pitt suggests: travel for food less often and buy much more per trip.

The biggest problem is production, not distribution. If we have enough resources to grow the food then we won't starve. Energy production isn't going to fall far enough to prevent food production in Western countries.

Mineral shortages: There are ways to deal with them. They are less convenient. But we don't have to starve.

Less developed countries face bigger problems.

I appreciate you challenging me on these issues, and will provide you with some evidence for my statements. The Oil Drum is a great training ground for discussion and sharing ideas, and as I am wishing to learn how to discuss these issues amongst the general publc as well as TODers, I happily accept the challenge.

Will get back to you soon gentlemen (Sorry for my assumption, please tell me if I assume wrong!).

The first 50-60% reduction in Carbon (equivalent) emissions are cost neutral w/o even looking at the externalized costs of GCC, so odds are when looking at the overall costs, including the externalized ones, GHG emissions will be cost neutral or cost negative. Granted, this is for society as a whole. It will certainly be cost positive for the FF industry.

We don't know for sure yet, but the impression one has is that the intent is to try to maintain business as usual, through more investment in technologies which will allow automobiles to have higher mileage and utilities to emit more CO2.

Allowing utilities to emit more is the opposite of what the legislation you're referring to would do, so I don't think that's a very big concern.

Over the next fifty years, the amount of resources we will have available for investment is going to be headed down rather than up.

That depends on the resource you're referring to. Will chemical energy resources decline? Probably. Will that prove unbearably restrictive given the majority of use compared to alternatives? Probably not. We'll probably see less sprawl, and less inefficient use oil, but that's a far cry from going back to farm animals as beasts of burden on a large scale.

As for government attempts to cut CO2 emissions and Peak Oil: There's an obvious overlap between efforts to cut CO2 emissions and efforts to get us off of oil before oil production starts declining due to declining reserves. Efforts to increase energy efficiency will make it easier for us to get by with declining amounts of oil for example.

However, there are also importance differences in optima strategies for cutting CO2 emissions versus preparing for Peak Oil. A general attempt to cut back on fossil fuels usage will overemphasize cutting non-oil fossil fuels whereas the reduction we most need to prepare for is a reduction in oil usage.

An emphasis on cutting oil first would:

- replace oil for space heating. shift to heat pumps.
- electrify rail.
- develop tech and infrastructure for electric cars.

Its even more important to reduce natural gas use in regions that are depleting since it is much harder to ship natural gas then it is to ship oil.

I think it would be good idea to add district heating and cooling that utilizes industrial waste heat or combined heat and power production from biomass or garbage to your short list.

I am also sure it is a good idea to electrifie industrial processes that use gas or oil for simple heating.

One of the things I am curios about is if the comming decades of steady "overcapacity" in electricity production in Sweden and probably also Norway and perhaps also Finland will attract establishment of electricity intensive industrial processes. This ought to happen but you newer now how the future will play out.

Re electricity, Scandinavia and North America are in relatively good shape, as you state. IMO India is going to be in big trouble down the road.

Natural gas: Its peak will come much later. Oil's decline will hit us sooner. Also, natural gas can be shipped. It is just expensive to do it.

Countries that rely heavily on natural gas for heating probably ought to shift to ground sink heat pumps run by electric power. But that seems like a less important consideration than the impact on transportation when oil supplies start declining 4+% per year.

Overcapacity in electricity production: I expect it will disappear when people shift from oil to electric power. Electric cars will be a growth area. Ditto electric trains, electric buses, electricity to run ground sink heat pumps, and for other uses as well.

In the US we might see electricity getting used to run farm tractors. Picture cables stretched out across farm fields to supply constant power to tractors doing planting and harvesting.

We ought to start building nukes so as to preserve natural gas and coal for purposes other than electric power generation. But, again, liquid fuel's going to be our first shortage.

where we need to be headed for true sustainability.

Gail, you seem to have a model in your head for where we need to be headed for true sustainability (and what that means). Please share that with us, or we have no basis for understanding your arguments.

In addition, what are your plans to achieve true sustainability and how are you progressing on them?

My own plans have been to reduce energy consumption dramatically, grow most of my own food supply, and consume less material items overall.

Our house is passive solar (woodstove backup) with solar PV, which greatly reduces our building energy consumption. I telecommute and carpool (with a 2000 Honda Insight), which greatly reduces my transportation energy consumption. We have a 20'x80' garden and have replaced our standard landscaping with 60 fruit and nut trees/shrubs, which help to localize our food consumption. This is not a brag, but a communication of what we believe are steps in the direction of greater sustainability and a means to show others that people really are doing this.

Communities need to avoid the worst of Peak Oil by transitioning to a relocalization of goods and services. A number of communities are actually doing this now, referred to as Transition Towns. Read how they are accomplishing this;

Read this short list of current Transition Towns.

One way to prepare for Peak Oil: Make use of all fossil fuels more expensive. This approach appeals to people whose only concern is global warming.

Political problem: People hate high prices.

Possible political solution: hide the fossil fuel price increases in regulations that make the fossil fuels cost more for industry to use. This hides from most of the public what is going on. The state of California is pursuing this approach. Not sure it will work since political opposition will build as some of the prices become visible to the public.

If we indirectly make fossil fuels more expensive I expect more of the cost to fall on coal and therefore on electric prices. That would tend to shift some demand toward oil.

Fourth generation biofuels: they'll work some day. But that day is too late if Peak Oil has already happened.

The whole world needs to undergo an energy audit. Even something as crude as http://www.withouthotair.com/ would be a start, as the numbers would at least be within an order of magnitude of reality. Nations or higher levels of organisation should adopt energy budgets.

EROEI seems to me to be a very important concept, as is the concept of net energy. International standards for measuring EROEI need to be defined and adopted.

I'd like to see tables of, say, energy required to make a tonne of steel from iron ore versus a ton of steel made from scrap.

The underlying economic assumptions of infinite resource inputs and infinite waste sinks must be abolished. Humanity operate at such a scale now that nothing can be taken as "effectively" infinite, even when it is plentiful.

"Sustainable" anything is literally unattainable. Dump the concept. Get over it. "Renewable" is a better idea. Some proportion of revenue from expoiting any resource should be diverted towards investment in its replacement. Exploitation rates should be set according to audited estimates on the amount of expoitable reserves still remaining. Imagine if The Middle East couldn't sell energy unless its URR estimates were regularly audited.

Marry models of climate change to energy production and generation models.

Starvation, or at least malnutrition is very possible. We take this age of plenty for granted but in the 20's and 30's malnutrician was endemic in the UK. Rickets was common, heights (one of the best indicators) low. Plus all the infant mortality, other shortage indicators, etc (some people have thoerised that without fish and chips scurvy would have been endemic then).

And this was in a country, which at that time, was the centre of the World's greatest empire.

Lord Boyd Orr did a famous study showing the deprevation being experienced by large part of the population, not changed until scientific rationing was introdued in WW2.

So malnutrition in the US? Yes. It already exists now and will grow, firstly due to the GFC and as food prices grow due to input resources limits (e.g. phosperous, then later oil and others) plus rising population.

Plus there is the issue of nutrients and calories. Pople may be able to get calories, for a fair amount of time into the future in the US, but will they be able to get the nutrients needed? Some people are probably marginal already.

All this can be reduced by careful planning and, if necessary rationing. But there are no signs of that as yet. Note the British elite only worried about nutrition for the 'lower classes' when it became obvious that the healthier, fitter German soldiers were so superior physically. Then they later worried about potentially healthier fitter Russian ones .... later after the need for mass conscription disappeared they lost interest.