Drumbeat: April 19, 2009

Life in a hot, hungry world

A billion starving people, high food prices and low stocks, widespread droughts and floods, wars over basic resources, a doubling in the numbers of refugees: world food security is no longer what it was during most of our lifetimes.

But the instability we see today is but a foreshadowing of the famines and conflicts to come, unless we take some urgently-needed and comprehensive measures to prevent them.

The reason is that there are powerful forces driving the instability which are not easily remedied, and each of these plays into the others in unpredictable ways.

Funds try to spot the great oil rebound

Oil is too cheap. At around $50 a barrel, it is trading far below the production costs of almost all new sources of crude and energy substitutes.

Oil boom helps UAE become second largest Arab economy

Heavy investments boosted the UAE economy by at least 20 per cent in current prices during the oil boom of the past eight years to catapult the country to the second largest Arab economy after Saudi Arabia, official figures have shown.

Cumulative public and private investment climbed a staggering Dh900.6 billion during 2001-08, more than double their size in the previous eight years, showed the figures by the Ministry of Economy.

Why Refinery Closings Can Make Oil ETFs Attractive

U.S. oil refineries are suffering from the simple outcome of supply versus demand, and numbers indicate that certain refineries will be forced to shut down soon, possibly leading to the streamlining of related ETFs.

Natural Happiness

There is a considerable mismatch between the world in which our minds evolved and our current existence. Our species has spent almost all of its existence on the African savanna. While there is debate over the details, we know for sure that our minds were not adapted to cope with a world of billions of people. The life of a modern city dweller, surrounded by strangers, is an evolutionary novelty. Thousands of years ago, there was no television or Internet, no McDonald’s, birth-control pills, Viagra, plastic surgery, alarm clocks, artificial lighting or paternity tests. Instead, there was plenty of nature. We lived surrounded by trees and water and animals and sky.

This history has left its mark on our minds. Children are irrepressible taxonomizers, placing the world of distinct individuals into categories based on their appearance, their patterns of movement and their presumed deeper natures, and some psychologists have argued that the hard-wired capacity to organize and structure the world is specially adapted to nature: we are natural-born zoologists and botanists. We may also have evolved to get pleasure from certain aspects of the natural world. About 25 years ago, the Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson popularized the “biophilia” hypothesis: the idea that our evolutionary history has blessed us with an innate affinity for living things. We thrive in the presence of nature and suffer in its absence.

Urban sprawl is killing us, but there's another way

AS THE days grow cooler, many of us are breathing a sigh of relief that the past summer has finally come to an end. As well as the unprecedented and tragic bushfire season, severe summer conditions induced a string of urban disasters that, due to poor planning, were waiting to happen: public transport failures, traffic nightmares and water shortages.

In response, the State Government is proposing quick fixes that involve new roads, longer freeways, rail tunnels and a desalination plant, solutions that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Yet in the face of unbounded urban sprawl, such answers are short-term and ultimately unsustainable. If the urban juggernaut of Melbourne continues to roll, expanding at its current rate of 1.65 per cent (or 63,000 people) per year, further road and public transport overhauls, as well as additional desalination plants, are likely to be on the agenda within another 15 years.

Not so high and mighty

FBR Capital Markets noted in a recent report that oil-dependent governments will be strapped for cash and could have to cut oil field spending to fund other social programs.

So the publicly traded international oil companies, or IOCs, with their bountiful cash and technical expertise, may not seem as expendable anymore.

Carolyn Baker: Economic Recovery? No Thank You

What if it's true; what if this isn't, as Richard Heinberg says, "a recession that never ends"? Do I enjoy seeing throngs of homeless people gather in tent cities, live out of their cars, or simply roam the streets and back alleys of America in search of whatever crumbs of sustenance they can obtain? Do I take some sick pleasure in skyrocketing unemployment rates or burgeoning bankruptcy filings? What if, once again, empire triumphs over adversity and reclaims the level of prosperity its citizens enjoyed in the nineties? What if the likes of Nouriel Roubini, Gerald Celente, and Peter Schiff are proven to be paranoid nut jobs who really need to be on antidepressants? How much egg will I end up having on my face, and will that actually confirm that Peak Oil and climate change are bogus theories that have nothing to do with economic well being?

A Presidential Energy Policy: Twenty-five Points Addressing the Siamese Twins of Energy and Money

A world-recognized expert who saw today’s crisis coming and started warning in amazingly precise detail in 2000 now gives us the biggest exposé of all time. Refined in chilling detail in “Prezpol”, the “map” Ruppert has been making for thirty years has already saved thousands of families from the current economic meltdown. Mike’s writings, lectures and DVDs have reached people in more than forty countries since 1998.

This book was written to help the American people… and people in all countries. It was written to help an American president realistically and effectively prepare for what is already underway… the collapse of industrial civilization. There are many things that can still be done to prevent a massive die off that is just beginning and which might number in the billions. This book spells them out clearly.

Ugly numbers expected from Canada's oil patch

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - It won't be pretty when Canada's biggest energy companies unveil what are bound to be their weakest quarterly results in years.

Low prices are almost certain to have slashed profits for oil and gas producers, who begin their first-quarter earning season in earnest this week.

Opec sees contango easing as crude stockpiles decline

Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (Opec) sees a depressive contango (future price exceeding current price) that had built up in first two months of 2009, easing in March.

The impact of the development was evident on freight rates of very large crude carriers (VLCCs) and smaller crude carriers, Opec said. Analysts say the contango particularly eased towards the last quarter of March.

U.S. warm to Venezuelan overture to return ambassadors

(CNN) -- Venezuela President Hugo Chavez is considering naming an ambassador to the United States, signaling a shift in the historically tense relations between the two nations -- one that the Obama administration welcomed.

Fortune 500: Exxon Mobil back on top

The oil giant retakes the No. 1 slot, as U.S.'s largest firms suffer their worst slump ever.

The Ethicist: The Heat Is On

I’m the proud owner of a new, highly efficient, green condominium. However, this winter I noticed something strange. If I turn off my furnace, my apartment stays warm even in subzero temperatures because of ambient heat coming through the walls and ceiling of my neighbors. Is it ethical to keep the furnace off? It seems a little like stealing to me.

Wind Power Drives Need For Grid Changes

If the North American electric supply is going to operate reliably after adding a lot of wind turbines, big changes will be needed to accommodate their quick increases and decreases in power, according to a task force report on integrating “variable generation,” set up by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a regulatory body.

There is not much choice but to change, said Richard P. Sergel, the president and chief executive of the organization. “The need to integrate these resources is no longer a question. It’s a priority,” he said in a briefing with reporters.

Environmental benefits of electric cars dismissed as 'fiction'

The amount of energy used by coal fired power stations to create the electricity to recharge electric vehicles makes them half as efficient as diesel cars, according to the research.

Britain's carbon emissions could even go up if there is a sudden surge in demand for electric cars, the new research warned.

Lack of permanent Arctic ice surprises explorers

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The head of a British team walking to the North Pole on a mission to gauge how fast Arctic ice sheets are melting said on Friday he was surprised by how little permanent ice he had found so far.

Pen Hadow and two other adventurers set off in early March on a 1,000-km (620-mile) trek from Canada's Arctic to the North Pole. The team was set down in an area where scientists had been sure there would be permanent multiyear ice.

But so far, the average depth of the ice has been just under 1.8 meters (6 feet), suggesting they are finding predominantly new first-year ice that is likely to melt in summer months.

Waterman finds Chesapeake Bay 'dying daily'

"Too much phosphorous, too much fertilizer, too much untreated waste," Pierce says.

Where does it come from?

"We the people that live in the Chesapeake watershed mainly. We the people," he says.

Recession slowing water investment to a drip

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Water scarcity means big growth for companies that purify, transport, and distribute the world's most essential resource, but a global recession that has halted new projects and put off price hikes means water investors will have to wait for the boom years.

Why we forgot how to grow food: As a food shortage looms, people are digging for Britain — and their dinner table

About 40% of the food we eat is imported. That includes an astounding 95% of our fruit and most of the wheat in our bread. This reliance on goods from abroad is perilous. During the 2000 fuel strike, Sainsbury’s chief executive wrote to the prime minister to warn that food supplies would run out “in days rather than weeks”. Supermarkets rationed bread, sugar and milk. The situation is now arguably worse: world food reserves are at historically low levels, and last year several countries stopped exporting staples because their own populations were going hungry.

If the problems were only temporary, it would be bad enough. But they’re not. We have become dependent on fossil fuels that are starting to run out. Taking account of all the oil- and gas-derived fertilisers, pesticides, distribution and retail practices, our modern farming uses an incredibly wasteful 10 calories of energy to put a single calorie of food on your plate.

Thomas Homer-Dixon: A doomsayer, and a father, with a heart of faint hope

His latest book, which consists of six essays by other writers sandwiched between an introduction and conclusion by Homer-Dixon and Garrison, highlights the two freight trains headed toward our species. The first is climate change. The other is fossil-fuel depletion. The conclusions are more downbeat than anything Homer Dixon has written before, ending with a vision of future generations looking back at us with scorn.

Manitoba labelled an energy winner

SOME regions will lose out in the energy shift sparked by diminishing oil reserves and the threat of climate change, but hydro-rich Manitoba likely isn't one of them.

That's the verdict from Toronto environmental author Thomas Homer-Dixon, scheduled to speak in Winnipeg tonight in support of his latest book, Carbon Shift.

"There are going to be winners and losers in this changing world, and Manitoba is probably going to be well-situated," he said.

The End Is Near! (Yay!)

Transition’s approach is adamantly different from that of the survivalists I heard about, scattered in the mountains around Sandpoint in bunkers stocked with gold and guns. The movement may begin from a similarly dystopian idea: that cheap oil has recklessly vaulted humanity to a peak of production and consumption, and no combination of alternative technologies can generate enough energy, or be installed fast enough, to keep us at that height before the oil is gone. (Transition dismisses Al Gore types as “techno-optimists.”) But Transition then takes an almost utopian turn. Hopkins insists that if an entire community faces this stark challenge together, it might be able to design an “elegant descent” from that peak. We can consciously plot a path into a lower-energy life — a life of walkable villages, local food and artisans and greater intimacy with the natural world — which, on balance, could actually be richer and more enjoyable than what we have now. Transition, Hopkins has written, meets our era’s threats with a spirit of “elation, rather than the guilt, anger and horror” behind most environmental activism. “Change is inevitable,” he told me, “but this is a change that could be fantastic.”

Algeria oil minister favours new OPEC cuts-paper

ALGIERS (Reuters) - OPEC will be taking a big risk if it does not make a further adjustment to oil supply, a newspaper quoted Algerian Energy and Mines Minister Chakib Khelil as saying on Sunday.

"In my opinion we are taking a big risk if we do not re-adjust supply. It would be better, given the circumstances, not to take such risks," Algeria's Liberte newspaper quoted Khelil as saying.

China CNOOC: No plan to buy oil firms during crisis

BOAO (Reuters) - China's offshore oil specialist CNOOC has no plan to buy oil firms abroad during the global financial crisis, and will look instead for foreign partners to make joint investments, chairman Fu Chengyu said on Sunday. Awash with capital and facing strong domestic demand for fuel, Chinese energy firms have been encouraged by Beijing to take advantage of the financial crisis to make overseas acquisitions.

Oil profits could be lowest in a decade

HOUSTON — The nation's biggest oil companies certainly won't need a bailout from the federal government, but they won't have to defend staggering profits anytime soon either.

When oil producers, service companies and other oil-sector outfits begin reporting first-quarter earnings this week, the results are expected to be the lowest in several years, a decade perhaps.

Gas Powers Dramatic Qatar Economic Growth -National Bank Of Kuwait

KUWAIT CITY (AFP)--Qatar's economy made massive strides in 2008 as gas production enabled the tiny Gulf state to mitigate the impact of the global meltdown, a Kuwaiti bank said on Sunday.

National Bank of Kuwait (NBK.KW) said gross domestic product in Qatar - which has the third largest gas reserves on the planet - is estimated to have grown 18% in real terms last year, "an extremely fast pace by any standard."

Hyperion: Weak Oil Prices Won’t Slow Project

ELK POINT — An executive proposing a $10 billion oil refinery for southeastern South Dakota says the project continues to move forward despite an economic downturn that has zapped crude oil prices and tightened credit markets.

The refinery would process 400,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands crude oil into low-sulphur gasoline and diesel. It would be the first new refinery built in the U.S. since 1976.

NATO forces foil attack on Norwegian tanker

ON BOARD NRB CORTE-REAL (Reuters) - NATO forces foiled an attack by Somali pirates on a Norwegian oil tanker, and briefly detained seven gunmen after hunting them down under cover of darkness, NATO officials said Sunday.

It was the latest assault by sea gangs from Somalia who have hijacked dozens of ships, taken hundreds of sailors hostage and made tens of millions of dollars in ransoms -- defying an unprecedented deployment by foreign navies in the region.

Batteries Not Included

Shai Agassi stood in a warehouse on the outskirts of Tel Aviv one afternoon last month and watched his battery-swapping robot go to work. He was conducting a demonstration of the curious machine that is central to his two-year-old clean-energy company, which is called Better Place. Agassi’s grand plan is to kick-start the global adoption of electric cars by minimizing one of the biggest frustrations with the technology: the need for slow and frequent recharges. The robot is the key to his solution. Unlike most electric-car technologies, which generally require you to plug your car into a power source and recharge an onboard battery for hours, the Better Place robot is designed to reach under the chassis of an electric car, pluck its battery out and replace it with a new one, much the same way you’d put new batteries in a child’s toy.

Desert clash in West over solar power, water

OAKLAND, Calif. - A westward dash to power electricity-hungry cities by cashing in on the desert's most abundant resource — sunshine — is clashing with efforts to protect the tiny pupfish and desert tortoise and stinginess over the region's rarest resource: water.

Patterns: Living Near a Highway Linked to Arthritis

The risk for rheumatoid arthritis is not large — about 1 percent of the population is affected — but a new study suggests a surprising factor that seems to increase that risk: living near a highway.

Environmental pollutants, including cigarette smoke, have been shown to raise the risk, and this suggests that other factors that increase inflammation, like car and truck exhaust, may also be associated with the disease.

Vegetable oil carries RV down the road

By Winston's estimate, there are fewer than 10,000 vehicles on the road that have undergone these diesel conversions. Now, he sells and installs his own kits -- and he's the only person in the Washington, D.C., area to offer the service.

Though his side business, named "Feed My Wheels dot com," has only converted a handful of vehicles, he recently took on his largest project by far -- a 1983 Itasca RV.

Why Isn’t the Brain Green?

Over the past few decades a great deal of research has addressed how we make decisions in financial settings or when confronted with choices having to do with health care and consumer products. A few years ago, a Columbia psychology professor named David H. Krantz teamed up with Elke Weber — who holds a chair at Columbia’s business school as well as an appointment in the school’s psychology department — to assemble an interdisciplinary group of economists, psychologists and anthropologists from around the world who would examine decision-making related to environmental issues. Aided by a $6 million grant from the National Science Foundation, CRED has the primary objective of studying how perceptions of risk and uncertainty shape our responses to climate change and other weather phenomena like hurricanes and droughts. The goal, in other words, isn’t so much to explore theories about how people relate to nature, which has been a longtime pursuit of some environmental psychologists and even academics like the Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson. Rather, it is to finance laboratory and field experiments in North America, South America, Europe and Africa and then place the findings within an environmental context.

The Science Guy - Questions for Steven Chu

What can the government do to provide incentives for innovation in clean energy?
In the case of a more mature technology like wind, what the government can best do is provide some stability so the companies can make long-term investments that will develop the wind industry and the wind turbines. That is what happened in Europe.

What do you mean by stability?
For instance, in wind, there would be production tax credits. What we want is stability, so the investors know that the investment tax credit can be in place for a decade instead of two years.

Economic growth was built on Credit pyramid scheme

Satyajit Das, the Australia-based author of Traders, Guns & Money: Knowns and Unknowns in the Dazzling World of Derivatives, who has warned about the dangers of credit derivatives, says the recovery will be muted.

Das argues the years of economic growth that preceded this recession were essentially a Ponzi scheme built on a foundation of excessive debt and a failure to properly cost carbon emissions.

California Seeks to Curb Appetite of Power-Hungry TVs

SAN FRANCISCO — Estimating that televisions and their electronic accessories account for 10 percent of the electricity used in an average household, California’s energy wardens want to put new flat-panel models on a diet.

Slump Tilts Priorities of Industry in China

In the rush to invest $585 billion in stimulus spending and revive flagging industrial production, China has at least temporarily backpedaled on some environmental restraints imposed, though with limited impact, during the country’s long boom.

The Ministry of Environmental Protection, citing the urgency of fighting the downturn, adopted a new “green passage” policy that speeds approval of industrial projects. In one three-day stretch late last year, it gave the green light to 93 new investment plans valued at $38 billion.

Lawmakers forge alternative to cap-and-trade proposal

WASHINGTON — A growing number of lawmakers who are deeply involved in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases and global warming are beginning to question "cap-and-trade," the current hot-button solution to the problem.

US energy secretary: Islands could disappear

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu is warning that if countries don't do something about climate change, "some island states will simply disappear."

The energy secretary is traveling with President Barack Obama to the two-island nation of Trinidad and Tobago for a summit of the Western Hemisphere's democracies. Chu told reporters at the Summit of the Americas on Saturday that Obama pushed leaders to work to stem rising temperatures.

The Great Green Con: Labour's climate measures mainly hot air

Britain's economic stimulus measures, promoted by Gordon Brown as part of a "global green new deal", will accelerate global warming instead of curbing it, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday has established.

Post-Peak Fashions


Jesus said that the poor shall always be with us. The corollary to that is that the rich, and conspicuous consumption, will be too.


PS: This is *NOT* a link to The Onion, but the New York Times

I could spend $100 at Old Navy or Goodwill and come out looking better than any of the clownsuits shown in that article.

tell me about it. I look at those outfits and wonder what a$$hat would be caught dead wearing them.

All this dress-up is to avoid being called a "Fred".

Read the Wikipedia entry on Fred http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fred_(bicycling)

"Fred" is a derisive term used by road cyclists to describe other cyclists, usually male, that does not conform to "serious" road cyclists norms and conventions with regard to dress and equipment, and appear amateurish to them. The rare female Fred is a "Doris."

This style of fashion in the NYT supposedly will elevate the rider above the elite, as well as preventing the Fred tag.


An interesting corollary for this type of Fred is that if someone is worried about being a Fred, he probably is one.

Whoever goes according to any expected norm is kind of a cog in my opinion. Every sport or hobby seems to have these expected dress code. The favorite one is cross-country skiers wearing knickers that end right below the knee. Which means you need heavier long socks or put on gaiters to keep your shins from freezing off. But gaiters are like upside-down pants. I say use whatever feels comfortable and conveniently isolates you from the elements.

People have a deep-seated need to be acceptable to the group they want to associate with.

I know i look like a fred when i ride my motorbike with the protection i wear.(helmet, riding jacket with built in armor, motorcross knee and shin guards so i am not limited to one pair of riding pants) Though i just don't care, looking silly is a small price to pay compared to crashing without protection.

No doubt they would drive up in their Land Rover to the parking garage and pop the ole bike out. I suppose the fold up would work in a Bentley sedan trunk too.

Can't sweaty up the expensive clothes - or the muss the mousse.

Very interesting!

Two things I noticed: one, the model's hair is quite long. As my husband is starting to really take notice of the economic situation here in our corner of the world, what is he doing? My husband has stopped cutting his hair and he can tie it up in a pony tail! I looked at that NYT model and thought "ah ha!"

Why do men wear their hair long when the economy gets bad?
No money for a haircut?
A kind of mourning for the old economy?
Want to show they don't care?
Back to the cave kind of thing going on?

Two: the model is wearing mix-and-(don't)-match kind of patterns. Clashing items, etc. Well, the reasons are obvious!
Wear what you have
No job so who cares
Maybe there is a job but no more conferences, symposia, etc. so who cares
Clashing things leave more room for individual expression.

I liked the clothes a lot! I read an article in Newsweek about hos people are buying fewer but more expensive things, things that will last, things that will look good forever.

I myself am just still going to recycle shops. That is where the real bargains are!

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, clearly stated that "The worst is behind us".

More at:


It is interesting to consider how global economic activity and oil prices interplay in prosperity in Dubai.


I've learned not to trust anyone with His Highness for a name.

Or Reverend, etc.

Or president... or senator, or represenative, or mayor.

Took the words right out of my mouth.


"Mistah, what that stove needs is a Governor!"

"You Damn Fool! If you put SOFTWOOD in that stove, not even the President Himself could make it burn safe!"

-from an Old Maine Story

A friend of my parents' says he has come up with a great new way to harness hydro or wind energy. He has registered his patent at http://www.wipo.int/pctdb/en/wo.jsp?WO=2008038055. I am wondering whether anyone can give him feedback concerning the possible merit of this idea and where he should go next with it. He is fairly elderly at this point and legally blind. I would love to help him if his idea makes any sense.

This TOD story might be helpful

Some interesting approaches. But Trying to picture them from just the descriptions makes my head hurt. I would love to see some more pix and animations of these proposals and variations. A picture is worth 1000 words, and an animation is worth several thousand pix.

They don't follow the same approach as the Pelamis, despite some initial similarity. (Where the above comment pointed towards).. but many common issues would certainly come into play.

If he wants to talk to an animator about visualizations, feel free to send along my email addy.. click on my user-name. Maybe I can help with a demo..


The NY Times had an article about how taxation is part of the natural world, and argues that we evolved to tax and be taxed. The article describes a society where there's a 100% inheritance tax: when someone dies, all his cattle and killed and eaten by everyone else.

That is often a feature of proposed "steady-state" economic systems. No inheritance - when someone dies, their money disappears. Both as a way to limit growth, and a way to prevent extreme inequality.

The problem with this is that there are always way too many loop holes - Especially for the well connected.
Example: You just "sell" all of your goods to your "heirs" before you die with time payments. You die and the payments end (big grin)
You can bet that under such a system that I would make sure that all my worldly goods would go to someone other than the greedy SOB in the "Governments" by some means or other.

What I want to see is sales taxes on ALL stock, bond, CD, futures, derivative and other financial transactions! Oh, what am I thinking - Those are necessities of life like food and clothes - Right? Think what a 5% sales tax on just the daily transactions on the NYSE would bring in? Possibility of it happening = 0%

Thats a great way to go though, having a huge feast upon your death in your memory. It also reminds me of how much most of us are social misfits who want the benefits of society while at the same time refusing to pay the costs. How to pay the costs though is entirely up to debate.

The Trains in Spain on the Plains in Texas?

Clayton McCleskey: A lesson from the trains in Spain

Just 17 years ago, Spain didn't have much of a rail system, let alone a high-speed one. Now, trains are all the rage in that country. Why can't the same thing happen in Texas?

Last fall, I warned some of my friends and family that the economy was going bad, in a big way. Lately, several of them have told me that I was right, though they didn't think so at the time.

I'm afraid to tell them that I think it's going to get even worse.

Some signs of the times:

In Grim Job Market, Student Loans Are a Costly Burden

“You often hear the quote that you can’t put a price on ignorance,” said Ezra Kazee, who has $29,000 in student debt and has been unable to find a job since graduating from Winona State University in Minnesota last May. “But with the way higher education is going, ignorance is looking more and more affordable every day.”

Vacation hell - A travel company went bankrupt, and was unable to pay the hotels and resorts the money their customers had given them. So people who had paid for their vacations were held hostage by the hotels. Luggage and passports confiscated, locks on rooms changed, people not allowed to leave until they paid up. Even though they had already paid.

"Conquest never paid us. The result is that consumers have been enjoying vacations at our hotels and resorts – sleeping in our beds, eating our food, drinking our beverages – which were never paid for. We have no recourse but to require payment prior to the traveller's departure."

Conquest has a message on their Web site, blaming "overcapacity and price war among the major tour operators, unrealistic and unreasonable demands by the credit card processing companies, credit squeeze and economic turmoil in recent months making it impossible for companies like Conquest to continue in business even after weathering many storms over the past 37 years."

Meanwhile, in Spain, debt collectors humiliate people into paying up by hiring people to dress up in costumes and follow them around.

It's nice to see that the "massive student loans are not necessarily 'good' debt," meme is starting to get more play. On the other hand, there are probably tens of thousands of people who would be better off if this question had been asked more loudly a decade ago.

The kid in the picture at the beginning of the article could get started paying down his debt by posting one of his LCD monitors and unicycle on Craigslist. There is still some money to get out there, and I've been quite successful on CL the past few months.

Regarding the Spanish debt collectors, I'm going to guess there aren't a lot of firearms on the streets there. I don't think you'd ever see anything like that in say, Houston, TX.

Conquest folding isn't other than a short term problem IF the travellers had used a registered Ontario agency and/or an Ontario registered supplier directly --- there is a regulatory body and a fund (TICO) that covers losses and flys people home. Conquest did not notify TICO quickly enough for TICO to contact all the land suppliers and cut checks thus causing the SHORT term horror. If Conquest had talked to the fund they also pay into by law then this wouldn't have surfaced. Regardless of what Conquest claims they had to know at least two days before pulling the plug. All travellers that did 'due diligence' will receive full compensation for their losses --- the travel agents though won't receive their commissions. Ontario and BC require coverage as do Germany and Great Britain and some other jurisdictions predicated on the past. Cheapest initially doesn't always become least expensive -- note Walmart in a slightly more macro economic setting. You gets what you buys -- might be helpful to examine Faustian *deals* more carefully before signing.

Concerning student loan debt article...more and more young folks graduating high school (from my sample of family/friends) are either heading to a junior college while looking for work at the same time or going to a smaller in-state college that is less expensive. I continually recommend they DO NOT take a student loan if at all possible. I also recommend they go for a degree that has a practical application in the outside world. Now is not the time to be a philosphy major.

This is a good strategy for the time being, IMO.

Anecdotal evidence here puts the number of applicants to public colleges at 5 times higher than before. The tuition is only $5000 per year at a public one vs. 2 or 3 times that for a private one. So pity the professors at the private ones! They'll surely be out of a job soon!

The Japanese Govt is sending 2,400 people out to the country for farm-training programs, by the way. And real estate listings for farmland are down. People are holding onto their land. Meanwhile construction of condos in Tokyo is down 30 % this year from last year (it was down last year from the year before that too).

"CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - It won't be pretty when Canada's biggest energy companies unveil what are bound to be their weakest quarterly results in years."

Last month's unemployment rate in Calgary edged up to 5.4%. The 7-Eleven index (Help Wanted signs in front of convenience stores) in Calgary is down to only one store seen with a sign, offering $9.50/hr and no benefits for an inner-city store. A year ago, almost every business had a Help Wanted sign; now they are sparse. The City of Calgary Parks Dept. has had to suffer in past years hiring as seasonal workers mostly students and 20-somethings who worked when they felt like it and refused degrading jobs like janitorial. Now Parks have a large influx of middle-aged seasonals who aren't ashamed to scrub a toilet, while the kids are whining they can't find work. (I'm starting to sound like my father as I pass middle age.)

Hello TODers,

It May Be Time for the Fed to Go Negative

..Imagine that the Fed were to announce that, a year from today, it would pick a digit from zero to 9 out of a hat. All currency with a serial number ending in that digit would no longer be legal tender. Suddenly, the expected return to holding currency would become negative 10 percent.

That move would free the Fed to cut interest rates below zero. People would be delighted to lend money at negative 3 percent, since losing 3 percent is better than losing 10.
Of course, any currency scheme does nothing to create more energy; only our sun can do that.

IMO, a better idea is to tax anyone who is not protecting and/or increasing vital biota. The basic idea is to encourage all to utilize all possible sunshine to help maximize the Circle of Life.

For example: someone who has converted his yard to grow veggie & fruits & a few chickens would be taxed much less than someone who has paved over his property for storing his RV, ski-boat, and multiple car collection.

In desert areas: restoring your yard back to natural desert plantings [to encourage desert animals] would be taxed less than a grass lawn, a industrialized landscape gravel yard, astroturf lawns, or even just a barren plot.

Some more thoughts:

1. Imagine a neighborhood or small town that finally agreed it naturally gets dark every night [duh!]. They could then proceed to rip out all the streetlamps, landscape nightime-lighting, electrified billboards & retail store lighting to vastly lower their property tax rates.

2.They could agree that most personal cars are not sustainable, then build RR & TOD, and SpiderWebRiding. No more maintaining asphalt. In fact, they would be ripping it out to make even more acreage for more accessible local topsoil to lower their taxrate even further.

3.By going to full-on O-NPK recycling: the very expensive sewage system would not have to used or maintained anymore. Thus they could lower their tax rate even further.

4. To avoid throngs of people wanting to move to this low tax area, thus screwing up the local effort at sustainability: the inhabitants agree that pop. control laws are essential to all and any admittance at all [if required] will mean the outsider must have large quantities of usable Real Assets such as seeds, I/O-NPK, hand tools, PV panels, livestock, etc.

This all makes common sense to me, so therefore, the likelihood of this occurring is probably very low.

totoneila writes:

This all makes common sense to me, so therefore, the likelihood of this occurring is probably very low.

The probability is only very low in the short term. In the medium- and long-term, it is inevitable.

English sf writer John Brunner, described settlements like this in his novel Shockwave Rider (1975). They are called "paid avoidance areas." As Wiki describes it:

where people are paid to do without the full panoply of modern technology, as an alternative to spending billions to rebuild infrastructure after the [California] earthquake.

I'm surprised that more TODers don't know about it. It and the Ecotopia books by Callenbach seem more insightful than the dystopian sf often cited.

Big Gav in Australia has a review of the novel here.

Bart / Energy Bulletin

Some ecovillages/intentional communities are essentially what Toto describes.


Mankiw is a complete idiot. Remember, he was Shrub's chief financial adviser and probably helped get us into the mess we are presently experiencing. His scheme as described would do nothing to solve the problem as the amount of currency in circulation is only a tiny amount compared with that in other forms of stored value, such as bank accounts, IRA's, 401k's, and bonds, etc. What he really wants to do is let inflation run wild at 10% a year, thus destroying the debt which is much of the problem we see.

He apparently isn't aware that there have been other forms of taxes on wealth, such as the "Intangible Tax" which we used to have in Georgia. You paid a tax based on how much money you had in the bank or on the value of the stocks you held. Google says that Florida still has such a tax, which would make sense given that there are many people there living on pensions and savings. Of course, if you ARE living on savings, there is zero incentive to run out to Mao-Mart to spend it all at once. I know, lets get those Wall Streeters in New York to pay an Intangible Tax on their billions, making it progressive so they pay 50% a year if they hold more than $10 billion. Of course, that will never happen in New York...

E. Swanson

I'm reading One Second After, William R. Forstchen's new saga of life in a small North Carolina town after an EMP strike destroys most electronics in the US (North America?). It's pretty good, which is to say reasonably gut twisting. Protagonist is currently trying to retrieve his feeding-tube enabled father-in-law from the retirement home...ugh.

Was interested to find out in the forward by Newt Gingrich that Roscoe Bartlett also beats the drum about the threat of EMP: Representative Roscoe Bartlett.

Hello TODers,

IMO, we should be very glad that yeast remain simple biota; they only seek the Circle of Life: Imagine if your loaf of bread, or alcohol beverage, was full of crunchiness from millions of little microscopic cars, yachts, planes, submarines, sewage facilities, and nuclear power plants. I wonder if we will ever decide to return the favor some day.

Please consider the fanciful image described above when you practice the half-glass Peakoil shoutout. I am still trying to make this a new, widespread cultural trend, and I appreciate any effort to spread this yeasty toast. Thxs!

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

Hello TODers,

Best analysis I've read on the amazing Scottish songstress Susan Boyle with a Peak Everything twist:

Susan Boyle: Kissed by an Angel

..Susan Boyle is the exact right singer with the exact right song for our exact right time.

Our world is falling apart. Our dreams, if we want to continue in the new world that's forming, must be different. We can't keep the same dreams, in the same forms, doing the same things to make them come true, when the environment for their becoming is drastically changed. We can't. We have to let life kill the dreams we dreamed, and let new dreams surface...
I hope some brilliant songwriter pens the music to make people yearn to learn all they can about Peak Everything and Overshoot. Harry Chapin's, 'Remember when the Music.." is the best that I have noticed,IMO.

EDIT: with Ozymandias [sp?] by Shelley as the best poem

I suppose this will sound critical, but many music experts say that singing in a vibrato is a relic of an older time when microphones didn't exist and the singer had to overcome the orchestra. The vibrato also helped in that you can't tell if the singer is able to hold a note.

Criticism also comes out in string playing:

Oh well, give me soul music any day.

LOL - vibrato helps cover tonal sins (sometimes at the expense of committing additional ones) in the present, not just the past. But there are at least as many opinions as experts. For example: Slate article on Boyle; NYT article on David Willcocks (see ref. to Boris Ord, etc.); Shirlee Emmons (CUNY) essay on the issue.

From personal experience, I'd say Willcocks and some other English conductors tend to prefer a straighter tone for choral music, as compared to American conductors. But it's a tendency, not always hard and fast - and often with more leeway for soloists. And everyone recognizes that the straight-tone cathedral-boychoir style can stress adult voices, though I think some, especially Americans (including Dale Moore as quoted by Emmons), exaggerate its artistic limitations a bit.

Pop artists, of course, tend to do whatever works for them...and sells...sometimes with little regard for experts, and occasionally with little regard for vocal longevity.

Singing with vibrato is wrong? That's idiocy. Show me music other than Gregorian Chant or other chants that doesn't use vibrato.

Imagine, all this time Pavarotti, Bing Crosby... and everyone else on the planet has been doing it wrong...

Guess oil shouldn't be oily...


Happy National Hanging Out Day !

Yes there really is a day dedicated to encourage people to air dry their clothes. That and trying to eliminate restrictive neighborhood covenants that forbid some homeowners from drying their clothes outdoors.

It is a good way to save energy, and is a pretty simple skill to practice for being a little more self-reliant.

As I've mentioned here before, I did start a little cottage-industry business to manufacture a new design of laundry drying racks here in the States. I've got the manufacturing part rolling well, but the sales part is starting slow. I suppose most new businesses have that problem, but launching a new enterprise into the headwinds of what could be one of the biggest economic downturns in history does bring some doubts about my wisdom - and definitely about my timing.

Keep your fingers crossed for me and all the other small business people out there trying to provide useful products and services...

I am going to order one as soon as I get home.

Best Hopes for High Quality Energy efficient ! Products,


I love my grape hoe! I'll have to try a drying rack too. (But what I need is a grape hoe rack...it does not fit on my home-made tool rack.)

The Melbourne "Age" article on the problems of the burgeoning expansion of this city (and others in Australia) is a statement of the bleeding obvious but the message has not,and probably will not,get through to the governing oligarchy.Growth At Any Cost is still the conventional wisdom in these circles.

Unfortunately,the writer,an engineer proposes to spread the cancer by building satellite cities.

There is only one viable solution to this and related problems - immediate cessation of immigration and penalties for women who have more than 2 children.Australia already has a 100% overshoot of a sustainable population,which is about 10 million.

Small expensive Wind machines.

Ones that are expensive and break.

You didn't see a translation to this did you? My German isn't quite enough to pull the Dutch apart.

What was the upshot? I know things break.. how did it play out? (Especially if they're doing some qualitative comparisons of the various types pictured)

I have a simple Vertical Savonius that just made it out from the basement to the yard, but it's journey to the roof is pending the addition of a generator. (Prob. a 96v. treadmill motor) But even in a very enclosed yard, it's clearly is bucking at any noticable breeze, so I hope it shows the slow wind startup ability that verticals often tout.. and then the ability to withstand higher winds as well..


The upshot is most broke and were REALLY expensive per kWh. Most of the designs were not 3 blade and had small swept surface regions so I'm not that shocked.

Small exotic wind is more an art statement or 'I had some hunks of material so this is what I made' than useful.

60 minutes is running a segment on the recent cold fusion article. so far it's pretty bad because they are giving too much leeway.

Hello Leanan,

Thxs for the toplink: "Life in a hot, hungry world".

I hope all TODers take the time to read the link as I believe it encapsulates a lot the basic themes that my NPK postings are trying to expound upon. Again, Huge Kudos to Bart@EB and Patrick Dery for their work building upon Asimov's, "Life's Bottleneck". Links for TOD newbies:

Peak phosphorus

A Bottleneck in Nature

Which of the mineral elements do organisms stand the greatest chance of running out of?

The answer is: Phosphorus
As posted before: we will do anything and everything to get this Element postPeak. Even if it means millions enslaved to pickaxe, shovel, and wheeled cart. Recall that using these simple tools is precisely how the NPK industry got started.

I've been looking for a good site for fertizler stats. Found this so far:


It only has stats from 1999 - 2007. But for phosphate rock (PR) it looks like supply has risen almost y-o-y.

From Leanan's first article, "Life in a hot, hungry world"

The human population, as we know, will reach 9.2 billion in 2050 – but human appetites are growing faster still. Together these mean world food demand will more than double.

I'm not sure that the human population will reach 9.2 billion in 2050. My guess is that population could peak at about 7.3 billion in 2025, as shown in the updated chart below. As energy supplies become more expensive, the birth rate should decrease and the death rate should increase causing the annual population growth rate to decrease further. The population today is estimated to be just under 6.8 billion.

It is interesting that the US Census forecasts world population to increase steadily to 9.5 billion in 2050. In 2025, they forecast 8.0 billion.
However, the US Census might be partly relying upon the forecasts of the US EIA which shows increasing energy supplies to 2030.

An important feature of the chart below is that world crude, condensate and oil sands are now in post peak decline. In addition, world population appears to have passed its inflection point in 1989. This means that the annual growth rate after 1989 is less than before 1989.

click to enlarge

Please, if you will, erase everything on the right side of April 2009. If you or any one else had a serious clue about the future, it would be absolutely amazing and probably just a randon hit. Read any of Taleb's work to understand why past performance has nothing to do with the future except as you see it in your rear view mirror.

IMHO this is one of the reasons the "Peak" arguments are so weak. The next so called expert can just throw some other person's best guesses at a math charting program and voila ... new chart in living color just as bad as this one.

Let's, just for kicks, throw in serious resource war stats and see what happens. To counter that let's perfect cold fusion for your car. Etc. Etc. Etc. Wonderful charts and none are any more valid than the immaginary one above. And further I really don't give much of a damn who made the chart. No one has credibility for even tomorrow let alone years in the future.

Rant off

I understand some of your frustration in dealing with forecasts, but what do you recommend? Should we just close our eyes and blindly plunge into the future? The ideas presented here may be imperfect. If you know something more precise please post it. It has often been pointed out here that we will only truly know when peak oil occurred when we can look back on it about ten years into the past.

On one point I would disagree with you. In the case of a finite resource like oil past performance is indeed related to future performance. It has clearly been shown that on individual oil fields that production rate increases to a maximum then decreases in a standard pattern. The world as a whole should follow roughly the same pattern.

As Hubbert pointed out in 1956, crude oil production peaks are inevitable. Hubbert made two if/then statements. If Lower 48 URR are 150 Gb, we peak in 1966. If Lower 48 URR are 200 GB, we peak in 1971. The upper end estimate was more accurate, and we peaked in 1970, but the larger point is that a one-third increase in URR only postponed the projected peak by five years.

The question is what is the area under a production rate versus time curve? Deffeyes puts the number at 2,000 Gb worldwide, for conventional crude, with half being produced through 2005. And whether we use 5/05 as the index month or 2005 average annual production, there has been a cumulative shortfall between what we would have produced at the 5/05 rate or the 2005 average annual rate, versus what we actually produced--despite the highest nominal oil prices in history. This shortfall in crude production, despite higher crude prices, is what we also saw in the Lower 48 and North Sea at about the same stage of depletion.

Unconventional will help, but I suspect that it will only slow the total rate of decline. All three of the closest major sources of imported oil to the US (Canada, Venezuela & Mexico) showed net export declines last year, and their overall combined net oil exports fell from 5.3 mbpd in 1998 to 4.0 mbpd in 2008.

Very sobering chart.

I was helping my daughter with her 4th grade report. She is doing it on old coal mine here in our area. We learned there how the mine finally went out of business and many other interesting facts. Our world today in microcosm.

It's incredible how much humanity as accomplished to this date. I was marveling at the fact and at the same time realizing the horror that we will probably not be able to sustain it.

Imagine life as it will be when we enter the downward curves in your chart.

I think it will be quite interesting to try life on the other side of that curve.

I woke up in the middle of the night about 4 and a half years ago to read the NYT. I always read the newspaper in the middle of the night online. "What is the point?" I remember thinking before I turned on the computer, "Why bother reading the newspaper, every day the world is the same and there is nothing new" That night there was a book review of Out of Gas, a book about peak oil. I knew after I had read it that the world would change within a few years, and I knew life would become a lot more interesting!

It HAS become a lot more interesting!

Good things: fewer cars on the road, more time with family (no money to go out, fewer symposia and conferences), more challenges (sewing own clothes, trying to grow some veggies), studying basics related to 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and max. power principle, learning what fertilizer is........there is more but I'll leave it at that.

I have a small amount of ESP (don't laugh I do really). I believe that message I received before I turned on the computer that night was a kind of premonition that helped me to recognize the significance of the book review.

We would have been so bored if that curve just kept going up and up, not to mention the awful pollution!

Here are a couple of more charts forecasting population. These charts are from the following 2008 presentations by The Oil Drum Europe contributor Francois Cellier

World3 in Modelica: Creating System Dynamics Models
in the Modelica Framework, 8 pages

and the corresponding powerpoint

The first chart, produced in February 2008, uses the World3 Model which uses many more parameters than my simple logistic. Parameters include human fertility, industrial investment, life expectancy, pollution dynamics, arable land dynamics and non-recoverable resource utilization. It indicates a peak population of about 8.5 billion in 2030.

click to enlarge

This second chart, produced in February 2004, shows the parameters of population, food, industrial output, pollution levels and natural resources. Peak population is forecast to be about 7.4 billion in 2027.

click to enlarge

I don't think the UN or US population estimates take Malthusian limits into consideration at all. They are just extrapolating current trends into the future.

I also don't think it's clear how more expensive energy will affect population growth. In the long run, yes, population will come down, one way or another. But 2050 is not that far away. I could see the population growing faster than expected because of high energy prices.

The population bomb has fizzled...because of cheap energy. Urbanization means no need to have lots of kids as free farm labor. Government social programs mean you don't need children to support you in old age. Better health care means birth control is available and children are more likely to live to adulthood. Education and equality for women has given them the power and motivation to have fewer children.

I could see all that unwinding in a low-energy future...and with it, the progress we've made on the population front.

You don't need children to support you in old age.

This assumes that this generation of children will take care of their parents. Doubtful for two reasons.

The current generation of children will be unhealthier and live shorter lives than their parents due to obesity and related diseases (diabetes being #1). Hard to care for parents while suffering the side effects of diabetes.

The other is that children will be willing to make the sacrifices required to care for aged parents. I am currently in Kentucky doing precisely that. For cultural reasons, I doubt that. And for financial reasons I also doubt it.

I have the surplus that allows me to do this. And it is fairly rare today, so I think that there is a cultural shift, one that will grow with upcoming generations.


People relying on their children for support in old age is an ancient tradition, and not just a result of surplus.

And it doesn't really matter what this particular generation does, in this particular country. We're talking about the global population. And in most of the world, your family is still your safety net.

However, "advancement" diminishes this, I think. Korea has had a strong family tradition, albeit extremely paternally weighted, that is in a shambles compared to even '93, the first time I came here.

In fact, I predicted to friends back then that a matured economy would equal social disintegration. I predicted within 10 - 20 years they'd see major shifts in family structure, including divorce and more nuclear families. They thought I was full of crap. I told them the "evil American" culture they blamed problems on wasn't the problem, capitalism was. The US, after all, has no single culture.

Sure enough, divorce rate has gone from around 5% to over 40% and more and more elders are on their own, all as the economy has slowed down to typical developed nation rates and life has gotten much tougher than it was at 12% interest on personal savings accounts...

But, what economics tore asunder, deprivation will knit back together.


can you show this chart on a log scale?

In thinking about oil demand in major recessions, consider the 1980 event. THis started with oil demand and price peaking, finally rising to $39/b, but demand crashed as Volcker pushed interest rates to record levels as he tamed inflation. Production collapsed on account of demand collapse, down 5%/y for 3 years... supply did not collapse fast enough to avoid a collapse in price, too. If history repeats, production will decline to around 63mb/d by 2011 on account of reduced demand, not reduced supply.

The GR is already passing 1980 in severity. I see no reason why oil price cannot collapse as OPEC cannot cut production fast enough to prop up prices... so far their cut of 3.2mb/d is under 5% of world crude production, under 4% of total liquids. I am becoming more and more pessimistic on price through at least mid-2011.

Also look at the steepness in the production decline over the past year, simply OPEC cuts over six months... the problem is that they are not cutting fast enough... your forward curve is not as steep... IMO we could see production around 62mb/d by 2011. Price will crash if producers don't somehow cut to match demand... what can you get for something when nobody has any place to put it?

Think of this... toders are not surprised that supply is down now, PO says so, but price, too? GR changes everything, at least for now.

Regarding the above linked article Environmental benefits of electric cars dismissed as 'fiction', I wondered how they got it so wrong.

In the linked article from the Telegraph, I find this:

The researchers calculated that of the energy burned in a power station, only a quarter reaches an electric car after leakages and losses along the supply chain are considered, giving the vehicle an energy efficiency score of 24%.

So far so good. (Coal power plant @35% efficient, distribution @94%, battery & power electronics @80%, electric drive @90% equals 24%.) - 'Vehicle Propulsion Systems,' Guzzella and Sciarretta.

Next paragraph:

A modern diesel engine, by contrast, achieves 45% efficiency.

That, of course, is a peak efficiency number and not appropriate for representing typical driving cycles. Guzzella and Sciarretta suggest the numbers should be about 22% for a diesel-powered vehicle and 18% for a spark-ignition vehicle. In contrast, electric motors operate at quite high efficiencies under all loading conditions and have zero standby losses when stopped in traffic, not to mention the benefits of regenerative braking.

Oh, silly me. From the original ‘Transport Watch UK’ “research”:

The energy lost in the drive chain (sic) is the same for both types of car and both types of car may benefit from regenerative braking.

Once you adjust for gross errors and misrepresentations, there is nothing left of this “new research.”

The "Torygraph' is the most reactionary and unscientific newspaper in the UK (apart from the gutter press). I am certain this article was written by a scientifically illiterate journalist starting with the conclusion and working backwards. The only difference between this report and many similar ones in the UK press is that this one seems superficially rational.