Book Review: Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller

Jeff Rubin - the former chief economist at CIBC World Markets - has always struck me as someone who "gets it." I have seen him do a number of interviews, both on television and in print - and he consistently sounds the alarm on peak oil. He understands very well that cheap oil is the lifeblood of the global economy, yet this is an era that will soon come to an end. His new book - Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller: Oil and the End of Globalization - goes through the peak oil story in a way that I initially thought of as "Kunstleresque", but I changed my mind as I got deeper into the book.

Some will certainly describe Rubin as a 'doomer.' However, by the end of the book I had concluded that there are some significant distinctions between the overall message that Rubin is trying to convey and the message Jim Kunstler conveys in The Long Emergency. Maybe it's because The Long Emergency really slapped me out of complacency, but I recall being mildly shocked after reading Kunstler. I did not experience that same sense of shock while reading Rubin - but those who are only somewhat familiar with peak oil may be.

Rubin covers many familiar themes, such as the domestic cannibalization of exports by energy producers (AKA Jeffrey Brown's ELM - "Export Land Model"), the need to produce and consume more goods locally (AKA Jeffrey's ELP - "Economize, Localize, Produce"), corn ethanol (which he describes as a 'head fake'), and the overall impact of high oil prices on the global economy. For regular readers, you will find that much of the book is familiar territory, and for a while I was thinking "There is nothing here that I haven't seen before." But the book ultimately grew on me, partly because there are two themes that distinguish it from other books I have read about peak oil.

The first involves a discussion of carbon dioxide emissions. In a chapter called "The Other Problem with Fossil Fuels", Rubin started to make a argument that I have often made: Ultimately it is futile to attempt to regulate carbon emissions, because China is literally bringing several coal-fired power plants online every week. Rubin wrote that between now and 2012, over 500 new coal-fired plants are scheduled to come online - just in China. This was the theme of my essay We Won't Stop Global Warming. My belief has been that there really isn't much that will convince China and other developing countries to cut back on their emissions. While I still think carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise until we simply run out of fossil fuels, Rubin provided an interesting argument that caused me to think that a different approach might work.

Rubin argues that if we put a price on carbon emissions in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and other developed countries - we can apply a carbon tariff on imports to level the playing field. Rubin states that energy usage per GDP in China is four times that of the U.S. economy. By putting a carbon tariff on Chinese steel, for instance, two things are accomplished. First, the Chinese then have a much greater incentive to become more efficient. Second, domestic energy intensive industries (like steel production) suddenly become much more competitive. The flip-side of course is that it makes energy-intensive products more expensive.

The second theme that distinguishes Rubin's book is that it is ultimately a hopeful book. About half way through the book, you won't have that impression. Sometimes when I read books on peak oil, the message is essentially "Abandon all hope; all exits are closed." I was 116 pages into the book and still thinking that this was standard peak oil fare from the doomer point of view. But then it started to become apparent that although Rubin sees and understands that this is a very serious and unprecedented challenge, he sees a world emerging with some distinct advantages. He also expects that there will be some technical breakthroughs that we simply can't anticipate that will likely make our landing into this unfamiliar territory bumpy, but survivable.

Make no mistake, Rubin's overall message will be sobering to the uninformed. The world Rubin foresees will contain less convenience than today's world. Gone are fresh fruits and vegetables out of season, cheap Brazilian coffee, and New Zealand mutton. Replacing them will be more expensive, but more locally produced goods. There will be new opportunities and benefits in this changing world. Because of that, I think this book will be important for scaring people into action without causing them to simply abandon hope.


A couple of years ago, I took a road trip from Montana to Texas (described in My Last Long-Distance Car Trip). In that essay - described by some readers as gloomy - I mused about a world in transition. In the concluding chapter of his book, Rubin does the same. He is on a fishing trip in Canada, and he discusses what higher oil prices will mean for 1). The ability of people to fly to remote locations for holidays; 2). The impact on those who depend on those tourist dollars; 3). The future of entire populations in remote areas (much like I did when I drove through Wyoming). While fishing trips to Canada aren't something most of us can relate to, we can certainly all relate to the idea that expensive energy is going to fundamentally change our lives - and that is the message he conveys.

The last chapter is a melancholy chapter in which Rubin sees an era coming to an end - with huge global implications. He admits that he doesn't know how this is going to play out, but he thinks that our world is once again going to become a whole lot smaller. And that's not all bad.

Is it likely that the U.S. will impose substantial tariffs on Chinese imports while it continues to be so strongly dependent upon Chinese purchases of bonds that finance its ever-growing government debt?

What makes you so certain that China will continue purchasing bonds anyway? All signs point to their halting of net purchases of dollar-denominated assets already.

A good point. To the extent that they do continue to buy bonds, they may maintain some leverage over U.S. policy, though.

The Chinese are stockpiling hard assets. They have hugely increased iron ore imports, for instance, even though they have stockpiles of the stuff. The penny has dropped: hard assets > fiat money.

At first glance one would think the Chinese would cease buying US bonds in the case of heavy energy tariffs. But remember, China has billions (some think it's well over a trillion) invested in US debt. The minute they decide to get of the debt buying merry-go-round, the circus lights go out and down comes the final curtain. Why? Because the US dollar would collapse, and what is it the Chinese hold? It's US dollars. Lots of them...

So don't worry about China stopping it purchases of US treasuries, it's not going to happen. It's a bigger problem for them than the US. If the dollar collapses China has nothing, and the US gets out of jail free.

Strange world indeed...

China will stop subsidizing the US when they have the ability to run a closed economy.
They have been doing this to build out their infrastructure and all they have to do is start paying the workers a wage that will allow them to purchase the goods that they produce.
This is not going to continue forever.
It is all mute anyway because of the depletion of cheap energy.
The only reason that the US is still in control is because of military superiority and that is it.


The Chinese have to keep buying US junk bonds on the hope that the US will recover and they will not lose all of their investment--over a trillion dollars, is it? This is like "lending" a jobless, flaky deadbeat more money because he says he can't pay you back your original loan unless you add to the loan. This is just something like that Nigerian scam, only it's between governments. The poor Chinese are going to lose it all.

"The poor Chinese are going to lose it all."

I don't know how credible the armageddon scenario is. Of course things don't look good, but the worst prospect for the Chinese seems to me to be a total collapse of the dollar. And I don't think that's too likely while the dollar is still the reserve currency and the exchange rate is under the control of the Chinese government.

Funding the US debt shouldn't be that much of an issue since it is all dollar-denominated, unless the economy seriously crashes. But is that really likely? Oil is going into decline, but the effect on the USA will be slowly felt and people will adapt. We've already seen how much demand can shrink when the economy has only shrunk a matter of a few percent and oil is cheap cheap cheap. When it goes up in cost (as it will do if supply is less than demand) then we will get another round of demand destruction and the price will come down again. This is the cycle we will experience ad infinitum until we work out the alternatives.

Along the way the Chinese will be able to slowly unwind their position, and I'm sure they expect by then that their own economy will be getting into gear and they won't be quite so dependant on export markets.

I'm not a climate or peak oil sceptic, but I'm also not a doomer. I don't think that things are going to be fun, but I also do think that we will get through it, one way or another.

Thanks for this review, Robert. It makes me want to read Rubin's book.

Here's what I posted at Robert's blog:

I agree that this is a very balanced book that isn't alarmist, even more so than Heinberg's work, and would be suitable to recommend to people who would be easily frightened by the prospect of having to grow their own food - or would dismiss such a suggestion out of hand as totally implausible. Rubin's focus on the economic costs of peak oil is laudable too, IMO - those of a conservative political bent well might reject Heinberg as some kind of tree hugging hippy in short order. I'm by no means a proselytizer but I always had a gut feeling that the way to successfully convey the necessity of addressing peak oil was to focus on its economic impact, since no one likes to lose money, regardless of their background. Convince people to insulate their house and ride a bike - they'll save money and get some exercise, win-win. Repeat that nation-wide and you'd conserve an awful lot of energy.

Still not on board with Rubin's pet theory that energy shortfall is the cause of all our sorrows, for obvious reasons others will likely elaborate on. I was also somewhat put off by how he covered the details of the Export Land Model sans reference to the work done by Brown+Foucher (which was published at least a year in advance of Rubin making his proclamation, and, more egregiously, describing energy return situations with neither the use of the term EROEI or any reference to Hall, Cleveland, et al; instead throwing in a quote from M King Hubbert.

I've been thinking a lot about the Export Land Model theory lately and I'm starting to wonder if it, like "traditional economic truths," something that may not hold up the same in a post peak world.

The ELM is based around the idea that growing domestic consumption will decrease exports. But this ignores possible effects Peak Oil might have on the exporter. It ignores possible feedback loops. What if importers see their demand destroyed by economic meltdown faster than the available exports fall? Price might fall. Then exporter production. Falling prices and productions might have effects on the exporter's economy and their internal demand.

I'm not saying this will happen. I'm far from knowledgable about economics or energy markets. Just pointing out that the shrinking economy paradigm shift might turn even the ELM on its head. Anyone have thoughts on that?


I have much the same misgivings

If we look, for instance, at Mexico - the poster-child ELM example, we can see that:
1) exports are falling off a cliff
2) the Mexican economy, heavily dependent on these exports for the delivery of hard currency earnings, is about to succumb to chaos, because their revenues are also falling off the same cliff.

There's no way that the Mexican economy will sustain real growth, year-on-year, that will ensure its oil consumption will grow at 5% plus p.a. It's ignoring the feedback loops, just like the way most of us (myself included) ignored the the feedback loops that led to the collapse in oil prices, following the run-up to July 2008.

Full respect to the excellent work of Brown+Foucher, but I feel it needs a further level of refinement to be really industrial-quality. The extrapolations out to 2025 just aren't credible - the feedback loops will kick in long before that, resulting in a world of complexity and chaos, long before those dates are reached, and rendering the predictions meaningless.

Regards Chris

As noted below, it helps to look at real numbers regarding net export declines in countries like Mexico, which has so far shown an accelerating net export decline rate in the four year period from 2004 to 2008. If memory serves, their production decline rate over this time period has been about -5%/year with consumption increasing at a little over +2%/year. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the next four years.

In any case, by the end of 2014, our best case is that the top five net oil exporters--Saudi Arabia; Russia; Norway; Iran and the UAE--will have shipped about half of their post-2005 cumulative net oil exports. This is the theme of our next paper--the fact that the bulk of post-peak cumulative net exports are shipped early, e.g., Indonesia shipped half of their post-1996 cumulative net oil exports in slightly over two years, as they went from their final production peak in 1996 to net oil importer status in 2004.

I spent an entire day last week looking at the EIA excel workbook on Mexico, which looks at their entire energy record since 1981. It was quite a story. A soon to be very sad story, frankly. We sucked them dry. And they, unfortunately, were only too happy to oblige. Worse, as their supply of oil dwindles, there in the background (as is the case with so many countries) is the ongoing narrative of population growth seen in the yoy rising demand for domestic coal and NG.

I proposed the simplistic little ELM to help me understand the math behind net export declines. I stipulated the following: -5%/year rate of decline in production and a +2.5%/year rate of increase in consumption, with consumption equal to half of production at final peak. Net exports went to zero in nine years, showing an accelerating rate of decline in net exports, versus a constant exponential production decline rate.

We (Foucher & Brown) then compared the ELM to two real life case histories--the UK, with virtually no increase in consumption, and Indonesia, with increasing consumption. All three case histories showed accelerating net export decline rates (note that a constant 5% per year decline would show up on this plot as a line at -5%, parallel to the horizontal axis):

This is really the heart of the Export Land Model--an expectation of a long term accelerating net export decline rate versus a (generally) low single digit production decline rate (with, e.g. Indonesia, or without, e.g. the UK, rising domestic consumption).

And again when discussing supply/demand concepts, it helps to look at real numbers. For example, I estimate that for Mexico to maintain constant net exports of about one mbpd, at their current production decline rate they would have to cut consumption in half in about six years. Also, Indonesia--a founding member of OPEC--went from their final production peak to net importer status at oil prices below $40 per barrel.

Thanks for your responses Jeffrey, they certainly helped put things in perspective.

Regards Chris

Because I view oil as an undervalued raw good whose value is higher than the currency one can receive for it, I'm of the opinion that Mexico should halt nearly all exports voluntarily. Instead, whatever they were buying or making with the currency income they should simply make with the retained oil. Yes it would be a hardship initially. The transition was always going to be hard anyway. They could use the oil to build out massive solar arrays and also to plant huge new tracts of land to grow government food. Whatever.


I read another review (in the NY Times?)a couple of days ago and called my local(?!)Barnes and Nobles to see if it was in stock.They said a shipment was in,and the next evening I drove fifty miles one way to get a copy.All gone!Of course there were copies available of most of the books you see mentioned here on the Oil Drum,but this one was written by the head economist of a big bank,which I suppose accounts for it's instant popularity.

It looks like the public-the small portion that reads at least-is finally beginning to seriously get it regarding peak oil.The cashiers and clerks assure me that it is extremely unusual for a book of this sort to sell so fast.Mine will come today or tomorrow fed ex.

I'm sure gonna miss cheap gasoline.

This is the start,the public pays attention to those with as many zeros in his bank account,as he.We are going mainstream,because what will shoot this "recovery"in the head is soon as the financial garbage is worked out of the system...about a decade from now the way its going....


"drove fifty miles one way"... Naughty Old Farmer! :)

Nice timing RR.
NPR has interview with Rubin regarding that book today.

Tangentially- I spoke with him in Ireland at ASPO - he hadn't heard of net energy analysis/biophysical economics and wasn't particularly interested. I followed his research reports at Wood Gundy for years and he was always on top of peak oil story. Though IIRC, his views may be correct, but are still within the sphere of 'conventional economic thinking', (i.e. there will be a recovery, things are measured in dollars, the market will ration via price etc.) But I haven't read the book yet so my comment is only anecdotal and relates to his research and a conversation.

He states that a world without economic growth "wouldn't be something we would want to be in" or words to that effect, which likely won't register as a plus with much of the readership here.

Sounds like he is having difficulty leaving the Flat Earth Society. While the Earth approximated to being flat, economic growth was OK. But now the World is getting decidedly round.

You should read the book first, before commenting on it. Of course "net energy" impacts the economics of canadian oil sands or other high cost oil, and Rubin is well aware of it.

Nate happens to be practicing something we used to call journalism. He actually talked to the author and reported on what the author said. And then he actually added a disclaimer saying that he actually didn't read the book. This happens all the time. I'd bet that the majority of the interviews that Rubin will engage in will include an interviewer who hasn't read his book.

Nate - you, Dr. Costanza, Herman Daily, etc. are the gurus on all of this but doesn't "ecological economics" also contemplate a form of economic thinking?

Jim, I am just a synthesizer -a guru of nothing. Bob and Herman have their own views of the world which do encompass economics for in their eyes it is just the science of allocation of scarce resources, broadly construed. I suspect when all is said and done my 'core' views will not be the same as where ecological economics stands today....But its foundations were: scale, distribution, and efficiency and I do think those are important principles that need attention. But EE falls far short on the behavior side - none of the other stuff matters if we don't know how we make decisions as individuals and as groups - facts are secondary until we figure out a framework that includes that. In that sense behavioral economics is leapfrogging ecological economics. Somehow it will all be synthesized, but my main point above is most energy supply side analysts still view the future in market terms, and I don't expect there to be a market in 10 years time (+/-5yrs)

Nate - Yes, the behavioral side is key and it is interesting to observe people as they are confronted with these new realities. I am about half way through the book "How we Decide" to try and better understand some of this.

I am a bit more optimistic on the short term future of markets but agree with the end result. Have had some interesting discussions with Vaclav Smil on this topic and he is probably more in your camp. Even though we are unpredictable, I believe humans are capable of substantial change. Once things reach a tipping point, behavior could cascade in a completely different direction. Who knows, we may even be about there now. Given our timing, however, it will probably be the fungi's view of humanity that will ultimately prevail.

Even though we are unpredictable, I believe humans are capable of substantial change.

This is called "mass hysteria".

I think that's a really important point, "I don't expect there to be a market in 10 years time (+/-5yrs)". The down slope of peak oil, won't be a gentle 6% or so decline rate, it's going to be more in line with Gail's adverse shock scenario. We might well see oil production crash to 20 million barrels per day given the severity of the depression we are facing. What that means for global food production, social stability and geopolitics is a matter of speculation but certainly the next 10 years are going to be interesting.

FYI - I spoke with him in Ireland at ASPO - he hadn't heard of net energy and wasn't particularly interested.

Apparently he got interested. He has a section devoted to net energy, which he calls "Take Home Energy." He illustrates with a tar sands example.

Good! I suggested to him that net energy decline might explain a decent amount of lower net exports in his middle east graphs. I'm glad that concept is in the book. I invited him several times to do guest post on TOD, but alas, such postings of course, do not offer compensation...;-)

I give him credit for a)being way ahead of his wall st peers on this topic and b)quitting.

I invited him several times to do guest post on TOD, but alas, such postings of course, do not offer compensation.

Of course not all compensation is monetary. ;-)

One other note. He used a tar sands example, but he also used an economic example to explain the concept. He said it was like gross pay versus net pay, which is a pretty good analogy.

His oil sands example left me puzzled. He stated that the average barrel of oil produced needed 1,400 cu ft of natural gas for processing. On page 50 he concluded that a long period of natural gas trading at an energy parity premium to oil would seriously impair the economics of oil sands production. But in the example he gave we are still getting about a 4 to 1 energy leverage in processing bitumen (1 barrel of oil contains the energy equivalent of about 5,600 cu ft of natural gas) Furthermore when I checked the natural gas use by Syncrude I found their long term consumption of natural gas to produce a barrel of oil was estimated to be 800 cubic feet. This impies about a 7 to 1 energy return for the natural gas used. Unless I am missing something Rubin appeared to be going out of his way to make oil sand processing worse than it is. His assumption of natural gas availability seemed not to include shale gas which may or may not be a huge resource addition. I agreed with his other points including water limits and pollution.

Unless I am missing something Rubin appeared to be going out of his way to make oil sand processing worse than it is.

As I was going through the book, I took notes. One of the things I always note are things that I believe are wrong (I just didn't note them in this review). I flagged the tar sands example for some of the same reasons you mention above. Further, if you have an energy return at least 5 or 6 to 1, which I believe tar sands does, you can always cannibalize part of your production to produce the steam you need.

Try that with corn ethanol, though, and the inefficiencies will quickly render you with no ethanol to sell.

"Try that with corn ethanol, though, and the inefficiencies will quickly render you with no ethanol to sell."

How is it that ethanol keeps being produced then?

Since RR has a hard time understanding abstracta such as energy, grain, and metal vs. concreta such as oil, corn and iron and that abstracta can not be a determinate of which concreta is produced, I will try another approach.

Each corn seed I planted last week produces one ear of corn. Each ear has about 450 kernels of corn. That is a net grain increase of 450 times which puts tar sands to shame as well as conventional oil. If grain equals energy equals oil which it does not, but for sake of argument lets say it does. Then EROEI for the corn seed is about 450.

I have pointed out that the diesel used in corn production is a small fraction of the cost of the corn. I produce about 16,000 bu. of corn using about 600 gals of diesel. That leaves the energy input of natural gas to distill the ethanol. It is also a relatively small cost of ethanol production and since GROGI/EROEI for corn is 450, there is a lot to play with in ethanol production and distribution.

The apples and oranges EROEI for corn ethanol is false. I can not verify it on my farm. The "studies" are false because the logic is false. Those who are doing the studies do not understand what is going on in the real world of farming. Nor do they understand logic.
All they know is data. They think apples and oranges can be added, subtracted and compared to come up with net fruit. That fruit return on fruit invested makes no sense completely escapes them.

The problems with ethanol are economic. They arise because oil is highly subsidized which I will not go into again here. Ethanol basically has only the blenders credit subsidy which is mostly collected by oil companies who then do not pass it all on at the retail level, but pocket some of it instead.

How is it that ethanol keeps being produced then?

It boggles the mind that you would even ask that question. Ethanol keeps being produced precisely because the product isn't cannibalized to provide the energy for the process. That's what I said, which then begs the question of why you even asked.

The rest of your post is the same frequently refuted garbage you post again and again. As I said the last time, if the blender's credit is for the oil companies, why is it then that the corn farmers lobby to keep it?

What scares me more than anything else is that ethanol is a wedge issue. I said this 4 years ago almost to the date:

And it really is coming true. The Rush Limbaugh and his 'minionist's such as Jason Lewis are attacking ethanol left and right. Any progressive who sides with ethanol will get crushed in the wedge. That is why it is called a wedge issue. The politicians and political strategists are very savvy about such matters. They could care less about having a solution, they just want to make their opponents look bad. The only hope is that libs/progressives drop the ethanol before it hurts their credibility. Reality should trump any inferred populism in this case.

Sorry x, I really wish it would have turned out differently.

Robert you are wasting your time with x because he is simply never going to admit the existence of the big picture.From reading his posts I conclude that he either cannot comprehend what you are telling him,or else the he is deliberately muddying the waters. Corn ethanol may possibly yield a little net energy when all is said and done,but it is doubtful.

If there is anything to be said for it,it does result in a net gain of LIQUID fuel,which is helpful in the very short term.

You are right in that we would be better off using the gas (and coal too,if I am not mistaken)consumed in brewing moonshine directly as motor fuel in the case of the gas,and (my comment),the coal to generate electricity to run electric vehicles,which appear to be right around the corner. The electric city car at least is close enough to commercial stand alone viability that if we spent the ethanol subsidy on it with maybe a little of the money currently being spent on some other ridiculous ag subsidies,the suburbs would be full of them in a few years.

Corn ethanol is a well paved dead straight one way high road to environmental hell if we allow ourselves to get irretrievably hooked on it.Right now the hook is only in our jaw and we could still get loose,but if we swallow it....the world simply can't afford the land and the water.

Robert you are wasting your time with x because he is simply never going to admit the existence of the big picture.

Well, he is a corn farmer, so his earnings are tied directly into the continuation of this policy. I have long ago given up on him ever really understanding anything that might be contrary to this. I think one of the quotes that TOD features explains why X takes the positions he does:

“It's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends on him not understanding it.” —Upton Sinclair

Psssssst..........We don't need petroleum OR ethanol....We have algae and methane hydrates....Relax


How is it that ethanol keeps being produced then?

Because the purpose of our economy is to chew up resources as rapidly as possible. More, bigger, faster - all of that is encouraged and subsidized. Religiously.

And if one doesn't play that game, he fails at the competition. Never mind that I'll have plenty of kim-chee, I won't be able to pay the tuitition to send my kids to school with the other kids that will be running everything around here for their generation.

cfm in Gray, ME

Just wondering how much ethanol is produced with 16,000 bushels of corn?

Also, need to factor in the energy to manufacture tractor and combine, trucks to haul corn to distiller, fertilizer production, pesticide production. What about irrigation? Energy to build the distillery?

X will answer in detail - different forms of energy can't be compared, to do so is to lead to the pessimistic conclusions which run rampant here, formulations where A+G=Y. Whereas if you restrict yourself, say, to A+B=C, you discover that ethanol is both sustainable and profitable.

Corn ethanol works at the present. What in America isn't subsidized anymore? This strikes me as a specious argument; I suspect those who make it haven't made any projections of the current growth rate in US government subsidization, which promises to encompass any and all economic activity soon; in a globe spanning trade network all nations can find shelter under this umbrella of surfeit, with ample dividends to be had. Critics would say it is all pure chimera, but I suspect this is out of spite rather than anything empirically based.

Lack of available acreage to grow crops for ethanol shouldn't be a handicap, either. Highway meridians no doubt would provide millions of acres currently being put to little use, at a width suitable for the width of a combine. Workers could be stationed on the meridians as well, to guard/tend the crops and harvest by hand when called upon, putting our growing unemployed to productive work. Another possibility would be motorists grabbing the crops as they drive past, or filling up their vehicles at stations modeled on the rural fruit stand, thus folding their ambulatory energy expenditure towards providing for the common good.

X will answer in detail - different forms of energy can't be compared

They can if they can be easily substituted. X has never been interested in a real discussion, but I will point it out (again) that I said as long as 4 years ago that it may may perfect economic sense to use coal as your source of energy in an ethanol plant - even if the energy return is poor. So it is pretty rich that he continues to try to "school" me in such matters. That would mean that the process will only be enabled as long as those fossil fuels remain cheap, though. Looking at the energy inputs will also tell you to what extent the energy is truly renewable. If the goal is renewable energy, and you are turning 1 BTU of coal into 1 BTU of ethanol - you aren't producing renewable energy.

Further, the only reason ethanol is the end product instead of something that is more efficient to produce is due to market distorting mandates. It's not the subsidies so much that is the issue. I agree, lots of things are subsidized. But the ethanol industry couldn't make it with subsidies, whose costs are easier to measure than when mandates are forced upon us. Mandates say "We are prepared to ignore the costs; just do it." I hate that approach. What is the true cost? Hard to say. But if there was a $1 subsidy and no mandate, and ethanol plants were still going bankrupt, you know the delta is more than $1.

The fact is that corn ethanol is sustained on the back of cheap natural gas prices, and to a lesser extent cheap oil prices. When these go up, ethanol producers scream, which is an indication of how dependent they are on these things for survival. What I would have done - instead of using natural gas to recycle it inefficiently into ethanol - is simply build out and encourage more natural gas vehicles. That is a more efficient end use of those BTUs than using them to get water out of ethanol.

A paper on net energy / parasitic demands comparing production of ethanol and biomethane from wheat.

pdf warning

Overall 62.1% of the energy produced is utilised
during the ethanol process in comparison to 18.6%
for the biogas process.

Wheat to biogas produces 2.4 times more net energy
than wheat to ethanol.

This paper determines that biogas as a transport fuel
is more preferable than ethanol in terms of energy
production per hectare and net energy production per

I am long on the record as favoring biogas as a transport fuel, and digestion as a preferred way to convert biomass. Removing water from ethanol is very energy intensive.

Late comment here. I played golf with one of Rubin's co-workers at CIBC on May 25th, and the word is that Rubin was forced to quit if he went ahead and published his book. So, he published and he quit. I've heard of 'publish or perish', but never 'publish AND perish'.

A roundup of all the existing peak oil literature would be welcome. Something akin to's model, pointing people in the right direction for their purchases, depending on the audience in question. Also cover what's to be had on the net, and of course discussing the efficacy at this stage of handing out or recommending books in the first place. We could do the same for film or presentations like Martenson's.

I started up a thread at on Peak Oil Media but it hasn't had much input. Forums have that advantage over blogs, in that a topic can remain front and center beyond the lifetime of a blog entry. Also TOD could use a better primer, preferably something built up collaboratively. Gail's is good but I take issue with some of her conclusions and aspects of her approach, not that I could do better, but a collective project could be much more comprehensive and balanced than what any one person can do. And, again, assuming there's any point in what bloggers can do to spread the word as compared to the effect of a genuine shortage of fuel or 25% U6.

Just finished Jeff Rubin's book this morning and thought it was excellent. THE big take away for me was the concept of implementing carbon tariffs on imports to level the playing field between high carbon and low carbon based products, where ever they are produced. This makes a lot of sense and could help make the US and other countries more competitive to the extent that the products they produce contain larger percentages of low carbon energy.

Also liked the way he linked energy, carbon and food together as they should be.

Ok. So in the middle of climate change and aquifer depletion were all just going to start producing food locally and feed this 6.6 billion people with local resources and hand labor. Are these people making the assumption that the world population will decline by about 80% in order to realize this balanced eco friendly society? Rainfall is clearly diminishing further away from the equator, and were supposed to be local with our food production? It's hard to get a sense of how far out these prophets are talking. When they talk about re-localization, are they talking 5, 10, or 20 years out?

Good stuff, Jack.
+10 points

Added to my shiny metal bookmarks!

"Into the breach, meatbags!"

First, I haven't read the book. Second, I am a pessimist wrt ACC (climate change).

Those things said, there is nothing inherently unsustainable about some dry climates. There are ways to capture rainfall and wells can be dug. (Permaculture Research Institute's Jordan project.) Were we all on the same page globally, we would have zero problem feeding the planet post-oil and with ACC.

The caveat isn't so much how much rain will fall, but the chaotic weather, and the amplitudes of the extreme events.

Perhaps a bit of a hair being split on my part.


In 1943 the United States grew 40% of its fruits and vegetables in the backyard on plots mainly smaller than 2 acres. This was up from about 2% in 1940. This pales in comparison to the UK where almost 80% was grown in yards and allotments. See also Cuba's "Special Period" conversion to organic urban agriculture.

When there's a crisis and leadership this transition can be made very quickly.

Aquifer depletion is due in large part to Green Revolution techniques (see Vandana Shiva on the water inefficiency of GR breeds). Rainfall patterns are affected by ACC, but can also be largely affected locally through strategic tree planting. 80% of inland precipitation comes from trees.

6.7 billion people today, expected to top out at 9-10 billion people around 2050 and then decline slowly from there.

Local resources aren't usually a problem, in that you can adjust what you grow to the local resources. If you get 250mm of rain annually you should not be growing rice; if you get 2,500mm of rain then sorghum will be a hassle.

The main limit is productive land near where people live. In this respect, our cities of 10+ million people are probably untenable, there's too little productive land per person there, and much of it is paved over. But migration of people to and from the countryside and around their country or even the world is not anything really new. Certainly it causes great social changes, but it's nothing hugely radical or world-shattering.

Relocalisation is likely to be a gradual process, dragged along by the long tail of fossil fuel production's decline. Most revolutionary changes take at least three generations to happen. The Industrial Revolution, for example, took 150 years to happen across Europe, and is still happening for three-quarters of the world's population.

I say keep the people in the cities and build electric freight rails to connect the cities to the productive regions. Keep the distribution simple. I mean which is it, are people moving to the city, or out to big plots of land? India is already thinking in building electric freight rail, double stacked, according to Wikipedia's article about containerization. Sad that I see some 3rd world countries getting the drop on the United States with regards to Peak Oil.

Key oil independent (or not so dependent) infrastructure connecting productive regions to the cities will be the way to go. Watch regions of the world that lack an agricultural capability get sucked dry much like we will for petroleum, or rather, pay out the nose for a container shipped across an ocean.

Good night,


I'd like to see electric trains put in everywhere, but we have to distinguish between what's likely to happen, and what we want and work for happening.

We in Australia and the US tend to overestimate the importance of oil and other fossil fuel inputs in agriculture for feeding us. We see the combine harvesters and the refrigerated freight trucks, and can't imagine things any other way.

The truth is that most of the world feeds itself without that. Speaking globally, feeding ourselves without fossil fuels is not a problem. Everyone having a burger and fries every day and throwing away a third of their food, that can't happen, or continue in the West. But everyone being fed? No problem.

Undoubtedly people will starve. The world today produces about twice the food we need, and people starve due to brutal tyranny, civil conflict, and us just deciding to let them starve. This is bound to continue. But nobody starves because the world as a whole doesn't have enough food, and nobody will in the future, either.

Between the fat guy at the drivethru and the starving infant in the Sahel there's a wide middle ground we can live in.

We in Australia and the US tend to overestimate the importance of oil and other fossil fuel inputs in agriculture for feeding us.

The truth is the US and Australia also only use a tiny proportion of oil and NG for agriculture, see Jason's post last week, 2% of all energy in US for agriculture and 1.3% for transport. More is used by people picking up groceries from the local supermarket or the "fat guy at the drive through"

Neil,you make a very good point about energy use on the farm.This is partly why I keep pointing out that no one need starve at least in the USA as a result of peak pretty near anything,as long as the feds and the states continue to function well enough to see to it that the farmers get what they must have-and print the ration tickets,of course.

I am very hopeful that when the real crisis arrives that we will be able to survive it by1keeping conventional ag running for a few more years and 2getting serious about sustainability once every body's attention is focused.There is no point in trying to hurry the process,other than doing the research,because tptb and the general public are not going toacknowledge that the house is on fire until they start choking on the smoke.

I am very hopeful that when the real crisis arrives that we will be able to survive

If you are referring to shortages of oil, we will probably need gasoline rationing for private vehicles, for some this will be no more than an inconvenience, for some it will be a crisis until they can adapt by car pooling, using mass transit , replace gas guzzlers, etc, for those who cannot adapt it will be a permanent crisis. Motor vehicles generally have a 10-25 year life, so the crisis may last as long as gasoline and diesel powered vehicles last. History shows most people will adapt to a world with very little oil much faster than 25 years.


It depends on whose assumptions in particular,as to the time scale,but mostly I don't think more than a fraction of them have any idea about what it is that they are proposing to do,let alone how long it would take,IF they could do it.

For convenience,allow me to divide them into four groups.

The ones who think they can grow ALL thier own food by hand are simply deluded for the most part,and are on course for a fatal collision with reality unless they are prepared to make some really wrenching changes in thier lives NOW to get ready,including moving in most cases.See my other posts for some details.

The ones who want to extend thier food supply and conserve thier money by engaging in some heavy duty gardening/light parttime farming will mostly succeed in doing so,and may even have something to sell if they have a good year.They will be ok as long as they remember that you cannot DEPEND upon a successful harvest of any given crop any given year.The key to success is diversification,but you cant'diversify very well on a small plot-you won't get enough of any particular crop if you over diversify.Futher more some years you may lose everything,no matter what.This happens a lot more often than most people would guess.Once is fatal,if you are a member of the first group.

The the third group are talking about localizing production by the existing farmers,which for the most part is doable,but there will be some problems.Nobody need starve,but fresh vegetables in winter will be mostly a memory.Apples don't grow in Florida,and oranges don't grow in New York state.Prices at the farm level will go up when for example cabbage is grown in South Carolina,because it doesn't do so well there as it does here in southwest Virginia.Cabbage in SC would still be pretty cheap.This groups assumptions include the continued availability of fuel,fertilizer,etc.

Your total grocery bill might be either up or down,depending on where you live,and the month of the year,and the weather.

The last group proposes to overhaul existing farming practices to minimize or eliminate use of ff and other non renewable resources.This also can be done,but not on short notice.It will take a long time,decades at least,yields per acre will fall quite a bit,and actual acreages will fall as well unless large numbers of people are willing to earn thier livings as field hands.Yields might rise again as experience accumulates.

Some inputs such as phosphorus will have to be recycled,and the only source of recycled phosphorus I am aware of that might be adequate is sewage.

Nobody need starve under this last scenario,but we would be eating a lot farther down the food chain.

If for some reason the commercial ag system collapses over a short period of time,say less than five years,we are in for some desperate times.In that case I guess the population pboblem will solve itself.This time frame is only my personal swag but it is hard to see how effective emergency measures could be put into effect and get traction in less time.

These groups are arbitrary but convenient for purposes of this discussion.Any given person interested in sustainable food might fall into two or three different groups .


Thank you for an excellent book review. I also took the opportunity to re-read your essay 'We won't stop global warming' (with 560 comments - wow! That must be a record!).

Rubin's carbon-tariff-on-imports proposal sounds somewhat utopian to me, though it might postpone the day of climate reckoning by a couple of years. Well, I'll order his book and have a closer look.

I wonder does he mention the M-word or the O-word.

M = Malthus
O = overpopulation

I also took the opportunity to re-read your essay 'We won't stop global warming' (with 560 comments - wow! That must be a record!).

I almost noted that in the essay. I believe you are correct; that is the most-commented-upon essay ever at TOD. Global warming always stokes the emotions, and I added fuel to the fire by suggesting that there wasn't much we could do about it anyway. Rubin suggests that there is, but I am like you in that it seems pretty utopian. But it is an approach I hadn't considered.

He doesn't discuss overpopulation directly, but does hint at what he thinks is in store for billions of people who are currently barely making it. He isn't as 'in-your-face' as Kunstler, but the underlying message is there.

Thanks for the thoughtful review, RR.

I am encouraged that someone from the world of finance with the stature of Rubin has written such a book. I'll try to read it -- maybe I'll have to visit the bookstore a number of times and read it a few chapters at a time!

I am swamped with spring chores for relatively well-off Minneapolitans this time of year -- not many of them thinking about Peak Oil. They are mostly hoping for "the economy" to come roaring back to life and bring back personal financial security and comfort.

Ah, the handyman sees life from a humble, but sometimes intriguing point of view.

Thanks again for the good review of Rubin's book.

Beggar, are you seeing an influx of the formerly employed into the ranks of handymen and renovators? If so, is this pushing prices down? We are seeing an increase here in Ontario but there is no data. Our latest unemployment figures claimed an increase in employment with the vast majority being "self-employed".

Yes, and yes!

One local hardware store owner joked to me the other day that "Whenever the economy sucks, everyone suddenly says that they are a handyman!"

Some of the newcomers are quite technically good -- some with experience or training in construction trades, for example. Others maybe not so good.

Some people still have lawns to mow -- I hope to help many people convert much lawn space to garden space. If we can grow veggies and fruits and nuts (no jokes, now!) and also plant flowers and things that provide welcoming habitat for butterflies and other insects and birds and bats, that will feel good to me.

I am much aware that I -- and we all -- are absolutely vulnerable because we have essentially already killed the habitat that allowed our species to grow so in population as well as to grow as the dominant species in terms of consuming other species and ultimately our own habitat.

We will mostly die sooner because of this, and will live in a more brutal context while we do survive. No matter the PR spin, our species is getting much more brutal as the habitat is devoured and more people compete for the diminishing remains.

No one can predict the unfolding combination of climate, geological events, diseases, nuclear, chemical, and biological WMD's that we will see in the next decade or so.

There are the intentional and unintentional WMDs, the known and unknown ... not to sound too Rumsfeldian, but these WMD's are everywhere and also somewhat to the north, south, east and west of there...

We broke the planet, or at least our own habitat. Oops.

Maybe after this extinction there will be signs of intelligent life evolving on earth. Probability of that has always been low.

Sorry for the gallows humor. Live and love with passion. Enjoy every twist and turn of the ride. Try to avoid torturers and other pain-inflicting people and things.

Maybe after this extinction there will be signs of intelligent life evolving on earth. Probability of that has always been low.

We are on a aging star, and the last 100 million years was our best shot at moving genes and replications off this planet.
We are entering a more impoverished period, and the end of the tunnel is getting closer (in relative terms, as this human realm is important (bringing on a mass extinction), but a blink of time).

As eloquently stated in the film "The Matrix" we are truly a virus on the Earth. The IR and cheap oil allowed us to more than quadruple the 1.5 billion tolerable by the planet despite the ravages of so many wars since 1859.

When you add endemic resource abuse to an entitlement mentality the "worth" of humanity on the macro level is hard to justify. Our perceived value as a species is based on religious beliefs that will eventually kill us all.

Grow beyond them, ameliorate the fiscal and resource crises and help the planet at the same time:

- stop saving people. Let nature do what it will in advanced and infant ages and in cases of deadly disease.
- ration BTU's on a per capita basis; no regressive "cap and trade" or carbon taxes
- limit reproduction in numerous ways; no more "Octo-moms".

Haven't read the book, but have read many others, and it seems to be a common approach to paint a bleak picture and then add an optimistic note or two - perhaps you get better sales. Not many mainstream publishers want to distribute a book that says 'It's over, nothing we can do but watch the tragedy play out to the bitter end'. I think I agree with Nate that there's not much use in trying to inform the world - those that get it, get it, and those that don't, don't. Refer back to Nate's question yesterday - what do we change our minds about? Since my geography teacher explained Malthus to me in 1965, it's been a case of watch and wait for me. We're so clever at cobbling things together, the system is still going. I had expected collapse by the end of the century. Too much efficiency and co-operation!

The book (and any book on peak oil/energy) should include the most important topic for a common man "Change of Profession". It is very likely that as soon as fossil fuels are out atleast half of the population have to be involved in production of food themselves, that is become farmers. There is no other way. I have calculated that it takes atleast 36 hours to grow food and another 36 hours to process it (just basic processing like milling, milking, oil extraction, sugar making etc) and another 36 hours to process cotton/wool into clothes and skin into leather. There would be only one crop per year (the second crop is in most cases watered by artificially extracted water) therefore the working times have to be reduced to 1440 hours per year per person. Multiply 108 by 5 (the average family size per work-age man, man because farming is very labor-intensive without machines) and you get 540. Add a few more hours work to support essential draft animals without which farming can't be done and you get the number 720. A farmer family would be able to grow and process enough food and other farm stuff to support two families, 720 x 2 = 1440. Half of the population have to be farmers. There is no other way. That is the norm since past 12,000 years when humans shifted to agriculture. Read history about a common man's life in classic age (ancient greece, persia, china etc), middle ages and all pre modern ages.

The figures above don't actually make sense.

First, I wouldn't put all this work on the "man" in the family, but would remember that women do most of the food growing in the world. References such as the following do highlight this fact.

Plus, your figures include 36 hours to process food - and 36 hours to make clothes from scratch - nowhere in the world are these only men's work.

The main thing to realize, in my mind, is that everything has to change - what we eat, how we grow and process food, how we use water, etc, etc... Where we live will have a huge impact on how busy we are with basic survival activities. How our houses are built and what constitutes a typical family will also need re-evaluation. So many jobs we have now will be obsolete that the need (and possibility) to grow food manually may be a saving grace for many people. It sort of levels the playing field.

This might be an appropriate place to link to Sharon Astyk, co-author of "A Nation of Farmers", just published.

It is very likely that as soon as fossil fuels are out at least half of the population have to be involved in production of food themselves, that is become farmers.

Problem is that at no point on the decline does it make economic sense to adopt a strategy of using less fossil energy than is available at the time of forecast. If the price of fuel is say $2/gallon now, those who project on that price will either succeed or bankrupt themselves on that price. If they succeed, they will take out everyone who based their work on a higher energy price. If they bankrupt themselves, their liquidation will take out those who based their work on a higher energy price.

Few activities based on a future world of LESS make current sense. Here I am trying to build a 2+ acre mini-farm; that makes no economic sense. I'm less and less confident that I'm even exploring a possible "template".

Nate Hagens alluded above to scale, allocation and efficiency. Until we as a society are willing to exercise control over scale and allocation of resources, efficiency is going to destroy most of us.

Scale. That's the first question. For there can be no discussion of efficiency and allocation without a discussion of scale. Which, of course, is the political underpinnings for ubergrowth - largely, but not entirely aside from the compound interest clusterf**k. Only a religion of ubergrowth relieves society of the necessity to address allocation and scale. [eg Ben Friedman's "Moral Consequences of Economic Growth"]

Scale works well with footprint. Draw a line around your bioregion. Supply it with a non-convertible local currency. We in Maine can barter potatoes for oil. We can fund pensions on Maine housing bonds. But we cannot fund our pensions on oil futures or SIVs on "investments" outside our bioregion. Chickens have to roost every night.

cfm in Gray, ME

Your mastery of the aphorism continues to amaze me.

Are you a Taoist?

How about this one:
Pick the right time and flourish; miss the right time and perish.


No way, sorry.

Good evening. This is your Captain.
We are about to attempt a crash landing.
Please extinguish all cigarettes.
Place your tray tables in their
upright, locked position.
Your Captain says: Put your head on your knees.
Your Captain says: Put your head in your hands.
Put your hands on your hips. Heh heh.
This is your Captain--and we are going down.
We are all going down, together.
And I said: Uh oh. This is gonna be some day.
Standby. This is the time.
And this is the record of the time.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.

Uh--this is your Captain again.
You know, I've got a funny feeling I've seen this all before.
Why? Cause I'm a caveman.
Why? Cause I've got eyes in the back of my head.
Why? It's the heat. Standby.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.

Put your hands over your eyes. Jump out of the plane.
There is no pilot. You are not alone. Standby.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.

Laurie Anderson

cfm, gone over to the Dark Side

I can see how Laurie Anderson hooked up with Lou Reed.

The trouble is that the Mediterranean area and the Fertile Triangle were ruined by agriculture. This was before fossil fuel based fertilisers and machinery, and with far smaller populations. If we revert to older agricultural techniques, the question is how many people can the land, the soil, sustain? 6.6 billion and more? The permaculture people say all agriculture is destructive. How many people could permaculture sustain? How many people do you think the soils and water supply of Pakistan can sustain, by any method of agriculture?

How many people could permaculture sustain?

As many or more than Big Ag can feed.

1. Big Ag requires far more water and energy than permaculture. With permaculture, you have a thick layer of mulch and humus(sp?) which will hold any water that does fall far better than tilled, uncovered soil. Further, with permaculture you use swales and other water capture methods rather than just letting water evaporate. It takes far less water.

2. By mimicking natural systems, you have layers of food, cramming more production into a smaller space, with much wider variety of foods than monoculturing which builds resilience.

3. Once set up, a well-designed permaculture system is much lower maintenance than typical farming, freeing up the "farmer" for other things/skills/work... family time?... etc.

Just off the top of my head.

FYI, according to the CIA World Factbook:

* 10,000,000,000 arable acres

This means we can absolutely feed the world. It's not a question of "can," but of "will." Yes, ACC and changes in climate are things we will have to adjust to. This will be all the easier if we have built resilient systems and ways to grow food in supposedly marginal locations.


CCPO,there is no question but that big ag as we know it must eventually go the way of the dinosaurs.I have seen this prediction justified in many ways,and almost all of them are reasonably airtight.

Otoh,when I look at the link you put up,I see a nice little demo project that is in and of itself pretty impressive-to the uninitiated.Such projects are wonderful modeling exercises in that they allow you to test your ideas.

From the looks of this one,judging from the link alone,it might last until the first local drought.That well is not going to stand much pumping.

If it works,the people who actually live on site will enjoy a dramatically improved life-but in the end,they will not be producing huge quantities of food for sale.

Monocultures are prevalent precisely because the crops are bred to produce the maximum amount,which is facilitated by making sure the crop gets the full benefit of all available water,sunlight,and nutrients.

You might as well buy some new pvs and install them in the shade as to try to grow one crop in the shade of another.Your pvs will produce some juice,and the shaded crop will produce some food-at the expense of lowered production of the upper level crop.In general neither crop will produce maximally,and the total yield is generally less than obtained by planting the two crops in adjacent plots of the same total area.

Furthermore monoculture facilitates mechanized production through out the crop cycle,enabling a handful of in the field farmers to feed every body else,with the support of the marketing system.

Permaculture as it seems to exist in the eyes of its enthusiasts seems to me to be pretty much equivalent to the visions of the home power folks-windmills and pvs every where.These things exist,but they are not yet affordable and they are not going to enable us to do away with coal fired electricity any time soon.

If you want to really work at it,you can unduobtedly make permaculture work today, personally,if you get yourself a little piece of land and are willing to put a great deal of time into it.

The subsistence farmers of the third world long ago worked out thier own permaculture system,which worked very well until we ,with the best of intentions,helped them modernize.Now most of them are locked into the the same ff enabled fix as the rest of us.

Conventional farmers are making some progress,not nearly enough,in moving towards sustainability,and as particular inputs becone more expensive the process will speed up.We can't grow enough corn and soybeans to manufacture ethanol and biodiesel to run the country,that's a pipe dream,but we can easily produce enough to run the farm sector.We will switch(and have switched) from conventional manufactured fertilizers to sewage sludge fertilizers when and if the public and the public health authorities agree.The cattle feed lots, the industrial hog farms,and the poultry producers will disperse so that the surrounding acreages of cropland where the wastes can be put to good use are within hauling distance when the numbers add up right.We use on our farm only about a third as many pesticides,and less dangerous ones,as we used twenty five years ago,and we have cut our fuel usage substantially,maybe by as much as twenty five percent,while actually increasing our production per unit of fertilizer,fuel,and pesticides.Unfortunately ,however,our dollar costs for inputs are rising faster than our reductions in usage.

Wew can and probably will in the not too distant future grow more than enough fruit and vegetables to supply our needs without draining rivers like the Colorado dry,but prices will rise,and off season we will have to be satisfied with a lot more frozen and canned food.

In the end,the system may well collapse,and if it collapses abruptly,there will be hell to pay.
Otoh ,I can't see the general public embracing any significant change in our "nonnegotiable" life
style until it is too late too switch to anything like permaculture as it exists today.

It does for sure look like we are hung on the horns of an insoluble dilemna,but the Four Horsemen will solve it for us if we don't figure something out within the next couple of decades at the latest.

Good questions, but be careful of hyperbole. What is is about the Mediterranean and Fertile Triangle (or perhaps you meant "Fertile Crescent") that makes them "ruined"? These areas produced many millions of tons of food last year.

Sometimes when I read books on peak oil, the message is essentially "Abandon all hope; all exits are closed."

I am often more amused than puzzld by books that, in their conclusion, state something to the effect that; "Here is what we must do to save the world". But I understand why they do it. That is what people want to here. Doomer porn just doesn't sell very well. People simply don't want to hear it.

However we are, without any shadow of doubt, deep into overshoot. That is, even without peak oil, our population level is perhaps twice its long term carrying capacity. And without fossil fuels, we are perhaps five billion over our carrying capacity, at least.

There is no cure for overshoot. There is no fix for overshoot. By definition, the only cure for overshoot is did-off. So basically if one is to tell the truth then they would say; "Abandon all hope; all exits are closed."

Sorry about that.

Ron P.

Essentially I agree with your message Darwinian. One question though, is there any point in preparing oneself for a post peak world? Given that more than 95% of the population is simply unprepared. How can we prepare for something that is such a game changer?

In the same way that there is no cure or fix for overshoot, there is no cure or fix for death. Or is there? Yes, actually there is a "fix" for death and it's built into our biology, a continual renewal process called procreation which we humans enjoy as sexual intercourse. This brings about a new generation that survives after this generation is gone.

So, basically, all we have to do is invent some kind of process for societal sexual intercourse to engender something that will survive after this society is gone.

710. Reads like you are a Dr. Strangelove fan. Me too.

The more I look into the future, the more I see my childhood, and that was a much smaller world, but small doesn't have to mean bad. Of course, as clueless rural white trash, I didn't realize my world was small, and of a lower energy intensity.

Riding my bike everywhere, eating local produce, minimal TV usage (only had 3.5 channels), no real air conditioning. It was actually quite a nice life from that standpoint, but also a very isolated life and we were dirt poor. I remember laying on my bed with my most prized possession, an AM/FM radio, thirsting for contact with the outside world. Or reading every page of the local paper, line by line, because there just wasn't anything else.

Of course isolation allowed the local population to be easily manipulated by politicians, and the politicians were universally corrupt. On the other hand cable news cuts the isolation, but increases the manipulation. So it all works out about even.

People are pretty clueless about how much of life's necessities are not really all that necessary. I get the feeling that before the year is out, they will find out.

As I've talked to my neighbors, trying to feel out just how unaware and mentally unprepared they are, I have noticed that they just don't even consider (or comprehend) economizing. At least not while they still have credit cards. They lifestyle really is non-negotiable, at least they think it is.

Coot,I was brought up in a similar environment except I was on the other side of the world.Not as poor as your people but not well off either.My parents had farmed in the depression which hit Australia very hard.They farmed through the war when Australia was in grave danger.With a wife and 2 kids at that time my father volunteered for the army.He was told to go home and keep farming as he was much more valuable there.

My parents passed on to me a culture of thrift which has been a good friend to me.

Yup, thrift and deprivation seems to be not just unknown, but incomprehensible, in the USA.

The very concept of wanting something, but not being able to afford it, just has not existed for decades. Yet, when I was growing up, many a time we kids needed things like new coats, because the current ones were ripped up, but we just couldn't afford one.

Later in life, my dad told me of how he would go out behind the garage where he worked, and just sobbed for hours because there were no customers, and he could not provide for his family.

I wish their was something I could do to wake people up, but to start being thrifty would mean admitting the dream was dead, and they can't accept that.

"I've got plenty of nothin' and nothin's plenty for me."

I grew up during the depression, and we had plenty of nothin'- but we also had plenty of food -real cheap food-, and I had one pair of overalls, and no shoes. But I had my siblings and my buddies, and my mother had her gaggle of wives who did all the canning and such together amid a babble of gossip and smoke. I did not feel deprived at all, even tho I would have liked to have a nickel once in a while to buy firecrackers. I worked a lot in the dirt, and never got that nickel.

I still know lots of people who are just as scrimpy as I am. And just as able to fix a tractor or make moonshine, which can run anything as long as you are willing to keep on fixing it.

I do not think things will go totally to hell. Some people know how to make do, and do it right now. As for you city folk, just remember, we are too far away for you to walk, and besides, don't you like it there better anyhow?

I second the motion, Wimbi. If you don't know what you're missing, you don't miss it. I remember making a radio out of an old razor blade, a pin (to locate the stations), a crystal headphone, and a very long wire hanging from a tree. What a thrill to listen to short-wave from the other side of the world! We may have been poor, but our world was rich in experiences and wonders. I'm not sure the "modern" world added anything of value; and I'm not certain that we would really lose anything of value by going back. I lived and worked in the cities, and so bought cars and homes like everyone else, but after retirement gave it all up, and I can't say I miss a thing.

If we could go back to the thirties peacefully, I'd go in a minute. We sure didn't have much. We hunted rabbits for food not sport. We fished for food not sport. We lived on the right side of the tracks but the trains were sure loud.

But somehow we have to get rid of half the people here in the US and about 3/4s around the globe for the equivalent sustainable population. I don't think they will go easily (see my post down thread).

thrift and deprivation seems to be not just unknown, but incomprehensible, in the USA.

Only to the extent that it hasn't been necessary. The 20s were a similar time of plenty, but people adapted to the needs of the 30s; they had no choice. Based on that, based on research, and based on individual people adapting to their own personal ups and downs, it seems that people are remarkably resilient.

People will adapt to consuming less, and are likely to adapt quite well. That doesn't mean it'll be easy or painless, but life rarely is.

I wish there was something I could do to wake people up

I'd wager that the bursting of the housing bubble has demonstrated to millions of people the merits of greater thrift than they were practising, and it seems like major financial analysts agree.

Old Coot,we lived the same story here, butI am probably not qiute as old as you,because I heard the worst of it from my grand parents rather than my parents.

The only people I have met,personally,with rare exceptions,who are open minded enough to even consider the possibility that something really bad may happen soon are the local fundamentalist Christians-Baptists and Methodists mostly.My folks are quite ready to believe that the end is nigh,but they don't worry about it since they expect that they shall indeed inherit the earth.

And you know what?They have,in a very real sense,because they are followers of an ethic laid done in the mists of history that has enabled its followers to survive for thousands of years.I sort of expect that Jews and Baptists who hold true to thier heritage will be around when most other ways of life are mere memories.

We'll still be getting New Zealand mutton here in New Zealand.

Thank you for the book review. I ordered it and should be here in a couple days so I can’t comment anything about it however I am quite sure there was no mention of the chaos of transition. People won’t just starve and die off easy.

IMO, I believe armed gangs of Latinos or Blacks or Whites or Indians or Asians or (???), which, here in the greater Reno area have occasional drive by shootings will not go hungry if there is any food left in any store, warehouse or home. These are not your ordinary nice people like here on TOD and your friends. LA will burn worse than the riots of a few years ago. Other cities (including Reno) are vulnerable also. Does anyone think a policeman will allow his kids to suffer and die just because he didn't prepare earlier? After this period of chaos the remaining people will have to get together and make do with what is left. I only hope it does not last too long and waste too much. “A world made by hand” without the mystics anyone?

I'm about halfway through the book. Enjoying it so far, except that most of the 1/2 will be familiar to Oil Drum readers. Some interesting things I did not know, such as the massive fuel subsidization for people who live in OPEC countries.

Rubin wrote that between now and 2012, over 500 new coal-fired plants are scheduled to come online - just in China. This was the theme of my essay We Won't Stop Global Warming. My belief has been that there really isn't much that will convince China and other developing countries to cut back on their emissions

There is only one solution if the Chinese (and Indians) will not stop burning coal as we head towards global meltdown: nuclear war. If we destroy them with nuclear weapons, the following benefits accrue:

  • Mitigate runaway global warming in two ways:
        (1) much less coal burned in toto
        (2) more particulate matter in atmosphere after the explosions (shield us from solar rays and lessen the greenhouse effect, at least temporarily)
  • Quickly reduce overpopulation of the planet
  • Have more dwindling fossil fuels for the West

For chrissakes... Could we have just a little more responsibility, please?

This painting of China (I'm no fan of the gov't) as the Great Satan of ACC is such a lie and distortion.

1. Great Britain and the US are by far the nations most responsible for the current state of GHGs in the atmosphere.

2. Neither nation has any serious mitigation measures in place as we speak.

3. In comments both public and off the record, China has for years shown an awareness of climate issues that the US gov't couldn't claim until January 20 last.

4. The US and China have been in climate talks since last fall.

China is stuck between a rock and a hard place wrt its huge population, food and energy, but at least they have shown an awareness and understanding of that, unlike the last 8 years in the US and GB where the gov'ts have pretended they couldn't hear Grendel banging on the door.

If we destroy them with nuclear weapons

What degree of insanity does it take to convince one's self a nuclear war is winnable?


I'm simply showing you what a military strategist will say to the President of the day. Do not assume that a nuke war is unwinnable. I think it most likely we have the right weapons to prevent an effective counterstrike. If we are faced with annihilation through runaway warming due to unstoppable coal burning in Asia, the nuke option is definitely on the table, your trepidations notwithstanding.

Okay, massive fallout and hemispheric contamination from multiple nuclear strikes on a large, target rich country like China, burning urban areas, seismic responses and the destruction of one of America's most important economic partners, not to mention mass murder, what sort of military adviser counsels that? ...there's a thing called diplomacy, China's self interest comes to mind as well.

You sir, are a lunatic.

No ad hominems please. Attack the ideas, not the person. Multiple nuclear explosions are likely to greatly increase global dimming and ameliorate the greenhouse effect to an extent. The decline of Globalism due to Peak Oil will mean that China will not be as important a trading partner as you might imagine, and the eradication of the (by then) 1.5 billion Chinese would be seen as a boon as the world hurtles towards unprecedented climate change, food scarcity and rising sea levels. You know I'm right.

Attack the ideas, not the person.

OK: that's an idea only a maniac could love.

I don't mind that particular notion, if it wasn't being foisted by someone who seems to be arguing for the 'theoretical sensibility' of attacking a Billion People, without even considering the secondary effects on the rest of the people on the planet.

'Don't attack me for my idea of attacking countless others!'

Attack the ideas, not the person.

If that's what you actually want, rather than simply trolling, stop linking the idea to yourself:

You know I'm right.

You should say "You know my idea is right." if we're supposed to be evaluating the idea, rather than you.

That seems to be fairly clearly not what you want, though, as "you know I'm right" is a clear personal challenge, and not something a person wanting to discuss a controversial idea in good faith would reasonably say. Accordingly, it seems fairly likely that you're just trolling, which is why I marked the root post of this thread as inappropriate.

No ad hominems please.

You're mis-using terminology. Saying you're an evil, sociopathic freak isn't an ad hominem, it's just an insult. For it to be an ad hominem, your being a sociopath would have to be used as a reason to dismiss your argument, rather than your argument being used as a reason to call you a sociopath.

“Multiple nuclear explosions are likely to greatly increase global dimming and ameliorate the greenhouse effect to an extent”.
Good god he’s serious I actually thought he was being sarcastic till the 3rd post.

well ... if you say that knocking people off is bad, but offset by the good of reducing ff use, then
the most efficient strategy is to knock off the people who use the most ff first (water-filling optimization strategy). So you should nuke the usa way before you get to china ...

(as a plus the nukes are already in the usa so there's less wasted fuel in launching them across the pacific)

Wow and just think how much would be left if they attacked the US? 5% of the worlds population consuming 25% of the resources....
What do we have that they need? markets- we are broke..
Their investment $$ back- might not happen anyway....

The fallout drift would end up in the Atlantic, or western Europe(mostly). Compared to the US where we would get that back in our faces on the west coast...

What a brilliant idea...

You have no knowledge of nuclear weapons to think that the US on the same latitude as China, and DOWN wind would not be totally devastated in a preemptive strike against China.
Perhaps a southern Hemisphere country would escape some of the destruction, but definitely not the US or Europe and all of Asia.

China is only burning 30% more coal(1.3Billion tones) than the US(1Billion tones), they are adding about 80 coal-fired (1000MW ) power stations per year, but releasing much less CO2 per person. they have taken steps to reduce their population rather dramatically but it will take 50 years to show. Countries like Australia and the US can do a lot more to reduce CO2 much quicker and with a lot less pain than China.

The Chinese are burning 2.3 billion tons of coal per year(40% of world coal production), the US is 16%,the EU--9.2% and India--7.5%. Those 4 countries amount to 72% of all coal production.

If coal sequestration technology is required in just those 4 countries, the annual amount of world CO2 produced would be reduced to 18.3 GtCO2, well below world CO2 production in 1980(24 billion tons).

The Chinese and Indians don't NEED to burn so much coal, they WANT to. They are climate criminals as much as the US or Australia( actually much worse).

People seem to be getting their knickers in a knot in this sub-thread. When I say that "you know I am right" I'm obviously referring to the fact that strategists will consider the nuclear option if rains are failing, seas are rising, people are starving, mass migrations are beginning, and yet the Asians will not stop the profligate, massive burning of coal in the 500+ new power plants they are planning to build.

Now I cannot put it more simply than that. To the moderators: please delete the clearly insulting and abusive posts that attack me personally for expressing this view.

Mamba, you're either stupid or disingenuous - there is no alternative. You say that you are obviously referring to the fact that strategists will consider the nuclear option, but I have read your posts and that is not the way that your comments come across. Your first post clearly says "There is only one solution...", not "Strategists would say that there is only one solution..." or anything similar. If you don't want people to think that you are a war-mongering sociopath with no conscience then I sincerely recommend that you think much more carefully about how you word your posts.

Currently, on the basis of what you have posted it and the way in which you have worded those posts, the conclusion that you are a war-mongering sociopath with no conscience is pretty much inescapable. Sorry.

And as Pitt the Elder has pointed out, this is not an ad hominem attack on your posts, but a comment on you as an individual, based on what you have posted.

Agreed, I did leave out the disclaimer from the first post, but I inserted it in the second, and it was only thereafter that the insults flowed. So your argument does not hold water. You are shooting the messenger. This is a scenario that could easily play out. I know it shocks and enrages a lot of you, but it is very much in the realm of the possible, and even may even be a likely outcome. Sorry if I made you choke on your breakfast pizza.

Grow up, troll.

Fvck you too.

Thanks for the review. Hopefully I'll find a copy soon and read it. I was particularly interested in your comment that the book presents a "third" alternative to Kunstler's dichotomy--my way (localization) or anarchy, which has by now gotten a bit tiresome.

I do have some problems with the end questions. (1) Flying to remote locations will still be done, just maybe not by anyone or by the masses; we'll still have jet-setters and those who live high, just that this group may be smaller. It's mass jet-setting that we may not have. (2) The impact of lost tourist dollars? A few rich people hire the locals at slave wages and they in turn have to kiss up to the ugly American (or equally ugly European or Chinese). If this no longer exists, it would be a gain for the dignity of the people involved. Net gain, I'd say.

As for not knowing how this is all going to turn out, that's true. And it's also true that it is possible that all of us are stuck in the old paradigm and cannot imagine the discovery of cheap energy, even though we live in a universe of infinite energy and even a square cm of "empty" space probably has enough energy for a million years on our planet, but we just don't quite know yet how to grab it. Over 100 years ago, Lord Rutherford claimed that we'd discovered all we'd ever know, so science might as well close shop--sort of peak science. I rather think that PO people will be left behind as those who don't know better forge ahead and find or create a new world.

Maybe-I know a lot of people who think that way-OTOH the discovery of oil and its usefulness to humans was somewhat similar to the discovery of trees and their usefulness to humans. Most people I know are convinced that if we hadn't discovered oil, we would have discovered some other (probably superior) energy source, and the only reason we haven't stumbled upon this nirvana yet is that there is no need at the present time. If you look at any source from 35 years ago they were saying the identical thing. IMO any problem that has worsened for 35 years doesn't get fixed magically when the need is greatest.

In the face of Peak Oil roll off, wringing ones hands over the CO2 issue is equivalent to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2 is insignificant compared to most other atmospheric trace gases, especially water vapor, both in volume and net effect over 20, 100 and 500 year time spans. See IPCC ref:

You may have missed this para in your link:

It is important to distinguish between the integrated relative effect of an emitted kilogram of gas which is represented by a GWP and the actual radiative forcings for specific gas amounts presented, for example, in Section 6.3 and in Figure 6.6. GWPs are intended for use in studying relative rather than absolute impacts of emissions, and pertain to specific time horizons.

None of which should be taken to mean that the anthropogenic excursion in the global carbon budget is not driving the observed warming trend.

Lotta fear out here.

Never a good sign ....

Roger that Steve:

Same here in Reno. 11%+ unemployment. Thousands of homes in forclosure. 48% of the rest upside down for mortgage to value. High migrant population. City, county and state income dependant on not much tourist discretionary income. State and county taxes are going up. I've heard Vegas is worse.

Not a good sign.

Taxes going up in Nevada? But all I've heard recently is that people are evacuating California to go to low tax states such as Nevada. :)

The only realistic way to stop the Chinese coal plant emissions from creating climate chaos is to get an agreement between the U.S., Canada and Australia not to sell them any more coal. Their own reserves are not enough to feed all their coal plants.

Catman,I suppose you are right about the Chinese coal reserves,and I guess it would be physically possible,for the time being,to prevent them from importing coal.

But you might want to think about Pearl Harbor first.

I can't pretend to know the answers to the climate question,but WW3 will get ACC of the front pages permanently-well for the lifetime of any survivors any way.

Wanted to point out that fishing as a hobby is a recurrent theme among many of the people who have analyzed resource depletion. Hubbert was an avid fisherman. Hatfield recounts an episode where the two of them talked fishing to pass some time. Another peak oil guy from the 70's, George Pazik, was publisher of a fishing magazine.

The point is that these people probably deeply cared about resource depletion. One of the first things you learn about fishing is the concept of a "fished-out" lake. For people that enjoy fishing, that kind of thing hits home hard. So no wonder that Rubin uses fishing as a metaphor. Pazik first talked about this in one of his editorials; as he flew in a plane over some region he imagined the time when the ease of traveling to a remote lake would be difficult. Rubin may have indeed read that passage by Pazik as a youngster, I sure do remember it :)

Fished out. Here in the State of Maine, overlooking the Georges Banks, home to rivers so full of salmon - all fished out or damned dammed up and in any case reduced to fish good only for catfood and chum - now the state wants to require recreational salt-water fishermen and women to get salt-water fishing licenses. It just won't do to have half a dozen poles hanging over the edge of the state pier in Portland, perhaps to pull in a mackerel or a blue. Gotta leave even the minnows for the factory boats. The salmon and the eels - those are for the FPL turbines.

cfm in Gray, ME - over the event horizon

Great review Robert. Thanks for doing it.

I hear talk about how we won't get goods shipped from China or New Zealand post-peak and my first reaction is: What's the energy cost for moving a standard shipping container:

- 1000 miles via ship.
- 1000 miles via train.
- 1000 miles via truck.

My guess is that there's an order of magnitude (or more) difference going from ship to truck. My guess is that post-peak Long Beach or Houston will still have lots of goods. But Butte Montana won't have so much.

Can anyone point to a good source? I think Jeff Radtke's figured this out in detail and I can ask him.

What's the energy cost for moving a standard shipping container:

- 1000 miles via ship.
- 1000 miles via train.
- 1000 miles via truck.

Roughly speaking, a large container ship burns 1.5 tons of fuel per mph per day (link), which comes to about 1 ton per 15 miles. That ship can carry 11,000 teu, or about 120,000 tons (link). At 7.4bbl/ton, that works out to roughly 250,000 ton-miles per barrel of oil.

Trains average 436 ton-miles per gallon of diesel; at 42 gal/bbl, that's roughly 20,000 ton-miles per barrel of oil.

Freight trucks apparently average about 59 ton-miles per gallon, or roughly 2,500 ton-miles per barrel of oil.

My guess is that there's an order of magnitude (or more) difference going from ship to truck.

Actually, it's an order of magnitude for each step from ship to rail to truck. Kind of surprising (to me, at least).

Wow-I didn't realize it was 100-1 between ships and trucks-I wonder if Rubin addresses this in his book, because it looks like goods will still pull into the ports long after long distance trucking is gone.

True, the ships will still be there after the trucks are gone. OTOH, they may be sailing ships (again). ;-)

Everything that goes onto a ship has to first go onto a train or truck to get to the ship. So if one is looking at the viability of trans-oceanic trade, then the disadvantage of local+transocean+local instead of just local still has to be outweighed by other factors such as wages. Consider that a trans-ocean shipment might be 10,000 miles, which comes out equal in energy cost to a train trip of 1,000 miles. Therefore, regardless of whether trucks survive, higher oil prices do not bode well for the global containerized consumer-goods trade of the past few decades, where local cost-savings in China have trumped transportation costs to anywhere else.

Note again, finally, that river transport will return to relative economic (and military/strategic) importance.

Altogether then, it is likely that over the long term we will see a general reversion of global transport to a previous era, with trucks giving back market-share to trains, and trains in turn giving it back to river and canal barges. Ships will still exist, as they always have, but with a reduced role focused on products which can't be produced locally in any given location, and with generally more longitudinal routes (from tropics to polar regions and back). And areas with without proximity to ports and rivers will likely be less economically tied-in to the rest of the world than they are today, more like they were in the past.

I expect some amount of containerization to remain because there will still be ship-to-train and ship-to-barge advantages. But the types of goods shipped in containers may well become a much smaller part of international trade.

True, the ships will still be there after the trucks are gone. OTOH, they may be sailing ships (again). ;-)

Perhaps you mean "ships will be there after trucks using FF are gone and they will be ships using renewable energy"

I am continually amazed how easily people slip for "no more OIL" to "no more ENERGY"

See Electric Vehicles Pros and Cons

I apologize for the slight hyperbole, but I did put a wink there, in case you didn't notice. Sailing ships are indeed "ships using renewable energy", however, so I think that is what I meant. In fact, I think it would be really interesting to see some quantification of whether it would be more economical to power ships with sails or some other form of "renewable energy." What do you have in mind here, Neil? I'm not being facetious, I'm generally interested in hearing.

Clearly from my post I did not suggest that there would be no more global transportation, so I'm really not sure what prompted the "no more energy" comment. That's not what I believe and I didn't say anything to suggest it, as far as I see.

As for electric vehicles (ships, trucks or what have you), I completely support going down that road, but I don't think that even in the most optimistic scenario it's ever going to be as cheap as FF trucks. Therefore I don't expect that trucking, especially interstate trucking (as opposed to trucking from the intermodal railyard to final destination) will be as prevalent in the future as it is today, though I would think it would still exist for more expensive and time-sensitive cargoes. I think that a return to the level of trucking in the early 20th century is likely in a middle-of-the-road scenario between best and worst. That is to say, I would expect to see a lot of final-destination rail infrastructure be rebuilt and a lot fewer trucks (and cars).

Both electric cars and trucks have every prospect of being cheaper to run than diesel trucks. A gallon of diesel has the energy content of 40kWh but a diesel engine only uses about a third of this energy, so for practical purposes you would need <15kWh to replace a gallon of diesel. At 10cents/kWh that's comparable to $1.50 a gallon.
Thus neither electric truck or rail transport should be a lot more expensive than using diesel at today's prices. Renewable and nuclear electricity is likely to become cheaper as it grows from 28% to 100% of electricity production, and most FF is replaced by electricity.

Moving from oil to electric vehicles will probably make car travel cheaper because FF cars are so inefficient(15%).
For ship transport, since energy costs are so low almost any energy source would be cost-effective, ammonia, hydrogen, methanol, bio-diesel, a range of chemical batteries( weight is not an issue), including sail assisted for bulk cargoes.

The only transport I see dramatically declining is air travel.

To start with, you've failed to account for the efficiency factor of whatever batteries the electric vehicle uses, and well as the increased cost of the vehicle. You probably need to multiply your $1.50 a gallon by at least 2. Secondly, even the post you linked to support your argument focuses on the fact that current electric vehicles are best suited to short-haul jobs and not interstate trucking like I've been talking about.

Furthermore, you know (or ought to know) perfectly well that it's unreasonable to expect 10cents/kWh electricity from a renewables-only grid in the future, or to expect a renewables only grid anytime soon. The 10cent price of electricity reflects the fact that most of it comes from coal and natural gas. Renewables, particularly solar, are more expensive. Why do you think renewable and nuclear electricity are likely to become cheaper? If they can be cheaper, why aren't they already? There's no reason to believe the current high prices of those sources vs. coal don't reflect fundamental costs of those sources. And their manufacture and installation requires energy inputs that currently are supplied to some degree with cheap FF that's going to get more expensive. And they require credit which already has gotten more expensive.

For ship transport, everything you refer to as an energy "source" is actually an energy carrier for energy from some other source. Again, I'd like to see some quantification of the economics compared to sails. (And yes, putting both sails and some other engine on ships is quite practical, which only makes my sailing ships scenario more plausible.)

To be clear, I don't regard the EV future you are hoping for as impossible, and you should certainly advocate honestly for the investment and gov't policies necessary. But that's not the same thing as making promises for how cheap it will be that you don't know can be fulfilled. I view your EV future as about the best case scenario among a range of possible futures. Most scenarios that I regard as equally likely would involve scarcer energy, to one degree or another. I'm not going to bet on the EV thing making everything hunky-dory even as I join you in hoping and even advocating for it.

Why do you think renewable and nuclear electricity are likely to become cheaper? If they can be cheaper, why aren't they already?

In some places they are here allready. France uses hardly any fossil fuel inputs at all for its electric grid and produces so much it exports significant amounts.

And it's not cheaper.

French electricity rates are the lowest in europe...

No they're not. Bulgaria's are. Sheesh.

Your comment was that nonfossil electricity is too expensive to be competitive simply flies in the face of the evidence; Now you can be pedantic if you like, but its somewhat besides the point.

True, the ships will still be there after the trucks are gone. OTOH, they may be sailing ships (again). ;-)

I find this scenario incredibly unlikely. Given the value of specialization, you would far more likely see production centers simply move far closer towards distribution centers if the cost of transportation rose high enough to make it reasonable.

But first gas has to get expensive enough to kill suburbia, and thats a long ways off in itself.

Not sure what part you find unlikely (unless it's the sailing ships, again, sorry for toying with the worst case scenario). I think you are saying the same thing as me; production will gravitate closer to distribution centers (i.e. closer to the final product destination), instead of gravitating to low-wage production areas as it has done over the past decades.

I don't know how long before suburbia starts dying (or starts going all permaculture, where it can, in a more optimistic scenario). But I give it about 15 years, give or take 7. Some places (Florida) it's already happening, but it's more directly related to the financial crisis than to gas prices.

This has an effect of increasing low cost international trade. The whole notion of localization is based on the premise that local production is less energy intensive than transport of goods. This isn't obvious or even likely. If transport gets that expensive then people move closer to the cities and trade more so they can specialize more.

Can't really follow you anymore...

If you're saying that people will adapt to more expensive transport by moving to areas where transport is less energy intensive (waterways and existing railroads) then you're saying what I'm saying. If you're saying this will result in more trade, you're assuming a particular scenario you're not spelling out.

The whole notion of localization is based on the premise that local production is less energy intensive than transport of goods. This isn't obvious or even likely.

That's too broad an assertion to be useful. Every product will have its own story.

Pitt, my buddy the trucker says that a fully loaded truck should do 120 or so ton miles per gallon,so that fifty nine average sounds about right.Trucks travel a lot of miles empty.

He also said that sometimes you can't fully load a truck because the cargo is too bulky to get the full tonnage into the box,but more often the reason for hauling less than a full load is that the customer just doesn't want it.;so they generally get paid by the mile,rather than the wieght.
We drop off another order of magnitude when we use a pickup truck to deliver produce.It gets about 20mpg and the load is usually around half a ton and the box is generally empty on the way home.That looks like about 5 ton miles per gallon.

A lot of these transportation energy ratios and more are covered in the book "Transport Revolutions: Moving, People and Freight Without Oil," by Richard Gilbert and Anthony Pearl.

"My guess is that post-peak Long Beach or Houston will still have lots of goods. But Butte Montana won't have so much."

Easy pickin' on Butte, but everyone only seems to do half the calcs on these journeys. How those lambs supposed to get to port? Often a long way from production of commodities to shipping port. And Butte environs have a mess of lambs.

Still raining.Waiting for the fed ex man to bring my copy of the book.I'm gonna miss him too,along with the cheap gas.

I hope the comments section can be kept open a little longer than usual this time as I would enjoy writing an additional review.

Reading thru the various comments I come away frustrated in many cases because while the authors are making valid points,they utterly fail to grasp the larger context,especially in relation to time.In other cases,they seem to have little or no grasp of the basic sciences,or if they do,of the real world of men and materials where science is turned into food,fuel,shelter,and free time.

So here goes with some random criticisms,rebutalls,additional remarksetc.

If tshtf,and you are out in the boonies doing your thing,the bad guys aren't going to have to walk to get to you,except maybe the last mile or two.Once the last of the gasoline is gone,they will still show up for years to come one or two or a dozen at a time,and by that time,the ones who make it to your place will be wellseasoned professionals.

Permaculture,organic farming,localization,etc, are not going to save the general population or your personal butt,because there is simply not enough time to change over,and if the time were available,the will to change is not.

Raising friuts,nuts and vegetables in backyards is a very useful way to EXTEND food supplies,and will make a big difference in the case of an extended major contraction of the economy,but somebody somewhere is going to supply the grain,eggs, milk,meat and fish that are the difference between gardens and starvation,or starvation it is.I don't see any point in a debate with the vegetarians until one comes forward willing to take an oath that he lives exclusively on local vegetables. Of course vegetarians live much more sustainably farther down the food chain than the rest of us,but while nuts do actually grow on trees, the trees are usually a few hundreds or thousands of miles away.ditto the soybean fields.It also takes years to seriously ramp up production of fruit and nuts.

The remarks made about authors necessarily sugar coating bad news with a message of hope are dead on.Perceptive readers are expected by such authors to do draw thier own conclusions.I mentioned the military publication JOE 2008 recently in a post and somebody dismissed it with contempt since it QUOTED the pollyanna future oil/gas figures put out by IEA/EIA.This unclassified paper is intended as thinking fertilizer for the consumption of military planners and field personell who deal daily in uncertainty/chaos.On another page,it lists the unexpected changes of fortune,militarily and politically that the English experienced for the last century.The audience are expected to do thier own thinking.Does anyone think that the Pentagon is immune to political pressure? Or that they are actually interested in creating a panic?Such work has a long history of being presented in a form that allows it to be published and read without directly confronting the powers that be.Gullivers Travels,Don Quixote,and Alice in Wonderland are not childrens tales.
Alan Greenspan's remarks about irrational exuberance(too late now!) and Michelle O Bama's vegetable garden just might be profitably interpreted by the perceptive on more than one level.

Nothing short of a flat out fire off every last icbm nuclear war is capable of wiping us totally off the face of the earth.Even that probably would not do it.More than likely a number of people who live in the remote southern hemisphere would make it,especially if they were well prepared refugees.A super plague might get nearly every body,but a few people would survive because microbe populations crash when hosts become few and far between.

Noboby seems to be giving much thought to the possibility that we will rather abruptly find ourselves living in a police state within the next few years.Democracy is,as has been said before,a miserable form of government except in comparison to the alternatives.Nevertheless in times of war we submit to being enslaved as cannon fodder,etc.In the event that it becomes necessary,do you think that the president and congress will hesitate to declare martial law?

It is probably well past the time we should be thinking about just what our individual place in society will be in this event.If you work in one of the many fields that will be declared nonessential,you may find that your ration tickets arrive via an assigned job such as unloading cabbages and potatoes from the only truck that will be seen in your nieghborhood that day and distributing them with a hand cart to your nieghbors.This would cut out a truly large chunk of the energy used to distribute food the way it is done today.You might be backhauling buckets of "precious night soil" to be loaded on the truck the next trip.

I am not happy about this prospect,believe me,but totalitarian societies can accomplish things sometimes that can't be done in democracies.Enforced birth control ala the Chinese one child policy comes to mind.

A huge portion of the people in the environmental movement are simply incapable of thinking.They have absorbed thier Sunday school lessons,handed down by the little tin gods of thier movement,and will still be busy blocking any new technology that might actually work from being built when the lights go off..Check out the case of the desert tortoise and the efforts of the solar industry to build in the California desert.
I do not mean to denigrate the overall environmental movement,which has been and will continue
(I hope) doing a huge amount of critical work.

Some of us seem to think that maybe we overestimated the effects of peak oil and that the downhill ride will not be as rough as anticipated earlier.I believe that anyone thinking along these terms is going to be disappionted,although I also personally think that the crash,when it comes, will be drawn out rather than abrupt,and that perhaps the oil and gas production decline will be slow enough that a good many effective emergency measures can and will be instituted ,so that here in the USA at least, not too many people will actually starve.We might even come out of the crisis more or less intact as a new society in a couple of generations.

Folks, there is a lot of wisdom in oldfarmermac's comment here.

Apparently the book states that China puts out four times the GHG per GDP than 'we' do. I guess I'm obliged to be polite about economists tackling actual reality - Bravo Rubin - but how do you measure GDP? If it's in terms of how much CO2 is produced per ton of steel for example I find it hard to believe they are that inefficient by comparison unless our steel plants are nuke fired. Of course if the steel is priced lower....

Price. Price and money are arbitrary concepts while a ton of steel is not. If we were to measure GDP by hours worked or goods produced rather than price received then we would have quite different numbers to bandy about. Goods and labor and energy are actualities that can be precisely measured in a comparative way while money and price are will of the wisp, rendering his analysis 'wispful' thinking. You'd think we'd know that now, having just recently reduced so much money to wisps.

I recently watched a documentary on China in which the typical factory employee made ten dollars a day. Well, actually the equivalent of ten dollars at the current exchange rate. But he didn't make dollars; he made goods. Actual goods. Perhaps if the Chinese/American wage rates were reversed China would be far more efficient and less polluting than we are. Besides which, how much of that production is consumed elsewhere leaving China with the smoke and us with the goods? Offshoring the problem yet again.

Conspicuously absent - and I mean effectively completely absent - from public discussion are the two topics of peak oil and population. Rubin needs to send a copy or three to Paul Krugman who, despite his Nobel prize, rants on about how to repair the economy without any mention of the US needing to extort 14 million barrels a day of 'surplus' oil from the rest of the world.

And he's worried about the banks being insolvent? The whole shebang is insolvent and has been since 1973.

Remember that economies have basically three sectors: agriculture, industry (mining/manufacturing), and services.

When you grow rice, you flood the fields and the organic material rots without oxygen - you get a lot of methane, a greenhouse gas. Yet rice is cheap. When you make a plastic chair, you get some emissions from the energy used to make it, but 10kg of chairs cost more than 10kg of rice. And then when you prepare an auditor's report, there's some energy used for lights and computers and so on, but that report costs thousands, much more than the rice or plastic chair.

Agriculture has high emissions, as do industry, and services have relatively little emissions. Yet agricultural products are cheap, industrial products medium expense, and services expensive.

Thus agriculture has a high emissions/GDP, industry a middle emissions/GDP, and services a low emissions/GDP. So if your country has a big agricultural sector, it'll have high emissions/GDP.

China has a lot of peasants growing food, a fair number of people in industry, and not many in services. Whereas the Western world has relatively few people in agriculture, few in industry, and lots in services.

Another thing is that around a quarter of China's GDP comes from exports of manufactured goods. That is, around a quarter of China's emissions are to support us.

I think you will find that very little GHG are created from manufacturing China's exports.
The big GHG emissions are from burning coal for electricity(40%), manufacturing steel and cement for local infrastructure, not export goods. Export of aluminium is probably the largest GHG export. Some cement and fertilizer(both high energy) are also exported, but only a small amount compared with local consumption.

The two coal fired power stations per week( 80GW per year) will decrease as new hydro, wind and nuclear come on stream in next 5 years, and older low efficiency coal fired plants are replaced by higher efficiency plants.

Interesting. What do you think a most of the electricity is used for?

I got the book yesterday, shortly after hearing Rubin interviewed on NPR's Marketplace. I thought that was a major Peak Oil awareness breakthrough for NPR. I haven't finished it yet, but I am finding it very readable, and in fact, it is the first Peak Oil book that I intend to press on friends and loved ones who think the lifestyle changes we have made in preparing for Peak to be fairly eccentric. I think it is clearly explained and convincing, without sounding too far out to be taken seriously by those who haven't thought through the impossibility of eternal growth in a resource constrained world.

My own experience of making changes to power down are that many of the changes actually improve the quality of our lives, such as bicycling for a large portion of our local trips, and using a clothesline to dry laundry, and eating locally and in season. I wouldn't change those things even if energy and emissions ceased to be an issue. But there is a very steep learning curve for folks like me who didn't grow up providing our own food and shelter and so on. I have been dabbling in gardening for about 8 years now, getting more serious just this year. But the point is, in spite of many hours of work, and pretty significant financial investments in replacing a huge tract of fescue with a combination of native plants, organic vegetable beds, and fruit, berry and nut trees and bushes, the payoff is mostly in the future. I am learning the hard way how to fend off suburban wildlife, what varieties do well here and which don't, and so on. So, strawberries are doing great this year, but it looks like we will have at roughly 2 cherries each for our family of four this year, and my apple harvest may be 6 times higher this year than last, since one tree has six little apples on it.

I'm not a deep doomer, but I do think that the necessary transitions are going to be difficult, and while I may be a particularly unskilled gardener, there will be others like me, so the time to start tackling the learning curve was some years back. I worry a great deal about what the next decade or so holds, and I hope this book encourages others to start making chnges that will ease the misery of the downslope somewhat.

I just finished the book.

If you want to do something to help all your friends,family,and business associates who are not yet aware of what the energy crisis really means,the best single thing you can do imo is buy them a copy.

The tone is right,the facts are there,including some that will be new to most of the people on this site, and the prose is good-good enough that you will enjoy even the parts about things you already know.

Rubin includes a balanced and easily understandable discussion of the possible downside of printing money,and he has a great deal to say about the possible upside of localization.His arguments regarding the effect of carbon taxes upon leveling the playing field between the labor forces in undeveloped Asia and developed NA/Europe and his discussion of the day to day realities of relocalization as it will impact various businesses and every body's lifestyle make this book one well worth reading- even if you could have written the first half yourself.

The thing that impresses me the most is that Rubin has managed to write the book in a way that will entice rather than turn away the skeptical reader,if he once opens it.This is no mean accomplishment.

The only false note I detectat first glance is that he uses some figures and facts-which may be only opinions- about the nuclear power industry that I find suspect.I think they may have been cherry picked to support his position,but on the whole he seems be scrupulously fair handed to an extent that I find refreshing and rather unusual.

I will post another comment later about the nuclear details when I have had a chance to look into them.