DrumBeat: July 4, 2009

Book review: Taking Jeff Rubin to task

The problem is Rubin never quite gets around to discussing how $150/barrel oil will affect us except to say that we will all have to consume less and in reduced variety. And there are a lot of people who won't stand for that. What happens then? It's the thorny question that can't help but creep into the reader's mind when faced with the starkness of Rubin's analysis.

Without this level of analysis, the book never rises much past the level of highly competent pop culture screed, probably destined to compete ably against similar doomsday books. And there's nothing wrong with that, but given the gravity of the consequences both mentioned and unmentioned, Your World needs to be so much more.

Ghana: Fuel shortage hits parts of Accra

Fuel shortage has hit parts of the capital Accra. A number of fuel stations visited by Joy News had run out of the product.

The few stations that had the product said they managed to get some after waiting for days for their supplies.

Motorists who spoke to Joy News from long queues expressed their frustrations over the situation.

Demand for shingles is through the roof

Roof shingles are harder to get these days in Huntsville, and it's not a symptom of the city's growing pains.

The price of asphalt, the main component in shingles, has risen. Then an April hailstorm damaged hundreds of roofs in the area, creating higher demand for roof repair and replacement.

World`s largest cement firms slash production emissions by a third

Efforts by the world's leading cement companies knocked down carbon dioxide emissions from the industry's manufacturing process by 35 per cent even while production climbed by 53 per cent, according to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development's Cement Sustainability Initiative.

Flood (review)

After years as hostages, locked away in the basements of a war-torn Spain and handed from one extremist faction to another, Lily, Piers, Gary and Helen emerge to a much-changed world. It's raining most of the time, sea levels are rising faster than anticipated and storms have become more extreme. Returning to London just as the Thames Barrier is about to be breached for the first time, they discover that flooding is becoming a way of life and the world is drowning faster than climate models predicted.

Swimming in natural gas

At a recent presentation to money managers in Canada's oil and gas heartland, the chief executive of a major Calgary-based energy trust used an interesting choice of words to describe natural gas. He referred to the commodity as a "wasted byproduct."

The suggestion that natural gas is worthless may be extreme, but it is an indication of the challenge the industry faces. Market experts continue to expect weak prices for natural gas as a surge in unconventional gas discoveries, such as shale plays, pour on to an already-flooded market. Add in unpredictable weather and a slower-than-forecast economic recovery, and the outlook doesn't get much brighter.

PetroChina Forecasts Gas Glut on Increased Output

(Bloomberg) -- China, the world’s second-biggest energy consumer, may face a “short-term” natural gas oversupply after 2010 because of increased domestic output and imports of the fuel, a PetroChina Co. official said.

Natural gas supply in China may increase by an average 20 billion cubic meters a year starting 2010, Ma Xinhua, deputy head of PetroChina’s exploration and development unit, said at an energy conference in Beijing today. The nation should boost its capacity to store the fuel for emergency use, Ma said.

Saudi set to cut Asia crude prices

SINGAPORE: Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia will cut or keep steady the official selling prices (OSPs) of most of its crudes to Asia for next month as refining margins come under pressure, refiners and traders polled said yesterday.

The eight refiners and traders polled expected Arab Heavy's discount to Oman/Dubai to be widened, and none forecast Arab Light or Extra Light's premiums to rise further.

China holds speculators responsible for causing oil price fluctuations

BEIJING, July 4 (APP): A growing number of speculators in the oil market have exacerbated the uncertainty in oil prices, Zhang Guobao, director of the National Energy Administration (NEA) was quoted as saying by Saturday’s China Daily.“The change in oil price cannot truly reflect the demand,” said Zhang, adding that “The hot money flow should be regulated more strictly.”

Many experts have been saying that the money pouring into the oil patch from mutual funds, traders, hedge funds and other financial players are pushing up oil prices.

The inflow of hot money, or investments by speculative institutional investors, is the main reason for the recent fluctuation in oil prices, the senior Chinese official told the Global Think Tank Summit Friday.

Total, Iran gas talks 'at standstill'

Total's negotiations with Tehran on a multi-billion dollar contract to develop a major Iranian gas field are at a standstill, the head of the French oil major said.

'They (negotiations) have not been broken and they have not been resumed either. They are not in a very advanced state,' chief executive Christophe de Margerie told journalists on the sidelines of an economic forum in southern France.

Russia's State Duma approves Russia-China oil co-op agreement

MOSCOW (Xinhua) -- Russia's State Duma, the lower house of parliament, approved on Friday a Russia-China intergovernmental agreement on oil cooperation, the Itar-Tass news agency reported.

The agreement, which envisions long-term Russian oil supplies to China, was signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin and Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan in April.

Iran planning to invest $70 billion in gasfields

TEHRAN: Iran plans to invest around $70 billion in two major offshore natural gasfields in the 2010-15 period, a senior official said yesterday. Seifollah Jashnsaz, managing director of the state National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC), said Iran would invest $40 billion to complete remaining projects in the South Pars field during the fifth five-year economic plan, which runs until 2015.

He did not say how Iran, which is also the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, would finance the investments.

Uganda: Norway Team Calls for Transparency in Oil Management

Kampala — THE Government should be transparent on issues of oil resources to avoid suspicion, visiting Norwegian officials have advised.

Appearing before the finance committee on Tuesday, the delegation warned that if there is no transparency from the beginning, the discovery could easily become a curse.

CNOOC Parent May Bid for Iraqi Oilfields, Fu Says

(Bloomberg) -- China National Offshore Oil Corp., the nation’s third-biggest oil explorer, may continue to bid for oilfields in Iraq after the Gulf country awarded a contract to its bigger rival, China National Petroleum Corp.

Nigeria runs out of crude

The Nigerian Government on Wednesday admitted that it had no more crude for its refineries to process for local consumption. The effects of militancy in the Niger Delta in Nigeria and the Federal Government's clampdown on them have shaken the foundation of the oil and gas industry in that country.

PDVSA halts process to grant new Orinoco E&P licenses: sources

Caracas (Platts) - Venezuela's PDVSA has halted the process to grant new licenses to explore, produce and upgrade extra heavy crude in the Orinoco, according to local media and industry sources.

Caracas daily El Universal published a report in its Thursday edition saying PDVSA had notified all 19 interested bidders -- a short list that included Chevron, Shell, Gazprom, Statoil and Total -- that the process had been halted "until further notice." An industry source in Caracas also said that the process had been halted.

Pdvsa requests payment of debts to solve financial troubles

Amidst financial problems, the state-run oil company Petróleos de Venezuela is asking foreign companies to repay their debts under energy supply agreements.

China's CNPC, CNOOC square off for Repsol's YPF - sources

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China National Offshore Oil Corp Ltd (CNOOC) and state-run China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC) are battling for approval to bid for the Argentinian unit of Spanish oil major Repsol (REP.MC), sources said on Friday, in a deal that could be worth around $17 billion.

Pipeline blasts leave nerves frayed in B.C.

VANCOUVER–It had been quiet for six months, but the peace of northeastern British Columbia has again been shattered.

Another bombing rocked the region this week, at a wellhead operated by gas producing giant EnCana. An EnCana worker noticed debris and a small leak in the well during a routine check of the wellhead, about eight kilometres south of Dawson Creek, early Wednesday morning. The closest residence is about three kilometres away.

Why China is stockpiling gold & base metals

Peak oil is here in the very near future. Many of the big oil producing regions have already passed peaks. Don’t forget, the United States was the world’s largest oil producer for a period, but production has fallen way down. Experts who follow this industry are very clear that the peak is not too far away—at most a dozen years, but more likely much sooner. The pace of new discoveries has fallen way off over recent years. It takes an enormous amount of new drilling to simply replace depletion. Production from existing wells declines steadily. Production won’t drop off suddenly, but it will certainly stop rising. Demand is continuing to rise and we are so complacent about oil production continuing to rise.

Ottawa Commits Funds To Clean Energy

EDMONTON -The federal government will spend $1-billion over the next five years on clean-energy research and demonstration projects, with an emphasis on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Bugging Out

Simon Beer has spent the past five years trying to convince himself that the Apocalypse will be fun. Not that he calls it the Apocalypse. His fellow survivalists call it TEOFTWAWKI (The End Of The World As We Know It) or the Long Emergency, the Collapse, the Shift or the Event, as in, "There may be marauding bands of cannibals post-Event." But Simon doesn't call it anything at all. "I guess I'd call it ‘When the oil runs out'," he says. "I don't really have a name for it." So far this nameless thing has been far from fun: it has cost him his job, his relationship and his health, and it hasn't even started yet.
(An older story, but I think it just came out from behind a paywall.)

The Seven Ways To Solve The Energy Problem

I have dished out a healthy share of criticism about the paths we are taking into the energy future, so perhaps it’s time I offered some paths of my own. I will outline them as simply as possible, since the data and thinking behind them could fill a book.

Staying Power: A commitment to conservation is starting to pay off for this entrepreneur

On the wall in the reception area at Building Energy in Williston is a quote from Albert Einstein that reads: “The amount of sunlight reaching the earth’s surface is 6,000 times the amount of energy used by all human beings worldwide. The total amount of fossil fuel used by humans since the start of civilization is equivalent to less than 30 days of sunshine.”

It’s exactly the kind of thing that anyone who has spent time with Scott Gardner, the founder and president of Building Energy, would expect to find.

Refusing to multiply

he headlines are swine flu, terrorism and climate change, but economists know that the real threat to our way of life is the reluctance of women to produce lots of babies.

Well, not just any women. This is about women in the industrialized West. In poor parts of the world women have plenty of children. Unfortunately, they can't afford them.

Here in the wealthy West we can afford to have more children but we don't. It's the population paradox.

How to save the world by shopping

Or, how to save the world by shopping. Goleman, renowned author of Emotional Intelligence and probable future author of Entomological Intelligence, has little patience with critiques of corporatism. "By imagining some disembodied power that has victimised us - 'those greedy corporations,' say - we avoid having to examine our own impacts," he tuts (though Rushkoff, reasonably, thinks we can do both).

Protesters who stopped coal train found guilty

Twenty-two environmental protesters who ambushed a train as it took coal to the largest power station in Europe were found guilty of obstructing the railway.

Preparing for a Sea Change

But it was Bildt's description of a relatively new hot topic -- the strategic consequences of climate change -- that galvanized my attention when he spoke here to the Council for the United States and Italy. The rapid melting of the Arctic ice sheet at the North Pole will bring "revolutionary new transport possibilities between the Atlantic and the Pacific," he told the gathering, expanding that thought for me later in an interview.

Bildt is not alone in studying the geopolitical consequences of climate change at the top of the world and elsewhere. The U.S. and Russian navies are also looking hard at how the projected disappearance of polar "summer ice" in a decade or two will influence their strategy and maritime practices and perhaps alter a relationship that is still marked by big-power rivalry and distrust.


Fuel from Coal-Eating Microbes

I am worried about run away methane production from microbes eating coal.

This is similar to a story that appeared in the Sunday Times last week and was covered in the roundup. The consensus on the board was that they were over hyping it in order to get backers. It was unlikely to be practical.

I think I like the fourth of July better than Christmas, because of my present: The newest BP energy database. I will be playing with it all weekend.

I like it for the Hot Dog eating contest at Coney island. Yum!

I wonder how much methane is produced by the contestants when they eat as many as 65 hot dogs?


I can't help thinking that contest represents the worst of decadent over-consumption.

It's as American as the all-u-can-eat buffet...

Ottawa Commits Funds To Clean Energy

EDMONTON -The federal government will spend $1-billion over the next five years on clean-energy research and demonstration projects, with an emphasis on reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

... 65% of which going to the CCS money pit. Same ole, same ole.

The CCS research has to be done to prove to everybody it isn't a viable, affordable, acceptable way forward.

Eventually the realisation of our OECD predicament will pervade all levels of society, at the moment they are in denial.

I see the articles like this:

Swimming in natural gas

and wonder why these locations without the ability to profitably sell their NG on the open market don't look into other uses for it.

Like making fertilizer or chemicals or plastic resin. What else useful can NG be converted into? Perhaps used for processing metal ores or glass-making or something?

Even converting it to LNG, with all it's processing losses, seems wiser than flaring or re-injecting it.

Storage is mentioned, which I assume is in underground formations of some type. Are these formations rare or present only in a few areas?

I suppose it usually comes down to economics and the capital costs of building facilities to process NG into something else. And of course the energy companies are in the energy business, not the glass-making business, so their interest isn't so broad. The economic development teams must be asleep, or non-existent in those communities.

Just seems awfully surreal for us to be in a situation of constrained energy resources, and yet not know what to do with this one excess energy resource...

"Even converting it to LNG, with all it's processing losses, seems wiser than flaring or re-injecting it."

what is so unwise about re-injecting gas ?

and from the article:

"He referred to the commodity as a "wasted byproduct."
The suggestion that natural gas is worthless may be extreme,....."

ng as a wasted byproduct is worse than worthless but only because it is wasted.

this technology was invented about 1857, aren't technological advances wonderful ?

I looked at China's natural gas consumption on BP's statistics. Over the past 10 years, China's nat gas demand averaged a 15% increase per year, compared to their oil demand, which increased only 6.6% per year. While natural gas is only about 3% of Chinese gas consumption, it's about the same amount of gas as Japan, which is the largest LNG importer in the world.

China is obviously coming to the realization (even if slowly) that their fossil fuel consumption, particularly coal and oil, is pretty problematic, in terms of global supply issues, climate change, and local air pollution. Hence the gas pipelines to central Asia, the 10 LNG terminals their building, the massive build out of nuclear and wind. All hopes that it works out.

China is obviously coming to the realization (even if slowly)

I don't know why this keeps getting repeated. The Chinese government was making moves years earlier than the US. Interviews from a year or two back are full of concern and planning by Chinese officials. Why do people keep assuming that their practical problems = their goals? Come to think of it, I don't recall a single denialist comment out of China at all, unlike US policies up until Jan. 20th.


I was by no means insinuating that the US was making much better progress, but it seemed for the longest time that China's only energy policy was coal, and to shut down old coal plants with newer coal plants. Hence the atrocious local air quality. Any progress in policy by the central government is being hampered by local officials.

It still doesn't look like they're changing their coal policy, although the growth rate of coal in China is tapering off, and it seems they're actively looking at almost all other fuel sources, except perhaps except for solar, although it looks like that may be changing. At least when China decides to move, they do so in a big way.

I agree, I think in this particular area the Chinese are far more forward looking than their US counterparts.

The real questions include whether the provincial and local level governments - which swim in a sea of crony capitalism and graft - will embrace the climate friendly national approach or will the national efforts be undone by the coal business puppet- mastery at more local levels?

Another question is whether the Chinese will be able to afford the energy transition? There is the overall assumption that because they are holders of a lot of cash reserves and posssess a large industrial base, they can easily divert this and that resource to whatever problem they wish to address. In reality, the Chinese reserves are dwindling - exports are falling and cash income is shrinking. Also, the PBOC has made a lot of credit committments against their reserves.

BEIJING, July 4 (APP): A growing number of speculators in the oil market have exacerbated the uncertainty in oil prices, Zhang Guobao, director of the National Energy Administration (NEA) was quoted as saying by Saturday’s China Daily.“The change in oil price cannot truly reflect the demand,” said Zhang, adding that “The hot money flow should be regulated more strictly.”

Speculators ... like the Chinese themselves. The Chinese are 'resbalancing' their capital reserve base away from dollar- denominated securities like Treasury bonds and mortgage- backed GSE bonds and have been using the funds to purchase commodities. While only China's hairdresser knows for sure, it is likely the contango in the oil futures market is China's responsibility. They have insufficient physical storage and buying into the future on the futures market is a reasonable strategy substitute.

The real problem in China is its dependence upon coal, which is has in relative abundance. It is cheap for its manufacturing sector to use and its inefficiency synchronizes with the Chinese strategy of using large forces of (cheap) labor utilizing more or less obsolete machinery to produce cheap goods for export. All else being equal, the Chinese manufacturing sector's use of coal for export production will overcome any attempt by that country's government to cut carbon emissions by other means.

I think this is what most people concern themselves about when they consider Chinese carbon emissions.

The key factor is exports from China. If people - consumers - want a less carbonized future, they shouldn't buy Chinese products until China swears off coal and other fossil fuels. Can this happen?

In the late 90's, activists alarmed by the use of old- growth lumber being used as studs and other basic building materials protested Home Depot:

Home Depot is part of a growing rapprochement between American corporations and the global activists who traditionally clashed with them. From 1997 to 1999, environmental groups organized protests against the company, charging it was failing to ensure that its wood didn't come from endangered forests. Activists picketed hundreds of Home Depot stores, hung banners at its corporate headquarters in Atlanta and demonstrated at shareholder meetings.

Home Depot was afraid the protests might lead to a consumer backlash and sliding sales. It had already started an internal push to follow better environmental practices. So the company agreed to stop using products from endangered forests. It created a new executive position -- environmental global project manager. The man appointed to the post, Roland "Ron" Jarvis, has the authority to sever logging contracts with any supplier whose practices harm endangered forests or otherwise hurt the environment.

Citing the destruction of tropical forests in Indonesia, Mr. Jarvis slashed Home Depot's purchases of wood there. He also played mediator between Chilean environmentalists and Chile's two largest timber producers, Empresas CMPC SA and Celulosa Arauco y Constitución SA, persuading them to overcome years of acrimony and negotiate face-to-face for the first time.

As a consequence, Home Depot started selling Certified lumber in its stores:

"With encouragement from WWF, companies like The Home Depot and Tembec are leading the way in demonstrating that responsible forest management and good business can be compatible," said Bruce Cabarle, Director of the WWF-US forest program. "By choosing the FSC certified Tembec products for sale at The Home Depot, it is increasingly easy for shoppers to influence how forests are managed."

Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification is the world's highest endorsement for environmentally and socially responsible forestry practices, because it is the only system that tracks products from the forest floor all the way to the retail shelf.

The Chinese are already hurting in the wallet as Americans look to balance their personal balance sheets, refusing to buy Chinese products and telling the Chinese government so would give them added incentive to make the switch away from fossil fuels. Avoiding Walmart and other purveyors of Chinese goods would also be effective.

Hi Steve,

RE: "While only China's hairdresser knows for sure, it is likely the contango in the oil futures market is China's responsibility. They have insufficient physical storage and buying into the future on the futures market is a reasonable strategy substitute."

IIRC, the export of crude oil from the US is either banned or all but banned, and the biggest contango market was on NYMEX. Maybe this is a good hedge, but not a full-on substitute for storage.


RE: Chinese goods, you are right on. Buy Fresh, Buy Local in food and buy American on all else you can. I'll still shop WalMart on what I can, however, within my own self imposed constraints.

You might find Bill Moyer's panel last night (7/3) interesting. Or not ;-)

Faith and Social Justice

Bill Moyers speaks with Cornel West, Serene Jones, and Gary Dorrien for a fresh take on what our core ethics and values as a society say about America's politics, policy, and the challenges of balancing capitalism and democracy.

I like most of what Cornel West has to say, but sometimes find him hard to follow.

Much of the discussion (to me) had to do with "religious" and spiritual themes - nothing wrong with that - but I did have some trouble connecting some of that with the discussions of love, and justice.

I think one takeaway was that in order to cope with what has happened, is happening, and is to happen will require more community and that has been a theme here on TOD from time to time.

There is discussion on greed and capitalism, etc.

About 30 minutes in West described his take on Obama and I found that quite interesting and a forceful but a polite way of describing what I feel but cannot not articulate that Obama is missing.

CORNEL WEST: Well, I think it's a very complicated situation. Because, of course, the age of Obama actually emerges with a discredited Republican party in disarray. With a mediocre Democratic party that only had the Clinton machine at the center. And if this charismatic, brilliant, young, black brother can somehow get over the Clinton machine, he can become president.

That's why I supported him. Critically! A Socratic, prophetic, orientation toward the brother, right? Because he becomes the initiator of a new age. We had to bring the age of Reagan to a close. The era of conservatism had to be brought to a close. Thank God it was. But then the question will be, well, is he going to focus on the poor and working people? Will he recycle neo-liberal elites from the old establishment of Wall Street - which the economic team is?

BILL MOYERS: We know the answer to that.

CORNEL WEST: We know the answer to that.

BILL MOYERS: Right after the election, you were-

CORNEL WEST: Will he recycle the same neo-imperial elites when it comes to foreign policy. I know he's dealing with tremendous power. Wall Street. Congress. And so forth, and so on. I understand the political considerations. People have the right to organize. Lobbies have a right to bring power and pressure to bear. That's what American democracy's about.

But that's not truth. That's not the same as prophetic witness to truth. Especially as Christians, you see. So that the critique launched against Barack Obama, be it Gaza, be it Darfur, be it in Ethiopia, be it wherever. It has to be put forward. That is the calling of prophetic Christians.

I found the last 15 minutes CHILLING as Moyers repeated some video segments from a year or so ago about food pantries and the people they help and then updated that with how much worse it has become.

I think of the billions - no TRILLIONS - dedicated to Wall Street and "The Banks". NO ONE should be hungry.


Ah yes, the Belief in the Belief in Religion that the progressive left is afraid to confront, and accepts as fact.
I have problems with West, and have personally attended a few presentations of his.
He doesn't understand energy or science, as far as I can tell, at least from his presentations.
He still believes reform is possible.

what our core ethics and values as a society say about America's politics, policy, and the challenges of balancing capitalism and democracy.

Will he recycle the same neo-imperial elites when it comes to foreign policy.

America was founded by invasion and violent destruction of indigenous peoples, largely via bio-warfare.

Obama is a TV character whose job is to distract us from preparing for the future. Of course Obama is a "neo-imperial elite" himself - FGS he's leaving 50,000 troops in Iraq permanently, and escalating the war on Afghanistan.

I follow Dmitry Orlov's advice: national politicians are a tremendous distraction. If we all stop paying attention to them, they will go away faster.

Hello TODers,

"She comes down from Yellow Mountain.."

Regarding the toplink: "Swimming in Natural Gas", and how the natgas:oil ratio is currently at 20:1.

If they want to get this ratio back to the more normal 6:1, then they should have a international Webb/Pomerene type of program to build global stockpiles of my speculative 'Federal Reserve Banks of I-NPK' plus recovered-S stockpiles, too.

IMO, this combo will help prop up natgas pricing sooner, and a higher S-price/ton could provide much of the immediate funding along with jumpstarting a ramp towards O-NPK recycling and other mitigative industrial efficiencies. It would also reduce much pricing volatility in natgas, oil, and I-NPK over time. Stranded gas converted to powdered N-ferts, such as urea, can then be moved wherever market required or desired.

Imagine 16,000 USA golf course clubhouses each holding a 5-year supply of I-NPKS for the veggie plots outside...much better than trying to fight our way past the gold bullion machine-gun bunkers to get the seeds and I-NPKS inside Ft. Knox.

Have you hugged your bag of NPKS today?

In short, when the Golden Goose is getting lots of food [too cheap natgas energy], make it lay lots of golden egg[S] now to help us all later for when the times get tough. Wouldn't you, or your future offspring, also like to have some bags of NPKS to hug later?


Asimov's List: P is #1, S is #2...

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

I sure wish I could convince more TODers to think outside-the-box to postPeak build Asimov's Foundations [plus much more as discussed in my prior postings] for the Web of Life:

picture the dewdrops as our carefully designed and valued==>Faberge' egg[S] for Optimal Overshoot Decline
Can you hear the very faint music 'that sets our minds afire' when very gentle winds blow across Spiderwebs 'strung with silver wire'?

"Remember when the music...
Was a glow on the horizon of every newborn day.."--Harry Chapin

"Refusing To Multiply"

For the last year that they have data (2007), MORE babies were born in the USA than any previous year, EVER. (Sorry, forget link but source is US census) Folks bemoaning the lack of Western babies aren't really correct.

Also, the number of hungry worldwide has topped 2 billion, most ever. (Sorry, no link there either). For all the cornucopian talk of our wired techno-future, these folks don't seem to be considered. Most folks on the planet have never used a telephone. A shockingly large number have no access to electricity or even a toilet.

All the shinybright Kurzweilian imaginings have conveniently failed to include the majority of humanity. What becomes of them?

For the last year that they have data (2007), MORE babies were born in the USA than any previous year, EVER.

Well, of course. Our population is constantly increasing. It's all part of the ponzi scheme. More people, buying more stuff, year after year after year.

That article is typical of the mainstream attitude toward population. Low birth rates are seen as a problem, not a solution. Like Bernie Madoff, we need ever more people coming in at the bottom in order to support those who came in earlier.

I am still looking for a coherent explanation of how Native Americans managed to live in North and South America for 30,000+ years, developing advanced civilizations along the way, and never seemed to either overpopulate or environmentally destroy where they lived. Well, maybe the Mayans went over the top, and maybe Amazonian cultures flamed out and the forest regrew, but in general my rhetorical question is-- were they ahead of or behind the European curve?

In my area, the Native Americans along the Columbia River managed to live what appear to be pretty satisfying lives (sans Internet and automobiles, to be sure) and at the time they were destroyed by European invaders (human and microbial) there were huge stands of forest, and so many fish in the river that it was said you could walk across on their backs at certain times of the year. Three hundred years later the forests are all gone (well, as Dixie Lee Ray famously said, "In the United States, we have more trees today than in the time of George Washington" -- but of course, she neglected to mention that they are mostly small, and mostly in stands of monoculture, and hardly equatable with forests) and the river is largely devoid of fish (notwithstanding claims by some fishermen that there is no deficiency of fish, but just a leftist, government plot to destroy fishermen.)

On this Fourth of July, Americans celebrate their belief that they have the freedom to continue to make bad choices, and the modern corollary that someone else will clean up the mess. The Oil Drum continues to lead in setting out and demolishing ignorance and deception. I keep looking for a way to generalize that attitude.

I think there's evidence that many societies in the Americas hit overshoot and collapsed.

As for why "civilization" didn't evolve the same way in the New World as in Europe...that's basically the theme of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel.

I do think sustainable societies are possible. They've existed in the past, and some still exist. They put emphasis on limiting the population, not increasing it. But the problem, hinted at by Diamond and made explicit by Tainter, is competition between societies. That's what forces people to unsustainable practices, even when they'd rather not. The larger/denser population tends to win conflicts.

And from another Jared Diamond book, Collapse, the Mayans would be one of them. Even without steel, draft animals or the wheel, they were able to build massive cities, but they exceeded carrying capacity and collapsed.

With just a liiittle push from Mother Nature in the form of multi-decade droughts, it would seem.


There's been some interesting research suggesting that Mother Nature had some help there. The droughts were caused by the Maya themselves.

I hate pap journalism. "Draining the wetlands may have caused drought." Assertion with no discussion of mechanism. Criminy...

I think the sediment data is pretty clear, too. I'd have liked some discussion of how the two correlate.

IOW, interesting, but not a very useful article, unfortunately.


--managed to live in North and South America for 30,000+ years
Not likely, but at least 12 thousand in sufficient quantity to exterminate all the mega fauna, and change the landscape significantly.
The myth of the Nobel Savage, along with the Blank Slate, and The Ghost in the Machine, as Pinker points out, needs to be removed from the myth and story of the discussion.

Yes of course the Native Americans were only human, just like us. They did exterminate the mega fauna as you say, and some groups unfortunately practiced agriculture and promptly collapsed (e.g. Anasazi.)

That being said, the median Native American did live reasonably sustainably - until we showed up and obliterated him with our livestock diseases, alcohol, and concentration camps.

We must also eventually live as sustainably, or die trying. No?

I am still looking for a coherent explanation of how Native Americans managed to live in North and South America for 30,000+ years, developing advanced civilizations along the way, and never seemed to either overpopulate or environmentally destroy where they lived.

Surely you jest. Firstly, Nativive Americans came here somewhere between 12 and 15 thousand years ago, not 30 thousand. They fought and killed each other at every opportunity. They vastly overpopulated their niche and starvation was often their method of population control when war failed to do the job. They killed off almost all the megafauna except the bison.

A good book that explains much of this: Constant Battles: Why We Fight And another: The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature

Ron P.

An interesting explanation ...

Why Corn Never Came to California

Department of Anthropology. University of California


I understand there are now several dig sites in both North and South America that are generally accepted as being older than 12,000 BP.

The first was at Medowcroft in western Pennsylvania:



For discussion of the extinction of the megafauna see Adovasio's book:

The First Americans


The really interesting one is Monte Verde. It's in Chile - so far south that it would suggest human settlement of the Americans is much older than 12,000 years.

There's also some linguistic evidence which suggests that human settlement of the Americans dates back 20,000 years or more.

From your link:

In the May 9, 2008 issue of Science, a team reported that they identified nine species of seaweed and marine algae recovered from hearths and other areas in the ancient settlement. The seaweed samples were directly dated between 14,220 to 13,980 years ago, confirming that the upper layer of the site, labeled Monte Verde II, was occupied more than 1,000 years earlier than any other reliably dated human settlements in the Americas.

Above, I stated that Native Americans arrived here sometimes between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago. The above agrees with my estimate which was based on reports that I have read. However I would not be surprised if it was found that they arrived here as many as 20,000 years ago. I would seriously doubt however that they were here 30,000 years ago.

Ron P.

Absolutely correct---
And the main slaughter happened 12 thousand onward.
Humans followed the retreat of the last Ice Age.

There's nothing absolute about it.

One camp in the debate contends that a rapidly changing climate at the end of the last ice age did in the Pleistocene megafauna, as they are called, by transforming their habitat. An opposing camp, pointing out that the extinctions closely followed the animals' first contact with modern humans, holds that the megafauna were essentially hunted to extinction. The hunters' blitzkrieg was made easy, they contend, because the naive victims had no fear of people and were easy prey for prehistoric humans with well-honed spears.

Neither camp is about to give in, and now a third hypothesis has emerged. Scientists who find neither the climatic nor the blitzkrieg theory convincing argue that rampant disease was the main villain. In this view, the megafauna were betrayed not by the naivete of the big animals themselves but that of their immune systems. And it was not the spears carried by people that wiped them out, but the pathogens carried by dogs, rats, birds, parasites and other living baggage that accompanied the continent's first human arrivals from Siberia.

It is simply too much to believe that "a few thousand Indian men with pointed sticks could run around a continent and bring to extinction 135 species in maybe 400 years," said Dr. Ross D.E. MacPhee, a mammalogist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, who advances the new disease hypothesis. He described it recently at a symposium sponsored by the museum's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation.

If our diseases wiped out some 80 - 90 percent of First Nation's populations, does this not seem plausible?

There's all that dust blowing around some parts 11k years or so ago... all that ice and cold = dry, no?

Why so dogmatic?


Cerainly thr climate change theory is threadbare. The ice ages had been coming and going for 2 million years, and the mega fauna had survived them. What was so special about the last one? The only difference was the appearence of the Native Americans. It seems too much of a coincidence.
So it has to either hunting or disease.

the discovery channel aired a program that claimed an asteroid did them in and imo, makes as much sense as the asteroid kills dinosaurs cartoon.

That theory is doing the rounds. However there is no hard evidence of an asteroid impact at that time.

there is evidence of a massive asteroid strike contemporaneous with the end of the cretaceous, there is also evidence of massive eruptions of the dacan shield volcano contemporaneous with the end of the cretaceous. and an asteroid may have contributed to the demise of the dino's, but the dino's were.......well dinosaurs, not evolved to survive climate change and loss of habitat, starvation. just my opinion.

I was referring to 10,000 years ago in relation to the extinction of the North American megafauna. The Cretaceous isn't relevant.

Cerainly thr climate change theory is threadbare.

I'll get the shoemaker, his wife, his cat and the elves right on that.

Like I said...the striking thing is that it's so far south. Southern Chile. If they came via the Bering Strait, that suggests humans arrived a lot earlier than 14,000 years.

A few years ago I read an article about the southern arrivals. the theory was that they were not Native Americans but Australian Aboriginees. The moved north and when they met the Native Americans they were unable to compete and were wiped out. Anybody heard anything about it?

Polynesian chickens were found in Chile, but only 600 years old.


But the Polynesian/Melanesian expansion started only about 3,500 years ago.

The very limited sea faring capacity of Tasmanians (the only sea faring Australian aboriginals) make such a migration unlikely IMHO.


I noted that the dated layer was the one on top. There is some evidence of an older layer underneath.

Although I am at a loss as to why an open site would attract human habitation (even if on & off) for thousands of years. A good cave, yes, I understand. But just to get away from the garbage would (IMVHO) prompt movements every few generations.


As these were hunter-gatherers, the site was almost certainly seasonal.


One aspect of all of this that I don't see discussed very often is the following point. During periods of plenty, the developed world would cough up some aid whenever there was a drought, crop failure, famine, hurricane, earthquake, etc. The assumption has always been that we have the extra resources to help out, and we have the means to get the stuff there in time to help.

In years gone by, communications and transport wasn't available for this sort of thing. For example, if you don't hear about an earthquake for several months, it would be too late to do much to help anyways. Thus in those times these types of natural disasters helped to serve as a way of limiting population.

Eventually we will reach a point where this type of assistance is no longer possible, but there isn't really a hard and fast line that would mark that point. It will be exceptionally hard for us to say that no we can no longer help out, and yet as the years go by providing aid will be harder and harder.

A nice PC moment :-)

Just returned walking with a friend the 0.7 miles (and back) to the Saturday Farmer's Market. Most distance produce we bought was blueberries from Poplarville MS, the closest was honey from hives 5 miles away. Crab & shrimp (no good fish today), tomatoes. eggplant, squash, organic milk & butter. 85F when we left, 89 F upon return.

Saw several acquaintances along the way and at the market. Checked out progress on the WW II museum.

Good to be home :-)


Hi Alan,

I assume the shrimp and crab you buy are more or less locally caught/harvested rather than imported from, say, Thailand. Do you actually get wild stuff from the GOM (or the delta, I don't know) or are there many farms? And if there are farms in LA, TX etc., how ecologically friendly (or not) are they? I've read that in Asia some farming practices are incredibly harmful environmentally.

I'm not having a go at you for buying them, as I love seafood too. I'm just curious.

Good to know you're having a nice day! :)

The shrimp come from the Gulf, the crabs from the bayous. The local rice farmers grow two crops; rice and crawfish (the other half of the crawfish come from the Atchafalaya Basin/Bayou). The local joke is New Orleans has four seasons; oyster, crawfish, shrimp & crab.


The local strawberry, vegetable, etc. growers are small scale and I believe responsible. Some risk from honey taken from the edges of an urban area, but I eat just a little honey.

My favorite fish vendor (not there today) catches fish in weirs in some of the local brackish lakes and keeps them alive for a few days, so they are fresh on market day (cleaned and filleted the evening before).

Best Hopes for Local Food (and our raw materials locally are good :-)


I know that the process of solving the energy/carbon problem is the important and difficult bit. Stilll the starting point has to be raw numbers, not arm-waving. That's why David MacKay's book is so important, and we really need the effort to be repeated for other countries, preferably before Copenhagen. The book has just been reviewed in Science. See the book's blog: Sustainable Energy - without the hot air for a link. You can hear the author and the UK's Chief Scientist at the BBC's Leading Edge (starting about half way through).

Thanks for these.