Drumbeat: July 31, 2009

Top 10 checklist: How societies can avoid ‘ecocide’

In his book “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond explores why some societies fall apart, and why others endure.

He uses the term “ecocide” to describe humanity’s penchant for ignoring signs that current behavior is unsustainable, environmentally speaking, and effectively committing suicide.

Accepting that the human sphere exists within the larger biosphere, you might further generalize Diamond’s idea to: “cultures that ignore the limits of the biosphere in which they exist tend to fall apart.”

But not every human society collapses. Some heed the warning signs, adjust their behavior, and keep on keeping on. Human cultures can evolve to fit within – rather than overstep – environmental limits. Mr. Diamond counts Java, Japan, and Tonga among his successful case studies; Easter Islanders, the Greenland Vikings, and the Anasazi of the Southwest failed, by his criteria.

So what made the difference? What do some cultures respond and change while others collapse? What are the attributes of long-term success?

Norman Borlaug - Farmers Can Feed the World: Better seeds and fertilizers, not romantic myths, will let them do it

Given the right tools, farmers have shown an uncanny ability to feed themselves and others, and to ignite the economic engine that will reverse the cycle of chronic poverty. And the escape from poverty offers a chance for greater political stability in their countries as well.

But just as the ground shifted beneath the Italian community of L’Aquila, so too has the political landscape heaved in other parts of the world, casting unfounded doubts on agricultural tools for farmers made through modern science, such as biotech corn in parts of Europe. Even here at home, some elements of popular culture romanticize older, inefficient production methods and shun fertilizers and pesticides, arguing that the U.S. should revert to producing only local organic food. People should be able to purchase organic food if they have the will and financial means to do so, but not at the expense of the world’s hungry—25,000 of whom die each day from malnutrition.

House approves extending ‘cash for clunkers’

WASHINGTON - The House voted Friday to rush an additional $2 billion into the popular but financially strapped "cash for clunkers" car purchase program.

The bill was approved on a vote of 316-109. House members acted within hours of learning from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that the program was running out of money.

TNK-BP to Tap New Siberia Oil Fields to Boost Output

(Bloomberg) -- TNK-BP, BP Plc’s 50 percent-owned Russian venture, will start pumping oil from five new fields in Siberia in 2013 and 2014 to boost production as aging reserves go into decline.

The deposits may hold 7.2 billion barrels of oil equivalent, potentially adding 500,000 barrels a day of crude and gas to TNK-BP’s output capacity, the company said in a presentation posted on its Web site this week. Some of the five fields, called Suzunskoye, Tagulskoye, Rospan, Messoyakha and Russkoye, are part of the Bolshekhetsky project.

Low fuel margins drain S-Oil

S-Oil Corp., Korea’s third-biggest oil refiner, announced its second-quarter profit fell 81 percent, missing analyst estimates, on a drop in demand for diesel and jet fuel.

CFTC Belatedly Discovers the Speculative Oil Bubble

The argument of the believers in market fundamentals was that speculators invest in futures, rather than in physical supplies of oil so every month, they must trade contracts that are about to fall due for ones that will not mature for several months. That makes them big sellers of oil for prompt delivery and so they have no net impact on prices.

Nonsense. Buyers and sellers of futures which can be physically delivered, can buy or sell the spot / future (or a mix of the two) because they are exactly the same thing, just with a different delivery dates. The actual position where futures players "invest" (front month or further along the curve) is immaterial. What matters is the "net exposure" of their investments, i.e. if a pension fund is now long $1bn of oil futures as a long-term investment, how they manage that exposure from futures expiry to expiry is less important than the fact that the demand curve for oil has shifted up by that $1bn on an ongoing basis. Rolling the position which consists of a buy and a sell order to keep the investment in the futures market, isn't the issue; it is only at initiation of the new position that the demand for the underlying commodity has increased. As more and more "investors" globally added commodities to their portfolios in 2007/8, from giant pension funds like Calpers to retail investors via energy ETFs, the "net exposure", net demand, and the equilibrium price for oil all soared.

The all-new Toyota Prius – silence of the lanes

Green cars have been branded overpriced, sluggish and ugly. Today, the most famous eco-car, the Toyota Prius, enters its third generation. Will the cleaner hybrid tempt buyers?

Energy giants hunker down to slash costs

The world's energy giants are increasingly cutting back in the face of slumping demand that they warn is not likely to pick up any time soon.

Little more than a year after oil jumped to its high of $147 (U.S.) a barrel, the industry is chopping spending and jobs, and mulling other measures that would affect investors.

Hopes of a quick return to good times in the oil patch have been punctured by natural gas prices, which have barely budged upward in recent quarters, and crude prices, whose partial recovery has been damaged by the global recession.

Some of the industry's most influential voices now say the world shows no sign of regaining its energy appetite any time soon. As that view becomes more widespread, oil and gas companies – which already gouged spending plans last fall and this spring – are further trimming spending, shifting budgets and even, in one instance, using itself as a test case to spur much-needed demand.

A New Approach to Fusion

General Fusion, a startup in Vancouver, Canada, says it can build a prototype fusion power plant within the next decade and do it for less than a billion dollars. So far, it has raised $13.5 million from public and private investors to help kick-start its ambitious effort.

Unlike the $14 billion ITER project under way in France, General Fusion's approach doesn't rely on expensive superconducting magnets--called tokamaks--to contain the superheated plasma necessary to achieve and sustain a fusion reaction. Nor does the company require powerful lasers, such as those within the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, to confine a plasma target and compress it to extreme temperatures until fusion occurs.

Instead, General Fusion says it can achieve "net gain"--that is, create a fusion reaction that gives off more energy than is needed to trigger it--using relatively low-tech, mechanical brute force and advanced digital control technologies that scientists could only dream of 30 years ago.

The Path to Fusion Power

There is a Saudi saying: “My father rode a camel. I drive a car. My son flies a plane. His son will ride a camel”. Is this true? Very likely: yes. Oil will probably be largely exhausted in 50 years. Even using the US Geological Survey’s estimate of the amount of remaining oil (which is significantly larger than all others), the peak of oil production cannot be much more than 20 years away (and many predict that production will peak in 5-10 years or even sooner, and then fall ~3% p.a.). Gas is expected to last a little longer. It is often said that there is enough Coal for over 200 years — but that is with current use. Use of coal is currently growing 4.5%/year, which turns 200 years into 50 years!

It is therefore clear that we need to start preparing for the post fossil fuel era now.

South Africa: Hogan adamant on nuclear power

PUBLIC Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan reaffirmed her support for the government-backed nuclear energy project yesterday.

Hogan was the keynote speaker at a workshop hosted by the Industrial Development Corporation- and Eskom-sponsored nuclear power programme, the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.

She said, considering the energy crisis, it was vital that nuclear energy development and component manufacturing be localised as much as possible, rather than relying on foreign suppliers. She said: “There is little doubt that nuclear is going to be one of the most important components of the country’s energy requirements.

Land issue skirts the heart of the Pemex refinery issue

But this is at its core an oil and Pemex story, so let’s consider this: Pemex’s oil production peaked in 2004. Output is off by as much as 20 percent since then; over the last year production declined about 8 percent.

Recently announced results from the second quarter of 2009 – 2.59 million barrels a day production - underscore the continued decline. Meanwhile, the first half numbers also demonstrate that Pemex will have a tough time meeting its 2.75 million barrel a day average production target for 2009.

Thus, an impertinent but logical question for Pemex: Upon completion of the new refinery and other modifications, will the company be able to provide adequate crude oil supply for its revamped refining network?

Cuba’s frightening energy crisis

HAVANA: It’s hard to find a spare tire in Cuba these days, or a cup of yoghurt.

Air conditioners are shut off in the dead heat. Factories close at peak hours, and workers go without their government-subsidized lunches.

Cuba has ordered austere energy savings this summer, and the secretive Council of Ministers and Communist Party Central Committee met this week to consider more cuts to cope with budget deficits and plummeting export profits.

The communist government imposed conservation measures even as it continues to get free oil for services from Venezuela, fueling rumors that Cuba is selling President Hugo Chavez’s crude on the side to raise cash.

Argentina: Service station owners report shortages

The association grouping petrol station owners reported an "unjustified" shortage of diesel fuel and blamed the government for the irregularities in the suppliers of fuels.

The organization also said sales have dropped at about 25 percent in 2009 from the previous year.

ANALYSIS - Bewildered, big oil wants fruitful next Iraq round

DUBAI (Reuters) - Deal-makers from the world's biggest energy firms will demand more from Iraq's second oil deal bid round since the U.S.-led invasion after many walked away bewildered and empty handed from the first round last month.

Gazprom sees Sakhalin-1 gas deal with Exxon

KHABAROVSK, Russia (Reuters) - Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom hopes this year to agree with U.S. energy major ExxonMobil Corp over gas supplies to a new far eastern pipeline, a senior Gazprom executive said on Friday.

Russia needs gas from the ExxonMobil-led Sakhalin-1 project to feed industrial growth in its Far East, a point emphasised by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin at a ceremony to launch welding of a major trunk pipeline that will run to the port of Vladivostok.

Poland-Russia gas deal fails to materialise

Poland has failed to strike a gas deal with Russia that would secure supplies sufficient to meet its needs starting in 2010, but talks would continue, the Economy Ministry said in a statement today.

The ministry said the sides could not agree over the functioning of Europolgaz, a joint venture between PGNiG and Gazprom that manages the Yamal pipeline in Poland.

PDVSA, Repsol Could Barrel Out Billions from Heavy Oil Block

A Venezuelan oil block being studied by Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PdVSA, and Spain's Repsol YPF SA has up to 6 billion barrels of recoverable reserves, and production at the site could begin by 2012, Venezuelan officials said Wednesday.

Cheap oil slams Chevron's quarterly profit

NEW YORK - Chevron Corp. said Friday its second-quarter profit fell 71 percent as demand for crude oil and gasoline plunged.

Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, said its net income amounted to $1.75 billion, or 87 cents per share, for the three-month period that ended June 30. That compared with $5.98 billion, or $2.90 per share, in the same period last year.

EnCana Doubles Cash Reward to Help Solve Dawson Creek Bombings

EnCana Corporation has doubled its offer of a cash reward for helping solve the Dawson Creek bombings. EnCana is offering up to $1 million cash for information directly leading to the arrest and prosecution of the individual or individuals responsible for the recent bombings at EnCana facilities in the Tomslake area near Dawson Creek, British Columbia. The reward, subject to the Terms and Conditions set out below, is intended to encourage anyone with information, including EnCana employees and contractors, help the police solve these crimes, stop any further attacks and help ensure the safety of the communities in and around Dawson Creek.

U.S. energy future hinges on rapid rollout of emerging clean energy technologies

America has the potential to solve its energy crisis over the next decade, but doing so requires a substantial immediate investment in the development and deployment of emerging clean energy technologies, said Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis and vice chair of a new National Resource Council report on America's energy challenges.

The key message of the report, said Wrighton, is that America's long-term energy viability hinges on its willingness to expedite the rollout of new and emerging technologies for improving energy efficiency, harvesting new forms of energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Part One — A decade of debate chugs on

A new debate is emerging among Canadians about whether high-speed passenger trains are the answer to rising oil prices, traffic congestion, airport delays and environmental concerns.

Governments currently running massive deficits will have to decide whether a multibillion-dollar investment of public money in passenger trains that top 300 km/h — and their supporting infrastructure — can become either a silver bullet or a white elephant for the most heavily populated regions of the country.

Solar Users Are Freeloaders, Says Xcel Energy

While countries throughout Europe (and some U.S. states) are actively trying to encourage the use of rooftop solar panels with feed-in tariffs, Colorado utility Xcel Energy has decided to punish residents who want to go solar.

The utility is toying with the idea of charging a fee to all customers who install solar systems after April 2010. While Xcel claims that it will be minimal--$23 annually for a Boulder home with a 4.5 kilowatt solar array--the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association says that super-efficient homes could be charged up to $200 or more.

Texas wind farms reap N.C. dollars

An answer to North Carolina's green energy challenge is blowing in the wind-swept mesas of Texas.

With the first deadlines fast approaching for North Carolina's renewable energy targets, power companies in this state are snapping up green certificates from out-of-state wind farms. The certificates don't buy actual electricity, but pay for credits needed to meet state targets.

Environmentalist, author Bill McKibben calls for concerted action on environment news

Bill McKibben, environmentalist, author, and founder of 350.org, took the stage at the American Center yesterday and stated in measured but forceful words that strong, powerful action needs to be taken very, very quickly if we want to maintain the climate we are accustomed to. McKibben's concern wasn't about what one person can do, because, he stated, though it may be 's ''a noble and correct sentiment to react immediately,'' it's too late to act on a household, community, or campus level. His focus was on collectively exerting pressure on national governments.

Vital La. oil port left vulnerable to hurricanes

CAMINADA HEADLAND, La. — One of the nation's most important economic assets — the booming oil hub called Port Fourchon — is turning into a sitting duck for hurricanes as the beach that protects it from the Gulf of Mexico washes away.

The miles-long sand bank — blasted last year by hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and by Katrina and Rita three years before that — is nearly all that keeps the Gulf from inundating the pipelines and shipyards that handle 15 percent of all crude oil flowing to inland refineries.

Port Fourchon, about 70 miles south of New Orleans, support 90 percent of the Gulf's 3,700 offshore platforms and connects with the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port — the only U.S. port capable of handling the largest oil tankers. The offshore port is tied in by pipeline to about half of domestic refining capacity, most of it on the Gulf Coast.

Officials worry that unless work begins immediately to bolster the port's defenses, a direct hit from a strong Category 3 storm or worse could cripple the facility for weeks and create a national energy crisis overnight.

Oil surges close to $67 a barrel in volatile week

Oil prices surged above $66 a barrel Thursday, rising in lockstep with major global indexes in what has become a very volatile week for energy markets.

With regulators meeting in Washington to consider new limits on speculators that some blame for wild swings in oil and gas prices, crude fell 6 percent Wednesday only to rebound by almost that much Thursday.

Crude Oil May Decline as Supplies Extend Gains, Survey Shows

(Bloomberg) -- Crude oil may decline on speculation that U.S. inventories will extend gains as demand lags because of the recession, a survey of analysts showed.

Twenty-four of 35 analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News, or 69 percent, said futures will fall through August 7. It’s the most bearish response since March 2008. Six respondents, or 17 percent, forecast that prices will be little changed and five expected an increase. Last week, 46 percent of analysts said oil would drop.

Inventories of distillate fuel, a category that includes diesel and heating oil, are at their highest level since January 1985. They climbed 2.1 million barrels to 162.6 million last week, an Energy Department report on July 29 showed.

Inventories of crude oil are 18 percent higher than they were at this time last year.

BP Shuts Rotterdam Oil Refinery After Power Outage

(Bloomberg) -- BP Plc shut its Rotterdam refinery this morning after an external supply failure cut power to Europe’s second-largest oil processing plant.

Abu Dhabi’s Murban Oil Fall a Ninth Day as Refiners Cut Output

(Bloomberg) -- Abu Dhabi’s Murban crude oil fell for a ninth day as declining demand for fuels prompted refiners to run plants at reduced rates.

Iraq fires head of state-owned oil company

BAGHDAD (AFP) – The Iraqi government has fired the head of state-owned South Oil Company (SOC), who publicly criticised Baghdad's auctioning off of oil and gas fields to foreign energy giants, an oil ministry spokesman said on Thursday.

Fayadh Hassan Nima was replaced as SOC's chief executive by the head of the company's department of oil fields, Dia Jaafar, ministry spokesman Assem Jihad said.

Petrochina boss set for BP visit

PetroChina's chairman Jiang Jiemin will travel to London next week to meet with BP's top management, with the two oil giants' landmark co-operations in Iraq among agenda items, accordng to reports.

"Jiang will travel with BP China's top executives to London to further co-operations and make friends," a Beijing-based industry executive who is close to BP told Reuters.

"Rumaila will be on the agenda," the official said, referring to the giant Iraqi oilfield for which a consortium comprising BP and China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) has won a service contract.

Medvedev in Central Asia to bolster Russian clout

SANGTUDA, Tajikistan (AFP) – President Dmitry Medvedev Friday opened a major Russian-owned hydroelectric plant in Tajikistan and was to attend a regional summit as Moscow seeks to firm its influence in the region.

Medvedev inaugurated the 720-million dollar Sangtudinskaya plant in southern Tajikistan alongside Tajik President Emomali Rakhmon, a facility that aims to ease the Central Asian country's chronic energy problems.

10 Top Oil and Natural Gas Exporting Countries

While most people know that the Middle East holds most of the world’s oil reserves, not many of us know what countries exactly export the most of the oil produced. The same applies to natural gas as well. So I did some research to find out the answers.

Top companies by market capitalisation

Seven of the 12 most valuable companies are either banks or oil producers.

Petrobras May Borrow $5 Billion From U.S. Ex-Im Bank

(Bloomberg) -- Petroleo Brasileiro SA said it may more than double its borrowings from the U.S. Export-Import Bank to as much as $5 billion, following a $10 billion loan from China.

Petrobras, as the state-controlled oil company is known, may increase the loans from $2 billion now, Chief Financial Officer Almir Barbassa said today at a press conference in Rio de Janeiro. The initial loan made in April was an “opening amount,” Fred Hochberg, president of the U.S. bank, said earlier today in an interview in Rio.

Shell axes thousands of white-collar jobs

Royal Dutch Shell accelerated its cost-cutting campaign yesterday, warning of further substantial job reductions as the oil giant feels the effects of the biggest slump in global demand for crude since 1980.

As Shell announced a 70 per cent fall in profits to $2.3 billion (£1.4 billion) during the second quarter, Peter Voser, the new chief executive, confirmed that 20 per cent of its senior management, about 140 people, had already been axed since his appointment on July 1.

But he signalled there would be thousands more job losses as a reorganisation, dubbed Transition 2009, intensified. This, he added, would be complete by the end of the year.

Mexico cuts 2009 oil output goal by 100,000 bpd

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's state oil monopoly Pemex said on Thursday it cut its 2009 output goal to 2.65 million barrels per day, underscoring its struggle to replace capacity lost at the aging Cantarell field.

Pemex had previously said output would end the year around 2.75 million bpd but the slide in yields at Cantarell, once one of the world's most prolific oil fields, and delays in starting up new wells at its unconventional Chicontepec project rendered this goal unattainable.

Pemex Output Goal ‘Uphill Battle,’ Forcing It to Borrow More

(Bloomberg) -- Petroleos Mexicanos, Latin America’s largest oil company, is likely to miss its 2009 output goal even after lowering its production forecast, forcing the company to seek other sources of financing to pay for its largest-ever capital spending plan.

Pemex, which hasn’t increased production in 3 years, needs to raise output by at least 1.6 percent in the final six months of 2009 to reach a goal of 2.65 million barrels a day, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Mexico City-based Pemex lowered its forecast yesterday on an earnings conference call.

Last year, Pemex’s output fell at the fastest rate since World War II, costing it more than $20 billion in potential sales amid record crude prices. Pemex cut its forecast three times last year as its then-largest field, Cantarell, dropped more than twice as fast as government predictions.

“It is an uphill battle to surpass the natural decline in Cantarell,” Gianna Bern, president of Brookshire Advisory and Research Inc., said in an interview yesterday from Flossmoor, Illinois. “Given bureaucratic delays, it could impede efforts to increase production. It is not very likely.”

Gazprom Starts Building Pacific Link, May Hurt Exxon

(Bloomberg) -- OAO Gazprom, Russia’s state-owned natural-gas exporter, started building a pipeline in the Pacific Ocean that may damage Exxon Mobil Corp.’s plans to export the fuel to China.

Workers welded the first joint on the initial 1,350 kilometers (840 miles) of the pipeline at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Gazprom Deputy Chief Executive Officer Alexander Ananenkov. The pipeline will link Sakhalin Island with the mainland city of Vladivostok.

Buffett Posts $1 Billion Profit on China Hybrid Carmaker BYD

(Bloomberg) -- Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. earned a $1 billion paper profit from an investment it agreed to make in Chinese carmaker BYD Co. less than a year ago.

The automaker has jumped fivefold in Hong Kong trading since the deal was announced on Sept. 27, helped by Buffett’s investment and rising demand for fuel-efficient vehicles. Three days earlier Berkshire agreed to an investment in Goldman Sachs Group Inc. that has since generated a paper profit of about $2 billion.

Ohio budget tries to boost solar power

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio's latest budget seeks to put solar power in the financial reach of Ohio residents by addressing the cost of installation, the biggest barrier to the renewable energy technology's large-scale deployment.

Now the onus falls on cities and townships across the state to carry the vision forward.

Low Prices Melt Profit For Solar

Falling solar prices are pinching most solar firms now, but could end up spurring more use of solar power in the near future.

Prices for crystalline-silicon solar panels, or modules -- the most common type of solar panel -- have plunged on the heels of a drop in prices of the main material used to make them, polysilicon. Both declines stem from a solar module supply glut tied to the financial crisis, which quashed project financing, and a harsh winter in Europe, which hampered installations.

Bulgaria May Scrap Nuclear-Plant Project, Sell Shares

(Bloomberg) -- Bulgaria may cancel construction of a 4 billion-euro ($5.5 billion) nuclear power station and sell shares in its state-run energy utilities to plug a widening deficit, according to Deputy Prime Minister Simeon Djankov.

Libya and Canada sign nuclear deal

TRIPOLI (AFP) – Libya and Canada have signed a memorandum of intent on nuclear power, the fourth signed by Tripoli in the past two years, an official said on Thursday.

The memorandum foresees cooperation between the two countries in research and the mining, processing and transport of uranium, as well as its use in medicine and desalination projects.

Since July 2007, Libya has signed another three similar agreements with France, Russia and Ukraine.

Should Thursday Be the New Friday? The Environmental and Economic Pluses of the 4-Day Workweek

As government agencies and corporations scramble to cut expenses, one idea gaining widespread attention involves cutting something most employees wouldn't mind losing: work on Fridays. Regular three-day weekends, without a decrease in the actual hours worked per week, could not only save money, but also ease pressures on the environment and public health, advocates say. In fact, several states, cities and companies across the country are considering, or have already implemented on a trial basis, the condensed schedule for their employees.

Gaia Wizard Sets Doomsday Time Bomb

What’s scarier than severe recession? Okay, depression. Terrorism looms still, but for sheer panic, nothing matches 90% species die-off. Not from asteroids, nor nukes, nor is our planet doomed, though the approaching Andromeda galaxy looks to digest our Milky Way – but not for billions of years. Let's worry instead about our progeny and how they sustain humanity if James Lovelock is right. He foresees shrunken habitat, resource wars, scorched landscapes, and gruesome casualties.

The Omnivore’s Delusion: Against the Agri-intellectuals

As much as Pollan might desire it, even President Obama cannot reshuffle the chemical deck that nature has dealt. Energy may well get much more expensive, and peak oil production may have been reached. But food production will have a claim on fossil fuels long after we have learned how to use renewables and nuclear power to handle many of our other energy needs.

Too many clunkers, too little cash

Congressional sources said early Thursday evening that the program would be put on hold. But Obama administration officials said later that Clunkers had not been suspended and that they were studying the situation.

Activists cheer China's plan to move refinery

HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's decision to shift the location of a planned $5 billion oil refinery and petrochemical plant in the south after years of public outcry is a sign that environmental concerns can shape policy.

China accepts 1st environment lawsuit against govt

BEIJING – A court in southwest China has accepted the country's first lawsuit filed by an environmental group against a local government, a member of the group said Friday.

The All-China Environmental Federation, a group backed by the government, filed the suit on behalf of residents against the local land resources bureau in Qingzhen city in Guizhou province, which sold land to a drink and ice cream processing plant they allege is a threat to a scenic lake area.

1,000 protest over China chemical plant pollution: residents

BEIJING (AFP) – More than 1,000 people protested for a second day in central China on Thursday over pollution from a chemical plant that they say has sickened locals and poisoned surrounding farmlands, residents said.

Residents of the town of Zhentou in Hunan province demonstrated outside local government headquarters and a police station, demanding greater compensation for pollution from the Xianhe Chemical Plant, protesters said.

Alcoa Razes Rain Forest in Court Case Led by Brazil Prosecutors

For Bentes and thousands of others in the Juruti region of Para whose livelihood depends on wildlife and plants, everything changed in 2006. That’s when New York-based Alcoa Inc., the world’s second-largest primary aluminum producer, started to bulldoze a 56-kilometer (35-mile) swath of the rain forest across hundreds of families’ properties to build a railway.

This cleared corridor, 100 meters (109 yards) wide, will lead to a mine that will chew up 10,500 hectares (25,900 acres) of virgin jungle over three decades.

More than half of the mine will lie inside a forest that by Brazilian federal law is supposed to be preserved unharmed forever for local residents. By year’s end, Alcoa says, the railway will transport 7,000 tons a day of bauxite, the dark red ore that’s used to make aluminum, from the mine to a port on the Amazon River.

Stumbling Over Data: Mistakes Fuel Climate-Warming Skeptics: Do minor errors erode public support on climate issues?

Many scientific organizations, such as the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, now put data (some near real-time) on their Web sites. The information ranges from raw numbers from weather stations to computed values of, for instance, monthly global temperature anomalies, which represent temperature deviations from a historical average. Typically researchers make corrections and adjustments as they check equipment and replicate experiments.

In today’s politically charged environment, though, these routine corrections have become ammunition in the warming war.

Alberta set to benefit from finite cap on greenhouse gases

If Canada imposes a finite cap on greenhouse gas emissions under a cap and trade scheme, as it's expected to, industrial sectors across the country would have to share the quota in a way that accommodates the disproportionately polluting tar sands.

The folly of 'magical solutions' for targeting carbon emissions

Setting unattainable emissions targets such as in the UK is not a policy — it's an act of wishful thinking, argues one political scientist.

Does divorce cause global warming?

But in Britain, where the birth-rate is below replacement level and the majority family will soon involve an only-child, the environmental gains of declining fertility are more than offset by the fashion for solitary living. Per capita, a family of five uses far fewer resources than a bachelor living alone. It is obviously politically difficult for Dr Porritt to point the finger at the massive decline in cohabitation when issuing his clarion call on behalf of the planet. But the bitter truth is that rising levels of divorce might have a stronger connection with rising sea levels than the three-child family which Dr Porritt wants to outlaw.

Some Little States With Big Emissions Could See Allowance Windfall

Small states with potent carbon dioxide emissions could win big under House climate legislation, according to a new analysis that shows residents of power-pumping states collecting a large number of free pollution permits to soften the rising cost of energy.

Carbon Capture Needs Decade of Subsidy, Harvard Researcher Says

(Bloomberg) -- Technology to remove and bury carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants will require at least a decade of government subsidies before becoming economically viable, a Harvard University researcher said.

Start-up costs for carbon-capture and storage, known as CCS, are high enough to “need some kind of subsidies” for 10 or 20 years before the technology can compete with other forms of low-carbon power generation, Mohammed Al-Juaied, a visiting scholar at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, said in a phone interview from Boston.

David and Marcia Pimentel have just published a great new article: The Real Perils of Human Population Growth

Clear scientific evidence suggests worldwide problems of food availability already have emerged. According to the World Health Organization, nearly 60 percent of the world population now is malnourished— the largest number and proportion of malnourished people ever reported in history. Further, many serious diseases, like malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis are increasing, not only because of worldwide malnutrition but also because the increasing density and movement of human populations facilitate the spread of diseases.

We don’t have to wonder when the overshoot of our population will start taking its toll, it has already begun.

Ron P.

We are the truly blessed, to have lived during the narrow window of human population history when energy, including food, was abundant and cheap and antibiotics actually worked. Of course, the price paid for this blessing has been irrevocable (in any time frame meaningful to human history) harm done to the carrying capacity of the biosphere. I hope we're all appropriately grateful.

And you know it is unforgivable that the measures in response to peak US oil weren't continued.
The two worse things that happened to the planet were the discovery of ALaska and the North Sea oil and Reagan the idiot.

Yea, if the peak oil crash does happen, Regan will probably be remember as the worst US president ever.

He is already on the short list now.

Compared to Andrew Johnson or Warren Harding? Short memories...

The jury is still out on Ronnie

We are the truly blessed, to have lived during the narrow window of human population history when energy, including food, was abundant and cheap and antibiotics actually worked.

   I've been trying to go with this thought myself, in dealing with our likely future. My first 40+ years were far more comfortable than any past, most present, and likely any future, humans have/will ever experience(d).

   Of course, also the luck of location. Being born in the western, modern civilization. Even if I have always thought it was a lame farce, built on a stack of lies, on top of a big pile of bullsh**.


"With regulators meeting in Washington to consider new limits on speculators that some blame for wild swings in oil and gas prices, crude fell 6 percent Wednesday only to rebound by almost that much Thursday."

Which is nothing compared to what is going on with gold and silver futures. (Silver short sells on COMEX, for example, exceed the known global output of silver.) Speculation could be reduced by requiring futures contracts only from actual producers and settling only in actual commodities. It won't happen, of course, as the Wall Street banksters couldn't make any money on the swings that way.

"If Canada imposes a finite cap on greenhouse gas emissions under a cap and trade scheme, as it's expected to, industrial sectors across the country would have to share the quota in a way that accommodates the disproportionately polluting tar sands."

It's only fair. They burn the oil, not Alberta, which has little in the way of manufacturing.

Unemployment in Alberta is staying steady at 6.6%. House prices are down slightly but still selling. Petro-Canada had its annual gasoline shortage because they can't keep their refinery running properly but few noticed. Gasoline is not short at any other brand of service station.

It seems like if Alberta produces less oil, the lack of oil will impact US imports early on. Given the choice between cutting their own use and cutting what they send to us, I would expect the US will be losers.

Doesn't NAFTA compel Canada to export the oil?

"Doesn't NAFTA compel Canada to export the oil?"

Yes and no. Existing contracts must be honoured, and if there is an overall shortage, shipments must be prorated equally for both Canada and the USA.

If that turns into gas station lineups or not enough NG to heat homes, NAFTA will get tossed pretty quick.

I need help!

My hard drive crashed about a week ago and it would cost almost as much as a new computer to fix it, so I just bought a new one. But of course I lost all my bookmarks. I had most of them saved and have now recovered all except one. That one I am still missing is Pemex Monthly Petroleum Statistics.

Unfortunately the one I had saved doesn't work anymore: http://www.pemex.com/files/dcpe/eprohidro_ing.pdf They stopped updating that link last year. I had the new one but have it no more. I have googled until I am blue in the face but no help. All I can get with google is the old link.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks,

Ron P.

No, that one gives the same results as the old link. The last data from that link is only thru September 2008. The new link should give the data thru June 2009.

Or perhaps that is the correct link and it no longer works. That is the link I thought I was using before the crash. Perhaps the new link just does not work anymore.

That's it. Thanks a million.

Ron P.

You need to use SIE :: Sistema de Información Energética to obtain field data, though. Also a smattering of Spanish to get there:

>Información Estadística
>Petróleo crudo
>Producci¥n de petr¥leo crudo en campos seleccionados
="Production of petrleo crude in selected fields"

I am glad you got your link back. If you use Firefox, IE or Safari you should try the Xmarks (http://www.xmarks.com) plug-in. It stores your bookmarks on the Internet and synchronizes your bookmarks across all of your computers. It has a few other features that are great too. Highly recommended, I have it installed on all of my computers.

I discovered an issue with my bookmarks last night which happened about 2 weeks ago(missing folder).

I now suggest regularly making backups of bookmarks in Both .json and .html formats. With the .html you can do minor repairs, whereas the .json is a complete replacement. Firefox automatically backs up bookmarks for your last 6? sessions.

Edit: Turns out the folder wasn't lost or accidentally deleted. While adding a new folder FF took the liberty of changing the name of an existing folder to the same as the new folder, and hiding it.

The first commandment of the God Microsoft Allmighty......


My hard drive crashed about a week ago and it would cost almost as much as a new computer to fix it, so I just bought a new one.

The hard drive probably still contains all your data, but you'll need skill to extract it.

If you won't back your files up periodically, please install online backup like mozy:

mozy online backup

It slowly and continuously copies your files to a secure central server somewhere, from which you can restore when your hard disk dies. Of course, you should direct it to not back up anything sensitive.

I didn't lose my data just my bookmarks. I always save everything on a USB plug in drive. I still have that.

Ron P.

Nature magazine about airborne wind power

Ugo Bardi has recently written two posts here and here on TOD about high altitude wind power.

In the latest volume of Nature, a feature article (Wind power: High hopes) about the same issue appeared.

The main criticisms mentioned are problems related to (i) the need of conducting tethers which can bring MWs of airborne-generated power down to earth and (ii) too little maximal power (< 1 MW). Interestingly, none of these objections applies to the KiteGen concept which was amply discussed in Ugo Bardi's posts.

The utility is toying with the idea of charging a fee to all customers who install solar systems after April 2010. While Xcel claims that it will be minimal--$23 annually for a Boulder home with a 4.5 kilowatt solar array--the Colorado Solar Energy Industries Association says that super-efficient homes could be charged up to $200 or more.

I certainly hope this trend does not spread. Most grid-tie has come about due to legislation forcing utilities to allow grid-tie, and legislation could as easily mandate that grid-tie homes not be penalized. I see it this way, solar is available mid-day when demand is highest, it seems like a win-win to me, but my experience in the utility industry is that they literally fear change, and push as hard as they can against any form of it.

Of course, another way to look at it is, if you've got a 4.5kw solar installation on your home, maybe you should just consider going off-grid and giving the finger to the power monopoly.

but my experience in the utility industry is that they literally fear change, and push as hard as they can against any form of it.

It goes a bit beyond the corporate behemoth, though. If pv users (and I'm about to be one) get to use the grid as back-up, but avoid paying a portion of the embedded cost, that just leaves more for remaining ratepayers to pick up. At higher levels of solar penetration, you really start to beggar your neighbors.

Not that I like Xcel's fee scheme (which would not affect us personally). It is designed to guarantee there is no loss to ratepayers, rather than strike a balance. What Xcel really needs to do is measure actual power supplied to the grid and credit the pv owner at the marginal system rate. That is fair.

if you've got a 4.5kw solar installation on your home, maybe you should just consider going off-grid and giving the finger to the power monopoly.

Amen! Now, where to stash all those batteries.......

Not a problem: Get one of those new super capacitors.

Rechargeable chemical batteries are consumables.
I get between .10 and .20 USD per kWh storage costs,
for real world life of Lead Acid Batteries. Factor such as cell quality,
depth of discharge, loss, maintenance, rate of charge/discharge, temperature,
etc influence the life. Multi-stage smart chargers have improved lifetime
and lowered costs of Lead Acid batteries.

The only technology that I know of that improves on this is the
Nickel Iron Edison Cell, and I missing something? -
not as efficient as Lead Acid, but the cell itself can last for
decades. I'd love to see any life cycle costs comparing chemical
energy storage types.
Makes you want to buy water towers for energy storage.
I've not been able to find much on actual operational costs
of energy storage. Critical issue for gridless Renewable Energy,
perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places.

Donald Long

Information on Nickel Iron Edison Cells being made in China-


I guess the natives are getting a bit restless...

Town halls gone wild

Screaming constituents, protesters dragged out by the cops, congressmen fearful for their safety — welcome to the new town-hall-style meeting, the once-staid forum that is rapidly turning into a house of horrors for members of Congress.

On the eve of the August recess, members are reporting meetings that have gone terribly awry, marked by angry, sign-carrying mobs and disruptive behavior. In at least one case, a congressman has stopped holding town hall events because the situation has spiraled so far out of control.

Next thing you know, Republicans will be rioting in the streets, burning down the suburbs, and looting the country clubs.

I'm glad to see people get angry, but upset that they are still so partisan and clueless to the bigger picture. I've been reading Joe Bageant's blog lately; he cuts to the chase and does a good job of explaining why working class people (his definition) need to get through their smaller differences to make any gains on the wealthy elite.

Joe Bageant is a national treasure, and IMO has a very clear understanding of the way our system uses and abuses the working class. His writing can get rough and gritty (I like it), but there is real wisdom there.

I love that guy. He writes with insight and passion and just enough humor mixed in to keep you from flying off and raging against the machine.

I could not agree more, great writer and has real experience with the issues he is writing about.
He somehow ended up as a facebook friend, but I'm not sure how that happened. We did exchange a few emails.

The e-mail is how they hooked you.

Don't worry, it's just a lobbying malfunction. They obviously don't understand how democracy works. If they want change they must employ a professional lobbyist to unlock doors or they will achieve nothing. I'm sure that once they've readjusted their technique it will be so much more comfortable for the congressmen and the well greased democratic process will again burst into action.

These disruptions and acts of violence are largely organized and instigated by right wing lobbies and groups much in the same vein as the Nazi Brown Shirts. It's nothing less than anti-democratic and could turn quite violent indeed.

The lobbyist-run groups Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, which orchestrated the anti-Obama tea parties earlier this year, are now pursuing an aggressive strategy to create an image of mass public opposition to health care and clean energy reform. A leaked memo from Bob MacGuffie, a volunteer with the FreedomWorks website Tea Party Patriots, details how members should be infiltrating town halls and harassing Democratic members of Congress


Peaceful assembly, and protests are a part of democracy. They should not be feared.

As long as they are peaceful. There's a lot of rabble rousing going on in the media right now.

Do a little research on the Brown Shirts as tools for Hitler and tell me we should not fear the emergence of such groups here. The likes of Beck and Hannity and others are certainly stoking the fires.

This video is hilarious. Timothy Geithner has declared the housing crisis all but over. But he cannot sell his house because of policies implemented by Timothy Geithner.

Home Crisis Investigation

On a more serious note:

GDP fell at a seasonally adjusted 1.0% annual rate April through June

Gross domestic product fell at a seasonally adjusted 1.0% annual rate April through June, the U.S. Commerce Department said Friday in the first estimate of second-quarter GDP. That was better than the 1.5% decline Wall Street economists had expected...

GDP has now fallen four-consecutive quarters, the first time that has happened since quarterly records began being kept in 1947.

Ron P.

That -1.0% will probably be adjusted downward. It seems to me that the PTB are doing all they can to paint as rosy a picture as possible, so as to increase consumer confidence thereby convincing us to borrow & spend. "Not as bad as analysts had expected" has become newspeak for "improvement." I don't believe a word the liars say. If the economy does begin to improve, energy demand will go back up, prices will increase and the economy will be whacked right back down again. The descending spiral will suck us all down like turds being flushed.

Denninger says it's even worse than it looks. The "improvement" was due to government spending.

But with the pace of decline waning, "the worst recession since the Great Depression is likely coming to an end," said Sung Won Sohn, a professor at California State University.

You have to consider the source. Right now CSU is looking at some of the steepest cuts in funding ever. Professor Sohn has to be a cheerleader right now, that is if he'd like to keep eating.

These are beginning to be really frightening times.


Consider further the source, Sung Won Sohn, is a perpetual guest on CNBC...

Just as I don't like to get into an oil argument with the people that are drilling the wells, I can tell you my mom is a real estate broker, and she can tell the difference. A whole lot of people are coming out because of that $8000 tax credit, which further leads to my conclusion that most economists/pundits are full of shit (that coming from an econ major).

Although my mom's main sales areas weren't as badly hit by subprime (although she has given me very eyeopening examples), she began to feel the effects of the housing crash as early as late 2005. By late '06, things were getting REALLY bad. So far this year, however, things have started to unjam. Sellers have capitulated with the prices, and homes that are priced right are moving, sometimes very quickly. The houses that aren't moving are the sellers who keep to the delusion of the old price. The tax credit has really picked up traffic, tho, especially for younger people.

The tax credit was exactly what was needed. People aren't going to buy a house if they think the prices will continue to fall, and the prices won't stop falling unless people go out and buy. The feds were/are really necessary to break the cycle.

These home sales and these car sales are all supported by federal subsidies. Congress today decided to triple the funding for Cash for Clunkers (1 B to 3 B). How long can we pay people to spend money? Why am I helping people buy houses and cars?

Why am I helping oil companies maintain "peace" in the Middle East?

Why are we giving people incentives for solar, or wind, or insulation, or anything else for that matter? Because it benefits everybody. Why should anybody have to pay thorough reduced home values just because some people are too stubborn to work to everybody's benefit is my question to you.

OTOH why is anybody entitled to higher home values? That just locks out the next generation.

Stoneleigh predicted there would be a bounce this summer. Just enough for people to think Obama's plan was working.

I think it's temporary. This happened during the Great Depression, too. Prices dropped enough so that people jumped in to scoop up the bargains...only to lose their shirts when prices kept dropping.

Just wait until the holiday season. . . stores filled to the brim, cash registers gathering dust. The tidal wave of store closures and retailer bankruptcies should hit in earnest by Jan 2010.

The tidal wave of store closures and retailer bankruptcies should hit in earnest by Jan 2010.

   I thought that was coming in Jan 2009. We'll see if it shows up this year.
   I do expect things to be very different whenever the economy falls again. Many people have now gone thru their backup finances and won't be able to weather the next storm nearly as well.

   I have a formerly very successful friend in construction who was in big trouble earlier in the year. Things have picked up a bit for him, but when I said I was broke, he said "I *wish* I was broke, I'd be a lot better off. It'll take me quite a while to dig out of this."
   So if/when things go down again...

The big shopping center closest to my house is about 1/3 empty.

I hear anecdotal stories about people trying to buy a house for themselves, and getting outbid by speculators at virtually every turn.

IIRC, the speculators intend to rent them out until "prices recover".

The conditions now are much worse than in the 1930s. Besides the outrageous unpayable debt burden is the real deal sealer oil prices. If oil is still 70/bl and gas is almost 2.50/gal there is no chance for a recovery. These are starting to look like the new price floors and if so, faggettaboutit.

The biggest problem with these programs as well as nonsense from people like Dennis Kneale - who I will get to later - is that they leave the recipients deeply in debt.

In order to get a mortgage, one needs at least 20% down ... plus the $8000 subsidy ... the balance plus costs is financed. It's a lot of debt to take on in a deflationary recession.

Ditto with the Cash for Clunkers, the downpayment only covers a small part of the total cost of the new car, the rest is borrowed.

Breaking the cycle- what does that mean? Compared to incomes, houses in most places outside of Detroit and East St. Louis are still very expensive. The government is trying to subsititute itself for organic demand. How long can that last?

Dennis Kneale and Jim Cramer (CNBC) should be banned from the airwaves for constantly hyping stocks in a bear market. Professional traders are having a hard time dealing with the current market. The five or six retail investors who have money left over who are foolish enough to listen to these two will lose some of it!

Regarding the article Does divorce cause global warming?

Perhaps we need to start a "find a housemate" campaign. After years of a trend toward few and fewer per household, to reduce fossil fuel use, we need to encourage more people per household. Looking at the demographics, it is most often the widowed and elderly that live alone. These in particular should be encouraged to live with family or share an apartment with others. Besides cutting heating bills, there may be a reduction in trips to the grocery store and similar trips.

I think this is one situation where "the market" will take care of it. It's already happening. Foreclosures up, renting down. Where are people living? It's "the brother-in-law on the couch version of the apocalypse."

I posted a short description of a very workable way for folks out in the country to take in relatives in the comments section a few days back.

I see two conflicting reports for Cantarell production in June. Anyone know which is the right figure? Is the data available from PEMEX directly anywhere?


July 24 (Reuters)
Mexico's aging Cantarell oil field produced 658,000 barrels of crude per day in June, down 37 percent from a year ago [...] state oil company Pemex said on Friday.


July 31 (Bloomberg)
Production dropped 41 percent to 604,498 barrels a day at Cantarell in June, Mexico’s Energy Ministry said.

Working back the percentages, both report identical numbers for the previous year. Since the Bloomberg report is newer, maybe that is the right one? If so, a 41% decline is pretty spectacular.

I sent mail to the Bloomberg author asking if he could explain the discrepancy (nice that they provide author emails for their articles.) Will post back if I get any response.

Got a response from the Bloomberg author. He said that the higher Reuters number is quoting the Cantarell "activo integral" number, which includes other fields that are traditionally not considered part of Cantarell, while the lower Bloomberg number only includes fields that are traditionally included as part of Cantarell.

Both numbers are sourced from the website http://sie.energia.gob.mx which appears to be a subscription only site as far as I can tell (it's in Spanish)

There is still something wrong here as both reports have the same baseline number for a year ago. But it is interesting that there are actually two numbers floating around out there. That makes comparisons a little hard since most reports are not explicit about which figure they are citing.

Hey, it doesn't matter all that much, 37% or 41%, both numbers are astronomical. Of course most giant fields are not declining at anywhere close to this rate. A recent study found that 261 post peak giant fields were declining at a mean (average) rate of 6.5%. The study by Mikael Höök, Robert Hirsch and Kjell Aleklett was published in June 2009.

Giant oil field decline rates and their influence on world oil production

Ron P.

Well, not ALL supergiants were nitrogen injected for faster production. I wonder if something went wrong with the nitrogen injection damaged the field?

IMO these huge decline rates are what you expect if the secondary and tertiary techniques just give you the oil that would have been produced anyway, but faster - it looks like you don't get much more oil, the production at peak is enhanced and the peak is well above 50% URR is about all you can say.

I would say lots of countries appear to have peaked well above 50% of their URR - with serious post peak implications!

It isn't subscription, although you do need to login as a guest, thus can't utilize translation services. I posted detailed instructions above on how to get to the field production data.

This CNBC video is a lot better than most. Two oil trading specalists give their views. Heard in this video: The only thing that is going to drive this recovery is energy. And: The dollar is in a death spiral.

I find it interesting that everyone is expecting a recovery. However one of the guys in this video says unemployment will be high for years to come.

Oil Outlook: Short and Long-Term Views

Ron P.

Oil price could hit triple digits early next year if demand grows slowly. The long term price trend is shown by the dashed green line below.

Considering the other evidence floating around about the state of the economy, I'd suspect that your near term numbers are going to be thrown off and we may see the $60 - 70 price plateau contine for a little longer. 2011 and beyond though...probably within range. I always look forward to your posts.

The trend is your friend ... until it becomes your enemy!

Right now Geithner & Co. are successfully using dollars as other inputs and this distorts the feedback loops. If $45 oil is a drag on the economy, it won't show up until the market pushes the price to $80.

That $75 - 80 is a resistance lavel, if it breaks through this time (it tried a few weeks ago) it can go up to $100 or more and that will be the alarm bell ... that will mean absolutely nothing!

I can't see anything over $100. Everyone's broke.

The oil mkt is a good proxy for the economy as a whole. If the crude market sinks there is more recession. Then ... more deleveraging, lower RE prices, more bankruptcy, more and more of a mess.

Here is a book every doomer should read:

One Second After by William Forstchen

It's about an EMP attack on the United States which leads to the infamous fast crash we are all afraid of. The grid goes down and all electronic equipment is irreparably fried. Things get really ugly really fast. People start dying after just a few days.

Of course I could see other things that would lead to a fast crash besides EMP. Israel attacks Iran and Iran responds with a massive missile attack on mideast oil installations. That would do it.

Those of you who are prepped with a farm, stored food, etc. better read this. It takes place in a small town in North Carolina. The towns people offer to guard the farms 24-7 in return for them sharing their food with their neighbors. The cities empty out and dangerous urban refugees are everywhere.

It's a real page turner.

An EMP device isn't that difficult to make. Use an explosive charge to drive a magnet thru a coil of wire is all it takes. A decent tinkerer or handyman could construct one in his basement or garage. A beefy one in a small plane detonated over lower Manhattan would shut down the stock exchanges. Of course, the geopolitical majors all possess nuclear EMPDs. The whole thing is vaporized in about a femtosecond but that is sufficient time to generate the pulse.

The preface to the book is by none other than Newt Gingrich. He says even a small nuclear weapon detonated 100 miles above the US would do it. Even a scud missile launched by say North Korea could do that. No wonder we were paying such close attention to that rogue ship of theirs a few weeks ago.

A nuclear detonation does produce an electromagnetic pulse but the pulse is greatly amplified when the nuclear charge drives a powerful magnet thru a coil of wire at great velocity. Such weapons exist. When Bush made war against Baghdad the first cruise missiles to strike were EMPDs with conventional charges, that effectively disrupted Iraqi communications networks, both civilian & military. In the event of all-out war, the EMPDs deployed by at least Russia, China, the US, UK & France, would be nuclear. I don't know if India, Pakistan or the DPRK possess such weapons. I would assume that Israel has them.

I get the sense though that this is just a Neo-con scheme to get funding for some sort of hugely expensive missile defense system. In particular, Iran is the new boogeyman that they are trying to inflate, but North Korea will do as well.

People have actually asked me about these scenarios (because of my Physics background). My response is that there are other things (like Peak Oil) which are virtual certainties in the next 100 years that we need to worry about. These low-probability types of events could better be managed with good diplomacy.

I notice that you sort of dodge the question of whether these things are real,and if they will work as described.

I know next to nothing about physics-only took one year elementary course but

I read a LOT of history,and I know some military types-relatives with advanced degrees actually,a couple of them.

They are real,and they-anybody who can beg,borrow, buy, steal, or build them- can shut down the whole of the country,pretty much for good, with just three and this has been a known fact since back when.

The people who are so sure Reagen was an idiot should stop a second to think about the fact that a publican didn't approve the first bomb,or drop the only ones ever used.

He blew it as far as energy is concerned but so has every other prez too-Obama may be a minor exception.AlGore may have done better,who knows,speeches are made mainly to be forgotten,The Clinton dual presidency did nothing about energy.Afaicr,both of them are on record as believing in the wmds supposedly held by Iraq-perhaps a strategic lie in anticipatiion of a dem lead invasion,perhaps an honest mistake.If honest ,publicans should get soime slack ,maybe they were honest too.

I try really hard to be an equal opportunity politician basher.

The emp bombs could be on crude rockets in the cargo hold of a ship headed towards this country,or France,or Brazil ,this very minute.A guidance system is a redundancy,all they need to do is get to altitude and to within a couple of hundred miles of the desired location.

Bashing right wingers and talk radio is very popular here,but as I have remarked before ,they are right about some things.

All my right wing buddies who read have read the book.My liberal buddies would rather discuss something else-just about anything else.

For those interested,older model diesel tractor engines with purely mechanical fuel injection systems and no computers will still run after an emp attack.Ditto older diesel trucks.Unless you can get(how?) spares from outside the attacked area,it is likely that all late model diesels are out of servive,ditto all gasoline engines.

I own TWO older diesel tractors that can if necessary be started with hand cranks-with some difficulty-no electrical components at all are critical to thier operation.

And I have a substantial stash of fuel.

Yeah, they are real, but to take out any size of area (more than a city) you would need a fairly substantial nuclear bomb and set it off in the upper atmosphere. The bombs this size are the sorts of things that you just can't get a hold of easily.

And then getting a large heavy object like this up into the upper atmosphere involves some fairly sophisticated and powerful rockets, especially if you are trying to launch from thousands of miles away.

Back when we were worried about the Russians EMP was a more realistic concern. If we are only worried about terrorists, then not so much.

Yes we are VERY LUCKY THAT nukes of any sort are very hard to build or buy or steal.

But if one is launched from a ship near shore,the rocket would have to have a range of only a hundred miles or so to take out a coastal city.

And I may be wrong about the altitude but as far as attacking a city is concerned ,I am under the inmpression that fifty thousand feet is ample.An ordinary passenger jet can get to almost thatr high if necessary to clear a storm.

There is a real possibility that a nuke could be stolen by insiders a country such as Pakistan,or Russia.We know that nKorea can build both the bomb and the rocket,and my guess is that in a few more years ,another couple of countries will jion the nuclear club.

Let's hope that team O Bama is good on diplomacy,and that if that fails,Ronnie's Star War system doesn't.

You have to adjust your thinking to look at interdependancy. It doesn't matter if you build an EMP big enough to take out every light in every city...just build one big enough to park in front of the NASDAQ or DOW, Xetra-DAX, FTSE. A "pin prick" in a sensitive area can cause all sorts of hoopla. You technically don't need anything exotic (like fissionable material) to build an EMP device. It's actually a pleasant surprise to me that no one's yet used one somewhere.

Maybe we should detonate an EMP in one of the locations you mention. That might be the first step to curing the financial gambling addiction that has caused this freakin mess.

Let's assume that someone can build a pin-prick type of device. What are we going to be able to do to prevent them from using it? The answer is that there really isn't all that much you can do. Other than using intelligence and diplomacy, there aren't any technical fixes that would prevent someone from using such a device.

To be fair though, systems such as these can be hardened against these types of things. For example, wires can in theory make good antennae for picking up an EMP and distributing it (even then, cables tend to either be twisted pairs or coaxial cables, so much of the antenna effects are canceled out), but fiber-optic cables are completely immune. And as time goes on, more and more of the communications infrastructure is converted to fiber optics - mainly to take advantage of the higher datarates that one can transmit.

One would assume (perhaps a bad assumption) that the people who know and understand the critical systems have given thought to these types of issues, and have tried to harden to some degree. I don't have any types of clearances so I am really guessing more than anything, but I know that EMP has been well known since the 1950's.

Consumer electronics essentially have no protection however, but even then the surge suppression that some people use to protect against lightening strikes could help protect things that are further from the center of the EMP.

There are other risks we can't control - I could get hit by lightning tomorrow, for example. Or we could get hit by a meteor tomorrow, or there could be a super-volcano eruption - these are other risks that we have, but which we really can't do much about. That's why my feeling is that we work to mitigate the risks that we can control. Peak oil for example - it is a virtual certainty that humanity will have to deal with resource exhaustion issues, and most of us here would regard it as potentially just as disruptive to society as some of these other threats that we have no control over.

This bomb blah-blah reminds me of the super-duper "fuel-air" bomb that Saddam Hussein was going to use to destroy the U.S. Military. Then there was the terrible poison gas attack.

Blah blah.

How big an area could a timothy veigh size explosion powering an emp shut down?

Maybe a square mile at most. And you can shield against it with anything like a faraday cage.

Thanks. Sounds like a less attractive option for terrorists.

After The Pulse, we get Dark Angel:

So there's an upside.

And it was written by a friend of TOD poster "WNC Observer"

Since we're recommending post-apocalyptic fiction (A.K.A."doomer porn"), I would like to recommend a new book by my friend Dr. Wm Forstchen: One Second After.

The premise for this book is a surpise EMP attack on the US (and on Japan and E Europe) by terrorists. This instantly shuts down all electronics, all communications, all transport, and all supply chains across the US. While this is not an energy-related scenario, in effect it is an instant doomer fast crash. While it is a work of fiction, it is set in a real place: Black Mountain, NC, my home town. He goes through the course of a year, showing the impact of a sudden technological, economic, and societal collapse on a small town.

I borrowed a copy (it would cost me about $35 including postage to order it from Amazon in the UK) based on the recommendation. Well worth a read.

Also bought it on WNC's recommendation, it's about the grimmest bit of doomer porn out there - including McCarthy, perhaps. Read that the author was actually told by some of the experts he sought advice from that his situation presented in the book was actually not worst case.

By contrast someone posted an assessment of Fortschen from a radio interview that he didn't sound like the most on-the-ball guy scientifically, but that was from an interview, after all, perhaps he was simplifying things for the audience. He has a website with forum - thought about maybe asking him about some particulars in the book. Would a powerful enough EMP truly fry every last bit of electronics in all vehicles, for instance?

Would a powerful enough EMP truly fry every last bit of electronics in all vehicles, for instance?

Depends on the distance from and strength of the emission.

It doesn't need to fry every last bit of electronics. It takes very little to decommission a vehicle, especially when concerning the ECU (computer).

Dr. Fortschen is actually a history prof, and has written quite a bit about military history. The battle scene in the book reflects his scholarly expertise in that area, and is probably the best written and most realistic section. It was quite a strange, surreal experience to read a detailed account about a (hopefully fictional) battle in the near future on terrain with which I am intimately familiar, almost down to the square foot.

He was less good in talking about the various survival strategies that came into play in the book. There were quite a few things I would have argued should have been done differently. A lot of that comes from things we have discussed here.

Actually, were the automobile to be grounded, the electronics might survive just fine, because then you've pretty much got a faraday cage. I wish that Bill had mentioned faraday cages in his book. They are easy to make, and are a good answer to the question: "What can I do to protect my electronic equipment from an emp attack?" Of course, assuming a surprise attack without warning, that means you've got to keep the stuff packaged up in the faraday cage all the time, which means that we are just talking about emergency preps here.

Yes, this is indeed not the worst case. He has the townspeople being very cooperative, and those in governing authority staying on the job and actually leading, more or less effectively. I would like to think we would all behave as well as he has us doing in the book, but I hope that we never have to actually find out.

My understanding is that the type of continental-wide wipe-out that he describes would requite that multiple nuclear EMP devices be launched. I find it hard to believe that this would happen without our military knowing about it; they should also be able to figure out the return address, and the boomers we constantly have under water carry enough firepower to assure that whoever tries this (or who aids and abets whatever group tries this) will be transformed into glow-in-the-dark glass. I assume that everyone else around the world that needs to know this does know it, which is why I don't actually lose much sleep over this particular scenario.

I think that an automobile isn't a very good Faraday Cage. Your cell phone and GPS still work with you inside, right? Also, the electronic boxes are connected to several sensors positioned under the hood and the engine compartment is usually open to the ground below. At the very least, an EMP could kill the diodes inside the alternator and without an alternator, the car isn't going to go very far, even if the ECU and/or the PCM survived.

I had an alternator go bad and I think it was due to a nearby lightning strike. Another strike which hit a tree 50 feet from my house and wiped out 3 CFL's, the electronic ballast in a florescent fixture and the microwave...

E. Swanson

I think that an automobile isn't a very good Faraday Cage. Your cell phone and GPS still work with you inside, right?

Much shorter wavelength.

I think that an automobile isn't a very good Faraday Cage.

No, automobiles make a very poor Faraday Cage. The windows offer no resistance to EMP. However the hood would offer almost maximum resistance. And I really don't think the EMP waves would bounce off the groung. Anyway anything in a metal case would be shilded. However any exposed wiring would be enough. Induction through the wiring would be enough to fry about anything. Induction in the wiring through the plastic steering column would likely be enough to fry the car's electronics.

Ron P.

Here's a Mountain Xpress write up and interview.


...One Second After was born about five years ago, when Forstchen was paying one of his frequent visits with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, with whom he's co-written several popular works of historical fiction. (Gingrich “is, without doubt, the most brilliant man I have ever met, a joy to work with and a damn good friend,” Forstchen writes on his Web site.)

“Newt introduced me to Congressman Roscoe Bartlett [of Maryland], who is one of my great heros,” the author recalls. Bartlett, a leading Congressional voice of alarm about EMP, sponsored 2004 legislation creating the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack.

Newt "the hoot" Gingritch. Ugh. On the flipside, Roscoe Bartlett....

I read in a clancy novel that the russians made a 50 megaton EMP, that would shut down the area the size of the contintal usa.

At the beginning of Gulf War #2 there was some controversy over using a few of the US's most powerful EMP weapons due to the fear that they might accidently take out part of the European grid. Strangely, they erred on the side of caution and didn't use them. Unfortunately I am unable to find anything to back that up as it must have just been something that was said on the Box of Pictures and Sound.

Clancy had it right...


Please scroll ~1/2-way down the article and look at the diagram. The resemblance to a smiley clown face is poetic justice.

BTW, you don't need anywhere near that big of a weapon for this effect.

Read the book WarDay

If you mean "The Road" it should be considered as a class of one.

It is an incredible book,one certain to be a classic,but it is a book about a father and his love for his son and mortality,the darkness of death and the unknown.

It is set in a dying world,but there is nothing in the book about how or why,which is part of the magic.

But it's also the reason why it should be in its own class class seperate from "doomer porn"-I am not just exactly what that is.

I guess it's like the other kind of porn,defined as "I know it when I see It." ??

Doomer Erotica?

I'm a doom purist, I'm not into novelty doom.

If you want to feed your doomer worries, google solar storm 1859. All they had in electrical equipment then was the telegraph, and a solar storm was melting the wires and causing fires. I wonder what something like that would do today to all our super electrical/electronic equipment. A real Black Swan!

"Norman Borlaug - Farmers Can Feed the World: Better seeds and fertilizers, not romantic myths, will let them do it " (toplink, above)

IMO, Norman Borlaug is a madman. He is largely responsible for the "Green Revolution" that launched us into major population overshoot. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for destroying indigenous farming traditions and reaping huge benefits for agribiz. I'm sure he did it with all good intentions, but that's the result of his work.

He seems to believe in infinite growth of agricultural production, and an infinite increase in population.

Population always increases to the food supply. The idea of tecnological innovation increasing food supply forever, even if it were possible (which it obviously is not), is INSANE. All we're doing is continuing to destroy the topsoil, getting more and more reliant on waning fossil fuels, and using up whatever buffer is left to us.

We're skating really, really close to the edge already.

Borlaug and Haber are responsible for a huge jump in the population.
About 50% of the nitrogen in humans, is a result of the Haber Process.

Borlaug and Haber are responsible for a huge jump in the population.

Agricultural science and technology--though clearly limited--are not responsible. (Unless you can prove Haber and Borlaug had HUGE harems.) Unprotected heterosexual f*cking is responsible.

Might I suggest a biology textbook?

Population grows to the food supply. Don't be ridiculous.

Whose fault is that? Borlaug's? YOU stop being ridiculous.

The inflation of the food supply with chemicals and industrial-scale agriculture in third-world countries can most definitely be attributed to Borlaug.

That populations grow to match the food supply is obviously a biological truism.

The notion that we can just innovate agriculture forever on a finite planet to meet the needs of increasing populations is technocornucopian nonsense.

Borlaug ought to know better.

Yes, that people screw and calve despite their better judgment is an "obvious biological truism."

I can just see Borlaug, standing in the field of semi-dwarf, high-yield, disease-resistant wheat that he developed while studying in Mexico:

BORLAUG (thinking): I work my fingers to the bone, developing all these wondrous crops to help these people eat well, and all they do is f*ck and f*ck and f*ck! Screw it. Let them starve. I'm going to Detroit to find my calling in the auto industry.

Though I do agree that technocornucopia is doomed. Dieoff is coming, regardless of whether you spray Sevin or Pyganic on your eggplants.

I suggest you curl up with a nice big bag of Cheetos and a Coke and enjoy the show. It might improve your bitter attitude.

Anne...please adjust your attitude. Your tone is insulting and unhelpful. Knock it off.

I'm sorry, Leanan. His idea that Borlaug is a "madman" is just too over-the-edge for me. I've studied agricultural science.

Me, I can see both sides of it. My dad has a PhD in agricultural science and has spent most of his life trying to feed the hungry in developing nations - using the technology of the Green Revolution. Yet...he also told me about Malthus when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, and warned me that technology could not keep on improving the way it had in the past. He's always said that Malthus was wrong only in his timing.

Borlaug is no madder than average, but I think what he's suggesting could be a catastrophic mistake. If you accept peak oil, then making subsistence farmers in Africa dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and hybrid seeds that must be purchased from Monsanto every year is, well, madness.

Leanan - What an amazing reply. (no joking) you are a marvel.



If you accept peak oil, then making subsistence farmers in Africa dependent on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and hybrid seeds that must be purchased from Monsanto every year is, well, madness.

No argument from me about the Monsanto thing. But corporate malfeasance--obsession with control--is a separate issue from farming techniques.

If we were farming with horses, Monsanto would try to control the horses.

Here's a thought experiment: take away all "chemicals," fertilizers, pesticides and hybrids seeds from those subsistence farmers, and what have you got?

A biblical plague of human locusts.

Here's a thought experiment: take away all "chemicals," fertilizers, pesticides and hybrids seeds from those subsistence farmers, and what have you got?

The status quo, in much of the world.

I am afraid not enough of the world would have the status quo, though. China is a big user of fertilizer and pesticides. Even India and Africa likely use more than we think. Even if they are used on a "small" percentage of acres (and I really don't know that they are), the acres where they are used could well account for a disproportionate share of the production.

I don't deny this, but like the saying goes...when you're in a hole, stop digging.

a.k.a "The first Law/Rule of holes"

I agree with gail. In most of Sub-Sahara Africa and a few Asian countries there is little use of fertilizers. But places where the population is most dense, China, India, Pakastan, Bangladesh and others use massive amounts of fertilizer. Ditto for pesticides. Of the list above only India uses less fertilizer per hectare than the US, and they use almost as much as the US. The US is 40th on the list of fertilizer use per hectare while India is number 42. China is number 10, using 2.5 as much fertilizer per hectare as the US.

Fertilizer Use By Country

It is a gross misconception that most of the world does not use much fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals.

Ron P.

It is a gross misconception that most of the world does not use much fertilizer and other agricultural chemicals.

Nobody said that.

I am well aware of how dependent the world is on agricultural chemicals. Been there, done that, got the t-shirt (literally). Borlaug was clearly talking about introducing agricultural chemicals and hybrid seed to farmers that do not use them. That is what I was addressing.

GliderGuider's friend said it best.

One of my very favourite quotes about population and ecology comes from an unnamed friend on the Internet:

Asking, "How will we get enough food to feed this growing population?" is a lot like asking "How will we get enough wood to feed this growing bonfire?"

The point of the quote is that most people have the ecological cause and effect of food and population exactly backwards. The real problem is not that a rising population requires more food, but that an increasing food supply drives populations ever upward.

Reminds me of the title of a book about the neoliberal revolution in the '80s: "Only Their Purpose is Mad".

My profs taught me the same things your Dad taught you.

Obviously big ag cannot grow forever,and they all said so ,but they had no real opinions as to how long the party could continue-indefinitely until we hit a bottleneck or a wall,was the usual response.They are all dead now,and bau has outlasted THEM.

I attended biology seminars conducted by famous phds who were sure at the time that we would all be dead or at least starving over twenty years ago.One of them,Erlich?, wrote the "Population Bomb".Sfaik,bau has outlasted most of those guys too,they would be mostly in thier late seventies by now,if not considerably older.

But how many of us,given the actual power to save many millions of people from starvation,in the here and now,would refuse?-even knowing,as my favorite foulmouthed and very incorrect old prof was fond of saying,'there"ll just be twice as many of'em and they'll still be starvin,twenty years from now".

He helped.Donated both time and money.

Malthus and Lovelock are going to be the eventual winners of the debate imo,but only because we cannot cooperate very well as a species.

We have been competeing against each other,rather than the environment,too long.

I believe the "us/them"thing is embedded too deeply to overcome it.

My dad made the mistake many people made in the '70s: he assumed resources would become more evenly distributed. That the poor would catch up to the rich in consumption.

Didn't happen that way. Instead, the rich got richer. Rather than a car in every garage, there's two cars, a boat, and an ATV in American garages, while in other parts of the world, people are lucky to own a bike.

He used to tell me that when I was grown up, I'd have to eat tofu because meat would be too resource-intensive and nobody would be able to eat it. Well, meat is resource intensive, but we Americans are still eating it.

I should send him the link to the Borlaug article, and ask him if he still thinks meat will become an unaffordable luxury in my lifetime.

Your Dad obviously didn't understand the dynamics of Empire.

At one time I too believed we could all be well off-and there is nothing wrong with that theory except we just ran out of cheap land water and oil too fast for it to work .

We shouldn't be "competing" against the environment either but cooperating with it.

I have studied agricultural science, and the fallout thereof, for several decades. I'm sure that Borlaug was acting for what he thought was the best, but he was so narrowly focused that he missed what was obvious to many even at the time.

"Madman" is perhaps a strong word, and I'm sorry if that provoked you, but for him to come out of the woodwork at this time and claim that more of the same thing that got us into a population disaster is what we need to fix it is not really helpful.

We have 6+ billion people on a knife's edge, whether they know it or not, many of them relying on food grown thousands of miles away. The basis on which this food is grown is in no way sustainable. In fact, 6+ billion people is in no way sustainable on this planet.

The idea that we can just keep innovating bigger and bigger harvests with more "innovation" (chemicals, fossil fuels, GMO's), as we are demonstrably destroying productive cropland in vast swaths, is not the hallmark of helpful thinking.

In fact, 6+ billion people is in no way sustainable on this planet.

Which takes us right back to my original point: Borlaug's innovations are not the problem. Reproductive success is the problem. Current agricultural technologies' adverse effects are magnified by population sizes.

You reiterate your original mistake when you claim that Borlaug is offering "more of the same thing that got us into a population disaster." Industrial farming does not cause population increases. Unrestrained, unprotected, uneducated heterosexual humping does.

There is no turning back, either. I'm a "Darwinian" in this instance (ref. to our favorite poster and local Teiresias).

Unless you plan on instructing the current population to farm with horses again--and to somehow acquire extra-planetarily the land required to graze them--you're always going to be reliant on chemicals, fossil fuels and GMOs.

Consider that current agricultural productivity took 10,000 years to attain the production of roughly six billion gross tons of food per year. Today, nearly seven billion people consume that stockpile almost in its entirety every year. Factor in growing prosperity and nearly three billion new mouths by 2050, and you quickly see how the crudest calculations suggest that within the next four decades the world’s farmers will have to double production.

In that quote, Borlaug clearly shows that he understands the problem. And he's grasping at the only tool we have ever had to try and keep up with our PROFLIGACY, whereas the real "answer" is LESS PROFLIGACY.

I think it's pretty clear that farming does cause population increases. Farming doesn't cause more sex, so why is farming associated with increased population?

"Correlation does not equal causation."

And yet, fertility and birthrates have trended steadily downward since the beginning of the green revolution. paraphrased roughly as lots of women each having fewer children than their parents, generation.

Ahh but that doesn't mean the population growth rate is slowing down. World population is growing about 1.19 percent per year. Though the rate is falling slightly the numbers are now increasing because it is 1.19 percent of a larger number each year.

According to data from the CIA's 2005–2006 World Factbooks, the world human population increased by 203,800 every day.[28] The CIA Factbook increased this to 211,090 people every day in 2007, and again to 220,980 people every day in 2009.

World Population Rate of Increase

Ron P.


Hunter gatherers tend to have lower fertility not only because of food shortages, but children are weaned at a much later date. Farming not only increases the food base, but farm activities for women tend to shorten the nursing cycle [substituting animal milks or paps] increasing potential fertility and the additional children are considered valuable as workers. So it is a positive feedback loop.


Exactly. Food production methods have everything to do with population density.

That's right Anne. Less profligacy, NOT more food to encourage it. Current agricultural technologies are exactly what enable the reproductive success you so rightly lament.

There is no tool available to "keep up" with it. Whatever food we grow, we'll overshoot it. Meanwhile, we're eating the planet while reducing its carrying capacity. If you've studied agricultural science you will understand this.

Population always grows to meet the food supply. If you understand this, the notion of increasing the food supply as a solution to population growth is, in fact, a kind of madness. It seems to me you understand this. And it seems to me Borlaug ought to know it.

The solution? We learn how to manage our population (not so likely, it seems), or nature takes its course. And though I think the latter is more likely given what I've seen in my lifetime, please don't go saying that I like the idea. It's not about what you or I would prefer - it's about what is possible.

If you understand this, the notion of increasing the food supply as a solution to population growth is, in fact, a kind of madness.

Ah. So the answer is to DECREASE the food supply!

[slaps forehead in dismay.]

No, the answer is not to decrease the food supply. The FACT is that the food supply is going to decrease, and we need to figure something out.

The planet is finite, and can support a finite number of people sustainably. That number is certainly less than what we have now.

You said you aren't a technocornucopian, but it seems to me that you are.

Not. We're headed for dieoff, regardless.

As for "got to figure something out." Here's a clue: DUCK.

Then I guess the only point we disagree on, really, is how big a dieoff to set ourselves up for. Whatever.

I just want to know the answer to Totoneila's timeless question: are humans smarter than yeast?


Have a great weekend. I love humanity, and I love to eat. :-)

My favorite bumpersticker:

"Don't complain about farmers with your mouth full"

I've always thought it would be neat to genetically engineer some sort of sterilizing food. "You can eat, but you can't breed."

A lot has to due with the advances in medicine and hence much lower young mortality rates.
Humans have always as you say F*cked......it is just that more survive now.
I do agree with you that the only way to control population with low mortality is through planned births.

Leanan, I agree with Anne. People who believe they are doing good, whether the actually are or not, are not madmen. Was Pasteur a madman? What about Salk? They saved lives but they also helped shove the world toward overshoot. As Reg Morrison pointed out the very act of placing blame is an act of ignorance.

- As for pointing to our mental failures with scorn or dismay, we might as well profess disappointment with the mechanics of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics. In other words, the degree of disillusionment we feel in response to any particular human behavior is the precise measure of our ignorance of its evolutionary and genetic origins.
- Reg Morrison, The Spirit in the Gene

Ron P.

Ron, one might say you took HIS words right out of MY mouth.

This is why the overshoot problem has captivated me. I now understand concretely what the Ancient Greeks saw.

Think Sophocles. Think Oedipus.

"YOU are the land's pollution!"

I disagree. People can be completely nuts but still believe they are doing good.

Me, I think sgage meant it in the Kenneth Boulding kind of way: "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist." By that standard, most of the US are madmen or economists.

Anne is arguing proximal cause, sgage is arguing distal. Both are correct and their disagreement is silly.

Not so silly, DD, as you of all people should know. In fact, you famously go way, WAY distal on people's proximal posts around here :-) And I appreciate it ;-)

In fact, the proximal/distal thing is precisely what we're trying to grapple with here. In fact, that seems to be a lot of what goes on around here. We're talking about logical typing (in the Batesonian sense). I think it's useful, actually.

I don't claim to be the smoothest communicator in the world, though I try to be clear :-(

Thanks Leanan,

That's exactly how I meant it.

I disagree. People can be completely nuts but still believe they are doing good.

I think you are just trying to be disagreeable. Of course most people in asylums think they are doing good but that, quite obviously, was not what I meant. People who are completely nuts don't invent great things that helps feed the world's population and cause more overshoot.

Ron P.

I think ol' DD put his finger on it. We're conflating the proximal/distal thing (in DD-speak). I prefer to call it a confusion of logical types, but then, I'm a student of Gregory Bateson :-)

In other words, a member of a class isn't the class. A chair isn't "chairs". Borlaug is a member of the "we must agro-engineer ever-bigger harvests to solve world hunger" class. The thinking of that _class_ is madness in the end. That doesn't mean ol' Norm isn't a great guy.

Alas that the result is, as you say, more overshoot.

Are humans smarter than yeast?

No. I spelled it out above, why I think Borlaug's ideas are madness.

I don't think the other article about industrial farming is as crazy. He's considered peak oil. And he's clearly thinking about it from a US-centric POV. Borlaug's talking about converting family farms in Africa from traditional methods to petroleum-based chemicals and hybrid seeds.

Oh, that is nuts. Somebody should tackle that guy and take another look at this.

The difference is unintended consequences from good initial causes verses delusional nuts.
Hilter being an example of the latter.


I wasn't so much blaming Borlaug personally as pointing out the futility of his way of thinking, which no doubt he was heir to through no fault of his own. I know how it works, I have a cornucopian brother who thinks that everything (that would be "Everything") will be solved by heroic feats of engineering. :-)

It's not about blame, it's about realizing where we went wrong, and moving on.

If my calling Borlaug a madman triggered Anne, her calling him the greatest human ever triggered me.

But just to be clear... I firmly believe that Borlaug's way of thinking is unhelpful. The problems we face are not agro-engineering ones, and we're not going to "clever" our way out of them.

Sgage, of course but Borlaug thought he was doing good. Everyone who participated in the green revolution thought they were doing good. But we must avoid heaping blame upon them because they had no idea of what they were creating. "Curing hunger" has been the goal of every misguided do-gooder for centuries. Actually what they were doing was multiplying the starvation and misery many fold because eventually the world's population will hit the Malthusian Wall.

But the really did have a heart of gold. They simply did not know Sevaride's Law applied to what they were doing: “The chief cause of problems is solutions.”

Ron P.

I've said a couple of times in this thread that I accepted that Borlaug was acting with the best of intentions. Intent is not the issue.
Borlaug was a creature of his time and his culture, and did his best by his lights to do the right thing. That is not and never was the issue.

The consequences of that way of thinking are bearing their bitter fruit. To come out at this time and say that we just need to do more of it, in the light of the past 40 years of history, no matter the intent, is not particularly helpful.

Do we commit moral suicide by declining to do our best to feed the hungry, or do we commit demographic & ecological suicide by succeeding (at least in the short term)? A "devil's bargain" if ever there was one.

A "devil's bargain" indeed. Or is there any way to grandfather our way out of it? I don't see it, but one hopes.

Again, (as always?) we come down to Totoneila's timeless question: are humans smarter than yeast? It seems to be our lot to find out...

I read a long time ago that "You can't only do good." Or, "there are no side effects." Every action has results you want and results you may not want. People into "doing good" tend to deny the unwanted effects, but they must be acknowledged and compensated for if the good is to prevail.

Aspirin relieves pain and eats holes in your stomach. Both these are effects, neither is a "side effect." If you want to relieve your pain without harm, take the aspirin with food, or in a buffered form.

Doing our best to feed the hungry is seen as a moral imperative -- but people who survive tend to reproduce, and so hunger arises again. Can we feed people and limit population growth? "Growth" is the major good of our economic system, but a steady state would have been better for the environment. Some factors work to limit population growth -- not so many babies were born in the 1930s -- could the system take note of the problem, or is China's one-child policy all that's possible?

If it's moral suicide not to feed the hungry, it may be actual suicide to overload the lifeboat. We've got to stop trying to do only good, and to stop labeling the unwanted but intrinsic results of our actions as "side effects."

Yes! Whether it's drugs or feeding the hungry or anything else, the unintended consequences are not "side effects". They're effects, period!

What happens when "lifeboat ethics" becomes widely practiced? I don't want to know, but I think we're going to find out...

Wbat a great discussion! thanks!

I don't think moral - or the other kind - of suicide is required, just policy. One generation of effective contraception and old age will take care of population overshoot.

The technology is there, so are iron- fisted governments.

It's the pope - not Borlaug - who is the madman.

Choice #1

My bitter attitude? I think you might be projecting just a tad.

Ann, you need to brush up on your population biology.
A rudimentary understanding of evolutionary biology and thermodynamics will go a long way to quiet the story and myth that most humans live by.
Haber and Borlaug are products of the conditions of their lives, although Haber may have been dealing with some deep seated issues beyond normal.

While there is some truth in your posting I suggest you read the "Omnivore's Delusion" above. I found it a refreshingly realistic analysis.

That was a beautiful article--coming from a real farmer writing for the American Enterprise Institute. It shows how completely the Left has ceded the science to the Right on the issue of food and agriculture.

I agree with Penn and Teller: Norman Borlaug is the greatest human to ever live.

The article was not beautiful, nor did it show what you think. It was a lashing-out, a polemic, full of rhetorical bullshit.

If you think Borlaug is the greatest human ever to live, I don't think you really understand the consequences of his work.

It is a realistic analysis of the status quo, but not anything that can possibly be sustained. And he does a lot of setting up strawmen to knock down. In spite of making some important points, it is mostly a snarky polemic.

The kind of farming this man is doing can be sustained as long as we have an industrial infrastructure capable of supplying his inputs.

I do not believe the inputs will be available in the long run,as oil depletion really kicks in and therefore personally advocate moving toward an ag model geared toward low input production.

I also believe that in the end,the population must inevitably decline,and deeply.

But if we are going to raise the food needed for 300,000,000 people,and eat as well as we do now,there is no better way of doing it-excepting using methods that are far more labor intensive,meaning people go back to getting thier hands dirty by the tens of millions.

That imo may very well happen,but it won't be by choice!

Your straw man may be my important issue.

We farm, but we are retired mostly.

Every point the man makes is valid.Machinery and chemicals,as they are used on modern farms might actually be better for the environment than the alternative.

Fertilizer,tractor,roundup and ten thousand acres of corn plus ten thousand acres of woodland, or horses,manure and lots of peasent labor and twenty thousand acres of corn-and no woodland.

And less corn-but we could make up the shortage by eating more corn bread and less steak.

This is the real choice,and the only choice,in the short term.

The trend towards higher production with lower inputs he mentions is very real,and can be maintained well into the future.

I'm afraid of gmo but if afraid were to be the controlling rule of life,we would still be living in trees and afraid to come down.I'm more afraid of the consequences of not doing gm.

Gm will eventually do away wuth the need for a lot of pesticides and a lot of fertilizer and a lot of water-if we pursue it.

We on our place use about a third less fertilizer and fuel and two thirds less pesticides,per bushel yield,than we did twenty five years or so ago ,and the trend is accelerating.

Here we are again: The pundits are sure recovery is around the corner. Crude is almost 70 $.

How can recovery take place with crude at 70????

Leanan - Was there a post today that Darwinsdog made that was deleted? If you want to discuss this offline I can give you my e-mail? What I wondered about was if you delete a comment are all of the threads after that comment deleted as well?


The post was not deleted by me. It was hidden, because it got too many flags from regular users.

And it was not Darwinsdog's post that generated the flags. It was the post he replied to. If a post is deleted by a staff member or hidden by community voting, yes, all the replies are gone, too.

thank-you Leanan for the reply. I like that it is hidden by the community. That is democracy at it's best. I am saddened by the loss of other valuable posts however. DD's post for me was very touching.


I missed it and am a bit disappointed.

I dont like that the community can choose what I get to read or see on the Drumbeat. The post flagging feature should go IMHO. I would have liked to read what darwinsdog had to say, and the post he was replying to.


I don't like the method of Flagging either, for reasons I stated in another DB.

Let me lay it out precisely.

Say that I post something about Obama. There are many here still who are very pro on Obama and might decide to FLAG my post. It disappears as well as others with it.

Yet there could actually be far more who are not proObama.(this is just thought exercise}...so what happens is that the smaller minority has just eliminated a post that would NOT have been eliminated had the majority had the chance to know what was going to take place.

This is unfair. There are at least two sides to the coin but one side can rule the event.

Just because 4 people flag a post it disappears. There may be 1,000 who would not have. Those 1,000 and many others are suddendly discriminated against by the methodology.

For this reason and a few others my time here on TOD is rapidly diminishing and will soon reach zero as I turn to more fair and equitable venues or something that interests me more.

Right now my main concern is the destruction of nature.

The postings above about Borlaug and his methods are discussed by some here who have no experience , other than reading or discussing the very real severe realities of corporate control of food and crop production...

They simply do not live in the midst of it but do the 'academic' rhetoric. To live on the land in utter close proximity to it is too take your head outen your butt and live with reality.

Those who are farming or lead a farming lifestyle here are well aware of what I speak of.

Large populations of genetically altered corn plants simply do not lend themselves to manual labor. The plants are too spindly, the ears too small, the spacings are a mere two or three inches. The stalks are not usuable in a normal fashion and the seed cannot reproduce...;....

The corporations are therefore sowing the very seeds of our destruction. GET IT??? No seed stocks. Far more at stake.

So polite discussions based on textbooks and punditry and corpo blather is useless and a waste of bandwidth and time...

The emphasis of life is on food that can be produced by simple implements and draft animal power or human power.
All else is a form of 'static'.
This is where I live. This is what I see. This is what is happening.
This will unless altered appreciably destroy us and it is likely too late to alter.

Its that simple. The 'green revolution' and greed brought us to this.

I will not be replying to this, so have at it or flag it as to hide the reality you do NOT wish to consider. I have nothing more as one who understands farming, to debate. I have said it plenty of times in the past and will not be repeating it any more.

My part of this state is devasted due to the proclivities of climate change. My garden is ruined. I have no carryover of food stocks that are viable enough to process. All around me the animal life is being destroyed by agricultural practices and now the weather, both of which go hand in hand.

Time is better spent elsewhere than kicking dead equines.


I scan Drum Beat every day to see what Airdale has to say, fingers crossed that all is well in (IIRC) Eastern Kentucky. I disagree with his political comments sometimes, but appreciate his grounding in real life. My dad grew up, one of 8 siblings, on a farm in southern Oklahoma; they walked 5 miles to school in Randlett (the old town has disappeared completely, though a tract of suburban houses occupies the space now), but only after the crops were in -- their father valued labor over education. Dad's twin sister wound up owning the place (with her Finnish husband), and we spent summers and holidays there. Cotton all around. That was sixty years ago. I went into broadcasting, then publishing, and am now retired in New York City, far from the land. Airdale speaks to me. Hope he doesn't weary of suffering fools.


I certainly appreciate your comment but time has come for me to move on. On to completing my plans and putting something by. Many projects are still in progress.

I have really run out of things to say on TOD...as I realized of late.
More and more I see what is coming and time is slipping by.Time I have not so much of anymore.

Again thanks for your comments and for reading my sometimes lengthy posts.



I'm glad you saw my comment. I'll miss you, but quite understand. I too ought to get off the Internet and take care of business. I'll be 78 next week and spent last summer in hospital (not too serious after antibiotics, but a sign of mortality). I've been dragging around books and mementos since childhood, and now half our bedroom is stacked with boxes I haven't looked into for years. My partner (now husband) of 26 years is only 50; I shouldn't make him and my kids clean up my mess. I can't see what's coming, but something surely is. We're heavily into helping a worthy friend run for NYCity Council, and this brush with politics only reveals how corrupt and unfunctional it all is. Our friend will make a difference if elected, but a minor one. Even he is running to improve things, not to face a major change in our way of life. We're also involved in Anglican church matters -- not as believers, but as ones who hope the old institution can serve as a place for people to gather for mutual support as the old order collapses. Unawareness and BAU is the rule there, as well. We're reaching the point of having said all we have to say to the organization. Time to get around to cleaning house. Lighten the load for the trek ahead.

Anyway, I wish you well. Let Drum Beat know how you are from time to time. And put us on the list of people to be notified.

Leanan - With your permission I would like to make a plug for the Burning Man Festival this year. For those who have no knowledge of the event it is a radical-art-ecology-survival-7-day trial in an arroyo in Northern NV.

Right now there are over 50,000 people from all over the planet convening on a spot called Black Rock, NV. It's going to be a big deal.


Joe, Burning Man has always irked me as a terribly wasteful, unsustainable, self-indulgent luxury trip, but you're mentioning ecology and survival here -- has there been an attempt to make it more of an exercise in sustainability? That would be cool.

Barrett - I think I would have agreed with you several years ago. But today there are people who promote and participate that might be considered a movement that has more to do with the next generation of people than ours.

Where i camp is an area that is segregated from the "RV'ers" To get there you have to hike and carry your gear (quite a distance from your car) into and garbage-out your own mess at the end from this remote camp-zone. But guess what? No cars or motorbikes or (Egad!) generators. See the stars from one of the darkest places in the lower 48. Play your guitar in the void and realize at long last how small we are as a species.


Thanks for the update, glad to hear it!

please email me, I will be very near the edge of the walkin zone, at about 4:30, outer circle, should be there Friday ish.
my email is renofreepress at charter dot net.
Also, anyone else going please link up, let's share stuff.
Pax Vobixcum

I applaud the original spirit and action of Burning Man, especially when it was still at Baker Beach, and the early days at Black Rock.
However, from recent reports from friends, they suggest it should be renamed Suburban Man.
However the intent and the art seem great, and people working in their cubes in the Bay need a dionysian outlet to justify that corporate gig.

Your friends are absolutely right. At Burning Man City you will find the fattest dumbest cats who just came there because they had some money and they were looking for a good time. But don't be so hasty. It might be saying a lot about your friends that they gravitated to such a low group. At Burning Man people find their own level...and there are many.

I believe thatBurning Man has some of the heppest people on the planet. You do have to look though.


It is a large, diverse group.
Lets be honest, success spoils all that it touches, especially when the arts are involved.
Have a good time, and stay away from too much techno.
And don't take the brown acid. Oh, that was a land far, far away, and a long, long ago.

Gosh - At my age I don't think my system could take acid anymore. I do smoke a lot of really fine reefer though.


Good reefer is medicine.
No acid for me these days, as a t 61, wilderness and the backcounty gets me high.

"Surburban Man" might be a good name for some of the city kids that show up on the desert without reading the Burningman Survival Guide and without being prepared. My wife and I have been going to "the burn" each year since 1997 and we've seen numerous groups of young people show up to party, figure out they aren't equipped to survive in the high desert, and leave early.

There is no cell phone service in the Black Rock Desert. And there are always 3 or 4 pretty impressive dust storms during the event. Last year after 12 hours of 50 knot winds, 110 degrees and 15 foot visibility we heard one sweet young thing from San Francisco tell her boyfriend: "Let's get out of here and go someplace where we can check our text messages."

The Burningman organization, just like responsible backpackers and campers everywhere, stresses a "Leave No Trace" ethic and almost everybody is conscientious about cleaning up everything around their campsite when they leave...even down to tiny things like a feather off a boa. But I think most people recognize it takes a lot of energy for 50,000 people to get to the Black Rock Desert and that the fuel it takes for the fire art, will be burned.

So why is Burningman hypocritical? I've heard it called a lot of things...mostly by people who haven't been there...but not hypocritical. If you know you'll burn the fuel...is burning it hypocrisy? Is it less hypocritical if you burn it for a profit motive as, for example, an airline? Would it be better, since ubiquitous authority would never allow Burningman anywhere else, to not even try to make a community based on gifting, no profit motive, no corporatism, survival with a little help from your friends and a Leave No Trace ethic, if it means using energy to do so? Even temporarily? Many "Burners" would love to find a way to make a sustainable Black Rock City all year round.

Wow. I hope i get to meet you at Burning Man this year.


Re: Burning Man Festival

They burn an awful lot of fuel there... for the sake of "fire art".
Not to mention the resources used getting all those people to a remote, largely uninhabitable terrain, to party.

Never been, I do think it's an interesting concept; art made from junk, survival in extreme conditions, bartering only, but it kinda ticks me off too... for it's not so subtle hypocrisy.

You miss the point. they burn all of the art and civilization to commemorate the notion that this life is temporal and there probably isn't an afterlife. After the event they sweep the grounds in order to remove evidence of people.

"This is it" Alan Watts


I was talking about the fueled fire "guns" and fountains. And the overuse of fuel and resources in general to throw and attend the party. (Just because you think it has some meaning doesn't mean it's not just a party).

I get the existential part, and respect the cleanup rules/efforts.

Oh it is a party...but even in times of yore there were pagan rituals.


There's definitely a time to burn the Yule Log and reach for the Heavens..

(and 'Yule' is related to the word 'Wheel', as these celebrations mark the turning of earth and life)

I'd love to go, but will have to do my own version in the White Mts this time around.. already built the Tipi (while I'm calling it the 'barn', where I keep my camp stuff through the winter..)

There are some really fun sites which teach how to formulate and build Geodesic Domes for Burning Man.
Good Info to have handy! You can make a robust structure with sticks, skin and string. http://www.desertdomes.com/links.html


Oh it is a party...but even in times of yore there were pagan rituals.

And I've always loved the pagan and tribal [earth connected] stuff.

But back then they were local and organic!

Hell, if they had it in the forest (and close by) I'd probably have been there.
But then you wouldn't be able to burn much, so what would be the point!?

Maybe just meditate on impermanence instead of burning everything to cinders?
(Only partial recycling at BM I guess)

BTW, have you heard of Water Woman?
(Yes, I'm serious.)

I had Alan Watts for my scholar in residence in 1968-69.

Hope to meet some of you folks at B.Man this year.
Bringing out most of my solar stuff, and you're welcome to a nice fresh loaf of off-grid WW bread which I'll be baking as long as the sun shiines.
Taking the solar grain grinder, solar ovens, winebox rice cookers, and 1 meter parabolic, and will certainly barter a loaf of fresh bread or toasted cereal for a couple of COLD beers or some smoke....
Look for my shingled motorhome, and I'll be near the outer circle, East of 6:00. Maybe in the generator free zone or somewhere near 4:20.
I think I submitted a post for campfire awhile back about the EROEI of the festival, and the question was: does the creative-return justify the energy outlay for such an event? IMHO, yes it is a leveraged return.
It is an excellent exercise in being off-grid, and I recommend it as it has some of the best art ever.
No grid, no electric, you survive on what you bring, and you leave nothing behind, ideally.
It is an opportunity for a dead serious look at take-for granted-infrastructure we normally don't think about.


Putting the screws to coal-fired power...

Today's featured facility consumes some 1.5 million kWh per year, approximately two-thirds of which can be attributed to lighting. This warehouse has row upon row of 12 metre high racking illuminated by thirty-one single-lamp F96T12 industrials drawing 98-watts each (3.04 kW per isle). We will be replacing these fixtures with fifteen 4-lamp F32T8 industrials ganged together in groups of three, with each cluster controlled by its own occupancy sensor. There will be five zones per isle, each approximately 12 metres in length; thus, if someone enters an isle to grab something within the first twelve meters, only one of the five clusters will turn on (and then off after five minutes of inactivity). We anticipate this will reduce their lighting consumption in these low traffic areas by 90 per cent or more. In higher traffic areas, the lights will be operated in continuous operation, but we'll still be able to cut that load by about half, simply by converting to more efficient T5s and T8s.


Good work, Paul!

My friends from Brooklyn just came through DownEast yesterday and today on a motorcycle, stopped tbrough Portland for lunch.. They had been all over Nova Scotia over the last week.. stopped at Beans to see if they could find better rain gear(!!!) At least what they have now is returnable for life!

Chad is another 'Lighting Technician' in the film/tv biz in NY.. I told him about what you do!

Good Summer for Hydro! A bit less so for Bike-touring..

Thanks, Bob. I'm sorry our weather wasn't cooperating for your friends; this is turning into the summer that wasn't but, as you say, our hydro-electric production has never been better! I hope they have a safe (and dry) ride home.

One thing I forgot to mention above: these folks haven't changed a lamp or ballast in this place since Laverne and Shirley topped the Nielsen's; I'm guessing 75 to 80 per cent of the fixtures are non-operational. The challenge for us is to reduce load and increase light levels which is some areas are as little as 0.5 FC (if I were an occupational health and safety officer, I would have shut the place down). My camera automatically adjusts to low light levels, so it's hard to get a good sense of just how dark this place truly is, but if you can imagine a scattering of old, dirty T12s hanging on for dear life suspended 40 ft. in the air, you'll know of what I speak.

With apologies to those on dial-up, this is another warehouse I audited earlier this week. Here, nearly half the fixtures are located directly above tall racking so, consequently, a large chunk of the light they produce is lost up at the ceiling. We're going to replace these 2-lamp F96T12s with new F32T8 tandem industrials which will cut demand by almost half. We'll also reduce the number of replacement fixtures by a third simply by lining them up with the isles. We expect light levels in the work field to increase by 15 to 20 per cent and energy consumption to fall by roughly two-thirds.

No more dirty coal-fired power plants!


Thank you for your work in this area. We need more people doing what you are doing.

Reducing energy use is hard for the BAU folks, but reducing population is the brass ring. Don't know how to crack that nut.


Do you really mean 12 metre high racking?

Paul in Ontario

Hi Paul,

The ceiling pan is 44 ft./13.4 metres above grade and in many cases the top rack items are just a few feet below the truss. These light fixtures are at 40 ft./12.2 metres and we've noticed some fork lift related damage.


Speaking of no more coal....

College blows off steam to help power campus
Rather than replace coal-fired boilers, one university opts for an ambitious geothermal system

Hundreds of colleges across the United States have in recent years pledged to “go green” with energy use and reduce carbon emissions....

What makes Ball State’s geothermal plan audacious is its size: 3,750 to 4,000 wells will be dug to supply heating and cooling to most (more than 45 of 50-plus) buildings on the 660-acre campus.

“Ball State’s geothermal project is clearly going to be the largest heat-pump complex in the nation,” says John Lund, director of the geoheat center at Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT) in Klamath Falls. “These larger projects may be something we’re going to see more of in the future.”

See: http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/07/30/college-blows-off-st...


US swine flu deaths jump by 51 to total 353

The pandemic h1n1 is going to add to the economic woes. If you go with a reasonably good scenario of 40% infection rate and 200k deaths in the US, what is the cost?

I think we will go to 5K and not to 10K on the DOW. I also think I am usually wrong.

It seems the next month or two will likely be critical in determining the course of the virus. In 1918, suddenly and without warning, the virus turned nasty around the last week of August - and simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. There are plenty of theories why but nobody is certain what changed.

One thing I have picked up that seems very worrying is that public virus sequence tracking normally only identifies a "consensus" sequence. That is if there are multiple mutations present only the most common one shows up. So a polymorphism can be present at 20% in a sample and not show up at all in "normal" sequencing. Or be dismissed as "lab error" when a repeat gives a differing result. It is thought by some this may be how Tamiflu resistance apparently jumped from 10% to almost 100% of seasonal H1N1 flu in a few months. In fact it didn't but the mutation stayed "below the radar" of the sequencers until it became the dominant strain.

Just exactly what polymorphisms might be building now is something we are currently almost in the dark about.

Interesting, God knows what is swimming within the current pandemic. My local library has a copy of Killer Flu, I think I'll go check it out today.

I read an article within the last couple of days printed by some country that all pregnant women who were given Tamiflu on the outset have survived. I don't remember the numbers in that story -- but Tamiflu-resistance seems likely and will increase the fatality rates significantly. I don't think that recombination, in and of itself, would be the be-all and end-all of increased virulence, though -- but those outcomes are so possible.