Drumbeat: August 30, 2009

Rubbing salt into the wounds

The UAE’s demand for water, growing yearly in pace with the nation’s expansion, is insatiable and insupportable. With extremely limited natural supplies, the UAE and all its mighty ambitions and achievements – from desert golf courses to the world’s tallest building – are utterly dependent on water drawn from the sea, as are every man, woman and child who lives here.

When it comes to water, the UAE is living beyond its means, trapped in an unsustainable spiral. Its per-capita consumption is among the highest in the world. Its natural groundwater supplies, pumped in an uncontrolled manner for decades, are being drained 24 times faster than they can be replenished, leaving them increasingly polluted with salt water.

Farming, one of the smallest parts of the economy, consumes vast amounts of water. And waste from desalination leaves land and sea increasingly polluted.

Walk this way - urge 'sustainable development

The real estate collapse has masked the existence of a severe housing shortage in California. While developers have oversupplied single-family detached homes with backyards, buyers looking for a home within walking distance of jobs, services, good schools, parks and public transit have few options in this state. Communities that have these "sustainable development" characteristics, such as neighborhoods in San Francisco, Pasadena and San Diego, are often among the most expensive in the state. They are also few and far between compared with the vast stretches of suburban homes covering the state.

Brazil's Lula to meet foes to new oil plan

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva will try on Sunday to overcome opposition by three state governors to a legislative proposal he hopes will make the country a top oil producer and help fight poverty.

The government will unveil on Monday a legal framework to develop massive new off-shore oil deposits, which triggered euphoria and expectations of newfound wealth in Latin America's largest country when they were announced in 2007.

Tullow Oil chief executive Aidan Heavey says the future of fuel lies in Africa

African oil is what's causing the excitement. With assets in 15 African nations from Mauritania to Madagascar, Tullow now gets 60pc of its production from the continent. The rest is mostly North Sea gas, but Africa accounts for 94pc of group reserves.

Next year's start of production from the Jubilee oilfield off Ghana's coast should double Tullow's 40,000-barrels-a-day African production, and, by the third phase of the roll-out, it should have doubled again.

Nigeria: Manufacturers Protest High Gas Price

Fresh energy crisis is pummelling the industrial sector as manufacturers who use natural gas have shut down their production to protest new gas price being slammed on them by local gas companies.

More than 85 per cent of the manufacturers especially in Lagos depend on gas to fire their generators while others use it for their boilers and more than 60 per cent of gas users have reduced their production in the past one week.

High costs fuel Mideast district cooling market

JEDDAH - In a region where the temperature frequently exceeds 45 degree Celsius and air conditioning requirements consume 70 percent of the power during peak electricity demand, district cooling is emerging as the most viable cooling solution in the Middle East, Frost & Sullivan’s new report titled “Analysis of the District Cooling Market in the Middle East Region” said.

Wood to oil process could make forest thinning pay

For the past decade that the U.S. Forest Service has been pressing to thin hundreds of millions of acres of woods in danger of burning up, it has had one nagging problem: how to come up with the billions of dollars to pay for it.

Young trees are too small for lumber. Transporting the bulky material to biomass power plants is too expensive. And cutting big trees to pay for thinning the small ones often runs afoul of environmental laws.

Jim Archuleta, a soil scientist on the Umpqua National Forest in southwestern Oregon, thinks he might have the answer in a new twist on old technology called fast pyrolysis.

Biogas firm targets rural areas, farmers

As the energy crisis bites, right after fuel prices shot through the roof, some Kenyan firms have gone green and are busy developing alternative energy sources.

One such green technology firm, Pioneer Technologies has teamed up with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology to develop biogas-based systems for cooking and cheap electricity.

Saudi tightens security to protect oil plants

KHOBAR, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has tightened security at oil facilities after the country's anti-terror chief escaped a suicide attack, guards at Abqaiq, the world's biggest oil processing plant, said on Sunday.

Abqaiq was the first Saudi oil target since Al Qaeda launched attacks aimed at toppling Saudi Arabia's pro-Western monarchy in 2003. The country's deputy interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, on Thursday escaped with light injuries in the first known assault on a member of the Saudi royal family.

"Thursday night we received a call to tighten security measures and car inspection at all gates," one security guard said.

Reluctance to Spend May Be Legacy of Recession

But even if her spending power is restored, Ms. Nelson says her inclination to buy has been permanently diminished. Through nine months of joblessness, she has learned to forgo the impulse buys that used to provide momentary pleasure — $4 lattes at Starbucks, lip gloss, mints. She has found she can survive without the pedicures and chocolate martinis that once filled regular evenings at the spa. Before punishing heat and drought turned much of central Texas brown, she subsisted primarily on vegetables harvested from her plot at a community garden, where only one oasis of flowers remains.

Once intent on buying a home, Ms. Nelson now feels security in remaining a renter, steering clear of the shark-infested waters of the mortgage industry.

“I’m having to shift my dreams to accommodate the new realities,” she said. “Now, I have more of a bunker mentality. If you get hit hard enough, it lasts. This impact is going to last.”

Preventing blackout

On July 25, La Plata County kicked off the visioning process for the update of its Comprehensive Plan with an all-day meeting, in which about 50 residents shared views about the past and present and devised story lines for the La Plata County of 2030. Kidrow, a blog for parents in the know Katie Ogier - The Wells Group Gateway Reservations

One of the ideas that emerged was using local resources to become self-sufficient in energy. The importance of this concept is underscored in Richard Heinberg's new book, Blackout. Heinberg's earlier books include The Party's Over and Peak Everything, which document the impending occurrence of "peak oil" and its consequences for modern society. In Blackout, he extends his analysis to coal, the most abundant fossil fuel.

The mirage of energy independence and the reality of interdependence

(MENAFN - Arab News) The International Monetary Fund's executive board has urged Saudi Arabia to maintain a longer-term perspective on global oil demand. While praising Riyadh for its leadership in stabilizing oil markets by continuing to expand capacity in the face of falling prices, the IMF directors "encouraged the authorities to continue basing their capacity expansion decisions on medium to long-term (and indeed not short-term) demand conditions."

Indeed easier said than done in many respects, one can't fail underlining here, especially in the given environment.

After 150 years, age of oil entering an efficiency phase

Despite the similarities with 1859, though, the oil industry in 2009 faces challenges that make past barriers seem like mere bumps in comparison — surging energy demand from the developing world, volatile price swings that spawn both boon and bust, and demands to limit the environmental damage of fossil fuels.

“But the age of oil is not over,” Yergin says. “Over the next two to three decades, on a global basis we'll see oil demand increase, but there will be a tremendous drive for us to use it much more efficiently.”

That drive, and particularly the role that natural gas may play in it, could help keep another generation of workers in Houston's office towers and refineries employed.

India's generation of children crippled by uranium waste

Their heads are too large or too small, their limbs too short or too bent. For some, their brains never grew, speech never came and their lives are likely to be cut short: these are the children it appears that India would rather the world did not see, the victims of a scandal with potential implications far beyond the country's borders.

Anti-speculation push may topple oil prices

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A debate is emerging over how curbs on energy market speculation may impact oil prices, with at least one major bank boldly expecting the new rules will trigger a 30-percent price plunge.

The outcome holds wide-ranging implications for G20 developed nations collectively spending as much as $4.8 trillion to stimulate their economies through the worst global recession in decades.

"Regulators don't and shouldn't talk about trying to influence prices," said John Brodman, a former Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Energy. "But there's a growing political imperative out there. An oil price rise of $30 a barrel would offset 40 percent of the stimulus spending. That's not what these countries are looking for."

Secret documents uncover UK's interest in Libyan oil

Libya has been courted by Prince Charles, government ministers and Foreign Office mandarins on a dozen or more occasions in pursuit of lucrative oil and gas contracts.

Documents obtained by the Observer show ministers and senior civil servants met Shell to discuss the company's oil interests in Libya on at least 11 occasions and perhaps as many as 26 times in less than four years.

Sinochem in bid for Gulfsands

Independent oil and gas producer Gulfsands Petroleum is in takeover talks with China's state-owned Sinochem, which is offering up to £400m for the business.

Size trumps technology as big cars dent green gains

AUSTRALIA'S enduring love affair with big cars means engine technology alone will not be enough to deliver necessary cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, a government report has warned.

The report, by the Bureau of Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Economics, has added weight to demands for tough new measures to encourage the production of smaller, more efficient vehicles, including mandatory emissions standards.

Energy Dept. Fails to Use Thermostats to Cut Costs

WASHINGTON — The Energy Department strives to be a leader in championing energy efficiency. Its Web site lists energy-saving tips, while Secretary Steven Chu calls conservation one of the department’s most important goals.

But at many of the agency’s buildings, even at national laboratories where talented scientists seek technological breakthroughs to save energy, the department has failed to use one of the most effective tools available to any ordinary household: thermostats that automatically dial back the temperature when nobody is around.

Nuclear Regulators Urge High-Tech Fire Detection

WASHINGTON — Many of the hundreds of workers at the Shearon Harris nuclear plant in New Hill, N.C., are busy with high-tech tasks like calibrating equipment, monitoring radiation fields or controlling the reactor. But around the clock, there are three on duty who might have come out of another century.

They sniff for smoke.

Pacing miles each day, up and down stairs and through vast halls and narrow passages, they visit crucial locations at least once an hour to make sure fire has not broken out.

United Kingdom Faces a Quandary Over New Nuclear or Coal Power

LONDON -- The United Kingdom is nearing a crucial decision as it tries to tackle the climate crisis -- whether to make a major push into new nuclear power or to proliferate coal-fired power plants constructed so their carbon emissions are captured and safely stored.

PHEVs and EVs: Plugging Into a Lump of Coal

Since I've stirred up a hornet's nest over the last two weeks first by debunking the mythology that PHEVs and EVs will save their owners money and then by showing how PHEVs and EVs will sabotage America's drive for energy independence, I figured I might as well go for the triple-crown of harsh realities by showing readers that in the U.S., where 70% of electricity comes from burning hydrocarbons, PHEVs and EVs won't make a dent in CO2 emissions. They'll just take distributed CO2 emissions off the roads and centralize them in coal and gas fired power plants.

Clash in Alabama Over Tennessee Coal Ash

UNIONTOWN, Ala. — Almost every day, a train pulls into a rail yard in rural Alabama, hauling 8,500 tons of a disaster that occurred 350 miles away to a final resting place, the Arrowhead Landfill here in Perry County, which is very poor and almost 70 percent black.

To county leaders, the train’s loads, which will total three million cubic yards of coal ash from a massive spill at a power plant in east Tennessee last December, are a tremendous financial windfall. A per-ton “host fee” that the landfill operators pay the county will add more than $3 million to the county’s budget of about $4.5 million.

Ethanol faces challenges ahead

New technologies, supporting infrastructures, and greater demand will be needed to meet the country’s ambitious mandate to increase biofuel use.

Cheap wheat to help meet EU fuel demand

LONDON (Reuters) - A sharp decline in wheat prices driven by a supply glut is set to lead to more of the grain being turned into motor fuel in the European Union.

Standards for Small-Scale Wind Power

The American Wind Energy Association is developing a series of standards that will measure the safety, reliability and performance of small wind turbines.

The standards, which the organization hopes to have in place by the end of the year, come amid increased interest in small-scale and rooftop wind power — typically designed for individual homes, farms and small businesses, and producing 100 kilowatts of electricity or less.

Four Years Later, New Orleans' Green Makeover

After Hurricane Katrina flattened New Orleans exactly four years ago, on Aug. 29, 2005, the city emerged as an inadvertent symbol of global warming, the first American victim of climate change. Over 200,000 homes were destroyed during the Category 5 hurricane. But in the years since, the Crescent City has quietly embraced a new and unexpected role as a laboratory for green building. Sustainable development groups that range from the international nonprofit Global Green to earth-friendly celebrities like Brad Pitt descended on New Orleans, determined not just to build the city back, but to build it back green. "It's going to come back," says Matt Petersen, the president of Global Green USA. "But we want to build it better than it was before."

Troubling bubbles: Methane oozes from thawing permafrost

Pure methane, gas bubbling up from underwater vents, escaping into northern skies, adds to the global-warming gases accumulating in the atmosphere. And pure methane escaping in the massive amounts known to be locked in the Arctic permafrost and seabed would spell a climate catastrophe.

Is such an unlocking under way?

Researchers say air temperatures here in northwest Canada, in Siberia and elsewhere in the Arctic have risen more than 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 — much faster than the global average. The summer thaw is reaching deeper into frozen soil, at a rate of 1.5 inches a year, and a further 13-degree temperature rise is possible this century, said the authoritative, U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC.

India, China to study climate change

New Delhi: India and China will jointly conduct research on the impact of climate change on the glaciers in the Himalayan and Tibetan regions, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh said here yesterday.

UN meeting: help nations adapt to global warming

GENEVA – As nations negotiate tough decisions on cutting greenhouse gases, the United Nations is holding a separate conference on coping with more floods, droughts and other effects of climate change already assured.

Bjorn Lomborg: Technology Can Fight Global Warming

We have precious little to show for nearly 20 years of efforts to prevent global warming. Promises in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 to cut carbon emissions went unfulfilled. Stronger pledges in Kyoto five years later failed to keep emissions in check. The only possible lesson is that agreements to reduce carbon emissions are costly, politically arduous and ultimately ineffective.

But this is a lesson many are hell-bent on ignoring, as politicians plan to gather again—this time in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December—to negotiate a new carbon-emissions treaty. Even if they manage to bridge their differences and sign a deal, there is a strong likelihood that tomorrow's politicians will fail to deliver.

Our ship is sinking: we must act now

The cause of our weather shifts does not matter. The millions who will be affected are the priority.

A High Cost to Deal With Climate Shift

NEW YORK — The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has described the notion of “adaptation” as those initiatives designed “to reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual or expected climate change effects.”

The implication, of course, is that regardless of what nations, businesses or individuals do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the planet is going to warm up. Everything from coastal geography and weather patterns to the global tableau of arable land, such that we’ve come to know and rely on them, will be — indeed, already are — in flux, and we had best start planning.

Re: Technology Can Fight Global Warming

As much as I have found Bjorn Lomborg to be lacking in his understanding of Global Warming (or, Climate Change), I think that his editorial in the WSJ does represent a small step forward. He notes:

Global warming does not just require action; it requires effective action. Otherwise we are just squandering time.

To see this recognition of the problem of Climate Change appearing in the Wall Street Journal is refreshing. Sad to say, it's not likely that the regular Editors at the WSJ will show similar concerns.

Of course, Lomborg presents his latest work in which ECONOMISTS (not engineers or scientists) have made calculations of costs and benefits, work which has already been discussed on TOD. There are lots of problems with attempting to engineer a solution to AGW, not least of which is that such efforts must increase in intensity as the CO2 level rises and must continue for centuries after the fossil fuels have all been burnt. This path is highly unlikely, unless there are other energy sources available to meet mankind's needs after the fossil fuels are gone. Why not just use those alternatives instead of burning the fossil fuels? That approach must be too difficult for Lomborg to understand.

E. Swanson

I don't know if this is solely the province of engineering or if it happens elsewhere, but one approach engineers use is the concept of "running interference". Say that you are working on a project that will require quite a bit of technical work and unknown amounts of innovation. You realize that you cannot do both the technical work and constantly justify your progress to your sponsors or management at the same time. So what your project lead decides to do is present an engineer to management as the "interface" to the group. This person is good at talking and has down pat all the details on schedules and requirements and is able to deflect criticism away from all the backroom engineers working the project. If the blocking, i.e. interference running, is effective, you could actually convince your management that the project is still at the requirements or concepting phase, even though the core engineers are busy working on a solution. The end result is that higher-level management is essentially clueless to what is actually happening behind-the-scenes and you gain freedom to do what you think is right. Running interference is something that is tribal knowledge amongst certain engineers but is not really well known in other circles.

What I think we have here is that the AGW discussion is essentially running interference for the equally significant problem of fossil fuel depletion. We can use the cover of AGW to figure out alternatives to FF, knowing that reduction in fuel usage will buy us time to do the the technical work. Now the conspiratorial angle ... The tricky question is whether the climate change advocates are knowing participants in the interference scam, or are they being used as tools by some cabal?

WebHubbleTelescope wrote:

What I think we have here is that the AGW discussion is essentially running interference for the equally significant problem of fossil fuel depletion...The tricky question is whether the climate change advocates are knowing participants in the interference scam, or are they being used as tools by some cabal?

When you say that, you essentially dismiss the science behind the problem of Global Warming. There's no doubt about the physics which says CO2 absorbs infrared radiation in certain wavelengths and that this causes the Earth's surface to be warmer than it would be with no CO2. Similarly, there's no doubt that the same is true for water vapor (H2O) in that atmosphere and that the amount of water vapor is a function of temperature. I do not see how there could be an organized effort to hide the truth about these aspects of physical reality.

The immediate problem with fossil fuel depletion is Peak Oil, which may be upon us RIGHT NOW. There's said to be lots of coal out there and, if that's true, Peak Coal would not arrive for decades. Thus, calling for strict reductions in CO2 emissions without a real problem, such as Climate Change, would ultimately prove to be self destructive, since the science would not support such a call.

That said, I think that there are groups of people who are not working scientists who are trying to twist the situation to their own advantage, some of whom you might label "climate change advocates". I don't see that as a massive cabal to distort the science in ways which make the effects of AGW seem worse. There are numerous examples that show there is the opposite attack underway, as documented in Chris Mooney's book, "The Republican War on Science". Having had some direct interaction with some of the big name players in this game, such as Fred Singer and Roy Spencer, I can only say I agree with much of what Mooney wrote...

E. Swanson

See how easy it is to run interference? I did say that each problem was equally significant, yet your argument was still a defense of CO2 as a greenhouse gas. You would do very well as an interference runner. Congratulations, you are hired! :)

Great! I could use the income, having been out of work for more than a decade. Can I telecommute?

E. Swanson

Yes, Lomborg is certainly one of the bought-and-paid-for and/or ideologically blinkered sort. RealClimate has shredded his "output" on more than one occasion. Given his previous "work," it is hardly surprising that he fails to take a systems approach and realize that geo-engineering will have unintended consequences that may be extremely unpleasant, as well as being perfectly in line with Diamond's perspective on societies' attempts to engineer their way out of their complexity with greater complexity - and failing miserably.

Those who fail to consider a range of inputs will almost certainly fail to find a viable solution. I suggest the following as minimally necessary:

1. Climate Change
2. Energy descent
3. Chaos Theory
4. Non-linear systems
5. Geopolitics
6. Collapse theories (Diamond, etc.)
7. Sustainability
8. Steady-state economic systems
9. Limits to Growth
10. Fairness
11. The Commons


What? No free market Capitalism? That's OK I'd take the Steady-state ecological economic systems if I could.

Seriously though, I think it is a good minimal start. I'd probably insert the Science of Networks, ecosystems, ecology, evolution and Cognitive Neuroscience in there somehow. I'm sure others would add a few other things to the list.

Get too esoteric and too far beyond the general public's ability or willingness to pay attention, you're wasting your time.


You know, in the not too distant past I would have wholeheartedly agreed with you!
More recently my attitude has been: If you get it, great! If you don't, I'm just not going to waste my time with you. Life is too F'n short!


Thus, a key metric is perhaps what percentage is needed to overcome inertia? I've heard it said only 1/3 of subjects were interested in independence circa 1776...


So how do you change paradigms? Thomas Kuhn, who wrote the seminal book about the great paradigm shifts of science, has a lot to say about that. In a nutshell, you keep pointing at the anomalies and failures in the old paradigm, you come yourself, loudly, with assurance, from the new one, you insert people with the new paradigm in places of public visibility and power. You don't waste time with reactionaries; rather you work with active change agents and with the vast middle ground of people who are open-minded.
Excepted from Donella Meadows: Leverage Points - Places To Intervene In A System

I guess it all depends on ones definition of "vast"...

Why not just use those alternatives instead of burning the fossil fuels? That approach must be too difficult for Lomborg to understand.

I happen to fall in the camp that say's we will have to do both. Obviously controlling emissions has to take priority. Clearly Lomborg's income depends upon his producing amessage his sponsors and cistomers want to hear. This might not be direct pressure from sponsors, it might just be that a certain class of people buy his books, because they like his message. If he changed his message, his career could very well dry up.

In any case, I think it is important not to create too high a barrie for future geo-emgineering projects to jump. IMO they will be a neccessary stopgap. Near term we should concentrate on lowering future GHG concentrations. Of course one wedge in lowering these concentrations might be geo-engineering of the CO2 absorption kind, whether that be managing forests and farms to maximize soil carbon, or enhancing silicate weathering. But, when thinks start getting nasty enough climate wise, we will also have to consider some of the interventions that reflect sunlight away from the earth.

I think it is important not to create too high a barrie for future geo-emgineering projects to jump.

A minimum requirement is that we have a strong idea how much worse they will make the situation.

Yes, worse. The front-runners (aerosol injection and shading the planet from space, or as Joe Romm puts it, literally smoke and mirrors) seem likely to cause massive continental-scale droughts.

However, we don't know enough yet to say this for sure.

Enhanced weathering, biochar or soil-based sequestration, and iron-seeding the oceans are likely to have their own "unintended consequences." More thinking is required - and it better be soon.

Serious research into geo-engineering is certainly necessary, but I haven't seen many solutions that make it out of the starting gate.

Approaches that attempt to control insolation ("solar radiation management") typically have two big problems: 1) a cooler world is likely to be a drier world, and 2) they don't help ocean acidification.

For my money, the most promising solutions are tropical reforestation, which fixes carbon and creates cloud cover that reflects sunlight; and dumping large quantities of lime into the ocean, which fixes carbon and increases ocean pH (http://www.cquestrate.com/). I also like the idea of genetically engineering high-temperature corals that can thrive in warm water; seed continental shelves with these and create new ocean ecosystems that fix carbon into the shells of calcareous organisms.

Lomborg is talking out of both sides of his mouth.

When he says that 20 years of effort have produced no effect, he's missing the fact that the main effect and effort has been to get people at his extreme of the spectrum, including Economists and the US Govt to finally start talking even somewhat seriously about the issue. THAT is (sadly enough) the progress that has been made so far.

His own efforts have been extremely effective at canceling out the work that the early-warning crowd was trying to bring forward.

Mazel tov!

(reminding me once more that it's far easier to tear down than it is to build up.. and it's easier to sow doubt and suspicion than it is to convey new truths..)

Re: Standards for Small-Scale Wind Power

This story appeared in yesterday's Montreal Gazette:

MONTREAL -- Hugues Leblanc has spent three years at war with a wind turbine.

His first model, an AirX horizontal-axis unit that he bought and installed in 2006, caused his ceiling to quake and filled his apartment with an alien whooping sound - "like a swirling noise, woowoow-owowoow," he says.

Before long, the AirX's propeller blades began whipping off, says Leblanc, an orderly at a Montreal geriatric hospital.

"Once, on a very bad wintry night," he recounts, a blade came crashing down on his balcony.

Leblanc has also risked his life to make emergency repairs, climbing a steep ladder in high winds.

Not to mention the violence done to his wallet: Leblanc has spent about $4,000 on turbines and parts. And for what? He saves a measly $5 or $10 a month on his electricity bill.



Wind turbines on a very small scale are a waste of time. For an apartment block it would be better to have one at the side to power the whole block. In the suberbs have one on a corner to power a street.

No question, small wind turbines such as this are inappropriate in an urban environment. If the primary goal is to mitigate the environmental impacts related to your electricity use, as opposed to a desire to achieve some measure of self-sufficiency, take that $4,000.00 and buy two-thousand CFLs that you can then distribute to your friends, neighbours or a local charity (the latter could potentially use them for fund raising purposes for a double win). Two thousand CFLs saving an average of 45-watts each will potentially eliminate some 900,000 kWh of electrical usage over their collective life -- likely 500 times more than what a 400-watt wind turbine could achieve in its lifetime.


Wind turbines on a very small scale are a waste of time. For an apartment block it would be better to have one at the side to power the whole block. In the suberbs have one on a corner to power a street.

There are several reasons why these are a crummy idea. The most obvious is that the scaling of turbine efficiency (say cost per KW of capacity -or cost per embedded joule of energy in the turbine) favors large multi-megawatt turbines. Secondarily urban wind is notoriously gusty, because of the irregular landscape (building and other urban structures). Finally any nuisance and safty issues are hard to deal with. IMO they are seriously misplaced greenwashing.

Small turbines might make sense for remote monitoring stations, which cannot be connected to the grid, and for which a small scale power supply (wind and/or solar) plus battery backup make an ideal solution. For this reason, they should be developed. But selling them to grid connected people as a power source borders on fraud.

The link up top Clash in Alabama Over Tennessee Coal Ash is interesting. The owner and operator of that power plant is TVA. Most of TVA's plants are coal fired but they also own three nuclear power plants. Those plants are Browns Ferry near Athens, Alabama, Sequoyah in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee and Watts Bar, near Spring City, Tenn. These three plants generate 30% of the power generated by TVA. Of course they also own and operate all the hydro plants on the Tennessee River in Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky.

If you Google Frequently Asked Questions About TVA you may be surprised to learn that it is the largest public power company in the US. The word "public" is deceiving here because the public in question are the US taxpayers not public stockholders. That's right, TVA is wholly owned by the United States Federal Government, just a little fact that few people outside the Tennessee Valley realize.

A few people are shocked that the government now ownes most of General Motors. But they intend to sell their shares back to GM, or to the public if it comes to that. But they have no intention of ever selling off their power company. After all they have owned it since the creation of TVA during the depths of The Great Depression.

Ron P.

That's right, TVA is wholly owned by the United States Federal Government, just a little fact that few people outside the Tennessee Valley realize.

Are you serious? People don't know that? Even with the word "authority" in the name?

I thought everyone knew the story of the TVA (usually painted as a huge Depression success story).

Yes I am serious. In my travels around the nation and around the world most people with whom I would discuss the subject had no idea. In fact most did not realize what the A in TVA really stood for. Some thought it was owned by the State of Tennessee. (From the Authority in the name perhaps.)

Most all of TVA's power plants were built well after the Great Depression. Originally, during the Great Depression, TVA's power came from dams on the Tennessee River.

As for everyone knowing the story of TVA, I think you are in for a rude awakening. Ask anyone under the age of 20 today about the story of TVA. Notice the blank stare you will get in return.

And TVA was a huge depression era success story. It gave thousands of people jobs and gave electricity to millions of rural people in the area. We got our first power, from TVA, in 1945. Everyone back then referred to it as getting "lectric lights". That electricity could be used to power other things never occurred to them until a year or two later after they got "lectric lights". The first electric powered appliance in our home was an electric churn. Mom still used her gasoline powered washing machine for a couple years after we got electric power.

Ron P.

After the last couple of election cycles I'm willing to believe that most Americans don't know anything. Heck there's a bunch of 'em that don't even suspect anything.

OK, that cracked me up!

Re: "Anti-speculation push may topple oil prices"

So anti-speculation is considered the same as price-control regulations.

So the four general options are free market (speculative+consumptive), price controls (anti-speculative+consumptive), and tax impositions (anti-speculative+anti-consumptive), and rationing (speculative+anti-consumptive).
These are essentially orthogonal choices as they trade off speculative and consumptive behaviors

speculative anti-speculative
consumptive free market price controls
anti-consumptive rationing tax

You will notice that large speculative holdings are not driving up the price of natural gas. Why would natural gas be different. You would think that a few of them would stop and think: "Wait a minute, if speculators are driving up the price of oil, why arn't they also driving up the price of natural gas?"

The difference is obvious, there was, in the last couple of years, a large amount of natural gas to come on the market. And there is no OPEC of natural gas. In other words a large supply drove price down despite the efforts speculators and hedge fund operators. Not that they were trying to drive prices up because there were just as many of them holding short positions as long.

And the same rules apply to crude oil as natural gas. If the market were as flooded with oil as it is natural gas the price would drop through the floor. But they need someone to blame for high oil prices, someone they can regulate. And since they are powerless to regulate OPEC, they pick on someone they can regulate.

Ron P.

Perhaps there is a better word for speculative? Maybe variability describes the behavior better? Price controls seek to maintain the price predictable, leading to a more elastic behavior of demand versus supply. The fact that oil may go inelastic scares many people. If it becomes so inelastic that only the prosperous can afford it, then we enter the rationing regime, or it becomes a capitalist free-for-all.

If only the mobs at town hall meetings were screaming about global warming. That is what is going to kill future granmas and pas. Climate change and peak everything, the ignored elephants in the room.

Hey hey Everybody,

I had an idea and I wanted some feedback on it. I finally started graduate school for economics and I was musing about Adam Smith's invisible hand, not the hand every already knows about, the other hand.

Adam Smith basically said that businesses and individuals pursuing their own economic interests unintentionally create a global good as if they were guided by an invisible hand. Paraphrasing, here is the exact quote. That's the right hand, the good hand, the white hand if it can be accepted that something can be white and invisible.

So here is my theory of the invisible black hand: Businesses and politicians pursuing their own political self interests unintentionally create a global bad* as if they were guided by an invisible hand.

This post is just the notes and definitions for completeness, feel free to skip it.

* in my original theory I had used the word stupidity instead of the word bad. As I was thinking of a brilliant quote adaption by GreenEngineer at the time. The quote is "Any sufficiently advanced stupidity is indistinguishable from malice." which is a permutation of Arthur C. Clarke's "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic". The problem with the word stupidity is that there is not presently a robust theory of stupidity, which I freely admit sounds stupid. But it is an important distinction as most of the stupid decisions made in the world of politics are made by highly intelligent people. A good example is the trial of Galileo where Galileo's accurate understanding of the movement of celestial bodies was condemned as heresy by a literate and well versed, seasoned and vetted, intelligent and motivated group of qualifiers for logical inconsistency with the established order and conventional wisdom of the time. So, stupidity in the sense that I would like to use it can not be defined as the opposite of intelligence which leaves me without an operable definition of stupidity in spite of the fact that everyone knows what I mean when using the word. I think that this is a linguistic nuance where dumb, stupid, and ignorant are technically accurate antonyms of smart, intelligent or educated they fail to account for well reasoned decisions made on faulty assumptions, lacking a broader vision, or willfully obtuse of important considerations. Foolish and unwise are much more accurate terms except that they fail to capture the deliberation and emotional punch that is required. A foolish, unwise, or ignorant person typically didn't think a situation through because they lack the capacity that wold make them smart, intelligent, or wise. The word I believe that I am looking for means very intelligent and deliberately unwise, sadly I don't know what that word is.

Definition of terms with examples:

For a business: Economic interests are those products, innovations or actions that result in a better, cheaper, or otherwise more competitive product whereas a business's political interest shall be defined as any legislative action, policy, or public perception that gives a business a competitive advantage without materially effecting their product line or operating model.

To give an example that TOD readers will be familiar with: It is in the biofuel producer's economic interest to produce a better (carbon neutral product, carbon negative product, higher EROEI product, more scalable product, or a product that doesn't compete for agricultural lands), cheaper, or more competitive product whereas the biofuel producer's political interests lay in changes to legislation, policy, and public perception such as quotas on ethanol imports from Brazil, subsidies to corn and soy production, blending mandates, and the public perception that biodiesel and ethanol are green alternatives even when they are produced with unsustainable, carbon positive, or negative EROEI methods.

For a politician the definitions are a bit simpler: Political self interest is anything that advances the politician's carrier even at the expense of their constituency whereas the politician's representative interests is anything that promotes the interests of their constituency even at the possible expense of their political carrier.

I don't think an example even needs to be given to explain this but here is the central one: Politicians represent a populous that is broadly in favor of campaign finance reform which the constituency believes would benefit the populous by giving them representatives that are more representative. However, the politicians in charge of enacting campaign finance reform realize that enacting the desired reform would deprive them of their corporate sponsors and hurt their chances of reelection. This results in a situation where the politician's political self interest is in direct conflict with the interests of their constituency.

Tim, that is a very good question and, not being an economist, or even knowing very much about economic theory, I am not qualified to even give an educated opinion.

I would just point out that on the weekend, especially in the summer, Drumbeats gets very little traffic. Many who would probably like to give their opinion are doing other things this weekend. But I hope you do get a few replies as I would love to read them.

Ron P.

Thanks Darwinian,

I'll repost this on Monday's Drumbeat. I've been spending most of my time at the Automatic Earth these days which has been very busy lately as Ilargi and Stoneleigh think we are near the end of the rally and about to hit another crash so I haven't been watching the Drumbeat traffic levels very closely.

Tim, you are groping around to try to understand modern irrationality. What I see happening are two different but related things.
The first it the resfusal of the vast bulk of sciety to learn and apply the best least biased forms of thought and decisionmaking. The study of this field is called epistemology, and I claim familiarity with it should be a requirement for say HS graduation. If I had my way, it would be a requirement for voting... but that is a different story.

Then we have concerted efforts by certain agenda holding institutions (including especially the Republican party) to use modern psychology to program as great a percentage of the populace (since you are starting grad school, learning the difference between populace, and populous should be important to you). In any case this programing is largely about training to emotional part of our brain to have an aversion to nearly anything liberal. And to inculcate ideological thinking into said subpopulation. This has been a great tactical success, but I suspect we may end up with a country which will not be able to make rational decisions regarding public policy. But as was famously said (I wish I knew by whom), that the first casualty of war is the truth, the first casualty of cultural/political war is the quality of thinking and public debate.

So what we seem to have an epidemic of, is clever people using proven propaganda methods in pursiut of their own narrow-minded agendas. The operating asumption is that victory in whatever political endevour is of overriding importance, and truth seeking and the improvement of the publics ability to think be damned.

Good luck in graduate school. At least you are not starting out with the current BAU priors. Perhaps the profession can be made to change?

"But as was famously said (I wish I knew by whom), that the first casualty of war is the truth"

Senator Hiram Johnson, 1917

Hey hey enemy of the state,

You are exactly right that I am groping around trying to understand the dynamics of modern irrationality. And, I pretty much agree with your assessment of our present situation, but I would change the order and make the relationship causal. You have:

The first is the refusal of the vast bulk of society to learn and apply the best least biased forms of thought and decision making.

Then we have concerted efforts by certain agenda holding institutions (including especially the Republican party) to use modern psychology to program as great a percentage of the populace*... this programing is largely about training to emotional part of our brain to have an aversion to nearly anything liberal. And to inculcate ideological thinking into said subpopulation.

So what we seem to have an epidemic of, is clever people using proven propaganda methods in pursuit of their own narrow-minded agendas. The operating assumption is that victory in whatever political endevour is of overriding importance, and truth seeking and the improvement of the publics ability to think be damned.

And I would rearrange that to read:

First we have concerted efforts by certain agenda holding institutions (political institutions pursuing their own political self interest) to use modern psychology to program as great a percentage of the populace. this programing is largely about training to emotional part of our brain to have an aversion to nearly anything liberal. And to inculcate ideological thinking into said subpopulation.

Which causes the vast bulk of society to refuse to learn and apply the best least biased forms of thought and decision making. Because their thinking processes has been corrupted by propaganda, inculcated with an irrational ideology, and emotionally retrained to be more resistant to critical thought. (a global bad)

So what we seem to have an epidemic of, is clever people using proven propaganda methods in pursuit of their own narrow-minded agendas. I suspect we may end up with a country which will not be able to make rational decisions regarding public policy.

Almost as if they were guided by an invisible hand. For surely clever people using proven methods would not actively strive for a country which will not be able to make rational decisions regarding public policy unless they were being led astray, misdirected, or otherwise orchestrated by some by some sort of powerful and malicious entity.

Incidentally, I understand that the Nazis had this problem toward the end of their regime to such an extent that they had trouble finding talented engineers. The youth's thought process was so degraded by the propaganda machine that they were noticeably less capable of performing the underlying science. Most of their science and engineering was done before Hitler came to power by people who grew up in a less polluted environment. Unfortunately I don't have a link.

They didn't have the public policy problem though. On account of being a fascist dictatorship policy was lightning fast but not so rational. Were we likely face the prospect of complete gridlock for anything rational.

Thanks for the comments, I appreciate the feedback.

*on the populous vs populace note I narrowly missed the criteria for the gifted and talented program in grade school because I couldn't spell my way out of a wet paper bag. I blame it on low level dyslexia, English being a horrible language to spell, and the advent of the word processor which keeps me lazy and will correct one's spelling, but not always retain one's meaning.

Regarding economics and whether the profession can be made to change. I'm optimistic that a great deal of the faulty ideology contained in the field of economics will be purged in the next few decades and replaced with something that more closely approximates a science. But it is very likely that it will only do so because the faults become painfully obvious to everyone.

Just as a side note since you brought up epistemology there is the great board game called Propaganda that I played as a kid that I highly recommend for everyone but especially for young teenagers. The game is basically identifying and categorizing fallacies of logic and or tools of propaganda in common usage and then debating your stance with the other players. It is great for developing critical thinking skills and immunizing yourself from a vast horde of advertisers, politicians, and otherwise manipulative folks that want you to believe things that simply aren't true. It's also pretty fun.


Adam Curtis has a few documentaries which may be of interest to you:

Century of the Self

The Trap

Note that these the links are for the initial segments of the respective documentaries which are each 3-4 hours apiece.

Century of the Self deals with the emergence of the PR system and advertising science, which has its roots with Freud's psychoanalysis as (lucratively) interpreted by his nephew, Edward Bernays (according to Curtis' interpretation).

The Trap investigates how game theory, promoting humans as wholly rational actors, became a dominant theme in the contemporary political system (particularly the UK and US).

His documentary The Power of Nightmares may also be of interest, although it is not specifically economic in nature; it details the parallel development of radical jihadism and neoconservatism from a mutual distrust of Western liberal ideals.

I hope I have accurately summarized these excellent efforts. Best of luck in your studies.


"Stupid is as stupid does."; Forrest Gump.

"To save the world you must be willing for other people to suffer."; Dogbert.

It goes on and on.

Good luck in your quest for economic enlightenment. You might find it in the zen condition of 'no-thought'.

Why is a tree green? A tree just is. The concept green is something we add to make a tree something other than just a tree. When you can see a tree without adding 'green', 'age', 'position' or other discriptives in your own mind, you might possibly be able to understand reality (enlightenment).

Part of the problem is that if you stop at the surface you can miss what the tree is.

You need to pause at the surface, see what appearances are, then dive in while keeping the surface in mind so that you can find it again at need.

The path to enlightenment is in learning to see the whole tree, but failure to study the individual parts invariably impairs that learning.

'Stupid' shares its root with 'stupor' and 'stupefy': numb or stunned. We are stupid when we first wake, get drunk, or receive a blow to the head. We behave stupidly when we fail to think something through, too distracted or apathetic to take care.

Though it has become a synonym for idiocy, 'stupidity' is a closer match to your concept than you might think.

How about 'reckless' or 'irresponsible'?

This is not a direct answer to your question - but was a blog post I made earlier this year in response to Adam Smith and globalism-v-protectionism. I think it relates to your question because Smith assumes that people prefer their national goods over foreign goods.

Adam Smith lived in an agricultural world in which 99% of a nation's goods were produced within the nation. He could not anticipate a nation which depended on imports to supply the basics - food, water, energy. If, as Smith posits, consumers prefer domestic goods over foreign goods, politicians have done a poor job of guiding the modern economy to reflect the will of the governed. But then again, its been a long time (in the US at least) since common citizens were the primary constituent of national politicians.


As every individual, therefore, endeavors as much as he can both to employ his capital in the support of domestic industry, and so to direct that industry that its produce may be of the greatest value; every individual necessarily labours to render the annual revenue of the society as great as he can. He generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was no part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote.

It is not due to morality that the Smith believes consumers favors domestic goods over foreign goods, but rather due to his natural inclination. Of course, for deists the difference between 'morality' and 'preference' is not as great as it is for us today. Morality is based on natural law, natural law is displayed through the actions of a rational man.

Nevertheless, Smith believed that you could depend on the preferences of a consumer to see to his own security (and, unintentionally, the national security) by promoting domestic industry over that of foreign industry.

Elsewhere I have stated that food, water, and energy are the key components of modern economic security. Today, the bulk transportation of water is becoming more common - but in most cases that is still a luxury item as local water supplies are available. However, that is rapidly changing. In Smith's day, the key energy sources were water, wind, and wood which were usually available locally. Again, not much transportation of energy and Smith does not deal with it. But he does speak about agricultural trade:

"If the importation of foreign cattle, for example, were made ever so free, so few could be imported that the grazing trade of Great Britain could be little affected by it. Live cattle are, perhaps, the only commodity of which the transportation is more expensive by sea than by land. By land they carry themselves to market. By sea, not only the cattle, but their food and their water too, must be carried at no small expence and inconveniency."...

The freest importation of salt provisions, in the same manner, could have as little effect upon the interest of the graziers of Great Britain as that of live cattle. Salt provisions are not only a very bulky commodity, but when compared with fresh meat, they are a commodity both of worse quality, and as they cost more labour and expence, of higher price. They could never, therefore, come into competition with the fresh meat, though they might with the salt provisions of the country....

Even the free importation of foreign corn could very little affect the interest of the farmers of Great Britain. Corn is a much more bulky commodity than butcher's meat. A pound of wheat at a penny is as dear as a pound of butcher's meat at fourpence. The small quantity of foreign corn imported even in times of the greatest scarcity may satisfy our farmers that they can have nothing to fear from the freest importation....

Smith dismisses the idea that free trade in agriculture could ever amount to enough to have any real impact on domestic production. And that made sense 230 years ago. Transportation costs were very high relative to production costs. That just isn't true anymore. (He also dismisses the idea of an ag monopoly - I think he would be somewhat shocked by ADM and Monsanto )

Smith is wrong on two counts when it comes to foreign trade and national economic security. The first is that he does not believe such trade could amount to enough to be a danger to food supplies. The second is that he believes that the preferences of consumers will favor the domestic over the foreign.

So does he ever acknowledge national security interests in erecting trade barriers? Of course he does.

There seem, however, to be two cases in which it will generally be advantageous to lay some burden upon foreign for the encouragement of domestic industry.

The first is, when some particular sort of industry is necessary for the defence of the country. The defence of Great Britain, for example, depends very much upon the number of its sailors and shipping. The act of navigation, therefore, very properly endeavours to give the sailors and shipping of Great Britain the monopoly of the trade of their own country in some cases by absolute prohibitions and in others by heavy burdens upon the shipping of foreign countries.

Would Smith acknowledge that the defense of the United States depends very much on its ability to control energy sources? I believe he would. Smith argued that Britain was justified in forcing all importation onto British ships and blocking foreign ships from doing the same because that served the purpose of strengthening Britain's naval forces and weakening those of foreigners. Similarly, I have argued elsewhere that US govt policies aimed at promoting domestic energy production and decreasing reliance on foreign sources strengthens our hand and weakens that of our enemies (Persian Gulf, Russia, Venezuela, ...) Smith agrees in principal that government should intervene in trade to promote national security even if he believes that in practice it is rarely necessary since consumers (he believes) prefer domestic products and in certain sectors (such as agriculture) there is little risk (he believes) of foreign dominance or monopoly.

There is a saying around here that it is good to have an open mind, but not so open that your brains fall out. The same could be said about an economy.

great posting--thxs!

"Similarly, I have argued elsewhere that US govt policies aimed at promoting domestic energy production and decreasing reliance on foreign sources strengthens our hand and weakens that of our enemies (Persian Gulf, Russia, Venezuela, ...)"

This would be a simple truth if domestic energy production did not depend on depletion of a non-renewable resource. When oil was at less than $10/bbl I thought it was in our national interest to delay development of domestic energy supplies while we consumed the resources of other nations. At $70/bbl the transfer of wealth provides another kind of domestic danger. Will Venezuela be a stronger country in ten years when their oil output is half of today's and their population is higher?

Good point.

Better to 'use up' your neighbors beer before tapping the keg at home.
But only so long as it doesn't kill you if the foreign tap is turned off.
That time has come and gone.

I think it's time to drill Alaska and GOM.

Partly because it's a bone to throw to conservatives who would otherwise demand that be done before funding renewables.

But more importantly, its time to do it before the Alaskan pipeline rusts out again and before US drillers all go out of business or leave the country.

At least that's the way I read the situation, mostly due to what Simmons posts.

I would argue that such development would be criminal without being done in concert with a serious program to reduce our dependence on fossil energy. Otherwise it is just more CO2 emissions, more dependence on imported oil when the "well runs dry" and less security when our meagre remaining resources are further depleted.

While I understand AGW very well for an amateur and understand your comment about the criminality of increasing CO2 emissions, the fact is that no national government is going to let the lights go out if they can help it. To see how this plays out in the real world, look to rumors of UK releasing their Libyan terrorist in exchange for some oil contracts.

Policy-wise, I fall into the 'do it all' category. Despite the damage that I know it will cause the environment. Meanwhile, I have personally cut my gasoline usage in half, reduced my home electricity by 20% and am installing a token amount of solar this year (for emergency purposes) and will go 100% solar in a few years.

I don't believe that fast collapse scenarios are likely.
But politically restricting energy supplies is one way to encourage them.

I suppose I am falling into a Think nationally, act locally mindset. It's going to be hard enough to negotiate the decline and fall of Pax America without adding artificially induced energy shortages to the geological constrictions.

Ever been camping? Stayed in a tent? Lived/stayed in a cabin?

Power down is VERY, VERY doable.

Anything else is excuses. I'll try to elaborate soon.


Power down is VERY, VERY doable.

It's that simple? Unbelievable! Do you have a water well in your backyard? It takes electricity to power those water pumps. And you will have to build yourself an outside toilet as you will no longer have running water or power to run those sewage pumps.

And you will have no refrigeration and any stores that are open will have none either. You will have to have your own chickens for eggs, own cow for milk and a garden large enough to feed yourself year round. And you will have to learn the art of canning, if you can find any glass jars and lids. And do your canning with a wood stove. I could go on and on but I hope you get the idea.

Of course you may be talking about only yourself powering down, while the grid goes merrily along. If so there is no need of even mentioning it because you are just doing your two cents worth which is like pissing in the river to make the river rise. But if you are talking about the grid powering down, no that is not so doable. It will cause millions to die as they try to feed themselves off the land and fail miserably. Others will freeze in the winter.

Ron P.

Heh. I've got a 20' yurt in my shed I made myself.
The walls of which are currently surrounding my garden to fend off deer!:-)

Hey hey Ron Broberg,

While not a direct answer to my question I liked your post and I am reading The Wealth of Nations right now. I generally agree with your line of thought as well. I think conditions have materially changed since Smith's times and a large portion of his work is no longer an accurate description.

Also relating to globalization, many of The rules Smith laid down to create a free market aren't followed today, but the benefits that are supposed to result from those rules are claimed. The example I'm thinking of is foreign ownership of industries. Smith said that foreign ownership of a domestic industry should be prevented because it could allow one country to benefit at another country's expense. I believe the example that he gave was Wine from Spain and Wool from Britain would be mutually beneficial to trade but if Britain was allowed to directly invest in Spanish vineyards and wineries the relationship would become parasitic with Britain enjoying an abundance of wine, wool, and a general prosperity while Spain would suffer a great shortage of both wine and wool and it's economy would suffer not the physical loss of the industry, but all of the revenues and profits would be lost to her. I'm sorry, I don't have the exact quote as I read it in another book years ago and haven't yet gotten that far in The Wealth of Nations.

Today foreign direct investment or access to markets is considered to be a necessary component of what we call free trade despite the fact that it was expressly forbidden. I think this single omission from the global rulebook is responsible for a large portion of the inequality between the 1st world and the 3rd world or the global north and the global south as they are styled these days now that the 2nd world, communism, is no longer a global threat to capitalist ideologies. The Global north gets all of the bananas from the banana republics and all of the profit from the industry. A good way to think of this is that we are selling ourselves their bananas. I hope that assessment strikes you as inherently dishonest. Although it contains the word selling it looks remarkable similar to a description of stealing, but we refer to it as access to markets or foreign direct investment because those are much more pleasant terms.

We would have gotten all of the oil and all of the profit from the oil industry if it hadn't been nationalized by the nations that actually sat on top of it.

I hope that adds to your argument.



I'll chew your post longer, later. Especially this point: Today foreign direct investment or access to markets is considered to be a necessary component of what we call free trade despite the fact that it was expressly forbidden.

It's a strange 'empire' that we run in which client states don't pay tribute but rather agree to conform to our legal, fiscal, and economic (Western world) norms in return for our (US) 'protection' (sometimes 100% willingly, sometimes not as wholeheartedly). We have to extract profit from that arrangement somehow. What I can't figure out is how it makes economic sense for the US to undertake 'global security' without a reciprocal arrangement. For instance, we 'liberate' Iraq, but China gets some of the key oil contracts. Europe prospers in the global market, but contributes next to nothing to policing it. Is that any way to run an "empire"? ;-)

Hey hey Ron,

I'm afraid I have to back peddle. I spent most of last night looking for the passage I was referencing in Wealth of Nations and I can't find it. I'm going back through the books I've read that I suspect contained the reference. I'm pretty sure that it was William Greider's "One World Ready or Not" but it may have been Will Hutton's "The World We Are in" or one of several Chomsky books. I will let you know when I find it.


Thanks for the heads up.

Tim, it's nice that you have gained a few glimmerings of the setting in which economics is situated. It's kind of surprising, too, because economics schools do their level best to decontextualize their subject.

If you want to find out what others have thought about this, you could start with Howard T Odum's work and then Jay Forrester's "Industrial Dynamics." (or for a gentle introduction to the concepts, Peter Senge's "The Fifth Discipline".) From there you can go in a number of directions. For a competing view (that it is not unintentional at all) you could look at critical discourse analysis (Norman Fairclough) and any reasonably comprehensive text on sociology, which will explain how elites act to entrench themselves.

Fairclough is worth reading anyway - you'll never see "news" in quite the same way afterwards.

But none of this will help you climb the ladder in graduate economics.

Hey hey gregvp,

I see the higher learning process in fields like economics along the lines of Orlov's "credentialing:" The granting of degrees. In many ways, it is a sort of extended hazing ritual, where the aspirant is required to jump through a series of blazing hoops before being granted access to a professional realm.

For economics the credentialing process happens to take place inside an insane asylum, so the trick is going to be learning the material without internalizing it.

However, in defense of economics, the entire field developed in the last 300 years of rising production, population, and prosperity. It is not terribly surprising that the growth mantra is so central to their mindset. Alternatively, one could say that since the development of economics the world has experienced exponential growth that the understanding and implementation of economic theory has spurred said growth.

The field is in for a shock when global energy supplies begin to decline and they are forced to admit that correlation is not causation. I expect the field to react roughly the same way that the field of physics reacted to relativity and quantum mechanics; at first with a strong rejection and then with a begrudging acceptance. There is likely to be more yelling and screaming this time because the world outside of physics wasn't really concerned one way or the other about relativity whereas the world outside of the ivory towers of the discipline of economics is going to be very concerned with the tanking economy.

Thanks for the reading list. I am familiar with HT Odum, but I'll need to check out Forrester, Senge, and Fairclough. I've got two years at The Oil Drum and a fair amount of Chomsky as immunization, but I will probably need a couple of booster shots along the way.


Three Mile Island effectively stopped the development of new power plants in the US. Now this oil spill may put the stopper on new development of oil rigs off the coast of Florida and California.

Oil slick creeping closer to coast, say observers

The West Atlas oil rig, operated by a Thai Government-owned company, is thought to have been leaking about 470,000 litres of oil a day since an accident caused the rig's evacuation on August 21. The leak may not be stopped for another six weeks, the operator, PTTEP Australasia, said. This means that before the pipe is plugged the volume of crude oil escaping into the ocean may equal the amount released during the devastating 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Ron P.

Well, California at least has some degree of an economy beyond changing bedsheets for tourists, although given the sea of concrete, cars, and trucks that is the Los Angeles region, they ought to be made to do their bit for oil supply for the short to medium term future, even if the cars and trucks may run on something else in the more distant future.

On the other hand, with the orange groves largely built over, Florida runs on Social Security, house-building and bedsheet-changing. House-building is in the doldrums and Social Security is dropping slightly. That leaves bedsheet-changing, and the best-paying tourists arrive on oil-specific jets.

For that last reason, it's long been really rich that Florida staunchly refuses to do its bit for oil supply. That Atlas leak won't stop rigs in Cuban waters off the Florida coast - those rigs will proceed or not proceed irrespective of what anyone in Florida might like. Maybe Florida will end up with what they well and truly deserve - oil rigs off the coast and a decline in lucrative jet-based visits.

That Atlas leak won't stop rigs in Cuban waters off the Florida coast - those rigs will proceed or not proceed irrespective of what anyone in Florida might like.

Well that all depends on if and how much oil is ever found off the coast of Cuba.

Cuba Plans New Offshore Drilling in Search for Big Oil Finds in the Gulf of Mexico

Cupet has estimated that there are 20 billion barrels of recoverable offshore oil in Cuban waters. If that bears out, Cuba, with 11 million people, would have reserves that come into the same range as those of the United States.

The U.S. Geological Survey, though, has issued more conservative estimates: under 5 billion barrels in Cuba's offshore fields. Furthermore, most of the oil is believed to lie under deep water, where extraction is difficult and expensive.

The USGS estimates are usually notoriously high. It could very well be the case that NO oil is ever found in Cuba's offshore territorial waters.

Ron P.

NO oil...Yup, no oil, no rigs. No matter what, though, Florida has no say.

The USGS is a part of the US government. It makes about as much sense to turn to the USGS for information on Cuba as it would to turn to PRAVDA for information on the New York stock market.

PaulS, as a Florida resident, may I politely ask you to do to yourself what I probably won't be allowed to state explicitly on this site...

On the other hand, with the orange groves largely built over, Florida runs on Social Security, house-building and bedsheet-changing.

I suspect that medicare is at least as important as social security. Unless that was supposed to be covered under bedsheet-changing.

I learn something every day from this list, mostly from the articles posted above by Leanan. From the article Rubbing salt into the wounds I found this jewel:

The UNEP says the GCC countries together account for more than 60 per cent of the entire global production of desalinated water, “making the sustainable development of desalinated water and its quality an important issue for the region”.

The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. And these few desert countries produce over 60 percent of all desalinated water in the world. I had no idea! And all of them, with the exception of Saudi Arabia, are extremely small countries, population wise.

These countries are almost totally dependent on desalinated water to survive.

Saudi Arabia is already using crude oil instead of natural gas to desalinate water. Qatar is the only one of GCC countries with enough natural gas to desalinate water for decades to come. I expect, when oil gets in very short supply Qatar will be taken over by Saudi Arabia because of their supplies of natural gas.

One might speculate that such could not happen because of what happened to Iraq when they took over Kuwait. But I expect that in just a few years the US will no longer have any desire, nor be in any position, to act as the world's policeman.

Ron P.

You may well be right Ron. But I have a much darker view of our fellow Americans. No...we won't be the world's policeman. We'll be the world's thief as we use our military strength to acquire the energy our folks will demand as they justify to themselves what ever it takes. I hope I'm wrong...I'm too damn old to become a radical throwing rocks at national guardsmen. But, as I said, I don't view the American ethics du jour in a good light.

Yes, the numbers thrown around in that article are interesting. It also stated that UAE has the least amount of renewable water in the world -- I didn't know that. Ouch.

I google renewable water by country and came up with this PDF: PDF

Brazil is number one on the other end of the scale.

Here is what the California Public Utilities Commission said about the Catalina Island Desalination Plant operated by Southern California Edison:

"Producing fresh water from sea water by desalination is a highly energy intensive process and should be utilized only when no other economical water supplies are available. This is illustrated by the fact that for Catalina Island in 2005 desalinated water accounted for only 25% of total water production, but desalination accounted for approximately 70% of total electricity usage."

Their comment speaks for itself when it comes to the future of ocean desalination.

There are really only three choices for California:

1. Desalinate

2. Steal

3. Depopulate

or some combination. Cost and RO(E)I are only limiting if we assume allocation of resources is normal. When a limiting factor comes to be considered vital, it's value rises and resource allocation changes.

Barring new technologies, it will be interesting to watch California deal with this. As a Californian by birth and typically by residence, let me say I intend to do this from afar.


There are really only three choices for California:

1. Desalinate

2. Steal

3. Depopulate

I think there are other choices. The most obvious, is a reduction in agriculture, which is the big user. Changing urban/subburban landscaping away from grass would also save a great deal. Just as in energy usage, conservation is the cheapest resource.

Conservation is a part of any water solution, obviously. However, my comments are pretty much always with a minimum of the balance of this century in mind. Given California is one of the biggest agriculture producers in the US - and the world - you are only trading thirst for hunger. Add it to the list, but it's only part of any given answer, not *an* answer.

Besides, Cali without all the artificial green *will* depopulate to some degree or other. People there won't accept the area in it's real state in the same numbers that are there now. It's bad enough that everything not watered is brown four or five months out of the year. Take away the green buffer provided by shipped in water? I think not. Add in higher temps, hotter summers, more drought, less water from all sources...

I think my list stands.


Here's another article:

Desalination threat to the growing Gulf

Never mind peak oil, or even peak water: Some experts are pondering the possibility of the UAE’s development being limited by “peak salt” – the notional point at which the Arabian Gulf becomes so salty that relying on it for fresh water stops being economically feasible.

I would imagine giant oil slicks in the Persian Gulf would make desalination cost prohibitive, too. How ironic would that be for MidEast citizens to die of thirst because they were drowning in oil?

"Oil, oil everywhere, but not a drop to drink!"

Did Saddam's troops in GulfWarI cause any pollution problems with desal-plants in the Gulf?

Although it would be large scale Genocide of the First Degree...all's fair in full blown resource war... but I am quite sure military and terrorist groups have thought of injecting something into a desal-plant's intakes that would hopelessly gum up and/or pollute the entire water-works and output water purity for a long time. Essentially, they would have to replace the entire desal-plant.

IMO, this would be much more lethal to the citizens than a small bomb attack on the water-works. It is quick and easy to get good quality water again once you replace the bomb-damaged parts.

Hello TODers,

Regarding narrow gauge SpiderWebRiding as 'ribcages' to augment the 'spine & limbs' of Alan Drake's standard gauge RR & TOD: I hope that you will take the time to explore this website:


Their system map of over 8 miles of track:


Even Boy Scouts can build and lay track. As you scroll thru the photo series: please notice the bottom-dump hopper railcars for dropping gravel on the ties of freshly laid track. My guess is that each hopper-car is roughly holding 2-3 wheelbarrows of dirt.


So imagine these railcars hauling I-NPKS, O-NPK, or grain vs the number of people required to Tlameme backpack the same tonnage for many miles.

Even though these railcars are small, they still would vastly outhaul a bunch of bicyclists pedaling sacks of vital goods down rural dirt roads, then pot-holed streets with overflowing sewage, mud, glass, thorns, ice & snow.

I would imagine that the wheels & bearings would easily last the equivalent of 300 bicycle tires. How would you like to get your fragile, fresh eggs delivered to a postPeak market: smooth track or bad road?

IMO, a well trained bunch of kids could lay many miles of track much, much faster than adults with expensive equipment could pave asphalt or pour concrete. The kids would do it at a fraction of the embedded energy. Picture the energy in a 12 cubic yard concrete mixer, for example.

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

Some more thoughts:

In my Asphaltistan, neighborhood speed limits are 25 mph, but people drive much faster. I used to live on a neighborhood street where some people would go 50 mph or more as my road was a convenient way to bypass the area freeway traffic jams.

Once you get out of the 25mph cul-de-sac [Arrrgh! what a stupid idea] neighborhoods, arterial road speed limits are 40-45 mph, but many drive much faster. Thus, the lack of postPeak foresight by zoning rules makes most people enclose themselves in a giant personal vehicle, then GO FAST just to go to a nearby shopping extravaganza. Insanity, IMO.

I think it would be much more fun, be much safer, and save gobs of energy, to just go much slower and visit with others going the same direction. Even going a steady 15 mph on a small train [or pedaling], like in the website above, would still get most commuters to work in a reasonable amount of time.

You could put a lot of track in one conventional 10-12 feet wide traffic lane if narrow gauge is used. Combine narrow gauge with my Triple System idea: you don't even need railroad ties in the permaculture areas.


Imagine if Nepal or Zimbabwe, or any other poor country, were to start installing narrow gauge SpiderWebRiding to augment their feeble amounts of standard gauge RR & TOD. I wonder how dramatically that would change or slowdown their declining economic prospects?

Obviously, human biometric specialists would need to determine what is the optimal size[s] of narrow gauge to install for various areas so that it retains a viable human scale for moving large quantities of goods. It does no good to have multi-mode containers on narrow gauge flatcars, for example, that are simply too heavy, thus requiring very expensive powered equipment to move.

You would hopefully size the container so that a simple human-powered pulley/hoist system or counterbalanced swingarm could move this load. Ideally, you would want to have pre-designed mini-containers inside this larger container that workers could quickly and easily load & unload with just their muscle power.

Obviously, the dimensions of my proposed system is best when it is also sized to efficiently fill the standard gauge freight container, besides the narrow gauge human scale [from which the goods originated].

Other ideas would be for the narrow gauge hopper cars to have unloading depot tracks above standard gauge hoppers. Then you just very quickly dump/transfer the load from narrow gauge to standard gauge by using gravity.

What I like best about the future postPeak prospects for narrow gauge SpiderWebRiding is when the snow falls. I would imagine that snow-plowing with giant road-going equipment will go kaput when fuel becomes too valuable. Compare to this photo where a few people with hand shovels can easily keep this track viable all winter long:


original source: THE ASSINIBOINE VALLEY RAILWAY, Winnipeg Canada. The website below has an impressive amount of info & photos.


EDIT: for those in snow country, compare the manual labor involved in snow shoveling a narrow footpath from your front door to the street vs hand shoveling your driveway so your car can get out of the garage.

Wind turbine program too hard for 60 year old student:


So out of curiosity ... is this the first wind power related human death?

I doubt it. With as many tall towers as there have been for the past 30+ years I'm sure there have been quite a few falling accidents.

Article about how Florida, which has known nothing but growth, even during past recessions, is coping with a shrinking population:

After Century of Big Growth, Tide Turns in Florida

But as cities like Detroit well know, declines in population also compound downturns and hurt quality of life. Florida, in particular, was not built for emptying. Its government, since a 1924 constitutional amendment banned a state income tax, relies heavily on sales and property taxes, which are more closely linked with population growth.

Without it, and as housing prices and property tax revenues have fallen, municipalities have been forced to scramble. Broward County’s schools, which have been losing students for several years, opened Monday with 100 fewer teachers and a budget of $3.6 billion, down from about $5 billion in 2008.

Hello TODers,

Here is some 'Wild & Crazy' thinking that might incentivize Joe Sixpacks everywhere to wildly support the building out of a SpiderWeb in his local city/town out to the permaculture/rural area.

What if you subsidized 'drinking Webriders' while at the same time heavily penalizing anyone parking their car, then going to their local pub/bar? Even having a bunch of car-pooled drinkers entering a pub, driven there by a designated, non-drinking car-driver, would not give you any pricing discount.

But if you came & left on a convenient, right-out-the-door Web, you would always get the discount. Even better, since the minitrains are going slow: just have trackside vendors sell ice-cold, discounted yeasty treats*** from an ice-chest as they passed by; this essentially makes a minitrain a rolling pub [and you don't have the real estate expense]!

The poor could easily find lots of beverage containers along the track to recycle because the riders are going slow enough, and are low enough, that even glass bottles could be safely placed trackside without breaking. Besides, the other riders will quickly give you a hassle if you even think about chucking a bottle so hard that it will break; social disapproval at its best. Compare to all the people currently chucking bottles from vehicles going 75 mph plus.

Safety for others would be greatly enhanced because drinking would shift to Webriders, not some drunk armed with a giant, lethal personal vehicle. If we decide to de-criminalize marijuana: you would just have to take the last seat in a minitrain if you want to fire it up.

*** The vendors could also sell food and non-alcoholic drinks, too. The same subsidy/penalty scheme could also be applied here too to vastly shrink our present car-dependent dining and drive-thrus. Since the track is so smooth, and a Webrider doesn't need to steer at all: it is easy to hold and eat food/beverage.

Another thought:

What if Budweiser really started becoming postPeak concerned for the future of their Clydesdale horses [and all magnificent horses]? Obviously, they don't want to people to butcher, then eat their 'Brand Symbol' to extinction.

Thus, they might become proactive enough to get behind my idea [in the posting above] as it would also be terrific PR for the company, besides greatly ramping their sales and enhancing public safety at the same time. Maybe they will even have a contest of one million beers to the first town to build a Spiderweb.

"Save the Clydesdales, Drink on the Web!"

"Nothing beats a Peakoil Shoutout with a BUD on a rail run!"

"Don't foam at the mouth like an overworked horse--Quench your raging thirst--BUD keeps it foamy head on the railbed!"

"Lip-locked onto a ice-cold BUD, with your knees in the breeze, is the best way to save the Clydesdales!"

"A BUD Sixer-to-smoothly-roll is better than an SUV into a tree!"

"Rollin, rollin, rollin....keeps Budweiser flowin!"

"Budweiser Beer-goggles work great for scoping out the opposite sex when you pass each other oh so very slowly..."

"Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, nothing beats a BUD 6-pack!"

"Whistle a'blowin...don't you worry, No DUI with BUD smoothly flowin!"

"PostPeak life, seen through a BUD bottleneck, lies clearly ahead on a smooth SpiderWeb!"

"That light at the end of the tunnel?..That's just another frosty can of Bud in the Sun...roll on, my Man, roll on!"

"Parallel lines never meet...truly the secret for BUD's tasty treat!"

"If a BUD was equivalent to each droplet on this Web--You would want 8 legs too!"


Random thoughts:

If you started to raise real estate taxes based on the square footage of any parking lot for all fast-food joints, restaurants, and/or pubs--this would further incentivize them to want a Webtrack out front, plus sell off the parking lot for another business or be converted to a Permaculture plot. Essentially, this would accelerate Kunstlerization.

Same thing to force O-NPK recycling: charge ever-increasing rates if a big-truck picks up the trash, charge less if the store owner sends it by SpiderWeb. Lather, rinse, and repeat this same strategy for sewage to make the owner yank his toilets, then go to Humanure Recycling on the Web.

The goofy logic of the California Air Resources Board and the EPA: