Deepwater Horizon and the Technology, Economics and Environmental Impacts of Resource Depletion - The End is Nigh

This is a guest post by Richard Heinberg. It was previously published by the Post Carbon Institute.

Following the failure of the latest efforts to plug the gushing leak from BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, and amid warnings that oil could continue to flow for another two months or more, perhaps it’s a good time to step back a moment mentally and look at the bigger picture—the context of our human history of resource extraction—to see how current events reveal deeper trends that will have even greater and longer-lasting significance.

Much of what follows may seem obvious to some readers, pedantic to others. But very few people seem to have much of a grasp of the basic technological, economic, and environmental issues that arise as resource extraction proceeds, and as a society adapts to depletion of its resource base. So, at the risk of boring the daylights out of those already familiar with the history of extractive industries, here follows a spotlighting of relevant issues, with the events in the Gulf of Mexico ever-present in the wings and poised to take center stage as the subject of some later comments. Readers in the “already familiar” category can skip straight to part 5.

1. The Pyramid Scheme

Perhaps it’s best to start with the most familiar metaphor: resource extraction always proceeds on the basis of the low-hanging fruit principle. We typically go after the most easily accessible, highest quality portions of the resource first, and save the hard-to-get, low-quality portions for later.

Geologists use a different metaphor; they commonly speak of a “resource pyramid.” The capstone represents the easily and cheaply extracted portion of the resource; the next layers are portions of the resource base that can be extracted with more difficulty and expense, and often with worse environmental impacts; while the remaining bulk of the pyramid represents resources that geologists believe are unlikely to be extracted under any realistic pricing scenario, usually because of depth, location, or quality issues. There’s a pyramid for oil, one for coal, one for iron ore, and so on.

As we chew our way down the layers of each pyramid, starting at the top, some fairly predictable things happen with regard to technology, economics, and environmental impacts. These effects often mutually interact, and I will try to highlight those mutual interactions as we go.

2. Technology

Some resources can be extracted, at least in initial stages, with very simple tools. Primitive mining was accomplished with stone and wooden picks and shovels, using reed baskets to carry ore (usually copper, gold, or silver) to nearby sites where it could be smelted in charcoal fires. Once copper, tin, and iron had been smelted in sufficient quantities, metal tools began to be used in mining.

Early coal mining consisted simply of digging lumps from surface outcrops, but by the 18th century British miners were working in shafts over 300 feet deep.

Many very early oil wells consisted of shallow pits (up to 100 ft deep) dug into natural seeps; the earliest known drilling for oil occurred in China in the fourth century, achieving depths of up to about 800 feet using bits attached to bamboo poles. As petroleum became a heavily traded commodity in the early 20th century, rotary drills using steel pipes and bits were developed, able to penetrate to depths of thousands of feet.

The patterns are clear and unsurprising: As resources near the Earth’s surface become depleted, we have to work harder and dig deeper to extract more of what we want and have come to need. Production problems lead to the development of new extractive technologies—which, in solving those problems, often also make more of the resource accessible. As a larger portion of the resource base becomes available to society, more uses for the resource are discovered. The new technologies themselves (starting with metal tools) also frequently wind up having other purposes—ones that may increase demand for the resource they were developed to extract.

There is no more significant or instructive example of these trends than the story of the steam engine—which was invented to pump water out of deepening coal mines, but (when applied to other ends, such as providing the motive power for railroads) became a prime user of coal. Tellingly, iron rails were also first used in coal mines. And thus, of course, began the Industrial Revolution.

Fast-forward to deepwater drilling rigs, satellite and seismic geological surveys, horizontal drilling, fracking, and Blowout Preventers (BOPs) for finding and extracting oil (and unconventional natural gas); Steam-Assisted Gravity Drainage (SAGD) technology for obtaining oil from tar sands; long-wall mining, Underground Coal Gasification (UCG), and Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS) in the coal industry; and so much more. Each extractive industry boasts its own fleet of cutting-edge technologies, each consisting of a suite of tool systems all working together to make the production of some fuel or ore cheaper or more environmentally benign.

The 21st-century search for useful non-renewable resources is testing the limits of science; and both the brawn and the intricacy of machines that have been developed to feed our growing human needs for nonrenewable resources are truly impressive. Watching some of these machines in action, it is tempting to think that human ingenuity has no bounds. Moreover, since we are still fairly close to the top of the pyramid with regard to many nonrenewable resources, it is also natural to assume that constantly improving machines will enable us to dig very far down indeed, so as to continue supplying our burgeoning collective appetite for energy and minerals for many generations to come.

However, as we are about to see, the development of extractive technologies also involves tradeoffs and limits.

3. Economics

Fancy extraction technology comes at a price. But investment in more expensive tools is often justified by greater efficiency of production, reduced environmental impacts, or by the ability to open more of the resource base to exploitation. The relationship between cost and payoff is captured to some extent by the simple ratio of Return on Investment (ROI), to which every drilling or mining company’s bean counters pay vigilant attention. This ratio can easily go sour in situations where the resource isn’t present in sufficient quantities (even using the newest oil exploration techniques, two out of three initial wells—each costing tens to hundreds of millions of dollars—still comes up dry) or where environmental problems get out of hand (note to self: at end of fiscal year, remember to review BP’s balance sheet for Gulf of Mexico operations).

But financial ROI is not the only return on investment that matters. If we’re discussing energy resources (oil, gas, or coal) then we also have to keep track of the ratio between the energy invested in exploration and production versus the energy yielded by the resources extracted. This is commonly termed Energy Return on Energy Invested, or EROEI. Technology uses energy, and bigger and more complicated machines usually use more of it. Moreover, the mining and refining of deeper or lower-grade fossil fuels generally takes more energy regardless of what technology is used.

When the amount of energy required to produce a given quantity of fuel equals the amount of energy obtained from burning it, that fuel ceases to be a net energy source. There may be financial reasons to continue the production process (including government subsidies or tax write-offs), but from an energetic standpoint the exercise has become pointless. The EROEI for fossil fuels is declining for all the above reasons.

Since each layer further down the resource pyramid requires more expensive extractive machinery, while yielding lower-quality or more expensively produced fuels or ores, one would expect that the market price for resources would continually be rising. But this has not been the case in most instances—until recently. During the 20th century, most commodity prices (including prices for metal ores and, often, fossil fuels) actually declined in inflation-adjusted terms. Why? More areas for exploration were continually being opened, while payoffs from the ability of new technology to access lower layers of the resource pyramid trumped both the extra cost of the technology itself and the declining resource quality (a factor that must be overcome with increasing investment in refining or ore upgrading).

Over the past few years, that situation has begun to change. A study, Increasing Global Nonrenewable Natural Resource Scarcity by Chris Clugston tracks the production levels and price of 57 Non-renewable Natural Resources (NNRs). Clugston begins by pointing out that

During the 20th century, global production levels associated with 56 of the 57 analyzed NNRs (98%) increased annually, while global price levels associated with 45 of the 57 analyzed NNRs (79%) decreased annually. Generally increasing global NNR production levels in conjunction with generally decreasing global NNR price levels indicate relative global NNR abundance during the 20th century. On the whole, global NNR supplies kept pace with ever-increasing global demand during the 20th century.

So far, so good. But that’s changing.

Generally slowing or declining global NNR production growth in conjunction with generally increasing global NNR prices indicate increasing NNR scarcity during the early years of the 21st century. . . . Annual global production levels increased during the 20th century, then decreased during the 21st century; while annual price levels decreased during the 20th century, then increased during the 21st century. . . .

Case in point: for petroleum, between the years 2000 and 2010 production increased 9 percent, while prices rose by almost 400 percent. No, we’re not “running out” of oil, but we are running out of cheap oil. Clugston echoes this conclusion more generally: “We are not about to ‘run out’ of any NNR; we are about to run ‘critically short’ of many.”

Something else we learn from petroleum: as production expands and high-quality deposits deplete, continually higher prices do not represent the full extent of the problems that arise. At some point, regardless of price, production reaches a maximum rate and begins to decline (this, of course, is what the whole “Peak Oil” discussion is all about). This “peaking” phenomenon has occurred with regard to the extraction of many different resources, and in many places and times, so its dynamics are now the subject of fairly sophisticated study.

Standard economic theory holds that, as a resource becomes scarce, potential buyers will bid prices upward; and as prices escalate, increasing numbers of users will turn to substitutes. It’s easy to point to historic examples where these things happened, but there have also been instances where prices responded in a highly non-linear fashion (more on that below), and where substitutes were unavailable or inadequate. In the case of fossil fuels, substitutes do exist; however, most have drawbacks of one kind or another (see my report Searching for a Miracle) and the scale of current global fossil fuel usage makes a full transition to substitutes a truly daunting prospect.

It is important to know whether commodity prices escalate linearly as petroleum and other on-renewable resources become scarcer. If they do, then the invisible hand of the market will solve many of the problems that scarcity brings: in addition to making substitutes more attractive, higher prices will motivate efforts to increase efficient usage of the resource. But a recent historic example calls such rosy scenarios for painless, market-led resource transitions into question. In the years and months leading up to July 2008, demand for oil was increasing, but global production remained stagnant. Traders bid the price up to a record $147 per barrel—and global financial mayhem followed.

While a concurrent derivatives/real estate crash was responsible for much of the bloodshed, dramatic slumps in the auto, airline, trucking, and shipping industries seemed closely tied to the oil price spike. These (along with the general economic convulsion) resulted in declining fuel demand, which in turn caused petroleum prices to plummet nearly to $30 per barrel in December 2008. This then led to curtailed investment in oil exploration—which, in due course, will provoke another rapid price rise as supplies dwindle. The cycle will presumably begin again; and each time it recurs, it will likely have an even more devastating economic impact. Not all non-renewable resources will provoke similar scenarios as they deplete, as very few are so essential to the economy that scarcity or price spikes could trigger a major recession. However, price volatility does seem to be a typical sign of depletion-led resource scarcity.

Finally, perhaps the most significant economic factor with regard to the extraction of nonrenewable resources is growth. Modern economies depend on growth in provision of goods and services; meanwhile, world population continues to expand. As we make our way down the down the pyramid, increasing appetites (growing population times growing per capita consumption rates) translate to increasing dependence on depleting resources. If total consumption rates were declining or even constant, the economic and environmental problems stemming from resource depletion would be easier to solve. Growth makes all such problems more intractable with every passing year.

4. Environmental Impacts

In many respects, advancing technology tends to reduce the environmental impact of each increment of resource extraction (though there are exceptions!).

Underground coal mining in the early days—only a few decades ago—was far more dangerous, dirty, and dreary than it is today, though mine disasters still occur (as we sadly discovered just a few weeks ago in West Virginia) and miners still die from pneumoconiosis.

Similarly, the oil business in the early 20th century lacked regulations and safety technology, and resulted in more frequent oil spills and fatal accidents than does today’s high-tech industry. The first successful exploratory oil wells nearly always produced gushers because there was little to prevent pressurized oil from shooting out the top of the drill pipe once reservoir contact was made. These days, gushers are extremely rare due to modern oil well pressure control systems.

In the deepwater Gulf of Mexico, we see on display all the most advanced technology for drilling safety and spill cleanup. Blowout preventers, pressure monitors, careful planning, regulations, and advanced engineering combine to make accidents rare. If something does go wrong, there are remote-controlled underwater vehicles, top kills, and junk shots to seal off the leaks, and oil booms and chemical dispersants to deal with the spill itself.

And yet, despite all this technology and expertise, we still we are witness to one of the worst environmental disasters in history. Why?

As we are still learning, the Deepwater Horizon disaster was due largely to gross negligence on part of several companies, primarily BP, and also to the approval of a flawed drilling plan by the Federal Government’s Minerals Management Service (MMS). Such lapses are to be anticipated. In a deepwater drilling operation with a budget running upwards of a hundred million dollars, every minute costs money, so there are strong incentives to cut costs. Often, engineers (who may be more concerned about safety) are overruled by management (who are more concerned about budgets and ROI).

Then there is the phenomenon—common throughout government—of regulators being figuratively (or literally) in bed with industries they are supposed to be regulating. So in March 2009, when BP filed a plan with the MMS, repeatedly asserting that it was “unlikely that an accidental surface or subsurface oil spill would occur from the proposed activities,” so unlikely in fact that “a blowout scenario . . . is not required for the operations proposed,” the regulators simply took the company at its word.

In the bigger scheme of things, an event such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion becomes more likely with every passing year, despite the continuing development of superior technology: as oil production levels grow to meet rising demand, and as the industry is forced to drill deeper in ever more hostile environments, there are more things to go wrong; and when problems happen, they are harder to fix.

While the world’s attention is appropriately riveted on the consequences of the Macondo blowout, it is important to remember the ongoing, routine environmental devastation that comprises the background static of contemporary industrial life: climate chaos, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. In many instances of resource extraction—including “mountaintop removal” coal mining and tar sands oil production—massive environmental destruction is the result not of unforeseen accidents, but of normal operations.

With the convergence of climate change and “clean coal” technology we see the culmination of many of the trends discussed here. Climate change is an environmental consequence of nonrenewable resource usage, and one that is so horrendous it will stop civilization in its tracks. Therefore something must be done to stop it. Several key industrial nations can’t afford to give up coal, the highest-carbon fuel, because their economies depend on it and the alternatives would be too costly to develop. The ideal solution would be a new technology to clean up carbon emissions from burning coal. Voila! Such a technology exists—Carbon Capture and Sequestration (CCS), which entails burying carbon dioxide from the coal combustion process underground. But CCS will cost so much to build to scale that the technology will almost certainly never actually be implemented. (see China's Coal Bubble and How It Will Deflate US Efforts to "Develop Clean")

The upshot: there is no apparent solution to the coal/climate conundrum that preserves economic growth much longer. The trends end in some sort of unpredictable discontinuity.

5. Deepwater Horizon: Impact on Future Oil Production

Now, back to the events in the Gulf of Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that “a vast majority” of projected increases in U.S. oil production in the near term will come from Gulf deepwater fields similar to the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill. Such deepwater fields currently represent about 70 percent of all Gulf oil production (the other 30 percent come from shallow depths, typically of a few hundred feet). Offshore oil provides almost a third of total U.S. oil production of 5.5 million barrels per day, and that percentage is rising. For the world as a whole, the International Energy Agency projects that by 2020 deepwater will be providing 40 percent of all oil being extracted. Why the emphasis on deepwater? Because we’ve already chewed our way down through the higher levels of the oil pyramid: there’s very little onshore or shallow-water oil left to find. So down we go!

The BP spill is likely to throw a wrench into these plans. Heavier regulations, and higher (more expensive) standards are on the way. President Obama has just ordered the suspension of all current U.S. deepwater drilling operations for six months, and future deepwater projects could be delayed by years.

Insurance costs for deepwater projects will soar (“The cost of insuring a rig against a so-called physical loss—damage to the rig itself—can easily surpass $3 million a year, and could reach $9 million depending on the deductible,” according to Rigzone Total insurance claims on the Deepwater Horizon disaster could far exceed the total premiums paid by all oil drillers to insurance companies in 2010, so a bankrupting of some insurers is at least possible.

Further, deepwater projects require financing—however, in case anyone hasn’t noticed, the economy is falling apart. Banks aren’t lending because of all the bad loans on their books; and, though oil companies may be flush with cash, they prefer to spread risks around. Now that the risks associated with deepwater exploration appear much larger, and credit is tight in any case, fewer investors are likely to want to jump aboard.

Oil companies may want to just hang onto their cash by buying up their own stock shares. After all, the object of the game is to make a profit; producing more oil is just a means to that end, and if a better means is available, why not go with it? Sure, “financializing” the oil industry doesn’t work over the long term, as oil companies need booked reserves in order to attract investors, and maintaining reserves requires exploration. But who’s in it for the long term? Hey, in the long term, we’re dead. Maybe it’s time to cash out and let a new generation of managers figure out what to do next.

Then there is the problem of over-optimism. Developers of production projects are naturally inclined to talk up the prospects for the latest “play.” Later, when reality sets in, initial rosy forecasts may not be borne out. Case in point: BP’s flagship deepwater Gulf of Mexico project, Thunderhorse, was slated to produce a billion barrels of oil at the rate of 250,000 barrels a day (b/d). Production hit 172,000 b/d in January 2009, but then declined rapidly to 61,000 b/d by the end of last year.

BP has not commented publicly on the reason for this unexpected production crash, but outside observers are skeptical that the platform will ever actually produce the promised billion barrels. According to Post Carbon Institute Fellow Tom Whipple in “Peak Oil Review” for May 24, “At least 25 other deepwater projects are said to be facing problems of falling production, raising the question of just how much oil these very expensive deepwater projects will ever produce.” Take one Thunderhorse, add a Deepwater Horizon, mix thoroughly, and what do you get? Investor jitters.

Economic optimists never tire of pointing out how enormous the resource pyramid is when viewed as a whole. When society is desperate, they say, we will go after energy resources and raw materials no matter where they are, no matter how expensive the process, and no matter how much environmental destruction comes with it. We’ll solve problems that arise as best we can and move on. Growth is inevitable and unstoppable, and if fuels and materials that enable growth exist, we will find and use them.

In reality, though, things may not work out that way. New extraction projects require the cooperation of many functioning systems including manufacturing/fabrication, finance, insurance, regulation, and advanced technical education. As that system of systems becomes more complicated, the sites of potential breakdown multiply. The current economic crisis is likely to rupture the system in multiple places, crippling extractive industries. Much of the remaining oil, coal, gas, and mineral resource base that could technically be extracted may well end up staying in the ground simply because society can’t continue to organize itself functionally at a high enough level to maintain the growing effort needed.

In short, the Deepwater Horizon story is not just an environmental tragedy. It is a story about the limits of both extractive technologies and the increasingly complex societal systems that support them. It’s a reminder that the whole project of basing unending economic growth on ever-increasing rates of extraction of depleting nonrenewable resources is wrongheaded from start to finish. And it’s a signal that hopes for our economy to magically “dematerialize” have turned out to be just that—mere hopes.

6. This Is What the End of the Oil Age Looks Like

There will be plenty of blame to go around, as events leading up to the fatal Deepwater Horizon rig explosion are sorted out. Even if further efforts to plug the gushing leak succeed, the damage to the Gulf environment and to the economy of the region are incalculable and will linger for a very long time indeed. The deadly stench from oil-oaked marshes—as spring turns to hot, fetid summer—will by itself ruin tens or hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods.

Then there’s the loss of the seafood industry: we’re talking about more than the crippling of the economic backbone of the region; anyone who’s spent time in New Orleans (my wife’s family all live there) knows that the people and culture of southern Louisiana are literally as well as figuratively composed of digested oysters, shrimp, and speckled trout. Given the historic political support from this part of the country for offshore drilling, and for the petroleum industry in general, this really amounts to sacrificing the faithful on the altar of oil.

President Obama has called the spill a “massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster,” and his representatives are now referring to it as both the worst oil spill and the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

But it’s much more than that. It is a sign that we’re nearing the end of a trail we’ve been following for at least a couple of centuries now.

Once again, I must repeat: we’re not even close to running out of oil, coal, gas, or most minerals. But we face a convergence of entirely predictable but severe consequences from the depletion of the concentrated, high-grade resources at the top of the pyramid: less affordable and more volatile commodity prices; worse environmental impacts—cumulative, mutually reinforcing impacts—both from accidents and from “normal” extraction operations; declining resource quality; declining EROEI for fossil fuels; and the need for massive new investment both to grow production levels, and to keep environmental consequences at bay.

And all of this is happening just as investment capital (needed to fix all these problems) is becoming scarce. In short, the monetary and non-monetary costs of growth have been rising faster than growth itself, and it looks as though we have now gotten to the inevitable point where growth may in fact no longer be an option.

The Deepwater Horizon disaster reminds us that, of all non-renewable resources, oil best deserves to be thought of as the Achilles heel of modern society. Without cheap oil, our industrial food system—from tractor to supermarket—shifts from feast to famine mode; our entire transportation system sputters to a halt. We even depend on oil to fuel the trains, ships, and trucks that haul the coal that supplies half our electricity. We make our computers from oil-derived plastics. Without oil, our whole societal ball of yarn begins to unravel.

But the era of cheap, easy petroleum is over; we are paying steadily more and more for what we put in our gas tanks—more not just in dollars, but in lives and health, in a failed foreign policy that spawns foreign wars and military occupations, and in the lost integrity of the biological systems that sustain life on this planet.

The only solution is to do proactively, and sooner, what we will end up doing anyway as a result of resource depletion and economic, environmental, and military ruin: end our dependence on the stuff. Everybody knows we must do this. Even a recent American president (an oil man, it should be noted) admitted that, “America is addicted to oil.” Will we let this addiction destroy us, or will we overcome it? Good intentions are not enough. We must make this the central practical, fiscal priority of the nation.

In my 2006 book, The Oil Depletion Protocol: A Plan to Avert Oil Wars, Terrorism and Economic Collapse, I laid out a simple formula that could guide us in systematically reducing our global dependence on oil. The same general plan could be adapted for use with all other nonrenewable resources. At the time, I naively thought that environmentalists would eagerly take up the idea, and that a few courageous politicians would champion it.

So far, there has in fact been very little interest in the Protocol. It turns out that nearly everyone likes the idea of using less oil, but nobody wants to take the step of actually mandating a reduction in its production and consumption, because that would require us to dethrone our Holy of Holies—economic growth. It’s so much more comfortable to spout support for the intention to build more electric cars—a technology that in fact will take decades to gain even moderate market penetration.

Fair enough. But where does that leave us? In an oily mess at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico . . . and entangled in what may be the ultimate Catch 22: We want more petroleum-fueled economic growth, but we hate what the pursuit of petroleum is doing to us (not to mention the environment), and it looks as though “more” may not be an option much longer in any case.

There’s just no easy answer here, folks.

Great article! Thanks for posting it.

Energy Returned On Energy Invested is a critical concept, and its use needs to be greatly expanded. Many of the popular green energy fads like corn ethanol quickly become undesirable when this metric is used - they produce little or no net new energy.

"Energy Returned On Energy Invested is a critical concept"

Agree and in fact IMO it's the #1 concept as you can't understand Peak Oil without it and you can't possibly grasp the inadequacies of "renewable/alternative" energy without understanding this.

This is the issue that should be harped on in the media whenever PO comes up.

"Energy Returned On Energy Invested is a critical concept"

Agree and in fact IMO it's the #1 concept as you can't understand Peak Oil without it

No, geological PO can be understood without EROEI issues.
The more supergiant and giant oilfields are past peak, the more small fields you need to compensate and to increase world oil production. When more and more of these small fields go in decline, even more smaller fields must produce oil to compensate for the lost production. This cannot go on forever and ultimately you hit plateau production, which seemed to have happened from 2005 on. With massive investments this production level could maybe last 5-10 years more or even increase a little but many doubt that this will happen. The reasons why are pointed out by Heinberg.

Well put. People often mistake the secondary effects or side-effects of peak oil for what causes peak oil in the first place. One can predict peak crude oil without having to resort to EROEI or ELM or any of these other side-effect models. Neither of those are fundamental to understanding depletion within the context of constrained resources .

Well put. People often mistake the secondary effects or side-effects of peak oil for what causes peak oil in the first place. One can predict peak crude oil without having to resort to EROEI or ELM or any of these other side-effect models. Neither of those are fundamental to understanding depletion within the context of constrained resources .

Fully agreed. EROEI is really just a logical argument for showing that there is a limit to how far down the pyramid we can go. In general I think cost of input energy for extractive practices is only one factor in their costs. When the sum of inputs (energy AND otherwise) exceeds the value of output, then we've hit the limit. In general this limit will be hit before EROEI becomes 1.
ELM, is in some sense a multiplier, or accelerator of the practical systemwide effects, not a cause in its own right.

I think Richards piece makes a great introduction. Probably the best I've seen.

Even though Energy Returned on Energy Invested is a critical concept, I think people can misunderstand it.

Substitutability of different types of energy is very low, so even if an energy source has a high EROI, it doesn't mean it can substitute very easily for some other energy source. If your transportation infrastructure is set up to take petroleum, there is a very big cost (in both energy and time) or changing it to a different basis.

Also, EROEI as calculated tends to be calculated with pretty narrow boundaries. It also doesn't properly adjust for timing differences. So one can get misleadingly high EROEI numbers from the standard calculation. If an energy source needs a subsidy, it is a pretty good clue to me that if boundaries were widely enough drawn, its EROEI would not be very good. An energy source with a true EROEI of 50 is almost certainly profitable.

We know that EROEIs tend to go down over time for oil and natural gas, as the easier resources are more quickly extracted. I think the same may be true for wind. I just posted a n article to Drumbeat, talking about the fact that the good wind sites near transmission lines are mostly taken. Building long transmission lines to distant new locations adds costs and delays to new projects. Also, the most cost-effective wind sites are on land, close to where the power is used. As one transports the electricity farther, or builds offshore (especially far offshore) costs (energy and $$) go way up.

If an energy source needs a subsidy, it is a pretty good clue to me that if boundaries were widely enough drawn, its EROEI would not be very good.

How would you compare the effective subsidies received by FF due to pollution, CO2, oil wars, etc, etc to subsidies for wind?

Building long transmission lines to distant new locations adds costs and delays to new projects.

The cost is roughly $.25/W, which doesn't seem very large compared the roughly $1.50-$1.75 for the wind farm. Doesn't that seem rather smaller than FF external costs?

A great post full of spot on logic.

“Much of the remaining oil, coal, gas, and mineral resource base that could technically be extracted may well end up staying in the ground simply because society can’t continue to organize itself functionally at a high enough level to maintain the growing effort needed.”

I sure hope that much of the remaining fossil fuels will stay in the ground as our atmosphere can’t take it if we burn them all.

Surprisingly little attention is paid to the very unfair situation that we are not leaving any easily extracted fossil fuels to future generations. Even without climate crisis and other environmental problems it just seems very selfish to extract all the easy stuff now and leave the most challenging stuff to our kids. I suppose that my kids and grandkids would also like to have even some of the luxuries that we had.

I can visualize the metaphor quite easily. There is me picking the low-hanging apple in our garden and my two-year old daughter trying to reach for the not-so-low-hanging-ones. Sorry young-one I already ate the ones we can reach. Grow up and learn to climb kid.

Surprisingly little attention is paid to the very unfair situation that we are not leaving any easily extracted fossil fuels to future generations.

That depends on the assumption that FFs are necessary for the deveopment of advanced society. I think we would have been better off without them. We were already developing wind and water power. But when we suddenly could cheat, by simply digging up stuff and burning it we took a shortcut. Of course we probably are in overshoot because of that shortcut. But a technological society ought to be possible without them. A transition delayed too long will not go smoothly however.

....... "unfair situation".......

It occurs to me that we (those who have grown up with abundant cheap energy) have also been placed in an "unfair situation". We (speaking for the masses now) have unknowingly been raised to expect this meme to continue. Our entire lives are built around and dependent on it continuing. We the people didn't choose this, we inherited it, this yellow brick road that leads to overshoot. Of course it's up to us, those of us who have the courage to face this reality, to lead the uninitiated down a different road.

Dark forces and wicked witches will always oppose clarity and urge us to "stay the course". Be wary of their spells!

Thanks Richard, for being on the real side of history.

¨A transition delayed too long...¨? How long do you need? The transition has been delayed since the environmental and energy shocks of the early 1970s. President Carter´s speeches of declared energy dependence ¨the moral equivalent of war.¨ Yet the nation went back to sleep when Reagan announced the arrival of an ¨oil glut.¨ Having wasted four decades, the possibility of a smooth transition has been squandered. As the era of techno-triumphalism screeches to a halt, perhaps we must find a way to harness energy from America´s last great resource: the power of positive thinking.

Surprisingly little attention is paid to the very unfair situation that we are not leaving any easily extracted fossil fuels to future generations.

I would hope that future generations would learn the lessons of the past 150 years that relying, at all, on non-renewable (or renewable over millions of years) resources is not sustainable. If you want future generations to consume non-renewable resources, then you are wishing for the impossible. If some is left for a future generation to use, then a further future generation won't have them.

No, if we want a sustainable society (and wanting an unsustainable society seems bizarre) then that society (and all societies) have to be organised according to the five axioms, that Richard Heinberg put together. To paraphrase them: consuming any resource beyond its renewal rate is unsustainable and behaviour that degrades our own habitat is unsustainable.

The Natural Step is a widely used framework that is fairly similar. It has four systems conditions for a sustainable society. Simply put: don't increase concentrations of substances extracted from the earth; don't systematically increase concentrations of substances created by society; don't systematically degrade the earth's natural systems; don't subject people to conditions that prevent them from meeting their own needs.

don't increase concentrations of substances extracted from the earth; don't systematically increase concentrations of substances created by society; don't systematically degrade the earth's natural systems; don't subject people to conditions that prevent them from meeting their own needs.

Looks good on paper, Bill.

"don't increase concentrations of substances extracted from the earth"

It seems we do this every time we take a ......well, "deficate".

"don't systematically increase concentrations of substances created by society; don't systematically degrade the earth's natural systems"

Two sides of the same coin....we do one which results in the other. That's the basis of our survival and growth.

"don't subject people to conditions that prevent them from meeting their own needs"

People have a funny way of deciding what their "own needs" are. My neighbor "needs" to play golf twice a week and take his big boat out each Sunday after church. He "needs" his big FSP (SUV) because his weekend guests would be uncomfortable in a smaller car on the way to and from the marina and golf course. He "needs" his Chemlawn service because the chiggers bite his dogs.

Nice guy though, even if he thinks my PV panels are silly toys. He says I don't need them.

Bingo. And "bicycles are toys" (mine isn't, but most of the bikes at the bike stores certainly are).

There was a time when I was much more optimistic, because I looked at how wasteful we were as a matter of course, and saw that (as an engineering problem) it should be a piece of cake to cut oil consumption by 50%.

And then I reflected on the fact that we have still failed to adopt the metric system in daily life. Autos, beef, pork, corn, oil, and coal pretty much depend on us continuing to do things as we always have. For that matter, you can probably throw pharma into that mix; any realistic cut in car use, will almost certainly result in most of us getting quite a lot more exercise, and there go the profits for those year-after-year drugs that take the place of regular exercise.

Thanks for the comments. I kept the principles brief which may have caused some misunderstanding.

Defecation is not generally increasing concentrations of substances extracted from the earth. If you take a morning dump out in the woods while camping, it is probably gone in a matter of days or weeks [unless you eat a strict diet of twinkies ;) ]. This point relates to things like mercury and heavy metals. If I dump a barrel of mercury in the woods, the high concentrations will be there for quite a long time. These substances are "natural" but in low concentrations.

Substances created by society are things like PCBs, DDT, plutonium, and most plastics. They are persistent and last for thousands of years - probably more.

The key to the last point is the difference between wants and needs. We need clean air, water food and shelter. We want to play golf and have the latest gas-guzzler. The point here is social equity. A sustainable society won't last long if billions of suffering people are waiting to start a revolution so they can feed themselves. Big wars are usually bad for the environment.

Please note: we can create plastics, and purify mercury and heavy metals and still be sustainable. But we must plan for how to deal with them - recycling and reuse for example.

I think the question is not "do we leave FF for the next generation" but rather "do we burn every bit we can so that we ruin the livability of the planet by climate change?"

Thank you for the thought provoking article.

Govt was quick to help out the too big to fail banks, and I am curious to see how they will drop to their knees when multi-national oil companies walk away from risk drilling opportunities. Skilled oil workers in decline, rigs and technology more complex and expensive than a space shot, debilitating insurance rates, criminal prosecutions, and oversight by the world, itself. Then, they will be demonized for everyman votes. Maybe BP's heart wasn't in it anymore, and these are some of the results.

In 20 20 hindsight it may be that we will be able to see a few key incidents that became turning points. Surely, this ongoing GOM nightmare has to be one of them.

Thinking of the WW11 German drive to the Caucuses, the Japanese lunge for Indonesia, and the US energy policy of trying to control peoples and regions who hate them to the point they blow themselves up to fight back, this can't end with anyone on top. Now the world, itself, is the most tortured.

"We'll just settle them down, be their friend, give them democracy that we control, take their oil, and build new stuff for us using exploited populations somewhere else who also really need us".

We'll just drill baby drill. In your country if we have to.

With friends like this, who needs enemies?

Our system is a big fat kid in the wrong neighbourhood. Our System....mine too.

As a Canadian with many US friends and relatives I have mixed feelings. We have enjoyed a long mutually beneficial relationship of trade. Of friendship. I am pretty sure we are in this mess, together. However, trade is one thing. If it comes to outright taking and plunder, that isn't on. The oil will go, we all know this, but I know many who will die behind their hunting rifles for our water and land.

The Enridge? pipeline proposal for Asian oil export exists for a reason.

The conspicuous plunder and consumption has to decline for all of us, not just for everyone else and BAU for the rich and powerful.

We have a zillion analogies to draw from. I won't bother. Examples of decline are everywhere.

Manners help, even on TOD posts, (I wanted to reference some of yeterdays snarkiness). Time to reread James Clavell's King Rat.


How does following "The Oil Depletion Protocol" prevent what we have going on in the gulf right now?

We wouldn't have needed to drill there because the oil depletion protocol is about reducing oil consumption, year on year, eventually down to zero.

Thanks Gail for posting that...interesting read!

It may have been mentioned already, but for those who might have missed it, the NYT has an excellent article on the deep water ecology of the Gulf-it was first published yesterday.

It's telling that the spill response open thread is chock full of newbies backseat driving ROV's while, over here, practically no one wants to discuss what it will really take to wean ourselves off the junk that's killing us. This is what it must be like to live in a crack house.

In my experience, about 98% of the people I talk with about peak oil, absolutely do not believe it is happening, or ever will happen. The ones that do believe oil won't last forever wholeheartedly believe that technology 'of some sort' will save us. I've spoken with perhaps 150 people about peak oil and I think 3 of them... yes THREE of them, actually believe it is happening or will happen very soon.

THREE? That many? Well done!

I found a couple of mates who'd listen, and the father-in-law, an ex-environmental scientist for Shell Australia. But really, what have any of us done to prepare for such a possible reality? My wife's a math-science teacher and understands that positive growth isn't linear; that there's limits. But what answers does she have?

Safeguards will be put in place for deep water drilling that we can all afford (dollars wise) in the "near" term because BAU has no easy substitute and no one really cares about one anyway... People will always want more.

I came to the conclusion a month or so into my sign-up here that we'd ride the plateau (peak in oil production) right up to the cliff's edge, though even now I still resist the so-called doomer line that it's all downhill from there. I'll probably continue to hold out hope even as (if?) we begin to teater. Though we may be generally stupid and ignorant, there's still some problem-solvers out there, right?

But again, what the hell would I know?

Regards, Matt B
STILL a concerned dad of three great kids

It can be difficult to get folks to believe in Peak Oil. I have somewhat more success getting folks to believe in Peak Cheap Oil. Yes, the $10, $20 and $30 per barrel oil is mostly gone (Saudis may have some but why sell everything at $30 when the market price is going up? That's profit!). Now what we're dealing with is the expensive, risky, difficult to get stuff - oil sands, deep water, arctic, etc.

There's probably a lot more $200 per barrel oil available than consumers wishing to buy it.

I am sitting here watching a small town business and political culture based almost exclusively on the internal combustion engine collide, and I mean collide, with an "invading" (buying up a lot of local assets) BIG privately held, international business based explicitly upon Green and "environmental sustainability". Big Business even has a written and enforced business policy called GreenPath and GreenPath Procedures for employees and the community. So far I've heard from the native establishment "junk science," "Eco-Nazis," "tree-huggers," and "bunny-lovers" directed at Big Business' employees. YeeHah! And it's just beginning.

You kindled some curiosity in me.

ANY hints on where and who ?

Best Hopes for more Large, Green Corporations# :-)


# Despite it's logo and PR, BP need not apply

Wisco, great comment. My experience has been even worse than Charlie F's. If I've tried telling a hundred people about it, maybe two have listened, nodded, and then gone right back to watching American Idle (sp) and Dancing With the Stars. Presumably being out of synch with the mood of the rest of the herd is for many as unthinkable as the post- cheap-oil future that awaits us.

Exactly. This is what insanity is.

In fairness (speaking as one of the aforementioned newbies) the reality of the situation is something that our society works very hard to shelter people from. its bad for business. Additionally there is so much misinformation and over zealous nutjobs that have political agendas that its not only hard to discern the truth with any amount of certainty, but its also a huge turn off to most people who dont like trying to sift through the nutjobs to find a few kernels of truth. also society has trained people to not want to try to understand things. people want to be spoon fed and if you cant break your concept down into a 30 second commercial that triggers some sort of sexual arousal then you're pissin in the wind.

look at the positive in that, even though this event will not likely start the oh-so-needed national and global discussion about our energy usage habits, it will at least inform more people and perhaps start smaller discussions about it. TOD has established itself as a beacon of unbiased facts and analysis in the wake of this disaster. thats a very valuable thing that the MSM cannot claim to have these days. i, for one have allowed what i've learned about DWH and the energy industry in general to really open my eyes to the way we live and the massive adjustment in perception that we need.

Hi Impunity,

The other newbies, not you ;-)

The ones who make it here lose newbie status immediately.



I recently had a conversation with one of my daughters in which she asked me why we didn’t know an uncontrolled oil leak in the ocean would happen. In an attempt to reassure her, I responded that, while it was an unexpected accident, people did know that it could happen, and they were ready for it. All of those ships, robot submarines, absorbent booms, and other supplies and equipment she was seeing on TV did not just materialize out of thin air or happen along by accident. They were prepared in advance, with a will and a purpose, and now people were out on the Gulf using those resources to combat this spill, much like firefighters fighting a fire.

She said, “Oh.” Then she asked, “Why did everybody think this was worth it?”

I answered that too, but I’m afraid I made everybody in the United States sound stupid.

Yeah, I know why people would prefer to backseat drive an ROV rather than have a serious discussion about how the Deepwater Horizon didn’t just materialize out of thin air either.

It's telling that the spill response open thread is chock full of newbies backseat driving ROV's while, over here, practically no one wants to discuss what it will really take to wean ourselves off the junk that's killing us.

What is it that it's telling you? Could you write more about that?

If practically no one wants to discuss the weaning, what does that tell you about your options if you want to be effective?

I would suggest there's no we or us that's going to wean itself. The what will it take question is not really that difficult to answer: it'll take a crash, followed by not getting much up again. That's what it will really take on a practical level.

See, I don't think the junk is really killing "us", as far as most consumers' idea of getting killed goes. Consumers fear and end to their way of life like it meant an actual, physical death to them. On top of that, consumers tend to have a pathological fear of actual death, because they're isolated from the giving and receiving of death and birth that happens in real life. I'm sure there are other reasons for the pathology as well, but the point is the attitude towards death (and life) is pathological. The way that ends up is as a lot of consumers who are a danger to themselves and to others, and the only way that's going to be mitigated is when those consumers have a lot less resources to bounce around. You fill in the gaps and find a creative role for yourself there. If you don't catch my drift, please focus on the first question, what is it that the lack of real discussion is telling you?

Some comments (which lead me to "2nd Order" i.e. detail, differences of opinion with a man that I respect).

And all of this is happening just as investment capital (needed to fix all these problems) is becoming scarce

I do not believe this.

The usual # is that consumption is 2/3rds of GDP. Redirecting a smallish % of that consumption to investments in long lived energy efficient and energy producing infrastructure will give us all that we need to make a transition.

On a personal level, for example, I recently bought (thanks to appliance rebates) a 396 kWh/year refrigerator and a Bosch washing machine ($9/year in energy). Earlier a solar clothes dryer, tankless water heater, CFLs, some low_E windows, NG space heaters, insulating double honeycomb blinds, shutters, etc. and I am itching from trying to complete R-19 + two x R-30 insulation in most of my attic. Dreams of a gas back-up solar water heater, some solar PV and Fujitsu SEER 25 & 26 heat pumps. Overall goal is 80+% reduction in home energy use (90% ??).

Oil based Transportation is down to perhaps 10% of US average already (and can go lower, once I stop making so many trips to Lowe's :-).

Less consumption (plus some savings) have financed these investments. I say "financed" and "investments" because I get a return each and every month on what I have done already.

The same can, AND HAS TO BE DONE, for larger scale infrastructure projects such as 30+% compounded growth of wind farms, electrify railroads, build Urban Rail and related TOD and bicycle infrastructure. HV DC transmission and pumped storage to help renewable energy (and later nuke to fill in the gaps) match a more efficient i.e. reduced demand.

I say "has to be done" because, even BAU economists know that BAU cannot continue due to our overall over consumption and under investment.

Another point of "difference" between us, ESOEI (Energy saved on energy invested).

As I scratch once again, I wonder what the ESOEI is on that damm fiberglass I am installing is. Minimal energy to collect the raw material, medium grade sand. Natural gas to melt it is significant and minimal electircity to spin the glass into batts and then roll it. Transport today (truck or some rail ?) is by diesel. SWAG is 20,000 cu ft of NG and 30 gallons of diesel. ESOEI/year, perhaps 1 (low because I went beyond recommended levels). Lifetime indefinite. House has potential of centuries (very well built in 1938) but New Orleans ?

EROEI lifetime for wind farms (use towers & infrastructure for two generations of WTs, i.e. 50 years) perhaps 40 all told.

ESOEI of electrifying and double tracking main line railroad ? 100s, perhaps thousands. Shifting freight from trucks to electrified rail is trading 20 BTUs of diesel for 1 BTU of possibly renewable electricity.

Likewise Urban rail.

Now "bicycling" is an interesting conundrum.

A fine dining experience at a New Orleans restaurant definitely shows up in GDP (and on my credit card bill !), but a home cooked meal of equal quality using fresh picked from the garden vegies and fish from the Farmer's and Fisher's Market (I usually walk there, 7/10 mile) barely registers. Yet my tummy is quite happy with both :-))

Transportation bicycling is the same way. Initial purchase (last X decades), new tires, chains, brake pads and accessories as time goes on but barely a ripple in reported GDP.

The French want to increase the % of urban trips by bikes from 1% to 10% (now up to @ 5%).

If VMT includes bikes, the French move about as much as they ever did. They are *NOT* poorer. How can one be "poorer" if a new choice, a new option is added ?

Yet this growth in bikes from 1% to 5% in bike modal share has reduced their reported GDP. Less oil burned, less wear and tear on cars = lower GDP.

If one uses a "happy tummy" definition of GDP, I think that we can see substantial, even dramatic growth in GDP as we shift towards a more sustainable investment.

Once a wind turbine is built, it produces electricity for 25 or so years with minimal additional inputs (compare to a coal fired plant that requires two mile long trains full of coal/week, trains that can travel over 1,000 miles). Both the WT and the coal plant produce electricity (which shows up in GDP) but only the coal plant gets it's fuel also counted as GDP. But the free fuel power plant is undoubtedly a better deal.

As my electric and gas bill declines, I am happier :-) and I certainly feel richer (I own more valuable assets) but my contribution to GDP declines after the first year (fiberglass, etc. is a one shot deal) as I use less energy.

Just examples of how our mis-definition of GDP can lead one to think the economy is not growing when in fact it is (or at least that is what my tummy says ! And I believe it :-)

Think forward to, say, a possible 2045. 90% of our electricity is carbon free (renewable or nuke), energy use is half that of today (despite more people but MUCH higher efficiency), life expectancy is up 9 years (and 12 more "good" years), suicides down by half, "oil/biofuel" use in 12% of today, unemployment at 4.8% and no beggars on the street. Music accounts for a much larger share of reported GDP and gourmet cooking is the rage. Average work hours/year 1,650 and six week vacations are the norm.

How is this a "poorer" nation than today ? Because there are very few big box stores left ? Because we live closer together and know, and talk to our neighbors ? Because what we do consume has higher quality and smaller quantity ? Because auto related deaths are down to 9,000/ year ? (BAD for reported GDP BTW) Because we vacation closer to home ?

I see growth and not decline in this future !

Perhaps more later


Best Hopes,


I agree Alan. I'm sure you are aware of some of the things many regular posters here have done to reduce their consumption. My doubt is born of an awareness of the societal inertia that supports overconsumption.

I fear we are in a "topkill" situation, trying to pump mud down an out-of-control well of consumption. The thing is, this well sucks in resources like a black hole.

With so many new folks riding the TOD wave as a result of this oil spill, perhaps it's time for another Campfire where contributors and readers can share real world mitigation stategies that they have implemented, the details of their experiences, and the "whys" of their choices. For many of our newbies, TOD has been, in large part, the bearer of bad news. We know it's much more than that.

the truth and reality are never bad news.


Doctor: "You have brain cancer. It's incurable. This is reality. It's the truth."

Me: "That's bad news!"

having known some cancer survivors and some that died, i'd say thats a poor analogy. i've never seen anyone stricken with cancer be worse off because of it. sure they deteriorate physically but there is nothing like being face to face with your own mortality to put perspective on whats really important in life. Weather you live or die, if you've gained that mental clarity you've won.

Letter from IRS: "We have seized all of your assets and are proceeding with criminal prosecution.""

Letter from lawyer: "Yep. This is real. It's the truth."

You: "OH BOY! A new start!"

Sorry Alan! I crossed your post edit. (didn't mean to, really) :-(




I do believe Alan has about the best reasoned and most hopeful arguments I have yet heard in respect to the overall energy depletion crisis.

The only thing that keeps me from getting on board his fast electrified train to the future is my enormous faith in our capacity to do the wrong thing. ;)

It seems to me that the question of our getting through the next quarter or century or so depends more than anything else on two things;the first one is plain old good luck.If we are lucky enough to avoide widescale hot wars and environmental Black Swans,which singly or in combination may well finish us off, then we need to win ONE MORE roll of the dice by convincing the public that radical changes in our nonnegotiable way of life are coming soon, no ifs, ands, or buts;and that we have no choice other than start practicing on a daily basis what Alan is preaching.

The problem is that the people doing the preaching lack the necessary volume to drown out the bau crowd,and the credibility with the scientifically illiterate public to be taken seriously.

The environmental movement needs a suit, a haircut, and a "new message"-the old one is factually correct but it is worn out and has been deeply discounted by a jaded public.

Somehow we must find a way to make the public feel the heat directly and immediately;talk of sea levels rising decades from now will not put the ball across the finish line.

We could win a lot of support for the environment by screaming about ten dollar gasoline and twenty five or thirty five cents per KWH electricity as a CONSEQUENCE of depletion rather than as a consequence of conservation measures.The facts are on our side.

It is a fundamental mistake to allow the bau crowd to paint the conservation and efficiency camp as the SOURCE of higher prices.

Screaming about taxing the hxll out of gasoline may work when preaching to the choir, but it gaurantees a nearly empty church.

A philosophical return to the more conservative roots of our country might be a big help;a city ,conty,, region, or state that is sending more money out in taxes than it gets back is getting screwed twice;the locality has less money, and there are lots of strings attached to the lesser amount, rendering it far less useful.

Let us suppose for a minute that the Big Easy were in good condition (no hurricane, no dikes, no flood, etc) and in fairly complete control of the city's finances rather than dependent on federal revenue sharing (Now I hope none of us are stupid enough to believe that sending our money to Washinton, through the congressional wringer, and back actually increases the net wealth of the country.)

I think in this scenario Alan would find it MUCH easier to convince his fellow citizens in the city and surrounding suburbs to expand the street car system, adopt a tougher energy conserving building code,create a tax exemption for open spaces in the city, and so forth.

They might have to go into debt to do these things, but the local bang bang for the local dollar would be high.They would no longer be more or less shanghaied into supporting a lot of ill considered federal programs such as the auto bailout, where the local dollar was spent so far away the bang might not have even been audible.

If income tax laws were simpler and the nanny state smaller, people might actually find it more attractive to spend a few thousand bucks upgrading their house in order to lower their energy bills more or less forever, than to invest their money with complete strangers running a corporation that employs no local citizens and answers to no local authority.That "something for nothing"( well for fifty percent or so,since it is tax deferred and bought partly with money that would have gone to taxes) stock portfilio is an illusion;the world can never cash in the stock market, any more than ther US can pay it's debts.

The boomers can't, as a group, cash out-other than the ones who cashed out early of course, and beat the collapse of the bubble-there are no buyers for their inflated holdings .

But if some of that money had gone into fixing up the old homestead for the long run, the return would have been assured in the form of lower expenses, for good. (or at least until the house changes hands)

Any small town might find it far easier to implement locally effective conservation measures.One town might decide to run the schools an hour longer and close a few more days for instance;this would be very easy if there were not so many federal and state bueracrats writing rules and revenue sharing plans.

A school superintendent I once knew was fond of saying that fifty cents of local money is equal to a dollar of federal and state money.

The environmental movement needs a suit, a haircut, and a "new message"-the old one is factually correct but it is worn out and has been deeply discounted by a jaded public.

Actually they need to grow open minded analytic brains.

The only possible solution to global warming, as per James Hansen which I agree with, is 4th gen nuclear plus carbon tax plus reforestation plus population control.

The environmentalists are as much to blaim for our mess as the fossil fuel companies since they actively block nuclear.

The only possible solution to global warming, as per James Hansen which I agree with, is 4th gen nuclear

Where is one going to get the energy to decommission and store the waste forever from let alone mine and process the uranium?

James Hansen says that if we can get 4th gen nuclear to work (not certain but very hopeful based on research conducted in US until program was cancelled by Clinton/Gore) then it will burn waste fuel from existing reactors, and will produce only a small amount of waste in the process.

His point is that everything has tradeoffs, but nuclear is the only solution for maintaining some form of civilization as we know it and avoiding runaway warming.

His point is that everything has tradeoffs, but nuclear is the only solution for maintaining some form of civilization as we know it and avoiding runaway warming.

Presumeably based on the spin put out by the Nuclear industry as they keep denying there true emissions.

I still stand by the fact that in a world of diminishing energy where is all that extra energy going to come from to maintain and decomission these Nuclear power stations which rely on fossil fuel every step of their intricate way.

My big issue with nuclear has always been: who is going to sit around and babysit the waste? I don't think it matters much if it's a small amount.

The general public always follows;leadership is a relatively rare trait.

Joe Sixpack is never going to wake up and start reading TOD, or environmental journals, or nature magazines of his own accord.

It is Joe's nature to follow the lead of whoever gets out in front and tells him what to do , think, and say;right now the bau crowd has a strangle hold on Joe's lower brain centers via advertising and good psychologically sound PR.

If we want change , we must fight for it using the same methods.

And since we are outnumbered and out gunned, we need to get down to the Rush Limbaugh/James Carville level , the gut level, and appeal to the fears and desires of the public as the first step.

Then we need to tell and show the paniced citizens what WE are going to do to save their precious fat fannies.

Instead of pushing subsidies for wind farms we need to be pushing REFUNDABLE tax credits for insulation,triple pane windows, and ground water heat pumps.Joe can understand something for nothing.

Instead of cash for clunkers, which benefited the auto industry and big labor almost exclusively,plus that smallish portion of the public in a position to trade and collect a lopsided benefit unavailable to most of us,we need to make a refundable tax credit available for anyone who wants a solar domestic hot water system.

We have to get Joe's attention,and get him to see that we are ON HIS SIDE.
Once we make some progress in this respect, THEN the time will be ripe -not before- to begin trying to convince Joe to change his ways.

We need to push for laws that enable a locality to KEEP most of the tax money currently going to Washington;it will be more wisely spent in at least a few localities.Other localities will follow once they see the possibilities and the successes.

This goes beyond such things as building codes and water systems;it extends to zoning in particular.Some of the most desirable places to live in this country cannot be duplicated at any price because there are laws whih make the duplication impossible.

Richmond Virginia's Fan District is a great example;I used to live there in the good old days when I was a grad student at VCU.

The city itself makes it impossible for other nieghborhoods to turn into Fan Districts through zoning and inspection regulations.

Donald Trump and Bill Gates working in tandem don't have enough political savvy and money to create a new Fan District in any of the surrounding counties;the bueracracies are dug in too deep.

Right now , Joe percieves us as the enemy.

If we ever want Joe to percieve us as a friend, we must quit lecturing him and do away with the patronizing holier than thou attitude so common among environmentalists.

We must become his buddy and then we can lead him around by his pexxr just like the bau crowd.

I don't like it, but this is reality and our only (forlorn) hope of gaining the initiative as I see it.

How is this a "poorer" nation than today ?

Because if you are a fat cat, aspiring to become a super-duper-fat cat, your ambitions may be thwarted. Anyone who isn't a fat cat? The little people don't count!

Thanks Alan, +10

All these proposed savings will be easily eaten up by a raising military budget. Our dual national gods of Mammon and Mars retain their reign.

All these proposed savings will be easily eaten up by a raising military budget. Our dual national gods of Mammon and Mars retain their reign.

Alan, I think you may be mistaken about investment capital being available. I observe what happened to the nuclear power industry after Three Mile Island.

Recall that nuclear power was pretty much a creature of the federal government. From the beginning of the Atomic Age, the feds were funding research that was directed toward making nuclear power economically competitive with other, existing generation technologies. Nuclear power officially became competitive in late '60s or early '70s and started peddling itself to investors. And investors bought until '79 when TMI happened. Investor interest has never revived since that incident. Anti nuke activists flatter themselves in thinking that they stopped nuclear power. IMHO, it was stopped by investors being unwilling to put serious money into a very risky and expensive industry.

Think of the mindset of a 'rational' investor. Is there any way that investors can become convinced that there will be low cost, high profit situation in oil, given their rejection of nuclear power? You may say that nukes and oil are totally different but I say that investors don't see details like that they are big-picture people.

Alan. Thanks much for all your good work, I usually agree with most everything you say, and I am glad that, unlike lazy me, you keep saying it.

Folks, I want to emphasize some of Alan's remarks. First, please think of the EROEI of a bloated big pickup truck of the kind the average joe uses to go get a sack of chips and a six pack. Or that of a dinner party out at some overpriced joint with the gang, or , god forbid, a bass boat with a 200 Hp engine on it-- and so forth and so on. Not to mention my favorite- soda pop, which I hate and which rots other people's teeth and makes them so fatbutted that even a near miss blows me off my bar stool.

So with all that carrying on, what th' hell is the justification for "costs too much" for solar, wind and all the rest we need to kick the oil habit???

We are so hugely wasteful that we could easily get, by redirection of resources, all we need for a carbon free future, and as Alan says, be happier for it. And thinner.

And a note on a related subject. It is often said here, but is simply NOT TRUE that humans are all bottomless pits of avarice and gluttony. I claim no virtue for it, but somehow I, and most of my friends, are pretty parsimonious by instinct, even tho we are fairly well off financially and could be gluttonous if we were so inclined. All of us would be happy to see wartime-type restrictions on "consumption" until we had restored hope for our grandkids.

My son just attended a reunion at Oberlin, where he heard David Orr make a noteworthy comment. Something to the effect that "Our energy habits are evicting our grandchildren from the only known paradise in the Universe". And if that ain't sin, what is?

Anyhow, thanks again Alan, and keep it up. Now I'm goin' back to my super-duper automatic bike transmission project. Soon to be available at your friendly local bike shop--just like my cheap, everlasting, efficient stirling engine is--hahahaha.

Everyone wants to have their cake and to eat it, too. Even Alan. Can't help it, we're animals. This is what animals do, exploit their resource bases until these are eliminated than the animals themselves die. Nature is cruel, but you have to appreciate her sense of humor.

Watching cities incinerate, people starve and kill each other and crops fail, giant tsunamis and double whammies on television will be fun. I might even have to run out and buy a TV!

Problem is we love our toys more than we love ourselves. We're all like the kid and the cookie jar, the handful of cookies won't let us remove our hands from the jar. The plan is to break the jar. Great plan, right?

Don't you just love Mother Nature's senee of humor?

Because we're animals that cannot control large parts of what we do every second (seeing, breathing, itching, coughing, etc.) we are trapped in the vortex of using our toys to wage war on our resource base, and at the remove, ourselves. Centuries of practicing on each other have honed our skills in the violent arts which are now turned mercilessly against unresisting nature. The Brontosauruses simple were eaten by the T. Rex's. They never put up a fight.

Gotta make you laugh, doesn't it. We fail because we succeed.

Excuse me, I have to go outside and wash my Hummer.

After being without TV and cable for the past five years, I went out today and got a big-screen plasma and cable service, so I could watch the die-off unfold in hi-def. For as long as the system lasts, anyway, until we lose broadcast or electricity.

The irony of it all!

I haven't owned or watched television for plus or minus thirty years, and didn't have the net until a couple of years ago-the net saves me money as it keeps me out of the closest decent bookstore, which is fifty miles away.

But the urge to see it all go down on a high definition wide screen is growing, and I may join you guys in buying one. ;)

After all the money is probably going to become worthless ANYWAY.

And I already have plenty of ammunition, matches, hand tools and dried beans.

Like many TOD articles this one is full of great insight into resource depletion, it’s impact on the planet, and the probable future path humanity will follow.

But the article contains a couple of comments that frame a slightly skewed picture.

The first, slightly paraphrased, says that because of resource scarcities and tragedies like the one occuring in the GOM, we are about to see tradeoffs and limits with respect to the development of extractive technologies. This gives the reader the impression that this is a new challenge and, until now there were no tradeoffs and limits.

As long as man has been around, tradeoffs and limits have always gone hand-in-hand with technological innovation and change:all technology is a double edged sword.

What this really points out is the fact we have chosen to ingnore the scientific community, particularly those who have examined human activity and pointed out the obvious: the laws of physics apply to humans too.

The second quibble is the notion that technology somehow reduces environmental impact. Even if we accept that there are better, less destructive ways of extracting and using resources, we can’t deny that technology, because it has allowed the exponential growth of human populations, has actually accelerated environmental destruction.

What this points out is how easily the human mind is shaped, particularly by those that profit by rationalizing endless growth.


I concur, but to quibble on your second quibble :-), while advanced technology may reduce the direct environmental impact for a given industry, it spawns a host of other industries that are very destructive in their own right.

We are accustomed to seeing nice, friendly ads from Intel showing wonderful Class 1 Clean Rooms, but in reality, the semiconductor business is a very dirty business requiring large amounts of energy and fresh water.

Similarly, the search for, and processing of, the rare earth metals required places a load on the environment that would not exist, were it not for the high tech industries.

Worse, due to economics, the dirty side of high tech is exported to developing countries where mitigation of the effects is minimal at best, perhaps worsening the overall environmental impact. It does, however, allow us in the west to have gleaming corporate campuses and, until recently, clean rivers and beaches while we rail about China's polluted rivers and smog choked cities.

Yes, physics applies to humans too, particularly thermodynamics. As many here have pointed out, increased complexity has its own pitfalls and much like EROEI, we are approaching a zero-sum game (at best).

Some good points pragma, although I hope I didn’t sound too pragmatic.

My quibbles were really just ways of introducing the fact that the way information is framed is just as important as the detail. Framing can align our thinking and set us up to arrive at conclusions that allow us to avoid looking at the interconnectedness of all of the complexities of an issue; much like the way we manage to ignore the problems that result when we destroy seemingly small links in the ecological web that ties us all together.

Great analysis. Some info from the front lines on substitutes: WE ARE NOT YET SERIOUS ABOUT GETTING OFF OF OIL. Pardon the emphasis. Twelve years ago I started a company with the aim of commercializing liquid fuels from biomass, as a small step toward dealing with global warming. Since then I've realized through Oil Drum and others that while global warming is ultimately a bigger problem, oil depletion and prices will hit us much sooner, and as noted, in a kind of perverse financial incentive which causes us to produce less energy, clean or otherwise.

Just got my 15th or so rejection on a DOE grant proposal to produce advanced enzymes to convert cellulosic biomass feedstocks to biosugars, glucose and xylose, which are the only feasible substitute for oil, and a potential substrate for green gasoline, green diesel, and biojetfuel. DOE programs and research exist, but external grants are geared to large companies. Ironically, one of these (Verenium) is solely supported by BP as part of their green image (oh well ..).

The point of this post is the wider pattern of neglect of small technology businesses by DOE, USDA,and other arms of government which may be sincere in wanting to reduce oil dependency, but are so far very ineffective. Some data: we applied for an ARPA-E grant on same topic. That program was supported by a princely $150 million, less than the cost of one F-22 fighter plane. There were 3,700 applicants, of which 2% were eventually funded. The other 98% of us received a "Notification of Discouragement" - I kid you not. Even more appalling is the fact that no one noticed. Tossing 98% of the best and brightest is not the key to competing with China.

Second data point: DOE SBIRs, Small Business Innovation Research Grants. Currently a political football on temporary continuing resolutions. Phase I applicants, i.e., your typical small tech startup, can now receive up to $150K for an initial project, and up to $750K in Phase II (30% chance), after a funding gap of months. The most recent round received 1,863 applications, and issued 268 grants (for $100K), a 14.4% success rate overall. Again, throwing away 86% of the applicants. It gets worse. DOE’s broad legacy of responsibilities, including nuclear waste, nuclear nonproliferation, high energy physics, coal technology, oil shale technology, and energy efficiency, as well as biofuels, has led to an SBIR program in DOE which bears little relationship to the primary need of most Americans: cheaper fuel at the pump. The DOE FY 2009 SBIR/STTR Technical Topic Notice contains 60 topics, only one of which is “Production of Biofuels from Biomass”, competing for funds with 59 other topics such as “Advanced Coal Research” and “Alternative Radiological Sources”. In the recent round, only 6 of the 268 awards (2.2%)had anything to do with biofuels. This is public data and easy to check.

To conclude, a straightforward solution would be to take one day's worth of our oil trade deficit, soon to be $1 billion per day again, and give grants of $1 million each to 1,000 small tech businesses which meet the general criterion of doing something positive to get us off of oil. Allow us to buy equipment (a common SBIR restriction) and define our own research topic. Keep it simple, and watch the results.

I understand what you said, but respectfully must disagree. AGW is important, yes. Peak Oil is more important.

Yes, CO2 levels continue to rise, and show no sign of leveling off, much less dropping. Consider, though, that in 100 years there will be no oil and no coal, and probably no gas either, to use to power our entire economy and society. At some time, we must end use of these fossil fuels... either voluntarily or involuntarily when there is no more supply left or there is insufficient capital to continue to extract them. At that point, CO2 will begin to drop. In another 200 years or so, if I correctly understand the science involved, the problem may well be global cooling as the planet reverts to its natural cycles. Not for another one or two hundred million years is warming likely to be a problem.

Now, the remaining homo sapiens on the planet may well begin burning trees and dung for heat and power. That, after all, is what they did in the past. We will then discover what is sustainable in use of renewable fuels as well, and our numbers will come into balance with the rest of the planet. Or we will die out. Whichever comes first.

Of course, with prompt and concentrated effort on the problem, we could retool; we could redo our power grid, convert to electric mass transit and EVs, reduce population, create a sufficient PV, wind, tidal, geothermal and hydro powered system to heat and cool and to transport goods - especially foodstuffs - and to maintain our civilization. To date nothing is happening in this realm, however, and the fear is that we may have already waited too long to begin. Time will tell whether we have sufficient resolve to implement what would be needed. Today I am pessimistic.

Strange species, homo sapiens. I wonder if they will be missed.


James Hansen says we must stop coal now, and not go after hard oil (tar sands, oil shale) to have any hope of preventing runaway warming. I recommend his book Storms of My Grandchildren. Very good overview of all the science.

I wish you the best of luck biodoc! We need more entrepreneurs like you.

Have you calculated the EROEI of your biofuel?

I think there is one more factor (not mentioned in the article) - one that results in efforts to both extract and possess resources, no matter how low on the pyramid. And that is WAR! Seems to me nations often go to war "seeking" resources, be they gold or oil or whatever it may be. And in the process of the war, they burn resources like there is no tomorrow!

The prevention of war seems, to this humble reader, a hugely important factor in adjusting to resource scarcity and adapting a "share the resources" perspective.

If we don't prevent wars, then resources will inevitably be wasted by the richest and most powerful nations.

I think that means we need to work on getting people and nations to cooperate, to demilitarize, to get rid of weapons, to agree to mediation. Anything to prevent the useless waste of lives and resources - which rarely solves anything!

Once more I want to thank those who administer and write on this site. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. (I have donated already. And will do so again.)

If a gas tax (either at pump or on bbl of imported oil - my preference) had been levied decades ago, it would have stimulated conservation and we wouldn't be in this mess. (That is, not pressured so to speak, to drill in thousands of feet of water.) But "the usual suspects" opposed it rather mindlessly IMHO (especially since it could have offset other taxes, not been a net increase.) At various crossroads we missed, typ. upon Republican ascendancy. That much is a fact ...

Especially ironic: now many conservatives gripe that around half of US adults/families don't pay any Federal taxes (not quite true if consider FICA etc., which are "taxes.") Yet almost everyone would have helped shoulder a gas tax, it being rather regressive. Wouldn't that have been more "fair" in their eyes? That's what ideological blindness and politicking on simplistic slogans does, not to mention industry contributions (which corrupt both Parties.)

Furthermore, a lower population would mean lower demand. Therefore, lower prices, depletion, etc. Again, the usual suspects: with child tax credits up to around 100k/family, opposition to family planning, etc ...

When I double post (happens to ALL of us), I edit and put in a single period "." Least distraction for those reading.


I can't imagine why the OD WM doesn't just give delete button, I'll ask .

(I meant to delete repeated message, but I don't know how ... It demanded content.)

Great article by a man I really admire. He says (and I believe) that all the low hanging fruit has been picked and we are forced to go deeper and riskier in our search for oil, but how can I prove this to my friends and relatives who believe there is plenty of oil left in shallow waters near the shore but we are not allowed to drill there because of environmental regulations. They believe the environmentalists and the NIMBYs are to blame for this catastrophe!

It may not be possible as you are trying to use rational means to overcome a basic belief system.

You are asking your friends to acknowledge or believe something that will require them to give up/change part of their basic belief structure. It might be their believe in an activist God who is suppose to look after them, or a believe in the sanctity of man's cleverness and technological prowess, or a believe in a future that will always be brighter, or whatever.

A future of diminishing oil is not one that many people in this country want to face.

Good luck.

Your comments on energy saved are good but surely you are merely deferring the inevitable. Just using GDP as a measure ties you into the growth paradigm. The 800 lb gorillas in the room are eponential growth and resource depletion. Unless we deal with those we will be faccing Jeavons paradox, just a little later!

I used "happy tummy" GDP. First cousin of "Gross National Happiness" of Bhutan.

Non-monetary (or minimal monetary) things that do good things or make me (or you) happy are counted. Bad things that cost LOTS of money (car accidents, oil spills) are not.

Transportation biking is included (despite very little GDP $) as are home gardens, etc. etc.

Best Hopes for a Better Life post-Peak Oil,


I certainly cant argue with gross national happiness as an ideal, although i cant agree with any sort of gnp as a measure. lets face it thats certainly at the centre of Richards argument.
Trouble is how do we get there from here. i've noticed (and share)your anguish on another thread about the gulf spill but cant help thinking that the spill is just mirroring other aspects of our present problems. I guess i'm not the first to draw the analogy to the BP spill and finance (for toxic spill, read toxic debt, for regulatory capture. read regulatory capture, for dispersant, read QE etc) The autonomous power centres of the country such as banks and oil corporations do not share the same goals and aspirations as normal people yet they manifestly run the agenda. Its a bit like Richards problem with the depletion protocol- great idea but no one with power has any skin in that game so nothing good will happen. In fact its worse since disaster capitalism is now in full flow and all sorts of 'clever people' will see a disaster such as the spill as an opportunity. I guess I just dont see how a rational argument such as gross national happiness or a depletion protocol has any chance of success. A secret part of me is probably hoping that the spill gets worse just so we will get some sort of awakening though i'mnot holding my breath on that. Sure we should be conserving and pursuing 'happy tummy' but right now a fast collapse might be our only hope.

I'll just repeat what I said the other day, with minor changes.

We are already on the road to complex collapse due to extreme population overshoot and the peaking of a critical resource, oil. I think the current system can be maintained while oil production declines less than 30% from its peak, and I'm using 30% as ballpark maximum based on how much blood a person could lose before collapsing into a coma or dying. .7 * 75 is 52.5. Depending on decline rates and how they are affected by our existing compounding system issues, we can keep oil production high enough for 2 to 8 years. But after oil production falls below some critical level, then social service, electrical, financial, governmental, and transportation systems start rapidly shutting down.

This is the mechanism of collapse, and it mirrors what happens when your car runs out of gas, when your power goes out, or when someone starves or loses too much blood. It even mirrors what happens on individual oil well production when production continues for a while after passing the peak and then ceases. There are still resources available, there is still gas, electricity, food, blood and oil, but the existing damaged and/or depleted infrastructure cannot access it.

To put oil conservation in the body analogy, conservation means chopping off your limbs and eating them, in order to keep going.

I think 2 to 8 years is the best case, because beneath the oil production is its net energy contribution to the rest of the system. Net energy has already been falling, and will fall more rapidly than production itself.

If you are going to try to mitigate the effects of collapse, then concentrating most effort in local preparations for family and community has the best chance of yielding benefits.

Or, you could just say screw it and try to enjoy the limited life you have. We all pass this way but once, live it up a little.

The oil spill is causing mass hysteria but not leading to any helpful responses.

People are boycotting BP gas stations. They should be boycotting ALL gas stations!!! They should be boycotting ALL car dealerships!!!

They should be throwing their cars and car keys away forever.

Obama said that there are inherent risks in searching for oil 4 miles under the earth. Yes that is true, from here things will only get worse---more costly, more ruinous, more difficult and demoralizing. A divorce from the automobile is the only way out. Obama did not say that, but I am.

Obama should announce emergency zoning law changs to permit people to open businesses at home, keep chickens, rabbits, etc.

People should get money from the government if they have no car.

And gasoline should be taxed heavily to pay for new public transportation.

I have had to leave the US and part of my family there in order to pursue a car-free lifestyle that is safe and equitable. That is because the USA has one-third of the world`s cars---it is drowning in cars. There is hardly any escape from them there. It is almost impossible to not own one and live a normal life there. But cars have a very ugly face----climate change, pollution and the oil spill.

I will continue to call attention to the disadvantages of cars, even though obviously many people love cars and disagree with my point of view!

I like the personal approach to saving energy in our own homes, insulating, solar, etc. I also like the 'Drive Easy' approach to conserving oil - simply lower the speed limits.If one wishes to relocalize quickly, then a general 35 mph speed limit will make some big changes- to long distance driving and trucking- to vacations, to commutes, to suburban building patterns, to food production, to the pace of life, to reducing cost of emergency medicine (less car accidents).

Lowering speed limits by 5 mph a year would be one way to ease into this. Or, transition towns could lower speed limits in certain areas or take on making it a project to get folks to change.

Pretty much everything I drive to is in a 35 mph area now, but I still find myself sometimes resisting the above idea... it's FUN to drive fast, and part of me don't wanna drive slow. That part may have to grow up.

Main thing is, though, that drive easy is a low-tech, simple process that is within our grasp and can greatly increase available oil supplies without harmful environmental effects and dangerous extreme drilling.

I really enjoyed this article and all the comments. I look forward to having intelligent discussions and learning much here at TOD.

I guess I was only vaguely aware that peak oil is in fact an ideology, and recognizing that actually gives me sort of a roadmap for discussing the matter. I can expect some shrillness and the often associated rudeness, but the best part is, I can expect thoughtful and penetrating dialog by people who care.

Something that I take some pride in is an ability to examine things from all angles when gleaning truth. It's not only a matter of being objective, but it also involves clarity to get to the right questions, and in the spirit of Popper, to look for and explain contrary evidence. If I have one enemy, it's groupthink, and I always try to keep an eye out for it. It doesn't always win me friends.

When Colin Powell held up that vial to the UN and to the world, I lost my voice screaming that the vial only had air in it, that he was only holding up air. People were mad, but I thought it was an important observation.

In the leadup to Y2K, I had a roommate who, like many others, was worried silly about the impending disaster. Her church was supplying her with videos and literature that reinforced her fears (and planted new ones). It all seemed a bit dramatic to me, and it wasn't hard to see the money being made off it, but I wasn't about to take chances either. During the week leading up to the date change, I made sure to read the business section in the paper... something I do anyways... but just for my own reassurance, I'd read it out loud to my roomate and remark how well the Dow was holding up at the end of the world. It just didn't make sense to me that utility companies would forgo all those monthly checks from everyone because they will never find all the erroneous clocks in their systems.

The tax cut mantra doesn't explain why the period of highest taxes in this country coincided with remarkable financial stability and economic prosperity. People say that it was because of the postwar boom, but they miss the point: high taxes didn't kill prosperity or curtail investment, and if you need more proof, you can look at the economy following many tax increases and see that it did great sometimes, and not so great at other times - the same as with tax cuts.

There is only one price of oil - spot price. There is no independent American oil. You can't buy it, so what is all this talk about energy independence from domestic drilling? Since oil can be purchased on the open market, we should be buying that oil and keeping ours in the ground for when prices are higher later on, right? Or not, but stop insulting us with talk about energy independence. Just say you want to make more profit.

Regulations hurt? You have got to be kidding me. They hurt fraud and irresponsibility, is what they hurt.

A nuclear bomb is a hedge. Enough nuclear bombs to blow up the world is a maximum hedge. More than that is a gross misallocation of resources and a sign something is seriously out of whack. It's so obvious that it's embarrassing.

The earth does not try to maintain a temperature. Like any matter, it has a characteristic black body spectrum that determines its thermal equallibrium. If it is absorbing more energy than it radiates, then it will heat up. CO2 is more transparent to useful lower-entropy energy and more opaque to less-useful high-entropy energy. It so happens that infalling energy on earth is low entropy (higher frequency), capable of doing work, and most outgoing radiated energy is higher entropy (lower frequency) energy less capable of doing work. Higher concentrations of CO2 will retain more outgoing energy. At face value, this would indicate a rise in the equallibrium temperature. That could have negative consequences, and we should look for signs of a temperature increase when we measure higher concentrations of CO2. It only makes sense to be cautious.

At the same time, we must also factor in possible escape routes for the extra energy which would work to lower the equallibrium temperature. Maybe the atmosphere of a warmer earth expands providing that much more surface area to radiate. Perhaps more energetic and more frequent storms will drive an increase in lightning strikes which dissipate energy at much higher frequencies. The energy budget must balance, and anyone who denies that is irrational. I always ask skeptics if they would advocate a total ban on testing for global warming.

I am extremely skeptical about carbon trading. It would be an orgy of abuse and not really help anything. Any fines levied would be passed on to the consumer, and you can bet the fines will be small enough so as not to discourage sales.

I haven't formed an opinion yet on peak oil. It's an important non-renewable resource that is being consumed at a rapid clip. Logic says that it has to run out.

On the other hand, I look at a company such as Kodak and marvel at how they adapted their business model in the face of devistatingly disruptive technology. The market for their main product went away, and in a relatively short period of time. I have to believe that the large oil concerns probably are armed with a roadmap on how they will roll out new product in the future. I am not convinced it will be a violent lurch into Mad Max.

It may actually result in great economic expansion. What would unemployment be if the nation embarked on a plan to build small, next-generation high-temp reactors in every county, along with a new grid and everything powered off the new grid? Maybe labor arbitrage might go away as long distance manufacturing becomes uneconomical based on shipping expenses. We may just end up shifting efficiencies and sacrifices might be surprisingly small.

Either that, or maybe large die-offs will happen leaving more for the survivors. That would be a perfectly natural thing.

It is really only an ideology because no one has ever accepted the fundamental quantitative statistical theory behind oil depletion. Since the majority of people only treat Peak Oil qualitatively with heuristics, it can be attacked and treated almost as a numerology perpetrated by the doomer mindset. Kind of like most people would ignore tarot cards or astrology because of a lack of any substantiation.

I haven't formed an opinion yet on peak oil. It's an important non-renewable resource that is being consumed at a rapid clip. Logic says that it has to run out.

The key to this logical understanding is to use probability. More and more people are becoming aware that probability theory is the logic of science, in E.T. Jaynes words.

I haven't formed an opinion yet on peak oil. It's an important non-renewable resource that is being consumed at a rapid clip. Logic says that it has to run out.

Peak Oil is a rate argument, not a total reserve/running out argument.

For example, the tar sands of Alberta have immense reserves (not enough to run the entire world on for long, but big) but the infrastructure required to build it out takes time and LOTS of money and cannot go faster than it was up till last 2008.

Best hope, 4 million b/day by 2020, up ~2.5 million b/day from today (from memory). About a third of that growth will go to offset drops in Canadian conventional oil production.

The world will be producing oil (absent collapse) a century from now. But we have been bouncing along at peak production for five years now. Higher prices are stringing out the plateau a bit.

ELM (Export Land Model) makes the case even worse for oil importers. Saudi Arabia may produce more oil (major issues & uncertainty there) but rising internal demand can result in cuts in exports as production increases. True for every oil exporter.


Peak Oil is primarily a liquid fuel problem. Nuclear reactors don't necessarily run vehicles, there are serious issues with procuring battery materials in large enough quantities to do so.

Right now the Chevy Volt gas/electric advertises 230mpg city. I expect to see that number climb dramatically into the future. A lot of money is flowing into battery research, and it is paying off. Dow recently announced a new production factory to be built in Midland for making lithium-ion-polymer batteries for cars.

It's still early in the game.

Lithium availability has been discussed in depth on TOD, lithium is generally found in diffused deposits and is limited by the rate it can be extracted. A mass build out of EVs would not be easy.

It is quite late, seriously late, in the "game". Like the top of the 8th inning, with two out.

By 2012, surplus oil production may have disappeared. As early as 2015, there may be a production shortfall of 10 million barrels/day.

-- JOE2010 report, the annual threat assessment by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff

Our auto fleet takes 17 years to turn over. From memory, GM will produce only 100,000 Chevy Volts in the first two years. With about 200 million cars, trucks and SUVs in the USA, that is not even a drop in the bucket.

We can get MANY more than 100,000 people to bicycle to work in the next two years if we make it safer and easier to do so. Bicyclists get better mileage than Chevy Volts.

And just switching to electric cars still preserves the energy consumption of Suburbia.

Just a taste,


Great article by Heinberg - thanks for posting it Gail.

As much as this analysis is in my opinion on the money, and in spite of the consequences of post peak oil, we still have to deal with the here and now. Meaning politically it's still a battle to get the right to understand the need to move on to renewables. My thought is the next Prez election will pit Obama with his quest for the U.S. to convert as much as possible on many fronts, the opposition will be much the same as during Reagen's time of FF forever.

I'm not saying our future pivots on that outcome, because post peak oil will be a force regardless of the country's direction. However, it will be the same kind of prez election as when Carter ran against Reagen. The old guard of more of the same old stuff ad infinitum vs. the push for renewables. On the surface it seems like a silly choice to be arguing about, especially by the time 2012 is here, however, the argument will be fought.

One saying we need to drill everywhere including the Arctic, forget about wind and solar, stick with coal and NG because there is no such thing as GW, and Obama will be trying to get us away from importing so much oil and pushing for more renewables to avoid the ravages of GW. Should make for some very interesting debates.

Whenever I read "not enough money" I's fiat money, just print more and GIVE it to those who need it. While we're at it, let's pay everyone's rent and mortgage too.


The world does not have to be "this way".