Belief Systems at a Turning Point - Thread 2

Because of the large number of comments, this is a new copy of this post.

It seems to me with the BP Horizon Blowout, we may be hitting a turning point in belief systems, in more than one way:

• Can businesses really be expected to regulate themselves, with minimal oversight?

• Can technology solve all our problems?

• If there are technological solutions, can they be expected immediately?

• Can we really depend on the oil supply that everyone has told us is here?

1. Can businesses really be expected to regulate themselves, with minimal oversight?

Once upon a time, back in the pre-Reagan era, capitalism and profits didn't seem to have quite the emphasis they have today in the the way the country functioned.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country," and people took him seriously. Lyndon B. Johnson in the 1963 to 1969 period was responsible for designing the "Great Society" legislation that included laws that upheld civil rights, Public Broadcasting, Medicare, Medicaid, environmental protection, aid to education, and his "War on Poverty."

But by 1980, the country had been through a lot of hard times, with the decline in US oil supply starting in 1970, Nixon canceling the convertibility of dollar to gold in 1971, real wages starting to decline in 1973, and the oil price shock of 1973-1974.

Ronald Reagan was elected as US president in 1980. He was known policies that much more oriented toward laisse faire capitalism, including trickle down economics, reduced taxes, getting tough on labor unions, and deregulation of businesses.

The BP Deepwater Horizon blowout and what appears to be questionable internal decisions, makes one wonder about whether this deregulation really makes sense. There were hints that deregulation might be a problem before--with Enron's manipulation of energy markets and creative accounting, discovered in 2001, followed by all of the bank bailouts in 2008 and 2009.

Now, when one hears all the detailed allegations made in the BP incident, one wonders whether our faith in deregulation might be misplaced. One wonders too, what other problems lurk around the corner, in other deregulated industries. We recently experienced a major coal mine explosion. Might there be other problems, lurking in, say, the electrical industry, or the unconventional natural gas industry?

2. Can technology solve our all our problems?

Many individuals and groups, from Scientific American magazine, to school systems, to Energy Secretary Chu would seem to be telling us that technology can solve all of our problems.

And we have seen an endless array of new fancy gadgets over the years, starting with calculators, then computers, electric copying machines, the Internet, portable phones, and all kinds of devices to play music and send messages. These all seem to suggest that technology can do marvelous things.

Now, we are confronted with what should be not too difficult a problem--cutting off the oil flow from a well--and we find it is difficult to do. Perhaps the Deepwater Horizon blowout is an event that should get us to rethink our assumptions a bit.

3. If there are technological solutions, can they be expected immediately?

As we sit an wait for months for relief wells to be drilled, and weeks for additional ships to be brought in, the idea that even when we do have solutions, they take time sets in.

Earlier this week, Nate posted an article by Dr. Cutler Cleveland about energy transitions. It included this graph:

Composition of U.S. energy use. (Source: Cutler Cleveland)

While wood represented over 90% of energy use in 1800, it took over 100 years to get down to 10% of energy use. Coal was the chief fuel for a fairly short period of time, but took 50 years (from about 1920 to 1970) to drop from its high point to its low point, as oil started substituting for its use. Now we are in an era of oil, gas, and "electricity". One can talk about going to electric cars, but if governments are too poor to subsidize the costs on a mass basis, and other cars have little trade in value, how many of us are going to be able to afford them? How long can such an energy transition realistically be expected to take?

Is a transition to different energy sources really going to need to take 50 years or more?

4. Can we really depend on the oil supply that everyone has told us is available?

I think this question is one that not just Oil Drum readers, but the general public, is beginning to think about. Drilling in the Gulf of Mexico seemed like a fairly secure source, and suddenly we have been disillusioned. The reserves of oil companies and of the USGS depend on resources like this. But now those resources don't seem so secure. What if we with the additional costs of the new safety systems, the wells are really too expensive to drill? Or maybe they already were borderline too expensive, and this just makes the problem more clear.

Besides deep water in the Gulf of Mexico, there are other deep water oil supplies that looked to be next in line for drilling in the next few years. Brazil has made a number of claims regarding deep water discoveries, and last October, at the Association for Peak Oil USA conference, Dr. Marcio Mello made a claim that possibly a half a trillion barrels of oil could be extracted from sub-salt area, from areas around the world (not just Brazil) that are not currently included in reserves.

Another area that seems to be in line next is the arctic, but we hear that Norway has cut off new deep water drilling, until the investigation by the US into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon blowout is complete.

We are running short of places to drill. If the areas that seemed to be promising no longer look quite as promising, then where does that leave us?


1. How have the recent events affected your beliefs?

2. Are there ways we can gradually shift beliefs toward some more helpful belief systems? For example, if there is going to be less, an attitude of sharing what we have might be helpful. Income Inequality in the US is very high. Is there a way we can even out this inequality, so that the resources we have could be shared better?

3. What opportunities do you see from the recent events?

I just wonder how much of this is made from oil. I picked my deodorant today.

The container is made of HDPE.

OK I'll get started. According to a search of mine Dipropylene Glycol is derived from Benzoic acid. Benzoic acid comes from benzoic gum, a derivative a clay. Seems dirt is the first item.

Sodium Stearate - Animal fat.

Poloaximine 1307 - OIL

My research indicates that dipropylene glycol (as well as propylene glycol and other polypropylene glycols) is produced from propylene oxide, which comes from propylene.

Propylene, also known as propene, is produced from oil, natural gas, and to a small extent coal. It's a byproduct of cracking the hydrocarbons.

It's best not to question these things. We're just lucky to live in a country where they let us purchase the same technology as used by the military and space agencies "to fight odor in their top performance apparel." (Apply to underarms only.)

Note also the taking of a high concentration resource (silver) and the re-distribution of that into the waste water system at a low rate.

There are great alternatives to these commercial deodorants -- for instance, Google "baking soda deodorant" and you'll find a host of web pages to show you many very simple ways to make and use baking soda-based deodorants. Much better all around, for everyone. Me, I'm concerned about "Peak Baking Soda"! Maybe we could convert some of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere to NaHCO3.

Who is HSI?

Taken on Gulf Shores Beach today around 4pm.

Hey TinFoilHatGuy! Thanks for posting those first-hand pictures of the Alabama shoreline... as well as your waitresses from lunch that day, haha!

As for "HSI", according to, "Analytic Services Inc. operates the Homeland Security studies and analysis Institute (HSsaI) (formerly the Homeland Security Institute or HSI) as an FFRDC for DHS under contract HSHQDC-09-D-00003."

Which raises another question/concern... in looking at their "objectives" and "transition to the future" on their website, has Homeland Security seriously outsourced this stuff ("Risk Analysis", "Operations Analysis", "Threat Analysis", "Systems Analysis", etc.) to a private contractor? Isn't there some stuff we still do ourselves? Seriously?!?

And, as always, sharp eye catching that TinFoilHatGuy!

Did you see my cleanup crew photos? This stuff is really making me think I need to put a couple of more layers on my hat. I think those CIA signals are making it through.

From bucket album =

Please check it out all. I think I leveraged a web job with site visits and I will not have to move from the area. It will allow me to keep reporting to all of you.

as a person with little insight with regards to outsourcing fundamental govt works or govt affairs in particular.....but an admitted dis-trust of anything for profit working towards homeland affairs or cop work or such ....

how does homeland justify privatizing social or governmental is an environmental/social event quantifiable in=terms of risk it a utilitarian risk analysis at that point ??? how is that quantified interms of dollars ???

appreciate anybody's thoughts who can weigh in here technically hopefully or some insight in how the horse is saddled here...

Typically, government agencies use cost-benefit analysis. You are correct that this approach can be traced back to Jeremy Bentham and his formulation of utilitarianism. Unfortunately, utilitarianism and
also cost-benefit analysis have serious limitations. If I tried to enumerate and explain these limitations my comment would reach at least 2,000 words and that is too much. Hence I suggest you go to our old pal, Google.

In regard to hiring contractors from the private sector, these actions are justified on the grounds of efficiency and lowering costs. My conjecture is that a lot of this hiring from the private sector is done because the agency's budget rigidly allows only a certain number of government employees, whereas the hiring of outside contractors may be more flexible.

Contractors for mopping oil, yes. Contractors for risk analysis, I don't think so. Risk analysis is an ongoing task; it's impossible to beat the stupid, the best we can hope is to keep up.

I agree with you, but note that it would cost a government agency a great deal of money to hire a top risk analyst, whereas it is much cheaper to contract out on an "as needed" basis.

Budgets rule bureaucracies.

Hi [waves] I'm new here but spent a few decades working in environmental geology as a private consultant.

Risk analysis is commonly outsourced to private consulting firms who have teams of hydrogeologists, geochemists, toxicologists, engineers, regulatory specialists and etc. who do the work. Regulatory agencies have strict guidelines (including laws, statutes, licensing and more) that have to be met to do this work. Contrary to popular belief, we don't just pull it out of our drill holes.

But then there's this trend, for the "outside contractors" to become a permanent appendage of the bureaucracy. They are then essentially a government agency but without accountability or oversight (which have been in short supply for quite some time now).

News came out earlier in the weekend that officials in Florida and Louisiana had requested BP set up an escrow account to pay for various costs and damages stemming from this incident.

Numerous newspapers are reporting President Obama is now reacting to these requests and will in fact demand that BP set up such an account (link from the New-Orleans Times-Picayune, one of many now appearing):

Around 1962 I read Ayn Rand's book "Anthem". For about a month or two I had everything figured out and was looking forward to being a truly free, authentic human battling totalitarianism. I was 14. Not long after I stumbled onto "The Jungle". Gave me a different perspective on how things can go in the commercial markets. Next came assassinations, the Vietnam War....and on and on. Along the way I got the picture that business is about making money and not much else. It has nothing to do with trying to provide a livable planet for our children or grand children or those of anyone else. This does not make it evil, it just makes it outside the realm of morality. So yeah I am quite ready to see a force emerge that can counter balance the power of corporate money in today's world. Seems logical that government would take on this role in a democracy where the government is supposed to be the people. We may need a little fine tuning on our funding of elections and how we select candidates and of course the Supreme Court has become a cancerous entity...but I am more than ready for some change. The disaster in the Gulf of Mexico will hopefully bring this into focus for lots of people. We shall see.

I got the picture that business is about making money and not much else. [After reading: Ayn Rand's book "Anthem", Sinclair's "The Jungle" ...

Money ($$$) is just one of many ways that social position is determined.

Recently I finished Ken Follet's book, "Pillars of the Earth" (soon appearing as a mini-series on your Showtime cable TV channel).

"Pillars of the Earth" is a semi-fictional rendition of how a large cathedral was built in Medieval England.

Much akin to how the belief was that he who builds the largest Stonehead on Easter Island wins the favor of the gods, Follet's fictionalized portrayal of Medieval England is premised on the idea that he who builds the largest Cathedral (Kingsbridge) on British Island wins the favor of God.

The building of a giant Cathedral does not of course directly improve the lives of those who sweat away their lives in devotion to Church and King, however, accidental new technologies and new social orders emerge from the enterprise.

One moral of Follet's "Pillars of the Earth" might be that belief systems, even if based on false ideas, might still lead to good outcomes.

That belief itself may be a self-deluding one. Big headedness on Easter Island did not win the day.

I'd like to address the points one by one:

1) Regulation is useless unless ACTED upon. You specifically mentioned the bank bailouts, but neglected to mention the fact that the SEC and others were NOT ALLOWED to deal with Fannie and Freddie, which were the REAL culprits in the meltdown. Do the math, they represented over $6 Trillion in bogus debt, and when certain members of Congress tried to do something about it they were held back. It started here (note the date)

followed by this:

Politicians in bed with the very companies (GSE's in this case) they were supposed to regulate. This article really says it all:

2) Technology needs energy to run. Technology needs energy to get developed in the first place. Technology needs capital, and a fierce regulatory environment is certain to dry up that capital. Admire Silicon Valley? Take away the VC's and you've got nothing but prune orchards. Current regulations in Congress are specifically geared to destroy VC's. No VC's no innovation, no innovation, no miracles like your cell phones and the very computers you're reading this on.

3) The item missing from the graph is whale oil. Once the price got too high, the market (that evil thing) allowed for an alternative. Therefore we got mineral oil, which saved countless whales.

4) This single well according to multiple posts here seems to be one of the biggest finds of all time. How is that? One of the reasons BP might be so worried about things downhole is they have access to the geophysics data
they know how big the "void" was down there that got them interested in drilling there in the first place. Had they not screwed up royally (and there is NO doubt about that), had they properly cemented and plugged the well
they'd be harvesting 20K bbls per day for years instead of watching it destroy their market cap. They could have put dozens of wells in that field, ALL of them producing like this single well should have produced.
Just ONE formation. Now of course they've caused that formation and others like it to be off limits, possibly forever.

There are other articles on this site about net energy. As long as a bbl of oil contains 6 million BTU's of highly portable energy, oil will be a DIFFICULT energy source to replace. There might be dilithium crystals out there
someplace, but I'm not holding my breath.

I find it interesting how poles apart you and I perceive the world. May I respond in the same order to your statements here, one by one?

1.) First off, yeah; unenforced regulations are kinda stupid. But Fannie and Freddie were not the sole culprits for the meltdown. Creating collateralized debt Obligations (where investment bankers bet against their own clients) were more at fault. Deregulation of banks (allowing them to become investment bankers so that they could use their depositors' money in riskier ways - like making subprime loans) were more at fault. Fannie & Freddie mostly were involved in the secondary market: after banks made very risky and indiscriminate loans, Fannie & Freddie bought the junk loans from them.

2.) Second, would VCs really disappear if there was no OIL (that's what you really meant when you said "energy," isn't it?)?


If you were to ask a very wise VC who knows his business (like - say, Vinod Khosla), whether he'd abandon investment in new tech; he'd say "Heck no! This is when new ideas get interesting and creative."

3.) Did mankind move straight through whale oil, to mineral oil; then to the type of oil found in Macondo? This is news to me.

4.) Yeah; there is lots of oil there in Macondo. But p'haps we really need to consider more carefully the costs - other than mere drilling costs - of sucking oil out from a mile under the surface of the ocean.

Just my opinion. I could be wrong...

"But p'haps we really need to consider more carefully the costs"

We needed to consider the costs 40 years ago. The problems of cost have become predicaments and the "costs" don't give a damn about "we".

The majority's thinking is still in BAU mode, obsolete, and becoming less valid with each day. Life as they know it, as they expect it, will not continue. Our choices will be extremely limited; totalitarianism, localization or anarchy.

Or totalitarism with varying degrees of localization.


I didn't say Fannie and Freddie were the SOLE culprits, putting words in my mouth and then strawman arguing them isn't a good technique. They were the MAJOR culprits, by simple math. The reason CDO's were invented in the first place was because your neighborhood bank didn't want to carry the liability of holding subprime mortgages they were forced to grant by the CRA regulations, vigorously enforced by the Clinton administration for the first time. Reread (assuming you ever actually read it in the first place) the article I linked for you. The "meltdown" occurred because banks didn't trust OTHER banks' balance sheets. They didn't trust the other guys' balance sheets because they KNEW about the garbage on their OWN balance sheet.

2) I said TECHNOLOGY and I MEANT technology! Again you put words in my mouth because you can't defeat the words on the page. Again you create a useless strawman argument. Keep it up and we can drop the Zel from your name. Unlike you, I KNOW Vinod Khosla, I've presented on Sand Hill Road to major VC's multiple times. Sure, these guys are billionaires and won't go broke because of this legislation. What they WILL do however is go home to their mansions and yachts and examine their belly buttons instead of staying engaged in developing companies and TECHNOLOGY. Reread Gail's article, reread my post and stop pretending I said things I didn't so you can pretend to disagree with them.

3)The type of oil found by BC is CALLED mineral oil, not to be confused with that stuff you have in your medicine cabinet, which is merely refined mineral oil, as in the oil found in the ground there with the minerals, versus the kind found in the fat cells of large mammals. It is not my job to educate you, but I can see the public school system has another proud example in you.

4) BP was cutting costs because their compensation structure directly rewards (or punishes) executives based on the profits from their activity. So what we have here are middle managers who want to make the big bonus, sweating that the job they'd budgeted to take 35 days was stretching into a 3rd month, at $1Million per day. Those guys were worried about their bonuses, so those guys decided to start cutting corners. The system could have taken one or two corners cut, but 6-10 too many corners turned that square into a circle. The single most criminal act was off-loading the drilling mud onto a support ship, 100' below the platform (combining what should have been 3 operations into one to save about 12 hours). When the well kicked, the only way to save it was to get that drilling mud back UP to the platform and down the hole. Physics said no, physics won, we all lost.

Was Tony Hayword personally responsible for all this mess? Not directly, it was actually his predecessor who implemented the reward metrics to encourage "intrapreneurial" risk taking. The reason was BP had determined that its corporate culture didn't allow for the kind of wildcatter attitude that made people who quit BP and struck out on their own millionaires. They still didn't do it right, Exxon does it far better, managing people and projects more intelligently and more profitably besides without cutting corners or needing to.

I'm only going to speak to point 1) in that CRA is as much a right wing scapegoat as Freddie & Fannie. From the following link: the CRA has been around since 1977. If they were so directly the cause of bubbles why didn't we get bubbly cork popping earlier? They didn't because the CRA regulations enforced tighter lending standards until they were eased in 2005 (under Bush).

CRA's don't force banks to lend. Banks lend because they calculate a profit motive. Once CDO's were established and Banks (and other mortgage originators) could sell their loans at a profit, virtually risk free, they went nuts developing new ways to generate this "free" loan originate & transfer income.

it is hard to blame CRA for the mortgage meltdown when CRA doesn't even apply to most of the loans that are behind it. As the University of Michigan's Michael Barr points out, half of sub-prime loans came from those mortgage companies beyond the reach of CRA. A further 25 to 30 percent came from bank subsidiaries and affiliates, which come under CRA to varying degrees but not as fully as banks themselves. (With affiliates, banks can choose whether to count the loans.) Perhaps one in four sub-prime loans were made by the institutions fully governed by CRA. (link:

Given the limited 25-50% CRA involvement, it joins another of the many rather limited "welfare state" contributions the RW wishes to assign as sole cause of the bubble. (Okay, you didn't say sole, you just trotted it out as number two behind freddie and fannie.) Once again, it's the CDO risk removal mechanism with built in profit without transparency and beholden rating agencies that keeps popping up as a prime mover for bubble growth.

As someone who read a lot of blogs, when someone acts pithy and childish when another person picks apart what they said, I usually tend to discount whatever they said before as worthless. And for your sake I don't think I'm the only one.

Interesting take. In an attempt to interject a spirit of discourse other than wielding a hammer, I often attempt to write lightly where I can. Pithy actually might be a good description of what I set out to accomplish, but for my writing to be interpreted as childish was a surprise.

In a world of communication separated from the feedback of body language, choice of language and nuance carries extra import. I had hoped to have the nuance of, "Look dude, that's not entirely true, let me show you how.", rather than, "Your're wrong!" I don't expect to change that I will write with what I hope is a light-touch nuanced style but I'll keep your critique in mind as I edit my writings prior to posting.


I think that Autonomous' comment is directed at widelyred, not you.

If 4) is true then I can not get my head around the fact that BP "apparently" wanted to do this one the cheap way. Something in their office culture of doing things has been rotting with time. You drill the deepest, most dangerous well and then cut cost. I Simply Do Not Get It :-(

I have a quesion from the last thread. Dirk posted: there are more trees in the US than any time in history. Now, I know that there are more trees in my area now as opposed to, say, 100 years ago when much of our timber was logged out. But "any time in history"?

This comes up quite regularly in places I read, and the more accurate statement is "we have more trees now than we have at any time in history when we have or had records".

People have forgotten that trees grow, live for a while, and then die. And, for some reason, they think that cutting them all in Canada is better than cutting them here. The Canadians aren't predicting running out any time soon, nor are we in any danger of it either, but for some reason, employed loggers, truck drivers, lumber mill employees, etc, in the US is a bad thing, but employing them in Canada is just fine. Go figure.

People have forgotten that trees grow, live for a while, and then die.

Right, that's what people have forgotten, not that trees are a fundamental part of a larger ecosystem far more complex than the life cycle of individual trees. Got it.

yeah, just like carrots and broccoli are a fundamental part of a larger ecosystem far more complex than the lifecyle of an individual vegetable.

Do you mean the domesticated versions that we know today? As Seven Trees pointed out below with respect to trees, the same is true for the domesticated vegetables we consume: they displace the ecosystem that was there when we came along and "civilized" it.

No, I'm just poking gentle fun at someone for a relatively pointless argument. Since when did trees become holy, that it is somehow evil to cultivate them? To grow productive forests instead of "just letting them do whatever they want to do"? It never did. And the "it's not natural" argument holds zilch for concern to me, because it appears to be some kind of religion, not anything practical being objected to.

I don't find any willing volunteers to return the entire midwest to prairie grass and then starve, but for some reason, they find it perfectly acceptable to cut the trees down in Canada, but have a hissy about doing the same thing here in the US.

I see endless rants about monoculture douglas fir in western Washington, for instance ( been there, live nearby, actually), but nobody insists that 5000 acres of wheat or corn is vastly too large of a monoculture farm. No, that would bring about hunger, and they're not willing to risk that... the only thing they're willing to risk is harm to OTHER people, not themselves.

"I see endless rants about monoculture douglas fir in western Washington, for instance ( been there, live nearby, actually), but nobody insists that 5000 acres of wheat or corn is vastly too large of a monoculture farm."


But as agricultural modernization progressed, the ecology-farming linkage was often broken as ecological principles were ignored and/or overridden. In fact, several agricultural scientists have arrived at a general consensus that modern agriculture confronts an environmental crisis. A growing number of people have become concerned about the long-term sustainability of existing food production systems. Evidence has accumulated showing that whereas the present capital- and technology-intensive farming systems have been extremely productive and competitive, they also bring a variety of economic, environmental and social problems (2) .

Evidence also shows that the very nature of the agricultural structure and prevailing policies have led to this environmental crisis by favoring large farm size, specialized production, crop monocultures and mechanization. Today as more and more farmers are integrated into international economies, imperatives to diversity disappear and monocultures are rewarded by economies of scale. In turn, lack of rotations and diversification take away key self-regulating mechanisms, turning monocultures into highly vulnerable agroecosystems dependent on high chemical inputs.

The expansion of monocultures.......

The longterm environmental and economic impacts of foisting monoculture upon environmental systems are well documented. There's plenty more, if you care:

geezer, I wish you would base your arguments on something.

A couple things..........I live in an small agricultural area (around 500 sq miles) that is surrounded by forest in Northern Lower Michigan. I can say with 100% accuracy that the farmers, in this area at least, are very concerned and take great pain to conserve their main resource. That being the land itself. To a man, they realize that good stewardship of the soil is paramount to their success and none of them are out to drain it dry and abandon it. Many of the farms are over a century in age with the same family and are not the "corporate" type.

In addition, regarding old growth timber comments above, anyone who has actually spent time in the woods is keenly aware of the fact that animal and plant diversity and quantity is much more prevalent in new or young forests than in an old growth area. New growth attracts and holds a much greater number of species and provides far higher forage base for them than does a like sized area of old growth. Don't give me the sob story about the old growth forests harboring more plant and animal life because it is not true. I'll be the first to admit that walking through Sequoia Ntl Park last year was awe inspiring but I was amazed at how little variation there was in plant life there compared to a woods back here in Michigan. Give me a nice mix of woods ranging from new to 80 years old and I'll show you some real bio-diversity.

More small trees, fewer big ones.

Total # larger. One giant sitka spruce, redwood or chestnut takes up the space for a half dozen to a dozen 50 y/o trees.


Ah, so. Perhaps that makes more sense. We have a substantial timber industry here; lots of land which once was clear-cut is back in forests now.

And it should be noted that a tree farm is nothing like a forest.

He needs to come out my way, where trees were 300ft tall and 20ft diameter at the base. Millions of acres like that. The native people here lived in such bounty they were the first "fat" indians some of the first whites in the area had ever seen. And they had so much plenty they had time to create amazing art and traditions.
Those trees were the backbone of an ecosystem that was sustainable. Trees, salmon, deer, shellfish, wild plants....

Whites just saw board feet and cut the giants down. Maybe we have more shitty plantation trees now, but we don't have an ecosystem. Just another sick monocrop that people see from the freeway as they drive through and they think there's nothing to worry about because they see cloned, farmed spindly trees.

Who needs to "come out your way"? The indians never used the trees signficantly. And millions of acres of "old growth" is, in most places, the setting in which a monster wildfire is going to take place.

Fire is something that has happened in forests long before man showed up, Lightening being the key to that.

Most trees over 500 years old have seen some fire damage to them, but being bigger and more able to take a little damage and in some cases very little damage to them even took place. The scrub was what burned.

There are very few places left on earth that can be considered Old growth forest. But before 1492 much of North america was filled with Old growth forest. It looked like teasure Island to Europeans, something to exploit, chop down and ship off, making a profit on ALL this FREE stuff.

Most of Arkansas was not filled with Pine trees. I don't think there is more than a handful of old trees left in the state, most Old trees are under 300 years old.

Just beacuse I am not using the tree for making houses out of it, does not mean I am not getting something out of the tree. Habitat is something that takes time to build up, soils take time to build up, if you are only using the non-made systems to build them.

I would love to have been around before columbus showed up, with a camera to video tape the place to show people what all they are now missing.

Man has done more to damage his nest than most people even get.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.
Hugs from forty-second growth Arkansas.

I think you'd be seriously disappointed, as it wasn't all that wonderful. Maybe you're one of these people who gets an emotional high from "untouched land" as in, never traversed by white people, but other than that, I just don't see the virtue here.

"I think you'd be seriously disappointed, as it wasn't all that wonderful.

Geezer, you must be a really, "reallyoldgeezer" (unless you're one of those past lives people, reincarnation and all that). Otherwise, how would you know. I'm actually going to give a qualified opinion of how things were, since I've been to one of the few remaining pre-Columbian forests in the US (Joyce Kilmer) several times; It actually was (and is) "that wonderful".

I keep expecting you to declare that you are Ponce de Leon and found the fountain of youth.

If you were around before columbus showed up you could videotape the wonderful gardens and ponds you could build- and then videotape other tribes attacking you to take it over. If they were from Cahokia then perhaps they'd sacrifice a few women and their children in celebration, burying some of them alive.

Private property rights allow people to improve things because they have incentive to enjoy the spoils instead of getting attacked by someone else who wants it.

Since we have all the houses we'll ever need and paper is going obsolete thanks to the internet, more of the wood from those tree farms can be exported to build houses with electricity instead of mud huts with dung stoves. I think the people who own the land and plant and harvest the trees should be rewarded for that, not attacked by others who want control...

This is a load of oft repeated libertarian drivel that is simply false. Sure, the Timber industry, and those who would accept their claims uncontested, will state this, but they won't state that 95% of our native forests are gone and everything in them gone or going. Furthermore, even if true, we need to examine the premises of propaganda under which it is true: (1) the insane premise that a 10 inch seedling is the same as a 2000 year old tree; and (2) that a monocrop of Douglas Firs designed to be cut on a 50 year rotation (long before that section of "forest" could be considered adolescent) is the same as a healthy forest.

To claim that there are more trees today than 70 years ago, and that deforestation is not a threat that the Timber companies have mitigated, and to even imply that a tree farm on a 50 year rotation even remotely resembles a living forest is either extraordinarily and willfully ignorant, or intentionally deceitful. Either way, those who make such statements are unfit to make forestry decisions. Those who try to slide those premises past us don't even deserve a seat at the table, because if they aren't trying to manipulate us, they have already been had.

There's few places that truly have any "old growth". Much of the Northwest burned down in the late 1800's and early 1900's, and not by reason of anything man did or didn't do. Vast areas are nothing more than the small, shortlived trees which re-cover the ground post-fire, and are now actually past thier lifepans. These SHOULD be removed.

For those of you who want to "preserve" them (areas of old growth), I'm perfectly amenable. Just explain how many acres or square miles are enough, we'll set about figuring where those are and which ones they are, and then we're done. And the question need never come up again. Oh, and while we're at it, please be equitable, making sure we set aside appropriate percentages in every state and region. Frankly, I'd like to see NYC and Washington DC get fully revegetated. It would clean up an aweful lot of pollution.

It might be instructive to read some literature on trees. Permaculture books often do them justice, such as Gaia's Garden by Toby Hemenway, which describes a day in the life of an old oak tree. Trees have multiple roles to play and provide many habitat functions.

Trees were, and are, a major feature of our evolution and lives. Just because you don't think you can "use" a tree that has been left untouched in a remote corner of your nation doesn't mean that it isn't affecting you, or someone you know, in some way.

I would like to comment on the earlier posting about Florida and it's belief it was safe. Florida is dependent on the automobile for transport. Public transportation is a joke. What do they think powers their air conditioning and runs their boats. We should all remember that just because we cannot see an oil well from our window does not mean we are not dependent on it for our way of life. We must change this before we destroy our habitat and our standard of living.

Liz - I took a picture of my deodorant and I think a non-petroleum product may be possible. Check out the window above and let me know what you think. Thanks.

I would like to comment on the earlier posting about Florida and it's belief it was safe. Florida is dependent on the automobile for transport. Public car transportation is a joke. What do they think powers their air conditioning and runs their boats. We should all remember that just because we cannot see an oil well from our window does not mean we are not dependent on it for our way of life. We must change this before we destroy our habitat and our standard of living.

Couldn't agree more.

I was talking to a bridge student of mine who has relations in Florida saying it was 100F+ and humid and thank God for aircon. It made me wonder how many Floridians is gonna be in deep s**t once the price of oil climbs so high the aircon might just need to take a back seat to the refridgerator or the lights.

You teach people how to play bridge???

Modest proposal, which is to look hard at our "problems", and decide how many of them are merely a product of years of marketing. As far as changes in belief systems go, in recent years I've decided that most people's allegedly "logical thought" is bent to the task of justifying what they already believe, or have been convinced to believe (and presumably, this is also true of me). But, if you look at what we have been sold over the years, and how it has changed, you can see that there's plenty of bias towards energy-intensive things.

Several ways that we over-consume energy come to mind:

1) Our diet. We could eat a lot less beef and pork, which are produced with corn, fertilizer, and natural gas. Ag runoff in turn creates its own dead zone in the Mississippi. The GHG impact is extra large, because of CH4 from manure and NO2 from fertilizer, but the energy consumed is non-trivial.

But, how do we regard vegetarians? Those are not real Americans, are they? They're trouble makers, making it harder to plan dinners and BBQs. And would real men only eat poultry? I mean, look at the words, "chicken", and "turkey", that pretty much says it, doesn't it?

2) The cars we drive. I learned to drive in a 45HP 2000 lb car (Saab 96, 2-stroke, filthy but fun). Try to buy anything that size today. The safety systems don't weigh that much, and it was a relatively safe car (my brother crash-tested two of them).

Who would drive an underpowered small car? Do you associate that with "patriot" or with "loser"?

3) That we drive so much. 1/3 of our population lives in areas as dense as towns in the Netherlands, where they have 40% bicycle ride shares. Doesn't work for everyone, but it could work for many. Somehow, as a population we've become convinced that stuff I do every day on my bike, is simply not possible (it's a big bike, with fenders, and lights, and fat tires, and snow tires in the winter, and lots of room for cargo and even a passenger. And I am 50, and not exactly svelte. All I needed to do this was the knowledge that it was possible, and a bad attitude to get me started.)

But seriously, if someone had to be someplace in a hurry, and took their bike instead of a car, would you think that they were sincere about getting there? What if they were hit in a crash? What would their family do? (Does any of this sound familiar? Did you know that, counting the benefits of exercise, it is 10x more dangerous not to bike, than it is to bike? Car companies don't mention this in their advertising when they talk about "safety", but cardiovascular disease kills a heck of a lot of people.)

4) Our building codes. Still substandard, w.r.t. those in force in Northern Europe, as far as insulation and leak-stopping go.

And by and large, we support these inefficient ways because we've been convinced that they are necessary, despite ample evidence to the contrary. That little underpowered car? It did not suck, it was fun. My bike -- it's a blast, I blew out the hub earlier this week, and was surprisingly depressed when I had to drive places and screw around with parking. I love being able to shovel multiple wheelbarrows of compost without stopping or getting out of breath. And building codes -- a good bit of it is using slightly thicker walls, and good insulation. 2x6s are not that much more expensive than 2x4s, and you'll get a stronger and more comfortable house.

So, I would say, before we bust our asses looking for a technological fix for our "problems", we should see which of them we really need to solve. There's a cornucopia of low-hanging fruit in the form of painless conservation, and we are ignoring it because we've been convinced that it is impossible, weird, or just plain unAmerican. And many of these things, we do only because of market-driven social pressure. An awful lot of money is spent trying to direct the conversation towards things that will keep our current big businesses, big in the future.

Extremely sensible and modest post, dr2chase - but I suspect you'd STILL be considered un-American - let alone a chicken or a turkey ... at least in Australia our beef (and lamb) is nearly all grass fed out in the paddock - tastes much better than that grain-fed rubbish, I reckon.

Agreed on the grass-fed, and if we ate 90% less beef, maybe most of it could be grass fed. We had a cow, and a series of calves, when I was a kid. Takes a couple of acres, even in Florida, even where the grass grows year-round (and reliable milk takes feed with some protein in it). That's the other advantage of chickens; they can live in a suburban backyard, they can eat bugs and scraps, and what grain you do feed them, they convert more efficiently into meat.

In my opinion, grass-fed beef tastes much better than corn-fattened beef. And of course, the grass-fed beef is much lower in fat; thus it is much better for the health of your heart.

And of course, the grass-fed beef is much lower in fat; thus it is much better for the health of your heart.

[Reuters 1 June 2010]

It appears that the concentration of CLA fats in milk from grass-fed cows is superior for heart health as well.

This past week an article in the New York Times reported that even the Amish are failing to manage their farms without causing environmental damage - too much manure-laden run-off, poorly managed, is sullying the Chesapeake Bay. I'd like answer the question of what should be on my dinner plate not by thinking about what I'd like to eat, but instead by cultivating a self-sustaining, food-producing ecosystem on a piece of land, a system that puts animal wastes along with other materials to good use in raising and maintaining soil fertility. Three goals should be paramount - 1) building fertile, living soil, 2) preserving water quality, and 3) producing food. The number of animals living on a given piece of land should not exceed what is good for the entire system - not more, not less. Vegetarianism remains an option, but even omnivores will eat much less meat if we begin by honoring how nature works. We'll end up eating a diet that reflects Michael Pollan's advice: "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."

In my local area of Oz, I've noticed a tendency these days to labels a lot of meat "Grain Fed", as if that was some sort of health benefit.

Ag runoff in turn creates its own dead zone in the Mississippi.

Ag run off are a lesser concern these days.

Given some of the bacteria that eats oil needs to be anerobic to switch to oil-breakdown mode the ag runoff might help.

(I do not condone ag run off as that usually has topsoil removal)

I think you've exactly put your finger on part of the problem here, which has to do with "language" and how values are inherent in words and concepts. So that food choices and car choices, and might I add leisure activities (race cars, motorboats, all terrain vehicles, etc. etc. on land and water) are all too often associated with "virility" versus "wimpiness". And changing that is an important target. Changing certain "habits" from "admirable" to "unsocial" will take time and effort - and will likely come into conflict with corporations that want people to buy gas guzzling vehicles and toys.

Thanks for your thoughts!

All very well said! Being in the HVAC industry I have first hand experience with the "cost cutting" that goes on regarding new construction in both residential and commercial/industrial structures. The mantra I consistently hear from general contractors, architects and engineers is "how can we do this cheaper without cutting the gingerbread eye candy".....or something to that effect. You are absolutely correct in the statement that European and, yes, Canadian building codes are far superior to those of the US. The use of extremely efficient HVAC systems puts the USA to shame. it's no wonder at all that our per capita energy use is egregiously higher than the rest of the developed world.
In Northern Europe and Scandinavia a typical new home will have a heating load of less than 10 btu's per sq ft at design conditions and 5 btu's per sq ft is what they consider to be highly efficient. Nearly all of the homes I work in including new construction range from around 20 btu's/sq ft to as much as 30 in the McMansion type palaces. When a building is constructed properly it practically eliminates the need for expensive HVAC equipment such as GSHP's as the beginning footprint is so low the payback is beyond the life of the equipment. We could and can do so much more with so little effort that it sickens me to even contemplate it.

Can technology solve all of our problems?

No, but a nice little war and nation-building exercise can sure hit the lottery for some mining corporations:

Fascinating, Captain!

Will Paul Wolfowitz return from wherever he went to and tell the American people that "Afghanistan1 mineral wealth will pay for the entire war"?

Will all these metals be turned into SUVs, ostentatious skyscrapers, and midwife an even greater population increase than was going to happen anyway?

No wealthy nation has massive population growth. In fact, the more wealthy they are, the less they procreate. Most are barely breaking even, some are declining, with only influx growing the population.

The US is growing at 3 million people per year. Is it not a wealthy country?

One word: Immigration. Legal or otherwise, immigrants from poorer countries tend to have more children, whether they've already reproduced and are bringing their entire families along or have their children after arriving. Even sometimes the children have a lot of kids of their own if they spent their formative years elsewhere. And today the US is a rather low pick for a potential immigration destination for those in other wealthy nations, so it's mostly poorer countries we get them from. Meanwhile, the rare people who immigrate elsewhere from here usually have at most one child, and often none at all, so we're losing mostly low-breeders, and very small numbers of them at that. If you count only native-borns [no wiseass comments about Native Americans please], US population is declining very slightly.

And while the average wealth of US citizens is quite high, that average is strongly skewed by super-rich who reach heights not often seen elsewhere [the top 1% makes at least half a million per year, and often much more] - the more typical citizenry makes considerably less than their counterparts in other wealthy nations. If not for that our population would probably be declining even despite immigration.

Immigration is right. Especially when illegals can come here and take advantage of free health care, free schools and welfare payments based on the number of children they have. There is a reason California is about a year or two away from insolvency.

Citing a figure without reference to the overall population provides little context to the figure you cite.

That's less than 1% population growth per year. So, not "massive".

Note that at 1% growth the population doubles every seventy-two years. That is a lot of population growth in one lifetime.

By the way, TheraP, are you ready to be promoted to sophomore? Have you mastered ELM (Export Land Model) and ELP (Economize, Localize, Produce)? How many books have you read about Peak Oil? I recommend THE LONG DESCENT by John Michael Greer to everyone.

Absolutely, The Long Descent. Also check out his blog.

Just imagine if they find vast deposits of valuable minerals and maybe oil and gas, under the ice in Antarctica.

After spending some time in Barrow Alaska... And knowing that Barrow is balmy much of the year by comparison... What a harsh place to work...

We will.
As soon as the Ice is gone.

(How will grapes grow with 6 months of darkness? We might have to genetically modify them to store energy in tubers.)

Such wild eyed optimism.

Concerning belief turning points.
I intuit that all cognisance is driven deep down, where dark thoughts crawl. They erupt dreamlike in zombie movies,where desperate people drive around in their cars shooting dreadful things.
The mass mind is dreaming it's horror.
Freud and Jung would have a field day.

There is wealth there, alien space ships waiting for the taking, ala, the movies, and Sci-fi books, just you wait, you'll see. Where the stargate is hiding is just a step away from the places that Area 51 already knows about, but can't tell you yet.


My dad was mentioning about when the North Pole was finally Ice Free would it be the Russians or the USA there first drilling for oil? He was still debating it last time he said anything about it.

I hope everyone can see the uselessness of us needing to go to those kinds of extremes to get our energy fix. Have we gone so far off the deep end that we think that we can mine everywhere and not risk more damage? But then I think about how people think and what they don't know about the world around them, and most of them don't care much, unless they see the pretty pictures first.

I fell in love with Antarctica a long time ago, even before I got to spend some time in Iceland. All that snow just took my breath away. I am kinda the cold hound in my family, walking barefoot in the snow whenever it falls here in the southern states, and I have even done it in a Wyoming winter, and when it was -25 degrees.

Let us hope we can keep greedy hands off the place.

BioWebScape designs for a better fed and housed future.
Hugs for a hot arkansas.

Having received some very positive feedback from TOD, I'd like to repost a link to my Blog, where these and larger questions are handled with a ruthless and penetrating eye.

My belief is that we are at a multi-generational tipping point, a time where stark choices will either be made or be thrust upon us.

In the end, beyond corporate and social responsibility, the only one we are first (not only, but first) accountable t, is our self.

To dig deeper, please visit

Regards all around.

Interesting website.

Know Thyself is a dangerous proposition.

You may not like what you find at the end of your truth quest.

If you don't like it, maybe you aren't done questing.

Recent events have not affected my beliefs.
If we find more carbon, we will burn it.

This will make Gerrard O'Neil's islands seem sanity personified.

Think of the islands as insurance policy, just in case you are wrong about climate change.
O'Neil has done the business plan.

Packed with technical detail, O'Neill's plan is based on two assumptions - that the price of access to space would drop, and that the price of energy would rise.

Barry Haworth
Customer review of High Frontier

He tried to prove that it was not possible.
He could not.
That is science in action.

Belief systems at a turning point?
For myself (and doubtless some others here) this only reinforces the sceptical beliefs we already had.
For the vast majority of most sheepish people this is just a sideshow to the football world cup etc, and in a few months will no longer be news, and so forgotten about amidst all the ads for more cars to buy etc.
Which leaves a minority marginal between these two. In respect of them I see this as "Capitalism's Chernobyl".

Chernobyl was seen as an indictment of planned economy and its inability to be honest with people about what was actually happening. It probably contributed to the collapse of the USSR a few years later.

And yet we see here just the same failings, but compounded by the triumph of greed-driven risk-taking over safety, which did not appear to be a factor in the Chernobyl catastrophe.

There's also been the volcano affecting flights over Europe, showing that Nature still has the trump cards. And many thousands have now heard the civilised silence that had been stolen from them for decades, and they are not going to forget it in any hurry.

So I guess we will continue to forget anything that happens in our world no matter how horrific until there is no one left to forget anything at all?

There's also been the [Iceland] volcano affecting flights over Europe, showing that Nature still has the trump cards.


But your government officials are numerically in control because they are counting the fly ash (monitoring the situation).

Similarly in Gulf of Mexico, Obama is keeping tabs on the situation.


He is in control.

Or so our "belief systems" lead us to conclude.
(You can count on it.)

((I wonder when they will start "monitoring" the Peak Oil situation?))

First Questions:
1. Can businesses really be expected to regulate themselves, with minimal oversight?
Or, do people need to be controlled? It all depends on what your expectations are about other people. Humans survived as a species for millions of years with no formal set of written laws.

There are some that will voluntarily police themselves, most will go about their business without much consideration and may end up breaking the rules, and a few will actively try to skirt the system.

2. Can technology solve our all our problems?
Yes, it can. And it can create all of our problems as well. For example, the rating system that TOD used to have.

The rating, or voting, was a measure of opinion and also a type of technology. And oddly enough the membership and staff of TOD used a different kind of voting, and decided to abolish the voting system, since some of the brightest people on the Internet were all obviously not responsible enough to handle voting.

3. If there are technological solutions, can they be expected immediately?
Yes. Here is an immediately available technological solution which addresses nearly EVERY problem we face regarding peak oil, climate change, and resource depletion:

The main technologies involved here are computers, the Internet, electricity, video displays, and language. Language is a tool and technology that we regularly modify and refine, for instance, every time we begin a conversation with "let's agree upon some accepted definitions of key terms".

4. Can we really depend on the oil supply that everyone has told us is available?
There was a time when The Lone Ranger and Tonto were surrounded and outnumbered by Indians (they weren't called Native Americans back then). The Lone Ranger said, "Can we really expect to get out of here alive, Tonto?"

Tonto replied, "What you mean 'we', paleface?"

The point being that maybe who we think "we" is isn't "we".

Second Questions:
1. How have the recent events affected your beliefs?
I am having a lot more fun than I used to, and I waste less energy on hatred and butthurt. My motto is this: Don't get mad, get a bucket of popcorn and watch them fail. There's only so much anyone can do. Though I find myself drawn toward George Carlin's decision in his later years to "divorce myself from the human race".

2. Are there ways we can gradually shift beliefs toward some more helpful belief systems?
Yes. "Mastery", by George Leonard. And "The Brain That Changes Itself", by Dr. Norman Doidge.

I won't give away the whole ending, but one conclusion from Dr. Doidge in the Appendix is that "civilization will always be only one generation deep." Another is that the evidence shows that the brain has an effect on culture and society, and that culture and society have actual, detectable, measurable, physical effects on the human brain.

3. What opportunities do you see from the recent events?
Just about all the ones I saw before recent events and a few more. We're screwed and getting screweder. The field is wide open for improvement, and getting wider.

I strongly agree with you that TOD should bring back the old rating system. It used to save me a lot of time when a lot of down arrows would indicate invincible ignorance, trollish comments, and irrelevant ramblings. Also the up arrow would bring my immediate and close attention to newbies that had something especially cogent to say.

Please, please, bring back the rating system.

(By the way, the rating system helped me to improve the quality of my own comments.)

As long as the up arrows reflect more than stats and graphs. Clearly, there are many sides to TOD discussions and a scroll bar works pretty fast

Voting is just a means of self-selecting - most people would vote for comments supporting their own belief-system, even if they were poorly-constructed, non-fact-based, or biased.

A well-constructed, well-researched, factual opposing view, however accurate, could get a lot of "down" votes, if it impinged on people's belief-systems.

Dialogue is as much about dissent as it is about assent.

In my opinion, the rating system worked well. There were some abuses, but relatively few.

There's also an element of "group-think" about rating systems.

If one scans one's eyes down only the 5-star ratings one could miss something of real value that others only consider being 3-star rated.

Like, for example, viewing only the "Don't Miss" selections on the CNN website. What kind of world-view would one end up with doing that ?

When the rating system was in place it worked well. The problem you refer to is hypothetically possible, but in the real world it seldom was a drawback to the system. Those who made up and down ratings were by and large quite responsible. Those reading the arrows seldom missed anything good by avoiding comments that were downrated.

Well, while a lot of beliefs are at a turning point, there are good things happening in the Oil and Gas sector too. Did you know that there is a company in India that has innovated in their oil and gas drilling which led them to win an Innovation for India award by Marico Innovations Foundations!

I call that a huge turning point for this industry! They decided to explore for Oil and Gas in the east of India, where there had been no traces. If you want to read more about this, check out this slideshow.

Well, while a lot of beliefs are at a turning point, there are good things happening in the Oil and Gas sector too.

Sounds like a lot more of business as usual to me. I'll be more impressed when India starts to tackle population growth...and the push to do it, is initiated by a group of Harijans, and the Brahmins agree with them!

Drilling for oil and gas is a bit like giving offerings to:

KALI, she has three eyes, four arms, vampire fangs and is bloated with the blood of victims. She is awful, terrible and horrifying. However she does have some good points. We just don't know what they are at present.

Best hopes that more belief systems are relegated to the dustbin of irrational myths. Nice stories, but not very useful for moving into a viable future. To be clear, economic growth and it's supposed benefits is one such myth that we quickly need to discard.

Irrational myths?
I reckon she looks ok to me.
Us Aryans are different.
kali.jpg Goddess Kali image by shaktimind

11 skinless skulls and 3 skin-covered ones

but then again ... whose looking at that ?

More carbon to burn.

ta da..

2 Km's deep in the ocean.
There has got to be an award for that!

I am driven to distraction.

Belief systems don't change - by definition. Most people when confronted with the kind of evidence that would challenge their beliefs just retreat for a while so they can listen to their demagogues. Three or four days of listening to whatever excuse you require to keep believing usually does it. A few talking points later and whammo: back in your comfort zone. The internet might be a great blessing if you can transcend your beliefs (and truly, how many of us can?) but it's a curse for keeping any semblence of compromise possible.

Belief systems do change rapidly and drastically from time to time. For one example, look at the origin and rise of Islam. For a closer-to-home example, consider what happened after Pearl Harbor. Americans more or less willingly accepted a 35 mile per hour nationwide speed limit and a gasoline ration of three gallons a week. Why? Because of the threats from the Japanese and Germans.

Nothing quite like a declaration of war (World War II was the U.S.'s last declared war.) to mobilize people and change beliefs. But a new religion can also cause drastic changes in beliefs, though seldom to the same extent of what happened during and shortly after the life of Mahomet.

In the U.S., sooner or later we will have declarations of National Emergency. Also, I suspect that new religions are likely to emerge as a result of Peak Oil, perhaps within fifty years.

Those examples are attitude changes - not belief systems. The anti climate changers over at the Heartland Institute might change their attitudes (shift from outright denial, to not human caused, to human caused but not catastrophic) but the underlying belief that centralised intervention is immoral will never change.

The "drill, baby drill" camp have already moved on to blaming the regulators rather than the drillers (or the environmentalists,, or an apparently emotionless President) but their unshakeable belief in the limitless expanse of resources will never fade.

There's no way of convincing that mindset with direct confrontation, with facts, with rationalism or with unprecedented disasters. All the polar ice will disappear and Florida will be an Atlantis but they will still blame something, anything, other than the idea that their beliefs might be wrong and some liberal is right.

No, you are mistaken. Islam is a system of beliefs, norms, and values--a whole new culture when it originated. Furthermore, fundamental beliefs were shaken and changed during and after World War II. Indeed, World War II gave rise to the American myth of invincibility. Losing the Vietnam War shook this belief, but it is alive and well at the Pentagon and among many Republicans and more than a few Democrats--who keep harping on the achievements of FDR, the great wartime president.

Islam is a system of beliefs

Good point Don.

When a person is on the verge of "converting", say from Islam to Christianity or vise versa, then that person is at the tipping point.

We might ask, what events brought him to that tipping point?

Are we as a society also at a tipping point due to a series of recent events?

I don't think we are quite at the tipping point now. My guess is that it will come sometime around 2020 when declining oil production really starts to bite.

I think we are at the "beginning of doubt" point.

Call it the inflection point prior to de-suspension of disbelief.

In the past, old soothing sayings --this too shall pass-- were good enough.

When the economy turned downward, pundits would say, no worries --this too shall pass-- it's part of a natural V-shaped pattern. For every downhill there is an uphill that will surely follow.

When an unusual storm hit, pundits would say, no worries --this too shall pass-- it's one of those one-in-a-hundred year storms. Now that it is behind us we will definitely not see another for 100 years.

However, lately, people are not so quickly buying into that 'trust the pundits' belief system anymore.

a whole new culture when it originated.

I'm not so sure of that. It seems to me that Islam was largely a revival of an older strain of Judaism which still existed (and still does exist) in isolated pockets. The names of the main prophets and some of the symbolism may have changed, but the underlying culture doesn't seem to have been all that different. Then again I'm not an expert on middle eastern history or comparative religion, so I might be wrong.

You are correct. The Prophet saw idolatry and was calling for a return to the purity of ideals of Judaism, the worship of the One God.

There is much in common between extremist Hassidic Judaism and Fundamentalist Islam: how they treat women, how they deal with non-believers, etc. Think of Fundamentalist Islam as Hassidic Judaism on steroids.

Belief systems do change. Even the world religions undergo reformations or the division of the main stream into separate bodies of belief. The US is remarkable for the subdivision of discrete congregations of believers into two differing camps, the proliferation of the southern Baptist churches providing just one example.

The individual's belief system undergoes change over the lifetime usually, too. The more rational one is, the more likely one is to encounter new information and accommodate to it.

To take a petty example, I was surprised when I began attending the RC church to find there people with the mind set of Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Pentacostals and other Protestant churches I had frequented at different times in my life. Those points of view or tendencies or "comfort zones" arise from individual mental propensities. The people with those tendencies are present in most places of worship and in most places of work. The way the brain operates is less restricted by belief than you suppose. When you get to know the individuals in any of those houses of worship, it is remarkable how wide some of their theological and other views on reality can be. I have found Jews attending Methodist churches, have accompanied a Muslim to an Anglican church, have known a Jewish-turned-Hindo woman whose insights into my difficulties were as remarkable as those of charismatic Anglicans I have known. The most generous (in all ways) woman I know is not a "fellow Christian" but an agnostic Jew.

But if you come into a discussion with cudgels flailing, you can expect most individuals will try to defend the orthodoxy of the corner of the institution or non-institution to which they have made some kind of commitment.

I have described above my own discovery of new information about how the brain works and the profound effect that assimilation of information had on my belief system. And I was hardly a garden-variety Christian to begin with (if there is such a thing). People "of faith" are nibbling away at the problems of the real world as assiduously as any of the scientists here, but they are aiming their brains at those problems using different neurological settings. Actually, it is possible to do both: be using one's brain as a scientist and as a person "of faith." That is what I was trying to do in regard to my son's mental illness and I think I succeeded because I was using the combined approach. Belief is the cutting edge of discovery and requires an "open" mind whether the problem to be solved is physical (scientific) or relational (spiritual).

Islam was a synthetic religion made up of parts of both Judaism and Christianity. It was a powerful force for social change. For example, Mahomet forbade alcohol, and as a result good Muslims do not drink alcohol. Note that there is little or no alcoholism in Muslim countries to this day. Mahomet was a drastic simplifier, and the Koran is easier reading than either the Old or the New Testament. The social and cultural changes wrought by Islam were rapid and huge.

"Belief system at a turning point?"

This might be news if you just landed here from Mars. People have been wailing about the evils of Western Civilization, including oil, for decades. Oddly, almost all of these people choose to live in Western Civilization and burn oil in their everyday lives. The wonderful lives of Native Americans are admired on widescreen TVs on the Discovery Channel.

As for the rest of the propositions, this wasn't about "deregulation." The oil industry is regulated up to its neck. The problem is that these regulators weren't doing their job. The existing regulations weren't being properly used.

So who watches the watchmen?

having spent most of a decade living firmly embedded in the middle of the largest reservation, I wish people would visit and get to know exactly what they're talking about before they go off pining for the "noble savage". The "natives" if you wish to call them that, are no more or less noble or anything else, than anyone else. They're just people, and have the same needs and wants as any.

Which reservation would that be?

I lived among Dineh. Use google to find out who that is.

Wow, a nearly direct answer to a direct question. I think you meant "who they are" rather than "who that is." Your use of language belies your claim to lived "firmly embedded" with any culture indigenous to this continent.

Anyway, which reservation it was really doesn't matter, given your vague straw man arguments. I was just curious because you seem to do a lot of place-dropping to support your assertions. So far you've informed us that you've:

1) been to China -- SIX times!!!
2) currently live in western Washington (near forests, even!)
3) lived in or been to some place in Alaska, and,

most recently:

4) lived among, firmly embedded even, with the Dineh.

And then you toss out "noble savage" and "natives" (including the non-quoting-quotation marks) as a straw man to be countered with the trivially true, "They're just people, and have the same needs and wants as any."

Although, I might quibble with their wants being the same as ours (or anyone else's), as those are mostly directed by culture. And culture is the problem, or at least the difference here. You wrote elsewhere that "indians never used the trees signficantly", so it would seem you have some idea that scale matters. Whitey, on the other hand? We use trees much significantly. Different cultures and very different impacts.

Geezer, Bruce from Chicago nailed it in the other thread. You have offered nothing here but well worn talking points sprinkled with vague straw man and false dichotomies (it's monoculture or starvation!). For someone who claims to have become so open minded with all his years of so-called painful experience, you seem to have learned very little. Or, rather, one glaring thing you should have learned in that time but apparently have not is that privilege is often invisible to those who have it.

I had my raging libertarian phase too, back in the 90's, when I was barely a legal adult. Oh, it made perfect sense. It took me more than 3/4 of my not yet quite 40 years of life to come to some understanding of what I take for granted. The most succinct way of putting it is this: I was born a while male to literate parents in North America during the second half of the 20th century. My entire life exists atop a wave of privilege that has been building for millennia.

You obviously have decades of life experience over me, but this is one case where I will not respect my elder simply because of years. Now, please, oldgeezer, go over to Pharyngula and instruct everyone there how your "rational conclusion" that "life was created intelligently" is "really" just the product of "very solid scientific principles" leading to a "very supportable conclusion" and is not in any way "some kind of mental deficiency." Oh, and be sure to use that "walk through the wilderness and find a bunch of rocks formed into a shelter" thing. They'll be totally blind-sided by your novel approach and impeccable logic! Seriously, do it; it would be so entertaining, and I've got popcorn in the microwave. I would love to see you apply the same reasoning and I-lived-and-or-visited-there anecdotes to the origin of life.

Anyway, which reservation it was really doesn't matter, given your vague straw man arguments. I was just curious because you seem to do a lot of place-dropping to support your assertions. So far you've informed us that you've:

1) been to China -- SIX times!!!
2) currently live in western Washington (near forests, even!)
3) lived in or been to some place in Alaska, and,

most recently:

4) lived among, firmly embedded even, with the Dineh.

1. Normally, i would ask the moderators to ban people for this kind of blatant lie, but I'm feeling charitable, so I'll just ask you to retract #1, with a sincere apology for your hopefully accidental lie.

2. I don't live in Washington, I live NEARBY the forests in question. Please stop making invalid assumptions.

3. I have been several places in Alaska, have spent time in the area mentioned plus others. I merely mentioned it because I WAS there in the winter and the Antarctic is even more cold than there. Ever been on the frozen ocean on a trip behind a dog team? I have. It's quite a challenge. Make sure you take a really big gun, too.

4. yes, I lived on the Navaho reservation for much of my formative years. I used the word "Dineh" with specificity, because I wanted to provoke the reaction you so predictably belted out. Why? Because I really despise people who live by ignorant stereotypes. And, in addition to that, I live within visual distance of the border of another reservation now. Have for 10 years.

I used the phrase "noble savage" and "native" simply to interest those who assign some mystic meaning to both, such as previous posters who tried to glorify or otherwise ascribe certain morally superior qualities to the "previous to white man" inhabitants of this continent.

The word "Dineh" means the American english equivalent of pointing to one's self and everyone in your peer group and saying "We're the Ones!" It can be thought of as "Us" vs "everyone else". Ethnocentric and definitely places the Navaho at the top of human pyramid.

Ever notice how these tourist sites and "sophisticated" presentations always have some deeply tanned and wrinkle-faced actor who goes on about the spirit of the earth and the sky and mother earth and all sorts of spiritual stuff that sounds rather "green"? That's because they couldn't find any younger of the tribe to speak the lines without snickering. All that propaganda is political posturing. It has near zero relevance to the normal life of the Navaho.

Instead, they simply want a good job, a wide screen TV and a new truck to pull the horse trailer, not to have to drive 2 hours across bad roads to get the nearest hospital to give birth, and to have a better selection on whichever satellite network they're using. They worry about thier kids being safe, try to shame them into not having kids before they're married, speak in insulting tones about the many dependents who seek nothing other than to be given all their needs so they can do nothing. As in, there's little distinction between them and "us", who live the "ordinary american life". Except that bribed to stay on a reservation with unbelievably corrupt law enforcement, bad politicians, and a set of economic rules that nearly completely prevents all economic growth or investment, so unemployment rivals that of third world countries.

And because of this reality, and a genetic tendency toward it, acoholism and drug abuse are rampant. Rape, violent abuse, and unwed pregnancy are epidmic. Depression, suicide, and overall negative outlook on life is nearly the norm for those under 50.

This rings true for just about every sizeable reservation in the US, and for every native village and even the larger towns all over Alaska.

People who had a culture and history of subsistence were bribed into staying where they were, by insulating them from the evolving world around them. And then, when it became painfully apparent that the old ways did not provide the means of dealing with and obtaining the advancements in technology and knowledge and provided no foundation for economic participation or integration into the world at large, the failure has taken its toll.

So, stuck between the past world the generations do not want to return to, and a modern world they're not equipped to be in, undisciplined as in the past by subsistence living, they live in a rather hopeless state, one of dependency and isolation and rampant hopelessness. Thus, the drug and alcohol abuse, and those explain the crime and physical abuse, and after that, the suicide and rampant depression.

yeah, I know those worlds well enough. Well enough for the lessons they taught me to insulate me FOREVER from emotional string pulling of academia and liberal politicking that promotes dependency as a norm for all humanity.

Regarding number (1) above:

Normally, i would ask the moderators to ban people for this kind of blatant lie, but I'm feeling charitable,

I'll be quivering in socks while I wait to find out if the moderators consider your charity enough to let me stay on here.

so I'll just ask you to retract #1, with a sincere apology for your hopefully accidental lie.

I honestly take that back. You never claimed to have been to China once, let alone six times. I apologize for accidentally attributing to you the words of another poster spewing capitalism uber alles talking points. My bad.

As for the rest of your post, meh. It's more meandering anecdotes of "they" this and "they" that, which presumably are to teach us how much you know about misery on the reservations in the U.S.

Meanwhile, the very valid and lucid criticisms about your lack of understanding of old growth forests and monoculture crops go unanswered. *yawn*

بزرگترین وب سایت اشعار عاشقانه و ترانه های جدید :Dineh

They never heard of oldgeezer. They do mention a guy named little-littleman.

One of the huge systemic problems seems to be the degree to which regulators are in bed with industry (and corporate interests are influencing the Hill), across sectors. This problem was apparently intensified greatly during the decade we are just passing through. One of the most haunting links I have come across in my short time at TOD addresses this issue: I can't get it out of my head.

That being said, the fact that there are many regulations already and there are a lot of questions about how well they are enforced doesn't preclude the need for thoughtful, critical analysis as to whether we have the right regulations and whether new regulations are needed. To name just one example, other countries require oil companies to install that 500K back-up switch that we apparently don't and just might have prevented this mess.

In keeping with the theme of the thread, I think these crises leave the country - and world - primed for considering cognitive shifts on our relationship to oceans and green, sustainable energy - and beyond. Who has the business - or right - to drill for oil where we don't have the resources, knowledge and skill to deal with any contigency that might come up? Does the fact that no one owns the oceans translate into a license to treat them like the world's garbage dumps? What are the human impacts and effects of acidification, oilification, huge piles of garbage polluting the oceans? How is reactive rather than proactive policy-making working out for us - and are we satisfied with our post-crisis response? What have been the ripples of deregulation trends, given the consequences of that philosophy in any sector you can name? How do the interests of corporations intersect and diverge from national and global interests? Do we want to inspire a national preference for short-term gratification or long-term well-being? What degree of painful withdrawal symptoms are we prepared to endure as we break unhealthy addictions to fossil fuels and get clean and are we prepared for the consequences if we don't?

The polls indicate significant shifts ARE occuring. The question remains as to whether they will sustain over time - and where the country's will will take us.

[re-posted from yesterday, with additions]

Can technology solve all our problems?—the role of resource substitution

My beliefs on this question have shifted over time from technophobe to cautious optimist, thanks to some life experiences.

First, I’ve reached the age at which it’s easy to interact with both nonagenarians and college-age students. When posing the wicked-twin problems of energy and climate to my elders who grew up in the Great Depression and served in World War II, their response is uniformly “Don’t tell me we can’t solve this.” I’ve taken it as an obligation to seriously consider what this view means. When posing these problems to college students, I’ve noticed that their reaction depends on my framing. The doomsday approach is really discouraging, leading youngsters to follow their hedonistic urges or just change to another major. The can-do, solutions-oriented approach conversely stimulates them to envision a brighter future, imagine what they might do about it, and figure out how to bend their education to that purpose. Many then go out into the environment- or energy-related workforce determined to make a difference, and other go on to graduate or professional school to do likewise. It’s obvious that only the more constructive approach can actually get us somewhere.

Second, I’ve taken personal responsibility for investing some of my life savings in clean energy companies that will drive the ongoing transition and should benefit accordingly. Putting real money on the line greatly focuses my concentration. I have to drill down, understand each company’s context, sector, technology, and business model, and monitor their activity and outcomes. My knowledge and understanding have to be good enough to enable confident decisions and to quickly discern mistakes. Doing this with discipline over time starts to reveal valuable principles, general dynamics, and strong themes.

A key generality derived from the outlook for oil supply and demand is that we can soon expect intolerable prices that will severely destroy demand. In that event, what would be the role of resource substitution? Is it possible for technology to salvage our industrial society, which depends on energy and material, or would economic chaos destroy us?

One scenario comes from Glen Sweetnam of the US Department of Energy.
In the event of insufficient investment in finding more liquid fuels, he says it’s possible that between 2011 and 2015 a significant energy gap could develop. This scenario shows an “energy gap” in world liquid fuels supply developing quickly after 2011, and the question is whether the “unidentified projects” will materialize to plug the gap.

Similarly, some recent forecasts from the financial sector are for much higher oil prices than at present. Merrill Lynch sees demand rising and supply inelastic, consistent with the resource peak and depletion model. They think that the spare capacity is only in OPEC and they forecast the price band widening from 70 to 85 dollars per barrel now to 50 to 150 dollars per barrel by 2014. Deutsche Bank expects a supply/demand crunch in 2016-17 causing a spike to $179 per barrel. Astonishingly, they expect the economic force of this squeeze will cause permanent demand destruction of oil and propel electrification of surface transport.

Under such circumstances, both economic theory and experience foretell that we must achieve resource substitution via new technology. I advocate that we should set about to make this to happen. That is, we must innovate our way out of potential trouble. The fine metaphor “the arrow of innovation” expresses the intense human urge to innovate. A confluence of many virtues contributes to the innovation process. It takes vision, intellect, leadership, risk, money, and hard work. We’ll need science, engineering, technology, investors, corporations, and wise government policies responsive to a new vision of the future.

For guidance on the substitution process, economist Robert Solow (1974) offered these challenging thoughts.
On the one hand, he said that if we can easily substitute other factors for natural resources then we can get along without natural resources, so exhaustion is just an event, not a catastrophe. On the other, catastrophe is unavoidable if no substitute is found. Most interesting of all, he said that in between exhaustion and substitution are cases where the problem is real, interesting, and not foreclosed. So he’s advising us to look at the substitution process in a disciplined way. We need to puzzle out Solow’s uncertain outcomes and focus on the innovation process.

One innovator’s discipline for thinking about clean energy technology is laid out on Vinod Khosla’s website, which provides many idea papers and presentations. He suggests that promising technologies should have a number of attributes: truly renewable (i.e., renewables used sustainably) or inexhaustible, affordable, scalable, profitable, and not energy intensive. On careful examination, many options lack some of these qualities and thus are likely to have limited prospects. He also favors government policies that encourage and assist capitalists as prime actors to move the innovation agenda. This requires a transformational vision of the future among our political leadership and decision-makers. It also implies a risk-support role for government with private people and firms doing the actual work. Khosla says “What is amazing about this is the size of the markets. We are dealing with much harder science and technology, so we will see much higher rate of failure, but the wins will be bigger. More money will be made in cleantech than in traditional areas of Silicon Valley—by far.”

Another stimulating view is this blog by Joseph Romm:
Romm argues that we don’t have time (and don’t need) to wait for breakthrough technologies before transforming the energy system, because it normally takes decades from innovation to first commercialization and then 25 years for commercialization to reach scale. He thinks we will have to rely on existing technologies and take unusual policy steps to speed their deployment. Most importantly, he thinks they will suffice. Venture capitalists have already made massive investments in start-up companies with new low-carbon energy technologies. Now we need commercialization and deployment policies enabling these firms to learn how to lower costs and beat their competitors in the market. Firms that have already advanced from demonstration to commercialization, or soon will, are the ones that will provide solutions at scale and in time.

Finally, objections to the “technological fix” inevitably arise, to the effect that new technologies will just bring new problems. Well, of course. We’ll just have to address them. A literary allusion may be helpful in understanding this. Bruno Latour, in the February 2005 issue of the now-defunct Domus Magazine, made the point that in Mary Shelly’s 1817 novel, Victor Frankenstein’s real sin was not making the monster but rather his failure to manage it. At the end in the Alps, the creature complains to Frankenstein quite explicitly, “You have abandoned me, that’s why I have become evil.”

One moral of Follet's "Pillars of the Earth" might be that belief systems, even if based on false ideas, might still lead to good outcomes.

This assumes that there is a master true belief system - whereas there may be many competing and equally valid belief systems.

[Book asks us to] assume there is a master true belief system

When it comes to assuming that there might be a master and "true belief system", the author of the book (Ken Follett) tries to play it cool, as if he were an agnostic --probably for the purpose of not offending any potential readers.

In other words, he tries to appear neutral on the question of whether there is a God and if so whether that God is a Christian one and whether that God looks with favor upon people who build giant Cathedrals in his honor and name.

However, the characters that seem to do best in Follett's book are the ones who are more scientific or socially cunning and less in the realm of spiritual acceptance of the status quo.

Refusal to go with the flow and accept the status quo is the epitome of not accepting the idea that there is a master and true belief system.

Anyone who dares to question is already a non-(total)-believer.

Sorry I was unable to respond to Canuckistani's critique, here we go:

"First, the corporate ladder is a pyramid... It anticipates some being left behind."

Yes, and we all die. And just as we live without worrying about our next breath being our last, most workers in the 60s worked with the impression they could move up. Which was easier in the 60s before computers did to management and office jobs what tractors did to agriculture jobs.

"Lack of global markets made it necessary to market to the workers".

Now we have global markets and workers, which is a good thing. When I started in the electronics industry a country with 4% of the world's population was manufacturing 45% of its electronic systems. Without global markets we would have drowned in capacity (see the news business to see how that's working out). By opening new markets we were able to not only make money but spread superior technology and higher living standards.

"you (and guys like you) export jobs that could have gone to those who are now struggling to raise a family while working at McDonalds."

I invested in China because my large Fortune 100 customers required it because they were opening factories there because that's where the growth for their business was. Do you think people in New York should never have moved their factories out of Manhattan because those factory workers would have to struggle to raise families at their new jobs? I think the new jobs there were better than the old jobs. You've obviously never worked a factory job...

"You didn't make it solely with a better idea- you made it by exporting cheap Chinese labour to the US. You transferred the lower ends of the ladder to China."

I made it starting one factory in the US that grew to two factories in the US. Then I added a factory in China, which was not profitable (do you have any idea how hard it is to make a profit manufacturing in China?), but made my customers happy. Perhaps you'd rather we just not participate in global growth, or not have global growth, given you'd like to see fewer humans. But don't you admire the Chinese for their One Child policy (that they're easing, by the way?)

"Without oil inputs for agriculture, we are in massive overshoot of the Earth's human population carrying capacity. So no, we won't run out of sun: the problem is that sun alone will not allow all of us to survive."

Some citations or calculations would be appreciated. Make sure you take GM, hydroponic, nuclear, solar, and biomass (including algae) technology into account. Meanwhile, as nations develop (I'm working on that myself, it sounds like you wish they'd just starve and die) they tend to have smaller families, and like Europe, Japan, and the US, reach less-than-replacement birth rates.

that they're easing, by the way?

See, for example:
China’s happy two-child experiment
The campaign to end the one-child rule gains momentum
Published On Fri Apr 23 2010 in the Toronto Star.

How much growth is enough?

I'd say when 3 billion people are still living on under $2 a day, we're no where near done.

What rate of growth, then? Ask the Afghanis how quickly they'd like to translate the trillion or so of minerals buried in their hills into schools, shops, power plants, hospitals, hotels, and houses with indoor plumbing.

This may stir some conversation as well. I'm tired of politicians kicking this can down the road forever, but here we go again...

Obama decided to stop the use of Yucca Mountain... now...

The Department of Energy had studied the site for 20 years before choosing it. According to a December 2008 article in Los Alamos Science and Technology Magazine, is "one of the most scientifically scrutinized pieces of real estate in the world."

Construction costs on the depository project already have topped $10 billion

Obama's funding decision has created a huge waste-disposal headache for the nuclear industry, which now keeps old, highly radioactive fuel rods on site in temporary storage containers. Years ago, DOE signed contracts with the utilities to take the waste off their hands and store it at Yucca Mountain. Breach of contract suits filed by 72 utilities seek $50 billion in damages.

People in the administration think that the nuclear waste can sit where it is for now, the money has more important uses elsewhere currently.

Масляная головка отцу-матери не кормилец.

You ask, "2. Are there ways we can gradually shift beliefs toward some more helpful belief systems?" Yes, but it will take a new generation for that to happen.

Younger people don't expect real service when they go to a mall store. Mainly because they've never experienced helpful clerks as many of us did who grew up in an older generation of Americans.

Younger people accept the automated phone menu and don't get angry because there's no real person to talk to.

Younger people today accept lower pay, no pension or health benefits and they have no problem moving from one job to another. There are lower expectations but, maybe to their credit, they do not have the same sense of company loyalty either.

When I was born, the average life expectancy was 59-years-old. Clearly, Social Security which was passed in 1935 had far fewer people who ever reached the minimum age of 65
to collect a penny of it.

Today, many baby boomers are retiring because, even if they wanted to work longer, they can't really find a job much worth having unless they would be happy being a Wal-Mart greeter. So, they retire, get what they can out of Social Security and maybe pick up a part-time job in a service industry.

Younger people most likely will share more with each other, probably living in smaller homes and/or condominiums with other families or relatives. At some point, everyone, young and old, will have to wean themselves off of plastic credit cards. And of course, cheap oil. But then again, maybe electric cars will make the gasoline engine look like the horse and carriage.

College degrees will become less of a requirement for a job (it already has) whereas trade skills will dominate secondary schools.

Junior Colleges will offer 4-year and graduate degrees simply because state universities will have priced themselves out of the blue collar affordability.

The rich will continue to get richer as they always have while the poorer will survive with lower pay, no pensions, but a realistic attitude that, as the Mick Jagger lyrics make clear, "No, you can't always get what you want...And if you try sometime you find You get what you need."
And, they will probably be much happier.

Even Shakespeare was aware of that in these lines from King Lear, "Our basest beggars are in the poorest thing superfluous."

As someone else once said, "The best things in life aren't things."

I have a different view on this issue, I think, that is not limited by the political disagreements that have dominated the discussions so far. I would like to think that I have a wider exposure to different political systems than many Americans, growing up in the late USSR, then emigrating to the US at 13 in 1977. I come from an old political family and my grandfather was an actual communist revolutionary. I ran a anti-communist human rights group in college. I have an aerospace education and work for one of the large defense contractors.

I have come to believe these issues transcend politics. Or rather, the political systems govern the way and time a society takes to get to a certain point in societal evolution, but all systems eventually come to this point. Politics may help or hinder our navigation through this dilemma, but can't allow us to avoid it altogether. Western style economic-political systems appear to be most susceptible.

In a nutshell, it appears that a technological civilization will come to a point in its development, where the level of self-organizing complexity coupled with individual technological empowerment makes it very vulnerable to large scale crisis triggered by seemingly small events. I think that mathematically it is described as a "super-critical" system - highly complex, evolved and cross-linked, yet exhibiting low level of system redundancy and robustness, since the self-organizing principle is efficiency. Thermodynamically, the system has quality of very low levels of local entropy, with a growth characteristic of increasing the low entropy system space, driven by both population and economic growth. One, perhaps undesirable quality of the system is its continuous requirements of large inputs of energy, as would any system that is reducing its entropy and increasing in size. This quality has been well described on this website.

The other quality - the super-critical nature of the system has not been well described and is generally very poorly understood. Academic work in this area is lacking (I think). While the evidence of the system vulnerabilities are abundant for anyone who is looking and seeing, results of triggering events seem to be shocking to most people. Hence, even the brightest economists are terribly surprised when a supposedly a robust, redundant and regulated banking system undergoes a near total collapse in matter of a year. Almost everyone is shocked that one of many of the deep water wells (supposedly very safe, with multiple layers of redundancy) has the capacity to poison a planetary body of water, all based on a couple of mistakes by a couple of individuals. And the entire world is astounded that a small number of terrorists, with pedestrian financial support can bring skyscrapers down in one of the world's richest and largest cities, and by doing so change the course of world history.

However, if you look at the system dynamics of these events, you clearly see that the outcome was preordained by system design and inherent emerging weakness. These events can be simply described as local short-circuits, as parts of the highly complex system that are meant to exist in close proximity without contact are brought together. On 9/11/2001 a group of terrorists took two technological marvels of our civilization - a 100 story skyscraper and a large passenger jet - and brought them together, creating a catastrophic system event that changed the course of history. They were able to do it because the system design made the creation of large scale destruction possible for a small group of individuals with low levels of financial support. This spring, a series of fairly common decisions on one of many deep water rigs have unleashed a toxic event of giant proportions that is also sure to change our history. The Gulf disaster occurred not because of extraordinary and unusual circumstances, but because the oil industry is driven by a very strong profit motive and utilizes inherently dangerous and highly advanced technology, built for efficiency and not optimized for safety.

As our civilization enters deeper into the super-critical regime, the efficiency and profit optimized system, built around the "good behavior" rational human model, is going to experience more and more of these crisis events. The outcome of this process appears not to be a good one for system stability and by extension its continuous growth and development along the same trajectory as before. It would seem that if we are to continue to move in the current direction, it is imperative that the growing contradictions that exist in the human side of our civilization be addressed, so that we at least don't have to be concerned with outright sabotage, either through terrorism or apathy. Maybe we can deal with the upcoming energy crisis, which seems unavoidable, but we can't do it with the system crashing around us through resource depletion, wide-scale developing pollution and large-scale military conflicts.

Given the current state of our world, I am not at all hopeful that humanity will be able to "keep" the civilization that we ourselves have built. The system requires more and more care from us, at the same time as we are less and less willing to provide it.

Hilarious you are not, and you don't spell your name Dmitry, but otherwise I see in your post some similarities with the beloved Dmitry Orlov. And you are dismissive of politics.

Native English speakers are freaked by "D" and "m" together. Orlov is really a great and fun resource, and probably a very nice guy. He is probably more "Russian" than I am.

Super criticality

I have in mind a glass of water in fridge.
It's temperature is below freezing.
If the side is tapped, it freezes rapidly.

Or the contents of a pressure cooker above boiling point.
The lid is removed gently, and the pot struck.
There is an explosion of boiling food.

Or a civilization that has outgrown it's resource base.
It is supercritical.
And a butterfly flaps it's wing.

Excellent "thought picture". Powerful.

A lump of dough rising in a sunny window.
A child damaged by street drugs.
Two parents, one depressed, one optimistic.
Which of them envisions a future of hope?
Which of them will leaven the family?

Nine bean rows, a potato patch,
300 tomato and pepper plants,
squash, peas, and melons planted by a former schizophrenic.
Butterflies waft through his flower garden
a mother's day gift to the bread-maker.
His garden will feed more than one family
through a bitter winter.
He sings. His brain function is normal.

All evolved and complex multi-cellular organisms are exposed to catastrophic risk. That cells are all interconnected by the same circulatory system means that a sudden disruptive event in the heart can result in sudden death for the whole organism and billions of cells.

Eventually, on the human level, individuals that live in cities and are tied to their utility companies are especially at risk. If the utilities fail, then the body, if it is too large and too complex to distribute nutrients and eliminate waste, will also fail. Human dispersion will rule the day if these systems fail.

The brain tissue of an organism could also make the unfortunate decision to ingest an angel of death mushroom and thereby poison the entire society of cells, just as a typical human, in a fit of rage could utilize nuclear weapons.

Being connected can have benefits, but when death occurs, from energy starvation or from stupidity by those in charge, it is best to be somewhat independent and if possible, somewhat inaccessible to the desperate and unprepared trying to escape their formerly highly structured and organized existence.

Why did all of those cells stick together in the first place? Because there was some large biomass to eat and the cells basically had to form the tools (mouths, teeth, organs etc.) to access it. If the large masses of concentrated energy ever disappear, so too do the concentrated masses of cells (cities and industrial infrastructure) that once fed upon them.

Likewise, if the waste and sewage removal of a city ever becomes compromised, it will become unlivable in a short period of time and/or its size and complexity will be severely limited.

Even monoculture crops are a considerable weakness as a coordinated bioweapon attack or even a natural plant pathogen could result in widespread famine and starvation.

What does a U.S. contingency plan look like? A huge warehouse full of plastic coffins and body bags.

Dimitry: Thanks for your stimulating comment, arguing that we come to grips with the supercritical attributes/behaviors of complex systems and their profound implications for technological society. I also agree with your insightful concluding paragraphs, pointing to the sort of change we probably should seek.

There is actually a rising amount of academic research on complex systems (even a journal titled Advances in Complex Systems), but I don't have a state-of-knowledge summary at hand other than
This research is being applied to ecology, economics, and other relevant fields, but I'm not clear the extent it's been focused on technological society, which you rightly identify as crucial. I'm planning to put a bright young person on this, to do a summary and maybe even new research. But it will take quite a while to thoroughly survey what we know.

An ironic trailing thought: it's trendy in popular thinking and the business press to frame your issue as a "black swan" phenomenon--about random, highly improbable, and unpredictable events. But the metaphor, popularized in the 17th century, is false. The Black Swan is a fully evolved species, only thought to be rare and surprizing because English explorers "discovering" Australia didn't know about them. Perhaps the Maori in New Zealand had a different metaphor for their subspecies of Black Swan, because they ate them all: dinner.

Thanks for the link!

I have come to think that our problems are made worse by high levels of specialization in our academia and research community. The wide gap in paradigms between the economists/sociologists and physicists/engineers is particularly troubling. We don't talk to one another much. In the aggregate, the "systems knowledge" is either not advanced or advanced too slowly to be used in practice.

from wikipaedia

As stated by Colander,[15] the study of complexity is the opposite of the study of chaos. Complexity is about how a huge number of extremely complicated and dynamic set of relationships can generate some simple behavioral patterns, whereas chaotic behavior, in the sense of deterministic chaos, is the result of a relatively small number of non-linear interactions.[13]

My emphasis.


A simple system can produce complex outcomes(chaos).
And a complex system can produce a simple outcome.
(Such as my complicated brain producing this simple statement)


For example you simply go to the supermarket, where you quickly, efficiently and easily purchase wanted items (if you have money or credit, that is). The machinery that supplied all of this to you at a moment you decided to purchase it, is quite complex.

The problem is it is not robust, because it wasn't organized/assembled with robustness as a key organizational principal. In a western capitalist system the key organizational principal is efficiency and profit, with robustness/redundancy essentially unrecognized as a desirable quality - that's why economists were SO surprised at the financial crash - they simply assumed the system was robust. Disruption in any of the many interlocked systmes that supply your ability to buy food at the supermarket will lead to empty shells in a very short time.

Our food supply is quite fragile. Most folks don't spend a minute thinking about it. After all, Super Stop and Shop is one of the most enduring entities in our modern lives - its like a mountain to a caveman - always there...

1. Businesses? Maybe. Vague... Giant corporate entities with the rights of real people but no responsibility? No. Too big, too powerful, too monolithic, brazen, too...

2. Absolutely not! Why do we (generally) continue to insist that we can, or even SHOULD utilize every technology to come along? We are obviously not mature enough as a species to handle the most powerful of physical forces, not to mention the effects of technology on our culture.
3. Not to point out the obvious or be too flip, but:
We cannot all have cars, no matter what "energy solution" is devised. Of course if we are talking about Ayn Rand's type of super zippy static-electric energy gatherer then all bets are off heh. Long as there's time in the plot for a love story then I am down!
There are too many people.
We lack sufficient understanding to be useful in solving current crises.
There is not enough time to successfully mitigate the damage, unless my assessment of earth's redundant mechanisms and resiliency are waaay off!
4. I knew a chemical engineer, PhD candidate many years ago. He was from Lima, Peru. He had worked a few years for Chevron and later Shell in South Africa and on the Niger Delta, respectively(if I remember correctly). We were both janitors while we studied. He said: "we will never run out of oil, someone will always have some, and someone will always need some."

I think that, even really smart people are totally deluded.

1. People really ARE willing to live in their own industrial excrement.
2. I am sorry to be so negative, but I have seen very little evidence to show that we will not just revert to the ape mind when TSHTF.
3. There is always opportunity to buy somebody's giant RAM 350 Compensator or whatever for 10% of the original price because bubba can't afford the gas. Also, maybe we can help to wake a few from their stupor(torpor?) and live a decent life...


"I think that, even really smart people are totally deluded."

Smart people, who have been reinforced strongly by the approval of their parents/teachers/peers and the admiration of society come to think their grasp of a wider reality than they have studied is superior. The feelings of pleasure that reinforce the learning process and produce confidence in those who become expert is addictive. The emotional right brain overrides the reasoning process of the left brain to produce beliefs about reality that actually cannot be affirmed. But the expert dares to affirm them and, if clever enough, will shift the responsibility for the actual decision-making to the people who depend on his/her expertise. I have seen engineering textbooks that teach that technique of dispersed or transferred responsibility.
When a social group buys in to the expertise, sharing in the pleasures of the by-product of expertise, e.g., a "higher" standard of living, without keeping the realities of the consequences of the technology in mind or even a healthy scepticism, the social group becomes as deluded as the expert. We are grappling here with the larger picture of where our greed for engineering, biochemical, and other technical expertise has led us. I am sure the issue arose with the invention of the wheel and the inclined plane. We have allowed the self-deluded to lead us because we have relied on them for more than they were qualified to affirm.

Which takes us back to Gail's question #2.

After teaching in the engineering department of his university my father moved into industry in the laboratory of an explosives company; he helped design the first nuclear power plant in Canada but became disillusioned with the "deterent" bomb he had aided in developing once it had been deployed and quit government work for private industry; after the war he was in R&D of dyes, pesticides, bleaches, detergents many of which are now banned; thence into abrasives; consulting; a life-threatening illness for 7 years and actuarial work during recovery; a teaching career that included laboratory design; expertise in oil-spill techniques long-since superceded. Of course, his teaching career essentially cloned himself and supported all the industries whose benefits some of us now question. Whether you view that life work as admirable or despicable, rational or insane, is entirely a matter of what you know about the effects of the products he developed, nuclear and chemical, that were being welcomed by the society of the time. I have seen the extreme of insanity, schizophrenia, close up over an extended period of time: the physiological processes differ only in degree from the inflated confidence of a brilliant chemical engineer.

Question #1: If such experts directed their skills ONLY to cleaning up the mess produced by other such experts, how many years would it take for society to break even?
Question #2: If such experts were required to travel from the shores of Alaska to the beaches of the Gulf of Mexico on their knees would they reconsider their commitments to technology? :-D

Many individuals and groups, from Scientific American magazine, to school systems, to Energy Secretary Chu would seem to be telling us that technology can solve all of our problems.

A recently spur in biotech activity is in the area of producing bacteria that can produce fuel directly from the sun's energy at rates of efficiency higher than typical plants. See's interview podcast with Dr.James Liao. While in the long term diminishing returns on investment will kill us, it remains to be seen how technology reacts to atleast soften the rough landing due to fossil fuels decline.

You are all incredibly intelligent people and I tread lightly on your turf. I’m no scientist or economist, and I’m still not a particularly good gardener. So allow me to cross-pollinate with some things I’ve learned as a user-experience designer:

Belief systems are very hard to change. Many people in America, if not outright thrust towards sustainability, may move towards a more sustainable lifestyle on their own but for different reasons that arise from their beliefs. Many religions store food or don't use cars now. Members of some political groups want independence, so they grow their own chickens. Members of other political groups want equality, so they teach everybody to grow chickens. Environmentalists find sustainable solutions because it's better for the environment. Peak oil-ists find sustainable solutions because they know they had better learn how to deal without oil now. People who have lost their jobs use less energy an grow more of their own food (hopefully) because of the reality of their economic condition. So many people are moving towards sustainability but from a different set of circumstances or beliefs.

What matters are the beliefs of the people who understand the problem and who can get get busy "doing epic shit."

So who do you really want to influence first? Who are the worst offenders? Whose belief systems don’t point toward sustainability? And whose lot in life necessitates an un-sustainable solution in order to put food on the table, be happy, or survive?

For now, while the economy still has legs (and perhaps even when it doesn’t have legs), any person, company, group or government who designs/sells/creates anything needs a new way forward, “one that is innovative, meaningful, sustainable, and profitable.” I think many people could find this on their own in the face of adversity – I’m learning not to underestimate the power of human creativity.

For those who feel like getting a jump on things, perhaps it isn’t a question of changing belief, but of changing behavior by creating meaningful, sustainable communities, experiences and designs. When sustainable solutions are designed for use and access and meaning, perhaps then you can get buy-in from the people.

Nathan Shedroff, author of “Design is the Problem” introduces many ideas about making meaningful experiences, a meaning-filled development process, and other tools that we already have in the following presentations:

Rethinking the Consumption Compulsion:

Meaningful Innovation: Interaction and Service Design:

(I went to a dinner with him and some other usability folks – he’s inspiring, peaceful and humble, has traveled the world sitting with tribal people, worked for huge companies on design problems, and is teaching sustainable design. Many of his students go through their own ‘end of suburbia moment’ when they first start taking his courses.)

This is clearly not the only answer and is only a small part of the puzzle. But a lot of little, manageable changes could add up to big changes, and changes that are meaningful could be adopted in all the right places, right?

So, where can you start? Do you have data to identify whose behavior (and what behavior) should be changed? What sustainable, meaningful, useful solutions can be implemented now? What do the other phases look like? What is the objective?

Jennifer Wilkerson

I added on an important thought to the conversation here:

"And when do you start? Does it pay to even think about it with economic predictions like this ( looming? I don’t think it can hurt. I plan to get out of debt and prepare my life for the possibility of things going very wrong - not doing so would be like saying “I think dieting is a terrible idea.” But after that, I will personally feel more fulfilled if I am finding or creating meaning in my life and in the lives of others."

If they could pump concrete, golf balls and all sorts of junk 5 miles down in their initial attempts to plug the leak, why can't they just pump air down there, put a match to the escaping oil/gas and burn it to at least put a stop to the pollution? This will give them more time to come to the obvious solution of nuking it.

It is often repeated that real wages have fallen over the past xxx years, but this is only possible if you cherry-pick your statistics. (Which newspapers and politicians who want a certain message often do.) It depend greatly on whether you count household income or personal income, or if you count everybody working, or every single person. The composition of the American household has changed dramatically and we can afford smaller households with fewer people in those households working.

Here's a table taken from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows how real wages increased about 40% from 1950-2004.

Note the numbers given in constant 2004 dollars in the table "Over time - by Race & Sex."

All I am saying is that the statistics can be used to make whatever point you want to make, if you just pick the numbers that tell the story you are looking for.

>Can businesses really be expected to regulate themselves, with minimal oversight?

This is a straw man simplistic argument. Even the most die-hard free market capitalist doesn't believe businesses have any interests other than their own profits. They can grow very powerful, and need a powerful check, and certainly cannot be depended upon to "regulate themselves." What idiotic crap. The question is not whether they can be trusted to check themselves, the question is whether the check must always come from the government, or even if the government can do a decent job at all. In most cases the check comes from some OTHER greedy-evil-money-grubbing corporation in the marketplace. Obviously that cannot work in all cases, but that doesn't mean direct government codification of standards is the only recourse. Clearly the government failed to provide this check in this case. Maybe because regulation is always a tenuous prospect -- after the intense public interest that creates the regulation wanes, the businesses being regulated still have an intense interest in the process, and they end up controlling it by lobbying, and now they can use that tool to protect themselves from competition. This is why government solutions are just really complicated, they cannot adapt fast enough and require a crisis like this to get our attention. How can we get the best experts to work on the side of the regulators without offering them money?

I like solutions along these lines:

But let's stop repeating this forced dichotomy that the choice is between government regulation and businesses "regulating themselves."