Drumbeat: July 10, 2010

Weighing the Possibility of Bankruptcy for BP

With pockets as deep as BP’s — its assets are worth more than $260 billion — the possibility that it might be forced to seek bankruptcy protection because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is considered remote by many industry experts.

But what if the company’s plan to contain the spill in the next several days does not work, and other efforts to stop the gushing oil also fail? If that were to occur, the worst-case projections of some experts, if they came to pass, would strain the ability of any company to pay, said Robin K. Craig, associate dean for environmental programs at the Florida State University College of Law.

Professor Craig said that if the oil hit the Gulf Stream and was carried by currents to East Coast states, Cuba and other Caribbean nations, and possibly even Britain, lawsuits could quickly mount to levels even BP could not handle.

“My bet is that BP will finally go bankrupt from the tort liability and the environmental liability,” she said. “Hypothetically, a bluefin tuna farmer in the Mediterranean could end up with a claim against BP.”

The World's Biggest Oil Companies

Publicly traded giants like Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Total may be Big Oil, but they are not Biggest Oil.

All resources will be used to overcome energy crisis

BEIJING/SHANGHAI: Pakistan will use all resources for power generation to overcome its energy crisis, President Asif Ali Zardari said on Friday while speaking at the Pak-China Economic Forum.

The president also called for increased economic cooperation between the two countries and invited Chinese entrepreneurs to take advantage of the special incentives being offered to them in Pakistan. He invited Chinese investors to invest in Pakistan’s engineering, banking, communication, agriculture and energy sectors.

Kurdistan Region through the eyes of a Middle East expert

I fear that the long-held ties between the American State Department and the Arabian American Oil Company--ARAMCO--will continue to cause America to see the Middle East primarily through Arab eyes. This is very similar to what happened after World War I--the abandonment of former promises to Kurds due to the collusion of British petroleum politics and Arab nationalism.

Arabs see the possibility of an independent Kurdistan as the creation of another Israel--and have said this over the decades themselves; i.e., how dare anyone but Arabs get some bit of justice in the region that they call "purely Arab patrimony."

America: Too Big To Flail?

"Please stop calling it a leak!" Bill KcKibben pleaded at the Slow Money conference in Shelburne, Vermont last month. A leak, after all, suggests a kind of dribble. A spill sounds like something you might mop up with a towel.

"We've punched a hole in the bottom of the ocean," McKibben added. "Is a knife wound a 'blood leak?'"

Shining a light on the way artificial light has changed our lives

Until the 18th century, night was an impenetrable abyss. Tallow candles, made of rendered animal fat, barely lightened the darkness. The workday was tied to the sun; once you could no longer see your work, labor stopped. Then tallow candles began to be replaced by whale spermaceti candles, which were twice as brilliant, and by lamps that burned cheap and abundant whale oil. Small wonder that this era was later dubbed the Age of Enlightenment.

Nikola Tesla's Renewable Energy Vision

At the height of his popularity as the key inventor who pioneered commercial electricity, Tesla cautioned the world of the inefficiencies of burning substances to generate energy, especially coal, the predominate fuel source of the day.

Not only did the burning process waste most the potential energy of coal, Nikola Tesla argued, but it was a nonrenewable resource that we would eventually run out of. The same arguments could easily be made about oil.

For this man, home is where the earth is

Down a dirt road and between thickets of trees, Paul Queen lives inside a grassy, man-made hill.

Deer try to stroll across his rooftop.

Gopher tortoises attempt to tunnel into the walls.

But inside, Queen can barely hear the rain — or deer hoofsteps. His home is earth-sheltered, meaning it's not exactly underground but is surrounded and insulated by a massive mound of soil. National builders of the obscure style, which first grew out of hillsides and rural grasslands during the energy crisis decades ago, say that amid concerns about power bills and natural disasters, more people are burrowing into the earth.

Easy living: The truth about modern communes

Today's communes are a far cry from the free-loving, dope-smoking hippy havens of the Sixties. But can they really solve the problems of the modern world?

Discovery of second pipe in Deepwater Horizon riser stirs debate among experts

For the first time Friday, the Coast Guard and BP acknowledged that a mysterious second pipe, wedged next to the drill pipe in what remains of the Deepwater Horizon's riser, is fouling up the works where the well is spewing hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

...The idea that a loose pipe shot up from deeper in the well and prevented the shear ram from closing has been espoused by such experts as oil industry investment banker Matt Simmons and Bob Bea, a University of California at Berkeley engineer leading a scientific investigation into the blowout. But others have wondered if the mystery pipe isn't just a section of the same drill pipe that came loose, or even a pipe that fell down the riser from the rig 5,000 feet above.

Saudi probes 11-year oil smuggling operation: report

RIYADH -Saudi Arabia is investigating a smuggling operation that illegally exported discount-priced oil to Europe for more than 11 years, the Saudi newspaper Okaz reported on Saturday.

Unnamed companies had bought discounted oil under the guise of using it to produce chemicals domestically, but instead they shipped it to unidentified destinations in Europe, the paper said.

Pump prices end the week lower, oil higher

NEW YORK – Drives to the beach and summer road trips will cost less this weekend, with average gasoline pump prices around the country more than four cents lower than a week ago.

China Boosts Net Oil Imports to Record 22.14 Million Metric Tons in June

China, the world’s second-biggest oil consumer, increased net crude-oil imports to a record in June as demand rose and costs fell.

Net purchases climbed to 22.14 million metric tons, or about 5.39 million barrels a day, from 17.65 million tons a month earlier, according to preliminary data released by the General Administration of Customs today. This was more than the previous record of 20.98 million tons in April.

What About the Arctic?

It wasn’t that long ago that proponents of oil drilling, and even President Obama, were arguing that the threat of spills had been substantially reduced thanks to new advances in drilling technology. It’s a claim that sounds humbling in light of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But rather than harp on the past, environmentalists are focusing their efforts on the future, specifically this summer, when another round of exploratory drilling is set to begin off the pristine coasts of Alaska.

Canada missing out on Arctic energy

Canada has dithered and delayed resource development in its high Arctic for more than a generation while other jurisdictions, namely Norway and Alaska, have moved quickly from discovery wells to oil and gas production.

Syria to Offer 40% of Land for Oil, Gas Exploration, Al-Thawra Reports

Syria’s government has offered 74,000 square-kilometers of land, or 40 percent of the country, to international oil and gas companies for exploration, Al Thawra newspaper reported, citing the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resouces.

In addition to new exploration on the land, the ministry is seeking the restoration of old wells where production ceased in the past several years, the newspaper reported.

Moscow rivaling OPEC?

MOSCOW (UPI) -- Crude oil deliveries through the East Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipeline are putting pressure on traditional Gulf suppliers of oil, government records suggest.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin inaugurated the ESPO oil pipeline during a ceremony at the Kozmino oil terminal Dec. 28, calling the "strategic project" a victory for Moscow.

BP Aims to Contain Flow of Gulf Well Within Days

BP Plc may contain all of the flow from its Gulf of Mexico oil gusher within the next four days by accelerating installation of a tight seal between the damaged wellhead and surface production vessels, said Thad Allen, the government’s national incident coordinator.

Potential setbacks could lengthen the timeline to nine days, Robert Dudley, chief executive officer of BP’s Gulf Coast Restoration unit, said in a letter to Allen, released late today.

Part owner of blown-out oil well tells BP it won’t help fund cleanup

NEW YORK — Anadarko Petroleum Corp. says it won’t help BP pay for the worst oil spill in US history.

The Houston company, which owns 25 percent of BP’s blown-out well in the Gulf of Mexico, said yesterday that it has refused to send the $272 million contribution BP requested in June.

BP spill won't affect Iraq projects: oil minister

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraq's oil minister said on Saturday he sees no impact from the massive oil spill at a BP (BP.L) well in the Gulf of Mexico on Iraq's current or future projects to develop its giant oilfields.

Japan, Russia agree to build gas plant

Japan and Russia have agreed to jointly build a liquefied natural gas plant in Vladivostok, with five million tonnes of output to be shipped to Japan annually, a newspaper said on Saturday.

Ecuador Seeks To Nullify Ruling In Chevron Case

QUITO -(Dow Jones)- Ecuador has asked the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague to nullify a ruling that ordered to the Andean country to pay to Chevron Corp. up to $700 million.

Last March, an international arbitration panel of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague ordered to Ecuador to pay up to $700 million in damages and interest because its courts took too long to rule on lawsuits brought by the oil giant.

Protests simmer among Iran’s powerful merchants

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Tehran’s powerful merchants don’t need street protests to make their anger known — the sound of shops being locked up and metal grates clanging shut during a wave of anti-tax strikes this week was enough to unsettle Iranian authorities.

The closures — with Tehran’s expansive bazaar as the epicenter — present another dilemma for Iranian leaders still trying to weigh the fallout from wider U.N. and American sanctions.

Big Money Drives Up the Betting on the Marcellus Shale

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- Halliburton is building a permanent outpost here on the edge of a one of the 21st century's biggest energy booms.

Prosperity requires humility

Pinheads with power who think they know the last detail of how the world works and what it is going to look like, not just over the next couple years – but years down the road.

For them tomorrow is simply a repeat of yesterday. The idea that life is about surprises and the unknown – that what we know is a small splotch compared to what we don’t know – takes humility. And humility is the last thing on the radar screen of power brokers who feel they know so much that they are comfortable planning and taking over the lives of their fellow citizens.

Doomsday scenarios dominated thinking about energy in the 1970’s. It led to major government interference in these markets that just made things worse.

Driving: a parent's nightmare

What is his ultimate goal in life? It is not making a million dollars, saving the world, or becoming president – it is heading south on the Pan-American highway, looking for Tierra Del Fuego, not because he is fascinated by Latin American culture but because he wants to go. And go some more. In an age when a 13-year-old is climbing Mount Everest and 16-year-olds are sailing solo around the world, this is a rather modest goal. Peak oil means he'll never get to do it. Peak oil means he shouldn't do it. Peak oil means he should do it soon, while he still has the chance. Peak oil means that he should go by bicycle – even more dangerous.

No furnace is no problem for Point Reyes passive home

To architect James Bill, "affordable housing" means more than a home with a low purchase price. Truly affordable homes, Bill says, are those with monthly maintenance costs that don't fluctuate with the price of fuel.

"We're past the point of peak oil, and there will be huge pressure for oil prices to escalate rapidly," said Bill, a San Anselmo architect. "By making a super low-energy home, you lock in low costs forever. And it's great for the environment."

Greg Pahl: Excerpt from The Citizen-Powered Energy Handbook: Community Solutions to a Global Crisis

More and more people are beginning to recognize that it’s the predatory, corporate-dominated, global economic system with its mindless pursuit of short-term profits and “shareholder value” that is devouring the planet, its resources—and ultimately us along with it.

Stephanie leads quest for community tales

A STORYTELLER will visit Bewdley in a quest to collect and share stories of communities making positive changes to tackle climate change and peak oil production.

New Rules May Cloud the Outlook for Biomass

An energy technology that has long been viewed as a clean and climate-friendly alternative to fossil fuels is facing tough new regulatory hurdles that could ultimately hamper its ability to compete with renewable power sources like wind and solar.

Ethics and the Greenhouse

One of the toughest realities attending debates over what to do, or not do, about the growing human influence on the climate system is that more science does not necessarily clarify society’s, or individual’s, responses.

Interview: How Our Economy is Killing the Earth

When Bill McKibben first sounded the alarm about global warming 20 years ago, he was something of a voice crying in the wilderness. Now McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Deep Economy, is issuing an even more dire warning. His new book, with the science fiction-y title Eaarth, paints a picture of a depleted, overheated planet no longer suited to its inhabitants. That planet is our own, the time is now, and the book is non-fiction.

Feeling the heat: Unlocking the Arctic's frozen secrets

Forecasts suggest that this year will see the amount of sea ice in the Arctic retreat to one of the lowest extents since satellite records began. So what will be the impact of an Arctic devoid of sea-ice during the summer in the future?

Putting a Price Tag on the Melting Ice Caps

Reports about the melting ice caps are distressing, but for the most part climate change remains abstract. The poor polar bear has been trotted out as the tangible face of global warming so often that we're beginning to see "polar bear fatigue." How about bringing the effects of Arctic melt close to home, as in what it will cost? A new study does just that, and the results are alarming, not just for Arctic dwellers but for all of us. According to lead author Eban Goodstein, Ph.D., over the next 40 years Arctic ice melt will take an economic toll of between $2.4 trillion and $24 trillion. Unless we change course — and fast.

Re: Feeling the heat: Unlocking the Arctic's frozen secrets

This story makes reference to a study published last fall. Here's a comment taken from the press release for the report.

17 September 2009

Arctic sea ice pumps 50% more carbon dioxide into the oceans

Arctic sea ice plays a critical and hitherto unknown role in the removal of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, as revealed in a study just published by an international research team that includes Prof. Ronnie Glud of SAMS.
in this study, the researchers have found that sea ice itself plays an important role in CO2 capture, effectively pumping this potent greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere. As sea ice forms, it rejects brine, rich in inorganic carbon compounds (derived from atmospheric CO2), into the underlying seawater, a process further stimulated by carbonate precipitation within the sea ice. The summer sea ice melt liberates water which is strongly depleted in CO2. The very low concentration of CO2 in this surface water then drives the extraordinary uptake of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Citation: Rysgaard, S., J. Bendtsen, L. T. Pedersen, H. Ramløv, and R. N. Glud (2009), Increased CO2 uptake due to sea ice growth and decay in the Nordic Seas, J. Geophys. Res., 114, C09011, doi:10.1029/2008JC005088.

E. Swanson

Unfortunately, the paper is behind a pay wall.

However, it would seem that this mechanism is most effective for seasonal ice, and that there would be relatively little enhancement of CO2 capture in areas of multi-season ice. Therefore, as the extent of multi-season ice decreases due to AGW, wouldn't this effect actually result in greater CO2 capture?

Yeah, the paying for research publications is certainly a limit on the spread of information. I can't read it either, even though I'm an AGU member. Here's the abstract:

The uptake rates of atmospheric CO2 in the Nordic Seas are among the highest in the world's oceans. This has been ascribed mainly to a strong biological drawdown, but chemical processes within the sea ice itself have also been suggested to play a role. The importance of sea ice for the carbon uptake in the Nordic Seas is currently unknown. We present evidence from 50 localities in the Arctic Ocean that dissolved inorganic carbon is rejected together with brine from growing sea ice and that sea ice melting during summer is rich in carbonates. Model calculations show that melting of sea ice exported from the Arctic Ocean into the East Greenland current and the Nordic Seas plays an important and overlooked role in regulating the surface water partial pressure of CO2 and increases the seasonal CO2 uptake in the area by approximately 50%.

The researchers point to the export of sea-ice as being the important variable to consider. This process is expected to increase as the fraction of multi-year sea-ice declines and is replaced by the thinner first year ice.

E. Swanson

Thanks for the abstract. It still seems that the effect would depend mostly on seasonal ice extent and not on multi-year ice extent.

In areas with multi-year ice, wouldn't the ice be a barrier to gas exchange between the atmosphere and the sea? Each year, the multi-year ice would mainly thicken at the bottom in the winter, and then melt from the top in the summer?

Yo Dog - This can't be good;

"Researchers Witness Overnight Breakup, Retreat of Greenland Glacier"


Another bit of data pointing perhaps toward our future? For those who may not have taken the time to read the article and any climate change deniers in the audience, consider this:

Jakobshavn Isbrae is located on the west coast of Greenland at latitude 69°N and has been retreated more than 45 kilometers (27 miles) over the past 160 years, 10 kilometers (6 miles) in just the past decade. As the glacier has retreated, it has broken into a northern and southern branch. The breakup this week occurred in the north branch.

Scientists estimate that as much as 10 percent of all ice lost from Greenland is coming through Jakobshavn, which is also believed to be the single largest contributor to sea level rise in the northern hemisphere. Scientists are more concerned about losses from the south branch of the Jakobshavn, as the topography is flatter and lower than in the northern branch.

E. Swanson

Of course, before we get too freaked out, we should also note that the article says:

While this week's breakup itself is not unusual, Howat noted, detecting it within hours and at such fine detail is a new phenomenon for scientists.

Your correct consumer

So if you are lying in the street bleeding to death I will assure you that it is not all that unusual. You have been dying ever since you were born. You are just dying a little faster now. No big deal.

So... I wonder what the implications are?

What's the size - is this an important carbon sink or a minor one?

If the amount of arctic sea ice is becoming less over time, that would mean we expect this sink to become smaller and less effective?

Would this slow the rate of ocean acidification noticeably?

Good questions. Sorry to say that I'm not the one to answer them, as I haven't seen the paper. For example, the abstract focuses on the Nordic Seas as the site of the "biological drawdown" discussed. That's the area where most of the water sinks in the Thermohaline Circulation (THC). There is research evidence that the surface water in the Nordic Seas is becoming less saline, the result of both increased precipitation and export of sea-ice and surface water flows between the Arctic and the Nordic seas. These currents flow thru the Fram Strait in both directions at different depths, which makes measurements more difficult. Since the Fram Strait is rather deep, the Arctic Ocean and the Nordic seas can be considered as a single body of water MOL, even though the surface areas are given different geographical names.

As for changing the rate of acidification, I suspect that a slowing of deep water formation, which moves CO2 into the depths of the oceans, would cause the atmospheric CO2 level to increase faster than it might otherwise. My WAG is that this could be expected to increase the uptake of CO2 by the waters in the surface mixed layer of the world's oceans.

E. Swanson

I'm assuming this is a reliable report:


Employers will be encouraged to let staff work from home as part of a Government campaign to cut traffic congestion, it emerged last night.

Employees could be given more flexible hours and work schedules adapted in order to allow at least one day every fortnight to be one spent working remotely.

Train companies might also be encouraged not to penalise those who only spend part of the week at the office by overhauling season tickets.

Note that the motivation isn't fuel usage but traffic congestion issues.

IME, it's almost always congestion that's the driving force behind these things. Though sometimes climate change is part of it.

I guess all three are pretty closely related, since being stuck in traffic increases fuel use a lot.

I was partly pointing out one of the "quantitative" differences between the UK and the US: I can easily believe that in many more "diffuse" American cities there's enough spread-out/sprawl (pick according to taste) that congestion isn't really a problem, whereas it's an unavoidable, significant issue in the UK given the generally-1-person-per-car usage.

Not really true. Congestion is definitely a problem in the US, and flex time/telecommuting is often proposed as a fix for the traffic problem.

The congestion is made worse by the sprawl. More people traveling more miles per day.

Except that the sprawl also means more lane-miles to travel on. Usually it's the concentrated downtown areas that really gridlock regularly.

Some report out of Texas estimated 182 kb/d lost in 2007 due to congestion, plus $87.2 billion. Always found it staggering how little the HOV lanes are used on the freeways around Portland; besides the convenience of going it alone I recall studies about how happy people are in their cars, away from all that noise that is work or family, I guess. Anytime I'm in stop-and-go the blood pressure goes up - all that lost potential, and the parking lot of other cars lurching around just drives me nuts. It was a big part of my going car free in PDX for years, that and parsimony, and my 1990 Dodge Shadow keeling over anyway.

being stuck in traffic increases fuel use a lot

The chamber of commerce of Munich/Germany was quoted somewhere (can't find the source any more) that traffic for search of parking induces up to 80 per cent of overall urban car traffic. (Of course the conclusion was to demand more parking lots.)

Yesterday I found a quite long, but rewarding document to read. It's an online readable version of Charles Siegel's book "Unplanning" which gives lots of insights about the history of urban planning and how eventually car dependence was created by planners.

Yup, work from home. The waitress will direct you by phone out to the kitchen to pickup your meal, Opps, the cook is working from home so he will direct you by phone how to cook your meal, Opps, the delivery driver is working from home so there is no food to cook.
The machine shop workers, auto factory workers, store clerks, police, firefighters, railroad crews & track workers, airline crews, ground crews, road construction crews, etc..... are all going to work from home?
The only people that can work from home for the most part are paper pushers that are un-necessary in the first place?
Unfortunately, the paper pushers think the world revolves around them. I suspect they are in for a very nasty surprise when the economy starts to get really ugly?

If you put it that way, most of us work in jobs that are unnecessary. Are restaurants any more necessary than paper-pushers?

Engineers and scientists can often work from home, at least part of the time. Writers, artists, software designers. And I think there will be a lot more education done over the net in the future.

The real problem will be that if a job can be done via telecommuting, it can also be done for one-tenth the pay in Manila or Mumbai.

You hit the problem with telecommuting. The only telecommuting job I want is one where you have to do field inspections or meetings with the client regularly. That's about the only thing that will keep it from being offshored.

It could, but can you communicate with them well enough to get what you need? Domestic contractors are difficult enough to deal with, I can't imagine having to deal with language, cultural, and time zone issues as well on any project I cared about.

It's a major pain. But for a 3-10x labour cost difference companies are doing a lot of it anyway.

times-picayune how credible are they ?

- erroneously reported the finding of 11 lost drillers

- reported the fake story about the schlumberger non logging non event

......i'm just sayin'

- is that two pipe photo a real photo or a mock-up ?

and how 'bout that jindal ? is he another wingnut member of the wingnut wing of the wingnut party ?


Elwood, making a reporting mistake is one thing, deliberately making up a fraudulent story and faking a photo is a whole different ballgame. What would be the motive for doing such a thing? Anyway Jim Tankersley of the Chicago Tribune actually broke the story and it was published in The Los Angeles Times on June 29th.

Second pipe may have crippled BP well's defense mechanism

Ron p

Thanks for reposting that. It clears up a lot of questions, and opens up a whole new can of worms.

"Sanctions on Iran
Anything to declare?
The squeeze gets tighter"


"Now France’s Total has joined BP, India’s Reliance, Malaysia’s Petronas, Russia’s Lukoil and others in stopping gasoline sales to Iran (which imports 30-40% of its petrol). Spain’s Repsol is just the latest energy firm to junk contracts in Iran’s gas or oil fields."

"Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, was once the hub of Pakistan’s Abdul Qadeer Khan black market (which first got Iran started in secret uranium enrichment). The UAE authorities recently let it be known that they had closed some 40 Iranian companies suspected of funnelling embargoed goods to Iran from around the world."

I suspect this will be quite a controversial comment. I have estimated the apportionment for the 2012 house election.

Using census bureau estimates for 2008 and 2009 population I added that difference to the 2009 population for each states 2010 population.


Total US population was then estimated to be 309,638,254 for 2010. Using this population divided by 435 gives a district population base of 711,812. Then using each states 2010 population estimate I divided that states population by 711,812. If the decimal was smaller than .5 I used that whole number if it was larger I increased the whole number by one. Of course these numbers are subject to considerable change as 9 states were with in .05 of gaining or losing a district, mostly those that had maintained their district from 2000 apportionment.

The following states lost one district
.New Jersey
.New York
Ohio lost 2

The following states gained one district
.South Carolina
Texas gained 4

So this indicates most of the loss is in blue states and the gain is mostly red. Also as things look now the 2010 legislative elections will become more red, and more red legislatures will control the gerrymandering for the 2012 district maps. Also California is neutral for the first time in many decades.

After the messy 2000 election, it was suggested that if blue staters really wanted to make a difference, they should move to red states. Maybe they did. :-)

And good luck with that gerrymandering thing. It doesn't work.

"And good luck with that gerrymandering thing."

My interest is not in the electoral college or the presidential election, it is the make up of the house and what is done to each district to enhance that parties success.

And I don't think that really matters.

The incumbents are going to suffer in the upcoming election, regardless of district lines.

That is also not where my interest lies, but who determines where and how districts are added and axed.

To me, it's arguing about the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.

To me, it's arguing about the arrangement of deck chairs on the Titanic.

The deck was the most posh and respectable place to be seen on that floating palace before the iceberg got in the way.

If you're going down, you might as well have the best seats in the house (or, in this case, the ship of state).

Even aboard the Titanic, it was better to a member of first class than steerage. Improved the odds for survival.


Sure, but the first class passengers own both parties. We're in steerage regardless of which one gets to arrange the deck chairs.

I can buy that 100% but being a R&D guy I want to see how the results compare with my projections.

The incumbents are going to suffer in the upcoming election, regardless of district lines.

So goes the conventional narrative, but how much is there behind it really?


Not as much as might meet the eye.

In regards to "China Boosts Oil Imports" above, this is just the latest example that worldwide demand for oil is being seriously underestimated by the EIA, IEA, and private energy analysts.

For example, the latest EIA short term forecast ( http://www.eia.gov/emeu/steo/pub/3atab.pdf ) greatly underestimates both current US and China demand.

In the latest four weeks, US demand is running about 1 million bpd over last year, while the EIA is forecasting demand growth of only about 220,000 bpd for 2010.

Granted we are only half way through the year, and demand may soon (and likely will at some point) hit the invisible wall of supply. However it appears that current negative thinking about the state of the US and China economy is not supported by facts. Or in other words, we are not yet going into some kind of deflationary economic death spiral scenario, as we hear from Denninger and others almost daily. There is just enough current supply, and perhaps some inventory drawn downs, to facilitate an increase in demand. Note yesterday it was reported that oil stored offshore Iran in tankers was being used up; similar other reports have surfaced about offshore tankers elsewhere in the last few months.

Is it in China's interest to understate its imports of crude oil? Has the report of 5.39 m/b/d in crude imports been verified?

Permanent Burrard Bridge bike lanes approved

Vancouver is gradually squeezing automobiles out of the downtown core. This is despite strong opposition from motorist who believe they deserve most of the road space simply because they outnumber cyclist and pedestrians. The process of taking back the streets from automobiles is grindingly slow and fraught with obstacles, but our new enlightened mayor is willing to stick his neck out like no-one before him. His popularity has actually increased since he started converting street lanes to bike lanes. I think this political suicide idea is overblown.

OTOH this comment (emphasis added; no obvious way to link direct to it)...

freedom60 wrote: Posted 2010/07/10 at 5:00 PM ET
My suggestion is this: City of Vancouver should definitely buiild a true bicycle/foot bridge (or 2!) only into downtown bridging the creek. If Vancouver is so hell bent in bicycling, they really then should build that bridge and leave the motorists alone for God's sake! THAT would be fair!! ... Leave us normal people the hell alone! Thankyou!!!

...will illustrate the other side of the political problem. We'll just have to wait and see whether popularity as measured by answers to the typical loaded questions asked in polls actually translates to votes at the next election.

On the other other hand, Canadians, like many Europeans, seem often to harbor a more docile and obedient attitude about government actions than USA folks, so who knows...

Vancouver actually managed to eliminate a lot of cars from downtown during the Olympics. That aside, their main strategy to reduce cars seems to be to reduce parking. The current mayor is a keen cyclist and will do all he can to push cycling, which is not a bad thing, but I agree with that comment, that some grade separated bridges and cycleways are the best way to go. A cycle "freeway" system would see usage jump dramatically, as many non hard core cyclist refuse to cycle in traffic, and the existing cycle lanes all end sooner or later.

Mostly what it does is drive more business away from Vancouver into the burbs. New businesses mostly locate in Burnaby or Richmond as it is, or farther out in Surrey. A tiny percent of the population rides bicycles to work and that isn't likely to increase much until there are no other options. It might drive a few more people to transit, though, which can't hurt.

Behind a paywall, but viewable through Google...

Destination: Emerging Markets

We all believe in the long-term opportunities. But it's very important to have capital to finance that growth. When we aggregated the total deposits of 287 banks worldwide at Victoria 1522, we found only $400 billion of unlent deposits. Factor in reserve requirements on $29 trillion of outstanding deposits, and there isn't any outstanding extra money to fuel economic growth anywhere. With a global capital shortage, can companies in the emerging markets continue to grow?

Another shock that could hit the world could be a shortage of oil. As we come out of this downturn, there will be increased demand for energy to fuel growth. Developing unconventional sources will take time.

As my daughter might say if she had a lisp..."thats totally growth".

I mentioned in a previous Drumbeat that I was horrified by the age and general condition of Toronto Hydro's distribution system when I moved there in the early 80's. When I said large chunks of it date back to the '20s, I wasn't kidd'n.

Toronto’s precarious power hot spots
Here are areas of the city’s power grid in need of serious work

The explosion at a Kipling transformer station on Monday, which turned out the lights on 250,000 Torontonians, was a reminder that the city’s power grid is in need of serious attention. Much of it was designed and built from the 1920s through the 1970s, and the tab to modernize it easily reaches into the billions. In the past six years, Toronto Hydro has increased its repair spending from $40-million to $275-million a year, jacking up rates to pay for it. Hydro One, which manages the transmission grid, is targeting creaky infrastructure as well.

See: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/torontos-precarious...


Heat waves and blackouts: Here’s the fix
What we’re missing is a disciplined approach to planned investments to modernize Ontario’s power delivery system

This week’s heat wave and major power outage in Toronto – coincident with the tantalizing possibility of a candlelight dinner with the Queen – has brought to light, yet again, the vulnerability of a critical infrastructure and the important role that the electricity system plays in our lives. The infrastructure is aging, parts of the system are well past their “best before” date and the need for a reliable system is an ever-fixed mark. What is the problem, and is there a fix?

Time is upon us to bring into alignment several key factors: the need for sustained investments, a clear understanding of the value of electricity to society – distinct from its cost – and the institutional arrangements that provide policy stability for coherence in decision-making.

See: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/heat-waves-and-blackouts-he...



It would seem to me that repairing said system is a better use of scarce $ than paying $0.81/kWh for solar electricity.
Also a batter use than paying ridiculous $ to senior staff, like they did to Eleanor Clitheroe a few years ago -are they any better now?

Exciting type of hydrocarbon Fiesta today on Pensacola Beach.
water seems mostly oil-free for the first time in weeks.
Attendance can be over 6 figures, remains to be seen
how the spill will impact Blues on the beach weekend.

They say the last fighter pilot has been
born, Airshows beat a tractor pull any day,
if you haven't seen one, do so.
Oil moose blown to the west of here,
heard is was coming ashore in Mississippi
Photos by Bill Troendle taken on Thursday's
practice run.

IMO - the "BLUES" are the best.

Try to watch them @ their weekly practice when possible.

This will be the first time I've not gone to the beach show in years,
just couldn't muster the will to fight the traffic coming/going @ P-beach.

Fly Navy!

Gotta have a friend with a boat to avoid land sharks since the ones in the water are all greased-up

Looks like JB and parrot heads helping people cope, perhaps he can avoid getting branded a la Dixie Chicks,
At least he has an excuse, Margareta's and a back-up band called reefers.


Live concert broadcast at Margaretaville Hotel, otherwise live 6 Central Sunday on CMT.

There is NOTHING more magical than witnessing the awesome technology mankind has dreamed up for killing as many people as possible.

Man Rocks!

aka, 'What have the Romans ever done for us?'

Hi, everyone. If you are on the East Coast of the U.S. and grow your own food, please consider this opportunity.

There is a European public television station that is doing a piece on people who are preparing for the decline of oil. They are looking for people on the East Coast who might consider themselves "urban farmers" but my sense is that they are open to including people who garden in the context of what we are all preparing for. But the key is to have a garden for the purpose of augmenting one's food supply in preparation for a declining economy.

Before I work with anyone in the media, I do my best to ensure that the correspondents are going to treat the topic with integrity.

In this case, when I shared my concerns, the producer relayed several important points to me:
- they are a public radio station and thus have a duty and history of being fair to stories; i.e. they have no "angle"
- they are from Europe where topics such as these are more easy to discuss
- I asked for and he sent an example of his work; he sent me this:

I understand a little French and it very much is straight-up reporting. I'm comfortable that the topic will be treated with respect.

This is an opportunity for someone to be part of letting the world know what we are facing by lending their voice and face to expanding the conversation. Their weekly broadcast reaches approximately 90 million people in Europe, so the impact of what you say could be significant.

I have been interviewed many times and can coach you on what to expect, if you'd like.

If you are interested in being a part of this, please email me at the address attached to this account. They would send a camera crew and correspondent on Sunday and/or Monday to interview you.


No takers yet...if you want to be able to tell your kids that you did what you could to wake the world up (the reason why Jim Hansen wrote Storms of My Grandchildren), please consider this opportunity.

"..if you want to be able to tell your kids that you did what you could to wake the world up..."

...by burning down the top 5 Banking/financial institutions in your area and telling everyone you can reach that there is a massive criminal transfer of wealth from the majority 90% of Americans to the top 10% of the most wealthy and that will ultimately translate to ugly, violent, death for them and their family.

Either that or plant a garden and buy a Prius.

Its up to you and how much time off you can convince your boss to give you.


Does the east coast of Canada work with a hobby garden? I don't grow all my own food but enough to keep me in pickles, beats, and root crops for part of the winter. I'm also a big fan of buying local. But like much of the rest of the population, I rely on the grocery chains for a sizable portion of my day to day needs.

Would I be able to live off my garden if push came to shove? Probably, but that would occupy a whole lot more of my time than I can reasonably afford to take right now.

Fossil fuels likely provide 9 calories of every 1 of my calories consumed, versus the normal 10 calories to every 1 swallowed elsewhere. Most of that reduction has little to do with my lowly garden; it is b/c I try to buy fruit, vegetables, and meat from local farmers when in season. Good neighborly relations is borne out of supporting nearby producers.

Living in a rural area also means driving is a necessity for me. I went for years without a car when I lived in the city. Without reliable transit, however, that prospect is not a realistic option. Won't be either until going horseback makes a comeback.

As long as they don't mind interviewing a Canuck wrestling with these contradictions, sign me up.



Thanks, Tom. I'll pass along your name (got your email).

Hey André,

Tom is intelligent, articulate and highly photogenic*. You couldn't pick a better candidate.


* Coffee is on you next time. :-D

André, I'm on standby. Thanks.

Paul, you really do need your eyes checked ;-)

For that set of compliments, I'll be happy to cover the coffee tab next time. I may even throw in a sandwich.



Did I mention he's way too modest? [angling for desert]

This item popped up in the news earlier this week:

Urban farm proposed for derelict Halifax school

An urban farm could take the place of Halifax's former Queen Elizabeth High School, when demolition is complete next spring.

The school site will eventually be developed by the Capital District Health Authority. It is next door to the Queen Elizabeth II Health Sciences Centre. But in the meantime the health authority wants to use the space for growing produce.

"That's the idea we're excited about right now. We think a good portion of it could be turned into a garden and be used to demonstrate gardening techniques and raise some healthy food," said John Gillis, a spokesperson for the health authority.

See: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/nova-scotia/story/2010/07/07/ns-urban-farm-hali...


Did I mention he's way too modest? [angling for desert]

Alright, a full compliment deserves a full complementary lunch.

At Tim Horton's the lunch deal includes desert.

So... just because I'm a nice guy, I'll throw in your favourite doughnut or muffin. It's cheaper that way!!!!

Talk soon,


Hey Andre,

Hello from a very warm and sunny day in Seattle, before I head out to Seafoodfest, where the Vikings have taken over downtown Ballard for the weekend. This former East Coaster suggests you try the following folks directly. I think they could easily put you in touch with their local home farmers:

Majora Carter, founder of
Sustainable South Bronx.

Also, what about Chris Martenson, who's in the Boston area? Maybe he'll get a fairer chance to tell his story :-), as opposed to the recent hatchet job from The Boston Globe.

On a younger generational note, this engaging article from February NYT discusses "Crop Mobs" and the young farmer movement (the featured farm is in North Carolina).

Field Report: Plow Shares

"The Crop Mob, a monthly word-of-mouth (and -Web) event in which landless farmers and the agricurious descend on a farm for an afternoon, has taken its traveling work party to 15 small, sustainable farms. Together, volunteers have contributed more than 2,000 person-hours, doing tasks like mulching, building greenhouses and pulling rocks out of fields."

The FoodNYC: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Food System also has some contacts if they are interested in government lens: "Establish food-producing spaces in New York City for personal, community, or commercial use by the year 2030, through various legislative and land-use actions. The City should facilitate the development of rooftop gardens, in addition to creating an NYC Urban Agriculture Program, which would provide access, resources, and information to promote community gardening."

The plus about the French film crew interviewing the New Yorkers is 1. They like to talk :-), and 2. Once they dig into something, they won't let go. I have no doubt FoodNYC will happen.


These are all great except the producer is looking specifically for an urban farmer in the context of peak oil...still, I'll pass them along.

I'll also give him Chris' info in case Chris isn't gun shy right now...


At the gym this morning, I got some insight into who is buying houses now.

I met a young single mother with one son, who works as an online school teacher, for a web site. She currently has an apartment, and can barely make ends meet.

She is buying a house now, because with the low interest rate, it looks to her like it will be cheaper than the apartment. She says she has entirely paid off her loan on her older car, so that puts her in better position--probably considered in her loan qualification.

I wonder how long the situation will last, though. Does her loan have a fixed interest rate or a variable interest rate? Even if it is a fixed interest rate, what happens when the house needs repairs, or she needs a replacement car? School districts are laying off teachers right and left, so job availability will be bad, if she should lose her job. The situation may work now--but will it work for the longer term?

I keep reading commentary about how it is better to be renting than owning, for the following basic reasons :-

1. More flexibility - can move on any time
2. Less risk, in case of economic crash and loss of income/home value
3. More money can be saved

There are a number of cons, though, as I see it :-

1. What if the owner gets foreclosed or sells ?
2. What if one can't pay the rent ?
3. What if the owner doesn't allow gardening, animals or energy saving improvements ?
4. What if rent keeps going up ?
5. Who is actually going to be the owner, if everyone wants to rent ?

Seems to me the benefits of owning are :-

1. You know how much your monthly payments are, until the mortgage is paid, if you have one
2. You can make any improvements you want, depending on your community, and any you can afford e.g. garden
3. If you feel you are in the right location, stability helps, and you aren't concerned about market value if you don't plan to move
4. You can have any number of family members, or others, move in with you

Some cons :-
1. Real estate taxes could keep escalating
2. Home maintenance is expensive
3. If you lose income and can't make payments, you have a problem
4. Sunk cost

1. You know how much your monthly payments are, until the mortgage is paid, if you have one

Renting you know your rent and in fact as deflation continues you can guarantee that it will go down, not so with mortgage.

2. You can make any improvements you want, depending on your community, and any you can afford e.g. garden

I have made huge improvements on my rental over the last 3 years and the landlord acknowledged them and on occasion pays for it and comments that because of these efforts rent will not go up as his investment is improving or at least not degrading.

3. If you feel you are in the right location, stability helps, and you aren't concerned about market value if you don't plan to move.

If you stay in a rental for a long time the landlord OFTEN freezes rate, especially if you are taking care of property, planting, cleaning, routine maintaince, etc.

4. You can have any number of family members, or others, move in with you.

There is no issue with this re;rent vs own.

If you purchase a $100,000 house you will ultimately pay about $300,000 or more for it when you include interest, forced insurance coverage, fees, forced maintenance, etc.

Renting you will pay less every month and therefore not need to hustle as much or use the money not paid to banks and insurance co's for other ventures.

This is all 100000 times more relevant now that we have reached the Limits to Growth.

Hello!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Wake Up Out There!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

"Renting you will pay less every month"

How do you figure that? In a deflation, there is less money available. You could find your rent/income ratio rises - in other words, income falls and you end up paying more of your income to rent. That's the same as saying the price went up.

I am willing to bet the apartment was smaller than the house. The house will have more cubic feet to heat and cool, and more external walls, so heating an cooling costs will be higher. If it is larger, it will "need" more furnishings. The house will need more maintenance, and the responsibility will lie with the owner. As a renter, usually the cost of major repairs is your landlord's. You don't even have to buy tools to have on hand.

In an apartment, you often don't need your own washer and dryer (and perhaps some major appliances) but you will need them in a house (especially if you are not allowed to hang clothes out to dry.)

A house usually has a yard. The owner will need a lawn mower and various tools for taking care of the yard, too.

Yes, there are a lot of expenses that aren't obvious if you've never owned a home.

If you rent, you might not even pay electricity, hot water, or heat directly - it may be included in the rent.

The house will have more cubic feet to heat and cool, and more external walls, so heating an cooling costs will be higher.

I'm learning that it's more complicated than that. We recently sold our home and moved into an apartment. We plan to stay here for a year or two while we build a small strawbale home - much more energy efficient than our 2200 sq ft split. (Also wanted to get out from under a big mortgage before we were underwater, but that's another story.)

We got used to using AC very sparingly in our house and plan not to have any at all in the strawbale. But guess what? We're running it nearly constantly in the apartment. The reason is that in the house we had windows on multiple sides of the house and could get good cross ventilation. We could also hang out in the lower level if it got really hot. That and ceiling fans enabled us to be comfortable w/o AC.

In the apt, on the other hand, we have windows one one side of the dwelling, which is on the third floor of the building. Consequently, it gets HOT in here - hotter than in our house. Obviously, if we didn't care about environment and energy issues, the apt would be cheaper - less space cool than the house. But since we didn't need to cool the house, the apt is costing MORE. Of course, heating will be cheaper in winter. But we are dismayed about the need for AC.


I used to spend a lot more on electricity when I lived in a 1000 sq ft, 3rd floor condo than in my 1800 sq ft house, due to the A/C.

The condo had huge south and west facing windows - terribly hot in the summer time, but not bad in winter, although it could cool off very fast at night due to the high ceilings.

Many rental buildings here in the city have a central boiler/furnace and ducting system. The apartments often have no temperature controls in-unit - only air intakes/outlets or water radiators, with on-off switches. The heat, or air, is either on, or off. Heat, for example, goes on around October 15th, and off, IIRC, around mid-May. Air runs around June - September.

I often hear about people baking in the winter and having to leave windows open, or not getting enough cooling. Their rent sometimes includes utilities, in those situations, but I'd much rather pay my own utilities, and only pay for what I need.

I've found older apartments are better. The ones that were designed before air-conditioning became common. They will usually be oriented to take advantage of the prevailing winds, and have windows on at least two sides of the apartment.

I've heard California actually has laws about stuff like that.

I love those straw-bale homes, BTW. Post some photos, if you feel inclined.

Based on the price of rents now I'm sure she's right that the house mortgage(what kind?) is cheaper than rent but she hasn't figured in the incidentals like taxes, insurance, upkeep, etc.
Can she come up with the (20%?) downpayment as well?

Landlords complain about legal protection for renters but those protections came about because landlords were taking advantage of the situation in many cases. Owners have even fewer rights.

The banks and mortgage companies are still predatory.

The US system doesn't offer much for average folks.

The anti-home ownership mentality will never cease to amaze me, as its an argument that the short-term benefits of renting will outweigh the long term benefits of owning the home. The rent-only crowd strikes me in many ways idealists... similar to those who think firearms will be completely unnecssary if the worst comes to pass.

Renting offers up three main benefits... the ability to move out on very short notice (very useful if you don't plan on staying in your current area more than about 3-4 years), limited "protection" from downturns in the value of the structure and the lack of needing to pay to fix or repair problems with the structure.

Ownership on the other hand (assuming a fixed rate mortgage):

1) Total protection from inflation related housing costs. Your rent will not and can not be raised, even under hyperinflation conditions. Although your taxes could be raised, the renter assumes an equal risk as the landlord would just pass on the increased costs to the renter.
2) Benefit from upturns in the value of the structure.
3) Can only be evicted for failure to pay(as can the renter), but NOT for landlord bankruptcy, landlord selling the property to another buyer, landlord wants the food that you are so charitably growing for him/her on his/her property which you are occupying, etc.
4) Will always build equity over the long term, as long as you continue to make your payments. Even if you go "upside down" in your mortgage, eventually you will "resurface" as long as you keep "swimming" (paying the mortgage)... the renter is not only always underwater, but with each month they get more so. (Value of House to Renter: $0, Rent Payment: $750/month... each month they go $750 further underwater)
5) Mortgage eventually ends and you become the full owner... Rent is like death and taxes, it never ends.
6) Speaking of taxes, you get to deduct your mortgage interest on your taxes.
7) Speaking of death, you get to pass on the home that you own to your kids or whoever you choose... I guess the renters out there could pass on their rental agreements to their kids... so that the kids could get the privledge of continuing to pay rent to the same landlord.
8) In the EOTWAWKI, you can walk away from your mortgage... your credit rating isn't going to matter anymore anyway. You are no worse off than a renter in this regard. If your house gets forclosed on, you are no worse off than the person who has always rented.
9) Interest rates are at all-time amazing, incredibly low values. This is so fundimentally misunderstood and is never taught, which is why most people have no idea how big a deal this is.


If you take out a mortgage on a $200,000 house right now, and you take out a fixed rate loan from your bank right now at 4.5%, your base payment on a $200,000 mortgage will be: $1013.37 per month.

If you wait and the house value drops like a rock from the current value by 25%, down to $150,000 a month, and in the meantime, the interest rate goes up to 7%, your base payment on a $150,000 mortgage will be: $997.95 per month. Not much different.

If the house value stays at $200,000 and the the rates come up slightly to 6%(still low historically), your base payment on that future mortgage would be: $1199.10 per month. At 7% it would be $1330.60 per month! Thats a 33% increase in your monthly cost without any increase in price of the house itself! If both the home price and the interst rate go up... well, $250,000 at 6% is about $1500 a month... and it only gets worse from there.

Here is a historical mortgage rate chart going back to 1963... draw a line across the chart at 6% or even 7%, and compare how many years out of the last 47 years that mortgage rates were below 6 or 7%.

Historical Mortgage Rates Since 1963

A fixed rate mortgage is the best freaking investment you could ever make... especially considering how low today's rates are. Unless you feel that both the home value and current interest rates are going to decline, this is a great time to buy a house. Prices are already depressed and interest rates are amazingly low. With the US government borrowing astronomical amounts of money at an unbelievable speed, it is only a matter of time before US interest rates will go through the roof. You can't live in your stock portfolio, grow food in your bank account, etc, a home is probably the best investment that you can ever make. The interest rate matters as much, if not more than the price of the house itself. Most banks also offer a fixed rate mortgage with Zero Points, and Zero Origination cost if you know enough to ask for it... which means, the loan would have a lot less upfront costs, and a slightly higher interest rate. Today's rate at my bank for such a loan is 4.625%... (was 4.5% (lowest ever?)on Wed, changes every weekday.

The short answer to the the single mom above is, as long as its a fixed rate mortgage, and she can qualify for the loan, can afford a down payment (you don't need 20% even now, an 80% Loan to Value primary loan can be combined with an additional home equity loan to create a "conforming" loan) and can afford the monthly payment, then she should jump on the loan and the path to home-ownership. If you plan on staying in a given area... the only way you can lose out on on a home mortgage, in the long run, is if you can not continue to make the payment. If thats the case, I don't see how renting offers any advantage under those circumstances... getting evicted from your rental isn't exactly a good situation either.

The rent-only crowd strikes me in many ways idealists... similar to those who think firearms will be completely unnecssary if the worst comes to pass.

I don't think that's it at all. This is a site where, for the most part, we don't expect business as usual.

As Stoneleigh put it, renting is paying someone else to take the risks of ownership for you. I think those risks are substantial and likely to increase.

If I expected the next 50 years to be like the last 50, I would buy in a heartbeat. But I don't expect that. That's why I'm at TOD.

1) Total protection from inflation related housing costs. Your rent will not and can not be raised, even under hyperinflation conditions. Although your taxes could be raised, the renter assumes an equal risk as the landlord would just pass on the increased costs to the renter.

But if you're a renter, you can move to where taxes are lower.

And what if we get deflation instead of inflation? Stuart Staniford predicts the deleveraging will go on for another 10-20 years.

As for the rest of your points...they are all assuming BAU. If you're not expecting BAU, they don't apply.


I think Stuart Staniford is correct that deleveraging will go on for at least another dozen years. However, deleveraging does not equal deflation. IMO the Fed will be under great pressure to quantitatively ease (i.e. print) money. If you print enough money, you get inflation, regardless of what happens to the velocity of money or unemployment or defaults on debts. I expect U.S. national deficits to increase, and I expect the Fed to guarantee the financing of these deficits at ridiculously low interest rates--just as they are doing now.

Hence I believe that both inflation and deleveraging are in our immediate futures. Over the longer term, the political pressure for increasing inflation will, I believe, prove to be irresistable.

So, you are basically expecting your rent to either stay the same, or go down from now until the end of time (it will NEVER raise above what you are paying today) and plan to leave for somewhere cheaper if real estate taxes go up in the area you are currently in, because you don't expect them to go up everywhere at the same time. Since you might have to leave your rental at any time, you have little incentive to plan or put in any garden or fruit trees and you could get kicked out at any time even if you want to stay and keep paying the rent. Sound like a good basis for uncertain economic times to you?

And what if we get deflation instead of inflation? Stuart Staniford predicts the deleveraging will go on for another 10-20 years.

What if we do get deflation? At the end of my mortgage, I still own my property, whatever its current value, can't be evicted, and no longer have to make monthly payments... That money I used to spend on my mortgage now buys me even more stuff than it used to. The renter gets to carry on making payments (maybe lower payments to give you the benefit of the doubt) until they die, at which point leaving no property of value to their descendants/retired spouse/jobseeking kids etc.

I'm really not scared of deflation at all... Oh, no, my salary will buy more food, gas, goods, services, etc! So what if my house goes down in value, at the end of the day it still belongs to me. My savings will go farther in a deflationary world. Cash is king and buys more stuff. Deflation means oil will still somehow continue to be cheap in dollar terms, which defies the entire logic of peak oil, but whatever works to keep the worldview going. Heck, even retirees will prosper as their "fixed income" will buy more and more stuff every year.

The logic of deflation also leads to the inevitable fact that the only thing a person should stockpile for coming uncertain times is cash. Not even gold or silver (hedges against inflation... loses money in deflation), but regular printed money. Everything will be cheaper in terms of dollars in the future, so just save money and buy twice as much stuff for the same amount of cash later. No need to store food, buy it for half price during the crisis. The McDonald's dollar menu goes down to a 50 cent menu. Jobs and money are harder to come by, but small amounts of money buy more goods, so stock up now and live like a king in a low expense world. I don't see a whole lot to fear in that scenario. As long as someone in the familiy can keep a job, or find a way to make some money, the money they do earn will end up going much further, and can support more people. I don't expect BAU... I fear and expect tremendous inflation to rock the very foundations of this country. Deflation on the other hand looks a whole lot like BAU to me.

I have to ask however... what "risks of ownership" do you expect to increase in the future?

I agree with Runeshed. Owning a house is better than renting if you have the ability and intent to payoff the mortgage. It is however a bad idea if you bought near the top and are now struggling to pay the mortgage, taxes and maintenance. I think people who have at least 50% equity in the house are better off owning than renting.

So, you are basically expecting your rent to either stay the same, or go down from now until the end of time

Of course not. Where did I say that?

Since you might have to leave your rental at any time, you have little incentive to plan or put in any garden or fruit trees and you could get kicked out at any time even if you want to stay and keep paying the rent. Sound like a good basis for uncertain economic times to you?

Yes. This might not be true for everyone, but I, personally, think being able to move will be more important than gardening. Look around at what's happened in other crisis, from drought in Africa to the recent ethnic conflict in Kyrgyzstan. Massive numbers of refugees.

I think the future will look more like the Great Depression than like Mad Max or Ecotopia. People will want to move to where the jobs are (and perhaps away from natural disasters, a la the Dust Bowl).

Oh, no, my salary will buy more food, gas, goods, services, etc!

Only if you have a salary. Implicit in the deflationary view is that a lot of people will lose jobs and other income. That includes retirees. I'm not counting on pensions, social security, or IRAs to be there forever.

The logic of deflation also leads to the inevitable fact that the only thing a person should stockpile for coming uncertain times is cash. Not even gold or silver (hedges against inflation... loses money in deflation), but regular printed money.

Yes, and that is in fact what Stoneleigh recommends. She also recommends some precious metals, as a hedge, I guess you could say.

I have to ask however... what "risks of ownership" do you expect to increase in the future?

The risk that the property will lose value massively. Not just 25%, but, say, million dollar homes becoming near worthless, or $100,000 homes going for $80 on eBay. The risk that the place you are living will become undesirable because of unexpected economic, social, or climate changes. The risk that you will lose your job and not be able to keep paying the mortgage or property taxes.

And no, I don't buy your argument that a renter is as bad off as a homeowner if they can't pay. If you end up being foreclosed on and you're upside down, you lose your down payment and any other money you put into the house, and may be pursued for the money still owed. The renter still has that cash. Moreover, a renter is more likely to move on before they are seriously in trouble, precisely because they don't have a lot invested. Home owners tend to cling till the end, long after they should have just turned over the keys. (Though that may be changing.)

Leanan, to me this defines the nature of contemporary folks in the industrialized world in general, which is, essentially, a transient population that "goes wherever the money is" or "wherever the best deal is".

Houses have no value other than that of an appreciable investment. Maybe someone will still say "this is the home I want to raise my kids in" but then, then move on to something else.

Many other places in the world are not so mobile. People live in towns thir families have occupied for hundreds of years. Houses have been in families for hundreds of years.

It seems to me, as people become less mobile, they will likely choose to settle in places that have been the drivers for settlement for thousands of years - jobs, farmable land, closeness to family etc etc.

If people already find themselves in such an area, a property's market value matters less than whether the other conditions are satisfied.

I listened to Stoneleigh's talk - she seems unreconciled to being in any one place for any length of time. If that is the case, obviously renting would offer many benefits.

If one plans to be in one location and not go anyplace, irrespective of whether some calamity befalls that place (which nobody knows until it happens, and it could happen anywhere, so how could one plan for it?) I would think if one can own a place outright, it's a benefit.

Sometimes I get the impression that "rent, don't own" is a plan for something that may or may not ever happen in one's present location. It's a contingency plan.

Certainly, I know there will be a lot of moving around in the future - if one is in the southwest, for example, and water becomes in short supply, people may want to relocate, in which case, selling a property may be difficult, if not impossible. I imagine those people will just turn in the keys and move on.

However, if they decide to go to a place where the jobs, agricultural land and other benefits are, assuredly thousands of others will have had the same idea - in which case, there may be no property available to rent, or nothing affordable.

People are likely to find that the grass is not greener wherever they decide to go.

Many other places in the world are not so mobile. People live in towns thir families have occupied for hundreds of years. Houses have been in families for hundreds of years.

That's true, but it's not necessarily the natural condition, any more than moving is. Homo sapiens is a nomadic species. Judging from how fast we spread out from Africa, we were born to wander.

It seems to me, as people become less mobile, they will likely choose to settle in places that have been the drivers for settlement for thousands of years - jobs, farmable land, closeness to family etc etc.

I think that's true, but I also think that predicting where those areas will be might be difficult. What if the land you choose as "farmable" ends up without any water, or literally underwater due to climate change? What if your family comes from an area that is completely unsustainable? What if none of your immediate family members currently lives where "home" is?

Sometimes I get the impression that "rent, don't own" is a plan for something that may or may not happen.

I think it is. Just about everything you plan is for something that may or may not happen (except death and taxes ;-).

For me, it's about keeping my options open as much as possible, for as long as possible. Mainly because I'll presumably have more knowledge in the future than I have now.

We won't get hyperinflation overnight. If it looks like that's the way things are heading, I could change my mind and buy. Similarly, if we get massive deflation, and houses are selling for $80 on eBay, I could buy one - if I have the cash.

However, if they decide to go to a place where the jobs, agricultural land and other benefits are, assuredly thousands of others will have had the same idea - in which case, there may be no property available to rent.

More and more, I'm thinking I want an RV, or maybe one of those tiny portable houses.

In any case, you're still better off than you would be if you were tied to a house in a neighborhood that was a war zone. There have been a scattering of articles about how neighborhoods have been affected by the mortgage crisis, and they're ugly. Everything from working class urban neighborhoods to pricey McMansion-filled suburbs or exurbs. If your neighbors can't pay their mortgages, you're screwed, even if you pay on time or own outright. Crackheads and pimps move into vacant homes, the cops stop patroling, people end up being shot in their driveways and having their homes gutted for pipes while they're asleep or at work. If things go that way, I want to be able to move.

"That's true, but it's not necessarily the natural condition, any more than moving is. Homo sapiens is a nomadic species. Judging from how fast we spread out from Africa, we were born to wander."

I'd agree with you if the world was empty of people. However, the world is overburdened with people at this juncture. Any place anyone is likely to want to go will likely already have more than its fair share of occupants, and its own issues.

We have to deal with the world as it is, and is likely to become, given current trends - "past behaviour is no guarantee of future performance".

Sometimes I think of it like that kids game where you have ten chairs and eleven people, and when the music stops everyone has to grab a seat. The one left standing it "out".

You have a point, but even now, when things go bad, there are waves of refugees.

A lot of people have still not returned to New Orleans. Ditto the Indian Ocean tsunami. People abandoned their villages for the city. They want to go back, but the saltwater has ruined their farmland, so they can't.

Sometimes I think of it like that kids game where you have ten chairs and eleven people, and when the music stops everyone has to grab a seat. The one left standing it "out".

Except in this game, the bigger kids can beat up the smaller kids and take their seats.

I think I'm going to try and hang on to my seat as long as possible - even if it turns out to be a deckchair on the Titanic ;)

I think what it amounts to is personal choice.

More and more, I'm thinking I want an RV, or maybe one of those tiny portable houses.

What are you planning to fuel the RV with, as fuel gets more and more scarce post-peak? If you are worried about neighborhood safety, somehow living in a trailer park doesn't conjure up images of security for me. RVs are most likely going to be seen as "soft targets" for fuel thieves... big fuel tank (potential for a high value score), less manuverable on the road, sitting duck when parked out in the boonies.

The tiny houses linked from Sunday's Drumbeat on the other hand, have some potential... but then again they cost about $50,000 prebuilt and you still need to find a place to put it. However, if you pursue such a course, you aren't exactly renting anymore, are you? You become a homeowner of a very small, but mobile home at that point. I have no qualms with that, expecially if you pick up a cheap and remote piece of property to plunk it down on for the time being.

We won't get hyperinflation overnight. If it looks like that's the way things are heading, I could change my mind and buy

Thats the problem... hyperinflation, by definition, comes at you extremely fast. Prices can double in days, or even hours. However, lets assume that we start out with mere regular inflation, and there is time to act. I would at least suggest you come up with a plan as to how you intent to react if the deflation that you forsee suddenly changes over to inflation. If the average home in your area goes from $200,000 to $100,000, and then moves up to $120,000, does that signal the switchover? Or $200,000 to $100,000 and then back to $150K? Under the deflationary worldview, what is the signal that would forshadow the move to inflation, how much lower are things going to get before that signal appears, and how much time do you expect you will have to react to that signal? My thought is, by the time the warning signs are obvious, it will be too late to react. I also tend to believe that inflation signs are already flashing, the horn is blasting and we are still walking down the middle of the tracks unaware of the oncoming danger.

What are you planning to fuel the RV with, as fuel gets more and more scarce post-peak?

I have my doubts about whether fuel will actually get scarce in a time frame I have to worry about. More expensive, at least relative to income, maybe.

But I'm not talking about living the permanent vacation lifestyle, always on the road. I'm talking about moving when necessary. We have one "green" RVer who posts here, and he points out that he uses no more fuel than someone who owns a conventional house. Because he goes north in the summer and south in the winter. Yes, he burns fuel to move...but he saves on winter heating and summer cooling.

However, if you pursue such a course, you aren't exactly renting anymore, are you? You become a homeowner of a very small, but mobile home at that point.

Sure. But that takes care of my main concerns about ownership: I don't want to go into debt, and I don't want to be tied down to one spot.

My thought is, by the time the warning signs are obvious, it will be too late to react.

And I disagree. I think by maintaining liquidity, I will be able to react faster than most.

As others have pointed out...I don't have to be perfectly prepared. I just have to be better prepared than most others.

There's also the fact that everyone else in my family is going the conventional path. They own homes, farms, rental properties. Worst comes to worst, I go live with them. If it turns out I'm right, they'll probably be coming to live with me (and I am preparing for that).

Me: So, you are basically expecting your rent to either stay the same, or go down from now until the end of time

You: Of course not. Where did I say that?

Later in same post

The risk that the property will lose value massively. Not just 25%, but, say, million dollar homes becoming near worthless, or $100,000 homes going for $80 on eBay.

If a million dollar home becomes near worthless, how much is it going to rent for? I couldn't resist running the $80 dollar home through my mortgage calcultor, but it had a $100 limit, so... A 30 year mortgage on a $100 house would have a monthly payment of $0.62, so I imagine you could rent that kind of a house for less than $1 a month. I'd say that qualifys as having your rent go down from now until eternity. By definition, deflation means a decrease in the general level of prices, and that certainly includes rent.

If you end up being foreclosed on and you're upside down, you lose your down payment and any other money you put into the house, and may be pursued for the money still owed. The renter still has that cash.

I used my down payment to purchase equity in a home. That home is an asset. You would argue, I assume, that the asset is currently overvalued. I would argue that if anything, its priceless in uncertain times. I live in an area with adequate rainfall, plenty of farmland, relatively low population, moderate climate, etc. If I lived in Phoenix, maybe I could see a house going for $100, because without water, food and electricity, who is going to be able to survive down there... million dollar home or not. But, that begs the question, if you live in an unsustainable place like Phoenix or Las Vegas right now, and you truely believe that the world is going to change on this kind of a scale... why wouldn't you leave now before the SHTF?

As for me losing any money that I put into the house... sure that a possibilty. On the other hand, I can 100% guarentee that any money that the renter puts into the house will be lost. My house payments purchase equity, rent is just a monthly hole continually draining money out of the pocket. Meanwhile, if things go the other way and hyperinflation hits, I have a fully paid house and land to weather the hard times, while that renter is trying to figure out where to come up with the $10,000 (or way more) monthly rent payment.

If a million dollar home becomes near worthless, how much is it going to rent for?

I said it's a risk, not that I was expecting it, nor that it would go on until the end of time if it happened.

I used the $80 example because a home actually did sell for that much on eBay. It was in Detroit, not surprisingly.

I used my down payment to purchase equity in a home. That home is an asset. You would argue, I assume, that the asset is currently overvalued.

No, I would argue that its future value is uncertain. Like I said, if I expected BAU to continue for another 50 years, I would buy in a heartbeat.

if you live in an unsustainable place like Phoenix or Las Vegas right now, and you truely believe that the world is going to change on this kind of a scale... why wouldn't you leave now before the SHTF?

I currently live in the northeast, which has a lot going for it. Plenty of water, good farmland, near waterways and rail, not too far from where Jim Kunstler has decided to make his stand.

However, there's no guarantee it will remain this way. Did anyone in the southeast ever imagine they'd have water shortages? Did the people who built those houses in Detroit imagine that a few decades later they'd go for $80 on eBay? There are also more people here than can be maintained without the fossil fuel fiesta.

And there's also the fact that my family is on the other side of the country. When push comes to shove, I think most people choose "home" over "sustainable." Mike Ruppert moved to Oregon, and then to Venezuela, but now he has returned to LA. He knows it's not sustainable, but LA is home, and that's where he wants to be when TSHTF.

So I live in a share coop, serve on the board, can raise veggies (2500sq ft lot behind my apartment, have a big yard on ground floor (we all do) and I paid 50K for the whole damn thing.

Since banks can't foreclose on a share, we have no foreclosures (in West Richmond!) and we have our own maintenance crew, garbage collection, shared water bill, free 2 meg internet, insurance and hire our own administrator.

Adds ~$300/month for all that including taxes.

I do have to cut my grass, but I can go to natural landscaping. I have about 15 kinds of trees, bushes and roses.

Atchison Village. It's what's happening.

That sounds really cool. I might be interested in a setup like that, if only because it's not that expensive.

But what happens to people who can't pay, if they're not foreclosed on? What happens if a lot of people can't pay the association fees?

That's what's happening in Florida, where there are lot of condos and coops, and a suddenly bad market. If half the people stop paying the monthly fees, what do you do? So far, it's a mix of cutting back on those services and jacking up the rates on those who do pay. Doesn't seem like it's going to end well.

There's several aspects to your doomy questions.

The coop has the option of taking over and selling the share, but we all know each other, some for fifty years, and we work out options face to face, not with some megabank. Having been on the board or audit committee five times in ten years, I've watched how it works.

We're a community. And if a person has taken a loan to buy their share, we only have to worry about the dues, not their unsecured loan.

Even the poorest old ladies on SS or disabled or pensions can usually scrape up the $300, and you might be surprised how people help each other out with food and care when there are no garages, and you see people, not tinted-window cars.

I used to worry about your concerns, but they are diminished by reality.

If you stop paying assessments, the condo board can evict you and seize your property but the process takes a lawyer and a couple years and you have to pay all the fines.
The idea of condos, which was originated by shlock developers, just sucks.
The boards are usually controlled by the hired management and the favorite contractors and most of the board members don't have the guts to fight for the owners. Usually some kind of clueless clique takes over and being too gutless to take on the theiving contractors, they take to spying on, fining, etc. the owners who elect them.

So why do people buy condos?

The dream of owning 'starter' real estate, hopefully to sell it in a couple years and move into a real house when they can afford it. And people still buy into this insanity. It's all of the American Dream they can afford.

One thing about renting, you don't have to try to unload an expensive stone around your neck at a probable loss.
Think about how long it will take to unload it in this stinkin' market, it could be decades!

One thing about renting, you don't have to try to unload an expensive stone around your neck at a probable loss.
Think about how long it will take to unload it in this stinkin' market, it could be decades!

Which proves the whole premise of, don't buy property to try to "flip it" for a profit in a couple of years... buy it because you actually want to live there. If you buy property with the intention of selling ("unloading") it in a few years, you are not really buying a home... you are merely speculating on the market. Recent history shows us once again that speculating is risky business.

As a homeowner however... I lost nothing but some imaginary "equity" in the downturn. In reality, I'm 3 years closer to a paid off mortgage, so I have a hard time seeing that as a loss of any kind. I still live in the same house, the payment hasn't changed any (actually, it went way down in reality, as I refinanced from 6.5% to 4.875%, shaving about 15% off my monthly mortgage payment thanks to the lower rate), and the total amount of debt that I owe on the house has decreased... so what did I lose in reality?

If you buy property with the intention of selling ("unloading") it in a few years, you are not really buying a home... you are merely speculating on the market. Recent history shows us once again that speculating is risky business.

What planet do you live on, Runeshade?

People think their homes are piggy-banks(Michael Moore)..and the biggest 'investment' they'll ever make.

Deep-down you think so, too.

The downside is that people aren't saving for retirement.
The utterly despicable Ben Stein(he also shills for freecreditscore.com) says that the average person needs $400000
of retirement savings in addition to social security at 65.
Some experts say you need $200k for medical coverage above medicare.

The average person has $60000 of retirement at 65 to suppliment SS.
People 40-54 have $30k saved. This when the government bribes us to deduct up to $5k per year for IRAs and more for 401ks.

Instead near-retirees are stuck with underwater real estate mortgages, not to mention home equity loans, credit card debt, etc.

To the many frugal folks out their who scrimped and saved and rented and resisted going into debt I salute you, but you are a distinct minority.

Somebody making a average income of $50000 under FHA rules can only afford a ~$160k mortgage after the downpayment and that means either
a bad neighborhood or a condo. In the bad old days, these folks were only eligible for 'workforce housing'--tenements.

Why do you tempt them into your unafforable castle with tales of how well your 'investment' has fared?

One possible trend that I've thought about is the ides that most traditional 4 year universities are likely to be replaced by distributed education. A traditional university is horribly expensive, and their costs to attend don't add up to a sound investment in our current economy. Taking on the huge debts that attending one of these schools seems to me to be unjustifiable given the prospects for payback.

Alternatives plus the need for people to become more competitive to get a job are going to increase demand for cost-effective methods which include delivery over the internet.

There will be some universities that will survive based on the physical presence needs of research, but my guess is that there is likely to be a collapse in the model of the 4 year resident degree program, and a great consolidation of post secondary educational institutions in the offing.

The question of what schools and colleges and universities are going to look like post Peak is an important and interesting one. My guess is that due to their local roots and ability to adapt to change that community colleges are going to be the big winners. The big losers will be graduate schools of education, for we are already producing far far too many people with advanced credentials. There is a huge glut of Ph.Ds and also people with Masters degrees; with the exception of a few departments such as engineering we might as well shut down all the graduate schools, law schools and MBA programs. How many excess psychologists are their? Half a million? More? One of the biggest misallocations of resources in history (after suburbia and the Green Revolution) has been the production of excess numbers of B.A. degrees and also advanced degrees.

Sooner or later, people will wise up and realize that there is such a thing as too much education.

The economic stringencies that will result from falling oil imports will make college education what it once was: a luxury.

I would not be surprised to see a return to the one-room schoolhouse for K through 12 education--drastic relocalization is coming.

A huge problem for the US is the decline in industrial research and the increase in university research.

US university research is very inefficient due to:

  • conflicts between institutional goals related to education versus research, (e.g. the Divinity School regards overheads garnered from research grants to the Biology Department as a "cash cow"),
  • too many principle investigators due to the imperative to gain academic status through bringing in grants with fat overheads for the institution,
  • inefficient research funding due to the need to dole out small project funding to numerous PIs.

For example, in international standards bodies, proposals by US research universities generally lose to well funded industrial R&D or government R&D labs, simply because they cannot muster the funding for thorough analysis, construction of prototypes, and evaluation testing of their ideas. This represents a huge waste of US resources.

As to an excess of education, I've seen salary surveys that indicate that in Biology, PhDs make less than MS degree holders. Indeed, the MS seems to be the educational "sweet spot", since it sets one apart from BS degree holders without requiring the additional years of servitude in some PI's lab that a PhD requires. And an academic position as a principle investigator requires added years in a post-doc position.

My experience (in the UK) has been that the single biggest problem in university research is that all the various members have their "success" rated by different criteria (and yet it's denied if pointed out so it can't be explicitly balanced for various team members) so there's no cohesiveness:

0. Funding bodies/Grant reviewers tend to like big, intuitive ideas and are more likely to rate those higher than "nuts and bolts" stuff, even though that pretty much guarantees the experiments will be done just well enough to support the overall plan, rather than building a reusiable infrastructure.

1. The senior academics get rewarded according to how much money they bring in, so they're motivated to bring in grants and get end-of-project sign-offs and little else.

2. Post-docs are rewarded according to how many papers they've written, so they're motivated to do just enough infrastructure work to get experimental validation for as many papers as possible and little else.

3. Phd students are motivated to do enough to get the experiments for THEIR PhD research done whilst also earning enough money on the side to survive and little else.

4. Admin staff are "university employees" so they're motivated to ensure that all university regulations are followed rather than help researchers figure out how to make their legitimate needs into acceptable uinversity form and little else.

It's interesting to compare this with computer research in companies, where there is often a concerted effort to insure that if some infrastructure is likely to be useful it is finished off to a maintainable standard to benefit the next set of research proposals. It's this sort of short-termism that reduces the overall effectiveness of university research.

As to excess education, I think it's clear that anyone who basically cares about money primarily is probably worse off from doing even an undergraduate degree. The benefits of further education is that it makes you suitable for a job that, given your personal procilivities, you'll enjoy but not that you'll come out much ahead financially overall. In terms of excess for society, I think that's really a question of how much those with higher degrees actually use what they acquired doing those degrees in their later lives. If you've done an MSc/MA for the knowledge and skills that's one thing, if it's to have a differentiating line on your CV...

The problem we face in the U.S. is credentials inflation. For example, my eldest daughter has a Master's degree in economics; without this degree she could not have gotten her current job as a financial analyst. However, the actual skills needed by the job are high-school skills. But because of discrimination against those without higher degrees, no mere high-school graduate (and probably nobody with only a B.S. degree) ever would have been granted an interview for the job.

Only the stupid or the unmotivated stop with merely a high-school diploma. The motivated and the intelligent go on to get one degree after another to get the good jobs. Our whole system is a perversion of a meritocracy.

I don't think it's true that one necessarily has to be stupid or unmotivated to stop after school education. Many famous money-makers (UK references: Alan Sugar, Richard Branson, John Caudwell, most of those annoying gits on Dragons Den, etc) have left to go in to some form of business immediately and worked up to starting their own businesses. They're very cunning and motivated people, they're just motivated essentially by money. They've done that because wheeler-dealing and acquiring money is what interests them, and as such it's a good choice for them.

I don't know, but I suspect that your daughter was motivated by a mixture of things in her choice of being employed as a financial analyst precisely because money is not the overwhelming desire in her life: she wanted a reasonably paid job that was interesting, aligned with her natural talents and had the benefits of middle-class employment (pleasant-ish working environment.lower hours than manual workers/entrepreneurs, security, health benefits, etc). These are the sort of things I value myself, but it's different from saying that you've done it to maximise your money making ability.

Likewise, I knew when I started my PhD that it wouldn't earn me more money than if I applied the same amount of energy in various self-owned business contexts; I chose to do it partly because I wanted to be eligible for interesting (to me) jobs. That's what I object to about these "you won't earn more money from doing degree X" articles in the media: that was never the question. If the articles were to say "the odds are you'll still be doing the same dull corporate job after doing a Phd", then that would have had a chance of dissuading me.

The big losers will be graduate schools of education, for we are already producing far far too many people with advanced credentials. There is a huge glut of Ph.Ds and also people with Masters degrees; with the exception of a few departments such as engineering we might as well shut down all the graduate schools, law schools and MBA programs.

There's also the flip-side view: we've got people with sophisticated knowledge and skills yet we've created a society that rewards consumption and corporatism rather than roles which use those skills. For example, suppose those psychologists could be used designing individual parts of the urban environment to minimise stress in the inhabitants and foster local communities, rather than ending up within some conglomerate pushing paper.

Of course, I don't entirely believe that: even if all the economists, advertising executives and corporate executives were deported to Mars tomorrow I think we'd find enough people arguing that low monetary cost, low quality, high volume physical and cultural "goods" should be prioritised over quality of life that it wouldn't happend.

We're buying a (Second) house right now. It was already 1/3 mine through inheritance, and we locked in at under 5%.. both this 2-unit and the 3-unit we've been in are in a modest and very walkable port city with Colleges, good schools and local food growers, other appeals.. and so the rental market seems to be holding on well with decent prospects.

Knocking wood.. well, literally, since I'm in our old apartment in the 3-unit, renovating it a little for new tenants. It's within a block of Mom's house, so managing both properties, and using the basement shop-spaces for my miniscule commute make the combo pretty managable and resource-frugal.


Potential good news for all the Feeders quietly humm'n away in NYC....

Hydro-Quebec gets behind proposed transmission line to US

MONTREAL - Hydro-Quebec is supporting the construction of a $2-billion cross-border transmission line that will run into the United States and help power New York City.

In documents presented this May to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Hydro's American affiliate declared the project met U.S. guidelines.

Hydro had initially been hesitant to express its support for the project, saying only that it was looking for new business opportunities.

Newfoundland and Labrador's state energy company, Nalcor, is also behind the project. The line would run from Canada under Lake Champlain, into the eastern U.S.

For Nalcor, the lines would allow it to export electricity to the U.S. from a proposed dam to be built at Lower Churchill Falls.

See: http://www.canadianbusiness.com/markets/headline_news/article.jsp?conten...

and related:

Nalcor issues invitation to bid on Lower Churchill project

Despite its long-standing dispute with Hydro-Quebec over future transmission routes, the Newfoundland and Labrador government is pushing ahead with preparations for the $10-billion Lower Churchill power construction project.

Nalcor, the province's energy utility, issued a request for proposal (or invitation to bid) yesterday to qualified engineering and project management companies for design, procurement and construction management services for the Lower Churchill.

See: http://www.montrealgazette.com/technology/Nalcor+issues+invitation+Lower...

Best hopes for [hopefully] low-impact renewables.


Every day seems to be bringing the Lower Churchill project closer to reality. IMHO, this is a good thing ;-)

Here's to the day when all of Canada's electrical needs will be met by non-fossil fuel generation. Hurray!!

You know, Paul, I don't think that it would take much to convince Canadians to invest heavily to improve the grid, transmission lines, and hydro works, if such a program was presented as a long term investment. If proposed properly, many in the general public would be okay to pay an extra few dollars on their utility bills so as to bring the whole shebang up to code, so to speak. My sense is that this country still carries within it a spark of optimism about its future and so a 2010's version of infrastructure improvement (reminiscent of the 1950's) would probably fly, both politically and economically.

Canada has had a long history of engineering triumphs - early 19th century canals, the Canadian Pacific Railway, the pre-World War one railway expansion, the CBC and other intercity telecommunications, Air Canada, the Trans-Canada highway system, the St. Lawrence Seaway, etc., etc.

For a sparsely populated country we sure haven't been afraid to think big when it comes to moving around or talking to one another.

If I may be indulged to dream for a minute, what would stop us from going electric with much of our domestic and industrial energy needs while developing our oil sands and petroleum reserves primarily for export? I can actually envision a coast to coast electrical rail system (similar to what Alan suggests for the U.S.) as being something doable. If the politicians got on board, electrification could be the next National Policy. Hydro-Québec is already heavily invested in battery research and technology, Bombardier builds trains, the Ottawa valley is chalk full of microchip wizards willing to display their prowess, BC and Newfoundland are itching to harness their waterworks, with the north still holding potential, not to say anything about a public eager to keep emissions low and to get on board with our Kyoto targets.

The policy could be advanced as a means to reduce our dependency on fossil fuel consumption. Moreover, we're one of the few OECD countries with the financial wherewithal to pull it off and possess one of the few federal constitutions with the jurisdictional means to leverage it across the board. Sure beats waiting around for the Ontario grid to fall apart or for the provinces to stop bickering and playing hardball with one another.

We might even manage to get a few more young people thinking about engineering as a career option.

Forgive my ramblings. I don't discount the possibility this high humidity is doing something with my brain. Tonight I'm dreaming big.



You've sold me, Tom! Dief had a similar dream of a national electrical grid as I recall but, alas, it never materialized.

Eighty per cent of all homes in Nova Scotia are heated by oil and, likewise, ninety per cent of those on Prince Edward Island. My dream would be to see each of these homes brought up to R2000 or near R2000 standards and heated with high efficiency heat pumps powered by local wind and small or imported hydro. In addition, each home could be fitted with a solar or heat pump water heater.

This work could be carried out by approved contractors and the cost added to the homeowner's NSP account. Presumably, the savings in utilities would more than offset the additional monthly payment, plus interest and a suitable return to shareholders. In other words, make the programme self funding and structure the terms so that there is no upfront cost to the consumer and so that the retrofits always generate net positive cash flow from day one. If the house is subsequently sold, the remaining debt is transferred to the new owner.

We need to reduce our dependence upon imported coal and oil as quickly as possible and to do so in a way that ensures no one is unfairly burdened or disadvantaged.


Paul, you've sold me, too.

You and I are old enough to remember when most homes were heated by wood or coal. Starting slowly in the 1950s but accelerating through the 1960s into the 1970s residences adopted oil or electric heating. Within a couple of decades the energy equation changed.

I can see no reason why it couldn't happen again.

Now if we could get BC_EE, Paul Nash, ClaudeB, and others working on a Canada wide electrification programme, we'll be game to go.

IMHO, Dief was the last PM who dreamed really big. Pearson, the diplomat, was always putting out fires. Trudeau had faith in the country, but his time was taken up keeping Quebec inside the fold. Mulroney was a businessman who saw the world through businessman's eyes. Chretien and Martin spent all their time keeping the books balanced. Harper is spending all his energy quieting the redneck base - including the oil patch - while not upsetting everybody else with an eye to that elusive majority. Clark, Turner, and Campbell were interregnum footnotes.

I'm tired of this muddling through. We really do need leadership with passion and vision.



I can't imagine a more precise and accurate description of our federal leaders, Tom; you've summed it up beautifully.

We live in a consociational democracy, so I suspect the type of change we envision is going to occur largely at the local and provincial level and its going to happen because of folks like BC_EE, Paul Nash, ClaudeB and yourself; there are just too many competing interests and demands within the national arena. That said, I would welcome a visionary leader like Dief, a man who deeply loved this great country and honoured and cherished its political institutions.


A consociational democracy is an apt description of how Canada works. Certainly the social and regional cleavages are obvious to anybody looking at our electoral map.

We live in a strange land. Complex to govern but fairly easy to figure out.

Here's to a "local-solutions-adopted-here-and-there" approach to problem solving until our vision returns.




Late to the party on this one, but am flattered to be mentioned in the same sentence as solving some of Canada's energy problems - I have spent enough time thinking about them!

I think a coast to coast HVDC, along the lines of Alan's plan, would be great, brilliant, even. By crossing so many time zones, it actually allows for some degree of overlap for night time wind generation on one coast with peak load on the other. By having all the interior provinces interconnected , the power can be distributed to where needed most, or even where it can be exported for the most. For example, BC exports into the PNW grid, which has lots of hydro and cheap wholesale prices - if we could export to the eastern US grid, where the prices are much higher, and our off peak partly overlaps their peak, then great!

Also agree with getting off oil (i.e. electrifying the country as much as possible) and then selling the oil down south. It is a bit like the drug dealer who sells, but doesn't use. I think that would make Canada a good investment proposition too - a country that has minimised its exposure to peak oil. If we could get all the space heating to be by high eff heat pumps instead of oil and NG, we would have another exportable commodity. For all the conservation programs, the true value of energy saved is what it can be exported for, since we have an unlimited demand to the south.
I actually did the numbers a few years ago about ceasing lumber exports to the US (when lumber prices hit historic lows, and energy hit historic highs) and found that ALL lumber companies would be better off just milling what is needed for domestic demand and burning the remaining logs (and their waste) for electricity generation, and export that instead. The beetle kill wood alone in BC is worth $100 billion as electricity.

Also agreed with comments about PM's, it is time for a visionary to propose a new "ribbon of steel" project (the HVDC).

BUt, I think if it happens, it will need to be driven by the private sector and the provinces - I'm sure there is a business case there.

Would the line go stay in Canada through Thunder Bay or go south through Sault St Marie, so it could link to the US midwest? South would seem a more practical, if less patriotic option.

When do we start?

Paul N.

Hi Paul N.,

Checking in... have visitors so my sojourns on line are going to be limited today and tomorrow. Good to have you on board.

Yes, me too, I prefer the idea of Canada as a dealer rather than a user. Hold on to that thought, Paul. It might be a selling feature / promotion piece.

When do we start?

We probably have the wherewithal to start now. As you pointed out, proposing a business case would be a good place to begin. Initially, anyway, it could be directed towards private and provincial stakeholders. Like everything else in this country, it would probably have to become a hot topic in the private sector/provinces before anybody in Ottawa would ever notice or act on it. Sad but true! Eventually, however, there would have to be compliance with national and inter-provincial regulations.

South would seem a more practical, if less patriotic option.

Incidentally, the Macdonald and Mackenzie governments both wrestled over exactly this same question in the 1870s when authorizing the building of the CPR. The awkwardness of giving the Americans a say over operations and/or access, however, settled it in favour of an all Canadian route. I suspect the same consideration would hold for a HVDC ribbon of steel. The fewer players we would need to bring to the table to negotiate the better.

Sounds exciting already. Keep dreaming big.



Hi Tom,

This would have actually been a great "stimulus" project, and now the gov is looking (rightly) to spend less, not more, so I don't expect any money from them, but there should be some level of co-operation. Compliance with regulations etc is non issue. Probably the biggest issue is land for the ROW, but the railway line seems a good bet there. Doing such a project would also create the possibility of an oil pipeline along the same ROW, to eastern Canada/eastern US. I find it amazing and embarrassing that eastern Canada imports oil from mideast and Venezuela!

The HVDC route would be a political hot potato, but that's Canadian politics. Giving another party a say over the operations is a burning issue, so we want to avoid minimise that. So, just to stir the pot, I propose the line go only through those provinces that are fully committed to the project, and are fully signed on to the Canadian Federation - i.e. Quebec has to step up and shut up, or else the line runs through NY-VT-NH-Maine to NB. This is a project for Canada, not for those with one foot on either side of the fence!
The line would loop through the maritimes to Labrador, thus freeing N&L from the yoke of Hydro-Quebec.

Along with this we could then start a (CO2) heat pump industry here, to build all these things.

And, then a massive build out of suburban electric transit. I have my own ideas on that one - elevated, narrow gauge, ultra-light rail far, far cheaper than standard rail, and far more capacity than at grade streetcars etc.

The coast to coast HVDC would also be a great enabler for renewable energy all along the way. It means projects in each province are not bound to sell just to the provincial hydro authority, the power can be exported to anywhere. In manitoba, a branch to the south could go into N&S Dakota, to pick up their (abundant) wind energy, so the Canadian line becomes the conduit to take that to NY, etc
The sunny portion of SE Alberta and SW Sask is a great spot for solar projects (more sunshine hrs/yr than Miami!), and would be next to the line, and biomass/small hydro/wind projects from anywhere, that can connect to a provincial grid, can sell to anywhere.

It would put Canada in a great position for optimising its electricity use and maximising exports of both electricity and oil to the US. This is not to say we go crazy in the oilsands, just keep on keeping on. But I think the increased ability to move electricity across the country, and thus maximise the value of off peak wind, would be a huge benefit. It is the key to creating a large, viable (i.e.non-subsidised) wind industry across the country. Couple with the ample hydro, we can then manage the two to maximise export sales of premium priced peak electricity, while storing the off peak stuff in the dams.

Another thing would be to change the Transport Canada regulations for neighborhood electric vehicles (NEV's) so that they can be used on municipal roads. I am particularly thinking of rural towns here, where to get around, a 40km/h vehicle is fine. By enabling this, it reduces their dependence on oil, and, ,ore importantly, makes these towns cheaper to live, and removes a big drain on the local economy. It frustrates me where I live (Sunshine Coast, BC) because this community is prefect for that, it is spread out enough that you need a car but not so much that you need to (or can ) drive fast. Instead we see huge $leaving the town every day, spent on fuel. If that money stayed here, and bought locally produced electricity we would be way better off.

So many good things I don;t know where to start, let alone when! - maybe we'll let Paul in Halifax organise that part!!


You've put forward some excellent ideas, Paul; suggestions that could make a real difference in our energy future and in the future well being of our country. If we can get power from the Lower Churchill routed through Nova Scotia and New Brunswick that would be an important first step, i.e., completion of the lower half of the eastern loop. With that, our province's dependence upon imported coal and oil would be diminished greatly.


Hi Paul,

Ideas are what I do best - if I can't put them into action, I wish I could at least get paid to come up with them (but then, don't we all).

I think the Eastern Loop would be a great move. Not only would it start with Churchill, but it would enable all sorts of other projects (hydro, wind, biomass) along the way. Once the energy superhighway is there, or is known to be coming, people will look to use it. Basically, it enables the entrepreneurs, and any community that can generate power, can sell it.

It would connect the Maritimes to the big leagues of power, and bring them all out from under Quebec's shadow.

Slightly O/T, but do you know of any industrial heat pumps, that could get water up to about 80C?



Hi Paul,

I'm afraid I don't -- I'm out of my league when it comes to larger industrial applications. However, I did stumble across this:


Don't know if it would be of much help to you.


Paul, thanks very much, that looks like just the thing.

I think CO2 refridgeration has quite a future.

Had a discussion on another blog about using a (wind powered) heat pump for distilling ethanol. That would do the job, if your electricity is cheap enough. Wind power at night, solar thermal in the day.
You can reclaim heat from condensing ethanol, and put it back into the evaporating section

Expensive to set up, but then near zero FF input - an excellent FF EROEI

Best of luck with your program.


My visitors have just left to head home so I'm finally able again to check the TOD. Thanks Paul and Paul (double-talk?) for your contributions to this discussion.

I'm printing a copy of this thread for myself. I think we've come up with some really great ideas. Heaven only knows where we might be able to go with this.

I thought I was a lone wolf with these nutty big project ideas. Glad to hear I have some fellowship on the road. If you're game, we will continue this line of thought.

This has certainly sparked my interest and my imagination. Wonderful stuff.

Chat soon,


Tom, perhaps we need to continue this discussion via email rather than TOD, or better yet, find some web savvy person (I am not one) to start a dedicated website for the concept.
you can email me at {paul r nash 101 at g mail com} - remove the space and add the dot at the appropriate spot

Need to get BC_EE in on this before we get too far into it!



very interestng write up about HVDC costs by ABB of Sweden, who build them.

Cheaper than I thought. Main cost is the converter stations, the line cost is relatively low, at about $500k/mile. To go from coast to coast (4000 miles) is (only) $2bn. Add in a bunch of converter stations, say $bn, and it is still LESS than was spent bailing out GM Canada!!

Amazing to see our governments putting our money into last century's technology instead of this century's one!


Even eating your fruits and veggies isn't what it used to be...


One benefit of living my previous home in central PA was the plethora of farmers markets, and especially being able to buy food right from the Amish folks on their farms.

The produce certainly tastes better, and I imagine it is more nutritious as well...and sans pesticides/fungicides/herbicides. etc.

There really is little or no actual evidence that organic food is more nutritious per se. Of course freshness DOES matter so if you can get local that's another story.


IMHO, organic food tastes better than nonorganic food. That is the only reason I eat organic. Compare, for example, the taste of Trader Joe's O's with Cheerios. The organic O's are a clear winner. If I get health benefits, so much the better, but I follow my nose and my taste buds.

IMHO, organic food tastes better than nonorganic food.

Very few taste comparisons have been done.

Are Trader Joe's O's and Cheerios made with similar recipes, one with organic ingredients, the other not, or are they completely different products? I have a feeling it's the latter and the taste difference has nothing to do with the organic ingredients (because such ingredients are chemically identical).

One thing is for sure--people THINK they're getting something different and have created a whole aura of myth around organic products. Here's a fascinating study:

The meanings of organic foods.

Organic bananas taste way better, it's not even close.

Organic bananas taste way better, it's not even close.

True, but I gave up on them because they ripen too fast.

They're half the size, and twice the cost!

Well it might be worse for your children to eat conventional veggies over organics

This turns out to be a case study in media hysteria: Correlation is not causation.

Study debunked.

It is so typical for a reporter to grab one sound bite, rather than going for substance: "Pesticides tied to ADHD" sounds so much better than "Increased levels of organic phosphates are found in the urine of kids that might potentially be diagnosed with ADHD, which may or may not have a causal role in the disorder, and might in fact be a consequence of the disorder, but we don't really know yet."

Real organic food contains many benefits, the main one being relief from all the chemicals and poisons that are put in the industrial products that are passed off as "food". But the term organic has been co-opted already, and just like anything you must spend the time to learn what is in it. As an example, I have a reaction to MSG, and all of the various names that our intrepid regulators allow it to be called. There are quite a few organic labeled products that contain lots of MSG. A lot of people will find foods without MSG to taste very bland, because it does not contain that drug that they've grown so used to.

One problem with the term organic is that it turns out to mean whatever you want it to mean. Therefore, let's get rid of it and talk about "farming" and "gardening."

Also, to debunk organics is not the same thing as advocating all commercial industrial ag techniques.

I believe that to many, the biggest problem with commercial produce and meat are the contaminants such as herbicides, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, etc. In this case, I've read studies showing that organically grown produce and meat are clearly less contaminated.

There is no contest, all you have to do is look at the color and how healthy the fruit/veggie itself looks. If it is wilted and colorless, chances are there is nothing valuable there. That doesn't necessarily mean organic, but in my experience there is a strong correlation. You can't expect better results by just blindly buy everything organic, you still have to use your noodle...

It's freshness that matters. It has nothing to do with organic growing methods.

My vegetables are the best looking around--and not organic because the potatoes get sprayed with Sevin. Therefore, I'm disqualified from being counted among the Elite.

Here is a video of an organic taste test. I'm not sure how "scientific" it is, but it is funny as hell--and profane.

Washington, DC gets its own oil spill:


"Gross." "Manure -ish." "Like a rancid Chinese food restaurant."

Residents and workers along the U Street corridor had creative descriptions for the heady stew of heat, asphalt and kitchen grease that filled the neighborhood early this morning after a truck apparently released its load along the commuter artery.

The going theory is that the truck, performing a regular morning pickup of kitchen grease, sprang a leak around 16th and U streets NW sometime before 6:30 a.m., officials and witnesses said. The truck operator then drove about seven blocks eastbound along U Street, all the while spilling the liquid before going dry around Ninth Street.

Police closed U Street between Ninth and 16th streets and 14th Street between T and V streets through the morning rush. The streets had reopened by late morning, although U remained closed to all but city buses between 14th and 16th. DDOT officials were recommending that drivers travel at a maximum of 10 mph.

I have been to D.C. many times...once away from the touristy parts, the smells in the commercial districts can be unbearable. Reminds me of the urban cooking oil/open sewer smells I smelled in Thailand and Ecuador and some other places.

No D.C. or Manhattan or nay downtown big-city concrete jungle for me...

Mom said back in the early 70s that there were too many people in the World...Mom was right then, and she laments now the loss of the natural land to the orgy of population growth and 'development' sprawl. She is sad thinking about the future for her two grandchildren.