Drumbeat: November 28, 2010

Peak oil in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanian production continued to increase as ever-more-productive new fields within the state were developed, reaching almost 32 million barrels in 1891. But I was interested to learn that, despite amazing improvements in technology since the nineteenth century, that was the highest annual production rate that Pennsylvania would ever achieve.

Here's an update to the above graph with more recent data. The price increases of the 1970s and 2000s were sufficient to stimulate some increases in Pennsylvanian production. But note that the two graphs here are drawn on the same scale-- we're still under 4 million barrels per year, less than 1/8 of what the sturdy Pennsylvanians of 1891 were able to accomplish. And in 1891, by the way, oil sold for 67 cents a barrel, which corresponds to about $16 in 2009 dollars.

Output from Iraq's West Qurna Stage 1 to triple to 750,000 barrels per day in 3 years

BAGHDAD - An Iraqi oil official says production from the country's West Qurna Stage 1 oil field should more than triple to 750,000 barrels a day in three years time.

Mahdi Swadi, the head of the joint management commission that runs the field, told The Associated Press Sunday that the 8.6 billion barrel field currently produces 234,000 barrels per day. and is set to climb to 270,000 barrels per day by May.

Belarus expects Russia to keep gas prices unchanged in 2011 - premier

Belarus expects Russia to keep natural gas prices for the ex-Soviet republic in 2011 unchanged from this year, Belarusian Prime Minister Sergei Sidorsky said on Sunday.

Belarus currently gets Russian gas with a significant discount. Under the current contract, Gazprom is expected to introduce the "equal-netback" principle for Belarus starting from 2011. In other words, Gazprom's profits from selling gas to Belarus are supposed to match those it gets from sales at average European prices.

BP Sells 60% Stake in Pan American Energy to Bridas Corp. for $7.1 Billion

BP Plc, seeking to cover clean-up costs in the Gulf of Mexico, agreed to sell its 60 percent interest in Pan American Energy to Argentina-based oil and gas company Bridas Corp.

Nigeria detains 12 in Halliburton bribery case

(Reuters) - Nigeria's anti-corruption police have raided the offices of the U.S. oilfield services group Halliburton and arrested 12 people in a bribery case involving the former Halliburton unit KBR Inc, a spokesman said on Saturday.

The U.S. firm said the detentions, carried out on Thursday, had no legal basis and that its employees had since been freed.

Power Line Project Faces Challenges in California Valley

EL CENTRO, Calif. — The sun is so strong here that people often talk about the temperature being “in the teens,” meaning 113 or above. The wind is so powerful that west of town, signs on an Interstate display the number of miles remaining in which drivers will face dangerous winds, like signs that give the distance to the next city.

And to the north, near the end of the San Andreas fault, water underground, hot enough to make steam, flows up through cracks nearly to the surface.

Together, those resources constitute “the most productive renewable energy fields in the world,” as Michael R. Niggli, the chairman of San Diego Gas & Electric, the region’s biggest utility, bullishly puts it. “Where else in the world in the same area do you have wind, spectacular solar and geothermal?” he said.

...But the problem, sometimes insurmountable, is how to get the energy to consumers. In what may be a dress rehearsal for skirmishes across the country over renewable energy and transmission, San Diego Gas & Electric has spent seven years and $100 million trying to start work on a 117-mile high-voltage line to reach the resources of El Centro.

CNOOC to increase new energy production

BEIJING - CNOOC, China's largest offshore oil producer, said new energy will account for 40 to 50 percent of the company's total energy produced during the 12th Five-Year Plan period (2011-2015).

"At present, new energy accounts for less than 10 percent," Fu Chengyu, chairman of CNOOC, said. "But we will try to increase that to 40 to 50 percent."

More inspection bungles found at Shizuoka nuclear reactor

TOKYO — Chubu Electric Power Co has found more bungles in its past safety checkups at its nuclear power plant in Shizuoka Prefecture, as its renewed study has confirmed that an additional 104 items of equipment had not been covered, sources close to the matter said on Saturday.

The utility firm conducted the study to double-check the situation after announcing in October that 27 pieces of equipment at the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors at the Hamaoka plant had not been checked during the inspections. The 104 items also involve the two reactors.

Copper: the NEW ‘Poor Man's Gold'

There is every reason to believe that a growth-boom fueled by ten times as many people is going to lead to ten times as much total economic growth – meaning that this boom will be ten times as large, ten times as long, or (more likely) some combination of the two. To fuel this unprecedented growth means expanding resource production at the greatest rate in history.

Houston, Oil Capital, Takes Steps Toward Green

At the recently opened farmers market outside Houston’s City Hall, Laura Spanjian, the city’s peppy new sustainability director, was in her element.

With a reusable cloth bag tucked under her arm, she bounded around the colorful cluster of stands, shaking hands and pointing out vendors — raw foods! local ingredients! grass-fed Texas beef! — as a Latin band played.

If this does not sound like Houston’s style, well, get used to it. The nation’s fourth-largest city, the sprawling capital of the oil industry, has recently embarked on a variety of green initiatives in an effort to keep up with the times and, it hopes, save money.

The "Transition Town" Movement's Initial Genius

Can we get beyond denial about peak oil, climate change, and economic troubles as long as we don't find forms of action open to us?

The genius of the "transition town" movement is that it starts with a positive vision, focuses on local scenes, teaches skills, invites people to develop plans, gives them other obviously useful things to do together, and thus provides the added-value of intensifying community. You can find this in its handbook, of which the second edition will soon be published.

Is sustainable agriculture viable?

The debate around the Murray Darling Basin crisis has brought to public attention the need to rethink agriculture in Australia.

Today, sustainable food production is relegated to niche status — squeezed out by methods of farming that are seen to be more efficient. However, the efficiency of the dominant mode of agriculture relies heavily on chemical inputs for fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

On Global Warming, Start Small

There is an alternative to this top-down approach to climate change: a bottom-up strategy that stands a much better chance of working. Rather than count on international negotiations to produce an effective strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the United States should build upon the innovative clean-energy developments already under way in individual states.

To Fight Climate Change, Clear the Air

AS the curtain rises tomorrow in Cancún, Mexico, on the next round of international talks on climate change, expectations are low that the delegates will agree on a new treaty to reduce emissions that contribute to global warming. They were unable to do so last year in Copenhagen, and since then the negotiating positions of the biggest countries have grown even further apart.

Yet it is still possible to make significant progress. To give these talks their best chance for success, the delegates in Cancún should move beyond their focus on long-term efforts to stop warming and take a few immediate, practical actions that could have a tangible effect on the climate in the coming decades.

Report: A Billion People Will Lose Their Homes Due To Climate Change

Devastating changes to sea levels, rainfall, water supplies, weather systems and crop yields are increasingly likely before the end of the century, scientists will warn Monday.

A special report, to be released at the start of climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, will reveal that up to a billion people face losing their homes in the next 90 years because of failures to agree to curbs on carbon emissions.

Up to three billion people could lose access to clean water supplies because global temperatures cannot now be stopped from rising by 4 degrees Celsius.

'The World in 2050': What countries of the north will look like 40 years hence

Laurence C. Smith's "The World in 2050" is both important and depressing. A professor of geography and earth and space sciences at UCLA, Smith examines four forces — population demographics, resource demand, globalization and climate change — to try to figure out what the world will be like in future decades. While some people and countries along the northern rim may benefit far more than others, his story is overwhelmingly bleak.

Population is booming. We are adding the equivalent of "two Pakistans or three Mexicos every four years." We are blazing through natural resources at an alarming rate. And as globalization spreads prosperity to Third World countries, the rate of consumption will increase.

re: West Qurna

The consortium was originally only allowed to pump oil from one reservoir, but five more reservoirs were added to the field over the summer.

and from an earlier story:

Iraq Proven Oil Reserves Rise To 143.1 Billion Barrels

"Most of these figures were the result of surveys conducted by these international companies, specially at oil fields such as West Qurna and Zubair."


but would still be far behind Saudi Arabia, which has 264.59 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, according to OPEC figures.

I often wonder when they are going to change these numbers after 20+ years of oil production?

Someone pointed out to me yesterday that the Saudi reserve numbers are proof of abiotic oil. Saudi Aramco simply has figured out how to pump oil in a way that sucks in an equivalent amount of oil from the abiotic sea underlying the region.

I said, well what about Texas, Alberta (oil, not bitumen), the North Sea? He said, stubble jumpers and sardine eaters who blocked the replenishment process by pumping down too many chemicals. I said, well who am I to argue with a guy with a science degree and a Ford pickup to boot.

I changed the subject to politics, but when he started cursing how our conservative government was bankrupting the country by running up Canada's biggest deficit ever, I concluded that he knew he even less about economics than geology and moved on in search of someone with a background in comparative literature, or moral philosophy, or anything that had sparked the capacity for critical thinking.

Now now, at least the Saudis make up a new BS number every year. According to the EIA Russia had 48.57 bbo 1997-2002, then 60 bbo 2003-2009, to cite just one example of many.

Forget if there are official numbers to be had but West Quarna Phases I+II are 37% of the 12.5 mb/d target, so 895 kb/d of June's 2424 kb/d output? So they've got a long way to go, baby.

anyone interested in understanding where saudi aramco's reserve estimates come from should read and understand what saleri had to say in early '04:


saudi aramco publishes a reconciliation of their reserves from time to time. i doubt saudi aramco does a complete reserve reconcilliation on every one of their fields every year. i suppose saudi aramco updates their modeling results (and reserves) on major fields on a rotating schedule.

Reserves are great as an indicator of potential production, but flow is what counts to me and probably the rest of the world. The former head of Aramco's production and exploration, Sadad Al Husseini (sp?), said that Saudi Arabia's chances for ever producing more than 12 million barrels per day was very unlikely. And, according to many oil experts quoted here and elsewhere, the goal of Iraq getting its production to 10 million barrels per day by 2020 is nothing more than a pipe dream. Even if they boost it to 5 million barrels per day, with the biggest players in Iraq's oil fields being Chinese companies, how much of that will flow to the OECD? Not much, IMO.

Furthermore, extensive EOR is using more energy as more OIP is recovered, so what does that boost to 12 million or 10 million barrels per day mean to the marketplace? It means that a smaller persentage of it will be available for the US to purchase, or it will be driving up the price of other FF like nat. gas.

Sadad Al Husseini (sp?), said that Saudi Arabia's chances for ever producing more than 12 million barrels per day was very unlikely.

husseini also said to look outside saudi arabia for declining capacity.


with the biggest players in Iraq's oil fields being Chinese companies, how much of that will flow to the OECD? Not much, IMO.

How did that happen after US $1 Trillion and several thousand casualties?

The Iraqis held auctions for oilfield (re)development contracts, and Chinese companies (China National Petroleum Co., mainly) won a few. Mostly in consortiums with other national oil companies.


I'll send you a keyboard with a working shift key if you consider the possibility that Saleri might not be entirely on the level here. We've had entire articles dedicated to SA presentations here; we all know what they've had to say in the past, all the caveats. It's all past beating a dead horse, more like pulverizing its skeleton. But go ahead. You and Ron be sure to wear filter masks, don't breath in any of that calcium dust.

And at any rate, where are the .ppts from Lukoil or PDSVA explaining why their numbers are beyond ridiculous? I don't have any faith in these numbers being indicative of anything close to accuracy, and the lack of interest in the industry at this laughably low level of resolution would be funny if it didn't hold such dire implications. It's on the level of Greenspan's unerring faith in banks to self-regulate. Or beyond? No one is on CNBC ranting about what a joke these bits of data are, and they're in the public frickin' domain.

....at any rate, where are the .ppts from Lukoil or PDSVA explaining why their numbers are beyond ridiculous?

you tell me ?

i find it humerous though, that so many on here who have never done a reserve audit have all the answers about saudi oil reserves.

The last article paints a fairly grim picture, but it when it tries to grasp for positives, it fumbles a bit. Thawing tundra is not going to replace the fertile plains to the south to feed the world any time soon.

It properly points to exploding population as well as resource use as central drivers of future (and current) predicaments. But the death rate has apparently started to tick up this year, about 25 years ahead of schedule.

I know it is a bit hard to see an increase in the death rate as a good thing, but it had to happen eventually, since so many have been born in the last 100 years, they have to stop dying some time. What I don't have a good grasp on is whether the change in rate is due mostly to the aging population dying faster than expected, or if the increase is coming from infant deaths or other segments.

At any rate, the global die off is still a long way from matching the global love in.

Of course, one year's preliminary stats is not a very good thing to peg a trend on, but if it does hold up for a few years, a steadily increasing death rate would reverse a trend that goes back to the Middle Ages.

Perhaps the only science more dismal than economics is demographics.

I looked at the reviews at Amazon.com. The highest-rated one criticizes the book for downplaying the possibility of big technology breakthroughs.

Apparently, the author is expecting the population of the future to be older, and living mostly in northern cities. Farmers will lose the water wars to the cities. I wonder how those urban populations are fed.

Sounds interesting enough to be worth a read.

"I wonder how those urban populations are fed."


The impressive trend of the last few hundred years of increasing urbanization has lead many to assume that this trend will continue indefinitely.

But before the ff-powered industrial revolution, the only city to exceed one million people was Beijing, the center of a huge empire.

Though a resident of northern city, I can't get much comfort from this report, since the aquifers west of here are among those being drawn down rapidly, and extreme drought is predicted for much of the plains breadbasket--it will be harder and harder to grow grains and other crops in the quantities to which we are accustomed, not to mention the increasing problems with transporting them in a fuel starved world to distant (or even relatively proximate) population centers.

Actually Rome and London did it also, and possibly Baghdad, if my history is correct.

None of these cities had suburban sprawl, in the modern sense, and a much larger percentage of the population was involved in the production and transport of food. They also had famines at times.

The ratio of subsistence farmers to an urban 'layer' has been critical. The agrarian base through most of history had only a very limited small surplus of food available for either tax or trade. Giving up too large a fraction of production to an urban population would have meant impoverishing not just the rural population but also the soils, by stripping the latter of non-returned soil nutrients. Large Empires could however gather a small surplus from very large areas, and in pre-industrial times this was sufficient to provide a large city. The Empire could also provide services - such as geopolitical stability, trade including useful specialist products, and a degree of 'insurance' in the face of inevitable oscillations between 'good and bad years' across different regions. The important matter was not to lose the agrarian population base.
'New agriculture' (organic, based on N bio-fertilizer from clover and alfalfa) in Europe was successful after about 1750 in changing the agricultural base from subsistence with its small trade-able surplus to a new ratio when perhaps 20 - 25% of the total population were able to feed the new urban majority. In the USA 'organic agriculture' was not so successful historically, but was replaced after 1920s by modern synthetic fertilizer agriculture.

Cities require farming to ship soil nutrients along with the calories and protein.
The 1000 year accumulation of soil nutrients was quickly spent:
On the Great Plains
“They applied manure as it was available, rotated legumes when it was convenient. But they had no strategy for the very long term. By the 1930s, Rooks County fields had been planted, cultivated, and harvested sixty times without rest. Soil nitrogen was about half what it had been at sod-breaking and crop yields declined steadily. And now no western frontier remained. From the vantage of 1930s, crop agriculture in Kansas does not appear very sustainable. All the arable land in Rooks County - and in the nation for that matter – had been identified and plowed. Soil nitrogen and organic carbon drifted steadily downward, and with them yields and profits. Faced with this dilemma, farmers implemented a dramatic innovation in soil nutrient management. Rather than adopt one or more of the ancient strategies, farmers (and the industrial nation behind them) created a new option. They appropriated abundant cheap fossil-fuel energy to import enormous amounts of synthetically manufactured nitrogen onto their fields. …” page 219, ‘On the Great Plains: Agriculture and Environment’, Cunfer 2005; preview in googlebooks

CNBC recently ran a special on water. It was actually quite interesting. In some countries, you can sell water rights without selling your land. There are water real estate agents, who appraise your water rights based on velocity, elevation head, temperature, etc. The bad side: some poor people sell all their water rights, leaving their children unable to farm or even drink.

Anyway, the U.S. part of program did cover the depleting fossil water aquifers, but argued that the real problem was the market, that encouraged growing water-intensive crops because they were more profitable. We could grow different crops and get just as much food for much less water. (Being CNBC, their answer was to properly price water.)

Folks in many US States don't have the water rights for the land that they own, especially in the west. Until recently, people in Colorado were prohibited by law to collect the rain water from their roofs. Even in my area (65"/year rainfall), TVA claims rights to much of the water on private lands.

An interesting Wiki read on the subject:


...and from the BLM:


"In some countries, you can sell water rights without selling your land."

And the US is one of them, at least in the western states. Water rights get bought and sold all the time here. The State keeps a registry of rights holders, the source and the beneficial use. If you don't use your water for five years in a row, they can cancel it and resell it to someone who will use it.

Land ownership is a moot point. Washington State has a law that landowners get 5000 gallons a day from a well (if there is any water to be had) which is a sort of home and ranch exemption, but above that you need an explicit water right.

The other interesting topic in the Drumbeat was;

"San Diego Gas & Electric has spent seven years and $100 million trying to start work on a 117-mile high-voltage line to reach the resources of El Centro."

Since I got dumped on yesterday for pointing out the impossibility of getting anything built quickly due to environmental laws and the NIMBY crowd, I feel duty bound to point out that example for those who complain about "industry's unwillingness to update the infrastructure."

As the say out West, "Whisky is for drinkin', water is for fightin' over".

re: "And the US is one of them, at least in the western states."

One can sell water rights w/out selling land in the US State of Texas.

Urbanisation is an essential part of the trend to declining birth rates, which is now worldwide. The population ship is still moving forward (increased numbers) as a result of previously propelled momentum, but the engines are fully engaged in reverse and the population will peak and go into decline in about sixty years hence. Complex social organization is a major driver behind this levelling and eventual decline of population, mostly because it raises the cost of having children.

The amount of fuel used to bring you pop-up pancakes for your toaster is excessive, but the amount of fuel need to produce and distribute the ingredients for homemade flapjacks is very small. If you want to more than complain about the state of the world, make your own pancakes and use the money saved to pay a musician to play accoustically at your social gatherings. The musician will be able to buy that long sought after hemp shirt, GDP won't decline and your and his or her lives will be better. Instead of having to register for the transition town movement, you can just live the transition lifestyle.

The efficiency of water use in both urban and agricultural areas can be and is being increased through technological improvements. Scarcity is the mother of invention, or in the case of water, the reason to implement available technologies. Enormous amounts of water are used in the production of non-essential food products and goods.

The population ship is still moving forward (increased numbers) as a result of previously propelled momentum, but the engines are fully engaged in reverse and the population will peak and go into decline in about sixty years hence.

Sixty years? You think it will take until the year 2070 for world population to begin to descend? Even with global warming and peak oil? I'm figuring world population will begin descending within 5-10 from the descent from the current peak oil plateau, and drop sharply once global warming reaches the point of causing widespread crop damage. I think it would be surprising if world population is half of what it currently is in the year 2070.

Can you describe the mechanisms which will cause birth rates to drop rapidly within a decade?

I can't see global warming having that immediate effect. A lot population growth is taking place in Africa and at the same time agriculture practices are being improved which will provide more food than is now available. People aren't going to decide to quit having children because of food shortages across the continent.

Oil isn't going to go away in ten years. Production is likely to stay about where it is or drop a bit. Rising demand without the ability to increase supply is going to drive up price which, in turn, will drive down demand. People aren't going to quit having children simply because they have to carpool or take public transportation to work.

Crop damage over the next decade or so will likely be a problem, but not a significant world-wide problem. We'll bring more heat/drought/heavy rainfall crops to market, change what we grow where, and ship more food to places which get hit hard in a specific year. We'll probably spend more of our incomes on food but we'll cut down on entertainment rather than quit having children.

The 20270 peak is a projection based on current practices. We could easily speed that peak up, thus lowering it, if we invent a new, more convenient and more affordable birth control method. And find the political will to provide it to those who are the least able to pay and also have the highest birth rate.

I suspect you're looking at the wrong side of the population equation. It's probably not declining birth rates that will see the population declining, but increasing death rates.

What is the basis for your expectation that we will experience billions of deaths within the next decade?

Falling off an oil cliff? But there's no oil cliff.

A sudden climate runaway that wipes out a large percentage of the world's food? As far as I know no climate scientists are suggesting that we're on the edge of a major tipping point.

Rising seas that drown vast numbers of people? The oceans are rising, but not that fast.

Some yet unknown disease or undetected asteroid?

"What is the basis for your expectation that we will experience billions of deaths within the next decade?"

Human nature once the realization of no growth sinks in. We will fight like cats and dogs.

Which is why the world is currently saturated with corruption and lies. The truth would kill us.

Even without endless wars (or several big ones), the physics of the system indicates that we'll lose a large number of people before their "natural" death in the coming century.

Scenario 1

Just eyeballing it I would say the simulation shows we'll be down 3.5 billion by the end of the century. Knowing what I know now about soil depletion, climate change etc. I see no reason to seriously doubt that number.

If you'd like we can give it a one billion error margin either way (i.e. down to 2.5 billion or just 4.5 billion).

Basically but its more complex than that.

Perhaps I can create and example. Assume you have a mine for unobtanium thats say 10 miles deep in the earths crust. The reserves are running out and technology has maximized extraction efficiency. Above ground the economy reliant on unobtanium is diverse and complex. This economy is capable of supporting the technology needed to mine unobtanium.

Now consider what happens as absolute supply starts to dwindle. Obviously the price of unobtanium rises. Next perhaps the economy is based on debt like ours and rising prices coupled with decades of speculation that had created enormous amounts of debt result in a fairly sudden wave of defaults in one part of the economy. It could be any part but likely a part that was in a speculative bubble.

This could cause the economy to shrink rapidly and perhaps result in the price of unobtanium dropping for a brief period of time. Indeed all kinds of things could happen this is just one possibility. The intrinsic problem is that the economy itself is now very fragile and not only subject to shocks but also because of the debt situation ever more likely to have shocks.

Think of it as a huge cracked piece of glass with large stress still present.

The problem is the societies ability to actually extract unobtanium at its current rate minus depletion is dependent on the economic system itself functioning efficiently. As economic conditions erode the ability to extract erodes causing further declines in production and even more erosion in economic conditions. The feedback loop is in place.

Now lets move to oil and our society. The problem is obvious the current economic system cannot survive the combination of inability to pay back debt against a falling economic base and rising costs for simply trying to maintain the current economic base much less expand it ensures they system is now in failure mode.

As eeyores writes the system increasingly becomes a one of lies and corruption simply because it can no longer function in and open manner. Its intrinsically failed and in a sort of overshoot mode as at least at first the intrinsic problem has not grown to the point the system itself is collapsing. In our case ever more dramatic efforts to prob up the system seem capable of staving off collapse. And this is where economics and oil get locked in a deadly tangle. For example saving Ireland and other failed nations will work at least for a while to prevent widespread economic collapse. However in saving the economy esp by reinforcing and underwriting failed loans the system ensures that consumption remains fairly close to current levels. Ireland with a bail out will consume about the same amount of oil it does now. This puts price pressure on falling oil supplies. Worse for us this decision starts us down the road of making everything too big to fail. I'd argue the US made the first mistake on this road but also whats important is not the precedent but the decision to follow this path.

It ensures that we will see bailout after bailout and consumption remain high. However these bailouts will do little to foster real growth or new investment. Once the bond holders are made whole they will not reinvest. Since its countries and countries issue large amounts of debt every quarter the problem is intrinsic. The Irish bailout works for past investors not future investors. As Ireland is forced to raise money in say a year or less it will need another bailout and still not change structurally.

This is happening all over the world debt is increasingly concentrated in governments and they are issuing ever more debt to stave off collapse. As they solve the immediate problem of financial collapse by pushing it out into the future oil relentlessly depletes and population rises ensuring steady relentless pressure on oil prices.

As the bailouts fail as they must the new bailouts make the situation even more unstable.
As economic conditions remain weak and prices for oil sensitive to the chance for another economic collapse investment steadily dries up in future production.

We can expect that depletion rats and production falls will accelerate as lack of investment begins to be reflected in falling oil production. Rising prices won't stimulation significant new investment as prices are already high enough to drag the economy and the overall outlook for future demand remains bleak.

Now we can look at how the web of lies and corruption creates problems.

Right now the rise in oil prices is probably related to diesel shortfalls in China. China is forced to restock even if it drives up the price of oil they have no choice. Lets imagine for the moment that the US had pressured producers into ensuring it had adequate supply since it supposedly has the most transparent market and certainly has the largest.
Chinese demand must be met no matter what happens. And it just so happens we have a sudden interesting event North Korea which is probably in desperate straits for oil given China itself is having problems attacks South Korea. Putting the region at the verge of war.
China itself is not super worried its pretty much a long term win win for them. If North Korea falls then they lose a parasite ally that increasingly difficult to support.
The absorption of North Korea by the South will force down South Korean exports and more likely than not boost Chinese imports into the Unified Korea.

Perhaps they decide to keep supporting North Korea maybe not with large amounts of troops but at least to the point that the US and South Korea are locked into a nasty land war draining both countries. Again they win.

Last but not least perhaps they send massive waves of troops down in support overruning the South. It will become quickly clear that the US cannot mount a large land war in Asia without mobilizing to a level similar to WWII. The oil situation makes it a sort of MAD type situation however the Chinese don't have to win simply prevent the US from winning a defeat here is certain to result in the collapse of the US as a superpower.

A newly ascendant China becomes the force in the world able to corner remaining oil supplies as needed. Probably next investing heavily in nuclear power as its coal supplies dwindle.

My point with this example is that now China effectively wins on all outcomes and the US loses and with it its financial hegemony. Obviously depending on the outcome future oil production is likely to fall rapidly. Perhaps the US collapses sending prices down perhaps war interrupts production. Exactly what happens is unknown. Indeed this scenario itself might simply not happen or might happen later. It could be Iran it could be Mexico or Pakistan or Egypt. The problem is the web of lies and deceit has resulted in all the players backing themselves into corner. Any move now is certain to destabilize the economic system and make investment in future oil production even less likely. The resulting increasing rate of decline is certain to push oil prices up high enough to ensure the economic system remains crippled.

The predominate action if you will is now above ground however in the background increasing problems with oil supply are forcing the players to make ever more dangerous and destabilizing moves.

I mentioned Mexico because its particularly important. It seems obvious now that its rapidly becoming a failed state. Its just a matter of time before the drug lords start to become even more involved in oil production cutting off the governments lifeline of funding. And of course Mexican production itself is falling rapidly. One can imagine that once the drug lords get involved maintenance will go down the tubes and production will fall even faster. This will put a double squeeze on the Mexican government. They will be forced to defend their oil production and or pay off the drug lords either way they are doomed. To some extent this is also probably true in Nigeria. This situation will of course eventually suck in the US and make it even harder for the US to wage a large scale war in Asia. And that goes back to my first North Korea scenario. Of course Iran won't set idly by on the sidelines.

You see how underlying problems with oil supply and the above ground economic and social political problems tend too eventually result in everyone becoming more willing to engage in politics and war that they would not consider ten years ago.

The web of lies and corruption on top just becomes even crazier as everyone is increasingly looking towards cashing out as if they can. No one is investing in any real future since there simply is not one.

Today we probably have 10 major realistic problem scenarios and thousands of others possible.
As oil depletes and the economy falters one or more of these is basically certain to start unfolding. After that it really is falling dominoes one of them will eventually impact oil production to a significant degree. Mexico, Venezuela, Iran ?

Eventually of course the oil thats in the ground that producible now will not be produced.
As and example consider Iraq. Even I think they could increase production significantly from their current levels. I'd say 3mbd is a pretty sure bet perhaps more. I seriously doubt to the levels they claim. However the exact value is not important whats important is its doubtful Iraq will ever pump anything close to whats its capable of. Eventually and perhaps not to far out in the future instability in the region is more likely than not to result in Iraqi production falling from its current levels.

Even if the US runs around fighting wars all over the place and causing its debt to explode it still won't be able to keep production rates at todays levels.

Sorry for the long post but I don't know how to give a short one explaining that the system is now in collapse mode its already passed the edge. Indeed attempts to keep the facade of BAU in place are now a big part of the problem. The relentless pressure of falling oil production and deterioration economies makes it effectively certain that we will see and above ground event that will have a significant impact on current production. The moment that happens it will become clear that the rest of the worlds oil producers are unable to overcome the loss of one current major oil producer even for a short time period. Once that happens I'm of the opinion things are pretty much over. Who knows what happens next but the situation is more likely than not to deteriorate rapidly. All thats happening right now is the overall economic/oil production situation is simply degrading. It just means when the crisis finally arrives we will be in worse shape than we are now.

In the very big picture perspective whats happening is everyone is now playing to be the last man standing after the dust clears. In general I think most people recognize that the current status quo is dead. Also of course they recognize that the winners might inherit a much smaller pie but they get the whole pie. If any nation comes out on top of the situations that are coming they will literally rule the world. Initially of course a messed up and destroyed world but the winner will control the oil supply without oil no one can ever touch them.

In a lot of ways within reason it does not matter so much how low production falls as long as one nation retain's enough energy production to control a shattered world. If they are ruthless enough then they won't need that much.

Hopefully you see that and oil powered military can rule the world even if most of the world eventually moves to renewable energy. And you don't actually need that much oil. The US military uses say 2-3mbd per year. Figure 10mbd or something close to current US oil usage is all thats required to easily power a military industrial complex capable of ruling the entire world. If one further extrapolates you only need oil for critical tasks and things like CTL and GTL are viable for military use then the number is even lower.

Indeed its something that a ruling nation seems readily able to do even if our world is wasted by war. Once there is a winner he wins everything. In time NG/Coal/Renewabales/Nuclear could readily power a support economy.

Again sorry for the long post but its not a completely insane game we are playing there is a very clear outcome thats viable that results in one nation ruling the planet. No one can defeat and oil powered military if they control the worlds oil supply.

This is exactly what happened during WWII and the situation has not changed. Nuclear bombs make it a bit more interesting but heck the collapse of the Soviet Union without a single bomb being stolen makes it viable to collapse a nuclear power economically and with strategic fighting.

So there is a way now for one of the large nation states to win after the current collapse.
And realistically they will be the winners perhaps for hundreds of years. All thats happening now is one last dance before the real battles start.

And again yes its a long post but if you understand what I'm saying not only will we fight like cats and dogs but with some thought its clear that someone is going to come out on top after its over and stay on top for a very long time. Sure at first they will be the ruler of smoldering ruins but heck here we can look at the Marshall plan and post war Japan for guidance. Any nation with control of the worlds oil, their military and industrial complex reasonably intact can readily revive what ever region they wish in a matter of decades.

The destruction simply means your certain of complete control of economic development globally for decades to come as your the only nation left capable of rebuilding.

You win the world.

Nice recap - perhaps you should save for the basis of a key post in the future?

While Korea could become a basis for WWIII, alternatively and maybe more likely it could just merge back with the South Korea one day, in much the same way Germany was re-merged. Still that is just a side show.

The real show is that, if not already, world oil demand will exceed supply within months. Not sure if this will play out like 2008, but something unusual is about to happen - and quite likely it will come out better for China than the US.

North Korea and whom, Iran, take on the rest of the world.

You don't think China is going to screw around with its economic boom by getting in a shooting war with its supply stream and major markets, do you?

Bob my point is no one cares about the current situation. Neither China nor the US.
I think you have the situation backwards its not China thats worried bout the US that can't get into a shooting war in Asia. If China survives the future meltdown relatively intact then they will be the same as the US was post WWII when most of the world was in ruins.

They are not playing the game for the current status quo but what happens next.

Look at it this way even if your not a believer in peak oil its obvious that one billion Chinese living at anything close to and American lifestyle is insane. It literally can't happen. If you think it can then hey throw in a billion Indians. And god know how many more in newly emerging regions of Africa and South America.

However if you consider China retaining say 50% of its current capacity and say 50% of its current population after a worldwide meltdown and control of most of the worlds oil supply.
Then what the Chinese are doing is not insane.

If I'm right and they don't really care about whats going on right now but are focused on what happens after TSHTF then it makes perfect sense. Indeed the decision to rapidly industrialize and push towards US consumption levels practically ensures that the situation is going to come to and explosive ending.

They really had a tough choice to make either industrialize now and force a certain showdown in the future and have a really good shot at world domination or accept eventual domination by whoever else was the winner once the current system cracked from its own weight.

The critical point I was trying to make near the end of my long post was recognizing that in a post peak world the country that controlled the worlds oil supply also ruled the world.
This has nothing to do with our current oil centric economic system. That can be replaced if you have the industrial capacity with a reasonably wealthy one based on electricity.

It the unique ability of oil to support modern warfare thats important not industry.
Your sustainable fueled green tank is going to get its ass kicked by a good old fossil fueled one. A nation using alternative fuels cannot defend itself against one with access to oil.

Sure the US as a nation is a bit of a problem for the Chinese and so for that matter is Russia. All three have enough oil and industrial infrastructure to support conventional warfare for a while. However Russia would almost certainly face numerous border conflicts with former FSU nations. One wonders how stable Russia actually is in the big picture.
I don't know if further fragmentation is possible but I'd have to imagine potential devisions still exist between various parts of whats now Russia.

Same for that matter for the US despite all the years as a cohesive country I'd argue that the US could readily split up. Heck if California went into default it would not be hard to envision it getting split out. Plenty of other latent regional rivalries in the US are possible. Texas for example could make it as a nation. My point is the US could fracture hypothetically. I'd same the same is true of Russia and also of course China. Any of these three countries has oil,industrial capacity, military, nuclear to win if the others fracture or collapse. Russia with its heavy dependency on selling oil has problems. The US obviously with its imports and debt. The Chinese if they are willing to ruthlessly suppress internal rebellion are actually in pretty good shape esp if they could control just a bit more oil supply in Asia a few Stans would do it.

So if you agree that the Chinese are very peak oil aware and I've never seen them deny it then if you agree that they are looking further out in the future than simply markets today.
Then I'd argue whats happening right now is not all that important to them. They have already achieved their goals. About the only game left they would need to play would be collapsing the US economically. Internally I'd argue we should see them making a huge push to now move to electrified infrastructure.

And last but not least to try and directly address your comment. I also don't see China in any big hurry to push the button if you will. They don't really need too the US will take its own self out. If they have any worries at all I think it would be the US suddenly becoming a dictatorship. US citizens might not enjoy it but it would make any chance of a short term collapse in the US remote. This would be a real problem for the Chinese. Us destroying ourselves would have to be a big part of their plan. They want us to fragment not become a dictatorship.

I think this could be a real concern of theirs and also one of the few reasons why they might "push the button" on their own accord. They need the US to retain its weak banker/democracy and complex corrupt government till after economic collapse causes us to shatter.
If I was doing their planning I'd argue the US needs to be sucked into one more draining land war. If Iran is not going to happen then you might just have to play the North Korean gambit.

Mexico will suck us in in time and between Mexico and another war were done. Another financial panic and wham the US would simply collapse and fragment not go into a cohesive dictatorship. Our Armies would be forced back home to a shattered nation and civil unrest and thence civil war is almost certain.

No matter what they do eventually they will face the problem of either forcing the collapse of the US and risking and effective dictatorship forming or facing a dictatorship with the country effectively intact.

So in general I'd say for now at least as long as things continue as they are the US is only getting weaker and weaker and China is fine with that. However as I noted I think they are very concerned about a regime change at some point and have been for some time.
If so the North Korean card is their trump card that allows them to force the US to make a eventually fatal move.

Regardless if you think the Chinese intend to rise to US living standards given the resources the world has then I think your mistaken. I do think thats there plan eventually but it would have to play out in a world quite different from today. Therefore they almost have to be positioning for the top spot post peak right now. Which means your shooting war argument is simply not relevant.

I think we both believe in peak oil, I just think we believe different things about what it is. I think we're somewhere close to or on a long, bumpy supply plateau which will be followed by a gradual decrease in supply. I suspect you believe that there is a very steep down-slope in our near future.

I think you're taking your belief and spinning a worst case scenario, one of war and suffering. Since I don't share your belief in an "oil cliff" I just can't go there with you.

Yes, China will likely replace us as the world's economic leader and our standard of living will probably slump some. We'll probably have fewer toys but at least as good a quality of life as most Europeans. They don't have quite the same advantage as we did post WWII. Back then most of the rest of the world's industrial base had been bombed flat. And we had vast amounts of untapped natural resources. Now the world outside of China has plenty of manufacturing capability and China has to import much of the resources it needs for manufacturing.

Lifestyle in China, India and a lot of the rest of the world will rise, but that does not mean ours has to fall. As much of the rest of the world jumped from no telephones straight to cell phones, much of the less developed world will jump the inefficient lifestyle we lead and straight to less energy hungry appliances and non-liquid fuel transportation. Already China is installing huge amounts of high speed rail. The limited range of EVs will not be an issue for developing world car owners. They have good public transportation in place for long distance travel and are used to using it.

We're learning how to create plastics from plant feedstocks. As the price of oil rises we will utilize bio-plastics more and more, creating a sustainable manufacturing process.

We could blow it and fall. But we don't absolutely have to. What we need to do is to get busy implementing the technology we have and that we know will work. Take our best shot....

I don't think China is going to be in the position of the US after WWII. They don't have the resources.

The fact that the war was not fought on US soil (aside from Pearl Harbor and a balloon bomb or two) helped, but the real secret of our success is that we had a continent full of resources that had not been previously exploited. China won't have that advantage.

And the real secret of the post war economic success of Japan and Germany is continents full of resources?

I guess all those resources in Brazil explains the fact that in the decades following the war, that country was also an economic juggernaut.

Really, Leanan, you are missing a few factors like education level, financial architecture, legal system, fiscal policy (the keynesian consensus), industrial infrastructure, capacity to extract and exploit low entropy in the hinterland (effecting and defending the property rights of US corporations in supposedly sovereign states around the globe). Factors if you think about it, all relate to effective public policy.

Japan? Really?

Back in the '80s, Japan was the unstoppable juggernaut. There was real fear they were going to own the US one day.

Then the asset bubble burst, and 20 years later, they're still trying to recover.

I think there's a very good chance China will be in the same boat.

I think you're missing the point, or changing the subject.

We were talking about the basis of the post-war economic success of the US, which you attributed to a continent full of resources. I responded by pointing to the importance of human resources and the systems by which they are organized and exploited. The relative stagnation in Japan's GDP since the '90's is, simply put, irrelevant to the point. Stagnation, I might add, at a level of material well-being that most Chinese would be quite happy to anticipate for their grand children. And stagnation that cannot in anyway be attributed to a declining availability of material resources, even non-renewable material resources.

You are, as I see it, caught in an intellectual trap which is where you end up when you follow the path of economic determinism.

Honestly, Leanan,

Obviously, "human resources and the systems by which they are organized and exploited" count - since there were people here before the US was founded.

But that alone isn't enough, and I think Japan illustrates that point.

If you're expecting BAU to continue, then yes, it's reasonable to expect the center of the global economy to shift to China. Many of the talking heads on CNBC, CNN, etc., are predicting that.

But I'm not expecting BAU. I think globalization will collapse, as it did before. And China won't have the resources to dominate the world as the US did.

Matt Simmons became interested in peak oil when he realized that there was not enough oil in the world to support China at the level of Japan reached in 1960. I think that limit is going to play a huge role in how the future unfolds.

I can't think of what point it is that Japan illustrates in relation to this discussion, except that it does show that advanced industrial nations with highly educated leaders can and do make policy mistakes.

Don't you tire of slogans such as BAU...? What business? What's 'as usual'? The usual exploitation of the vulnerable by the lucky? The continued use of money and credit? The continuation of innovation, arising mostly, as Georgescu-Roegen explained, by novelty through combination?

Who is talking about China dominating world industrial production and international trade to the extent the US did in the aftermath of WW2? I was contesting your assertion that the post war economic success of the US was due to a continent full of (physical resources). I would never say they didn't help, by the way. But if I was asked if US based mineral production was as important as immigration, for example, I would say no. Nor was it as important as the legal system, or the education system, or the use of state power to redistribute income and wealth, and therefore entrepeneurial opportunity, among other things.

What do you mean when you say that you anticipate the collapse of globalization? What is your definition of globalization? For some, it is a term to describe the spread of a set of rules regarding the flow of capital, including such elements as the security of investments and property rights in relation to intellectual property? Is that what you mean? I presume your reference to a previous collapse has to do with the end of the predominant rules during the second British Empire. The relevance escapes me.

Will China exceed the average living standards of the Japanese in 1960? I haven't looked into it. But I don't think that less available oil will determine that imagined foot race. It is, in part, a matter of conversion efficiency. I refer not to the efficiency of an engine, which of course matters on the margin, but to the production of utility per BTU, which is related to social organization. It is also a matter of a change in the mix of energy carriers, most specifically, the increasing prevalence of electricity.

I don't think that Matt Simmons ever displayed much insight into the role of the division of labour and communications in the creation of wealth (and I should stop to point out one huge advantage contemporary China has over 1960 Japan in terms of the imagined foot race, which is the shipping container, one of the most important communications innovations in the past couple of centuries: right up there with the telegraph and the internet).

Who is talking about China dominating world industrial production and international trade to the extent the US did in the aftermath of WW2?

Me, Bob, and Memmel. If you're not, then you're in the wrong conversation.

Hmmm. I guess you're even more pressed for time than I.

More basic and perhaps important is that Japan, Germany, and China are much more racially, socially and culturally homogenized than the US. Have been for centuries. It's a "tribe" thing, deeper than nationalism.

Whatever. The issue is about the critical factor in economic development: human or physical resources.

Whatever. The issue is about the critical factor in economic development: human or physical resources.

In the 20th century? Human resources by fare! See Germany, Japan, Swiss, Singapore, ...

If this continuous in the future is another question... But of course the awnser is simple - both (human and physical resources) are necessary for sustaining our industrial society!

"Now lets move to oil and our society. The problem is obvious the current economic system cannot survive the combination of inability to pay back debt against a falling economic base and rising costs for simply trying to maintain the current economic base much less expand it ensures they system is now in failure mode."

Well, you've identified the problem. But then you outline only one outcome. There is almost never only one single outcome.

Let's start with the fact that our economy is recovering. We're coming back at about the same rate as we've recovered from previous recessions. We do have a significant budget problem with which we must deal. But if we make our debt not significantly larger than it is we can survive that problem.

Oil supply seems to be holding steady and demand is on the rise. A gradual decline seems to be in our future. That will cause price increases and those increases will create conservation as has happened in other times of oil shortage/high prices. We can't solve the tight oil problem only with conservation for long term, but it can buy us the wiggle room to move a significant amount of our demand to non-petroleum energy.

We have to create more jobs in country. We have to quit shipping so much of our wealth out of country.

Renewables will create (already are creating) new jobs for Americans. We're on the cusp of the transition to electric-powered personal and public transportation. Each mile fueled by electricity reduces our demand for oil.

We are devaluing the dollar which will make our products more attractive abroad and the Chinese are reaching the end of their super-cheap labor phase many years sooner than anyone expected. As Chinese labor becomes more expensive and the rising cost of oil causes shipping cost to rise it will start to become more profitable to manufacture more in the US. Especially products with small low-skilled labor inputs and those which are bulky to ship.

Food, worldwide is probably going to become more expensive. And we can grow food, enough for ourselves and lots to sell.

Now, that's another possible outcome to add to the doomer "We're going to nuke each other, live in caves, and eat squirrels" one.

Will we move quickly enough into the next energy era or will we wait too long and end up fighting for the last resources? That's an interesting question and one which no one of us can answer at this time. So how about we avoid the absolute "This IS the way it will go down" stuff?

You must be joking.

Personally, I've had to adjust my beliefs recently and become less of a doomer, but not in the way you have described. I see no evidence that we are becoming a prosperous, clean tech, labor driven society.

If anything, the military complex and the financial corporatocracy now have a complete stranglehold. And it is in fact this strangehold which has mitigated and papered over the decline. America is surviving because of war and Wall Street, not because of solar panels and chicken farmers.

The proof is in the pudding, Bob. Show me any serious effort to end the wars. Show me any reform of finance.

Until you do, you can keep your polyannism to yourself.

I think your analysis has merit, and I believe that the leadership of the U.S. is thinking along the same lines. The U.S. had to do whatever was required to secure one of the world's last remaining caches of conventional oil so that it could control it (dispense it to allies and withhold it from enemies) while ensuring it had access to it for its highly oil-dependent military and economy.

Then it needed to place an army between China and its new prize:

It then proceeded to build its most expensive embassy in Iraq ($600 million) so that it had adequate infrastructure to manage its affairs in the coming decades. The U.S. Army will never leave Iraq as long as I'm alive — and yes that's a prediction.

The Mega-Bunker of Baghdad

Yep you got the critical point I'm trying to make with my long posts.

If one assumes that the current global economy will collapse in the near future and that oil is past at or near peak then the game seems obvious to me. And very clear from your map I might add. You don't have to even believe in a near term peak. Simply looking at the rate of growth in China and our claimed plateau and debt loads and its obvious that we probably don't have 20 years left without a significant economic depression. Simply taking everything at face value and assuming that the current trends remain basically intact or even reverting back to like they where in 2005 I can at best get ten years before everything comes to a head.

Heck thats including oil supplies finally starting to rise slowly. Chinese growth would easily outstrip any rise in oil supplies for the foreseeable future.

My point is that unless you think oil supplies are going to surge dramatically along with supplies of practically every single commodity on the planet. Chinese growth coupled with growing OECD debt is going to force a economic crisis sooner than later.

If so then the critical point is what I said and what your pictures illustrate. Anyone with and oil powered military machine and control of the worlds oil supply will rule.

I'd argue the US is fairly blatantly positioning to make sure it stays on top.
China has to also be positioning.

Going with that hypothesis then recent events are fairly clear and most importantly sustaining the current status quo is in my opinion more a matter of utility than necessity.

No one has the obvious upper hand yet and so far at least there is no overpowering reason for China to make and overt move.

On the other hand I see no real reason for them not to make a move either. Thinks could fall apart tomorrow or five years from now or best case I can come up with is ten.

Sure the US would probably like to position a bit more same with the Chinese but the basics are now in place I can't see that any major moves are required by anyone to change the balance of power or change the fundamentals of where China and the US would be post peak.

We often think about the US but China also has a fairly short window to act. Their economy can't keep growing at its current rate no more than the world can handle it.
If they fear anything its a sharp recession they don't have the political stability.
The clock is ticking for them just as much as it is for the US. Just as I can't see the US making it ten years I also can't see China making it either both are on suicide courses.

So if my hypothesis is right about China vying to be the controller of the worlds oil/military post collapse and they have executed such a plan then I'd argue they don't have a lot longer left either before they will be forced to make a move or fragment themselves.

Russia's situation is a bit different they don't really need anything but to simply survive for a while. I'd say if Russia is going to make a move whatever moves they make would come later on. Given what I've outlined they are fairly obviously in the catbird seat. They have problems but those are much later on and their weakness is border wars all over the place.

This crisis with Georgia


Could readily be seen as a sort of test by the US of the validity of supporting border wars
with Russia. On the surface it did not seem to go well however thats not at all clear.
Russia might have used a substantial number of its crack troops in the operation for example.
What are they going to do if another front opens up and another ?

Regardless if my hypothesis is correct and I'd argue the basics are sensible and fairly obvious i.e if we did have and economic collapse and you did control the worlds oil supply then you would rule it.

Then the second half that there does not seem to be much more maneuvering to do before such a collapse and that the clock seems to be steadily ticking down on the current status quo seems

Right now I don't see forces acting to ensure that things remain stable nor do I see any reason for anyone to force the issue. But also I can't see any country hesitating from using any event to their advantage even if that leads quickly to a shooting war. Now next year or in five years is not so important. I don't think any country want's to be the one that blatantly starts hostilities but also on the same hand no one really cares to step away if things start to escalate as long as it looks reasonably mutual :)

Surprisingly close to the situation that preceded WWI actually.


In the case of WW I it was the saturation if you will of Colonial expansion.
The world was basically carved up with no place left to grab without getting into a fight.

In our case its resources and in particular oil. No one can have any more without a fight and the fight will be to the death. I'd say WWI got so out of hand because only a total defeat would result in gaining all the other countries colonies. The outcome or aim was also quite similar in a lot of ways. The winner effectively took all. Sure you would have to share to some extent with your allies but they would eventually be your enemies for the next round.

The depression and thence WWII but probably more the depression changed things quite a bit.
The shear destruction in Europe from WWII ended colonialism. In this case it was Europe that fractured and the US/Soviet Union became ascendent. The colonialism route to world domination failed or more correctly was achieved by the Soviet Union. While the US created economic colonialism. I'd say the rising importance of oil and industry over natural resources also played a huge role. Simply controlling large swaths of land to harvest its natural resources was not nearly as profitable and the mechanized oil economy.

My point is that the natural trend towards world domination via colonial expansion literally got side tracked by the depression and aftermath of WWII. If you look at recent history over the last few hundred years. Then the last 80 or so are a bit of and aberration. Nuclear weapons and the cold war certainly played a huge role and keeping things on ice (pun intended).

Eventually however we reach today and we are back in the sort of natural conditions which existed prior to WWI and again we have the battle for who rules the world.

Now however as I've been saying with oil supply obviously finite and declining the winner this time really does win. The nuclear gambit has played out and is over and we understand that its possible to totally destroy and rebuild and industrial base if you can keep your own reasonably intact. For nuclear financial games and border wars via proxy can side step all out nuclear confrontation. Maybe not every-time but it worked once..

The winner would only win for a while. Steadily and surely the "winner's" grip on the world would be eroded as his/her grip on oil, which is in decline, would slowly wane.

The black ships, for example, came to Japan in 1868 and they were coal powered. Get into the global economy or else. OK, Japan did. But you can see those ships, or their descendents---electric power, flights, the Internet, Starbucks---- coming with decreasing frequency as the "big winner" of the world domination power game just loses the ability to exert control, first in remoter places, then in less remote ones. The people of those places just take over and fend for themselves. Sure it's hard. Sure it's tough. But in the end coal brought us the whole colonial empire business and coal cannot last forever. In fact it is highly dependent on oil production and we know that is declining.

But I really like that analysis of yours about the hiatus of 80 years ending as the reasons for WWI come back. The thing is it won`t stop there. I think we can still go back in time farther yet. ANd we will.

Looking at statistics it apears we have eaten more food than we have produced at least 8 of the last 10 years. Strategic food reserves is at the lowest for very many years. If the trend continues we may scrap the bottom of the barrel in 15 years, and this assuming BAU and no further climate change. Once it's gone, it just takes another russian heat wave or east african drought and we'll see those pictures on the TV we got used to from Etiopia back in 1984 again.

I've gotten pretty bored with the ritual "looking at food statistics" and concluding we're about to starve posts, but usually we get links to the statistics, a summary of the statistics, or at least and argument based on the statistics.

Your comment is just banal musing and the reference to statistics just seems to be a half-hearted effort to make it seem like more than a whine.

Farmer in the Times: “Climate change, I believe, may eventually pose an existential threat to my way of life.”
"The country must get serious about climate-change legislation and making real changes in our daily lives to reduce carbon emissions. The future of our nation’s food supply hangs in the balance. "

> I looked at the reviews at Amazon.com. The highest-rated one criticizes the book for downplaying the possibility of big technology breakthroughs.

That might be misinterpreted. The breakthroughs that The Lights in the Tunnel talks about will, if they happen, make life much worse for most people. They are things like automating checkout at large stores (3.5 million cashier jobs in the US), self-driving trucks (1.5 million jobs). Then automating shelf-filling and most other jobs in retail and wholesale trade. Education, medicine, construction, and many, many other industries can be at least partly automated.

Westerners are finding it tough to compete with a few hundred million Chinese and Indians newly added to the global labour market. Consider what it will be like to compete as well with robots that will work 22x7x365, have a one-time cost of maybe $25,000 (and falling), and a daily running cost of maybe $5.

Here's the thing. The pieces are in place. RFID chips, stereoscopic machine vision and image analysis, digital radio (cell phones), GPS, statistical machine reasoning, machine internet search, mobile robotics - they're all in commercial use, separately and in combination. It's just a matter of finding the 'right" ways to combine them.

The "breakthroughs" required are merely routine applied engineering research.

On food: people can live on 1900 calories a day as opposed to the approx 3900 consumed by westerners today. (Although, it's not fun.) Cutting back on feeding grain to beef animals would free up a lot of food, maybe another 25% of supply. I don't see a problem of sufficiency. Distribution, now: that's a different story.

There's another problem with urbanization. It's been pointed out many times that the new mega-cities--Delhi, Dhaka, Lagos and the like--are forming at a much lower average income level than that prevailing when the old mega-cities formed: below $1000 compared to about $7000 (2005 dollars). The new mega-cities are mostly mega-slums (with a few shiny bits in the middle): great petri dishes for new diseases and fanaticism.

The breakthroughs that The Lights in the Tunnel talks about will, if they happen, make life much worse for most people. They are things like automating checkout at large stores (3.5 million cashier jobs in the US), self-driving trucks (1.5 million jobs).

Sigh. Actually, I don't know whether to sigh or to mention the broken window fallacy, which closely parallels this sort of muddled thinking, so I just did both.

What a very strange lot we are. Since the dawn of recorded history, our ancestors have left behind an unending stream of complaint about slavery to mindless toil. The famous explanatory myth and exposition of the complaint set down thousands of years ago in Genesis even calls the situation a curse:

To Adam he said... Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.

Over the millennia, that complaint has been repeated countless times, right down to the present day.

So now a possibility of another partial answer to the age-old complaint has arisen, the possibility to shuffle off a bit more of the mindless toil. Presumably we should be ecstatic, in seventh heaven, shouting for joy. So how do we react? Do we celebrate? No! We moan and complain and bewail the horror of possibly not needing to be imprisoned all day in a truck cab, and we cry out, "woe is us!"

Yes, indeed, once again: what a very, very strange lot we are.

Mindless Toil or Unemployment?

Some do shout for joy when Ronco comes up with yet another brilliant 'NoFuss- Chocolate Milk Maker' for our harried minds to not have to demean themselves with that sort of drudgery.. or when some dock worker in Seattle beams to me about the brilliance of the Automated Dock equipment, carrying boatloads of electronica that, as he said, 'Never touched a human hand'. He was so thrilled..

You're painting this as a victory that we should be grateful for.

I think we've gotten way to fat and lazy to be grateful now. Maybe we can come up with a Iphone App to do the 'Gratitude' parts for us, too.


'I'd prefer not..' Bartleby the Scrivener

Yes, because we all know that when a machine came along that let us get the job done in half the time, we simply knocked off at noon. NOT. We were expected to "produce" twice as much or more.

And so now, after decades of "high tech", now both parents have to work full-time or more to pull off the "American Dream" and have the house and take care of a couple of kids, etc. This was not true a few decades ago.

What has really improved? Who gets the benefit of these machines? Not the working person.

Do you honestly think that these robots are going to let anyone work less? If so, you are deluded.

It's not that they 'let us' work less, but they do kill off all sorts of jobs. All I'm saying is that their introduction isn't this sort of 'World's Fair Utopia' that they came packaged in. There's no shortage of drudgery, but as you indicate, the machines that DO take some of it on only enrich the owner and the investor, not the worker, who often has to move to a more demeaning situation when this one is gone.

Exactly my point.

the machines that DO take some of it on only enrich the owner and the investor, not the worker, who often has to move to a more demeaning situation when this one is gone.

Thats not how its supposed to be in theory. Nor how it used to work. Its only lately me thinks that the rich and powerful have found the key to sucking up all the excess for themselves. I doubt that is universal, a few countries must have figured out how to do it differently. [But we are allergic to anything foreign so there is no risk that we will adopt best practices].

Do you happen to have any data comparing the number of hours a "working person" had to work in order to afford a TV, sofa, box of cereal back when things were largely made by hand vs. now that the cost of labor has been largely removed from the manufacturing process?

No, but I know that when I was growing up, one breadwinner (OK, usually the man) provided a home, TV, food, car(s), you name it, and was able to raise up a number of children. I did not grow up in a wealthy neighborhood - just the average.

Now, with all the wonderful automation, one breadwinner can not, on average, provide what they did a generation ago.

Capitalism hates labor. The holy grail is to do without it. Automation! Productivity to its logical conclusion!

I grew up in the same world.

TVs were small and had limited features. Now they are huge with all sorts of remote/stereo sound stuff.

Cars had limited features. No AC, no anti-lock brakes, no air bags, no sound systems, no GPS, no power windows/locks/mirrors.

Food was pretty much what could be grown regionally and easily stored. No grapes in the middle of winter, no coconuts and galangal.

Vacations (if you were lucky) were trips to the lake or perhaps the seashore. Not fights to Aisa, ski trips to Aspen, cruises with unlimited food.

Telephones were one to the house and they were wired to the wall. There were no personal computers, no game consoles, very few of the consumer goods for which we now toil.

Make apples to apples comparisons.

Your ideas seem to be the product of conditioning by the media, advertising and received wisdom. You really seem to believe what your saying, which is a testament to how dire our situation really is. If you think that it has been worth destroying the planet and trashing its resources for the frivolous benefits you indicate then We're truly screwed.

The first step towards improving our survival chances in the future is to recognise the problem and what has caused it. If you cannot even identify the cause and the problem there is no way you can envisage a solution.

Huh? I describe the material goods of the single-income family era and compare them to what people work to own today and my ideas are "the product of conditioning"?

That's a joke post. Right?

It's hard to make apples to apples comparisons, but Elizabeth Warren (Obama appointee and author of The Two-Income Trap) has tried. She found that families have the same expenses now as their parents/grandparents did. They spend less on some things, but more on others. The "extra" income from women going to work has gone to basics.

The average family spends more on airline travel than it did a generation ago, but less on dry cleaning; more on telephone services, but less on tobacco; more on pets, but less on carpets. When we add it all up, increases in one category are offset by decreases in another.

So where did their money go? It went to the basics. The real increases in family spending are for the items that make a family middle class and keep them safe (housing, health insurance), that educate their children (pre-school and college), and that let them earn a living (transportation, childcare, and taxes).

I think some recent studies have indicated that Americans are spending far more on transportation than their parents/grandparents. Whereas two generations ago the average American spent about 2% of their income on transportation (basically because they walked everywhere they could, rode horses when they couldn't walk, and took the train only when they couldn't walk or ride), today many families are spending 20% or more of their income on transportation. Many people are spending more money on transportation than food or shelter. It's the modern era of the four-car family.

The big problem with that is that when fuel prices skyrocket, people lose their houses and/or jobs because they can no longer both make the mortgage payments and commute to work. Two generations ago they just stopped making long trips and continued to walk or ride from their houses to their jobs.

Few people will lose their jobs when fuel prices rise. We've seen that to be true in both the '70s oil embargo and in the oil speculation peak a few years back.

People car pool, buy more efficient vehicles, or use public transportation. Back in the '70s some people with long commutes even did things like sleep in their offices or on a friend's house a couple nights per week in order to eliminate their number of trips.

They cut back on other spending because if you don't earn an income you have no money to spend.

People don't lose their houses over gas prices. (Expect, perhaps, in a few extreme cases.) If gas prices double simply putting a second commuter in your car cuts you fuel price by 50%, right back to where you were.

Few people will lose their jobs when fuel prices rise. We've seen that to be true in both the '70s oil embargo and in the oil speculation peak a few years back.

A lot of people lost their jobs, both during the oil crises of the 1970's, and the crisis of 2008. The US unemployment rate doubled from 5% at the start of 2008 to 10% at the end of 2009.

People car pool, buy more efficient vehicles, or use public transportation.

No, they don't. They don't have any neighbors going to the same employment site as them, they can't afford to buy new vehicles, and there is no public transportation in the far flung suburbs they foolishly moved to on the assumption they could afford to commute from there. This was the experience of people in the latest oil crisis.

I was just trying to explain why a lot of people lost their jobs and their houses after the last oil price spike. I didn't think there was much doubt they had done so.

I'd like to see some job loss data re: the '70s oil crunch. I recall no extensive job loss pinned to the embargo. I do remember a few people moving or changing jobs due to commuting distance.

Oh! I do remember one person who moved. Me.

The long lines were the final straw. When I had taken the job it was a 20 hour week, 2 10-hour day position. I foolishly allowed them to move me to full time, 4 -10s. With a 1:15 hour commute I had no life four nights a week. Adding on another hour or two each day to get gas convinced me it was time to sell and move.


The Bush Recession, the Great Recession hit us during your 2008 - 2009 period. Got any strong data that attributes the job loss to gas prices vs. the financial melt-down?


Guess you weren't around during the '70s crisis. Carpool databases sprang up (telephone based since we didn't have personal computers back then). California got its 'Park and Ride' lots along highway exchanges. Individuals in the suburbs bought multi-passenger vans and ran them as 'off the books' bus systems. Corporations both vans for their employees and paid one of the employees to be the driver.

As I recall Sacramento installed its light rail system out to the burbs because of the crunch. But my memory could be faulty on that one.

The most recent gas crisis was not sufficiently long nor painful to create the sorts of adaptations we saw 'back then'.

But even for that short period when gas hit $5/gallon here there were many low MPG pickups and SUVs parked along the city streets with quite low asking prices.

I stopped by the Ford dealership to pick up a part for my pickup and one of the sales people told me that they were having to sell full-sized pickups and SUVs at below their cost just to get them off the lot. They were under contract with Ford to take a certain number of units per quarter and had to move them out. OTOH they had no efficient models left on the lot, even the next several units in were pre-sold.

And a shared ride to town from our rural area system sprang up. It's still running once a week for those with limited transportation who need to visit the doctor/whatever.

(It really does seem that your are confusing the speculative oil spike with the banking/financial industry crash. A problem of attribution, I suspect.)

I'd like to see some job loss data re: the '70s oil crunch. I recall no extensive job loss pinned to the embargo.

Well, then I imagine you'd recall wrong. I was yougish at the time but even I remember the homelessness problem of the early 80s.

Hall, Power and Schoenberg demonstrated that discretionary investment was cut in half when the portion of the economy that went to fuel rose from 5% to 14% in the 70's oil crunch and they further show that as EROEI of our remaining fuel sources declines, discretionary investment is on track to disappear entirely by 2050.


This is, of course, exactly what one would expect as EROEI declines. Since there is a direct correlation between discretionary investment and employment, I'm sure a bit of digging would turn up the necessary evidence.

I'd like to see some job loss data re: the '70s oil crunch. I recall no extensive job loss pinned to the embargo.

I seem to recall some very sharp spikes in unemployment rate. For an analysis see: EIA - Economic Effects of High Oil Prices

most of the major economic downturns in the United States, Europe, and the Asia Pacific region since the 1970s have been preceded by sudden increases in crude oil prices. Although other factors were important, high oil prices played a critical role in substantially reducing economic growth in most of these cases.

Note, however, that the article is somewhat out of date since it was published in 2006. It says

Recent history, however, tells a somewhat different story. Average world crude oil prices have increased by more than $30 per barrel since the end of 2001, yet U.S. economic activity has remained robust, growing by approximately 2.8 percent per year from 2001 through 2004.

Then came the oil price spike to $147 in 2008, and made a mockery of that rosy analysis.

We spend considerably less for food on a percentage base. And in return we get a far wider choice of food and are required to expend far less labor getting it on the table.

Our houses have morphed from modest 2/3 bedroom, single bath houses to 3+ bedrooms, multiple baths, attached garages, central heating/AC, etc.

A proper analysis of cost of living needs to hold quality of items/services constant.

A proper analysis of cost of living needs to hold quality of items/services constant.

I disagree. I don't buy that "hedonics" stuff. (If quality is what counts, what's better? A 2-bedroom, one-bath house built to last 100 years, or a 4-bedroom, three-bath house built to last 15?) I think Warren's analysis is the way we should be looking at it: what the average family spends in each category, not whether 500 cable channels is better than 400 - when you only watch 5 or 6 anyway.)

Our houses have morphed from modest 2/3 bedroom, single bath houses to 3+ bedrooms, multiple baths, attached garages, central heating/AC, etc.

Which people cannot really afford to live in. Fifty years ago, the average middle-class US family could afford to buy a modest 2/3 bedroom, single bath house with a detached single-car garage and no A/C. Today, they could probably afford to do the same if they skimped and saved.

The problem is that the modern US family bought an enormous modern house which is several times as big as they really need or can afford. Unfortunately the banks loaned them the money to buy it, and they cannot pay the money back. This is the source of the current US mortgage meltdown.

Fifty years ago, the average middle-class US family could afford to buy a modest 2/3 bedroom, single bath house with a detached single-car garage and no A/C. Today, they could probably afford to do the same if they skimped and saved.

Do you understand that this is exactly my point.

Today's "middle class" house is not readily affordable on a single income. But a single income could, generally, afford yesterdays "middle class" house.

That was my apples to apples point. Unless you compare 'same features' you are not making a valid comparison. What happened back higher in the conversation was the equivalence of someone saying "Back in the '70s you could buy a canoe with a school teacher's salary. Today you can't buy a 200 foot yacht on a school teacher's salary."

A 1960 Chevy is not comparable to a 2010 Chevy. A direct price comparison makes no sense.

we all know that when a machine came along that let us get the job done in half the time, we simply knocked off at noon. NOT. We were expected to "produce" twice as much or more.

Perhaps because of resource depletion, climate change, and overpopulation thats what it will take just to break even? We are in a Red Queen situation, and had better learn the art of improving our running speed exponentially! So these millions of truck drivers, and checkout operators may be needed to produce the last few drops of oil, and build defense against rising seas, etc.

And yet I still submit that folks have been longing for relief from mindless toil for at least four or five millennia that we know about; I don't need to "paint" that, it just is. So irrespective of Bartleby's potty personal psychiatric issues, I remain bemused by how some folks react when they finally get a little piece of what's been asked for all those years.

In that light it seems a gigantic leap from opening the possibility to be freed from spending a large chunk of one's life imprisoned in a truck cab, to somehow being required to collect silly gadgets that take longer to clean than they're worth. Sure, modern manufacturing has made some rather frivolous items economically feasible, but unless one chooses to take an absurdly puritanical stance, so what? Thus far, at least, even Jim Kunstler isn't being forced to buy a salad shooter.

On another hand I think of Isaac Asimov's take on the matter in Profession, which isn't muddled up in personal idiosyncrasy like Melville's. Partly for that reason it seems more revealing, particularly in the light of the last part of gregvp's comment below. Maybe there really are segments of society that somehow need pure unadulterated bogus make-work. But that still leaves us as a very strange lot indeed...

[P.S. I'd look for that gratitude app on Android instead; it might be disturbing enough for Apple to censor it out of its zealously gated 'community'.]

Mr. Bastiat was writing in a time when toil, for most, was primarily the exercise of muscles, and the scarcity that underlies his thinking is the scarcity of labour - not enough people to do all that could be done, all that needed doing.

We are in transition to a state in which people are permanently abundant (because everything else is becoming scarce).

In advanced economies, toil is now primarily mental (information processing, control [of machines], supervisory, creative, interpersonal, and/or highly abstract), and the combination of computers and outsourcing is already eating a big hole in the information, control and supervisory jobs. David Autor's analysis of employment trends is worth reading. Will new jobs be created, matching the skills of the people "released"? I don't know.

The Lights in the Tunnel says not, and contends that as automation extends its reach, most of the remaining jobs will be "high touch" or "high abstraction." Those who are not highly skilled at one or the other will be out of luck and out of society, until either an new generation grows up, with greater cognitive and emotional skills; or we invent a whole new category of work to complement the current three--not agriculture, not manufacturing, not services--something not automatable; or we remove the profit motive as a driver of economic activity.

> What a very strange lot we are.

The problem is that all our societies have always tied most of life's meaning to work. That will not change overnight, nor will the change be smooth, painless and without conflict. No-one has yet mapped a credible path from a society that is bound together by the spiritual necessity of work to a society where meaning is created in other ways. No one can credibly describe what such a society might look like.

Not working when physically able presently carries a huge stigma. Many of those who still have their jobs in the USA are privately blaming the unlucky victims of the Great Recession, calling them lazy, shiftless and so on. "They must be inferior, unskilled, stupid" is the not-quite-unspoken thinking. Not: "they got losing tickets in the lottery."

It will take generations before we let go of the idea that work for material reward is a necessary or desirable part of being a good member of society.

There will, almost certainly, be much suffering before the survivors reach this nirvana. I hope I'm wrong, though.

"Consider what it will be like to compete as well with robots that will work 22x7x365"

I keep hoping for a strawberry-picking robot. No luck so far.

Ideally it would also be able to pull weeds. Think of the agricultural revolution that would cause.

Yair...Were working on it mate.

Not strawberries yet, but getting there: kiwis; apples (in progress).

Maybe ten years.

Perhaps neither economics nor demography is a science, but at root both are ideologically-driven. They are dismal fields of study because each insists upon basing theory on wishful and magical thinking that is insufficiently grounded in the "rules of the house" of the planetary home we inhabit.

And I might add that both tend to discount or completely ignore the possibility of black swan events.

Apparently the term 'dismal science' was coined by Thomas Carlyle and applied to Malthus, who by modern standards was both an economist and a demographer of sorts, so I guess it kind of works either way.


Perhaps neither economics nor demography is a science, but at root both are ideologically-driven.

Thats the first time I've seen that thrown at demographics, which I didn't think had become politicized. Economics, as the past couple of years have shown has serious problems, but I thought demographics was on sounder footing.

Possibly some of demographics might be, although it's partly about behavior so who can know. But I really do wonder about the popular bit holding that the population-growth curve will magically bend over worldwide simply because it has done so (possibly temporarily, again, who can know?) in a number of rich countries...

Not just rich countries, but pretty much all countries which have urbanized and educated their female members.

Children, in a rural setting are an asset. Feed them enough to keep them alive and they can start providing valuable labor at a very early age.

Children, in an urban setting are a liability. Children must be fed and educated up to about the point at which they tend to move out on their own.

Educate women and they tend to take control of their bodies. They often are able to bring income into the home from the outside and thus gain power.

So goes the wishful thinking, I'm aware of that. And yet, ranking countries by how rich they are seems to be a fairly good, even if imperfect, surrogate for ranking them by population growth, especially at the lower end of the economic scale. Just look at the map, it's blindingly obvious without even needing a scatter plot. Of course, in some countries, Saudi Arabia comes to mind among others, religion might also be a factor.

But I really do wonder about the popular bit holding that the population-growth curve will magically bend over worldwide simply because it has done so (possibly temporarily, again, who can know?) in a number of rich countries

Admittedly it is most likely based upon heuristics, essentially observations about societal organization versus birth rates. Now could there be blackswans waiting to upset the projections? Possibly. But, I don't think these people are smoking ideology (like most economists), they are just doing their best with limited information.

We discussed one possible black swan at some length the other day. If things go south enough that people once again start feeling a need to produce large families to take care of them in old age, then zero/low population growth (at least of any voluntary sort) gets tossed under the bus. That wouldn't even need a doomer scenario, just more of what we've already got. [But enough, this could quickly lapse into making predictions that are about the future, which is always unwise...]

Demography is an empirical science; economics is not. Study the literatures of the two disciplines, and you'll see a vast difference in the way in which verifiable knowledge is sought. Most of economics has rubber yardsticks and highly imperfect quantitative indices. By way of contrast, demography deals with hard facts such as birth rates, death rates, immigration rates and emigration rates.

Economics is a "social" science, just like sociology, political science, cultural anthropology, and history. Demography is a "hard" science with verifiable facts and all the other elements that go up to make true sciences, such as astronomy, biology, chemistry, and physics.

Dear Don,

Could you point to the scientific foundation for the Demographic Transition Theory or for the widely shared and consensually validated idea from demography that human population dynamics is different from the population dynamics of other species? I cannot find scientific evidence. What passes for evidence relates to what "the powers that be" judge to be politically convenient, economically expedient, socially correct, legally contrived, religiously tolerable and culturally prescribed.

Economics and demography are not sciences, but human 'inventions' derived lock, stock and barrel from ideological idiocy, and then skillfully, dishonestly, duplicitously given the appearance of a science.



Dear Don, dohboi, memmel, Fred Magyar, Gail the Actuary, Nate Hagens, Jason C. Bradford,

One day I trust that a HIGH LEVEL DISCUSSION of extant scientific evidence of human population dynamics and human overpopulation of the Earth happens in many places. Sooner or later discussions of this kind have to occur, I suppose, despite the fact that free and open speech of what looks to me like the very last of the last taboos is forbidden by the self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us, the ones who value money, power and position before all else and exclaim their dishonest and duplicitous ‘work’ is, of all things, “God’s work”.

My concern for children everywhere is this. If children in our time are "sold" the aberrant idea that economic success is what really matters, that arrogance and avarice actually rule this world, then from now here I expect those who are still young will follow a clearly marked and soon to become patently unsustainable primrose
path to perdition, a path that has been adamantly advocated and religiously pursued by the masters of the universe.

Let us not allow the 'economic success' that is derived from insider
trading, hedging, dark pools of capital, CDOs and other financial
instruments, market and currency manipulations, Ponzi schemes and economic globalization by the masters of the universe to be confused with the works of God, as given to us in The Creation and science.

Despite all the efforts to foment confusion and uncertainty by economic theologians, demographers and other minions of the wealthy and powerful, I trust we can agree that The Creation and science itself are utterly different from the artificially designed, ideologically flawed, manmade global economy that is organized
and managed by the masters of the universe for their benefit primarily. Regarding this single thing, can there be even so much as a shadow of doubt? As for demography, it provides a politically useful and economically attractive platform for looking at "the growth rate decreases" of human population numbers in one place after another (and then perniciously broadcasting this 'scientific' evidence everywhere as if these data proclaimed the end of population growth soon), all the while willfully ignoring the skyrocketing increase of absolute global human population numbers. Demography is not science. No way. Demography is most dangerous because it is so very misleading. The 'empirical' evidence derived from demography serves the selfish interests of the wealthy and powerful among us by disguising rather than disclosing the actual challenges posed to humanity in our time by the unbridled growth of the human population by approximately 75 to 80 million annually.

Don, if the human family chooses not to make a new way of life for ourselves, perhaps you can see what visible through my eyes.

Can you see in the offing, there on the far horizon within sight of every human being with feet of clay on Earth, the first slouching trillionaire in the universe lumbering toward Bethlehem to be born?



The demographic transition model (It is really a model--a subset of a bigger theory) has been modified since its origin--more than two generations ago. Within demography, the model has been widely criticized; e.g. see the works of Kingsley Davis some sixty years ago.

The demographic transition "theory" accurately described what happened in Western Europe and North America. Clearly, the model does not fit what has been happening in much of the rest of the world today. What is striking in parts of Asia is that birth rates fell drastically before much economic development took place. And then there are countries such as Saudi Arabia, which has very high birth rates despite a high GDP per capita.

Have you read in the literature in the field of sociology on demographics? Or how about the highly scientific approach to demography within public health departments at universities? The more you know about demography, the clearer it is that demography is a hard science--quite unlike economics in almost all respects.

Dear Don,

I do not know the work of Kingsley Davis or had not heard his name before you brought him to my attention in recent discussions of demography. I certainly have a lot of reading to do. No question about that.

But, Don, please note that you are taking us back sixty years. That is around 1950. Where is modern and more recent scientific research since Kingsley Davis' time that gives DMT Model a foundation in science as well as provides a reasonable explanation for the belief among demographers indicating human population dynamics is not essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species. These are two very fundamental questions for which it appears demographers have no sensible response. I believe.

I am presenting scientific evidence that human population dynamics is not different from the population dynamics of other living things, as is indicated in the landmark, peer-reviewed publication, Human Population Numbers as a Function of Food Supply (2001). Beyond this presentation, I go on to submit an additional peer-reviewed article that indicates with remarkable clarity that Human Carrying Capacity Is Determined by Food Availability (2003). Would you or others in this discussion care to comment on this peer-review research that, as far as I know, is uncontested?




In the long-run, you are essentially correct. But on a time scale of two or three generations of human population, the modified "theory" of the demographic transition helps to explain changes in the growth rate of the human population. Beginning around 1945, world population grew at roughly 2% per year for many years. Now the rate of Pop. growth is roughly half that. What accounts for the huge change? Mostly the demographic transition. Thus the model still has predictive power.

Note that where population still grows rapidly, e.g. Africa and some middle eastern countries such as Saudi Arabia, the demographic transition has not taken place for good and sound sociological and economic reasons--mainly due to the low status and limited job opportunities for women.

Were I you, I would revisit the important demographic work of the 1950s, then work my way gradually up to current demographic literature. I cannot remember the title of Kingsley Davis's big book; it was something like HUMAN POPULATION. Another outstanding demographer was Davis's wife, Judith Blake.

Who are the outstanding demographers of today? I don't know. Check the current journals in demography. Winter is a fine time to browse through the journals. Try any large university library for back issues of the journals. The really good stuff is more often found in journal articles than in books.

Dear Don,

By the time the people in the underdeveloped reach Stage IV of DMT Model, could it be the least fortunate among us will find themselves in a evidently finite and frangible planetary home in which almost all the extant habitats have become categorically unfit for human habitation and the relatively small number of remaining living spaces on the surface of Earth have been commandeered by the wealthy and powerful for their exclusive use, just as we see the most fortunate among us today taking up residence in guarded and gated communities 'at the top of every hill' as they assure for themselves, benefactors and bought-and-paid-for minions the benefits derived directly from their adamant advocacy and relentless maintenance of the socio-cultural status quo that is driven by process of economic globalizaiton and embraced in the Economic Colossus, known to one and all as the global political economy? After all everybody, yes, every person in the world knows who lives on top of the hill and who ends up at the bottom. Look around. Imagine a huge pyramid with the rich at the top and the poor at the bottom. Can you perceive this probability, even in the fairly near future?



Keep going, friends. Silence will not prevail much longer, much less forever, over science or in the face of what is good and despite reasonable efforts to do what is somehow the right thing. As Bill Moyers said last month, ".......something is gonna happen". With regard to something happening, can there be any doubt whatever? After all, something has got to happen.

Be of good cheer,


Perhaps we will somehow begin anew by choosing something different: that is, doing something that is sustainable sooner rather than later. Our children will likely be grateful if their elders cease our "hell bent for leather" approach to getting all we can now in one final greedy rampage of the Earth, and thereby desist mortgaging the children's future and threatening their existence in a planetary home still fit for human habitation.

Never in the course of human events have so few in a single generation stolen so much from so many....come what may for children everywhere in the fairly near future.

Thawing tundra is not going to replace the fertile plains to the south to feed the world any time soon.

I noticed this viewpoint in the review too -

Is there any good news? Some. What Smith calls the Northern Rim countries — the northern U.S., Canada, Russia and the Scandinavian countries — will experience dramatic and positive economic changes. Melting ice will put previously untappable natural resources within reach. Additional arable land will open up new farming opportunities.

Warming climate is causing the timberline to move north into the tundra. It is also possible to grow some of the cold tolerant crops such as barley in further north latitudes but we are not going to have a new grain-belt to replace the parched southern fields.

First the soil forming processes that gave us our productive grain belt fertility has taken thousands of years and specific circumstances of geology ie windborne volcanic ash, a gradual accumulation of types of carbon resistant to oxidation. In the cold climates soil organic matter accumulates, with cultivation and warming conditions oxidation created loss of OM and it is there where fertility and productivity of the soil resides.

Surely there will be biomass related opportunities, the timber increased productivity species with their mycorrhizial partners but surely uncertain conditions and a debt to be due to mother nature, no doubt. But not a lateral pass for us into the north. I think for the future in these northern places agroforestry and enhanced natural production will be critical

Second, another factor with changing climate not often recognized is the impact of latitude. Sure it is getting warmer in these higher latitudes and elevations. But the volatility of climate will remain. We may change from USDA zone 6 to zone 8 and think 'gee we can now put in orange trees', but reality is that an extreme cold front, ruining your new crops on a regular basis. The migrated zones will be 'new' zones requiring their own definitions.

How about potatoes? They grow well in northern areas on sandy soil.

The migrated zones will be 'new' zones requiring their own definitions.

A big part is that seasonality changes the further one gets from the equator. Even during hothouse times the poles still got six months of darkness every year.
Average temperatures will go up, seasonal temperature differences probably won't change much. Add 20F to the climate of Fairbanks, and you get hot summers, and still have annual lows of -30F. Then melting permafrost creates major problems of unstable ground. Trees fall over. Roads and human structures get swallowed up as underground ice lenses melt. Formerly stable slopes experience landslides, etc.
A warming climate is far more damaging than a cooling one. Wouls you rather have sea level rise, or sea level retreat? Which would be more damaging to built infrastructure?

Just an anecdote: A friend of mine grows corn and says that between the new hybrids and GW he can now use land which previously did not have a long enough growing season.


One or two years ago, they begun growing veggies on Greenland.

Re: Copper: the NEW ‘Poor Man's Gold' see also, The Great Copper Heist in Bloomberg Businessweek.

A problem with the conversion to electricity as an alternative form of energy is the need to use lots of expensive copper. Alternative energy that depends on collection of highly distributed forms of energy, such as wind and solar, would be particularly hard to guard and susceptible to thievery.

Another problem is that transmission lines, railroad catenaries, etc., often use guyed structures or have framework structures with some members in tension. These are easily damaged by cutting the cables or metal bars that are in tension, and they are especially attractive to vandals and terrorists. There is, for example, a high-voltage transmission line whose towers are inverted Vs, with the point on the ground, and they are held erect by guy wires. What were they thinking?

A long time ago I read instructions on the net that probably originated from west german green terrorists who described the equipment recommended for toppling pylons. Guy wires might make it simpler but it does unfortunately not take very long to saw thru ordinary steel.

The main security is that everybody benefits from a healthy infrastructure and it is of course extremely beneficial to have crews erecting new infrastructure rather then crews guarding old infrastructure.

A society that focuses on police and security forces rather then building adequate post peak oil infrastructure and maintaining an ability to help everybody in case of war or other disasters is ihmo becomming a lost society.

The United States has the world's largest prison population and incarceration rate, so we do have a focus on police and security forces. The US is also inhomogeneous with respect to most dimensions of ethnicity - racial, religious, linguistic, etc. - and has no core shared social values.

You don't even need anything as deliberate as terrorism. I saw yesterday that in our 2nd 'UK mini ice age' of this century, yobs in Ireland were stopping snowplough/road gritters by smashing them with rocks..

Similar behaviour has been observed in Sweden and the most surprising reason found for it were small gangster organizations setting things on fire and throwing stones at fire fighters as an initiation of new young members.

I guess these kinds of probelsm needs jobs and a sence of having a future and either good police work to surpress crime and drugs or drug liberalisation to limit the damages to the drug addicts and their friends and relatives by literally crashing the drug market. Parts of USA seems to have come close to the second unorthodx solution during the financial crisis. I dont like it but almost anything is better then people living in fear and having the copper torn out of the infrastructure since that is deadly for all of a society.


I read that article. I found it very interesting that most (all?) of that copper is heading to China for electronics and infrastructure. Rip apart our infrastructure so the Chinese can use it to build theirs. Good deal!

I read the story you highlight about copper theft being a problem for energy, communication, and transportation systems. I see this getting much worse as more people become desperate for any type of income and the demand by Asia's booming economy boosts metal (stainless steel, aluminum and copper) prices. In the US our society will have a hard time trying to build new infrastructure that is energy efficient and renewable, while a segment of the population is intent on tearing it down for short term personal gain. This is a much bigger threat to the economy than any foreign inspired terroist threat, IMO.

I know the problem first hand as our company has had several thefts of metal from our warehouse in the last four years - it all ended up at the scrap yard and was probably shipped to China.

Theft of copper on a big scale goes back more than 200 years. For example, during the Napoleanic Wars, shipyards in Britain often turned out "coffin ships," because the copper from many of the bolts that held the ship together was stolen by the workman. The copper from a single bolt was roughly equal to one day's wages for a skilled shipright.

I suspect (but cannot prove) that copper theft was big business from shortly after the time of the invention of copper smelting. Also, many money systems had copper pennies where the intrinsic value of the copper was about equal to the face value of the coin. For example, this was true in Britain for more than 150 years, and I well remember using four of these large penney coins to make phone calls in England, Australia, and New Zealand.

The exceptional times and places (such as modern Sweden) are the only cases of where there is little theft of copper. It is noteworthy that Sweden has--for all intents and purposes--abolished poverty. That has a lot to do with copper theft being relatively rare in that country.

Societies with declining real incomes due to declining production of oil and other fossil fuels are likely to see notable increases in copper theft.

Somewhere in the South Sea, there is a legend of this western sail ship who ancored on a beach some place. They soon found out the women on the island sold them a night for the price of a nail. The ship quickly got so free from nails, they could hardly sail out again.

Regarding copper and Sweden, yes we had copper in coins for a long time. When I was a child we had 25-öre coins with copper in them. They were scrapped together with the 10-öre coin, but the 50-öre coin was redesigned and is red in color, due to copper content. The coin is however discontinued; banks will still trade them in for a while but in shops they are no longer legal tender.

Problems with copper theft is increasing. I know a church who had the same copper roof segements stolen and replaced 3 times. One day I was out hiking and saw a guy working with digging down electrical cables in the ground. I noticed they were aluminium and asked him about it. He said they must use alumineum, since if they use copper cables they must hire guards or they got stolen.

Thanks for your reply to my comment.

I had no idea that in Sweden copper theft is such a big problem. However, if I could find the data, I'm pretty sure that it would show that copper theft in the U.S. on a per capita basis is roughly five to ten times the rate that it is in Sweden.

When copper prices are high, as they are now, ingenious thieves stop at nothing--even ripping copper pipe out of existing apartment houses or homes vacant because the owners are on vacation. If the price of copper rises more, then there will be more copper stolen.

The U.S. penney used to be made of copper; now it is only 15% copper and the rest is zinc. The five-cent piece, called a nickel, is made of a copper plus nickel alloy. Prices of these three metals are now so high that one can make a profit by melting down pennies and nickels for their metallic substance for resale. Of course this melting down of coins is against the law--but I daresay some people are doing it.

My advice to people in the U.S. is to hoard both pennies and nickels, because these coins will hold full value, even if the worth of paper currency goes to nothing as a result of hyperinflation.

Well, it wasn't until recently, when the problem just exploded. I am willing to bet a great deal of money this is done by international gangs who come here "on tour" every once in a while to steal copper. Just a few years ago, I never heard about the problem.

I wonder if international gangs perceive Sweden as "easy pickings."

Speaking as a sociologist, I find it fascinating that the problem should have arisen so quickly. As an economist, I think the key factor is the rapidly rising price of copper.

Perhaps we need new and stricter laws against stealing copper. And, of course, we would need more policemen and more judges.

There is no easy answer to the problems of copper theft. Perhaps the best that can be done is to use substitutes for copper wherever possible--aluminum electric cable and pipe made of PVC or cast iron rather than copper pipe.

We will probably get stricter laws for scrap trading.

When copper got really expensive around here, right before the Bush Recession, recycling sites were required to only purchase from people with photo ID and they had to make a copy of the ID along with a purchase slip.

A problem with the conversion to electricity as an alternative form of energy is the need to use lots of expensive copper. Alternative energy that depends on collection of highly distributed forms of energy, such as wind and solar, would be particularly hard to guard and susceptible to thievery.

I really don't see this as being an insurmountable problem. I also think that it is a mistake to put all eggs in the basket of highly distributed energy systems, I'm not sure that is the way to go at all.

A slight paradigm shift towards smaller localized nodes of generation facilities from micro hydro, solar and wind and a possible mandated shift to low voltage DC lighting and appliances is what I would like to see. If that happens I could easily imagine switching to a mostly aluminum alloy grid with copper wiring only used for special industrial applications. I myself have been doing some work with aluminum wiring.

Since the early 1900s, utility companies have been using aluminum wire for transmission of electricity within their power grids. It has advantages over the older copper wire in that it is lighter, more flexible, and less expensive. Aluminum wire in power grid applications was very successful and is still used today.

The latest market to embrace aluminum is building wire due to the rapidly rising price of copper. Electrical contractors have switched from copper to aluminum alloy.

Building wire now uses the new 8000 alloy of aluminum as specified by the National Electrical Code (NEC). Contractors are also using larger sizes of aluminum building wire for low voltage feeders where the savings over copper is significant due the lower weight. Aluminum building wire will have half the weight of copper even though the aluminum conductor must have 50% greater area than copper to carry the same current. The aluminum conductors used for building wire may be compacted in such a way that the overall diameter of the aluminum wire is approximately the same as copper.
Source Wikipedia

I wonder if it would be advantageous in solar installations. Maybe use aluminium buss bars rather than copper cable, it would be more workable to shape the busses into place than copper busses.


Technology and Money Have Dragged Modern Culture to Cliff of Extinction by Jan Lundberg

Editors identifying with the sustainability movement, along with many environmentalists eyeing socioeconomic change, strive to portray positive trends & news. Coincidentally the corporate media eschew "gloomy" analysis, so a freelancer learns to offer only upbeat articles....

Feel-good articles, such as the hypothetical "Bicyclists Finding More Vacation Options," cannot be anyone's steady diet for long. Some try admirably, in an effort to avoid system collapse by avoiding discussion of it. In the bargain they hope to preclude all-out fascism. Emphasizing positive messages often accompanies imagining that the post-peak oil reality will conform to a convenient down-slope. In the long run this is a self-nonfulfilling prophesy. Reality does bite, but not as badly if it is faced along with adopting a most humble approach to living on a small planet.

No doomers allowed! Publish only feel good articles and by all means always have a happy ending, a prosperous way down if you expect anyone to buy your book or get your article published. Never, never, never predict an Ester Island ending to the story where your those outside your community are looked upon only as fresh meat.

The Easter Islanders' cannibalism was not exclusively a religious rite or the expression of an urge for revenge: it was also induced by a simple liking for human flesh that could impel a man to kill for no other reason than his desire for fresh meat. (Man was the only large mammal whose flesh was available) Women and children were the principal victims of these inveterate cannibals.

Could civilization come to this? Of course it could but if we dare not discuss it. We must, as Lunberg says: Emphasizing positive messages often accompanies imagining that the post-peak oil reality will conform to a convenient down-slope.

There was a Bing Crosby song from 1944 called "Accentuate the Positive" (and eliminate the negative.) Yes, yes that is what we must do. We must allow only stories and articles that picture a post-peak world that conforms to the world as we hope, desperately hope, it will be like.

Ron P.

P.S. I must apologize for such a downbeat post but the devil made me do it. ;-)

That Easter Island link is to a source that's over 50 years old, and no longer considered accurate.

Jared Diamond argued that collapse led to cannibalism on Easter Island, but other experts point out that cannibalism was practiced for various reasons by Polynesian cultures, in good times and bad.

Yes Jarad Diamond agrees with me on this issue. Interestingly, this author of this article on Easter Island, Benny Peiser, (link below) though he never says it directly but I think he implies that people would never get so hungry that they would eat human flesh. The Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 put that silly theory to rest forever. But some people still deny the obvious.

All of the passengers were Roman Catholic. According to Read, some equated the act of cannibalism to the ritual of Holy Communion. Others initially had reservations, though after realizing that it was their only means of staying alive, changed their minds a few days later.


Easter Island

Diamond's notion that the natives resorted to cannibalism as a result of catastrophic mass starvation is palpably absurd. In fact, there is no archaeological evidence whatsoever for either starvation or cannibalism.

Baloney! I agree with Jarad Diamond, the Easter Islanders resorted to cannibalism because of catastrophic mass starvation and for no other reason. The idea that there was no starvation on Easter Island is absurd. They lived on a variety of palm nuts and seafood. Once the trees were gone and there was no more wood to make boats they got hungry, very hungry.

BBC 2 The Mystery of Easter Island - transcript

It was the same story with fish. Once the islanders' diet was full of tuna, mackerel and also porpoises, but by the 1600s they'd gone too. The consequences appear to have been terrible. These carvings show emaciated figures, their ribs exposed. It seems starvation swept across Easter Island. And starvation may have led to something even worse.

Ron P.

Late Colonization of Easter Island

Our analysis and dates for Rapa Nui imply that colonists arrived around 1200 A.D. The founding Polynesian population then grew rapidly, had immediate, major, and visible impacts on the island's biota and physical landscape, and began investing in monumental architecture and statuary within the first century or two of settlement. Although still poorly dated, monumental architecture and statuary are known from islands, such as the Societies, Marquesas, and Austral Islands, from perhaps as early as 1200 A.D. Nearly immediate building of monuments, carving giant statues, and transporting them to every corner of the island may have been cultural investments, homologous to forms elsewhere in eastern Polynesia, that mediated against overpopulation and resource shortfalls in an unpredictable environment. Such a model would help to explain the success of ancient Polynesians on tiny, remote Rapa Nui (27). Demographic and cultural collapse resulted from European contact beginning in 1722 A.D. with the devastating consequences of newly introduced Old World diseases to a nonimmune Polynesian population (28, 29).

The deforestation was due to the introduction of Polynesian rats by the polynesian settlers. The collapse of the population was due to the introduction of diseases by Europeans, as well as the Shanghai'ing of natives to fill out sailing crews.

The deforestation was due to the introduction of Polynesian rats by the polynesian settlers.

Rats eat trees like beavers?

The collapse of the population was due to the introduction of diseases by Europeans, as well as the Shanghai'ing of natives to fill out sailing crews.

But hang on, statues were no longer being built and there was no sign of an advanced civilization by the time the Ducth got there. Clearly, significant decline had already taken place by the time Europeans showed up. Whatever happened after contact is not relevant to what happened before.

Rats be survivors. We'll even eat vegans.

View of Easter Island Disaster All Wrong, Researchers Say

At a scientific meeting last year, Hunt presented evidence that the island's rat population spiked to 20 million from the years 1200 to 1300. Rats had no predators on the island other than humans and they would have made quick work of the island's palm seeds. After the trees were gone, the island's rat population dropped off to a mere one million.

The statues were intact on their platforms at the first European contact. They were pulled down sometime later.

Trees other than palm trees were on Easter Island at first contact.

The ecological damage on Easter Island occurred both before and after European contact. The island became a sheep plantation, which no doubt further degraded the environment.

As the Austronesians settled the islands of the Pacific, starting from the area of Taiwan and nearby mainland China around 2000 BC, the pattern of discovery, settlement, expansion of the population, ecological change, warfare and social stress, recurrs on one island after another. Sometimes it is agriculture, sometimes introduced species and sometimes hunting/fishing. For example, the moa was hunted to extinction.

Introduction to Pacific Islands Archaeology

Rats had no predators on the island other than humans and they would have made quick work of the island's palm seeds.

Then why hasn't this happened on other Pacific islands that have rats. Rats and trees appear to coexist everywhere else in the world. Why not on Easter Island?

According to pollen records, trees vanished from Easter Island sometime in the 16 hundreds. Did it take the rats 300-400 years to finish off the trees? And what about all the trees that were cut down to transport the statues and build boats. How do they figure into this picture?

Rats introduced by polynesians to Hawaii (whether deliberate or not) did indeed quickly wipe out seed palms that once covered Oahu, per the same Terry Hunt quoted above. The evidence is in the pollen record of sediments from Ordy Pond, on Oahu. So Easter Island was not unique.

BTW, also per Terry Hunt, it is another fallacy that the polynesians used the palm trees for boat building or moving the Moa (statues, not birds). The quality of the wood trunks was too poor for either. He thinks the Easter Islanders got into trouble with boats after their original craft wore out or were lost, and other, more appropriate trees were used as replacements until they were depleted. Researchers have done a physical analysis of the Moa and have concluded that based upon their center of gravity, they were moved about in upright position, therefore, no need for log rollers, even if the palm logs were of sufficient quality that they could be used that way, which apparently they were not.

no need for log rollers

Well then, how did they move multi-ton rock statues over distances of several kilometers across terrain that is not exactly flat? They don't appear to have had any wheels.

They apparently group muscled them about and probably had ropes.

Terry Hunt thinks Moai moving may have been a primitive but effective birth control method, keeping the island population in check at about 3000.

Per Terry [translating from the polynesian]: "Honey, you look lovely tonight, let's get it on!" Honey: "Not tonight dear, I'm tired from moving Moai all day and have a headache!"

Correction: Moai are the carved statues; Moa is the extinct bird.

I can certainly understand the urge to debunk the Easter Island disaster story -- the implications for ourselves are too horrible to contemplate. But archaologists have found many examples of human cannibalism due to starvation and societal collapse in the past. See "Constant Battles" by Steven Leblanc for example.

To be fair to Terry Hunt, he is an academic, in our anthropology department, that has an interest in getting the story of Easter Island correct. I don't think his agenda is to debunk human cannibalism, there or anywhere else it has happened. One of the problems with the popular Jared Diamond is many of his synthesis works rely upon the fieldwork of others, which can get dated and may not have been all that thorough to begin with. Easter Island makes a great metaphorical story, but unfortunately it's just a story, as related by Diamond and others. It does make me wonder about the veracity of some of his other interpretations, quite frankly, but I love his version of the Greenland Norse and the Inuit peoples during the beginning of the Little Ice Age.

Everybody likes a good, scary story.

unfortunately it's just a story, as related by Diamond and others.

An author has a choice to make, make it accurate in the academic sense, including all the uncertainties and caveats, or tell a story. Humans are storytellers, and story consumers, so one choice leads to great fame and fortune, and the other obscurity and having to keep one's dayjob.

At a scientific meeting last year, Hunt presented evidence that the island's rat population spiked to 20 million from the years 1200 to 1300.

20 million rats divided by 163.6 square km = 122250 rats / square km = 1222 rats / hectare = 495 rats / acre.

I other words, a sea of rats as far as the eye can see in every direction, mixed in with a few thousand people and a few hundred statues. This theory should be easy to prove or disprove. Just look for archeological evidence of a massive former rat population.

The way I figure it, the Easter Islanders got into trouble because they put all the information regarding the scientific, social and technological advances they made in every field of endeavor following the Easter Island Enlightenment of the late middle ages, on diskettes that were erased by an unexpected solar flux. To make matters worse, during the little ice age, they started to pillage and burn their many libraries for heat.

Soon they were reduced to eating human flesh and of course they started by consuming their philosophers and then without the philosophers to defend them, they turned on their scientists and engineers. Soon only stonedmasons were left and, as we know, stonedmasons don't just have thick hands.

Almost all correct. They actually tossed the books in the library into the trash, which they payed the South Americans to haul off to Chile, where there was more space for landfills. They tossed the books because they were going digital, and they needed the library at Easter Island U for a new space program dedicated to finding life, especially *intelligent* life, in extreme environments, which was and continues to be a very important scientific issue to be resolved.

There are other precedents of cannibalism during famine in history.
One is the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century CE. Mothers eat their own children because there was no food left (destroyed from infighting between the faction of Jews fighting for control in the city)

Flavius Josephus reports (Reading his accounts gives a dire picture of things to come on a global scale):

She then attempted a most unnatural thing; and snatching up her son, who was a child sucking at her breast, she said, "O thou miserable infant! for whom shall I preserve thee in this war, this famine, and this sedition ? As to the war with the Romans, if they preserve our lives, we must be slaves! The famine also will destroy us, even before that slavery comes upon us; yet are these seditious rogues more terrible than both the other. Come on; be thou my food, and be thou a fury to these seditious varlets and a byeword to the world, which is all that is now wanting to complete the calamities of us Jews." As soon as she had said this, she slew her son; and then roasted him, and ate one half of him

What happened in the Andes (Uruguayan Air Force flight 571) was not cannibalism. They did not kill people and eat them. They eat dead bodies of people who had already died in the accident. It is not the same thing as cannibalism where you kill people with the intention of eating them.

It is not the same thing as cannibalism where you kill people with the intention of eating them.

Wrong! Cannibalism is the eating of human flesh. It matters what caused the death of the person you eat, if you eat human flesh you are a cannibal.

Cannibilism: Definition

cannibalism [ˈkænɪbəˌlɪzəm]
1. the act of eating human flesh or the flesh of one's own kind

But don't feel bad Suyog, I am often guilty of such mistakes myself.

Ron P.

These discussions could still be a lot more flameproof if you were willing to post your corrections a little less Voraciously.

Is it really necessary to shout 'Wrong!' like that? Could you save the cannonfire for the real Dragons?


Sorry Bob, please forgive me and allow me to put it a little less explicit.

"I humbly submit that your definition of cannibalism is incorrect!"

There, is that better?

I hang my head in shame and promise to do better next time. And I also promise not to nitpick and carp at people for being too explicit or firm in with their response. I find that so tacky when people do that.

Oh, just one more nitpicky point. The word "wrong" is not a flame. If we have reached the level of politically correctness where we regard the word "wrong" as a flame then we have indeed lost all touch with reality.

Ron P.

The word "wrong" does have some rather sharp definitions:

wrong (rông, rng)
1. Not in conformity with fact or truth; incorrect or erroneous.
a. Contrary to conscience, morality, or law; immoral or wicked.
b. Unfair; unjust.

It is a word I've learned to use carefully. IMO "We took a wrong turn" is ok; You are wrong" isn't ok. It's a finger pointer and assumes a position of authority or dominance by the user, and whether by intention or not, puts the reader in a defensive posture. Constuctive discourse becomes hindered, unlikely beyond that point.

"I disagree with your point" is kinder, gentler.

Of course, I could be wrong....

This is middle school playground stuff, Ron. Really.

"The word "wrong" is not a flame."

Try to understand the idea that your (regularly) adding such exclamation marks to these responses turns it into Bombastic Shouting, Ron, and that this is wonderful Tinder for more heated belligerence to follow. It's not about 'Political Correctness', but you dropped that into the perfect place to secure the point that this is always the defense for someone who refuses to take responsibility for trying to help create WITH other adults an Adult Conversation.

I agree.

The Drumbeat is now going to be at the top of the front page for a couple of days, not just a couple of hours. It's going to be the face of the site.

Plus we'll be sharing less bandwidth. For that reason, I'm going to ask people to be more polite, so as not to create needless flamewars.

I'm also going to ask people to cut back on comments without useful content. That includes silly jokes as well personal jabs, off-topic anecdotes, smilies, "I agree!" "+1" etc.

I am very disappointed Leanan. If this list is so has become so politically correct that the word "wrong", even with an explanation point, is forbidden then all is lost. If that is the case then what began as such a noble venture has been reduced to such silliness that we might as well fold our tent and go home.

Ron P.

Conversations have ages.

Shouting "wrong!" is the conversation of an eight-year old.

All we're asking is that you elevate the age of the conversation you speak.


P.S. notice that as resources get scarce the average age of the conversations across our civilization will likely decline. When emotion comes into play almost always the age of a conversation declines.

Shouting "wrong!" is the conversation of an eight-year old.

I thought ad hominem attacks were verboten?

Is it OK to shout "Right!" If so, the standards are hypocritical.

Come on, that's not reasonable. Would you really shout "wrong!" at someone who was mistaken about a definition of a word? IIRC, Suyog has said he's from India; maybe English isn't his first language. Shouting "wrong" at someone for making a mistake is out of line. Shouting "right!" to encourage them is not.

It's not an ad hominem attack, it's an observation based on the theory that it's possible to assign ages to conversations.

Categorize all conversations into age. An easy division is:

0-12 child conversations
Implusive, simple sentence construction, little self-editing, short logic chains, often highly emotional, right and wrong predominate in assessments

13-18 teenage conversations
less impulsive, complex sentence construction, more self-editing (but not always), medium logic chains, mostly calm discussions with occasional outbursts of emotion and "short cut" thinking

19+ adult conversations
considered thinking before speaking and writing (i.e. extensive self-editing), long logic chains, calm while discussing even highly emotional topics, right/wrong give way to "what possible to see from each point of view?"

In this model, shouting "wrong!" is clearly the conversation of a child.

Many conversations change ages as the conversation progresses, sometimes going down to a child then coming back up, then going back down again. It seems that the most common pattern is to start at the adult stage but then to regress. If you've seen a loving relationship turn into a bitter divorce, you watched the age of the conversation slowly decrease until it was predominently the age of a child.

Not many people have the skill or discipline to raise the age of the conversation once it has lowered. The people who do have that skill we call "wise" or "thoughtful." In short, they are committed to speaking at the age of an adult.

Now, I've often said that I'm not immune to my conversation descending to that of a child. So it's really not that I'm better than Ron. There are some conversations that I'd be embarrassed to share, quite frankly. I do, however, have a strong commitment to speak like an adult everywhere and always...and I believe I'm mostly successful at that. But it takes the commitment first followed by lots of practice.

Take a look at the comment section of other blogs and you'll quickly see that the age of the conversation there is that of a child. The value of TOD is that the conversations are mostly at the adult level with only brief descents into the child level. Bringing the age up is what Leanan does and there others here who perform the same function by speaking up, just as what has occurred here.

I think it would be an interesting experiment for Leanan to step in when a conversation is going sideways and list the different conversation ages and their properties. Then she could ask, "Please commit to speaking at the adult level." The person would be confronted with two things: first, they would have to respond to Leanan's request for a commitment. This is very powerful because it sets up a long-term structure.

Second, once accepted, the person then has to review the ages and has to decide for themselves what would be adult rather than Leanan or others doing that thinking for them.

Over time I think we could see less outbursts and pretty much always a mature conversation.

Double edit:
Ron, I'm sorry if it seems I'm picking on you. I'm really not and I have absolutely nothing against you. It's just that it was your conversation that presented the opportunity to discuss conversational age.

Yeesh, can we drop this thread please.


I'm happy to do that. But I think I and others will keep raising the issue of how to conduct adult conversations until they reliably occur.

I agree. "Discussions.." is the first word up on the banner there.. how we talk to each other is critical, and I know my input has a ways to go as well.


Ron P, you said:"It matters what caused the death of the person you eat, if you eat human flesh you are a cannibal." Did you mean to say "It matters not ......"?

Not meaning to pile on.....nit,nit.

No one here argued that cannibalism due to hunger never happens.

Similarly, no one said Easter Islanders never starved. There is some evidence that there was hunger (the statues mentioned), and there is evidence of possible cannibalism, but that doesn't mean one caused the other. Other Polynesian societies engaged in cannibalism for reasons other than hunger: as a final insult, or absorb the strength of the dead person, or terrorize enemies.

I wonder if there's any evidence of starvation aside from the statues. The middens aren't convincing evidence, IMO. Many cultures, especially Polynesian cultures, don't eat much meat at all. The progression to smaller prey animals has occurred elsewhere, without the result being starvation.

Leanan, I did not mean to start an argument about either Easter Island or cannibalism. My point in mentioning both was to point out the absurdity of trying to paint the coming collapse with only feel good colors.

Ron P.

And my point is that if you're going to bring up extreme scenarios like cannibalism, you should take pains to be accurate.

And I was accurate. Both Jared Diamond and I were accurate. The evidence of cannibalism in many societies is overwhelming.

Study Provides Direct Evidence Of Cannibalism In The Southwest

The first evidence of human tissue in prehistoric human waste dating back about 850 years shows that people of southwestern Colorado engaged in cannibalism during a long drought, according to a new study.

Evidence of cannibalism found at Colorado site

WASHINGTON - Archeologists have found the most conclusive evidence yet that the Anasazi people of North America's pre-Columbian southwest practiced cannibalism.

Archaeologists find evidence of cannibalism at neolithic site in Germany

500 people who may have been eaten during a famine in Europe's early neolithic period.

Cannibalism Normal For Early Humans?

Summary: Genetic markers commonly found in modern humans all over the world could be evidence that our earliest ancestors were cannibals, according to new research. Scientists suggest that even today many of us carry a gene that evolved as protection against brain diseases that can be spread by eating human flesh.

The evidence of cannibalism on Easter Island is strong though not as overwhelming an in other places in the world. The point is it was, historically, very common. And though at times it may have been ritualistic, it was most common during times of extreme famine.

Leanan, the bias against historical cannibalism is just another example of trying to revise history in feel good colors only. Only paint historical humans as kind and gentle noble savages. Say they never ate human flesh and then feel really good about what you wrote. The problem is that such theories are pure baloney. The historical evidence of cannibalism is absolutely overwhelming. It was the normal thing to do when people were desperate and starving. And besides they regarded their enemies as less than human. Eating an enemy was hardly different from eating a human, or at least that is the way they saw it.

Ron P.

No one has said cannibalism never occurs.

The issue is that in your original post, you linked to a source from 1957, that does not reflect current research on Easter Island.

Come on, if someone who disagreed with you did that, you'd be all over them like white on rice.

No, you are dead wrong on that account. I often get on people for not posting links at all but never if I believe their link was simply inaccurate. After all, that would simply be an opinion. I would post links to show that others disagree. Also simply because the article was written in 1957 does not mean it is historically inaccurate. Yes, some noble savage believers may think the article was not accurate but I emphatically disagree. I think the article is highly accurate. I think Jarad Diamond, if asked today, would say the article is accurate.

Ron P.

I'm starting to like the idea of a kinder, gentler,,,,less nauseating TOD :-/

Smoked Darwinian just doesn't sound like good Thanksgiving leftovers.

Some people are very argumentative. They enjoy the game. Attempts to reason with them only feed into the game.

Oddly enough, they also appear to enjoy social interaction, even thought it's a confrontational form of interaction. In a social environment, such as the Drum Beat, silence, the lack of a response, may be more effective than a tit-for-tat exchange. Consider non response as a modern variant of the good old fashioned shunning paradigm. Darwinian selection in a social environment is subject to the conditions of that environment. Simply respond to obnoxious behavior with a set of conditions to which the miscreant needs to adapt. In short, "don't feed the trolls, you only encourage them."

I wholeheartedly support a kinder, gentler, socially polite TOD!

No doomers allowed! Publish only feel good articles and by all means always have a happy ending, a prosperous way down if you expect anyone to buy your book or get your article published.

A related issue appears in the article titled, Is sustainable agriculture viable?

Its criticisms of the industrial mode of agriculture are pointed and well-known. Its advocacy of "sustainable" practices is a study in question-begging: It just assumes such a thing exists.

Such a plan could ensure that farmers are supported to make a transition to more sustainable agriculture that prioritises soil health and biodiversity.

You can "prioritize soil health and biodiversity" all you want, but that doesn't make it "sustainable." They also quote a Rodale study, which is funny, because quoting Rodale on the virtues of "sustainable" agriculture is like quoting the Catholic Church on the historical validity of the resurrection:

The Rodale Institute in the US has conducted one of the world’s longest-running, side-by-side comparisons of organic and conventional farming systems. The organic systems receive no chemical inputs for fertility, weed or pest control and are now outperforming the yield of the conventional systems.

The statement is true as far as it goes. I'm intimately involved in improving soils with "no chemical inputs for fertility [and] weed control." What they don't tell you is that it takes phenomenal amounts of organic matter--mulches, leaves, food scraps, manures--all of which represents tremendous ACREAGE. And if you use nitrogen-fixing plants to build nitrogen, you have to take acres out of production for a period. We do it, because we happen to have the land, and we don't give a care whether it's "sustainable," "organic," or even "kosher."

The bitter irony is that a lot of organic matter comes from conventional agricultural products.

Whether these "systems" "outperform[...] the yield of the conventional systems" is completely up in the air: The Independent.

Alas, the ultimate effect of ALL agriculture is population growth. The LORD giveth...and the LORD giveth....

"And if you use nitrogen-fixing plants to build nitrogen, you have to take acres out of production for a period. "

Out of grain production, but there are other productions possible. The classic central Wisconsin dairy farm rotation was corn, oats, clover/timothy hay, pasture on the second year of the hayfield. The corn went to silage, as it couldn't get ripe in the 95 day growing seasons. When the shorter season hybrids came out it could get ripe, then you had a choice. Anyway, two grain crops, two forage crops. The land was never really out of production, but it still had a decent rotation and limited need for fertilizers.

That, indeed, works, but it's not even close to being universally applicable--especially to small farmers.

For example, we have a market garden here, and the best we can do is plant Dutch clover in four-foot paths between the rows as a living mulch, then till that in the following year as the next row crop.

And, of course, we're still using diesel to mow the rows, to pull the plows, to till and prepare the beds, to haul the produce...ultimately unsustainable, but we have the luxury of being able to pass this depleted earth onto the next several generations.

Mike - have you investigated electric tractors? At this point they are mostly EV conversions of older small fuel tractors, but they are getting used on small farms here. From what I remember an overnight charge of the lead-acid batteries is sufficient to cultivate about an acre.

There's info about them on the web. And I believe there is a company starting to manufacture them.

As to the distasteful practice of cannibalism, here are some stories I happened across from New Zealand that might make you think twice about making your doomstead there and, under dire circumstances, I would think twice before attending a Maori barbecue.


Of course, many Christians symbolically partake in the body and blood of Christ and many American Indian tribes were cannibalistic.

Of course, many Christians symbolically partake in the body and blood of Christ and many American Indian tribes were cannibalistic.

The free market seems to have managed to marry these two traits quite successfully:


FOUR people have been arrested in Peru on suspicion of killing some 60 people to sell their fat and other human tissue to Italian co-conspirators for cosmetic use in Europe.

Peru fat for cosmetics story ‘a lie’

A Peruvian police investigator has been dismissed over allegations that an organised gang had murdered local people to harvest their fat for cosmetics.


Mike, if your evidence is a Cosmetics Industry site, maybe you should offer just the slightest bit of disclaimer with the link, or leave the link name viewable?

The makeup industry has enough blood on its hands anyway.


This is getting ridiculous.

It's like being followed around the classroom by a nun with a ruler.

Ron, what irritates me about all the happy talk junk is that people are going to be blindsided just like they were about the housing bubble. Only, this time their lives will be on the line not their house. Anyone with two brain cells could see housing was a bubble, yet, they bought and bought because of the hype.

The same response will occur as things go down the tube - "We didn't know."


It's not about "happy talk", it's about getting on with the job at hand.

We all recognize that the era of cheap oil is over and that we have already heated up our planet and changed our weather. We get it.

Now the job at hand is to figure out how to minimize our need for fossil fuels and to transition away from fossil fuels as rapidly as we comfortably can while hoping that we can do so rapidly enough to not drive the climate past a fatal tipping point.

We're on the boat, out at sea. We recognize that there's a hole in the hull and water is flowing in faster than the bilge pump can pump out. It's time to stop talking about whether we will go down "like gentlemen" or screaming and fighting over the last bit of flotsam.

It's time to grab a bucket and start bailing.

We all recognize that the era of cheap oil is over and that we have already heated up our planet and changed our weather. We get it.

I don't know what "we" you are talking about because the majority of people won't even discuss a topic that infers that BAU is dead meat.

Further, as "we" all know there are a number of other issues that need to be addressed. If people want to get cranked up they should read this essay by Peter Goodchild - The Imminent Collapse of Industrial Society http://www.countercurrents.org/goodchild090510.htm

It's long and well documented.


It's not useful to spend time on "The Imminent Collapse of Industrial Society". That's something that will happen only if we fail to bail.

There's plenty of fossil fuel left. It's not going to disappear, but only get more expensive. If we get bailing right now we can switch manufacturing and transportation away from fossil fuels and hold that price increase to an acceptable level.

We now have the technology in hand to move at least 25% of our personal transportation to electricity. We can, without appreciable pain, move another 10% - 20% of our personal transportation to car sharing and public transportation. The ability to reduce our petroleum use in the US by up to 50% within a decade will take price pressure off of oil supply shortfalls.

Furthermore industry doesn't really run on petroleum, it runs on electricity. We're now producing electricity with wind and geothermal at acceptable prices and PV solar prices are falling like bloomers when the fleet hits town.

The odds of "imminent collapse" - very low. The odds that we transition our industrial society from a consumer of fossil fuels to a consumer of renewable energy - fairly high and we need to work to make it higher quicker.

Ahhh, the new TOD paradigm. Bet you play a mean fiddle to, Bob.

Don in Maine

No, but I've been around long enough to have 'enjoyed' many "The End of the World is Nigh!" experiences.

Now, we have the option of ending the world as we know it. Just sit back and do what we've been doing for the last 100 years or so. Or we can decide to take our best shot at not ending the world as we know it.

Personally, I'm not a hand-wringer. I'm a doer.

How about we focus on best solutions and how to implement them. Then if we fail we can spend our last few days eating squirrels in the park. But failure is not guaranteed, except by inaction.

No, but I've been around long enough to have 'enjoyed' many "The End of the World is Nigh!" experiences.

Now, we have the option of ending the world as we know it. Just sit back and do what we've been doing for the last 100 years or so. Or we can decide to take our best shot at not ending the world as we know it.

Personally, I'm not a hand-wringer. I'm a doer.

There are two things wrong with this way of looking at things:

1. No one said the "end is nigh." That's what I would call a straw man. Things can get very, very bad, and it will be far from being the "end of the world," but it can be worse than anyone has ever experienced. In fact, it could turn out to be so bad that the "end of the world" would seem like a peanut butter sandwich in a picnic basket.

I'm going to do something I never do--make a prediction. I'm going to predict that the world is not going to end! No matter how bad things get--oil shortages, blackouts, cannibalism--the world is not going to end. No matter how hard you may wish for it, the world is not going to end.

2. Being a "hand-wringer" (by which I think you mean pessimist, or realist) and a "doer" are not mutually exclusive activities. In fact, I would argue that we "hand-wringers" do a lot more than non-hand-wringers.

Non-hand-wringers would include all those cornucopians who are at this very moment going deeper into debt to buy stupid plastic objects to celebrate the "birth" of a two-thousand-year-old Middle Eastern illiterate carpenter-cum-savior.

Then there are people like me--decidedly hand-wringing--who just finished a day of cutting and hauling firewood, painting storm windows, making cheese, and turning compost.

Not bad for a 50-year-old hand-wringing end-of-the-world-type doomer. (Not that I think any of that would do a bit of good when the slide down the depopulation gradient begins.)

Did you overlook the "as we know it" part intentionally or by accident?

There is no connection between being a realist and being either a pessimist or an optimist. A realist looks at the facts as they can best determine them and considers both the best and worst potential cases. A pessimist chooses to look at only the bad, an optimist only the good. In their extremes neither are realists.

Hand-wringers, as I use the term are people who spend their time wallowing in the worst possible outcome. And in doing so they discourage themselves and others from getting on with the job at hand - to do the best they can to avoid the undesirable.

Personally I consider myself a mildly-optimistic realist. My personal guess is that we have better than a 50% chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change - if we get to work now. I also expect that many people, probably several million, will die because we won't get ahead of the problem of providing adequate water and food to those in greatest danger. We'll probably have some 'water wars' in parts of the world. We'll have a continuing rise in deaths due to extreme weather conditions.

But 'back to the caves cannibalism', living off squirrels, billions of deaths - hooey. There's no reason for us to allow that to happen to ourselves.

And I think that not bad for a 66-year-old guy who spent the day cleaning snow off the solar panels, splitting a couple days firewood, and finishing sheet rock.

Billions are going to die over the next forty years because of the decline of production of fossil fuels.

The Green Revolution depends on cheap fossil fuels, especially cheap fertilizer. The Green Revolution is soon to be reversed, because the era of cheap fossil fuels is about over.

There is no prospect on the horizon for a substitute for cheap oil and cheap natural gas when it comes to agriculture.


Well, Don, now you've made a prediction that's not only about the future but also bears a specific time frame. Ordinarily that'd be doubly unwise. I can't recall seeing any credible or semi-credible projection showing oil-plus-gas tanking so severely in just forty years as to make the very small proportion used by agriculture unavailable. I realize it wouldn't be the first time there was mass starvation in the world, so I wouldn't think it impossible to lose, say, tens of millions in some thoroughly fouled-up part of the world. But billions, plural, China+India or some such combination voted off the island in just 40 years, by 2050? Are you anticipating a really big nuclear war in Asia, or an asteroid impact?

Plus - we can do much of our farm work with electricity. We've already got very large battery powered equipment working in mines. Tractors move slowly and love torque. Farming could easily be done with swappable battery pack tractors.

We can make anhydrous ammonia fertilizer with renewable energy. That's an unending nitrogen source.

Well, not so fast.

Making ammonia from renewable electricity can be done, but is very inefficient (compared to natural gas). it is only an unending source of nitrogen if we enough renewable energy, and presently, at less than 30% of total (and 20 of that 30 is existing hydro), we don't.

WE will learn to make fertilser from our wastes, particularly sewage, where curretnly LOT of energy is expended to remove nitrogen and return it to the atmoshphere!

As for the electric tractors, you could do swappable batteries, though it would quickly get out of hand for a tractor working all day, but an electric tractor is a great solution for a utility tractor - I have seen a farm in Australia that used two electric forklift drives to retrofit what was a 50hp 4wd tractor.

For larger equipment (>100hp), you would be better off with a mining style drag cord system, which may not be as hard to implement as you might think.
Some ideas along these lines were discussed here;

An experimental farm in Australia is using an electrified centre pivot "tractor", though only an a small scale.

Unless you go the corded route, electrification is the preserve of small farms, but going from your background, I'm guessing downsizing is what you would prefer to see.

"very inefficient (compared to natural gas)"

Yes, but if we decide that dumping carbon into our atmosphere is a bad idea we will realize that NG->nitrogen is not a good idea.

"if we enough renewable energy"

Yes, but we can build all we want. There are no practical constraints on how much renewable we install.

"you could do swappable batteries, though it would quickly get out of hand for a tractor working all day,"

For those situations where the equipment needs to run extremely long times (combines, for example) biofuels would make more sense.

The point is that once oil becomes very expensive we will not all starve to death because farmers can't farm.

The point is that once oil becomes very expensive we will not all starve to death because farmers can't farm.

Agreed 100%. Farmers are very adaptable (I grew up as one), and, if need be, government will give farming priority for oil fuel over RV's, commuters etc.

There are many things we may have to give up. but food is not one of them. Highly processed food, however...

Agreed...please see the graph I posted above. It may not be 100% accurate but it's not likely to be very far off.

Edit: reading PaulS's comment I see that I agreed too quickly because I didn't notice the 40 years part. I think the billions will die by the end of the century, probably only 500 million by 2050. We might get lucky and it's just 250 million.

Either way, just like in Haiti, soon a child born into the world will have a much lower life span.

Did you overlook the "as we know it" part intentionally or by accident?

You're trying to have it both ways. Just before that you said you have lived through several "End is nigh" moments. Each time the actual end of the world fails (which is a mythic phenomenon) you get to pretend your view has triumphed.

The whole "end of world/apocalypse" meme--whether used as hyperbole by doomers or as a straw man by anti-doomers--needs to be taken out into the middle of a big field and burned at the stake.

You distorted my original post. We cannot have a reasoned discussion if that takes place.

You distorted my original post.

I'm sorry you see it that way. I'm only asking you to OWN the rhetoric you employ. The "apocalyptic" meme is a hideous distortion in and of itself.

Bob, I don't mean this to sound snarky although I guess it is. You say you are a doer. What have you actually done? And, I want you to be sure to include is not only all the stuff you did personally but also that "we" you talk about and, specifically, what they have done and I'm not talking about "prepping" since that is obviously off the table.

What I've been doing for 25+ years is right here http://www.theoildrum.com/node/4979?nocomments so I'm not asking for something that I'm not willing to address - A Trip To Todd's.


Edit to expand comments.

Bravo Todd: The reply should be interesting. I think many here believe that participating on the definition of terms, picking nits and arguing back and forth has something to do with sustainability.

I believe there is a world of difference between sustainable agriculture for six plus billion people and sustainable agriculture for my family and a few friends.

IMHO the high desert around Reno is unsustainable for the 300,000+ people here and never will be sustainable. There were about 3000 indians here when the first white guys showed up and when the other 297,000+ go back to California (sorry Todd :-) about 3000 of us will be sustainable here. We are a lot better off than Vegas and again IMHO no one at all will be left there. I don't think any indians went there for sun, sin and sex. Hoover Dam and Lake Mead might support some people passing through.

It is starting winter here and we have had some bad winds but only a couple inches of snow.

My reply is up Lynford. Knock yourself out.

Now as for the sustainable level of the Reno high desert, think about it a bit. (And let's assume for the discussion that climate change does not significantly decrease your annual rainfall.)

The 3,000 people who lived there 200 years ago did not have the technology to capture and store water that you now have. They had no drip irrigation. They did not know about adding things like perlite and compost to the soil in order to minimize water use/loss. They didn't know about mulching to lower evaporation.

They didn't know how to build insulated abodes which could take advantage of natural cooling.

They didn't know about geothermal heat pumps and solar/wind/geothermal energy to run them.

They didn't have the wide range of low water usage plants which have now been gathered from around the world. They didn't have the bioengineered crops which will grow with less water.

Need I go on?

The sustainable level of your region. Perhaps less than 300,000 but certainly a lot more than 3,000.

I'm not going to knock myself out nor am I going to join arms and sing KUM-By-Ya. All of our food is shipped in here. That's a pretty formidable problem. I'll just leave it there.

In your response to Todd, I see you are well on your way to sustainable ... congratulations. Do you think the average joe six-pack can get to where you are in event of rapid collapse, like maybe six months?

Well, hi neighbor.

We live on 60 acres in the coastal mountains of Northern California (Humboldt County).

I've been off the grid for about 25 years, have been an organic gardener, composter, and recycler for more than 35 years. We use nothing but wood heat, essentially all the wood from storm-downed trees on our property. We eat little meat and get most of our produce from our garden and orchard, storing lots to carry us through the winter.

(Largest shortcoming - still haven't installed solar water heating. Making due with tankless propane. And need to get rid of the standing pilot gas range and replace it with an electronic starter model.)

I also do all that reduce and reuse stuff. I minimize my driving and other use of fossil fuels. When in places with decent public transportation systems, that's what I use. Bus over taxi except for to/from the airport with a bunch of luggage. I generally use a taxi 2x per year. When it is feasible I'll switch to an EV (although I think I'm going to have to have a PHEV).

I attempt to purchase items which are durable and not shortly on their way to the landfill. I also support environmental organizations and candidates whom I feel are our best choices for 'doing the right thing'.

Now I didn't do any of that because I think the civilization is going to collapse or because I believe that we're about to run out of oil. I did it because I think an organic life is a better life for both me and the planet. And being off the grid means that I was able to afford a much nicer piece of land than if I had purchased one on the grid (and closer to a paved road).

Some more:

We also have an ocean view - about 30 miles away. We can see the line of breakers at Centerville Beach, out past Ferndale.

Water, a 60 foot well with soft-start submersible which allowed for smaller wire runs. When we've got plenty of sun power I pump water up 80' above the house/gardens/orchard to two tanks, a 1,500 gallon for the house and a 1,000 gallon for the plants. Then I can gravity feed back. (I do need a small supplemental pressure pump to get good water pressure at the upstairs shower.)

And your difficulty with broccoli. I had problems, got a soil test. I found out that our soil, due to the high rainfall, was essentially devoid of micro-nutrients. A small dose of kelp meal completely turned things around. We harvest all the broccoli we can eat.

Due to the cool climate and gophers I've built a few ferro-cement raised beds. The heat-loving plants love them and I love being able to sit on the side of an 18" high bed and pick strawberries. I've got to build a couple cold frames to go on top. Right now we have eggplant, chillies, herbs and lemongrass growing in pots in the south-facing windows. The garden has been under snow for a week and a half.

(Oh, and I also built my house by myself, hiring out only the cat/backhoe work, well drilling, and paid someone to help me install the roof. It's just too big a pane to climb down and cut/fetch sheet of metal roofing. I did that on the previous house I built, but I was only in my 50s back then.)

Now, do I get any cred?

Your life is actually strikingly similar to ours here in northern New England.

The only difference is that we don't subscribe to "organic," "sustainable" claptrap. We're just ruining the earth in slow-motion, that's all.

The statement "I think an organic life is a better life for both me and the planet" is redolent of moral superiority and is ultimately revolting to the majority of the population that either can't farm or can't afford it at the supermarket.

We rely on tractors, chainsaws, trucks, iron stoves, gas stations, drug stores, seed producers, you name it. If they leave, we're gone.

Whether the "end is nigh" or not, we will continue to do it because we're lucky enough to be able to. 99% of our being able to live this way is not due to our inherent superiority but to blind fate.

Cudos, Bob. Our setups are remarkably similar, though I'm much farther east. At least you're not downwind from Oakridge ;-)

Are you sharing your bounty/workload? We put in a large garden last spring, on some long-fallow bottom land, and invited neighbors to join in a community garden. Huge success, especially for our first year. We managed to get a secure fence built, installed solar/gravity drip irrigation and a large composting setup, and I managed to teach 2 other couples many of the basics, not easy as they had no experience. This winter we plan to build a small greenhouse and some cold frames for an earlier start in the spring. We've also had classes/parties on canning, collected many jars, canners and equipment. While my family has gardened for decades, and I had reservations at first, this has taken food production in our little valley to a new level. Sharing the labor and equipment has freed me up to do other projects.

I built our house on slab (radiant), single story, to handicapped specs so as we grow older, we won't have stairs or narrow doors to deal with. The roof is almost flat and reinforced for "greening", though I've decided to not green the roof. An influx of fire ants has quashed the idea; they'll eat holes in the rubber membrane. Instead, I plan to use planters and raised beds to grow herbs and vine crops on the roof next year, for food and shade.

Next year I hope to get in enough grain and corn to provide the balance of our pastured chickens' diet (although we have neighbors that grow these things). Looking for a good gristmill this winter.

Best wishes for your future success, and for sharing it.

No, but I grew up very close to Oak Ridge. The schools never taught us 'duck and cover'. They recognized that if the bombs started falling our butts were burned bacon.

We do some sharing, but almost everyone around here has an extensive garden. Sharing is mostly swapping varieties of plant starts so that we each don't have to buy a half-dozen packets of tomato seeds. I do take produce to our senior lunch group from time to time and we're drying a lot of produce to take to friends who live further away and don't garden. This year we got about 50 gallons of apples from a friend's trees (we had a fence/deer event - our crop was slim) and have dried most of them to carry with us to Bangkok for the in-laws.

I also made arrangements for getting older. All the downstairs doors are 36" or wider. I put in a downstairs toilet in the event that someone couldn't make up the stairs due to an injury. And my attached wood shop is designed so that it can easily be converted to a ground floor bedroom and has space for a full bath.

I keep my eye on the development of helper robots. Surly cutting and hauling firewood can't be that hard to program. ;o)

Bob -- I like your observation that it is time to start bailing. And there is no end of equipment lying around with which to bail.

With existing nuclear technology, we could provide every human being in an expanded global population with a First World living standard for about 2 millenia. Some may not like nuclear power, but it surely beats having our neighbors enslave us for power and eat our children for food. Though it seems like Doomers get their jollys from dreaming about the latter scenario. Given human ingenuity and our vast ignorance about the Universe, it is reasonable to expect that additional potential solutions will be discovered in the future.

After all, the real-world story of Business As Usual is one of continuous change, as human beings have continuously developed new technologies. There was a time when crop rotation was a strange new idea; when the horseshoe was a breakthrough invention; when the cutting edge in transportation was a canal. BAU has always been a very dynamic concept!

We should not underestimate the challenge of bailing ourselves out of the current situation. But nor should we join the Doomers and give up, claiming that the effort will be unsuccessful.

The Oil Drum has a choice -- become the go-to site for serious discussion of problems AND solutions, or become Doomer Porn Central. Either/or. But not both.

Gavin and Bob, There's really not much new under the sun, for some time we've all been told that we are on course for some serious resource constraints. Go back through TOD and you'll see talk of "Limits to Growth" and my favorite, Jimmy Carters sweater speech. Some of us actually lived through the arab oil embargo and spent time sitting in lines waiting 5 hours for 5 gals of gas during odd/even day rationing. There was all the talk of solar and some really spectacular EVs were built. PV and pas sive solar design were everywhere. Just view the litany that's been here at TOD for the last years, its all there.

So where did it get us, BAU and an even faster slide down the depletion curve. I'm all for avoiding the worse possible scenarios, and your enthusiasm is cute, but I see very few signs of any tidal change in awareness. Small dots of hope, yes. You can find them here, people like Alan or Paul from Halifax come right to mind. But again TOD has the litany of how and why most people just don't or won't get it. There have even been some great discussions why people psychologically can't deal with it. You might want to look at those.

Yeah I'm a doer to, I headed for the woods 30 years ago, live in a small passive solar house I built myself, large gardens and woodlot. Use 4 chords of wood to be cozy in the worst winters Maine can throw at us. Posting on or writing key posts for TOD is not quite enough.
I'm very much an optimist as well, I spent quite some time this fall planting oak seedlings that in 25 years time my grankids can use for firewood. I see that as a solution.

Don in Maine

Most world governments have accepted the fact of global warming and few, if any, are denying that oil resources are limited.

All (as far as I can tell) major scientific organizations recognize that global climate change is upon us and our burning of fossil fuels it the cause.

Most countries are now installing renewable energy technology and working on efficiency. China and much of Europe are leading the transition away from fossil fuels. Improvements in renewable technology and efficiency are announced almost every day. We are purposing large amounts of resources toward fixing the problems.

I also 'enjoyed' the oil embargo. Remember, that was an artificial shortage and as soon as we started working on oil alternatives oil supplies increased and prices dropped. Did the oil cartels intentionally torpedo EVs? I don't know, but I wouldn't be surprised. But with the return to cheap oil we dropped the EV/PV ball and then let Reagan kick it off the field.

This time we are not facing an artificial supply shortage. We've used up the easy/cheap stuff and in doing so we've created a major problem for us all. Will we get ahead of the problem and prevent the worst possible outcome? I don't know. But I am fairly sure that if we don't give it a good, serious attempt we'll screw ourselves.

China and much of Europe are leading the transition away from fossil fuels.

The Chinese case is debatable. No doubt they are pursuing solar/wind more aggressively than anyone else. But they are still expanding coal at breakneak (and destroy lungs) pace. Western Europe does seem to be trying to do the right things. USA, Canada, Australia, apparently not! Russia? Methinks they are ruled by a fossil fuel oligarchy even more entrenched than in the US.

China is building new coal plants, but they are state-of-the-art plants which are more efficient than just about anything we have in the US. China has also closed down several thousand old, inefficient coal plants.

In the US we are installing wind turbines at an accelerating rate (with a slight down-dip this year due to the recession. We doubled the amount of residential roof-top solar last year. We increased the amount of geothermal power on line by 39% last year and will install even more this year. We've now begun construction of several concentrating solar plants in the Southwest. We've added new hydro to the grid and are in the process of converting existing dams to energy producers. We're building new transmission lines to ship power. We're starting to build new storage systems to time-shift power.

We've finally broken the deadlock on offshore wind and have new wind installations underway both in the Great Lakes and off the Eastern Seaboard.

And we're installing a lot of natural gas capacity, which is a good think short term. Being extremely dispatchable it will help us transition more quickly off coal while producing only half the CO2 per unit of electricity as coal.

Canada, parts of it, are installing wind, solar and geothermal.

Australia is starting to get its act together and has become the leader in hot-rock geothermal.

It's way too late, Bob. All the renewable supply you mentioned adds up to less than 1% of the world's primary energy supply:

World Primary Energy Supply

A big mistake people make is thinking that the renewable buildout will accelerate as the economy declines. Nick says this often. In fact, it's going to slow almost to a stand still because the existing fossil fuel infrastructure will be plenty adequate for a contracting economy and it's a sunk cost.

One of the main reasons renewable energy is expanding in China is because they need more energy of all sorts i.e. their economy is still expanding.

It's way too late? Might I ask what might be your source of absolute knowledge?

At least two separate studies have found that we could, if we decided to, move ourselves essentially 100% from fossil fuels to renewables.

Moving that fast would not stop the global warming already in the pipeline, but it most likely prevent 'the great man-made cooking'.

Remember, at one point in time automobiles were only 0.01% of our transportation system, but within a reasonably short number of years autos had greatly replaced horses.

We're at a choice point. We take your route, declare it too late and, gosh, it will be. We take the other route, give it our best, and perhaps we'll dodge the big bullet.

Pardon, usually I'm more precise.

It's way too late to keep this size and type of economy going by replacing it with renewables. The world economy will contract a great deal before it stabilizes, then it will begin contracting again.

And that's just looking at the energy system. Add in depleting soil, fresh water loss, depleting mineral resources, etc. and the whole mess gets ugly quickly.

Here is Hirsch's best estimate of when the economy stops contracting. Note that he stresses that it is his best estimate — if everything goes right and there are no difficulties building out CTL etc:
Best Case Mitigation

I once thought like you. Then I did a lot of research (thanks in no small measure to TOD) and now have a better understanding of how all the systems interact. If you aren't there yet, I'd suggest you are still early in your understanding.

Well, I too have done a fair share of research. And my research tells me that we have options which are fairly likely to take us to a better place. Not without a goodly share of hurt in the process, but a decent chance that we can get there.

When I read absolute statements like "It's way too late" on comes the BS flashing light. There is absolutely no way for you or any of those who agree with you to know what the future will bring.

There is absolutely no way for you or any of those who agree with you to know what the future will bring.

Ok, I'll bite. Which part of the simulation below do you think isn't going to happen? The dramatic drop in industrial output as we use up the remaining depleting resources? Or the only-slightly-less dramatic drop in population that accompanies all the converging problems we face?

Scenario 1

Which do I guess won't happen? All of them, at least as presented.

Resources - yes, we are using up some things like fossil fuels and bat guano, but we will find suitable replacements. Some of those replacements will be more expensive, some will be less.

Industrial Output - I assume that prediction is based on oil disappearing? Some sort of oil cliff over which we plunge? If so, it's a bogus prediction. Industry does not run on oil but on electricity and we know how to make affordable electricity without fossil fuels. Additionally we can replace most transportation fuel with electricity and biofuels.

Population - The peak drawn is early compared to what experts in the field project. Would that it were that early. And the down-slope very much too extreme. I suppose that's based on some fantasy of a great die off because we ran out of oil. Bogus.

Food - Wrong. There's no reason that our food output will drop drastically starting tomorrow. (Or is that two years ago.) We've got some work to do to feed the upcoming additions to the population but we should be able to feed most.

Pollution - With China and India now starting to take pollution seriously that number will head down. And as we transition off of fossil fuels pollution will automatically drop.

Now, what I do see as a possible (notice how I said "possible" and not "absolute") problem around mid-century is the climate biting us in the butt big time. We're on route to warm up around 4C, which would be very difficult for us and ecosystems to adapt to rapidly enough.

But you know what, Bucco? That's 40-50 years out. We could get off fossil fuels in half that time using existing technology and existing manufacturing capacity and existing resources.

See? We've got a choice. We are not DOOMED to suffer those terrible predicted outcomes. We can pull up our big boy briefs and get to work, take control of our future. No absolute guarantee that we will succeed, but doing nothing guarantees failure.

Based on your comments, it seems like you are unaware of the work done by the Limits to Growth team and systems modeling in general.

Have you studied their work?

Familiar with it, haven't "studied" it. Their book didn't hold up very well when people dug into the particulars.

It's probably more of a warning rather than an accurate predictor. Something like Malthus's writings and Ehrlich's Population Bomb.

Did you notice that we all did not starve to death back in the '70s and '80s as Paul predicted?

Thing is, when one is making predictions about the future you can get blindsided by the unknown unknowns. Models are great, but if you've missed one or more variables....

You can get blindsided by the unknown unknowns

Something like [errors in] Malthus's writings

You can also get blindsided by "wrongly" known knowns.

Malthus was right.

From a mathematical and conservation of mass/energy perspective he has to be right.

A finite Planet cannot indefinitely support an exponentially growing population.

Trees don't grow to the sky and yeast cultures do not launch their own Sputniks.

[ i.mage.+]

> Malthus was right.

While I'm in agreement with that, there is some hope. I've been re-reading a book called The World We Have Lost further explored, by Peter Laslett, a historian at Cambridge University who studied several hundred English parish registers from Tudor times through to the 1740s.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the English seem to have married late, much later than people in the eastern and southern parts of Europe. If a woman marries at 26 rather than 18, that's a few children she doesn't have during her life. (The equivalent now would be for a woman to start having children in her forties.) Also, a large fraction of the population never married at all.

Associated with this, the English poor lived much better than their counterparts in Asia and southern Europe.

So, on the principle that anything that has been done is possible, there is the possibility of re-adopting customs that limit population in a benign way, once we're through the coming storm.

Malthus doesn't have to be right -- humans can choose. Maybe. But it sure looks like they won't.

Humans can choose.


Malthus doesn't have to be right

Do humans have "free will" (an ability to "choose")?

I'm well aware of the religion driven belief in "free will" (and "sin", etc., etc.).

However, the theory of Evolution basically says that we do not have choice and free will when it comes to at least two things:

1) The will to live
2) The desire to procreate

The genes that allow people to easily suicide themselves and to easily abstain from procreation have been weeded out from our gene pool many millennium ago.

Of course we all have the delusion of "free will".
But the numbers (6.7 Billion and climbing) indicate otherwise.

Malthus was wrong in assertion that food supply was subject to a linear growth model. Malthus did not account for the sorts of immense gains we have made in medicine.

He was correct in the concept that there are some sort of absolute limits out there somewhere. But Malthus, Ehrlich and almost certainly the current crop of doomers were/are wrong in that they focus on worst case outcomes. They make no allowance for man's ability to solve problems.

People do launch Sputniks....

People do launch Sputniks....


How many have you launched this week?

To be honest with you, my count this week is at "an all time low" of zero.

But maybe next week I'll hurl a couple of objects into Earth orbit.

If Khrushchev was able to do it back then, then how hard can it possibly be in our way more modern and advanced "21st Century" where everybody owns "high technology"?
Shirley, I can't be serious.

Models are great, but if you've missed one or more variables....

I think our leaders and the public missed a couple of variables. One of the variables was having a good model of oil depletion.

I agree (as usual) with you.

Speaking as an economist, I assert that there are no good substitutes for cheap fossil fuels in existence today, nor are there any on the horizon.

Peak Oil (and soon other fossil fuels) is something qualitatively new in human experience. Most economists deny this assertion, and IMO thy are profoundly wrong.

As an economist, how do you price "cheap" fossil fuels?

Do you include in your "real" cost of a barrel of oil the cost of keeping a very major military presence in the Middle East and fighting two extremely expensive wars? Do you add in the subsidies and tax breaks given oil producers? Do you add in the amount of money we are now spending due to global warming produced extreme weather events? Do you add in the health costs of oil-produced pollution?

Or are you using the bogus measure of the price of a barrel of the stuff?

Do you include in your "real" cost of a ton of coal the environment damage we're doing with mountain top removal? Do you include the costs of inspecting mines? Do you include, as above, the costs of things like the massive flood in Nashville this year, the current month-early winter system that has hit much of the country? The cost of treating miners for coal-caused disease and the cost of putting them on public support for the rest of their lives?

Or are you just taking an unrealistic number that ignores much of the real costs?

Now, your assertion that "most economists" deny the depletion of fossil fuels is silly. They just don't buy into the 'hair on fire' claims that we're about to fall off a fossil fuel cliff. They realize that what we are running out of is (relatively) cheap fossil fuels and they are quite aware about what that means.

Now, as for stuff on the horizon.... First let's toss that "cheap fossil fuel" crap out the window. It's not cheap, except to those who put their blinders on and refuse to acknowledge all the costs which are not charged at the pump/tipple, OK? Honest first, please.

The real question is "How do we replace fossil fuels in a fashion which does minimal to no damage to our lifestyles and costs little to no more? Isn't that an interest question? Much more interesting to me than whether some oil producing country is over- or under-reporting their reserves by a few percent.

How do we replace gasoline/diesel in personal vehicles?

Short term, 100 mile EVs and moderate EV range PHEVs. Most people in the business expect significant increases in battery capacity over the next few years, so we likely will reach a point within a decade where 90% of all people could do quite well with a 200 mile range EV. It is expected that due to economies of scale the cost of EVs will drop to the level of ICEVs vehicles within five years. And fuel savings will be significant.

That's a "no damage and costs less" solution.

How do we deal with fuel for airplanes? We shift moderate distance travel to high speed rail run off electricity. Cheaper and more convenient than flying. For that flying which must be done we use biofuels or a mixture of petroleum and biofuels.

How do we replace coal on the grid? With wind, solar, geothermal, tidal, hydro, biomass, biogas, storage and (for a while) natural gas. The stuff you plug into your wall circuits don't give a damn if the power comes from burning coal or blowing wind. And since all those cleantech sources use little to no fuel and don't cause the environmental/health costs produced by coal the cost of power will drop.

(Remember, I'm using honest accounting. Not looking only at partial costs. You're an economist, you understand the importance of real numbers, eh?)

As an economist, I think all external costs and benefits should be internalized, i.e. show up in "true costs" and "true benefits."

I stand by my assertion: To the best of our knowledge today, there are no good substitutes for cheap (in terms of market price) coal, oil, and natural gas.

Zip. Zilch. Nada. Nil.

Your examples are not correct counterexamples to my assertion. See my comments over the past four years and forty-two weeks (or whatever it is) on TOD for further elaboration.

Yes, I could tell you haven't studied it because every point you make is handled by their book. And the people who think that there is a major problem with their work are generally unable to connect the dots and are, typically, blinded by what they see as the unlimited power of technology. They tended to be the same people who didn't see the housing bubble and credit bubble because they are unable to question their fundamental beliefs.

You should study their work. It's very well done.

OK, take my points and refute them.

No, thanks.

You should read their book. They have a Thirty-Year Update:

By your lack of a single rebuttal point I'm left assuming that you a) really didn't read their book or b) there's no "this fatal thing cannot be avoided" variable listed in their book.

Now, this Drumbeat of a couple of days ago has grown stale and it's hard to keep up with conversations on this site. (Perhaps I'm missing some function where one tracks replies).

In any event I don't expect to return to this particular page. So please don't think I'm purposely ignoring you. Perhaps we can take up the issues elsewhere, sometime.

No worries. I don't have the time to converse anymore with people who don't see the problems. I've spent too much time with Nick having exactly the same conversation.

I spend time now with people who get it or who are on the verge of getting it (or at least are reasonably well-versed with the literature).

And of course I've read that book — it's a seminal work.

See you in another drumbeat.

(Perhaps I'm missing some function where one tracks replies)

Go to My account.

(No. Not "my" account, your account. :-)

Click on My Comments

We can do the job of providing power (electricity and transportation) for the entire world, including population increase and increases in standard of living with renewables faster, cheaper, and safer than choosing the nuclear power route.

We have the technology in hand and if we had the political will we could get ourselves off of fossil fuels in as little as 20 years. It would take many, many decades to get ourselves off fossils with nuclear and we may not have the time needed.

As for this site, I totally agree. I was active here some years back but left as it sunk into doomer-dom and became overpopulated with survivalists and paranoids. (Yes, there is a significant overlap in those two categories.)

I found myself back here by accident and saw the "We're turning over a new leaf" post. I decided I'd stick a few days and see if the head honchos were serious about turning this into a 'what do we do' site.

You're very fortunate to be in the situation you're in and it's coloring your view of the future.

Would you like to be one of my brothers, stuck in big cities, raising kids, working construction jobs, living in rental properties or saddled with mortgages, ex-wives, and credit card debts?

We have the technology in hand and if we had the political will we could get ourselves off of fossil fuels in as little as 20 years.

While this has a basic truth to it, your observation lacks a reference to limiting factors such as raw material to execute the change off of fossil fuels. Things like Copper. Or even energy storage.

Not to mention how the environment about us was created/maintained with the cheap oil. So unless the proposed changes can fit into that environment - how much "political will" is going to be needed?

You might want to read...

Scientific American, November, 2009.
A Plan for a Sustainable Future
How to get all energy from wind, water, and solar power by 2030
Jacobson and Delucci present a blueprint for getting almost 100% of the world's energy needs (electricity, transportation and heat) from renewables.
They take into account population growth and increases in standards of living.
They show how we can do the job in 20 years.
(You can read it at your library or purchase a copy on line.)

They deal with the materials issue. They state that rare-earth minerals might be a problem, but since their article was published the problem of rare-earth mineral supply has been greatly reduced.

There is no problem with energy storage. It's something that we know how to do, have been doing for over 100 years. At the moment we don't need to build significant storage and will not need to until wind becomes about a 30% supplier of grid power and solar about a 5% supplier. We're many years from that point. We are currently increasing our amounts of pump-up hydro storage and starting work on a couple of CAES sites. Large scale batteries are already on the grid, being used for smoothing, not long term storage.

The political will needed is simply to invest more public money in sustainable energy so that we can accelerate the rate of installation. As rates of installation go up, costs fall. We've seen a tremendous drop in the cost of PV solar, largely due to an artificial market created by public money. There are more monies to be saved in wind, geothermal, and other generation/storage systems via economy of scale.

We, in the US, do seem to have found the political will to install renewables. The process for installing large scale solar, offshore wind farms, and transmission lines have been streamlined. That's a large piece of progress since the Jacobson and Delucci paper was written.

You might want to read...

Scientific American, November, 2009.
A Plan for a Sustainable Future
How to get all energy from wind, water, and solar power by 2030

Bob, I have to agree with the comment of aangel:

A big mistake people make is thinking that the renewable buildout will accelerate as the economy declines. Nick says this often. In fact, it's going to slow almost to a stand still because the existing fossil fuel infrastructure will be plenty adequate for a contracting economy and it's a sunk cost.

When oil (and gas) start to decline the economy will contract. In theory Jacobson and Delucci could be right, but it's not going to happen that way IMO. Economic growth depends on a lot of spillage and that will be over soon. Unemployment will rise.

You must be assuming a very rapid decrease in supply. I'm unaware for any factual basis for that assumption.

We have what, in the near term, looks like a plateau. And that is accompanied by rising demand. We can offset some of that demand with efficiency (car pools, public transportation) and we can quickly supplement some of supply with natural gas (fine for fleets). People will voluntarily reduce their driving. If need be, we'll go to four ten-hour days for many jobs and increase work at home. Some people will move closer to work/school. People will quit driving their gas-guzzlers and switch to higher MPG cars.

That elasticity will let us get through the initial years. And it will be self-created simply by rising fuel prices.

We have the ability to morph our car industry from ICEVs to EVs fairly quickly. Almost every car manufacturer has an EV ready for public display and some are coming on the market at the moment. Nissan expects to be geared up for 500,000 EVs per year in about three years. (And they've stated that once EVs reach a 500,000 to 1,000,000 per year level prices will fall to roughly the same as comparably equipped ICEVs. Add in the $2,000+ fuel savings and you'll see that EVs will pay for themselves.)

Since it takes about three years to bring a new car design from the drawing board to the showroom other companies can shift their lines in three, or slightly more years.

When people realize the cost savings of driving an EV they will dispose of their ICEV sooner than they would have if the next choice would have been a gas burner. And remember, about 50% of all US driving is done with cars five years old or newer.

We can build buses very rapidly. We can add cars to light rail quickly.

In those countries where people are getting their first cars we will see demand being very elastic. As prices rise those new car owners will find it very easy to leave their cars parked except for special occasions. Those countries have very sufficient public transportation and there is no stigma against using it.

We will see industrial processes shifting away from petroleum for their feedstock and to plant oils.

Ten years down the road we have the ability to increase our rail services. Places like LA will have extended subway systems. High speed rail should be underway in California, among other places.

And the entire time we will be installing more and more renewable generation to further take the pressure off fossil fuel cost.

Now, please go back and review my predictions. And while doing so think about the number of new jobs which will be created by all that new manufacturing and infrastructure construction.

Economic growth depends on 1) a marketable product and 2) the resources to create that product at a reasonable price. We've got a brand new energy system and a brand new transportation to build. We've got the labor, raw materials, and know-how.

Economic growth depends on
1) a marketable product and
2) the resources to create that product at a reasonable price

and ....?

You left out number 3): And a populace that has jobs and can afford the so-called "reasonable" prices.

Stretch your brain.

A price can only be called "reasonable" if it is affordable to the market.

And acknowledge that about 80% of US workers did not loose their jobs. What many did out of fear was to cut way back on their spending, increase their savings, and pay down debt (not an unreasonable strategy in times such as we have just been through).

Now, also realize that we are well on our way out of the Bush Recession. We are recovering at about the same rate as we have recovered from previous recessions. Here's a nice data-filled explanation of what is happening...


a nice data-filled explanation of what is happening...

Where in the graphs is there a notation like this one:

"General Motors went bankrupt here and US Gov't printed money to 'bail' them out"?

Where in the graphs is there a notation like this one:

"Wall Street hedge bankers went bankrupt here and US Gov't printed money to 'bail' them out"?

And where in the graphs is there a notation like this one:

"Middle class died here. US Gov't told them to tighten their belts further and shut the heck up"?

Data, and full of it, indeed!

Copper is not rare, it is a common element. There is a current production shortage which some people confuse with a shortage of the element itself. This exact same confusion has occurred recently with silicon for solar panels, with lithium for batteries, and with rare-earth minerals for magnets.

As the price of copper rises that will allow more production to come on line. It will also result in more recycling. And it will result in material substitution - CPVC works fine for plumbing and aluminum works fine for wiring.

Energy storage - we've got the technology. We've been using pump-up hydro for 100 years and we are currently installing more both in the US and around the world. We've got two CAES (compressed air) storage facilities on grid with at least two more in the construction process. We've got utility scale batteries on the grid, especially in Japan. We're storing energy by freezing water using cheap off-peak and then using that stored 'cool' to assist AC units when power is expensive. We've got flywheels on the grid, not practical for long term storage, but great for grid smoothing.

We do not yet need much more storage. That time will come when wind provides ~30% of our supply and solar ~5%. But those numbers may well be cranked up as 24/7 power comes to the grid from sources such as geothermal, tidal and additional hydro along with smart gird load shifting.

All of this stuff fits just fine into our old fossil fuel environment. People will still be able to get around just fine in personal vehicles and power will still light your room when you flip the switch. And, after things have settled down, less of your money will go to pay the gas station, the utility company, and taxes (which currently hugely supplement fossil fuel costs).

your observation that it is time to start bailing.

Except you can't bring your own bucket - you have to buy a bucket (because price signals are best) and the bucket you buy is 70% full of holes (See the report from the EU about how carbon reduction projects are 70% "overhead" and 30% go to the vampire squid investment banks)

But nor should we join the Doomers and give up, claiming that the effort will be unsuccessful.

As others have noted - the path was known in the 70's. yet the mass change did not happen. "We" know much of the way "out" - but that path is going to mean death to reduce the overall consumption rate at some point. The path is not a simple techofix - there needs to be behavior changes.

Oh, and the doomers are right - no one gets outta here alive. The details on how, where and when the blade of the reaper will bite is unknown.

the go-to site for serious discussion of problems AND solutions,

Discussion - meh. Action matters. Finding actions that are going to be acceptable to most everyone will be neigh impossible.

Look at the proposal of the UN - Agenda 21. Plenty of people don't like it for various reasons. The message of conservation sets some off.

You absolutely can buy your own bucket. Residential solar has reached near-grid parity in much of the US. If one does the math rooftop solar will pay for itself in a reasonable amount of time and then provide free power for more than a decade. That takes a lot of carbon out of the power stream.

You can use basic conservation/efficiency methods to greatly cut your energy consumption. You can insulate/caulk, purchase efficient appliances and goodies, reduce your fuel usage. All of these will pay for themselves and toss a few buckets of carbon overboard.

Here's an example. I have a gas stove with standing pilot lights. I measured the amount of gas that the oven pilot uses and discovered that I could purchase a gas stove with an electronic ignition and the stove would pay for itself in less than 5 years. That's a 14%+ return on investment. And reduces CO2.


In the '70s the energy crisis was an artificial crisis. And almost no one realized the reality of global climate change.

This is not the 1970s.

Bob - I enjoy reading your posts. You truly are a credit to mankind from what I can tell. But unfortunately we need a few more billion like you and I don't see it happening today. Not to take any of the shine off of your efforts but I suspect you're in a world rather seperated from most of us. I suspect you have neighbors like minded and heading in your same direction as you. I, OTOH, live in Houston, Texas. And the mindset here is a million miles from you. I'm certain far less than 1% of our population could even understand what you've undertaken let alone try to duplicate it. Sadly I can see the impoverished 3rd world making more gains sooner along the lines of your philosophy then here in the US. By your characterzation that might make me a doomer. But I've yet to see any movement of sufficient velocity to take a significant portion of our population from where we are to where you are. You seem to be in a great and envious place. But unfortunately you are also very much alone when referenced to the rest of the country. You seem to be a pretty clever guy and that makes me wonder if you focus on what could be done vs. what will actually be done becasue that prospect is just too damn depressing. In either case it is heartening to see someone who doesn't have his head up his butt. Thanks for that.

Thanks Rockman, but much of my lifestyle is not the answer to our upcoming and immediate climate and energy problems.

Our answer for both problems is accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. We are risking crashing our economies and ruining the quality of our lives by prolonging our reliance on fossil fuels.

You might want to take a new look at Houston, where you live. I'm hearing a lot about charging points for electric cars, increased PV installation, farmers markets, etc. Already Texas is a/the leading state for wind-produced electricity and that capacity will zoom as soon as new transmission lines are installed. (And if Tres Amigas becomes a reality.)

Most of us will continue to live in urban and suburban settings. But we can live in those places, and with as good or better lifestyles using renewable energy. The challenge is getting enough cleantech installed in time.

Coal has dropped from being 50% of our grid power to 45%. During that same time non-hydro renewables have risen from less than 1% to about 4% of our 2009 power. That number will be higher this year. What we need to do is add a lot more than 1% per year, stop any further demand increase via conservation/efficiency, and continue shutting down coal plants.

I think we'll do that in the US. In fact, I'm almost certain we will. The question I have is whether we will accelerate rapidly enough to avoid hitting a climate tipping point or if we'll wait too late.

I also approve of your mindset and dedication. Bravo. I'm sure that when you leave a conversation group, people feel like all the air has left and they feel depressed.

I asked my guru what he thought it would take just to continue some form of Bau in the furure. He answered, universal and permanent world peace, double the world's rainfall, find an ocean of oil under NYC, cure all human diseases, stop population growth immediately, and for every human to be satisfied with less than they have now.

Now you may well ask who is this guru ? Well, he had a demographic company after college which had people around the would counting stuff. Like how many nurses in Vietnam. Selling the intel to J and J so they could sell first aid cream, etc. Grew fast because he also forecast events. CIA hired him for analysis consultant and he accurately predicted the exact timing of the Shas' fall, Soviet collapse, rising anti Americanism, and our 2008 near financial collapse.

So what ?? He could be wrong for the first time. He gives me three years of 'the good old days ' . Max . Could be much less if a war in the mideast, or another financial crunch.

I pray you are right, but fear he is. Thanks for bringing some air into the room.

Dave in Thailand

We are risking crashing our economies and ruining the quality of our lives by prolonging our reliance on fossil fuels.

What I believe you miss is that the economy is crashing now and the imminent decline of oil is going to accelerate the process. What is happening in Ireland, Greece and Iceland is just the beginning.

Bob - Yep...Texas doing some good things with wind. Let some offshore wind leases a couple of years ago. But much of the gain was due to some old fashion (and a little dirty) Texas style horse trading. They built those nice big windtowers out in W Texas where the land was cheap and the wind plentiful. Infortunately they couldn't afford to build the turbins and the transmission system. So Dallas had to try to float a $2 billion (?) issue to get the transmission lines built. A nice touch: the wind tower owners also got the right of way for fresh water pipelines along the transmission lines. Water is out next big resource problem.

Not that it probably won't be a good deal in the end for Dallas but it does show wind has a problem being commercial today without public subsidy. But as far as Houston: forget the PR folks put out. I drive the roads every day and almost no one here gives a crap about conservation. LOL.

Well a few of us have been bailing like crazy. But the problem is most of those around us are still poking holes in the ship. And adding more passengers.

bailing like crazy. But the problem is most of those around us are still poking holes in the ship.

Very well put. Thats how many of us think, especially as it relates to current American politics and culture. We have plenty of different colored bailing pails, but we can't seem to get the population to transition from poking more holes.....
So we become doomers, and resigned to the point of view that our species deserves whats coming.

Say, aside from the "yuckiness" aspect, what's wrong with cannibalism?

There will be a boatload of it in the next hundred years and it may well become a norm, not just for the desperate but for any civilization which arises, since there will be recent memory of it in most families, and cultures which have incorporated tolerance of cannibalism may tend to have out-competed others.

If the reindeer on St. Matthew island had been capable of mutual predation, their populations might have stabilized.

Chimps take great joy in tearing apart even fairly close relatives from nearby tribes and eating them. The human ability to define "the other" as a collection of spare parts is as close to the surface in all of us as the "justified" enjoyment we get watching the "bad guys" get done in at the end of an action movie.

It isn't discussed much, but in some "phase shifted" situations, like Japan's taking of Nanking, pretty much 100% of participants engaged in cannibalism (as well as organized torture extreme enough to cause the Nazi party to set up humanitarian shelters). Once we give ourselves permission, the shift can be quick.

Cannibalism will be a big part of human culture coming up soon - engaging in it or avoiding it. It will be a large open niche and it will ultimately be incorporated into some of the larger competing belief systems being tested.

Doomerism is generally a flawed attribution occurring when delusional assumptions about human exceptionalism and destiny encounter logic.

I'm an optimist, really.

Gosh, 'nish, I don't recall you revealing your "optimism" before ;->

Yeah, it does sound incongruous, but I've been an activist for the last 40 years, which is arguably a pretty optimistic mindset. Specifically, I don't think it's as impossible to steer large systems toward less-dire outcomes as conventional wisdom might conceive, and have had at least some success along those lines.

However, since most of those "less dire" outcomes would strike most people as extreme bummers, I'd seem doomerish to them.

A stable society at a lower population level with institutionalized cannibalism, for instance, would be better than many other scenarios. I'm not pro-cannibalism, but can see no rational argument against cannibalism, which certainly will occur. We could do worse than morlok-eloi, and that's sobering.

best hopes for best hopes...

I always did think that burying folks in a sealed box or burning them to a crisp was a waste. Composting would be more my style.

I'll have to give it some thought......Feeding them to the scavengers always made more sense.

Most civilized humans here in the USA can't even imagine butchering a chicken. So I don't know how they're going to make the leap to their own neighbors. I guess when they get really hungry and its the only meat available incredible things will happen.

Currently, the trade in "bush meat" is wiping out the Bonobos and other apes because the taste is said to be so delightful. My guess is that not all that's sold as "bush meat" is nonhuman, even now. There seems more of it showing up than there are apes missing. I may do a DNA scan on it one of these times.

Cannibalism doesn't necessarily imply conking your neighbors with a bat and making them into sausage. It could be more like organ donation or the draft lottery. Systems find their way to an ecological resource niche, and human biomass is in a "bubble" phase.

I don't plan to eat anyone against their will, but I might well donate my mortal remains to a community bar-b-q.

Some sites relevant to my post above:




The global die off is still a long way from matching the global love in.

As long as the orgy of greed is extolled as virtue and touted as the one and only way to live, we can expect to see on the far horizon fairly soon the first slouching trillionaire lumbering toward Bethlehem to be born. As for the Earth, perhaps we will witness its desecration.

We cannot keep holding on to bad ideas and applauding outrageous overconsumption/excessive hoarding lifestyles simply because such unsustainable behavior serves the selfish interests of many too many leaders and their many minions here and now. At some point we have to begin taking hold of what is good, what is right, what is sustainable, I suppose.

Otherwise, what is to become of the children's future?

Otherwise, what is to become of the children's future?

Never will any generation go from being so spoiled to so desperate, as the generation that follows the decline of oil from its current peak plateau. From cruising in a suped up Acura while texting or cell calling or having some pizza while watching UFC or NFL, to scrounging their next meal out of a strangers pantry with no tech or wheels. They will drop precipticially from the lofty heights of cocky and entitled, to the lowly badlands of humbled and chaotically desperate.

Perhaps. But there's at least an even chance that we'll avoid catastrophic climate change.

And do remember that we hand to the next generation a world free of many of the diseases which were major scourges of our generation and those who preceded us.

We're giving them a level of knowledge multiple times greater than what was available when we entered the scene.

We're laying at their feet technology that we only dreamed about in our science fiction.

We've even figured out how to power our world with zero fossil fuels. Now all we have to do is to get that technology in place rapidly.

And do remember that we hand to the next generation a world free of many of the diseases which were major scourges of our generation and those who preceded us.

Mostly because of antibiotics. (OK vaccines helped a great deal). And anti-biotics is a race between adaptation/evolution of the pathogens and the ability to create novel new antibiotics. No matter how good the science there are probably a limited number of potential anti-biotics, so we will be forced to recycle old ones. Maybe if the number of novel antibiotics is great enough, and we are disciplined in their usage, bacterial immunity to the old drugs will have been selected out before we need to go back to them. Otherwise we might find the declaration of victory to be premature.

We're giving them a level of knowledge multiple times greater than what was available when we entered the scene.

With the growing anti-intellectualism in the US (I think the motivation is
ideological and religious), I think this country is going to backslide on that one. Hopefully other countries with a more enlightened attitude will take over leadership.

That's a pretty limited synopsis of our medical advances. You left out a few things such as transplants, micro-surgery, highly evolved diagnostic tools and techniques, gene therapy, .... And are you aware that many of us alive today grew up in fear of smallpox and polio? Are you aware that cancer was almost certainly a death sentence?

We do have a significant problem of anti-intellectualism in our political systems. But we don't have that problem in our universities and laboratories where knowledge is expanded. I suspect this will largely vanish once we work our way out of our economic hole and as race/gender/sexual orientation bigotry fade away. I'm not in touch with the younger generations, but I don't see them represented at the Tea Party gatherings. And this "Dark Ages" seems to be mainly a US phenomenon. Other countries are not so 'blessed'.

I worked (on the edge of) the human genome project. The number of successful gene therapy techniques can be counted on the fingers of an amputee. Transplants and advanced surgery are insanely expensive and statistically insignificant. Polio has not yet been eradicated, and would increase the number of globally eradicated diseases to two.

TB was defeated 50 years ago (not), and HIV didn't exist. Malaria is going strong. We have made major advances, mostly in hygiene and clean water supply, and maybe 1 in 7 on the planet has good health care. Shame about the other 6.

When the world was handed over to my generation genes hadn't been "invented". Certainly there had been zero progress on gene therapy. We may not be passing on a finished therapy, but don't dismiss what we have done.

And overall, you seem to go out of your way to dismiss the immense medical advances we have made. Why do you find a need to do so?

Dear Perk Earl and Bob Wallace,

I so wish for Bob Wallace to be correct and for Perk Earl to be mistaken; but, sad to say, from my humble perspective there appears to be overwhelming evidence that it will end up being the other way around....much sooner than most imagine now.



Dear Perk Earl, Bob Wallace, memmel, Fred Magyar and Friends All,

There is something I fear and I fear it terribly. If the human community loses its primary faith in science as the best available guide for making determinations regarding what is adequate enough knowledge of the "rules of the house" in the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit as well as regarding the most accurate placement of humankind within the natural order of life on Earth, then a keen sense of foreboding overtakes me because it appears that we could end up destroying, however inadvertently, that life which we claim to be protecting. In the course of a single lifetime, human beings will have done so much irreparable damage to something millions of years in the making, something we believe we are preserving.

That is to say, if the family of humanity does not accept out of necessity that even a uniquely and superbly gifted species so splendid as Homo sapiens lives according to the "rules of the house" in which we live so well, but instead chooses to deny the directions and guideposts provided to us by God's gift of science and refuses to live within the biophysical limitations of our evidently finite and noticeably frangible home on Earth, then woe will be onto the children who follow my generation of elders, I suppose.

Have the self-proclaimed masters of the universe among us determined that their arrogant, avaricious and soon to become unsustainable way of life is the one and only way to the 'good life'? Can mortgaging the children's future and threatening their very existence somehow be cleverly construed as the best way to live? It appears that the very children for whom the world is supposedly being made into a better place are the same people from whom their elders are willfully stealing life as we know it, relentlessly dissipating Earth's resources and recklessly degrading its environs.



re iraq, the production growth predicted does not seem to be reflected in skrebowski's megaprojects. could he have missed these additions? Seems unlikely. So how to explain? Maybe Chris is skeptical?

The IEA is skeptical. They have Iraq's production rising by about 1 mb/d by 2015.


Ron P.

the production growth predicted does not seem to be reflected in skrebowski's megaprojects

Why do you say that? i.e. which work of Chris' are you referring to?

i have never figured our how the smaller projects are accounted for (or not) in the megaprojects approach. any informed light shed on this subject would be appreciated.

i have never seen the bakken shale oil play of nd listed on any megaprojects list. 1000's of wells each producing 100 bopd adds up to 100's of thousands of bopd.

i have never seen the bakken shale oil play of nd listed on any megaprojects list. 1000's of wells each producing 100 bopd adds up to 100's of thousands of bopd.

Yes if they are drilled at the same time otherwise the first well will deplete and lower the numbers.

the 100 bopd/well is based on '09 bakken production, 49 million barrels from 1341 active wells at year end. most of the wells and production are from 2006 on, others have been in production 30 yrs.

certainly, if drilling stops, production goes into a steep decline. a strong, relatively stable oil price will keep the scam play going, imo.

Orlov's latest:
Korea: The Fate of a Cold War Vestige

Over the course of the Cold War, the two superpowers—USA and USSR—built up an inventory of unresolved conflicts, which they, by tacit agreement, placed in deep freeze for the duration of their combined existence. In some cases, ethnically homogeneous entities were split up across artificial political boundaries...

It may very well be that Korea's 21st century will make up for the horrors of the 20th, while most of the former USA devolves into a collection of lawless, ungovernable, sparsely populated territories that, gradually or abruptly, fade from the world scene.

But such a positive result for Korea is by no means automatic.

Fierce beasts are at their most dangerous right after they have been fatally wounded, and it is hard to predict what sort of damage a fatally wounded America might cause in its agony.

Are oil drummers getting up to date on the latest wikileaks?

Saudi Arabia urges US attack on Iran to stop nuclear programme

The Saudi king was recorded as having "frequently exhorted the US to attack Iran to put an end to its nuclear weapons programme", one cable stated. "He told you [Americans] to cut off the head of the snake," the Saudi ambassador to Washington, Adel al-Jubeir said, according to a report on Abdullah's meeting with the US general David Petraeus in April 2008.

And re Israel:

There are differing views within Israel. But the US embassy reported: "The IDF [Israeli Defence Force], however, strikes us as more inclined than ever to look toward a military strike, whether launched by Israel or by us, as the only way to destroy or even delay Iran's plans." Preparations for a strike would likely go undetected by Israel's allies or its enemies.

Matt Yglesias picked up a related story in which the French gently explained to the Chinese and Americans that a war in Iran might precipitate an energy crisis. Yglesias asks

Does the government of France genuinely think that an Israeli attack on Iran will in fact lead to catastrophic energy crisis? Does the American government think that? Does the Israeli government think that? For all the words that have been written on the Iranian nuclear issue, I think this question remains very poorly understood.

Better late than never, I suppose.

Does the government of France genuinely think that
...I think this question remains very poorly understood.

I think we have two questions here. One is will an attack generate a catastrophic shortage? The other is do the various governments think an attack would generate one? The first question attempts to ask a question of fact, the second of opinion. The answers might not be the same to both questions.

Rethinking the Fall of Easter Island

Archaeologist J. Stephen Athens of the International Archaeological Research Institute conducted excavations on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu and found that deforestation of the Ewa Plain took place largely between 900 and 1100 A.D. but that the first evidence of human presence on this part of the island was not until about 1250 A.D. There were no climatic explanations for the disappearance of palm trees, but there was evidence that the Polynesian rat (Rattus exulans), introduced by the first human colonists, was present in the area by about 900 A.D. Athens showed that it was likely rats that deforested large areas of Oahu.
Paleobotanists have demonstrated the destructive effect of rats on native vegetation on a number of other islands as well, even those as ecologically diverse as New Zealand. In areas where rats are removed, vegetation often recovers quickly. And on Nihoa Island, in the northwest Hawaiian Islands, where there is no evidence that rats ever became established, the island's native vegetation still survives despite prehistoric human settlement.

This is from a long article by Terry Hunt in American Scientist. It ends with

I believe that the world faces today an unprecedented global environmental crisis, and I see the usefulness of historical examples of the pitfalls of environmental destruction. So it was with some unease that I concluded that Rapa Nui does not provide such a model. But as a scientist I cannot ignore the problems with the accepted narrative of the island's prehistory. Mistakes or exaggerations in arguments for protecting the environment only lead to oversimplified answers and hurt the cause of environmentalism. We will end up wondering why our simple answers were not enough to make a difference in confronting today's problems.
Ecosystems are complex, and there is an urgent need to understand them better. Certainly the role of rats on Rapa Nui shows the potentially devastating, and often unexpected, impact of invasive species. I hope that we will continue to explore what happened on Rapa Nui, and to learn whatever other lessons this remote outpost has to teach us.

Sorry, I meant to reply to Frugal at http://www.theoildrum.com/node/7146#comment-747270

Yes, I think the scientific consensus on Easter Island has shifted since Diamond wrote Collapse. Not because scientists can't bear to think about cannibalism, but because of new evidence.

Which isn't to say ecological disaster can't lead to collapse. There's evidence all over the Pacific: islands with the ruins of elaborate temples, farming terraces, etc., that are now deserted. Did the people die there, or did they just move away when it was no longer viable to live there? No way to tell, but the root cause of the problem was usually clearing the land for farming, which resulted in erosion and water loss. The result leaving the island too dry to support a permanent human population.

We also have examples of civilizations collapsing due to environmental stress in the Middle East, in the Mayan cities of Central Mexico, in the cliff dwellings of the Anastasia Indians of of the Southwest.

That does not mean that we automatically have to mimic them.

We could be smarter if we chose to be. We have technology that would never have appeared to them even in their wildest dreams....

We could be smarter if we chose to be.

Evolution is not a multiple "choice" test.

We are each born with biological limitations and no amount of wishful thinking can make it otherwise.


With that said, the "culture" of a non-yeast civilization could in theory evolve to be a smarter, kinder and gentler one. However, recent evidence from the politico/think-tanking fronts indicates that "we" are devolving towards a Dark Ages, Medieval society and not towards a Star Trek enlightened society. [ i.mage.+]

We are all rats, now.

Who will not be able to escape the sinking ship.

As many of you may recall, I've been extremely critical of Nova Scotia Power's plans to significantly expand its use of biomass, i.e., their new 60 MW boiler will consume some 650,000 tonnes of biomass each year, half of which will be harvested specifically to fuel its operation, this in addition to what they use now to co-fire their existing thermal plants. Be that as it may, most of us would likely agree that biomass has its place if done right, and I suspect this facility in the great state of Maine is a more appropriate fit.

Jackson Lab starts wood pellet project

Officials with The Jackson Laboratory said the $4.4 million project is expected to result in the largest wood pellet boiler in the country. The project, funded in part by a $1 million grant from Efficiency Maine Trust, is expected to result in a $22 million investment in Maine’s economy over the next 10 years, lab officials said Monday.

John Fitzgerald, senior director of facilities services for the lab, said the boiler would help the lab save money on heating and electricity costs. The pellet-fired steam boiler is expected to reduce the lab’s heating costs by $700,000 a year and its electricity costs by $200,000 a year, he said.


Use of wood pellets will offset the annual consumption of 1.2 million gallons of fuel oil, which in turn will prevent 13,000 tons of carbon dioxide from being pumped into the atmosphere each year.

See: http://www.bangordailynews.com/story/Hancock/Jackson-Lab-starts-wood-pel...

Interestingly, one of the secondary benefits identified is that it will help lessen the need for transmission and distribution upgrades.

BTW, some of the maths seem a bit wonky... for example, we're told that "[a]t full firing rate, the burner is expected to burn through 60 tons of pellets in one day, which is enough to heat 400 Maine homes in the winter". I would be shocked if the typical Maine home could burn through 330 pounds of wood pellets in the course of any given winter day. Perhaps they meant 4,000 homes but inadvertently dropped the last zero.


Discussions of biomass firing should include the realization that each tree/clump of switchgrass we burn leaves behind it about an equal amount of mass buried beneath the soil's surface. That root structure contains a large amount of carbon which was absorbed from the atmosphere and is now nicely re-sequestered 'down below'.

Biomass-firing is a carbon-negative way to generate power. (Fossil fuels used in harvesting and transporting can be off-setting but can be reduced.)

Hi Bob,

In this province, the words "sustainable" and "forestry practices" are never used in the same sentence unless it's a lament.


Biomass-firing is a carbon-negative way to generate power.

I only wish. What happens to the inventory of soil carbon after the tree is cut down? I don't think it goes up. The only way for the process to be "carbon-negative" is if the amount of carbon in the soil increases by more than what was removed aboveground. I think it a lot more likely that the soil carbon decreases because of harvesting (thats certainly what happens with most farmland), in which case the underground processes become a carbon-intensity multiplier.

If you assume that nature over the long haul will revert the overall carbon storage (above and below ground) to preharvest levels, then biomass is carbon neutral. To make it carbon negative we would have to sequester the CO2.

Data says you are thinking incorrectly. Here's a couple of studies on carbon sequestering with switchgrass.



What you're missing is that the plants do take in CO2, convert the carbon to mass, and expel the oxygen. It's not entire CO2 we really need to sequester, it's the carbon part of CO2. Over the last 130 years we've been busy extracting sequestered carbon, combining it with atmospheric oxygen via burning and releasing CO2 into our atmosphere.

When the roots of a plant stay underground a whole bunch of previously atmospheric carbon stays under the ground with them.

Biochar - another way to take in CO2 and bury the carbon.

When the roots of a plant stay underground a whole bunch of previously atmospheric carbon stays under the ground with them.

But, prior to human agriculture, and grazing etc. this process should have been near qausi-equilibrium. I.E. soil sequestration reaches a rough equilibrium where loss of soil carbon roughly balances the burial of carbon from plant matter. Any change, for example by harvesting some or all of the aboveground plant matter changes that equilibrium concentration. Most likely it reduces it. In that case the soil respiration will be a net source of atmospheric CO2. All this is an inevitable mathematical consequence of the fact that the soil carbon sink is of finite size, and that it didn't start out devoid of carbon.

I don't know the answer, but since neither of us has any data I find it more plausible that harvesting the above-ground portion of plants, leaving those roots in place, and growing new plants in their place results in increased carbon sequestering.

Trees, for example have periods in their earlier years during which they grow rapidly, greatly increasing both their above and below ground mass. The growth slows.

Harvest the top for carbon-neutral energy and grow a brand new set of roots where the old tree stood.

(I have no idea where you get the "fact" that the soil carbon sink is finite (other than the absolute sense of the word).

Some of the carbon may travel out of the soil over time, but at the minimum even that carbon will be sequestered for a significant period.

I don't know the answer, but since neither of us has any data I find it more plausible that harvesting the above-ground portion of plants, leaving those roots in place, and growing new plants in their place results in increased carbon sequestering.

This sounds less sure than your previous post.


Any reason for the change?

Because someone brought up the subject of carbon release from the soil and I don't know enough about that topic to determine to what extent the carbon sequestered by plant roots will eventually return some/all of that carbon to the atmosphere.

I don't know whether root-sequestering is permanent, partially permanent, or only a 'few years' solution to getting carbon out of the atmosphere.

Permanent sequestration of carbon in buried plant material only occurs under anerobic conditions favorable to the formation of peat.


I do see in your link that carbon release from anaerobic processes occurs at "about a thousand times more slowly" than aerobic processes.

It's a little hard to go from a paper on shallow root mosses to plants like trees and switchgrass which send their roots far underground.

I don't know how far down before there is inadequate oxygen exchange to allow aerobic processes. I do know that number is a very few inches in my compost piles.

Even if sequestering is not permanent, a many-year sequestering can take a lot of carbon out of our atmosphere and keep levels that much lower over time via repeating the process of temporary sequestration.

Discussions of biomass firing should include the realization that each tree/clump of switchgrass we burn leaves behind it about an equal amount of mass buried beneath the soil's surface.

Could be solved http://ltz.se/nyheter/ostersund/1.2244774-guldgruva-for-stubbrytarna tree roots from one hectare is enough to heat up to seven or eight houses per year.

No, no, no... was my immediate and visceral response to that. Tree roots left in the ground is not a problem to be solved, but something to be celebrated. We need to keep biomass as much as possible where it belongs IN THE GROUND. Have we not learned any lessons at all from the years of soil destruction that have left it in many places no more than lifeless sand to be 'topped' up with chemical inputs. Don't burn it, compost it.

A modern well insulated building should use no more than one gallon per square foot per year. So does this mean that Jackson labs has at least 1.2 million square feet of floor area in it's buildings.

If not, then maybe they should have spent some of that grant money on insulation and heat recovery ventilation systems.

Hi Breadman,

I know little about Jackson Labs (other than what I've just Goggled now), but reportedly there are a total of fifty-nine buildings on their 130 acre Bar Harbour campus and 230,000 square feet were added in the past ten years. Given the nature of their work, I'm guessing that their hot water demands are fairly significant and that this accounts for a large chunk of their total fuel oil usage. Also, as you can appreciate, the ventilation requirements for research labs can be quite high -- whether you can incorporate some sort of heat recovery into that I don't honestly know.... I can only imagine that the rules governing these things when you're working with bio hazards are tricky. In any event, if you're exhausting large volumes of conditioned air from your buildings, your energy demands will be sizeable no matter how you look at it.


Anybody else getting really tired of having to stare into Jimmy Wales's fanatical eyes every time they open a Wikipedia page? Add this filter to AdBlock Plus: /centralnotice/ More here: Adblock Plus • View topic - How to block Wikipedia banner ad? (Appeal from Jimmy Wales)

Or alternatively just click the "close" "x" at the top right of the image and he disappears for ever (or until you delete cookies or they start another campaign presumably).

Or it'll just go away when they run out of funds and close up shop..

Please note the silence of so many on this topic, both inside and outside The Oil Drum and Orion community and well as within the communities of top-rank experts. That silence is also something to be feared and fearly terribly. There is no global threat so great as our so-called leaders’ elective mutism with regard to notifying the public about humanity’s central role in recklessly depleting Earth’s finite resources and degrading Earth’s ecology as well as to helping the children sensibly prepare for what could likely occur in the offing. Such outrageous behavior by my generation could have the effect of ruining the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit as a place for human habitation by the children.

Good people, the willful silence of knowledgeable leaders and followers is a colossal mistake with profound implications for the future of life on Earth. Please, speak out loudly, clearly and often. Say whatsoever you believe to be true and real regarding the human predicament in which humankind finds itself in these earliest years of Century XXI.

More voices..... we need many more voices. Time is being wasted because those with wealth and power and their super enriched minions adamantly defend and righteously pursue overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities. Because these activities could soon become patently unsustainable, necessary behavior change has to occur fast. If more members of the human family do not speak out to resist what the richest and most powerful in the human community are seducing all of us to do now as we strive to ravenously consume Earth’s resources, to relentlessly hoard wealth, and to overproduce unnecessary stuff, then the planetary home we are inhabiting and overpopulating could be made uninhabitable for our children and life as we know it in the fairly near future.

One day our children may look back in anger and utter disbelief at many too many leaders and followers in my not-so-great generation of greedmongers, who had the chance at least to try and mitigate the fully expected damages of pollution, climate destabilization, environmental degradation, resource dissipation, biodiversity extinction and unbridled overpopulation but abjectly failed because we chose to play around the edges of the global challenges before us and refused to take demonstrably responsible action in the face of clear and present dangers.

Being honest and personally accountable; earning wealth the old fashioned way by actually providing something of value; exercising moral courage; and making necessary changes toward sustainable lifestyles, was too damn hard for so soft, satisfied, sanctimonious, selfish and stupid a generation of elders, I suppose.

For me, it is impossible to believe that a species so wondrous as Homo sapiens will not find a way to continue rather than to induce its own extinction as we appear to be doing now. Somehow the miracle of life as we know it, with all its beauty and biodiversity, has to be preserved. At least we have to try, whatever the odds.

At least we have to try, whatever the odds.

Have you seen the movie, "The Road"?

Have we forgotten about "the good of the commons" as well as "the common good of ordinary people"?

I know all about the "tragedy of the commons." Please tell me about "the good of the commons."