Peak Coal: the Olduvai perspective

Peak Coal. Some folks have begun eagerly researching this topic and writing about its timing, now that talk of Peak Oil is all around. The different outlooks on how and when the peak will occur are disparate, ranging from next year to a time many decades in the future. This post tries to view this debate in a different, wider perspective, and deals with the following issues:

  • Applying the Hubbert Method to Coal;
  • Looking at Ultimate Reserves for Coal;
  • Coal and its place in the Olduvai picture;
  • Implications for stakeholders;

This post is largely a follow up to Dave Summers' Future Coal Supplies: More, Not Less!

Pre scriptum: Within days of preparing this post, Dave Rutledge updated his report on ultimate coal extraction using Logit and Probit transforms rather than Hubbert Linearization. I have yet to become familiar with this method, and, although Rutledge reaches essentially the same results as previously, the remarks made here shouldn't be directly applied to his update.


Lately there has been a mild, but growing, level of hype about the coming epoch of peak world coal extraction. As with any other non-renewable resource, the amount of coal consumed every year by mankind can't grow forever. A day will come when growth will stop and a terminal decline sets in; the only question is when. Authors such as Patzek and Croft have been hasty to predict the timing of peak coal as almost immediate. As with many other things, imminent events draw wider attention than more distant ones.

Dave Rutledge might have been the first to produce such a forecast, with the conclusion that coal extraction will come to a peak in 15 years. Kjell Aleklett's research group reached the conclusion that an all-time maximum would occur in about 10 years. But by bringing the peak forward to 2011, Tad Patzek drew the attention of, and gained the honour of coverage by a magazine the caliber of National Geographic. What is common to all these forecasts is that they all derive an ultimate reserve figure which is well below the numbers quoted in official statistics (about 900 Gtoe), and that's where the controversy starts.

Applying the Hubbert Method to Coal

One thing which is generally common to these short term predictions for peak coal is that they incorrectly use the Hubbert Method. The process popularized at The Oil Drum as Hubbert Linearisation, whereby a logistic curve is adjusted to past production in the P/Q vs. Q plane, is but one step of this method and is not intended to determine reserves by itself (P is annual production, Q is cumulative production). As explained by Kenneth Deffeyes in his book Beyond Oil, the linearisation process must be applied to exploratory drilling and discovery volumes before being applied to production. Prior to the production phase, a clearer idea about the ultimate reserve size must be developed, for there's no guarantee that a logistic curve applies, even in the case of oil.

What the discovery linearisation process does is something a bit more refined than simply providing a more accurate figure for ultimate reserves. It actually provides a picture of the production build-up signal that precedes the logistic capital signal that Ugo Bardi explained in bridging oil production to the Lotka-Volterra population model. With crude oil, the production signal matches the accumulation of resources prior to extraction, mainly the reserve itself, but also includes the investment of human expertise and the development and use of equipment. The capital signal can be seen as the usefulness obtained by society from the oil extracted. Reconstructing the discovery signal provides at least a proxy for this productive capacity accumulation that must precede the capital build up.

The Mind sized Hubbert model of resource depletion. Click for Ugo's article.

In the case of coal the production signal cannot be easily reproduced. The identification of reserves has been very widespread both in time and in space, since it occurred as the Industrial Revolution progressed. Secondly the emergence of oil as a considerably more convenient fuel, because of its energy density and liquid properties, produced a non-negligible substitution process, especially in the transport sector. In more recent years, coal, which had been displaced by oil in boilers and furnaces, has in its turn started replacing oil in electricity generation. Assuming that the Lotka-Volterra production signal for coal followed a regular logistic curve seems, at the least, debatable. Those eager to apply the Hubbert Linearisation process to coal extraction must first justify, with evidence, that the logistic production development model justifies this approach.

Looking at Ultimate Reserves for Coal

An alternative way to apply the logistic curve is the one performed by Jean Laherrère. Instead of directly adjusting a logistic curve to conform to past production, Jean tries first to get a picture of the ultimate reserve by consulting available databases. After reaching a solid figure (today 700 Gtoe), he then produces a logistic curve obeying that reserve value and finds the best fit to past production. The magical step in this approach is assuming that coal production will henceforth follow an orderly, unconstrained logistically predicted path. Though this method is still open to criticism, since the geological knowledge may be incomplete, this is a much more sensible approach. Given the impact of the impending oil decline, a flat out bell shaped extraction forecast may not be that far from reality.

The famous coal report produced by the Energy Watch Group (EWG) was to a large extent based on the use of a similar technique, although applied at a regional level. But it also produced an ultimate reserve estimate that was somewhat below official figures.

And this is the base of Dave Summers' critique: the direct application of curve fitting methods to past production will likely neglect reserves that are not present in accounting books, simply because productive resources haven't yet been gathered to bring them online (e.g. Botswana). In other cases it's the change in productive reserves to impractical resources that may have been caused by a non-geological decrease in reserves (because of politics or cost), as in his home country of Scotland. The best of these examples may well be Mozambique, a country that is expected to become the second-largest world coal exporter within the decade [Google translation here]. Consulting a publicly available resource data base such as BP's annual statistical review, will reveal that the word Mozambique doesn’t even appear, nor its resources; thus the reserve volumes may be something that the non-Portuguese speaking media is largely unaware of (for the uninformed Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, gaining independence in 1975).

But there's also the other side of the coin: extraction of coal has frequently been impacted by state subsidies. In some regions of the world, not only has coal extraction not been abandoned, but it has been provided with additional resources to continue production. Perhaps the most striking of these is the case of Germany, a state that is presently spending 2 000 million euros per year on its coal industry. That translates into 42 €/ton, and these are direct money deliveries, not feed-in tariffs such as those made available for renewable energy industries.

In essence, there's a big question mark on ultimate coal reserves.

Coal and its place in the Olduvai picture

This debate can, however, be put under a completely different perspective if considered at the light of the Olduvai Gorge Theory. World fossil fuels consumption per capita crossed over 9 boe/capita/annum in 1970 and since then has remained on a bumpy plateau; with marginal exceptions, this variable has since bounded between 9 and 10 boe/cap/a, reaching almost exactly 10 boe/cap/a in 2009. Richard Duncan postulated in 1989 that this plateau would end in the not too distant future; and in the referenced 2008 assessment fossil fuel levels per capita were forecast not to rise above 10.5 boe/cap/a, beginning a decline after 2020 that would slash that figure by 50% by 2050.

The 2008 assessment was performed using the EWG coal forecast, but even if coal is indeed not as scarce as Dave Rutledge, Kjell Aleklett et al. claim, for how long can the Olduvai Plateau last? Turning this question around, how much coal is needed to maintain this plateau until 2050? Or to 2100?

The Olduvai fossil fuel outlook with coal filling the gap up to 2100 for a constant consumption of 10.5 boe/cap/a.

This graph provides the first step towards answering the question. To give a sense of proportion, this scenario can be compared with that used in the 2008 Olduvai assessment.

Energy Watch Group's Coal forecast used in the 2008 Olduvai assessment compared to the constant 10.5 boe/cap/a scenario.

For a constant fossil fuel/capita scenario to be sustained over those time intervals, world coal extraction would need to double in the next 25 years and reach triple the levels of today by 2050. By the century's end extraction would need to be over 10.5 Gtoe/a. To put this in perspective, it would have to provide almost 3 times the primary energy levels provided today by oil.

After having made these considerations, the role of reserves can finally be assessed. The next graph shows cumulative extraction volumes required, based on the above constant fossil fuel per capita scenario.

Cumulative world coal extraction to match the constant 10.5 boe/cap/a scenario.

The size of the needed Ultimate Reserve can be inferred from this graph; assuming a roughly symmetrical extraction profile, it can be computed by multiplying by 2 the commutative figures at the time when the Olduvai Plateau ends. Extending the plateau to 2050 will require an Ultimate Reserve that would have to be over 800 Gtoe; to reach 2070 it would have to be nearly 1300 Gtoe; a reserve value of 2000 Gtoe is reached before 2100.

Implications for Stakeholders

What stakeholders should take home from this discussion is that coal will not be able to replace the other fossil fuels. Whether extraction peaks in 2011 or in 2050, the probabilities of coal on its own being able to help the world avoid the Olduvai cliff are slim at best. Certainly, this fossil fuel can still become more relevant as a fuel in some regions of the world. This can occur in the US for instance, if reported reserves are anywhere near a geological reality. In such places, coal can provide time for a smoother transition to a fully renewable energy paradigm, but on a global scale, the panorama is entirely different.

Especially for states or nations that are net importers today but do not possess realistic reserve perspectives, the use of coal is more a thing of the past than of the future. Coal will continue to be an indigenous energy source par excellence, not only for its lower energy density when compared to oil (which makes transport difficult) but also because of its narrow international market, which is less than 10% of all coal consumed globally. Voracious demand from China (the consumer of 50% of the world's annual extraction, at about 3 times the levels used in the US) and India (a consumer of 8% of world use, which is about the same as the EU) promises to quench this frail market. But that's another story.

Related posts:

Future Coal Supplies - More, Not Less!

The Coal Question: Revisited

The Chinese Coal Monster

I'd like to thank Dave Summers, Arthur Berman and Kristin for helping out with the english.

Very interesting paper, Luis, congratulations. The point that you are making is the same point that I will be doing with a post that should appear soon on TOD, titled "The Limits of the Hubbert model". The problem, here, is that in modern history we never arrived to the "Hubbert Limit" of a major resource at the global level. We know that the Hubbert model works with local resources, but when we go global, well, a host of different factors appear which may easy deviate the curve away from the nice "bell shaped" one that has been observed many times. In particular, capital may be pumped from one sector of the economy to another - namely to the extractive sector - and keep alive and relatively stable the production of a resource which should decline according to the Hubbert model. In other words, we may sacrifice other sectors of the economy for the sake of producing fossil fuels.

I think this is the key point with coal. If we analyze it using the Hubbert model, a la Patzek, we find that coal production will decline soon. But we need fossil fuels so badly that we'll make an effort to keep producing them. Coal may turn out to be the easiest one to push beyond its Hubbert limits, that is to keep producing no matter what. That would be a disaster in environmental terms and in terms of climate change. And it won't even help us much in replacing crude oil and natural gas....

Which is why I think the most important question is how much can the global economy afford to pay for fossil energy? The price will, of course be different for oil, coal and gas, due to their relative physical properties and utilities. However, we cannot spend more extracting fossil fuels than we earn in the global economy by consuming them. In practice, there is an price, or an EROEI, at which the economy either shifts to an alternative source of energy, so simply contracts. Heinberg (?) has postulated that critical figure is an EROEI of about 7. So corn ethanol is not a long term bet...

The global supply of energy will peak when the incremental cost of new production exceeds the economically extractable return on that energy. Coal will probably peak later than oil and gas, and oil is so tightly bound to transport that it may well trigger a global peak of energy consumption due to the inability to substitute alternate energy sources fast enough to offset economic decline.

Given that in the long term (centuries) the world will be forced to live within solar energy flows once more, the size of the global economy will be determined by how efficiently we can extract those flows and translate them into productive economic activity.

Of course, we could as a global society, use fossil energy dramatically more efficiently and still sustain or increase worthwhile economic activity. The question is, who decides that their activities are most worthwhile? I don't think the free market will do a very good job in the face of Chinese economic or US military might.

I feel regions can be forced to peak "early" because less expensive producers come on line and force more expensive producers to curtail production. But your point about EROeI is a good one.

World global peak is likely to happen because of a peak in Net Energy. Well quality declines over time. Eventually a point is reached where the extraction industry must grow the number of drilling rigs or mines, but cannot deliver more net energy to society. This shows up as greater demands for steel, fuel and labor. An extraction industry that is growing as a % of GDP is a good sign this is happening.

Society then contracts and this forces a contraction in the extractive industry. It would be seen as society not being able to handle the "cost" but it is really falling net energy. I feel this is the way we will see a global peak. A peak in net energy hiding as peak demand.

The only way to continue growth past a peak in net energy is to get efficient faster than net energy is falling (or switch to a higher EROeI energy source, but that also takes energy forcing a faster contraction).

In Nov. 09 I wrote about this and showed my computer model based not on curve fitting and assumptions about what kind of curve it 'ought' to be, but on the physics of extraction of a finite resource (all fossil fuel energy) and the relationship between EROI (or EROeI if you insist! ;^) and the production of societal assets with net energy (i.e. the economy). In my mind this is a more realistic approach to modeling energy relations and asset production in that it establishes a boundary condition best case scenario. That blog, "Energy and the economy", can be found here. Of course, human nature could intervene to produce worst case scenarios!


George, I tend to use EROEI instead of EROI, because the latter has a specific meaning in Italian - not related to energy. It means "heroes", so if you look for the world EROI you'll find a lot of pages in Italian mentioning heroes. You can tell google to look for English results only, but EROEI makes things simpler

When I first started out on this subject I wrote ERoEI (can't remember where I got that lc o from). Then I spent my sabbatical with Charlie Hall who cured me ;^) I guess we all know what we mean generally (except maybe the notorious x) by any combination of ER and OI or OEI. I still have slides with the EROEI/ERoEI on them.

"we may sacrifice other sectors of the economy for the sake of producing fossil fuels"

"That would be a disaster in environmental terms and in terms of climate change. And it won't even help us much in replacing crude oil and natural gas...."

Good points, as usual.

We will sacrifice not only other sectors of the economy, but sectors of the ecology (for instance GOM), and even the whole ball of blue.

This is why, for all its shortcomings, many of us keep coming back to the addiction analogy--an addict will sacrifice every other aspect of his life for the next fix, even though on some level he knows the next fix may kill him, and that his addiction will eventually kill him.

This activity is not subject to influence from reason, emotional appeal, discussions of the sacredness of life...There isn't much of a person left in there to appeal to, just the hull of a human animated by his addiction.

It is ironic, fitting, maybe inevitable that global capitalism really got started with the opium trade. It has been addiction driven from the beginning.

Your penultimate graph deals with ff/capita. Perhaps you could make explicit what your assumptions are concerning the number of people that will be in the world over the next few decades.

On that point--are you aware that the death rate went up for the first time in many years last year, and that this may be the beginning of a new trend in constantly higher death rates, a trend that was predicted, but that wasn't supposed to start for a couple decades?

Or that birth rates seem to have gone down considerably last year?

(The most accurate recent figures aren't readily available. I had to compile them from the raw numbers supplied from the CIA fact book. But even the preliminary estimates show a jump in death rate:

Given the deepening global food and water crises (not unrelated to the PO and GW crises, of course), I am guessing that world population will peak in the coming decade or so, probably below 8 billion, mostly not for very nice reasons.

There's a lot of red meat on the table here today , both in the article and the comments.

If Ugo Bardi means to say that coal will not help us much as oil and gas run out due to a lack of time to transition to a coal based economy, I believe he is correct;if he means that there is not enough coal, I am not yet ready to place my bets, but I have a ringside seat here at TOD for the intellectual fight!

My guess is that we COULD transition to a coal based economy far faster most analysts would ever guess.Whether we wake up to the gravity of the situation in time to do so, before we are knocked out economically for the count by peak oil, is the first question, in pursuing this line of thought.

Mining, roadbuilding, railroading,shipping, coal combustion engineering, and so forth,are all mature technologies.Under emergency schedules, presuming a wartime like decision making process, with other considerations such as ecological costs shoved aside,such infrastructure can get built in one hell of a hurry.

We could for instance close a lane of many highways-or many highways- and lay a railroad line hundreds of miles in length in a matter of months.Ships designed to haul coal, as well as burn coal, could easily be built as big or bigger than current supertankers, and while they might need to set aside a larger part of the cargo capacity for fuel than an oil fired ship, the percentage loss would be minor-there is a joke among mariners to the effect that the necessary power output of ship engines decreases so fast in relation to tonnage that eventually the biggest ships will be powered by outboards.

Whether we can make the transition and survive the economic dislocations involved is an open question.This brings up my second question;what will be the short and medium term consequences of such a transition?

As Dohboi points out, we may already be in the early stages of a population collapse.My personal estimate off this matter is that while it might be theoretically possible to avoid a dieoff, as a practical matter it is a certainty.
My instincts lead me to believe that there is a very high probability that the dieoff will be hurried along by widespread and hot resource wars which will likely break out within the next decade or two at the latest.

For what it is worth, I will hazard the opinion or guess that the climate will NOT be knocked TOTALLY topsy turvy by burning whatever minable coal is actually out there over the next half century or so for the simple reason that the Four Horsemen will prevent it being burned at anywhere near the anticipated rates used by climate modelers.

It probably will be burned, however, at a much slower rate, by a much smaller population, over the next few centuries.

Someone on another site that seemed to know what he was talking about said that it would not be very hard to refit most large ocean going vessels to burn coal. I have no knowledge myself in this field, so maybe someone could weigh in.

I do agree with ofm and others (including stoneleigh in the recent Nation promo for their PO/GW series that we are quite likely to burn every bit of coal we can lay our hands on. One of the earliest uses of oil was to assist in mining coal, and I expect that will be one of its last uses.

As to the GW thing, I bow to the superior knowledge of James Hansen, who says that burning all our coal and tar sands will commit us to what he calls the Venus Syndrome .

Methane is already escaping at a rapidly increasing rate from sea bed stores and from thawing tundra. If this rate is anything like what those most deeply engaged in research on it are saying it is, we are looking at very imminent total climate chaos.

Let's hope that Shakhova is completely off base here, though I have not seen any scientist refute her basic findings.

As far as the Methane goes.. that's really an unknown. The problem is that we are pushing the climate into a state not seen for millions of years. If the methane has been storing up for that length of time, then we could be in for some severe trouble.

OTOH, this is still bleeding edge science, and it is dangerous to start running around making strong claims of disaster based on it.

Venus is probably(!) out of the question, given that it didn't happen in the Cretaceous super-greenhouse or PETM. Of course, a sea level rise of 70m combined with temperatures averaging 10K over today's would have significant economic impacts.

Of course, a sea level rise of 70m combined with temperatures averaging 10K over today's would have significant economic impacts.

This must be the understatement of the year...

OTOH, this is still bleeding edge science, and it is dangerous to start running around making strong claims of disaster based on it.

It's very simple science. We know sea floor clathrates are contained by pressure of the water column and pressure. We know the pressure portion is very low on the Siberian shelf because it is so shallow. We thus must conclude temperatures need to be lower to keep it contained, but at least some clathrates are now within 1C of melting, so that lack of pressure likely puts us into he melt zone.

We further know pre-industrial CH4 was about .7 ppb and are now at 1.8 ppb. You will note that is a much greater proportional change than 285 ppm to 390 ppm of CO2. Given CH4 also has a very short residence time in the atmosphere, vs. CO2's long residence time, where is it all coming from and why is it overwhelming pre-industtrial levels so?

But we also know CH4 levels above and below the water line and in the air above it, and even signifcantly above it, are many times what they should be. The additional detail in that power point should frighten you. It does me.

Permafrost (land-based) was already a problem:

CA-CP: Experts talk of climatic thresholds – the point at which it is hard to turn back to previous conditions. How close are we to approaching climatic thresholds with regard to permafrost?

Dr. Romanovsky: When you talk about permafrost, there are some regional thresholds. It would be hard to say there is a global threshold. In terms of regions, for example, in the interior of Alaska, we are very close to this threshold. We are just a half a degree Celsius off of it and in terms of time, it all depends on how climate will warm in the future and the rate of warming. But it could be on the order of 20-50 years.

CA-CP: If you cross this climatic threshold in Alaska, what would the impacts be?

Dr. Romanovsky: What is happening now is that some permafrost is thawing already. It is really a threshold because you can’t go back easily and put all this ice that will melt out of permafrost that is water and put it back as massive ground ice. You’d need another glacial period, and in this case it’s not reversible. It’s hard to put ice back. If the threshold is crossed back to colder conditions it could develop new permafrost but not the same as it is now – generally less ice and less carbon. No return to the previous state. For Siberia and the icy permafrost there, there are two degrees to go before we cross a threshold. So, it is not as much threat yet. However, in southern regions of western Siberia there is a lot of carbon sequestered and the permafrost is actively warming there and thawing in some places. In terms of time scale, I think we could cross a threshold there in several decades. The Northern slope of Alaska is more stable. We maybe have another 70-100 years before we cross a threshold there - same for that area in Siberia. So for colder areas, this threshold is more distant and for warmer permafrost, which has ice and carbon in it, the climatic threshold is pretty close already.
A thicker, warmer and dryer active layer will be much friendlier for microbial activities during the summer. Significantly later freeze-up of this layer in winter and warmer winter temperatures (that means much more unfrozen water in it) will considerably enhance the microbial activities during the winter. So, the arctic and sub-arctic ecosystems could turn into a source of CO2 (especially on an annual basis) very soon. Further permafrost degradation and formation of taliks will amplify these changes because a layer that will not freeze during the entire winter (talik) will appear above the permafrost, where microbial activities will not cease during the winter. In the area of "wet thermokarst" formation, new and significant sources of CH4 will be developing.

Bear in mind the potential C held in permafrost alone is 2x that held in the atmosphere. Ten percent of that melting would be on the order almost 80 ppm, and we know that is melting with thermokarst lakes tripling in size, and increasing in number, already.

The idea that we don't know enough to be alarmed is unsupported. We know more than we need to know to take action, and by a country mile.

There are ways to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, but this is not the place to discuss them any longer.

Thank you very much for the points (better put than I could have), the quotes and the links.

Just one more point, since most cite outdated info on it:

Methane has a global warming potential that is 33 (not 20 or 26) times more powerful than CO2 over a 100 year interval, and 105 times over a 20 year interval.

Shindell et al., “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions“:

It's very simple science. We know sea floor clathrates are contained by pressure of the water column and pressure.


It's very simple science. We know sea floor clathrates are contained by pressure of the water column and temperature.


Interesting points OFM.

I was struck while reading your thoughts on how many of them coincide with my current thinking. I also am starting to conclude that the dieoff (nasty word) is probably about to commence (in the next decade) so that we will never see the 9-12 billion numbers that have been forecast. All it will take is a further uptick in the death rate and that seems inevitable with the growing costs of food and continuing loss of arable land.

I also am more and more becoming convinced that there is no way we can burn the fossil fuel scenarios assumed by the IPPC so that particular report is becoming useless in my mind. We may have climate change but not by the IPPC scenarios.

The key open question as you suggest is can we survive the economic trauma we are going to experience. I can't get my mind around that one.

My only comment on a rapid transition to a coal based economy that you describe is that I believe yes it is possible but practically I don't believe our political systems can get organized around any plan - no matter how good the plan is.

Thanks Luis - provocative post.

Hi Texas,

IMO you are undoubtedly correct that our political systems are not good enough for us to get organized, in general terms.

But it does seem to me that there is a distinct possibility that IF the supply of oil and ng comes off peak slowly rather than abruptly, AND there is a wake up event, or series of events,of sufficient magnitude to get our collective attention, we might go onto a wartime economic footing and manage a transition to coal.

I have referred to such wakeup calls as "Pearl Harbor events" in past discussions here on TOD.I don't know who to credit with the term.

What the odds are of this happening are impossible imo to estimate, but my gut feeling is that they are good enough that at least a few countries will manage the transition rather than collapse back into pre industrial era conditions.But the transition itself is , to put it in graphical backwoods terms,likely to be "rougher than a cob"-corn cobs were reputedly the pre industrial era toilet paper of choice in my part of the world.

Personally I doubt of cobs were ever used except occasionally if somebody forgot to replenish the supply of leaves, grass, or old newspapers, etc, in the outhouse.Such facilities were still common when I was a kid, and I never saw a supply of cobs in them.

Cobs were used as kindling, or tossed out to rot.

"Such facilities were still common when I was a kid, and I never saw a supply of cobs in them.

I've been in outhouses where there was a supply of corn cobs in a small barrel, and an optional Sears-Roebuck catalog. The really old timers used the cobs. That would include the owners of the facility, my great uncle and aunt.

As I've posted before, the cobs are effective but take some getting used to.

When I am in the woodlands, I use Pteridium Aquilinum (the plant seems to have no english name). It is a favourite. But don't eat it, the plant contains the carcinogenic compound ptaquiloside, according to

Bracken is the common name that we used to call it. I recall there being something bad about the spores from a long time ago but cannot remember what. I don't think it was about them being a carcinogen but I am not sure.


Ooh, ouch, wouldn't use bracken myself.
We use:-

Soft, moist, and naturally antiseptic. Luxury!

The Arabs just keep it simple, clean hand, dirty hand, and a bowl of water. I suspect a lot of other countries do the same. This is what we were offered in Morocco when we were overwhelmed by the Arab hospitality and taken into there homes.

That is why they cut the right hand off for thief. That way they have to eat with their dirty hand.

I would say this goes back to biblical days.

It's a pretty common practice in countries which don't have lots of trees to cut for paper.

You do wash your butt when you take a bath, don't you? Same thing....

Caucasoid Westerners (I'm one) might like to try this excellent Eastern equivalent, when out in the woods: straddle a small running stream; dump; use the running water and your fingers (which hand is up to you) to clean anus; use running water and stream-bed detritus as scourer to clean fingers. Works a treat.

TE, it came slowly clear to me some time ago (about the same time that I realised that we, humankind, weren't going to get our shit together to do something effective about AGW) that the dieoff would indeed start soon, but that the likely pattern would be the global death rate just nosing silently ahead of the birth rate, quite possibly unnoticed for several years, and then simply staying there, probably never more than just a few percentage points ahead.

At the age of 70, it's an awful thing for me to realise that for the whole of my lifetime, and longer, vast numbers of people in the poor countries, especially children under five, have been dying in droves, of easily curable problems, simply because they were invisible, except to a minority of people who are usually referred to derisively as 'bleeding hearts'. I think that that process will continue as before, but just rachet up a few notches. That's all it takes to make a dieoff. And I suspect that a lot of it will happen unnoticed by most of us. No pangenocides, no pandemics (human-induced or natural). Just that grim, but quiet, reversal of positions between the birth rate and the death rate.

...straddle a small running stream; dump...

Well done, you just polluted the water course.

...get our shit together...


For now, peak per capita energy is a regional, not a global phenomenon. The U.S. and I'd argue almost all of the western world is locked into long term relative decline. The U.S. saw the peak of its share of the global economic pie years if not several decades ago. Now we are no longer the world's leading energy consumer. Before long, we will be the world's second largest economy.

China and India will be able to continue their momentum for a while longer, capturing larger and larger shares of available world coal and oil exports. They'll keep adding energy capacity without perhaps being able to have a terribly dramatic effect on their per capita consumption. The U.S. is already barreling, so to speak, toward the Olduvai definitional bookend of industrial civilization, that 37% of peak per capita energy. Whether the world as a whole continues to expand its absolute energy production is I think at this point no longer relevant to the future of American per capita energy availability.

I wonder how much of our coal we will have ended up exporting to China and India before we really take on the task of trying to electrify our transportation network. The one imminent threat to Chinese dominance of the world's economy is resource nationalism centering on coal, oil and food exports.

As for using a lane of the interstate highway system for rail traffic the presence of 6% grades would limit that use to light passenger rail. I believe rail is limited to 2% grades which is commonly exceeded by our highways. Heavy freight trains simply couldn't manage 6% without considerable increases in power or the use of special locomotives geared for slow climbing. Before going to rails on our roads there are many abandoned rail routes that could be reclaimed for heavy freight use.

I agree about the old rail routes being brought back into use;my thoughts are more about what can and might actually be accomplished on a down and dirty basis in emergency mode.There are a lot of places where there are no old routes to reclaim-and the highways will be very lightly traveled once gasoline and diesel get hard to find.It would be easy enough to give up half or more of the roadway in many cases.

It would be a technically very simple thing to shorten trains, add more locomotives, or build sidings and station dedicated helper locomotives at places where the grades are long and steep.This would be expensive of course, but it would probably still be far more energy and resource efficient than trucking.

On heavily traveled lines, it might even be practical to build an energy recovery system to make good use of the energy that would otherwise be wasted on braking on down grades.

How about electric locomotives fed by overhead lines having hybrid motor/generators?A train descending one side of a mountain range could supply a large portion of the electricity needed by a train climbing the other side. ;)

Roads have grades which are much too great and curves which are much too sharp for railroads.

Of course most roads are too steep or crooked for use as rail beds.

But when we get to the point we have to depend on trains, we can build trains that can handle steeper grades and sharper curves.The trade offs will be costly of course, but probably well worth the cost

At any rate, I do not anticipate more than a few roads possibly being converted to railroad grade beds;and only then at the last possible moment-when it is no longer feasible to build a new railroad from scratch due to lack of money,machinery, and fuel.For instance any interstate or freeway running from or near coal country to a major city will be straight enough; and as i remarked earlier, auxiliary locomotives can b e used.

I throw out this possibility mainly as an attempt or example to get people to think outside the box in relation to emergency peak oil mitigation strategies.

We might also build really powerful truck tractors and put what is in effect a truck train on the highway-a big dump truck with tandem drive axles can haul almost eighteen tons , and with a sufficiently powerful engine and heavy drive line, it could tow a train of five or six trailers. Such trucks are already in use in the Australian outback unless I am mistaken.

Of course it would be necessary to provide a dedicated lane for the exclusive use of such trucks;but this strategy, combined with lowered speeds, could probably better than double truck fuel efficiency.

Yair...oldfarmermac. This post is to expand on your road train notion but first I would like to mention the on going flood calamity in Queensland.

The central regions have been flooded for some weeks now and the rivers pretty much have stabilised at their peaks. It is taking along time for the waters to recede.

Yesterday and today another low preasure system has dumped 300mm of rain onto the southeast corner including a "supercell" that yielded 150mm in two hours over our second largest city of Toowoomba. This amount of precipitation is unprecedented and caused a three meter high wall of water to virtualy wash away a couple of small farming communitys. This water is headed for the capital (Brisbane) and it seems that water levels could be the highest ever recorded. There could be forty thousand homes flooded and we still have fifty six folks unaccounted for with nine confirmed dead.Difficult times indeed.

Search 'Toowoomba floods' on Utube if you are interested to see.

You are absolutely right about the viability of road trains. Three trailer road trains are almost standard for cattle with four and five trailer units used on some special mining applications.

I get on this road train band waggon occasionaly but no one wants to talk about it.

Back in the early 'sixtys I used to moonlight on an English Foden truck hauling fifty ton loads of railway line for building cattle yards.

We used to put twenty five tons on the thirty six foot body and the same on a three axle dog trailer. She had a 150hp straight eight Gardiner diesel and would consistantly get six miles per imperial gallon.

She was slow of course and thats how it used to be. That particular unit had twenty eight miles per hour diffs...that is to say with engine on the governor at 1300 Rev Min that was as fast as she would go.

A little later I had the pleasure of operating what I think was one of the finest pieces of engineering ever to come out of the USA...a "B" model Mack with a triplex gearbox and a massive 211hp!

Those trucks were phenominal. We were scrub pulling with Cat.D9G's and with the massive protection cabs, reinforced bullblades with treepushers, extra heavy belly gaurds and what all...and I'd occasionaly haul one with a single tine Kelly they would have been over forty the half the chain of course which was about another ten tons and then a five thousand gallon fuel tanker was added for good measure. A good load even by todays standards.

The same thing though it had nine useable gears below 32 mph which was as fast as it would go. There was a bog cog around the corner in the triplex box but it was seldom used.

The point I make is that gearing is the key. Not much power is required to move huge loads if the speed is kept down. I try and tell folks that the first casualitys of liquid fuel depletion will be convenience and speed.

Operating that truck at those weights required hundreds of gear changes to traverse any given section of road...pretty much a lost art I am afraid

Hi Scrub,

I really enjoy hearing about your adventures down under.

One of my relatives was still running a Mac B set up as a triaxle dump up until a couple of years ago when he retired.It is so heavy it won't carry a good legal net road on the highway, but it is simply as close to indestructible as a truck can get;on off road earth moving jobs he always loaded it until the dirt was running over the sides, and it would still tow a trailer hauling his 955 Cat track loader.

I have driven it many times.It occupies an honorable spot on his farm, and is still used occasionally to haul logs and so forth.

Shifting is indeed a lost art;personally I seldom ever touched a clutch pedal, except starting from a dead stop.

Driver's wages declined locally about twenty five percent locally when automatic transmissions became widely available in medium size trucks;the contractors started hiring housewives and secretaries, who I must admit make fine drivers-they are safe and dependable, compared to the men I used to work with.But you better not expect one of them to actually get dirty in the event of a breakdown !

Nowadays it is a rarity to see a dump truck or other similar truck operated by a local govt that has a manual transmission;I suppose it would be considered some sort of discrimination to ask drivers to learn how to actually drive before hiring them. ;)

I operated farm tractors, skidders, loaders and even owned a diesel dump truck for many years, but never learned to shift well enough to consider myself a "truck driver". BTW, to whomever above was dissing women for not "getting dirty", you should meet my daughter. Petite, gorgeous and took her driving license on a standard. She'll challenge you to race in any vehicle you like, or help strip it down and re-assemble it.

Some roads.

And when we get to the point we have to depend on trains, we can build trains that can handle steeper grades and sharper curves.The trade offs will be costly of course, but probably well worth the cost

At any rate, I do not anticipate more than a few roads possibly being converted to railroad grade beds;and only then at the last possible moment-when it is no longer feasible to build a new railroad from scratch due to lack of money,machinery, and fuel.

I throw out this possibility mainly as an attempt or example to get people to think outside the box in relation to emergency peak oil mitigation strategies.

We might also build really powerful tractors and put what is in effect a truck train on the highway-a big dump truck with tandem drive axles can haul almost eighteen tons , and with a sufficiently powerful engine and heavy drive line, it could tow a train of five or six trailers. Such trucks are already in use in the Australian outback unless I am mistaken.

Of course it might be necessary to provide a dedicated lane for the exclusive use of such trucks;but this strategy, combined with lowered speeds, could probably about double truck fuel efficiency.

" And when we get to the point we have to depend on trains, we can build trains that can handle steeper grades and sharper curves.The trade offs will be costly of course, but probably well worth the cost .... At any rate, I do not anticipate more than a few roads possibly being converted to railroad grade beds;and only then at the last possible moment-when it is no longer feasible to build a new railroad from scratch due to lack of money,machinery, and fuel."

The best train routes were surveyed decades ago, and merely need to be restored where rights of way were abandoned / lost. It is not feasible to make trains behave like automobiles / trucks - there's a major difference in the rolling resistance of steel wheel on steel rail versus rubber tire on paved road.

The track gauge determines the minimum radius of curvature for standard axles and bogies. Speed can be enhanced by superelevation.

For steep grades, funiculars, cog-wheel and other solutions are available.

Due to road wear, it would be ill advised to build "monster" trucks. Road damage is roughly proportional to the fourth power of the axle load. A 20,000 lb axle causes 16 times as much damage as a 10,000 axle, and 160,000 times as much damage as a 1,000 lb axle (wider tires mitigate the effect slightly). 99% of the traffic damage to roads and highways comes from trucks and buses. Based on the decaying infrastructure, we would be better served if the majority of trucking was shifted to rail. Steel wheel on steel rail is the overall champion when it comes to land transportation.

List of relative efficiency of different forms of transportation:

Some interesting info on railroading:
"... a typical modern wagon can hold up to 113 tonnes of freight on two four-wheel bogies."

The road damage issue is the precise reason trucks are limited by law to their current axle weights;but this regulation is politically determined more so than engineering determined.

Building trucks longer, with more axles, does not increase the effective load on the road;and this can be done easily, given that steering can be incorporated into the axles so the truck does not "plow" straight ahead. It can also be accomplished by adding trailers in effect making the truck into a truck train.Another easily accomplished way to increase the wieght of the truck is simply to add more wheels and tires on existing axles, spreading the footprint of the truck.

It is true that the most practical rail routes were long ago surveyed, and as a consequence many older cities and industries are concentrated along such routes;but when rail becomes a necessity, we are going to have to build a lot of rail along side or on existing highways, as a matter of necessity.That is where the people are nowadays.

Nobody is pointing out any real reason why this cannot be done;it will simply mean that trains will be slower, smaller, lighter, and more expensive to build.But compared to trucks, they will still be far far more energy and resources efficient.

Of course trains will never run on all highways, and certainly not on crooked secondary roads.Of course it will be necessary to straighten some curves, build some tunnels, and so forth-but I will hazard a guess that from fifty to ninety percent of many existing primary highways can be used as roadbed with little or no grading necessary.

And although I am reluctant to actually say so due to a concern for the environment and the tender sensibilities of those who do not yet understand the meaning of "collapse " and "emergency" and "war", trains can be easily fueled directly with coal, cordwood , corn cobs, or any solid bio fuel that is dry and compressed into bricks or ground into a powder.

This is OLD TECHNOLOGY.Trains are in and of themselves constitute their own fuel distribution infrastructure- a point of no small importance in a changing world short of fuel.

Of course I am no better qualified as a prophet than anyone else;none of this may come to pass.But there is no doubt it is technically feasible to do most of this stuff, under emergency conditions.

The road damage issue is the precise reason trucks are limited by law to their current axle weights;but this regulation is politically determined more so than engineering determined.

Somewhat off-topic, but certainly geared for TOD, there's the controversy over shipping equipment for processing oil sands; they're called "megaloads", and there are plans to transport up to 270 of them from Lewiston, Idaho (USA) over Lolo Pass in Montana to the Alberta Sands. Idaho is calling the heaviest loads ever to travel on Idaho roads.

Lewiston is the terminus of the navigable portion of the Snake River which leads to the Columbia and then exits to the Pacific after passing Portland, Oregon.

Here's a link to an article with a picture of one such load.

That smells off. The only working link I could find to an oversized load at that news outlet's site was this

The Montana Department of Transportation has said it is prepared to issue permits for the four shipments, bound for the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, once they're deemed legal in Idaho. The two giant coke drums, built in halves, have been sitting at the Port of Lewiston since last May waiting for permits to move.

Opponents ask Idaho official to reject Conoco oversized loads recommendation

Looks like its heading to Billings, Montana, not the oil sands.

However, I suppose we're now in the "looking glass" territory of opposition to oil sands, where, according to "environmental enthusiasts", anything goes.

Yeah, interesting how the link itself doesn't work:

fix the link and you can read it (add the "H"

LEWISTON, Idaho - Another 12 Korean-manufactured modules have arrived in the Port of Lewiston, bringing the number of megaloads at the port awaiting shipment on northern Idaho's scenic U.S. Highway 12 corridor to 38.
Thirty-four belong to ExxonMobil Corp., which is seeking permits to haul some 200 megaloads through Idaho into Montana and north to the Kearl Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada.
Four of the megaloads belong to ConocoPhillips and are intended for a refinery in Billings, Mont.
Legal challenges are preventing ConocoPhillips from moving its four megaloads through Idaho on the scenic highway.

You can also google "lewiston +megaload" and get lots more links.

Sorry, lengould, too quick to the trigger you are!

Well.... I DID make a legitimate effort to access your provided link. I would further just point out two items. 1) The Oil sands petroleum production with present technology emits about exactly the same CO2 per unit refined output as Arab Heavy shipped in to Texas from the middle east. 2) By adding these coke fueled water-shift hydrogen generating vessels to the process, the producers can eliminate the use of natural gas to generate hydrogen for the pre-refining process and bring their process up to the same rate of emissions as any other petroleum process.

So what's the reason the movement of these drums should be halted, do you think? Simply so that next time they can be brought into Canada through Prince Rupert? Adds a bit of cost, but nothing compared to the hassles indicated here.

Opponents ask Idaho official to reject Conoco oversized loads recommendation

The Montana Department of Transportation has said it is prepared to issue permits for the four shipments, bound for the ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, once they're deemed legal in Idaho. The two giant coke drums, built in halves, have been sitting at the Port of Lewiston since last May waiting for permits to move.

It's true, people in Idaho are blocking four loads of refinery equipment from being shipped from the Port of Lewiston, Idaho to a refinery in Billings, Montana.

It seems that some people in Idaho don't want people in Montana to be able to drive anywhere, if it involves the equipment being shipped to Montana over Idaho roads.

The Army Corps of Engineers, at vast expense, was able to turn Lewiston, Idaho into a port capable of handing massive barge loads coming up the Columbia River, but apparently the concept stops there.

Also, if they were to investigate what the source of the gasoline for their cars was, the people of Idaho and Montana would find that they would not be driving anywhere if they were successful in shutting down the Canadian oil sands. It would be back to horses and wagons for them. The Canadian companies would quite cheerfully sell the oil to China instead.

Hard to believe that would fit on a full blown freeway, never mind Lolo pass. I suppose overpasses would be a problem on most roads, though.

It is amazing that it is enough cheaper (?) to build such things in Korea to make it economic to then ship them across an ocean, up a river, and then across some formidable hills. wow.

Well, it won't fit on a US Interstate highway. However, it will fit on US Highway 12 due to the total lack of overpasses. Not without a little work, though.

Because the two-lane roadway was not engineered to handle loads that wide, Imperial Oil plans to bury power lines and build 53 new turnouts, or improve or widen 22 existing ones along the U.S. 12 corridor.

The movement from Korea and up the Columbia is what makes these loads unusual. They were trying to take the short route. The alternative is to ship them through the Panama Canal, up the East Coast of the US, up the St. Laurence River, into the Great Lakes,to the end of Lake Superior, and then drive them halfway across Canada to the oil sands. They were trying to do it the short way.

They could have build them in Canada, but the oil sands development completely overloaded Canada's industrial capacity, so the oil companies tried to build things as far away from the oil sands as possible. The Koreans are really good at building really big things relatively cheaply.

These kinds of loads are not at all unusual on the roads of Alberta (which can carry much heavier loads that the US Interstate system), but usually they originate in industrial centers in places like Texas or Ontario. Ontario has ports at the head of Lake Superior, while Texas can barge things up the head of the Mississippi River, and from there it's flat unpopulated country, good secondary roads, and non-sensitive local people all the way to the oil sands.

If you want to see what these loads look like, here's Extremely heavy hauling to Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Idaho did have the last stoplight on coast to coast I-90--I guess they wanted the girls in the Wallace house of ill repute to have a better shot at new clients. The interstate there was rerouted and elevated at great federal expense to eliminate the light, which didn't happen until 1991. Its so much more entertaining having fifty states than a baker's dozen provinces and territories ?- )

Must say that Montana and Idaho are great horse country though. Just don't think many folks would get hay in without diesel nor get the farrier to drive a hundred plus miles each way to shoe their critters without petrol. My shoer buddy has always said he does that as a service to humanity as its way more earth friendly for him to drive his light rig to the horses than for their heavy asses to get hauled to his shop.

... but when rail becomes a necessity, we are going to have to build a lot of rail along side or on existing highways, as a matter of necessity.That is where the people are nowadays.

Rail favors high population density development. A restoration of rail needs a parallel transition from sprawl to consolidated population centers.
Of course, there are many variations of rail transport: mainline, interurban, urban, funicular, cogwheel, subway, and so on.
But due to different gradient and radius of curvature and other engineering requirements, it will not be practical to build rail rights of way in parallel to highways. In this case, people will move to where rail serves them.

The road damage issue is the precise reason trucks are limited by law to their current axle weights; but this regulation is politically determined more so than engineering determined.

Political? Yes. Since trucks and buses do 99% of the damage, it's obvious that the gasoline tax made the automobile operators pay for the majority of infrastructure and its repair. If that cost was directly placed on those heavy axle vehicles, they'd be uneconomical to operate.

trains can be easily fueled directly with coal, cordwood , corn cobs, or any solid bio fuel that is dry and compressed into bricks or ground into a powder.

You are referring to STEAM locomotives that boil water with such fuels. "Easily fueled" is not the same as "easy to operate". Steam locomotives are complex, labor intensive machines that are not the solution. They have considerably less thermal efficiency than modern diesels, requiring constant maintenance and labor to keep them operational. Water is required at many points throughout a rail network and becomes a major problem in desert areas.
In fact, they are far more dangerous than diesels or electric locomotives, and unsuitable for long tunnels and were banned in NYC (1903) for good reason. Electric traction is the overall winner.

trains will be slower, smaller, lighter, and more expensive to build. But compared to trucks, they will still be far far more energy and resources efficient.

Trains, depending on configuration, can be faster, bigger, haul more cargo and cheaper to build when compared to trucks (when you include its infrastructure, maintenance and repair).

The lack of point-to-point will require short haul trucks (hybrid?), that will carry far less axle weight to reduce the cost to the infrastructure. continue on the theme. I was flamed rather severely a few months back for even suggesting that a modern version of a steam locomotive that burns coal directly (rather than burning it in a powerhouse to generate electricity that has to be trasmitted to power electric trains) may be a more commonsense approach in many places.

Still FF I know but hey it provides the service and it isn't oil. There are many miles of railtrack servicing small communities that only ever saw a couple of trains a week and they would never be electrified.

And what's this preoccupation with conventional trains anyway? Conventional dump trucks can be adapted to run the rails with a set of hydraulicly operated rail wheels, why can't the same be done with buses?

We have a perfect application for the technology. Our district is becoming a dormitory "suburb" for workers in the major industrial city of Gladstone seventy five kilometers to our north.

Rather than folks driving for fifty minutes before and after the standard twelve hour shift why not put on a bus service? If that makes sense it makes even more sense to put the bus on the rails in my opinion.

OK mac...I take you on in an "intellectual fight" even though I'm nearly out of ammo. Granted it's a somewhat arbitrary fight but we don't have to imagine a transition to a coal economy (in the US anyway). We use a lot of oil products in the US but a huge chunk is for transportation. Granted it does have a value to economic growth but much of our gasoline is voluntarially consumed (meaning we choose low milage vehicles and many non-essential trips) with a minimal impact of growth IMHO. OTOH much of our electrical consumption is absolutely necessary to the economy. I don't have the link but I recall seeing many years ago a chart showing how it was an ever increasing rate of coal consumption that fueled the expansion an e production in this country. I doubt it's coincidental that this expansion of e generation by coal burning followed the price ramp up of oil in the late 70's. IOW we've been in a transition to a coal burning economy for at least 30 least from an e generation standpoint. Folks can go on endlessly about the harmful env. impact of burning coal but it hasn't changed our consumption pattern. And China? Last I heard they were still putting one new coal burning e plant on every 3 weeks. And still killing around 100 coal miners every week (month?).

IMHO about all we'll see different is more movement to coal as PO affects increase. I don't care to get into future coal production arguments. But if the increase demand for oil has led us to drilling in 7,000' of water and spending several billion $'s on a single offshore production system I'll guess there will be a lot of capital pushed towards developing a lot of coal resources that today aren't being counted as viable. Just 15 years ago few thought producing 300,000 bopd from 5,000' of water in the GOM was a viable possibility either.

Hi Rockman,

As I have noted before, there are no rocks between your ears.

You points are well made, and in fundamental terms,and on the grand scale, I believe your case is basically self evident.

The industrial world really runs by necessity and in fact on electricity, rather than oil, in the last analysis.

My thinking, and probably that of most others who think in similar terms, is highly colored by what I perceive to be the likely political and economic repercussions of peak oil and ng.

My estimate of these repercussions is that they will come thick and fast, and that a huge number of very nasty positive feedback loops will develop, the end result being that very large scale projects, or society wide changes in lifestyles, may become economic or physical impossibilities.Collapse would then follow as the logical result.

If the current system of "business as usual" turns out to be tougher and more durable politically and economically than most of us doomer types think, your scenario may well play out as reality.

Rockman and Oldfarmermac, Nice exchange. I think that past experience would indicate that we, the old US of A will not move quickly enough to replace declining resources and will find ourselves battling, economically for the remaining resources so that the new required coal infrastructure will be out bid by the existing SUV/pickup infrastructure.

Here in Hawaii we face an interesting challenge, with my home, Kauai, having 95 percent of all usable energy supplied by oil. We know about the problem, we have grandiose plans to address the problem by 2050, laughable in my opinion, but have made painfully little progress.

An example of how this slowly manifests into a ridiculous problem is the current state of Hawaii's livestock industry. Most ranchers grow cows to 600 pounds or so on grass pasture. To then grow a feedlot cow from about 600 pounds to a marketable 1200 pounds requires, roughly, 2 and 1/2 tons of feed. The high price of oil and corn have pushed the price of feed, delivered to Hawaii, to between, $400 and $600 per ton. Approximately $200 is shipping. This makes the growth of the animal beyond 600 pounds uneconomic.

The solution, ship the 600 pound animal to the mainland to be fattened and slaughtered there. Lawsuits by PETA have limited ocean shipping as it is tough on the animals, so many have resorted to shipping the cows by AIR. So we fly cows to California and fly the meat back. Makes sense right?

And you expect us to face our energy problems with a rational mindset? Sorry, IMHO it won't happen.

That is probably the most absurd thing I have heard this year! Its right up there with Australia exporting just as much butter to New Zealand as we import from them. What hppens if you just let the cattle keep feeding on the grass?

The rate of growth slows since grass is not as efficient at growing cattle as corn. And, they are not as valuable.

I grew up in the middle west; some friends had a stocker outside of town where the size of farm was about 600 acres. They had a large pen where the cattle were held and fed; the surrounding land was farmed for corn/ which was chopped into silage, cobs, stalks, leaves and all. Large open pit silos had augers in the bottom that fed the fed into troughs on the sides of the pens. The pens had concrete floors, with spaces between them through which waste ran into a large pit beneath the pen. Tractors with blades and bucket scoops pushed the poop out and it was loaded onto wagons and spread out on the fields as fertilizer, so it was a very efficient operation.The cattle were scarcely able to move; and because the corn silage fermented (in winter the tops were snow free) the feed was basically white lightening. Those cattle were drunk (I saw a few fall over from intoxication, and more than once noted them lurching in drunken abandon).

Range cattle are lean, tough, and weigh less than penned cattle. Interestingly, the folks I knew who had that farm kept a few 'special' cattle in a smaller pen, hand fed and tended them, and did not even allow them as much room as their stocker allowed. Those cattle were prime grade, and we used to buy 1/2 a head at a time, put up and frozen. Good eating!

So, bottom line, keep them on grass and they do not grow as fast or fat.


Amazing, otherwise, regarding transition, if the US had the slightest intention of trying a transition, the first thing they would do is to increase their totally ridiculous gas tax in order to ignite and accelerate a transition (with big 4x4 and SUV representing 55% of vehicle sales in Dec 2010, proportion having increased throughout 2010). As they don't do it, it is rather clear that absolutely nothing will be done.
The decision to commit full economic suicide has obviously been taken on their part.

I'm always ambivalent about a gas tax because it is inherently regressive. It will drive more commuters to default and bankruptcy.

Could you precise a bit what you mean by "regressive" ??

Consider a "country"(humans + nature + technological infrastructure) A, which has a given amount per year of fossile fuel to burn

A tax does not change the country GDP, it just pushes any investment decision (personal or at any group level) towards better efficiency and less consumption of fossile fuel.
In other words it can only accelerate the necessary changes (and in the process keep a big part of the money within the country instead of providers countries), whithout having to define the solution (a major plus compared to subsidies), only pushing everything ahead of time.

The purpose is really to change the infrastructure (in a very general sense, from cars to buildings, appliances, transport infrastructure etc)

In what way is it regressive ? (besides the fact that you probably hate the word tax) ?

Do you realize the ridiculous level of gas taxation in the US ?

Do you realize the gain that the US could make just on their cars fleet ? But that it takes some TIME !

Granted, the more times goes by, the more it appears that the USs has completely given up, covering up everything by printing money, so why bother, a bit sad it doesn't even try to do something ..

Also don't forget that these taxes having to be based on volume and not price percentage (the case in most countries), the tax also smooth the end products price variations compared to the raw material price variations.

If you're going to respond to my posts, please don't start with assumptions and a pejorative approach. Next time, both barrels.

You can't possibly fail to understand what a regressive tax is, so I will ignore the question. Also, I was talking about the US - but it is regressive everywhere - and for most Americans what we drive for work and shopping is a pretty inflexible cost.

I understand the rationale and the benefits, which is why I said I was agnostic, meaning no opinion one way or the other, which implies a conflict perspective.

"Do you realize the ridiculous level of gas taxation in the US ?"

You feriners always fail to consider the miles we drive vs. the miles you drive, and the fact you have truly viable alternatives while most Americans do not. This is not an excuse, but a practical dilemma. I have, for example, yet to put less than 24k miles on my car in any given year. I can't find stats for Europe, but apparently the US avg. /year is 15k. Add to this the lower avg. gas mileage, and the costs might be pretty different.

Anyone got stats?

But all this is truly kind of irelevant with respect to puting a tax or not, somehow it just sounds like : We are entitled to consume so much for our cars because we need it and are used to do it, so we should be able to fill our tanks for a price allowing to continue everything this way.

By considering only the mpg aspect without changing the miles driven, it is clear that gaining 20% is perfectly feasible for the US, here things can also be considered much more on gaining some percentage through different solution due to the change of the cost curves, more than having to define a "grand solution"

And again the point is nothing more than to accelerate infrastructure changes towards a situation that in ANY CASE will happen, to transfer a part of the OPEX being burnt and bought from producers, towards some CAPEX intented to reduce the necessary OPEX for a similar functionality (or less decreased from what it would have been without the tax), nothing more.

Well it could be a graduated fuel tax which would be designed drive people of moderate means into car pooling while allowing the wealthy to burn fuel to their hearts content-at an ever increasing tax rate as their consumption rose. Hmmm...wonder if a cap at the very top of the graduated scale of say a mere $50 tax per gallon would cause the private jet travel to cease. A complex solution but in the US we do seem to like complex tax solutions. Such a tax scheme does have the advantage of being near infinitely tunable and of course the disadvantages of being able to be mismanaged and/or corrupted into oblivion.

Seems to me that these tax on raw materials should be as homogeneous as possible amongst the usages and the people buying the products, again the point here is to gain time towards a situation where the market price of the product will have increased.

There should for sure also be some redistribution mechanism (can be 100% per capita as proposed by Hansen), but these resdistribution mechanism can, and should, be thought out totally independently from the homogeneous tax aspect.

As far as I know the couple of times I've mentioned the idea of a graduated fuel tax (similar to the principle of the graduated income tax but dependent on quantity of fuel used rather the amount of income) on these boards over the last year or two are the only times the idea has ever been floated anywhere. I believe the idea is worthy of study.

The effect would be the same as fuel rationing but would occur in a market system shaped by tax schemes. That isn't a radical departure from the way many things being done now and it might have a greater, more surgically controlled and more positive net behavior changing effect than a blunt resource tax would.

Of course I might be totally off the wall, but the idea, though a bit complicated to implement (use categories and other considerations would certainly have to be incorporated), seems worthy of serious consideration.

To me the major drawback of these schemes is that:
1) they are subject to plenty of cheats, grey markets and way arounds
2) they need a full per citizen accounting system to be implemented

A straight tax has the major (huge) advantage that it can be implemented in a fully anonymous way regarding consumption (besides being way simpler to implement and therefore less costly)

And the redistribution mechanism can be completly decoupled from the tax, if you take the 100% direct redistribution as proposed by Hansen for instance, it leads to the same result : people not consuming a lot end up positive, the ones consuming a lot negative

Almost all fuel in the US is bought with credit cards right now--that means a near full personal accounting of personal fuel consumption and a lack of anonymity already exits here. I'm not about to read Hansen as his name has been bandied about here in ways that make the mere sound of it unpalatable to me. Direct redistribution just has too much of a Russia 1917-> ring to it to sell in the US. Cheats and grey markets will show up in any system implemented.

If everyone was given a set starting amount of untaxed fuel after which the graduated tax set in ride sharing in better mileage rigs might happen very quickly--fuel tax credit could actually be accrue from use of public transport. Sure a market for unused fuel credits would spring up--heck it could even be part of the tax program. Of course no one would be required to use the graduated tax card for purchase--they could just choose to buy with cash, but the cash price would also incorporate the highest tax rate for the use category. The whole concept just sounds insane enough to work in the US. If there is money to be made in the private sector by servicing a tax system it could get very powerful lobby support. That last piece always seems to trump some tax being cheaper to implement.

"I'm not about to read Hansen as his name has been bandied about here in ways that make the mere sound of it unpalatable to me. Direct redistribution just has too much of a Russia 1917-> ring to it to sell in the US."

Seriously? Can we not raise the level of discourse to a more mature level? The man is a scientist, and you won't read his work because of third party opinions?


If I wanted better info on radiative transfer and the like I would read Hansen. My reading list is long enough and I don't need to be convinced that human activity is very likely the big catalyst in the most recent warming. I grasped the concept of humans whittling away at the fulcrum that keeps the solar input and the earth's ecosystems in current balance back in the early 70s. Hansen has since helped to identify the knife with which we are doing the whittling. Hansen's science credentials are outstanding though not unassailable, but they are not what I was referring to.

My discussion was about tax structure and direct redistribution of wealth and Hansen has no credentials in those areas. Actually a lifetime dedicated to research in the physical sciences may be the worst of credentials for designing schemes to reengineer social behavior. Canonization and demonization following the same idol always throw up my red flags.

Hansen redistribution proposal is only about the revenue of the GAS TAX (or carbon tax in general), that is, if the revenue of the tax for month n is $10000 and there are 1000 citizens, everybody gets $10 for this month from this tax (plus he adds half part for every children up to two), so a guy that has consumed for less than the amount corresponding to $10 tax is positive, the other negatives, don't see how this is soviet like, more like a simple (and cheap) way to implement personal carbon credit in a fully anonymous way.
To me the ability of the system to be able to run in fully anonymous way is truly essential (and paying with a credit card is different from recording all the payment in a central fashion to run the system)

The redistribution doesn't need to be 100% of course, part can stay in the government for infrastructure.

But a simple volume based tax has the huge advantage of simulating highest product price in advance, influencing the investment decisions with the revenue staying in the country, exactly what is needed.

And of course the associated communication should be geared first and foremost on the necessity to manage the transition, much more than climate change (even if I'm not a denialist at all)

To me the ability of the system to be able to run in fully anonymous way is truly essential

Why? Income taxes aren't anonymous. How do you anonymously redistribute the tax? Obviously the homeless street person wouldn't be responsible for emitting much carbon, how would they get their credit? There certainly would seem to be the potential for quite the redistribution of wealth to people living over waste heat vents if the redistribution system truely worked in a fair manner--your right not very soviet at all, everything was supposed to belong to the workers in that system. Nothing about redistribution credits would be simple.

It seems very unlikely the flat carbon tax would not be regressive. The cost of the carbon tax would of necessity be embedded in all the down stream products. The crappy heating systems and lousy appliances in cheap flats would be bleeding poor renters much harder than imagined--the landlords wouldn't be picking up the tab. Even harder hit would be the just making it homeowner who has to commute by car twenty or thirty miles each way to get to the jobs that pay enough to cover house payments. He can't move closer to work because then the houses cost more. He can't work closer to home because then the pay is lower. These folks are in the biggest bind, regardless of what comes down the pike.

(and paying with a credit card is different from recording all the payment in a central fashion to run the system)

not much different, ask anyone one whose credit has been totally befouled rightly or wrongly by the almost untouchable credit bureaus.

In the US we need to go after our driving habits first as much because they are the easiest target as for any other reason (of course driving habits are tightly intertwined with our land use). Raising electric prices with a sizeable carbon tax on electrical generation at the same time is very likely a great recipe for economic retreat and it certainly won't help move the fleet to mostly electric. The start may be thirty years late but it will still have to be phased in segment at a time. There will be nothing simple about the process if it works. It will all be quite simple if it crashes.

All what you describe regarding the tax being "regressive" is what will happen anyway without tax, the difference being that a tax may have in the mean time changed the infrastructure and way of life to make them more resilient to the new market price.
And the redistribution aspect is there to make it not regressive (in the sense affect the poor more than the rich, sorry had to look that up not native English speaker)

Of course the tax is not meant to solve the fundamental problems, the only point is :

Country A and B at year Y oil price P consumption C (per year) (A and B supposed to be equivalent in all aspects)

B set up a tax, A doesn't

At year Y+n , oil price is P+p

We can expect that between Y and Y+n, B has increased its efficiency/lower its consumption so that is is less affected than A, that is all. To take a concrete example, it is clear that current car fleet in Europe is more efficient in terms of mpg than the US one, and the years of much higher gas tax in Europe clearly has played a role there.

As to the redistribution not being anonymous with Hansen system (which doesn't need to be applied on the full 100% of tax revenue), it is indeed anonymous in the sense that everybody gets the same amount, and even if you add some rules depending on current tax level of the citizens, the whole point is that you don't need to set up a full accounting system tracking all consumptions, for me this remains truly essential (both for simplicity reasons and for much less control required aspects).

I do believe you will be very disappointed when you see how convoluted a proposed simple carbon tax will have become if and when one is implemented. Simple it will not be and redistributions, if they occur, will be a joke.

I've seen how people of modest means but with some assets budget their cell phone minutes to keep from paying a premium. The graduated fuel tax would give the same sort of simple incentive toward behavior change. It would not be that different in concept from peak and off peak minutes or electric rates except it would be solely based on volume used. No one buys their electricity anonymously, and a very low percentage of cell phone minutes are sold anonymously. I've a feeling sort of lack of anonymity my proposal would require would not be too big an issue, at least here in the US.

Likely such a system would not be implemented without necessity approaching that which brought war time rationing in the 1940s...
My proposed graduated tax is a rationing system, one which allows you to buy larger and larger allotments but only at higher and higher tax rates. Rich enough people would have much more of the less used roads to themselves for merely paying five or ten or twenty times as much for fuel as the base rate. They would have to voluntarily transfer their private wealth to the public sector for that privilege. Who could complain ?- ) After cap and trade falls flat and nothing else gets implemented and the time to change is probably past some such system might just happen anyway...why not give it some real study before we are in those straits.

Again to me limiting the necessary flow of information/data "per citizen" in order to implement a tax/redistribution or rationing system should be a top criteria, but granted this is an opinion.

For instance there is this proposal (or project didn't check the current status) in Holland/Belgium, to set up a GPS tracking device in all vehicles, to centrally monitor the miles traveled for all vehicles, and then to have a tax/monthly bill set up from this data. I find it outrageous (and wouldn't be suprised that the systems developers have a key lobbying role in this thing being set up).

A flat tax has the huge advantage of simulating the price of the product simply being higher on the market, ie accelerating the product scarcity impact (but transfering burning OPEX funds towards infrastrcture adaptation in the mean time).
Add to that that it is much simpler and cheaper to implement, and that for the US for instance, that would be about afew cents/gallon in the beginning.

And I think it is very different from peak and off peak electric rate, peak and off peak electric rates are "state less" or instantaneous data, they do not need any historical data per citizen to be implemented/computed/accounted.

And the domain where the bulk of the desired level of redistribution should take place should be (and is most of the times) on the income tax (but again an opinion for sure)

Key point to me remains that we are not paying the real price for raw material products, in the sense that the price doesn't include the capital represented by these raw materials being depleted. So taxes on raw materials should aim at introducing part of this cost in the raw material prices (and the associated price signal meant to influence all investments and way of life decisions).

I very much understand the key point.

As for the other objections: not requiring historical data does not mean neither the phone nor electric company have the data. Phone records are so readily available they could almost be considered public. My proposal certainly does not require near the disclosure a GPS tracking system would require. True a central accounting of the fuel used per person would give divorce lawyers one more tidbit to use when they are trying to prove infidelity...but not near as good of stuff as they would get from the GPS tracking.

I'm not a fan of flat taxes in general but sometimes for the sake of simplictiy that is all that can be implemented. I wouldn't hold my breath on their universal implementation in the OEDC much less elsewhere. Other proposal need to be studied as well, and mine, which approaches rationing, will hardly be off the tabele at some future point in time.

"I wouldn't hold my breath on their universal implementation in the OEDC much less elsewhere. "

Amongst OECD countries, the US (and Canada to a lesser extend) are the exception regarding having high flat volume based tax on Gas or not, and you also have CURRENTLY high flat volume based taxes in plenty of other countries. (found a great graph on this with almost all the countries in a German report but cannot find it back right now)

I believe you forgot about Mexico, which believe it or not, is part of the OECD

This 2007 retail fuel price/tax chart might shed some light:

You'll note that the four countries with the lowest tax portion of the retail price have the largest land masses. Canada is about 18 times the size of France, the US, Australia and Mexico 17 times 14 and 3 1/2 times its size respectively. And of course the US, I believe, has more developed road miles than the other three largest OECD countries added together. When it comes to fuel taxes country size, thus the spread of the infrastructure, matters.

High flat fuel tax has been opposed vigorously in the US. My proposal may or may not be off the wall, but something needs to happen to get us off the dime. For the last few decades a high flat fuel tax has proved not to be that something.

But fuel taxes are not the whole or even the largest portion of the tax load when taxing carbon at the source (I'm not sure how the livestock industry, with its high methane production, fits into this scheme). China is even less likely than the US to jack up its electric rates with a carbon tax--that appears to be the big rub in our negotiations does it not.

"For the last few decades a high flat fuel tax has proved not to be that something."

Uh ? Since when not putting something in place proves anything about its efficiency or whatever ?
And fuel tax is about mitigating/surviving peak oil as much as, or even more than CO2/climate change (even if I'm not a denier at all)

Again on mpg alone, without even talking miles driven, huge improvment are potentially there for the US (but it takes time)

Point remains the same : The US not increasing its gas tax and keeping on putting SUVs on the roads, just shows that it is fully commited towards pursuing total economic suicide, that is all.

From today's drumbeat :

Jeremy Grantham On Ignoring Eisenhower And The Two Most Dangerous Industries In America

The financial resources of the carbon-based energy companies are particularly terrifying, and their effective management of propaganda goes back decades. They established and funded “independent” think tanks and even non-profit organizations that have mysteriously always come out in favor of policies favorable to maintaining or increasing the profits of their financial supporters.

The campaign was well-organized and has been terrifyingly effective. And the results speak for themselves: which other developed country has so little gas tax? Not one. And better yet, which other country now accepts the myth that good red-blooded Americans will never stand for such a tax? That is the real art. It has created an environment in which we cannot aspire to the social responsibility – and a higher gas tax is simply that – of, say, the Italians (the most agreeable people on the planet, in my opinion, but not noted for making tough political decisions). Which other developed country has had no improvement in fuel efficiency because it has reinvested the considerable technological advances in heavier SUVs, with no real need for most other than the nurturing of their macho instincts? Not one.

quite clear

"For the last few decades a high flat fuel tax has proved not to be that something."

Uh ? Since when not putting something in place proves anything about its efficiency or whatever ?

Sorry, as you are not an English speaker I shouldn't have left so much unsaid between the lines.

Three, four, five decades and no high flat fuel tax has been implemented in the US. That indicates a different tack best be tried because the high flat tax has fallen flat on its face every time it has been seriously proposed.

So I propose a fuel tax that is graduated. It would be very complicated but as such has never been proposed before we don't know if it would meet the same resisitance to implementation as the high flat tax has. The beauty of a graduated tax is that it is not quite as blunt an instrument as a flat tax and can be shaped to have aspects that are saleable to the public while it pushes the transportation sector toward the desired fuel use goals.

People will know they are paying a set tax for set fuel use levels, that is very straight forward. A system that requires faith in the fair redistribution of tax credits of the taxes that people have paid through invisible markups to everyone who is in the production chain above them is not near that straight forward. We are not afraid of complicated taxes in this country--whole industries thrive on them. As I said before my proposal may just be insane enough to work in the US.

Luke, frankly I think you are wrong, but yes this is clearly an opinion, and I think that you are somehow "bargaining" with the issue and associated giant challenge.

As said above the fact that Americans could not accept raising a flat tax on gas is I think a total myth, and in this domain my position is that a flat tax is the only workable approach, associated to completely decoupled redistribution mechanisms. People understand that a product has a given price at a given time.

Doesn't mean that Rationing will not become a reality, but at that time it will be in a WAR economy.

And to me the size of the challenge shouldn't be used as an "excuse" to increase per citizen control, on the contrary increasing people knowledge and self responsibility, while maintaining liberty and privacy as key values, remains the way to go.

And to me the size of the challenge shouldn't be used as an "excuse" to increase per citizen control, on the contrary increasing people knowledge and self responsibility, while maintaining liberty and privacy as key values, remains the way to go.

A nice thought but it certainly does not describe the road we are on. Been to a airport lately? The inconvenience and lack of privacy certainly do dampen the desire to travel.

A main objective of a graduated fuel tax design is to quickly add extra incentive for ride sharing and for use of public transit. Several people pooling their monthly low tax fuel allotment would have the savings of their pooling multiplied substantially. The graduation could have very sharp rise at each step if that proved most effective.

I don't see the major privacy issue in this you do. People are more than willing to have their every purchase tracked by multiple retailers whose data is owned by who knows who for a few dollars a month in discounts. We do this every time we scan any store 'membership' card with a purchase.

I rather see a much greater problem in how to graduate the tax rate and how to create the fair user classes. But I do far prefer taxes that are placed closer to the end of the chain than at its beginning. Taxes taken at the beginning multiply as everyone down the chain adds their percent take to the price passed to them.

It was interesting that you chose, a couple comments above, to bring up Ike. No doubt he had great insight and could connect the dots far better than most. But it was Dwight that began the US Interstate Highway system. That massive undertaking changed the landscape of the America as much as the railroads had near a century before, and is at the core of why we don't have high fuel taxes and and of why our cities have sprawled over huge areas of the richest farmland in the world. Actions we take are full of unforeseen consequences. I doubt Eisenhower could have imagined the mire those interstate highways would eventually create.

The time to have started a tax was 30 years ago. A small tax with a small increase each year, maybe 1-2%. That would have been absorbed into the national psyche long ago. Now, difficult to impossible. Still flat is better than one. To make a scaled tax would be difficult however you do it, maybe use annual vehicle tax for that part. Flat will still relate to the owner's wealth to some degree. The richer are more likely to have the multiple fuel pigging SUVs and the poor, fewer, smaller, more economical vehicles.


Tax policy is a public policy issue. He is every bit as qualified as all other citizens, and his treatment of tax and dividend is better than cap and trade by a long shot.

I of course wasn't suggesting cap and trade was I. Of course Hansen has the same right to a citizen's say as all other citizens, but saying he is as qualified as all other citizens when it comes to proposing workable social behavior changing tax schemes is almost like saying all other citizens are as qualified as he when interpreting climate data...To quote one of our celebrity citizens who is nearly equally unqualified in all fields except PR 'say it isn't so Joe' ?- )

wrong, luke. we are all equally qualified via our one vote per. and that, as they say, is that.

and i said nothing about you saying something about cap and trade. the comment was highlighting hansen's qualifications, which you dismiss, via citizenship. he came up with a better scheme, which shows him more qualified than... everyone else.

ivory towers are frustrating things.

Ivory towers are what they portend to be. Few on the outside realize how isolated occupants of the chambers within keep themselves. Trade union leaders could be taught a thing or two about protecting turf by university department heads.

'Carbon tax should be revenue neutral.'

Next pop on the square rose coloreds and John Lennon's 'Imagine' because down on the ground outside of the ivory towers (which have a huge amount of their sustenance gleaned from taxes that are anything but revenue neutral) that kind of money getting collected by a government has never been and will never be revenue neutral.

Since the revenue neutral part is integral to selling the carbon tax scheme and since everyone knows that a huge revenue neutral tax is but a pipe dream how does that unsellable scheme rate as the best there is?

there's reality, then there's delusion. current conditions are the delusion, a low-carbon future the necessary reality. we have two choices: change or die. that's not alarmism or hyperbole, that's reality.

so, keep the delusion or accept reality, but don't confuse which is which.

Well national behavior change on a global scale does occur. But the only major recent one that comes to mind is that since August of 1945 major powers have avoided shooting wars with one another. That change was brought about by enough people coming to understand the magnitude of destruction a mere 'instant' of nuclear weapon use would bring about.

The path to the current stand down was most unpredictable. Who would have thought a nuclear arms races would actually make the shadow of doom recede. Certainly none of us who were in the attack drills crouching under our school desks when the sirens sounded (a useless drill for what it meant to accomplish but a very effective way to imprint the enormity of our destructive capabilities on midwest grade school kids).

This is a much more difficult threat to grapple with. Expect the deliberate path if, there is one, to a low carbon future to be filled with unforeseen turns, both into blind alleys and hidden paths forward. This will be more my kids' fight than mine. Good luck avoiding the pitfalls of dogmatism and demagoguery. Any path forward will be much more of a muddle than can be contained any vision.

mac - I haven't given up my somewhat doomerish hat. While I think coal expansion is inevitable I don't see it as a game changer....more of a game delayer. And not without a healthy price tag. But life is always full of trade offs. Further disrupting the climate by increased coal burning isn't a good thing. OTOH if we can cut down the number of shiney aluminium boxes flying into Dover that would be a good thingk. Folks talk about "transition" all the time. But there is one critical factor in the process that can't be sidestepped: time. For all the expectations of alts etc I can't see any significant benefit of such a switch unless we have a few decades to make this move. For all its negatives coal seems to have the potential to give us time. But we're back to the same basic problem we've always had: not taking advantage of planning (and more importantly implamenting) by utilizing this extra time. That's the point where I have trouble giving up a doomish expectations. Just damn hard to shake the mental image of those transports unloading after dark.


Off topic. Your opinion of NG saving the planet ('clean' fuel forever), and suggested reading.



Rockman, we've pretty much stopped building new coal burners in the US. We haven't started a new one in the last two years. We shut down 8% of our existing plants last year and marked another 40-50 for closure during the next few years.

We're replacing coal with NG (a mixed blessing), wind, solar and geothermal plus cutting overall electricity usage via conservation and efficiency.

How about spending less energy worrying about late night transports and more energy helping to find ways to avoid worst case outcomes? We've got the technology right now to largely replace coal and oil. Switching to those renewable technologies quickly would let existing fossil fuels provide us niche fuels for centuries.

Bob - valid points for sure. But what I reject completely is the possibility of "Switching to those renewable technologies quickly". I've read every post speculating on how quickly this "might be done" but nothing to show a path that will be done. More specufically a path the American consumer will support enough to make a difference. We stopped building coal fired plants for several good reasons. Cheap oil/NG was a big factor along with environmental concerns. Cheap oil is gone. Cheap NG will only be here for another 4 or 5 years IMHO. In the long term coal is our abundant resource that will be cost effective for our future growth. I have absolute faith in the public willingness to accept all the negatives of increased coal burning as long as it offers some potential to maintain BAU. My opinion has nothing to do with right or wrong or what might be doable. It's strictly based on how I expect the public will demand matters be handled and the desire of politicians to give the public exactly what they want to ensure their re-election.

WW2... all that happened in just 6 yrs

You and I disagree on what the public will demand over the next few years. The economy is on the road to recovery and most people are over their fear of a depression. That allows them to look at longer term problems.

Extreme weather events are getting people's attention. Massive heat wave deaths in Russia. Massive floods in Nashville, Vietnam, Pakistan, Australia. Huge snow storms. Unusually strong storms with record winds and tornadoes well out of their normal range.

With wind cheap and solar getting cheaper every day people are going to want a move away from fossil fuels. And as they realize that cleantech is creating good American jobs they will insist on more renewables.

That's how I see it.

The economy is on the road to recovery and most people are over their fear of a depression.

I suggest you take a long(er) look at charts of the Great Depression before declaring victory.

None of the underlying causes of this crisis have been dealt with, the undulating plateau undulates on, housing prices are still falling and foreclosures have picked up steam.

Where is the recovery? In finance wizardry driven by free money taken from our pockets to Wall Street's. What do you know that I don't?

For what it is worth, I will hazard the opinion or guess that the climate will NOT be knocked TOTALLY topsy turvy by burning whatever minable coal is actually out there over the next half century or so for the simple reason that the Four Horsemen will prevent it being burned at anywhere near the anticipated rates used by climate modelers.

As cynical as it may sound, I hope you are right. But I fear you maye not be. The worst case scenario in my book is that when FF starts to decline, we will turn to burn everything we can get our hands on. We will use tar sands, we will use shale gas, we will use coal in ground gasification, and worst of all, we will turn to the forests for wood char coal. None of these will give us the energy to replace FF. But they may actually manage to keep up the CO2 emissions, given how they are more carbon intensive.

The worst of both cliamte change and peak oil. Water world AND Mad Max.

For what it is worth, I will hazard the opinion or guess that the climate will NOT be knocked TOTALLY topsy turvy by burning whatever minable coal is actually out there over the next half century

You are actually closer to the truth than you think OFM. Much of the climate modelling shows that climate change, over the next 50 years is going to be happening along fairly flat trajectory, despite whatever emissions are put in to the atmosphere during that time. The real damage is expected to be done in the latter half of the century but the extent of it will be determined by the level of emissions and the ultimate stabilised (peak) level of GHG concentration.

I do think the IPCC has been sloppy in the area of FF reserve estimates and has ignored much of this sort of modelling. For all the sophistication of climate change models they have yet to produce an adequate scenario for oil decline which leads to overall economic decline which leads to lower emissions.

All the scenarios that are non-interventionist assume a readily avaiable FF substitute for oil in the form of coal or NG which IMO is a sloppy and lazy assumption. It is a scenario that should be included but won't be because of the political implications that it may suggest that dangerous climate change is not only avaoidable but impossible, but also that economic and energy decline is unavoidable and that a completley new historical epoch is upon us.The Four Horsemen indeed have saddled up and moved out, cantering perhaps but definitely working up to a gallop.

so much bs. the ipcc scenarios include lower ff use scenarios. there is no need to claim otherwise. non-interventionist? what the heck does that mean and how is it relevant?

first, the ipcc is currently formulating the next report. you have no idea what will or will not be included. since people as eminent in the field as Hansen are aware of such flawed work as that of rutledge, it's pretty unlikely lower scenarios won't be included.

second, reserves are irrelevant. as with po, it is all about production.

third, perhaps you are unaware that all scenarios from all sources are underestimating change thus far. that is, events in the given scenarios are being seen decades and centuries ahead of time.

fourth, as Hansen points out, it doesn't matter how much we can't burn if have already burned too much. Any additional is suicidal, so the people being sloppy are the non-climate scientists and laymen telling the world we don't need to worry about burning reserves because we can't possibly push the planet too far. it's delusional thinking that completely ignores that anything over 300 ppm is strongly indicated to be too much. that is really badly done risk assessment.


enjoy a little reality.

the ipcc scenarios include lower ff use scenarios. there is no need to claim otherwise.

Firstly my opinion related specifically to oil decline, not fossil fuels in general. I also called for a scenario in which oil decline triggers economic decline which lowers overall demand for all fossil fuels. Even the B2-ASF scenario, which does include near exhaustion of oil and gas in about 40 years time, assumes that coal will step in to take up the slack with plenty of synthetic fuels to go around to ensure rising per capita incomes for everyone. There's the bs, but be my guest and show me even one IPCC emissions scenario that includes a major economic depression and maybe one with a nuclear exchange in the middle east for good measure?

I don't know how long you have been lurking here but there are plenty of narrative scenarios in the TOD archive that are far more realistic about the energy future than the IPCC fairy tales that are specifically designed to be served up to governments that refuse to contemplate a world in economic decline.

Oh and an expalnation of the non-interventionist scenarios can be found on page 175 of the Working Group III Contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC. 2007, Cambridge University Press.

And please use proper capitalisation next time too.

telling one how to type is just rude. call eecummings if you've an issue, but don't bother excoriating me for doing so. when i start writing like memmel used to, you can complain.

on to the fun.

the complaints about the ipcc scenarios are either straw men (creating an issue that is not there) or a red herring (irrelevant.) on one level, they are straw men. you are complaining about PO and Peak Coal not being included in a report written well before either were part of the national dialogue. it's a joke to insult them for this. it makes no sense. the data used all had to be submitted by 2005! please, let us be intelligent about our critique, let alone fair.

on the other hand, we are talking a load of red fish. i pointed out above that any additional ff burning cannot be tolerated, so it is all the more irrelevant. in fact, just recently an assessment came out that the changes we are seeing now mean that the expected changes at +2C and higher must all be reassessed because we are already seeing changes we should not have seen until we hit those higher temperatures.

to be clear, whether you accept rutledge's numbers, the ipcc's numbers (which, by the way, are not theirs, but taken from whomever the authorities were they relied on, s oall the more pointless to complain about it. it's like saying I should blamed for relying on the weather forecast to know the weather tomorrow) or the numbers of the bookie on the corner is completely irrelevant because we have already pushed the climate too far and will be adding even more over the next decades. worse, nature is getting in on the act blowing clathrates and permafrost. if you want to reduce carbon expectations for ff's, you will still end up putting even more carbon back in via those to sources. i guarantee you clathrates and permafrost will be in the next ipcc report.

much ado about nothing, and an issue raised, in terms of climate, by denialists of various stripes. you realize rutledge, e.g., started his coal reserves research with the idea of arguing against climate science, i hope. it is a useful question in terms of energy and po, but is irrelevant to climate, as i have explained.

if none of this makes sense to you, please ask for clarification - but not capitals.

...IPCC fairy tales that are specifically designed to be served up to governments that refuse to contemplate a world in economic decline...

biased much?

see previous on sources for reserves info. i'm really doubting the ipcc climate scientists set the reserves numbers for the planet. ymmv.

while the ipcc is forced to soften their voice on climate due to political pressure, it's absurd to try to claim they actually try to make it worse than it is. the sessions were well-reported, and the scientists are known to have to make the truth less frightening, not more.


"IPCC fairy tales that are specifically designed to be served up to governments that refuse to contemplate a world in economic decline"

I hesitate to go further down this rabbit hole, since details of what is and isn't said on particular pages of the IPCC report get us pretty far afield from the main topic.

But the report in general is, as you said, partly influenced by governments and what certain governments would be able to contemplate. But remember that this kind of influence was happening from the other side, too, and probably much more powerfully--any errors on the side of overestimating reserves were more than balanced by vast underestimations of, for example, the rate of Arctic sea ice collapse, and simple non-estimation of the effects of methane (and some other 'slow') feed backs, feed backs that may be hard to model completely accurately, but that we know will have (and are already having) significant accelerating effects on GW.

It is amazing how I can look up something in 10 seconds and find and disprove vast misconceptions.

1. Certain areas of the planet are decreasing and some would like to point to that but...other areas are increasing and the total is doing just fine..

Search "global sea ice" and read the facts that are widespread.

Look at this graphic depiction of global sea ice since 1979 when it was first recorded...not at all convincing of anything at all

All the charts since 1979 and to date (there are more recent ones than the 09 chart I happened to pull first) show a very steady slightly modulating and generally very unconcerning pattern with global ice currently near a 30 year high. Certainly not at all clear evidence as some seem to believe.

"amazing" is one word for it, I guess.

A chartist from Wall Street is not a credible source on global sea ice trends. For those of you who want real data from real scientists go to the NOAA web site and search for analysis form sea ice experts.

Here, look at what's happened to Arctic ice area over the last 35 years.

And take a look at what has happened to Arctic ice volume since 1979.

I don't work on Wall Street and those are the irrefutable numbers from the official agency that tracks global ice. The figures are are easily accessable on the internet. You should click on the chart (or even better spend an extra 20 seconds to find the 2010 version and then study it for another 20 seconds)

The increase of course is mostly around Antarctica, which has a much greater impact on southern hemisphere climate than on the northern hemisphere where most people live and the lion's share of the world's food is grown. December 2010 had the lowest arctic sea ice cover for that month since satellite record began. Lower than the cover of December 2006 which preceded the incredible arctic summer ice loss of the summer of 2007 (no such linkage is made in the NSIDC report, just something that immediately jumped into my thoughts).

Since 2007 the minimum arctic ice extent (occurs in September) rebounded a little in 2008 and 2009 but 2010 saw a late melt that put extent below that of 2009. A bit early to say the arctic sea ice is on the rebound. And just what an increase in southern hemisphere sea ice will mean to the planet is a subject of debate. There is virtually no debate about the moderating effect a year round arctic ice cap has on the northern hemisphere. That means there is virtually no debate whether or not the seasonal loss of the ice cap will have significant effects on the northern weather, climate and beyond. When the summer cap goes things happen, always have always will. With a handle like wallstreetexpress you should have not problem reading charts like this one

The NSIDC does a sweet little report on sea ice near the beginning of every month. This link will get you to January 5, 2011 report and you can search the archives to get a bit of a feel for the arctic ice ebb and flow. Only recently have they added the Antarctic summary to their report though.

Of course there are huge coal deposits in the arctic but those aren't counted as reserves at this time. Longer arctic ice free shipping seasons could well put those deposits on the map of world reserves by mid century, oh joy :- ( This forum is of course not the place to discuss why northern ice is disappearing but speculating about the effects that disappearance could have on the world energy picture is on task.

Hey Wall Street, gotta ask a question or two.

You put on mnay trades using two year old charts? Or try to sell to a client using two year old performance data? That gap between then and now would be plumb off-putting to some folks.

Says right in the link you put up there, 1-05-2009. Maybe the reason the page ain't been updated is because subsequent data invalidated it?

Data driven arguments against AGW can be made, but not using what you have referenced.

Let's see, it's the middle of the winter in the Northern Hemisphere and there's a lot of frozen water.

Who would have ever figured that?

Thing is, you're looking at only two dimensions. Take in a third, look at volume and you'll see that we've lost a tremendous amount of multi-year ice. So much that the Northwest Passage is now opening up in the summer. That's something which was not expected for many more years.

Winter will continue to come. It will continue to be cold enough to form a skin of new ice over polar water during the winter. But we're going to see ice-free summers much quicker than any of the models projected.

And that should scare us all....

I maintain my statement that glaciologists are the group of scientist proven wrong most time of all. How often do they not come down from a mountain reporting the complete anihilation of a glacier, and then saying they didn't expect it to dissapear completely in at least another 20 years?

For the anti-scientist out there this would make food for their case, but still, ice is melting faster than anyone ould thought. And that is bad forus all.

Cite your sources.

* Arctic Sea Ice has been projected to begin its melt long before Antarctic ice.

* Antarctic Sea Ice is nearly 100 percent seasonal.

* Antarctic Sea Ice is also protected by the circumpolar winds, so should continue to have the same relative maxima within a range for a long time to come, except on the peninsula, where all heck is breaking loose, as are glaciers no longer held by ice shelves.

* Despite all that, Antarctic land-based ice is already melting, which is actually relevant.

* ALL ice melt categories are way ahead of schedule.

You are majestically ill-informed.

1. You have twice referred to the "arctic" and the Northwest passage but you are the one who is not considering all dimensions. Factually, total global sea ice is near it's 31 year high and while the arctic is lower that represents only part of the planet. Antarctica is much higher which is part of the reason the total global sea ice chart presents a steady rythmic and modulating pattern that is very close to a 31 year high.

2. Additionally A LOT of news has come out in the past few months about the "urban island effect" which is that city heat may have distorted much of the global data (that data that wasn't already corrupted by corrupt scientists).

I have seen little basically NO convincing evidence of global warming although I remained watchful that it could be a real effect (then again it wouldn't shock me if the planet cools over the rest of my lifetime, as was the concern on the cover of Time Magazine in the 70's. It certainly needs much more scientific inquiry...and even then even more about whether if it exists it is created by man.

3. I went on a cruise of Alaska about 3 years ago and the Nature Guide said where we were cruising in Glacier Bay was under almost a mile of ice 300 years ago. That very dramatic decline started before Ford and the automobile were even born.

The problem you have is a preconceived notion of the answer you want as opposed to the answers that exist that are independent of ideology.

1. Antarctic Sea Ice is not equivalent to Arctic Sea Ice in importance or impact. This has been explained, you choose to ignore it. Don't expect further kindness with regard to this if you are going to thumb your nose at reality and a proper discussion of the science.

Also, you assertion is factually incorrect. Extent is not the only metric. Mass is equally important, and mass has fallen drastically in the Arctic. Again, this was predicted and is observed. Again, since Antarctica Sea Ice melts out almost completely each year under normal conditions already, it's melt is not a sign of massive change. The opposite case exists wrt the Arctic.

2. No, a lot hasn't. UHI is known and accounted for. Watts, et al. are not climate scientists and accordingly present biased and faulty "research" that is easily and regularly debunked. Please have the decency not to present propaganda as science.

3. Cherry pick. Scientific source? Also, the anthropogenic signature can be discerned going back to the beginning of agriculture. And, single glaciers are like any single data point: Irrelevant to overall climate. It is the aggregation, such as the vast majority of all glaciers in all regions retreating and thinning, and most of that in far less than the last 300 years.

Cherry picking is a shameful practice. If you want to be taken as anything but a propagandist, you'll need an alternative explanation for ALL lines of evidence and there are many, many, many lines of evidence. And then you need an alternative explanation for warming overall.

"Mining, roadbuilding, railroading,shipping, coal combustion engineering, and so forth,are all mature technologies."

So is coal to liquids. Given a Federal level panic attack, and suspension of various environmental laws, and immediate deportation of protestors to re-education camps, we could build CTL plants at a pretty good pace as long as Sudbury's nickel mines hold out.

I mention CTL because I'm pretty sure that CTL to make fuel for a diesel-electric locomotive is more efficient than a coal-fired steam engine when looking over the entire cycle.

I'm not so sure on ships. Bigger boilers are more efficient. The RMS Olympic was converted to burn oil instead of coal. According to Wikipedia, "Oil was more expensive than coal, but it reduced the refuelling time from days to hours, and allowed the engine room personnel to be reduced from 350 to 60 people." It must be noted that this was without the benefits of modern automation. A modern coal handling system should require a lot fewer people.

As I pointed out in a previous post, the Olympic burned 650 tons of coal per day at 21.5 knots, and was noted for her fuel efficiency. The Mauritania burned 1000 tons/day.

I think I remember from previous discussion here that water and rail transport consume 6% of the world's oil production. That much you could replace with CTL. I not claim that CTL will support BAU.


There has been some "modern" coal fired ocean going ships as a result of the 1970's oil problems.

The links are not perfect matches, but you will get the idea. The second link is an inquire into a grounding of the ship near the Great Barrier Reef, at least they did not have to worry about oil leaks!

So it can be done, especially when your home port is one of the largest coal export ports in the world.

Hi Mac,

we may already be in the early stages of a population collapse

Of course we have been to this dance before - but, I think the implications of believing that population is declining is not helpful (assuming we still have some hope).

I just checked the CIA Factbook again and there has been little change in the US Growth Rate and as I've argued before, it is only the growth rate that ultimately matters. If births are down and deaths are up this makes little difference if migration overwhelms these numbers. So US growth rate is still close to one percent (.97) and this rate could push us from 308M to 500M around mid century. States&countryCode=us&regionCode=na&rank=121#us

Global population Growth is listed as 1.13% in the Factbook - which is the basis for the projections of 9B or so.

You may well be right that these projections will never materialize due to die-off scenarios. My only point is that population growth is still a huge problem and there is virtually no meaningful recognition of the problem at the level of world governments.

It is my hope that the US would take a lead in this issue and develop a national population policy with a stated goal of reducing population over time using "soft" methods - much as Japan did after WWII. We have no right to preach to the rest of the world if we don't manage our own population.

As it stands today (see above links) the US is 121st in a list of 233 countries (the first country in the list having the highest growth rate). Only 35 countries have negative growth rates (actual decreasing pop). And, many of those 35 countries have a negative growth rate because of out migration (former USSR) or collapse (Haiti).

I believe we should continue to "beat the drum" for population awareness and humane birth control measures.

Agreed. I like your tone on this delicate issue.

Your penultimate graph deals with ff/capita. Perhaps you could make explicit what your assumptions are concerning the number of people that will be in the world over the next few decades.

That was my reaction as well. What a ridiculous analysis! Every graph either based on, or measured directly against some mythical number "per capita", but NOT ONE of them showing the population assumptions. No mention of population whatsoever, and out to 2100 no less!

This is buffoonery on an epic scale, and yet here it is being presented as serious analysis. If this was the intent of the recent changes at TOD then it is a sad day indeed.


OK - please post your charts and population projections being careful to argue how resources, changing environment and adaptation contribute to your models - lest we think you are a baffoon too:-) You are clearly so bright you are way ahead of most of the rest of us.

If you don't like the new TOD model - go find a new blog to post on, or learn how to express yourself in a polite and quantitative way. I can't recall, but I'm sure Luis will be using UN population projections, their uncertainty is bound up in what Luis is saying - for those who understand the article.



We need a PO/population growth analysis. Anyone up to the task?

I expect that the correlations will not be what you might anticipate. The problem is a combination of population, greater energy use per capita (worldwide - US has dropped a bit), and new technologies, especially agronomic, increasingly dependent upon fossil fuels as both energy source and feed stock. Any one of these would create greater demand for oil... if all were static, PO would still be a problem since where we are is about half way through oil supplies in 100 years, with the most recent years those of greatest useage. It follows that unless use drops at the same rate it grew, we cannot last 100 more years - and the remaining ff are much more expensive, and in the case of coal (and to a lesser degree, oil) the remaining fuels are less efficient. It is a difficult conundrum... one that Greer calls a situation or condition rather than a problem.

I recently picked up a copy of an 18 yr old work called "Ecology of Commerce" by Paul Hawken. It is a worthwhile read of something written by a pro-business person. It would be interesting to hear his views today after an additional 18 years of non-response from his business friends. He wrote from the same perspective I had back then. Business is the problem, and must therefore be the solution. Today I see that business is blinded by wealth and greed. Again, Hawkens' current views would be interesting.

For all of that, a nice visual presentation on that population/PO correlation would be interesing.


Euan, yes, I was assuming that they were using the UN projections. But since it is an important part of the model, it should indeed be made explicit (though I see no need for anyone to get rude about insisting on it). Presumably they wanted to keep the discussion focused on the resource and not on population. But at this point, these are so intertwined, that they cannot be separated without damaging the model, perhaps fatally. Too often we find that modelers are just ignoring feedback elements because they are complicated and hard to model. But ignoring them completely pretty much insure that your model is going to be way off.
Perhaps we could indeed have a thread on what the thoughtful folks here on how PO may influence world population growth rates and vice versa.

Actually, here in the good ol' US of A, there are lots of news items, but Peak Oil is not one of them. Nor do I think it will be anytime soon (well, at least not till' gas prices here reach $4.00/gal), which is what it took last time for there to be any mention of a subject the MSM would prefer not to talk about. "Spooking the Herd" is something they assiduously try to avoid...

Some people miss the fact that like with oil, we will soon have "Peak cheap coal". Those low grade or two feet high coal seams 1000m underground will never be mined.
In theory the plateau could be quite long and the down slope could be quite gradual, but part of the problem will be peak demand. Many nations will simply not be able to afford to import.

When you seriously think about the future of coal, you must think about where China and India are going and they are going nuclear.

The Chinese have the capacity and desire to deliver on a nuclear future and they are deadly serious about achieving it, says Steve Kidd, director of strategy and research at the London-based World Nuclear Association, a nuclear industry trade group.

President Hu Jintao wants non-fossil fuels to produce 15 percent of China’s energy by 2020. Although the Chinese have spent plenty on wind turbines and solar panels, only a buildup of nuclear power can make that target reachable; only nuclear power can cure the growing ills of the Chinese addiction to coal.

“Developing clean, low-carbon energy is an international priority,” says Zhao Chengkun, vice-president of the China Nuclear Energy Association. “Nuclear is recognized as the only energy source that can be used on a mass scale to achieve this.”

What is bringing the Chinese to the world nuclear energy market is a hunger for the latest nuclear technology, Bloomberg Businessweek reports in its Dec. 6 issue. What is bringing the foreigners is money: According to Michael Kruse, consultant on nuclear systems for Arthur D. Little, the Chinese are ready to spend $511 billion to build up to 245 reactors. And this is only the beginning, only a small start to clear the Chinese countryside from the environmental plague and the veil of human misery that the massive use of coal brings

The global nuclear industry is willing to take big risks to get a piece of China’s nuclear budget. The danger is that in landing those fat contracts -- and sharing technology with Chinese partners -- the industry will help build a formidable rival. Even though they lack the most advanced technology, the Chinese are rapidly becoming self-sufficient in reactor design and construction, according to the World Nuclear Association.

As the cornerstone of their industrial and trade policy, the Chinese nuclear industry has the backing of the deep-pocketed Chinese state, an ambitious plan to train an army of nuclear engineers, and the leverage that comes from being the biggest market around.

“They are going to use a bunch of different nuclear suppliers with the goal of being a developer themselves,” says Jeffrey Holzschuh, a Morgan Stanley vice-chairman.

While the American economy runs in the self imposed ruts of the coal age, the China economy will free itself from peak coal with an energy source that knows no constraints or limits. China will lead the way into a bright and promising nuclear future while the other more fearful and reticent nations will fall paralyzed into the coal pit of history, where the Collapse into agrarian subsistence will begin, where the herds in the cities will be culled, and the doomers will find comfort in ruins of their rightful home.

Won't Uranium production peak, too?

Maybe, maybe not. China's nuclear breakthrough gets lost in translation - January 05, 2011

A few days ago, China Central Television announced a breakthrough in nuclear fuel technology. The China National Nuclear Cooperation (CNNC) has developed a way of recycling old nuclear fuel, it claims. The method is “100 percent original,” says Wang Jian, chief engineer on CNNC's fuel reprocessing project. That statement has led to some over-the-top announcements in the Western press. Some outlets have reported the technology as entirely new, others say it is an official acknowledgment that China can reprocess nuclear fuel.
So what is actually going on? The original CCTV article doesn't provide much information, but one hint is that the new process extracts fuel during the “heating period” after the fuel is used. Another clue is that the technology reportedly boosts fuel efficiency by about 60 times. Those details could point to some kind of fast-neutron reactor, which can convert hot actinides in spent nuclear fuel into material that can be used in other power plants. These reactors are about 60 times more efficient that current ones. Moreover, China began operating a 65MW fast neutron reactor in July of last year (though that reactor appears to be based in Beijing).

China uranium claims fuel market scepticism

Last week, Chinese state-owned TV said that the country's scientists had effectively solved all the world's nuclear problems. It laid claim to a technological breakthrough in nuclear-fuel reprocessing technology – one which would allow uranium to be used for 60 times longer than in current methods.

China National Nuclear Corp claimed it had developed a new process that would allow spent nuclear fuel to be reused, extending China's uranium resources to a staggering 3,000 years. China has more than 170,000 tonnes of uranium resources at the moment.

I wouldn't expect rational countries to use a once-thru fuel cycle.

If this is true it is revolutionary. We could if so ditch coal electricity all together. I am however sceptic, but the chinese are smart people.

Phase one of the AECL agreement was a joint feasibility study to examine the economic feasibility of utilizing thorium in the Qinshan Phase III PHWRs. (Geologically, China is better endowed with thorium than uranium.) This involved demonstration use of eight thorium oxide fuel pins in the middle of a Canflex fuel bundle with low-enriched uranium.

In July 2009, a second phase agreement was signed among these four parties to jointly develop and demonstrate the use of thorium fuel and to study the commercial and technical feasibility of its full-scale use in Candu units. This was supported in December 2009 by an expert panel appointed by CNNC and comprising representatives from China’s leading nuclear academic, government, industry and R&D organizations. The panel also unanimously recommended that China consider building two new Candu units to take advantage of the design's unique capabilities in utilizing alternative fuels.

WNA - China's Nuclear Fuel Cycle - Recycled uranium in (CANDU) PHWRs; thorium in PHWRs

Seems they could claim this as indigenously developed. Combining PHWR burnup of spent fuel with mixed thorium fuel could perhaps account for the 60x extension.

I don't understand, if China has more thorium than uranium, why not go the whole hog and start seriously investing in Molten Salt Reactors rather than PHWRs?

Or are the designs/patents not shared internationally?

India, Russia, France, and China are some of the nations that have recognized the Light Water reactor is just an initial step to the fully realized nuclear paradigm. It is the more advanced uranium and thorium breeder reactors were the full potential of nuclear power lies.

Since the dawn of the nuclear age, reactor scientists have understood that the long range development of nuclear power would require breeder reactors. The possibility of using advance technology reactors to breed uranium and thorium has been frequently discussed in America but has been forbidden to proceed by the American government.

With the advent of breeders, there a millions of tons of new and slightly used uranium and thorium fuels currently in storage that could be put to productive use in breeder reactors.

There is enough uranium and thorium just in coal ash alone to keep breeders going for thousands of years. In fact, China is mining their abundant and ever-growing coal ash piles today for the uranium contained therein.

Phosphate and rare earth mining is another rich source of potential nuclear fuels and have to date resulted in megatons of uranium and thorium rich wastes.

At a slightly higher but still affordable price point, there are gigatons of uranium diluted in the oceans that could be economically extracted to support nuclear power into the indefinite future.

The UK had a working fast breeder reactor at Dounray in Scotland. The programme was abandoned.

I see both Great Britain and Germany as both role models and path finders for America down the long and shaded road to national oblivion.

One factor that could delay the fall and final collapse of the nationhood of Great Britain is the substantial amounts of coal it imports from the US.

The object lesson in unavoidable national disaster in the classic Weimar Republic tradition will then most likely fall to Germany. Unfortunately, this disaster will be delayed for some years due to the recent postponement in the decommissioning of the German nuclear fleet by Merkel, the current Chancellor of Germany so that a continued funding stream for their renewable energy source commitments will remain available.

But the effective observer of foreign affairs must always remain patience and long-suffering for the true course and flow of world events to reveal themselves.

P.S. - A package of energy bills, including an amendment to Germany's atomic energy law extending the operating life of the country's 17 nuclear power reactors - by eight years for units entering operation before 1980 and by 14 years for those starting up after 1980 - was signed into law by German president Christian Wulff on 8 December.

The life extensions are from closure dates agreed in 2001, which placed a cap on lifetime electricity generation by nuclear reactors and amounted to an average operating life of 32 years, with the intention of shutting all nuclear units down permanently by 2022. Relaxing the nuclear phaseout policy, which originated with Gerhard Schroeder's SDP/Green coalition government of 1998, has been a key policy goal of the CDU/CSU plus FDP coalition elected in September 2009.

President Wulff also signed into law a nuclear fuel rod tax under which the "big four" nuclear operators (E.ON, RWE, Vattenfall and EnBW) will pay 145 euro per g of uranium or plutonium fuel for six years, raising about 2.3 billion Euro per year. Two other laws were also enacted: one establishing a special purpose renewable energy and climate fund to be funded via the life extensions; and another (a further amendment of the atomic energy law) dealing with appropriation of funds for waste disposal and transposition of EC Directive 209/71/Euratom (establishing an EU nuclear safety framework). The measures were approved by the lower house, the Bundestag, on 28 October, and went into force on 1 January 2011.

The US and UK discouraged breeder reactors specifically and nuclear energy generally because:
- they were concerned that breeder reactors made nuclear weapons proliferation more likely, and
- they were strategically dominant in the fossil fuel industries.

However, they've pretty much lost control of the situation.

I'd expect Germany to reach some rapprochement with Russia rather than collapse. If they can be friends with the French, they can be friends with the Russians.

Won't Uranium production peak, too?

The planet is a finite sphere, so the obvious answer is 'yes'. However, the peak of uranium is not within the lifetimes of anyone alive or their children. So it is pretty far off.

the peak of uranium is not within the lifetimes of anyone alive

Well that very much depends on how much is used and how fast, surely? As David MacKay shows, if we decided to try and power the world on mined uranium alone using once-through reactors the total known reserves would last less than 3 years in total, let alone peak uranium occurring!

Of course maybe this recent breakthrough by the Chinese could extend the lifetime of uranium a considerable amount?

This has been discussed elsewhere here, mining has been described as the conversion of energy into metal -often that energy comes from oil for transport and grinding of the rock. Agents used in solvent extraction are also dependant on energy inputs.

In general ore grades have been trending lower as we have picked the 'low hanging fruit' first in all element cases.

As the price of these inputs rises mines will have to raise the price of their supplied product in order to stay in business or go out of business -thus supply will dwindle as the market will only be able to take so much before we see demand destruction.

I think it highly likely we will see enormous amounts of low grade resources simply left in the ground because we do not have a sufficiently cheap energy resource to generally apply in the extraction process.

Uranium and some of the other metals are unique -IMO- in that the case for extraction warrants much higher prices before demand destruction leads to supply contraction and the end-consumer is also possibly government (who will be very happy to spend our money on a perceived fix...)

Other metals in this category may be;

1. The Rare Earths (used in energy efficiency and energy transformation technologies
2. Molybdenum (used in heavy-oil cracking to eek out the heavy-reserves of oil, also used in pipelines, refineries and Earthquake proof Chinese cities...)
3. Lithium, Vanadium and Cobalt -good candidates for new battery technologies with the caviate that unless the govt heavily subsidizes the shift to electric/hybrid (which they might) cash-strapped consumers will not be able to afford this new breed of transport.
4. Gold/PMs: I find it highly likely that fiat currencies will trend to zero as Governments attempt to induce inflation. However ultimatley gold is worth only the amount of food someone is willing to swap it for (in Zimbabwe a loaf of bread is trading for £10 worth of panned gold flecks...)

The really sad thing is that there will be no civilisation restart possible on a large scale because we will have left an insurmountable ore grade gap to climb for future generations...


Way over-the-top pessimistic. 1) Energy for mining / crushing ores can as easily come from nuclear electricity as from fossil fuels. 2) Once-through uranium fuel use is in no way going to hold when fossil energy and once-through reactor technology energy becomes short. 3) The only reason "rare-earth" minerals are an issue is because China chose (foolishly) to over-exploit its resources to sell worldwide at below-market prices. Once they catch on to the error of that policy (apparently now), other mines eg. Avalon in Canada

And so an enterprising Canadian company called Avalon Rare Earth Inc is now quite far along in developing one of the world’s larger and best light and heavy rare earth deposits. It’s a few miles from the capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife. By the way Yellowknife is closer to Tokyo than Vancouver.

The Avalon ore body is situated on the Hearne Channel of the Great Slave Lake (one of the ten largest and 6th deepest lakes in the world) it is easily accessible by barge. Don Bubar is the CEO and has assembled a team of experienced and dedicated employees. I count 164 drill holes to date in the REE ore body which may extend over 10,500 acres. Get the picture? This ore body is going to be developed because a rare earth deposit is in Avalon’s grade and configuration, rarer than rare. The ore body is 61.1 million tonnes at 2.05% (43- 101). The key is that it contains the more valuable and difficult heavy rare earth elements.

An Impressive Rare Earth Discovery - in Canada

The only reason this one is being developed first is because it is accessible by water barge, alongside a huge northern lake. If needed, we could start exploring further away from the waterways.....

China's committment to nuclear power is the one thing that gives me any optimism regarding humanity's chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change. Unlike the states, CC is widely acknowledged as a reality over here, policymakers just dont care to address it yet because they are focused on improving the standard of living (which remains at the dirt poor level for most over here).

But their committment to economic growth has made them mindful of the limits of their domestic coal resources, and they are addressing it in the typical massive scale they devote to any problem. Over the next 20 years 130+ nuclear plants are scheduled to be built, with another 90 or so in the planning stage after that. As economic growth rates moderate after 2025 or thereabouts this nuclear build-out will make up an ever greater proportion of their electrical generation.

On thing you learn living in this country is that any data more than 2 years old is certain to be outdated and projections based on it useless. The same holds true for the nuclear power expansion plans, and I anticipate them being scaled up further as time goes on.

As resource constraints bite harder in the 2020-2030 timeframe China could prove a useful demonstration of nuclear power's advantages over the alternatives, and a virtuous investment cycle could be begun in the rest of the developed world in time to stave off the worst of CC's anticipated impacts. OK, so it isn't terribly likely, but a guy can hope.

"China's committment to nuclear power is the one thing that gives me any optimism regarding humanity's chances of avoiding catastrophic climate change."

And this is because, just as the coal plants they hurriedly built are threatening the health of their citizens and the viability of the planet, their hurriedly constructed nukes will likely also end up killing massive numbers of Chinese, leaving more room for everyone else?

Or not. Ever notice what tremendous value Chinese parents place on their one child's well-being? WAY beyond anything one can obesrve among N American and European parents. It's phenomenal what sacrifices Chinese parents will make for their child.

If you're unable to reconcile that statement with Chinese building of nuclear reactors, perhaps its time to re-evaluate what you "know" about nuclear technology. Believe me, well-educated Chinese parents won't accept even 1/10th of the threat to their child that typical N. American parents will.

China's newly built coal plants are state of the art, least emitting designs. In 2009 (2010?) they closed around 7,000 old, dirty coal plants.

Chinese parents might be very protective when it comes to their children, but they have little control over their government. Make too big a fuss and you spend time in jail. Chinese parents have been unable to get the government to make their school buildings safe.

The Chinese government does what it wants to for the most part. Look at the millions of people displaced by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam.

If the Chinese government wants to build a nuclear reactor it will simply build a nuclear reactor. Of course you can be assured that no reactor will be built close to where "important" people live.

Yet somehow they built thousands of very dirty coal plants that have caused untold death of, yes, children.

Your argument is like saying that, because motherhood and apple pie are such central ideals to America, no American farmer would ever spray harmful chemicals on apples and no American industry would ever do anything that might negatively affect any mothers. Hopelessly bathetic, really.

As is noted, they are now busily replacing the old plants with new, much more efficient ones. There is a catch 22 here though. The new, cleaner plants spew much less aerosol. But all that aerosol had played a roll in blocking enough sunlight that the actual level of global warming was being masked. With much of that mask now stripped away, we can expect a rather sudden increase in global temperatures in the next couple years (unless other sources of aerosol or some other negative forcing takes their place).

Add in our exit from a solar minimum and the exit of La Nina currents and the next couple of years are likely to be cookers.

I expect a lot more people are going to start paying attention. With further improvements in the economy people are going to start looking hard at the increase in extreme weather events that are slamming us.

Add in our exit from a solar minimum and the exit of La Nina currents and the next couple of years are likely to be cookers.

I wouldn't count on that as we appear to be be heading for one of the lowest solar maximums ever recorded since the Maunder Minimum

Current prediction for the next sunspot cycle maximum gives a smoothed sunspot number maximum of about 59 in June/July of 2013. We are currently two years into Cycle 24 and the predicted size continues to fall.

It could be one of the least powerful solar maximums ever recorded, but the fact is that we are in the warming part of the cycle. And while the solar cycle plays only a small role in overall temperature, every little bit adds up.

Yep, the low ebb of a low solar activity period showed record highs being broken all over the world and a new or near new (depending on the data collector) global record. The behavior of the ocean is the bigger unknown and could change things in either direction.

While your standard consumer product made in China is crap quality, when it comes to high visibility matters government regulators place a lot of importance on safety. Did you know that the Chinese airline industry is safer than that of the US and most of Europe? I assumed it would be the opposite until I looked into it. Public ownership of most large-scale enterprises allows government to subsume a degree of profit motive in order to enhance safety when they deem negative PR to be a high risk. A nuclear accident would be consitute an existential threat to the CPC, so they will not cut corners on construction. This isn't Russia we're talking about here, these folks have a dep seated fear of the public they rule rather than ingrained contempt.

The concept of a bullet in the back of the head can be very focusing.


"these folks have a dep seated fear of the public they rule rather than ingrained contempt"

Thanks for the belly laugh.

They may have some fear, but that does not mean that they always do things in the best interests of the people, individually or collectively. My brother has spent most of his adult life in China and the stories he tells me of official vehicles and boats that he has been on cavalierly running bikes off the road and swamping smaller boats are pretty disturbing.

Rampant corruption undermined the enforcement of building codes that lead to the deaths of hundreds of children in the last huge earthquake.

There are tens of thousands of protests, demonstrations and even riots in China every year, generally put down with extreme brutality.

Has everyone forgotten Tienanmen?

Really, some of you folks seem to hold remarkably romantic notions about this place. I wonder why it is that so many Americans fall into such delusions about China but not, generally, about, say, India.

I have seen the same type of things your brother has seen. If they didnt fear the populace, they wouldnt be spending as much on internal security to maintain control as on military development for border defense/expansion. Contempt for the individual is not incompatible with fear of the public masses, especially given the bifurcation between national level (continuation of party rule) and local level (bureacratic advancement/personal enrichment) priorities.

Comparison of building standards between a half-assed construction company owned by a local offical that throws up cement squares strung with rebar, and that of nuclear facilities built by the NNC and its international partners is asinine. As is comparison of local construction code enforcement with that of the National Nuclear Safety Administration.

Nuclear power in China will be as safe as that of any developed nation.

Nuclear power in China will be as safe as that of any developed nation.

I would prefer it to be better, a lot better.


Please specify. Better than eg. Canada, or better than the Ukraine?

"Nuclear power in China will be as safe as that of any developed nation."

Has any nuclear facility anywhere been constructed without exactly these kinds of assurances?

One thing the Chinese have been experts at for a long time is propaganda. I would say that it is believing their propaganda about this or anything else that could be characterized as 'asinine' (no insult to any actual asses on the forum intended).

But perhaps you have some actual inside information on this subject?

You'll need to come up with some shred of evidence to convince me that AECL would put the Quinshan plants into criticality if they were less than up to scratch, eg. "a whole lot safer for their neighbourhoods than a coal plant".

"safer for their neighbourhoods than a coal plant"

Why do pro-nukers always come up with the same false dichotomy, as if these were the only choices in the universe.

At least be creative to come up with a new logical fallacy once in a while.

Hi Luis,

Thank you for your post, with your interesting observation that per-capita fossil-fuel production has been stable for 30 years.

"expected to become the second-largest world coal exporter within the decade"

The article appears to me to contain what annual reports might call "forward-looking statements" by a trade organization. I think "expected" may be a little strong here. The translation says "Mozambique could achieve an annual production of 110 million tons of coal by 2020 requiring it to solve the logistical problems." In any event, less than 20% of the world's coal is exported, and to move the total supply needle significantly, one needs to be among the top producers, not exporters, and 110 million tons does not do this.

"That translates into 42 €/ton, and these are direct money deliveries"

Is the German subsidy understated? I thought the subsidy was for hard-coal producers. German hard coal production in 2009 was 13.7Mt, so the subsidy would be 150€/ton.


The best of these examples may well be Mozambique, a country that is expected to become the second-largest world coal exporter within the decade [Google translation here].

Assuming Mozambique really achieves the production quoted (110 million tons of coal by 2020), which is by no means guaranteed, this would make Mozambique the fourth largest coal exporter, assuming not one ton of coal is used within Mozambique, and Australia, Indonesia, Russia, Colombia and South Africa produce the same amount in 2020 as in 2009. I don't expect Mozambique to become the second-largest coal exporter ever. I don't really expect it to become one of the top ten exporters.

Coal mines large enough to make a significant impact on the world's supply take years to develop, and require very large capital investments. I wonder where the capital for the Mozambique development is going to come from?

No doubt coal will remain an important energy source for many regions, those with remaining reserves of easily accessible coal and existing infrastructure (ports, railways and power stations in particular), but it really is hard to imagine it being a practical and reasonably priced energy source for regions without local reserves.

Your "Olduvai Gorge Theory" link is not working. Thanks for the article.

My impression is that neither coal exporters nor coal importers feel good about themselves. Just yesterday people were swept away in a flash flood in the downtown area of a Queensland provincial city. Maybe there is a sense of divine retribution for digging so much coal. A week or so ago the Queensland Premier called for a rethink on Australia's prohibition of nuclear power. A statement like that was previously unthinkable in a coal mining region.

The flip side is that the overseas coal customers are increasingly vulnerable to delays and price rises. Flooding at coal mines and railroads has meant some contracts cannot be fulfilled. Major loading ports have been shut down temporarily. This could be why China and India look to Africa as a backup supplier of coal. I suspect both countries would like to reduce their dependence on coal imports which explains their aggressive nuclear build program.

Add to that mountain top removal in the US, child labour in Colombia, coal mine deaths in New Zealand and the coal industry is not a happy place. What keeps it going is that coal is cheap and the energy flow can be regulated. That will always be so until there is a same price alternative.

I might have missed this in a comment but I have long been curious about the use of diesel fuel in coal extraction globally. How dependent is mass extraction dependent of oil-based fuel? It would seem to me that as oil goes into decline, the cost of extracting coal, even higher quality coal, will go up to a point of reducing marginal profits. We could then expect coal extraction to peak early because of the peak in net energy (diesel) from oil. I realize coal-to-liquids is feasible but can it be done rapidly enough and cost-effective enough to replace diesel for extraction and transportation. I wonder what the EROI of coal would be if we had to start using a lot of it to produce the transportation (either CTL or more electricity) energy needed.

Anyone look at this?

Yes, you can find a rough answer here:

This a life cycle analysis tool. And it lets you answer questions like "how much coal is used in oil extraction" etc. There is also an economic mode. Well worth the time to study the tool.

Thanks Jon. Will check it out.

Let me admit that I did not read the article and replies carefully, so if my question has already been answered I apologize. (And would appreciate being pointed to the answer.

Now my question...

Does this analysis take into account the dropping demand for coal many of its current markets?

For example there have been no new construction starts for coal plants in the last two years in the US. We shut down about 8% of our existing plants last year and tagged another 58 for early termination.

"Coal is a dead man walkin'," says Kevin Parker, global head of asset management and a member of the executive committee at Deutsche Bank. "Banks won't finance them. Insurance companies won't insure them. The EPA is coming after them. . . . And the economics to make it clean don't work."


In 2002, there were plans to install 36,000 megawatts of new coal-fired power by 2007. Only one-eighth of that was completed.

Deutsche Bank predicts coal's share of electric power generation will tumble further, from 47 percent in 2009 to 34 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2030.

It put it this way in its report: "Based on today's energy fundamentals, the rational economic decision is to shutter inefficient coal plants and replace them with natural gas combined-cycle power plants."

[ Deutsche Bank predicts coal's share of electric power generation will tumble further, from 47 percent in 2009 to 34 percent in 2020 and 22 percent in 2030.

It put it this way in its report: "Based on today's energy fundamentals, the rational economic decision is to shutter inefficient coal plants and replace them with natural gas combined-cycle power plants."]

That ought to really stretch out how long gas lasts! Peak NG, here we come.

I think coal will come back as a home heating fuel. While the elite will be using natural gas, electricity, heating oil and propane, and forested rural areas will be using wood I see coal as about the only affordable fuel for everyone else.

Why coal when a coal boiler plus chimney etc cost as much or more then a ground source heat pump?
And the price of coal and electricity will anyways follow each other exept for night time and weekends or windy days in wind power regions when electricity is cheaper then coal.

I expect that mostly ground source heat pumps and some pellet burners will replace the last heating oil boilers in Sweden.

Do you happen to have some numbers?

Personally I can't imagine a return to coal as a home heating source. I too well remember the soot and mess along with stoking the fire. I wouldn't think most countries would allow the resulting air pollution.

The english summary is on page 71.

Its old statistics from 2008, then were electricity 40 % of the total heating energy for one and two household houses and 36 % were biofuels. Almost 40 % were wholy or partially heated with heat pumps. The sums for 2008 werer 12.7 TWh electricity, 11.4 TWh biofuels, 5.1 TWh large scale district heating, 2.0 TWh oil, 0.2 TWh gas and 0.1 TWh small scale district heating.

The are statistics for large houses and commercial buildings, as the size go up so do the market share for district heating. The district heatig is then mostly garbage incineration, biofuels, industrial waste heat, and some natural gas and peak power oil.

Heating oil is fading fast:
Heavy heating oil, light heating oil, aviatin fuel, diesel, petrol, ethanol.

Thanks, but what I was wondering about was the cost difference between ground effect heat pumps and boiler systems.

Here is a random overview made by an insurance and lending company:

Google translate makes clumsy but not too bad translation.

They probably use the same figures when evaluatig houses for a mortgages.

These figures do not include the cost of a shimney and boiler room.

I don't know how many times I was sent with the coal scuttle into my Grannies cellar to drag up a bucket of coal, for the open fire, or for that how many times I have been sent to the corner shop for a tuppenny gas mantel. I hope I am making my self clear. When I was a kid there was not much globalisation. nothing was outsourced especially not energy. The gas works was owned by the municipality gasometer's were a part of the landscape of a Northern town

The system was extremely secure. The coal from the Barnsley bed (name for a very gaseous seam of coal in Yorkshire)went from the colliery into the coke ovens usually in the colliery yard. Supply lines were very short complete with back up, large stocks on the ground.

That was my youth in a Northern Industrial English town.

Middle age, apply to that the evangelical fervour of Thatcher-ism. ( THE MARKET KNOWS BEST)

there were about 100 mines in Yorkshire at the time there are about 5 now. I wont go into the horrors. I was an official at the time, anybody listen too you. forget it. It always seemed to me the ultimate in lunacy to close down the mines and build import terminals To import coal from Australia when there were 10 meters of coal no more than 400 meters from the terminal : in a vertical direction. I think it was Keynes who said that men were lead by by dead economists. He was most likely right, unfortunately. the world is lead by mentally dead politicians

evangelical fervour of Thatcher-ism.

Precisely. The blind, stupid, naive faith of the stupid voterdome baited by a costly and carefully targeted marketing campaign by the investor classes. They bought up and consolidated all the news media first, then used those to sucker all the uneduacated voters into voting against their own best interests.

Anybody who still supports "reduced government regulation" deserves exactly what they've gotten over the past three years.

FWIW - I wrote this in 2004, for the USA:
Coal resources
The USA estimated recoverable reserves are about 275 billion short tons (BsT), but the EIA notes that “much of this may not be mined because of sulfur content, unfavorable quality, mining costs and/or transportation infrastructure.” Actual production in 1998 was about 1.1 BsT, and this is where the National Energy Policy Development Group (NEPDG) gets their figure of a 250-year supply, (275/1.1). In fact, the Coal Demonstrated Reserve Base (CDRB)1, which is a relatively high- confidence factor estimate, is 508 BsT (25% of world reserves). However, the EIA estimates that 17% of this is off limits or otherwise not accessible, and 34% is lost in production, leaving 55% recoverable, i.e. 275 BsT. We now have to consider two sets of factors that pull in opposite directions:
-The not mineable, due to sulfur, quality, cost, etc.
-The potential available from reducing "off limits", reducing "lost in production" and reducing sulfur problems, all with better technology.
In the moderately pessimistic case, we probably have 150 years, and in the optimistic case 300 years at 1998 production rates, i.e. 165 and 330 BsT respectively. However with petroleum and natural gas supplies in decline, the use of coal will grow. If it grows at 2.5%/yr (with no change in efficiency of use) we will double coal useage before 2035, and triple it by 2050. At that rate of sustained growth we would use 100 BsT by 2050, and would have between 15 and 50 years supply left at the then use rate. We will certainly increase the efficiency of coal use, thus stretching this schedule, but it is almost certain that the rate of coal production will also peak and go into decline before 2050, as the available seams become deeper and/or thinner. Coal may be the form of fossil fuel that provides the energy bridge we need to transition from fossil fuels to renewables, but by itself it is not a solution to the problem of oil and NG shortages. The problem with coal in the short term is not shortage; it is inefficiency and pollution.