Drumbeat: July 9, 2011

Deffeyes: "The better is the enemy of the good"

First, it was "finding oil on Wall Street." Now, it's "finding oil in the Federal bureaucracy." The Energy Information Agency has discontinued their International Petroleum Monthly and substituted a New! Improved! data set. Suddenly, world oil production (around 73 million barrels per day) increased to 85 million barrels per day; an increase of 13 million barrels per day. In contrast, OPEC might, or might not, be able to increase production by 2 million barrels per day.

The old EIA data set reported how much liquid petroleum came out of oil wells; a useful thing to know. I joke that their new data set includes all the switchgrass in Missouri. The EIA web site was always difficult to navigate, but now I get the feeling that the EIA doesn't want me to find the unembellished oil production figures.

Oil falls over 2 percent on weak jobs report

NEW YORK — Oil tumbled more than 2 percent Friday, giving up most of its gains for the week after the latest government data showed hiring in the U.S. is at a virtual standstill.

The Labor Department said that employers added the fewest jobs in nine months and the unemployment rate rose to 9.2 percent in June. A slowdown in hiring means that gasoline demand could remain stagnant as fewer workers join the daily commute and consumers limit driving and trips to the gas station as they watch their spending.

Centrica piles on the pressure with energy price hikes

There is a grave danger that surging energy prices, accompanied by the 17pc jump in the year-on-year prices being paid by our manufacturers for raw materials, will feed into an inflationary spiral.

South Sudan Wins Independence in Shadow of Conflict, Poverty

(Bloomberg) -- The Republic of South Sudan was declared an independent nation today in the capital, Juba, as tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate their freedom after almost 50 years of rebellion against the Muslim north.

Qaddafi Threatens Europe, Vows Regime Won’t Fall

Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi said his regime won’t fall and threatened to retaliate against Europe for its involvement in attempts to overthrow him.

“Libyans will advance toward Europe willing to commit suicide, for we will go to heaven and they will go to hell,” Qaddafi said, according to a recording of his speech that was aired yesterday on Al Arabiya television.

Obama taps insider as fossil energy chief

(Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama has tapped the current chief operating officer at the Energy Department's office of fossil energy to lead the unit as assistant secretary.

The White House on Friday announced the plan to nominate Charles McConnell, who joined the department earlier this year after a two-year stint as vice president of carbon management at Battelle Energy Technology. The nomination requires Senate confirmation.

Drilling Into New York’s Fracking Report

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation has posted the voluminous draft document laying out how the state plans to regulate the controversial gas drilling method known as fracking.

Governor Says Montana Was Misled on Oil Spill

HELENA, Mont. — Gov. Brian Schweitzer criticized Exxon Mobil on Friday for its handling of the Yellowstone River oil spill, saying that the company had withheld documents and misled state officials and local residents about the pipeline rupture.

Search for oil-soiled wildlife continues along Yellowstone River

Two boats are scheduled to go out onto shallow waters of the Yellowstone River on Saturday to search for wildlife that may have been affected by last week's oil spill.

In a news release, ExxonMobil said it is working with representatives of International Bird Rescue, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to survey the area for impacts to wildlife. An ExxonMobile pipeline under the riverbed east of Laurel ruptured on July 1, spilling an estimated 42,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone.

France’s Oldest Nuclear Power Plant Will Stay Open, Besson Says

Electricite de France SA’s Fessenheim nuclear plant, the country’s oldest, will remain open after regulators said it can operate for another 10 years as long as improvements are made, Industry Minister Eric Besson said.

Google Profits From Tax Credit for Energy Plan

Google Inc. plans to ramp up its $750 million investment in clean energy projects by taking advantage of tax rules to channel more funds into wind, solar and other renewable power sources.

Where the jobs are: Energy savers

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- The prospects for finding a job in most areas of the economy may be getting bleaker by the day, but one sector stands out: energy efficiency.

Over half the energy professionals surveyed recently said they cannot find enough qualified people to meet current hiring demands in this fast-growing industry.

Wave goodbye to airplane tickets

It seems to me that – barring an energy-source breakthrough such as nuclear fusion – this is just the beginning. From some point in the not-too-distant future we will come to see the period from 1980 to 2010 – when a significant proportion of the world's population could afford to travel by air – as an anomaly, a short-lived golden age founded on oil.

Peak University

Over the years, my doubts about what I am doing as a teacher (so to say) have been increasing. This impression has been reinforced by my experience with two summer schools, this year. In both cases, the class was arranged in the way you see in the picture above. Students sit behind computer screens. As a lecturer, I can't possibly know what they are doing; I can only see that they are typing something and moving their mouses. I know that they are connected to the Internet. Are they chatting with their friends? Answering e-mails? Looking at the latest news? Who knows? But that kind of arrangement is becoming more and more common in classrooms.

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem on climate change, population, & deep ecology [VIDEO]

"There's no concept of enough. There's no concept of overdeveloped. We talk about underdeveloped; how come we never talk about overdeveloped? This country is overdeveloped. There's no concept of enough money, of enough children, of balance."

Pork prices drive Chinese inflation

China's Consumer Price Index -- a broad measure of prices consumers pay for food, housing, clothing and other common expenses -- showed prices rose 6.4% over the last 12 months ending in June, China's National Bureau of Statistics reported Saturday.

That marks the fastest pace in inflation since July 2008 and an acceleration from May's 5.5% rate.

But unlike in the U.S., where inflation has being driven primarily by a surge in gas prices, economists say China's inflation problem is due instead to soaring food prices -- namely pork.

Africa urged to embrace solar and hydro power

ABU DHABI - Africa’s growing economy and reliance on carbon-emitting energy from wood and charcoal could “exponentially” worsen global warming unless the continent steps up its investment in wind, solar and hydro power, the head of a new international energy agency said on Friday.

Is Global Warming Causing Oil Pipeline Spills?

Is global warming the cause behind the Yellowstone oil spill? Possibly. And scientists are getting worried that the problem is only just beginning.

The theory is that climate change is causing unusual flooding. That affects pipelines that were once thought to be buried safely underground, but close to river banks. Investigators into the Yellowstone spill have attributed that reason for the 42,000 gallon leak that is mucking up an area of the beloved national park in Montana.

Australia PM warns polluters' days over

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard came out fighting over her contentious pollution tax Saturday, warning the "freedom to pollute our skies" was over, ending 20 years of denial and delay.

As Pakistan Powers Down, Protests Mount: Climate Change A Root Cause

After Pakistan's extensive hydroelectric power resources dried up in 2008, Australian coal was marketed to satisfy the growing power consumption of a burgeoning population. Think it's a stretch to attribute Pakistan's constant power troubles to climate change? Last year thousands died from record flooding, after roasting in record high temperatures - 53.5°C (128.3°F).)

Three years on from finding power reservoirs dead-empty, Pakistan's daily "load shedding" problem has worsened because of...well there's plenty of blame to go around.

Rise of Middle Kingdom begs new strategy

‘WE NEED a new model for sustainable economic growth which goes beyond conventional thinking, and China will have to be at the heart of it . . . China has to lead the world because it will suffer most from global warming, the common threat that confronts all mankind.’

Australia will embrace carbon tax

Greens leader Bob Brown says any polling done after the carbon tax package is released will show Australians embracing the scheme.

Robert Bryce: From Kyoto to Copenhagen to... Hanoi? The Looming Failure of Yet Another Climate Change Meeting

In December, another alphabet soup congregation on climate change will meet in Durban, South Africa to discuss efforts to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions. Durban may be a fine city. But if the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change wants a dose of reality regarding carbon emissions, it should convene in Hanoi.

The reason: over the past decade, Vietnam's carbon dioxide emissions grew by 136%. That's faster than any other country on the planet. And Vietnam's explosive growth looks like it will continue for years to come. Indeed, the country where some 58,000 US soldiers died stands as a proxy for many of the countries in the developing world. And as those countries grow their economies, their energy use, and their carbon dioxide emissions, the hope for any hard cap -- or tax -- on carbon becomes ever more remote.

UA-led research sounds alarm on danger of rising sea levels

A 1-meter increase in sea level doesn't sound like much.

But the 3.3-foot rise would be enough to flood 90 percent of New Orleans, 33 percent of Virginia Beach, Va., and 18 percent of Miami, according to scientists.

With the release of a University of Arizona-led study earlier this week, evidence continues to mount that the polar ice sheets are melting at a rate that could profoundly affect coastal regions unless greenhouse gases are reduced worldwide, scientists say.

Dr. Joseph Tainter has problems with the subtitle of Jared Diamond’s book and says his pessimism has been growing.

I watched the entire series of 7 Youtube videos of Collapse of Complex Societies by Dr. Joseph Tainter There were 5 videos of Dr. Tainter’s lecture which basically covered the material in his book as well as, I believe, a few revisions he might have made if it were written today. Then there were two videos of the Question and Answer session. Two minutes and 20 seconds into the 7th and last video that I was rewarded with the following exchange:

Questioner: It appears that you are saying all societies must inevitably collapse. I would like to contrast that with Diamond’s statement, the subtitle of his book, I think, on collapse is something like “How Societies Choose to Succeed or Choose to Fail”. It doesn’t look like we have any real choice.

Dr. Tainter: No, and that’s one of the problems I have with that subtitle of his book. Societies don’t choose, they are confronted with circumstances. Do all societies have to collapse? I don’t want to predict that that’s inevitable, though over the last two or three years I have become more pessimistic on that point.

I have expressed similar displeasure with the Diamond’s suggestion that nations “choose” to collapse. Leanan expressed, three days ago, the opinion that Dr. Tainter had grown “less optimistic than his book suggest”. She was right of course. And I am rather proud that Dr. Tainter agrees with me regarding the subtitle of Diamond’s book.

Ron P.

Thanks for the links, Ron. They'll be useful for sending to some thoughtful folks I know who are stuck in the bargaining stage,, help get'em off the fence perhaps. One smart guy I know thinks "salvage society" means saving BAU :-/

I didn't listen to most of the the Q&A - most times they aren't enlightening. That is interesting, though. I believe he also mentioned the Byzantine Empire, where they actually tried to plan to reduce complexity.

Of course, one has to recognize the basic problem and deal with it appropriately. I strongly suspect we are not going to do that. It's looking more like the fall of the Roman Empire every day - overstretched military, debased currency, eating into capital stores (oil, grain), etc.

The reduction in complexity by the Byzantines was in response to the military threat from the Arabs, who had by that time taken Egypt, Syria and Iraq from the Byzantines. So the reduction in complexity was a defensive strategy to make the Arabs defeat provincial forces in detail rather than simply defeating a massed army.

After the failed Arab attack on Constantinople in 711-718, the period until 741 saw raids and counter raids in Anatolia. After 741, the frontier was steadily pushed back through at least 1000 by Byzantine imperial forces.

I doubt that later Byzantine military or social structures could be said to be of low complexity for the time.

Indeed, "Byzantine" has become a synonym for "a complex maze", specifically with regard to regulation.

I'm just waiting for the succession of mad, quasi-Roman emperors to start...

I'm just waiting for the succession of mad, quasi-Roman emperors to start...

You mean like this?


Oh, come on. The succession has deeper roots than that already.

This is my favorite of the day : Paul Ryan's $350 Bottle of Wine.

Marie Antoinette, anybody ?

You have to hold down the Ctrl key (PC) or Command (Mac) when you type a "v" to paste your URL.

The results will then be clearer: Paul Ryan's $350 Bottle of Wine.

(sorry, just I have to deal with so many end-users it gets a bit frustrating at times.)

yeah, I know...cat was trying to help...

I'm glad Tainter finally gets some interest going on TOD. I've tried to mention his stuff here and there over the years with not much response. After all, his book from 1990 pretty much summed it up for me and when Diamond came along with his guns,steel,germs collapse stuff I was well prepared. Well, i guess the u-tube generation needs a different format ... although that short lecture really doesn't do justice to the detail and depth of the case he makes - do read the book: The Collapse of Complex Societies.

About complexity: I think its interesting point of view to imagine how a society would 'voluntarily' or even 'consciously' reduce complexity: has it ever happened in history, and in what form?

As an example ones Rome had built up the institutions of war for its pillage strategy and the pillaging ran out - what would have been the mechanism, political, economic, social - to diminish, disable and dismantle it? Its as if ones we build a new extension of complexity to our system, it becomes impossible to reverse. We may only 'fix' it by adding yet more complexity (like paying the army with inflated currency).

Today we seem to have the same problems: we have laws and regulations that are hundred of years old simply because we have no system to evaluate, revoke and replace them - we have systems of labour, land-distribution, corporate-charters, intellectual property and patent-systems that actually hinder the very technocratic-progress-ethos they were meant to advance. And our political system and bureaucracy seem to be ever more unwilling and incompetent to examine let alone alter such systemic faults in the System.

So its no wonder we find ourselves pessimistic about issues such as energy - we lack the basic 'product-development' or quality-management cycle from our political and technological decision making system: which would be able to evaluate past 'fixes', if they are working - and develop new better ones while discarding the old. Rather we have the obsessive-compulsive approach to problem solving: we pound every problem with the same, ever bigger hammer, with more nails on top of the old ones ... never stopping to doubt the tools and methods themselves...

Tainter's ideas need urgently to be applied to current day situations: the diminishing returns of our ever more desperate fight to maintain our economic growth - and the increased use of energy it needs. And the very real problem of substitutability: of crude, gas and coal as a energy sources (with quality factors and flow rates) - and the very elements themselves: potassium, copper etc. We have great myth that the next technological revolution will just produce new 'oils' and 'metals' endlessly from our magical laboratories to replace the old versions in every way, compatibly, cheaply, abundantly... that is politicians and common-folk. Anyone with an engineering or scientific training knows this is not going to happen. There are very real physical natural limits to both growth and technical fixes and gimmicks and we are rapidly exhausting all the easy ones.

What Tainter is trying to say is that 'cleverness' is not going to get us off the hook this time.

My understanding is that the leadership generally runs their civilizations into the wall at full-speed. They don't know anything else except what has always kept them in power. They abandon the populace when things become obviously hopeless.

Humans are not even half as smart as they have themselves believing. Clever... clever at noticing things is another thing. My dogs notice if I put a chair 100 yards up the dirt road: they will bark at it from the house. Like nuclear? Didn't think so. Makes a lot of energy, though. Too bad the humans are not even half as moral as they have themselves believing. Radiation was discovered when someone left a rock on some film in a drawer. They were clever enough to notice what happened. Another one wore a pretty glowing pendent.

There are things beyond our ken, our senses, and the feeble grasp of monkey mind. There are anomalies ignored every day. Like that crazy wheel spinning next to a cliff thing...

I read Tainter about 10 years ago and it certainly changed my view, especially about the future. But it is only part of the story. There is a prevalent view that we humans are the ones controlling everything, which unfortunately isn't the case. We essentially built an emergent system (ie. the whole is more than the sum of its parts) where our role in it is to abide by its simple rules, methods, techniques and improve its efficiency, in return we are rewarded with survival.

The main problem, and the one everyone complains about, is that the technical efficiency and progress that the system demands has no goal, objective or end, technical progress is simply an end in itself without purpose. The system is deterministic,has only one gear and that's fast forward with no reverse. Of course things break in the headlong advance for technical efficiency and require fixing, especially humans broken by synthetic and unnatural environments, hence the advances in medicine, entertainment, etc. In fact the systems method of incarcerating humans whilst meeting their physical and psychological needs is called civilisation.

As an example ones Rome had built up the institutions of war for its pillage strategy and the pillaging ran out - what would have been the mechanism, political, economic, social - to diminish, disable and dismantle it? Its as if ones we build a new extension of complexity to our system, it becomes impossible to reverse. We may only 'fix' it by adding yet more complexity

You certainly captured the system dynamics in your above quote. The thing to remember is that the system is purely deterministic and not intelligent or goal seeking, it only rewards humans for advancing technical efficiency period, it punishes them with failure for attempts to undo or degrade what's been achieved (eg. Luddites, reducing CO2 in the atmosphere).

What Tainter is trying to say is that 'cleverness' is not going to get us off the hook this time.

What Tainter is claiming is that 'cleverness' is not going to get us off the hook. Problem is, this is an unsubstantiated claim, along with many of the claims he makes. Hands are waved and words are redefined to mean other than they generally mean (his definition is complexity is way off), but he never stands then up with any science.

Take an example. In the 1950s you'd have had a secretary. What you dictated would have been transcribed, maybe typed up in a typing pool, or copied on a duplication machine, and maybe posted to a colleague on the other side of the world, to arrive several days later at best.

Today you do your own typing on a desktop machine, that can also wing your thoughts to Tokyo in a millisecond. I'm sure Tainter would love to claim that the full complexity costs of the computer industry and the Internet should be weighed in that (ignoring the 100s of other uses) - but the fact is the true complexity of the system has reduced since whole parts of the old system are ripped out and replaced, by systems that are general purpose and flexible.

He thinks it's necessarily a layering of system upon system forever, thicker and thicker; but I'd suggest the model is more like Tetris. Keep your wits about you, and your understanding of the total environment good and it's perfectly possible to simplify the system, and reduce the energy used, whilst maintaining and building civilisation to address its problem. Or in energy terms, yes, it's perfectly possible to get more complex and use less energy.

Rather the problem is one of understanding and 'cleverness'. If you don't keep on top of what's happening, if you elect an idiot or two, then things can get away from you, things build up, it all gets into a panic and things break. That would be my lesson from the Romans, not the claim of complexity necessarily growing uncontrollably.

It's a failure to have a sufficient level of 'cleverness' that's at the root of the problem; not some claim that "'cleverness' is not going to get us off the hook this time."

And yes, Diamond is more correct than Tainter; that is a choice that society makes - implicitly.

Today you do your own typing on a desktop machine, that can also wing your thoughts to Tokyo in a millisecond.

Wow! Now that is REALLY CLEVER... I'm super impressed!

Unfortunately that can quickly cease to be much of an accomplishment if say, the grid and servers are down due to a nuclear meltdown at your local (now super simplified) reactor, and all your farm land is radioactive for the next couple thousands of years and you can't even detect the lethal radiation without highly complex instruments, that can no longer be manufactured due to resource limits that impact the economy and make training the engineers who might have designed and built those instruments no longer viable. Add a couple thousand levels of complexity and feed back loops into all the stages in the millions of supply chains that currently support every aspect of our industrialized civilization and I'd expect you might see that tightly woven tapestry start to unravel pretty quickly.

So your statement:

It's a failure to have a sufficient level of 'cleverness' that's at the root of the problem; not some claim that "'cleverness' is not going to get us off the hook this time."

Pretty much falls flat on its face. Even if we are such clever monkeys...

Monkey steals camera to snap himself
A macaque monkey in Indonesia took a camera from a wildlife photographer before snapping himself in a variety of poses.

Clever monkey :)

Wow, that was a chore – has to be nearly the longest thread ever. I think this conversation has value so I am not mocking anyone. But, here is another set of questions that definitely belong under the monkey.

Given the complexity of modern society, it is not surprising that Tainter did not write “The collapse of simple societies”.

One would first have to define such an event. Perhaps all male members eliminated, women and children subsumed into the conquering culture combined with loss of the native language. Of course, if both were hunter gatherers with the same basic societal structure does this constitute a collapse?

Probably collapse has no meaning unless it involves loss of societal complexity.

In any case, the most recent revision in societal collapse has been the role of climate change. One would think climate change might have been hard for the complex societies of the past and yet vastly more simple societies are likely to have failed as a consequence.

Perhaps it makes sense to normalize to collapses per human lifetime as a way of determining if complex societies have gained a form of resilience.

If I go any further, I will make even less sense.

That's got to be Photoshopped - monkeys don't have teeth like that. Cute pic, though.

Best monkey picture ever!

Don't know. There seems to be a wide range of dentition among macaques. Below: this is specifically a black macaque. Is the photo above of a Juvenile?

Larger image:

I think you need to refine and bifurcate your term cleverness. There is localized only cleverness, which is individuals or small groups figuring out to advance their own narrow minded interests. And then there is systems-wide analysis prediction and guidance. We are really good at the former function, not so much at the later. It is this mismatch that gets us into trouble. The sum of indivdual optimizations does not yield global optimization, or sustainability, only a strongly quiding hand dedicated to understanding and avoiding/mitigating system wide issues can do the later. As we've seen in several countries powerful local interests (especially but not exclusively fossil fuel interests) have wrested control of the "quiding hand function", and those countries are heading towards the wall at breakneck pace.

You mean Adam Smith's Magical Hand isn't going to save us?

I think my use of quiding hand was unfortunate. By guiding hand, I meant some government function, using expert judgement, as opposed to Smiths, which was a postulated emergent property of the market. We've seen that Smiths "hand" doesn't have much regard for potential future problems.

As for Tainters's 'lack' of science: there is plenty more data and quantitative analysis in Tainters books then on Diamonds. However I don't expect mathematical systems analysis from either - fields that have to work in "the real world" such as anthropology and biology rarely can be reduced to formulae. A bit like engineering - being an engineer myself - it is a much more useful approach to take a rough model and run it in to the ground in the real world until you know its limits (or to the limits you can do that) - pragmatism is the key, insisting on perfection gets you know work done at the end of the day.

If you have to predictable model the behavior of societies in a real world - you have to start from somewhere. Tainter starts from basic data and analysis of past societies and proceeds with hypothesis to testing of similar and contemporary phenomenon - that is very scientific. Diamonds and others start with ideologies looking for "proof": like the myth that our cleverness will save us, or that we can choose our destiny.

Your belief, that "it's perfectly possible to simplify the system, and reduce the energy used, whilst maintaining and building civilization to address its problem[s]" is of course a valid hypothesis. And this is the test of it: has there ever been a society which has managed to do this and how? Can you even propose a theory of how this could be achieved? Which we could then further test against what has been possible before? If you can't do this on your own then I suggest your position is more about belief and science.

Don't get me wrong. Cleverness is indeed the workhorse of our modern world. I use it everyday in my work and I think its great! Its just that I have learned in the fields i've worked in that it has limits.

The irony is that you completely miss the point and still manage to give an example of technological fix that is just the kind of massive increase in complexity that features all the things Tainter has made parallels with: the need for growth has forced us to implement automation which enables increased flow-rates in information processing - yet at the same time makes us permanently dependent on those systems - all the while requiring us to build and maintain massive technological and logistic complexity (compare the manufacture of typing equipment and international telegraph network to the electronics, communications and IT industry and infrastructure). You must have some really weird definition of complexity? Not to mention 'general purpose' and 'flexible': ask yourself what systems can still be used in the event of a major natural disaster for example? The Internet or pen on paper and morse? Now ask yourself at what level of complexity you rate these systems?

Now don't get me wrong here: I'm not suggesting that the old system was more energy efficient in any way to the new one in terms of unit of information. But the thing is "the harsh bitch of sustainability-god" doesn't give a damn about number of units of information - what matters is the bottom line: overall energy consumption - and the level of complexity of a system correlates very well with that.

Just because our manufacturing systems can mass-produce widgets at massively lower units costs then if they were made by hand - doesn't mean we could or would down-scale the mass-production system to an overall sustainable energy expenditure level - while maintaining unit cost anywhere the same - not to mention the bottlenecks in the system itself - it needs a certain scale to function at all.

Take the Internet and IT industry in general: almost any diminishing, reduction in our consumption of ever increasing electronic crap and ever faster connections - would immediately halt the development and production of computers, chips, software, undersea-cables - simply because the system is geared to need a continuous and increasing flow of capital and income - if we stopped buying new computers every two years, being perfectly happy with performance of the current ones - we would instantly crash the whole economy...

...in fact the very things that we actually need, things: institutions and systems that produce our food, clean our water, heal us from sickness or keep airplanes in the air - are all heavy subsidized by our ever increasing consumption of this crap - if we ever had the slightest inkling of though to give up our ipods - we would immediately fall off the invisible bridge with Wile E. Coyote.

As for Tainters's 'lack' of science: there is plenty more data and quantitative analysis in Tainters books then on Diamonds. ... The irony is that you completely miss the point and still manage to give an example of technological fix that is just the kind of massive increase in complexity ... You must have some really weird definition of complexity? ... god" doesn't give a damn about number of units of information - what matters is the bottom line: overall energy consumption - and the level of complexity of a system correlates very well with that.

See, the thing that really flags Tainter up, as far as I'm concerned, is he makes a bold statements that "collapse is a result of the diminishing returns of complexity", and that "collapse leads to a lower level of complexity" without ever once really defining what he means by complexity. He has a partial, wordy description - that it involves the number of parts and the ordering/management of those parts, but it never actually gets turned into a tool that could be used to test what he then says are a consequence.

As an example, he references the Roman empire stages of collapse and specifically mentions it's breaking apart into distinct elements (West/Rome/East). Now, is this a lower level of complexity, as his collapse hypothesis demands; or is it a higher level of complexity, with duplication of parts and increased variety of interaction between those parts? Take different sections of what he says and it could be either. How can we tell? How do we assess it? All we get is hand waving.

If you are going to stand up that idea and move it on you need to be able to assess, if only roughly, the complexity level of a civilisation and demonstrate that:

  1. it increases with increased civilisation
  2. changes and developments do not/can not reduce it
  3. a certain (RoM) level is indicative of near-future collapse

Then you have some science that you can test, develop from, and use.

You say that an IT dominated office is of higher complexity than a 1950s one - referencing the necessary infrastructure, but you never assess the level of complexity necessary to keep those typists, duplicators, mailmen, etc. in operation. Has the level of complexity increased, or decreased? I'd say the its decreased, you increased. Unless you have an agreed scientific way to determine the truth - its all black and opaque.

Now, I'm not the one trying to stand up this hypothesis of Tainter's and turn it into a real theory; so the responsibility for defining it isn't mine. However, since you ask, I will lay out what I think complexity involves. Complexity is a measure of the number of parts, the number of different parts, the degree of interconnection of those parts, the non-linearity of those interconnections, the memory and changeability of parts and/or interconnections and the sensitivity or instability of that system to perturbation.

Or to take a leaf from the descriptive complexity field; its the length of the shortest description that would define the civilisational system structure and state sufficient that it could be reproduced.

High complexity means long description, low complexity means short description.

Perfect it's not, and actually computing what the value would be would require some short cuts and approximation. However, I challenge you to define what Tainter's definition is, and whether his claims at the top actually stack up with it?

You say that an IT dominated office is of higher complexity than a 1950s one - referencing the necessary infrastructure, but you never assess the level of complexity necessary to keep those typists, duplicators, mailmen, etc. in operation. Has the level of complexity increased, or decreased? I'd say the its decreased, you increased. Unless you have an agreed scientific way to determine the truth - its all black and opaque.

If you take a metric like eMergy:

You have the high (and its debatable how high the eMergy is in the very reproducible slabs of sand with toxins intertwined with mined metals and resins) eMergy tied to a functioning computer


The food/housing/education to get a worker to the position of a typing pool secretary.

Then to add another layer - Pentium II machines continue to work while machines that use DDR1 memory (newer by 3-4 years) are scrap. So what's the eMergy value of something that can continue to work?

And yes, Diamond is more correct than Tainter; that is a choice that society makes - implicitly.

But of course. Our American society chose on June 18th, 1987 to collapse in 2014. The Brits chose to collapse on April 30th, 1956 to collapse in 2013. I am not sure when the German society chose to collapse but I think it was sometime during the 1970s but they chose to collapse in 2017. The Aussies have not chosen yet. Perhaps they will chose not to collapse at all. The Greeks have chosen to collapse next month.

Sorry but I am getting a little ridiculous. But a ridiculous statement deserves a ridiculous answer.

Ron P.


Ha ha. Great answer.

I have always thought that Jared Diamond is wildly over optimistic. We don't have any more "choice" than the yeast in the vat. But implying that societies have a choice makes us feel good. It sells way more books.

And I think he knows that. The implications of some of his work are quire dark. He doesn't emphasize them, but I doubt he's missed them. He's a popularizer, and that means he has to have some concern for his readers' sensibilities.

Implicit: Implied or understood though not directly expressed, contained in the nature of something though not readily apparent.

Is English, init?

Now, I think you actually understand what was said; that civilisations don't explicitly choose to collapse, but instead choose options, models and systemic approaches which lead to collapse. But I think you also understand that that is much more reasonable that this should be the case and that collapse isn't inevitable at any particular size, age or energy usage level, and were just being ridiculous to deflect the realisation of that understanding.

I doubt that social complexity is a root cause of collapse, either in general or specifically due to an energy crisis. I don't buy what seems to be an underlying metathermodynamics philosophy. If anything, complexity is a secondary indicator resulting from social changes that are correlated with societies in the later stages of maturity or senescence.

Consider the society of India from about 2500 years ago until the conquest by the British Empire around 200 years ago. During this period India developed a very complex society involving a preeminent religious caste with a very complex theology, a political structure with a large number of principalities with varying relationships, a complex caste system with a myriad of hereditary occupational subcastes and extensive rules for interactions, and a complex system for trading within India and with other states. This complex society survived and absorbed various invasion, including the establishment of Islamic empires, until it was eventually subordinated by the French and British. The complexity never resulted in a high per capita use of energy. However, even though a low energy society it was very non-egalitarian as evidenced by the recent discovery of about $20 billion of gold and gems in the vaults of a temple in southern India, which had last been opened 150 years ago.

The main uses of energy are transportation, travel, comfort, and ease.

The desire to acquire goods from distant places, to move about the landscape, to live and work in spaces kept at about 70 degrees F that are artificially lit, and to avoid effort by using prepared foods, household appliances, and services outside the home is the root cause of the increased use of energy.

A society that uses lots of energy for transportation, travel, comfort and ease is likely to become complex, but a society can become complex while only doing a minimal amount of these things.

Good points, although I don't know the details about increased land use over this time. I think much the same thing could be said about China, where the bureaucracy stayed mostly intact through most of the successive dynasties (but I could be wrong, here).

I would want to add that at the beginning of the slide presentation, Tainter presents 'primitives' next to Einstein.

This is a rather odd thing for anyone that knows anything about technologically less developed peoples to do. It seems to suggest that they have less capacity for abstract or complex thought.

Polynesian navigators have complex and abstract systems to track wave patterns that help them navigate across vast tracts of ocean. Native navigators have been known to be able to accurately steer a boat hundreds of miles across the open ocean to a particular island while blindfolded in the hull of the ship, just by the feel of the waves. When asked to explain their knowledge, they draw abstract patterns of lines and hatches.

It is unfair to judge a whole presentation by the first few slides, but that choice, suggesting that complexity of society on other levels matches people's ability to think in rigorous, complex and abstract ways was unfortunate, at best, reinforcing as it does deep and damaging prejudices.

Perceptions of complexity are relative.
You try to intellectualize (as do most) a very simply premise and that is, everything humans do (and don't do) is in response to population pressures.

From simply restricting access to breeding partners, to religious ethics and rules and war.
Growing populations consume ever more resources and energy, resources of course can be minerals, carbon, flora and fauna. You can intellectualize complexity, politics, religion and/or comfort and ease. At the end of the day if populations had remained at a somewhat sustainable level without permanently degrading the environment, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

By growing our population we also need to grow our ability to consume resources, complexity is a response to that vital requirement. If Rome was an island they would be wiped out like Easter Island and so it could have been with other collapsed civilizations. But the world was/is a big place and people move on and redevelop in another form and continue the practice of plunder and pillage of the local environment until about now, when the local environment is no more, it's the whole damn world and there is nowhere else to go.

Sorry, everything does not simply boil down to population.

I just caught a glimpse of the video of Guns Germs and Steel while at the video store, and he was talking about how Papua was one of the earliest places to develop agriculture some 10,000 years ago, and had some of the densest populations in the world during that time. But they did not turn to empire or even civilization as we generally think of it.

So the density of their population did not determine how complex their society got, whether they tried to take over vast territories to support their population, or many other things you imply.

Population is of course important, but too many people try to say that it is absolutely the only thing worth looking at always.

(By the way, positing reductive all-encompassing simplistic explanations is as much an act of 'intellectualizing' as is looking for more accurate, if more fine grained, analyses.)

I wasn't replying to you but cherry picking will get you nowhere.
Never heard of Papua having a dense population.......? Maybe relatively speaking but compared to what and when. The population of the world ten thousand years ago could not have been great.
Has it been described what they did in response to population, did they eat their excess population or quaintly thrive in a Garden of Eden.

And I never said population density caused complexity, you did. Complexity is a response to population pressures.
Complexity is not an inevitable response but it is ubiquitous. Collapse could come from simply axing the last tree with a stone tool, with that tree representing the point of no return for regrowth and sustainability.

Papua did develop agriculture but mainly in the highlands, due to the climate. As a result of the geography, travel around Papua was difficult and individual kinship groups had evolved into linguistic groups. These extended kinshp tribes fought with one another, but the terrain made it impossible to consolidate larger political units.

However, low energy civilizations can organize into large and complex political units. The Zhou in China consolidated control of all of Northern China and a population of as much as 100 million around 2500 years ago.

Note that besides reasonable means of transportation, limited land is one of the prerequisites of consolidation. Otherwise, the peasants can always flee to vacant land. This is harder to do if they are on a fertile plain hemmed in by deserts, mountains, and seas.

And a Great Wall!

(IIRC, the wall was intended as much to keep peasants in as to keep Mongolians out.)

I think that Tainter is more focused on material complexity. If you could visit India of 2500 years ago you would find things made out of wood, metal, cloth (cotton and silk) paper...but not all the plastic, all the composites, all the complex machinery, all the drugs and chemicals, all the electronics etc that we have today.

The ideas of a society may be very complex and very highly developed even where, maybe especially where, the people aren't subjected to TV and the boredom of driving, catalogues, supermarkets, etc. and other mindless activities that make people less able to think for themselves.

Haven't we learned much from ancient civilizations---besides India, Greece, Egypt, Rome, Japan, China, Persia, Native Americans and more? Writers from centuries ago, or records of oral stories and myths, can provide insights and ideas that we still cannot fully comprehend. And as we try to comprehend them we can see how the limitations that they faced with respect to energy and resources were sometimes great catalysts for the development of philosophies and religious ideas. No machines, no oil, no plastic was there to serve....so they turned to the human mind instead and let it wander freely (in so many diverse ways across lands and peoples) and the things they came up with, the stories, the gods, the ideas, the religious principles....are the things today that still survive in whatever form as culture. We keep it going.

Arts and handicrafts also developed as a result of limitations---what was and wasn't available, what people could and could not do---now without material limits we are set free to shop but we are lonely, probably, in our little bubble world with no limits.

But the complexity of their ideas or myths or the techniques of handicrafts and tools is not the same thing that Tainter is refering to I think, when he talks about complexity. If you go to a walmart or look on ebay that is what he means I think.

I'm glad Tainter finally gets some interest going on TOD.

What makes you think he was not getting interest on TOD?

I'd guess if one took a week by week analysis of the comments on TOD you'd find at least one poster mentioning him in some way.

And you have the Tainter-Diamond nexus of 'Hey, this statement over here was made, lets look into that statement'.

And you likewise find the time to meta-comment on my subjective experience of the frequency of Tainter-occurrence.

Perhaps in the past years I've referenced Tainter's analysis here and got no response. Or perhaps I don't maintain a weekly word-for-word database of TOD. Or perhaps I just sound of my own voice.

And you also have that "lack of any mention of any of the actual points I was trying to bring up".

I guess I will have to continue in my delusion that 'TOD' has no interest in Tainter ;)

PS: Tainter-Diamond nexus on collapse is useful and interesting.

I wonder if it's just more accurate to look at growth, peak, and decline cycles in societies as natural cycles that have nothing to do with choice, despite the compelling illusion that political actors are free to "choose" to avoid decay and collapse.

look at [1] growth, [2] peak, and [3] decline ... as natural cycles

It certainly is comforting to use a delusional world like "cycles" because it invokes the notion of circles and of re-birth.

However, we TODders know in our inner gut that it is a one-way "spiral" toward oblivion, not a repeating circle of death and re-birth.

Oil, for example, is a one-time endowment.
Once we humans have "cycled" just one time through consumption, peak, and exhaustion, there will be no second cycle.
There is no circle of life. Exhaustion and death are just that, exhaustion and death.

[our] compelling illusion that ... actors are free to "choose"

I would leave the politicians out of this and say we all have the illusion that we are "free to choose".

There are a few small inconvenient facts that weigh against the illusion.
Stand over an ant colony and wonder out loud to yourself:
Did the tiny-brained ant over there go to ant college and "choose" to major in egg-carrying technology? And that one over there, did she make a wise "choice" to study larvae feeding and pursue that career?

A higher intelligent life form can stand over our colony of small-brained humanoids and ask the same questions. Are we "choosing" or merely acting out parts of a bigger system in which we individually play insignificant parts?

I would say the ant colony is a good analogy except that they work together better.

Two ant colonies that are close enough to visit each other with a few hours of ant trekking actually fight wars of extermination. Where their foraging territories are in contact, there can be continual border wars. Other species of ant are slavers. They capture larvae of from other ant colonies and raise them to be worker slaves. Ants are very poor examples of moral refinement.

At this very moment, two ants are debating with each other whether mites are a good analogy for ant-hood.

No you both have it wrong, individual ants are too stupid to debate anything, ant colonies, on the other hand, have personalities and are capable of high level reasoning which is why two competing ant hills can go to war against each other. The individual ants, they are completely disposable and irrelevant...


TORTOISE: I am sure that we could learn much from a myrmecologist you, Dr. Anteater. Could you tell us more about ant colonies, from a reductionistic point of view?

ANTEATER: Gladly. As Mr. Crab mentioned to you, my profession has me quite a long way into the understanding of ant colonies.

ACHILLES: I can imagine! The profession of Anteater would seem to be synonymous with being an expert on ant colonies!

ANTEATER: I beg your pardon. "Anteater" is not my profession; it is species. By profession, I am a colony surgeon. I specialize in correcting nervous disorders of the colony by the technique of surgical removal.

ACHILLES: Oh, I see. But what do you mean by "nervous disorders' an ant colony?

ANTEATER: Most of-my clients suffer from some sort of speech impairment. You know, colonies which have to grope for words in every situations. It can be quite tragic. I attempt to remedy the situation

by, uhh-removing-the defective part of the colony. These operations are sometimes quite involved, and of course years of study are required before one can perform them.

ACHILLES: But-isn't it true that, before one can suffer from speech impairment, one must have the faculty of speech?


ACHILLES: Since ant colonies don't have that faculty, I am a little confused.

CRAB: It's too bad, Achilles, that you weren't here last week, when Dr. Anteater and Aunt Hillary were my house guests. I should have thought of having you over then.

ACHILLES: Is Aunt Hillary your aunt, Mr. Crab? CRAB: Oh, no, she's not really anybody's aunt.

ANTEATER: But the poor dear insists that everybody should call her that, even strangers. It's just one of her many endearing quirks.

CRAB: Yes, Aunt Hillary is quite eccentric, but such a merry old soul. It's a shame I didn't have you over to meet her last week.

ANTEATER: She's certainly one of the best-educated ant colonies I have ever had the good fortune to know. The two of us have spent many a long evening in conversation on the widest range of topics.

ACHILLES: I thought anteaters were devourers of ants, not patrons of ant-intellectualism!

ANTEATER: Well, of course the two are not mutually inconsistent. I am on the best of terms with ant colonies. It's just ants that I eat, not colonies-and that is good for both parties: me, and the colony.

The Argentine ants that have invaded metropolitan areas around the globe don't fight each other, unlike their relatives from Argentina. They basically form one giant super colony.

Just an injection of completely worthless and off topic trivia.

Maybe Orwell's Animal Farm should be rewritten as Ant Farm, as we come to realize how many of them are right here rebuilding our civilization out from under us!

I liked FMagyar's Anteater post, too. It reminds me of how Anthropocentric our discussions of 'Intelligence' are, and how unlikely we seem to be able to discover intelligence elsewhere in the world or extraterrestrially, if we keep looking for it only within the terms we've defined for ourselves.

Yes, exactly. In the human world, intelligence means 'us'. What an absurd concept.
And yet every invention we've ever made comes from watching Nature. And mimicking it.

It is the same problem with many commentators here who, when they think "world", actually think "The United States". Anthropocentrism and ethnocentrism are two faces of the same dice.

in•tel•li•gence –noun
1. capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc.

2. manifestation of a high mental capacity: He writes with intelligence and wit.

3. the faculty of understanding.

The type of intelligence in the Dicitionary.com explanation above is only possessed by humans. To assume that some animal may possess intelligence, as described above, is nothing more than political correctness gone to seed. Animal Farm was an allegory. Orwell knew very well that animals did not possess the intelligence to engage in conversation, to plan and conspire with each other and against humans and other animals. The type of intelligence possessed by the animals in Animal Farm is possessed by no other animal, only humans.

Intelligence evolved as a survival mechanism. Humans cannot fly, they do not have an opposable big toe so cannot climb very well, they are not very strong and most predators can easily outrun them. They are poor smellers. Their teeth and hands are not good weapons for defense or attacking. All other animals on earth specialize in some other forms of survival adaptations. Some fly, or they can smell a hundred times better than we can, or they can run very fast, or they have telescopic eyesight or some other form of defense or attack mechanism that humans do not possess. And most, like the eagle who has telescopic eyesight and can fly, possess more than one of these survival mechanisms.

Only humans have the type of intelligence described by Dictionary.com above. Homo sapiens, wise man in Latin. Wise but not quite wise enough. Our intelligence enabled us to out compete every other animal in the battle for territory and resources. But out intelligence enabled us to vastly overshoot our niche. Our intelligence got us to where we are but even our intelligence cannot undo overshoot. Only mother nature can do that.

Ron P.

You are doing exactly what Jokuhl wrote that we humans do: use a definition of intelligence that we created for ourselves.
Intelligence is so much more than the restrictive definition of the dictionary! Evolution itself is a process of intelligence and there is more intelligence in the chemical complexity of a rock than in any of our Ipods. Our genetic code alone is a billion time more complex than anything we could ever hope to imagine.

What we humans have is a form of limited autonomy from our code. Not more than that.

You are doing exactly what Jokuhl wrote that we humans do: use a definition of intelligence that we created for ourselves.

??? Of course I am! That is the only definition we have. No, no, no, intelligence is not complexity and complexity is not intelligence. We cannot use the same name for different things. The complexity we see in our DNA is not intelligence, it is the result of evolution. But DNA evolved at least a billion years before we did. Intelligence did not.

Ron P.

Edit: It just occurred to me. Are you calling complexity intelligence because you believe it was intelligently designed? If so then I will not argue with you. I never argue with creationist anymore. I once did though...

Come on, you really believe that words and language have a frozen meaning?

To me evolution is intelligence. The equilibrium of the solar system is intelligence.
Plus, what we call our intelligence is coded in our DNA. We are just machines with a nice autonomy system, which is the only difference between us and a pack of ants. Autonomy from the code.
On our level, when we make a computer, using code, we still expect to be smarter than the computer. Nature is the same. She is much more intelligent than us. Humans are simply too conceited to notice it.

Edit: creationism? Are you sure you are reading me well?

Come on, you really believe that words and language have a frozen meaning?

I can only use meanings that are the standard definition today! I cannot and will not speculate on a new meaning that may come up in the future.

I think this debate is getting a little absurd. I use a word as it is used today and you reply, to the effect, "but it may have a totally different meaning some time in the future." Yes indeed it just might. But I have no way of knowing what that definition may be. So I am bound by the meaning it has to day.

Ron P.

Well, my whole point is that "intelligence" is a human concept and as such, we chose a definition that is convenient for us (because it flatters our ego and our exceptionalism). I am not positing a future meaning, I am discussing the validity of the very ascribed meaning of today.


Complexity does not equal intelligence.

Rocks are not intelligent. DNA is not intelligent. The universe is not intelligent. Ray Kurtzweil is not intelligent.

The process which led to rocks and DNA is intelligent. As a result, rocks and DNA are a form of intelligence.
I will stick to my guns on this one, but my approach is a weird mix of Western and Asian philosophy, so it might sound queer to a die-hard rationalist.


"The process which led to rocks and DNA is intelligent."

No, it is not.

Perhaps he's talking about their having a simulacrum of intelligence? '-)

Really, I think we do need a word for the complex adaptive abilities of other species. I prefer the term wisdom, but that can have other problems, I suppose. I'm especially thinking of this part of the definition from wikipedia:

"consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time [and] energy"

Many non-human forms are masters at this kind of thing.

Modern industrial humans seem often to be doing the opposite--bringing one calorie of lettuce to the table using orders of magnitude more energy to grow it and get it there, for example.

"consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time [and] energy"

Many non-human forms are masters at this kind of thing.

Wiki here is speaking of humans "consciously” doing these things.

Wisdom is a deep understanding and realizing of people, things, events or situations, resulting in the ability to choose or act or inspire to consistently produce the optimum results with a minimum of time, energy or thought. It is the ability to optimally (effectively and efficiently) apply perceptions and knowledge and so produce the desired results.

(Bold mine.) You, on the other hand, are talking about evolutionary adaptations in animals. Do not confuse instinct with intelligence. And for sure do not confuse instinct with wisdom. Wisdom is not just intelligence but a word for learned knowledge accompanied with high intelligence.

Ron P.

..consistently produce the optimum results..

I think theres something missing there. Oftentimes we are confronted by situations where cleverly realize we can do something, such as make a witty putdown, or we recognize we could steal something form person X without being caught etc. Wisdom, then is then the ability to resist the temptation to showoff how clever we are, and for example keep our mouth shut.

Wisdom is never quoting a fraction of one sentence of a paragraph thereby changing the entire context of what the writer of the paragraph really meant. The debate had to do with intelligence of humans verses other animals. The paragraph from Wikipedia had nothing to do with other animals.

Since the debate was all about humans verses other animals I am not at all sure where your comment fits in or why you chose to post such a witty putdown. ;-)

Ron P.

You cannot prove it more than I can prove my point.
I am talking philosophy here, not science.

Simulacrum, I see you have been a member of this list for 22 hours and a few minutes. Then you say to us:

"The process which led to rocks and DNA is intelligent."

Then you defend that statement by saying:

"I am talking philosophy here, not science."

No, you are talking religion at best and nonsense at worse. If you say rocks were created by an intelligent process then you are saying, whether you admit it or not, that God did it. That is not philosophy except perhaps religious philosophy.

We don't discuss religion or philosophy unless they have some connection to energy, peak oil or the consequences of peak oil. Whether rocks are created by some intelligence or not has nothing to do with anything we discuss on this list.

It would be my advice that you stop talking nonsense because we will soon tire of it.

Ron P.


I'm not sure what your point is. Since you are talking about your unsubstantiated (and unsubstantiatable) personal philosophy I guess you must be correct.

You are right, I probably should not have talked about this here.
My apologies for the foggy explanations.

The line of thinking smacks of Monarchy and their right to lead is the Divine Right of Kings.

It's hard to tell whether in posting a dictionary definition of intelligence, you are challenging my point or supporting it..

as I said above,
"to discover intelligence elsewhere in the world or extraterrestrially, if we keep looking for it only within the terms we've defined for ourselves."

Well, sorry but I guess I misunderstood you. Yes of course if we use a totally different definition for intelligence, then we just might find intelligence anywhere, even in a bacterium.

We are bound by words as they are used today, and that includes the word "intelligence". If we assume words can mean anything we want to mean, as did Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carrol's "Through the Looking Glass", then nothing makes sense anymore. We can argue anything and cannot be proven wrong simply because we have changed the meaning of words to mean what we wish them to mean.

Ron P.

Judging by your presence on TOD, you're sure you have never questioned the meaning of "progress", for instance? Of growth? Of economics?
All of these are conceptual, so bound to change.

No, no, no, a thousand times no. I never argue with the dictionary, or with the current conventional use of a word. Never have and never will. Even if I think the definition may change in the future I must accept the word as it is used today. Gad! How can anyone argue that the dictionary definition, or the accepted use of a word is wrong?

It is what it is, not what someone thinks it ought to be.

Ron P.

Well, I am not saying that your approach is wrong, but if everybody in history had done like you, language today would not really be rich.
Maybe it is my literary background speaking, but I like to think of language as the extension of life, a blooming, ever growing tool whose beauty is one of the greatest achievements of our species.

How can anyone argue that the dictionary definition, or the accepted use of a word is wrong?

Well, he certainly could do that. He might even do it in a way which is self-consistent and intellegent. But, essentially he has invented his own lanquage. At best others might conclude he has a sort of alien intellegence. But, if his goal is to communicate clearly with others, he has lost it.

PS, whether it includes Memory, Symbolic Referencing, Language, Abstraction (like EROEI!!) or not, it might be worth looking at our broader understanding of "Intelligence" as being a species success at working within its natural boundaries in such a way that it doesn't Overshoot, Lay Waste to Lands, etc.. as your final point seems to be considering. Whether this arrives through a process of planning, legislating and calculating, or simply a species that behaves with extraordinarily reasonable common sense when faced with the most essential choices around population control, food resource management and relationships with others have them acting more harmoniously with the world than us Great Apes who like to write about our Ginormous Intelligence when we're not attacking and poisoning each other.. just a thought.

As Amundsen said, 'Adventure is just bad planning...' it makes our own 'highest achievements of intelligence' seem to counterindicate themselves, no?

or from Mr. Spock, 'Logic is the beginning of wisdom, Saavik, not the end.'


Your definition of intelligence "as being a species success at working within its natural boundaries in such a way that it doesn't Overshoot, Lay Waste to Lands, etc." is just silly. It is exactly the opposite. Human intelligence is most explicitly evidenced by our ability to live outside our "natural" boundaries, even if only temporarily.

Also, the "us Great Apes" you refer to above also includes chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans. By your definition we are less intelligent than our closest living evolutionary relatives, since we are capable of doing much more damage to our environment. Once again, this is just silly.

I agree with Darwinian. Let's stick to the dictionary definitions.

Frankly, the insistence on hanging strictly onto definitions in arbitrary, culturally local lexicons is a piece of inflexible thinking that is closely akin to people who cling desperately and literally to the laws in the old testament without applying a reasonable amount of the ebb and flow of interceding events.


Creativity in language can certainly be a good thing. But words are the building blocks for the clear expression of ideas. If we don't have some reasonable fidelity to the definitions of the words we use, meaning is quickly lost in a fog of semantic confusion and irrelevancy.

You simply cannot try to encapsulate 'intelligence' by using a one-paragraph dictionary explanation. The proposition is preposterous! It's Inconceivable!

Why don't we try to define 'Technology' in as much space? Or 'Jazz'? These are malleable concepts, and definitions such as Ron provided are like the 'Serving Suggestions' on the front of a Rice-a-roni box. There are too many variables to be able to boil it down that far.

To assume that some animal may possess intelligence, as described above, is nothing more than political correctness gone to seed.

No assumption necessary.

I guess this crow really want's that seed, eh... not sure if it writes funny jokes but I think it fits the bill for everything else in that definition.


Ron, not disagreeing with you, but I think we also got to where we are due to being warm blooded (adaptable to different climates) and very large too (few natural predators). If we were cold blooded and the size of a mouse, our meteoric ascent would probably have been considerably tougher and not so meteoric with less impact (my hens would cause me real problems if I were 2" tall). But as you say, intelligence has allowed us to vastly overshoot our niche. Intelligence without wisdom may well end up in evolution's dustbin as yet another failed random mutation.

Human beings may be said to have intelligence but whether or not they are intelligent is another matter and certainly subject to debate.

intelligent: displaying or characterized by quickness of understanding, sound thought, or good judgment: an intelligent reply.

As a species, I don't think human being are exhibiting sound thought or good judgment as it is headed towards mass dieoff or possibly extinction. Collectively, the species doesn't seem capable of good judgment. Others may beg to differ and the vast majority does not have an opinion on the matter or probably assumes that we will pretty much continue on as we have been with no course correction required.

In certain realms, other species may exhibit at least part of the defintion of intelligent, such as quickness of understanding. In certain areas, my dog certainly exhibits that characteristic.

Collectively, human beings exhibit a kind of stupidity as our individual motivations and survival needs don't necessarily result in mass survival or long term survival. Yeh, we're still here from a species standpoint. But past performance should not necessarily be used as an indicator of future survival. Or should it?

And what blind spots we have. I was at a meeting today where people came together to discuss what could be done with respect to renewable energy as a long term alternative to fossil fuel. Just about everyone there had been to several previous meetings where we thoroughly discussed all the pros and cons of the various fossil fuels options. Almost everyone there seemed to understand where we are going, including the impacts of depletion and climate change.

At the end of the meeting, my wife and I got up and said we had to leave as we needed to take the shuttle bus back to town. We went outside and looked at the parked cars. Almost everyone one of them was an SUV. All these people seem fairly intelligent and aware of what is happening. But somehow there was not much of a connection to their personal choices. Now you can argue that it's all hopeless, so why bother. But why would you go to all the effort of going to all those meetings? And this was at a church which has solar panels providing most of its electricity and was paid for by the church members with no tax credits.

Yes. I wanted to mention them. They have taken over the "ant niche" in much of California. They are said to be so similar genetically, that the ants from diferent colonies friend or foe detector always returns "friend". The resultant supercolony, which now extends for several hundred miles is claimed by some to be the worlds largest organism. The thing that seems odd, is these are tiny black ants (I've seen similar ants called sugar ants elsewhere), that are totally non-aggressive, yet they've managed to replace the native species over a large area.

First off, go to hell for being snarky. Whether they're called cycles or something else, the fact that societies go through rise and fall patterns remains. Attacking word choice is for defensive, small-minded folks with little to say.

Second, unless humans go extinct as a result of fossil fuel depletion, there will eventually be other societies that rise, reach their zenith, and fall; they just won't be using fossil fuels as their economic base.

Also, the line of thought in your comment is scarcely coherent. Perhaps you're the one looking for comfort by believing an apocalypse will end things and human societies won't degenerate back to feudalism.

Snark? My dear sir, it's a matter of language. For several years, each time that I prepare to write a book, I first arrange the vocabulary I am going to employ. Thus, for L'Homme Foudroyé [The Astonished Man, available again from Peter Owen], I had a list of three thousand words arranged in advance, and I used all of them. That saved me a lot of time and gave a certain lightness to my work. It was the first time I used that system. I don't know how I happened onto it.... It's a question of language. Language is a thing that seduced me. Language is a thing that perverted me. Language is a thing that formed me. Language is a thing that deformed me. That's why I am a poet, probably because I am very sensitive to language -- correct or incorrect, I wink at that. I ignore and despise grammar which is at the point of death, but I am a great reader of dictionaries and if my spelling is none too sure it's because I am too attentive to the pronunciation, this idiosyncrasy of the living language. In the beginning was not the word, but the phrase, a modulation. Listen to the songs of birds!

I'm not exactly sure how your reply addressed the post you were replying to, but...


A fine performance!

And I am a great listener to the songs of birds (I live with a professional ornithologist).

It's a old favorite of mine. Also available remixed by Patti Smith: http://youtu.be/n5HT2Hn6_do

I think I've jumped the snark as far as Silen(ce)us is concerned.

Thank you for the poetic defense, baby.

With that said, the word "cycle" is part of a "framing" problem. If you let the word "cycle" into the discussion, you inherently let the notion of circles and renewal into the thinking process. But there is no renewal. Oil is a one time thing.

Nothing personal was intended Silenus.
Sorry you took it that way. :-(

Pardon me if I appear to butt in, but....this whole collapse thing is from the eye of the beholder. The collapse of the Western Roman Empire must have been quite traumatic for those within that Empire, as any modern Westerner might be affected during the present collapse, once it really gets rolling. But, to those humans outside the affected societies, it's likely not to be recognized much less fretted over. Right now for example, there are peoples living in non-modern societies like in parts of Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea that will only hear of the present collapse by that age old "coconut wireless". They will keep on keeping on. Why, I doubt even the radioactive pollution from all the abandoned nuke power plants will affect them too much, perhaps a bit of climate change, as far as that goes (it's already hot in the tropics). The big difference is the modern experiment at civilization will likely not be repeated without oil and all it entails, and (not to be too judgemental) who the Hell would want to repeat this grand experiment at oil-fed overshoot and collapse again? What would be the point?

Unfortunately, our current civilisation is the first to control most of the human population of the planet, or at least profoundly affect its world view. And as it is rapidly depleting the entire planet's available resources and doing unprecendented damage to ecosystems and making major changes to the climate, even the tiny number of people little affected by us to date (Andaman Islands?), will suffer from the damage we commit in our death throws.

I had to Google the Andaman Islands. Pretty remote, and subject to sealevel rise, like the Maldives, Seychelles, etc. Yeah, my point is not all humanity will collapse and die off, just a large portion of it. Our modern societies will leave behind a lot of ruins and depleted, mined-out resources. Large areass will be affected by pollution and the climate change we've apparently begun. It will be especially rough in the Northern Hemisphere, even if we keep those nukes in their silos and in the subs. The bigger and more complex the society, the harder the fall. Humans will survive, we've made it through bottlenecks and climate changes before, many times in the Pleistocene, in fact. I guess what's sad, besides all the environmenal damage and species extinctions we've begun, is the best we could muster in manned space exploration was a Moon shot, and we instead wasted a lot of resources shooting shuttle payloads into low Earth orbit and calling that space travel. That's ending now, thank goodness, but I'm afraid it's because we simply can't afford more of it, than switching priorities to other space ventures. We'll see, but it's getting very late in the game now.

Um, can I quote you on this? I collect quotes from authors / writers.


I have a Book, sitting on the shelf in front of me.......

"I AM A STRANGE LOOP" .....by Douglas Hofstadter

I suggest it to all.

The Martian.

The problem with the 'cycles' view is that it seems to discount the certain irreversible changes that have occurred now - such as having pushed several ecosystems into permanent changes that cannot be reversed. In one word: Depletion. In a post-depleted world (depleted soils, depleted fisheries, depleted minerals, etc.,), things we take for granted can be extremely challenging. Amidst all those challenges a 'society' that 'rises and reaches zenith and falls'?

The Earth history is filled with extinction peaks and horrendous geological events which were far more significant than the puny humans attempts at mastering the environment.
Life is NOT about reversal. Things happen, and Nature just deal with them the best it can. Equilibrium, chaos, equilibrium.

Never thought I would ever post here, but it seems we can never predict the future.

@step back: There is nothing delusional about the concept of circles and cycles because death and exhaustion are a full (and seminal) part of the game.
Hell, even the sun is bound to exhaust itself and die, but in doing so it will create energy, matter, and continue its existence as something else. But you are not going to point a finger at the sun hollering "overshoot, overshoot!", right?
To the contrary, I find that you are delusional if you think that matter, existence (in the sense of un-nothingness), is only a one-way trip to oblivion. And even more delusional if you really believe that us TODdlers know anything about life in general. Who are we to even say that biological life is more life than, let's say, the winds on Jupiter?

We humans are part of a system, and in that system we are, in a sense, invisible cogs, or as you say, insignificant. We do not matter more than a grain of sand, than a molecule of Hydrogen, but if we consider ourselves as elements of a system whose complexity is breathtakingly beautiful, we are also completely meaningful because we belong to it.

There is no right way of doing things. Our path to collapse (I do not like this word, but everyone here knows what it refers to) is the way we humans chose to live, and there is nothing wrong about it. If it kills us all, so be it. And if somehow we manage to improve ourselves upon it by being more humane and aware of what we are, then all the better (for us)!
Right and wrong only exist so far as our perceptions go. So fattening ourselves with oil to the point of explosion is only bad as far as our existence as conscious humans is concerned. As for the rest, the Earth will keep orbiting the sun, that is, until it stops and becomes something else.

Hubris is what is making us so disgruntled and pessimistic. We are insignificant, but we still have the choice of life or death. That's why we keep fighting, right?

Dissipative complex adaptive systems do not have much choice throughout their lifespans. A failure to meet any key necessity in a timely manner means a quick return to equilibrium with the environment.

When the hypothalamus senses low levels of glucose in the blood and we become hungry, we have very little choice but to fill our stomachs. The glucose is transported to the mitochondria and is converted to ATP so that our muscles will have the energy to contract and transport us to the refrigerator. Of course, most of us can burn some fat or muscle if the refrigerator is bare and a lot of us have an SPR (strategic petroleum reserve) somewhere between the belly button and the buttocks.

Society, as it is currently arranged, has no real choice either. It will continue burning the fossil fuel food within the devices that deliver the equivalent of ATP or it will starve and die. It is very difficult for us to change to a solar civilization because we would become vulnerable to the last remaining, fast evolving, energy hog nations. In order to make the changes necessary for survival in some form, we must control the energy availability and war making potential of every nation on the planet. If we don't do this, we are likely to burn ourselves out in a senseless competition that leads everyone over a cliff. To control the money of the world may be an equivalent control strategy. Only when potential enemies are hobbled can we really make the drastic changes necessary for survival. There is some merit behind the idea of one world government since it would, at least in theory, allow the diversion of entire military budgets and significant amounts of remaining energy into completing the massive reorganization.

The fossil fuel frig will soon be empty, but the sun will rain food upon us virtually forever and for free. It's been that way for the past three billion years of our lives. Our fossil fuel civilization, young and destructive, is an evolutionary anomaly whose explosive force threatens to extinguish the wavering flicker of life that has endured for so long.

Well said.

"Our fossil fuel civilization, young and destructive, is an evolutionary anomaly whose explosive force threatens to extinguish the wavering flicker of life that has endured for so long."

Wrong. We are threatening ourselves, nothing else. After we have gone, life will find its way somehow.
And there is no evolutionary anomaly. We are just the way we are, goddammit. Do you really think we are that exceptional as to deserve the title "anomaly", all things considered?
The industrial society is in our genes; we would not have been able to make it happen otherwise. So there is no anomaly.

Simulacrum, I think Dopamine put it very well and was spot on. I really think you totally misunderstood the thrust of his/her post. But no biggie, I have often done that many times myself.

Of course we are threatening ourselves, but the discovery of vast amounts of almost free energy in the form of fossil fuel enabled us to vastly overshoot our niche. I believe that we would have eventually done that anyway but it would have taken us many many centuries, not just the two that began with the industrial revolution.

Yes, it is in our genes but without fossil fuel we would have never pulled it off. In that sense it was an anomaly.

Ron P.

Think of what we do as humans: we use our environment to render our quest for survival less difficult.
Using fossil fuels is no less normal for us than using a rock to kill an animal.

We use tools. That's WHAT WE DO.
Fossil fuels are tools. Which are available to us. I see no anomaly in using them, au contraire.

"Yes, it is in our genes but without fossil fuel we would have never pulled it off."

But there IS fossil fuels on Earth. So why theorize a "without" that makes no sense anyway?

but the discovery of vast amounts of almost free energy in the form of fossil fuel enabled us to vastly overshoot our niche. I believe that we would have eventually done that anyway but it would have taken us many many centuries,

Overshot happened many times, but they were "localized".

Oil allowed for global overshooting due to the volume of energy and the global nature of the market.

Overshot happened many times, but they were "localized".

Of course it did and localized overshoots would have continued to happen for many centuries if there were never fossil fuels to be discovered. Yes for many, many centuries. And eventually, after many centuries, due to gradually improving our expertise at killing off other species and destroying our environment, there would, very likely, have been a planetary overshoot. But it would have taken a lot longer.

Ron P.

We are threatening more than just ourseves, many other species will go down with us (or I think more likely will go down, and we will survive with a somewhat different organiztion). The human overshoot, will be another planetary mass extinction event. Not the end of the life experiment, but a significant episode.

Quite possible, yes.
But I don't think, even if overshoot really occurs as brutally as some fear (which remains highly speculative), that there will be a mass extinction event the scale we have seen in the past. We cannot compete with an asteroid. Or the internal movements of the planet.

In my almost six years as a member of TOD I have never heard anyone argue that this present sixth extinction will exceed the Great Permian Extinction or even the lesser K-T Extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs. But it will be brutal for all megafauna. As humans get hungry, very hungry, every animal in the wild will become "bushmeat". We will likely eat the songbirds out of the trees.

To argue otherwise is to argue that wind, solar, and other renewables will replace fossil fuel and keep business as usual, or nearly so anyway. And of course that is exactly what many have been arguing for years. If that is also your argument then it should be couched something like this: "There will be no collapse and die-off, or only a minor collapse and die-off because..."

Ron P.

I have no argument, because I do not pretend to be able to foretell the events before they unfold like most doomers around here.

The only thing I know is that it is not a problem without solutions. We do not need a lot of oil to feed the whole planet. If food, shelter and healthcare were our only goals, we probably would not consume much of the proportion of oil we consume today (maybe what, 20, 30 per cent?). Simply ban the automobile (for starters) and we can gain a lot of time to transition (to solar with much less consumption and movement, or an organic system, or...) without too much damage to our population.

But we have to accept to change our habits. Something I am not sure we can do without the edge of the sword directly on our throat. And we will all agree here that it is getting closer.

The only thing I know is that it is not a problem without solutions.

And just what is the solution to overshoot?

As water tables fall, rivers run dry, freshwater aquifers deplete, productive top soil blows away, deserts advance, temperatures rise, snow and ice masses in the mountains melt, and oceans rise, the modern world is becoming a "civilization in trouble" precariously living on a "planet under stress" (Lester Brown, 2003).

Actually he forgot: Species going extinct, lakes and inland seas drying up, ocean fisheries disappearing, rain and dry forest disappearing and a hundred other things I could name.

Yes I know we could do without the automobile, and a thousand other things that give several billion people employment and the salary to keep on living.

All we have to do is... Err, just what is it that we have to do to reverse the destruction that seven billion people are causing to the very host that we live on?

Ron P.

Salary and money are non-arguments. In a crisis situation, what matters is the equal distribution of food, shelter and healthcare. Everyone having a job is completely irrelevant. You are thinking flat money, democracy, BAU. Like a contemporary economist.

The problem of the Western approach to peak oil, is that we cannot accept to let go of our way of life without deciding that if we have to change, then everyone on the planet has to die to make up for our sacrifice. Get real. The average Bangladeshi consumes one hundred times less oil than the average American or Canadian and yet they are NOT starving, for Heaven's sake. Sure, they do not have a fun life, but there is no die off. Are you really, really willing to change Ron, before telling everyone that they have to die? Such a doomer approach to the problem is worthy of Dick Cheney, because it is so damn selfish. Die off is non negotiable!

We are in trouble. I do agree with you on that. But if moaning about it is all you can do, just off yourself and leave your share of oil and food to people who actually want to live (do not take this literally, I am just pushing your reasoning to its absurd but foreseeable consequence).

(Please note that suggesting that others commit suicide is not allowed on this site, or on any others that I know of)

Don't assume that people who post here aren't doing all sorts of things to live more sustainably. Don't assume that just because you meet us through our posting, that this is all we do with our lives.

So just for information purposes, what are you doing? Have you gotten your personal consumption down below one earth (www.myfootprint.org).

I like you point about Bangladeshis and redistribution, but how likely do you think that is to come about. Do you see any viable force in the US or anywhere else that is even thinking about this?

"Don't assume that people who post here aren't doing all sorts of things to live more sustainably. Don't assume that just because you meet us through our posting, that this is all we do with our lives."

I do not assume anything. I am just assessing Ron's words, which are shocking to me (and I've been reading him a long time before finally posting here, and his answer to everything is always the same: die off).

As for my personal consumption, well, I will be honest and say that I could still do much better than what I am doing now. But I am below one in consumption.

"I like you point about Bangladeshis and redistribution, but how likely do you think that is to come about. Do you see any viable force in the US or anywhere else that is even thinking about this?"

Not yet. But it does not mean that it is impossible.


Let me give an opinion, in despite of that I dont know Ron: 1) he is more senior, so I imagine that he ponders more of the end than a young person. Individually we also can have different reasons & history to believe more or less in a possible "die-off" or not. 2) I am younger and feel (individually) quite optimistic as a contrast.

Further you mean that a better future is "...possible." But with your wording it appears as if you mean "low probability". Is this not pretty much the same thing as the "general point of view of TOD"? We all hope that things will work out, but many, by a rough analysis, thinks that has a small chance - thus the opposite seem reasonable.

Further you mean if, a future (good one) arises by a small probability, it follows that that happens through an unforeseen event (else everybody should have factored it in already), so, that "revoution", is probably a game-changer.


Salary and money are non-arguments. In a crisis situation, what matters is the equal distribution of food, shelter and healthcare. Everyone having a job is completely irrelevant. You are thinking flat money, democracy, BAU. Like a contemporary economist.

Truly absurd! People, unless they produce food, must buy food. That is the way it has always been for as long as civilizations have existed. They either bought food, with fiat money as you call it, or bartered for food if they did not grow their own. Philanthropy is something nations do when they have a surplus of food and money. It is something people do only when they have a full stomach. People and nations do not give food away. People either grow it or buy it or they starve.

And as for Bangladesh, you are sorely mistaken if you think they do not depend on money or oil. And it takes both to import food. Bangladesh, like many other nations, is on the cusp of collapse.

Bangladesh: Hidden Hunger
Skyrocketing oil prices have driven up the cost of food worldwide, but their impact has been particularly dire in Bangladesh, where almost half of the 145 million people live on less than one dollar a day.

For those who do not know, the staple food of Bangladesh is rice and the price of this commodity has almost doubled than what it was about a year and a half ago. And the poor in this populous country have been hardest hit.

Rice Imports by Bangladesh to Double on ‘Panic-Buying’
Bangladesh, South Asia’s biggest rice buyer, doubled its import target for this year to cool domestic prices that surged to a record in December as consumers and farmers hoarded supplies, a government official said.

The import target was raised to 1.2 million metric tons for the year ending June 30, from 600,000 tons set in November, said Badrul Hasan, director for procurement at the nation’s Directorate General of Food. That’s triple the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimate of 400,000 tons.

The people of Bangladesh have a serious problem brought on by the price of oil, shrinking farm plot size, rising population and declining incomes. Most must buy their food. Petroleum very much influences the price of rice, the transportation of rice and the marketing of rice.

Ron P.

Ron, I've had problems with just about everything S has said since (s)he came on the forum, but I think the point about Bangladesh was not that is was some kind of paradise or had a great and promising future.

Only that people can survive and have culture, etc, on a tiny fraction of what most in the West consume.

That is one side of reality.

What is difficult to imagine is how everyone in the world could be convinced to share what is here, reduce consumption to something much lower than the current norm in the West (not necessarily quite Bangladeshi levels--perhaps Costa Rica or Cuba levels), and, I might add, stop having babies.

That, imvho, does not mean it is not worth trying to imagine. But the distribution of masses of food and resources from afar that happens in emergencies--after tornadoes, hurricanes, etc--does not strike me (or many others who have looked into it) as a great long term means of distributing resources, at it tends to destroy local economies (and other distribution systems) and, as you point out, depends on large inputs of fossil fuels.

It looks to me as if MENA and South Asia are going to be the poster children for how bad things can get quite soon.

East Africa is that now.


but I think the point about Bangladesh was not that is was some kind of paradise or had a great and promising future.

Only that people can survive and have culture, etc, on a tiny fraction of what most in the West consume.

And my point was that Bangladesh is in deep overshoot and half that overshoot was enabled by first world oil, the first world green revolution that produces massive amounts of rice for export and first world manufactured ships to carry that rice.

Also Bangladesh has a thriving export market of clothes and other textile products exported to places like the US and Europe. The baseball cap I am wearing bears a tag "Made in Bangladesh". And, Bangladesh has the world's largest Ship Breaking Yards though they do work for near slave wages. But that's what very hungry desperate people do, they work for slave wages.

My point was, and is, that Bangladesh depends on the developed world, as it exist today, for their survival. Should the developed world collapse half the population of Bangladesh would starve. The very idea that they are immune to collapse simply because they consume so little oil per capita, and everyone else could do likewise is truly ridiculous.

Ron P.

""The baseball cap I am wearing bears a tag "Made in Bangladesh".""

Kinda sums up where your Head is at.




95% of what I consume in my daily life is made in the US. My choice.

Until one is Dead, one always has a choice. Take the time in life to make a choice in the right direction.

Choose Wisely.
The Martian

If you drive an American car you still drive a car that was produced mostly in another country and assembled in the USA... or Canada.

No, I do not buy everything made in America. I buy at WalMart. If I had plenty of money I would buy all American. But I do not. I live of Social Security and a small stipend from Boeing.

But I don't mind your cheap insult. I know I am contributing to the problem by shopping at WalMart and I am increasing my carbon footprint just by driving my car. But so are you.

So I really don't care what you think about my shopping or driving habits, that's just the way it is.

Ron P.

No blame game here Ron, because your circumstances must be difficult, and you probably have no choice.

But. Why talk of die-off all the time when obviously we could live a healthy and happy life with much less than what we have? Why do you assume that the loss of most of our comfort necessarily means death?
It means change. It means sacrifice. But it only means death if we wish it to be so.

But you cannot say that just because Westerners have to change it automatically means chaos and death for everyone. This kind of reasoning is so selfish!
Per capita, Americans are already using twice as much oil as Europeans, who are already over-consuming. You really do not believe that there is a lot space available between such a way of life and death?

Bangladesh, which I used as an example, is the size of Iowa while sporting a population of 160 million. Before the oil prices rose starting 2005, they could feed themselves, and with only a little bit of oil needed.
And why are the prices of oil high? Because we Westerners need gasoline to feed our cars. You do not see the contradiction here? We are asking people to starve and suffer from global warming (and Bangladeshis are going to suffer from it alright!) because we cannot care enough to move our asses and take a bike or build efficient public transportation?
Oil is not going to run out the day after tomorrow. There is plenty of it left to feed, clothe and shelter the entire population of Earth for a long time, long enough to prepare for ultimate decline. But only if we really want it. I know I do because I happen to love life more than the thrill of doom.

I think Bangladesh was well and truly screwed long before 2005.

No country exists under a dome. Where human life exists on a knife edge it takes little to upset the balance but by the same token it can take little (relatively speaking) to prevent tragedy. That "little" though has to be enough and is dependent on communications and information, fast response and the generosity of donor nations. All that of course requires energy.

Right now the horn of Africa is in peril. Luckily they are not isolated and a quick response could prevent a wholesale tragedy. Time is crucial though.

In a crisis situation, what matters is the equal distribution of food, shelter and healthcare.

In a crisis situation, what matters is belonging to a group that has the political organization and military power to acquire the remaining food, shelter and healthcare.

See for example Somalia, or any number of other leading-edge societies.

Following a crisis, society can revert back to a more normal long-term situation, such as India, which has some of the richest people in the world living alongside hundreds of millions in poverty.

BBC news 2008 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7556489.stm

The most recent government figure is that about 26% of India's population are officially classed as poor - that is people getting less than the minimum number of calories regarded as necessary for survival.

"In a crisis situation, what matters is belonging to a group that has the political organization and military power to acquire the remaining food, shelter and healthcare. "

And I do hope that democratic and humane societies will choose not to act thus.
Unlikely, right? It does not mean that it cannot be done. The human race can be surprising in the good sense of the word, sometimes. We survived the Cold War, for instance. In hindsight, it was a miracle.

Merrill - I try to avoid friendly debates with folks like Sim. I can almost be envious of their optimism re: human nature and our response to a crisis situation. But almost. I really wouldn’t want to change their hopes and expectations. If I did they would be left with my dark vision of our potential future. But I felt a need to respond to the “we survived the Cold War” comment. As Tonto said to the Lone Ranger: “What do you mean ‘we’ white man?” What about the 60,000 military who died in Viet Nam? And the million+ Viet civilians who died as we saved them from the Red Threat. And the millions of Koreans who died and suffered (and continue to do so in the north)? And do I need to metion Cambodia, central Africa, etc, etc. And the millions globally who likely died through neglect as the “civilized” societies spent $trillions on our war machines?

Maybe Sim will be correct: through some mysterious cosmic event perhaps mankind’s DNA has suddenly been altered. Just thought of something: I wonder if Sim knows folks at the time called WI the “war to end all wars” and really believed. And did Sim ever read the words of a WWI general who predicted the armed forces of the world would never again engage in such a global battle thanks to the advent of air power. His rationale: what govt would engage in war now that it could be delivered directly via air power to the doorsteps of its civilian population?

I do like to expect the best from my fellow man. I’ve seen many acts of kindness and generosity in my life even during stressful moments. But I still carry my .45 auto with me on the highway and a 12 gauge with No. 4 shot sits under my bed. I know it’s rather worn but: “Expect the best but plan for the worst”.

I'm not really following this, I just see the phrase "DNA has suddenly been altered" and it invokes this response of telling you about epigenetics: It is possible to alter gene expression in a single event. Stress, drugs, chemical exposure. War? The results are passed to the offspring. The DNA is just the toolkit. The expression of it puts those tools to work. For example, the DNA is wrapped around histones. If a histone is made to swell, the strand will sink into it and no longer be available to the transcription process that reads it.


Rock, I never said that the future is bright and beautiful and that we will emerge from this crisis unscathed.
But it does not mean we cannot TRY. I have looked into the well and I have considered the dark outcomes as much as the brighter ones. I simply chose to focus on the latter. I have accepted the idea the we might fail as much as the idea of my own death. I am not trying the find some weird comfort zone to keep the pain of reality at bay. But I do not believe in quitting just because it looks bleak in theory.

(For my Cold War comment it simply pointed to the fact that we chose not to nuke each other. Millions died in the conflict, I am not denying that, but it could have been billions.)

Sim - I really wasn't trying to impune your point of view. Just add my sense of how frustrating trying to do the undoable can be. Just to make my point very clear I'll use a silly example: you can jump off a building and try to fly. That's not optimism...that dillusional. Granted, predicting human reactions to a crisis isn't nearly that simple. But history has an endless string of unpleasant responses.

Yep...billions didn't die during the Cold War. But you and I differe as to the reason. You seem to attribute it to a reasonable response by a collective group of reasonable folks. OTOH, I contribute it to luck. The MAD philosohpy only works as long as no one shoots first...intentionally or accidentally. Consider how lucky the 100 million+ folks who died during WWII would have been if Hitler had died of a stroke in 1934.

Future reality has a range of possibilities (what would 2020 look like if the Supreme Court had picked Al Gore, because Scalia died of a heart attack in 1997).

Humans can affect the future course of events. Geology alone is not destiny.

IMHO, the best reasonably possible future will be difficult, but so was the Great Depression.

The dysfunction of our political process can be positively impacted. What if, say, a group of utilities and a major railroad came out and said we well electrify a rail line from here to there, and use the RoW to transmit renewable electricity, *IF* we get a, say, 25% Investment Tax Credit ? Then talk about the National Security, energy and economic and environmental benefits to the nation that do not show up on their bottom lines.

I can see a positive tilt in public policy developing from this.

And other ways to tilt public policy for good.

Best Hopes :-)


I never said that the future is bright and beautiful and that we will emerge from this crisis unscathed.

But you did say how people are going to have to give up Liberty.

And when it was established that you were to be on the bottom and I was to be the Leader - you rejected that real world example.

Why are you not willing to take the very medicine you propose others should take?

I did not reject your example, since I admitted your objection was the main weakness to the plan I was proposing.

But you are wrong about me. I would take the medicine should it be the only solution at our disposal.
Remember that my proposition is a temporary solution, a transition system until we can build infrastructures which would permit a moderate, sustainable use of energy. So not for us, we enjoyed the party enough anyway, but for our descendants.

Salary and money are non-arguments.

So long as there are mandatory money sinks (if you want to avoid having your property taken or Liberty restrained) like taxes , money matters.

In a crisis situation, what matters is the equal distribution of food, shelter and healthcare.

And yet, money is how that distribution decision happens.

And why would the people who profit from misery want to see "equality"?

telling everyone that they have to die?

Everyone does get to die.

I am talking of a big crisis project here, which would require sane and thoughtful leadership.

But we are facing what is perhaps the biggest crisis in human history. It means exceptional measures, and certainly, for a time, drastic losses in personal freedom.

But we are facing what is perhaps the biggest crisis in human history.

1) The biggest crisis seems to be the time when humanity was knocked back to 20 or so females per DNA analysis.
2) What crisis is this you speak of? Energy? Biotech? Religion? Incoming planet X?

and certainly, for a time, drastic losses in personal freedom.

And who gets to decide these losses and who enforces them?

I'm all for Me being the enforcer and you loosing your personal freedom. You are OK with that, right? If that is not OK, do let me know how exactly the leadership class will be chosen.

"2) What crisis is this you speak of? Energy? Biotech? Religion? Incoming planet X?"

The NBA lock-down, of course.

As for your objection, it is an excellent point. I could offer suggestions like lottery, vote or turn taking, but they obviously would be unsatisfactory.
But if the choice becomes between loss of personal freedom or die-off, I think people would be willing to take the leap.

The NBA lock-down, of course.

So humans should give up personal Liberty just so a Corporation can continue operation?

This is as bad as an idea as "New Orleans must be saved at the cost of all other cities of the United States because of the culture" at one time pitched on TOD.

As for your objection, it is an excellent point.

I didn't object, I stated that I'm the leader. I figured YOU might object to ME being the leader.

I could offer suggestions like lottery, vote or turn taking, but they obviously would be unsatisfactory.

AKA - I have no actual answer to your position.

Glad you accept my position of leader. Now, as Leader I need to be fed and kept warm along with electrical power. Glad you'll give up your freedom so that I may be comfortable as Leader. So that I may lead you.

But if the choice becomes between loss of personal freedom or die-off, I think people would be willing to take the leap.

Lets see - a binary choice about a projected future.

One no one can prove.

But loss of freedom is documented in effects.

Some of the oldest claims of technology/energy and personal freedom goes back to Hero of Alexandria and steam power. Why no development of Steam? The answer they gave was that all the work was done by slaves so they didn't have the need for steam power.

Actually he forgot: Species going extinct, lakes and inland seas drying up, ocean fisheries disappearing, rain and dry forest disappearing and a hundred other things I could name.

Yes, but we now have massive jellyfish blooms, as any good economist will tell you if you have run out of fish then all you have to do is just substitute Jellyfish! Wouldn't the late Julian Simon, be soooo proud of me?

"And just what is the solution to overshoot?"

With a screen name of Darwinian you know the solution. Starvation, disease, pollution induced death, war induced death. What is one reason people fight wars? To localize the dying to someone else.

"I do not pretend to be able to foretell the events before they unfold"

But you do seem to think that you know for sure that the future will involve some kind of cycle and that we won't do much harm to much of the rest of life.

I do not pretend to be able to foretell such events before they unfold.

But do think that there is good reason to believe that our current manifold extinction event could outstrip any seen before (a position I am sure I have expressed here, I guess Darwin does not read all of my posts religiously '-)

You do know, I hope, that we were already in a mass extinction event before the effects of GW got started. So that is one dinosaur-extinguishing-asteroid-like event that was already underway. That non-GW-related extinction has continued apace, to the point that ocean life is vastly reduced, most major fish used for food are depleted or worse...Monocultures in ag mean that there is more bio-diversity in many urban settings than in much of the rural landscape. Rapid and thoughtless increases in globalization means every area is threatened by multiple foreign invasive species that can wipe out vast landscapes of once diverse living communities. Human development and sprawl has extinguished many eco-systems...

Now GW (along with ocean heating and acidification...) comes along, threatening all ecosystems, terrestrial and aquatic. Tropical forests, where most terrestrial diversity of life resides, are going to become deserts, pretty much all other biological communities are going to vanish or have to move rapidly to strange new locations. But ecosystems cannot so easily be relocated, especially not rapidly.

So GW and its related effects represent another asteroid-like (at least) extinction event on top of the one already going on, particularly if the worst nightmares of our best scientists--Hansens's Venus Syndrome and Lovelock's Revenge of Gaia and Ward's Green Sky--come about, as is seeming more and more likely.

Now, on top of this, you will have more than 7 billion very hungry and very clever apes killing everything in sight to get their next meal.

I would say that each of these causes individually could match or far exceed any previous mass extinction event. Together, they seem quite likely to me to add up to a greater threat to complex (and much non-complex) life that the earth has ever seen.

I don't pretend to know how the earth will respond long term to such a major assault. Previous recoveries have taken in the range of millions to tens of millions of years. Will piling multiple extinction events on top of each other push that out by orders of magnitude? To hundreds of millions of years or more? At that point you are starting to push against the time when the sun gets too hot for the earth to sustain life very well any way.

Again, I don't claim to know the future. You, with your mystical devotion to cycles, claim that you do.

Your scenario is as good as any, even if it is really the worst case possible.

But if it unfolds, it does not change anything about my belief in cycles, because even should Earth become barren in the process, there still would be energy, movement, and geological life. The absence of biological life is irrelevant to my vision of things.

"there still would be energy, movement, and geological life"

Well, I guess we all have to take comfort in something.

Me, I have an odd fondness for actual living life, not just geological 'life' (interesting as that can be).

This is becoming a refuge for the insane. Hey dude, at least we got our rocks left. Oh, wait, there won't be any dudes left to enjoy the rocks.


"Your scenario is as good as any, even if it is really the worst case possible."

Be careful not to conflate degree of devastation with the probability of it's occurrence. The worst case is not necessarily the least likely.

And if it unfolds, it will drastically change EVERYTHING about your belief in cycles by ending your ability to believe in anything.

Geological life???

Yep, so? What is your point?


I wanted to make 3 distinct points. I'll try to clear up what they were in the order I made them:

1. People often assume that worst case scenarios are the same as unlikely ones. This is a common logical fallacy. Your post suggests that you may suffer from this. I was hoping to set you straight.

2. I guess I was trying to say something about the usefulness and importance of your "vision of things" in the grand scheme should the worst case scenario unfold. This second point is probably what prompted your clever response to which I am now replying.

3. "Geological life???" Here I am referring to the utter absurdity of your statement asserting the existence of some form of life other than the commonly accepted biological one.

Sorry for any confusion.

I finally have to comment. You have truly jumped the shark but there won't be any sharks left. If you think biological life is irrelevant, then there really isn't anything more to discuss. Go ahead and maintain your belief in cycles, but what relevance does this belief have in the absence of life? Many AGW skeptics believe that the current warming is just a cycle. I think that is dead wrong but at least they believe in life at the other end of the cycle. Energy and movement? You must be joking. Please quit pulling our legs.

Even if humans manage to find some sort of softlanding from the current overshoot state, the anthropic extinction will be a major one geologically. Admittedly not as big as PT (permian Triassic), or the end of the creatcious (asteroid plus Deccan trap eruption probably). But it would still count as a biggish extinction event.

I think we have evolved to not choose too much because that's what makes our society as a whole stronger. There are mechanisms which point to that at several levels. On a small scale, we have a natural desire for inclusion in groups, which usually means following the group's norms and typically some sort of leader. On a larger scale, we have things like religion and politics. The leaders themselves "choose" in order to stay in power, which often means not that much choice either. We'all just part of a big system.

A more accurate model for the course of civilizations would be birth, growth, maturity, senescence and death. This avoids implying cyclicality or that re-birth is necessarily the result. On the other hand, while declining into senescence a civilization can "seed" sucessor civilizations.

For example classical Greek civilization reached maturity by the time of Alexander the Great. The area conquered broke into multiple parts and began the process of senescence that ended when most of the Greek world was conquered by the Romans. However, Greek culture persisted, modified the Romans to some extent, and later, the Eastern Roman Empire was greatly influenced by Greek culture.

Societies will continue to collapse including ours. The question is, what will the collapse look like and what, if anything, will eventually replace it? Currently, the nation states of the world are desperately attempting to maintain current arrangements. In the U.S., there is the view that government is the problem and, if downsized enough, we can resume our path to the American dream. The consensus view is that growth can continue; there is just disagreement about the means. There is still the widely held belief that history consists of continuing progress and improvement with setbacks from time to time.

I think we are on a downward path regardless of what we do. But will we reach some sort of equilibrium, and what will it look like? The latest ultimate delusional act was China's construction of an eight lane bridge over 26 miles long that only accommodates automobiles. Hubris cubed.

If fossil fuel and, in general, resource depletion put an end to industrialism, then the major strategic resource will be land, just as it was from the dawn of civilization until the industrial revolution. If control of strategic resources and the means of their production determines the power structure of a society, then control of land will form the basis for political structures that emerge in a post-industrial society. In short, we'd be back to some form of feudalism, where extraction of agricultural surplus from peasants confers wealth and power on a new elite.

Between today's industrial societies and the eventual feudalism, however, should be a working out process that unfolds over generations as salvagers take advantage of the leftovers of industrial societies to conduct trade in goods that are still somewhat sophisticated. Right now, we are in the stage that John Michael Greer calls scarcity industrialism, which follows abundance industrialism after year-on-year growth is no longer possible. Scarcity industrialism eventually gives way to salvage societies in which no new industrial output is possible, at least on a scale that would make it the central feature of the economy. Rather, salvaging the remains of the old world would be the hallmark of the mode of production in salvage societies.

Meanwhile, the agricultural base would more and more be the center of economic activity, and as control of fertile land increasingly becomes the resource that ambitious, type-A personalities must control in order to achieve privileged status, then feudal patterns of social arrangement will increasingly reassert themselves.

I'd expect all this to shake out over a few generations, or perhaps a couple of centuries, and expect that control of productive land will become increasingly important (and a source of power over other people) very soon.

Also, I expect monarchy to be the typical form of government after the industrial world fails and new, regularized and relatively stable political formations emerge from the chaos of collapse. Monarchy has been the near-universal mode of political organization since the dawn of surplus societies, when stratification became possible. There is something about monarchies that makes them inherently well suited to forming the sociopolitical apex of agricultural civilizations.

Perhaps it is because in agricultural societies, surplus can free only a very small segment of the population from poverty, so there is much less complexity, and much less labor specialization, in agricultural societies than in industrial societies. In agricultural as opposed to industrial societies, life is far more precarious and dangerous, and chronic instability might necessitate rule by a strongman who is unafraid to apply base violence to control the commoners and keep the social structure intact (as opposed to the softer mechanisms of "manufactured consent" preferred by modern, affluent societies); hence monarchy.

The Greek democracies and the Roman Republic were rare exceptions to the rule, which is that monarchy is the usual form of political organization in agricultural societies. The small classes of affluent males that had access to Greece and Rome's representative forms of government were also subsidized by slavery and war spoils; Greece and the Roman Republic were empires, which might explain why they had enough surplus wealth to enfranchise larger segments of their populations (though not the majorities). When the Greek thallasocracy and Roman expansion started coming to an end, these societies reverted to non-representative forms of governance: tyrants for Greece and Emperors for Rome.

Of course, what distinguishes monarchies from one off dictatorships is the hereditary nature of monarchical privilege. The modern autocracies, like 20th century dictatorships, have tended not to become monarchies, but this is the case perhaps because hereditary rule was not the vogue in the modern industrial world, which requires some historically high level of meritocracy to make it function. In a post-industrial world, it might no longer be unfashionable and unreasonable for a strongman to appoint his son as the heir to his position. In simpler, more precarious times, bonds of personal trust are more important to the maintenance of social organizations than formally measured, technical skills.

I also like Tainter's point that biotechnology and nanotechnology already appear to be in the diminishing returns stage of research and development despite the fact they've barely gotten off the ground as new technologies. These were touted as the premier technologies of the 21st century and look to be going almost nowhere.

Perhaps they deal with matters too complex for the human brain to comprehend with much detail.

Let me hypothesize the following -

In the waning days of scarcity industrialization "we" invest in electrified and expanded rail with HV DC and HV AC on the rail RoWs. The investment funds largely come from reduced consumption in the beginning and efficiency gains later.

Wind, hydro, solar and geothermal are shifted to load centers or newly built pumped storage plants, as well as running electric locos. Except for wind turbines and rail ties, the bulk of the infrastructure lasts a century or so. And except for solar PV, a degraded industrial base can replicate what wears out (perhaps less sophisticated versions).

In Liberia and Cambodia, during the Civil War, homemade rail cars transported people and goods between villages. In Liberia, villages banded together and kept the rails from being sold for salvage. They valued the rudimentary transportation.

In the USA, the gain in efficiency and much lower marginal cost of Transportation from electrified and expanded rail, (Transportation is one of the "Factors of Production"), delays collapse by a decade or two. But it eventually comes.

The value of transportation, and the existing organization and durable infrastructure of the railroads, makes them into controlling fiefdoms. A symbiotic relationship with landowners. the railroads expand their shops to take over and revive what industry they consider essential. And later into producing trade goods.

If some landowners or bandits disrupt transportation, the railroads use their private army to solve that problem. Railroad towns, supporting rail and support workers develop. Perhaps specific technologies are revived, one by one, for lower volume use.

One or two integrated chip making factories (1990 tech ? 1985 ?), LED bulb and solar PV in the same complex. Shipbuilding perhaps and so forth.

Likely trade with remaining technical civilization (Nordic Group ?) for start-up of reclaimed tech.

Ownership and control of the railroads ? H'mmm

The managers I guess.

A new paradigm. Sustainable for centuries at least.

Historically, cities on caravan routes or water trade pinch points have become rich and powerful. A "system" that can provide low cost and high volume transportation, but as a monopoly, when a bicycle is the next best choice will have a stranglehold on the rest of the societies.

Consider a world where the only source of food after two crops fail is the railroad. Likewise a bicycle, new plow or woven cloth (above crude homespun) and painkillers (if opium poppies do not grow locally). Also luxuries and status goods. Who will have ultimate control ?

Best Hopes ?


Perhaps manual labor (likely no shortage post-collapse) is used for improving rail lines, perhaps using 1870s methods for new rail tunnels, smoothing curves, adding new tracks (melted down SUVs for rails, melted where hydroelectric power is in surplus in electric arc furnaces). Recycled plastic, concrete or wood for ties.

Looks like the basis for a somewhat-better-than-Kunstler style novel--maybe "The World Made by Rail"??

Alan, peak oil or declining fossil fuels are just one of the things that will contribute to the coming collapse. Remember there was no energy shortage during the Great Depression. The financial system collapsed. Financial collapse robs people of their savings, of their credit and most important of all, their jobs.

Sure there was a great surplus of labor during the Great Depression. A surplus of labor simply means that there is a dearth of jobs. And a dearth of jobs means there is no money to hire people, there is no credit and there is no market for for anything because people have no money to buy anything.

Declining fossil fuel energy and high energy cost will, I believe, be the major contributor to the coming collapse. But just like now, very few people will realize that energy has anything to do with it. Therefore there will be no great drive to electrify the transportation industry.

What GOP Debate Tells Us About Energy Policy
So it was with that political reality that New Hampshire -- and the rest of America -- welcomed the unofficial start of the 2012 presidential race with a Republican primary debate that was conspicuously devoid of any discussion on energy policy or the emerging green jobs market.

They don't even know there is a problem. They are blaming everything on Obama and the Democrats. They are against any and all renewables. And even the Democrats have no idea where the real problem lies. So with both parties in the dark about what ails America as well as the rest of the world, do you really expect a major drive for the electrification of the transportation energy? Not a snowball's chance in hell!

Ron P.

Alan for President. Run, Alan, Run.

There are a number of hooks to help get support from the radical Right.

National Security - An oil free method of transporting food and critical materials (and troops) cross country in a severe oil shortfall, freeing up oil for other critical needs, like the military.

End the Socialist subsidy of trucking - $30 to $40 billion/year in favor of tax credits for privately owned roads that pay property taxes.

Buy America - Use American made electricity rather than imported refined diesel. Invest in American made infrastructure.

And quite frankly, NO ONE likes 18 wheel trucks on the road except truckers and their families.

Best Hopes !


Problem is the right, while pretending to agree with you on philosophical grounds, will support entrenched economic interests every day of the week. Agree that roads should be privatized or at least the damages should be internalized in a way that truckers and all of us pay the full costs. Of course we pay, anyway, but through the general slush fund.

Of course the "right" will support "entrenched economic interests".

It baffles me me that anyone who is a regular reader and thinking contributor to this forum would say such a thing-as it implies that the "left" does not and will not in the future "support entrenched economic interests".

There are more people living on govt payrolls and various welfare schemes such as social security than there are involved in farming and manufacturing-but I suppose all these people don't count as "entrenched" or "economic interests".

I am incidentally both a former govt employee AND a recipient of various benefits that can only be described honestly as welfare.

I have acquaintances who are rabid democrats who are mightily opposed to any significant expansion of a nearby university town-they talk green but they are landlords with a firm grip on a few dozen units of student housing.The LAST thing they want is more apartments within driving distance of campus.

Such blades are usually double edged.

I do must agree that IN GENERAL the right wing is more aligned with and controlled by big biz interests-which is likely your intended basic point.

I stated a truth about the right because the subject was about the right. I said nothing about the left which does not imply that the left does not have its own set of interests.


Do you believe that you (and your compatriots...I assume you may not be working solo)will make headway and achieve substantive progress building more robust, extensive, perhaps electrified in some cases, rail infrastructure?

I do not have a lot of hope that Republicans will endorse any kind of expenditures, even tax breaks, for such a cause....not with the budget/debt situation.

Stories keep floating around that U.S. companies have a goodly amount of cash but are sitting on it...so, another question I have: If this is a good business investment, then why don't the major RRs start making the investments?

Third question: What percentage of truckers listen religiously to Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Mark Levin, et al?

I imagine that truckers and Republicans could band together and make the truckers, the heroic iron cowboys (CONVOY!), and make them into martyrs, depicted as being decimated/sacrificed by the liberals to foist their socialist European-French-style trains upon us good God-fearing 'merkuns.

I can hear it now...those truckers are independent businessmen, and aren't those railroad folks //UNIONIZED// (insert dramatic music here)??

I honestly do have the best hopes for your logical efforts, but the power of the right-wing sound machine propaganda is depressingly effective.

I have an menagerie of supporters. Some fairly big names in their sphere.

Two are retired Republican politicians. I think retired politicians are more focused on the national good. But they retain contacts and knowledge.

One is an 80+ old Founding Father of the Republican Party in a southern state (McConnell still calls him occasionally). Another retired politician that was the Minority leader in the state House and later the highest elected R in his fairly large state (the Governor was D).

Many more on the other side.

If I can get the puzzle pieces to come together :-), I want the Hoover Institute to partner up with a well known environmental organization and evaluate all energy policy options. Put Hoover in charge of figuring out how to pay for it (that trillion in un-repatriated overseas profits looks tempting).

BNSF has looked closely at electrification ($10 billion for the main lines) and said it certainly makes sense at $150/barrel (in context not a breakeven number, this was said in 2006 as an incredibly high #). However, they find higher returns in other improvements.

In 2011 BNSF will make a record (for any RR, any year) capital investment of $3.5 billion. In 2010, all RRs invested 18% of gross revenues in capital projects. But gross revenues are only about $60 billion/year. (Trucking is $300 to $600 billion according to source).

Unsaid is that fuel cost adjustments are a profit center. Run on electricity and one cannot get that mark-up.

Railroads in most markets are a duopoly or monopoly. As long as Union Pacific does not electrify, BNSF can wait.

Best Hopes,


"As long as Union Pacific does not electrify, BNSF can wait."

And by the same token, one must suppose: as long as BNSF doesn't electrify, UP can wait. Seems like a stable situation...

Alan, thank you for your reply. Your posts always seem well thought-out, and you seem to be a calm voice of reason and hope.


Thank you for your kind words :-)

At times there has been heat in my posts, but there has been little need for that lately.

There is a long and difficult road to make a positive difference. It seems like building a bridge out of threads. But more threads seem to come along than break and fall out.

I am very far from the only person that sees the looming crisis and is looking for anyway to make a positive difference.

Best Hopes,


In my market (Albuquerque), CSX has been running a lot of TV ads promoting the fuel efficiency of rail freight and the benefit of getting trucks off the highways.

I have seen these ads in print as well.

I have not seen ads from UP or BNSF or NS.

The rail lines next to I-40 out in Western NM seem quite busy with numerous long double-stack trains.

Your description of a post-peak 'trainotopia' with RR company towns reminded me of my home town, Altoona, PA. The one scene in 'Unstoppable' was filmed in Tyrone, PA, where I have family (right up the road from 'toona town.

Have you been to the 'World Famous Horseshoe Curve'?




Video (too bad the camera jock didn't pan left and right to show the entire train wrapping around the entire curve...:



Why not propose to the trucking industry (truckers) to "trade up" (switch/sell) for a part of electrified rail for a piece of the Company (ownership) and retain an income as a worker owned company?

As a potentially large group, side step the BAU crowd altogether, and reap the profits it would produce w/ a proper business model.

Seek out a group of venture capitalists. ignore the banks, start small and go from there? Initiate it as the most patriotic of merican independent things this side of truckin.

Crazyer ideas than this have been have been 'sold' I'm sure.

Most of them working from home on a computer to monitor shipping activities would surely be more attractive than countless hours/miles/days/ on the road no?

But as I noticed your CONVOY remark. maybe not.


Ahh, my CONVOY remark was an allusion to the fascination that American pop culture once ascribed to the truckers...kind of a need to anoint them as the new American frontiersmen or cowboys, with big powerful rigs, Citizen-Band radios, and a perceived free-wheeling lifestyle.

BTW, I have no animus against truckers as people...however, as Alan points out, an Interstate full of high-speed semis is not a calming experience.

I honestly have no idea whether the majority of truck drivers enjoy their jobs or simply do it for the bucks, like so many other folks in other jobs.

I agree with Alan's philosophy that the U.S would be better served in the long run with more RR tracks, more spur lines, etc as oil fades in availability. There will surely be a role for trucks going forward, perhaps more in a shorter-haul role.

I commend you for trying to think of ways to facilitate such a transition for folks as paradigms change...

Speaking as a person ( and world class rolling stone) who at one time held a class A liscense/medical card and needed it, and a person who has known lots of truckers, I can say with complete confidence that the vast majority of truckers either HATE thier jobs or else "like " them as being the least of such other employment evils as are available to them.

I drove a truck for a couple of years on a big time unionized highway construction job rather than operating a machine such as a dozer-I made fifty cents an hour less, but the truck was warm and dry , and less tiring to boot.

Most truck drivers don't have a snowball's chance on a hot stove of finding a better job.Fortunately, I can do lots of things, and have never found it necessary to follow any one line of work for longer than it takes to get thoroughly bored. At that time, I wanted to live in the immediate area where the job was located, and it was for that time and place a damned good job, one of the best paying to be found locally.

Back then, if you could actually drive the truck when you hired on, training consisted of riding with an experienced driver for a day, and having him ride with you the second day, and you were on your own after that.

Most any self respecting farm boy learns to drive a truck on the JOB before he is old enough to get a drivers liscense.

Nowadays , you apparently need weeks on end of classroom and on the road training that costs several grand to get a liscense.


I have known a number of people who have driven semis earlier in their lives and then moved on to other things.

From the North Dakota DMV:

Age14 or 15may drive a farm motor vehicle within
150 miles of driver’s farm, having a gross weight
of not more than 50,000 pounds, when transporting
agricultural products or farm supplies.

I think its is great that young ones can drive and learn other responsibilities of helping their family out doing various tasks of their farm job...but...I think it is appropriate for people driving semi-trailers to have a more structured, formalized, rigorous training regime before they are allowed out and about on the roads. Driving an up to 80,000 pound vehicle at up to 80 mph in mixed traffic (mixed in with personal cars, motorcycles, etc) isn't a trivial matter.

It would be nice to think that this training actually washes some folks out and just isn't one of these 'yuse pays your fees yuse get your B' type of a deal.

I have already seen too many trucks weaving and drifting into other lanes and into the berms (thank someone for inventing rumble strips along the edges of the roads)...falling asleep? Daydreaming? Dropped the CD on the floor? Seen too much aggressive driving as well...not cool when the aggressor is driving the giant truck. Taking folks right off the farm or out of the 'hood and letting them have at it with two days of 'training' doesn't cut the mustard.


I couldn't agree more in respect to the matter of culling out unsafe drivers-at least the schooling will cull out the ones who can't read the road signs, and the medical exams keep far gone diabetics and other similarly health impaired folks out of the semi drivers seat.

But it is my opinion that draconian enforcement of liscense revocation laws that keep the industry as safe as it is -which of course leaves something to be desired.Getting a CDL revoked permanently is as easy as falling off a log, and now that the records are thoroughly computerized, the days of a poor driver getting a new liscence in another state are long since gone.

Remember there was no energy shortage during the Great Depression. The financial system collapsed.

Yes, this has intrigued me too. A deflationary spiral similar to the prelude of the Great Depression maybe on the cards now, with similar financial collapse and resultant chaos. But unlike then, we no longer have the wealth of natural and industrial resources so the picture is potentially much bleaker for the 20x0's (3>x>0) than the 1930's... I just hope that the technological advances of the ensuing 70-80 years - combined with emerging, localised economies based on *real* wealth - will see at least most communities through the worst of it.

But is it true there were not any energy issues?

Most power came from coal and as you scale up the sheer bulk of coal becomes an obstacle.

How long can you go on moving around larger and larger amounts of coal before you hit a wall?

Could there have been an incident with that and would it have triggered a financial collapse?

Just because no one every puts an "energy frame" around the Great Depression doesn't mean it's not a possibility.

Instead it's always explained as "lack of liquidity" as if that's the underlying basis. It took years for the Great Depression to unfold. If it could have been stopped by printing more money do you really think they wouldn't have done that (or something equivalent?)

What happened during the recovery? Why the conversion from coal-dominated industry to oil-dominated industry? Isn't that peculiar?

If it was just problem with economics why did they also change the primary energy source? Why not just change the economic rules?

It's so much more reassuring to think of it all backwards: that money issues collapsed coal consumption when it could have been that coal consumption engineering and scalability issues crashed the economy.

1965: When Oil Finally Overtook Coal
Gregor.us / January 15, 2010

With regard to how global energy use was structured up until this time, it was revealing for example to see that the Great Depression hit global coal consumption very hard. Oil? Not so much. And for an obvious reason: oil was still young in its adoption.

While maybe the real answer is that the limits of scaling the volumes of coal up and up hit the economy before the economic crash reduced coal consumption.

Trying to compare coal and oil while only looking at BTUs does not take into account the size, the volume. Coal's sheer bulk must be considered a limiting factor.

How long can you go on moving around larger and larger amounts of coal before you hit a wall?

Could there have been an incident with that and would it have triggered a financial collapse?

Moving around larger and larger amounts of coal triggered the Great Depression? Are you serious? God I hope not! Babystrange, a little humor is great but one can run it into the ground. There comes a time when one need to stop posting nonsense just for its comic value.

Ron P.

baby - There's an additional factor for oil coming to the forefront in the 1930's: the East Texas Oil Field discovery. Even to today the ETOF remains one of the largest discoveies of all time. Until that time oil production wasn't too significant in this country. With the discovery came a relatively cheap and transportable fuel. Fuel oil became THE fuel of choice for many northern homeoweners.

How significant was the East Texas Field? Many historians credit the field as one of the critical factors in the Allies winning WII. The abundance of oil and the wartime build up of US industries transformed the US to a major economic force in the world.

We simply could not have won WWII without Texas oil, barring a miracle of some sort-anybody who thinks otherwise doesn't know shxt from apple butter about the subject.

Texas oil was not SUFFICIENT in and of itself, but it was NECESSARY to the war effort.

First they laugh at you ...

Darwin: Moving around larger and larger amounts of coal triggered the Great Depression? Are you serious?

If you actually read what I wrote you won't find that message.

Let me repeat my idea: This is not about moving larger and larger amounts of coal. This is about *needing* to move more coal than was possible. Once oil as transportation fuel was established this issue went away. Diesel powered trains are moving our coal right now. Before them there were less-capable coal powered trains. If in order to maintain BAU you found you needed to move more coal than you could what would it look like?

Let me repeat my idea:... This is about *needing* to move more coal than was possible.

Not a problem. If you have a link connecting the great depression with a shortage of coal then please post it. But you just made that up. There was a glut of coal before and during the great depression. The arrival oil and gas caused coal prices to become depressed and many miners were laid off.

Causes of the Great Depression

The 1920’s may have been prosperous for some Americans, but the growing prosperity was actually weakening the economy. Many US citizens were never participating in the boom from the start. There were some wealthy individuals, but 60% of people were living below the poverty line. The coal mining industry had expanded greatly, creating many jobs, but with the introduction of oil and gas, the production of coal was decreased along with the amount of jobs. The United Mine Workers Union’s membership fell from 500,000 in 1920 to 75,000 in 1928 (Temin, 33). The cotton industry experienced similar unemployment problems. In the agricultural industry, an increase in production was met with a decrease in demand, so farmers also became unemployed. The American farms and factories produced large amounts of goods and products during the prosperity before the Depression.

So I repeat my claim with now far more proof. There was no shortage of energy during the great depression. There was actually a huge glut of energy during the great depression.

Ron P.

far more proof

You haven't proven anything (but neither have I.)

I was always under the impression that one of the main causes of the depression was the mechanization of agriculture in the 1920s. As the improvements in production were so great they collapsed the value of the produce and farmers were unable to repay loans taken out to buy the machinery, plus all the now unemployed farmhands and their families.
1920s farmers were like the 2000s subprime mortgages, the sticks that broke the camel's back

But is it true there were not any energy issues?

There were in some places. The most obvious example was Japan, who choose the ultimately catostrophic course of conquest and occupation for dealing with a lack of resources (coal, oil, iron ore, rubber...).

To be fair - Japan chose isolation after being introduced to the Gun and was later forced at far bigger gunpoint to open its market.

An argument can be made the leadership of Japan was just following the lesson it learned.

The final decision point, war/occupation versus trade/cooperation was made a lifetime after the Perry expedition. They could have made a wiser choice circa 1930 than was done (mainly by the powers that be in Japan society at the time, the emperoro and more or less out of control military officers.

After it was forced to reopen itself to the world by the US, Japan looked around and decided to model itself on the most successful great power of the day, Great Britain.

Conquest and occupation are not catastrophic if you succeed.

Alan, I recently read two of John R. Stilgoe's books on American landscape, one of which was Metropolitan Corridor. Stilgoe is a Harvard professor who has explored the role of the railroad in American life. The "Metropolitan Corridor" was the linear extension of urbanism via rail that linked small communities with the nation, giving people a glimpse of life beyond the dirt road and even standardizing clocks. He referred to the rail lines as the Internet of the 19th Century.

As I have followed your thoughts here on TOD, considered Stilgoe and other authors, and reviewed old Official Guides to the Railways and Steamships going back before the Civil War, I have come to view the rail lines as a critical means of holding society together in the face of declining energy sources. Here are a few thoughts from an unrepentant transportation engineer:

1) Amtrak becomes a national conduit for a variety of intercity passenger rail services, with states contracting with Class I roads for targeted services. That, of course, was the Bush Amtrak policy, and it is still in place today. With erratic capital funding and continuing threats from Congress regarding operating subsidies, we have a train system frozen in place. Metropolitan areas, states, and private venture capital will have to partner to go beyond the current route and frequency system, and that will happen only as airlines begin to cull services. Once a metropolitan area loses commercial air service, politicians will have to take note.

2) Having a single integrated passenger rail system early in the collapse will provide spare capacity, service and maintenance for equipment, backup motor power, and, most critically, the knowledge of how to run a passenger rail system. (The Class I railroads do not have that knowledge base; only Amtrak does!) Some decades out Amtrak may not exist, but it will be remembered as an unlikely and unplanned means of transition.

3) As airline service declines and becomes more expensive where it survives, both Amtrak and Greyhound (or other private bus systems) will expand, interlinking in multimodal terminals already emerging in places like St. Louis and Albuquerque. Intercity bus service expansion, after years of decline, will be far more critical in the first decades of collapse than most observers expect. Once we get to 60 or fewer commercial airports the shift in public thinking will happen. That may not be as far in the future as we think.

4) Positive Train Control systems will allow the expansion of passenger service along congested lines which heretofore were essentially off-limits. However, PTC is not likely to be practical on short lines, and it is the short line railroad which will become an essential connection for many isolated communities. A "mixed" train once or twice a day will eventually be the only practical way in and out of some communities.

5) Freight railroads have been expanding capacity on their own for at least a decade. In some cases that means double track, but CSX has pursued a different form of capacity expansion: lengthening passing sidings and modifying turnouts to allow higher speeds while entering a siding. Thirty years have passed since the Staggers Act went into effect, and deregulation of the railroads (under President Carter, by the way) has been a resounding success. Use of taxpayer dollars for railway improvements would have to be targeted for a broad public purpose (such as for Amtrak or grade separations/bottleneck removals to relieve impacts on residents) to win support.

6) As energy prices force declines in globalization, the containerized shipping patterns will change, and freight railroads will have to work more closely with what new manufacturing arises here at home. The rail line with 100 trains per day in 2006 may only have 20 trains a day in 2026, while a lightly traveled line may see many more trains in the future. Businesses are going to have to evaluate the future of energy very carefully in siting new manufacturing, as the rules will be completely different on the back side of peak oil.

7) Finally, let's stop and give thanks that the diesel-electric engine replaced the steam engine. The gains in efficiency in the 1950s allowed many railroads to survive, even as the Interstate Commerce Commission was letting others (such as the Rock Island) die by lack of regulatory response. The diesel part will be dropped one day, but that motive power has been under-appreciated.

Of course, one day the intercity bus will be gone, along with the Interstate. When one steps off the train to make the last leg of the trip to some town without rail service, will a stage coach be waiting?

For the record, I think rail is important.

But the US has a history of over-emphasizing long-distance personal transportation, in general.

No person has ever died from not taking a vacation 1000 miles away from where they live.

We need a culture that values staying in and valuing our local areas.

As with everything else, 90 to 99% of what we have to "do" is to stop doing.

Long distance personal (and most other) travel is a luxury that we can mostly no longer afford.

That is why I emphasize freight (and dense intermodal terminals to minimize truck miles).

Passenger service is secondary in my plans and thoughts. Passenger-miles will take a steep drop post-Peak Oil Exports, but some travel will be required (or at least a very high social priority).

Best Hopes,


There was a time in the U.S. before wide-spread airline travel and before the Interstate highway system.

There will, once again, be a U.S w/o widespread airline travel and widespread long-distance car travel, where trains will once again be a leading provider of long-distance people transportation, of course at a sustainable level, meaning not nearly as many people will be traveling long distances.

Life will go on. Almost all personal (non-business) recreational travel is optional, and much business travel is non-essential...and much business travel can be conducted via train in many cases if it needs to occur.

Our lives will slow down...our consumption will level off and decline...and human society will go on, differently than today.

Our lives will slow down...our consumption will level off and decline...and human society will go on, differently than today.

That sounds like a more pleasant life for most people than today...

Not only that, but, doesn't that sound exactly like what most people want in a holiday or retirement? To slow down, to do less (=consume less), and so on?

Problem is, in flying to Hawaii to sit on a beach in front of the hotel, you have consumed a lot in the process, though it certainly does not feel like it.

In Jeff Rubin's book, he talks about life in Sarajevo (I think) during the Bosnian war, when there was no fuel for vehicles. People went about their business, walked to work, the city streets were mostly devoid of cars, and, Leaving aside the war part, city life was actually more pleasant than normal. It is this same feeling that resorts (e.g. beach and ski resort villages) strive for, you just pay for it through the room and restaurant rates...

Anyway, for most people, a slowdown and less consumption would be welcome - for most companies, that make their money from consumption (i.e. most of them), it is not so welcome. Given that people vote, and companies don't, you have to wonder why this is not happening...

Paul, in the U.S., unfortunately, companies (particularly large firms), essentially have the right to vote, by proxy of their largely unaccountable monetary contributions to their political benefactors.

I agree with some others here that the nature of consumption has to change, the notions of work needs to change, and to that I would add the nature of taking care of people needs to change...I cannot see another wave of foreclosures even much bigger than the last one...at some point banks CANNOT be allowed to throw folks into the street without any attempt at a renegotiation of house values and debt.

Banks cannot be allowed to be the last ones standing while many folks are thrown into the street.

The whole system is broken, hence there must be shared sacrifice...not just sacrifice for all those at the end of the line.

How our broken system can be unwound without creating a revolution or needless mass suffering is the perplexing question.

Well, it is unfortunately true that they can buy off the elected reps, but it is getting harder to buy off the voters. So the response is to make sure they buy off whoever gets elected! Still, I can see some change happening.

The most encouraging thing, IMO, is the declining influence of the mainstream media. Controlling the tv messages only works for the declining portion of the population that watches it. In the ME countries, the despot govts have absolute control over the media, and look how well that has been working out for them in the internet age?

We won't have revolutions here, but controlling the message and information is fast becoming impossible - though the current tactic of fighting information with disinformation seems to be working, but eventually people (and esp younger people) will just ignore any and all "information".

Banks cannot be allowed to be the last ones standing while many folks are thrown into the street.

That is a great statement - worthy of a (honest) politician. Unfortunately, that is, effectively what's happening. Even the banks steadily increasing share of GDP is evidence of that.

It is as if they want the US to adopt the Swiss model. Have the country be the banking centre to the world, so that all of the (far fewer than today) people that live there have well paying jobs courtesy of everyone else in the world who doesn't. Works fine as long as you are one of the the few.

I don't know how to unwind the system, but that is indeed the question of the age - whomever can find, and implement, an effective and equitable solution will be the hero of the ages, but, sadly, I can't see it happening.

Well, it is unfortunately true that they [large corporations] can buy off the elected reps, but it is getting harder to buy off the voters.

I disagree. It appears to me that large corporations have been quite effective at keeping voters confused and ill-informed, and in making it almost impossible for candidates to speak seriously about the problems we will soon be facing.

Every form of media is targeted old and new. Look beyond Fox News to the armies of fake "personas" that incessantly spam on-line forums and to the networks of industry-funded think tanks and their endless self-serving reports and papers.

It is why almost no actions have been taken to prepare for peak oil or global warming, why the financial industry continues its essentially unregulated and dangerously speculative ways, why the US has such an expensive and irrational health care system, and on and on.

I wish I could see some evidence that US voters were wising up, but the 2010 mid-term elections would appear to put the lie to that.

In general, the goal should be infrastructure and land use patterns that minimize the need for personal transportation, whether it be long or short distance. There are millions of people, however, who damn well love to travel all over the damn place regardless of the consequences. I don't see this changing unless the cost of travel becomes incredibly expensive. Like Thoreau, however, I choose to generally stay close to home. When I do travel long distances, I prefer the train, if at all possible. But then I have lots of time and patience. The current train system in the U.S., of course, is pretty hopeless. So best hopes for better, more frequent, more comfortable, more widespread, and faster train travel.

It may also be that I am being a bit selfish since I live in an area that everyone else seems to want to visit.

I think there's plenty going on in nanoworld - here's a link.

A lot going on. It is basically structured matter instead of bulk material. A bar of copper can do many things. A micro-fabricated copper lace can disappear by bending illumination around itself and the objects it covers.


If the argument is "well, I can't buy it at the store", then I have a fine dial-phone for you with two wires coming out of it.

Some people base their projections of the future on what is written on science-fiction novels, some on research papers, some on laboratory experiments, some on prototypes and demonstrations ... and some on what is actually on the shelf right now.

Now, why is this? It's because we all know the vanishingly small fraction of those things that actually get all the way to the shelf in the end.

Some of us also know the increasing difficulty of getting things on the shelf these days:

first the practical everyday problems: the demands from applied science - emphasis on products rather than basic research, faculty funding, broken publishing and intellectual property systems, patent laws, public financing and venture capital ...

second the ever increasing pressure from peak everything and economic sickness of the system.

third the laws of diminishing returns, low-hanging fruit, unsubstitutability ... (of which nano-stuff was but one of the many fields Tainter used to illustrate such phenomenon)

And at the end of the day you still need to decide to make the human decision to implement this stuff if it becomes available.

I don't doubt for a moment that we can't still invent a few pretty remarkable things with the power of the last blink of the stored sunlight we have. However I have great reservations about any of those inventions solving the great systemic physical, material flow-problems we have with energy and matter.

Of course every person who is alive is an optimist. But at least my definition of objectivity is to hold things to account based on probabilities rather than beliefs and wishful thinking.

This is where we are. A really good war, or plague, or great discovery would change everything. The last time this happened, they discovered the New World.

The Great Frontier by Walter Prescott Webb

I think the whole book is there.

It talks about feudal Europe, the rise of the individual, the changes in science, and much else.

Or, if you prefer, the comedy version:

I'm not just being flippant, not just, but simply refuse to hope for any deviance in mass human behavior towards the rational or altruistic without the invocation of dystopia.

I don't like dystopia, suffering, or wholesale slaughter. Though, personally, I would have greatly preferred a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Between overshoot, the destroyed resources and environment, and global warming, it will take quite a trick to keep the teenagers happily making-out in front of the TV with a handy refer full of beer (Is this the current image? Please inform me.). Fusion allows BAU, even if the world cooks. I hear it's just around the corner...

Well, specifically I was referring to this bit: http://www.youtube.com/user/newculture#p/u/21/9vLQekiVsB8

As for 'current image' ... well, as an anecdote the university here is involved with the magnets for the european fusion reactor - and the few people involved who have explained the engineering involved to me - let us say weren't the greatest optimists. So I think we'll have a bit more time before we can cook the place up with it.

I work one foot in physics, one foot in engineering in the field of aerospace and unfortunately I've become a firm believed in the Augustine's law. It's simply because I tend to see it in everything - the prices go up, the volumes are smaller - and the technological improvements aren't very impressive anymore. It's like we have gone down to the bone on what can be done - and the complexity argument really hits you when you look at our quality and safety systems - one wonders if we would ever had gone to the moon if we had to do it today.

BTW: if your nano-tech can deliver: I'd like one warehouse size 3-D printer that can build atomic layers of any element with the correct bonding as well - now its a pain to make even a single turbine blade with special casting, welding, deposition chambers and acid baths - a lot of manual labor and human inspection involved. We should just be able to print out complete vehicles...

Unfortunately just because one can imagine something doesn't mean its any more possible to do.

But what to do? Change? It is already too late? Change? Without being forced? Invest in survival? While the undulating plateau undulates along? Move to a better place? Always a good idea!

I bought my cell phone for $10. It comes with a really nice camera. It has parts in it less than 1/5th of a wavelength of yellow light in size. Its functions are synthesized by integral engines running pure math so fast, it replaces the real things that used to be made with coils of wire and sandwiches of metal and wax-paper. I have no need of a personal jet-fighter, and there are none in the Walmart. When Mr. Fusion comes out, yes, I will buy one at Walmart, with a coupon, and plug a bunch of extension cords into it to run my little home. When they carry $60 plastic and graphite 100W solar panels with micro converters and planar batteries, I will do much the same. Augustine's law applies to another class of goods.

So does "research teams". So much is discovered by accident. I agree that the days of winding wire around a compass and having your name live on forever in history are largely over. I'm kept alive by rat poison. Warfarin was discovered when a rancher left one of his dead cows and a bucket of uncoagulatable blood on the steps of a university. Radiation, Teflon, and nitrocellulose, the first plastic, all have "directed search", pure chance, as the basis of their discovery. The human mind isn't much. If you try to think your way to new things, yes, it costs more and more. The genetic algorithm produces valuable results Without The Aid Of Mind. It is just a matter of recognizing and selecting the things that get close to the solution or that fill a solution's needs. So thinking is a waste of time and money sometimes: an adaptive system can just take you there, powered by noise.

The Bose-Einstein condensate offers the ability to place atoms as you describe in your RFP.


I am currently reading Joseph Tainter's "The Collapse of Complex Societies," since it is so often mentioned and revered in peak oil circles. I'm over half way through it. I must say, I see so many eery parallels in his discussion of why societies collapse to current events going on right now.

I know the annual ASPO conference predominately features people with more technical and economic knowledge related to peak oil and energy issues, but I think having Joseph Tainter speak at the conference would be a wonderful addition. The broader historical/anthropological perspective is also important in understanding where we're at and what to do about it.

Professor Tainter has been the keynote speaker at the last two Biophysical Economics conferences in Syracuse. See: https://sites.google.com/site/biophysicaleconomics/

This is the conference organized by Charlie Hall. The subject is anything energy/economy but tends to look more at energy return on energy investment (EROI) and its impact on the economy. Dr. Tainter has been linking social complexity and the role of energy in economics in a much stronger way lately, which may be why he sounds more doubtful about the future of the current OECD societies.


Interesting to know! I'd like to hear him speak sometime.

The ASPO USA website has an e-mail address on their webpage where you can write in and suggest speakers. Let's start a campaign. I am more likely to attend again if Tainter could be a keynote speaker.

Here is the reference from their website:

"To propose a speaker or topic for consideration by our 2011 Conference Committee please send an email to conferences@aspousa.org."

Good suggestion. I have done so! Others can too!

Like George, I attended Charlie Hall's Biophysical conference in April and thought that Joe Tainter gave an excellent presentation.
I agree that Joe would deliver a highly suitable presentation at ASPO.

A few months ago I suggested to the organizers of the upcoming ASPO conference that a special effort be made to attract military analysts and civilian emergency planners.
Military analysts, because they are almost unanimous in viewing PO as a serious near-term concern and the US military in particular is leading the search for viable alternatives.
Civilian emergency planners, because the related issues of PO and how one might plan for and administer a major oil supply shock do not seem to be on their radar (I can explain further if you wish).

Tainter's exploration of the dynamics of collapse would certainly complement such a focus: preventing a collapse scenario would surely be the ultimate challenge for both militaries and emergency managers (as well as elected officials and bureaucrats).

Meanwhile, Joe's concerns are entirely consistent with the scenario which was recently outlined by the German military team in their section on how constraints on the availability of affordable energy could halt economic growth, destabilize financial markets and currencies, and thus cause citizens to lose faith in markets, institutions and governments:

In thinking about collapse of our current society, I take it that we are thinking of the current world order, not something so parochial as the society of the UK, or of China, or of USA. If this is correct, and if our society does collapse then the historical score card for collapse, or not, is 100% collapse of society, 0% 'survive' or prosper in the long run. The entire thrust of history is collapse, followed by something else rising from the ruins.

Ron is right, and the famous, learned historian missed the obvious lesson of history.

But perhaps there are pockets of civilized people in places remote from political power centers of the current world order who can reorganize their locale in a way that allows them to survive the general collapse. These local civilizations will the separated from each other by vast wastelands of political chaos, and will not be able to support each other or trade with each other. If so, the current world order contains the genetic material for the something else that arises from the ruins.

For an analogy, think of dinosaurs, and mammals. Mammals were present during the age of the dinosaurs, but were of little importance in the grander scheme of things --- until the extinction event. What could the dinosaurs have done? Not much.

When we look at the Industrial Revolution did it form "Society"? Will the end of the Industrial Revolution due to fossil fuel depletion "collapse Society?" To me it is more about behaviors in the presence of technology being mal-adapted to the future. There will be a "Society" but it will be radically different from one that can jump in a car to an airport parking lot and tweet from a phone while in line for the scanners. Instead it will be about pretending nothing is changing while it struggles to oppress an ever increasing number of newly-poor people who are not yet adjusted to their new social class.

I think Babystrange, that you are vastly underestimating the severity of collapse.

Ron P.

I just paint what I see.


Too big. I've taken to posting the thumbnails from Google Image search, like this:

And then add a link to the full-size image. If you scale the image, it still takes just as long to download for everybody.

If I understood correctly, Tainter is using a decrease in the metric of "patents per inventor" as evidence that the productivity of science, techology and innovation is decreasing.

However, the decline in this metric probably reflects the increase of scientific and technological subject matters and the resulting increased specialization of inventors along with the increased number of workers in this field. It may also be partly due to the shift of much basic research from industrial laboratories to academic institutions.

The pace of scientific progress is heavily dependent on the pace with which scientific instruments are developed. After all, you can't create scientific theories about things that you cannot observe or measure. Breakthroughs in experimental technique and instruments are sporadic and hard to predict. Polymerase chain reaction is a good example of an experimental technique that enabled a whole field of study.

My two bits as a biologist. Biology is about to hit its golden age. We are near the point where sufficient information is available to integrate facts into understanding. Isolated facts, while they may be patentable, are only the building blocks of the layers and layers of emergent properties that are life.

North Sea Main Crude Loadings for August to Fall 12% From July
By Sherry Su / Bloomberg / July 8, 2011

... The lower output is mainly due to a 30 percent drop in production of Forties. Exports of this blend will be 309,677 barrels a day, the lowest in at least four years, due to planned maintenance at the Forties Pipeline System. ...

Of course, Sherry, it's all about planned maintenance. It's not like they've been running out of oil year after year. Oh, wait!

The Deffeyes post is provocative and spot on with respect to EIA data, but when one follows the link to read the entire post he is factually incorrect with respect to the price relationship between oil and natural gas.

At times in the past, natural gas has tracked the price of oil using the energy equivalent of one barrel of oil to 6000 cubic feet of natural gas. So the price of 1000 cubic feet of natural gas would usually be one-sixth of the price of a barrel of oil.

This graph shows that the price ratio rarely approaches 6:1, with a mean much closer to 10:1 but the range varies from approximately 6:1 to just over 20:1... but in no way, shape or form is the baseline for the price equivalence the same as the industry standard assumption for energy equivalence.

Just a personal nit, which damages Deffeyes credibility for me.

I believe that publicly held oil & gas companies still use the 6:1 ratio to calculate reserves in terms of barrels of oil equivalent (BOE), but your point about the historical price ratio being closer to 10:1 is correct. As you know, and as noted in the following link, proven reserves of natural gas converted to one million BOE are not nearly as valuable as proven reserves of one million barrels of actual crude oil:


As Art Berman and the "Rock" have discussed, this BOE conversion, and recent SEC changes regarding proven reserve definitions, have probably supported a lot of shale drilling that is not terribly economic on a per well basis, but the drilling activity results in large additions of proven and "proven undeveloped" BOE reserves.

An interesting case history is Chesapeake's 18,000 acre DFW Airport Lease. One of the targets I am looking for in West Central Texas has shown recoverable oil reserves of about 500 BO per acre foot (a 500 acre oil field, with an average of 20' of net oil pay would, over time, produce about 5 million barrels of oil). Note that this works out to about 10,000 BO per acre.

At one time, Chesapeake was claiming possible recoverable reserves of one TCF of gas from the DFW Airport Lease. Using the 6:1 ratio, this would be 167 million BOE, or about 9,200 BOE per acre, roughly equivalent to a very high recovery shallow oil reservoir. I don't know that the actual numbers are going to be for this lease, but they apparently won't come close to the original projections, and I think that as the Rock noted, after only two to three years of production, one-fifth of the wells have already been plugged.

Yes, the corner of bigoil I work in still uses the 6:1 convention.

I think you are correct with respect to the initial wave of development of shale gas. What I find more intriguiging is trying to understand the volume of shale gas production that is currently occurring that is completely insensitive to natural gas prices due to well economics being driven by liquids production or continued lease retention drilling (my SWAG from conversations with colleagues working in the shale space as approaching 20% of US production).

Of course they use 6:1 calculating reserves, it represents a 1.6-fold (10/6) fold increase over the established economic value and is yet another way of inflating total reserves.

BOE is a scam. Natural gas is not equivalent to oil even if the BTU's are the same.

Only in energy can this kind of nonsense sell. No one in the metals segment talks of tons of gold evalent for iron for example. Nor does anyone in the grain business talk of bushels of soybeans evalent for corn.

But when it comes to energy comparing things that are completely different and used in a differnet way is standard operating porcedure. It is still nonsense.

When there is money to me made, BOE is drug out to pull the wool over the eyes of of the naive. And sometimes the fraud works. If investors can be convinced natural gas is oil, gas company stocks should sell at similar prices to oil companies. That is behind the BOE scam.

But the physical market doesn't buy it and it shouldn't. It knows the infrastructure is not set up to use natural gas (methane) in place of oil for the most part. This situatiion is likely to continue for some time with little change.

Liquid fuel is unique. There are no practical subsitutes for oil that amount to anything except biofuels and they are constantly under attack.

They were again this week. Ethanol subsidies were reduced in a compromise proposal reached with ethanol oponents in the Senate.

Much larger oil subsidies remain untouched.

That story and turning hog factory waste into electricity were the main stories on this week's Market to Market.


It looks like 440 million Chinese hogs need American corn and, as Leanan's link "Pork prices drive Chinese inflation" up top points out, the Chinese aim to increase pork production.

This week they bought a lot of corn:


Been awhile since you brought up your non equivalency argument. Kind of liked ur other posts better.

wt - I haven't forgotten I owe you that spreadsheet of all the Eagle Ford production...been swamped. I'll also send all the DFW data too. A quick plot should get you to URR there.

Japan's nuclear industry credibility crumbles amid email scandal
By Linda Sieg, Additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Risa Maeda; Editing by Nick Macfie / Reuters / July 8, 2011

TOKYO (Reuters) - A Japanese nuclear power plant has come under fire for trying to sway the outcome of a public forum on atomic safety, dealing a fresh blow to the industry's credibility four months after the world's biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

An employee with Kyushu Electric Power Co instructed workers at the utility and affiliates to pose as ordinary citizens and send e-mails backing the restart of reactors in southern Japan to a televised public hearing.

... The plant is still leaking radiation in a protracted disaster ...

Kyushu Electric President Toshio Manabe apologised for the email scandal on Friday. ...

Could you imagine coming up with that idea and deciding to do it? Could you imagine making one of the fake phone calls? What does it feel like?

Kinda sounds like something Rupert Murdoch would think up.

Re: Oil falls over 2 percent on weak jobs report

Oil tumbled more than 2 percent Friday, giving up most of its gains for the week after the latest government data showed hiring in the U.S. is at a virtual standstill.

No "oil" didn't of course. The meaningless (unless you trade in it) WTI disconnected from external reality yet again. Everything else stayed more or less level (within 1%). Light Louisiana Sweet actually closed UP 0.1% not down.

And gasoline most certainly did not "give up most of its gains for the week" although it did settle back slightly.

I guess a correct headline would be: "OIl prices in a remote corner of Oklahoma fell in response to a weak US jobs reports, while global prices were largely unaffected."

I'm sure MSNBC will be on the phone with a job offer for you shortly :-)

It's all about agenda. They start with the message they want to present and then try to make the facts fit it.

But when the world's oil production is contracting it becomes increasingly difficult to spin the image that it's not.

Yes and if they never publish things such as the 321 refining crack spread chart...

WTI First Month 321 Crack Spread

Roughly this chart is saying that refined products are selling at $34 per barrel more than WTI crude right now. The break-out of WTI from its normal spread can clearly be seen from the start of this year. Refiners with access to WTI are laughing all the way to the bank. US consumers however are not seeing any benefit from the fall in WTI.

The spread with Brent is currently about $12/barrel in the relatively "normal" range.

I wonder if this was seen in advance by the likes of Conoco-Philips, or are they just lucky beneficiaries?

Hard to believe that oil barges are not being acquired from the coasts, and tanker cars pulled out of salvage lots!

Midwest refinery utilization hit a record 97% two weeks ago, and other than for unexpected operational problems that seem to keep popping up, Midwest refiners are running flat out.

Where is the "lack of demand" coming from then that is keeping prices down for WTI? Or perhaps better to say, where was the Canadian oil flowing to Oklahoma meant to go?

To the gulf of course. Unfortunately for Canada, they built the upstream piece first. Now the downstream piece is running into local issues. 17 months and counting over schedule to get right-of-way arranged.

apmom - Simple actually. As stated the OK refineries are processing all the oil they can. Thus there is zero additional demand from them. Lots of demand at the Gulf Coast refineries. But, as been pointed out before, the Cushing oil has to get there.

Are the OK refiners able to obstruct the solutions (delay pipeline right of ways approvals or whatever)? They seem to be thriving in the current situation where they can get their inputs at well below the costs their competitors have to pay. I'd think they might be tempted to invest in ways to keep it that way as long as possible.

EOS - More than just thriving...making a killing. Additional pipeline capacity is all that can change the dynamics so I can't imagine how the refiners can impact that situation. In general refiners are "victems of circumstances". This is one of those rare situations where they are beneficiaries.

But, if lack of (crude) pipelines are seen as the enabling factor in their present great fortune, might they not act to maintain that fortunate (for them) state? Ideally, they'd have product export pipelines, and crude import only pipelines. Of course the producers of the oil (mostly Canada and the Bakken region) have an opposing interest. If they can cheaply throw sand in the gears (of oil pipeline approval), I would think they'd be motivated to do so.

Of course, which is why the pipeline is not built. There is no incentive for OK to facilitate the completion of the pipeline, and there is incentive to delay it, so they do.

EOS - But what "sand" can they throw into the gears? The basic question is why aren't new pipelines being built today? I haven't been following the details but has any potential p/l builder claimed any interference from anyone? I recall some discussion of difficulties buying right of ways but beyond that no other obstacles have been mentioned. I wonder how committed the p/l folks are in the first place. In addition to being very expensive, such long lines take years to build. I wonder how many folks are willing to bet $billions on building a line that won't be shipping oil for several years if they are uncertain the oil will be there to ship. You have to remember that typically it takes 5+ years for a p/l to recover the investment. Thus between construction time and the payout period there will have to be significant shipping demand for at least 8 years just to recover the investment without making a $1 of profit.

What if the US slips into another deep recession and oil demand/prices drop significantly? Some p/l builders lost their butts after they made huge investments in E Texas just in time to see the shale gas drilling bust in the play. Or what if oil prices stay high and the Chinese cut a deal to lay a p/l from the oil sands fields to the west coast and outbid the Gulf Coast refiners? The Chinese are doing that today with Vz crude to the tune of 450,000 bopd. And here's another big WHAT IF: what if there aren't as many Gulf Coast refineries around when the p/l is completed? Right now one of my sister companies is scrapping a large refinery in the Houston area. Will take at least another year to strip it apart and ship the salvaged steel to China. Ironic, eh? Who knows: maybe the Chinese will make pipeline casing with that steel and sell it to us for our new Cushing line...or use it for the line to haul that oil to export terminals on Canada's west coast.

Easy for us armchair pipeliners to say what we would or wouldn't do. But we're not standing in from of a board of directors or a banker and trying to convince them we can predict the future. In my 36 years I've seen pipeline investors lose money about as often as I've seen them profit.

But here's an easy way to get that oil moving out of Cushing fast: the US Govt P/L Corporation. The govt can use eminent domain to clear the route fast. And then have the line built with a govt guaranteed loan. Thus the citizens can have all the profit when the day comes. Or the losses if it doesn’t.

Part of the right of way challenge is the applicability of eminent domain when the primary apparent beneficiary are foreign producers, contractors, and refiners. Certainly, from an Oklahoman perspective there is no public value -- the status quo is far better from that perspective.

The way to get it done, it appears to me, is to engage US coastal refiners and US pipeline ownership as part of the deal.

I know the common carrier pipelines here in Texas have power of condemnation for right of way. If you don't like an offer, there is a hearing to set the rate you get. I have a family member who does this; believe me when they want to get the right of way they can do it muy pronto.

Given that you can gamble on spreads as well as prices, I wonder if someone has found a way to make more money out of the futures refining spread (+ the physical spread profit if they are refiners) than they lose in the WTI futures market pushing prices down. As I've said before, in theory there seems no reason why WTI can't decline all the way to zero if suppliers always send oil to Cushing at a rate faster than it can be pumped out. Of course something would presumably give before we got that far.

I don't have enough knowledge of the markets to know if this might be practical but it sounds as if it might be.

Good series on CTV? called "Meltdown". It is riveting.

I watched an installment last night and wow oh wow has a lot happened in the last few years. So much has happened that I had forgotten details. It covered the excesses...the push for privatization, the competition of deregulation as London and New York fought to be the 'Financial Centre" of the world....Greenspan and Hank Paulson. What struck me most was the psychopathic egotistical nasties who rose to the top of the banking industry and the power they wielded. It is easy to see them still pulling strings.

I remember a Gerorge W quote and I now think he is certainly no worse than what Obama has become. He said, "this sucker could go down". How right he was. Anyway, it is a fascinating recap.

Lately, I have been thinking how slow this collapse is. I keep waiting for the 'Friday' or Black Swan incident. But when the timeline of the last few years is laid out, the Collapse is really rocketing along. It is all about perception, I guess, and when you have a job it doesn't seem so dire. But it is bad, and doesn't look to be solved any time soon.

I think we need more Hugo Chavez types keeping the bandits and minions on their toes. The 'good guys' sure turned out to be the dangers of the 'free world'.

Best hopes for a barter economy that works on a scale large enough for folks to live well. The alternative is watching the parasites hop into their private jets or helicopters and fly off to their compounds and golf courses. Time to dust off the rails, heat up the tar, and pluck some chickens. I am dismayed how regular and hardworking folks pay the bills forever, on the way up.....and on the way down. Oh well, no one said life was fair.


Thanks for the tip, Paulo. Meltdown (CBC):

Doc Zone has traveled the world - from Wall Street to Dubai to China - to investigate The Secret History of the Global Financial Collapse. Meltdown is the story of the bankers who crashed the world, the leaders who struggled to save it and the ordinary families who got crushed.

"Meltdown" is certainly a word being overused these days, but I guess it applies.

I tried watching from your link and get the message "We're sorry the video you've selected cannot be streamed outside of Canada..." Is a setting on my computer causing this or??

The server is checking that your IP address is within Canadian territory, you'll need to find a streaming proxy within Canada to see it.

Why not watch something else instead?


It's just as cool, it's from Canada; Meltdown's not the only Canadian movie.

Wow! That's an incredible indictment of the Toronto cops.
Where do they recruit people like that?
Many of them seemed more than capable of leaving someone for dead if they could get away with it.

The cops were drawn from all across Canada. Besides propagating outright lies about exclusion zones and widespread violations of rights, some cops removed their name plates beforehand to avoid ID.

That sort of rules out "spontaneous exuberance".

Unfortunately, there is a long tradition of heavy handedness during such meetings, which IMO, comes straight from the PMO (Prime Minister's Office) to do whatever is necessary. Afterwards, we will slap your wrist in public, and slap your back in private.

There were some cops arrested but it was isolated and only when some video surfaced. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hym0afc03pE

Sometimes there are inquiries; there is a lot of pressure for an inquiry re: the recent G20 fiasco, but so far, nothing. More info here.

Considering that the Conservatives recently won a majority, I wouldn't hold my breath.

So, in nice, friendly, peaceful Canada, the constitution ain't doing so well either. :(

Yeah, back home in London we've had some of the "unmarked mystery" cop routine going on.
Along with "kettling" and other sheer terrorising tactics. Of course, the poor cops have to defend themselves against all those kids head-butting their horses hooves.......

This they ain't anymore.......


You have to remember when it comes to 'money' those who don't have it never had any rights to begin with. You just got a glimpse to the real world after they decided to take off the pretend costumes of 'law and order'

I know this is late to the party but I have been wondering if this notion of democracy doesn't tie right back into what Tainter has been saying:

While much of the so-called free world has their ~150 energy slaves per person, a "kinder gentler nation" is possible but in reality, it is just a nice-to-have, or as he describes it, additional complexity to solve a problem (with the associated energy costs).

The pretend costumes you refer to may be a cost we can no longer afford, or not be willing to pay for.

As energy supplies dwindle, so goes democracy and the concept (fantasy) of rights?

Keep in mind, the early Greeks has democracy but it was far from egalitarian.

I think we have a way to go before we understand the true implications of resource depletion.

Diamond touches on this obliquely in Collapse. (Despite the subtitle, Diamond did lay out evidence that some societies - medium sized societies, too big for grassroots control, but too small to support a strong bureaucracy - cannot succeed, no matter what they do. He also suggested that large societies with weak central control are in the same boat as medium-sized societies.)

Anyway, Diamond argues that one reason large societies with strong central control can succeed is that hereditary monarchy means the king has incentive to preserve the whole kingdom, since it's the source of his wealth, and will be the source of wealth for his offspring.

With democracy, there's no guarantee that your child will inherit your position, or even that you'll be able to hold onto it, so the temptation is to loot what you can, while you can. There's little incentive for sustainability.

Interesting analysis of democracy versus monarchy. The problem with the later is that it is dificult to make the leadership selction process meritocratic enough. One bad apple getting control can bring down the dynasty. Thats not to say that democracy doesn't have similar issues. In fact I think democracies big weakness comes when expert opinion is correct, but differs from folk wisdom/intuition. Then it can become politically impossible to make correct policy. Unfortunately monarchies record isn't much better.

A monarchy can be relatively stable if the monarch is more or less a figurehead supported by a powerful meritocratic bureaucracy. Chinese and Islamic governments have had this structure. In the Chinese case, bureaucrats were selected by examination and education. In the Islamic case, non-Muslims were enslaved as children and trained for military and bureaucratic roles. The key is whether the bureaucracy can successfully suppress the acquisition of power by lesser noble families, large landowners, etc.

Good points. But monarchy implies to most people a large kingdom. Through most of human existence, the model was probably more like 'chieftancy' than monarchy. I think many areas will revert to that hyper-local kind of control, for better or worse.

Chieftancy would imply a reversion to hunter gathering or very primitive agricultural societies. Soon after the development of agriculture the city state arose, and with it more complex forms of governance and organization. At minimum you get warlords with considerable numbers of followers, which will coalesce into larger states. China has gone through a couple of cycles like this.

"coalesce into larger states"

Well, that was in a world of ever more accessible energy, land, and other resources.

Just the opposite, now, so one might expect the opposite trajectory to take over. But there's no telling how long that might take.

But really, we hear most about the great agglomerations of power in history, but all around and in between them various shifting constellations of smaller power centers were the norm.

A monarchy can be relatively stable if the monarch is more or less a figurehead supported by a powerful meritocratic bureaucracy.

It worked in Great Britain for centuries.

If by "worked" you mean this , then yes I suppose it works great.....

LOL! When I first saw Martin's link, the Pyhton clip was what I expected.

Funny - I expected something more like this:


And that's what kept the population stable. the large amount of death compared to the five to ten + kids per family that was common back then.

"With democracy, there's no guarantee that your child will inherit your position, or even that you'll be able to hold onto it, so the temptation is to loot what you can, while you can. There's little incentive for sustainability."

Sigh! There goes another cherished belief, a wooden stake through its heart.

Well the only reason that it succeed in the first place is that there was enough surplus to go around. the peasants and the upper classes knew this, the ones who accepted it at least got to keep their heads though.
frankly except in the extreme small scale of 10 or less people democracy works absolutely horribly compared to others in reaction time and longevity. But it excels in surplus distribution.

I commented on the fact some time back that we're already witnessing collapse, but due its scale we're incapable of seeing it on a day to day basis. For people in the future looking back it will seem obvious and they'd be incredulous that those in the midst of it couldn't see it happening.

As you say, we need to look at it over a longer time scale, especially at friends and family. More or less everyone I know is worse off than they were a few years ago and they're increasingly concerned at their deteriorating circumstances. Even those that seem to be doing well have basically swapped security for opportunistic future gains, which may never materialise (ie. probably worse off, but not yet aware of it).

It seems folks need to think twice before planting that urban/suburban veg garden:

Woman Faces Jail Time for Planting Garden in Oak Park, Michigan

A woman is facing 93 days in jail for planting a garden in front of her Oak Park home. The woman, Julie Bass, decided to plant a garden instead of a lawn after her front yard was ripped apart and underwent sewer repairs. Bass choose to plant numerous vegetables but when the city caught wind of what she had done, they asked her to replace her vegetables with only "suitable" plant material such as lawn, flowers, shrubs.

One wonders if the City has an officially approved list of "suitable" plants. A guy near here only got 30 days for planting pot in his front yard. I guess he thought they were hidden in plain sight.

Julie Bass and her garden on TV: http://youtu.be/LhPAHhwApA4

It's all about control. If you aren't permitted to produce food then those who are control you.


"Farmageddon": Government thugs vs. organic farmers
Contraband sheep! Illicit yogurt! A new documentary explores the bureaucratic attack on crunchy farming
By Andrew O'Hehir / Salon / July 8, 2011

... A Vermont family has its entire herd of imported sheep destroyed, thanks to a completely imaginary outbreak of mad-cow disease (which is not known to occur in sheep in the first place, and definitely didn't occur in theirs). Armed agents invade an upstate New York farm to seize a cooler full of raspberry yogurt. An undercover unit breaks up an interstate trafficking ring -- one devoted to bringing USDA-certified raw milk from South Carolina across the line into Georgia. ...

How dare they not exclusively eat the products of industrialized agriculture and the agro chemical complex. Those who believe in "freedom" should learn to expand their focus beyond the government. The government is just a tool of the agro chemical industrial complex.

While I would not necessarily doubt the "imaginary" nature of the diseased sheep, the owners should have been able to require proof, because:

"...which is not known to occur in sheep in the first place,..." is a very misleading statement.

A form of mad cow disease, or Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), IS found in sheep.

It is merely called differently in sheep ("scrappies" I think) and there may be a few biological difference in the protein or something. It is basically the same thing as BSE (mad cow), though. They call it differently in deer and also in humans. They would like for us to think there is no risk to humans from it, which is not exactly the case.

Please read whatever you can find on transmissible spongiform encephalopathy in cows, deer, sheep, humans, etc. Here's a start, but I warn skepticism of info from CDCs and USDA and the like. This is a "very scary" disease, so I am not at all sure how much we are allowed to know. They worry a LOT about the health of industries. Perhaps more than about ours. You know, sort of like the MMS and the Office of Surface Mining?

Oh, Richard Rhodes' (The Making of the Atomic Bomb) book, "Deadly Feast," is also illuminating, and a good read. He's a great writer.




Scrapie, Creutzfeldt-Jacob, Transmissible Spongiform encephalopathy..

Prions cannot be transmitted through the air or through touching or most other forms of casual contact. However, they may be transmitted through contact with infected tissue, body fluids, or contaminated medical instruments. Normal sterilization procedures such as boiling or irradiating materials fail to render prions non-infective.

Has anyone reading this message actually encountered a person affected with BSE?

Several people, mostly in UK I think, have died from BSE. BSE has largely been eliminated from human population by application of public health measures, so there are probably no living persons affected by BSE today. But there is always a possibility of a modified form emerging. That I haven't met a person affected by it, is of no comfort to me. And should not be a comfort to you. It won't, for instance, make you neck any less red. ;-)

A simple "no" would have sufficed as your answer.

The fact that you feel it is necessary to share hearsay is not important to answering my question.

It's more complicated than that. The people who got variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in the recent British outbreak all had the same genetic type, called mm. (Meaning they got the m version of the gene from both parents. You can also be mv or vv.) They thought mv and vv types were immune, but studies on kuru suggest they are not immune, they just don't show symptoms until years later. So it's possible there will be a second and third wave of variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease in the UK in the future. There may be lots of living people with it, but they are in the incubation period and not showing symptoms yet.

vCJD can (our could) be transmitted through blood donations. Several of the UK visctims were infected that way.

I think they now heat treat all blood to level that breaks down the protien.

There are probably still a few dozen people of type mm still incubating it, given the statistical spread.

Yes. It's blood transfusions that are the biggest concern, and the reason Americans who have lived in the UK are still not allowed to give blood.

There's one person in the UK who is genetic type mv, but still got vCJD. He was a vegetarian, so they think he got it from a blood transfusion. Suggesting that blood transfusions are a lot riskier than eating beef.

I don't think heat treatments would work. I can't imagine being able to heat blood to the point prions would be de-natured, without destroying the blood cells that are the whole point of transfusions.

The belief in the UK is that everyone there has already been exposed, plus they'd have no blood at all if they used the American rules. Here in the US, there are few people who have lived in the UK long enough to be considered a risk, so there are plenty of other donors. And most of us have not been exposed, so allowing UK residents to donate would substantially increase the average American's risk.

Leanan, is there any medical test that can identify if someone has been infected yet?

The answer is that a diagnosis is made by testing to see if a number of things which appear to be signs of vCJD are identified.

In other words diagnosis is made via speculation.

Blood test for vCJD 'could identify carriers'
By Sonya McGilchrist / BBC / Feb 2, 2011

The new test was tried on 190 blood samples, of which 21 had variant CJD. The test picked up 15 of the samples with variant CJD - a 71% success rate.

Next comes the part when then come up with a "treatment" which can never succeed in actually curing anyone but which costs an arm an a leg every month to take.

The industry then hosts conventions to salute itself for having created a new cash cow.

Perhaps a good pelting of the town officials with rotten tomatoes is in order.

Start with Oklahoma. Oh wait they self-pelted.

Oops, blew a municipal

Inside a dark TPD & Municipal Court building
By: Jason Grubbs / KJRH / July 8, 2011

TULSA - The Tulsa Police Department and the Municipal Courts building in downtown Tulsa are expected to get electricity again at some point Friday night or Saturday.

Guards are posted up at every entrance of the building, to make sure it stays secure.

"Down on that end is sex crimes and to the right is robbery and burglary," Deputy Chief Dennis Larsen said as he took 2News on a tour of the dark facility.

Flashlights and portable fans became part of the norm; the limited electricity came from several extension cords.

Key personnel worked under the light of desk lamps and flood lights. ...

It looks like this: http://youtu.be/llQjSQ3sJyA

Good luck getting the power back on despite the surge in A/C use. It's 109 F right now in Tulsa (but it's always been 109 F in July and we've always been at war with Iraq and gas has always been over $3 and http://youtu.be/7XWDT7bghSE ...)

Good luck getting the power back on despite the surge in A/C use. It's 109 F right now in Tulsa

I saw a couple of 113s in OK, and in Kansas on the weather map today. How far out on the tail is that? I keep hoping that like the people in Russia last summer, that they will be forced to revaluate the reality of AGW.

I just found this:

Paula Deen Cited For Chicken Possession (link)
Filed by Joe Satran / Huffington Post / July 5, 2011

Last week, The Huffington Post noted that Paula Deen's backyard hens faced eviction due to zoning violations. A new dispatch from the Savannah Morning News indicates that their expulsion may be moving forward. Deen was apparently cited for her chickens by Chatham County Building Safety and Regulatory Services for their violation of county zoning codes.

The citation came after similar action against neighbors of Deen's, Bill and Jan Lynes, who keep 22 chickens. The Lynes have said that they plan to contest the current zoning laws to keep their chickens. Deen's representatives have remained noncommittal in their response to the citation, saying that Deen will comply with whatever ruling county officials ultimately reach.

Chatham County, Georgia is what? A suburb on the south end of Savannah? It could be very rural.

Paula Deen cited by Chatham County for having [too many] chickens (link)
By Mary Landers / SavannahNow / July 3, 2011

In fact, before local chickens got their feathers ruffled over zoning there was evidence of a growing urban chicken population here. A talk at Savannah's Earth Day Festival in April focused on how to raise chickens and there have been several tours of local chicken coops. A Facebook page called Savannah Backyard Chickens boasts 121 members. Some hail from within Savannah where it's clearly OK to keep up to five hens (or five mules, cattle, sheep, goats, rabbits, guinea pigs and oddly, hamsters, though roosters are verboten) but many others live outside city limits.

So did they pick one person (and a woman at that) to make an example of?

Small scale attempts at survival/sustainability are clearly a threat to the power structure.

The neighbors probably complained and the ordinance will have to be changed to explicitly allow for some chickens. I have yet to see any evidence that Tyson is lobbying local governments to kill the backyard chicken movement (hopefully, they won't read this post and get the idea).

In what country? China? Cuba? Saudi Arabia? I guess it was in some anti-democratic socialist country. Right? Right? It can't be in a democrazy; the tax payers would never alow such a waste of their money. Of that, I am sure.

RE "Governor Says Montana Was Misled on Oil Spill"

IMO Governor Schweitzer appears to be doing more than his share of misleading. In an early TV piece he spoke of how the Yellowstone's status as a blue ribbon trout stream was endangered by this spill. Even us out-of-state trout fishermen know that although the Yellowstone headwaters are blue ribbon, by the time it reaches Billings it is a warm, muddy river in which catfish have replaced the trout for the better part of 100 miles. We have to drive by it to get between the Yellowstone headwaters and the Bighorn tailwaters.

As a government official, Governor Schweitzer must know well why and how Incident Command Systems are established, structured and operate for coordinating disaster efforts. Without ICS coordination between local, state, federal agencies and private entities working on a problem, whether caused by wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, or oil spills, the response is chaos. Local, state and federal agency employees are trained in ICS and regularly practice it in disaster drills.

Given that this spill is just larger than one railroad tank car (34,500 gallons), it is getting a lot of press, much of it generated by the governor. He can't run for governor again so he appears to be using this as a platform to set up a run at bigger things, such as Congress, by extracting money from Exxon for local constituents and by garnering publicity attacking the organized cleanup efforts proceeding under ICS. Not useful.


I heard Governor Schweitzer talking on the radio.

He made his point that Montana's environmental laws are generally stricter than Federal standards.

What really teed him off was that Exxon wanted to exclude the press from their meetings with Montana officials, and that violated Montana's strong open government/sunshine laws. He said that as long as Montana government officials were conducting business, in concerning this incident response, the press was welcome to attend, take picture, and make recordings/take notes...because the people have the right to know, because they pay for their government and the government is accountable to its people.

If that is how the governor rolls, then he is my new hero.

Such a policy is not only useful, but essential.


Maybe, he is hoping to increase the size of any settlement he can extract from Exxon? Nothing like making them a media bad-boy target, like BP was last year. They may be willing to settle for an outsized sum, just to get out of the spotlight.

Maybe Montana really does have sunshine laws. Like, maybe UK really does have laws against bribing police. This is not a time when it is safe for a Governor to make a judgement call about adherence to the law.

I'm still thinking of the history of Easter Island, applied globally. Or the "tink tink" sound as the walls of the petri dish are encountered amidst cries from it's inhabitants that "we shall base our glorious new world on unlimited growth"...

Heavy sigh.

Down the slippery slope...

Capitol Report: Walker budget expands job options for jail inmates

While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s (R) law dismantling collective bargaining rights has harmed teachers, nurses, and other civil servants, it’s helping a different group in Wisconsinites — inmates. Prisoners are now taking up jobs that used to be held by unionized workers in some parts of the state.

... “Besides losing their right to negotiate over the percentage of their paycheck that will go toward health care and retirement, unions also lost the ability to claim work as a ‘union-only’ job, opening the door for private workers and evidently even inmates to step in and take their place.”

The law went into effect last week, and Racine County is already using inmates to do landscaping, painting, and other basic maintenance around the county that was previously done by county workers.

... Ladwig acknowledged in an interview with Milwaukee's Fox New 6 that there was "lots of animosity out there" over the idea.

"But I think once people see things are still running smoothly, running efficiently, a lot of the fears will be alleviated," Ladwig added.

Inmates are not paid for their work, but may receive time off of their sentences.

also Union Workers Replaced With Prison Labor Under Scott Walker's Collective Bargaining Law

and Are We Headed Toward Totalitarianism?

Maybe this is where farm labor will come from in the future. Need more labor? - Pass an unavoidable law - Roundup the violaters - Instant workforce.

The chain gang (along with sharecroppers) were essentially a continuation of slavery in a slightly different form, in the south.


With an ongoing 'drug war'(note how easy it is to plant drugs on anyone you want to arrest) and harsh sentences for 'sex crimes' (which can include taking a pee), there will be no shortage of these new 'slaves' in the country, still mostly but not exclusively black--almost exclusively from the lower class, and from those opposing or questioning the dominant paradigm..oops: I guess I'll be seeing you all on the chain gang before now.

Go to jail. Get a job. The Republican campaign slogan for 2012. Finally, they have a jobs program.

How long before the next step. Declare the unions illegal retroactively. Then arrest their members and make them work for the state and its cronies for free. No need to restrict the slave population to those caught violating drugs laws, expand the recruitment base, while taking potential opposition voters off the roles.......

Declare the unions illegal retroactively.

I wonder how the latest edition of SCOTUS will frame the decision that allows ex post facto laws (those retroactive criminal laws you pondered) to survive constitutional muster?

I suppose Clarence Thomas would be assigned the duty of writing it.

Remember, when we did have chain gangs and forced labor by prisoners, the wardens usually competed with local industries. That drove wages lower, of course. Methinks the age of oil was one of the 'liberalizing' forces of the 20th Century. As Oil fades, so will civil liberties. Slavery? That might take a while longer, but certainly forced labor.

Suddenly all those excessive prisoners in Texas (and California, interestingly) are not such a liability. Nice.


What gets at me is that there are/were a fair number of folks who would go on about Chines prison labor and how we were better than those stink'n commies...same said about the Soviet Gulag...and I agree.

Now explain to me how us doing the same thing and going down the road of increasing our exploitation of prison labor makes us any better?

I read an article which claimed that the U.S> had ~ 500,000 folks imprisoned at the end of the Carter presidency...and as of 2009 that figure was ~ 2.4 Million folks. Certain politicos love to reinforce the daft-minded belief that if a person is in prison in the U.S. then every last one of them must deserve it because they are bad folks and a threat to society.

More like this 'law and order' drug war crapola was/is a jobs program for prison employees, even more so as time went on and more and more prison services and entire prisons were/are being privatized.

Politicians can crow about being tough on crime...increasing numbers of poor people, many of color, can be hidden comfortably out of sight, and we can get some cool labor to turn a bigger profit from the prison industry and to displace previous real workers, and knock down wages for the folks on the outside to boot.

Quite the nifty scam they got going...

More like this 'law and order' drug war crapola was/is a jobs program for prison employees

While thats true, and probably some pressure derives from local economic (prison) intersts, I think the main impetus, is the fact that it is easy to make political gains, by pretending to be tougher on crime (meaner to criminals) than the opposition. The sheeple, haven't figured out that that is a con. I think the electionering dynamic probably contributes even more to the ratching up of incarceration rates than the entrenched economic interests do. Ever since Nixon succesfully used "Law and Order" politicians have seen this as an easy way to gain creds with the voters.

how we were better than those stink'n commies

And the Commies would print about the pay difference between the top and bottom in corps and in the 1950/60's about how there was an underclass/overclass based on the skin color.

ommies would print about the pay difference between the top and bottom in corps and in the 1950/60's about how there was an underclass/overclass based on the skin color.

One theory runnig around the left-o-sphere, is that the need to counter the threat of communist propaganda, was a reason that domestically we were relatively liberal during those years. Now that the htreat is gone, major political forces see no need to compromise there winner takes all agenda.

Suddenly all those excessive prisoners in Texas (and California, interestingly) are not such a liability. Nice.

We would have to dramatically reduce the cost of housing them. The current system costs much more per prisoner than you could get by renting out their labour. That doesn't mean it is impossible, Stalin arrested lots of people in order to have forced labor to develope Siberia. But the standards of treatment and accomodation would have to change significantly before it pays the state to do so. Of course it could a net-negative situation might still benefit the politicians and their cronies without helping the general population.

I wonder. Is the Governor going to use prisoners as teachers? They might be willing to work for less, especially the ones who are in prison for child molestation.

House passes $17 billion boost in military budget despite spending cuts sweeping government {Washington Post July 9,2011) Apparently Republican "tea party" congressmen can "talk the talk" about deficit reduction, but can't "walk the walk" about spending $649 billion, a $17 billion increase for 2012 defense "welfare". There are no adults in Washington if there are no cuts in Defense Department spending. Let's hope for a cut,but the "Tea Party" is exposed as a right wing fringe group that spends with best of them on their friends.

Thank goodness there is no waste in DoD.

Note that prison labor makes U.S. DoD uniforms, furniture, etc.

I would be shocked if prisoners did not make police kit as well.

Civilian Inmate Labor Program

... Sec 1–5. Civilian inmate labor programs
a. Civilian inmate labor programs benefit both the Army and corrections systems by—
(1) Providing a source of labor at no direct labor cost to Army installations to accomplish tasks that would not be possible otherwise due to the manning and funding constraints under which the Army operates.

Sec 4–2. Media coverage
Any media coverage involving inmates participating in the Civilian Inmate Labor Program, or involving onpost civilian inmate prison camps, will be reported through command channels to HQ, IMA (SFIMPL), and HQDA, Office of the Chief of Public Affairs, Public Communications Division (SAPA–PCD).

Now, would a criminal record be a stumbling block to getting a real Army job?


Not as much as in the past...depends on the record.

Considerably more latitude for new enlisted recruits than for officers.

Air Force likely has the highest standards, Marines have high standards (maybe equal or higher than AF?), then the Navy, and then the Army has the broadest window of opportunity.

Heis: Are standards going back up. During the worst part of the Iraq campaign, they certainly had serious erosion of standards. But, I suspect given the partial winddown of the wars, and the diminished prospects in the civilian economy, that the services can be a lot pickier than back then. I find it interesting that my honor student kids (who tempermentally and physically, are the opposite of what the military would want), get so much Marine recruitment mail.


I am not plugged into the recruiting picture as of right now, but historically acceptance standards have correlated with economic opportunity/hardship: Given level demand, a worse economy often equates to tighter standards, and the other way around.

I am not surprised at all that your honor students are being courted by the Marines. In my experience, 'The few, the proud, the Marines' is how they roll. They want leaders..people who can analyze situations and make expeditious, logical decisions. That is a key factor that is different about U.S. forces compared to some of the other militaries...our folks are trained to think and adapt on the fly.

Being a Mission Commander of a large aerial force package is a tough job...planning, briefing , and controlling (and adapting to events on the fly) bombers, jammers, defensive fighters, offensive fighters, tankers, recon birds...working close air support (dropping weapons next to troops in contact) is also a specialized skill requiring quick, correct analysis and the ability to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances.

All that being said, and keeping respect for our fighting men and women, I realized at some point that all this talent was being wasted in many cases in service as pawns to TPTB fulfilling a script similar to the 'reveal' described at the end of the movie Three Days of the Condor.

Today, while still respecting the intelligence and hard work and patriotism of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines, I find my inspiration from folks who are using their intelligence to craft and implement strategies to build a post-peak-oil rail system; folks who are diligently, day in and out, working with businesses to help them install much more efficient lighting systems; folks who are leading the way showing others how to have productive small-plot gardens; folks who are organizing local community food cooperatives; folks who are advocating bike paths in cites; folks who are developing and implementing innovative energy supplies (Wind, solar, etc)...

Leadership in these areas will produce substantive, longer-term paybacks and not result in the blowback compared to using our talents in war for short-term, illusory 'gains' and provoking long-term hatred and retribution.

Today, while still respecting the intelligence and hard work and patriotism of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines, I find my inspiration from folks who are using their intelligence to craft and implement strategies to build a post-peak-oil rail system; folks who are diligently, day in and out, working with businesses to help them install much more efficient lighting systems; folks who are leading the way showing others how to have productive small-plot gardens; folks who are organizing local community food cooperatives; folks who are advocating bike paths in cites; folks who are developing and implementing innovative energy supplies (Wind, solar, etc)...

Leadership in these areas will produce substantive, longer-term paybacks and not result in the blowback compared to using our talents in war for short-term, illusory 'gains' and provoking long-term hatred and retribution.

H, as one of those people trying to get people to use less (water) and trying to develop innovative energy sources, I appreciate your inspiration. It is too bad that more people do not hold that view, that there is real value in using less and finding better ways to produce (domestically/locally) what we do use.

I don;t have a problem with people who "support our troops", but they have to realise, that troops, alone, are not going to solve the country's problems, no matter how much they are supported. And, in terms of federal monies, at least, a lot of resources used for supporting the troops, could have been used for resolving energy/water issues.

I am happy to see that the Canadian troops (whom everyone here supports) finished in Afghanistan on Friday, after being there for eight years. 154 of them came back draped in the flag over the years, including one from the town where I live, more than half of them victims of roadside bombs.
Now that the mission is over, the question remains - what has been achieved and was it worth it? In addition to the body count, $11bn has been spent, and no one, really, knows how much permanent, positive, change has been achieved.

I personally honor the Canadian troops' support to and sacrifice for the mission. My heart goes out to the families of the fallen. And the wounded (physically and mentally) deserve our highest respect, and they and their families deserve enduring societal support.

I only wish I could assert that the mission was worthy, in terms of achieving longer-term sustainability.

But I cannot allow my ability to tell the truth (as I see it) to be another casualty of these wars.

while still respecting the intelligence and hard work and patriotism of the soldiers, sailors, and Marines

I kind of moved from appreciating them for this, to resenting them because they enable the continuance and expansion of destructive policies. Now I think of them as primarily unfortunate dupes, and tools of the powers that be. The whole cult of the warrior thing isn't just about honouring the poor shlocks who get shot at implementing our policies, but it is deliberatedly designed to exploit the conflation of honouring the warrior, with support for ever expanding military budgets and more aggressive foreign policy.

In some instances, it could be a plus.
Just unwrap and use. Don't know if that is a "real Army job" though.

I'm happy to report the local economy is thriving - at the thrift store.

I went to look for items for my basement apartment, and the place was packed ! Found just what I wanted, and under $20. Not made in China, either.

Spring... the thrift stores might be getting more popular but the stuff available to recycle thru them is getting worse. We made a lot of good consumer goods 50 years ago. Now that everybody's grandmother is in the retirement home, or planted in Sunset Gardens, that good stuff is getting scarce. It's been donated already... like ten years ago.

The thrift stores are leaving the era of U.S. engineered and manufactured goods: think Corning Ware, cast iron meat grinders, hand crank food mills, old Craftsman tools. Thrifts are entering the age of Chinese imported consumer goods: George Foreman grills, bread machine knockoffs, Mr. Coffee junk...

Although I like the Archdruid's idea about moving into a salvage economy. I wonder how well the goods from the last 30 years will perform. Harbor Freight quality is not remotely comparable to what Sears Hardware/Tools were 45 years ago.

As the culture of disposable acquisition dies, the value of longevity will be re-discovered by many.

There are a few companies that still produce and/or distribute quality products but at present, their market is mostly craftsmen and the nostalgic amongst us. This will change when popping into Lowes for a replacement widget becomes inconvenient or worse.

We forget that something as simple as an open ended wrench or a cast iron fry pan is invaluable because there is no simple substitute. Scarcity will push us to ensure that which we have is built to last.

I think the salvage economy will not resurrect the recent cast-offs but simply strip them of the raw materials and the occasional useful component.

A small foundry is relatively easy to implement and requires little technology. I expect to see a resurgence of the devices you mention (don't forget sausage stuffers! ;) ) as we re-learn what was part of the daily routine not so many years ago.

The smell of bread baking in our own ovens is just one of the pleasures we can look forward to.

I don't mean to trivialize the impending pain, but I really feel that there will be significant benefits and satisfaction for those that are willing to embrace a new paradigm.

Yesterday I was idly looking for kitchen "stuff" at a thrift store when I was walking back from another trip. I found two superb knives - "Flint" with an arrowhead logo, "Vanadium Stainless - Made in the USA".

Remarkably thin blades (both wide and tall). If I saw them new in a store, I would worry about them breaking. According to the internet, they were last made about 50 years ago. So perhaps my concern about breaking is unnecessary.

They effortlessly slice thin slices off a soft tomato, or an uncooked potato.

Best Hopes for enduring quality, and finding a couple more !


I agree the general drift is toward cheap, poorly made imports. There was plenty of that. Those used electronic items are not worth purchasing. If one is lucky, though, one can pick up solid items - real wood furniture rather than laminate, as one example. Even if scratched, it can be refinished without too much effort. Many times, though, I do leave empty-handed. Yard sales are no different.

This American Life: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/

A professor in Pennsylvania makes a calculation, to discover that his state is sitting atop a massive reserve of natural gas—enough to revolutionize how America gets its energy. But another professor in Pennsylvania does a different calculation and reaches a troubling conclusion: that getting natural gas out of the ground poses a risk to public health. Two men, two calculations, and two very different consequences.

Japan says plant clean-up will take decades

TOKYO — Japan's prime minister said on Saturday the decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant would take decades, in the first government announcement of a long-term timeframe for the clean-up.

...The station reported that the authorities, the operator and equipment manufacturers also expect "several decades" to pass before the reactors are ready to be dismantled, citing a long-term roadmap for bringing the plant under control.

Same source:

Goshi Hosono, newly appointed state minister in charge of handling the nuclear accident, has told Jiji Press that the government will announce a revised roadmap and a longer-term vision for the accident on July 19.

Only 10 more days! I can't wait!

Radiation Found in Japanese Cattle

TOKYO – The Tokyo metropolitan government said Saturday that elevated levels of radioactive cesium were detected in a herd of cattle from Fukushima prefecture, marking the first time that radiation has been found in domestic livestock since the start of the nuclear crisis in March.

... "We are absolutely in shock that the internal radiation level was so high, because when we screened them, we got a zero cesium reading on their surfaces," the representative said. In addition to screening for external radiation, the prefectural government also examined how the cows were raised and what type of food they have been fed before giving the green light for shipment.

"We are absolutely in shock that the internal radiation level was so high, "

.. your winnings, Captain.

Oil to climb on growing demand, reduced spare capacity: Goldman
Platts / July 7, 2011

Global banking and securities firm Goldman Sachs said Thursday it was expecting considerable oil price upside in the next 6-12 months as rising demand fueled by improved global economic growth cut into OPEC spare capacity.

"With world economic growth continuing to drive oil demand growth well in excess of non-OPEC production growth, the oil market continues to draw on inventories and OPEC spare capacity in order to balance," Goldman Sachs said in its Commodity Watch report.

"In our view, it is only a matter of time before inventories and OPEC spare capacity become effectively exhausted, requiring higher oil prices to restrain demand, keeping it in line with available supply."

As such, Goldman Sachs has now forecast a WTI crude price of $111.00/b in three months, $115.00/b in six months and $126.50/b in 12 months, this compares with $108.00/b, $114.50/b and $126.50/b forecasts from its May 24 Commodity Watch report. ...

At least they are sticking to their guns at GS now wrt. WTI futures.


At least GS oil cost estimates can provide the much needed certainty to the business community that they say they have been needing as a requirement to invest in American jobs.

Or, that was just a smokescreen and they will continue to sit on cash looking for the next countries with cheap labor and zero labor and environmental protection laws...

GS is talking about global growth, not U.S.

At least they are sticking to their guns at GS now wrt. WTI futures.

Interesting that Goldman sees the WTI/Brent spread closing. That's exactly the opposite to what Citi Bank says.

NYMEX crude settles $2.47/b lower; US jobs data weighs on complex

"When the spread moves out products prices get a boost," he said. The August WTI/Brent spread settled at minus $22.13/barrel Friday, from a previous settle of minus $19.92/b.

Analysts at Citi Investment Research and Analysis said in a research note that the recent record level of the WTI/Brent spread, which reached minus $22.29/b on June 15, was a "precursor" to an even wider spread that could double by the summer of 2012.

Market dynamics are being set up for a doubling of the recent spread to $40/b or wider, combined with a shutting in of production in Western Canada and the US Midcontinent due to the continued "explosion" of production of crude oil in these regions "and the inadequacy of physical evacuation to other markets whether by pipeline, truck, rail or barge," the analysts said.

So Goldman says the spread versus Brent will be only $3.50 in a years time and Citi says it could rise to $40.

If the spread reached $40 (implying a refining crack spread probably over $50 per barrel) then the citizens of Oklahoma might be tempted to set up dangerous back-yard refineries as already happens in parts of Africa and elsewhere. I'd be tempted to strap together a large number of physical barrels, roll them to the coast and then tow them across the Atlantic. I could put a big sign on top "Oil Drums Under Tow" ;-)

I foresee a convoy of pickup trucks hauling barrels of oil to the Gulf Coast.

Cushing supplies dropped 3 million barrels in the last five weeks, which is a fairly fast pace, so someone is figuring out a way of getting to those supplies.


The safety of fission power is well known and announcements about how the plant was not leaking 'back in the day' is also well known.

As Japan insisted Fukushima was not leaking radiation into the surrounding environment in March, the government was arresting people over 60 kilometers from Fukushima for collecting radioactive rubble without a license, claiming the collection of radioactive material violated the Waste Disposal and Public Cleansing Law.

And in the "pull the other finger" department:

Kyushu Electric Power Co.'s in-house probe has found that one of its vice presidents and another executive were involved in a deception in which its employees were asked to post online comments in favor of the restart of the utility's nuclear reactors, sources said Friday.

And now a strike at the (running at full power) Nine Mile Point nuclear complex in upstate New York:

The nuclear reactors at Nine Mile Point in Scriba are operating at 100 percent today even as members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers picket in front of the plant...

The plants are operating without about 460 union workers and are being operated by non-union employees who have been trained for the roles they’re now filling, [Jill] Lyon [speaking for Constellation Energy Nuclear Group, the power plant’s owner] said. “We’re fully prepared to safely operate the plant... CENG would never do anything to jeopordize our ability to safely operate this plant.”

Some union officials are concerned that the people filling their positions don’t have adequate experience. The replacement workers "aren’t the hands-on people,” said Shaun Deasy, executive board representative of IBEW Local 97.

What could go wrong?

That reminds me of the time my father, who was an industrial research chemist was sent to man the production line during a strike.

Another quake in Japan, 7.1...hopefully not enough to knock down the buildings which have survived the previous larger quakes.


Wow, I am super disappointed in the Republicans for not being willing to negotiate...they are all prisoners of their rigid ideology:

Boehner: Big deficit reduction deal won't work
He cites White House insistence on tax increases, calls for smaller debt measure


So they will reject a $4T deal for a 2-2.5T deal instead...so much for being serious about tackling the deficit!

After Boehner's statement, the White House said that Obama will not back off in his efforts to solve U.S. debt problems and will make the case to congressional leaders in talks Sunday for taking on "this critical challenge."

Lookit, the D's are by no means saints but I perceive that they are coming to the table and being amenable to spending cuts...it does not seem reasonable to me that the R's cannot see fit to eliminate and/or scale back some tax credits/subsidies...the talk was that if most loopholes were closed, then the general personal and corporate tax rates could be lowered somewhat, and we would still collect somewhat more revenue.

Let's look at this one more time:


I read elsewhere that the so-called 5% cuts proposed for the military over 10 years would be calculated from the DoD's 'dream budget' (what they want over the next ten years, including their preferred rate of increase), so that a '5% cut' would still leave the DoD budget growing in inflation-adjusted terms, just not as much as they wanted! The MIC is blowing smoke up our skirts!

Attention: Adults needed at the table please!

the D's are by no means saints but I perceive that they are coming to the table and being amenable to spending cuts...it does not seem reasonable to me that the R's cannot see fit to eliminate and/or scale back some tax credits/subsidies

They are both displaying the personalities of their base. I saw survey results for the question: do you want a politician to
(a) compromise when neccessary to get things done
(b) Stick to their principles no matter what.
D supporters were two to one in favor of type a, while R supporters 2:1 in favor of type b. So we end up with the dynamic we've seen play out under Obama. When one side is willing to compromise, and the other side isn't you can't expect that the final solution will split the (policy) differences between them.

They are both displaying the personalities of their base.


I agree with you Heisenberg, but all Obama had to do to avert this situation was by simply allowing the Bush jr. tax cuts (we couldn't afford in the first place - Gore ignored by fuzzy math comment) by simply allowing all of them to expire - how hard was that? It would have saved 4 trillion over 10 years, the exact amount they are trying to cut now.

He failed to even consult with his own party members, capitulated to extend those tax cuts. Now that wimp-out has put him and the Dems in a position of having to try and negotiate with the super hardarss Repubs that wouldn't give a dem a glass of water in the desert if he or she was about to die of thirst. How could he have not understood the situation with the Repubs? Hillary did, but we'll never know now how that might have turned out. But she sure wouldn't have wimped out.

This is the thing that kills me the most about Obama. He gives away everything he can think of at the beginning of the negotiations. People don't even do that when negotiating at a flea market! I thought this guy would have been street savvy with a background in Chicago, but he seems to have grown up with zero street sense.

I agree, about Hillary v Obama. I am reminded of Brad Delongs comment about Paul Krugman:
(1) Paul is always write.
(2) If you don't agree with him, go back to (1).
Paul was arguing that Hillary was the correct choice, but to me (and many others) Obama seemed the perfect candidate, smooth talking would be very useful in selling a necessary but unpopular course of action. But I think that smooth talking was a result of his peculiar way of compromising between competing groups. His method of mediation works great when there is a win-win situation, both groups can come away happy and impressed. But, modern two party politics is a win-lose situation, so the method breaks down totally.

I agree with both of you (Peak Earl and eos).

I am also disappointing in both parties that more of this debate isn't open to the public...the public needs to see all the charts and graphs and here and see the sausage being made,

The cutesie little sound bites from the lectern broadcast ad nauseam over the tv machine and internets don't cut it with me.

I would like to see all sides debate in essays over the course of several months in magazines such as 'ThE Economist' or similar, and on Internet sites.

Real debate, with folks spilling their guts about what their long-term vision is for America...not jingoism words such as 'freedom' or 'security', but actual detailed description of their preferred future states for the U.S.

I would like to see all sides debate in essays over the course of several months in magazines such as 'ThE Economist' or similar, and on Internet sites.

Real debate, with folks spilling their guts about what their long-term vision is for America...not jingoism words such as 'freedom' or 'security', but actual detailed description of their preferred future states for the U.S.

I only wish. The media discovered that the vast majority of people consider that boring. Instant entertainment is what the people want, and the more of it they get, the more natural to ad-hominem point scoring debate style seems.

The other thing I think happened, were some discoveries by people on the right. First a few people discovered that they could make a great living, by spouting political opinions that were hugely over the top. People just love to laugh at this stuff, its a form on entertainment. See who can be most outrageous. Then they discovered, that constant repetition of this stuff could move the Overton window rightward. And the more repition, the further it could be moved, apparently without limit. Humans being clever, but not wise, they then started exploiting this mechanism to the max, the goal being to push the window as far rightward as possible. There seems to be an assymetry here, the left's few attempts to replicate the tactic, have failed miserably. So we are stuck in an accelerating rightward drift, which is happening simply because people have discovered how to engineer it.

He fooled me. I'm gonna start demanding cat scans of my candidates' nether regions, just to make sure I'm not voting for a eunuch. I've been sending back the money appeals with notes like "I don't contribute to Republicans. This guy makes Nixon look like a progressive."

Today, Nixon would be a progressive!

He wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in Hades of being a serious contender for the R primaries.

Even more telling, Ronald Reagan would not be welcome either...


I've been comparing Obama to Nixon for many months on another site. I've never gotten anybody, left,right, or center, to disagree wth me and defend Obama. This ain't pleasant for me; Nixon was the great political hate of my life.

This ain't pleasant for me; Nixon was the great political hate of my life.

Yes, I felt that way for a long time. Now I look back at the wonderful liberal things Nixon accomplished; EPA, accomodation with China, promote energy efficiency etc. And I wish we could bring him back. He was so much better than anyone we've had since.

I'm gonna start demanding cat scans of my candidates' nether regions

Arn't you worried about taking a cat to the candidate forums and getting close enough to the candidate to let the cat do the scan?

*rim shot*

I've been sending back the money appeals

After Citizens United - they'll get enuf money from the Corporations...they don't really need your money.

"don't really need your money."
But I do really need to tell them. That was a very good day. A friend of mine picked up on that,and did it, too. One more person and three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an organization.


Nixon was the last Progressive President:

The following occurred during the Nixon reign:
· an end to the Vietnam War;
· beginning of the Food Stamp program;
· creation of the Environmental Protection Agency;
· passage of the Freedom of Information Act;
· decriminalization of abortion;
· creation of Earned Income Tax Credits;
· a formal ban on biological weapons; and,
· passage of the Clean Water Act.

I fought in the streets against this thug also, and was gassed frequently in running battles.
Of course it was no only in the US- I have been gassed on three continents.

He fooled me.

He looked like a promising possibility to be at Roosevelt type figure, changing our politics for a generation. I think this potential threat was why the Repubicans choose the strategy of obstruction. If they did the usual give and take, making the interests of the country in general paramont, Obama would have been wildly successful. Their only hope of not being relegated to the political wilderness, was to make sure he fails, miserably. They are following the only tactic they see that might deliver political success.

The problem is that the only way to operate sucessfully against that strategy, is to be combative, and relentlessly expose it at every opportunity. To paraphrase a famous quote from Roosevelt. "the purveyors of malfeasance, hate me with white-hot anger. I welcome their hatred...". Thats the findamental difference between Roosevelt and Obama. R realized he could use the hatred of his enemies to validate his approach with the public. Obama tries to avoid provoking it at all costs.

I use that quote a lot elsewhere. Here's another FDR speech Obama should emulate.

Now, my friends, in other words, that man was frank enough to imply that he would repeal all laws, State or national, which regulate business—that a utility could henceforth charge any rate, unreasonable or otherwise; that the railroads could go back to rebates and other secret agreements; that the processors of food stuffs could disregard all rules of health and of good faith; that the unregulated wild-cat banking of a century ago could be restored; that fraudulent securities and watered stock could be palmed off on the public; that stock manipulation which caused panics and enriched insiders could go unchecked. In fact, my friends, if we were to listen to him and his type, the old law of the tooth and the claw would reign in our Nation once more.

Read more at the American Presidency Project: Franklin D. Roosevelt: Address Delivered at Green Bay, Wisconsin. http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/index.php?pid=14738#ixzz1RlpIOXO5

Attention: Adults needed at the table please!

You have adults. They just have different actual goals than the stated goals and that could be confusing to people who just have not gotten the idea that the political establishment is about not serving the human citizens.

Its about the fascist nature of Corporations being supported by Government force.

The many ticks need to feed, and you are the source of blood.


The President is playing Charlie Brown to the R's Lucy in a reprise of the 'pull the football away at the last second' skit...


Two sides to every coin?

Rate for small green electric projects ‘a little low’
Producer: $140 per megawatt hour paid by utility not enough to encourage ventures

The regulated price for electricity from small-scale hydroelectric projects is too low to encourage such ventures in Nova Scotia, a Yarmouth green energy developer says.

Brian Giroux says he’s been looking into developing hydroelectric projects in the southwestern part of the province for more than five years. But in an interview Thursday, he said he’s not satisfied with the rate announced Monday by the provincial regulator.

"I’m not going to proceed with this rate," said Giroux, who called the tariff "a little low."

Hydroelectricity producers will be paid $140 per megawatt hour by utilities, according to the ruling by the Nova Scotia Utility and Review Board.

See: http://thechronicleherald.ca/Business/1252624.html

and on the flip side:

Government policy big deal for business

But why do we need to pay a premium for community-generated power?

Green power could be produced more efficiently by relying on government regulation and the competitive bidding process to bring on large-scale projects at market costs.

The power utility says this marginal addition of community-generated power to the grid is not essential for meeting its legislated targets for renewable energy.

Therefore the government objective must be economic development.

But if we look back 10 years from now to see what difference this community-generated power has made, will it be the global financiers who back these community projects who gain most from our renewable energy resources? Or will hard up municipalities and rural communities have gained a real edge?

And against what alternative scenarios will the results be measured? Would lower power rates, achieved through larger and more cost-effective developments, offer the same economic kick-start to regional development? Or would power discounts offered to a new class of community enterprises achieve the same results?

See: http://thechronicleherald.ca/Business/1252747.html

The classic conflict between social engineering and the ruthless pursuit of 'low' electricity rates at any cost.


Hydroelectricity producers will be paid $140 per megawatt hour by utilities,

Paul, get your spare room made up, I'm throwing my micro turbine in the truck and am on my way over there!

Seriously, if 14c/kWh is not enough for this guy, then he is doing something wrong, or being plain greedy. If he is not satisfied, he might want to go and develop small hydro projects somewhere else - god luck trying to find a higher rate though.
And then he wants it guaranteed for longer than 20yrs? Some one needs to tell him to give his head a shake. Perhaps he should ask the people of N&L what they think of having the selling price for Churchill power locked in for half a century?

He then goes on to say that he would prefer to see rates for individual projects set by the regulator. He is missing the point. The rates that get paid are what they are - a kWh is a kWh after all. It is up to him to decide which projects are worth doing, or not. It is not up the the gov to pay more for marginal projects that should not get done.

As for the community generated power;

will it be the global financiers who back these community projects who gain most from our renewable energy resources?

If the projects are being backed by global financiers, then they are not, by my definition, community projects. They should be getting financed by local banks, credit unions etc, and that should be written into the rules too. If they are too big to be financed locally, then they are too big to be called community projects.

But if we look back 10 years from now to see what difference this community-generated power has made,...will hard up municipalities and rural communities have gained a real edge?

Given what electricity rates are likely to be in 10yrs, I'd say yes.

Would lower power rates, achieved through larger and more cost-effective developments,

Well, going on the New Page biomass plant, I would say that larger is absolutely no guarantee of being more cost effective.

If she really wants low power rates, then she might as well just advocate more coal, and call it a day.
As for whether low power rates really stimulate new community enterprises, I would like to see some backup for that. My observation is that low power rates really don't make any difference to the decision of where to locate, for most enterprises, except for large, energy consuming industrial ones.

Make the rates low enough, and you will end up with a (foreign owned) aluminium smelter there somewhere, to take advantage of them - is that what NS really wants?

Community financing and ownership of these renewable projects is the way to go. Once built, they produce indefinitely, and the local benefits accrue indefinitely.. If they must be financed from outside, then so be it, but that eventually ends, and the local benefit remains.

It is just not a benefit to big business, that's all, and they hate the idea of small business being given a leg up to play in the same game.

You know the renewable energy business far better than I, Paul, so if 14-cents per kWh strikes you as a reasonable price, I can't argue with that -- it looks pretty good to me as well. There is a difference between paying a premium for something you prize more highly, i.e., clean energy and community development, and writing a blank cheque.

On the other hand, the 13.9-cents offered for these renewable energy projects is reportedly less than what Nova Scotia Power will pay for energy imported from the Lower Churchill Falls.

The province expects to pay 13.9 cents per kilowatt hour for larger wind power projects. Interestingly, that price is less than the 14.3 cents that power from Muskrat Falls will cost in this province — if the project manages to stay on budget.

See: http://www.thetelegram.com/Opinion/Editorial/2011-07-09/article-2642803/...

I take it this 14.3-cents does not include the cost of the undersea link connecting Newfoundland and Nova Scotia, a cost that will be fully borne by NSP ratepayers (an estimated $1.2 billion). Also, a fixed-price twenty-year contract is a lot more favourable to NSP than it is independent power producers at a time when electricity costs in this province are likely to escalate at rates well above inflation (13.9-cents today could very well be the equivalent of 7 or 8 cents twenty years hence).

If the projects are being backed by global financiers, then they are not, by my definition, community projects. They should be getting financed by local banks, credit unions etc, and that should be written into the rules too. If they are too big to be financed locally, then they are too big to be called community projects.

No disagreement here.

If she really wants low power rates, then she might as well just advocate more coal, and call it a day.

My thoughts, precisely. We shouldn't be raping the environment in an effort to compete with other jurisdictions; rather, we should be doing everything we can to help ratepayers use electricity more efficiently.

[G]et your spare room made up, I'm throwing my micro turbine in the truck and am on my way over there!

Sheets turned down, mints on pillow.


Well, I may know a bit about small scale stuff, but there's obviously something I don't know about the Muskrat Falls project - 14.3 c/kWh, and that not including transmission, is very expensive. I realise that N&L are trying to make up for decades of gouging by Quebec, but still...

The real advantage for small hydro, compared to wind and solar, is the capacity factor. Run of the river, done right, can be near 100%, and is always at least 50%. So if you can build your hydro for say $5/kW - roughly equivalent to solar, but with 100% cap factor, you have a 5x better return on your investment. At $5k/kW, 100% cap factor and 13.9c, you have a payback period of four years, or a 24% ROI - if that is not good enough...

I will say again that I think a better rate structure would have been, say 18c for on peak and 9c for off peak. For some small, water limited hydros, it may then be worthwhile creating a "day storage" , then maximise the value of each drop run through the turbine. I am looking at this with one of my ski resort clients.

We shouldn't be raping the environment in an effort to compete with other jurisdictions; rather, we should be doing everything we can to help ratepayers use electricity more efficiently.

Agreed absolutely. I see towns/cities doing this (keeping rates artificially low) with their water/sewer rates all the time. No one ever moved to, or from, a town/city because of the water of electricity rates. For any business (other than an alum smelter), if they say the high electricity costs are putting them out of business - that's not what is putting them out of business.

Sheets turned down, mints on pillow.

And Keith's in the fridge? Is that what people actually drink in NS, or is it another case where no locals drink the famous local beer, and have some other "really local" brew of choice (same as no one in Australia drinks Foster's, no Kiwis drink Steinlager, no Germans drink Beck's, the Dutch won't touch Heineken, etc?

Cheers indeed!


Hi Paul,

Bear in mind that Muskrat Falls is in the middle of nowhere so everything will have to be built from the ground up or brought in at considerable expense. I'm guessing that the estimated 14.3-cents per kWh includes the cost of transmission to the Labrador coast and the undersea cable to the main island, but not the transmission link to Nova Scotia.

I find it somewhat ironic that other energy sources such as oil and natural gas that often represent a larger percentage of the overall energy budget can fluctuate wildly in price and there's nary a peep, but if electricity rates increase three or four per cent, industry screams bloody blue murder.

Due to increased domestic consumption, we appear to have passed peak beer and are on the sharp downward slope:


However, upon your arrival, we are prepared to tap the Strategic Beer Reserve, aka the NSLC, to replenish our stock of Keith's.


Ha! If you used that fridge shot as a forecast of what peak oil/energy will do to beer supplies, I think a lot of people (beer drinkers, anyway) would take note!

One of the advantages for many small hydro projects, especially the smaller you get, is that they are in easy to get to places, a power line is nearby etc etc.
Clearly, Muskrat Falls is the exact opposite, and if you have to add in the cost of transmission and an undersea cable, then I can see how the cost gets up there.

Just reinforces what a hell of a deal Quebec is getting...

I think the reason why industry always hyperventilates about electricity prices is because electricity prices almost always have some level of government involvement, and governments can be manipulated by threatening to take their factory, and jobs, elsewhere. I still don;t know how companies like New Page have been able to manipulate governments with the renewable agenda, but they have...

With oil/gas, you can;t do anything to the continental markets except buy at whatever the price is, so there is no point complaining (except about fuel taxes).

Growing push from Tea Party folks and those who curry favor with them to not vote to raise the U.S. debt ceiling regardless of what kind of debt reduction package is crafted...in fact, some talk of holding out for a balanced budget amendment.

Despite the intense effort that Mr. Boehner is putting into structuring a deal that Republicans can support without breaking any no-tax-increase promises, it is clear that many Republicans in the House and Senate will oppose any increase in the debt ceiling no matter what concessions they might win.


I think this is a good thing...if only!

Full-Stop the budget/deficit BAU train, pass the balanced budget amendment, don't raise the debt ceiling, and cut away what we must and raise what revenues we can and proceed on a pay-as-you-go basis.

Money is a surrogate, a marker, for resources.

What better way to make perfectly clear to the people that we have to live within our means (within the Limits to Growth)than to take these actions? In party with the cuts, tax all oil-based fuels sufficiently to fully adequately maintain the road system, and to pay for 80% of the DoD, intelligence agencies, and DHS (all at lower levels than today).

Live within our budget, and pay explicitly for our costs of being 'engaged' in World oil-producing areas militarily.

There would be a great knashing of teeth and howls of protest, but that would settle down and thenceforth we would be secure in living within our means.

That means living at a lower material standard of living (at least in terms of our current lifestyle), but, after the period of several years of painful transition, we would be better off for it...as long as we strictly enforced immigration and kept the fertility rate to 2.1 or less.

In seems to me that Obama, Timmy and others by rejecting the 14th Amendment Solution are setting up for a government shutdown.

Republican obstinacy is at least as crazy as it was the last time when they forced the government to shut down during the Clinton Administration.

Obama has calculated that a repeat performance by Republicans would be helpful for his 2012 re-election. So he rejects any solution that would let Republicans out of the corner they have backed themselves into.

Republicans, being stubborn headed ideologues, are willing participants.

Obama now wants a government shutdown as much as the Republicans.

It will show voters he has a backbone and is not the jellyfish he's been up until now.

If history is any guide, he will win in 2012. It hopefully will be the end of the Tea Party and will put the Republicans back in minority where they belong.

I expect a government shutdown.

What I expect is for there to be some kind of half-baked compromise.

What I want, what I described above, would be a true, honest reckoning that we must break the BAU paradigm right now and live within our means.

Unfortunately, what I expect is a half-baked patch to BAU, more extend and pretend, because our politicians have no spines and we the people cannot handle the truth.

I'm not sure spine is the issue.

To borrow from the Tainter thread, there is simply no incentive whatsoever to face reality.

A politician's primary (sole?) function is to get elected and to stay elected. To this end they will continue to lie, equivocate, extend and pretend until the inevitable happens; default or severe devaluation.

To abandon BAU would result in a contraction of the economy on the order of 20 to 30 percent, which would be just as devastating as the above two scenarios. In days gone by, this could promote a turnaround, but resource depletion means that contraction is inevitable. Pick your poison.

The opportunity for a rational, and relatively painless solution expired many years ago. All that remains is theatre.

I agree completely. The federal government has nothing of value to offer the citizens of America. It needs to be dissolved.

That's what I think too. The dynamic that created runaway debt remains. We should expect politicians to continue until they can't, so the result this time will likely be large cuts in the future (small to zero today), with modest cuts to entitlements and none to defense; plus some tax increases in the future (small to none today, with offsetting cuts somewhere else probably), with a big enough bump in debt limits to get through 2012.

Kicking the can down the road works until there is no more road. When the US cannot borrow, then things will change. Until then, the only way the game will change is if a group of freshman congressmen sufficient to ball up the works align to a new ideology of debt control.

I do not think the current group of Tea Party and other debt ideologues are sufficiently numerous to withstand the combined heat and power of Dem and Rep ideologues who have proven they are happy to kick the can. Reps and Tea Partiers are trying to gang up on Dems to roll-over entitlements, but the allegiance can quickly shift to Reps and Dems deciding to raise the ceiling "for the good of the country" too.

We know that Dems and Tea Partiers won't work together else the defense funding bill this week wouldn't have passed. I see that as a sentiment vote of how the House power has aligned, but the Senate is less likely to go along.

cannot borrow

The US can always print money so borrowing is irrelevant. The only questions are:

  1. when will the oil producers refuse to take worthless paper for oil
  2. when will hyperinflation hit

The game changes at that point, certainly. But I think that's still a ways off, with cycles of deflation through debt collapse interspersed with pouring out piles of money.

It is interesting that when more money supply is needed, there is little thought of just mailing $1000 cash to each individual (that has been done once or twice, and abandoned), and little thought of more specifically targeting taxes and money toward improving the individual's lives, but recurring themes of using big banks to buy and sell bonds, redeem bad loans, and so forth.

I don't see the game shifting significantly until big banks no longer skim the cream from every transaction. I think that's why nukes and big wind farms are OK but home solar is not. Until the banks can figure out how to bundle up homeowner loans for solar improvements, get a cut from continuing production, and foreclose on the system or the property if something goes awry they simply aren't interested.

Insurance is a similar game. Insurers want healthcare to get more expensive, so they handle more money. Sure, they want to ensure more money comes in than goes out, but the want the flow to grow.

Ditto for education spending and student loans.

We are not trapped in an energy crunch as badly as we are by power structures that require growth for their existence and expansion.

We are not trapped in an energy crunch as badly as we are by power structures that require growth for their existence and expansion.

When we use the term "Power Strucure", it implies some form of malevolence.

I'm not sure you mean it that way, but I wonder if most so-called evil corporations are simply an extension of the growth/profit/success paradigm that has been ingrained in all of us.

For example, if we take a generic ad exec, does he go home at night and evilly rub his hands together, cackling about how he suckered in another million rubes to buy yet more crap they don't need and can't afford?

I suspect he will go home to his McMansion, pondering whether his numbers are up or down, how to pay for private school, how does he keep the accounts he has and how to get more so he can get a better car, cottage or whatever is the latest icon of success.

My point is that most, if not all of these power structures consist of people that are not puppeteers, but drinkers of the very same Kool Aid that everyone has been drinking.

Like Pogo said....

"...does he go home at night and evilly rub his hands together, cackling about how he suckered in another million rubes to buy yet more crap they don't need and can't afford?"

Ohhhhhhhhhhh, you need to hear the Enron tapes.

An aspect of deregulation.
Totally "forgotten" by the corporate media.
While a wildfire burns and shuts-down a power transmission line, they laugh. "Burn, baby, burn! That's a beautiful thang." It is to their advantage. Another excuse to cut power and raise prices. They laugh about financially sodomizing an archetypal grandmother, "Grandma Millie". They are utterly vile.



All Irishmen walk in single file, at least the one I knew did.

You are pointing out one single example of sociopathic behaviour. The actions of the corporation resulted in it's demise just like any other fraudulent action, Ponzi scheme or just living beyond ones means.

Yes, they were evil. Yes, this behaviour probably exists in other corporations. IIRC, about 10% of people exhibit sociopathic tendencies.

You present Enron as if this makes your rebuttal a slam dunk. These facts do not prove in any way that corporations are inherently malevolent. They are organisms, usually with a strong sense for survival. Like individuals, they will capitalize on any advantage they may find, often skirting, or flirting with the law.

My point was, and still is, that there is no grand cabal that is ruling the world or subjugating the common folk.

The broad label of "evil corporations" is just too simplistic. For the most part, they are just representative of our common mindset to "grab the brass ring".

I'm not an apologist for corporations. There are more than a few that I think should be shut down, or broken up, but that applies to drug cartels and organized crime as well.

"Why walk when you can stagger?
Why stagger when you can crawl!"

(The beer vendor's cry at fair.)

No. it is just an example.
There are plenty more, and far more disturbing.

Yes, an adaptive system whose goal is set to making money does present the appearance, in the uniformity of action of its component parts, of massive conspiracy. It is the emotionless, consuming, machine. They behaves as psychopaths. They are each also beyond the law in their current state of artificial person-hood.


No. it is just an example.
There are plenty more, and far more disturbing.

Monsanto perchance?

Yes, an adaptive system whose goal is set to making money does present the appearance, in the uniformity of action of its component parts, of massive conspiracy. It is the emotionless, consuming, machine. They behaves as psychopaths. They are each also beyond the law in their current state of artificial person-hood.

Absolutely! As for beyond the law, that varies widely, as it does with real persons, but that is the fault of society, not the corporation.

Excellent link BTW. I fear the rest of my evening is shot.


"For example, if we take a generic ad exec, does he go home at night and evilly rub his hands together, cackling about how he suckered in another million rubes to buy yet more crap they don't need and can't afford?"

He may not rub his hands together, or even cackle, but he surely knows that his job definition is EXACTLY to sucker in another million rubes to buy yet more crap they don't need and can't afford. That is the entire point of his profession.

Sure he knows, although he may tell himself a slightly different story. We have an amazing capacity to compartmentalize things.

Due to the pervasive mindset, I think that he and his family will be just as likely to participate in the rat race in spite of that knowledge because he was raised in the consumer environment long before he chose advertising as a career.

In other words, there is no "us and them", it's all us, but it's easier to demonize others than look at our own behaviour.

I hear different theories thrown out. "Obama actually wants to seriously cut long term deficits, which require goring some sacred cos (social security and medicare), and the debt-ceiling threat is giving him cover. But, even that is unacceptable to the R's, because it includes some tax increases on the wealthy". Of course if it hits the wall, it will probably precipitate a collapse that would probably be worse than the Lehman brothers demise. Others say, he would have no choice, he has one law specifying he can't exceed the limit, and other laws specifying he must spend funds that are obligated by law. So presumably, its his choice which law to violate.

And everyone trying to suddenly live within their means. It means demand would collapse. Which means those means would collapse as well. A receding horizon feedback loop, with nasty consequences.

What about the sacred cow of military spending?

There are only three big spending items in the federal budget military, health care, social security. How about we cut 40% out of military and health care?

I expect a government shutdown.

Things are different this time:

1) The IMF is issuing press releases warning how if the US defaults the Federal Reserve Note won't be the global reserve currency.
2) The Internet is FAR more involved in life than '95.
3) Smartphones.

The Internet and Smartphones allow not only the communication of what is going on, but also organization of citizens to do what Government is not doing.

What is not different is general human apathy.

I hope the US dollar will not be a global reserve currency. That is the only way we will get a balanced budget.

Popular Mechanics April 1932
Teagle - President of Standard Oil

Few industries have aided, and at the same time been helped by, the progress of science as has the oil business. Were it not for science, petroleum would not be available in the hundreds of different forms in which it is sold today. Were it not for petroleum, numerous scientific discoveries - particularly in the mechanical field - would have died in the laboratory.


Numerous other short essays on the progress of science and technology. Frequent mention of the automobile.

Chinese Solar Companies Thrive on Manufacturing Innovations

Suntech Power's CTO argues that the secret to China's success is not cheap labor but advanced equipment for making solar cells.


Too bad we in the U.S. did not have an industrial policy to invest in PV production advances.

An old story...U.S. folks invent something, but we don't capitalize on it and other countries succeed in turning the concepts in successful manufacturing operations.

The Suntech guy is right - do you have a problem with that?

US companies gave up on manufacturing decades ago.. Just look at Apple, arguably the most successful company today, that actually produces a physical product (unlike Google). They sent all their manufacturing to China, and kept the design, and the distribution/marketing to themselves, in America, and now they are one of the biggest companies.

So why bother with the pain of manufacturing -can you imagine how hard it is to build a greenfield factory in California?

The point made in that article, that cheap labour is not much a of a fact in production, but it sure makes it cheap to build a factory, should not be underestimated. Building the same facility for half the price, and likely half the time (taking Calif enviro lawsuits into account) is one very powerful incentive. Then add in not having to provide health care, public liability insurance and on and on....

The real problem for America is that it has made it very easy to consume anything, and very hard to produce anything (except the military). What is the logical end result of that?

Sometimes H, I think you despair for your country - but I despair for you, for you have discovered The Truth - and it ain't pretty!

California has spent $630M on its high-speed rail ambitions and hasn't turned one shovel of dirt?


H, have you not been to Ca lately? In order to resolve awkward questions such as what you have asked, they have redefined success in government projects to simply be the amount of money spent - it is much easier to measure that way, and in terms that everyone can understand.

in the case of High Speed rail, the first, brilliant step, was to make sure the line ran from nowhere to nowhere else. That way,most Californians would not be influenced by it, and would not even know it existed. So, then when it is revealed that $x100 million has been spent, they assume it must be a Good Thing, as you couldn't possibly spend that much without doing something right? Even if you can't see it, it is clear that Ca leads the country in spending on High Speed Rail and therefore, all Californians should be proud.

Since most Ca people wouldn't have taken that train anyway, why bother actually building it -that will cost $20bn, so clearly they are doing a public service by not building it, and the $600m, well, that's a small price to pay compared ti the $19.4bn that would otherwise have been spent. Why, these people deserve a large bonus for saving $19.4 bn so far!

Like the Ca tourism ads say "where do people get these crazy ideas?"

You should be thankful that NM was not pursuing HSR - they would probably have spent at least $300m to not build anything between ABQ and SFe!

Thanks, tocomo (if I may call you that--it's a bit shorter and friendlier sounding than your full moniker.)

Those are all things I want to write about (well, media less so than the others).

Are you a writer, or an aspiring one?

Hi Dohboi,

You can also call me Kate.

Yes. I write fiction mainly, a bit of creative nonfiction and poetry, and authored two middle-grade fiction books on the history of Washington, DC and the Lewis and Clark expedition.

See, science guys, we liberal arts types aren't so ignorant - most of us, especially in the arts, are quite observant and like to tell it like it is.


Thanks, Kate.

My background is in Linguistics and I'm now in an English Department. Most of my non-professional writing happens here.

Thanks for your work.