2011 ASPO-USA Conference: Day 1

I recently attended the ASPO-USA annual conference in Washington, DC. Overall, I found the presentations and discussion to be very engaging. The vibe this year had much less of a doomsday feel than last year and the topic of how best to tell an engaging Peak Oil story came up often. In the notes below I attempt to recap the sessions I attended with the caveat that these notes reflect primarily what I paid attention to. No attempt is made to be complete or unbiased in my coverage of the conference. I apologize in advance for any omissions or misrepresentations. In the next few weeks ASPO should make videos of the presentations available on aspo.tv.


I arrived at the conference site a few minutes early to find out that our first session was to take place four blocks away in the Congressional Auditorium underneath the Capitol. After opening remarks, ASPO co-founder and president Jim Baldauf spoke to the need for "Truth in Energy" in taxpayer funded agencies like the EIA and DOE and how these agencies should be more responsive to ASPO concerns about the forecasts they produce.

Next on the agenda were speeches by representatives Mike Honda and Roscoe Bartlett. Honorable Bartlett especially impressed me as an excellent speaker of undaunted courage and completely in command of the facts. No doubt this has to do with his previous career as a scientist and engineer in NASA and the military. By his own reckoning, Bartlett has given 52 hour long speeches on Peak Oil in the House of Representatives. I'm not sure what strings ASPO director Jan Mueller had to pull to get permission to use the Congressional Auditorium but it was an excellent beginning to the conference.

Peak Oil Update: Timing, Trends, Consequences

Chris Skrebowski focused on the importance of emerging markets in any attempt to assess future prices and availability for oil. He pointed out that the bulk of recent growth in supply is actually coming from "other liquids" such as NGL and ethanol. He estimates that current spare capacity is about one million barrels per day. Of greatest concern was his statement that oil companies are now investing in projects that require a per barrel price that will "break the economy" (>$100/bbl). He suggested that this is because the growth in demand is expected in non-OECD countries where the economic utility of oil is much higher than in countries like the United States and that non-OECD economies will be able to bear these high prices. (More of Chris' insight on this topic can be found here.)

Next up was William Catton. His beautiful voice and old-school professorial style were a delight to listen to even if his presentation was a very general one for the technical people in the audience. He spoke of our ever increasing use of energy and the evolution from homo sapiens to what he terms  HOMO COLOSSUS. His most concrete suggestion was that economic stimulus today will not have the same affect as in 1938 because he believes we have by now extracted most of the energy resources of our nation. He anticipates a future with rising death rates and resource wars.

Jeff Rubin, as great an entertainer as communicator, spoke without slides and made several points crystal clear. Having an economist that can speak clearly without the typical economic mumbo jumbo and is not afraid to point out economic stupidity where he sees it reminded me at times of the writings of John Kenneth Galbraith. Here are the bullets I jotted down:

  • Oil prices affect economies.
  • The US congress is guided by economists.
  • Economists' basic assumption is:  potential growth = productivity growth + population growth.
  • Basic assumption of potential growth of 3% is completely disconnected from natural resource limitations.
  • Any growth below potential growth means you can "step on the gas" with stimulus.
  • China is buying T bonds to keep Chinese inflation down in China.
  • Chinese inflation is driven by food and energy prices denominated in dollars.
  • Our economy can no longer grow at the rates expected because we are in an expensive oil environment.
  • Any efforts to stimulate growth toward 3% will fail and be counterproductive.
  • America will eventually default on its debt -- currency depreciation is a form of default

Jeff also explained how Greece's defaulting would likely lead to Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Ireland defaulting. Greece's largest industry is tourism. So is Portugal's. If Greece defaults, and goes back to the Drachma, it will suddenly be a very cheap vacation spot. Portugal will need to default to match, and so on. Rubin also talked about the fact that including the PIIGS in the Euro keeps the Euro lower than it otherwise would be. If the PIIGS leave, then the currency for the remaining countries will rise, leaving the remaining countries with a problem selling their goods. Germany is the #2 exporter after China. So Europe has a huge problem.

Adapting to the End of Cheap Energy: Critical Factors

Richard Heinberg addressed the need to reform the discipline of economics and the belief in infinite growth. Any reasonable version of economics should reflect natural limits and the impact of industrial processes. Richard also talked about the fact that inequality can only be tolerated if the national pie is growing. Now that it isn't, we have a problem. He believes we cannot develop alternative energies fast enough, so we have to expect a less mobile society going forward.

Chris Martenson spoke of our need for national energy priorities and asked: "What is the solution space?" He emphasized the importance of "stories" and noted that our national budget has almost nothing for renewables. Clearly, energy is not part of our national story. He believes we might be able to craft a new national narrative around "Energy stewardship is what we value."

One thing I appreciate tremendously about Chris is that he understands the importance of "framing" and "storytelling" in getting a message across. He has a scientific approach toward getting his message across and has learned through trial and error (and observation and measurement) the importance of crafting different stories, each appropriate for a specific audience.

Angelina Galiteva was a newcomer to the conference. She currently serves on the Board of Governors for the California Independent System Operator and is CEO of NEOptions, a provider of turnkey solar PV solutions. Like the solar people I met at Opal Financial's Clean & Green Forum, Angelina was very optimistic about the promise of solar. She believes that technology will allow us to retain most/all of the trappings of a modern society with 100% renewables in a generation or two. In the United States she sees major policy obstructions to the adoption of solar PV. She was involved in the creation of Germany's Feed-in-Tariff and says the key features of that successful program are the TLC's: Transparency, Longevity, Certainty and Consistency. A PV installation in California requires a large amount of paperwork from different governing bodies depending on location whereas Germany has a simple 2-page document across the entire country. She pointed out that German job growth in the solar and wind sector is significantly higher than in other sectors and that Germany has installed twice as much solar PV as the US with a little more than a quarter of US population.

Angelina's take-home message was that people should stop complaining about the problem and should start taking action on anything that will be part of the solution. She sees solar as a big part of that solution and is doing her utmost to promote it. It's hard to argue with that attitude though there was plenty of skepticism at the conference along with complaints that solar advocates take little account of the fossil fuels embedded in their production.

Roger Bezdek was the final speaker and called our attention to the lack of any meaningful national plan for an oil emergency. His concern is that any decline in oil production will lead to an oil shock and there will be huge public demand to "Do something!" He expects that rationing will be the most politically acceptable outcome as we have don that before. Most of his presentation concerned the complexity and details of implementing a rationing plan. Take home message -- it's complex.

China and the Middle East: Implications for U.S. Energy Security

Michael Klare was snowbound and unable to attend and was replaced by Kjell Aleklett as first speaker. Kjell discussed the importance of giant fields. By his reckoning, 1% of global oil fields currently produce 65% of crude oil. New discoveries are less frequent than in previous decades and a diminishing list of export countries includes many that we may not consider allies. Here is the current list of exporters ranked by 2010 EIA oil export volumes:

1. Saudi Arabia, 2. Russia, 3. Iran, 4. United Arab Emirates, 5. Nigeria, 6. Kuwait, 7. Norway, 8. Angola, 9. Algeria, 10. Iraq, 11. Venezuela, 12. Libya, 13. Kazakhstan, 14. Qatar, 15. Canada, 16. Azerbaijan, 17. Mexico, 18. Oman, 19. Columbia, 20. Sudan , ...

The list alone should give one pause. Except for Norway, Canada and perhaps Mexico, these are not paragons of enlightened, democratic society. Kjell expects Norway to cease exporting in 2035 due to depletion. The Saudi recovery factor is currently 56% and he expects production of near 12 mbd until 2028. But pressurizing fields will require a very high price. He believes that Asia will outcompete the West for available exports and that Russia will not be able to export as much as the EIA expects. Already, exports to (imports by) OECD nations have declined by 5 mbd and he anticipates another 10 mbd decline over the next 10 years because of increasing internal consumption in the oil producing nations.

This was a natural segue to the next speaker, Jeffrey Brown. Jeffrey presented his Export Land Model and the case for paying attention to Peak Exports rather than Peak Production if you live in an importing nation. I agree completely with his emphasis on net export decline as being hugely important to oil security in OECD nations. Because I know the ELM story so well, I took few notes.

Lastly, Minqi Li presented his analysis of China's use of coal. He mentioned using data from China's "coal reserve base" as the best open, regularly updated Chinese government number regarding coal. Minqi noted that China produced 3.2 billion tons of coal in 2010 of which 780 million tons came from Inner Mongolia. In the first eight months of 2011 production has reached 2.5 billion tons of which Inner Mongolia alone has contributed 625 million tons. He expects China to reach a national production of 3.6 billion tons this year including more than 1 billion tons from Inner Mongolia. He sees continued growth in coal production/consumption until 2030. (This was disputed by Kjell.) Minqi sees coal as China's primary energy source until China reaches "peak energy" around 2035. [Corrected to reflect Minqi Li's input.]

The End of Growth

Richard Heinberg spoke quite literally about "the end of growth". Point by point, he argued:

  1. Cheap energy led to mass production which led to advertising and credit.
  2. Payment of debt requires future growth.
  3. Increasing debt for consumers is increasing wealth for banks leading to increased power for financials.
  4. We are living at the end of history's greatest credit bubble.
  5. Our economic future will have persistent high unemployment, declining income and net worth, financial instability.
  6. We need to build local resilience, but it is at odds with economic efficiency.
  7. Rapid economic growth is an artifact of the fossil fuel age.
  8. We can have a better quality of life with reduced consumption.

I  basically agree with this thesis and give a hearty "Amen!" to 8. But I also believe that the world is, as it always has been, a very heterogeneous place and that some communities are already well on their way toward local resilience. Oil shocks will arrive but will not affect all nations or all regions and towns equally

William Catton spoke again in his lovely stentorian voice and reminisced a little about his happy childhood during the Depression. His main message is that our finite world is ... well ... finite and that non-renewable resources are ... umm ... non-renewable. One clever insight he left us with is the idea that our species has progressed over millennia from foragers to farmers in our quest to provide our bodies with fuel. The current mad dash in search of fossil fuels in Earth's nooks and crannies means that we have completed the circle and returned once again to our forager past. Nice imagery.

Jean Laherère was last to speak and described the widespread confusion in the definition of simple concepts such as units, heat content, density, etc. There is little consistency and there are few rules or standards among companies and nations about how to report. As usual, Jean showed lots of busy charts but his take-home message was this: It is difficult to create a clear message when the wording, units and components of "oil" are in constant flux. (With all due respect to Jean's important analytical work over the years, I would like to suggest that it is also difficult to create a clear message with dozens and dozens of overly crowded charts. Synthesis is sometimes more important than detail when explaining.)

The Shale Gas Rush: Boom or Bust?

Art Berman moderated a panel on shale gas that addressed the (negative) environmental impact of shale gas drilling in western Pennsylvania. I learned a tremendous amount from this late evening session but was disappointed that no one from the industry side was present despite Art's best efforts to find someone. (The lack of the industry perspective was made more poignant by the fact that I had gone out to dinner with an employee of Chesapeake Energy just before this session. One of the advantages of this conference is direct access to people from all sides of the energy issue.) Despite my strong environmental leanings, I would have enjoyed having a technically oriented shale gas proponent as part of the panel.

The first speaker of the evening was Cornell Engineering Professor Anthony Ingraffea who gave a spectacular 20 minute primer on fracking, more properly called High Volume SlickWater Fracturing with Long Laterals (HVSWFLL). Here are the Cliff Notes:

  • shale plays are typically ~100' thick
  • 4 components in the modern method:
    1. horizontal wells,
    2. high volumes of slickwater frac fluids
    3. multi-stage fracking
    4. use of multi-well pads
  • while each of these techniques is old, the combination is new
  • horizontal wells are long
  • slickwater has hydrocarbon lubricants to reduce viscosity
  • A 16-well pad uses : 417 million gals of water, 78 k tons of sand, 8 million gals of frac chemicals, 500 frac intervals, 10k foot laterals, 40k hp for fracking pumps
  • fracking is spatially intense --> lots of pads
  • main concerns:
    1. spatially and temporally intense, heavy industry
    2. potential migration of hydrocarbons (methane escapes outside of 5% of wells)
    3. methane is a potent greenhouse gas
  • he is VERY much against HVSWFLL

Next up was Bob Howarth, a Cornell ecologist. He described how an estimated 1.9% of total methane production from a well can be inadvertently released during the 2 week frac fluid blowback period as the well is prepared for production. He asserted that shale gas drilling has significantly more methane leakage than conventional gas drilling methods and that, because of this, shale gas actually contributes more to GHG warming than coal or diesel.

Rob Jackson runs a water chemistry lab at Duke University. Being careful not to declare causation, he showed a graph with a very strong correlation between water well distance from a shale gas drill site and the amount of methane detected in water samples. His lab has not, however, detected frac fluids in any water wells. He said it looks like methane leaks up through bad casing jobs rather than geological fractures and believes that better regulation, better construction and better enforcement can help a lot. New regulations in Pennsylvania will include 'presumptive liability' for any water well contamination that is observed within 2500' feet of a drill site as opposed to 1000' feet earlier. He believes this kind of regulation is actually a win for both the public and for industry as it clearly delineates where liability ends.

The session finished with Amy Mall, policy analyst from the NRDC, generally describing the negative environment impacts that are possible with shale gas drilling. Her position was that improved regulation and enforcement can resolve many of the trouble areas associated with shale gas production.

Dinner Conversation: Energy concerns in Austria

At the speakers' dinner (which actually took place on Friday) I enjoyed a conversation with Georg Günsberg of ASPO Austria. Having been an exchange student in Vienna, I was curious about the level of awareness and concern in Austria. He said that there was a teachable moment in 2008 during the Russia-Ukraine gas spat when many thousands of central Europeans in nations like Slovakia were left without heat in the dead of winter. Luckily for Austria, they have 4-6 months of natural gas in storage and they came through without any major shortages. According to Georg, concern about energy is not particularly high at the moment. Austria has long had efficiency built into their building codes and they are now putting up entire apartment blocks that meet Passivhaus standards. Austria is a small country with dense urban cores, an excellent rail system and already high gasoline prices. Austrians (sample size n=1) seem little concerned about reduced mobility in the face of more expensive liquid fuels.

Take Home Messages

If I had to choose the most valuable points I took away from day 1 I would probably include:

  • The idea that oil has a much higher utility in developing nations than it does in OECD nations and that this will allow them to drive the price well above $100/bbl.
  • Solar advocates enthusiasm is undaunted as solar PV continues to show price declines and increasing adoption rates.
  • The current list of top oil exporters is scary.
  • Pennsylvania needs to do a better job of regulating the shale gas industry

Keep an eye out for a recap of Day 2.

(Many thanks to Gail, Brian, Rembrandt, Chris and Art for valuable comments and suggestions on an earlier draft.)

Chris Skrebowski's contention:

...the growth in demand is expected in non-OECD countries where the economic utility of oil is much higher than in countries like the United States and that non-OECD economies will be able to bear these high prices.

seems to be supported by theoretical anecdotes. But real data suggests that the reason that developing countries can seemingly "bear" the higher prices is because they are subsidized at the consumer level.

Balancing act: End-user prices and subsidies for selected countries

Country Diesel price ($ per litre) % versus international market Petrol price ($ per litre) % versus international market
Bangladesh 0.64 -30.5 1.07 -47.5
China 1.05 -35.1 1.00 -13.9
India 0.80 -20.1 1.23 -34.6
Indonesia 0.51 -66.8 0.51 -58.0
Malaysia 0.58 -60.6 0.61 -52.9
Pakistan 0.86 -39.6 0.93 -29.3
Sri Lanka 0.64 -34.4 1.01 -47.7
Source: International Energy Agency * $ per litre

Plus, it's likely that the "international market" price above doesn't include taxes tacked on.


Figure 2 GDP - energy trajectories for key countries and federations. Europe = 25 countries making up W and E Europe, some small countries excluded. Data sources as before.


Which looks amazingly like this:

Hi Joules, rarely do we get a thread all to ourselves;-) I agree with the quote you give up top attributed to Chris S. the complicating factor with China (and other countries) is the energy embedded in exported goods. I think for the domestic energy consumed at home, China and other developing countries do extract more energy service per unit of energy used that will enable them to pay a higher price. This will ensure the continued migration of shrinking oil exports eastwards.

wow, germany and UK are impressive for having dropped at all, esp in contrast.

Obviously subsidies are a factor, especially the more extreme examples, e.g. Saudi Arabia & Venezuela, but the consumption trends are pretty obvious too. Note that year over year annual oil prices rose for seven of the eight years from 2002 to 2010, with all post-2005 annual oil prices exceeding the $57 level that we saw in 2005. The key question is what happens going forward.

We added something new this year, "ELM, the Prequel." The following chart assumes that "Export Land" peaked in 2000, with production increasing at 5%/year from 1990 to 2000, then falling at 5%/year from 2000 to 2010 (similar to the North Sea). Consumption (in red) rose at 2.5%/year from 1990 to 2010. We are focused of course on Net Exports, shown in green. Note that on the upslope of production, unless the rate of increase in consumption exceeds the rate of increase in production, the rate of increase in net exports will exceed the rate of increase in production. But on the downslope of production, unless consumption falls at the same rate as the rate of decline in production (or at a faster rate), the net export decline rate will exceed the rate of decline in production, and the net export decline rate will accelerate with time:

As expected, our data base shows that the rate of increase in Top 33 net oil exports (5.1%/year) exceeded the rate of increase in production (4.6%/year) from 2002 to 2005. But from 2005 to 2010, the rate of decline in net oil exports (1.3%/year) exceeded the (very slight) rate of decline in production (0.1%/year). Note that net exports went from +5.1%/year from 2002 to 2005 to -1.3%/year from 2005 to 2010.

The following chart shows "Claims on Production" by the Top 33 net oil exporters in 2005 (BP + Minor EIA data). If we extrapolate the 2005 to 2010 rates of change in Top 33 production, Top 33 consumption and Chindia's net oil imports, then Available Net Exports (ANE, i.e., Global Net Exports not consumed by China & India) would fall from about 40 mbpd in 2005 to about 21 mbpd in 2020. Based on these extrapolations, a negligible production decline from 2005 to 2020 would result in approximately a 50% decline in the volume of oil available to importers other than China & India.

If we assume a 1.0.%/year production decline rate from 2010 to 2020, ANE fall to about 15 mbpd in 2020.

Note that US net oil imports increased at 11%/year from 1948 to 1970, when we peaked. From 1970 to 1977, US net oil imports increased at 15%/year (EIA). In 1978, net imports declined as Alaskan production kicked in and as consumption started to slump.

If Chinese domestic production falls, their net imports could continue to increase at a rapid clip, even if the rate of increase in their oil consumption slows.

If we assume a 1.0.%/year production decline rate from 2010 to 2020, ANE fall to about 15 mbpd in 2020.

That would be 6 mb/d additional decline. Prof. Kjell Aleklett had calculated in 2008 it could be 8 mb/d

ASPO: 2020 crude oil production down by around 8 mb/d

Did Kjell present any updated estimates at the conference?

I don't specifically recall, but Jon could probably give a better answer. However, Kjell and I had very similar conclusions regarding global exports and Available Net Exports.

Thanks very much for expanding your analysis into the "prequel" years. I've always thought that being able to graphicly show the overall history of net imports/exports since 1950 would be a very powerful explanatory tool--one politicians and the public cannot ignore.

It stuck me that this is the important piece as well. If other countries can afford to pay >$100.00 then there will be a constant economic and social reshuffling at least here in the US. Leaving aside what can we do as some members of our society do not have the financial means to implement efficiency and perhaps our government can be added to that list :(. My questioning lies in what will happen or is likely to happen. Perhaps this was answered with the high unemployment, declining lifestyles, and declining net worth comments above. I have always questioned whether leaders actually 'lead' or are they more allowed and/or tolerated. My point being Carter knew about energy (put on a sweater) but the people didn't like or want it 'wala' here we are, fighting wars over oil and looking over the edge.

It will be 'why didn't you tell us?'. That is your first hurdle in talking this up. I suspect if you say - 'You didn't listen or you were not ready to listen' - you will get stone flat denial. It could also be accurate but also worse you were lied to by greedy XYZ's. The unfocused social unrest has already started. My fear is when the pinch gets tight enough someone is going to promise some unsound or unwise pie in the sky. I feel like I have become a spectator in some bad movie.

One thought on the price a country can afford to pay:

A country with a huge amount of infrastructure to maintain will need a higher EROI on fuel it can afford to use than a country that has simpler infrastructure and a lower standard of living, since part of the excess energy provided is needed to keep and maintain all of the systems and services provided. Oil price is inversely correlated with EROI--that is, at a high oil price, it is possible to extract lower EROI oil. Because of this relationship, we would expect that poorer countries, with less infrastructure and lower oil use would be able to support a higher oil price. If, over time, the US falls to lower oil use and simpler systems, perhaps we can support lower EROI (higher priced) oil as well.

Yes, but..yes. It could (will) be done with the reduction of services and infrastructure. All the "need to be broken" financial commitments and impacts will be staggering. And the declining incomes for those who have work or who relied on these soon to fail promises. Wow!
I can see a great big cat fight as those who have financial and/or contractual "cushy" positions in relationship to others, try to hang onto those same advantages. Those who watch their wealth and lifestyle slowly get taken away by a rigged game are going to have righteous anger and little to loose. I just can't wrap my head around trying to get these two groups to co-operate for the common good. I suspect we will have to live through the anger portion before we get to the next step. Sounds like the grieving process.


The unfocused social unrest has already started. My fear is when the pinch gets tight enough someone is going to promise some unsound or unwise pie in the sky.

The plan seems to be to have a amped up surveillance feeding into amped up security state as the 'social unrest' is 'unsafe'.

But how will the population react to the extra energy and resource consumption of the surveillance state?

That energybulletin article appears to rightly dismiss the concept of one specific price threshold at which an economy crashes. But I suggest it is just that the impact of oil price is a bit less binary. Like a ship sinking, it isn't either all dry or all soaked but at first only the lower parts (or front in the case of the titanic) while the upper/back parts remain dry. And then as sinking increases the higher parts get drowned too. I think we've already reached the point where a lot of hairdressers have gone under, and many lawyers are now feeling the water around their ankles. Only later will oilfield workers fear being laid off.

Energy concerns in Austria

Austria is not that different from the rest of the world. Vienna has an excellent public transport system, the countryside often not. Vienna is a concentrated urban core, the rest has a tendency to shopping boxes of enormous wallmart sizes reachable only by car. Vienna is building passivhaus appartment blocks and indeed the EU stipulates that all new construction is required to meet passivhaus standards from 2020 onwards. But in the rest of Austria everybody - and indeed also many in Vienna - want a suburban or even better a house in the green countryside. This may be built to high standards, with the cost of commuting beeing the main energy expense. Gas prices are a hot issue, but only the fat cars are selling. It is a status issue. If it is a four wheel drive the chances are that it sports a Vienna number plate. SO the average Austrian does not yet connect the dots.
Vienna is the largest city in Austria and it attracts most of the immigrants. Out of a population of 1,8 million 350.000 foreign born people are living there. This huge influx is a main reason for a strong and often very populistic ("wash me but don´t wet me") right wing party in Vienna.
Austria is the laggard in the EU when it comes to CO2 reduction commitments. As a transit country we keep our diesel and gas prices below Italy, Germany, Switzerland, in order to cash in on the transit traffic.

"some communities are already well on their way toward local resilience."

Any info on which where and why? Certainly not round here where the leaders are rejoicing at the building of a new (petrol-)engine plant as an "investment" to rescue the economy.

Also what would the measure of local resilience be? I mean do they have anyone who can make decent shoes, make leather for that matter, source salt and seeds without going to a shop, and so on.

I was using the world resilience in the sense of "capable of adapting quickly to disruptive challenges". More specifically, I am thinking of adaptation in the face of rising liquid fuels costs. I do not intend to imply complete independence from fossil fuels or resilience in the face of societal collapse.

It's probably better to rephrase my statement as: "Some communities will fare better than others in an expensive liquid fuels environment." I would include Seattle in that list of communities. Here's why:

  • Seattle City Light is a publicly owned utility that is 91% hydropower.
  • Water is provided by another city owned utility that owns the entire watershed that provides gravity-fed water to the city.
  • A temperate climate reduces heating and cooling bills and makes bicycling a year-round activity.
  • Seattle has a salt-water port as do the largest of the neighboring cities. We have an existing marine barging industry that could be expanded.
  • The city is relaltively high density with ongoing construction and zoning that encourages apartments and offices above ground floor retail. The "urban village" concept is alive and well in Seattle.
  • Voters have consistently backed bonds for light rail, streetcar and bicycle infrastructure
  • A bicycle culture is developing and is supported by the city.
  • A culture of community ownership, entrepreneurship and "dedication to craft" means that I have an organic coop, an excellent cobbler and two bike repair shops within eight blocks of my house.
  • Seattle has a strong environmental culture and there is also strong support for organic and locally source produce.
  • Having a garden, fruit trees or a chicken coop is quite popular even within our dense, urban neighborhood.
  • Most importantly, Seattle has many fiercely independent neighborhoods where people know their neighbors and shop and live locally. I often go an entire week without leaving the two mile radius around my house.

The list goes on but I hope this gives a sense of why my outlook is not as dark as some others at The Oil Drum.


Gosh (re Seattle)!
I'm inclined to point out some quite large holes in your safety net there but I guess it could be a bigger debate than I've got time for this week so best not begin it in the first place. [A lot depends on the assumptions one starts with and it looks to me like yours are far too rosy, sorry!]

Just FYI, my assumptions DO include massive changes to BAU: greatly reduced levels of mobility and consumption, high levels of unemployment, fewer government services, etc., etc. My only point is that the world is a heterogeneous place and that some areas will do better than others. Not great, but better by comparison. I think Seattle will weather the coming storm better than many other US cities.

When a hurricane hits, the homes that ONLY have the some windows blown out and part of the roof missing are far better off than those where the inhabitants are injured and the house is gone.

Got earthquake foundation retrofit?


Yep. While remodeling the basement in our 1919 house we had the entire house bolted to the foundation and had one of the pony walls and all of the window headers replaced. It may not save us from damage during The Big One but I hope we're reasonably well prepared for the much more probable smaller ones.

A great deal depends on what type of soil/rock you are sitting on for the earthquake thing

Good Friday 1964, Anchorage

and a great deal depends on what you buy and sell for the economy thing. I'm guessing Boeing isn't that big a piece of the Seattle economy anymore. Well we'll try and keep shipping you oil so long as you try to keep shipping us food--sounds fair enough. Not sure who buys our wild fish anymore-or how long the stocks will hold up in the changing oceans, but Seattle has always a had a big piece of that action as well.

More on point, thanks for the excellent summary of ASPO day one.

Regarding Seattle's long-term prospects, three words: Mount Rainier, Lahars.

Well we are getting pretty far afield from ASPO day 1 but then response to natural disasters has had a substantial fossil fuel contribution for some time now. The Puyallup River valley is the big Mt. Ranier lahar danger zone, not Seattle proper.

My point was about liquefaction potential. What you are built on really makes a huge difference when things really get shaking. The Turnagain Heights subdivision slid quite a bit back in 1964. Lots of other places took pretty big hits as well.

I've always wondered about the history of a conveniently located high end subdivision not too far from Anchorage's Westchester Lagoon where all the houses look to be post mid sixties and all the streets are named after famous racetracks. Just wonder if the developer was giving a subtle heads up that they were taking a gamble building there ?- ) It is a really nice neighborhood...now

Close, but no cigar.

The lahar threat from Mount Rainier is certainly of concern for the cities of Orting, Buckley and Enumclaw. Five thousand years ago lahars even reached Puyallup, Auburn and Kent. Check out this map. But Seattle proper is well out of the way and is in no danger from Mount Rainier.

Instead, we have the Seattle Fault to worry about.

But, as Keynes said: "In the long run we are all dead." There is only so much we can do about cataclysmic spasms of geology. But there is a lot we can do right now about human generated problems like auto-centric lifestyles.


Damn, and I really like a good cigar, now and then.

I am very much looking forward to the videos of the presentations. A couple of weeks is rather a long time to wait. Hopefully they'll post it soon.

I first became Peak Oil aware after reading a paper in a Mech. Engineering course in 2002. I remember having lengthy conversations even back then about what alternative energy sources man might adopt. There was a special energy research unit in my university, and one of the fellows in the department kept bringing us round to the nature of the energy trap, and he sensitized our minds.

Since then, the matter has been on my mind for most days. After years of reading, documentaries, following sites like this, I have come to a conclusion which few people who understand the problem would reach:

It appears to me that Man NEEDS his problems. He always needs to be on the edge of a cliff without a bridge before him. Only then will he will have the strong spur he needs to develop and extend his powers further. It is rather too premature, pessimistic, and perhaps absurd, to think that when the entire human race has its back to the wall and is facing worldwide demobilization, starvation and dieoff, that it will simply accept what seems like its inevitable fate. A few of us know what we are up against. A few have seen Goliath, and for years have steadfastly held the belief that David would be no match for him. But David has not even arrived on the battlefield. He has yet not shown his mettle. We do not even know David....yet.

What if all of us turn out to be monumentally wrong? What if the energy crisis is overcome and we end up having even more energy than ever before? All those years of worry would have been for nothing because we were so hopelessly blind to the infinite potentialities of man. Of course, it's much better to worry about a problem when no solution has as yet become visible to our minds. But should that mean that no solution will EVER become visible to billions of minds? Not just billions of mediocre minds, but billions of minds who have greatly extended the intellectual domain with the internet. Ray Kurzweil is right. The greatest force in this world is Intelligence. We may be temporarily deprived of our cheap and abundant energy, but does one any presume to think that with such vast intelligence and awareness within our reach, we will remain impoverished and hopeless for long? If anything, this new special period which we are about to enter will see a tremendous expansion of human intelligence like never before.

I do not know how the next 3 or so decades will pan out. But I do have a gut feeling about something: In 100-200 years man WILL have UNLIMITED energy. I find it difficult to believe that after so many generations of material poverty and suffering, man will still be unable extended his intelligence vastly further and finally understand energy well enough to create unlimited amounts of it himself, without relying on a thoroughly depleted nature. Nothing develops intelligence as rapidly as being confronted with ever present danger. It's quite possible that human reasoning began during the last ice age, when men were confronted with a whole new danger and were compelled to use the mind to come up with new responses to drastically changed circumstance. All of history has been a fight against the limitations of the body, of nature, of time, of space and of mind. We have partly overcome the limitations of time and space with mass communication and transport. We have overcome quite a few of the limitations of nature. We have overcome many of the limitations of the body, like disease, ailments and low life expectancy. We have certainly overcome many of the limitations of consciousness with the creation of an artificial intellectual realm. All of modern history has seen been a gradual expansion of our freedom. It is this which is the foremost desire in the soul of man: the desire for infinite freedom. So I find it just too difficult to believe that man will sink back into slavery to nature, to hunger and want, when he is getting closer and closer to perfect freedom. And the appetite for freedom grows with each new freedom added.

So I'm betting that eventually, the energy crisis will be overcome with the advent of a new form of energy which is infinite. To think anything less would be to grossly underestimate man's desire for infinity in all things.

ack...go back and look at the Second Law of Thermodynamics

re-post when you have found a way around it

Dan, I was going to reply to shox's "gut instinct" myself but then thought better of it. Many people aren't going to be able to make the conceptual transition let alone any practical transition. We just have to accept those are lost souls and move on. Like as in a war you don't stop to have funeral ceremonies every ten minutes even when your best buddies are being killed.

Many people aren't going to be able to make the conceptual transition let alone any practical transition. We just have to accept those are lost souls and move on.

I respect your views and I ask for your openness to mine. I would like to know: What exactly are you going to move on to? All naturally occurring material, including energy, will someday be thoroughly depleted. Given our ravenous rate of consumption, that day is close at hand. Even if we start living sustainably right now, the resources will still be drawn down rather quickly. Man will have literally nothing to work with. Is it not clear what message life is sending? - It's telling me, a member of the human species: "Either learn more of the scientific properties of matter and energy or else perish. Alternatively, colonize other planets and extract resources from them or else perish. Become vastly more intelligent or else perish. Rein in climate change or else perish. Become wealthier, more powerful and more capable of solving bigger problems or else perish. From now on, the remaining natural resources will last you a hundred years at most, assuming a modest rate of drawdown. After that, if you haven't made great breakthroughs in science or technology, you WILL perish. Do it or perish. You have no choice."

Accepting resource limitations is rather like making peace with ultimate death. In any world where resources are very limited, the tenure of the human species will be short. Abundant resources means long life, limited resources means death. Basically this is a struggle between life and death. If one accepts resource limitations, one has, in a way, experienced premature death. There are ecosystems around the world which lend some illustrative examples: animals living in environments devoid of nutrients, light and stimulation (like at the bottom of the sea) have slower metabolism, tend to be very slow-moving, inactive, simple, basically closer to the state of death. Animals living in environments abounding with richness are more likely to be more energetic and filled with life. This is something of an allegory for how humans would change if they ran out of resources. They would lose their energy and vitality and sink closer to death.

Shox, Thanks for your interested reply, but it looks to me like you are making a false assumption that if there is a problem there must therefore be a solution. Yes, I, and quite a number of others, do believe that most people will perish. Of course even a rather optimistic view will have just about everyone "perishing" one way or another, but as I see it the people have thrown away many centuries of life-support skills and also proliferated far beyond overshoot. So yes, most alive today are at almost certain probability of death from starvation or malnutritional disease.

You reasonably ask what I reckon to move on to. I reckon we have to accept the following.
1. The human race has got itself caught up the creek without a paddle to get back down with comfortably again.
2. Politician leaders are not going to do anything to help until too late (already in fact).
3. Foresighted people will prepare survival "arks" with like-minded cooperators. But even for them, the options are challenging. Not the least challenge is coming to terms with the fact that most of one's friends, relatives, colleagues, are not going to make it. And a huge amount of re-skilling to be learnt, followed by a lifetime of hard labour.

The good news is that ownership wealth is all illusion and all those bureaucratic fascists who currently oppress us will be the least intellectually equipped for the day when their titanic dips into the cold ocean of reality! Oh, and we'll be able to safely walk peaceably along those currently deathmetal roads and hear the birdsong again. After a die-off period the surviving minority will value and respect one another much more than is the norm nowadays. And McTrash's will have gone bust. There's always a silver lining.

"Oh, and we'll be able to safely walk peaceably along those currently deathmetal roads and hear the birdsong again."

However I may feel about your conjecture, I have to love the poetic turn of phrase! Not sure it's a scientific argument, but still a damn good turn of phrase! :-)


robin - I also hesitated to respond. If folks want to go on "faith" I'm OK with...same as with religion. OTOH it's their faith not mine and thus isn't an approach that can change my position. Facts will...not faith in better days ahead. Along the lines of your comment about war, I almost responded with a quote of some unnamed WWI general that we would never see another global conflict as he just had. No country would consider going to war with the prospect of the battle being brought to its civilian population via the development of military air power.

He was as wrong as his "faith" was strong.

The second law of thermodynamics is an expression of the tendency that over time, differences in temperature, pressure, and chemical potential equilibrate in an isolated physical system.

The Earth is isolated, except for the 100,000 terawatts of sunlight shining continuously. Makes the 10-20TW captured by humans seem pretty small.

Nick, your reply would have been so much more impressive if it had included some details (or even just outline) of how anyone could reckon to harvest that 100,000TW in a useful way.


I have to say this: After years of watching and listening and learning going back to the "energy crisis" days of the 1970's, I am UTTERLY CONVINCED that for whatever reason, people do not want to harvest those 100,000TW of solar energy in any useful way. Don't ask me why.

Humans will spend billions trying to suck solar power out of corn and that's business. Humans will spend billions extracting yesterdays solar power out of oil and that's industry. Humans will spend billions trying to suck electricity out of sun, when using its natural heat would be simpler and more to the point, and that's "high technology".

But try to get people to use the heat of the sun, or get them to talk about the biggest solar storage reserve on earth (the earth itself) and they smile and walk away shaking their head..."buncha damn tinkers, oddballs..." It is the most baffling thing I heve ever seen...

Solar hot water in the sunbelt? Naw, they would rather have their air-conditioning fight it out with their gas hot water heater (!). Concentrating mirror thermal solar, running like a song in So Cal for 3 decades? Naw, that's "old school" what a bore. The U.S. government invests millions in photo-voltaic energy research, and then whines, "well, it won't work because it's dark at night." Leave it to a politician to come up with that...ask them why they don't at least try photo-voltaic on post offices and schools which are only open in the daytime anyway and they will look at you as a cat looks at a pocket watch...(huh?) If I didn't like humans as individuals, I could easier be adjusted to the role of misanthrope and declare them all idiots in the aggregate.


RC - As one who at this moment is enjoying the sunbeams streaming into my sunspace/greenhouse, and onto my solar water heater, my adobe mass floor, my solar oven, my little PV set-up charging some batteries, all while I work on my version of Gary Reysa's simple drainback system to supplement the solar contribution to DHW & space heating, I share your dumbfoundment. Solar thermal is so relatively simple and it works great!


1) can we agree that the 2nd law of thermodynamics doesn't really tell us much here?

2) we've got lots of ways to harvest that 100,000TW. Wind is probably the best: very high E-ROI, scalable, affordable, etc. Yes, the intermittency is a bit inconvenient, but there are lots of ways to solve that. And, of course, there's nuclear, solar CSP, solar PV, solar thermal, etc.

Shox, I come from a civil engineering background, specifically in transportation and traffic engineering. Traffic engineers long ago abandoned the idea of "solving" the urban transportation problem and concentrated instead on smaller measures of mitigation, transition to new land use patterns, and creative use of technology to inform drivers of real-world conditions ahead. The energy depletion issue is a predicament, not a problem; there are no obvious technical solutions that allow us to continue our "business-as-usual" way of life. Just like there were not sufficient resources and incentives to "solve" the urban transportation problem, we are not going to "solve" the energy problem in the sense of finding a way to continue doing what we have been doing.

The reason, of course, is that the short period (about 100 years) in which we have had cheap, abundant energy in the form of oil and its byproducts is a temporary and unrepeatable condition. This brief abundance of energy has allowed us to do things we could not do before, even though we wanted to do so. For instance, suburbs in North America predate the automobile by sixty years or more, but they were narrowly focused along rail lines and were practical for a limited number of families. The emergence of cheap energy, along with automobiles, allowed an expansion of suburban living to dramatic extents. There are no "natural laws" that ensure that we can continue suburban living or any of the other oil-dependent practices we have today (just-in-time manufacturing and shipping chains, globalized economies, etc.) in their current forms. Our predicament is that we have a depleting critical resource that already is no longer available to us at a price that allows economic growth and will soon generate clear impacts that can not longer be ignored.

Our focus needs to be on sustainability and resiliency, realizing that what we and our parents did in terms of lifestyles was the exploitation of a once-in-a-geological-era opportunity.

I too held this opinion for many years. I held it unshakably. I held the opinion until something began to dawn on me: What happens if we do in fact live sustainably? Will we still have such a thing as technological progress? Will life almost come to a standstill compared to the nerve-shattering rat-race which it is presently?

How will it be possible to develop and manufacture computers, iPads, airplanes, cars, satellites and innumerable other subtle items which add so much richness and diversity to our material life if there isn't the demand for these goods in the millions or in the billions? Would anyone build me a supersonic aircraft if I was the only one in the world who wanted one? How about if a hundred thousand people wanted one? How about a million? It turns out that even for modest technological progress, demand must be in the hundreds of millions or in the billions. The greater the demand for goods, the greater the speed, scale and diversity of technological progress. Therefore, in a sustainable world of a few hundred million people, in which human needs are substantially fewer and less varied, we will no longer have technology breeding and multiplying with unprecedented superabundance. We will instead come to a standstill, just when it seemed that we were on the verge of having grown large enough to leap from planet to planet, or when it seemed that we were on the verge of conquering the mysteries of human consciousness with the aid of artificial intelligence. Alas, none of these things can ever progress at the same pace if all the fertilizing economic activity underlying them were to be extinguished.

And when the world does come to a sustainable standstill, man will be so tormented with restlessness that he will reach again with all his physical and intellectual strength for his lost world. Why should he fall to his knees and surrender when there is a sun in his solar system which will provide limitless energy at a seemingly limitless rate, if only he knew how to harness it better (and I'm not talking about solar panels). Why should he despair that his raw materials have run out when gazes up each night and beholds moons, planets and stars holding untold treasures. He is after all a tiny speck, and the universe is his oyster.

These are my thoughts. Someday, man will live sustainably without further damaging this planet. But he will NOT do so by renouncing his pursuit of material wealth or by renouncing any of his fantasies of conquering the universe.

Man yearned for the moon for thousands of years, I'm sure. They will again, once oil is gone.

The only reasonable use of fossil fuels is to fund the development of effective nuclear energy. It is but a fleeting resource; a glimmer of hope for reaching other planets, and some small possibility of grasping other stars.

The fact that we've squandered it for such pathetic uses may well damn humanity to eventual lonely extinction on this rock. But hey, it was fun while it lasted.

Windpower is cheap, high E-ROI, scalable, etc. It will suffice. It has problems, but they're smaller than those of oil, even before peak.

Shox,sorry to poop the party.The problem withe human beings are two (1)They don't know when to start and when to stop e.g Bush and Iraq(2) All problems must have a solution .Why? Is this a law of nature?We know cancer since 50+ years and AIDS from 30+ years but no solution.In maths are problems over 500 years still no solution.The past is not the future and no amount of human ingenuity can work without "cheap and abundant" energy.Nature is not concerned whether humanity is tormented or restless,it just grinds.Why not the same as peace with death?What is wrong with that?If we know that we have overshoot then why not accept the fact that there will be also an undershoot?Man will live sustainably in 100-200 years:I don't know because I am not going to be there but before we reach that point a substantial part of the human race is going to be underground.

All problems must have a solution .Why? Is this a law of nature?We know cancer since 50+ years and AIDS from 30+ years but no solution.In maths are problems over 500 years still no solution.

I agree that many problems do NOT have solutions. Climate change has NO solution because the scale of it is too gigantic and the problem has been very, very long in the making. As a general rule it takes much longer to clean up a mess than it takes to create it. Climate change has been 200-300 years in the making. It will therefore take thousands or hundreds of thousands of years for the climate to stabilize again.

But as for some other types of problems, I ask for your openness to suggestions of mine which might seem a little "out there," but which I've ruminated over for some time:

- We don't have a cure for for cancer or AIDS for the same reason that we have not yet put together a manned mission to MARS, namely, that some problems are costlier than others to solve and take more time and more effort. If I have been following trends in technology correctly, I believe that we are getting closer to building nano robots which can be injected into the bloodstream and directed around the body and made to perform tasks which augment and greatly strengthen the body's immune system. These nanobots can seep through organs and destroy cancer cells and possibly HIV as well.
- Mathematics is a profoundly different field of conquest. It takes exceptional feats of genius by no other individual than a genius, or at the very least one whose mind has been cultivated VERY VERY carefully, to make fundamental breakthroughs. This rules out more than 99% of the population. It is an intellectual world which one wins access to after a lifetime of careful and assiduous training. And partly the reason many problems remain unsolved or are solved so slowly is that there is not as strong an incentive to extend the theory of relativity as there is to, for example, develop a new gadget which is smaller and slimmer and which will be greatly in demand. For most people, the latter is a more profitable enterprise and will lure many more treasure seekers. The treasures of the intellect are too subtle to be understood by all except the topmost minds.

Many problems don't find solutions because there isn't the demand by the greater population. If let's say 50% of the population was suffering from Cancer or AIDS, then it is very possible and perhaps likely that a solution, or at least some semblance of a solution, will be found quickly. But the actual percentage of the economically empowered population suffering from these diseases is relatively small. So research money is less and solutions will come slower.

Actually, Climate Change does have solutions, at least in the US - the problem is that they threaten the investments and careers of people in certain industries: oil, coal, automotive, cattle farming, etc.

HIV, on the other hand, is for practical purposes cured. Some don't get treatment for social/cultural/economic reasons, not medical reasons.

Our energy problems at, from a certain point of view, trivial. The solutions exist - they're affordable, practical, scalable, etc, etc. We just have to choose to implement them.

HIV, on the other hand, is for practical purposes cured.

No, I would have said treatable though there are some promising signs for a cure. My concern is that drug companies may find it more profitable to supply drugs for treatment than for a cure.


Me too.

Drug companies seem to be much more comfortable treating chronic conditions than curing things.

Actually, Climate Change does have solutions, at least in the US - the problem is that they threaten the investments and careers of people in certain industries: oil, coal, automotive, cattle farming, etc.

The only solution to climate change at the present moment in time is to exterminate more than 90% of the human population, and reforest all the freed up land. The remaining 10% will basically have to live in a police state in order that they are not given the opportunity to rebel against the new order.

Such a solution is unlikely. If people take climate change seriously and decide to solve it voluntarily and cooperatively, they will soon realize that, as Joseph Tainter pointed out, solving it does not create any new wealth. Solving the problem of temporary unemployment with economic stimulus packages and renewed efforts in road and bid construction may hold the promise of more wealth in the future, but solving climate change does NOT generate any new wealth in a short timespan or even a long timespan.

This is one reason why I'm convinced it will not be solved. There have to be economic incentives. But it's difficult to create incentives for anything which turns out to be a sink for wealth generated and does not yield returns. The free market will NOT solve climate change. This is why it HAS to be done by force, which means totalitarianism, which means dictatorship and subjugation. With people being so fiercely protective of their (so called) democracy, I do not see totalitarianism and dictatorship on the horizon, and neither do I see climate change being solved.

It will actually only get worse as we switch from easy oil to oil shale, coal, gas-to-liquids etc.

This is one reason why I'm convinced it will not be solved. There have to be economic incentives.

There's a great economic incentive in not having AGW destroy our wealth.

The free market will NOT solve climate change. This is why it HAS to be done by force, which means totalitarianism, which means dictatorship and subjugation.

Or a democratically agreed carbon tax.

It is my understanding that no matter how big you build the highway, traffic will increase until maximum capacity is exceeded.

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As someone else pointed out, it doesn't matter what gas mileage your automobile is capable of when everybody's stuck in traffic anyway. Under these conditions most cars are extremely fuel inefficient. Electric and hybrid versions are superior, because they do not 'idle'. Still, it's no fun to be stuck in traffic in a hybrid, either.

A car show guy on local radio in the Dallas area said that the most important consideration when buying a car is how comfortable the seats are, since you will be spending a lot of time stuck in traffic.

Incidentally, the WSJ had an article today about how bad it is for your health to spend hours per week stuck in traffic:

Health Toll of Traffic

New research is finding links between tail-pipe exhaust and cognitive development, attention problems and autism

But I guess as Global Net Oil Exports decline, this may not be as much of a problem.

And yet we send everyone to work at the same time, and send them home at the same time, just when the school buses are running at the same time. Our organizational system and logistics create our problems, and we sigh, "how sad".


Since we're social creatures, it's not clear there's more than a modest amount to be done about that. Much of that travel is to group activities, most of which wouldn't function well with people arriving and leaving randomly around the clock, even if such a thing would ease the logistical issues. In addition, even a very mild version, the "split-session" high school I attended, engendered strife/anger about what was fair to whom, vis-a-vis, say: who was forced to drag themselves out of bed early in the morning instead of being privileged to get up comfortably late; who was excluded from community afternoon activities, or might not get to their public library branch in support of a homework assignment before it closed for the day, because they got out later than most pupils in the area; and endlessly on and on.

IOW there are reasons why people in (too-)big cities go on paying such a heavy price for a degree of synchronism, and hand-waving probably won't magically disappear them.

eventually, the energy crisis will be overcome with the advent of a new form of energy which is infinite.

Actually, we have all the energy we need from wind, solar, nuclear, etc. We don't need new tech, just a little engineering and investment.

I meant a form of energy with an EROEI of over 100, perhaps over 1000, maybe even 1,000,000. Solar, wind, nuclear have an EROEI of not more than 10-20, if I'm not mistaken. And these EROEI include the total production of energy over their entire lifetimes. I just don't see them satisfying our appetite for energy over the long run. Like solar, they yield returns at too low a rate.

Hasn't everyone here read articles about how controlled thermonuclear fusion is just around the corner?

"Hasn't everyone here read articles about how controlled thermonuclear fusion is just around the corner?"
So what? My homeopathic heating tech is already here. To become an early adopter send 10,000 cheque to my profile here.

"Like solar, they yield returns at too low a rate."

It sure beats NERONEI...

If we, as a society, go from 1000:1 EROEI to 100:1, it makes no difference at all. It means that the energy input cost of providing energy has gone from .1% of the output value of the energy to 1%. That's nothing. For gasoline, for instance, it would mean an increase in cost from $2 to $2.018.

Going from 100:1 to 10:1 is larger, but not very important: energy input costs rise from 1% to 10%, and we start to deplete resources a little faster, but not that much (to be precise, 9% faster). For society as a whole, perhaps the energy sector goes from 10% of the economy to 11%. A bit of a hit (that's a one-time, effective drop in income of 1%), but in the long run not important.

Put another way, a drop in E0ROI from 40:1 to 20:1 only decreases the net energy surplus from 97.5% to 95%, for a decrease of 2.5% -hardly significant.

Finally, wind, at 18:1 at minimum (more like 50:1) is more than good enough. So's solar and nuclear.

If we can create a fuel with an EROEI of between 100 and 1000, and assuming this fuel is compact, we will be able to make frequent trips to the moon. With a fuel having an EROEI of 1,000,000, we may aspire to reach other planets. To reach the stars, it may not even be a question of having enough energy. Nothing travels faster than light, and even light takes several thousands or millions of years to reach the earth from the stars. Hence George Lucas invented "Hyperspace" in Star Wars.

Why would higher E-ROI allow longer travel? I'd say compactness and density is what matters in space. I suspect ion engines with ram scoops would be the way to go.

Higher EROEI would allow FREQUENT travel, not longer travel. As in the rate at which it can be manufactured versus the rate at which it is expended in extremely demanding machines like spacecraft. Currently, it takes an immense amount of human energy, physical and intellectual, to put together one single mission into space. If energy and raw material were limitless, an enormous chunk of the preparations would be mechanized, and hence greatly reduced in cost, so that space flights will be made more frequently. The limiting factors in space flight is the density of the fuel. If the fuel was more dense, spaceships can be made heavier and can be filled with more room and more things.

I see where you're going. I'd call that scalability, not E-ROI: we're talking about volume of throughput.

If energy and raw material were limitless

...then pigs could fly... but with such an counter-realistic starting condition, what's the point of further speculation?

Nothing develops intelligence as rapidly as being confronted with ever present danger. It's quite possible that human reasoning began during the last ice age, when men were confronted with a whole new danger and were compelled to use the mind to come up with new responses to drastically changed circumstance. All of history has been a fight against the limitations of the body, of nature, of time, of space and of mind.

This is partly true - intelligence does indeed evolve through natural selection in an hostile environment confronted with new problems. But this inculdes high "death rates" and an evolutionary pressure towards higher intelligence. This has shurely occured - especially during ice-ages - in the human history many times and lead us to where we are.

But i see absolute no evolutionary pressure towards higher intelligence in "modern" western societies. In fact it is the other way around today and widely known as the "demographic paradoxon". So the confrontation with problems and tasks alone is necessary but not sufficient to evolve "higher intelligence". I think the natural evolutionary pressures will return to humanity, but only after the collapse of the current system in the not-to-distant future.

I must agree. But it is no modern phenomenon. Childless among the intelligent and aristocratic class became epidemic in Ancient Rome while it was at the peak of its power. The seeds of decay, degeneration and ultimate destruction were sown. The standard bearers of culture died out because they chose to remain infertile and therefore could not pass on their superior genes and culture to posterity. Meanwhile the riff-raff bred and multiplied from below until they were omnipresent. 600 years after Christ, there was hardly a Roman left in Rome. The old Etruscan stock of Romans had died out, and over hundreds of years, Rome became a confused, multicultural, motley mix of descendants of slaves who could never really be true to the Roman heritage.

Exactly this and more is happening in America today, even in Europe. The old stock which was vigorous and possessed good qualities has died out. It's place has been taken by lesser peoples. Madison Grant wrote a book called "The Passing of the Great Race" lamenting this passage. People are exceedingly sensitive to matters pertaining to eugenics, and whenever there is the merest suggestion that any one possesses superior traits, everyone pounces on the suggestion and bludgeons it with accusations of racism and with the insistence that absolutely EVERYTHING is equal. I wonder if this heightened sensitivity is due to the fact there there is a burgeoning population of inferior human beings who are acutely conscious of their inferiority. Democracy today has come to mean the forced equalization of everything - mediocrity with genius, health with sickness, beauty with ugliness, truth with untruth, wisdom with foolishness, intelligence with stupidity, you name it. All are equal. It is because people believe so fervently in this idea of equality that there are worldwide protests against the rich: in other words mediocrity is demanding that it should be set on an equal footing with those who are talented, driven, ambitious, acquisitive, possess masterly qualities and have taken great pains to free themselves financially.

Meanwhile Western Europe is committing racial suicide. It's biological heritage is imperiled. Its multitide of distinct ethnic groups are too infertile, while the hoards of immigrants pouring into its borders threaten to depose and erase thousands of years of European culture. The birth rate wreaks havoc with all the best laid plans. We can commit to be wise and all knowing, but if we do not commit to ensuring that the foolish and indifferent stop breeding, our traits and our vision will be eroded away by the indifferent forces of fertility and time.

All this bodes ill for the future of humanity, for sure. As you said, perhaps when this grossly unnatural civilization has been laid waste, we will return to the wisdom of nature, and then finally, unfit qualities, traits and genes will again be ruthlessly weeded out without the intervention of civilization. Civilization debilitates all the natural instincts until one is quite incapable of surviving anywhere except in civilization.

I must take issue with some of your elitist rantings, as I am a member of the first generation of my own family to rise into the educated middle class-although a few of my ancestors could be described as "prosperous riff raff".

[Furthermore, my siblings and I have racked up an impressive average iq score as a family, although our parents education ended when they finished at the one room one, teacher school which was within walking distance.I don't think either of them ever took a standardized test. .;-) ]

But I must agree that collectively the western Europeans are shooting at their feet with an autoloader in letting so many immigrants enter their countries that they are indeed, in my opinion, at serious risk of being culturally overwhelmed in a very few generations.

(I don't think any country that prizes it's cultural identity should allow high rates of immigration.I'm not much worried about the US, as all the immigrants I know personally are out yankeeing the native yankees.Half of the Mexicans in my area are already working two jobs, driving 4x4 trucks,which are actually put to useful purposes, and hauling their kids to after school activities.They spend their almost non existent free time maintaining nice lawns and keeping their houses in tip top condition.They don't waste much money at fast food joints-they eat home cooked meals at home.)

This is just another manifestation of the unexpected and , depending on the pov, undesirable consequences of prosperity, which apparently reduces fertility across all cultures, interacting with the modern welfare state.

The result is that the Europeans need an influx of cheap young labor to support their welfare state, which has become overly generous, and like all welfare systems, is ponzi like in nature.Such systems can only really work in an environment of continual long term growth-which is to say, in the long term, they must fail.

The immigrants are without a doubt bettering themselves, and more power to them, but they are going to be the victims of the ponzi scheme-by the time they are old enough to collect the old age bennies,the checks will be bouncing like superballs.Nevertheless, if I were in their situation, I would jump at the chance of being so victimized.

Of course the current day managers and patrons of the system are quite content to maintain that it is sustainable, and may even believe that it IS sustainable in many individual cases, but they are also piling debt on top of debt, so that as the years go by, the burden of repayment grows ever larger, until the inevitable crash finally arrives.

It is at hand now;whether it can be postponed for a few more years is the question of the day.

There is only one possible solution to the debt problem-it will be repudiated, either outright or by inflating it out of existence.

Either way, it seems very likely to this armchair historian that the consequences are going to be both dramatic and traumatic in the extreme.

Having paid in all my working life, and now being old enough to collect from the less generous American welfare state, I must reflect on the fact that in my own mostly fundamentalist family, the birth rate has fallen off so sharply that my not so numerous nieces and nephews are going to be facing an impossibly high tax burden.

I supported, and continue to support the last two elder generations, as my Dad is still with us and his and Mom's siblings are all still alive and collecting.

It looks as if the largest family in the current younger generation will have only two kids, unless a second pregnancy turns out to be twins.The women are like the ones in Brazil, they ask what you don't understand about the factory being closed.

I agree that the welfare-system and it's combination with mass-immigration and dept problems is'nt sustainable.

But what shox also pointed out is that there are problematic "dysgenic" trends in western societies - and not only there (e.g. India, Russia). This so-called "demographic paradoxon" doesen't seem to be a problem in the short or even medium run (also compensated by the phentotypic Flynn-effect through better nutrition and education and stimulation), because more and more people entering the "world-marked", e.g. East-Asia, and the absolute population growth can compensate to some degree. So ressource depletion, dept etc. are the much more severe and immediatly problems.

But as he pointet out correct with the very good example of the Roman Empire (it is seldom discussed, but that was indeed the main reason for the fall of Rome - quantitative and qualitativ demographic detoriation) the constant negative correlation beetween "education" (and also measured "gognitive-capabillities" by IQ or PISA scores) and number of offsping (beetween countries and also within countries) will lead us to some kind of degeneration in the long run. It is happening since some time, in England around 200 years, in India around 40 years. It even is geeting worse the more equal and "modern" a society is. Because people like you are entering the "middle-class" through eductaion they immediately reduce their fertility in the next generation. Educated woman are getting "independent" and also reduce their fertility for a "career" and so on.

Much proplems on the horizon (or even 10 m ahead)!

"gognitive-capabillities"? Ho ho, I know it's a typo but in the context it's hilarious!

Would you like to further discuss the topic in German with me?

So sorry, it has to be cognitive capabilities...

I just find it hard to grok, as I look around me, this persistent notion that our elites represent some kind of pinnacle of intelligence or generally human development.

Neither brains nor conscience seem to be particularly prevalent in the upper echelons; I'm not at all sure that the riff-raff aren't actually smarter, more resilient, and more interesting than the ruling classes :-)

It is shown without a doubt that in modern "western" societies the cognitive capabilities (measured by different IQ tests or SAS or PISA scores - which is nearly the same thing) correlates to a signivicant degree with educational achievements and lifespan-income. So, yes, to some degree the whealthier are indeed the smarter. This does not mean that every "investment-gekko" is smart and it says nothing especially about the richest 0,5% of a population, but the general correlation is very strong and clear.

But that is not even the point. The problem is that the technological development is driven by the top 5% of the Gaussian distribution (e.g. in USA about 121 IQ points from PISA 2009), and if there is a negative correlation beetween cognitive capabilities (and educational sucess) and fertility this level (and the number of people exceeding it given a constant population) will decrease. This has nothing to do with "the elite" or elitarien thinking. Grigori Jakowlewitsch Perelman is anything but an elitarian guy - but he has no kids!

So I find it just too difficult to believe that man will sink back into slavery to nature, to hunger and want, when he is getting closer and closer to perfect freedom. And the appetite for freedom grows with each new freedom added.

Riiiight! Unfortunately 'Nature' doesn't give a T Rex's arse,about what we think... no matter how difficult it might be for you to accept reality!


Way to go,FMaygar!

I have a hard time understanding why so many members of this forum, considering their obvious intellectual accomplishments, find it hard to accept Darwin's work for what it is-namely, the keys to understanding not only nature in general but our own nature in particular.

the keys to understanding ... our own nature in particular?

A: It is not taught in school

B: If it were, it would cause upheaval of the very foundations of our culture (free will, free markets and all that)

Well said Stepback!

Upheaval would be entirely inadequate as a descriptive term.

But it does seem to me that while most of us seem to understand nature in most ways, we recoil from understanding that we are OF nature, and insist on maintaining a sort of firewall between our perceptions of our selfhood as a species and what we are really like.

Any true understanding of our situation in my humble opinion requires us to look at the world and everything in it as Greenish does-from the viewpoint of an alien biologist.

... and what we are really like.

If we took a realistic look into the mirror, mirror on the wall

we would discover that we are not particularly the fairest of them all.

Just another self-absorbed species: Picture two wart hogs in love (PG-13)

One of the speakers mentioned that Dennis Meadows was attending the conference. Was he involved with any of the presentations or discussions. I was a huge fan of The Limits to Growth during the 70's as well as the regular columns of the late Donella Meadows

Dennis Meadows was in the front row of my presentation, which was called "Financial Impacts of Reaching 'Limits to Growth'". I also talked with him outside the presentation. He did not make any presentation at the conference, at least while I was there. (I left before the Saturday round table discussions.)

I put a write up of my presentation on Our Finite World.

Do you plan to comment on the presentations of Orlov and Foss(aka Stoneleigh)?

I hadn't really thought about it.

Nicole Foss's view is that peak oil has nothing to do with our current problems (or close to that). She has a lot of theories, but they are not tied to oil limits (except that if oil price goes down because of recession, it may cause less oil to be produced in the future).

Dmitry Orlov is always humorous. I would have to see the video to remember some of the humor.

My 2¢ worth:

My opinion continues to be that the Peak Oil plateau that we hit in 2005, and especially Peak Exports, acted as a trigger for the financial crisis and as an accelerant, pushing various countries faster along the path toward being shut out of foreign credit markets--much like a lit match that ignites a dry forest, and instead of aerial tankers dropping fire retardant, they are dropping napalm.

Even the deflationists concede that once a country is shut out of the foreign credit markets, there are no barriers to high inflation/hyperinflation. My "Thelma & Louise" metaphor from late last year (updated for 2010 Chindia numbers):

The OECD “Thelma & Louise” Race to the Edge of the Cliff

“Thelma and Louise” is an American movie that ends with the two main characters committing suicide by driving off the edge of a cliff. I’ve often thought that this cinematic moment is an appropriate symbol for the actions of many developed OECD countries that are in effect borrowing money to maintain or increase current consumption. The central problem with this approach is that as my frequent co-author, Samuel Foucher, and I have repeatedly discussed, the supply of global net oil exports has been flat to declining since 2005, with “Chindia” so far consuming an ever greater share of what is (net) exported globally. Chindia’s combined net oil imports, as a percentage of global net exports, rose from 11.2% in 2005 to 17.6% in 2010.

At precisely the point in time that developed countries should be taking steps to discourage consumption, many OECD countries, especially the US, are doing the exact opposite, by effectively encouraging consumption. Therefore, the actions by many OECD countries aimed at encouraging consumption in the face of declining available global net oil exports can be seen as the OECD “Thelma & Louise” Race to the Edge of the Cliff. I suppose that the “winner” could be viewed as the first country that can no longer borrow enough money, at affordable rates, to maintain their current lifestyle. So, based on this metric, Greece would appear to be currently in the lead, with many other countries not far behind them.

The most eloquent summary of our predicament that I have seen:

In the world, at the limits to growth
by David Korowicz

. . . across the political spectrum, people are claiming solutions for a predicament that cannot be solved. They are claiming a level of insight and dominion over systems they can barely intuit and over which they have little and declining control. The electorate assumes there must be a solution to get us out of recession, a way to reverse what we have come to call ‘austerity’. More than that, we demand the right to the realisation of their expectations- our pensions and purchasing power, jobs and savings, health and education services . . .

What everybody wants and needs is a sudden and explosive increase in the production of real goods and services (GDP) to make their continual debt requirements serviceable. But that, even were it remotely possible, would require a big increase in oil flows through the global economy, just as global oil production has peaked and begins its decline. It cannot happen. This means that the global financial system is essentially insolvent now.

The only choice is default or inflation on a global scale.

Chindia is hardly immune to higher oil prices as a huge chunk of their income is export sales related and a huge chunk of their exports go to OECD countries that won't be able to buy Chindia exports if oil is bid up too high. Your export model is very helpful but those prices are part of a very complex interconnected matrix.

All that said 2035, give or take maybe a few years to a decade, does look to be a heck of bottleneck if our course does not undergo a major correction first. Add societal memory to that-people actually born during WWII will be 90 by 2035 and have almost no audible voice in humanity's goings on--and a huge world conflict hardly looks out of the question. Societal memory is no small thing--look what happened in the 1990s after all the financial players from the 1920s debacle had exited the scene.

•The idea that oil has a much higher utility in developing nations than it does in OECD nations and that this will allow them to drive the price well above $100/bbl.

Is there a law against OECD nations increasing oil utility via conservation ?

There is a practical reality which states that someone whom is filling a scooter with gas is far less sensitive to price than someone whom is filling a car with gas especially as the income disparity falls.

"There is a practical reality which states that someone whom is filling a scooter with gas is far less sensitive to price than someone whom is filling a car with gas especially as the income disparity falls."

That is exactly the point I made. The U.S. uses over 20 barrels per person per year. China uses 2. Just because we can't comfortably handle $100 oil doesn't mean they can't. They will probably grow their oil consumption from there at our expense.

Only if they can keep selling their cheap plastic junk to the west, which in a recessionary post peak oil world would be a debatable premise, don't ya' think?


That's a good question. I am not sure how their oil consumption breaks down between industrial use and use for transportation. But they are selling a lot of cars over there.

China appears to have realized this is a problem, and started to limit car sales. Existing cars don't travel very many miles: urban areas are enormously congested, which means that adding more cars won't increase overall vehicle miles driven very much.

More importantly, this concept that developing countries get greater value from oil, and therefore will out-bid the US for oil doesn't make sense.
Consumption of marginal value is...of marginal value. In other words, the US doesn't really lose much if it cuts down on marginal fuel consumption.

For example, if people use a Prius instead of a Chevy Tahoe (reducing fuel consumption by 75%), they may have lost a little bit of status, comfort, acceleration and crash safety, but...they get to work just fine.

Similarly, if they move from a Prius to a Volt (reducing fuel consumption by another 75%, to the point that ethanol could provide all of the non-electric miles), they may pay a bit more upfront, but over the Volt's lifetime they'll come out ahead. A little frontloading of expenses seems like a pretty small price to pay, especially when a Volt (like EVs in general) has much better road performance.

There are many more examples: shipping companies may lose a tiny bit of flexibility by moving from trucks to rail; water freight may have to retrofit skysails, reduce speed a little (a 20% speed reduction gives a 50% fuel consumption reduction), and eventually go to specialized batteries which might require more stops in port for battery switching; makers of packaging may have to find ways to maintain structural strength while reducing plastic content; chemical companies may have to add a process step or two to use non-oil sources of hydrocarbons; middle income shoppers may go online, and consolidate a few trips while they're waiting for their Prius to arrive; lower income drivers will have to go to lower-status higher-mileage older small cars (whose depreciation cost is so low that it offsets higher repair costs) while they wait for Priuses to arrive in used car lots; telecommuting would make managers uncomfortable.

None of these are a really big deal - their development diverts R&D away from other productive uses, and slow the economy down a bit during the transition, but it's not TEOTWAWKI.

More importantly, this concept that developing countries get greater value from oil, and therefore will out-bid the US for oil doesn't make sense.
Consumption of marginal value is...of marginal value. In other words, the US doesn't really lose much if it cuts down on marginal fuel consumption.

Not following you here. Seems like your examples compare the US against itself not against China. Sure, if you can provide (nearly) the same value with fewer resources you'll be more efficient and increased resource cost won't be as much of a problem.

But if in China a manufacturer has lower capital costs, labor costs (partly because their workers drive scooters instead of cars), regulatory costs, etc, such that they can produce two widgets for a barrel of oil while in the US they can only produce one widget then they can outbid the US. It's already happening, been happening for a while, and I can't see a force that will change it. If US workers now have to support a payment for their new Prius on top of current payments I don't see that driving down labor costs soon, if all the capital gets lent to those workers so they can buy those Volt's, capital becomes more scarce and expensive, if they have to build larger warehouses or more ships because shipping speeds go down, pay more taxes to support rail improvements...

Will the US get more efficient--maybe--Willingly? Before the markets force it through a trade or currency rebalancing? I can't see it. Right now China can produce more widgets with the same amount of oil and at the end of the day after a very complicated international trade process it is those widgets that is buying the barrel of oil. Personally, I think the only thing that has been keeping us afloat was our huge head start in built capital and the world's appetite for our debt.

The scenario in which the US instantly reverses a long standing trend and not only narrows our trade deficit, but becomes so efficient that it actually generates hundreds of billions of dollars of trade surplus such that it can outbid China for resources seems far fetched to me. LIkewise, the scenario in which the world never tires of holding our debt and we can indefinitely bid for resources with debt instead of widgets also seems far fetched.

But if in China a manufacturer has lower capital costs, labor costs (partly because their workers drive scooters instead of cars), regulatory costs, etc, such that they can produce two widgets for a barrel of oil while in the US they can only produce one widget then they can outbid the US.

I'm not clear how the lower capital costs, labor costs regulatory costs, etc, reduce the amount of oil needed to manufacture a widget.

Will the US get more efficient?

The US has reduced oil consumption by about 10% in the last 4 years, and reduced imports by about 25%. That's not due to the recession - it started in 2005 in response to high prices, and has persisted despite US GDP having basically recovered to it's pre-recession peak.

OTOH even in a recessionary world, they might continue selling at least some of that stuff to the west, since westerners might feel even less able to afford to buy from each other than now...

I can't think of a reason why they can't just start selling product to themselves (or other exporters) as their currencies appreciate vs. debtor nations. At least then they'd be trading cheap plastic junk for other junk (or the resources to make the junk). It'd be a better deal then the one they have currently where they trade junk for an increased trade balance. After a painful transition anyway.

b - I may be off the mark but I think the point is that some nations can convert energy into necessary products which folks have no choice but to pay the going rate. Thus that country can afford to pay the higher prices. But you're correct that we can certain conserve and thus rid ourselves of those unnecessary outputs. Our problem is that by eliminating those unnecessar products you aslo eliminate the folks employed making them. We can easily eliminate millions of jobs by folks staying home and cooking all their meals as well as aking their own cofee instead of hitting Starbucks. But in doing so society is forced to deal with the burden of ll those newly unemployed. And that costs money which comes out of our economy which causes the economy to have a continued problem with the high cost of energy.

I won't try to quantify this reality....too many assumptions to make IMHO. But I think you'll get my point. I agree with you and others: significant cnservation could greatly change our energy consumption profile. But it will come at a high cost that's difficult to project IMHO.

R - With these typos I'm suspecting you're either a little tipsy from tiredness or alcohol or both! :-P

I think the best explanation is that in America and other developed countries much of the oil burnt is simply to maintain the lifestyles of consumption. A lot of oil must be burnt simply because people live far away from work and shops and they have to drive everywhere. In a place like China the oil is burnt in 100MPG scooters or in things like trucks which move goods efficiently from place to place, I.E. more productive uses. This is similar to what you said but I think it is a little bit more complete.

The salvation for the working (wo)man is probably an acknowledgement that the 40 hour working week (or more) is too long and too inefficient. We are simply too productive in the west to justify such long working hours at the expense of idling a large fraction of the population. This is a pragmatic solution which I hope you can agree with.

Anyway living in a country which is 80-90% fuel independent makes me wonder what other countries will do when peak energy arrives. I can't think of a better country to weather the storm. For some reason it reminds me of this song:


Since I am actually living beside the ocean in New Zealand...

S - I wish I were tipsy...that I could enjoy. Got a well givng me fits so only an hour or 2 of sleep for the last few nights.

You frame the situation well. While many folks here understand some of our wasteful ways some don't appreciate how much of our society depends upon that waste to make a living. And much of that "waste" goes to support service industries whose workers are generally not prepared to do more "efficient/productive" jobs. And that was the point I stumbled through: while we might preserve some portion of our wealth by being more effcient and cutting consumption, much of those savings will have to be plowed back into our social safety net and thus we may not see a great net savings to the economy.

BTW: I've been to your part of the world and have seen the glow worms

The salvation for the working (wo)man is probably an acknowledgement that the 40 hour working week (or more) is too long and too inefficient. We are simply too productive in the west to justify such long working hours at the expense of idling a large fraction of the population. This is a pragmatic solution which I hope you can agree with.

It has been predicted for decades that the new automation/computers/etc would reduce the working week and people would have far more leisure time. This has not happened.


Actually, it is happening, just not in the nice way that people thought.

Given that the unemployment rate is rising, I would say that the amount of hours worked, per head of population, is decreasing - there are LOTS of unemployed people that have lots of leisure time.

But those with jobs that have the ability to work more hours, almost always choose to do so, to earn more money.

While the idea of a four day workweek is appealing, and if it could be implemented, how many people are willing to take the 20% cut in weekly income that goes with it?

Just as we see increasing disparity in wealth, we see increasing disparity in length of workweeks, but I'd say the national average, including unemployed people, is getting shorter.

The trouble is that there are fixed per capita costs that do not go away or reduce if the person works a 4 or 3 day week instead of 5. If it is office work there is still the desk, chair, computer, phone services etc. Cutting the work week increases the proportion of the cost applied to the work product.


If it is office work there is still the desk, chair, computer, phone services etc.

Ever heard of hotelling?

To an older generation, the concept of having someone else use your desk, chair, computer, etc. on days you're not there may seem unreasonable but a younger generation doesn't believe in cooties. In the software startup world many people work this way. Have a look at coworkingseattle.org or officenomads.com.

I know people that work in these spaces and they are a lot happier than the cubicle dwellers I know.

Best Hopes for community shared resources.


I believe the majority of IBM employees currently telecommute.

Yes, there are certainly methods to get around this, I just pulled those out as quick examples. There are other costs on a by employee basis too but it is the general flavour that there is not a direct saving by reducing the days worked. Changing the attitudes and worksystems to cope with a 3 or 4 day week seems to be beyond much of management. I think part of it is territorial, having 20 desks with 20 people is seen as a bigger territory than 12 or 16 desks with 20 people. Plus the concept that more hours mean more work done and thus more profit (pronounced in the same way as 'precious' in Lord of the Rings).

I worked at one place in London when there was a big transport strike. One guy had the job of approving all orders for IT equipment, checking they were available from the company 'store' and if they were compatible with their existing system. The strike would prevent him travelling to work so they installed a remote workstation for him. When working at home he did twice the work in half the time. When the strike ended he was brought back into the office as the management attitude was that he would sit around home all day doing no work. Shrugs.


Depends a lot on the person and the work, but I've seen work cultures where remote employees simply didn't work at all. Informal decision-making with drop-in visits to handle fast-moving decisions meant remote people were always out of the loop, and were effective only on "long term" work, which wasn't the mainstream.

Changing the culture to improve communications while not vastly increasing latency takes work, and it is far harder to change workplace culture than it is to install some VoIP lines and video-conf connections for the new work-at-homes.

Plus, working at home is not for everyone. It's easy for kids and other distractions to get in the way, so the culture has to shift yet again to embrace flexible hours yet clear measuring and monitoring of performance.

Personally, I think buildings and walls (not cubes) are cheap compared to most wages, and localized but small work-sites makes for a more dynamic environment than individual work-at-homes. $10 or $15 per square foot for 150 sq foot offices is peanuts compared to salaries and benefits.

I agree.

Eliminating the time wasted in commuting is by far the greatest benefit of telecommuting - far greater than the fuel or space savings.

That is similar to things that I have been thinking about. Small local work centres where the workers do the telecommuting. They would also serve as drop off and pick up points for documents. Maybe run on a hot-desking basis.


More important per-capita costs, though, might be for medical care (now an unlimited spend compelled by government), plus metastasizing over-regulation - ever-more-overbuilt items such as houses, cars, and even smoke alarms (the $29.95 models worked just fine and were easy to replace when the sensor failed or got clogged with dust or grime, but they're not good enough for bullying local gov'ts that now, on behalf of mollycoddled electricians, mandate ridiculously expensive-to-replace hardwired units.) Anytime anyone tries to relax even a little bit, there will be some government poobah, yet another Mayor Bloomberg who aspires to be everyone's nagging mommy and daddy, mandating yet another absurd expense - "for your own good", of course.

I can convert a liter of diesel and a couples of kilos of 10 10 10 into a LOT of food, or I can burn two liters of gasoline making an unnecessary trp to the nearest country store.

The emerging economies of the East will get probably two to thrre times the "mileage " per gallon, in terms of real economic benefit, that we will get, over the next couple of decades, unless we bite the conservation and efficiency bullet until our teeth brak on it.

In China , that diesel will go into a truck hauling potatos, here it will go into a truck hauling potato chips.The average Chinaman who can afford a car will probably drive only a minor fraction of the mileage his western counterpart drives on personal "business" such as commuting and running errands, in a car that gets close to twice the mileage.

Such an economy, everything else held the same, can certainly better weather high oil prices than ours, wherein we are loked into long commutes in existing vehicles.

But the one thing I simply don't understand is why everybody insists that China must always have the West as a market.It is obvious enough that they need trade-or at least it appears to be obvious- to pay for their imports of food and raw materials.

But I can see no real reason why they cannot shift their own economy ithe direction of consumerism, as they develop, and serve as their own market for their manufactured goods, when the time is ripe.

Furthermore,although saying so will irritate the gungho American cheerleader types, China may be within the forseeable future in a position to suck up whatever real capital remains footloose in the world, and play the American game of deficit financing and consumption. They are certainly superbly situated top do so-they have enough foreign currency reserves to get started on a cash as you go basis while the world gets used to the idea that the dollar is ultimately going to be either worthless-my best guess- or unobtainable.

I don't like it, but I am afraid the US is in the same position as our old hound Dan-he is still able to intimidate the other dogs , but his days at the top of the heap are inevitably numbered.The only reason the young Lab hasn't whipped his butt already is that Dan has him intimidated;Roscoe the lab is getting stronger by the month while Dan declines by the month, but Roscoe hasn't figured it out- YET.

The Chinese are a lot smarter than Roscoe the Lab.

I don't know if Dan the coonhound realizes his position is endangered or not, but in his doggie way, I expect he does, as he no longer makes most trips with me out into the fields, whereas Roscoe never misses.I do think that the smarter coonhounds among us human doggies realize that our position at the top of the heap is iffy at best.

I can convert a liter of diesel and a couples of kilos of 10 10 10 into a LOT of food, or I can burn two liters of gasoline making an unnecessary trp to the nearest country store.

OFM, that is the best framing of the fuel v food problem I have ever seen!

A farmer who uses 1000 gal of fuel per year for farming, and has (effectively) a zero mile commute produces enough food for dozens of people who use 1000 gal of fuel per year to commute to work.

While farmers can and will continue efforts to reduce their fuel usage, there can (or should) be little argument that the fuel they do use- to produce fuel- is about the best possible use of oil there is.

The third world countries all get that, and that is why they can afford more expensive oil than the commuter in their SUV. The farmers of the west can afford more expensive oil too - they won't like it, but they can wear it, as all producers are in the same boat.

"...people who use 1000 gal of fuel per year to commute to work..."

Yikes. At, say, 25mpg and 250 work days/year, that would be 100mi/roundtrip - even more miles at better mpg. That would put them fairly far out into the tail of the distribution (well, maybe not quite as far out in California.) In the New York area, it might even be hard to find enough hours to drive 100 miles at the normal times, since the traffic doesn't move. It used to take 2 full hours to go 25 miles to visit certain relatives - and that was on the weekend, never mind the risibly misnamed "rush hour", when no one can rush.

Well, NYC wasn't what I had in mind in that comparison. I was thinking of people in suburbs/exurbs, like the SF bay area, or LA basin.
And 25mpg for commuting on congested freeways in a big ? Someone in their Explorer/Expedition/F-150/Grand Caravan will be closer to 15mpg.
So at 15mpg, you are talking 15,000 miles and 60 miles/day - there are plenty of people that do that, and more.

In any case, fuel used for food growing is far more productive than fuel used for driving around, which is why I am always of the opinion that in a serious oil crunch, agriculture will be one of the few sector that gets preferential treatment - the same cannot be said of urban commuters.

Though, of course, the bureaucrats will declare themselves essential, but then, they always do...

My usual thought in this regard:

If fuel prices double, buy a Prius (which will reduce fuel consumption by 50%). If Priuses are suddenly back-ordered (because everyone else has the same idea), put in your order and carpool with one other person (which will reduce fuel consumption by 50%) until it comes.

If they double again, put in an order for a plug-in upgrade ($3,500 to $10k), and carpool in your Prius with one other person until it comes.

If they double again, put in an order for a Volt and carpool in your plug-in Prius with one other person until it comes. When it arrives, sell your plug-in Prius and use the profits (because fuel efficient used cars will appreciate) to buy the Volt.

If they double a fourth time(!), rinse and repeat with a Leaf.

Well, we have gone a little off from the food/fuel thing, but I'll bite.

Buying a Prius is fine, if you can afford one. What if you can;t because you don;t have a high paying job, drive an older car with virtually no trade in value, and have no home equity to borrow against? This would describe an increasing number of people working in low paid service jobs (mostly retail and food/hospitality, but some other areas also).

The cheap housing these people seek is usually poorly serviced by transit, if at all. Carpooling may be an option for some, but it's effectiveness is decreasing as employment has progressively moved away from city centres.

The high cost, high tech solutions are fine for those that can afford them, but how does a 20 something on their first, low paying job, afford a Prius?

I can see them taking their chances with a scooter/motorbike instead - until they get married/have kids, anyway

Well, we need to distinguish between a national problem and a problem for a relatively small minority of people, albeit real people who decidedly deserve our compassion. 50% of vehicle miles traveled are in cars less than 6 years old - the kind of driver you're thinking about is perhaps 10% of miles traveled. This is not a national problem, right?

It's a misconception that a newer car is a good idea. What very poor people need is a very old, high MPG car - some have that, but most don't. The very low depreciation will more than compensate for higher maintenance costs.

Carpooling is difficult because there's relatively little demand for it. Actually, there's more than we tend to realize: 10% of commuting is done via carpooling (which is much more than rail's market share), but it's mostly workplace based. There's enormous potential for online matching, even in rural low density areas, with just a little increase in demand. see http://www.communitysolution.org/transport.html .

Well, we need to distinguish between a national problem and a problem for a relatively small minority of people,

Well, when are talking about commuters, there are lots of them and they are- in the context of oil - a "national problem".
With your statement about vehicle age and VMT, I have always wondered what this % is for privately owned vehicles? That is, if you take out the miles done by all the corporate/commercial vehicles (rental cars, company fleets, employees who get a vehicle as part of a compensation package, etc) . Almost all of these will be cars less than 6yo, so subtract them and what is the age of the 50% mark for privately owned vehicles?

I take a wild guess and say that most people who drive a >6 yo vehicle will buy another used vehicle. Going from that to a new Prius is a huge jump for many such people. The old high MPG cars actually hold their value fairly well - Civics and Corollas in particular.

I think just as important as a move to Prius and Volt is a move away from needlessly large vehicles. Someone who switches from an SUV to a civic is saving more fuel than someone who moves from a Civic to a Prius.

For carpooling, well, it is, theoretically, the lowest hanging fruit - no capital cost -but I have my doubts as to how much more it can be done. Rural areas could certainly benefit from a web based matching system.

I also think rural areas/towns - like where I live - could see quite a benefit from one simple operational change - allow adults to ride - for a fare - on the school buses. The entire coastal community I live in (80 miles long) has public transport only along the main hwy, but 90% of the side/branch roads are serviced by a school bus, every school day, twice a day. There is only limited space available, but a web based system could manage that.

I know of one rural village that has a farming area up one valley, where quite a few people live in town and drive up the valley to work at farms (potatoes and other horticulture type stuff, mostly) Meanwhile, the kids who live on said farms catch a school bus into said town. This cries out for putting 2+2 - have the farm workers catch the bus on the way from the town out along the valley, and the kids catch it on the way back. In the afternoon, it is reversed. This may not match up exactly to an ideal workday, but when the kids are catching the bus at 0800 and getting home at 4:00 it is not far off.

For some reason, many people have trouble with this concept of "buspooling", but when you look at the % of populated areas served by school buses,especially in rural areas, you realise we already have a transit system, buses, and drivers that covers a lot of people.

And with the school bus fleet outnumbers the transit bus fleet (in my area) by 4:1 there are a lot of buses there for the using.

when are talking about commuters, there are lots of them and they are- in the context of oil - a "national problem".

Sure. But, when we're talking about "don;t have a high paying job, drive an older car with virtually no trade in value, and have no home equity to borrow against?" that's a pretty small % of commuters.

(rental cars, company fleets, employees who get a vehicle as part of a compensation package, etc

But why would that distinction matter? Company fleets are important to everyday work; rental cars are used at least as much by business as by vacationers; employees who get a company car use it for commuting.

Going from that to a new Prius is a huge jump for many such people.

A large percent of low-income drivers are in low-MPG vehicles. Moving them to something that uses 50% as much fuel would be a huge benefit.

The old high MPG cars actually hold their value fairly well - Civics and Corollas in particular.

A 1996 Corolla costs about $2,000. That's pretty affordable. http://www.edmunds.com/used-cars/

I think just as important as a move to Prius and Volt is a move away from needlessly large vehicles.

I agree.

carpooling,... I have my doubts as to how much more it can be done.

Almost everyone lives within walking distance of a reasonably high volume road on which a large number of single occupancy vehicles are traveling. A large fraction of those are going to within walking distance of whatever destination is needed.

How to do it? There lots of possibilities: one solution to this used to be common in the US - it was called "hitchhiking". Another solution called "slugging" is in use in some places where people show up at bus stops, and drivers pick them up in order to drive in the HOV lane (bus drivers, of course, aren't excited about this system - that's why they called those who used it slugs, as in fake coins).

Or there's web-based matching. As everyone gets more and more sophisticated cell phones this will get easier and easier.

allow adults to ride - for a fare - on the school buses.

That's a really great idea. It would create revenue for school systems, and provide transit.

But why would that distinction matter? Company fleets are important to everyday work; rental cars are used at least as much by business as by vacationers; employees who get a company car use it for commuting.

It matters a great deal when it comes to the number of voters directly affected, how tax incentives are implemented and myriad of other items that will be involved in the switch over. Besides I'd like to see the breakdown of miles too. Knowing just how many of those newer car miles are driven by privately owned vehicles as opposed to by business owned vehicles would throw a bit more light on the subject.

why would the distinction matter? because the person who is driving the car may not be the person who is paying the fuel, and the person who owns the car could be someone different again.

if you are given a company car as part of your compensation package, you may not have much choice what type of car it is. If the company is paying the fuel bill, then you may not care about how efficient it is.
For rental companies, who are not paying the fuel bill, there is little incentive to pay a premium for hybrids - they have some, to be able to say they have them, but it is actually very hard to rent them, and when I did the Insight cost $20/day more than a Civic - so no saving there.

For corporate fleets, the life cycle ownership may or not be enough to recoup the cost of hybrids - the fleets seem to have been slow to adopt these changes.

so what I'm getting at is that for the part of the <6yo cars that are corporate owned, the person who is suffering the higher fuel cost may not be the driver, or owner, or the vehicle. So while increasing fuel costs may make for a favourable change decision for a private owner/driver, it may not for the corporate owned vehicle.

In Europe, many corporate types get the vehicle of their choice, and fuel paid for, as part of their compensation, and when you are not paying the $8/gallon, or the depreciation on a large vehicle, then you might well choose, one, and many do.

not sure why you are responding to me Paul
but everything you mention does add a fair bit of flesh to the
myriad of other items that will be involved in the switch over
I mentioned.

Some time ago I proposed a graduated fuel tax--very complex, as we seem to like taxes here in the US, and actually a de facto rationing system but one with no upper end on how much fuel a person could buy and of course there would be no upper end to the fuel tax rate either.

It would include all kinds of fuel use classifications each with their own standard allotments at nominal tax rates but increasing tax rates as the user moved from bracket to bracket above that standard allotment. People would have the ability to sell some commuter fuel tax credits on a legal market if they opted for public transit. There would be a built in car pooling advantage as the ride sharers pooled there standard nominally taxed allotments, and on and on.

I wonder how much Gulfstream would be ponying up to its lobbyists if the tax on private jet fuel in a proposed graduated fuel tax bill topped out at $299,999.99 per gallon ?- ) Now that would be real class warfare...right out of Dr. Zhivago...but stuff that draconian usually does more harm than good. Seriously a graduated fuel tax could be a very finely tuned instrument--if it weren't crafted by politicians that is. Just think, a whole new industry would spring up around it--now that is a pitch that works its magic in the legislative back rooms all the time.

That's why cap n trade was so popular - complex and yet relatively ineffective.

Of course a graduated fuel tax could be extemely effective, as could a graduated carbon tax. It all depends on the structuring, impementation and the enforcement. Rationing was very effective in WWII, this would just be the new instant computer connection (the credit card system has broken all that ground already) based version of the same and would have the added feature that anyone could transfer as much wealth as they wished to from the private to the public sector just by using way more fuel than had been alloted their use class by the fuel god (czar just doesn't seem a near strong enough term here). Conspicuous fuel consumption could really work out for the public good ?- )

Of course the taxing mechanisn itself would add cost--but if it only chewed up 10% of the current military budget while virtually eliminating the need for oil imports over a ten year period its cost/benefit ratio could be enormous as the military budget could be shrunk by substantially more than 10% if we were no longer had to import oil. The idea is not near as off the wall as I made it sound, and it could be created piece (fuel use sector) at a time.

It would be easy to have the fuel tax system linked to your drivers licence - it becomes a stand alone credit card, in effect - and how hard is it to issue everyone with a new credit card?

Each driver gets an allocation of "tax free" fuel per week, say 3gal, and after that, you pay tax on extra that you buy. When you buy fuel, you must use your drivers lic to authorise the transaction, even if you are paying in cash.

Families that have two drivers and one vehicle, effectively get 6gal/week

This sort of system, called "increasing block rates" has worked very well for water utilities, where people can live normally on the cheap water, but if you start to be wasteful in your usage, (i.e. outdoor watering) the water rate quickly doubles, quadruples and even 8x!

Good example here;

Irvine Ranch Service Area Residential Water Rates (Potable)
Monthly water service charge $8.75 (up to a 1" meter)

Tier / Percent of Allocation / Cost per ccf

Low Volume / 0 - 40% / $0.91
Base Rate / 41 - 100% / $1.22
Inefficient / 101 - 150% / $2.50
Excessive / 151 - 200% / $4.32
Wasteful / 201+% / $9.48

As you can imagine, people make sure they stay in the first few tiers, it is not that hard to do...

Thanks Paul,

As I've only paid a water utility bill a few months of my life I never would have thought of the parallel. Of course indirectly paying for water with time/energy/fuel the years I drove several miles a couple times a week to the state developed spring at Fox for all our household's water made us as miserly as could be with the precious fluid. Timing those water trips was tricky as well--the wait could be over an hour if you hit the rush.

The trick with this sort of "resource allocation" exercise is to have it such that those who use it modestly, are charged modestly, and those who waste it, are charged accordingly.

There is no better example of a shared resource than a local water system - that can;t get in external supplies - what you have, is what you have, regardless of price. So then it is how to equitably share this limited resource.

With oil, we can always get external supplies, for a price, but it is still better for the country (US) to not do so. A price system like this could work, and all business/corporate/gov users (incl airlines, railroads, ships) pay the full tax rate. This gives them max incentive to reduce usage, but does not give anyone an unfair advantage over a competitor.

That said, this will never be implemented in the US, for the normal reasons...

That said, this will never be implemented in the US, for the normal reasons...

that of course assumes more or less normal times... 1939-1945 were not.

I would strongly suggest a very simple flat rate - that would be extremely easy and cheap to implement, and highly effective. That would be more effective and prevent gaming the system.

Most of the subsidy embodied in the base cheap rate in a tiered system would go to middle income and higher households. Concerns about low income folks should be addressed directly, by rebating some of the revenue towards a FICA rebate, income tax exemption, or negative income tax (like the Earned Income credit). That way the payments would go to people who really needed them.

Well, we are now down to the details of how to mitigate the impact on low income people, and there are various ways of doing so. The key thing is to have higher fuel taxes or a carbon tax or the like - but I still can;t see either happening soon.

The whole idea of the graduated system is to add a gaming factor but a highly structured one which would radically increase the efficiency of our fuel use. And of course most of the savings (for private vehicles) would go to the middle part of the income distribution--I'm betting that is where the biggest savings in that category of fuel use are available. A flat rate wouldn't inspire near the fuel use creativity.

I'm not holding my breath on the implementation of either type tax in the US at least not while crude hovers in the range it has lately. But things can change quickly on the supply end, look where so much of the oil comes from. A well thought out graduated fuel tax system could reshape fuel use patterns very quickly and more effectively than a heavy handed flat tax. Remember there would be multiple commercial fuel tax categories as well. As I said in at the beginning it would be a de facto rationing system, that is what the water rate system Paul mentioned really is--it could be complex but still far more above board than a bunch credits, exemptions and write offs laid into the income tax code to compensate for a heavy flat fuel tax.

A flat rate wouldn't inspire near the fuel use creativity.

It would if it were high enough. I'd guesstimate that our oil dependency costs us about $700B per year. That's about $100/bbl. So, that's what the tax should be to recover actual costs incurred. That will get very, very fast action from consumers.

l far more above board than a bunch credits, exemptions and write offs

I understand what you're trying to do. I like the California schemed of tiered electricity rates, and the same approach for water bills would make sense to me. But...fuel is different: there's no monthly bill. Instead we have to develop a complex way of tracking fuel costs, which will be very vulnerable to gaming.

Remember all of the gas lines, and oil & NG shortages in the 1970's? Those were all caused by rationing schemes. Rationing is a mistake - just charge what the external costs really are, to recover them.

Now, if we want to help low income folks, we can do so easily and effectively: A FICA credit (for instance) would be extremely simple, and it would help those that needed help.

But...fuel is different: there's no monthly bill.

Come now Nick almost all fuel is bought on a credit card these days, so almost everyone pays for fuel as part of a monthly bill. Not so very hard to make it a stand alone bill. Yes the system I suggest is complex, but there has been zero movement toward a high flat rate fuel tax in this country. Since I've never seen anyone other myself propose a graduated fuel tax or for that matter a graduated carbon tax the idea likely has had very little formal study. It deserves better than to just be dismissed out of hand (as you and most others here have every other time I suggested it) for the simple reason that tiered prices do work with utilities.

There would be almost zero problem tracking fuel sales to any use category account. Programming the card readers and issuing the fuel cards (which would would be needed for cash or credit card purchases/though likely could be incorporated into a credit card if the holder wished) would be a one time expense and fairly simple to accomplish--the difficulty would be creating the categories and the tiers (no small difficulty). The categories and tiers could be massaged gradually or adjusted quickly as the cost/benefit of the effects were analyzed. It would take quite the emergency to force this system into being. But, and this is a big but, a graduated system would allow those with more means to buy all the fuel they wanted to, at higher and higher costs, and their loss would we everyone else's gain. Ramp those tiers hard enough and you will achieve better results faster than you will with a single flat rate.

By the way I never was in a single gas line back in the 70s that was any longer than a typical 60s Friday summer afternoon rush hour gas pump wait, and I never stopped driving. It would seem a system where buying more fuel made the fuel cost more per gallon would shorten, not lengthen waits at the pump, all else being equal.

I see what you mean. Your proposal is a way to implement rationing, which has two virtues: much lower overall impact on consumers, and progressivity. If we had to have rationing, this is probably the way to do it.

I think the primary opposition to fuel taxes comes from legacy industries that want to prevent change - this proposal won't make them any happier. On the other hand, it might reduce opposition from sincere consumer advocates, which would be all to the good.

Exactly, I assume we will do nothing differently than we have been doing without a 'big stick' coming down on us hard. If that never happens most everyone will be happier, if it does we will have to act very quickly just to wriggle through the choke points.

Nick, from our discussion a while back, I do have one question which I hope won't be asking you to reveal too much. Is 'Nick' one person?

Yes, indeed. Occasionally spending a little more time than I should on this...

I hear you there. Just mixed some old fashioned Start Green with some CH4 we will see how that skates in the -15 F shortly

I agree - I'd be very interested to see data on the behavior of fleets.

I think some fleets are better than others. Taxis, for instance, seem to be converting over to hybrids faster than most buyers. Governments are very sensitive to MPG. Fleet managers can devote much more time to analysis than the average individual buyer.

OTOH, in some fleets there will be the kind of market failures you describe. And, some large organizations are very careful about committing to large changes - UPS and Fedex, for instance. Truckers want low cost above all, and standardization and simplicity of maintenance are close behind.

I agree - I'd be very interested to see data on the behavior of fleets. Taxis, for instance, seem to be converting over to hybrids lately, but they took longer than I would have expected.

Long time ago I drove a Checker cab in Chicago--they ran those things forever, and their mechanics could cannibalize with the best of them. Without tax penalty/incentive change will be slow in lots of fleet sectors. Taxi fuel cost gets paid by the driver one way or another, a labor glut means the cab companies can easily pass on higher fuel cost in the form of lower wages--no big incentive to pony up for an entire new style fleet, especially if the auto makers are selling the old standards to the cab companies at extremely low margins.

In Vancouver, the first and fastest to change to Priuii were the owner-drivers. The corporate fleets - the slowest. The casual drivers noticed the difference in fuel use and will pay premium to drive them.
the owners also noticed significantly decreased brake wear - 2-3x the life.

Some of these Prius cabs have done over 300,000 miles, and Toyota has bought some of them back, to pull them down and look at the wear/lifespan of batteries and other hybrid components.

There can be be no better application for a hybrid than a taxi!

first time I've seen Priuii ?- ) Mr. Gallo, my first HS Latin teacher, would be proud.

I suspected the owner/operator cabbies would be the early adopters, always good to have such suspicions corroborated by someone "out in the wide world." The Prius is making slow inroads into this realm of the 4x4 pickup (I must cop to driving a GMC) but the smaller, older, higher mileage rig is showing up next to the truck in lots of driveways.

I haven't seen a single Volt up here yet. We ♪ in the land of the the ice and snow ♫ and steady 40 below will be among the last to go that route. The high fuel oil (it accounts for about 60% of our local generation) contribution to our electric bill will be a factor for some time. There is a bright side as that makes the hydro project I've repeatedly mentioned rather popular here.

What do you pay per kWh and per gallon of gasoline?

You've got to get your coop to get with the time-of-day rates!

I live in an area where it is necessary to drive twentyfive miles or more per day to get to almost any job, and a lot of people drive a lot farther than that.

It is remarkable how fast the older model full size trucks and cars have gone off the road around here-as a matter of fact, the only person I know who drives an older full size Chevy with a big v8 a long way every day is my cousin the mail carrier, which must say something about the post office and efficiency.I doubt that Impala will average eight mpg stop and go.

Nearly everybody around here who is able to do so has bought a new compact car or truck, or an older second hand compact.

But carpooling has not yet really caught on-it won't, in my opinion, until things get considerably tougher than they are now.

My old folks had many a story to tell of everybody getting together to the limits of the vehicle in order to make a wewekly trip to town back in the thirties.

My great ncle Shaeffer actually walked about twenty four miles a day to his job in a furniture factory in those days and put in a ten hour day running a machine.My maternal grandfather took care of his farm work for him to the extent necessary, putting in the same number of hours for what Schaeffer made on a day by day basis, even up.This way both of them were able to put their hands on a little cash when it was almost impossible to sell their crops.At that place and time , the men and women thought a fifteen or sixteen hour day was simply the price of "getting by".

I suppose I may see people commuting on bicycles before I am composted-I believe a young man could easily make it to town in a little more than an hour on a bicycle.

It would not be a problem to get to work with a good electric bicycle in good weather.

Scooters are getting to be common among drunks who have lost their drivers liscense and the very poor who can't afford cars and liability insurance.

Good stories.

I think the only big weather obstacle to e-bikes is ice: cold and rain can be suffered through with good clothing.

Winter isn't nearly as big a problem for me as summer is. Riding a bike to work means sweating completely though my shirt and pants before the work-day begins. That sort of stench isn't going to go over well.

Well, sure. That's a medium size problem, which in theory might go away in the middle of a big oil shock, where the culture changes and people recognize the need for improvisation.

Still, that's precisely the problem that keeps me from biking to work: no shower at work.

Back in the 50-60's my grandfather the letter carrier didn't have a post office vehicle. He walked a 17 mile route in WV every day.

The 2009 NHTS had the proportion of household miles traveled in the 34.3% of vehicles less than 6 years old down to 43%. The average age of a vehicle was 9.4 years. Also, commute mileage was only 27.8% of total household mileage.

The 2009 NHTS had the proportion of household miles traveled in the 34.3% of vehicles less than 6 years old down to 43%.

Where do you see that? The closest I saw was table 22. I suppose you could try to estimate it from tables 21 and 22 - it's not completely clear whether the 2nd category goes to 5.0 years of age or 6.0 years.


the NHTS estimates characteristics of the household vehicle fleet, which consists of passenger vehicles (cars, station wagons, vans, SUVs, pick-ups and motorcycles) and does not include rental cars, company or government fleets, or taxis.

Household miles are about 2.25B, or about 75% of all light vehicle Vehicle Miles Traveled. We'd need to figure in commercial vehicles (rental cars, company/government fleets, or taxis). Taxis, for instance, are typically retired after 3 years of age with perhaps 200k of miles on them. That skews mileage towards younger vehicles.

Less than, not less than or equal to. Paul was asking about household versus fleet and how much difference it made.

Hi Jonathan, thanks for posting your notes on the conference here. A few corrections. First, my name, Minqi Li (not Mingqi Li). About the coal production numbers. In 2010, China produced 3.2 billion tons, 780 million tons came from Inner Mongolia (not to be confused with Mongolia, Inner Mongolia is a province-level autonomous region within China). The numbers you cited (China 2.5 billion tons, Inner Monglia 625 million tons) refer to the production levels for the first eight months of this year. I expect China's national production to reach 3.6 billion tons this year, which is likely to include more than 1 billion tons from Inner Monglia alone.

Thanks for commenting. I have corrected the text to reflect your input.


Minqi Li

Concerning these production increases.This 400 million tons in one year. This one year increase is one third more than the British coal industry produced in its peak year 1913. It took the British Coal mining industry over 150 years just to reach this level. There is no way that I can conceive of reaching this level with deep coal mining. The only way I can conceive of doing this is that you have vast deposits, thick seams with a shallow overburden which can be opened up very quickly using the open cast method. These figures are just mind boggling.



yorkie - Yep...mind boggling. I don't know if it's still true (or if it ever was) but a couple of years ago I heard they were killing about 15 Chinese coal miners per week. To paraphrase: you can do it fast, cheap or safe. But only two at a time...make your choice. I hope that's not the controlling factor to their output. I spent just a little time in China but I saw first hand that manual labor was not only cheap but readily replaceable.

I don't know universal such a cultural attitude is in China but I've seen first hand a dead woman laying in the roadway as cars drove around her body and passerbys just kept walking as though she wasn't laying there. I don't think it so much a lack of compassion but just a ready acceptance of death.

Rockman, that incident of the people ignoring the injured (not dead) person lying in the road was due to a specific problem that people were being penalised by a wacko judge for helping victims. The judge said that giving the help constituted proof they had caused the injury (else "why else would they be so helpful?". The incident is a substantial political issue over there I heard, not just a matter of indifference at all.


Like you I am almost hysterically obsessive about safety. When I was 18 I was a member of the Mines Rescue Brigade all the others were in there 30s or early 40s, they used to call me the Babe, never threw me any slack though when we were training or the couple of times we were called out. Bit like the "Band of Brothers" I would have marched into hell and back with them. They certainly gave me there unstinting support when a friend I knew got dragged under a coal cutting machine and had his leg ripped off, it took us a couple of hours to get him out from under the bloody machine. I can still remember his dying words as we raced into the pit bottom with him.Sudden death is a reality enema I can do without especially if you think you might have given him too much morphine. I had given him an extra shot of morphine when he was trapped under the machine.The safety officer who was the captain of the Rescue team was waiting at the Pit top, sent me down to fetch the leg while he dealt with all the official POO BAHS that mysteriously seem to appear out of the woodwork. Told me too bugger off home and try and get some sleep and be in his office at 3 , it happened on a night shift. Arrived in his office feeling lower than the skin on a snakes belly. The whole team were there. They say a good cup of tea is good for shock, but there was a bottle of whiskey on the table and my cup of tea was liberally laced with it for the next couple of hours while they listened to what I had to say and talked me down.I certainly slept well that night.I remember you telling a similar tale a few months back and I knew exactly how you must have been feeling and what you must have been going through.

Concerning the figure of 15 deaths per week in the Chinese coal mines, this seems to me a little on the low side.This would mean 780 deaths/year. The figure for Britain in 1913 was just over 2,000/year nearly triple, and that in an industry that at its peak was producing only 10% of what China is producing now.If China is producing most of its coal from open cast mines then it could be right but I am very sceptical. I am always reminded of what Disraeli, a great British Prime Minister said, that there are three types of lies lies dam lies and statistics.

Unfortunately behind these statistics there always lies a personal and family tragedy.

Deep Regards



I understand your response. I missed a plant explosion that killed 15 employees while I was at a meeting in another state. The explosion was brought to us by a secretary who said my research area had "blown up". My boss and I drove back and it was on every radio station from Philly and NYC for 3 1/2/ hours. I thought some negligence on my part had lead to the deaths of harmless people - friends.

Although it turned out to be a dust explosion in the production plant, I have lived with this for close to 40 years. I could have been the responsible person who screwed up and killed people because I missed something (we used lots of dangerous stuff) or was too cheap to prevent it!

In my case, it changed my world view and I eventually left the industry not too many years later. I will never forget that two people were buried in a common grave because all they had was part of a rib cage and skull and the insurance companies demanded that there be a death certificate to pay insurance....obviously pre-DNA tines. There's more but that's enough.


Yorkie – Yep…that number is probably is low. I learned one thing from my limited experience with China: numbers often have no connection to reality.

Yep…we do get heavily influenced by those nasty early experiences. About 34 years ago I had to help a driller move the crushed body of a dead hand off the drill floor. They were running casing and dropped a section on him. As bad as that was I had to help deal with his twin brother who was also on the casing crew. You can imagine how he completely lost it.

How did they handle the coworkers after your accident? In my case they just kept them working…time is money. The bad old days. Today they would shut down the ops and send all the hands home. Maybe have some group counseling for them.

The numbers are mind boggling indeed. For whatever the number is worth, that's what the current data say. Although in the Inner Mongolia area, open cast mining probably does account for a much bigger percentage than the rest of China. But even if you exclude Inner Mongolia, the rest of China is still growing at an annual pace of 5-6%.

again we all keep using this language -- "the rest of China is growing" is just one example.

the tertiary and secondary economies of China may be growing. but what is happening to the primary economy?

I suspect it's being eaten, as it is in every other industrialised nation and their colonies.

the tertiary and secondary economies of China may be growing. but what is happening to the primary economy?

I recommend listening to Michael Pettis on this topic:

Just for your information, when I studied at Peking University, the students in Guanghua School of Management are considered by some as "cut off from reality". As a Prof who circled by those "off from reality", it is hard for him to observe the real world. After listening, I found that he is a bit off reality. SME is not the solution to boost spending. With the housing and development bubble, many SMEs (especially in East, Wenzhou as an example )just stop producing/hiring and funnel the loan from bank to speculation in market(house, food herb medicine, anything you think, they speculate). For example, their "chao" (speculation) forced me into hopeless saving for my own flat and drastically cut off my spending. Plus, in China, it is natural for someone to compare China with US. (Although sometimes it is not appropriate to do so) It is politically incorrect to say China will never be able to catch up (Although per capita energy consummation in China will probably never reach current US level). If he failed to recognize this mood, his predictions will be way wrong.

I think the situation in China is quite divided, with some part in the east start to de-industrialize while some part in central and west China are rapidly industrialized and some factories move out to Vietnam and other places, so overall situation is rather hard to say.

Are the presentation slides going to be put up anywhere?

"The vibe this year had much less of a doomsday feel than last year"

Does that imply that those attending think that problems of the all-things-energy type are less daunting this year and from now on?

This is posted on the Guardian site, concerning the very narrow window of time (if there is one remaining) in which the use of oil must decrease sharply:

Yet, despite intensifying warnings from scientists over the past two decades, the new infrastructure even now being built is constructed along the same lines as the old, which means that there is a "lock-in" effect – high-carbon infrastructure built today or in the next five years will contribute as much to the stock of emissions in the atmosphere as previous generations ... This "lock-in" effect is the single most important factor increasing the danger of runaway climate change, according to the IEA in its annual World Energy Outlook, published on Wednesday.

(Guardian). If the more optimistic feel of the ASPO-USA conference was engendered by the notion that adequate oil supply will persist, that does not bode well for society if the resultant irreversible climate change catastrophe is what it buys.

These things work in a unitary fashion together, for us or against us, depending on what we do today.

It would seem to me that a runaway climate change scenario as a trade off for jubilant optimism that more oil is forthcoming is a perplexing way to look at it at best.

There is more than a little room between "less of a doomsday feel" and "jubilant optimism".

As Robert Rapier remarked in his R Squared Energy blog:

The mood seemed remarkably calmer than in 2008. That year, oil prices were just coming down from record highs, a pair of hurricanes were causing spot gasoline shortages, and the economy was headed into the toilet. The general mood was that things were rapidly unraveling. Three years later, the long-term outlook isn’t really any different, but I think some who predicted imminent doom are starting to change their views on how things are going to play out.

There are lots of current problems to be dealt with in the world. I am of the opinion that those inclined to work on solutions will be more effective in society if they do not insist on either/or, black/white interpretations. A more nuanced approach, that accounts for humans and their existing social institutions will be more effective in the long run. The most plausible future scenario is somewhere in between business-as-usual and die-off.


Reminds me of the Bob Dylan lyric "And they’re breaking down the distance / Between right and wrong" (Ring Them Bells).

If a society is sophisticated enough to know the difference between right and wrong, but doesn't choose the right one, discussion about the distance between the two ends up being a destructive diversion or a song lyric, but not a solution.

The practices that lead toward the demise of life is wrong, anything that seeks to prevent that demise of life is right.

How close those two are so as to be pleasing the most people is irrelevant and will not produce the results that should be produced.

Greer lends his unique perspective on the conference this evening:
"A Gathering of the Tribe".

Lots of charts and data comes out of Laherrere but no real modeling or interpretation, which is part of the reason that the book The Oil Conundrum is so comprehensive in its content. No one actually does any mathematical analysis anymore.
Case in point, TOD no longer does any of this either so I removed the discussion I had of this site from the text. Cheers.

WHT - I'd like to offer you, and many others on this site, a deeply felt thanks. The conversations, references, data, modeling and interpretation have helped me. And even if currently TOD is does less of the latter, the more important contributions, for me, have already been made. You all have opened up my thinking, directed me to other websites, authors and organizations.

Adding more detail(s) might be fascinating. I like the details, the models, the theories (probably comes from my once being an engineer). But my interest in details is also a dangerous distraction; I only have so much attention to allocate to information processing, and I'd like to make a difference with my life (what's left of it at 60 yo).

I'm convinced. We face an energy descent. Inevitable. Likely soon. Perhaps steep. I'm now teaching these very things to undergraduate and graduate students.

But I do wonder if it's not time to move on? I recall one quote, I think from TOD, that went something like, "the human species will go down in history as having studied the minute detail of its own extinction."

Instead, should we be stepping up efforts to formulate our response? Shift emphasis from auditing and modeling the descent, to pre-familiarizing ourselves with life in-and-after the descent? I'm asking because the students I teach quickly move from accepting the inevitability of the descent to demanding that we discuss ways to respond to the new biophysical reality. They "get it" but they'd like to see if there is anything they might do now to help others (and themselves) in the future. And they understand the uselessness of "greening up" BAU. A seminar motto is "sufficiency, not efficiency."

I'd like to know if the folks here think that TOD is (or could become) the place to discuss, in more detail, our response? Or are there other websites that I should be following more closely (e.g., post carbon institute, energy bulletin, community solutions)? Or, is the web not the place to be working on our response? You have all helped me before. I think you are the right folks to ask about next steps.


Thank you for expressing my own sentiments far better than I could have done so myself. Part of the reason I enjoy TOD is because of the large number of technically minded readers and commenters we have. Scientists, engineers, policy people and intelligent, engaged individuals of all stripes have much to share with each other about different approaches that address different components of our energy predicament

Personally, I would love to see more articles that carved out and addressed a small piece of the "solution space" with concrete suggestions. We cannot solve the whole problem all at once and I personally don't believe that the necessary solution will come from the top down.

I believe very strongly that the web definitely is the place to be working on responses and that The Oil Drum has just the right mix of people who "get it" and who also have enough technical knowledge to suggest practical solutions to components of the problem. There is no simple fix that will make our current problems go away. But scientists and engineers are expert at decomposing things into their more tractable, constituent parts.

A younger generation less burdened by debt and responsibility will hopefully have more time to reinvent those constituent parts one at-a-time and ultimately reassemble them into a more sustainable whole that may have little resemblance to our current BAU.

Best Hopes for new ideas,


Since one of the presenters was from the CAISO, here is a web page of theirs that shows the daily contribution of utility electricity for them, by total, and renewables: