Thoughts on why energy use and CO2 emissions are rising as fast as GDP

In a recent post, I discovered something rather alarming–the fact that in the last decade (2000 to 2010) both world energy consumption and the CO2 emissions from this energy consumption were rising as fast as GDP for the world as a whole. This relationship is especially strange, because prior to 2000, it appeared as though decoupling was taking place: GDP was growing more rapidly than energy use and CO2 emissions. And even after 2000, many countries continued to report decoupling.

I decided to sift through individual country results, to see if I could see a pattern emerging behind these changing results. When I did this, I found three major groupings of countries:

1. Southeast Asia, excluding Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. This group has been rapidly industrializing. In total, the group’s energy consumption has grown as rapidly as GDP in the last decade, and CO2 emissions have grown faster than GDP. This group includes China, India, Korea, Vietnam, and a long list of other countries in Southeast Asia, including nearby islands.

2. Middle Eastern Countries. This group showed energy use growing more rapidly than GDP, suggesting that it was taking more energy to extract oil and to pacify its population, over time. I included all countries in this group that BP includes in its Middle Eastern grouping, even though Israel (and perhaps some other countries) do not fit the pattern well.

3. Rest of the World. This group is the only group showing a favorable trend in energy growth relative to GDP growth, even in the last decade, although the pace of improvement has slowed. Two reasons for this favorable trend seem to be (a) continued growth of services, such as financial service, healthcare, and education, which use relatively little energy and (b) outsourcing of a major portion of heavy industry to Southeast Asia.

When we look at CO2 emissions broken out into these three categories, the shift over time is quite surprising:

Figure 1. Carbon dioxide emissions emitted in year shown by the three major areas described (Southeast Asia, Middle East, Remainder), based on BP Statistical Data

The vast majority of the CO2 increase since 1980 has taken place in the Southeast Asia and the Middle Eastern areas!

The energy intensity of GDP (that is, the amount of energy consumed per trillion dollars of real GDP) has shown very different patterns for the three groups of countries:

Figure 2. Energy Intensity of GDP by Area, based on BP Statistical Data regarding Energy Consumption in Barrels of Oil Equivalent, and USDA Economic Research Data regarding real GDP.

The world energy intensity of GDP has flattened in the last decade, reflecting a combination of the impacts of the three areas. The only area that has an improving energy intensity of GDP is the Remainder group. The Southeast Asia group is roughly flat. The Middle Eastern group is shows increasing energy use, relative to GDP growth.

Based on data in this post, I come to the following tentative conclusions:

1. The industrialization of Southeast Asia has allowed importers from around the world to reduce their energy intensity of GDP, but much of the savings has been offset by greater energy use (largely coal) in Southeast Asia. On a CO2 basis, we are likely worse off, because of this transfer.

2. There is no evidence that the Kyoto Protocol reduced worldwide CO2 emissions. In fact, to the extent that it encouraged outsourcing of industrial production to the Far East and made goods from the Far East more competitive, it may have contributed to rising world CO2 emissions. It would appear that a different approach is needed that recognizes the fact that fuels are part of a world market. Fuel savings in one part of the world are not necessarily helpful for the world as a whole.

3. In my view, world industrial production has self-organized in a way that assigns different roles to companies operating in the three country groups I described above, as a way to minimize manufacturing costs. Over the long term, this particular version of self-organization cannot continue. The Middle East will reach a point where its oil exports drop rapidly. Southeast Asia will reach maximums on coal production/imports and on pollution levels. The “Remainder” is already reaching limits in competing with Southeast Asia. Unemployment rates are high, manufacturing wages are low, and many workers lack the income needed to purchase additional services which might “grow” GDP.

Before leaving the breakdown into the three areas, I might mention that when one views energy consumption by area (Figure 3), changes in energy consumption for the three groups do not appear as extreme as changes in CO2 production (Figure 1).

Figure 3. Energy consumption by area, based on BP Statistical Data.

The results look even more like business as usual, when viewed on a real GDP basis (Figure 4), because GDP in the “Remainder” group is buoyed up by a large amount of GDP relating to services.

Figure 4. World real GDP by area, based on USDA Economic Research data.

Differences in Energy Use by Area

A person cannot help but be struck by the very different pattern in energy consumption by area. Southeast Asia’s energy use has grown by about 7% per year in the last decade, with coal being the primary source (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Southeast Asia's energy consumption by fuel, based on BP Statistical Data.

Figure 5 indicates that coal use in Southeast Asia has especially grown since 2003.

The Middle East’s energy use has grown by a little more than 5% per year in the last decade. Its energy use is almost exclusively oil and natural gas (Figure 6).

Figure 6. Middle Eastern energy consumption by fuel type, based on BP statistical data.

The Remainder grouping shows energy growth of less than 1% per year in the past decade, and a very different mix of fuels, including nuclear (Figure 7).

Figure 7. Consumption of energy by type for remainder of world, based on BP Statistical Data.

How the Fuel Consumption Market “Works”

This is my view of how the market works, in practice:

Middle East. Figure 8 shows recent oil production, consumption and exports.

Figure 8. Middle Eastern oil production, consumption and exports, from Energy Export Data Browser, based on BP Statistical data. Note that total production is in grey; exports are green. Consumption is the heavy black line.

Because the Middle East has ready access to oil, it uses it freely–to provide social programs for large populations without jobs, and to aid in increasingly energy-intensive oil extraction. At the same time, Figure 8 shows that the total amount of oil extracted has been flat to declining, so oil exports have been declining. Since GDP is based mainly on oil exports, the result is that energy consumption is rising faster than GDP, unless oil prices happen to rise very rapidly.

Southeast Asia and Remainder. These two groups have taken two very different strategies:

1. The Remainder group has sought to minimize its oil use, and the use of fossil fuels in general, for a variety of reasons–to reduce the financial cost of imports, to minimize CO2 emissions, and to ensure “energy security” if the fuels should decline in availability. Coal is especially not favored, because of its high CO2 emissions.

2. The Southeast Asia group has chosen to try to produce economic growth through the export of manufactured goods, making use of its inexpensive labor force and the availability of cheap coal. Southeast Asia’s cost advantage is especially great in energy-intensive manufacturing, because coal is relatively cheap, and new factories often use the latest technology, limiting fuel use.

When other countries buy exports from Southeast Asia, it starts a whole chain of other economic activity as well–new roads, more concrete buildings, and more workers with a high enough salary to afford cars. So the impact of outsourcing is much greater than the energy directly used in producing the goods for export.

The Kyoto Protocol may have aided Southeast Asia in developing its export-oriented economy. Once CO2 goals were announced, it was clear that signatory countries would want to limit energy intensive manufacturing in their own countries. An easy way of doing this was to substitute the purchase of goods made in countries such as in Southeast Asia. The limits on carbon emissions also made it clear that Southeast Asia would experience relatively little competition for coal in the world marketplace, because countries that signed the Protocol would be limiting coal imports.

Furthermore, if Kyoto Protocol signators enacted carbon taxes, the taxes would tend to make Southeast Asian products (and services such as oil refining) even more cost-competitive than they otherwise would be, since similar manufacturing and services would face no taxes in Southeast Asia. And any oil that was saved by the Kyoto Protocol would be available on the world market at a slightly lower price, further helping Southeast Asia.

If there weren’t a world market in fossil fuels, and in goods made from fossil fuels (with no tariffs on them), the principles of the Kyoto Protocol would work very nicely. The problem is that the Kyoto Protocol doesn’t really address world market issues.

Why None of the Three Groupings Can Continue Its Current Strategy Indefinitely

Middle East. We know that because oil is a finite resource, eventually decline must occur. In fact, Figure 8 shows that oil exports may already have begun to decline in the Middle East, and this may be contributing to the unrest in the region. If exports are decreasing, it is difficult to maintain welfare programs unless oil prices rise to cover the funding gap.

It is not clear whether exports can be ramped up in the future. Saudi Arabia recently put plans on hold for a $100 billion expansion to 15 million barrels a day capacity by 2020. It also has delayed until 2014 its only other big expansion plan–a 900,000 barrel per day refinery that would allow it to use oil from the Manifa field. Given this situation, Saudi Arabia may see falling exports in the not-too-distant future.

Many have hopes for expansion of oil production by Iraq, but such expansion depends on maintaining peace in the country, which may be difficult. Furthermore, even if one country (namely Iraq) has adequate oil exports, other Middle Eastern countries may face unrest if their exports are declining, and oil prices do not rise enough to offset the impact of the decline.

Southeastern Asia. This part of the world is already encountering serious pollution problems. Air quality is notoriously bad, because of all the coal burned. A recent Science article reported that fully 90% of China’s shallow groundwater is polluted, and 37% of it is so foul it cannot be treated for use as drinking water.

While coal supplies are believed to be larger than oil supplies, they are not unlimited, and costs are already rising. Higher coal costs cause dislocations in the system. For example, costs of producing goods for export are higher, making them less competitive. Higher coal prices may also mean that domestic buyers have to cut back on other purchases, if they are to continue to purchase electricity and food that uses coal inputs.

Furthermore, Southeast Asia’s production is also dependent on the continued availability of oil exports, which cannot continue indefinitely.

So the current model of continued export growth cannot continue forever, and perhaps not for very long at all–a few years at most.

“Remainder” Countries. These countries have planned to outsource a significant share of their industrial production and purchase the products as imports. This approach only works if the population has jobs, and are rich enough to afford the imports. Increasingly, this seems not to be the case.

Another part of the strategy in “Remainder” countries is continued growth of services. This growth of services works only as long as citizens have jobs that pay enough that they can afford ever-increasing amounts of services. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal called Holding Off on Haircut to Buy a New Car points out that increasingly that is not the case. Figure 9 was attached to illustrate the issue:

Figure 9. Illustration from the Wall Street Journal, November 25, 2011. Note that the red and green bars at the bottom of the graph are percentage changes since the beginning of the recovery. Percentage changes are also shown (but not graphed) relative to the beginning of the recession.

This shrinkage in growth of services would seem to explain the convergence of US GDP growth and energy use growth in the last few years as shown in Figure 10.

Figure 10. USA growth in real GDP and growth in energy consumption

A New Model

Our current system of creating and trading goods is not the creation of any single government. Instead, there is a huge network of rules set forth by governments and organizations around the world, that has evolved over time. There is an even larger number of businesses and individuals making decisions based on these rules. The system is in many respects self-organized, because businesses try to make a profit within this system, and organize themselves in the best way they can, given the rules they have been given to work with.

Our problem now is that we need a new system, but it is not easy to co-ordinate all of the changes in rules that would be needed around the world to create such a system. In fact, it would be virtually impossible to put together the right set of rules, because it is impossible to foresee all of the indirect impacts and feedbacks that would occur within the new system as the new rules take effect. A system almost of necessity needs to be designed piecemeal and to evolve slowly over time.

The system we have now takes many things for granted, such as the long-term availability of fossil fuels, and that we will always be able to have enough jobs for workers. These assumptions are proving not to be true. Furthermore, it wasn’t until fairly recently that we recognized CO2 emissions might be a problem. What we need now is a new model, with a complex set of new rules, but it is hard to see how we can get to that point. We can’t rely on any single rule–even the Kyoto Protocol–to get us to where we need to be.

This article originally appeared on Our Finite World.

Firstly, perhaps we should consider that in the developed west, methods of measuring GDP have been 'modified' in recent decades. It has been suggested by some that GDP numbers, especially in the US, have been gradually inflated (as downside numbers such as inflation have been gradually deflated). Combined with other factors discussed in this post, the relationship between GDP and energy use are likely somewhat skewed. In the US, it is possible that the convergence of actual GDP (vs "official" GDP) and energy use as shown in figure 10 may be less dramatic than these numbers suggest. As always, Thanks Gail!

An excellent explanation: Crash Course: Chapter 16 - Fuzzy Numbers by Chris Martenson

"It's important to realize than any ratio where GDP is in the denominator will be artificially low"

(GDP discussion begins about 9 minutes in)

I am sure there is more than one problem with GDP.

Clearly GDP excludes services done by family members and friends, or otherwise part of the informal economy. To the extent that the system is changed so that, for example, a mother with small children goes to work and leaves her children in day care, the economy is deemed to expand, even though we may have been better off with the mother at home with the children.

There is also a problem measuring inflation in GDP. The way real GDP is calculated is by calculation the total increase in GDP, and backing out an inflation adjustment. Especially in recent years, governments will do their best to understate the inflation adjustment, so as to make real GDP for their country look higher.

Another issue is the role of debt in GDP creation. If the government can pump up debt (private and/or government), it will pump up spending, and thus pump up real GDP, the way it is measured. (For example, if you are given a no interest auto loan, or if you are given a low interest mortgage, perhaps without even having to qualify, you will be able to buy an auto or house that you probably would not have been able to buy without the loan). After going on a debt-binge, the country will be worse off, but the reported GDP will be higher.

Services of any kind help pump up real GDP. If you sue your neighbor, it adds to real GDP. Paying high amounts for unnecessary medical services adds to real GDP. If you drive your car into a tree, and go and have it repaired, it adds to real GDP. Adding scrubbers to electrical generating units, and raising the rates for electric production, both raise GDP, but don't add to the electricity purchased by the user at the other end. (I am not sure how the inflation adjustment is done--it may somewhat adjust for this.)

Drops in resale values of homes do not get into real GDP, as far as I am aware. Increases in resale values don't get in either.

Paying more for oil and gas and food products makes GDP at least initially look higher. Depending on how the inflation adjustment is done, these higher prices may still have a positive impact on real GDP (until the economy reacts adversely to the high prices).

Gail, a few year ago there was an estimate of the informal economy in Canada. It was roughly equivalent to the monetary economy. And, as you said, this is mostly services.

From the top of your post:

This relationship is especially strange, because prior to 2000, it appeared as though decoupling was taking place: GDP was growing more rapidly than energy use and CO2 emissions. And even after 2000, many countries continued to report decoupling.

My contention is that any perceived decoupling of GDP, growth or economic output from energy/resource use and CO2 emissions (and an economy's overall waste stream) is largely an artifact of cooked numbers, essentially impossible. While efficiency gains, etc., may have some effect, the best indicators of output and growth are the consumption of real resources, and the detritus resulting from that consumption. Physics rules; any attempts to decouple growth from resource availability will be countered by this reality; any benefits short term figments of our imagination.

"Nothin From Nothin Leaves Nothin"

I thought it was obvious that the reason for the perceived decoupling was that we moved our heavy manufacturing to China and other places and brought in more, low energy, activities like finance and book manipulation.

I feel good about knowing that we don't have to do anything about the CO2 problem. Why? For one, there is nothing we can do, especially as the global economy tanks. Nobody is going to keep up with their feel-good activities and commitments when their people are protesting in the streets for jobs and food.

In summary, we will burn everything, everywhere. We will consume every resource and eat everything to keep from starving as we ride the down slope of the fossil fuel era. I just hope, for future generations, that there are some safe havens that play the Noah's Ark role in protecting those energy hungry animals and plants that keep us humans from living (sarcasm).

Just going down that slope will cut CO2 emissions far more than multiple Kyoto plans anyway. Thus, just sit back, relax and start working on Plan B - how we can work to keep population levels so people can comfortably enjoy their environment that is in balance with nature.

Don't worry about trying to get our 7 billion people watching cable TV. It is never going to happen. However, when Earth gets down to less that 1 billion people, combined with well developed more sustainable technology, we just might eventually be able to not only live well but continue to gain knowledge about the universe.

"I thought it was obvious that the reason for the perceived decoupling was that we moved our heavy manufacturing to China and other places..."

Absolutely. Consumption by proxy. If we were to factor in overall US consumption, including that deferred to other economies, and adjust the skewed reported GDP numbers, we likely would find growth is actually diverging (negatively) from consumption and emissions; diminishing returns. Perhaps figure 10 needs to be revised in this context. We could start with Martensons's contention that GDP is being overstated by 35%. Any perceived (and frequently touted) efficiency gains would seem trivial, IMO.

I have a suggestion. Use median income time the population as a proxy of the real GNP. Most US citizen have not seen the earning increase since 1980. The top 2-3% made the most of it. Similar situation has happened elsewhere with more or less impact.

Thanks Ghung that link was enlightening. I always knew the numbers were goosed up but didn't know how they goosed it. Question is how long will these one trick statistical ponies last.

As a long time BC citizen/resident...

"let's see, we are good people with an ineffective carbon tax. We are better because we have hydro electric capacity...untapped at that. We are better yet because we don't burn coal. hmmm we just dig it out of the ground and send it overseas to wreck the atmosphere and our children's lives".

It sounds like your neighbourhood crack dealer who quit the habit, but still drives the mercedes.

Talk about hypocrisy. Of course Kyoto is a joke and destined to fail with the rules rigged as such.

I support the tar sands development, but am 'not a proud canadian'. We all have dirty hands. Can't fault poor folks trying to live better. We can be ashamed about always wanting more. (yes, there is a coal mine in my community that is a good employer and tax source). Time to scale back and live differently. It is coming.


Australia is another country that is using the current rules to its advantage. Lots and lots of coal and gas exports!

Another really good post, Gail.
Thanks for that.
For me the second to last chart was particularly interesting. The last few years has seen the weakest rebound in demand for "discretionary spending" items of any recovery of the past forty years. This, of course, is totally consistent with Charlie Hall's predictions.

Also, the greatest rebound in consumer purchases has been for; TVs, PCs, software, games, toys and hobbies. This makes perfect sense to me as these things all have one thing in common; they either support, or revolve around, things that can be done fairly inexpensively (or at greatly reduced cost) at home. Too bad the chart doesn't include spending changes on; travel/vacations and eating in restaurants. My guess would be that these activities are down considerably.

One thing that someone mentioned to me is that young people today are less in a position to buy cars than they were in the past, because they either don't have jobs, or have only low-paying jobs. As a result, fewer of them seem to be buying cars, or if they do, they are spending less on used cars. What they seem to be substituting is playing video games on line, and buying electronic toys. They also seem to be putting off marriage (and buying a home).

One thing that has struck me about GDP numbers is that they don't separate government and business spending from private citizen spending. I know that in the US, personal income has not been growing as fast as inflation recently. It is hard to keep the economy healthy, if people don't really have enough money to spend.

Young people seem less interested in cars in general. Maybe it is because with the advent of the cell phone, you can't really ever get away even in a car. A while back my niece drove for the first time an hour and a half to visit her grand parents, she said the drive was very boring. I guess it is different when you can't play with your phone or whatever while you ride.

Disruptions: For Teenagers, a Car or a Smartphone?

Teenagers love smartphones, and getting one has become a rite of passage. A driver’s license? Like, whatever.

It seems unlikely, but at least one auto company is paying attention.

“The car used to be the signal of adulthood, of freedom,” Sheryl Connelly, the Ford Motor Company’s manager of global consumer trends and futuring, said in a recent phone interview. (The title sounds strange, but many big companies now have executives focused on discerning the future.) “It was the signal into being a grown-up. Now, the signal into adulthood for teenagers is the smartphone.”

It's quite possible and, IMHO, inevitable that BAU will disappear as much because people don't want it as because people can't have it. Call it 'demand destruction' if you will, but people's 'wants and needs' are more malleable than most people think.


Plus a car is an expensive pain in the rear... My wife and I get by just fine with one between us. Hoping for an inexpensive PHEV for our next.

This insight into the EXPRESSED fluidity and flexibility of human nature is the only thing that gives me some real hope of avoiding a flat out crash.I have lived through a couple of social transitions-some would go so far as to call the sixties a revolution-and paid close attention to transitions in other countries.

We can be sure that whatever new mores, customs, habits, and desires hold sway in a decade or two will fit into a universal pattern involving peer pressure, social status, style, sexual desirability,etc.

But the precise form these things will assume probably cannot be predicted.

I have within one lifetime seen a sexual revolution, a religious revolution(though many would doubt this )of sorts, a civil rights revolution, and a couple of technological revolutions.

The explosion of the internet has set the stage for a potential whole new social transition all by itself which may be under way already-but if so the direction of this transition is not yet clear to me.

I can't say that the rising generation of kids will embrace a new ethic of conservation and preservation of nature, but their parents did things just as unexpected and as radical.

This forum is mostly a preserve of old fogeys with relatively open minds and eyes with which to see, and we see and understand a lot either dismissed or overlooked by the mainstream of our kind.

But where are the women?

We are extremely fortunate to have a couple at least- Leanan and Gail .It behooves us guys to remember that these two contribute in a fashion many times out of proportion to their number.

So WHERE ARE the women?

They are all too damned busy taking over the world to bother much with such forums as this one-within a generation, they will be marrying US for OUR good looks rather than OUR power and status.They are going to be in the majority of all major professions except perhaps soldiering and engineering in a few more decades-and there is no reason they can't take over these two last male bastions if they choose to do so, but so far they have not indicated such a desire.

I try to be a realist, rather than a sexist or ist of this or that other fashion.

Women are fundamentally different from men in some respects, especially in certain core psychological characteristics.They are less prone to fighting and much more inclined to view the proposition that everybody is entitled to a fair share of the essential goodies of life such as food shelter and medical care favorably.

They are more amenable to education, as evidenced by college enrollments, and perhaps less indoctrinated into , less subject to, a Darwinian way of looking at the world than men.Whether they prove to be more open minded about taking newly discovered truths into account remains to be seen, but they could hardly do any worse in this respect than we guys have done.

Once they are in control, they might just decide that since not everybody can have a big flashy car, then nobody can;that everybody can have basic medical services but nobody can have organ transplants unless everybody can have the same.

They might even decide that we don't need a giant mic, and spend the money on conservation, renewable s, and free birth control with strings attached-those who practice it get bennies such as a tax break, those who don't-don't.They get their excess kids taken away by social services and put up for adoption by voluntarily childless women.

Now these speculations are pretty far fetched of course ... but things as strange have happened already.

And they are based on a single premise-a revolution in sex roles.

How many other revolutions might come to pass? Assuming bau holds up for a couple more decades of course.....

I think the women tend to be more over on the "sustainability" side of things. Hearing about geology and financial implications is just not what some people are interested in.

I would point out that there are quite a few other women involved. Sharon Astyk plays a very active role on the ASPO-USA board. Megan Quinn Bachman recently joined the ASPO-USA board on the sustainability side of things.

Debbie Cook is president of the board of the Post Carbon Institute. This organization is not exactly "peak oil" per se, but does deal in closely related areas.

I know who Debbie and Sharon are from hearing about them here.

I have read some commentary or articles by both of them- they are very capable people!!

Sometimes I make my points in roundabout ways, and they are only obvious on a second or third reading.Remember the Oracles and how their predictions always came true, but moften in unexpected fashion?

There is a very real possibility that women will control the political and economic processes within a couple more decades if bau doesn't crash and prevent them from taking over..

If it does, we can expect environmentalism, conservation, equal access to health care, food sercurity, and other such issues to be shoved to the top or very near to the top of the agenda..

I have noted there is a much more mature outlook on here. It`s refreshing. This is the only place that I regularly hear from those with a mature viewpoint.

I have also noted the absence of obviously female input on here other than Gail, Leannan and Pi (our Japanese correspondent). [edit]

However, as you say, women are becoming an increasing force in the West (not just the U.S.). Perhaps they will do things different. However, they are still humans and just as subject to those same human failings as are men. One hopes their leadership will result in a better world.

Ok, I'm outing myself for you OFM. I've been a very dedicated reader of this site for the past couple of years and yes I am a woman. There is probably more like me, saying nothing, learning lots and doing what we can to "make this world a better place". I have a science degree, more on the biology side of things and we are very involved in solar energy tech. We have had a 7.65 kilowatt PV system on our roof since 2001 and were part of the initial Standard Offer Program (42 cents/kWh) that predates the FIT in Ontario.
On kids and cars- we have three children (20,23,25). They have all done the required driver training, testing etc. but none have ever gone as far as achieving the final step in our Canadian graduated licensing system, so none of them can or apparently want to drive or need to as they all live in urban areas with public transit. We have refused to pay for their insurance or give them a car which has happened to a number of their friends. I suspect they have decided to put their money into various Apple products - yes, it's Apple or nothing.
Our car loving city has recently had a "battle royale" over a proposed LRT, the divide is clearly generational, those under 30 fought very hard for it, those over 60 were adamantly opposed. I'm happy to say It is coming.
I won't be posting much but really appreciate the wisdom here.

Welcome aboard,Soplaaris.

Any comments that you may wish to make from your perspective as a scientist, or a modern woman, or both will be very welcome!

I never meant to imply that there are no women here with my rhetorical question, but rather to get the mostly male membership here thinking about the changes that will come when your sex is in the driver's seat-which it will be in the US within a couple of decades.It will take that long for the rising generation of women, who considerably outnumber young men in college, to work their way into positions of power and influence as the old fogeys such as myself die off-not that I have any power or position, personally , anyway.

Retired Fed Govt bureaucrat, and undeniably female here in Chicago. I see lots of women busy doing. They think and read too. Most of the ones I interact with have degrees, are working, and looking for ways to keep the community alive and well in face of an uncertain future. They may not show up here, or they may be lurking here, but they are active.

And I appreciate all the insights here at TOD. I regularly refer TOD and several of the regular posters to my friends because I value the 'boots on the ground' experience they bring that I lack. Thanks!

I know that a number of women who read The Oil Drum have written to me over the years. By and large, they don't use feminine sounding names, so people don't recognize them as women.

I'm in early twenties now and get more confident in a future worth living by similar observations in my age group. About one half of people in my age still can't wait to get own car. But the other half asks "What would I need a car for?", travels by public transport and borrows a friend's/parent's one if they really need one (i.e. transport something heavy). Heck, I know quite a lot of people where I live (Berlin) that got the money for a driver's license from their parents as a "coming of age" present for their 18th birthday, but never drove a car after that!

These people have never heard of peak oil and believe in BAU, but they don't see car ownership as an improvement of their lifestyle. Maybe that's one of those small increments that will take us into a sustainable future...

A New Model

You present an insight into how the present model will not continue but....

What is it we are trying to do? By that I mean is the goal full employment or reduce energy consumption per capita to "X"Kwh per yr or is it keeping everything BAU?

Or is it more of an emergency? the goal is stop mass starvation or something

what is the goal?

Regarding "A New Model," I suppose the goal is to optimize the situation, given the mess we have gotten ourselves into.

I have gotten some people unhappy with me by suggesting that we need to keep BAU going as long as possible. I say this, because it is hard for me to imagine our being able to transition to any other situation which is nearly as good--but perhaps my imagination is lacking.

I definitely do not see a "steady state economy" as an option, unless it is at a subsistence level, with a lower world population. More likely, any new economy will be a declining economy over time, and will need to depend more on local resources.

I think the lack of imagination thing is universal.

We simply can not imagine anything else! Anything that is imagined seems impossibly far fetched. I think this in part stems from the complexity of the current paradigm.

This is as real a problem as FF depletion itself and it is one that is very difficult to address or even investigate. Posts such as yours which slice the current paradigm up into manageable insights tend to point out the sheer complexity of the relationships between economic activity and geography[physical, demographic, economic]. On reading one is often left exasperated by the scale of the whole mangled mess. Various ideas form in responce around this or that small move fix that will step by step untangle the "big knot"... ie as you and others suggest BAU for as long as possible hoping for some underlying change to evolve in the meantime.

perhaps we are thinking too small?

I really don't think it is possible for changes to come in more than small increments. Different countries pass new legislation. Investors invest, in response to those rules. New financial systems are developed over long periods of time. Education of workers for new jobs takes place over long periods.

I think part of the error now has been in thinking that more change can occur than can really occur. The increment added by renewables has been very small, despite the large effort that direction. There needs to be huge additional spending in transmission infrastructure and electricity storage if more wind and solar is added to the US grid, but this has not been planned for, nor factored into costs.

I actually think that changes come in nothing but big moves.

Major transformative events and ideas change history.

to over generalise and simplify "there are no small moves"

A diametrically opposite position.

I chalenge you to point one such big move on history.

Even the things that look like big moves were already inevitable when they came.

"I chalenge you to point one such big move on history"


Well a problem in definitional terms me thinks ....

well relative to the size of the issue? ie big in relationship to the issue at hand

so if we are talking about restructuring the global economy a big move would be WW2 rather than the manhattan project

the nature of the nuclear power industry would be executive choices made by industrialists and not the physics of atomic fission per sae

Moves to the growth side tend to be smaller and somewhat forced, and incremental. This is possibly due the general advances in the sciences (over the decades and centuries) which tend to be intellectually shared for profits, benefits, knowledge and education. This tends to set the stage for others to proverbially stand on the shoulders of the previous giants and see farther. There have been several cases where the invention and patenting of new products could have easily went to one of many pursuing a technology and seemingly being forced in a way. Eventually someone was going to figure out how to make a telephone, an electric light, a car, etc as many were trying. Science and resources had created favorable conditions for those things to be invented. And it takes time for new technology to ripple through, gain acceptance, and replace the still functional old technology. The changes may seem slow and gradual on the growth side because of the relative perception of where one is at when one is located on an exponential curve. If one looks close by to their current position on the curve, the change looks gradual and linear, and essentially tangent to the curve. It is only when larger parts of the curve are examined when the non linear effects can be seen as causing a rapid change at some point.

On the other hand, any Seneca or contraction effects might be viewed as a big move. There is a big psychological difference between the welcome changes provided by growth (as those are easily accepted and integrated), whereas in a contraction or Seneca scenario, the changes are not welcomed and seem larger (as there are less benefits and profits than there once was). The photo provided by Ghung is more consistent with Seneca effects than growth effects.

I really don't think it is possible for changes to come in more than small increments. Different countries pass new legislation. Investors invest, in response to those rules.

I do agree with Gail that so far the changes are small and incremental and slow to implement. There are people at different levels of governments that are trying to help. But it will be difficult for voluntary and managed change to keep up with and offset changes that might be forced if any of the Hubbert like curves for critical resources enters a declining or steeply declining period. If a steep decline period is reached (no matter if from depletion, natural disaster, etc), then large moves would be structurally forced, whether planned or managed or not. Any outside of the box thinking that might slow our approach to a steep decline may be beneficial. A ramp down is better than dropping off a cliff.


An example of a big move was the invention of the steam engine and its application to industry and tranportation. If you do not think this was a big move, then you are correct, there are no big moves, but I think the definition of "big" is really the issue here. Also the internet is probably as big. There is the development of integrated circuits, genetic engineering, and, in the future, breeder nuclear reactors (on a commercial scale). Everything that has happened already can be deemed inevitable so this is a tautology.


You are right, we are disagreeing on definitions.

It would be way more usefull to define what "big" means, so one can look at history. I'd agree that any usefull definition of big (my previous one wasn't) must include the scientific-industrial revolution.

I am struggling with the inevitability thing. I also am unconvinced we lack control over our own destiny because the overwhelming complexity of human affairs defies co-ordinated intervention.

There is a notion that progress is some sort of organic system that just happens and what appears out of this system is in a way predestined. Because of this sense of predestination it follows we are individually powerless to change the world. What is truly odd about this is it is a unstated expression of market thinking[invisible hand] yet embraces a sort of marxist historical determinacy too boot?!!!

Where does this mindset come from?

I think in part it arises from valid observations about the evolution of human society.

For example. When we compare the periodic table with the order that ancient metallic eras arose we can see a clear inverse relationship between chemical reactivity and era. Its no accident that cooper was exploited before Iron.

As we progress through history more complex but again seemingly deterministic examples arise where technical and social progress seem too coalesce. The form these tecno-societal developments express themselves also have an assumed determination. For example. Industrialisation in the West required a certain amount of social liberalisation, or in some renditions is the cause of it. Either way both views tend to combine certain pairings of technological and social advancements as inevitable.
But if we stand back we can see the early inevitable relations [e.g. bronze age to Iron age] are very simple and obvious. These earlier technologies such as Iron smelting while hyper-powerful in their contemporary context are limited. The societies that deploy them have less options that those with Iron and steam(say). The direction these societies can travel along are limited in arc and therefore more predictable. But as time goes on I am less convinced this is true as in truth technology should be some sort of liberating force and increasingly so with subsequent invention. The social format for technology in recent centuries has more and more been the result of quirks in history rather than some unwieldy force that lead to this inevitable point in history. Some of these quirks are decisions made by humans as overt acts such as Industrialists and the like. The obvious example is Manhattan. It is interesting to conjecture. The Nazi’s gave up, what if the US had learnt of that or hadn’t decided to develop the bomb? Was Trinity inevitable pre 1950? rather than get drawn into these examples the conclusion I draw is this...and its a surprising one.

• For a great deal of the industrial age certain individuals and there associated elites had a great deal of direct control and influence on the nature of society’s development.

This of course runs counter to the notion that deep interdependent complexity has trapped us in an uncontrollable situation. Yet despite this the “present” does seem to be on some deterministic trajectory. How can this be? The answer I give is typical but I think correct.

•Advocation in recent history of increasing control by the markets.

Powerful individuals in control of society...and I emphasise the term “in control” are bound by there own psychology and doctrine to maintaining this strange decision making mechanism we call the market. What we have is a world were its leaders have chosen to abdicate certain powers... As things deteriorate financially it is a real spectacle to watch market proponents being thrust by the markets themselves into the role of societal technocrats with a mandate to mandate! This is no clearer than the behaviour of the markets to demand bailouts or the substitution of sovereign crisis EU nation governments with commissar style financial technocrats. What is more these Mandarins have been forced centre stage and in time will have to increase the frequency of their interventionist behaviour.

At what point does a conceptual shift occur that the power to control and reorder the world already exists?

And it is not just at this top level were potential for change exists. There is a whole panoply of levels that are reduced in options by the existence of the market mindset. Especially ironic is the area of consumer choice were the net effect is in fact less choices. This can be clearly seen with Digital technology goods where the product is designed to limit the end user choice by hamstringing users to a certain brand. The full liberating potential of the technology is never realised and instead choice has come to mean nothing more than brand loyalty from a range of manufactures who offer what in final analysis is the same product. And the range of options the technology could present never materalises. The innovation the market seems to deliver is always tempered by the requirement that new products fit a business model. Not all of which are cynical but a great many are. Innovation by the market is not pure in scope. It is a limited range of innovation that has to ad-dear to the bottom line where social capital or the redistribution of power are not seen as profits

as a final aside I would like to undermine the inevitable school of thought with a very simple observation.

How often have people here been wrong predicting future events and metrics.... even in the near future?

The Second Law of Thermodynamics is alive and well and it is just about as inevitable as things get. We should look at people now as (by and large) forms of life that are releasing the energy of all the oil and coal---this is not necessarily a pleasant task, an easy one, or a safe one, or a fun one. Well, it is our cosmic row to hoe. Someone has to do it, is what the verdict from the cosmos was, and we were not collectively "smart" enough to refuse! So here we are, up to our elbows in trouble, smoke, radioactive fallout (nuclear power is a handmaiden of fossil fuels and could never exist in large scale without oil, in particular), carbon dioxide, a dying ocean, 600 million cars, a world-class credit crisis, and leaders that merely reflect us like a mirror does.

It isn't so effective to focus on people. We are willy-nilly tools of a cosmos that doesn't seek to comfort us or pay us any mind whatsoever. My husband said once, "all that oil in the is very powerful, it will leave a lot of garbage (abandoned cement, cars, empty highways) impressive amounts of garbage that reflect its superior energy quality." Oil is a very excellent energy source, more's the's impossible to refuse it or ignore it. We're so desperate, we fell for it....

We didn't really realize....and by the time we did, it was too late.

The thing is a physical constraint such as endowment of fossil fuels is not an inevitable vector for social progress. You are missing the point because you have superimposed your own meaning on the use of the term inevitable compared to mine, which I have failed to convey no doubt.

It is a oversimplification to say 2nd law of thermodynamics therefore we have this mess. My point is people have chosen THIS PARTICULAR mess.

If you like The very fact we are blindly ignoring thermodynamics at our peril is proof that choice exists. Was it inevitable? furthermore the inevitability of what lies ahead in societal terms is not fixed compared with say the heat death of the universe.

I am not talking about those two forms of inevitability as being the same. so when I say I am struggling with inevitability I am talking about inevitable in the context it was used in the thread regarding the inability to reorder society and the psychological aversion to revolutionary thinking, not that one day geology will impose limits to extraction rates.

I have myself fallen into the trap of equating physical limits to limits of choice in societal structures and TBH still think there is some very strong relationships there... but perhaps less so than I previously thought. unnecessarily high consumption rates exist in the developed world purely as a mechanism to support societal and financial structures which on inspection have been [to large degree] created by arbitrary diktat.

well if you choose to get it wrong why cant you choose to get it right?

Pleasure is what we seek and pain is what we wish to avoid. This has always been an excellent survival mechanism in an environment where seeking and obtaining a little more pleasure often meant a little more lifespan. We're still hooked on pleasure and it's not by choice or a rational decision. If our brains were zoomorphic they would resemble a lizard wrapped in a rat wrapped in monkey or pick your own secession. The monkey part will never have absolute control of the lizard and rat components. We will never eat, drink and have sex because its the “rational” thing to do. Typically, the social component of our brains can prevent us from taking the last oerderve from the tray while others are watching, but the lizard/rat brain is waiting in the background until everyone leaves the room to quietly snatch the pleasureful morsel.

Freud had the brain well dissected years ago, much as Mendel had genetics outlined by observing pea reproduction. We try to convince ourselves of our willful strength by fasting, but we know that at the end of a brief torture a feast will be provided. If plain pleasure-seeking does not guarantee we burn all fossil fuels, the revolving door between government, the military and military contractors will. Actually, the amount of largess allowed the middle class will be vastly trimmed with austerity as the military machine looks for new justifications for their infliction of pain for personal gain. The less energy they can plunder, the more they will have to draw from the middle class and the middle class will eventually become their adversary. Our military spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined and we have the greatest percentage of citizens in prison. Those statistics will increase as the military fights for scraps of energy and our citizens fight for scraps of food. Are we the moral leader of the world or just a technological fungus fighting others for nutrients on the surface of a global petri dish?

I would say the marketeers have essentially chosen to embrace the techno-fungus model.

It seems to me that there may be major transformative events that occur quite quickly. The most likely of these would be "breaks" in the current system, because it is stressed. For example, major bankruptcies may occur, and the international trade system may be impaired as a result.

I am not sure how quickly we can implement transformative new ideas. In the Middle East and North Africa, Arab Spring seemed to be examples of major transformative events. I don't know how soon these countries will really be able to put together new governments that really work--tearing down the old is much easier and quicker.

I agree we do need new ideas. It seems to me that it takes a long time for them to really take hold, however.

I think you are expressing in part the fear of the unknown... better the devil you know. And it is not a stupid position at all given how major events and revolutionary changes have lead to all sorts of horribleness. (If anything its a default position I held until fairly recently).

But does that mean we should always avoid big change?

the PO aware crowd and TOD has created several different political groupings over the years. To start with there was a different view on the impact of PO

the impacters ..a spectrum of doomer to cornucopian

but since 2005 and 2007 in particular a more salient defining notion as stared to slowly rise The responders... how do we respond to PO? And you could break it down into a pantheon of different ideas but I'm going to break it down into 2

Big vs Small

The big end of the scale is in a minority{but growing] for reasons pyshcologiK but mainly because no one really has a vision of a desirable future.

Now this is troublesome because people are embracing the big hammer without having a clue want they have to replace the current system.... and it is happening in and outside of the PO aware crowd, driven mainly by the growing realisations of financial inequality. The thing is small moves will [if ineffectual] lead to something big happening anyway.

so why not jump ahead?

The question remains, jump ahead to where? In the real world, not many people are likely to be prepared to jump merely for the sake of jumping, especially when faced with excellent odds of making matters worse rather than better.

Well I was hoping no one was going to raise this point. I can see you are more than a match for me.

(Srsly)The point is...if you backtrack back to near the beginning of this thread

"What is the goal?" by that I mean What is the goal?

The thing is this applies to making small moves as much as big ones? what is it we are trying to achieve.

small moves are essentially about a perception...and that perception is change nothing! ATEOTD small moves are about maintaining the status quo.

As long as we focus on creating centralized, top down changes (legislation,infrastructure, efficiency, economics, etc.) the increments will be small indeed, and likely forced by circumstances. As mididoctors suggests, 'imagination' plays the critical roll. IMO, only bottom up cultural, societal changes will have any chance of mitigating our situation. As long as societies are programmed to be consumers and consent manufactured by the MSM/marketing monster, as long as our economies are 'market driven', the current paradigm will continue until it crashes. From a link I posted yesterday:

And that is precisely the third issue: our obsession with markets and the theory that markets do not lie. Markets are the collective expression of individual greed. They are the overview of a no-holds-barred fight of individual interests, scrambling to make money. They position themselves, posture, exaggerate and lie all the time. They exist based on the economic theory that they are “self-correcting” and yet they have shown themselves repeatedly not only to be unable to correct their flaws but also to cause or exacerbate systemic errors.

We increasingly humanise them in the language that we use – “markets are jittery”; “markets have reacted with anger”; “markets seem to have confidence”. Meanwhile we dehumanise and objectify real people who are, right now, suffering untold misery.

As you said, Gail: "I think part of the error now has been in thinking that more change can occur than can really occur." Perhaps we should modify that to "intentional change". I'm convinced that massive change is baked in. The best we can hope for at this point is to nudge that change in a direction which may ultimately provide a more sustainable direction for whomever may survive this predicament we've arrived at. I suppose that this is why we're here. Interesting times, no doubt.

I think you are right in modifying what I said to say, "intentional change". Change is baked in. What is not clear is our ability to change it.

well maybe we should try the experiment

I mean what have we got to lose if its all going to go south in the end anyway?

Hope drives us to invent new fixes for old messes, which in turn create ever more dangerous messes. Hope elects the politician with the biggest empty promise; and as any stockbroker or lottery seller knows, most of us will take a slim hope over prudent and predictable frugality. Hope, like greed, fuels the engine of capitalism.
-Ronald Wright

I agree that there is not much to lose. However, most people are hoping that things will turn out better when the chips are down. So there will be a very tough process of convincing people that we need to rock the boat, and make sweeping changes to the way we live, now.

Of course, if you rip away the foundations and expectations that people have lived with all their lives, you might also get something like this:

Bruce Wayne: Targeting me won't get their money back. I knew the mob wouldn't go down without a fight, but this is different. They crossed the line.
Alfred Pennyworth: You crossed the line first, sir. You squeezed them, you hammered them to the point of desperation. And in their desperation, they turned to a man they didn't fully understand.

Dangerous times.

Perhaps the place to start is by agreeing what things are important to us, and then optimising the situation to benefit those things.

Adjusting to existence within a closed system that has decreasing amounts of available energy will require 'taking stock' of both the current situation and what can actually be achieved in improving it.

The basic answer is, not enough. Not everything will be saved. This is what we mean by 'unsustainable lifestyle'.

Sacrifices will have to be made. We mostly need to decide what we are willing or able to give up. Opinions on this, are going to vary widely!

Broadly speaking I am thinking this way myself. forget the problem or even the solutions!

...Where is it we want to end up?

Food and water come up pretty high on everyone's list. I think even this is going to be a challenge, viewed on a world-wide basis.

Maintaining heat in buildings is helpful as well. If nothing else, it prevents pipes from bursting when the temperature drops too low in winter. With the number of people we have alive today, we really need fossil fuels to keep buildings warm. (We were cutting down trees faster than they grew, more than a hundred years ago, in an attempt to keep buildings warm.

I think it is easy to get romantic ideas about scaling back lifestyles, but the problem is that our lifestyles have evolved for a reason. For example, most of us would be unable to get to work, if we had to shift from driving to walking. If we are just thinking about trading in our SUVs for smaller cars, or going out to eat at restaurants less, it is probably not going to make a big enough change to make any difference.

IMO sanitation is not far lower on the list of priorities than food and water. Could we accept going back to living in crude sanitary conditions that dominated pre-industrial societies? I certainly wouldn't.

Thanks, Gail. A small request -- in future could you please pay attention to the consistency of the colours used in your graphs. It quite fractures the attention to suddenly notice that red/green/whatever no longer corresponds to the country/region it once did.

I tried to do that, to the extent I could. Could you point out which graph needs to be fixed, and I will fix it?

Fig. 1: Middle East (green); So East Asia (red); Remainder (blue)

Fig. 2: Middle East (red); So East Asia (blue); Remainder (purple); World (green)

Figures 3 and 4 are the same as #1.

I replaced figure 2 with a different one. Thanks for the suggestion.

Great post on a very important topic.

But beyond changing colors, would you consider using another term than "Southeast Asia." This is traditionally described as the part of Asia south of China and east of India. This does not seem to be the way you are using the term. I would like to point my students to this post, but hesitate when a major term is being misused, or at least used in a confusing way.

It is fine to make up a new term or format for a configuration you want to designate, perhaps South/East Asia or South&East Asia (or even, as you do in the chart So East Asia, or maybe Chindia+??). But taking a well established term and just arbitrarily deciding to use it with a completely different meaning is sure to lead to confusion.

Thanks again for a great post.

I am afraid that South East Asia is a hard one to change, because of all of the images and other references. I am sure the post is on a number of other sites by now, too, so it is a little late to change it.

I'll try for a different name next time.

Thanks for considering this. The fact that it has already gone out to many other sites kind of proves the point I've made hear and elsewhere.

But who knows, perhaps it will be an influential enough post that it will change the language and we will have a new definition of SEAsia!?

Kyoto aside, what we are witnessing is the use of coal-fired electricity to lift hundreds of millions of Chinese and Indians out of abject poverty. China has tripled their coal burn, from circa 1 Btons/year to about 3.5B/year in just more than a decade. What was forecast to take until 2020--China passing the U.S. in emissions--happened in a blink.

The U.S. burns about 1 B tons of coal each year; about what the Chinese were using in the late 1990s. For the Chinese then to add powerplants and mines to consume and supply 2.5 B additional tons in little more than a decade is, well, pick an adjective: unprecedented, astounding, cataclysmic, spectacular, gobstriking.

For the climate, this is a disaster; for the people in these countries a "triumph" of sorts.

The explosion of Chinese coal burning counts for most of the spike in the graphs. Of course, at the same time China increasingly became the steel plant and manufacturing dragon for the entire world. If China had as much natural gas as, say, Qatar and was using that to power its growth, the charts would be significantly different.

"Emissions" are just exhaust in a sense, reflecting the size of the engine and the fuel being burned. While we in Happyland mortgaged our homes in pursuit of flat screen TVs and Idevices, the Chinese built a modern civilization on the world's most ancient fuel.

What is more than a little disturbing is reports now that perhaps Africa will start moving in the direction of China (or at least Southeast Asia in general), in terms of more industrialization. The cover story of this week's Economist is, "Africa Rising." The subtitle of the article itself is, "After years of slow growth, Africa has a chance to follow in the footsteps of Asia."

South Africa has large deposits of coal, but I wonder how much more there is elsewhere that has not been tapped. Dave Summers (Heading Out) has remarked that there are huge coal resources in Botswana that have not been tapped, because they are land-locked. I expect that there are other coal resources that could be tapped as well.

The clear evidence of China's radical and rapid energy transition that you detail directly contradicts Gail's assertion up-thread (in quotes below).

I really don't think it is possible for changes to come in more than small increments.

Certainly there are political and logistical difficulties with rapid energy transitions, but if China can rapidly make a radical carbon-burning transition, a rapid energy-efficiency and renewables transition should be just as possible, given the political will. China's rapid construction of high speed rail systems gives a hint of possibilities (and contrasts depressingly with the gridlock and "can't do" attitude in the US).

China's radical and rapid energy transition change (as described by rudall) was a case of growth based on increased FF use (coal burn tripling), over 10 years, and I don't think it was replacing any existing oil based equivalents.

I believe Gail's comment on change coming in small increments was more aimed at the desired change in getting renewables and efficiency improvements to be able to reduce or replace FF use, to wean us away from them before resource depletions structurally constrain what our options are.

China represents the situation of a single country with a central government making fairly big changes quickly. Such changes can't happen on a world basis, because there is no central government for the world. Usually, all that governments can do is make laws, or fund specific programs, affecting their own country. China could fund bigger changes than most, because of its form of government, but I think it will run into limits, just as any other country does.

Actually, the world probably could have made some fairly major progress on climate, which involves ff use, obviously, if it were not for one nation doing most of the blocking in the conferences--the US.

I would say that the headlong pursuit of economic growth by the BRIC countries is doing as much blocking as the U.S. They say in mediating negotiations you're not giving a fair deal unless both sides are pissed off at you.

I believe it is possible for the economy to grow while reducing energy use within certain limits, and for so long as certain conditions hold.

The conditions that I believe are critical are one, that the supply of fossil fuels must decline slowly, so as to allow people to gradually adjust to finding new ways of earning their livings,while renewable s mature technologically and grow exponentially in deployment, while the population must grow only very slowly or not at all.

It is quite obvious that there is an enormous potential for saving energy if we decide as a society (or civilization) to implement strong conservation and efficiency measures.Now I personally , along with many others,believe that this will not happen, at least not until it is quite too late to prevent a hard crash.

But I am humble enough to recognize and admit that I have been wrong about the collective behavior of our particular kind of ape before;for instance the extraordinarily fast( but still not fast enough!!!) drop off in the birth rate in some classes of Western society, and society wide in some countries, caught me by surprise. A recent National Geographic lead article primarily about Brazil is an excellent starting point for anyone interested in this particular point.

The first point-that fossil fuel supplies must decline slowly enough to allow a transition to a new economic era- is in my opinion not an impossibly optimistic assumption to make-there is evidently a lot of coal and natural gas left and it may be that oil production hold up better than most of us expect it too.The question is how fast the transition could go.

To me the most interesting question from an intellectual point of view is whether society might experience a "Paul on the road" awakening in respect to energy.While I think this is unlikely to come to pass in the short term , it cannot be ruled out, and fifty or a hundred years from now, classical economists may be crowing about the power of markets to overcome shortages by substitutions and technological adaptation and changes in life style.

There is already a significant portion of the population that is very well aware of the high and rising costs of energy even though these same people are not really peak oil aware.There is only one new house being built in my immediate neighborhood at this minute.It belongs to a forty year old redneck lawyer I have known since I he was a kid, and I knew his Daddy very well.His Daddy drove hot rods, and there is no question whatsoever that if he had ever had enough money, he would have owned a four hundred seventy two cubic inch Cadillac and a fully tricked out oversize four by four truck.

Of course nobody around here pays any attention to me, but they look up to the lawyer, and take their cues from him.

The son the lawyer does not believe in peak oil, or financial collapse;he rolls his eyes at the mention of such subjects.But his new house is when finished going to be a very energy efficient house, and he drives a midsize car with a small engine that gets excellent fuel economy.If he were smaller, the car would be smaller too, but he is a three hundred pounder.

The people who earn their living as waiters in resorts can over time morph into people who earn their livings as personal servants in the houses of the upper middle class or even the ordinary middle class if energy supplies fall off slowly.

An ordinary working class homeowner can come to the realization that the best possible investments he can make with his few spare dollars are insulation and a smaller, more fuel efficient car.

Lowered thermostats and warm dress can morph from indications of near poverty to indications of social and intellectual status.

The public might just buy into renewable tech such as solar domestic hot water and photovoltaic and create a USEFUL investment bubble.

If the market can't lead some automobile company somewhere to build a modern new people's car patterned after the Model T or Citroen 2v or the VW bug, some govt someplace might just mandate the production of such cars, and the market for them might catch fire.

People will open home offices and run informal businesses out of their homes, and and convert spare space into apartments and nothing will be done about it.Informal bus lines consisting of minivans hauling people to and from work and shopping will come into existence and nothing will be done about that either.

Pot may be legalized and taxed-relieving an enormous amount of strain on tax revenues, but at the same time throwing a lot of growers, sellers, lawyers, judges, cops, prison guards, parole officers, and social workers out of their jobs.

Then the alarm clock went off and I realized all this happy speculation was just a dream..

Most of it will come to pass but not in time or on a scale to adequate save our pampered butts.

A few hundreds of millions will starve at intervals here and there, until the population is again sustainable, and nothing will be done about that either.

Nothing can be done about it.

Yair...OFM, I always enjoy your down to earth posts. I believe your thoughts above sum up the situation very well.

As a "professional" writer I also appreciate your formatting as an aid to reading and comprehension.

There are a few posters on here who should note the value of competently used white space.


"To me the most interesting question from an intellectual point of view is whether society might experience a "Paul on the road" awakening in respect to energy."

This is indeed a revelation devoutly to be wished. And might I add GW (and ecology generally) to the wish list along with energy.

There have been a series of "great awakenings" in the history of this country's popular religious thought, for better or worse, depending on your perspective. Perhaps it is time for something like this on these other fundamental issues. Could the OWS movement be a beginning?

I think our problem is that we don't really have good solutions, so it is hard to have a "Paul on the road" awakening.

I know some people would like to think that one "solution" or another is the answer, but I am not very convinced--our problems are too deep. We have too many people for a switch to "renewables" to be very helpful. (Also, high tech wind and solar PV aren't really very renewable, regardless of whether they are called renewable.) Solutions such as the Kyoto Protocol don't work as well as planned. Electric cars still have big drawbacks, and are only a partial solution. Thorium is more of a theory than an easy-to-implement solution.

There are many other things coming along, but none of them fix the problem that infinite growth cannot take place on a finite world.

Gail has nailed it. We as a society are still committed to the one true solution. If it's not oil, then we'll make it gas, and if not those coal, or oil-shale, or some single thing that makes it all better.

Although I'm much more optimistic over the long term than Gail is, I think it's going to take a full arsenal of ingenious ideas and clever hacks to keep it all working. The last 100 years spoiled us by letting us solve every problem by throwing oil at it.

The last 100 years spoiled us by letting us solve every problem by throwing oil at it.

Actually it was the fact that we threw energy at every problem. The ironic thing about oil isn't that it replaced coal, the ironic thing is the fact that it enabled us to get at so much more coal. Before oil became what is it today for instance we had say 100 units of coal, after we threw oil into coal extraction we suddenly had 300 units of coal and we only used say 20 units of oil to get it. This isn't 100% accurate but I think the idea has merit.

This is the reason why I believe oil is so valuable because not only does it represent the best form of portable energy, it also acts as an energy multiplier for gas and coal extraction.

At this point, I'm not even hoping for solutions much. I think it is still important for people to come to some understanding of their actual situation, whether or not they can do anything about it.

The revelation itself has value, imho. Thinking in terms of 'problems and solutions' is itself a problem of our mechanistic minds. You use the term "one true solution"; others have come up with "the final solutions"...with grim consequences.

In any case, 'solutions' that people come up with who don't have a good grasp of the full scale of our predicament are almost certain to make things worse. So while a revelation may or may not lead to a 'solution,' real solutions without such revelations are essentially impossible (except by some lucky mistake, perhaps--not something to count on).

The possibility of solutions cannot be meaningfully discussed without including a time scale.

My guess is that if we were as a society to have the "Paul" experience, we Yanks could pull through without suffering a catastrophic collapse. Bau would be a matter of old movies and dusty history books of course, and living standards would have to decline very sharply.Some large portions of our society would have to give way to a new order of rationing,etc.

But we could survive imo in my opinion without going Mad Max, which imo is the only real alternative to the "Paul" experience .

Such an awakening MIGHT allow us to stretch out our ff supplies long enough to focus our energies on conservation and efficiency to the extent that renewables really could shoulder a big enough load to keep an industrial society running.

If for instance every person who is salivating over the prospect of owning a fast thirty five thousand dollar car or four by four truck were to be equally eager to spend that money on upgrading his home , we would very shortly have millions of zero net energy homes-and an equal number of homeowners using half as much gasoline, as that homeowner would be driving a subcompact.

The gasoline savings would be real.Jevons paradox can only come fully into play over a period of time, and before that time has elapsed , either rationing or very high prices, most likely both, will control consumption.

So far as I can see, there would be probably be more jobs-or at least as many- generated by subsidizing conservation and efficiency as are generated by subsidizing consumption of excess numbers of large automobiles and trucks.

A fuels shortage is inevitable, and it is inevitable that millions of people whose employment is dependent on plentiful fuel are going to lose their livelihoods. There are really only two basic scenarios that will apply when this happens.

We either put all these people on some form of welfare through make work , paid for by by taxing the hxxx out of the upper class and middle class, or we descend into something resembling a hybrid of Victorian England and modern day Somalia.The rich will have to stay inside their castles or on their estates, only occasionally venturing out with large armed escorts, and everybody else will be looking out for himself as best he can.

But if we put the jobless to useful work instead of going the bread and circus route and football stadium route, we could have plenty of triple pane windows , endless amounts of insulation, bike paths almost everywhere, low tech localized food production sufficient to really matter, street cars in any fair sized town..... all without any technological revolutions.

Furthermore, the costs of renewables is already low enough that renewables are competitive except for the unreasonably stubborn high costs of installation.In a farmers world, if you are compelled to find makework for a hired hand , you find something for him to do that might not actually be profitable, but still useful.A few emergency edicts from the White House or governors' offices could solve half the installation problem within a yearby mandating standardization of all building codes and negating covenants, etc, preventing low cost installations.

If we must put people to work on make work soon-and remember the choice is either that or Mad Max - we might as well pay them to install renewables and insulation as to build freeways and office buildings for an ever expanding government and banking class.

There really is not much hope for the third world as I see it , barring a miracle-say the invention of a pv cell that is so cheap even a peasant could afford a substantial installation.

But the collapse of North America and a few other well endowed areas is not NECESSARILY a foregone conclusion, unless global warming and ecological collapse do us in, or unless we stumble into a nuclear WWIII.

We need a few "Pearl Harbor events" sufficient to prime us for the the "Paul" experience.

need a few "Pearl Harbor events" sufficient to prime us for the the "Paul" experience

It follows we should choose to have some sort of pearl harbour event to precipitate a change in mindset.

If the catalyzing factor is this "pearl harbour" why not make one?

It seems like there is a very good chance we are already headed for a financial pearl harbor. I have serious doubts that anything will spread out the use of the remaining fossil fuels, though. In my view, we need our current "system" to extract our oil, natural gas, and coal. If our system breaks, the extraction of all three of these (as well as uranium) is likely to drop dramatically.

I see the view that we can "save" fossil fuels for the future as mostly a pipe dream. It would work, if we had left the easiest to produce for last. The problem is that we have left the hardest to produce for last. Current extraction could last until parts break and can't be replaced, or workers can't be paid, because of problems with the financial system. If nothing else, we need trained workers to continue to work on extraction. There are also minimum operating levels on pipelines.

I understand that there are a few parts of the world where coal is still available by scraping off the top soil (Africa, perhaps Alaska and Canada) These are generally far from transportation. Perhaps this coal could be used by those local to the deposits, but I expect that would be most of the post crash energy supply that could be used.

Unless the FFs extracted during this BAU phase are used in the construction of long term infrastructure the purpose of postponing the inevitable seems moot...

and its a strange thing because by placing faith in BAU, the markets and what not, one also embraces this sense of the inevitable. in a way its a contradiction... By default its a position that acknowledges no one has power to change anything.

its the hope for the best option because we have surrendered the possibility of changing anything... the very thing that the market is supposed to deliver, options and choice has instead set us on a singular path no one can envisage straying off. that being the case I hope the market gets it right

I'm labouring the point but I feel the need


An interesting analysis on Kyoto and the law of unintended consequences.

Have you had a chance to read the "the Great disruption" by Paul Gilding?

I am afraid I haven't. Looking at Amazon, the title there is The Great Disruption: Why the Climate Crisis Will Bring On the End of Shopping and the Birth of a New World.

I see according to the summary,

Gilding argues that, like addicts who need to hit bottom, we energy users will deny our problem until we face head-on the risk of collapse, but when we do, we will address the emergency with the commitment of our response to WWII and begin a real transformation to a sustainable economy built on equality, quality of life, and harmony with the ecosystem. Gilding's confidence in our ability to transform disaster into a happiness economy may astonish readers, but the book provides a refreshing, provocative alternative to the recent spate of gloom-and-doom climate-change studies.

I think you would have a hard time convincing me of this outcome. Over the long term, the world's climate has been unstable. The way we have adapted in the past is by living transient life-styles--as hunter-gatherers. Hunter-gatherers may have been very happy--I don't know. Evidence is that they were taller and stronger than farmers who followed. Their lifestyle was also pretty sustainable. But I would have a hard time matching up this up with what Gilding is saying. Most modern readers would run screaming, if they discovered that the new sustainable lifestyle they were heading for would be that of hunter-gatherers.

...and the way WWII is casually touted as a catalyst of positive change is a bit concerning. Just sayin'. Perhaps we should look forward to WWIII as a good thing :-/

Just wait for the Dutch! Secretary Schultz van Haegen just announced that highway speeds will be raised from 100 to 130 km/hour, thus negating any gains in efficiency car builders achieved.

The minority administration supporters (PVV), climate change deniers by heart, wil be thrilled to finally unleash their horsepowers on the highways.

Bye bye Kyoto.

Think of it this way: we are dealing with a zero sum game.

1. If the Dutch burn more oil, they will have less money for other things. So they will have to cut back in other areas--perhaps on heating their homes, so there may be a savings elsewhere. This could result in a real savings in coal or natural gas.

2. If the Dutch burn more oil, the rest of the world will have less oil, and it may be a little higher priced. So the rest of the world will have to cut back on using oil.

If the substance were coal or natural gas, a savings in one part of the world might affect the amount mined/ extracted. But with oil, I think the world supply is close to fixed, because we have maxed out what we can extract, and because there are world markets. If one country uses more oil (the Dutch), the rest will end up using less. Not very equitable, but from an environmental point of view, it probably makes less difference than one might expect.

I agree, though, it is a strange decision. The least we can do is make what we have, go farther.

The decision may be "strange", but it would merely - to use a highly favored, highly tired, highly tiresome EU cliché - "harmonize" motorway speeds with roughly what prevails in many other Continental countries. As I've said before (and dour Britain aside), there wasn't much speed-limit cutting even in the 1970s, and nothing like the 15/25 years of puritanical self-flagellation in the US. Indeed, European visitors to the US would often comment on what a stupid waste of time 55mph (88kph) was in such a huge country. (In the miniature fussbudget countries of Europe, isolated or partially isolated by border controls before Schengen, and isolated also by language barriers, a casual 500km-each-way trip to Grandma's for the weekend was rather more exceptional than in North America.)

With respect to increased oil consumption in The Netherlands, maybe not to worry. The place isn't very big - I used to be acquainted with a fellow who bicycled the length of it within the same day (did I just say "miniature fussbudget countries"?), it's very urban, and despite the trains and trams there's lots and lots of traffic. I suspect that only a modest amount of driving could possibly be done at 130kph, maybe enough for the entire increment of fuel consumption to account for a few minutes' growth in China.

I think this zero sum game view isn't the way to look at it at all, but more pushing its product and infrastructure towards less opex fuel needs for "same" functionality, ie less energy or at least fossile fuel energy intensive economy, then at time t+n whatever the market price you have a lower fossile enrgy bill, compared to another country with less efficiency, that is all.

And yes would guess Holland highway speed has to do with some harmonization among Europe or just providing a "positive point", there were talk around it in the UK lately also related with "benefit to the economy" by losing less time in transit and increasing freeway speed, which I think is factually wrong above a certain traffic level (that is for a higher traffic, the flow of cars (and passengers) is higher at lower speeds than higher speed : less space between cars and less "standstill point" created.)

To me what could be done in some cities in Europe is more promoting a new class of urban and periurban cars, electric or not but much less powerfull (a bit like the Kei cars in Japan, or the electric twizy from renault that is coming) but on the other end limit the max speed on freeways at something like 70 or 80 km in a 20km or so radius of cities (as in quite a few cases freeways now constitute the main road axis, so not at all so easy if you cannot take them (speed higher in europe than US on freeways also). For instance personnaly I don't have a car for quite some years already (12 or something more because of tickets and traffic jams at the beginning, rent one when needed) and use a 125cc scooter to move (and sometimes a bicycle although not as often as I should or wish), and although I don't need to take freeways anyway in my current routes, I never take them or almost never even if allowed to : You simply don't have enough power to feel safe especially in complicated entries or exits for instance, or changing lines.

My concern is more about the system not working than about saving money on buying fossil fuels in the future.

The issue I worry about is the system ceasing to function, for one reason or another. Most likely this would be because of financial system issues, but it could be because of other things (lack of imported ports to keep vehicles running, say). Saving fuel won't really help this, that I can see. But if the only issue is high price, then your approach will work.

"My concern is more about the system not working than about saving money on buying fossil fuels in the future. "

And I don't see how each country maxing out what they can burn would help, both for each country from a pure self interest point of view, and for everybody else in that respect.

Seems to me the system not working anymore is the concern of everybody here and will most probably end up this way anyway.

It isn't so much about saving fuel, it is about moving to a less opex energy intensive system for a similar "functionality" (in a technical materialistic sense, that is an insulated house compared to one which is not for instance).

And with respect to your conclusion about a global system, really don't see how that could help in anyway, quite the contrary in fact : Here the self interest of each country concur to the global interest, not to make it "eternal", but to make it last longer for sure, increasing any chance of transition if there is one. This is all about accelerating necessary changes, full stop.

Not to mention than the Dutch in fossile fuel per capita are most probably way below Americans, as well as way higher in volume based gas tax(US being OCDE rock bottom in that domain anyway, and Dutch more at the top).

But I understand that taxes, whatever the kind, being such an evil word in the US these days (whereas the first edition of the peak oil newsletter was clearly adressing it), and that even if volume based fossile taxes are the only real mitigation policy making sense from a pure self interest point of view at a country level, asking for a global system will most probably be turned into the usual other "mitigation" measure known, which is called war, see for instance :

(not to forget the "model" aspect here, after all hummer has been bought by the Chinese I think)

The global interest of everybody is for the USs to take care of itself in a pure selfish sense, without necessarily resorting to wars, but it clearly currently has no interest at all in doing so, a bit strange and sad to say the least...

As to when somebody will clearly tell US "citizens" that their production peak occured in 1970 and that it is a done deal, this remains a mystery, even though we are talking pure basic fact here.

But clearly the pressure is there for it not to happen :

Robert Hirsch interview about it :

Lionel Badal's work on 1998 IEA report and further :

obvious! the dutch are trying to cull the reckless, over-consuming, and otherwise lunatic individuals from their population. after these are all dead in massive car wrecks, they will dial back to normal highway speeds and will be free to enact all kinds of progressive energy reform without fear of retribution.

Chrome - And Texas recently bumped the speed limit up to 75 mph on most highways...including at night. To help with the culling process we also have a concealed handgun carry law. Brings road rage to a whole new level.

Just to keep the units consistent, 75mph is 121kph. Which is also roughly the same as the 120kph on speed-limited autobahnen and expressways in heavily populated Germany, and a little slower than the 130kph limit on the fast autostrade in Italy, or on the remaining unregulated autobahnen in Germany.

By such standards 75mph/121kph in the vast emptiness (intuitively incomprehensible to Europeans in their fiddly mini-countries even though they can do the numbers just fine) of Texas is not the least bit out of line, except maybe to Americans who feel fatuously nostalgic for the ineffectual-malaise days of Jimmy Carter - and who delude themselves that day-to-day realities in Europe are truly consistent with the never-ending stream of pious pronunciamentos from the European chattering classes. OTOH, throw in the handguns, which do not generally feature in Europe, and somebody may, urp, get a bang out of it...

Paul - Obviously you haven't spent much time in SE Texas. LOL. Vast emptiness it ain't. About 500 miles to the west it does start to get "vast". It's not uncommon to be stuck in bumper to pumper traffic on the Interstate 100 miles outside of Houston on a Sunday afternoon. In Houston itself (60 mph highway limts) most are driving almost 70 mph...and some faster. Just last week a woman was pulled from her car and beaten by a guy who was upset she honked at him after he cut her off. I imagine she's already applied for her gun permit.

BTW: with the new 75 mph you can get away with driving 80+ mph most of the time.

True, I was thinking more of the north and west.

OTOH it's also possible to get stuck in traffic on some parts of the the Ohio Turnpike, but the state/US highways 10 or 20 miles south will be fairly empty. Traffic tends to get focused on the Interstates. Compared to much of Western Europe, even Ohio is a vast emptiness - even the areas around Cleveland or Cincinnati, except for the cities proper, are fairly empty from that point of view. As I've already mentioned, the reaction of Europeans, who can barely sneeze without accidentally flailing their elbows over a national border, to American wide-open space is often quite "interesting". And I'm talking east of the Mississippi, where it's quite crowded compared to most of the rest.

The only folks to whom wide-open space is even more foreign seem to be the Japanese. So much so that there's actually a very-high-end real-estate firm in Tokyo called "Hoosiers" - because one of the founders became fond of the "big, comfortable houses" he encountered as an exchange student in Indiana, or so I was told. And that's in spite of the fact that according to the post linked elsewhere on this page,

2. You Won't Find Many [of the top 1%] in Indiana

Gallup compiled the results of 61 of its surveys to create a sample of the top 1 percent — and the other 99 percent — and found that the wealthiest among us skew toward the coasts. Whereas 22 percent of the rest of us live in the Midwest, you'll find only 14 percent of the those households at the top living in “America's Heartland.”

People moan and whine endlessly in this country, but they are utterly without a clue about how good most of them have it, even in Indiana.

Compared to much of Western Europe, even Ohio is a vast emptiness

Ohio's population density is higher than in Spain, equal to Austria, and within 20% of France.

The extent to which "America is different" is often overstated.

Saying Ohio (agricultural and industrial powerhouse) has the same population density as Austria (center of mountain-related tourism) sort of makes the other side's argument.

A number isn't a number ? As to this image of Austria being centered around "moutain related tourism" ...

I think that most Americans have a distorted view of their country as being vastly different from Europe - hence the comment that "Compared to much of Western Europe, even Ohio is a vast emptiness". In reality, the areas in which most Americans live are as densely populated as most of Europe. Ohio is no exception.

The archaic idea that the US is a frontier country, combined with the fact the US had once large oil reserves, has made nostalgia one of the main driving forces behind US transportation policy. Americans need to realize that their country, and the rest of the world, have changed.

Note that I am speaking from the perspective of Canada, which by the standards of both Europe and the US really is a vast emptiness. It has fewer people than California or Spain scattered across an area larger than the US or Europe.

Rocky - I agree that in many aspect the US and Europe are not that different. Of course, that doesn't include Texas: we ain't like no body else. Good and bad though, eh? LOL

Well, it is true that Texas is different from the rest of the US. It has huge cities with a lot of nothing between them, whereas other parts have huge cities with a lot of people between them.

However, when I look at the Boston - Washington corridor or the San Francisco - San Diego corridor, I often think that the population density there doesn't differ much from the major urban clusters of Europe.

Canada has similar high-density corridors, but they're relatively small. Between them you spend day after day watching the trees whiz by, and that's only in the areas that actually have roads. Don't hit a moose.

Interesting factoid - no point in the Lower 48 states is more than 15 miles from a road. By contrast, in Northern Canada, everyone travels by bush plane because there ain't no roads.

Yes in terms of density for sure a lot of places are comparable, but maybe there is also a kind of thinking in the US that "sprawl is normal because we should fill in the place or something, or it is so vast anyway", when from a city perspective, the "problem"(or let's say the urbanism energy efficiency) is the same whereas there are vast empty lands around it or not, the exemple of Calgary you gave in a previous thread being quite characteristic.

But there also are many influences both ways, like the "commercial areas" with plenty of big boxes shops have spread all over the place in France for instance (even though the "hypermarket concept" selling everyhting more or less started in France, but now has also turned into big boxes specialized shops in dedicated areas), and also some form of strip malls.

Yes, it is true that France has big box stores much like the US does. The population density is not much different than large parts of the US.

I think the major difference is that France also has a high-speed train system crossing the country. In the event of higher oil prices, French residents will have a choice of whether to drive or not, whereas Americans will not.

But what's the spare capacity of the TGV system? 90% of travel in France is by car.

In the US (and probably in France), there is enormous spare capacity in single-passenger cars.

I don't know for sure about spare capacity of the TGV, highly variable, but I'm not so sure it is such a key aspect over global consumption per capita, and also TGV investment has resulted into some regional lines being stopped (or more the car culture has resulted in this maybe).
By the way what's interesting about the TGV is that the program started before first oil shock and was initially planned to use diesel or gas turbine (removing the catenary aspect), first running prototypes were diesel.
On the other hand quite a few cities have a subway, tramway, and bus system and an urbanism allowing them to be used at high capacity(as well as more bike lanes and bike renting system being set up).
And regarding cars, always the same, there is a high variability amongst the efficiency of cars, and average efficiency in France most probably much higher than in the US.
An electric car renting system also just started in paris and surrounding cities, where you can pick up a car from a station and return it to any other one : (stupid flash site)
stations map :
(and there is also a possibility to charge private electric cars in the stations)
Also a similar system in Lyon but with ICE cars, also in London I think.

But overall for cars, seems to me the average efficiency is as if not more important than "cars or not" or even "electric or not", and average efficiency could still be increased very easily.
Note : in Paris also some kind of explosion in number of scooters these last years like piaggo mp3 and others, and well below 50% of household own a car now (in paris city at least)

Yes, going from a 16MPG SUV to a 50MPG car saves 2x as much fuel as going from a 50MPG car to an EV.

It's true that Europeans don't use that much fuel for personal travel - it's about 18% of the US. Still, they drive about 9x as much as they use trains, so PO will be a problem for personal transportation in the EU.

Worse, Europeans import more oil per capita than the US. The US can dramatically reduce it's imports with more efficient vehicles and increased oil production, but Europe will have to do more difficult things, like standardizing rail systems and moving from trucks to rail, with increasing marginal returns on that investment.

Actually, as I said, if they do this they'll just "harmonize" their motorway speed limits with the rest of Western Europe. At 100kph they were outliers. Oh, and in reality, the Germans and Italians, who seem to be especially fond of motorway speed, do not appear to be "all dead in massive car wrecks".

achtung PaulS! they completed theirs a ways back now so what we're seeing in these countries is really the choral equivalent of a final solution - high speeds minus bad drivers. and all that was once lost crossing the border into Norway, where atonal vibrations formed a natural border to progress. It's been difficult to penetrate, but in the end the correction will serve them well. and it ought to save Europe money in reconstruction costs at the border where the reverberations were worst - just in the nick of time if you ask me.

A quick correction. India is not in S.E. Asia. It is in South Asia. So, you may want to change So East Asia to South & SE Asia.

Someone else e-mailed me with the suggestion that I refer to the group as "Asia". I figure that if I define what I am saying, it is OK, even if my geography is off a bit.

As I mentioned above, the problem is that Southeast Asia is a very well established phrase in the English language with a very well established meaning. It is an all-too-common practice in academia for researchers to just make up a new meaning for an already established term, which inevitably leads to endless confusion and exclusion of those not in the know about how the term is being used in a particular context. In this context where we are hoping to reach a broader audience, I hope we don't start making this mistake.

Even if you feel you have defined your term here well, other wanting to site or refer to your work may not manage to include your new definition. This isn't bad if you also made up a new term, because people will assume that a novel term will have a novel meaning. But if you use a well known term that has an established meaning, you are just inviting endless confusion.

If endless confusion is your goal, I recommend staying with your misuse of this well defined term.

Otherwise, I recommend changing it, particularly given how important the article is and how likely it is that it will be referred to and quoted by others.

And please don't take my word for it. Look up the term in any dictionary on line or off, or look for how it is used on any major cite or publication. If you find your meaning widely used, I withdraw my objection.


Let's say my fantasy of a liquid-fuel fusion engine comes true. Well, it is more than a fantasy in that I am working with sonoluminescence in an undergraduate sort of way, but taking it to the level of sonofusion seems like more of a distant goal than ever. If I or some else does prove to be the millionth monkey, finding an easy to exploit source of fusion energy, would that make a big enough impact to turn things around quickly enough? How strong is the momentum toward a hard crash?

BTW, serious people much more competent than I are are pursuing this:

Here's my little sandlot game:

i dunno the future but I think a standard response would be that fusion is an energy source that requires an extremely high level of complexity - in engineering, education, materials, etc. The relationship between complexity and energy is such that, as hard limits to supply increase, highly complex systems, especially developmental ones, become impossible to continue or complete.

If you're talking 1 millionth monkey kind of thing with someone tinkering in their garage, that's another matter - I'd say a hard crash could be completely avoided. And I'm not as convinced as some - a rapid transformation to a purely electric transport system, and an ag and production system free from fossil subsidies is completely possible at this point IMO - look how quickly we built the roads and cars. We could do everything we do now with rail, communications and tech, organic farming and etc, but not without a massive source switch - it's the source that's the problem. The likelihood that we'll stumble on a 'free' source before the hard crash? zero, because that's the only way to look at it.

It's possible that something could be done with a massive mobilization type shift in tech itself, in my opinion, but the barriers to emerging tech are the same as the barriers to change in culture - the status quo is walled in by progressive waves of complexity - political games, bureaucratic controls, rules and administrative overhead that eventually render the whole lumbering empire immobile. Besides, a massive breakthrough in tech made to protect BAU for consumers and etc would no-doubt be lights-out for the biosphere.

Nope, there's no hope for the millionth monkey, or any of the monkeys, unless it's a bottom to top shift in the culture. That's the tech we need, and even then it might be too late.

Let's say my fantasy of a liquid-fuel fusion engine comes true. Well, it is more than a fantasy in that I am working with sonoluminescence in an undergraduate sort of way, but taking it to the level of sonofusion seems like more of a distant goal than ever. If I or some else does prove to be the millionth monkey, finding an easy to exploit source of fusion energy, would that make a big enough impact to turn things around quickly enough? How strong is the momentum toward a hard crash?

BTW, serious people much more competent than I are are pursuing this:

Here's my little sandlot game:

I think a lot of our problem today is a "liquid fuels" problem that is not going to go away, no matter what kind of electric energy is added. We have so many vehicles built that use oil today (cars, trucks, trains, boats, airplanes, earth movers, etc.) that we couldn't afford to replace them all very quickly, even if the technology existed. I think it will be a long time before we transition to electric transportation, under any scenario.

We have so many vehicles built that use oil today (cars, trucks, trains, boats, airplanes, earth movers, etc.) that we couldn't afford to replace them all very quickly, even if the technology existed. I think it will be a long time before we transition to electric transportation, under any scenario.

I would generally agree. Fortunately, their is no requirement of "very quickly", because lets be honest, the liquid fuel crisis, to date, hasn't been. Certainly the world has adapted pretty well for a near tripling in the nominal cost of oil over the past decade, and rewritten for all to see the floor price of crude oil. Once upon a time there was much gnashing of teeth and screaming over $50/bbl, anyone remember those as "the good old days"?

I don't think the world has adapted very well to high priced fuels. What has happened is that the high priced fuels crisis has been transformed to a bankrupt government crisis, because high priced fuels led to problems governments could sort of solve--banks needing bailouts, unemployed people needed extra funds, and general stimulus for the economy. (It also led to less tax revenue for governments.)

The high priced fuel problems aren't gone, they are just hidden, on government balance sheets around the world. We are not doing well, now, in my opinion. Once governments start raising taxes and laying off workers to fix their problems, the recession that sort of went away will be back in full force.

The real price of crude oil has been trending upwards since about 1970. The crisis you mention certainly are more recent events (and arguably the result of a different kind of excess, rather than a shortage of supply of oil), although there is an argument that some of the malaise of the 70's was a result of the realignment of the US no longer being the global swing producer. Certainly recent events in the oil market didn't help the situation once the bubbles of the 2000's finished bursting.

No one is hiding fuel problems, unless someone chooses to be deaf, dumb and blind. Picking up a newspaper and checking futures contracts isn't a terribly difficult exercise, and double dip recession is a reasonable outcome of the financial adjustments probably coming our way, I agree with you about that.

Isn't it amusing that once the hysteria over a "super spike" can now be just what we happen to pay?


We do indeed have a liquids fuel problem and the transition will be difficult.

Don't you think the resulting price increases (due to insufficient supply) will move us to fewer cars and trucks (that use liquid fuels) and more public transport and trains (some of which could be electric)?

Also how long is long?

I think in 20 years it could be done, if liquid fuel cost $20/ gallon (maybe with half of this in carbon taxes refunded on a per capita basis biweekly).


Perhaps I missed this in the comments so far, but it would be interesting to determine the role that declining net energy is playing in growing global CO2 emissions. After all, lower net energy yields from lower-quality sources such as tar sands, heavy / deepwater oil, etc. means that more energy has to be expended to obtain energy, thus more CO2 emissions are created per unit of energy available to society. While the global economy has been growing, it may be difficult to tease that proportion out of the growing CO2, but if in the years ahead, economic growth flattens or disappears, yet our carbon emissions keep steady or continue to increase, that may be a sign of the growing reliance on lower- and lower-quality energy sources.

Lower net energy is no do doubt part of the issue as well. I mention this as a possibility in my earlier post, but I don't have a quantification of the effect.

Hi Everybody ... regarding the nuclear " Big Change " ... considering the hostile nature of our advanced species ... who will stay behind to maintain the undamaged nuclear power plants when the " Dogs OF War " are loosed again and many of the power plants in France will be cracked open ? ... I live here in San Luis Obispo California ... twenty miles distance from two nuclear reactors ... I think the Four Hourseman are riding now ! ... curlyq3

The little detail of decommissioning the nuclear reactors is one that people haven't thought through very well. If everything is going well--lots of resources and economic growth--then decommissioning is no problem. The bonds set aside to pay for it might even "work" pretty well.

The problem occurs when things aren't going so well. As you say, who is going to handle the situation then? I certainly hope we don't have spent fuel pools to deal with, besides the reactors themselves.

Change is obviously enough ongoing and inevitable, but some changes that would seem to have a high probability of occurring are not taking place as we might expect, given the likely benefits and advantages that would result from such change.

Some impediments to change are quite obvious,such as regulatory inertia and turf wars.

I am not the sort of conservative that believes that Joe Six Pack and the markets alway know best, but I am sure that Joe and the markets always know SOMETHING relevant to just about any issue.

Let us briefly examine the automobile industry for instance.

Even though I am not an engineer, nor a CPA, nor a Harvard business school graduate, if I had some money and an opportunity to do so, I could revolutionize the automobile industry, or at least ;-) have a lot of fun trying.Engineers are easily hired, as are bookkeepers.

A thoroughly "stripped" version of a people's car could be built without needing to own a single patent, utilizing nothing but parts readily available in the automotive manufacturer's supply industry.Nothing in essence, except the body shell itself, would need to be custom designed. There is a huge supply of ready designed engines, transmissions, wheels, tires, brake systems, heaters, suspension parts, and all other components readily available in any desired quantity. Little or no money need be spent of r and d.

All these systems and parts are already well known to mechanics who service cars.

Such a car could easily be BUILT to be very easily repairable, with nearly all the components easily accessible and only a relatively few standardized fasteners used. Even a green backyard mechanic could quickly diagnose and repair most problems, because such a car would be HIGHLY standardized .

It would be no problem at all to include a nice fat paper or digital manual covering virtually any problem and the repair procedure;and a mechanic could become expert in a matter of months in most common repairs.I work on cars and trucks occasionally, and I can do a brake job on an older Ford or Chevy without looking at a manual.But newer cars are so variable in design and features that before long repairing brakes may become a specialty trade, with a shop restricting itself to certain makes of cars.I wouldn't even consider doing a Mercedes or VW without having a service manual.

Once the mechanic has done the first half dozen brake jobs on such a car as I propose, he would be a brakes expert.

Such a car would not need power steering or power brakes or even an automatic transmission;anybody who can learn to type or dance a simple two step can master a clutch in a couple of hours.A garage specializing in such a car could keep ALL the parts on hand needed for ninety five percent or more of all repairs ;no parts store would be needed on every corner.

And such a car could be kept running more or less "forever" since any repair would be simple and cheap.Most people don't realize it, but nearly every part on a well designed and well cared for car with two hundred or even three hundred thousand miles on the odometer, excepting comfort, routine maintainence, and trim is apt to be in excellent to functionally new condition,, including the engine block, cylinder head, most internal engine components, unibody, major suspension components, and so forth.Transmissions almost never wear out, except in heavy trucks after a million or two million miles;some dinky little valve or o ring or rubber washer fails;hardly any major part is ever replaced in a routine rebuild.

Parts would be dirt cheap.I can buy a brand new alternator for an older Chevy for a quarter the price of one at the dealer since they are off patent and in great demand.

Now of course all those who have made their minds up already will object that such a car would never sell, and that the company would go broke because if they did sell, they couldn't convince the owners to buy new ones.

But I am of a different opinion.I believe governments in a bind for money, delivery /courier services, etc, and LOTS of working people WOULD buy such a car, in large numbers.

It will likely never be built because existing and ever changing regulations will prevent it in the name of safety, emissions control. etc.

But motorcycles are legal, and there is no doubt in my mind that the safest motorcycle ever built is many times as dangerous as such a car would be.Furthermore in a world where the supply of fuel seems likely to shrink fast, it just might be a good tradeoff to build cars that require less materials , get much better fuel economy, and don't need frequent replacement but pollute a little more.

Complexity brings about choice and efficiency sometimes-most of the time .

It can also deprive us of maneuvering room and agility in a changing world.

Of course regulations are not the only thing inhibiting innovation;but my typing finger is numb, and I hope others will take up other restraints on change.

You bring up a good point. I understand that in the Soviet Union, the emphasis was building a small range of products, and keeping them operating as long as possible by replacing parts when needed. Even with clothing, there were a few basic styles, that were available in a range of sizes.

Our current system is bordering on crazy. We don't possibly need so many choices. Most kids would be happy with a couple of balls, a doll or toy truck, and a wagon. They don't possibly need all of the choices they have. We don't need umpteen choices of cars, or clothes, or appliances.

I expect our early trains were pretty simple. The ones we have today end up in the repair shop for months because a fancy door won't work, and the parts that are needed have to be specially made and imported from Italy.

If we have more limited resources, we can't go on making so many different variation on products. We could theoretically operate bicycles and trains and even cars, if they were very simple and standardized. Then if a part broke, it would be easy to fix it. We might even have a local factory that made parts as needed.

The ones we have today end up in the repair shop for months because a fancy door won't work, and the parts that are needed have to be specially made and imported from Italy.

And if it's built simply, instead of with that fancy door, it will probably be illegal owing to the ADA among other things. And in Italy and the rest of Europe, they have endless problems with derailments of the complicated, geared low-floor wheelsets required on many trams under similar laws. You often can't have it both ways - inexpensive simplicity, but also no-cost-is-ever-too-much accommodation for "disability" and "elf'n'safety", and for that matter, no-cost-is-ever-too-much "protection" of stupid fools from their own burdensome selves. So I'm guessing that if things become really difficult, the moralizers in the USA and Europe are going to go flat-out bonkers.


Good point. It could probably be done even with some level of pollution control. I had a 1980 Toyota Tercel that went about 250,000 miles, carburated engine, averaged about 30 mpg, there are some pretty simple designs out there that could be brought back even with pollution controls. Remember that regulations are often there for a reason, the clean air act did improve air quality and only seems unnecessary now because it worked so well.


Oh, I agree that regulations are absolutely necessary;it's just that they get to be a religion unto themselves.

People who can't afford a car such as I envision due to SAFETY regs are being forced onto scooters and motorcycles which are FAR MORE dangerous that even a primitive enclosed four wheeler.

And it would be possible to easily get 90 percent of the pollution control with twenty five percent of the current complexity.

Saving a heck of a lot of fuel, steel, rubber, and commuters jobs might be a very good tradeoff for slightly dirtier cars-especially if we were rational and invested the savings in conservation and efficiency measures.

Automotive air pollution controls have already hit the wall anyway in terms of cost effectiveness, excepting co2-and the ONLY way to REALLY reduce co2 is to reduce fuel consumption by downsizing;engine and transmission designs are approaching limits too in terms of cost effective efficiency improvements.

At any rate this problem will solve itself soon enough without much further technical improvement taking place, or being needed.Gasoline prices and or rationing will take care of it within a decade.

I was hoping to spark a discussion of other reasons change is slower than one would expect, given changing circumstances, and just used the automotive example as a starting point..

There are reasons to believe major changes can come much faster than expected too, but predicting why and what in respect to such change is very difficult if not impossible.


I think we agree. I am not sure what the specific safety regulations are and how much they cost. I think the exploding Pinto should probably be avoided, but I don't think every car should be mandated to have Volvo levels of safety. I also agree with the less complex emission controls, though again I don't think on smaller cars, the "best" controls are mandated, they may be used to simplify production (I am by no means an expert on the automotive industry.) In my mind fuel efficiency is the key and the only way to get there is a rise in prices (carbon caps or better yet fees would be useful here).

Have you ever seen this paper on the CLEAR Act?

On the subject of slow vs. fast change. This is simply the conservative vs. liberal push and pull at least in the US. You make an interesting point that liberals are the problem because of their regulations. To me such an argument misses the larger point. Let's do the following thought experiment: eliminate all government regulations and let the free market reign.

Would we have air quality like that in Beijing? It certainly does not seem that the US consumer would be demanding small fuel efficient vehicles. Clearly it is hard to predict what things would look like, but without some of the changes put in place in the 1930s, the present recession might look a lot more like 1933 (there would have been no FDIC). Now if one likes this utopian no regulation system, we could eliminate that evil government altogether and go for anarchy, this takes the current conservative vision to its logical end. (I do not consider OFM conservative by current US standards, he's a liberal ;). He believes in regulations!)

On the other side we could concoct a liberal vision which might morph into a Stalinist or Maoist totalitarian nightmare. Both visions are silly IMO.

The sincere belief by many that all market outcomes are optimal is false when externalities are recognized. When people start to believe that carbon emissions are a problem and that by solving that problem we solve the energy problem as well, maybe then we will see things change more quickly.

At some point I will produce a brief post to try to convince those who are skeptical of climate science on the basis of limited fossil fuels that they are mistaken.


eliminate all government regulations and let the free market reign.

Indeed I think volume based taxes associated to the free market to decide what product to build is the best way forward (with some regulations, but the less the better)

Basically there are three ways to push products (and infrastructure, way of life) in the right direction :

1) regulations (like on emissions and security for cars, insulation for buildings, urbanism codes, etc)
2) volume based taxes on raw materials (fossile fuels but maybe not only)
3) subsidies trying to prop up the alternatives defined as "good solutions"

Seems to me subsidies can be ok for R&D, maybe investment, but are more or less crazy on operating cost, as first it is very easy to be wrong in saying "this is a good alternative" (corn ethanol would be typical here if EROEI barely above one, but might also be true of PV), and second when you look at the starting point, conservation is top priority and subsidies tend to promote "new stuff", whereas conservation such as insulation or "powered down current stuff" (like for cars), can be much more efficient in terms of end results for fossile consumed

Regulations I think some are needed (and anyway for urbanism for instance tough to do without, but quite often they are the wrongs ones ...) also to standardize things like power plugs, or could be done for some other things phone chargers and the like, but always a tendancy to have it grow into a "jungle"

Volume based taxes basically you can't get it wrong, very easy to operate, and have the free market take it as input and that's it. You can say it impacts the poor more than the rich, which is true, but you can also in parallel remove taxes on work, and redistribution anyway should come from other means, more like taxes on income, and you can also make them completely or partly directly redistributed.

And for sure key thing is the associated messages, like moving 70 or 80 or 100kg with 2000 or 3000 kg of steel and plastic housing a 4.5 liter engine has never been a human right, or anyway we don't have the stuff anymore we have to hurry.

And then the question on nuclear

Actually oldfarmermac I think you can go a lot further than what you're even proposing and maybe a (more) complete version would satisfy the requirements better.

If you're going to make a car be serviceable for a long time, why not ensure a long service life by:

1. Making the chassis out of corrosion resistant aluminum. You'd probably make back the extra energy cost over the extended service life of the vehicle. You can make this aircraft grade alloy if you're really keen.

2 Make the car fully electric so you can simplify chassis/transmission and have a replaceable/upgradeable battery pack. For extended range trips you can always sell/lease a range extender trailer.

That way the only major wear items are the cabin, tyres, brakes, battery and suspension. With an assurance of say a 20+ year service life you could easily assume that the car would get a complete overhaul every 120,000 miles / 10 years and run/act like new. It'd be a complete change in focus away from having a disposable means of transportation to more of an aviation model whereby you have a fleet which is sometimes up to 30-40 years old still operational.

I agree;I just didn't include electrics or hybrids in my example because the electrical tech is still new and somewhat iffy and mostly under patent.It's a long way from standardized.

There is really no reason a well built car-even one with an ice- can't last reliably for twenty five or more years.An electric with standardized electronics could last just about forever if it were built of aluminum or very well rustproofed.

But the batteries are not yet commodities;virtually every part of an ice car can be had as a commodity from dozens of different manufacturers;all that is needed to build the car is an assembly plant.I doubt if we will see standardized interchangeable batteries for electrics anytime soon.

You are absolutely correct about doing away with "a disposable means of transportation".

The problem more than anything else with cars is that we see the car itself as a good -a valuable material item in and of itself, and a status symbol.

A "rational" society would see a car as the means to an end, the end being transportation, and insist on cars that are reliable, long lasting, and economical to purchase and operate.

The young generation is catching on-taking a date out a couple of times a month in a cab or rented car or by train or bus, and walking or biking the rest of the time, rather than owning a car, leaves hundreds of dollars available every month for restaurants, fancy electronic toys, nice clothes, and a flyaway vacation at the beach , etc.

With electric car companies you have relatively small start-ups able to bridge the gap without too many problems so I think it is fair to say that much of what consists of an all electric drive train isn't covered by patent protection given the electric car has been around for over 100 years and the EV1 patents are probably expiring as we speak. The actual charge controller doesn't seem like a big deal and that only leaves the battery. Whilst the battery technology may be proprietary the battery specifications are not. You can have generic AA battery vs patented ultra capacity AA battery which both conform to the same rough specifications and over time that proprietary battery will fall out of patent protection and become generic.

I suspect what will happen in the future is that companies will specialize in creating battery housings for common cars and use modular battery packs inside with charge controllers built in to customize the pack to the specific car.

I hope others will take up other restraints on change.

see above

I think a stripped down simple design auto has already been done --- twice. I have in mind the pre-WWII Volkswagen, and the Yugo. One was successful. The other, not so much. But somebody owns the designs for each as intellectual property and if you show any signs of success, one or both will hire platoons of IP lawyers and tie you in knots. The modern world is nasty that way.

Hi again ... me thinks the auto industry is " Toast " when the money machine stops running here pretty soon ... bikes and trikes ( trikes for people like me who do not want to risk falling off of a bike ) with very small gasoline engines or the electric assist or a combo of the two work quite well ... long distance has to be thought of as an alternative collective effort in the future ... and slow it down of course , who is in such a big hurry anyway ? Gail you are my Champion ! ... curlyq3

I am always surprised at how much traveling seemed to go on in ancient times. It seems to be a great need, for at least a part of the population. So it would be good to have methods that work.

I am glad I am your Champion. Thanks!

Hi Gail,

I don't think of you as "my" Champion but as one of the forum's.

Your unique blend of hard headed realism and well informed sense of the precarious state of the world go a long way.

There have been many comments made over time to the effect that you are an apologist or mouthpiece of the oil industry, but this forum is to the best of my knowledge supposed to be about reality rather than wishes.

Those who make such comments undoubtedly have their hearts in the right place, but they have not yet managed to get their brains in gear.

Some of them may live long enough to see the demise of Exon and BP, and all the automobiles rusting away for lack of fuel.

Actually being an old farmer who lived the very tail end of the horse and mule era (because my folks continued to farm to some extent that way for nostalgic reasons even after we went to tractors) I can say with complete confidence that VERY few of them are going to enjoy their new lifestyle.

Yes exactly, and if in parralel we are able to maintain a telecom infrastucture with wifi or similar in the slower long distance means, the speed aspect is highly mitigated in a way.

Maybe the reason is that whereas group 1 has seen real growth in last decade, group 3 prior to 2000 has seen more of a credit bubble fake growth, associated to an as fake decoupling.
Credit bubble that could be said to have been truly initiated after US peak in 1970 and full Bretton Woods abandonment in 1971, especially by Reagan and Friedmann and al principles.
Anyway this GDP thing really might not be the best measure, the key one should probably be something like OPEX energy required for some level of "functionality".
And also maybe some knowledge economy, and considering how the financial world and credit can work in such a context.

'Bubble' in economics is the word used to describe growth decoupled from reality. What aspect of reality is mostly left undefined, and might even be a 'real' misunderstanding of the real reality. Financial people work in a world in which reality is anything they can get away with. In that world there can be no bubbles --- until there is one.

The difficulties and pitfalls of trying to extract a meaningful correlation between US energy consumption and GDP are many and have been quite knowingly discussed above.

However, one thing that is easy to lose track of is that much, if not most, US energy consumption is not directly related to producing things, whether than be hard physical things or 'soft' things such as services.

Some examples: Most natural gas in the US is used for home heating, which has nothing to do with the economy, other than generating utility company revenues from the sale of such. Most petroleum is used for transportation, and most of that is personal auto transportation. Most coal is used for generating electricity, and most electricity is for domestic use. As such, we have a big chunk of energy consumption that is directly related to day-to-day living rather than running the overall economy. It has been well established that affluent people consume more energy than poor people and that employed people consume more than unemployed people.

So, maybe if one were to compare per capita energy consumption with (adjusted) per capita, income one might see a much closer coupling. An economic down-turn should result in lower per capita energy consumption. A significant fraction of this is discretionary consumption: If you have trouble paying your utility bills, you are apt to keep your house at a lower temperature and shut off lights when not in use. If you are strapped, you are less likely to drive 30 miles to your favorite restaurant or go into the city to do shopping, or engage in other unessential driving.

Basically, I am really just saying that most US energy consumption is for personal use, and that such personal energy consumption is a sort of surrogate for the general level of personal prosperity. If both total US energy consumption and and total after-tax income move either up or down by the same amount, the ratio of per capita energy consumption to per capita income should not change very much. I think this has little to do with what is defined as GDP.

I think what you are saying has some truth to it.

It seems like GDP can be split into pieces--some of it is personal and some is commercial/ governmental. It seems like the commercial/governmental piece has been doing better than the personal piece recently.

I am not sure that "most" energy is for personal use. Most gasoline is probably for personal use, and it will be affected by how individuals are doing financially, not by GDP in total.

I expect the relationship will vary for other fuels. Diesel is more of a commercial fuel, for example.

Gail -

While attempting to classify energy consumption between personal use and commercial, some arbitrary distinctions must be made. So, some of this has a subjective element to it.

However, in terms of gross energy consumption, I think it should be fairly apparent that what would normally be considered as personal use. Here are EIA figures for 2010 total US energy consumption (in quadrillion BTUs):

- Residential and commercial 11.0
(mainly space heating)

- Industrial 20.0

- Transportation 27.4

- Electrical power 39.6

Some other relevant figures: 34% of natural gas consumption is for residential and commercial; 91% of coal consumption is for electrical power generation; and 71% of petroleum is for transportation (and gasoline represents 61% of petroleum production).

I would think that well over 2/3 of the residential/commercial, transportation, and electrical power sectors must be for what we'd consider personal use. As such, it would appear that personal use probably accounts for something like 52% of the total. However, I suspect it is considerably higher. (By the way, roughly three times more gasoline is produced than diesel fuel, and most gasoline is for personal automobiles).

You mihgt look at Germany as a particular example of an economy that has increased GDP while lowering GHG emissions over the last few decades. They seem to have kept a bit more of their manufacturing base than US and some others over the same time frame, so exporting their emissions to Asia may not be quite such an issue here, perhaps.

I am not entirely sure about the German situation. You are right, it would be a good one to look at.

It is my understanding that the fact that Germany is part of the Euro allows Germany's exports sell relatively more cheaply than they would than if Germany had its own currency, (which would float to a higher level). This relatively low price on exports has allowed Germany to keep more of its industrialization than would otherwise be the case.

But if the Euro breaks up, Germany will lose this advantage, and it seems like it may lose its industrialization as well.

It may also be that some of Germany's industrialization is geared to "high value" products that are not too sensitive to energy price, so can continue indefinitely.

Good points, especially the last one. Not only can it not continue for ever, but it is not replicable by lots of others--not everyone can make the rare 'high value' products; most will have to make the cheap consumer crap.

This is an incredibly interesting and very well done paper. Congrats for including it here on The Oil Drum. A few thoughts come to mind:

- 1) On the "self organization of industrial production" and global trade: I think this is a bit of an overstatement (which seems to be standing in as a descriptor for a system that very large and very complex). One could potentially describe the climate system as self organizing, but this doesn't mean that very clear rules and the fundamental laws of physics or chemistry don't apply. There are a number of different ways we may approach the organization of industrial production and trade: along the lines of "interests," resource availability (as your analysis describes), labor costs (as you describe), treaties (which operate and constrain behavior at an international level), social and historical variables (films, advertising, education, civil unrest, the Iraq War, or such things as Fukushima driving popular tastes in consumption or energy choices), environmental conditions (such as water scarcity, crop yields, etc.), and political organization and decision making (the extent to which popular sovereignty is located in the consent of the governed, corporate interests/elites, autocrats, gender or labor classes, and the like). It seems if we can get some handle on the "science" of industrial production and global trade (and the many social and political variables shaping this critical domain of behavior and action), then there is some hope of transforming the system. This likely won't come from a single individual, but the collective acts of citizens and consumers, and will have a great deal to do with implicit rules and incentives (local, national, and international) shaping collective action and behavior. I remain hopeful, and agree with Kuhn that substantive change is quick and radical (as in a paradigm shift) rather than slow and piecemeal.

- 2) On Energy and GDP: I see "energy" here in an entirely ecumenical sense. The reason why we use fossil fuels and coal to boost GDP growth is because they are available, abundant (at least historically so), and developers are not asked to pay pollution costs (although the costs to society as a whole are very large). It seems somewhat obvious to me that replacing energy resources makes no difference to GDP growth rates (if the character of the energy is the same: reliable, available, and scalable). It might even be the case that the cost of energy may not play a very significant role in GDP growth, since these are very dynamic and complex systems … trade-offs, net accounting schemes, and cross-sector impacts apply here. If energy costs rise 20%, but environmental and health care costs (from reduced externalities) decrease by 40%, we have a net gain! Obviously, nobody benefits from a situation of energy poverty (where energy costs are too high), but there are a great many policy instruments to protect against this happening. I think it's largely a "slight of hand" of fossil fuel politicking and lobbyists to always focus the attention on costs of energy (when there are a great many ways to calculate costs, and measure economic impacts). With subsidies in the mix (or the "real costs" of a gallon of gas), who's to say fossil fuels don't lose out to other alternatives on full costs?

- 3) The New Model: there is inevitability that a new model will exist (when we start reaching carrying capacity limits, or non-renewable resource limitations). The real question is whether we can get ahead of the curve, and start planning for this new model now (before being forced to do so at a later date … and with costly impacts adding up along the way). Human history seems to be working against us, but I think we are learning fast. And again, no great thinker is going to save the day, no new technology pathway will emerge that will solve all our problems, no single policy framework is going to create a panacea for peace and happiness in the world. There are no such solutions (although we like to attach ourselves to them all the time). The solutions (variable and multiple) are already out there, they just need to find a public, an interest, a politics, a profit, a labor class, a manufacturer, a market, a gender, and anything else that underpins the weather system of industrial production and global trade. Good ideas rise to the surface, I believe, but only if we can keep vested interests out of the way (and this has proven a challenge in many areas). As Kuhn pointed out many years ago (and he wasn't speaking about energy), you know change is on the way when people become overly rigid and dogmatic about existing systems and practices. Right at the moment when change looks impossible, and conventional thinkers throw up their hands in disbelief and nitpick about increasingly small matters, the battle has already been won. All that remains is for conventional thinkers to get out of the way, and let a new generation of thinkers, planners, economists, engineers, entrepreneurs, industrialists, and politicians get to work.

Thanks for your thoughts. My biggest area of disagreement would be on the Energy and GDP. We have been trying very hard to find replacements for fossil fuels, especially oil, but haven't been able to do so. The high cost of scalable alternatives is proving to be a deal-breaker. So I think this is going to be a much bigger obstacle than you expect.

Yes, this is very difficult … I know. Bucking the trend, I'm placing my bets on some very promising new research on batteries (I know, this sounds odd). What's that exciting about batteries, our lithium ion configurations are costly, limited by resource availability, get very hot (and catch fire), and who wants to string together cells in the billions or tens of billions individual units. I agree, but this is not what I'm talking about.

I'm talking about batteries made from common materials (potassium nitrate) and nanofiber coated electrodes that last 40,000 charge cycles (for some 30+ years of useful life).

Even more promising (and already in the early development phases) a battery the size of an aluminum smelter, made from abundant materials, with very low storage cost ($50 kWh), can be built anywhere, and thrives on charge (capable of storing 13 GW in 60,000 square meters, or about 1.5 city blocks, enough to meet the peak electricity demand of New York City).

And now for the most far fetched, batteries for cars in the 300-500 mile range. Lots of people in the mix wishing to be first out of the gate on this one (Renault, VW, GM, Zenn, and many others). But this is the biggest challenge, since batteries have to be safe in a crash, roll over, not get too hot (for human contact), and be made from abundant materials (affordable and recyclable). It's a tall order, we aren't narrowing down the options much (metal air, solid state lithium, ultracapacitors), but I think we are making progress.

All of this sounds prospective, I am sure. But we don't need it today, we need it in 30 years. We have to decarbonize our grid first. Battery development is an obscure area of research, severely underfunded (today as always). Energy storage has not made much headway due to regulatory obstacles (such as buying energy at retail rates and selling energy at wholesale rates), and the low cost of fossil fuels (when adding capacity is so much easier). So we have't given it much thought … but all of this is changing (and fairly quickly).

If you write this off at first blush, you'll certainly come back to it later. We probably won't have any choice in the matter.

We have been trying very hard to find replacements for fossil fuels, especially oil, but haven't been able to do so. The high cost of scalable alternatives is proving to be a deal-breaker.
Electric vehicles using battery storage can certainly replace a lot of oil used in land based transportation. This is both scalable and comparable cost to using $100/barrel oil.

Both wind and solar power appear to be scalable alternatives to replacing most coal and natural gas use. With rising prices of coal and declining prices of wind and solar it looks like these are no longer high cost alternatives. If we include a reasonable cost for CO2 emissions then these renewables may be lower cost.

Although on a BTU basis renewable and nuclear appear to be only a small fraction of total energy use, they actually account for >30% of world electricity production. We may never have to replace the >400QUADS of FF presently used world-wide when we shift from FF to renewable and nuclear energy sources, although wind and solar could be scaled to >400QUADS.

Even if the very high growth rates for wind and solar continue its still going to take many years to replace most of todays FF use, but that's different to saying we are unable to replace FF's.

I think that Gail would reply that seasonal lulls in renewables require prohibitively expensive storage.

This isn't the case: there are a number of affordable solutions including geographic diversity; supply diversity (especially with nuclear); overbuilding of renewables (as is done with FF generation); demand side management; and very low-capital-cost backup with biomass and synthetic liquid fuels (these are affordable despite the high per-joule cost because they would only have to supply a small percentage of overall demand).

A variation of Gail's post was linked at Climate Etc. which has been taken over by the AGW skeptics

The anti-AGW people are fairly insane because by and large they laughed the ideas off, mainly because the Kyoto Protocal was mentioned. I did my best to try to defend Gail's basic premise over there but it is a chore to get hammered continuously as an Eco-Lefty when all you are trying to do is talk energy economics.

I also realize that I have given Gail a hard time for what I thought was commentary at too elementary a level (given the math geek I am) on TOD, but I take that back because most people elsewhere are simply delusional. And the only hope is someone with Gail's persistence and steadiness.

CO2 emissions? In the face of PO, why all the hand wringing over 4 atmospheric (CO2) molecules in 10,000 (i.e. 400 PPM)? CO2 is an infinitesimal trace gas. All trace gases together only constitute 1% of the atmosphere and of all these trace gases CO2 has the lowest Global Warming Potential --- several orders of magnitude less than water vapor. Read the IPCC Technical Reports. It's all right there. Positive feedback? Natural history records say "no". What are the consequences of PO? Answer: Catastrophe ; What are the consequences of CO2 emissions? Answer: Increased crop production and a greener planet. Hmmmm..... Maybe that's why commercial green house operators invest heavily in CO2 generators for their production facilities. They take CO2 concentrations up to 1200 PPM, the photosynthesis process optimum. 150 years ago CO2 atmospheric concentrations were 3 in 10,000 (300 PPM) just a bit above the point where photosynthesis shuts down (200 PPM). After all the scientific and political revelations of the past few years does any rational human being REALLY believe CO2 emissions are a big deal in the face of PO? Apparently so. Perhaps some math geek here could explain why. Just a little sensitivity analysis might do it (2, 3, 4, 5 parts in 10,000), with some reference back to the IPCC Technical Reports, assuming they are still scientifically valid. Of course a simple risk analysis is also fitting, PO risk = serious; AGW risk = nil. Clearly, mixing these two issues in the same article only detracts from the veracity of the intended message and the weight TOD is given by the public at large. It is a self defeating pursuit.

Both risks are huge in fact (not to say much worse), you might consider the CO2 concentration small, but if you think in terms of increase since the beginning of the industrial revolution, it is a more than 35% increase, and continuing to increase very steadily. And then 35% is 35%, a very sizeable increase for a system key variable whatever way you look at it (and we know this increase is anthropic, from isotopes testing, but also from the very basic fact that we know we have burnt so much tons of fossile hydrocarbons in the form of coal, oil, gas since the beginning of the industrial revolution, and continue to do so)

But I also agree that PO has a tremendous communciation deficit compared to AGW.

And it is very understandable in fact : the PO message is much easier to understand than AGW, but much harder to give.

AGW message can be : "Ok people, all this is great but a bit dirty, we have to make it cleaner", whereas PO message can more or less only be "We are in a very serious mess".

And somehow this leads to the necessary "PO alarmism" being more or less fully outsourced to the necessary "climate change alarmism", which I indeed find totally stupid (especially from IEA people for instance, whose job is to provide accurate info regarding energy availibility, and fossile one in particular, and oil in even more particular, and their estimations being also used as input by IPCC people, so that IPCC people most probably end up with over stimations regarding CO2).

Moreover, basically the mitigation measures are the same : consuming less fossile energy.
When they are not like CCS for instance, they are in fact "false good solutions" if not plain absurdities, CCS evaluation induced loss of efficiency is around 30 or 35% (and we are talking heavy industry here, tons pumps and CO2 pipelines, no major progress to be expected) rendering the thing completely gross meaning that for 2 Appalaches mountains blown up using explosives, you would blow up a third one in order to put a green sticker on the energy coming form the first 2, and coal usage induced pollution isn't limited to CO2 by far).

But then there is clearly a kind of Omerta around PO, and the US, as still the biggest oil consumer by far, the most fossile energy intensive OCDE economy by far, the OCDE country with the lower volume based gas tax by far, also the country (or empire) ensuring the biggest part of the "energy security effort" by far, clearly plays an important role in this aspect, see below for instance :

Robert Hirsch interview about it :

Lionel Badal's work on 1998 IEA report and further :

And maybe you could expect that at least basic objectiv past facts, like the US (then top world producer) going through its oil production peak in 1970, would be given to the US population and taken as granted in political campaigns, but it obviously is not the case at all.

If trace amouts don't matter, how come it is illegal to drive a car with 2 millionths of alcohol in your blod? Such small amounts wouldn't matter right?

I'm just sayin'

Good analogy. The other one I use is dopants in semiconductor devices. If it wasn't for the trace dopants in transistors, none of the computers people are typing into would work.

Within a narrow infrared (thermal) band, CO2 is very effective at absorbing photons. At current concentrations, about 95% are absorbed after passing through 1 meter for the 15 micron wavelengths. This is not quite saturating as the bandwidth starts broadening as the CO2 concentration starts increasing. Travel to hothouse Venus if you don't believe this.

The wash is in which effect is worse over the time period that we can do mitigation, is it AGW or PO?
Doesn't matter, as long as we get some renewables in the loop.

Thanks for your vote of confidence. Most people don't think in abstract models, and even when they do, it is easy to overlook important interactions which the models omit. That is why I aim for fairly simple stories that I hope quite a few can read and understand.

Good analysis by Gail. Missing is the population increase rate...

Re the dearth of women on TOD.

Lets put forth a stereotypical example in the feminine style: work by example, concrete, draw conclusions, take people and community into account. ;)

Yesterday I visited a new shop. It had almost no windows and was bathed in tremendous amounts of electric light, built to Swiss specs and rather luxurious, with expensive materials (stone amongst them.) What the Brits call a newsagent and tobacconist, selling fags, newspapers, rows upon rows of magazines, sweet foods (candy, soft drinks), some reference (maps). It was nice and warm and the Beach Boys were warbling!

In CH 50% about of energy is consumed by buildings, independently of human productive activity inside them. (Of course this is a rather misleading way of putting things, as it is humans who consume the energy.) Clearly, this shop, and all its brethren, will have to go if CH is to reduce its energy consumption by say 25%. Walking around the mini-mall, one might judge that its neighbor - all purpose supermarket - would have to stay, maybe in a reduced form, and the hairdresser and nail salon would have to shrink down to ...two employees and two chairs. Or go poof! as well.

Btw, this mall is very Swiss, and thus very green. It has banned cars all around it (but not the underground parking which still has space!) offers massive bike parking, bins on the spot to get rid of all packaging, has a recycling center (batteries, etc. etc.) and delivery of groceries by bike for 5 dollars. The community offers 300 dollars to anyone who buys an electric bike, and the mall is served by a trolley bus.

In the past year, its area has increased by 25%, despite the fact that no new building have arisen around it; however the no. of employees has not increased, as it went to optional self-check out. The bus comes by more frequently.

Well. Quite.

Let’s just go for it and magic away our newsagent. Retail is the biggest employer in CH (naturally, that depends on your categories, but never mind for now.) The labor participation rate would plummet (it is high in CH)...maybe 25% unemployment, whatever. We should not forget the bus driver, the electrician, the producers of industrial cleaning machines, the truckers, etc. I have said nothing about the products themselves ..if we add those in there is a heap of pain..

How could this kind of de-growth come about? Could it happen naturally, in a sort of soft landing way, a gradual shrinking that would be most unpleasant, but comprehensible and bearable?

The answer is no. Not within our present political and financial system. (I’m setting aside simply getting rid of the surplus of people.) So, that system has to change, and should have changed yesterday. Mind you, I think that CH could bear 25% unemployment within its present system without exploding; many so called socio-democratic Western countries have ‘real’ unemployment rates that high or close (e.g. the US) and CH’s political system is better placed to handle any kind of difficulty than most. But the system would not last, and unemployment would grow (feedback loops) as we see it doing in e.g. Greece or Spain. Austerity measures have that effect - they force de-growth, which the PTB fully realize.

Most often, when one comes to this point of such a discussion (whether it springs from unemployment as here, or productive activity, or energy use, or debt, or any of the measures we use like GDP - a very bad measure btw..) it turns to political systems such as anarcho-syndicalism, libertarianism, communism, the death of capitalism always comes up; alternatively, political content is voided to concentrate on fairness, morality, greed, and details of Gvmt. (see OWS, lobbyists to be banned, etc.) These discussions are not immediately useful, because they obscure the fact that econo-pol stances are usually motivated by self-interest of a particular group and the theory is but a proxy or a road-map for an economic arrangement that favors them (with the exception of some very pure forms - but as we know they cannot exist as human interaction is complex, we aren’t robots that can conform to a theory.)

So? The crux of the matter lies in the interaction of social organization in its widest sense, the financial and monetary system, and energy use. This is the dauntingly wide topic that must be taken on. I suggest that a some small/local but very thorough studies would provide food for thought.

All that said, it seems that some heavy dose of authoritarianism and/or anarchic wild strife is in the cards.

Noirette then Noizette

Interesting post Gail, though the country groupings are somewhat curious as the 'Rest of the World' encompasses the continents of North America, South America, Africa, Europe, almost all of Oceania and a large chunk of continental Asia. That group may be just a tad less homogeneous than the Middle East grouping that you felt needed some explanation.

But the comment of yours that left me scratching my head was this one

Before leaving the breakdown into the three areas, I might mention that when one views energy consumption by area (Figure 3), changes in energy consumption for the three groups do not appear as extreme as changes in CO2 production (Figure 1).

Using crude 'edge of envelope' eyeballed interpolation figures I got CO2 emissions rising about 71% and energy consumption increasing by 82% in the 1980-2010 period charted. To me that looks as if energy consumption has increased at a shade faster rate than CO2 emissions have, exactly the opposite of the trend you noticed. Certainly the gross increase in CO2 emissions is greater than that of the oil equivalent energy consumption increase but the former starts at 19,000 million tonnes while the latter starts at around 6,600 million tonnes. That of course makes the ten percent differential between the growth rates small comfort indeed.